Sick of Winning Yet?

“Any sufficiently advanced malice is indistinguishable from incompetence.”

Well now.

On July 17, after two of 52 Republican Senators announced they would not vote for a debate to allow the Senate’s healthcare “reform” to come to the floor (Susan Collins because the bill didn’t keep enough of Obamacare, Rand Paul because it kept any part of Obamacare at all), two other Republican Senators, Mike Lee and Jerry Moran, followed suit, which meant that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s vote could not proceed, because it was predicated on only requiring a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote that would have required Democrats. So following Donald Trump’s directive to just repeal Obamacare without worrying about a replacement (one suspects that was the goal all along), Mitch “the Bitch” McConnell decided to re-introduce a repeal bill that Republicans passed in 2015 – when Obama was President, and they knew they wouldn’t have to back it up. Of course the reason they went through this whole rigamarole is that there were even less votes for a straight repeal than there were for a negotiated reform. So no surprise that this last gasp at the Republican dream got taken out on July 18 by Collins, Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Shelley Capito. All women, which is probably just a coincidence.

Donald Trump responded. “We’re not going to own it, I’m not going to own it,” Trump said. “I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they are going to say ‘how do we fix it, how do we fix it’ or ‘how do we come up with a new plan?”

Of course as one guy on the news shows put it, Trump doesn’t own most of the stuff that has his name on it. But the best response to that sentiment was probably from Shepard Smith on Fox News: “But politically, Trump does own it. Because voters gave them control of Washington. It was a central promise of Republicans’ campaigns. For eight years, they told constituents and voters, give us control and we will repeal and replace Obamacare.”

If even some on the Right are criticizing the Republican approach, it’s not necessarily because they’re centrist-liberal squishes who were more aligned to the Democrats anyway. Some of the observers on the Right worked towards getting a Republican majority because they assumed that Republicans would do something with it. They thought that their side would have a better idea than the Democrats. As opposed to the people actually in charge, who apparently just wanted to string the voters along and didn’t realize that at some point they’d have to show their hand.

As for: “We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they are going to say ‘how do we fix it, how do we fix it’ or ‘how do we come up with a new plan?” it’s of a piece with their general attitude. Blame the Democrats for doing it wrong then ask them to do it for you cause you can’t do it at all. Hold the thinking, productive people hostage to their own morals so that the mindless moochers can avoid individual responsibility. Among the many ironies of late-stage “conservatism” is how it re-enacts Atlas Shrugged with the political sides reversed.

Republicans: You got everything you wanted. You had both houses of Congress and the White House. And we as a nation gave you all the power because even if we didn’t agree with you on all things, or even most things, we agreed that we hated the Democrats, we hated liberals in general, and we REALLY HATED Hillary Clinton. And you took that opportunity and did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING with it, and that’s because you’ve GOT nothing. You used Russia as an excuse to dither about the domestic agenda, and then you used the domestic agenda as an excuse to dither about Russia. Now you have no domestic agenda, and you’re on record as being enablers for Putin’s butt boy. Sick of winning yet?

And this is just in the first six months of a Republican President. You’ve got about 16 more months to undermine your status before the next midterm elections. Granted, if this all hinges on the ability of Democrats to pick up a clue with two hands, then God-Emperor Trump may be ruling the galaxy from his life-support chamber well past the year 40,000 AD. But if Democrats do fail to gain at least one house of Congress in the 2018 midterms, it won’t be because Republicans didn’t give them every opportunity they possibly could. Especially when “we’ll let Obamacare fail” is telegraphing a strategy to sabotage the system for political purposes so that you DO own the final result, and then expecting Democrats to crawl to people who have proven themselves to be untrustworthy and then expecting voters to crawl to the people who took away their healthcare as though that was a top resume item.

And the thing is, it didn’t have to be this way. Once you realized that as hated and flawed as the Affordable Care Act was, it was better than the prior status quo, and that repeal-and-delay was not nearly as popular as repeal-and-replace, which in turn was less popular than not repealing it at all, a sane party would have realized it was political malpractice to mess with the ACA without having an actual alternative. And since we now know you didn’t have that, you still had an option. At that point you could have just done what the Clintons do, and engaged in “triangulation.” You could have just juggled a few details and came up with basically the same thing, and shamelessly pandered saying that the ACA was a Republican idea all along. Because after all, it WAS.

But accepting the new status quo would have meant accepting Obamacare, and that just wasn’t possible for your Dear Leader, or your “base.” Even if the roots were a conservative idea, you didn’t like it just because Democrats liked it. (Specifically because the biracial whippersnapper with the middle name Hussein liked it.)

The problem is that even though the Democrats’ usual M.O. is to compromise their way through everything, Republicans have ruled that out because of their consistent “Fuck you because YOU want this” attitude. When you’re dealing with that level of brattiness, there is no point in negotiation.

Eventually Democrats are going to figure that out. In fact, some of them already have. Half the reason that the Affordable Care Act was insufficient by leftist standards (and why Obama never pushed things like a public option) is because the Obama Administration and the Democratic Senate were trying to get votes from Republicans, and when they couldn’t get those, they needed to compromise with the centrists of their own party to get a two-thirds majority. The latest bills being debated within the Democratic caucus are less about tinkering with Obamacare, which they already have, and more about pushing national healthcare systems like “Medicare for All.” Bill Maher, among others, has pointed out that the problem with Democrats is that they haggle from the middle. That is, rather than acknowledging that a negotiation is only going to give you some of what you want, they start from the position that they want to end up in rather than make exaggerated demands that the other side would not accept. As a result, rather than haggling bringing them to half a loaf of bread, they compromise down to the crumbs. There is now not much point in doing that. It should be obvious even to Democrats that there is no room to negotiate with the Republican Party as an institution even if individual Republicans are open to it, and as for centrist Democrats, they already got what they wanted in the Obama Administration. If (and that’s a big if, of course) Democrats regain the political initiative, the push will switch from “this is too socialist” to “this isn’t socialist enough.”

Republicans had the only serious attempt to reconcile a market-based insurance system with the supports necessary to cover high-risk patients who were not feasible for insurance companies to cover. That system just happened to be Obamacare. And yes, Obamacare has flaws. Because it does not address costs, it really is not feasible in the long run, but it is still more feasible in the short run than the status quo ante of leaving everything up to the insurance companies. That’s why a lot of businesses were secretly lobbying for the ACA, because the costs of insurance to businesses are costing more and more on the bottom line.

A fiscal conservative would have taken all of this into account. But the motivation here was never fiscal conservatism.

Having no free-market alternative to the ACA, “conservatives” have abandoned the field to those who want more government, not less. By sponsoring a medical “reform” that was more about shifting costs from rich people’s taxes to poor people’s deductibles, Republicans did more to justify the class-warfare paradigm than generations of leftist propaganda. And by hiring total incompetents to run Cabinet departments rather than either reforming them or making a clear case why they should be abolished, “small government” Republicans make it clear that their goal is to grow government to enrich the elite.

Republicans, you had a country that had gotten sick of ivory-tower liberalism after eight years of Obama, and the last thing they wanted was a Clinton comeback. They wanted an improvement from that. They got anti-intellectual parasites. Because that’s what you are, and that’s the kind of person you vote for. And in attempting to turn back the clock rather than acknowledge where you are now, you run the risk of a backlash that will make the backlash to Obama-Clinton look like nothing. After all, Clinton DID get more votes than your little boy, and that’s before people saw what he was going to do. And if the whole point of you voting for Republicans is “fuck your feelings, fuck Clinton and fuck the Social Justice Warriors”, what do you think they’re going to do when the political climate turns again?

They’re not just going to give you something to cry about. You’re going to scream like a little bitch.

Yes, Mr. and Mrs. America, your daughter WILL marry a Syrian Muslim woman. (After declaring herself to be a man.) And they will move into a taco truck. And they will support themselves with the aid of socialized medicine.

And it’s all your fucking fault.

 

Yeah, What ABOUT Ukraine?

Whataboutism is a propaganda technique formerly used by the Soviet Union in its dealings with the Western world, and subsequently used as a form of propaganda in post-Soviet Russia. When criticisms were levelled at the Soviet Union, the Soviet response would be “What about…” followed by an event in the Western world. It is a case of tu quoque (appeal to hypocrisy), a logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument.

– Wikipedia

“Follow the money.”

– Jesse “the Governor” Ventura

 

As we have seen, whenever events do not go well for the RosneftTrump Administration, they immediately try to deflect and shift blame somewhere else. As the details of Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with Russian nationals in Trump Tower get worse, and worse, AND worse, the story has shifted from “it didn’t happen” to “nothing bad happened” to “we asked for information but we didn’t get it, so therefore nothing happened”, just like if I met a guy over the Internet who said he could score me cocaine, and I met up with him, and I didn’t get the cocaine because he was an undercover cop and I got arrested, BECAUSE I never got the cocaine, I am therefore NOT guilty of procuring illegal drugs.

That doesn’t stop the Trump team from justifying their actions. When in Paris, Donald Trump, Viceroy for Russian North America stated, “I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting”. But if you were only following “the lamestream media” you might not know about the counterattack line that Trump’s followers are pushing: that not only would anyone else have acted in the same way under the circumstances, but that the real election interference was when a Ukrainian national “gave guidance” to journalists and the Hillary Clinton campaign about Paul Manafort, who at one point managed the Trump campaign and was at the Trump Tower meeting, a point that Fox News host Sean Hannity explicitly made when he interviewed Donald Trump Jr. on July 12.

Memo to both Republicans and Democrats: Whenever you say things along the lines of “everybody does it”, that is a pragmatic rationalization, and not a legal defense.

For one thing, let’s be real. This is all distraction. Like how the Viceroy “just found out” Obama was wiretapping Trump Tower.  You notice he isn’t pressing that issue? Why was there no followup? Because there’s nothing there to investigate. He was blowing it out his ass, just like the Trumpniks are doing with this story, to distract a mainstream media that has the attention span of the dog from Up, and a conservative media that has less attention span than that.

