Putin’s Gamble — Uneasy lies the head…

Putin’s Gamble

Uneasy lies the head…

February 25th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

Most of the discussion surrounding Putin’s move to invade and subjugate the Ukraine has been based on a realpolitik stance that Russia needs to have a “buffer zone”–a sphere of influence on its western flank that corresponds roughly to the Iron Curtain countries, the Warsaw Pact of the second half of the 20th century. The explanation goes that while Putin is never going to have Poland, half of Germany and the Czech and Slovenian areas under his control, he can subsume the Ukraine, possibly the Baltics, and in a fever dream, Romania and parts of Yugoslavia and rebuild much of the old Soviet empire.

The reality is a bit more complex. Russia is only a few bad harvests away from becoming a failed state. When the USSR collapsed, the economy collapsed with it, with the Ruble dropping to 2,500 to the dollar, about a 99.5% drop in value. Between 1991 and 1993, Russia lost nearly a third of its population—to starvation, to suicide, to drink. Boris Yeltsin took over the collapsed country in late 1991, inheriting a financial and social catastrophe that dwarfed the Great Depression of the 1930s.

By the end of 1993, Yeltsin had swept away the remaining pieces of the Soviet regime, including the Supreme Soviet and the Congress of People’s Deputies. He then issued a stock voucher program that permitted Russian citizens to invest in private businesses, part of a glowing image of a “free market reform” that would lead to wealth and plenty for all.

Didn’t happen. Russian plutocrats snapped up most of the vouchers, offering as little as 1% of face value in cash to desperate and starving citizens, which led to a vast concentration of wealth. And of course the “free market reform” was totally unregulated, which led to an economic gang-rape of Russia by the resident plutocrats—which already included the sinister and corrupt future trillionaire, Vladimir Putin—and western corporations.

Russia is a vast country, even now larger than the US and Canada combined. However, it only has 144 million people, and a GDP of $4.1 trillion. By way of comparison, California, with just under 40 million people, has a GDP of over $3 trillion.

But that’s misleading. A large percentage of that Russian GDP consists of money games amongst the plutocrats, and oil and gas alone make up a entire half of the Russian economy. In terms of what economists like to call “the Main Street economy” Russia’s economy is about the size of Romania’s. Russia never recovered from the 1990s, not in any meaningful way.

Russia under Putin is as viciously repressive as it was in the Soviet days, only under communism people at least got some food to eat and a roof over their heads. It was a shitty existence, no doubt of that, but it was better than what the average Russian faces now.

About the only other significant difference between the Soviet Union and Putin’s Russia is that the flow of information isn’t as absolute as it was in the 60s, before satellites and the internet. So the citizenry get to hear about how deeply they are being screwed.

Putin is deeply unpopular in Russia. Only election corruption on a level Trump can only dream of keeps him afloat. He’s had to imprison, poison and murder political dissidents and opponents. He managed to install a puppet president in America, but the puppet turned out to be too incompetent to be of any real use other than as a huge intelligence leak. He also had a puppet in Ukraine, but again, he was an incompetent and the citizenry replaced him with someone willing to stand up against Putin. Much of the American puppet’s regime was devoted to trying to overthrow the non-puppet president of Ukraine.

There’s no hope the Russian economy will improve because just by himself he’s stealing an estimated 10% of it every year. His buddies take over half.

Invading Ukraine will make him look strong, and while the Ukraine is also just a few steps removed from also being an economic basket case, it does have vast stretches of rich farmland and other resources. He can at least pretend he’s doing it to improve the lot of the Russian citizenry, and some of them may even believe it for a year or two before reality crashes in.

It raises the possibility that other former Soviet Republics might take the implied threat posed by the attack on the Ukraine seriously enough to question if they might not be better off rejoining Russia as opposed to being bombed. Some of the nations are badly enough run that they may be considering it, and if nothing else, Putin might believe they are considering it.

If his gamble pays off, Putin buys time. He’s shrewd enough to realize that Biden can only go so far in imposing economic sanctions, and that ones that hurt the Russian plutocracy the hardest will exact a financial toll on the American economy, and American support for Ukraine is like Lake Winnipeg—very broad but very shallow. And of course Putin’s puppet-in-exile is still effectively the head of a national political party and he and the GOP are already propagandizing on Putin’s behalf.

Which leads to the real threat: that between trying to occupy the Ukraine and the growing discontent at home, he might soon be facing an organized and widespread revolt.

A former KGB apparatchik, Putin has to know that no amount of repression and propaganda and military might can save a regime that has lost support. The mighty Soviet Union died with only a handful of shots being fired simply because enough of the citizenry turned their backs and walked away.

He has nothing to offer his people, and even before this winter’s mad gamble, his position was becoming more and more precarious. Even as the blitzkreig rages across the Ukraine with blinding speed, in what should have been a moment of glory, he finds himself making wild, if veiled threats of nuclear war, and the head of his space program even threatened to crash the International Space Station into the United States, exposing the desperate madness that lies behind Putin’s actions.

The best Putin can hope for is that Ukraine doesn’t form an organized guerrilla resistance, and the same doesn’t happen at home. Otherwise, he is likely to die at the hands of the mob.

And if that happens, he won’t have any sympathy from the rest of the world.

Massie Delusion — Witless Congressman promotes gun lobby’s biggest lie

Massie Delusion

Witless Congressman promotes gun lobby’s biggest lie

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 13th, 2022

Ignorant Republican Buffoon is nearly a triply redundant phrase when it comes to describing some members of Congress. Some are stupid. Some are vile. Far too many combine all traits and produce a loud braying that is dangerous to American democracy.

