When Is A Joke Not A Joke But, Rather, A Threat? When The Person Making The Joke Has Literally NO Sense Of Humor

Stone cold fact: not everyone has a sense of humor. That doesn’t that those without one don’t laugh — they do; but people without a sense of humor always laugh AT others and never WITH them like the bullies they tend to be. The bottom line prerequisite for having a sense of humor — without this ability, a sense of humor isn’t possible — is the ability to laugh at oneself. If one cannot see oneself as the butt of the ultimate cosmic joke — life — it means you hold yourself above the fray. Your sense of self is so fragile that the most minor challenge can send your confidence plunging precipitously. In a sense, when you laugh at yourself, you tell others “Wait a minute, if you want to make a joke at my expense, let me show you how to really do it!”

The classical literary character Cyrano De Bergerac is a gifted swordsman and an even more gifted wit. His one problem is his very large nose. Down deep, it does bother him — his nose. He fears it makes him unworthy of love. But that doesn’t mean he won’t point at it himself and explain exactly why it makes him unworthy. In one of the story’s many great moments, Cyrano — whose nose has just been insulted by a young soldier (“Your nose sir,” the Soldier says, thinking he’s being brutally clever, “Is rather large!”) — demonstrates for the Young Soldier all the better, funnier insults about Cyrano’s nose that he could have gone with instead. It’s a tour de force moment for the character and a tour de force moment for what it means to have a sense of humor.

It really is as simple as this: if you have no sense of humor (like Donald Trump), you cannot joke. Literally — you can say you were joking about something — you can even sound like you might have been joking but all of that is kabuki. But, the truth is, you have zero idea how to joke about anything and thus you weren’t.

Donald Trump fears that if anyone laughs at him for the least little thing, they’ll laugh at him for all the big things too. And there’s a lot of big stuff in Trump’s life that everyone could easily laugh at.

Good Trumpanista Kevin McCarthy also bears the mark of the humorless. Weak, little beta creature Kevin said at a fundraising event the other day that, should the GOP not be in prison en masse and were they to take back the House and Kevin got to be Speaker himself, Kevin said, “I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it!” Now, in fairness to Kevin, his hard core conservative audience (in Nashville) did guffaw at the thought. But whether or not you’re joking has zero to do with how an audience takes the joke — or even if they get it at all. Joking is all about intent. Whether the joke at the tip of your tongue was pre-written or improvised right there on the spot, whether you stick it like a dagger or toss it off like a cold-blooded aside, all jokes get told. None of them, really, ever tell themselves.

But, if you can’t tell a joke — because you can’t joke — because you have no sense of humor — then anything you say that you try to dismiss as “joking”? You’re lying on top of it all. You have no capacity to read a room and judge whether or not your bit of cleverness will play in it. The thing that’s about to thud from your mouth isn’t clever at all — even if you pronounce the words like you were clever. That’s mimicry. The substance of what you’re about to say is pure bullying. In the case of Kevin McCarthy, it was a very real, very viable physical threat.

The onus here isn’t on Kevin (or Donald) to be the arbiters of whether or not they were joking. The same goes for whether or not they’re racists. No one gets to say whether or not THEY themselves are racist. How the hell would we know? We’re too close to the subject. Too invested. That’s why it’s always up to the racist’s victims to decide whether or not the racist is racist. Donald or Kevin saying they’re joking is equally dubious. How could they possibly know?

Think of all the times right wingers have tried to put together their own comedy show (their version of SNL or The Daily Show or John Oliver) and come up empty. Oh, sure — they can fill the time just fine. But, not a whit of it’s ever witty. Not a drop is ever funny to anyone who isn’t a card-carrying bully.

No, the onus (as always) is on our news media. And they will most assuredly fail us because they can’t un-convince themselves that both sides do it. That’s why every single news outlet who covered the story went with Kevin McCarthy’s telling (“McCarthy joked about. hitting the current Speaker“) instead of the more accurate “Kevin McCarthy THREATENED the Speaker Of The House”. Since Kevin can’t joke, the joke wasn’t a joke. That means we should take it in the spirit in which it was spoken — as a criminal act.

Democrats Eat Their Own (Usually) Because They Deserve It; Republicans On The Other Hand…

To every rule, there’s an exception. Andrew Cuomo is turning into one of those. The last time a prominent Democrat not named Bill Clinton faced charges of sexual impropriety of any sort was Al Franken. If Franken’s transgression had surfaced today instead of when it did, I have to wonder if Franken would resign now because the context has changed so profoundly. While the main accusations deserve scrutiny because of who made them (and why — and there was most definitely a “why” unconnected to the acts themselves), there were other women who said Franken made them feel uncomfortable at various times. If Franken was still in office today, those accusations would all have to be heard and if Franken, assuming old school rules of conduct, did indeed cause anyone to feel uncomfortable then apologies would have to be made of course. And so would a commitment to not ever do it again and an even bigger commitment to use the power of his office to help that effort in any way he could. Democrats, for better or worse, are the party host who can’t help cleaning up before the party’s even over.

It simply is not in any Progressive’s nature to worship a person over policy. We’ll remain loyal to a public servant only so long as they truly serve the public. Democrats may produce charismatic leaders (like Clinton) but we never get lost in their thrall the way Republicans have done with Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. It’s simply not in any progressive Democrat’s character to think a person — even Bill Clinton — can transcend the public they’re elected to serve. But then, diversity all by itself makes anything remotely like Trump worship impossible among progressives or Democrats. Too many cooks in the kitchen with too many strong opinions. Democrats are still the rabble of whom Will Rogers said “I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat”. Exactly so. And that’s exactly why Democrats could never march in lock step with each other the way Republicans so happily do.

