Authoritarianism for dummies

So this week, the president of the United States formally declared a “national emergency” on an indisputably bullshit basis, with no real pretense that it is anything except an attempt to do an end-run around Congress’s very clear refusal to pay for a ridiculous campaign prop (which the president has continually insisted will be paid for by Mexico).

To the extent that constitutionality is an objective standard, this seems to be unconstitutional. The fact that the president did so anyway has at last brought a plain statement from one authority that “this is a constitutional crisis.”

This is certainly serious. Among other things, I feel like if ever national political drama demands notice even in this occasional personal chronicle, it’s this week. I have of course already called members of congress. (Have been doing so for some weeks, in fact, as this fake “emergency” has been toyed with openly since last year.)

This is also absurdly stupid.

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The anarchist elite

I will just give this its own post, here. Thanks for sharing this keen observation, Brooke Harrington.

…though the global network of offshore tax havens is a relatively recent tool for billionaires to advance their interests, the impulse driving the sponsors of populist movements is not. The novelist GK Chesterton had their number over a century ago, when he wrote: “The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea on his yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists.”

‘Aristocrats are anarchists’: why the wealthy back Trump and Brexit
Brooke Harrington

Capital is just a lot of the problem

In the month since I posted this big-picture political assessment—pointing to Republicans’ intentional exploitation of nonrepresentative features of our constitution—I have mused on some kind of deeper dive.

Can I identify even further explanations for our peril, more fundamental than a 50-year-long project by capital to (struggling for a better word) trump a system of democratic governance rejected as an unacceptable constraint on the accumulation of private fortunes?

I’m still working on that. But it is difficult to feel like the fundamental conflict at hand is meaningfully unlike that explanation.

The above is not really a story of the Trump administration. It’s the story of a value system that prioritizes private wealth with no real, firm limit or point of satiety. A value system for which there is no “enough,” no point at which consideration for others outweighs the desire for increased private status and privilege.

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Marvel “Timeslip,” collected

Front cover of "Timeslip: The Collection"

Last November, I splurged on a dozen or so $1 back issues, at Carol & John’s Black Friday Sale. For under $15 total, I bought myself a reasonable value in entertainment.

Timeslip Collection is not the highlight of those purchases, but feels worth examining as one more look at old, odd and/or obscure comic books.

This is a November 1998 collection, which I don’t recall noticing at the time, of a feature in Marvel Vision which I do recall. In fact I still have a few issues of Marvel Vision—an example of the for-purchase promotional periodicals which now feel difficult even to explain in a thoroughly online era—with some of the earliest “Timeslip” entries.

Part of my limited excitement at what is on balance a nifty little artifact is that I think those entries already familiar to me accounted for most of the feature’s best.

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The Housing Dilemma, and Trilemma

My own observation is that most of the time, housing/affordability is a quagmire of an issue, in large part because it combines personal impact with enduringly popular misconceptions.

I’m certainly not a policy expert here. Even without taking leave of reality it’s possible to venture very very far into the weeds on this issue. But for what it’s worth, I think the reality of housing policy is ultimately pretty basic.

If you want to counter rising local housing costs, you need more housing, in significant amounts. That’s pretty much it.

I think the housing conversation in most places tends to go everywhere but this basic principle because people don’t want to accept the basic trade-offs in housing policy. I would describe these as a dilemma, and a trilemma.

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The Political Crisis, January 2019 update

We’re about two years into the nightmare reality of Donald Trump’s presidency. An opposition party is about to take charge of the US House, breaking up the unified Republican control of Congress which has buttressed said nightmare reality. This seems like an appropriate time to take stock of the larger situation.

For better or for worse, though, I find that I have already written a lot of what I might say at this point. Overall I think my long-read assessment from late 2016 remains valid, particularly the emphasis on Trump as a symptom of the crisis more than its cause. My first thoughts on the midterms seem like they cover their significance fairly well: while they offer a measure of relief, it seems like mostly relief of symptoms. They don’t even solve the crisis—I think everyone anticipating that Trump is going away soon will be disappointed—let alone constitute solutions to the deeper long-term problems.

In terms of deeper solutions, the best evidence that I can see is the progress in overcoming gerrymandering. In the same year that Democrats miraculously won a House majority considered impossible under the 2011 maps, reformers made substantial progress toward a 2021 redistricting that is more fair rather than less. That’s meaningful, and positive.

Unfortunately this update also includes a number of cautions against optimism on that basis. As in the larger picture, it feels like progress to date has forestalled catastrophe in redistricting, but has not won the struggle. Detailing this could really be a separate post, so for the time being I will emphasize the serious threat of recent gains being reversed by the worsening situation in the federal judiciary.

