Saves Who?

Former Bush II speechwriter Michael Gerson in the WAPO, emphasis added:

I come back to this group repeatedly, not only because I share an evangelical background and resent those who dishonor it, but because the overwhelming support of evangelicals is the single largest reason that Trump possesses power in the first place. It was their malignant approach to politics that forced our country into its current nightmare. As white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, anarchists, criminals and terrorists took hold of the Republican Party, many evangelicals blessed it under the banner “Jesus Saves.”

Disgust at this white supremacist ‘insurrection’ has its christian element that cannot and should not be ignored. They have continually made a calculus, for decades gladly allowing themselves to be co-opted at the willing, possible and very likely expense of the country itself. This was it. They need to reckon with and accept their responsibility. Enough with the white grievance and religious victim-hood. It was always fake. They were willing to fluff their own faith into something phony, self-serving, insincere, selective and arbitrary that betrayed its very origin, and this is true whether you believe it or not.

Simple, evergreen rule: Anyone who will publicly tout their personal religious beliefs for any reason will publicly tout their personal religious beliefs for any reason.

Link to WAPO article.

Where it goes, Nobody knows

We will soon say the same for 2020, but not before the assholes get take one more chance opportunity to blow it all the way out:

If you consider (ridiculous, but consider it generously for the sake of discussion) the “risk” of doing just a little bit “too much” for poor and middle class people (a check that phases out starting at $75K is that), versus the risk of doing too little or, quite soon, absolutely nothing more, and consider how people are lining up on that choice… Well, they would prefer plunging the economy into a deeper recession and the misery of millions of people on the off chance people might realize government is actually capable of doing things for them.
The people complaining about a $2000 check (and, I know, this was likely never going to happen, but the people complaining about it are so frightened of the possibility that they won’t even let it be used as a rhetorical club) are going to be responsible for what is coming, as is everyone who puts up even minor roadblocks to the few options that are available.

People who never met a tax cut for rich people they don’t like have the nerve to lie and claim a $2000 check that phases out benefits wealthy people too much.

Green means everything when you don’t have much, but acquires a different sort of power if you are rich(er) enough to believe in its all-encompassing corrupting influence on the poor. How, indeed.

GOParty orthodoxy: Deficits are immoral, but moral deficits, properly timed, can be convenient.

Just GO already.

Legitimacy Crises

Republicans have gone from one lie to the next to others yet again, working ever so vainly to find some way to spare Trump the truth about his demise. In sewing all their pants together at the waist, few seem capable of running away or getting out of the boat as it takes on more and more water. Lord Saletan explains:

Having stoked this distrust, the president and his allies are now exploiting it. They argue that the fraud must be real since so many people believe in it, and that even if it can’t be proved, widespread disbelief in the results makes the election illegitimate. On Fox News, Republican poll numbers have become a routine substitute for evidence. Trump points to them as proof that “the election was rigged.” His campaign advisers, including Lara Trump, also cite these numbers. Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz said the Supreme Court should intervene because “39 percent of Americans right now believe this last election was rigged.” In Georgia, Sen. Kelly Loeffler demanded that the secretary of state resign because “Georgians have lost faith in our elections.” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, noting the “distrust” felt by “millions of people,” refused to say that Trump should accept the verdict of the Electoral College.

A proportion of the country believes that Democrats, or other unseen forces, are taking away their freedom, liberty, and whatever else. But it’s Republicans themselves that are doing most of the heavy lifting here. How much gullibility compartmentalization does it take to keep believing that poverty and pollution both are natural? To believe that society and the commonwealth are intrinsically evil, that social justice goes against Christ? That an all-seeing omnipotent benevolence shines upon all but draws the line at national borders, skin color, gender, or sexual orientation? It must be exhausting. But they can’t take even an hour off or else liberal democracy will prevail and the temerity to count people and their votes will leave all the militia babies to cry in the night.

It all seems like such a necessary precursor to what they are most afraid of that some may assume after the fact they were complicit.

