Thursday, March 31, 2022

The trumpian Farce Exposed

One of the Marxes - it might be Karl, but it's probably Groucho - once quipped that history repeats, first as tragedy and then as farce.

The tragedy was Richard Nixon, a smart ambitious but spiritually broken man who rose to the height of political power but threw it all away in a self-destructive cycle of paranoia and failure.

The farce, if you've probably figured out by now, is donald trump, not as smart and without any soul at all but still ambitious and greedy in a gaslighting con artist way.

Part of the comparison comes from the fact that these are two men who faced political adversity and responded in different ways. In Nixon's case, he resigned in the face of a likely impeachment and fall from grace as a means of retaining some dignity on which he could build a reputation for statesman at least within his own party's ranks.

In trump's case, he faced political adversity by doubling down on the gaslighting lies, stirring up violent insurrection, and speeding out of town with boxes of illegally-kept official records refusing to admit he was ever the loser he truly was.

trump's farce is under examination because it came out this week after forced to reveal the official White House telephone logs on the day - January 6 2021 - that trump riled a mob into violent acts, there is a gap of seven-plus hours in those logs during the hours of the rioting.

As David Frum at the Atlantic notes (paywalled): 

We know the president spoke by phone during that gap. As the crowd came crashing toward the office of the Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy, McCarthy called the president to demand he stop the violence. Trump instead excused it. “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” Witnesses reported seeing the president on the phone many other times during the day.

As president, Trump often avoided using official lines. He used multiple phones of his own. He borrowed phones from other people...

Trump’s phone choices were powerfully intentional. What was he intending on January 6? The answer is obvious: concealment. But concealment of what?

Trump’s actions that day were not secret. They all happened in full public view. He incited a crowd to attack Congress in order to overturn by violence his election defeat. He refused to act to protect Congress and the Constitution when the attack began, and for a long time afterward...

Trump encouraged the violence and welcomed it in real time. The whole world saw that.

But the world does not know everything about January 6—not yet, anyway—and Trump’s phone behavior may suggest the answer to the most important remaining questions:

1. Did Trump in any way authorize the attack in advance?

2. Did Trump in any way communicate or coordinate with the attackers as the attack unfolded?...

Frum doesn't speculate on it but his second point - that trump spoke at least once to his war room people coordinating the riot from the Willard Hotel - is probably the big reason why trump edited/burned/flushed those seven hours from the official records. Unable to make sure they would keep their stories straight about who called whom and when and then edit judiciously to hide those calls, trump and his handlers probably figured to cut whole pages out of the logs and taunt Congressional and Justice Department investigators with blatant acts of destroying records and committing obstruction.

This seven-hour gap in the phone logs created flashbacks for many of the reporters and historians who covered the Watergate scandal of Nixon's administration. One of the details of that scandal was how, even with the shattering revelation that Nixon recorded many conversations in his Oval Office, there were missing or erased gaps in those conversations that made people suspicious about what potential criminal misdeeds were mentioned. The infamous 18-and-a-half-minute gap was in truth a set of different gaps of various minutes, but all added together into one memetic concept of an accusatory self-own.

(Arlo Guthrie would later joke that the length of the 18-and-a-half-minute gap fit the same time as his epic "Alice's Restaurant" ballad, as though Nixon was rolling up a joint and enjoy the hell out of Guthrie's shaggy dog story)

Others are noticing the similarities, and the criminal overtones of both (via Alex Shepherd at New Republic (also paywalled)):

It’s longer—by nearly three hours—than the Grateful Dead’s longest concert. Longer by an hour than a flight from New York City to Seattle. It’s only 30 minutes shorter than the longest baseball game played in the modern era—though that game was played over the course of two days. More to the point, it’s more than 20 times longer than the gap in the Watergate tapes that caused a scandal for President Richard Nixon, ultimately leading to his resignation in 1974...

For Democrats, the gap is also an opportunity to return the focus onto Trump’s own role in the attempted coup, as well as the Republican Party’s extensive efforts to protect him from facing accountability. For months, even amid a series of damaging revelations, most of the attention has focused on Trump’s efforts to prevent congressional investigators from accessing records relating to his activities on January 6. Slowly but with increasing surety, Trump has become a larger focus of the January 6 committee’s efforts. The way this lengthy gap in the official record recalls the Watergate scandal is advantageous to those seeking accountability: It provides an accessible and familiar reference point both to make their case and to underscore its seriousness in ways that people who haven’t been following the story closely might more easily understand...

I can personally recall how the Republicans during the tenure of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama would run around screaming "Worse than Watergate" every time a perceived scandal would crop up to justify a retaliation against Democrats for the shame the fall of Richard Nixon inflicted on the GOP's reputation. In Clinton's case, it led to a prolonged investigation into Whitewater and Foster's suicide that all culminated in an honestly minor scandal of blowjobs, and in Obama's case setback after setback of Republicans jumping on incidents - even a tragedy like Benghazi - that refused to blow up to the level of a Watergate.

And now here we are again - with a Republican Party left holding the bag of a trumpian administration so mismanaged and scandal-plagued that trump holds the dishonor of being the only man impeached twice - with a reminder of how both Nixon and trump played loose with the facts, fought against any form of accountability, and destroyed records that for all we know hid deeper scandals.

Nixon paid the price for his obstruction with resignation and shame.

trump is incapable of shame and will never yield or resign from the destructive course he's set himself upon. In his case, criminal charges are the only way to hold him accountable for the lives he's ruined and the laws he's broken.


