The Weinstein Rebranding

People are still wondering what to do about Harvey Weinstein.

CBS’ James Corden mentioned the issue – after late night hosts were taken to task for NOT mentioning the issue – at an October 13 event in Beverly Hills, by opening with ““This is a beautiful room, it’s a beautiful night here in L.A.   It’s so beautiful, Harvey Weinstein has already asked tonight up to his hotel to give him a massage.”  And later: “Harvey Weinstein wanted to come tonight, but he’ll settle for whatever potted plant is closest.”

This did not go over well.  Rose McGowan, who was at the forefront of this issue, called Corden a “motherfucking piglet” and said that he was a friend of “HW.”  Anthony Bourdain, whose girlfriend Asia Argento has (like McGowan) accused Weinstein of rape, ripped that much deeper into Corden, saying “NOONE stood up and said, ‘fuck you, Pop’n Fresh!'” and “Mr. Corden is free to tell whatever jokes he likes.  As he should be.  I’m free to suggest he’s a porcine, pandering tool”.

I was struck that while both McGowan and Bourdain were trying to strike out to stop women from being objectified, neither felt qualms about making fun of Corden’s weight.  Now I love Anthony Bourdain, but: He’s on CNN.  Not only that, he’s a chef, and should be a little more sensitive to the fact that weight gain is a possible hazard of gastronomy.  I could ask Bourdain if his ability to eat without getting fat is a beneficial side effect of his former heroin addiction.  But that would be mean.

I can understand the resentment somewhat.  Harvey Weinstein is simply one very obnoxious example of something that has been tolerated in management-labor relations for longer than anyone has reported, and the culture is getting to a point where people want to do something about it.  So they want comedians to bring it up.  But then when comedians tell jokes about the subject, they go, “how DARE you!  This has been made light of for far too long!  The time for tasteless jokes about sexist millionaires is OVER!”

Oh, of course.  When all the tasteless jokes and sexist millionaires have monopolized the Republican Party, there should be no place for them in our sense of humor.

But this is a serious subject.  When Harvey Weinstein’s own brother says their relationship was so poisonous that he could barely deal with him on a professional level, the brand of the family name has gotten to the point that the future of The Weinstein Company – which produced the Lord of the Rings films and award-winning works by Anthony Mingella and Quentin Tarantino – is almost certainly limited.  And it struck me: How does the rump organization survive when people still know it was associated with the lowest form of sexist, bullying boor?

Have Donald Trump buy it!

After all, he has much the same reputation, and he actually got elected.

And it’s no secret that Trump craves media attention and respectability.  He tried to make himself an Atlantic City casino mogul in direct opposition to the industry in Las Vegas.  And ran four casinos into the ground.  He became a major owner in the spring-league USFL.  And ran it into the ground.  Then he lent his name to NBC’s The Apprentice.  Which got cancelled in its first iteration after steadily declining ratings.  So if anything happened to the (former) Weinstein Group under Trump, at least it doesn’t have much to lose.

And it is testimony to how surreal and reality-threatening this Administration is that just after I came up with that idea, I saw this article while web-surfing:

Close Trump Associate Invests in Weinstein Company, Will Presumably Also Pursue Cosby Partnership

“On Monday, the Weinstein Company announced that a financier named Tom Barrack has agreed to provide it with “an immediate capital infusion” and begin negotiations regarding ‘a potential sale of all or a significant portion of the Company’s assets.’  … In other words, it appears that Tom Barrack is bailing Harvey Weinstein and his enablers out.

“What are some of the other items on Tom Barrack’s professional résumé? Let’s hear from CNN:

It was 1994 and the land once known as “Trump City” was an embarrassing boondoggle, crumbling at the feet of an erratic namesake who took out $400 million in loans and seemed all too willing to default on more. Chase realtors could not see a path to black for debt king Donald Trump.

Tom Barrack could.

“Barrack, the network writes, then traveled from “New York to Los Angeles, Taiwan, London and Saudi Arabia, begging billionaires to buy the loans and keep the bankers from Trump’s throat.” And it worked! Barrack would go on to become a major fundraiser for Trump’s presidential campaign and chair Trump’s inaugural committee. Trump, of course, has been accused of sexual assault by 15 women.”

Truly, birds of a feather.

One has given lots of money and media attention to Bill and Hillary Clinton.  One has been known to be violently abusive of his male associates and underlings, in public.  One has an unproven but well-rumored reputation of of philandering, sexual harassment and even physical abuse and rape.  And such rumors never get anywhere because said person has always used his legal and media connections to crush any individual victim’s attempts at exposure.

What’s the real difference between Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein?  Clearly, the difference is that when one is a Democrat, Republicans actually care.

That’s the key.  Republicans are clearly willing to tolerate the exact same things in Donald Trump that they would never tolerate in any other person.  Not even any other Republican.  Why?  Because Republicans are good Christians.  Because you have to have faith.  And faith is trust in things unseen.  Such as, Donald Trump’s intelligence, competence, and moral integrity.

Weinstein, or more directly, his company, needs a rebranding.  Trump desperately craves legitimacy in the media.   He can get it by attaching his brand to an equally desperate institution that used to have success and prestige and is now just trying to survive.  Like he did with the Republican Party.

Trump.  Weinstein.  It’s a match made in Heaven.

That is, if you, like me, are an atheist.

Twitter Is Too Aptly Named

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely.  A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.

-George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

This week, one of the biggest news stories was the sudden and cascading decline of movie producer Harvey Weinstein as testimony about his history of sexual harassment continued to reach the media. Things have gotten to the point where The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to expel Weinstein from the institution “well in excess of the required two-thirds majority”.

There’s not too much more I can add except to touch on two points people have already made. One, Harvey Weinstein resembles nothing so much as a bowl of oatmeal with a beard on it. Second, Republicans cannot accuse feminist liberal Democrats of hypocrisy in supporting fundraiser Harvey Weinstein if they’re going to continue to enable Donald Trump, whose sexist behavior is that much more thoroughly documented and whose bullying and vengeful temperament is that much more publicly obvious.

Rather, I want to use this issue to touch on something that has been bugging me for a while and ties into it in several ways.

During this week, former actress Rose McGowan has been increasingly active on social media, especially Twitter, in regard to the Weinstein case. Eventually she stated that she was not merely harassed but actually raped by Weinstein. But on Thursday October 12, Twitter suspended her account, which caused McGowan to respond on Instagram asking concerned people to boycott Twitter over the matter. Twitter stated – after the fact – that the reason for McGowan’s suspension was that she had posted someone’s private phone number. They also said, “We will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.”

But as Vox.com pointed out, the miscommunication led to intense controversy for Twitter, along with accusations of inconsistency. “Because the offending tweet that included the phone number had been deleted, it wasn’t initially clear from McGowan’s Instagram post or a perusal of her Twitter feed which of Twitter’s rules she had violated. McGowan didn’t appear to have threatened anyone, and she wasn’t sharing graphic content or engaging in hate speech or violent speech.

“The industry veterans McGowan had been discussing in her tweets, however, are all powerful public figures in Hollywood. This fact, along with the lack of initial clarity about why she was suspended, led to rampant speculation that she was being silenced for being too aggressive about calling out the many men who allegedly stood by while Weinstein continued his pattern of assaults on women for years. ”

On Saturday, the ABC News site released a story about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s official response to the issue.  And reading this piece I was struck by two things. One was that the platform was going to be clarifying new rules: “New rules around: unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence. [sic] These changes will start rolling out in the next few weeks. More to share next week.”

I’m not sure if anybody else finds it odd that such a public platform would need to add strictures about non-consensual “advances” and displays of nudity, not to mention glorification of hate and violence. But then when someone like Milo Yiannopoulous gets banned for violating Twitter’s “terms of use” I think the implied joke is that Twitter has any.

Secondly, for Dorsey to make his statement on Twitter, he had to release it in multiple posts. This is an increasingly common usage of the platform known as a “tweetstorm.” In this case, the article shows an excerpt starting with post 6: “We decided to take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them. 7/ New rules around: unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence. 8/ These changes will start rolling out in the next few weeks. More to share next week. ” As in, the quote that I just gave from the news article had to be posted as two separate posts in Twitter, within a larger announcement.

