A Blog on Politics, Principles, and Uncovering the Narrative

Author: Luis Page 2 of 4

Guns and Responsibility

Read this article about a gun owner’s attitude toward Kyle Rittenhouse. It gets to the heart of gun control. Not directly, but in the assumptions made.

I live in Japan, where guns are effectively banned; it’s incredibly safe here. In the US, however, that’s not really an option. Guns aren’t going away anytime in the foreseeable future.

However, what the right wing wants is not the freedom to own and use guns; instead, what they demand is the liberty to buy and use guns without any conditions—and, more and more, without any penalties for irresponsible misuse, either.

Gun control is the responsible medium. Now, gun advocates will immediately assume that gun control is a ban, making it so that only criminals have guns because they can just decide to break the laws.

This, however, is blatantly false: despite the NRA propaganda, gun control does not ban guns, it does not deny guns to law-abiding citizens, and it does not proliferate guns in the hands of criminals.

It does the exact opposite.

Gun control is not a ban on weapons, it allows law-abiding citizens to own and use guns, and it minimizes the number of guns that criminals possess.

In fact, under even the strictest gun control now in effect in the US, the number of guns has actually increased while the amount of crime has decreased.

This goes against what many gun opponents feel is correct: that the fewer guns you have, the better things will be. That assumption is not fully correct. The key element is not the number of guns… instead, it is a matter of the people who possess them.

To understand this, you have to understand that most gun control in the US today is compromised by something called “The Patchwork Quilt.” That is, instead of there being one strong federal law for the whole country, gun control opponents have forced each state, county, and city to draft their own laws—creating a patchwork of areas, often in close proximity, where laws controlling guns can be strict or lax, allowing criminals who live in gun control areas to violate the laws with simplicity and ease.

Chicago does indeed have a gun control problem: it is called “Indiana.” All that a criminal has to do to defeat Chicago’s gun control laws is to drive to Gary and buy his guns there. The large number of guns taken from criminals in New York State proves the efficacy of the state’s gun control laws, as the vast majority were bought out of state and brought back in.

Gun control laws work, but are defeated by nearby areas where there is little or no gun control.

Amusingly, Oklahoma and Nebraska made the case for this by suing Colorado over its recreational marijuana laws: they claimed that since their own citizens could just drive to Colorado and get weed and bring it back, it compromised their own attempts to outlaw the drug. They were, effectively, arguing for federal gun control, they just hadn’t thought about the implications of their argument.

Gun control opponents, however, will ignore the Patchwork Quilt and simply say that gun control doesn’t work because it doesn’t work, trotting out the old propaganda line laid out by the NRA.

The thing is, we have a valid test case for gun control: Hawaii. In the 70’s, Hawaii had a gun crime problem, like much the rest of the country. In 1981, they made a new set of laws, strict gun controls which constituted the strongest such laws in any state in the country. They required training, testing, background checks, licensing, and registration, along with greater restrictions against guns classified as assault rifles.

If we are to believe the NRA line, Hawaii should have descended into hell: law-abiding citizens should have been stripped of their guns, while criminals roamed the streets, the only ones armed.

The reality, however, proved just the opposite: gun deaths and gun crimes in general dropped by more than half almost overnight, and stayed that way from that time forward. Today, Hawaii has one of the lowest, if not the lowest gun crime rate in the country.

Why is this a test case? Because the Patchwork Quilt cannot affect Hawaii. Being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii has a built-in moat: you cannot drive to Alaska to get guns and then drive them back.

Hawaii proves the case that gun control not only can work in the US, but that it does work in the US—so long as there are no holes in the coverage.

But here’s where we get the twist: after enforcing these laws, not only were law-abiding citizens still able to get guns… but the sheer number of legally owned guns has skyrocketed. The number of guns owned in Hawaii has consistently grown over time. There are more and more guns every year.

This will make most gun control advocates scratch their heads. Wait, more guns are better?

Well, not exactly, It is not the number of guns that matter, but instead how they are allowed

This brings us back to the article I linked to at the start of this post. The author writes:

I’ve owned guns all my life. … When it was time for my son to learn to hunt, we took a hunter safety course together, and I tried to teach him these important lessons just as my father had taught them to me. …the most important thing about owning a gun for protection [is that you] do everything possible to make sure you never have to use it. …

Professional police officers know how to handle a weapon, and the best cops know how to de-escalate a tense situation — they know how to keep it from getting worse. A young vigilante knows none of these things. 

And this brings the point home: America could be a “safe gun” country, if we had gun control—something that gun advocates fight tooth and nail to prevent. Oh, sure, they’ll say they approve of safe gun use—but they will do everything in their power to prevent it from being required.

And if it is not required, then few will do it.

Background checks have been proven over and over again as effective means of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, while allowing law-abiding citizens free access. Yes, opponents will bring up apocryphal examples of a law-abiding citizen caught in some bureaucratic snafu—but such cases are the rare exceptions, not the rule.

And training? Why in holy hell would anyone oppose training in gun safety and gun use? It makes no sense whatsoever—unless you want to use guns without any requirement for personal responsibility.

And if you want to bring up the tired cliché about tyrants using registration lists to confiscate weapons, I would direct you back through your portal to the fantasyland from which you emerged. Tyrants and fascists are typically ushered in by those who have the guns in the first place.

Hawaii proved the case: strong gun control works, so long as it is not compromised by gaping holes every other city, county, and state.

Kyle Rittenhouse and those who laud him as a hero are the quintessential example of how fetishistic gun culture in the US has brought us our current sad state of rampant gun crime and death.

We can have our guns, and our safety—but only if we’re willing to be responsible and do it the right way.

