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Rural California fights back

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Poor Jeff Williams. He has to drive 140 miles to buy ammunition for his Glock 45 9mm pistol—the same type of gun Omar Mateen used when he slaughtered 49 people in the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting.

Williams lives in Needles, California, a small city on the California-Arizona border, in the Mohave Desert. Due to California’s strict gun control laws, gun owners are prohibited from buying ammo in other states and then transporting it into California. So Williams, who is Needles’ mayor, can’t just buy bullets from the nearby towns, a few miles away, that are across the state line in Arizona. “I have to drive 140 miles to Barstow,” he complains.

Needles is one of those towns where firearms play an inordinate role in its citizens’ lives. There are many gun stores and shooting ranges. It’s the kind of place where dads take their kids out for target practice with semi-automatic rifles.

Needles’ congressman is the arch-Republican Paul Cook, who has a perfect 0% rating from Planned Parenthood and an equally perfect 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee. Cook is a global warming denier, and he opposes holding Russia accountable for meddling in our elections.

I mention this just to provide some background to the political and cultural environment in Needles. In the wake of California’s strict gun control laws, Needles just declared itself a “Second Amendment Sanctuary City,” an obvious play-on-words with the sanctuary city policies that apply to immigrants in cities like San Francisco and Oakland. Needless to say, immigrant sanctuary city policies are not popular in conservative Needles. In fact, the man who introduced Needles’ gun-sanctuary city policy, City Councilman Tim Terral, admits he “chose the word ‘sanctuary’ to take a stab at all the liberals. It was a little jab in the eyes.”

Needles is, needless to say, Trump country. It is more than 50% white, although that percentage has been shrinking in recent years as the Hispanic population, currently around 35%, increases. So conservative is Needles that when Cook ran for re-election in 2018, he faced, not a Democratic candidate, but another Republican. The Dems didn’t even bother to compete. Cook, who won, was endorsed by Trump and by the N.R.A.

I have never owned a gun. I’ve fired a few, for sports activities. I support the Second Amendment, but what ammophiles, like Cook, Terrel and other gun nuts never talk about is that section of the amendment that refers to “a well-regulated Militia.” It is one of the coarsest, most blatant Republican lies in history to conveniently forget that phrase and argue instead that the Second Amendment gives every citizen the right to own weaponry no matter how lethal it is: automatic weapons, tanks, perhaps someday even tactical nuclear weapons.

If that sounds absurd, then ask yourself what is the limit of weapon ownership in America? If you can legally possess an AK-47 then it’s only a slippery slope towards an even more deadly arsenal. As crazy as owning a tank sounds, the Founding Fathers would have thought it insane to allow a U.S. civilian to own a machine gun that can mow down dozens of people in minutes.

What is this so-called “gun culture” all about, anyway? Here’s what we know about it. They are practically 100% Republicans, and not moderate Republicans, but the most hardcore of the right. They are overwhelmingly white, and male. They are rural. They mostly do not have much money, and their educational level is low. They live in places that have very few Black people. They voted for Trump in overwhelming numbers; they’re the ones turning up at his rallies in their little MAGA hats shrieking “Send Her Back” or, in the last election, “Lock Her Up.” They’re militantly homophobic, they hate government (except when they’re collecting their Social Security, unemployment or Medicare benefits), they don’t much care for foreigners, and they use Jesus as an excuse for their bigotry. They use the language of self-determination to justify their peculiar addictions. “[Needles residents] should be able to govern themselves with certain things and make decisions that are best for their communities,” said a prominent Needles Republican activist.

Well, for sure. Who’s against self-governance? But by the same token the people of California should be able to govern themselves, and they have determined that there are too many guns, in the hands of too many unstable people. Part of the solution is to ban the importation of ammunition. If that means that Mayor Williams has to drive 140 miles each way to buy bullets for his Glock, then screw him. That’s his problem, not ours—and we Californians are going to make gun and ammunition ownership even more difficult in the coming years. If Mayor Williams doesn’t like it, let him move to Arizona.


