Trump’s Unique Awfulness Can’t Redeem Jeff Sessions

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Source: WAPO!

Of every bumbling criminal, oafish halfwit, looting plutocrat, and jumped-up county clerk with a Napoleonic sense of self that Trump has put into his cabinet, few have been more quietly competent than Jeff Sessions. With the possible exception of James Mattis, Sessions is the only one who plugs along at his job with diligence and expertise, not overtly sticking his hand in the till, and avoiding the messy drama that surrounds Trump. He refuses to be engaged even when Trump baits him directly, as he does with increasing frequency.

That would be admirable, if his professionalism wasn’t in the service of rolling back every civil right he can find and helping to bring back institutionalized and overt racism into every aspect of American life.

But it is. The one thing that Jeff Sessions is doing correctly is protecting the Mueller probe, and actually refusing to let it be politicized. He’s not ending a case at the whim of the President, because that’s not how law in this country. For this, he’s enduring from Trump the trial of Job, a constant stream of invective and public hatred, constant scorn that’s turned the right wing against him.

So why does he do it? Why does Sessions, who has always been a right-wing team player, and was one of Trump’s earliest supporters, keep up the probe? My guess is because, like everyone else, he knows that it isn’t a hoax. He knows there is a lot there, and if he quit, the next AG (Ivanka?) would end it right away. But more than that, he stays and endures because his lifelong ambition has been to bring back Jim Crow, and as Attorney General, he is in a unique position to do so.

One of his first acts was to gut the Civil Rights Division of the DoJ, at a time when racist crimes were spiking in the wake of the inauguration and the country was beginning to understand the way that small towns systemically targeted minorities with absurd fines and arrests to fill their coffers. Not only that, but he directed what was left of the Civil Rights department to investigate how affirmative action violated the rights of white folks. And he was just getting started.

He immediately worked to bring back the mandatory minimum in sentencing, and reinstituted the worst of the “War on drugs” sentencing guidelines. He “directed the Justice Department to start using private prisons again to ‘meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.'” This is arrant nonsense, once again putting private companies with an eye toward free labor and government money in charge of our prisons.

A neat trick was trying to take forensic evidence out of criminal investigations, because sometimes that showed people were innocent. Not only was this remarkably cruel, it also was essentially anti-cop, since it made their jobs harder. Most police want to do their job well! Sessions just wants them to arrest and convict, no questions asked.

He is feuding with Trump on prison reform (which I don’t think Trump cares too much about anyway), because he can’t stand the thought of anyone not serving the harshest possible penalties for any crime. And this isn’t across the board: everything Sessions does is to make sure that the poor and the minorities find themselves locked up, tools of the state, in the hands of private prisons. He doesn’t want them to vote, and he doesn’t want them to feel comfortable. I’m sure he’s against lynching, but in all other aspects, he is purely in favor of solidifying the role that the prison-industrial complex plays in continuing the hideous legacy of official state racism.

(He also hates the transgendered, but that goes without saying.)

I don’t think any of the Democrats or Independents want Sessions to stay because they like this stuff, of course. But there is a sense, I think, among the majority of people that Trump is guilty. And right now, Sessions is keeping the investigation going. There is something somewhat heroic in this. That it is in the service of bringing back the worst of the American judicial system, and in the service of outright white nationalism, is one of the hideous paradoxes of the Trump era which we can never reconcile. Everything is awful.

 

 

 

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World Water Week: Checking in on Arizona

Silver Bell Mine. Fun fact: those lakes are entirely poison

If you live in the crowded east, or in the Great Lakes/Rust Belt area of the Upper Midwest, you might not get a sense of how vast this country truly is, and how the West expands to dimensions that swallow up our horizons. Because of that, and maybe paradoxically, we don’t have a sense of the vastness of damage done in the name of the extraction industries.

And that’s one of the themes of this year’s World Water Week, which is focusing on “ecosystems and human development”, two fields that don’t always go hand-in-hand. Indeed, human development through most of our history, accelerated dramatically in the last 500 years, has been about ecosystem destruction, or at least alteration based on our needs or whims.

As our so many things upon which we can frown, this is especially true in Arizona.

