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?


Wake Up, White People

“As president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law,” the report said.
In addition, his national security adviser, who was at the meeting, told the Post nothing was shared that was not already publicly known. At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly,” said Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster., May 15, 2017

“Fuck you.” -David Mamet

All right, I’ve had about enough of this.

Even as I write, Donald Trump, Viceroy for Russian North America is escalating the crisis over giving intelligence to the Russians, which was in itself an escalation of firing FBI Director James Comey, which was an escalation of investigations on Trump’s National Security hire Michael Flynn.

But who gives a damn? None of it is going to matter as long as the Republicans in Congress sit on this thing. It’s as if Trump is deliberately going as far as he can to say, “Yeah, I’m a traitor. Yeah, I’m a total Russian stooge. Yeah, I gave them information literally no one else could give them. Whatta ya gonna do about it? NOTHING. Ya wanna know why? Cause I’ve got the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, as my personal bitch. Mitch the Bitch. Isn’t that right, Mitch?”
“Yipe yipe yipe!”
“Good girl.”

Even then, however much of a punk McConnell is, he and the rest of the Republican Party are like this because they need Trump voters. So I’m talking to you, Trumpniks. And when I say, “you,” if you think I’m talking about you- well, I am.

You’re gonna have to accept that as long as you defend your precious little boy, you’re putting yourselves in the same position as Sean Spicer and H.R. McMasters and all the other officials who are destroying their own credibility – not just as professionals, but as homo sapiens – by making a case that he himself will immediately contradict, almost as if to test how much you will degrade yourselves. Because most Trumpniks, even the rich ones, know what it’s like to live in a world with jobs, bills, and responsibilities, a world where actions have consequences. A world where Donald Trump has never had to live. But you trusted him to understand that world and craft positions to help you. And it must be obvious even to you now that he doesn’t understand that world, or indeed anything beyond whichever emotion is going through his very little brain at the moment. But every time he does something stupid and dangerous, something you would never do yourself, something you would never allow your 5-year-old to do, something you would never tolerate in Hillary Clinton or any other Republican, you will defend him, because he’s Trump and you’re you.

What’s really pathetic is that Spicer and the other professionals are being PAID to look like idiots, but you’re doing it for free.

Let me see if you can grasp it from this perspective: Living in the United States is like living at home with a single mom. And the President is the guy that she’s shacking up with. And she has to change boyfriends every so often, because, well, there are term limits. And some times the new guy is a hardcase. Sometimes he’s cool. And sometimes, he’s a poufy-haired douchebag who’s addicted to cocaine.

And you know how it is: he swears he’s gonna pay all the bills, and then he watches TV all day and eats you out of house and home, he slaps you and orders you around because he’s the “man of the house” and you’re not, and whenever you try to convince your mom that the new guy is a punk and she needs to Dump The MotherFucker Already, she says, “But you don’t understand! I LOVE HIM!! Your pitiful facts and logic have no place in my reality!”

She’s you.

Now the difference between this analogy and real life is that if one is an adult living at home with a codependent parent, one can always move. But when your friends, and your neighbors, and half the state are Trump cultists (Republicans), the only way to escape the dysfunctional relationship is to leave the country. And the problem there is that the abusive party is the United States government. The United States government doesn’t believe in restraining orders.

“But what about Hillary’s emails?” Well, FUCK Hillary Clinton, FUCK her damn emails, FUCK YOU if you think you can change the subject, and FUCK THE LIVING FUCK OUT OF YOU if you seriously think that is the subject at hand. Fucker. Hillary Clinton is not the spoiled little brat who is squirting shit all over the White House because nobody ever spanked his ass and made him learn how to behave amongst humans. That’s YOUR precious little boy, Trumpniks. YOU did this. He’s on YOU.

Because everybody else knew better. The Hillary voters. The people like me who couldn’t stand Hillary and couldn’t vote for Trump either. The Never-Trump conservatives. Even those few conservatives and blue-collar folks who did vote for Trump and are willing to admit they were had. The problem is that much larger base of chumps who will lap up any excretion from that animated stool sample like it was caviar. I am willing to admit how much I hate Clinton, and I did not vote for her. But even at the time I was willing to concede that however much I hated her, she was not likely to be so consistently and progressively stupid.

