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.

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.

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.
-Breitbart.com, 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.

 

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.

Yet.

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…

HAPPY EASTER!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnC4a7opeDI

 

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 treasury.gov/education 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.

 

 

AHCA DOA

As of March 24, the Republicans cancelled their vote on the repeal of Obamacare, after almost cancelling the vote on the 23rd, in a candy-assed attempt to avoid admitting defeat by having the bill fail passage on the floor. Allegedly the main reason the drama got prolonged another day was because Donald Trump insisted that a vote be held, because that was going to be the last time he would push for a healthcare bill. His idea of pushing apparently included reminding them that leaving Obamacare as-is would mean that Planned Parenthood would still be funded, and threatening Republican congressmen that he would campaign for their primary defeats if they voted against the bill. The fact that his bluff was called indicates he’s not so great at the Art of the Deal. It also indicates that Republican congressmen had more reason to worry about their seats if they DID vote for the bill.

The official name of the Obama Administration plan was the Affordable Care Act, or ACA. The new proposal was officially the American Healthcare Act. As in, “you thought you still had coverage? AHA!” Some wags have also referred to this as Trumpcare, deliberately reminding Republicans how they loved to brand the ACA as Obamacare. The difference being that Obama in the wisdom of time came to accept that label, whereas, Trump, who would put his name on 99-cent condoms if somebody paid him a lot of money for the privilege, refuses to have his name associated with the Republican plan. So in honor of House Speaker Paul Ryan, some critics were calling AHA “Ryan Care.” Or even blending Trump and Ryan to create “Tryan Care.” Pronounced, “try and care.”

There were many issues with the new plan, to the extent that it actually existed.  Not only did hardcore conservatives wish to destroy requirements for “essential” coverage for women’s healthcare (not just abortion), but the plan was touted as saving money by making subsidies dependent on age rather than income such that it would create an “age tax” on older working adults while younger taxpayers would be incentivized to get health insurance by greater subsidies.  This naturally caused a lot of liberal objections. But then it’s not like they weren’t going to object anyway. Complaining that the new bill shifted the benefits from older and poorer Americans (who create a loss to the system) to younger, well-off Americans (who are better able to pay for the insurance market) sort of assumes that that isn’t the point, or indeed that there isn’t a virtue to having a system that pays for itself better than the ACA does. The problem is that not covering those who can’t afford care defeats the purpose of “the Affordable Care Act.”

This ultimately reveals the whole problem with the use of the insurance industry as the paradigm for coverage. For one, there’s a difference between health insurance and insurance for other services. When you get an auto insurance policy, for instance, you aren’t expecting to get into a car accident that week. When you get a life insurance policy, you aren’t expecting to die next week. (And if you are, the company may be investigating your insurance risk.) Insurance is exactly that: coverage in a matter of last resort, not a basic support where you are expecting to collect on the policy immediately. Whereas for people with chronic conditions (like type II diabetes, for example), you get an insurance policy on the expectation of “collecting” on it immediately. And that’s because in this country, costs of medical care are such that for all practical purposes, health insurance is how you GET medical coverage.

But this still means that medical care is covered through the private insurance market. And insurance companies survive and profit through what’s called a “risk pool.” Basically a company selling life insurance, for instance, has a majority of its policyholders continuing to make payments for the duration of the time that they do not need to collect on their policies (in this case, until death). This works because the majority of people paying into the system do not die shortly after taking out the policy. The risk pool is big enough to cover the risks of collection. But if a majority of people with health insurance plans had to collect because of expensive and chronic conditions, the companies could not continue to profit and survive. So of course they were going to decide that “pre-existing conditions” were a barrier to getting coverage, and of course they were going to conjure rationales against anybody collecting on a policy once one actually needed to do so. So you had Obamacare. But in order for Obamacare/the ACA to cover everybody without the “pre-existing condition” barrier, you had to make the risk pool nationwide, which is why the hated individual mandate (forcing you to get coverage or face a tax penalty) is baked in. If the government forces insurance companies to take all patients and does not force those who do not currently need coverage to get it, no one would be covering the expenses of those at-risk people.

