Decline of the Washington sex scandal

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It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the end of the cold war. The local NFL team’s game has just wrapped up its televised run, whether it was yourself or your spouse watching, and the children are out playing in the neighborhood, or perhaps on the Nintendo. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your glasses on your nose, and open up the New York Post. A homemade Philly cheesesteak sandwich, or a burger from the backyard grill, and driven home, as it were, by a glass of wine, or a can or three of some appropriately thin and tasteless mass-produced American beer, have put you in the right mood. The sofa cushions are soft underneath you, the air hums with the sounds of distant lawn mowers. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about?

donna-rice-gary-hart-ap-promoNaturally, about a sex scandal. But what kind of sex scandal? If one examines the sex scandals which have given the greatest amount of pleasure to the American public, one finds a fairly strong family resemblance running through the greater number of them. Our golden age of sex scandals, mostly of the Washington variety, seems to have been between 1963, after which the usual code of silence regarding presidential misbehavior was lifted for good, and the early-mid 2000s. And the sex scandals which have stood the test of time are the following: Wilbur Mills and and the Silver Slipper; Wayne Hays; Gary Hart; Bill Clinton’s more benign trysts, including Monica; Eliot Spitzer; and Mark Sanford of Appalachian Trail fame. The latter’s eventual rehabilitation from his scandal, however, broke the precedent that a politician’s career must forever lay in tatters after his mistress, or mistresses, are exposed, thus ending the sex scandal’s golden age. (Conservatives may argue that Clinton broke this first; however, the fact that he was impeached at all, followed many years later by his wife’s defeat at the polls, suggest House Clinton was indeed irrevocably crippled by the scandal and by Ken Starr.)

Of the above-mentioned six cases, countless articles, books, TV episodes, and documentaries have been produced. It is difficult to believe that any recent American sex scandal will be remembered so long and so intimately — certainly not as fondly, as the prevalent kind of sex scandal has been changing. The most infamous scandal of recent years was the Anthony Weiner saga. Before returning to this pitiful and sordid case, which is only interesting from a sociological and perhaps a legal point of view, let me try to define what it is that the readers of tabloids and gossip sites mean when they say fretfully that ‘you never seem to get a good sex scandal nowadays’.

In considering the six cases I listed above, one can start by considering the motives. Sex was present for all of them, of course — but so was a sense of power, and perhaps decadence. In none of these cases were the perpetrators out to harm someone directly, although they were of course too self-centered or short-sighted to consider the unintended harm caused to the wives, the mistresses, and themselves. In more than half the cases, the desire was to secure a permanent mistress or concubine, perhaps because the politician viewed her as a natural reward for his station in life. Other cases involved a more immature, almost college-level fling; but in any event, the benefit gained by the politician almost certainly was not worth the work put into the failed efforts at secrecy, let alone the cost to his career and home life after the exposure. And in every case there was some dramatic coincidence or detail that no novelist would dare to make up, such as Gary Hart posing for a photograph with his mistress on his lap while wearing a shirt that said “Monkey Business Crew” after literally daring the press to find evidence on him, or Wilbur Mills attempting to outright purchase the strip club in which his paramour plied her trade, or a noted prosecutor of sex workers becoming known as “Client 9” of a sex worker.

With all this in mind one can construct what would be, from a New York Post reader’s point of view, the ‘perfect’ sex scandal, although none of the above are exactly perfect. The perpetrator must be a politician, as Americans hold inexplicable expectations of their public officials that they do not for, say, their business moguls. And, he must be a politician of a certain level of influence — a mere state senator or even U.S. House backbencher being insufficient to arouse our interest. He must be married, naturally, and also boast a policy background to invoke hypocrisy with his actions in some way, whether it be a “family values” stance or Spitzer’s aforementioned war on prostitution. He should go astray through cherishing a guilty passion for his intern or perhaps a sex worker, and should gleefully and with total abandon embrace his infidelity. And — this is key, as we shall soon see — his nefarious desires must also receive the enthusiastic consent of the mistress. At some point in the affair, the politician and mistress must share a trust and bond, perhaps even love, against the great danger that could, and eventually would, tear their relationship asunder.

Having decided on infidelity, the politician should plan it all with the utmost cunning, and only slip up over some tiny unforeseeable detail. In the last analysis, he shall decide on infidelity as less damaging to his career than a messy and very public divorce, as even today divorces remain astonishingly rare among top office-holders as opposed to, say, investment bankers, let alone the more influential men of Hollywood. With this kind of background, a sex scandal can have dramatic and even tragic qualities which make it memorable and excite pity for all three primary parties: wronged wife, perpetrator, and mistress.