This phenomenon has started to develop some criticism within Twitter. One article on Buzzfeed implied that much of the need for the tweetstorm could be solved by just getting a blog. But it went further and mentioned complaints that the tweetstorm violates Twitter etiquette (‘Twitter etiquette’ being an oxymoron that ranks up there with ‘gaming journalism’) in that the “stormer” is making a multi-post statement with no indication of when it winds up, although there are some exceptions. This already shows signs of escalating: “Imagine, for a moment, a future version of Twitter where the tweetstorm™ convention spreads, bleeding first through the tech venture capital and entrepreneur community. Then the tech reporters catch on, issuing long monologues on the future of the industry/a given product. Tweetstorms™ are rebutted by other tweetstorms™, which is manageable and contained in a niche media sphere until Politics Twitter catches on. Always on the lookout for a new broadcast platform, the tweetstorm™ spreads from reporters to pundits and think tanks and then to the politicians themselves. Once a frenetic but followable place, your timeline is now virtually destroyed by an avalanche of soliloquies. ”

But the tweetstorm is simply bringing up both the deliberate and practical limitations of Twitter. When the press interviewed Dorsey in 2009 about the origins of Twitter, he said that at the time (2006) he and the other developers were working with the constraints of the instant-message (IM) format for mobile devices, where basic phones were limited to 160 characters before they split the message. Limiting a username to 20 characters and the main text to 140 was where the concept developed. They worked with that format precisely because it allowed the user to update from anywhere. Dorsey said the “twitter” name came from that idea: “We wanted to capture that in the name — we wanted to capture that feeling: the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket. It’s like buzzing all over the world. So we did a bunch of name-storming, and we came up with the word ‘twitch,’ because the phone kind of vibrates when it moves. But ‘twitch’ is not a good product name because it doesn’t bring up the right imagery. So we looked in the dictionary for words around it, and we came across the word ‘twitter,’ and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds.’ And that’s exactly what the product was.”

Unfortunately, Twitter is too aptly named. Tweets are exactly that, short bursts of inconsequential information, but that very informality has exploded the popularity of the format such that people are using it in ways that just don’t work. Thus, the tweetstorm. The tweetstorm is for people who are trying to express complex, paragraph-length arguments in a format that is deliberately hostile to the complete sentence, let alone the paragraph.

But the popularity and convenience of Twitter ties into the other issue, namely that the tweetstorm implies the question, “why not just start a blog?” Twitter and other social media like Facebook are designed for immediate transmission and feedback. They are impulse media. I believe that if you are going to have a social media presence, you should know the right tool for the right job. I don’t need a blog to share cute animal videos to friends. For that I have Facebook. I don’t post to this blog every day or even every week because I don’t always have time to elaborate on my ideas, whereas I can usually find the time to post something on Facebook. But I decided to create my own blog not only to post essay-length pieces but because I could control the content to a greater degree than something I posted or liked on Facebook. I had already mentioned that this blog has no comments option because I had noticed the same problem on Facebook that critics are finding with Twitter, the capacity of people to hijack the thread with their own opinions which end up becoming bitter debates that crowd out the original post.  Just as the posting format affects the content, so does the larger context of the medium. Just as Twitter is built around the “short burst of inconsequential information” to an even greater degree than other platforms, that is the way its reply/comment function works. In that respect, for the Buzzfeed writer to complain about the extended reply is to miss the point. To be worried about such a thing is to believe that the other person’s opinion is consequential and worth respecting. That’s not what Twitter is about. Twitter is not about considered opinion. Twitter is about hit-and-run posting.

Which brings us to the most problematic Twitter abuser. Liddle Donnie Trump. The Harvey Weinstein of presidents.

There’s usually a recurring theme in Washington DC’s assessments of the “president”, even from Republicans who have always supported him. It’s words to the effect of “somebody needs to take away his phone.” That is, someone on Trump’s staff needs to make him stop tweeting. The most glaring recent example of this problem was when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced indirect efforts to talk to North Korea and Trump tweeted, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man”. This is not the sort of thing that a president does if he cares about his Secretary of State and his position as a representative. But that’s not the sort of thing that you do if you care about actions, period. And yet every time the subject comes up,  Trump and his shills defend his use of his personal account to blur the line between personal and political statements, saying that it is how he speaks “directly to the people.” Trump would not be the first president, especially in the Republican Party, to try to bypass the media gatekeepers of information. But as with everybody else who uses Twitter, his choice of platform both shapes and becomes the message. Analysts have noted that a lot of his tweets take place at 3 am or some other time when he is in bed or sleep-deprived, which only increases the likelihood that the posts are impulsive rather than deliberate. Or perhaps, Trump’s actions are deliberate only in that he has just enough concentration to be impulsive. Given that Trump was caught on tape in 2000 saying he couldn’t support Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign because it was supported by David Duke, there is evidence that Donald Trump once had a brain. But Trump, like his party, has since become prone to unsubtle, unconsidered opinion to the exclusion of serious thinking. Before social media, you had AM radio concentrating “conservative” positions down to emotionalism. Now on the Internet, the medium of expression is that much more prone to opinion that is literally reactionary.

The concepts that George Orwell referred to in Politics and the English Language were developed in setting for his novel 1984 with Newspeak, the Party’s official version of the English language. Characters in the book mentioned that Newspeak was the only language in history whose dictionary got smaller with each new edition. In the book’s appendix Orwell stated that the language was deliberately constructed by the Party for specific goals: “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. … Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum. ”

Orwell’s legacy is full of ironies. A defender of cooperative anarchism, he has become the right-winger’s favorite critic of socialism. More ironic than that, his concept of language control is being best realized not by a state socialist program but by a capitalist endeavor.

In this context, Aja Romano’s Vox article is worth reviewing in that it emphasizes the political element of Twitter’s inconsistent enforcement of policy. “The suspension of McGowan’s account neatly illustrates what has become a pattern in terms of how Twitter deals with harassment and abuse on its site. That is, while victims of abuse and marginalized users who deal with harassment are frequently censured over strict readings of Twitter’s abuse and safety rules, like McGowan, users who are widely seen as perpetuating real ideological violations of those rules are rarely censored.” Milo Yiannopoulous is only one famous example. Donald Trump himself is considered above censure on his Twitter account on the ground that his position makes his posts “newsworthy.” Of course threatening national security by threatening regional nuclear exchange over North Korea is going to be newsworthy. Romano continues: “McGowan’s suspension makes clear that Twitter’s abuse policies, or at least its inconsistent and confusing enforcement of those policies, do not protect abuse victims. In particular, women like McGowan who have experienced harassment and attempted to speak out about it on Twitter can be silenced at any time using the same inconsistent policy that Twitter refuses to levy against a Richard Spencer, a David Duke, or a Donald Trump — men who take advantage of the vagueness of Twitter’s abuse policies to perpetuate racism, violence, harassment, and fear.”

I would assert that the “vagueness” that Twitter’s critics observe is in fact consistent with the site in operation. Twitter is intended to be used in haste. It is intended to change the terms of debate to favor snark, insult and negativity. The positions of users like Richard Spencer or (pre-election) Donald Trump were less provocative to Twitter management than those of a Rose McGowan because whether Twitter’s users or management admit this or not, people like Donald Trump are the ones using the platform in the manner it was designed to be used.

I cannot say that this is a deliberate position on the part of the site developers, given that Jack Dorsey has apparently only now been made aware that such antisocial behavior needs to be discouraged. But that very fact indicates it was not something he was concerned with up to now.

This is also a cautionary example. Twitter became very popular with the liberal pop culture because of its wide access and ease of use, but as with much of liberal culture, it has become co-opted by the authoritarian Right, which is that much more committed to a mindset of whim and irrationality.

In the Vox article, media critic Matt Zoller Seitz was quoted (from Twitter) saying “I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it now: if a superior alternative to Twitter appeared tomorrow, I’d be gone from here in a heartbeat.” My advice to Seitz would be to get together with like-minded people and come to a consensus about what “a superior alternative to Twitter” means, and then find people of means to finance it and experts to create it. My personal goal is to make enough money to where I can buy out Twitter with the specific purpose of destroying the website. Either that, or use the space for something more ennobling, like bumfights or fetish porn.

The Shooting

How long

How long must we sing this song?

-U2, Sunday Bloody Sunday

So this morning I got up with the radio alarm at 3:30 and the station’s “morning zoo” crew was on early to update on “The Violent Incident In Las Vegas.” And as happened over 15 months ago in Orlando, I got my phone and checked Facebook and there was a page asking people to report in to tell their friends they were safe.

But it was happening here.

It remains unclear exactly why the hell things happened the way they did on Sunday night in Las Vegas, but at last count 59 people were killed and over 500 were injured because a man got a full collection of weapons into his hotel room and was able to fire from a distance of 1200 feet towards an outdoor country music festival towards the crowds of people on the ground. Beyond that reports are conflicted as to whether he had 10 rifles, or 18, or 20. And certainly nobody knows why. But hopefully in the next few days Metro police will be able to give us more details.