But all that just reveals the ultimate problems with the ACA. It does do one of the two things we needed a healthcare reform to do: It eliminated “pre-existing conditions.” But to do so it mandated coverage without sufficiently subsidizing the costs to the consumer, who was forced to take out a service with no regard for economic conditions, which defeated the other purpose of the Affordable Care Act- making healthcare affordable. But that was because the system is built around the private insurance industry, whose economic model is based on NOT providing a necessary service in order to profit.

The difference is that the ACA doesn’t cover people because it doesn’t render healthcare affordable, while AHA doesn’t cover people because it elides the difference between theoretical “access” to care and practical availability of care to the average income level. As one pundit put it, we all have access to Ferraris, but how many of us own them?

Even beyond that, if we had the dream of many liberals – single-payer, or Medicare for all- we would run into the limitations of the current system. The real reason healthcare is unaffordable, even with (or arguably because of) insurance, is because costs are out of control. Having government cover those costs would simply mean that they get transferred from the private sector to the government, and when government runs a deficit, that has effects on the private sector.

You have that situation because unlike most countries that have single-payer (the rest of the First World, really) we don’t put cost limits on what medical providers and drug companies can charge for covered services.

For instance, when Medicare was given a prescription drug benefit (Part D) via the Medicare Modernization Act in 2004, the Act specifically forbade Medicare from negotiating bulk prescription prices, as opposed to the Veterans’ Administration, which is able to do so, and whose patients pay far less for drugs. The MMA was largely written by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R.- Louisiana), who resigned from Congress on February 2004, the same month the legislation was passed. The year afterward, once he was legally able to do so, Tauzin became head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

So if you’re a senior citizen and you want to know why your drug coverage has a “donut hole”… that’s why.

In my Internet discussions, I eventually got converted into advocating for single-payer, and I did so on fiscal conservative grounds: It is illogical that the US, of all the developed nations, pays more for healthcare and gets worse results. But again, simply changing the system to a public one will not necessarily work if we do not correct the real problem with the system, which is that American medicine is predicated around a bureaucracy in which the government caters to industry interests more than the consumer.

It’s for these reasons that a lot of providers not only rejected Obamacare but the insurance system altogether. This is referred to as cash-only or direct primary care.  Another reason that some doctors took this path is that costs actually decrease due to the reduced overhead for not having to do billing and coding through insurance companies. This also means there is more price transparency, which makes it easier for consumers (patients) to determine costs. There is of course still going to be an out-of-pocket issue, which is part of why insurance companies cover health care in the first place. But as we have seen, the current system is often counterproductive for the purpose of getting medical care at affordable cost, and without transparency, there is not even as much concern for the Law of Supply and Demand as there would be normally in the medical system. Reform should thus focus on the “demand” (consumer) end instead of the provider, otherwise a public system would suffer the same long-term problem as the current public-private hodgepodge we have, where the costs are so high that neither government nor employers can sustain them without increasing liability.

If conservatives and libertarians had been bitching about Obamacare for more than six years, you would think that they would mull all this over and come up with some concrete proposals to transition away from Obamacare, as opposed to what we got, which was the Republican Party acting like the kid who partied until 3 am the night before a test and suddenly realized he had to do homework.

But that just leads to the political issue. For all the public attention paid to the dysfunction of Donald Trump, he is a reflection of the Republican Party that nominated and elected him. Their relationship is a quid pro quo: They let him get away with what he wants so that he could give them what they want- a signature on items like an Obamacare repeal that they say they’ve wanted since 2010, and had always been shot down before now by Obama’s veto. The problem was that Republicans were free to “repeal” Obamacare all they wanted with no consequences because they knew there would be that veto. But now that they allegedly have everything they want, the problem is that any bill they agree to would be passed by this president – and they would have to deal with the consequences of that.

It’s almost as if the Republican Party was simply a grievance industry that survives on stoking public hatred and resentment, and cannot even try to formulate constructive policy, let alone attempt to implement it, because if they did, they would lose their reason for existence.

And if Republican congressmen were willing to call Trump’s bluff on policy, is it possible that their voter base may call their bluff in turn?

 

 

Here’s An Idea

I was thinking of doing a review of the Logan movie, but my friends didn’t want to see it on a crowded opening weekend, so for this week I’ll go back to political observations.

