“You are the Problem” Is liberal smugness to blame for our godawful political climate? Um, no

When I see an article with the title “You are the Problem” Is liberal smugness to blame for our godawful political climate? the answer inside the article better be a hearty NO!  But for Reason editor’s Katherine Mangu-Ward it’s a chicken and the egg situation: the “smug” left is countered by an increasingly angry and irrational right.

Isaac Chotiner: You write in your piece that, “The problem isn’t just filter bubbles, echo chambers or alternative facts. It’s tone: When the loudest voices on the left talk about people on the right as either beyond the pale or dupes of their betters, it is with an air of barely concealed smugness. Right-wingers, for their part, increasingly respond with a churlish ‘Oh, yeah? Hold my beer,’ and then double down on whatever politically incorrect sentiment brought on the disdain in the first place.” The way that’s written implies that the right-wing attitude that we see online and from the president is a response to a smug leftism. Is that how you see thisthat essentially the right is merely reacting to something?

Katherine Mangu-Ward: The sentence that’s at the very top of the piece is, “It’s hard to tell who started it.” I actually do believe that. I think it is not a case of a single original sin that sent us cascading down into the rhetorical swamps where we now live. But I do find that, although I am demographically and in many ways even ideologically sympathetic to people on the left, in this story, in the story of smug versus trolls, I find myself sympathetic to the right, sympathetic to this response of, “Fine, if you’re going to see me that way, I’ll double down on it. I’ll be as bad as you think I am.”

We are talking about an election that was propelled by crypto-fascists like Bannon and the Mercers, pushing a nationalist agenda that includes an absolute anti-immigration platform with strong undercurrents of racism, sexism and anti-semitism.  But smugness is so insufferable liberals probably drive otherwise fine people to embrace all that hate.  They don’t really want to, they have to to counter the smug monsters.

All that said and such craziness sufficiently skewered, I’m going to give Mangu-Ward (whose name sounds like a Monty Python upper class twit put on name) the slightest bit of credit.  Yes, I am.

Katherine Mangu-Ward: I think this is the argument for [saying], “OK, maybe these people who we are talking about here, these Trump voters, it is not that they are confused about their own interests, but simply that I am not looking at the world the way they look at the world. How can I do better at that?” It’s an Oprah thing to say, but it is nonetheless the answer.

Isaac Chotiner: It seems like what you’re saying is a version of political correctness. It’s as if saying this, even if it’s the truth, doesn’t work, so you should stop saying it, which is itself almost condescending. It’s essentially, “You people can’t hear this.”

Katherine Mangu-Ward: Yeah, I think that’s right. It is a version of political correctness, but the origins of political correctness are nonpernicious. The very, very beginning of the political correctness movement was basically just people saying, “Hey, why not temper your speech slightly to avoid giving offense to those in a position of less power than yourself?” That’s a good idea. I think obviously you don’t want to pull every punch, but at the same time, to say over and over, both formally as the Democratic Party and also rhetorically as the pundit class, “You all are wrong about what you need and want,” is not doing it.

Well that’s true.  To the extent we’re having any discussion with the right, we’re not getting through.  Instead of “smugness” I prefer to say we’re living in the fact based, reality-based universe.  Our opponents of course think that they are.   So screaming ensues.  Unless maybe we keep our cool and listen and espouse the same values of patriotism, make our case and earn their trust with a sort of “political correctness” that prevents us from berating them with insults.

It sounds good anyway.  Count as my attempt to reach out to Ms. Mangu-Ward, libertarian thinker, without stating out loud that the term libertarian thinker is an oxymoron.  See I can be kind and calm and quietly think she’s a moron without saying it out loud. I’ll even give her credit for maybe having a point.  Maybe.  A point that makes sense at least in theory, if not in practice.

Unfortunately, when a stereotype, a reputation, whatever you want to call it, has been established, no matter how much you want to deny its veracity and legitimacy, it is there and has to be taken into account and countered.  Liberal smugness as a cause of our toxic political environment may sound ridiculous, but a lot of people accept it, even if we do not.  And just telling them they’re wrong is indeed, not working.


