Suck It, 2016

In memoriam, here is a partial list of the many, many, many important deaths in 2016:

David Bowie


Kenny Baker

Alan Rickman

The last remaining shred of the Republican Party’s sense of shame

Ted Cruz’ political career

Al Franken’s sense of humor

Keith Emerson

Muhammad Ali

Arnold Palmer

Leonard Cohen

Greg Lake

Fidel Castro (and if there is no Hell, let one be created for him alone)

Zsa Zsa Gabor

George Michael

Carrie Fisher AND Debbie Reynolds

The entire city of Aleppo

And the American people’s faith in a constitutional republic

Review: Rogue One

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story strikes me as being an example of fan fiction that just happens to have been produced by the owners of the intellectual property. I say this as the highest form of compliment.

Fan fiction started off with the Star Trek community, as authors (mostly female) distributed “slash” stories (like Kirk/Spock) detailing gay relationships between principal characters, and other salacious ideas that would never have been approved by producers or censors. But as fandom became more popular (and respectable), fanfic evolved to a more professional quality, and fans even got to making their own video productions, like James Cawley’s Phase II (creating new adventures for the original Star Trek characters years before J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film).  But the main thing these productions had in common is that they were creating original stories for established characters (or an established setting) that the owners of the property didn’t want to produce themselves. But Paramount Pictures, the owners of Star Trek, seem to have reversed their tolerance for such things, quashing the recent fan project Star Trek: Axanar with a lawsuit.

Which from a fan perspective is too bad, because these ideas help expand the concept of what is possible in a fictional setting and ask questions not answered in official “canon.”

For example: What happened in the nearly 20 years between Star Wars Episodes III and IV?

The Star Wars prequels established that Palpatine had been planning to build his Death Star years before he became Emperor, and before Luke Skywalker was born. Rogue One is the story of how the new Rebel Alliance plotted to gain the plans to the space station, hoping to learn its structural flaws. (‘Spoiler alert- they found one.’ -Jimmy Kimmel) It centers on former Rebel Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) who, like Rey in Episode VII, is a strong, likable heroine who is at the center of the action rather than being a support character or damsel in distress. She is recruited by Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who wants her to find her father, an Imperial scientist, but doesn’t tell her exactly why. Their mission goes south but they learn that the Empire has just completed its “planet killer” space station, and when the Rebel Alliance refuses to organize, Jyn resolves to find the plans to the base herself. As such, the movie takes cues from those old World War II movies where commandos have to perform a secret mission in occupied Europe, and you know someone is getting killed, you just aren’t sure who and how.

This greater realism (relative to Star Wars) is increased by the fact that apart from Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones!), there are no Jedi in the piece, although martial arts star Donnie Yen plays a variant of the Blind Master archetype, who was a monk at one of the last temples of the Force. This shift in emphasis is important in at least a minor way, given that while you did have a vast universe to explore with the Star Wars setting, the stories so far have mainly been about the journey of a prospective Jedi into mastery – while Luke (and Rey) had a large group around them with their own stories, once they developed their powers, they started spending more time away from the team. The prequels, meanwhile, were almost entirely about the Jedi Order.

So that in itself makes Rogue One, as launching point for Lucasfilm’s “anthology” concept, very valuable.  It ISN’T really stand-alone, given that the story ends almost exactly at the point where Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) begins. And again, we know how that worked out, and it isn’t too hard to guess what happens to these characters. But they are given a certain level of depth that the main series (especially the prequels) were not known for. Put another way, if you have an acquaintance who for some reason can’t stand Star Wars, you might ask them to see Rogue One with you. It works as a Star Wars story, and it works outside of being a Star Wars story. I hope it is a sign of things to come.

Your Damn Emails

Shortly after Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump, she had met with some of her campaign donors and told them that a decisive factor in the result was the decision of FBI Director James Comey to resume inquiries on her use of email on a private server while she was Secretary of State, 11 days before the election.  This despite the point that Comey had already told the Department of Justice on July 5 that there should be no criminal charges brought on the case. While some pundits have considered Clinton’s statement (and similar opinions from campaign chairman John Podesta) as defensive rationalizing, I think it’s on target. Given the margin of victory and Clinton’s lead in the polls, Clinton had reason to believe that simply bringing up the matter again, even to Clinton’s apparent favor, “stopped our (campaign’s) momentum” and undercut her advantage with white suburban women. Before the election, a Clinton spokesman had even said that by “dribbling these out every day WikiLeaks is proving they are nothing but a propaganda arm of the Kremlin with a political agenda doing [Vladimir] Putin’s dirty work to help elect Donald Trump. The FBI is now investigating this crime, the unanswered questions are why Donald Trump strangely won’t condemn it and whether any of his associates are involved.”

