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If he had been the leader the media portrayed him as
Our weekly Discontents 10/18/21
I typically try not to let the culture war sniping of the week serve as my assignment editor, but the utterly dumb fuck “debate” about paternity leave stretching into its second week now — Fellas, is it gay to take care of and bond with your newborn? — is a somewhat rare example of such an issue that could, if we wanted it to, be solved to actually benefit people’s lives.
Thinking about it I was reminded of this piece I wrote a few years back in which twenty or so American fathers told me about how much, if any, paid or unpaid time off they were granted at work when they had their children over the years. Back then the U.S. used to have “the dubious distinction of being one of the few countries in the world—not just rich countries, but countries altogether—that does not have any sort of paid parental leave law at the federal level.” It still does but it used to too.
Most of the stories fathers told me were about having to cobble together a combination of sick leave and vacation time to be able to spend any time with their baby or to be on hand to assist the mother. Some in the better compensated fields were given generous time off, although often felt there was a stigma attached to taking it. Other stories were just the perfect encapsulation of the, well, Hell World that we live in. (It’s Luke from Welcome to Hell World writing today by the way. Hello).
“We have a system set up where people can donate vacation or sick days to those in need, and occasionally you'll see someone asking for donations because an unexpected emergency takes place, and oftentimes it's pregnancy-related,” one guy told me. “I'm not sure how effective those requests are though. People post flyers requesting time from others, and they're always so damn depressing to read. The fact that people have to rely on a stranger to be able to care for their family and not lose their job is infuriating.”
I hear about this type of thing often still, where workers have to band together to donate their own precious time off to a colleague in need, as if days off were a finite commodity employers simply can’t materialize out of thin air if they wanted to.
Either way, not much has changed since then when it comes to family leave. And it’s not just paternal leave we’re talking about, it applies to mothers as well. The US “is one of only a handful of countries without any mandated paid leave for birthing mothers,” this piece from the BBC notes. In Europe, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, paid parental leave is common.
You also might wonder if employers are picking up some of the slack left by the government, but here only 21% of workers can avail themselves of paid family leave through work.
Over the weekend I heard from a few fathers about where things stand for them today vis a vis family leave.
“I used to work for a Dutch company and I got 14 weeks paternity when [my daughter] was born. More than my wife got,” one said. “Now I work for a U.S. company (a nonprofit!) and I am looking at this exact scenario if we have another: bank sick time, hope no one gets sick.”
“Paternity leave is trash,” another said. “I got two weeks when my son was born. I was doing so much at work (60 hour weeks etc.) and that was in the aftermath of a massive health scare. I got 16 weeks when my second was born (a different company). Just a night and day difference. I really wish I had the power to make the latter a reality for all parents.”
I know a guy who does have such power. Biden’s American Families Plan, for what it’s worth, would throw some money at the issue, and both he and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh (Go Sox kehd!!) have said recently that everyone should have “access” to paid parental leave, but I don’t have much faith in this crew getting anything passed at this point never mind something that might make life easier for any of us.
In the meantime, as I wrote in 2017, having a child in America remains a sickness. At least in the eyes of employers. When it happens to you you’re on your own, and you better not spend too much away from work taking care of it.
Elsewhere in Hell World this week Discontents’ own Gaby Del Valle wrote a lovely piece about brain amoebas and growing up in and returning to visit Tampa during Covid and how much DeSantis has absolutely chunked the entire pandemic response.
Also in that piece you’ll find a lot of crying from me about the various things I typically cry about, plus this story from a reader that I thought I’d share in here as well.
“The night before my mom died she made us turn on Tucker Carlson while we ate dinner in her hospital room. We ate tacos in silence as Tucker was ranting about the border,” he wrote.
“This was in January, she died two days after inauguration. I was watching when my dad called to tell me to come out to Arizona because she wasn’t going to leave the hospital. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in October and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia right at New Year’s. It was really fast. The thing is my mom was never Republican, my dad was always the standard fiscal Republican who didn't care really about social issues. She was a Brooklyn Jew who taught nursery school. The flip switched in 2008 and she just got scared of the world. Between Fox News and Facebook it just was a feedback loop of fear and hate. I went the other direction, I've slid pretty far left over the years. My brother and dad are both slightly Republican but got scared of my mom and I decreed whenever I visited she was not allowed to be blasting Fox 24/7 in front of my kids. She agreed and we ignored politics besides me seeing her like Ted Cruz posts on Facebook.”