Good for Business

According to a non-profit that runs a global disclosure system for investors, companies, municipalities and even regions, companies taking strong climate action rose 46% just in 2020. Those rated highly by the nonprofit for their climate disclosures gained 5% more in the stock market than their peers over the past seven years.

And yet, the Nature Conservancy has gone old-school Papal, selling indulgences to companies to absolve them of their climate sins:

The Nature Conservancy recruits landowners and enrolls its own well-protected properties in carbon-offset projects, which generate credits that give big companies an inexpensive way to claim large emissions reductions. In these transactions, each metric ton of reduced emissions is represented by a financial instrument known as a carbon offset. The corporations buy the offsets, with the money flowing to the landowners and the Conservancy. The corporate buyers then use those credits to subtract an equivalent amount of emissions from their own ledgers.
The market for these credits is booming, according to BloombergNEF, a clean-energy research group. In the first 10 months of this year, companies used more than 55.1 million carbon credits to offset their emissions (equivalent to the pollution from 12 million cars), a 28% increase from the same period in 2019. While some of these credits are paying for projects that are truly reducing emissions, an unknown number represent inflated claims.
Few have jumped into this growing market with as much zeal as the Nature Conservancy, which was founded 69 years ago by a small group of ecologists seeking to preserve the last unspoiled lands in the U.S. In the seven decades since, the nonprofit in Arlington, Va., has grown into an environmental juggernaut, protecting more than 125 million acres. Last year its revenue was $932 million, which eclipsed the combined budgets of the country’s next three largest environmental nonprofits.

“For the credits to be real, the payment needs to induce the environmental benefit,” says Danny Cullenward, a lecturer at Stanford and policy director at CarbonPlan, a nonprofit that analyzes climate solutions. If the Conservancy is enrolling landowners who had no intention of cutting their trees, he adds, “they’re engaged in the business of creating fake carbon offsets.”

Barbara Haya, research fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, has studied these types of carbon projects for almost two decades. “We just don’t have time for false offsets that take credit for reductions that were already happening anyway,” she says.

Trees are extraordinarily important, but selling protected forests multiple times as carbon offsets is a phony practice. The wordplay around potential de-forestation and the urgency of doing more about a burning planet create a perfect field for corporate skullduggery. An environmental ledger, per se, that allows for continual stacking on both sides does little other than perpetuate the tried-and-false bottom-line thinking by corporations. They/we are going to actually have to do the hard stuff – slow boats, sun-powered planes, more density, more trains – to reduce net emissions. Real reductions, not carbon deals. Carbon offsets may once have been an easy way toward ‘doing’ something about climate change, but it is time to move away from them.

For I can raise no money by vile means*

Nobody has more contempt for Republican voters than professional Republicans:

The Trump campaign has been unrelenting in recent days with its all-caps, bold font, exclamation-point-ridden fundraising appeals: “THE DEMOCRATS WANT TO STEAL THIS ELECTION!” “We can’t allow the Left-wing MOB to undermine our election.”

They urge supporters to make donations to President Donald Trump’s election integrity defense, to ensure he has the “resources” he needs to keep the election from being “stolen.”

In the fine print of the fundraising blasts, it lays out that 60 percent of the contributions will first go to the new PAC, up to the maximum contribution of $5,000. The remaining 40 percent goes to the RNC up to the maximum $35,500. If that first 60 percent of the donation exceeds $5,000 the remnants go to the campaign’s “recount account”; if the 40 percent exceeds the $35,500 RNC maximum, only then does it go to the RNC’s legal defense fund.