Thomas Massie, (Gun Nut-KY) is one of those. He attracted notice just before Xmas when he sent out a card featuring his family, including young children, brandishing weapons of mass destruction. Nothing says “Peace and Love for the Holidays” like a little girl with a Mac-10. I wonder how many of her classmates will die because there’s so many children with access to so much firepower. He also attributed this quote to Voltaire: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” While it’s not difficult to imagine Voltaire saying something like that, the quote was actually from a neo-Nazi pedophile, one Kevin Alfred Strom, who said it in terms of Jews secretly ruling the world. Interesting role model you got there, Tommy.

More recently, he made the outlandish claim that “Over 70% of Americans who died with COVID, died on Medicare.” I’ve got news for you, Tommy. Ninety-nine percent of all humans that ever lived breathed oxygen and are now dead. Better stop breathing oxygen, Tommy.

So Tommy has a well-worn record for being vile and ignorant.

But he managed to top himself over the week end, as part of his pose of willing, crawling subservience in the name of Donald J. Trump and gun nuts everywhere.

According to David Badash at the New Civil Rights Movement, “A U.S. Congressman is calling on Americans to own ‘sufficient’ weaponry to overthrow the government, suggesting they should do so “if 30 to 40 percent agree” the nation is living under ‘tyranny.’

“If 30 to 40 percent could agree that this was legitimate tyranny and it needed to be thrown off they need to have sufficient power without asking for extra permission – it should be right there and completely available to them in their living room in order to effect the change,” U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) said in a video (below) posted by Right Wing Watch.

It really scary how many gun nuts believe that nonsense. Oh, 30 to 40% of the general population would be enough to foment a revolution, but the United States is nowhere near that now. For all the romantic nonsense about colonists having guns to fight the British with, the fact is deaths by gunfire were well under 10,000 on all sides, with greater numbers coming from hypothermia, infection, and non-gun wounds. It will be of interest to anti-vaxxers to know that during that same 8.3 year period, over 130,000 colonists died of smallpox.

Gun nuts love to claim that the Second Amendment exists to empower the people to overthrow the government. They always quote the second part, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” but leave out “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…” That collection of gun industry whores and Russian spies that make up the NRA literally leave out that first part.

Other gun nuts claim that the militia exists to fight the government. This even has some backing from amongst the Founders, with James Madison arguing, “a standing army… would be opposed [by] a militia.” and “would be able to repel the danger” of a federal army.

In the end, they decided to make the militia a federal force, under Article I, Section 8, Clause 16 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” Obviously the militia isn’t meant to overthrow the federal or state governments if the only entities that can finance them, equip them, appoint their officers and call them out are the same governments the gun nuts say the militia is there to overthrow!

Instead, the Founders decided to limit the federal force. Article I, Section 8, Clause 12:

[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; . . . “

If there is a mechanism meant to overthrow the federal government, it is there. Just don’t provide new funding for the US military for more than two more years. I doubt that will popular amongst the strutters and cringers of the far right, who hate federal power but love federal military might. (Honestly, have any of them ever actually thought this through?)

That state militia even exist was a sop to the South, who wanted people to raise slave gangs to capture runaways and rebellionists without having to go to the trouble of deputizing them. They existed to capture or shoot slaves for reading or having unapproved churches, not overthrowing the government.

The civilian militia are even sillier. I can’t imagine any of them lasting 5 seconds against a platoon of Marines, or SEALS. Even with all those guns.

Tallyrand has been credited with the line, “Treason is mostly a matter of timing.” Fire on the government and have popular support and win, and you’re a hero. Rebel foolishly and without popular support, and you’re a bullet-riddled corpse in a gutter whose next-of-kin might disavow.

If violence does arise, it will be extremely bloody, and even if it’s just 5% of the population, it might destabilize the country enough that it collapses. Why do you think the NRA gets so much support from the Putin regime, and why is it financed by corporate fascists intent on seizing control of the country?

Massie is an idiot, and would remain so even if he read this. But people have the ability to keep the idiots in check. Now is a good time to start.

 

Other Truckers — Expect tactic deployed in Ottawa to spread

Other Truckers

Expect tactic deployed in Ottawa to spread

February 8th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

By now, people who thought Ottawa was an indigenous tribe in Kansas know of the Canadian capital. Ottawa in February is a bleak, gray place, buried in snow and still beset by temperatures well below freezing. It’s the second coldest national capital on Earth next only to Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Yes, it’s even colder than Moscow.

The place comes to life in the Spring, which is usually on a Tuesday. The world-famous tulips erupt, the forests are eye-searingly green, and the tourists arrive. Winter returns in November and the place goes back to a monotonal study in gray: gray skies, gray buildings, gray streets, gray slush. Even the residents get a bit gray as the tans wear off. Only night relieves the grayness.

So Ottawa doesn’t make the news very much, and even in the rest of Canada people don’t know much about the place outside of Parliament Hill. It has two seasons, really: Life is Wonderful, and Oh, God, Please Kill Me Now.

How is it I know so much about the place? It’s the city of my birth, and I spent a fair bit of my childhood there. Wonderful people, but not exactly the wildest place to grow up in.

The truckers rally/protest changed all that. It is, at its heart, an astroturf movement. Fully 90% of all licensed eighteen-wheel operators in Canada are fully vaccinated and can cross the border freely. And it’s a pretty safe bet that even amongst the unvaccinated drivers, only a small minority are willing to sign on to a movement that enrages most Canadians, paralyzes cities, and features such non-Canadian flags as the American rebel flag, Trump flags, and even swastikas. Nearly all the known funding underwriting this movement is coming from American sources. Most of the cheerleading of politicians are among the scummier Americans, such as Donald Trump, and some of the scummier American politicians who renounced their Canadian citizenships in hopes that people wouldn’t notice they can’t be president, such as Ted Cruz. Compare with actual Canadian politicians, where rabid dissent come in the form of “Well, they might have a point. Let’s listen to what they have to say.”

