31 August 2009

Dreams Gone Bad

A while back, I wrote about the Puerto Rican "dream." Pissed Me off, it did. I had hoped for something better and though you may say 'Well, Jenius, it's your opinios so don't be a spaz and just change the damn thing," the fact is: I'm right.

Now My good friend Kevin Shockey made the comment that another "dream" We have is to "pretend We have more money than We actually do." When I first read that, I didn't consider it a "dream," but a character flaw, to which Kevin rightly replied that what I had suggested--and he agreed with--was equally so.

Over time I looked at both "dreams" and tried to figure out why the one I suggested "fit" My selected criteria for a national "image dream" and yet somehow didn't "fit" with Kevin's. (The obvious tack of "I'm right and he's wrong" doesn't apply here; as far as My conversations with Kevin go, it never does.) Here's what I came up with:

--The way I see it, the national "dream" is an idealized portrait of what the people of that country see themselves doing and being when times become a challenge. I expressed as much in My original post. On that basis, acting like you've got more money than you actually do doesn't mesh very well with the "facing a crisis" mode I defined, for it is obvious that in times of crisis or even near-crisis, the average brethren of Mine here prefers to wail about how they need more money to get anything done. Proof? Check out the number of claims and the insane drop in productivity at all levels after a natural phenomena such as a hurricane or flood.

--However, the national dream is also present in times of emotional buoyancy, when the good times are rolling, as anyone can see by delving into the history of the U.S. of part of A. or Japan (My two examples.) At those times--so very few and far between for Us--Kevin's assessment is spot-on, but sadly, so is Mine, for in the midst of plenty, We consistently keep looking outward, to others, to "keep the party rolling" rather than relying on Ourselves to make the party bigger.

But I still resisted Kevin's suggestion, until I noticed that My suggestion covers both good times and bad and his doesn't. True, it's My game and My rules. But if I forget that and simply look at what Kevin suggested, then I notice that what bothers Me still about it is that he is right--and We have another bad dream on Our hands.

And for you Larva Lovers out there, that's not a good thing. Because if Our dreams are passivity or vanity--one a weary attitude of defeat and the other a mindless pursuit of useless approval--then what can possibly unite Us as an ideal to step firmly towards progress?

I don't know. And that pisses Me off, too.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

28 August 2009

Piled High and Deeper

Attention, class. Mr. Jenius here. Take a look at this article in local fishwrap El Nuevo Día, about Federal concerns with local Department of (Mis)Education secretary Carlos "2 Tons of Suckitude" Chardón's flailings.

Yes, I know it's in Spanish. Here's the gist: The Feds are threatening to re-place Us on the "high risk" list (i.e. "The Ali Baba Times 32 Roster") because the Lumbering Loon at the DE's helm practically decapitated the department's Title I oversight personnel by having the vast majority of them (79 of 89) reassigned to school-level positions.

Yes, he sent the watchmen to the playground at a time when a proven lying drug dealer is head of the Federal Affairs office. More on that piece of walking fertilizer in a moment.

The Feds' letter was sent to the Wallowing Whale and Our muddle-headed excuse for a (non)governor, Luis "The Larva" Fortuño, indicating that some $2 billion in future education funding could be at risk. For perspective, the local government budget is about $9 billion a year, so $2 billion is a lot of cabbage.

But not as big a Cabbage Cow as Our Carlitos, whose sweeping suckitude also endangers fund management and oversight of Title II, III, IV and programs aimed at low-income families, of which We have a ton. Basically, at a time when the local zombie We call the DE is still under a heavy cloud of suspicion for federal fund fraud (hmmm, 4 Fs...), outright theft and a woefully-inept track record of marginal progress, Hamfisted Hippo decides to just gut the very level of fiscal management he needed to keep the PRDE Titanic afloat.

True, they may have been incompetent, but did the Robustest Republican say so? Did His Humongousness imply he was--dare I say?--cleaning house? Of course he didn't. In fact, the Gargantuan Gladhander got into more trouble with his Larva boss by saying that the problems in the department were caused by having to fire employees as part of the so-called government restructuring. Which begs the question: In a department as big as the local DE, the Portly Poopyhead couldn't find some other people to reassign?

Which brings Me to the bottom of the barrel, the absolute nadir of a nincompoop, heavy on the --you guessed it--poop. The director of the Federal Affairs office, a noted liar and drug dealer named William "Twitchy Frenzy" Ubiñas, had this to say about the situation:

"Vamos a cumplir”, dijo Ubiñas, al dejar entrever, además, que considera que pueden haber funcionarios en Educación federal que “no entienden” la situación de Puerto Rico."

"We are going to comply," said Ubiñas, while also implying he believes that there might be Federal Education personnel that "do not understand" the situation in Puerto Rico."

"Do not understand." Sigh...

Okay, Billy Bowel Movement, here's the skinny: It's their money.

Let Me draw you a picture: It's their money and it's their rules. The same rules everybody plays under. You take their money by accepting their rules. They don't have to understand ANYTHING, convict, YOU just have to play by the rules.

Given your past, I can see why you have trouble understanding that. And seeing as the Massive Mammoth that placed you there is partying like it's 1979--when he had his first swing-and-miss in the position--it's a wonder We haven't had the department closed down for lack of moral solvency.

Okay, the bell's about to ring. How I wish it did so to signal the last round on this Dinosaur/Drug Dealer Debacle.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

P.S. (31 Aug): Thanks to Edwin Vázquez who provided a link to the multi-page smackdown delivered by the Feds to the local DE. Especially galling to proud boricuas is the casual mention that Puerto Rico was the only "state" that didn't comply with the EDFacts program. Another case of Our Corpulent Clown and Criminal Cracker crushing Our educational canoe against the rocks.

26 August 2009

Somewhere In Puerto Rico

Somewhere in Puerto Rico, a teacher pours her heart and soul into a job her students barely appreciate, their parents never thank and the system does its best to stomp into mindless drudgery.

Somewhere in Puerto Rico a government employee does his best to circumvent petty politics, office politics, psuedo-political power struggles and politically-induced bureaucracy to render just service to the citizens he serves.