For another thing it’s of a piece with Trump’s usual tactic, which goes beyond projecting. He is consistent in that the more vehemently he attacks something, the more vehement he is in promoting that exact thing when he’s in charge. Like when he praised Canadian health care in the 2016 campaign, and when he called the House healthcare bill “mean” and said we should repeal and replace Obamacare, then endorsed the Senate bill and said that if that couldn’t be passed, we should just repeal Obamacare anyway. Or when he ridiculed Hillary Clinton for speaking to Goldman-Sachs, and ridiculed “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” because his wife worked with Goldman-Sachs, and as soon as Trump got elected, guess what he did.

But the “conservatives” are bringing Ukraine up as though it was just another smoke grenade to throw out, without researching exactly what the parallels are, and why the invocation of Ukrainian antipathy to Vladimir Putin matters.

The Atlantic, referring to an earlier article in Politico that Hannity also referred to, did what Hannity suggested and “followed up” on the story. The Politico story implied that Ukrainian private and government efforts to help Clinton backfired because Trump won the election. Specifically, a Ukrainian-American operative for the Democratic National Committee, Alexandra Chalupa, did personal investigations of Paul Manafort, researching publicly available information, and shared her findings with Democrats. (Note that conservatives are immediately assuming that Chalupa is tied to the Ukrainian government but dismiss any suggestion that Natalia Veselnitskaya or Rinat Akmetshin have any active association with Moscow.)

The other fact mentioned in the stories is that an anti-corruption probe in Ukraine investigated the former government’s financial ties to Manafort.  Last summer, The New York Times reported that the Ukrainian Party of Regions had ledgers showing $12.7 million in undisclosed payments to Manafort’s firm. This was also mentioned in the January 2016 Politico article. This shady activity was supposedly the reason that the Trump campaign removed Manafort as campaign manager.

The implication, at least from the Atlantic author, is that while Ukrainian attacks on Manafort and Trump were real, they were not nearly as substantial and sustained as Russian-directed attacks on the DNC and the Clinton campaign, which “U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded with confidence that Russia’s cyber campaign was intended to hurt Clinton and help Trump.” The other distinction between the Ukrainian anti-Manafort campaign and the mysteriously obtained Democratic National Committee leaks is that the Ukrainian information was publicly available through a government report. The Atlantic article also pointed out that the Ukrainian investigation into Manafort’s payments ended after the US election, raising the question as to whether this was a general corruption probe and more a targeted investigation of a Trump insider that was deemed no longer useful.

Some of this requires a wider context.

Ukraine is a nation that like Poland and Lithuania was a national community under control of the Russian Empire for centuries, had its own identity and bitterly resisted Russian domination and mistreatment under both czars and commissars. Unlike Poland, it only became independent after the fall of the Soviet Union. However, Eastern European communities were very intermixed, especially in the USSR, so when that country broke up, it led to certain problems. For one thing, in the early history of the Soviet Union, the Russian-majority Crimean peninsula was part of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic, but in 1954, it was transferred to the Ukrainian SSR. This meant that when the Ukrainian state became independent, it contained a large population that was more loyal to Russia than “their” country. Moreover, immigration during the Soviet period meant that the eastern territories in the Donblas region (which unlike Crimea had always been considered Ukrainian) also became Russian-majority by the time of independence.

In 2004, one of the political parties of the new Ukrainian republic was called the Party of Regions, representing mainly the Russian-speaking plurality in the east. In Ukraine’s 2004 presidential campaign, the Party of Regions candidate was Viktor Yanukovych, an ethnic Russian who spoke Ukrainian as a second language at best. He won the presidency by a slim margin after a runoff vote, but his political opponent, Viktor Yuschenko, challenged the result due to reports from outside observers of ballot fraud and voter intimidation. (In September 2004, Yuschenko was visibly disfigured and hospitalized for a mysterious illness that was later confirmed to be dioxin poisoning.) A second runoff was held in December 2004 which Yuschenko narrowly won. In the later stages of the race leading to the second runoff, Yanukovych’s party hired Paul Manafort, a lawyer and political consultant whose clients included not only many national Republican candidates but dictators like Ferdinand Marcos and Mobuto Sese Seko.

Manafort remained Yanukovych’s political advisor through 2014 and helped prepare him for the next presidential campaign in 2010. Yanukovych defeated politician Yulia Tymoshenko. While some of President Yanukovych’s policies (including expanded trade and diplomatic relations with Russia) were popular, there were reports of press censorship from his administration. In May of 2010, Tymoshenko was prosecuted for various crimes including misuse of public funds as a government official. In 2011 she was sentenced to seven years in prison. By January 2013, more than half of Yanukovych’s appointees were from the Donblas region or financially tied to it, and almost half of infrastructure development was to this region. Yanukovych set up a police force under his personal command.

What really brought things to a head was in 2013, when Yanukovych abruptly reversed course on an “Association Agreement” expanding ties to the European Union in favor of greater ties to Russia, after Russian leader Vladimir Putin threatened Ukraine by engaging in a trade war and using gas supplies as a bargaining tool. Protests against Yanukovych reached up to 100,000 in Kiev that weekend. The protestors formed in the Maidan (city square) and reached almost a million in strength as the “Euromaidan.” In January 2014, Yanukovych forced “Anti-Protest Laws” allowing intensified actions against dissent. This only increased public outrage and the country’s Prime Minister resigned. In February, the parliament voted to remove Yanukovych from office. This was on February 22, the day after Yanukovych fled Ukraine with assistance from Russia’s government. The government set up new elections, revoked the Anti-Protest Laws and released Tymoshenko from prison on the same day that Yanukovych was officially ousted.

Paul Manafort, along with several individuals, holding firms and “John Does 1 through 100” is listed as a defendant in a racketeering case filed by Tymoshenko with regard to “the arbitrary prosecutions, arrests and detentions of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and other political opposition members” with the defendants “representing a collection of private and public figures that stand to benefit politically and/or financially by eliminating Ukraine’s political opposition.”

An August 2016 article in Politico detailed how Manafort relied on a local contact in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik, an ethnic Russian who was trained as an intelligence translator by the Russian Army. According to the article, Kilimnik was instrumental in helping Yanukovych (through Manafort’s team) rehabilitate his image after 2004, using Western-style campaign tactics and talking to Western media. After 2006, Kilimnik and Manafort used their business connections to create a private equity fund in the Cayman Islands with funds from a Russian investor, an investment that collapsed before 2014. A petition requesting a “wind down” of the partnership after the money disappeared states that “The Petitioner made further repeated attempts to contact (both Paul Manafort and Rick Gates personally) requesting updates on the progress of the Wind Down but these requests were left unanswered. It appears that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have simply disappeared.” Rick Gates is a Trump insider who, among other things, is blamed by some for “writing” Melania Trump’s speech to the Republican National Convention. After Viktor Yanukovych left Ukraine, Kilimnik and Manafort helped develop the Opposition Bloc, which has inherited the anti-EU position of the technically extant but effectively defunct Party of Regions.

After Yanukovych fled Ukraine, his mansion outside Kiev was stormed by the protestors, who discovered a 340-acre estate, a mansion roof of pure copper, Lebanese cedar doors, paneled staircases, a pavilion decorated in gold paint with a marble floor, a gilt and crystal chandelier worth $100,000, a golf course, a private zoo, and a replica Spanish galleon (to go with the yacht club on the river). Ridiculous, but a not unprecedented example of what some call Dictator Style.

However, after this, things escalated. After there was no longer a pliant government in Ukraine, the Putin government in Russia started moving forces into Crimea, less than a week after Yanukovych left Ukraine. The Russian takeover of Crimea is a fait accompli, but is still not legally recognized by the United States or the United Nations. Meanwhile, private citizens in Donblas- some of whom were known Russian nationals and others who just happened to have Russian military supplies, took over various eastern towns, leading to an undeclared and sustained civil war. The United States under the Obama Administration responded to Russian aggression with various sanctions. Previous sanctions included the Magnitsky Act, which is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who exposed collusion between police and organized crime, was arrested by the authorities for allegedly participating in said collusion, and died in prison at the ripe old age of 37. The law prohibits Russians (specifically those implicated in Magnitsky’s death) from entering the United States or accessing its banking system.

According to Donald Trump Jr. himself, Natalia Veselnitskaya wanted to address the Magnitsky Act during their meeting at Trump Tower. That Jared Kushner was also in. With Paul Manafort.

That would bring us back to Do.

So, to review: A pro-Russia politician with dubious taste in home decor is barely elected head of state by gaming the system with the help of Paul Manafort, he used his position to enrich himself far beyond the capacities of his office, commited numerous and escalating violations of human rights, and ended up fleeing the country under the protection of his Russian masters, leaving a wake of corruption that is still being investigated.

And while Russia has legitimate territorial and security concerns about post-Soviet Europe, those concerns are not synonymous with the neo-imperialist goals of Vladimir Putin, and when his indirect manipulations fail to work on a sovereign nation, he resorts to more direct measures.

This history provides a bit of context to any Ukrainian attempts to get involved in the US presidential campaign, not for the sake of Trump or Clinton, but more to undermine Vladimir Putin.

And Sean Hannity would know this, if he didn’t suffer from an advanced case of cranial-rectal spatial inversion.

So now that we’ve gone over the issue of Ukraine, I have two questions for the three and a half people reading this blog:

One, does all this in any way remind you of anyone else at all?

And Trumpniks – is what happened to Ukraine really what you want your country to turn into?

Because it will.

President (for now) Trump

None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with you. You’re locked up in here with ME.

– Rorschach, Watchmen #6

I am one of those people who will never put the words “President” and “Trump” in the same phrase. It’s almost as contradictory and offensive as combining “reality” and “TV.” Instead I refer to Donald Trump as “Viceroy for Russian North America.”