Canada has right wing extremists, but nothing like the neo-Nazi madness that has beset America for the past six years or so. Fascists haven’t been able to flood the population with propaganda the way they have in America. Canada has no equivalent to Faux News, or fascist propaganda pits such as the Heritage Society or the Federalist Society.

But it does have social media, which has been a boon for the extremists. They figured that out right away—even back in the 80s, when “on line” meant local privately owned networks called “BBSes” or Bulletin Board Systems, right wing extremists flooded the nets with neo-Nazi, KKK and Christian fascist propaganda. They began with a presence far out-sized to their actual numbers, and they do to this day. Coupled with financial and communication support from America’s fascist billionaires, they were able to transform a small and powerless fringe group into a force that has paralyzed several cities and as of today, the busiest single border crossing spot in North America, the bridge that connects Windsor with Detroit.

It’s an effective tactic. Ordering a fleet of 18-wheelers to disperse isn’t going to work if the drivers of the trucks don’t want to disperse. All they have to do is set their air brakes, and moving said truck will be nearly impossible.

But what little popularity the movement had is evaporating fast. Residents felt besieged by the endless sounding of air horns and fireworks, and a court finally did uphold an injunction against that tactic in Ottawa yesterday. A significant incident late last week is getting a lot of attention: two males ignited fire starter blocks in the lobby of a 400 unit apartment building near the wood panelling of the lobby, and then used duct tape to make the lobby doors impossible to open from the inside. If the parties responsible were associated with the truckers in any way, the events just slopped over from raucous demonstration and major annoyance into the realm of outright terrorism. Fortunately, the arson attempt failed, and nobody was hurt.

Ottawa authorities have already blocked fuel from entering the truck zone, leaving the truckers to deal with Ottawa’s marvelous February climate once the tanks run dry. I would advocate that the RCMP and other authorities go through the ranks of the trucks, demanding passports and/or licenses from the drivers, with the promise that they will get them back at the city limits, and if they try the same thing a second time, the papers would be confiscated. It probably wouldn’t hurt to let the citizenry of Ottawa to parade peacefully amongst the trucks, chanting, blowing whistles, and beating drums. After all, if the truckers don’t want people to get any sleep, then there’s no reason they should be able to enjoy a nice nap while they freeze.

Because Canadians did get vaccinated in large numbers (83% as opposed to America’s 61%) several provinces are already planning to drop mask and access provisions over the next couple of months, and barring any more surprises from this disease, can do so safely. But border crossings will still be problematic, particular since the Canadians aren’t the only ones who demand proof of vaccination at the border.

This tactic will spread rapidly to America, where the outcomes are much more likely to turn bloody.

If Canadians find a solution that doesn’t get people hurt and opens up the roads again, not only will it be good for Canadians, but it may save many lives in America.

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale — History bleeds us, too

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale

History bleeds us, too

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 1st, 2022

There was a huge uproar over the past week over the removal of Maus: A Survivor’s Tale from the shelves of the McMinn County Schools in Tennessee. I doubt the action of the board, which voted 10-0 to ban the graphic novel, was antisemitic, let alone pro-Nazi, but rather reflected the urge toward authoritarian control disguised as concern for the children that is currently sweeping the right. But, coming as it did the day before Holocaust Memorial Day, it was incredibly tone-deaf and showed the basic moral and intellectual cowardice of so called “critical race theory,” or the Bowdlerizing of history to suit a narrative that erases the errors and crimes of authoritarian regimes.

It prompted me to pull out my own copy of Maus and reread it. I first read it about 15 years ago, and thought that the first reading might diminish the impact of a second reading years later. It didn’t. It’s still magnificent, angry, grim, human and utterly brilliant. Using cartoon animals, it humanizes the Holocaust experience in a way that none of the thousands of works about the Holocaust can quite manage.

As a child in London, I heard of the Holocaust, but it was in general terms. “Hitler murdered Jews, Hitler was evil, they used gas.” I don’t think I grasped how uniquely awful it was, but equated it to the other horrible things Hitler did, such as the Blitz, or Dunkirk.

It wasn’t until I was 12 when I learned, in Social Studies in Ottawa, about Auschwitz and Treblinka and what happened there. I remember those particular classes because of the images and the graphic descriptions of victims trying to claw their way out of the gas showers and the hopeless hunch in the shoulders of the inmates in the camps as the Germans raused them hither and yon. We learned about propaganda, and the ability of a society to make an entire segment non-human and remove from them all the protections and benefits of society. (In the same class we learned about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and read horrific tales of children staggering around with half their skin hanging off their bodies. The kids didn’t die of guilt.)

This was in peaceful, sedate Ottawa, where the worst torment we could imagine was having our books knocked out of our arms by a school bully. Should we have had to imagine the hiss of the gas, the screams of the dying, the despair of the not-yet-dead? Did it make me ashamed?

Well, yes. It made me ashamed to be human. But it also made me aware that I didn’t have to be that way, and should strive never to be that way.

Was it a lesson I needed to learn when I was twelve?

Absolutely.

