I had thought I was long past the point of being astonished by not only the sheer stupidity by the absolute audacity of the things that can come out of the mouths of politicians. I suppose that’s one thing I can thank Donald Trump and his dream team of lawyers for: they have brought back my sense of wonder. Because I truly wonder if even they, particularly Rudy “Go Ahead and Boo Me” Giuliani, believe the horseshit that comes spewing out of their talk-holes on the regular.
The particular combination of “you have GOT to be kidding me” that got me today was a one-two combination that almost defies description. The first is this tidbit from the Washington Post in which the Post repeats a ridiculous comment from Rudy “Can You Believe I Have a Law Degree?” Giuliani on ABC’s This Week. In regards to President Trump’s ability to pardon himself (or lack thereof), he had this to say: “He has no intention of pardoning himself, but he probably — not to say he can’t.”
Did you catch that? For those of you in the cheap seats, America’s Mayor (Emeritus) just declared that the President of the United States has the power to pardon himself for any federal crime. But in case that isn’t enough to unsettle you, let’s just pile on a little, shall we?
Why, what do we have over here? Oh look, it’s Rudy “Executive Power is the Only Power” Giuliani over on HuffPost. This one’s so outrageous good I just have to block quote it:
“In no case can he be subpoenaed or indicted,” Rudy Giuliani told HuffPost Sunday, claiming a president’s constitutional powers are that broad. “I don’t know how you can indict while he’s in office. No matter what it is.”
Giuliani said impeachment was the initial remedy for a president’s illegal behavior ― even in the extreme hypothetical case of Trump having shot former FBI Director James Comey to end the Russia investigation rather than just firing him.
“If he shot James Comey, he’d be impeached the next day,” Giuliani said. “Impeach him, and then you can do whatever you want to do to him.”
Did you catch that? If the President commits murder in broad daylight, you can’t indict him. You have to impeach him. And of course while you’re busy doing that, he can just pardon himself as previously stated, but them’s just the breaks because – reasons.
Out here in “Not Coo-Coo Bananas Land”, we live under a slightly different set of rules. Whether you believe the ultimate purpose of the justice system is retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, or some mix of the three, you have to acknowledge the system does not and cannot work if there is a perversion of that system, particularly at the top of the system. Trying to read a loophole into the Constitution big enough to ram Trump Tower through is demeaning to our republic and the people who live under it.
Shame on you, Mr. Giuliani. If you have any shame left.
In a recent campaign ad for governor of the state of Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp loads a shotgun and points it at a young man who (in the ad) is “interested in one of my daughters”. He then proceeds to grill “Jake” on why Mr. Kemp is running for governor and what qualities are essential in a young man who will be dating one of his daughters. Naturally, those would be “respect and a healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment, sir.”
Where do I begin?
As someone who has often stated my support for the Second Amendment and the personal right to own firearms, as well as a satirist in my own right, the casual reader might expect me to fully support this ad. After all it’s just in good sport, right? A little poking fun, ribbing the liberals, maybe the casual allusion to the classic “Southern dad with a shotgun” motif? There’s at least a few things wrong with that.
The first thing is that it’s not “just in good sport”. There are a two rules in comedy that are getting violated here. The first, and one that is getting a lot of play these days, is that you punch up, not down. Who exactly is Mr. Kemp punching up at? Gun control advocates? Liberals? Jake? It’s not clear, but like many other politicians these days, he is in a position of power already, and he is using that position to take cheap shots (pun intended) at those who oppose him.
The second rule in comedy that is being violated is that the secret to good comedy is timing. As the editors of The Onion once pointed out, the closer a joke is to the tragedy it’s making fun of, the funnier it needs to be. If you’re going to riff on a tragedy the day after it happened, that better be the funniest joke I ever heard. Given the proximity to the Parkland shooting (along with any number of other teen shootings in America, which may not have gotten the same level of publicity but are just as heartfelt to the victims), I just don’t think this one makes the cut.
The second problem I have with this commercial is that it’s not about liberals versus conservatives, it’s about responsible gun use versus careless or outright unlawful gun use. The first rule of gun safety, always, is to treat every weapon as if it is live, loaded, and ready to fire. A logical extension of this rule that all responsible gun users follow is “don’t point a weapon at anything or anyone you don’t intend to shoot”. I don’t know if it’s because he’s trying to intimidate Jake into voting for him, scare him away from his daughters, or he just doesn’t like his actors, but none of those is a sufficient reason to point a gun at someone. Well okay, maybe because he’s an actor. (See? That’s comedy.)
