Tag: Politics

Bullpen Bulletins

Back in the day, Marvel Comics all had a page in them near the back that was for their little promo blurbs of various kinds that they called Marvel Bullpen Bulletins. In that vein, a few things to blurb about today...

  • ITEM: Trump indicted! (Or "indicated," as he wrote on his knockoff social media platform.) About frakking time, but also, not nearly enough. It's a good start, and with luck the media will remind everyone that, though this is a relatively trivial case amongst the many criminal acts of former president VonClownstick, it was the one that conceivably allowed every subsequent one to happen and is of a kind when it comes to motive: to hoodwink the public and rig an election. May it be the first of many indictments and may it serve to lead to eventual justice being done, or at least a significant measure of it.
  • ITEM: Yesterday was opening day of baseball season! I did not attend the opener for Your Seattle Mariners as I have been wont to do, but I will attend many games this season as per usual. I watched the game on the telly, though (after the fact), and thankfully the new rules Commissioner Manfred forced upon us didn't play much of a role. There was one pitch clock violation by a Cleveland reliever, who looked uncomfortable as all get out anyway, and one play at second base on a Ty France double that might have resulted in an out instead of a safe call if the old standard bases were in use. Otherwise, you wouldn't notice much change. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the pitch clock itself is not placed in a spot that the TV cameras can see with the usual camera angles. Good—I don't want to see the damn thing, it's too distracting.
  • ITEM: Speaking of Opening Day, in years past I would have been spending a great deal of time writing up season preview articles and delving into all the player movement over the offseason and consulting my peeps for their season predictions. This all for the website I used to run based upon the magazine I used to do production for, which I finally got burned out on last summer. I gave it a go for several years, but it never made a dime and its audience never grew beyond a smattering. But I know some folks still want to know about my opinions regarding the Mariners in particular, so I'll run down some of that stuff over the weekend.
  • ITEM: As some of you know, I have a side gig umpiring rec-league softball. I was working a few games last night, one of which featured two of my favorite teams to ump for, a good crop of guy and gals that keep things fun and don't take it too seriously. One of those teams is The Leftovers, who mark their softball journeys on Instagram. I even got namechecked in one of their videos. Their captain suffered a freak injury in winter league, so he's not playing for a while, but he's always there with his camera to document all the good stuff and post it. I appreciate that when he posts a video of a close call with the question "safe or out?" that he doesn't overtly second-guess me. :)
  • ITEM: I bought my new bike finally, and gave it a bit of a shakedown ride the other day. It needs a little bit of adjustment, which I've not managed my time well enough to finish doing yet, but so far I'm pleased and not regretting the almost-$700 purchase.
  • ITEM: The Mariners are playing! I must go now to tune them in on the TV machine.

More later. Excelsior!

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Republicans are insane

MTG
Georgia lunatic Marjorie Taylor Greene, whom people actually voted for

Yes, yes, I know, "not all Republicans." But, come on, can you name me a current elected official identifying as a Republican that is not either a nutcase him/herself or pandering to and enabling a nutcase constituency? And, really, how many rank-and-file Republican voters are playing with full decks and still voting for this party? A group that used to call itself "the party of personal responsibility" but is now "the party of blaming other people and claiming victimhood for everything that ails us or that even makes us feel a little oogy."

It's enough to, well, drive you a little crazy.

Why write about this today, you ask, when the so-called Grand Old Party has been this way for years now? Because Marjorie Three-toes keeps saying stupid things and people keep taking her seriously.

On Tuesday, Congresswoman Greene—there's a phrase to kill your appetite—went into one of her screeds during a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee. "I want you to know," she said, "that in 2020 there were 4,800 pounds of fentanyl seized by [Customs and Border Patrol]. But in 2021, fiscal year 2021, it increased to 11,200 pounds of fentanyl was [sic] seized by the CBP. That is a direct result of Biden administration failure policies."

Wait, so… seizing more fentanyl than the previous administration did is a failure? Because… you want as much fentanyl getting into the country as possible?

She continued: "Now here we are in, to date, to date, fisti—fiscal year 2023, they have already seized 12,500 pounds of fentanyl. The Biden administration is failing this country by not protecting our border and securing our border, and stopping Chinese fentanyl from being brought into our country illegally by the cartels, and people are dying every single day because of it."

OK, so we've got even more seizures in fiscal ’23, preventing even more fentanyl from hitting the streets. Which is again noted as "failing this country" by "not stopping" fentanyl from coming in. Except they've seized, i.e. stopped from coming in, 12,500 pounds of the stuff.

If you tried to take this woman literally you'd end up like Norman the android. Is her problem that too much fentanyl is being seized, or not enough? Is she claiming people are dying because too much fentanyl is coming into the country or because not enough fentanyl is coming into the country?

Of course, Greene doesn't actually give a damn about fentanyl. She wants to scare people into thinking Joe Biden wants to kill your children by masterminding some sort of fentanyl smuggling that … gets seized? Is she saying that when it gets seized by CBP it gets taken to a super-secret Biden distribution network that has operatives skulk into the homes of rural white folk and force drugs down their throats? Or does she just not know what "seized" means?

Really, with her it could easily be either.

Greene is nutso enough to believe outlandish nonsense of all sorts, but all that matters to her is that she can get the rubes to believe the nonsense. Which is the tactic of each and every Republican official and candidate for office. Simply adjust the subject to fit a given issue.

Are you a Republican running for office? Is there something about society you don't like? Or that maybe you like but your constituency doesn't? Well, all you have to do is tell the rubes that the thing you (or your constituency) don't like is the fault of Democrats and brown people and immigrants. (Incidentally, the vast majority of smuggling is done by US citizens, but make sure to blame foreigners if you can.) Make up a wacky conspiracy theory to give it heft! And be absolutely outraged, even if it's a thing most people think is fine or is a thing people hate but is, you know, your own fault. Because you know that your base of voters is gullible, impressionable, and willing to be abused. So don't spare the rod! Con those rubes good!

