Joe the Plumber is a joke on the left. For those that don’t remember, he had a conversation with Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. He claimed that he was thinking of starting a plumbing business. As a result, he was very concerned about Obama’s plan to raise taxes on incomes over a quarter-million dollars. (Obviously, this shows the usual ignorance of how marginal taxes work.)
It was preposterous. For one thing, he wasn’t a plumber. For another thing, I don’t think he ever made anything close to that amount of money. So his entire argument was that he had a dream that someday he would make so much money that he would be affected by this tax.
In this way, he is the ultimate example of the Republican voter. He wasn’t thinking about what his actual interests were. He was thinking about what his interests were in his fantasy.
Voting Your Interests
I’ve been a strong critic of the notion the people should vote their own interests. I don’t vote my own interest. I vote the way that I consider to be morally right. But Joe the Plumber shows that this is not generally true of Republicans.
They generally do not vote their interests. But this is not because they are wedded to some higher calling. It is because they don’t even know what their interests are. They are, in a word, marks.
This is discussed in the movie 1776where John Dickinson says, “Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor. And that is why they will follow us to the right!”
Small Business Delusions
You see this most distinctly with small business people. This is something I know a lot about because my parents were small business people and I have generally been one too. Most of them are extremely conservative. And they vote reliably Republican.
But why? The Republican Party is not good for small businesses. Sure, they talk about small businesses all the time. But their policies benefit multinational corporations. If you’re a small-business person, you’re screwed by the Republicans. And it is amazing that small business people so rarely see this reality.
They are all Joe the Plumber. The Republican Party may not help him today but just you wait! In a couple of years they will have a huge business too! And they will have an army of lobbyists and then all their support of the Republican party will pay off!
Small Business Flattery
But there is something that the Republicans give small business owners: all that smoke that gets blown up their asses.
Sure, the Republican Party may make it harder for them to run their businesses. But what is that compared to being told that you are a Little John Galt?! And that, I suppose, is worth something. We all have our delusions.
Of course, this is all on the margins. The elephant in the Elephant’s Room is racism. But that certainly isn’t the story The Republican voters tell themselves. They don’t see themselves as racist even if they are extremely so.
But it hardly matters. They vote Republican because they think the party supports people like them. The difference is that when it comes to racism that’s true. When it comes to small business policy it isn’t. And that makes the small business owner a bigger mark than the unrepentant bigot.
I think we have a problem when we talk about the lab leak theory. There is not one. The original theory was a full-out conspiracy: China had developed it as a biological weapon and then they released it on the world to harm us.
Now the same people who pushed that conspiracy theory want us to believe that the notion that the virus may have leaked from a lab proves them correct. Well, it doesn’t.
So let’s look at the theories here. The Chinese government:
Created a biological weapon that they knowingly released to the world.
Created a biological weapon that they accidentally released to the world.
Was doing work on viruses that was accidentally released to the world.
The first one is absolutely ridiculous. If the Chinese government wanted to release a biological weapon on the world, they wouldn’t do it to their own people much less to the people right outside the lab where they created it.
The second one is less ridiculous but still absurd. This is a really inefficient biological weapon. But more important there’s absolutely no evidence that this virus was created as a biological weapon. This is pure conjecture.
So this leaves us with the third possibility. Scientists were studying this virus and it got out of the lab. This kind of thing does happen. And we should be concerned about this regardless of whether or not it happened in this instance.
Lab safety is an important issue. I’ve heard people suggest things like locating these labs far away from populated areas and requiring quarantine periods for travel from the facilities.
But note that this is never been a concern of the loudest voices regarding the lab leak theory. The number one concern of these proponents is simply to blame China. Implicit in this is to exonerate the Trump administration.
(Note the absurdity here: as though the source of the virus justifies a terrible response. New Zealand was attacked as much as the United States and yet they did a good job of managing the pandemic. No origin story justifies the terrible governmental response to COVID-19.)
What bugs me about all this is not that Republican apologists are weaponizing it. What bugs me is that liberals are so quick to jump on board. They are so concerned about being seen as anti-science that they jump to the other side of this issue. And then they criticize the left for dismissing this theory in the first place.
In addition to this unfortunate tendency of liberals to attack their own side, there are major problems here. The first is that most people on the left always said that it was possible that COVID-19 came from a lab leak.
Second we still have no actual evidence that it was a lab leak. We are in exactly the same position we were a year ago. It’s possible it was a leak but it still looks unlikely.
The truth is if we get ironclad evidence that this was a naturally occurring virus, the usual suspects will never accept it. And decades from now, we will continue to hear about how the Chinese government released the virus to get rid of the Trump presidency.
