Whither Combat! blog in 2018?

Combat! blog (artist’s conception)

Loyal readers—i.e. Attempt—may have noticed that there has been very little Combat! blog for the last few weeks. I started this blog in 2008, shortly before I became a full-time freelance writer. It began as a practice; I didn’t always have enough work to fill eight hours, and when I did it was often tedious or uncreative. The blog let me start each day with a couple hours of writing that was interesting to me. Ten years later, my practice has changed. I get to do a lot more interesting work that is just as satisfying to me as writing this blog, and the tedious stuff is so remunerative that I would be irresponsible to turn it down so I could blog for free. The original purpose of Combat! was to make me exercise my craft every day. Now my career does that for me.

For example, I’m in the Outline today, writing about the moment when 2017 convinced me that we’re really doing this. Until Sean Spicer took the stage at the Emmys, he was known primarily as the White House press secretary who told outlandish lies, poorly, until he got fired. He took a job amplifying a mendacious president but couldn’t pull it off, stammering and losing his temper during press conferences until they finally replaced him with Mike Huckabee’s daughter. Spicer was bad both ethically and professionally, an incompetent who tried to sell his soul but couldn’t get the market price. When Colbert brought him onstage, though, Hollywood received him as a fun reference. He was a get; the joke was that they convinced him to come on. In this moment, the chief satirist of our age became a quisling. The former truth-teller acted like lying was just this fun thing we do at our jobs, and the audience went along with him.

That’s a corrupt politics exploiting a decadent society, right there. Three months later, Republicans in Congress passed a package of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, and Spicer’s old boss signed it. The reasoning behind this decision is baffling. How could you look at a record Dow, inequality between investors and working people at levels not seen since the Gilded Age, and wages that have stagnated for four decades and decide that we need to make things easier for corporations and the rich? They are the only entities winning an increasingly broken economy. It’s tempting to say that’s why the GOP made cutting their taxes its number-one priority; the Republican Party serves the rich not in spite of their success but because of it. They’re bought off. But I think the answer is more nuanced. Of Montana’s three representatives in Congress, two are multimillionaires. Greg Gianforte, the richest man in the US House, hasn’t worked for a company he didn’t own since 1986. Steve Daines quit his job in 2012, two years before he reported a net worth between $9 million and $32 million. In their daily lives, how often do these men meet Americans who get paid by the hour, or even by the year? They are members of the investor class who live among members of the investor class. When they think about what Americans are like, how they suffer and what they need, they do not think of Americans with jobs. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

I’ve been working, is what I’m saying here. The last three weeks of silence on Combat! blog haven’t been because I lost the will to write; on the contrary, I’ve brought in an extra year of writing income since Labor Day. All my time has been bought up, which is a great problem to have. It is still a problem for this blog, though, and for the novel whose first draft I finished last year and have not revised. If I had spent two hours each weekday redrafting, that thing would be accumulating polite rejection letters right now. As much as I have loved Combat! blog, and as much good as it has done for my craft and my career, it has become the least productive way I can spend two hours most days.

So I am going to change the nature of this blog in 2018. I’m not going to shut it down or anything, but I am going to allocate my two selfish/unprofitable hours each day to novel revisions. Here, I’ll keep posting links to work I’ve published elsewhere, and I’ll keep posting the weird stuff I can’t trick anyone into buying. I also plan to do some recurring features, such as my (potentially insane) plan to finish 50 books in 2018. I’m currently reading Death Wish by Brian Garfield, the novel that inspired the infamous Charles Bronson film, if you want to get in on that. What I’m not going to do, though, are daily updates. I have loved doing them for the last decade, but it’s not the best way for me to spend my time anymore.

Thank you for reading this post. Thank you for reading a handful or posts or hundreds of them. The best part of this blog is the small but select number of people who read it. I’m sorry that we can’t be roommates anymore, but I hope we can still be friends.

Art Wittich: Person?

Former MT legislator Art Wittich peruses the latest issue of Glower magazine.

It’s been a while since Art Wittich has made stories in Montana politics, meaning that it’s been a while by his standards. Aside from his tractionless campaign to fire the dean of the UM journalism school, Wittich has been quiet since August, when the state supreme court upheld a jury’s finding that he had, in fact, violated campaign finance laws during the 2010 primaries. That accusation has been one of the longest-running stories in Montana politics. It intersected with several other Wittich narratives—his tenure as head of the Health and Human Services Committee, during which he invited state employees to present personal anecdotes of welfare fraud; leaked emails detailing his plans to “purge” the state GOP of perceived moderates; the time he filed for election in the wrong district in a way that allowed him to re-file, after the deadline, in a district where he could run unopposed—and, after Commissioner of Political Practices Jonthan Motl filed charges in 2014, tied them all together. The Wittich investigation was a symbol. His malfeasance happened at a time when Montana’s campaign finance laws were under siege from Citizens United and a legion of dark money groups, including National Right to Work, the anti-union organization from whom he was eventually found to have accepted illegal contributions.

