it ain’t hoo-ha

I have been unreasonably and uncharacteristically busy for the last couple of weeks. There’s been SO much to rant about and so little time for any serious (or semi-serious, or even farcical) ranting. As much as I’m capable of actually hating anything, I hate being too busy to have fun.

But I’m never too busy to read the news — and I have a very broad definition of news. Sometimes it includes Vanity Fair, and this morning I read an article by Graydon Carter entitled The Trump Presidency Is Already A Joke. Carter (who, by the way, has hair that’s as architectural as Trump’s, but where Trump’s hair is Escher-esque, Carter’s is more Frank Gehry) makes the fairly obvious argument that Comrade Trump is a cartoon figure rather than an earnest administrator, but at the end of the third paragraph he writes something astonishing.

The thing is, if Trump has made any sort of arrangement with the Russians—Kremlin, oligarchs, F.S.B., Mob, or any combination of the four—to drop the Obama-era sanctions in return for past favors, the hoo-ha surrounding his Russian connections now makes that almost impossible to deliver. Whatever support he has received from the Russians over the years presumably came with promises of a payback. If Trump can’t follow through on this, he might be in serious trouble.

Let me offer a different perspective on what ‘the thing is’. The thing is that if those sentences were written about anybody in political life OTHER than Trump, they would have been written as part of a political obituary. That’s what the thing is — that Comrade Trump, after just a couple of months in office, has so eroded the concept of integrity in government that a comment about the president’s possible collusion with a foreign power is relegated to the third paragraph.

Let’s just take a moment and unpack what Carter wrote.

…if Trump has made any sort of arrangement with the Russians—Kremlin, oligarchs, F.S.B., Mob, or any combination of the four…

Shorter version: if Trump committed treason with Russia.

…to drop the Obama-era sanctions in return for past favors…

S.V.: by accepting a bribe.

…the hoo-ha surrounding his Russian connections now makes that almost impossible to deliver.

Not so S.V.: The multiple investigations by Congress, the FBI, and the Treasury Department, coupled with the long-overdue increased scrutiny by news agencies have hosed Trump’s ability to follow through on his treasonable arrangement.

Whatever support he has received from the Russians over the years presumably came with promises of a payback.

S.V.: Putin expects to get his beak wet.

If Trump can’t follow through on this, he might be in serious trouble.

S.V.: Putin will cut a bitch.

Of course, it’s not just Trump who’ll be in serious trouble. And it’s not just his coterie of greedheads and fascist ideologues, who’ll be in serious trouble. These United States will be in serious trouble. Hell, These United States ARE in serious trouble. No matter what happens now, Putin wins. The very fact that this fuckwit occupies the Oval Office has compromised the integrity of the U.S. and undermined our confidence in democracy.

The most ridiculous facet of this tectonic mess is that it’s entirely possible — even probable — that Putin played Comrade Trump for a chump. It’s possible/probable Trump just saw collusion with Russia as a business arrangement that would give him an edge over his competitors, not as treason. It’s possible/probable that Trump fell victim to the old gambler’s adage: if you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you’re the sucker.

In the past, Trump has always been able to stroll away from a bad deal. When he fails, he declares bankruptcy or gets a loan from his family or enters an arrangement with some dodgy financier. You don’t get to walk away from Putin. I’m not saying Putin is Keyser Söze. He’s more like Keyser Söze’s younger brother. The respectable member of the Söze clan. Keyser Söze in a suit and tie. When he’s not riding bare-chested on a fucking horse.

Graydon Carter ends his article with this bit of bullshit:

Trump’s legacy and that of his family could end up in tatters. The self-lauded Trump brand may well wind up as toxic as the once self-lauded brand of another New York-Palm Beach family: the Madoffs.

Trump’s legacy. The only people who give a rat’s nasty ass about the Trump legacy are people named Trump.

