Riding the new cycle track

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I’m a privileged Baltimore bicycle commuter.

I usually board the MTA light rail with my bike at Mt Washington station and get off at Convention Center station, then ride about a mile to Federal Hill. I can easily bike the entire ten miles into work – mostly downhill – but a few years ago a coworker left a note on my desk complaining that I was too sweaty. And in the winter it is awfully dark before 7 AM. So I ride in and bike home.

About two months ago, the train limped into North Avenue station, and they announced a delay. Sometimes delays are brief, but other times everyone has to get off and wait for another train. So I stepped off and biked a few blocks over to Maryland Avenue, which has always been a good route into the city. I was surprised to find a dedicated 2.6 mile bike lane, what Bikemore is calling the Maryland Avenue Cycle Track. The reported costs were about $700,000.

Cyclists now have two lanes divided by a parking lane from automotive traffic. Flexible polypropylene posts reinforce the painted lane markings. At that time there were a lot of gaps, and some dangerous gratings, but as of 2017, except for sewer construction blocking everything but the sidewalks at Mt Vernon Place, the track is largely complete. There are also several of the twenty Bikeshare stations along the route. In the mornings, I regularly see one guy get off with me at Convention Center station and pick up a bike for the remainder of his commute.

Over the last seven years I have tried a variety of routes to bike home. I’ve ridden up both Park Avenue and Charles Street to Falls Road, Clipper Mill Road and some actual bike trails, but the traffic was daunting in some places. For a long time I rode Martin Luther King Boulevard, Paca Street or Howard Avenue to Eutaw Street to Druid Hill Park to Greenspring Avenue or Reisterstown Road. Some of my coworkers thought that route would bring me through dangerous black neighborhoods, but I surprised more than a few people by saying I felt more threatened by the territorial drivers on Roland Avenue than the more laid back ones on Eutaw Street.

So for the last few months I’ve been taking the cycle track through the busiest part of my commute. It isn’t perfect. Most pedestrians are careful, but some saunter up and down like they’ve got a new sidewalk, and others cross without looking. And some auto and delivery truck drivers use the track for short term parking. But in general, if I am careful at intersections, I don’t have to worry about being sideswiped by a car until I get onto Falls Road. So that’s great.

As reported in Racial Bias Shadows Bike Share Program, projects like this cycle track tend to cluster in the more privileged parts of the city:

A series of maps composed by blogger Ellen Worthing show bike rack locations, bike lanes and bike share stations concentrated in the city’s “White L,” the L-shaped area of Baltimore of primarily White neighborhoods such as Hampden, Federal Hill and Locust Point. Melody Hoffman, author of the book “Bike Lanes are White Lanes,” said that this has been the case in major cities all over the country.

“Baltimore just made a nonverbal statement that Bike Share is for tourists and downtown business people,” Hoffman said. “When they try to expand it, they’re going to have a really hard time getting other people on those bikes because it’s going to seem like it’s not for them because it wasn’t for them in the first place.”

In that same article it falls to Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, to respond. She hints that state funding would not have been available for a cycle track outside the White L, but also brings up safety :

“Because biking and walking does make you more vulnerable to the environment where you are, that’s not a choice or a luxury that all of our residents of the city currently have,” Cornish said. “We have to be mindful when we’re saying ‘everybody should bike’ or ‘we should be putting this infrastructure to make sure it goes everywhere.”

That sounds like a coded response meaning, ‘It is too dangerous to bike in some areas’, which unfortunately can be true. No one has bothered me so far, but I’m a fairly big man. On some bike paths, there have been a few cases of several black youths knocking white commuters off their bikes, and last year there was one sad case of a white waiter killed in Waverly while biking home from the Harbor East restaurant where he worked.

But it is also part and parcel of the reality that the best stuff goes to the richest areas.

Is Trump another Carter?

Corey Robin is a professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. According to online CVs, he has majored in studying both Conservatism (from Burke to Palin), and Neoconservatism, and has minored in the failures of the New Left (neoliberals I suppose) in running the American Empire.

On his blog he admits to having expected a Clinton victory:

In the last chapter of The Reactionary Mind, I argued that conservatism, at least in its modern, twentieth-century American incarnation, had essentially succeeded in its goals. That is, it had destroyed the New Deal, had effectively stopped the civil rights movement, and had significantly slowed the feminist movement. Its great success was its defeat of the left. And because I understand conservatism as an inherently reactionary movement, as a movement that mobilizes against movements of emancipation on behalf of subordinate classes, I argued that its success would prove, long-term, to be the source of its defeat. We could already see the signs, I argued throughout the book, of this coming conservative crack-up. That was in 2011.

