The politics of “Yellowstone”.

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Yellowstone: 5 things you didn't know about the hit Kevin Costner drama | HELLO!

If you haven’t been watching “Yellowstone” on Paramount Plus, which enters its fifth season, you’ve been missing a treat. A cross between “Sons of Anarchy” and “Falcon Crest”, the show features Kevin Costner (He of tongue in bottom lip fame) as John Dutton III, the patriarch of the vast 50,000 acre Yellowstone ranch in Montana his family founded and own since the 1880s. Created by Taylor Sheridan, the show has been labelled by some as a conservative or red state show, and superfically it could bear that label. The value of “keeping what’s ours” is one repeated by many characters throughout the series, and coupled with the constant resort to frontier justice, you can easily see why a certain type of conservative would like the show.

And yet, the politics of the show is much more blended with grey and subtlety.

Dutton is obviously a wealthy and politically powerful man in the state, practically handpicking certain state offices that matter to his business interests, including appointing himself state livestock commissioner, which allows him to have a de facto private police force. He uses a helicopter to both travel to the state capital but also to ranch. In one scene, whilst remonstrating with a Chinese tourist who complains about one man owning so much land, Dutton declares “This is America: we don’t share land.”

And yet, he’s not without money worries. It becomes apparent that whilst his land might be worth nearly half a billion dollars, his personal wealth is probably closer to $40m and he fears local development could sharply increase his property tax liabilities beyond his ability to pay.

Nor is he greedy: when he’s offered huge wealth in return for abandoning his family legacy he simply refuses, even though he knows he is fighting a losing battle against change. For him, legacy and family is everything, a value many Americans can see and respect very easily. He’s not without compassion either: intervening to help a widow deprive a bank of assets he feels her family needs more.

His various nemesis also have a political dimension: his ranch is bordered by a Native American reservation led by business savvy politician Thomas Rainwater (Gil Bermingham) who wants to retake the Yellowstone ranch because “for thousands of years our people hunted, fished and lived on that land: then John Dutton’s great grandfather built a house.” Rainwater supports development because it brings his tribe more revenue for public services. Yet he also shares, with Dutton, a desire for conservation and preserving as much of the valley they both share.

The show is also full of contradictions. Dutton sees the irony, in his family claiming the land in the 1880s from Native Americans, then having to face off against even more well-resourced developers who make the same point the Chinese tourist did, and marvel at the arrogance of one family blocking the creation of thousands of (low paying) jobs. Indeed, one developer, Dan Jenkins (Danny Houston) is genuinely outraged at Dutton’s belief that outsiders have no right to share in the beauty he owns except on his terms.

One other aspect of the show is the disparity in wealth on display: Dutton, Rainwater and the developers all live in relative opulence, whilst their employees and voters live in a world of precarious employment, threats of banks foreclosing, and the powerful pretty much deciding which candidates will be permitted even contest elections. Most of his employees live in a dormitory on the ranch. Many Europeans will look at Dutton paying for an employee’s medical expenses not as a sign of generosity but an indictment where vital medical treatment is only available on the whim of a wealthy employer. The occasional gun battle, normally led by Dutton’s ex-special forces (On USTV, there are no ex-military cooks or plumbers, only special forces) son Kayce in his guise as a Livestock Agent, tend to be against hired goons from developers muscling in on Dutton, or petty criminals trying to make a living in the hard scrabble society of modern-day America. And yet few complain: so inbred is that  “Keeping what’s ours” mentality that far fewer people in the show question the morality of a single man owning a vast part of a state than applaud his son and shake his hand for machine gunning a petty cattle rustler and leaving his daughter an orphan.

If it has a political bias, Yellowstone is culturally liberal (recognizing the great crimes committed against Native Americans) whilst just shrugging its shoulders at economic disparity as if it is some form of natural phenomenon, like a tornado. That’s probably a mainstream view in America today.

Great books you should read: Boss by Mike Royko.

Three cheers for the greatest Mayor in the world!Mike Royko’s Boss is the definitive book on understanding Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago and how a man modern times sees as a thug and a racist won the genuine affections of thousands.