Monday, March 28, 2022

DeSantis Just Declared Hunting Season In Florida's Public Schools

Welp. Nothing was stopping Florida Governor DeSantis from signing the odious "Don't Say Gay" bill, and by Gawd he signed it today (via Kirby Wilson and Jeffrey S. Solochek at the Tampa Bay Times):

On Monday, surrounded by Republican legislators, the governor signed House Bill 1557, called the “Parental Rights in Education” bill.

Critics have dubbed the measure Florida’s “don’t say gay” legislation because, although the bill does not mention the word “gay,” it prohibits instruction related to gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and potentially restricts such instruction for older kids.

The measure allows parents who believe a teacher is violating the rules to sue a school district for damages and attorneys fees. It takes effect July 1...

This is essentially a bounty program for angry Far Right parents to file lawsuit after lawsuit against every school and every teacher, an long-term attempt to bankrupt our educational districts and drive our teachers out of the classrooms before they lose their wallets.

DeSantis signed the bill at Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill. The charter school was started in 2014 by the wife of education commissioner Richard Corcoran. The governor has signed several education measures this spring at charter schools, despite the fact that the bills do not apply to charters...

So, guess what Florida: Private schools are protected but the public schools - where the lower-income families have to send their kids - are not. While these Republicans push for more children to get enrolled into charter schools - which have little regulatory protection and are not proven to offer the best education - they are doing nothing to hold those charters equal in accountability, which screws our legally mandated public schools even more.

In short: This is now hunting season and our teachers are the targets.

But it's not only the teachers who are going to suffer here.

By signing this into law, DeSantis is signaling that the very idea of homosexuality or differences in gender identity is illegal. We dare not talk about it, it is verboten now: Thus anybody who IS gay, or lesbian, or trans, or genderfluid, or still trying to figure themselves out, they are verboten as well. As the Times article summarizes:

When it was originally filed, the legislation restricted “classroom discussion” about gender identity and sexual orientation. The bill’s language later changed to prohibit “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties” about those topics in K-3 — or in older grades in a way that is not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards...”

The law may say it affects only elementary grade levels, but this law is still vague enough about age-appropriate that ANY grade level discussion is subject to lawsuit. 

That opens up the likelihood of wingnut parents suing well up into middle-school and high-school grade levels. This opens up the likelihood that these parents are going to push their children to "set the issue" and trick as many teachers and students as possible to make sure someone somewhere does say something about their sexual identity, or what sexual identity even means.

What is going to happen now is the likelihood of these wingnut kids taunting and bullying all the other kids to trigger them into saying something they'll regret. And then making the schools over-react into something the administration regrets.

Do YOU remember what it was like to survive middle school? Those awkward years when puberty kicked in and your hormones were on overdrive? Remember how a lot of the taunts and accusations you endured from the other kids were if you were "gay" or not?

It happened to me, among all the other bullying - the use of my back for spitting practice, the head slaps on the bus, getting pushed while walking the stairs, the unwanted nicknames - was the occasional confrontation if I was gay or not. I wasn't, but there wasn't much I could say or do - other than date a girl or two, which I wasn't good at doing alas - to convince the other kids. The taunting subsided when I got to high school, but a number of them kept asking me if I was gay well into my senior year.

It's awkward when you're hetero, but what if you are really gay, or lesbian, or realizing your gender should be different, or that your gender isn't set in a box? What happens to those kids.

There are studies that show how the suicide rates for gay/lebsian/trans teens are higher than normal because they are emotionally traumatized by the social stigma they face, and that was even after gay marriage and being gay in public became more accepted for adults.

By making it impossible for teachers or school counselors to talk to teens about this, DeSantis and the Florida Republicans are making it more likely these teens will not get the help they need to grow up. This is horrifying.

By monetizing attacks on teachers and schools over which kids are gay or lesbian or trans, DeSantis is encouraging bad behavior to flare up so that the gay/lesbian/trans kids are forced to fight back and the wingnuts can feast on the prize rewards. That means you're going to see more kids get encouraged to bully the other kids, start the whisper campaigns and back-stabbings and hallway fights that will trigger an incident that would ruin lives.

In short: DeSantis just signed a bill allowing bullies free reign to attack all the other kids in schools.

How many lives will DeSantis and Florida Republicans ruin all to pander to their fear and their hate?

You know what? Screw the law.

Every kid should walk out of schools in protest. Every kid should wear rainbow colors every day in class. Every kid should shout "Say Gay!" every chance they get.

Force the Republicans and the goddamned wingnuts to face the reality that their hate laws suck. That it will all collapse and they'll be forced to scramble to repair the damage they caused, that the bills for this won't fall on the rest of us.

#SayGay Florida.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

What Republicans Believe In The Dark Of Their Own Making

So it got leaked this weekend that Ginni Thomas, wife to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, texted a number of messages to trump's then Chief-of-Staff Mark Meadows about the plan to stage a riot and insurrection on January 6th at Capitol Hill. Via Andrew Prokop at Vox:

Newly revealed text messages show that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas — conservative activist and spouse of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — wanted President Trump to take extreme measures to stay in office in the days following the 2020 election. The messages between her and then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows were provided to the congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attacks and obtained by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

One major takeaway from them is that her alarm was apparently sincere: These seem to be Thomas’s genuine beliefs, expressed in private to Trump’s top aide, when no one was looking.

Thomas shared with Meadows conspiracy theories that Trump had a secret plan to expose election fraud (“I hope this is true”) and to send its perpetrators to Guantanamo Bay, urged that Trump should “not concede” because “it takes time for the army who is gathering for his back,” said the “Left” was “attempting the greatest Heist of our History,” championed the ludicrous claims of Trump’s lawyer Sidney Powell (“Sounds like Sidney and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud”), complained about being “disgusted” with Vice President Mike Pence for approving the results, and declared Biden’s win meant “the end of Liberty...”