Stone trashes gay rights, then says he was “misunderstood”

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Oliver Stone, the filmmaker, said something pretty stupid the other day, when he told Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he was meeting, that Russia’s anti-gay laws are “sensible.”

In their conversation, the two men wandered into what seems like a weird area for the leader of a nuclear-armed country and a Hollywood movie director: gender issues. It’s not clear from the reports how they got there, but Stone began complaining about “some of the behaviors and the thinking of the new generation…about gender.” What specifically galls Stone is, in his words, “people identify themselves [as] ‘I’m male, I’m female, I’m transgender, I’m cisgender.’ It goes on forever…It’s not a healthy culture.”

Putin, who has presided over increasingly harsh anti-gay laws in Russia, was quick to agree. “They live too well. They have nothing to think about.” Again, it’s not quite clear what Putin meant by this insulting observation (“nothing to think about”??), except that he was agreeing with Stone. Then Stone made his “sensible” comment. Their chat had reverted to Russia’s notorious 2013 law (pushed by Putin) that criminalized “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships,” widely known as the “gay propaganda law.”

Passed by a vote of 436-0 in Russia’s parliament, it banned “the spreading of propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors,” and “made it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships, as well as the distribution of material on gay rights.” The law was heavily lobbied for by the Russian Orthodox [Catholic] Church, of which Putin claims to be a devout follower.

To understand the law’s impact, imagine such a ban here in the U.S. No gay magazines would be allowed to publish. No homophile films could be made (such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Call Me By My Name, or Brokeback Mountain). Schools would be forbidden to teach anything suggesting acceptance of LGBTQ people. Media commentators could be arrested for making pro-gay statements. Gay people would, in short, be “disappeared” from public discourse.

Why would Stone—born of Jewish and Catholic parents but a practicing Buddhist—be so fiercely critical of gay rights? It’s easy to understand why Putin is: in Russia, the Orthodox Church is just as hatefully intolerant as the evangelical churches are here in America. You would think that Oliver Stone would be more receptive to gay people, wouldn’t you?

But no. That conversation between Stone and Putin is best seen as a whine-fest between two aging, straight and rather angry white men, whose cozy, familiar world of heteronormativity is being challenged by a new generation of gender activists. This is hugely upsetting for Stone and Putin. They just can’t understand why everybody isn’t comfortable with the old roles: you’re either male or female, and that’s it. Why does anyone have to use non-gender-conforming pronouns like “we” or “it”? Why do transgendered people insist on using public bathrooms of the gender with which they identify? Why for that matter do people have gender-reassignment surgery? Why all the fuss?

Liberals and gay activists were quick to criticize Stone, who immediately went on the defensive. “Vladimir Putin is not anti-gay, nor am I,” he insisted just two days ago. Claiming that the whole issue had been “much misunderstood,” Stone trotted out the pro-gay themes in his films, including his 2004 movie, “Alexander” (a critical failure), which told the story (made famous by the writer Mary Renault) about Alexander the Great’s male lover, Bagoas. “I prominently featured Alexander’s love for the Persian eunuch Bagoas, certainly an example of a third sex and emblematic of Alexander’s world vision, which I much admired,” Stone argued. Then he added, “Do not bring American expectations to Russian life any more than you expect Iran, Korea, Venezuela, or China to follow our political or social demands.”

This is moral relativism of the highest order. Don’t tell the Ayatollahs that anti-semitism is bad, not unless you want them to lecture us on our racial problems. This false equivalency argument has never been productive. It lets oppressive regimes off the hook for muzzling their populations, and completely shreds the historic American ideals of equality and freedom.

If Oliver Stone can’t understand that LGBTQ members of “the new generation” are tired of being excluded by a straight culture that has never permitted them rights, that’s his problem. He ought to know better. One doesn’t expect anything from a man like Putin, but of an American who made Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street, World Trade Center and Midnight Express, one should have higher, nobler expectations.