In subsequent years I learned that what Nazi Germany did, while horrifying in its deliberate approach, wasn’t unique or even special. England has had dozens of Holocausts in the past, including a 13th century attempt to flat-out exterminate the Jews. Canada is only now coming to grips with 300 years of genocide against the First Nations, and lurking in the shadows are the “reform schools” and orphanages that systematically turned children into hamburger. Japan had monstrous war crimes prior to the atomic bombings, and Germany suffered destruction of many cities, including Dresden and Berlin. Even Israel rising from the ashes of the camps, has amassed its own catalogue of war crimes. Nobody is pure, nobody was only a victim. We are all human, and a mixture of these things. That’s why its so important to fight against the warmongers and propagandists and bigots. We may not attain purity, but we should at least try.

Spiegelman’s characters reflect this. His father Vladek (the survivor of the camps) proves to be as bigoted and dismissive of the humanity of African-Americans (Schvartzes) as the Germans and Poles were of his humanity 40 years earlier. Art Spiegelman himself is mildly contemptuous of the history of the Holocaust, equating it to his own feelings of inadequacy and guilt. If it weren’t for those pesky Germans, his older brother, who died at age 6 in the camps some 10 years before his was born, wouldn’t be the unattainable ideal with which he had to compete.

I remember when I first read this, I felt a certain amount of depression. After all he had been through, and Vladek learned nothing of what becomes of dehumanizing others? And Art trivializes the Holocaust over a petty and actually non-existent sibling rivalry?

Well, perhaps I’ve grown since that first read. I understand now that Vladek was heavily damaged by what he went through, and not all of his humanity returned. Further, he was sick and clearly suffering from early-onset dementia. And Art wanted us to see the facile and trivial approach he initially had to his father over the Holocaust as part of showing how he slowly came to grips with it. It’s not exactly something you can process in one sitting like a homily from a calendar page.

In short, the reread helped me to humanize the Spiegelmans. Failing to humanize is, after all, a first step toward dehumanization.

One side note (sort of): A common refrain among right wingers is that the gay pride flag is just like the swastica flag. It’s about like saying having the Star of David on the front of a synagogue is exactly the same as having a swastica on the front of a building. Hitler murdered six million Jews, but that was only half the people he targeted, and homosexuals were probably the second largest group to get shot, gassed, and starved. To equate gays to Hitler is every bit a big a disgrace as equating Jews to Hitler. In their ignorance, the right skip along in the footsteps of Hitler, unaware of where their ideology will lead them. If you feel that way, read Maus and ask yourself where the similarities lie.

Maus, along with about 250 other books targeted by the authoritarian right should be on the shelves of all school libraries. They teach the kids in GERMANY about the Holocaust and it doesn’t destroy them. American kids should be able to handle it. Stephen King has the right idea: kids should flock to read any book the authoritarians want to hide “to protect the kids.”

And let’s get rid of the notion kids need to be protected from the horrors and errors of the past because they might somehow take it personally. Instead, that just leaves them ignorant, and fertile ground to repeat those horrors and errors. And that’s what the authoritarians actually want.

Creator Art Spiegelman

Date 1991

Page count 296 pages

Publisher Pantheon Books

Original publication

Published in Raw

Issues Vol. 1 No. 2 – Vol. 2 No. 3

Date of publication 1980–1991

Well, good morning judge…New faces for the Supreme Court

Well, good morning judge…

New faces for the Supreme Court

January 27th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

Biden gets to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and he has already sworn that for the first time in 158 such nominations, his candidate will be both black and female.

The fascist right lost their collective minds over this, accusing Biden of affirmative action and exclusionary politics. But of the 158 nominations to the Court, exactly none were both black and female. Only two were black (the second a cynical exercise in tokenism by the Republicans) and only five were female (the last a sop to the lunatic religious right, also by the Republicans.) All the rest where white, and male. Talk about exclusionary politics!

Thirty-seven of those nominations failed, usually because they had something in their past, or were too egregiously unfit for office. The most recent one happened under Barack Obama, who nominated Merrick Garland. That was nine months before a presidential election, and Mitch McConnell blocked committee consideration of the nomination on the grounds that it was too close to the election. It didn’t stop him from shooing through, without hearings, religious token Amy Coney Barrett four years later and just 45 days before a presidential election. George W. Bush hit on the idea of nominating his own personal lawyer to the Court. Harriet Miers, her name was, and while she may well have been a not-bad justice, this was back before the GOP turned into a goosestepping death cult, and too many Republicans balked at the notion of a president’s personal lawyer with no visible qualifications on the Court.

The leading candidate at this point is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. At age 51, she’s on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, having been placed there a couple of years ago. Three Republicans broke ranks to vote for her: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Murkowski is the only one of the three who isn’t a spineless goosestepper, and could be the 51st vote needed to confirm.

Jackson clerked for Stephen Breyer, the retiring Justice she may be replacing. She has double degrees from Harvard, and eight strong years as a district judge. She was (briefly) a hero to Republicans when she ruled in 2018 that the House Judiciary Committee couldn’t sue to compel Don McGahn to testify. That ruling was overturned, although the District Court was reconsidering it now in light of last week’s SC trouncing of Trump, 8-1. She does have a fairly high rate of reversals on appeal.

Another factor that should give progressives pause is that she served in an advisory capacity on the board of the religiously conservative Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Maryland. Among other things this now-defunct school believed was “Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation…All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society…In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love…Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.” Wow. Sounds like the kind of zealotry you would expect to hear from Barrett.

The other front runner is Justice Leondra Kruger, who now serves on the California Supreme Court. She was only 37 when Governor Jerry Brown nominated her, and is still only 45 now. If selected, she would be the second youngest nominee for the court, behind only the still-juvenile Clarence Thomas.

