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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why Nobody Cares What You Think (And What You Can Do About It)

Let me start off by stipulating that I am TOTALLY in your corner, homes.  I completely feel your pain, the frustration of having to repeat even the simplest proposition over and over and over (and over) again and just not being heard.  It's a real cross to bear, no?

But we can't just drop it because some lunkhead refuses to see sense.  We've got a point here, and even if we personally are not inclined to waste our time on trying to educate some feeble-minded half-wit, the integrity of our position is at stake.  It's not like we can just abandon ship in midstream here.  Not without seeming to concede our point to some feckless, uneducated buffoon, anyhow.

I'm sure that's what most of the problem is here.  These people just don't have the smarts or technical background or personal experience to see things our way.  After all, they say, "No sense, no feeling."  That HAS to be why they seem to absorb round after round of our impeccably crafted logical salvos and still keep coming back parroting the same tired old chestnuts in response, as if they hadn't heard a thing we've said.

Not that this is very comforting or useful.  I'm sorry.

Yet maybe there is another way around this thing.  I've toyed around with this notion for a while, and it's still sort of germinating, but this is probably as good a time as any to bring it up.  In fact, this may be the PERFECT time to bring this up--cross-pollination of our ideas could just beef this thing up into something workable.  Something that can take leg and really get the show back on the road, if you know what I mean.

What we need to do is streamline the process--not waste another decade of our lives trying to educate willfully ignorant morons on how to work the existing process.  The undeniable fact is that, whether through malice of incompetence, they've never been productive members nor will they ever be.  Not that we really need them to.  Because, as I've let on, there IS another way around this problem.

What am I talking about?  Choke points, me dear boy, choke points. 

No, not around their necks, ha ha!  That's a good one, chief!  No, not around their necks.  It's an approach with a certain undeniable appeal, true, but not terribly efficient.  Very labor intensive, you know.  And it generally only stokes up their wacky protests in the short term.  Probably gives them an attention and glamor that their ideas wouldn't be able to earn, if they had to play it out on the level field of rational, informed public debate.  No, not the most efficient way to go about it.

What I'm talking about is looking at the problem systemically, understanding how the world really works, and reserving our efforts for just the most responsive bits, the "choke points", if you will.

You and I are men of the world.  We know how this show is set up, a lot better than most, I dare say.  So why have we been wasting our lives trying to milk the cow by its horns?  That pack of ignorant louts may believe they've a right to participate.  And on paper maybe they have.  Let them continue to think that, I say.  That doesn't give them a veto on what we have to think, if you catch my drift.

There are probably only five people in any given system whose opinion really counts for anything:  the guy setting the agenda, the guy counting the votes, the guy assigning committee posts, the guy doling out the budgeted cash, and the guy recording the minutes.  Anyone else can hang, as far as we're concerned, right?  We only care about results.

What's that?  Yeah, I heard you: on the surface that's not a lot of comfort.  You're right--they're all held in the bag by the other side.  No, ordinary guys like us don't get invited to their parties.  Yes, I agree with you.  There is less than zero chance that either one of us will ever get invited to any of their summer homes in the Hamptons or fancy-schmancy Hollywood soirees.  Gold Coast elites, the lot of 'em.  I think you have to be a registered Mayflower descendant five times over or something before they even let you attend one of their fund raiser dinners.

But what I'm saying is that we don't have to.  We don't have to befriend them, we don't have to persuade them, we don't have to buy them.  Sh*t, we may not even have to talk to them.  All we have to do is keep them from talking to one another--at least in private.  Get where I'm coming from?

The other side thrives on secrecy, stealth and thuggery.  That's how they're able to successfully (on their terms) complete their plots and totally bypass our side.  While our dumb*sses (no offense) have been trying to play by the rules, behaving honorably, and watching the committee hearings like hawks, they've been leading us by the nose, because all the real action goes on sub rosa.  We win an election?  They throw out a procedural roadblock.  We get around it through an administrative regulatory action?  They tie it up in court.  We force their hand by appealing to a superior court?  They sick their goons on our grandmothers trying to intimidate us.  There is literally no measure so low, so deceptive, vile and despicable that those bugs wouldn't resort to it given the chance.

