Friday, February 16, 2018

If you don't support more gun control ...

In the wake of shootings like the one two days ago at a Florida high school, the standard response of Republican lawmakers to calls for stricter gun control is to assert that (1) mental health is really the issue, (2) the gun control laws on the books are enough but they aren't being enforced vigorously enough, and/or (3) such shootings are the price of a meaningful Second Amendment.

If you embrace #3 in spite of the possibility of your own or other loved ones' kids dying, I don't know what to say.

Reasons #1 and #2, though, are possible to answer objectively. Or at least, we could answer them objectively if Congress didn't forbid the government to do research into gun violence!

Yes, that little provision got tucked into legislation a while back at the behest of, who else, the National Rifle Association. It's a restriction that makes abso-fucking-lutely no sense unless you are the nuttiest of gun nuts, and it's way, way, way past time for us to stop letting those nuts dictate the terms of our gun laws.

So how about we stop threatening the Centers for Disease Control with loss of funding for merely investigating gun violence as a public health issue?

It's nothing short of abject cowardice to forbid this research.

Enough with abject cowardice. Tell your Congressional representative to end this stupidity.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Setting fires

Dear Leader called Congressional Democrats treasonous.

Not because they were "levying War" against the U.S., as the Constitution defines treason.

Not because they were working with an enemy foreign power, which is also how the Constitution defines treason.

No, he accused Congressional Democrats of treason for failing to applaud his State of the Union address.

It's tempting to focus on his unbelievable childishness. He comes off like a five-year-old whining that Mommy and Daddy weren't paying attention.

However, that's the merest distraction. The issue, of course, is that he accused fellow Americans of treason.

Their actual "crime"?

Failing to adore him.

Let that sink in for a moment.

His defenders will paint his remarks, at a putatively official presidential visit to Ohio that looked a lot like a campaign stop, as mere bluster. They will say that he was riffing on a remark from the crowd, just playing to the audience for laughs.

They are wrong. He was smiling, yes, but at the thought of jailing his political enemies. For Dear Leader, being his political enemy is treasonous.

But suppose for a moment they're right, that it was all a joke. Here's the problem: you don't joke about treason.

Repeat: you do not joke about treason.

Not when you're the president of the United States.

The president does not have the same license to joke on such matters as ordinary citizens. From the man in charge of the Department of Justice, such remarks read less as jokes than as threats. Especially when that same mouth has repeatedly pronounced his belief that the only loyalty he honors is to him — not the Constitution, or the nation.

If Dear Leader wants to make such jokes, let him leave office. He can then make all the jokes he wants.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

"Just a conversation" — not

Dear Leader, in a one-on-one meeting with then-acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, asked McCabe whom he had voted for in the 2016 presidential election.

That's a highly disturbing revelation, though a lot of us might have lost our capacity to be disturbed by anything Dear Leader does any more. His question was a not terribly deft way of probing McCabe's loyalty, which Dear Leader insists must be to him.

It's worth remembering that McCabe's oath of office requires him to pledge his loyalty to the Constitution, not a person.

Dear Leader, of course, cannot be expected to know or to care about such niceties as the rule of law and love of country before personal loyalty: he is an ignoramus whose self-absorption is as all-consuming as a black hole. However, we can and must insist that other, less abnormally egotistical and less egregiously ignorant people are held to account for enabling his megalomania.

This would include Republican National Committee chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, who dismissed Dear Leader's question:

"I think it's just a conversation," Ronna McDaniel told CNN's "New Day." "I don't think it intends, you know, all of these terrible things that people are trying to put forward."
There is only one response to McDaniel: bullshit.

She knows good and goddamned well exactly what Dear Leader meant and how utterly wrong it was to ask that question.

Ronna, you are enabling Trump's grotesque abuse of his office by defending him in this instance. How far are you willing to go? How much antidemocratic, authoritarian conduct will you tolerate from him? How much will you help him corrode not just his administration but the public's confidence in our government?

This wasn't conversation. This was another step on the path to authoritarianism. And you, Ronna Romney McDaniel, are smoothing that path.

Can you look yourself in the mirror, Ronna?

Friday, January 19, 2018

Why Republicans have brought us here

We're on the brink of a government shutdown. If it happens, it will take place literally as the clock ticks over to the one-year anniversary of Dear Leader becoming president.

