Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Okay, So There's ONE Republican Who Calls It Right

It took awhile, but at last one Republican Congresscritter read the redacted Mueller Report and realized "Holy Shit, trump obstructed justice and we need to hold him accountable through the impeachment process!"

I don't I agree with Justin Amash on everything, but at least one Far Right sociopath is sticking to honest-to-God constitutional conviction (until his deep-pocket backers insist he change his tune).

So who had Amash as TBD?

To quote from Digby at Hullabaloo:

As it turns out, Amash is literally the only member of the Freedom Caucus who took any of that stuff seriously. The rest have become the most sycophantic of Donald Trump's toadies, acting as his most loyal henchmen. Their dedication to the Constitution and fiscal rectitude seems to have evaporated on the day Barack Obama left office. The Tea Party itself has morphed into the Donald Trump base, gleefully abandoning all the principles it claimed to hold dear and instead cheering on Trump's endless betrayal of constitutional principles.
Amash, on the other hand, seems to have believed what he said. He took to Twitter over the weekend, becoming the first major elected Republican to have the guts to state the obvious. He had read the Mueller report and recognized that President Trump has committed impeachable offenses. Anyone who has read it and acting in good faith would say the same thing but so far Amash stands alone among Republican members of Congress.
His fellow Republicans are not happy about it. Trump called Amash a "loser" and a "lightweight." Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, “I don’t think anybody is going to follow his lead." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy declared that Amash was "just looking for attention" and is "out of step with America." Amash's longtime buddies in the Freedom Caucus formally condemned him on Monday night.
I don't agree with most of Amash's libertarian philosophy. But he is a champion of civil liberties and a harsh critic of government surveillance overreach. I've often admired his willingness to stand up to his party on those issues in the past, and it's telling that he never signed onto their "deep state" conspiracy theory to protect Donald Trump. Given Amash's record, if there was the slightest granule of plausibility to those theories, he'd be on board. Now he's gone further and called for the president's impeachment, based on the fact that Trump committed crimes while in office, a genuine affront to the constitutional order...

Amash is already facing a primary challenger, which is no surprise when this is a standard response from the GOP when one of their own goes Full Apostate. But the Republicans have to be terrified of the situation.

It's not that Amash is giving other Republicans the opportunity to quit on #Teamtrump. It's that Amash is giving Democrats the political cover to openly pursue impeachment proceedings.

The Dem leadership under Pelosi has been putting the brakes on the Impeach The SOB movement among their ranks. It falls under the "Democrats Are Cowards" public meme but Pelosi has legitimate concerns about overreach. There are fears that trump could use the media circus of an impeachment hearing to regain voter support (which IMHO is an overrated fear because trump's clowning won't be able to hide the facts of trump's crimes).

But Amash makes it harder for Pelosi to stay quiet. If even a Republican - with a reputation for civil libertarian consistency - is openly calling for impeachment, it's going to make the Democrats look weaker and self-defeating (again). At some point, Pelosi is going to have to let the dogs out. Amash is making that sooner rather than later.

We're watching in real time politicians trying to find moral conviction to uphold the Constitution and the system of Checks and Balances.

This is the moment the Democrats have to grow a spine and hold trump - and the corrupt Republican Party - accountable.

I Don't Even Know How Milkshakes Got Worked Into This Brexit Mess, But Somehow It Makes Sense

There's a lot of other things to write about regarding Brexit and the self-immolation of the entire United Kingdom over an issue that could be easily solved by CANCELLING THE DAMN THING and reconsidering just how to fucking do it properly.

But in the meantime, watching one of the main villains of the Brexit drama get his just desserts is too good to ignore (via Amy Walker at the Guardian):

Nigel Farage has been forced to seek refuge on his campaign bus after being stalked by people carrying milkshakes in Kent, according to reports.
The Brexit party leader and his campaign team seemed keen to avoid a repeat of events in Newcastle on Monday, when he was doused in banana and salted caramel milkshake after making a speech.

Okay, I can remember a time when people got doused in animal blood by activists, sometimes stale beer (but only at sporting events), oil during any energy/climate change protests, eggs for the standard meme of "having egg on your face", stuff like that. But milkshakes?!

I'm also a bit distraught that they wasted a perfectly good banana caramel milkshake. I can only hope the protesters got two, one for Farage and one for themselves to enjoy later.

Anyway, back to the drama.

Following a tour of Dartford and Gravesend before Thursday’s EU elections, things took an unfortunate turn for Farage in Rochester, where three young men wearing balaclavas with their hoods up were spotted by a supporter.
He was then told to stay on the bus. Its driver, Michael Bolton, told the Kent Live website: “There are a couple of guys standing over there with milkshakes, they were going to throw them over him. But the police are there, we’ve spotted them and now Nigel isn’t getting off the bus.”

You know something?

A real man does not fear the milkshake.

A real man would drink the milkshake.


Do they have shamrock shakes in Ireland, by the by?

Monday, May 20, 2019

Seven Reasons NOT To Invade Iran

So trump - through his war-hungry advisor John Bolton and other proxies - has been saber-rattling towards Iran lately.

This after he and Bolton saber-rattled at Venezuela before backing off, and after saber-rattling at North Korea before Jong Il figured out how to turn trump into a gushing fanboy.

But this is serious. trump's committed harsh acts towards Iran: Dissing the nuclear deal Obama made with them, re-issuing the hard sanctions Obama relaxed, adding more sanctions towards nations still working with Iran on limiting their nuclear program to non-weapon levels, and essentially threatening to turn the whole country into his next parking lot.

And in the past week, trump's people had been laying the groundwork for a full-out invasion, talking up 120,000 troops getting deployed, a carrier fleet heading to the area, everything they can think of to make the Iranian government freak out. There's been sudden and unconfirmed reports of Saudi shipping getting attacked with mines. A ton of "Gulf of Tonkin" style setup.