Now compare this to the Anthony Weiner scandals. There were no depth of feelings to them. The background was not the yielding to the temptations of women other than his wife, but a bored, psychopathic congressman imagining himself as being 20 years his own junior, trolling Twitter for girls the way you or I would browse Tinder. There existed no feelings of trust or emotional connection between Weiner and his various online flirts. One gets the feeling the motivation was not illicit love, or even lust, but Weiner’s desire to show just how tough and powerful he was behind his actions. He acted with the utmost callousness not only of his targets and of Huma Abedin, but even of himself, leaving as he did a vast online trail of recorded dirt.

In this, Weiner presaged all the sorry, one-sided scandals exposed by the #MeToo wave, from John Conyers to Trent Franks to Blake Farenthold, let alone all the Harvey Weinsteins of the private sector. None of the husband-mistress emotional bond so essential for the golden-age Washington sex scandal is ever present for these, giving way instead to a gross, sweaty desperation of men never able to accept their own blunt unattractiveness to young people of their desired gender.

Also, passing mention must be made of the David Petraeus / Paula Broadwell situation. It indeed briefly thrilled Washington in a way most sorely missed, with such delectable details as the mistress’ jealously of other women; the fact that she herself was married, yet clearly more infatuated with her lover than with her husband; and the presence of a shirtless FBI agent, showing up for murky reasons. Yes, it resembled many aspects of a golden-age sex scandal, save one: even more than Mark Sanford, the straying husband survived with his legacy mostly intact, and without even Sanford’s period of repentance before he again sought public office. Yes, he had to resign as CIA head, but Petraeus was instead almost immediately given a sinecure position with a private boutique firm, his financial security and position in society thus secured for life.

But in any event, it is difficult to believe that the Anthony Weiner will be so long remembered as the old, grand Washington sex scandals, products of a stable society where the all-prevailing hypocrisy did at least ensure that crimes as serious as infidelity should have strong emotions behind them.

(in honor, of course, of the Old Master.)

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That SALT tax deduction change only screws over blue states, right? Uh oh…

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Strap in; it’s time to talk about that most awesome of topics, tax policy! Woohoo!

Nobody knows exactly what’s in the Republicans’ tax bills or what its total effects will be, least of all the Republicans. But one thing we do know is that it will get rid of something called the “SALT” (state and local tax) deduction. You see, taxpayers can currently deduct the cost of their state and city taxes from their federal taxes — and so by getting rid of this, most people will see their federal tax bills go up. Some more than others.

The conventional wisdom holds is that this is a change specifically designed to steal from blue-state voters with their high state rates as punishment for voting Democrat. Hell, conservatives even brag about this as a selling point. It’s not designed to convert voters or sway them to vote Republican. It’s there just to hurt people, thus representing the brutal ugliness of the New GOP of Donald Trump and Roy Moore.

Unfortunately, Republicans didn’t entirely think this one through.

Yes, it’s true that bad ol’ New York and California look like they’ll get it in the neck. But who else? The results certainly surprised me (courtesy of the not-exactly-liberal Tax Foundation):

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So, taxpayers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa are also going to see their tax bills go through the roof, once they can no longer deduct those confiscatory state taxes from their federal. These are critical battleground states – WI only went for Trump by a razor-sharp margin. Do you think voters there remember who to blame about their tax hikes?

Also, did you check out South Carolina’s rate? 7.0% in the reddest of red states! It’s almost as high as the People’s Republic of New York! Oh, but it gets better:

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Look closely. Unless you’re pulling down seven figures — as a single filer, natch — NY’s top rate won’t even affect you, while SC’s top rate kicks in at a mere $14,650 a year. This means almost all SC residents are literally paying more in state taxes than us hippie gun-hating baby-killing godless heathens up here in Babylon. Why aren’t South Carolinians asking Lindsey Graham why he’s hiking up their taxes to pay for his deep-state big-government programs?

And compared to the 6.45-6.85% that most New Yorkers pay, the top rates for Arkansas (6.90% at just $35k of income), Georgia (6.0% at — I’m not making this up — $7k) and Idaho (7.4%, $10.9k) are certainly comparable, if not higher. Wonder what the #MAGA voters there will think of how things are going when they file in 2018? I’m sure they’ll be comforted by all the tax breaks personalized for the Trump family.

Texas is usually held up as the shimmering city on the hill by Republicans, with its lack of income tax. But this ignores local and property taxes that also fall under the purview of SALT. But, hey. It’s not like Texans like big houses on big estates, right?

If Republicans had actually tried to pass legislation through the “regular order” that John McCain used to care about — hearings, studies, all that boring stuff on CSPAN that people try to ignore — instead of literally passing handwritten notes as legislation, this might have all come out. But their manic rush to get something done before 2017 is up, at the behest of their ochre overload in the White House, and with as little oversight as possible, will predictably blow up in the faces of themselves and their voters.

