I fought the law, and guess what happened?

A cautionary tale for anyone thinking they can make a difference

A friend of of mine who follows my dealings with Jenkintown Borough recently related his own experience that spoke to the futility of civic engagement. My friend, an attorney and a one-time senior official in state government, possesses considerable political acumen. Earlier in his adult life, he and his wife also decided to get very much involved in their bucolic community just north of Boston. After months of frustration, they decided instead to just move.

Luckily for my friend, his current financial status insulates him from municipal shenanigans. My family? Not so much. Decisions made by Jenkintown Borough and Jenkintown School District affect us profoundly. We therefore have incentive to get involved and to make our positions known, but after our experiences of the past couple of years, rubber mallets to our heads would produce much the same result and take far less time.

Not here, not now, not ever

While our story began with a campaign to discuss the rationality of Jenkintown’s sidewalk ordinance, it evolved into a tale with a familiar theme; that familiarity breeds contempt. We approached the Borough not only asking for help, but we also presented an alternative plan that we thought was a well-reasoned and researched.

The Borough not only expressed no interest in discussing the matter, they took action to actually make matters worse for us. Meanwhile a council member publicly disparaged us on social media as crackpots, calling our ideas “quixotic”. We were not asking for the Borough to build a protective dome or to mow our lawn. We were asking it to reconsider an ordinance that hurt people financially and produced a substandard results. We characterized it as paying for steak and getting McNuggets.

Since this began, here’s a short list of what we experienced:

  • Neighbors falsely accusing us of trying to evade our responsibilities
  • A Borough Councilor flatly proclaiming, “This is the way we’ve always done it. This is the way everyone else does it. I see no reason to change this now.”
  • That same borough councilor trolling my Facebook page and posting a comment on our website saying, among other things, “I pity your family.”
  • A Borough Manager that conveyed false information to a judge about a decision to rescind the lien process used to pay for work the resident couldn’t afford
  • The threat of fines from the county amounting to $185 per day if we didn’t complete the work
  • Neighbors accusing us of misrepresenting ourselves in a GoFundMe campaign we launched in order to pay for the work
  • The Mayor of Jenkintown blocking me from seeing any of his Facebook posts, Trump-style, including those that conveyed official information on public forums

A right to know (what we want you to know)

And finally, in an attempt to investigate possible improprieties of that trolling councilor, I filed a Right-To-Know request for emails sent to and from his borough email address. The Borough invoked their right to a 30-day extension, which I believed meant they needed time to assemble the evidence, redacted for reasons related to privacy.

Instead, I received a letter from the Borough with an estimate for computer forensic services for the amount of $3,800 to retrieve these emails. As an IT professional myself, I knew that such services would only be required if the Borough had not just deleted those emails, but wiped them clean from the server. This made little sense, for a couple of reasons.

First, the Borough apparently employs the use of Microsoft’s Outlook cloud services to administer their email, which means that the emails never really go away. Second, I had already spoken with another Council member about this and he offered to let me see his email account anytime.

No connections, no consideration, no service

The Borough’s letter suggested that I should write the the office of our borough solicitor, Sean Kilkenny, with any questions or concerns, and of course I had questions. The Borough’s letter indicated that the estimate I received was the lowest of three they solicited, so I asked for the other two since they expected me to pay them. Also, I wondered why I should even need a forensics firm for this, as it would imply that they deleted their emails. I wrote three letters over the course of a month, and I received no reply.

Further research showed me that document archival guidelines set forth by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission determines that administrative correspondence, which includes emails, only need to be retained for “as long as administratively useful.” In other words, if Jenkintown lies to me and says that the emails didn’t exist, they have legal cover.

This is obstruction plain and simple. This means that if you have good reason to believe that your elected official is up to no good, a private citizen has no recourse and no right to see any official correspondence that might prove that fact. However, you can bet that if the FBI comes calling, those emails will magically reappear.

Our tiny little town would have you think that its size, demographics, and location would make it an almost idyllic community. Good school, easy access to transit, and a rich mix of housing types should make it the poster-town for small-town living. The dream of such a lifestyle does exist here, but it means avoiding any interaction with its government or attempting to have it address something that is not already on its agenda.

Welcome to small-town politics at its smallest.

Still flummoxed by the election?

Hillary and Bill Clinton, Joe Biden and the current Democratic Party leadership designed and built the massive system of imprisonment, essentially ended welfare, expanded our wars and pushed through NAFTA. They destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of poor and working-class families and are responsible for the mounds of corpses in the Middle East. Yet these liberal elites speak as if they are champions of racial and economic justice. They appear in choreographed pseudo-events to demonstrate a faux compassion. Now they have been exposed as fakes.

