Thursday, June 22, 2017

An Unexpected Medical Scam -- and Solution


Now for something completely different (how many of you can identify that quote?);  a scam nobody else has mentioned, and an easy way out of it.

Rasty has been steadily losing his hearing for the past 10 years, which is a real tragedy, since he used to be one of the better sound-engineers in the San Francisco Bay area.  He also used to be a very good electronics engineer, who built proof-of-concept models for Bill Hearn -- designer of the UC Berkeley Exploratorium.  We learned the hard way that his Medicare, and its associated HMO, don't cover hearing-aids.  We also learned, after fairly extensive shopping around, that the average price for commercial hearing-aids is somewhere between $2000 and $3000 a pair.  The cheapest we could find anywhere cost $600 a pair, with no guarantee or warrantee.  This p!ssed Rasty off to no end, since he knew, from his years of electronics and sound-work, that a good hearing-aid requires no more than $10 worth of electronics.  He swore that if he'd still had access to Bill Hearn's old lab, he could have easily made a pair for himself with just a couple hours' work.  He did in fact put together an adjustable amplifier, with earphones, out of cheap parts bought at Radio Shack.  It worked only moderately well, since he couldn't make it compensate for distortion in the lower range or balance the high range.

He gave up trying to get anything better after the second time we followed up on a TV ad for a "free hearing test" as part of a come-on for a hearing-aid company.  Yes, we went and got the free test, and Rasty read the results -- which pretty closely confirmed what he'd already figured out.  The intriguing part was the way the doctor (of what?) kept hinting broadly that seniors who can't hear words clearly tend to fall into "dementia".  He then offered us a great deal on hearing-aids: just $2200 a pair.  Uhuh.  We made polite excuses and got out of there fast.  Rasty drove home muttering all the way, swearing that he'd make do with whatever he could pick up at Fry's Electronics.

Ah, but our luck was about to change.  The next day we got a package in the mail from one of Rasty's clever daughters, containing her husband's old (3 years) model smart-phone.  He got bored with the old model and bought a new state-of-the-art smart-phone (that was guaranteed not to catch fire), and decided to send the ol' man the ol' phone rather than dumping it on Gazelle or someplace like it.  'Twas a lovely piece of electronics, but it came without the manual and Rasty had no idea how to transfer his old phone's information to it.  Fortunately, Bill and Carol came for another visit before Rasty's blood-pressure could get any higher.  Bill, who's much more hacker than electronics freak, found the original manual in short order, also found Rasty a much cheaper phone-company (through Fry's), transferred his card-info for him, and -- purely as an afterthought -- added a free app called "hearing aid".  A pretty good ($20) pair of Fry's Electronics' earphones-with-microphone completed the set.

And it worked!  ...Well, partly.  Any phonecall Rasty got through that phone and earphones he could hear perfectly.  Overjoyed, Rasty spent the next couple days calling up his daughters and all his old pals and having long clear conversations with them for the first time in years.

The catch was that it didn't work so well on live sounds -- better than the cheap Radio Shack amplifier, but not by much.  Nor to mention that his rather broad fingers had problems with the persnickety phone's taps and swipes, and he has to get used to using the stylus.

Still, this is a great start -- and Bill's coming back tomorrow, so Rasty can go over the problems with him.  Maybe he'll need a better earphones and mike set, maybe he'll have to pay for a better "hearing aid" app, maybe it'll be something else -- but in any case, we're off to a great start.

And besides, we've discovered a great way for poor folks -- or even ordinary folks -- to beat the hearing-aid price scam that's been going on unhampered, and even unnoticed, for all these years.

 --Leslie <;)))><       

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Gathering Tease


What a disappointment -- for Democrats -- Comey's testimony turned out to be!  For all his earlier hints and promises of juicy revelations about Trump, once under oath Comey squirmed and weaseled and said nothing that could be used as evidence that Trump "obstructed justice".  If anything, he dug his political grave with his mouth;  not even the most frantic Democrat will love him now, and his days of political power are over.  What made him switch positions like that?  I have a theory, but I'll hold it back for awhile.

And then there's Sessions' testimony today -- which was tangled, confused, and full of contradictions -- and made Sessions look like an idiot (without, again, providing any solid testimony or evidence against Trump).  Pretty clearly, Congress will now pile on Sessions too.  I expect he'll be out of his job by the end of the summer.  Was this planned?

I note also the particular question the Senators on the committee made a point of asking: "Did you have any contact with any Russians on... ?"  This is a question guaranteed to confuse, especially to confuse a person who doesn't think fast, as Sessions clearly doesn't.  What do they mean by "any contact"?  Shaking hands and saying hello at a convention rally?  Probably everybody on the Trump campaign -- and probably everybody in Washington -- has had that much contact.  Hell, I've had more contact than that with Russians, at Science Fiction conventions.  If "any" contact with any Russians is evidence of crime, then all the reporters of all the major media, and most of the elected and appointed members of the federal government can be hauled in front of the firing squad.  The fact that Sessions wasn't smart enough to deal with questions like this shows that he just plain isn't smart enough to be Attorney General.  Surely Trump knew that when he offered Sessions the job.  Why?  Again, I'll hold off on my theory for now.

Just in case the dickering in Congress today wasn't exciting enough, Trump let (nudged?) a junior (and obviously not too sharp) staff member tell the media outright (not just "leak") that he thought that Trump was wondering if he (Trump) could "fire the Special Prosecutor".  Of course Trump made no such move, and the rest of his staff insisted he had no such intention, but hoo-hah, did that ever stir up the media!

The icing on the cake is the revelation according to Bloomberg from the "intelligence community" (Just which agency?  Not specified.) that Russian hackers, before the 2016 election, hacked into the voter-registration lists of "39 states" (How many counties in those states?  Not specified.). 

And what did the Russian govt. do with the names and addresses of all those voters?  ...Not a damned thing.  I doubt that this was because the US govt. learned about the hack and told Putin & Co. to cut it out.  Although various pundits have speculated about what an enemy govt. could do with that knowledge, I suspect that the real reason is that the Russians really don't know what the hell to do with the knowledge.  For one thing, they have to know that the computer lists are backed up by hard-copy, and any computer-games would be quickly revealed.  For another, they know that Americans -- as voters or anything else -- are unpredictable;  they can't understand us, and they think we're all crazy.  Meddling with us, they know, would be about as safe as playing catch with a bottle of liquid nitroglycerin.  For a third, Russia has never been a democratic country, and have no idea how such a system really works.  When Stalin bragged "It doesn't matter how people vote;  what matters is who counts the votes" he revealed himself as an amateur.  Americans have had more than two centuries' experience with conducting elections, cheating on elections, and countering election cheats;  our election process -- being different in every one of the 50 states -- is so complex (as I can personally attest!) that most Americans can't keep track of it, and absolutely no Russian can.

So, what's the point of revealing this Russian voter-registration-list hack now, and then revealing that absolutely nothing came of it?  Why, keeping the Democrats and the media fixated on the whole Trump and the Russians flap, of course.  It's all part of Trump's don't-throw-me-in-that-briar-patch tease!  He's got everyone absorbed in two questions:  what is Sessions not saying about Comey's firing, and why was Comey really fired?  Trump is confident enough to keep pouring fuel on the fire -- clearly waiting to be called into the hearings himself.  He's whipping up the tension for more than dramatic effect;  the longer he holds out, the more hysterical the attacks by the various folks who don't like him will get, the worse the excuses by the frantic conservatives will get, the more they'll reveal themselves as idiots and incompetents, and the more excuse he'll have to fire them in droves.  This is a neat way to get shed of those troublesome troglodyte reactionaries his election obligations required him to hire, and also a fine way to flush out the stealth Democrats in the federal bureaucracy.

Obviously, when he's called to testify, he'll say that he fired Comey for other reasons -- and he can prove it. 

And how will he prove it?  I've seen a few hints.  Note that Comey started trimming his sails (and contradicting himself) when, according to a reporter who happened to overhear, Trump commented that Comey had "better hope that our meeting wasn't taped".  Click! -- as we used to say back in the early days of Women's Lib.  I also note that one of the cannier senators in the committee hearing asked Sessions if he knew of any recordings that might have been made of meetings with Trump.  Sessions promptly said no, and you could see that the idea was new to him.  The senator, clearly thinking of Nixon, then asked if he knew of any federal law that would forbid the president from erasing any portion of those recordings, and Sessions admitted that he'd have to go look that up.

Heheheheh.  No fear of erasure, folks.  I'm convinced that Trump's ace up his sleeve is that he's been recording everything he's done, audio and video,from waking to sleep, for a very long time -- and he has no intention of erasing any of that.  I believe he has recordings that will show up Comey for a liar and worse, and will show that -- far from being Putin's tool -- Trump screwed the Russians seven ways from sundown, and possibly still has their balls in his pocket.  And the gods only know what else. 

Yes, Trump too remembers Watergate.  And he's no fool.

--Leslie <;)))><                        

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The War of Appearances

I saw something on MSNBC News tonight that made me give a double-take, and then crack up laughing.  It was a brief shot, during all the gabble about Trump And The Russians, showing a Russian official heading into a building for an EU meeting -- and being hounded by papparazi.  'Twas amazing.  There was the Euro reporter sticking out his microphone and questioning a mile a minute over what was the Russian position on Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Accords, and the harried Russian repeating: "No comment, no comment". 

That by itself would only have been funny, but it was followed a few minutes later by a clip from an American TV news interview with Vladimir Putin, wherein the veteran KGB man contradicted himself within 30 seconds.  First he insisted that the Russian government was not responsible for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee's emails -- that hackers could be anywhere in the world, and he named a few countries -- and just a few seconds later he claimed that the hack had been done by "patriotic Russians".  Now of course Putin, being a Russian politician, has made a career out of lying -- but never before have I seen or heard of him lying so clumsily.  Also, I noticed that the pictures of him were carefully angled and cropped to disguise the fact that his hair has gone totally gray -- and pale gray at that.  His well-trained face showed his usual politely-blank expression, but the lines in his cheeks and forehead were deeper than when we saw them last -- just a couple weeks ago. 

