Archives for category: United States

During the Watergate hearings, Congress asked for several years of Nixon’s tax returns and the IRS immediately complied. When it was found that Nixon had underpaid his taxes for several years to the tune of almost half a million (1973) dollars, they asked for a couple of years more. In their hands the next day. But the new normal is that our elected representatives are treated the way Trump treated his contractors for decades. Pay my bill? No, you get bupkes.

I saw that bit about Nixon in the two minutes I looked at Facebook while best beloved made tea the other morning. And it filled my head with politics. Whatever I’d been dreaming before that whispered off into the ether.

William Barr’s announcement the other day that the administration was reinstating the federal death penalty after a hiatus of something like 16 years is another indication. Five executions are scheduled for (if I recall rightly) December and January. (I’ve been thinking about the death penalty a bit the last couple of days anyway because an American colleague mentioned she’d nearly been converted from her pro-DP position over lunch by a co-worker of ours from Croatia. (I have no idea if her being American and his being Croatian have any bearing on things – I was at another table and heard none of their conversation.) I hadn’t talked to her about this particular element of our politics before, though neither of us shy from discussing hard topics including faith and belief.)

I don’t think this will be the first time I’ve blogged that I am vehemently anti-death penalty. I’ve stood on the other side of this argument and long ago came to the conclusion that we as humans should not have the final say in the matter. There are practical issues regarding the expense associated with the appeals process that have bearing. There’s also the matter that justice is complicated and lawyers and judges and juries get it wrong, by accident and by design.

Increasing the use of the death penalty, especially at this juncture of the president’s precarious position with regards indictment or impeachment, seems to be another way of inciting the public’s blood lust. I have this feeling that if he could televise the feeding of death row inmates (not to mention members of Congress who aren’t Republicans) to the lions as a means of distraction, he would do so.

But it’s not just the greed and incompetence and distraction, or the sheer amount of self serving and double dealing of every one associated with the president. No, it’s the sadism. It’s the joy they take in the cruelty they inflict. Trump’s insistence that anyone who isn’t of his class and outlook be locked up, with no actual recourse (or understanding) of the laws that should protect all of us. The so-called Central Park Five, long since exonerated and whose guilt Trump proclaimed on the pages of New York’s newspapers 30 years ago have been hauled out again and declared guilty ex cathedra.

Yesterday it was the sliming of the city of Baltimore where his slumlord son-in-law can’t be bothered to call in the exterminator for the dozen plus apartment complexes he owns where the tenants suffer under 200-plus code violations. ‘Cleaning up the building I own? That’s for the little people to deal with,’ or so I imagine him saying.

Is that sadism or just willful negligence? Is there, in fact, a difference? Certainly not from the point of view of his tenants.

Or Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rejecting 99% of applicants to a program to forgive the student loan debt of public service workers. I’m not sure where the following the money gets us with regards to this issue,

But revoking 72 guidance documents of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services which outlined the rights of disabled students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act would fall under the category of sadism to me. As does revoking guidelines for the reporting of sexual assault on college campuses. Like much that this administration has done and promised, there’s no effort to put in place something that would be more successful at alleviating harm, just effort after effort to undo any effort (especially if that effort was made by the previous administration) to do less harm to the general populous.

That, it seems to me, is a textbook definition of sadism. And it sickens me more each day.

