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      Everyone remember the Panama papers? A leak of bank records showing that the ultra-rich are hiding massive wealth, tax-free and often breaking the law to do so? A rather weak set of laws designed to allow tax avoidance by rich people, at that. Found out the other day that the reporter who broke the Panama Papers story was killed by a car bomb. Coincidence, n […]
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Pop culture sensations

I’m going to talk about Gabby Petito. If this subject triggers you into a frenzy about missing white women and how women of color don’t get this kind of coverage, well, you aren’t telling me anything new. But in a way, you are the target audience because you just might be a dinosaur. Allow me to explain.

I’m not a true crime aficionado. I don’t watch whatever the most popular true crime shows are and don’t even know where to find them on TV. In fact, I don’t watch a lot of TV. I stopped watching it for the most part about 7-8 years ago. Content creators on YouTube and podcasts are getting so good that TV just doesn’t interest me any more unless there’s a good bingeable series. Then I stream. I watch about an hour of cable news a day. The rest of my news I read or listen to. And I’m deliberate about avoiding video news programs on TV because it’s very easy to manipulate perception about current events in a visual format.

So maybe that’s why I had no idea who Casey Anthony was until about 24 hours before her verdict. I only heard barely snippets about Natalie Holloway. Indeed, there’s a whole population of missing white women and children and murders that I am not aware of. Maybe that’s because the times I have been forced to watch Fox News always featured them prominently. You definitely get the feeling from watching Fox that there are pedophiles and homocidal maniacs behind every tree just waiting to snatch your kids or bludgeon you to death.

I’m just too cold and analytical to fall for that stuff. Yes, their cases are tragic. But the risk to ones safety is greatly GREATLY exaggerated. So, I just tune that fearmongering out. There’s enough actual fear inducing material in real life.

I’m also aware that women of color and indigenous women don’t get the same kind of coverage. Rent the movie Wind River if you want to see what that’s all about. It’s heartbreaking. But there’s something disturbing about the reaction to Gabby’s disappearance and coverage. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

All of this is to say that when it comes to this case of Gabby Petito, I have gotten exactly zero information from any news programming. I have no idea how much time CNN has spent on it or CBS or John Walsh or the latest true crime program or Nancy Grace or anything like that.

All of the information, first degree video, accounts, search area data, all of that stuff on Gabby’s disappearance, has come directly from the internet. Her disappearance went viral because 1.) she had social media presence including an Instagram account with 50,000 followers and 2.) she was vlogging about a very popular lifestyle among young women and that is van life. It’s a spin off of cottagecore. It’s all about independence, minimalism, do it yourself and the great outdoors. Gabby was a bit unusual in the genre in that she took her boyfriend with her in her van. Van life for young women is viral to begin with. Everyone is buying an old white van, converting it, and digital nomading it in Wyoming or Colorado or Yosemite. Gabby was just following the crowd.

When she disappeared, it was her followers who spread the word. It is no exaggeration to say that the FBI was greatly helped by the crowdsourcing of the internet. We are still getting reports by people who saw Gabby and Brian on their road trip. Just yesterday, two people said Brian caused a scene at a restaurant in Jackson and Gabby was crying on the sidewalk. That might have been the last time anyone but Brian saw her alive. That kind of information is crucial to estimating the time of death.

The news about Gabby may be on every channel now. I wouldn’t know. But it started on Instagram, Youtube and Twitter. You can watch the Sarasota Sheriff’s helicopter circling over swamps in real time online. You can get throughout the day updates from your favorite pop culture YouTube channels.

This is not a case of missing white woman syndrome or at least it didn’t start out that way. This started as a mystery on the internet and people became intrigued by the footage they shot while on their trip and the incident with the police in Utah and the weird behavior of her boyfriend and his parents. People are just trying to figure it out, put all the pieces together. This time, they seem to be trying to clamp down on conspiracy theories and misreading clues. There is a lot of examination of the evidence by youtubers who know how to use video editing tools, people who share online applications, discussion of body language, the psychology of domestic abuse. It’s not just a narrative dramatized for true crime. It’s actual crime and thousands of amateur detectives sharing bits of the puzzle pieces.

If you only got your information about gabby from TV, it’s probably more the case that a narrative has been shaped in order to wring out every bit of emotion, pathos and concern from you. That might be the thing that people like Joy Reid is responding to. Everyone is beatifying Gabby. She was beautiful, young, kind to animals, wholesome, sweet, had a lot of friends who miss her. Have there been candlelight vigils yet? It’s the standard tragic young life cut short story and it’s yet another white woman.

So the pushback narrative is that nobody cares about women of color or indigenous women and it’s not fair and everyone should feel ashamed of caring so much about this one white woman and that implies those of us who are invested in this case must be latent racists.

You know what, Joy? Please stop trying to tell the rest of us how we think and feel. If this happened to a black woman on a road trip in a white converted Ford van and she had a growing fan base and a weird boyfriend who is behaving bizarrely, there’s a pretty good chance we’d be all over that too. That’s not to say that cable news is not sensationalizing that missing white girl angle for its target audience. Cable news is trying to get ratings.

But there is another audience out there that just likes to solve problems and help. Gabby Petito’s disappearance is an interesting problem to solve and working on it gives us satisfaction.

Nobody I’ve been following is in it for the big bucks or the fame. They’re just trying to figure it out. If it were a woman of color with a set of unique circumstances and internet accessible evidence, they’d be all over that too. Maybe it’s up to Joy to find that person and promote the story. Bashing her audience over the head with accusations of implied racism is really missing the story.

And that story is, TV programming, whether network or cable, is now in our evolutionary past. We are writing our own narratives now.

It’s All Biden’s Fault–According to the Media

That seems to be their narrative. Everything that was wrong with the country when Biden took office, is now his fault, not just his responsibility. And anything that has gone wrong, or not perfectly, no matter from what area of the government, is Biden’s fault as well.

When it is a Republican Administration, this is not the narrative. Oh, the media may point out some problems, but they do not reflexively blame them on the Republican President. And it is invariably described as a “both sides” thing; the previous Democratic President always comes in for his share of the blaming. Not so with Democrats, at least not in the media’s pervasive narrative.

We know all this, but it is still worthwhile to at least point to the narratives which seem to fill the cable news shows, at least MSNBC, which is the only one I watch, at least since Brianna Keilar of CNN moved to early morning. And one cannot even tentatively want to imagine what it is like on Fox or the other Far Right-Wing propaganda networks, it is unquestionably far worse there.

Here are some of the things which the media blames on Biden, who has been in office for eight months, taking over in the midst of a horrifying pandemic, and with the economy suffering from unemployment, women having left the workplace, businesses struggling to stay afloat; and the effects of now rampant climate change affecting every area of the country and the world.

Afghanistan: It was botched by Biden, is the narrative. What was botched is not certain. Did the media hope that the war would continue? Certainly some of the people whom the media loves to interview, are part of what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex. They always think they know best. They supported all of our incursions. They do not like us having pulled all our troops from Afghanistan.

Others admit that, well, maybe it was good to end the war, but we did it badly. They must have read arcane books about “How to successfully leave a war in another country that your side lost, in a very orderly fashion, even though the enemy is filled with terrorists” Maybe Lao Tzu or Von Clausewitz wrote that, but I have never heard of it. So the leaving had chaotic elements, though we got our troops out in a couple of weeks, plus about 120,000 Afghans. Some respected people in the military or in international matters, thought that this was a remarkable achievement, but not the media.

The terrorist attack at the airport was horrific, though there have been others of these during America’s forays into nation-building in the Middle East, and those were treated as very unfortunate, but the cost of war. And of course Trump had already negotiated the surrender of forces for months earlier, and would undoubtedly have just pulled out, leaving the Afghans to deal with it, like the people he threw paper towels to in Puerto Rico. The media didn’t make much of that absolute show of contempt and cruelty.

