Monday, July 16, 2018

But When We Get Behind Closed Doors

The meeting that everyone fears will speed up the end of civilization as we know it is now underway.  President Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin are meeting behind closed doors in Helsinki, Finland and only the worst is feared.  There is genuine concern that the President will just haphazardly spill classified information to Putin--who will use it to further infiltrate the American political process, drive more wedges between the US and its Western European allies and confound our efforts to bring peace and stability to the Middle East.  Fortunately, reports state that the President doesn't read nor understand the daily security briefings he receives--and therefore likely doesn't have any viable information to provide to Putin--that is unless Fox and Friends discussed classified info recently.

What is happening behind those closed doors is the same melodrama that plays out anytime President Trump meets with other people of power: He will talk big about his private businesses, mistakenly state the position of the US, dismiss the importance of the other leader and demand full loyalty to whatever decisions and courses of actions that he might take in the future--even if they are contradictory in nature.  If the world leader agrees to that, the President will publicly praise them and say the meeting went "great--best summit in Presidential history".  If the President doesn't get his way--or the other leader challenges or questions his motives, there will be public attacks on that leader, sometimes with them standing right next to him.

The Washington Post had a great article last Friday on why President Trump struggles to get along with our allies--and wants to be so friendly with our enemies: because in his mind, international relations--like everything else in his life--is strictly about him.  The President doesn't go to summits seeing himself as a representative of America, he considers himself to be America--so when other leaders don't capitulate to his demands or echo his sentiments on topics, they are seen to be "attacking America".  Nevermind that all other facets of relations between our countries are going great--if your leader isn't "nice" to President Trump, our "relations have never been worse--and it's the other country's fault.

Vladimir Putin is no overmatched bureaucrat that rose to power in a political system.  He is ex-KGB--and he is ruthless.  Putin comes into this meeting knowing everything about President Trump--how to gain his trust, how to push his buttons, how to manipulate his love of the spotlight to advance Russia's ulterior motives--while President Trump likely comes in knowing nothing about how Putin ticks.  His strategy will be to brag, threaten and engage in passive-aggressive techniques that will play directly into the Russian dictator's hands. 

And once the doors swing open, we will see two smiling men shaking hands--one will be happy because another guy was nice to him and made him feel powerful--and the other one knowing he had just played his adversary for a chump.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Stuntmen of Washington

Everything you need to know about how Washington works nowadays is contained in the mini-drama that is Congressman Mark Pocan's bill to do away with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.  The opening act featured Pocan making the rounds on the news networks promising to draft the measure--attacking ICE for their detaining illegal immigrants across the country, raiding employers that were hiring undocumented workers and taking children from illegals trying to enter the country outside of proper checkpoints.

Earlier this week in Act Two, Pocan held a press conference here in Wisconsin to "unveil" the bill--and to again attack ICE, claiming that President Trump is using it as a "weapon" against people of color and questioning its very purpose.  As expected, Pocan's Dane County supporters backed his effort and called him "brave" to take on the issue.  A few other ultra-liberal members of Congress announced they would co-sponsor Pocan's bill.

But then yesterday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy created a major plot twist in Act Three when he announced that he would bring Pocan's bill to the floor for a vote--and all hell broke loose.  Immediately, Democrats decried McCarthy's promise--calling it a "political stunt".  Supporters of the bill started dropping like flies, and in another plot twist last night, Pocan himself said he would vote against his own bill.  So who was really pulling the "political stunt"?

One of the benefits to being in the minority in Congress or the Legislature is that you can introduce measures like Pocan's that you know won't fix a darn thing--but that will be automatically blocked by the majority party.  That way in your next campaign, you can tell your supporters "I introduced legislation to address this issue, but that evil other party never allowed it to come up for a vote!"  It's the perfect way to "do something" while really doing nothing.

If Pocan's bill were to actually come to the floor for a vote, Democrats would be in an impossible position--at least in how it will play with their base.  Vote for it and moderates in your district will question your commitment to enforcing the laws that are on the books.  Vote against it and your liberal supporters will question why you didn't "do something" to end the practice of arresting illegal immigrants and separating families at the border.

As the story of the "abolish ICE" movement proves, Washington today is nothing but theatrics created to appeal to certain audiences--and everybody does their own stunts.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Toe the Line

Every spring there is a big media campaign to get everyone looking to dig up a new garden or planning to plant trees or put up a new fence to "call Diggers Hotline" at least three days before doing any excavating.  The ads feature ominous warnings about electrocution or explosions caused by rupturing underground utilities.  And yet, it is very rarely the homeowner working in the backyard that is responsible for such incidents.  Usually, it is commercial and municipal work crews.

Having access to police and fire scanners, I can tell you that gas leaks are surprisingly common.  It's an almost weekly occurrence in the Fox Valley.  Just yesterday, there were incidents in Fond du Lac and Sheboygan that required emergency response and small-scale evacuations of surrounding homes and businesses.  Fortunately, the events in Sun Prairie this week are extremely rare--as utilities are able to shut off the gas flow quickly and there is not a source of ignition nearby.

