To Be a Senator


Filed Under Latest News on Sep 30 

When you are a fraction of a rounding error in the polls and your campaign is grinding to a halt, you can always take swipes at a fellow senator. And even better a GOP colleague; one who is conservative. Just like you are. So Rand Paul has decided to mark Ted Cruz as walking dead in the halls of the Senate, due to his lack of respect for the “decorum” and the rules of the Senate. If he had just played nice, he might have gotten a vote on defunding Planned Parenthood. A vote, not anything else. A symbolic moment of sober second thought. But you have to be polite when you’re barely past a rookie and you’re a conservative from Texas.

Is voter anger really anger at the very shape of representative government? Or does it build and fade depending on where your senator is on any given issue you care about? Or does the cost of winning elections mean fundraising outweighs policy and values? Or maybe this is not about money. The Senate’s rules are in fact a warlock’s maze of standing rules, precedents based on rulings and votes, established and customary practices, and ad hoc arrangements. As their own government website warns, “A knowledge of the Senate’s formal rules is not sufficient to understand Senate procedure, and Senate practices cannot be understood without knowing the rules to which the practices relate.” Kafka could not have written it better. But to simplify: We do whatever the heck we want. As the Constitution says ” each house may determine the rules of its proceedings”.

This maze may not be a logical problem for someone with a mind like Ted Cruz, but it does seem he is facing a political problem. Does he stand his ground and remain excluded from proceedings to an increasing extent? To perhaps be vindicated when voters sweep the Senate clean? Oh, that’s right: it’s impossible for voters to do that. Or does he begin to join the club and achieve little change, but less slings and arrows? To be a senator. That is the question.

When the Soviet Union retreated from Afghanistan in 1988-89, Putin was a local KGB spy-master in East Germany. He was a few short years from entering political life as the final tanks rolled across the bridge, driven out by the muhajideen. Some of these sworn rebels were from the Arab world rather than Afghanis, as in Osama bin Laden himself. And Afghanistan is overwhelmingly Sunni as well. Is Putin – who seems to have a deep-seated drive to resurrect Soviet influence – determined to somehow redeem Russia in Syria? And how will his nacent coalition of Iranian Quds Forces, al-Assad’s regime, and Russian military personnel and weapons influence the current civil war?

ISIL is Sunni. The Putin gang allies are Shia. Assad is an alawite – a Shia minority sect in a majority Sunni nation. This major Sunni-Shia division sits like a fatal fault line under the current bloodshed and displacement in Syria and its neighbors. And America’s role in Syria – made even more excruciatingly difficult by Obama’s indecision – is a choice between untrustworthy partners, ambitious rivals, and fanatical enemies. Russia has displaced America in Syria. Is there any other way to put it? It may be that Syria proves to be a curse upon Putin’s ambitions, but the Russian President does not have to worry about Congressional approval or polling to the extent that any U.S. Chief executive does. Putin is autocratic and astonishingly popular in his home country. They have their czar and he will be as unscrupulous and ruthless as necessary in order to stake his claim to the Middle East, in a way not even the Soviets did.

Yes, there are political, secular goals at work. And what better strategy than to use the Sunni-Shia divide to gain greater control? But to state that Sunni-Shia conflicts are merely geo-political under the guise of conflicting branches of belief is to be nostalgic for the Cold War era. The era of conservative regimes like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan backed by the West against revolutionary Middle Eastern regimes backed by the Soviets has long since given way to atavistic and increasingly primitive sects using atrocity as a strategy as much as a tactic. The Iranian revolution opened the gates of hell for much of the Middle East and they remain wide open, three decades later and counting.

What, in this hell, can Obama do? To who, in this burning landscape, can he turn to? Not as towards an unwelcome partner whom one cannot trust, but as to an ally? The answer is clear. The tactics will have to be worked out quickly and carefully – an impossible balance. Who knows more about the Middle East than any other first-world democracy? More than America itself? It is time for Obama to repair the relationship with Israel. He may be incapable of doing so. But it must be done.