Given how important appearance, bluff, "showoffsky" is to Russian politics, my conclusion is that something is coming apart in Russia.  Given how uncharacteristically quiet Trump has been for the past couple days, I daresay he knows all about it.  The news-media, happily trading speculations about whether there's proof that Trump committed "obstruction of justice", don't seem to notice.

Another odd fact, largely overlooked by the preoccupied media, is that the government of China -- China! -- made a public announcement that it would not tolerate North Korea's "provocative" nuclear program.  To anyone who's been watching developments in Asia over the past few years, this means that Kim Jung Un is doomed -- and soon.  Trump is one person who has to know what this means, but again, he isn't saying a thing. 

So what, besides the obvious, is the media full of?  Proclamations of doom, predictions that the US has lost its position as "leader of the Free World" -- and that France and Germany are vying for the position -- because the US pulled out of the Paris "carbon-footprint" accords.  Despite the frantic predictions of Al Gore and friends, none of this will have any effect on "Global Warming"...  Oops!  "Climate Change".  As I've mentioned a few times, excess CO2 in the atmosphere is readily taken up by plant life -- the bigger the better, the more the merrier -- so the quickest and cheapest and surest solution to "greenhouse gases" in the air is to plant more crops, more ground cover, and especially more trees.  A concerted media campaign encouraging  planting would do far more to clean up the atmosphere than all the "carbon reduction agreements" in the world.  Yet the Paris agreement, which was never binding anyway, is being treated like the rejected salvation of the Earth.

What I see going on here is the classic failing of both the media and the politicians who make use of them: being sucked in by your own propaganda.  When you make your living creating phony appearances and using them to stampede the public, you can easily fall into the illusion that the appearance is as good as the real thing.  From that point, it's all too easy to grow more and more careless about the appearance's connection to reality, and that's the kiss of death.  Reality always snaps back and bites you, sooner or later.

I get the insistent feeling that the whole Get-Trump frenzy is about to blow up in the gleeful media's and Democrats' faces, sooner rather than later.


--Leslie <;)))><    




Friday, May 26, 2017

The Red Phone Remembered


Does anyone remember the infamous Red Phone?  It was a reliable, secure, private phone line between the White House and the Kremlin.  The Red Phone sat on the President's desk throughout the Cold War, for the express purpose of preventing World War III, as shown in various movies -- including the classic "Dr. Strangelove".  Everybody knew about the Red Phone, and nobody complained about its existence. 

Since Glasnost, however, knowledge of the Red Phone has dropped out of sight.  Does it still exist?  Is it still connected?  Whom would you ask to find out? 

In particular, whom would you ask if you were a President-elect who was extremely unpopular with most of the federal bureaucracy -- whose staffs are preponderantly Democrats, including the FBI -- not to mention the mass media, who can be relied upon to put a negative spin on everything you say or do?

Well, why not send a smart, trusted relative to go to the Russian embassy and simply ask the Russian ambassador? 

The ambassador might indeed be surprised at your unorthodox method of determining whether a communication line of great importance to national security was operative or not.  It might give him ideas about how trustworthy your federal bureaucracy was.  His communications back to Putin might be full of speculations as to how they could use this knowledge.  You can be sure that Putin's instructions would have been, basically, use it in any way that makes Russia look powerful and clever and scary and deserving of respect in the world.  And what could give Russia more respect than to tell of Jared Kushner asking about a "secure communication line" with the Russian government --at a time when the Useful Idiots in America are trying to paint their President as a tool of Russia?  Wow, wouldn't that make Russia look like the biggest, baddest kid on the block!

The only problem with this impression is that both Trump and Kushner himself are entirely too confident.  All the Democrats in any branch of government, and the media, and academia, and even in the medical/pharmaceutical business, are drooling buckets at the thought of actually being able to convict Trump of something and impeach him -- but Trump is still calmly saying that The Russian Connection is "a fantasy", and Kushner -- whom the congressional special investigating committee has finally called upon -- is coolly saying that he'll be happy to answer any and all questions they have for him.  This is the confidence of someone with an ace up his sleeve, someone with overwhelming evidence that his accusers are dead wrong -- and biased idiots.

That should have signaled a warning to the gleeful Democrats.  Indeed, older and wiser experts from both parties, in both government and media, have cautioned their colleagues that there could be perfectly "legal, if not moral" reasons for everything Trump and Co. have done with Russia.  Perhaps they too smell a trap being set, ready to  spring.  They have to know that Trump is not a fool, and neither is his son-in-law.   

When it springs, it will reveal just who/where the leaks and covert Democrats are in the White House staff, in the federal bureaucracy, in the "intelligence community" and just about everywhere else -- and Trump can gleefully fire as many of them as he can reach.  The ones he can't reach directly will still be exposed with egg (or worse) on their faces.  It will be a tremendous Machiavellian coup, and the world -- and the Russians -- will have to respect him.

And I'll do my damnedest not to say "I told you so."

--Leslie <;)))><           

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Briar-Patching Redux


Last month I warned that Trump was "Briar-patching" the Democrats in government and especially the Liberal media: teasing them into believing their own favorite fantasies and making ever more outrageous claims, until the undeniable facts show them up as idiots -- in public.  I mentioned that, given the downright hysterical claims of the Liberal media, Trump was doing quite a good job of it.  Well, given the claims of the media today, they're Briar-patching themselves marvelously with no further assistance.

First, there's the firing of FBI Director Comey, at a time when the FBI (along with a few other federal agencies) has been investigating connections between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government.  Of course the Dems/media make the obvious conclusion: Trump fired Comey to stop the FBI's investigation!  Of course!  There couldn't possibly be any other explanation, could there?

Well...  Comey -- following the tradition founded by J. Edgar Hoover himself -- was always much more a politician than a policeman.  Trump called him a "showboater...a grandstander", and (it takes one to know one), as more than a few ex-FBI employees claimed, he wasn't wrong.  Another old FBI tradition is that the agency protects and supports Democrat administrations, much as the CIA does for Republican ones, and Comey had been a faithful lapdog to Obama and Hillary over the years of his tenure.  On his orders, FBI personnel avoided using the term "Islamic terrorism", the FBI hired spokesmen from CAIR as advisers rather than investigate the organization, and made a priority out of collecting and investigating reported "hate crimes" against Muslims.  When Hillary's election committee received surprisingly large donations from the government of China, the media soon dropped the story and the FBI declined to investigate.  These would have been reason enough for any Republican president to replace Comey.

The icing on the cake was Comey's handling of the Hillary Unsecured E-mail case.  When Congressional pressure demanded an inquiry into Hillary's misuse of the email account, the Democrats and media turned on Comey and demanded that he be fired.  What Comey did was call a press conference on July 5, 2016 during which, according to at least three FBI Assistant Directors -- James Kallstrom, Bill Gavin, and Ron Hosko -- Comey assumed the role of a prosecutor and recommended no charges be filed against Hillary.  This put him back in the Derms/media's good graces again, he thought.  Kallstrom claims that the investigation itself was a sham, and this action "threw the reputation of the FBI under a bus.  That's what I'm very mad about".  Gavin agreed that Comey's firing was "something that had to happen", that "when he made a prosecutive opinion in an investigative matter, he made a mistake."  The FBI, being part of the Department of Justice, has to be very meticulous about such things.  Hosko agreed that "that is, reasonable minds can agree, the province of the prosecutor."  The move may have seemed like good politics, but it was bad law and made Comey's firing inevitable, no matter who was president.  In the end, it wasn't even good politics;  Democrats blamed the investigation, and it's "tarnishing" of Hillary's image, for sabotaging her campaign and costing her the election -- and again started howling for Comey's resignation.

The only real question about Comey's dismissal was when and how it would be done, and Trump's method was guaranteed to Briar-Patch the media.  Note how readily he agreed to that TV interview about it, and especially note exactly what he said.  After Trump gave technically accurate but vague explanations for the firing, the anchorman asked if he hadn't worried about "how it would look" that he fired Comey in the middle of the "Russia investigation" -- and Trump replied that he "thought about it", but then remembered that the supposed scandal was "a fantasy, a made-up story", and blithely went ahead with dismissing Comey -- leaving him find out about it on the TV news.  Right after that interview was aired, no less than Rachel Maddow (usually a quick and intelligent woman) claimed that Trump had "admitted" that he fired Comey to stop the investigation -- when in fact he said no such words, and the taped interview shows it.  This is an example of the hysterical lengths the Dems/Liberal media will go in pursuit of their own fantasy.

Then, merrily adding fuel to the fire, Trump invited the Russian ambassador and foreign minister, and even the head of the Russian news agency, to a private meeting in the Oval Office -- from which the US news media were firmly barred.  The reaction of the media remarkably resembled a jealous tantrum thrown by bratty children who haven't been invited to a swanky party.  First they howled that Trump had no right to hold a "secret meeting" with agents of a foreign government, until embarrassed legal experts pointed out that, a) far from "secret", the meeting was announced by the White House staff, and b) the President of the US has not only the right but the duty to meet and talk with agents of foreign governments -- in fact, that's a big part of his job.  Next, the news-hounds claimed, with no facts whatever, that Trump was "giving highly classified material" to the Russians -- until, again, legal experts informed them that the POTUS also has the right to decide what "classified material" he deems fit to give to foreign governments.  Perfectly legitimate White House staffers reported that what Trump had discussed with the Russians were matters of mutual concern in the middle-east, specifically dealing with ISIL, and the media went into an orgy of speculation.

