Biden’s most important task

So I was listening to this podcast, talking about the rise of neoliberalism and opining that it is likely in its last gasps. A poorly named philosophy, neoliberalism is actually better named neoconservatism. It’s the idea that freedom comes through markets and that the more we orient society to enable entrepreneurs and free markets and clip the government’s wings, the more everyone’s boat rises and freedoms expand.

The opposite of course has happened. Income inequality is now at record levels. What new growth there is goes almost entirely to the rich. The only mystery is why it was hung on to for so long. It hung on in part because there are a lot of shysters out there. Its most recent example is Donald Trump, a so-called populist who pulled the wool over the eyes of his supporters so well that they still support him, even though he has systematically tried to impoverish them.

Remember the Trump who was going to do all these magical things like give us something better than cheaper than Obamacare, and almost instantly, and was going to bring back jobs to the United States? You got to hand it to Trump, though. Right now, he is still picking the pockets of his supporters, still getting them to send his campaign money, even though he has lost the election. Most of these donations goes to an entity which allows him to channel it right back into his pocket. These loonies though are still smitten with Trump, still convinced our election was rigged (but only against Trump, apparently) and have no problem with totalitarianism to keep Trump in power. If he somehow succeeded though, based on his track record, he would just find more ways to fleece them and the rest of us. That’s his biggest skill.

In 2016 Trump sounded a lot like Bernie Sanders; it’s just that Sanders was the true populist. People followed Trump because he told them stuff they wanted to hear. You know his base wants a lot of progressive policies; after all, Florida voted for him while also approving a $15/hour minimum wage. Many progressive ideas are popular with Trump supporters. They just get lost in supporting class warfare. They can’t seem to figure out that by supporting it they are undermining their own prosperity.

Anyhow, if this podcast is true, neoliberalism is in its last days. The reaction to Trump’s defeat is strong evidence that his supporters are coming apart at the seams because they can’t get their way. Is a new, more progressive era at hand?

I’m hoping it is and there are certainly signs that time should prove this true. The hard part is getting from here to there. One constant has been the obstinance from red states, who seem to be all for white supremacy and income inequality. It’s just that red states are becoming fewer. Georgia is looking purple and may start to look blue if both Democrats win their runoff races next month. There’s more early voting in Georgia for these races today than there was before the presidential election. Polls proved unreliable in the November election, but what polls there are in the Georgia Senate race suggest Democrats Warnock and Ossoff have slim leads.

I spent more than thirty years in Virginia and watched it moved from red to purple to consistently blue. Arizona is definitely looking like a purple state. North Carolina and Wisconsin seem to be becoming purple too. You have to look hard for a state that is bucking the trend. I can only see Ohio trending more red.

The challenge of the moment is keeping our fragmenting country together. The Trump base has never been a majority, but they are a large minority and they apparently have few limits. Republicans in general have been playing a high stakes game for decades, methodically investing the time and resources to turn things their way. Now though it seems like they feel it slipping from their grasp. It’s this anxiety that is driving crazy stuff, like violent Proud Boys marches in Washington, D.C. Their tactics though only work as long as they work. With voter suppression losing its edge, and states moving slowly toward less gerrymandered districts, the extremes are feeling marginalized. In the past this would be a sign to expand their coalition by moving toward the middle, but Trump won’t let them.

President Elect Joe Biden has many things to tackle once he assumes office. But arguably the most important task will be to restore our democratic republic. Rule of law must reflect adherence to our actual law. Our government needs to function again.

How many years has it been since Congress not funded government through continuing resolutions? Congressional committees used to have real power; now most are fig leaves. The real power in Congress rests in its majority leader in the Senate, since he seems to control everything, most importantly its agenda. The situation in the House is not much better. Nancy Pelosi too is exercising powers largely beyond those traditionally granted to the Speaker of the House. So we get crazy things like an omnibus spending bill where members have two hours to read it before voting yea or nay and no opportunity to debate it. Agencies get by from year to year on continuing resolutions with little changing of their priorities and missions as a result of Congressional deliberations. Congress needs to do its job in the way it was set up to do it. Most of those in Congress though are arguably superfluous, since their power amounts to electing their majority leader or speaker, done every two years at best.

If we can’t run the government the way it was intended to be run, if power can’t be shared more equitably, if its members can’t even agree to a modicum of respect and compromise, things will only unravel more. Joe Biden at least seems to understand this. Let’s see how much he will actually be able to accomplish.

Believe in QAnon? Here’s the reality of government from one who spent 32 years inside it

Who doesn’t like a good conspiracy theory? It used to be that our conspiracy theories had a little bit of plausibility to them. When I was growing up, the big conspiracy theory was that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t actually kill John F. Kennedy. Hundreds of books were written, each with a different conspiracy theory that its author asserted had to be correct. They covered quite a breadth of theories, but a lot of them were tied somehow to the USSR and/or Cuba. Some of them talked about the Deep State which could not allow a Catholic president, at least not for long. A mysterious entity called The Trilateral Commission seemed to be behind a lot of it.