As Prokop noted, this was what Thomas was saying to a fellow Republican with the belief her messages would never see daylight, what she was openly thinking when no one was looking.

As I tweeted meself:

Just to point to an example, Thomas wrote a text about Sidney Powell - she of "release the Kraken" infamy - getting a ton of "evidence of fraud." In the real world, Powell never proved any voter fraud happened, did not win a single legal battle to throw the election to trump, and has since faced numerous disbarment matters across the states she tried to sell her accusations. Powell had already lost many of her lawsuits by the time Thomas texted Meadows, and yet there she is still selling that broken lie.

A cynic might think that the Republican/conservative leadership in this country are merely pandering to the less-informed more ignorant voting base, and some - like Mitch McConnell - are. But these Ginni Thomas text messages reveal that the conspiracy rot - the outright gaslighting by trump, the wingnut fearmongering, the lies bought at face value without a shred of provable evidence - has worked its way up to the movers-and-shakers to where they will never act rationally no matter the situation... and who will insist that everyone else among their ranks to be as irrational and destructive as they are.

If character is what you are in the dark, then Ginni Thomas and everyone else like her are at best delusional and irrational, at worst raving lunatics.

And yet, will anyone do anything about it?

There may be a moment where Ginni Thomas could get called to testify before the Congressional hearings into the January 6th Insurrection.

Regarding her husband on the Court, there is a likelihood that Clarence Thomas failed to recuse himself from a legal matter involving the insurrection - he was the only dissenter, by the by - and may have violated a law or three if it's proven his wife was part of that matter brought before the jurists.

It would be nice to think accountability will apply here, but too often the Republican leadership has skated on these matters - and failing to resign over them - and until the hammer drops on both of them we're just speculating.

The larger problem is the rest of the Republican leadership. This "pulling the curtains to see behind the scenes" moment reveals that Ginni's madness did not set off any alarm bells with them, and a number of them have already revealed they are fully supporting that mad narrative of trump's "stolen election" Big Lie.

How the hell can the rest of America deal with a sizable political faction - Conservative Republicans - living among us who cannot be reasoned with?

We're coping with a reality that our fellow Republican neighbors do not live in the Real World. They live in a Fox Not-News Fantasyland where Democrats are Evil, Libruls are Pedophiles, the Others are raiding our sacred borders to steal our jobz and takes our womenz, and only GOD'S CHOSEN GRIFTER donald trump CAN SAVE US ALL. 

And they are perfectly willing to fight in the halls of power and the streets of our cities to make that fantasy real.

You cannot deal with madness like this. You cannot negotiate over something that has no basis in fact. You cannot compromise with those who believe themselves so utterly in the right that they can never betray their absolute beliefs.

The Republicans are wholly committed now to trump's Big Lie, utterly convinced that they should never give power to Democrats or let liberals/progressives have any say in their own lives.

Republicans are at war with everything and everybody they do not believe in. The laws they're passing - to abolish abortion, to cancel out education about racism and sexism, to remove the gay/lesbian/trans people from public sight - is part of that war.

The madness will not end until the rest of us stand up and say ENOUGH, until the rest of us deny these wingnut assholes any power over us. That means fighting them every minute of the day, at the ballot box, in the media op-eds, in our homes and schools and workplaces.

The Republican War On Everybody is upon us whether we liked it or not. We dare not let them win.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Putin Has No Off-Ramp. He Wants Ukraine Dead

The constant chaos of war means a never-ending stream of bad news getting worse. This weekend, Russia made a harsh demand regarding one of the major Ukrainian cities under siege: Surrender Mariupol or everyone there dies. Via Adam L Silverman at Balloon-Juice:

There is only one real story from Ukraine to focus on tonight: the Russians have given the Ukrainian government an ultimatum. Surrender Mariupol and they’ll let the remaining 130,000 civilians, as well as Ukrainian forces that lay down their weapons leave. Everyone remaining will face Russian military justice...

Military Justice = Death by Bombs and Artillery

What the Russians are threatening to do is, essentially, reduce Mariupol. The Russian military has besieged the city and is fighting against Ukrainian forces inside the city that are trying to defend Mariupol. These forces are essentially fighting in close quarters to the civilian population. As such taking Mariupol by force will mean destroying as much of the city, its defenders, and the civilian population as necessary to achieve the objective.

The Ukrainian government has responded that they will not surrender Mariupol to the Russians...!

...All we can do now is wait and see if Putin is going to commit an industrial scale war crime while the entire world watches.

Ukraine has no reason yet to think the Russians are negotiating in good faith. Previous attempts to evacuate the civilians in Mariupol ended with the Russians shooting and bombing the escape routes anyway.

It should be noted Russia under Putin's rule has a terrible record of observing neutral zones and civilian areas. Even if Mariupol surrenders, there are no guarantees that the Russian troops won't come in, round up everybody they have on blacklists, kill enough civilians to try and scare the rest of the Ukrainian people into ending their resistance, and then lie to the world that they honored their "deal."

The Russians aren't even honestly dealing. For all their public proclamations that they want peace (and telling their favorable media allies that Ukraine is close to agreeing to a deal that doesn't exist), Putin's underlings are stalling and delaying for time. More from Silverman on that:

Earlier today, a few hours before Putin told Ukraine it was planning to commit an industrial scale war crime unless Ukraine gave him what he wants, the Russians managed to launder some more disinformation and agitprop regarding “peace” negotiations through the Turks who are hosting the talks.