I’m pleased the editor of Vanity Fair is already writing about the end of the Trump presidency. But I wish he wouldn’t minimize the scope and magnitude of Trump’s transgressions. Even if he was played for a chump, Donald Trump is still personally responsible for seriously degrading and corrupting the office of the President of These United States, and for casually pissing on the very idea of governance.

That ain’t hoo-ha.

hold them responsible

In September of 2012 four men — a U.S. Ambassador, a Foreign Service information officer, and two CIA security contractors — were killed in Benghazi, Libya. They’d all volunteered to be stationed in that volatile region. They all knew the dangers they faced and the risks they were taking.

The deaths of these four men has resulted in seven different high level investigations, thirteen Congressional hearings, more than fifty Congressional briefings, and at least twenty-five thousand pages of documents published. The investigations have cost taxpayers more than five million dollars…so far. The investigation continues; it’s the longest Congressional investigation in U.S. history.

benghazi-four

Three months later twenty children, all of whom were six or seven years old, were killed while attending Sandy Hook Elementary School. Six adults were also killed. The school was supposed to be safe. None of the dead were aware of the danger they faced. None had volunteered to risk their lives.

How many Congressional investigations were launched? None. How many hearings, how many briefings, how many pages of documents published? Take a guess. A limited firearm safety bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate. It failed to pass. The bill never reached the House of Representatives.

sandy-hook-victims-1217

Let me just repeat that. Four adult men who volunteered to serve their country in a dangerous region were killed in the line of duty, and Congress is still investigating it in order (they claim) to ensure the tragedy never happens again. Twenty prepubescent children and half a dozen school teachers and administrators innocently attending school were killed, and Congress did exactly nothing.

Nothing is what they’ve done in response to every single mass killing since the horror at Sandy Hook. Nothing is what they’ll do about yesterday’s mass killings in San Bernadino and Savannah. They’ll continue to do exactly nothing unless ordinary people call them on it. Unless ordinary men and women and mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers pick up their telephones and call their representatives at their offices, unless we bombard them with email, unless we contact out local newspapers and demand action, unless we make it politically risky for the cowards in Congress to continue ignoring gun violence.

You can find the contact information for your Congressional Representative here. You can find the contact information for your Senators here.

Call them. Raise hell. Hold them responsible.

 

the politics of stupid fear

History will remember those who bullied and those who had the political courage to open our doors.

No, it won’t. Sorry.

The Modesto Bee published an excellent editorial yesterday. It’s a solid analytical piece, carefully sourced, full of links to supporting material, compassionate and intelligent. But their last line claiming history will remember the names of those who opposed helping Syrian refugees was, sadly, delusional.

I’d love to believe it was true, but it’s not. History — specifically political history, and even more specifically, political history in the United States — has the memory of an epileptic gnat. The Bene Gesserit were right (are right?); fear is the mind killer. Fear drives away reason and logic, and any sense of history disappears with it.

Does anybody remember last year? No? No, of course not. Thirteen months ago all those Republicans now running for president claimed Americans were all going to die from Ebola. Remember? They wanted to stop all flights from Africa. They wanted to prevent anybody who’d recently been IN Africa from returning to the United States. They talked about building camps to quarantine anybody who’d passed through Africa. Governors (mostly Republican) began issuing mandatory quarantine policies. It was the end of the world, remember?

ebola fears

How many cases of Ebola were there in the United States? Eleven. How many of those died? Two. Remember?

Here’s a true thing: Republicans have based their politics on fear for so long, they’re no longer able to distinguish between real threats, potential threats, and imagined threats. Could an Islamic terrorist group use the refugee program to infiltrate a terrorist into the United States? Sure, but why would they? The refugee process is long and slow and full of obstacles. There are easier and quicker ways for a terrorist to get into the U.S.

