Tag Archives: America

Critical thinking amid a nightmare

Really feeling Kipling’s “If,” as another week of this nightmare commences. “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs…”

This is difficult.

Today the Bill Moyers site published someone’s hot-take about how it’s time to rise up and resist physically instead of just crouching at your computer, and someone shared it on Twitter, and I read the article because I was curious about the inclusion of the word “strategically” in the summary. Unfortunately the article didn’t really mention any kind of strategic thinking at all.

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Ohio, America, and corrupted culture

It feels like our situation is deteriorating rapidly, in America.

Many eyes are on Portland, OR, and the challenging reality that the president of the United States is very explicitly dispatching secret police to beat up political dissenters and “disappear” them. The U.S. Attorney General now characterizes federal agents disappearing people in unmarked vehicles as “standard anti-crime” and “classic crimefighting.” This is really happening and it’s very bad.

Understandable that even my reasonably well-informed mother, three states away, barely heard of what seemed like a Vesuvian eruption within Ohio politics this week. I have already tried summarizing the scandal around Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, elsewhere, and perhaps the most relevant information in the big picture is that arbitrary and even ironic technicalities seem to have transformed massive corruption from business-as-usual into a scandalous crime.

The reality is that anyone paying honest attention knew, all along, that a big utility was using political spending to buy desired state government policy. The well-intentioned suggestions of reformers that “dark money” is the problem and that transparency is the solution miss the forest for the trees, I think. From what I can tell, transparency is in a real sense how Householder landed himself in legal jeopardy. Had he relied more on coded language and implication, he probably could have worked much the same scheme without meeting the absurd standard of a direct plain-language “quid pro quo.”

Reality is, purchasing public policy with money is business-as-usual in America and “transparency” is ineffective as a deterrent, because forces like shame and restraint are crumbling.

Householder has provided a second example of this, in the possibility that he may be able to shut down the Ohio House for an indefinite period. If it turns out that our rules and laws provide no resolution for a House Speaker whose arrest on public corruption charges prevents him from contact with many colleagues—and who refuses either to resign or schedule a House session during which legislators could remove him—the explanation will probably be that no one ever really imagined a politician would do something so grossly offensive.

Surprise, lots of politicians including very powerful ones are committing grossly offensive abuses of power, and it is unclear what can stop them.

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The Failed State of America

At some point here I would like to write about something besides the corrosive storm, rotting away the entire notion of a functioning United States of America.

But, what else would I write about.* This is a big thing, even if it’s ongoing. Meanwhile I’m not, e.g., traveling much beyond my daily hikes around western Lakewood.

On the other hand, it seems like there is little genuinely new to say about the corrosion and dysfunction of America, and even less which answers this fundamental summation: “Sometimes there is no tactical approach that will address the immediate problem—all you can do is focus on strategy and hope to survive long enough for your long-term strategic actions to bear fruit.”

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Preview: industrial civilization vs climate change

I can’t figure out now how I even found this thread. The thread itself made some more sense after I realized that it’s from an American Enterprise Institute hack, though I still don’t know how I encountered it unless Twitter coughed it up during one of its reversions of my timeline to “Top Tweets” before I shut that shit off like I always do.

That aside, I still think there’s significance in my initial reaction: the thread is a summary of industrial civilization’s response to climate change, past present and likely future.

The context of the Twitter thread is COVID-19 and America’s complete botch job of containing it. The corporate technocrat’s response is unhappy acknowledgment that current conditions are unacceptable, and that some kind of small shared sacrifice from everyone regardless of wealth would help, but the real solution is entirely a matter of waiting for technology to restore control over this disruptive natural phenomenon.

The entire thread also seems like a dismally accurate caricature of how the dominant culture reacts to climate change and is likely to continue doing.

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Corrosion, Dysfunction and Pushing on a Rope

Just about every day, now, I watch what’s going on in America with a kind of horrified fascination.

I definitely do not mean popular protests to insist that Black Lives Matter. That’s very good.