And while trump is now showing signs of backing off - that he's suddenly aware that throwing a punch in this schoolyard standoff might mean getting punched back - there's just too many reasons in trump's head - and in the heads of all his neocon war-happy lackeys - to avoid the reality that sooner or later trump wants his goddamn war so he can play Commander-in-Chief. And like it or not, Iran remains at the top of the neocon Wish List.

However, for all the fantasy reasons trump (and Bolton) have for invading Iran, there's a lot of reasons in the real world we shouldn't be eager to start yet another land war in the Middle East.

Starting with 1) The United States will be going into a land war with Iran all on its own.

This is the first thing trump needs to understand: Thanks to all his bluster and bullying on the global stage, most of our natural allies (Hi, NATO!) are in no mood to help us anymore. Unlike 1991 in the first Iraqi War where we formed an international coalition over specific goals (end Iraq's invasion of Kuwait), and unlike 2003 in the second Iraqi War where we formed a smaller but dedicated coalition over questionable goals (end Saddam's attempts to gain WMDs that turned out not to exist), we are not going to find a lot of teammates for this one. The United States has no specific causus belli on this. While Iran's got a lot of ties to terror organizations across the Middle East (especially in Lebanon) they're not enough of a threat to U.S. interests to the area. Despite claims, Iran's been keeping up with their end of their nonproliferation deal with the other nations. The majority of nations prefer keeping the peace now, and are coping with their own problems at home (some of them can even profit dealing with Iran if/when trump's sanctions end).

The only nations that could ally with the U.S. in an invasion would be Saudi Arabia - Iran's primary competitor for regional influence - and the United Arab Emirates. Also Israel, which has been in a war of sorts against Iranian-backed terror groups. However, Saudi forces are tied down fighting a war in Yemen, the UAE's not much of a military, and if Israel joins in on any invasion of a Muslim nation we're basically talking World War III involving half a dozen African/Middle Eastern nations attacking Israel. The other nations in the region with U.S. military presence - Kuwait and Iraq and Afghanistan - are bogged down with their own issues (Iraq in particular is still coping with ISIL and the overflow from the Syrian Civil War) to be of any help. Turkey, our closest NATO ally, is too busy with Syria as well.

We'd be facing a likelihood of nations helping Iran against us. Primarily China, who would have an interest in gaining more Persian/Arabic oil as well as spit in trump's face for his tariffs war. Hilariously enough, Iran is a client nation with Russia - military and regional economic deals - meaning Russia at best will sit on the sidelines eating popcorn while their BFF trump sweats this out alone.

IF the United States enters into a war with Iran, we will be doing so with the fewest number of allies we've ever committed since the Spanish-American War.

2) Rolling Into Iran Will NOT Be Easy.

Unlike Iraq in 2003 - which had been battered not only by international sanctions but by constant military strikes since the First Iraqi War, along with genuine demoralized troops Saddam treated like cannon fodder - going into Iran will not take days, it will take weeks or even months.

Geographically, Iran is bigger than Iraq and with harsher terrain. It'd be similar to fighting in Afghanistan with vast mountainous ranges. A direct strike at the capital - Tehran - would do nothing to quell the rest of the nation, and is far enough inland that supply routes are necessary between any US bases (likely from Iraq) and the front lines, requiring occupation of a lot of major cities between the coast and inland.

Leading up to:

3) We Will NOT Be Greeted As Liberators.

That was one particular fantasy from the 2003-2009 Iraqi occupation that died a quick death. Cheney's assertion back then about Iraqis wanting new leadership was based on genuine hatred of Saddam... but ignored the reality that Iraqis hated getting invaded in the first place. They saw the U.S. trying to impose rule by a hand-picked toady (Hi, Chalabi!) and refused to accept him. Tied into the overall failure of the U.S. occupiers to organize and function to create a new political infrastructure to succeed Saddam's dark rule, and you got a nation full of resentful residents who allowed insurgency and opposition to turn Iraq into another Quagmire for America.

And that was with a nation that wanted independence from a despot. With Iran...?

Granted, the Iranians are oppressed as well - the recent history of uprisings and protests prove that - but they've seen the damage done to Iraq and aren't too impressed with the mess the U.S. is leaving in Afghanistan. The Iranian people know that if the Americans come knocking we aren't going to be all smiles and chocolate bars, we're going to be bombing the shit out of everyone and let God sort em out. They'd rather side with the despots they know than deal with whatever crooked puppet we'd put in office (remember the Shah? That was us putting him on the throne back in the 1950s!)

4) We Do NOT Have the Troops For a Prolonged War Effort.

Especially considering we're STILL active in Afghanistan, with forces in Iraq and Syria coping with ISIL, as well as keeping ourselves deployed in South Korea and Japan to deter North Korea/China, and Gods help us the crap trump is forcing our military to commit to along the Mexican border.

Bolton and others are talking up sending in 120,000 troops if/when we get serious about Iran, which is a smaller number than the 150,000 troops sent into Iraq in 2003... and even then we had retired generals warning us that was half of what was needed to make the occupation work. It trump were serious, he ought to be calling up for volunteers to kick that number into the 300,000 troop range... and the way recruiting is suffering, that's not likely.

We're going into a larger nation, with tougher terrain, more cities to siege. They have roughly 500,000 active service personnel. We may have technological advantages that can shut down things like their own Air Force and communications, but they have advantages of watching us in action the last 15 years and knowing how to counter all that (not to mention getting cyberwar help from Russia).

Remember Millennium Challenge 2002? That war game after 9/11 where the U.S. tried out their game plan against an unnamed country that they later revealed was Iran? The Marine general playing as Iran used crafty asymmetrical methods and "sank" a carrier fleet, and the only way the U.S. side won was by "resetting" the whole thing and ordering that general to not use the methods he deployed. Do you think Iran is going to play by OUR rules if we invade? This is the real world: YOU DO NOT GET TO RESET WARS.

Iran can, arguably, bloody our military's nose early enough in any invasion attempt to make Americans recoil at the losses. And we won't have the troops to recover quick enough.

And it's definitely not going to look good for "the boss" because trump wants his victories pretty like him...

5) We Do NOT Have A Unified And Supportive Home Front.