Of course if you have a full-time job and only so much free time for an unofficial blog, you can’t really keep up with the news when King Donnie, the First of His Name is steadily leaping to greater heights of fuckuppery every single day. Apparently on Saturday March 3, he had a panic attack after realizing that he wasn’t in the news for a few hours and excreted an epic Twitstorm  starting with the statement that he “just found out” that Obama was wiretapping Trump Tower just before the election. The problem was that people who actually know, like, government stuff started responding on social media, including Trump’s own feed.  And they pointed out, first and foremost, that the president can’t order a wiretap. In an official Twitter response, Senator Ben Sasse (R- Nebraska), a conservative AND Trump critic, said that “(wiretapping) was either with FISA Court authorization or without such authorization. If without, the President should explain what sort of wiretap it was and how he (Trump) knows this. It is possible he was illegally tapped. On the other hand, if it was with a legal FISA court order, then an application exists for surveillance that the court found credible. The President should ask that this full application regarding surveillance of foreign operatives or operations be made available, ideally to the full public, and at a bare minimum to the US Senate.” (i.e. Sasse)

In other words, if Trump deserved the benefit of the doubt (which he has completely pissed away by now) then an accusation that Obama was acting against him for partisan reasons is deeply serious and needs to be investigated. It’s also true that if there was cause to investigate, the government agents would not have been able to get to this point unless existing evidence had caused a judge to agree that a warrant should be issued. This is not the sort of thing you want to bring up if you’ve got something to hide. And it would have been hidden, except that it was also pointed out on Saturday that only the president would have the authority to reveal such an investigation, which, unofficially, he just did.

So Saturday March 4th was officially Trump’s STUPIDEST DAY EVER. And as you know, stupid by Trump standards is like “Communist by Stalin standards.”

This all gets to a point I made after the election. There is a second worst case scenario besides the one happening now, where Trump is re-enacting tragedy as farce. The other worst case scenario is that the Republicans really are going to turn America into a one-party state. That one party being the Democrats.

Because either Trump is going to succeed in his goal of turning America into his personal banana republic, or he will fail and fail spectacularly. Even if he succeeds, his regime will last only until he gets a piece of well-done steak lodged in his throat and he ends up choking to death because no one at the table will give him the Heimlich Maneuver. Either way, the Republicans’ experiment in getting everything they want is doomed to end, and depending on how badly it all blows up, being Republican will be associated in the public mind with treason and/or subnormal intelligence.

Or maybe not. Despite their increasing unpopularity, Republicans controlled the vast majority of state governments and used that position to reinforce their advantage by gerrymandering districts to increase the number of “safe” seats. Of course liberals who point this out to me are blanking out the point that Democrats needed to lose the seats they had for this to happen in the first place. If all the voters (many of them conservative) who came to yell at Republican congressmen at their recent townhall meetings actually went to vote against them in 2018, the Party of Trump would be in deep, deep shit. That is, IF Democrats present challengers who are not so boring or repellent that they make even the incumbents look good. Aye, there’s the rub…

But given that each party wants to cement its position as soon as it gains a majority, I would have to suspect that when, not if, Democrats regain control, they’re going to try to switch off the edge Republicans currently have. Franklin Roosevelt broke the previous unwritten tradition of only running for two terms as president, and when he died, Republicans in Congress passed the 22nd Amendment forcing term limits on the office. And FDR was MUCH more competent, much more humane, and much better loved than Trump is. Once Trump/Pence is no longer in the picture, Democrats are going to going to look at some of the other unwritten traditions whose violation by Trump led us to this point, with an aim of banning them on the grounds that we can no longer give politicians benefit of the doubt.

For one thing, Trump’s expenses. During the campaign, it was pointed out in news articles that Trump used accounting maneuvers to make a profit for his businesses by having them cover things like campaign events and rent, using Trump campaign funds. It was pointed out at the time that if a campaign uses the services of a corporation, federal law requires that they be paid. “Federal election law, however, does not contemplate a mega-wealthy candidate like Trump.”