And if I agree with half of what Trumpniks think about Hillary – and I do  – then why did I oppose Trump? Well, if I hate Hillary that much, then exactly how bad did Trump have to be?
How about bad enough to give presidential-level intelligence to the Goddamn Russians???

Y’know, something tells me that y’all wouldn’t be so willing to defend Trump if he’d given that info to the Chinese.

There’s a difference between hating Clinton and hating reality. And the only conclusion I can reach is that you’re addicted. Just as it’s possible for the hypothetical mom to be addicted to bad relationships, it’s possible for an individual to be addicted to bad politics, and for such individuals to form a poisonous movement.

But since drug addiction is a matter of self-absorption, by the same token that means addicts are too self-absorbed to justify their chemical romance by appeal to an ideal or political goal.

When my brother went to shoplift Walmart to get some goods he could pawn for his fix, and ended up getting in a fistfight with store security, I don’t think the thought going through his head as his teeth flew out of it was “ha ha take that libruls.”

What you do have in common with heroin addicts is a complete disregard for the damage you are doing to the world around you, not to mention yourselves. Trump is a hell of a drug. And like all habits, the first hit is free. But the price keeps going up and up. And rock bottom is a BITCH.

What happens when your source dries up?
What happens to YOU if Donald Trump is gone? I’m not even talking impeachment. He IS the oldest president in American history. What happens when he dies?

Will your movement survive carried on the surging masculine charisma of Ted Cruz?

As a right-winger who has little regard for left-wing political correctness, sanctimony and hypocrisy, I am warning you that you do not consider the real danger in enabling not only Viceroy Trump but the current anti-intellectual bent of the Republican Party. Emphasis on “bent.”

The danger is that the Republicans really are going to turn America into a one-party state. That one party being the Democrats.

Because the longer YOU let this farce go on, the more likely it is that when, NOT if, it blows up in your faces, the more likely it is that the Republican Party will be in the same bad odor that the Democrats were in 1865. And for much the same reasons.

Which is where I get to the elephant in the room. So to speak.

It perhaps overstates the racism at the core of the know-nothing movement now calling itself “conservatism” to say that was the only reason Trump won the election or why he attracted a following. Given the number of votes he got, conservatives can’t ALL be racist. Indeed, I would say that’s not the worst aspect of being a Trumpnik. I mean, anybody who heard the Watergate tapes knows that simply because Richard Nixon was a racist paranoid with authoritarian tendencies didn’t make him a bad president. It’s when you’re a racist paranoid authoritarian who is also gullible and incompetent that the racism becomes too much flavoring. And while not all unreasonable people are racists, racism, as an anti-reason philosophy, tends to lend itself to irrationality, unreasonableness and downright stupidity. Just as not everyone with lung cancer smoked cigarettes in their life, but things have gotten to where it’s a leading indicator. The problem is not so much racism in itself but willful ignorance and deliberate wallowing in idiocy and fantasy. Because that attitude leads to a whole host of other sins, including racism and petty (or not-so-petty) sadism.

This was a problem long before Trump ran for office. I say again, the Republican Party was the Party of Trump for quite some time, and they were just waiting for him to show up. And when Obama was in office, liberals were insisting that the main reason for the knee-jerk conservative opposition to him was him being a young black man. Again, I’m not a liberal. But I didn’t need any convincing.

Not when I saw at least one sign at a Tea Party rally saying, “There’s An African Lion In The Zoo, and There’s A Lyin’ African In the White House.” Not when Mitch “The Bitch” McConnell held up President Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee, making him the first president to not even be allowed to have that nominee appear before the Senate, because reasons.

But Trump, formerly an economic centrist who praised Canadian-style healthcare and had little regard for conservative issues like abortion, gravitated to the Republican party as his vehicle instead of the Democrats because they agreed on the important thing. They felt threatened by a changing demographic and wanted to cling to power by hook or by crook.

It’s no coincidence that this culture coincides with the resistance to removing Civil War monuments and the culture of Civil War re-enactments, which are not bad things in and of themselves. The problem is not erasing history, but continuing to distort it, glorifying something that was not any good to begin with.

But of course you want to have the Civil War re-enactments and the statues of Confederate war heroes because that’s the time when your spiritual ancestors were kicking ass. You don’t want to re-enact what happened after you lost. You don’t want to be reminded of being poor, conquered and fucked.