Remember, refugees are applying for resettlement. They’re not asking to visit; they’re asking to live in the United States. That’s a complicated process. They first have to submit an application at a U.S. embassy. If that application is considered viable, the applicants are screened by the nearest State Department outpost. We take their photographs and their fingerprints, and while those are being examined and compared against terrorist watch lists by the FBI, State Department operatives are checking their backgrounds. If they pass those investigations, their applications are turned over for further investigation by the National Counter-Terrorism Center. After that they have to go through in-person interviews with folks in Homeland Security. If they haven’t been excluded (or given up hope) by that point, there are medical and psychiatric examinations. The whole process takes two or three years.

It would be easier and probably more successful for a terrorist organization to obtain a false passport and a visitor’s visa, and let their terrorist fly in like a tourist from Bermuda. Or hell, just sneak across the border in Canada or Mexico.

no-isis-refugees-tarp

No, this fear of Syrian refugees isn’t grounded in any sort of reality. It’s just plain, stupid fear and the politics of stupid fear. The fact is, you’re more likely to die from Ebola than you are to be killed by a terrorist posing as a Syrian refugee.

Next year there’ll be a different apocalyptic crisis, and Republicans (along with timid Democrats) will once again piss their pants and advocate radical policies, and we’ll have forgotten about the Syrian terrorist-refugees. Hell, we’ll probably forget about them by the end of the year. It’s convenient to forget about refugees. Unless you are one.

it seems some mass shootings aren’t mass enough

Sometimes I find myself sitting around and thinking You know, this situation is pretty fucked up. I was thinking that after yesterday’s mass shooting. Which by the most commonly used definition of the term wasn’t actually a mass shooting.

A culture is pretty fucked up when there has to be a debate over how to define ‘mass shooting’. Here’s the most commonly used definition:

Shootings at a public place in which the shooter murdered four or more people, excluding domestic, gang, and drug violence, in a single episode.

There are at least three problems with this definition. Here’s the first and most obvious problem: murdered. This definition only counts bodies. You go to your neighborhood cineplex and wound half a dozen people but only kill a couple of them, it’s not going to count as a mass shooting. That’s pretty much fucked up, right there.

wdbj_shooter

Not a mass shooter.

Second problem: excluding domestic, gang, and drug violence. I can sort of understand why researchers would choose to exclude gang and drug violence. That sort of violence is incidental to other behaviors — the violence is a consequence of gang/drug activity. You get involved in gangs or the drug trade, you’re voluntarily assuming a certain amount of risk. It’s like BASE jumping in that sense. So if you kill a half-dozen folks when your drug deal goes bad, it’s not going to count as a mass shooting. That’s fucked up.

But domestic violence? Why exclude that? It’s the most common sort of violence faced by the public. In fact, if you include domestic violence, the number of mass shootings skyrockets — even if you restrict the definition of mass shooting to those that produce multiple corpses. The research is limited, but it all suggests that the vast majority of mass shootings take place in a domestic situation — a house or an apartment.

What we’re talking about here is male violence against women. Almost all mass shooters are men, and the most common type of mass shooting is a man shooting members of his family (or his ex’s family, or his girlfriend’s family, or the family of a woman who rejected him). Most of those victims are women and kids. You get pissed off and kill a bunch of folks you claim to love — folks who aren’t strangers — it doesn’t count as a mass shooting. Maybe they’ll count it if you do it in at the local McDonald’s. Maybe. But otherwise it’s just another domestic murder. You know what that is? It’s fucked up, is what it is.

And here’s the third problem with that definition: in which the shooter murdered. The shooter isn’t included in the butcher’s bill. Now, I understand the emotion behind excluding the shooter. The sumbitch doing the shooting doesn’t deserve to be considered a victim. But it’s still part of the episode; he’s still dead or wounded. And let’s be honest, that’s often just as intentional as the shooting of the other folks. You shuffle over to the local mall and open fire, kill three people, wound half a dozen more, then eat your Glock, it’s not going to count as a mass shooting. That is totally fucked up.

Not mass shooting victims.

Not mass shooting victims.