 

Battlefront II: We all understand why EA put in loot boxes, but…

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All the entertaining wailing and gnashing of teeth about EA’s loot-box system for Battlefront II has focused on locked heroes. You see, half of the heroes must be purchased with in-game credits before you may use them in multiplayer, with Darth Vader and Luke the most expensive of all. Which just sucks, they say. You plunk down $60 for a Star Wars game, the argument goes, and you better damn well be getting Vader right out of the box. It’s just science, man.

But this misses the bigger problem with the loot boxes, which I’ll get to later. But first:

bobaThere is no question the game both looks and plays better than its predecessors. The new single-player campaign, of which I’ve only had access to the first three missions, seems serviceable enough, relating what exactly happened to the Empire after Return of the Jedi. It has enhanced, fully customizable single-player bot skirmishes under the “Arcade” tab, and most importantly of all, the multiplayer modes are better than ever.

Troopers are now divided into four classes, which gives some extra flavor to the actual characters you will be playing the majority of the time. Your regular assault class gets a regular assault rifle that does the regular medium-range thing ARs do in all shooters, and can also switch to a shotgun as one of its three default abilities. The heavy gets the SW version of a SAW, with plenty of ammo to rain down suppressive fire, and even gets a temporary minigun power and a a shield. The officer is the weakest of the bunch, with only a pew-pew pistol, but can buff allies’ maximum health and can lay down a turret. Finally, the specialist is your basic sniper class. All of these play the same across all eras and factions; other than appearance, a droid heavy from the prequel era is exactly the same as a Resistance heavy in the era of Kylo Ren.

Speaking of, while the battles span all three movie eras, you can pull any hero you want once you’ve earned them. Rey fighting Darth Maul on Endor? Sure. Han Solo leading the charge against separatist droids on Naboo? Heck, why not? The main limitation on heroes (and vehicles, and elite troopers) is that you now must earn them with your in-game performance, kind of similar to how killstreak powers in Call of Duty are awarded; gone are the random surprises picked up from the battlefield. The more score you earn (mainly through kills, although also for playing the objective) the faster you can buy an elite unit.

This means that enemy heroes will first appear in the hands of their best players. It’s just one way that the game is more difficult for newcomers than its kiddie-friendly predecessor. Rusty as I was at FPS games, I was helplessly and repeatedly owned my first few multiplayer matches until I started getting the hang of things again. And while the game is prettier (while sporting the Frostbite engine’s strange “glassy” appearance), it’s much harder to find enemies than last time through all the chaos. In response, the game does give players a few tools to spot foes, such as the assault’s scanner darts, but many times you will simply never see them coming until you are eating dirt.

But the biggest reason of all that this game unfairly stacks the decks towards veteran — and high-spending — customers: Loot boxes are not just cosmetic. The “star cards” they yield boost each class and hero, and up to three may be used at a time. They are absolutely vital to strengthening your abilities, with everything from passive benefits to survivability to offering major upgrades to your active abilities. You can slowly grind for these with the in-game currency, or you could go with what EA would obviously prefer you do: buy premium currency with cash. It got to be a little frustrating to get unfairly annihilated by players sporting three purple-con cards in the game’s opening hours — some players obviously have been spending quite a lot of cash to give themselves this advantage.

This is straight-up “Pay2Win” and a serious transgression against what (most) players want. Overwatch’s loot boxes, for instance, offer cosmetic bonuses only, always have, always will. Some people still go nuts on these things, especially when a new skin is temporarily available, which makes the suits at Blizzard very happy — but that is of no concern whatsoever to those who refuse to spend one extra dime. Who cares if your Reinhardt has that cool orange-con costume when he plays exactly the same as mine? Yet that is not the case with BF2. Imagine if that ultra-rare Reinhardt costume also gave him +20% HP and +50% shield strength, and you have some idea what star cards are inflicting on an otherwise solid Star Wars game.

For the big hero controversy is a red herring. All heroes are designed to be roughly the same in power — Luke might be unavailable, but Rey is available from day 1 and (in theory) is just as powerful. Besides, heroes are earned only via the basic currency earned from play. The premium, purchased currency won’t get you Darth Vader any quicker. But, in a way, it WILL let you buy Vader sooner in game, because your regular troopers are that much stronger than those of players who refuse to spend extra money — letting you rack up kills and score that much quicker.

And I understand why EA is doing this. Despite all the angry redditors say, it isn’t just raw, naked greed. It’s because of what ISN’T purchasable anymore — expansions or season passes. All future DLC for this game is promised to be absolutely free — and pretty much nobody is grateful for this change, it seems. The season pass last time was an extra $40 and was pretty much mandatory for multiplayer. And EA had to replace that easy revenue stream somehow. Why not go with what has become the gold standard for enhanced monetization of games — the loot box?