Note that this would never happen if the sides were reversed. Conservatives never take the very possibility that they might have been wrong to turn on themselves. In fact, conservatives rarely take ironclad evidence that they were wrong to criticize themselves.
What actually happened was that there was no reason to believe that the source of COVID-19 was a lab leak so it was generally ignored. The theory was used on Facebook and other places to push absurd conspiracy theories. And a year later, we have liberal-ish commentators attacking the left.
That’s almost as absurd as the conservative conspiracy theories.
The idea of Trump Exceptionalism — that Donald Trump just rode in and blew up the whole system — I think ignores some really important continuities. George W Bush made some comments recently after his book came out that push this false narrative.
The 2000 election and the fight to declare victory, to stop the count in Florida, not just through the courts but through localized disruption — that was pretty anti-democratic. That was a really troubling moment. And the Bush v Gore decision is a really challenging one for people who want to embrace this idea of democracy and liberalism.
But there’s also the 2004 election and the decision to lean into the anti-marriage equality initiatives and referenda across the country as part of a campaign strategy to win that election. It modeled the way that you could mobilize resentment. And mobilize exclusionary politics in order to win an election. This is something that George W Bush did.
So when he talks now about this idea that the Republican Party won’t win elections if it plays the politics of exclusion, well, he played the politics of exclusion. And he won an election that way. He played minoritarian politics and he gained the presidency that way.
There have certainly been massive shifts in the Republican Party since the days of George W Bush. But he is not exempt from the story we’re telling about where the Republican Party is today.
I’ve long known that the Republican party is disingenuous. That was clear long before the negotiations for Obamacare in 2009. But now we have such a clear example of this in the negotiations for the January 6th investigation.
Republican Representative John Katko managed to make a deal with the Democrats. But once it was made all the Republicans turned against it. The most absurd was Marco Rubio.
At first, Rubio was against the commission because there could be partisan subpoenas. When he was told that couldn’t happen because Republicans would effectively have veto power, he simply changed his position to be that the Democrats would leak the fact that Republicans used their power.
Of course, Rubio was just the guy who got caught most obviously. Strangely, there hasn’t been much reporting on the fact that Rubio was against the bill for one reason before reading it and then against it for a different reason after reading it. But this is what’s going on with the vast majority of the Republican caucus.
They are against the commission because they are against it. Any reasons they give are just bullshit post hoc rationalizations. This was also true of the American Rescue Plan. And it is true of the infrastructure bill.
Bad Faith Infrastructure “Negotiations”
Look at how that’s gone. The Democrats offered a $2.3 trillion bill. The Republicans “countered” with $568 billion. Before going on, I want to point out how ridiculous this is.
Imagine that you were selling your car for $5,000 and someone offered you $1,000. Would you negotiate with them? Or would you tell them to come back when they were serious? Obviously, you’d send them away. (I saw someone on Twitter point this out but I can’t find the source.)
The $568 billion was not a good-faith offer. But Biden negotiated and revised his offer down to $1.7 trillion — a 26% cut. And the Republican response? No thank you!
We know what would have happened if Biden had said, “Great! Let’s do $568 billion!” McCarthy and McConnell would have come out against it for some reason. It doesn’t matter what! These negotiations are just PR. They want the press to report that Republicans are negotiating and that any problems are just the result of good-faith disagreements. (The media, as they have for decades, reward them for this obvious game!)
No Bipartisanship to Be Found
So let’s just move on. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema need to get past their fantasies about bipartisanship. And we need to get on with the infrastructure bill. And if this isn’t a clear sign that the filibuster must be eliminated, I don’t know what is.
Democrats have wasted decades trying to work with Republicans. There is nothing Republicans want to do other than lower taxes on the rich and gut the regulatory state. It’s not even a question of what they think they can do. They literally have no ideas for broader policy.
Sure if someone presses them on how we’ll deal with our broken healthcare system, they’ll trot out the same old ideas that we know won’t work. They’ll talk about buying insurance across state lines. They’ll talk about catastrophic policies. And, of course, bring up those wonderful health savings accounts!
But the truth is then unless they’re asked about it, they won’t bring it up. Because they don’t care about it. The way things are is just fine with them except that the rich have to pay any taxes at all and that they are ever held accountable for their antisocial acts.
Time to Move On
So it is time to move on. The Biden administration must take the Republicans actions on the January 6th Commission as the final nail in the coffin of bipartisanship. It was always a bullshit idea but I guess it polls well.
No reasonable person can look at the Republicans and say that they are honest brokers in any matter that faces the American people.
Image of Marco Rubio is his official government portrait and in the public domain.
Liz Cheney has been removed from Republican leadership in the House. And it was very telling. But I’m not talking about the Big Lie. There has been enough discussion of that. It’s horrible. But I want to discuss what it says about the Republican idea of identity politics.
