We’re At Our “Brokeback Mountain” Moment With Oil

The film that makes me cry: Brokeback Mountain | The film that makes me cry  | The Guardian

The world has always had an oily relationship with oil. America’s relationship with it has been even oilier. We know how bad oil is for us. We’ve seen it wash up on our beaches and murder wildlife wholesale. We know it’s the cause of multiple wars and even mass murder (oil played a part in the Armenian Genocide). We know how toxic it makes our air.

But, hey — there’s a stretch of highway here in California — state route 46 between Cambria and Paso Robles.

The Highway 46 scenic drive - from Paso Robles to the coast - great sunset  drive
Paso Robles CA named one of 25 coolest towns in U.S. | San Luis Obispo  Tribune

Most of it’s two or three lanes — but wide, very wide — and with big, gentle curves as the road navigates a pass in the coastal mountains and either drops down onto the coast or slowly segues from beautiful rolling hills into vineyards as far as the eye can see. The view, looking south from this stretch of road (at about 2500 feet elevation) — toward Morrow Bay and Morrow Rock in the far distance (the views above by day and by twilight) — to call it breathtaking is an understatement. The hardy can bike ride here. The rest of us need a car or a truck or a Harley. And those things all need oil to get us to that nirvana.

What’s an oil lover to do about an addiction that’s killing us — about a love we fear we can’t live without?

“I wish I knew hot to quit you!” Boy, do we know how Jack Twist feels, amiright? In Brokeback Mountain, Jack knows what this difficult love has cost him — any kind of peace in his life. Ennis Del Mar will learn the same hard lesson in the end. For Jack and Ennis, there was no choice. Their worlds didn’t allow for much choice, least of all that one. More’s the tragedy.

For us and oil however — we can go one way versus the other. We don’t have to deny our love until it’s too late (and whatever creature comforts we still have, alas, they’ll never assuage our broken hearts!). Neither answer’s pain free. But one — turning away from fossil fuels now and definitively — might give us a chance to live to love another day. Doing nothing — the conservative preference because it’s all about conserving the past — is always the most expensive option despite it’s “free” price tag. “Keeping things as they are” has motivated more corruption in the history of human beings than any other sentiment. Invariably those wanting to “keep things as they are” (conservatives wanting to conserve the status quo) will be more corrupt (having things already) than those wanting humanity to progress away from the status quo so that society’s have-not’s can finally have. Having nothing makes it waaay harder to be corrupt. You have zero with which to corrupt others to do what you want.

Both sides don’t “do” corruption because both sides don’t start in the same place with the same stuff in their pockets. The first problem any alcoholic or drug-addicted person must own is the fact of their own addiction. Contrition of a kind — acknowledgement of the harmful, self-destructive behavior or its trigger mechanism — must precede healing. By insisting that “both sides do it”, our news media cynically accused EVERYONE — both sides — of being equally corrupt in everything they did and said. They conveyed to their audience the false idea that because Republicans did things for political reasons — suppressing Democratic voters — that 1) Democrats do it too and 2) when Democrats react to Republican voter suppression, they (Democrats) are being just as political as the Republicans are being. “Both sides are doing it”.

But, a Democratic voter demanding justice because their right to vote has been screwed with isn’t reacting politically. They’re reacting to a crime — as that crime’s victim. The crime has a political component — but ONLY in that politics are what’s motivating this Republican criminal behavior. It is a CRIME to violate another American’s right to vote. In any way. It’s not a matter of degrees. One can’t say “Well, this American’s right to vote was only violated 20% — it’s not that big a deal”. If you violate another American’s right to vote by a fraction of one percent, YOU’VE VIOLATED IT same as if you’d gone the Full (Violation) Monty.

Only white people — having had full political power since the founding — could possibly look at anyone else’s rights with a scale in mind.

But, I digress. Talking about corruption does that to me. We were talking oil and addictions and facing truths we’d rather not face.

Post World War II America soared with confidence. Our emotions about who and what we are got the better of us. Our conviction that American democracy could save the world caused our stumble into Vietnam. It caused the mission swap in Afghanistan. And oil caused the American invasion of Iraq. I’ve always wondered if a big reason we went to war wasn’t because the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the House of Saud) wanted to punish Saddam Hussein for thumbing his nose at them and selling his oil cheap on the black market. America has for too long been the House of Saud’s oil bitch.

Oil lubricates more than just machine parts. It made full industrialization possible because it made traveling (or transporting products) greater distances at greater speeds far easier. Oil increased human productivity exponentially — for better and worse. It made getting places easier. Made tourism a Big Business. Made war truly horrifying. And it made a handful of human beings staggeringly wealthy.

Thus corruption begins. Hmmmmm… corruption. We’re back here again, are we?

Admitting bad behavior is hard. So is admitting complicity. But, getting healthy demands we own up. The alternative to getting healthy is a planet fewer people can live on — many because where they used to live is now under water. That will absolutely impact literally every other human being in myriad ways. We really are all n this together.

Our News Media Doesn’t Understand What “Integrity” Is (Or Why It Matters)

The Importance of Integrity in Business | FreshBooks Blog

Everyone is born with the same amount of integrity: one hundred percent. As we drop from the womb, we haven’t betrayed any principles yet, haven’t gotten lazy when intellectually challenged, haven’t let anyone down. If we “say” we’re hungry that’s what we mean. If we say we’ve pooped or peed ourselves, we have! If we’re sad or lonely or happy as a clam, we’ll broadcast that fact as loudly and clearly as we can. We are as honest as we’re ever going to be. Then we go out into the world and one of the first things we learn how to do is be less honest. Part of that’s just what it takes to get through a day filled with different kinds of relationships. A certain amount of truthiness goes with being human and living in a human society. But, there is a line. People who take on “important jobs”, work that could genuinely mean life or death to others (airline pilots, physicians, police officers for instance) can be less than honest with their romantic partners, but we need them to be totally honest with their passengers, patients or perps. Would you allow a surgeon with questionable integrity to slice into you?

Me neither.

Integrity is like a balloon made of platinum. As solid as it seems, it’s easily punctured. And once punctured. it’s irreparable. If Donald Trump had a radical change of heart (and character — let’s pretend okay?) and suddenly (on the inside) became absolutely honest, would we believe him? Certainly not. And, ironically, the more Trump pled his newfound honesty, the more dishonest we’d be sure he was. That’s what happens when you bust a cap in your integrity. It dies. And the world’s perception of you solidifies: you are a liar. If Trump could keep up the act, not just insisting he was honest but actually being that way, perhaps in a few years, our skepticism would begin to subside. To the degree that one’s integrity can be repaired, the process moves as slowly as nerve regeneration in humans. Glaciers can beat it in a foot race.

And yet, our news media regularly restores the broken integrity of the very least deserving. Richard Nixon was a criminal — full stop. At the very least, Watergate should have fixed Nixon in our collective understanding as a man with zero integrity. Of course Nixon himself would want to restore his integrity — or bamboozle others into thinking he (somehow) still had some integrity to trade on. Why would our news media want to help him though? Better question: why would our news media want to put ITS integrity on the line for someone their own reporting established had none? I don’t think it’s because our journalists don’t have integrity, I think it’s because they simply don’t know (or maybe even care) what it is.

“Both sides do it” brand journalism conflates skepticism with cynicism. Suddenly everyone becomes a variation on a theme : the lust for political power. Regardless of what they actually do or say, so goes the thinking, their motives are all exactly the same. From this vantage point, NO ONE has integrity. How can they when (per the journalist doing the reporting) everyone’s hedging or gaming everyone else? This simply isn’t the case. Progressives don’t want what conservatives want; they don’t want to live in a past where white, Christian men had all the power and money — the very thing conservatives want to conserve. Progressives will tell you openly that they want a rising tide to float every possible boat. Conservatives, on the other hand, will lie to you about just about everything because, they know, if they told America the truth about them — about their motives — they’d be in jail already.

When our news media gets up on its hind legs and insists that Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy or Mark Meadows or Devin Nunes or Bill Barr or Mike Pence or Chuck Grassley or Susan Collins or Jim Jordan or Marjorie Taylor Greene or Brett Kavanaugh or Steve Bannon or Ted Cruz or anyone in the Trump clan is an “honest actor”, they’re committing journalistic malpractice. They’re labeling criminals as honest then demanding why Democrats won’t negotiate with them. But, even when our news media reports actual acts of treason — based on hard evidence they themselves have vetted — they refuse to connect the dots their reporting suggests do connect.

Example: On June 25, 2016, current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walks into a meeting of GOP leaders — a month before the GOP will nominate Trump to be their presidential candidate. They know Trump’s candidacy is inevitable. McCarthy is worried however because he fears that Trump is corrupt: “There’s two people I think Putin pays,” he says, “Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” No one in the room balks at the thought. There’s nervous laughter — that’s what motivates McCarthy to insist “Swear to God!” He wants to be taken seriously. He wants his news to be taken seriously. But, then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan asserts his “leadership”. He shuts down the conversation. They’re not going to discuss this secret; instead, they’re going to keep it — this knowledge that a hostile foreign government has compromised the man they’re going to nominate to be POTUS. “That’s how we know we’re family,” says Speaker Ryan, third in line to the presidency himself.