One of those rubes testified to that same House Committee hearing, adamantly claiming that lawmakers “are welcoming drug dealers across our border!” She was upset, see, because her two sons died of an opioid overdose—in 2020, during the Trump administration, when even Greene apparently agrees the CBP was less effective at seizing fentanyl. Tragic, to be sure, but rather than acknowledge that CBP is now clearly more successful in stopping the drugs from crossing the border, she blamed the current government. And Greene doubled down on it, overtly blaming President Biden for those "murders" in a Tweet. Her office was notified that a fact-check verified that Joe Biden wasn't President in 2020, but her staff's reply was on brand: "Do you think they (constituents) give a fuck about your bullshit fact checking?"

Clearly they do not care about fact-checking. Or facts in general. Or any sort of critical thinking. And Greene's staff knows it and enthusiastically exploits it.

The rube that testified made mention of her lack of expertise. "I had heard of the opioid epidemic," she said. "I thought, you know, people are getting prescription drugs and getting addicted and then getting it on the streets, and that it affects their ability to work. I didn't know that people were dying." And the kicker: "I didn't know that my boys were taking anything that could kill them. They didn't think that they were either. They thought that they were safe with pills. But the government knew. The government's known for years and years."

I was uninformed and uninterested. So were my kids. They're dead now because we were dumb. But the government knew things I didn't know, they've known things I don't know for years and years; sure, there was that whole "war on drugs" thing that they tried to drill into every American for a decade-plus, but that wasn't anything we cared about and so it's the government's fault that we didn't pay attention and learn things and that's why my boys are dead now because the government. I'm a Republican and we're the party of personal responsibility.

She can justify that logical train wreck because of what she hears from people like Congresswoman Greene. And Donald Trump, and Kevin McCarthy, and Ted Cruz, and Lauren Boebert, etc., etc., and their mouthpieces on Fox "News."

Republicans are insane. And Republican officials like it that way.

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Jimmy Carter, personal hero

jc2

After the news broke earlier this week that 98-year-old Jimmy Carter has elected to go into hospice care rather than pursue treatment for whatever is ailing him (I suspect a return of his cancer), a number of stories hit the proverbial papers about him. Kind of pre-obituary editorial pieces that seek to remind the reader that, whatever one may think of President Carter's time in office, the fact of the matter is that James Earl Carter Jr. is and always has been a damn fine human being.

I would go even farther than that and posit that Jimmy Carter is one of the best people to ever walk the Earth, and I say that with as much confidence as I possibly can concerning a person I've never actually met.

President Carter has been one of my heroes since I was a teenager. Not because he was the first president I was cognizant of in real time—I was all of seven years old when he was elected and just shy of twelve when he left office—and not because his successor was an idiotic simpleton that begat policies that continue to damage the country to this day, though both of those things are true. But because even as a pre-teen, when I was beginning to understand politics and what government does and is for, I saw Jimmy Carter advocating for the future in a way that emphasized empathy for all. And, sure, the fact that the next guy preferred to solve things with military adventure and by sticking it to the underprivileged brought out Carter's humanity in a way that wouldn't have been as obvious otherwise.

"It's very difficult for the American people to believe that our government, one of the richest on Earth, is also one of the stingiest on Earth."

—Jimmy Carter

The "common wisdom" of the zeitgeist lauds Carter for his post-presidency but gives him failing marks for his four years as President, but that's bullshit and I think history will recognize his term as a bright spot in an otherwise troubling era of American politics.

I did some research on recent presidents for a high school project a group of us were doing that required us to create founding documents for an imagined new country. Most of us, unsurprisingly, ended up presenting a constitutional structure not far removed from what we were living in; we may not have been the sort of gung-ho patriotic Americans that slap flag decals on our trucks and yak about 'Murca, but it's what we knew and we were smart enough to know it was a pretty good setup compared to some others. My group opted for something that was kind of a cross between the US constitution and a parliamentary setup like you'd find in Canada or Britain (no royalty, though), one that allowed for votes of no confidence and a maximum of six years in office for the president. As my teacher pointed out, this was likely because at the time we had a president we did not like and were indulging in a little wish-fulfillment, which was undoubtedly true. Part of my thinking was that here we had just reelected Bonzo's trigger-happy sidekick by a margin that astounds me to this day, giving him eight years in office, while the brilliant nuclear engineer that championed human rights around the world only got four years; therefore we need to split the difference at six years to check the stupidity of voters. (I've since changed my tune on that, I generally oppose term limits so long as elections happen often enough; the problem is with campaign laws, not term limitations. There are still millions of stupid voters, though.)

“The last three days that I was president, I never went to bed at all. I never went to bed until we had negotiated the final release of the hostages.”

—Jimmy Carter

In my limited research—which consisted mostly of mediocre encyclopedia articles and some newspaper pieces found in public library microfiche; we didn't have the Internet when I was in high school, you know—I learned about President Carter's diplomacy with Israel and Egypt, his push for national health insurance, and his attempts to put the country on a course toward renewable and sustainable energy. But most of what I found were negatively slanted accounts of economic inflation and blame for the Iranian hostage crisis. I didn't know much of anything about economics, but I did know that Carter's efforts got those hostages home without firing a shot and that the new guy ripping out the solar panels atop the White House was a dick move that undermined a solid environmental policy agenda. (Something I didn't learn until later was that the hostage crisis itself came about largely because Carter gave in to outside pressure to do something he did not want to do—outside pressure that boiled down to essentially a con by Henry Kissinger and others that erroneously convinced Carter that the deposed Shah of Iran had to be granted asylum here because he otherwise could not get proper cancer treatments; turned out the Shah could have gotten just as good if not better care where he was in Mexico and admitting the Shah kicked off Iran's taking of hostages. When the asylum proposal was initially brought to him, Carter's reaction was "fuck the Shah"—this from a guy who almost never swears—but Kissinger and co. manipulated him on humanitarian grounds with the cancer treatment story. Yet, you never heard Carter placing blame on Kissinger et. al, he was president and he owned it.)