Arizona is a wild and deeply inhospitable land, an area where the ground bakes and the earth underneath it, ancient and often a fulcrum of geologic drama, is rich with minerals. Mining was what drove Arizona’s economy since it was a wild outpost, and it was a wild outpost until fairly recently, not becoming an official state until 1912. For historical reference, that’s the year John McCain’s mom was born (she’s still alive, which now seems tragic). So the Senator until two days ago has a one-generation linkage to Arizona’s statehood.

And really, of all our non-Confederate states, Arizona has had the most contentious relationship with the federal government. Even today, they Arizona fighta its neighbors and the feds about the Colorado Compact, taking the idea that states exist in essential conflict very seriously.

It’s been a relationship of anger mixed with hypocritical ingratitude. Arizona wouldn’t exist without massive federal assistance in diverting water for irrigation and drinking, which made parts of Barry Goldwater’s libertarianism ethically untenable.

Of course, there had always been tensions between the territory and the feds, between those who wanted the land to be open and those who wanted to close it off to private interests. More often than not, the government sided with those who wanted to close it off, who wanted to parcel the riches of the state to those who were rich enough to become even richer. Back then, the wealthy and powerful got their way.

You may see where this is heading.

In this month’s Harper’s, Mort Rosenblum (writer) and Samuel James (photographer) deliver a powerful essay about the rush to expand new copper mines in the wilds of the Arizona desert, which is becoming less and less remote as settlements encroach on the blasted land. It’s a story of how the short-term needs of industry are balanced, or not, against the long-term health of the ecosystem, of which we forget we’re a part.

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Housing developments on the edge of the mine. Image from Harper’s (Samuel James)

In the story, we learn that certain mining companies, both domestic and foreign (increasingly the latter), are working to step up their activities, expanding mining complexes that are already bigger in some cases than all of Manhattan. They are helped, as is often the case, by politicians. The article was obviously written before this week, and de mortus nil nisi bonum an all that, but:

In 1955, Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order protecting Oak Flat from copper mining. But in 2005, Jeff Flake, then an Arizona congressman with ties to mining—­he had previously lobbied for a Rio Tinto mine in Namibia—joined Arizona colleagues in putting forward a land-swap bill: 2,400 acres of land owned by the Forest Service, including Oak Flat, would go to Resolution in exchange for land elsewhere in the state. Later, Flake and John ­McCain pressed for the swap in the Senate, and despite the Obama Administration’s resistance, it was added as a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015. Pending final approval from various agencies under the National Environmental Policy Act, the land will become Resolution’s private property.

That approval is pending. This is despite objections from virtually every relevant agency before they were gutted in favor of industry. It’s despite the fact that the mine will be ruinious to Native burial grounds and sacred sites (or maybe it’s partly because of it).

We know that most Western politicians are, despite their stated objection to the government, are carrying on the tradition of ceding public land to the wealthy and powerful. It’s just that now the rich and powerful wrap themselves up as conscientious objectors for freedom, inspiring the masses of disaffected and poor Westerners. That the freedom for which they are fighting is the freedom to get even richer while the poor and disaffected stay the same is just fine print.

Of course, water doesn’t care about politics. It just obeys physics and climate. And the project will impact both.

Back in 2012, things looked bleaker for Rosemont. The US Bureau of Land Management’s Tucson office, which oversees a nearby watershed, issued a chilling assessment of the company’s plan, writing, “What is certain is that the pit would cause a profound lowering of the regional aquifer.” A steep new underground gradient would be created, pulling groundwater from every direction, and Rosemont would be constantly pumping water out of the pit. Even after the mine closed, water would keep flowing into the pit and evaporating under the Arizona sun. The impacts to groundwater, the BLM assessment continued, “are likely to cause the slow but eventual collapse of the aquatic ecosystem,” a kind of collapse that is “irreversible, cannot be mitigated and will last for centuries.”

That’s not really good. But what are you going to do? The truth is that copper really is a vital part of our economy, and the devices around which we’ve based our lives couldn’t exist without it. And man, Arizona is rich in copper. The truth is, to carry on our current lifestyles and comforts, we need mining. We need copper.

But we also need balance, and that might come from having to give up some of our comforts. Because things actually get WAY more uncomfortable without water. By like, a million times. So that’s what is meant by development and ecosystem. We shouldn’t think the former is an unmitigated good, and the latter an incidental nicety.