If you only read the opening chapter, Royko (Who was as much a character himself as Mayor Daley, and straight out of central casting as the hardbitten big city newsman.) paints a picture of a day in the life of Daley, and it is fascinating. Royko blamed Daley, by the way, for the 1968 debacle at the Democratic convention and Nixon’s narrow victory over Hubert Humphrey in the presidential election later that year.

Daley was the classic Democratic Big City Boss in a one party city where, in some elections, the Democratic machine handpicked the Republican opponent. Yet there is also the machine where political careers and places on the party slate are won or lost because someone happens to go for a piss at the wrong time.

You also get to see the city leader who knows that he has to deliver to the little guy (As long as he’s the right colour and ethnic background, of course.) and has guys on the city payroll manning automatic elevators. Why? Because as Mayor Daley said, elevators don’t vote.

A slim volume and an absolute classic, and not just a history of a time but a lesson in how raw politics works.

What if…the west armed the women of Afghanistan?

 

It had been the scene of a young Afghan woman being publicly beaten by a tribal elder for talking to a boy on her mobile phone that had done it. There had been those in the administration in DC who had already crafted plans, but the media response to the incident had finally convinced the president, a decent man and father of daughters, to support the plan. 

The military had already selected the site in rural Afghanistan. Effectively a mountaintop fortress, accessible by air, but otherwise protected by sheer cliffs on nearly all sides, and with a ground access that could be transformed into a bloody killzone if needed. It had its own water source, grounds for crops and cattle, good solar power frontage and, the military reckoned, it could house up to 30,000 people if planned properly. 

Its approach was constantly surveyed by drones and its own designated NSA satellite. Female NSA operatives volunteered their own free time to guard over the site.  

It was called Operation Themyscira, after the fictional home of Wonder Woman. The name would become more and more appropriate as time moved on. 

The US president was clear in his address. The US had left Afghanistan. But it was not abandoning the women of Afghanistan. There would be a refuge for them, defended firstly by the United States, where women could flee to, run by women, for women. 

What if…President Trump was convicted and jailed?

President Donald J. Trump

It had been the selection of a jury that had taken so much time. Trying to find twelve jurors plus substitutes who did not have a strong opinion on the former President of the United States took months, because even those who claimed little interest in politics were found to have made some political comment on social media at one time or another. The Trump legal team, funded at huge expense by the Republican National Committee, had even objected to the idea of registered Democrats being on the jury, and the federal prosecutor was not enamored with registered Republicans serving either. The judge, on the point of desperation, proposed a compromise: Each side could submit 20 names, and he would pick, at random, 20 names from a hat. Both sides objected, but he ruled, and told them that if either side refused to submit their 20 names from the available jury pool he would pick names at random to fill that side’s quota. Both sides informed the judge that they would be appealing his decision, which he told them was their right, and set a date for the trial.

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Short Story: Moving Day.

America. The near future.

Tom put the very last box into the truck with not a little bit of relief, as it was pretty much the last bit of space in the truck. Molly and the kids were going through the house, supposedly checking to see if there was anything left, but in reality dragging out their departure. There’d been tears from the kids when they’d told them they were moving, and he hardly blamed them. This was the house they’d grown up in. The school they attended was just three blocks over, and they’d trick or treated on these doors with other kids, or attended birthday parties or barbeques in other people’s backyards so many times. This was home. 

It wasn’t the first time he’d had to move house, but this had been different. Of course it had. For one, he’d had to do most of the loading himself, if only because so many of the people who might have helped were busying packing their own families’ stuff, or had already moved. Then there were those neighbours who might have helped in the past, but now just glared through a window. 

As the kids made their final rounds, Tom lowered the US flag that flapped in the light breeze from the pole over the porch. A former marine, he treated it with respect, carefully folding it as per regulation and placing it snugly in the trunk of the car, between two pillows so as to not get creased. There was a lot of talk about new flags these days.

Tom looked at his watch. They were just on time. 

“Ok, let’s go,” he shouted into the house, and the family appeared at the door. Molly was struggling to hold back tears.