Post-high school I read more. I learned about the Panama Canal treaty and why that was such a big deal and how it had positive impacts throughout Central America. About the creation of the cabinet departments of energy and education. About the Superfund toxic cleanup law. I read about how he studied nuclear reactors at Annapolis and led a Navy mission to prevent a nuclear meltdown. I saw news stories about the current administration relaxing Carter-era fuel economy regulations, with Lee Iacocca (remember that asshat?) giddily crowing about how his company and others lobbied to “put up a tombstone [that reads] ‘Here lies America's energy policy'”; about American saber-rattling in various corners of the world, including playing both sides in the Iran-Iraq war and, of course, the illegal mess of the Iran-Contra scandal—all of which I knew would not have happened had Carter been reelected.

“It is difficult for the common good to prevail against the intense concentration of those who have a special interest, especially if the decisions are made behind locked doors.”

—Jimmy Carter

I read Carter's memoir of his presidency, Keeping Faith. I found it fascinating, especially as it didn't seek to sanitize his flaws. One knock on Carter as president that I think actually holds water is that he tended to micromanage; a more important one is that he didn't play politics. I found it oddly(?) appealing that the president of the United States didn't think he needed to lobby Congresspeople to share his view, at least not in the traditional sense, that once he presented a good argument that a policy was the right thing to do that enough in Congress would see the evidence right in front of them, no lobbying necessary. Still, a bit of traditional politicking might have helped with some of his legislative frustrations; he didn't like trading political favors, didn't think crafting policy should have anything to do with making quid-pro-quo deals and felt such things had an aura of dishonesty about them. (According to his vice-president, Walter Mondale, "the worst thing you could say to Carter if you wanted him to do something was that it was politically the best thing to do.") Even so, more liberal lawmakers were pissed that Carter took an incremental approach instead of sweeping change tactics—some things never change, right?—and Ted Kennedy might have had a my-way-or-the-highway attitude regardless. (We might have Ted to thank for not having any kind of national health insurance reform until the Obama administration.)

You can look back on some of Carter's speeches and writings from his term of office and think, "wow, he was prescient" because he recognized climate change (though it didn't have that name yet) and the dangers of relying on fossil fuels. "We must prepare quickly for a change," he said, not three months into his presidency in 1977, "to strict conservation and to the use of permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power." But really, this wasn't precognition or anything even slightly weird, this was just basic sense and science. It's just that since 1981 this country's leadership hasn't given a damn about such things until very recently. (And yeah, I blame Bonzo's sidekick for that.) The man is a nuclear engineer, he knows details are important and how things interrelate, he could see what ramifications an action today would have a decade down the line.

"I believed what my father taught me about the separation of church and state, so when I was President I never invited Billy Graham to have services in the White House because I didn't think that was appropriate."

—Jimmy Carter

His famous (infamous?) speech in ’79 that has unfortunately become known as the "malaise speech" I find remarkable for a couple of reasons: It's refreshingly blunt, for one, voicing criticisms of himself from others but also kind of laying into the public at large; not in a mean way, of course, but bluntly stating that society wasn't trending in a helpful direction. "Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption," he said. "Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose." Not exactly the politically safe pandering one might expect from other officeholders. Carter also becomes visibly frustrated when making his case for energy policy—remember, this is during the OPEC embargo, which not only made for long queues at gas stations but fueled high inflation generally—telling the viewer that "the energy crisis is REAL" (and one might imagine an unspoken addendum, like "I'm not screwing around here, this is important, so GET IT THROUGH YOUR THICK HEADS"). And he warned us that we'd be where we are today in terms of our politics if we didn't wise up: "We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure."

"We must embrace human rights and aggressively challenge our society’s acceptance of violence, which should never be seen as normal or as the preferred means of solving problems."

—Jimmy Carter

I read several of Carter's subsequent books, too. I enjoyed some of them, like Talking Peace and Our Endangered Values, but the White House years held more interest for me. White House Diaries is a really interesting read. I admit, though, I couldn't get through his novel The Hornet's Nest. Maybe I'll try again someday.

The post-presidency of Jimmy Carter has been impressive beyond anyone's expectations, but the thing it most demonstrated to me was that this guy was and is the real deal. He campaigned for the presidency in the wake of Watergate with the promise that "I will never lie to you" and he meant it. He was a staunch Baptist but fervently believed in the separation of church and state for real, not in the lip-service way most so-called Christian politicians do, and even bucked the church when it violated what he regarded as higher principles, as when he severed association with the Southern Baptists Convention over its decision to ban women from serving as pastors. He couldn't be president anymore, but he nevertheless kept doing international diplomacy as a private citizen when possible, created a conflict-resolution institution, continued championing global human rights and global public health, and famously volunteered with Habitat for Humanity into his 90s. This guy didn't just talk a good game, he walked the walk.

"I was familiar with the widely accepted arguments that we had to choose between idealism and realism, or between morality and the exertion of power; but I rejected those claims. To me, the demonstration of American idealism was a practical and realistic approach to foreign affairs, and moral principles were the best foundation for the exertion of American power and influence."

—Jimmy Carter

If only people had had better priorities in 1980. We had a President who told us the truth even when we didn't want to hear it, one that would exhaust every diplomatic channel before considering using the military, one that believed government should work for everyone and strive for equity. And then we tossed him aside because people liked the myopic simplicity of the cowboy actor.

Jimmy Carter is the standard for integrity among human beings. That, above all the policy stuff, all the moral high ground, all the detailed brilliance, is why he has remained one of my heroes. I look up to Jimmy Carter as much as I might a heroic fictional character.

"Who are your standard bearers, the people you would emulate?" Well, I gotta go with Captain Picard, Hawkeye Pierce, Peter Parker, Toby Ziegler, Atticus Finch, and Jimmy freakin' Carter.

