Mitch McConnell Ruins My Fun

So the U.S. senate has voted against calling witnesses and examining evidence in its trial of Donald Trump. It was a bare majority vote, 51-49, as two Republicans, Susan Collins and bland-flavored-cream-of-wheat king Mitt Romney, joined the Democrats. This effectively brings the senate’s trial to a swift conclusion, of course. The senate is scheduled to vote on Trump’s removal from office on Wednesday, Feb. 5th, which will most likely be of a roughly similar result. Since the constitution calls for two-thirds of the senate to vote to convict in order to remove him, even if those figures are hypothetically reversed (and they won’t be), it’s still not enough to kick Trump out of the White House and replace him with every Democrat’s dream choice, Mike Pence.

Damn. I was so hoping for an all-out trial with the witnesses, the cross-examinations, and the evidence provided by both sides. My God, what a glorious shit-show circus it would have been. All the dirty laundry would very possibly have been aired right out in the nation’s collective front yard. Because if Democrats would have been able to call witnesses and cite evidence, they would have had to allow the Republicans to do the same. And the whole scenario is just the type of conflict-rich arena that Trump thrives in. It would have been a brawl. There was even talk of the Democrats and the GOP negotiating to call in Joe and Hunter Biden for testimony in exchange for disgruntled warmonger and ex-Trump employee John Bolton taking the stand.

Oh, what a glorious battle it would have been.

But, of course, it was never going to happen, as everyone with a fully functioning prefrontal cortex had been saying from the very beginning. (As for myself, I’m just a hopeless romantic.) There was no way Mitch McConnell was going to allow such a circus to take place in the senate during a presidential election year.

And so, my friends, the entire two-party establishment has been saved from yet another spectacle of embarrassment.

Damn it.

The Rise of Skywalker, the Implosion of the Star Wars Universe

I took the fam out to see the new Star Wars flick, The Rise of Skywalker, on New Year’s Eve. I’d been intending to sit down since and write up my own thoughts on this final cinematic chapter of the Skywalker saga, but just never seemed to have the time or motivation. It would basically have been a long rant on what a jumbled, incoherent, pointless mess of a movie it is. And who really wants to spend time writing or reading about that?

I had given this new trilogy the benefit of the doubt for the first two installments, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, for all of their flaws. But Skywalker wraps it all up with just a bunch of laughable MacGuffins that lead to other MacGuffins, unresolved relationships, and nostalgia-cheese that shamelessly exploits, for cheap feelies, the original characters and ideas of the franchise’s creator, whom Disney ironically shut out of their process. Skywalker even inexplicably resurrects the villain that George Lucas definitively killed off in Return of the Jedi.

This video from The Critical Drinker sums up the Skywalker train wreck much better than anyone else could, in his inimitably wry and uniquely entertaining fashion.

(Nod to author John C. Wright.)

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Rian Johnson Gets His ‘Knives Out’

Spoilers galore are ahead from the recently released ‘Knives Out.’

I recently took the family out to the movies to see Knives Out, the new film directed by Rian Johnson that’s being marketed to audiences as a “whodunnit” mystery-suspense caper. The trailers definitely give you the impression that the story is in the style of Agatha Christie or Clue, sort of cutting it down the middle between the two stylistically in that the comedy is much less broad than it is in Clue.

Come to find out, a whodunnit is not exactly what it is. It starts out that way, to be sure, but even before the story is half way through, the audience is supplied with a major piece of the puzzle, and at that point it becomes much more of a Hitchcockian suspense thriller than a mystery–though there’s still some mystery remaining to be solved, to be sure, as anti-climactic as it is.

Johnson’s first two indy features, the high school noir Brick and the time-travel potboiler Looper, while not flawless, are highly enjoyable and entertaining films worth watching. Disney took notice and tapped him to direct Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A lot of critics have referred to Johnson “subverting expectations” with Knives Out, and putting a new twist on a genre that’s been a bit of a chestnut over the years should be welcomed. And if there’s anyone who should succeed in doing that, it should be the director of Brick and Looper.

However, and call me old fashioned if you like, I’m of the opinion that the plot should make some sense. It should at least be somewhat believable in order for what the director intends to be the “twist”–the intended subversion of the expected, if you will–to be truly satisfying for an audience, rather than, say, an act of cinematic masturbation for the director’s own personal pleasure. The latter is much more the case with Knives Out than the former. And the reason is simply politics.

That’s right: Politics.