But in writing about the election of 2016, I was also influenced by Stephen Skowronek’s The Politics Presidents Make. In that book, which came out in 1993, Skowronek argues that presidents come into office not as sovereign creators of a new world, but as the beneficiaries or burdens of an established regime. That orientation to the regime—is the president opposed to or aligned with the existing way of doing things—plus the strength or weakness of the regime, gives us a sense of how a president might govern. My sense, based on my reading of conservatism and the George W. Bush presidency, was that the Republican free-market regime of Ronald Reagan was becoming weaker, and that Trump would prove to be the equivalent of the George McGovern of the right: that is, the most outré expression of the regime’s principles, at a moment when the regime has begun to decline in popularity.

So I was obviously wrong about Trump being the McGovern of the right. The question is why?

One possibility is that I was wrong about the weaknesses of the Reagan regime. Rather than being weak, perhaps it was strong, which would make Trump an ideal candidate for election. In support of that possibility, people will point to the widespread control the Republicans have over state legislatures today, though as I said at the time this McGovern issue came up, the Democrats also had widespread control over state legislatures in the 1970s, and their control over Congress, particularly the House, was legendary and long-standing.

Another possibility is that I wasn’t wrong about the weaknesses of the Reagan regime but that I was wrong about Trump. Unlike conservatives or Republicans, he was doing something different: he was populist, he was revanchist, he was racist, he was outrageous, he was a demagogue, he reached out to the white working class. He was, in other words, the expression of an utterly new formation, not captured by the nostrums of conservatism. For a thousand different reasons, most of which I explore in my book, I think that argument couldn’t be more wrong. Virtually all the things that people point to that supposedly make Trump not like your typical Republican or conservative are, from my point of view, the emblematic features of what it means to be a conservative. And nothing anyone has said has convinced me otherwise.

Robin continues these thoughts for N+1 Magazine in, The Politics Trump Makes, comparing Donald J Trump to, of all people, James Earl Carter.

Robin alludes to the theory that breaks up American government into six regimes:
1789 – 1800 Federalist regime: Washington, Adams and Hamilton make America an organized state.
1800 – 1828 Democratic-Republican regime: Jefferson, Madison, Monroe try to decentralize.
1828 – 1860 Democratic regime: Jackson led the populist wing of the D-Rs, the rest became Whigs.
1860 – 1932 Republican regime: Lincoln led a coalition of Whigs and anti-slavery Democrats
(Some insert a Progressive regime, starting with McKinley or Teddy Roosevelt)
1932 – 1980 Democratic New Deal regime: FDR promised two chickens in every pot.
1980 – 2016 Republican Free-Market regime: Reagan promised wealth would trickle into the pot.

Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, FDR and Reagan were “reconstructive” leaders, “creating the terms and conditions of politics for decades to come.”

Later in a regime were either potent, “articulating” leaders, building on a still vital regime, or weaker, “preemptive” leaders, trying to overthrow a still strong regime. LBJ was the former; RMN was the latter.

As a regime fails, there may be a, “disjunctive” leader that attempts to keep the regime going. Like Carter, these are usually the most hated Presidents. Or, there will be a, “reconstructive” leader that begins a new regime. It might be that Obama was the final, “disjunctive” leader of the free market regime, which would explain why such an outwardly affable, reasonable man was so widely vilified for trying to please everyone.

It might also be that Trump will be “disjunctive.” Trump is officially of the same party as the current regime, but he has also challenged the deep state that supports that regime. Trump ran as a populist, but has stocked his cabinet with both members of the current regime and amateur billionaires that stand to benefit from Free-Market precepts.

We are now reaching the end of the fourth decade of the Reagan regime. Whether Trump will prove to be a reconstructive, articulating, or disjunctive President—that is, whether we are nearing the end, entering the middle, or about to double down on the Reagan regime—remains to be seen. Skowronek’s model is not predictive; it sets out possibilities rather than prophesies. Trump may launch a reconstruction or founder in disjunction, and over time the distinction between reconstruction and disjunction can begin to blur. The outcome will depend on Trump, his party, international events, the economy, and his opposition, both inside and outside the Democratic Party.

Which sort of President Trump becomes will depend on whether the neocon/neolib regime has figuratively, and literally, run out of gas. As I noted in a previous post, Andrew Bacevich expects Trump to be a transitional figure; what Robin would consider “disjunctive.”

Obama’s Legacy

I’ve been seeing a barrage of posts by many of my friends lamenting that such a dignified man is leaving office to be replaced by a coarse caudillo. Barack Obama is certainly very intelligent, and I suspect that he, Michelle, and their children are very nice people, but I regard him as only a placeholder president.

As described in Listen, Liberal, which I am most of the way through reading, our outgoing president initially enjoyed a supermajority in Congress, but instead of executing the will of the American people as a whole, catered to the concerns of about ten or twenty percent of Americans: highly-educated, successful professionals.

While most people wanted Wall Street to be reformed, Obama bailed out the institutions and guaranteed millions upon millions in bonuses.

