Weekend Good Reads and Quick Thoughts: Chelsea Manning, Gitmo, The Sinking East Coast, and More

This is the last weekend of the year you are legally allowed to listen to this song. 

I always want to do “Quick Hits” and such because I think they’ll be shorter, but they never are. Anyway, here are a few scatterings on some stories as well as things you should read, if you don’t have anything else going on during summer weekend, as summer blazes up once again to send us into the fall.

Let’s do this gossip column style.

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Quick Hits and Weekend Reads on our post-Priebus Friday

reince-scaramucci

Reince just lost a turf battle to this guy. Good for him- he deserves it.

1) Man, I don’t even know what to talk about this week. Let’s talk about Reince, who was just pushed out after losing a turf battle with the human incarnation of an $8 tip on a $400 bill.

I remember when Reince was first elected the chairman of the GOP in 2011, because it seemed impossible that he was real. He won by bragging that he owned eight guns, or at least that’s all I remembered beside the name. He was a weakling and a sniveling toady, the perfect embodiment of modern Wisconsin, a Kenosha kid who took it upon himself to make the lives of those he grew up around harder. With Scott Walker and Paul Ryan, he helped ruin a good state.

His legacy is presiding over the GOP as it tipped from gibbering into full madness, as he helped stoke powerful forces of anger and atavism, failed to stand up to Trump, and then enabled his every idiocy. No sympathy for the petty manner of his dismissal or his loss to a guy who thinks that calling the New Yorker means the assumption of off-the-record. He’s a terrible person who deserves fully every humiliation.

This is nice, though. Wikipedia is cold, man. This was up like 45 seconds after the news broke.

wiki

2) That reminds me: we started this week mostly talking about Jeff Sessions. Remember that? How Trump was pushing him out? (Can you believe the Mooch interview came out like 25 hours ago?)  There’s been some sympathy for Sessions because Trump has treated him so poorly, but remember that Jeff Session deserves much, much worse.

That’s the one nice thing about Trump ritually humiliating and abusing everyone around him. Choosing to be around Trump is proof that you are an asshole, and deserve to be ritually abused and humiliated. I can’t wait for it to happen to Mooch.

3) This week, we talked about the tragedy of Cairo, Illinois. I was honored to be linked by Avram Grynszpan at Ruminations in an Emergency (great name), who has been doing great work on Cairo. For more background on what is happening there, and why, please head on over to his joint. He is also more action-oriented on what we can to to help Cairo. The whole blog is really interesting, so make it a destination.

GOOD READS FOR THE WEEKEND

Image result for quiet library

Nah, go nuts

Looking for a few reads? Well, here you go.

  • If you like baseball, here’s a cool and fun Deadspin article on players who have had two separate Hall of Fame careers, by WAR. That is to say, if you took like their first ten years and second ten years, both would be HoF worthy, or at least in consideration. I think most people would be surprised to see Alex Rodriguez on here, though you shouldn’t be. He was so good and none of you cared. It’s also fun to remember how great Rickey Henderson was, and gape in awe again at Babe Ruth.
  • Less fun, but super important: Katherine Zimmerman at Critical Threats (An AEI joint, showing my political ecumenicism) has an excellent report, originally published in a statement to the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence on how al-Qaeda is strengthening by consistently adapting its approach and methods while still focusing on the primary goals. They are still thinking long-term, whereas ISIS thinks short (a position with which this blog is sympathetic). She wants US policy-makers to understand this persistent and pervasive threat, as well as the threat of Salafi-jihadism, which as she says “predates” either group and “will generate another transnational organization if they are defeated.”  It’s a good global look at the movement, and while I would be interested to see how she thinks ISIS impacted AQ (even just by altering the landscape of the ideas of its recruits), it is a sober and thoughtful and comprehensive report.
  • Timothy Garton-Ash, that great observer of political change in Europe, is strangely optimistic about the Anglo-American world’s ability to rebound from the intertwined Trump/Brexit madness. Well, at least, he sees it as a possible future, which is better than me on most days. He also produces a great line: “The transcript of Trump’s recent interview with the “failing” New York Times reveals the egocentric, superficial stream-of-consciousness disorder of his mind: Leopold Bloom meets the National Enquirer.”
  • A video! This isn’t reading at all! Looks like old man O’Neill is pivoting to the future! Don’t get too excited, because this is about parking, or rather, the madness of how we’ve designed cities around parking and minimum requirements. It doesn’t get into how the auto industry influenced these decisions, which meant that our towns are unwalkable, but that short-sightedness is demonstrated. This is a minor obsession around here, and this short video is a great introduction to the issue. It seems obscure, but it gets to the heart of how we live and interact with our lived environment. And the expert in it is awesome.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Let’s see if we can get through a weekend without a disaster.