It turns out that there is some outside support for the theory.  According to a CIA statement on December 9, “Moscow was not only interfering with the election, but that its actions were intended to help Trump, according to a senior U.S. official. The assessment is based in part on evidence that Russian actors had hacked Republicans as well as Democrats but were only releasing information harmful to Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton.”

As a result of such information, President Obama has ordered an investigation of the elections, but it wasn’t just the Russians who brought up Clinton’s emails. Obviously Comey did too, and no one believes he is compromised by the Russians. Whether he had motive to bring Clinton down, he had the ability to do so, because what Bernie Sanders called Hillary’s “damn emails” remained a weakness that the Clinton campaign did not minimize and largely did not recognize.

Along with numerous other issues (that I’m sure many books will be written on), Clinton’s campaign was undermined by her persistent use of private email services for her communications as Secretary of State. She never used an official ( email address. Her email accounts were not disclosed to senior State Department personnel. The State Department’s policy as of 2005 (Clinton joined in 2009) is that employees must “generally” use department systems to conduct official business. Furthermore the Department had issued numerous warnings with regard to cybersecurity owing to known attacks on State Department posts. On March 2011, the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security sent a memorandum directly to Secretary Clinton,  saying: Threat analysis by the DS cyber security team and related incident reports indicate a dramatic increase since January 2011 in attempts by cyber actors to compromise the private home e-mail accounts of senior Department officials.” The State Department confirmed that former Secretary of State Colin Powell had used a private email server, although Washington staff had also confirmed that at the time Powell was in office, other employees did not have Internet connection on their desktop computers and that the Department “was not aware at the time of the magnitude of the security risks associated with information technology.  By Secretary Clinton’s tenure, the Department’s guidance was considerably more detailed and more sophisticated.”

Emails sent to Clinton’s private address were first discovered in 2013, when the hacker “Guccifer” hacked the email account of Clinton family associate Sid Blumenthal, including communications about the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  Blumenthal did not have a State Department clearance when he received material that has since been classified by the State Department.   

By contrast, Army intelligence analyst Chelsea (ne‘ Bradley) Manning has been given a 35-year sentence at Leavenworth for providing information to WikiLeaks (the same site that helped leak some of Clinton’s State Department emails) and former CIA Director David Petraeus has had to plead guilty to a misdemeanor for providing his mistress classified information.   (Of course, as President-elect, Donald Trump had entertained the possibility of appointing Petraeus HIS Secretary of State, and when he recently went on a victory-lap tour of the heartland, and the crowd yelled ‘Lock Her Up’ in their now stock-chant against Hillary, Trump said flat-out: ‘No, forget it.  That plays great before the election.  Now we don’t care, right?’)

Only after Clinton left her position at State did the Congress pass the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014, specifically forbidding an executive department employee from using personal emails for government business unless submitted for archive.

The best that could be said in this case is the Clinton team was able to operate that loosely with electronic security because the rules were that undefined, which is not exactly a defense of the way things were run, by either party. The worst that can be said is that the Clinton team’s relative nonchalance on the matter of electronic security made it that much easier for the Russian hackers to compromise their communications and make the emails an even bigger politcal issue than they would have been. I mean, I’m glad that Democrats think that a government official’s emails are a security interest now. But do they think that rival powers only spy on us when it’s an election year?

The thing is, if the election turned out to be that close, and the emails were a long-term weakness that Republicans were able to exploit, and the press kept going for them, why didn’t Clinton and her team consider the matter serious enough to decisively address? No, it wasn’t fair that she got taken out largely by a “nothingburger” issue, especially given Trump’s far greater level of corruption, which he has gone out of his way to emphasize since becoming president-elect. No, it isn’t fair that Republicans made her connection to Goldman-Sachs an issue when Trump is making at least two Goldman-Sachs veterans members of his Administration. No it isn’t fair that she lost only because of the Electoral College. But Clinton, like Trump, like Al Gore, and like every other candidate, knew what the terms of getting elected were, and it reflects on the candidate if they can’t meet them.

