REVIEW: Black Panther

It is testimony to the Pulp roots of the superhero genre that in Marvel Comics, the most technologically advanced nation on Earth is a traditional African kingdom that has never been colonized by whites, and no one considers this unusual.

The Black Panther character was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War, and while he wasn’t the center of the action, Chadwick Boseman set the stage with a formidable portrayal of Prince T’Challa, seeking justice after the death of his father. This leads to the Black Panther solo movie, in which T’Challa formally claims the throne of Wakanda.

I had mentioned in my review of Wonder Woman that while Wonder Woman may be a feminist icon, the movie wasn’t precisely a feminist film, because the character had not grown up under patriarchy.  The nation of Wakanda poses a similar issue with regard to race.  The main drama in Black Panther comes from T’Challa’s would-be usurper, the mercenary code-named Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who in his character depicts the contrast between being African and African-American.  Killmonger’s personal history also brings up a state secret of Wakanda: in the MCU, in order to keep “colonizers” from exploiting the country’s wealth, the kings of Wakanda hide their country’s technology and use holograms and other tricks to convince the West that Wakanda is an (ahem) shithole country.  But this means that Wakanda is not using its resources to address the civil wars and refugee crises of its neighbors.  Right now, politicians in the United States and the European Union demonize immigrants and refugees from “developing” countries as being not only a threat to national security but the traditional way of life.  The fact that this issue is posed by a movie with an almost entirely black cast is the most subversive thing about the film, from both a left-wing and right-wing standpoint.

In this regard, Black Panther has the now-standard MCU post-credits scene, but this scene, in which T’Challa addresses the United Nations office in Vienna, isn’t simply an add-on Easter egg but the entire point of the movie.

I didn’t think that Black Panther was the most awesome movie ever – at this point in the MCU, all the super-tech didn’t impress me as much as the uber-rhinos and Hanuman warriors – but it did what it needed to do.

Show respect and bow down.

 

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

-The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

“Follow the money.”
-Jesse “the Governor” Ventura

I was going to say something of a more general nature about politics this week, but then of course a 19-year old shot up the school from which he was expelled, killing 17 and wounding 14 more. And of course this is setting off another round of disingenuous calls to have a “conversation” about “gun safety.” Or, “just do what Australia did.” What, tell the vast majority of American gun owners that they’re obliged to turn in their weapons when they didn’t do anything wrong? I don’t think so, Tim.

At the same time, the right-wing apologists for gun rights, rather than address the issue of gun access, want to say the issue is the mental illness of a given shooter, when the “mentally ill” tag is conflating an emotional state with a psychiatric diagnosis that most pundits are not in position to make.

But something else that was pointed out in the news was that the killer decided to commit his crime on Valentine’s Day. So oh no, from now on, Valentine’s Day is going to be forever more associated with mass gun violence.

Except for those who read history.

The St. Valentine’s Day massacre was a Chicago gang hit in 1929 in which only seven men were killed. And the shooters were using Tommy guns.

I bring this up to point out that this is hardly the only era of American history with mass gun violence. At the same time, things were different. The government and federal law enforcement were determined to take down organized crime, perhaps because the thugs in question were mainly Italian, Jewish and Irish. But the organization of the gangs made them easier to investigate and target. Whereas the problem now is that we don’t know when any given individual is going to buy a weapon and use it to kill people. According to a Politico article (published after the Las Vegas shooting), the number of shootings in America has not increased relative to previous decades, but the death toll at each incident has. “Research shows that the number of victims killed and wounded are the strongest predictors of the extent to which a mass killing gets reported by the news media. Recent growth in the number of catastrophic mass public shootings—combined with the extensive, wall-to-wall news coverage that accompanies these tragedies—likely accounts for the commonly held misconception that mass shootings are now more frequent. ” The article continues: “But the available evidence suggests that strengthening or weakening gun laws would not significantly affect the incidence or severity of mass public shootings. For example, studies examining bans on large-capacity magazines and right-to-carry concealed firearms laws have found they would have little or no effect on mass public shootings.”

The socialist-left approach of course is to make decisions for everyone and deny a right to private arms, Second Amendment be damned. I prefer the Adam Smith  approach of acknowledging ulterior motives and channeling them into constructive directions.

In this case, studies on the private sales of guns before the 21st century are fairly lacking, but we can look at the history of the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a primary lobbyist for the gun industry, ostensibly for the sake of the Second Amendment but ultimately for the sake of the firearms industry and its continued business. That pro-industry stance is itself fairly recent. In the 19th century, the NRA was founded for the Second Amendment purpose of giving proper training to those who would serve in the militia. In 1934, NRA President Karl Frederick testified to Congress, “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I seldom carry one. I have when I felt it was desirable to do so for my own protection. I know that applies in most of the instances where guns are used effectively in self-defense or in places of business and in the home. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” In fact, Frederick made this statement during the debate on passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934, which was inspired partly by the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and other acts of gangster violence. But later, after the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 (which also had NRA support), a more right-wing group started mobilizing and took over the NRA leadership, after which the NRA’s membership more than tripled by 1985.  Since then the NRA has developed one of the strongest political action committees in Washington.

Way back in 2012, the Washington Post reported that President Obama was “the best thing that ever happened to the firearm industry.” This was as measured by the number of federal background checks on gun purchases, which were about double the amount during George W. Bush’s first term. Prior to Bush, the gun industry was actually facing a decline because of a robust economy and declining fears of crime. In a related matter, the article noted that gun sales spike after a mass shooting. One gun store owner told the Christian Science Monitor: “Normally what happens—and I’ve been doing this for 30 years—is whenever they start talking about gun control on the news and they start pushing that, people have a tendency to think they’re going to take away their right to buy the gun, and that usually spurs sales”.

But if anything, since Obama left office and a Republican took over, the gun industry has the opposite problem. Several outlets have reported that while gun sales in the US are still strong, one gun manufacturer had a 48.5 percent drop in sales from one quarter to the next, with The Guardian reporting that overall sales fell by $100 million.  Just this weekend, historic manufacturer Remington had to reach a deal for bankruptcy protection. According to UPI, “When a presidential candidate is perceived as pro-gun control, people tend to buy more guns in case laws take hold that prevent them from doing so in the near future. But when a politician appears to be against gun control, there’s not as much urgency to stock up on weapons.”

Like the rest of the conservative agenda, support for guns has become less mainstream as that position has associated with disreputable characters like mass shooters and Trump Administration officials. So the industry, like the Republican Party, has had to substitute loyalty for numbers and focus on the people who are convinced that government is the enemy. But what happens to that posture when government is no longer the enemy? For that matter, what happens when it is?

Everybody was so hopping mad that Obama was going to take our guns. How many gun control laws did Congress pass after Sandy Hook? None. How many guns did the Obama Administration confiscate from gun stores? None.

The most consequential thing that Obama and his (brief) Democratic majority accomplished was to pass the Affordable Care Act, which was of course the most radical and socialist thing ever, except for the public option, single-payer or any of the other national health care schemes that you have in Leninist countries like Switzerland. In fact, the ACA resembles not only Romneycare in Massachusetts but a 2004 article by Ron Bailey in Reason magazine advocating that we “solve” the healthcare crisis by making private health insurance mandatory. And I remember this because at the time, when I brought this idea up to liberals on the Internet – before Democrats embraced it – they attacked it as a right-wing think tank giveaway to insurance companies and Big Pharma. And as it turned out, they were right! It’s just that that plan was the only thing that Democrats could get through their own centrist caucus.

It’s of a piece of why they don’t push “gun safety” legislation, or try and get rid of the Electoral College, or call for impeaching Trump, or even call for the government to make Trump release his tax returns. Democrats would of course argue that there’s no point in doing so when they aren’t the majority and don’t have the White House, but then won’t ask themselves why they lost the majority in the first place.

But then, Democrats are the sensible people. Unlike Republicans, they’re not going to keep pushing crazy, radical legislation if it’s likely to get shot down in Congress, which is to say, if there’s any likelihood of that at all. After all, they wouldn’t want the party that worships a pussy-grabbing race baiter who praised the Charlottesville Nazis to brand them as being extreme.

In his inaugural address, President Ronald Reagan said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.” In other words, in the context of Reagan’s time, in which government was built on the assumptions of Democrats and liberal Republicans, government was the problem. “Government is the problem” is not an a priori value. And if an individual is not capable of governing himself, then why should such a person be trusted with the government? The problem with conservatives is that they have disregarded the context of Reagan’s statement. Now, the government we are looking at is based on the assumptions of Big Government Republicans. And if one looks at the big picture and concludes that in almost all cases, the problem with government is the Republican Party, that conclusion may encourage Democrats to think that there is no longer anything to lose in being angry and radical and nothing to gain in continuing to play it safe and be marshmallows.

Gun owners and conservatives are not completely synonymous groups, but insofar as the gun lobby/NRA is synonymous with conservatism, they’ve put themselves in a box. Either continue on their present course and alienate the rest of the country (and incidentally lower gun sales) or let the Democrats win to rile up the customer base, and in the meantime hope that Democrats are just as useless as they were the last time they were in power.

Of course considering how fixated both major parties are on the symbolic and real powers of the president, it isn’t enough for the Republicans to lose one or both houses of Congress this year. For gun sellers to keep their customers angry and motivated, they have to work to make sure that Donald Trump is a one-term president.

It makes sense in that what passes for conservatism these days is simply a grievance industry unsuited to governance and oriented solely towards opposition. The longer that conservatives have to be the government, they not only have to keep defending the indefensible, their escalating bullshit reaches a level that not even some of their biggest partisans can keep swallowing it.

(Or, conservatives could do what Reagan did and present an economic and cultural agenda that appeals to a majority of voters. But I guess that’s just too hard.)

So you know what you have to do, gun lovers. Do it for capitalism. And America.

Thoughts on Horseshoe Theory

Did I watch the State of the Union live? Nah. If I was going to waste time watching a badly-staged, insincere show of virtue that only confirmed the opposite, I would’ve watched the Grammy Awards.

