We Are Living in a Failed State

“This was the American landscape that lay open to the virus: in prosperous cities, a class of globally connected desk workers dependent on a class of precarious and invisible service workers; in the countryside, decaying communities in revolt against the modern world; on social media, mutual hatred and endless vituperation among different camps; in the economy, even with full employment, a large and growing gap between triumphant capital and beleaguered labor; in Washington, an empty government led by a con man and his intellectually bankrupt party; around the country, a mood of cynical exhaustion, with no vision of a shared identity or future.”

—George Packer, “We are living in a failed state.” The Atlantic. June 2020.

Summarizes the problems of the moment better than anything else I’ve seen. Required reading, particularly by anyone that identifies as Republican or Democrat.

Joe Biden and the Problem of Corruption in U.S. Politics

“While Democrats pursue the impeachment of President Donald Trump for pressuring foreign countries to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden, they are left making an argument that is at once true and electorally and ethically compromising: What Trump did — and continues to do — was an impeachable abuse of power, and it should be considered separately from the question of what Hunter Biden did.

The problem for Democrats is that a review of Hunter Biden’s career shows clearly that he, along with Joe Biden’s brother James, has been trading on their family name for decades, cashing in on the implication — and sometimes the explicit argument — that giving money to a member of Joe Biden’s family wins the favor of Joe Biden.”

—Ryan Grim, “Joe Biden’s Family Has Been Cashing in on His Career for Decades. Democrats Need to Acknowledge That.” The Intercept. October 9, 2019.

Trump is corrupt and terrible. But, let’s also acknowledge that this is a problem in U.S. politics that crosses parties and exists at every level of government.

Love for the New Members of Congress

Between Reps. Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it’s hard to decide who’s kicking more ass this week.

During a House Foreign Affairs committee meeting, Rep. Omar asked Elliott Abrams, the special envoy to Venezuela for President Donald Trump’s administration, the following:

“On February 8, 1982, you testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about U.S. policy in El Salvador,” Omar added. “In that hearing, you dismissed as communist propaganda [a] report about the massacre of El Mozote in which more than 800 civilians, including children as young as two-years-old, were brutally murdered by U.S.-trained troops.”

“During that massacre, some of those troops bragged about raping 12-year-old girls before they killed them. You later said that the U.S. policy in El Salvador was a fabulous achievement. Yes or no? Do you still think so?”

Basically, she’s asking whether the guy that trained and put weapons in the hands of right-wing militias that committed human rights abuses in Latin America will be up to his old tricks in Venezuela. It seems like a rather pertinent question to me, and one only the Muslim freshman Representative had the gumption to ask.

Of course, Abrams threw a tantrum then lied through his teeth, as The Intercept outlines in detail.

Then, Mother Jones reported that “Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a picture of a line of people outside a House committee hearing on homelessness. According to Ocasio-Cortez, the people in the photo are homeless and were paid by lobbyists to hold their places in line.”

I can only hope that more women (and men!) get elected to Congress follow their example and shine a light on all this nonsense. Make America Great Again, indeed.

Paradise Papers: Secrets of the Global Elite

The key findings of the Paradise Papers (also consider this explainer, if you want more detail):

  • Reveals offshore interests and activities of more than 120 politicians and world leaders, including Queen Elizabeth II, and 13 advisers, major donors and members of U.S. President Donald J. Trump
  • Exposes the tax engineering of more than 100 multinational corporations, including Apple, Nike and Botox-maker Allergan
  • Reveals tax haven shopping sprees by multinational companies in Africa and Asia that use shell companies in Mauritius and Singapore to reduce taxes
  • Shines a light on secretive deals and hidden companies connected to Glencore, the world’s largest commodity trader, and provides detailed accounts of the company’s negotiations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for valuable mineral resources
  • Provides details of how owners of jets and yachts, including royalty and sports stars, used Isle of Man tax-avoidance structures

The Story Behind the Chicago Newspaper that Bought a Bar – Topic

“By 1976, reporter Pam Zekman was well-acquainted with the everyday corruption that permeated Chicago. After all, the city was so well-known for shady dealings it birthed its own shorthand: ‘Chicago-style politics’ was used with frequency to describe boss-style rule and graft in government. 

Zekman was part of a four-person Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team at the Chicago Tribune, where she had gone undercover in a nursing home, for a collections agency, in a hospital, and at a precinct polling place, exposing wrongdoings ranging from medical malpractice to election fraud. ‘We had become known for doing this kind of undercover reporting with one caveat: When there’s no other way to get the story,’ says Zekman. ‘We didn’t do it just for the idea of doing it and we did not do it cavalierly.’

When Zekman was poached by a rival paper, the feisty Chicago Sun-Times, she proposed a daring project that would go down in the annals of journalism history as both a feat of reporting and a focal point for ethics debates still raging today. For years, Zekman had been collecting tips about city employees extracting bribes from local businessmen, but couldn’t get sources to go on the record; she figured the only way to get the story would be to get inside the system. So she convinced her paper to buy a bar. They would staff it with newspaper workers, run it like any other watering hole (with some notable exceptions that included concealed photographers), and wait to see what happened.”

—Andy Wright, “The Story Behind the Chicago Newspaper that Bought a Bar.” Topic. Issue No. 4, October 2017.