Since the election, Trump has gone on weekend getaway at least four times (January 20 was only five weekends ago). First Lady Melania Trump has decided, for some reason, not to live with Donald at the White House, so she and her son Barron are still at Trump Tower, requiring extra security from New York police (apparently $500,000 a DAY). Trump himself used private security in addition to Secret Service on the campaign trail. The Washington Post has assessed that Trump’s first three trips to Mar-a-Lago have cost the treasury about $10 million. If you take $500K for the New York expenses per day and multiply it by 365, it equals $182.5 million a year. If you take $10 million and multiply it by 12 months, you get 120 million dollars a year. Thus, over 300 million dollars to cover the Trump family over one year.  Whereas that liberal rag Breitbart says that the conservative group Judicial Watch estimated Barack Obama’s personal travel expenses at 96 million dollars. Over eight years.

If you are a Trump, you are at core a grifter. Your goal is to pass off all your liabilities onto someone else so you can do as you please. It is quite possible that the man’s primary reason to run for president was to have the American taxpayer cover the expenses of his lifestyle. (And then he got upset when he found out the role requires, y’know, work and stuff.)

So this is my idea.

It’s a maximum income rule. That is, in order to qualify for the protection of the Secret Service, Coast Guard, et al., the president cannot make more in a year than a certain amount (for the sake of the proposal, let’s cap the president’s income from assets, salary, et cetera, at 1 million dollars a year). If you make more than that maximum amount, you don’t get those services. This is on the logic that if you’re Donald Trump and you’re rich enough to hire your own private security in addition to the Secret Service, then you really don’t need the Secret Service.

But, if this limit is based on a known income, how do we determine whether a president exceeds the limit? That’s the other part of the proposal. I Am Not A Lawyer, and someone with qualifications is going to have to review this idea, but the other part of the legislation establishing the maximum income rule would be that the president is assumed to be in violation of the rule if he does not report his income, and this law would also apply to all presidential candidates before they are elected. In other words, for a candidate or president to apply for Secret Service protection or reimbursement of expenses, HE HAS TO RELEASE HIS TAX RETURNS SO WE KNOW WHAT HIS INCOME IS. So if you’re too rich to live on the public dime, then you pay for all that stuff yourself, as we know (or assume) that Donald Trump is able to do. If it turns out your income is less than (say) 1 million a year, you get the services. But covering all this stuff or paying back the government shouldn’t be a big deal if you’re an honest-to-goodness billionaire, right?

To me, this is an essentially libertarian principle. Government should not be in the business of punishing the rich, but neither should it go out of its way to give them more advantages than they naturally have. Nor should it be imposing undue burdens on the private citizen, but if you are to be a public servant, there should be less benefit of the doubt, not more, especially if the public is paying your tab.

Just an idea. I propose it to the Libertarian Party, and also to the Democrats, assuming they could seize a good idea if it smacked them in the face, which they haven’t so far.

Milo, Revisited

Since Bill Maher’s controversial decision to have Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos appear on his HBO Real Time show, events sort of exploded on Milo like a bad money shot. The conservative (?) site Reagan Battalion reposted a video from last year in which Yiannopoulos endorsed pedophilia in terms of his own relationship with a Catholic priest when he was a teenager. The backlash from this required CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) to disinvite the alt-right darling from this month’s yearly convention, subsequent to which Milo resigned his position at Breitbart (apparently it was either that or get pushed). Maher, as is his wont, took credit for Milo’s downfall, on the grounds that exposing offensive individuals is proof that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

As it turns out, the reason the tape surfaced was because it was brought to light by a teenager in Canada who is described in Vox as right of center but disturbed by what was happening to the conservative movement. The girl seemed to recall an event where Yiannopoulos gave a Devil’s Advocate endorsement of pedophilia in the Church and by extension other man-boy relationships, in the same way that I recalled an researched an essay from the not too distant past where Milo said that social media trolling was hurtful and ought to be discouraged.

But when conservatives get embarrassed, rather than admit it or engage in self-reflection, they pull defensive schemes like the “they did it too” fallacy. Milo posted a video where Star Trek veteran and gay rights advocate George Takei talked about his formative experience with an adult when he was 14 years old. And Maher, an arch-liberal who nevertheless professes to loathe “political correctness” and has said very “incorrect” things about Islam, is a target of both the Left and the Right. So it’s no surprise that people went to the effort to dig up a tape of his old show where he defended the pedophile teacher Mary Kay Letourneau. But in response to attacks, this week on Real Time, Maher simply pointed out that if it was bad to give Milo an audience, “Donald Trump was the apotheosis of the alt-right, and the media gave him the biggest platform ever.”