Other than pay2win (which puts this paragraph in a bit of “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln territory), the main negative thing I can say about BF2 is that its primary multiplayer mode Galactic Assault is skewed too heavily in favor of the defenders — other than rounds involving AT-ATs or their equivalent. Most control points are too easily defended by grenade spam on chokepoints if indoors, or snipers and air-to-ground aircraft if outdoors. The AT-ATs reverse this in favor of the attackers by being nigh-invulnerable; the Y-bomber system of the first game has been replaced by shoulder-mounted missile launchers to trigger their periods of vulnerability. However, these launchers are rare; easily camped by enemy snipers; leave the players extremely vulnerable while locking on; and only grant a brief few seconds of AT-AT vulnerability. The armored troop carriers’ insanely high HP handle the rest. But, no map can be completely conquered by AT-ATs alone this time. Rounds involving these things tend to result in offense invulnerability, until they stop and the attackers must proceed on foot, leading to a defensive victory in the final round. They need to both nerf AT-ATs and also make it easier for the attackers to assault points on foot.

But it must be said that this sort of thing is easily fixed by balance patches. The lootbox system, though — I don’t see any way out. Not when the soulless suits at EA are the ones implementing that decision, and not the devs at DICE.

So anyway, I perfectly understand the motives behind the lootboxes. The execution, however, falls flat. Players maxxing out their multiplayer characters on day 1 just because they have mommy’s credit card is ridiculous, and represents the only major reservation I have against Battlefront II. The game looks iffy for now unless either you love single-player bot matches, or else enjoy throwing money at Electronic Arts like Chance the Rapper at Scores.

UPDATE: EA has temporarily cancelled the purchase of loot crates via premium currency. It may come back; it may return as a cosmetic-only thing; they may come up with something else entirely. All that said, pay2win in SWBF2 is for the moment DEAD; and given that, I change my recommendation to a qualified buy. It’s still the best Battlefield/Battlefront FPS I’ve played since Battlefield 4; unlike Call of Duty, DICE’s games do have a place for thinking and strategy over mindless twitch.

The medical world needs a #MeToo moment. It won’t get it.

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Some kind of dam has burst lately, and for whatever reason, predatory men are finally — finally! — getting their comeuppance after years, often decades of abuse of women. The Harvey Weinstein story triggered a flood of others: Mark Halperin; Leon Welseltier; John Besh; Knight Landesman; James Toback. Reporters made sure their victims were heard. And prior to this, FoxNews’ Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and Eric Bolling saw their falls from grace for similar reasons.

Hospitals and medical colleges could use such an accounting. But they won’t get it. See, what do all of the men above have in common? All are well-known to the media, to the reporters that sourced the stories and the editors that green-lit them. Know who’s not well-known to these people? Doctors. Any of them.

And not just lowbies like me. Let’s say a veteran big-shot department chair or residency program director at Columbia-Presbytarian or NYU-Langone has a long history of Weinstein-level lechery directed at female residents, interns, nurses and so forth. Let’s say five victims are willing to go on record, as with Halperin. No reporter would care. Not even in huge institutions in a media market like NYC. They wouldn’t know the chair of cardiothoracic surgery at their nearest hospital if he slugged them in the face.

24MOLEST-master768The only time doctor malfeasance becomes newsworthy is if legal proceedings have already been initiated, usually of the criminal variety. Take Dr. David Newman, a well-respected and published ER doc at Mt. Sinai, who decided to subject his patients to his perversions. The cops and prosecutors did all the work, with the media doing nothing more than transcribing the legal proceedings, and he was convicted of assaulting four women — but how many more were there? These jackasses always have a long track record of abuse. How many more women would have come forward had some journo, any journo, made some calls and did some digging? Neither Weinstein nor the rest of the rogues’ gallery mentioned at the top have even been charged — all got theirs from damning news stories. Can’t the Times or NBC or anyone spare a single soul for this?

They might counter that doctors aren’t household names. Well, neither were James Toback or Leon Welseltier. But the latter were already within the orbit of the media world. Reporters have them or their agents in their contacts list, as well as many of the victims. But they don’t have such contacts in the medical world. It’s simply not a sexy beat. The only time doctors show up in articles are as experts — institutions actually curate lists of experts for journos on a deadline to call up.

Your average reader won’t ever find themselves in the hotel room of a sleazy movie producer or news editor. But they will find themselves in the examination room of a potentially sleazy doctor, or will be asking one for a job or a reference. I suspect there is an epidemic of abuse by physicians that would make for some explosive stories — if anyone would actually care.

It’s been four years since we last saw Skyler White — and her misogynist haters.

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Skyler-WhiteIt’s incredible. I literally feel like it’s only been a year or so since I last saw a Breaking Bad ad on the side of a bus. But today, I came across this piece by Morning Gloria marking the end of the show clear back in 2013 — yes! I checked! — by saying goodbye to all the toxic male Skyler White haters, who have all presumably gone on to become Rick and Morty fans.