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State of the Union

JRB

When I revived this here blog no too long ago, it was my intention to be posting relatively frequently. Once a week, maybe. More if there were things in the world worthy of rants/opinions/praise. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it hasn't worked out that way.

No excuses, really. My brain keeps running its continual mood roller-coaster, my time-management skills haven't improved any in the new year. But still. I mean, it's not due to lack of material.

For example, there was that fantastic State of the Union address last week that has generated so many different takes by the punditry that it's hard to keep one's head from spinning: President Biden brilliantly focused on his strength as Scranton Joe, appealing to the blue-collar working-class constituency. The president showed a degree of cunning and baited House Republicans into the trap of committing to protect entitlement programs. Biden disappointed with almost no attention paid to climate change policy. The president's call for policing reforms was much too tepid. How could the president ignore the Supreme Court's insane neo-fascist activism? And those are just the takes from the left.

Personally, I thought it was a fantastic speech. I agree with all of the above takes, really, but (a) you only have so much time in a State of the Union address, especially if your name is not Bill Clinton; and (b) the modern news media is largely for shit, and one must be careful to protect from an overabundance of opportunities for cable talking heads to distort and obsess over pet bogeyman issues and/or minor points. Given that, the president and the White House staff did a great job threading their various needles. I was a little concerned that some in the press would harp on the few times he misspoke/had issues with his stutter-compensation (e.g. saying "off the books" when he meant "off the table," or the common thing where his annunciation is weak as he powers through a stutter reflex), but thankfully those were ignored.

And he went a long way toward shutting up the Democrats who think he's too old to run again. Yes, yes, he's 80. Yes, that's older than even that dottering fool Reagan was when he was in office. But 80 isn't what it used to be, Biden is in good health, and Reagan isn't a fair comparison because he had Alzheimer's. There's no question that being president is a taxing gig (presuming one actually does the work, unlike the previous guy), and advanced age isn't known for providing boundless energy, but Joe Biden has been by many measures an incredibly successful president and has an unparalleled support staff. And his vice-president is wholly competent and ready to step in should he take a turn health-wise and need to invoke the 25th Amendment. On the basis of age and health alone, reelecting Joe Biden at age 82, which he will be shortly after election day 2024, is a far more reasonable prospect than reelecting clearly-befuddled Reagan at 75 in ’84 or stroke-addled Woodrow Wilson at 60 in 1916. FDR in ’44 too, though the public didn't know the full extent of his health problems (not just the polio, he had myriad heart issues from decades of chain-smoking; still, good thing he switched VPs from Henry Wallace to Harry Truman for the ’44 run). Hell, Jimmy Carter didn't have any serious health problems until he was 91 and he had been doing international diplomacy and building houses and generally being a better human being than anyone who'd ever been president before and since.

Still, even after a great SOTU that saw him handle crazy Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene and her fellow hecklers with aplomb, the president's approval rating is incomprehensibly low. Again, I point to the shitty modern news media for the why on this. Because there's no way that the accomplishments of economic recovery from the pandemic, public health improvements with the pandemic (despite the nothing-we-can-do-about-it-now idiocy among the public that resulted in the fact that COVID-19 is still a thing), climate-crisis legislation, actual infrastructure improvements, a 50-year low in unemployment, student debt relief, Justice Jackson, etc., etc. nets a sub-50% approval rating without help from propaganda outlets like Fox "News" and generally shitty media coverage that insists on both-sidesing things beyond any rational measure.

The 538 polling average—which matches pretty well with the well-respected ABC/Washington Post poll—has President Biden's approval/disapproval as 43%/52%. In-fucking-sane. Even Trump's high-water mark was 46% and he did nothing to deserve better than maybe 2%. George W. Bush, the worst president ever before Trump shattered the scale, never polled lower than 45%. Our news media, with its profit motive and increasing reliance on internet platforms easily influenced by disinformation, just sucks.

Also, a lot of Americans are morons and/or willing and eager victims of political abuse by a Republican party that has been steadily devolving into a terrorist organization since Nixon's day. (I refer you to the Republican response to the SOTU, delivered by total nutjob and somehow governor of Arkansas Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who spouted a textbook example of gaslighting and was completely incomprehensible to anyone not immersed in the fantasy fever dreams perpetuated on the Fox Propaganda Channel.) What those polls tell me is less about Joe Biden's popularity and more about how prevalent Stockholm Syndrome is among millions of Americans.

You go, Joe. You're doing great, no matter what polling says.

 

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Travel, the midterms, COVID, and the Black Hole

test
Still managing to escape infection

About a week ago, I got back from a trip to see my dad and Marty in Palm Springs. I was down there for just shy of two weeks and it was largely a nice time; there was plenty to do, which kept it from being too boring, but despite the tasks to perform it was still a rather sedentary time. Assembling furniture and repairing plumbing takes some effort, but there's not a lot of exercise happening. Plus, after I'd been there a while I started feeling less than 100%, like a cold might be coming on. It didn't progress, so I didn't worry about it too much.

The day after my return, that's when it felt like it was progressing. I'm up to date on my vaccinations, but still took a home COVID test just in case. It was negative. So again, didn't worry about it. Just a mild cold, really. But it wouldn't go away. My friends K & E canceled having me over for a tech support/dinner visit before their trip to the UK as they understandably didn't want my germs even if they weren't COVID germs before an overseas flight, and I was good with that because I was just tired. And, frankly, a little gloomy. 

I did very little in the week since I've been back. Ran a couple errands, read some, watched some TV, gave the cats some intensive reunion playtime. Mostly slept, though.