It’s a Deal

Trump is at it again: in order to drastically lower his property tax payments, he says that his golf club, assessed by the county as being worth $14 million, is actually only worth 1/10th that: $1.4 million.

So now there’s going to be a huge investigation and brouhaha and an even greater waste of taxpayer money trying to untangle Trump’s lies.

I have a simple solution: the county should accept Trump’s value. And then purchase it from him at his own price, using eminent domain, and use the land to build housing for the homeless.

If Trump says the property is only worth $1.4 million, take him up on it. If he wants to keep it, he can claim it at being his actual price—and pay the damned taxes on it.

That should, in fact, be the standard law for all tax assessments: if anyone with a property assessed at over, say, $5 million, tries to claim it is worth less than that amount, any local or state government should be able to buy it at the stated value, and then either use it, or sell it on the market and recoup the profit.

The Quality of Wealth That Matters

One of the problems that I have with the current liberal messaging is the constant focus on billionaire wealth in terms of total value. Things like, “During the pandemic, billionaires increased their wealth by $1 trillion,” or noting that Elon Musk is now worth something like $6 billion more than a week ago.

The problem is that this does not focus on actual, spendable wealth—instead, this is mostly stock value we’re talking about. And that wealth is not liquid. Saying that Elon Musk is now worth $230 billion does not mean he can spend that much on mansions and private jets—or that he does. All it means is that he controls stock of that value.

And the thing about stocks is that one market crash will wipe out most of that wealth. Tesla stock lost about 35% of its stock value back in March of 2020. It recovered, but it goes to show how the wealth is based upon confidence instead of actual value. And the higher a stock goes, the harder it may crash.

These billions and trillions are only meaningful if the owners are willing to give up their control of the companies.

What is much more meaningful is how much wealth they can personally access, either through money paid to them in salaries or otherwise, resources made available (like Bezos and his “Blue Origin” joyrides), dividend payouts, and actual asset sales. 

Of course, I know that the valuation of the stocks has more of an impact on readers, and may stand in for actual wealth which may be hidden, and I’m OK with it in principle… but it does grate on me to hear this all expressed as if Musk has all that money in his bank account.

These shock-value impressions also ignore the worth of the work being done. Bezos is a monster, in so many ways—but why people are attacking Musk, aside from the total worth of his stock holdings, is beyond me. Musk’s businesses, unlike Bezos’, are actually doing a lot of good. Musk is working on infrastructure, green energy, and future potential—and he’s doing a damn good job at it.

He doesn’t get a grand salary, he mostly borrows off of his stock value; he’s not stashing billions in the Caymans, he’s selling much of his wealth to fund his projects. I’m sure he lives in luxury, but the $230 billion is not going into his back pocket. He’s building stuff with it.

When it was announced that he was the richest man on Earth, Musk tweeted, “How strange … Well, back to work.” The fact that he is now no longer the richest shows how ephemeral that wealth can be. And Musk seems aware of it.

Compare that to Bezos, who seems to be reveling in his wealth while treating his employees like worthless crap.

I’m all for taxing the shit out of Bezos, but we do have to figure out what our message is. If we’re talking tax on personal liquid assets, great. If we’re closing loopholes and other tricks to avoid paying taxes, fantastic. If we want to tax profits overall, terrific.

But unless we’re talking about taxing non-liquid holdings on a daily basis, the whole “Musk just made $6 billion in a week” is, let’s admit it, mostly just for show.

Facebook Jail: How Facebook Empowers Trolls

By attempting to stop trolls, Facebook ineptly empowered them even further—and the reason has to do with Facebook’s own laziness and greed. You may have noticed that a lot of people you know have been put in “Facebook Jail” for seemingly petty offenses. Why is that happening?

I have a page on Facebook that I use to post about politics. I had already been through Facebook’s extortion wringer—they allow you to accrue followers on your page, gain some momentum, and then they kneecap you: they severely limit your ability to reach out to the followers you have gathered while at the same time start hitting you with incessant demands that you pay them to give some of it back to you. I certainly didn’t care enough to pay them a penny, so I just accepted that my page would be muted by its own platform. If you want to be a high-traffic site on Facebook, you have to pay.

But then, at one point a few years ago, I noticed something happening on my page: no one was getting notifications when I put up a post. The only reactions I got were from the few people who actively went to my page to see what I had posted. My reach dropped to zero. What the hell. I could still use Facebook in every other way, but suddenly my voice had been silenced.

I made complaints to Facebook about it, and, predictably, they did nothing. “Customer support” on the service is a fiction; go through the steps to ask them to fix something and all you’ll get are automated responses and no help at all.

After one week, the mysterious ban disappeared. Then, soon after, I got hit with another one. It also lasted exactly one week.

And then again, a third time, shortly after that. Same thing. One week, then back to normal. After that, it stopped.

It took me a bit to figure it out: I had been attacked by trolls.

Facebook has a problem with trolls. Publicly, they claim to want to stop them, but they can’t. Trolls tend to have a great deal of time to attack a problems, and tend to work in packs, helping and supporting each other. Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t want to spare much in the way of money or manpower to truly address the problem.

So they automate.

They create systems which are not announced publicly. If so many complaints are made in such and such a pattern, then a certain penalty is applied. They never announce it because they know that if they do, it can and will be abused.

The trolls are aware of this, and they actively work the system to figure out the latest rules. They share that information amongst themselves, and then use it as a weapon. That’s what happened to my page: trolls figured out that if they report abuse or make some other complaint in a specific way, they could get my page shut down. They do so, and then watch the page and laugh their asses off as the target posts about how they’ve been mysteriously silenced. They take that back to their off-service forums and share it as an accomplishment, as a way to accrue respect and currency amongst their peers. They milk these things as far as they can take them.