But of course the main story leading up to this weekend was #ReleaseTheMemo, in which Republicans were huffing and puffing about the scandal of a biased FBI investigation against Trump, and Democrats were huffing and puffing that the release of FBI decisions was a threat to national security.

The effort was part of a somewhat successful campaign to put the prosecution on trial in the court of public opinion. (Hey, it worked for O.J. Simpson!) But it turned out to be much ado about nothing, for both sides. In terms of national security, the memo didn’t reveal much that we didn’t know. As the memo was analyzed, journalists realized that it relied on a presentation of Carter Page being targeted for his association with the Trump campaign (when it turned out that the FBI was looking at him before Trump even ran for president) and the idea that the Robert Mueller investigation is based entirely on the “Steele dossier” (when it turns out that there is at least one more dossier, and investigations proceeded mainly on suspicion of Trump advisor George Papadopoulos).

All this fails to explain why the whole investigation must be thrown out as “fruit of the poison tree” solely on the grounds of anti-Trump sympathy on the part of some players, but that demand is not automatically invalidated on the grounds that it is justified solely on pro-Trump sentiment. As Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the right-wing Cato Institute put it,  “Honestly, this reads like something you’d put together to *sound* scandalous to someone who isn’t going to parse it closely. ”

Oh gee. I wonder who that would be?

Like it matters, though. It’s of a piece with how Trump, simply by being leader of the Republicans, gets the mob to follow along as he redefines what being a Republican is. First Trump said that John McCain wasn’t a war hero. And Republicans had to go along with it. Then he said that (black) athletes were disrespecting the national anthem. And all of a sudden, Joe Sixpack started boycotting the NFL. Now Republicans are supposed to believe that the FBI – the J. Edgar Hoover organization that is more responsible for Trump’s election victory than any Russian skullduggery – is unpatriotic and a threat to the rule of law. (‘Unpatriotic’ meaning ‘does not worship Trump’ and ‘rule of law’ meaning ‘whatever wild hair is up Trump’s ass.’)

What’s next? Who knows? I’m thinking next week, Trump is going to announce that he is female and is undergoing the process of transition, at which point all the Republicans in Congress will fall on top of each other to be the first one to get castrated on the grounds that masculinity is now “gay.”

But this dynamic gets to a more abstract discussion I had recently with a left-wing Facebook friend. He had posted an article from Quartz about how Richard Spencer and other professional racists are “targeting disgruntled white male lefties to join their movement.” For one thing, the article quotes white nationalist speaker Eli Mosley in saying: “We’ve almost literally drained the market of libertarians.” But I could have told him this. I’ve addressed that subject at length with two detailed posts. In any case, you can’t get many libertarian recruits for the same reason that libertarians have neither taken off with the Libertarian Party nor taken over the Republican Party: There just aren’t that many of us in the first place. But the article went on to mention how the rightist groups were trying to poach leftists using their own language, especially invoking the common enemy of “corporate neoliberalism”. And my friend said in his assessment of the article, “I understand a bit of how this works from back when I was a conspiracy nut. While these days I think ‘horseshoe theory’ is full of shit, from the standpoint of a poor white dude who is not particularly well educated in politics, it *appears* true. What rightwing groups do is create a common enemy and sort of set your focus in another direction. … It’s just a more subtle version of what the far right has done for a long time. Bait and switch. ”

And my first response was, “To the extent that horseshoe theory is BS, it’s because authoritarians at both ‘extremes’ have more in common with each other than they have in common with classical liberals or moderates. But then, that’s why people like me use the ‘classical’ qualifier, because it’s becoming more and more clear that the Left never cared for real liberalism. That’s the main thing Marxists had in common with the blood-and-soil types.”

My friend responded, “I don’t think they have ‘more in common’ so much as they have *weird* things in common, which stick out to moderates. I mean, obviously any group that considers the status quo in need of immediate overhaul is going to have that in common. Any group that thinks the government is illegitimate will hold that in common.
“But those don’t define the left or right as much as they do extremism in general. If there were true ‘radical centrists’ that were actually uncomfortable with the status quo, they would have these traits. But the statement that radical groups are radical is never as profound as it seems to those who just discover it. It doesn’t change that the goals of the extreme left and right are opposite, and their policy preferences are irreconcilable.”

This was a topic I wanted to go over in light of my prior observations.

I have read that the problem with “horseshoe theory” is not merely that it oversimplifies politics to say that each political wing becomes more alike as they become more extreme, but that it discounts the fundamental differences between Right and Left in their motivations and goals. But if moderates fail to grasp the real political differences between two extremes, those differences likewise seem immaterial if you are a victim of extremism. It doesn’t matter to me whether I get thrown in the concentration camp because I’m gay, or Jewish, or atheist, or Muslim, or just because I didn’t follow whatever the fashion of political correctness was last week. The result will be the same.

As an example, a lot of leftists will excuse the Cuban government under Fidel Castro on the grounds that they created free education and health care. To me, “free education and health care” strikes me as the Left’s version of “at least Mussolini made the trains run on time.” And I say this because social democracies in Europe managed to develop support systems and health care without also putting gays and religious dissenters in prison. Apologists for the Castros will tell us that the Cuban regime militarized largely to defend against the hostility of the United States and its boycott of the island. But in response to that embargo, Cuba became an economic part of the Soviet bloc, and when the USSR ended, opened trade relations with wealthy Western nations that ignored the embargo. Leftists will also say that Cuba was a small, poor Latin American country with no resources to develop itself without socialism. But Costa Rica is a Latin American country with less natural resources, and it had both universal health care and a multiparty democracy in the 1940s. If the motivations of leftism are to give power to the people and create a more equitable standard of living, liberal and left-socialist governments have done so in several cases without becoming Cuban or Soviet-style regimes. But if you want to put gays and religious people in prison, then Cuba is not a failure but a success.

This is the practical reason why we should not use the ends to justify the means, because ultimately the means are ends in themselves.

Now for a more relevant example: It was reported last month that the Koch brothers are going to spend 400 million dollars on the 2018 midterms to preserve the Republicans’ majority in both houses of Congress. Previously they had spent $20 million in 2017 to run media campaigns and support efforts to pass the tax bill. In the CNBC article on the Kochs’ support network, it was also mentioned that they sponsor efforts at prison reform and also supports Trump’s recently announced idea of creating a path to citizenship for Dreamers while also opposing their drive to end chain migration for families. In the past, the Koch family were instrumental in the development of the Libertarian Party (David Koch ran as the running mate of Ed Clark in 1980) and also helped found the Cato Institute. Several of their positions (in support of immigrants, criminal justice reform and civil liberties, for instance) are worth supporting in themselves but are at odds with the positions of most Republicans. However Koch Industries is still based in fossil fuel production and the Koch network is actively against not only climate change legislation but any attempts by government or private enterprise to create energy alternatives.  Moreover, for the sake of specific goals that coincide with libertarianism, the Kochs give monetary and other support to conservative groups with questionable goals, for example contributing to the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has sponsored voter ID laws in several states to restrict voting. This would be one thing if the agenda was simply economic libertarianism or Paul Ryan-style fiscal policy (which liberals would hate in any case). But as the vehicle of the Republican Party becomes more and more enslaved to the whims of Donald Trump, whatever social or even economic libertarianism could be achieved through conservatism will be undermined by the much broader movement towards authoritarianism. Given that the Kochs, unlike most Republicans, know enough about the Libertarian Party and the libertarian movement to know the difference between libertarianism and conservatism, they had the choice to use their wealth and influence to organize and grow a party that could challenge a problematic conservatism. The fact that they do not indicates that instead of trying to replace a dysfunctional system, they would rather maintain that system in order to serve their short-term purposes.

In the last election, right-wingers had a choice: vote for Trump (which the majority did), vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson (which I did) or vote for Hillary Clinton (which a lot of NeverTrumpers, even Penn Jillette, did). Each choice implied different value judgments and bargains as to what package deal was acceptable in politics. If for instance you seriously believe that personhood begins at conception and therefore abortion is always murder, you will find it almost impossible to deal with the Democratic Party or even the Libertarian Party. But if you align with the Republicans, you now know that you are supporting people who place cult of personality above the rule of law.

And from the left-wing perspective, being “pro-choice” and pro-woman often means putting yourself in contradictory positions, for instance taking money from Harvey Weinstein for Democratic campaigns.

In judging political alignments, that is, what party or general platform an individual chooses, the tendency seems to be that people fixate on a few issues (like abortion, or taxes) and adjust all their other positions around them. At that point, political actions are simply a matter of what one is willing to do and how far one will justify the overall goal. This might not be done for the sake of an extreme position, but it is possible to be led into extremism for the sake of the position. In this country at least, that usually occurs because of negative motivations and a desire to stop the opposing faction rather than promote a favored one. If there is one thing that extremists of both Left and Right have in common, it is not a vision of society but a hatred of “bourgeois” moderate liberalism and the process of negotiation in a representative democracy. This may be why the racists in the Quartz article had reason to think that by bagging on neoliberalism and capitalists that they could get recruits from the Left who would otherwise have nothing in common with them. After all, historically they’d done it before.

So in reviewing horseshoe theory, I think it’s fairly clear that the two political wings can both end in authoritarianism, regardless of apparent first motives. However, horseshoe theory doesn’t strictly apply in the current case, because it doesn’t explain why the slide to authoritarianism happens in the current context.