THAT, mon frere, is exactly how we get them.  All we have to do is light up those dark corners, no?  We've already established that they can't win on the grounds of fair play.  And we know that there are really only five moving parts in the system.  So why don't we just go in and light that m*ther f*cker up with a freakin' 2,000 watt HMI?  Let's see how they like us then, the smug bastards!

I say that each of the five aforementioned empty suits be required to wear a welded iron collar containing a GPS tracking tracking unit, spycam, microphone and strategically placed generator capable of delivering a 50mA electric current, all by remote control.  Pretty freakin' brilliant, eh?  Let's see the rotten trash throw out a line of baloney to tide them over until the next election cycle with 300 million people with their fingers on the trigger of THAT!

Well, maybe it doesn't have to be 50mA exactly.  That could be lethal.  We don't trade in death, only justice.  It only needs to be strong enough to get their attention.  Maybe only a couple hundred volts.  Just enough to remind 'em who's boss, eh?

As a matter of fact, we probably don't want it to be lethal.  Returning to where we began, so to speak, we're only trying to make an intellectual point.  And you know better than me that it is possible to take a thing too far.  If you do any permanent physical harm in so crude a way as that, you're only going to encourage the loonies to crawl out of the woodwork to oppose you even harder.  Take our eyes off the ball.  As the brilliant Sun Tzu said in "The Art of War":

"Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness.  Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness.  Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate."

Which sentiment again underlines the genius of my plan.  The collars can easily be wired in a way that will only activate them when a minimum threshold number of users press the button.  Because the trigger requires mass, remote action by a very large number of individuals, there's a diffusion of responsibility effect that takes the heat off any single person, keeping them from feeling too guilty to act and too anonymous to target.  Hell, for all we know it just might convince one or two from the other side to get off their *ss and do the right thing for once.  Pansies.

And number two, but maybe more importantly: here's the freakin' democracy the other side is always so desperately whining for.  Please tell me how great Senator Bumblef*ck from the other side is gonna look when he's seen to stall public debate on a measure that will unquestionably provide a level of transparency and immediacy to the political process that the Founding Fathers only dreamed of!  And at a relatively trivial cost, too.  I'd really like to know what fancy rhetorical rabbit he'd pull out of his hat to counter that one!

What's that?  A downside?  Eh, I don't know.  I suppose everything comes at a price.  If it means that a few of our own boys sh*t themselves now and then due to a poorly timed jolt of electricity through the nervous system, so be it.  It'd probably have to happen at some point, even if our side is behaving in its usual, meticulously honorable and ethical manner.  Even if only as a token gesture, just to convince the rubes on the other side of our integrity.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The “Curses o’ Whoredom”: Rome’s History Turns Into Wisconsin’s Misery In Phase 3 of The Madison Uprising

“Elections may be lost by failing to energize the base, but they are only won by charming non-ideological voters who form the majority.  Milwaukee and Madison are the state’s most left-leaning cities, but in the eyes of Wisconsin’s rural and suburban majority, they are also the darkest pits of Babylonish whoredom.”

Caligula:  a career model for the modern statesman?
The wheels seem rapidly to be coming off the runaway freight train that was the effort to recall troubled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  Nearly1,000,000 people affixed their names and addresses to a petition to initiate the unprecedented recall procedures against Walker.  But as of late April, Walker is polling at least 5 % HIGHER than his most likely opponent, Milwaukee’s mayor, Tom Barrett.  WTF?

Here is a brief recap of events since I last wrote about the Madison Uprising:

1.   Walker appointees refused to cooperate with a Federal John Doe investigation into Republican campaign violations.  To date several minions have been charged with felonies ranging from appropriation of public assets to promote Walker’s candidacy, to embezzlement of funds intended for the surviving families of veterans in the Afghan and Iraq conflicts, to enticing underage boys into sexual relationships over the internet.  Walker made some attempts to distance himself from the actions underlings took on his behalf, but those were undermined by the revelation that he had retained legal counsel from a firm renowned for its specialty in defending against white collar criminal cases.