But until fairly recently, most public speculation on the Trump/Russia connection was merely conjecture. Then over the weekend the New York Times released the first of several articles saying that Donald Trump Jr., along with Trump’s son-in-law and now highly-placed White House official Jared Kushner and then-campaign director Paul Manafort, talked to a Russian contact with the intention of getting  information against Hillary Clinton for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.  On Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr. released the email chain  confirming that he had in fact talked with intermediaries about opposition research on candidate Hillary Clinton, “very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

(The Trump team spun this move as admirable transparency on Junior’s part, glossing over the point that journalists had revealed information he had previously denied, and had access to more of it, and therefore further concealment on his part would only lead to more public contradiction and embarrassment.)

What was really Goddamn funny was where Jared Yates Sexton, a journalist who was not on the New York Times story, went on Twitter and said “I worked on this story for over a year and .. he just … tweeted it out.”

And yet, the Trumpnik robots are continuing to act on their faulty programming. The whole storyline is now frequently referred to by Trump’s flacks as a “nothingburger.” As you’ll recall, “nothingburger” was Hillary Clinton’s favorite excuse phrase for why her email obfuscations were irrelevant to the campaign, until James Comey made them an issue (again) and did at least as much to undermine her election as the Russians did. So when the Trump team uses this line, it means at least one of two things: either “We know the Trump accusations are bullshit because our Clinton accusations were bullshit” or “Our Clinton accusations were serious, so if we’re now using the same argument she did, it just proves how weak and defensive we are.”

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, whose main compliments to the Trump Administration are usually backhanded, still offered what seems to be the party defense of the Trump team:  “I know Donald Trump Jr. is new to politics. I know that Jared Kushner is new to politics, but this is going to require a lot of questions to be asked and answered.” Basically, “please forgive the boy, he’s a retard.”

Jared Kushner is new to politics. Oh yes. That’s why Trump chose him, not his Secretary of State, to handle negotiations between THE ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS. “Hey, you know Butterfingers McGee? The epileptic? Let’s put him in charge of the Bomb Squad!”

Is this schmuck Donald Trump trying to get himself kicked out of office? Again, that is not just speculation.  Everything else in his life has been power with no responsibility, and he fails to recognize that the most powerful office in the world doesn’t work that way. Howard Stern (who has hosted Trump on his radio show  several times before he ran for office and considers him a friend) said ““He just wants a couple more bucks out of NBC, and that is why Donald is calling for voter-fraud investigations. He’s pissed he won. He still wants Hillary Clinton to win. He’s so f–king pissed, he’s hoping that he can find some voter fraud and hand it over to Hillary.”

But here’s the thing, even if Trump wants to bail even more than the rest of us want him gone, we can’t get rid of him yet.

Why? Well, there’s the law, which granted, Trump and the Republicans don’t much care for. But there has to be a strong case for impeachment, and even if there is, the last two presidents to be impeached by the House could not get a two-thirds vote for conviction in the Senate. The standard is set deliberately high for a reason.

Which leads to the point that Trump can’t be impeached in the first place because Republicans in the House wouldn’t allow it. But Trump being where he is is a godsend for Democratic Party recruitment and fundraising, and they need him to be where he is just long enough to help inspire their voters to tip one or even two houses of Congress to the Democrats. Then they would be in position to impeach after findings from the special counsel, but for purposes of the presidential race they might want to leave this hanging over Trump’s head until 2020. They probably won’t, though, because as dim as the Democrats are, even they are starting to reckon with their own capacity to fuck up a sure thing.

Then there’s the point that Washington is generically conservative. That is, they crave stability and procedure. Impeaching Trump, even unsuccessfully, disrupts that in the same way that impeaching Clinton disrupted the operations of Washington before 2000. The problem for Trump is that he disrupts procedure simply by existing. And again, I’m operating on the assumption that at least part of him wants to be kicked out. At that point it is simply a matter of balancing how much Congress wants to stay the course versus Trump’s escalating violations of comme il faut.

Which is why the protestations of the poor little Trumpniks begging for the liberal media to leave their precious little boy alone are all the more specious. They whine, “all this Russia talk is a distraction that keeps Congress from focusing on the Republican agenda.” There’s just one problem there. The Republican agenda is shit. BY right-wing standards. It comes down to the point that reforming healthcare without a two-thirds vote in the Senate (in other words, with Democrats) would require appealing to moderate Republicans who want to keep much of Obamacare, which would alienate the hardcore conservatives and libertarians who want to trash the whole ACA on principle. And you don’t have enough votes to spare to alienate either camp. Ideologies aside, the Senate “plan” doesn’t even try to address the reasons Democrats were finally able to pass a healthcare plan in the first place (first and foremost of these being there was a demand for a national system because the status quo ante shoved people out of coverage), instead casting the repeal of not only existing Obamacare taxes but a ratcheting back of existing Medicaid as “better care.”

So it comes down to John Fugelsang’s joke that the Republican Party is like the guy in the comedy club who’s been heckling your act for eight straight years and then when he gets you off the stage and comes up to the mic, he’s got no material. Trump’s scandal is not distracting Republicans from their agenda. Trump’s scandal is the distraction of the mainstream media that Republicans need to pass their agenda.

And then there’s the point that a lot of this may be set up. How DID the Times get word of those conversations before Junior owned up to them? Is this yet another case of “It’s coming from INSIDE the White House”? Maybe. Keeping this stuff in the news might indeed be a nothing burger. If it is, why is it in Trump’s interest to keep the scandal alive? Not only does it distract the mainstream media and the easily distracted “progressives,” it allows Trump to do his persecuted victim act. And since his “base” are the only people whose inflated sense of grievance rivals his own, they rally around their Leader. It’s worked pretty well so far.

All this is why I don’t believe that Satan is real. I should think that if you sold your soul to the Devil for power, he wouldn’t undermine your credibility and dignity as slowly and blatantly as Trump has done to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

But then, it goes to show that Trump is not the problem. The problem is the kind of mentality that would follow a Trump. Everybody including the people who voted for him knew that Trump was a career flim-flam man of no substance with an attraction to the lowest common denominator. If you consider that a proper leader for any country, and vote for such a creature, it really says more about you than it says about him.

Remember, this is a man who has set things up so that his own son will take the legal consequences for collaboration with a foreign power, which spells collusion and possible treason.

That’s your boy, Trumpniks. That’s YOUR role model.

That’s what YOU wanted to lead the country.

And now you’re stuck with him.

And as long as the rest of us are stuck with him too, we’re going to keep you stuck with him. We won’t let you let him go.

“If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire.” Remember who said that? Of course not, you’re Republicans, not Christians.

But if you know what’s good for you, you’ll go full Jigsaw on Donald Trump. Because by the time he, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are done destroying your party, you won’t be trusted with plastic forks.

Drip, drip, drip.

You hear that sound, Trumpniks?

That’s your blood.

Drip.

Drip.

DRIP.

The Right To

In the wake of Mitch “the Bitch” McConnell introducing a Senate bill to “repeal and replace” Obamacare that all observers conclude is basically intended to shift all the costs of the Affordable Care Act from the upper tax brackets to the average person who couldn’t afford healthcare in the first place (while at the same time, NOT repealing the Affordable Care Act)  it’s worth looking at an opinion piece from well-known liberal blogger Jim Wright, because he phrases public support for healthcare in a basic question: Is healthcare a right or not?

“Either you believe people are entitled to healthcare as a right or you don’t. The rest is just details.

Now, before we go any further, let’s get something straight: I don’t care if your answer is no.

I don’t. Really. I’m not going to condemn you for it. I spent most of my life in the military defending your right to see the world how you want. If you don’t believe that healthcare should be the right of every human being, well, I fully support your right to that viewpoint.

If you’re embarrassed or ashamed to admit your answer is no, that’s on you.

If you don’t believe that healthcare is a right, then at least have the goddamned courtesy to be honest about it.

Own it. Don’t pretend otherwise or try to make it sound like you do when you don’t. Don’t blow smoke up my ass. Don’t move the goalposts. Don’t dismiss the question. Don’t try to rationalize it.”

Okay.

I support the idea of a national health care system, even a single-payer system. I do NOT think it is a right. In the same way that the country works a lot better with a federal highway system and infrastructure maintenance, but even all the liberals who ask libertarians “who would build the roads?” don’t pose the issue in terms of roads being a right.

Wright continues, “If we all agree that healthcare is not a basic right of human existence, then we must acknowledge that healthcare is a privilege.

And not everybody is privileged. That’s the whole definition of privilege. Some people have it, some don’t. … And you should at least be honest enough to admit that’s what you’re up to. I want to hear every politician, every candidate for office, go on the record, yes or no. And if it’s no, if you believe healthcare is a privilege of those who can afford it, then have the guts to look into the camera and say so. And if you’re voted out of office as a result, or stripped of your privilege by the mob, well, that’s just too goddamned bad.”

Yes, but there’s just one problem. A lot of people think there’s a “right” to a living wage. And in the special election for Georgia’s Congressional District 6, Republican Karen Handel was in a debate with Democrat Jon Ossoff and she got slammed for declaring flat out that she did not believe there had to be a livable wage. And she WON.

I’m pretty sure that whatever your opinion on the subject of minimum wage, we can all agree on this: All minimum wage means is that if it were legal for the company to pay you less, they would.

And specifically that’s because your job, relative to the cost of training your replacement, is worth only that much to the company or less. Which gets to the argument that libertarians like myself make: When you call something a right, that means that it has to be provided or guaranteed, and if it is provided through the private sector, that means it has to be provided by a business. It’s one thing to say that a federal minimum wage needs to be higher than $7.25, especially since it hasn’t increased in almost a decade. It’s one thing to say Walmart and McDonald’s can afford a $15 minimum wage. That doesn’t mean every local business can afford it.

Is the definition of a right something that has to be provided? As Wright points out, the right to bear arms is “the” right where a lot of people are concerned, and it certainly counts as a right in that we are allowed to buy them in the first place. But that doesn’t mean the government will buy a gun for you if you can’t afford one. It certainly doesn’t mean a private gun seller is obliged to provide you a gun and supplies for free. Wright asserts this, and does so against the argument that a provider’s rights are being violated if he is forced to give a service as a “right.”