Jared Kushner, Slumlord, Gets Richer By Destroying Lives

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These men are no different. They are rich vampires who prey on the weak.

The invaluable Alex MacGillis at ProPublica has an in-depth story about one of the ways in which Jared Kushner, he who will solve the Middle East, takes advantage of other people to whom the world has been less than kind. It’ll take some block-quoting.

But amid the high-profile Manhattan and Brooklyn purchases, in 2011, Kushner Companies, with Jared now more firmly in command, pulled together a deal that looked much more like something from the firm’s humble past than from its high-rolling present. That June, the company and its equity partners bought 4,681 units of what are known in real-estate jargon as “distress-ridden, Class B” apartment complexes: units whose prices fell somewhere in the middle of the market, typically of a certain age and wear, whose owners were in financial difficulty. The properties were spread across 12 sites in Toledo, Ohio; Pittsburgh; and other Rust Belt cities still reeling from the Great Recession. Kushner had to settle more than 200 debts held against the complexes before the deal could go through; at one complex, in Pittsburgh, circumstances had become so dire that some residents had been left without heat and power because the previous owner couldn’t pay the bills. Prudential, which was foreclosing on the portfolio, sold it for only $72 million — half the value of the mortgages on the properties.

In the following months, Kushner Companies bought another 1,700 multifamily units in similar markets, according to the trade publication Multifamily Executive. Unlike the company’s big New York investments, the complexes were not acquired with an eye toward appreciation — these were not growing markets, after all — but toward producing a steady cash flow. “Our goal is to keep buying and incrementally growing — they’re good markets where you can get yield,” Jared Kushner told Multifamily Executive in October 2011, predicting that the net income for the year’s purchases would be $14 million within a year. The complexes buttressed the Kushner portfolio in another way, he said: They would serve as a hedge against an upswing in inflation he believed was looming on the horizon.

So how does this make him money? Lawsuits. He apparently has a team of turkey vultures swooping in for any little mistake on the lease, any minor violation, and any discrepancy they could find in order to sue.  A woman who broke a lease early to tend to her dying mother lost thousands of dollars. A woman who didn’t replace her carpet after the sink backed up was sued for $600.

But you don’t even have to be in the wrong to get screwed by Kushner. You just have to be less wealthy than he is, and not able to stand up to him in court.

(Kamiia) Warren sent a letter reporting the problem to the complex’s property manager, a company called Sawyer Realty Holdings. When there was no response, she decided to move out. In January 2010, she submitted the requisite form giving two months’ notice that she was transferring her Section 8 voucher — the federal low-income subsidy that helped her pay the rent — elsewhere. The complex’s on-site manager signed the form a week later, checking the line that read “The tenant gave notice in accordance with the lease.”

So Warren was startled in January 2013, three years later, when she received a summons from a private process server informing her that she was being sued for $3,014.08 by the owner of Cove Village. The lawsuit, filed in Maryland District Court, was doubly bewildering. It claimed she owed the money for having left in advance of her lease’s expiration, though she had received written permission to leave. And the company suing her was not Sawyer, but one whose name she didn’t recognize: JK2 Westminster LLC.

Warren was raising three children alone while taking classes for a bachelor’s degree in health care administration, and she disregarded the summons at first. But JK2 Westminster’s lawyers persisted; two more summonses followed. In April 2014, she appeared without a lawyer at a district court hearing. She told the judge about the approval for her move, but she did not have a copy of the form the manager had signed. The judge ruled against Warren, awarding JK2 Westminster the full sum it was seeking, plus court costs, attorney’s fees and interest that brought the judgment to nearly $5,000. There was no way Warren, who was working as a home health aide, was going to be able to pay such a sum. “I was so desperate,” she said.