That can seem abstract sometimes, especially in the endless vistas of the West. A mining complex the size of Manhattan can be swallowed up. But it isn’t invisible. It is sucking up water and making toxic what it spits out and altering the ecosystem for hundreds of miles. And meanwhile, our houses creep ever closer, sticking straws in the same poison puddles, because you just can’t stop progress.

Hunger Stones and Hail Guns

Nothing good ever starts with “an uncovered warning from the past.”

Here are two stories about the environment. In the first, we live in sacred and trembling terror regarding the unpredictability of nature and our dependence on water, which cares not for our needs.

A lengthy drought in Europe has exposed carved boulders, known as “hunger stones,” that have been used for centuries to commemorate historic droughts — and warn of their consequences.

The Associated Press reports that hunger stones are newly visible in the Elbe River, which begins in the Czech Republic and flows through Germany.

“Over a dozen of the hunger stones, chosen to record low water levels, can now be seen in and near the northern Czech town of Decin near the German border,” the AP writes.

One of the stones on the banks of the Elbe is carved with the words “Wenn du mich seihst, dann weine“: “If you see me, weep.”

In the second, we literally shoot the sky, telling nature not to fuck with our manufactured goods, because capitalism is in charge, here. It goes about as well as you might imagine (and this is honestly one of the wildest stories I’ve read in weeks).

Farmers in Cuautlancingo, the rural municipality where the plant is located, claimed that VW’s use of “hail cannons” was causing a drought that has made them lose 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of crops.

In June, VW started using the shockwave generators — sonic devises that purport to disrupt the formation of hail in the atmosphere — to prevent its newly-built vehicles, which are parked in an outdoor lot, from being damaged by the falling ice pellets. The practice purportedly disrupts the formation of hailstones.

Gerardo Perez, a farmers’ representative in the area, said the devices not only disperse hail storms, but all precipitation that has occurred since May, which marks the beginning of the rainy season in Mexico. “The sky literally clears and it simply doesn’t rain,” he told the news agency AFP, adding that the cannons were “affecting the Earth’s cycles.”

I can’t think of anything more emblematic of the capitalist desire to bend nature into commerce than attacking the sky to ward off hail. It’s really a perfect summation of the mostly-terrible but sort-of-admirable reckless and brash and goofily-self-destructive nature of man to try to defeat weather rather than risk testing the unproven technology of a “roof”.

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The GOP Is Corrupt Because Corruption is Their Ideology

One of the problems with only being able to do one post a day (work and other freelance writing, and, you know, my life, interfere) is that there are a million stories you can’t get to. There are a few water stories I want to write, and I want to do a deep dive into some really interesting Yemen pieces. Those are more fun for me, and I think generally more fun for the reader, since they get political/Trump news everywhere.

But come on.

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Not only were two of Trump’s top aides (and the former finance chairman of the RNC until JUNE come on) guilty of massive corruption, but the second Republican congressperson in a month was indicted on massive fraud charges.

Federal prosecutors allege that he (Duncan Hunter) and his wife stole $250,000 in campaign funds to do things like take their family to Italy (and buy a three-piece luggage set for it), buy their kids’ school lunches, treat family and friends to hotel rooms and wine and golf, and fly a family member’s pet to Washington, D.C., for vacation.

…When Hunter told his wife he needed to “buy my Hawaii shorts,” but he was out of money, she allegedly told him to buy them from a golf pro shop so he could claim they were actually golf balls for wounded warriors.

Hunter, like Chris Collins earlier this month, was one of Trump’s first two Congressional supporters. Now, in the most charitable reading, you could say that Trump is the unluckiest man that has ever lived, and so many people he trusted led him to the near occasion of sin. But why, your charitable Jesuit soul might ponder, are so many corrupt people drawn to Trump? What is it about him?

The clear answer, obviously, is that Trump has spent his entire life as a massively corrupt con man, a soulless avatar of greed and irresponsibility, who inherited wealth and saw that as an obligation to screw people over in order to make more wealth. He used his power to flout the laws, and exploited to the hilt the rigged game that favored the monied of the world.

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CEO Pay and the Wage Gap: Unsustainable Economics

“We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

–LOUIS BRANDEIS
U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE (1856-1941)

This is from last week, but we didn’t have a chance to get to it.

The chief executives of America’s top 350 companies earned 312 times more than their workers on average last year, according to a new report published Thursday by the Economic Policy Institute.

