Another excellent public discussion from the 92nd Street Y in New York. An interesting warts-and-all discussion with historian Michael Beschloss and writer Jeff Greenfield about what JFK would and wouldn’t have done if he’d survived Dallas. Some pretty cogent arguments as to why it wouldn’t all have been good.
It will surprise some to hear it, but if I were an American I don’t think I’d be against gun ownership. Guns are part of the American tradition, and they’re not going away anytime soon. We Europeans struggle to understand one fundamental point that doesn’t exist here or in the rest of the industrialised west, and it’s this: a huge number of Americans believe that other Americans will try to murder them. Imagine living in a society where fear permeates to that level. It’s akin, say, to life under the Soviets, where ordinary citizens feared the KGB appearing in the dead of night at your home. Only in the US, it’s been privatized. It’s not the state, it’s other citizens.
We struggle to grasp that. We’re naïve because our children don’t have lockdown drills but, you know, just go to school. We can’t buy child-sized flak jackets easily. Just go onto the NRA’s excellent website and watch their videos. The worried father, who loves his family, fears for their safety and wants to protect them. What’s more decent than that? We can’t understand that. Not the desire to protect family, but his fear. He lives in one of those countries, like Colombia or Brazil or Pakistan, where life is cheap. We just can’t understand that, and that’s why we roll our eyes when we watch the video. His brain actually works differently from ours, and you can’t blame him. Your brain would work differently if you lived in a country where you believed your fellow citizens are trying to murder you on a daily basis. Yes, we do have gun crime and tiger kidnapping and home invasions, but even with all those there is not a single serious Irish politician who advocates US gun policies.
The response of the NRA is always the same: President Obama is “politicising” gun shootings, as if he was blaming a typhoon or an earthquake on the Republicans. They then follow it up with a call for more guns. Always. In short, the logical NRA outcome is that every person over 18 years old (I assume: even they don’t want to arm children, right?) should be armed all the time and permitted to bring whatever weapons wherever they want. It’s an interesting concept, in that it would address the NRA argument that unarmed people can’t defend themselves. If the entire adult population is armed, it almost certainly would reduce the number of people killed by some lone nut. But it would also increase the number of emotional episodes that turn into gun incidents. Funnily enough, I’ve never seen the NRA apply the “more guns” argument to 9/11. Have I missed that? You know, the NRA suggesting that if every passenger on a plane was carrying a gun, planes would be safer from hijackers. They don’t seem to make that argument.
Still, as a lobbying organisation, you have to give it to the NRA. They are the masters. They have actually managed to create a political environment where the government even trying to gather data on gun crime has been politicised. What’s incredible is that they have created a scenario where the right to own weapons, up to the moment you go on a killing spree, is regarded as sacrosanct, whereas the right to not be shot is regarded as an aspiration that is nice, but come on, we have to be pragmatic about these things.
It is true, guns don’t kill people. People do. So at least exercise care in who you give them to. Yes, gun owners should be required to pass a psychological evaluation. Start there: at least we’ll get the entertainment of watching the NRA having to defend why crazy people should be given automatic weapons. Of course, the NRA would probably steer the debate towards “what’s crazy?”. Are people who think Donald Trump is 100% right about everything crazy? People who think President Obama is not an American, or is a Muslim? What about people who think the Holocaust didn’t happen? Or that the world is secretly run by Jews? That’ll be a fun day out.
A well-known right wing Irish commentator recently pointed out that the only thing that’ll really work will be to actually confiscate guns, and that’ll start a near civil war. As indeed the abolition of slavery actually did, and the abolition of segregation nearly did. But is there anyone who really thinks America is not a better country today for having endured both those massively disruptive periods?
There’s a lot of loose revisionist talk about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Phrases like “war crime” get thrown around, and of course the fact that the horror of atomic warfare is something pretty much every nation today regards as the near-ultimate extreme act.
In today’s climate, having witnessed the outcome and suffering of the citizens of those cities, it’s easy to ask how could any decent human being use these awful weapons on a fellow human being?
