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.




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.

copper mine arizona drought

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.”


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?


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.

Image result for mackinac bridge storm

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.

Which of these quotes is most craven? A Fun Trump-Era Game!


I will never grow tired of this image.

This blog was originally going to have a strict “No Omarosa” policy, because it seemed to do otherwise was embarrassing. Why are we talking about this reality show washout who didn’t have a real job in the administration? Of course, we have a reality show President, and live in the dumbest and tackiest of all possible timelines, so there is a non-zero chance that fucking Omarosa will have a world-historic impact.

But until then, I want to ignore this sickening and degrading enterprise, and focus on another sickening and degrading enterprise: Politico’s little brief on what they laughingly call “Trump’s Diplomatic Learning Curve“, which accidentally implies that our President is learning.

By now, you’ve read most of the highlights: he had no idea that there were countries called “Nepal” and “Bhutan”; he doesn’t understand that foreign leaders might not always want to take his rambling and gormless call at all hours; he doesn’t quite grasp the idea that other countries have delicate relations with others, and don’t base their every move around Trump.

But what’s interesting in the piece is that while some of the interpretations are bandied about, few of the specifics are disputed, even by sources who are still, for no apparent reason, anonymous.

A White House official said Trump, as a former jet-setting global businessman, understands how time zones work but doesn’t dwell on such details when he wants to talk to a foreign leader. “He’s the president of the United States. He’s not stopping to add up” time differences, the official said.

I really like this quote, because it isn’t denying that he fails to take time zones into account, or to care that someone might be asleep. That Japan is on the other side of the world is just “details”. The implication is that only nerds stop to add, and the President is a man of action. Stupid nerds.


This sentiment is backed up beautifully by James Carafano, a big Washington muck-muck elite, who also advised the State Department transition team.

“If people are looking for more polish and more kind of conventional statecraft and that’s their metric for Trump learning, I think they’re going to be disappointed,” said Carafano, vice president for foreign policy at the Heritage Foundation. “I don’t think he sees those as faux pas; I think he sees them as, ‘Look, I do things differently.’ If you say, ‘That’s not how things are done,’ he says, ‘Who says? Where is it written down that I can’t do that?’”

Here’s a man who ostensibly is dedicating his life to foreign policy, who is an important member of a top think-tank, a man of great influence in Washington, who is basically saying that sure, the President might not “know stuff” or “be smart” or “have basic human decency as the basis for diplomacy”, but that’s ok. He does things differently.

(It’s also important to note that “differently”, for Trump supporters, is synonymous with good. It’s a de facto assumption, and a totem for the initiated. It’s how they maintain their faith in the face of overwhelming incompetence.)

But that’s not even my favorite quote. This one is.

At times, he wings it with unfortunate results. Meeting with a group of African countries at the United Nations General Assembly last September, Trump, in public remarks, referred to the country of Namibia as “Nambia.” (Trump did impress some of his own aides in the meeting, however. “He did a very good job of saying Côte d’Ivoire,” said one.)

Ah, but I could be bound in the nutshell of that parenthetical and consider myself the king of infinite flopsweat! Just imagine being impressed by that, or I guess being professionally bound to convince yourself that this was, indeed, impressive! Imagine being in that position. Imagine thinking that a metric of success is for your boss to not botch literally everything.

I wish I could just hear the surely-strong-but-intensely-patronizing lilt in how this aide pronounced “very”. I honestly could listen to that on an endless loop for the rest of my life.

This is all fun and stuff, but what we have is an army of enablers for the fake king. They spin his intense ignorance as strength and virtue, and are terrified of offering even the most gentle corrections. It would be one thing if we had a genial dipshit in office, some kind of holy dummy who just floats along on a cloud of their own regard, but we don’t. We have a volcanic manchild at the seat of immense power.