And yet, if there’s one thing that will get most (you can never say all) Democrats to line up, it’s moral issues. That’s not “moral issues” as Republicans refer to them (coldly and cynically), it’s actual morality — the foundational kind that you either have or don’t and Republicans don’t. Before New York AG Tish James was halfway through her very detailed, very disturbing report on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s consistently sexual behavior toward women, pretty much every Democrat worth anything was demanding that Cuomo resign. Cuomo’s pre-recorded defense did nothing to change that; if anything, Cuomo’s digging in his heels made it worse. He will be impeached if he doesn’t step down. It really isn’t a question.

The GOP is the White Entitlement & Grievance Party. If they could stop time and prevent the future from ever happening, they’d do it. The view the past — when white men were one hundred percent of American political power — with longing. If they could snap their fingers and bring it all back just like “that”, it would already be our new reality. The only bad behavior, in their eyes, is behavior that interferes with their ongoing coup d’etat.

Republicans have zero interest in the rule of law since the rule of law says they can’t do what they’re doing (because it’s illegal). The advantage to acting like a criminal is that you never have to sweat getting the rules right since, in your mind, there are no rules. There’s just whatever you can get away with.

It would be bad enough if Republicans were just behaving like monsters. Alas, they’re so much more than monsters. And considering what Republicans have done and where they’ve been — would you want their corruption anywhere near your mouth?

Maybe More Americans Would Behave Like Responsible Adults If We Taught Them “How To”

On paper, it seemed so easy. After a year and change of locked down lives and a locked down economy because a pandemic was ravaging the human world, humans created a viable solution in record time: a vaccine. All any of the humans had to do to begin the process of arresting the pandemic was get the shot. Considering the carnage, this should have been a no-brainer. Alas, that did not account for the multitudes of brainless humans. The pandemic struck America at the exact same time a right wing coup d’etat was in flagrante. That coup d’etat is the right wing’s Hail Mary shot at establishing permanent minority rule. That has always been the point of this exercise. The hard core right — the fomenters and backers of this tragedy — have always viewed democracy and the structures needed to maintain it with disdain. On the left, we have a tendency to be pedantic and abstract about democracy; that’s why we always seem to bring knives to gunfights. It’s the middle where all the action is. Or, in America’s case — where the inaction is.

The difference between America achieving herd immunity and not achieving it just now is a few percentage points of the American public going along with the majority of us and getting vaccinated. Some of those people are rushing to get vaccinated now in the face of the Delta’s terrifying surge. Three previous viral surges didn’t convince them? A viral surge with a cure in hand? THAT’S what it took? One more just to drive the point home? How does a person become so immune to good information that they don’t know how to process it so as to act in their own best interests?

There’s plenty of data that’s easily accessible to back up the bromide “a rising tide lifts all boats”. We live in a world broken by crony capitalist corruption. What does it take to infiltrate minds so that those minds can 1) connect those obvious dots and 2) do something about it that would be both in their best interest and in everyone else’s best interest, too? My simple suggestion — education. We make it a national policy — as part of every American’s education (whether public or private) — they must experience a thorough (but not uncritical) education in American democracy: how it’s supposed to work, how it’s worked in the past, how it’s working now — and what we need to do to continue improving it. We need to introduce early (and often) that Americans have something billions of other humans would die for and have died trying to get.

We need to bake a love of democracy into the very architecture of our education system. Anything that threatens our democracy should be understood in that context. These are complex ideas but they can be synthesized down to bite-sized, actionable directives like “vote”. Or “register to vote”. Or “run for office”.

If more Americans embraced the foundational concepts of democracy — the US that makes democracy a democracy — they’d have a clearer sense of where individual liberty and the commonweal’s needs interplay. There must be a point where the commonweal’s interests supersedes any individual’s. Otherwise the group could always be taken hostage — an unacceptable option. But then, why would anyone think that freedom comes totally free? That’s how a six year old — or a libertarian — sees freedom: “you’re not the boss of me”. It simply isn’t true — it can’t be — that freedom comes with all benefits and zero obligations. If that were the case, why wouldn’t every human society do that? Because it simply isn’t how freedom works.

Freedom takes work to MAKE it work. And the work involved requires training because it’s so challenging. If we don’t teach our children how to do it, they’ll never learn as adults and, in time, the very ideas will get lost — which is exactly where we are. America did indeed stop teaching civics a while back. Somehow (hmmmmmm… I wonder how….) we decided that Americans knowing how their country worked (or what it even looked like on a map) was unimportant. Civics became like sex education — something best taught at home in the minds of some Americans.

And you know which Americans I’m talking about — the ones threatened by information (especially new information with science behind it).

Like I said — the hard right were never reachable. We need to stop chasing them down their rabbit holes. It’s the middle who need to be addressed here — those who (perhaps understandably) have long taken democracy for granted. It was here and so were they. That’s the extent of their investment in it.

So, let’s give them a reason to invest more by instilling a few “economic” principles into their thinking.

Like every good investment, you have to pony up first in order to collect your payoff later. The ponying up part is where most of the heavy lifting comes in; we all agree, the “learning” and “re-learning” and “learning it again” part is absolutely no fun. But that’s where you bake in the sense of responsibility. And — much more importantly — the sense of how obligation and benefit balance each other when democracy is working properly.

The only problem with what I’m proposing is that it’s never happened in America. It’s an ideal but — in my defense — it’s the ideal promised by “All men are created equal” if we understand it to mean “In America, all people are created as equals”. We could say that they’re equals before the law (that’s really all any government can really assert). Though the American ideal has always remained an ideal and not our actual reality, that it’s flame was maintained till now is a good sign — especially considering who’s maintained that flame: Black Americans especially. Though the benefits of American democracy have forever been denied them, Black Americans have maintained their faith in it because, having been denied those benefits, they appreciate how essential they are.