For a few short years under Huey Long, Louisiana politics seemed to resemble Latin American politics to a certain extent. Tax hikes in the middle of economic collapses, family-based politics with wholesale firings of state employees who might in any way be related to his enemies. Surrounded by bodyguards, his infamous assassination in September of 1935 had been preceded by conflicts with armed opposition groups like The Square Deal Association. His Share Our Wealth program had, in Long’s own view of it, nothing to do with socialism, but was rather a re-ordering of capitalism, with progressive taxes, free education, assistance to farmers, public works projects, and further subsidies. He was sent by God to save the people, and if he had to blur the lines between state and federal powers by running Louisiana from his senate office in Washington, in the years after he was governor, why it was merely divine right.

No one has to guess what party the man who railed against Wall Street and the Fed was from. And doubt whether he supported Roosevelt and his New Deal. At the City of New Orleans’ – the Amtrak train of course – final stop in Chicago civics could also get interesting in those years, and in years to come. But lessons since learned mean that a Huey Long in 2015 would be impossible, and has been impossible for decades, if not generations.

So maybe Josh Earnest realized it was easier to compare Obama with Pope Francis – who never was a full-blooded real riot-causing, union-thug, populist Peronista – than with people like Huey Long. And Long’s tax schemes were nowhere near what Bernie Sanders, the real socialist, would do if he won the presidency. Would try to do and would fail, that is. Unless a Sanderista party rose up around the land to replace the Dems and GOP and he somehow won control of Congress. Obama couldn’t be a Huey Long if he wanted to, but his contempt for the separation of powers sometimes leaks through when he feels he has to get his agenda done before it’s too late. As in executive action on amnesty. And while taxes are not what they would be under Sanders, Obama has managed to get them a good deal of the way there. Would Obama say that some of Long’s causes and methods were just if pressed, or would he know he had to duck the question? Maybe Obama could show the Pope the Kingfish’s website when they chat. But the Holy Father doesn’t need the ghosts of American populism to guide him, he has his own roadmap.

It turns out that Carly Fiorina was third in terms of speaking time at the debate. Why – aside from Jake Tapper’s hostile tone when he interacted with her – does it feel that she barely got enough time? Could it be that she handled the issues with a rapid-fire thoroughness that left many other candidates looking insubstantial or just foolish? The Commander in Chief – the one you trust with the nuclear codes and with keeping your kids safe – on that stage was Carly. But what really made her compelling was how genuine her anger was. Her words on Planned Parenthood would, and did, elicit a heartfelt thank you from anyone at all concerned with human life. And the way she framed it, linking the security of the nation to the character of the nation, made it clear that the character of the Commander in Chief is what defends both. On the individual level (the beating heart and kicking legs of a fetus about to have its brain “harvested”) and on a macro level (who you call in the Middle East and what you tell them).

It got to the point where her non-verbal reactions to comments (like Trump’s lame response to her perfect put-down but at various other points in the debate as well) drew the camera towards her. “What’s she going to say next?” began to crackle in the air, after she delivered multiple knock-out blows. Not necessarily against competitors – yes with Trump – but against the current conventional wisdom. Or the very construction of a question: the cute 10-dollar bill question was dismissed with clarity and force. She is no Margaret Thatcher, she is Carly Fiorina. And she could get into the political ring with Maggie herself, should the Iron Lady rise from the grave to debate with who may be her protege. Carly cuts through the nonsense, and people seem to be increasingly grateful for that. Trump cuts through the nonsense as well, but he brings a limousine full of his own nonsense to any debate or event as well. That’s Trump. Carly, on the other hand, does not waste a syllable, and leaves you grateful and hoping for more. Mic drop indeed.

Why drive to Vegas when you can trust China’s transportation industry to do the heavy lifting for you? Why develop high-speed trains – an American innovation from the late 50’s – when you can import a turn-key project? And hopefully create new technology, manufacturing, and constructions jobs in the region. According to Shu Guozeng, government bureaucrat – sorry leading official – with the “Communist party’s leading group on financial and economic affairs”, in the reassuring words of Bloomberg News.

