Sick of Sin

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
 
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
 
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
 
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
 
—Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est

 Giving It Up (Kind Of)

A couple of announcements here at the top. The blog’s going to be on hiatus for a few weeks, because I’m traveling around Mexico for Semana Santa and a little reporting. After I get back, though, I’m going to put a pin in the regular Monday roundups. They’re draining, especially in terms of the unremunerated time that I’d otherwise be putting towards the podcast, and I’m not really seeing the numbers that would support keeping them up. So I’m going to keep this one brief, and I’ll only get back into it if something really strikes me as both important and not being covered elsewhere.

And in the unlikely event that you were relying on SFD for a roundup, then Doug Muder at the Weekly Sift and the guys at Crooked Media are your best options. Pod Save America will give you as much as you can handle twice a week, and I think Lovett or Leave It might be the best audio anything anywhere.

Aside from these Monday things, I’m going to really drill down on the next Iran shows, and that usually results in a blog or two. And I’m going to be trying some other, shorter-format podcast things, so the site’ll be active going forward.

Anyway, this week:

Syria

I had this fantasy back in college that if we could somehow go back to just three TV networks and get rid of Fox and the rest of the cable coterie, then we could finally educate people. At the time I’d literally never watched a nightly newscast from the big three, and I didn’t know that NBC is in general just as vapid as CNN, just for less time.

But in that fantasy, I imagined staid, responsible newspeople hammering home the conflicts that mattered and ignoring all the bull that gets thrown up as news night after night. What is tragic, and probably related to that we haven’t learned anything in the four years since I graduated, is that the problems I’d talk about in bars back then are the same ones we have now:

A massive drug war that’s claimed hundreds of thousands of lives south of the border and for which our demand for drugs is responsible; endemic violence against ethnic minorities in the US, especially blacks, of which the public at large is largely ignorant; an ongoing post-9/11 expansion of the surveillance and security state that’s normalized spying on Americans at home and murdering (by drone) civilians abroad; and a civil war in Syria that in 2013 looked like it might have been soluble with enough political will but which is now, in 2017, hundreds of thousands of casualties later, looking ever more hopeless.

When I put up my friend’s newsletter on the blog last week, another buddy of mine from Michigan wrote me and said, “Every few days I remember Syria is still in the midst of a horrific civil war.” My friend’s the exception, because cable news, along with the average American, only seems to remember Syria’s going on once or twice a year.

Donald Trump, of course, gets his news from Fox and Friends. So let’s lay this out.

A little more than a week ago, Trump’s administration signalled that come what may, it would follow the Russians in supporting Bashar al Assad as dictator of Syria.

Assad, in all likelihood seeing that as an opening, used a nerve gas called sarin to attack civilians in a rebel-held area. Assad doesn’t use chemical weapons like sarin because they are particularly militarily effective. He uses them because they are terrible. Because they provoke terror. When you see the pictures of those dead kids who drowned out of water, that’s exactly why Assad uses gas. Gas that, per an agreement worked out years ago, is supposed to be in Russian hands.

Donald Trump, as best anybody can tell, sees those pictures on cable news, and they are what provoke him to take some kind of action against Syria, just days after saying he wouldn’t.

That action was firing 50-odd Tomahawk cruise missiles at a cost of around $100 million into a Syrian air strip.

Now, legalities aside (and the attack was by any definition illegal, both internationally and by our own laws), there’s an argument to be made, that I was making a lot in 2013, that this was what we needed. An immediate but limited response to Assad’s intransigence. The man is an animal, so train him like one. He drops a barrel bomb into a neighborhood, blow up a dozen of his helicopters. He gasses civilians, blow up a palace. No boots on the ground, just a well-defined and swift system of retaliatory justice.

Last week’s attack was, apart from all its other problems, NOT part of such a system.

Why? First, the Trump administration warned the Russians the attack was coming. The Russians warned the Syrians, and between them they removed everything of military value from the base. Second, Tomahawks aren’t meant to bunker-bust, so whatever material did remain at the airfield, it stayed safe in hardened hangars. Third, if you don’t believe those first two, believe that the airfield was back in action just hours after the attack.

Now, Russia has since the attack made a lot of noise about ceasing to collaborate with the US in Syria and shutting down the hotline. But this all seems stage-managed to me. Trump tells the Russians he’s attacking, attacks without actually damaging anything, and now we get a big show about how we’re breaking ties with the Russians.

Which is convenient as all getout for an Administration plagued by rumors that it was helped in the campaign by Russians, dogged by investigations of that help, actively engaged in a cover-up about something to do with Russia, and helmed by a man who spent most of his real-estate career deep in the pocket of Russian plutocrats and mobsters.

And while it’s definitely convenient for Assad to show he’s standing up to the USA, it sure as shit isn’t going to help any of those kids you saw.

You know what would? Letting them come to the United States.

If there was anything, anything, that could make you more depressed or angry about last week, it’s this: Raytheon, the company that produces Tomahawk missiles, saw its stock jump after the attack, since the president had basically sent the company $100 million.