Where did the attacker get his weapons? And how was he able to get all of them into his hotel room? Because if you know anything about being a security guard in a Las Vegas Strip hotel, you will know that a collection of semi-auto rifles is not the most bizarre thing that you could confiscate from a hotel room.

One disturbing thing that witnesses and ballistic experts agree on is that based on the sound of the gunfire, the shooter’s attack was with full automatic fire. However the police have not confirmed that that was in fact the case, nor whether the semi-auto weapons allegedly found in the hotel room were modified for full auto fire. In any case Metro police did confirm that the shooter did have some guns in in the home that he bought in Nevada legally, and fully automatic arms are, since 1986, not only illegal for civilians to purchase but also illegal for gun companies to manufacture for the market. (New York Magazine’s Benjamin Hart points out “(the) NRA’s Wayne LaPierre actually advocated for that provision, which seems unimaginable now.” In other words, if the main weapon in the attack was either made full-auto or modified for automatic fire, it was already illegal.

The reason we can’t have a “sensible argument about gun safety” is that every time liberals ask for one, somebody like me has to point out inconvenient facts like this.

At the same time, the facts do not favor a right-wing agenda. In particular the talking point that “a good guy with a gun” could stop the bad guy. The bad guy was firing down on a crowd in front of a lighted stage while he was on the 32nd floor of a high-rise hotel directly across the street. A good guy with a gun could not have stopped the attacker. Not from uprange. Not unless he was a much better sniper than the attacker.

And contrary to what national media have been saying, Nevada has passed at least one “common sense gun safety regulation”, that being Question 1, which was on the ballot last year and narrowly approved. Question 1 prohibits private sale of firearms without a federal background check. However Nevada’s attorney general (a Republican) states that the provisions cannot be enforced because the FBI refuses to enforce a state regulation. (In the 2016 election, Nevadans also voted to legalize possession of marijuana, which does NOT prevent a federal agency from prosecuting marijuana possession.) In other words, a case of mutual buck-passing.

As I said with Orlando, it doesn’t particularly matter, because again: THERE WILL BE NO ANTI-GUN LEGISLATION PASSED DUE TO THIS MASS SHOOTING. And it’s not like the reasons why matter. Which doesn’t stop political advocates from saying so. Today in The New Yorker, columnist Adam Gopnik was straightforward: “In The Wake Of The Las Vegas Shooting, There Can Be No Truce With The Second Amendment.” Substitute “First” for “Second” and you can see why people might get offended. But even the constitutional arguments are a red herring. It’s not like this government cares much about the other nine Amendments, so why is the Second the only part of the Bill of Rights that matters? We all know that if some liberals like Gopnik enshrine the First Amendment and wish to destroy the Second, a lot of conservatives in this government want it the other way around.

Rights are not the issue. I have a right to own a gun. I also have the right to vote. My right to vote implies that I and other voters had a right to vote for Donald Trump. Did voting for Donald Trump make the world any better? Not necessarily.

The reason people like me are suspicious of more laws is not just because of the practical considerations – like, any gun prohibition or gun confiscation program would have to be administered by Jeff Sessions. To libertarians, it’s the principle of the thing. Human beings can perform any task that is within their abilities whether government gives us the “right” to do so or not. That is something libertarians realize that the general population doesn’t grasp. Government simply exists to protect the rights that we have. But by the same token that means government exists to serve legitimate needs. And this is something that the general population grasps better than libertarians. Why does government grow? Because it serves a demand. Whether that demand is legitimate or not is up for debate. But as I keep saying, the reason that the Affordable Care Act passed despite all the problems with the bill and all the problems revealed since passage was because Americans found the prior state of healthcare intolerable. Why do legislators campaign to pass laws restricting the activities of businessmen? Because frankly, business concerns can be unethical. Why do we pass labor laws and minimum wage laws? Because we can’t trust that businesses will do “the right thing” by their employees out of the goodness of their hearts. Nor should we even expect this.

For the creep in government and regulation to reverse, people have to be capable of living ethically, not in the expectation that they will need no government at all, but in the knowledge that government can’t be expected to regulate basic decisions for everyone. This might seem unrealistic to people who are disturbed by free will. But the alternative is to give government more and more power. America has become a country where the citizen has more responsibilities than rights, because it is easy to make the case that people assume more rights than responsibilities.

Simply having the power to do something does not give you the right to do so, and in any case, having the power to do a thing does not mean that one should do a thing. Knowing this is part of being an adult, but we seem to be demanding that laws take the place of common sense and morality. Morality is often thought to be subjective, but I think a common denominator is to leave the world a better place than you found it. And if you can’t do that, don’t die after actively making the world worse. This mass murderer deserves to be called a coward because he killed himself rather than live with the consequence of his action, which was to make the world more violent, and thus more fearful, and thus more susceptible to appeals to control. A cycle that has been feeding on itself since at least 9-11.

In that regard, my advice in the short term, if you live in the Las Vegas area, is to schedule an appointment to donate blood. But in the long term, we must accept that each of us has an individual responsibility to stop violence. You cannot trust the collective to do so. Because collective action is enforced by government, and as we see with healthcare and other issues, the collective has its collective head up its collective ass. Until of course you take responsibility to help change that.

Prior to the next election, however, responsibility is an individual commitment. So if you are concerned about the spread of violence in this country, my best advice is:

Try not to kill people.

I know that for some of you, that may be too much to ask. But we have to start small.

REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery

I had already posted my impression of the first preview of Star Trek: Discovery, and having finally gotten to see the pilot episode tonight (Sept. 24) I think that based only on the first show, Discovery is pretty good for what it is.  My problem is with what it is.

The good part is that the lead character, Michael Burnham, is very good and very well-played by Sonequa Martin-Green.  At the series start she is actually the first officer aboard the USS Shenzhou but is supposed to be transferring to the ship in the show’s title.  First however, the Shenzhou has to survive a confrontation with a particularly fanatical sect of Klingons.  And apparently Burnham was raised by Spock’s father Sarek after her parents were killed by Klingons, so this may be a bit personal for her.  In the course of the episode, Burnham’s relationships with other bridge crew including Science Officer Saru (Doug Jones) and her captain, Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) are established, and another strong point of this show is the chemistry between the crew that is obvious even at this point.  Said chemistry helps to heighten the tension when Burnham attempts a pre-emptive strike on the Klingons and everyone else (especially the captain) is warning her against it.

As I said in my other post, I like the relationship between the Burnham and Georgiou characters.  But I have problems.  If I could boil them down to one point, it would be that the producers are trying to make their own material with a tangential connection to Star Trek, without even resembling it as much as the retro-Trek of JJ Abrams’ movies.  This is especially important given that this show, like Enterprise, is supposed to be set in the main timeline (specifically, ten years before the Original Series).  And yet, the overall look, from the blue suit uniforms, to the darkened bridge, to the heavy use of lens flare, makes the show resemble AbramsTrek (specifically the scene on the USS Kelvin) more than the deliberately old-school Enterprise.

To quote the relevant part of my last piece, “Continuity is always an issue when you’re using established intellectual property, because while it defeats the purpose of creating something new if you don’t go off in a new direction, it defeats the purpose of saying that X is X when the new thing departs from the setting of X to begin with. It would be less irritating if Star Trek: Discovery had simply taken the parallel-universe of the J.J. Abrams series, or set the show within the past of that timeline. But the implication is that this is the universe of the original series, which already has quite enough problems with “retcon.” It’s not quite so bad with comic book properties, where a superhero series gets rebooted from scratch every decade or so and nobody questions this.. But even then, continuity matters. You can say that your Superman has no continuity with the Christopher Reeve Superman, but if you want to say that he IS Superman, don’t act surprised when people wonder why he needs to kill somebody.”

So again, given that this is supposed to be the same setting as Enterprise and TOS, you have stuff like Abrams lens-flare scenes, and you have the Klingons who have been retconned to look more alien YET again.  Continuity in Doctor Who is easier to keep track of.  And then it turns out that the scenes with Sarek were not with a younger Spock but with a child Burnham (the relationship between the two not being clear in the previews).  The use of Sarek seems gratuitous; it’s not as though another Vulcan elder couldn’t have been substituted without giving this character the baggage of being associated with Mark Lenard’s character.  Because he isn’t.  He’s played by James Frain.  And when you’re playing a Vulcan, there’s a difference between “unemotional” and “creepy.”  When I think of James Frain, I think “creepy.”

