Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Enough is never enough

I heard a Congressional representative — a Democrat, of course — say "enough is enough", referring to the slaughter in Las Vegas.

Fifty-nine dead and some five hundred injured as of this moment. The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Well, that's what most are saying. I think the Newtown (Sandy Hook) massacre was the worst. More have died in Vegas but the Newtown victims were children.

At any rate: dozens dead, hundreds injured. But is enough, enough?

Well ...

No. It should be but ... no, it isn't. It won't be.

To my mild surprise it was Bill O'Reilly who put his finger on the problem, though it's not so much a problem for him as the whole point. He wrote:

This is the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.
That precisely sums up the effect of the laissez-faire attitude toward gun ownership espoused by the most zealous gun-rights advocates, including but not limited to the National Rifle Association and its supporters. They will never come right out and say that mass murder is "the price of freedom" (specifically, the freedom to own guns), but it's the logical conclusion of their unrelenting drive to make even the merest discussion of gun control politically impossible.

(Why did BillO blow the secret? Because he has adopted the NRA's fatalistic stance that gun control is futile: "[H]aving covered scores of gun-related crimes over the years, I can tell you that government restrictions will not stop psychopaths from harming people." What he does not say is that those psychopaths would have to work a hell of a lot harder to harm the same number of people if they didn't have access to firearms that can be modified to shoot a lot of bullets in a very short time.)

But back to the salient point: this nation will never say "enough is enough" as long as enough gun owners and gun rights advocates hold fast to the principle that mass killings are an acceptable price for unfettered access to guns.

Gun rights advocates demand that every possible contributing factor to mass shootings be investigated and addressed by legislation — except for gun ownership itself. Gun ownership is not only axiomatically sacrosanct (i.e., you can't ask why gun ownership is an untouchable right), but isn't the root cause of the shootings, gun-rights advocates claim.

That position is no longer credible.

Whenever a mass shooting occurs, the NRA and its allies unfailingly denounce criminals and/or the mentally ill and/or unjust local laws that prevented "good guys" from carrying weapons that could have redressed the balance with the shooter.

Let's see how feasible addressing each of these (putative) alternative factors is.

  • Criminals should not have guns, we're told by the NRA. Well of course not. The trouble is that many of the mass shooters of the 21st century weren't criminals until they committed their mass shooting. The Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, for instance, had no criminal history.
  • Mental illness of a sufficient degree should disqualify one from possessing a firearm. However, we are nowhere near understanding the mind well enough to make such judgments infallibly. If you argue that the answer to mass shootings is a test that can tell whether a person will ever commit mass murder with a gun, you aren't being serious. You're trying to postpone the discussion indefinitely.
  • Now, about those good guys with guns whom some claim are the solution to mass shootings: how exactly would these good guys, with their presumably street-legal weapons, have stopped Paddock? He was around a thousand feet from his victims, thirty-two stories above them. He had the element of surprise and his victims (and would-be counteraggressors in the crowd) had no shelter. To analyze the situation well enough to figure out the shooter's location would require a person with rare presence of mind and coolness under fire.

    Yet assume that in a crowd as large as the one in Las Vegas, a few such people would have been present. They would have to have brought their weapons with them, the concert's organizers would have to have assented and it would have to be publicly known that audience members could be carrying.

    • Would you feel comfortable attending an event where an unknown number of your fellow eventgoers were armed?
    • What if they were drinking or imbibing other controlled substances? Could the organizers require total sobriety as a condition of carrying within paid areas?
    • Would you be comfortable assuming, as you would have to, that all those armed attendees were genuine good guys, rather than bad guys taking advantage of the permission to carry?
    • If shooting broke out, could law enforcement figure out who were the good guys and who the bad guys?
    (There's also the question of how common weapons that can shoot accurately over 1000 feet are among the civilian population. I have no idea.)
Talking about criminals, the mentally ill and "good guys with guns" is all smoke and mirrors. It's an attempt to distract us from the reality that while we all agree that the wrong people shouldn't have guns, we cannot discern with certitude who the wrong people are. Absent mind-reading, which would (or at least should) raise privacy objections that make gun-ownership arguments look trivial, we will not be able to keep guns out of the wrong hands — as long as the nation's default position is that gun ownership is a right that outweighs virtually all others.

If we want to address the plague of mass shootings, we have got to stop treating gun control as taboo. Greater restrictions on firearms and ammunition are presently our only practical options.