Meanwhile Turkey, which is mediating alongside Israel between Russia and Ukraine, claimed the two countries were converging on key aspects. Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “the parties are close to agreement on fundamental issues”. “It’s not that easy to negotiate while the war is ongoing, or to agree when civilians are dying. But I want to say that there is momentum,” he said. Kyiv and its western allies fear Russian president Vladimir Putin could be buying time in peace talks to replenish Moscow’s forces and launch a broader offensive.

Turkey’s pro-government Hurriyet newspaper reported that the two countries were edging towards agreement on Kyiv declaring neutrality and abandoning its drive for Nato membership, “demilitarising” Ukraine in exchange for collective security guarantees, what Russia calls “denazification” and lifting restrictions on the use of Russian in Ukraine. Two people familiar with the discussions said it was likely a compromise would involve token concessions from Kyiv on what Russia calls “denazification”.

This, like the same statements made last week, are bullshit...

If the Ukrainians agreed to what the Russians have told the Turks they want, then Putin despite not actually winning on the battlefield right now, would actually wind up winning the war. If Ukraine emerges from this war formally having abandoned its constitutional directive to seek NATO membership, as well as formally neutral and demilitarized, all it does is set the stage for Putin to rebuild his military and start all over again with a new made up pretext for having to liberate Ukraine from the Ukrainians...

I've said this back when the invasion started: The demands Putin are making on Ukrainians are ones that Ukrainians dare not give him. Even if Putin is talked into pulling back and stopping this bloodshed, there are no guarantees stopping him from finding another excuse five years from now to re-invade.

Putin's already made it clear: He doesn't think Ukraine exists as its own nation. He's bought into the myths of Imperial Russia thinking that they're all one big happy Empire and that Ukrainians better get used to being second-class citizens if they want to live.

Just asking Ukraine to roll over and play dead, just this once, isn't acceptable to them, because they know their own history under Russian rule: Misery, famine, and death. For Ukrainians, Putin wants to reboot another Holodomor, and there's no appeasing him on this matter.

(For all the Far Right wingnuts who yelled and screamed at Obama for every peace deal he made around the world, accusing him of pulling "another Munich" appeasing dictators, do YOU see the hypocrisy in YOURSELVES now begging Zelenskyy and Biden and the rest of the European leadership in appeasing with an openly brutal monster like Putin?)

The way the invasion is going right now - with Russian forces openly shelling and bombing cities and civilians with no concern for human rights, with Putin doubling down on his speeches accusing Ukrainians of being Nazis and justifying his atrocities back home - I can see it, even me as an amateur historian: Putin doesn't want a deal. He never wanted a deal.

Putin wants all of Ukraine. No half-measures or compromises. And not just because he has to (because by now after all the global humiliation Russia's army has suffered, any deal he makes will make him look weak). Putin wants his dream of Empire to become reality, and Ukraine is the key to that. If he takes Ukraine, he can reimpose a Russian presence on all of Eastern Europe again, from Poland to Slovakia to Czechia to Romania to Bulgaria, get back his influence over his buddy Orban in Hungary, even rattle the Central nations like Germany and Austria. He can threaten to retake the Baltics in spite of Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania's defiance. He'll even try to scare Finland and Sweden into giving up their recent petitions to join NATO (which they did before it's too late).

The thing about autocrats, about dictators, about their dreams and when they don't achieve them. Like spoiled monsters, they won't take the losses well. The way things are going, Ukraine will not surrender, they won't make any deals because Putin's not offering any. And without that, Putin runs the risk of wasting more men and weapons and other resources in a quagmire of a poorly-planned invasion/occupation, in which he can't find any Quislings to play his puppet on Ukraine's seat of power and in which his army will never see a moment of peace.

Putin's recent actions - the escalation of targeting civilians, in spite of the war crimes charges that would follow - underscore how he knows he can't win in Ukraine.

So he's going Scorched Earth instead. Old school, Cato the Elder "Carthage Must Be Destroyed" madness, only it's Kyiv that Putin wants to flatten and salt the Earth to prevent it from ever being rebuilt. 

If that means risking nuclear weapons, I do kind of doubt that. The risk of fallout from even a limited use of atomics would cross into Russia, condemning everything west of the Urals to a radioactive hell.

But Putin will not leave Ukraine, not until he owns it or ruins it.

And the Ukrainian people are sadly going to have to suffer for that violent bastard's ego.

Gods help them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Ides of March 2022

It's March 15th. You know what THAT means!


 Wait. Wrong toga party.

Well, okay, now you know how to show up for the party...

Dammit, all that blood just ruins the bedsheets.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Republican Cruelty Still Ongoing March 2022 Edition

Just your constant reminder that Republicans are assholes and want everybody else in America to suffer.

The Florida legislature passed that "Don't Say Gay" bill, which would effectively muzzle any discussion of gender identities (yes, even hetero stuff, that's how vaguely worded this mess is) and encourage the spread of bullying and harassment of kids and teachers for any perceived Other-ness. Now it's up to DeSantis to sign it, and that SOB is eyeing his Presidential chances in 2024 knowing this pandering to the GOP voter base is how he can win them over. Damn him for the damage he's about to inflict on our school kids.

The Republican-controlled states are rushing to pass harsher anti-abortion laws, getting ready for the expected announcement from the 6-vote Far Right majority of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade. Among these new bills is one from Missouri that would punish any woman who leaves the state to get an abortion as well as anybody who helps them. Worse, that bill would ban any abortion of an ectopic pregnancy that can be lethal to the woman enduring it.

Let's take a moment to talk about what an ectopic pregnancy is (via the Mayo Clinic): 

Pregnancy begins with a fertilized egg. Normally, the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the main cavity of the uterus.