It is, admittedly, difficult to convince straight white men, who have never suffered discrimination based on their race or gender, that LGBTQ people might have a case. In this rapidly changing world, they feel the rug being pulled out from under their feet; indeed, this is why so many of them voted for Trump. But decent policies ought not be based on the fears and insecurities of bigoted people. The LGBTQ community and their straight supporters for many years have presented eloquent, detailed arguments for their positions. There has been no lack of information. Still, some opponents, including Oliver Stone, just don’t get it. It’s so odd. Stone has an entire body of work that critiques the American government for censoring truth and suppressing information. But when the Russian government does the same thing to gay people, suddenly that’s “sensible.”

I don’t buy it.


To impeach, or not to impeach

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That’s been this raging debate in the Democratic Party lately. The pro-impeachment side—which definitely includes me—argues that trump (I will no longer capitalize his name) is morally and legally unfit to be president. The other side—which apparently still includes a majority of House Democrats who follow Speaker Pelosi—argues that impeaching him now would hand the 2020 election to the Republicans—not only the presidency, but the Senate and possibly the House as well.

Frankly, this “debate” disgusts me. The time to begin impeachment hearings against trump in the House Judiciary Committee was last Spring, when we after the Mueller Report came out. We’ve earned very little since then. Yes, I realize that Pelosi and her supporters argue that we have to build up support among the American people before we can move towards impeachment. I have nothing against building up support; but it seems like the Democrats are simply stalling or, worse, bumbling. They look like a confused party, waiting for something to happen. Nothing will happen until they make it happen.

The white nationalists on the Republican side will never turn against trump. Never, ever, for any reason, because they’ve lost their minds. Evangelical psychosis and neo-nazi hatred have turned off their valves of rational thinking. They don’t want a free, diverse America, they want some ugly dictatorship of preachers led by a strong man, namely, their fuhrer, trump. There’s no way to convince them they’re wrong. They have to be brutally beaten.

I believe that a majority of the American people don’t want that crowd to win. The question is, will the American people be allowed to express their will at the polls? If they don’t vote, their will counts for shit. If they do, will the results be fairly counted? There’s no doubt in my mind that trump and Putin are working out some kind of scheme whereby the Russians manipulate the election results so that trump is re-elected even when/if he really isn’t. That’s what it’s come to: that’s the real meaning of “collusion.” The colluder-in-chief is trump, but the second in command is the Majority Leader, McConnell. In my long lifetime of studying U.S. history there is no doubt in my mind that McConnell’s name will stand with those of Benedict Arnold and Tokyo Rose as the domestic enemies of America.

When and if Democrats regain control of the U.S. Senate, if McConnell is still there they must expel him, and then bring charges against him—not only for colluding with trump and the Russians, but for what he did to Merrick Garland. It’s common to say that the Russians declared cyberwar against America in the 2016 elections. Let’s now be clear: McConnell declared war against America when he refused to allow the Garland nomination.

When I hear from people who are as disturbed as I am about this situation, I celebrate. I want to reach out and hug them. Thank you! I’m not insane! You see it too! I was watching T.V. over the weekend and there was a Democratic Congressman from New Jersey on one of the shows who was anti-impeachment. He’s from a swing district; his constituents aren’t ready for impeachment, he claimed, and he might lose his seat if the House goes forward on it. I thought: Good! Lose your goddamned seat. If you’re more worried about hanging on to your job than you are about our country, then be gone! No one who calls herself a “Democrat” should be undecided anymore. If you’re not with us—with freedom–you’re against us.

One of my favorite quotes in U.S. history is from Benjamin Franklin: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” During the Revolution (and again, in the Civil War), Americans had to decide which side they were on: good, or evil. We’re in the same boat now. If you think you’re a Democrat but you’re against impeachment, I invite you to leave the party. Go join the Republicans. We don’t need your wishy-washy indecisiveness. We need strong, loyal, convinced Americans. The time for impeachment hearings is now.

Pelosi says she wants to wait—for what? Spell it out, sister. If Pelosi won’t countenance impeachment, I hope that some Democrat from her San Francisco District will immediately announce his or her candidacy for the Congress and challenge her in the primary. I respect Nancy for many reasons (I used to live in her District and knew some of her political and financial backers), but if she can’t get with the program, then it’s time for her to go.