Tom gave her a hug and closed the door behind them, and they all got into the car. He was determined not to look back as they pulled away. 

Their appointment was not far away, and it wouldn’t be a disaster if they missed it, but Tom wanted to just move on and get things done. He wanted to be in the new house, and wouldn’t feel comfortable until…well…he didn’t like to think about it.

The appointment was in a Walmart car park which had been temporarily taken over by the army for the purpose. Tom joined a queue of cars waiting. He was reassured to see US Army soldiers and armoured vehicles. Overhead a helicopter patrolled noisily.

“Honey, have you got…” he said to Molly, but she was way ahead of him, and had them in her hand. A soldier with a clipboard reached the car, and Tom rolled down the window. 

“Good afternoon sergeant,” Tom said.

“Good afternoon sir. Can I take your IDs please?”

Tom handed over their United States Citizen identity cards. The soldier thanked him, and scanned each into a handheld scanner, then peeked into the automobile to match faces.

“Good afternoon ladies: we’ll have you ready very quickly.”

He handed back the cards, noted the car registration, and leaned in again.

“You’re with 246. About ten minutes I’d say.”

Tom thanked him, and closed the window. 

Tom looked at the cards again. He still couldn’t quite believe he had to carry mandatory identification, but he understood why. He remembered the night Molly and he had sat down and made the decision, as every American family did.

A soldier stood on the back of a jeep and spoke through a bullhorn. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, could those of you in convoy 246 please follow us. You all have been issued with your emergency hotline number. If you have a problem during the convoy please call it. Do not leave the convoy without calling as we will not be stopping other than at designated break areas.”

Tom checked his gas level again: he’d filled the tank as the kids were bringing down their boxes. They had water, snacks, phones were charged, and he’d make sure everyone had used the bathroom.

The army vehicles roared into life, and pulled out, the hundred or so civilian vehicles following them, a collection of stationwagons, SUVs, rental trucks and RVs. What struck Tom was that all had that overloaded look, like each was packing a family’s whole life into them, which was often true. As they drove through the suburbs they could see state police cars with flashing lights blocking roads to let them pass the agreed route. Occasionally crowds of protestors had gathered to hurl abuse, waving flags. The soldiers on the vehicles in the convoy watched those crowds carefully as they passed. 

They were among the last convoys to leave. After Sunday, it was up to people to make their own arrangements, and whilst that technically shouldn’t be an issue following the Biden-DeSantis Accord, Tom was still glad they had an army escort. There had been stories. People killed, families hounded from neighborhoods they’d lived in their whole lives, militias ordering people to leave states. Yet it was still better than the full frontal civil war that had been brewing. This was the least worst option.

The decision hadn’t been hard. They loved their home, their city, but they could see what was happening. That there was basically one way to think and if you don’t agree you’re one of them. When the website asked them to make their decision, and upload the information, they knew they hadn’t really a choice, because one thing was adamant: you had to choose one. You could not be both. It was one of the few things that even former Presidents Trump and Obama agreed on. Even when it emerged later that President Trump realised the implication for his businesses, but by then it was too late even for him. His daughter and son-in-law recognised it. 

There had been quite a lot of schadenfreude particularly when older white people had made their choice, then realised what they had actually voted for, and tried to reverse their decision. No take-backs, the president said.

Molly and the kids were fast asleep by the time they had pulled away from the final scheduled breakstop, and hit the road again. The convoy slowed to a halt in dense traffic, and the army helicopters circled aggressively, as if to deter would-be attackers. This was the most dangerous part, he’d been warned. Across the freeway he could see similarly loaded cars speeding past from the other directions, full of kids and families, He could see kids cheering in some of the cars. 

As the convoy got closer, the huge structure was visible, with armed soldiers patrolling on top of it, and powerful lights illuminated the whole area. There were more flags on either side of it than at a political convention. 

Tom could see the lead army convoy vehicle wave at the soldier on the barrier, who opened it and waved them through.

“Hey kids, you’re going to want to see this!” Tom said, and the family awoke from their slumber just as they passed the sign announcing “You are now leaving the Constitutional States of America”, and beside it flew the South Carolina state flag, which had a symbol restored to it that would have been approved of by Jefferson Davis.     