So, why does Facebook allow them to get away with this?

The answer is pretty simple: Facebook wants to appear to be dealing with abuse, but they don’t want to actually pay for it. So they automate.

The problem is, a basic truism in strategy in conflict is that if you always react in the exact same way every single time, your opponent can easily use that against you.

So Facebook lays out automated systems that rely on user-reported abuse by trolls, but trolls quickly work out what the system is and then use it in force to abuse their targets even more. In essence, Facebook is only aggravating the problem, not solving it.

Making the problem worse is that the people being attacked are never made aware of it until they are punished; there is no recourse. I was never informed of anyone making complaints, and my “Page Quality” console never showed a single violation. I have no clear idea how exactly they did it, I simply know that they did it.

I am guessing that this is how it worked: Facebook sets up a parameter where if a certain number of complaints of abuse are made by a certain number of different users within a certain period of time, then the page gets muted for a week. This would be allowed to happen three times before any human interaction from Facebook is called for. This means that a site can issue abuse—or be abused—for about a month. Upon the start of a fourth cycle of complaints, an alarm goes off, and a Facebook staffer spends maybe half a minute looking at the situation. If they can see no obvious signs of actual abuse, they then shut off the automated muting mechanism.

There is likely an exception made for high-traffic sites (which, in order to be high-traffic, are paying a fair amount of money to Facebook), where the parameters are set higher and staffer attention is brought in faster. Or maybe not—big spenders may just get the reverse treatment, where they can get reported any number of times and never receive punishment unless they become so abusive that it starts garnering media attention.

However, for the people who don’t “boost” their page—me and you and most Facebook users—they get the punishment, while the trolls get a hearty laugh.

This is a similar problem that you see in copy protection or “DRM” schemes: once a single copy of a movie or song gets out in the wild, it gets shared endlessly, and no copy protection scheme ever works, because somewhere there is a media pirate who always finds a way to get past it. As a result, the DRM scheme is completely ineffective—and, in fact, punishes the people who actually follow the rules by putting restrictions on them that make using the media harder.

Facebook avoids paying a price for this because (a) they hide the workings of it, and (b) they have a virtual monopoly, and know that the users they abuse won’t leave in enough numbers to cost them anything. In fact, all the fuss probably increases traffic and ad views for them.

And so we come to the latest set of rules in Facebook, which seem to be the cause for the now-famous seven- or thirty-day bans referred to as “Facebook Jail.”

You can bet that it is a new set of parameters Facebook set up for dealing with abuse.

You can bet that it is 99% automated.

You can bet that trolls figured it out very quickly and started using it.

And you can bet that the people you know who are disappearing for a week or a month at a time are being sent to Facebook Jail by the very trolls that are supposed to be the ones sent there.

Finger-Pointing and Ass-Covering: No, the CIA Did Not Give Biden Ample Warning

I have seen this article (“CIA warned of rapid Afghanistan collapse. So why did U.S. get it so wrong?“) used repeatedly to claim that Biden had ample early warning that the Afghan forces would collapse and the U.S. would not have time to withdraw adequately.

As far as I can tell, that conclusion is pure BS.

People nowadays seem to read no further than the headlines, and the headlines are written to be sensational; the more specific and meaningful content is in the article. This headline gives the incorrect impression that the Biden administration was fully and adequately warned in time to do things right.

But that’s not what the article actually says. In the first graf:

“As the Taliban began seizing provinces across Afghanistan in recent weeks, the CIA’s intelligence assessments began to warn in increasingly stark terms about the potential for a rapid, total collapse of the Afghan military and government, current and former U.S. officials told NBC News.”

Now break that down in terms of timing. “In recent weeks.” Not months; at most, 4-5 weeks ago. Then, “began to warn.” That says that the initial warnings were lesser than the later ones. Well, which ones? How many? How did they express it?

Not to mention: this was happening at a time when the Taliban had already started their move. Not before.

Then we have to ask, who was doing this? We are only told of “intelligence assessments,” which could mean anything from some lone analyst all the way up to the whole agency concurring. But that is not made clear.

So, at some point soon after the Taliban began their surprising blitz, someone at the CIA wrote a report warning of the advance that was already happening. As the Taliban advanced, the warnings became stronger.

How the hell does that make Biden derelict?

Seriously, as far as I can see, these warnings told Biden nothing that he could not already see, and there is zero—I repeat, zero—indication that Biden did or did not react to it immediately. However, with just a few weeks of knowledge that a blitz—one that surprised everyone, even the Taliban themselves—in the middle of an already-rushed massive withdrawal with a myriad of interdependent moving parts, you cannot expect the military to pivot on a dime and suddenly do in days what it was projected would take months. That is entirely unrealistic.

Now, if, as the headline suggests, the CIA had been pressing Biden with strong warnings at least a month before the advance began and Biden ignored it, that would be something.

But that’s not what this is. This appears to be little more than inter-agency ass-covering, using the media to create a narrative that the agency had it right all along.

An additional point of ire is that Biden’s State Department dragged their feet on getting the translators and other Afghanis who helped us out of the country. Again, angry parties highlighted that they were pressing to get this started early… but if you read the details again, these were only a few weeks before the collapse started, and the article gives a rather powerful reason why it did not happen faster:

“At the State Department, officials are pointing the finger at Congress, which created an onerous 14-step process for the special visa program that diplomats by law must complete before they can issue the visas. No diplomat wants to be the one who cuts a corner and ends up admitting into the U.S. someone who could pose a risk, one diplomat said. Congress ultimately passed legislation streamlining and expanding the program, but not until the end of July.”