Dems Need Blue Dogs, But Inaction on Guns is Unacceptable

Fingers crossed, Conor Lamb gets across the finish line tomorrow in the PA-18 special election.  As Vox notes, Lamb is a “pro-gun” Democrat and that can be a problem for Dems going forward.  It doesn’t have to be.  Yes, there are always the small minded who have to scour everything with ideological bleach and kill all more nuanced, complicated or opposing viewpoints.  The purity squad will not be silenced even when faced with the greater good and the exceptionally salient point that we need Democrats to win all over the country, and they’re not all going to hold the same 100% progressive policy viewpoints.  We do have to be a big tent.  So it does depend on exactly what “pro-gun” means.

For me, it does matter if you take NRA money.  Don’t do that.  After that there’s a good amount of wiggle room.  So Conor Lamb likes to fire AR-15s.  The great compromise that is out there is my line in the sand.

Would Conor Lamb support a law that confines assault weapons to shooting ranges? I would hope so.

I would ban them outright.  But hell, I DO NOT support the second amendment.  You won’t hear me offer the knee jerk pleasantry that affirms support for the 27 words written 230 years ago.  Nope.  I’d repeal it.  I think Madison and Hamilton would repeal it if they saw the firepower available today and legal to walk around a city with.  Short of overturning or modernizing an anachronistic part of our Constitution, we can go back to the pre-Heller position on the amendment, held for 220 of the 230 years that, of course there are limits we can make to the availability of deadly weapons.

Does Conor Lamb agree with that?  That’s my test.  If we can’t ban semi-automatic weapons, or at least high powered assault style semi-automatic weapons, then we can at least compromise and register them and confine them to qualified, secured, shooting ranges.

Does anybody agree with 80%* of what we stand for?  They’re with us, we need them.


*So long as the other 20% isn’t in contradiction to bedrock principles – no racism, sexism or other prejudice against a minority.  If you’re okay with education, enlightenment, science, humanism, fairness, justice for all, etc., we can work together.

The Stupid Has No Consistency

Trump is contantly overstating our trade deficit with China, all our trade deficits really, and the importance therein, but whatever.

Today he claims that China is working to reduce that trade imbalance by (use Dr. Evil voice) One Billion Dollars!!  The implication that he’s making this happen, of course.  That’s 1/375th of the deficit.  So which is it, much, much bigger than we think or much, much smaller?


Can the stupid at least be consistent?  Or is inconsistency the nature of some stupid?

So philosophical….

Belarussian Sex Worker May be Our Missing Collusion Link, Maybe Not, But Let’s Get Her a Lifeline

Um, after everything we’ve seen are we even phased by this?  If Nastya Rybka is the modern Christine Keeler of America, yeah, why not?  I hope Mueller has someone in Thailand securing her passage to America.  If she ends up not having anything of use but getting an Einstein visa (like Melania) to sign a contract with Wicked and make porn videos that’s all good too.

“They were discussing elections,” she went on. “Deripaska had a plan about elections.” And she claimed they had conversations with three people who spoke English fluently and who she thought were Americans. (Again, we don’t know whether this is true or self-serving.)

Getting poisoned by Putin is a terrible prospect.



Special Election in PA-18th, Dem Leading in Polls in District Trump Won by 20

With one week to go rumor has it that the GOP has already written this congressional special election off.  Oh the Kochs and other corporate enablers are pouring money in, and Trump is supposed to show up on Saturday, but he may smell defeat and cancel.  In any case, the GOP talks a big game but has pulled back to only a token effort. “Pro-Life” GOP Congressman Tim Murphy had to resign for encouraging his pregnant lover to get an abortion.  We still don’t know where Murphy’s wife stood on the abortion issue.

Democratic former prosecutor Conor Lamb has proven to be a terrific candidate and Rick Saccone has been a saccone of shit.

Up until now Saccone has lead narrowly in polls which has not given anybody on the GOP side comfort, the way Dems have been turning out for these special election affairs all around the country.  Now with a week to go, Lamb has the narrow polling lead and that means another Dem pickup is very likely.

But it’s probably worth nothing that Emerson, the pollster showing Lamb in the lead, conducted six polls of the Alabama U.S. Senate special election and had Roy Moore leading in all of them. FiveThirtyEight’s analysis shows Emerson as having a slightly larger than one percent pro-Republican “house bias.”