I again return to the point that “polarization”, at least in America, doesn’t work the way it does according to conventional wisdom. The process in our two-party system has been that years before Trump, the Tea Party and other factors purified the Republican Party of “RINOs” and even serious conservatives (like Utah’s Bob Bennett) because they weren’t following the conservative version of political correctness. Trump is simply the culmination of this. The result was that in a two-party system, people kicked out of one party normally go to the other one (the Democrats) even when that really isn’t a good fit for them. The long-term result was a dilution of whatever appeal Democrats had to the hard left and working class, and increased the perception among people like the Clintons that “neoliberal” friendliness to the elites was the way to go, if for no other reason than that it got them campaign money. As a tangential point, I bring up my theory that this is why the “stuff your principles and vote for the lesser evil” attitude, promoted by the Democrats most of the time but especially in 2016, was counterproductive and actually played into Trump’s hands. Because a lot of the moderates and NeverTrump right-wingers (like myself) had quit the Republicans precisely because we rejected that binary logic, and apparently so did a lot of left-wingers. The kind of people who did embrace binary logic were the kind of people who stuffed their qualms and decided to vote for Trump. The Republicans have gambled on having fewer but more committed voters whereas the Democrats have a theoretically larger voter base but fewer actual votes when it counts. And as we see, the gamble has paid off, not so much in presidential races (until now) but in state and down-ballot races that gave Republicans their legislative majorities, which magnify the effects of a Republican presidency and stymie the goals of a Democratic one.

The problem is less the differences between Left and Right and more a matter of what approach the political environment rewards.

This means that the other point is that it doesn’t matter so much whether a party is “extreme.” If you’re not going to uphold standards when the president is not a tyrant, and his party is moderate, you can’t expect standards to be upheld when the Leader is thoroughly crooked, his party is openly authoritarian, and their emotional and political investment in him is that much deeper. Which to me means that the cause of our current political moment is not to get this country back to “normal.” Because the prior normal sucked, the normal was dysfunctional, the normal is what got us to this point, and the goal must be to get us to something better than the previous norm.

 

On Andrew Sullivan

Based on his recent columns in New York Magazine and the reactions to them, I’m sure that when liberals look at Andrew Sullivan’s latest piece, with the self-explanatory title “The Gay Rights Movement Is Undoing Its Best Work” they will accuse him of overreacting in such a way as to be an even bigger overreaction.

Not that Sullivan is above criticism. I think he protests too much when he says that the gay rights movement of his day succeeded by being “not leftist.” This would be news to a lot of people. Indeed, it was mainly Sullivan’s argument that cast gay marriage rights as a conservative position. But that was back when that was still possible. Ironically the very success of the gay rights movement in mainstreaming the community may be why the (non-libertarian) Right is so extreme now. When your movement is not based on ideas so much as grievance against “the establishment”, anti-wokeness is a badge of honor. In any event when Sullivan says: “We emphasized those things that united gays and straights, and we celebrated institutions of integration — such as marriage rights and open military service. We portrayed ourselves as average citizens seeking merely the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else”, that agenda was in common with the previous strain of mainstream liberalism that focused on civil rights for racial minorities. In this regard someone like Martin Luther King was “not-leftist” only in the relative sense of not being Malcolm X.

But Sullivan does have a point. The previous concept of liberalism was something that the average person could relate to. It created empathy for people who had previously been “othered.” This is where a not-leftist like myself would point out that King wanted people to focus not on the color of one’s skin but on the content of one’s character. In that respect, liberal reform advocated not just a government responsibility but a moral aspiration. Insofar as there was anything conservative about this sentiment, it was when Ronald Reagan applied his “morning in America” rhetoric. This optimism worked because it brought Americans together and won a majority for the party in charge, regardless of which party that was. Now of course, Donald Trump says “America First” and “Make America Great Again” but with the implication that it was only great before all those foreigners showed up. He won only because he got just enough votes in just enough states to win the Electoral College. The goal for him, and Republicans in general, is to divide and not unite. And the Left is doing much the same thing. Sullivan says that the advocates for gays and other sexual minorities are “rhetorically as much about race and gender as it is about sexual orientation (“intersectionality”), prefers alternatives to marriage to marriage equality, sees white men as ‘problematic,’ masculinity as toxic, gender as fluid, and race as fundamental. They have no desire to seem ‘virtually normal’; they are contemptuous of ‘respectability politics’ — which means most politics outside the left. … ‘Live and let live’ became: ‘If you don’t believe gender is nonbinary, you’re a bigot.”

This ties into where Sullivan changes subject to bring up a BBC interview between journalist Cathy Newman and right-wing Canadian professor (apparently they do exist) Jordan Peterson. The interview was dissected that much more thoroughly by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. The part of the dialogue that cuts to the chase went like this:

Newman: Is gender equality desirable?

Peterson: If it means equality of outcome then it is almost certainly undesirable. That’s already been demonstrated in Scandinavia. Men and women won’t sort themselves into the same categories if you leave them to do it of their own accord. It’s 20 to 1 female nurses to male, something like that. And approximately the same male engineers to female engineers. That’s a consequence of the free choice of men and women in the societies that have gone farther than any other societies to make gender equality the purpose of the law. Those are ineradicable differences––you can eradicate them with tremendous social pressure, and tyranny, but if you leave men and women to make their own choices you will not get equal outcomes.

Newman: So you’re saying that anyone who believes in equality, whether you call them feminists or whatever you want to call them, should basically give up because it ain’t going to happen.

Peterson: Only if they’re aiming at equality of outcome.

Newman: So you’re saying give people equality of opportunity, that’s fine.

Peterson: It’s not only fine, it’s eminently desirable for everyone, for individuals as well as societies.

Newman: But still women aren’t going to make it. That’s what you’re really saying.

In this case and others, Peterson went into very detailed examples for why certain social inequities occur (as he puts it, on the standard that ‘equality of outcome’ is more important than equal opportunity) and gave a multifaceted explanation for why different results occur, indeed why they are more likely in a social-democrat policy where the government gives women more benefits and opportunities. And at least once Newman reduces his response to the assumption that things can only be a certain way, and telegraphs that her conclusion is based on her predecided opinion of his position instead of what he actually said. This is… I believe the word I’m looking for is “essentialist.”

This sort of thing is why a lot of men hear the phrase “mansplaining” and think of it very ironically. Because mansplaining, like “white privilege”, is referring to a real thing but in a very counterproductive way. Mansplaining is a gender-specific example of a universal vice: namely, interrupting, acting like you know better, and presenting the other person’s argument to them without listening to what it actually is. When you see this interview, you can see that it’s possible for a woman to do the same thing to a man. It’s happened to me lots of times. But when someone cops this attitude with me in a political debate, I don’t call it “mansplaining,” I call it “arguing with the imaginary libertarian in your head.”

Like when such people tell me, “there’s no point in voting third-party because of our first-past-the-post system.” As if I, and all the other people working to change the system, aren’t already aware of this. I’m sure that in 19th Century Russia, there were “liberals” telling their friends, “yes, we all want reforms, but the Czar is an absolute monarch of an autocratic government. Whaddya gonna do?

In the Atlantic piece, Friedersdorf goes to another exchange:

Newman: Aren’t you just whipping people up into a state of anger?

Peterson: Not at all.

Newman: Divisions between men and women. You’re stirring things up.

“Actually, one of the most important things this interview illustrates—one reason it is worth noting at length—is how Newman repeatedly poses as if she is holding a controversialist accountable, when in fact, for the duration of the interview, it is she that is ‘stirring things up’ and ‘whipping people into a state of anger”, Friedersdorf says.

Where this ties into Sullivan’s post is the rejection of the very concept of common ground or good-faith argument. Neither is there a possibility of arriving at the truth beyond “my truth” or my position. Friedersdorf points out that Newman’s style of confrontation is common not only on social media platforms but also on Fox News, and elsewhere in his column, Sullivan goes back to his recent theme on the destructiveness of social media like Facebook and Twitter. The reason that this attitude is a problem for the Left is the same reason that it is embraced by the Trumpniks and Fox News: While various disenfranchised groups have greater numbers and influence than ever, this is still a white-majority country that is still broadly right-of-center, and while “identity politics” may be necessary in a lot of cases, it encourages the feeling that whites and conservatives need identity politics too. You can win – barely – by dividing people when you already have a majority. When you’re the minority, dividing people keeps you a minority.

Where I disagree with Sullivan’s piece this week is where he says: “The Trump era is, I fear, not just about this hideous embarrassment of a president. It’s also fueled by a reaction of many ordinary people to the excesses of the social-justice left — on immigration, race, gender, and sexual orientation. ” This is true up to a point. But he fails to stress that if the Left is pushing the Right to radicalism, the reverse is also true. I am pretty sure that we would not be so wrapped up in the #metoo moment if Hillary Clinton were president, for instance. But then, that would be largely because liberals would assume they’d cured sexism the way President Obama cured racism.

I may have said this before, but what liberals need to figure out is that if the only thing that mattered about the 2016 election was making liberals cry, Donald Trump would have won the popular vote. What conservatives need to figure out is that Trump did not win the popular vote because making liberals cry was not the only thing that mattered. And if one can concede that the side you hate has aspects that are objectively awful, you still have a moral responsibility in how you react to that. A hint: You do not improve the system by citing the awfulness of Them and then making Us that much worse.

We don’t have a cycle of Thesis and Antithesis reaching a higher Synthesis. We just have a cycle where Thesis and Antithesis continue to make each other worse. At best, the situation is where the US is like a sailboat, and Left and Right are constantly fighting each other for control of the mast, and every so often, this struggle causes the boom to swing around and whack one of them silly.

In my About page, I’d mentioned that Andrew Sullivan’s blog was my primary influence in starting this site. This was not because I’d always agreed with him. Indeed, on The Daily Dish he had said quite a few things that attracted a lot of dispute and rebuttal, and to his credit he was able to post and respond to a lot of these comments (without actually having a comments section). Sullivan was able to admit, in real time over a course of years, where he had been wrong (for example, in supporting the Iraq invasion) and where he needed to take responsibility for that. That is far more than most conservatives have ever been willing to do. It seems to be more than a lot of liberals are willing to do. I gravitated to Sullivan’s blog because his willingness to question things and still present a civil platform was something the culture needed. It still is. Especially now.