Politics is the reason that Knives Out‘s plot stretches credulity to the point where you feel as though Rian Johnson is literally urinating all over your brain. I had a similar sensation when I saw Carrie Fischer flying through space in Last Jedi. Only with Knives Out, it felt as though the urine stream hit my brain even harder, and it never stopped for the entire two hours.

This is where the spoilers come in, so if you’re thinking that you still might want to head over to your nearest cineplex and make up your own mind, now would be the time for you to check out of my little critique. I don’t think I’d be spoiling much for you, however, if you stuck around. Most of what I’m about to divulge you’d probably see coming from a mile away anyways.

Knives Out

But if you leave now determined to go pay full ticket price at your local cineplex, you should know that it’s the film’s star-studded cast that makes it as enjoyable as it is. In my opinion, it’s definitely a streaming-on-a-rainy-Sunday-afternoon kind of flick. Your life wouldn’t exactly suffer for the lack of enrichment in the meantime.

The catalyzing incident of our story is the sudden death of the very successful, very rich, and very old best-selling mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey, played by Christopher Plummer. It appears to be a suicide, and by a very grisly method at that. The morning after a lavish party at his house celebrating his 85th birthday, he’s found in an out-of-the-way room in his massive, labyrinthine gothic mansion, with his throat cut, the bloodied dagger he allegedly used on himself lying nearby.

The local police detectives have made up their minds that it’s an open-and-shut suicide, end of story. But a mysterious private investigator, Benoit Blanc–played by Daniel Craig with a southern drawl that’s not quite as jarring as you’d think it would be–shows up to question the suspects. He eventually reveals that someone has anonymously hired him to look into the case, having left him an envelope stuffed with a thick wad of cash. Thus, it seems, someone suspects foul play.

The suspects consist of Harlan Thrombey’s thoroughly cruddy family: his widowed daughter-in-law (Toni Collette), who Harlan has discovered pilfering money from him under the guise of paying for his granddaughter’s college tuition; his son-in-law (Don Johnson), whose extramarital affair is found out by Harlan, and which Harlan threatens to expose to his daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis); Harlan’s son, Walt (Michael Shannon), who, much to Walt’s dismay, Harlan cuts out of his independent publishing house due to Walt’s incessant badgering that Harlan allow film and TV adaptations of Harlan’s work; and Harlan’s wayward grandson, Ransom (yes, he’s actually named Ransom, played by Chris Evans), who storms out of Harlan’s study in a huff during the party, following a loud and heated verbal altercation.

So–whodunnit? If it really was a homicide, that is, rather than the suicide it appears to be.

As I’ve mentioned above, Johnson tips off the audience fairly early as to what actually happened to Thrombey–or at least most of it: by way of a flashback, we are informed that his nurse, Marta (a dull, thankless role expertly brought to life by Ana de Armas), accidentally overdosed Harlan with morphine when she mistook a vial of the stuff for the regular medication that she usually follows up with a low-dose morphine chaser. She realizes her deadly error when she examines the labels on the vials after administering both medications. And the antidote for the morphine is missing from her nurse’s kit.

And what’s Harlan’s initial reaction? Is it, “What the f**k did you just do to me?” Why no. The film has established that Harlan and Marta have a close, grandfatherly/granddaughterly kind of relationship, so naturally, even Marta’s fatal error doesn’t stir up any anger towards her. Once he realizes that he’ll be dead from the OD by the time paramedics reach his secluded big house out in the country, Harlan decides to spend his last several minutes on this Earth–as his life is supposedly ebbing from his body with each passing moment–concocting an alibi for Marta so that nobody discovers that she accidentally caused his death. Because if anyone discovers that Marta was responsible for Harlan Thrombey’s death, her mother, an undocumented immigrant, would most certainly end up deported, as would Marta and the rest of her family, most likely.

Once Harlan concocts a scheme for Marta to secretly flee the scene of the crime undetected and he sends her on her way with his careful instructions, the old man then proceeds to slice his own throat with the dagger.

“Subverting expectations?” Sure. The immigration politics of the film, integrated into the script in such a clumsy and hamfisted fashion, completely subvert the audience’s expectation of a plot that fits into some sort of logic recognized by other human beings who are not so politically obsessed as Rian Johnson.

But wait, it gets better.

It turns out that Marta didn’t actually kill Harlan after all! Not even on accident. The real culprit, the grandson–the improbably named Ransom (Evans)–in an effort to kill his grandfather and frame Marta for it, swapped the vials of morphine and the other medication with the hope that Marta would end up overdosing Harlan with the morphine. Harlan, you see, has stipulated in his will that his entire estate be left to Marta, leaving nothing at all for his cruddy family. But Marta is such an expert nurse that she reflexively gave Harlan the correct medication after all, and the usual low, safe dosage of morphine, just based on the look of the medicine that was stored in each vial.