In other words, republicans in Congress with hot heads on immigration didn’t want the Afghan helpers to come… the very same republicans who are now throwing scathing attacks at Biden for leaving them behind.

The lowdown is this: everybody screwed up. Bush 43 screwed up getting this started. Trump screwed up by gifting the Taliban with everything they wanted and screwing over the Afghan government and military, as well as our own. From there, you start with a distant third. Biden is somewhere in there, to be sure, but he has a lot of company.

If you see this same headline, or what it seems to convey, cited anywhere—challenge it. It’s incendiary fuel for Biden-haters on the left and the right… but it has practically zero substance.

What you’re seeing is a major disaster, and most of the people who want to avoid responsibility are pointing fingers; this article is an excellent example of this.

In the end, however, Biden is president, and as he said, the buck stops with him. And as such, he is opening the door for all the finger-pointers to point directly at him.

You have to at least respect the fact that the man can take the heat.

Trump would never have done this. In fact, instead of saying “The Buck Stops Here,” he’s pointing his stubby little fingers at Biden, claiming that he, unlike Biden, would have been masterful at the pull-out.

Right. Just like Syria.

Afghanistan, 9/11, Neoconservatism, and Bush: Why We Are Where We Are

There is a mass of criticism against President Biden over the pullout from Afghanistan, but there is one thing I have not heard or read: any evidence that it was possible for him to do better, given the context and starting circumstances. No one has given the slightest indication that Biden did not do everything he could. Maybe he didn’t—but no one has presented evidence that he didn’t.

I am not saying that Biden didn’t fumble to whatever extent; all I am saying is that I have heard no evidence at all that he did, and most seem to ignore the run-up to the withdrawal that caused the worst of the disaster. Trump hosted the Taliban last year, giving them extremely favorable terms, releasing 5000 of their people being held prisoner, delegitimizing the Afghan government we had helped build while giving the Taliban a much stronger position, and promising to pull out American forces by May 2021. Then he removed too many troops too quickly, strengthening the Taliban position even more without giving the U.S. time to draw down safely. This put Biden in a very difficult position; he delayed the pullout because there was not enough time under Trump’s plan to pull out properly, and before the job could be reliably done, the country collapsed.

It is quite possible that, despite the fact that the pullout was a huge disaster, Biden may have done the best job possible.

This is why quagmires are quagmires: they are messy to extract yourself from them, and you always get massive criticism for leaving when a victory is not possible. It does not help when the previous office-holder totally destabilized the situation and made an organized and proper action impossible to achieve.

However, the real blame lies not with Biden, and not even fully with Trump, but with George W. Bush. And the error was not just Afghanistan, but with 9/11 itself. I am amazed at how people immediately forgot how this whole thing began in the first place.

In May of 2001, Bush got his first big policy pushed through: a massive tax cut for rich people. The second item on his agenda came up next. Can you remember what it was? I doubt it. Few people do.

It was a push for Missile Defense, commonly referred to as “Star Wars”—a tremendously, even ruinously expensive cash cow for private industry.

So, why is that relevant?

The reason is because the Bush administration’s chief justification for the program hinged on the idea that hostile states like North Korea would soon perfect missiles that could eventually reach American territories, and pepper us with nuclear weapons. This assertion, however, was ludicrous on it’s face: not even North Korea would be stupid enough to leave a clearly readable missile path going from them to an American target, as there would be an immediate and devastating nuclear response that could effectively wipe out the entire nation.

The greater and rather obvious criticism that emerged immediately after Bush made his case was that hostile states like North Korea and Iraq would simply use terrorism instead of costly and difficult ICBMs. Pack a nuke into a shipping crate, sail into an American harbor like New York, and set it off there. This would cheaply and easily evade any defense, and would not leave a clear, readable path back to the responsible party. Even if identified as, say, North Korean nuclear material, they could simply claim that it had been stolen and used by terrorists and they had nothing to do with it.

Remember when we learned that, a month before 9/11, Bush resisted being presented with a PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) from a CIA analyst, one which warned that bin Laden was planning to attack the United States soon, and after reluctantly receiving it, Bush snapped back, annoyed, saying “All right, you’ve covered your ass now”?

That seemed to make no sense; why would a president be so annoyed, even pissed off, at being given a warning of an imminent terrorist threat?

However, it does make sense once you remember that Bush was in the middle of a big push for missile defense, for which the primary criticism was that terrorism made the missile defense system irrelevant.

Indeed, the Bush administration had shown outright hostility towards the counter-terrorism mechanism that the Clinton administration had built up, dismantling much of it, and generally disregarding terrorism as a lesser threat than hostile nations using missiles. Indeed, after 9/11, the justification for missile defense simply crumbled and disappeared.

In fact, on the day of 9/11 itself, Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s National Security Advisor, was scheduled to give a speech at Johns Hopkins University in which she would have played up the missile threat as she downplayed the threat of terrorism.

In that context, the Bush administration ignoring the threats of bin Laden’s attacks makes sense: had they taken positive action against a terrorist threat, they would be admitting to the nation that terrorism was indeed a pressing threat, which would cut the legs out from under their missile defense initiative.

And so bin Laden’s plan slipped by the willfully unprepared Bush administration, and 9/11 happened.

However, even that was not Bush’s greatest blunder, nor was it the only willful one.

When 9/11 hit, Bush—who, you also may not recall, was plummeting in the polls and regularly mocked as Cheney’s idiot puppet—suddenly was seen as a courageous hero, standing a hundred feet tall, bravely leading the war that threatened us all.