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2018 Year in Review

A couple of weeks ago I came across this 2015 post, “Requiem for Young Adulthood.” Looking toward my approaching 37th birthday and the stage of life beyond it, I mostly drew a big blank:

…ambitions are difficult to establish here. I have some sense that this transition to the middle phase of life is often marked by a realization that one has probably reached one’s station in life, and that while one might achieve more, achieving significant new status in life is long odds. […]

At the moment I can see maybe four, maybe five years out at most. Basically, I’m researching a third book, and I recently had an idea for a different type of large project to pursue whenever “Book Three” is finished. Hopefully it will pan out, because life seems kind of thin these days aside from such pursuits. (Seems kind of thin even with them, actually.)

Life seems very different in some big ways. Certainly I would not describe my life since 2015 as thin.

Thinking back on the year, I completely forgot about attending the March for our Lives until browsing through photos for this post.

Instead it’s busy, and it’s a blur, and I am so very, very, very tired. This year’s holidays were nice but after looking forward much of this year to a break and some rest it was over so quickly and now another year rushes toward me with multiple big projects already underway and who knows what else in store.

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Messaging around Medicare for all

On healthcare, I’m pretty convinced that some kind of single-payer system is by far the optimal policy. I’m less convinced about the politics than are many single-payer proponents. But I’m certainly onboard with efforts to build support.

Amid signs that this is happening, the emerging Republican argument is essentially that “Medicare is awesome… and America just can’t afford that for everyone, so, senior voters, better that others go without so you can keep what you have all to yourself.” In a sense it is a less obviously ridiculous, but more obviously selfish, update of the 2010 “keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” message.

The other day, a suggested response occurred to me: “OK Republican, whom do you want to leave without healthcare? Please be specific.”

Because this seems like the weakness in the “Medicare for all would mean Medicare for none” message: it’s based on activating a fear that America can’t afford for everyone to have healthcare. Doing this has implications.

The implication of a “can’t afford M4A” message is that there just isn’t enough healthcare to go around. Republicans using this message should have to specify whom they think should go without, then.

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Stages of political activism

Throughout “#TheResistance” I have perceived many similarities between it and my own initiation into political activism at a local level, commenced about two years before a nationwide counterpart.

It seems worth examining the possibility of some broad patterns.

A Crisis moment probably launches many political activist careers, unfortunately. Most people, from what I can tell, seem in fact to spend their entire lives largely disconnected from politics and government, not perceiving any compelling reason to get involved. But sometimes, something happens to alarm some minority of a community with the realization that “this can not be right!” An activist is conceived.

The reliance on crisis to spur political activism is depressing, given how much it tends to mean that one only begins playing after falling way behind. One may pick up on it immediately, or only a bit later, but eventually one realizes that during one’s years of political somnolence, bad people consolidated a lot of formal power and laid plans which are probably quite advanced by the time one tries to stop them.

I suppose that the birth of an activist is when some of these people find one another and begin to organize for some form of political activity.

Protest is usually the first stop for organized opposition. In the short term there is little else for most people to do in the kind of crisis situation described above. So: signs, banners, public demonstrations, chants; voicing objections at public meetings, as well as on every other open channel; trying to engage more of the public with leaflets, letters to the editor, social media, etc. Petitions of one sort or another often circulate in this stage, often to little effect.

As a whole, vigorous protest does seem to worry people in power, at least when it’s new. Some times an idea is even withdrawn, more or less completely, in response to protest. More often protest just slows things down, at most.

Meanwhile, organizing usually proceeds along familiar lines. Activists  formalize their pop-up association to some extent, with a name, meetings, leadership, some sort of record-keeping, e-mails and other communication.

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Merry Christmas, Flashbeagle!

As an adult, my interest in Christmas comes and goes, comparing any given year to another. Some years, I just don’t feel it.

This year, I feel relatively positive about (essentially secular eclectic) Christmas. Life, and the world, are in interesting places, about which more can be said another time. But relatively not terrible. Christmas demands upon me are few, and I am pleased with the modest activities that I choose. My cards are coming along. I found some nice things for the small number of people to whom I give presents. I didn’t leap into the task of putting up decorations, but I feel an odd satisfaction this year each time I look at my little Charlie Brown Christmas tree, even though I have changed nothing about the set-up in years.

Speaking of Charlie Brown and Christmas, this weekend I splurged on my own copy of the classic TV special.

I have thought about this over the years, and never quite wanted to spend the money on something which I only want to watch once per year, which is reliably televised for free around that time. But I suppose that 1) I really only want to watch it when I feel like watching it, not within ~10 days of that; 2) ABC’s cutting of scenes in order to squeeze in an extra commercial was really starting to bug me; and 3) the price was pretty reasonable at last.

On balance it was very reasonable, in fact, providing DVD and blu-ray versions of the Charlie Brown Christmas, the forgettable sequel, and Flashbeagle. That last basically made the whole purchase worthwhile, I have now decided.

http://popdose.com/wp-content/uploads/flashbeagle-front-300x296.jpg

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