You don’t want to commemorate Sherman’s March. You don’t want to commemorate breaking up the plantations. You don’t want to be reminded that the Union encouraged black men to run for Congress to represent Southern states, and you don’t want to be reminded that the South was under military occupation until 1877 because they couldn’t be trusted to govern themselves.

That’s the future you are promising this country.

THAT’s what you mean by “make America great again.”

See, this is why we need a White History Month. Cause there’s a whole bunch of white people who don’t seem to know anything about it.

You might not actually be a racist, but if you know what these people are and enable them anyway, you are a fellow traveler.  So if that’s the path you want, consider where it leads. On the bright side, re-enacting being poor, conquered and fucked costs no costume budget whatsoever.


REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

It is fair to say that Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is basically the same movie as the first one, only more so.  And given how fun the first Guardians of the Galaxy was, that is enough recommendation in itself.

What’s surprising is how deep the movie is.  The first movie actually did a good job establishing the dynamics of each character, where the principals with the possible exception of Groot are all survivors of trauma: Rocket is a victim of animal experimentation, Gamora was forced to fight Nebula for the sake of Thanos, Peter Quill lost both his parents and Drax lost his entire family.

The new movie makes explicit this previously implicit theme.  So while it brings up the “Sam and Diane” attraction between Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the real emotional confession of the movie is between Gamora and her archrival Nebula.  Drax (the hilariously deadpan Dave Bautista) develops an emotional range that he hadn’t had before, but can only reach his deepest sorrow second-hand through the empath Mantis (newcomer Pom Klementieff).  And the main character, Quill, finally meets his long-lost father (Kurt Russell) whose plans for him present an emotional temptation he may not be able to resist.  To say much more would spoil the movie.  Except that the producers took the character concept of “Ego, the Living Planet” and ran as far as they could with it.  And as others have pointed out, the best acted scene in this movie (other than the Nebula-Gamora confrontation) is between a guy in blue alien makeup and a CGI raccoon.

Which isn’t to say that Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 isn’t an action blockbuster movie with a budget bigger than the GNP of a developing nation, because it certainly is.  But a lot of movies coming out this summer will make literal tons of money, and how many of them will be worth saving in your video collection years from now?  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is funny, exciting, and at one point, intensely moving.  Hopefully Marvel Studios will be able to maintain this standard into their planned “Infinity War” phase of films.




Trump’s First 100 Days

Of course the main news event of the moment is that Saturday April 29 marks Donald Trump’s first hundred days as President, which is remarkable first because we’re all still alive.

But as historians know, the reason we use “the 100 days” as a benchmark is that during the first one hundred days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first term as president, he addressed the 1933 bank crisis by establishing the first federal deposit insurance system, started the Tennessee Valley Authority and created an emergency relief system for the poor during the Depression (which eventually led to the Social Security Administration). Since then American media have used FDR’s example, where the start of his administration set the stage for modern government, to compare to every other president’s opening days, especially when a president like Trump comes in promising to shake things up.

As it turns out, Trump has stated (on Twitter, naturally) that the 100-day benchmark is a “ridiculous standard.” I would say that Trump has a point there, but it turns out this is yet another case where he directly contradicted something he said as part of his campaign statements.  In any case, he did indeed promise much. And while he has until either the end of his term or the end of his impeachment trial to make his final mark, the general consensus is that not only has he not accomplished much compared to other presidents at this point, he certainly has not accomplished much compared to his own boastful agenda leading up to inauguration.

As they did during the 2016 campaign, Democrats perhaps overstate the case for how uniquely awful Trump is compared to the rest of the Republican Party. Any other Republican would have presented a tax reform that favored rich individuals and corporations over the middle class and working poor. Any other Republican would have nominated a technically qualified but politically conservative judge like Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and the Democrats would have still acted like it was the end of the world.

