Same Shoot, Different Day

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

  • John F. Kennedy, March 13, 1962

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Other Side of the Pond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a reason I bring this up.

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

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

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

REVIEW: Wonder Woman

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

Spoiler Alert: I didn’t find out.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why She Lost

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

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

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

Now THAT takes some Goddamn genius.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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