An ectopic pregnancy most often occurs in a fallopian tube, which carries eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. This type of ectopic pregnancy is called a tubal pregnancy. Sometimes, an ectopic pregnancy occurs in other areas of the body, such as the ovary, abdominal cavity or the lower part of the uterus (cervix), which connects to the vagina.

An ectopic pregnancy can't proceed normally. The fertilized egg can't survive, and the growing tissue may cause life-threatening bleeding, if left untreated...

Anybody with a passing knowledge of human anatomy - or at least access to an anatomy book at the library - can tell you that a fetus growing in a fallopian tube will rupture that tube. That's massive internal bleeding. The fetus itself won't last long. The fatality rate of U.S. women suffering ectopic pregnancies is around 10 percent, and it's the leading cause of first trimester fatalities.

The guy in Missouri - Brian Seitz - pushing this bill is claiming that an ectopic fetus can get surgically replanted into the uterus, but guess what? He's lying. They tried selling this lie in Ohio when that state passed a similar law, and the doctors still had to explain to them that it's medically impossible.

And yet these Far Right, religiously-pandering, painfully ill-informed if not outright moronic politicians don't care about any of that. All they care about is banning abortion under ANY circumstance, which is why they laugh away rape and incest as a reason for women to need abortion, it's why they ignore the medical reality that pregnancies are high-risk for women in even the most advanced nations on Earth (and the U.S. isn't one of those nations in the first place).

So if a woman in Missouri gets pregnant, and it turns out to be ectopic, growing in her fallopian tube, and the only way to survive is to get an abortion, she can't get it in Missouri. Worse, she can't even leave the state to go to one - Illinois I think would still be pro-abortion in a post-Roe America - because the goddamned wingnuts will arrest her for trying to save her own life.

We saw similar "Can't Leave" laws pass in Georgia and other states a while back, and I think the latest situation about those laws is that they're pending SCOTUS decisions, which again does not bode well.

As I wrote back then, these anti-abortion bills are a replay of the Fugitive Slave Acts, only now geared to punish poor women who can't afford to leave their states to end life-threatening pregnancies. It is horrifying how far these religious assholes want to go to punish women, to the point they are happily agreeing to commit mass murder in the glory of fetuses that won't survive anyway. It's madness, and too many women are going to die because of it.

Rounding out this weekend of Far Right madness is this little gem from one of my state's Senators, Mr. Rick "Medicare Fraud" Scott who came out last month with an 11-point plan to take the United States back to 1950 1850 The Stone Age. This counts out to more than 11 items, but I broke up some of Scott's rants into separate talking points to highlight each idiocy:

  • It would force schools to not teach about racism or sexism or gender identity or any such "wokeness". It would force universities to stop diversifying their student populations, ending "affirmative action" of any kind.
  • It would end "wokeness" or diversity training in the U.S. military, pretty much making life harder for women and gays in the military.
  • It would increase prison minimums for both violent and non-violent crimes, and guarantee Qualified Immunity to let police abuse the use of force. All legal reforms to reduce our oversized prison population and any attempt to reduce police brutality, wiped away.
  • It will finish donald trump's goddamned Wall that nobody else wanted.
  • It will give Presidents a line-item veto on Congressional bills, which honestly requires a Constitutional Amendment that Scott or the Republicans won't be able to push through (because it will honestly break Congress' power and even they are not that suicidal). I also doubt Republicans will want that line-item veto in Democratic Presidents' hands.
  • It will impose term limits on Congress (also unconstitutional, and would require an Amendment).
  • It will weaken the Internal Revenue Service by cutting staffing in half, and pursue the idea of decentralizing the federal bureaucracy by shipping whole departments out of DC. They tried that with various Agriculture agencies and it turned into an expensive, staff-wasting mess.
  • It will promote voter suppression even into Blue States by ending same-day registrations, cutting back on mail-in balloting, and enforcing stricter Voter ID laws everywhere.
  • It will ban porn (good luck with that, you busybody idiots).
  • It will give religious institutions more power to discriminate, violating everyone else's civil liberties just so Republicans can lie to themselves about us being a Godly nation.
  • It will go after private social media companies who "violate" free speech by banning the racist Republicans who violate those companies' own rules.
  • It will insist that ALL Americans pay income taxes, even those who are too poor to afford paying federal income tax (and who are already paying at the state and local levels through sales and property taxes). Scott's plan also calls on taxing people living on Social Security, who are fixed-income retirees or those too disabled to work for an income.
  • It will end financial aid to foreign allies (just as we're coping with a Russian invasion of Ukraine and threatening our NATO allies!), cut off trade with China (the economic damage of that alone would drive Wall Street to go full Democrat), and "treat our enemies like enemies" (which sounds right now like pushing us into open war with Russia, oh no I'm sorry the Republicans think we're at war with Ukraine).

IMHO: A lot of this is just straight-up pandering on Culture War issues, all the while attacking the poor (and minorities) for "not paying their fair share" and pretty much announcing on loudspeakers that the Republicans hate everybody who isn't Rich White and Male.

To quote Jeffrey Billman at Orlando Weekly:

Most of it isn’t new, per se. What’s new is Scott’s attempt to marry the party’s anti-tax, pro-austerity wing with Trump’s populist, authoritarian wing. On the surface, that seems dubious. To the degree Trump had a policy outlook more sophisticated than “Build the Wall,” it was that he promised everything to everyone — cut taxes and increase spending and cut the deficit — and pretended he never made those promises when they became inconvenient. 

Scott, however, wants to reframe the oligarchical (read: deeply unpopular) aspects of the GOP agenda as an extension of the culture wars: The “woke” left is sending your money to “undeserving” others; you don’t have to squint to see the racial subtext. From start to finish, this is an authoritarian document dressed up in the language of freedom. Like all variants of right-wing populism, it focuses the grievances of its target demo (a loss of cultural primacy) at scapegoats (the wokes)...