That story was three weeks ago. By now they have raised more than $170m and it’s difficult to characterize as anything other than a nice haul. It can also be a struggle to sympathize with the donors, as it has always been:

The new NRA disclosures appear to constitute a formal admission of financial mismanagement, which the gun group had denied under months of mounting pressure. In August, following a lengthy investigation, Letitia James, the Attorney General of New York, filed a civil suit seeking to dissolve the organization, alleging the NRA had grown rotten from “a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight.” To James’s mind, LaPierre’s repayment represents a drop in the bucket. She told the Post that the $300,000 is “just a fraction of the millions he personally profited from,” and she accused LaPierre and his deputies of having raided “NRA coffers to fund lavish lifestyles that included private jets, pricey vacations, expensive meals and no-show contracts.” The Wall Street Journal recently reported that LaPierre is being investigated by the IRS for “possible criminal tax fraud related to his personal taxes.” LaPierre declined to comment to the Post.

We might call this Green brutality, because nothing reveals the vulnerable like the willingness to sell their fears back to them.

* For I can raise no money by vile means.
By heaven, I had rather coin my heart
And drop my blood for drachmas

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene III

Kangaroo Democracy

Republican office holders and the people who support them do not want a functional country, much less a functional constitutional democracy. We can keep asking them if this is their final answer, they will keep voting for con men and flimflam artists.

The country they want, indeed the country they made sure we would have four years ago, had 148,302 COVID-19 cases two days ago, more then 130,000 each of the two days prior. This is what they wanted, this is what we have.

Now what do they want? Go back to normal, Pandemic be gone, don’t steal the election they lost, celebrate your positive test… the idiocy knows no bounds. It does know an end. We are at the beginning of that end now with Trump’s countdown to disinfection at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The people in our lives who seek to continue to be part of this dysfunctional cohort – wanting it all to continue, wanting some of it (the mask parts) to end – what do we do with them? Ignoring this malignancy does not work; ignoring their part in it may keep the peace at the holidays… but we won’t have the usual Thanksgiving this year. They made sure of that. This current episode was avoidable, they made sure we didn’t, no siree. There is a direct consequence to selling out your vote and your country to a racist ignoramus not interested in anything outside of his personal benefit. This is one of them; unfortunately, there are also many more.

We can take heart in the events of the last week, but we’ve got to remember all of them. Republican voters have put us all in their boat, even if it feels like we finally have enough oars in the water to row to a better shore. Remember this effort, all the work it takes, and that they want it to fail. Unless or until they prove otherwise, they must be considered a danger to themselves. They must be considered in favor of a country that ignores recognized standards of law and justice, one that holds no standing outside of fearful, closed minds. They have warned us. They want a kangaroo republic – to leap over the facts and people they don’t like, to live a fantasy yesteryear, reciting incantations to conjure divine rights.

Meanwhile, let’s get more oars in the water. Everybody row.

More than a feeling

Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir
With the Lost Photographs of David Attie
by Truman Capote
Let this be the last election in which Republicans are allowed to vote against people voting. To win office, you must be required to win more votes, rather than suppress or decrease the number of voters. The only way to be prepared to govern – not reinforce your advantages, not reward your nests or feather your friends, however the saying goes. Unfettered capitalism has done more to undermine capitalist systems than an army of Engelses and a brigade of Marxes. Speaking of whom, To the Finland Station:

“To the Finland Station” is different. The structure is simple: the decline of the bourgeois revolutionary tradition after the French Revolution, as Wilson sees it reflected in the writings of Jules Michelet, Ernest Renan, Hippolyte Taine, and Anatole France; the emergence of revolutionary socialism, seen through the writings of Saint-Simon, the communitarians Charles Fourier and Robert Owen, and Marx and Engels; the triumph of Communism, illustrated by the careers of Lenin and Trotsky. There are things Wilson minimized that would have complicated this narrative: the persistence of a non-Communist socialist ideal in Western Europe; the liberal tradition in Russian politics (to which Nabokov’s father belonged); the success and failure of the Mensheviks, of whom Wilson did not make much. And, of course, if the book were being written now, the vicious side of Marxist and Leninist thought, mostly a subtext in Wilson’s account, would guide the narrative, and the story would touch down in Siberia or Berlin rather than at the Finland Station.