The thrust of this article, read between the lines, is that anyone close to Trump, including every foreign leader beside Trudeau, is too scared of setting him off to correct him or to push back. Everyone, for reasons of self-protection or hoping for the greater good or sheer craven careerism or maybe just broken cognitive dissonance and faith-based acceptance, let’s him operate in a bubble of selfish incompetence and unlettered self-regard.

Politico refers to Trump’s “learning curve”, but it is obvious he isn’t learning everything. The only curve is the rapid bending of light as all of us are getting sucked into his dark gravity. The world is warping around the single dumbest man of his time and contorting themselves to try to stay upright. It’s not working. We’re all increasingly deformed, and this November is our last best chance at straightening up.

Yemen Bus Bombing, Ben Shapiro, and How We Consume the News

I just spent a blissful week in Adirondack splendor, during which, save for a quick trip to town on Tuesday, I was entirely without any internet connection. My phone stayed in my bag, dead as Dillinger, unmoored from the world and silent. Along with the clean fresh air, the endless trees, and the quietude of the lake, it made for a week of incredible relaxation.

That’s not to say that we were entirely disconnected. The week was spent with my wife’s extended family, a more wonderful group of people you’ll likely never meet, and papers were brought back anytime someone went into town for supplies (i.e. beer and wine). So there were local papers, but also the NYTimes. 

Now, I know that the Times isn’t exactly the go-to paper of the so-called common man or anything, but it is still a print edition, finite in what it can cover. While it may or may not be “all the news that’s fit to print” (spoiler: nope), it can literally only fit so much. The local papers, concerned as the should be with local news and weather, with farming updates and conservation debates, with the day-to-day fabric of what directly impacts people’s lives, can fit even less.

I haven’t consumed news this way in years, not for any extended time, anyway. Looking at the papers, we didn’t see every latest Twitter war, every uttering of every two-bit grifter, every take and counter-take and thinkpiece on what counter-takes meant, jokes about what different memes initiating from the original counter-take mean, etc.

Then, when I came back on Saturday night, and reluctantly, but with fingers doing so almost autonomically, like a just-quit smoker flicking an imagined Bic, checked Twitter, it was to find that people were debating whether Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez should debate Ben Shapiro.


There is a world in which this matters. Bad-faith half-bright trolls like Shapiro, who is plumped up as the intellectual future of conservatism, which tells you all you need to know, do sort of matter. They are shaping the way we talk about things and the way the right reacts. That matters. The sneering attacks on AOC for not debating a Twitter troll trying to pump up his brand tells you everything you need to know about their dishonesty.

No one can honestly think that every political candidate should debate every jumped-up avatar with a book to sell. And there can’t be anyone who thinks that Shaprio would debate in good faith. He’s made a living off of not doing so, because he’s talented enough to spin any point into a “crushing” set of pre-determined talking points. Winning debates isn’t about being honest, it is about scoring points.

So this was never, ever going to happen. There was zero reason for AOC to do so. It was offered entirely so that she would look bad when ignoring it (“Why is socialist COWARD afraid to debate?”) and that Shapiro could go on Fox a few more times. It was a perfect example of the empty reality of our times.

It didn’t, as far as I could tell, make any of the local papers I was reading. There wasn’t a concern with these inane week-long nothings. That’s not to say that the locals never hear of this. They aren’t offline; they are busy living their lives in an economically challenged area, not there just for the raw and rugged beauty. They don’t have the luxury of a week off. And as we see in Qanon or any of Trump’s little Nitwit Nuremburgs, the ginned-up nonsense online seeps into the real world.

But on a daily basis, a very small number of people actually care about this, much less debate it. Twitter, and being Very Online in general, warps your perception about the things that matter, and the things that matter only to the Very Online. It turns out that not everyone knows who Ben Shapiro is. And not everyone has an opinion on whether AOC is or is not the future of the Democratic Party.

But there are other things that most people in this country don’t know and don’t care about.

Dozens were killed and wounded in an airstrike on a bus carrying children in Yemen’s northern Saada province, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross and eyewitnesses.