It was ratings gold—and was a dream come true for republicans, giving them a free pass to vote in every last piece of policy legislation they could dream of. Everything was suddenly cast as being elemental to the War on Terror—even consumer shopping was touted as a weapon against evil. Ironically, missile defense was shelved, but that was okay, because bloated defense industry contractors suddenly had more government money pouring into their coffers than they knew what to do with.

Bush, of course, immediately set out to invade Afghanistan, but it is important to note that Afghanistan was not his preferred target, and that he was not really interested in that war, nor in capturing bin Laden.

This became evident in December of 2001, when we had bin Laden boxed in at Tora Bora—but Bush had already shifted his focus from Afghanistan to Iraq, secretly planning to begin a military offensive in a country completely unrelated to the terrorism threat (Saddam Hussein was antagonist towards, not in cahoots with, terrorist groups).

A slip-up by bin Laden allowed the U.S. military to pinpoint his position within 10 meters—but Bush and his officers had completely understaffed the special forces necessary for the mission, creating a delay that allowed bin Laden and more than a thousand of his men to slip away into Pakistan.

If the U.S. had captured or killed bin Laden at that time, we could have declared victory, pulled out with anti-Taliban forces in charge, and stopped the whole Middle East war right then.

But that’s not what Bush and Cheney wanted. They wanted to invade Iraq and control the supply of oil, so bin Laden getting away was actually a plus for them.

They allowed Afghanistan to fester, ignored bin Laden, and invested heavily in prosecuting a war in Iraq, thus allowing not one, but two simultaneous quagmire wars in the Middle East.

When Obama came into office, he could not withdraw from Afghanistan while bin Laden was still there, and he focused on the hunt. Within two and a half years, he actually finished the job Bush failed to do in more than seven years, but still Obama did not withdraw from Afghanistan. He considered it, but stepped away from the idea when he realized that the Taliban would take over again.

But that’s the whole problem of a quagmire: the bad guys will always take over. What Bush and then Obama both did was to kick the can to the next administration.

One thing to know about Afghanistan: it has never been a winnable fight. The British learned this lesson in the past, and the Soviet Union paid a heavy price to learn the same lesson. Even from the beginning, there was no real strategy that realistically allowed for the U.S. to stabilize the country. It was bound to fail from the start.

Meanwhile, the United States spent two trillion dollars paying military contractors to wage and maintain the war—as presidents wavered, knowing the political price they would pay for ending it.

Trump, surprisingly, actually made the decision to pull out; not being a neoconservative, he was never a fan of overseas wars or controlling the flow of oil. So he made a deal with the Taliban.

The problem was that he was a gigantic idiot, and did everything the wrong way. He backstabbed the Afghan government we had built, gave the Taliban everything they wanted in exchange for an empty promise not to support terrorism, drew down troops to such a low level that control of the country was slipping away even before Biden took office, and promised a pullout in May 2021, not nearly enough time to do the job properly. Trump obviously didn’t care—he pulled out of Syria too quickly as well, and had no problem with the chaos it created.

Even republicans called the plan a mess and a mistake, unusually agreeing with the head of NATO.

The sad fact is, Trump was so engrossed in first campaigning to win the 2020 election, and then fighting his battle to delegitimize the election results, that he pretty much let the Afghanistan situation crumble unattended.

When Biden came into office, despite facing an unprecedented health crisis and a republican Congress bent on overthrowing Democracy itself, he got on to the Afghanistan problem immediately. He concluded that a May withdrawal would not be possible, and extended the stay as long as he could to allow for the withdrawal to be carried out effectively—but the Taliban, strengthened by Trump’s irrational promises and botched negotiations, were already closing in, and the Afghan military folded and fell apart just as quickly as Iraq’s had some years back. Trump more or less assured the collapse would be catastrophic.

This was an unwinnable war from the start, one begun by an inept bumbler who did not care, allowed to fester by a president who did not want to sully his reputation, followed by an idiotic narcissist who gave away the farm… only to fall on Joe Biden, who had long wanted to end the war, but was handed such a mess that no one would have been able to withdraw cleanly.

Do you really think that Trump would have handled it better? Of course not; it would have ben ten times worse. At least.

So I leave you with this proposition: if you want to argue that Biden failed, that he screwed up and made the mess worse than it had to be, be prepared to have evidence to back that up. Because I haven’t seen a damn shred of proof to support that proposition.

Believe the Lie: A Look behind the Curtain

Mike Lindell, the “Pillow Guy,” has been saying for weeks that he has hard data to prove that China hacked the election, and would prove it at a “symposium” on the subject.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise at all that, after his complete fraud of a presentation, his own “cyber experts” admit that they have no proof whatsoever that the election was hacked.

I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

Lindell is not just your ordinary hack. He’s an extraordinarily stupid one. 

In the above video, the fraud is comically transparent. At 55 seconds, the reporter asks Lindell why he doesn’t just produce the evidence—or starts to, but Lindell overtalks, and loudly asks, “No! Wait, just forget about the evidence! If I’m right that China took our country, right now, do you care? Would that bother you?” The reporter persists that he would have to see the proof first, but Lindell pushes the “Would that bother you?” line.

This is an amateurish and ham-handed attempt to employ a classic Newt Gingrich technique: It doesn’t matter what’s true, what matters is what I can frighten you into believing.”

Gingrich, usually far more subtle himself, tipped his hand in an interview with a CNN reporter in 2016, when he claimed that crime was on the rise, blaming Obama for making things worse. The reporter responded with fact: the FBI itself, an unassailable source in this regard, has reported that crime rates are falling, not rising.