The shooting yesterday? Not a mass shooting. Not the one in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota in which four people were wounded. Not the one in Chicago, where only one of the four people who were shot actually died. Not the one in West Palm Beach, in which two were wounded and two were killed. And not the one in Virginia — the one that was televised, the one that left three people dead (yes, I’m including the shooter) and one wounded.

That’s six dead and ten wounded. Yesterday. And not one of them is considered a mass shooting. Fucked up, is what it is. We’re talking 33 shooting incidents in August (so far) with 40 dead and 124 wounded — and not one of them is considered a mass shooting. That’s fucked up on so many levels.

What if we broaden the definition of mass shooting?

Shootings in which four or more people are killed or wounded in a single episode.

Makes sense, doesn’t it. There’s actually a crowd-sourced mass shooting tracker that uses that definition. By that definition there have been 248 mass shootings so far in 2015. That’s as of fifteen hours ago. There’ll be more today. You can count on it. And the fact that you can count on another mass shooting today — one that will go uncounted because not enough people died, or because the wrong people died, or because the dead weren’t littering a public place — that’s fucked up beyond all recognition.

And here’s another thing that’s fucked up. The guy who shot the reporter and cameraman in Virginia recorded the non-mass shooting on his phone and posted it to Facebook and Twitter. That’s fucked up in ways beyond the obvious ‘What sort of twisted individual would put that shit on social media?’ way. It’s fucked up because research shows that mass shootings that get publicized tend to be contagious. They spark more mass shootings, often with the same weapons used in the initial mass shooting.

People who, for one reason or another, are fucked up in some way often model their behavior on the behavior of other folks. Some highly publicized behaviors, like teen suicides or hate crimes, establish what social psychologists call a path of action — a complete narrative in which the person can visualize their steps and their effects. And that path of action helps them follow through on the act — whether it’s suicide, bashing trans folks, or shooting a whole bunch of people.

So it’s fairly safe to assume we’ll see more homemade first person shooter videos. This may become a trend. Which brings me back to my original thought. This situation is pretty fucked up.

UPDATE: As of January 2016, the mass shooting tracker mentioned above revised its definition of a mass shooting to exclude the shooter. The new definition is “Four or more shot and/or killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location, not including the shooter.”

My initial response is that excluding the shooter from the body count seems unnecessarily judgmental, as if including the shooter would suggest sympathy for him. On further reflection, though, the definition includes the wounded as well as the dead — and it makes sense to exclude the shooter if he was wounded by law enforcement in their efforts to stop the shooting.

dead or not dead! it’s america’s game!

Okay, let’s play a game. I give you a scenario, you decide if the person in the scenario ends up dead or not dead. It’s fun!

Scenario 1: Police in Denton, Texas respond to a report of an angry man with a rifle. On arrival, they find a 22-year-old man carrying a loaded AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is confronting a 69-year-old protester carrying a sign. The armed man, described by witnesses as ‘unreasonable and agitated,’ is white. Is he Dead or Not Dead?

NOT DEAD! The police requested the armed man carry his rifle slung over his shoulder and allow him to leave without shooting him anywhere at all.

Scenario 2: Police in rural Georgia pull over a driver for an ‘unspecified traffic offense.’ According to the police, the 30-year-old man immediately “exhibited aggression toward the officers.” The driver identified himself as belonging to a radical group with a long history of violence against law enforcement officers. When ordered out of the vehicle, the driver reached for a gun. The police officers, fearing for their safety, responded by breaking the car window and forcibly removing the man — at which point the man reached for a second gun holstered in the small of his back. The driver is white. Is he Dead or Not Dead?

NOT DEAD! Although the police seized a 9mm handgun, a .45 caliber handgun, a .40 caliber handgun, a .44 magnum caliber short rifle, and a .223 caliber AR-15 format carbine (all of which were loaded and had rounds in the chamber), they managed to arrest the driver without shooting him even once.

Scenario 3: Cleveland police respond to a telephone report of a person with a gun in a local park. The caller stated the person “is probably a juvenile” and described the gun as “probably fake.” On arrival, the police confront a 12-year-old boy with an Airsoft gun. The boy is black. Is he Dead or Not Dead?

