Monday, June 8, 2020

Black Lives Matter: Shibboleth for 2020

Imagine this scenario.  You're sitting at home with your wife or husband on the couch next to you, and she/he turns to you and asks, "What do you think about Black Lives Matter?"  How do you respond?  If you're like me, your response is, "All lives matter."  Now what if you were in a group of friends?  One of your friends asks the same question.  My response would be the same.  Would yours?  What if it were in a mixed group composed of some friends and some strangers?  What if it was a group of mostly strangers or all strangers?  What if the strangers were mostly black?  What if they were on the sidewalk holding signs that read Black Lives Matter and chanting "I can't breathe?"  Do you see where I'm going with this?  Am I making you a little uncomfortable?

For some people, how you respond to the question, "Do Black Lives Matter" will define how they think about you.  Some people will know by your response whether they like you or not.  Some people will know by your response whether they hate you or not.  And these days, if you're in the wrong place and among the wrong people, the videos suggest that some people will decide based on your response whether they want to beat you up or not, either verbally or in some cases physically.

I hate that circumstances now demand that I declare that I'm not a racist.  I'll further explain that I'm a 67 year old white guy, BUT I'm not a racist.  Now there was a time when I could have said I'm a 67 year old white guy AND I'm not a racist.  But these days there are some people who are trying to create the common assumption that somebody like me MUST be a racist simply by virtue of my age and my skin color.  I'd like to be able to say that I'm 67 years old, AND oh by the way, I'm not a racist, but these days I feel compelled to say, I'm 67 years old, BUT contrary to what we're all meant to presume, I'm not a racist.  I will assume that the difference in the language here is not too nuanced to understand.  I'm more than just a little bit sick of this!

Christian villagers of Ungheni, Bessarabia Governorate, displaying icons on their homes in order to defend themselves from a pogrom, 1905

For me, the response "All Lives Matter" is a no brainer.  Does that mean I think black lives DON'T matter?  Of course not.  But being "invited" or in reality being compelled, or shamed, or in some cases almost threatened to say Black Lives Matter, as if it were some sort of catechism, stirs more than just a little bit of rage inside of me.  It's as if my interrogator is trying to force me to accept his implied premise that in fact black lives matter MORE than any other lives.  They don't.  They ALL matter.  No amount of coercion will make me feel any differently, though I suppose an adequate amount of coercion might compel me to SAY I feel differently.  I'm hoping I won't ever have to take part in the experiment to answer that question. I suspect that what the mob really wants though, prefers actually, is to conduct that research independently, on each and every one of us. They're not looking for a true transformation, but a conversion by intimidation, a conversion by inquisition.

So I reject the incantation "Black Lives Matter" while recognizing that it has become a shibboleth for our time. Your chosen three word response to a question about the value of human life will determine if you are a good person or a bad one; if you are friend or foe. A member of the tribe or the enemy "other".  I'm happy to utter the words black lives matter in the absence of duress, but while you may think you're hearing Black Lives Matter, if I were to transcribe my utterance onto the written page, they would contain no capital letters.  And don't be surprised if I follow it up with, "but then actually, all lives matter." I see Black Lives Matter (with capital letters) as a conspiracy by some to intimidate a political opponent.  It may not have started out that way, (then again, maybe it did.  I have no way to know), and it certainly isn't that for all concerned.  Lots of people marching under the banner of Black Lives Matter are decent, sincere, and well meaning people.  But I'm certain there are some for whom the slogan is nothing more than a cudgel with which to intimidate their enemies.

There is a lengthy debate to be had about policing and the black community which should be conducted based on facts not feelings.  But today, with calls to defund the police, it is sadly not the time to introduce facts into the discussion.  I'm also concerned about who will be taking part in that discussion when it ultimately does take place.  Unfortunately, I suspect that the debate will be dominated by callow, pandering politicians and the intersectionality peddling purveyors of race grievance, more commonly known as race hustlers.  Neither of these groups will be reluctant to advance the country right up to the precipice of a race war if there was a buck to be made and power to be gained.  