She has also argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court itself, and graduated from Yale, where she was Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law Journal. She clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens, so she has quite a formidable record and strong familiarity with high court proceedings, both in California and DC. She was also a visiting assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School. She also graduated with honors from Harvard University, where she was a reporter for the Harvard Crimson. So she has an amazing record.

Most of her judicial record is liberal-leaning but with careful adherence to precedent. At a time when we have justices willing to trash voir dire in order to support nutball ideas from the lunatic right and trash voting and civil rights, she would be a strong voice for applying the brakes to this mad dash to the bottom that the Trump-infested court is now on.

Of the two, Kruger seems the stronger choice. There may be others on Biden’s list of whom I’m not aware, but those two, Kruger and Jackson, are the ones most mooted about.

I hope Biden names Kruger. I think she would be a strong, stabilizing force on the court going forward.

Organic prayers: a review of The God Committee

The God Committee

The God Committee

Directed by Austin Stark

Written by Austin Stark

Produced by Molly Conners, Amanda Bowers, Jonathan Rubenstein, Ari Pinchot, Jane Oster, Bingo Gubelmann, & Benji Kohn

Starring

• Kelsey Grammer

• Julia Stiles

• Janeane Garofalo

• Dan Hedaya

• Colman Domingo

Cinematography Matt Sakatani Roe

Edited by Alan Canant

Music by The Newton Brothers

Production companies

• Crystal City Entertainment

• Paper Street Films

• Phiphen Pictures

• Plain Jane Pictures

• KGB Films

The main story line is this: a young man is killed in an auto accident, and he is an organ donor. A major hospital in New York City finds that his heart is a match for three patients on their list. None of the three are ideal: one is a 55 year old man who weighs 335 pounds; another is an elderly woman who is entirely unsure if she wants a transplant, and the third a younger man with a history of drug use and a prediliction toward irresponsible and even violent behavior. The committee has 45 minutes to decide who will get the heart. The third prospect’s father is a very rich and powerful man who puts a person on the committee to inform them that no matter what they decide, he will consider a $25 million grant.

There are several subplots that flesh out and explain the motives and behavior of the various characters.

The film gets a bit too dramatic in places, but the issues and dilemmas are all quite real, and the ways in which the various characters respond are both compelling and entirely credible.

Kelsey Grammer, who I tend to associate with comedy and light entertainment, is formidable in this as a remote and austere senior physician. Julia Stiles, his ex wife, is equally compelling. The acting is solid, the dialog is solid, and the medical issues are informed and plausible.

People put off by gore will find the operation sequences upsetting, but the movie is well worth the 93 minutes invested in it.

Now on Netflix.

Jan 6 No Trump — Bridging the year

Jan 6 No Trump

Bridging the year

January 7th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

I feel a lot better this January 7th compared to the same date last year. Back then, I was wondering if the United States had any sort of future, or was destined to fall into neo-Nazi fascism headed by one of the most vicious and corrupt swine ever to hold public office.

We’re a long way from out of the woods, of course, but at least it stopped snowing and the wolves seem to have buggered off. Yes, the Republican party is now a fully-formed death cult, and yes, Trump is still in the news a lot, but they aren’t quite as scary as they were the day they tried to destroy America. And America seems to be gaining a bit of a lease on life, at least until the mid-terms.

Biden and the Democrats seem to be finally taking the gloves off. Biden gave a barn burner of a speech on the anniversary, pounding Trump into the ground without ever mentioning him by name. How effective was the speech? Well, two days later, and Trump is still yowling like a cat shitting a porcupine. Fox “News” couldn’t even bear to discuss the speech, instead trying to pretend the assault on the Capitol was no big deal really, BLM and Antifa were worse, and why hasn’t Biden controlled inflation and COVID? The Lord Haw-Haws of that propaganda pit have their loyal viewers, of course, but it’s eroding as Trump’s Big Lie continues to shrink under the assault of facts and evidence.

Merrick Garland also gave a speech, detailing why the Justice Department investigations were flying under the radar, and reassuring people that the trials and convictions of the small fry at the riots was only the opening act. In the state of New York, at least two Trump whelps, Donny the Lesser and Ivanka the Skanka, have been subpoenaed, and there are reports that Melania the Melanoma has been selling off some of her wardrobe and other personal possessions to make ends meet.

Things aren’t going well for Trump loyalists, either. The Brownshirts have lost a really big civil case in the wake of the Unite the Right rally and are being sued out of existence. Devin Nunes, Trump’s biggest cow in Congress, suddenly quit in order to run Trump’s social media empire. If you’re asking, “what social media empire?”, my answer is “exactly.” The January 6th Commission has shown it isn’t screwing around, and is handing out subpoenas left and right, including Bannon, Meadows, Alexander (“Victory or Death!”), Ali with subpoenas expected for various members of Congress who might have to be forced to testify under oath, such as Gym Jordan (OH! Jimmy!), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (Texas.). It occurs to me that just by tossing those eight out of the House and into prison would raise the average IQ of Congress by at least 10 points.

While Republicans are still working feverishly to try to turn the next American elections into a Soviet-style joke, they aren’t making the headway they were hoping for. Cyber Ninjas, the redoubtable firm in charge of the of-course-it’s-legitimate! Arizona recount, are facing $50,000 a day in fines for refusing to turn over records that are in the public domain regarding how the count was conducted. Given that the count not only confirmed the results, but actually gave Biden a couple of hundred votes he didn’t have before, you have to wonder how much gaming and cheating went in to achieving a result that was only slightly unfavorable to their cause. And how much of that was flat-out illegal. None of the dozens of other state audits seem to have gained much traction. Even notoriously corrupt Wisconsin seems to have given up on party-run recounts as a bad idea. In the meantime, Republican efforts at gerrymandering seem to have stalled out. In places like Texas, it’s because it was already so gerrymandered they could no longer maintain plausible deniability. And I suspect some Republicans, aware of the growing fragility of the Trump cult, are hedging their bets.