No one in the room questioned these accusations of Trumpian criminality. No one doubted that they were possible. And no one insisted they they should — per their oaths of office to uphold the Constitution — call the FBI to warn them. The total amount of integrity in that room by the time the conversation finished? Absolute zero.

Has anyone in the news media gone back to revisit these shocking accusations — and the even more shocking acceptance of them? To be fair, yeah — a few intrepid reporters have questioned Kevin McCarthy about “There’s two people I think Putin pays”. Kevin insisted he was just joking — and that (as always) ends the discussion even though it’s demonstrable that Kevin McCarthy (like Donald Trump) has no sense of humor. Bullies, as an absolute rule, NEVER have a sense of humor. It’s part of why they’re bullies. Oh, sure — bullies can laugh. But bullies (think Donald Trump) never laugh with others (except other bullies), they always laugh AT others. See the difference?

Since then, Kevin’s reported-upon statement has sat in the Trump-Russia evidence room, gathering dust. That’s a reflection of our news media’s integrity or lack thereof.

I’m old enough to remember how connecting Trump to Russia only ever got you rolling eyes in response. Same goes for describing Trump and the GOP as authoritarians and fascists. As we stand here today, those who correctly spotted the GOP’s authoritarian and fascist leanings were right: they still have their integrity on the subject. Those who shrugged off what the Republicans were/are doing? I’m not sure I’d ask their advice on a lunch order any more. I wouldn’t trust their taste as I wouldn’t trust they were telling me the truth. It’s not just Republicans whose integrity has been destroyed by Trumpism. Silence in the face of this attack is tacit complicity.

Anyone complicit in this coup d’etat blew up their integrity a long time ago.

When Trump openly told his four underlings NOT to cooperate with the January 6 Truth Commission, he openly committed a crime. Citizen Trump doesn’t have the authority President Trump had to say such a thing without criminal liability. It’s not a question whether or not Trump did this thing — he deliberately broadcast it as part of his strategy. That doesn’t legitimize it. It should, instead, make prosecuting this bloated orange pirate a thousand times easier. But, that would demand that our news media stop reporting Trump as a politician and start reporting him as what he is: a stone cold criminal in the middle of a treasonous crime spree.

I wish it were possible to buy our news media some integrity. Hell, they need it so desperately, I’d even steal it for them.

How Criminals (And Republicans) Think

Inside every criminal’s head is a scale upon which they balance their criminal behavior’s risks versus that behavior’s rewards. If the risk of stealing a six pack of beer is a decade plus in prison — and the risk of getting caught is high, it’s probably not worth it. But, if the risk of stealing a whole country is that two thirds of the people will despise you while cowering in your presence? No big deal. That’s the calculus that criminals and Republicans make as they contemplate the actions that make them criminals and Republicans. The only thing that will stop a career criminal from continuing in his career is law enforcement stopping him. That’s why one of the first things career criminals do is compromise law enforcement in any way they can. Mafia dons buy cops. Dark Money buys politicians. The point of the exercise is corruption. Corruption itself becomes a kind of currency that criminals either pass around like dividends to their pals or wield like a cudgel to keep the less “dedicated” to crime in line.

Because our news media still insists — despite the mountain ranges of information stacked in front of them — that “both sides do it”, they see Republicans as honest actors. This misrepresents them horribly. Even worse, by giving all information equal weight and validity (since it’s not up to the journalist to judge anything), in their reporting, these journalists knowingly equate bullshit and truth while refusing to qualify which is which. Back before the news media was shamed into refusing climate deniers any more air time, they regularly gave climate deniers all the air time they wanted! This happened regularly on NEWS channels and shows: News show host would set up a debate between a climate scientist or believer in climate science like Bill Nye and a climate science denier like David LeGates or Marc Morano (formerly Rush Limbaugh’s “Man in Washington”).

Notice how a NEWS channel set up its shot here? It’s a “50-50” image. In other words, both people — both arguments — get 50% of the screen. In visual language (which most of us understand quite implicitly), CNN is saying: “these two arguments have equal validity to them”. That’s not even remotely true but the visual image tells us it is. The same applies to when any news panel includes at least one person there specifically to lie. If the show presenting the news panel doesn’t make that fact explicit then that fact doesn’t exist for the news audience. And the truth-speaking panelists will find their truths being compared equally to the liars lies.

It gets worse! The “both sides do it” spewing news media — having equated truth and bullshit — set themselves to the task of “analyzing” what’s happening. With their skewed view of the universe and all the people in it, they attempt to characterize the players so as to explain them. But the lens these “journalists” use is their own experience, their own way of thinking. Problem is THEY’RE NOT CRIMINALS and don’t think like criminals. They end up normalizing criminal behavior by recasting it as political.

Or — as so many American journalists insist on doing — they put themselves inside Donald Trump’s mind and assume Trump acts like they act and thinks like they think. That’s how we ended up with a White House Press Corps that regularly gawped at Trump as he openly lied to them. They ascribed political motives to criminal behavior — then reported the whole thing through the non-criminal prism inside their own heads. Trump’s hold over the GOP became entirely political: it’s all about Trump’s ravenous base. Yes, that’s true — to a degree. But it’s not the real leverage Trump’s held the whole time.

Crime is. Criminals understand that the more people they compromise (including law enforcement), the harder it will be for anyone to stop them. Another tactic criminals use is normalization. If everybody’s doing what they’re doing, can it really be a crime? And (as with Trump), if you do your “criming” out in the open where everyone (the press included) cans see it, can that really be a crime? The answer to both questions is hell yes. Crime never stops being crime (the statute of limitations be damned!)

If I attempt to deny another American their right to vote — in any way — I am violating their rights and committing a crime. If I do it because I’m racist, that’s a whole other level of crime. And it is a crime to be actively racist in an E Pluribus Unum country.

White America wants the rest of America to overlook two hundred-forty years of consistently terrible behavior toward non-white Americans (or non-whites who, for whatever reason, came to live and “work” in America). They want every other American to forget about slavery or every deal our government made and then broke with a Native American tribe. They want the rest of us to deny the long term impacts of white racism on its victims (including the very real, generational impacts on its victims’ wealth). And then our news media gets all warm and cuddly with these racists by refusing to call out their racism. They go and ask the racists “Hey — you’re not a racist, are you?” And then they shrug inconclusively when the racist — news cameras in their face — insists “Me? No! I’m not a racist!”

Trust me, CNN, MSNBC, the rest of the news media — when Donald Trump says “I’m the least racist person in the world”, that’s bullshit. The last person you should ever ask “are you racist” is a racist since they have the least perspective on the subject. Same goes for the racist’s racist buddies. They can’t tell you if their friend’s a racist because THEY’RE so damned racist. The ONLY people who can honestly and accurately tell you if anyone is racist is that racist’s victim. They KNOW when someone’s being racist toward them. They’ve had a lifetime of experience with it, don’t forget. Their racism “spidey senses” are always cranked up to eleven.

Ah, but “both sides do it” says that a racist remark and the racist victim’s response are equally valid.

Racists are racist in everything they do. Literally. Same goes for rapists, by the way. When your view of the world allows you the freedom to infringe on other peoples’ personal space at will and without consequence — as a matter of personal power — you will act that way toward others until someone with more power rises up to stop you. Republicans? Exactly the same.

Donald Trump has been a criminal his entire life. Just because he’s never been prosecuted — that’s a technicality, really. That’s us failing to do right by ourselves and remind criminals their crimes are unacceptable to the rest of us and will be treated accordingly. The rule of law’s a wonderful thing but it can’t enforce itself. That’s our obligation. And it’s not hyperbole to say that Donald Trump is a criminal and that plenty of people have always known or suspected this to be true.

Case in point — as I’ve repeated in this space often — June 25, 2017, current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walks into a GOP leadership meeting to talk about their soon-to-be presidential nominee. He says — out loud (it was recorded and the recording played later for Washington Post reporter Adam Entous) “There are two people I think Putin pays, Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” Even in the context of the time — without four years of treasonous behavior toward Vladimir Putin — this is treasonous! One of the head muckety-mucks of the Republican Party is telling other muckety-mucks that their candidate to be POTUS is compromised by a hostile foreign government — AND THEY KNOW IT! And they — per then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan — are going to keep this criminal secret a secret because “that’s how we know we’re a family”.

The instant you become a co-conspirator to commit treason — as everyone in that room did — you become a criminal! At the very least, you should become someone our news media (who reported the crime) suspects could be a criminal. But not just a “criminal”, a traitor. To report such a person as if there was no possibility they were a criminal or a traitor misreports them entirely and can’t possibly hope to report them accurately since it’s already detached their true motives from the story. Suddenly, treasonous behavior becomes something less — far less. It stops being a crime, for one thing.

And just like that, treason becomes normalized. Criminal behavior becomes political behavior. Crime becomes acceptable to the people who are supposed to be our last backstop against the abuse of political power. Nothing good can come of that — as our current situation proves.