How ironic that America, while enslaving a significant part of its population was also super-educating them how to be the best possible Americans. If it didn’t hurt so damned much, it’d be hilarious.

“U” For “Unvaccinated” Is About To Become The New “Scarlet Letter”

Remember Hester Prynne? In Nathanial Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”, Hester is forced by her intensely religious Puritan community to wear a scarlet letter “A” at all times as punishment for having committed adultery. To the sin-hating Puritans, adultery wasn’t just deeply sinful , it was virtually unforgivable. Jump forward several hundred years to now. America has made peace with what we used to call “sin”. Even the Arthur Dimmesdale’s (he’s the town preacher who knocked up Hester) have openly thrown in their lot with greed and lust. What is a proud cocksman like Jerry Falwell, Jr if not a prideful version of Arthur Dimmesdale, no longer ashamed of his adultery (takes two to tango, right?), but, rather, boastful about it —

Jerry Falwell Jr., president of the Christian and conservative Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., posted this photo on social media Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, with the caption: “More vacation shots. Lots of good friends visited us on the yacht. I promise that’s just black water in my glass. It was a prop only.”

These days, we’re more inclined to force someone to wear a scarlet “A” because they’re a raging asshole. Which brings me to anti-vaxxers — another “scarlet A”. Were it not for anti-vaxxers and their relentless spew of out-and-out bullshit into the information stream, America would have gotten atop the coronavirus already. Though it would still be raging in most of the rest of the world, we’d have achieved the herd immunity needed to truly get our lives and our economy firmly headed back to a new kind of normal. Let’s be crystal clear here: anti-vaxx sentiment is based on zero science and a clear misunderstanding of how people need to approach science. Because it doesn’t need science to undergird its recommendations, it can recommend anything. It can say anything because nothing is there to check its work.

Hester Prynne’s community had nothing whatsoever to fear from Hester. Adultery was not going to spread like a virus — though, ironically, the madness behind such close-minded religious thinking did. Perhaps in their worst nightmares, adultery had the potential to do what a pathogen can. There’s a big difference between nightmares and reality though. And Colonial Americans weren’t strangers to the harm pathogens could do — even if they weren’t entirely clear that the harm in question was being caused by such a thing as a “pathogen”. But, we DO know pathogens exist. We DO know what pathogens do and how and why. We KNOW how to protect ourselves from them — that should be the basis for OUR “morality”. We KNOW how to keep our communities safe from things that we perceive would destroy them.

Hester is a strange mix of sexually liberated woman and mousey good-girl gone wrong. Anti-vaxxers are zombies. The pathogen has already eaten their brains and now is using the anti-vaxxers as their ride while they come for the rest of us. That’s why we NEED to make every single anti-vaxxer wear that “U” they seem so proud of right there on their person. “U” for “Unvaccinated” must become our new Scarlet Letter.

The good news? It’s already happening. France and Italy have already begun culling the unvaccinated from the rest of us. Can’t prove YOU were vaccinated? You can’t eat in restaurants or attend any group entertainments like soccer matches or concerts. In a way, an unvaccinated person’s LACK of a “V” (for “vaccinated”) is the new scarlet letter. But, hey — like I said — the unvaxxed don’t see their unvaccinated status the way Hester saw her adulteress status. I bet they’ll not only wear their Scarlet Letters, I bet they’ll compete with each other to make THEIR scarlet “U” bigger than everyone else’s.

What point is there in being just “full of shit” when you can be the “fullest” of shit?

Both France and Italy are, currently, facing pushback from the unvaxxed. Riots erupted in Paris yesterday. As the unvaccinated get sick and become a smaller and smaller minority, their ignorant way of thinking will achieve true pariah-hood. They will deserve it.

Pathogens really don’t care what magical thinking motivates any human to NOT protect themselves from the pathogen. Their existence is simple: they need us. Their entire purpose is to get inside us and reproduce. That it kills us is beside the point. Before we expire, we’ll likely infect countless other humans — exactly like the pathogen wants us to do. But then, if they had their way, in time every pathogen would replace the antivaxxers scarlet “U” with a headstone.

In “Both Sides Do It” World, A Politician, A Criminal And A Public Servant Are All The Same Thing

American journalism has a lot to answer for. Given multiple opportunities to be the new Woodward-Bernstein, most American journalists chose to be Judith Miller instead. Judith Miller was the vaunted New York Times Reporter with the remarkable inside access to the George W. Bush White House and to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney in particular. The cost of that access was any pretense that Judith Miller would tell the truth about Dick Cheney and the mountain range of corrupt behaviors Cheney and his office perpetrated in order to put and keep America at war with Iraq. Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby was convicted of leaking the identity of covert intelligence officer Valerie Plame. To Judith Miller, getting and maintaining access to a source (even if it compromised her capacity to tell the truth) was more important than telling the truth. Judith liked the power access gave her. And, frankly, the naked cynicism fit better than the skepticism she’d never quite mastered.

Skepticism v cynicism. That, in a nutshell, is where American journalism went wrong. Skepticism is harder by a long shot. It requires perspective. “Is that really so?” and “Why IS that exactly” should be the guiding principles. The journalist has to appreciate at all times that the story she’s focusing on is a tile in a much larger mosaic. How does that tile fit into the larger picture? That’s a skeptic’s question because it assumes a complex world. Cynics, on the other hand, assume only simplicity. Every story can be boiled down to one opinion versus another. He said, she said. But, if you walk in the door assuming everyone’s an honest actor — or that everyone’s a dishonest actor — you’re going to mis-frame your reporting because neither assumption is true.