Somewhere in Puerto Rico a minister tends to his church members with an eye towards their spiritual health and not his bank account's.

Somewhere in Puerto Rico a police officer does her daily best to enforce the reasonable laws and minimize the damage that stupid laws and widespread abject indifference to them causes.

Somewhere in Puerto Rico a doctor takes the extra minutes his patients need to feel secure--to feel valued as a person--and charges the ruptured health system exactly what they value that time at: nothing.

Somewhere in Puerto Rico a journalist struggles against a tidal wave of pure hypocrisy, incompetence and outright lies and fights her way to the kernel of truth in an important story--and is ignored because it isn't gossipy.

Somewhere in Puerto Rico a parent turns to his or her child and says: "No more TV. Let's read."

Somewhere in Puerto Rico, a bank officer says yes to supporting a small business based solely on his instinct that the person asking for the money will pour his life into never letting the bank down.

Somewhere in Puerto Rico, an entrepreneur is shaping a vision of her world as the vessel she will pour her life into...if she can overcome the dozens of needless obstacles Our Fools put in her path.

Somewhere in Puerto Rico a lawyer is evaluating a case and deciding that it can be handled in his office, quietly, briefly and for little pay, instead of clogging the judicial sewage pipe with more garbage litigation.

Somewhere in Puerto Rico a contractor is adding that extra load of cement to the construction his company is doing because cutting corners is not acceptable, no matter what his industry says.

Somewhere in Puerto Rico, someone wonders where those other someones are.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

24 August 2009

Laws of Power(mongering)

My 800th post...

There's a movement locally to unite serveral Municipalities into discrete regions based on proximity and socioeconomic factors, in essence, the possible creation of counties (or what in Loo-zee-ana are called parishes.)

Based on the level of enthusiasm shown by the Fools at the Municipal level, maybe the word movement should be preceded by the word "bowel."

The problem can be defined simply as "holding on to power." No mayor is willing to subsume his or her inadequate personality and bird-brained political shenanigans into a larger unit where decisions are made by a committee or a County Board. They will deny the "power stranglehold" angle while emphasizing the "inefficiency of group-think," although none of them could define group-think in under 6 minutes.

And they are partially right...because they are so unanimously wrong. Because nearly all of Our mayors are sub-developed political freaks, seeking a position where the opportunities to actually make a change are nil (centralized control at almost every level and agency), the primary task is vote-getting (for their equally bird-brained parties) and with the sole benefit of fame/notoriety, mayors here are glad-handing party hacks with rhino hides to take on the constant barrage of criticisms they receive.

Very few rise above that and they do so through just one long gutter: become mayor of a large city and gain more power through political party in-fighting. Mayors from large cities, such as San Juan, Bayamón, Caguas, Carolina and Ponce, have been able to leverage their "voting bases" with party politics to try to make larger changes, with varying degrees of success.

But given that model, what chance do smaller towns have of being change models themselves?

Strike One: Mayors are seldom honest workers and very seldom visionaries.

Strike Two: Small voter bases = small central party and government attention.

Srike Three: Attempts at unity are basely self-serving and thus fall apart.

So, rather than having another law on Our disastrously heavy books that We don't pay attention to, how about We nullify that law and simplify the process to create autnomous municipalities, a process so laden with bureaucratic barnacles that only 8 of 78 towns have been able to complete the process...in 19 years?

I know, why eliminate one badly-implemented idea for another badly-implemented idea? But at least an autonomous municipality can reduce central government costs and seek its own path to development. Which means mayors can become more important...and serve as examples of party power...to attract voters. 

Seems that would work, except that there are Fools in (out)house and (kennel)senate, not to mention in the (non)executive branch, that don't want to share their power, either.

Laws without teeth aimed at wrenching power from rabid clutchers of it: yeah, like that will ever work...

The Jenius Has Spoken.

21 August 2009

Firing (at) Fools

In a laughable attempt at gaining the first shred of near-control of his (non)administration, The Larva, d/no b/a (non)governor Luis Fortuño has decided to fire the legislature.

Now I know he can't do that and the legislature senses--in the mindless way parasites react to a suitable host--that it can't really be fired by the ankle of the Executive branch (no, not the head...definitely far from being the head.) No, that ain't about to happen...but it's what The Larva is trying to do.

In a speech delivered with the panache of a badly-made brick and half that in content, The Larva mumbled something about pushing the unicameral issue to a conclusion and cutting the legislative budget mainly by reducing Our Fools in the legislature from full-time bloodsucking vermin with the morals of a herd of rabid crack skanks to part-time bloodsucking vermin with the morals of a smaller herd of rabid crack skanks.

He may have said it less--metaphorically--than I did, but his intention was clear: It's time to (try) to hack these pests to pieces.

Now the odds of that happening are about the same as The Larva winning a Nobel Prize in anything but insipidness. The legislature gets to vote on whether (a) It wants to be reduced to one chamber, (b) It reduces their lack of commitment from full-time to part-time and (c) It cuts its cash teat. They've already made clear--through open indifference and even low-bred defiance--that option (a) isn't going anywhere. Options (b) and (c) lack even a referendum vote to make 'em worthy of any feeble attempt at a grunt-level discussion, so who expects them to gain any traction?

What The Larva wants to do is deliver a gut-level punch at the Fools (mainly of his own party) that sit/squat in the senate and house and make his days as (non)governor a helluva lot more "non" than anything else. But instead of a crippling body blow, what he delivered was a namby-pamby version of "I'll take my bat and balls and go home," when he isn't on the team and he has neither bat nor balls.

Yeah, I went there.

Former (un)governor Aníbal "The Jellyfish" Acevedo tried option (a) in 2005 and it worked, seeing as how he could rally his party to "punish" the opposing party squatting in the legislature. And even then he barely got 22% of voters to move. What percentage does The Larva have on his side when you subtract opposing party voters, malcontents and 70-80% of his own party's base? Probably enough to set up a volleyball league...if you limit it to four teams...

