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Sunday, March 3, 2019

Last Refuge


Number one, I'm in love, and you're in love. We're all in love together.
-- Donald Trump, CPAC speech.

I call it love, Gracchus. The people are my children, I am their father. I shall hold them to my bosom and embrace them
-- Commodus, Gladiator, 2000


Ah, CPAC.

The Conservative Political Action Conference.

It’s like Burning Man for Republicans, only instead of inclusion, self-expression, and cheerful nudity, there was conservative rage, xenophobia, and howling conspiracy.

Also, Donald Trump fucked a flag live on stage like some strange textile variation of a Tijuana donkey show.

No word yet on if Trump made the flag sign a nondisclosure agreement or if his lawyer had to pay the flag $140,000 to keep quiet.


But, I digress.


Trump spoke for more than two hours at CPAC.

I watched it live.

I tried to take notes.

Calling it a speech suggests there was structure and content and some sort of narrative theme.

There wasn’t any of that.

Instead it was a frenetic mash of unscripted, unhinged rambling lunacy, sometimes changing topics two or three times in the same sentence. Frankly, the aforementioned donkey hopped up on knockoff Mexican Viagra and cheap tequila probably would have had more coherency.

Eventually, I just gave up and poured a couple fingers of William Wolf into my dirty coffee mug and watched in increasing disbelief as Trump careening from a disjointed recap of his election to tariffs to something about when the wind stops blowing you’re out of “electric” then back to tariffs jumping to collusion with Russian witch hunts to Andy Jackson and Red Hats to Robert Mueller back to a comparison of inauguration crowd size to something about how R. Lee Ermey should have gotten the Academy Award for Full Metal Jacket but Hollywood is made up of liberals apparently to something about the color of his hair to “thirty-two big fat rallies” (don’t ask, heehaw heehaaaw!) to how he invented the 4th of July to … I don’t know, a partridge in a pear tree.

It’s taken me three days to work my way through the video and transcripts.

And the rest of that bottle.

Trump said a lot of things, most of which sounded like a plea for involuntary commitment to a mental health facility, but it was the expected plug for his wall that really caught my attention.

See, as justification for declaring a national emergency, something conservatives like those in attendance at CPAC would have called “Government Overreach” and “abuse of Executive Power” back when the black guy was in the office, Trump again invoked the plight of immigrant women:

"Mothers, who love their daughters, give them massive amounts of birth control pills because they know their daughters are going to be raped on the way up to our southern border."

No mention, naturally, of the hundreds of immigrant children who have been sexually assaulted while in Trump's own detention camps.

That's the message.

We must build a wall because immigrant woman are being raped on the way to America.

Women, from Central American countries, are being raped as they migrate north.

Thus, Trump’s reasoning goes, we should build a giant wall to keep them out.

Because if immigrant woman can’t get into America they won’t get raped because they’ll just stay in their own countries where there’s no rape or, you know, other forms of oppression and crime which is why they were seeking a better life in America in the first place or … something. Trump wasn’t exactly clear on the details.

If you build it, there will be less rape, I guess.

Maybe Costner will play Trump in the movie, he’s got the hair for it anyway. But I digress, again.

There’s a certain strange irony in that Trump is attempting to rally support for his wall from the xenophobic right-wing fanatics of CPAC who not only hate immigrants but illegal immigrants in particular by playing on their supposed sympathy for the plight of illegal immigrant women. Moreover, irony wise, these people – supposedly horrified at the idea of rape visited upon young women and female children – are the very same conservatives who unequivocally and loudly denounced a woman who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by their choice for Supreme Court Justice.

And here I am digressing for a third time in as many paragraphs.


Maybe it’s just me.


Let's say this was true.

This bit, where Trump says,

One in three women is sexually assaulted in the dangerous journey north. When I ran for my first speech, mentioned the word “rape”... If you look at that speech, that was so innocent compared what's actually happening. Mothers who love their daughters give them massive amounts of birth control pills, because they know their daughters are going to be raped on the way up to our southern border. Think of that. True story told to me by the Border Patrol. Think of how evil that is.

Let’s say this was true. It's likely not, because that's not how birth control pills work, but let's say it was.

Trump says, "think of how evil that is."

Think on how evil that is.

Think on how evil it is that mothers must give their daughters "massive amounts of birth control pills" because they will be raped on the way to our border.

He’s not exactly clear, but for the sake of simplicity let's be charitable and assume it’s the rape part he has a problem with and not birth control pills per se or motherhood.

Okay.

Rape is evil.

That’s what he’s saying.