This is kind of a weird situation when you consider that Republicans control both houses of Congress and the presidency. You'd think that they could do better legislatively. When they finally passed a major overhaul of the tax code in late 2017, that ended up being their only major legislative achievement for the year, and happened only after embarrassing debacles involving their repeated attempts to repeal the Obama-era Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The process by which the tax code overhaul was finally passed was exceedingly ugly: no hearings, no debate, absolutely zero consultation with Democrats, virtually no input from the Congressional Budget Office (whose eventual analysis, provided long after the point when any real Congressional debate could have occurred, proclaimed the bill would increase the deficit by some $1.5 trillion) and no public input. It underwent multiple hasty drafts and had sweeteners tossed in ad lib to bring individual Republican Senators on board, all at warp speed compared to the normal pace at which massive legislation is typically drafted.

There's a reason Congress usually takes its time with massive legislation: such legislation tends to have a lot of unexpected fallout if it isn't carefully drafted. You'd think Congressional Republicans would be concerned about unintended consequences, as those consequences are nearly always bad and can be costly at the next election.

But Congressional Republicans mostly inhabit safe seats. That means that they don't have to care about adverse consequences for the country, only about adverse consequences for their constituents — and not even for their constituents, as long as their donors aren't riled.

Yet you'd think that Congressional Republicans would want to craft legislation carefully anyway. After all, legislation is how a party furthers its agenda.

Except in the case of Congressional Republicans, it isn't. Because Congressional Republicans have no real agenda.

What do Republicans nationwide want? Smaller government (except for the military and police). That has been the party's mantra for nearly four decades now. Other issues sometimes come to the fore, like curtailing abortion or cracking down on crime, but the issue with the broadest appeal is always smaller government.

Yet what does that actually mean?

I defy any Republican elected official or voter to say in any detail what he or she means by shrinking the federal government. (For simplicity's sake we'll ignore states.) Occasionally they make noises about killing whole segments of the executive branch, like the Department of Education or the Department of Energy or the Department of Health and Human Services or the E.P.A., but when it comes time to look at what that would entail ... well, they get cold feet. Like Rick Perry at the Energy Department, they suddenly find that, gee, the department actually does useful things.

That's the problem with what Republicans call their "agenda". It's not an agenda at all. It's not a statement of things they want to accomplish. It's a statement of inchoate, inarticulate frustration that the government is complex and far bigger than they think it should be.

That's an emotion, not an agenda. What unites Republicans is anger and frustration, not policy.

It's no wonder that, with the reins of government in their hands, they find themselves incapable of charting a positive path forward. They knew that they wanted to reduce taxes but when it came time to decide how, they flailed. They could not articulate a vision that even all their elected representatives could support, and it took backroom deals out of the public eye to get to a bare majority. Same thing happened with their repeated attempts to kill Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) — it turned out that the only thing uniting them was the broad desire to claim that they had repealed it. When it came down to the dirty work of actually deciding how, they had no freaking idea — at least, none that could command a majority of their members. Remember that even though Paul Ryan managed to get repeal passed in the House multiple times, he totally punted on the foreseeable need to craft legislation that would pass the Senate. He could argue, and he did argue, that he managed his end, but a House leader who ignores the math in the Senate is, at the end of the day, no help to getting legislation passed.

Note, too, that the Obamacare repeal effort failed after seven years of whining and literally dozens of votes on bills to kill it. It's telling that all of that whining didn't lead to a winning path, legislatively speaking, once Obama no longer stood in the way and Republicans had their bicameral majority. They weren't ready to commit to any of their dozens of repeal bills.

Surprised? You shouldn't be. Those bills were empty gestures, not genuine legislation.

The inescapable conclusion is that Congressional Republicans, and the national party generally, not only don't know how to govern, but aren't interested in doing so.

That's staggering.

It's also dangerous. When all you have is contempt for government, you aren't interested in making it work well. Or, as we see with the impending shutdown, making it work at all.

Because while Paul Ryan set the tone for the predictable Republican spin by putting the blame squarely on Senate Democrats, Congress is only voting on a continuing resolution to keep the government running because Congressional Republicans are uninterested in, and/or incapable of, drafting a budget that would cover a whole fiscal year. A majority of them cannot be corralled into carrying out what any normal person would say is their absolute minimum job requirement.

We got to where we are because one of our two major political parties no longer knows how to make government work — because it long ago stopped caring about making it work.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The ugly truth about Donald Trump

First of all, Dear Leader did call Haiti and African nations "shithole" countries.

How do I know?

First, because he's a bigot. He's an entrenched bigot against black, brown and yellow people. (Yeah: he asked that intelligence analyst where she was from and he wouldn't be satisfied with the answer "New York [City]" because all he could see was that she had Asian features.)