Until gun-rights advocates acknowledge that reality, enough will never be enough.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Manage your outrage

I'm not the best person to be recommending restraint vis-a-vis Dear Leader. Even calling him "Dear Leader" displays my disdain and thorough dislike of the current president, yet I can't stop myself.

Yet.

For as Robert Wright reminds all of us in his piece "Mindful resistance" is the key to defeating Trump", indulging our outrage at Dea— er, him, just plays into his strategy of fomenting hyperpolarization to bind his followers ever more closely to him.

Instead, we have to stop playing his game. We have to stop reinforcing the narrative that "they" are out to get "us" — that non-Trump supporters have nothing but contempt not just for Trump, but also for his supporters. To this end, Wright suggests cultivating "mindfulness", which is not hair-trigger reactiveness but a centered, objective and sensibly distanced perspective when Trump tries to push our buttons.

Mindfulness is connected rather closely to meditation and that might make it a non-starter for you, as it does for me. However, you can figure out a path that works for you as long as you dedicate yourself to the goal: stop reacting viscerally to Trump.

What does that goal entail? What must you do or not do as part of getting to that goal?

  • Don't type until you've had a chance to think (and to cool off).
  • Stay focused on the issue, whatever issue it is, not what Trump says about it. If there's a reasoned argument to be made against Trump's point, make that argument, and leave it at that. Don't make ad hominem attacks on Trump as part of your argument.
  • Don't make ad hominem attacks on Trump, period. It makes you feel good but does nothing to lower the temperature of our political debate.
  • Don't dump on Trump's followers. You may think you're pissed at them, and you might have good reason to be pissed at some of them, but whatever happens to Trump, we all have to share this country after he's gone, however that happens. After he's gone Trump's followers will still be our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends, our family members. We won't be close to all of them, of course, but we'll know enough of them to make painting all of them as an undifferentiated group a hazardous exercise unless you're willing to write off people you want in your life.

    Not convinced? Then consider this: cutting Trump supporters out of your life — or from the other side, cutting Trump opponents out of your life — gives Trump way more influence over your life than he deserves. Even if you think Trump's doing a great job, you shouldn't let him cut you off from people who were part of your life before he came on the political scene. You shouldn't let any public figure do that.

Now, I certainly haven't followed Wright's advice in my blog posts here: only seven of my 54 posts since the election didn't have to do with Trump or didn't mention him. However, I used to post much more frequently. I've been tempted many times to comment on something he said or did. However, I've said more than once that not only should journalists stop paying so much attention to his statements, but so should the rest of us. I've fallen off the wagon a lot since Trump's election, but, however fitfully, I was trying to follow Wright's admonitions even before I read his piece.

I'm trying to be more mindful. Are you?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The heartless Trump

The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, frustrated by the federal government's inarguably ineffective recovery efforts to date, hurled a damning accusation: "We are dying and you are killing us with the inefficiency". She didn't name names (that I can see), but it's clear that acting Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke was one target. Duke claimed that the recovery effort from Hurricane Maria was, in many respects, "a good news story", and she has been taking figurative rotten tomatoes for that spectacularly wrong statement ever since.

Yet an attack on a Cabinet secretary is almost always an attack on the current president, too, and if there's one thing we can count on, it's that the unbelievably thin-skinned Dear Leader is always up for an unnecessary fight. In tweets (of course), he suggested the mayor was a Democratic tool, was showing "poor leadership ability", and that the people of Puerto Rico "are not able to get their workers to help" and "want everything to be done for them".

Oh, fuck off, you sorry, short-fingered son of a bitch.

You have no fucking idea what it's like to recover from a disaster.

You have no fucking idea what it's like to be hungry and thirsty and without a place to sleep.

You have no fucking idea what condition Puerto Rico's in or you wouldn't have fucking dared to shoot your tiny fingers off on Twitter.

You are a pampered, privileged, useless fucking waste of space.

The one thing the U.S. President is supposed to be able to do is to see to the needs of victims of disaster. It doesn't require extensive knowledge (thank God, since you have none about anything). It requires only the common decency to be able to put yourself in the victims' shoes, to imagine what it would be like not to be able to secure the most basic of human needs. Then, as President, you just have to make sure the first responders and support staff who do have specialized and extensive knowledge of how to help people can get in and do their job.

The federal government has people who can do the job. A lot of the supplies have reached Puerto Rico.

What the effort lacks is anybody with the authority or will to make shit happen.

Isn't "making shit happen" supposed to be a lifelong businessman's specialty?

What the fuck are you, our vaunted businessman president, doing? You're sure as shit not making anything happen in Puerto Rico. Only in your delusional dreams is aid reaching the people who need it.