Not much else is. America completely mismanaged, is still mismanaging, a deadly pandemic. A recession is spreading throughout the economy, applying pressure to the enormous dominoes of state and local government budgets. Many cities’ police departments are pretty clearly feral. Industry is turning Earth’s climate toxic. Etc.

Beneath all of this, there’s a pretty glaring lack of effective solutions being implemented. I think a growing number of people sense this, to some extent. But I also think that very few are fully capable of conceiving how far we are, at this point, from even a fundamental degree of societal functioning which seems to be an unquestioned, popular assumption.

A lot of people seem like Captain Willard on the Do Long Bridge—demanding a response from whoever is in authority—before the penny dropped and he realized that the expected responsive system of authority simply didn’t exist.

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Social change and chaos

It’s definitely good that a lot of people seem to have, just about, woken up one day in late May 2020 and decided that racism, racists, and racial disparities—particularly in violent injury by police—are not okay and that these things need kicked to the curb promptly.

That is certainly good and an improvement.

We clearly have systems which suppress demands for change (issuing from below), however, and suppress it, and when eventually something gives, our systems are a disordered mess.

That’s a modest price to get real, material gains in justice and inclusion.

I just have to believe that some better way is possible. Someday. It’s true that few if any complaints, demands or proposals now enjoying new energy are entirely new. It would be good if we had a process—e.g. a functioning political process—where merit and effort could make headway without having to wait until the system resistance breaks up, then try to grab what gains are possible during a melee which could end as seemingly arbitrarily as it began.

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2010s: a bad decade

Thinking back on 2010-19 this decade has simply been brutal.

Personally it has been rich with experiences, change, and growth (if not with monetary wealth). I’m not ungrateful for that. But all of that has occurred against a near constant background of political, sociocultural and ecological sabotage.

I have watched it all and chronicled much of it in one space or another, and most of the time the trend has been pretty clear. For all that the 2010 elections were catastrophic in many ways, I think I had a valid point when I proposed several weeks after them that the fundamental reality of committed Republican obstructionism in Congress had already been a reality for two years by then.

Having reflected for a while, I conclude that this proved to be the most significant thing to happen in the 2010s, certainly for America: at the beginning of the decade one party in a firmly established two-party political system committed itself completely to sabotage, and at the end of the decade no corrective mechanism has intervened.

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“Dark Age Ahead” by Jane Jacobs

The last significant work from the late Jane Jacobs, written just a few years before her death, Dark Age Ahead seems like an odd anomaly in the fossil record.

I recall it being critically panned, as indeed was the general reception, to the extent it was really noticed. Perhaps some critics who felt awkward, about being too harsh on an elderly figure whose earlier work they considered important, found politely ignoring Dark Age Ahead easier.

More recently I have noticed one or two reappraisals, though I don’t recall the details offhand. They got me thinking about the book, though, and curious to check it out now that I have a bit of time available.

It is, I think, an interesting and odd historic artifact.

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A republic worth keeping

The American right strives to subvert representative democracy, with a curated electorate that will protect the privileges of a white, patriarchal ownership class, regardless of popular will.

This has been a dedicated project for at least 50 years, and is poised to shift America further toward that end, perhaps very soon.

Contemplating that possibility today, it occurred to me that this is actually much like the reality of America’s republic at its very outset.

Morton Halperin ends a new Slate article with a familiar story about Ben Franklin, and a familiar message:

When the Constitution was being drafted behind closed doors, many feared that the Framers would create a monarchy. As Benjamin Franklin left the hall as the meeting was ending, they shouted at him: “What is it?” Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Our ability to do so is being tested now. We must seize the moment to reestablish the republic that we were given.

We were given a republic which functioned to subvert representative democracy, with a curated electorate to protect the privileges of a white, patriarchal ownership class. We have not kept that republic, exactly, but I think the contemporary Republican Party is reestablishing it to a significant extent, and that this is the real threat, for all of Trump’s attraction to kingship.

We should not reestablish that original republic. We should, instead, reckon honestly with what it was, and with the long and far from finished efforts which went into creating a system of government worth defending.

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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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