Texas + Zero Gun Laws = Death, Death & More Death

Perversely, one of the advantages of America’s students having to study from home during the pandemic was that it radically reduced the number of school shootings. There was plenty of gun violence outside those empty schools to make up for it though — a whole other problem — but, thankfully, school shootings were zero for an extended period: bravo, America! The rest of the civilized world understands what America refuses to: the proliferation of guns across a society endangers every bit of that society. We’re the data set that proves their point! Alas, there’s little one can do to soothe a lizard brain aflame with the fear of mortal peril because Black and brown people live in America. Let’s be honest — every single one of America’s gun laws (like policing itself here in America) has its roots in racism or slavery. Racist paranoia is the organizing principle undergirding Texas’ new gun law — the one that makes it even easier to get a gun, carry a gun in the open and use that gun — as an 18 year old high school student did today in Arlington, Texas when he opened fire at Timberview HS, (so far) injuring four people.

https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/lockdown-issued-at-timberview-high-in-arlington-possible-shots-fired/2759727/

Even as our news media trips over itself to cover yet another school shooting, they can’t make the leap to “why” it keeps happening. It’s painful watching our news media scratch its head over yet another seemingly intractable American problem, having framed the story for so long from the NRA’s perverse point of view. Australia used to be almost as gun-mad as America. But, on Sunday April 28, 1996, lone gunman Martin Bryant — armed with two semi-automatic assault rifles — killed 35 people and wounded another 23 in Port Arthur, Tasmania, a tourist town. Within two weeks, Australia — its six states completely in agreement — tightened its gun laws, banning semi-automatic rifles and shotguns outright. They also “put more hurdles between prospective gun owners and their weapons.” Want a gun in Australia? Prepare for a 28 day waiting period, a thorough background check and a “requirement to present a ‘justifiable reason’ to own a gun”.

The result? “The number of Australia’s mass shootings dropped from 11 in the decade before 1996, to one in the years since – the murder-suicide of a family of five in New South Wales in 2014.” There’s icing on that “reduced gun violence cake”: The overall rates of homicide and suicide also fell significantly after 1996. There are still illegal guns in Australia; it’s a problem they know hasn’t gone away entirely. But they’ve demonstrated the flip side of what we’ve demonstrated: fewer guns where they don’t belong equals less gun violence equals less death.

In other words, one plus one equals two.

I’m old enough to remember when the NRA was a “gun safety” organization. That was before they became the gun manufacturer’s lobby, determined to get richer than they already were by stoking white peoples’ fear of Black people. When dangerous muttonheads like these losers leave their caves, armed to the teeth, who out here are they so afraid of? Do they honestly think a situation could suddenly happen where they’re going to be the thing that prevents a tragedy? They ARE the tragedy — walking around, just waiting to happen!

Every gun — every single one — is an accident or a tragedy that just hasn’t happened yet. Guns are all “death machines”, designed from the inside out to send a piece of hot metal hurtling through the air at a live target, the point being to kill that live target dead. Every part of the gun is designed to facilitate that. Sure, you can fire your gun at a non-living target but that wasn’t the point. Neither is a gun sitting in a gun locker. While that’s a responsible thing to do with a gun that you’re not using, you’re doing something with the gun that it wasn’t designed to do — sit. Guns are death machines. For starters, as they do in Australia, we need to ask: “for what purpose, citizen, do YOU need a “death machine’?”

“Because you’re paranoid” won’t cut it as an answer.

Our biggest problem with guns and our gun laws is that we’ve never been honest about guns or our gun laws. Hell, we’re living inside the NRA’s linguistic bamboozlement that turned a “well-regulated militia” choosing which citizens get to “keep and bear” arms (not OWN them — and “own” was a perfectly good word back then) into a “Have All The Guns Ya Want!” free for all. As written, the Second Amendment was about gun control; it’s right there in the words, no making shit up required.

Conservatives believe feelings are more important than facts. They’re paranoia trumps any facts you can throw at them abut violence. And just like they couldn’t care less if their own children succumb to and die from Covid-19, conservatives apparently couldn’t care less if their children end up in a stack of bodies recovered from a school shooting.

We used to take comfort from the fact that what stopped Russia and America from nuking each other and the planet into a permanent winter was the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. Since we both feared the bleak outcome of one side pulling the trigger, both sides agreed in advance not to pull the trigger. The Republican Party is a death cult on a suicide mission — permanent minority rule or bust. We can’t rely on them for anything good or positive. Gun laws epitomize the Republican way of seeing things. From their vantage point? The more death, destruction and chaos we experience, the more they like it.

The Solution To Our Constitutional Crisis Isn’t Political — That’s Why The Department Of Justice Matters So Much Right Now

The rule of law, unfortunately, cannot enforce itself. Granted, the rule of law itself is a human creation and so, flawed, but, for some reason, our inability to enforce the rule of law reveals far deeper flaws in our nature. Or in how we frame the rule of law. Racism remains built into our architecture. That’s because our founders (flawed human beings) had a great idea “All men are created equal” whose execution they bungled completely (“all men means only white, Christian, land-owning men” and no one else). Put a big, fat E for “error” down on the scorecard. That nod to racism (and slavery) still haunts us. Racism — especially when it deprives its victims of their rights — is CRIMINAL. Every single instance of it happening IS CRIMINAL. Not hyperbolic crime, REAL CRIME. “Rights crimes” may not be sexy enough for a podcast to follow, but their legal implications and ripple effects — have ya heard the recent news from Texas? All those new laws cropping up like weeds in red states — the ones restricting some voters’ right to vote — they’re all VIOLATING THE LAW as they try to become the law because they’re trampling on someone’s rights.

We are living the example of what happens when you fail to prosecute the rule of law equally and evenly.

While some Black Americans get punished for breaking arcane laws, white Americans can openly intimidate other Americans with impunity. Because they’re white. And, up until now, we have almost no history of prosecuting white people for lording their whiteness over everyone else. It’s gone to white peoples’ heads. Well, some white people. The white people to whom sharing political power (and the wealth that goes with it) is anathema have declared open war on the rest of us. They no longer hide the political nature of their actions — what they call “political”. But, by “political”, what the Republicans mean is “deliberate”. For a purpose. A political end: permanent minority rule. The problem is, every action to achieve that political end is, itself, a criminal act because 1) it violates other Americans’ rights in the present and 2) it seeks to overthrow the legitimate government of the United States (the one run by We The People) — an act that is absolutely illegal — as its goal. When a gang of thieves set out to rob a bank in the dead of night? Their criminal conspiracy is already a legal fact before they even arrive at the bank.

So — our base problem is framing. We must stop framing criminal acts as “political”. That’s where the Department of Justice steps in.

When corruption infiltrates law enforcement, society as a whole suffers terribly. Corruption at the top gains muscle. In America, policing began as a tool of slavery and that association between policing and racism has never gone away. How can we be shocked that America’s police departments are overflowing with racists when we have it in our heads that racists are the ideal hiring pool for cops? In the movie biz, casting is pretty much everything. If I cast Rob Schneider as Hamlet (when I really want Benedict Cumberbatch), I’m gonna get Rob Schneider making a hash of my movie — and it’s going to be my fault, not Rob’s. Eliminating the racism from America’s police departments one by one would be impossible. Eliminating racism from American Life — one racist incident at a time — equally impossible. That’s where the rule of law comes in — on a federal level!

From the instant Donald Trump got his corrupt hands on the Department of Justice, he set about turning America’s head lawyer and law enforcement official into his Roy Cohn. Racist elf Jeff Sessions failed in Trump’s eyes because he recused himself from the Trump-Russia investigations. Got it? Sessions feared crossing the line Trump insisted he cross — beyond ordinary corruption into TREASONOUS corruption. The fact that Jeff never went to the FBI with what he knew or even just suspected must haunt Jeff. Legally, I mean — it’s our obligation to put Jeff on the stand and grill him Benghazi-style about why, if he “saw something”, he didn’t “say something”? Silence in the face of crime is complicity. When that crime is treason?

The Republican Party hierarchy KNEW for a fact even before they nominated Trump to be their presidential candidate in 2016 that Russia owned him outright. They said so — OUT LOUD (it was recorded FFS!) As he walked into a meeting of Republican leaders on June 25, 2016, current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said “There’s two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” Kevin’s SUSPICIONS about their presidential candidate got an uncomfortable response. Not shock (as in “Whaaaaat? Kevin — dude — are you sure about that? What the hell put that craziness into your head?”), nervous laughter. That’s what motivated Kevin’s “Swear to God!” He wanted to be believed, understand? He was assuring them that his info was good.

What did the room ultimately do? They listened to then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan who insisted that this damaging piece of information remain their collective (as in conspiracy to obstruct justice) little secret. “That’s how we know we’re family”, said the Speaker Of The House, third in line to the presidency. Clearly, the family he had in mind was a mafia family.