He continues: “Look here: in America, you have the right to legal representation. If you’re accused of a crime and you cannot afford a lawyer, then one will be appointed to you by the court. Does that make you entitled to another’s labor? Yes. Yes it does. That’s what Public Defenders do. They’re not slaves, they chose to do that job and they’re paid for it. And just because you’re entitled to legal representation doesn’t rob lawyers of their rights. ”

Yes… but as with everything else, you get what you pay for. And if the work isn’t being paid for, regardless of who’s responsible, it often doesn’t get done. According to the Legal Services Corporation: “In the past year, 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help… In 2017, low-income Americans will approach LSC-funded legal aid organizations for support with an estimated 1.7 million problems. They will receive only limited or no legal help for more than half of these problems due to a lack of resources.”

In other words, even if we concede that a service IS a right that needs to be provided through government, that doesn’t mean that it will be provided, especially if it cannot or will not be funded.  It doesn’t matter whether you call it a right or a “privilege.”  It’s a fact.

As I keep saying, the Affordable Care Act did one of the two things required for healthcare reform. It got rid of “pre-existing conditions.” But it depends on a private insurance market which can only profit if it is allowed to screen people for pre-existing conditions that they would then have to pay for. To make sure those companies could stay in business, the “risk pool” was made nationwide through the individual mandate – forcing people to either buy insurance or take a tax penalty, without the price controls that people would need to afford insurance in a now captive market. That is, the Affordable Care Act does not actually make care affordable. It did make a difference insofar as people could get care in the first place, but prices were still too high, and with the mandate there was no longer a means of avoiding them. Thus a lot of people accepted the tax penalty because even that was less expensive than available policies. This in turn caused a lot of companies to leave the marketplace in some states. Remember when I said that not every business could afford a $15 minimum wage? This is how that sort of thing plays out.

On a daily basis, people are more dependent on food, or the Internet, than they are on medical coverage, but we don’t think of these things as “rights” that have to be provided by government, because the private sector is doing a good job of providing them.

Whereas we think of medical coverage as something that has to be provided by government because it is not really something we can get through the private sector, at least not without sacrificing luxuries like food and the Internet.

Which is why I think that it would be a good idea to provide certain things through the government, just as the government funds a lot of things that are beyond the resources or authority of one individual. That in itself doesn’t mean these things are “rights” in the concept of natural rights that are pre-existing and are guaranteed, NOT provided, by government. It means that we as a polity have decided that it is in our best interest to have government do these things. No more, no less. The fact that some on my side will not acknowledge a necessity for anything above bare minimum public services does not justify taking the opposite extreme and defining anything you want as a “right” – partially because that doesn’t answer the question of how the thing will be provided.

As Wright says, the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution says: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Which gets to my real objection. Even if one’s conception of rights is limited to the classical liberal/libertarian concept of “negative rights” (that is, government is required to NOT violate rights that you have naturally), our legal tradition enshrines certain rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion (or conscience) and the right to be secure in your person and documents (a right to privacy). And yet, government in recent years, especially in this Administration, has not been very supportive of these rights and has often tried to suppress them. So if the government is hostile to enumerated rights that have frequently been upheld in the courts, what are the chances of it supporting politicized “rights” that the previous administration just made up?

I keep going back to Wright’s essay, because he really does go through most if not all of the hypotheticals, and his basic thesis is, “is healthcare a right? Yes or no. The rest is just details.” Yes, but THE DETAILS ARE THE PART THAT FUCKING MATTER. Specifically, what kind of government we have and what its priorities are. Because we already have rights that everyone agrees exist, and right now we have a government that says those rights shouldn’t exist.

The first priority is having a government that protects our rights. ANY of them. Once you have that, the question of what should be regarded as a right is much simpler. Without that, the question is meaningless.

Same Shoot, Different Day

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”

  • John F. Kennedy, March 13, 1962

On June 14, Republican members of Congress were in Alexandria, Virginia practicing for their annual charity baseball game with the Democrats. Someone at the scene asked team members if it was Republicans or Democrats on the field. Just after that, he shot at the field, critically injuring Congressman Steve Scalice of Louisiana and wounding an aide and two of his security detail before the assailant was taken down by Capitol Police. Of course it was just the same day that a UPS office got shot up.

It was of course a cause for a lot of people to endorse stricter gun control measures, given that even in the wake of this attack, Republicans are against more “gun safety” regulation. But as in many of the shooting cases in this country, investigation determined that the shooter, James Hodgkinson, had purchased his weapons legally.  And of course this event was in the wake of a terrorist attack in notably anti-gun Britain, where three men used a van to run over pedestrians in the London Bridge area before getting out and attacking people with knives, killing seven and injuring dozens more before they were shot by special police. (If knives are outlawed, only chefs will have knives.)

As it turned out, in both the London Bridge case and the Alexandria case, the reason that casualties weren’t even worse was that there WERE “good guys with guns” right on the scene- they just happened to be law enforcement. Given that in one attack there were guns and in the other there weren’t, the issue is not the weapon used but who was in position to respond. Because even if one concedes a right to self-defense, my question is why we should NEED to be packing heat everywhere we go. Because if you’re in a theater, say, and some psychotic asshole comes in with firearms, shooting indiscriminately downrange, and you have your concealed carry and you’re good to go, but it’s dark, you’re in your seat and you need to aim at someone in particular, you’re at a disadvantage. It’s precisely because most people are law-abiding citizens that they don’t feel the need to carry weapons everywhere, and any law-abiding citizen who does train with weapons knows there are some cases where firing them is not practical.

We don’t need gun control, we need psychotic asshole control, but barring the development of some Minority Report-style “precrime” technology, that’s not going to happen.

You can’t predict whether a person is going to commit a crime. You can however look for clues. After the fact, reporters looked at the life of James Hodgkinson and found that he had a record of smaller offenses, including domestic violence and assaulting a foster child. This is a factor in support of the gun-control position, since the criminal record he did have was not sufficient to restrict his weapon purchases.

But something else grabbed everybody’s attention. In addition to his numerous personal problems, Hodgkinson was a Bernie Sanders supporter who worked on his 2016 campaign (and at least one other volunteer described him as ‘very mellow‘) He’d done public protests calling for 1938-level taxation on the rich. And he described Scalise and Donald Trump as racists and assholes – as did half of the people on social media, including me.

So as they often do when a news story looks bad for their position, the Party of Trump decided to engage in projection and distraction. Granted, the idea of a liberal shooting conservatives is treated as a “Man Bites Dog” story by the news media, but Hodgkinson’s attack was treated by conservatives as being part of a leftist campaign to organize violence against them in general and Donald Trump in particular, for example when one of those Shakespeare-in-modern-dress productions cast a blond guy with a red tie and a Slavic wife as Julius Caesar and had him assassinated in the Ides of March scene, which this week got crashed by two protestors saying that the intent was to normalize violence against the Right. So you have a play where Caesar is pre-emptively murdered to stop Rome from becoming a tyranny, in which Antony incites populist violence against the conspirators, causing the mob to kill an innocent man by association, and all this violence ultimately fails to stop the destruction of Rome’s republican norms, and two conservatives used indirect force against it as a protest against mob violence, which is another great example of missing the point.

But insofar as it’s unusual for a leftist to engage in the level of gun violence we saw in Alexandria, it supports my larger point that even when guns are not a factor in violence (as with the London Bridge attack), people are still feeling encouraged to kill others.

I mean, a certain conservative pundit referred to abortionist George Tiller as “Tiller the Baby Killer” for years before an anti-abortion activist decided he needed to shoot him. In church.

More recently, at least one politician has said that the country needs “Second Amendment solutions” to deal with political issues instead of working within the system. Before and after a liberal Congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, was shot.

But conservatives scream and cry and make a big deal out of it when THEY’RE the targets?

As I keep telling you “conservatives”, you are neglecting the danger of succumbing to intellectual decay in order to win elections. The danger is that what passes for conservatism really will turn America into a one-party state. That one party being the Democrats. Right now, liberals are fighting with one hand tied behind their backs, because they actually believe they are more moral than conservatives. Once they remember that they’re not, you will be like a wolf pack facing the wrong end of a ruminant stampede. Because liberals DO own the media, and more important, they have numbers over you. You may not have noticed, but outside your epistemically-closed circle, nobody cares about making trans women use the Men’s room. Nobody else thinks that it is a prerogative to harass attractive women in the workplace. That is why business and sports boycotts obliged North Carolina to modify its anti-trans law, why boycotts of The O’Reilly Factor forced Fox News to get rid of their most popular personality, and how a similar boycott forced their second-most popular guy (Sean Hannity) to back off his latest Clinton conspiracy theory.

(The fact that the marketplace had the final verdict in these cases is a little irony that few liberals and no conservatives want to point out.)

But in the moment, we’ve actually got a situation where a lot of typically left-wing demographics are starting to buy guns.  A BBC story from just after the election mentioned various people, such as a trans woman who says “she does not fear for her personal safety in the Californian city where she now lives but she says she knows people in rural areas “who woke up and found a bunch of swastikas and words like ‘faggot’ and ‘trannie’ scrawled all over their building” and she continued, “(t)hings are already escalating and they will continue to do so and me not engaging or being prepared to defend my friends by force… isn’t going to stop people from being attacked or harassed”.

Lest anybody start to feel Schaedenfreude over this, look at this from the other person’s perspective. Liberals: Now you know how it feels when the government doesn’t belong to you anymore. This is how it feels when it’s against your agenda. This is how it feels when you don’t feel secure with them in charge and the only one who can protect your rights is yourself. And conservatives: This is what happens when you threaten people with violence. They may think you’re serious about it. Especially when you are.

That’s why when this garbage happened in Alexandria, a lot of liberals made hay out of Senator Rand Paul’s comment from the scene that without Capitol Police, the shooting would have been a massacre. They reposted a Twitter comment where Paul requoted libertarian Judge Andrew Napolitano, saying “Why do we have a Second Amendment? It’s not to shoot deer. It’s to shoot at the government when it becomes tyrannical!”