The pandemic: Well, they don’t blame Biden for it, but they’ve got polls showing a majority of people are giving Biden unfavorable ratings, “because of the handling of the pandemic.” And what is it that they wanted him to do? And the ratings are of course cumulative; the Far Right is programmed and eager to hate anything that Biden does. The anti-vaxxers, who overlap, but not completely, don’t want the mask mandates.

Others seem very upset that the FDA, led by what I think is that very questionable doctor from Tufts, who seems always on the wrong side of such matters, did not approve the third shot for any but a limited number of people. “Biden promised to have the rollout of the third shot by September,” they complain. Well, that is certainly disappointing to many people, but Biden doesn’t control the FDA, nor did he appoint many of its members, maybe not any. So did he overpromise? I was surprised and disappointed in the decision, and Dr. Fauci was very surprised. Biden is doing all he can do, but he is not a dictator, the FDA makes these decisions right now. They could change before too long, as Fauci thinks they will.

The economy: Each time the “jobs numbers” are disappointing (based on Wall Street estimates, and how did they ever have the mark of great insight?), it is bad for Biden. Then, since the graphs are not linear, they may well improve the next month, but somehow that gets lost if they are disappointing the month after that. It is as if Biden is supposed to have the power to completely fix the economy, and in his first nine months in office; and if he does not, he is failing.

The nuclear submarine agreement with England and Australia: France was miffed that they did not know about it. Maybe that was a misstep, but I do trust Blinken and Austin and Sullivan. I don’t know why New Zealand was not included; I like Jacinda Ardern a great deal as a leader. I know that she and the leader of Australia differ on many things, and I like her side of them better. But I am pretty confident that any of this can be ironed out.

The Climate Problem: The Republicans have done absolutely nothing about it, ever. And their big donors from the largest corporations have known about it for decades, and done nothing, once again sacrificing the lives of humans, animals and plants, to add some more billions to their coffers. But this is not “just’ about cars rolling over, or millions dying from cigarette-caused lung disease, this is about every person on the planet; and still they do not care. So Republicans listen to them, and their own rapaciousness, and do nothing to try to fix any of it–and it is said to be another failure for Biden.

The debt ceiling: Yes, even though it is Republicans who are maliciously trying to destroy the economy by not raising the debt ceiling, something which had been done for over a century, this is another area where the media purveys that Biden is falling short. They incredibly frame it as, “Republicans will not vote to raise the debt ceiling, leaving Biden and the Democrats in a very bad situation.” The fact that it is the Republicans deliberately refusing to live up to any responsibility to steward the country, is just seen as, “Well, there it is, now try to deal with it, Biden,”rather than something to explain to the viewers as to just how insidiously irresponsible the Republicans actions are.

The infrastructure bill: “Biden promised during the campaign to work together with the other party to pass this bill,” turns into an attack on him for not passing it yet. As if everything he honestly vowed to do or try to do, is something that if he cannot, or it takes some time, is a terrible stain on him; as if the brutal lies of Trump are now no worse than Biden running into problems trying to bring this bill across the wire, with Republicans almost all trying to stop him from doing it.

I’ve heard the term “Biden promised” many times, and I really watch very little of the shows. Last night, I sort of inadvertently turned to MSNBC the Brian Williams show, and he had a female guest, somebody who writes for some publication, whom I’ve seen before, always seeming to spin things negatively for the Democrats. Her first comment was, “Biden’s agenda is hanging by a thread.” I turned it off. So the media now is so anxious to write the end of the Biden presidency in nine months? If it hangs by a thread, and Republicans block all of it, he has ignominiously failed, and it’s time for everyone to stock up supplies for the second Trump term, or breathlessly wait to see which of his clones will take over?

I was never a great Biden fan, not many were. But he is certainly a decent and caring man, and he is on the right side of most issues. He has appointed some highly qualified people, at least from what I have read, or simply knowing of them. I would tend to trust them on most matters, a lot more than the hacks which populate the other side, and more than the self-styled “pundits” who fill up the political sites, and seem always to be owned by the Far Right, but pass themselves off as neutral.

He has worked very hard to deal with many issues, often ones caused by the neglect and disdain of Republicans. Every time there is a flood or fire, he must address it, as he should, even though Republicans only want their states to get money to help, but have no intention of fixing any of the underlying and worsening conditions. How is this Biden’s fault? And of course it limits the time which he can spend on all of these other exigent problems which the Republicans have played the major part in causing or accelerating.

Why does the media unceasingly do this? We have discussed it, and it will continue to be warranted. I certainly agree with IBW here and others, that the media is almost completely owned by the Far Right, which wants Republicans to win. But I think there is more to it. There is a laziness, a desire to be able to glibly spin the preferred narrative, rather than taking more time to tell a deeper story, which looks at the history and the antecedents of these issues as they currently exist.

There never stops being this obsessive need on the part of the media which is not clearly propagandistic, to do this “both sides” nonsense. They criticized Trump, so they lost no time in criticizing Biden They dropped his ratings ten points with their nonstop outrage over Afghanistan. Also, many of these people really are not very knowledgeable about government, and the effects of policies. They are far more comfortable with the “horse race narrative”: how does it hurt Biden’s ratings (” a lot!); will Democrats lose the House “(it looks likely!”); will Biden get a second term? (“it is in serious trouble; and even if he were to win, the Republicans would control the Congress, so he couldn’t get anything done, so his agenda has failed!”).

If you ever watch any of those daily sports shows on ESPN (and I avoid them, but sometimes hear a few minutes when waiting to take out some food), you would see a great similarity in approach. Some loud people, mostly men, making the most hyperbolic comments possible, and being anxious for “action!,” coaches being fired, trades, dissension in the clubhouse or locker room. They get to host or guest on these shows, and they think they have to be as controversial as possible, to keep the viewers from turning on something else.

The news media is becoming more like this. Maybe not as loud, or as much haw-hawing as they do on the sports shows, but with this apparent need for an easy narrative, which they are always invested in being proved right about; and the desire to gin up the excitement, as they and their bosses figure that people are not going to watch complex discussions of policy matters.

It seems as if the media, which has as short an attention span as the viewing public, has become bored with Biden, and wants someone new, or some different configuration. That may be fun for them, but it is immensely irresponsible. This is not the Olympics, or Dancing With the Stars , it is about the fate of America and the world. They need to somehow grasp this, and treat it with the nuance and depth it deserves. Otherwise, they are no different from all the various people who are sacrificing our democracy, and people’s lives, at the altar of their own desire for the coins of their realm, whether those are money, or fame, or just being “cool” and “important,” and recognized on the street, but only when you want to be, of course,

Doxxing by PA Republicans?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Fresh off a crushing defeat of the California recall that cost $300 million to advertise, organize and lose, Republicans have decided to waste time and taxpayer dollars in another state in order to distract, cause havoc and prep for whatever they’ve got planned for elections in 2022.

I’m referring to the subpoena by Pennsylvania Republicans for personal identifying information (PII) of EVERY voter in the state who cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election.

These “lawmakers”, who apparently have nothing better to do with their time than sow fear, uncertainty and dread about “election integrity” and have caused the disqualification of all voting machines in one PA county already, are asking for the name, address, social security number, driver’s license number and voting record of every voter in the state. What they intend to do with this information is anybody’s guess.

The Democrats in the PA legislature are suing their Republican colleagues. Yes, this is how we spend our time now. We rehash the 2020 election looking for something that isn’t there. Well, it worked so well with Hillary’s emails. Just keep looking and looking even the target hands over absolutely everything and you never find anything. Keep insisting that they’re holding back important information even when there’s nothing more to give. Create an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust.