Yesterday I still wasn't feeling great, but the gloomy was threatening to get worse. I've written about The Black Hole, as I call it, before; most effectively, I think, in a series of Cloud Five comic strips. (The C5 site has been neglected for years now; someday I may return to it, but for now forgive the sloppiness of the broken layout components. The strips in question are #75-89, the link goes to #75.) Having learned over the decades something of how my Black Hole episodes manifest, I summoned up enough energy to get outside and walk around the neighborhood for an hour or so. Did the same this afternoon. The lack of exercise while in California (and if I'm honest with myself, a paltry amount for some weeks before that) did me no favors and I feel better having put some miles on my lethargic limbs. But I'm still not feeling 100% with the cold.

My friend Erik caught COVID recently. He had to extend a stay out of town because of it. My friend Dave likewise had it while traveling and had to stay in a hotel isolating for an extra week. Both wondered if they had it before their trips and it just hadn't manifested yet, and I was wondering if I'd gotten it while traveling too and, thanks to having had my shots, it just didn't feel like anything much and my test was a false neg. People are generally behaving like this is all over with, but it just isn't. So, since my throat is still balky even now, I took another test today. Still negative, thankfully. So I return to the presumption that this is just a typical, mildly annoying cold bug (that isn't really that intrusive) and that my blah week was more depression than infection.

One outside element that probably fueled my depressive slide was the midterms. The pre-midterms, I mean. The day K canceled our evening plans was the day before election day, and she signed off the phone call with "fell better!" and I replied, "well, we'll see what kind of hellscape we'll be living in after tomorrow."

The amount of stress and anxiety that was churning below my surface awareness about what the voters of America might do was, it turns out, huge. American journalism basically sucks, so all the stories I had read about polling and surveys, and the TV coverage reiterating the historical norm for the first midterm in a presidential term being a major shift in congressional power, and the sheer awfulness of some of the candidates running nationwide made for jumpy nerves. And, largely because, again, American journalism basically sucks, an astonishing number of voters in this country had proven themselves to be either nihilist or stupid enough to back autocrats out of ginned-up fear and racist manipulation (or just out of plain meanness).

Thankfully, things turned out pretty well. Not great, mind you, but pretty well under the circumstances.

The Democrats retained the Senate and will very likely get a real majority when Senator Warnock wins his runoff in a few weeks. That's a big deal, they won't have to deal with going halvesies in committees anymore with obstructionists. Most of the insurrectionists running lost, including the batshit-crazy governor candidates in Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. A huge, ginormous relief.

houseMap
Not great, but oh so much better than it could have been

On the other hand, it looks like the Republicans will take the majority in the House. Only by a few seats, which is so, so much better than some predicted—and will provide some entertainment value when Kevin McCarthy or whomever else gets saddled with being the Speaker is unable to manage his caucus of crazies—but still means we're in for some real problems. The 1/6 committee will be stopped. Concocted-out-of-nothing investigations will be the order of the day, spurred on by a sense of hollow grievance and a desire for revenge. Economic hostage-taking will be very much on the table.

Florida slipped further into full-on nightmare territory with its idiot governor easily winning reelection, its idiot senator winning reelection, and a freshly (and illegally) gerrymandered map providing half a dozen or so Republican congresspeople. New York's redistricting cost a few Democratic seats, but that redraw wasn't on a partisan basis. Georgia was a bit of a shitshow; though I have confidence in Warnock winning his runoff, his race shouldn't have been so close, plus Stacey Abrams lost to that crook Kemp. Wisconsin reelected one of the worst senators in office. Texas kept being Texas. Iowans doubled down on guns being a right. Louisianans voted to continue allowing slavery and indentured servitude as possible punishments for criminals. Ohio thought it was worthwhile to spend a bunch of money to pass a measure reduntantly banning non-citizens from voting.

There are always pockets of insanity in US elections—I mean, I'll never understand why anyone votes for Ronny Jackson or Darrell Issa or Marjorie Taylor Greene—but this time sanity prevailed enough of the time for me to relax. Mostly.

Hopefully this means a bit less trouble for me to get back into a stable orbit around the Black Hole and life will feel OK again.

Especially if Lauren Boebert loses.

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Know-Nothing voters

dropbox

There's an election in a week. You might have heard about it.

Or, maybe not. Despite the plethora of campaign ads on television and dotting the side of roads and on your favored social media platforms, there are plenty of Americans who simply do not pay attention to such things. We're supposed to be the world's foremost democracy—at least, we used to be thought of that way—but we haven't acted like it for well over a hundred years.

2020 saw a voter turnout that was two-thirds of the voting-eligible population, a surprisingly high percentage—the last time the country saw more than 67% of the VEP cast votes was in 1900. Of course, the portion of the general population that was voting-eligible was, shall we say, a bit different then, so it's not an apples-to-apples measurement. But the trend has been positive from 1996 (under 52% in a presidential campaign that was not terribly competitive), so I'm hopeful that we'll get a good turnout here in 2022.

Of course, ’22 is not a presidential year. Midterms tend to draw 10-20% fewer voters. In 2018, when flipping Congress was essential to saving the world, turnout was all of 50%, the largest for a midterm election since World War I. Half.

Half!! Half of the American voting-eligible public chose not to vote in the last midterm election, and it was to that point the highest-stakes midterm election in the history of humankind. And it was an improvement!

This year's stakes are just as high if not higher. The Republican party has gone full fascist and if they regain control of Congress it is no exaggeration to say that democracy in America will be, if not irreparably destroyed, severely undermined and damaged and corrupted into a tool for autocrats. It isn't just Senators and Congressional representatives, either. Governorships, secretaries of state, every level of government is being invaded by fascist-minded candidates running as Republicans and god help us all if they win.

The Republicans are not trying to be even slightly subtle about their fear-mongering bullshitting appeal to voters who won't think critically, who are naive and malleable and can be manipulated by audacious bald-faced lies. Or more plainly, as the former president put it, “[they] love the poorly educated."