So The Larva swung and missed. His other major idea, closing down bars and such at midnight during the week and 2 a.m. on weekends, is supercilious at best. Our problems are not caused by bars being open until dawn, and though I could give a rat's ass what time bars close, this "change" is way out on the fringe of Our shredded tapestry of progress. If this is the best The Larva can do, then maybe getting drunk way past "closing time" is a good option.

Here's My proposal for The Larva on the matter of firing the Fools:

1) Admit you are what you are, a spineless dweeb being undercut to pieces by the legislature. We already know this--don't ever think We don't--but hearing it will engender the natural supportive reaction from the crowd when a leader (even if you aren't one) admits a major weakness.

2) Point out that the Fools over there are not only wasting Our time and ruining Our future, they are the highest-paid legislature in any real democracy. The catch: It's the truth. It's the fucking truth. Even you can hammer the truth until it starts to hurt the Fools, right? Even you can do that. And if you can't, just quit. Just quit and haul your skinny ass to some consulting job in the popsicle stick industry. 

3) Assuming you delude yourself into doing #2 (in a (non)literal sense, this time) shine the damning light of truth on the Fools in the legislature... and don't stop until after you've pushed through a a dual-proposition referendum: unicameral yes/no (again) and from full-time to part-time yes/no, but this time add the timetable for acting on the "yes" answers. Take it to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court if you have to (you will), but at least you'll be working for Us, O Larva, instead of waffling against Us.

Step over here, Larva, for some final words. You might think this is too narrow an agenda for you to put your not-considerable political muscle into; you're wrong. You have nothing now, you face a snarling carnivore and a sneaky omnivore in the legislature and you have the traction of a banana peel on olive oil-drenched ice. In other words, you're screwed. The tactic here is to pick a fight you can win (okay, maybe almost win), make the Fools that hound you react instead of you reacting every time they grunt and place yourself on the people's side, if only as an illusion.

Because the reality is that you're a wimp and the only way wimps win is to get the mob on their side. And to get this mob on your side, there's nothing better than an issue targeting money and how unfairly the Fools steal if from Us. That's your slogan to going from wimp to wooer.

There. Even you can deliver that message. 

I guess.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

19 August 2009

How Does The Internet See Me?

You have GOT to try this!

The Jenius is seldom this enthusiastic about anything that doesn't involve bitch-slapping Fools, but this Personas thing is slam-bam-thank-you-bacon-burger splendiferous!

Product of the fertile minds of Aaron Zinman, Alex Dragolescu, Yannick Assogba and Judith Donath over at M.I.T., Personas is... here, let them say it:

"Personas is a component of the Metropath(ologies) exhibit, currently on display at the MIT Museum by the Sociable Media Group from the MIT Media Lab. It uses sophisticated natural language processing and the Internet to create a data portrait of one's aggregated online identity. In short, Personas shows you how the Internet sees you. 

Enter your name, and Personas scours the web for information and attempts to characterize the person - to fit them to a predetermined set of categories that an algorithmic process created from a massive corpus of data. The computational process is visualized with each stage of the analysis, finally resulting in the presentation of a seemingly authoritative personal profile. 

In a world where fortunes are sought through data-mining vast information repositories, the computer is our indispensable but far from infallible assistant. Personas demonstrates the computer's uncanny insights and its inadvertent errors, such as the mischaracterizations caused by the inability to separate data from multiple owners of the same name. It is meant for the viewer to reflect on our current and future world, where digital histories are as important if not more important than oral histories, and computational methods of condensing our digital traces are opaque and socially ignorant."

There, now that you know what it is, go use it! Write your name and watch your "personal profile" come up. Or you can enjoy yourself even more by writing My name or Gil The Jenius in the search box. (Notice the differences between Us. Somewhere the term schizoid is rattling a chain or two...)

Go! Do it now!

The Jenius Has Spoken.

17 August 2009


I did it again. I walked out of another presentation that pissed Me off because the person decided that reading the slides to Me was good enough.

It wasn't. Never has been, never will be. 

Now I've decided that I won't attend any other presentation that uses PowerPoint unless A) I know and like the presenter very well and B) s/he doesn't read the damn slides.

PowerPoint is to presentations what crutches are to hundred meter races: useless attachments that destroy the purpose of the activity. Instead of focusing on the quality of the information and concepts to be presented, people use the damn program to spend hours tinkering and minutes preparing, instead of the other way around. The end result is powerless, pointless, mindless ennui.

That's "boredom" to you teachers out there...

(Yeah, I'm snarky today.)

I started dropping the stupid program a few years ago when I did a 30-minute presentation to the local advertising association that had 2 slides. The first had the title and this message: This presentation has a total of 2 slides. This is the first one.

The second slide had the following phrase: [You only think you] Listen to your customer.

I'm pretty sure most of you can figure out what My presentation was about and can then explain it to the teachers. 

There's plenty of backlash against these interminably boring slide shows and the BBC weighs in on the topic as well, pointing out the weakness in presentation, how storytelling trumps bullet points every time and how We've mangled communications by relying on word counts and square-by-square truncation.

Now I know some people are really good at using PowerPoint. By My count, it's one in 123. I have 123 slide files in My computer and of those, only one speaker was worth the time, Scott Ginsberg (he's known as The Name Tag Guy; look him up.) That's less than 0.9% of y'all, so don't interrupt My day and tell Me you're the Wizard of Whiz-Bang Wallshots or the Sultan of Sassy-Savvy Slides because I can tell you right now, you ain't. If you're that dependent on PowerPoint, you're a crutch-humper in Usain Bolt's rear-view mirror, the one that says:

"Objects in the mirror are:
 * closer than
 * they appear."

You want to get better at presentations? Drop PowerPoint. Tell a story, one with a beginning, a middle and an end. Here are six tips you can use now to improve your presentation skills. Notice you have to practice. Nothing worth doing well comes easily and given the importance of presentations, it's worth your time--and that of your listerners--to practice diligently, with focus and enthusiasm.