To quote Rude Pundit:

There's so much conservative extremist fuckery in here that it reads like porn for the Federalist Society, like a bunch of Hillsdale grads are gonna sit around and circle jerk to things like finishing the stupid border wall and naming it for Donald Trump. "Yeah, that'll own the libs," they'll say as they jizz and then immediately feel shame and then immediately start jacking off again when they read the next line about funding the police.

Look at this savagery in attacking the poor: "No government assistance unless you are disabled or aggressively seeking work" (okay, so are you gonna provide child care?) and "Eliminate federal programs that can be done locally" (sounds good if you're in Massachusetts, scary if you're in Texas) and "All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount" (which is raising taxes on the poor instead of forcing million/billionaires to pay their share). There's fucking nothing in there about poverty other than that "socialism" apparently causes it. Not paying shit wages or corporations dicking over workers in favor of shareholders and executives.

On it goes, just a steaming shit pile that you'd just have to be a sociopath, and a fucking dumb one, to buy into. In addition to essentially ending the federal government except for the military, the paranoia over "cancel culture" bullshit and the outright terror over trans people is bizarrely overwhelming. In a weird merging of "science" and religion, the plan declares "Men and women are biologically different, 'male and female He created them.'" And "No doctor will be allowed to perform irreversible surgical or gender-altering procedures on any minor child," going against the advice of every major medical organization when it comes to gender dysphoria (and it's something Texas is already on board with)...

This maniacal shitpost of a declaration is about a nation that simply doesn't exist except in the heated, phantasmagoric delusions of the most MAGA-broken brains and the political garbage humans who exploit them, no matter the consequences. It imagines a country in flames, repressing true Americans, one where the greatest issue facing us is white people not allowed to say the n-word without consequences. It's hyper-Christian, nationalistic, fascistic, and deranged, ignoring all the real problems in this nation, which, to be fair, are mostly caused by Republicans...

To quote myself: This is what the Republicans have been selling for the past 40 years, ever since the glory days of the Reagan Administration, and trying to pass it off as reforms and benefits to a nation that hasn't seen a steady healthy economy in all that time (the economic boom of the Clinton years did not fix income inequality and was all quickly squandered by Bush the Lesser's tenure anyway). This is all the Republican Party is anymore: A party selling grievance and rage to its voting base and pushing an agenda of cruelty that appeals to far too many angry white folk.

Everything I've wrote here tonight, every last inch of it documenting the cruelty that drives the modern GOP.

Adam Serwer's words should get engraved on top of every Republican officials' tombstones when they pass this mortal coil: THE CRUELTY IS THE POINT.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Putin As Failed Machiavellian

I know I take Machiavelli a little too serious when it comes to history and leadership evaluations.

I know this because his reputation post-Prince is a mixed bag at best. Bouncing between criticisms of immorality and glamorizing criminal behavior in politics, to either being a wry satire of other political polemics of its day and thus should not be taken literally, to being a bad influence on 20th Century dictators, and more recently a dated, unrealistic how-to manual to manage political high office.

However, I'm kind of with Erica Bremmer at The Guardian when it comes to understanding The Prince: a neutral reading of the work showed me how Machiavelli was trying to warn leaders about avoiding despotism that tends to leave their empires in ruins. As Bremmer notes:

Yet the more I read, the more I questioned this story. I started noticing that Machiavelli’s writings speak in different voices at different times. At one moment he seems to applaud men who break their oaths at will, caring little for just dealings. But he also says – in a passage most scholars pass over – that “victories are never secure without some respect, especially for justice”. For every cynical Machiavellian precept, I found two or three others that clashed with it...

Where suggestions in The Prince would justify some underhanded tactic like bribery, or use of force, Machiavelli would then also offer warnings, reminders that the powers-that-be need to temper their actions lest they cross a line with their citizenry that can't be undone.

One of the Prince's most famous philosophical debates is the question: Is it better to be Loved or Feared? Machiavelli noted that being both Loved and Feared is the best possible state, but difficult to achieve. Being Loved is good but relies too much on mercy and leniency, and vulnerable to others who would abuse that Love for their own greed. 

The argument falls on Being Feared as the more manageable, but even then Machiavelli gives a great warning that leaders must avoid letting that Fear become Hate:

For a man may very well be Feared and yet not Hated, and this will be the case so long as he does not meddle with the property or with the women of his citizens and subjects. And if constrained to put any to death, he should do so only when there is manifest cause or reasonable justification... a wise Prince should build on what is his own, and not on what rests with others. Only, as I have said, he must do his utmost to escape hatred...

A later chapter goes into a little more detail:

A Prince, as I have said before, sooner becomes hated by being rapacious and by interfering with the property and with the women of his subjects, than in any other way. From these, therefore, he should abstain. For so long as neither their property nor their honour is touched, the mass of mankind live contentedly, and the Prince has only to cope with the ambition of a few, which can in many ways and easily be kept within bounds...

Or as Guido the Killer Pimp once said (paraphrasing), Never ever fuck with another man's livelihood. In short, do not fuck with a person's employment or personal life. As long as you don't piss off too many people, you'll stay a Prince:

To be brief, a Prince has little to fear from conspiracies when his subjects are well disposed towards him; but when they are hostile and hold him in detestation, he has then reason to fear everything and every one. And well ordered States and wise Princes have provided with extreme care that the nobility shall not be driven to desperation, and that the commons shall be kept satisfied and contented; for this is one of the most important matters that a Prince has to look to...