How do I know he's a bigot? Because in answering reporters asking about the "shithole" incident he called himself the "least racist person" we could meet. Nobody who's actually not racist ever makes such an asinine claim. Look up "overcompensation", Don.

The other reason I know he slandered Haiti and all of Africa? Because he denied it to reporters. For his entire political career he has proved himself a hardened, shameless liar. The examples are legion and everybody knows them. So when he denies saying horrible things, we assume he did say them because he lies the way fish swim — effortlessly.

Most politicians get the benefit of the doubt in their first couple of scandals. Trump exhausted that benefit before he was nominated.

Donald Trump, bigot and liar.

(Also an untrustworthy businessman whose corruptness we can only guess at but which we very likely cannot underestimate, and an ignoramus with zero intellectual curiosity. But I digress.)

That's how a solid majority of the nation views him. That's how history will remember him.

Because that's the ugly truth.

Friday, December 15, 2017

To Roy Moore

Mr. Moore — I have a hard time calling you "Judge", for reasons that will become clear — you have spent most of your adult life, so far as I can tell, lecturing others on God's will, which happens to dovetail neatly with your own.

I'm sure you believe you're concurring with God, as a faithful believer should. But has it ever occurred to you that your certitude may have blinded you to your own shortcomings?

You're obviously intent on converting this nation — fallen, in your eyes, from grace — to one that accords with your view of God's will.

How has your effort been going?

Are you reaching anybody who didn't already agree with you?

Have you had any success at bringing the nation closer to God?

I'd say you're not as successful as you'd like to be, with the latest evidence being your defeat in your race for Senate. (By the way, what did you expect to accomplish as a Senator, one of a hundred in a body that is but one of two legislative arms in a government that has two other branches?)

Obviously you're up against a formidable foe — but do you know who that foe is?

I won't assume you think you're up against Satan. However, I do think you think you're up against wickedness.

I think the truth is a good deal more discomfiting. You're up against not just a more generous, more open view of what the United States can be, but a more generous, more open view of Christianity.

You want the rest of us to turn to God but you want that the same way a bad teacher wants students to embrace his subject. You scold. You ominously warn of terrible consequences for ignoring your will. The difference is that a bad teacher can assign grades that actually have consequences.

Your eagerness to find fault with everyone else renders you not just unpalatable, but untrustworthy. I, for one, learned the hard way not to trust the judgment of coworkers who never found fault with their own work. They have the largest of blind spots and their work cannot be trusted. Hence my inability to call you "Judge": though you've made judging others your life's work, you cannot bear to be corrected and that's the sign of an untrustworthy arbiter.

If you had a trace of humility, a scintilla of awareness of the possibility you could be wrong — if, in short, you recognized that you, too, are human and therefore fallible — you might have reconsidered your judgmentalism a long time ago. It's still not too late to ask yourself how well, or even whether, you're really serving God's will.

I doubt you will. I'm afraid you're too invested in the certainty of your own righteousness, and the equal certainty of the wrongness and wickedness of everyone who doesn't agree with you.

Wouldn't it be delightful if you proved me wrong on this score?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Kate Steinle verdict

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was found not guilty of not just first- or second-degree murder, but even of manslaughter, in the death of Kate Steinle. He was convicted solely of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

I don't hold with the demonization of illegal immigrants that Trump rode to the White House, but Garcia Zarate doesn't push my pity buttons. He is a serial illegal crosser of the border and whether or not the gun went off accidentally, he was responsible because he shouldn't have been here in the first place and he sure as hell shouldn't have gone anywhere near a gun.

I didn't follow the trial but I was surprised that the prosecution asked for first-degree murder, as even to me, who only saw the initial news coverage of the shooting, it seemed clear Garcia Zarate wasn't aiming at Steinle. I agree with one legal analyst who blasted the prosecution for overplaying its hand: by demanding too much the prosecution may have left the jury no opportunity to deliver a verdict of, say, voluntary manslaughter. I can't otherwise understand this fiasco.

Garcia Zarate might not have aimed at Kate Steinle but in my mind he killed her. Even if you buy the defense argument that it was all an accident, it was an accident that never should have happened because Garcia Zarate was not supposed to be in the country. No matter what else his attorneys say, they can't get around that stubborn fact.

Garcia Zarate has not struck me as a genius but he should understand how lucky a break he has caught. He'd better not push his luck by entering this country ever again.