A lengthy but poignant read.

You can ignore, dismiss, and deride those you disagree with for only so long before they rise up and give you your comeuppance. I was always hoping for such an event, but not with Littlefinger.

Source: Chris Hedges: Donald Trump’s Greatest Allies Are the Liberal Elites – Chris Hedges – Truthdig

Manning is a hero(ine)

Chelsea Manning

I know some of my friends who are military and ex-military who are apoplectic about this, but as an individual who never trusts power of the state, I applaud this commutation.

Manning revealed “secrets” that exposed unlawful conduct of the United States government, carried out during a time the country was engaged in an illegal war perpetrated by men who, if coming from a smaller country, would have been prosecuted for war crimes. It revealed that our government was harming its own citizens and those of innocents abroad.

Maybe he did violate his oath, and maybe it did lead to the deaths of some of our own allies and agents on the ground, but the founding fathers violated their allegiance to the Crown for similar reasons, and for that they would have been hung, or worse. Keeping an oath to protect a government that has disregarded the principles outlined in our own Constitution, or to carry out atrocities in the name of that government is a much greater cowardice than exposing them. Manning revealed to the American public information it needed to know and that it was entitled to know.

Manning exposing these “secrets” also serves as a great benefit to anyone who considers volunteering for the military. Now that they will know their government does not always represent our best interests, they may rightfully reconsider their decision to die for it. As my daughter rapidly approaches that age of decision, I see this as an opportunity to make it with all information necessary.

I do not condone Manning’s decision to funnel this information through Assange, as I don’t believe Assange cares much about the United States or its interests. However, I do think that Manning’s intentions were consistent with American democratic values. In my mind, he was defending the Constitution, which incidentally is exactly what he had sworn to do.

And as far as going through channels and reporting what he saw to his superiors, it’s already pretty well documented how useless our whistleblower laws are. The stories of these brave inidividuals being fired, demoted, blackballed, or worse, despite this law are all-too-common.

Manning served seven years, but was sentenced to a term of far longer than was considered normal for that crime. Obama, for once, did the right thing.

Elizabeth Warren, nanny-stater, bites hand that feeds

This woman is a repugnant hypocrite.

There’s one rather glaring problem with Ms. Warren’s attack: Mr. Tilson happens to be one of the few financial executives who publicly fought Mr. Trump’s election and supported Hillary Clinton. A lifelong Democrat who was involved in helping to start Teach for America, Mr. Tilson also happened to be one of the rare Wall Street executives who had donated to Ms. Warren and actively sought new regulations for the industry. Recently, he gave Mrs. Clinton $1,000 so he could see Ms. Warren speak at a campaign fund-raiser. (He’s also far, far from a billionaire.)

Source: Elizabeth Warren Condemns the Wrong Man – The New York Times

Whose votes were wasted?

If all those voters hadn’t wasted their votes on Hillary and instead voted for Johnson, we wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

Five million less people voted this year compared to 2012. Obama also happened to win by about five million votes. Hillary Clinton took that Obama coalition for granted. She wrongly assumed she would inherit it just by winning the nomination. The Clinton campaign also took multiple states as givens. There wasn’t a day that went by where the media wasn’t talking about the “blue firewall” of rust belt states. The Democrats assumed far too much, and made true asses out of themselves.

Source: Don’t Blame Gary Johnson For President Drumpf, Blame These Three Things

Trump and the trifecta of decline

The fall of Rome

We have become a nation almost completely unmoored from its founding principles. We have become a people that has for too long sought solutions for our problems in the pockets of others. We fear the power of the one solution that once made and may again make us exceptional — our own selves left alone to pursue our happiness. Where once we embraced the concept that we rise or fall on our own merits, we instead brandish a self-serving license to blame others.

We have become a nation that operates under one tragic contradiction: We simultaneously fear and rely upon the one institution that has the sanctioned ability to take away everything from us — our livelihoods, our property, our very lives — and yet we gave it that sanction.

As a result, we have allowed our democracy become so corrupted by these powers, that we have turned to authoritarian ideas as a solution, thinking that this will only affect “them”, not us. Our contradictions and hypocrisies have made us easy prey to those who work in collusion with our rulers to keep us confused and angry. We play right into their hands.