Gingrich responded that the facts don’t matter, it’s what people believe that matters.

“The average American, I will bet you this morning, does not think that crime is down, does not think that we are safer…. People feel more threatened. As a political candidate, I’ll go with what people feel.”

What he admitted to was that he knew that what he was saying was a lie; he told the lie to make people believe it, to feel more threatened; then he said that because people believed it, to him it was more important than the truth. In short, forget evidence or proof; as a politician, I will lie and make people afraid.

Lindell handled the same technique far less adroitly. Just after 2:30 in the video above, you will see the reporter say that if Lindell’s data is legit, he should make it available to any and all experts. Lindell used another staple BS claim:

“You know what? I’ll give you the answer. Because I’ve been told that they can go out there and corrupt it, and make fake stuff and put fake news out. … We’re showing it right on screen right now, so you can’t sit here and do a hit piece when it’s on screen right now.”

So, to summarize: I have data that proves the election was hacked, I will show a few screens of meaningless data which proves nothing to create the impression that I have something, but I will not let anyone analyze or inspect the data because Fake News.”

It’s a flimsy facade that even street hucksters would look at and cringe.

But the real giveaway comes at about 3:30 in the video, when one of Lindell’s speakers summarizes the con concisely:

“[B]ut the CNN’s of the world, you guys need to start reporting this, and stop fact-checking it.”

Convicted felon Steve Bannon, from a luxury box on the mezzanine, applauds.

You got that? “Don’t fact check; just report our bullshit without evidence.”

That’s the fraud, in a nutshell.

How Trump Killed 400,000 Americans

Trump’s supporters claim that he did everything he could to fight COVID, but can only name two things: a travel ban from China, and Operation Warp Speed.

The problem is that any competent president should have done a hundred things right. Instead, Trump only did two things partially right (the travel ban was full of holes, and Warp Speed was an obvious move that Trump waited too long to institute), he failed to do the other 98 things at all, and he did another 50 things horribly wrong.

Here is a look at just the first few months of the pandemic and how miserably Trump failed, repeatedly and inexcusably, to respond correctly to the pandemic. It is estimated that as many as 400,000 Americans died needlessly because of Trump’s utter failure.

From before the virus was first noticed, Trump dismantled much of our ability to detect and study such viruses as part of his blind hostility to anything Obama did (Obama beefed up our pandemic prevention measures after the Ebola outbreak). Trump slashed CDC staff in China by 2/3rds and shuttered an international program to detect emerging pandemics just months before COVID was recognized.

When initial indicators of the Ebola outbreak started reaching Obama, he acted well before the WHO moved on the outbreak. In contrast, Trump received information on COVID in mid-January, but did nothing. At this point in time, he should have mobilized teams to begin investigating the virus, and appointed staff members to begin working on contingency plans on how to stem entry of the virus into the US and how to prepare businesses for a potential crisis. Trump, instead, ignored the warnings, and repeatedly told reporters that the virus was unimportant and was “totally under control.” On Jan. 21, the virus was identified in a U.S. patient who had traveled to China. Trump should have limited travel from anyone having visited Wuhan or even anyone traveling from China. He failed to do so for ten days.

In late January, when Trump should have had an emergency response team making extensive plans for dealing with the virus (like Obama did for Ebola, or like South Korea was doing at that time), Trump failed to act. At least three times from Jan. 27-30, Trump was warned of the extreme consequences of failing to act by his own people, and Trump did nothing. The WHO declared a global emergency. Trump fails to react, instead repeatedly praising China for doing such a great job.

Trump takes his only action for months that his supporters can claim as a victory: his travel ban from China. Except it came 10 days after we knew that the infection was spreading from there, and Trump’s ban was only partial, allowing more than 40,000 travelers from China to come to the U.S. after the “ban” was instituted. In January, before the partial ban, more than 4000 travelers were allowed to enter the U.S. directly from Wuhan as Trump dawdled on his response.

February was later called “the lost month” as Trump continued to deny there was a problem and failed utterly to act.

On February 7, in a call to Bob Woodward, Trump privately reveals that he understands perfectly how deadly the virus is and how easily it is spread. At the same time, he continues to claim to the public that the virus is no danger.

While countries like South Korea mobilized their industries to produce tests and other essential supplies, Trump instead worried that he might look bad and the economy might be hurt if he paid attention to the crisis. Trump waits until the end of February—a month to a month and a half after he should have acted—for a small amount of funding from Congress to respond to the pandemic. Had he done this in late January, it could have made a huge difference; Trump failed.

Instead, as community spread of the virus was confirmed in the U.S. and the first deaths were reported, Trump lied and said there was no problem: “[W]hen you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” As the virus spreads nationwide mostly undetected because of lack of testing (in contrast, South Korea had been testing and contact tracing since mid-February, and was conducting 15,000 tests a day by the time Trump said the pandemic would end magically on its own).

At the end of February, amongst consistent denials that there was any problem, Trump called COVID the Democrats’ “new hoax.” He probably was not saying that the virus was a hoax, but that the insistence by Democratic leaders that it was a great threat was the hoax. Either way, Trump was disastrously wrong.

In March, the virus truly begins to spread, mostly because Trump has failed to do a single thing correctly in response. Even as Trump begins to take credit for the China travel “ban,” tens of thousands of people are still entering America directly from China. At the same time, although the virus has now been known to be killing people in Europe, Trump fails to react with any travel restrictions from anywhere else.