Donald Trump owns Raytheon stock.


Mitch McConnell, Merrick Garland, and the Filibuster

Way back when, during Obama’s presidency, Mitch McConnell, the head Republican in the Senate, filibustered more appointees than the Senate had filibustered in its entire past history. The Democratic head, Harry Reid, made it easier to get a straight up and down vote so that Obama could actually fill appointments and form a government, years after being elected with a majority of votes (something that Trump has neglected, not because he’s being opposed, but because he just doesn’t care to hire people to run the government).

Said procedure to get a straight up and down vote was never used for a Supreme Court nominee, because it was too important not just to have the appearance of bipartisanship but to actually have it when confirming somebody for a lifetime on the court. Well, last Thursday, Mitch McConnell kept being the least scrupulous man to ever run the Senate:

So, with the old Senate rules on such matters having been shitcanned on Thursday afternoon, Gorsuch slid through with 55 votes. For some reason that is both sadly inevitable and completely unfathomable, after all that happened, Democrats Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly all voted in favor of the nominee.

“There should be no vacancy on the Supreme Court to fill,” said Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, stating the obvious for the last time in this sorry episode. “President Obama nominated Merrick Garland. Republicans engaged in unprecedented obstructionism that made it possible for this confirmation process to be conducted. It’s always important to remember that the only reason there was a vacancy to fill is the Republicans put in place a process that made it possible to steal this seat from Barack Obama, and they have now successfully delivered it to Donald Trump.”

I talked at length about how the death of norms leads to the deaths of republics. Well, stick another one on the list. And reserve a place in the history books for Mitch McConnell. Dana Milbank wrote a piece at the Washington Post this week called “Mitch McConnell, the man who broke America:”

Back in 1994, McConnell lamented to the conservative Heritage Foundation that Republicans hadn’t used the filibuster enough: “I am a proud guardian of gridlock. I think gridlock is making a big comeback in the country.”

For the next quarter-century, he made sure of it. Back then he was fighting all attempts at campaign-finance reform and spending limits, championing disclosure of contributions as the antidote. But when the Supreme Court allowed unlimited “dark money” in campaigns without disclosure, McConnell reversed course and has fought all attempts to enact disclosure…

Now comes the filibuster’s demise. In the current cycle of partisan escalation, it’s only a matter of time before the filibuster is abolished for all legislation, killing the tradition of unlimited debate in the Senate dating back to 1789. The Founders did this so minority rights would be respected and consensus could be formed — and McConnell is undoing it.

Two years ago, when a Democrat was in the White House, McConnell said he would only abolish filibusters of Supreme Court justices if there were 67 votes for such a change. This week, he employed a maneuver to do it with 51 votes. It suited his momentary needs, but the damage will remain long after McConnell’s tombstone is engraved.

There’s just a tiny chance that in two and in four years the forces of the Left will beat gerrymandering, will beat dark money, will beat all these mendacious, unscrupulous interests on the Right and sweep into both houses with majorities and take the White House. And if and when we do, we have to break these people.


The FCC

Just by the way, looking for political cartoons on Ajit Pai and Net Neutrality, there were so many, SO MANY, from conservative papers/websites that insinuated that somehow Obama’s FCC’s net neutrality rules—which LITERALLY JUST PRESERVED THE STATUS QUO ANTE—were somehow going to, no joke, regulate the kinds of content you can produce on the internet, up to and including cat videos. That’s so far from the truth, so willful and ridiculous a lie, that it at a stroke (and this is the whole next section) proves both that the conservative “intelligentsia” hasn’t been interested in truth or in anything but profit in decades and that the conservative base might be the most ignorant, credulous group of people that’s ever lived on this planet.

With every other awful thing going on, you might not have noticed that two weeks ago, the Congress decided to allow your ISP to sell your browsing information. Previously, ISPs hadn’t been allowed to do that because, now that the Internet is such an integral part of our lives, they’re regulated like public utilities. In the same way that the power company shouldn’t be able to tell people how much you use and the water folks shouldn’t be able to sell your flush count, ISPs couldn’t sell your data, because unlike using Facebook or Google, there’s no way to avoid your ISP, there’s no other option.

Which is now the situation. Either you’re okay with large corporations knowing every single thing you do online or you don’t use the Internet.

Ajit Pai, Trump’s new head of the Federal Communications Commission, is going right on ahead with tearing down everything that’s been precariously in place since the dawn of the Internet.

Net Neutrality, which keeps ISPs from changing the speeds with which they serve you different sites, has been a cornerstone of the Internet’s status a level playing field. This site you’re reading, even though it criticizes American telecommunications oligopolies and the government, comes to you at the same speed as Comcast’s home page. Get rid of net neutrality, and the corporations don’t just know what information you’re consuming, they control how you get it.