Friends, that moment — right there? That’s a crime. That meeting was and remains a crime scene as yet uninvestigated. As far as I know, the FBI has NEVER questioned anyone who was present in the room. In retrospect, that meeting — and Kevin’s accusation — is far, FAR more than it seemed even in 2017 when the Washington Post reported on the meeting their reporter Adam Entous having heard the recording of the meeting himself. It’s not a coincidence that, even as he was being sworn in (and violating his oath of office to defend the Constitution), Trump was moving to cover up his crime. What made that tricky was that the crime was ongoing.

Bill Barr’s corruption is genetic. His dad Donald Barr ran the elite Dalton School in Manhattan that hired an unqualified Jeffrey Epstein to teach. Despite that association, Barr refused to recuse himself (like Jeff Sessions did). Barr had way more skin in the game apparently. The whole point of Barr being back at the DoJ was to stop any and all investigation into Trump’s corruption dead in its tracks. Barr kneecapped the Mueller Report, misdirecting our easily misdirected news media into thinking that Mueller’s narrowly focused investigation exonerated Trump when, in fact, it did nothing of the kind. It seems though that even a man as corrupt as Bill Barr had a line in the criminal sand. He wouldn’t join Team Trump in their insurrection attempt.

Still, Barr’s DoJ was openly hostile to enforcing the rule of law wherever it might apply to corrupt, rich white guys. Especially the treasonous ones. When the Democrats won back the House in 2018 and began the process of oversight into what Trump had done, they did so with a massive handicap: they had zero enforcement muscle. Any Trumpian refusing a Congressional subpoena had nothing to fear since the worst case scenario was the Congressional Sergeant At Arms handcuffing them and hauling them down to the basement somewhere to lock them in a closet or secure them to an old pipe. Without teeth to enforce itself, even a political investigation ain’t going anywhere.

That’s why Biden winning — and winning handily (7 million more voters equals handily; the Electoral College measures corruption’s reach more than it measures the will of the people) — mattered. The authority to govern finally flowed to the person to whom We The People wanted it to flow. Take this to the bank and plan to get rich: Donald Trump did not win office legitimately. That’s not a political fact, it’s a criminal justice fact — and it’s the one we’re going to have to arrive at as the basis for our thinking. But for Russia, Donald Trump would never have been POTUS. Without Russia’s help, Trump would never have gotten past the primaries; he might never have entered the race.

Donald Trump’s illegitimacy as POTUS is the organizing principle confronting the rule of law. The rule of law doesn’t recognize degrees of election fraud to punish. It doesn’t say “if less than ‘this number’ of Democratic voters have their votes suppressed by a foreign government’s deliberate, focused propaganda aimed at stopping them from voting for Hillary” then it’s okay, “But, over ‘this number’, it’s illegal!” By the same token, the rule of law is clear about how illegal it is for ANY American political candidate to accept ANY help from ANY foreign government hostile or otherwise. The fact that Trump OPENLY accepted so much help from a government we KNEW was at cyber war with us?

If we see Moscow Mitch McConnell’s actions through a longer lens — his grim determination to deny Barrack Obama lifetime federal judgeships including so much as a hearing for Merrick Garland plus his insistence at the White House during a Gang of Eight meeting in September 2016 that if Obama told America about Russia’s active intent to make Trump POTUS that he’d publicly accuse Obama of “politicizing the intelligence”, plus Mitch’s odd relationship with Oleg Deripaska — the man responsible for spreading Russian propaganda to Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the three blue states that flipped red and made Trump POTUS ) — suddenly “innocent” acts (is my sarcasm font working?) don’t look so innocent. Mitch McConnell denying Obama judgeships that he shoved down America’s throat the second Trump became POTUS become part of the larger “undermine America’s democracy” narrative. It becomes part of the larger Republican effort to circumvent the will of the American People and impose permanent minority rule against their will — and against the law.

Because any attempt to violate any American’s rights is a crime.

It really is this simple: the Republican Party have not been behaving politically, they have been behaving criminally — for a political end. The end therefore becomes a detail — the “why” of the crime and the point of their co-conspiracy. That is what this ultimately is: a massive conspiracy to defraud Americans and America of their democracy.

To even think of doing such a thing — if it ain’t a crime now, we better make it one. Because this won’t stop until we prosecute the living shit out of it. The moment these perps realize what they’ve stepped in — as many of the insurrection’s foot soldiers are finding — they turn. For one thing, defending yourself against federal charges is massively expensive. This is as bad as getting cancer in its potential destructiveness to a family’s generational finances. When justice finally pierces the veil of Congressional involvement in the insurrection, the whole conversation’s going to change because we’ll have stopped treating what individual Congresspeople like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene did as political (giving tours to demonstrate the building’s best entry points and where the tunnels are) and start seeing it for what it was and is: part of a criminal conspiracy to overthrow the United States of America.

What is Merrick Garland up to? Does he see this crime scene the way I do — the way (IMHO) we all need to — as a crime scene! There are hints he does. Frustratingly vague hints. The tricky thing about justice and the rule of law is that they must dot every “i” and cross every “t” to remain legitimate. For the rule of law to really work — and gain everyone’s trust — its integrity must remain at one hundred percent. That takes time. Cutting corners — especially legal ones — infringes on integrity. And — very important — the target (we hope) Merrick Garland’s DoJ (our DoJ also!) is sizing up, measuring and taking aim at is Donald J. Trump.

AG Garland — and We The People — will get one shot at this. One shot at making our case that Donald Trump was the biggest fraud in American history. And a traitor to boot.

This ‘Democracy Thing’ Is Waaaaaaay Harder Than It Looks

We Americans have it in our heads that we are what “democracy” looks like. Democracy has news for us: no, we’re not.

If the bottommost line there is in what sets democracies apart from other forms of government is voting — by the total number of citizens legally qualified to vote — then, historically, America has shown poorly. According to Pew Research, as of 2016, Americans were toward the bottom of the list where participation in elections is concerned. Americans used to vote in very high numbers (as a percentage). Eighty percent of eligible voters voted in the 1836 election (the first post-Andrew Jackson one where his hand-picked successor and veep Martin Van Buren pulled out a victory over the (at that point) nascent Whig Party. Until 1900, at least 70% of eligible Americans voted in every presidential election and at least 60% of us voted in off year elections. And then, a great slide begins.

I’m making a guess here. A drop off in American interest in our democracy happening right as America becomes a world power (heading into World War I) occurs at the exact same time as the Ku Klux Klan is growing in popularity? It sure sounds like a big piece of the American electorate is staying home instead of voting. We know exactly “why” those newly empowered Americans chose not to use their new power as citizens. Racism has always been at the heart of voter suppression and Republican gerrymandering. One doesn’t have to say “Democratic voter suppression” to differentiate it from Republican voter suppression because (while Democrats have been guilty of gerrymandering to gain an advantage), Democrats have never tried to suppress Republican voters. It’s simply not how any (contemporary) Democratic voter thinks; in fact, it’s entirely antithetical to what makes a Democrat a Democrat. Democrats are entirely confident in the superiority of their ideas over anything any Republican is selling. This is why modern Democrats believe in elections.

On the chart below, that’s evidenced by the presidential elections of 1932 and 1936. Franklin Roosevelt first won election as POTUS in ’32 — as the Great Depression was settling in. In ’36, FDR holds steady as the intensely progressive New Deal produces results that put Americans back to work. Then the war happens and the Greatest Generation pulls together — as the data points show. Voting lulls as the war drags on, falls off considerably after the war ends but then bounces back in 1952 because who doesn’t “like Ike”? Actually, Adlai Stevenson (the Democrat who Eisenhower defeated twice) would have been an amazing president; America has issues with smart people however. America boomed in the 1950’s. We became the engine for the world’s economy (with a tax rate that had the richest paying considerably more than they pay now (even if no one ever actually paid 91% of their earnings above $200,000).

See that sudden uptick at the end of the data set? That’s 2016. The upward trend continued. over 168 million Americans voted in election 2020. Sure, more Trump voters voted, but way, waaaaaay more Democratic voters voted, too. That trend started (to our news media’s surprise) in election 2018 when the Democratically inclined began to realize the very real existential threat Trump posed to America.

Turns out Joni Mitchell was right in her song Big Yellow Taxi: “Oh, it always seems to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. America’s voters saw the Republican Party actively trying to take away their rights (to vote, to have an abortion, to breathe clean air) and responded in the only way they could: by showing up to vote the Republican bastards out. Ah, but Republicans don’t play by rules.

While America’s founders did fear someone power mad like Donald Trump would run for office, it didn’t occur to them that such a candidate’s power madness would be stroked by his political party. Then again, America’s founders didn’t count on there being political parties in America. Shit happens, ya know?

Organized human civilization began roughly eight thousand years ago — when we transitioned from being nomadic hunter-gatherers into farmers. Agriculture demands staying in one place in order to benefit from it. But, because this stationary place with its organized food production can feed more people than wandering in search of food can, villages and then towns and cities eventually grew nearby. And, once those human collectives became bigger than an extended tribe, as historian Yuval Harari points out in his brilliant book Sapiens, humans had no choice but to invent “governing”. At its core, government is simply an organizing principle by which large groups of humans can live together without killing each other. Who governs and who’s governed. That’s the bottommost line there is.