For all we hear about Trump “running out the clock” in hopes Republicans can take the House and make the January 6th commission go away, other legal proceedings that the House cannot interfere with are continuing apace. Garland already made that clear in his speech, and there are a swirl of well-informed reports that the State of New York is going to be dropping the hammer on Trump in the immediate future. Tax fraud, tax evasion, corrupt business practices, it’s a very long list. And remember, Trump’s most efficient henchmen are gone; Former CFO Weisselberg is fighting to keep his own ass out of jail, and former torpedo Michael Cohen is an active enemy gleefully providing evidence (many, MANY skeletons in THAT closet!) against Trump. Trump, in Cohen’s mind, tried to kill Cohen by sending him back to his cell in the height of the pandemic last year. He didn’t appreciate that.

A lot has been made of the poll showing that only 21% of Republican voters think Biden won legitimately. Granted, there are a lot of brainwashed fools and just plain fools in the GOP, but I suspect a lot of them are joining that chorus not from any personal belief, but because they know the cost of disloyalty to the party. “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.” The GOP have been a lot like Russia’s Communist Party for many years, and should the party destroy democracy and become, like the USSR, a one-party state, there would be a dear price for showing disloyalty. Nobody doubts the viciousness and cruelty of the GOP, but if they can’t seize power, support for them will erode like cotton candy under Niagara Falls. Conviction persists; fear cannot.

A lot of that will erode as the legal investigations dissect GOP efforts to stage a coup. Fox News might ignore the stories and whine about Hunter Biden, but the rest of America’s media will not ignore it—and even Fox will turn when they can no longer sustain their fear of Trump and start to fear the American people instead.

So on this anniversary, we’ve gained a lot of ground in defeating Trump and his swinish followers. Much remains to be done, and of course, any number of things could go wrong. Remember, we are saddled with a major party that WANTS things to go wrong.

We’re not home free, and won’t be for some time to come. But we’re at least moving in the right direction.

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Riggin’ in the Friggin’ Solstice 2021 – Wisdom and Betrayal

Riggin’ in the Friggin’

Solstice 2021 – Wisdom and Betrayal

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

December 21st 2021

When it came to observing the Winter Solstice, the Nordic gods were first and foremost. Makes sense, given that they lived in the land of ice and snow, and the midnight sun and noon darkness. Observing the Solstice didn’t make them better behaved, mind you; even compared to the pantheons of Rome and Greece that came later, this was an exceptionally unruly bunch, with amazing sexual antics. Loki alone could add four more letters to the somewhat overworked acronym, LGBTQ.

Perhaps the best-known of all the legends of the Aesir is that of Baldur, son of Odin and Frigg. Baldur was what could be considered “the nice one,” for a given value of ‘nice.’ Like most Nordic gods, his hobbies included murder and mayhem. But he was politer about it. Certainly all the other gods loved him, save one, and all living creatures, again, save one. You can’t have a story like this without a little bit of the Joker and Kryptonite, right?

Baldur was associated with wisdom, knowledge, and light. As with most such deities, he was born on the Winter Solstice. He was the local version of Prometheus, and like most other light-bringers, he met a bad end. Getting born around Winter Solstice is something of a warning sign amongst gods.

For all his wisdom, and for all that he was loved and admired by pretty much everything, Baldur began dreaming of his death. He mentioned this to Frigga, who like most mums, decided to ensure safety for her son. Death is something of an option with gods, and so Frigga decided to ensure his immortality by making him invulnerable to everything. So she went to nearly very plant and creature on Earth and asked them to vow never to hurt her son.

Since Baldur was, as noted, loved and respected, everyone agreed to this. Obviously there were no Republican Senators in those days, showing how far we’ve fallen. It wasn’t until later that Frigg got around to realizing that she forgot to ask the mistletoe not to hurt Baldur. She shrugged it off, concluding that mistletoe was a harmless enough plant, good only for unwanted sexual advances at office parties. Mistletoe routinely kills mighty oaks, and could probably kill Yggdrasil, the Nordic tree of life, if given a crack at it. Perhaps Frigg lived above the treeline. She was certainly no arborist.

But she was something of a blabbermouth. She mentioned this omission to Loki, the one god who didn’t like Baldur. Sibling rivalry or something. Frigg’s sake, woman, what were you thinking?

Loki made a spear from mistletoe and convinced a blind old god, Hodr, to throw it at Baldur. Hodr didn’t have any reason to think this was an odd request; the gods had made a pastime of throwing spears, maces, cats and low-yield nukes at Baldur because his invulnerability tickled them pink. A twig’s as good as a Nord to a blind Hodr, right? So Hodr tossed the spear, it hit Baldur, and Baldur dropped down dead.

The pantheon petitioned the goddess of Hades, Hel-Half-Rotted, to release Baldur. Hel said she was fine with that so long as the gods got a unanimous vote on it. Which they did—almost. One Frost Giant refused. Given that the Frost Giants and Gods were mortal enemies it’s not real clear why they had a say in the matter, but in this instance the Giant was Loki in disguise, adding yet another letter to his personal LGBTQ designation.

So poor old Baldur went to Hel, and Loki ended up strapped by his own entrails to a table while a poisonous snake dripped venom into his eyes. But he got over it.