Cheney was replaced by Elise Stefanik. Cheney is, of course, far more conservative than Stefanik. Big surprise there! Who would have thought that the Republicans don’t actually believe all the conservative bullshit they preach. The main thing is that Stefanik is a woman.
To the Republican leadership, the only thing that mattered was her gender. They did not want to take the heat of having a leadership team that was just a bunch of white men. Despite what they say, they get embarrassed when major American newspapers report that their party is so unrepresentative of the nation.
But this is also the alpha and omega of what Republicans think of identity politics. It is as crude as that. Women are interchangeable. Blacks are interchangeable. The only people who are individuals are old white guys.
Any Old Trans Woman ‘ll Do!
We see this all the time where conservatives offer up some terrible candidate who is female or Black or otherwise part of a marginalized group. We’ve seen it most recently in Caitlin Jenner being put forward for governor of California. She has vile beliefs and no experience whatsoever in politics. But Republicans think that Democrats will vote for anyone of the right oppressed group. Because they have such a limited understanding of identity politics.
The more savvy Republicans like such candidates because they think it makes Democrats squirm. I’m not sure why they think this, however. They go on TV and argue that Democrats are hypocritical because Democrats don’t jump at vile Republican candidates from marginalized groups. Clearly, Democrats are doing identity politics wrong!
Today, conservatives’ favorite MLK quote is, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (When he said it in 1963, of course, conservatives hated it and thought it meant King was a communist.)
They are angry that liberals do not (explicitly) judge political candidates on the color of their skin. This is because they think that identity politics is just that: judging people from the color of their skin. It’s not about policy and opportunity.
If this gambit were one that Republicans tried a few times and then abandoned, I’d understand. You try to highlight the hypocrisy of your opponents. But when it doesn’t work over and over, you should stop. When you don’t, it means you judge people on the color of their skin. Conservatives can’t see past skin color to even hear what people from disadvantaged groups are saying.
I didn’t follow the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd. And I managed to never watch the video of the murder. The truth is that I find these things very upsetting and I don’t think they do me any good. I already know that American policing is irredeemably broken. But I think Derek Chauvin shows us a lot about the problems in our society.
I am glad that Derek Chauvin was found guilty. And second-degree murder sounds about right. I think it is a mistake to vilify him too much. I do not believe that he wanted to kill George Floyd. But I think he is a terrible person because he doesn’t seem to have cared whether Floyd lived or died.
An analogy has occurred to me recently. It’s like holding a beetle down on the ground so it can’t crawl away. Doing so presses on its back. You don’t mean to kill it. But you realize that it might. It’s just a beetle. If you do kill it, who cares? Certainly not you.
Yes, I’m saying that Chauvin thought of Floyd like an insect. He should never have been allowed in a position of power. And he deserves harsh punishment.
Police Hide Villainy
But let’s be clear. The initial report told a very different story — one that Chauvin assumed would be the final word. The press release from the Minneapolis Police Department was titled, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” It stated:
Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.
If there had not been video of the incident, Derek Chauvin would not have been held accountable in any way for this. And that’s even true if there had been a dozen eyewitnesses. He is in jail now entirely because of the video.
Men like him should never be put in any situation where they have power over other people. They lack fundamental empathy for other people.
Derek Chauvin is also a victim. But in saying that, I do not mean that we should show him sympathy. I just mean that the environment in which he existed made him a worse man than he could have been.
Chauvin’s actions indicate a long history of him thinking that this kind of behavior is acceptable. We know there had been many complaints against him. And they were never acted upon in a substantial way. It was completely rational for Chauvin to think that he would not be held accountable for this killing.
But the fact that this crime was particularly egregious speaks to a larger problem with police culture. I don’t think that Chauvin would have kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for so long had there not been a crowd there. The fact that there was a crowd pointing out his misbehavior made Chauvin act like a spoiled child, “You can’t tell me what to do!”
And, of course, that’s what he did! We see this again and again. Police officers are far more concerned about getting the respect that they think they deserve than they are about doing their jobs. If you are rude to a barista, they might spit in your coffee. If you are rude to a cop, they might kill you. And if no one is around to record it, they will face no consequences.
And it’s that way that Derek Chauvin is a symbol for modern American policing. I don’t care what kind of a cop it is — good, bad, or indifferent — they all act this way. I know a few cops who are friends of the family. They all have this same personality.
I think they are deeply insecure people. Certainly I don’t need other people constantly kissing my ass to know that I have value. Anywhere someone does need that is the source of untold problems — whether it is from cops or grammar school bullies.