Rape, sexual assault, that’s evil. That’s bad. We don’t want that.

It’s so evil, in point of fact, that it’s still evil even when it happens to people we hate – like illegal immigrants.

THEN SHOULDN'T WE AS A MORAL NATION TAKE THESE PEOPLE IN WITHOUT DELAY AND PROTECT THEM?

Well?

Should we not immediately grant them sanctuary?

Is that not what a moral people would do?

Is that not what Christians would do -- and those cheering Trump when he said this, were they not Christians? Were they not Christians, self declared, righteous, soldiers in the name of their God? Do they not consider this a Christian nation? Why then are they cheering the idea of building a wall to keep these victims out?

I mean, what’s the point of even bringing it up, if we’re not going to do something about it?

If what Trump says is indeed true, why shouldn't we grant these victims immediate sanctuary?

If not, then why not?


Be specific and show your work.


You see the implications. Do you not?

You do all see what Trump is saying, right?

Trump’s statement at CPAC is directly counter to his stance on immigration itself.

Trump has said repeatedly that those crossing our Southern border are murderers, rapists, thieves, drug smugglers. Criminals of all stripes. That is why we must build this wall.

We have to build a wall to keep them out, to keep out crime and drugs and terror. Right? That’s what he tells us.

Yet, here he is literally telling you that many, perhaps even most, of those seeking refuge are not criminals at all but are in point of fact victims of horrible crimes.

Hell, we’ve gone to war in foreign lands for less.

If these were Christian women being raped by Muslim men in the Middle East, a task force of Navy ships and Marines would even now be sailing for that distant shore at flank speed in righteous moral fury.

Donald Trump laments this atrocity, but he isn’t talking about stopping it.

Instead, he tells the raging nationalists of CPAC that we must build a wall and keep these women on the far side it.

He demands sympathy for the plight of these victims solely in order justify victimizing them even more.

He’s not suggesting that we help these women in any fashion. Just the opposite in fact.

And yet, by Donald Trump’s own words, these are the very people we should be granting asylum to instead of turning away.

We Americans should be greeting these women, these victims, with open arms, with security and support and comfort.

For if America can’t protect the weak from the ruthless, then what goddamned good is it?


I've heard that flag later burned itself.
-- T. Alexander, in response to my comment on Twitter.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Rage

Walter Sobchak: Were you listening to The Dude's story, Donny?
The Dude: Walter...
Donny : What?
Walter: Were you listening to The Dude's story?
Donny: I was bowling.
Walter: So you have no frame of reference here, Donny. You're like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie and wants to know…
The Dude: Walter! Walter! What's the point, man?
Walter: There's no reason – here's my point, Dude – there's no fucking reason why these two…
Donny: Yeah, Walter, what's your point?
-- The Big Lewbowski, 1998


I have no idea.

I have no idea what you're talking about.

No idea.

I logged into social media a few days back to discover hundreds of responses to a comment I’d made the previous night.

The vast majority of those comments began with, “I have no idea…” or words to that effect.

It was there that I began to hear Walter Sobchak raging inside my head.

I have no idea what you could be talking about.

Shut the fuck up up, Donny!

The humor palled fairly quickly, however.

No idea. I have no idea. I don’t know what’s going on. I just got here and I missed the whole thing. So I have no idea.

However, I feel compelled to respond anyway.

Yes, that’s right, I have no idea what going on but instead of first looking for context so that I might discover for myself what you’re talking about, I’m just going to wade right on in.

This is the age we live in. From climate change to politics to vaccination to whatever the subject of the moment. This is the age we live in. All the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, all of us shouting our opinion into the void, recorded every minute of every day, but it’s too much effort to look for context, do a little digging, maybe see what somebody is talking about before announcing publicly that you have no idea what’s going on – but you feel compelled to comment anyway.

I have no idea, so I’ll need you to fill me in right after I tell you why you’re wrong!

That’s where the problem begins, that intellectual laziness, that expectation of being spoon-fed context that you won’t listen to anyway. 

Here’s what I said:

Pretty terrible, right?

Sure. There I am, attacking poor liberals.

Just terrible. If you read it in isolation.

If you see something and get instantly mad because being insulted is your default setting and you don’t bother to look any further.

Sure. Pretty terrible.

But, see, my rather blunt admonishment was made specifically in the context of a conversation that was then happening between myself and regular readers on my Twitter timeline.


Let me repeat that for the late arrivals: The comment was part of a larger conversation between myself and several hundred people.


