Tag Archives: Civilizational Collapse

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.

Continue reading Sick of Sin

Their Vast Carelessness

“…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

—Nick, from the Great Gatsby, on Daisy and Tom Buchanan


Every week is a slog and every Monday morning feels like deja vu as the crowd in the White House commits one more blunder, hires one more incompetent, sends one more tweet, and takes one more irrevocable step towards the downfall of democracy.

It’s easy to become fatigued, to think that other people will keep calling, that other people will march and protest, and that you can retreat for a while, rest, and let the world take care of itself. That’s what the left did during the Obama years, during the Clinton years, and more than anybody’s like to admit, during the Bush years, too.

Donald Trump and his ilk, when all is said and done and destroyed, will have no trouble returning to their money and their vast carelessness and by then it will be too late. If you’re ever going to care, you’ve got to care now.


Shenan-agains

So on Monday of last week, head of the FBI James Comey testified before Congress that the FBI had been running an investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia since last July. He would not specify who exactly or what exactly they were investigating, and he left aside why he had to announce a non-investigation of Hillary Clinton right before the election while remaining totally silent about an actual investigation of Donald Trump. He also confirmed what everybody already knew:

Continue reading Their Vast Carelessness

Goethe’s Oak

I’m running a day late this week, mostly due to hangover, but I’ve got an excuse. This was a three day weekend in Mexico, commemorating the birthday of what wasn’t their first president, or even their first republican president, but what was, because of a messy political century from 1820 to 1920 or so, their first real republican, democratic president, and the first indigenous president elected anywhere in Latin America.

Viva Juarez.


Another EO

We only got one real new executive order last week. The new travel ban was actually written two weeks ago, and since it was stopped by a federal court as soon as it was supposed to go into effect, until the next wrinkle on that shakes out, the one worth paying attention to is EO 13781, the “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch.”

The EO, on its face, appears to be pretty tame, and definitely to appeal to the folks who got POTUS elected. It directs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, who puts together the budget for the executive branch, to:

…submit to the President a proposed plan to reorganize the executive branch in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of agencies. The proposed plan shall include, as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions. The proposed plan shall include recommendations for any legislation or administrative measures necessary to achieve the proposed reorganization.

 

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The Poor and Needy Neighbor

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

 —Deuteronomy 15


UPDATE:

The CBO had not yet scored the AHCA at the time of this post’s writing. Now they have, and you can check out the full text here.

The most damning, immediate paragraph:

CBO and JCT estimate that, in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under the legislation than under current law. Most of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. Some of those people would choose not to have insurance because they chose to be covered by insurance under current law only to avoid paying the penalties, and some people would forgo insurance in response to higher premiums.

That’s 14 million more people uninsured than right now, and the number would kick up into the mid-20-millions by 2020 when the Medicaid expansion runs out.

Of course, the administration’s not sure whether it trusts the CBO:

 


There are a couple of things I want to look at in depth this week, and I’ll be breaking them out into separate posts to keep this from stretching to a full 6,000.

First up is:

The American Health Care Act (AHCA)

So, TrumpCare. Or maybe RyanCare. Or, as more than a few have pointed out, even better, Don’tCare or NoCare. The GOP finally made public the bill to repeal and replace the ACA that they’d been hiding from both other Congresspeople and the public since two weeks ago.

First things first. If you want to know how any new plan after ObamaCare is going to affect you and America at large, you’ve got to understand what ObamaCare is. That’s a tall order, but luckily there are a plethora of resources dedicated to helping you out. And Michael Goodwin’s very long comic from 2014 at economixcomix.com is probably the easiest and most straightforward to read. No joke (and his analysis of the new Trump/Ryan bill before the markup last week beats what I’ve written here on the details, if you’ve got the time).

The new bill, the AHCA, debuted to excoriating reviews from pretty much all sides. The American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Hospital Association, and much more important for Republicans, the American Association of Retired People, or AARP, came out against NoCare.

Why? Well, it wrecks some of the best (and depending on your perspective, only good) parts of ObamaCare.

In order to widen the risk pool and lower the cost of insurance generally, ObamaCare forced all Americans to either pay an ongoing series of income-scaled fines or purchase health insurance. Young, healthy people who might otherwise have gone uninsured would then purchase insurance and subsidize old, unhealthy people. In order to reduce the financial burden for those young people, the original ACA also provided generous tax credits for people making between 100 and 400% of the federal poverty line, which is $11,770-$47,080 for a single person and $24,250-$97,000 for a family of four.