Finally, a few days later, an outraged Washington Post claimed that Trump actually had revealed "highly classified information" to the Russians -- details about an ISIL terrorist plot involving the use of laptop computers on aircraft, among other things.  Obviously, Russia was one of the intended victims of this plot, and the information would be very useful to Russia's security.  Of course Trump asked for some favor in return, and the most likely guess is that he got the pledge of more help in destroying the whole Jihadist movement, something that the Russian government would be quite willing to do, if it could.  Why should the Dem/Liberal media crowd be upset by this?  Well, according to the Post, "Trump's disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State", information provided by "a US partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the US government, *officials said.* (emphasis mine).  The partner had not given the US permission to share the material with Russia, and *officials said* Trump's decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State.  After Trump's meeting, *senior White House officials took steps to control the damage,* placing calls to the CIA and the NSA."

Really?  Just where did the Washington Post claim to have gotten this information?  From unnamed "current and former US officials", the Post said.  Uhuh.

Now, supposing the Post story is true, just which "US partner" would fit the description?  The only possible candidates are Turkey, which is becoming less of an ally every minute, and one-third of the government of Pakistan, which was never an ally in the first place.  To be blunt, the only valuable assistance we can expect, or have gotten, from either of those is bought for money and unreliable.  You can be sure that our "intelligence community" verified this information from other sources before trusting it enough to use for a bargaining chip with the Russians.  That means there are other information sources in place which our spies could use for that verification, and those are still there.  The US didn't lose anything of value by giving the Russians information which could save them from some nasty Jihadist attacks.

And is the story true, after all?  H. R. McMaster, the White House national security adviser who was actually present at the meeting, claimed that "At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly", but the media have largely ignored him.

The Post appears to have gotten a real scoop on this story, for everyone else reporting the tale quotes it, in a wonderful display of blind faith.  Other assorted Liberal Dems are having a field day with the story, crying for appointment of a "special prosecutor" to investigate the "Trump-Russia Connection", already chortling about impeachment, and a group of psychologists are happily labelling Trump a sociopath, psychopath, and everything-else-opath that they can think of, ignoring the fact that the usual label for a doctor who diagnoses a patient he's never met is "sued".  Only a few cooler heads have urged caution, such as the famed Alan Dershowitz and Jonathan Turley, who noted that Trump should appoint as new FBI director "someone absolutely above reproach" and "support a special investigative commission, not an independent prosecutor, because I don't think we have any probable cause, yet, that crimes have been committed."

Could it be that this is exactly what Trump wants to do, because a special investigative committee would reveal that he's innocent, and his accusers are biased, hysterical liars and idiots?  Could it be that this particular tease has revealed leaks and hostile members of the White House staff, whom Trump can now happily fire?  Could this be the cliff that he's hoping to stampede the Dems/Liberal media over?  It's the sort of plot that Trump's smart Jewish son-in-law could have thought up.

Be careful of that briar-patch!

--Leslie <;)))><





  

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Healthcare Studied -- Finally


When the ACA/Obamacare was first passed, the bill was over 2900 pages long and nobody in the Senate, at least, had read it all the way through.  I don't recall offhand the name of the politician who said that they had to pass the bill to find out what was in it, but she was a political idiot.  Would you dive off a cliff in the dark just because some charming speaker said 'Trust me'?  Ah, but the Liberal euphoria at having elected Our First Black President distracted Congress from all those citizens complaining "Just Fix Medicare". 

It was the bureaucrats tasked with the details of making the new law work who noticed the several little bits of political pork hidden in the nooks and crannies of the bill, such as a gift of $100 million to repair the infrastructure of... Gaza.  The law they finally put into operation was *only* 2100 pages long, and none of the media were so rude as to ask exactly what was in those missing 800 pages. 

It was the army of medical finance accountants who began noticing problems with the new law, and issuing alarms, which government and media took care to ignore.  People who noticed and spread these warnings were usually denounced as "right-wingers", "racists", and worse -- as if criticizing what was considered the crowning achievement of Obama's administration was blasphemy, much like any criticism of Islam.

Only after the election, when Trump started his attempts to replace the ACA, did it finally become acceptable to seriously question our current system of public healthcare.  As it turns out, there's a lot to question. 

The first federal public healthcare system was the Veterans' Administration, which was obliged to provide free hospitals and medical treatment for veterans, and did a repeatedly bad job of it.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs did something similar for the Indian tribes.  All that could be said of these free hospitals and clinics is that they were better than nothing.  There actually was a bill passed in the 1970s that would have provided the same services for the definable poor, but a concerted campaign by the AMA and associates kept the bill from ever being funded.  That law is still on the books, forgotten and still unfunded.

Medicare was passed in the '60s, and was intended to be the safety-net health insurance system for the poor, funded out of Social Security, which would pay directly for medical treatments.  Medicaid was intended as a supplement, to fill in the gaps in the system, but has turned out to be a trap;  any mistake in the complex paperwork -- regardless of whose fault it is -- can result in its clients being robbed of everything they own.  Any social worker with any sense today warns their clients to apply for Medicare, but avoid Medicaid like the plague.

The major problem with Medicare was that in providing direct payments, it cut the health-insurance companies out of the loop, and out of all that juicy money.  No one in particular has every been prosecuted for this, but the insurance companies entered into a conspiracy with the medical industry to exploit a particular loophole in the law;  any medical practitioner could refuse to accept direct payment from Medicare, so that the Medicare money had to be diverted through middlemen -- certain health-insurance companies that were favored by the state governments -- and the insurance companies would then pay the medical providers, who gleefully accepted those payments.  This system did nothing to reduce medical costs.  More, the insurance companies would pay only 80% of the costs, leaving the clients to pick up the other 20% in co-pays.  And never mind the added costs created by the paperwork itself, which deserves a whole article of its own.  The ACA only increased these costs, building up a snowballing debt, which is what those accountants tried to warn the public about.

Put them all together, and they describe a system built to fail.

Yes, the ACA has to go, Medicare needs to be severely overhauled, Medicaid should be thrown out completely -- and, incidentally, both the Indian-reservation and the VA hospitals and clinics need to be reorganized from the ground up.  The various regulations have to be simplified, the paperwork must be cut to the bone, and the bureaucracy with it.  Most of all, those middleman insurance companies must be cut out of the loop.  Medicare payments must be made directly to the medical providers -- hospitals, pharmacies, clinics, doctors and all -- and there must be some federal enforcement to keep them from refusing those direct payments.  Possibly the fed.-govt. could take away the license to prescribe medicines from any refuseniks, which would cut drastically into their incomes.  Also the FDA has got to be overhauled -- and marijuana re-scheduled as an over-the-counter medicine -- and the whole drug-approval system re-examined, but that's a different can of worms and needs a bill of its own.  The health-insurance companies can continue to offer their services to the public, but they won't get an automatic slice of the taxpayers' money through Social Security via Medicare anymore.  They might even have to compete honestly for the market, which will mean improving services and cutting costs like any other business.

The problem with getting to a sensible bill like this is that not only will the insurance and pharmaceutical companies scream bloody murder, but the rich reactionary-conservative faction wants to inject its own politics into the healthcare system.  They don't just want to de-fund Planned Parenthood (which, frankly, survived quite well on private donations for nearly a century before Medicare began paying into it), they want to ban all abortions, all fetal-tissue research, and even all contraception -- which the majority of the citizens will never stand for. 

Now, these groups contributed heavily to the GOP in the last election, so Trump has to at least make a convincing show of trying to please them.  Of course, he's already done that with his first attempts to replace the ACA, which famously failed, so he can convincingly say to the reactionaries and insurance/medical/pharmaceutical companies that he's done all he could to please them -- and then he can go on to more sensible attempts at healthcare reform.  The current bill will probably fail too, and then he'll have to come up with something better yet.  No doubt he knows this;  he's not a stupid man.

Meanwhile, just about everybody in the federal government is -- finally! -- studying the federal healthcare system with a magnifying glass, going over all the laws with a fine-toothed comb, looking to clean up the whole mess -- everything that should have been done before the ACA ever passed.  It's more than a shame that this took so long.

In any case, yes, the ACA will eventually be repealed and replaced.  It's just a question of when, and how well.         

--Leslie <;)))><  



Monday, April 24, 2017

Photo-Fakery and Abu Ghraib, part 4


Going on with the Abu Ghraib "abuse" photos at www.antiwar.com/news/?articleid=8560 --

When we move down to the next picture, #5, it begins to look familiar.  To the right, in a corner formed by a spotty concrete floor, one apparently plastered wall and one wooden wall, kneels a man in an orange jumpsuit with his hands behind his back.  He has a narrow, tanned face, close-cropped dark hair, and a somewhat dismayed expression that doesn't quite look natural.  To the left, fairly close to the wooden wall, stands a medium-sized black dog, facing the kneeling man.  The dog is standing with its legs straight, not pulling forward or back.  Its ears are half-cocked back, its mouth is partly open with its tongue partly out, and it's panting.  Its expression is calm and patient, and it has a pad of grayish callus on its visible elbow, showing that it spends a lot of time lying down on rough surfaces.  It's wearing a narrow chain-link collar with nothing visible attached, and a wide leather collar with a leash attached.  Holding the leash taut, standing beside and somewhat behind the dog, is a man in a desert-camouflage uniform, a thick flak-vest, black gloves and a tan knit cap.  He has a grayish five-o'-clock shadow, and his face is slightly more pink and less tanned than the kneeling man.  The focus and resolution are sharp and clear, and the coloration is natural.  The lighting is strong and bright, and is coming from above and somewhat to the left.  That's all we see.

Yet at least two of these figures are familiar;  we saw that dog, and the man holding its leash, in the first photo -- in a similar pose, but with much worse lighting and resolution.  In fact, the man in the orange jumpsuit in photo #5 looks very much like the supposedly-naked man in photo #1, but we can't be sure because the lighting and resolution are so poor.

The text accompanying the photo says (emphasis mine): "A US soldier in a flak jacket appears to be using both hands to restrain a dog facing an Iraqi detainee in the Abu Ghraib prison."