Looking at it through today’s lens gives a false perspective. Look at it from Harry Truman’s point of view. Four years of war, and a military staff telling you that you have two choices: you can send hundreds of thousands of US troops to invade Japan, or you can use a wonder weapon of such power that it could end the war in days.
There are counter arguments: some say that the atomic bomb was dropped as a sign to Russia not to invade Japan. That’s plausible as a partial reason, but even if it were true, it raises an issue. If Russia had invaded Japan, when would the Russians have pulled out? About the same time they pulled out of East Germany? The US occupation ended in 1952 leaving Japan a stable democracy.
The other argument is that Japan was looking to surrender anyway. Again, there is some credence to this. But they wanted a guarantee that the Emperor would not be executed. If Germany had looked for the same for Hitler, would the allies have agreed? Here were the Japanese government willing to sacrifice their own civilian population in street fighting to save one man? The ending of the Living God status of the emperor was vital to making Japan a democracy, and that meant he had to be held accountable. As it happened, the emperor wasn’t executed in the end.
Another argument made is that the US should have detonated the weapon somewhere harmlessly but visible to the Japanese, perhaps even inviting the Japanese to witness it. But people forget how unreliable the first atomic bombs were. Supposing it hadn’t exploded? Secondly, grotesque as it sounds, the sheer horror of the two bombed cities was the message in itself. Think we’d regard atomic weaponry with the same horror we do today without the bombings?
Harry Truman made the best choice available to him. Today, we would not think of using an atomic bomb to end a conventional war, but that’s after decades of learning of the aftermath of the Japanese attack. But at the time, as president of a country that had already sent thousands of its sons to their deaths to defeat Nazism and the Empire of Japan, it is hard to see how Truman could have done anything else.
Every US presidential cycle we hear the same thing: that this election will be THE most expensive in terms of campaign fundraising. This then triggers huge debates about the influence of big money on elections. So, here’s a thought. Rather than constantly try to devise ways of policing it, which will be circumvented, how about you change the law and let candidates actually hand out cash to voters?
Think about it for a minute. Would it be corrupting? Possibly, but no more so than how that money affects politics now. The difference would be that the ordinary voter could actually benefit from the vast money. The voters know all about the enormous amounts of money being raised, and with the web could actually take advantage of it. Individual voters could auction off their votes, knowing full well how much other voters were being offered.
True, some swing voters in key primary states or swing general election states would make much more money as their votes would matter more, but wouldn’t that only force other states to start offering proportional voting in order to allow their voters benefit from the bonanza?
But that’s not the good part: the good part is that the secret ballot would remain, so it would be the candidates who would be on tenterhooks hoping that the voters kept their promise to vote for them. After the elections you’d see downtrodden candidates who had handed out hundreds of millions of campaign funds bitching about how they’d been screwed by the lying voters. Come on, don’t tell me that wouldn’t be fun!
The weapon, later identified as a 10 mega-ton former Soviet warhead, detonated just as the new Knesset began proceedings. In a flash, Israel’s administrative capital, political leadership and just under three quarters of a million Israelis died, along with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank.
The news was greeted in different ways. In the US, the president was rushed to the emergency national airborne command post, whilst the vice president and others were sent to the alternate national command centre in Mount Weather. US forces were ordered to def con 2.
In Cairo, Damascus, Tehran and Riyadh, spontaneous crowds gathered in grotesque displays of euphoria.
President Obama, aware of not wanting to impinge on the personal suffering of American families who are not yet suffering from losing friends and/or loved ones in a mass shooting that hasn’t happened yet, has issued a statement condemning the as yet not occurred gun attack.
“Today, as we listen to news coming from wherever it will be that this awful thing happens, our prayers are with the families of people who will soon be senselessly gunned down by someone with a legally held firearm.”
The National Rifle Association has condemned the President for making remarks about a hypothetical mass killing involving yet another weapon being used by a person who really shouldn’t be allowed own a mobile phone, never mind a firearm comparable to those used by most other countries military forces.