2.   Waukesha County clerk Kathy Nickolaus resigned in her capacity as elections supervisor under severe public pressure.  Diligent readers may recall the Signs And Wonders attendant upon Nickolaus’ miraculous production of just barely the required number of votes to overturn the originally called results in the State Supreme Court race between JoAnne Kloppenberg and Nickolaus’ former boss, and Scott Walker darling, David Prosser.  No, the proximate causes of Nickolaus’ ouster didn’t include the broken seals, incorrect tracking batch numbers and torn ballot bags which were discovered during a contentious recount proceeding in the Kloppenberg race, but in the complete breakdown in the process of certifying the results of the recent Republican presidential primary.  Who’d have thought?  Public outrage does count for something, but only when it’s the outrage of Mitt Romney.

3.    Perhaps not incidentally, the self same Justice Prosser is currently the subject of disciplinary proceedings related to his alleged physical assault of another Supreme Court justice in chambers during deliberations.

4.   A Federal court has overturned the redistricting bills pushed through by Walker this last legislative session.  The court was unambiguous in decrying the GOP-drawn map as an effort to disenfranchise Milwaukee-area ethnic minorities.  In another case bearing upon voting rights, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has delayed implementation of Walker's controversial voter ID law until after the recall election, saying it will not be able to complete an adequate review before then.

5.   A Federal court has also overturned as unconstitutional many of the provisions of Walker’s stealth, union-busting bill that gave birth to this nest of monsters to begin with.  Critical union certification and funding provisions of that bill have been defeated, which is a big plus, but, pending possible repeal through the Wisconsin Legislature, severe limits regarding the scope of union negotiations remain.

This last point is a big (but note sole) cause of my discomfort.  Because, in my mind, it is a harbinger of doom for the Walker recall effort—though NOT for the reason most commenters think.

Veni, Vidi . . .
The preliminary procedural effort, the campaign to obtain 540k signatures to authorize the recall election, was in and of itself a spectacular and unqualified success.  Despite misgivings of professional pundits about the rarity of recall proceedings, and the timing of the campaign during the winter holidays, which typically curb turn-out at outdoor events of this sort, nearly million people signed the petition.  That means that, as of the dates they signed the petition, roughly 10% more voters wished to halt Scott Walker’s illegal power grab than actually voted for the Democratic candidate during the 2010 election.

Sic Transit Gloria One Day
That venom, that outrage is all just a memory now.  The Federal district court gave the public the sop they need to assuage their anger.  Public worker unions now have the right to nominal existence, albeit practically neutered by limits on its negotiating powers.  Wisconsin can now retire in dignity, having saved face, yet it has not really addressed the issue most offensive to right thinking people:  Scott Walker’s unrepentant disregard for democratic procedure.

Only a relative handful of the people signing the petitions are themselves union members, even fewer are members of public employee unions.  A statistically negligible portion are top-level union negotiators.  Apart from them, it seems, only the Righteous Before God feel any particular need to decisively defeat Evil.  And as Revelation 7 tells us, they total only 144,000 worldwide. 

Assuming an even geographic distribution proportionate to population density, that means roughly 0.000001 Righteous Voter in Wisconsin.  Not nearly enough to turn a Wisconsin election.  I highly doubt that Scott Walker loses much sleep over the hypothetical specter of a Righteous Voter upsetting the cart, not when he sees thousands of non-ideological voters deserting the recall effort daily.

Most pundits seem to feel that these defections were an unavoidable consequence of the Democratic Party’s stereotypical poor discipline, a confirmation that it is not so much an organized political faction as an ephemeral coalition of self-interested constituencies.

While I find that a plausible idea, it does seem curiously to make little of the notion that leaders are supposed to lead—that their failure to secure a stable following might be due to their lack of reliability and competence.  But then again, that proposition is at least 2,000 years old.  Perhaps that is why no one feels any particular need to call Tom Barrett out as a feckless whore.