What if…Putin detonates a nuclear weapon in Ukraine?

It’s not impossible. Vladimir Putin, facing stalemate or possibly even defeat by a better motivated and well-resourced Ukrainian army, might decide to play the “madman” card.

A small, low-yield tactical nuclear weapon, detonated in a low population rural part of Ukraine. Not a military act, but a political one, to cause panic in the nuclear-phobic West and particularly in western Europe.

The message would be clear: I am willing to go further than you, so give me what I want. Stop helping Ukraine and let me defeat them. 

It’s a high-risk strategy, but also a viable one. The panic it will cause in NATO will be very real, and the response not automatic or even obvious. The idea that NATO will automatically respond with a like-for-like nuclear retaliation should not be assumed at all.

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What if…blue state governors decided to implement the Second Amendment in full?

 

 

The meeting between the Governors of California, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and ten other states were effectively a formality. The final details of a document had already been negotiated by their political staff, and the decision to meet in Independence Hall, in the Pennsylvania state house was deliberate.

The Independence Hall Compact, or IHC as it was called was purposely launched in the same place both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed.

The governor of New Mexico was chosen to lead the press conference to avoid the impression that it was just north-eastern states traditionally liberal states that had signed the agreement.

The governor introduced the group, and explained the core objective. Gun crime was out of control, and action had to be taken. The hard-right US Supreme Court had essentially ruled that the Second Amendment prevented significant action against individual gun owners.

In that light, the governor announced, they were going to try something new. They were going to enforce a plain text reading of the Second Amendment, in full, in their states.

“The amendment is very clear. It reads “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” We shall defend and apply the amendment to the letter. We shall require every gunowner to register and train with state militias that we shall form, as the amendment demands.”

The response from Fox News and others on the right was hysterical. Right-wing scholars were quick to point out that many jurists believed that the first section of the amendment was merely an observation, as opposed to an obligation.

The governor addressed this head on.

Quite simply, he said, we disagree. We are going to require every loyal citizen of our states, who owns a gun, to play their role as required of them by the Founding Fathers. We will insist that the Second Amendment be respected in full.

The plans were well-advanced, and ready to go within days of the launch. The new militias would be locally-based, and headed up by retired veterans and former US Marine drill sergeants, and the first meetings were relaxed affairs where many legal gunowners just turned up to understand what the plan was.

The governors had been very careful in their preparation: the first meetings were very informal, and more akin to well-run gun clubs. Locals were asked to vouch for each other, and many of the militias were immediately challenging neighboring militias to good-natured shooting competitions. Every meeting started with the officer in charge stressing they were not there to take anybody’s guns, but to encourage good practice and responsible ownership. Requests for LGBTQ and other minority militia groups were agreed to, and soon those militias were being trained and drilled.

One black militia group decided to drill in tailor-made uniforms based on the US Army civil war blues. The sight of 200 black men and women marching with AR15s behind a poster of Lincoln and John Brown, singing the Battle Cry of Freedom, sent the resident hysteric on Fox News into emotional breakdown, and he screamed at the camera that this was a communist plot and called on all gunowners to refuse to participate.

Many gunowners were indeed suspicious, but the vast majority of gunowners in America are also law-abiding, and indeed many of them felt that the NRA was not speaking for them.

A particular incident in Virginia set the tone for the proposal when a group of far-right NRA supporters turned up at a meeting with the intention of disrupting it. The scene was familiar, a group of angry people in body armour and brandishing semi-automatic rifles, standing about as if they were some sort of security force.

When they attempted to enter the local community hall being used for the event, the commandant of the militia, a retired marine colonel, stopped them at the door to inquire were they coming with the intention of registering themselves and their weapons to join the militia?

When the expletives started he refused them entry. Things got heated, and he gave the signal. Suddenly, the intruders found themselves surrounded by the state militia, all shielded behind walls and vehicles and pointing their guns at them. A local news team filmed the event, and the withdrawal at speed of the hardliners unused to not being the only armed group on the scene provided much material for late night comedians.