That conversation was about the coming 2020 elections and my comment was made, again, specifically in response to those self-declared liberals who were shouting that the sky was falling, that Trump would declare another national emergency and cancel the elections and so there was no point in voting, no point in fighting, no point in turning out. Woe! Woe!

That sort of defeatism tends to give rise in me the impetus to smack people hard across the face. Slap! Slap! Maybe that’s the wrong impulse and maybe it isn’t. Nevertheless, that’s where my comment came from. Snap out of it! We’re not beaten yet! Slap! Slap!

That’s the context. You had to be there.

Now, Twitter limits each tweet to 280 characters. But even if that limit didn’t exist, I probably wouldn’t feel any compulsion whatsoever to caveat every comment I make with a detailed summary of everything that occurred previously to prompt it.

If you show up late for the party, then look around before wading in.

If you want to know why I made a comment, then look.

If you want to know why anybody made a particular comment, then look.

And you should want to know. You shouldn’t expect to be fed out of an eyedropper like a baby bunny. It’s social media, by definition the context is freely available.

All you have to do is look.

On my social media feeds, this intellectual laziness is a minor irritation, but it’s indicative of a much larger problem.


Given that I was bullied mercilessly throughout school and called a loser every day, that last one is particularly amusing, ironically speaking. But I digress.

Do you see it?

The common denominator?

The implication is that because they didn’t personally see something, it must therefore not be true.

Who does that remind you of? Think on all those times there was a hate crime or a sexual assault or something terrible happened and the denials of those who didn’t personally witness it and thus loudly questioned if the crime even happened. I don’t know anybody that was raped. I don’t know anybody who was assaulted because of their race or gender identity. I don’t believe it ever happens. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

It never even occurred to the above commenters that they might not be seeing everything, or that my viewpoint might be different from their own, or that given my social media footprint is several orders of magnitude larger than theirs my data sampling volume might be vastly greater as well.

It never occurred to any of them to look beyond their own viewpoint.

Who does that remind you of?

Then there’s this guy.

Buck up, I said. Or see yourself out. Slap! Slap!

That made him mad. Belligerent. How dare you tell me to buck up or get out? How dare you!

He didn’t bother to look at the context of my comment.

He didn’t bother to see who it might have been directed at.

Instead, he arrived late, had no idea what was going on, and was determined to take personally a comment not aimed at him, determined to be insulted, determined to interpret “see yourself out” as some sort of missive to leave the country instead to just depart my social media timeline. All of these things would have been clear, if he’d only looked. But he didn’t. Instead, he got mad. Because mad is his default setting. Pay me! he demanded, and I’ll move. I’ll just wait here for you to live up to this strawman fallacy I’ve created by not bothering to look for any context at all.

Let’s you and me fight.

Yeah!

Folks, you don’t need to wrestle with every belligerent who happens along.

You’re not required to fight people, just because they want to fight.

You’re not required to feed the mob out of an eyedropper, just because some loudmouth demands it.

They throw down the gauntlet, I’ll wait here while you walk your walk! Great. I accept your terms. By all means, wait, right there. Wait until the stars burn out. Because I’m not required to live up to the expectations of every random belligerent from the internet.

You come at me with that attitude, you go out the airlock. Feel free to wait outside.

And that’s what happened to this guy, he got himself blocked.

Twitter, for some reason, continued to show me his comments for a while afterward, though he couldn’t see mine.

And that made him mad.

Take a look:

See?

See how entitled this guy is?

He thinks that people are obligated to listen to him and he’s damned put out when they won’t.

This is a guy, a supposed “progressive,” who advocates shooting down the government “firing squad style.”

He didn’t bother to look for context. He didn’t need any. He just charged in, guns hot, demanding to be heard even though he has no idea what’s going on, demanding a fight, threatening violence.

Tell me, how is that different from the ideology he supposedly stands against?

How? Go on, take you time. Compare and contrast. Don’t forget the guns.

Or how about this guy?

Hey, Dickwad!

Charming. His bio says he’s a “progressive living in the backward state of Idaho” and that he very much dislikes the GOP. His timeline suggests he’s a Vietnam Era veteran. And yet, here he is, hey Dickwad!

Who does he sound like?

He wades into my timeline like it’s a rice paddy, guns blazing, determined to be insulted, looking for a fight, doesn’t bother to check for the context of my comment, doesn’t bother to first determine who he might be talking to, makes a number of very wrong assumptions, and then proceeds to act exactly like the very people he claims to hate.

Again, tell me how is this any different from Donald Trump or those in the red hats who support him?

These last two examples are symptoms of the larger problem.

Do you see it?