Yes China has developed and built lots of impressive high-speed trains in a nation with several times America’s population – much of it located in the Eastern part of the country near their coastline. And yes, communist party officials have developed a state-run, socialist, (as in Mao, not Bernie Sanders), form of mercantile capitalism that may yet impload under the weight of subsidies, over-construction, and exploited labor. And corruption. You can’t just shoot or hang all the corrupt party officials. So they do symbolic, occasional lynchings to keep the rest from stealing too much. But they have built lots of trains and the West Coast wants in on all those cutting-edge, multi-billion dollar projects.

So just in time for Xi Jinping’s visit, we have a high-speed rail project linking LA and Vegas. The Vegas-Victorville portion alone has been estimated at $5 billion; but for projects like these estimates are even more prone to be under the actual, final cost. There is no doubt that when, and even if, it finally gets built, it will look great in ads for Vegas. The happy family texting and gaming their way across the Mojave Desert, on their way to good, clean gambling and shows. It surely will look great in HD.

But whether the rail link will ever pay for itself, or prove an expensive show project for Chinese transportation companies, is unclear. At least All Aboard Florida is being built by Florida East Coast Industries, the descendant if you will, of Henry Flagler’s companies. Better to have home-grown companies control a project that is more about showcasing revitalized technology than making a profit. And in Florida, they’re building a fast train, but not THE fatest train available. The West, by contrast, is showcasing the latest bank-busting toy from Asia. And their projects in California and Nevada and elsewhere, are even less likely to make a profit. They seem to be following Hollywoodonomics: always use other people’s money; always take your cut up front; let other people worry about making a profit; walk away from the wreckage; and do it all over again because you’re a player. And the shooting – that would be a metaphor for the actual building of the rail line to Vegas, not one about corrupt Chinese officials – hasn’t even started yet.

Even Trump admits it: Ben Carson has a calming presence. Or in Trump’s backhanded compliment/slap-in-the-face: Ben lacks energy. In other words, Trump agitates an angry voter base, resonating in a magnified way with their frustrations at the political structure of their own party, the GOP, as well as with government in general in 2015. While Ben Carson provides a steady soothing voice that is in fact more conservative than Trump on issues like faith and taxes. And that provokes a big question: does Ben Carson have the grit – read negotiating skills – to take on the problems America faces?

It seems to be becoming clear that both Trump and Carson represent out-of-the-box approaches to politics; but ones that are diametrically opposed, in style more than substance. The question is: who is more likely and/or able to bring real change to Washington and the country at large? Perversely, it would seem to be the Donald, given the constant stream of invective his campaign brings forth from GOP political advisors and much of the conservative – and liberal – media establishment. Someone who gets people – important people in the GOP structure – that mad must be seen as a threat. Do they really believe he is a clown? Or is it his hard line on issues like immigration that make them worry that he will prove an unelectable GOP candidate, should he win the nomination?

Or maybe he is just a rank outsider who hasn’t paid his dues in the minor GOP leagues and worked his way up the establishment ladder, proving his worth with some real political accomplishments as a congressman or senator or governor. One wonders – if this is really why there is so much anger directed at Trump – if they still feel that all this voter anger is a passing fad. Do they take Trump’s (and Carson’s) surges in the polls seriously? Or are their gazes on the current nominee landscape weathered and skeptical, yet at the same time stubbornly hopeful that the normal rules of GOP nomination processes – you do your time and do it well, and we decide when it’s your turn – will rule in the end.

This is about more than electability – even if worries about electability are central. This is about how the GOP and it’s associated factions and lobbies and grassroot organizations and sundry supporters all go about deciding who will be their candidate. In the end, that process seems only capable of being managed to a limited extent in 2015. And that frustration at the lack of control over the process is producing more than a little anger and invective. Donald’s not the only one hurling a few insults around. The thing is: Trump loves being obnoxious. GOP insiders don’t seem to be having nearly as much fun when they have to aim a pitch at the big boisterous batter who’s crowding the plate. And to finish the metaphor, that zen catcher perched behind all that swinging and hurling, and who is not prone to take off his mask and mix it up, might prove to be a far better at bat than anyone thought. But it’s early innings yet.

