Build back worse

Our weekly Discontents, 9/20/2021

Hey pals, it’s Gaby Del Valle, one of the writers of BORDER/LINES. We didn’t have a newsletter last week because it was my birthday and I needed a break, and frankly that was a mistake because so much happened it makes me want to tear my hair out. Remember when people were like, “the Biden administration is going to be soooo competent and boring?” Not true!

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought Biden would be better than Trump on immigration. I didn’t think he would be Good—there’s no way to be good on immigration short of actually going full open borders, which no president from either party will ever do—but I at least thought he would be Less Bad. There were some promising signs! He said he’d get rid of the Remain in Mexico policy and the Muslim ban, and he did, eventually; he sent Congress a draft of an immigration bill that would’ve provided a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented people. In a lot of ways, he has been less bad than Trump, especially with regards to immigrants who are already within the U.S.


But then there were all the bad signs: he got rid of the Muslim ban, but he took his time ending other Trump-era bans on immigrant visas that meant people from Muslim-majority countries still couldn’t come here. He set up a family separation task force and ended Remain in Mexico, but he also kept Title 42, a supposed coronavirus measure that facilitated the near-total shutdown of asylum at the southern border. The message VP Kamala Harris sent earlier this year remains the same: do not come. If you do, we’ll do everything in our power to keep you out.


This week, the Biden administration had its own “family separation” moment, a scene that will become synonymous with Biden’s horrific, inhumane handling of asylum seekers at the southern border. In Del Rio, Texas, Border Patrol agents on horseback cracked whips at Haitian asylum seekers. Per El Paso Times reporter Martha Pskowski, Border Patrol agents intimidated migrant families who had gone in search of food and water—families who fled the political instability in Haiti, whose president was recently assassinated and which was recently hit by a devastating hurricane.

Meanwhile, the administration’s lawyers are trying to overturn a recent injunction that would keep it from applying Title 42 from migrant families. In other words, it’s trying to continue the practice of “expelling” asylum seeking families to Mexico—or, in some cases, to their countries of origin—without due process, which began under Trump as a supposed COVID measure despite having no real public health benefit. And the Senate Parliamentarian (who, by the way, is a former immigration prosecutor with the Immigration and Naturalization Service) issued a ruling trying to prevent the Democrats from using the budget reconciliation process to provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people, many of whom have been here for decades. The good news is that Democrats don’t actually have to listen to the Parliamentarian; the bad news is they’ll probably do so anyway, regardless of how many people it hurts.

That’s enough whining from me now. Please sign up for Discontents if you haven’t already.

And now here’s the rest of the gang.

Welcome to Hell World

Luke O’Neil

The only reason our military is even apologizing now for one last “errant strike” on the way out the door in Afghanistan in the first place is because the U.S. news media was actually paying attention to our violence for once and that was only because so many of them were pissed off the war was finally ending. This attack was also impossible to ignore in part because it happened in the dense city and not in the rural areas of the country where most of our missiles typically engulf innocents in shrapnel and flame to very little American fanfare. I’m reminded of how the advent of smartphones has enabled us to record the many many previously undocumented instances of police violence against people here at home. How many fucking times has something like this strike happened without us even acknowledging it? It’s been just a constant churning factory of death spinning like a mill wheel on a river of blood in the background as we all go about our days certain we will ourselves encounter zero American missiles. Read more on that here in this piece Sorry is not enough.

I was reminded of this piece as well from earlier in the year.

“One thing that helped with us, that we learned on the spot actually, was exploiting the hell out of the kids,” Gunnery Sgt. Jeff Kurek said. “And what I mean by that is, the kids are usually innocent as long as they’re under, you know, say ten years old. And we would take these kids and after about a month or two of going through alleyways — a lot of times alleyways would be boobytrapped or have IEDs, and we’d be like fuck going down that alleyway, right? … We’d take some candy and care packages, or we’d take a bouncy ball from a care package and we would launch this shit down the alleyway, and if the kids ran after it we knew it was safe, right? And so we’d walk behind the kids, or we’d walk behind an elder. If we launched this bouncy ball down the damn alley and these kids just stayed put, we were like OK screw that alley we’re not going down there.”