(The fact is, even pragmatic conservatives have to skew to the extreme to get the kind of Justice they want. After all, everybody expected John Roberts to be a hardcore conservative, and he ended up saving Obamacare. Twice. )

But it was Trump who demanded an immediate plan for a border wall that nobody else wanted and nobody else wanted to pay for. Including Congress.  It was Trump who proactively decided to threaten North Korea with a carrier group that apparently wasn’t even near Korea.  And while all the Republicans in Congress yelled about doing “repeal and replace” on Obamacare, Trump attached himself to an immediate repeal effort before a replacement was finalized (or apparently even conceived) resulting in conflict within the Republican party over whether the new health plan should remove Obamacare restrictions (and thus cost more money) or be that much more restrictive and save money (and thus defeat the purpose of covering the previously uninsured). That in turn led to Trump setting up a threat to vote for a repeal or face reprisal in the midterms. The fact that Republicans were willing to let the bill die rather than vote for it indicates they were more afraid of reprisal from voters if they HAD approved it. Which ultimately demonstrated, on an issue of vital importance to both Trump and his party, that his power to negotiate a deal is practically nil.

This basically is of a piece with the mindset of a flim-flam man who promises the moon and doesn’t even have moon rocks. The real reason Trump is found wanting in the first hundred days is because his ambitions are far in excess of his capacity to achieve them, which has to do with the mindset he brings to the situation. As the milestone date came near, Trump did a much-quoted interview with Reuters and said  “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

Now, nobody actually knows what it’s like to be President until they assume the office. But some presidents, like Reagan and George W. Bush, were former governors. Some, like Obama and LBJ, were former senators. So they had some idea of how this “government” thing works. But Trump not only didn’t have that experience, he didn’t seem to think it was necessary. It probably explains why he has such a rapport with his support base. “Hey, I have a bunch of belligerent opinions and I don’t know what I’m talking about either! This Trump guy, that’s ME!!!”

So again, there is one real and substantial achievement of the first hundred days, and that was Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, though as any liberal will tell you, that’s only because the Republican Senate left the seat open for him. And other than that nomination, it’s unclear whether Republicans regret their allegiance. As it stands, the best things about the start of the Trump Administration are entirely negative:

He hasn’t deprived the previously uninsurable of health coverage. Yet.

He hasn’t been able to fully deprive the rights of legal immigrants. Yet.

And he hasn’t started World War III because the dictator of North Korea hit his hands.


Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Cared?

It is often said that war is how Americans learn geography. But Syria has been a hot spot for several years now and most Americans don’t seem to know why. So in fairly brief terms:

Syria is an Arab country run by Bashar al-Assad, son and successor to the dictator Hafez al-Assad, who took over in 1970 as head of a Baath Party that was a contemporary of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. The elder Assad died in 2000. The country is technically a secular state, partly because Syria is majority Sunni Islam, and the Assad family belong to the Alawite sect which is a minority even within the Shia minority. As a result most Syrian Alawites are firmly behind the government because they know they would face reprisals if Bashar al-Assad lost power. This alignment has also led to the patronage of Shiite Iran and Iran’s ally Russia. However after the “Arab Spring” calls for democracy in the Middle East increased, and when Assad brutally suppressed such protests in Syria, it sparked armed opposition by 2011, escalating into the Syrian Civil War. The resistance started out as relatively liberal. However, in the last few years, evidence has surfaced that Assad has not only de-emphasized operations against fundamentalist groups like Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), he has allowed fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq to flee to his country during the parallel conflict in Iraq, and actually ceded territory to ISIS in order to build them up as a domestic threat, while he- and his Russian patrons- focused on attacking the Free Syrian Army and local Kurdish groups who are at least partly supported by the United States.  The basic premise of Assad’s campaign to stay in power is to eliminate all alternatives to his rule except ISIS, so as to say, “you HAVE to keep this corrupt, one-party regime in control, or else you’ll be figuratively and literally raped by fundamentalist religious fanatics.”

In other words, the same sales pitch as the Democratic Party. Except Assad has done a lot more to destroy opposition than the Democratic National Committee did to destroy Bernie Sanders.

There is of course another wannabe strongman who got aid from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Trump Administration has come under increasing scrutiny- even from some Republicans- over what seemed to be suspicious contacts between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and people who were either connected to the Russian government or directly working for it.  By April 3, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R.-California) was himself under suspicion for seeming to run interference on his committee’s own investigation. Then the next day, April 4, the Syrian town of Khan Shaykun, occupied by a fundamentalist militia, suffered a chemical attack with sarin gas, which depending on who you ask was either a Syrian airstrike or the accidental result of a Syrian conventional bombing that struck the militia’s chemical weapons stockpile. The result in any case killed at least 74 and injured hundreds more. This incidentally was not the first time the Syrian government had been credibly accused of gassing its own citizens.  But the Trump Administration reacted harshly.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to a previous agreement Syria had made to disable chemical weapons stockpiles under Russian supervision, and accurately concluded, “either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent.” And even though on April 8, Tillerson said that “there is no change to our military posture” on April 7, Donald Trump ordered an airstrike of 59 cruise missiles on a Syrian airbase that was (allegedly) the base used for the Khan Shaykun bombing.