The NRA and the Republicans vowed to take the actions of the governors to the Supreme Court, and pundits predicted that the court would indeed rule that the governors were wrong. But as one pundit pointed out: by the time the court does strike down the law, the state militias will be active, with thousands of moderate legal gunowners who will have found that it is not a plot to take their guns but also a place for friendship and sensible gun practice, and at worse the court can strike down the requirement to join a militia, but not the militias themselves. The fact that all militia members had access to a confidential line to report someone they felt should not have a gun resulted in a lot of tip-offs to state police, and stopped a number of potential mass shootings.

As for the issue as to what states should do with those gun owners who refuse to register with their local militia, the state police were quick to target extremists and move against them, whilst writing to most others inviting them to join. The social side of the state militia, with the inter-militia competitions, focus on training of civilians in sensible gun ownership and family BBQs, all funded by the state governments, ensured that the membership of the militias grew steadily. The elevation of the militia shooting championships into a national competition also spiked membership by appealing to Americans’ inherent competitiveness.

The raids by SWAT teams on targeted extremists was leapt on by the far-right as proof of “they’re coming for our guns!” but the governors were quick to juxtapose those men with their Nazi flags and the families at State Militia events enjoying themselves, their weapons safely holstered, prizes been awarded for shooting excellence, and huge amounts of BBQ being devoured.

In non-militia states the debates went in unusual directions. The sight of black, Hispanic, gay and Islamic Americans drilling with semi-automatic weapons caused alarm and calls for state militias to be formed in those states, which in turn created states problems as they had passed knee jerk laws to ban state militias and any form of registration or list taking “by the guvm’nt” after the IHC.

“How the hell am I supposed to form a state militia when I’m barred by law from writing anybody’s name down?” The Mississippi Secretary of State asked.

When the case finally reached the Supreme Court, the California attorney general led the case against the Texas AG. The California case was straight forward: a plain text reading of the amendment at best does link gun ownership and militia ownership, and at worst this is a case for the states to decide. She summed up by being very blunt: in her opinion, it is not just the Second Amendment on trial here but the court itself. The court overturned Roe Vs Wade by saying it wasn’t up to judges to legislate, and the letter of the constitution must be kept to.

“If you overturn the compact, your honours, the message is clear. That the court is effectively a partisan third chamber of the legislature, bending from states rights and plain text to judicial activism as it suits the pursuit of a specific political agenda. This is a matter for the states to decide. The wording is clear, and your ruling will tell us whether you are a court of impartiality, or a de facto House of Republican Lords.”

What if…the United States held a national referendum on gun rights?

Let us be clear: there is no mechanism in the United States constitution to amend the constitution by popular national referendum. A change requires a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress and then three-fourths of the state legislatures to adopt the amendment.

It simply ain’t going to happen, because the United States is not a popular democracy like, say, Ireland or France. It was designed to protect the sovereignty of states (although not the right to leave the union. It’s not the EU!) and let’s be honest: the Founding Fathers tried to design a system to keep out the likes of Trumpolini.

That system, of giving the small states the protection of the Senate and a super majority to amend has worked as intended. But it has also created a situation where a clear urban majority of the population can be held at gunpoint (literally) by a rural minority. 

What’s to be done? Just accept the next mass shooting (which, I promise you, will happen within 72 hours of my posting this blog) as the American way of life? Or is it time for a fresh approach.

There’s no point liberals saying “get rid of guns”. That is not going to happen because the majority of Americans do believe in gun rights. But by the same extent, there are plenty of responsible gun owners who do not share the extremism of the NRA and would support storage laws, restriction of certain guns, red flag laws and gun registration. 

What if the states with gun control majorities decided to hold a statewide referendum on the same day in each state. It’s not impossible that 15-20 states could agree to such a proposal, with anything up to 150m eligible to vote on the day. 

But what to vote on? What if the states in question agreed the wording of a new second amendment. Now, that in itself would be a huge challenge, and so requiring of detail as to make the revised amendment even more complicated and open to Supreme Court interpretation. 