"Appears"?  The dog is standing four-square, not pulling against the leash, calm and panting.  There's nothing but his darker tan to indicate that the man in the orange jumpsuit is even Iraqi, and nothing to prove that he's actually a detainee.  He doesn't look believably frightened, and -- despite that soldier's two-handed grip on the leash -- the dog doesn't look threatening.  In short, this picture looks staged.

Now compare this with photo #1.  Despite their position in the list, there's reason to think that photo #5 was taken first -- and that is its "stagey" look.  Photo #1 appears more brutal and "abusive" precisely because the lighting, focus and resolution are so bad that we can't see any details clearly.  Since all the other photos in the series are quite clear, so we can only assume that this mis-focus is deliberate, done to cover up the "detainee's" shortcomings as an actor -- not to mention the dog's.

Again, why?  Consider the real story of Abu Ghraib as revealed by both the army's and the Red Cross' investigations as we venture further into the collection of photographs.  Stay tuned!

--Leslie <;)))><      

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Photo-Fakery and Abu Ghraib, Part 3


(I thought I'd best hurry up and publish this before the media comes up with more headlines about Trump.)

Moving on with the Abu Ghraib photos at www.antiwar.com/news/?articleid=8560 --

The third photo down shows an odd image: a naked man (we can assume from his muscular shoulders, despite his broad buttocks) with pale skin and dark hair, his back to the camera, standing with his arms outstretched and his legs crossed, in the middle of a bare corridor lined with barred doors.  His legs are visible down to the ankles, which wear manacles, and we can see part of a chain between them. The man is splattered with brown stains, from the back of his head to his buttocks, with streaks on his legs down to his ankles and on his arms down to thick smears on his outspread hands.  The smears are exactly where we would expect them to be if the man had fallen on his back, with his arms outstretched in front of him, into a large puddle of mud and then wiped off what he could reach with his hands before being stopped.

The corridor is clearly inside a prison unit;  beyond the naked man we can see two men's hands and forearms, darkly tanned, wearing broad white wristbands, sticking out from between the bars.  The arms are resting on the doors' crossbars, and the hands are relaxed.  At roughly the same distance beyond the naked man stands another man, dressed in military boots, camo pants, medium-wide black belt, brown T-shirt, and apparently black gloves on what we can see of his partly-concealed hands.  His skin is pale, but darker than that of the man in the foreground;  his face and neck are slightly-sunburned pink, but his forearms are tanned -- though not so darkly tanned as the arms sticking out of the cells.  He has dark hair and a mustache, and is holding an 18-inch long black tapering rod in his visible hand.  There is no one else in the corridor, and he has no other visible weapons.  The light is coming from apparently neon lamps above the doors, but primarily from somewhere near or behind the camera.  The photo-resolution is crisp and clear, and the color is naturalistic. 

This is what we see, and all that we see.  Now, what does it mean?

The added caption (emphasis mine) claims, cautiously: "A baton-wielding US soldier, appears to be ordering a naked detainee covered in a 'brown substance' to walk a straight line with his ankles handcuffed."

But is it really?  Note that lawsuit-evading "appears".   Also note the coyly emphasized "brown substance", meant to imply manure rather than mud.  In fact, the supposed detainee is not walking a straight line but crossing his left foot to the right of his right foot -- a dancing move -- and this may be a quibble, but his ankles are wearing manacles, not "handcuffs";  handcuffs will not fit around the average human ankle, and have little or no chain between them.  The man further down the corridor may well be a US soldier, and the rod in his hand may well be a light expanding baton, but is the man in the foreground a "detainee"?  Note the evidence of the suntanned forearms.

The soldier has a slightly-pink face and neck, showing that these usually avoid the hard sunlight of the region, but his forearms have clearly endured a lot of it.  One gets this pattern by going out in the sun as little as possible, and then only to drive a vehicle;  that's commonly known as a "truck-driver's tan".  This could be expected of a prison guard.  The forearms sticking out of those barred doors are much more darkly tanned, as if they belonged to people who had spent their whole lives -- and probably their ancestors for six generations had too -- living in that climate.  Given what prisoners Abu Ghraib got, we can safely assume that these belong to real POWs -- and they're carefully watching what those two men in the corridor are doing.  I think, given the fact that there's an unseen cameraman present, that this was planned.  In other words, this is a show put on for the benefit -- and intimidation -- of the prisoners, whose culture has a fascinated horror of nudity.

Now let's look closer at that supposed "detainee" in the foreground.  Note that despite the excellent musculature of his shoulders, arms, and legs, he still has that broad butt -- as if he'd been trained to very good physical condition, but then spent most of his working day sitting in an office chair.  Also note that, out of everyone present, he's the only one with untanned forearms;  they're as pale as the rest of him -- which is paler than anyone else.  There's not even a trace of slight sunburn.  What this spells is that he's not an Arab;  he's part of the military, but an office-worker.  We can't see the front of him, but I'd guess that it's likewise plastered  with mud -- to disguise the fact that he's not really a "detainee".  This scene was staged.  Precisely because there was a cameraman present, I suspect that it was not planned only for the benefit of the prisoners.

So just why, and for whom, was this picture taken?  For that matter, why were all the rest of them taken?

For that we'll have to reconsider the army's (and Red Cross') Abu Ghraib report -- and look at more of those photos, with an analytical eye.  More to come.  Patience!   

--Leslie <;)))><  
    

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Ooh, Please Don't Throw Me In That Briar-Patch!


Since Rasty loves to listen to MSNBC, I've been obliged to spend much of the day listening to the bellwethers of the Liberal Media gloating over bits of rumors about possible transgressions of Trump and the Russians (and yes, they do make it sound like the name of a disreputable rock-band).  Oooh, Trump concealed this, one of his staff avoided mentioning that, and Flynn's Asking For Immunity before he'll testify to one of the half-dozen or so Investigative Committees.  You can almost see them drooling, over really no evidence, so sure that when they finally dig up the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth they'll be able to throw Trump out of office and put Hillary in.

*Sigh*  You'd think they'd know better.  For one thing, throw out Trump and what you'll get -- Constitutional law is quite clear about this -- is Mike Pence.  Are you sure you want that, Rachel Maddow?  For another, there's no solid evidence there -- just hints, innuendo, and a bunch of amateurs' procedural mistakes -- like Nunez going straight to the White House to tell Trump & Co. that yes, there is evidence that somebody really did some "electronic surveillance" inside Trump Tower sometime.  

Now I'm sure that Obama never really called anybody from the FBI and told them "Go tap Trump's phones"; no, nothing so direct.  But consider that historically the FBI has supported Democrat administrations (while the CIA has supported Republican ones), that there are plenty of federal, state, county and even municipal police departments with the capacity and legal permission to use "electronic surveillance" and the willingness to earn brownie points with the FBI.  Also, in their eagerness to lambast Trump, various of these agencies have admitted that they were following "some of Trump's people" around, looking for a "Russian connection";  nothing would be easier than to walk somebody into the building wearing a wire.

For that matter, it wouldn't be necessary to walk anyone inside at all.  'Way back when I was a student war-protester and Hippie activist (never mind how many years ago that was!) the local police Red Squad spied on our apartment simply by parking an unmarked car out front and aiming a shotgun-microphone at our front room window;  even in those days, they had microphones sensitive enough to pick up the vibrations of voices bouncing off window-glass.  We had to conduct political business and grass-buys in writing while singing along with the radio.  I leave it to your imagination how spy technology has advanced since then.  Yes, I'm sure that somebody spied on Trump Tower.  Just what they heard is another story.

Remember, whatever else Trump is (con-man, sloppy speaker, jockish horn-dog, and plenty more), he's not a fool.  However close he skirts to the edge of the law, he's managed -- in all these years as a somewhat-shady businessman -- never to go provably over that edge, at least not far enough to ever get slapped with more than a bearable fine.  Recall that the forensic bookkeepers who went over the books for his foundation were impressed at how every penny was accounted for, every time and date of every activity meticulously recorded, and verified.  Also recall that he grew up during the days of the Cold War, and purely as a businessman he would have known about the dangers of dealing with the Russians.

Never mind where I picked up this information;  let's just say that as a political activist, a Wobbly, and a filksinger, I've talked to a lot of interesting people, in interesting places, under interesting conditions.  Also I've noticed that Russians, who can slug down Russian (or even Polish) vodka as if it were water, become surprisingly relaxed and merry after just a few shots of good golden whiskey.  Anyway...

Anyone who's done any kind of business in Russia knows the following facts: culturally, politically, and economically, Russia is the world's largest Third-World Country.  Economically, it's been staggering one step ahead of disaster for a century, and often enough it stumbles;  then we see (as we often have!) Russia unable to even feed its own people, obliged to buy grain from its oft-proclaimed worst enemy.  28 years ago we saw it collapse completely, taking the USSR with it.  Glasnost happened because Russia needed to make friends in a hell of a hurry, simply to keep its people from starving to death.  For years afterward, the Russian government could not pay its army.  Soldiers and officers had to moonlight at any jobs they could get, and sold their uniforms, insignias, various weapons, even furniture, anywhere they could -- even on the budding Internet.  Half the country's economy ran on barter, and more than a quarter of it still does.  The factories that are still running work at 50% capacity, on average.  The farms work because the managers ignore political policy and let the working staff use as much of the communal land as they want for their own crops, often seeded from their own personal gardens (which have been the mainstay of Russian agriculture for more decades than any government official wants to admit).  Worse, actual production quality is wretched, and not just because so many working stiffs show up hungover on Monday;  they also commonly have vodka for lunch, and afternoon production drops off precipitously in quantity and quality.  This is true of all mass manufacturing, including military.  At any given time, at least 15% of Russia's weaponry, from nukes on down, doesn't work.  The non-military production is worse.  And that's just the economy.