 

On Immigration

Amazingly, it appears that the Shithole Shutdown (TM) is coming to a quick end, because Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer did what Democrats do best: caved compromised for the good of the institution. The question is whether Republicans in both houses of Congress are willing to reciprocate, and most liberals don’t think they will. But my guess is that this is what Schumer is counting on. Republicans have both houses of Congress and the White House. They have the initiative, and they are the ones being proactive. It was Donald Trump who decided to end President Obama’s DACA order, and thus made this an issue for Congress. It was Mitch McConnell and the Congressional Republicans who withheld Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding last year so they could make that an issue for the next budget debate. And they used that to set up a choice between supporting DACA recipients and CHIP recipients. By bargaining for CHIP, Schumer put the ball back in Republicans’ court and obliged Stephen Miller or whoever Trump’s substitute brain is this week to come up with a DACA deal before February 8. And if that doesn’t happen, it will be a lot harder for them to blame the Democrats. And as we know, blame is the only objective here.

The general issue of illegal immigration is something that I have been mulling over in my head for quite a while now, but obviously the present situation makes it that much more relevant.

Be warned: What I say here has something to piss off everyone in the family.

The issue is that in regard to the Latin American community (the main ethnicity of immigrants being discussed) we are actually dealing with three related but distinct groups. First, you have the people who were born in another country and came to this country illegally (the so-called ‘undocumented’). Second, you have people who were likewise born in another country but were brought here illegally by their parents when they were young children, were raised in this country, and are effectively Americans except for a legal technicality (the ‘Dreamers’). And finally, you have the children of such illegal immigrants who were born here, and are full American citizens, but have to worry about their families being deported.

It matters that these are related but separate groups. The conservative, anti-immigrant position fixates on a few points. One is that immigrants (again, principally Hispanic) are allegedly not assimilating to the larger culture, especially with regard to learning English. Statistically at least, that’s not the case. According to at least one 2007 paper, first-generation Mexicans (presumably including illegal immigrants) still lag behind in learning English. However second-generation immigrant Hispanic children acquire English just as fast as Asian or European immigrants. Moreover, support for making English the official language of the US is nearly equal among white, black and Asian populations, but while a distinct minority of first-generation Hispanics favors this policy, a clear majority of third-generation Hispanics do. Indeed that might help account for why 28 percent of Hispanic voters went for Trump in 2016.

This is contrary to the racist or near-racist idea that certain people are innately unable to adopt American values (whatever those are). When Hispanic Trump supporters were interviewed, some of them said that they were citizens from families that had lived in the United States for generations. They didn’t identify with the negative stereotype of recent immigrants that Trump was trading in. Thus, the longer one’s family has been in the US (or the farther back one’s heritage goes) the more likely one is to adopt mainstream or even conservative positions. In turn, this indicates that the more assimilated or “American” a person feels, the less likely it is that they will automatically identify with liberal-left institutions. Certainly it is not guaranteed that they will vote for Democrats just because they’re “people of color.”

Another complaint is that “illegals are taking our jobs.” This is not entirely true, but there is a certain amount of truth to it. George J. Borjas, writing for Politico, says: “The typical high school dropout earns about $25,000 annually. According to census data, immigrants admitted in the past two decades lacking a high school diploma have increased the size of the low-skilled workforce by roughly 25 percent. As a result, the earnings of this particularly vulnerable group dropped by between $800 and $1,500 each year.” This is countered by the (mostly liberal) apologia that unauthorized immigrants are “just doing the jobs Americans won’t do.”

In the current economy, without the same job security and benefits of the European job market, Americans work harder and take less vacation time than workers in EU countries. The number of people holding multiple jobs came to about 5.2 percent of the working population in 2016. There is no such thing as “jobs that Americans won’t do.” There are jobs that Americans will not do for no minimum wage and no safety standards.

But American citizens and people raised in America would know their rights and the laws of the system. For “under the table” employers to act the way they want, they would need people who don’t know their rights and if they did, are hindered from acting on them due to the threat of deportation.

For that, frankly, you need an illegal.

Yet, liberals who are generally against libertarian positions on free trade agree with libertarians on this one point of free movement of labor. (And vice versa.) The same people who object to corporations “outsourcing” jobs to countries with lower wages and safety standards do not consider that hiring illegal labor amounts to outsourcing within our own borders. And the liberal position on this ignores all of the standard liberal objections to laissez-faire economics, including the point that you need a government to establish the rules of trade in the first place.

By the same token, conservatives who go on about “borders, language and culture” elide the fact that this country is under replacement fertility rate, that immigration is the main reason we still have population increase, and that as the Republican voter base becomes older and whiter, they are going to need a browner labor force to pay for their Social Security and Medicare.

Hispanic American citizens (and to a lesser extent Dreamers) have been educated in this country and thus have access to greater career opportunities than immigrants who do not have documentation or legal status. Younger generations of immigrants are more likely to identify with the old culture, and more likely to see themselves as vulnerable to government policy where minorities are concerned. For different reasons, Republicans and Democrats have ulterior motives in leaving the legal status of immigrant families up in the air, and to leave the current immigration policy up in the air so that current and future immigrants stay in illegal status rather than go through a bureaucracy that takes years to confirm residency.

Ultimately, Republicans are looking for a captive labor market and Democrats are looking for a captive voter demographic, and that is why we do not and will not have a consistent and fair immigration policy, because a consistent and fair policy would not be of benefit to either side.

It also means that there is neither a good faith argument nor honesty on either side. For instance, in Vox, Ezra Klein says, “I’ll admit I’m unnerved to see not just Trump, but McConnell and others, begin to refer to the core issue as ‘illegal immigration’ — the more they define DREAMers as illegal immigrants and a DACA deal as amnesty, the harder it will be for them to back down and eventually cut that deal.” There’s just one problem: Technically, the Dreamers ARE illegal immigrants and a DACA deal IS amnesty. Conservatives should not be afraid to say this. And liberals should then reiterate the moral argument: Dreamers were raised in this country and have no ties to their country of origin. They did not choose to come here, and should not be punished for what their parents did. But if we let them stay (which is both the moral and practical policy) we are doing the same thing that Reagan Republicans did and putting off a consistent policy on controlling immigration.

Indeed, that amnesty is much of the reason that the Republican political culture is so hostile to negotiation and compromise now, because for decades they’ve been chewing over the idea that compromise means “they” get everything they want and “we” get nothing. And in the long term, the actual racists took advantage of that, which is how the party of Reagan and the Bushes became the Tea Party and then the Party of Trump.

An actual solution would mean creating a real government policy through Congress and not just kicking the can down the road and using the conflict as a pretext to rile up the base by blaming the other guy. An actual solution would be a permanent solution, one that would acknowledge human rights while also asserting the priority of the government to control immigration. The latter is not an inherently racist position, but as with the rest of Republican conservatism, it has become such due to the embrace of Donald Trump and a voter base that is proudly reactionary. That is why we are where we are and why negotiation is increasingly impossible under the current politics. Which is why anybody who cares needs to seriously look at the current political leadership and plan to change it.

 

In Praise of Donald Trump

Hi, Trumpniks! Sick of winning yet?

I was going to go into a follow-up piece on the Michael Wolff book, and whether or not it is true, and whether that even matters when your boy said Obama was a Kenyan and his inaugural crowd was bigger than Obama’s.

But… Christ on a cracker, folks.

Speaking of crackers, it looks like Trump referring to Haiti and El Salvador as “shithole countries” had the desired effect on his base. I saw some of my Republican Facebook friends saying things like “Trump is like the Honey Badger” and “he’s playing the media like a fiddle.”

Too bad he didn’t say that stuff before Darrell Issa announced his retirement. Issa, of course, is a prominent California Congressman and longtime enemy of Hillary Clinton and other Democrats. This week (before Thursday) Issa announced he was retiring. That makes 31 House Republicans – so far – that are retiring this year rather than running for re-election. The Democrats only need to take 24 seats to regain the House. These retirements will not guarantee that result, but those Republicans are giving up the critical advantage of incumbency.

It creates the impression that Congressional Republicans aren’t eager to run with Donald Trump as the representative of their party. They used to stick with him when he was riding high, and now they’re stuck to him. Like a tar baby. Look, I can say racially offensive stuff. Apparently it’s back in style.

I mean, I don’t get it. Donald Trump has been saying racist, oblivious shit for years and years, and all of a sudden, he’s not cool.

Representative Mia Love, who is both a black Haitian and a Utah Mormon, gave a statement saying “the president’s comments are unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation’s values.” Otherwise known as “Thursday.”

All this might explain why Trump cancelled an already controversial trip to London next month, ostensibly because Obama made a “bad deal” in moving our embassy. Before he was inaugurated.  And I thought it was because Trump is a cowardly little punk who didn’t want to face hostile crowds in a country where people don’t feel obliged to kiss his ass and treat him like God. I mean, Britain already has a Queen. They don’t need a second one.

And while the Trumpniks are as loyal as ever, the question is how many of them there still are. SurveyMonkey recently did a poll analysis for 2017 over several demographics. Liberals don’t want to admit how much of Trump’s 2016 victory was due to votes from blacks, Hispanics, and white women. But according to this survey, while 23 percent of black men support Trump, only 11 percent of black women do. He also has at least a plurality of Hispanic men (40%) but women in all groups disapprove of him. While he recieved 49% of the vote among college-educated white women, now 66% disapprove of him. In 2016, 66% of whites without a college degree voted for Trump. Now, only 56% overall approve of him. That’s a 10 percent drop compared to the last vote.

So while a lot of them may be putting on a brave face, I suspect the Trumpniks are feeling a little demoralized. Thus, for their sake, and to help explain to the rest of us why so many people support – or supported – Trump, I wanted to make a few points … in praise of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump killed him a b’ar when he was only 3.

The reason Chuck Norris never fought Donald Trump was because he was afraid Trump would kick his ass.

This week, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he was a great athlete as a kid. In fact, when he was in military academy, Trump rode a cougar in the equestrian event. He could pull a tractor 50 yards. He never actually pulled one, because they didn’t have one at the military academy. He could squat over a coconut and crush it with his testicles. That’s right, he could crush nuts with his nuts. This level of physical prowess is all the more remarkable considering those bone spurs.

How many plane crashes did Trump prevent? ALL of them. THAT’s how many.

Donald Trump drove the snakes from Ireland.

(‘Wasn’t that St. Patrick?’ ‘Fake news.’)