What if instead the proposal is aimed not at placating one side of the other, but recognizing a reality of today’s America. What if the amendment said something like:

“The interpretation of the Second Amendment as it applies within a state shall be decided by the state legislature of that state, and only by the state legislature.”

What does that mean? It means Texas can continue to permit AR15s whilst New York can ban them. It means that, on this issue, neither state can impose its prevailing culture on the other. It’s a huge lean towards States Rights, traditionally a source of anti-progressive foot dragging, but that’s no longer the reality. The US is now made up of progressive and populist (I won’t say conservative. Conservatism doesn’t really exist in the party system anymore) states and it’s time for liberals to look again at States Rights in terms of creating liberal bastions and refuges.   

That’s all well and good, says you, but even if you could get both sides to agree to that compromise, and even it it passed in state-wide plebiscites, it still means nothing in terms of the US constitution nor the US Supreme Court.

Again, all true. But this will allow governors and state legislatures of the states that pass such an amendment by popular vote to claim a popular and democratic mandate to ignore the Second Amendment at state level and dare the federal government to do something about it.

But let’s be clear what we are talking about. I do not believe there is majority support, even in dark blue states, for abolishing the right to bear arms. There is support for gun control, and they are not the same thing. The sort of reforms that setting aside a populist reading of the Second Amendment would allow are about banning certain military weapons, etc but would still leave unchanged the rights of the great majority of gunowners holding sporting weapons or handguns for home protection. On top of that, a period of buyback could be allowed, and it could even be possible to permit those who already hold AR15s to be permitted to keep them provided they comply with background checks and storage requirements. Worse case scenario, they can move to Texas. 

Opponents of such proposals warn in dark tones that such a policy could result in an insurrection by armed militias of bitter people, but that sort of proves the point. These angry heavily-armed people are exactly the sort of people who should be living near schools in Texas, not Massachusetts. Anti-gun control Texas parents will welcome them with open arms.

In fact, I’d go one step further. Blue states could pay them to move to Texas. I’m sure Greg Abbott will be delighted to have them. Everybody wins.    

What if?: The Pro-Life Amendment of 1983: an alternative history.

Wrote this about four years ago.

Please note: this is a work of FICTION.

But for Deputy Martin Faraday, it could all have been so different. The Irish government, pressurised by a politically active Pro Life Campaign (PLC), would still have held a referendum in 1983 to insert an anti-abortion clause into Ireland’s constitution. The 8th amendment to the constitution would still have overwhelmingly passed, declaring that the state would vindicate and defend the right to life of the unborn. Then Ireland would have continued on its “Do as I say, not as I do” way, turning a blind eye to its women leaving the jurisdiction to seek abortions in the UK. The PLC would celebrate their surreal victory as the one pro-life organisation in the world which celebrates not what happens to a foetus, but where it happens. An Irish solution, as it were, to an Irish problem.

The problem, however, was that Martin Faraday was that rare beast in Irish politics, a politician who actually believed what he said. A devout Catholic, the young deputy from Kilkenny was tall, handsome, charismatic, and had led his native county to victory in the GAA hurling championship in 1979. Although socially conservative, Faraday nevertheless had respect on the liberal left for his consistency, speaking out just as strongly on issues of poverty and on opposition to the death penalty. Many spoke of him as a future cabinet minister, perhaps even party leader.

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The High Risk Voter.

Whatever happens in the French presidential election, there is a reality that will need to be confronted. It’s a phenomenon we have seen in the last two US presidential elections, in the Brexit referendum, and will no doubt be a feature in future elections.
It is the huge danger caused by reckless voters.
Now, let me be clear: this is not your standard Metropolitan Globalist Liberal (of which I am all three) complaining about how disappointed I am about people who don’t share my views, or their level of intelligence or prejudice. I accept that there are many decent people who voted for Trump, Brexit and yes, even Marine Le Pen. People who in many cases did not share the more extreme views of those candidates.
I even accept that there are people, particularly non-urban, low-income and low-educational achievers who vote for candidates I would regard as extremist because they simply feel they are being ignored by the mainstream parties. I get that too., and it may surprise you that I don’t blame them.
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