A Quick Thought On The Newest Kavanaugh Allegations

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Supreme Court nominee Steve Dallas

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called late Sunday for a delay in further consideration of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh after a second woman accused him of sexual misconduct.

“I am writing to request an immediate postponement of any further proceedings related to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh,” Feinstein (Calif.) wrote in a letter to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee’s chairman.

Her letter came after the New Yorker magazine reported that Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale University, said he exposed himself at a party when they were both first-year students.

Ramirez, who told the magazine that they both had been drinking at the time of the incident, acknowledged some gaps in her memory but said she remembered another student shouting Kavanaugh’s name.

I’m not sure how you prove this. I’m not sure how the FBI gets involved. I’m pretty sure this is going to be used by the bad-faith right as an example of either how Democrats are making things up to derail Kavanaugh, how they are taking boys-will-be-boys behavior and shrilly excoriating and emasculating it, how #MeToo has gone too far, or all three. Probably all three.

But. Regardless of if this is provable or not, it certainly rings true. It certainly fits a pattern of obnoxious frattish behavior where the point has been to humiliate women, and where sex is a weapon of the powerful. It has been a hallmark of Kavanaugh’s whole career, this leering juvenilia, and he’s brought it to every stage of Republican politics. His questions to Bill Clinton, designed to humiliate, are also created to evoke snickering titillation. Vagina!

This is how he’s matriculated through Republican politics until he was given a seat on a powerful bench specifically so that he could one day be on the Supreme Court, to carry water for a movement that has paved a path for his essential mediocrity. He’s a rich kid who has bullied women his whole life, and will continue to do so with his rulings, stripping them and other non-rich/white people of their rights. He’ll do so gleefully. It’s like Paul Ryan talking about taking away the social safety net “around the keg”. It’s 80’s era Reaganite frat-heads conspiring to use a fake morality to justify theft and power.

That’s the heart of the movement: it’s not just a boot stamping down on the human neck, forever. It’s making you lick that boot while a bunch of popped-collar trust fund bros hoot and snigger in the background, cocks out, and now finally headed toward completion.


What Is Yemen?

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Pictured: Yemen, just not “Yemen” 

Writing for Lawfare, my good and great friend Greg Johnsen discusses the three wars currently happening in Yemen: the civil war (encompassing both the Houthi war against the “central” government as well as the southern secessionist movement), the regional war (Saudi Arabia/UAE against Iran) and the war against ISIS and al-Qaeda (in which the US is droning and bombing at its leisure).

It’s a damn interesting piece, and Greg does a great job of showing how all these wars are intertwined. ISIS and AQ aren’t just fighting against the west; they are trying to get land, are fighting the Houthis, and of course have a simmering battle against each other. The drone wars against them waged by the US are mixed up with our mindless and cruel and self-defeating support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a brutal perversion of the AUMF while at the same time its full expression.

Greg argues that the regional component, while the most outlandishly deadly, has the easiest “off-ramp”; both sides could agree to stop arming combatants and cease any involvement. That’s not “easy”, per se, since sunk cost, national pride, and other somehow-important factors would have to be overcome. But it is possible, and as the war gets more mired, and as disease slithers its way to the front pages, and as the Saudis and Emiratis are increasingly blamed for Yemen’s genocidal starvation, it is likely they’ll find a way to leave.

That’s when, in Greg’s telling, the real fighting will begin, and there will be no way to put the country back together.

The Houthis have made a lot of enemies during their time in power, but have largely been given a pass by many under their control due to the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign. When that ends, so too will some of their support.

There is, simply put, no longer a single Yemen. There are multiple Yemens and no single individual or group capable of re-uniting them into a coherent whole. Yemen has too many groups with too many guns to ever be a unified state again. The civil war, which has taken a back seat to the regional conflict over the past three years, will eventually resume at full force. And when it does, the fighting it produces will be bloody and protracted.

Speaking militarily, Greg is absolutely correct. There is no one capable of uniting Yemen into a coherent whole. There’s no Lee who can bring a rebellious enemy to heel. But even if there were, I don’t think Yemen could ever be back the way it was, simply because the “way it was”, as a unified nation, never really existed.

Uneasy unification in 1990 was followed by a civil war in 1994, after which the south was virtually occupied by jihadis returning from Afghanistan. A decade later, the Houthi wars started in the north, an area which had been under essentially military rule after the civil war in the 1960s. The southern secessionist movement began in full force in the aughts, and never really abated.

What, then, is there to put back together? Hell, it’s been 150 years since the US fought its war, and we’re still fighting political battles divided by region, as well as fighting over the role of the central government to do simple things like enforcing civil rights. And we’re a rich and powerful nation, in which tax money is spent freely around the formerly-rebellious parts, and they have a full and even disproportionate representation in politics and military. That’s the textbook way to reconcile after a war, and we’re barely hanging on.

Yes, there are complicated reasons for that, but that’s the point: these things don’t heal.

So I don’t know if there is a chance for Yemen to ever again be one nation, because it never really was. The pieces to be put back together don’t really fit together, even before war and disease and starvation shattered them further.