And I haven’t even started with the detention camps. A few people on different sides of the discussion have taken issue with the phrase ‘concentration camp’. Before 1945, this wasn’t so loaded a term, but there’s a valid argument that that term belongs solely to the Nazis. Fine. We’ll call them detention centers. The reports about the suffering inflicted on migrants held in the various centers, the separation of children from their parents, the lack of hygiene. These are all bad enough, and reflect something awful at the heart of the current iteration of the American system. The diversion of taxpayer money to the Trump donors who are running these camps (or who are the major investors in the companies running these camps – the degrees of separation simply make the handwashing more sickening) is also bad enough. I feel like I’m easing into a bad parody of Dayenu. There’s a certain sadism at the heart of the entire operation, that those tasked with holding these people while their applications for asylum go unprocessed feel that they must hold them in such sickening conditions. What will follow me to my grave is the image of Vice President Mike Pence nodding his head when shown hundreds of men behind a chain link fence who had no access to shower facilities or cots to sleep on. A cursory look at Pence’s history as governor of Indiana shows that suffering is easy to stand by and not worth bothering to stand against. Actively trying to prevent Syrian refugees from settling in Indiana and declining to declare an area poisoned by lead and arsenic a Superfund site. (Does the East Chicago, Indiana’s 51% Hispanic/Latino and 35% African American population have anything to do with it?) His stoicism doesn’t seem to be a facade; he may not actually care. Is that sadism or just offhand cruelty?

Another thing about the detention centers is that this isn’t a new practice for the US – we did it in 1942 and we’ve been doing it to the folks who should have tossed our forefathers back in the ocean for 200 years. That’s not a new thought, but we’ve gone for several decades (those of us who don’t live too closely to the Res) not thinking too hard about Native Americans and their various detentions in the US and thinking that Japanese relocation was an aberration we were rightly ashamed of. As such, we could point to other countries’ use of detention and say, ‘We Americans don’t do that – we’ve moved beyond such horrible things.‘ We could claim (as long as one didn’t look too closely at the topography) a certain moral high ground with regards to folks like the Chinese, who are (claiming to be) backing away from detaining up to a million Uighur in camps in the Xinjiang region. Whether they’re actually doing it is a different matter, but from a PR perspective, Beijing wants the moral high ground.

For those in the detention centers, in Kushner’s apartment buildings, or shouldering student loan debt, the line between sadism and offhand cruelty is very fine. If the US were claiming something like political reeducation, I’d address that too, but that doesn’t seem to be part of the current plan with regards our detention centers.

(ETA: My friend Kevin added the following: ‘I am somewhat surprised you limited this to those affected by his ignoring AIDS. His policies in Central America, both under Reagan and on his own, went far further than was revealed in Iran Contra and resulted in untold deaths, mass impoverishment, and the overthrow of legitimate governments by USA backed and armed narco cartels who persist to this day.  Lastly we can point out that Bush and William Casey were responsible for the perpetuation of the Iranian hostage crisis, which cost Carter the election.’ These things are absolutely true, and any one of them could have earned another 500 words. The AIDS crisis struck closest to home at the time and is much in my thoughts these days for other reasons.)

I’ve been thinking about the death of George Herbert Walker Bush and why I won’t ‘dignify’ his memory by keeping silent. By 1988, HIV had been identified as the source of AIDS and AIDS had been named for three and five years respectively. Bush had remained silent the entire time, as had his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. (Reagan’s silence, even as friends of his such as Rock Hudson died, was despicable enough.) When ACT-UP and other gay groups protested in forms of extreme street theatre and were arrested for it, they were working in the same realm as the Freedom Riders two decades before, and playing for similar stakes. The people who risked and suffered violence and arrest at the hands of police forces coast to coast in many cases could have lived relatively quiet closeted lives, but as soon as they put themselves on the line for queer causes, they risked being disowned by their families (as the price of coming out had always included), firing, often their entire livelihoods. (This is why Harvey Milk pushed for all gays and lesbians to come out – to make it impossible to ignore that we were everywhere.)

s-e-dThis was a fair risk because their friends were dying. (I would so love to be able to say that I took the risks, but I lived safely then and rarely demonstrated, and generally only when it was safe. I won’t rewrite my own history.) Friends and lovers were dying horrible, lonely, painful deaths. Let’s not forget that the opportunistic infections associated with AIDS were slow and had few treatments. And there was no cure on the horizon.