JK2, is, of course, Jared Kushner, the most absurd man in an absurd administration. There is something particularly venal about him, a rich New York socialite who yokes himself to evil incompetence for more power, who is using his status to further enrich his family, and who encourages obstruction of justice while doing nothing to rein in the racist cruelty of his father-in-law’s ghoulish entourage.

But that’s probably because he doesn’t want to. This is a mean shark, a rich bully who thinks he’s the underdog. He’s a scion who can drop hundreds of millions on a deal and pretend he’s earned the chip on his shoulder.

Early in the Adminstration, there were stories about how Kushner had become close with the horrible xenophobic racist Jeff Sessions. “Then there is Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who considers Sessions a savant and forged a bond with the senator while orchestrating Trump’s trip last summer to Mexico City and during the darkest days of the campaign.”

Jeff Sessions has spent a whole career in pursuit of one thing, and one thing only: white power. Whether that came from jailing black longer and in crueler conditions, protecting police from charges of racial brutality, closing off the border, or cutting welfare from strapping young bucks, his project has been the same. He didn’t wow Jared with his ability to talk the deficit. So what did Kushner consider him to be savant-like about?

This seemed incongruous. But it clearly isn’t. Kushner is a deeply cruel and shallow sociopath. He clearly feels that wealth is for the wealthy and privilege, including racial privilege, is for the privileged.

Look at this nightmare.

Kamiia Warren still had not paid the $4,984.37 judgment against her by late 2014. Three days before Christmas that year, JK2 Westminster filed a request to garnish her wages from her in-home elder care job. Five days earlier, Warren had gone to court to fill out a handwritten motion saying she had proof that she was given permission to leave Cove Village in 2010 — she had finally managed to get a copy from the housing department. “Please give me the opportunity to plead my case,” she wrote. But she did not attach a copy of the form to her motion, not realizing it was necessary, so a judge denied it on Jan. 9, on the grounds that there was “no evidence submitted.”

 

The garnishing started that month. Warren was in the midst of leaving her job, but JK2 Westminster garnished her bank account too. After her account was zeroed out, a loss of about $900, she borrowed money from her mother to buy food for her children and pay her bills. That February — five years after she left Cove Village — Warren returned to court, this time with the housing form in hand, asking the judge to halt garnishment. “I am a single mom of three and my bank account was wiped clean by the plaintiff,” she pleaded in another handwritten request. “I cannot take care of my kids when they snatch all of my money out of my account. I do not feel I owe this money. Please have mercy on my family and I.” She told me that when she called the law office representing JK2 Westminster that same day from the courthouse to discuss the case, one of the lawyers told her: “This is not going to go away. You will pay us.”

The judge denied Warren’s request without explanation. And JK2 Westminster kept pressing for the rest of the money, sending out one process server after another to present Warren with legal papers. Finally, in January 2016, the court sent notice of a $4,615 lien against Warren — a legal claim against her for the remaining judgment. Warren began to cry as she recounted the episode to me. She said the lien has greatly complicated her hopes of taking out a loan to start her own small assisted living center. She had gone a couple of years without a bank account, for fear of further garnishing. “It was just pure greed,” she said. “It was unnecessary.” I asked why she hadn’t pushed harder against the judgment once she had the necessary evidence in hand. “They know how to work this stuff,” she replied. “They know what to do, and here I am, I don’t know anything about the law. I would have to hire a lawyer or something, and I really can’t afford that. I really don’t know my rights. I don’t know all the court lingo. I knew that up against them I would lose.”

That’s right. That’s the way of America’s worst family. Take on those who can’t stand up for themselves, who can’t afford your lawyers. That’s “toughness” to them. They attack the weak. They prey on economic insecurity and exploit it for power. They dig at the margins of society.

America is a terrifying place. The line between getting along and tumbling into unrecoverable poverty is a thin one. There is no way that Jared Kushner will ever notice that $5000, minus lawyer fees. He’ll get, what, a grand maybe? Two? He would scoff at that if he found it in his glove box.

