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State of Siege
is not my favorite Costa-Gavras movie, but it is a very good one and is a great movie to revisit or to watch for the first time right now if you haven’t seen it. The conversation has been revolving around the nature of American law enforcement and?State of Siege looks at those issues by showing how America exports its brand of law enforcement around the globe, particularly to repressive client states. I am a fan of Gavras’s ability to make deeply political films while still making them exciting and engaging, with well-defined characters and good stories. This one is no exception, managing to be a kidnapping story, a revenge plot, and a courtroom drama of a sort at the same time. It does take the fairly gutsy move if siding with the leftist terrorists on the issues while still finding them a more than a little creepy and awful, which to me seems to be a reflection of the degradation of the violence they have perpetrated even if they didn’t start it. Not any heroes here or really any solutions presented but as with Gavras, the facts are presented in a powerful and eye-opening manner. The only quibble I have is that Yves Montand is not a convincing American but what are you gonna do, this is a French production after all. So go find it over on the Criterion Channel.

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I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty fun to read stories about Republicans panicking as Trump goes down the drain. Certainly nobody wants to start counting chickens or anything but the context in which Trump succeeded is long gone. Being on the wrong side of a 45-40 split is not hopeless if your side is more motivated and the other side puts up a deeply damaged candidate. If that’s more like 50-40 and the other side is also motivated, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Particularly when riling up your side also riles up the other side as well. Add to that the reality that Trump’s tweets don’t quite own the country’s attention the way they used to, that the rallies are not quite as packed as they once were. People have more immediate concerns after all, focusing on the real-life version of clickbait inevitably tends to lose its luster.

Trump’s strategy at this point is really just to wish away the virus, seemingly under the belief that if we don’t think about it, it will just go away on its own, and we can go back to February when his shtick still worked. Even if Corona died off tomorrow, the damage is done and there’s no old normal to return to. The Trump playbook will keep backfiring as a result of this.

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Got a bunch of little bits so here we go:

  • Jon Stewart’s new movie sounds pretty terrible. I still have positive memories of early 2000s Daily Show, when it really was something of a voice in the wilderness, but ultimately “let’s all sit down and have a reasonable discussion” became his brand and faith in that brand is deservedly quite low today. Even Barack Obama has largely moved on from it, but Stewart seemingly hasn’t.
  • There is a subset of people who get real mad when you criticize Team D, and these people are the problem because there are so many bad elected Dems in this country, and California has oh so many of them. For example, unlike some other states in our fine nation, our AG has made the decision to stick with the cops no matter what, and I am so eager to vote for someone that isn’t him at the next available opportunity.
  • Goodbye Eliot Engel. The question really isn’t why people voted for someone over Engel, it’s why anybody voted for Engel in the first place. Dude did nothing besides shaking hands with the president first at the State of the Union. I guess the Nancy Pelosi/Cheri Bustos strategy to try to kill off primary challenges didn’t work, as we have had two big ones this year so far. At this point the left-wing Tea Party has had more actual success in primarying more moderate folks than the right-wing version did a decade ago, and yet, it hasn’t had the same effect upon the landscape. What a shocker.
  • Biden is competitive in Texas and even Arkansas. Probably not gonna win either, but fuck, Arkansas?

And this remains the best video on YouTube:

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There are many aggravating things about the man, but one of the greatest ones is that he does genuinely understand why Trump and his minions are bad, but he believes that he’s somehow different from or better than they are. He isn’t. Certainly he does believe in?something in a way that Donald Trump most likely does not, though there is a question as to whether belligerent nihilism is better or worse than neoconservatism in terms of outcomes. But at the end of the day, Bolton and Trump are both looking primarily for a way to come out of this catastrophic moment well. They’re the same in that respect: it’s all looking out for number one. I suppose there is an entertainment value to watching one horrible person shit all over another horrible person, but is there anything more to it than that?