As a libertarian, I agree. Of course, as a member of the Libertarian Party, I have pledged to disavow the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals. In any case, we have the rule of law. Before resorting to violence against tyranny in government, we should be able to investigate the government entities that are tyrannical and corrupt, and impeach those officials responsible. Unless they don’t want that to happen, of course.

Again, if gun prohibition is counterproductive, then what we need to do is discourage the development of psychotic assholes. However, telling the public in so many words that their “democracy” is an elaborate scam for the political class to justify what it was going to do anyway, and that there will be no peaceful redress of grievances, does a lot more to encourage such people in the future.

On the Other Side of the Pond

As you should know by now, there was an election Thursday June 8 in the United Kingdom, called by the Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May three years ahead of schedule, that was supposed to cement her political advantage in advance of Brexit negotiations with the European Union.

This made a lot of people angry and has widely been regarded as a bad move.

The end result was that May’s Conservative Party ended up losing 13 seats with the opposition leftist Labour Party gaining 30, with previous challengers UK Independence Party being almost wiped out, the net result being that the Conservatives lost their majority in Parliament. Opinion columnists are now convinced that this was a golden opportunity that Labour could have used to gain a majority outright instead of letting the Conservatives have a weak government, but given that May’s party had been leading in the polls, it’s amazing Labour did as well as it did. Which raises the question, how did this happen?

At the time, the Conservatives were leading in the polls, and the PM’s prerogative to call an early election now requires a supermajority vote in the House of Commons. But despite this, leaders of other parties approved the special election, including May’s main rival, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn, who could be described as “Bernie Sanders, only leftist”, campaigned hard and reversed earlier negative public impressions of him, and like Bernie came across as a likeably rough contrast to his prim opponent. It also helped that the Conservatives’ attempts to pay for spending elsewhere were in some cases covered by cost-cutting in some parts of social services, such as raising the income level required for home care to no less than 100,000 pounds, which Labour and other opponents quickly labeled a “dementia tax.”

What really grabbed press attention throughout the world was when Islamist terrorists attacked an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester on May 22 and then shortly after (June 3) attacked civilians in the London Bridge area by ramming people with a truck and then attacking with knives. While the latter attack brought a quick police response that prevented the casualties from being any worse, reporters questioned several members of the Muslim community who said they’d reported the attackers for suspicious activity, which the government apparently did not follow up on.

Then there was the point that May had refused to participate in debates with Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, which didn’t really help her optics. One columnist in Britain had this analysis:

It concerns me that one of, if not the, most powerful figures in Britain currently, is unable to juggle planning Brexit negotiations and a live TV debate, and yet the same figure will jump at any opportunity to criticize Corbyn for not talking about Brexit enough, and being more concerned with TV appearances.

A (further) concern of mine is that this is a general election called by Theresa May herself, in the midst of these Brexit negotiations, but it appears she is not treating it as such. This is an opportunity for the British public to vote for a future and society they want, not the Brexit they want. As far as I’m concerned, this election is not about Brexit, as it could be May, Corbyn, or myself in charge of the negotiations – the outcome will always be the same. Theresa May has failed to show that she understands the implications of what she has done. “

And of course there’s always the question of whether this means anything for the United States or whether the political situations are comparable. The takeaway I get from the election is this: Conservatives, just because voters hate liberals, that doesn’t give you carte blanche to make them hate you even more.

There’s also something else. It was assumed by some of the press that May’s reluctance to debate stemmed partially from being ill-at-ease with public discussions. According to some reporters, May’s staff had called her “Darth Vader”and the Left had accused her of creating a “hostile environment” for legal immigrants while in her previous job running the Home Office. (Making the fallout from the London attack that much more damaging.) Theresa May was never the most popular person even within her own party, and indeed only became Prime Minister due to parliamentary politics and the fact that no one else in the ruling party was in political position to take the job. And yet she was Prime Minister. There was indeed sexist commentary directed towards her, but no one questioned May’s position or her right to it.

And at the same time as May was raked over the coals by the press and her peers, the election of 2017 produced the largest number of female Members of Parliament, with 207 women winning election.

There’s a reason I bring this up.

America still has no female president in its history. And while some gains have been made, women have not been more than 20% of any given Congress over all.  Whereas in a previous era, Israel had Golda Meir and India had Indira Gandhi. And of course, Britain had Margaret Thatcher. More recently, Germany elected Angela Merkel and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a point of having a cabinet composed of at least half women. America’s democracy is falling behind in representing that viewpoint.

Assuming we survive the Annoying Orange and his party of toadies, America will elect a woman as president. Hopefully sooner than later, because when that happens, it will be possible to envisage a second one. And if that should happen, it may be possible to criticize a female politician as being tone-deaf and inept because she actually IS tone-deaf and inept, and not get reflexively attacked for being sexist.

I look forward to the day when American political culture is that practical and mature.

REVIEW: Wonder Woman

Of my numerous complaints with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, one was how that movie altered Superman’s relationship with the public in his setting. In the Christopher Reeve movies, Superman Returns and (to some degree) Man of Steel, Superman’s relationship with the public and law enforcement is ultimately friendly. In BvS, the world seems discombobulated by the appearance of “the Superman” over Metropolis, and reacts on the two extremes of hatred and abject worship, which is itself a form of terror. Realistically – if such a term can be used with superheroes – that kind of makes sense. Marvel’s X-Men series was predicated on the idea that people who are “born different” can still fight to defend a world that fears them. But that isn’t the general tone of Superman stories, and moreover, this premise depends on the shock of Superman being the first superhuman in the world – even though in the DC Extended Universe Batman has been a costumed vigilante for years before Superman became known to the public. Not only that, in the same movie, Bruce Wayne met Diana Prince and discovered not only that she is Wonder Woman, but that she’d fought with a unit in World War One. So going into the Wonder Woman solo movie, my main question was: Why is everyone on Earth so freaked out about Superman when there has been a demigoddess with Superman-level power running around for over a century?

Spoiler Alert: I didn’t find out.

If you are familiar with the original comics or the ’70s TV series, you know the first part of the story: The Amazons live isolated on Paradise Island until American military pilot Steve Trevor crashes and is rescued by Princess Diana, who decides to return with him to “Man’s World” and fight on his side in the war. The difference again is that this is World War One, even though Wonder Woman was introduced in World War Two. I’m not sure why the studio made the change. It could be they felt that WWII was too well-traveled or too closely associated with DC’s competitor hero, Captain America. It’s also important that chemical weapons were central to World War One, and this movie largely centers around the heroes trying to destroy the chemical superweapon of a German chemist code named “Doctor Poison” which is not a good name to put on your driver’s license but a great name for a Golden Age villain.

It’s important to take note of the performance of Gal Gadot as Diana, in that it is necessarily different from her acting in Batman v Superman. In BvS, Diana was a mysterious woman of secrets. Here she is the exact opposite, completely guileless, able to feel wonder at everything from ice cream to a November snowfall. In fact, her main problem is that she is so convinced of humanity’s innate goodness that she honestly thinks that killing one bad guy can stop the world from going to war. Otherwise, Chris Pine as Steve Trevor is a Big Damn Hero and not just a male damsel-in-distress, and the other heroes are fairly minor but all get good lines and good characterization.

The movie has flaws- like, how can such an innocent, even one with hundreds of years to learn languages, pick up the villain’s note book and not only decipher its code but figure out what a hydrogen-based poison is? And again, the movie’s setting isolates it from the established DC movie setting so that it doesn’t have much in common with it in terms of tone. Which is a good thing, though. These heroes rescue innocent people. They cheer each other up. It’s just a breath of fresh air (however stale that term may be) to have a DC Heroes movie that is both heroic and fun, as opposed to the Zach Snyder Superman movies (which were neither) or even the Christopher Nolan Batman movies (which were very good, but grim as hell).

I have to raise the matter of feminism given that WW’s creator, William Marston, saw it as her raison d’etre, and because Wonder Woman as a feminist symbol has been discussed in terms of female characters in movies. Because I didn’t see this particular interpretation as feminist per se. Rather, this Wonder Woman is someone who grew up not knowing sexism, racism, or the other vices of civilization, then gets introduced to the world as it is and asks: Why does it have to be this way? Wonder Woman is important to feminism because the rest of us did grow up in that world. And in terms of that world, a lot of people, not just feminists, were preparing for this movie with a “please don’t suck” prayer in mind, not just because another critically panned movie would have been bad news for the DC Extended Universe, but because despite evidence, a sucky movie with a female protagonist is used by Hollywood executives as an excuse for not greenlighting female-led movies. And that is because Hollywood is essentially conservative. Not in the “we hate abortion and gays” sense but in the sense of being terribly risk-averse. Especially since depending on how much a movie costs, a $20 million opening weekend can be regarded as disappointing.

That doesn’t seem like it will be a problem here. This week’s box-office and fan feedback indicates that Wonder Woman is a huge success. Which only shows that while a movie isn’t necessarily good just because it has a female protagonist, it will not automatically turn off audiences if it has a female lead (something the Aliens and Hunger Games movies should have proven already). What matters is that it’s a good story with good characters. Likewise, Wonder Woman proves that a superhero movie can be good whether or not Zach Snyder had anything to do with writing it. Although arguably despite that fact.

 

Why She Lost

On May 31st, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a talk at the Recode Conference event, saying “I take responsibility for every decision I made, but that’s not why I lost.” Which is a great way of not taking responsibility for losing.

For instance, she asserted as she has in the past that FBI Director James Comey’s decision to resume an investigation into her emails had a “measurable” effect on her momentum. “The overriding issue that affected the election that I had any control over — because I had no control over the Russians — was the way of the use of my email account was turned into the greatest scandal since Lord knows when,” Clinton said. “This was the biggest ‘nothing burger’ ever.”

Accept her point that she couldn’t control the Russians, and she couldn’t control Comey. What she could control was what she and her team did about the emails, which should have been to come clean (after all, if there was nothing criminal being discussed, there would be no reason NOT to, right?) and admit that her handling of the data was a self-created problem but not a crime. Instead she dismissed the whole matter as a “nothing burger” and left it open for her political enemies to exploit, and when that happened, she came across looking more defensive and dishonest than Donald Trump.