(Note that this is not the case with The Big Orange who hasn’t turned over anything without a Supreme Court ruling and has obstructed justice every step of the way and has actually had members of his staff and campaign go to jail for him. You know, the witch hunt actually found witches. You can’t say that about Hillary’s emails.)

But I digress.

So, the PA Republicans will have enough personal information in their hot little hands to cause all kinds of mischief against people whose votes they do not like. I don’t know why they have to do this. We have already told them how we voted. I’m not hiding anything. I voted for Biden/Harris and I did it because I did not want Trump/Pence to win. It’s that simple. Then the PA Secretary of State got all the paper ballots and counted them and the pile of votes for Biden/Harris was higher than the pile of votes for Trump/Pence.

The ballots were recounted and audited and certified. Ta-da!

There is no legitimate reason for PA Republicans to collect my PII or anyone else’s PII in the state for any innocent reason that I can think of and there’s a very good chance that a database with this information could be hacked and distributed to persons with bad intentions who will engage in identity theft. Like maybe someone who is not you will order a mail in ballot on your behalf and cast your ballot for you. You won’t know it until your ballot doesn’t show up in the mail and you check the voter ballot services website to find that your ballot has been cast already. Or maybe someone will send their men around to assess your worldly goods because it would be a shame if something “happened” to them. Or I don’t know, fill in the blanks. I’m seriously not talented in the proactive skullduggery and voter intimidation tactics. My mind doesn’t work that way because if it did, I’d have my retaining wall fixed and be planning my luxury vacations by now.

But you can be sure that they have a plan for all that personal data if for no other reason than it costs taxpayer money and causes havoc, anger and draws attention to itself.

The question is, will the Republicans be required to give a copy of all that data the state will be forced to gather to the Democrats?

Oooooo, *scary*.

Priorities

It has become customary for the major media to write or voice pieces which start by telling us that “President Biden has many issues to deal with in a short time.” Many times they will employ the beyond trite metaphor, “He has a lot on his plate.” The essence of these stories is to show Biden desperately struggling to plug up all the holes in the dike. We know that when Republicans hold the presidency, they never run such stories.

Republicans have very few policy proposals. Cut taxes on the wealthy, is the major one. Remove all impediments to businesses making profits, is another. That’s about it, outside of the cultural matters, and they do those through Executive Action, or more likely, by having states write laws to take away rights which polls show most people do not want them to do, but they do it anyway, because they are a party which represents a decided minority, rich White males who do not care what anyone else wants, and angry know-nothings of both genders. And the removing of any barriers to business doing whatever it wants, is usually a matter of letting provisions lapse, or using Executive Action to strike them out. So their only real legislative priority is tax breaks for the wealthy, and then can pass that one time during a Republican Administration, and then just leave them there for the duration.

So, very little for them to have to deal with. They don’t want to deal with any domestic issues. They don’t want to do anything about climate. Nothing about guns. No spending on anything but the military. No social assistance or protection of voting rights. They want the federal government to stay away from everything but military spending. They thus have no items on their “plate.” We saw this very clearly during the last sixty years of Republican Administrations.

It is Democrats which try to do something about serious domestic and global programs. And this is very difficult, because they get no help from Republicans, whose basic goal is to try to block them, as in some perpetual and enervating game of tic-tac-toe. Democrats write a bill, Republicans say it is too much money, and filibuster it. If Republicans control the Senate, they don’t even bring the bill to the floor. If they control the House, the bills never get out of there.

It is really a pretty easy thing under our very flawed legislative system, to just block all the bills, if that is the ultimate goal .For anything significant to get through, the Democrats have to control the Presidency, the House, and the Senate. Control even two, and it does no good. The only exception is with regard to spending bills, which can pass through Reconciliation, but only if the Democrats can get them through both Houses. At this stage, with a three vote majority in the House, and an ostensible 50-50 Senate, they can’t afford to lose one vote. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema seem determined to block all the bills on their own, or just rely on the filibuster, which they are determined to protect, to block them.

Republicans do not even pretend any longer. They are actually preparing to try to keep the government from raising the debt ceiling. This was not even considered by anybody in the past, but then the Tea Party vowed to stop Obama from raising it, which would destroy the full faith and credit of the United States, with various attendant calamities. So Obama, not knowing what to do, felt compelled to give the Republicans all sorts of things just to get them to raise the debt ceiling. Then when they got into office, of course they raised it. They then piled up two trillion dollars in additional debt, by passing a tax cut for the top half of one percent. They said, “it would pay for itself,” which was, and has always been, ridiculous. They had of course piled up immense debt under Reagan and GHW Bush, and then Clinton came in, did a small tax raise, which they said would wreck the economy, and all voted against, but of course it helped, and the deficit was gone.

Then GW Bush passed another large tax cut for the rich, which blew up the deficit again. Then Obama got the deficit halved. Then Trump and the Republicans engineered the two trillion dollar tax cut. Now McConnell, who used to mock anyone who would ever suggest that they would not raise the debt ceiling, is preparing to try to do just that.

Why? Because the Republicans want to destroy the entire Biden Administration, even if they have to wreck the economy, cause a major recession, destroy the credit of the country. They just want to ruin Biden and his agenda, render him politically impotent, win majorities in both chambers, and then put Trump or DeSantis or Pence, or Tucker Carlson in charge, and wreak havoc.

America, and its two-party system, cannot work, when one of the parties is only intent on destroying the other one. There is no longer any sense of working together, common goals with differing ideas of how to get there. The Republicans are waging war. You would think that after the debt ceiling business under Obama, the voters would never put them back in power, but I guess that they are easily misdirected, over and over again. You would think that the heads of major corporations would never want the Republicans in charge, but perhaps they don’t understand macroeconomics, or maybe they are planing to go to Mars with Musk, Bezos, and Branson. “Clean Cups!,” as the Mad Hatter and March Hare exulted at the Tea Party. Do nothing to help Planet Earth, let the people destroy it, so you gain unparalleled wealth, and then leave it forever. The ultimate in social darwinism.

Meanwhile, Biden and the Democrats, who do care about the Earth, have to try to somehow do something to ameliorate at least some of its problems. The “Build Back Better” infrastructure bill seems stalled (what else?) with “moderates” wanting to pass the Senate bill, and House liberals saying that they won’t pass it if the reconciliation package is not passed. And then we have Manchin saying that the $3.5 trillion over years is just too much, and of course he wants to protect West Virginia’s dying coal industry, even though it accelerates climate change.

There is the Voting Rights Act, but there is the filibuster. McConnell guarantees that it will not get any Republican votes. A large majority of voters are for these two bills, but the system gives the Republicans the power to ignore the popular will. Most people want Roe v. Wade’s delineations to be kept, but the radical minority works on perfecting ways to make the popular majority completely impotent insofar as making laws.

So where do we focus? We’ll never get all of it. If we passed the Voting Rights Bill, we might be able to win enough elections to get some of the rest of it passed, but Republicans know that, and not one has the decency or regard for democracy to vote for it. That obviously means overriding the filibuster. I hope the people of Maine, who could have done something about this, are happy that they re-elected Susan Collins, instead of a perfectly acceptable Democrat who would vote for the policies of the person they voted for as President, rather than block them all.

How foolish are these voters? It is not a complex assessment. If you want policies favored by Democrats, then you have to vote for Senators and Congresspeople who are Democrats. But no, they let themselves be convinced that “their” Senator is different, and somehow cares about them, even if he or she votes against their priorities. “What fools these mortals be,” or “There’s a sucker born every minute” would cover that kind of disastrous irrationality.