When 9/11 happened, the entire nation mourned and stood united against a terror threat. When we sent troops into Afghanistan where the threat was, there was near agreement from all Americans that it was the right thing to do.

When Dubya wanted to invade Iraq as part of his Global War on Terror, the unity faded. A lot of Americans argued it was the wrong war at the wrong time (we hadn't captured Bin Laden, we were still nation-building in Afghanistan).

When Obama wanted to do something about Syria or Libya, he was constrained by a GOP-leaning Congress and by general public apathy, and so left it to minimal efforts that left both nations deep into their own civil wars.

So here comes trump, likely claiming (and believing) a majority of Americans want this war in Iran. he probably thinks ANY war effort will force his critics to shut up to avoid getting labeled "unpatriotic" and "treasonous" (which he and his GOP worshipers are doing anyway). he's ignoring the facts that A) he's still unpopular across the general population and B) the likelihood of a bad opening attack wave would make him over-react in public to cause more Americans to distrust his leadership.

6) Don't Forget: Everything trump Touches Turns to Shit.

As a war-time leader, trump will be all over the place. Meddling in military affairs when he shouldn't, ignoring all warning signs when he should. his point men on Iran - Bolton most of all - will only care for the results they want, not what they'll get, meaning worse decisions will follow after bad. Considering how trump may rely on a private merc army - hi Erik! - to beef up his forces could cause confusion and mayhem on the ground in ways our legitimate military won't be able to control.

In short: We're dealing with a White House that won't cope well with any early setbacks, that can well over-react and cause more damage not only in Iran but also here at home.

With the likely bonus of trump selling off billion-dollar contracts to his corporate buddies that can siphon off much needed funding and supplies while the invasion quickly sours. It's Lose-Lose for the nation when this happens.

trump is not serious about going to actual war. Bolton and Sec of State Pompeo and maybe a lot of other neocons are, but trump is going to treat this as a photo op, a chance for him to perform his immigrant-bashing tirades in front of soldiers who won't enjoy being used as props. The whole thing will be over-managed and under-planned, with money going the wrong way while the troops get sent into death traps.

7) Any war is a bad idea when diplomacy is possible and ought to be pursued.

That's just goddamned common sense. trump and the neocons just want this war to prove diplomacy - at least the way it's been done since the Second World War - doesn't work and that they have better ways to resolve everything. It's trump's Id at play again: Every deal he doesn't make is a bad deal, so he'll blow things up and force people to deal his way (where he gets all the credit and probably all the money).

And yet... trump's saber-rattling continues on.

Sorry, Middle East, we're heading into another decade without any goddamn peace again.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Back In the Day, Counting Down to Phantom Menace

By 1999 I was in my fifth year working at Broward North Regional Library. One year away from turning thirty. In some respects I still hadn't grown up, my mentality was still feeling like I was in college, was still goofing off... but in terms of being into comic books - weekly trips to the comic book stores on University Avenue - and video gaming - getting into the Myst series - and geekery - totally dedicated to my X-Files fandom - and all that jazz.

By 1999 I was totally waiting for the return of a major piece of my childhood geekdom.

Star Wars was going to come out with a prequel film series. Episode One. The Phantom Menace.

See, back in 1983 we had known George Lucas wanted to tell a generation-spanning science fiction series, which started with Star Wars itself in 1977. When he planned it out, however, he realized he needed to tell the early history of how the Empire rose and the Old Republic fell, so he retconned the original into Episode IV and broke the series down into three parts of trilogies: the Original Series - IV then V then VI - then the prequels - I II and III - before completing the whole thing with Episodes VII VIII and IX.

Problem was, after all the hassles Lucas had getting Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi made, he got tired of it and held off making the rest of the series. As a result... the fanbase for Star Wars kind of withered on the vine, keeping up with the occasional book series and spinoffs like cartoon shows and video games (X-Wing series in particular was an industry-changing trendsetter).

Until advancements in visual effects in the early 1990s seemed to change Lucas' mind. The near-real quality of computer graphic effects (CGI) that made Terminators into liquid metal and dinosaurs look really alive seemed to convince him he could make the movies fit the vision he had for the series: a lush, David Lean-esque galaxy of marvelous vistas and epic scales.

After updating the Original series with revamped visual effects and adding deleted scenes - some successful, some not (HAN SHOT FIRST!) - in 1997, Lucas made the announcement that he was ready to make his prequels, the epic telling of the Fall of The Republic through the rise of Anakin Skywalker, the father of Luke and Leia and fated to become Darth Vader Lord of the Sith.

The Star Wars fanbase, geeked up by the Special Editions, went crazy.

A lot of us who were kids when the Original trilogy came out were now adults, some of us parents, all of us still nostalgic for the toys and gameplay and costuming of our youth. All of a sudden, a lot of twenty- and thirty-somethings were breaking out lightsabers and Jedi robes and building droid units to play with.

And we were all doing this now in the era of the Internet. Before, geeks had to keep up with fanzines and newsletters. By 1997, we had Usenet forums and AOL chats and emails and early stages of photo/video sharing (was MySpace up yet?). Everyone was plugged in.

It felt like the geek universe had quadrupled into itself. Science Fiction and fantasy fandom had been kept alive through Star Trek and the early stirrings of newer shows - X-Files already mentioned, also Babylon 5 and dozens more - but Star Wars was the Big One. The Blockbuster. EVERYONE knew what it meant.

The anticipation for the first episode was high when Lucas announced the title and previewed the first trailer:

Before YouTube, people had to see these trailers in the movie theaters. People bought tickets to see the newest movie release that weekend and then left the movie.

People were a little underwhelmed by the title - The Phantom Menace - but were jazzed by seeing the clips. Mass speculation abounded. The new villain - Darth Maul - was deemed impressively scary-looking and became a sought-after action figure. Toy stores stocked like mad.

Someone carved out a website called CountingDown dot com (the link has aged out) where all it was had a timer ticking down by minute, hour and day until the official release in theaters.