As a side note, I am thinking there might be a practical reason that future episodes of this show are only going to be accessible on the CBS All Access streaming site.  A practical reason other than greed, that is.  Streaming services like Netflix allow the production of original programming with “adult” language and concepts that wouldn’t be possible on a broadcast TV show.   The pilot of Discovery doesn’t have anything that I would see as “mature” or objectionable.  However the publicity for this show has had a lot of articles in liberal outlets like Vox making much of the fact that this is the first show in the Trek franchise to have a regular character (played by Broadway star Anthony Rapp) who is openly gay and in a committed relationship with another crewman.  However, these characters were not in this pilot, presumably because they’re on the Discovery and not the Shenzhou.  It could be that some people at CBS, especially its Standards and Practices department, thought that such a concept might damage people’s fragile eggshell minds.  This is my speculation.  But again, I don’t see much reason why this program needs to be on a premium source outside broadcast TV.  Besides greed, that is.

Of course given that CBS All Access is a streaming service, Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t really have to worry about ratings.  But as much as this show intrigues me, I’m not sure if I’d shell out $5.99 a month just to see how it develops.  Which is another point of ironic contrast between this show and The Orville, a broadcast series on Fox, which is notoriously fickle about SF shows.  The Orville is basically old-school Trek with the serial numbers filed off, but despite having to be different for copyright purposes, it “feels” like the same spirit.  Star Trek: Discovery is official Trek product- and again, pretty good for what it is- but what it is goes out of its way to NOT feel like Trek.

REVIEW: Chrisley Knows Best

At work, the TV nearest to my desk is usually set to USA Network, but today, instead of doing their usual NCIS marathon, USA is doing a marathon of one of their original programs, a “reality” TV show called Chrisley Knows Best, about Todd Chrisley, a Nashville-by-way-of-Atlanta real estate developer and his family.   So I had this thing on the screen most of the day and got to look at it off and on.

This show has completely altered my perception of reality.  I mean, I saw the last week of Twin Peaks: The Return, but this shit is fucked up.

First, this has to be the whitest show I have ever seen.  And I remember The Brady Bunch.  I mean, I could walk up to the TV set and actually smell the mayonnaise and imperialism.

Secondly, this family has to be the gayest bunch of straight people I’ve seen since Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin.  Maybe that’s not the right term.  I can believe that Todd and his elder son are sincerely heterosexual, if only because they’re both raised to believe that running a family within a Christian marriage is a high priority.  But when you wear hot pink T-shirts to bed, call women “sister” and chaperone your 77-year old mom when she goes on dates, there’s a word for this attitude.  And that word is:

GAY.

 

You might think I exaggerate, but I was really convinced with the episode where Todd’s mom, wife and daughter go to a small club to play “Drag Queen Bingo” while Todd and his friend go bowling, but then Todd and his friend crash the club IN drag, and Todd is a better drag queen than anybody else in the room.

Then there was the episode where Todd’s daughter Savannah, a full-time beauty pageant contestant, had already won Miss Teen Tennessee and was thus eligible to compete in Miss Teen USA, so the family accompanied her to the national pageant in Las Vegas, which meant that the natural tackiness of the city threatened to reach critical mass.

And I know that these shows all have some recurring moment to wrap things up, but even considering that this guy is enough of a control freak to put security cameras in the loft he bought for said daughter, are we supposed to believe that he would let a camera crew in his bedroom every night so that the kids can talk to him before he and the wife go to bed?

Further proof, as if it were needed, that the phrase “reality TV” is a bigger oxymoron than “pregnant virgin.”

But as it turns out, this marathon is a promo for tonight.  Not only does Chrisley Knows Best start its new season on USA tonight, it is being shown back to back with a new program, According to Chrisley, which is basically Todd Chrisley doing an evening talk show.

I am not sure I am able to deal with that concept yet.

 

REVIEW: The Orville

This is a follow up on my preview of The Orville coming out of its panel at the San Diego Comic-Con, now that the series has premiered on Fox tonight (September 10).  The details aren’t too far removed from what has been shown so far in the previews; the pilot opens with Seth McFarlane’s character Ed Mercer, an officer in the “Planetary Union” forces, walking in on his wife (Adrienne Palicki) having sex with an alien.  A year later, an admiral approaches him with an offer to captain a mid-level ship, making it clear that he is performing below his potential, especially given his “personal issues” over the prior 12 months, and he is getting the post only because the fleet is short of commanders.  Mercer sets out on his maiden voyage but then finds out that Kelly Grayson, the ex-wife, is the only first officer available.  Hilarity ensues.  Sorta.

What surprises me is that given that McFarlane invented a space alien modeled on Paul Lynde, an R-rated teddy bear, and the entire Griffin family, The Orville is probably the closest thing to a family-friendly production he’s ever done.  (Though not entirely, given the sight gag in the opening scene.)  This confirms my impression from Comic-Con that McFarlane and his production team (including former Star Trek The Next Generation producer Brannon Braga) are trying to make something that would actually appeal to Star Trek fans and not insult their intelligence, which several McFarlane productions could be accused of doing.  Then again, so could the final episode of Enterprise.

The results are fairly mixed, because while there is good humor, the execution is a bit low-key and feels muted.  Moreover, while it’s always good to see Palicki in something, and the pilot makes it clear just how much her character is the ultimate brains behind Mercer, the idea of the two leads being bickering exes is so done that it’s going to take some more skill than I saw in this script to keep it going, unless future episodes just put this hook on the backburner as a background element.

Even so, I was dismayed that a lot of the reviews I’ve seen for this show have treated it so negatively.  It could be better, but it is a lot better than they’re saying, and I’m willing to give it a chance if only because it is clearly written by Star Trek fans for fans.  For instance, Mercer manages to get out of a confrontation by taking advantage of the fact that starship shuttles in this genre never have seat belts, which you’d have to be a real fan to appreciate.

 

Libertarianism as Gateway Drug? Continued

This is a follow up to the previous piece, “Libertarianism as Gateway Drug?” On Sunday September 3, reason.com published a rebuttal to Matt Lewis’ piece in The Daily Beast asserting “It seems observably true that libertarianism is disproportionately a gateway drug to the alt-right.” This was after Reason’s Nick Gillespie had already done a critique of the same article, although in Sunday’s piece, the author, Sheldon Richman, has some interesting observations that should be followed.

Richman’s point is that libertarianism is a formalized version of the classical liberalism that preceded social democracy and its American expression in the policies of the Democrat Franklin Roosevelt and “Progressives” like Republican Teddy Roosevelt. It resembles conservatism and other right-wing philosophies in holding that facts exist, independent of social construction, and that observation of facts has led us to certain conclusions that are useful (such as the necessity of property rights within a system of wider recognized rights) and should not be thrown out for political purposes. But in promoting concepts such as equality under law and individual rights, libertarianism is closer to liberalism than to a conservatism which is (in theory) concerned with the protection of tradition and (in practice) the promotion of authority. But as I’ve said, conservatism in NOT a political philosophy in itself. It is a governing approach towards a political philosophy, and in the case of America, the guiding philosophy is based on classical liberalism.

This has led American politics to several points of contradiction as the social-democrat philosophy co-opted liberalism and the preservation of classical liberalism (including respect for capitalism and property rights) became a “conservative” position by default. As Richman points out in his article,

“To say the libertarian movement is a “gateway drug” is to say more than that some prominent members of the alt-right once called themselves libertarians. It’s also to say that alt-rightism provides a purer form of what those members had found in libertarianism (aka original liberalism, or simply liberalism). A good measure of ignorance of liberalism is required to entertain this thought.”

The body of Richman’s piece focuses on how the alt-right focuses on the “exclusionary side of property (rights)” in asserting, for instance, a right to deny access to services, and that this attitude directly contradicts the more inclusionary premise of liberalism, in that free trade promotes greater exchange of ideas between individuals and cultures. “As an institution, property was of a piece with cosmopolitanism and exchange of all kinds. That’s why a “pure” race or culture is as chimerical as a “pure” language. ”

In my post last week I had asserted that the phenomenon Matt Lewis described, while very real, was not a case of libertarianism leading to alt-right philosophy. Rather, it was a case of alt-right philosophy taking over Republican Party conservatism, not libertarianism. One reason for this is the simple pragmatic point that the Republican Party has much greater numbers than the Libertarian Party or the libertarian movement in general, and is thus a better vehicle for politics. But to the extent that the alt-right has a philosophy, it is not a terribly pragmatic one.

What we’re seeing is the result of the misnomers that American politics have been based on since at least the start of the 20th Century. As “liberalism” in both social-democrat and classical-liberal senses becomes more and more identified with the Democratic Party, as I have also said, that means that the modern conception of government is now impossible outside of allegiance to the Democratic Party. This in turn means that both original and modern aspects of liberalism are identified with what people don’t like about the federal government, which in our election system means that the only alternative to that party is the Republican Party.