As the leader of the free world, Bush had the responsibility and the duty to speak out, But, I hear you say, it wasn’t politically expedient to do so.

No, butt the crimes and death that result from political expedience are unforgivable. Instead of standing up and saying These are our brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters, he declared a whole segment of the population ‘Other’, a nuisance, and therefore disposable. That nuisance continued to die on his watch at an alarming rate. When he took office over 82,000 cases of AIDS had been reported in the US and almost 62,000 had died of it. When he left office in 1993, those numbers had increased threefold in the US alone. In his time in office, and in the succeeding quarter century, Bush has always been unwilling to stand up and own up and repent and do some kind of good work in this regard.

When his own Department of Health and Human Services produced a report on teen suicide that included the specific risks of gay and lesbian youth, Bush caved to far right groups and suppressed the report. The report was only released when its findings were leaked.

Bush’s successors have blood on their hands too, and I’m not willing to give them a pass, either, but in this moment of hagiography, I must say no. The man was not a saint of any kind. When the crisis was in its infancy, and leadership was required, he continued to do what was expedient. Were I the sort who believed in such things, I’d say that Hell had prepared a room.

ETA: The Rude Pundit has a column on this matter that’s a whole lot less nice than mine.

Bloomberg News posted a rather disingenuous editorial comparing Bill Clinton to Donald Trump, the idea being that Trump is simply presenting a grotesque version of the Clinton presidency.

The upshot is that the sex scandals entrapping Trump are as unforgivable as those that Bill Clinton subjected us to back in the 90s, and that somehow because Dems gave Clinton a pass, we should do the same for Trump. I call bullshit. Loud and Clear. I won’t give Trump a pass for ostensibly the same issue (infidelity) for a great number of reasons. One is that Trump’s payouts push us into obstruction of justice territory that Clinton’s simply didn’t.

But let me back up. There’s some merit to this argument that it’s the same thing. For all his impropriety, if the allegations even of rape against Bill Clinton are true (and that’s a hard thing to write, given how loudly we howled in his defense back in the 90s), in general he had the interests of the country and its underclasses at heart. At least some of the time. The health care battle, in the history of those times goes head to head with welfare ‘reform’ and his Supreme Court choices get in the ring with the death warrant he signed during the ‘92 campaign. Yeah, he did dozens of things wrong from my liberal pacifist armchair perspective.

However, what devolved from the Clinton presidency onward was an intractable right wing that had only the interest of the the wealthy and the evangelical in mind and the continuation of their own power. Part of the issue is that the Democrats (as an organization, not an affiliation) have the same faults and predilections as the right, but never had what it took to separate the workers’ interests from the worker’s evangelical leaning in the public imagination. I’m not sure how it evolved that the best interests of the worker no longer lay with that of other workers. (Howard Zinn, if I recall rightly, explains that historically it dates back to slavery/reconstruction when whites in power peddled the line to the landless/luckless whites that ‘you may be trash, but at least you’re not black.’)

Fostering that seemed to hold things together. Oddly this was the Dems’ position, not the Republicans’. It wasn’t until Nixon that the Republicans took hold of Dixie. While it was a Republican that presided over the Union in the Civil War – the Dixiecrats held the south until a Southern white democrat signed the Civil Rights Act. It took the Dems 100 years to lose the South and Republicans have only tighetned their stranglehold in the last 50.

But it’s not unremarked upon that no matter what, both Republicans in legislatures and Democrats vote against the interests of the poor. Nine times out of ten, if not more. I’m not sure that’s just a recent New Democrat (the American equivalent of the UK’s New Labour) or if it dates further back than Clinton’s election. My suspicion is that recent statistics on the matter would be borne out if we applied them in every decade to the founding of the union.