Just because we draw the map of Yemen based on 1990 borders doesn’t mean that’s the way the map has to be. Political maps are a perception; they are a snapshot of a moment in time, giving the essential absurdity of borders a place of primacy over the lived reality of geography and history. They tell a story, not the story.

Greg’s piece is an important part of a growing body of work among Yemen experts arguing that we can’t try to force unity, and have to build legitimacy from local experts. The sooner the international community recognizes that, and the sooner it stops thinking of every solution as state-based, the closer we get to ending this endless horror.

Kavanaugh Defenses Show Full Weight of Anti-Women Animus

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Reminder: he’s going to be terrible for women no matter what

There are few greater indications of the warping effect of political loyalties than we see in the attempted rape accusations levied by Christine Blasey Ford against Brett Kavanaugh, hitherto the all-but-certain next Supreme Court nominee.  No one except Ford, Kavanaugh, and possibly Mark Judge know what happened, and that might not even be true. The bridling effects of time and self-deception and trauma and any other number of factors might preclude anyone from being absolutely certain.

But certainly, there are many who are certain about what happened, and who have absolutely-held and rock-strong convictions about something they just heard about. If you want Kavanaugh to be confirmed, you don’t believe her, or believe that holding someone and covering her mouth is just what boys do. If you don’t want him to be confirmed, you believe her.

Myself, I tend to err on the side of the women, especially in this case. For one thing, there’s no real incentive to come forward. I know people are saying she’s a left-wing opportunist who is just trying to get fame and fortune, but come on. This isn’t Stormy Daniels, who clearly thrives in the attention economy. This is an anonymous woman who was opening herself up to opposition from the most powerful and most vindictive man on the planet, who has zero problem destroying lives.

And this instinct to defend one’s side was a conclusion all but foregone. Immediately after coming forward, the right-wing went to war against her. Someone found negative reviews of Christine Ford on the not-exactly-scientific site ratemyteacher.com, and published them. These were quickly amplified by Drudge and Laura Ingrahm, among others. That the reviews turned out to be for a different Christine Ford hardly mattered. That the griping of disgruntled students doesn’t exactly shed light on the validity of rape accusations never seemed to enter in to equation. It was enough to attack her, to sow doubt, to make people associate her with something a little bit off. That’s the playbook.

Needless to say, the worst of it is coming from the Trump family, though surprisingly not the POTUS. Don Jr went all-in. He didn’t say the holding-down-while-trying-to-drown-out-screams didn’t happen, but that it was no big deal.

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Why are there flags?

LOL! Right? Women, always complaining about nothing. That’s what’s going on here, right fellas?

So yeah- unless Dr. Ford is a complete dummy, she knew this was coming. She knew she’d be savaged. She knew she was opening herself up to retribution. She knew that the forces of the right would be marshaled against her, with snarling fury. This in and of itself not proof of her accuracy, but it’s not nothing.

That the White House and Congress knew about this accusation (as they almost certainly did) and went forward is appalling, but not shocking. The whole point of packing the Supreme Court, beside helping business destroy workers and the environment, is to negate the autonomy of women. Even if Kavanaugh was a choir boy in high school, he’s still going to wreck abortion rights in this country, and maybe even erode Griswold. That’s the project. That’s why he was pushed and approved by right-wing activist groups.

That’s why the defense of him matters. That people like Don Jr and thousands of others are dismissing his alleged actions as no big deal, just boys being boys, and the opposition to assault as some shrill PC feminism, tells you all you need to know about their priorities. They aren’t ashamed of what he potentially did; they’re proud of it (even as he denies it).

It’s all part of the same animating idea of Trumpism: the id of white men should be fully unleashed, with gleeful sexual fury over the weaker. That’s why a libertine New Yorker who almost certainly has paid for some abortions is the hero of the Christian right and will preside over the demise of Roe. These aren’t contradictions. It’s the expression of misogyny given full reign, and it’s reshaping the foundations of our nation.

The Ground Beneath Our Feet

In an essay for Slate, the great Dahlia Lithwick got right to the heart of what makes the Brett Kavanaugh Foregone Conclusion Hearings so distasteful and weird, and captures the wooziness of this terrible and tacky and terminal moment.

…Republicans spent the first day of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings telling us that nothing that’s happening in here has anything to do with the fact that Donald Trump is the president. None of the concern around this Supreme Court seat has anything to do with the fact that the president himself is under investigation for corruption and campaign finance violations, or that his personal lawyer swore under oath that Trump instructed him to commit crimes, or that a foreign power is currently interfering with our election systems. All of that is about a different thing. This hearing is about something stable and immutable and good. And anyone who implies that anything is abnormal is a hysteric or an opportunist or an attention-seeker.

It is a bizarre and grotesque spectacle, but it isn’t actually disconnected from what is happening with the Presidency (and Lithwick isn’t saying it is; she’s saying the GOP is pretending it is).  While the spectacle of a disintegrating and lunatic Presidency seems to be happening on a separate track than the forced normalcy of the Supreme Court hearing, with its mawkish personal statements and routine elisions of important questions, they are really rolling together on one line: the wobbling, broken-down, clacking-toward-catastrophe roller coaster of our democracy.