And yes, I mean you teachers, too. You're boring enough as it is.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

14 August 2009

Fire The Larva

Why don't We just go ahead and save tax money right now by firing The Larva?

The Larva, once known as (non)governor Luis Fortuño, is to leadership what moldy spam is to French haute cuisine. In the latest debacle of no-notochordness, senate president (no, no capital letters, for they imply respect) Thomas "Tantrum" Rivera barks gleefully that he got the Secretary of Health fired because the Secretary refused to stop performing operations.

Okay, first things first. The Secretary of Health, Dr. Iván González, came into the fray after Tantrum had shoved The Larva's original Health nominee off the negotiation table and force-crammed a doddering Fool into the Education seat. Dr. González also had to deal with the Keystone Kops kaos of a potential near-epidemic almost happening on the Island, amidst the media cretins and political cretins acting like...cretins.

But in that maelström, Dr. González continued to perform operations and when asked/told to cut that out (heeheehee), he said "no." For that--according to Tantrum--Dr. González was essentially fired. By Tantrum. He says.

In the abstract, was that the right move? Yes it was. Regardless of how good Dr. González is as a surgeon--and by all accounts, he definitely is--his primary role as Secretary of Health is to manage the Health Department. His primary responsibility is to every person on the Island, not to one on an operating table. By refusing to do his new job right, Dr. González set himself up for getting canned.

But by his boss, not by a wannabe boss acting like a rabid chimp.

Now Dr. González has spoken out about "political espionage" and "corruption" running rampant in the Health Department as Fools angle to get their hands on serious chunks of the $1 billion ARRA funds targeted for that department. So adamant and eloquent were the salvos that The Larva "reassigned" Public Policy personnel close to him to avoid their having contact with Health-related issues.


Look, over at (mis)Education, secretary (no capital letters again) Carlos "Karl Rove Was My Sweetheart" Chardón is the proverbial elephant on a string, balancing long enough to make the entrance of a new department (bone)head--this time from the private sector or directly related to the private sector--a smooth transition. Almost 200 schools have yet to open, Helen Keller as a child could match the total reported output of the latest Puerto Rico Aptitude Test results and cronyism/corruption is making federal antenna twitch too close to home...way too close to home. Is this leadership?

No Health Secretary--again--and an Education secretary on his way out, not to mention that a senate president is acting like a governor 3 years before that personal ambition can be formally realized. So why keep The Larva?

We obviosuly don't need him. We have plenty of Fools to screw Us over and up and sideways and three ways 'til Sunday, so why not save the moola We waste on The Larva? It's not like We'd miss him, either, as he seems to have perfected the "blend into the background" insipidness of his döppelganger Waldo. (I'm into umlauts today.)

We can let Tantrum chase his tail, bark crazily, pee the couch leg and sniff other butts to his wee heart's content while keeping an eye out for Jenniffer "Gluttonny" González as her "Amazon Juggernaut of Alternative Lifestyle Steamroller Tour" gathers, uh, steam, just as easily as We can continue to ignore The Larva and his wimpyness. 

Times are rough now, man, so any money We can save is a good thing. It's the right thing to do. You know it. I know it. Let's make them know it.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

12 August 2009

Orphan Cure Research Center

No, this isn't about sick orphans. But it could be.

Dichloroacetate. Bacteriophages. Copper. Scorpion venom. A list such as this could go on and on, with each element being a potentially world-altering treatment against disease. And the other factor that binds these elements together is that none--none--is being studied by pharmaceuticals because they cannot be patented.

I understand pharmaceutical companies are businesses and they need to make a profit. Let them. But to leave potential cures as orphans because the investment cannot be fenced for profitability is a chasm that business and industry may not bridge...but can be bridged, nonetheless.

I wrote several times about dichloroacetate, also known as DCA. I suggested We undertake the clinical trials of DCA's effects, of "switching on" cancer cells to make them extremely vulnerable to radiation and chemotherapy, here in Puerto Rico as a national project and make it a gift to the world. I now say We should do so for "orphan cures" of all types, cures that pharmaceutical companies will not touch because the ROI is too low for their stockholders.

Bacteriophages are microorganisms that eat bacteria. The eaters eat only specific bacteria, so if you need to eliminate Bacteria A, you get an A-Eating Bacteriophage and once the Bacteria A is gone, the A-Eater dies. Has done so for millions of years. And the bacteria have no defense...unlike antibiotics.

Phage therapy, as its called, is a big deal in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Has been for decades because antibiotic research was out of reach. To this day, you can take a sample of your infection to a local drug store, get it analyzed and you'll receive a phage blend specifically blended for you. Cost: about $3.00.

Although phage therapy is gaining adepts in the U.S. of part of A., most of the research is academic, i.e., not aimed at medical treatment of diseases in humans. The cost of shepherding a drug--or just one bacteriophage--through the near-endless hoops of the FDA easily exceeds a few hundred million dollars. Imagine trying to do that with thousands of bacteriophages.

Phage therapy works, but it won't become a powerful new weapon in medical centers unless it gets researched and proven. As antibiotics lose potency, phage therapy is the clear low-cost alternative. But low-cost also means low or no profit.

Copper reduces the potency of bacterias and viruses. Yes, viruses, particularly H1N1, known as "politician's flu." (Swine, hogs, pigs, politicians, same species.) Copper's myriad effects could revolutionize sanitation in hospitals and clinics, not to mention daily life. But it remains outside the realm of patents, so Big Pharma won't care.

Scorpion venom, a powerful neurotoxin, has been found to be very effective at reducing brain cancer tumors. But you can't patent scorpion venom unless you isolate the specific chemical and make that your wonder drug. (Digitalis, anyone?) But since anyone can get scorpion venom, Big Pharma won't dare.

There are other examples and more will emerge as researchers comb the Earth and its details with new eyes. But where can this research be supported, with government money so that the profit motive is sidestepped in favor of broader results?