One of Richman’s other points is: “Another explanation is that some people are attracted to a “fringe” movement not because of anything particular to it but because like the idea of being a big fish in a small pond. If for some reason one pond doesn’t suit, they may jump to another “fringier” pond.” But again, the Republican Party is not more on the fringe of politics or respectability than the Libertarian Party. Or at least, it wasn’t. Which I think confirms my point that libertarianism per se is not the issue here. The common denominator of the “alt-right” movement is a reactionary hatred of anything liberal, even those aspects of liberalism (like tolerance of immigration) that libertarians coincidentally agree with. The Republican Party was already more disposed to that reactionary direction than the libertarian one. But to the extent that libertarianism differs from (what we now call) liberalism in its disagreement with the place of government in our personal lives, it does hold some attraction to that reactionary view. In that regard, Richman is correct, but not for the reason he thinks. Those who seek to rebel against modern liberalism are drawn to libertarianism insofar as it rejects the social-democrat position, but what neither conservatives nor liberals want to acknowledge is how much it retains in common with liberalism. Once certain people realize this, they start looking for something much more deliberately anti-liberal. Richman says that “those who migrate from the libertarian movement to the alt-right have rejected the essence of the freedom movement and its philosophy. They are certainly not looking for a purer version of it.” But this conclusion assumes that alt-right people were looking for freedom at all.

So again, this is the second time that Reason magazine has responded to Matt Lewis’ thesis. It’s another case where Reason has become the unofficial authority on “what is a libertarian?” and in that regard, they’re probably doing a better job than the Libertarian Party. But what all this means is that there is more pressure on the libertarian movement to be more proactive in defining its terms, and to promote them more clearly and to a wider audience. The aftereffects of the 2016 election simply confirm its terms: conservatism has completely lost any constructive role in government, or even public life, while liberals continue to assume they can coast on their reputation as champions of the same government that people are disaffected with. For libertarians to have a constructive role – if that’s what they want – they need to analyze the terms of their own movement, and what “liberty” means and how it is to be achieved.

For example: One of my left-wing friends on social media observed that the liberal plan on race issues (for example, the 1964 Civil Rights Act) could be described as Hamiltonian means towards Jeffersonian ends- that is, the use of a strong federal government to promote and protect individual rights. Recent Supreme Court decisions on gay rights could be described in similar terms. But by contrast, what we are seeing on the Right, especially the reactionary element, would be Jeffersonian means toward Hamiltonian ends -the presentation of a government rollback on the pretext of preserving federalism, state priorities and smaller government, but for the purpose of enforcing government power on the individual, by withdrawing federal oversight of abusive state government.

And then there’s the issue of business. The guy who harassed Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz’ wife over their ties to Goldman Sachs hired numerous Goldman Sachs alumni for the Trump Administration (technically including Steve Bannon) while the Administration maintained a general pattern of appointing department secretaries whose main qualification was being champions of the industry their department is regulating. While libertarians have wanted to get rid of many federal bureaucracies outright, the current setup is more dangerous than having no regulatory agency at all, given that government is now actively on the side of the interests being regulated. What is the need for regulatory capture when you can just BE the government?

This is why I think the question of libertarian influence on the current Right is overblown. Sadly. If that was the main influence on the Republican Party it would be going in the direction of Paul Ryan (at worst) rather than Donald Trump. And if Gary Johnson or other libertarians were in charge of things, I’m sure liberals and “progressives” would hate the results, but the country as a whole would hate them a lot less than they hate Trump right now.

Libertarianism as Gateway Drug?

I wanted to address a recent article in The Daily Beast, written by their token conservative, Matt Lewis, and entitled “The Insidious Libertarian-to-Alt-Right Pipeline.”

Lewis’ thesis is that “a disproportionate number of today’s prominent alt-righters began as libertarians.” Lewis talked to various libertarians for the article, including The Cato Institute’s David Boaz, who told him, “People change ideologies all the time… Jason Kessler apparently was in Occupy Wall Street before he became an alt-right leader. The original neocons were leftists first. Hillary was a Goldwater Girl.” Boaz also said: “Some people may become libertarians because they’re angry… For a while, it’s enough to be angry at the government. But ultimately libertarianism is about peaceful cooperation―markets, civil society, global trade, peace―so it just isn’t angry enough for some people. Racial intolerance is a way to be angry at the whole world. And I think you hear that in some of the alt-right types.” Lewis also quoted Steve Horwitz of the Bleeding Heart Libertarians site, who points out: “The paleo-libertarian seed that Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and Lew Rockwell planted in the 1990s has come to bear some really ugly fruit in the last couple of years as elements of the alt-right have made appearances in various libertarian organizations and venues”.

Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine, who was interviewed for this piece, nevertheless responded to it, saying “there is no “pipeline” between libertarianism and the alt-right. The alt-right—and Trumpism, too, to the extent that it has any coherence—is an explicit rejection of foundational libertarian beliefs in “free trade and free migration” along with experiments in living that make a mess of rigid categories that appeal to racists, sexists, protectionists, and other reactionaries. In that sense, the call by Hot Air‘s Taylor Millard for libertarians to purge white supremacists, anti-Semites, and living, breathing Nazis from our movement is misdirected since such people by definition are not libertarian.”

I personally think Gillespie protests too much, because there are clearly a lot of un-libertarian right-wingers who nevertheless identify themselves to the public as libertarians. But we do need to state why libertarianism itself is not the issue.

Broadly, part of the issue is that leftists aren’t the only ones who have the wrong idea about libertarianism. It is no longer worth recounting the number of people I’ve seen on social media yapping that “libertarians are just Republicans who like dope” as though that were an original or profound observation. Unfortunately I’m coming to think that liberals have lost the ability to come up with original observations on this subject or any other.

But certainly it’s true that many people have the wrong idea. It stands to reason if the libertarian virtue can be broadly defined as “freedom” or individualism. But that leads to a herding-cats problem where you have to get a bunch of declared individualists to get on the same page with something. In particular, it comes down to whether the virtue of freedom for oneself as an individual is an ethic that can be applied universally to other people. It’s insufficient for libertarianism to be reduced to “I don’t want the government telling ME what to do.” Because that attitude is something that everyone has at some point in life. The rich guy doesn’t want to pay taxes. The woman doesn’t want to be forced to carry a pregnancy. If libertarianism is going to expand beyond its current following, it should promote a broader and more challenging ethic. Such as: Do I want the government telling everyone else what to do?

And this is where we come to the issue of the Right having the wrong idea about libertarianism.

So much of leftist criticism of libertarianism comes down to a perception that rights (especially property rights) only apply to “me.” Unfortunately there are a lot of people who justify their bigotry on exactly those grounds. In the article, Lewis gives the example of Christopher Cantwell (aka ‘Crying Nazi‘ ). On his blog, Cantwell mentioned the influence of Lew Rockwell and Hans Hermann Hoppe, and from these concluded “that the libertine (sic) vision of a free society was quite distorted. The society we sought actually would provide far more order and control than [would] modern democratic governments. It would encourage more socially conservative behavior and less compulsory association. Just when I thought I had everything figured out, I was once again reminded of my naivety (sic).” Similarly the sudden fashion in Confederacy apologism actually has its roots in a perception that a government more oriented around the states than a central authority is more conducive to liberty, and these advocates point out, accurately, that the policy of Republican President Abraham Lincoln was a great leap in the promotion of a big nationalist government over one that recognized its limits and the sovereignty of states. (Which makes their current devotion to ‘small-government’ Republicans that much more odd.) As the phrase goes, before the Civil War, Americans would say “the United States are…” and afterward we said “The United States IS.”