One reason why some men hated Skyler was, of course, sheer misogyny. They couldn’t take some female intruding on “their” boy’s stories of meth-dealing crime. We saw the same hate directed towards Lori on Walking Dead; January Jones’ character on Mad Men; and Corrine Mackey on The Shield. All those shows shared an over-the-top machismo, and a lot of their fans would’ve loved nothing more than to see the female characters relegated to passive, voiceless objects, never getting in the way of the “real” (i.e. male) characters.

There’s another part to this. All of these characters also serve the role of the buzzkill. The moral prude. Skyler, more than any other character on Breaking Bad, represented an implacable (well, until she wasn’t) moral objection against Walter’s drug empire. She constantly interrupted the viewers’ fantasies of being a bloodthirsty criminal, never mind that bloodthirsty criminals are, well, bad. Corrine had a much weaker nature, but still served the same role for Vic Mackey. Betty Draper served as an insufferable drag on the booze-filled misadventures of Don and the boys, and so on.

Of course, misogyny is still the greater explanation of why people hated Skyler White. Nobody sits around hating Inspector Javert, after all. And whatever moralizing Lori was doing on Walking Dead, it could not hold a candle to the humorless, useless judging of fucking Dale. As I put it on a Tumblr post 4 years ago:

Season_two_dale_horvath“…he was such an ineffective, weak, whiny character. He did nothing to actually try to help guide or command his compadres – heavens, no, that would actually take strength of character, or require decisions that might tarnish his unsullied moral self-image. No – all he ever did was stare, stare, and stare some more in mute horror whenever Rick or Shane took some decision that he judged morally unworthy, condemning them for their moral turpitude while never, ever offering a useful alternative solution. Sometimes he would offer some banal useless platitudes that wouldn’t even pass muster on an after-school special, but most of the time he would just stare. Stare, judge silently, and do nothing else.”

Seriously, fuck Dale.

Yet this clown never received an ounce of the abuse hurled Lori’s way. If it were Gail instead of Dale, though, the actor would probably be in witness protection.

Anti-hero or villain-protagonist shows often need one or more uncorruptable boy scouts to serve as a foil to the main characters. Some of the reporters trying to stop Frank Underwood, for instance. But the problem is that they all wind up being starched suits, about as fun as a rap on the knuckles with a ruler. Writers on these shows are really forced to portray their paragons of virtue as effete, whiny little rules lawyers, because there’s no other choice–

surprise motherf_er

Oh.

It turns out, it is possible for lawful good characters on these shows to still be badasses. No-excuses badasses at that, who have their own agendas beyond just being Mean Mom. Their conflicts with the main characters become dynamic battles of will instead of just hectoring and scolding. James Doakes, above, on Dexter. Captain Aceveda and Jon Kavanaugh on The Shield. The FBI guys on The Sopranos. Lieutenant Daniels on The Wire.

Notice anything they have in common?

All these anti-hero shows are written and run largely by men, and I’m wondering if it all comes down to a problem with the characterization of women that Doakes there was exempt from. I don’t mean to psychoanalyze Vince Gilligan, but how much of writers’ or showrunners’ mothers and wives are showing up in these female leads? Notice how there’s no equivalent in Shonda Rhimes shows?

 

Want to go into medicine? Allow Yelp to try and dissuade you.

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So, I came across this astounding Yelp page for a family medicine clinic in Riverdale, NY, proving that sometimes, you just can’t win in my line of work.

I don’t work there but do know some of the staff. They are drilled to be extremely professional to the point of being colorless automatons, which should be kept in mind with some of these reviews.

“Deserves no stars… My mom called on Friday because her left eye was super red to the point where it looked like something popped… called them to make sure that they accept our insurance and have the appropriate doctor who can take a look at her eye and diagnose what is going on… After  asking a series of questions over the phone, Dwell Family Doctors confirmed saying that they have an eye doctor who can take a look at my mom’s eye on Saturday…

“After filling out necessary paperwork, before we even meet the doctor, they ask us to pay the co-pay. I found that to be a bit unprofessional and odd but regardless we paid the co-pay before we met the doctor… We wait about 5-10 minutes and the DO finally comes in.”

The visit immediately goes negative over the simple issue of the co-pay, which is a standard requirement of most insurance plans, and one that the insurance carriers actually require medical providers collect. Yet, this person is already primed for a negative encounter over something she would still have to pay at literally any other clinic. And she had to wait 5-10 minutes? Heavens to Betsy, the outrage! The Department of Health should shut them down at once!