Finally, the trope of the “Southern dad with a shotgun” is tired, played out, and insulting. Speaking as someone who has both been “threatened” by a father with a shotgun on multiple occasions as a teenager, as well as someone who has actually once been held at gunpoint for real, I can say with authority this shit needs to stop. You are sending one of two messages: either you are a homicidal lunatic who doesn’t understand how to participate in civilized society; or you prefer to use threats, bullying, and intimidation and don’t understand how to participate in civilized society. Neither is something that we should be modeling in the media as something to aspire toward, and certainly not something we should look for in our elected officials.
Here’s a quick joke for you: What’s the difference between a comedian and a politician? A comedian knows how to tell a joke, but a politician doesn’t know how to take one. I know, it’s not very funny. Guess I would have fit right in at the White House Correspondents Dinner the other night with Michelle Wolf. See, she wasn’t very funny either, according to many inside sources. It seems she wasn’t given the approved list of topics in advance that she wasn’t allowed to make jokes about because it would have been “in poor taste” or “going too far”. As George Carlin and Redd Foxx roll over in their smutty graves and Richard Pryor curses a blue streak that causes thunderclouds to form, I have to wonder what in the world these people are thinking.
There are several reasons that attacking Michelle Wolf is wrong, but I’ll focus on three: defense of the comedic tradition, the fact that such attacks are thinly veiled misogyny, and finally naked self-interest for journalism itself.
The tradition of the comedy roast is a time-honored one, and vulgarity is a common component of such roasts. Is it a bit crude and arguably tasteless? Sure, but it’s still a tradition. Besides, as William Blake said, “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom…for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.” Or if you prefer Ferris Bueller, “You can never go too far.”
…Unless of course you’re the President of the United States. As many commentators have pointed out, Mr. Trump is well known for making gross, insensitive, and outright vulgar comments about women that are objectively as insensitive as anything that was said by Ms. Wolf. There are three differences worth pointing out. The first is that Ms. Wolf is being called out for her comments by a wide swath of people, some of whom have served as apologists for Mr. Trump. The second, and probably more notable difference, is that Ms. Wolf is a comedian whose job it is to make pointed and (to some) humorous observations about others; Mr. Trump is the President of the United States. Regardless of what they have to say, to at all put their language or behavior on the same level is ludicrous. Finally, by calling out Ms. Wolf without calling out Donald Trump for equivalent comments, there is the faintest stench of “ladies don’t talk that way”, the kind of “there, there” misogyny that says women aren’t capable of meeting men on their own terms.
And ultimately that is what it’s all about: meeting the haters on equal footing. The press is supposed to be a participant in and defender of the First Amendment, which sometimes means taking a stand for controversial speech. The accusations that the White House press corps has gotten too cozy with the administration are hard to ignore are defend against when the WHCA starts taking sides against the entertainer they brought in to mollify the man who has popularized the term “fake news”. I’m not suggesting that every journalist everywhere should stand up, cheer, and demand an encore. That’s a decision for every individual journalist to make. When the association as a whole starts turning on individuals for expressing opinions or even for doing the job they were hired to do, that creates what’s known in the biz as “a chilling effect”. You want to know that professional associations will have your back, not put a knife in it.
I expect politicians to make hay out of this; it’s what they do. I guess I just expected better from journalists. I guess I’m learning better.
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first. What politician in their right mind is going to go in front of an American audience and say “I am completely against a government program that is going to put poor people to work”?
Really? That’s your plan? Justify it any way you want, as soon as you get in a debate and try to defend that position you’re setting yourself up for a one-two combo that finishes with “and I also supported a tax cut for wealthy people and corporations.” To put a cherry on top of that I suggest you drop your pants, break wind, and molest a small child in public. That would be about the only way you could screw that pooch any harder.
You want people to work for public benefits? This. Just this.
The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and Republican politicians declaiming that poor people are living high on the public dole. “Why,” they declaim, “why can’t those lazy poor people get a job instead of living off our tax money and getting free food and services?”
Do ya’ll even listen to yourselves? You want people to have a job in order to get public benefits. How about giving them a job instead of giving them all of those government benefits after they get a job (or withholding them until they do)? The outcome is better and more sustainable and actually gets the results you want for the tax dollars you’re spending directly rather than indirectly (if at all).
“But the upward pressure on wages and benefits would force private companies to increase spending on wages and benefits in order to compete for labor!” I hear you cry.
And I wince as I watch you try to say that with a straight face in front of an American electorate that is already convinced you are the Plutocrat Party.
Unions might actually lose some power and appeal.
Didn’t think about that one, did ya? Because Republicans have spent the last thirty years or so playing the short game, they forgot how to think long-term.