But we don’t read “To the Finland Station” as a book about the Russian Revolution anymore. What draws us now is the subtitle: “A Study in the Writing and Acting of History.” History is the true subject of Wilson’s book, and what he evokes is what it felt like to believe—as Vico and Michelet, Fourier and Saint-Simon, Hegel and Marx, Lenin and Trotsky all believed—that history holds the key to the meaning of life. The evocation is successful because when Wilson began writing “To the Finland Station” he believed in history, too. He thought that history had a design, and that the Depression was an event fully comprehensible within the context of that design: it was the long-predicted collapse of the capitalist order. “To the Finland Station” is valuable as a window on the nineteenth century, but it is also a poignant artifact of the nineteen-thirties, a time when many people thought that history was something you could get on the right side or the wrong side of. It was an idea indistinguishable from faith, and Marx was one of its prophets.

It’s a dirty foul that American school kids don’t learn about Jules Michelet. We must get beyond this aversion to learning about certain histories, be it socialism or the 1619 project, whatever. The less you know, well, the less you know and suddenly another Trump falls off the turnip truck yesterday and the corporate types get summoned to the cut of his jib, obscuring the more accurate assessments, ‘something just ain’t right with that boy.’

Image by David Attie, 1959, from the NYRB

Cutting people off from the Human connection

black and white photo of woman
Hannah Arendt by Fred Stein, 1944

For a while now, it’s been an enduring mystery how so many ostensibly intelligent people can harbor such fantastically reactionary political opinions, believe utter nonsense, vote for incompetent racists, support hatred and bigotry in all its forms. I mean to say, don’t they know any people? Don’t they have friends and encounter strangers, at least once and a while? The great Hannah Arendt explained the relationship between lonely isolation and the inability to think:

Organised loneliness, bred from ideology, leads to tyrannical thought, and destroys a person’s ability to distinguish between fact and fiction – to make judgments. In loneliness, one is unable to carry on a conversation with oneself, because one’s ability to think is compromised. Ideological thinking turns us away from the world of lived experience, starves the imagination, denies plurality, and destroys the space between men that allows them to relate to one another in meaningful ways. And once ideological thinking has taken root, experience and reality no longer bear upon thinking. Instead, experience conforms to ideology in thinking. Which is why when Arendt talks about loneliness, she is not just talking about the affective experience of loneliness: she is talking about a way of thinking. Loneliness arises when thought is divorced from reality, when the common world has been replaced by the tyranny of coercive logical demands.

We think from experience, and when we no longer have new experiences in the world to think from, we lose the standards of thought that guide us in thinking about the world. And when one submits to the self-compulsion of ideological thinking, one surrenders one’s inner freedom to think. It is this submission to the force of logical deduction that ‘prepares each individual in his lonely isolation against all others’ for tyranny. Free movement in thinking is replaced by the propulsive, singular current of ideological thought.

In one of her thinking journals, Arendt asks: ‘Gibt es ein Denken das nicht Tyrannisches ist?’ (Is there a way of thinking that is not tyrannical?) She follows the question with the statement that the point is to resist being swept up in the tide at all. What allows men to be carried away? Arendt argues that the underlying fear that attracts one to ideology is the fear of self-contradiction. This fear of self-contradiction is why thinking itself is dangerous – because thinking has the power to uproot all of our beliefs and opinions about the world. Thinking can unsettle our faith, our beliefs, our sense of self-knowledge. Thinking can strip away everything that we hold dear, rely upon, take for granted day-to-day. Thinking has the power to make us come undone.

Read the whole thing, because it is amazingly perceptive about what we’ve been experiencing for a while. And of course, she got there first. Perhaps the single greatest intellect of the 20th century.