On Thursday, a Saudi missile or bomb slammed into a school bus filled with Yemeni children, killing 40 of them, and ripping them from childhood into death or something different, a world of pain and terror, of disfigurement and nightmares, and shattering families already pulverized by war and famine and disease.

There’s more, though. While it is not yet confirmed, there is evidence that the bomb was a Raytheon Mark-82, American-made, and sold to the Saudis who are only in one war. This bomb was manufactured and sold to be dropped on Yemen by Saudi Arabia, who since the start of their Yemeni invasion have shown no concern whatsoever for avoiding civilian casualties.

(Even if it turns out this wasn’t a Mark-82, they have consistently been used to kill civilians at weddings and in school and at the market.)

I’m not saying this didn’t make the Times. I don’t remember seeing it, but we might not have gotten it on Thursday or Friday. I certainly don’t remember seeing it elsewhere, in the local papers. I’m sure it was covered. I’m sure as well that, like the Yemeni wedding which Raytheon crashed, it will quickly go away.

This also matters. Our involvement in that war is a crime, unjustifiable except by the most twisted and bad-faith and hysterical and violence-wrecked interpretation of the AUMF, which people barely even bother to invoke, so used to war we all are. But in any reasonable world, this would be front page for days. The US is directly complicit with a sickening act of violence deliberately perpetrated against children, designed to shatter resistance.

I saw most coverage of this on Twitter. I saw scores of activists forcing us to pay attention, to understand. I saw consistent updates, outrage, and sober reporting of what was happening. I saw real journalism, in real time, interrupting the hourly inanity.

So getting unplugged can be great. Being not online can keep you away from having to have an opinion on Ben Shapiro, or even rudimentary knowledge of what exactly a “Ben Shapiro” is. But you can also miss the stories that matter. You can let US crimes slip by unnoticed. You can be wholly unaware of what a destabilizing presence we have become in this world. And that lets more crimes like this pass by unnoticed, become routine, become even unremarkable, for they are unremarked upon. It is brutalization by silence.

There’s obviously no prescription here. Being Online can wreck your brain and turn it into regurgitated, always-anxious mush. Ignoring local concerns makes everything national and has destroyed our politics. And local journalism is the true bulwark of democracy and accountability.

It’s just to say we still don’t know how to handle the times in which we live, and the way we consume information. It is altering our lives and politics in ways that are still not fully known, and are moving faster and faster, borne along by its own growing momentum. Getting unplugged for a week, and breathing the clean air, won’t ever change that.

Anti-Smog Lawsuits Show Path Against Foxconn, Bizarro EPA

The only good kind of Smog

(H/T to Official Blog Brother Kevin O’Neill for this)

The Foxconn plant being planned for just north of the Illinois border in Racine, Wisconsin, is a sort of Ground Zero for the labor and environmental arguments we’re going to be having in this country over the next few decades. It isn’t unique, and it isn’t the first, but it is emblematic of what we’re seeing and what is to come (and also close to home for this here blog, so we’ll focus on it).

To keep it short, about a year ago Foxconn, the tech giant that makes products for Apple, among others, when it isn’t too busy driving employees to suicide, announced that they would be opening a plant in southeastern Wisconsin, a poor and battered area, an area tossed around by the decline of manufacturing and the shifting of labor to cheaper areas overseas.

This could be seen as a blessing, of course. Although there are some signs of life in downtown Racine and nearby Beloit, both towns are still hurting, with shuttered factories and broken-curb streets just blocks away from cheery riverwalks and aspirational downtowns. These areas are the quintessential victims of capital flight and the attendant ills of post-modern capitalism.

The problem is that the Foxconn plant, while it might create jobs for 10,000 people, it won’t be hiring the uneducated of Racine and Beloit for long-term jobs, if at all. That 10,000 is illusory: most will come from short-term construction jobs (a good thing!), and the long-term will be engineers and other jobs recruited from around the country and around the world. And most of those will be “automation specialists”, since Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou dreams of a workerless factory.