The Quds Force are a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp who were created during the Iran-Iraq conflict in the 80’s. They helped the Kurds in Northern Iraq in their war with Saddam’s regime. They have been – and still are – in Afghanistan, fighting against, and then joining with the Taliban. And now they are entering the Syrian conflict, at the hand of Russia who has been rapidly expanding their military presence in Syria in the last month or so. Quds head Qassem Soleimani met with Putin in Moscow in late July, and that meeting clearly included plans for a Russian arms build up in Syria. All in order to support Bashar al-Assad’s crumbling regime, a long-time Russian and former Soviet ally.

To have two of the (fairly) recent or current players in the Afghan endless conflict now in Syria does not bode well for any resolution in the near or even medium term. But it has been a long time since Syria has been well or bid well. This is the now-familiar Middle Eastern process of ruthless autocratic regimes being replaced with violent, bloodthirsty chaos and anarchy. Putin is hoping to preserve what’s left of the former, but it seems they’ve come late to the Syrian game. As bad as the violence in Syria and Iraq, the presence of a Russian military force is now Balkanizing Syria beyond even the divisions which are ripping it apart. Add in the islamic fault line that runs between Shiite and Sunni branches – Iran is Shiite and that includes the Quds Force; IS is a fanatical sect of the Sunni branch, similar to it’s elder cousin in terror, Al Qaeda – and anything that can get even worse in Syria likely will.

It is now 14 years on from 9/11 and 3 years on from Benghazi. To have Russian ambitions muscling their way into an already hellish cauldron of religious and political violence is to add a final dose of napalm to a raging fire. But that’s a quaint metaphor in 2015. It’s more like nuclear fallout. The Iran deal and Russia’s role as a monitor of Iran’s nuclear program add up to a perfect firestorm. Reducing levels of stockpiles of low-enriched uranium is like asking the Iranians and the Russians to play whack-a-mole as they shift enriched uranium around the country. And with Iran allowed to keep over 5,000 centrifuges that’s merely kicking the nuclear problem a short distance down the road. But as well, with Russia in Syria in alliance with Iran, the possibility of Iran gaining nuclear weapons takes on an added dimension. Is Putin trying to draw a curtain of fire around the Middle East? To revive his nostalgia for the Warsaw Pact? Imagine, Putin trying to build a Warsaw Pact scheme of alliances, while IS tries to revive a centuries-dead caliphate. Israel will have no choice but to – using Vietnam-era language – defend itself with extreme prejudice.

If you’re a frustrated lawyer, or you really are an attorney, then Wikipedia’s talk pages can be a wonderful place to vent and advocate and dismissively criticize those unversed in Wikipedia’s lengthy and fussy editorial policies. And if you are a long-time internet user with a love of logic and latin who stands accused, (not specifically but generally along with other wikipedia users/editors), by of “astroturfing” Koch Industries’ Wikipedia site, why then you have both a conspiracy and a brawl. All in the talk pages of Wikipedia!

Managing your media profile is increasingly fundamental for anyone or any organization with any sort of presence, both online and offline. Do the Koch brothers have staffers or consultants who are paid to monitor stories about them in the media, as well as sites like Wikipedia, where a lot of people will go to sate their curiosity about their corporation? It would seem strange if they didn’t. But the point is, do the edits – really the edits of the edits – by wiki-users/editors like the latin-loving user “Collect” comply with Wikipedia policy?

If you delve into the discussions on the Talk page, you will see that User:Collect always has a specific wikipedia policy to point to to support any edit he/she does. And then he/she sums up the policy and throws in a little latin like “ave atque vale” (“hail and farewell” directed to the poet Catullus’ dead brother and his “mute ashes”). User:Collect is imposing and overwhelming in his logic, like a cultured senior judge or the professor in the Paper Chase.

So, is User:Collect paid for his edits? I have been assuming in the last few lines that User:Collect is a he. Or is User:Collect somehow compensated in some other way by the Koch Brothers? A wonderfully erudite and fussy wikipedia editor who really knows the policies of the site, ensuring a reasonably neutral point in view in the wikipedia page. Evil! Evil! One can imagine the adrenaline rush WeAreKochs – the dailykos writer(s)’ moniker – felt as they tapped out the final declaration of their blog/pamphlet – a blogphlet? – that calls for “swift justice” by Wikipedia against the Koch Brother’s astrotufing campaign. Thrilling stuff! Or, they could research the policies of the site – especially those dealing with living subjects; and ensure that any edit complies. Less thrilling, of course.