The way the Russian government has kept up its facade as a super-power is by making a major industry out of constant propaganda, "showoffsky" posing, and generally lying like a rug.  Managers lie about production, generals lie about the condition of their troops, medical administrators about the state of public health, and so on.  They also sweeten the lies to their higher-ups with "gifts", as well as artful excuses -- quite often by blaming personal and political rivals.  Bribery with anything as obvious as cash is fiercely forbidden and punished, precisely because corruption is so common, so one has to be subtle about the payoffs.  Nonetheless, the truth about shortcomings of goods and labor eventually makes itself obvious.  This means that nobody can trust the official news, the government's statements, their bosses' claims, or really anybody except very close and proven personal acquaintances.  There is no "public trust".  Think about what that implies.

Among other things, this means that the government's other major industry is spying -- on everyone it can afford to -- to see what they're really doing.  This has led to a secondary industry of blackmail, which is successful often enough to encourage its continued use.  And of course it means that nobody can rely on any government services.  This has encouraged the growth of the Russian Mafia, which is often more reliable than the official system.  When the economy collapsed, the only organization capable of maintaining any reliable flow of goods or services was the Russian Mafia;  as a result, much of Russia's recovered economy -- such as it is -- is Mafia-run.

As a result, anyone with any experience doing business in Russia knows that to do any kind of business in Russia means dealing with the Russian government or the Russian Mafia, or both;  the only way to tell them apart is that the Russian Mafia tends to be more honest and less interested in spying.  But in any case, you cannot trust the Russians on anything;  only the simplest of transactions can be in any way relied on.  This is why not many companies want to do business in Russia. 

Random  peculiarities:  1) If you check into a better class of hotel in Russia, be assured that there are hidden cameras in the bedroom walls, and possibly microphones too, and be prepared to deal with them.  2) If you intend to construct anything, import the materials and machinery yourself, and arrange to have them guarded 24 hours a day, preferably by imported guards;  otherwise as much as half of them will be stolen.  Keep these in mind.

Now one resource which Russia had after the collapse was the immense untapped petroleum fields in Siberia, oil reserves greater than Saudi Arabia's, enough to rebuild its economy from the ground up.  The problem was that nobody in Russia had the resources, or the skills, to develop that industry.  In desperation, the Russian government quietly sent a delegation to talk to President Bush, an old oil-man himself, to negotiate a deal.  Bush happily complied, because a notice appeared in the American media -- with no fanfare -- that the Bush administration had put together a consortium of international industrialists to develop vaguely-described "Russian oil-fields".  The story wasn't followed up and soon faded from public awareness, but whoever wants to can track it down and get the details.

One of the companies involved in that consortium was owned by Donald Trump.

I think we can be sure that Trump was not naive about the peculiarities of dealing with Russia.  Note that when that story circulated about Trump entertaining Russian whores in his hotel room, and getting them to pee on the bed, he did not react to it as defensively as he usually does to real threats or challenges;  he simply laughed it off.  This implies that some Russian agent or other had previously tried to blackmail him with that story, and Trump knew perfectly well that the tale wasn't true -- and he could prove it.  Note this pattern.

What Trump primarily did for most of his life was to buy and sell and build large buildings.  What was he doing as part of that development consortium?  What else but building at least one large building?  He would have been aware of those interesting problems with large-scale construction in Russia -- indeed, he may have been the person who made that information common in the business community.  I think we can assume that Trump took care not to robbed, scammed, blackmailed, or otherwise ripped off by the Russians.  He might even have brought an electronics expert with him who shorted out those hidden cameras and microphones.  I would like to see a study on the building that Trump put up in Russia, and how much Trump got for it.  In any case, I don't think Trump gave the Russians anything except the building.  My guess would be that, when everything is finally revealed to the public, it will turn out that Trump royally screwed the Russians -- and he can prove it.

So why would he keep quiet about it, why be so evasive, why make it look as if he had something juicy to hide?  Well, what I'm seeing here is a fine case of "Briar-Patching": teasing his all-too-eager political detractors into stampeding themselves over a cliff by pretending he doesn't want them to do something.  This is a classic technique for manipulating excitable teenagers.  Then again, the Liberal/Democrat media have been acting younger than that, even unto inventing blatant hoaxes, as I personally attested on my Facebook page.  I'm waiting to see the result when Trump finally does reveal all his records, including his tax reports, and the over-eager media pundits are left with egg on their faces -- in public.

Now, who would think up such an elaborate red herring?  Well, maybe a certain smart Jewish husband of a smart businesswoman who just happens to be the daughter of Donald Trump -- a canny political observer, much beloved by the family, who has been keeping a low profile since well before the election.  I can see Trump laughing like hell when the idea was first presented to him.  It would be such a fitting revenge on the arrogant left-wing bigots of the media!                                                                                                                                                                                                                           --Leslie <;)))><                                                                                                             

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Out of the Mouths of... Cracked?

Yet another week I'm going to put off the next lesson in photo-fakery, because this is just too damn important not to re-post -- especially since it explains the GOP's budget plan so well!

--Leslie <;)))>< 

5 Reasons Why The Middle Class Doesn't Understand Poverty


Poverty is a well-worn subject here at Cracked. John Cheese has talked about it a lot, C. Coville discussed legal loopholes that can screw the poor, and we've also covered myths the media perpetrates. And now it's my turn to moderately wealthsplain the subject.
Unlike John and others, I grew up one year's worth of acoustic guitar lessons away from being the most stereotypical middle-class white kid ever. I didn't take yearly vacations to private islands to hunt men for sport, but I also never wanted for clothes and video games. And while us suburban kids were taught that it's good to help the poor, we were also accidentally taught to treat them with disdain. Here's how.

5
We're Constantly Told That "Money Can't Buy Happiness"

If you're friends with the right kind of insufferable people on social media, you've probably seen pictures like this:
Pinterest

Or, God help us, this:
Quote Addicts
It's all variations on the same theme: Money can't buy happiness, true wealth comes from friendship and experiences, you don't need the solid gold butt plug when the polymer one feels identical inside of you, etc. Movies teach it, music teaches it, our parents teach it -- money is useless if you aren't living. It's not an inherently bad message, but try telling people at the homeless shelter to count the blessings that money can't buy, and see how long it takes before you'll feel blessed that you can afford health insurance.
Outside of images that the Care Bears would find insipid, "Money can't buy happiness" is what middle-class people tell each other when someone is trying to decide between two different jobs. "I make 70k right now and the new gig only plays 60k, so I wouldn't be able to travel as much. But I'd have more free time to play Ultimate, the benefits are better, and there's no way my new manager could be any worse than my current one." That's an important decision to the person making it, but they're debating between two different kinds of comfort. It's safely assumed that the money they will need to exist will always be there. It would be nice to have more -- to be able to go to more restaurants or to justify buying a second Roomba because deep down you know that the first one is lonely -- but there's always enough to keep the lights on and the kitchen stocked.
Pinterest, God's Punishment For Our SinsIf the Minions are on your side, you might want to reconsider things.
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You may have seen the study that claimed $70,000 a year is the ideal salary -- after that, more money generally doesn't make you happier. Well, that's great news for people hovering around that benchmark, but if you're poor, more money will abso-fucking-lutely make you happier. More money means healthier food, or a chance to get out of the house and have some fun. It can mean knowing the rent is paid for next month, or being able to afford medication.
The middle class isn't immune to money problems, especially if there are kids in the mix. Getting laid off at the wrong time sucks, no matter what your income is. But the middle-class people with money problems I've known were generally suffering from self-inflicted wounds. They had no savings because they wanted the new car or the luxury vacation. They wanted one of those experiences they were constantly told was more important than money, because the money for day-to-day necessities was always there, right up until it wasn't.
My Destination UnknownA sentiment that will read differently when employers start asking about the gaps in your resume.
That's part of the reason, I think, so many middle-class people laugh at campaigns to raise the minimum wage. "You want 15 bucks an hour to flip burgers? How about you just hold off on the new TV until you get a real job?" The middle class generally fluctuates between being able to afford a nice vacation one year and having to settle for a few trips to the movies the next. The poor can fluctuate between paying bills and being out on the street. But the idea that such essentials could just go unpaid is unfathomable, right up until you experience it.

4
We're Taught To Associate Low-Paying Jobs With Failure

When I was growing up, there was never a question of whether or not I was going to college. That's partially because the idea of my spindly idiot ass learning a technical trade or doing manual labor is the first step in creating an "Epic Fail!!!" YouTube video, but mostly because my parents had a fund set up for me. (It helped that I live in a country where a post-secondary education doesn't cost roughly eight quadrillion dollars a semester.)
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So jobs that didn't require a degree were presented to us as warning signs. "You better study hard, or else you're going to end up just like that bull masturbator for the rest of your life! And I didn't intend that pun, so don't giggle!" Becoming a janitor or a gas station attendant or an internet comedy writer would have been considered a disappointment, an inability to take advantage of the gifts that were offered to us. Poverty was considered a moral failing.
SeanShot/iStockI'm sure he regrets not studying harder for that ninth-grade algebra test.
No one ever just came out and said that, but the implication was always there. We tend to assume that other people are basically like us until they prove otherwise, which is why I'm constantly shocked to discover that most people don't like my favorite homoerotic golf academy anime, Wood Strokes. So we were never taught that working as a dishwasher or a grocery store clerk or a sperm bank fluffer could be an important stepping stone for someone with a different background than us. We were also never taught that, you know, it's still a goddamn job where someone shows up and puts work in and gets paid for their time. They were always just associated with squandered potential.
And man, when you hear that message constantly, it's hard to shake. It's easy to glance at a middle-aged dude working the checkout counter and automatically think "Well, I bet he's not the brightest guy around" or "Oh shit, is that what happened to Matthew Lawrence?" It's not malicious -- not initially. Being told to take advantage of your opportunities is not a bad message. But when that message is driven into you for decades, it creates a stigma around certain jobs. And from some people, it produces plenty of snide remarks about how the people working those jobs should get better ones, as if the person who's been a server for seven years has never considered just popping


 down to the job store and picking up a career in architecture.  Janitors and baristas keep society running as much as anyone else. If all of America's coffee shops shut down for a day, the country would experience a nationwide narcolepsy epidemic crossed with The Purge. But when you grow up in the middle class, the only thing you're taught about such jobs is that you should get one as a teenager to build character, and then thank God that you'll never have to work one again as long as you don't fuck up in life. And as long as we consider that a sign of our superior work ethic instead of birth luck, we're going to keep dismissing as pathetic the jobs we'd all get angry about if they vanished tomorrow.