People camped out weeks ahead of the release, dressed up. They bought the books. They bought the music CDs - it was JohnWilliams doing Star Wars, shut up! - and "Duel of the Fates" was on heavy rotation on a lot of players.

And then the movie came out.


Well, it was pretty to look at...

Okay, I'll step back a little. NO movie, not even a Star Wars, could live up to the anticipation and hype that this one got. And when I left my first viewing of the movie - with my library co-workers - I had few complaints. I even went back several times to view it, having promised to see it with my high school friends back in Pinellas County. I can remember their youngest boys, about four or five years old, were entirely pumped during the Jedi duels and were out of their seats hopping up and down. I was spiritually with them on that: the lightsaber duels were the highlight of the film.

But it was a few months later that the dread settled in, the worrying realization that Menace was... off. It wasn't as much fan as the Original series as I remembered.

I found myself doing the worst thing a fan does: Nitpick.

I focused on the one thing most critics of the Prequel pick on: the character of Jar-Jar Binks. A clear attempt by Lucas to create a kid-friendly sidekick alien for the Jedi main leads, who nonetheless acted / behaved too clumsily and awkward to be believable as someone who could have survived on his own without tripping over his own shoelaces (if he had any). I read other people's criticisms of the character, where they pointed to how Jar-Jar was a callback to early film blackface, a caricature of minstrel shows, and I cringed at the realizations. I know the actor Amhed Best did what he could to make Jar-Jar likable, but it all boiled down to whatever the hell Lucas was thinking when he made Jar-Jar to be slapstick comic relief. In the Original trilogy, Lucas had comic characters like R2-D2 and C3PO, but he made them with a little more care and character, more than the flat, one-note character that Jar-Jar turned out to be.

Alongside the Jar-Jar problem, Lucas had made the other new alien races - the Trade Federation, and Watto, Anakin's slave owner - into painfully clear stereotypes as well. The up-front bad guys of the Prequels, the Trade Federation talked and dressed in Oriental, almost Japanese fashion. And Watto... ouch. An almost Elizabethan caricature of the Jewish figure in British theater.

I also wasn't too wowed by the poor kid they got to play young Anakin. He looked to be five years younger than Natalie Portman - whose character Princess Amidala was getting set up as Anakin's future lover/wife - and he behaved ten years younger than he should have. I can't even remember his name right now - had to check IMDB, it was Jake Lloyd - but I heard years later the poor kid went through a lot of abuse from fans who hated him for Anakin. I didn't blame the actors - not Amhed, not Jake - but for how their characters were written/created. It was like Lucas didn't know what he was doing drawing them up from his plot ideas.

The final thing that finally got me upset was trying to reconcile my understanding of the Jedi faith in the Force with the prequel revelation of bacterial midichlorians that turned out to be a symbiotic lifeform that gave the Jedi (and the Sith) their links to mystical powers. I got the feeling Lucas was responding to criticisms of not grounding the Force upon any scientific rationale, so he went with "superpowered bacteria" as an excuse rather than a character's innate ability to connect from the Force and learn/live from it. It felt clunky, like a last-minute excuse, and noticeably a lot of post-Prequel stories avoid going into any further detail.

By the end of 1999, I felt regret and maybe some shame from having like Phantom Menace. I realized I got more out of The Matrix film that year, along with enjoying other big movies that surprisingly made it one of the better years in film history.

Twenty years later, Biblo, it still hurts...

I think what really bummed me was when I came across a fan-made retelling of the movie called The Phantom Edit. At the time an anonymous creation - later identified as a film editor (Mike Nichols) and named on the Wiki page - the film cut out a lot of the slapstick, redid Jar-Jar's and other Gungan dialog as alien speak to make them sound more like a Proud Warrior race, dropped the midichlorian subplot, edited in deleted scenes to make the plot more sensible, and essentially tightened the film with crisper cutscenes. It essentially made me realize what had been wrong with Episode I... and it haunted me all through the following movies Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

It made me realize an unconstrained George Lucas was a danger to his own visionary work.

When I looked back at Episodes IV through VI, Lucas was under creative limits: He answered to other Producers - in particular Gary Kurtz - and had other people working on his scripts - Lawrence Kasdan in particular. He had others direct Empire and Return. When I looked at Episodes I through III, Lucas had no co-creators (there may have been a Producer Rick McCallum, and there was a co-screenwriter for Clones in Jonathan Hales, but Lucas was clearly in control).

Granted, an artist has a right to create as he or she sees fit. A poem can't be made by committee, a sculpture never looks good if there's twenty different people carving out the marble twenty different ways.

But sometimes, there has to be some kind of input and feedback. Someone standing off to the side saying "Okay, why is this speech about sand so romantic, George? Why is Obi-Wan's facial expression so flat in this scene, can't Ewen emote just a little for the fans to see the whimsy that Alec Guinness provided? Is there any way to make it feasible to have these characters NOT be so racist...?"

I think without that kind of feedback, without some kind of editorial control, George indulged in ALL his ideas and didn't weed them down to the good ones, the ones that made the Original trilogy so good. He made serious efforts to create good films, and in hindsight the pictures themselves are on a grand, epic scale and impressive to see. He didn't underplay the political drama that made the Originals genuinely subversive tracts for their era (yes, I got the politics of how the Republic fell). He did make a few memorable new characters among the handful that were one-note and perfunctory (although Jango Fett, Boba's father, was a bit of a disappointment. Good actor, but underdeveloped).

But Lucas was terrible at writing romance. The scenes between Anakin and Amidala were awkward at best. Portman is a good actress and the older Anakin played by Hayden Christensen was suitably imposing and yearning, but the romantic plot was just... who talked like that? I know I have no social skills, but half the dialog between them had little emotional impact, and yet they hooked up anyway. Bleh.

If Lucas just had someone who had a better ear for dialog, for building up character relationships, the key element of the prequels - how Anakin fell in love and betrayed everything good in the process, becoming the haunted man-machine Vader - would have gone over a lot better, and I'd be able to rewatch them the way I rewatch the Originals.