PA has to rejigger its entire map before the November election, so hard to know what this will mean in November, but Lamb has been such an attractive candidate it’s hard for me to imagine him being thrown into a diminished situation in November.  I predict he keeps that seat and narrows the Dems goal to take the House to only needing to flip 23 seats.



Fun With the Constitution – Corporations Aren’t Persons and Never Were, Except in the F*cking Supreme Court and It’s All a Lie

UCLA law professor and law historian Adam Winkler has a new book out –  We The Corporations: How American Business Won Their Civil Rights.  Okay, I don’t see a lot of people rushing to Amazon for that (besides me).  So at the very least check out this article in the Atlantic that lays out the frustrating history story of how

‘Corporations Are People’ Is Built on an Incredible 19th-Century Lie, How a farcical series of events in the 1880s produced an enduring and controversial legal precedent

… because this is a really important part of jurisprudence that has been a thorn in the side of all efforts to hold business interests accountable and create common sense limits on their powers. The farcical happenings in the 1880s that Winkler describes, laid the cornerstone for horrific decisions like Citizens United.  Apparently this farce is not widely known in legal circles, but should be.

Somewhat unintuitively, American corporations today enjoy many of the same rights as American citizens. Both, for instance, are entitled to the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. How exactly did corporations come to be understood as “people” bestowed with the most fundamental constitutional rights? The answer can be found in a bizarre—even farcical—series of lawsuits over 130 years ago involving a lawyer who lied to the Supreme Court, an ethically challenged justice, and one of the most powerful corporations of the day.

Unscrupulous attorneys and justices used an exceptionally (fictitiously) broad interpretation of the 14th amendment to protect the rights of corporations, claiming that’s what the drafters of the amendment meant.  They meant no such thing.  Legend has it that a decision in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad is the precedent for corporate personhood, but the real story is that that interpretation was completely manufactured out of whole cloth, inserted erroneously into a frigging summary of the opinion by a court reporter (J.C. Bancroft Davis) who had previously been the president of a railroad – the 19th century equivalent of Pharma Bros.  And yet that opinion has been held as if a legitimate precedent for over 100 years.

[Justice Stephen J.] Field nonetheless saw Davis’s erroneous summary as an opportunity. A few years later, in an opinion in an unrelated case, Field wrote that “corporations are persons within the meaning” of the Fourteenth Amendment. “It was so held in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad,” explained Field, who knew very well that the Court had done no such thing.

On this 163rd anniversary of the Dred Scott decision reminds us that what the Court does matters.  Also reminded that Chief Justice Roger Taney is widely held in infamy because of the Dred Scott decision; however, he was also a pro-worker, pro-consumer reformer and voted against corporate personhood.  People is complicated.

Please read the article if not the book.  I owe you one if you do.


Some Issues Aren’t Right/Moderate/Left They’re Corrupt/Uncorrupt – Watering Down Dodd Frank Edition

So the Senate is going to water down Dodd-Frank and make eventual bailouts more likely with the votes of around 12 Democrats from purple-red states. But there’s no real constituency for this in those states. It’s not like conservatives liked it when the banks failed and supported bailouts, which is what Dodd Frank was created to prevent. So why?

This started as a legit (maybe) effort to help community banks that weren’t the cause of the 2008 meltdown.  Sen. Sherrod Brown was part of it then, but he walked away when it expanded way past that to help those community banks with say $250B in assets.  That’s some community.

In the name of mild relief for community banks, these institutions — which have been christened “stadium banks” by congressional staff opposing the legislation — are punching a gaping hole through Wall Street reform. Twenty-five of the 38 biggest domestic banks in the country, and globally significant foreign banks that have engaged in rampant misconduct, would get freed from enhanced supervision.

The bill is known as the Crapo Bill named for the Senator from Idaho.  He uses a long “a” in the pronunciation, but I think he’s earned the short “a” pronunciation. What I can’t figure out is why senators like Tester and Heidkamp, who if anything come from more populist states, which is why those states supported Trump, would want to help Citibank evade oversight.