While most people wanted peace, Obama continued war-for-profit and escalated assassination via drones.

While most people wanted a single payer system, Obama settled for a mandated gift to private insurance companies.

While most people wanted a more transparent government, Obama has persecuted whistleblowers.

And today, while people are praying that he will pardon Chelsea Manning, we read this:

NSA Gets More Latitude to Share Intercepted Communications

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions.

But Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the move an erosion of rules intended to protect the privacy of Americans when their messages are caught by the N.S.A.’s powerful global collection methods. He noted that domestic internet data was often routed or stored abroad, where it may get vacuumed up without court oversight.

“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” Mr. Toomey said. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”

Update20170118: President Obama has commuted the sentence of Army whistleblower Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera, and has pardoned retired Marine General James E Cartwright, who had been convicted of lying to the FBI. Obama has reportedly pardoned or reduced the sentences of a few hundred non-violent drug offenders.No one is sure whether  Julian Assange will make good on his promise to face extradition to the US in exchange for Manning’s commutation.

We’re in Deep State, Man

I’ve recently read a few articles that allude to a Deep State in the United States of America. That term seems to be derived from a collusion between drug traffickers and the military in Turkey, but has been expanded to describe organized behind-the-scenes political activity in other countries, including the US.

Essentially, outside observers suspect that some combination of the military–industrial complex, intelligence community, too-big-to-fail bankers, monopolistic corporations, lobbyists, plutocrats, oligarchs and sometimes the mainstream media, secretly and effectively determine public policy. The more conspiratorially-inclined think the deep state is a very organized secret Politburo; others think it is loose and factional like the rest of the government, but responds only to the desires of the wealthy and influential. I tend towards the latter view.

In, Trump Aims to Cut the Neocon Deep State Off at the Knees, Charles Hugh Smith opines that while one cannot prove the existence of a shadow government, one can sorta, kinda read what is going on. Smith sees a deep state power struggle as evidenced by a public disconnect between the CIA and the FBI over the course of the recent election.

I have long held that America’s Deep State–the unelected National Security State often referred to as the Shadow Government–is not a unified monolith but a deeply divided ecosystem in which the dominant Neocon-Neoliberal Oligarchy is being challenged by elements which view the Neocon-Neoliberal agenda as a threat to national security and the interests of the United States.

I call these anti-Neocon-Neoliberal elements the progressive Deep State.

Smith, John Michael Greer and others consider Trump to be a better option because they feared that Clinton would lead the US into wars of hegemony with Russia or China. To that extent they would be cheering any challenger to the neoliberals. They generally admit, however, that they have no idea whether Trump will be an effective President.

In, America Versus the Deep State, perennial kollapsnik James Howard Kunstler sees just the one, neocon-neoliberal, deep state:

The story may have climaxed with Trump’s Friday NSA briefing, the heads of the various top intel agencies all assembled in one room to emphasize the solemn authority of the Deep State’s power. Trump worked a nice piece of ju-jitsu afterward, pretending to accept the finding as briefly and hollowly as possible and promising to “look into the matter” after January 20th — when he can tear a new asshole in the NSA. I hope he does. This hulking security apparatus has become a menace to the Republic.

Kunstler also thinks/hopes that Trump’s changes may turn out to be a better alternative to continuing the neoliberal hegemony.

In, The Age of Great Expectations and the Great Void, which is posted on TomDispatch, Truthdig and CommonDreams, historian Andrew Bacevich doesn’t invoke a deep state to make his case for why America is changing course. Bacevich feels that after the collapse of the USSR, America’s leadership (mistakenly) bought into three themes:
1 Globalization of the American business and financial system
2 Preeminence of American military power
3 Expansion of Personal Freedom

Regarding #3, Bacevich is a social conservative, to whom too much personal freedom is a recipe for failure. We did eventually see some laws changed to reflect greater personal freedoms, but after the good feelings of the early 1980s, Middle America’s confidence was rocked:

 … During the concluding decade of the twentieth century and the first decade-and-a-half of the twenty-first, Americans endured a seemingly endless series of crises. Individually, none of these merit comparison with, say, the Civil War or World War II. Yet never in U.S. history has a sequence of events occurring in such close proximity subjected American institutions and the American people to greater stress.

During the decade between 1998 and 2008, they came on with startling regularity: one president impeached and his successor chosen by the direct intervention of the Supreme Court; a massive terrorist attack on American soil that killed thousands, traumatized the nation, and left senior officials bereft of their senses; a mindless, needless, and unsuccessful war of choice launched on the basis of false claims and outright lies; a natural disaster (exacerbated by engineering folly) that all but destroyed a major American city, after which government agencies mounted a belated and half-hearted response; and finally, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, bringing ruin to millions of families.