So yeah…those jobs don’t seem like they’re really going to boost the region in the short or long term. Sure, there will be some security jobs, some minimum wage cleaning jobs, and I am sure there will be some mechanics, shoulders free from the burden of collective bargaining, making sure the robots are oiled and happy or whatever, but not jobs that carry the pride of work we as a nation rightfully celebrate.

And in order to create this robo-paradise, Scott Walker, who has already demolished the rights of workers in his state, an absolute prerequisite to attracting jobs for the vampiric business class, also gave away literal billions in tax incentives to a subsidiary of trillion-dollar Apple, broke the Great Lakes Compact, and stripped away environmental protections.

The latter, though, is where he might get tripped up.

Two lawsuits filed Thursday urge a federal appeals court to force southeast Wisconsin and northwest Indiana to comply with the latest limits on lung-damaging smog, targeting a Trump administration rollback intended to benefit Foxconn Technology Group and a handful of other big industrial companies.

The legal challenges — one filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and another by two Chicago-based environmental groups — cite the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own records and data in seeking to overturn the exemptions.

The lawsuits say that, according to the EPA’s own science, the pollution of SE Wisconsin is having a material difference in the life of the region, and the Foxconn plant will make it even worse. We know it will make it worse because, in order to get the plant approved, the Trump EPA had to carve out exemptions so that Foxconn, which again is really rich and has billions in tax incentives, wouldn’t have to make “improvements” to a plant which hasn’t even been built yet. 

That’s right: it would be too burdensome for a rich and powerful company to meet the very minimum of clean air requirements. At least that’s the argument. It is nonsense, of course, but a very particular kind of nonsense, and one that is among the central arguments in our era of capitalism.

Look at what had to happen in order for Foxconn to build a plant. First, they wouldn’t have even considered it is Walker hasn’t destroyed organized labor in the state. But then they also had to get massive tax cuts, have environmental laws rewritten for them, break treaties, and be able to refuse to comply with any regulations. All for a few jobs that won’t even pay very well!

It isn’t that Foxconn couldn’t pay workers more, or be forced to guarantee employment for human workers, or recognize the right to collectively bargain, or build a brand-new factory that wouldn’t poison the air. It’s that they don’t want to, because then they might not be quite as rich. And in late-stage capitalism, that matters more than anything else.

We’re at the point where a large number of people, including an entire political party and a substantial chunk of another one, agree that corporations should be able to do whatever they want, and that their prerogatives are far more important than those of workers or people who have to breathe or drink clean water.

The Trump administration is trying to do whatever it can to make this paradise a reality. It is fighting labor and rolling back any and all regulations. They’ve never made any secret of this. In one of his earliest post-election lunatic press conference, Trump made it very clear.

But you’re going to sell through a very strong border — not going to happen. You’re going to pay a very large border tax. So if you want to move to another country and if you want to fire all of our great American workers that got you there in the first place, you can move from Michigan to Tennessee and to North Carolina and South Carolina. You can move from South Carolina back to Michigan.

You can do anywhere — you’ve got a lot of states at play; a lot of competition. So it’s not like, oh, gee, I’m taking the competition away. You’ve got a lot of places you can move. And I don’t care, as along as it’s within the United States, the borders of the United States.

He wants states to race each other to the bottom, creating very few low-paying jobs without any regulations. He wants to see who can race each other to become Bangladesh. This isn’t pro-worker in any reality. It is “creating jobs”, sure, but only by making the lives of those workers as challenging and brutalized and meaningless as possible. It is nothing other than pro-capital, pro-corporation, and pro-boss.

That’s where we are. The Foxconn deal is a prime example of this, and the lawsuits might be the only way to gum it up. We can demand more. We can demand that states not take away our rights to a decent life so that Foxconn shareholders can get a little richer. We can redefine our relationship to power. In this new race, that might be the only way we can win.