But that’s money that can ruin a life. It can push some down into the cracks, and foreclose on their dreams. It can spiral them into an unstoppable cycle of poverty and despair. It can stop them from finishing school, from opening a business, from providing even the most meager future for their kids. It can take away the roof over their head.

That’s Kushner. That’s the cruel and petty man behind the cruel and petty man-child. If he goes to prison for obsturctuion of justice it will be a perversion of the system. It’s the least of his crimes. This story proves that he represents the worst of the vampire rich, the heartless techno/plutocrats, with his vapid wife and snarling lawyers.

We had the American Psycho wrong with Don Jr. and Eric. It was Jared all along. There’s a reason why he’s the closest to Trump. They’re the same terrible person.

 

Wednesday Good Reads: SETI, El Faro, and Labor

 

FREE BOOKS! | Forever Free | Georgia Pathway to Language  Literacy

“Go to the one about organized labor, Madison

 

A few good reads from the last few days. What’s stopping you? You have nothing to lose, and everything (or, well, three things) to gain.

Searching the Skies for Alien Laser Beams, Marina Koren, The Atlantic

Some scientists believe that the best way to find alien life is to look for pulses of laser beams shot out across the dark eons. While SETI doesn’t always get priority for telescope use (understandably), researchers have found a workaround: poring through data collected by other observations and looking for anomalies. Of course, this presupposes that aliens have seen our planet, want to send some form of contact, and have also decided that laser pulses are the best way, but that makes some sense. It’s easier than sending, like an expedition, and it isn’t really committal (“Oh, jeez, sorry, we were sending that to Rigel 7.”), but there’s something very romantic about it. It’s like being at camp and blinking your flashlight across the lake, wondering if there were campers over there, wondering if you were somehow making a connection through the darkness.

(Granted, I doubt the aliens are hoping, as we campers did, just to make contact with girls, but the general principle holds.)

Democrats and Labor: Frenemies Forever, Erik Loomis, Boston Review

I don’t think there is anyone concerned with labor and with unions (the only thing that can bring back any form of rough economic equality) that isn’t frustrated with the Democrats. Even a very pro-labor government like Obama’s saw labor decline. But as Loomis argues, deciding the abandon the Democrats is ridiculous. A labor-driven third party can’t work, and the Republicans are fully committed to destroying what’s left of unions.

Loomis diagnosis how, oddly, the grassroots/progressive liberal wing helped to strip unions of their power, which accelerated the Democrats no longer needing them as much for votes, and relying on small donors/huge corporate cash, which pushed them toward unfettered free trade, which helped destroy the unions. It’s a complicated story where good guy/bad guy is pretty blurry, but there are ways to get back. The alliances that shattered unions can be used to build them back up.

Other unions have embraced grassroots activism to elect liberal and friendly Democrats. The latter is unions’ best answer if combined with committing as many resources as possible to organizing. Because, paradoxically, unions have little choice but to continue tying their fate to the Democratic Party. Indeed it is even more important now than five decades ago. Even though Democrats have helped create their demise, unions’ only chance against a full-on war with the Republican Party is a moderately favorable relationship with the Democrats acting as a kind of political bulwark.

The whole thing is worth the read.

‘I’m a Goner’: El Faro’s Last Hours as Ship Sails Into StormJason Dearen, AP

The El Faro was nearly 800 feet long and could carry 31,000 tons. It wasn’t one of the neo-Panamax megaliners that are transforming global shipping, but it was a beast. It also had bad boilers which could hurt its engine, and old-fashioned lifeboats that were essentially useless in a big storm. On Oct 1st, 2015, it

On Oct 1st, 2015, it rushed headlong into a big storm. Hurrican Jaoquin, near the Bahamas, a Category 3 with winds up to 130 mph. Battered by waves, unable to turn, the ship broke up and sank, taking its crew of 33 with it to the bottom.

In the AP, Jason Dearen crafts a story out of transcripts recorded on the bridge, and they tell a harrowing story of calm professionalism over growing terror. The list of things that went wrong is terrifying and maddening. The ship listed a bit, which meant the parts that brough oil to the engines didn’t quite reach the reserves, which made the pumps not work, which brought on more water. It couldn’t steer into the waves, and so was pummeled by them, hundreds of feet high. They couldn’t even call for help, since the company that owned the boat (the one that signed off on the boilers and the lifeboats) had an answering service set up after hours. There was no way to contact them directly (though it might not have mattered in the face of a hurricane, that’s still pretty cold).