The reason you don't see public service announcements telling contractors to call before they dig is because large-scale operations like street and sewer repair are given detailed diagrams of the underground utilities in their project area.  Water, sewer, natural gas, power and communications lines are all mapped with their location and depth clearly marked--and yet, crews are cutting through them on a weekly basis.

It is possible that the diagrams and schematics provided to the crews are erroneous.  Plotting was a low tech procedure when some lines were installed in the early 1900's--and it's possible that conduit and pipelines could have been marked wrong on original maps.  Those elements could also shift with the freezing and thawing cycle of the ground.  But it still seems like far too many pipelines and fiber optic cables are being severed during routine construction work.

Keep in mind that backhoes and excavators are not precision instruments.  If you've ever driven by a work site, you've likely noticed one guy operating the machine and three or four guys standing around watching him.  That's not just a union thing, those guys are likely assigned to keep an eye on the bucket--because as the hole gets deeper, the operator can see less.  But still, they should be doing a better job of digging accurately and safely.  As Sun Prairie proved, the stakes are much higher than you would think.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Ruling the Neighborhood of Make Believe

You could say that almost everyone involved in politics pretends to be someone they are not.  In some situations putting on a fa├žade can make you more popular--or increase your appeal to a certain group of people.  But those who engage in identity politics are starting to take that to the extreme.

Take Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kelda Roys, who reportedly pretended to be gay in order to appeal to attendees at a gay pride parade in Madison seven years ago.  Roys was engaged in a campaign for Congress against Mark Pocan--who actually is gay.  Roys reportedly told attendees that she and her "partner" had to go to Iowa to get married.  The inference was that Roys was in a same-sex marriage, as that was recognized in Iowa at the time--but not here in Wisconsin.  The only thing is, Roys is married to a man.

You can understand why Roys--in the surroundings of a gay pride event--may have decided to take on an alternate identity.  In the world of identity politics, if you are gay, you are expected to vote for the gay candidate if there is one.  To not do so would be "voting against your own self-interests".  Unfortunately for Roys, her opponent was gay (in a race to replace a lesbian member of Congress).  So while she may have held all of the "correct" stances on issues related to the gay community, she just wasn't "one of them", so she tried to fake it--knowing that was the only way she could hope to get any support in that primary.  By the way, Pocan apparently hasn't forgotten that.  When asked about it by reporters, he said Roys likely "regrets the comments she made"--and wouldn't say that he finds her "honest and trustworthy".

The Roys story comes out as the white woman that was pretending to be black in order to get scholarships and jobs--Rachel Dolezal, who now goes by the name Nkechi Diallo--was allegedly pretending to be poor too.  Dolezal is charged with welfare fraud--accused of receiving housing assistance for two years, while failing to report 84-thousand dollars in income.  I'm sure that she will claim that she is being targeted because of her "race"--and that a famous "white person" would never have been charged.

When you were a kid it was fun to pretend to be someone or something you were not.  But as an adult--and especially one running for public office or assuming a "community leadership position", it's just embarrassing and patronizing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Making a Murderer II: Forget All That Other Stuff

If they really do make a second series of Making a Murderer, those who didn't bother to watch the first installment may want to skip it, because you will have no idea what the heck is going on.  If you have seen it, you will recall that the filmmakers want you to believe that Steven Avery is a patsy framed by police, prosecutors and a corrupt justice system in the murder of Teresa Halbach back in 2005.

The original series tries to make the argument--based on Avery's original defense and appeal--that the Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department, upset that Avery has been released from prison after DNA evidence proved he did not commit a rape--and now due a large settlement--sets out to frame Avery after it turns out he was the last person to see Halbach alive on his family's compound.  The conspiracy grows to include the Calumet County Sheriff's Department--who was called in to handle the on-site investigation because of Avery's relationship with Manitowoc County.  Toss in a special prosecutor that was found to be sexting with a much younger domestic abuse victim, the key to Halbach's vehicle that you can't see in picture of Avery's bedroom but was found by investigators, a blood vial with a broken seal in his previous court files, and a confession from Avery's not so intelligent nephew providing all of the gory details and you have yourself a pretty good story to sell.

Making a Murderer had a built-in audience: those who will always believe that law enforcement is crooked and that the justice system is tilted against the "little guy".  Hey, "they" put away Avery once for a crime he didn't commit, so why couldn't they do it again?  The case became a cause celebre as Hollywood stars, politicians and high-profile attorneys all came to Avery's defense, demanding he be set free and granted another trial--or that the "crooked investigators and prosecutors" be tried instead.  He even became a hashtag!!