Light bringers come, and light bringers go, usually in horrible fashions. We have a streak in us that likes to tear down the thinkers and the optimists, and make some sort of ersatz “moral lesson” from them. Baldur seems the exception to that rule; there’s no homily that he deserved to die for any number of (usually) demented reasons. If there’s a lesson here at all, it’s that popularity and civility can’t protect you from the random vagaries of the universe or even a malignant plot with unlikely odds of working.

But here’s the thing; Baldur dies, as do light bringers, and are gone from this world. But the world keeps on turning. The next day following solstice, a ship stationed exactly at the Arctic circle might see a brief glint of sunlight to the south before seconds later, the sun sets again. The nights get shorter, and eventually, the days get warmer. The equinox—twelve hours of daylight—will inevitably come three months later. No matter how many light bringers die, the light returns, on its own, and in its own immutable pattern. It’s one of the few things in this world we can absolutely count on.

It is also the first day of winter, and even as the light slowly returns, the storms and the cold hold sway. The return of the light isn’t a solution. It is, instead, a promise.

It’s dark now. But Earth has made a promise to her children, one that even Loki can’t thwart.

Don’t lose hope. Never lose hope.

Pearl Harbor — And other attacks on government facilities

Pearl Harbor

And other attacks on government facilities

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

December 11th, 2021

I wrote a piece the other day about the burning of the Christmas tree in front on the Fox News New York headquarters that was mildly sympathetic to Fox.  I pointed out that they could turn the arson into a positive by reaching out and helping the homeless man accused of setting the fire in the spirit of the holiday. OK, we both know that was never going to happen.  I like teasing fascists.

Instead, Fox went into breast-beating and garment-rending mode.  They gave it more air time than they did the Jan. 6th attack on the Capitol.  They praised themselves for having the courage to stand up to this assault on everything is good and decent and pure.

Then they tried comparing it to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Inspired, perhaps, by the fact that the man accused of setting the blaze is Hawaiian.

If you have a sufficiently depraved mind, one capable of pulling up phrases that would make Satan blush and Trump avert his eyes awkwardly, then you can guess at what my attitude toward Fox News is now.

Pearl Harbor.  Christ…

OK, the arson did occur on December 7th. Going by that logic, if I sneak into one of their loos and drop a cherry bomb in the crapper, blowing it up, that would be comparable to the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima if I did it on 6th August? My mum was born on January 6th. If word gets out, will QAnon make her a saint?

If we want to mess with these people, we could dump a bunch of ladyfingers under Mar-A-Lago along with a picture of Amy Comey Barrett on November 5th. Just have some rando Englishman explain it to you. Make sure it’s a real Englishman and not just some Brit. You want the full piquancy of the arched-eyebrow condescension.

OK, moving on…

What? You wanted a dissertation on the morals and ethics of Fox News? Well, they don’t got none. Finito! Moving on. Delivered in the tone of an archaeology professor explaining for the fifth time why the story of Noah’s Ark isn’t in the syllabus.

We done with “My dog is plotting against me” type nuttiness. Now we’re going to Kesey’s ever-loving bull goose loony assortment. But which I mean, a version, perhaps THE version, of the 32 page Power Point memo the GOP were passing around on how to overthrow the government and destroy the United States. The official title of this document, dated January 5th 2021, wasElection Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 JAN” If you want to read it for yourself (and it’s actually about three typewritten pages long) then you can find it at Archive.org 

The talking points show the direction this is headed. “The Chinese systematically gained control over our election system constituting a national security emergency – The electronic voting machines were compromised and cannot be trusted to provide an accurate vote count – To restore confidence the “failsafe” of counting the paper ballots must be used to determine who won the election for President, Senators, Congressional Representatives – Hand counts reported by the media are not really hand counts and easily subverted.”

Got all that? The Chinese Communists (who are actually capitalists), headed by that noted Chinese Leader Hugo Chavez (who was at least a socialist, but still not a communist) subverted the election by using Chinese voting machines made in the well-known Chinese province of Canada.

It goes downhill from there.

Back in 1954, there was a book, How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff. The title is pretty self-explanatory. Someone needs to write a similar book, “How to bullshit with charts.” The FF, FI & O tries strenuously to do just that. On slide 5, for example, there are charts purporting to show huge Trump leads in states he subsequently lost, alluding to a “pause” in the counting. There’s nothing to show where the charts came from, when they were tabulated, or what the “pause” was. But boy-howdy, they shore looks like real honest-to-gaw charts. A series of charts purporting to show “fixing the vote” follows, all with official looking and undescribed synoptic lines beneath to make it look like someone was using actual arithmetic. This is followed by “The Algorhythm” which is a more complicated chart designed to awe and impress Republican Congressmen smart enough to know what a chart is but not what it’s supposed to do. This is followed by “Where and How It’s Done” which would look right at home on a corkboard in a basement, with random paper clipping and scribbled notes connected by red yarn with a big box saying “Illuminati” in the middle. This is followed by a page, ironically advising, “One Tactic that is part of a larger Strategic Plan. Other tactics include riots, threats, censorship, looting, etc.” Eek! Scary! “Riots, Threats, Censorship, Looting, etc.,” you say? Oh, what’s a poor Republican to do! Summon the Proud Boys! They’ll protect us!

It then dips back into the tin-foil helmet zone. “China has leveraged financial, non-governmental and foreign allies including Venezuela to acquire INFLUENCE and CONTROL US Voting Infrastructure in at least 28 States. KEY Issue in 2020: Critical Infrastructure control utilized as part of ongoing globalist/socialist operation to subvert the will of United States Voters and install a China ally.”

