As of this morning, the Biden administration has quietly restarted the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as Remain in Mexico, a Stephen Miller special of a policy that was supposed to address the “problem” of families of asylum seekers being released into the interior of the U.S. as their cases wended through the overloaded system. It was the original attempt at a near-total border restriction, a sort of proof of concept for much more heavy-handed measures like the supposedly pandemic-related Title 42, which is still strenuously twisting a public health law into justifying immediate border expulsions without further process.
Biden officials and their defenders in the commentariat and on Twitter have, whenever MPP’s reinstatement is criticized or merely brought up, responded with some iteration of “how *dare* you sir, I will have you know that the policy is being restarted because of an order by a *Trump-appointed judge*,” which is technically true but very incomplete. Sure, Texas District Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk issued an injunction ordering the administration to restart MPP (based in large part on very basic and flagrant misunderstandings of immigration law), but he didn’t give the government any specific blueprint for how it had to be implemented. Homeland Security Secretary Ali Mayorkas also drafted a new termination memo, but made it effective only after the injunction is lifted, choosing not to take the position that the new memo renders the injunction moot in superseding the old memo, which is what the injunction actually applied to.
The judge certainly didn’t order the Biden administration to expand the eligibility criteria, which it has done by stipulating it could apply to “nationals of any country in the Western Hemisphere,” whereas the Trump-era program only included those from Spanish-speaking countries and, eventually, Brazil. This widening of the scope seems designed to ensnare migrants from Haiti, perhaps anticipating the return of some of the families who were mass-expelled in September, a number of whom are expected to try again. One detail that much news coverage of their rounding up and expulsion missed was that very few of the Haitians who arrived by the thousands to the southern land border were coming directly from Haiti; most had spent years living in Latin America, many with kids who’d never even been to Haiti, but were expelled to the island anyway, notwithstanding the fragility of the current moment in the aftermath of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and a number of natural disasters.
This whole sordid affair is a perfect encapsulation of Biden’s approach to the border so far: it scored easy political points by ending a terrible policy that was probably illegal, while going to court to preserve a far more restrictive policy which is much more flagrantly illegal and hurts migrants in much the same ways, except without even allowing them to petition for asylum in the first place. Then, when ordered to resume MPP, the administration chose to immediately comply with little legal pushback and actually expand the criteria so that it could soak up some of the migrants that Title 42 wouldn’t send away. Even as Justice Department lawyers argue for the MPP injunction to be lifted, their colleagues are a few courtrooms away mounting spirited defenses of Title 42, a policy that Miller had reportedly put on a wish list way back in 2017, three years before the coronavirus pandemic gave him the perfect opportunity to shut down humanitarian migration.
Try so much as bringing this up with the #resist crowd, though, and you’re liable to be called a Trump flunky or a Biden hater. We on the immigration beat always expected this to be the case to some extent once the presidential transition happened, but even so it’s shocking just how much the supposed concern for migrants was flipped off, like a switch. The ICE detention population has nearly doubled since the start of Biden’s term, the majority of would-be asylum seekers are still being immediately expelled, the immigration courts remain a disaster, the government project of a high-tech border infrastructure including CBP-operated drones continues without interruption, as does the coordination with Mexican and Central American authorities to externalize the border out into these countries, and it just has stopped registering. Trump and his execrable parasite Miller may have lost the election, but in some enduring ways, they’d already won.
Now we’ll turn it over to the rest of the growing Discontents crew, who will delight you with everything else that’s wrong with, well, everything. Don’t miss out, subscribe:
Over at The Flashpoint, things are getting weird.
Heliocentrism may be settled scientific fact in the 21st century, but it’s still an open question at the Massachusetts Renaissance Faire.
Brandon Sutton, host of The Discourse podcast and an amateur flat Earth expert, sees flat Eartherism as “sort of the bottom of the conspiracy barrel.”
“Usually, they always get there after being into every other conspiracy,” he told me. “It's not really a gateway conspiracy theory for most people, so you get a lot of anti vaxxer stuff, chemtrails, basically everything.”
Naomi Wolf continues her crusade against vaccinations.
According to Wolf, she and a group of her fellow anti-vaxxers were refused entry to restaurants and bars in the city on November 20. New York’s vaccine restrictions, which have been in place since the middle of August, somehow reminded Wolf of racial segregation in the first half of the 20th century.