“He then asks “what brings you here today?” So my mom explains her condition in regards to her left eye, and the only advice he’s able to give is “you probably need to see an eye specialist”. At that point I’m baffled by his response because the whole reason why we stopped by was because of her EYE and we were told specifically that an eye specialist would be able to check her condition to make sure everything is okay. They gave us false information from the beginning saying that a specialist would be able to diagnose her symptom and when we get there, we’re told that there is no optometrist available. We paid the copay to hear from this place that she needs to see an eye doctor. So ridiculous.”

speak to manager haircutShe was told a doctor could look at her mother’s eye, and chose to interpret this as an eye doctor would be on site. Hardly any urgent care has subspecialists on site, because how is that even feasible economically? Why would they pay an ophthalmologist to sit around all day for the, perhaps, 1 patient at most with an eye problem more severe than simple pinkeye? If her mom were having a bad migraine, would she have expected a neurologist to be on site too? A cardiologist for chest pain? Pulmonologist? Interventional radiologist, perhaps?

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What image does the word “fascism” invoke? Hint: It’s totally wrong.

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Quick hit today: What does “fascism” generally provoke in the modern mind?

Torchlight parades? Nazi salutes? Donald Trump? Nope. What people think of more than anything else is this:

slate fascism

Thanks, Slate. We get it.

Military jackboots, that’s what people think of. Lots of them, marching in perfect formation. Tough and mean, yes, but also orderly. Regimented. Disciplined to a t.

It’s why “Nazi” can also be a synonym for “martinet,” like with the Soup Nazi.

Which is complete rubbish.

The reason why people immediately think of the goosestepping Soldaten is, of course, the Wehrmacht. But here’s the thing: The Nazis weren’t the ones who made the German army disciplined. Rather, the Fuehrer inherited this famous militarism from the Prussians, from Bismark and the Kaiser, and the General Staff which had persisted despite the defeat of WWI — without which, Hitler would have been no more or less an important historical figure than Franco.

Prussia was just one small state out of many in Germany, with few resources and not much culture or science to draw from. Instead, the Iron Chancellor forged his path by organizing and drilling one of the most ordered and cohesive armies of all time. And with this army — or the threat of it — Bismark was able to subdue one state after another until, finally, in 1871, long after other European states had been unified, he created almost through sheer willpower the German federal state. It wasn’t long before the Kaiser tried his hand at using this fearsome army to extend Germany’s borders still further and, had he not faced a two-front war, probably would have won. (That the Germans of the Great War were able to beat the Russians before finally losing to the Western Allies was impressive enough.)

The fascist Italians had no glorious modern military past like this to draw from. Neither did the Japanese, in fact, other than their Navy, leading to both nations getting completely outclassed on land. The point is, those jackboots marching in perfect rhythm should be a symbol of Prussia, not the Third Reich.

Fascism is above all else virulently nationalist, so its appearance must therefore change from country to country. But in no country, certainly not in America, does it spring specifically from the military. Instead, it represents a deeply irrational reaction to modern culture and the Enlightenment, one that the fascist wishes to claw asunder to bring about some mythical past utopia based on “blood and soil,” where the men of the tribe are forever victorious over the foreigner, the woman and, always, the Jew.

575px-Dummies_Guide_to_Cultural_Marxist_caste_system

Note here a typical specimen of American fascist propaganda (larger version here). Pay particular note to the weird term “cultural marxism” — anyone using this term without irony is pretty much guaranteed to be a fascist. The term means some nebulous conspiracy of the Others forever out to keep down the only people the American fascist cares about: “White, Heterosexual, working class Males.”

Also, we can dismiss the lazy equating of “fascist” with “conservative.” True conservatives — whom the fascists dismiss as “TruCons” or “GOPe” — believe in things like small government, the Constitution, strong military, religion, opposition to abortion, and capitalism. None of these ideas get your typical white nationalist out of bed in the morning. They are defined not by what they support but what they hate. And they mistrust capitalism and other conservative ideals almost as much as socialists do.

And note the lack of mention of the military in that screed above. This is typical. You hardly ever hear the U.S. military discussed by Richard Spencer, Stormfront or the Daily Stormer either — and if you do, they are usually described as an evil, federal occupying power that the white supremacists fight, as in the Turner Diaries.

Can we put the military jackboot thing to bed yet?

Donald Trump’s most enthusiastic voters are not conservative and are not particularly militaristic or well-disciplined. I hereby recommend we reject the popular image of fascism and replace it with this gentleman instead:

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Time for a frivolous Taylor Swift conspiracy theory post.

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In the most cataclysmic news event so far this year (well, at least it is if your only source of news is JustJared… and if so, I can’t blame you given the shitshow of everything else going on), Taylor Swift wiped out all her social media accounts and seemingly deleted her webpage, leaving behind nothing but her music on streaming services and YouTube. Conspiracy theories began: Was this a further withdrawal from the public eye for the secretive star, who even canceled her customary July 4th rager this year? Is this a statement about online bullying? Was she hacked? Or have the prayers of 20-something white girls everywhere finally been answered, and this is all a publicity stunt for a new album? (The latter is what’s going on, of course, but still, gotta have some fun!)

So, time for a bit of digging around on a lazy Sunday — and, as it turns out, not everything on the singer’s website has become a blank space.