Something I pointed out a while ago.

Still, the contrast makes it at least seem like there’s a double standard. Is it okay for Maher and Takei to endorse something that fellow travelers gutted Milo over?

No, but that’s dodging the point. For one thing, Maher was doing the same thing with Letourneau that he was doing with Milo: playing Devil’s Advocate himself. Even if one accepts that on a rhetorical level, it’s still wrong. Maher and Takei seem to avoid the point that even if a juvenile consents to sex with an adult, the law still considers it statutory rape. While one might posit that an individual might be in position to consent, there’s a reason that the legal concept of statutory rape exists, and there isn’t a serious legal or moral challenge to it.

In any case, I don’t think either Maher or Takei went so far as to “out” a trans woman at a university speech the way Milo did, nor did they, as Milo allegedly did, wish to use their speeches as an opportunity to expose illegal immigrants on campus.

So if you’re a “conservative” and you still think you can win this case of tu quoque… I have a wall on the border I’d like to sell you.
In fact, I would argue that the main double standard is one imposed by conservatives on themselves. It is possible for a conservative to be a hypocrite, but not a liberal. But that is because hypocrisy means disloyalty to what one actually believes, whereas liberals don’t really believe in anything except getting what they want. In politics, most Democrats don’t believe in “progressive” principles more than they believe in getting elected, and then getting re-elected, to which extent they will twist their prior positions around more than a pretzel. Similarly, with civilians like Takei and Maher, you can’t see them endorse a culture of libertinism and act too surprised. Tied into this is a general perception among mainstream liberals that “morality” on public matters should concern practical issues more than matters of conscience. For instance, most Catholic Democrats, like Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine, are considered to personally agree with the Church’s position against abortion, but are pro-choice insofar as they think the state should not be making that decision for others. Liberals (and some libertarians) do not consider that hypocrisy, but a proper regard for what decisions should be made on a public level.

But when conservatives are more and more convinced that personal morality is the same as political morality, when they publicly contradict said morality, that becomes an issue, both by their standards and the public-agenda standards of liberals. Milo is actually a case in point. However fabulously out he may have been, in his more serious moments he endorsed a fairly traditional defense of Catholicism and conservative morality. I refer here to an interesting piece on the Patheos site, which extensively quotes from video pieces where Yiannopoulos explains his defense of conservative Catholicism. The author tells the reader: “(Yiannopoulos’) goal is to reinforce Catholic guilt.” He later quotes Milo in regard to his fellow gays: “I don’t think gay people deserve any time to be bullies to settle into their position of authority and I think it does gay people a lot of damage to see these bitter, hysterical, nasty queens bullying and lecturing and hectoring ordinary people of faith. ”

For such rhetoric, a lot of Milo’s critics see where his gayness intersects with his conservatism. While he says, accurately, that people are complicated and that the Left often doesn’t acknowledge the “messy” contradictions within the individual, at the same time, these are contradictions, and not attempting to resolve them creates negative consequences whether or not you believe in sin. If a straight woman had a sex life like Milo, she would be in danger of venereal disease, and probably be subject to unwanted pregnancy. Unless of course she used either contraception or abortion, both of which conservative Catholics are against. Conservatives would generally prefer a pregnant woman keep her baby whether married or not, but this raises the prospect of an unprepared parent with no resources to take care of a family. And then such people go on about how children aren’t being raised right.

In fact one reason Milo’s critics on the Left despise him so much is that his flamboyance seems a calculated image that plays up a stereotype of gays that a lot of younger gays are less familiar with and do not embrace. In this respect he’s a sort of Stepin Fetchit who is loved by conservatives mainly because his negative and comedic traits justify a prejudice they already have.

Which is a practical reason why embracing hypocrisy is problematic. Just last week I said:  “Encouraging the fellow travellers of actual fascists like Richard Spencer is not only dangerous in terms of who you let into government, it is immediately dangerous on a street level. It is that much more dangerous when you’re a flamboyant Brit who repeatedly brags about getting fucked by big black cock. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the racist Right or the Stalinist Left. With collectivists, it is far more dangerous to be their friend than their enemy, because you would expect your enemy to stab you in the back.” You are dealing with authoritarian people who define themselves mainly in terms of who they hate. And when you go out of your way to dismiss your opponents and make them into outright enemies, you can’t expect a lot of help when your “friends” inevitably turn on you for the hypocrisy they tolerated only as long as you were an asset to them.