Now THAT takes some Goddamn genius.

Clinton has also said that she is being treated on a double standard with regard to (for instance) how her well-paid speeches to Goldman Sachs are somehow regarded as more suspect than every other politician’s well-paid speeches to Goldman Sachs, saying “at some point it bleeds into misogyny.”

Here’s the thing, there has been so much rank sexism from Donald Trump and his cult that I can’t dismiss such accusations out of hand. I also don’t accept them uncritically. What both Clinton fans and haters have to admit is that there is no other female politician who has reached her level of prominence in American politics, and thus there really aren’t any other female politicians who can be compared to her. So in analyzing her unpopularity, it’s unclear how much of that is because she’s a woman, and how much of it is because she’s her. In particular it’s a point of discussion how much her image problem is based on being different from other politicians and how much is from being an all too typical example of the political class that Donald Trump successfully campaigned against when he beat all Republican challengers in the primaries.

But in her conference talk, she also cast about blaming other factors, saying “I set up my campaign and we have our own data operation. I get the nomination, so I’m now the nominee of the Democratic Party. I inherited nothing from the Democratic Party. I mean, it was bankrupt, it was on the verge of insolvency, its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong,” Clinton added.

This was not a terribly popular opinion among Democratic insiders. One of them told The Hill,  “She’s apparently still really, really angry. I mean, we all are. The election was stolen from her, and that’s how she feels. But to go out there publicly again and again and talk about it? And then blame the DNC?” the aide wondered. “It’s not helpful to Democrats. It’s not helpful to the country, and I don’t think it’s helpful to her.”

I’d take a step back and ask a few more questions. One, for somebody who has been angling for political power at least since Bill Clinton was elected president, why was she apparently surprised by how bass-ackward the Democratic operation was? Who was running the Democratic National Committee? Why was it going bankrupt? Why was its data mediocre to nonexistent? (For that matter why did the former Secretary of State with a good reason to be suspicious of Vladimir Putin’s Russia not anticipate skullduggery on the likes of which she had seen Putin stage in other nations, and thus secure her own damn data?)

Let’s step further back and look at the big picture. This is the second time Democrats have had cause to bitch because the Electoral College gave the Republican the election when the Democrat had the majority of all American votes. What did they propose, in the 16 years since Bush vs. Gore, to address that issue? Did they stage any proposals to change the system to make it more representative and remove that Achilles’ Heel? Not even in terms of whether an amendment to the Constitution could be passed. The Republicans kept “repealing” Obamacare over and over again knowing it would never actually happen. Until it did.

Or is the Electoral College, like gerrymandering and ballot reform, one of those bloody shirts the Democrats wave around to get contributions and then never get around to cleaning up when they do win elections?

Well, it seems that way to me, but I could just be cynical.

I direct the reader to this article: Why Republicans (and Trump) May Still Win Big in 2020 – Despite ‘Everything’. It’s authored by Grover Norquist, a well-known right-wing anti-tax partisan, so leftists may be prone to automatically dismiss it. But his point is important. While Democrats love to blame their current woes on the Republican gerrymandering of state legislatures to tailor their own districts (blanking out the point that Democrats needed to lose their majorities in state government for that to happen in the first place), Norquist points out a serious factor they’re overlooking, or at least not emphasizing: In 2011, Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, signed a bill called Act 10 which limits the power of unions in the state, such that union membership is no longer mandatory for government work, unions cannot automatically force wages to be deducted from the gross paycheck and given to the union, and unions must hold an annual vote as to whether members still wish to be represented by the union. Norquist is very clear about the ulterior motive in this: “Currently, there are 25 states with Republican control of the governorship and both houses of the legislature. If half of them pass Act 10 or its equivalent, the collapse of union dues cannot be replaced by any collection of progressive billionaires.” At the same time, he also spells out how things got to this point. Namely, the idea of not being forced to join a union had some appeal. From the standpoint of an evil, child-sacrificing, Satan and/or Ayn Rand worshiper like myself, it makes sense that people would want a choice in whether to join a union or not, and thus whether to pay dues or not. Norquist also says there was a practical consideration for mayors and local government. Under Act 10, unions cannot negotiate pensions, so that while pension plans do exist, “mayors can no longer be mau-maued to grant pension benefits that would bankrupt the city in 30 years” and “Mayors, even Democrats, loved the ability to actually govern cities and manage workforces.” All this means is that Republicans identified a key revenue source for Democrats, and knew that it had enough unpopular or impractical elements that it could be attacked. And Democrats knew it: “Union leaders in Wisconsin and the other 49 states understood what was at stake. They offered to accept pay cuts if they could maintain the laws that forced workers to pay dues and have the state collect them for the union. Their focus was on funding the union structure — not pay or benefits.” Which was sort of a concession that the main purpose of a union is to shill for the Democratic Party, not to represent “the little guy”, especially since the rate of private-sector unionization went from 16.8% in 1983 to 6.7% in 2013.

In the long run, this means that Bernie Sanders was right. Not on everything, but specifically on the issue of campaign financing. While he railed against “the billionaire class” that made both Republicans and Democrats dependent on their favor, he somehow failed to point out that unions are their own form of institution, and just as each party tries to pass legislation to either hamper or enable corporations (that end up financially supporting them), it is possible for legislators to either hamper or enable unions, and given the ideological issues involved, that basically means that if Republicans can target them as a fundraising arm of the Democratic Party, they will. Whereas Sanders got a great deal farther than most people expected with his campaign because he depended on widely scattered small-scale contributions, which in retrospect not only made him less dependent on big donors, it meant that those sources were harder to target.

If one wonders why I’m not a Democrat, part of it is that the party operates like the French military in the first half of the 20th Century: always preparing for the last war while the Germans were always prepping for the next one.

In her Recode appearance, Hillary Clinton insisted “I also think I was the victim of the very broad assumption I was going to win. I never believed it, I always thought it would be a close election.” But one doesn’t make such a statement unless the assumption was already implicit. More importantly, that assumption is the only consistent explanation for all the unforced errors of Clinton’s campaign and all the weaknesses she did not guard against.

And while some liberals may wonder why people like me are so turned off by Hillary Clinton in particular, it’s because whatever one may say in regard to feminism or her resume, her political vices are those of the Democratic Party in general, and if they don’t address those vices, they’re going to be Monday-morning quarterbacking elections for the foreseeable future. I assume that’s not what they want.

Batman v Superman, Zach Snyder and the Malevolent Universe Premise

HBO has had showings of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (or, BvS) in the last couple of months. I had promised Facebook friends at the time of its release that I would review the movie in regard to certain subjects, and with the Wonder Woman movie about to come out (produced, but not directed by Zach Snyder) and with the Justice League movie being promoted (originally being made by Snyder until his daughter’s untimely death caused him to bow out of directing), I thought I needed to go over BvS in terms of how it suffers in comparison to other superhero movies, and exactly why it does, with regard to how Snyder’s oeuvre leaves a lot of fans pessimistic about the overall direction of DC Comics’ movie universe.

First, if you can, I’d recommend seeing the Extended Version/Director’s Cut of BvS. The movie still isn’t that good, but it’s substantially better, giving context to otherwise slapped-together scenes and giving characters like Jimmy Olsen real dialogue. Of course there are at least two reasons this wasn’t released in theatres: the extra stuff added 30 minutes to a movie that was already 2 1/2 hours long, and the extra violence would have gotten it an R rating. (And while the studio didn’t seem to care about the movie being dark and violent, they apparently wanted it just dark and violent enough to where kids could still see it.)

Some random points:

In this movie, Zach Snyder really seems to go for a lot of blurry, out-of-focus shots, which are often irritating but are occasionally used to great effect, as with the scene where a Gotham street cop encounters the Batman for the first time.

As far as the now-famous “surprise” where Batman’s vengeance is stayed when he finds out that Superman’s (foster) mom has the same name as his deceased mother, I thought that was actually a good move. I’m quite surprised that no one else noticed the coincidence of Martha Kent vs. Martha Wayne before, although it wasn’t until now that anyone saw fit to bring it up.

With as many problems as this movie had, I think it would have been improved by a factor of triple if it did not have Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. And normally I like Eisenberg. If he had just played the character as a reinterpretation of his Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, it would have expressed the sort of cold sociopathy that Luthor has in the comics. But in terms of both intelligence and emotional stability, this Luthor makes Donald Trump look like Mr. Spock.

Although in retrospect, given that Luthor had surveillance footage of the future members of the Justice League, much of what happened in the film only makes sense if you realize that Lex Luthor knew Clark Kent’s secret identity all along, and probably Bruce Wayne’s too.

The reason I wanted to critique an otherwise disappointing experience is because of something I’d read at the time of the movie’s release, where Zach Snyder had mentioned doing a film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead. Most of what I’ve seen on the subject details a movie that is not yet in production because Warner Brothers is still holding on to Rand’s screenplay, but when you type “zach snyder” in a search, the first thing that comes up is “zach snyder and ayn rand” and the articles it links to are fairly consistently from left-wing sites (like Salon) or from left-wing critics almost choking on their own snark about how bad Rand is and if Snyder likes her work, that just makes sense because he is also technically if not morally awful. As a fan of Rand’s (though not an orthodox Objectivist) I had to react to this assertion, especially since my issue with associating Snyder with Rand turns out to be the ultimate problem with BvS.

For one thing, Ayn Rand never wrote superhero comics, for another, the closest thing we have to such are the comics by Objectivist artist Steve Ditko (including The Question and Mr. A), and Snyder already did an adaptation of Alan Moore’s Watchmen comic story, based largely on comics that the DC company bought from Charlton Comics, including The Question, and in Watchmen, the vigilante Rorschach was basically Moore’s parody of The Question taken to a murderous extreme.