The rise came after the bosses of America’s largest companies got an average pay rise of 17.6% in 2017, taking home an average of $18.9m in compensation while their employees’ wages stalled, rising just 0.3% over the year.

The pay gap has risen dramatically, with some fluctuations, since the 1990s. In 1965 the ratio of CEO to worker pay was 20 to one; that figure had risen to 58 to one by in 1989 and peaked in 2000 when CEOs earned 344 times the wage of their average worker.

It’s hard to look at these numbers and not see a country in rotting decline. No one thinks everything was rosy in 1965; in many, many ways, things are so much better now. But when unions were strong, and corporations felt at least somewhat beholden to their communities, if just because they were bound by regulations and self-interest, there was a much broader sense of fairness.

That this fairness was driven by self-interest doesn’t make it less fair. Workers fought hard to push back against the bloody excesses of the gilded age, fought hard and in many cases literally died so that they could have a seat at the table. They threatened to shut down productivity and it worked, because bosses knew that if there were no workers, there was no money to be made (and not incidentally, it meant that the title of “boss” would disappear).

Partly created by the effort of those workers was the idea that the economy prospered when everyone had a chance to take part in it. That seems like a really simple idea, and indeed even a fascist like Ford recognized that things were better off if his workers could afford a Ford. That’s not to say he was benevolent or progressive or indeed even particularly good to his workers. He just knew that a certain sense of fairness kept the economy rolling and prevented revolution.

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Internet Mobs, Supply Chains, and an Emptiness in Deep Space: Quick Hits and Good Read

Let’s have at it, eh?

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We’ll start this week’s with a really interesting piece by Elizabeth Piccuto at Arc Digital, titled “The Morality of Social Media Mobs.” We all know that social media mobs can be terrifying, a herd of wildebeest suddenly turning, catching something in the air, a sniff of food or a rutting sow, and bearing down at ground-churning and pulverizing speeds toward one target. Sometimes this target can be deserving and powerful and in need of a good shaking (like Elon Musk), but often it can be a nobody shmuck who suddenly have their lives ruined.

(There’s another category, which is trolling idiots who want to be attacked so that they can say they bravely stood up to the SJW mob. There’s a whole cottage industry around it. Tricking wingnut gulls into giving you money is America’s most sustainable industry.)

We tend to see this, and it is painted as, a bunch of virtue-signaling nonsense, a grotesque pile-on so that the finger-pointers can feel better about themselves, with no concern for the car wreck at which they are gawking or the pulped-up bodies inside, before moving on to the next show. But, as Piccuto argues, it isn’t quite that simple.

 If someone says something racist, it hardly seems bad to, say, post a reply or quote-tweet saying it’s racist. The person who uttered the original statement might well take it to heart and stop saying such things. Even if she doesn’t, other folks may read your criticism and learn something about what people find racist. And again, stating your own moral opinions can usefully re-affirm them.

If it’s not bad for you to say make such a statement, why should the fact that other people said the same thing render your statement immoral? Why should a morally permissible or praiseworthy action become immoral when others perform the same action? When does the action suddenly become wrong? After 50 people say it? 1,000? Why would repeating such an action make it wrong?

It’s an interesting argument (there is a lot more to this piece, of course, and you should read the whole thing). We actually do act as individuals, and it is weird to say that there is a cut-off point for condemning truly shitty behavior. Piccuto isn’t saying that the mob is good, per se, although sometimes internet virtue can be a true force for good, but that the individual actors are all acting correctly.

Now, granted, that’s the very nature of a mob: individual actions, all of which are made, at least initially, with some kind of agency, turning into something different and something far more cohesive. And I do think there is a tendency, on the internet and in real life, to avoid being the last person to take an action.

After all, if everyone is calling out some chud for saying that women haven’t really earned the right to vote, then there is pressure to do the same, lest you lend support by dint of absence. But then, I’m sure people yelling at lunch-counter protestors felt the same way: they didn’t want to get involved, but didn’t want to not get involved either, and that’s how a mob forms and then takes on a life of it’s own.

Those aren’t the same, and I’m not drawing an equivalence. The questions here are how much intent matters, and when good actions become gratuitious and autonomic instead of thoughtful. I don’t know; I’m not a philosopher. But Piccuto is, so read the damn piece already.