“The night before she died (she chose to be taken off oxygen the next day) I guess she decided she needed one more hit and it was worth it to break our agreement. It was a Tucker segment about immigrants streaming over the border. I ate in silence, said goodnight and cried in the car.”
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Now let’s hear from the rest of the gang.
Last week on FOREVER WARS we had deep dives into what counterterrorism looks like when done Boston-style — we already know what it looks like down here in New York City, baby — and into the leaked trove of Facebook’s blacklists. But just before I wrote this, the news broke that Colin Powell has died. I’ll be writing much more about this on FOREVER WARS today — if that edition isn’t out by the time you read this, it’ll be out soon afterward — but Powell was perhaps the only person alive in 2002 and 2003 who could have stopped the Iraq War, a war he knew as a Vietnam veteran would be another Vietnam, and instead he chose to sell it. (This is his presentation in chapter 2 of REIGN OF TERROR if you’d like a version even longer than what I’ll publish today at FOREVER WARS.) There are people on Twitter and on national-security fora who are upset with this assessment, much as they were upset when I wrote my obituary for Donald Rumsfeld. It’s awful that Powell died a preventable death from COVID-19, and such a death — like the 724,000 here in the U.S. and 4.9 million globally — reflects a cascading series of policy failures. Yet it is not too soon to offer this assessment: Colin Powell leaves this world with the blood of something like 300,000 people on his hands from the Iraq war; more, if we count the Afghanistan war; and the likeliest way they would still be alive is if he had been the leader the media portrayed him as and resigned as secretary of state in protest of an unprovoked war.
It runs so much deeper than his infamous United Nations speech. Simply to point to the image of him holding up a vial of powder at the UN is to wipe away how Powell occupied the absolute center of political gravity in 2003 Washington, where elite opinion was starting to grow uncomfortable with the Bush administration’s bellicosity. Powell, having let every relevant reporter know he thought the invasion was madness, legitimized the invasion by wrapping it in the veneer of multilateral process so beloved by liberals. His distaste for the war was commended as responsible precisely because he didn’t resign. That consigned hundreds of thousands of people to violent deaths, displacement and poverty. Could any of us, once we commit such an act, ever do anything that could zero the moral balance?
Wars of Future Past
Kelsey D. Atherton
What is it that’s so unsettling about a robot dog with a gun? I realize that to pose the question is to immediately alienate anyone who finds it self-explanatory, but part of working on my weird beat of novelty weapons is that the weapons-makers insist such that they do not find it off-putting. The question then gets thrown back: what makes an armed robot dog more unsettling than an armed robot drone?
In an upcoming Wars of Future Past, I talk about what separates the new rifle mounted on the back of Ghost Robotics doglike robot from a field of robot weapons. I’ve covered dog-like robots since 2013, and every time they straddle the line between “this is neat tech” and “I do not want to be hunted in my daily life by a simulacra of a beloved pet.” There’s more to the whole story, and the draft is yet unfinished, but here’s my running thesis: armed dog robots upset more than any other because they make the threatened violence of drones real and immediate in a way that, for audiences living outside of ongoing wars, overhead drones simply do not.
Another week, another story at The Flashpoint of bad behavior from the unaccountable officers of the Boston Police Department.
Officer Korey Franklin lied to and misled investigators about his wife’s shooting, but the case was continued without a finding.
On Christmas Eve 2018, Franklin, then a member of the Boston Police Department's Gang Unit and one of the department’s 2017 Officers of the Year, told a 911 dispatcher that his wife “shot herself” while trying to put the gun back in the gun safe.
The DA held that Franklin’s “false depiction of the shooting as a self-inflicted accident by the victim misdirected the investigation in multiple ways" by shifting focus away from himself and avoiding the designation of an "officer-involved shooting," which would have triggered a Firearm Discharge Investigations Team investigation.