What value do unions provide to their members? The simple answer is they negotiate contracts with employers. But why? Because employees feel like they can’t get good wages and benefits if they don’t join the union (or at least if the union isn’t around to ensure the company provides a good contract whether or not they join). But if workers have a reasonable default alternative, companies will be forced to provide better wages and benefits just to keep them (see my point above). This might make union membership (and the attendant cost of paying dues) seem less attractive. Given the fact that unions have a long history of supporting Democratic candidates that should be enticing for Republicans.
A broader tax base means more fiscal stability.
You know what the great thing about people having jobs is? They get a paycheck. And you know what the great thing about a paycheck is, at least from a governmental perspective? Payroll taxes. Not just income taxes, but FICA too. Social Security, Medicare, all those social programs that Republicans love to blame for busting the budget, they actually have their own special line for coming out of paychecks. By having more people receiving a paycheck, there will be a broader tax base, which means more people paying income taxes. And since the people taking those jobs will by definition be on the lower end of the economy, they won’t be benefiting from that “big, beautiful tax cut” you passed last year, so it will help make up for the gigantic deficit caused by that self-same tax cut. It’s a win-win!
For once you have a government program that really does help pay for itself.
Hey, speaking of that giant stink-bomb you just can’t seem to stop trying to pass off as a rose, there’s another benefit to this sort of program that you can actually sell as, well, a benefit. Unlike when Republican politicians laughably tried to sell the Great Giveaway of 2017 as “paying for itself”, this is a federal program that will help to offset its own costs. Note that I’m not trying to be so disingenuous as to suggest that it will completely pay for itself, because the next government program that does that will be the first. But this kind of program could at least reduce some costs and offset others. How you might ask? First by generating tax revenue (see above). Second, the more people who have jobs, the fewer people who will need the various iterations of welfare such as SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, etc., especially if those jobs include healthcare. If those people then go on to get jobs in the private sector (because hey, if you have to work anyway, why not get a better paying job, amirite?), that’s less money being spent by the federal government, more people with a better standard of living, and everybody gets what they claimed they wanted all along.
Now obviously you could say you’re just shuffling money from one government program to another, but so what? The money is already getting spent. Wouldn’t it be better if you’re getting something in return? The only remaining question is “what kind of something should you get?”
My Not So Humble Suggestion: Bridge Employment
If Republican politicians are smart (and from what I’ve seen over the last couple of years I’m not willing to place that wager) they’re going to get out in front of this. One of the ways they can do this is with a one-two punch of their own. For starters, they can raise the minimum wage to $12.85 an hour as I’ve suggested previously. Any Democrat who votes against this because they want to “Fight for 15” will get pilloried. That will effectively kill that issue for at least another ten years, because at that point anyone who seriously keeps after it will just look like they are either moving the goal posts, unwilling to compromise, or simply unwilling to take yes for an answer.
The next thing to do is introduce a plan for guaranteed employment, but don’t pay minimum wage. Pay something between $7.50-$9.00 an hour instead. This will make “guaranteed work” less attractive than even a minimum wage job but will still put money in the pocket of anyone who can’t even get a minimum wage job. Why would anyone be willing to take it when they can get more money doing literally anything else? Because there are situations when getting a minimum wage job is actually less attractive or even not feasible than taking guaranteed employment, as long as you make those situations eligible as employment. I would suggest covering anyone who is a full-time family caretaker, enrolled at least part-time in training or higher education, or currently eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance.
Another situation would be where you can’t get enough hours working a minimum wage job to make as much as you can be working full time making less. Sure, $12.85 an hour sounds great compared to $9.00 an hour – until you find out you’re only getting 15 hours a week. Then all of a sudden that 40 hours a week at $9.00, plus health insurance, sounds awfully tempting. Add in the idea that you’ll be getting paid to get training in job skills or a certificate that will make you more appealing to an employer, and it’s a no-brainer.
I understand you can’t live on $9.00 an hour, even with health insurance, and I don’t expect anyone to do that. That’s why I call this solution “Bridge Employment”. The idea is that it won’t replace any of the programs out there – short term unemployment will still exist for folks who can get a new job relatively quickly, and social safety nets will still exist to keep people from falling through the cracks – but the idea is to help people get across those big gaps. Not able to make the transition from school to a steady, survivable job? Did the plant close down and you don’t have the skill set to make it in the new economy? Did you leave your career to take care of your kids and now money is tighter than you thought it would be? Have an elderly relative who needs more attention than you can give while working full-time? Bridge Employment combines community support, opportunity, and personal dignity.