Can Biden and Schumer “arm twist,” so to speak? Doubtful, because West Virginia is just waiting to elect a Trumpist as Senator to replace Manchin, who would probably retire anyway. And Sinema, I really don’t know what she is about, other than her own ego. Now, it seems as if both of them might actually vote for the new pared-down voting righta bill, but they have to vote to override the filibuster. How deliberately or pathetically obtuse they must be, to think that keeping the filibuster is somehow going to help Democrats in the future, when Republicans would have taken over all the federal and state mechanisms of power, by trampling on the right to vote. Plus, the Republicans would blow up the filibuster if they needed.

The only plays are to pass the infrastructure bill and the voting rights bill. Supposedly, there are enough votes in the Senate for the first one. Then Pelosi has to get the more liberal wing in the House to understand that 80% of a loaf is far better than none, plus letting McCarthy take over the Speakership if this bill fails. As to Voting Rights, if they can get Manchin and Sinema to support the bill, then they have to convince them that letting the bill fall to filibuster will turn the Democrats into a permanent minority party, do they want that? If they don’t understand, or don’t care, then use whatever hardball tactics they have, even if it goes against Biden’s nature. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” is another old saying. So is, “Always keep your eye on the ball.”

As to the debt ceiling, there are ways around it, including using the 14th Amendment, something Bill Clinton urged Obama to do in 2011. Drastic situations call for drastic measures., as they say. Also in poker, “If you can call, you can raise” Hold the Republicans responsible for everything they do, or do not do, and never relent or let them slide away from it. “Republicans are ready to destroy the American economy, out of spite,” is a good initial raise.

“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

I am going to try to write about this brilliant poem, I hope it will be entertaining enough. I majored in English, and concentrated on 19th and 20th Century American and British literature, mostly reading novels, some British poetry, not that much American poetry, as there were not many classes on it. Perhaps there are not considered to have been nearly as many great poets from America, as from England, but of course they have a much longer history.

“The Raven” may actually be our country’s most famous poem, though that is of course open to debate. It is not considered to be a deep poem about the human character. It is not a social commentary. It is not opaque or abstruse, though it is complex. But it is wonderfully dramatic and unique and haunting. So, at least when they used to teach the arts in school, and what was called the literary canon, virtually every student read, and probably heard read, “The Raven.”

It is unforgettable for its language and meter, at the very least. Of course, it sounds as if it is from another time, as it is meant to do. Its language is ornate and baroque. Some think that Poe was mostly about love of language, assonance in rhymes, where the repetition comes from the vowel sounds inside the words. “Once upon a midnight dreary/ While I pondered, weak and weary.” Everyone knows that line. There have been literate cartoons where the narrator reads parts of “The Raven,,” and then the seriousness of the poem is cheerfully mocked by the antics of the characters playing it out, but the audience still gets to hear the vivid descriptions.

But Poe’s poems and stories are about much more than their language. “The Raven” is one of the greatest poems to read aloud. It is dramatic, intense, and evocative. I will presume to say that I read poetry aloud very well, and have gotten compliments. It is fun to do. I took an Extension class at UCLA just for fun, from one of my former literature professors there, and we did read poetry. Mostly the professor would read it, but one day he asked someone to read Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” and I did, and got applause. I had an English teacher in high school, whom I didn’t get along with that well, but who asked me to read a few lines of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” one of the longest great poems ever written, and she liked it so much that she had me read the entire poem, taking up the entire class time, hooray. I have read “The Raven” aloud, but only to one person at a time. and it is wonderful to vocalize. The last day of the Extension class, everyone was invited to come if they wanted, to read a poem aloud. I had a busy week, and so I did not come, which I regret, because I could have read “The Raven.” The wonderful reading aloud quality which the poem has, is enough by itself to make it great, but there is much more.

I saw John Astin do a one-man show on Poe, and he read “The Raven.” He was pretty good, not great, not close to the level of Hal Holbrook’s “Mark Twain Tonight,” or a show my family all saw with Emlyn Williams doing Charles Dickens. I also saw an actor playing Ambrose Bierce, and that was also good. Astin’s show was enjoyable, I thought, but I can read “The Raven” better than he did, though you would have to take my word for it. 🙂 Okay, on to the actual poem. As most of you would know, it is a poem told by a narrator, who recounts an event in an unspecific past. “”Once upon a midnight dreary.” “Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December.” The narrator has been “poring over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.”

That line is not just for effect, we learn what he is looking to try to find. “Vainly I had sought to borrow/ From my books surcease of sorrow–Sorrow for the lost Lenore/ For that rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore/ Nameless here forevermore.”

He has lost a woman whom he, or the angels, call Lenore, but that is not her real name, nor will he say it. The theme of the tragedy of a lost love suffuses some of Poe’s major works, from “Annabel Lee,” to “Ulalume,” to the short story “Ligeia.” All are strange and desolate and haunting.

Poe lost his first wife Virginia Clemm, to tuberculosis, she died at the age of 24. She was married to Poe when she was 13 and he was 27. The actual nature of the marriage is not certain, some said that they viewed each other as brother and sister. In general, I do not much like the autobiographical interpretation of works of literature; I think they are too often used as shorthand for a deeper analysis of a work, or even an entire career.

Yes, Fitzgerald was an alcoholic, and yes he and Zelda had a difficult relationship, and yes, some of that shows up in the short stories and novels. But he, and any truly great writer, transcends that, to create works which of course have some of the writer’s background and perceptions from their experience in them, but are not nearly as clear, or even existent, as some might like to think. I like to read literature on its own terms, much like one can view visual art without needing to know what the painter was like as a person.. So knowing biographical background can help enhance, but can also mislead and greatly diminish, if one relies on it for quick “oh, that is because he or she had this experience” explanations.

All that said, of course the death of Virginia Clemm has to be part of the writing by Poe which expresses the loss of a great love, although do note that other great Romantic poets wrote about this as well. Focusing again on the poem, the narrator desperately searches for something that will help relieve his sorrow, “Respite–respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore.” We also learn, in his increasingly more desperate entreaties and demands to the raven, that he is hoping to learn if he will ever see her again. “Is there-is there balm in Gilead?” “Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if within the distant Aidenn/ It shall clasp a radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore/ Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” Can he, will he, ever see her and be with her again?

The entity to whom the narrator addresses all this to, is a raven, who has first tapped his beak against the narrator’s chamber door, and then when let in, immediately flies in to perch upon a bust of the Pallas Athena, the sculpture of the Greek goddess of wisdom, sitting on a shelf in his apartment. Before he opens the window, he dares to think that somehow the entity gently tapping might somehow be the lost Lenore, perhaps brought back by his invoking her through his readings and his thoughts. But apparently it is not, though the mystery is always there as to what the raven is, or represents, if indeed he is more than a raven.

The narrator first finds the raven to be both quaint and drolly amusing, something to take him away from his brooding obsession and despair. He asks it what it its name is. The raven replies, “Nevermore.” The narrator tells himself lightly that no one has ever been named “Nevermore.” Then he thinks aloud that the raven will leave, as “other friends have flown before.” The raven says “Nevermore.”

He tries to rationalize, he thinks that it must be that the raven’s previous abode had a person whose life was so filled with loss and hopelessness, that he must have uttered the word many times, and the raven just learned it from him. What other explanation could there be which would not cause the rise in him of unknowingness, desperate hoping, and terror?

He senses a perfume in the air; he thinks that it must be sent by angels to give him some respite and provide nepenthe, the drug which was supposed to relieve sorrow in Greek mythology. He cries to the raven, and himself, “Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore.”/ Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.'”