I say Puerto Rico should be that Orphan Cure Research Center. As I wrote before: One doesn't become an adult until one achieves what is considered "adult" things. Lacking a war, nations must rise to their levels of adulthood by taking on unique challenges. Puerto Rico's imposed transformation from economic rut to world-class prosperity ended some 25 years ago. We can now stand on Our own...if We only believed enough in Ourselves. And that belief cannot--will not--be built by winning beauty crowns, boxing belts, statuettes or rings. It will be built by creating something larger than an individual or a sports team, something larger than one institution, agency or company, something so large that other nations turn to Us and recognize that not only are We putting forth an admirable effort, We are capable of achieving such a worthy goal.

LIke I said before, it will take money. But one of the irrefutable axioms of economics (one of the very few) is that goverment investment in research has invariably high ROIs, in the range of 50% to 150%. So altruism can also lead to pure profit in terms of economic growth. And the impact of Puerto Rico taking center stage in such an effort is inspiring, an affirmation, a step forward for a nation that too often has waited for the world to act in its favor.

It won't be easy; nothing truly worth doing ever is. We have to do something, We have to be something more than what We are now and unless We strive, We will shrivel, more and faster than We have up to now. And if not this, then something else, but it has to be a goal that stretches Us to reach Our potential and not a goal that has Us throwing away what's left in the mindlews pursuit of the unearned.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

Update: 17 August--We can add bug repellants, too...

10 August 2009

(Un)Welfare (Non)State

Slideshow over at CNBC.com that shows the 15 Biggest Welfare States of the U.S. of part of A. I'll save you the prolonged suspense: California is Number One with a whopping 3.3% of its population on public assistance.

Wow, 3.3% of the population. Around here We call that the country club set.

By best estimates (in other words, a merging of several economic studies based on inadequate statistics distorted through politcal lenses), some 31% of Puerto Ricans depend entirely on public assistance. Now 31% may be a bit high by some estimates, but by many others, it is quite low. And for the purposes of this blog, it proves a point: We are the perfection of the do-nothing welfare state.

An observation: Puerto Rico's population is at about 3.95 million, so 31% of that is (don't worry, I'll do it) 1,224,500 welfare recipients. As of July 2008, California had 1,212,893.


Now I'll define a welfare state as one where the government provides unencumbered financial support to its citizens to compensate for sub-standard income. Under that (admittedly) broad definition, it doesn't matter if the person receiving monies is homeless, unemployed, disabled or pregnant: what matters is that they receive government money that they don't have to earn or pay back. And Puerto Rico is the perfection of the "free government money disaster."

How else could We end up with more welfare recipients than a state with 36.8 million residents, some 9 times larger than Us? Sure, it has one of the top 10 economies in the world, but are We so incompetent, so blind, so lacking in the determination to engage in true progress that We will suck this badly?

Oh yeah.

"Puerto Rico's drastic economic decline can be blamed on many factors, but the most prominent link is the unintended consequences of an expanding government role in the provision of welfare services. Economic indicators show that the Commonwealth's economic collapse coincides with a sharp rise in the amount of federal transfer payments being made to citizens. Transfer payments going to individuals have increased exponentially, from a meager $69 million in 1968 to over $8 billion in 2002. Disability, unemployment, and welfare payments received by citizens now account for one-fifth of the island's personal income. This massive social spending, which began in the 1970s and continues today, has resulted in severe domestic disinvestment in the economy. Domestic capital investment has declined from 32 percent of GDP in 1970 to 16 percent in 2000. This means that the Puerto Rican government, rather than supporting the creation of jobs and market incentives, relies primarily on tax-induced revenue and foreign investment for any growth in the island's GDP. 

In changing the focus of the island's economic activity from production to distribution, the Puerto Rican bureaucracy has crowded out community solutions and business incentives. The results of these policies have created labor distortions, private disinvestment, and have left a large segment of the population without the skills or ambition necessary to achieve economic mobility. As Puerto Rico has shown, when public solutions replace market forces, the loss of privately-produced goods and services can lead to economic stagnation and decline."

That quote is from a 2006 Bobbi Whitlock piece in the Independence Institute, warning Colorado about expanding welfare. The economic miracle of Puerto Rico, the London School of Economics showcase that the future Asian Tigers studied closely, is now the Island of Idleness Rewarded, the Land of Lollygagging Lardasses brought to you by Acephalic Administrations in 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.  

Attract foreign investment? No, Let's beg Uncle Sam for some extra money!

Business incentives? No, Let's make more laws that will create more fees and taxes!

Economic development? No, Let's hire family, friends, donors, freeloaders and sex partners for the government payroll and call that job growth!

What's left of Our economic miracle is what's left after any miracle: the dust of what once was. The nations that once studied Us have left Us, literally, in the dust. And it's Our fault.

We are not a welfare state, simply because We are not a state and true welfare would be a step up from the destitution and ruin We have made of Our economy. Change is possible, it always is, but to make it happen, We may have to get rid of the 31%, or 40% or 50% or even 70% who'd rather do nothing in exchange for nothing more than a beggar's handout.

Maybe California will take them.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

07 August 2009

The Fascist U.S. of part of A.

 For a while, beginning in 2004, I occasionally interrupted My focus on Puerto Rico to shine a light on the growing tendency to fascism in the U.S. of part of A.  Just click here for a brief overview of those posts or drop by the defunct Jenius Jots for more examples.

Yes, fascism. Wake up and smell the burning.

I was stupid enough to think that My days of posting something under "fascism" had ended. Stupid stupid stupid. It ain't over: it's gaining steam.

Here now, quoting Sara Robinson's article in AlterNet, is additional proof--proof, people, not hysteria--that the U.S.' downward spiral into a thug-led regime is well entrenched. And don't let the article's majority mentions of Republicans fool you; the Democrats are almost equally guilty for they are also benefiting from this dark plunge into sociopolitical hell. Some emphasized items below are Mine.

"All through the dark years of the Bush Administration, progressives watched in horror as Constitutional protections vanished, nativist rhetoric ratcheted up, hate speech turned into intimidation and violence, and the president of the United States seized for himself powers only demanded by history's worst dictators. With each new outrage, the small handful of us who'd made ourselves experts on right-wing culture and politics would hear once again from worried readers: Is this it? Have we finally become a fascist state? Are we there yet?