This past week David Anthony wrote on what it was like growing up in a funeral home.

In my dad’s minivan there was a cot with a gray cloth cover that was always there, just in case, while we were out, we had to stop and pick up a body, either from the local morgue or on a house call. Once after a Little League game my dad gave another kid a ride home and he absolutely freaked out that a dead body had once been reclining on the cot in our van. I remember not being able to understand why this was such an alien concept to him. While I can appreciate that not every eight-year-old has watched people be embalmed on a regular basis, the fact that death was so abjectly terrifying even in this most tangential context has always stuck with me. 

The latter two are paywalled. Subscribe here for 25% off ($5 a month).

The Flashpoint

Eoin Higgins

Anti-vax conspiracy theorist Naomi Wolf demanded I retract an article about her from June. Wolf, through her PR people, said that my piece relied on "false characterizations concerning Dr. Wolf seem reckless at best or written with actual knowledge that they create false impressions of Dr. Wolf."

The June article in question, “Fresh Off Twitter Ban, Naomi Wolf to Headline Anti-Vax Juneteenth Event,” was fully accurate. I won't be retracting it. 

Wolf has no reputation to mischaracterize. She's the Lenny Dykstra of the anti-vax movement, someone whose character is impossible to impugn because there's nowhere to go but up. 

This week, more on anti-vaxxers and work in the age of Covid. Sign up today and don't miss a post. 

Wars of Future Past

Kelsey D. Atherton

I first learned about “Fog of War” in Warcraft II, as the game’s term for why I couldn’t watch everything happening in previously explored parts of the map. It’s a durable, useful concept, one with a deep history in games and military circles. War is coordinated violence towards a political end in the presence of uncertainty, and few phrases capture as much about how little is known of that violence.

This week’s upcoming Wars of Future Past is all about that fog, that uncertainty, and the violence that happens despite it. On Friday, the military reversed course in describing a drone strike. What was, at the time of launch, a drone strike against “an imminent ISIS-K threat to the airport” (according to CENTCOM on August 29) was nothing of the sort. Instead, on September 17, CENTCOM head General Kenneth McKenzie told press that “as many as 10 civilians including up to seven children were tragically killed in that strike.”

Military technology has, over the last 120 years and especially over the last 30, trended towards offering an abundance of information for commanders, giving the appearance of certainty and clear understanding of what is seen. The fog of war persists, even when a single car can be watched for 8 hours by up to 6 Reapers. The end result, clear in the August 29 strike as in the hundreds of drone strikes that preceded it far from the double-checking eye of international media, is that the decision to act on bad information comes with a death toll, measurable in innocents.

Discourse Blog

Hi everyone, Cros here again. We ran a lot more personal stories on Discourse Blog this past week, so if you’d like a bit more of a window into everyone’s lives, you’re in luck. If you’re here for political commentary, check out Sam Grasso’s blog on Pramila Jayapal’s staffing controversy and Jack Mirkinson’s post about the Starbucks anti-union campaign, or his breakdown of the AOC Met Gala dress controversy, which is the only thing I read about that whole brouhaha that made any sense. 

Otherwise, let’s have some fun: here’s an interview of Rafi’s children, who may be political geniuses. Here’s Jack on lox spread, and finally, perhaps our piece de resistance this week: Paul’s adventures on Nextdoor, a blog that I edited that took me longer than it should have because I was laughing so hard at this incredibly irate man screaming about pickleball. That’s all from me today, see you next week!

The Insurgents

Jordan Uhl & Rob Rousseau

Both Jordan and this week’s guest Jared Holt were at this weekend’s Justice for J6 Rally, which was endlessly and breathlessly promoted in liberal media only to land with a dud. Is the far right movement that has coalesced around the Jan 6th rioters supposed political persecution fizzled out or is this just an example of a failed branding exercise for a specific reactionary grifter? What’s the overlap between these folks and the anti-vax Covid conspiracy crowd? As it turns out, quite a bit.

Also, Rob gives an update on the extremely stupid and unnecessary Canadian election happening today, he’ll be hosting live coverage later with The Breach and an all-star panel of guests.