Roseanne Conner voted for Trump because he used his holy touch to bring Dan back from the dead.

Donald Trump made the Grand Canyon.

He was vacationing in Arizona and lost his wallet.

While Donald Trump was in Vietnam, his unit was pinned down by enemy machinegun fire. His squad was ordered to attack the machinegun nests from behind. He was the last survivor of the attack. He managed to flank the nearest enemy trench and fired individual rifle shots with such accuracy that all of the Germans surrendered. Then he got their officer to get the men on the adjacent line to surrender, and he ended up returning to camp with 132 prisoners.

(‘Wait, didn’t Trump get a draft deferment for the bone spurs?’ ‘Forget it, he’s rolling.’)

Donald Trump made pork kosher.

Look, it doesn’t matter if he can make pork kosher. Because it doesn’t matter what his in-laws think, he’s Donald Trump, and he’s going to eat pork.

Donald Trump has advanced the libertarian movement more than anyone in decades. Because now liberals and centrists know why we hate the government.

And Donald Trump says he has done more in one year than any other president. And this is true. After less than one year in office, he has proven to be more racist than FDR, more vulgar than LBJ, more corrupt and authoritarian than Nixon, more incompetent than Carter, more gullible than Reagan, more of a plutocrat than Bush Senior, a bigger liar than Bill Clinton, more clueless than Bush Junior, and more racially polarizing than Barack Obama.

Truly, unpresidented. It is to be hoped that such a record of achievement will never be equaled or exceeded by any future president. Assuming we get to have one.

Steve Bannon, RIP

Steve Bannon’s political career died today. He was fired from his last remaining job as editor of Breitbart News by the site’s owners, who include the billionaire Mercer family that financially supported both Bannon and Russian Viceroy Donald Trump. Steve Bannon is 64 years old. His political career was 14.

Born to a family of working class Irish Democrats, Steve Bannon attended Virginia Tech after graduating high school. During the summers he lived at home and took a job at a local junkyard, often coming home so dirty that his Mom would force him to strip to his underwear and rinse off with a hose before being allowed into the house. This set a standard of personal hygiene that he has maintained to this day.

Bannon ultimately received degrees from multiple universities, and served in the US Navy from the late 1970s to early 80s. After military service, he became an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, a resume point that he shares in common with many others in the Trump Administration. Using this position, Bannon and some colleagues started an investment bank that negotiated a sale of Castle Rock Entertainment, Bannon & Co accepting a payment in the form of stake in five television shows, including Seinfeld, for which he still receives cash residuals each time the show is aired. In the mid-2000s, Bannon also, through Goldman Sachs, took over a media company that was renamed Affinity Media. Through his work in media, Bannon was introduced to right-wing publisher, Andrew Breitbart. With him, Steve Bannon founded the Breitbart News site. Bannon helped publish Clinton Cash, an expose’ of the Clinton Foundation, by Breitbart editor-at-large Peter Schweizer. He has also worked as vice president at Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis owned by the Mercer family.

When Andrew Breitbart died in 2012, Bannon became executive chair for the Breitbart company.  Under its namesake founder, Breitbart.com had been famous for its political incorrectness, but under Bannon, the site became much more focused on what Bannon called a “nationalist” agenda including attacks on Muslim immigrants in both Europe and the United States. In 2016 he declared to a reporter that the site was a “platform for the alt-right.”  While Bannon denied specifically being an anti-Semite, he had once referred to himself as “the (Leni) Riefenstahl of the GOP.”  It is also uncertain why Bannon would associate with anti-Semites when he still gets Seinfeld money, but it could be that he is just as tired of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David as the rest of us.

Bannon’s credentials were apparently enough to get him referred to the Donald Trump campaign in 2016, even though in 2015, GAI, a research firm founded by Bannon and Schweitzer had done opposition research on alleged deals between Trump companies and organized crime.  Once Trump received the Republican nomination in 2016, the Mercer family offered monetary support and the assistance of conservative media woman Kellyanne Conway and Bannon (the Mercers are also backers of GAI).  Bannon became Trump’s campaign strategist. His main contribution was perhaps the use of his media platform to endorse a populist agenda that set candidate Trump not only against much of the corporate-friendly Republican Party but also the corporate-friendly Democratic Party. Breitbart.com was also quick to pounce on any negative rumors about Hillary Clinton and her campaign, which ended up being instrumental in her electoral defeat and some of which turned out to be spread by Russian sources.

During the post-election transition, Donald Trump appointed Bannon to the unique position of Chief Strategist, going to the extent of dropping the Joint Chiefs of Staff from National Security Council meetings with the president in order to allow for Bannon’s presence. During the early days of the Trump Administration, Bannon along with Pee-Wee Herman Lookalike Contest Winner Stephen Miller was involved in the creation of Executive Order 13769, aka the “Muslim ban” that was mostly thrown out by courts. Bannon’s influence over the Administration was such that he was often jokingly referred to as “President Bannon,” raising the ire of the famously touchy Trump. During 2017, Bannon’s other major contribution to politics was to encourage Trump to side with the white nationalists during the Charlottesville protest where one person was killed by a vehicle. Given Bannon’s reputation, the NAACP and other groups called on Trump to fire him. To save face, Bannon said he had planned to resign after his one-year anniversary – as campaign chairman – on August 14. He also said that due to the “tumult” in Charlottesville, Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had agreed to delay the announcement until after the Charlottesville protest.

At this point Bannon returned to his position as Breitbart executive chairman, telling the conservative press, “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons”. Bannon planned to use his position outside the Washington establishment to agitate for what he called “economic nationalism” and the populist social conservatism that worked in the Trump campaign. To do this he planned to support candidates of like mind against the agenda of Washington professionals like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. His main test case was in the Alabama special election when he supported theocratic “Judge” Roy Moore against Luther Strange, the Republican appointed by Alabama’s governor after Senator Jeff Sessions became Trump’s attorney general. Trump, for once towing the party line, endorsed Strange half-heartedly, but Bannon rallied the Tea Party Right and supporters like Sarah Palin on behalf of Moore, who won the Republican primary in September and set up a race against Democrat Doug Jones.
This of course was before the Washington Post reported allegations of Moore dating teenage girls and molesting one when he was in his thirties. Yet Bannon continued to campaign fiercely for Moore, even mocking Ivanka Trump for saying “there’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.” Even so, the stakes were such that the Republican establishment – now including Trump – joined the offensive for Moore while the negative publicity increased, Jones intensified his campaign and Moore himself retreated from the press, setting up a Jones victory that made him the first Democratic Senator from Alabama to be elected since 1986. Politically, Bannon engineered a screaming catastrofuck that already compares to the Battle of Stalingrad in terms of its strategic damage to the Republican Party, damage that could have been avoided at several points. For this monumental achievement, Bannon was praised by at least one conservative as “the most effective Democratic Party strategist since James Carville”.

The primary short term result of the Alabama race was to destroy what remained of Bannon’s reputation for competency within conservative circles. Bannon was already unpopular with establishment Republicans for both professional and personal reasons, with Rep. Pete King (R.-New York) saying after the Alabama election that “he looks like some disheveled drunk who wandered onto the national stage”. Bannon’s patron, Robert Mercer, was put under scrutiny by the New Yorker magazine largely because of his connections to Bannon and the activities of Cambridge Analytica. As a result he decided in November to end his political activities and sell his stake in Breitbart to his daughters. However, Bannon still retained some clout with Donald Trump himself, as evidenced by Trump’s willingness to campaign for Moore in the first place.

The fatal blow was the now-famous release of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, an expose’ that Wolff compiled with interviews made during the later stages of the Trump campaign through the early part of the Trump Administration. Much of it relies on interviews and accounts with Bannon, which serve to confirm his already-established reputation as one of the White House staff’s primary leakers, mainly at the expense of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (as he called them, ‘Jarvanka’). He also specifically told Wolff that Donald Trump Jr’s June 2016 meeting with Russian nationals (before Bannon was on the campaign) was a bad idea: “”Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.” He added, “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.” (Bannon also said that the information deal would have been better handled by indirect delivery to Breitbart ‘or maybe some other more legitimate publication’, possibly admitting that it isn’t one.)

For this, Donald Trump gave an official statement to the press pool on January 3 saying “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency”, which of course was only true in the present tense. Trump also paid tribute to him by saying: “Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself” which was the main thing the two men had in common. Back at Breitbart, Bannon tried to maintain his position but Rebekah Mercer, his last patron, withdrew her support and today it was announced on Breitbart.com that he had “stepped down”.

Steve Bannon’s legacy is primarily in the association of American right-wing politics with reactionary nationalism and racism, thus tarnishing the reputation of Andrew Breitbart’s website and the entire Republican Party. In pushing the badly-drafted “Muslim” immigrant ban, Bannon set an early precedent that helped to undermine American soft power and the trust of the international community, and more directly antagonized a large section of the American civil service against the Administration. He will also be remembered for undermining the prestige of facial hair.

Steve Bannon is survived by three daughters and three ex-wives, the second of whom cited his anti-Semitic remarks at their divorce hearing and who also made domestic violence charges against him that were dropped when she failed to appear in court, an absence that she claims was due to legal threats against her from Bannon’s lawyer. However, Bannon’s proudest and most famous child is the squalling man-baby he helped install in the White House, a student who betrayed and destroyed his teacher once he was powerful enough to survive on his own, thus fulfilling the ancient Rule of Two.

 

You Never Go Full Trump

You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”
-Donald Trump, technically speaking in anecdote

Happy New Year…

Of course, January 3rd was the worst and weirdest day of the Trump Administration, breaking the 347 records set by the 347 previous days. But prior to that, much of the buzz in media was set by Viceroy Trump’s latest taunt of Kim Jong Un, with what The Atlantic accurately described as “The Most Irresponsible Tweet in History”  (which is a bit like ‘Most Unmusical Yoko Ono Song’). And about the same time, media were going on about Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who is retiring apparently against the wishes of Donald Trump, because that seems to clear a path for Mitt Romney to run for his seat. And in the center-left Mainstream Media, I kept seeing all these musings about how Romney was supposed to be a Trump-skeptic conservative. Except of course when he was a presidential candidate asking for Trump’s endorsement. Or when he came to Trump after the election petitioning for a Cabinet post.  It’s a testimony to liberal-establishment naivete – or selective amnesia – that journalists were looking for a sign of hope in the prospect of Romney rejoining Republican politics when they were roasting his motives the last time he ran for office.