And every time this question got asked, people like Chip Berlet and Dave Neiwert and Fred Clarkson and yours truly would look up from our maps like a parent on a long drive, and smile a wan smile of reassurance. "Wellll...we're on a bad road, and if we don't change course, we could end up there soon enough. But there's also still plenty of time and opportunity to turn back. Watch, but don't worry. As bad as this looks: no -- we are not there yet."

In tracking the mileage on this trip to perdition, many of us relied on the work of historian Robert Paxton, who is probably the world's pre-eminent scholar on the subject of how countries turn fascist.
In a 1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn't by their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together. According to our reading of Paxton's stages, we weren't there yet. There were certain signs -- one in particular -- we were keeping an eye out for, and we just weren't seeing it.

And now we are. In fact, if you know what you're looking for, it's suddenly everywhere. It's odd that I haven't been asked for quite a while; but if you asked me today, I'd tell you that if we're not there right now, we've certainly taken that last turn into the parking lot and are now looking for a space. Either way, our fascist American future now looms very large in the front windshield -- and those of us who value American democracy need to understand how we got here, what's changing now, and what's at stake in the very near future if these people are allowed to win -- or even hold their ground.

What is fascism?

The word has been bandied about by so many people so wrongly for so long that, as Paxton points out, "Everybody is somebody else's fascist." Given that, I always like to start these conversations by revisiting Paxton's essential definition of the term:

"Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline."

Elsewhere, he refines this further as

"a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

Jonah Goldberg aside, that's a basic definition most legitimate scholars in the field can agree on, and the one I'll be referring to here.

 From proto-fascism to the tipping point:

According to Paxton, fascism unfolds in five stages. The first two are pretty solidly behind us -- and the third should be of particular interest to progressives right now.

In the first stage, a rural movement emerges to effect some kind of nationalist renewal (what Roger Griffin calls "palingenesis" -- a phoenix-like rebirth from the ashes). They come together to restore a broken social order, always drawing on themes of unity, order, and purity. Reason is rejected in favor of passionate emotion. The way the organizing story is told varies from country to country; but it's always rooted in the promise of restoring lost national pride by resurrecting the culture's traditional myths and values, and purging society of the toxic influence of the outsiders and intellectuals who are blamed for their current misery.

Fascism only grows in the disturbed soil of a mature democracy in crisis. Paxton suggests that the Ku Klux Klan, which formed in reaction to post-Civil War Reconstruction, may in fact be the first authentically fascist movement in modern times. Almost every major country in Europe sprouted a proto-fascist movement in the wretched years following WWI (when the Klan enjoyed a major resurgence here as well) -- but most of them stalled either at this first stage, or the next one.

As Rick Perlstein documented in his two books on Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, modern American conservatism was built on these same themes. From "Morning in America" to the Rapture-ready religious right to the white nationalism promoted by the GOP through various gradients of racist groups, it's easy to trace how American proto-fascism offered redemption from the upheavals of the 1960s by promising to restore the innocence of a traditional, white, Christian, male-dominated America. This vision has been so thoroughly embraced that the entire Republican party now openly defines itself along these lines.
At this late stage, it's blatantly racist, sexist, repressed, exclusionary, and permanently addicted to the politics of fear and rage. Worse: it doesn't have a moment's shame about any of it. No apologies, to anyone. These same narrative threads have woven their way through every fascist movement in history.

In the second stage, fascist movements take root, turn into real political parties, and seize their seat at the table of power. Interestingly, in every case Paxton cites, the political base came from the rural, less-educated parts of the country; and almost all of them came to power very specifically by offering themselves as informal goon squads organized to intimidate farmworkers on behalf of the large landowners. The KKK disenfranchised black sharecroppers and set itself up as the enforcement wing of Jim Crow. The Italian Squadristi and the German Brownshirts made their bones breaking up farmers' strikes. And these days, GOP-sanctioned anti-immigrant groups make life hell for Hispanic agricultural workers in the US. As violence against random Hispanics (citizens and otherwise) increases, the right-wing goon squads are getting basic training that, if the pattern holds, they may eventually use to intimidate the rest of us.

Paxton wrote that succeeding at the second stage "depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner." He further noted that Hitler and Mussolini both took power under these same circumstances: "deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment of massive popular mobilization; an advancing Left; and conservative leaders who refused to work with that Left and who felt unable to continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement."

And more ominously: "The most important variables...are the conservative elites' willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate."

That description sounds eerily like the dire straits our Congressional Republicans find themselves in right now.
Though the GOP has been humiliated, rejected, and reduced to rump status by a series of epic national catastrophes mostly of its own making, its leadership can't even imagine governing cooperatively with the newly mobilized and ascendant Democrats. Lacking legitimate routes back to power, their last hope is to invest the hardcore remainder of their base with an undeserved legitimacy, recruit them as shock troops, and overthrow American democracy by force. If they can't win elections or policy fights, they're more than willing to take it to the streets, and seize power by bullying Americans into silence and complicity.

When that unholy alliance is made, the third stage -- the transition to full-fledged government fascism -- begins.

The third stage: being there
All through the Bush years, progressive right-wing watchers refused to call it "fascism" because, though we kept looking, we never saw clear signs of a deliberate, committed institutional partnership forming between America's conservative elites and its emerging homegrown brownshirt horde. We caught tantalizing signs of brief flirtations -- passing political alliances, money passing hands, far-right moonbat talking points flying out of the mouths of "mainstream" conservative leaders. But it was all circumstantial, and fairly transitory. The two sides kept a discreet distance from each other, at least in public. What went on behind closed doors, we could only guess. They certainly didn't act like a married couple.

Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips' Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas -- the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer -- being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We've seen Armey's own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process -- and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We've seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to "a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress."

This is the sign we were waiting for -- the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America's conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country's legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America's streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won't do their political or economic bidding.

This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins. It's also our very last chance to stop it.