The irony is that our society does kiss the asses of cops. Except for rare cases like this, society goes out of its way to claim that these under-educated, over-paid mediocrities are heroes right out of Homer. (And even in this case, most conservative outlets are treating Chauvin like a wronged hero.) Yet it’s never enough. How could it be? Self-worth is something that comes from the inside. Flattery is just a band-aid.
I’m not hopeful. I do hope that we can make systemic changes to policing. But even with them, we will have major problems until we stop allowing cops to think that they are anything but paid workers who do not deserve our respect.
I’m open to respecting individual police officers — just as soon as one of them earns it.
There’s a big reason why the Democrats can’t do anything bipartisan at this point. And that’s because Republicans don’t have any ideas. We saw this most clearly with the rescue package. The big compromise offered by the 10 Republicans headed by Susan Collins was just: “What the Democrats want — but less.”
It’s what we’ve heard from them for years about wanting a smaller government. They don’t want smaller government for any reason. They want smaller government as an end in itself. And that makes no sense!
What is the right size of government? The size that allows it to do what we want it to do. Smaller government is just a talking point for Republicans. So if Republicans get together and come up with a compromise on infrastructure it will be the same thing. It will be about a quarter of the size that the Democrats want. And there will be no rhyme or reason for it.
If the Democrats want a hundred billion dollars for roads and bridges, the Republicans will want $50 billion. Why? Will there be a reason why we need less infrastructure spending? Of course not!
It’s really more a branding exercise than anything else. Jonathan Chait cleverly pointed out how this worked with “moderate” Republican Olympia Snowe (who, you may recall, was even more “moderate” than Susan Collins) on her retirement:
When George W Bush proposed a huge, regressive tax cut in 2001, Snowe, sitting at the heart of a decisive block of centrists, used her leverage to support the passage of a modestly smaller and less regressive version. When Barack Obama proposed a large fiscal stimulus in 2009, Snowe (citing fears of deficits that she had helped create) decided to shave a nice round $100 billion off his figure and call it a day.
If a Gingrich administration proposed spending a trillion dollars to erect a 100-foot-tall solid-gold Winston Churchill statue on Mars, Snowe would no doubt decide, after careful deliberation, that the wise course was to trim the height down to 90 feet and perhaps use a cheaper bronze alloy in the base.
Let’s all stop believing that the Democrats have anyone to negotiate with. The most “reasonable” Republicans only have this to offer: “What the Democrats want — but less.”
My father was a cruel, unkind man. I say “was,” because I haven’t had anything to do with him for decades, but the last I heard, he’s still alive. Of us four brothers, one after another decided “screw this guy,” and, each time, the next youngest would declare, “You monster! How can you be so awful to Dad!” Okay, your turn! The youngest brother tried hardest, and ended up changing his last name in disgust.
There were, needless to say, some mental illness issues with Dad, and that’s putting it quite mildly. Most of that stuff he had no control over. However, many people with mental illness struggles aren’t mean to their kids. I think it’s why all of us brothers tried maintaining a grownup relationship with him — to try and figure out what parts of his cruelty were due to illness, and what parts were “he’s just an asshole.” This turns out to be an unsolvable mystery.
A Horrible Teacher at Anything Else
Dad tried to get me into golf — it was sort of his dream as a kid to be a professional golfer. But with me, it just didn’t take. Believe me, I tried my prepubescent ass off. I read golf magazines, I practiced hitting little golf whiffle balls in the backyard. I was just annoyed by real golf. It’s too frustrating. The thing doesn’t go where you want it to. And if I want to walk around for hours chasing some shit in the trees, well, there’s free nature trails for that. (I was reasonably decent at putting.) Dad was hugely critical of every bad swing.
Even baseball “catch-and-throw with the old man” was terrible! If I made a bad throw he couldn’t reach, he’d intone horribly, “Go pick it up.” (I should note, here, that he never hit us kids, so far as I know. His used more of a menacing, give and withdraw approval approach.) And forget about underhand-toss batting practice. Miss a pitch, get yelled at. Fun! At least pros get paid for this.
So I Got A Car
At age 13, 14, or so, I got whomped on my bicycle by a car running a red light. I saw pictures later; the car was absolutely thrashed. Hood, windshield, roof, totally mangled. And I didn’t have one bone broken!
I got some pretty severe road rash, though. That’s when you skid on pavement for 20 feet. That shit’ll rip the hell outta your skin. It’s not life-threatening, but they do have to clean the asphalt bits out of your skin at the hospital. They use, essentially, a surgical Brillo pad. Does that hurt on bleeding, grated-off skin? Take. A. Guess. (Oh, I do have one asphalt bit still embedded in that leg. It’s not coming out until the worms get to it.)
I screamed my lungs out. Yet, they have to do it. At one point, they brought in a doctor from another part of the hospital. He yelled, “I’ve got a guy who got stabbed! You need to quiet down!” So I did. Pretty awful, though.