Bacevich feels that Americans who elected Trump were simply ready for a change – any change – from the status quo, but that Trump will be a transitional rather than a transformational leader – if only because he and his party seem bereft of any ideas other than consolidating their own power.

Bullet Points

As we begin 2017, there are already several dispiriting stories of shootings. An infant was killed in his crib by a random shot. A firearms advocate was accidentally killed while letting a teen relative hold one of his guns. A New Years reveler stepped out to his host’s front stoop and was hit by a random bullet fragment that penetrated his skull. A woman was shot in the eye at a firing range, and later died. A young police officer was killed serving a protection from abuse order – his troubled killer was shot by police soon afterwards. An old man with dementia was shot by police because he had something in his pockets – it was a crucifix.

We haven’t had a mass shooting yet [Update 20170106: Mass shooting at Ft Lauderdale airport, 5 dead, 8 injured] but dozens of people have been killed or wounded on the street, in a park, in a car, in a house.

Pundits go around and around assigning the blame for gun violence. A popular book claimed that more guns would lead to less crime, but it seems clear that more guns have not only led to more shootings, intentional and accidental, by gun owners, but also to more panicky shootings by police who are all too aware that, A: any of the people they encounter may be carrying weapons and, B: they are unlikely to be severely punished for a bad shooting.

So I’m just wondering when it will be my turn.

Update 20170106: Over at ScienceBlogs, The Pump Handle just reposted a Jan 2016 article: Higher gun ownership rates up the risk of a woman being murdered

In studying data that spanned from 1981 to 2013, researchers found that firearms were used in about 62 percent of homicides. More than 78 percent of all homicides involved an offender who was an intimate partner, family member or other acquaintance. In all, a non-stranger perpetrated more than three-quarters of the firearm-related homicides studied. But while men were more likely to be killed with a firearm, women were more likely to be killed with a gun by someone they knew.

The study found no evidence that greater availability of guns protects women from being killed. On the contrary, the study suggests that greater availability of guns translates into a higher risk that a woman will be killed by someone she knows.

“The data is just not consistent with the argument that having a high prevalence of firearms is protective against stranger homicide,” Siegel told me. “But for women, the level of gun ownership in a state is one of the primary factors in predicting her risk of being killed by a firearm.”

First Speaker

A shaken, but hopeful, crowd of influentials assembled in the small amphitheater to watch the now-antiquated video projector. As had happened so often before, an image of the revered psychohistorian appeared, proclaiming, “I am Francis Fukuyama.”

He continued, “The path to the universal liberal democracy continues with another American liberal candidate soundly defeating splinter factions of populists tied to the past. This President will work closely with a strong European Union, will adopt trade agreements that build stronger ties with Pacific rim nations, will counter any remaining military threat from central Asian nations and will bring the world another step closer to the endpoint of man’s ideological evolution.”

Gasps were heard through the crowd. Fukuyama had calculated that the populists would lose. True, the leftist American populist Sanders had been dealt with, but Trump, an unorthodox right-leaning populist, had pulled out a narrow victory in the electoral college. And populist candidates had been chalking up victories all over Europe and Asia.

Fukuyama had not foreseen the Donald.

(Appy polly loggies to Isaac Asimov)

OK, now that we are past the pipe dream that the electoral college would turn him aside, we have to accept that Donald J Trump will be sworn in on January 20th, 2017. Like the Mule in Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, it is tempting to see the Donald as an unforeseen mutant politician with a strange hold on his followers – except that we have seen the same sort of businessman-strongman before in Berlusconi.

But as happened to the Mule, Trump is being easily managed by those who actually control the American government. There did seem to be some dissension between various elements of the deep state, but that seems to have been smoothed over. Trump will make a show of fulfilling his promises to drain the swamp and help the workers, but will actually support the oligarchy as fully as if his mind was adjusted by Henry Kissinger.

From Russia, With Love

A story originating in The Washington Post, also known as Pravda on the Potomac, has become the leading excuse for the establishment presidential candidate’s stunning defeat in the electoral college. The Post asserts that the CIA believes that Russian hackers acted to swing the election to Donald Trump:

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter. …

The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The CIA presentation to senators about Russia’s intentions fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies. A senior U.S. official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered.

Mainstream media are all over the story. On Meet the Press, Reince Priebus denied it, while on Face the Nation, John McCain pressed for further investigation. These are, however, the same outlets that did just about everything short of begging us to vote for Hillary Clinton, so I am not inclined to believe them.

Also, there have been reports of a power struggle with the CIA favoring Clinton and the FBI supporting Trump – “minor disagreements” – so it makes little sense that the Post should blindly repeat CIA claims without that perspective.

Even if Russia did hack the DNC, nothing that was revealed was particularly surprising. The DNC was in the bag for Clinton, and for big donors. Everyone knew that.

A useful hack would have been learning that Trump was going to stock his cabinet with establishment billionaires.