I’ve said before that Clinton was a bastard (our bastard, sure), but we knew when he signed off on Rudy Ray Rector’s death penalty at the start of the ‘92 campaign, that he could be either disgustingly calculating or outright heartless. I think the left trusted it to be the former, because it’s somehow well-known that someone against the death penalty could never be president. I pulled the lever for him twice, because 12 years of Reagan/Bush were enough. And because in ‘96, Dole got the nomination because it was his turn, not because he was the best Republican for the job. Not saying he wasn’t the better man, but I wasn’t ready to question my own liberal ideology. (I’ve been ready enough in recent years, but 21st century American conservatism turns my stomach. So I’ll keep my lunch, thanks. And American Liberalism is firmly in Reagan territory at this point anyway.)

So all that noise above about Bill Clinton is simply to say that I, and possibly my fellow liberals, are not blind to his faults, and that we knew what we were getting into. He was as opportunistic a politician as any other, but no matter what bullshit was thrown at him with regards the so-called scandals of the time, he wasn’t found to be absolutely crooked. This is the key distinction between Clinton (and the Lewinsky affair which finally brought him to impeachment) and Trump (and his various scandals): we know that Trump is crooked. We know because he doesn’t release his tax returns; we know because the one lawyer he keeps close makes payoffs to keep stories from the newspapers; we know because several who did work for him came forward during the campaign to say he reneged on contracts; we know by the skeezy way he talks about his daughter.

I’m going to move from the differences between Trump and Clinton to the greater issue of how our recent presidents differ in similar ways.

Valerie Plame penned an interesting editorial on the pardon of Scooter Libby this week. Libby was the only person charged (and convicted) in the outing of Agent Plame as a covert agent in 2003. His situation plays into the essential what-aboutism of the Bloomberg editorial – Under Bush II and Trump, the worst elements of the party have twisted the agenda of the president. While we may have disagreed quite strenuously with Clinton’s policies, behaviour, and agenda, we didn’t doubt his grasp of policy and his understanding of how his actions would resonate in the geopolitical arena.

For example, when he joined in the bombing of the former Yugoslavia, he knew what the effects might be and he was aware of the historical context in which the war was taking place. (More on this in a moment.) When Rumsfeld and Cheney dragged us into Iraq, President Bush knew that we in the public knew that he was well out of his depth and had no idea what the fuck he was doing. (My apologies: Take a moment to diagram that sentence if you need to.) He told us as much during the campaign, that he was taking on the greatest minds of his daddy’s administration to guide him. The problem was then, as now, the massive conflicts of interest. Has anyone measured how much Dick Cheney’s fortune increased due to Halliburton’s Iraq/Afghanistan war contracts? Just for a start?

Cheney knew the effects of what was going to happen and apparently didn’t give a good goddamn.

Did anyone who mattered in the Shrub White House grasp the history of the region well enough to know the can of worms we were opening? In the public arena, they showed that they didn’t care. The impression they delivered was that eventually the oil would flow and its profits would flow back to the US, that they didn’t care about the war’s time line – the past history didn’t matter – the future would justify it, that they didn’t understand the distinctions between Shias and Sunnis and Kurds (the Yazidi didn’t even figure into the public equation at the time), that somehow all the ethnic hatreds that were held in check by Saddam Hussein would evaporate once we, um, liberated the place.

Clinton at least gave the impression that he cared about what was going to happen. With Bush and Trump, we don’t see that they understand the effects or that they care.

The Bloomberg editorial points out that one of the several parallels between Trump and Clinton is that when Clinton was in the hot seat regarding the Lewinsky scandal, he tried to divert attention by ordering a bombing raid, in Bosnia if I recall rightly. Trump, under slightly more pressure this week after a massive three-venue no-knock raid on that attorney I mentioned, and Trump pulled the same maneuver (possibly at the behest of Fox News), and sent soldiers to bomb Syria. The fact remains that there was feck-all for the independent counsel to nail Clinton on, despite the Republicans’ insistence there was (echoed later with all of the Benghazi bullshit flung at an unflappable Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State). The investigation finally got him for a blowjob, making the US the laughingstock of the western world. Bloomberg’s editorial suggests that the odd possibility that Trump might be brought down by a sex scandal somehow makes Trump’s presidency equal to Clinton’s. Of course I call bullshit.