One-Hundred-Year Storm

photo of house with flag over fence
A house damaged by Hurricane Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans, 2005

With another hurricane approaching the Louisiana coast this weekend (Delta? does that mean they ran out names for this year? Yes, yes it does), the NYRB reviews a new book about New Orleans – Katrina: A History, 1915-2015:

“I ain’t proud to be American no more,” Dean Blanchard, a shrimp distributor, told a reporter in 2015.1 Ten years earlier, his business was nearly ruined when Katrina, one of the most ferocious hurricanes in American history, pummeled New Orleans, killing at least 1,440 people and causing $150–$200 billion in economic damage, including nearly $1.5 billion to the local seafood industry. Five years later, BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana, spewing more than 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and its coastlands and decimating food populations. A lawsuit brought by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority to hold oil companies responsible for the environmental damage they had caused was opposed by the governor, then dismissed by a federal court. Blanchard became convinced that nothing—not government, not infrastructure, not the courts—was protecting him or his neighbors, that no one was fighting on their behalf.

Blanchard was not alone in this view. As Andy Horowitz, a historian at Tulane University, shows in his new book, Katrina: A History, 1915–2015, “The experience of Katrina, compounded with the oil spill, increasingly served Louisianans as a metonym for federal illegitimacy.” He argues that while President Obama described the oil spill as “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced,” and the media presented it as “an efficient drama” unfolding over the course of eighty-seven days, “few people on the coast experienced that tight narrative arc.”

Disaster histories are usually written for entertainment, not diagnosis. They tend to begin in a calm, tranquil moment. Suddenly, there is a disruption: water from a tsunami breaches the nuclear power plant; Patient Zero leaves the market; the levee breaks. When political leaders arrive on the scene, they attribute the damage to an “Act of God,” “Mother Nature,” an unforeseeable error. Horowitz argues that Hurricane Katrina obliterated this narrative. “The more I have thought about Katrina,” he writes, “the more uncomfortable I have become with the idea of ‘disaster’ altogether.” Disaster, Horowitz believes, is a political category—“at best an interpretive fiction, or at worst, an ideological script”—one that’s usually invoked to defend or maintain the status quo. His book asks a necessary question: What happens to the story of this one moment in time if we stretch it forward and back, looking for causes and consequences that reach beyond the storm?

It’s all one story – the land development, the discovery of oil, the expansive canal digging, the sinking, the demolished wetlands, the unprotected infrastructure at risk from large storms exacerbated the very activity of said infrastructure – that bleeds out into a completely understandable loss of civic faith. A few get rich, many suffer, told and re-told over and over again, from slave markets to oil refineries. Katrina, a long time in the making, can but remind us of other slow-motion catastrophes coming due just now.

Who’s the sucker?

Or, in the case of facebook, if you can’t tell what the product is – it’s you:

Facebook is the prime online, global incubator of racist, quasi-fascist propaganda, conspiracy theories, state-run psyops and agit-prop operations, even in at least one case actual state-backed programs of population transfer and arguable genocide. But to really understand the problem with Facebook we need to understand the structural roots of that problem, how much of it is baked into the core architecture of the site and its very business model. Indeed much of it is inherent in the core strategies of the post-2000, second wave Internet tech companies that now dominate our information space and economy.

Facebook is an ingenious engine for information and ideational manipulation. Good old fashioned advertising does that to a degree. But Facebook is much more powerful, adaptive and efficient. That’s what all the algorithms do. That’s why it makes so much money. This is the error with people who say the fact that people do bad things with Facebook is no different from people doing bad things with phones. Facebook isn’t just a ‘dumb’ communications system. It’s not really a platform in the original sense of the word. (The analogy for that is web hosting.) Facebook is designed to do specific things. It’s an engine to understand people’s minds and then manipulate their thinking. Those tools are refined for revenue making but can be used for many other purposes. That makes it ripe for misuse and bad acting.

As Josh says, fB is in the middle of another round of bad publicity and they deserve every bit of it. Obviously also another meaning of being green, but we CAN learn, get older and [a bit] wiser.

And speaking of TPM and green, find some good media you trust and pay for it. Support it. Help it exist. TPM is a good one that I’ve read for many years now. But don’t believe me, go check it out for yourself. Hit ’em up.

Image via.