From eight thousand years ago until 1776, with a few exceptions, humans relied on the “divine right of kings” to govern how we governed. We got it into our heads that some of us were really and truly chosen by the divine to lead (and have most of the money). This is pure bamboozlement. No one’s blood is any better than anyone else’s. No tribe’s blood is superior. The only thing about which some humans can claim any sort of superiority is the pathogens lurking inside them. White Europeans were vectors for some extremely lethal pathogens — smallpox, bubonic plaguechickenpoxcholerathe common colddiphtheriainfluenzamalariameaslesscarlet feversexually transmitted diseases (with the possible exception of syphilis), typhoidtyphustuberculosis (although a form of this infection existed in South America prior to contact), and pertussis. Syphilis was the one pathogen Native Americans sent over to Europe. Europeans were especially driven by the divine right of kings because they tied their kings to their Christian faith.

But, the American experiment intrigued the Europeans. After all, we were simply the lab for an idea that the French Enlightenment had been kicking around. The idea of human beings governing themselves instead of being governed by “superiors” was radical. The big mistake the European men who founded America’s democratic government was in writing “All men are created equal” while meaning 1) only WHITE, Christian, land-owning men and 2) by meaning ONLY men. America is a fantastic idea as yet unrealized.

And that is because democracy is hard. Or, as Winston Churchill put it, “the worst form of government except for all the others”. It’s just how it is; democracy is the best of a really bad lot.

That’s WHY actually pulling off democracy is so challenging. Living in an authoritarian shithole, you can take life for granted: it’s going to suck and there’s nothing you can do about it except follow the rules, keep your nose clean and pray they never come for you. Democracy, by contrast, is a contact sport. It demands active engagement with it if it’s to work as designed. I like Australia’s approach (Australia’s participation rate is 91.89%!). Come election day in Australia, no one has to actually vote, but everyone must show up at their polling location. By law they have to show willingness to participate even if none of the candidates meet their needs.

Americans used to understand that freedom wasn’t “free”. Every one of its awesome benefits comes with a challenging obligation: you have to show up. For some people, apparently, even just that is a bridge too far.

Okay – What IF America Split Into Two Countries?

In a very real sense, we’re still fighting the Civil War. And, we fought the Civil War because, though we aspired to E Pluribus Unum, we tripped over “All men are created equal” because we didn’t mean “all” men and by “men”, we meant only “men”. America has always been a great idea poorly executed. Or… “not yet executed to its intended specs”. Let’s put it that way. “America is a country still aspiring to reach the potential of its aspirations”. And those aspirations can (and, I believe, will) be achieved if we simply hew to our own founding principle: through many, one.

This, really, is what America is now fighting about. Donald Trump’s presidency — the circumstances that made him president (they don’t include freely or fairly winning election) — exposed the Republican Party for the anti-democratic, permanent minority rule desiring thugs Newt Gingrich dreamed they’d be. In Germany, after WWII, it was against the law to display swastikas or any Nazi symbols because of what they represented. In America, OTOH, we never stopped glorifying treason: that’s what a confederate flag is — a symbol of treason. This is what happens when you compromise with evil (as America did when it cut a deal with slavery).

Our current chaos flows directly from the gross mistake of writing “All men are created equal” but only meaning “white, Christian, land-owning men”. Also, this is what happens when one side loses the war but wins the peace that follows. Whatever the Confederacy lost at Appomattox Courthouse, it regained not very long afterwards: they destroyed Reconstruction (and any chance America had to right a terrible wrong, level its racial playing field and demonstrate just how great an E Pluribus Unum America could be) and stole the narrative. A war exclusively about slavery (that’s according to every seceding state’s secession docs) was repackaged as a war about “states’ rights” — as if the Confederacy was actually fighting a “good fight” about freedom and liberty.

Not only was the Confederacy racist, it was incredibly full of shit.

So is that portion of America that still supports what the Confederacy was after. But then, it’s just conservative standard operating procedure to bullshit everyone including yourself. Right now, red states are howling how much they want to secede from the blue states. That’s so sweet: a bunch of impoverished red necks who can’t take their toothless maws from the federal money teat thinking they could do anything on their own other than fail. Okay, white supremacists — have at it! Show us what a white supremacist super state looks like here in reality!

Confederacy, The Sequel will probably include all the confederate states minus Virginia but plus Oklahoma and probably plus Missouri too. It will also include all those vast tracts of red real estate out west. Idaho, Wyoming, most of Montana and western Washington and Oregon. Far Northern California too perhaps. At first.

Even as the red-hatted yahoos fill the streets with drunken brawling and celebrations, a brain drain will begin. By the same token, plenty of blue state ultra conservatives also might look red-ward. Their blue dollars will be worth far more in those less economically dynamic red states where real estate and life are cheaper. The educated will abandon red America in droves. So, too, will the innovators and problem solvers. Women in those states unfortunately will face some hard choices that dictate staying versus going. Those that go will thrive while those that stay behind will sink deeper and deeper into despair, drudgery and depression because they live in a country that hates them — hates everyone not white, Christian, male and land-owning..

All Red America — The Confederacy, Part Two — can ever be is a poor man’s Gilead.

Being racist and paranoid and short-sighted, Red America will weapon up, their lizard brains aflame with bunker mentality run amok. They’ll see the “same-ification” of their country as success. The white faces all around them will reassure them that they really have achieved the white homeland of their wettest wet dreams. But, within weeks the brain drain will hit them as systems malfunction or break down and the few people capable of fixing anything get stretched thin. The power grid will go first, then other big pieces of infrastructure. Remember — the red states have always relied on the blue states to pay for them. Take the blue states and their money out of the equation and the red states will find themselves broke at the start. Failing roads and bridges on top of unreliable electricity will screw with Red America’s already sketchy supply chain.

Next thing ya know, Red State Americans aren’t just sitting in the dark, they’re hungry, too. And thirsty because the water systems also need maintenance and improvement. And — because their sewage systems also aren’t performing as needed anymore — Red State Americans are now swimming in shit. Still choosing “freedom” over vaccination or mask mandates, variants that, at most, inconvenience Blue State America kill Red State Americans by the refrigerated truckload. Because they refuse any sort of vaccination (or health care) protocols, Red State Americans aren’t allowed to travel to Blue State America — or anywhere for that matter.

Their isolation will increase their paranoia. They’ll saber rattle that much more but with that much less gravity (though they’ll still be Kim Yong-Un style dangerous). The divide between haves and have-nots will expand in Red State America. What remained of the middle class will finally collapse. Ninety-nine percent of Red State Americans will be poorer than they are now while the richer-than-rich one percent get richer still.

The rest of the world will view Red State America suspiciously because Red State America is so corrupt. Corruption will be why so little international money lands in Red State America. Also — the leadership of Red State America will be outlaws from justice in Blue State America where they’ve all been tried for election fraud, obstruction of justice and treason in abstentia. Red State leaders will be as welcome in Blue State America as Jefferson Davis.

Before long, Red State Americans will march toward their border crossings with Blue State America with the same grim determination that Central Americans and Haitians do today. Like those poor souls, Red State Americans will have literally nothing left to lose.

Meanwhile, across the border in Blue State America — where Joe Biden’s agenda got fully funded in large part because the moderates suddenly had nothing corrupt to compromise with — not only are Blue State Americans happier and healthier than Red State Americans, they’re living longer and they’re all wealthier. Every American will have full health CARE (not the health insurance we mistake for health care), free pre-school and community college. Affordable (if not entirely free) public colleges and universities will produce diverse problem solvers as will trade schools and other skunkworks that innovate away our challenges. Blue State Americans will see both the benefits of their citizenship but also its responsibilities — which they will embrace as a matter of civic pride and patriotism.

Give these two countries a decade — just to drive the point home — and two very different-looking countries will result. One will be a lot closer to realizing the full potential of our experiment in self-governance. The other will be an authoritarian shithole with a giant, fake-gold “T” over it. .

Dear American News Media: I’m Just Here To Help!

Dear American News Media:

I’ve had a change of heart about you and me and our relationship. After using this space to criticize you relentlessly, I’ve decided to “go positive” toward you instead. Pointing out your many flaws (like when you fawn over power instead of interrogating it or cynically insist that “both sides do it”) has gotten me nowhere with you. You still fawn over power when you should be skeptical of it (and that’s because you’ve mistaken cynicism for skepticism) same as you did during the George W. Bush presidency. It’s strange though how that cynicism gets applied the moment Democrats assume the mantle of power. But, there I go again, criticizing when I mean to be giving positive re-enforcement. I see now this is going to be a harder habit to break than I realized.