Preet Bharara, in a recent interview with former Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson discussed Johnson’s efforts with President Obama to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Regarding Republican arguments against closing the prison, Preet asked ‘Do you think the Republicans were acting in good faith?’ This is the question I’m trying to parse with regards Bush’s actions, Clinton’s, and Trump’s. Did they then and do they now act in good faith?

And what do I mean when I use that phrase? I mean that what a politician says in public aligns with what they say in private, with what they promised to the public constituency on the campaign trail, and with a professed belief system. That’s a good start.

And I think that in general, the Dems have acted in better if not good faith to the extent they could, with the proviso that as politicians, they’re performing ethical balancing acts all of the time.

Trump, from my perspective, does not act in good faith, even in faith to what he’s said himself even a week before (viz his tweets about Syria within the month of April, 2018). Bush might have been an actor in good faith, but his advisors were not, and they not he were the government at the time. The fact remains that for the eight years of his residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., he was a figurehead, and most folks knew that.

An example of the good faith/bad faith discussion is the health care debate of the first two years of Obama’s first term. Obama and the Democrats acted in as good faith as they could, to the point of compromise on the most basic of principles, finding middle ground for every one of the Republicans’ arguments, and still we were shafted. One could argue that the Republicans in congress were acting in good faith, but their faith was to the insurance companies, hospital conglomerates, and drug manufacturers. By my definition above, this isn’t good faith. And in the end, not a single red tie voted for the bill. And then they proceeded to sabotage it in the courts.

There wasn’t a credible Republican atop the 2008 ballot, John McCain having chosen the most unqualified VP since, um, Dan Quayle in 1988. Eight years of Bush/Cheney had worn us out on wars and lies and there was readiness for change, to be sure, but Sarah Palin was another example of the Republican party acting in bad faith. Palin was barely qualified for the job she had, like Bush (and Trump), didn’t read much, and could barely answer very simple questions. McCain and the Republican party played us for fools when they thought (and rightly so, obviously, given that Obama’s victory wasn’t precisely a landslide – solid, but it was no 1984 Reagan over Mondale trouncing) we would buy her pretty face over Obama’s obvious experience. Acting in good faith in the political realm requires some modicum of honesty – the whole ‘Democrats are coming for your guns’ canard comes into play here. Palin, in the midst of the Republican sabotage of Obama’s relatively modest agenda had the gall to utter the phrase ‘How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for you?’ as if she wasn’t spending all of her (at the time excessive) on-camera Fox News time subverting rather than adding something constructive to the debate. Had McCain chosen someone credible to join him on the ticket, things might have been different. But we got the grifter instead.

McCain, Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, and Hillary Clinton all have in common that their candidacies came about because it was their turn. They’d risen high enough in the party to be considered the de facto candidates. And they lost because they worked on the assumption that they didn’t have to fight. History might suggest (from more objective distance than we have yet) that Dole and Romney would have made for better history. Would the tea party have dragged Romney through it the way they did John Boehner? I suggest it’s possible, but counterfactual. Hillary Clinton might have lost the selection anyway given Jim Comey’s October Surprise, and the astounding amount of Russia-orchestrated fight against her, but the fight within the party to subvert Mr. Sanders didn’t help matters. She herself was also acting in bad faith.

And there is, of course, the bad faith of the media: Every venue that put Trump on camera acted in bad faith. He’d spent much of the previous decade proving himself an actor (on his TV show), and a political player of astoundingly bad faith. His insistence on the illegitimacy of Obama’s presidency did as much as anything else to sabotage that presidency in the eyes of the electorate. Even with that in mind, the news stations put him literally center stage to spew his schoolyard BS over people of actual political experience. Note: No love lost between me and any of the people running for the Republican nomination in 2016, but giving Trump center stage over and over again legitimized his brand of campaigning.