The 2 groups I hate

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There are two groups in America whom I loathe and fear more than any others: evangelicals, and white nationalist neo-nazis.

Both are diehard Republicans. Both represent dire threats to the country I grew up in and love, and to me, personally, as well. And both are the staunchest parts of Trump’s base.

Let me explain why I think they’re both scum.

Evangelicals: Many years ago, early on a Sunday morning, I was driving back to San Francisco from Los Angeles. I was looking for something to listen to on my car radio and stumbled across what sounded to me like a big Christian revival rally: a fire-and-brimstone male preacher and thousands of cheering voices chanting “Amen” and “Praise Jesus!” Now, I’d long had a fascination with these people, sort of an amateur anthropologist interest in them. Who are they? What makes them tick? So I listened.

The preacher was saying something about “How are we going to convince the doubters?” Well, since I was (and am) “a doubter,” it was interesting. How are they going to convince me, I thought, with their narrow-minded bigotry and superstitions (the virgin birth, the resurrection, all that literal interpretation of the Bible nonsense)?

Then the preacher started screaming:

“We’ll preach to them and tell them the truth, but some of them still won’t listen. Do you know what we’ll do to them then?”

Tremendous cheers from the flock. They knew what was coming.

“We’re going to find them—and we’re going to surround them—and then we’ll drag them kicking and screaming into the tent!”

Huge cheers, a tremendous burst of agreement, and even some laughter. And that’s when I pulled over to the side of the road. I was so stunned, I couldn’t even drive. And I thought about what I had just heard:

Somebody—probably a group of men—is going to hunt me down, and surround me, and then they’re going to seize my arms and legs and take me forcibly into some ‘tent.’ And then, they’re going to—what?”

That was my moment. Prior to it, I’d thought that evangelicals, and Pentecostals, and all the rest of that crowd, were harmless crackpots. Now, I realize they weren’t harmless at all.

Ronald Reagan had just been elected, with the notorious help of fundamentalist bigots like Jerry Falwell. The country seemed like it was drifting rightward—no, not just “drifting,” but rushing headlong into some kind of rightwing, Christian theocracy. We already were familiar with what had happened in Iran just a few years earlier. Could the same thing happen here?

Then, there are the white neo-nazis. About the same time as the incident on the radio, I happened by chance to come across a used copy of the first volume of Winston Churchill’s “The Second World War.” I blazed through it, then went on to acquire the other five volumes. That prompted in me a great interest in the origins of World War II, especially the rise of the nazis. During the Eighties, I read as much as I could. The years passed, with the presidency passing from Reagan to H.W. Bush, Clinton, and W. Bush to Obama. I continued reading, and saw with greater clarity how similar the rise of the right in America is to the nazis’ seizure of power. By the time Trump was elected (with Russian help), I’d reached my conclusions—conclusions that have only solidified since 2016.

In this modern Republican Party we have something resembling a cross between Iranian-style fundamentalist fanaticism and the white rage of the working class dispossessed who elevated Hitler to power. This is a type of mutation that has never existed before in the world. But it exists now, in America. It has been gaining strength for decades; the rise of the tea party was its debut on the stage of 21st century politics.

I despise both groups; I despise the unholy spawn that has resulted from their unnatural union. I fear greatly for America if Trump is not defeated next year, and if the Senate doesn’t flip Democratic and the House held. I pray for Ruth Bader Ginsburg to live long. My only hope is that these white neo-nazis and these fundamentalist Christians make very strange bedfellows. Are there fissures that could eventually drive them apart? Have a great weekend


It’s Trump’s character, stupid

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He looked terrible, didn’t he? I mean Mueller. Not tanned and relaxed the way a retired guy ought to be, but tired, dragged out and mentally confused. Yesterday was not a good day for Robert Mueller.