It’s just that such a perception also ignores the central contradiction in upholding a state’s “right” to legalize slavery while also declaring that “all men are created equal.” In his blog, Cantwell also said ““People should be free to exercise complete control over their own person and property. If blacks are committing crimes, or Jews are spreading communism, discriminating against them is the right of any property owner. The fact that he may or may not miss out on good blacks or Jews is a risk he takes, and the merit of his decisions will be proven out by the market. Since a libertarian society would permit this, it seemed foolish that I should be compelled to support a democratic government policy which did not”. Again, the concept of “people” seems to specifically exclude blacks and Jews where Cantwell is concerned. But to uphold a value, especially in politics, is to say it applies outside oneself. By contrast, Ayn Rand once wrote:  “Since Man has inalienable individual rights, this means that the same rights are held, individually, by every man, by all men, at all times. Therefore, the rights of one man cannot and must not violate the rights of another.  For instance: a man has the right to live, but he has no right to take the life of another. He has the right to be free, but no right to enslave another. He has the right to choose his own happiness, but no right to decide that his happiness lies in the misery (or murder or robbery or enslavement) of another. The very right upon which he acts defines the same right of another man, and serves as a guide to tell him what he may or may not do.” (emphasis added)

The danger (to both libertarianism and conservatism) is that disregard for ethics serves to undermine once-valid principles of individual liberty, and political concepts like “states’ rights” (which are at the core of the federal system of government but are undermined by racist arguments). Indeed, many of the “Big Government” expansions we have seen in the last one hundred years, such as the Civil Rights Act, gained support precisely because individual liberty (for blacks and other minorities) was being undermined by arguments ostensibly in defense of liberty (for whites who already held power). Rand opposed the Civil Rights Act for the same reason that Barry Goldwater did: it attempted to legislate not only states’ rights but voluntary association in places like restaurants. But this argument eventually became the basis for the “Southern Strategy” in which the Republican “Party of Lincoln” increasingly shifted its pitch to Southern states, including those that voted Barry Goldwater for President in 1964, even though he also opposed segregation. Which in turn made it that much easier for the Left spectrum to claim that Goldwater in particular and the Right in general were on board with racism. This is only one example of how apparent attachment to principle disregards the moral objective and allows the Left to shape the debate to the general public in ways that their own propaganda cannot achieve.

In any case a lot of right-wingers don’t even have Goldwater’s real (if problematic) level of principle. In Lewis’ article, he references another Bleeding Heart Libertarians blogger, Kevin Vallier, who writes: “So what’s wrong with us? What’s our problem?  My answer: the contrarian trap.

“Libertarianism is an unpopular view. And it takes particular personality types to be open to taking unpopular views. Some of these personality types are people who are open to new experience, love the world of ideas and have a disposition for independent thought. However, some of these personality types simply enjoy holding outrageous and provocative views, who like to argue and fight with others, who like insult and and shock. The contrarian is someone of the latter type. … The worst flaw in the contrarian trap is that it makes libertarians open to views that deserve to be unpopular and despised, including the thinly-veiled racism of the sort the Hans Hermann Hoppe trades in from time to time.”

And Gillespie told Lewis, “It’s ironic that some of these people start off calling themselves libertarian, but they are the antithesis of everything that the libertarian project stands for—which is cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, individualism vs. group identity, and libertarianism or autonomy versus authoritarianism”.

So basically you have a group of people who glommed onto the libertarian label without deep analysis for the sake of being contrarian and used it to promote a tribalist, illiberal and authoritarian politics totally at odds with what the term actually means.

You know, the same way they also call themselves “Christians.”

I need to return to my theory on “polarization” in American politics because this is important. Polarization in America doesn’t work the way people assume it does, where the Democrats become more extreme-Left and the Republicans become more extreme-Right. No. The way it’s turned out in practice is that the Republican Right has become more obsessed with ideological purity as attempts to get things done through the system are stymied not only by Democrats but by moderate “RINOs” and “cucks.” Not only does that mean that the “leftist” agenda of the Democratic Party is muddied by a bunch of center-to-right people who really don’t belong there but no longer have a home in the Republican Party either, it means that the “mainstream” Republican Party becomes more attractive to a certain group. People who are not merely contrarian but angry and intolerant, as Boaz implies. The libertarian movement is not what these people are looking for. Moreover, if being an unpopular third-party movement gives libertarians the freedom to endorse unpopular policies, we also have freedom in that we have no fear of losing votes that we don’t have in the first place. But what party has a chance of changing the laws, enforcing policy on undesirables, and is actively recruiting people with a desire to turn the government into an instrument of right-wing culture war? And what party needs those people to win elections on turnout when they will never appeal to a majority? The Republicans.

Lewis holds that libertarianism is an insidious pipeline to reactionary belief on the Right. The truth turns out to be more insidious: Reactionary thought has built a pipeline to mainstream conservatism.

Lewis concludes his piece by saying that libertarians need to focus on purging the white supremacists from the movement. And that is excellent advice. The problem is that given the much broader following and influence of (what was) mainstream conservatism, it is a lesson that applies much more strongly to conservatives and the Republican Party. And it’s not as though they were not once aware of this. When William F. Buckley sought to forge conservatism as a philosophy that was actually fit to challenge the dominant New Deal liberalism, he and his editors at National Review deliberately sought to frame the definitions of the conservative movement, including a purge of right-wingers like the extremist John Birch Society and the philosopher Ayn Rand (whose main sin was thinking that altruist Christianity was incompatible with capitalism). Eventually National Review came to oppose contemporary segregation – after Buckley had endorsed it.   So it’s not like conservatism was a philosophy where people were incapable of reason or unable to change their minds after review of facts. Indeed, that was the reputation for intellect that Buckley and his magazine had built- and it is the reputation that has since been trashed by Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes and the school that holds politics to be less about serious policy and more about stirring up grievances for profit.

What is the difference between that conservative movement and the contemporary one? One example may illustrate.

Austin Gillespie, who legally changed his name to Augustus Sol Invictus, a follower of Aleister Crowley’s Thelemite philosophy who was kicked out of the Ordo Templi Orientis, admits to animal sacrifice, and had run for US Senate in Florida last year as a Libertarian, causing the state party chairman to resign in protest, mainly over his (alleged) support for eugenics. After losing the Libertarian state primary (by 50 points), Invictus identified himself as a reactionary, and in July 13, 2017, changed his party registration to Republican to run as that party’s nominee in the 2018 Senate race.

So any liberals or conservatives who are concern-trolling on the bad influence of reactionaries on the libertarian movement, please consider that “Augustus Sol Invictus” had to change his party registration to Republican because the Libertarian Party didn’t want to be associated with radical fringe weirdos.

In any case the official Libertarian Party is already aware of the problem. In response to the Charlottesville riots, on August 15, National Committee Executive Director Wes Benedict released the following statement: https://www.lp.org/libertarians-condemn-bigotry-irrational-repugnant/

“The Libertarian Party condemns bigotry as irrational and repugnant, and offers its condolences to the family of the woman killed in Charlottesville, Va.

There is no room for racists and bigots in the Libertarian Party. If there are white nationalists who — inappropriately — are members of the Libertarian Party, I ask them to submit their resignations today. We don’t want them to associate with the Libertarian Party, and we don’t want their money. I’m not expecting many resignations, because our membership already knows this well.

The Libertarian Party Platform states, “We condemn bigotry as irrational and repugnant. Government should neither deny nor abridge any individual’s human right based upon sex, wealth, ethnicity, creed, age, national origin, personal habits, political preference, or sexual orientation.”

The Libertarian Party is tolerant and accepting, supporting civil liberties, gay marriage, and freedom of religion for all, including Jews, Muslims, Christians, and atheists. The Libertarian Party supports open borders, civil liberties, racial diversity, and free trade — things that white nationalists abhor.”

Given the influence of libertarianism on the alt-right (or vice versa) Benedict’s warning is probably not enough. But it is unequivocal, and it is clear in stating that racists are not welcome in his Party. That is a lot more than the institutional Republican Party has dared to do.

Which implies that one party is more scared of losing racist votes than the other.

 

Here’s Another Idea

In my analyses of Donald Trump and the people who vote for him, I have said that part of the challenge for the post-Trump period is for lawmakers to create safeguards against the errors that led us to this point, and that may require more regulation, not less. For instance, I think there should be a maximum income rule so that if a presidential candidate or president makes more than (say) 1 million dollars a year, he is no longer eligible for free Secret Service protection and must either pay the government for personal services or buy them privately. An issue that’s come back into the news recently.

There are other issues we need to consider. Reviewing some of the news feeds this week where some of the Trump cult have revealed themselves to be just a little bit racist, it’s getting harder and harder for “conservatives” to ask the rest of us why the rest of us think they’re all racist. I was reminded of an earlier post where I said, among other things, that  Trump voters can’t all be racist, “Just as not everyone with lung cancer smoked cigarettes in their life, but things have gotten to where it’s a leading indicator.”

And then it hit me that the analogy applies beyond that point.

When television became a true mass medium in the 1950s, tobacco companies were major sponsors of TV programs. But as evidence of the health effects of tobacco addiction mounted, it became easier and easier for the government to regulate not only cigarette advertisements on TV but other sponsorship activities by tobacco companies. By 1970, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was signed by everybody’s favorite conservative, Richard Nixon, and cigarette advertising on both television and radio was banned. Advertising restrictions were expanded until at this point tobacco ads (for both smoked and smokeless tobacco) are banned in most media except print sources. More recently (2010) the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act” prohibits tobacco companies from sponsoring music and sporting events, and even forbids advertising on T-shirts or other apparel.