Well, here you were, all fat, dumb and happy, and you had no idea your will had been subverted by Hugo Chavez. Pretty smart for a dead guy! You have to give him credit.

It rants about perfidious Venezuelans, Chinese and Canadians for a bit, noting that like all commies, they have for-profit corporations (eek!). Then it gets around to “Perpetrators” Those are: “•Local Zealots –illegal ballot harvesting, illegal voter roles, counterfeit mail-in and absentee ballots, and illegal adjudication changes •Electronic Voting machines that shift votes from one candidate to another either through an algorithm or adjudications •Foreign Actors that shift votes and/or add votes all across the country either through adjudications or outright database overwrites •In this election, all 3 demonstrably occurred, but not necessarily in a coordinated fashion.”

Good thing they weren’t in a coordinated fashion. If only those zealots knew how to speak Cantonese, or even Mandarin!

You get the drift. This may not be the exact copy of the one shown to Republican congressionals on the 5th of January, but I’ll bet that copy is essentially the same. And they were advised to hunker down and expect a serious effort to stop the electoral college vote.

Psst! Think we should teach them how to spell ‘algorithm’?

It’s easy to laugh, but remember this: Hitler’s Nazis were widely seen as ineffectual, too nasty to get elected, and really, really ridiculous.

This lot are the same. Laugh, but don’t dismiss the threat they pose. These are the same people.

Bah Humbug — Grinch burns Fox News Christmas Tree

Bah Humbug

Grinch burns Fox News Christmas Tree

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

December 8th 2021

Back around 1962, a buddy of mine and I decided it would be fun to go sneaking past homes after dark that were heavily decorated with Christmas lights and steal some of the bulbs just so we could pop them on the sidewalk. Basically it was the same impulse that people get with bubble wrap. There was nothing political or religious motivating us; it was just two kids amusing themselves and being minor assholes. Over the subsequent year, I became an atheist and became a rebellious teenager, but you know what? We didn’t go out popping Christmas bulbs the next year. I had enough sense by then to realize that was just being an asshole for assholery’s sake. Even as a new born atheist teenager, I realized that you didn’t lift yourself up by hurting others’ joy.

Now, someone set fire to the big Christmas tree in front of Fox News in Manhattan last night. Word is it was a homeless guy, Craig Tamanaha, aged 49. Authorities don’t believe there was any political or religious motive behind it, or even any premeditation.

It wasn’t actually a tree; it was a conical metal framework with an overlay of decorations and stuff designed to look like a tree. It was festooned with 10,000 glass ornaments, 100,000 lights and it took over 21 hours to put together. Crews were later seen taking down what was left of the structure. It was a sad sight.

Fox News was understandably unamused. “We will not let this deliberate and brazen act of cowardice deter us. We are in the process of rebuilding and reinstalling a new tree as a message there can be peace, light and joy even during a moment like this,” Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott said in a statement.

Well, I’m glad they’re rebuilding it, although in this instance, it’s unlikely that it’s some form of brave and principled stand against an act of cultural terrorism. For all anyone knows, Tamanaha just found the light on his sleeping spot making it hard to sleep (not that sleeping outdoors in midtown Manhattan in December is easy under any circumstances). Or maybe he didn’t like the color pink. It was awfully…pink.

Of course, the right wingers are going to lose their minds over this. “War on Christmas,” blah blah blah. It was the libruls or the commies or the gays or some fool thing. Fox announcers already declared this could only hurt Joe Biden in the polls, because you know, anything they don’t like will hurt Joe Biden in the polls and it can’t hurt to try to associate Joe Biden with burning Christmas trees in the eyes of their dim-witted viewers. I’m sure the right wingers will come up with even sillier shit over this. They always do.

In a way it’s a shame that it was Fox News that was hit and not one of the hundreds of major corporations in the neighborhood who always put up giant Christmas decorations. Because in this sad act was an opportunity to show a little real Christmas spirit, the one that corporations all insist we should have so they could play on our sensibilities and rob us blind with our own cooperation.

Here’s what Fox could do. (And there are some corporations that might do this, but I’ll be amazed if Fox is one of them.)

Contact the legal representative for Tamanaha. Work a deal. Tamanaha pleads guilty in court, but prosecutors will work a time-served plea agreement. Tamanaha expresses remorse and promised to never do such a thing again. In return, Fox News pays for a years’ housing for Tamanaha (it doesn’t have to be midtown where rents are often five figures a month) and see to it that he has food and warmth for a year. Do what they can to help him—locate family, if any, and get him access to medical or psychiatric care—even pay for it, if the costs aren’t too hideous. If he is capable of holding a job, maybe hire him on as a custodian or something. If he isn’t, set up a GoFundMe for him.

And yes, tell the world what they are doing. They’re a corporation, and they aren’t going to do with without some sort of payback. This would be good publicity.

Make it clear that this is a one-time thing. Don’t want word getting out that you can score all this good stuff just by igniting a Christmas Tree. The next guy that tries it can just rot in jail, as far as Fox is concerned. Nobody would have trouble understanding that, no, not even Joe Biden.

I suspect that Tamanaha, and hundreds of thousands like him, need help like this. Remember, a lot of those homeless people are veterans, or mentally ill, and this is the time of year when they most need the help and most deserve it. If Fox could rise above themselves and show some charity and goodheartedness, it might make everyone’s holidays a little brighter.

And perhaps all those elaborate corporate decorations might, if ever so slightly, represent something better than corporate greed playing on the mawkish sensibilities of their targets.