Well, Ajit Pai wants to get rid of that. He wants to eliminate net neutrality rules and then ask ISPs to voluntarily obey the same standards but without the force of law. “[Pai] told Reuters in February he believes ‘in a free and open internet and the only question is what regulatory framework best secures that.'”

I want to talk about this more in a longer post, but when did we become a propaganda nation?

In a two party democracy, the idea is that each party says what it’s about and then the voters decide which of those two platforms it likes. Even in a high-school election scenario, where everybody promises things they can’t deliver, you still get a choice between two sets of dream promises. But what we have now is one party, the Democrats, which describes a platform and how it will affect the voter.

And then the Republican party describes similar effects (we’ll get your jobs back, we’ll make the internet free, we’ll improve the economy) while actively pursuing an agenda that will do the exact opposite.

Nobody, literally nobody, wants to get rid of net neutrality except people who will directly profit from that change. An internet without these rules is less free. But Ajit Pai’s up there, shit eating grinning, selling that somehow a less free internet will be less free.

Republicans have an indefensible agenda, so they’ve just given up defending it.

And when Donald Trump’s supporters won’t abandon him, even after he, like a candidate for student council, promised impossible things (better health care for less money), and, like a typical Republican, then did the opposite (worse health care, for, somehow, MORE money), why would you pick any other strategy. These people are rubes, why treat them any other way?


They’re Dumb and the Country Is Dead

If you’re going to read anything this week, read these three things:

The Long Lucrative Right Wing Grift Is Blowing Up in the World’s Face

Because there was a lot of money in it for various hucksters and moguls and authors and politicians, the conservative movement spent decades building up an entire sector of the economy dedicated to scaring and lying to older white men. For millions of members of that demographic, this parallel media dedicated to lying to them has totally supplanted the “mainstream” media. Now they, and we, are at the mercy of the results of that project. The inmates are running the asylum, if there is a kind of asylum that takes in many mostly sane people and then gradually, over many years, drives one subset of its inmates insane, and also this asylum has the largest military in the world.

The rubes listened to talk radio, read right-wing blogs, watched Fox News. They were fed apocalyptic paranoia about threats to their liberty, racial hysteria about the generalized menace posed by various groups of brown people, and hysterical lies about the criminal misdeeds of various Democratic politicians.

Rather rapidly, two things happened: First, Republicans realized they’d radicalized their base to a point where nothing they did in power could satisfy their most fervent constituents. Then—in a much more consequential development—a large portion of the Republican Congressional caucus became people who themselves consume garbage conservative media, and nothing else.

That, broadly, explains the dysfunction of the Obama era, post-Tea Party freakout. Congressional Republicans went from people who were able to turn their bullshit-hose on their constituents, in order to rile them up, to people who pointed it directly at themselves, mouths open.

And The Long Con: Mail Order Conservatism

Following the standard scare-mongering playbook of the fundraising Right, Weyrich launched his appeal with some horrifying eventuality that sounded both entirely specific and hair-raisingly imminent (“all-out assault on our traditional family structure”—or, in the case of a 1976 pitch signed by Senator Jesse Helms, taxpayer-supported “grade school courses that teach our children that cannibalism, wife swapping, and the murder of infants and the elderly are acceptable behavior”; or, to take one from not too long ago, the white-slavery style claim that “babies are being harvested and sold on the black market by Planned Parenthood”). Closer inspection reveals the looming horror to be built on a non-falsifiable foundation (“could become”; “is likely to become”). This conditional prospect, which might prove discouraging to a skeptically minded mark, is all the more useful to reach those inclined to divide the moral universe in two—between the realm of the wicked, populated by secretive, conspiratorial elites, and the realm of the normal, orderly, safe, and sane.

Weyrich’s letter concludes by proposing an entirely specific, real-world remedy: slaying the wicked can easily be hastened for the low, low price of a $5, $10, or $25 contribution from you, the humble citizen-warrior.

These are bedtime stories, meant for childlike minds. Or, more to the point, they are in the business of producing childlike minds. Conjuring up the most garishly insatiable monsters precisely in order to banish them from underneath the bed, they aim to put the target to sleep.

Dishonesty is demanded by the alarmist fundraising appeal because the real world doesn’t work anything like this. The distance from observable reality is rhetoricallyrequired; indeed, that you haven’t quite seen anything resembling any of this in your everyday life is a kind of evidence all by itself. It just goes to show how diabolical the enemy has become. He is unseen; but the redeemer, the hero who tells you the tale, can see the innermost details of the most baleful conspiracies. Trust him. Send him your money. Surrender your will—and the monster shall bebanished for good.

Modern American conservatism is a scary story that the ignorant have been telling themselves, over and over, for a half century. It’s a story about black people and Mexicans, but above all about liberals. And in their willingness and their eagerness to hate, American conservatives have enriched four generations of swill-selling assholes and ruined our political system.

Most of these folks are too convinced and too old to ever see the light, but if and when we on the Left are back in the driver’s seat, we have to grind these people and their politics into dust, because they will destroy the United States and take the world down with it.

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