As Atrios says this morning:

One of the running themes of this sucky blog is much of what is generally described as the “political center” is not and “moderate politicians” are not. Such “centrism” is mostly about issues and votes which have no constituency where Democrats are willing to join with Republicans (yay, bipartisan!). Or, at least, no constituency of voters. They’re things which, usually, have a constituency of big donors. They aren’t our principled deal-making “last honest people of Washington.” They’re our most corrupt.

Thinking otherwise allows corrupt Dems to join with equally corrupt Republicans to do things like this, and con people into thinking it’s about “principled moderation” and that (in some cases) they’re just representing their red state voters. Crazy liberals can’t win in Missouri! Only principled moderates can!

No voters in Missouri want to eviscerate banking reforms. The most you can say with respect to electoral viability is that by pleasing big money, you prevent big money from going after you at election time. That might be true. But that’s because they’re going to run ads about other issues (the laundry list of Liberals Are Bad), not because supporting bank regulations is going to turn off independent minded swing voters.

So the Nunbergering we got yesterday kept this issue off the TV, no time to call your Senator now and plead for sanity.  Funny how that happens.


So Many “Coincidences” With Trump and Russian Collusion That Skepiticism Seems Nuts at This Point

Maybe Mueller is never able to prove Trump’s personal involvement to a decisive degree, but how much does anybody need to know before skepticism feels like flat earthism?  I think we’ve passed that point already.

A lesser known Steele memo outlines the belief in Russian circles that Trump was going to name Romney Secretary of State, but the Kremlin blocked it.  So instead we got Rex Tillerson, the holder of the Russian Order of Friendship, who has been so smart, so even handed since his surprise appointment.  He’s been much tougher on Russia in his rhetoric than his boss.  But considering sanctions voted on by Congress have not been implemented, that’s not exactly a high bar.

However, the NYT reports that the State Dept. was granted $120M to fight Russian interference and they’ve spent exactly zilch.

As a result, not one of the 23 analysts working in the department’s Global Engagement Center — which has been tasked with countering Moscow’s disinformation campaign — speaks Russian, and a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Russian efforts.

Now of course, with any Trump govt. department it could be just plain incompetence. Even the former Exxon/Mobile CEO might just be fucking up and not working for the benefit of Russia.  At least he didn’t order a $31,000 dining room set.



Academy Awards a Few Irresponsible Thoughts

1. They were not nominees for Best Picture but if you can see “I, Tonya” or “The Florida Project” do so. “Mudbound” too.

2. I liked all of the nominated films but my favorite was “Get Out”. Despite its best picture nomination people seem to think it will win best screenplay, but cannot be best picture because that’s for “bigger” films or something. Then why nominate it or “Lady Bird”?

3. Second of the nominated films would be “The Shape of Water”

4. I liked “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” when I saw it, with reservations. Those reservations have grown. If it wins, within a week it’ll be considered one of the most problematic wins of all time. Up there with “Crash”.

5. One of my reservations is that Frances McDormand’s much lauded performance is pretty one note. There are two young women in “The Florida Project” whose names nobody knows, they weren’t nominated (just Willem Defoe), but they were as good as anybody nominated this year. Six year old Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite play mother and daughter and it feels like they’re improvising the entire time.  Amazing stuff.

6. Margot Robbie was great in “I, Tonya” another surprisingly great film. But Sally Hawkins was best actress this year.

7. Watched “Dunkirk” and “Darkest Hour” back to back because they both tell the same story from different angles. Liked both, nobody in the room loved either.

8. I didn’t see “The Post” but I feel like I did.

9. The difference of opinion on “Call Me by My Name” in my House was stark. I thought it was beautiful with a terrific feel of real life and a great James Ivory screenplay (it won!). Mrs. Polislice couldn’t get over Armie Hammer’s 24 year old character seducing a 17 year old character. Mostly because Armie Hammer looks 34. I just thought they were all beautiful. That’s my focus.

Post Oscars – They got it right on almost everything except Franes McDormand who strikes me as extremely odd and not in a charming way.  What she did with her speech was great.  How she did it, emitting some very odd laughter as if somebody slipped a piece of ice down her back, it was very odd.