There Are Always Certain Things We Take For Granted

An education isn't the only thing that most middle-class kids can assume they'll get. A car to borrow, a phone, 20 bucks for when you really want to take a girl to what you assumed was a bad movie so you could make out in the back row but then it turns out that she's actually super into the plot of Gigli and wants to focus on it even though you were all set to reach second base and so you end up getting a confused erection to Al Pacino and it inadvertently shapes your formative years ... you know, all the little things that are part of growing up in Middle America.

That's the end result of assuming that a good job awaits you, and that money is for throwing at problems and buying pizza instead of something to stress out about. Water heater broke? No worries, we'll just have to eat in the rest of the month to make up for it. Shoes all worn out? Well, you can't go to school like that, so go get some new ones. Gone on a losing streak at the Pokemon Card League and the groupies have started drifting off to the other players? Better pick up a few booster packs to get back in the game. You know you can't get greedy and start buying Armani, but as long as your needs are modest, the money will always be there.
So the idea of 20 bucks making or breaking someone is impossible to appreciate. It's just not a concept that clicks in our heads. It makes sense on a logical level, sure -- you need money, and you don't have it, and that sucks. But when you're raised in comfort, you can't put yourself in that head space emotionally. You can't understand the stress, or the fear that you might not be able to feed your kids. The closest we can get is watching Gwyneth Paltrow try and hilariously fail to live on a tiny food budget before going back to her $4,000 kale cleanses. That's kind of like empathy, right?

And because it's tough to relate to, it's tough to talk about. If someone tells me that they never got Christmas presents growing up, all I can respond with is "Uh, yeah, that sounds like it sucked. Well ... one time my grandma accidentally got me Super Murpio 67, so ... I hear you." Starting a conversation with a bunch of middle-class people about poverty is like bringing up Trayvon Martin at a country club. Everyone trips over everyone else's words to talk about how tragic it is, but then they distance themselves from the problem and the "buts" start coming out. And to further compound the issue ...

2
We Don't Witness Poverty, So We Don't Understand It

When I was growing up, my exposure to poverty was largely limited to sitcom families who would talk about how poor they were, but were still able to go on a wacky adventure every week. The Simpsons kept running into money troubles in their early years, but their house looked the same as mine. Even the family from Roseanne, the classic working-class sitcom, owned a house that's a palace compared to what a lot of people live in. The problem with portraying poverty in sitcoms is that it's hard to get laughs out of eviction and early deaths caused by crippling medical debt, so the lesson always ends up being "Poor people struggle with money sometimes, but in the end they alays get by, and they have lots of laughs while doing it!" Sitcoms make being poor look fun.

Beyond that, once or twice a year, I'd go to some kid's birthday party and notice that his house was a lot smaller and more run down than mine. One of the kids who always got talked about in a slightly different tone of voice by the adults. I never gave it much thought because we went to the same school and both liked Nintendo -- how different could our lives possibly be? Maybe I'd see a story on the news that would put a positive spin on the issue. ("Look at how many volunteers with beautiful families showed up to the soup kitchen to help feed these filthy hobos!") Beyond that, the middle class just doesn't think about poverty.


We're always looking up, always wanting to go to the Christmas party at the rich friend's house so we can get a taste of what we're aspiring to. There's rarely a reason to go to the poor part of town. Tell jokes about it, sure, but go? We never have to leave the bubble, so we never learn what real poverty looks like. Poor people become invisible, this mysterious Other, a group that serves you food, and in return, you throw a couple of non-perishables and toys into donation bins for them over the holidays.

Oh yeah, the middle class loves to donate food and toys and clothes and gently used ball gags and all sorts of other crap that we weren't using anyway. Food banks actually need money far more than they need your creamed corn that's going to expire in two weeks, because money just goes further. But people who will gladly part with 12 boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese and some Funyuns they found under the sofa get leery when it comes to handing over money, even though we're supposedly under the impression that we don't need it ourselves to be happy.
That's partially just because it's more satisfying to give stuff instead of money -- you can imagine some happy kid playing with your old Lego, and you get to clean out your closet. But remember, we're taught that the poor are stupid and lazy. We sit around telling each other stories about how our friend's cousin's boyfriend knows a guy who spent his welfare check on beer and weed. These are campfire horror stories for the most tedious suburbanites, and they're told in the hot tubs that they probably shouldn't have bought until the next mortgage payment cleared. We can't trust those people with money, because if they were smart enough to manage it properly, they'd be smart enough to have a better job. Also, they probably all have hooks for hands and murder teenagers while they're making out in their cars. Hey, we learn so little about poor people that it's just as believable.

1
We're Taught To See Ourselves As The Victims

I've known people with movie theaters in their homes and four cars in their garage who are convinced that society is against them, that life is a gloomy parade of suffering because their property taxes went up a bit. That's stereotypical rich people behavior, but it's there in the middle class too, in subtler ways. I live in a city where the economy revolves around a boom and bust industry, so people tend to make good money while complaining about taxes for a few years, then get laid off and go on government benefits for a while, and then get a new job and go back to complaining about the government. And if you watch the cycle, you see the same "us against the world" mentality, just with fewer BMWs in the mix.

When middle-class people get laid off and go on welfare, they blame the economy, or their former employer, or the government. They never blame themselves. And they shouldn't! Much like a whale's erection, economies are big, confusing things that can't be controlled by the average person. It's not like they left photocopies of their asshole on the boss' desk. They paid into the welfare system with their taxes when times were good, and now they're using the system for exactly what it's intended: helping you out when you're unlucky. It's bridging the gap until you, a hard-working person who just caught a tough break, gets another job.
Except when poor people use the system, it's none of those things. Suddenly they're not getting help; they're just dumb, lazy leeches. Plenty of middle-class people are more empathetic and generous than I'll ever be, but the worst instinct of the middle class is to blame the system when the system fails us, then lecture poor people when the system fails them. I've heard the condescending explanations about how the world really works (which usually come out after a few beers when no actual poor people are around because the speaker would never be brave enough to say it to their faces) more times than I can count.

The middle class has a weird relationship with the rich -- we alternate between complaining about them and wishing we were them. Money can't buy happiness, but a yacht certainly wouldn't hurt matters. Even if we don't like the rich, there's always the pipe dream that we could be them. But no one dreams about being poor, unless you're into an incredibly specific kind of role-playing.
Being poor is a problem (practically, not morally), and a problem is either the fault of the person or the fault of circumstances beyond their control. The latter means we in the middle class might have to do something about it -- or, God forbid, reflect upon our lifestyles, which is just the worst. It's much, much easier to assume that we're fine, that ultra-rich politicians and celebrities and investment bankers are the ones being condescending and awful to the poor, but also that poor people could probably stand to work a little harder. So, uh ... sorry about all of that. I'll donate some food at Christmas, though!
Mark is on Twitter and has a book that's made him rich in experience.
For more, check out 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Poor and 4 Common Morals Designed to Keep You Poor.
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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Just Who's Being Irrational?

(Again, I'm going to put off the third article on photo-fakery to deal with the amazing hysteria of the Liberal/Democrat media on the subject of Trump.  I don't usually post whole articles by other writers, but this is just too perfect to quote in anything but its entirety.)

Leftist Trump Critics Play Anti-Semitism Card

Bruce Abramson (NewsMax) – The hatchet job against the Trump Administration continues. The most recent victim is Sebastian Gorka, a member of Trump’s inner circle. The charge is — surprise! — anti-Semitism.

The behavior of Jewish progressives leading the attack is shameful.

Since President Trump announced his candidacy, his detractors have slandered him — and his supporters — as every kind of hatemonger known to progressivism. The most recent manufactured charges involve anti-Semitism.

As we detailed for the Institute for The Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy (ISGAP) the so-called evidence is farcical.

Orthodox Jews highly sensitive to real anti-Semitism remain among Trump’s strongest supporters. Their response to the anti-Trump attacks has been a simultaneously snappy and gloomy addition to the pantheon of Jewish humor — What’s the difference between Donald Trump and Jewish leftists? Trump’s grandchildren are Jewish.

The Orthodox response is hardly idiosyncratic. Donald Trump has been so familiar, and so friendly, for so long that the predictable leftist scaremongering has been far less effective than usual.

Because the president’s aides are less familiar, however, they are more vulnerable. The first target, Steve Bannon, was so off base that the ADL, which had led the attack, was forced to issue a humiliating retraction; its relentless search for evidence of Bannon’s alleged anti-Semitism came up completely empty.

Enter Sebastian Gorka. Gorka, whose family suffered through fascism and communism in Hungary, is proud of his ancestral roots; the paparazzi have spotted him wearing historical Hungarian medals. Furthermore, when the Iron Curtain fell in the early 1990s, Gorka left the comfort of London to help Hungary transition from the Warsaw Pact to NATO.

Because his politics have always been conservative, many of his closest Hungarian allies and affiliations were right of center. And, as those closely familiar with his work in Hungary have stated in no uncertain terms “Gorka has a decades-long record as an opponent of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and anti-American sentiment in Hungary and fought to undermine elements on the political right — even going as far as helping launch a political party to push conservative voters away from anti-Semitic parties.”