As Trump falsely claims in early March that “anybody that wants a test can get a test” (a virtual clone of Obama’s statement about keeping your doctor, which prompted months of furious outrage by republicans), he actually tried to keep Americans on a cruise ship in Japan from being released, even though they were in increasing danger from the spread of COVID on the vessel—purely because if they returned to America under quarantine, the infected among them would be counted amongst the United States’ numbers, and Trump wanted to keep those numbers down. He literally endangered and probably killed Americans purely for his own political image.

It is not until mid-March—a month and a half after the WHO announced a state of emergency—that Trump, just two days after delivering an awkward speech packed with errors and lies, finally announces a state of emergency in the United States. He announces a travel ban from most of Europe, but already the flood gates caused massive spread of the virus into places like New York.

It is far too little and far too late. People begin dying in larger and larger numbers. Trump by this time has missed many dozens of opportunities to take actions that would have stemmed the spread of the virus in the U.S., and continues to resist taking many critical actions even after calling the state of emergency.

It was at this time when Jared Kushner—totally unqualified for the job—led a “task force” to decide how to handle the virus. We later learned that his decision was to abandon any meaningful plan because the virus was mostly hitting blue states, and the Trump administration could lay blame on the governors. Essentially, Kushner decided to let the virus spread and kill hundreds of thousands of Americans because it was politically convenient to do so.

This signaled the beginning of a long-running campaign by Trump to avoid taking action, and instead claim everything was up to the states to take action, blaming them for all the failures of the Trump White House. At around the same time, Trump starts pushing hydroxychloroquine and other hack treatments, and continues to act like the virus is no big deal.

It was not until late March—long after Korea was doing massive testing—that the Trump administration received a large number of COVID tests from China… which were found to be useless. Trump starts blaming everything on the “China virus” at about this time.

Lockdowns had begun with no central coordinating leadership from Trump, but because the stock market is faltering, Trump already begins demanding that lockdowns be lifted—in APRIL 2020!

But it’s still March, and Trump is now saying that if “only” 100,000 to 200,000 people die of the virus, then he can be credited with doing a “good job.” Ironically, he is correct.

It goes on from there in very much the same way: Trump does little or nothing of substance to react, and when he does, it is far too little and far too late. Trump instead spends most of his time lying and denying, while at the same time constantly claiming that he’s done the best job possible.

Instead, by mid-Aril, Trump begins the tragically costly move of politicizing the virus. After already having called the spread a Democratic “hoax” and started blaming China for its spread, Trump now seizes on state lockdowns as oppressive tyranny by Democrats, and issues a command to his followers to “liberate” Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia from their Democratic governors (one militia takes Trump very seriously and prepares for a terror attack in which they planned to kidnap and probably execute the governor of Michigan).

Although an emergency vaccine development plan should have been started in February, Trump does not institute Operation Warp Speed until mid-May. While largely credited for making the right move, this action (a) would have been taken by any president, and (b) almost certainly would have been taken much earlier. So yes, Trump did the right thing… but once again, too little and too late.

In the meantime, Trump continued to politicize the pandemic, demanding states end their lockdowns—a political move that inspires a movement which, to this day, continues to kill countless Americans.

So many other mistakes follow—Trump refusing to use the Defense Authorization Act to its fullest extent, refusing to supply states with PPE and other vital supplies, and even infamously stealing these supplies from states who were desperately and expensively able to order precious few from overseas. When finally, with little help from “Operation Warp Speed,” vaccines are finally created, Trump fails miserably to distribute them properly, again blaming the states for everything.

Reviewing so much of what Trump failed at brings home the very real terror: as president, Trump—in a very real and literal way—killed as many as 400,000 Americans under his watch. And worse, his influence continues to create greater and greater disasters, as vaccine denial continues to rage because of Trump’s actions.

So to any Trump supporters who claim Trump did a fantastic job, all you can do is say the truth—and fully expect them to completely deny it.

The Four Blind Men and the Elephant: A Parable of Context

One day, four blind men were walking together, and the man at the front collided with an elephant. Reaching out, he found the elephant’s leg. “Watch out, fellows!” he said, “I just ran into a tree! I can feel its trunk.”

Immediately upon hearing this, the other three blind men accepted the fact that they were now standing in front of a tree. They did not have to feel its shade or hear its leaves in the wind; their friend had given them this information, and that was enough. They now all accepted the context that there was a tree.

In order to avoid colliding with their friend and the tree, they fanned out. The second blind man, arriving at the rear of the elephant, found its tail, and announced, “I just found a rope hanging from a branch of the tree.” He had not actually felt or otherwise sensed any tree or branch, but it followed logically from the statement of the first man. After all, the rope had to be hanging from something.

The others not only accepted his report of a rope, but now understood that not just one, but two of their group had indeed confirmed the context that they were all standing at a tree. They had no reason to challenge it; their trust in their fellows was enough to shape their perception of reality.

Just then, the third blind man came around to the front of the elephant, and found its thick, flexible trunk. Upon feeling it, he reeled away, and shouted, “Aaahhh!! Fellows, watch out! There is a snake hanging from a branch on this side of the tree!” 

The context of the tree was now triply confirmed, which not only solidified their already strong belief in something that was incorrect, but that confirmation only served to strengthen everyone’s evaluation of the third blind man as an objective observer. They all decided to stay away from the snake, which clearly existed.

The fourth blind man, meanwhile, had encountered another part of the elephant, and was very confused. Sheepishly, he said to the others, “Fellows, I don’t know why this would be in a tree with a rope and a snake, but this feels exactly like an elephant’s penis.”

All the others laughed uproariously. “That’s so foolish!” the first man chortled. “A tree with an elephant’s penis? Absurd!” said the second. “How do you even know what an elephant’s penis feels like!” choked out the third with hilarity.