Here’s Ezra Klein explaining that risk pool and ‘death spirals’.

Continue reading The Poor and Needy Neighbor

Alternate Realities

“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

I want to talk about alternate realities. Not the multiverse kind or the virtual kind, but the kind that exist all around us. I watched Spotlight recently and none of us have been able to look away from that train-wreck of an election or this early administration, so hopefully enough of us have seen enough of all three of them to tie this post together.

We’re All in this Alone

Everybody, and I mean everybody, lives in their own reality. From the time you pop out of the womb, you begin aggregating a set of facts, or what seem to you to be facts, about the world around you. And that set of facts makes up your reality. The differences in our realities range from the sacred to the very mundane. Maybe I believe in God and you don’t, maybe you thought that dress was yellow and I thought it was blue. There may be some ultimate arbiter of what’s real—Plato’s realm of the forms or an Abrahamic God or a grand unifying theory of physics—but until one of those things speaks up, we’re each left with our own discrete perceptions of the world. When our differences are small, like that dress, they don’t impede our getting along. When they get bigger, they trip us up in proportion to the magnitude of the difference.

Almost nobody in the 15th century really thought the world was flat (and it may be a very long time since anybody’s actually thought that), but if we imagine, for the sake of argument, that Ferdinand and Isabella, the King and Queen of Spain in 1492, did think the Earth was flat, we can see how they and Christopher Columbus would have a difficult time plotting a new route to India.

It's so cool
Seriously, click on this

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A Memorable Series of Revolutions

As of the time I’m writing this, the Senate just confirmed “Mad Dog” Mattis, the first time since George Marshall at the end of the Second World War that a non-civilian has gotten a waiver to serve as Secretary of Defense. Two days ago, Donald Trump got in front of a crowd to crudely berate two news agencies and to announce that unlike every president in modern history, he will not be separating himself from his business interests. A week ago, congressional Republicans tried to eliminate the only independent ethics committee that oversees the legislature as the very first act of the new session.

Failing that, they scheduled more cabinet confirmation hearings in less time than ever before, hoping to railroad a slate of candidates who are, with little exaggeration, bent on destroying their respective departments. Late last month, North Carolina Republicans, having lost the governorship, used the end of their lame duck session to divest the executive of its powers and invest them, in effect, in the Republican Party, leading the Electoral Integrity Project to categorize the state as having “deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.” Not only that, but:

North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.

Something’s up. And obviously, since the time I wrote this post back in January, more stuff has happened.

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Day by Day

Well, so I took the autumn off to take the LSAT and apply to law school and it seems like things took a turn for the worse while I was away. It’s too late to stop that last election, and we’ve got things like Swing Left, the Wall of US, Indivisible, WolfPAC, and the Justice Democrats working on the next one. So it feels like the role of a podcast and a blog that catalogue our backfiring efforts to make the world safe for democracy abroad might be to chart the way that our methodology and its effects are now coming home to roost.

I want the series to fall somewhere between Doug Muder’s Weekly Sift, which is a weekly roundup and blog post with clear-eyed, compassionate and brilliant analysis and Paul Slansky’s The Clothes Have No Emperor, which is a brutal, day-by-day account of the scandals, corruption, and rank incompetence of the Reagan Administration quoted directly from the news. Like Muder, I’m going to pair the weekly news post with a piece on the blog, and they’ll go up on Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays or however it falls.

This first edition is going to be much longer and at the same time much less comprehensive than the norm—I’m going to breeze through the last four months or so, and I’ll both have too many words and be leaving too many out.

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Historical Optimism

Part of what I want to get at in this blog and in the cast is why we as a country, culture, people do what we do abroad. Why and how we can continue seeding these disasters overseas. Part of the answer, unavoidably, is that we don’t see foreigners as people, not in the most important sense. Trying to overcome that barrier to human feeling was part of the post I wrote on Looking at History from the Outside.

Another element, I think, is optimism. Historical optimism. I don’t know exactly when the US as a country acquired that outlook, whether it came to us at some point or whether it was baked in from the beginning, but it’s thoroughly ours. One of the many definitions of the American Dream is providing better for your kids than your parents did for you. America, especially once we’d left the gold standard and gotten into Breton Woods, had a hand in creating a global economic system whose goal is year-over-year growth, forever. There’s a philosophy behind both those ideas and many other aspects of American life, which is that things are getting better, in the long run.

Things are getting better in the long run. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it curves toward justice. Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. The idea that things are, in the long run, getting better, has a long pedigree.

Continue reading Historical Optimism