Nonetheless, the flagship progressive American Jewish publication, The Forward, exploited America’s unfamiliarity with Gorka’s work as an opening for character assassination. First, it seems that some of Gorka’s connections in Hungary — though not Gorka himself — were also connected to other people or organizations that had taken anti-Semitic positions or actions.

Though Gorka’s personal track record is strongly pro-Jewish and pro-Israel, The Forward focused on the records of selected associates of his associates rather than to his own work.

By that standard, nobody who has ever associated with any American political party could escape charges of anti-Semitism.

The Forward’s scramble to make its case latched on to Gorka’s medals, and assigned them its own biased interpretation of their meaning.

But as Breitbart’s Joel Pollak, an Orthodox Jew and Gorka’s former colleague explained, that bias is badly misplaced. Different Hungarian regimes used those medals in different ways, and Gorka’s family history is consistent only with positive associations.

To put the matter into an American context, making a case against Gorka’s medals is like insisting that anyone who visits the Jefferson Memorial is celebrating slavery, or the FDR Memorial is celebrating the internment of Japanese citizens and the refusal to admit Jewish refugees from Hitler. Such conclusions are beyond absurd; they’re offensive.

When Jewish progressives ambivalent about the Palestinian flags at this summer’s Democratic National Convention feign outrage at obscure Hungarian symbols, there is more to the story than meets the eye.

The alleged evidence of anti-Semitism in Trump’s circle is such thin gruel that it has become necessary to ask what is driving it. The Forward provided the answer—courtesy of former KKK leader David Duke. According to Duke, “[Jewish groups] define an anti-Semite as someone, anyone, who opposes the organized Jewish agenda.” Duke claimed that Trump qualifies, and The Forward approvingly embraced Duke’s analysis to confirm its own biases.

Tragically, Duke’s description is not groundless—and it is a far greater condemnation of American Jewish leadership on today’s left than of the president, Steve Bannon, or Seb Gorka. Too many Jewish progressive activists equate Jewishness with what they term “social justice,” chauvinistically label this political agenda “Jewish values,” and see all opposition to progressive politics and policies as an attack on their Jewish values.

Because Trump, Bannon, and Gorka oppose the progressive agenda, Jewish progressives portray – and may truly see – them as inherently anti-Semitic. Perversely, the progressive Jewish equation of progressive values with Jewish values turns leftists with long histories of animosity towards the Jews into pro-Jewish advocates.

This bizarre bit of logic explains how progressive Jews could attack the Trump team for anti-Semitism while endorsing Louis Farrakhan’s former spokesman, Keith Ellison, to lead the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

In a new twist on the ways that Jews can become our own worst enemies, progressive members of our tribe have discovered abnegation — they reject as anti-Jewish those most concerned with Jewish survival, while embracing as pro-Jewish those who subscribe to the vilest anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.

Progressive Jewish Americans abusing Jewish history to score cheap political points are poisoning political discourse, dismissing the pain that Jews have suffered throughout history, masking the frightening rise in global anti-Semitism, embarrassing the Jewish community, harming the Jews of Israel, and defaming fine Americans.

In an era during which Democrats embrace openly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel leaders and movements, the Jewish left has launched this witch hunt against individuals — like Trump, Bannon, and Gorka — who are actively working to protect not only all Americans, but particularly the Jews, including the often-targeted Jews of Israel.

We are pained to have to write such an article, but the left’s slander of decent people who have committed their lives to helping Jews is now out of control.

It is an embarrassment, a distraction, and an affront to those chafing beneath, or fighting, the very real anti-Semitism that genuinely threatens our people.

Bruce Abramson is the President of Informationism, Inc., Vice President and Director of Policy at the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.
http://www.newsmax.com/BruceAbramsonandJeffBallabon/anti-semitism-bannon-gorka/2017/03/01/id/776326/

(This is particularly interesting in view of the sudden nation-wide rash of visible "hate-crime" attacks on Jewish cemeteries, schools and synagogues over the past week.  Various Muslim groups, and of course the Southern Poverty Law Center, have claimed an increase in anti-Muslim "hate-crimes" and "hate-groups" too, but the FBI  -- which carefully investigates hate-crimes -- reports something different: the numbers of those supposed hate-groups have been wildly inflated, fully half the supposed hate-crimes against Muslims turned out to be hoaxes, the other half were in fact committed by other Muslims, and the one religious group most often victimized by hate-crimes is the Jews.  The identifiable group which most often commits hate-crimes against Jews is the Muslims.  I leave the readers to draw their own conclusions.)

--Leslie <;)))><   

 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Truth and the Media


It seems fitting to cover this point before going back to the subject of photo-fakery and the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Earlier this week, in his usual foggy/bombastic fashion, Trump denounced the media as an "enemy of the people" because of their fakery and biases, so of course the media denounced Trump as a "fascist", a "dictator", a "political sociopath" and "mentally unfit to hold public office".  Seeing how little evidence the media gave for their claims, I'd say that -- amazingly -- Trump comes out as the more honest of the two.

Look, I've been an editor for three magazines, two newspapers, and a radio station, and I can tell you for a fact that all our media are biased -- every last one of them.

Part of this is inevitable.  First, there's the admitted theme of the publication or program;  you wouldn't expect to find stories on football coaches in The Western Horseman, and while The Wall Street Journal and The Industrial Worker might have articles discussing the same event, you can be sure that their attitudes, focus, and facts considered relevant will be quite different.

Second, there's only so much space in a publication and only so much time in a broadcast, and no matter what stories the reporters want to display, the editor must decide which ones make the cut.  The editor's decision is seriously influenced -- and ultimately limited -- by what the publisher wants the public to know.  If the particular medium is big enough, the publisher is also limited by what the CEO of the corporation that owns it wants the public to know.  Since most of our general news outlets are owned by just five corporations, that means that the attitudes of just five CEOs shape the majority of our information about the world around us.

How much do the media moguls abuse this influence?  Well, just over a century ago, William Randolph Hearst used his media empire to start a totally-unnecessary war.  A few decades later, he likewise persuaded the US congress to outlaw the hemp plant -- "Reefer Madness!" -- to protect his timber and paper-mill interests.  There's no way the contemporary media can't regard those feats with awe and envy.  The way they speak of the "power of the media", it's clear that they've mistaken their influence -- the ability to make people listen seriously to what you have to say -- for actual power -- the ability to force others to do your will.  We all know that power corrupts, and addicts;  it seems that even the illusion of power can do it.

This might explain the near-hysterical frenzy with which the media have attacked Trump since the election.  They were so certain that they had the election sewed up, that they'd persuaded the voters to consider Trump just a buffoon, that his win not only surprised them but proved they were wrong -- that they didn't have the power they thought they did.  It was a threat to their power, and there's nothing a power-junkie fears more.  That's why they've been piling on the lies, half-truths, baseless accusations and all, with a reckless disregard for the ability of the citizens to check the stories out.

The antidote for biased news is the same as it always was: to get information from as many different sources as possible, compare them, and check their sources.  Suspend belief until you verify.  Make the effort to verify before you trust.  There are enough people who do this anyway to justify Lincoln's famous quote: "You can't fool all of the people all of the time."  This is an unbearable thought -- not just to the media but to other socio-political elites, who desperately want to believe that the "peasants" they manipulate are stupid enough to deserve being manipulated -- so they do their best to deny it.  Yes, there is definitely an element of class conflict involved here.   

This is a major reason why Trump got elected in the first place.

--Leslie <;)))><   


   

    

 


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Flak-Catchers and Comparative Protests


--Leslie <;)))>< 
(I was going to continue with my mini-seminar on photo-fakery and a famous scandal, but the sheer volume of irrational news this week obliged me to write this instead.)

Do you know what a “flak-catcher” is?  It’s a person, action, object or even image intended to outrage and absorb the attention of social/economic/political enemies – particularly enemies of the emotional, biased sort.  It’s intended as a sacrifice, something to let your opponents shoot down and feel righteous about defeating, so that they’ll leave the rest of your people, actions, etc. alone – and, hopefully, reveal something about themselves to the public during the shooting.  Other terms for this are “red herring”, “bait”, “goat”, and “target-man” – which I’ve written a song about. 

A classic example of an artistic flak-catcher was the tactic used by a Hollywood scriptwriter, who worked for a big studio with a script-editor who was notorious for always meddling with any script that came across his desk.  The scriptwriter made a habit of always adding a totally-unnecessary grossly hot sex scene to every script, so that the editor could happily blue-pencil the scene – compared to which the rest of the script looked perfectly tame – feel that he’d done his duty and earned his paycheck, and would leave the rest of the script alone. 

A fine example of a political flak-catcher is the team of cabinet members that Trump has proposed to Congress.  A large number of them are right-wing fundies, obviously incompetent for their proposed jobs, guaranteed to outrage the Liberal Democrat crowd and middle-of-the-road Republicans – while making Trump look good to the foaming-fundie wing of his supporters.  Congress is already busy shooting them down, with much righteous fanfare: Mnuchin, for example, and DeVos, and I’m surprised that Sessions has made it this far.  When they’ve been cleared off, Trump can go to his supporters and speechify about having done his best but being blocked by “enemies” (he’ll doubtless choose a fancier label), which his extremist supporters will understand, if not like.  Then he’ll choose a second team of actually competent and sensible people whom Congress will have less reason (and passion) to object to.  Already the more reasonable of Trump’s picks have been accepted with little fanfare.  Note that Ben Carson was deemed acceptable as chief of Housing and Urban Development, although he has no experience with either and has proven woefully ignorant on some subjects (the pyramids were not built to store grain!);  probably this is because Carson is demonstrably not a bigot, a stupid man could not have become a successful brain surgeon, and ignorance is easily curable while stupidity is not.