I know it sounds very nitpicky, but I'm a writer meself. I've dabbled in the craft. And my best work that got published by others had gone through a tough editorial process with other eyes critiquing me. It didn't curb my output or my artistic intentions: It sometimes made me a better writer. It created better-received stories.

So when the Final Trilogy was announced, after Disney had bought up Lucasfilm rights and reset the franchise (clearing out some popular novelizations but also a lot of chaff), I was very much relieved to find out that Lucas ceded most of the creative control this time to other writers and directors (much like he did with the Originals). I'm sure he still had input and some creative control, but the films were going to have other hands and as long as the fun was there.

And yes, I loved The Force Awakens and yes I liked The Last Jedi (oh Good God, the incel hate towards that movie, I will never understand).

We'll just see how Episode IX wraps this saga up. Hopefully as true to Lucas' vision as possible... with better dialog dammit... (ow stop Force Choking me, George)

The Desolation of Daenerys: How Game of Thrones End Tonight

As we await the series finale of a program that concluded before the book series it's based on did, we need to talk about how we got here.

Game of Thrones was pretty much exactly what the label says: A show about a squabbling group of fantasy-world noble houses fighting Musical Chairs over an Iron Throne made up of melted swords and really uncomfortable to sit on (it was uncomfortable to look at).

You had the banished Targaryens, a power-mad (emphasis on mad) dynasty that rose to kinghood literally on the backs of dragons. You had the Lannisters, prideful lions who deemed themselves masters of all. You had schemers like the Tyrells, vengeance-seekers like the Martells. You had sea pirate Greyjoys, essentially the Internet Trolls of Westeros politics. You had the stubborn, unhappy Baratheons. You had the honorable Starks and the mindful Tullys, who didn't want to play the game but whose honor (or political value) made them players.

And among them you had schemers and plotters: Varys and Littlefinger, debating over order and chaos; and the slavers of Essos and the masters of the Braavos Iron Bank. Above all of that you had the massive elemental force of a White Walker zombie apocalypse, a storm of ice and death that our heroes had to defeat first before they could resolve the more minor matter of the Iron Throne itself.

That was all pretty much resolved in last week's episode when Daenerys Targaryen, the sole official Targaryen riding the last known dragon, decided to play the Game of Thrones far rougher than the fanbase wanted her to do:

There's been a ton of outrage about how this final Season Eight has played out, mostly due to the rushed nature of the storylines and the sudden, maddening shifts of character loyalties and behavior that the casual audiences didn't get. It's bad enough that an online petition grew to have all of Season Eight "redone by competent writers" as though that would likely improve things.

That wouldn't matter, people. The show is following the rough outlines of George RR Martin's master plot, which means this ending is what Martin is expecting from his work and how his fantasy world is destined to end whether YOU like it or not.

AND THAT'S THE POINT. As Ramsay Snow famously said early on "If you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention."

Martin's overall narrative on Game of Thrones is a grand play on leadership and power. To quote Varys' early riddle to Tyrion: Power resides where men believe it resides. The power of the Iron Throne is based mostly on how someone can back up their claim for it, based on either two sources of Love or Fear to do so.

For all of Jon Snow's foolishness - yes, he does know nothing, his leadership and actions all based on bravado and chronic desire to do Good instead of doing Right - Snow has ended up as the Machiavellian model of a beloved leader. He becomes a respected member of the Night's Watch at the Wall and even gets voted in as its Lord Commander (against the ire and envy of more veteran, but more brutal, figures like Alliser Thorne). Through betrayal and bad decisions, Snow still survives due to sheer luck and rescuing by other figures, and yet retains a charisma that makes the show's heroes and fighters gravitate towards him as a "natural" leader, eventually making him King of the North when all other viable figures - Robb and Bran and Rickon - are killed or removed from power (the sisters due to male primogeniture are reduced to minor players even though Sansa has grown into arguably the true Queen of the North behind Jon's back).

Along all this is how Jon doesn't *want* power - he is driven more by Duty and Honor to wield it - even though it's revealed especially in-show this eighth season that he's the direct true heir to the Iron Throne as a secret Targaryen love child between Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark. Once it's gone public, Jon claims he doesn't want the throne and willingly passes it to Daenerys... but that aversion to power just makes him more popular among the power-brokers of Westeros.

Which brings us to Daenerys.

When people registered shock at how she destroyed King's Landing in Episode Five, they seemed to have forgotten that Daenerys has been a stone-cold killer throughout the series. Driven both by a divine sense of righteousness - taught since her youth that the Iron Throne is hers by birthright - and a brutal sense of justice - to avenge even the slightest wrong committed on her - this daughter of the Mad King Aerys has left a swath of destruction in her wake.

Think back to all the acts of vengeance she takes: Against the witch that sterilized her and left her first beloved Dothraki Horse-Lord Drogo a mindless half-dead wretch, against the cruel masters of Qarth and the wizard who dared steal her dragons, against the Astapor slavers who tried to buy her dragons in exchange for the Unsullied army Daenerys would need to conquer Westeros Essos. When she approaches Meereen, the city masters crucify 163 children to mock her... and crucifies 163 masters in return (even the ones who had nothing to do with torturing/killing those children). She uses her dragons - either with fire or teeth - to enforce her position when stealthy terrorists known as the Sons of the Harpy undermine her rule. She gets captured by Dothraki lords who abandoned her after Drogo's death, and when they threaten to abuse and rape her she uses her family-based immunity from fire to trap them in a burning house to kill them all, leaving her in command of a suitably cowed Dothraki army.

Daenerys could be a vicious Mother (of Dragons) when she needed to be.

It was easy for fans to accept - and even forgive - Daenerys' actions because each time her opponents were evil and deserving of justice (even as the fairness or wisdom of her acts still made them horrifying). For all of Khaleesi's desire and belief that she was a beloved Breaker of Chains, her rule was no better than the despots she overthrew.