The state fined him a little more than $68,000 for that one. As appeals wore on and he refused to admit wrongdoing—he has insisted, from the beginning, that the charges were political—Motl pushed for him to be removed from office, but the 2016 election obviated that. Wittich lost his bid in the primary, and like that, his political career was over. He went from senate majority leader to private-practice lawyer in less than five years. Now, the Montana Office of Disciplinary Counsel wants to have him disbarred. Chief Disciplinary Counsel Michael Cotter has filed a complaint arguing that Wittich’s violations in 2010 constitute professional misconduct, and he shouldn’t be allowed to practice law.

The legal argument for that is beyond my ken. It centers on the statute of limitations and questions of what remedies Montana’s campaign finance laws allow. But I think there is an ethical question at work here, too. Wittich no longer threatens Montana politics. His faction of the internecine war within the GOP was thoroughly routed, and he shows no sign of returning to the legislature anytime soon. For whose benefit would we punish him? Disbarring him might protect the unsuspecting legal clients of Bozeman, but it seems more like a plan to humiliate a public figure who has already been thoroughly vanquished. That’s not our best selves. If we want to feel smug, we might consider how he feels about his precipitous fall from grace. You can read all about it in this week’s column in the Missoula Independent.

Washington Post finally tops Watergate

The rapidly aging James O’Keefe

Sorry guys—I know Combat! blog has been sporadic lately, but I’ve been devoting all my resources to my new project. It’s pretty complicated, but in a nutshell, I develop a series of false identities that I use to blackmail my enemies. Like I tell everyone my name is Henrietta Long, and then Henrietta Long gets a job at the co-op where Lena Dunham buys deodorant, and when she comes through I’m like, “Gosh, Ms. Dunham, wouldn’t you like to do something about all these races?” and BAM—that bitch is ruined. I call it Project Holy Light. I got the idea from this story in the Washington Post about Project Veritas, which Miracle Mike Sebba emailed me under the subject “this is so fucking awesome.”

Project Veritas is the maximum-scare-quotes “investigative journalism” organization founded and overseen by James O’Keefe, who became famous after secretly recording employees at ACORN in 2009. Veritas seems to have hired a woman to falsely tell the Washington Post that she had Roy Moore’s abortion when she was 15, in order to  document reporters’ presumed bias and discredit the newspaper. That didn’t work out. Instead, the Post’s fact-checkers started looking into her story, which didn’t hold up, and then a reporter saw her walking into the Project Veritas offices. Read it—it’s a satisfyingly ironic report of deceit done poorly and journalism done well.

Here’s a fun question: Does O’Keefe think of this scheme—which includes attempts to record a Post reporter saying the accusation will cost Moore the election—and tell himself that he is on the side of good? Or is he just doing whatever it takes to win Moore the election? One suspects that even in the second case, O’Keefe convinces himself he is doing good. All you have to believe is that Democrats and the left are going to destroy this country if nobody stops them, and whatever you do from there is justified. You’re not a political hack. You’re a patriot. Given the choice between those two identities when he settles down to sleep, I bet O’Keefe tells himself the libs are an existential threat.

Montana Democrats trampled trying to recover reins of power, figuratively, again

Montana Governor Steve Bullock thinks that’s the last we’ll hear from Billy Madison.

Let’s say you’re getting bullied at school. I can’t imagine it, myself, but for the sake of argument, assume you are a nerd. This big kid is always beating you up. Every day he humiliates you. You’re not strong enough to fight back, but you have to do something. So you invite him to meet by the dumpsters in the dead-end alley behind the school, where you appeal to your shared interests and offer a truce.

What do you think happens next, nerd? That’s right: you live in a dumpster because you’re a pussy. Montana’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, ran this experiment last week, when he convened a special session of the state legislature. Do Republicans still hold strong majorities in both houses? Yes they do. Did the $227 million budget shortfall that occasioned this session bring them to Helena with a giant bargaining chip? Indeed. Yet Democrats seemed surprised when their Republican colleagues threw them into the dumpster.