“I'm unvaccinated, I think a lot of us were unvaccinated—we couldn't find a bathroom because we couldn't go indoors,” Wolf said. “It was, literally, like before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in New York.”
More to come this week—sign up today.
This is perhaps off-topic for FOREVER WARS, but if there’s ever an example of how poorly equipped the mainstream media, in which I formerly worked, is to address nativism, here it is. A basic question of justice – providing material damages to people whose children the government, as a matter of policy, stole – is treated as a political story.
As it happens, I have children, and so it seems viscerally intuitive that reunification, while obviously the most urgent priority, is the barest minimum obligation upon the government. Justice requires materially compensating the families for not only their trauma, but for the labor and resources they experienced fighting the government to get their children back.
It is precisely this obligation that has prompted the nativist backlash. Nativists, and their elected champions, cannot abide owing anyone anything as the result of their actions. They have to mount a campaign to call the obligation illegitimate and risible. In doing so, they reflect a truth that makes liberals so unwilling to confront nativism: so much of America, in its history as in its present, depends upon expropriation, extraction and exploitation that establishing a precedent of restorative justice risks unraveling the sweater. That is the political story that a story like this one obscures.
I’m not even mad at the reporters. A great degree of what it is to be a journalist at a mainstream publication is to operate within editorial rules of news presentation that obscure such historical continuities. I’m glad I quit.
Anyway, last week, we looked at what was at stake in Lauren Boebert’s slander of Ilhan Omar. Sam wrote something truly eloquent in memory of Stephen Sondheim. Then we looked at Dick Durbin’s evasions during an otherwise righteous speech about closing Guantanamo Bay. Today, we’ll have something about Biden’s counterterrorism review. If all that sounds intriguing to you but you’re not quite ready to open your wallet, remember that when you subscribe to a year of FOREVER WARS, you’ll also get six free months of WELCOME TO HELL WORLD and FOREIGN EXCHANGES – all at the paid tier.
Cruel and Usual
This week I wrote about the story that the NYT wrote last week about Guantánamo Bay the place: the way life is structured for the many Americans who live there, and the ways in which it resembles a normal American place (plus the ways it functions more like a police state). At first it was baffling, but the more I thought about it the more it reminded me that I live in a place that isn't so different, and that might be the most uncomfortable thing about it.
Guantánamo might be a uniquely terrible, tortuous prison, and thus the article about the way that life goes on for the people that surround it strikes a uniquely discordant note. But it’s also in many ways I think portrayed as uniquely terrible because it makes us more comfortable to think that human rights abuses only happen elsewhere, only happen outside of America, only happen in a military context, or a foreign relations context, or a bungled war on terror context.
It helps to otherize Guantánamo because then we don’t have to confront what happens behind the barbed wire in our own backyards, and the way that we just go about our lives in the spaces we’ve built up around the cages in our own communities.
Welcome to Hell World
Today I spoke with Tomas Roels, a music producer from the Netherlands, who was one of the hundreds enlisted by Good and Respected Journalist Ian Urbina to produce music for a tie-in project related to his Outlaw Ocean series. Roels, like Benn Jordan who broke the story in a YouTube video this weekend, had no idea that the scope would grow to thousands of songs by hundreds of artists, all of which Urbina insisted on taking a co-writer credit for. It’s a weird one man. Just a weird thing to do for a guy like that. Read it here.
Last week I published this silly but surprisingly poignant interview with a comedy musician named Elliott Smith. We talked about some of the highlights of his career, the differences between Canada and Florida, the importance of following your dreams, whether or not audiences are too sensitive nowadays, and, yes, about how he got a number of very confusing phone calls on a really sad day back in 2003.
On a somewhat more serious but related note this piece by Brendan Little was beautiful and powerful I thought.
I wrote a piece last week asking "Is web3 bullshit?" My guess is that most of the readers of Discontents — those who have spent enough time in bad tech corners of Twitter to know what web3 is, at any rate — will weigh in with an unqualified "yes," and I don't think that it's the wrong response, really, but I also think it's worth digging in on what we even mean when we ask the question. In the post, I outline two different versions of the "is web3 bullshit?" question:
Can the blockchain do anything that other currently existing technology cannot do and/or do anything better or more efficiently than other currently existing technology?
Will the blockchain form the architecture of the internet of the future (i.e. "web3"), and/or will blockchain-native companies and organizations become important and powerful?