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This is much too generous. These rally attendees aren’t just innocents led astray. The superiority of conservative folk wisdom to empirical reality has been a first principle of the Republican Party for decades, and the notion that face masks are just more bullshit from The Experts is pretty much par for the course. They really do think that they know better than us and they deserve all the punishment they can get for that hubris. I grieve for the collateral damage of this incident, for the non-right wingers who get infected as a direct result of it. But no more.

The other point to be made is that there are problematic aspects to how liberal politics over the past couple decades have treated expertise. Experts almost always disagree and choosing an expert opinion to go with is an inherently political choice, which makes the belief of a lot of liberals that The Experts can be a substitute for politics deeply misguided. It’s why the Simpson-Bowles deficit panel was a gigantic waste of time, as there’s no way to do budgets without doing politics. It’s not that expertise doesn’t have a place in politics but that place is as a political actor, not as a non-political authority, because there is no such thing. And, again, they almost always disagree.?I recently read a book on quantum physics (What Is Real? by Adam Becker, which I would highly recommend, even (especially!) if you have no background in the subject), but it really is amazing just how contested even the most fundamental aspects of such a mature field can be. There’s agreement that the equations work, but wild disagreement on what they mean, on how the quantum world organizes itself on a basic level. There is no one expert view in a field that has existed for over a century! Aside from some very specific situations, The Experts rarely agree on much, so when they all agree on something (like evolution, or climate change, or face masks), people really ought to take them seriously. Conservatives seem to think that when The Experts all agree on something, that means that there’s some conspiracy afoot. Perhaps only the most profound humbling will shake this toxic belief. We’ll see.

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I found Josh Marshall’s piece on the police to be good, and his experiences unsurprisingly mirrored my own as a fellow straight white man. What has become real clear over the past few weeks is just how many of them seem to be less like Tommy Lee Jones from?No Country for Old Men and more like Travis Bickle: paranoid, racist, violent, self-righteous and contemptuous of authority (in this case, the public and elected officials). It kind of made me realize that we don’t actually have many police, instead we have salaried vigilantes. The thing about Travis Bickle that people tend to forget is that Bickle is extremely adept at fooling people into thinking he’s normal and doing okay. Granted, people who spend enough time with him in the movie figure it out. But the guy hangs out with friends. He dates. He goes shopping and visits cafes. We know that the guy is a ticking time bomb because we see what he is like on his own. But around other people he reads as a guy in control of himself, until he finally explodes. At least in the real life version of?Taxi Driver that we’re living in, after the explosion the public doesn’t see these Travis Bickles as heroes.

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Way back in 2008 I was one of the many, many people wrongfully convinced that Obama’s election was a realigning one. Looking back it was a wrong thing to think for a few reasons:

  1. Obama was charismatic as fuck but that wasn’t enough on its own. Personality is important in modern politics, of course, but it only goes so far and consensus-centric politics is poison to keeping people engaged and participating. Also his then-lack of interest in building up the power of the party and structural reform saw us lose ground to them in every election under Obama except for one, the only one Obama actually cared about for obvious reasons (2012).
  2. George W. Bush’s extreme unpopularity—driven by the loss of a large chunk of the GOP base—was overinterpreted. TL;DR version of it was that the Iraq War was sold on Bush’s own masculinity and references to WWII and westerns, but there aren’t a lot of John Wayne movies that end with Wayne having created an inescapable quagmire. By the end he was a pitiful un-man as a result. But they were all back on board for McSame, and really back on board for the Wasilla Simpleton.
  3. The Republican Party wasn’t quite as dead as we thought in 2009 and had one big card left to play. It basically gave up on trying to sell anyone on its ideology and pivoted instead to exclusively using racism, deceptive propaganda, and conspiracy theories to sell itself instead. This happened quickly and completely. Never forget that Mitt Romney invited Trump to campaign for him in 2012.
  4. The Emerging Democratic Majority was referenced by a whole lot of politicians and media pundits who never actually read it. I read it last year and I was amazed to find a careful and caveated set of predictions and theories, not the “Republicans must moderate immediately or get wiped out” case that filtered down to the normal folk. You play things differently if you figure you have the next two decades or if you figure you have the next two years. The Great Society is an amazing example of the latter, while the first two Obama years are a regrettable example of the former.