What I would like “progressives” to admit is that they’re the real conservatives. That is, they want to go back to the glory days of the Great Society and the New Deal. They want to restore a political establishment that was working just fine – for them. They honestly think that their approach to things is the a priori truth, and they seriously seem to think that if you can just bring back the “reasonable” Republicans and get a Democrat back in the White House again, everything will get back to normal.

What they have to accept is that things will NEVER get back to normal again.

And we know why.

On January 3, New York Magazine’s website posted an excerpt from Michael Wolff’s coverage of the Trump campaign transitioning to the Trump Administration: “Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” Flynn assured them.
“Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns. Why should he? Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning.
“Shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Night, when the unexpected trend — Trump might actually win — seemed confirmed, Don Jr. told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears — and not of joy. ”

This only confirms my personal theory that if anyone was more shocked and horrified by Donald Trump’s win than Hillary Clinton, it was Donald Trump.

This piece is only an excerpt from Wolff’s upcoming book, but almost every paragraph is a new revelation in What The Fuck, from what is already the most WhatTheFuck presidency in our history. For example, when Roger Ailes advised Trump to hire John Boehner as his chief of staff. Trump’s response: “Who’s that?”

As I’ve said, Trump has been spoiled all his life and has never had to pay the consequences for his incompetence and malice, and in the back of his mind, he realizes this. He knows he’s a fraud.

Trump just realized the same thing everybody else did – that our political system is a sick joke. So he figured the best way to get in on the gag was to run for president, knowing better than anyone else how inadequate he was. It was just another stage in his career of branding himself as a success rather than actually being successful at anything other than branding. But then came the punchline to the sick joke: Trump won. And at that point, he realized there was no point in trying to conceal his moral and intellectual inadequacy, since clearly nothing mattered.

That’s why, even if Trump didn’t actively conspire with Russia to win the election, he still compulsively presents the image of being Putin’s bitch, because that’s the way he is, all insecurity and projection. The whole basis of Trump’s political career is a bad-faith argument, so why is that one part any different?

But even that isn’t the issue. As I keep saying: Trump is not the problem. The problem is a political party that would accept being ruled by a Trump.

When Romney lost to President Obama in 2012, Republicans came up with their famous “autopsy”  review of what happened in that election and how the Republican Party could turn around. The overall recommendation was to make the Republican Party more, well, democratic:

“AMERICA LOOKS DIFFERENT – If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity. … We recommend the formation of a new Growth and Opportunity Inclusion Council within the RNC … Women are not a ‘coalition.’ They represent more than half the voting population in the country, and our inability to win their votes is losing us elections. Female voters want to hear the facts; many of them run the economies of their homes and understand economics better than the men in their families. But they are also the caregivers for their families. Women need to hear what our motive is — why it is that we want to create a better future for our families and how our policies will affect the lives of their loved ones. Those are things that cannot be communicated well in graphs and charts … the RNC must design, fund, and implement an agressive early voting and absentee effort for target races … GROUPTHINK IS A LOSER – Our friends and allies must realize that the Party is at its best as the Party of ideas, and healthy debate of those ideas is fundamentally good for the Republican Party.”

Well, so much for that idea. The “Growth and Opportunity Project” was a bit too much like the Democratic mentality (especially in using a spiffy communique of graphs and charts to say that you can’t convert people with graphs and charts) but it addressed the fundamental reality of representative government, especially in our “first past the post” election system: To win, you need a majority of votes. If you don’t attract a majority of voters – or actually alienate the people who are out there – you doom yourself to minority status. Thus a party that appeals to only whites, especially white men, will doom itself to minority status even before this country officially becomes white-plurality.

But while this theory seems inescapable, in practice the theoretical majority (of liberal whites, women and minorities) is often not a majority in elections (because even when voting is not made inconvenient by local government, voters often fail to show up). Whereas the core demographic for Republicans – older, middle-to-upper-class whites – are far more prone to show up to the polls. In many cases, they have more free time. But often, the difference is motivation. Not only because of Fox News, but talk radio before it, “conservatism” is now less an intellectual movement than a grievance industry that profits from stoking resentment and a siege mentality mindset among said demographic. The kind of conservatives who vote for “Christians” like Roy Moore, or rationalize voting for Trump, really do believe America’s core values are under direct assault by the party in power. (A feeling that most liberals weren’t familiar with until recently.)

And as I said, if Republicans strung those people along and didn’t follow through on their promises, what difference did it make if they followed a known liar as long as he put up a good fight with the hated establishment? Indeed, Trump was far better than other Republicans or even many Democrats at appealing to as wide a base as possible. He was in that respect the genuinely best candidate Republicans had in 2016. He had serious potential as a president, apart from the minor detail of being a racist, power-lusting, gullible idiot. Of course that was also a big part of the appeal. It’s not as though the Republican establishment were blind to his dangers, and they tried to express their displeasure.
But certain real billionaires, such as the Mercer family, liked the cut of Trump’s jib. They decided, like a certain television executive,  that Trump may not have been good for the country, but he was good for their business. So they financed and publicized an outright joke for president, because nobody seriously considered the responsibility of the act. Because nobody thought that Trump would win. Including Trump.

And ironically, the fact that Trump and his base shared the same commitment to consensus “reality” in defiance of evidence is what gave Trump just enough votes to get over.

They went full retard.
You never go full retard.

Liberals scorn Orrin Hatch because he was one of many Senators who seemed to have intelligence and dignity but spent last December gushing with praise for a president that even many Mormon conservatives disdain. But Orrin Hatch is just like the rest of his party. Orrin Hatch sucks up to Trump because in a certain sense, he is Trump. That is, privileged, old, and scared, because his time is almost up.

But even that isn’t the bad part. One wonders after all this why Republicans, who know that Trump is a threat to them as long as he has a mouth to yell and two hands to tweet with, don’t go along with impeachment proceedings and get Mike Pence as President, since he is more conservative and would be much less embarrassing. Of course the fact that the “base” identifies with an embarrassing dingbat is one thing. But it comes down to the reason why Trump the candidate was appealingly unorthodox but as a president has gone along with the hardcore Republican agenda. And that’s because he doesn’t grasp ideology, even to the half-baked extent that Steve Bannon does. So Trump lets Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell set policy, since he doesn’t know enough to be proactive. Or as McConnell allegedly told Michael Wolff in another book excerpt: “He’ll sign anything we put in front of him.”

So along with being a habitual liar who turned himself into a jackass, Trump has one more thing in common with Pinocchio: He’s a puppet.

Trump was installed via the Electoral College – a device the Founders intended to stop “bad” democracy (mob rule) from subverting “good” republicanism (rule of law) and became the device for bad republicanism (rule by rent-seeking elites) to justify itself by means of “good” democracy (‘the public has spoken!’). That fact, the overall Republican tendency to use voter ID laws and other pretexts to discourage voting (or select the voters they want rather than vice versa), and the turn of Republican legislative strategy since winning the White House indicates not simply a desire to enact conservative ideas that might be unpopular. In Reagan’s day, or even Dubya’s, there would be some attempt to make those ideas popular. What we are seeing is a complete disregard for any public support at all, even acting against popular will in favor of Republican elites’ priorities. You do not push a bill like the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act through the Senate with no review, no debate, and no consultation with the opposition or the CBO if you think that your proposal can withstand scrutiny. Indeed, the more feedback Republicans get against their proposals, the more determined they are to carry them out over public demand. And as they go further down the spiral of rejecting accommodation with the voting public, and as their Leader becomes more blatant in his contempt for (small r) republicanism, the Party becomes more and more prone to ignoring his power grabs, to making excuses for why they can’t stop him, and finally, to openly agitating for strongman rule.

Of course the reactionary social experiment isn’t going to go as smoothly as it did in interwar Germany. Even now, Germany isn’t as multiracial and multicultural as the US was even in the 1930s. And that was before the Sexual Revolution and the Gay Rights movement. There are a whole bunch of threatened communities who were not mobilized the way they are now.

But you don’t have to make comparisons to Nazis. Just look at Venezuela. Or Iran. People are protesting against an evil government, frequently getting violent pushback, and the mainstream media here is saying that the protests are for “economic reasons”, blanking out the point that the economy is screwed because the political elite have fixed the system to hoard all the wealth for themselves. But it doesn’t matter how unpopular they are, how many protests there are or how much bloodshed there is. The thugs stay in power because they control all the country’s institutions.

Which is why, as long as Democrats still have some control over those institutions, they need to make the most of that and win the Congress this year, to cut Trump off at the knees. I am not optimistic. After all, the Democrats are the party that couldn’t get laid in a whorehouse. But do not underestimate how pissed off the voters are at the establishment. After all, in 2016, they were pissed off enough to vote for Trump. So if they were pissed off enough at the Democrats to kick them out despite Republican backwardness, they ought to be pissed off enough by now to kick out Republicans despite Democratic fecklessness. Because whatever else I might think about Democrats, they weren’t actively TRYING to alienate their base the way Republicans did last year.

For example, the Miami Herald this week has a story about retiring Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s House seat, saying:
The GOP’s inability to find top-shelf candidates to run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s U.S. House seat has some Republicans ready to write off the race and shift money and attention to more winnable contests.
“The seat that encompasses Little Havana, most of downtown Miami and Miami Beach is now considered unwinnable by some Republicans in Congress and fundraisers who could infuse millions into a competitive congressional race, according to interviews with high-ranking GOP officials and potential donors. … ‘The seat is now going to go to the Democrats,’ said Raquel Regalado, a former Miami-Dade school board member and candidate for Miami-Dade mayor who recently announced she was dropping out of the Republican race to replace Ros-Lehtinen. ‘I think I was the only moderate who could have fought that fight for a bunch of different reasons. I don’t think you’re going to see a large GOP financial investment. They’re looking for a moderate candidate, but I don’t think they’re going to find one.