I think it's pretty common to imagine that the first of these is a relatively straightforward question with an objectively determinable answer. But, at least on the software level, "is this technology new and innovative" is rarely an easily answerable question, often for the simple reason that "innovative" has many different valences. So the second question here — will this technology "win"? — is often used as a proxy for the first: If the tech in question becomes dominant, it's treated as innovative ipso facto.
One point I'm trying to get across in the post is that the answer to the second question does not necessarily follow from the answer to the first. How technological infrastructures are formed and endure is a result of the interaction of economic, cultural, political, and technical forces and interests, not of a straightforward competition. This matters when we discuss web3 because, on the one hand, it's not enough to say, "well, the tech is bullshit" — it very well may be, but that won't stop it from "winning" — and, on the other, it's important that we investigate and examine closely the people pushing a "web3" vision, since it's their work, and not some objective novelty or quality in the software itself, that will define any web3 future for the internet.
More importantly, Read Max updated its Geometric Solids Power Ranking. No spoilers!
FX columnist Daniel Bessner stopped by last week to argue that critics of the US foreign policy establishment may be making the mistake of treating its members too cynically:
One of the most important things to understand about the people who make-up the US national security state is that most of them believe in what they’re doing. They do not consider themselves to be part of any evil empire, but rather genuinely insist that they’re dedicated to their jobs and making the lives of people the world over better. There are of course some whose motives are less well-intentioned—people whose primary interest in working for the government is directly related to their will to power—but I’d venture to say that they are more the exception than the rule.
This is not to excuse the inherent hubris in this position. As many people who are reading this will no doubt be shouting at the screen, what gives Americans the right to anoint themselves global do-gooders, especially when their country has done such enormous damage to the world? Don’t US policymakers realize that their Pollyanna-ish approach to their job is an artifact of imperial privilege? Why, after all, should we care about what decision-makers and staffers of the deep state think that they’re doing in the world, given the often-brutal reality?
In a real sense, these criticisms are correct: I would never ask, expect, or desire someone who’s suffered directly at the hands of the American Empire to have empathy for those implicated in their oppression.
But for those of us within the United States, who hope to use their unique subjective position to restrain US power and begin to weaken the US empire, I believe it’s important to understand and appreciate what those who actually staff the imperial apparatus believe. People like Antony Blinken or Samantha Power do not wake up every morning and start work worrying about whether they are contributing to a brutal global reality. Far from it—they sincerely think they’re doing the Lord’s work. In fact, they think they’re acting “progressively,” in that they’re using US power to engender the liberal world they consider central to peace and security.
Jordan Uhl & Rob Rousseau
We’ve got a few updates for you this week. First we spoke to Boston Globe climate reporter Dharna Noor, about the ultra-ambitious climate provisions in the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better Framework. Long story short: the good guys are back in charge, they believe in science and the climate is going to be fixed any day now. We haven’t checked into how that’s all been progressing over the last few weeks but we’re pretty sure it’s going great. And if it isn’t that’s probably China’s fault.
Then we have another episode with Rob & Jordan where they talk about The Beatles, who both the guys love unconditionally, and then shift into talking about how any possibility of anything getting even marginally better in the US seems to have dissipated. Look, no one listens to this show because they want to feel good after.
All Cops Are Posters
The latest edition of ACAP features an update on the Political Assassination of the Coward Ed Mullins, a few more pro-cop works of vehicular art, and a breakdown of why it’s so shitty to see The Good Place actor Kristen Bell smiling and posing with members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, AKA “The One With the Documented Sheriff’s Gang Problem.” A taste of why it’s so nasty:
The LASD is best known outside of Los Angeles for harboring active, festering “sheriff’s gangs”—at least 18 organizations composed exclusively of LASD deputies with a history of vile, deadly, racist violence that spans more than fifty years. The LASD gangs first appeared on my radar when a whistleblower tied the June 2020 police murder of 18-year-old Andrés Guardado to an LASD deputy’s desire to join the Compton-based, Nazi tattoo-having Executioners. There’s extensive documentation and lots of excellent reporting on these gangs—the 15-part Knock LA investigation by Cerise Castle is a masterclass—which means that we actually know a lot about how and where these entities operate. We know they get matching tattoos up initiation; harass and intimidate unaffiliated peers; break the law and hurt people to show their fealty to each other; and murder Black and brown men with impunity, because it isn’t murder because cops are doing the killing.
Read the whole post to find out why Bell hasn’t responded even though she’s been described (and would probably describe herself) as a “BLM advocate.”