And we bought it. To try to circle this back to my original thought, it’s not that Trump’s presidency is simply Clinton’s repeated as farce. No, Trump in his personal, political, public, and private dealings is the apotheosis of fifty years of bad faith governance from the Republican party, epitomized by the savaging of the American working class.

I’d not read Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in at least twenty years and I’m not sure if before this week I’d ever actually finished the thing. Now I have, and on a certain level, I think I might be too old for it. It’s one of those books like Catcher in the Rye and possibly On the Road that are best enjoyed before the sheer irresponsibility of the story in the telling is too obvious. In the heart of Thompson’s drug-addled tale of not reporting on two events for which his alter ego Raoul Duke is paid, he makes a stunning indictment of what has become of the American Dream™.

In one of the novel’s more cogent paragraphs, Thompson spells out the moment when Hell’s Angels faced off on the Oakland/Berkeley border with anti-war protesters in 1965, somewhat to the detriment of the nascent anti-war movement and to the greater detriment of the American Left in general. Later, he starts discussing those Timothy Leary took down with him, followers ‘who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit’ , certain that some one or some thing was ‘tending the light at the end of the tunnel’ (p. 178).

He goes on to gather several leaders together who followed in the failure of Leary to unite the movement: Jesus, Manson, Hell’s Angels leader Sonny Barger, and concludes with the book’s most potent idea, ‘…no point in looking back. The question, as always, is now…?’ Whatever we’re going to do, we have to do it, rather than bemoaning that we haven’t.

While I put Duke and Dr. Gonzo’s tales of their American nightmare in an unfavourable bucket with Kerouac and Salinger (both of whom wrote some brilliant, long-lasting work, just not those novels for which they’re best remembered), another comparison that comes to mind is Sterne’s Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. In a similar way to Sterne, Thompson invites us into a series of vignettes that insist to the reader that they’re actually going somewhere, but don’t ever really make it there. Whereas Sterne’s volume ends without ever getting to Italy (as promised in the title), and possibly in the middle of a sentence, Thompson ends his without ever producing (as far as the reader can tell) the articles his character promised. The expectation from a book that is at least tangentially about writing is that there will be a submission and maybe even a reaction to it. Thompson subverts this by his alter ego barely attending or participating in the events he goes to Las Vegas to cover. To be fair, there is one extended sequence in which Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, attend one of the presentations of the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (thoroughly ripped, as the two characters are for the entirety of the book), so our expectations are only partially subverted.

FandLinLVSubtitled A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, what strikes the reader (or at least this reader) about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the savagery with which Thompson/ Duke treats primarily the female characters and really most of the book’s secondary characters. One way of looking at the nastiness of the interactions with the waitress in the chapter ‘Back Door Beauty & Finally a Bit of Serious Drag Racing on the Strip’ is that Thompson wants to implicate all of us in the nastiness that America became after the “Main Era” ended. The Main Era is what he names that time in the 60s when ‘You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning’ (p. 68). He continues, ‘We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.’ (I love the idea of a ‘steep hill in Las Vegas,’ a place in the middle of a desert and nearly as flat as The Netherlands.)

So that moment of mind-altered optimism was undone, or undid itself through subverted protest, Nixon’s treachery, an unwinnable war, and the crackdown of the original war on drugs that Nixon instigated with the help of Elvis Presley. But in the retelling, Thompson says, yes, it all fell apart and to a one, even me, we became nasty and crass.