Hillary Clinton failed as a candidate by the obvious test that she failed to prove to enough people that she was a better president (or at least more ethical than) Donald Trump, which should be the easiest thing in the world. But to look at it another way: As weak a candidate as she was, she was going up against DONALD TRUMP. And were it not for the Electoral College system, she would have won the presidential race with a clear majority of votes. It makes you wonder how well she would have done if she had felt as threatened by Trump as she was by Bernie Sanders. But this is just the most obvious example of how the mainstream Left falls into complacency in its sense of superiority to the Right spectrum of opinion, even if that superiority is akin to the comparison of a 300-pound chainsmoking couch potato to a paraplegic with an IQ of 70 and delusions of being God.

As it stood, the Left based its case on screaming, “We HAVE to elect Hillary Clinton! Hillary is the only way to stop Trump! If we don’t elect Hillary Clinton, the gates of Hell will open up and swallow the Earth!” and a lot of the country went: “…fuck it, let’s see what Hell looks like.”

You Done Fucked Up

“It is a grave error to suppose that a dictatorship rules a nation by means of strict, rigid laws which are obeyed and enforced with rigorous, military precision. Such a rule would be evil, but almost bearable; men could endure the harshest edicts, provided these edicts were known, specific and stable; it is not the known that breaks men’s spirits, but the unpredictable. A dictatorship has to be capricious; it has to rule by means of the unexpected, the incomprehensible, the wantonly irrational; it has to deal not in death, but in sudden death; a state of chronic uncertainty is what men are psychologically unable to bear. “

-Ayn Rand, 1962

“Keep your lies consistent.”

-Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #60

Since The Election, Donald Trump has been not quite as boorish as I expected, but still basically true to form.  Most recently he’s twitted that anybody who burns the flag needs to have their citizenship revoked. Most likely to distract from recent accusations that his son-in-law has conflict of interest problems.  Or, to rally all those people who got bent out of shape when liberals did mass street protests against Trump’s victory. I mean, look at it this way: When the Left gets angry, they go en masse into the streets, protest, and kick stuff over. When the Right gets angry, they go en masse into the polls and elect Donald Trump. Over the next four years, it remains to be seen which temper tantrum will cause more property damage and disruption of human life.

Because that’s what this amounted to. Half of the recent distrust of Hillary Clinton was her vague to non-existent defense on her lack of email and phone security as Secretary of State. But it turns out that Trump as president-elect has carried out a phone conversation (on a non-secured line) with the president of Argentina, a conversation that Ivanka Trump was also privy to.  Did all the Trump voters who wanted a cleaner Washington really think that Trump, with his declared reputation for shady dealing, was going to be cleaner than the Clintons?

All you Bible-thumpers, did you really believe Trump when he said his favorite New Testament book was “Two Corinthians”?

Did you really believe Trump when you said he was an outsider? That he would drain the swamp?  Do you believe him now when he nominates Goldman Sachs veteran Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary, and is entertaining both David “Actually Gave Out Classified Information” Petraeus and Mitt Romney, the ultimate flip-flopper, as Secretary of State? Did you believe that Trump was going to staff Washington with outsiders, when all of his nominees are veterans of the system- because they know Washington, and he doesn’t?

Did you really believe him? No. Of course not.

I have joked that if Donald Trump could get the endorsement of both David Duke and Sheldon Adelson, that’s a pretty big tent.

It’s not really a joke. In fact, this point is at the core of the cognitive dissonance required to be a Trump voter.

Adelson is an arch-Zionist. Duke is an arch-anti-Semite. Trump CANNOT want what they both want. Either he is lying to one of them, or at least one of them is lying to himself about Trump. That is what it takes to support Trump. You have to convince yourself “Oh, he won’t do that crazy thing” (that someone else wants him to do) but he WILL do that crazy thing that YOU want him to do.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the fable of The Emperor’s New Clothes. A pompous, stupid Emperor gets fleeced by a con artist who sells him weightless, invisible clothing which is “magic” and can only be seen by those who are “virtuous.” Well, the Emperor doesn’t want to admit he isn’t virtuous, so he takes the deal for non-clothing. And because he’s the Emperor, everyone around him has to go along with the deal. And they all have to exaggerate how wonderful his clothing looks. Until he goes out on parade showing his naked ass, and an innocent child (whom no one could accuse of being unvirtuous) says, “But he’s got nothing on!”