It's nothing new for Republicans to court votes by trying to terrorize their constituents into believing the opposition is some version of the devil, but in the 21st Century, that tactic has been increasingly ratcheted up to open calls for violence and we now see these malleable, manipulated, radicalized voters (or supporters, anyway) openly threaten Congresspeople, plot to kidnap and murder governors, intimidate voters at ballot boxes, and invade the home of the Speaker of the House and bludgeon her husband with a hammer and none of it is shocking.

Yet, people will choose not to vote. Worse still, others will choose to vote and base their votes on propaganda that bears little resemblance to facts. The longtime Republican strategy has been and continues to be—now on steroids, if you will—discourage/suppress voting to keep turnout as low as possible, because they know their base of manipulated malleables is small. If more than 50-55% of the VEP shows up, they believe they have no chance at all, and rightly so in all probability.

So scare the public. "Flood the zone with shit," as Steve Bannon put it. Confuse people. Lie to them. Intimidate them. Terrorize them. Keep them dumb, keep them frightened, keep them ignorant, and above all keep them from voting. Except the crazies, them the R's need to win.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, there was a political party that proudly called themselves the "Know-Nothings." Those xenophobic bigots were geniuses compared to the rubes recruited to and targeted by the modern Republican party. Not only do they know nothing, the party is doing all it can to keep them ignorant long enough to give its candidates enough power to make the will of the people and constitutional principles even more utterly irrelevant than the corrupt Supreme Court has already made them.

They. Must. Be. Stopped.

I've already voted; my ballot was relatively short and each of the races had an obvious positive choice and an obvious threat. It was easy. Plus, I live in Washington state, where voting is perhaps simpler than in any other state with a 100% mail-in system and no party registration (that latter point is a bone of contention for me, but I fully support the all-mail balloting). It took all of five minutes and I dropped the ballot at a collection box at the nearby public library. But so, so many people won't bother to do the same, even in easy-as-pie WA.

Please, whatever state you live in, assuming you're an American eligible to vote, do it. Cast your ballot. But think about it first.

People dissatisfied with issue X and therefore voting against incumbents, what's your logic?

You folks that are telling pollsters that gas prices are influencing your vote? Think about it. Why are gas prices high? What are you expecting whomever you vote for to do about it? What has that bloc already attempted, what has that bloc already prevented, what actions will they take to affect the issue? Every Republican in congress voted against the measure passed by the House that would have addressed high fuel prices. Every Republican senator united to kill the bill in their chamber. Who do you think is going to help you here?

More concerned with inflation generally? Well, why do we have inflation? What will each bloc try to do about it? The Republicans have openly avowed to do everything they can to destroy the economy in order to kill social security, including forcing the United States to default on its debts and throw the global financial system into chaos. Will that help you?

Are you worried about crime? As noted above, Republicans are openly encouraging violent crime. How do you think your candidate of choice will address the issue? "Tough on crime" as a political slogan has translated into anti-liberty, pro-incarceration, police-can-do-no-wrong policies rooted in racism and brutality; rather than "tough on crime," those policies might more accurately be described as "crime is OK so long as you're not poor and/or brown, which in and of itself we will treat as crime."

Think it through. Use your head. Question all the slogans, evaluate your source of news, examine your priorities.

Then vote. Let's shoot for at least 60% this time, shall we?

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Double Standards

Quite a couple of days it's been, eh?

There's a lot to be said about the attempted coup and attack on the Capitol building by some of the world's dumbest criminals, but I'm going to skip a lot of that right now. Other people are saying those things very eloquently anyway, particularly Chris Hayes:

But among all the talk and righteous outrage has been a lot of anger about the lack of force used by law-enforcement against the insurrectionists. That's the part I want to get into.

Firstly, the Capitol Police were (a) compromised by infiltrators/partly collaborating with the mob and (b) prevented from having adequate manpower to handle the situation by Federal officials, victimized by Trumpian sabotage. So even though their lack of preparation is astounding, it was part of the coup attempt and that should be factored into the outrage. That lack of manpower is a big reason there were so few arrests Wednesday—when you're that understaffed to begin with, you don't want to take more officers away from trying to handle a mob in order to book people—but hopefully there will be many arrests to come in the next several days. After all, so many of the mob members were quite willing to let us know who they are, with their selfies and carrying their phones with them the whole time and their stupid refusal to wear pandemic-practical face coverings. Finding them shouldn't be that hard.

But the thing that's bugging me is the backlash at the obvious double standards among police forces—surely, if these were BLM people demonstrating, there would have been lots of shooting, lots of beatings, a much higher death toll. Which is unquestionably true. For the reason that the people in charge have radically different agendas for those two circumstances, and because of systemic bias in law-enforcement that sees brownness as a threat and palefaces as protectees. That part of the outrage isn't what unsettles me, it's the next part of most of those complaints: "Where were all the rubber bullets and brutal beat-downs?" When that part is said in ironic fashion to illustrate the reality of the double-standard, right on, I'm with you. When it's meant literally, with a genuine wish to see the police assault and brutalize these insurrectionists—a group I have heard suitably described as "Vanilla Isis" and amusingly if not appropriately as "Y'all-Qaeda"—that's where I get a little queasy. We can't be out for blood for the sake of getting even.

Which isn't to say there shouldn't have been a decent-sized security force in place Wednesday, there absolutely should have been. After all, this was a known event, they fucking announced it to the world in advance. And said force should have repelled the mob when they tried storming the building for the safety of the officials and staff within. I would have preferred the members of that mob be subdued and arrested rather than helped down the Capitol steps and sent on their way after leaving the building they just vandalized.

But in the vein of two-wrongs-don't-make-a-right, brutalizing Vanilla Isis once they're not an immediate danger is just as bad as brutalizing Black Lives Matter protesters. Yeah, I'm human, I get the idea that there would be some satisfaction in seeing that asshole photographed with his feet on Nancy Pelosi's assistant's desk or the idiot carrying a lectern out of the Capitol laid out with a blow from a cop's baton; heck, it might feel good to take my Louisville Slugger to Ted Cruz myself. But we can't have it both ways. If beating up our black and brown neighbors for peacefully marching is intolerable—and it is—then we shouldn't be calling for similar smackdowns of these fuckers.