A skeptical journalist – bringing perspective to the table – looks and listens for subtle clues that what they’re seeing and hearing has the ring of truth. When they see and hear those signs, the story takes a step forward because their skepticism has established to their satisfaction that their reporting can now add information upon which it can build. Adding information is how good, skeptical journalists build and tell a story. But a cynical journalist can’t do that because they can never establish to their satisfaction that anyone’s telling the truth. Or that anyone’s lying. If journalists won’t be the bulwark for what is versus what isn’t then their subjects will get to do it. That’s how Donald Trump managed to stand in front of the White House Press Corps for four years and spew pure, unadulterated bullshit with only the occasional whimper of complaint.

Counting Trump’s lies was great sport. It didn’t stop him from lying. Perhaps if the White House Press Corps had — just once — walked out en masse (and on camera) in order to make the point: STOP LYING TO US! But, of course, doing that would have risked access to an historically hypersensitive POTUS. Yes, on the one hand, if you’re not there to ask a question, you can’t ask a question. But, then, OTOH? Are you really asking any kind of meaningful questions? It’s all access for the sake of having access. That is pure cynicism.

Let’s compare public servant Adam Schiff to public servant Matt Gaetz.

While in high school, Schiff was both class valedictorian and the student voted by his classmates “most likely to succeed”. He got a BA from Stanford in poli sci and his JD from Harvard Law School. Those are nice names to have on your resume. They don’t automatically convey anything however. Donald Trump has Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania on his CV. Without daddy’s money, Trump wouldn’t have been allowed in the dorms at either institution never mind the classrooms. After law school, Schiff clerked for a judge in California then became an assistant district attorney. He first ran for office in 1994 (but lost), trying again (and succeeding) in 1996. Since then, Adam Schiff has epitomized the very notion of what a “public servant” should be.

Schiff’s closing remarks delivered during Trump’s first impeachment pretty much sum up his public servant bona fides…

Matt Gaetz is one hundred percent the Goofus to Schiff’s Gallant.

In Gaetz’s defense, there’s nothing wrong with being mediocre. Gaetz was an unremarkable high school student, an unremarkable undergrad at Florida State University and an unremarkable graduate of the William & Mary Law School (the country’s oldest, by the way). In 2008, Matt had a run-in with the law after cops pulled him over and booked him for a DUI. Strangely, though Matt SHOULD have lost his license, he didn’t. Pays to have connections apparently.

After a year of “private practice”, Gaetz did what his father and grandfather had done — he ran for office (as a Florida state rep). Having more money than any other candidate in the Republican primary got him through a crowded field. Having waaaaaay more money on hand than his Democratic opponent made a huge difference in the general election which Gaetz won handily. Having a little political power in his hands brought Matt Gaetz’s base awfulness to the surface.

A taste: Gaetz proposed legislation that would hasten the execution of many inmates on Florida’s death row, he joined State Senator Greg Evers in proposing legislation to eliminate the federal ethanol content mandate that 10 percent of gasoline sold in Florida contain ethanol and he was one of two members of the Florida House to vote against a Florida bill against revenge porn in 2015, after having successfully blocked the bill previously.

In 2016, Gaetz took his act national to the US House of Representatives. As we’re about to learn from the flipped testimony of Gaetz’s buddy former Florida Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, the answer to question “Are you a pedophile?” is “yes”.

And lest we forget — Matt said this:

In theory, both Adam Schiff and Matt Gaetz are “public servants”. From the news media’s point of view — that’s certainly true. But beyond the label, the two have zero in common.

But, from a cynical news media’s point of view, that fact’s irrelevant. They’re both “politicians”, too. If Matt Gaetz is also a criminal? Then what’s to say Adam Schiff isn’t one too?

Or, conversely — if Adam Schiff is a paragon of political virtue and public service then so is Matt Gaetz. From the news media’s point of view, who are they to say otherwise? Well, actually, according to the Constitution, they are the ones we most NEED to say otherwise — to employ their most skeptical instincts as the final check on raw political power.

When this assault on our democracy is finally laid to rest — as it will be — after we’ve finished investigating and prosecuting every last perpetrator (to leave an unprosecuted would invite them to try again), we need to turn our focus on the news media. We need to force some very real, very hard self analysis upon them. We need to rub their noses in “both sides do it”. It’s the only way to make them feel the disgust the rest of us feel about it.

We’ll know we’re finally making headway when wastes of carbon like Chuck Todd finally get kicked to the curb.

America’s founders didn’t intend to create a binary political environment but their refusal to outlaw slavery at the outset pretty much guaranteed that America would always be binary — pro-slavery v anti-slavery. Take this to the bank: pretty much every white supremacist would vote to bring back slavery if they could figure out a way to get it onto a ballot somewhere. That’s why their “public servants” — like Matt Gaetz feel less like servants and more like co-conspirators to commit a crime. That’s what they’re doing — committing crimes. But, in order to see that happening, you must have perspective.

A news media that really and truly believes that all politicians and public servants are criminals because some are isn’t doing the democracy they’re serving any favors.

Imagine Hating “The Other” So Much You’d Infect Your Own Children To Prove How Much You Hate

You can’t blame humans for being tribal. We’re social creatures. Tribalism is a survival technique hardwired into our genome. We will more likely thrive if those around us thrive. Or because those around us are thriving. More importantly — from a purely animal point of view — our genome wants our children to thrive in order to carry our personal genes forward. Life doesn’t get any more purposeful than that. In theory then, each and every one of us is programmed to do whatever it takes to give our children the best possible chance to have the best possible future. If the The Weather Channel suddenly forecast localized hellfire from above and recommended staying indoors until the freakish storm cell blew over, pretty much everyone would make damned sure their children weren’t outside playing. That is unless you hated your children.

Or hated someone else so much you’d toss your own kids onto the flames just to keep that hate fed.