And all of this hits her hard when she finally arrives to her destiny in Westeros. Expecting a warm welcome in the face of Cersei Lannister's sadistic and violent claiming of the Iron Throne, instead she receives doubt and scorn by the remaining great Houses... and quickly loses allies like the surviving Tyrells and Martells. Forced to confront the Lannisters with her Dothraki army and her dragons, she regains control of the battlefield but is forced to publicly execute the head (and favored son) of a respected Tarly House, establishing her more of a tyrant than a chain-breaker. She tries to find love with fellow hero figure and survivor Jon Snow... but the revelation of Jon being her nephew by blood (falling back on the mad Targaryen habit of incest) and having a stronger claim to the Iron Throne disrupts any happiness she could find there. Dealing with Sansa - who reflected the hard reality of the North and of the Starks' view of power - turned uncomfortable and cold every time Daenerys tried to bond with her, isolating the Targaryen from her last strongest ally. Watching Jon get celebrated at the banquet following the Army of the Living's victory over the Night King while she sat there only isolated her even more. Even her Starbucks coffee could not comfort her, for the show editors whisked it away from future viewings. Losing her closest friend Missandei and losing her most devoted defender Jorah had to break her heart and spirit.

It's not that Daenerys went mad when the bells rang at King's Landing. It's that she'd always been like this: Ruthless, because it was the only way she could survive against a world that hated and betrayed her.

She openly decided to rule not by Love but by Fear.

Machiavelli opined that ruling by Fear is the optimal choice for a Prince... only so long as there was Respect for what the Prince did under his (or her) rule. In some ways, Daenerys had remained a favorite character - even a hero, the beloved Khaleesi - to the GoT fanbase because the audience respected how she got to where she was, why she had to do what she needed to do just to survive.

But her massacre of King's Landing becomes a troubling moment. Daenerys may have acted like this to impose a rule based on Fear, but she runs the great risk of becoming Hated, the thing Machiavelli warns against. By killing so many, by doing so in the most brutal way Westeros knows - in the fires spewed from a monstrous dragon - our Khaleesi becomes the Mad Queen, a bloody figure of her mad father's revenge against the Seven Kingdoms.

This final episode has a lot to resolve. The three major characters - Jon, Daenerys, Tyrion - have to face their destinies tonight. Tyrion - who wanted to play the game to defend his family (even as said family hated him) in order to gain a modicum of respect from a world that literally underestimated him - has to deal as a Hand (advisor) to a Queen who is no longer a forgiving sort (and now has no reason to keep him alive). Jon has to cope with his love (once sexual, now familial) for a Queen he can no longer bend his knee to. And Daenerys has to deal with the repercussions of all this death, sitting on an Iron Throne surrounded by damning ash instead of redemptive snow.

A lot could happen. Arya, who had fled the destruction of King's Landing scarred and broken, could return to her assassin's ways and kill the Queen, leaving the throne to Jon... who would abandon it as there was nothing in his mind or soul forcing him to stay. Jon could physically confront Daenerys, trying to gain control of Drogon the last dragon, break her rule and will somehow, possibly killing her or at least dying in her presence to shatter her resolve.

The ending I want to see tonight is Daenerys keeping her word to "Break the Wheel," to end a cycle of madness and powerlust for a throne no one (save Cersei) really wanted to sit in. To have Drogon blast that piece of metal into a thousand melted blades. For her to send the Unsullied home, freed from even her rule. The happiest ending would be Daenerys returning to her childhood home, described in the books as a comforting abode with a red door, and end her days there as the other characters end theirs in peace.

What am I doing?

This is Game of Thrones. No happy endings. Everybody you love fooking dies.

Valar Morghulis.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Fugitive Women Acts of 2019

The more I look at these "heartbeat" anti-abortion bills - I already railed against Georgia's, Alabama just passed an anti-abortion bill that's worse, Ohio is close to getting there, Missouri's voting on their own, Kentucky's is messed up - the more I see a repeat of the harsh laws our states had passed back in the 1800s to punish Blacks not just the slaves but also the Freed Blacks who were born and raised free in northern states.

I'm thinking of the Fugitive Slave Acts that the Slave states passed to force the Free states to return "their property" of human beings.

When I saw the Georgia law applying penalties to any woman "leaving the state to receive an abortion" and noticed it gave room for the state to punish anyone who helped her, it reminded me of how the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act forced local police and even ordinary citizens - under penalty of high fines - to help bounty hunters capture anyone they deemed - without evidence - an escaped slave (even when entire communities could prove that Black person was born free).

These bills aren't designed to help or protect the fetus. These bills are designed to hurt and punish people.

The Alabama anti-abortion law got rid of the exemptions "in cases of rape/incest" meaning women will be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies (and even be forced to share custody with the rapist!) and likely face severe health risks that could mean their death. Or else face life in prison. Any doctor helping to end that rape pregnancy can face longer jail time (life in prison) than the fucking rapist.

There's your slave chains tightening on women's necks.

There's your Far Right wingnuts imposing Sharia law.

There's the Republican Party ignoring every signpost warning them that banning all abortion will cause a backlash. They may argue that "everyone hates killing babies" but a vast majority of Americans accept and approve of the rape/incest/health of mother exemptions. Welcome to the paradox of abortion: Most Americans don't like the practice but they also realize there are situations where abortion is needed and should be available to the woman making that choice.

The anti-abortion fanatics may see those polls but they're still driven by their absolutist obsessions. They don't care what the majority think, only what they are willing to do to enslave the rest of us.

Just remember those Fugitive Slave Acts stirred a public outrage among Northern states that led to the rise of an abolitionist Republican Party - back when that party knew what it was doing, before the dark times of Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan and Newt - and to the Election of 1860 which found the Slave states outnumbered and outvoted... and we all know what that led to.

So Welcome to 2019, deep into the trumpian Darkest Timeline.

Welcome to the American Second Civil War. Whose side are you on?

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Nasty Public Secret of trump's Failures

It's been something I've harped on a long time: how trump's reputation as a savvy businessman was all a lie when you look at his long history of bankruptcies, failed projects, and the honest-to-god killing of an entire sports league.