Today, that particular conspiracy theory looks pretty tame. With the rise of QAnon we get conspiracy theories so outlandish that sane people like me figure no one sane could possibly believe it, not even those who wrote JFK assassination conspiracy books. But of course, you would be wrong. Trump is catering to the QAnon crowd, but really anyone who will vote for him. It’s estimated there are millions of QAnon followers and not just here in the USA. Some are likely to be elected to Congress in the coming election. QAnon-ers believe that someone with the code name Q, who has ties to the deep, deep state knows what’s really going on. He(?) will place his bursts of insight out on the dark web. QAnon wants you to know … oh heck, I’ll just quote from Wikipedia:

QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory. It alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against US President Donald Trump, who is battling against the cabal. The theory also commonly asserts that Trump is planning a day of reckoning known as “The Storm”, when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested. No part of the theory is based on fact. QAnon has accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking officials of being members of the cabal. It also claimed that Trump feigned conspiracy with Russians to enlist Robert Mueller to join him in exposing the sex-trafficking ring and preventing a coup d’état by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros.

The most well-known QAnon conspiracy you probably heard about: Pizzagate. Apparently, Comet Ping Pong Pizza in Washington, D.C. was running a pedophilia ring in its basement. The minor fact that Comet Pizza doesn’t even have a basement, of course, was immaterial to those who believed in the theory.

I spent thirty-two years working for Uncle Sam. I held a number of security clearances over those years, including one that gave me access to Sensitive Compartmentalized Information. To this day I still feel I can’t utter two words they told me (except to those with the same clearance) because it was so super-secret, even though I have seen it repeatedly used in public. I’m still afraid if I utter them, some FBI agent will haul me away – they put the fear of the law in me back then. Fifteen of those years were with the U.S. Department of Defense, nine of them in the Pentagon where I worked hand in hand with members of the U.S. Air Force staff, specifically the people that put the budgets together (I helped maintain their information systems.) I also spent a year between jobs working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and saw lots of politicians, including Ted Kennedy.

My time at the DCCC was illustrative. Rather than learn of any vast conspiracy theories, I discovered the business of political fundraising was sleazy; the more you contributed, the more access you had. For example, contribute a certain amount and you got into the Speaker’s Club (the House was then run by the Democrats), and in theory had the ear of then-Speaker Tip O’Neil at regularly scheduled events that you had access to because you gave them enough money. It was all spelled out in the brochure. That was a depressing lesson about how politics really worked, as it confirmed what I already knew but hoped was wrong. Rather than working on vast conspiracy theories, the people there tried to elect Democrats already compromised by selling their souls to special interests. In their spare time, the staff spent time at their PCs playing Leisure Suit Larry – someone had gotten a bootleg copy and passed it around.

Sadly, to your conspiracy buffs, I saw no evidence of a Deep State. I understand the appeal of conspiracy theories though. We want to find a simple explanation for the mammoth complexity of our government as it actually is. We want to put things in a comfortable frame, and a conspiracy theory as outlandish as it is at least is simpler than and easier to wrap our minds around than the complexity of our government on all levels as it actually is. Our government is no House of Cards, although the show was great entertainment.

But the good news is that 32 years in the system made me appreciate government. It was then a more coherent institution. If you want a disruptor, Donald Trump is doing a good job. He is working hard to get rid of civil service protections for many employees now, the sorts like Dr. Anthony Fauci who work in the public interest. Trump wants them all to be toadies and we can see how well that’s worked out in his first term.

Sadly, some of these institutions have been bent unacceptably, particularly the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). In general, I found my time as a civil servant inspiring in many ways. Trump’s children and in-laws may not follow the Hatch Act, but annually I had to take online training to make sure I remembered the rules, and the consequences of breaking them. There were all sorts of rules which often didn’t make a whole lot of sense. When I worked for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), I was not allowed to own any energy or mining stocks or mutual funds, even though there were relatively few geologists in the agency. But the rules did keep us from using insider knowledge to our own benefit. In general, I deeply respected my chain of command and felt confident that they were doing their best to work in the national interest and according to the law.

But our government’s complexity is mind-numbing. It’s the price we pay because we live in an increasingly complex world. I don’t expect it to get any better because the world is not going to become a simpler place, however we might want it to be. If it was, we could at least understand it. Since we can’t, it’s easier for many of us to imagine there is some secret cabal controlling it all and that Donald Trump of all people is going to expose it. In reality, it’s all a sort of organized chaos overseen by often inept elected politicians who come and go as elections are won and lost. It’s amazing it functions as well as it does.