I wonder if the following scene will be included in the extended director’s cut:

HARLAN (after having just explained his plan to Marta that will help her sneak out of the house and evade detection, looking a little puzzled): By the way, are you sure you just accidentally gave me a 100mg overdose of morphine?

MARTA (teary and upset): I just happened to look at the labels after I injected you…so yes, I’m quite sure. Again, I’m so sorry!

HARLAN: And you said I have only 8-10 minutes to live?

MARTA: That’s right.

HARLAN: You told me that about, what, 3 or 4 minutes ago, would you say?

MARTA: Yes, I think that’s about right.

HARLAN: So I only have about, what, 5-6 minutes left to live…?

MARTA: Yes! Oh, I’m so sorry!

HARLAN: You know, it’s funny, but…I don’t feel anything yet. No dopiness or wooziness. Nothing at all. Shouldn’t I be feeling some symptoms of the overdose by now…?

(But Marta, overcome with emotion and desperation, has already fled. Harlan shrugs his shoulders, picks up a dagger, lies down on the divan, and slices his own throat.)

The actual murder that occurs in our story, as it turns out, is that of Fran, Harlan’s housekeeper (Edi Patterson). Fran knew of Ransom’s deception with the medication–or rather, attempted deception–and she was trying to give Marta a toxicology report from the medical examiner that showed there was no morphine overdose after all. By this point in the film, Ransom has been befriending Marta and misleading her into thinking that he’s an ally ever since the reading of Harlan’s will. Ransom, it turned out, killed Fran by overdosing her with morphine (or some other such drug).

And it’s Marta who coaxes a confession from Ransom by telling him, following a phone call she takes in Ransom’s presence, from a doctor where Fran is hospitalized, that Fran has actually survived. As soon as Ransom admits to having attacked Fran, Marta lets rip a stream of vomit. I forgot to mention–it’s established early in the film that Marta literally cannot tell a lie without becoming physically ill to the point of throwing up. The lie in this instance was that the phone call she took from the hospital was to inform her that Fran had actually died rather than survived.

It turns out that it was Ransom who secretly hired Blanc to look into the case, apparently with the hope that Blanc would conclude that Marta was responsible for Harlan’s death. There’s no indication that any of the other characters in the film ever suspect Marta, much less Blanc. And it’s clear throughout that the audience isn’t ever expected to, either.

If a director wants to present a political angle in his film, there’s nothing wrong with that. But at least strive for some artistic finesse, please. A second generation daughter of illegal immigrants who cannot tell a lie without becoming violently ill does not make for very believable storytelling, not because we’re supposed to assume that such a person must be dishonest, but because the character approaches a saintliness that matches no real live human being.

And Marta is a dull and boring character. The camera loves Ana de Armas, and her eyes convey multitudes. She is interesting to watch, with absolutely no thanks from Rian Johnson’s lifeless writing, and she rescues her role from terminal lameness.

There are some clever nods to the current political zeitgeist throughout the film. Walt’s teenaged son, who gives the impression of being constantly on Twitter harassing liberals and minorities from his smartphone, is referred to by another character as an “alt-right troll.” “What are you doing on Twitter today, swatting Syrian refugees?” Toni Colette asks him in one scene. And a scene during Harlan’s birthday party in which members of the family square off against each other over Trump and immigration is probably the most believable scene in the entire film.

But the sledgehammer dialogue at the end–good grief. Ransom’s “how-dare-you?” speech in which he rails at Marta for invading his family’s “ancestral home”–did Johnson lift that right off of an alt-right web site?

Don’t piss on my brain and tell me I’m being enlightened.

Brendan O’Neill Doesn’t Want You to Talk About Conspiracy Theories

I have a new piece up at Medium.com offering my own theoretically conspiratorial take on the recent death of multi-millionaire financial guru and alleged teen sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. I speculate in the piece as to what people should really be focusing on in regards to Epstein’s mysterious life, never mind his death.

While poking around the internets during the writing, I came across this piece on the Epstein conspiracy theory mill by the British political commentator Brendan O’Neill of Spiked-Online. In it, O’Neill derides the open discussion of conspiracy theories.

I’ve always liked O’Neill. He is, as I like to say with my tongue in my cheek, one of my favorite commies. He’s one of the small handful of pundits who can actually scribble genuinely critical and logically coherent opinion pieces in this age of emotion-driven, brain-clouded hyperbole. And he’s always been a fearless advocate of completely free and unfettered speech. But I’ll have to respectfully take some issue with him on this one.