The fail-safe point
According to Paxton, the forging of this third-stage alliance is the make-or-break moment -- and the worst part of it is that by the time you've arrived at that point, it's probably too late to stop it. From here, it escalates, as minor thuggery turns into beatings, killings, and systematic tagging of certain groups for elimination, all directed by people at the very top of the power structure. After Labor Day, when Democratic senators and representatives go back to Washington, the mobs now being created to harass them will remain to run the same tactics -- escalated and perfected with each new use -- against anyone in town whose color, religion, or politics they don't like. In some places, they're already making notes and taking names.

Where's the danger line? Paxton offers three quick questions that point us straight at it:

1. Are [neo- or protofascisms] becoming rooted as parties that represent major interests and feelings and wield major influence on the political scene?

2. Is the economic or constitutional system in a state of blockage apparently insoluble by existing authorities?

3. Is a rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the control of traditional elites, to the point where they would be tempted to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge?

By my reckoning, we're three for three. That's too close. Way too close.

The Road Ahead
History tells us that once this alliance catalyzes and makes a successful bid for power, there's no way off this ride. As Dave Neiwert wrote in his recent book,
The Eliminationists, "if we can only identify fascism in its mature form—the goose-stepping brownshirts, the full-fledged use of violence and intimidation tactics, the mass rallies—then it will be far too late to stop it." Paxton (who presciently warned that "An authentic popular fascism in the United States would be pious and anti-Black") agrees that if a corporate/brownshirt alliance gets a toehold -- as ours is now scrambling to do -- it can very quickly rise to power and destroy the last vestiges of democratic government. Once they start racking up wins, the country will be doomed to take the whole ugly trip through the last two stages, with no turnoffs or pit stops between now and the end.

What awaits us? In stage four, as the duo assumes full control of the country, power struggles emerge between the brownshirt-bred party faithful and the institutions of the conservative elites -- church, military, professions, and business. The character of the regime is determined by who gets the upper hand. If the party members (who gained power through street thuggery) win, an authoritarian police state may well follow. If the conservatives can get them back under control, a more traditional theocracy, corporatocracy, or military regime can re-emerge over time. But in neither case will the results resemble the democracy that this alliance overthrew.

Paxton characterizes stage five as "radicalization or entropy." Radicalization is likely if the new regime scores a big military victory, which consolidates its power and whets its appetite for expansion and large-scale social engineering. (See: Germany) In the absence of a radicalizing event, entropy may set in, as the state gets lost in its own purposes and degenerates into incoherence. (See: Italy)

It's so easy right now to look at the melee on the right and discount it as pure political theater of the most absurdly ridiculous kind. It's a freaking puppet show. These people can't be serious. Sure, they're angry -- but they're also a minority, out of power and reduced to throwing tantrums. Grown-ups need to worry about them about as much as you'd worry about a furious five-year-old threatening to hold her breath until she turned blue.

Unfortunately, all the noise and bluster actually obscures the danger. These people are as serious as a lynch mob, and have already taken the first steps toward becoming one. And they're going to walk taller and louder and prouder now that their bumbling efforts at civil disobedience are being committed with the full sanction and support of the country's most powerful people, who are cynically using them in a last-ditch effort to save their own places of profit and prestige.

We've arrived. We are now parked on the exact spot where our best experts tell us full-blown fascism is born. Every day that the conservatives in Congress, the right-wing talking heads, and their noisy minions are allowed to hold up our ability to govern the country is another day we're slowly creeping across the final line beyond which, history tells us, no country has ever been able to return."

Wake up, people. Wake. Up.

The Jenius Has Quoted.

[Update: 15 Nov 2010: The murderous moron admits to war crimes, in writing...and America yawns.]

05 August 2009

NuYorican = Self-Hate

As for My post about quipping My way into having a knife pulled on Me, some apropos thoughts.

--Prometeo (in the comments) said I'd played it well; so did the guys who tried to identify the shouting coward. But there's a small part of Me that thinks I pushed too far. And a larger part of Me that thinks I didn't say enough afterward. That second part gets its second chance here.

--What pissed me off about the guy was his total--his utterly complete--lack of self-knowledge. He is a Puerto Rican, by birth and/or ancestry, and yet he believes, to the extent of acting out in public, that he is superior to being Puerto Rican, to being what he is. That's insane. And idiotic.

Now granted, We all feel superior to some other people; it's a natural human reaction based on competitiveness. Some do it by calling themselves Jeniuses, others "preppy" and the more deluded ones "Republicans." Or "Democrats." (Two sides of the same scarred coin.) Hell, I grew up in the South and many people there have the asinine illusion that their skin color makes them superior to others. But rarely, if ever, do you encounter someone who IS EXACTLY what he feels superior to.

Here We have a Puerto Rican, carrying a knife, to "protect" himself from Puerto Ricans who are "fucking stupid" enough to act exactly as he did. Here's My solution: He should, as soon as possible, stab himself. Twice.

--The "NuYorican" self-hate attitude that Prometeo also noted has long chafed My scrotum, for it can be encapsulated as "Everything in the States is better than Puerto Rico, including me because I live/used to live there." Here's a newsflash, punks: You are the very proof that you are wrong.

Many NuYoricans are infamous for being practically illiterate in two languages; so much for the "better educated" rant. Many NuYoricans are notorious for saying they make more money than locals, but they pay more in taxes and live marginally or lie about it and make less, seeing as how they rely more on welfare that most of Us do (check this out). And many NuYoricans profess to hate Puerto Rico and its people, but when given the chance to go anywhere in the world, where do they go? 

Now most of these cretins say they visit Puerto Rico because this is where their family is, often with an extra "They can't afford to travel to the States" snideness tossed in. Bullshit. You don't come here to be with your family, or at least to share positively with them, you scummy NuYorican (oh yeah, I went there): you come here to try to feel superior for the shitty life you lead every day. And because you're too pathetic and sorry to go anywhere else.

I'm not sure why your life is shitty, but I can point to your attitude and say "There's part of your problem." Yes, the States are bigger. Yes, there's more money in that economy. Yes, there's more of everything over there. But that means nothing unless you feel worthy and you NuYoricans obviously don't.