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Self-defeating political tribalism

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Go figure: treating your political opponents as enemies you hate and fear does not lend itself to winning.

After the recent defeat of the so-called “skinny repeal” healthcare law, Sen. John McCain’s statement included this passage which is today considered rank heresy and which a generation ago would have been considered anodyne and obvious:

“I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of Obamacare was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict-party line basis without a single Republican vote. We should not make the mistakes of the past… We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people.”

I’m not going to delve into the intracasies of health care policy here. I was just thinking about what a perfect outcome for Trump would’ve really looked like.

For nobody but nobody even briefly doubted how 100% of the Dems would vote here. Their votes were foregone conclusions. What’s more, unlike with Obamacare, nobody from the majority side even bothered to try to reach out or flip some Dem votes. The reason is simple. Trump did not want a single Dem to vote for this. In his crude, bully worldview, it is actually a sign of strength if something like this is rammed through over the objections of his completely united opponents. “They put up their best fight, and even that was not enough,” he would then boast on Twitter, or words to that effect. (Liberally sprinkled with the usual catchphrases, of course: FAKE NEWS!, Sad!, etc.)

What his establishment-GOP enablers such as the recently unemployed Reince Priebus never quite grasped: It was never the Democratic Party that Trump was going to destroy.

If he really wanted a bill to destroy the Dems, he would have put together some sort of Obamacare reform, with a full and seemingly open process with hearings, that would attract just enough Democratic votes to render it filibuster-proof, perhaps with a few clever concessions such as protecting non-abortion Planned Parenthood funding. It’s not like he couldn’t count on the vote of, say, Ted Cruz either way, right?

Imagine the scene if that had happened. Liberal true-believers would bitterly denounce the yea-voters as sellouts, neoliberals, DINOs. The moderates, in turn, would mock the left as out-of-touch socialist-bros too busy protecting their moral purity to allow reasonable reforms that leave Planned Parenthood intact. The Dem-on-Dem sniping on the cable-TV shout shows would make the recently completed Reince-Mooch fight look like a case of mild ribbing.

In other words, he would have exploited the lingering Hillary vs. Bernie divide, leaving his enemies confused, helpless, and too busy with infighting and relitigation of the primaries to offer any serious opposition. He could make deals with either faction as needed, as the GOP remains completely unified in his corner Instead, he now faces a Dem party that is the one that’s remarkably unified. Instead, it’s the GOP looking like a fractured clown show, with Breitbarters complaining bitterly about the moderates, the moderates finally brave enough to consider standing up to Trump, and the GOP establishment realizing that nothing is going to get done with their historic advantage.

And it all comes to the stupid, belligerent tribalism of Trump and his supporters such as Sean Hannity and Kurt Schlichter, utterly consumed by their hatred of the other side to the point that nothing else matters. Where liberals are not merely opponents but enemies that must be smashed. Where something like a health care vote is not a vote but a battle to the death. Where proper parliamentary procedure such as hearings are for wimps and cucks. This stunted, false-alpha-male chest-beating is precisely what is leading this White House to one abject loss after another, with only Mitch McConnell’s Gorsuch victory on the W side of the ledger.

These are some dark years for the country. But they are salad days for the Democratic Party who, despite themselves and their incompetent national committee, are poised for a Corbynite resurgence in 2018.

Can the left become as corrupted as Trump’s right?

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The narrative of what, exactly, happened to conservatives in order to inflict a President Trump upon us all is by now well-established.

Post-WWII, two factions emerged on the Right: the angry, highly negative Long Island Republicans who gave us Joe McCarthy and the John Birch Society; and the William F. Buckley wing, represented today by his National Review magazine and its competitor, the Weekly Standard. For decades, the Buckley wing was in command of the GOP, with the rageheads, racists, and conspiracy-theory cranks of what was called at various times the “paleoconservative” or “populist” Right serving as begrudging but more-or-less loyal foot soldiers — because as much as they didn’t care for Goldwater, Rockefeller, or anyone named Bush, these guys sure hated Democrats a lot more, and their votes were guaranteed every fourth November.

Sure, the populists had a few backbenchers in Congress but, especially following Pat Buchanan’s 1992 “culture war” convention speech — which will show up again here — they were kept out of the most visible leadership spots of the party. As they grew increasingly bitter towards the GOP establishment (or “GOPe” in their lingo), an alternative media universe sprang up for them — first as newsletters and primitive pre-internet computer bulletin board systems; then as talk radio and, to some extent, FoxNews (which actually tried to serve both wings of the right, until the past year or so), on to internet forums and reddit, and finally Breitbart and its many imitators. 


It’s easy, and wrong, to dismiss all of these people as white supremacists or alt.right. Some are better described as “alt.light” or white “nationalist” instead. Mike Cernovich instead of Richard Spencer. I wrote more about the distinction here.