Probably there were more reasons besides that, but those were the major ones. At this point I don’t really think that there was much of a chance of a realignment coming out of 2008. But I am starting to think that it could happen in 2020. Consider these points:

  1. Unlike in 2008, there is a credible left reform movement with influence and energy. Obama was elected in 2008 but not on the back of new mass movements, so he perhaps inevitably wound up slouching toward being the second incarnation of Bill Clinton. But now there is real reformist energy and organization out there, which will matter even if the nominee is not exactly part of that energy.
  2. Going more racist and more feral after a Trump re-election defeat isn’t a new card, it’s doubling down on a rejected strategy. They might do it anyway (who are we kidding, they’ll definitely do it), but if the polls hold up then doubling down on a strategy that led to a massive landslide defeat seems unlikely to have the turnaround power it did in the early Obama era.
  3. The demographics arguments have been much abused but they are still broadly difficult to contest, and indeed the GOP’s current immigration posture is fundamentally premised on their being correct. In 2016 they just barely managed the White House with about the same 45-46% they typically manage at this point in time in presidential elections, thanks to a supremely damaged Dem candidate and the aftermath of a financial crisis and a botched recovery. But will they be able to manage it in 2028? I can’t imagine it’ll be any easier.
  4. I continue to have my reservations about Biden as a president, but there’s no denying that as a candidate he’s done a much better job of uniting the party and setting up good relations with the left than Clinton ever did or could, and after some concerning early moments he’s been doing the things that any good generic Dem candidate should be doing. The real prize here is being able to win senate seats in places like Iowa and North Carolina and that looks like it very well might happen. Gonna have to kill the filibuster though, and that will be the true test of Biden.

Admittedly, this is no guarantee. France gave Macron a huge mandate and he mainly pissed it away, as did AMLO in Mexico. But getting the opportunity alone is the first step toward making the realignment happen, and I think it’s reasonable based on the polls to say that we’re going to get at least that much.

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For all the comparisons of our various foreign wars to Vietnam that have been made in the past two decades, COVID-19 is I think the very best analogue to Vietnam yet. In both cases you have people in charge who see the problem entirely through the lens of politics and who really only care about the political outcomes. This led both presidents to decide on a course of action on how to deal with the problem that could never have worked. The pertinent experts in both cases were extremely aware that the course that the president wanted to take was not going to work, but in both cases, instead of putting it out on the line and saying that, come what may, they mostly tried to gently massage the president and get some kind of partial version of what they wanted to do, in the hopes that they could get the rest later. But this half a loaf inevitably wound up staying half a loaf because the full loaf would be too politically damaging in their perceptions (which in both cases also included healthy doses of paranoia and denial), and it led to the worst possible outcome. I get that some of these public health folks have directly contradicted Trump in a way that the generals of Vietnam never could have, and that’s great, but at the end of the day getting Trump to semi-support the lockdown (open again by Easter!) while openly opposing masks and social distancing has led to endless COVID. It is absolutely a quagmire, one that seems to only get worse with no conceivable end in sight. Absent even modestly competent leadership there’s no real way to deal with it, the governors can only do so much. It’s going to be increasingly hard to get people to continue to make enormous sacrifices when those seem to have no visible impact to the overall picture of the virus, when there’s no plausible goal to work towards, no sense of momentum or even of hope. Certainly that lack of leadership falls on Trump, as it fell on Johnson. But not entirely.?Admittedly, there’s some logic to the idea that a huffy resignation from Dr. Fauci would lead Trump to pick someone worse than Dr. Fauci to run NIAID. These questions are never easy. But then again, it’s not like anybody set out to build a quagmire in Vietnam. It happened because of choices people made, and not just the president.

Also too, relatedly,?more Americans have died from Corona than from the Vietnam War. It’s going to be multiples of that number before this is all over.

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