Things that just occurred to me, in no particular order

Posts tagged ‘Politics’

Flammable

My roommate was aghast.

Her boyfriend was standing over the kitchen sink, a lighter in one hand and a fistful of non-dairy creamer in the other. He sprinkled the one on top of the open flame from the other and was rewarded with a flash of flame.

She gasped.

“I had no idea that stuff, those chemicals, were in my non-dairy creamer.” She swore off the stuff then and there.  If it burned that easily, imagine what it did to your stomach lining?

Of course, I knew that the increased surface area from the powder made it flammable. It would have worked if he’d used flour or talcum powder or sawdust. It’s the reason why grain silos have been known to explode.

But she didn’t know that. Her boyfriend didn’t either. He just knew a cool trick that would impress people.

It’s kind of the way it is right now with science, news, politics, philosophy and economics. Everybody knows a few good tricks, enough to do the social equivalent of lighting a small fire over the kitchen sink.

But few of us know the underlying facts, theories and science behind those tricks — and therefore what those tricks really mean.

I doubt most people could really explain the science behind allergies or the economic principles that drive the stock market. It’s the age of specialization and everybody knows a lot about our specific areas of expertise, but there is no way we’d be able to know all that there is to know today.

So we rely on experts, or people who claim expertise. The problem is, they are often just regular people who know the cool tricks, and not what’s behind them.

The downside is that it’s easy for people to push concepts or ideas that are not supported by facts. They may not even know the facts themselves, but who’s going to challenge them? Their opponents are mostly just as factually ignorant.

So they spin their versions, myths based on what they fear is happening instead of what is supported by fact, and make a knee-jerk reactions every few years at the ballot box, or daily in the grocery aisle or doctor’s office.

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February 19

The Liberals only have themselves to blame, all the pie-eyed Obama lovers from 2008, for the current place they’re at politically.

Just to make sure we’re keeping score, we are a week away from a historic mid-term election that will shape the face of the country for the next two years. If the predictions hold out, Tea Party conservatives will toss a mess of liberal legislators out of office.

I received a mailing last week from the conservative Heartland Institute touting their new book, “The Patriot’s Toolbox.” It’s designed to give Tea Party activists all the ammo they need to help change the country.

But one sentence, on the back of the mailing caught my eye and has stuck in my head:

“On February 19, 2009, CNBC commenter Rick Santelli stood on the trading floor of the Chicago Board of Trade and called for a “new tea party” to protest out-of-control spending by politicians in Washington.”

So there you have it, the birthdate of the Tea Party movement: Feb. 19, 2009.

Go check your calendar. The Tea Party started one day short of a month after the new president was inaugurated. Basically, they gave Obama 30 days to fix the country before they started saying it wasn’t working, that he wasn’t working out.

Now, that’s not  a surprise. People that didn’t like Obama could never put the 2008 campaign aside. They’d never be supporters.  I guess I wished that they would have given him a bit of a chance, but what are you going to do?

But here’s where I blame the Libs:  Right about the same time the Tea Party folks first started gathering their teabags, the Liberals started agitating. He hadn’t closed Gitmo, legalized gay marriage, gotten U.S. troops out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany or dismantled Don’t Ask Don’t Tell yet. As that first year progressed, they complained louder.

Too many people had too great expectations, right or left. One group was convinced he was going to turn the country over to Sharia law and the other, that he was going to usher in a paradise.

But he hasn’t. We still live in pretty much the same country we had in February 2009. The economy still sucks and we are still a divided mess but we’ve managed to avoid a full-on depression. Things are no worse, and not much better, than they were then.

So he suffers, diminished by outrageous expectations. Has he been great? Not sure I’d go that far, but I don’t think anyone could have gotten much farther under the same circumstances.

That fact hasn’t gotten out, or it’s been ignored. The only narrative so far has been how raw everyone’s disappointment in Obama has been.

The thing is, I used to get mailing like the one for the Heartland Institute from the Right and the Left. Not only mailings, but emails, too. And when was the last time you saw a new Liberal bumper sticker?

One group stayed energized, the other let its disappointment fester.

So I blame his supporters, rabid in 2008 and disappointed today. Unrealistic on both ends.

Fragility

It was a November Tuesday, back in 1992.  All the local politicos had gathered in a downtown bar, and I imagined they were sitting around a big table, laughing and tossing back drink after drink.