I have a few conclusions on all this.

First, this is yet another case of why conservatism and libertarianism are not the same thing, and why conflating them is actually dangerous. Conservatism is tolerant only to the extent that tolerance and individualism ARE part of the classical liberal philosophy at the foundation of this country. However most conservatives, in this country and elsewhere, really hearken back to an older tradition where church and state were either not neatly separated or they were actually united. Libertarianism may share conservatism’s disdain for the Left and its often illiberal agenda, but it is liberal in the sense that it endorses the freedom of the individual to find their own identity, including sexual identity.

Two, however much conservatives and others might think that hypocrisy serves to uphold morality, it often serves more to justify immorality. Rather than endorse a culture of guilt or shame that creates a vicious cycle of “sinning”, we should endeavor to create a culture of responsibility that encourages the individual to give up bad behavior after recognizing its consequences to oneself and others.

Third, it’s still the case that hypocrisy does reveal that “conservatives” still have some boundaries. The Party of Trump might have allowed or endorsed a spokesman for sexism and racism, yet even they will draw the line at pedophilia.

I wonder if any of them have heard of Jeffrey Epstein…

Milo vs. Maher and the Logistics of Trolling

“In this world, every act is a political act.”

-Andrew Sullivan, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

This weekend’s episode of Real Time With Bill Maher created a bit of controversy when Maher decided to have a one-on-one feature interview with writer and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, a professional provocateur or, in more prosaic terms, a troll. Yiannopoulos is an Englishman of Greek descent who has his hair styled and frosted in such a way that he resembles David Bowie, specifically Bowie just before he realized that endorsing fascism was a terrible mistake.

Yiannopoulos had already been a controversial figure for his “alt-right”, anti-feminist and pro-Donald Trump statements, to the extent that his planned speech at Berkeley got cancelled after violent protests. With regard to this interview, Maher’s other guest, left-wing journalist Jeremy Scahill, refused to appear on this week’s show specifically because it would give Yiannopoulos attention – which of course only gave him more attention. This was something that Maher himself pointed out to Milo when he said, “You are so helped by the fact that liberals always take the bait.”

But in the body of the interview, Maher went over the issue of Yiannopoulos’ provocative stance and “I’m just kidding” demeanor. He said, “I think a lot of people miss your humor, and I’m a guy who always defends jokes- right up to the point that they pointlessly hurt people.” Maher went on to say that he DID hurt some people intentionally, for the sake of the truth, and Milo concurred that “I hurt people for a reason.” But then Milo got to explain his perspective: “The reason (the Left) want to police humor, which is very important to both of us, is that they can’t control it. What all authoritarians hate is the sound of laughter.” And Maher responded, “And also because when people laugh, they know it’s true… laughter is involuntary.”

Which is actually a good measure to start with when examining good humor versus bad humor and “good” trolling (what Yiannopoulos would call ‘virtuous’ trolling) from bad trolling.

For instance, along with Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift was famous for writing the essay, “A Modest Proposal”  in which he proposed that babies be sold and eaten as food. This was NOT ACTUALLY MEANT as an endorsement of eating babies. It was rather an attack on the contemporary culture of the English-occupied Ireland where Swift lived: “I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”  In other words, to “get the joke” you have to have a finely developed sense of sarcasm, which, to take Maher’s implication, means a sense of how the joke contrasts with reality.  But in the 4chan culture of the alt-right, irony is so overused that one’s sense of sarcasm is burned out, since most participants don’t have much engagement with the real world of consequences to begin with.