It came out, after the airstrike, that Trump’s decision was (allegedly) tipped by the influence of his daughter Ivanka. This was according to Ivanka’s brother Eric, who admitted in an interview that Donald Trump was very much against President Obama taking action in Syria two years ago.  Not to mention, up til April, Mr. Trump had expressed a pretty consistent record of defending Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian tendencies. For instance in a February interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News,  when O’Reilly said Putin was a killer, Trump said, “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent?” Basically the Noam Chomsky for Dummies approach to history. But suddenly Trump is on TV talking about how “beautiful babies” were killed as though it were suddenly news to him that Putin does bad things and Assad is in his pocket.

If Trump really is that gullible, it only confirms my impression that Donald Trump is what the average Donald Trump voter would be if he had money.

But one thing the airstrikes did do was shift the focus. During MSNBC live coverage of the airstrikes, Brian Williams actually invoked Leonard Cohen in quoting “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.”  Even Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D.-New York) said “Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.” And polls showed that about 50 to 60 percent of the American public supported the strike, although there was still opposition to further involvement in Syria.

What is actually surprising is that much of the opposition to and suspicion of the attack came from Republican politicians, citing the Administration’s action as being taken without notice to Congress.  Not that it will ultimately amount to anything, because the defining characteristic of the modern Republican is not a defense of capitalism or traditional values, but the willingness to do any degraded and retarded thing that Donald Trump demands that you do. But it truly is remarkable that the Party of Trump is willing to raise as much objection as they have, especially given that it would seem to align them with the traditionally anti-war Left. Indeed, they’re not only displaying more regard for Congress’ warmaking power than the Democrats are now, they’re showing more skepticism than they did under Obama.

It could be that suspicion was sparked by details of the strike after the fact. Two days after the US strike, Syria launched air attacks from the same airbase, using conventional weapons against the same town of Khan Shaykun.  Satellite images reported from various sources indicated that the runways were not damaged. See, in order to minimize casualties – and thus the chance that military action would lead to an escalation with Russia – gave Russia advance notice of the strike to give them- and thus the Syrians- time to evacuate personnel and possibly stockpiles.  Now, the Syrian air force strikes that have occurred since did not use chemical weapons, and the conventional wisdom is that Syria and its patron were sent a message. But if the Russians and Syrians were capable of coordinating with America’s military strike well enough to minimize harm to both humans and the target, then it wasn’t the Russians or Syrians that needed to be sent a message, because clearly the government can communicate well with them. The message was for the various suckers in America, like Brian Williams and the Democratic leadership, who take this kayfabe seriously.

According to MarketWatch, each of the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles cost about a million dollars each and since Trump owns stock in the manufacturer,  that helped his portfolio, which is of course the main thing that matters to him. Again, according to Eric Trump, “if there was anything Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie.” But the lack of follow-through on the diplomatic front combined with the lack of further (publicized) military action in Syria means that the initial “shock and awe” of the airstrike gives everyone time to analyze how much or how little it accomplished, and in turn to question exactly how and why things went down the way they did. Not to mention why the Administration took a completely opposite policy from the one that they had held just a few days before in response to a Syrian regime whose use of chemical weapons was well-established. As with almost everything else, the more Trump tries to throw people off the Russia connection, the more obvious it becomes.

Which may be why there’s another war in the making even before whether we know that the first one is going to happen.

North Korea has been a dangerous state in Asia for some time, especially as it has developed nuclear weapons capability. As yet it does not have reliable missiles to strike the United States, though it has threatened to do so for years. There is also a tradition that on the anniversary of the first dictator’s birth, April 15, military parades, displays and tests are held to show the communist regime’s power. It was assumed by many foreign analysts that this year North Korea would engage in another nuclear test simultaneous with the test of an intercontinental missile. (As it turned out, yesterday’s missile test failed seconds after launch.)  But up to that point, the Trump Administration was ratcheting up tensions by sending a carrier force to the Korean Peninsula, with Trump saying “if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.

