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.

Attack, Reframe, Normalize and Politicize

The playbook is: Attack, reframe, normalize and politicize. The goal is not rational discussion but repetition. I could write a bot to make far right political comments in Internet forums, and people do. Which leaves the question: how should we respond to people whose ideas could algorithmically programmed and whose goal is repetition? One place to start is simply pointing out what is going on. There’s no point engaging with the content of what is being said because it’s being offered in bad faith.

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.

The House Democrats’ “Rebuke” of Rep. Ilhan Omar is a Fraud For Many Reasons

It is, for instance, beyond dispute that what Omar is saying is true given that the very first bill passed by the U.S. Senate this year was one that allowed punishment for American citizens who boycott Israel, while U.S. citizens in 26 states are formally punished for boycotting this foreign nation, as we reported last month in the case of a Texas elementary speech pathologist who lost her job for refusing to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel (to keep her job with Texas, she’s allowed to boycott any other nation or even an American state: just not this one favored foreign nation).

Thus far, the two federal courts to rule on such laws have struck them down as unconstitutional violations of the free speech rights of American citizens on behalf of Israel.

How can anyone possibly pretend that it’s invalid or offensive to observe, as Congresswoman Omar did, that some in America demand allegiance to a foreign nation when American citizens are allowed to boycott American states but are punished for boycotting this one specific foreign nation?

—Glenn Greenwald, “The House Democrats’ ‘Rebuke’ of Rep. Ilhan Omar is a Fraud For Many Reasons, Including its Wild Distortion of Her Comments.” The Intercept. March 5, 2019.

And while there is a lot of speculation that President Trump might by compromised and be an agent of Russia, let’s not overlook the fact that there is a large contingent of the U.S. Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, that appear to be agents of Israel.

It’s a lie to equate criticism of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism. Government cannot be religious, only people can. Further, there is a lot of behaviors to criticize in respect to Israel, from their unwillingness to acknowledge their possession of nuclear weapons and sign on to the nonproliferation treaty, the committing of war crimes on a captive civilian population, the West Bank barrier, Arabs as second-class Israeli citizens, etc. But, here’s the one I’d like to talk about:

“To date, the United States has provided Israel $134.7 billion (current, or noninflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding.

—Jeremy M. Sharp, “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel.Congressional Research Service. April 10, 2018.

How is this accomplished? Campaign contributions to members of Congress.

AIPAC is a significant player in terms of lobbying, accounting for the vast majority of lobbying spending by pro-Israel groups, spending more than $3.5 million in 2018. The organization was staunchly opposed to the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2015, lobbied extensively against it and supported the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the agreement.

Other pro-Israel groups are also prominent and active political spending forces each cycle. The 2018 midterms saw groups in the movement contribute more than $14.8 million, the highest total for them in a midterm since 1990. Contributions went predominantly towards Democrats who received 63 percent. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) received by far the most money from pro-Israel groups in 2018 with $546,507. In comparison, McCarthy received just $33,200 from pro-Israel groups in the midterms.

In all, 269 members of the House and 57 members of the Senate received some monetary contributions from pro-Israel interests in 2018.”

—Raymond Arke, “AIPAC doesn’t contribute directly to candidates. Which pro-Israel groups do?OpenSecrets.org. February 11, 2019

So, over half of Congress is in the pocket of pro-Israel groups for millions during the election cycle, which in turn, ensures that Israel continues to get billions of “foreign aid” from the United States every year. And to point out this fact is “anti-semitic”? It takes the freshman, first Muslim woman to Congress to get up the gumption to point to this outrageous fact, and she’s the one getting “rebuked”?

Can we get a little daylight between the United States and Israel? Our interests are not the same. I, and many other Americans, certainly don’t want billions to be sent to Israel, Saudi Arabia and others to fund military actions like the Gaza War, the current catastrophe in Yemen and so forth. It’s a travesty, and no one is going to say anything about it, Democrat or Republican, because so many members are bought and paid for by a powerful lobby. The fact that this lobby is primarily Jewish is besides the point.

To paraphrase Upton Sinclair a bit, “it is difficult to get a [Congressperson] to understand something, when [their campaign contributions] depends on [their] not understanding it.” So long as the difference in election outcomes is determined by these contributions, there will never be serious discussion and debate about U.S. foreign policy and Israel, which is part of the point of this “rebuke,” to make sure anyone thinking of bringing up will think it is more trouble than it is worth.