Roman Precedent

In the five centuries of the Roman Republic, a sort of hierarchy of office eventually emerged whereby individuals in public service assumed ever greater responsibilities.  As they increased in age and experience, candidates were admitted to positions of more influence.  This succession of offices they termed the “Cursus Honorum”, that is, the “Honors Race”—the title of this article is a semi-satirical play on that term.
Over time Rome was called upon to intervene in the domestic affairs of neighboring city states, gradually and reluctantly at first, but then with increasing rapidity and eagerness.  The demands upon its leadership grew to such an extent that the pressures created a professional political class.

The Cursus Honorum now hardened into a definite, set progression of specific offices and requirements, whereas before it had merely been a pedagogical tradition for cultivating competent leadership, open to exception when need be to meet some immediate threat.  Few men could economically afford to devote themselves exclusively to public service.  Going forward, the top job, the consulship, would be open only to those of high aristocratic birth.  Outward, superficial qualifications became more important than deep intelligence or moral commitment.  The failed triumvir Mark Antony is literally the ultimate example of the Cursus’ shortcomings.

Mark Antony may have been a charming rogue, taken on his own terms: a drunken aristo given to hosting elaborate feasts and public spectacles.  Not a man you cross casually, but apparently willing to give and take within certain proscribed limits. Certainly diehard republicans in the Roman Senate saw him in this way.  There is good evidence that he was at least a passive participant in the plot to assassinate his controversial mentor, Julius Caesar.  This easy-going, pragmatic approach eventually sealed Antony’s doom and that of the Roman Republic.

Antony never had great respect for his younger rival, Gaius Octavius, and rarely made serious efforts to check the challenges Octavius offered him.  And why would he?  Antony himself had inherited command of Caesar’s most hardened troops and control of the financial resources of Egypt, the breadbasket of the Mediterranean.  Antony had already held the consulship, the pinnacle of the Cursus Honorum.  In the eyes of the world, he had achieved all these through unquestioned personal competence and success in the Cursus in the more-or-less traditional manner.

Gaius Octavius, on the other hand was little more than a grubby parvenu.  True, the patrician dictator Caesar had been his great uncle, but his paternal line was of very obscure equestrian origins.  During Antony’s first consulship he had not been of age even to assume the relatively junior position of quaestor.  And Octavius hardly distinguished himself by his conduct during the Battle of Philippi, where he is alleged to have hidden in the rear of his forces’ baggage train.  Not much of a challenge for Antony, in a direct mano-a-mano. 

But the ultimate showdown would NOT be a direct mano-a-mano.  Against all odds, this showdown was a comically desultory non-battle taking place in an obscure, strategically unimportant sea inlet in southern Greece:  Actium.  Antony was decisively defeated by what amounted to little more than a seaside dust up.

Modern military historians have a difficult time understanding just why Antony chose such an unpromising site for his final stand, but it seems obvious enough to political historians.  Seeing little danger in being overwhelmed by his inexperienced rival, Antony deemed it more important to maintain his dignity and make a show of the fact that he did not intend to attack Rome itself.  Therefore, he selected a battle site spectacularly unsuitable for launching such a campaign.  Antony was protecting the integrity of the Cursus Honorum.

Octavius’ stealthy contempt for convention and decorum secured him victory at Actium, and indeed served him well during his whole career.  Caesar raised Octavius above his native social station through a controversial posthumous adoption, and Octavius took full advantage, surrounding himself with a gang of ruthlessly competent conspirators who were bound to him by his newfound wealth and prestige, without regard to their pedigrees. 

One of these conspirators, Octavius’ best friend and future son-in-law, was Marcus Agrippa, perhaps the most spectacularly gifted general in Roman history, barring Caesar himself.  Although Octavius, now calling himself Augustus Caesar, was officially declared the victor of Actium in the celebrations that followed in Rome, it was clearly Agrippa who had been the true operational commander all along.

Wisconsin Decedent

How does any of this relate to Wisconsin’s 2012 recall election?  Quite simply, Wisconsin’s Democratic Party is showing a reverence for convention every bit as stupid and self-destructive as anything the doomed Mark Antony ever did at Actium.  They’re almost certain to nominate Tom Barrett, career politician from its largest in-state stronghold, Milwaukee. 