I always imagined one guy at the center of that little party, a local attorney-turned-realtor, laughing louder than the rest, drinking more and generally having a better, more boisterous time.

I, on the other hand, was stuck at the Town Clerk’s office with a notebook, dutifully writing down numbers and names, figuring out who the next Town Councilors were going to be. Election night. It was a position I find myself in once a year.

Anyway, I made my way back to the newsroom, notebook, names and numbers in hand. I’d made arrangements earlier to call the candidates once I knew the winners, and luckily for me that night most were clustered in that one little bar. I called it, and the lawyer-turned-realtor snatched up the phone.

Here’s the deal. He was a successful, rich, educated, handsome guy. Glib, serious, polished, he assumed he’d do really well at the polls.

But he didn’t. He got absolutely spanked, embarrassingly so. I mean, he had  two votes or something— he and his wife, probably. I’m sure it made for uncomfortable talk at work the next day.

“Sure, I voted for you, Peter,” they said.

Uh huh.

Anyway, he was the first guy to grab the phone. I recognized his voice, but asked for someone else.

“Is this Scott? It is! Hey Scott! It’s Peter!”

I said hi, and asked for the other person.

“Oh sure. So. But, how’d I do?”

I didn’t want to be the one to tell him, but I really had no choice. It was the only way to get him off the phone so I could talk to the winners, finish my story and meet my deadline.

“You lost,” I said. “Didn’t win. Sorry.”

That should be enough, I thought. Nope.

“What? How many votes did I get?”

“Two.” And that was that, the very last time I talked to him. Ever. My sources that night say he dropped the phone, just picked up his coat and wandered out the door. Didn’t talk to another soul, didn’t pay his tab.  A few months later, I found out he’d completely moved out-of-town.

The thing is, some 17 years later, I can still recall his name but not the folks that beat him. Somehow, his humiliation lodged itself in my memory.

It’s no surprise that politicians have big egos. It’s a must.  They’d never run if they didn’t think that they were best.  And frankly, in my opinion, that’s not a bad thing.

And I guess it’s not surprising how incredibly vulnerable those same egos can be. It simply cannot be easy to put yourself in such wide-open position, to leave yourself so vulnerable to an utterly humiliating defeat.

I’m guessing the waiting isn’t the worst part, but it has to be a close second.

Some friends have told me that the local Lewiston-Auburn politicos are working themselves into a fine froth. With less than a week before the municipal election, they’re getting anxious. Not sleeping well, I gather.

I’m not foolish enough to guess who’s going to have their egos crushed, or who’s going to have that pleasure delayed for another two years.

And I’ll be there Tuesday night, writing a story about the lucky few. But I’ll be thinking about the ones that got spanked.

The sure thing

I knew one guy who came close to having a sure thing.

He was the original publisher of the Vail Daily, and he started it as a photocopied sheet of paper with a cool logo and an ad for McDonald’s. That was 1978, and 16 years later he sold it for six, maybe seven figures.

He always had an cool air about him, a man that knew what he was doing and had the success to prove it.

But looking back, success was no given. His paper had plenty of opportunities to fail spectacularly but just didn’t, somehow. He lost friendships over time because of it and basically worked his ass off to get there. Wiser men, had he approached them with his Xeroxed masthead, would have warned him off.

Has anyone every had a sure thing, I mean really? A lock, beginning to end? I’d love to hear about it.  I’ve never heard a single person grab that easy money without any risk or recourse.

It’s a phantasm, swamp gas that people want to believe in, especially when it comes to their government.

I think the people we elect sometimes get this cloud in their eyes. Maybe it comes from being dazzled by their own luck at getting elected, but they start to act like anything is possible. They begin hunting for a magic bullet that’s going to solve everyone’s ills all in a piece.

That’s not a problem on its face. I like pie-in-the-sky thinking, and I’m convinced government needs more of it. But at some point the optimism sours and the search for the sure thing goes dark. Any little idea is going to be strangled in the crib because it’s not quite perfect. If if doesn’t solve everything, it won’t get a chance to solve anything.

Throw in a few egos and some hurt feelings and y0u’ve got yourself a nice pot of government gridlock.

I sit in the audience at most City Council meetings watching these politicians demand full-proof answers to problems that haven’t been clearly defined. When they’re not getting it, they’re getting mad.

For any solution suggested, they look at the flaws more than anything else. Rather than grab something that might just work, they’re looking for the end all, be-all of government policy, the 9-ball in the corner pocket that’s going to solve all of their problems.