He starts off deriding the popular meme circulating through the right-wing web that the Clintons had Epstein murdered. Fair enough. It is indeed a theory entirely lacking in evidence. I make no such claim in my own piece. For what it’s worth, I think Occam’s Razor dictates that the creep did indeed hang himself. He wasn’t murdered by the Clintons or anyone else.

But O’Neill then goes on a rant against the discussion of conspiracy theories in general. My criticism is that he treats all of them equally.

Yes, many, if not most, of the conspiracy theories out there are batshit-crazy. Where did the whole “Clinton body count” meme even come from? So far as I can tell, it originated with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Clinton Chronicles videos that he peddled on late night TV in the early to mid-1990s. Falwell tosses around all sorts of dark rumors about the Clintons, including accusations that they had various enemies murdered in Arkansas during Bill’s 12-year reign as that state’s governor.

So far as I’ve ever been able to tell, the foundation of Falwell’s rumor mill was laid by the infamous case of the double-murder of the two teenaged “boys on the tracks” in Arkansas during the 1980s. Journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard documents a solid circumstantial case in his book The Secret Life of Bill Clinton (terrible title, fascinating read) that the county prosecutor at the time, Dan Harmon, was involved in the boys’ murder and subsequent cover-up. The two murdered boys, Kevin Ives and Don Henry, may have stumbled upon a nighttime drug deal that involved Arkansas state or local law enforcement officers. This occurred during the same time that the infamous CIA operative Barry Seal was trafficking cocaine into the Mena, Arkansas airport as part of the “Iran-Contra” operation. Harmon was eventually arrested for dealing drugs some years later.

Though there’s no evidence to implicate the Clintons in the boys’ murder, Harmon was definitely a connected political player at the time who was jacked into the Clintons’ Arkansas machine. Thus, I suspect, the “Clinton body count” meme was born.

Anyway, everybody knows that the only person the Clintons actually had murdered was Vince Foster.

But I digress. What was I talking about? Oh, right. Conspiracy theories, and how Brendan O’Neill thinks discussing them is bad. They’re bad, says O’Neill, because the people who buy into them deprive themselves and others of agency. They become convinced that everyone is secretly manipulated by dark, sinister forces. They’re anti-democratic because they ultimately pacify people. Why bother organizing for any kind of change if the dark conspiratorial forces always prevail?

Pish. Posh.

Such people as O’Neill singles out for eating up the most absurd nonsense are the most easily duped who will believe almost any hysterical nonsense that Alex Jones shouts into his camera. (Ironically, such people now include, as O’Neill points out, members of the establishment liberal “intelligentsia”, who continue to insist that Vladimir Putin used voodoo social media ads to elect Donald Trump president.)

That doesn’t mean that mature adults can’t entertain the possibility that there really are people–in government, high finance, or otherwise endowed with enormous political privilege–who really do get up to some genuinely shady shit from time to time. Do they “control the world”? Nobody controls the world. But do these aforementioned privileged fucks occasionally get away with fucking over people less politically endowed than themselves? Absolutely.

The killer, though, is that the most sinister conspiracies are carried out right before our eyes: The false pretext for the Iraq War; the false pretext for intervening in Libya; hell, the false pretext for the first Iraq War; the Big Bank bailouts of 2008–the biggest heist carried out in U.S. history–and in broad fucking daylight right on our television sets–are just a few examples of the plots that have been carried out right in front of us in recent years. Most of us are just too duped by the daily propaganda of the usual news outlets to recognize them for what they really are.

And never mind about Jeffrey Epstein’s death–how the hell did he get that secret non-prosecution deal with the feds back in 2008? It’s not unreasonable to speculate that if he had lacked all of his high-flying social and political connections, they would have been more than happy to throw the book at him and make him into the poster boy of the evil denizens from whom they protect us and our daughters on a daily basis–oh what we would do without the ever-vigilant federal agents of law enforcement?!

So, sorry, Brendan, but the rest of us do intend to continue speculating, and to openly discuss our speculation, about what socially and politically powerful people do when nobody’s watching them, or caring enough to hold them accountable. It is sheer speculation, of course. But the difference between speculation about conspiracy theories and the kind of speculation that political commentators such as yourself frequently indulge in is only a difference of degree, not of character.

And it is, in fact, quite democratic in its own way. It’s the way we ordinary folk remind ourselves and one another that as the ruled, we need to watch out for what the rulers are up to. That they may only be interested in serving the public good rather than their own personal gain sounds a little too much like a, well,–wild conspiracy theory.