Whatever the narrator asks the Raven, or muses aloud, the raven only utters one word, which to the narrator each time seems more portentous and agonizing. “Prophet!” said I, “Thing of evil!–Prophet still, if bird or devil!/ By that Heaven that bends above us–by that God we both adore/ Tell this soul with sorrow laden if within the distant Aidenn/ It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore/ Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting! Bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting/ “Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore/ Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken/ Leave my loneliness unbroken! Quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart and take thy form from off my door!”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“And the raven, never flitting still is sitting, still is sitting/ On that pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door/ And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming/ And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor/ And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor/ Shall be lifted–Nevermore!”

“The Raven” was published in 1845. In 1853, the great American novelist Herman Melville wrote a story entitled “Bartleby the Scrivener.” It told of a quiet and rather shabby clerk who is hired by a decent man on Wall Street. Things are fine for a while, until Bartleby tells him in response to an ordinary request, “I would prefer not to.” And thereafter, he politely responds to every request he makes, with that same phrase. One of my prouder moments as an undergraduate student was asking the professor in a class where we were discussing the Melville short story, about the similarity between it and “The Raven”: the narrator asks questions to the other entity, who always replies in the exact same way, and each time the narrator gives the words more profound import. I scarcely thought that I could be the first person to have thought of it, and I am sure that it can be found in the criticism regarding that great period in American literary history.

“The Raven” can be lightly criticized for its baroque style or deliberately enhanced vocal quality. But that is trivial, compared to the fact that it is a brilliantly written poem with amazing rhyming, and a story and images which always stay with one. One could ask, is there really a raven? Is he a figment of the narrator’s tormented imagination? Does he stand for an image of the universe which throws our own most profound questions back at us to answer? Are we left with our own emotions, our desires and fears, which nothing can answer? I don’t think that Poe was philosophizing in his poem. But the power of the words and images, and the solipsism evoked, makes it remarkably more than a spooky horror tale, as indeed many of Poe’s best poems and stories are.






Donald Trump and His Followers, Finally Unmasked?

So we find out that President Trump was literally a madman, the most dangerous one on the planet. We always sensed it; one does not have to be an expert psychologist to have done so. Incoherent ramblings, the absolute incapacity to tell the truth; the fury, the bellicose rhetoric, calling people names. Some of these characteristics are worse than others, but all are bad, particularly in the person who is in control of the country. And we all knew it years ago, at least as far back as 2015; and for others close to him, far back into his past.

The crucial point is, how did this person get anywhere close to the presidency? In past eras, the party system weeded them out. We had bad candidates, and some bad people, but not a raving lunatic. So how did this happen?

Well, there could be a ten-volume series about this. But to try to crystallize it, it is because of the almost total devolution of the Republican Party, a process which was always in progress, but really accelerated about the time of Gingrich, DeLay and Armey in the 1990’s and 2000’s, and then the Tea Party in 2010 and beyond. The Republicans turned into a party of anger, bellicosity, trying to win at all costs,; bringing down the hammer on Democrats, never ceding an inch to them. Cheating in elections, trying to stop people from voting, demanding that the right to abortion be taken away. Networks which preached, and tried to convert others to, a doctrine of racism, contempt for the disadvantaged, stealing money from anyone they could; lying at all turns, threatening in all contexts; buying a new gun any time they felt upset or impotent, and not caring how many people got shot by their gun-hoarding disciples.

Do you notice how many Republicans in office, not to mention those on the radio or TV shows, local or national, are full of absolute anger, and appear ready to strike or even kill anyone who disagrees with them? Remember Greg Gianforte, running for Congress in Montana, body-slamming a reporter? Paul Lepage of Maine screaming obscenities at the press? Corey Lewandowski accused of battery for grabbing a female reporter and bruising her? I am sure that there are other examples. Republicans, mostly men, of course, out of control, physically assaulting people they disagree with, or who bother them.

How are so many of these people not only Republicans, but actual officeholders representing that party? One assumes it is because their voters do not care a bit, and that they revel in these people doing what they would like to do to people they do not like, or who infuriate them by passing laws, they are taught not to want, or requiring adherence to health and safety rules.

How many people trying to enforce rules about masks have been shot and even killed by Republicans who not only cannot accept anyone having different views than they have. but actually want to murder them? Although they would not call it murder, they would call it standing up for their rights, or the pursuit of liberty. These seem to be people with an urge to kill. All those “stand your ground laws” which proliferated in various states, were essentially a license to do what these people wanted, which is to kill anyone who annoys them in some fashion.

This all didn’t just come out of nowhere. Donald Trump didn’t create these people, they were already there. They loved him, and still do, because he talks the way they like to talk, and gives them license to kill people at political events and marches, try to assassinate the governor of Michigan, storm the Capitol Building with weapons intended to kill political leaders of the other party. Trump praises them, says he loves them. This is what they have been looking for all their lives, someone who understands and encourages them to hate and attack, and even kill. That is why they veritably worship him, as the brownshirts worshipped Hitler.

Now Trump is not really one of them. He has contempt for them, as he has contempt for almost anyone who is not extremely wealthy, or who can pour money into his coffers. But he will use them as his weapons, and also to fill the absolute void at his center. Brutal strong men have always had followers who would kill for them What the followers get out of it, is a sense of purpose, of thinking they are being praised and even loved by the leader, who has chosen them above all the other people that they hate and feel inferior to. It is a perverse symbiotic relationship which recurs in various eras and cultures. It is really nothing new, but the human race should have progressed past it, but obviously cannot. Tyrants offer their followers escape from freedom, from having to make choices, or achieve something in their life. Freedom from what the 19th century sociologist Emile Durkheim called “anomie,” a sense of not belonging, an alienation and rootlessness.

Trump has not one admirable or even creditable characteristic. He has no friends, he never did. He welshes on all debts. He tries to ruin the lives of other people for fun. He is utterly sociopathic. He is also very stupid, but with the cunning to be able to cheat and con people who are as stupid as he is. So they all fit well together.

And then the people who should have been able to have stopped him, did not. These are the Republicans, many holding high office. Some of them ran against him, but quickly fell over themselves to support him, This is because, since all Republicans have devolved to only care about gaining more money and power, Trump was welcomed as someone who could give it to them. And they feared his mob of followers, who would vote against anyone who would not fall in line. And almost none of them possessed the courage or decency to stand up and tell the people how absolutely dangerous Trump was and is.

And we saw the kind of slavish obedience which we imagined existed in the days of ancient empires. Anything Trump did, they defended, said it was nothing, or that he would learn from his mistakes. They have evinced levels of cravenness and obsequiousness that one could scarcely imagine. I don’t even know what goes through their heads, how they rationalize it.

Marco Rubio, who is about as pathetic a political person as one could imagine, the kind of person you might see in a social drama movie, obediently trotting along behind the bad boy whom he so desperately wants to be like, actually wanted to blame General Milley for perhaps trying to stop Trump from starting a world war which would wipe out most of the human race. Were Hitler’s enablers in Germany any different than Rubio? Does he not care about killing billions of people? If Rubio were in Nazi Germany, he would eagerly turn on the gas in the camps, and then say that he was just following orders. And yet people in Florida keep voting for him, because they have been taught to hate liberals more than Nazis. Some think Rubio is sort of pathetically amusing. I think he is horrifying. And he is not the only one.

And all those people in Trump’s Cabinet, why did they not stand up to him, when he was trying to extort world leaders, trying to overturn the results of he election, goading his mob to kill Democratic officials; and, if we are to believe the book by Woodward and Costa, attempting to attack China, possibly with nuclear weapons, so that he could stay in power as a dictator, undoubtedly living in some bunker below. Or maybe he just wanted to have his own cataclysm, his final Eff You to the world, blowing up everything around him. Insane men sometimes kill the rest of their family before committing suicide, or go to a public event with assault weapons, and try to kill as many people as they can before their suicide by cop. Was that what Trump was about to do? And now the insane patriarch who runs Fox News tells his underlings to call Milley a traitor for not letting Trump blow up the world? What kind of science fiction horror movie have we entered into?