If you’re losing Cuban Miami… that is NOT good.

Remember, the reason establishment Republicans got scared in 2012 is because they had previous experience to look back on. California was the home of Nixon and Reagan. But business interests eagerly sought under-the-table labor from Mexico for their industries and lawns, and then acted surprised when those people, in combination with the pre-existing Latin community, started to become a cultural force. So when Governor Pete Wilson pushed Proposition 187 in 1994 as an anti-illegal immigrant measure, that force started pushing back. Since then California has been one of the most Democrat-dominant states in the nation.

(The fact that there is now an independent commission to determine district boundaries and curb gerrymandering didn’t help.)

The Florida Cuban community, descended from anti-Castro exiles, was evidence along with other groups that Republican conservatism isn’t necessarily the same as Anglo-white nationalism. But now Republicans are moving away from diversity, even away from previous core groups. What happens to Republicans’ national chances if Florida goes the way of California?

They’re fucked, that’s what happens.

Republicans are ultimately pack animals. They slavishly follow a strong leader only as long as he appears strong. Once they admit that Trump is more liability than asset, the people who were lining up to take a photo with him will be fighting each other for the privilege of ripping his guts out. Indeed, that already seems to be starting. I don’t know if that will be enough to save their reputation, or their party, but that will be their instinct.

What then happens to the true believers? What happens to the poor little Trumpniks who actually thought their spray-painted charalatan took anything seriously? Well, they’ll be orphaned yet again. Their revolution will be over before it really started. And they won’t have much longer to kick ass and lord it over the weaker people. If their party loses the majority, they won’t go down in history like the brownshirt bullyboys who kicked Jews in the streets and manned the concentration camps. No- they’ll end up worse.

They’ll be this generation’s equivalent of the last guy on the dance floor wearing gold lame’ pants while all his neighbors were burning their Donna Summer records and chanting “DISCO SUCKS!”

Second Most Awesome Wikipedia Article of All Time

The article in question is for the “low budget comedy-horror” film I Bought A Vampire Motorcycle.  “Michael Elphick plays Inspector Cleaver and Anthony Daniels plays the eccentric priest who attempts to exorcise the bike’s evil spirit.”

I recommend reading the entire plot summary, but this part is particularly meaningful:
“It is revealed to the audience that the vehicle has become a bloodthirsty monster. Noddy goes to the scene of the crime where he meets an inspector who smells like garlic. Later, Noddy has a bad dream that the inspector gives him Buzzer’s head in a bag and it talks at him but then he wakes up. Then he goes back to sleep and dreams Buzzer is a poo that jumps in his mouth and starts asking how he is. Noddy wakes up again and is chewing his duvet. Noddy and Kim go to the pub and order a large vodka tonic and a pint of cider. Then ten of the bikers from the beginning come in and shoot the bar with the crossbow. One then offers to show Kim his “chopper” while she is playing pool. She declines, claiming not to have brought her magnifying glass. He then proceeds to unsheathe an axe and attack the pool table and moving onto plates, starting a bar wide brawl of 10 bikers against our protagonists. Kim manages to slip out the front and drive the bike round the back of the pub where Noddy jumps on it from the first floor and then gets shot with a crossbow bolt.
“Then they have Chinese.”

The most awesome Wikipedia article of all time is of course, this.

REVIEW: Bright

The latest Will Smith vehicle, the “buddy-cop movie with a twist” Bright, is produced by Netflix for their streaming service. It got a lot of critical attention, mostly for the wrong reasons. Karen Han at The Daily Beast memorably referred to the LAPD-meets-monsters film as “a $90 Million Steaming Pile of Orc Sh*t“. Even more memorably, IndieWire critic David Ehrlich started his review by saying the movie was “so profoundly awful that Republicans will probably try to pass it into law over Christmas break.”

The idea of mixing Tolkien-style fantasy with the modern world seems to be a weird idea to a lot of this movie’s critics, but it’s already a well-established literary genre called Urban Fantasy. In fact one of the older manifestations of this in media was the role-playing game Shadowrun,  which not only had Urban Fantasy but combined it with the then-popular genre of Cyberpunk, in which the environment is collapsing, corporations ignore civil law and anybody who can’t make it in the wageslave world ends up taking quasi-legal mercenary jobs for said corporations because that’s the only way they can make a living. (Back in 1989 when the game was first released, that premise was called ‘science fiction.’)

If you, like me, grew up with that background, then the premises of Bright are a lot easier to accept. Perhaps the creative team (Suicide Squad director David Ayer and Hollywood writer Max Landis) grew up with that material too. The setting does seem to parallel Shadowrun in certain respects. For one thing, law enforcement is as corrupt As Fuck. Smith’s cop is pressured by his peers, sergeant and even Internal Affairs into getting his Orc partner fired, and when they get the opportunity, they even tell him to kill the guy while plotting to double-cross him and call the two of them casualties in a gang fight. OK, maybe that’s not as bad as the real LAPD, but it’s up there.

One difference between Bright and much of Urban Fantasy is that it’s assumed that fantasy races and magic have been around for at least 2000 years, ever since humans, Elves and other races fought against Orcs under control of “the Dark Lord” and all those races have been around ever since. By contrast, in Shadowrun, the return of magic to the world is a phenomenon less than a century old, and the resulting culture clash is a little more believable. One valid point that the critics do have is that the movie doesn’t do a good job of integrating this new element of “just like the real world only with Elves and Orcs.” Orcs are obviously second-class, but there are neighborhoods actually marked “Elves Only” in a way that ought to be illegal discrimination under American law. Again, it’s not well explained. One aspect that is similar to Shadowrun is that with the obvious species differences, human racial differences, while real, are not nearly as meaningful. I don’t know if they deliberately cast Will Smith’s wife as a white woman, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

There also seems to be a certain hate in the fan community for Landis that set up a negative perception of this movie. Max Landis is an opinionated and volatile figure in Hollywood, who by his own admission, “had a lot of behavioral and emotional issues” and is not prone to make friends with his behavior. His usual subject matter as a writer is the sort of fanboy stuff that turns off a lot of younger writers, with Landis coming off as the Daily Beast critic puts it, “a privileged white man (the son of John Landis) lacking any grasp of race relations.”

Of course that was all before accusations of misogyny over social media debates gave way to deeper accusations that Landis was a “ritual sex abuser.”   As it happens, Landis is the main producer of the BBC America series Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and the second season of that show, like Bright, includes a team of heroes who have to keep a magic wand out of the hands of an evil psycho-bitch.

Like David Ayer’s previous work, the movie Bright is (literally) dark, ultra-violent, and foul-mouthed. The use of actors in funny makeup to comment on racial intolerance is a trick that’s been used many, many times before by the Star Trek franchise, and usually better. It’s especially egregious when you have a black protagonist being obliged to dispose of an enchanted creature as a pest, saying “fairy lives don’t matter today.”

So yeah, this movie has problems. But there are a lot of movies that aren’t technically “good” that I end up liking anyway. This was one of them. If you like lots of gunfire, this definitely scratches that itch. And as mismatched buddy cop movies go, this is at least as good as Alien Nation.

This is because, as uneven and impartial as Bright is in presenting the setting, overall it is much better than one would expect from a straight-to-Netflix production in terms of both production values and acting. Costuming and vehicles are appropriately gritty, and the makeup on the Orcs is very impressive, with Joel Edgerton (Smith’s co-star in Suicide Squad) as Jakoby the Orc having an amazing range of expression given that he is completely unrecognizable. And while the Fantasy elements are flawed for the reasons I described, they are still fascinating, with a lot deliberately unrevealed. In particular, the climactic battle where the evil cult leader tries to persuade the Elf girl to return to the fold is the most intense and best-acted scene in the movie, even considering that most of the dialogue is in a constructed language. It makes one wonder how this background would have been handled with a little more development.

Given that Netflix has already announced a sequel to this movie, it’s possible that there may be a deeper exploration of the setting. Presumably without Landis as the scriptwriter.

This investment in the subject is why I ultimately give Bright a recommendation, along with two other reasons: One, it was an inspired move to cast Margaret Cho as a police sergeant; two, it introduces the phrase “tittybar gunfight”.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Grinch

Y’ever feel like ya been cheated? HA haha.”

-Johnny Rotten

This Friday, almost as an afterthought, Viceroy Donald Trump signed the tax bill that was just passed by the Republican Congress, marking the only time this entire year that he and his party had managed a legislative accomplishment. The passage of the bill inspired a lot of conservative columnists, insisting (despite holding their nose at Donald Trump himself) that this tax bill might do some good.

Indeed it might. The tax bill does accomplish a few things that economists on all sides had wanted. For one, it reduces the corporate rate from 35 to 21 percent, which is a lot closer to where most developed countries have it. Likewise, most countries don’t insist on taxing business income in the US, whereas this country insists on taxing all income regardless of whether you live here. Changing to a territorial tax system eliminates this unfairness (at least for a corporation) and the unfairness of being double taxed. Most of the liberal commentary on the bill is comparing it negatively to previous reforms such as Reagan’s 1986 tax reform. In other words, using an example of supply-side policy that they hated at the time as a successful example of tax policy, in order to explain why THIS supply-side proposal isn’t going to work.

But given these facts, it is testimony to Republican incompetence and disorganization that the tax bill is more unpopular with the public than previous tax hikes. These guys could manage to screw up a Free Hookers and Blow Act. Part of it is that contrary to Paul Ryan’s cheerleading, the scheme does the opposite of simplifying the tax code.  And the layers of the legislation continue to reveal their flaws. In New York Magazine, liberal Eric Levitz points out that the Right actually did the Left’s dirty work for it in removing deductions for the middle class and thus forcing them to pay more of the burdens of Big Government.  Moreover, the removal of state-and-local tax deduction (SALT) could have unintended consequences. Levitz quotes another source saying that state governments could compensate for the loss of revenue by allowing residents to make charitable gifts to the state instead of paying state income tax, said gifts being eligible for federal tax deduction.