The horrible NYTimes op-ed about the internal resistance is part of this disintegration. It’s bullshit at best, and just as anti-democratic as Trump at worst, even while it blares its self-serving committment to democracy.

After all, if you really believe that the President is dangerously unfit, that he makes “half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions”, that he is ” is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making”, that the “root of the problem is the president’s amorality”, the result of which is that “the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic”, then I don’t know: fucking do something.

Resign in a public spectacle. Testify before Congress. Put yourself on the damn chopping block. But working for a President who daily gets on the squawkbox and undermines our democracy, cries “TREASON” to his hordes about anyone who looks at him crosswise, and who literally has the power to destroy the world in his hand, isn’t heroic. It’s enabling.

We see the real heart of the editorial in the lines where it praises itself (using the term “unsung heros” to describe the author and other internal resistors) for “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military.” This is acheived, they say, in spite of the President. The author also somehow bemoans the “ceaseless negative coverage” (of a President lacking and first principles) and an “opposition hell-bent on his downfall” (“his” referring to a President that acts in a manner “detrimental to the health of our Republic”).

This whole op-ed is laying the groundwork for Trump not being Republican enough. It praises turning regulatory power over to the corporations that are being regulated and raiding the economy to help the rich get richer, and damns Trump for not being consistent enough in these things. And while it mentions that Trump is anti-democratic, it doesn’t mention at all things like voter suppression, gerrymandering, or blocking the ability of our states to protect their electoral systems from Russian interference.

And by god, it certainly doesn’t mention the constant race-baiting, xenophobia, and self-serving divisiveness on which this President, and the GOP as a whole, thrives.

That’s because the author doesn’t care about these things. They care not about protecting America from Trump, but about protecting GOP authoritarian ideology from a guy too stupid and reckless to keep it up. They worry about Trump giving away the game.

Because a President who is too stupid and amoral and reckless that he has to be shielded from responsibility by his aides should not be allowed to make lifetime appointments to any court. A President who can be fooled, as per Woodward’s bookby hiding documents from him, shouldn’t be in control of the military. He shouldn’t be allowed to impose his will on how elections happen. He shouldn’t be making any foreign policy decisions.

But he is allowed to. The Republican Party is dedicated to preserving minority dominance through a stranglehold on the courts and by ruthlessly suppressing votes and increasing both democratic and economic inequality.  The nonsense Kavanaugh hearings are in a continuum with that.

Republicans, captured entirely by western extraction interests, anti-government paranoia, and the American apartheid state, are trying to pretend the only thing abnormal about the Kavanaugh hearings are that people are mad. They throw up their hands and pretend it is uncivil to point out that a man with a minority of votes, aided by intense voter suppression and collusion with a foreign power, has been able to appoint two lifelong conservative operatives to the Supreme Court, one through a seat that was entirely stolen from Barack Obama in a complete electoral nullification. They think it is a ridiculous affront to our whole beautiful system that women are mad a right-wing flack is going to essentially overturn Roe, all because of a man who is considered an idiot child even by his closest companions.

This isn’t just hypocrisy. They are committed to the project of ensuring minority rule, because there is no actual commitment to democracy. And that’s what’s scary. They want to make this normal. They’re trying to make it seem like everything is ok. They’re standing ramrod still while the ground fractures and shatters, while great scalding geysers are unleashed and the steady stolid road under your feet turns liquifies sickeningly.

They want this madness and violence and cruelty and subversion to seem normal until, suddenly, it is.

Don’t Work Today

The Little Steel Massacre, Memorial Day 1937. 10 workers were killed. 

The one and only time I belonged to a union was also my first job. I was pushing carts and bagging groceries at Jewel. I was 14 or 15, or thereabouts, so this must have been 1993 or 94.  It was the beginning of Clintonism, as the Democrats had moved away from what we called the “New Deal Dinosaurs” or “old Labor Dems” like Mondale and Dukakis.

I remember distinctly joking with my friends about having to join the union, as I was the only one whose job made me do so (that I recall, anyway). We joked about me becoming a labor boss, and being super corrupt. That’s what unions were to me: an old-fashioned relic and an avenue for corruption.

The only experience I really remember from it was sitting in the poorly-lit and, to a sensitive teenager, bleak break-room while a rep explained to me when I could take my breaks, what rights I had, safety protocols, and everything else. I remember being bored, of course, and sort of uncomfortable, and certainly plagued with dread about the adult world of work. This break room filled with tired grown-ups and burn-outs was my haven? That was my union association: a painted break-room in the bowels of Jewel.

What I didn’t understand was that my dismissal of unions was part of one of the great tricks the boss class has ever pulled: convincing Americans that unions are the real enemies of workers, and that we’re better off without them. For decades, the monied right has led a frontal assault on organized labor, an assault that has reached its furious peak under that great hero of the white working class, Donald Trump.

It’s here that I know I should clear my throat and talk about how corrupt unions are, etc. But fuck that. It’s true that there has been corruption in unions, labor and otherwise. But there is no more than in any other human institution, and far less corruption than the pure distilled brutal greed of the boss class, parasites who turn workers into capital and then grind them into dust.

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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.

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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.