And where has the media been in all of this? Covering the endless “horse race?” Reveling in the access which Trump would dole out to the ones who would parrot what he told them, and what they proudly would call “a source close to the President”? Feeling so important that Trump chose them to talk to? Doing their frat boy and sorority girl thing of mocking Hilary, writing inanities like “Hillary the Hawk, Trump the Dove,” or “Trump is wicked, but he’s wicked smart,” and then gleefully following Hillary around to laugh at her some more?

All a fun game, where they get to feel important, too? Their bosses telling them not to call Trump a liar, to try to always make it a “both sides” narrative? Where was their courage? Why did almost none of them speak or write forcefully when it mattered? Is everyone’s career and gratuities, and the illusion of being a big man or woman, so overwhelmingly important, that they would sell their soul and the lives of their fellow Americans for it? Is Trump’s utter contempt for everyone, his mafia-styled belief that everyone is corrupt and stupid and has a price, actually well founded?

The way out of this, if there is one, is to realize how dreadful the Republican leaders are, and that Democrats cannot trust them on anything, much less protecting the health and welfare of American citizens, or even those anywhere in the world. Trump may never run again, or maybe he will, and maybe the Republicans will eagerly support him again. But even if he doesn’t, how much better are Abbott and DeSantis and Kevin McCarthy and Pence and Cruz and Hawley and the others? Not very much. They may not be clinically insane like Trump, but most of them are sociopaths, cruel and angry people who want total power to force everyone else to submit to them.

This is what the Republicans now “offer” to the citizens of this country. Trump was a horrible manifestation of it, but we cannot be foolish enough to think that he and the Republican Party are not both exemplifications of each other Will enough people finally wake up to the reality of what Trump always was, and is? And that what Hillary and Nancy Pelosi and Tim O’Brien, and David.Cay Johnston and Mary Trump always said about him, was the real truth, and maybe worse than even they had imagined? If not now, at last, then never. In most of the great novels, the progress is ultimately toward the light, towards insight and realization and epiphany. It is long past time for it, with regard to the truth about Trump and his enablers.

Do Political Polls Have Value? Or Do They Not? Choose One

It was very good news that Governor Newsom of California defeated the Recall attempt, and also great news that he did it in overwhelming fashion. I was very worried about this vote, at least five weeks ago, when the first poll in a while, conducted by Survey USA, showed a turnaround from earlier polls by other pollsters, which had Newsom about ten points ahead. SUSA’s poll had the Recall winning by about six percent, something like 51-45%

Much was made of this poll by other media. I certainly reacted to it. I had seen Grey Davis lose his lead against the Recall, and lose rather substantially to Arnold Schwarzenegger. I knew that it could happen again. I knew that Republicans would likely have a greater voting enthusiasm than Democrats. This worried me a great deal. Not only would it be a tragedy for the state and nation, I would have to move out of California. I was not going to live in the West Coast version of Florida, and see Larry Elder appoint a Far Right zealot to replace Dianne Feinstein if she had to retire before the next election. And trends are so important in elections, particularly in an expected low turnout election. And if the SUSA poll was accurate, things looked very bad for Newsom, and I wrote that it looked as if he would lose.

Well, he did not lose, he won in a tremendous landslide. He had a lot of campaign funds to spend, and he used them well. He started to lead in polls done a couple of weeks before the election. The last poll I saw about a week before the election had him up about 14%. My worries were allayed, and I was confident, though wary. And as we saw, Newsom is winning by something like 25%, a resounding defeat for Trump, Trumpism, Trumpists, and Republicans in general, who are virtually synonymous with the other three.

But why was the SUSA poll absolutely wrong? Well, it was done a month or so before the election. And there was another one about the same time, showing Newsom ahead by only a few points. So maybe things changed drastically. But there was another poll on Tuesday, an exit poll which showed that only about 8-10% had made up their mind in the last week, the rest already had. Well, if all of those who just decided, voted against the Recall, that would help account for the margin. But even so, it looks like the SUSA poll was not close to accurate. Mark Murphy, not my favorite, but at least not a Trumpist, was a former campaign manager and strategist for Republican Presidents. He said on the night of the election count, that this race was over three month ago. Well, how was Yes on Recall winning in a poll one month ago, unless the poll was very flawed, or Murphy was very wrong?

Now, there were so many polls during the last couple of presidential elections, that they all seem to blur. But I thought that SUSA was a decent polling organization. How could they have Newsom behind by six percent, when a month later he wins by twenty five percent?

There is a mathematical theory behind the validity of polling. I actually learned more about it in my Statistics courses at UCLA Graduate School of Management. I have forgotten some of the details, but the working out of the validity of polls is an elegant mathematical proof. It has to do with what is called the Normal Distribution, and how it predicts with relative accuracy, depending upon the number polled, and the integrity of the sample, the results of the much larger voting numbers. Underlying the entire theory of the accuracy of political polling, is the mathematics which shows that an accurate representative small sample can predict the actual voting outcomes.

Theoretically, the larger the sample, the less is the so-called margin of error, the chance that the poll will not reflect the actual results, were the election held on the days of the polling. As we always hear, a poll is just a snapshot at that particular moment, things can change. And sometimes they do, but that does not give the pollsters an easy out, if their polls ultimately prove inaccurate on election day.

It does seem as if national political polls have become less accurate. I recall that the Gallup Polls used to be very accurate when done a couple of days before a Presidential election. Sometimes they missed a late surge, such as Reagan in 1980, or to a lesser extent, Obama in 2008, but other times they were very accurate, as I believe was the case in 1968, and 1976, 1988, 1992, and a few others.

Now, in 2016, the general belief is that the polls vastly underrated Trump’s vote. But actually, to my great concern, those polls got very tight two days or so before the election, mostly due to James Comey’s unconscionable letter to the Republicans in the House about finding new emails, which was completely untrue, and should relegate him to infamy forever, for effectively putting someone in the Presidency who was a a literal nightmare for the world.

Back to the polls, they showed Hillary up by about 3-4%, and she won by about 2.8% of the popular vote, not enough to win the Electoral College, skewed toward Republicans,, because even the smallest states are given three electoral votes, and California, which should have something like 77 times the electoral votes of Wyoming, has only about 18 times the EVs. That is the true disgrace to our democracy, an inherently biased Electoral College which is biased toward the small, and almost inevitably Republican, states.

In 2020, the presidential polls were further off. Biden was leading by about 8-10% in almost every national poll right up to the election. There might have been one where he was winning by 6-7%.. But he only won by about 4.9%, and once again the bias of the Electoral College almost lost him the Presidency, in a race he won by seven million popular votes. That is terrifying in itself, but it also highlights something wrong with national polling.

The general “explanation” is that the pollsters are systematically underrating the Republican vote. I am not close enough to the data to know why this should be, and why the pollsters have not adjusted. Obviously, a poll is only accurate if it mirrors the actual demographic makeup. If it oversamples Democrats, or does not reflect heretofore non-voters who have become galvanized into voting, the polls are not reliable. At this point, I cannot be confident that they are accurate. I do not need polls, none of us not in the actual campaigns, do. We might be better without hearing them., particularly if they lead to assumptions and expectations which may be misleading or just inaccurate.