The benefits are more than just money and keeping people afloat. If you get training, you’re ready for your next position. If instead you choose a job, you get something to put on your resume so you don’t have a blank spot you have to explain to your next employer. For those who are home caretakers that later decide to return to their careers, online courses can be offered to help them develop or maintain their skills.
Or Republican politicians can keep giving tax breaks to the rich and corporations and blaming the poor for being poor. See how much further that gets you.
I would like to take this opportunity to personally applaud the sagacity and wisdom of House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Ca.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). In a joint press release yesterday they made it clear that in his recently released memos “former Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened.” I for one feel completely relieved, and I am not simply writing that because I feel in any way under siege in President Trump’s America.
To be sure, unless a person very explicitly and clearly states in no uncertain terms that they are being threatened with jail time just for being a journalist, which I am clearly not doing because I am a loyal and patriotic American and would never do such a thing, we don’t have to make any attempt to read between the lines. Just look into my eyes and you’ll know I’m telling the truth. If you don’t believe me, just ask Gina Haspel. She could get the truth out of anybody.
Let’s face it, even Freud had to admit a cigar is just a cigar. And if we learned anything from Georgia O’Keeffe, it’s that what you see is what you get. And what you see here is a man who very clearly intended that, rather than detailing an out of his depth, possibly criminal and maybe even megalomaniacal president, James Comey’s intent was “rather than making a criminal case for obstruction or interference with an ongoing investigation, these memos would be Defense Exhibit A should such a charge be made.”
When we were Kings and Queens
and backyards and forests were our kingdoms,
action figures were our soldiers
and stuffed animals our loyal subjects.
We were tyrants, one and all –
benevolent or cruel –
deposed by Time.
Here’s a fun little experiment you can do at home. Pick up a video game. It can be any kind of video game, all the way back to an Atari 2600 cartridge to a PlayStation 4 disc. Now, use it in the way it was intended by the manufacturer.
How many people did you manage to hurt? How many people did you kill?
Okay, now try using it in any way you can conceivably think of, even in ways never intended by the manufacturer. How many people can you manage to injure or kill before you get taken down by the police or your fellow citizens?
According to President Trump, the greatest threat to our country, and particularly our young people, comes from video games “shaping young people’s thoughts”, according to a report from the Washington Post. The report added that “[h]e also proposed that ‘we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it.’”
Well, yeah. Because goodness knows that we’ve established time and again that playing violent video games leads directly to an increase in violent behavior. Oh wait, no we haven’t. But just in case, we should violate the First Amendment rights of video game makers to be on the safe side, because that’s the best and most direct way to resolve the problem.
Apparently Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Council, suggested that violent video games “needed to be given the same kind of thought as tobacco and liquor.” Of course, because video games have been known to cause cancer and drunk driving. That’s some quality thinking there, Brent.
And that’s not the worst of the kind of conclusion-first, evidence-not-at-all thinking on display at this particular meeting. Rep. Vicki Hartzler was quoted as saying “[e]ven though I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link, as a mom and a former high school teacher, it just intuitively seems that prolonged viewing of violent nature would desensitize a young person.” I’m just curious, exactly what did you teach? Because I can’t imagine any teacher I ever had literally stating “I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link” and then trumping those factual studies with their own “intuition”. Then again, they never had the benefit of being legislators, which apparently gives you… supernatural powers?
Speaking of legislators, Sen. Marco Rubio felt the need to chime in with his usual wisdom, “acknowledg[ing] there is no evidence linking violent video games to the tragedy in Parkland. But he said he wanted to ensure ‘parents are aware of the resources available to them to monitor and control the entertainment their children are exposed to.’” Wow, that’s a brave stance. I wasn’t aware that the ESRB rating system for video games and the MPAA rating system for motion pictures were state secrets. Thanks for getting those declassified and making them available to parents everywhere, Sen. Rubio. With leadership like that you should consider running for President.
If these politicians and other “crisis actors” (yeah, I said it) really believe there’s a causal link between video games and real world violence, they need to step up and put their money where their mouth is. Start funding some quality, rigorous studies into the phenomenon, or better yet lift the ban on the CDC investigating the potential link. Address the very real concerns raised with the studies they continuously lean on (you know, the ones that don’t show a causal link?) and find something more than a spurious correlation.
The hysteria over video games recalls the hysteria over Dungeons & Dragons from the early 1980s, the outrage over explicit music that managed to stretch all the way from the mid-80s to the late 90s, banned books that seem to be a perennial controversy, or any time bad or undesirable behavior is blamed on media or culture rather than placed squarely where it belongs: on the people who perpetrate it. That’s not to say that the media doesn’t influence behavior to some extent, but to ban media in an attempt to control a handful of bad actors is very much akin to cutting off the noses of an entire community to spite one face.