This is what conservatives and libertarians have been saying all along. If you are rich, altruistic and civic-minded, and you think that the government should be doing such-and-such because they have the resources and wherewithal to do so, then YOU should fund that project yourself. I don’t believe that “taxation is theft” because a purely voluntary system would leave many public necessities unfunded. The problem now is that the definition of “necessities” has become politicized. But in the age of Kickstarter, we should be able to come up with a better way to do things.

But as conservative Pat Buchanan admits in his column, Republicans “bet the farm.” And they did so because they had a belief system: “The mission of Democrats is to (reduce) inequalities. And as the very rich are also the very few, in a one-man, one-vote democracy the Democratic Party will always have a following. Winston Churchill called this the philosophy of failure and the gospel of envy.  Republicans see themselves as the party of free enterprise, of the private not the public sector. They believe that alleviating the burden of regulation and taxation on business will unleash that sector, growing the economy and producing broader prosperity.”

The fact that this assertion avoids is that a system where the rules are ginned to the benefit of speculators, financiers and real estate developers is no more “free enterprise” than a Chavista system where the producers are looted in order to bribe the lower-class support base of the ruling party.

And insofar as the ruling party is using the heavy hand of government to benefit one class of people over another, ultimately at the expense of the majority, then that IS socialism for the rich. And not even all the rich, just the ones who support the ruling party.

It’s of a piece with the Trump Administration’s similarly unpopular foist, killing net neutrality, which according to conservatives and Devil’s Advocate-libertarians like Reason magazine is only getting rid of a 2015 FCC ruling that we had all managed to live without, blanking out the reasons why the commission had imposed that ruling to begin with. Given that FCC attempts to regulate internet providers prior to 2015 had been denied by the courts, the law ought to be on the side of the free-market Right anyway. That being the case, it is suspicious that the anti-net neutrality push was spearheaded by Trump-appointed FCC chair Ajit Pai (a former Verizon associate), reversing many FCC positions toward net neutrality under the Obama Administration, leading to organized protests and Internet action including major companies that rely on the net neutrality standard like Amazon, Google, and of course Pornhub. Over 1000 investors and startups signed an open letter to Pai against the proposal. Despite protest from the community, and millions of online comments against the policy, Pai and his FCC majority not only ignored the protests, there were reports that someone was stealing the names of real people, including some of the protestors, to make anti-net neutrality statements mirroring the language of conservative centers. If the government, specifically Pai’s majority at the FCC, were so confident that their policy was encouraging consumer freedom and capitalism, they would be more open about the process and less eager to change from a consumer driven standard than a standard favoring large providers.

There are several reasons that a right-winger like myself would favor a review of the previous tax code, FCC standards and other pre-Trump standards of federal governance. The problem, certainly from a “progressive” standpoint and ultimately from a right-wing standpoint, is that current policy is not motivated by libertarian or conservative philosophy so much as shameless deal making to benefit Congressional Republican donors, and even representatives themselves. The clearest evidence for this is how Senator Bob Corker (R.-Tennessee), who had previously posed as a budget hawk in opposition to the tax bill, ultimately went along with all the other Republicans and voted for it for some reason.

And if you want to believe one more lie- that the tax cuts for individuals are only temporary because they had to get the bill done on time and that they’ll (supposedly) be made permanent in future negotiations- then even that is an admission that tax cuts for the donor class take priority over tax cuts for the majority of voters.

This is the exact opposite of the “drain the swamp” populism Trump campaigned on, and the exact opposite of what “the base” said they wanted. The Trump Administration is to Republicans what The Last Jedi was to Luke Skywalker fans. The difference being that The Last Jedi didn’t suck.

Given that much of Republican losses in Virginia and the Alabama special race were a combination of not-Republican anger and Republicans staying home, I have to conclude that even Republicans are starting to notice they’ve been cheated.

That would explain why statisticians like FiveThirtyEight are projecting that the typical ruling-party losses in a midterm cycle have the potential to become a “flood.” That’s why internal Republican National Committee sources have told the Trump Administration that their policies, including the endorsement of Roy Moore in Alabama, would erode the party’s support base among women.

You’ve got a party that is not merely misunderstood or misinterpreted by liberal media, you’ve got a party that is doing its utmost to antagonize the general public, a ruling party whose only legislative accomplishment this year was because they had the most unpopular president of all time in power to sign it into law.

The same president who just this weekend was quoted as telling his staff that Haitians “all have AIDS” and that Nigerian nationals would “never go back to their huts” once they were allowed to stay here on visa.

And just think, Republicans: You’ve got TEN more months, over FORTY more weeks, of the same thing, every week, taking its toll until the Congressional election.

What are the chances that your party will hold both houses of Congress in this atmosphere? And what happens to your precious little angel if they don’t?

And on that note, Republicans:
Have a Merry Christmas, and look forward to 2018.

I know I will.

Now That’s Comedy

The other day I saw this thing on Facebook that I thought was funny enough to Share. It was a picture of Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles, captioned “instead of trying to not offend anyone, can we just get back to offending everyone again?”

And I got this response from one of my FB friends (name omitted to protect the guilty): “Meh. The youngins who keep saying this kind of stuff about things like ‘Blazing Saddles’ and George Carlin don’t seem able to grasp that their strength did not rely in ‘offending everyone’. It was about the way they unflinchingly told the truth with humor while PUNCHING UP. It pisses me off when people want to pretend the milquetoast bothsiderism of South Park and some dumbass ironic/not-ironic comedians like Daniel Tosh or the verbal diarrhea of the alt-right are heirs to the legacy of ‘offensive’ classics. ‘Blazing Saddles’ and George Carlin had no problem taking sides. They specifically took the side of the oppressed against the privileged. They just did it with self aware humor. Any idiot could see what their point was. Unlike some of today’s ‘satirists’ that can’t figure out (that) part of satire is actually having a fucking point. ‘Offending everyone’ as a goal in itself is weak bullshit.”

Well, point taken about Daniel Tosh.

But I wanted to respond in depth, and in doing so, I realized I would be committing the same error as my interlocutor: Namely, if you have to explain the joke, it isn’t funny. But that’s part of why I have a blog in addition to Facebook. Going into depth on Facebook would be that much more defeating the point, but as long as I’m going to explain a joke, I might as well do so on a blog nobody is reading.

The reason humor works is because of thwarted expectations. One expects a certain thing and then something else happens, sometimes something embarrassing to the subject. There is not much funny about pretty or privileged people humiliating the ugly and powerless. After all that is too much the norm in many places. But the reverse offers some potential for humor. As Krusty the Clown said when he hired Sideshow Bob, “the gag only works when the sap’s got dignity!”

For instance, there’s this verse, which is (I think) from the legendary Steve Allen:

Roses are red / And violets are blue / You think this will rhyme / But it ain’t gonna

And then there’s the following: “Before I post something on social media, I ask myself three questions: Is it necessary? Is it helpful? Is it kind? And if the answer to any of these is No, I go ahead and post.”

These are examples of thwarting expectations.

These points are not inherently opposed to the social message of Blazing Saddles, which was very real. It’s just that in addition to the social message, that film was also a platform for extremely vulgar jokes. Thinking that your piece is supposed to be a vehicle for class consciousness before it is a vehicle for humor is the comedy equivalent of producing Christian rock. And nobody wants that. Although Mel Brooks actually did produce a farce about the period of the Bolshevik Revolution. It wasn’t as funny as the real thing, but there weren’t nearly as many casualties.

By the same token, sensitivity and political correctness sometimes intersect with the point that “punching down” usually isn’t funny. But sometimes they’re just a different standard of funny, in the same way that veganism is a standard of cuisine that dispenses with elements that were based on cruelty and power relationships. Elements like “fat”, “sugar” and “taste.”

For instance, take “the dozens.” A.K.A. “Yo Mama.” Like, “Your mom is so stupid, she stares at the can of orange juice cause it says ‘Concentrate’.” Or “your mama’s so lazy, she thinks manual labor is the president of Mexico.” What did your mom ever do to deserve this? Isn’t this sexist?

By contrast, back when I was growing up, you had a lot of ethnic jokes. Some of these were only told within the ethnic community, as with Jewish jokes in the Borscht Belt or the material black comedians still use. But I remember seeing several joke books with stuff like “Polack jokes.” As Wikipedia points out, the problem is that such ethnic jokes are “conditional jokes” in that they require accepting some stereotype that may or may not be accurate. It seemed as though a lot of the joke writers were World War II vets. Most of the Italian jokes ridiculed Italian military performance (‘did you hear of the Italian tank with seven gears? One forward, six in reverse’) or cowardice (‘the reason it was called the Six Day War is because in 1967, the Arabs fought the Israelis and six days later the Italian Army surrendered’).

Such jokes discount the point that part of Italian reluctance to fight in World War II was because most soldiers were poorly paid, poorly trained, poorly equipped and poorly led, fighting for a Fascist government that since 1922 had led Italians to a steady decline in living standards.

Meanwhile the Poles of World War II fought valiantly, but usually in exile, because Poland was a country carved up between a brainwashed leftist collective and a racist war machine. Sort of like the 2016 election, only with tanks.

The point being, at one point in history, nobody got the memo that “punching down” isn’t funny, because that sort of thing was a lot more popular. But it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense now.

So to test the efficacy of “punch up” vs. “punch down” humor, I decided to engage in a little thought experiment, which I think both Left and Right will enjoy.

Basically, take any one of those generic ethnic/insult jokes, and substitute the target (Mexican, Italian, blonde, etc.) with the word “Republican.”

For instance:
Q: How do you know a Republican has used your computer?
A: There’s white-out all over the screen.

Q: How many Mexicans will it take to pay for Trump’s wall?
A: None, Republicans. You are.

Q: What’s the difference between a prostitute and a Republican?
A: A prostitute won’t fuck her own kids for a tax cut.

See, now THAT’s comedy.