Ayn Rand is now most famous as a radical atheist right-wing philosopher (as opposed to the more religious conservatives) but she had always thought of herself primarily as a fiction author, one who belonged to the “Romantic Realist” school. In Rand’s terms, she was a Realist in the sense that her work did not include supernatural premises (although many of John Galt’s inventions are pure science fiction), and she was a Romantic in the sense that she wanted to write about heroic characters who prevailed over challenges and inspired moral values. The reason for her atheism, and later political involvement, was her sense that traditional altruist morality undermined heroism. This position has made her very unpopular in traditional liberal circles. For instance, Rand’s signature novel, Atlas Shrugged, is considered unrealistic and elitist because it posits a future dystopia in which the last thinking, productive people on Earth are under constant siege from mobs of mindless moochers whose only motivation is feeding themselves. And yet, the Zombie Apocalypse genre is more popular than ever.

Much of this gets into why Rand is now more famous for political philosophy than fiction, and has little bearing on BvS, DC Comics, or Zach Snyder’s film making philosophy. But Rand matters in comparison to Snyder because she articulated two aesthetic ideas that intersected with her political views but are not dependent on them. One is “sense of life” and the other is “benevolent universe premise.”

In the Ayn Rand Lexicon (now online) these two concepts are quoted mainly from Rand’s The Romantic Manifesto. She defines sense of life as “a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence.” In smaller words, one’s sense of life is a mainly subconscious and implicit sense of existence or “how the world works” and in most people is set before they are exposed to abstract philosophy and make specific value judgments on philosophical grounds. Rand explained why sense of life was relevant to art: “It is the artist’s sense of life that controls and integrates his work, directing the innumerable choices he has to make, from the choice of subject to the subtlest details of style. It is the viewer’s or reader’s sense of life that responds to a work of art by a complex, yet automatic reaction of acceptance and approval, or rejection and condemnation. … Regardless of the nature or content of an artist’s metaphysical views, what an art work expresses, fundamentally, under all of its lesser aspects is: “This is life as I see it.” The essential meaning of a viewer’s or reader’s response, under all of its lesser elements, is: “This is (or is not) life as I see it.”

The other concept of benevolent universe premise is not so much that the universe is some animate thing that’s looking out for you, but rather, if the conditions of the universe are such if that human beings can live and find technical and social progress, then a mindset of progress and values is the correct one for existence. This is part of why liberals despise Rand, because this premise goes along with various right-wing beliefs rationalizing the already successful as being more worthy and thus implies that those who are struggling do so because of a lack of values. And yet, this concept that existence is perfectible and that humans are not doomed to tragedy and suffering is inherent to heroic fiction, whether dealing with capitalist “Randian supermen” or the altruistic Superman.

Objectivists contrast this philosophy with “malevolent universe premise” which they hold to be mostly implied in altruism (the idea that lack, disappointment and disaster are the human norm and the goal of existence is to rescue other people from various emergencies) and mysticism (the premise of various religions that the physical world is either unreal or inferior to the spiritual world, and therefore improving material conditions is meaningless). In terms of her literary tastes, Rand identified this overall approach to life as associated with the Naturalist school of fiction, which attempted a scientific or observational view of subjects but emphasized “realism” by focusing on the more grim and sordid aspects of life. Part of this was the attempt to inspect material and social conditions outside the individual, but led to a view that man’s fate is ultimately determined by greater forces than the individual. One of Rand’s objections to Naturalism was based on the sense of life concept: Since the author is the ultimate shaper of the fictional setting (its God, so to speak) then a morally downbeat and grim work says more about the author’s sense of life than about how life “really” is.

In fiction, the malevolent universe premise expresses in one of three ways depending on the author. Either the author arranges things for the hero(es) to fail because the premise of the story relies on them failing, he arranges things to fail because his sense of life disposes him to actually believe that human effort is ultimately meaningless, or he believes that the conditions of the universe are such that they punish honorable behavior and that only rat bastards are capable of doing what it takes to survive in this world (this last could be called ‘the George RR Martin’s Career Premise’).

This premise worked for Zach Snyder in his adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300, which was supposed to be an over-the-top, gory last stand movie. It worked for Watchmen, which was was supposed to be a deconstructionist take on superheroes from the get-go. It even works to some extent with Batman (dark cave, wears black, no parents) which might be why the Batman sequences of BvS work better than the Superman ones. But it doesn’t work for Superman, and it might work even less well for Wonder Woman, because if you want your story to express certain values (like ‘violence is a reliable solution to all problems’) then someone like Superman undermines those assertions by his very existence in your setting. In Watchmen, the Dr. Manhattan character is a great deal more powerful than Superman, but he’s not a hero. Whereas in the Marvel Studios movies, Captain America is simply a human being tuned up to the highest level of performance with no fancy powers of his own, but the Captain America movies do a much better job of presenting the comicbook superhero ethos- and what Rand would call the benevolent universe premise- because despite going through trials that are at least as much psychological as physical, Cap still maintains his convictions and prevails over his enemies.

Go back to Man of Steel for a bit. Clark’s foster father Jonathan wanted Clark to conceal his powers. He was willing to keep this secret even to the extent of letting himself die for it. Why? Because he was scared of what might happen to Clark if he were found out. What the government might try to do with him. This version of Pa Kent didn’t grow up in a universe with Superman comics and cartoons. He didn’t grow up with that role model. He grew up in a universe presented much as the cynical world of today, without even that fictional alternative. He was operating on malevolent universe premise.

And unlike some people, while I didn’t object to Clark killing the Kryptonian General Zod at the climax of the movie – because he was clearly left with no choice – the reason he was left with no choice, in “meta” terms, is because that’s how the script was set up. Superman didn’t have access to a Phantom Zone projector or some means of removing the villain’s threat without killing him. Which writers for Superman comics have been able to do for almost 78 YEARS. This is of a piece with all the property damage and mass casualties Superman and Zod caused by their battle within Metropolis, which was another thing that comic fans objected to. Almost as if they’d been reading comic books for years longer than Zach Snyder and expected a comicbook movie to play out LIKE a comic book. But apparently the idea of the producers (including Snyder, and also his co-screenwriter, David S. Goyer of The Dark Knight movie trilogy) was that in order to be believable you have to present superheroes “realistically” in terms of the consequences their powers have and how people would react to them. To the extent that this argument has merit, it’s been better presented in other superhero and science fiction movies, including Watchmen. But it also misses the point. Stories like Watchmen pose the question: what if people with strange abilities and colorful costumes acted just like everybody else? Traditional superhero comics ask the question: What if they didn’t?

In any case that grim approach to how people would “really” react to a superhero carries over to BvS, where events play out as direct consequence to the Kryptonian battle over Metropolis. The city builds a giant statue to Superman but others call him a “false god.” The standoff between the government and Superman in Man of Steel seemed to have been resolved at the end of that movie but is re-intensified, for no obvious reason other than Superman attacking a warlord in a Third World country (mainly to rescue Lois) whom the CIA was going to take out anyway. And nobody cares what the CIA does in the Third World, so why would they care about Superman? The other factor is that the collateral damage in Metropolis also destroyed one of Bruce Wayne’s buildings and killed most of the staff, and with this version of Bruce somewhat resembling the Frank Miller version (semi-retired from crimefighting and embittered by the Joker killing Robin) he’s inclined to outright kill Superman, even as his investigations reveal something more sinister going on with Luthor. Just as this world didn’t grow up with 70-plus years of Superman, it also didn’t seem to have anything like the spectre of the 9-11 bombings. Rather than having public and government insecurity over terrorists blowing up skyscrapers, we have paranoia over superheroes blowing up skyscrapers. Which might explain why this world doesn’t care about protection against bombers.

Luthor sees the confrontation coming between Superman and the government, and decides to escalate by blowing up the Capitol as Superman comes in to testify. Let’s not even dwell on the point that blowing up the Capitol is just another example of postmodern cynicism towards government in particular, where Congress is destroyed largely because it’s a convenient target for audience wrath (much better expressed in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks: ‘We’ve still got two out of three branches of government, and that ain’t bad!!’). What was the guy’s wheelchair made of so that site security was unable to detect the explosive? Would Superman’s X-Ray vision have worked any better? Not like it matters. As my friend Jason Tondro says, he didn’t fucking look.  In fact, Clark actually said this to Lois the first time he saw her after the explosion. Well, not the “fucking” part.

Retreating back to the Arctic, Clark has a vision of his dead father Jonathan, who talks about how as a boy he and his family blocked a river flow during a storm to save a farm, only to find out that the diverted flow ended up ruining the Lang family farm instead.

In the movie, Luthor reveals himself to have been abused by his father (as Lex was in the most recent comic iterations). In this, Luthor’s atheism is not so much a rationalist philosophy as a “mad at God” stance, and once he has Superman in his clutches, he makes it clear that he regards him as a substitute for the absent creator he blames for his trauma. (So if we’re supposed to believe that Snyder and Goyer are apologists for Randian atheism, there’s a mixed message here.)

Blackmailed into fighting Batman, Superman tells Lois Lane, “no one stays good in this world.” No one who understands Superman would have written that line. But no one who understands Ayn Rand would have written it either.

To some extent, the fact that someone like Superman doesn’t use all the capabilities at his disposal is an example of what Siskel and Ebert used to call the “idiot plot,” as in, the plot advancement depends on the principals being idiots. And as other critics have discussed, many of the movie’s plot holes, or plot sinkholes, plot crevasses and plot canyons, are best explained if you assume the producers went with the premise “let’s have Batman fight Superman” and worked backward from there, as opposed to Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, where the fight between the two was inevitable considering Bruce’s actions, but not actually the point of the story, and where small details were introduced explaining why that confrontation would be inevitable and not contrived. But what we’re discussing with Snyder’s movies, the Superman movies in particular, is more broad and abstract. The forces of the universe, as shaped by the producers, actually work against heroism. In Pa Kent’s example, this is explicit. Even when you try to do the right thing, it blows up on you. So why try?