But then, why should that surprise me? Puerto Ricans don't look like you and they don't have any money, so of course their fate doesn't matter to you. The fate of ordinary Texans and Floridians didn't, either, but you know a lot of wealthy folks in those states who are important to your political survival. It was nice to hear all those English-speaking Southerners saying nice things about the administration's relief efforts, and the visuals of them on cable news was not just a political boost but an ego boost as well, so, um, yeah, that all worked out. But it was really the rich donors who were on your mind. Puerto Rico's lack of such donors means the island — very much a part of the country you allegedly lead — just doesn't engage your interest.

Doesn't engage your interest, that is, unless somebody dares to tell you in the most public way that you're not doing your job. That gets your attention.

If you were an adult, you'd be more concerned about how well (or badly) the effort was going than what people were saying about you. But you never grew up. You're still four years old, only capable of understanding the world as it relates to you.

This failure to grow up left you emotionally deficient. You have a hole where your heart should be.

And that deficiency has had and will continue to have tragic consequences for the rest of us.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

All I need to know about Trump's tax overhaul

Dear Leader had this to say about his tax overhaul proposal:
“Tax reform will protect low-income and middle-income households, not the wealthy and well-connected,” Mr. Trump said, framing a proposal that would affect hundreds of millions of Americans in terms of his own self-interest. “I’m doing the right thing, and it’s not good for me, believe me.”
You've heard of gamblers' tells? "Believe me" is Dear Leader's. When he says that, he's lying.

So his proposal will be good for him if it's enacted. Color me shocked.

Even so, his profiteering — like his corruption, his contempt for law and justice, and instinct for authoritarianism — must be resisted.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Trump doesn't understand patriotism

Dear Leader's attitude toward athletes who kneel or otherwise don't acknowledge the national anthem is of a piece with his shallow understanding of, well, everything.

Al Franken memorably described the difference between how some conservatives understand love of country versus how many liberals do:

We love America just as much as they do. But in a different way. You see, they love America like a 4-year-old loves his mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a 4-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world. That’s why we liberals want America to do the right thing. We know America is the hope of the world, and we love it and want it to do well.
Here's how the New York Times described Dear Leader's attempt at nuance:
Mr. Trump told reporters that his comments had “nothing to do with race or anything else — this has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.”
Of course he thinks his statements are only about "respect for our flag": he cannot comprehend a complex love of country that includes criticism of that country's shortcomings. Moreover, he rejects the idea that race relations today are, at best, fraught.

The idea that Dear Leader's simplemindedness qualifies him to lecture anyone on patriotism is at best asinine. In fact, it's offensive.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Graham-Cassidy ain't dead yet

John McCain came out against Lindsey Graham's and Bill Cassidy's ACA repeal bill. He's the third Republican senator to announce his opposition, meaning that Republicans don't have the fifty votes they need to pass the bill before a 30 September deadline imposes a 60-vote requirement. Cue the jubilation among the Affordable Care Act's supporters, right?

I wouldn't be so sure.

Mitch McConnell announced that a floor vote would take place next Wednesday, the 27th. Granting that five days isn't much time, it's still enough time for McConnell to find an inducement for McCain if the majority leader wants McCain's vote badly enough. It's also enough time for McConnell and others to work on Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, whose opposition to the bill isn't quite as firm as Democrats'.

Bottom line: we've been here before. The Republican zeal to kill the ACA is bottomless. There are also external pressures on the party to follow through on what it has made one of its defining goals for the last eight years.

This zombie keeps coming back, and it won't stop until Republicans stop thinking of repeal as one of their party's core principles.

To speed the party along, I'd like to remind both Republican voters and Republican politicians that you should always be guided by what's best for the country. You have been unable to convince yourselves, much less the rest of us, that your proposals to kill the ACA would be a net boon for the country. You Republican politicians sound like utterly amoral party hacks: "If we do nothing [to repeal the ACA], I think it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections. And whether or not Republicans still maintain control and we have the gavel." Jesus H. Christ, you want to repeal because it's good for your election prospects, repeal's effects on actual people be damned?

You politicians have lost all perspective. You hold to your principles because a generation of far-right voters have lost their perspective: they deem keeping promises more important than getting anything done. They (and you) have forgotten that not everyone else agrees with them and that sometimes you have to compromise; indeed, they've turned "compromise" into an expletive, an accusation to be shot like a bullet at anyone who dares to seek common ground.