DEAD! The police shot the boy twice in the first two seconds after exiting their vehicle. They also failed to perform any first aid. He died the following day.

Your turn to play! Three of these contestants will be Not Dead! Which one will fail to make it to the next round? Dead or Not Dead!

Your turn to play! Three of these contestants will be Not Dead! Which one will fail to make it to the next round? Dead or Not Dead!

Scenario 4: Kalamazoo police respond to multiple reports of an intoxicated man on a busy street carrying a rifle and shouting obscenities and threats of revolution. They arrive to find a 63-year-old man who refuses their orders to drop his weapon. Michigan is an ‘open carry’ state, which allows citizens to openly carry firearms. The man is white. Is he Dead or Not Dead?

NOT DEAD! The police spent forty minutes discussing the 2nd Amendment with the drunk man, failing to shoot him at all. He eventually agreed to surrender his rifle — which was returned to him by the police on the following day.

Scenario 5: Police in Beavercreek, Ohio respond to a report of a man with a gun in a local Wal-Mart. On arrival, the officers observe a 22-year-old man carrying a firearm in a non-threatening way and talking on a cell phone. They order him to drop the weapon. According to the police, the man doesn’t immediately do so. Ohio is an ‘open carry’ state, which allows citizens to openly carry firearms. The man is black. Is he Dead or Not Dead?

DEAD! The gun was a BB gun the man had picked up in the Sporting Goods section of Wal-Mart. The man was shot twice within moments of being confronted by police.

Scenario 6: New Orleans police respond to a report of an armed man breaking into a home, threatening the occupants, stealing some of their possessions, and firing a shot through the window before escaping. As he’s running away, the gunman threatens a number of nearby construction workers. Officers give chase to the 19-year-old man, who soon accosts a man in a pickup. The man and his five year old son managed to avoid injury although the gunman fires five shots at them, striking the windshield, the rear window, and the truck’s fender. The police manage to catch the gunman, who points his handgun at them. They order him to drop his weapon. He refuses, telling the police, “No, you drop your fucking guns.” The gunman is white. Is he Dead or Not Dead?

NOT DEAD! The police managed to catch him and arrest him without shooting him even once.

Come on,. America! Join in on the fun! Dead or Not Dead. New contestants every day! Look for DoND in your hometown! It’s America’s hottest game!

 

dude, c’mon. alabama

— I don’t understand what’s going on in Alabama.

— That’s okay. The people of Alabama don’t often understand what’s going on in Alabama. Nobody has ever quite understood what’s going on in Alabama. When Hernando de Soto first passed through the area, the Choctaw Indians who lived there are quoted as saying “Who the hell ARE these people. What the hell are they up to? We just don’t understand.”

— I mean this whole same-sex marriage thing. What’s up with that?

— Oh, right, that. Well, back in 2006 Alabama added a Sanctity of Marriage Amendment to their State Constitution.

— What’s a Sanctity of Marriage Amendment? What does it do?

— It said marriage was “a sacred covenant, solemnized between a man and a woman.” It basically told same-sex couples they could go fuck themselves.

— Really?

— Yeah. Well, no…not literally. I mean, it’s only been about seven months…yeah, that’s right, months…that Alabama’s anti-sodomy law was finally kicked to the curb. Alabama law doesn’t much like gay folks. Back in 2002 the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court thinks gay sex is icky. He wrote a legal opinion saying homosexuality was “a crime in Alabama, a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it.”

Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court -- thinks gay sex is icky.

Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court — thinks gay sex is icky.

— Lawdy. Defies one’s ability to describe it? It’s not really that hard to describe.

— Exactly. Anyway, a couple weeks ago a Federal Judge said the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment was unconstitutional, and Alabama couldn’t use it to deny a marriage license to same-sex couples.

— Oh, well that should settle it, right?