Scott Horton and Mark Perry: The Times We Almost Went to War with Iran

Scott Horton recently posted an interesting interview with Mark Perry discussing Perry’s recent article at The American Conservative, “1984: The Year America Didn’t Go to War”, and the near-wars with Iran that were narrowly averted. The U.S. and Iran have been tangling for at least 40 years, or rather, 60-plus years if you go all the way back to the CIA-engineered coup against Iranian President Mohammed Mossadegh to have him replaced by the restored Shah, as Horton reminds us. The interview should be listened to and the article should be read.

Perry’s article specifically focuses on the internal debate within the Reagan administration as to how to respond to the bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in October of 1983, which killed 241 Marines. They were deployed as part of a multi-national peacekeeping mission in the midst of Lebanon’s long and bloody civil war. The U.S. concluded that Hezbollah (“the Party of God”)–which was then, as now, an Iranian proxy force–was behind the attack. Then Secretary of State George Schultz demanded retaliation but Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger–who was a veteran of the horrific Battle of Buna during World War II–opposed any U.S. military escalation in the region. Weinberger even went so far as to ignore a direct order from Reagan to launch military strikes on what were believed to be Iranian-connected assets, though he later claimed that he never received any such order. Weinberger, apparently, had been completely opposed to the Marine deployment to Lebanon in the first place, as was his senior military advisor at that time, Colin Powell, a veteran of Vietnam. Weinberger eventually got his way after months of apparently deliberate bureaucratic foot-dragging, with the Marines ultimately restricted to U.S. ships in the Mediterranean.

It’s a surprising and enlightening story that I wasn’t aware of. As Horton and Perry point out, the military leadership in the Pentagon is often far more cautious than the civilian leadership in the State Department when it comes to getting the U.S. into new wars. That has frequently been the case throughout this country’s history.

And that was apparently the case recently when it came time for Trump to decide whether or not to pull the trigger on Iran. The conventional wisdom has it that Trump caught a broadcast by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson denigrating the idea of attacking that country and possibly instigating a whole new war, which supposedly dissuaded Trump from launching any strikes. But Perry reports that it’s far more likely that it was Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff–and who was a commanding officer in the 2003 invasion of Iraq–who convinced Trump not to do it.

In a meeting Gen. Dunford and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had with Trump when he was mulling over possible strikes on Iran, Dunford did what is called “flooding the zone”–“providing volumes of facts and figures that are as likely to delay as inform.” Dunford apparently does that whenever a policy option that he disagrees with has been put on the table, reminiscent of Weinberger’s delay tactics to resist launching attacks in retaliation for the 1983 Marines barracks bombing. And the facts and figures Dunford cited at Trump and Pompeo were apparently not very pretty. Just as Reagan had eventually pulled back the Marines from Beirut, Trump ultimately called off the attack on Iran.

Perry quotes Weinberger as having said, “It is easy to kill people, and that might make some people feel good, but military force must have a purpose, to achieve some end…We never had the fidelity on who perpetrated that horrendous act.”

In one interview some years ago, Perry argued to Weinberger that Reagan’s increasing military budgets would make it far more likely that the U.S. would find itself in the midst of a foreign conflict once again. “You don’t get it,” answered Weinberger. “We’re not buying more guns because we intend to use them, we’re buying more guns so we don’t have to.”

Weinberger should be commended for resisting the pressure to drag America into what would surely have been yet another quagmire of a war, this time in the Middle East, barely a decade after the last Marines and U.S. embassy staff were evacuated from Saigon. His overall attitude toward U.S. military intervention abroad appeared to be that it should be kept to a minimum. If only his successors shared that view, then this country would have been spared a lot of conflict, bloodshed, and expense over the past few decades.

But if Weinberger honestly thought that subsequent U.S. presidents would use the massively built-up military forces that Reagan had bequeathed to them on only very limited small-scale operations, and only when the U.S. was eminently and directly threatened, he was very much in error, as history taught him by the time he passed away in 2006. Reagan’s successors would, in fact, use America’s military might quite liberally and recklessly. Two of them were of Weinberger’s and Reagan’s own party: the George Bushes, Sr. and Jr. George, Sr. would march into Panama based on highly questionable premises within his first year in office, and he would then proceed to contract out the U.S. armed forces on behalf of the sheikhs and emirs of Kuwait and wage war on Iraq.