Well, this point in history is kind of the opposite of that. The Emperor’s subjects had to go along with the scam as long as they did BECAUSE he was the Emperor, and could cut off their heads if they didn’t agree with him. Trump started out with wealth and prestige, but he wasn’t the Emperor. We, The People gave him the power to cut off heads because we looked at his lumpy, naked ass and declared he was wearing the most sumptuous clothing, and no amount of evidence would convince us otherwise.

The fact is, that you, the Trumpets, want to be lied to. There is no better way to put it.

You want to be lied to.

You would just prefer to be whipped and beaten by a Liar-in-Chief with an “R” next to his name instead of a “D.” Well, Trumpets, you are about to learn the same lesson as Chris Christie: In politics, there is no such thing as topping from the bottom. And all you liberals who wonder why I have a problem with Big Government- you’re about to find out.

I have tried to come up with some way of getting across exactly how moronic and counterproductive and anti-reason the Trump vote was, and then the analogy hit me. Boy, did it hit me.

A few days back, just before Thanksgiving, I had to save money until payday, I didn’t have much in the cupboard, but I still had some leftover lasagna from a family dinner at an Italian restaurant and I figured I could eat that after work. I mean, I hadn’t gotten around to eating it for about… seven days… after I took it home, but there wasn’t much of it, and it didn’t look bad… I figured, “what’s the worst that could happen?”

And on the same night, I had a bottle of a prescription antibiotic that my dentist had prescribed in order to treat gum infection, prior to him doing an extraction. I was feeling a little bad the week before, just before the Italian dinner, so I temporarily quit the antibiotic. I looked it up on the Internet, and the potential side effects include (among others I did not experience) chills, difficulty with breathing, difficulty with swallowing, general body swelling, increased thirst, itching, nausea, rash, and shortness of breath. So I had not taken the antibiotic for a week, and was feeling better, but I still had at least another week before the dental appointment, and I wasn’t quite sure that I had gotten side effects from the prescription or whether I was just affected by a change in the weather, and I wanted to make sure the prescription wasn’t the cause of my illness. Only one capsule. At the same time as the lasagna. I figured, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Well- ladies and gentlemen, after two solid hours of projectile vomiting from my diaphragm while leaking liquid fire out of my anus, I can tell you EXACTLY what the worst was that could happen.

Now, you the reader, may look at this account, and think: “James. What. The. Fuck. Do you have no sense? Were you not capable of making judgments from previous data? Did you HAVE to learn this lesson the hard way?

“Wasn’t your choice REMARKABLY STUPID?

Well yes. Yes it was. Remarkably stupid.

I still feel okay in that my catastrophic fuckups in life only affect me and do not inflict collateral damage on my entire country and its position in the world.

Yes, I did vote for Gary Johnson. I have gone into great detail in explaining why. I have also said that if one is thinking of going third-party that one must think strategically.  I felt safe in voting third-party in Nevada because Nevada is basically two states: the Democratic-to-independent Greater Las Vegas area versus Cliven Bundy Land,  and the votes of the former usually drown out the latter. That was not the case in other “swing” states. I also said that if one cannot transcend binary thinking, or if polling in one’s state was that close, that an establishment politician with Machiavellian survival skills was still a better steward of the nuclear codes than a spoiled little rich boy who doesn’t know which end of the fork to use.

Yes, I did not vote for Hillary Clinton. I have gone into great detail as to why she was a bad candidate, for reasons having nothing to do with her emails (although I plan to address that subject in a future post). But if the two major candidates, and even the third and fourth candidates, were not worth supporting, that does not justify actively endorsing the worst of them. Put it this way: if all the people who voted against Hillary Clinton had voted for Hillary Clinton- we would have President Hillary Clinton. And as P.J. O’Rourke put it, “she would be a terrible president, but she would be terrible on conventional standards.” If all the people who voted against Hillary had voted for Gary Johnson, most likely we would have President Gary Johnson. The worst-case scenario there is IF he overcame Democratic AND Republican opposition, Johnson would have crafted a policy agenda that would horrify “progressives,” but he would not be a sexist, he would not be a racist, and he would not be a blithering idiot. Well, okay, he might be a blithering idiot, but he would not be a sexist and racist. But the vast majority of people who voted against Clinton voted for Trump, so the scenario now is a sexist AND racist AND blithering idiot WITH the lockstep support of the majority party.

And all because so many took to heart something Trump kept saying on the campaign trail, ostensibly as an appeal to blacks and Hispanics in “terrible” neighborhoods, but really intended to white people in terrible neighborhoods: “What have you got to lose?”