Thompson shares that, beyond the Strip, you find ‘the shoddy limbo of North Vegas…out there with the gunsels, the hustlers, the drug cripples and all the other losers,’ and here Duke and Gonzo drop into the North Star Coffee Lounge for late night eats. Their waitress, extensively described as, ‘large in every way, long sinewy arms, and a brawler’s jawbone…A burned out caricature of Jane Russell: big head of dark hair, face slashed with lipstick and a 48 Double-E chest that was probably spectacular about twenty years ago…but now she was strapped up in a giant pink elastic brassiere that showed like a bandage through the sweaty rayon of her uniform, (p. 158)’ finds herself on the receiving end of a pass from Gonzo, a napkin with ‘Back Door Beauty’ scrawled on it. On receipt, she lays into our heroes with vitriol. Duke just watches while Gonzo deflects the waitress’ accusations and cuts the receiver off the pay phone with a switchblade when she threatens to call the cops.

Duke understands that Gonzo has struck a nerve, ‘The glazed look in her eyes said her throat had been cut. She was still in the grip of paralysis when we left,’ but doesn’t comment or dissuade Gonzo from his behaviour. We as readers follow along, but Thompson not only lets his narrator off the hook, he relates the events that follow as being drawn verbatim from a tape recording transcribed by the editor. He doesn’t give Duke the opportunity to respond and lets himself off the hook at the same time.

From a wider perspective, Thompson’s after roping the reader into some kind of complicity. The more you enter the heads and the behaviours of the main characters the less you can say that you’re not part of the great destruction being wrought. Thompson attempts, through the excess of his protagonists, to separate the freaks – the ones who stepped out of the mainstream before that wave receded – from the normals who flock for whatever reason to Las Vegas’s casinos from the rest of the country. However, through that excess, he implicates all who see themselves on some version of the correct side of that divide. To what we now call coastal elites as well as those citizens of flyover states, Thompson seems to say: ‘You’re all in on this. We’re all in on this. Through silence or engagement. And I’m in on it as well.’

I’m not sure that this is what the man who famously asserted, ‘I wouldn’t advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me’ meant to imply.

I wanted to add something about how Thompson’s anti-Nixon stance (against all hypocrisy propounded and promoted by the Nixon White House) had come back to taunt him when George W. Bush was selected for a second time, and might have contributed to his suicide a month into Shrub’s second term, but this doesn’t seem to be borne out by a suicide note which indicated that 67 was ‘17 years more than [he] needed or wanted.’ On the other hand, In October 2004, Thompson wrote: ‘Nixon was a professional politician, and I despised everything he stood for—but if he were running for president this year against the evil Bush–Cheney gang, I would happily vote for him.’ Six months after Thompson’s death, there was a hell of a memorial.

I’m just going to riff on this for a bit and see if I reach any conclusions. Let’s start, as my friend Brian suggests, with more than one legally owned firearm for every man woman and child in the US. In other words, we can’t make something immediately illegal tomorrow that was legal yesterday.

The big news this week is that kids are now leading the fight for common-sense gun laws and (as heard on the BBC yesterday) companies are now starting to dissociate themselves from the National Rifle Association. Firms that formerly gave discounts to NRA members are no longer doing so. That’s a huge step in the right direction – the NRA brand has never been this toxic. For decades, Wayne LaPierre and his cold-dead-hands predecessors have fought for money to buy off legislators so that it’s always easy to get guns, no matter what your criminal background. Of course, state by state, your mileage may vary. And once you commit a crime with a gun, in many states including Florida, these stand-your-ground laws have made it more possible to get off if you happen to be white or white-ish. I’m looking at you, George Zimmerman. (NRA-written statutes enacted in Florida in 2005 and in two dozen other states made it impossible to arrest Zimmerman because he claimed self-defense. In addition, jury instructions made it impossible for them to convict even though Zimmerman stalked Martin and was told by the cops to back down and not confront the teenager.)

Martin had just turned 17 at the time and was killed six years ago this week (26 February, 2012).