Anyone who knows Wisconsin knows that the mere mention of a Milwaukee mayor makes the vast majority of Wisconsinites cringe.  This state is overwhelmingly white, of northern European origins, and adherent to a vanilla Christian denomination like Lutheranism or Catholicism.  We are constitutionally conservative and bred for obedience to traditional authorities. 

In such a narrow world view, a Milwaukee mayor can only conjure up images of Mexican gangsters and big city greasebags--horrors to be resisted rather than novelties to be embraced.  Given any plausible excuse to abandon their awkward rebellion against a more familiar suburban greasebag like Scott Walker, we will.  We are not inclined to buck the system.

There is the supreme irony for you, because neither are Democratic activists.  They had the opportunity to nominate Peter Barca, the charismatic assemblyman from Kenosha, but that quickly received the kybosh.  Barca would have been a stunning candidate, maybe unbeatable in a general election. 

Barca could have commanded the loyalty of the unions in a way Barrett certainly won’t.  It was Barca who delivered the historic protest against Walker’s violation of the Open Meetings Law which inaugurated this whole sequence of events.  While Barca’s speech that night is immortalized for the ages on Youtube clips and newspaper accounts, Barrett might prefer to minimize his role in that little episode of Wisconsin history.  Barrett extracted piratical concessions from Milwaukee public service unions under the very Walker bill that he now pretends to disdain.

And who knows how many potential anti-Walker voters will fail to show up out of simple Barrett fatigue?  Barrett strung the media along for months, refusing to decisively commit to a gubernatorial candidacy until AFTER he’d taken the Milwaukee mayorship.  Will otherwise Democratic leaning Milwaukee voters be disgusted with this apparently premeditated and opportunistic turnaround?

There is another candidate running within striking distance of Barrett, former Dane County supervisor Kathleen Falk.  I plan to vote for her, though I do not think she will win.

Although Falk really doesn’t share Barrett’s substantive baggage, it’s still an open question whether she can overcome the perceived arrogance that clings to stereotypical images of Dane County / Madison people in the imagination of the average Wisconsinite.  As in all elections for at least the last 10 years, it is the non-ideological suburban and rural voter who will decide this race. 

Any objective review of Falk’s CV suggests that it is possible.  She is an accomplished woman.  The only problem being that politics are not objective.  Policy may be objective, but politics, never. 

It’s not a point of honor, but reality that Barca, a white male from outside of the Democratic charmed circles in Milwaukee or Madison, would have stood a much better chance of overcoming all of these obstacles and winning over flakey and unreliable “undecideds”.

That’s all water under the bridge now.  Barca announced, unequivocally that he had no intention of pursuing the nomination.  It’s an oddity that inevitably invites curious speculation but few satisfactory answers.  It’s understandable enough that the man may want to continue in his current position as assemblyman for Kenosha—he’s certainly demonstrated a particular zeal in that capacity.  I wouldn’t begrudge him or his constituents that.

Yet given the mediocrity of the leader of the pack, Barrett, I really have to wonder if that’s the whole story.  Barrett, like Barca, used to be a U.S. congressman.  The typical progression would have been to go on to the U.S. Senate—if one is willing to forego any theoretical presidential ambitions, given the historically poor performance of alumni as candidates.  Or, alternatively, if one is setting himself on a presidential track, a former congressman can run for governor of his state.  Which Barrett has actually done.  Twice already.  Failing both times.

Barca did neither of these things.  After working in public service and the private sector, he returned to the Wisconsin State Assembly and increased his involvement in local affairs.

My guess is that Barca received a polite “talking to”, by Wisconsin Democratic Party bigwigs, to discourage any notions union reps may have put into his head.  Like I said, Barca could have had tons of perfectly legitimate reasons to be reluctant, even before such a hypothetical “talk”, so it may not have taken much.  If Barca were sincere but perhaps more na├»ve man than I believe him to be, he may not even have been aware that this was a warning.

In any case, I’m sure that Barrett and the Democratic Machine are glad Barca didn’t run.  I’m sure that Scott Walker is, too.