In defense of the current Administration, though, the Clinton Administration tried to negotiate with North Korea to stop it from getting nuclear weapons- and ended up giving it the civilian nuclear tech they needed to develop nuclear weapons.  Then both Bush and Obama, to varying degrees, kept the situation on the back burner just hoping it wouldn’t get any worse. But now it has, because this is what happens when you negotiate with a government willing to control its own people through starvation. You can’t negotiate with Kim Jong-un because he’s insane and unreasonable. What we need is a leader who is also insane and unreasonable.

No really. Up til now, no one has had the perspective to understand Kim. We need a negotiator who is also a pudgy, spoiled princeling to approach him on the same level. Donald Trump could bridge that gap. He’d be like Dennis Rodman, only with less natural coloration.

This might be possible because according to another much-quoted news story, Trump was willing to admit that the situation might not be cut and dried after getting a ten-minute “history” lesson from Chinese president Xi Jinping.  Who would have thought that resolving the Korea problem could be so complicated? But then, who thought that healthcare could be so complicated? For that matter, who would have thought that an Easter Egg Roll could be so complicated?

I’m beginning to sense a pattern here.

Some of the more paranoid (and perceptive) leftists have been warning for quite some time that at some point in the near future, especially as Trump’s continuing controversies become more of a liability for him and the Party of Trump, he will engineer some emergency to wrap himself in the flag and seize special powers, similar to what Hitler did after the Reichstag Fire. Now in the last few weeks, the schemes of Trump and the Legion of Doom that he calls a Cabinet have been partially blunted by the checks and balances of our republican democracy, and partly by their sheer incompetence. But if Trump is too incoherent and short-attention-span to be a true fascist, by the same token his willingness to switch tack on the shortest notice means there is no guarantee he won’t start a war with Russia over Syria or with China over Korea, just… because.

The danger is not that Trump will take over by means of a Reichstag Fire ploy. The danger is that he’s going to get us into a war because he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

And on that note…



Don’t Tell Me Paying Taxes Is Patriotic

“It’s NOT stealing! It’s just… using something without paying for it-  in what twisted universe is that ‘stealing’?”

-Willow Rosenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This week on Facebook I’d posted an article from MSNBC about an asshole Congressman (guess which party) who had to deal with angry peasants taxpayers at a town hall, and objecting to the idea that they, the people, pay his salary, on the grounds that he pays his own salary through his taxes, presumably including the taxes he paid over a lifetime before becoming a federal employee who gets his income through taxes. The first comment on the post was a conservative friend who said (quoting indirectly) “Sounds like something I’d hear a Democrat say- followed by questioning patriotism for not wanting to pay taxes”. Which in itself is just knee-jerk conservative deflection. But the next response was a liberal friend who actually bought into the premise. Again, quoting without attribution to protect the guilty, that friend said “for information’s sake, not paying your taxes IS unpatriotic. By definition. Taxes are the price we pay for a working civilization. (Note that since the GOP decided to cut taxes on the mega-rich and corporations, society isn’t functioning very smoothly. Kind of like cutting off the oxygen supply to the brain). Paying your taxes is a part of your civic duty. So, how is refusing to pay your taxes NOT unpatriotic?”

I was mulling over exactly why that attitude rubs me the wrong way. And then it hit me to ask whether this person, or anyone else with that sentiment, is deliberately NOT taking the basic deductions and exemptions that they are eligible for. After all, if willingness to pay taxes is a measure of virtue, not taking those deductions is proof of patriotism. The fact that the dodges are largely built into the system is obvious proof that most people think they need their own money more than the government does, even if it goes to good purpose. And after this election, even liberals may be willing to admit that not all of what we give government money for goes to good purpose.

Given that what used to be “conservatism” now oscillates between being outright evil or merely reactionary, it might seem that my bleeding-heart libertarianism leans too much to the Left. But arguments like “paying taxes is patriotic” remind me why I can’t be in that camp.