Do you see it? Look closely. Leave aside the insults and the personal attacks. Don't get emotional. Turn off your reflexive need to be insulted. Look at these comments dispassionately.

Do you see the common thread?


I look at the profiles.

I look at their Twitter timelines and their Facebook pages.

They have a handful of followers. They interact with a handful of people. They follow a handful of accounts carefully selected to show them only what they want to see.

I don’t see it, so it must not have happened.

Folks, there is an enormous difference between blocking out those belligerents who are just looking for a fight and deliberately limiting your viewpoint to information that only shows you what you want to hear. That’s bad enough at the personal level, scale it up and you might find your nation invading another looking for weapons of mass destruction that don’t actually exist.

Now, of course, we all limit our viewpoints in some way, me included. But as a former intelligence officer, I was trained to recognize my own bias and to look beyond it. This is no different from science – it is science – where you deliberately seek to challenge your assumptions and viewpoints. That doesn’t mean you have to entertain discredited theories or give any respect to junk science and woowoo. But critical thinking requires you to continuously test your worldview.

Unfortunately, social media reinforces the human tendency to form assumptions based on incomplete data and then become vested in that faulty position no matter what. Here’s a rather pointed example:

He begins by admitting that he doesn’t understand the situation.

He could have looked for context. In the time it took him to type his first demand for information, he could have found that information in detail. All he had to do was look. Instead, he demanded to be spoon fed, like a baby bunny. And I could have told him anything, I could have shined him on, how would he know if I was telling the truth if he didn't go look? But he really wasn’t interested in finding out. He just wanted to fight. He’d already made up his mind. He’d already decided who I was.

He didn’t need to know anything else and he wasn’t interested in finding out.

He’d already decided who I was – even though he admitted right up front that he had no idea whatsoever who I was or what I was talking about.

By the time he showed up, I’d fielded hundreds of similar responses and I was already thinking that I might turn them into this article. So, in the spirit of the topic, I went looking for more information. Despite his belligerent self-introduction, I wondered if he might be amenable to reason? So I asked him if he had even considered looking for context.

Instead, he not only doubled down, he created a strawman right on the spot and stapled my face to it.

That explains it all, he said.

And it surely does. It does. And that’s the problem, right there.

That’s the larger problem with the Information Age itself.


We’ve been given the tools and access to god-like awareness, but not the training or the intellect or the self-discipline to manage it.


This, this right here, is the problem with America.

On my timeline, aimed at me, well, it’s just an annoyance. One easily dealt with. But out in the real world this tendency to assumption without data, without context, without intellectual curiosity, and a refusal to admit and correct error, has very real consequences. See the last election, see the rise of conspiracy theory treated as fact, see the increasing divide and those who can be easily convinced to daily act against their own best interest, et al.

Or see that comment I made up above about the invasion of Iraq. We killed half a million people, or more. I know, I was there.

Do you see it?

Do you see the common thread running through all of these responses? The lack of intellectual curiosity? The confidence of their assumptions, unaware of the incompleteness of their worldview?

Do you see it?

Who does that remind you of?

All of the responses in this essay are from self-declared progressive, liberals, Democrats, people on the left of the political divide.

None of them are conservatives, no Republicans, no libertarians, no rightwing independents. Only liberals.

Do you see it?

I mean, you do see it, don't you?

No intellectual curiosity.

No attempt to find out the larger picture or to see context beyond reflexive anger at some perceived insult.

Assumptions treated as fact.

Refusal to acknowledge mistakes.

Personal attacks.

You do see it, don’t you?

The similarity?

The same exact irrational rage.

The same exact lack of critical thought.

The same willingness to gleefully attack, throw personal insults, and willfully engage in faulty reasoning?

Tell me who these progressives remind you of?

Yes, that’s right. This is how Donald Trump himself views information and arrives at his own defective worldview.

Trump acts on "gut feeling" instead of seeking fact, instead of looking for context, instead of reading intelligence reports that conflict with his viewpoint, instead of consulting experts. He only watches infotainment that confirms his views – views that he arrived at via instinct instead of fact. You daily see his lack of mental discipline and self-control, his impulse to insults and personal attacks. He’s not ashamed of it, just the opposite. He considered it a strength. So do his supporters.

See it?

What’s that?

Oh. Right. Of course.

But, but, I hear you protest. These people, these horrible examples you’ve shown us, why they can’t be liberals! They can’t be progressives! No! They’re bad actors. Fake news! Trolls! Bots! They’re not true “resistors!” Fake! Fake! I won’t believe it.


No true Scotsman, right?

And why?