That is how much the right wing in America hates everyone else. That’s the white, Christian male part of America plus their camp followers. Make no mistake. This is about a handful of wealthy, white Christian men protecting their political hegemony using the tribal-based fear of their underlings.

In a sense, one can “understand” the Republican Party (now fully exposed for the corrupt treason weasels they are) resorting to The Big Lie to manhandle power back from the People. Every single anti-voting law every single Republican has drafted is one hundred percent about either limiting who can vote or whose votes will be counted. Democracy, alas, poses an existential threat to the Republican Party just as progress poses an existential threat to conservatism. If Republicans could win elections on the strength of their ideas, they’d be doing it. By the same token — if Republicans thought all those impoverished people streaming northward toward our southern border were reliable Republican voters, they’d offer to limo them not only past the customs line but right to an employment office where they’d be handed both a well-paying job and an American passport.

The whole point of gerrymandering is to deny the majority their rightful voice and their rightful choices about public policy. It’s minority rule on the hoof. And the whole point of denying the majority its voice is because you’re afraid of the majority, of what the majority might do. Like, thrive, for instance. The conservative perspective cynically assumes that if someone not of their tribe thrives, as a result, someone of their tribe will fail to thrive as a result. They can’t imagine a tide that lifts all boats. All they can imagine is a tsunami that only their boats can even tolerate. Screw everyone else.

There’s a moment in the film “The Usual Suspects” where — as the legend of Kaiser Soze is being related — we learn just how much of a stone cold criminal he is. Though a rival gang boss held his wife and children hostage, Soze would not bend and used his family’s brutal murder to motivate his even more brutal takedown of the whole rival gang. Screw me? No — screw you, pal. Screw you to death.

The same yahoo’s who can’t abide being told they must wear a mask to enter someone else’s business have never EVER said a word about signs that read —

Perhaps if we retooled those signs this way, they’d shut up —

Those same yahoo’s don’t have a problem when their public schools won’t let their kids matriculate unless their kids are vaccinated against certain highly communicable, very dangerous diseases. They have no problem when the jobs they apply for have certain prerequisites. They have no problem demanding the people they hire have certain prerequisites in their pocket (and in their experience database). Yet, suddenly, when politics come into play, nothing else matters except having their way. Even their own life experience — things they saw and heard — can be denied if the end result isn’t to their liking.

No, January 6 was not in any way, shape or form, some “normal tourist visit”.

To assert that is to actively decide “I will deny reality” because my political ends demand it”. Vaccine denialism is no different. President Biden succeeding at lifting the pandemic’s hold is political poison to the GOP. But, it’s not merely about taking back power for the sake of doing it. The Republicans know that should they NOT take power back — and permanently — the terrible truth about what the Republicans did because Donald Trump and Russia compelled them to will not only get revealed but be the basis for terrible, terrible punishments. The majority of Americans, Republicans rightly fear, will become incredibly angry at them. Angry enough to insist they all get put away in federal prison forever.

Refusal to get vaccinated goes even further down this rabbit hole because it’s not just the Republicans themselves that the Republicans are putting at risk, it’s their own families, their own children. But, that is how deeply Republicans hate and hate the rest of us. They don’t honestly fear the vaccine. They’ve been vaccinated countless times before. They don’t fear getting Covid 19 because they believe in magic and believe magic (that their genome is so superior that pathogens that infect others won’t hurt them) will protect them either from the virus or from the virus visiting its worst upon them.

That “magic” is pure racism.

It would be bad enough if this Republican insanity threatened only their tribe — which, right now, that’s what it’s doing. Republican refusal to mask or get vaccinated is why the pandemic is raging again where the political map is red (or like here in Southern California where lack of any kind of travel restrictions make us a giant collecting pool for who knows how many unvaccinated peoples’ virus loads on top of the viral loads already festering in the red parts of LA County). When Republicans use “science” as the basis for their nonsense, they’re not using science, they’re using the word “science” cynically (in the same way they cynically use the words “election security”).

Republicans are a doomsday cult on a doomsday mission. When they hitched their wagon to Trump, they knowingly hitched their wagon to Russia, too (current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy famously told a roomful of GOP leaders a month before the GOP nominated Trump in 2016 that “There’s two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump, swear to God!”) Around that same time, don’t forget, Mitch McConnell told President Obama at a Gang Of Eight meeting (where Obama wanted them to sign off on his telling America that Russia was actively working to tilt the election to Trump) that if he did that, he, McConnell would insist that Obama was politicizing the intelligence. Get it? The Republicans did NOT want America to know THAT Russia had influence over Trump or HOW MUCH influence Putin had over Trump. Instead, they let a photo do their talking…

It was hard enough imagining that Republicans hated the rest of us so much that they sold us out to Vladimir Putin. It’s even harder to imagine that the Republicans hated us so much that they sold out their children — just to deny the reality the rest of us live in. They really are saying — out loud — “Y’all can love your children enough to keep em alive! We ‘love’ ours so much, we’ll kill em instead of living in a world where YOU have any sort of political power” over them.

That’s a hell of a lot of hate.

The Relentless Demand For “Bi-Partisanship” Comes From The Same Cynical Place As “Both Sides Do It”

When we get to a safe enough place in this horror story we’re living through — where we don’t have to sweat it every day whether or not American democracy itself will survive — we owe it to ourselves to take a good, long, very hard look at American journalism and the multiple ways it both hastened and abetted the rise and rule of Donald Trump. Trump himself has always made it part of his mantra that everybody does what he does — he just admits it and profits from it. Except, of course, as with all things Trump, it’s flat out untrue. Trump’s peculiar genius — such as it is — is his ability to liberate so many other peoples’ worst instincts. Trump does what he does and (so far) gets away with it. When the GOP finally stopped resisting Trump — having been compromised by Trump and Russia — they settled comfortably into the same expectation: that whatever truly awful thing they did (treason, say), just by refusing to acknowledge any sort of truth whatsoever, they’d get away with having done the truly awful thing. In this case, treason.