Most of my notes here apply to MSNBC because I spend so much more time with them than CNN. Actually, aside from Chuck Todd’s hour of over-rehearsed tics, random twitching and “I’m being thoughtful” eye rolling, I’m pretty exclusive to MSNBC where cable news is concerned. That’s not because I love most of their on air talent — I don’t. MSNBC has a few truly exceptional news broadcasters/communicators on their team. I have zero problem with advocate journalism so long as its open about its advocacy and consistent in its morality. Nicolle Wallace evolved into a super star whose past — as the basis for her crisis of conscience — gives her point of view gravitas. She is what a “Come To Jesus” moment looks like when given two hours of cable news five days a week.

Rachel Maddow’s integrity is rock solid. Stories that seem to meander suddenly cut to the bone when seemingly disparate dots connect and a real sense of “the bigger picture” flashes to the surface.

Ali Velshi is a rock. He’s gone from being the H-POD to being a beacon of logic and humanity. I don’t know how he keeps his (second) marriage together considering his work schedule. His family’s loss is our gain. Okay — I can be selfish that way.

I’m thrilled for Joy-Ann Reid (righteous indignation + receipts = what journalism should be) and all the talented people flowing from her “space”: Jonathan Capehart and Tiffany Cross both bring intelligence, cultural insight, wit and grace to their time slots, MSNBC and American journalism as a whole.

Lawrence O’Donnell puts a great bow on most days. My only note is one I’m not sure he could do anything about. I agree with most of what Lawrence says. But then, I’m the choir. Something in me always feels like that’s who Lawrence is preaching to — people as sensible as he is. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that but it does feel like a loop. Whereas Joy-Ann Reid can persuade with her passion, Lawrence reinforces with his warm reasonableness.

Chris Hayes epitomizes both advocate journalism’s strengths and its weaknesses. Hey — bring receipts like Chris does and you can flail away. But, sometimes that flailing feels like, well, flailing. The problem though is less Chris than the entire news industry’s aversion to including ALL possible explanations for Donald Trump’s presence in American politics and his behavior.

Ari Melber has the potential to be better than he is. He seems especially resistant to drawing conclusions and connecting dots minus ironclad evidence or a literal smoking gun. He sees the legal angles clearly but, at the moment of truth, when he could step forward and boldly connect the important dots, he gets lawyerly cold feet.

For the year and change of Trump’s candidacy (he declared on June 17, 2015), the four years of his presidency and the (almost a) year since he lost re-election, our news media has framed Trump as legitimate candidate, president and former-president. He’s been none of those things — from legitimacy’s point of view. Our news media however, having succumbed to access journalism’s lure during George W. Bush’s presidency, can’t bring themselves to call anyone what they are. Hell, our news media still regularly bleeps foul language from the news because they think 1) their audience “can’t handle the truth” and 2) language isn’t part of the news. Though “journalists”, they feel how a person expresses themselves — with all the significance their word choices imply — is less important if that expression might offend certain people. That’s not journalism, it’s misguided nannying.

To blunt language is to blunt news’ impact. It’s sugar-coating at a time when the more truth we get — all bitterness included — the better!

When our news media “pussy-footed” around “pussy-grabbing”, they deep-sixed the truth in favor of “being sensitive” — but to whom? Every woman in America deserved to know exactly how Donald Trump thinks about women. If that view of women includes his thinking he can do whatever he wants to whatever woman he wants — that’s material. Look, just because someone has a point of view (and we all have points of view), that doesn’t mean their point of view has a point. A rapist (like Trump) has a point of view as he commits rape (“I’m raping because I want to and can!) but that doesn’t mean his point of view is valid where fairness and the rule of law are concerned. Mexicans aren’t rapists as a culture. Trump’s candidacy should have ended the day it started because he said that.

The fact that Trump did say it — and his candidacy didn’t end — that’s not on the Democrats, it had zero to do with them. It’s not on the Republicans either because the rest of the Republican field would have been just as happy if Trump and his campaign had imploded that day. It’s hard to say how many Republican contenders knew yet (as the Washington Post reported in 2017) that “there’s two people Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump”. The GOP still hadn’t embraced Trump the way they would eventually. Only the news media really “saw something” in Trump.

A cash cow.

I didn’t start out a news junkie; I’m just a humble storyteller and an occasionally successful screenwriter and film/TV producer. Something about Trump’s candidacy triggered my “Spidey-senses”. My storytelling senses, too. What stuck in my craw from the get-go was a growing perception that the news story I was living through was not the news story our news media was reporting. I started to think of it like icing and cake. The news media were all about the story’s icing when, really, they needed to be looking much more deeply at the cake. Take Trump’s relationship with Vlad Putin. To this day, our news media will scratch divots into their heads pondering why Trump is soooooo beta to Putin’s alpha.

Someone should write a saying about how pictures speak a thousand words — and then hand it to our news media. “Both sides do it” journalism however gives every piece of information equal weight — and they refuse to “judge” information or the people supplying it. That’s how liars spewing lies about climate science can be the same as climate scientists presenting conclusive data. Before being shamed into cutting the shit, our news media regularly presented climate science and climate denial as if both points of view had equal merit. Even if they didn’t mean to do that, our news media presented both points of view on screen as a fifty-fifty proposition. That’s what it says visually when two people argue, both with 50% of the screen — both points of view could be true.

This still happens every time our news media presents a Democrat’s point of view and then — for balance — a Republican’s. If the Democrat says “we need to these programs to help these people and we calculate it will cost this much, the Republican replying “That costs too much” isn’t an actual reply to the question. The people the Democrats are trying to help still need that help. That’s empirically true regardless. If it will cost x dollars to help them then the proper framing is “We need this amount of money to help this amount of Americans accomplish equity — a thing we know America needs to deal with”. “Costs too much” means “I’m choosing NOT to help all the people who need help”. The question is “why?” Where should that money go instead?

Our news media loves a horse race because races are easy to call. You just sit there and watch the horses run. But, America’s in a very strange place right now. There are horse races being run — and our news media is reporting on them (the “Will Joe Biden get his agenda passed by Congress” story is nothing but a horse race in our news media’s hands). But these races are happening while the race track is burning down around us. And the Republican Party set the fire.

I know for a fact that I’m not the only member of the cable news audience baffled by cable news’ inability to aggregate the story we’re all living through. Example: the news media itself kept track of the number of lies they believe Trump told in public. 30, 573 was the “official” tab according to the Washington Post on January 24, 2021. Those were lies told while Trump was POTUS. The WaPo, as far as I know, stopped keeping track; we have no idea how many lies Trump has lied while being former-POTUS. Whatever that number is, it’s a record. Yet, few in the news media framed Trump as a liar first — though, considering the amount of lying and Trump’s willingness to lie about everything no matter how small and demonstrably false — that, too, is baffling. You’d think that, after even just 10 percent of those lies — thirty-five hundred or so — you’d stop assuming Trump was ever telling the truth since there’s clearly no evidence of it while there’s ample and growing evidence that he lies.

Our news media still publishes Trump’s lies without framing them as such even while knowing that that’s what they are. Oh, sure — they do tell us they’re lies — but, if we see it from Trump’s point of view (knowing he’s lying), the point of the exercise isn’t to prove you’re not lying, it’s to blanket the world with the lie so as to turn the lie into “the truth”. Even when acknowledging Trump’s dishonesty, our news media continues to work to his dishonesty’s advantage.

Geez! I wanted to be positive here and, instead, I’ve criticized again. Did I mention yet what a hard habit this is to break?

Here — I’ll try to be positive. Kelly O’Donnell is someone I’ve been unkind toward in the past. And she epitomizes exactly what I’m talking about. Kelly (can I call you that?), I want to make amends because — hey, we’re both in show biz, right? The news biz IS show biz and the same principles that make my storytelling work also make yours work.

I mean this from the bottom of my heart (for what that’s worth): I want to help YOU, Kelly O, be the best storyteller you can be! Here’s a clip of Kelly O from August 17, 2017 after a terrorist attack in Barcelona. It’s early in the Trump presidency; his lying as POTUS is still newish (compared to his lying as candidate). But — context — Sean Spicer didn’t get up in front of the White House Press Corps and lie about the size of Trump’s crowd size for his health or because he really wanted to. Journalists like Kelly O’ had personally witnessed not just that Trump lied but that he lied about stupid things. And,, remember, this is well after “Mexicans are rapists” (a lie) and “pussy-grabbing” (another lie — his denial).

A storyteller adding information builds a platform from which to base the next part of the story. The goal is to tell the whole story, of course, by connecting dots as they become reasonably connectable. Once you’ve established that a person is a liar (inside your own head), how can you tell that person’s story as if they aren’t a liar? The fact is they could be and an honest telling of their story starts there — not after you’ve presented the lie. Context IS everything.

https://www.msnbc.com/deadline-white-house/watch/o-donnell-appears-it-is-incorrect-information-being-tweeted-by-trump-1027064387879

At the 1:07 mark, Kelly O’ reads a tweet Trump put out.

She then qualifies the tweet: “Especially in that last sentence,” says Kelly O, “That seems to be the voice of the president more than a staffer on his behalf”. “That seems to be” is Kelly O’ inserting herself into the story — putting herself into Donald Trump’s head because, I guess, she has such insight into how Trump thinks. Though Trump to that point had showed zero capacity for empathy, Kelly O’ makes him empathetic regardless as if he must be empathetic just because he’s POTUS and Kelly O’s reporting on him. But Kelly O senses there’s more to it. Good for her!