It is questionable exactly how much government should protect us from our own stupidity, but this example certainly proves there is legal precedent for them to do so. Given the damage we have already seen the Trump Right inflict on the process of government, it is not a matter of abstract speculation as to whether their influence will be addressed in the future, let alone how. But the increasing regulation of the tobacco industry gives us some guidelines on how such action could proceed.

For one thing, since most people get their information from basic cable, social media and other Internet sources, the FCC can simply ban political advertisements on broadcast TV and radio, which are already regulated.  Of course, there would be cause to object on the grounds of free speech, especially from Republicans who are more reliant on TV advertising than Democrats. At that point both parties would have to admit just how often the FCC has used it’s regulatory mandate for transparently political purposes. But that’s a subject we can discuss at another time.

Another aspect of cigarette regulation is that as of 1965, each pack of cigarettes has the famous “Surgeon General’s Warning” on it. In 1981, the Federal Trade Commission reported in a study that despite the pervasiveness of this warning,  it had little effect on consumers’ smoking habits.  Thus after 1984, it was mandated that the warnings be more specific than the traditional “The Surgeon General has determined that smoking may be hazardous to your health.” These newer warnings include “Smoking Causes Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema and May Complicate Pregnancy.” Not fucking around.

Rather than a straight ban on advertising, a similar set of warnings could be mandated for any political advertisements (for instance, anytime Donald Trump or one of his shills appears on CNN). These warnings would have to be equally specific and relevant to the content of what is being sold to the public through mass media. For instance, whenever Trump says “We’re going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it” the screen would read:

“The Only People Paying for The Wall are American Taxpayers, Including Those Who Were Gullible Enough to Vote for a 4-Time Bankrupt New Jersey Casino Boss.”

Or the next time a political action committee advertises on TV for the Congressional agenda, the ad would include:

“The Last Republican Healthcare Bill Was Not Reviewed Even By Republicans And Would Have Made You Pay More Money For Less Coverage.”

And the next time someone draws a moral equivalence between General Lee and General Washington, equivocates on racism or supports that political agenda, the screen would read:

“WARNING: Supporting Racism In Government Can Cause Your Hometown To Be Bombed Into Rubble, Your Bridges Demolished, Your Food Supplies Raided, Your Women Raped and Your Families Relocated By Pissed-Off Soldiers From the Countries You Wanted to Destroy.”

I must admit, I hesitated before writing this piece. As a libertarian, I think that making this idea into a regulation with the force of law would be slightly nauseating. But at this point, that’s how I feel about the entire Republican Party. And in any case, we cannot suppress “hate” speech, political ideas or political parties simply because they offend the day’s transitory fashion of political correctness. By the same token, we should bring attention to offensive ideas so that they do not go unchallenged or tacitly encouraged. Think of this suggestion as an example of caveat emptor.

 

Are Nazis Bad?

The surreal part of living through the reign of King Donnie, First of His Name is that we have to ask ourselves civic questions that we really shouldn’t have to ask. Like: Can a president pardon himself for gross corruption involving Russian agents and criminals? And then in the wake of Charlottesville, there’s another question being asked that ought to be obvious: Are Nazis bad?

Well, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what you mean by “bad.”

The beautiful thing about the English language is that any given concept can be described with a number of words, and by the same token, several words can be interpreted in more than one way. As with “bad.” When we say Nazis are bad, does that mean that they are spiritually Evil? Yes.

Does that mean that they are wrong and should not be allied with? Yes.

But does “bad” mean that Nazis are bad in the sense of being bad at their jobs, in the sense that they won’t do what they say they will, or that they are outright incompetent?

Let’s see.

Anybody who saw the original Star Trek will remember the episode where Captain Kirk went to look up John Gill, the history professor he studied under at the Academy, and found that the planet where Gill had gone to study had somehow turned into an analog of Nazi Germany. And when the Enterprise crew investigated, Kirk discovered to his horror that his professor was actually the Fuehrer of this Nazi regime. Once Kirk got to confront the professor, he asked why he would come up with such a horrible idea, and the old man said that Nazi Germany was the “most efficient state Earth ever knew.” And Spock concurred, saying: “Quite true, Captain. That tiny country, beaten, bankrupt, defeated; rose in a few years to stand only one step away from global domination.”

When the Nazis formed a parliamentary government in 1932, they spent the next two years consolidating power, especially after the death of the aged head of state Paul von Hindenburg. A primary goal of the Nazis, and of the establishment military who were not always on board with Hitler, was to re-arm the country so that it could become a major power again.

One major instrument in this program was a financial scheme based on a previous program of the Weimar Republic. Promissory notes were issued by the Society for Public Works through the Reichsbank and used for job creation and public building projects, similar to projects in both Fascist Italy and Franklin Roosevelt’s later New Deal. When the Nazis took over, this project was used by Economics Minister (and Reichsbank president) Hjalmar Schacht. As part of the public-works program, Schacht helped initiate the construction of the Autobahn network (which was expanded under post-Nazi governments) and also modified the promissory bills program, creating the limited liability company Metallurgische Forschungsgesellschaft or “MEFO” for short. Mefo bills served as notes of exchange convertible to Reichsmarks on demand. The MEFO company had no existence except as a balance sheet entity. In his postwar testimony at the Nuremberg trials, Schacht said that the device “enabled the Reichsbank to lend by a subterfuge to the Government what it normally or legally could not do”.

While Mefo bills did serve to address the government’s deficit problems, inherited from the Great Depression, it also served to allow the Nazi regime to fund re-armament programs, paying arms manufacturers with off-sheet funds that concealed a military buildup forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.

This government spending, as in Italy and the US, did help pull Germany out of the Depression, but the Mefo bills had interest that would eventually come due. Furthermore, in order to satisfy the regime’s demand for imported materials, Schacht supervised the “New Plan” that operated “by various measures suspending the service on Germany’s foreign indebtedness, by freezing other claims of foreigners on Germany, by a stringent system of export controls and by eliminating foreign travel and other unessential foreign expenditures.” These imports and domestic product were in turn directed by the Ministry of Economics with production quotas, in particular scarce war materials, in preparation for the eventual wartime economy.

In the Star Trek parallel, Kirk asked Spock why John Gill would use Nazi Germany as a political model knowing the results, and Spock answered “Perhaps Gill felt that such a state, run benignly, could accomplish its efficiency without sadism.” That turned out not to be the case; in the episode Gill was secretly neutralized and drugged by an unscrupulous lieutenant who used propaganda to incite his nation toward a genocidal war. In the case of the real Nazis, Hitler’s whole agenda was predicated on race war and conquest of Europe, and any beneficial changes were simply instrumental to creating a better war machine for that purpose. The economic miracle was based on a financial shell game whose bill was coming due and which could only be paid by looting nearby countries.

Which is why ultimately there is no distinction between the moral and the practical. If one seeks the quick and easy path to power by alliance with Evil, that means you cut corners and you make mistakes. The bad guys cut corners in that they dispense with bourgeois luxuries like “individual rights” and “rule of law.” But a leadership that holds itself to no higher standards than their own whim is prone to ignore information that goes against its dogma (like, don’t pick fights with the entire planet at once) and they suffer in the long run.

But one could argue that in the short run, Germans weren’t aware that things would turn out the way they did. When Hitler took over, Germany was still fairly screwed. And over six years, it became an industrially strong military power again. If Hitler had left off after saying the Sudetenland was “my last territorial demand” his regime might have survived. Because up to that point, evil as the Nazis were, they hadn’t made too many administrative mistakes.

And this is where the comparison to the modern day comes in. And even now, I generally find direct comparisons of Adolf Hitler to Donald Trump overheated. Although there was that one time in June 1941 when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, and then six months later said, “nobody told me that conquering Russia would be so complicated.”

Part of the problem in comparison is that as racist as America is, it was always more liberal and multiracial than Prussianized Germany, and thus the would-be Nazis of our time are still a product of the generally liberal culture they are doing their utmost to destroy. What do you call a Nazi with a Slavic wife, Jewish in-laws, and connections to Goldman-Sachs? A STUPID Nazi. What do you call a Nazi who sees his Leader with a Slavic wife, Jewish in-laws, and connections to Goldman-Sachs, and still thinks that guy is the savior of his race? A REALLY stupid Nazi.

One thing that ex-President Steve Bannon  got right is when he gave that interview to The American Prospect  and told their reporter that his focus more than foreign policy or even racism was what he called economic nationalism- the use of various devices and protectionist policies to strengthen the economy versus other nations like China. “The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” Given how many Americans either actively support “alt-right” racism or just don’t care, the real danger of Trump’s election was there was a chance that Trump could have done just as well as Hitler – if in fact he had done just as well as Hitler. Most Germans didn’t really care about (or hate) Jews as much as they cared about getting their jobs and their country’s prestige back. The comparison of the Trump Administration to the Nazi regime would hold up better if the Leader of the movement had even Adolf Hitler’s level of emotional maturity and common sense.

Fortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Donald Trump, contrary to the apologist view of Nazism, is not efficient, but certainly is sadistic. The key is that the Nazis had enough regard for their own program that they could plan it out in advance with short notice and then implement it over a period of years. The Republican Party outside Trump may not be fascistic, but they did have both social and economic agendas that they had years to plan in advance anticipating a Republican president. As we have seen, they did not use that time wisely, and had no plan to replace Obamacare or enact the rest of the agenda. Their tax reform plans are probably more fleshed out than their healthcare plans, but given how much of them were based on a transfer of tax liabilities from the upper percentile to put the costs of healthcare on most customers’ deductibles, it’s doubtful that the “fiscal conservatives” will amount to much. And those guys in Congress are the serious and experienced politicians. As opposed to Mister “I’m Not A Billionaire, But I Play One On TV.”

It would take a while to go over exactly how much Donald Trump has failed his own program, assuming that he has one. So rather than print out every fuckup and self-inflicted wound that Trump has performed in just the last four weeks… just watch this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eRNCGR6pUg

Again, Bannon had at least the inkling of an idea to enact a useful “nationalist” policy with potential, but the real value is in the execution. It is generally considered that Steve Bannon was the architect of the Administration’s early “travel ban” on citizens of seven Muslim countries, but that order was unvetted, not examined by legal counsel, and so haphazardly put together that it was quickly shut down by lawyers and courts. And Bannon was the brains of the outfit. Trump’s blanket ban on transgender persons in the military seemed to have no backing other than a Twitter post, and the day afterward the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that the policy on who may serve will not change until the White House sends new rules and the Secretary of Defense issues new guidelines. In other words, “we are not enforcing this tweet until it is backed up by something legally coherent.” This is of a pattern with Trump being so mercurial, acting on the spur of the moment rather than any long-term plan, that it is easy for his maneuvers to get checked by rivals within the system – who actually know how the system works, and who fear that his bull-in-a-china-shop behavior will wreck the structure on which they all depend. It’s that much worse when the “smart” people in the White House and in the Republican Party are supposed to be on board with the reactionary plan and they fight amongst themselves. If Trump has one thing in common with Hitler, it’s his possibly deliberate method of controlling his underlings by pitting them against each other for his favor. The difference is that Hitler’s underlings were mostly loyal to both him and the ideology, and (at least in the short term) were competent.

It’s horrible enough that anybody could endorse Nazism when it works. What’s truly pathetic about the Trump Right is that they’re bad at being Nazis. If you put these schmucks in charge of invading Poland on September 1, 1939, the Polish Army would have hit Berlin by the 4th.

Of course even more pathetic than the weekend Nazis of the alt-right are the sensible cloth-coat Republicans who must now realize that their boy has enhanced their reputation the way Hitler enhanced German nationalism. I mean, if you sold your soul to the Devil for luxury and power, and you actually got it, you might tell yourself you got some short term benefit for your damnation. But if you sold your soul to kill Obamacare and build a wall on Mexico and your Devil turned out to be a whiny little punk who had to beg Mexico to pay for his idea, and then bullied more experienced Senators on Obamacare and ended up with that whole thing blowing up in his face- what have you gained? Now you’re eternally damned AND you look like a tool. That’s gotta sting.

Charlottesville

What’s the difference between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump? One is a spoiled megalomaniac who wants to destroy America. The other is Kim Jong-un.

I posted that on Facebook a few days ago. Even then I didn’t know how right I was.

Overnight, white nationalists led by Richard Spencer marched with tiki torches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. There they confronted anti-racist protestors near a statue of Thomas Jefferson, chanting “Blood and Soil“.  “Former” Klansman David Duke identified this movement with the vote for Donald Trump, saying “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.”

Today, August 12, the “Unite the Right” rally converged near Emancipation Park, formerly named for General Robert E. Lee and the Lee equestrian statue in the park. The Governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency before the rally could reach the park, with authorities using tear gas and chemical spray to break up protests between the white nationalists and counter-protestors. At one point a Dodge Challenger with no license plates drove into a crowd of protestors, crunching into the rear of another vehicle, before backing up (into other witnesses) and leaving the scene. At least 35 people have been injured by various causes.

A 32-year old woman has since died from the vehicle attack. As I write this, there are reports of a State Police helicopter in the area crashing and killing two occupants.

Supposedly the city’s decision to remove the Lee statue was the reason for the rally. I agree with many on the Right that we shouldn’t be using political correctness (or rather, fashionable opinion) to erase history. Unasked is the question of what history is really being erased.

The Lee equestrian statue was commissioned in 1919 and fully completed in 1924. Robert E. Lee died in 1870, only five years after the Civil War. In his postwar career, the former Confederate general had his citizenship revoked for his actions. In 1865 he was made the president of Washington College in Virginia. Before the war he had actually opposed secession but became a Confederate to defend his state of Virginia. At the time of the surrender, he opposed a postwar guerrilla campaign, saying “far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South.” Lee was always against giving black men the vote but as the head of Washington College expelled students for attacks on local black men, and toward the end of his life, helped establish state schools for blacks.

Both during and after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee was admired even in the North, because whatever his opinions on race, he was at least a gentleman of honor. Which the people who act in his name today are not.

Assume, for the sake of argument (because I know some people are making this argument) that the driver turns out to be an “Antifa” leftist hitting people just to smear the Right. How would it make the Left look good if that turned out to be the case? Wouldn’t that just turn people against their tactics? So consider that in the far more likely event that the assailant is one of your guys, how does that make you look? Does it reflect well on you at all that innocent blood is on your hands? You’re not trying to unite the country. In your own terms, you are trying to mobilize a Racial Holy War. But what you don’t get is that you are convincing more and more of the country, many of whom (like me), are technically in “your” demographic, that YOU are the enemy.

See, I was setting up to post a post-election opinion on the recurring subject of whether Hillary Clinton was more to blame for the 2016 election than third-party voters. But both Jill Stein and Gary Johnson ran for President in 2012 and the psychology that made Donald Trump president in 2016 did not help Mitt Romney. Goodness knows that in 2012 there were enough right-wing racists speaking against Barack Obama, but they were not enough to win an election. This is not the fault of Gary Johnson. It is not the fault of Jill Stein. (OK, maybe a tiny bit Jill Stein.)  It is not even the fault of people who stayed home, and it is certainly not the fault of people who voted for Clinton.

You people who voted for Donald Trump?

This is on YOU.

That woman’s blood is on your hands. This is what you wanted and this is what you got.

In his grudging statement against violence today, Donald Trump, who had previously told a gathering of New York police officers “don’t be too nice” when apprehending suspects, said “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time.”

But there were a double-digit number of people in the Republican Party running for president in 2016, and all of them would have been offensive to the Left. It was quite likely that one of them could have gotten elected anyway, due to either Clinton hate or a general fatigue with the incumbent party, and they most likely would enact policies that would offend liberals and even moderates. None of them except Trump started their campaign by saying that Mexicans “aren’t sending (us) their best … they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists”.

None of them except Trump would ally with a self-described Leninist like Steve Bannon.

None of those campaigns would have responded to a Russian offer of Clinton campaign dirt with the three words: “I love it.” None of those campaigns would have coordinated a meeting with Russian agents with the help of Paul Manafort. None of them would have hired Paul Manafort as a campaign manager after what he did in Ukraine.

None of those potential presidents would have “gotten tough” on immigration with a crackdown on legal immigrants that was immediately thrown out by courts.

And while most of the other Republicans could have started a blanket ban on transgender people in the military, none of them would have used Twitter to do so, in such a brain-dead manner that it offended even Orrin Hatch.

But more important: None of those people would have gotten Trump’s level of support, and for those very reasons. When you saw the pathological liar with the circus peanut tan make shit up on camera, you said, “Finally, someone who’s authentic!” When it was pretty damn clear he didn’t have a plan to replace Obamacare, or build the Wall, you didn’t care. When he said John McCain wasn’t a hero just because he was tortured by the communist Vietnamese (at the same time Trump was dodging the draft), you agreed. And when he was caught on tape saying “grab ’em by the pussy, you can do whatever you want”, you didn’t disavow your hero. You cheered.

Remember, this event in Charlottesville came in the wake of a press conference where Trump actually praised Vladimir Putin for cutting Moscow embassy staff, on the grounds that we needed to reduce our payroll anyway.  After a certain point, the enemy doesn’t even bother to hide what they really are anymore.

The question is what the rest of us are going to do about it.