Most people don’t consider this stuff, because they usually don’t pay taxes directly, and their income is at such a level that they may get a refund after April 15. That’s because most people have taxes taken straight out of their paycheck. That isn’t always the case, though. For instance, for a brief period of about six weeks, I worked with Uber. As you may know, Uber has a very creative sense of business accounting, such that employees are not employees, they’re “contractors.” But in practical terms, what this meant is that I had no withholding on that income. In the short term, that meant I made considerably more per hour than I did at my full-time job (and also considerably more than I did as an actual cab driver, but then the amount of gross taken by cab companies from the ‘book’ makes the average pimp look generous). In the long term that meant I ended up having to pay almost 280 dollars on a little under $1900 gross, whereas if my job with the W-2 was my only source of income for the year, I probably would have gotten a small refund. In itself, it’s not worth crying about: 300 over 1900 is slightly less than 15 percent, which is about what the withholding is on my standard paycheck. But it’s occurred to me, and a few of the people I’ve been talking with (not all of whom are right-wingers) that if you were going to pay X amount one way or another, you might as well keep your gross (minus FICA taxes and company deductions) and put the difference in the bank so that since you will be paying that money, you’ll be paying it after it’s earned interest. Otherwise, refund on withholding just means you gave government an interest-free loan and they’re paying the principal back. Some of it.

The Wikipedia entry on the subject quotes a Department of Treasury page (allegedly, since the archived source is no longer on the US Treasury site, with reading as ‘File Not Found’):

“Another important feature of the income tax that changed (with America’s entry into World War II) was the return to income tax withholding as had been done during the Civil War. This greatly eased the collection of the tax for both the taxpayer and the Bureau of Internal Revenue. However, it also greatly reduced the taxpayer’s awareness of the amount of tax being collected, i.e. it reduced the transparency of the tax, which made it easier to raise taxes in the future.”

I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

The pro-government/pro-tax apologia is countered by a meme much more common in social media, especially among libertarians: “Taxation is Theft.” Why, though? The answer is presumed to be obvious. But because society has not evolved to a point of pure voluntarism, some government is necessary, meaning that law enforcement is necessary to some extent, meaning that that includes the collection of revenue for government to run in the first place. So strictly speaking, I can’t agree that “taxation is theft.” I DO think that the assertion “taxation is theft” is closer to accuracy than the assertion “paying taxes is patriotic.” Because taxation is mandatory and patriotism is not. You can be a citizen and not be patriotic, but if you live in this country, you still have to pay taxes. If you are an American citizen and do NOT live in this country, you still have to pay US income tax (which is why a lot of expatriates would rather give up US citizenship than be ‘patriotic’.)  You can even be a resident alien, but if you live here, or you’re a foreign business with American holdings, you still pay American taxes. Love of America has nothing to do with it. That is a subjective internal judgment. Whereas if taxes are ultimately involuntary, the only thing that makes taxation NOT theft is that it’s the government forcing you.

And on that subject, PLEASE let us dispense with the legal fiction that paying taxes is voluntary. Reporting income is voluntary. Paying taxes on reported income is mandatory, and enforcing payment is one of the priorities that the US government actually takes seriously. As it should, frankly, or else it could not fulfill its functions, even the ones that most people like. So why bullshit us by telling us that there is, or even ought to be, a choice?

What’s irritating about that is that since your employer has to report payroll to the IRS for its own tax purposes, they already KNOW what your gross income ought to be for purposes of calculating percentage owed. Much of the complication of the tax code is precisely the fact that it is voluntary in the sense that tax liability is self-assessed, which creates gamesmanship – and a very big industry – out of tax preparation as people of various income levels try to justify various schemes to not pay government, even if it means paying hundreds of dollars to tax preparers.

Does that sound like a culture where the citizenry esteems paying taxes as a patriotic duty? More to the point, does it seem like government policy is encouraging or discouraging that sense of duty?

I do think there are several voluntary actions, which are not legal obligations, that are nevertheless non-negotiable in terms of being a good citizen. These include: voting, respecting the national anthem (whether kneeling or standing) and not endorsing a white supremacist movement that already rebelled against the country.  Stuff that would be easy for most people. But paying taxes is not a patriotic act. It is a responsibility, and liberals can make correct arguments for why it is a necessary responsibility, in principle. It’s when we have to determine how much is charged and for what purpose that we get into issues.

I agree that taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. I just think we should get a money-back guarantee.

If liberals and other apologists for government were not so disingenuous about what paying taxes means for the average person, maybe the average person would be less inclined to resent that responsibility.