If Democrats finally came to terms with some of Reagan's policies, Republicans can come to terms with some of Obama's. You guys have got to give up on trying to erase the first black president from history. Get over your visceral distaste for him and figure out what else you can do that doesn't alienate over half the country, for crying out loud.

Until that happens, the rest of us will have to keep our axes sharp and shotguns loaded because that damned zombie will keep coming back.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Huckabee, the Trump apologist

In an interview in The Atlantic, Mike Huckabee talks about both religious faith and Donald Trump in ways that highlight his enormous blind spots.

About Dear Leader's relationship to Christianity Huckabee has this to say:

Nobody pretends that he would be an ideal Sunday-school teacher, to be fair. I don’t think he is a person who is deeply acquainted with the Bible and he’s not known to set attendance records at church. But he’s very respectful of people of faith. And that’s really all people in the Christian community want. They don’t care whether or not the guy believes as they do. They just want someone who will respect their beliefs, and not denigrate them, and not try to use the power of government to silence them. And he’s been very adamant and clear that he believes in religious liberty, believes that people’s beliefs should be protected.
So for Huckabee the question is a leader's "respect" for "people of faith". That sounds nice and nondenominational, properly acknowledging the First Amendment's requirement that government neither promote nor suppress any faith. Yet in insisting that "people's beliefs should be protected", he ignores the possibility that the demands of different faiths might conflict with one another. How are such conflicts to be resolved without infringing on what one sect or another regards as its sacred rights?

Being concerned solely with "religious liberty", Huckabee also ignores the rights of those who claim adherence to no religious faith. What rights do the non-religious have in Huckabee's world? I strongly doubt he has ever thought seriously about that, or is in any way worried about it.

Now, about that pesky business of Trump's, um, let's call them moral transgressions — his misogyny and objectification of women, his decided difficulty rejecting white supremacist and neo-Nazi support, his easy embrace of violence in his rhetoric (and his absurd denials that his words amount to incitement), his flagrant profiteering in office (which is winding its way through the courts in little-watched lawsuits), etc. — well, Huckabee is prepared to wave them all off:

To me, character is if you’re the same in public as you are in private, and I think that in many ways, that’s what’s appealing about him. ... But some of the more harsh things that have been attributed to him were things that were said many years ago, and there’s been no indication that during his campaign and during his presidency has he said things that would cause people to just be aghast at what he had said. We’ve had presidents that have done things while they were in the Oval Office that frankly were very destructive and embarrassing. And I don’t think anybody has made those allegations about this president.
Wow. Talk about alternative facts.

Yes, many of the things that outraged people about Trump during the campaign were old statements dug up from years before. You know something? Time did not stale their outrageousness. More to the point, he kept saying outrageous and offensive things during the campaign! He kicked off his campaign by equating Mexicans to rapists, for pity's sake! He repeatedly denigrated the entire religion of Islam! He mocked John McCain for being a prisoner of war! (That would have been offensive even if he had served in the military, but he didn't.)

And nobody has alleged Dear Leader has done "destructive and embarrassing" things while in office? Now we've gone from Denial-ville into Liar-land. Dear Leader shared highly classified intelligence with the diplomatic representatives of a hostile nation, for crying out loud! He fired the head of the FBI for refusing to kill an investigation into allegations of foreign interference with the election! He has admitted doing these things, and they're just the tip of the iceberg!

Mikey, Mikey, Mikey, how stupid do you think we are? Or perhaps the question ought to be, how compromised are your own ethics, since you seem quite comfortable lying on Dear Leader's behalf?

Finally, let's unpack that business of "character". A moderately smart seven-year-old could find the flaw in Huckabee's characterization of "character" as "you’re the same in public as you are in private". I mean, Stalin by all accounts was as cold-blooded and indifferent to the well-being of others in private as he was in public. There is no evidence "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli is any more (or less) of a self-aggrandizing, self-justifying putz in private than in public.

Maybe Huckabee's focused on hypocrisy because it is one of the few vices Dear Leader arguably doesn't evince. Of course, the reason DL doesn't evince it is that hypocrisy requires that you honor a principle publicly but not privately, and DL doesn't honor principle at all: he is purely transactional in his beliefs (in fact, it's hard to say he has any).

Or maybe Huckabee's focused on hypocrisy because organized religion is rife with hypocritical leaders, so the foible is always on his mind. Your mileage may vary.

In any case, pretending that character can be reduced to not being a hypocrite is beyond laughable. That pretense delegitimizes Huckabee as a pundit. He's nothing more than a shill for Dear Leader.