They’re not getting it. it’s not there, and it seems like it’s pissing them off.

Stroke that ego

It’s really no surprise that politicians have big egos.
Consider the candidate running for office — any office, from town selectman all the way up. You need to be secure enough in your self image to imagine that a a majority of people in your selected geographic area will pick you above anyone else.
Anyone else.
It’s true in high school elections, it’s true state races, it’s true in presidential elections. Wimps, wusses and the meek need not apply.
So, it’s a real surprise when such a candidate gets herself elected; one with low self esteem, and an almost negligible ego.
It happened almost two years ago here in Lewiston. A candidate was inspired by a single issue. She spoke out against it, fought for it and made some friends around it. They convinced her she could do good work as a City Councilor and helped her get elected. She won the seat by a healthy margin.
Then she turned around, shocked and basically said: Now what?
She should be ideal, an official not trying to insert her own desires to win into every issue.
The thing is, however, that councilors without ego are not all that effective. Just as you need a healthy sense of your own awesomeness to get elected, you need that same feeling of pure invincibility to ram your policies through. Remember, other folks that got themselves elected have just as great a sense of their own righteousness. If you give them an inch, they’ll assume they deserve it — and the entire yard you didn’t intend to give.
In the end, you wind up hurt, offended, traumatized. You end up walking out of City Council meetings in a snit. And all of your good intentions walk right out the door with you.
Remember: Good government doesn’t get done storming out the door.

One note says it all

She was going to celebrate, dammit, and all the stares from the people still in the meeting or the folks outside hushing her were not going to quiet her.

She was there Tuesday night to see Casella get cast down once again, and when she left the room, she wanted to shout. She wanted to stomp and celebrate, but everyone people kept telling her to calm down. She puffed her chest out in defiance, like a 12-year-old school yard bully, and told them all where to go.

Still inside the City Council chambers, I was straining to follow the discussion. With the Casella matters dispensed with, councilors had moved on to a bigger topic — with $1.6 million in cuts expected this year, layoffs were certain. The city administrator was sketching out his plan for gentle layoffs and retirement buyouts to let his staff off easily.

But I couldn’t really hear what they were saying because of the woman’s squawking. I looked back, over my shoulder, out the door and caught her eye.

“You, in the red vest!” she yelled. “You! Got a problem with me? What’s your problem?”

Some of her friends led her away, out the doors and into the street, yelling like  a drunk kicked out of a night club.

Here’s her problem: One note politics. Never trust candidates and politicians that are single noters. That guy you elected to deal with abortion? He may be crappy at balancing budgets. You’ll find your country in hock up to its eyeballs before you know it. The woman who only cares about better schools? She may have no skill for managing people and you’ll wind up with a bureaucratic nightmare and huge taxes.

There are lots of one-note political topics, but the display last night was all about Casella. The multi-state solid waste conglomerate has created a lot of enemies for the way it’s handled the landfills it operates near Bangor. It’s a mess, with trash blowing around neighbor’s yards, phantom odors and no end in sight.

When the company looked to take over management in Lewiston’s landfill two years ago, the city exploded. Casella was chased out of town and the councilors that negotiated with them were voted out of office.

Except Casella didn’t really leave. Their subsidiary, Pine Tree Waste, handles trash collection for both Lewiston and Auburn. And the company brings in 100 of tons of construction and demolition debris from Massachusetts and New Hampshire every year to another Lewiston-based subsidiary, KTI Biofuels. The stuff is sorted and shipped off to other places — wood to mills and electricity generating plants, everything else to landfills.

Casella offered to move Pine Tree Waste’s truck operation into Lewiston, ending KTI and the sorting of out-of-state debris there. But because of the experience at the company’s other landfills, nobody trusts them. Councilors voted them down.

That’s not good good enough for some. I had one of Casella’s Lewiston foes tell me that nothing else matter but chasing the company out of town once and for all. There are no other issues, as far as he’s concerned.

I understand zeal, but I think they miss a lot of things. The deal with Casella might have brought better recycling to the area. It might have kept out-of-state waste out of the city and it might have meant new revenue. Maybe you can’t negotiate with someone like Casella, but an automatic no based entirely on name recognition doesn’t help.

So while the city talked grimly about how to gently cut its staff size, this martinet celebrated. Her one concern was settled. Now she could go back in her hole.

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