More at the link. Plus—horror stories from the student loan industry.
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The legacies of two of America’s post-Cold War military adventures made the news this week, and that was before we learned of Colin Powell’s passing. In Iraq, a poorly attended (43 percent turnout at last count) parliamentary election left populist Muqtada al-Sadr and his political movement as the largest single bloc in Iraq’s next legislature. To Western audiences, Sadr is perhaps best known as the founder and leader of the “Mahdi Army,” the most famous (or infamous) of the militias that formed during Iraq’s 2004 Shiʿa uprising against the US occupation. It must be considered somewhat ironic, then, that in 2021 he is arguably Washington’s best friend in Baghdad. It’s not that Sadr is particularly fond of the United States, but in comparison with other prominent Shiʿa party bosses (like Hadi al-Amiri of the Fatah Alliance and Nouri al-Maliki of the State of Law coalition, who are reportedly in talks on forming a single anti-Sadr bloc) he is notably ambivalent on Iran’s role in Iraqi politics. His movement’s victory means that Iranian influence in Baghdad may be diminished in the new parliament.
Meanwhile, the tenuous framework holding Bosnia and Herzegovina together took a step toward dissolution this week, as Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who sits on the country’s three-person presidential council, declared the effective end of a unified Bosnian state. The 1995 Dayton Agreement, which ended the Bosnian War after an intervention by NATO, left Bosnia territorially intact but internally partitioned between the predominantly Serbian Republika Srpska and the predominantly Bosniak and Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Those two entities were meant to cohere under one central government but have largely remained independent of one another, and so the institutions of the federal Bosnian state have remained largely dysfunctional. As a result, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, another Dayton creation that was supposed to serve as a temporary transitional overseer, has ruled the country for over 25 years as effectively a European viceroy.
Dodik, who has flirted with secessionism in the past, now says he will withdraw the Republika Srpska from Bosnia’s few truly national institutions—institutions governing the Bosnian judiciary, tax administration, military, law enforcement, intelligence, and more. Many of these institutions were created by the High Representative, whose authority Dodik and other Bosnian Serb leaders reject. Dodik’s plan would not amount to formal secession, but it would amount secession in all but name, and certainly would mark the collapse of the Dayton system.
Gaby Del Valle & Felipe De La Hoz
In December 2019, soon-to-be First Lady Jill Biden toured a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico. The camp was the result of the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols, a Trump administration policy that required some asylum seekers from Spanish-speaking countries to wait in Mexico while their cases were processed in the U.S. Migrants enrolled in MPP were forced to live in squalid conditions; many were preyed upon by gangs or cartels who saw migrants as easy, vulnerable prey. At the time, Jill Biden called the situation “really heartbreaking.”
On Biden’s first day in office, he announced that his administration would stop enrolling new people into MPP. The administration rolled out a plan to bring migrants with outstanding MPP cases into the U.S. in February, and formally rescinded the program in June. But last week, the Biden administration reinstated MPP. Last week’s edition of the newsletter analyzed the MPP lawsuit, the program’s brief and disastrous history, and the path forward.
This decision wasn’t entirely Biden’s fault. Texas and Missouri sued the administration earlier this year, arguing that ending MPP would threaten to “damage the bilateral relationship between the United States and Mexico” and that it forced states to divert their resources to fight human trafficking. They also argued that the Biden administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it ended MPP, meaning that it ended the policy unlawfully. They filed the suit in Texas, and the judge presiding over it is a Trump appointee. (Remember how Trump appointed more federal judges than pretty much any of his predecessors? That’s coming in handy now.) The judge ordered Biden to reinstate MPP pending the final outcome of the suit, the Biden administration appealed, the appeal wasn’t granted, and now here we are.
That’s not to say Biden is blameless. Yes, Trump remade the federal judiciary. Yes, conservatives will fight Biden at every turn. But MPP can’t function without the cooperation of the Mexican government. The Mexican government has made it clear that it will only let MPP resume if the administration can make it easier for migrants on the MPP docket to find lawyers. But last week, a group of immigrant services organizations—many of which provided legal counsel during the first iteration of MPP, or at least tried their best to do so—walked out of a meeting with the administration.