Well, because nobody I know, no liberals I know, no progressive on my Twitter timeline or on my Facebook wall, act like that!

So, it didn’t happen.

Right?

It didn’t happen.


Except, of course, it did. You just didn't look.


I received hundreds of responses.

So I had plenty of samples to chose from when I started writing this article. And I made sure to check each one. They’re all real. Real people. Not bots. Not fakes. Real people who claim to be progressives, liberals, moderates, “resistors” vehemently opposed to Trump. Oh, sure, there were plenty of bots too, plenty of agents provocateur. I don’t deny it. But the real liberals were perfectly willing to go along – because the shit-stirrers were telling them exactly what they wanted to hear.

What are you talking about?

I don’t see it!

Not anybody I know!

Walter! Walter, what’s the point, man?

Don’t take my word for it, go look for yourselves. My Twitter timeline is public.

Just like Trump voters, for them that unfocused rage isn't a means to an end, but rather it's the whole point.

Hell, they were mad at me, they didn't even know why or even care to find out. The rage was enough.

And the assumption was enough to trigger the rage.

You have to do better than this.

Anger is one thing, mindless rage another.

It’s okay to be angry at this world we live in, at the injustice and foolishness and the self-destruction. Hell, I’m angry too. If you look around, you can’t help but be angry.

Anger can give you focus and drive you forward to right that injustice, to face down the fools, to build a decent future.

If we weren’t angry, nothing would ever get better.

But you have to have more than just anger.

Without reason, without intellectual curiosity, without looking beyond your own bubble, anger is just rage.

And rage only destroys.

Rage makes you no different than those you rage against.

Hillary Clinton once said of Trump, "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons."

Like her. Hate her. It doesn’t matter. If nothing else, these last two years have daily proven the wisdom of Clinton’s words.

But that caution applies to a much larger context as well.

Those you can bait with a tweet, who lack intellectual curiosity and a willingness to always look for meaning, who are driven by rage instead of intellect, by conspiracy instead of fact, who see enemies at every turn and who rush heedless into battle, well, those are not people who should be deciding our future either – and their political ideology, whether it be left or right, is irrelevant.

You have to do better than this.

We have to do better than this.

We have been given the tools and god-like awareness, we must develop the discipline to use this power wisely.

We owe it to the future. To our children. To our country and to the world.

If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens.

This is where it starts.

We’re not in an information age anymore. We’re in the Information Management Age
-- Chris Hardwick, writer, actor, humorist, social commenter

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Never Say Never


You see, idealism detached from action is just a dream. But idealism allied with pragmatism, with rolling up your sleeves and making the world bend a bit, is very exciting. It’s very real. It’s very strong.
-- Bono


He’s in.

It’s not exactly a surprise.

He’s been hinting at it for a while.

So, earlier this week when Bernie Sanders announced that he’s running for president in 2020, well, I wasn’t exactly caught unawares.

Huzzah! shouted Sander’s supporters! Bernie or bust!

Motherfucker! swore everybody else. Not this asshole again!

And the fight was joined.

I was lucky. Sort of. I take Tuesdays off to spend with my wife and so I was mostly away from social media for Announcement Day and thus didn’t have to watch the inevitable screaming shitfest that began the moment Sanders declared his intention.

I came home to find my inbox overflowing like a ripe Port-O-Pottie.

That trend has continued. This morning I quit reading at a hundred emails asking what I thought.

What are you gonna to do, Jim? What are you going to do?

Will you vote for Bernie? Will you vote against him? What are you going to do?

What am I going to do?

Same as I always do. Watch. Listen. Question. Acquire information. Analyze.

And then act when the times comes.


But this isn’t the time, not yet.


Will I vote for Bernie?

Will I vote against Bernie?

We’re getting far, far ahead of ourselves here.

I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t like Bernie Sanders.

Why?

Why not.

I don’t like him. I don’t like how he looks. He’s like some old hippy refugee from the 60s, probably reeks of Werther’s Originals and burning rope. I don’t like his stupid hair. I don’t like his snotty New England accent. I don’t like…

What?

What’s that?

Those aren’t valid dislikes? Those are just personal attacks on his appearance? Those are strawmen I just made up? My complaints have nothing to do with his actual positions or platform? I’m not being rational?

Well, yes. You’re absolutely correct.

So?

So what?

Why should Bernie get any special treatment? It was okay to hate “Shillary” for her shrill Hillary voice, for her appearance, for her pantsuits, for her age, for the person she presumably was back in the 60’s, wasn’t it?

I mean, wasn’t it?

No?