After this, the car driver’s insurance company sent a person over to our house to offer a “pain and suffering” settlement. And, being a teenage idiot, I took the first offer: $1300 or so. Now, of course, I’d say “add some zeroes.” But I didn’t know.
However, it was enough money for me to, a few years later, buy a car! What kid doesn’t want a car! Okay, they can smash you on your bike, but cars are awesome!
The car was a broke-ass old VW Bug; bright orange, with a heating system that had essentially one setting, “on.” It took forever to warm up inside, then got so hot you would have to strategically crack open the windows. Yet, it still worked. Good enough for me.
Dad the Great Driving Teacher
Then, though, having bought a car, I needed to learn how to drive it. Mom, who was kind, had never driven a car. (Dad knew that allowing her to get a license would mean she could get a job and flee the marriage, which is precisely what happened later.) So it’d have to be Dad. I figured it would be hell.
Surprise! He was an outstanding driving instructor. The Bug was a stick shift, which is a really tricky thing to learn. At the start, I couldn’t even get it into first gear. (Cars have gears; computer brains mostly shift them now; before that, shifting was a challenge.) Dad was, astonishingly, super-patient. “You’re getting better! Just a little bit less on the clutch, a little bit more on the gas, you can do it.”
Blew my mind. Where’d this guy been my entire damn life?
Years later, when my youngest brother was dealing with Dad, well, he didn’t have a license. And I told him, “Get Dad to teach you. He’s a monster at most things but he’s a really nice driving instructor.” The brother wouldn’t go there. I don’t fault him for one second. He’s 34 now, and I think he’s still never gotten a driver’s license.
A while back, me and Mrs James were shopping for a used car, and the dealer was trying to pawn off some really terrible lemons. As dealers will do. I pointed at one and said, “what’s the problem with this thing? For the years and mileage, it’s hugely underpriced.”
The dealer replied, “Oh, it’s a stick. And nobody knows how to drive a stick anymore.” Well, I do! Thanks, Dad!
Stick Shift On A Cliff
The minute after I passed my driver’s license test at 16, I asked Dad, “Can I drive the car?” His response was “You’re licensed to do so, of course you can.”
We took the whole family in that little Bug to various Oregon scenic places. Ocean, desert, whole bit. Also Mount Hood.
If you don’t know Mount Hood, it’s a quite pretty mountain maybe 75 minutes outside Portland. It has an old, elegant ski lodge, built with New Deal funding way back when. If you’ve seen the movie The Shining, you’ve seen that lodge and mountain. (The story’s placed in Colorado, and the interiors are a studio set wherever, but the lodge and mountain are Oregon.)
Well, the parking lot (back then, at least) had spots with no barrier right on a cliff. Not much of a cliff, 20 feet or so, and more of a very steep hill. (This is what it looks like.) Still, don’t want to drop a car over it with your parents and kid brothers inside.
And I thoroughly panicked. I couldn’t get the damn Bug into reverse. Every time I thought I had, it was actually in neutral. So I’d ease off the brake and clutch, push on the gas pedal, and the car would just inch forward towards the cliff. Slam the brake, try it again. A few more inches in the wrong direction.
At this point, Mom and my brothers were screaming bloody murder. But Dad? Completely calm. “You can do it, son.” And, right! We did not drive off a cliff at a Stephen King movie location! Yaaay!
Dad Stole My Car
Mom booted Dad’s butt to the pavement when I was 17. Happiest moment in my life to that point. I was walking home from the school bus stop, saw the reflections of police lights, and fantasized, “Oh, wow! What if that was Dad?!” Just a dream. Then, it was real.
He was handcuffed and being put in the cop car. Screaming, “You can’t take my first-born son away from me!” Maybe not, asshole; but they can sure take you away from me.
Anyhoo, that VW Bug was bought in Dad’s name, to lower insurance costs. And, once the whole divorce mess settled out, he grabbed it. Nothing I could do.
I was ticked off at this for a few years. “Dude, that’s my car! I didn’t see you in no hospital room getting ripped-up skin scoured with a Brillo pad!” But, after a while, I let it slide. The guy has enough problems. And at least he was no longer one of mine.
Dad’s Explosive Visitation
One time, though, when I was home from college, he drove the Bug over. (Mom was very careful about visitation; it was only allowed when she could keep an eye on things.) Dad came in and started chatting with my kid brothers. The Bug starts beeping its horn. I turn to Dad, ask him, “Since when has this car started spontaneously honking its horn? Did you leave the keys in the steering wheel?”
He hadn’t. It was just a terrible electrical glitch with the car battery. This led to the whole car catching on fire, almost immediately afterward. There was a huge ball of flame — the entire vehicle burned hard. (No, metal won’t burn at those temperatures, but seats and carpets sure will!)