Of course, there are racist aspects to how the various laws regarding gun ownership and use are treated. Note the cold-blooded murder of Philando Castile, a black Minneapolis school employee who noted to the officer at a traffic stop that he had a concealed carry permit. Within twenty seconds of reaching for his ID had five bullets fired into him. The officer in question was acquitted of all charges, despite dashcam footage from the cop car and Castile’s death livestreamed by his girlfriend just after the shots were fired. Arming school employees is all well and good, I suppose, but I can’t (as others who have pointed to the Castile case in the wake of the Florida massacre two weeks ago) see such things working out equally for all concerned. I tried to read the Wikipedia article on Castile’s murder and couldn’t stomach the heartlessness of the cop, of the jury, of the system.

And lets not lose sight of the domestic terror aspect of this latest case. Who trained N.C. (let’s stop naming the animals who do this stuff, please) to carry out his massacre? Had it been a Black or Muslim organization, they would have been hounded out of the woodwork so quickly heads would be spinning. As it stands, he was raised by a member of Republic of Florida, a white supremacist group. The ROF leader who claimed Cruz trained with them has since walked that back.

There’s also the speech by Florida AG Pam Bondi in the direct aftermath of the shooting. I recognize that there was a certain pressure to say something, but for crying out loud, couldn’t she have talked about something other than what the state of Florida was going to pay for? When someone carelessly breaks something precious and irreplaceable, the last thing you want to hear is that person saying they’ll pay for it. (Are Florida Governor Rick Scott and Bondi shills for the NRA in the same way Florida Senator Ted Cruz is ($77,000 in the 2012 election cycle alone)? I’m not sure. Yes, linking to a tangentially related article like that is shitty and shoddy journalism.) But what we’re not hearing from any of these people in so-called leadership positions is how to prevent these things.

The same Brian I quote at the top shared the following response to calls the current arguments:

Things a Constitutional amendment banning firearms will not fix:

An absence of compassion for fellow citizens.
An absence of value of lives of fellow citizens.
An absence of value in the success of others.
An absence of value in the health of others.
An absence of value in the welfare of others.
An absence of value in the education of others.
The patriarchy.
Toxic masculinity.
Radical conservationism.
Selfishness.
Dangerous nationalism.
Xenophobia.
Homophobia (not a phobia, you’re just an asshole).
Institutionalized racism.
General racism.
Intentional incarceration of minorities to deny their communities of viable male role models, at a critical mass, to actively prevent the establishment of viable successful family models.
Redlining.
Predatory lending.
Criminalization of poverty.
Criminalization of homelessness.
Criminalization of addiction.

And and infinite list of other things.

Our culture is diseased, broken, and rotting, but by all means, keep overlooking that, and keep focusing on the end-result.

There are a lot of one-liners out there in response to these latest deaths – If teachers should be armed, presidents should be required to read is one. Another compares the gun rights supporter (and presumed Republican) suggesting that those who don’t know the difference between certain kinds of firearms shouldn’t legislate from a position of ignorance, to which the gun rights opponent (and presumed liberal) responds: Please draw and explain the female reproductive system.

Image credit: http://military.wikia.com/wiki/FlintlockHowever, this evinces the kind of whataboutism that makes political discussion today such a bloody fraught proposition. The gist is that occasionally white people are refreshed in the fears for themselves and their children that POCs live under all the expletivedeleted time. This is something that happened in Florida this month – nice suburban white high school terrorized by a young man with a gun irrationally marching through what should have been a safe space to learn and grow. Black Americans going about their daily business should expect and experience not being harassed or killed without probable cause, right? And I’m engaging in a variation of the same whataboutism, I suppose. A recent parallel is the Netflix dramatization of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Again, not an original though on my part, but in Atwoods’ vision of the future, white women are treated the same way black women have been treated in America for centuries. I’m sure I’m not the only one to draw this comparison between Atwood’s fiction and the news treatment of our various tragedies. This situation is wrapped up in a lot of other American situations including the school to prison pipeline, Riker’s Island, and the stop-and-frisk policies all over the country.

As noted, I’m riffing. There are no conclusions here, just frustration.