No. Huh. Well, okay, fine. Then I hate him because I don’t think he’s authentic enough. Yes, that’s right. He’s not authentically an old white Jewish socialist. He doesn’t really believe in free medicine for all, his promise of free college is eyewash, it’s just a con to get my vo…

You again?

Yes, that’s what I said. Authenticity. Bernie ain’t got no authenticity, man. I mean, we can determine Kamala Harris’s authenticity as a woman of color from her awkward use of hot sauce, right? That’s fair, isn’t it? Why should Bernie get a pass? I wanna see this guy eat some potato salad.

What do you mean that’s silly?

Okay, geez. Fine. Fine.

Fine. I hate Bernie because he’s too …

For the love of … what now?

How much longer am I going to do this?

Well, that depends on how much more of this silliness it takes for me to make my point.  I mean we’ve got Biden, Booker, Beto, Buttigeg, and maybe Bloomberg – and that’s just the b’s. I haven’t even gotten to all the reasons why my social media feed hates Castro, Delany, Gabbard Gillibrand, Klobuchar, and, of course, Warren.

And if you really want to have fun, there’s Oprah’s spiritual advisor Marianne Williamson.

I mean, I could probably do this all day.

But, sure, I’ll stop.


Folks, we’re year and half out. Take a breath.


Sincerely? I admit that I’m not a huge fan of Sanders.

So what? I don’t particularly hate him, but there are all kinds of things about him that bug me. I’m not going to go into detail on that because, at the moment – because at the moment – it’s irrelevant. Sanders has declared his intention to run, that’s it. He’s putting together his campaign. He’s raising money. But he’s just another politician in a field of similar hopefuls. All those candidates who’ve declared their intention to run, from Kamala Harris to Elizabeth Warren to Joe Biden to, hell, Howard Schultz, all of them have things I don’t like -- some have things I really don’t like and it’s got nothing to do with appearance or their facility with condiments. And some things I might like, depending.

I’m not excited, or enraged, over any of them.

Yet.

What I am, is glad to see a huge crop of possible candidates in opposition to the current nightmare.

I’m happy to see a wide selection, something for everybody, lots of ideas, and I’d like to see more.

If one of them happens to be Bernie Sanders, that’s fine with me.

No candidate for office is perfect. Not one.

I don’t support any of them at the moment.

I don’t prefer any of them. I am glad they’re here. Even Howard Schultz.

But we are a long ways out from me endorsing any of them.

I want to know more.

I want to know a lot more.

Some of these people have run before. So what? That means nothing.

No. Stop. I’m not even vaguely interested in refighting The Bernie Hillary Battle of 2016.

Try to relight that fight and I’ll either ignore you or toss you out the airlock depending on how I’m feeling.

Every candidate reinvents themselves every new time that they run. I don’t care (mostly) who they were back in the day, or what they campaigned on previously. I want to know who they are now. Who they expect to be in the future. I want to see how the campaign shapes them, how they respond to criticism, how they respond to Trump. Where I do think the past matters is if they’ll admit their past mistakes, up front, without excuse, and tell us how they’ve changed and what they’ve learned. I want to see how ideas – yes, even Bernie’s socialism, for example – from other candidates change and modify their own positions. I want to know where their money comes from – they have to have money, that’s how America works at the moment. So I want to know where it comes from and what those who provide it expect in return. I want to know where they stand on the issues. I want to know who they’ll pick for their cabinet, their Supreme Court Justices, their advisors, their confidants. I want to know what their priorities are. I want to know if they’ll fight for the things I believe in, even if it means their ruin.

I want to see how they treat each other.

And I especially want to see how they treat us. You and me, Citizen.


My loyalty is to the Republic, not to any politician or political ideology.


I don’t know enough yet.

And I wager you don’t either.

Watch. Listen. Acquire information. Analyze. Act at the appropriate moment, armed with as much knowledge and verifiable fact and reasoned consideration as is possible in that moment, for the Republic, for the good of the nation, as best we are able.

Here’s what it comes down to: I don’t yet know who any of these people really are this time.

I don’t. Not yet.

But I for goddamned sure know who Donald Trump is.

Would I vote for Bernie Sanders?

If he’s the only viable alternative to Trump? You bet I would.

If the next year shakes out, water flows under the bridge and Bernie is not only the survivor but he’s the number one candidate in opposition to Trump, then I will support and vote for him without reservation.

Just as I did Hillary Clinton – someone else I didn’t particularly like.

What?