I met her in the theater in that moment between the filming of her first film the Cohn Brothers “Blood Simple” (and she married one of them) and the release of the film that made her a name.  I liked her.  She was cool.  I saw her in a Clifford Odets play on Broadway and had a nice conversation with her afterwards.  Again, she was nice.  But she has never ever changed her look, her mannerisms – she’s pretty similar from film to film.  I like chameleons. Also, if I think about Frances McDormand there’s actually only one film I think of – Fargo.  I don’t think I could name another Frances McDormand film.

Just How Faithful to the Truth Does Fiction Based in Fact Need to Be?

I think about this a lot because I have both aesthetics in me: the artist and the historian.  I have a strong opinion on this that there are limits to artistic license when portraying actual events and people. This subject needs more review in regards to projects like “The Looming Tower” or “The Crown” (and literally dozens more that I could name) portraying public figures both alive and dead, and events of news importance with great consequences on public opinion for those being portrayed. What really caught my attention was this article in the NYT about 101 year old Olivia deHavilland who is suing the producers of “Feud: Bette and Joan”

Firstly, hey she’s a two time Oscar winner and one of the last living ties to the glamour age of the movie industry, still alive at 101.  She made her first film in 1935 and was a contemporary of Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, a who’s who of the luminaries of the golden age of studio filmmaking from the 1930s-50s.

And she’s going to court to protect her reputation from her unauthorized portrayal in Ryan Murphy’s television series about the legendary feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford when filming “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” in 1962. De Havilland was friends with both women and is portrayed in the modern telling by Catherine Zeta Jones. de Havilland believes the producers and writers took liberties with her portrayal that she doesn’t appreciate. They claim artistic license in telling a real life story but within the constraits of drama. Which begs the question: do the artists who claim license get away with a lot of inaccuracies merely because the objects are mostly gone and unable to object? What responsibility to the viewer, as well as the people being portrayed, does the artist have to get the facts right?

When I watch a scene from “The Looming Tower” based on the book by Lawrence Wright about the intelligence community and the run up to the events of 9/11, I am comparing every scene to what I have read in other books, including the  9/11 Commission Report. Some of the characters portrayed are real people like FBI agent Ali Soufan who is a consultant on the project. Some characters, like CIA station chief Martin Schmidt, is a fictional depiction, a composite of real people. So when I watch the scenes with Soufan, I can have some assurance that it happened just that way. The scenes in which Schmidt shares screentime with other fictional or composite characters leave me wondering and wanting to consult the source material. Frankly, I am uneasy with those scenes that are pure creations of the filmmakers.

I get that the filmmakers aren’t documentarians (although the first episode of “The Looming Tower was directed by renowned documentarian Alex Gibney director of the excellent “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and “Taxi to the Dark Side”), they’re not to be held to a cinema verite standard, but it’s sort of trying to eat their cake and have it too to try to tell a real story, but have the crutch of being able to control a script, hire an actor, direct a scene portraying an actual event with the latitude of artistic license. My feeling is that with great asserted latitude, comes great responsibility to get it fucking right. And not just “essentially” right. Would the people who lived the actual scenes recognize themselves in the portrayal?

As wonderful as “The Crown” is as drama, story telling, writing, acting and set design, if a story comes out that they took a little too much license with an event or a person, that would throw shade on the entire enterprise. My favorite part is at the end of certain episodes when they show documentary footage of something portrayed in the episode, the real persons portrayed, with a blurb about further historical information.  Same for the great Netflix series “Narcos” which has spent three seasons fictionalizing the DEA’s efforts to stop the Medellin and Cali drug cartels based on the real stories of the DEA agents involved. The producers there often mix actual film and TV footage from the time in with the dramatized footage and actors in thrilling fashion for me. When they do that I feel like they’re certifying that they’ve grounded the depiction in fact and I can rely on them. They share my concern for getting it right.

This is going to be a growing concern as so many cable channels and content providers are running themselves ragged to create original programming that captures eyeballs. Real life events are always attractive. Artists that want to work in this field are well advised to remember that license is limited. Approach it like a documentarian with some latitude, rather than as an artist that happens to be telling a true life story.

in that regard I heartily recommend “I, Tonya” the thoroughly surprising and enjoyable film about Tonya Harding. I thought that deserved a best picture nomination over some of the other films. I enjoyed it more than “Three Billboards” I can tell you that.