It's not said directly in his work, but later political observers and philosophers interpreted from Machiavelli's warnings that the real answer is that the leader must seek Respect above all else. You can be Loved and Respected for your integrity, valor, courage, what have you, and stay in power: You can be Feared and Respected for your cunning, decisiveness, judicious application of force, what have you, and stay in power. As long as your soldiers/office workers/voters Respect you for getting the job done, you're solid and cool.

One reason why I keep referring back to Machiavelli: When I read my histories and witness the evils of war, bloodshed, and strife - and sometimes when I reviewed the Characters of our American Presidents using Professor Barber as a guide - I keep spotting where the political leaders responsible for a lot of the suffering tended to be the Machiavellian types seeking to rule by Fear but failing to retain - or even failing to gain in the first place - the Respect of those they sought to rule.

Good Presidents - at least the ones we admire and respect even decades after their deaths - are the ones who performed competently even in matters of, well, moral uncertainty. As long as most of your citizenry prosper and are left untouched by some of your questionable decisions, you should do well as a leader.

So how does all of this talk about Machiavelli involve Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin? The Prince of Russia, leader of one of the major global powers, backed by a massive mechanized army and a nuclear arsenal, overseeing a financial kleptocratic empire that has inspired fear and dread among other nations and his political enemies for over 20 years?

Because Putin, with regards to his invasion of Ukraine this past month, screwed up royally.

The entire endeavor - spurred on by Putin's gaslighting over Ukraine's very existence and by his desire to rebuild a greater Russian empire - exposed both Russia and Putin for levels of incompetence and brutality that eliminated any respect that outside observers had of them. The political leadership under Putin failed to properly plan for the early days of the invasion, relying on a military force that proved to be under-trained, under-supplied, and way under any level of morale. As a result of those miscues, Putin appears to be doubling down on committing enough atrocities towards Ukrainian civilians in order to weaken their defiance into enough fear to make them surrender.

But that's not going to happen because Ukrainians already hated Putin - and they hated the Russian arrogance that treated them as second-class citizens under Tsarist and then Communist rule - to where they will never surrender to him.

In this, Putin had already failed as a Machiavellian figure. Despite all these years of him committing enough crimes - the blatant fraud, the wars against Chechnya and Georgia, the undisguised assassinations and attempts on his exiled critics, the success of manipulating the rise of populist Far Right governments across the western democracies, seizing Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in a border clash when Ukrainians overthrew a corrupt pro-Putin regime - to generate fear of him as a Prince, in just two weeks of stiff Ukrainian resistance he has been exposed as an arrogant bully. More clueless and desperate for violent victory than the rest of the world had realized.

It's gotten to where Putin is no longer feared, but openly hated. And not just among Ukrainians (who have obvious reasons right now). 

Hatred for Putin is something getting suppressed in homeland Russia, but the resentments among Russians are building up now that the overt corruption is exposing the once-hidden incompetence. And in spite of martial law and stiff penalties issued against protesting, a lot of Russians are risking all of that out of hatred for Putin (via Rachel Treisman at NPR):

Thousands of people turned out in cities across Russia this weekend to protest the war in Ukraine, risking arrest in a country where such demonstrations are illegal. Many of them were detained and some subjected torture as a result, according to an independent Russian human rights group.

Police detained more than 4,640 protesters in 65 Russian cities on Sunday, according to the monitoring group OVD-Info. It says more than 13,000 Russians in 147 cities have been detained at anti-war rallies since Russia first invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24...

Those may not sound like big numbers in a Russia with around 130 million souls, but each of these protestors are representative of hundreds of others who dare not risk the arrests. For now.

Based on a lot of the military assessments getting leaked to the press, the analysts experienced in these matters are suggesting that the Russian invasion is due to fail soon to both catastrophic loss of supplies and collapse of troop morale. It's not 100 percent a given, but all signs do point to at worst a prolonged struggle that Putin's ongoing propaganda efforts back home can't cover up.

Francis Fukuyama once wrote at the end of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War a little thing called The End of History, which made him a media darling when it came to talking about Russia vs. The West. So when he pens an online essay about "Preparing For Defeat," there's a reason to pay attention:

Russia is heading for an outright defeat in Ukraine. Russian planning was incompetent, based on a flawed assumption that Ukrainians were favorable to Russia and that their military would collapse immediately following an invasion. Russian soldiers were evidently carrying dress uniforms for their victory parade in Kyiv rather than extra ammo and rations. Putin at this point has committed the bulk of his entire military to this operation—there are no vast reserves of forces he can call up to add to the battle. Russian troops are stuck outside various Ukrainian cities where they face huge supply problems and constant Ukrainian attacks...

The collapse of their position could be sudden and catastrophic, rather than happening slowly through a war of attrition. The army in the field will reach a point where it can neither be supplied nor withdrawn, and morale will vaporize. This is at least true in the north...

Putin will not survive the defeat of his army. He gets support because he is perceived to be a strongman; what does he have to offer once he demonstrates incompetence and is stripped of his coercive power?...

The lies selling this war are going to pile up to where even Putin's hardest supporters will doubt his word, and the setbacks can well get bloody to where enough Russian families are horrified by the loss of their loved ones to set blame on leader Putin who led them to such a fate. Any respect Putin relied on to rule - that reputation as a strongman - is already out the window (metaphor intended) across the world, and that will eventually reach the eyes and ears of most Russians.

It's not that Putin could have ever ruled through Love. It is that Putin did a decent enough job early on to rule through Fear by burnishing his power to be the biggest kleptocrat, and by silencing a number of critics and rivals through assassination and brutality to enforce his strongman image at home.