Oh just stop. Like is irrelevant. I don’t have to like somebody to vote for them. I spent most of my military career working for leaders who I didn’t much like. They were competent (most of them anyway), experienced, and out front. They got the job done. But I wouldn’t care to have a beer with most of them. We weren’t friends and that’s perfectly fine.

I’m not looking for a friend or somebody to have a drink with. I’ve got plenty of friends.

What I’m looking for is a leader to take this country into the future.

Those are in short supply.


Citizen, your duty to the Republic has nothing to do with who you like.


It’s a long way to the primaries.

Democracy is messy, loud, and fractious. That’s how it supposed to work, it was designed that way on purpose. Your job as a citizen right now is to look, listen, question, acquire information, analyze.

If you’ve already made a decision, picked a candidate and don’t intend to budge no matter what, you’re a dogmatic fool and you risk all of our futures.

It’s a long way to the election. Between now and then I’ll opine, I’ll cajole, I’ll shout, I’ll fight, I’ll curse, I’ll demand answers, and I’ll likely do my damnedest to convince you of whoever my favorite is whenever he or she emerges. Because that’s what primaries are for.

But, in the end, when that primary election is over, then I will support whoever stands in opposition to Donald Trump.

If that’s Bernie Sanders, if Bernie Sanders is the Democratic Party Candidate, then it’s Bernie Sanders and I’ll be there. I will.

But, if it’s Kamala Harris, then that’s where I’ll be. All the way.

If it’s Joe Biden, then I’ll be there.

If it is Oprah’s goddamned Fortune Teller, well, then I’ll be there.

I expect the same of you in return.

No more. No less.


Idealism loses to pragmatism when it comes to winning elections.
-- Danny Strong, actor, writer, director.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Malice

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States
-- Oath of Office, President of the United States
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
-- Amendment I, Constitution of the United States of America.
Here we are.

Another day in America.

Another day that begins with Trump raging like a madman on social media – and then departing for another round of golf.

Another day when Trump again declares his fellow Americans and American institutions to be enemies of the people.

This has become our norm. Just another day in America.

Just another day when Donald Trump wipes his ass with the Constitution.



Look at that.

No, I mean it. Look at that.

You don’t even have to look carefully, it’s right out in open.

THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!

Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real Collusion!

Now, of course, when you protest, Trump himself says that he doesn't mean all the Press, just those he deems to be "fake news" and the implication is that Trump himself should be the sole arbiter of what constitutes truth.

The President of the United States of America is quite literally declaring this morning, again, that the oath he swore means nothing to him.

The President of the United States is literally saying that he considers the fundamental institutions of liberty and democracy to be a roadblock to his personal power and ambition -- which, of course, they are, exactly as they were designed to be – but Trump considers this to be a defect instead of the fundamental institution of our Republic.

By design, the President’s power is supposed to be restricted.

That’s what the presidential oath of office directly implies, that’s why it requires the office holder to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and not a political ideology, or the government, or even the country.

The fact that Trump does not understand this, is in point of fact utterly incapable of understanding this, is evident in every word he speaks and every action he takes from his assertion that the Press is the enemy of the people to his declaration of a national emergency to override congress and thus the will of those self same people.

When it comes to Speech and to the Press, the Constitution is quite specific: “…or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

There is no caveat on those rights, no qualifier, no restriction.

In point of fact, the Press is the only private enterprise whose rights are specifically enumerated in the Constitution. No qualification was placed on that freedom, none, not even the minimum caveat “being necessary to the security of a free State” as was placed upon the oh-so-sacred Second Amendment.

Nor was any such qualifier leveraged upon a citizen’s freedom of speech.


This is because the Press is the watchdog of liberty and the enemy of tyrants.


Now, an argument can certainly be made that the Press as an institution does not always, or perhaps not often, live up to that responsibility.

But the Press is not required to.

Again, the Constitution places no qualification or restriction upon the right. None.

The Press is free to publish articles at the highest levels of journalistic integrity or to print the alleged sexual escapades of popular entertainers. The Press is a private enterprise, a business – often (hopefully, if you work there) for profit – and so I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader which type of story actually sells more newspapers or garners a higher number of viewers on TV and the Internet. Fox News is popular with the right, because it tells conservatives what they want to hear. It’s the same everywhere else. The National Enquirer publishes stories of space alien babies, claims Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered by a hooker, or names Hillary Clinton’s Secret Lesbian Lovers, because that’s what Americans want to read. Sex sells. Violence sells. Conspiracy sells. This is less a condemnation of the Press, and more a statement on human nature. Alex Jones isn’t popular because he’s talented or attractive or sane, he’s popular because he entertains the lunatic fringe – which isn’t so far out on the fringe any more. Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, these people aren’t “journalists” in any professional sense, but the Constitution doesn’t require any particular credentials to call yourself such.