Shibboleth.  That's a peculiar word, shibboleth.  The Wikipedia definition above explains adequately enough what about the phrase "Black Lives Matter" prompted me to write this article.  But I prefer the explanation offered the very first time I ever encountered the word in an episode of The West Wing about twenty years ago.  There was something so sophisticated and scholarly about Jed Bartlett quoting the Bible from memory.  Progressives were so much easier to get along with back then.  And occasionally, they could even teach you something.  Those were the good old days, huh? 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Government Is Not Done Screwing This Up

Members of Congress, especially on the Republican side, are making noises about instituting some sort of legislative fix to prevent a flood of lawsuits against business owners once virus restrictions are finally relaxed. They’re worried about ambulance chasing lawyers crippling already weakened enterprises with thousands of lawsuits by both customers and employees for failing to take proper measures to ensure the safety of all concerned in the aftermath of the pandemic. They want to both reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits and standardize the criteria across all the states.

 I sympathize with the motives here, but you know they’re going to screw this up. The goal will be to protect business owners from the most timid and fearful among us who will be driven by panic to second guess whether protective measures at any particular business are adequate to their standards. Of course, Congress won’t want to be accused of not taking the issue seriously enough, so they will take it upon themselves to set their own guidelines for what constitutes proper precautions. That’s where they’ll bollox this all up. They just won’t be able to help themselves.

Some committee of politicians will have to come to a consensus on what constitutes proper precautions. Every petty bureaucrat on the committee will have ideas of their own, and everyone’s ideas must be accommodated to reach consensus. What could possibly go wrong? I’m sure this is how we ended up with TSA guidelines and OSHA rules. Businesses will be forced to comply because either government will compel them to comply, or the newly devised “voluntary” guidelines will become the de facto standard based on what will be labelled “consensus”. Defy the “recommendations” and be prepared to defend yourself in court for decisions that don’t align in some way with the “sound principles” blessed by government bureaucrats in all their wisdom. Instead of a return to normalcy, Congress will end up enshrining some of the stupidest, most cumbersome regulations into a new standard of business practice with which we will be burdened forever. You know I’m right.

Monday, February 17, 2020

It's a Funny Old World: Bloomberg Edition

I’m one of those reluctant Trump supporters who are more or less pleased with his policies, but just wish he’d STFU once in a while. I’d like a better Republican choice, like Nikki Haley perhaps, but that’s not in the cards for this year. On balance then, I’d like to see four more years and a couple more Supreme Court picks for Donald Trump.

St, Michael of the Blessed Democratic Party
 None of the Democrats running for president, all 24 of them at one point, struck me as having anything particularly appealing to offer the voting public. Mostly a bunch of puffed-up Senators and second-rate posers/opportunists, but I repeat myself. Biden concerned me for a little while, but once he appeared on the campaign stage, it was painfully obvious that he was well past his sell-by date. The first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire suggest that the rest of the Democratic electorate see that too. Trump could have saved himself the four months of impeachment headaches from that Zelensky phone call. It turns out Biden was destined to blow himself up without any help from Hunter or the Ukrainians! Hah! Who knew?

But for the past several months I’ve been concerned … really concerned, that Mike Bloomberg just might have what it takes to beat Donald Trump. Bloomberg is a guy with some gravitas. He built a multibillion-dollar technology company from the ground up. He was, by most accounts, a successful mayor of America’s largest city where he regularly dealt with big issues of real significance. Oh … and the money. Don’t forget the money. He’s got billions and billions of dollars, and he’s apparently decided he’s willing to spend whatever it takes to defeat Donald Trump. Judging by what I read, Bloomberg’s advertising buys are apparently an order of magnitude greater than anything ever seen before in modern politics.

And I see the appeal of Mike Bloomberg. I kind of like some of the things he stands for. Despite being currently registered as a Libertarian, I’m not particularly offended by his support of the stop-and-frisk policy. It may have been politically incorrect, but Bloomberg, following in Rudy’s footsteps, recognized that the gun violence in New York City was largely a problem within one particular demographic. And that demographic didn’t just describe the perpetrators of the violence, but the victims as well. Bloomberg supported a controversial policy that may not have sat well with the ACLU, but it worked. I guess I’m one of those pragmatic Libertarians. Profiling does not send me looking for the smelling salts. And today I saw an old video of Bloomberg talking about how meaningful healthcare reform will require saying no to some people. Well, duh! What true Libertarian will disagree with that?

Oddly enough, you know what this card-carrying Libertarian objects to the most about Michael Bloomberg? His soda ban! While mayor of New York City, he instituted a limit on the size of your soda cup because he thought he should decide for you how large a soda to purchase. For your own good, of course! You were too stupid to make that decision for yourself. Mike Bloomberg, clothed in the robes of the All-Powerful Nanny State would make that decision on your behalf.