Michael Cohen’s GoFundMe: Why Liberals are Giving to Cohen, Stormy Daniels, and Peter Strzok – Vox

“The success of crowdfunding campaigns for anti-Trump figures — even Cohen — seems to be yet another manifestation of the progressive enthusiasm that’s showing up elsewhere. People are angry, upset, and ready to go, and it’s an outlet for them to do something. After Sen. John McCain’s death, one person donated $20 to Cohen’s fund in his name.

‘What it looks like to me is that progressives in particular are engaging in any way you can think of, money being a big one,’ Thomas, from Crowdpac, said.”

—Emily Stewart. “Michael Cohen’s GoFundMe: why liberals are giving to Cohen, Stormy Daniels, and Peter Strzok.” Vox. August 27, 2018.

After reading this article, one has to wonder how contributing to Micheal Cohen’s legal defense fund constitutes a “progressive” outlet for action. Is there not a more worthy cause to contribute your money to than Micheal Cohen’s legal defense fund?

This is just the most recent example where a thinking person has to step back and look at the two party system with its constituent factions and wonder, “What is going on here?”

Progressives, liberals, evangelicals, and Tea Party conservatives are consumed by agendas that are oxymoronic. The classic example: You can have small government. You can have a global war-fighting capability. But, you cannot have both. Modern conservativism pretends you can.

And, it’s not just conservatism. Progressives want government to foster change. But, the more power government has the more attractive it becomes for capture by corporate interests, which uses the government’s power to reenforce the status quo.

Progress, assuming it is possible at all, isn’t driven by the federal government. Exhibit A: alcohol and drug prohibition that was advocated by progressives became tools that turned into the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. In the long run, government power is used to promote elite interests and not any kind of “progress.”

Add in:

  • Free market fundamentalists who believe the free market is the solution to every problem, and neither know of or care about the horrors of the factory systems then and now.
  • Liberal identity politics whose big idea is to put women and people of color in positions of power and maintain the status quo by reigning in the worst abuses.
  • Evangelical literalists that want to return to the social relations of pastoral and agricultural societies while living in an industrialized one.
  • The anything for a Buck crowd that are in it just for the money and influence, i.e., most politicians, regardless of party.

When you look at this dumpster fire, with whom do you wish to associate? Democrat or Republican? Liberal or conservative? The only reasonable answer is none of the above.

I’ll cast my vote for the least worst candidate. But, don’t expect me to pretend to care or believe that it makes much difference.

Politics as Cult

“…members of “totalistic” cults—those that consider their ideology the one true path—share four key characteristics. They 1) espouse an all-encompassing belief system; 2) exhibit excessive devotion to the leader; 3) avoid criticism of the group and its leader; and 4) feel disdain for non-members.”

—Tom Jacobs. “A Cult Expert Finds Familiar Patterns of Behavior in Trump’s GOP.” Pacific Standard. June 21, 2018.

I know people with liberal politics love diagnosing what is wrong with Trump and the Republican party in the United States. But, this criteria is every bit as relevant to Democratic politics as the GOP in the United States. Believe that your country has no business spending a half a trillion dollars a year on the military and maintaining almost 1,000 military bases abroad? Both major U.S. political parties subscribe to that notion and cannot even entertain the possibility that it might not be a good idea to spend this way on war.

Leading Marxist Scholar David Harvey on Trump, Wall Street, and Debt Peonage

“I remember watching a speech that Castro gave in which he was talking about, he was lambasting a report by Human Rights Watch, the U.S.-based human rights organization, which often does do the kind of ideological bidding of the U.S. government in the way that it applies its filter to different societies versus the United States, although less so now than it was before. And Castro said that there is essentially a “Western” meaning, like, white-Anglo states’ view of human rights and then there is a different version of what it means to have human rights in countries like Cuba. And he basically was saying, in the West they cherish freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and these things that are sort of of the mind. And here [in Cuba] we would list as human rights, housing, education, health care, etc. Does that absolve Castro of the need to — I mean obviously he’s no longer with us but to embrace the idea that freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are in fact somehow inherently human rights that we all are entitled to just because they’re giving people affordable or free healthcare, affordable or free education, affordable or free housing? I mean is he correct in saying, “Well, these are two different views of what the priorities are in human rights.”

—David Harvey. Interview by Jeremy Scahill. “Leading Marxist Scholar David Harvey on Trump, Wall Street, and Debt Peonage.” The Intercept. January 21, 2018.

Interesting throughout.