They do their jobs and try to figure it out. But eventually, there is no way out. The ship is sinking. Some panic, some try to just find the next way to survive. None do. It’s a terrible story, written with a modest and removed reserve, which heightens the true natural terror. And that boat, that human immensity, carrying with it the dreams and memories of dozens, disappears, swallowed unremarkably by a roiling sea.

 

On Brexit Day, an Elegiac Read on England

 

Image of Sutton Hoo by Marc Atkins, via LRB

Sutton Hoo © Marc Atkins/marcatkins.com

Sutton Hoo © Marc Atkins/marcatkins.com

 

Today (or, I guess, yesterday), as Theresa May officially initiated Brexit, throwing the European project into disarray, and continuing the long and nightmarish trend of advanced countries saying “LEAVE” to the modern world that got Donald Trump elected, I read a beautiful little piece in the London Review of Books about the burial ground of a 6th-century Anglican king. This article, by Rod Mengham, was written with Brexit in mind without mentioning it, by showing the whole sweep of English history, whether it was insular or expansive. It’s a beautiful little drizzle of a read, in which you get the scope of time and our current politics.

But it’s worth remembering that the version of English spoken by Rædwald also evolved into Swedish, not to mention Danish, Norwegian, German and Dutch. There is a case for saying that Sutton Hoo does not mark the beginnings of Englishness, but its end: no money, no Christianity, no island mentality. Whoever was buried in Mound 1 did not die in the ship, but he did live in one, conceptually – his people were joined by the sea, not bounded by it.

It’s also worth reading for the comment section, which discusses if Rædwald could count as UKIP.

 

 

Monday Quick Hits: Berry and Breslin, Exxon, the NCAAs, and More

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Some quick hits and good reads to get us into a shining new American week…

-When I got the alert yesterday that Jimmy Breslin had died, hard on the heels of Chuck Berry, I had a vague notion of writing a piece about how the two men both created an American langauge. They took old traditions, grabbing along the way snatches of different and older languages, different sounds jumbled through the tumult of our history, bouncing around in the vastness of the land, from concrete wisdom to country passions, and in their own way, forged new and more democratic modes of expression. But then I thought: hm, I don’t know if I am really capable of exploring that, and anyway, it seems like something Charlie Pierce will do 10000 times better. He does not disappoint.

Did anyone do more to change American pop culture than Chuck Berry? This isn’t incidental; pop culture is culture. It’s an expression of our desires. Coming up with other names yields a short list, with maybe James Brown at the top of it. The list of musicians who were more awesome than Chuck Berry might be even shorter.

-So there was this commercial, in which a Jessica Chastain look-alike tells us that Exxon Mobil is really nothing more than a big ol’ jobs creator, and all the people they show are model attractive, that ran approximately 360000 times during the games this weekend. It wasn’t advertising anything, per se, other than the idea that Exxon is basically your neighborhood store, giving kids their first job so that Johhny can take Mary Sue to the movies this weekend. It’s basically a way for them to make us vaguely remember that “oil = good”. It’s essentially political, which is very smart.

Anyway, the repetition of that commercial is maybe why I had a dream this morning in which the real Jessica Chastain was giving a lecture where she said “There is maybe no more clear example of the importance of elections than fracking. Think about it: it’s an issue dominated by hydrologists, geologists, engineers, and increasingly, seismologists, yet is determined almost entirely by the people we elect. That makes it up to us. Do we elect the thoughtful, or the cheerfully venal?”

Seriously, those are my dreams with Jessica Chastain. Thanks, brain!

-Speaking of Exxon, that commercial was considerably more accessible than Exxon’s former CEO, who is settling into a quiet job outside the public eye, Secretary of State. On a weekend in which he moved us closer, rhetorically, to conflict with North Korea (a state to which North Korea themselves are also rushing), he also give some limited statements about why he’s not accessible to the press (and why he didn’t bring them along for his Asian trip, save for one friendly reporter).

“I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it. … When we’re ready to talk about what we’re trying to do, I will be available to talk to people. But doing daily availability, I don’t have this appetite or hunger to be that.”

