Skin Or No Skin In A Game Called Syria

Bashar al-Assad is a geek with a lisp, a former optometrist and ELO fan. But we should also remember what he comes from. His father Hafez al-Assad used the suicide bomber to birth the modern era of international terrorism.

“Although incontrovertible proof is lacking, Western intelligence believes that the truck bombs used in the attack on the American Marine and French compounds in Beirut last October were rigged in the Bekaa Valley, which lies along the Syrian border. If so, the Syrians must have at least known that a terrorist operation was in the works, because they monitor the valley closely. Suspicion of Syrian involvement is further strengthened by a long history of violent underground activities in Lebanon by Assad’s agents. Redeployment of the Marines from land to sea would remove that particular target, but there are other places in the Middle East where terrorism can be used against Americans or American interests. In addition, Assad’s military forces, including his Soviet missiles, make him a serious local threat.”

Syria’s Assad: His Power And His Plan” | The New York Times | Stanley Reed | 02/18/1984

Also remember that the Assads are Ba’athists. Like Saddam Hussein, Ba’athists are fascists who model their party on the Nazis. They are as far from mainstream politics as a regime can get. They have nowhere else to go from how far they’ve already gone.

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The Rising Costs Of Late Life And The Falling Value Of Wisdom

It’s easy to see the retirement crisis as an economic issue of which money is the measure of well-being.

“So now, at 76, [Roberta] earns $915 a month through Social Security and through Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, a program for low-income seniors. Her rent, which she has had to cover solo since her roommate died in August, is $1,040 a month. She’s been taking on credit-card debt to cover the gap, and to pay for utilities, food, and other essentials. She often goes to a church food bank for supplies.

More and more older people are finding themselves in a similar situation as Baby Boomers reach retirement age without enough savings and as housing costs and medical expenses rise…”

“This Is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like” | The Atlantic | Alana Semuels | 02/22/2018

I read it as a cultural issue about the declining value of knowledge.

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May The Web Be Unbroken

Barack Obama was wrong or feckless on a number of important issues, but on that “You didn’t built that” remark from his re-election campaign he was sorta right:

The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

President Obama Campaign Rally in Roanoke” | Barack Obama | C-SPAN | 12/16/2015

Obama got a lot of flack for saying this—much of it from those captured by a shallow narrative of tech innovation driven by bold visionaries rather than sluggish bureaucracies. (How Silicon Valley pushed this narrative, known as The Californian Ideology, is an interesting story on it’s own. Wikipedia has an excellent summary of it. In The Century Of The Self, documentariam Adam Curtis draws connections between the Californian Ideology and Ayn Rand’s philosophy.)

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Culture War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning

Culture War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning

In the beginning war looks and feels like love. But unlike love it gives nothing in return but an ever-deepening dependence, like all narcotics, on the road to self-destruction. It does not affirm but places upon us greater and greater demands. It destroys the outside world until it is hard to live outside war’s grip. It takes a higher and higher dose to achieve any thrill. Finally, one ingests war only to remain numb.”

Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

1. Love

Culture war is the crack cocaine of American politics.

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“Black Privilege” And The Twilight Of The Negro Whisperer

At first I thought “black privilege” was some kind of joke, a Chapelle-esque riff on the absurdities of how we talk about race in America. Indeed, reading about it in articles by people who take the idea seriously is like stepping into a parallel universe where black is literally white and white is black.

But as soon as I dismissed the idea my Google Trends graph for “black privilege” blew up:

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“Ryan’s Choice” The Truth about Paul Ryan’s Phantom Majority

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In February, former House Speaker John Boehner spoke about Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA):

“They’ll fix Obamacare … I shouldn’t have called it repeal and replace because that’s not what’s going to happen. They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it.”

Terence Burlij. “Boehner: Obamacare Repeal And Replace ‘Not What’s Going To Happen'”. CNN. 2017.

Fast-forward exactly one month. Boehner sounds more elder statesman than hardball politician. The American Health Care Act (AHCA) that Trump championed as “tremendous” was dead last Friday before a single vote was cast:

“The most conservative members of the House didn’t think that the American Health Care Act would go far enough to eradicate Obamacare, and moderates were concerned about an estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that 24 million Americans would be left without insurance.

Republican leaders bent to the will of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about 30 hard-line members, agreeing to remove several federal mandates for minimum benefits, including mental health services and some maternity care. But this move still didn’t go far enough to appease members of the caucus. And the concessions alienated several moderates.”

Katie Rogers. “How The Health Care Vote Fell Apart, Step By Step”. New York Times. 2017.

After House Republicans spent years working on repealing the ACA without a clue of what a replacement would look like, Trump, Ryan, and the rest of their party are shifting what’s left of their congressional capital to massive tax cuts.

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The Geopolitics Of John Podesta’s Idiocy

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While it may be probable that Russian agencies or those affiliated with them are responsible for hacking the DNC’s or the Clinton campaigns’ emails, I don’t know for sure.

The 17 intelligence agencies (mostly just two) that Hillary Clinton claims have found a direct link between “the highest levels of the Russian government” and recent Wikileaks revelations don’t really know as much as she wants them to:

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The Poverty Of How We Talk About Poverty

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Poverty is a non-issue in the 2016 Presidential election because we’ve rendered it a non-issue in American life.

At some point during the Reagan / Thatcher era, we stopped talking about class as an economic category and replaced it with an understanding of class as cultural or ideological. Hence, we now have a much richer vocabulary for talking about middle-class values than we do for talking about the social and material conditions necessary for middle-class life.

However, the shift from material conditions to (non-material) values as the lens through which we understand class has had the effect of making it easier for political strategists to shape class interests by shaping cultural values and beliefs.

The long-term effect of poverty becoming a cultural, then a moral issue is that while many people are just a handful of paychecks away from destitution, “the poor” have essentially disappeared from the American imagination.

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The Jill Stein Moment (Or, No Liberal Love For The Far Left)

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Just how unpredictable and unbelievable the 2016 presidential race has become would have been inconceivable a year ago. And yet, there’s a sense in which the torrid and tortured path from then to now has been inevitable. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s nosebleed negatives are partly to blame. But they are merely an effect.

The cause is a deep and broad dissatisfaction with “politics as usual,” the two dominant parties, and perhaps even politics as such. Thus, the very air of modern American politics is charged with frustration as many voters demand other choices.

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