But Putin isn't a strongman anymore. He's just another struggling dictator starting unjust wars just like all the other failed monsters of history.

It's terrifying that Putin's failure is going to cost so many innocent lives.

Monday, March 07, 2022

American History Bends A Little More Towards Justice

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.

- Martin Luther King Jr. 

In what has literally been a century in the making, the United States Congress FINALLY passed an anti-lynching law that should help ensure some justice against the racism that haunts this nation. Via AP News:

Congress gave final approval Monday to legislation that for the first time would make lynching a federal hate crime in the U.S., sending the bill to President Joe Biden to sign into law.

Years in the making, the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is among some 200 bills that have been introduced over the past century that have tried to ban lynching in America.

It is named for the Black teenager whose brutal killing in Mississippi in 1955 — and his mother’s insistence on a open funeral casket to show the world what had been done to her child — became a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights era.

“After more than 200 failed attempts to outlaw lynching, Congress is finally succeeding in taking a long overdue action by passing the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer...

The House overwhelming approved a similar measure in 2020, but it was blocked in the Senate.

Last week, the House overwhelmingly approved a revised version and the Senate passed the bill unanimously late Monday...

I'm not sure what happened to end the endless filibustering that kicked up in the Senate every time an anti-lynching bill came to a vote. There had always been just enough Conservative types - from the Dixiecrats  of the early-mid 20th Century to the Far Right Republicans like Rand Paul during the last 40 years - to delay its passage long enough for the clock to run out each congressional term.

Thankfully this time, that stoppage didn't happen.

This law is coming after not just decades of Blacks suffering vigilante violence at the end of the rope but recent acts of straight-up racist murders from Trayvon Martin to Jordan Davis to George Floyd and most recently to Ahmaud Arbery. There are tens of other deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police or gun-toting assholes to list here.

In cases like Floyd and Arbery, the federal government did pursue hate crime charges, that the murderers responsible violated the civil rights of their victims, but it still seems not enough to ensure justice was served, that the racism driving those acts of violence were not truly exposed to the nation so we could understand just how severe a problem lynching continues to be.

The matter now - once President Biden signs the bill - is going to be a question of enforcement: How often will the federal government call on this law to investigate those victims whose deaths were conspiratorial acts of racism? There are a number of questionable Black deaths by hanging across the United States that the local police are dismissing as suicides that could now - I would hope - get investigated as possible lynchings.

We can only hope, as always. The fear and rage that drives racism runs deep in this nation, it's been a mindset haunting our collective psyche for generations: It will take a lot of work to fight racism until justice and equality can drive that rage and fear from our world.

There's also a lot of work to stop the goddamn racists from pushing their censoring "Let's never teach how bad racism is" bullshit in our public schools, but that would require a majority of American voters to stop voting for the goddamn Far Right Republicans to our county school boards and state legislatures.

We need to keep bending the United States towards justice.

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Keeping Up With The Russian-Ukrainian War

Thing about war, as it's happening, is that there's too much going on to keep up with it.

Keeping up with news sources like NPR or AP News helps, and I follow those links when I can. It's been suggested to follow these sources to keep up with the minute-by-minute madness:

Kyiv Independent (Ukrainian newspaper)

Terrell J Starr (Twitter feed for Foreign Policy correspondent)

I'd also keep an eye on Adam L Silverman at Balloon Juice for his insights.

The other thing about war is, you want to do whatever you can to stop it. Even as one person you want to help the innocent caught in a war zone, overwhelming as the whole situation can be. (There IS one person who can stop any war, but it's the warmonger who started it and Putin does not look like he's willing to agree to that any time soon).

There's been chatter on social media, and I've even met one in person, with those who've trained and deployed in the U.S. military willing to hop onto a plane to fly over to Ukraine (or close enough) and offer their services. Thing is, that's not a smart idea: You're just adding one more person to a chaotic situation that will need to get clothed and fed and treated for wounds. You're better off - most of us are better off - staying where we are and offering help through other means.

The blog I read early and often - Balloon Juice - created a webpage of links where you can send in aid and make sure things like warm food get to the Ukrainians who need it most. 

World Central Kitchen (on the Ukraine border with Poland)

Leleka Foundation (US group that partners with Ukraine)

National Bank of Ukraine Fund for Ukraine Armed Forces

Tim Snyder: Ways to Help Ukrainians

Kyiv Independent List of How Foreigners Can Help

Carole  Cadwalladr: Ukraine Crisis Media Center

List Recommended by Gin & Tonic

List of Other Ways to Help Ukraine

People need help, always. And not just in Ukraine.

Syria has suffered a decade-long civil war with no end in sight and thousands of Syrians struggling as refugees. They'll need help too.

Afghanistan is struggling under Taliban rule again, and the population are facing famine and lack of resources across the board.

There are several other places in need of aid as well. The and links should provide more information.

As for all the current news I've heard: Russia refuses to honor any ceasefire deals to help evacuate besieged cities, as their convoys driving into Ukraine are running into supply and logistics nightmares. There's been social media buzz that any day now the invasion force will run dry, but I'll believe it when that actually happens.

In the meantime, go fuck yourself Putin. #PutinIsAWarCriminal 

Saturday, March 05, 2022

That One Moment When a Global Hero Tells a Florida Medicare Fraud to Shut Up

Noting this for historic context:

Yes, please. SHUT THE FUCK UP, RICK "Medicare Fraud" SCOTT.

And let's not even get into the stupidity of Marco "Third Place" Rubio sharing pics of a conversation that showed in real-time Zelenskyy's location that Russian assassins could have exploited.


It's like Republicans are doing their best to be helping Putin without getting caught helping Putin, and failing miserably at it.