So when you are capable of getting the comparison between satire and reality, your satire works.  If you have to explain a joke, then it’s not very funny.  Likewise, if you have to explain why your offensive statement is “just kidding” then either it’s not a very good joke or you were being disingenuous about something you really believe.  One of the reasons Milo creates such disgust (and often creates sympathy for his targets) is not only that his jokes are often unfunny, but that he is taken as inspiration by people who are not joking at all.  Last year, when Saturday Night Live stars Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon and former star Kristin Wiig did an all-female reboot of Ghostbusters with Melissa McCarthy, this attracted a lot of ire from a mostly male section of the fan community who acted like this very concept ruined their childhood.  (I’ve seen the movie, and while it’s not going to make anyone forget the original, it’s actually pretty good in itself.)  But this hate got that much worse towards Jones, who is black.  Several Twitter posters compared her to Harambe and other gorillas.  As it happened, Milo (under his Twitter handle ‘nero’) had not only egged on the anti-Ghostbusters campaign but had posted Jones’ Twitter address so as to get his fans to let her have it.  And because that was not the first time that “nero” was reported for violating Twitter’s terms of service, the medium banned his account permanently.

That is impressive in itself. Getting kicked off of Twitter for being an insensitive troll is like Dave Mustaine getting kicked out of Metallica for drinking too much.

But then you see the difference between “good” trolling and bad trolling. Calling Leslie Jones a gorilla isn’t necessarily “punching down” when, as Milo points out, she’s a fairly successful celebrity. The question is, what’s the point? This isn’t a punchline where you tell the joke and everybody gets it. Unless the punchline you want to convey is “(I think that) Leslie Jones is an ape.” Which means the punch line is “I’m a racist and I expect that to be socially acceptable.”

I have already mentioned how normalizing bad behavior only serves to make that the standard, and how that point USED to be a conservative argument. Encouraging the fellow travelers of actual fascists like Richard Spencer is not only dangerous in terms of who you let into government, it is immediately dangerous on a street level. It is that much more dangerous when you’re a flamboyant Brit who repeatedly brags about getting fucked by big black cock. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the racist Right or the Stalinist Left. With collectivists, it is far more dangerous to be their friend than their enemy, because you would expect your enemy to stab you in the back.

I cannot put this point any better than J.K. Rowling did. See, the week before the Milo interview, Real Time With Bill Maher previously made news when Maher had Australian comic Jim Jeffries on a panel with British “journalist” and professional twit Piers Morgan, talking about Donald Trump’s order against immigration from seven Muslim countries, and when Morgan insisted to Maher that “there is no Muslim ban,” Jeffries responded, “Oh, fuck off.” And then Harry Potter author Rowling got on her Twitter account to say, “Yes, watching Piers Morgan being told to fuck off on live TV is *exactly* as satisfying as I’d always imagined. ” To which Morgan sniffed that he’d never read Harry Potter books. (When it turned out that he had.)  Rowling responded,  “.@piersmorgan If only you’d read Harry Potter, you’d know the downside of sucking up to the biggest bully in school is getting burned alive.”

That’s what it comes down to. At some point there is a line to draw. And that is why, whatever my issues with the Left and the moribund Democratic Party, I do not endorse Trump, Trumpism and what calls itself “conservatism”, not even in an antinomian, punk rock, “Belsen Was a Gas” kind of way.  Because some of the people cheering the joke don’t think it’s a joke.

But maybe I’m overthinking this. See, I’ve done some online research into Milo’s history with a website he co-founded, called The Kernel, now owned by The Daily Dot, and it turns out Yiannopoulos has a dark past. No, not his status as openly gay AND openly Catholic and guilty about his own sexuality and “lifestyle.” I mean his dangerous brushes with tolerance and liberalism. Specifically, he wrote an essay for The Kernel in 2012 called: “The internet is turning us all into sociopaths.”  And in it, he writes, among other things: “There has always been abuse on the internet, but, before the social revolution, it was largely restricted to anonymous comment threads, message boards and chat rooms. Any site owner who allowed anonymous comments could reasonably be held responsible, morally and legally, for the content appearing on his site.

But now there is a disturbing bleed from anonymous hatred to defamatory and spiteful language being posted under the authors’ real names using their social networking profiles. It’s as if our usual moral safeguards are being broken down by a terrifying new online landscape in which the default mode of communication is a form of attack. … It’s as if a psychological norm is being established whereby comments left online are part of a video game and not real life. It’s as if we’ve all forgotten that there’s a real person on the other end, reading and being hurt by our vitriol.

 

At which point, my response to Milo would be: “So… what happened?”