“We expect this sort of liberal scaremongering from this President, going around stirring up anti-gun feeling on the ridiculous basis of an event that has not even happened and will statistically not happen in exactly the format that he’s talking about. Why, he didn’t even have the guts to predict where such an event might happen, how many people might die, and what sort of firearm was used!”
When asked about the fact that the NRA actually has established media procedure to deal with mass shootings, the spokesperson pointed out that plenty of people enjoy wargaming, and that if NRA employees just happen to enjoy such a social event, that’s their business.
“But the idea that the NRA prepares for mass shootings in the belief that it is a near certainty that they will happen under our current gun laws is outrageous,” the spokesman said, before jumping under a table when a nearby car backfired, and screaming “Lockdown Alpha! Lockdown Alpha!”
First they couldn’t believe a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama was even daring to run.
Then they couldn’t believe he was born in the United States.
Then they couldn’t believe that he won.
Then they couldn’t believe he passed Obamacare.
Then they couldn’t believe that Osama Bin Laden was hunted down on his watch.
Then they couldn’t believe he appointed liberals to the Supreme Court.
Then they couldn’t believe the economy actually grew, and unemployment fell.
Then they really couldn’t believe he was re-elected.
Then they couldn’t believe Obamacare started working.
They can’t believe he hasn’t created a Muslim atheist socialist dictatorship.
Then they couldn’t believe the Supreme Court ruled that both Obamacare and gay marriage were legal.
Now they can’t believe that not one candidate seeking the Republican nomination for President holds the same opinion on gay marriage as the majority of the American people.
Barring getting caught chasing an intern around the Oval Office, this guy is going to leave office with the country in better shape than he found it, more liberal, and leaving the main opposition party running on a platform of weird minority social views, worrying publicly about the oppression and hardship of billionaires, and wanting to take healthcare off sick people.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more cynical show about American politics than the two seasons and then cancelled series “Boss”, starring Kelsey Grammar. Grammar plays a Richard Daley style mayor of Chicago, and plays it very convincingly. Many say they struggle to watch Grammar without seeing Frasier Crane, but I find him a very watchable dramatic actor, and he certainly puts his acting chops on display here. He manages to be charming, impressive, cold, neurotic and terrifying in the role of Mayor Tom Kane.
I’m not surprised that it was cancelled as a show, because it lacks charm. if there is one word to describe it, it’s bleak. The style’s similar to Glenn Close’s “Damage”, which was another great drama but was just so full of morally bankrupt or compromised people and completely devoid of humour. This is the problem with “Boss”. Having known as many politicians as I have known in my life, I just can’t believe that everyone in public office is an amoral, self-serving, unsmiling prick. Is US politics, and Chicago politics in particular different? Possibly, but I doubt it. The show lacked a genuine human angle.
Like “House of Cards” that came after it, “Boss” works on the assumption that almost everybody in politics is on the make, including Kane’s icy wife played by Connie Nielsen in a proto-Claire Underwood. It also assumes that voters are very easily manipulated by pretty speeches and handsome candidates and soundbites. Indeed, it’s a very fashionable view in media circles (outside of political correspondents, who actually know better) and indeed with growing numbers of voters, but it just ain’t true.
Kane as a mayor is convincing as the corrupt bastard who makes the buses run on time and keeps the streets clean, and I can buy voters holding their noses and voting for that. But the other candidates seem like stuffed shirts talking in soundbites, doing that thing non-politicians think is possible: moving votes by really subtle actions. You know the sort of thing: “Don’t forget to mention that your cousin was Polish. That’ll get the Polish vote on board.”
“Boss” is a watchable show, but does nothing to dispel the feeling that democracy is warping into something very very ugly.
I love this so much. It’s just wonderful. Imagine an entire party accidentally reading its own spin as fact when it sees it beamed back to itself on Fox News. A professional election expert actually picking facts to suit the result he wants. Extraordinary.