Take, for example, Sen. Albert Olszewki’s (R-Kalispell) budget-neutral bill to make it harder to change the gender on your birth certificate. SB-10 sought to block a proposed rule change at Health and Human Services that would allow the department to accept sworn affidavits of gender transition, as opposed to court orders only. Normally such changes would be the sole purview of the executive branch, headed by aforementioned Democratic governor Steve Bullock, but he reconvened the legislature. The birth certificate bill didn’t have anything to do with the budget shortfall, but the Republican-dominated state senate passed it anyway. Fortunately, the house ended the session without taking it up. But transgender Montanans almost watched the state snatch away an achievement they had pursued for a long time.

What did Bullock think was going to happen? At a certain point, you have to stop criticizing Republicans for their opportunism and start criticizing Democrats for giving them so many opportunities. We think of the question of who is doing politics better as horse-race stuff, but this story reminds us that it has a moral dimension, too. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.


Dangerously close to empathizing with Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham, millionaire

Lena Dunham: She’s the worst. I’m not exaggerating, either; I’m curating. I spend hours each day thinking about the people, things and concepts I don’t like, and Dunham is the sandwich that brings them all together. A wealthy Oberlin graduate famous for making works of art about young people who struggle to complete works of art, she got her own HBO series at age 23. Girls is about the experience of being a young woman in New York: not having a job but living in the good part of Park Slope as you learn to accept yourself and struggle to complete works of art. Hanna doesn’t know how she’ll pay the rent after impulsively quitting her internship, so she goes to a party and cries. Hanna isn’t sure whether the new Darth Vader likes her, because he’s so handsome and she’s the protagonist/star/writer/producer. Dunham sucks, is what I’m saying here, and she sucks at the intersection of several broad trends in how society sucks now.

I also heard she was racist. I’ll be saying that at parties for the next 40 years, but today I will add that I heard it specifically from Zinzi Clemmons. The author and former contributor to Lenny Letter said she will no longer work for Dunham and urged other writers of color to do the same. Zinzi identifies a pattern of “hipster racism” among Dunham’s friends when their social circles overlapped in college. “She and her friends are racist” seems like an unfalsifiable statement, but let me give some advice to any white people who may be reading this: don’t say what’s racist and what’s not. Leave that to someone darker than you. You get to say what’s what in nearly every other area of society, but this is a situation where you will not be rewarded for speaking outside your expertise.

Clemmons says Dunham is racist and I believe her. It’s a matter of policy. You know who does not respect that policy? Lena Dunham. I quote the Washington Post:

A quick refresher on what, exactly, Dunham did: Last week, she and Lenny Letter co-founder Jenni Konner issued a statement defending “Girls” writer and executive producer Murray Miller after actress Aurora Perrineau accused him of raping her in 2012, when Perrineau was 17 years old. (In a statement given to The Wrap, Miller’s attorney, Matthew Walerstein, said he “categorically and vehemently denies Ms. Perrineau’s outrageous claims.”) Dunham and Konner stood by Miller, and instead questioned Perrineau’s credibility:  “Insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year,” they said in their statement.

First of all, let me call the crisis center so they can get started on a plaque to thank you for reminding everyone what percentage of assaults didn’t actually happen. I’m sure no one will use that statistic to cast doubt on accusers, as you are doing now. If you adopt the policy “believe victims,” subclauses “believe women” and “believe people of color,” then it’s clear that Dunham’s defense of Miller is bad. She implies that Perrineau is mistaken to accuse Miller of rape—not just because her account of events is wrong, but because any report of assault could be wrong. That strikes a dissonant note given the tone of the editorial she wrote for the Times last month.

So it’s a clear-cut violation of the believe victims policy. At the same time, you can see how she got there. Miller is her friend and coworker. She doesn’t want him to be a rapist, so she doesn’t believe it. She also doesn’t want to imply that other rape claims are false, maybe because that would be brand suicide but probably because she, too, believes women. I bet Dunham regularly reminds people that the rate of false sexual assault allegations is miniscule. So in her statement, she makes sure to emphasize that only three percent are misreported. As she’s writing, it feels like she’s defending her friend while reminding people that this situation comes along very rarely. To the reader, of course, she comes off as casting blanket doubt on claims of sexual assault.

Why doesn’t she see that? Because she sucks! Stupid Lena Dunham can’t write well enough to agree with her own opinions, almost as though she had spent her whole life being rewarded for effortful mediocrity. The thing that sucks the most about her, though, is that she can’t help it. I have no evidence and I disdain her with the cool of a thousand dead suns, but I believe she got caught up trying to defend her friend. Her brain looked for a way this whole situation could be a misunderstanding, and her simpering garbage talent did the rest. The problem with the believe women policy is that you can’t control what you believe. I suspect she is an awful person, and I don’t doubt Clemmons’s assessment of her, but I believe Dunham is at the mercy of her biases as much or more than anyone else.