Ayn Rand was rather infamous for her humorlessness, but one reason for that was that she thought that heroism and heroic virtues should not be mocked. And in terms of her literary position, she saw that mockery taking place throughout a popular culture influenced by Naturalism that saw optimism and virtue as “unrealistic.” Superman, as the most famous altruist next to Jesus himself, is not the sort of character Rand would have championed. But neither would she have tried to make him seem stupid or impotent. And that’s what BvS does. It does this to a lesser extent with Batman, whose investigations of Luthor are distracted by his mad-dog obsession with Superman, but the contrast between what the comic fan knows about the character and what Snyder’s movie presents is not quite so insulting. Batman as a violent and obsessed vigilante is a simplistic interpretation, but it’s not entirely inappropriate. Superman, as a near-omnipotent character who tries to use his power judiciously while causing as little harm as possible, is a character concept that Snyder and Goyer don’t seem to get. BvS, much more so than Man of Steel, seems intent on pushing every “cool kid” conception of Superman as being useless and stupid in comparison to edgier heroes, and given that Superman has that image problem, the challenge in storytelling terms would have been to make that Boy Scout hero both inspiring and believable.  It would also have been a challenge for Ayn Rand to do so, but then, she would not have tried, rather than make a genuine hero look like a tool.

All of which is why I don’t think Zach Snyder is a Randian, or if he is, he’s not setting a great example. Most likely if he did get to do an adaptation of The Fountainhead it would end up with Howard Roark as an obscure architect who resorts to terrorism in order to compensate for his failed life, with Dominique as not merely masochistic but outright delusional, acting out a cycle of childhood conditioning and abuse a la Sucker Punch.

And if you want “gritty” superhuman movies that show all the ugliness and vulgarity of real life but are also entertaining and even heroic, you’d be better off with Logan or Deadpool.

Especially Deadpool.

 

REVIEW: Star Trek Discovery Trailer

Notice I refer to the preview of Star Trek: Discovery and not the actual show. For one thing, the first episode isn’t out yet, and for another, the show is on that stupid CBS All Access network which would require me to pay for a service when I can barely afford the pay TV I have now.

But there was a certain level of controversy over the preview, partially because of the perceived political correctness of casting the two stars, China’s Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green (late of The Walking Dead), who are not only women but minorities. This sort of thing doesn’t concern me. We should all be aware by now that the real “sensitive snowflakes” are the cultural conservatives, and it’s not like this is the first time they’ve bitched about new media.

The idea of two strong female characters who are “of color” is in my opinion one of the more interesting things about the show. (Although I prefer not to use the phrase ‘people of color.’ One, to me it sounds too much like ‘colored people.’ Also, Donald Trump is technically a person of color.) The two stars are the main reason I’m interested. It’s the rest of the trailer that is turning me off. For various reasons.

For one, the uniforms and spaceship sets look newer and spiffier than the Original Series Trek and even the JJ Abrams old-Trek-with-modern-production movies. This was one thing that the Enterprise series, with all its problems, got right from the get-go. That show looked to me like the characters were the precursors of the Starfleet crews in the very first episodes of original Star Trek (like ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’ and ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’ where the uniforms were even more bland and utilitarian than Enterprise).

The use of Sarek and Spock. Why are they really necessary? Especially given that the Discovery storyline is supposed to be taking place ten years before the start of the original series, and to the extent that Spock is seen in the trailer, it’s as an adolescent.

The Klingons. They look that much more alien than they did when re-introduced in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and it took them until 2005 to explain THAT.

Apropos of nothing, but has Doug Jones EVER done a role without full makeup?

Let me put this another way. I’d mentioned recently that I’d seen the new Ghostbusters reboot (the one where the principals are all women), and I liked it. However, the female casting seems to get some fans’ undies in a bunch, to the extent that the hostile reaction may have affected the movie’s box office success. Unfortunately the movie, while it had good elements, undermined itself. Namely, it started with the premise of a reboot or re-imagining with no continuity to the previous series, and yet most of the actors from the original movie did appear playing different characters. This somewhat defeated the purpose of starting fresh and made it that much harder to judge the movie on its own terms. It raised the question of exactly what the producers were trying to do.

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.

The politically-incorrect grousing about casting is a red herring in comparison to the other issues with Discovery. I remember that when the first trailers for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens came out, some guys were pitching a fit over John Boyega and Daisy Ridley being the stars. The fact that the new heroes were a black man and a white woman was immaterial to me. What sold me on the movie was that it FELT like Star Wars. Granted, some critics would say it feels TOO MUCH like the first Star Wars movie. But it got the job done.

Now granted, the actual series may explain some of the issues. (IF I see it.) The Sarek scenes with Spock might be flashbacks. Some fans are already claiming that the “new” Klingons are a nearly extinct subrace trying to save themselves. But to me the Discovery trailer, much more than The Force Awakens, seems like the producers’ attempt to slap a bunch of by-the-numbers elements together, even where they don’t fit, and market it under a well-loved brand name in the hopes that no one will notice or care about the difference. And the problem there is that with this particular intellectual property, fans DO notice the differences. As witnessed by all the little details I just went over, and I’m not as big a Trek expert as some people I know.

It’s Coming From INSIDE the White House!!!

Donald Trump’s international trip has actually been fairly successful thus far, if only because he hasn’t started Armageddon yet. Yet some people on both sides just have to complain. First, he and his family got attention from liberals because of their special deal to give Saudi Arabia upwards of $109 billion in weapons and equipment.

I hate to tell you this, folks, but heaping praise and aid on Saudi Arabia while turning a blind eye to their monstrous theocracy is the most conventional aspect of Donald Trump’s Administration relative to other presidents.

And on the other hand, Trump’s “alt-right” fans are going apeshit when he made his speech to the Saudis Sunday morning, and did NOT use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” and even went so far as to call Islam one of the world’s great faiths.  For this they gave him their usual insults, calling him a “pussy” and a “cuck.”

Seriously, Trumpniks, what do you expect your Dear Leader to do? Yeah, go ahead and go to the kingdom that controls the Two Holy Cities and tell them that Islam is a death cult. Go ahead and tell them that Allah isn’t the same as God. Go ahead and tell them that the purpose of Islam is to wage war with the unbelievers until they are all converted or enslaved.

You might as well expect Mr. Unpredictable to go to CPAC or the Republican National Convention and tell you, “America does not have an official religion. America does not have an official language. You cannot have the big, powerful government you want if rich people don’t pay taxes. But instead of trying to make government fair and just, you want to make everything nonsense and Opposite Day, because you’re bitter reactionaries and you’ve made Two Minutes Hate into a permanent lifestyle.”

See how far he’d get with that.

Meanwhile, in the last week before the start of the international tour, the Trump Administration continued to suffer setbacks in the court of public opinion, as news article after article revealed more embarrassing details about the president’s overall lack of competence and temperament. An example is a May 17 article in the New York Times.  The article, by the Times’ designated chroniclers Michael Shear and Maggie Haberman, mentions Trump’s reluctance to sleep in any location other than a Trump property (of which there are none in the five countries on the trip), and his request to “cut short” a trip to Israel’s Holocaust memorial site. It also says that recently, “(in) an attempt to capture his interest, aides threaded Mr. Trump’s own name through one of the two-page memos they wrote for him.” And: “in private, Mr. Trump’s advisers acknowledge that they are concerned about his off-script eruptions, his tendency to be swayed by flattery and the possibility that foreign leaders may present him with situations he does not know how to handle. They worry he will accidentally commit the United States to something unexpected, and they have tried to caution him about various scenarios.”

This story, with many, many more like it, gives the picture of a particularly bratty and stupid child who is incapable of grasping the basic tasks of his current office, let alone those of a CEO. If you are a conservative or a Trump voter (not necessarily the same thing) you can use these articles to make a case that Trump is the victim of slanted presentation by a biased media. And you would have a point. But consider: These stories are the results of leaks from Administration staff. Not just whatever people may be left from the Obama Administration, if there are any. We’re talking about Republicans who have direct access to Mr. Trump on a personal and daily basis. These are people who got on the Trump Train because they thought he had a plan to Make America Great Again (TM). And they are seeing the man in action, and they are deeply dismayed. The theory, confirmed by at least one conservative, is that the leaks are not an attempt to undermine the Administration, but rather to save it. In an article for The Hill,  Erick Erickson, best known for the Red State site, asked: “Why would a loyal staffer who adores the president of the United States leak damaging information to the national media that makes the president look bad? … The story had multiple sources. I know one of those sources. He can only be characterized as an ardent Trump supporter who desperately wants the president to succeed. But as more than one member of the Trump White House realizes, sometimes the president will not take advice. Sometimes the president treats suggestions as criticism. More often than not, the president is vastly more interested in what the media says about him than what his advisers in his employ say to him.  White House staff have ample incentive to leak to the press when they believe the president needs to pay attention or be admonished. ”

In other words, Trump, while he complains to high heaven about the mainstream media, spends a lot of his time obsessed with mainstream media, especially when it’s about him. And thus leaking to the “MSM” is the only way they can bring stuff to his attention.

It would be one thing if a partisan media were simply doing everything it could to make a Republican president look bad. Conservatives ought to expect that. But what ought to concern them is how many conservatives who know what’s going on are helping the liberal media expose their savior. And that’s because some of them are starting to realize what the rest of us have been telling them all along: Trump will do the same thing to conservatism- and the nation- that he did to the Atlantic City casino industry.

In the first month of the Administration, as Trump made his first clumsy steps to Trumpify the apparatus of state, a lot of liberals were fretting about “Trump fatigue” – the idea that Trump’s mere presence at the head of state would normalize a deeply abnormal situation and serve to usher in fascism, and people would eventually get tired of taking to the streets in protest every time he did something stupid and/or evil. But now it seems to be the other way around. Now as Trump moves on not-exactly-leftist institutions like the FBI- not just because he wants to consolidate power, but because he literally doesn’t know what he’s doing- as his unwillingness and inability to keep promises is now impossible to deny, and as the political liability to conservatism becomes that much more obvious, it’s the alt-righters and establishment conservatives who are asking: How much longer can WE put up with this shit?