(Disclosure? Many years ago Elizabeth and I were sort of friends in that weird but sincere internet way, through what were once very lively and thoughtful message boards on The New Republic. It sounds strange, I know! You had to be there. We really gave Marty Peretz the whatfor.)

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Standing Rock Protestors and Enbridge Line 5: Water is Sacred, Even For Doofus Secular Modernists

Great Lakes oil spill Mackinac Straits Enbridge line 5 water pollution

This seems an unimportant region, waterwise, in terms of water people drink.

Two years ago, protests at Standing Rock showed the power of a movement against the forces of unrestrained capitalism. Native protestors, joined soon by other allies, stood firm even in the biting bitter cold of the terrible northern Plains, trying to protect sacred sites and vitally important waterways against leaky pipelines built by shoddy, dishonest companies.

And it worked! Or, at least it did until Trump won and we entered the worst timeline.

But still: in all but the darkest and grimmest scenarios, the protestors at Standing Rock managed to stand firm, even as corporate power used the long arm of the state to try to break them, even after they were set upon by dogs and drones. It was goddamn heroic.

And now a handful of veterans from that movement are trying to bring the same attention to one of this blog’s favorite causes: Enbridge Line 5, running directly beneath the Straits of Mackinac, that roiling and terrifying waterway that combines Lake Huron and Michigan.

(Of course, they are actually one lake, he said, sniffingly)

From the FREEP:

In 2016, Nancy Shomin camped at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota with fellow protesters, trying to block the completion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Now, Shomin, who said she grew up in Flint and is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, finds herself again protesting an oil pipeline – but, this time, closer to home.

Shomin, 54, and others have set up a camp to protest Canadian oil transport company Enbridge’s Line 5, which carries millions of gallons of oil and natural gas liquids each day, splitting into two pipelines as it passes underwater through the Straits of Mackinac.

“The goal is to shut it down,” she said.

Now, this isn’t quite a movement yet; as of the article being published, there were less than a dozen people. But that doesn’t make it any less important.

A rupture in the pipeline would be catastrophic. The Straits are powerful, filled with rushing and oscillating currents, which punish ships and make navigation extremely difficult. The water flow is hard to contain, as this 2014 U of M report shows.

The report is pretty heavy on the science, but luckily the amazing people at Circle of Blue summarized it.

According to the report’s findings, a rupture under the straits would be particularly problematic because of the quickly moving and changing currents. The amount of water moving through the straits can be tenfold the volume of water that dives over Niagara Falls, and currents tend to reverse direction every few days.

“If you were to pick the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, this would be it,” said Schwab.

An oil spill under the Straits of Mackinac could reach beaches on Mackinac Island, one of the crown jewels of Michigan tourism, within 12 hours. The oil could travel as far as 35 miles to the west, reaching Beaver Island, and 50 miles to the southeast, all the way to Rogers City, said the report.

That might not seem like a lot, but 85 miles of open water is enormous, and incredibly hard to contain and clean, especially if a leak or spill happened in the winter under the thick ice, or during a storm.

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Good luck in this

Oil or liquid gas or petroleum could move its way into rivers, killing birds and fish throughout the upper Great Lakes system. Even if you don’t care about fish, those are people’s livelihoods.

None of this is abstract. Pipelines will always leak, and Enbridge’s tend to leak a lot more than others. And they tend to leak a lot more than Enbridge reports, because they are the kind of company that sees itself above the law. They are responsible for the largest leak in Michigan history, and have been underreporting the amount of leakage in Line 5 for years. (That’s an understatement; the actual amount of leaking has been double what the Pruitt-enabling jackals at Enbridge blithely report.)

You might not be surprised to know that,  to be sure they are always on the wrong side of things, the company acquired a major stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It’s not just leakage, although it is also that. The pipelines can be easily damaged by ships, as happened just this spring. They are a clear and present danger to anyone who relies on the Great Lakes for clean water, whether that is for drinking or your livelihood. You don’t have to think it sacred to know that it is holy.

The waters belong to us all. They aren’t the private property of the rich and powerful, armed with unaccountable security forces and protected on high by corrupt officials. Standing Rock proved that it is possible to win, even though the battle is never over.

In Mackinac, the water flows both ways with a terrifying ferocity. Sometimes, so does justice.