“But, then a curious follow up tweet,” Kelly O’ continues, “…where the President says” (and she reads the tweet) —

Kelly O reminds the audience that this echoes a story Trump told on the campaign trail (a place where he lied repeatedly of course and said outrageous, offensive things) even though, as president, Trump had access to copious information that proved the story wrong. Historians have found no basis in fact for this, Kelly O says, spinning a blatant lie into “it appears this is incorrect information being tweeted by the President at this time”.

Think about the difference between these two presentations of the same thing — a lie. One presents the lie as a lie. The other is Kelly O’ dancing around until the word “lie” can’t really be discerned anymore. No one lies by accident. They’re deliberate by definition and Trump deliberately lies as readily as he breathes. Yet Kelly O editorialized a Trumpian lie down into something Trump could have done accidentally. That’s really dishonest. And, when you consider what Trump did subsequently?

That makes Kelly O an enabler.

Ah, hell — I did it again! I’m so sorry, Kelly O — I really didn’t mean to criticize. You’re a nice person — anyone can get that just from watching you. From everything I’ve read, your colleagues like you. From your industry’s point of view, you’re at the top of your game. That doesn’t mean you’re AT the top of your game. Or maybe it does and the thing we’re comparing it to — the news industry’s game — has a “top” most industries wouldn’t brag about. What it means is that from mediocrity’s point of view, you fit right in.

You are tasked with covering the biggest, most compelling, most consequential story of our collective lifetimes. Our democracy’s survival hinges on you getting your job right. So far, you’ve let us and democracy down hard. But the game ain’t over yet! Hell, MSNBC itself has news assets that both see and perfectly articulate what’s happening to us. For my money, Jason Johnson and Elie Mystal are both Jeremiah’s we should be listening to religiously.

In my dreams, a day will come when I can step back from being a news junkie. Fascinating as it is, it’s exhausting. But, I know this: if the day comes when I can stop obsessing on the news, it will be because Progressives (the only adults in the room now) have finally cleared out all the dead wood — the stale, regressive, repressiveness of our racist right wing. When the day comes that we’re no longer under threat, I will relax. Finally.

I’ll miss a few of my regulars when that day comes: Nicolle and Rachel especially. But, as for the rest of you? I’ll assume you’ve gone off to greener pastures — and jobs you might actually be good at.

Our News Media Reports Corruption The Way Corruption Wants

Yesterday, Lawrence O’Donnell focused a segment of his show “The Last Word” on a tweet thread published by former Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times editor Mark Jacob. Having left the field of “official” journalism — the bubble in which most American journalists live, breathe and work — Jacob has come to see that the neutrality he thought was a hallmark of American journalism was actually a trap. Each and every time a reporter “balanced” something a Democrat said with something a Republican said, they weren’t actually presenting two equally valid points. The mistake “both sides do it” brand journalism makes automatically is in assuming that any two points of view — regardless of what they are — are equally valid even if one is based entirely on facts and the other entirely on feelings. It’s not for the journalist to judge validity, says the “both sides do it” school. That’s for their readers or viewers to decide!

Not a revelation: if you automatically give credence to bullshit, then bullshit instantly becomes credible when credible is the last thing bullshit is. But, if the news media is doing it, bullshit instantly gains at least a patina of Truth. So long as bullshit “could” be true, we’re all doomed. The moment you give bullshit the benefit of the doubt, doubt becomes the core operating principle and doubt is meat & potatoes to a fascist. Fascists, having created the doubt, step forward as its only real cure. That is precisely what the Republican Party is doing right here, right now.

For better or worse, Americans have short memories when it comes to history. At least, white Americans do. Our news media has always serviced white America’s short memory while insisting no other group’s memories (or stories) have equal validity or value. How many white Americans had ever heard of “Black Wall Street” before Black Lives Matter began to matter? Prior to the internet, the only people holding a megaphone were the media companies. They alone had the means to broadcast information far and wide. While there was less competition, at least most of the messages were relatively consistent and kept to a consistent narrative.

The advent of the twenty-four hour news cycle created both a new market for information and a monster. Filling that maw twenty-four-seven is a challenge. Or, at least it was until Donald Trump forced his way into the conversation and hijacked it. Our news media adore Trump. He’s driven their ratings to record levels. He’s made them richer than they were. And, as we all know, success teaches us only that our shit doesn’t stink when, in fact, it does. The word Jacob uses is “lazy”. Success makes people lazy. When you walk in the door lazy — as too many American journalists do, their laziness exacerbated by “both sides do it” thinking — you’re only going to get more lazy with time, as our news media has.

Donald Trump was demonstrably unethical in virtually everything he did and said. Hell, Trump’s projected most if not all of his criminality onto everyone else — a standard bully tactic. According to the Washington Post, Trump lied (or, in the WaPo’s softened version “mislead”) 30,573 times (as of January 24, 2021). You’d think after three or four times, journalists would “catch on” that Trump is “an unreliable witness” even to his own life. If you had even a modicum of analytical skills, surely you’d start connecting dots — adding verifiable information together to form a picture upon which you build an evolving narrative. After about five thousand lies, say, you’d stop giving this liar any sort of benefit of the doubt because the data says odds are, whatever just tumbled from Trump’s mouth, it’s not true. Rather than repeating everything Trump says verbatim — because he’s the POTUS — you’d contextualize this POTUS before any reporting began.

“While most presidents tell something like the truth most of the time, Donald Trump never tells the truth ever — even when confronted with it and — with that in mind — here’s what the liar-in-chief said today…”. Over the top, you think? Maybe in the olden days when Saint Ronnie Reagan was doing the lying. Today? It’s an understatement. Our news media set itself (and us) up for failure the moment they took up the “both sides do it” mantle. But it’s “both sides do it” thinking that caused our news media to quickly normalize “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy-grabbing” because “But her emails!”

Stone cold fact: no one — no one — in the Republican Party (with two exceptions perhaps) is an honest actor. As I’ve squawked here time and time again, the GOP knew even before they nominated Trump in 2016 that he was owned by Russia. Current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said so out loud as he entered a meeting of GOP leaders on June 15, 2016 (the meeting was recorded and the recording played for Washington Post reporter Adam Entous a year later): “There’s two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” No one in the room questioned the statement. No one rushed to Trump’s defense. No one doubt the statement’s veracity. No one called the FBI. Instead, per then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan’s demand, they all agreed to keep this secret a secret. “That’s how we know we’re family,” said Ryan.

Though this conversation was reported first by the Washington Post in 2017, virtually no one in the press has gone back to it — even with the perspective of everything that followed it (including Trump’s “odd” relationship with Putin). The one time the press did ask McCarthy about it, McCarthy issued the standard response: “I was joking”.

Take this to the bank and prepare to get rich: no, he wasn’t.

Not everyone has a sense of humor. That’s a fact. What marks the presence of a sense of humor in people is their ability to laugh at themselves. For real! If you can’t laugh at yourself (but can only laugh at others), that’s not having a “sense of humor”, it’s being a bully. Not the same thing, right? Bullies laugh plenty — but only at other people and at other peoples’ expense. Having no sense of humor, a person like Donald Trump can’t see irony. Literally. It’s like the rest of us trying to see x-ray and gamma ray light with our eyeballs — they’re not equipped to see those kinds of light. So, when a bully like Kevin McCarthy says “I was joking”, he’s not.

Ah, but when our news media assumes everyone’s doing it — and everyone has a sense of humor — then we get cruelty reported as “humor” in the interest of “fairness”. When our news media refuses to discern truth tellers from bullshit artists, we get the distorted view of ourselves the news media presents and calls “truth”.

How one frames a story IS the story. Journalism is storytelling in real time. It’s goal should be exactly the same: to get at the core “why” inside every human action. Even if someone can’t articulate why they do something, there is a very real “why”; no one ever does anything “just because”. Our news media — incapable of adding information to a narrative (especially if it contradicts “conventional wisdom”) keeps returning to a bizarre “square one” every day. Whereas the framing of the story we’re living through should START with Republican corruption front and center — with Donald Trump’s treasonous behavior in the middle of it — our news media starts each day scratching their heads about the perverse hold Trump has over the Republican Party.

Yeah, yeah — Trump’s base plays a part. But that’s only if you discount the possibility that people might do things for the right reasons and not the expedient ones. To understand Trump and his presidency, you must remove your “normalcy bias blinders”. You have to appreciate what Fusion GPS appreciated when — after doing their due diligence prior to beginning their oppo research on Trump (initially for the conservative owners of the Washington Free Beacon) — they became convinced that Trump had used his bankrupt Atlantic City casinos to launder Russian mob money (for which Trump was repeatedly fined!) That’s a crime!