Bush, Jr., of course, would use the 9/11/01 attacks as not only a pretext to invade and occupy Afghanistan, which continues to drag on eighteen years later, but to continue his father’s war on Iraq as well, overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime, which was followed by a long and bloody occupation. And since then, there have been the interventions in Libya, Syria, and now Yemen, in aid of Saudi Arabia’s chosen side in that poor and beleaguered country’s civil war.

“What’s the the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once famously asked Gen. Colin Powell during the 1990s, as the Clinton administration pondered intervening in the Balkans.

Farewell, Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo, author and co-founder and longtime editor-in-chief of Antiwar.com, recently lost his battle with cancer at the age of 67.

Raimondo was not exactly a household name. He made an occasional appearance on television and radio, but most people have no idea who he was. And yet he and Antiwar.com have had a profound impact on the popular perception of the many U.S. wars that have been initiated since 9/11/01. His frequent critiques of the American war machine were devoured by a relatively small but dedicated niche audience, whose political views ranged across the entire spectrum from left to right, and who all shared his contempt and disdain for systematic mass murder by the state, and all the deception and convoluted moral gymnastics that go with it.

Those dedicated readers learned much from Raimondo over the years about that small but powerful clique of court intellectuals known as the “neoconservatives,” who acted as the bodyguards of lies to justify the criminal U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the endless U.S. war in Afghanistan, the destruction of Libya and much of Syria, and many other areas of the U.S. government’s lawless foreign policy. Many of those readers then distributed what they learned from Justin far and wide, which undoubtedly helped shape the skepticism of U.S. war and empire that is broadly shared by so many ordinary Americans at the present moment.

I only exchanged the occasional tweet with Raimondo; I never got to meet him, unfortunately. But I always detected a delightfully cantankerous and crotchety personality throughout his voluminous writing. As you read his razor-sharp broadsides at Antiwar.com, you couldn’t help but imagine that he was sitting right there next to you, chain smoking as he explained everything.

Looking at Antiwar.com’s obituary, to say that he was a complicated man containing multitudes would be an understatement.

Born into a Catholic family in Yorktown Heights, NY, he led a childhood so rebellious that he nearly got incarcerated in a mental institution by a prominent psychiatrist who later turned out to be a Soviet spy.

He decided that he was an Objectivist and libertarian at the age of fourteen; he even deigned to pen an article on Objectivism at that tender age, which was published by a New York newspaper. He was thanked for his efforts with a cease-and-desist letter from Ayn Rand’s attorney, which eventually led to him meeting Rand herself. Struck by his youth, she ended up encouraging his passion for writing and urged him to never compromise his vision.

He was a gay libertarian who was a fierce advocate of gay liberation in his youth but then developed some conservative sympathies as he got older, a man who alternatively participated in the presidential campaigns of Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan. To his many critics, those elements didn’t seem to go together. But those seemingly incongruous pieces do in fact fit when you grasp the strategically evolving nature of how he developed his views. Dismantling the U.S. war machine and achieving liberty were always the foremost goals of his writing, which he largely learned how to do from his early mentor, the late Austrian school libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, who was also a persistent and intransigent opponent of American militarism.

Like Rothbard, Raimondo came to realize that in order to mount an effective challenge to U.S. militarism in the court of public opinion, you’re going to have to make an appeal to the ordinary working class Americans who have been sending their kids into the U.S. armed forces, only to see them return in flag-draped coffins or physically and/or psychologically crippled. In Raimondo’s view, too much of the antiwar movement, historically dominated by the political left since the Vietnam War, had become distracted with lifestyle and group identity politics to the detriment of their antiwar activism. And though politically divergent on many other issues, Nader and Buchanan were both aggressively critical of Uncle Sam’s globally interventionist foreign policy, Buchanan particularly so following the collapse of the USSR and Bush Sr.’s war to save the financial behinds of the emirs and sheiks of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.

Raimondo’s reasoning also escaped the comprehension of his critics when it came to his treatment of Donald Trump. Though at first extremely hostile to Trump’s candidacy early in the 2016 election cycle, Raimondo recognized a new opportunity to strike a blow against the U.S. foreign policy establishment after Trump denounced the pretext for the Iraq war as a pack of lies at the GOP South Carolina primary debate in February 2016. He began writing more and more in defense of Trump’s campaign and then his administration, especially when it came to any apparent resistance by Trump to the mandarins of the U.S State Department and the Pentagon.

