Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Crazy?


Tr*mp's teleprompter comments on the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings got a lot of air time — especially the parts where he suggested he might be open to some degree of gun control — but one line kept getting dropped off: "we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement."

Thomas Szasz
The movement to deinstitutionalize psychiatric patients was kicked off by Thomas Szasz in the 1960s, beginning with his very influential book, The Myth of Mental Illness.  Granted, his arguments for the civil rights of psychiatric patients may have had less impact than the desire of states to close down the very costly state facilities where they were warehoused; but the process was a civil rights victory nonetheless.  Now, that victory may be undone.

Granted, the Tr*mp speechwriter's chief intent was yet another reiteration of the standard Republican line: guns don't kill people, crazy people (and minorities) do.  In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting, it's normal to think the gunman "must have been crazy" — and people with psychiatric problems are "other" enough to fit the Republican template for victimhood quite readily.

It remains to be seen whether or not Tr*mp's call for involuntary confinement will become a major Republican talking point in a debate over how to deal with gun violence.  If the private corporations currently running so many of our prisons decide to get into the business, the likelihood will increase exponentially.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Democrats


Joe Biden was better rehearsed in his talking points for the second debate, but that's all he had: talking points, delivered with a singular absence of charisma.  Primary voters who imagined him on a debate stage with Tr*mp much have felt more than a little queasy, even as they tried to figure out which of the other establishment white males were which.


Kamala Harris is trying to bridge the divide between the progressives and the moderates, but was visibly stressed during the second round of debates; and Pete Buttegeig's base of supporters seems to have topped out.  Unless there's an unexpected surge by Amy Klobuchar or Tulsi Gabbard, Biden is likely to remain the anointed choice of "moderates" in the party's leadership — potentially with devastating results.

Here's my nightmare scenario: Democrats go to their Milwaukee convention next July with no clear leader.  Hoping to maintain the Democratic advantage among women, Bernie Sanders releases his delegates to Elizabeth Warren, and it comes down to a choice between Warren and Biden.  Elected delegates are split, and establishment super-delegates throw the nomination to Biden.  On Election Day, large numbers of young progressives stay home in disgust: Tr*mp redux.

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One last thought: in the September debate, I genuinely will miss Marianne Williamson  — the only candidate to make a consistently moral argument against Tr*mpism.  Hopefully, some others will be more inclined to call out evil when they see it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Shorts


Mueller speaks
It's hard to believe that those who didn't read the Mueller Report watched him on TV for five hours.  The impact of the report on specific individuals will depend entirely on the video clips chosen by their news outlets of choice.  California Republican Tom McClintock's analogy comparing Mueller's report to a flaming sack of sh*t must have had the Congressman's aides rolling on the floor when they wrote it, and I'm sure it will get a lot of play on conservative media.  Less likely to get much play in those quarters will be Mueller's uncharacteristically biting reply.

Wrestling with hate
Watching some video of last week's North Carolina Tr*mp rally took me back to 1967, when I took a date to Pittsburgh's Civic Arena for a heavyweight wrestling show.  The villains back then still included a "Nazi" and a "Jap," along with a more contemporary "Commie."  My date and I left early, not because of the wrestling, but because of the fans — who were dead serious about what they saw in the ring.  Their howls and chants of pure hatred against the "bad guys" — the others — were genuinely horrifying.

The UK's new PM
There's an excellent chance that Boris Johnson will cheerfully lead his country into economic catastrophe with a no-deal Brexit.  Since Conservative MPs are every bit as spineless as Republicans in our Congress, a no-confidence vote seems impossible.  Johnson is far more intelligent and literate than Our President, to whom he frequently is compared; but they share a similar instinct for appealing to the basest populist instincts of their electorates.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Meanwhile, on the Arabian peninsula...


Given all the craziness going on in the USofA lately, our news media have paid scant attention to the ongoing crisis in Yemen — so you may have missed it when the UAE announced that it is ending its military cooperation with Saudi Arabia and withdrawing its forces.  After four years of war, it seems that the Emiratis have concluded that fighting the "Iranian threat" posed by the Houthis just isn't worth the effort and the expense.

This leaves the Saudis in an awkward position: they actually will have to learn how to use the hundreds of billions of dollars in weaponry purchased from the US over the past ten years in order to have any hope of winning their genocidal war, and they will have to take over the task of corralling and controlling the numerous and fractious "pro-government" militias fighting in Yemen.  Given the leadership style of Saudi Crown Prince MbS – macho incompetence – there is little reason to expect the Saudis will achieve those goals.

