Sunday, November 04, 2018

The Banana Republic of Georgia

This is a personal first: I just-now had an actual political canvasser knock on my front door, and told him (truthfully) that I'd already cast an early ballot. In fact, I voted a straight-Democratic ticket for the first time since ... I dunno, possibly ever? But for all the Democrats' many many many flaws, at least they're not the Openly White Supremacist Party, which the contemporary GOP is. I figure this is no time to cast any libertarian purity-protest votes, not with literal Nazi sympathizers infesting the Republican party. Face it: the libertarians have no chance of unseating any Republicans, whereas the Democrats just might.

Except here in Georgia. To be honest, I rather doubt my votes will even be counted, thanks to Georgia's utterly insane "all-electronic ballots with no paper trail" system, made worse by the fact that our Republican Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, is also the Republican gubernatorial candidate, and (amazing coincidence!) the guy responsible for kicking something like 20 percent of all registered voters off the rolls in the past few years -- by an amazing coincidence, the overwhelming majority of the disenfranchised have "non-white" names. Over 340,000 registered voters were kicked off the rolls not reporting a change of address -- because they didn't have to, because they never moved.

Kemp is also, by yet another amazing coincidence, the guy who recently tried closing seven out of nine voting precincts in a majority-black district, backing down only after getting unwanted national-media attention. And now, just in case such shenanigans are not sufficiently corrupt, Kemp has upped the ante two days before the election. As Richard L. Hasen reports in Slate (hyperlinks from the original text): 
In perhaps the most outrageous example of election administration partisanship in the modern era, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is running for governor while simultaneously in charge of the state’s elections, has accused the Democratic Party without evidence of hacking into the state’s voter database. He plastered a headline about it on the Secretary of State’s website, which thousands of voters use to get information about voting on election day. 

It’s just the latest in a series of partisan moves by Kemp, who has held up more than 50,000 voter registrations for inconsistencies as small as a missing hyphen, fought rules to give voters a chance to prove their identity when their absentee ballot applications are rejected for a lack of a signature match, and  been aggressive in prosecuting those who have done nothing more than try to help those in need of assistance in casting ballots. 

But the latest appalling move by Kemp to publicly accuse the Democrats of hacking without evidence is even worse than that: Kemp has been one of the few state election officials to refuse help from the federal Department of Homeland Security to deter foreign and domestic hacking of voter registration databases. After computer scientists demonstrated the insecurity of the state’s voting system, he was sued for having perhaps the most vulnerable election system in the country. His office has been plausibly accused of destroying evidence, which would have helped to prove the vulnerabilities of the state election system.... what Kemp has done now goes beyond the pale. He’s accused his opponents of election tampering without evidence on the eve of the election, and plastered the incendiary charge on an official state website in the days before his office will administer that election. This is some banana republic stuff.

He's not even pretending to care about lowercase-d democratic principles anymore. Personally, I suspect that if all registered, qualified voters who attempted to vote were allowed to do so, and if all votes were accurately and fairly counted, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams would win. At the same time, since Brian Kemp is the one overseeing the "fairness" of this election, I expect he'll be Georgia's next governor--not because he'll get the most votes, but because he intends to stuff the virtual ballot box. Or, as Richard Hasen put it: "Brian Kemp needs to step aside from running this election. If he doesn’t and he wins, lots of people will now believe the fix was in. Considering these latest actions, that belief will be justified."

I cannot recall ever feeling this pessimistic about the future of my country.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Obligatory "17th Anniversary of 9/11" Post

Nothing to say about today; I only wanted to point out that one year and one day from now, there will be US military personnel in Afghanistan who weren't even born yet on September 11, 2001.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Pointless Pettiness of the POTUS

I genuinely cannot understand why Trump's being so wince-inducingly petty about lowering the flag for John McCain. For far longer than I've been alive, it's been bog-standard bipartisan courtesy that when a quote-unquote "public servant" of his stature dies, you lower the US flags for awhile to show respect and yadda yadda. And if you're the sitting president, then you (or rather, your speechwriters) produce a statement about how this is a sad day for America because blah blah blah great loss to the nation.

(Yes, you can make a "that's hypocritical" argument, but I don't care -- a certain level of polite dissembling and hypocrisy is necessary to keep the gears of civilization greased.) What I specifically don't understand about Trump's mindset is, it costs him nothing to lower the flag, and he GAINS nothing by refusing to do so (until the American Legion and others finally convinced him of it) -- seriously, what the devil is he thinking here? Everything Trump does, he does because he expects to personally benefit by it somehow -- what benefit did he hope to get by being so petty in this instance?