So I kind of like Policy Mike Bloomberg, but I hate Nanny-State Mike Bloomberg. How petty is that? Well, as it turns out, not really so petty after all. Mike Bloomberg is also a gun control freak and a climate alarmist. So, this Libertarian can comfortably oppose him on solid policy grounds without having to look like a petulant child throwing a tantrum because my Mountain Dew portion is too small.

So, back to my previous concern. What if this guy wins? It could happen. I kind of like him. Some Republicans and plenty of independents will like him. And the Donald is such a blowhard. He pisses off a lot of people. So many voters viscerally hate him. Plus, Donald inherited his fortune and squandered a lot of it. Bloomberg earned every penny of his. Bloomberg may not be the showman Trump is, but does anybody really doubt that Bloomberg is probably a lot smarter and way more capable than Donald Trump?

And the money. All that money! And despite Bloomberg’s nominally Republican past, he would be a disaster for conservatism in this country. And he could win. Did I mention that? Abortion-on-demand judges, trillions frittered away on the Green New Deal, and the Second Amendment facing the most significant threat in my lifetime. That’s what a Bloomberg presidency could mean.

Here’s where we stand today: It’s still a crowded Democratic field. There’s a progressive lane dominated by Bernie Sanders and a so-called moderate lane still cluttered with a slew of possibly viable contenders, none of whom can emerge because the others won’t get out of the way. And to the horror of the Democratic establishment, it’s starting to look like Bernie Sanders could win with an anemic plurality. Bernie emerges victorious, by some reckoning, because he is the cleanest dirty shirt. And swooping in to take advantage of this lack of clarity in the Democratic race is the seemingly invincible Mike Bloomberg. It’s a plausible scenario. I was starting to get worried. I was almost convinced.

But then, something happened. Something changed. I’m still not complacent, but I see a few green shoots of hope blossoming from the election results of the past few weeks. It turns out, this Libertarian isn’t the only one who is worried about Mike Bloomberg. It turns out there are a lot of Democrats who are worried about him too. I’m starting to see news stories and anti-Bloomberg ads paid for by other Democrats. Every other Democrat in the moderate lane opposes him because he’s their competition. They resent his Johnny-come-lately entry into the race while they’ve been slogging away for months. They resent his bottomless well of money that will be spent against them before any of it is spent on Trump. And they resent that he is climbing up in the polls based on advertising while never having had to face the scrutiny of the debate stage.

If the moderates resent him, the Bernie Bros absolutely despise him. He represents everything they hate in politics. Bloomberg is a billionaire former Republican who is buying the election, and who, no matter what he says now, has had impure thoughts in the past on some of the most sacred tenets of progressive orthodoxy. The moderates, if defeated, will fall in line behind Bloomberg. But Bernie would probably cut off his left testicle before he would endorse Mike Bloomberg for president.  Some of the Bernie Bros will swallow hard and vote for Bloomberg. Many will stay home or vote Green. Oddly enough, the Donald will likely convince some to vote Trump in 2020. Either way, the edifice that is Mike Bloomberg seems to be slightly less imposing now that his Democratic opponents have seen fit to focus more attention on him. And the irony is that if Bloomberg is defeated, it will not be at the hands of Donald Trump, but at the hands of his fellow Democrats. The same fellow Democrats for whom he represents, even if they don’t realize it, the only real possibility of beating Donald Trump. Trump should lay off of Mini-Mike for the time being. Let the Democrats beat up on Bloomberg for him. It’s time for the Donald to channel his inner Napoleon. Don’t interrupt your enemies while they are destroying themselves.

The irony of this situation is difficult to ignore. If Bloomberg wins the Democratic nomination, he alienates, perhaps permanently, a sizeable portion of the Democratic coalition. If he loses, he cedes the stage to a much more beatable alternative, no matter who that is. Republicans, who have the most to fear from Mike Bloomberg, needn’t lift a finger to oppose him, at least not yet. Democrats are rushing forward to take up the banner against him. After months of campaigning by a lackluster group of Democratic presidential candidates, one late arrival starts to emerge as someone who actually has the capacity to beat Donald Trump. A star has appeared in the eastern sky. A potential savior has been born unto the Democrats to wash away the sins of months of clumsy, ineffectual, and at times viciously adversarial campaigning, and the response of the rest of the Democrats is to try and smother the new arrival in his crib. Mike Bloomberg, the brightest hope the Democratic Party has for rescuing them from four more years of Donald Trump might just end up being defeated by the very people he is trying to rescue. It’s a funny old world.