Politics postsSunday June 21, 2015
Melting Guns into Crosses
In the aftermath of the murders of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist in Charleston, S.C. this week, and the various Confederate flag/gun control debates that have followed, I've been reading an excellent New Yorker profile by Connie Bruck on Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a cool, insider technocrat, doing battle with both the CIA and (sadly) the White House over the efficacy and morality of torture in our post-9/11 world. In the midst of that, we get this background:
In 1992, she ran for the Senate against an incumbent Republican, John Seymour. In their biggest debate, her political consultant Bill Carrick recalled, Seymour charged that Feinstein, a strong advocate of gun control, had owned a handgun. “Dianne explained that at one point the ['70s left-wing guerilla group] New World Liberation Front had planted a bomb in a flower box outside her daughter Katherine's bedroom window,” Carrick said. “And, yes, she had gotten a gun. But, she said, after a while she realized it would do no good. She launched a citywide campaign, urging San Franciscans to turn in their guns. And she concluded, 'The Pope was coming to town. So we melted down all these guns we'd collected and gave them to him, in the form of a cross.' ” Feinstein won easily.
Would that South Carolina had similar leaders.
The Real White Walker
From Dan Kaufman's must-read piece, “Scott Walker and the Fate of the Union,” which appeared in yesterday's New York Times:
Last fall, [president of Local 139, Terry] McGowan met with Walker, who was seeking a contribution and another endorsement for governor, at a small campaign office in Wauwatosa, outside Milwaukee. “I looked across the table at him, and I said, 'We are both God-fearing men,' ” McGowan told me. “ 'If you can tell me that right-to-work will not come on your desk, then I will take you for your word.' He looked me in the eyes, and he said, 'It will not make it to my desk.' He was looking for a contribution, and I was looking for a commitment. We both got what we came for. He kept his, and I lost mine.”
You can't read the piece without wondering whether Scott Walker is the worst person in the world.
Your Go-To Stat In Case Any Asshole Complains About How Much Teachers Make
[Pres. Obama] pointed out that the top 25 hedge-fund managers made more money last year than all the kindergarten teachers in the country.
It's from Paul Ellie's New Yorker post, “The President and Poverty,” which misses an obvious cultural point. It's all about how important issues back in the day (early 1960s) were put into books, read by presidents, and things got done. Now they're put into books, read by presidents, and things don't get done.
Elie finds fault here:
... because an obstinate Congress holds the President and the poor in equal contempt, rendering the world's most-powerful man something like an armchair public-policy analyst rather than a policy maker.
But I blame us, too. We're not, in Gore Vidal's phrase, a serious people. We don't follow the news (unless it's tragedy or gossip or both), we don't read serious books, we don't have serious conversations. We're children: We keep asking Hollywood to tell us the same story over and over again, and that story stars superheroes.
Oh, and those hedge-fund managers? They pay only 15 percent in taxes. Less than you, most likely.
5/15 ADDENDUM: The Washington Post crunches the numbers on the stat. It's worse than I thought. What does it say about a country that the pay of 25 hedge-fund managers > the pay of 158,000 kindergarten teachers? And what does it say that the pay of teachers is a GOP/FOX News talking point? That we debate that rather than the pay of hedge-fund managers? And don't debate that those 25 hedge-fund managers pay less in taxes than those 158,000 kindergarten teachers?
'In the Republican Party, Crazy is a Constituency'
Bill Maher mocks the tea-party crazies who think Pres. Obama and the U.S. military, via “Jade Helm 15,” are planning to invade Texas and impose martial law:
You rural white people who say “Don't mess with Texas”? Let me tell you something: You are among the most left-alone, least messed-with people on the planet. You can carry an assault rifle into Chili's, what more do you want? The right to do it shirtless? You're practically your own independent country now. You've outlawed abortion, you've gutted government regulations, you're armed to the teeth, you're the white Somalia. Stop worrying about getting sucked into the New World Order, you're barely in the current world order.
I would add a rant about the commentators on the left, who tend to offer, “Yes, but ...” reactions to the conspiracy theory. Yes, it's a bit crazy, but it's rooted in the militarization of our police force. Except it really isn't. The conspiracy theorists love their military, they love their guns, they just don't love their current president. Imagine if Pres. Bush were still in office. Would this conspiracy theory have legs? No. If this were 2006, “Jade Helm 15” military exercises wouldn't be a source for conspiracy theories but an excuse for another barbecue. Shirtless.
ADDENDUM: Amy Davidson of The New Yorker clarifies matters without false equivalencies.
John Oliver Lets Edward Snowden Know He Ruined His Life for Nothing
This is what I wrote at the end of my review of “CitizenFour,” Laura Poitras's Oscar-winning documentary on Edward Snowden:
We visit Snowden briefly in Moscow, where he’s now living with his girlfriend. ... But the questions I’d like to ask Edward Snowden aren’t asked. What’s it like being so plugged in—as he was at the NSA—and then being completely unplugged, as he is now? Did he think the reaction of the world was commensurate with the problem as he saw it? I’d ask “The Insider” questions: Was it worth it? If he could go back, would he still come forward? Would he still blow the whistle?
Are we worth it?
On Sunday, John Oliver aired his interview with Edward Snowden on “Last Week Tonight,” and we got the following exchange:
Oliver in voiceover: While the risks were significant, Snowden himself has made it clear that he feels that the rewards have been worth it.
Oliver to Snowden: You said yourself in your letter to Brazil, “I was motivated by a belief that the citizens of the world deserve to understand the world in which they live. My greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong.” How did that feel?
Snowden: I was initially terrified that this was gonna be a three-day story and everyone was going to forget about it. But when I saw that everybody around the world said, “Whoa, this is a problem; we have to do something about this,” it felt like vindication. ... I think we're seeing something amazing, which is: If you ask the American people to make tough decisions, to confront tough issues, to think about hard problems, they'll actually surprise you.
Then Oliver surprises Snowden by showing him footage in which New Yorkers are asked who Edward Snowden is. Many don't know. One woman thinks he “sold some information to people.” Others confuse him with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.
Are we worth it? Snowden thought we were. Oliver traveled all the way to Moscow to disabuse him of that notion. It's worth watching, partly for that sad theater, but mostly for the questions raised throughout.
Are we worth it? Oliver releases crucial data to Snowden.