Since I never thought the Special Counsel would be the White Knight who would save America by indicting Donald Trump, I wasn’t disappointed by Mueller’s non-performance. My take is that we’re going to have to leave it to History for a final judgment on why Mueller went so light on Trump and his cohorts, and why Mueller dodged 200 questions with refusals to answer, refusals that bordered on absurdity.

(By the way, having watched lots and lots of Congressional hearings in my day, I think that if any other witness had been so hostile, he would have been slapped with a Contempt of Congress citation.)

Republicans “won” the hearings in the sense that no new information came out. Mueller certainly didn’t say what many people wanted him to: “I would have indicted Trump if the Department of Justice guidelines had permitted me to.” So Trump took his little “victory lap.”

But Democrats are far from out. We still have the major conclusions: Mueller did NOT exonerate Trump. There WAS massive Russian interference in the election on Trump’s behalf. Trump DID try to obstruct justice on multiple occasions. What Democrats have to do now, of course, is to keep these issues alive before an American public that may be growing weary of this whole thing. They also have to keep the media interested, beyond the usual outlets of what Trump calls “fake news”: the New York Times, Washington Post, and MSNBC.

And House Democrats still have multiple hearings to conduct, although that’s going to be hard given Trump’s refusal to allow his stooges to respond to subpoenas and their penchant to lie when they do submit to questions. But I’d be lying if I claimed that any of the House hearings will result in anything substantial. I’ll be happy if they do, but I’m not holding my breath.

So where do we go from here? The overwhelming fact—which none of us can lose sight of—is that we must defeat Trump next year. We simply have to. I will urge every voter I know to not lose heart because the Mueller thing seems to have fizzled out. We still have something big going for us, and that is that a majority of Americans loathe Donald Trump and think that his personality is disgusting. You remember James Carville’s sign in Clinton election headquarters back in 1992? “It’s the economy stupid”? Well, in 2020 “It’s Trump’s character, stupid.” I’ve said it all along: Democrats should NOT focus merely on issues, as some candidates allege. They have to remind voters over and over and over again: “This is a reprehensible human being. A sexual predator, a pathological liar, a racist and a bigot. You wouldn’t leave your teenaged daughter alone with him for five minutes, and you know it!”

That argument won’t work with the knuckleheads who constitute Trump’s base. I don’t care about them; they’re a lost cause. They’ve sold their souls to the devil. They can go to hell.

But the Character issue will work with suburban moms, who care about decency and civility, and it may even persuade a handful of evangelicals, even though the majority of them have proven, by their devotion to Trump, that they love him more than they love Jesus Christ, and are willing to piss on Christ’s teachings. (Actually, the next time you meet a “Christian” who professes to support Trump, laugh in their face, remind them of their utter hypocrisy, and walk away.)

As for the issues themselves: climate change is not a winner for Democrats. Sorry. Neither is legalizing marijuana (sorry, Kamala). Protecting abortion is. Other winners for Democrats are raising taxes on billionaires. Democrats are going to have to handle LGBTQ rights carefully. I would not make a huge issue out of it. We’ve come a long way in the last ten years, but our victories are tenuous; a wrong move, or a series of wrong moves, could turn large chunks of the public against us. Immigration is also tricky. Democrats are going to have to come up with an answer to Trump’s accusation that we’re in favor of open borders. Democrat’s aren’t, of course; but if you can’t come up with an immediate answer to the following question, you can see Democrats’ problem:

What is the Democratic solution for stemming the flood of immigrants at the southern border?

This question should not require a long-winded answer. The public can’t deal with long-winded answers. The answer should be contained in a single sentence—and it needs to be persuasive.

Democrats also need to have a persuasive answer to Rust Belt workers, whom progress is leaving behind. Everybody—Republicans and Democrats—knows that the coal mines, steel mills and manufacturing plants aren’t coming back. They’re gone forever. Democrats sometimes tell the truth about this, and they go down to defeat. Democrats sometimes hem and haw about it. Trump lies about it, and wins.

But in the end, “It’s Trump’s character, stupid.” That’s how we’ll beat the bastard.


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