And now his tax returns from the 1980s and 1990s re-affirmed all of that, pointing out how trump lost more money than any other American taxpayer - even actual billionaires  - on a scale that suggests either sheer incompetence on trump's part... or blatant acts of fraud.

Consider this little tidbit about what trump did to play the Stock Markets (from Matthew Yglesias at

...He would secretly buy shares of stock in a company, publicly suggest he was planning to make a bid to buy the whole company, watch the share price rise in response to the Trump takeover rumors, and then sell his shares at a profit without actually doing anything.
He did this successfully with United Airlines in 1987, which led him to try it again with Hilton Hotels, Gillette, and Federated Department Stores in 1988. This was apparently a “fool me five times, shame on you” situation, however; investors caught on to the fact that Trump was running a scam, and it didn’t work anymore...
And yet from the reports we're getting, people on Wall Street figured out trump was pulling these Pump And Dumps. WHICH ARE AGAINST THE LAW. And yet... nobody charged him with sh-t while the statue of limitations were in effect. Unless the SOB has been doing it recently based on the latest tax returns trump still refuses to release, he can't be touched on the matter. Which sucks.

This is from a specific blog rant I wrote back during the 2016 campaign, about how trump developed this not-so-secret track record of screwing over his own employees and contractors to where someone, ANYONE, should have gone public with his deal-breaking and get his ass thrown in jail for it or something:

It's good that the stories are getting out there now, during a period that our voters can realize that Trump isn't a successful businessman, he's a successful thief. But it bothers me that someone like Trump was allowed to operate like this for over 40 years and got away with it. Shouldn't some requirement of business ethics DEMAND that a crook of Trump's venality be hauled into the spotlight for his sins long ago? Before it got worse?

Which all leads to this sad open secret about the law in the United States:

The law is entirely geared to favor the wealthy.

I mean, that's the whole point of the law when you think about it. Read up on the Code of Hammurabi. One of the earliest forms of codified law in Western civilization, it may have set down punishments for criminal acts but it also spelled out who owned what, the fair rate of exchange for goods and services, and other things people tended to argue over.

Every legal system is a reflection of that, and ultimately focused on one thing: How to do business. Look at your city and county ordinances. A lot of local laws focus on zoning and property rights (who owns what). Your state laws and statutes, there's a lot in there about property rights, theft protections, wages, money, regulations for business (who owns what). The US Code covers that stuff at the federal level.

When the Founders created the federal system under the Constitution, they did so because their original model of government under the Articles of Confederation did a lousy job of spelling out who owned what... and they feared the rise of mobs who would take from the rich - the Revolutionary Founders themselves - if they didn't set up a stronger system to enforce who owns what.

As a result, you ever take a good long look our legal system, you'll see there are two different rules for the poor and the rich. A lot of laws are set up to punish the poor - high bails, prison time for most low-income crimes, legal fees that a public defense can never cover - and protect the rich - lawyers on retainer to argue probation, harder standards of proof for financial fraud, etc.

Click on the link to the US Code covering Securities Fraud: it spells out penalties covering "fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than 25 years, or both." Yet in practice the fines tend to be maybe ten thousands or hundred thousands of dollars, but never the amount that the fraudsters committed, meaning a lot of them can pay off fines with their equivalent of pocket change. And jail time? Usually measured by months instead of years. If you compared a guy who stole $10 million from an investment firm who pays a $50,000 fine and spends three months in jail to a guy who stole a flatscreen TV from WalMart who has no money to pay and spends three years in jail, you see all the rewards go to the white-collar crook while the low-income crook suffers more.

You might retort "Well we're arrested fraudsters before," and yes we've seen the likes of Boesky and Madoff and Milken head to court and even some jail time, but those are the painful exceptions to the hundreds pulling lower-scale scams. They were so brazen and reckless that they were easy to catch... and in most of their cases they ripped off fellow rich folk, which is the big no-no within their circles. And even then, it took years before anyone listened to the one investigator warning the financial world about Madoff. Even then, it takes years for white collar crooks to see the inside of a courtroom.

trump should have been one of those fraudsters who crossed those lines. he lied and cheated to a lot of fellow millionaires to pretend to be one of them... and yet he was routinely let off the hook. All because we as a nation do not take financial fraud crimes serious enough.

Let's admit it. Compared to all the sins we already know trump committed. We jailed Martha Stewart for less.

No one had the balls or decency to go after trump. Until it was too late.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

American Women: Time to Fight For Your Lives

I wrote awhile ago about abortion as a political issue. How on the one hand it was never the big issue the Far Right wanted it to be, on another hand how Republicans pretty much gave it lip service because they knew if they pursued pro-fetus bills to their logical conclusion they'd lose most women voters forever... and then on a third hand recognized the reality that Republicans knew they were running out of time to appease their base and were ratcheting up anti-abortion laws anyway to the detriment of the nation.

So when it came to pass that my birthstate of Georgia decided to go full wingnut, I had to pay notice (via Kathleen Krawczyk at The Week):

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a "heartbeat bill" into law on Tuesday, effectively outlawing most abortions after a doctor is able to detect a fetal heartbeat, which typically occurs around six weeks. While it does include some exceptions for rape, incest, or a mother's health, it also makes women liable for murder charges if they have an abortion — and could land them in prison for life...
Under the new law, different murder charges apply to women who terminate their pregnancies in different ways. A woman who self-terminates — something that wasn't punishable under a previous Georgia law — will have technically committed murder and could be imprisoned for life or face the death penalty. Those who get an abortion via a health care provider could be found guilty of being a party to murder, punishable by life in prison.

My immediate reaction to this news was "Girl, get your shit together in a bag and get the hell outta there."

After that, I calmed down a bit. Given how these anti-women laws tend to affect the poor the worst, many of them can't afford to flee the state for safer climes (like say Illinois or California or Oregon). The women of Georgia can't just head to Ohio (passing their own harsher bill) or neighboring Alabama (oh hell no) or even Florida (I do not trust the GOP in Tall Hassle).

So the women of Georgia are going to have to consider other options.