We need to know where “both sides do it” came from. What right wing think tank farted out that bit of rubbish then set about promulgating it? How insulting and wrong can four otherwise innocuous words be? “Both sides do it” asserts right off the bat that both sides are the same since whatever “it” is, both sides DO it and they do it the exact same amount representing the exact same amount of people. Is it charity? Are both sides equally charitable? Or is it corruption? Are both sides equally corrupt? Not by a long shot, they’re not. That’s because each side (in America’s binary system) comes from an entirely different place. One side will always favor profits over people (which makes them more corruptible) while the other will always favor people over profits. One will always ache to live in the past — where their group dominated all the others and they held virtually every last bit of real political power. The other — filled with those the first group dominated against their will — approaches governing itself from a completely different place.

They approach governing to begin with. They see governing as an essential function in a free society — a dirty job that someone has to do. But, when you have a vision of the future — an idealized version of how Life could be and should be — you’re far harder to corrupt. You’re pursuing a “dream” that requires a number of like-minded people for whom money will always come in a distant second to what actual human beings need. Every time we allow any industry to oversee itself, we get a fresh lesson in why greed kills. Take Boeing who, over time, exerted enough political muscle via years and years of lobbying and donating (mostly) to Republican political campaigns, that they were allowed to oversee the safety protocols of their 737-MAXX jets all by themselves. And lo-and-behold! Boeing cut safety corners. They broke the law repeatedly. They destroyed their own integrity; they did that — to themselves!

It’s ludicrous to say that a progressive and a conservative do things for the same reason. Yes, sure — both want to see their way become “our” way. That’s not the question — but “both sides do it” ends its insights into human behavior right there. Want to “win” the political argument? So does the other side which means “you’re just like them!” Oy!

That is where all similarities end. Oh, right — are Democrats 100% accurate and honest ALL the time? Hell, no! Thank goodness we got THAT out of the way! But, in the current environment (let’s worry about the past later) Democrats are being far, FAR more accurate and honest in what they’re saying (about pretty much everything) than virtually any Republican you care to talk about. Only two Republicans are taking part in the January 6 Commission. That’s awesome. And sad. That means pretty much every other Republican is willing to keep The Big Lie afloat. They were willing to let their constituents die — maskless and unvaccinated — until the public relations became too hard to maintain. Both sides do not do that. One side would not EVER do that.

Democrats could never march in lock step the way Republicans do. It’s just not in our nature. We see a bunch of brown-shirts marching in goose-step together and we run the other way — mostly because the brown shirts are hunting us. But also because we just don’t have that “brown shirt” gene in our makeup. Democrats are still every bit how Will Rogers described us when he said of himself “I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat.” That’s because Democrats come from such different places. Our pasts are all different but, ironically, the future we aspire to is remarkably similar — one where our children can thrive and prosper along with their community and the nation and the world as a whole. E Pluribus Unum describes the Democratic Party.

It does NOT describe the Republican Party. Not anymore.

The GOP has become the Trump Party and the Trump Party is simply the Republican Party given its bucket list and allowed to go hog wild, being hogs. The biggest thing in that bucket is permanent minority rule. Democracy has always been a long term problem for Republicans — especially if America continued to invite new people to join the experiment. The more new people from new places there are in positions of power, the conservative thinking goes, the fewer white people there will be occupying those same positions. Hegemony doesn’t make itself happen, ya know.

Republicans, being conservatives, are entirely about CONSERVING what was. If they could magically stop the world from progressing, or blockade the future, they’d do it. After all, what does any conservative want to “conserve” if not the past? To conservative thinking, the present is the past’s final line of defensive. Surrender to the future and the past becomes a museum piece. Conservatives know — once they’re beaten, they’re beaten for good. The past will never grow back like a crab’s claw. They, conservatives, will have to soldier on claw-less.

Only one side aspires to the brightest future possible for the most people. Only one side wants every eligible American to vote. Only one side wants every child to have guaranteed pre-k education — and a good public education all the way up through community college or a public university or a trade school. Only one side sees health CARE as a right for all rather than seeing health insurance as a privilege for the few.

By the same token, only one side has sided with Russia in their cyber war against us. Only one side has made it part of their brand to obstruct justice every which way they can. Only one side has made it their mission to restrict voting to only themselves.

When they adopted “both sides do it” as their mantra, America’s news media closed its eyes to perspective. Skepticism (which belongs in every journalist’s utility belt) demands that a journalist question everything until they’re satisfied with the answers given. Not satisfied? Keep asking. Skepticism is naturally neutral. It doesn’t assert that “both sides do it” because, a good skeptic should be skeptical of something so sweeping and broad. A skeptic assumes that everyone has their reasons for doing what they do; the trick is finding those reasons.

A cynic on the other hand isn’t searching for anything other than affirmation that their shallow view of things is valid (or valid enough for their liking). In a cynic’s view, proportionality is irrelevant. Bernie Madoff stole billions. Jean Valjean stole bread. A skeptic would point to their differences as to why this is a stupid comparison. A cynic (the Republican Party and most of our news media) would say “they’re both thieves so therefore ‘both sides do it’.” If you’re capable of thinking Bernie Madoff and Jean Valjean are thieving birds of a feather, you’re also capable of equating a Republican gerrymandering a Congressional district because he can’t win any other way with a Democrat running IN a gerrymandered district having to get three times the voter turnout to overcome the Republican’s entirely artificial advantage. Our news media regularly looks at these two very DIFFERENT things as “the same thing”.