Of course, now the pollsters are going to have to weigh the vote suppression tactics of Republicans. We could see polls showing a Democrat in a Senate race be five points ahead, and lose by five points, because many Democrats had their votes not allowed or counted. What a horror that would be. Actually, the Senate polling was poor in 2020, as several races which looked good for Democrats, went four or more percent in the other direction, including North Carolina, and Maine. Why were Democratic voters overpolled? Is it possible that in some cases, there was cheating, or throwing out of votes on the Republican side.? Always accuse your enemies of doing what you are doing,” was said by the figure of pure evil, Joseph Goebbels.

I think we are all sick of internet polls, and also the ones we see which are just there for headlines or propaganda. “Sixty percent of people say they would choose job success over free time.” Those kind of things are so amorphous and subjective (How much success? How little free time?) as to mean nothing. They are a sort of pornography, if one wants to use that term. They draw clicks and viewers. But they lead to assumptions and conclusions which are not valid or warranted, at least by those vague or leading questions.

When I would tell my father about a particular poll in an important election, he would usually say that polls were not accurate. I would try to explain my perception that yes, the polls on subjective matters were flawed and sometimes deliberately intended to obtain a desired result, but that the science behind polling made simple “Which candidate are you voting for?” polls, done by respected pollsters, mostly reliable.. But maybe not even those are accurate now, and he was more right than I had thought.

Polling is not going away,though, and we will hear about new polls every day. Favorability ratings, preferences, most important issues, etc., etc. Who knows how accurate they are? Who can tell if extrapolations and conclusions made from them are warranted? Maybe we should have a moratorium on polling? How many are in favor of that, what are the numbers?

OMFG, we needed a Jaime Lannister after all.

Before I begin, I have some new things on my plate at work. All good but it means I need to spend some time in rapid learning mode. So posts from me might be spotty for a couple of weeks.

Now onto the fireworks.

General Mark Milley had to reassure his counterpart in China that he wasn’t going to let Trump nuke them.

Take that in. Breathe its unsubtle aroma.

This news is coming from Bob Woodward (natch) in his new book Peril.

Here’s the scoop:

One call took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that unseated President Trump, and the other on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the Capitol siege carried out by his supporters in a quest to cancel the vote.

The first call was prompted by Milley’s review of intelligence suggesting the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack. That belief, the authors write, was based on tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea, and deepened by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric toward China.

“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

In the book’s account, Milley went so far as to pledge he would alert his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, stressing the rapport they’d established through a backchannel. “General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”

Wasn’t that nice. At least we would call them in advance before we blasted Beijing.

Didn’t Mary Trump allude to something like this? Donald can’t tolerate the idea that in some universe in the space time continuum, he loses anything to anyone. It doesn’t happen. Ever. So he’s likely to lash out either from anger or retribution or just because he’s still a brat and a bully and he doesn’t care about people who are not him and may not actually exist anyway.

I know that the Cult of Trump will claim “there was a reason why Trump wanted to plunge us all into a nuclear winter and we just don’t know what it is but if we did, we would see him as the steadfast, patriotic, principled strong guy that would have put the fear of god into all our enemies. Why are we picking on him?? Leave Donald Trump Aloooone!!, you stupid commie liberals. You just wanted China to win because you love socialism blah-blah-blah.”

And anyway, he was only kidding. He wasn’t serious about nuking the Chinese. {{they roll their eyes}}

Wait for it. You know it’s coming. Somehow, they’re going to spin this. Mark Milley was a failure. He’s disgruntled. He begged Trump for a job. He’s a never Trumper. He’s a secret Democrat.

Technically, General Milley didn’t have the power or authority to run interference or prevent Trump from doing whatever he wanted. He was a Jaime Lannister watching the mad king unravel, ready to set the world on fire. If Milley had to override the president without constitutional authority, if he was successful, only Milley’s reputation would suffer.

No one would be around to do a retrospective on the alternate outcome.

Partisan Political Hacks on the Supreme Court

Amy Coney Barrett spoke a few days ago, alongside Mitch McConnell at the McConnell Center in Kentucky. She wanted to assure everyone that the Supreme Court was not composed of “a bunch of partisan hacks.” She said that “They must be hyper-vigilant to not let personal biases creep into their decisions, because judges are people, too.”

The absolute gall and arrogance and partisanship (some might call it irony, but that is too kind a word) of a newly installed Supreme Court Justice who has been championed by the Far Right for years, going to an event alongside the absolutely rigidly partisan Republican Senate Minority Leader, who prevented a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee made by the Democratic President, is beyond astounding. It is absolutely redolent of totalitarianism and religious/political orthodoxy.

That was Barrett speaking to her flock of supporters, alongside the person who put her on the Court. It is very rare for Supreme Court Justices to do public appearances, much less try to rationalize their viewpoints. To show up with McConnell is horrifying.

McConnell praised her at this event, of course he did. He said that “she does not legislate from the bench.” That has been the phrase used by the Right for decades, and they don’t even know what they are saying, but that isn’t the point for them, because for the untutored, it sounds like good policy. “We don’t want judges to legislate, we want them to decide,” is the mantra.

Well, every decision made by a Supreme Court is deciding the law. The Court can throw out legislation which they decide is unconstitutional. Many, including me, think that this is what they are going to do if a voting rights law ever gets through. If we somehow manage to pass a law trying to limit the purchase of assault weapons, the Court will almost certainly find that unconstitutional. Why? Because they want to. That is legislating from the bench, if one wants to use that term. It is deciding that the bill passed by the Congress, and signed into law by the President, shall not be enforced. It is overriding the legislature, hence in so many words, legislating.

That is the role of the Supreme Court, as it evolved from the early days of Chief Justice Marshall, through the centuries. They have given themselves the power to overturn legislation, and also to make rules on their own. How is the decision in “Citizens United” not making a law? This garbage spouted by the likes of McConnell, that somehow it is liberal Justices who legislate, while their Justices just decide, is infuriating, but who in the major media points it out?

During the early days of the FDR presidency, he and the Congress tried to enact major legislation to deal with the ravages of the Depression, and to try to help working people stay afloat, and have some power in the workplace. The Supreme Court, composed almost completely of Justices who were appointed by conservative business-favoring Presidents, kept declaring things like the minimum wage or a 40-hour work week unconstitutional, because they violated what these Justices, dubbed “The Nine Old Men,” termed “the freedom to contract.” That phrase, long used by the oligopolies, meant that if someone was willing to work for 5 cents a week to avoid starvation, he should be allowed to do that. That was the doctrine which exemplified the Gilded Age in America.

FDR and his advisors, utterly frustrated by the Court striking down all the New Deal legislation, tried to add seats to the Court. “Oh, you can’t do that!” said the Republicans, and enough people supported them, to make it impossible to achieve. But apparently various senior members of the Court started to realize how vastly unpopular they were, and so they began to resign, allowing Roosevelt to replace them, and eventually get crucial legislation, supported by a vast majority of Americans, passed into law.

The Supreme Court we have today is even worse than that of The Nine Old Men. It is filled with six Justices appointed by Republican Presidents, and essentially chosen by the Heritage Foundation, which arrogated to itself the ability to determine which appointees would do exactly what they wanted them to do.

It used to be that there was some attempt by Presidents to appoint respected legal minds to the bench. And often we saw that the positions of these Justices evolved over time. Warren and Brennan were appointed by Eisenhower. Blackmun was appointed by Nixon, after Senate Democrats had refused to approve the appointments of Haynsworth and Carswell. GHW Bush appointed Souter. All of these evolved to becoming Supreme Court members who valued important individual rights. That was when the Supreme Court worked, at least as well as it could be expected to. Even Frankfurter, who had been a friend of FDR, eventually became the most Conservative Justice on the Warren Court. The thinking and analysis of the Justices was open to their own philosophies as they emerged.