Firefighters came and immediately threw flame retardant on it. This impressed me, as I wouldn’t have gone near the thing. Believe me, the entire apartment complex emptied out to watch that fire. It was the best show since Mount St Helens exploded.
Well, that’s good ol’ Dad. Car thief and car blower-upper. Terrible sports teacher. Excellent driving teacher.
Last I heard, he was in a Southern Oregon hemp commune signing over Post Office retirement checks to super-liberals so he can tell their kids how Satanic super-liberals are. He’s utterly insensible, so those kids have no clue what he’s rambling about. And this is, certainly, for the best.
On my walks, there’s a house that has American, Army, Navy, and Marine flags displayed over its garage. They are out 24-hours per day in all weather. It’s a classic case of easy patriotism. Or to put it in a way that my conservative friends might understand: virtue signaling.
But what really struck me was the bumper sticker on their very big and very clean truck. (Read: it is not used for anything a truck is normally needed for.) The bumper sticker is shown above. It says, “United States Marine Corps: When It Absolutely Positively Has to Be Destroyed.”
The most obvious thing about this is that the bumper sticker is a mistake. The original read, “When It Absolutely Positively Has to Be Destroyed Overnight.” You know, like the old FedEx slogan, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
But the more important thing about the bumper sticker is how it shows the lie of Marine branding. Clearly, this bumper sticker does not come from the USMC. In fact, I’m sure that as an institution, they hate it.
All the branches of the military push a brand that they are just out in the world trying to help people. And they only kill and destroy when there is absolutely, positively no other option.
But the people who admire the Marine Corps (and this very much includes a lot if not most if not the vast majority of Marines themselves) love this stuff. And regardless what conservatives will tell you, it is also what they love about the Marines and all the other military outfits.
The idea is that they are badasses. They don’t go along with Clausewitz, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” They like war in the same way that a gorilla likes beating its chest.
I obviously have my own opinions about what our military should be used for. But everyone should be in favor of being honest about what they think the military is for. Secretly liking the military because it allows us to bully the rest of the world while claiming to only care about preserving peace? That is bullshit. Even Trump was more honest than that.
People of my age well remember the freak out over crack babies. Crack users were having babies and they were supposedly destroyed for life. It turns out that it wasn’t true. Cocaine-using mothers gave birth to babies with low weights. That’s it. But I think we should always remember crack babies because the truth is we repeat this same error over and over again.
And it’s not a coincidence the things like this so often are associated with black people. Society at large loves things like crack because they provide a quick-fix for inequality. Dealing with America’s past and ongoing systemic racism is hard. Even worse, it’s something that all of us white folks will be required to change to facilitate.
It is super easy to assume that the problem is really black women doing cocaine. Then it’s a simple matter of passing some laws and paying more cops to lock them up. Then we’ll have equality! Or rather, we’ll have an excuse for doing nothing for a decade or two before we find out that we destroyed a bunch of lives for no reason and we’re faced with the same problems as ever.
Assume the Newest Outrage Is False
Whenever I hear of an outrage in the news I always remember the crack babies. I remember that at worst whatever people are hysterical about is a much smaller problem than is claimed. And it’s most likely not to be a problem at all. Admittedly, it does kind of suck being the person always throwing cold water on everyone’s dopamine highs.
As mythical as these outrages may be, they result in very real consequences. Today there are laws on the books all over the nation that allow the government to prosecute women if they don’t treat their pregnancies well enough. These were laws that came onto the books, at least in part, to fight the mythical problem of crack babies. Today, people mostly know there were no crack babies, but the laws remain.
Note how absurd this is. Although I think it is often overstated, fetal alcohol syndrome is an actual problem. But it was never associated specifically with blacks and so it didn’t result in mass hysteria. And it didn’t result in new laws penalizing women.
Scratch an outbreak of hysteria and you are more likely than not to uncover yet more systemic racism.
Sorry for being absent so much. The truth is that I’m just a lot more focused on horror films these days. I’ve started a Diary over at Psychotronic Review. It’s the one place on the site where I allow myself to vent. The idea of the site is to appreciate what is good in any given film. But it is true that I get annoyed from time to time.
A problem I’ve been having a lot recently is watching a good film that is at least lessened by a terrible ending or coda. For example, The House of the Devilis pretty good and then they add a coda that destroys a good ending and offends me by making explicit what was clear in the film. Ugh! But it’s still better than American politics…
I was shocked that 7 Republicans voted for impeachment. I wasn’t even certain that Mitt Romney would vote to convict. I’m pretty sure it all came down to the big news (which wasn’t new) that Trump talked to Kevin McCarthy during the Capitol siege and he was indifferent. He reportedly said, “I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
Of particular note is Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) who said that he voted to convict Trump because he thought he was guilty. It’s a shockingly simple statement compared to the likes of McConnell who come up with procedural reasons to acquit. It’s always the same: if they want to vote a certain way, a politician can always come up with a plausible reason to justify it.