I suppose it has become cliché to peg our country’s decline on this or that, but we have just elected a president that two-thirds of the country does not trust. How does that happen? How does it happen that we look for leaders among our lowest common denominators rather than our best and brightest? We have just elected a man that represents everything I fear: Power, privilege, and ignorance. The trifecta of decline.

It happens because we forget, and because we seek the easy solution that starts with abandoning our own responsibilities. We don’t believe that we rise and fall on our own merits, and the resulting discourse has become a cacophony of finger-pointing. How, we ask ourselves, can we make our government force the other guy do the right thing?

Until we wake up, open our eyes, and see the real reasons for our failures, it will get worse. We can bitch and moan all we want about corporations, rich people, Mexicans, and whatever, but at the end of the day, it’s just us in that voting booth. We should use that vote as an affirmation of our principles rather than a weapon against someone else’s.

Every time I think this country has turned a corner and corrected itself, I find myself profoundly disappointed. I have considered myself an informed and principled citizen for my entire life. I resisted becoming saddled with pessimism, but I know as a student of history, when your society begins to reject reason and intellect, only tragic outcomes result.

The best years of my life lay behind me, so I look at my daughter, and all I can do when she asks “why” is shrug my shoulders. “Sorry, kid. I tried.”

Hot wreaking mess of an election

A few days ago, I met up with a Greek documentary producer touring the area to shoot a video about the effect of the Greek diaspora on American culture, particularly on its cuisine. Of course, we spoke about diners.

But besides diners, we had an interesting off-camera discussion about the election. She wanted to know what was going on. I said this country’s system for picking its leaders has devolved into something just short of disastrous.

We now have a system, I told her, that like the priesthood and the police, attracts mainly candidates from the margins of society. No one with any abilities applicable in the where most of us live would dare pursue this job. No one in their right mind would subject themselves to the kind of scrutiny we now pour upon our potential leaders.

Politics has always meant appealing to the mob, and thanks to the internet and the 24-hour news cycle, that seems to be all it appeals to. Any attempt to discuss substance becomes drowned by the cacophony of the infantile outrage. A thoughtful candidate could ignore the fringe, but the fringe has taken control. The lunatics run the asylum.

As a result, this election presents us with a “choice” between two very emotionally damaged people, both coming from dysfunctional families, and suffering from serious daddy issues. Lucky us.

I said to my new Greek friends that it’s been a long time coming, but the all the ingredients that have made up for this particular election have laid upon the counter for far too long. Finally, instead of tossing out this garbage, we’ve somehow managed to toss it all into the pot and turned up the heat to high. Get ready to choke on this wreaking stew for the next four years.

Presidential electors should vote their consciences

The idea that a presidential elector should vote his conscience is not new. The Framers of the Constitution assumed that electors would be seasoned statesmen who would exercise informed and independent judgment. The Electoral College, as it came to be known, was meant to be a buffer between rough populism and elitist cronyism.

Source: Richard E. Sincere column: Presidential electors should vote their consciences

Mathematical Definition of Wasted Votes

A wasted vote is a vote that provides no determination or effect on the final outcome of the election. According to Wikipedia: “Wasted votes are votes cast for losing candidates or votes cast for winning candidates in excess of the number required for victory. For example, in the UK general election of 2005, 52% of votes were cast for losing candidates and 18% were excess votes – a total of 70% wasted votes.”

Source: How Not To Waste Your Vote: A Mathematical Analysis | Foundation for Economic Education

Locker room of no gym I’d join

It dawned on me that I too belong to a gym with its own locker room. During the times I go there, it’s filled mostly with guys about my age and older, some older than Littlefinger. Not once have I heard any discussion about sex with women. Most of the time, the conversation revolves around aches and pains, stock portfolios, and how everyone’s kids are doing in college.

I’m not saying that I don’t have occasional fantasies about sex with super models or Sheena Parveen from time to time, but not only would I be ostracized in that locker room for describing aggressive sexual acts against them, I’m almost certain my mother would visit me from beyond the grave and scare the bejeezus out of me.

That all said, I think David Brooks pretty much nails the pathetic life of Littlefinger in this piece. I suppose living in such opulence would hardly qualify as pathetic, but if you consider the source of true happiness as connection to people who truly care about you, then Littlefinger’s life does indeed look as pathetic as hell.

Trump’s emotional makeup means he can hit only a few notes: fury and aggression. In some ways, his debate performances look like primate dominance displays — filled with chest beating and looming growls. But at least primates have bands to connect with, whereas Trump is so alone, if a tree fell in his emotional forest, it would not make a sound.