But it’s not my job or place to offer any apologetics on Raimondo’s behalf, nor do I have any desire to. I didn’t always agree with his observations and interpretations of certain events. In any case, the man wrote quite clearly and articulately on behalf of his own views. My point is only that there was one very important reason for Raimondo’s sympathies with the Trump phenomenon: He saw it as, potentially, a means to an end, that end being a rollback of the U.S. government’s sprawling, globe-spanning machinery of endless war. How correct Raimondo was about that is, in my own humble opinion, debatable. But the fact remains that Trump, though he did ratchet up Barack Obama’s intervention in Yemen, has not exactly turned out to be quite the warmonger that so many of his critics claimed he would be. Despite preceding press coverage to the contrary, it does not look as though there will be any U.S. war on Venezuela anytime soon, and when the hour arrived to strike Iran, Trump called it off at the last minute.

One could easily imagine Raimondo writing similarly in support of Democratic U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard right now due to her own opposition to the U.S. government’s idiotic and pointless regime-change wars.

That’s because ending U.S. foreign wars was always his number one political priority, and he happily took what he could get wherever he could find it, on whatever point of the political spectrum it could be found.

Justin Raimondo spent virtually his entire life fighting for one of the worthiest causes that any American could ever dedicate himself to: the rollback of, with an eye to someday entirely dismantling, Uncle Sam’s massive war machine.

And for that, there is no doubt that St. Peter embraced him upon his arrival at the pearly gates with the following words: “You did good, son. You did real good. Welcome, and enjoy your rest.”

ADDENDUM:

Aside from Anitwar.com’s wonderful obituary (and do read the whole piece to the very end), here are some other tributes to Justin Raimondo from people who knew and worked with him:

“How Justin Raimondo Made Me A Braver Writer” by Kelley Beaucar Vlahos at the American Conservative.

“In Memoriam: Justin Raimondo, 1951-2019” by Edward Welsch at Chronicles, to which Raimondo was a regular contributor for many years.

Scott Horton discusses Justin Raimondo’s legacy with Pete Raymond.

Horton also discusses Raimondo’s legacy with Tom Woods here and the future of Antiwar.com here.

A Disappointing ‘Vice’

I finally got around to watching writer-director Adam McKay’s Vice on Amazon Prime. I’d been eagerly anticipating a viewing ever since the first trailer came out but just never had the chance to catch it at the theater. I was overjoyed when my wife and I had a couple of hours to spare for a movie at home and she suggested watching it. And so we watched it.

And what a massive disappointment.

Vice is a rambling, chaotic mess. It can’t seem to decide what kind of story it wants to tell about Dick Cheney. There isn’t anything revealed about him that is particularly surprising or insightful, other than perhaps his wayward youth. (Something he has in common with George W. Bush.) Cheney was apparently something of a ne’er-do-well who lived under constant threat of abandonment by his wife, Lynne. It all changed, at least according to the film, when he went to work as an intern in Washington, D.C., and he happened to hear a welcome speech by a U.S. congressman from Illinois named Donald Rumsfeld. That was when Cheney decided that he was a Republican and wanted to spend the rest of his life in politics.

Some of the episodes of Cheney’s life that the film chooses to delve into seem a bit odd to me. Yes, it goes into the 9/11 attacks and his immediate push to at least partially blame it on Iraq, but it barely touches at all on his time as secretary of Defense under Bush Sr. Cheney was instrumental in pushing the U.S. into war against Iraq the first time as well, and under just as patently false pretenses as those that were offered for the second Iraq war. One of the most egregious humdingers was the claim that classified U.S. intelligence surveillance photos revealed that hundreds of thousands of Saddam’s forces were amassed along the Saudi border. That’s what convinced the Saudis to allow their country to serve as a base for the U.S. and its allies, from which they would launch their “Operation: Desert Storm.” (Osama bin Laden later cited the continued U.S. military presence on Saudi soil after the war’s end as one of his main beefs against America.) No such surveillance imagery has been confirmed to this day. It was simply a lie.

It goes completely unmentioned in McKay’s film, however. Instead, he spends time on Cheney’s efforts, in collaboration with anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, to roll back the estate tax. I don’t know, if I were making a movie about Dick Cheney, I would find Cheney’s manipulating the country into a war far more dramatically compelling than a subplot about tax policy, but maybe that’s just me.

McKay deserves some credit for at least making some attempt to humanize his subject, such as Cheney and his family grappling with his daughter Mary coming out as a lesbian at a time when social acceptance of homosexuals was not nearly as common as it is today, not to mention the political implications for Cheney in light of his conservative constituency. The film depicts him as being rather forward-thinking and unconditionally accepting of Mary as she is, and McKay understandably sees this as one of his subject’s redeeming qualities. But it seems almost tacked onto the film as an afterthought, as though somebody forced McKay to mention at least one thing about Dick Cheney that he found positive.