— Dude, c’mon. Alabama. The Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court told the federal court it could go fuck itself. Again, not literally. Icky, and all that.

— Can the Chief Justice of anyplace actually do that?

— Nope.

— Is that the same Chief Justice who wrote that earlier opinion?

— It surely is. He’s a yahoo named Roy Moore. He told the folks who issue marriages licenses at the county offices to ignore the federal court ruling. Told them they should refuse to issue licences to same-sex couples.

— They ought to kick that guy out of office.

— They actually did. Back in 2003. Kicked his ass right out of office.

Jusge Roy Moore with two-and-a-half tons of Commandments

Judge Roy Moore with two-and-a-half tons of Commandments

— Because of the gay thing?

— Nope. It was another thing. Judge Moore had commissioned a two-and-a-half ton monument to the Ten Commandments, which he put in the central rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court.

— That’s pretty much a violation of the separation of church and state, isn’t it?

— Pretty much.

— So what happened?

— Somebody sued. A federal judge said the monument had to be removed. Judge Moore told the judge to go fuck himself.

— Not literally.

— No, not literally. Anyway, Moore refused to remove the monument, and eventually an Alabama judiciary commission booted his ass out of office.

— But he’s back now? He’s the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court again?

— Yep.

— Why? How?

— Dude, c’mon. Alabama.

— So what’s going to happen?

— Damned if I know. Some Alabama counties are issuing marriage license to same-sex couple, some are refusing to issue licences to same-sex couples, some have stopped issuing marriage licenses to everybody.

Alabama couple refused a license to marry

Alabama couple refused a license to marry

— That doesn’t make any sense, does it?

— Nope.

— That judge, Moore…he’s going to lose again, isn’t he? Eventually?

— Almost certainly. He might be able to drag this fuss out until later in the year when the U.S. Supreme Court issues a final ruling about same-sex marriage. But yeah, he’s almost certainly going to lose. Again.

Alabama couple granted a license to marry

Alabama couple granted a license to marry

— So he’s causing all this trouble and confusion because of some religious principle?

— That’s what he says. The Bible, and all that.

— But the Bible isn’t the law. The Ten Commandments aren’t the law.

— Nope.

— I mean, there’s all that coveting business. We’re pretty much free to covet whatever the hell we want in America, aren’t we?

— Pretty much.

— I mean, this is America. We’re all about coveting, aren’t we.

— Totally about the coveting.

— So why is all this happening?

— Dude, c’mon. Alabama.

what did they expect?

“What did they expect?” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this comment made about the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. “What the fuck did they expect?

The implication is that since the editors and cartoonists knew that images of the Prophet Mohammed offended Muslim extremists, they should have expected a violent reaction from them. Because they knew Muslim extremists were capable of massive acts of immoderate and irrational violence, they should have expected to be firebombed or stabbed or shot. Because they knew something like this might happen, they shouldn’t publish cartoons of the Prophet.

In other words, Charlie Hebdo should let extremists decide what they ought to publish.

But let me actually answer the question. What did the editors and cartoonists and support staff of Charlie Hebdo expect? They expected people who were offended by their magazine would choose not to read their magazine. It’s that simple.

If you’re offended by rap music, don’t listen to rap music. If you’re offended by South Park, don’t watch South Park. If you’re offended by Sarah Palin, don’t listen to Sarah Palin. If you’re offended by photographs of naked people, don’t go to exhibits that show photos of naked people. If you’re offended by Charlie Hebdo, don’t buy or read Charlie Hebdo.

So let’s turn that question to the Muslim extremists? What the fuck did they expect? If they knew Charlie Hebdo published outrageous cartoons of the Prophet, they should have expected to be offended. So let’s consider their options.

Option 1 — Don’t buy or read Charlie Hebdo.

Option 2 — Gear up and slaughter as many people who work at Charlie Hebdo as they possibly can.

This is not a difficult decision. I don’t think it was unreasonable for the staff of Charlie Hebdo to expect folks to choose Option 1.