But the truth is that it doesn’t matter what individuals in the Republican Party do. The party itself is committed to Donald Trump because the base is committed to him because he provides the clearest expression of why they’ve been voting for Republicans all along: he hates the people they hate.
How I Would Vote
I would have voted to convict Trump for the same reason that Cassidy did. But I will admit that I don’t find the case that compelling that Trump incited an insurrection with his acts on that day.
Trump incited an insurrection for months — going back well before the election itself. The problem with this is that this means that the majority of Republican office-holders also incited an insurrection. And they did! But threading the needle and talking mostly about January 6th didn’t stop Republicans from seeing their own culpability.
GOP at the State Level
We’ve seen all kinds of censure announcements of Republicans from state-level organizations. This is nothing new, of course. The GOP has always been fanatical about purity in a way that can only exist when a party has a huge systemic advantage at the polls.
But it’s interesting that these censures have nothing to do with ideology. All those decades of the GOP dog-whistling to their authoritarian base has come home. It is no longer a political party. It’s now a cult of personality.
I wonder what happens if Trump dies.
Mitch McConnell — Impeachment Next Time
If this situation comes up again to impeach a Democratic president who is out of office, McConnell will make a 180° turn and vote to acquit. I know what his argument will be. He’ll say, “The Senate established that you can convict a president after he’s left office. Live by the sword, die by the sword.”
And the media will report it as though McConnell is making a good argument. Sure, people at The Nation will note that McConnell voted against conviction because he said it was unconstitutional even though the Senate voted that it wasn’t. (Not that it is up to the Senate.)
People claim McConnell is brilliant but that isn’t the case. It’s just that our media system is hopeless. In my dark moments, I think any system that can be so effectively manipulated by the likes of McConnell deserves to die.
Mitt Romney — Again
I paid over 18 percent of my income in federal taxes this year. It would have been over 20 percent except for a special COVID-19 tax credit. That’s on less than $27,000 in total income. I want to put that into perspective.
When he was running for president, Mitt Romney released his 2011 taxes. He paid 14.1 percent in federal taxes on his $13.7 million in income. I’ve always assumed (with good reason) that he paid more that year because he knew it would be public.
So he made over 500 times as much money as I did and paid a smaller percentage in taxes. This is the man who was complaining about poor people paying no federal income taxes. This is the man that the mainstream press holds up as a good Republican.
Fuck. Mitt. Romney.
Note: I don’t think there is anything wrong with my paying this amount of tax. And I do it happily because I am a patriot.
Jonathan Chait’s Lazy Apologetics
Jonathan Chait wrote an article defending Gina Carano’s firing. I’m sympathetic about this because I really don’t like to see people fired. I’m not keen on public shaming either, to be honest. But Jeet Heer pushed back on Chait’s argument in a way I very much agree with (I admire Ilhan Omar and the freak-outs about her are racist):
Check out the image on the right that shows one thing that Gina Carano tweeted. In a response to Heer, Chait wrote a whole article in response. And this is what he says of the image:
Is this image anti-Semitic? On the one hand, it suggests certain populist conspiratorial themes that are consistent with anti-Semitism. On the other, it lacks any identifiable Jewish features.
As regulars around here know, I’m not very good at recognizing people and I don’t know much about what’s going on in pop culture. But the most obvious figure in that image is George Soros. Chait is incapable of admitting error and this claim shows the lengths that he will go to avoid it.
Tonya Harding is the reason that I lost all respect for institutional figure skating. She made me see that it wasn’t really a sport. At her peak, she was probably the best figure skater in the world — certainly in the US. Yet she struggled because she wasn’t the right kind of person and body type for the sport.
I’ve always thought she got a raw deal. So I was thrilled to hear about a new podcast called You’re Wrong About. They look at past events and show that what people think they know is actually wrong. They did two shows about Harding (part 1, part 2).
I highly recommend the podcast. I’ve listened to a ton of episodes now on a lot of things (they get far afield of their stated mission). Check it out!
I’m a bit scattered these days. Just when I was going to file for divorce, I was served with divorce papers from my wife. Good news, you might think. And in some ways, it is. But my wife is asking for $2,000 every other week in alimony. It’s ridiculous in the sense that, this is roughly what I make in a month before taxes. But also: we haven’t even seen each other in over a decade.
But the whole thing brought the phone calls and texts back. She’s screaming and threatening. So I blocked her number. Then she started emailing me. More threats. It’s very stressful. Anyway, on to the odds and ends.