A friend of mine suggested Trump hoped to get revenge for not being invited to McCain's funeral. Which may well be Trump's motivation, but that still inspires massive face-palming: what kind of American politico insults an American soldier solely for having become a POW, for fark's sake? (Don't get me wrong: the Vietnam War was stupid from the get-go, and had I been around then I'm certain I'd've protested it--but you still don't insult American POWs for having been POWs, for fark's sake.)

Even had there been no history of acrimony from Trump toward McCain, the McCain family would still be justified in not wanting Trump at the funeral due to Trump's tendency to simultaneously politicize events and make them about him: "Senator McCain's death was a sad day for America. SAD! Almost as sad as the FBI giving Crooked Hillary a pass! You know what wasn't sad, though? The day I was elected president by the hugest electoral landslide in all history!"

I'm thinking back to when I was in middle school or the higher elementary grades: academically I was "advanced for my age," but socially and emotionally I was arguably below par (in my defense, I had some pretty warped adult role models in you youngest days) -- plenty of things to make me cringe to recall them now -- but for all my terribly immature traits, I at least knew enough to TRY to "act like a grownup" in certain situations. Like, for ordinary Sunday church services I'd be fidgety and bored, but on those Sundays when I was assigned to be the "acolyte" (minister's assistant -- lighting and extinguishing the altar candles, passing out and collecting offering plates, and similar tasks), on THOSE days I made sure to behave "properly." Or -- again at church -- on those other Sundays when I didn't have to attend the sermon because I was instead put on "nursery duty" (helping to babysit the preschoolers who were far too young for the adult service) -- again, even as a 10 or 11-year-old I knew that when I was helping babysit little kids I had to act "like a grownup" in that instance.

Granted, I'm guessing any actual adult who observed me in such situations would've been very amused by some of my attempts at "grown-upness" -- but at least I was trying, and knew enough to try. And if my 10 to 12-year old self were somehow made to change places with President Trump today ... no doubt Young Me would've been just as clueless as Old Cheeto regarding economics and the like -- but I can say with absolute certainty that I'd've been orders of magnitude better than Trump at the diplomatic stuff. Because even as an immature 10-year-old I'd mastered such pathetically basic social skills as "You must at least PRETEND to be sad when someone dies," and more advanced concepts such as "If you're in a position of power -- like say the president of the United States -- comedian-types WILL sometimes fun of you, and you must accept this and NOT publicly get mad at them." 

As a ten- or eleven-year-old in a position of semi-power over inmates at the church nursery, I knew better than to get angry and take it personally one morning when a certain tantrumy toddler called me a "doodoo brain." I've seen nothing to indicate Trump has that level of maturity even today. If anything, Trump's still wont to lash out with toddler-style rants ... except Trump would more likely say "shithead" than "doodoo brain." Because advanced insults are as close to emotional sophistication as Donald Trump seems to get, and his unbelievable pettiness over John McCain shows it.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Unite the Right 2 Showed Why Free Speech is Better Than Censorship

After last year's Unite the Right tiki torch Nazi rally, there were calls for "hate speech" exemptions to the First Amendment: no free speech rights for racists, no free assembly for racists. (Somehow, people making these calls overlooked that the current POTUS and Attorney General sympathize with the tiki marchers -- those "very fine people" -- and convinced themselves that if the government had the power to pick and choose which ideas may legally be expressed, the likes of Trump and Sessions could surely be trusted to only go after the "right" people.)

But free speech ultimately prevailed: that reprehensible Jason Kessler, organizer of Unite the Right, received a permit to hold Unite the Right 2 in D.C. yesterday.

Result? Something like two dozen bigots showed up, outnumbered by the police who were there to protect said bigots from the anti-racist counter-protesters who outnumbered them by orders of magnitude. The bigots ended up bailing out half an hour before their rally was officially scheduled to start.

On the other hand: had authorities listened to the "ban hate speech" crowd and forbidden Kessler from holding his rally, he and his fellow bigots would now be portraying themselves as bold Speakers of Truth suppressed by evil anti-white (((conspirators))), and assuring their fans that, had the rally taken place yesterday, there would've been thousands if not HUNDREDS of thousands of Proud White Men marching through DC in a bold display of racial pride.

Unite the Right 2 is a textbook illustration of why free speech is better than censorship.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Hiroshima and the Purple Hearts

It's the anniversary of the nuclear bomb dropping on Hiroshima, and there's plenty of after-the-fact speculation that dropping the nuke and its sibling on Nagasaki a couple days later was an unforgivable sin, possibly even a war crime. For what it's worth -- given the genuinely evil behavior of Imperial Japan and the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, I always felt Truman made the right choice given the information he had at the time (nowadays, of course, it would be very bad to drop a nuke because we know about radioactive contamination and other aftereffects which Truman did not). 

Here's a semi-related trivia fact: almost every authentic US military Purple Heart medal currently in existence is an antique, at least 73 years old at minimum.