Fusion subcontracted their research into Trump’s Russian connections out to Orbis, the company run by respected, former MI6 Russia Desk jockey Christopher Steele because Steele had solid connections inside Russia — the context being that we’re talking about the “secret world” where you have to discern any smoking guns through the fog of deception. If our news media had done the same due diligence Fusion did — if they had aggregated the Trump story (especially their own reporting!) — our picture of Trump would be entirely different from what it is right now. For sure we wouldn’t be asking if Trump’s a racist or a rapist — the facts say “yes, he absolutely is, stop asking about it!”

We wouldn’t wonder “is Trump corrupt?” or “Is the GOP?” We wouldn’t ask why Putin and Russia still have such a grip on Trump and the GOP. We wouldn’t ask “will Trump run in 2024?” like he was some “normal” presidential candidate. Instead — because our news media had been fulfilling its Constitutionally mandated role as our final check on power’s corrupting influence — we’d already be at the part where a treasonous POTUS and his equally treasonous political party were being called out for who and what they really are by our press, while our Department of Justice was actively prosecuting them for same — because what they’re doing is criminal (for a political purpose), not political.

Breaking News: Progressives Are Now, Officially, The “Adults In The Room”

Remember back in the olden days — during the 2016 election — when progressives were universally viewed as crackpots? Remember when universal basic income was understood to be a pipe dream that could never work in the real world? Remember when universal, single-payer health CARE and free pre-k and community college for all were things that other countries did but that Americans (being rugged individuals) would never tolerate or want so why bother thinking about them? Remember when America simply took for granted that most Americans didn’t care about voting in anything but presidential elections (where, even then, only half of America reliably voted)? Remember when progressives rolled their eyes at the very thought of Joe Biden being president? Funny how Life changes, yeah? It’s now the Progressives who have hoisted Joe Biden and his agenda — mostly the Progressives’ agenda — onto their backs and set themselves on a forced march from which they will not be deterred because they know: tens of millions of Americans are counting on them to do the right thing. Meanwhile, all around them, chaos rules. The similarity to a schoolyard is downright shocking. Good thing there are adults here to supervise.

As we stand here today, the only political entity with a clearly stated agenda is the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. The Congressional Progressive Caucus focuses on these seven planks:

• Provide COVID Relief that Meets the Scale of the Crisis and Addresses the Disproportionate Harm to Black, Indigenous, People of Color and Other Vulnerable Communities

• Put People Back to Work, Give Workers More Power, and Transform to a Clean Renewable Energy Economy.

• Ensure Health Care for Everyone

• Defend and Expand Voting Rights, Strengthen Democracy and End Corruption

• Dismantle Racism, White Supremacy and Inequality in All Institutions

• End Endless Wars and Invest in Diplomacy and Peace

• End Corporate Greed and Corporate Monopolies

There’s actually way more than seven big ideas in there. But, every single one is good and worth pursuing because they’ll produce a better America where the rising tide floats every single boat. That Progressive ideal isn’t anathema to most Americans. Quite the contrary. 62% of Americans “somewhat or strongly support passing both President Biden’s Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan together using budget reconciliation.” Not only do most Americans want what Progressives want, they want President Biden to use whatever means necessary to get that legislation passed and the government working FOR them. That, really, is the Progressive “Big Idea”: that government — being us — is obligated above all to be there for us in whatever ways we want or need it to be there. THAT is the nature of a democracy. We govern ourselves for our mutual benefit. Yes, there are individual rights, but where individual rights and the groups’ rights butt heads, the group must almost always win.

Rugged individuals couldn’t care less about governing. They have it in their heads that no one should have the power to govern them — or regulate them — or even tell them “no”. They’ve got a ten year old boy’s idea of freedom: “You’re not the boss of me!” Being little boys without the brain structures to comprehend the consequences of their actions, they don’t understand that freedom isn’t even remotely free — and can’t be. Freedom comes with great bennies but also great responsibilities. It’s a package deal however. That’s what people on the right either forget or ignore. They want their rights but couldn’t give a flaming fig if you get yours. What that really means is they don’t care about rights period. They want what they want and they intend to take it.

In our current argument, the Progressives, the Democratic Party and the majority of Americans are being held hostage by two things: the Republican Party (a given) and the Democratic Party’s “moderate wing”.

The Republican Party is now so far gone that Liz Cheney is considered a heretic. If not for our news media’s rabid insistence that Republicans are all still “honest actors”, we might already be miles further down this story’s tortured road. The majority of Republicans now insist that Joe Biden stole the election from Donald Trump (the ultimate enfant terrible because he’s also a traitor). They know for a fact that this is bullshit but insist it’s true anyway. Adult behavior, that is not. Adult behavior in the GOP could have reasserted itself — should have asserted itself — before they nominated Trump. They had the perfect out to remove him from their midst; and they could have looked damned patriotic while doing it.

June 15, 2016 — a room somewhere in or near the Capitol. Current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walks into a meeting of Republican leaders and says — out loud (it was recorded!) — “There’s two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” Afraid that the conversation would continue, then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan insisted that the subject remain a secret between them. “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.” All anyone had to do was call the FBI with what must have been some pretty substantial (and substantiated) suspicions. Even if they were just suspicions, they owed it to their oaths of office to DO something — other than keep a secret like a mafia family.

The Republicans know for a fact that but for Russia, Donald Trump would NEVER have become president. Take Russia out of the 2016 equation and Donald Trump doesn’t get past the primaries. He never gets into the game to begin with and why would he? The last thing on earth a crook wants is undue attention on where his money came from. When the Trumps realized that connecting their money to Russia (as Junior did here) was a bad idea, they stopped talking about it. They never stopped taking the money though. Our news media have worn divots into their scalps from scratching their heads so hard as they ponder “what is Trump’s hold over the Republican Party?” Sure, sure — Trump’s base can play havoc come primary time. Are Republicans that craven that hanging onto a job “trumps” their integrity? Oh, look — in the woods — there’s a pile of bear shit!

Republicans aren’t just politically craven, they’re outright criminal. Our news media — and the moderate wing of the Democratic Party — have softened those criminal edges into a “political point of view”. That’s what circumventing the Will Of The People in a democratic republic is: criminal. It’s an attempt to subvert the Peoples’ will toward some other entity’s will. That is completely against the law — a thing Progressives have always recognized but, at long last, are getting to shout from the rooftops. A political party dedicated to ending American democracy (against the will of the majority) is not a political party, it’s a criminal enterprise. Their actions aren’t political, they’re criminal acts for a political purpose but criminal acts above all. Bottom line: the Republicans are now criminals. Their agenda is a criminal agenda and their end game (the end of the greatest experiment ever in human self-government) a betrayal. They represent racism, misogyny, bigotry and permanent (white) minority rule. I’ll sum it up for us: evil.

What the Republican Party stands for is evil.

So, why do moderate Democrats want to compromise with them? Do moderate Democrats — that’s what Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are in theory — actually believe that Democrats should negotiate with people out to destroy the very democracy we’re talking about? What would the compromise with such a point of view be? We sell “part” of our democracy down the river? We sell out some Americans to the benefit of other Americans? We float some boats but not all boats?

That IS what moderates are demanding — that Democrats (whose agenda the majority supports) should negotiate away things the electorate wants in order to gain… what? The tell that one side is negotiating from bullshit’s point of view is that they talk about a number — like $3.5 trillion — like it wasn’t connected to policies meant to help Americans — the “Of the People, by the People and for the People” Lincoln was talking about. “That number’s too big!” is a bullshit statement because it doesn’t qualify what it means. Too big for what? Too big compared to what? Too big from whose point of view?

Moderates, apparently, see “too big” from the Republican point of view — a criminal point of view that sees government service as a way for the government (tax dollars) to service THEM. Our dumb-as-dirt news media insist that Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema represent some “point of view” that has a valid point (and wouldn’t it be swell if some reporter actually pinned either of those two down on whose point of view they’re actually repping here). What point of view could possibly weigh more than the point of view of their constituents? See where I’m going? It’s exactly where Joe & Kyrstan stand — up to their necks in corruption.

In our current political environment, America stands poised at a crossroads. We will go one way or the other. There is no middle ground, no moderation. In one direction lies the authoritarian shithole of Republican wet dreams. In the other is the America as yet unrealized where the exceptionalism promised by E Pluribus Unum (our country’s motto) finally manifests itself in reality. Moderates and centrists will have to pick which of those two roads they want to go down. Spoiler alert: America’s going down the E Pluribus Unum road. As potent a force as fascism is, in the past, it’s succeeded in homogenous cultures like Weimar Germany. Even “good Germans” saw their German-ness as more important than defending Jews (outsiders to German culture).

Here in America though, “American” is a far more recent “invention”. Nothing like the “German” national identity exists in America outside white supremacists — a small minority here. Fascism relies upon a large group’s bonding together despite their moral misgivings — their cultural connections being the glue that binds them. E Pluribus Unum may result in “unum” (together) but the “pluribus” is the big difference between America and Germany. For America to succumb to fascism, all those groups white people have abused would have to agree on some level to let that continue because they don’t want to rock the cultural boat. Trust me on this: that is not going to happen.

E Pluribus Unum says so.