I saw a very annoying headline at The Washington Post last week, The GOP isn’t doomed. It’s dead. It was written by “moderate” conservative Kathleen Parker.
Every time the Republicans lose an election, establishment-types declare it dead or in need of reform. Instead, the party just moves further right and becomes more loony and they win control of Washington and a majority of states.
You would think that The Washington Post would hire political columnists who know at least a little political science. If they did, there wouldn’t be ridiculous articles like this. Because there are systemic qualities of the US (both planned and accidental) that allow Republicans to be far more conservative than the country itself.
But the reason I bring this up is because Parker wrote the following, “The party’s end was inevitable, foreshadowed in 2008 when little-boy Republican males, dazzled by the pretty, born-again, pro-life Alaska governor, thought Sarah Palin should be a heartbeat away from the presidency.” Oh, I see! This started all the way back in 2008!
Over the past four years, Mitt Romney has been allowed to rebrand himself as the sensible, truth-based, Republican. But that’s ridiculous! I was blogging full-time during the 2012 presidential election. I remember what a mendacious campaign he ran.
Michael Cohen (not that one) in The Guardian expressed it well:
Granted, presidential candidates are no strangers to disingenuous or overstated claims; it’s pretty much endemic to the business. But Romney is doing something very different and far more pernicious. Quite simply, the United States has never been witness to a presidential candidate, in modern American history, who lies as frequently, as flagrantly and as brazenly as Mitt Romney.
As you know, I don’t like PolitiFact. Like most fact-checkers, they work really hard to find “lies” from people on the left to balance out the abundance of actual lies on the right. But despite this, Romney has far more lies than Obama:
Pants on Fire
Happy Birthday, Ronald Reagan
And speaking of the mythical past, Ronald Reagan would be 110 years old today. Most things we’ve said about Trump over the last four years was said about Reagan. In particular, Reagan was a champion norm-buster. Like Trump, he didn’t know any better. And when he was told, he didn’t care.
In 1982, Rolling Stonenoted, “Two years into [Reagan’s] presidency, federal regulations go unenforced, poor and middle-class incomes have decreased and social services were slashed.” The only thing that was different were the times. I don’t think Trump harmed the country any more than Reagan did. It was just that things were worse when Trump came in.
But lest you think I am only going to be attacking conservatives today, there are some leftists who are really annoying me. Or maybe I should say “leftists,” because I’m not at all sure where these people are coming from.
There are a number of people in this small but vocal group, but I’m going to highlight Briahna Joy Gray. She has Opinions about the minimum wage!
There’s no doubt that the minimum wage should be higher. The Center for Economic and Policy Research calculated that if the minimum wage had been raised at the rate of productivity growth since 1968 (which is the rate it increased before then), it would now be $24.
But this is a political fight, not an economic analysis. If we can get a $15 minimum wage, that would be great. Then we can work on raising that. But Gray’s take is not helpful. It’s a way of telling the Democrats that they shouldn’t even work on winning over progressives because we will never be happy anyway.
I’ve seen this a lot with respect to Obamacare. People claim that it means nothing because millions still don’t have healthcare. Well, I’m one of the millions who do have it because of Obamacare. So it is something.
But this is relatively new. I don’t remember people on the left saying it was nothing at the time. What’s changed? Patreon, I think. There are a lot more people on the left who can make money online grandstanding like this. Clearly, Sam Seder and David Pakman fill the thoughtful niche. So people like Gray and Jimmy Dore are working the Howard Beale lane.
And I get it. I feel like Beale a lot of the time too. But if you’ve watched the film, you know that Beale didn’t bring change. People just liked an excuse to get angry. And when Beale started preaching degeneration, people tuned out. People were only ever mad as hell. They were definitely going to continue to take it.
These leftists are not helping. They are actually harming the cause. It doesn’t look like we are going to get the $15 minimum wage after all. But with it or without it, Briahna Joy Gray’s position is the same: Democrats suck.
Last weekend, I got a call to write an article (quickly) about what was going on with GameStop, Dogecoin, and other related stuff. You can check it out: GameStop, AMC & Dogecoin. The whole thing is just a pump-and-dump scheme. But I do think it matters who’s doing it. Millionaires sticking it to billionaires is good. My concern is that regular people get caught up in it.
I’ve felt rather good that the two things I said should go up early last year — silver and Ethereum — did. Of course, I didn’t invest in them. I’m not a speculator. “Fear of Missing Out” is also “Fear of Losing Everything.” Get it? “FOLE”? Pronounced “folly”? People should think more in terms of FOLE than FOMO.
It’s sad that we live in a society organized in this way. It isn’t a great way to allocate resources.