Because the Press is a private enterprise, for profit, we get the Press that we want.

We get the the Press that sells.

We get the Press we deserve -- just like government.

The Framers, the men who wrote the Constitution, they knew this.

The Press was no different in their day and in fact it was even more lurid, more prone to titillation and hyperbole, and more free of fact than it is nowadays. And yet – and yet – they granted the Press unqualified freedom, the only such institution called out and given enumerated rights in the Constitution.

This is also true, the unrestricted part anyway, of Freedom of Speech.


Because despite the many drawbacks of a for-profit press and an unruly and mouthy population, liberty cannot exist without such unrestricted freedoms.


What?

What’s that?

Oh. I see. You have a problem with the qualifier.

Those rights are not “unrestricted,” you say? You can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater, for example. Our rights, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, these rights are not unrestricted.

This is true.

But it’s also wrong.

See, you can shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater (or in a more modern example, “gun!”). You can. But you’re responsible – at least in part – for what happens next. We have laws prohibiting the incitement of public panic (called “Inducing Panic Laws”). Conversely if there actually is a fire, or a gun, and you don’t sound the alarm, you can be held liable for failure to warn people. Now, Failure To Warn in a case like this is not particularly common, it’s more for cases involving large companies with defective or harmful products, but does happen at the personal level and is likely to increase (see cases involving mass shootings where people knew or had reason to suspect the shooter’s intent prior to the act. Particularly in school shootings involving teen perpetrators).

Likewise, the Press can be held accountable for publishing deliberately malicious information.

In fact, there’s an entire branch of law dedicated to such, and ironically it involves a common target of Trump’s ire: The New York Times.

At the height of the Civil Rights era, The New York Times published an article – a full-page advertisement really, paid for by The Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom In The South. The Public Safety Commissioner of Montgomery, Alabama, one L. B. Sullivan, was incensed by what he called called inaccuracies – what Trump would today call “Fake News” – and he took it personally. He demanded the Times print a retraction.

The Times refused.

The Governor of Alabama then demanded a retraction and this time the Times complied, citing new information and that the intention hadn’t been to defame Alabama the state.

Sullivan was not mollified. He felt his character had been libeled and he sued in Alabama state court.

Unsurprisingly, for the time, he won.

He was awarded $500,000 by the Alabama state trial court and the Alabama Supreme Court declared “The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not protect libelous publications.”

So the New York Times appealed the case to the US Supreme Court.

In 1964, the Supreme Court of the United States decided New York Times Co. v. Sullivan in favor of the New York Times unanimously

Justice William J. Brennan, writing the Court’s opinion, cited a previous case:

Mr. Justice Brandeis, in his concurring opinion in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 375-376, gave the principle its classic formulation:

Those who won our independence believed . . . that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies, and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law -- the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.

Thus, we consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan is a landmark.

The Supreme Court established the Actual Malice Standard, it is one of the key decisions guaranteeing Freedom of the Press, and was made specifically to ensure that public officials could not use the courts to stifle freedom of speech or to suppress political criticism.

Without this protection, the South could have prevented the Press from reporting on police brutality and government abuses during the Civil Rights Movement. Without this protection, Nixon could have used the courts to suppress reports of his chicanery as libelous to himself.  Reagan could have tried to hide the Iran-Contra Affair for the same reason. Or Bill Clinton could have tried to sue the Press to hide his affair.

The press is not free to engage in willful libel or malice.

But there is a significant difference between libel and a “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

That, that right there, is what the President of the United States swears an oath to preserve, protect and defend. That.


The Constitution places no qualification on Freedom of Speech or Freedom of the Press. With great, great care and deliberation, the Court does.


This is the Judicial Branch’s Constitutional duty. Not the Executive’s.

It is not within the President’s power to decide what constitutes Freedom of Speech or Freedom of the Press.

It is not within the President’s power to decide truth for the American people.

Nor is it within the President’s power to declare the fundamental institutions of our Republic as enemies of the people.

The President is sworn to uphold the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

That is the limit of his power.

That.

No more.

No less.

The Constitution was not written to place restrictions upon liberty.

The Constitution was very specifically written to place restrictions upon the President.

The very fact that Donald Trump does not, will not, can not, acknowledge this makes him fundamentally unqualified for the office.


It is much easier to pull down a government, in such a conjuncture of affairs as we have seen, than to build up, at such a season as the present.
John Adams, letter to James Warren, 1787