And here's the proof, you crap-brained hypocrites: You despise what you are by viciously denying who and what you are. If you had any shred of self-respect and self-esteem, you wouldn't ever feel the need to do that.

Obviously, even in My post, not all New York Puerto Ricans are NuYoricans. But as a sub-species of Jibarus portorricensis, of the Puerto Rican brethren I belong to, NuYoricans are the ugly retarded cousins that should be kept in the back room.

Oh yeah, I went there again.

The Jenius Has Spoken.


03 August 2009

Knife Edge

Saturday night, just before eight, the local Mr. Special supermarket. The big one out on Road 100, not the small one in the middle of Carbonell Hell.

As the small man with the Teamsters cap pulled out his wallet to begin self-service checkout, something fell to the floor. I bent over to pick it up and his foot slammed on top of a six-inch butterfly knife with orange tape around the skeleton handles. He quickly retrieved it, We straightened up and I had a small smile on My face as I watched him begin his checkout.

After a couple of items, he says to Me: "That's for fucking Puerto Ricans, if they decide to get fucking stupid like they do. Fuck them up for being fucking stupid around here."

I stared at him. 

He said at Me: "That's for fucking Puerto Ricans, if they decide to get fucking stupid like they do. Fuck them up for being fucking stupid around here." Again. Word for word.

"Fuck you too," I said, smiling. 

"What was that? What'd you say?" He leaned in, sharp.

"Fuck you too." Still smiling.

Unless you know Me or have seen My picture, you will miss the point that I look really really like a gringo.  And the small guy's comment was offensive in two ways: He thought I was an "American," not a Puerto Rican and he...is...Puerto Rican. Or that sub-species known as NuYorican, who are Puerto Rican by birth or direct ancestry, but loathe everything about Puerto Rico except the goddamned welfare checks they get for being useless. And if he thought I was--as I am--Puerto Rican, then his comment was the rat fart of a coward and deserved a put-down.

Thus, Fuck you too.

He blew up at Me. ""Fuck me? Fuck you! And your mother!" I kept smiling. He started yelling. Half his words were lost in his attempt to put Me down and as he postured, I waved My hand at him as if to a small moth and said "Back off. Your breath smells like My dick."

Stunned him. "What did you say?" He leaned towards Me, angry and puzzled. I let him have it again. "I said move back because your breath smells like My dick."

He stiffened. "Fuck you!" he yelled. "My breath?! Fuck you!" People around Us started staring. I was holding a half-gallon of juice and two cans, watching him get angrier by the second. "You want to start something? Want me to to fuck you up? You telling me my breath smells like your dick? I'll fuck you up! I will fuck you up!" His voice rose.

A pot-bellied man edged around to My left and I tried to catch his movement. As the "fuck you up" guy was trying to pay--asking for an assistant manager's help in perfect boricua Spanish--I noticed the rotund man was staring at knife boy, not at Me.

I put the half-gallon and the cans down, My heart thudding hard. I wanted My hands free, but I also wanted the yeller to grasp that I wasn't taking him or his threats seriously. He had to edge back to avoid touching what I placed on the checkout ledge. He swiped his credit card, his wallet showing a Banco Popular ATM debit card and an out-of-state driver's license. He signed his name with the electronic pen, something starting with a J, then stepped back, slammed the pen to the edge of its leash, pulled out the knife, opened it and yelled "I'll wait for you outside, motherfucker!"

Uh-oh. Witty don't mess with crazy. I gave him a small smile.

"Outside, motherfucker!" He brandished the knife openly, holding it up like it was torch of reason, unlit. "I will...fuck you up!" He pointed the knife at Me.

My smile had faded. "You're welcome to try."

He grabbed the two bags a clerk had nervously tossed near him. He walked a few paces, turned and yelled "You fuck with me and you get fucked up!" He stopped at another checkout counter, waved the knife in My general direction and yelled even louder "I am tired of being fucked around here! Every day it's some fucking thing or the other! I am tired of fucking Puerto Rico fucking me around! I will wait FOR YOU OUTSIDE!!"

Some 50 people were looking at him and when his scream ended, I was leaning against the laser panel. As all eyes turned to Me, I smiled.  

I swiped My items and paid. As I bagged them, I noticed a small tube of crackers the knife jerk had left. I picked them up, knowing that when I saw him I would give them back with a "You're crackers" bon mot.

Everyone watched Me walk out. The exit area was empty except for a mother and her toddler coming up to get a cart. I looked around at the empty space and kept going to My car.

"Are you okay?" I stopped and turned. Three men, one with a security guard uniform, another with similar uniform pants and T-shirt and the pot-bellied guy were calling to Me. "Are you all right?"

I walked over to them. They had gone out to get the knife maniac's description and license plate, but the guy, still yelling and waving his knife, almost ran to his car and gunned it out of the parking lot in reverse. Almost crashed into the fence and the embankment before peeling away to the south.

They asked Me what happened and I explained, in Spanish. I had barely finished repeating the guy's opening remarks when all three said "Ese es un NuYorican." I laughingly told them to not mistake Me for a gringo, because I was born in Aguadilla.

The three men, Nelson the rotund one, a truck driver who moved behind Me to help out if needed; Tony, the off-duty security guard and Quiñones, the guard on duty, are all New York Puerto Ricans. All three. Fully bilingual. Living and working in My part of the world. Not NuYoricans. Puerto Ricans. 

We chatted for a while, commenting on the jerk's attitude, the incident as it unfolded and how the maniac should have been arrested for waving a knife in public. I thanked them for the attention, gave the crackers to the poor assistant manager who had to deal with the moron and went home.

Yes, I am an idiot. My mouth got Me in trouble again. The situation went from merely insulting to out-of-My-control. Could have been worse, literally a knife's edge away from becoming a disaster. But I know I said what I said because I don't see any reason not to state what I believe in this kind of situation so long as I am alone and thus don't place a loved one or a companion in danger. And really: I can't stand stupidity.

Admittedly, not even My own.

The Jenius Has Spoken.