I know I joked before about Utopian-like compounds where the Far Right fantasized about fleeing a librul world, and that it would be hypocritical of me to suggest this to women. HOWEVER, desperate times desperate measures.

It's time to pull a Lysistrata Gambit, ladies. Before the men decide to round you up for breeder camps, you should flee and build your own defensive compounds. Every one of you from puberty to menopause. There's like 5 million women in Georgia. If you're stuck in the Peach State and you can organize that 5 million, find the smallest populated counties - there's a lot of 'em barely under 3,000 total - where 50,000 women per group can relocate to seize control of the biggest towns, throw up some barbed wire and chain-link fences, put sentries everywhere armed to the teeth (this is Georgia, you should be able to find gun stores every five miles and raid them accordingly), and claim your new homes with the determination to stay put until these damn anti-women laws are gone.

Why should crazy wingnuts have all the fun forming their own militia protests? Only this time, with women at the helm, they'll be better organized.

It's time to let the crazy-ass men obsessing over controlling women's bodies and choices to wake up one day and find out their slaves to the kitchens have all fled without cooking anything, or doing any laundry, or balancing the family checkbooks.

They're expecting women to keep playing by the rules of social hookups? Dating (with the likelihood of unwanted pregnancies) or getting married (with the likelihood of pregnancies suffering miscarriages)? Time to turn half of Georgia into one big stag party, where there's no women to even date or chat up.

Women can't afford to run the risk of pregnancy, then or now. Pregnancies aren't safe, they aren't cheap, they aren't healthy. The United States already has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the Western world. And these laws don't do anything to fund more prenatal and birthing care. These laws won't help women improve their ability to survive the difficulties of birthing. These pro-fetus bills will make all of that worse.

But the assholes passing these "heartbeat" bills don't give a flying fuck. They enjoy being judgmental holier-than-thou pricks. They don't even care if these Godly laws even reflect the faith these women have on their own terms. They just want women to know their place.

But women's place in society is more important than you assholes realize. What will happen if all the women flee for safety, leaving behind their clerical jobs... their nursing jobs... their college enrollments (just think of the state universities suddenly losing most of their students)... how many things in our economy and society will grind to a halt if the women of America realize they no longer have a say in The Game and decide "Fuck it, we're out of here"?

Maybe now's the time women should. If we can't value women as full and equal citizens of this nation, if we keep treating women as though they're cattle, if we take away their choices and their own values and chain them to someone else's, they should break from such a dark and unloving country.

Why should women pay anything into a United States where their health, their souls, their voices are denied?

They're Not Joking

This headline has it all wrong. trump and his cult are not joking:

Referring to border agents who deal with undocumented border crossers, Trump brought up the possibility of using deadly force, but quickly ruled out the idea, saying he “would never do that.”
“And don’t forget — we don’t let them and we can’t let them use weapons. We can’t,” Trump said. “Other countries do. We can’t. I would never do that. But how do you stop these people? You can’t. There’s—”
Before Trump could finish his thought, a woman in the audience yelled out. While it was unclear exactly what she said during television coverage of the event, numerous eyewitnesses reported she said, “Shoot them!”

This isn't that far-fetched. Federal agents have been dealing with self-deputized militia wingnuts seizing (pretty much kidnapping) Latinos at the border. It's only a matter of time - if it hasn't been happening already - before those gun nuts decide to make their lives easier and start leaving bodies behind.

trump keeps egging his audience on. he's been pandering to their hate towards Latinos (and all other ethnics) ever since he started campaigning, and he's personally been like that since his racist behavior as a landlord from the 1970s onward. he knows what he's doing: Get the audience to buy into the idea of using violence, and then trigger them into action when he'll need them armed and angry the most.

trump will never disavow such talk. trump wants this talk to keep his base primed for the worst.

And the rest of us are going to have to clean up his goddamn mess when all that's left are the blood and tears.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

A Con Artist In the Red

I wrote this what feels like a lifetime ago:

Okay, I'm asking here: if you were truly worth $10 billion, wouldn't you use some of that money cashed out - in hand - to pay off said debts? I mean, $100 million is less than a percent of $10 billion: you could pay off that debt and still have $9.99 billion to your name. Done and done. One less thing to worry about.
One of Trump's selling points during the Primary campaign was that nobody could "own" him because he was so independently wealthy. But if he's in this much debt to banks - debt he hasn't paid off with a portion of billionaire wealth he's supposed to have - how can he claim that? Those banks surely own him: what would happen if they started calling in that credit he owes...?
...This needs to be an ongoing question at every press gathering, at every time Trump is at the podium: Is Donald Trump even really a billionaire?

And the answer to that, according to a New York Times report by Russ Buettner and Susanne Craig coming out tonight, is NOPE.

Mr. Trump was propelled to the presidency, in part, by a self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome. He has attributed his first run of reversals and bankruptcies to the recession that took hold in 1990. But 10 years of tax information obtained by The New York Times paints a different, and far bleaker, picture of his deal-making abilities and financial condition...
The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.
In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the I.R.S. compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 — more than $250 million each year — were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years...

trump lost so much money he actually qualified to not pay any federal taxes most of those years.

While this report doesn't cover trump's most current history - anything from 2006 onward, within the last ten years before the 2016 elections - the report demonstrates a clear and consistent pattern: donald trump was and likely still is a terrible businessman when it comes to actual management of property, casinos, sales, and other operations.

The ONLY thing trump ever seemed to be good at was selling himself - putting his name in BIG UNAVOIDABLE GOLD LETTERS everywhere - with the lie of being successful.

It was that lie - "I know what I am doing. I know how to run things." - that trump kept harping on during his presidential campaigns. For all the media disdain - and for all the warnings that kept coming from people like me, Christ I wrote this three years ago - a lot of the public had the wrongful image of trump as successful CEO. What a goddamn lie that proved to be.

The nation is still going to struggle with the horrors of this trump administration until enough Americans wake up to the reality that trump is a con artist, and that his protestations of being a success is false and grotesque.

It's just another lie from trump, America. For the LOVE OF GOD, stop believing his bullshit.