He added: “When I have something important and useful to say, I know where everybody is and I know how to go out there and say it.”

He added that there’s plenty of media in the cities where he’s heading, lowering the need for a traveling press. And he disregarded the tradition of the secretary of State spending time with reporters on flights, saying “that’s not the way I tend to work.”

Well…shucks, Rex. It is admirable that you’re not one of those big media persons, always needing to be on the twitter for the kids, like one of those Kardashians or Kissingers. Here’s the thing, though: you’re not a CEO anymore. You don’t get to work in the shadows. You’re on the public dime, and you’re talking about issues of literal life and death, all the time. You don’t actually get to decide when we know what’s going on and when we don’t.

It’s fine that you don’t want to be a celeb SecState, and just want to do your job. But saying “I’ll only talk to the press when I feel like it” isn’t admirably modest or a burst of down-home sensibility. It is, at best, incredibly patronizing and undemocratic, and at worst, sinister. If you don’t want people to think that you’re colluding with foreign powers to help the energy industry, maybe don’t be so secretive.

-Speaking of the NCAAs, while I didn’t watch every game, I had at least most of them on at one point or the other. Yesterday was clearly the best day, though Nigel Hayes’s winner against Nova was bucket of the tournament, for sure. Witchita/Kentucky, which should clearly have not been a Round of 32 game, had that breathtaking sequence at the end, which might have been the most exciting part of the weekend. UCLA showing off their powerhouse offense in a 5-minute blitz against Cincinnati demonstrated everything that’s fun about hoops. And Duke losing in the first weekend makes every tournament worth it.

But, to me anyway, the most impressive game of the tournament was Kansas vs. Michigan State. It was a close one throughout, with a feisty Michigan St trading blows with the Jayhawks, until with about eight minutes left, Kansas methodically and brutally pulled away, winning by 20. In a weekend in which a 3-seed lost by about 900 to an 11-seed, in which Gonzaga nearly collapsed against Northwestern, in which UNC struggled against Arkansas, and in which the defending champ and #1 overall seed lost, to see a team remember they’re great, and play like it, was a sight to behold.

(Although, sneakily, and I might be biased, the best overall weekend went to Butler, which took on a very good Winthrop team and an extremely dangerous Middle Tennessee team, and never trailed in either game. Now their half of the bracket is UNC, UCLA/Kentucky, and most likely Kansas. Let’s take on some blue bloods, Butler.)

-Finally, my favorite read of the week was this in the most recent London Review of Books, in which Benjamin Kunkel talks about the “captialocene.” It’s a take on the Anthropocene, the idea that human activity has so changed the planet, in ways that were before only the result of gradual climatic and geologic shifts or sudden space-borne disasters, that it’s a whole new Epoch. This isn’t just a catchphrase, either: by the end of this year, the Anthropocene might be officially established alongside the Pleistocene, Holocene, Miocene, and others.

But the idea of the “captialocene” is slightly different. It argues that the great changes weren’t really the results of all humans, but came about as a result of capitalism, in which the land and the people were converted into capital for the benefit of the very few. That is, we as a species didn’t make a choice to do something, but a select group got rich destroying the planet.

There’s a damn good argument there (and nowhere is it I think more true than in North America, in which literally everything was alchemized into money). There is a counterargument that communism wasn’t exactly good for the environment (see, while you can, the remainder of the Aral Sea), but that was a reaction to capitalism, and still in the essential capitalist framework. The nature of the project is to wring profit out of everything, and if that means using up the world the way it uses up workers, so be it.

The other counterargument is that the process started long before capitalism. Hell, the people that came over to North America set out to immediately wipe out all large mammals save for buffalo, changing the ecosystem almost irreversibly. So maybe capitalism is just the ultimate expression of our nature?

The idea is that the capitalocene can actually transform into the Anthropocene, in which humans more broadly have a say in the environment, and our systems are revised to redistribute both economic and environmental justice. That is: the decisions about the earth aren’t just made by the few, for the few, but finally, for once, by the species as a whole. That does seem to be the only way to solve this mess. All it takes is a complete reordering of all our priorities. I’m guessing another asteroid will hit first.