Despite the populists’ growing power and confidence, the establishment really did assume they could keep things under control under Jeb Bush, with Marco Rubio as his understudy. Queue the #TrumpTrain and, well, here we are.

This is important, because something analogous is going on with the other side.

antifaThe far Left views mainstream liberals and the Democratic establishment with the same contempt your typical Breitbart editor feels for the “GOPe.” Sure, they’ll attend the same protest marches and will reliably vote Dem, in opposition to the Republican candidate if nothing else. But for DNC leaders to just assume their support may be making the same fatal mistake of the GOPe before them.

As McCay Coppins notes at the Atlantic:

The Trump era has given rise to a vast alternative left-wing media infrastructure that operates largely out of the view of casual news consumers, but commands a massive audience and growing influence in liberal America. There are polemical podcasters and partisan click farms; wild-eyed conspiracists and cynical fabulists. Some traffic heavily in rumor and wage campaigns of misinformation; others are merely aggregators and commentators who have carved out a corner of the web for themselves. But taken together, they form a media universe where partisan hysteria is too easily stoked, and fake news can travel at the speed of light.

Sound familiar?

I remember an amazing sight from Occupy Wall Street’s brief revival in 2012. Two left-of-center protesters, sitting side-by-side, had messages for the police. One was, “I (heart) the NYPD!” The other: “FUCK THE PIGS!” I’m pretty sure only one of these two went on to fervently cheer on Hillary.

The main thing the raging left shares with the Breitbart Right: they are fueled primarily, perhaps only, by hatred of the other side.

This isn’t new. Read any communist screed written in America from the 1960s to today and you will read very little extolling the virtues of a classless society or a dictatorship of the proletariat or any other positive selling points. Rather, it is all nonstop anti-American ranting indistinguishable from the anti-American ranting of Iran’s very much non-communist leaders. A “tankie” on social media will gladly outline 50 ways why I, due to being an American citizen, am worse than Hitler; but ask them to write two sentences describing dialectical materialism, and you’ll get nothing but embarrassed silence while they hurriedly search Google.

Indeed, the quickest way to get thrown out of a communist or anarchist meeting is to say “America is not the worst country in the history of all time” — but most of the rest is negotiable. For instance, note the grouping of “communist” with “anarchist.” Why are these two wildly divergent philosophies basically interchangeable among the far left? It’s because the philosophy is subordinate to the hate, and they sure as shit are united in their hatred of Americans. Same with the various splinter factions of the alt.right uniting in their hatred of Jews and black people.

But, just as the alt.right represents only a small faction of the Breitbart Right, so do the communists and anarchists represent a small faction within the far Left. Bridging the gap are people uncannily duplicating many of their “alt.light” counterparts’ strategies. There are the conspiracy theorists like Louise Mensch, selling any batshit tall tale their fans want as the Lord’s truth — the mirror Alex Joneses. There are the monomaniacal anti-Republican websites and Facebook pages — the reverse Free Republics. There are the just-plain-cranks — Seth Abramson serving as the shadow Mike Cernovich. Then there’s cable-news host Joy Reid happily copying the cynical hucksterism of her counterparts such as Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.

Their enemies have noticed. As the extremism arms-race ratchets up, the Trumpist right is only too willing to crank up the heat. As per Dana Loesch’s infamous NRA tirade,

“There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself. And in that struggle for the soul of America, they are on the other side, and Donald Trump is on our side. … The mob was heading in, to ransack and loot the apartments of the terrified old men and women. When the troopers arrived, M-16s at the ready, the mob threatened and cursed, but the mob retreated. It had met the one thing that could stop it: force, rooted in justice, backed by courage.”

Oh wait, that’s actually from Pat Buchanan’s 1992 convention rant, other than an obvious edit. (Told you it was going to show up again.) Don’t forget: He had the same objective as Dana Loesch and Joy Reid, as Louise Mensch and Alex Jones, as the Antifa and the Proud Boys street brawlers: to keep Americans bitterly divided against other Americans, at least partly for his own personal power and profit.

I don’t know if a liberal Donald Trump will emerge. But with a pathetically weak and confused Democratic Establishment having no real bench from which to draw for 2020, and from the precedent that has now been set, it is hardly outside the realm of possibility that Mark Cuban, say, will turn and embrace the worst aspects of liberalism to secure the nomination — and the party.

There is a reason why the hucksters and the conspiracy theorists and even the communists might start sounding attractive these days to regular liberals. Their rage and their fantasies sound sweet when Trump’s latest barely-coherent tweetstorm is in the news again. But they do not want what’s better for regular Americans of any political stripe, including your own, no more than Hannity does. Do not buy their snake oil, or the Democratic Party will surely be left as utterly corrupted as the GOP, and with it, the remainder of the nation.

Because that’s the end game here. The dissolution of the United States of America via Article V Convention. You will be hearing more and more about this in the coming years, if the extremism just keeps going. Is that what what we really want?