As far as Christian Bale’s performance is concerned, it looks like he got an Oscar nomination for doing an excellent Dick Cheney impression. 

Any good biographical film should seek to understand its subject, to try to find out what makes him tick, how he sees the world and his place in it. I can’t say that I gleaned anything of the sort from Vice.

“We will now stop shooting the teachers”

From the Indiana State Teachers Association on Twitter:

“During active shooter drill, four teachers at a time were taken into a room, told to crouch down and were shot execution style with some sort of projectiles – resulting in injuries to the extent that welts appeared, and blood was drawn.”

This occurred at an elementary school in Monticello, Indiana this past January. CNN just posted a story on the whole sordid episode yesterday.

“The teachers were terrified, but were told not to tell anyone what happened. Teachers waiting outside that heard the screaming were brought into the room four at a time and the shooting process was repeated.”

Good God.

This was apparently the first time the local county sheriff’s department included this morbid feature of what is called “ALICE” training (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate), the mandated protocol for what school teachers and staff are to do in a school shooting situation. Fortunately, it will likely be the last, as the Indiana state law that requires the training is being amended so that it’s no longer permissible to terrorize and actually injure people while they are being trained on what to do in the event that they are terrorized and injured by somebody.

Said State Rep. Wendy McNamara, the state bill’s author: “I would never have thought in a million years that anybody would have thought that it made sense to use in an active shooter drill where teachers are unaware that they’re going to be shot with a pellet gun…[t]hat would have never crossed my mind as something we’d need to legislate.”

I can certainly believe it. It is so quintessentially American for this day and age that it should surprise no one. It’s another microcosm of how the culture has become so utterly deranged and psychotic.

I’m sure the decision-making process went down something like this:

SCHOOL DISTRICT ADMINISTRATORS: “You know, it would be nice if we could give these drills a bit more of a flavor of realism…”

COUNTY SHERIFF: “Well we could march the teachers into a room a group at a time and shoot them in the head execution-style.”

SCHOOL DISTRICT ADMINISTRATORS: “What??? That’s crazy!”

COUNTY SHERIFF: “Ha, ha, ha…not for real, of course! Just with some rubber pellets using an airsoft gun.”

SCHOOL DISTRICT ADMINISTRATORS: “Oh, okay. What a relief! For a minute there I thought you were suggesting–“

COUNTY SHERIFF: “The pellets may draw a little blood and cause a few bumps to the old noggin–since we’ll be shooting them at point blank range–but it will give that kind of ‘oh-my-god-this-is-really-happening-right-now’ kind of feel that you’re looking for. And as long as we don’t warn them beforehand, they’ll be almost as mentally traumatized as if they were in a real honest-to-God school shooting.”

SCHOOL DISTRICT ADMINISTRATORS: “What a great idea! [snickering] I wish I could be there to see the looks on their faces! Oh my goodness…they’ll practically wet themselves! Ha, ha, ha, ha!”

Psychosis is what we Americans do these days. It’s who we are. If we didn’t respond to problems by completely flying off the handle and adopting batshit insane policies, we wouldn’t even be America.

We’d be some other country with at least an ounce of rationality.


State of War

All my bitching about the U.S. government’s completely batshit insane foreign policy over the years has taught me that not many people feel this issue is as urgent as I do. Well OK then. But I’ll still bitch about it, because of all the things that provokes massive outrage, the U.S. government’s slaughtering of people in far-off countries—people and countries most Americans know absolutely nothing about, aside from whatever bullshit or cherry-picked factoids the media feeds them—seems to be what perturbs people in this country the least. I can’t think of a single U.S. war since 1945 that accomplished anything approximating the actual protection of Americans, which means that the U.S. has senselessly slaughtered, or created or contributed to conditions that caused the deaths of, millions of people around the world for absolutely no reason. And the U.S. has squandered, and continues to squander, vast resources that could be far better used at home. Shoring up the unfunded Social Security and Medicare commitments, for which many have already been taxed for the past several decades of their lives, is one example that comes to mind.

But better than my bitching is the 13-minute video above, featuring a handful of members of Congress of both parties who try, usually in vain, to place some constraints on the American war machine. Even trying to pass legislation enforcing the War Powers Act is like pissing in the wind and having your own urine splash back in your face. The congressional leadership of both parties always resort to the most vile, disgusting, Machiavellian tactics to block any kind of War Powers bills or amendments. They LOVE the war machine.

But maybe you don’t give a shit and don’t want to watch it. Fine.

I’ll still be here, bitching as usual.

(Thank you, Antiwar.com.)