The fourth blind man, now thoroughly chastised, admitted the ridiculous nature of his observation, conceded that he had certainly made a foolish mistake, and even changed his story, saying now that his claim had just been a joke. All four were now in agreement, and sat under the “tree.”

None of them could now accept the possibility that they were in fact under an elephant; they were too heavily invested in the existence of the tree. To challenge that would mean that they would have to call each other liars or idiots, and discard what was now a thoroughly confirmed experience that all had shared. If anyone had come up just then and told them they were collected under an elephant, they would have dismissed such an interloper as a fraud, trying to trick them with lies.

Meanwhile, the elephant, having had enough of these men tugging and fondling it from underfoot, trampled them to death, and stalked off.

The moral of the story: a context reinforced by those you trust can be the most deceptive of untruths; always be receptive to new evidence and willing to re-interpret your views on any matter. Indeed, your life may depend on it.

Always ask yourself: what might be your tree?

Democrats’ Winning Will Be Huge, But Not Absolute

So, Warnock is in and it looks extremely likely that Ossof will win. If that happens, Democrats will take control of the Senate. However, be warned: they will get far from everything they want, as the cornucopia will come with limitations and caveats. Democrats will not pass Medicare for All. They will not pack the courts. They will not even eliminate the filibuster, at least not yet. Still, there are major victories here.

What will Democrats win? First of all, appointments. With McConnell in charge, most of Biden’s executive appointments would be challenged and some would be refused—making a huge difference in who Biden might choose as the Attorney General. If Democrats control the Senate, then Biden will have pretty much no problem with all or almost all of his appointees. (AG Sally Yates?)

The big win, however, will be in judicial nominees; McConnell would have blocked every single one, but with Democrats in control, probably none will be blocked, save for anyone with a scandal erupting just as they’re nominated. 

Committees will be the next big win: Democrats will have control of all the committees, including the power to investigate and issue subpoenas. In the post-Trump years, that will count for a lot. It will also stifle republicans convening massive investigations every time Biden blows his nose.

However, what will Democrats not get? Well, the filibuster is the main thing. Manchin (D-WV) and at least one or two other Democrats have voiced opposition to getting rid of it—which means that republicans can still filibuster nearly everything, and be greatly obstructionist.

This, however, may not be as great a disadvantage for Democrats as it may seem. First, on the bright side, a Democratic-controlled Senate would actually call all these bills up for votes, as opposed to McConnell’s habit of just killing them off as they arrive. No more “Legislative Graveyard,” no more “Grim Reaper.” This is a big deal because it means that individual republican senators will be the uncomfortable position of voting to kill specific legislation in the spotlight. They can be far more easily blamed for ending popular bills (like the $2000 stimulus). This means that there will be legislation that passes, at least more than otherwise, and all other votes will weigh heavily on incumbent republicans.

Why does that matter? Because of 2022. Far more red seats are up for grabs than blue seats, and Democrats could conceivably pick up 2, 3, or maybe even 4 seats. If they can take Stacey Abrams’ campaign to the 2022 races, maybe even more. This means that a lot of republicans will be a lot more cautious about how they vote over the next two years. Maybe McConnell will herd the GOP senators capably and allow the ones up for re-election in closer races to get “hall passes” and use the remainder to filibuster. But in any case, things will be a lot tougher for republicans now.

The next question is, will the filibuster eventually get nixed? Will Manchin change his mind? Will maybe enough republicans switch sides? It is hard to say.

But if the filibuster does get scrapped, then don’t expect a progressive wish list to suddenly get passed. Manchin is not the only blue-dog Democrat. Medicare for All will still be incredibly unlikely, though a public option could possibly pass muster. On the other hand, a new Voting Rights Act might just get through (McConnell will absolutely filibuster that to death).

One last thing: blame.

Right now, the GOP is kind of devolving into a circular firing squad, and after Georgia and Trump’s expected shitstorm tomorrow, followed by his inevitable departure from D.C., republicans will be pointing fingers all over within their own ranks.

Trump’s role in Georgia will be especially hot: with the margins being so close, it seems pretty undeniable that Trump’s attacks on Georgia republicans and his minions’ calls for republicans not to vote will have made enough of a difference that at least Ossof’s race will have been lost due to Trump. Probably Warnock’s, too.

Which, naturally, Trump will deny. He’ll undoubtedly blame it on Kemp, Raffensperger, and probably McConnell himself, as well as anyone who didn’t help him out. Remember, he campaigned for a GOP win in Georgia… but only just enough to say that he helped, and not nearly enough to take responsibility for a loss. He definitely gave far less than 100% in the race, and both he and his followers did more than enough damage to offset any help that Trump provided. One might even be forgiven if one thinks that Trump wanted Georgia to elect the Democrats. It would have the effect of diminishing Trump’s greatest rival for control of the GOP, Mitch McConnell. It would also mean that Trump could point to more Democratic victories in firing up his base for 2024.

The big question will be, will Trump blame republicans more than he’ll blame election fraud. He’s got motives to blame both. Right now, he’s pointing at election fraud in his Twitter feed, which feeds his own narrative about losing the presidency. After the Senate counts the votes for Biden, and Trump has nothing left to realistically fall back on, who he blames will be a strong signal as to Trump’s intent moving forward. If he blames McConnell and the GOP members who did not strongly support him, then we’ll know that he’s doing it to retain strong control over the GOP.

In the meantime… this would be a gigantic victory for Democrats, and a fantastic recovery for Biden as he steps into office.

Not to mention, we get to see all those old white racist, misogynistic senate republicans get hammered down as a black woman overrides their asses.

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