But Republicans were furious at the Warren Court, and at various Justices appointed by Republicans not following their political orthodoxy, and so a system of appointments was developed where the appointees had established a categorical record of always voting in the way that the Right wanted them to. They were also carefully vetted, and undoubtedly in most cases, met with Republican power brokers to assure their doctrinaire positions. And so the Court became more and more Right-Wing in their rulings, there is no other way to put it. The remaining liberal Justices were left to write dissents excoriating the rulings on legal grounds; but who cared, gloated the Far Right. “We are getting our way. We are making the laws to replace the old ones established by the Court which we hated, when we tried to get Justice Douglas impeached for no other reason than that we hated his positions.”

We know the rest of it; how McConnell is proudest of not even holding a hearing on the nominee put forward by President Obama, and making up some idiocy about how the people should decide–even though of course the Republicans love to declaim about how the Court does not make laws. And then they pushed through Kavanaugh, who is a political hack if ever I saw one; his whole career was working for Republicans, trying to get every bit of prurient information in the Lewinsky matter out to the general public; trying to curtail the right to vote, just as Justice Roberts before him had done, which made him a favorite of the Heritage Foundation. These are all political hacks, and they are meant to be. Kavanaugh was in no way a respected Judge. There is one case where he deliberately delayed a decision on a woman’s abortion rights, so that she would not be able to have the abortion in time. “Partisan hack,” and Kavanaugh, are side by side in the dictionary.

And then of course Barrett herself, appointed and confirmed about two weeks after Justice Ginsburg had died, about three weeks before the Presidential election. What happened to “let the people decide?” Oh, that just disappeared. McConnell even tried to say that because Republicans controlled the Senate, “the people” wanted them to approve the nomination. Lindsey Graham said it was because Democrats were mean to Kavanaugh during his hearings. The bottom line. always the bottom line with Republicans, is that they had the brute power to get Barrett confirmed, and they did.

Barrett was long the ideal of the Far Right; she is a person who recently said that she wants to install God’s kingdom on Earth, whatever that means to a Justice of the Supreme Court. Her history has epitomized the definition of ideologue. She was the final nail in the coffin of a liberal Court, the mocking of the entire concept of a judiciary which values the separation of Church and State as a major tenet, as it was outlined in the Constitution.

So what did Barrett and her Right-Wing colleagues on the Court do? They essentially overturned Roe v. Wade, not by trying to cobble together a bunch of words which mean nothing, but just by not even holding a hearing on a Texas law which outlawed every single abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. They didn’t even have the courage to try to write a decision to be analyzed by legal scholars. They use the newly enhanced (by them) “Shadow Docket,” where the so-called Supreme Court issues emergency rulings without even holding hearings or writing opinions. That is what they have devolved themselves into . Oh, they will eventually write a decision full of words about the Mississippi law attempting to ban all abortions; the decision will not specifically say that they are overturning “Roe v. Wade,” but it will essentially allow it, or so close to it as to be the classic distinction without a difference.

So who told Barrett to go to Kentucky and do an event with McConnell? Somebody did, it certainly was not her idea to go there. This was in the nature of a Trump political rally, where he showed up with his supporters and got the media coverage he craved. I did not see the text of Barretts’s speech, but I am sure that she did not try to explain how refusing to hear the appeal to the Texas law, and writing no opinion, but simply letting the law, a law opposed by a strong majority of even the citizens of Texas, stand, is not political hackery of the utmost degree?

As we know, we are seeing a minority population attempt to take over all the law-making in this country. They can’t get these draconian unpopular laws through the Congress, so they will use the alternative technique of having Radical Right legislatures and governors in various states enact these laws, and then their bought and paid for Supreme Court simply refuse to overturn them as unconstitutional. The Texas law is clearly unconstitutional, as it violates Roe, even with the previous carving away of it done by the Roberts Court. But this Court let it stand.

It gives me a tiny bit of pleasure to see that Barrett is apparently unhappy with the way the Supreme Court is now being perceived. But the event she spoke at, with its obvious attempt to purvey the rhetoric of the Far Right: “Oh, we are not taking away your liberties, even as we are doing it, we are just calling balls and strikes, we are not partisan at all,” belies any thought one might have that she will change one iota of her set in stone, doctrinaire religious points of view.

The RIght-Wing Supreme Court may every once in a while issue a decision which is not awful, but that would only obscure the absolute truth that on three crucial aspects of democracy: voting rights; the rights of workers and consumers vs. the power of big business; and abortion rights, the Court will relentlessly find on the side of the people and businesses which put them on the Court, in the same way that Republican legislators only care about the wishes of their donors, not the large majority of voters who are always shown to poll against tax cuts for the wealthy, and for the right to abortion. This is not representative democracy, it is an oligarchy of the wealthy and of fringe religious groups.

Barrett should never have deserved to have been put on the Supreme Court, but there she is, for life, with her patron McConnell standing proudly beside her, delivering his 1840’s South philosophies. Their Supreme Court deserves no respect, they are doing what they were intended to do, and worked toward for the last four decades: be a rubber stamp for the Far Right, with decisions as utterly predictable as those of the phony judiciaries they have set up for centuries in autocracies and dictatorships. Barrett can smile all she wants, and say, “Oh, we must put our partisan views aside,” but that is just the calming smile of the zealot, who is completely happy with her ideas, and cannot wait to impose them on everyone else which is the ultimate goal.

I would like to think that if Barrett came to speak at any legal presentation, a majority of the attendees would ostentatiously walk out. She and her shadow docket colleagues are not deserving of the respect historically accorded to the judiciary in this country; she is a rubber-stamp judge for the Radical Right, for the intolerant, the plutocrats, and those whose version of democracy is that you get radical state legislatures or even a radical Congress to pass laws to benefit a minority of people, and then the Courts approve them, and are there to throw out any laws which somehow get passed by states or Congress, which are not liked by the people who put them there to stop them. It is an evil perversion of the original tenets of our democracy, it is the tyranny of the people whose political ancestors seceded from the Union. If we want to keep our democracy, we must do everything possible to stop them, including adding seats to the Supreme Court, something that Congress has always had the right to do, and has done in the past.

A Chilling Headline

And not to intend to spoil anyone’s day, but it has to be at least noticed, and responded to, lest it become the wave of the future in this country. Just this one act is dreadful enough.

“A Texas man ambushed and fatally shot Georgette Garcia-Kaufmann, a prominent El Paso lawyer, because her home displayed a prominent Joe Biden flag, and he believed the victim was a pro-choice Jewish Satan worshipper.”

That is what Trump has wrought, and it was there before him, but he gave out the call to these people, and emboldened them. Fox News also wrought it, they think it is a kind of game with big monetary rewards. All the demagogues at CPAC. All the enraged talk show hosts. All the “Stop the Steal” rallies which have now extended to the California Recall election tomorrow, where their story is that the only way Newsom can win is due to voter fraud. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who spoke about “Jewish space lasers” starting the fires in California; and the news mocking it, but not understanding how frightening such calls to arms for anti-abortion fanatics and anti-semites are.

They will always disavow this, as those who incite terrorism in this country do. What a tragedy for this woman and her family. And the man who threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi, faces a minimal sentence of six months to two years, and some fines, but it is expected that he will get credit for time served since arrested in January, so may not serve any more time for this. For some reason, there is little punishment for domestic terrorists, at least those who espouse a Right-Wing view. All this coddling encourages more of it.

It is insanity, and worse than that, because most insane people are not dangerous to others. But these people are, and they are being encouraged and weaponized by soulless profiteers and opportunistic inciters of violence and chaos. I almost didn’t want to even comment on this, but how can one just let it sink under the avalanche of other daily headlines?