The Capitol Police need to be investigated, there were clearly elements of that agency that were in on the insurrection. But the rest of them were overwhelmed by design, hamstrung from being able to effectively contain the mob by the fact that the Defense Department and the Executive Branch of the Federal government—i.e. Trump and his minions, otherwise known as the instigators of the insurrection—control things like the DC National Guard and prevented aid from other jurisdictions from being speedily deployed.

There's so much outrage to go around with this event, it's truly gobsmacking that we are in this reality of a United States populated with a hefty percentage of people who are truly evil and/or astonishingly stupid and pathetic to allow a Donald Trump presidency in the first place. I just don't think it helps anyone to actually want to see heads cracked.

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May We Live in Interesting Times

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The past week has been, let's say, trying. I've not been doing well with it.

Those who have been readers of this irregularly updated site know of my struggles with what I refer to as the Black Hole; while in inapt metaphor in some ways, it serves my purposes. The gravity of depression is the worst thing about it—it pulls you into it and the deeper you go the more energy it requires to break free.

Except you can't ever break free of the Black Hole. It's always there, the best you can do is achieve a high, stable orbit. I manage this more often than not, thanks in large part to psychopharmacology, but not always.

Even when not in the grips of an episode, maintaining orbit requires a certain amount of energy. If you get sapped of that, you start losing altitude. Gradually at first, so slowly that it can be a week or three before you realize you've slipped and only notice when it gets to be closer to a free-fall.

Anyway, ever since President VonClownstick was declared the winner of the election four years ago, there's been an extra layer of tension in my psyche. Like many of us out there, I'm anxious. A kind of primed fight-or-flight response waiting to be triggered. My mind has been on a more-or-less constant Red Alert. This year it's only been ratcheted up. I mean, impeachment failed because the entire Republican party has become a corrupt anti-democratic scourge and then the pandemic hit. And that was met with such ignorance, disinterest, and astonishing levels of incompetence as to put the US Government effectively on the side of the coronavirus. It was already enough to drive one up the wall, and then RBG died, and we can't even give her the mourning she deserves because her death set off another round of nationwide anxiety attacks.

I hit the wall. Figuratively, I mean, I didn't actually punch my walls. But I was angry enough to. I was mad at pretty much everything for a while there. My Red Alert mind boiled over in frustrated rage at how our society put itself in an entirely predictable, entirely preventable, mostly self-inflicted catastrophic circumstance.

I've started to gain some altitude on the Black Hole. I'm not spewing anger at every turn any more. I'm a little more even-keeled. But the catastrophic circumstance we're living through is no better. After RBG died and we all set about fretting over how to prevent the VonClownstick brigade from further turning the Supreme Court into a fascistic rubber stamp for government by mobsters, the pre-election GOP propaganda and machinations to interfere and cheat went into overdrive.

I don't know how I'm going to keep up the necessary fight against the Black Hole over the next couple of months; I won't truly be able to relax and really climb to high orbit until this regime of criminal thugs is gone. But in the meantime, we've all got to do our part to make sure we actually get to that point.

That means, first and foremost, to ensure that everyone who is able to vote does vote in this election.

The Trumpsters are out there decrying voting isn't legitimate, that we need to "get rid of the ballots," that people shouldn't be allowed to participate unless they vow to support the incumbent. The president is on TV just about every day making such claims, railing against mail-in ballots, against early voting, against participation, basically. His claims are all bullshit, of course, but they have a purpose. The guy is by no means an intelligent person, but nor is he a total moron. There are one or two areas in which he has some competence, and manipulation is one of them.

The president is railing against voting by means other than in-person at polling places for two reasons. One, because he wants to lay the foundation for his inevitable "legal" challenges to the election when he loses; by squawking repeatedly for months about how mail ballots are fraudulent in advance of the election, before there could even be any evidence of what he wants us to believe, he hopes to make it seem reasonable to make that claim after the fact—he needs this advance primer because he knows his challenges will be baseless and wants to create a false basis in the minds of the public first. Two, and this is something I have yet to hear any media types give much attention to, because mail-in/absentee ballots leave a paper trail, and the more voters he can drive to in-person voting at polling stations, the more votes will be cast on machines that can be hacked and by methods that cannot be traced.

Donald Trump is the most obvious and most prolific practitioner of psychological projection anyone's ever seen on a national scale. When he accuses someone he considers to be an opponent of a certain behavior, you can bet it's because he himself is doing it. Be aware of that whenever you hear him accuse someone of something nefarious. He is accusing the Democratic party of dishonesty and thievery because he is dishonest and thieving. He may actually believe it; it is entirely possible that he cannot conceive of other people behaving in ways he does not, that he truly believes that everyone is as crooked and self-interested as he is because what else is there? He has no frame of reference for anything else.

Anyway, that's a whole 'nother tangent. The point right now is that we all have to vote. We have to turn out in unprecedented numbers, to cast an avalanche of votes for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris so large that it overwhelms the efforts of the VonClownstick faithful to cheat and sue and discredit their way to "victory." Everyone, if you're not yet registered to vote, do so now. Get an absentee ballot if you can. Cast it as soon as possible. Do everything you can to ensure your ballot is able to be counted on or before election day.

'Cause this is it. If this goes badly, this country is over and we're on our way to being Trumpistan. Donald Trump and the Republican party have declared war on the United States Constitution and on democracy itself, and if we allow them to win that war all bets are off. We have to beat them. Soundly and decisively. And then make sure this can't ever happen again.

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Good Choice

Biden-Harris

 

Excellent.

This is a great pairing, and Kamala has exactly the right kind of chops to take on the VonClownsticks.

Everyone make sure you're registered to vote, and vote as soon as you can. Get those ballots in before the corrupt administration can "lose them" or invalidate them or otherwise cheat them out of the picture.