The same holds true for a lot of Trump’s executive orders, but with an added twist.  His assorted “gag orders” to various federal departments are practically guaranteed to be shot down on Constitutional grounds, and couldn’t sensibly have been written except to please the Consevative crowd, test the political waters, draw the howling outrage and absorption of the anti-Trump crowd – and incidentally give Trump an excuse to save federal money.  Note how many Democrat/Liberal mayors, from Seattle to Baltimore, insisted that their cities would remain “sanctuary” cities and would not obey Trump’s orders to actively hunt for and deport illegal aliens.  Because they’re quite literally defying a presidential order, he’s legally justified in not giving them any federal money – for anything.  Then he can honestly tell the citizens that he’s already saved them several hundred millions in federal spending – at least until his executive orders are shot down by Congress or the Supreme Court.

His order about immigration is the interesting one, and not just because this was a big part of his campaign.  If you read the actual order, you’ll note that it’s very clear and carefully worded;  this is surprising coming from Trump, who’s usually a sloppy and thoughtless speaker, much given to exaggeration.  Despite the outraged squawks of CAIR and its un-indicted co-conspirators, the order is actually reasonable – as various Reform Muslim groups agree – and legal, under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act.  The FBI and DoJ can tell you of at least 5 terrorist attacks done in America in 2016 alone, by “refugees” from those named countries – if the bureaucrats actually take the effort to look them up.  Police and citizens all over Europe can tell you of crimes and damage done by “refugees” from all seven of those mentioned countries – and that list was originally drawn up by Obama.  As for the three not mentioned, which are the sources of terrorists who have done attacks in America – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia – they can always be added later;  remember that this order only bans immigration from those seven for a limited number of months, after which the list can be changed.  This order too is intended to provoke reactions: please the Conservatives, outrage the Islamophile Liberals, see who actually considers it thoughtfully, and consider just what their resulting tactics are.  This is a testing of the waters for a more comprehensive immigration bill to follow. 

A somewhat different case is Trump’s Supreme Court choice, actually a reasonable man and a very intelligent speaker.  If the Senate accepts him, the court will go back to what it was doing during Obama’s reign, with the same political balance and Gorsuch merely taking Scalia’s place.  Already, the Democrat bell-wethers are denouncing Gorsuch on CNN, accusing him – with no citations – of being pro-corporations, anti-woman, anti-Gay, anti-environment, Islamophobic, etc., etc., down the standard list of Democrat policy sins.  It’s beginning to sound a little repetitive, a little stereotyped, a bit of a bore.

In that sense, Trump’s strategy of tossing out a horde of flak-catchers – enough to provoke the Democrats into repeating the same tactics, the same reactions, even the same phrases – can’t help but pay off.  The public has learned to notice boilerplate, and be suspicious of it.

More to the point, the Liberal/Democrats’ reactions to Trump, ever since the election, have been not just repetitive but hysterical – almost exactly mirroring the hysterical tactics the foaming-fundie Right used against Obama for the past eight years: the blizzard of lawsuits and demands for investigations, the barely-half-true-at-best accusations, the demands for legislative roadblocks and logjams, the knee-jerk opposition to anything he proposed, the out-in-the-weeds speculations based on next to nothing.  Haven’t we seen this before?  “Trump is a Nazi” = “Obama is a Muslim”, “Trump is too friendly to Putin” = “Obama is too friendly to the King of Saudi Arabia”, “Trump will sell us out to the corporations” = “Obama sold us out to the government bureaucrats”, and on and on.  The parallels are a little too noticeable, and what was laughable paranoia when the enemy said it doesn’t look that much better when your own officers say it.

The one tactic which is almost exclusively the province of the political left is the public demonstration, usually in the form of a protest march, ending in a rally, with speeches.  Its origins lie in medieval Britain, where seriously distressed subjects would march to the capital to appeal to the king for relief.  Over the centuries it evolved into something more forceful than an appeal, was often met with armed force, and from there could escalate into anything from a riot to a revolution.  In America, where the ultimate executive traditionally changed every four to eight years, it didn’t get beyond the riot stage and rarely even that far. 

Nonetheless, demonstrations are to be noticed.  The word “demonstration” comes from Latin, and means a “showing” or “pointing out”;  if nothing else, a public political demonstration is a showing of your numbers, in that sense a symbolic invasion – just as an election is a symbolic civil war.  The problems start when people lose sight of this, and start mistaking the symbol for the reality.  Unfortunately, this is where the Left has settled right now: assuming that public displays of numbers and passions have some actual political power in themselves, that enough showings and speeches and loud enough shouts will make the political machinery move the way the protesters want it to. 

If anyone remembers the Ferguson, Missouri protests of a year ago, that’s an example of the tactic gone wrong;  when various protest marches didn’t bring the desired change immediately, the demonstrations deteriorated into riots – plain threats of Give Us What We Want Or We’ll Trash Your Town.  Historically, this has been answered with force and damned little sympathy.  This does your cause no good unless you’re trying to play the Victim card, and even then it’s unlikely to work unless you have a really vast and efficient propaganda system.  The contemporary left – and the Arab world – does have a vast and efficient propaganda system, but even that has its limits.  As Lincoln – another Republican president whose election drove Democrats into frenzies – said, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

This belief in the power of public protest grew out of the work of a forgotten but tremendously effective organization from the ‘60s: the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, commonly called the Mobe.  The Mobe was a collection of old labor organizers and working-class pacifists who pooled their money and experience, and concentrated on just one goal – “stop the war now” – and just one tactic: organizing big marches ending in rallies in Washington DC.  Their rules were simple;  march, speak, be always non-violent (although you can defend yourself passively, as with Aikido).  Their techniques were simple too;  in those pre-Internet days they simply wrote to every college and church and known pacifist group in the country, setting a date and promising to arrange transportation if the local group would tell them how many numbers to expect.  Then the Mobe would arrange permits, announcements, parking – and later medical clinics, porta-potties, crash space, legal services, food and drink, and training for anyone who wanted to be medics or “Mobe Marshals”: people who knew the route and schedule and service locations,  carried bullhorns and identifying helmets, marched on the perimeter of the crowd where they could see the environment clearly, advised the crowd on changes in the area, and – important point – isolated provocateurs.  The helmets were necessary, since the cops made a point of targeting Mobe Marshals and even medics, thinking they were march organizers, when in fact their chief purpose was communications.

It was at these big marches in Washington that I learned that the difference between a “mob” and an army is communications.  A crowd is not stupid;  it is primarily blind and deaf.  People who are not on the perimeter of the crowd can’t see or hear much beyond their neighbors and don’t know what’s happening out there.  The people on the perimeter – like the Mobe Marshals – must be the eyes and ears for the crowd;  they have to respond to changes by translating the information into one- or two-word chants, and shout that information into the crowd, who then pass it on.  When this is done well, you can see, as well as hear, the “information wave” passing through the crowd.  I saw this done with messages of: “Cops!  Cops!  Cops!” (along with a gesture pointing in the direction of the attack) or “Keep close!  Keep close!” when the police tried to spread us out, or “Sit down!  Sit down!” when they tried to drive us off our route.  As for slogan-chants (“Stop the war now!”) sections of the crowd would generate those for themselves;  the Mobe Marshals never had to do it.  The famous marches in Washington were effective because they could show numbers in the hundreds of thousands, all well organized and nonviolent and on point.  The Mobe was able to pull this off because those old union organizers had the sense to keep it simple: stick fiercely to their one task and their one goal. 

In time other groups with different complaints – civil rights, women’s lib, ecology, counter-culture, etc. – joined the big marches, and thereby gained reliable communications with each other, but the reliable unifying goal was simple and universal: Stop The War Now.  That’s why various little would-be Caesars – Bill Ayers comes to mind – were never able, despite their best efforts, to take over the movement and run it to their own agenda.  That’s why, when the war finally ended and the marches stopped, the whole Countercultural movement fragmented and scattered – but the fragments always retained some contact, and were able to coalesce quickly when the next war started. 

Some of those fragments – Bill Ayers comes to mind -- went off and joined the Democrat party, became the Obama backers, and decided to revive the old tactics when Trump was elected.  But there were significant differences this time around.

For one thing, the Internet today makes it quick and easy to check and verify anybody’s story – and associations, and past history – if you want to;  this means that emotional speeches with lots of logical fallacies can’t spread their effect as far as they used to.  For another, the Internet also makes it quick and easy to organize protest demonstrations – and everybody knows it;  this makes people a little more cynical about the political motivations of supposedly-spontaneous protests.  Third, the Internet (again!) has revealed the political backers behind the current wave of protests, and their connections to certain big-money manipulators – Ayers and Soros both come to mind.  Fourth, although the first wave of protests were hastily labeled Feminist, it was obvious that their real point was We Don’t Like Trump – and you can’t build a real grassroots political mass movement around a goal as narrow as that.  The march organizers themselves admitted that “we’ve got to maintain momentum” and “build a sustainable movement”, because they knew that just dislike of a politician, or even party, won’t long excite a politically experienced and cynical populace.  Even at the height of the anti-war movement, when half the country devotedly hated Lyndon Baines Johnson, they didn’t hate the rest of the Democrat party.  Soros’ money, Ayers’ ambitions, and Democrat hysteria simply aren’t enough to create a real political mass-movement – especially when the speeches begin to sound not just hysterical but repetitive.  No, this is not your daddy’s protest movement, and people can see the difference.    

What I see happening here is a wide and artful game of Red Herring.  The Bourgeois-Liberal crowd are wearing out their hysteria on flak-catcher after flak-catcher, thereby whittling away the sacrificial goats of the Fundie-Conservative crowd, and eventually coming around to accept the more reasonable of the Republican contenders and policies until Trump winds up with a team that’s competent to run the country if he does nothing else whatever but make speeches and cut ribbons.  Trump winds up the winner, despite all the flak the Left can throw.  I’ve seen bosses who ran their (successful) businesses like that!    

Now given the bumbling and sloppy speech and manners of Trump, and a good number of his team and supporters, the question is whether he’s really doing this deliberately or just blundering his way from lucky break to lucky break.  All I can say is that the proof is in the outcome, and that Trump is really not a stupid man.