If you google “shake up of team Hillary” the first thing you get is a link at that speculates on the possibility of Liz Warren endorsing Bernie Saunder’s campaign. It’s a touch out of date with a July 1, 2015 dateline. You then get a link from April of this year on another earlier shake-up of the Clinton campaign. Next comes an article from June about how Jeb Bush was going to shake up his campaign to better take on Hillary. Then two links later, you finally get to the dailykos’s article on Hillary’s latest shake-up. At least with a September 1, 2015 dateline, you can reasonably assume it’s the latest Hillary shake-up. And then you get a link to the Atlantic talking about Hillary’s shake-up of her campaign; the 2008 campaign that is. That’s a good deal of shaking up from what seems to be a less-than-flawless effort to date.

Even her supporters admit Hillary is no Bill. And her team has apparently been well aware of this, and tried to steer the campaign towards the facts regarding her experience. There’s a few problems with that strategy. In the first place, they couldn’t have picked a worse presidential campaign to choose to run on insider experience. In the second place, Hillary’s experience – both as First Lady and as Secretary of State – have a few skeletons in the closet that are admittedly being dragged out into the open by her opponents. But they revolve around issues like Whitewater and Benghazi and do not present someone who is likely to earn an independent voter’s or an undecided voter’s trust. Or even the trust of an increasing number of Democrats who are increasingly turning to Sanders.

Is Chelsea Clinton to blame for all this? While there may be some bungling by her daughter, the issue of the political adivsor class is a hot one and an angry one this time around for Hillary and all candidates. There may be revolts in both parties – there is certainly one among GOP voters – and rejection of beltway expertise and slick campaign tactics is, for now at least, behind much of the gains by Trump and Carson, and Fiorina. And by Sanders as well. Will this last? Or fade and be fondly known as the summer of fifteen by the political class relieved by the retreating and fading glow of all that rebellious anger as fall and winter wear down the rebellion. The beltwayers hope so. The voters may yet have more to say.

On May 10, 2011 – 4 years and 4 months ago – President Obama declared the border fence with Mexico was “now basically complete.” Recently, the DHS – under questioning from Senator Cruz – stated that 36.3 miles of double-fencing had been built, along with existing or fairly recently built fencing of various types: 299.8 miles of vehicle fence; and 316.6 miles of pedestrian fence. That adds up to 652.7 miles of fencing – some of it hardly imposing – out of a total length of 1,954 miles. So, they’re some open border still left to fence. But not even the security experts at the DHS seem to really want to build much effective fencing. Reading the House’s 2012 Committee on Homeland Security’s report – Blueprint for Southern Border Security – one gets the feeling that the experts want lots of high-tech toys rather than spend on an old-fashioned fence. The cost of that fencing runs at about $7 million a mile. That would be just under $4 thousand a yard. Assuming the full 700 missing miles were built, the cost adds up to around $11 billion.

So why not spend the money on sensors and drones and other expensive gear to track and round up illegals in real time? A fence is so eighties, please. And rather un-holistic as well. Some of the technology will, (or has), come from Israeli companies who have evolved their products and systems in a hot and dangerous area of the world, even more hot and dangerous than the drug-war-ravaged areas of northern Mexico like Juarez, as well as the border zone itself. The projected costs are multiples of the humble double fence that occupies a mere 36.3 miles. One wonders, however, if the two approaches – high tech gear, and low-tech fencing – are somehow at odds. Wouldn’t it be truly “holistic” for a sturdy double fence to provide the initial disincentive, and the high-tech sensors and drones to provide back-up and depth and a real-time coverage? The humble fence is continually subject to scrutiny and ridicule and you-just-can’t-do-that criticisms. How about shining a little of that heat and light on the high-tech gear to make sure that voters get their money’s worth as the tens of billions are spent to secure the border? And just maybe, the humble fence will prove a valuable investment.