It’s slowly dawning on our news media how completely the Republican Party’s been playing them. Why, even the dean of “both sides do it” brand journalism — Chuck Todd — has admitted that the Fourth Estate was regularly played by the Republican Party. Good on Chuck for doing the “Mea Culpa”. But it’s way, waaaaaaaaaay too late now. The harm’s been done; the democracy-hating horses are out of the barn and galloping toward the horizon.

I stopped watching Chuck eons ago but I bet Chuck still turns from a segment about how Republicans are behaving like pirates to one where he’s asking “why won’t Democrats negotiate with Republicans?” (meaning “why won’t the Democrats give Republicans every single thing they want?”) That, to Chuck — to our news media in general — is what “bi-partisan” means: giving the Republican pirates whatever they want.

That, ultimately, is what Republicans want our democracy to do for them: give them whatever they want. Enrich them. Enrich their friends. And keep them in power forever.

Progressives and democrats want no such thing. Never have and never will.

Only a cynical journalist would dare suggest otherwise.

Our News Media, The Big Lie And Bullsh*t Kabuki

A few days ago, I blogged about “Republicans, The Big Lie And Bullshit Kabuki”. The whole notion of “A Big Lie” should stop us in our tracks. The fact that The Big Lie exists as a thing we all acknowledge — and acknowledge what it is and what it means — yet haven’t cut the legs out from under it — that’s a clue to us both how powerful Bullshit Kabuki is and how susceptible our news media is to it. The fact that Republican Congresspeople who six months ago decried the mob now want to forget there ever was one is a piece of Bullshit Kabuki all by itself.

Anyone’s who’s had kids knows what I’ mean by “Bullshit Kabuki”. You ask your kid a question where the answer’s going to be uncomfortable for them. You’ve caught them out but they refuse to give in. And, so, the theatrics begin — the kabuki. The words really don’t matter (it’s all bullshit, right?) because it’s all an improv based on a lie. At any moment, the details could change one hundred eighty degrees because the storyteller just bumped into a logic problem. Here’s where good parents ignore what’s being said and focus instead on the performer’s eyes. For starters, those eyes won’t meet yours except fleetingly — when they shoot a glance in your direction to see if you’re buying the crap they’re selling. If your kids are older — teenagers — they jump right to belligerence. They don’t care if you’re buying what they’re selling, that’s what they’re selling, take it or leave it.

Literally the entire Republican Party — minus Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger (who both enabled this vile behavior up to the point where even they couldn’t tolerate the bullshit anymore) — has committed one hundred percent to The Big Lie. That should be the end of all conversations. We should be grinding to a halt at the very notion of a “Big Lie” just as we should have ground to a halt at “Mexicans are rapists”. Think of how far this vile waste of carbon, Donald Trump, has pushed what should have been the envelope. With the GOP, it turns out, the envelope was always an illusion. Given the right stimulus, the conservative movement in America was always capable of what they’re doing — slowly rolling out a violent coup d’etat. To their credit, the Republicans are clever. If they can’t overthrow the last election (which they’re STILL trying to do), they’ll simply give themselves the means to overturn all future elections when the results don’t go their way.

If that’s the case — that any election result can be tossed because the losing party doesn’t like it — the losing party ALWAYS being the Republicans — then elections stop meaning anything since their results can always be “fixed”. For the record, this is not a problem that cuts both ways as both sides don’t think the same. It would never occur to Democrats to alter an election’s outcome because it went against them. That’s why they’re Democrats instead of Republicans because Democrats believe in democracy while Republicans don’t. That’s why Republicans gerrymander and suppress Democratic voters while Democrats don’t gerrymander (though they did in the past — to be fair) or ever even consider suppressing Republican voters. If every election’s results can be tossed for entirely political reasons then every election becomes a question mark rather than a statement.

To appreciate the GOP’s theatricality, you have to see the theater around them (as they do). Unfortunately, that’s beyond most of our news media. Our press remains determined that each and every Republican is an honest actor, there to tell the god’s honest truth. If they say they’re patriots, they must be patriots (because they say they are!) If they pooh-pooh the notion that they’re racist then, clearly, they can’t be racist. If they say the January 6 insurrection was a tourist event — or didn’t happen — then we have to consider the possibility that that could be true — because they said it.

Funny irony? Whenever our news media tries to quote the line “Well, who’re you gonna believe? Me or your own eyes?” they get it wrong. They don’t even get who SAID the line right (it’s Chico, not Groucho – from the movie “Duck Soup“).

It is absurd that more than six months after the Republican Party attempted but failed at a coup d’etat, our news media still can’t decide if anything actually happened. If I’m honest with myself, I understand them; I kept a secret from myself for 45 years that I’d been sexually molested (twice by the same man) when I was 14. I understand lying to oneself as an act of self defense. We don’t need that here; we need the truth!

As I’ve said here repeatedly, any framing of the GOP that doesn’t include the fact that they’ve always known Trump was a Russian military intelligence asset (as current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy put it upon entering a room filled with GOP leaders a month BEFORE the GOP nominated Trump in 2016, “There’s two people I think Putin pays – Rohrbacher and Trump, swear to God!”) is based on a lie. Per then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan’s advice to his collaborators at the time (that’s how he spoke to them), everyone there agreed to “keep it in the family”. You know, like a MAFIA FAMILY.

From the get-go, Trump has tried to hide the true nature of his relationship with Vlad Putin. Why, is not a mystery: the relationship’s true nature has always been clear and distinct. Putin is the alpha and Trump is the beta.