When Army generals ignorant of the nuclear bomb were planning the American invasion of mainland Japan, they estimated 500,000 initial US casualties, and pre-made a supply of medals sufficient to cover it. But then the two bombs dropped and the invasion never happened, so every Purple Heart awarded between 1945 and around 2000 (when the stockpile finally started running low) came from that original cache.

There's a very good argument to be made that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved far more lives than they cost, American and Japanese both. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

So What DOES Putin Have on Trump, Anyway?

My friend Ed Brayton, trying and failing to understand Trump's mindset as sane people are wont to do, said today that:

I have been dismissive of the notion that Putin has blackmail material on Trump and that's why he does the things he does. My reasoning has been that so much negative has already come out, what could he possibly have that would do any real damage to Trump? Even if it's the infamous, speculated "pee pee tape," does anyone think that would actually matter? He isn't going to be impeached over that and he knows it. But his behavior has now become so bizarre, so slavish toward Putin, that I'm beginning to doubt that. And if it's true, it has to be something huge, something that scares the hell out of a guy who thinks he's pretty much invincible. I'm having a hard time even imagining what it could be.
Here's my speculation – and I'm honestly not sure how much of this is my own sincere belief and how much is purely a devil's advocate hypothetical, because where Trump is concerned I really don't know what's “reasonable” to expect anymore – it could be that whatever has Trump so scared is actually not such a bad thing, by normal-person standards. 

Consider: people have accused Trump of being “shameless” or being completely unaware of the very notion of being ashamed, yet his behavior clearly shows the exact opposite is true: Trump is obsessed with shame, and with using (or attempting to use) ut as a weapon. Insulting people (especially women) for being “fat” or “ugly” or otherwise failing to meet conventional beauty standards; calling people “loser” or “SAD!!!” as a default criticism; inventing insulting and demeaning nicknames (Little Marco, Lyin' Ted, etc.) for his enemies... his goal is to make people feel ashamed or embarrassed, but instead of finding more “age-appropriate” ways to do that, his immaturity and general lack of self-awareness leads him to rely on techniques more appropriate for an elementary or middle-school student.

Point is, the man does have a very deep awareness of “shame” and “shamefulness”; it's just completely different from the standards most normal adults have. He clearly didn't mind being caught on tape boasting of committing sexual assault, and I doubt he'd be bothered by a sex tape showing him committing adultery – but I wonder how he'd feel about an attempted sex tape showing him unable to get it up? What about a tape where his toupee falls off to expose a cueball-shiny head? Or – given that he has yet to release any recent tax returns – it could be something as relatively petty as “His net worth is measured 'only' in tens of millions of dollars, not hundreds of millions'.” Or even worse (from Trump's perspective): “Barack Hussein 'the Kenyan' Obama has a bigger net worth than Donald Trump.”

By now, I would not be surprised to discover “Trump's bizarre behavior is because he knows Putin holds some very egregious dirt on him” …. but I'd be equally unsurprised to learn “What Putin has on Trump is actually incredibly petty, compared to all the other bad things we already know about him.”

Monday, June 18, 2018

Concentration Camps For Kids

I expected things to get bad under Trump, yet have not lost my capacity for surprise over just how bad things are getting. Among other things, the man who pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio is fine with warehousing innocent children in tent cities in the desert. Meanwhile, ProPublica took audio recording of wailing children inside one of our new prison camps for children (warning: it's very difficult to listen to).

For all that I've long fancied myself a bit of a misanthrope, it turns out I did, in fact, have considerable faith in humanity left to lose .... because I simply cannot fathom how people can be capable of such wanton cruelty. Anecdote: for a few months in my late teens I worked part-time as an assistant in an at-home day care, and I remember one kid --perhaps a "new" kid, who started at the day care after I was already there -- anyway, I think it might've been the kid's first time away from Mommy (and with strangers, as opposed to "an afternoon at Grandma's" or whatever). I don't remember the exact context; what I remember is having to help pry a screaming unhappy toddler off her mother's leg -- with the mother's permission and assistance, and the knowledge that this genuinely was necessary, not in any amoral "I'm just following orders no matter how evil those orders might be" kind of way, but in the sense that Mommy genuinely did need to go to her job to earn money to support herself and her family, and furthermore I knew (even if the toddler did not believe) that this separation was only temporary, and Mommy would return in a few hours and the little girl would sleep in her own bed that night -- yet hearing the child's screams and knowing I was partly responsible for creating them still absolutely shredded me inside.

What kind of wretched person can take and keep a job pulling kids away from their parents when they know NONE of those mitigating factors are in play? What kind of wretched government creates jobs for such people? What kind of wretched country has such a government in place?

Wait, I know the answer to that last question: my country does.
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