Emirati forces already have been withdrawn from the port city of al-Hudaydah, where international agencies offload food and medicine to relieve the suffering of the Yemeni people.  Whether the Emirati withdrawal will result in more or less aid getting through remains to be seen.  What is clear, though, is that Our President – who admires macho incompetence – will continue to support the Saudi war effort until a veto-proof majority in Congress acts to stop him.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Epstein Affair


It's hard to believe Jeffrey Epstein kept all those young girls to himself: he seems like a man who likes his consumption to be conspicuous, and so felt compelled to share some of his "conquests" with men he wanted to impress.  I suspect that the main function of the sweetheart plea deal he got from Alexander Acosta was to keep the names of those men confidential — men Acosta thought too powerful to touch.  Since the deal provides immunity for Epstein's co-conspirators, both named and unnamed, one does wonder just whose names were in Epstein's Rolodex.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Dan Barr may have set a new record for "un-recusing" himself from the Epstein prosecution — assuming that "un-recusal" is something that ever happened before.  While it is understandable that Our President has a problem with Attorneys General recusing themselves from investigations, Barr's instant turnaround does make one wonder if there might be more involved in his decision to take charge of the case.

It's hard to imagine any Americans over the age of twelve believing that their country provides "equal justice for all," and the Epstein plea bargain was just one more piece of evidence in support of that belief.  At the moment, Epstein's goose appears to be well-cooked — as a registered sex offender, just the trove of kiddie porn found at his New York townhouse is enough to put him behind bars for years.  The real question now is whether other powerful men will be sucked down in his wake.

Now that Dan Barr has taken charge of the case, I imagine the panic level in the corridors of power is down a notch or two.  Nevertheless, a coverup in 2019 may prove a lot more challenging than the coverup of 2008.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Choices


For quite a while now, Americans have had a sense that something has been going wrong in their country — but they're not at all sure what it is.  In 2008, they took a chance on "Hope and Change." Those voters got cautious incrementalism, and the banks that had tanked the economy got a bailout.  In 2016, America wanted change again, and got Tr*mp and his insane reality show of a presidency.  Corporate America got its massive tax cut, political polarization sharpened, and that sense of "wrongness" grew more acute.

While the super-rich might prefer a Republican candidate with a more rational approach to international relations and trade, they are stuck with Tr*mp for 2020.  Meanwhile, Democrats are sorting through two dozen contenders — but the basic choice they have to make is binary: either a return to the cautious incrementalism of the reigning Democratic establishment, or a sharp move to the left.  Those worried about "electability" have to figure out just what it is that will motivate voters this time around.  Are they still hungry for change, or sufficiently traumatized to long for the unsatisfying but predictable patterns of the past?

Joe Biden, widely considered the anointed candidate of the Democratic establishment, looked terrible in the first debate: not just old, but confused and unprepared.  Perhaps he'll do better next time, but it's hard to imagine him ever being exciting.  Still, it's not too late for some other "moderate" to gain institutional support.  On the left, Sanders would be the easiest target for Republican scare tactics, but Republicans will happily call Tulsi Gabbard a  socialist should she somehow happen to win the nomination.

Personally, I believe we should reserve our strategic voting for general elections, and cast primary votes based on our beliefs and values. If we don't, our beliefs and values might never matter at all.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

"Electability"


Joe Biden had a long, successful political career in Delaware; in part because he's good at local retail politics, in part because of consistent support from corporations and LLCs that flock to Delaware for tax advantages.  With regard to legislative decisions, Biden's approach has been "go along to get along" — a habit he likes to call "bipartisan cooperation."

Joe and Clarence, 1991
In national contests, Biden has been far less successful, due in large part to a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease.  He is notoriously gaffe-prone, and not especially good at explaining himself afterwards.  Needless to say, political junkies are gleefully anticipating his performance in the upcoming debate.  With nine others on the stage, though, he won't have time to say much of anything at all – so he's likely to survive.

So far, in the current presidential campaign, Biden's missteps have not resulted in any crippling pratfalls, but they haven't passed unnoticed.  For Anita Hill, it was much too little, much too late.  Then, there was his overnight reversal on the Hyde Amendment — just a little too fast to claim he'd "evolved" — and one only can wonder how he'll defend his strong support of the pro-bank, anti-consumer "bankruptcy reform" legislation of 2005.

As for working with arch-segregationists Eastland and Talmadge, he really had no choice: they were senior legislators at the time, and Biden was very junior.  Still, it was totally tone deaf to choose them as his examples: and anyway, they were Democrats.  Couldn't he name any conservative Republicans to trot out as his examples of collegiality, like Ted Stevens or John Tower?  That's what his campaign managers would have advised — if he'd asked.

Yes, it's understandable that many long for the relative sanity of the Obama administration, but too many people had had enough of that by 2015 — and Biden is unlikely to inspire the younger voters Democrats will need to win back the Senate.  Americans wanted change in the last presidential election, and they want it even more this time around.  Biden is just more of the same.