That’s the exact same reason why Donald Trump is the alpha in his relationship with the GOP and they are the out-and-out beta. It’s kind of mind-boggling that professional journalists can stare at something as evident as Putin’s literal control of Trump and — after five bloody years of it! — STILL not ask the obvious question: “what is UP with that?” Oh, sure, they ask that question — amongst themselves and on TV while scratching their heads. It wouldn’t be journalistically unethical to consider — merely as one of the possible explanations — that the reason Trump’s so beholden to Putin is that Trump’s a traitor to America and has been the whole time. One doesn’t have to present it as stone cold fact; like any good journalist, one is just asking a question. If the facts damn it then that’s what will happen. But, if the facts suggest it’s the right answer…

The problem is, our press loves bullshit kabuki. They crave it. While they happily make fun of the GOP’s Bullshit Kabuki, they also find it strangely compelling. They love Bullshit Kabuki’s rabbit hole nature.

Avoid the rabbit hole — that’s the trick. Bullshit Kabuki must be consumed in small doses; it’s surprisingly potent. One second you’re gazing at it dismissively, the next, you’re falling through space and time, the walls of the rabbit hole blurring as you plunge faster and faster.

Kevin McCarthy & How Bullsh*t Metastasizes

The Republican Party is a case study of what happens when bullshit is given credence. Here’s current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy explaining at a news conference today why Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi rejecting Trump’s nutsack warmer Jim Jordan and professional seditionist Jim Banks is tantamount to destroying the Institution Of The House Of Representative. Fact: Kevin McCarthy hasn’t an honest bone in his body. Not an honest atom in fact. Even the space between the atoms of Kevin McCarthy’s body lacks integrity. But then, Kevin has ALWAYS known that Donald Trump was a traitor. A month before the GOP nominated Trump to bear their standard in 2016, Kevin walked into a room of GOP leaders in Washington, DC and said — out loud (it was recorded and played later for reporters)“There’s two people I think Putin pays – Rohrbacher and Trump. Swear to God!” Kevin said “Swear to God” in response to the nervous laughter that broke out in the room.

Think about this. A month BEFORE they nominate Trump, the GOP leadership has a conversation about the fact that Trump “could be” taking money from a hostile foreign government who everyone in that room KNOWS means us no good in the long run. If this was true — if Kevin’s suspicion was confirmed — it would mean disaster for America because a person running for president wasn’t what he said he was. You would think something like your presidential candidate being owned by Russia would set off the alarm bells. Kevin certainly was alarmed when he walked into the room.

But no one else in the room seemed surprised. No one said “Whaaaaat? Kevin — dude — are you SURE about that? Are you SURE our presidential nominee has been compromised like that?” There was nervous laughter instead. The few times McCarthy HAS been asked about this episode, he’s insisted (as Trumpanistas always do) that it was all just a “joke” and not a very good one. Wow. Those Trumpanistas are remarkably consistent when it comes to failing at comedy. I guess it’s just one more way all Trump World tries to be like Trump.

The correct response in that roomful of Republicans that Kevin walked into back in 2016 would have been to pick up the phone right then and there and call the FBI. That they didn’t is bullshit (worse, it’s treason!). That Kevin McCarthy insisted he was joking is bullshit. That no reporter since then has asked Kevin about this odd moment — that’s bullshit. That journalists actually think a traitor like Kevin McCarthy could become Speaker Of The House despite everything the press knows about him — and it’s impossible since January 6 to think of Kevin as being anything other than a fellow traveler among insurrectionists — is oppressive.

Kevin McCarthy is a case study in what happens when bullshit metastasizes — in Kevin’s case, he went from thinking “Putin pays Rohrbacher and Trump” (making Kevin a co-conspirator to commit treason) into being one of treason’s ringleaders.

Anyway — here’s Kevin doing his bullshit kabuki at the presser —

“Whatever It Is, I’m Against It!”

We all have a special song. Okay, we all have lots of special songs but there’s one in particular that, as you go through life, it never stops being deeply relevant. It’s the one that pops into your head with remarkable regularity because it applies in so many ways to so many things. This is the song that spoke TO you and FOR you in equal measure like no other song. The trick is, you have to get pretty far down the road to realize which song that is and why that song was “it”. The first instant I saw the Marx Brothers — Groucho in particular — I knew they were kindred spirits. And then, after decimating the room with a barrage of brilliant barbs, Groucho starts to sing.

The movie is “Horse Feathers” The setting is Huxley College — an institution of higher education successful enough to have a faculty and a football team but, apparently, no capacity to do any sort of meaningful executive search considering as they just hired Groucho’s Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff to take over running the joint. But then, real life logic doesn’t play inside a Marx Brothers movie. That, too, made them appealing when I was ten years old. At ten, you’re starting to fall into line, doing what the adults tell you to do even as you’re just starting to sense (your teenage years not too, too far ahead) that every adult is full of shit. When, suddenly, one of the adults wheels around — breaking the fourth wall — and tells you some stone cold truths about adults that makes them look foolish? I’m all ears.

Groucho’s Professor Wagstaff sings:

I don’t know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I’m against it
No matter what it is or who commenced it
I’m against it

This born contrarian heard those words and felt immediate kinship. The target was always authority. In every Marx Brothers movie, the rich look fatuous and silly. In “Horse Feathers”, academia gets hosed. In the brilliant “Duck Soup”, it’s political power. In “A Night At The Opera”, it’s stuffy, white culture and rich people again. Groucho best summarized the persistent sentiment this way: “I would not want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member”. I’m even against me if ever I become the power.

The song’s theme is reflected in the name of this blog. “How to live bullshit free” has focused its attention on bullshit itself as the “it” in the “whatever it is”. And, if we’re talking about bullshit –mine especially (since my bullshit is what matters to me as yours should matter most to you) — then I am absolutely one hundred percent against it.