Is CREDO Mobile the future of business? Fiercely smiling over-educated progressives – with more than a few Stanford Grads and most of them women – beam out from their webpage where they share with the world their mission statement. That’s because CREDO Mobile is really an NGO with a front-office business in mobile telephony. Environmental rainbow-based advocacy and a San Francisco Head Office are all part of their 30-year history of activism. They offer their activist supporters – about 3 million of them – through CREDO Action, basically a PAC – a user-friendly petition platform to promote their causes: no Keystone, gay rights in the military, environmentalism, pacifism, and progressive ideals in general. And now they’re targeting President Reagan.

In a provocative slap in the face to Ohio Republicans and to the GOP in general, they are petitioning to rename Ronald Reagan Airport. The way they phrase the petition is custom-designed to irritate: to atone for his sin of expressing disappointment at the re-naming of Mt. McKinley, Boehner now has a chance to redeem himself, according to CREDO Action. He can be “consistent” about retaining original place names and pass legislation re-naming Reagan National Airport back to Washington National Airport. The gleeful hypocrisy of their oh-so-cute double play on re-naming, (Denali was the original name so there! ha ha ha), feels sophomoric at best. You can imagine them giggling over veggie haute cuisine somewhere near the waterfront as they cooked up some media coverage for their PAC and heck, maybe even garnish a few subscribers.

Or lose a few. California can be a very conservative state depending, in part, on your zip code. And California was Reagan’s home. But Hillary’s campaign is struggling and CREDO Action needs funding to, for example, pressure Democratic candidates – that would be Hillary and Bernie mostly – to not pick a VP who is not firmly for the Iran deal. The list of issues to be targeted by CREDO Action: Arctic Drilling; Standing tall and free with Jorge Ramos; Bashing Chuck Shumer’s Wall Street giveaways (almost worthwhile come to think of it) and much more. The list is ambitious, and a cute little stunt to draw in donors is just the trick they needed apparently. Is CREDO Mobile the future of business? And not just for progressive West Coasters?

Howie Kurtz was writing for his student newspaper at the University of Buffalo when Watergate was still fresh in everyone’s mind. After attending Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, he was hired a few years later by Bob Woodward himself at the Washington Post. Howie loves media. Howie is media. Howie covers the media, in all it’s muck-racking, self-righteous glory. So when Howard Kurtz asks how in the world did Ben Carson get to share the top spot with Trump in the latest Iowa poll, he has an answer, being a media guru-analyst. Ben has been flying under the radar. In other words, because Dr. Ben Carson is both a non-politician and a black GOP contender, he should really remain a cute little curiosity – something like Ambassador Alan Keyes. And Ambassador Keyes had political experience. Heck, Keyes is a former student of Chicago’s political philosophy great, the late Alan Bloom.

No such luck for Ben Carson, who is merely a retired surgeon. So what is Howie to do? Easy. Predict that from now on Ben Carson will no longer be able to fly under the radar. He will have to undergo the drones and surface-to-air and laser-guided munitions that will target him, fast and furious. And the public will of course change their perceptions of Ben Carson, because if Howie and the media say so, it must be true. Like the fetal tissue research tempest in a teapot which somehow was supposed to show that Ben is a hypocrite when it comes to his faith. Never mind that Carson explained very precisely how he nothing to do with such research live on Fox – where Howie happens to work.

Could it be possibly be that the media is not quite seen as heroic as when Howie was a journalism student and when Woodward and Bernstein were uncovering the Nixon campaign tactics scandal centered around Watergate? Could it be that the “voter anger” everyone acknowledges is a reflection of a decades-long irritation – to put it politely – with the media and their self-appointed role as kingmakers? And does the distribution of media munitions – whether laser-guided courtesy of The Daily Beast, or dirty bombs detonated by fussy politically correct Washington Post reporters, or any of the blogs across the web space – mean that no one is king-maker anymore? And does the authenticity that Ben Carson seems to display exist beyond the mainstream media pale? Could it be that people like what he says, and who he is? Every time he gets up and takes a microphone and speaks to voters?

Kurtz acknowledges this of course, but do so grudgingly and promises some mouth-watering attacks on Carson and any controversial statements he may make. Will that hurt the good doctor? Not so far.