And the cheating will be massive. The Russians are already doing their thing, the post office is being dismantled, Barr will facilitate any tyrannical moves Trump and co. can think of. We must turn out in such massive numbers that they are overwhelmed.

Otherwise this country is finished.

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Convergence of Catastrophe

Rachel sums things up pretty well.

 

 

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Class is in Session With Professor John Oliver

Everyone watch this. That is all.

 

 

 

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Anxiety Today

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I was on a Zoom call yesterday with members of my softball team, just shooting the breeze about whatever, you know, trivialities and silliness, but near the end of the hour-plus we were talking, we inevitably got to discussing the current state of chaos outside our windows and in the country generally.

I remarked that I was feeling a greater level of anxiety than ever, an unprecedented-for-me nervous anticipation of disaster, and one of my teammates asked me what, specifically, I was anxious about. I found it to be a tougher question to answer with any eloquence than it really should have been. I suppose that's partly due to the anxiety itself, flummoxing my search for appropriate words. And part of my lack of eloquence may have stemmed from a stunned reaction to the question. Wasn't the source of my anxiety self-evident? Weren't the disasters I was afraid of obvious?

Well, maybe not. I'm more immersed in news and current events than a lot of folks, and I'm older than some of my teammates on the call. My politics might be different than theirs, which wouldn't matter in years past, but today means I get information that other people aren't necessarily exposed to. So maybe I need to try again, to better articulate my anxiety. I'll give it a go.

What is happening in this country today, this week, this month, this year—pandemic, racism and police brutality, an impeached president that got away with his crime, all of it—is fucking insane and plenty enough cause for alarm, but most of my anxiety comes from the government response to all of that. Mayors and governors are gaslighting their constituents about the police brutality perpetrated in response to protests over police brutality. The president of the United States is demonstrating his unabashed fascism without any real pushback from within the administration. These are extremely upsetting developments and there is absolutely zero reason to assume they will fade away on their own. Locally, things seem to be calming with some real communication happening between protesters and the mayor of Seattle, and our governor is plenty sane. But the nation's government is on the verge of becoming an enemy force, of we the people and of the states and cities, and that freaks me out.

That sounds like a hyperbolic statement. It isn't. Donald Trump is a literal fascist. Even if everything he has said and done prior to this hasn't bothered you, just look at what he has done in the last two or three days. He has an unidentified and therefore unaccountable paramilitary force patrolling Washington, DC. He has ordered police and military to assault Americans for no reason beyond his convenience. He has threatened the nation's governors with military invasion if they don't start cracking heads. He has had fencing erected not just around the White House, but around public grounds near the White House to fortify it against American citizens that have the temerity to dislike him and say so, in ways expressly permitted in the U.S. Constitution. He has indicated that he considers protests of American citizens against racism and police brutality to be insurrection against the United States government. He has said so by threatening to invoke the Insurrection Act, which he thinks would allow him to mobilize the American military as his own personal gestapo.

Perhaps more importantly, he has people supporting him that appear to be completely on board with his fascism. Not just the MAGA redhat idiots that are fast becoming a new KKK, but the Attorney General of the United States, the Senate Majority Leader and scores of House and Senate Republicans, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, many if not all of the other members of the Cabinet. (Yes, Defense Secretary Esper went on TV to say he didn't support Trump's threat to use the military on Americans, but hours later he caved to pressure and got back in line behind fascism.) The United States is threatened today as it never has been before, and that is because elected (more or less) leaders are betraying their oaths to respect, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States on a daily basis.

If not for these betrayals, if not for these people who value personal power and oppression over the Bill of Rights, if not for these so-called leaders shrugging their shoulders when abuses are committed over and over and over again, Donald Trump would have been removed already. By invocation of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution or by conviction in the impeachment trial. He'd be gone. Even if you choose to ignore everything that came before in these 3½ years, the actions taken in the last 48 hours would be enough for a truly American cabinet to remove this president right now.

The fact that this president remains president, the fact that Mitch McConnell and the McConnell Minions refuse to do anything to constrain him, sets the tone for leaders in other offices. The governor of Texas "jokes" about shooting journalists. Senator Chuck Grassley says "it's OK" to use police force to clear peaceful protesters from a park if a small fraction of them could be a "potential problem." Senator Marco Rubio called the protesters in Washington, DC, "professional agitators." Even Democratic officials are taking cues from the White House—Andrew Cuomo and Bill DeBlasio, both Democrats, are today defending the New York police department and claiming they don't brutalize people despite the evidence of our own eyes and ears. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti praised the LAPD this week and downplayed the brutality perpetrated by that same LAPD. It's all fine. Keep on with the thing that has people outraged and demonstrating in the streets in the first place. We can lie to the public and say nothing bad is happening; after all, that's what the president does.

Maybe younger folks are inured to this. Maybe people whose formative years coincided with 9/11 and the reaction thereof don't have the same sense of shock and outrage and fear because some level of lawless and un-American behavior from national leaders seems normal. It's not. The Bush years, bad as they were—and they were very, very bad, as bad as a lot of us thought this country would or even could ever get in terms of presidential leadership—were a scratch in comparison to the gaping, infected wound the Trump Administration has inflicted on the entire world. Horrible as he was, George W. Bush never wanted to be a fascist dictator. And in the Obama years, Mitch McConnell stoked an opposition party and screw-you-all policies that fed the same kind of authoritarian, trample-the-Constitution ideology that Trump now personifies.

So maybe this seems like more of the same and nothing to freak out about, because isn't this the way things just are?

No. Not by a long shot.

For anyone not sufficiently convinced that we're in a dire and critical juncture of history here, I recommend listening to or reading the transcription of this interview from the podcast Deconstructed. It's published by The Intercept, which counts among its staff people I do not consider to be reputable journalists (looking at you, Glenn Greenwald), but Deconstructed host Mehdi Hasan is not Greenwald, and the content of this individual report is bang-on.

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