But as they say in Hollywood, Avery and his high-profile appeals attorney have "flipped the script".  In their latest motion for reconsideration, Avery's team completely drops the "he was framed by police" story--and instead are claiming that a member of Avery's own family is framing him.  Either his brother-in-law or another nephew is the "real killer"--and they created an elaborate ruse to make it look like Steve is the one that did it.  The blood inside Halbach's SUV that we were told came from the court file vial?  That was actually collected by the family member from Avery's sink--because he knew that Steve had cut his hand that same day and it hadn't been cleaned up.  That same family member then cleaned up all of the blood and planted Halbach's key in Avery's bedroom for police to find when they came back with a second search warrant.

I highly doubt any of this will ever make it to Netflix.  It's easy as a moviemaker to accuse police officers, prosecutors, judges and expert witnesses of breaking the law with little to no evidence--as they are public officials and such accusations are generally covered by the first amendment.  But when you start accusing Joe Average of murder and conspiracy to conceal you are treading in the dangerous waters of defamation, slander and libel.  Not to mention, fewer people will buy it (literally).  Plus, there is no liberal cache to blaming family members for framing someone for murder--so the social media buzz will be next to nothing.

However, making the sequel will set us up for Making a Murderer III--where Steven Avery wakes up to find out that Teresa Halbach is still alive--and all of this was just a dream sequence.  Hey, it's just as plausible as the first movie.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Europe in Eclipse

Hopefully, we won't be distracted by "concerns" over separated immigrant families as the southern border or Justin Bieber's engagement to pay attention to what could be a huge week in terms of the geo-politics of Europe.  President Trump is off to the continent to discuss the future of NATO--and how he thinks it should operate going forward.

The President's main beef is that the US covers seventy percent of the military budget for NATO.  Other member countries are required to spend at least two percent of the their gross domestic product on defense--but only four of the 29 are currently meeting that threshold.  That "underspending"--and subsequent US funding to cover any shortfalls in NATO's budget--has been a key to the growth of Socialism in Europe.

Living under the protective wing of the United States, countries across Europe have built huge "nanny states" with government-funded health care, secondary education, mass transit, and housing--the types of things you can spend money on when you don't have to build warplanes, missiles and patrol the oceans in nuclear powered aircraft carriers.  In a way, the US has helped to subsidize those social programs since the end of World War Two.

For several generations, there were calls on both sides of the Atlantic to reduce American military presence in Europe.  Remember the protests when the US placed short-range nuclear weapons near the Iron Curtain under President Reagan?  And there have been protests in the streets here about how the US doesn't need to "extend its military presence around the world".  But should President Trump come back from his NATO summit this week saying that soldiers are being brought home, that installations will be dismantled and that air and sea patrols will be scaled back and there will be cries of betrayal from all quarters.

It doesn't help that immediately after throwing down the gauntlet with our friends in Europe, Trump plans to meet in private with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.  You know that Trump will be more than happy to brag about how Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron begged him not to pull US funding for NATO and how they kissed his feet and promised to start paying their fair share.  And Putin will sit there and smile, knowing the enormous social and economic upheaval that would mean for nations that have grown fat and soft under the US's protection.

The seeds of major conflict are always strewn across European soil.  Let's hope the President doesn't spread too much manure when he is over there this week.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Holding Out

Usually I would never use this space to promote a strike.  I find them to usually be counter-productive and only serve to hurt those that walk the picket line.  I would usually never encourage someone to take part in a pro-abortion protest, since I was born and wouldn't want to deny someone else the opportunity to enjoy life as much as I have.  But I would like to whole-heartedly throw my support behind the #Lysistrata2018 movement.

If you are not familiar, Lysistrata2018 is basically a sex strike.  The social media campaign encourages women not to sleep with men in an effort to build public pressure to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court with a nominee that will promise to uphold all decisions dealing with Roe vs Wade.  The name comes from Greek mythology--where women of two warring tribes stopped sleeping with their husbands until they called a truce and ended the war.

A good number of men are already laughing at talk of a "sex strike".  They have already been dealing with such a "job action" for years--so such a political protest wouldn't make any difference in their lives--or convince them to suddenly abandon their pro-life beliefs.  As an added bonus, Lysistrata supporters will be proving that the most effective form of birth control--abstinence--would all but eliminate the need for abortions.

I fully expect to see a CNN report on "The women who have given up sex to save Roe vs Wade" and 50-thousand word essays Salon.com on how Lysistrata helped one woman find a man that "truly loved her for who she was and not for her body"--even though he is likely asexual and had no interest in physical intimacy with her in the first place.  However, there will not be any follow ups report or essays from those same women when they decide to "cross the picket line" again a few weeks or months after the "sex strike" no longer generates any public interest.

It would be interesting if this effort did last for years or even decades.  How would it affect the abortion rate?  What reduction would there be in demand for welfare, food stamps, subsidized child care, housing assistance, and special education requirements in public schools?  And what would happen to the Democratic voting base--as how we are raised can have a great influence on our political view of the world?  So that's why I encourage our liberal sisters to "join the movement", "be strong" and "hold the line"!  You may actually being doing American society a favor.