What have you got to lose? Like, what did I have to lose by not eating rancid lasagna and risking a pharmaceutical allergy? Well, I could have lost the agony and physical exhaustion of autofire Bazooka blasting from both ends of my digestive tract. But that was two hours. You Trumpets decided to inflict the political equivalent of that experience on yourselves and the rest of the country for four years. And you had A LOT more fair warning than I did.

You done fucked up.

So now the last step between the current status quo and Orange Julius Caesar is the actual vote of the Electoral College on December 19, and the hope that some “faithless electors” will prevent the formality of Trump’s election. This week one of those Republican Texas electors, Art Sisneros, announced that he could not vote for Trump, but rather than “vote his conscience” (as Ted Cruz might ask him to do) he decided to withdraw from his position, presumably so that the Republicans could fill the position with someone who will make the choice he opposes. He explained his decision, sort of, in a blog post, and however self-righteous, Christian and hand-wringing his position is, he does explain why it is unlikely that the Electoral College will actually perform its regulatory function in the system: “The Electoral College was corrupted from its original intent once states started dictating the votes of the Electors.  The two biggest aggressors to the original system were from political parties and the switch to winner-take-all states. The rise of political parties, as George Washington prophetically predicted, [in his Farewell Address] has had a “baneful effect” on our nation. …Originally Electors were free from political parties and their pledges. What mattered most was the character and qualifications of the candidate, not the viability of their path to victory (primaries) or the team that any candidate represented. The Electors were also free from these statewide popular vote contests that run all but two states today. “When James Madison and Hamilton, two of the most important architects of the Electoral College, saw this strategy [statewide popular vote] being taken by some states, they protested strongly. Madison and Hamilton both made it clear this approach violated the spirit of the Constitution. Hamilton considered a pre-pledged elector to violate the spirit of Article II of the Constitution insofar as such electors could make no ‘analysis’ or ‘deliberate’ concerning the candidates. Madison agreed entirely, saying that when the Constitution was written, all of its authors assumed individual electors would be elected in their districts and it was inconceivable a ‘general ticket’ of electors dictated by a state would supplant the concept. Madison wrote, ‘The district mode was mostly, if not exclusively in view when the Constitution was framed and adopted; & was exchanged for the general ticket.”
And thus it becomes more clear that the real Original Sin of the constitutional system was not the tolerance of slavery, as poisonous as that was. The fundamental flaw was that the Founders recognized that party politics was a major liability in the old British system, but they considered it to be an aberration that they would deliberately avoid rather than a political default, and put no thought into countering or balancing such partisanship in the system. And thus we are where we are now.

Where we are now is that the Electoral College, which was intended as a safeguard against the common people electing a downright moron, is now the mechanism being used to engineer that result. Which is why I am starting to agree with those who want to get rid of it. I am not entirely on board with such an idea, because we still have the matter that if the presidential election is simply a national popularity contest, the political-media complex will be that much more fixated on New York, Florida and California than it is now. I had made a similar point to a liberal Facebook friend who told me, (if I recall correctly) “if the ‘red’ states are being overtaken in population and the majority vote is now on the coasts, I don’t see why that’s not fair.”

I responded: “Ask the people who are being overtaken.”

In that regard, one could say that this Electoral College result is the response of flyover country to the sentiment of “screw you peasants as long as the Dow Jones is up.”

It could be said that this Electoral College result is the response of flyover country to the establishment position of “0.5 percent job growth IS an economic recovery, that’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.”

But- when there were at least two other alternatives to the Democratic agenda, it is also true that this Electoral College result means that Donald Trump gained the brand-name reputation of the other major party, not to mention the legitimacy provided by free media, and used that reputation to present himself as even more of a lying sack of shit than Hillary Clinton, overtly bigoted, that much more eager to go to the gutter, reflexively positioning himself to the lowest common denominator, and enough voters, in enough states, were okay with taking such evil in a package deal, insofar as they were not actively endorsing it.

Because if Trump had won the popular vote but Hillary Clinton got elected anyway through an Electoral College majority, the trappings of the Republic would be saved, but the implications for democracy would be that much more dire. As it stands, I consider that the last time America asked itself the question, “do we want a minority of belligerent rednecks to reverse the course of our nation?” we ended up fighting a civil war, and decided that the answer was “NO.”