Let's Go Manchin
The West Virginia senator and his family have only escaped scrutiny because of his political power within the Democratic Party
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s declaration Sunday that he is a “no” on President Joe Biden’s signature social spending Build Back Better bill has infuriated progressives and liberals alike.
Manchin’s behavior in the Senate over the last year has made him the de facto president, using stalling tactics around any legislation that might increase spending to benefit the public at large. The relentless push from the West Virginia coal baron (read this great Evan Osnos piece from the summer on Manchin’s background) to curtail the liberal parts of Biden’s already conservative agenda has been effective—he’s the most powerful person in Washington.
Thus far, Democrats have been unwilling to do much of anything to punish Manchin or hold him accountable. That may have made a limited amount of sense when he was a key part of a Senate majority that could deliver on the party’s agenda. But now that Manchin’s made clear working to further the stated goals of the party is off the table, it’s time to get on with the business of investigating his daughter Heather Bresch’s involvement in spiking Epi-Pen costs and using her family connections to lobby Congress (here’s a good rundown from The Intercept).
Without the carrot of passing the Biden agenda, withholding the stick of investigating Bresch no longer makes sense. There’s no time like the present to get to the bottom of how she used her father’s position for her own gain.
Democratic Party sycophants argue—for a number of ever-changing reasons—that investigating Bresch (and by extension, Manchin) would be a mistake. A politically motivated investigation would be highly unethical, they say, ignoring the fact that the main reason she’s largely escaped scrutiny is for political reasons. Democratic partisans claim that a targeted investigation would be inappropriate, as if a more widespread approach would work.
You don’t have to take these people seriously. Manchin and his family have only escaped scrutiny because of his political power within the Democratic Party.
Democrats could deal with this problem by enforcing party discipline, but they appear unwilling to use their power. That’s one of the complaints from progressives I spoke to last week about the party and its lack of interest in fighting for the issues it claims to prioritize.
More on that topic from The Flashpoint this week as we look at catastrophe as a motivator for going left. And on the podcast, a talk with Amanda Moore, who went undercover on the far right this year before being found out.
And now, the rest of the gang.
Wars of Future Past
Kelsey D. Atherton
As a kid with a deep love of Warcraft, I stumbled into the Age of Empires series by selling my parents on its supposed educational value. Now that the University of Arizona is offering a single history credit hour for completion of a course accessible through Age of Empires IV, I took the opportunity to do a deep dive into what lessons the gameplay teaches.
It’s easy to leave a history-themed battle game with the impression that early states were highly specific command economies, with service in the military and the state-directed labor force commissioned directly from a monarch. More even than the structure of the state, players will navigate worlds that are full of fields, mines, woods, and herds that are ripe for exploitation. Driven by the defensive logic of static fortifications, players will build small dense defensible bases, and then manage the plunder of the natural world around them.
With wars driven more by the logic of production and extraction than troop composition or command, Age of Empires IV offers a historical wrapping on a wildly ahistorical set of gameplay conventions. Teaching the pre-modern era as one driven by industrial production of war materiel isn’t a neutral choice, it’s one that comes with a lot of deeper notions about how power and human organization works.
All told, it’s still a fun game, but I’m deeply skeptical any course based on it will interrogate how the gameplay mechanics are at odds with the narrative history told through the game.
Welcome to Hell World
Today I have an interview with a guy whose job should not exist. He works for a company that serves as a go between for employees who get insurance through work and the insurance companies that manage those benefits. To be honest it was all pretty confusing what he actually does and that’s the entire point. There simply has to be a better way to do all of this!!!
Do you have to turn people away in frustration or tears often?
Sometimes. People are hurting and need [their healthcare]. There are situations too where, say you have an injury or illness and you have to take time off of work because of that. With some employers, say you take two weeks or a month off of work, because of that you don’t have income, you’re not getting paid. So you can’t have those health insurance premiums being taken out of your paycheck because you aren’t getting one. If those premiums aren’t taken out, after a month, they can just drop you altogether. Then you just don’t have coverage. This always happens. Obviously someone needs that coverage because they had to take time off work for say a surgery or a broken leg. Maybe they got Covid. Just, something fucking happened. Those are the people that need coverage the most, but it’s like, well, if you don’t pay the piper you’re fucked. They’ll call me and say they want to get their insurance restated, and I’ll have to tell them there’s nothing I can do. The rules of your company say once it’s gone it’s gone.
Also in there today some thoughts on Manchin and “social murder.”
That one is for paying subscribers only but here’s a real cheap discount coupon. $4.25 a month good for today only. As a reminder if you subscribe to Hell World for a year you’ll also get a six months paid subscription to Foreign Exchanges by Derek Davison and Forever Wars by Spencer Ackerman (or vice versa).
Last week I wrote about the warehouse workers killed in the tornadoes in Kentucky and Illinois and on the gross teacher cash grab stunt in South Dakota. I also posted a my list of the top 100 emo/hc/pp/indie songs of 2021 which you can find here. Enjoy ((?))
FOREVER WARS is about to go on winter break. In our absence, please, please, please read Azmat Khan’s years-long investigation into the aftermath of U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The second installment was published as I type this, so I don’t want to remark on something I haven’t read yet. But the first installment tells the story of the U.S. military’s versions of the CIA’s signature strikes. Those strikes are amongst the most infamous aspects of the War on Terror, as they killed people for matching a so-called pattern of life, where activities like carrying weapons in a convoy marked a person for obliteration. More than one Obama administration official told me they were eventually able to end signature strikes in Pakistan. (Every one of those people always specified in Pakistan, and I read that as an indication they didn’t end CIA signature strikes across the board.) Yet Khan, utilizing the military’s own documents as well as on-the-ground reporting, finds that in effect, the military behaved similarly as it reduced its infantry and training components in Iraq and Afghanistan (and began a small-footprint operation in Syria that continues to this day).
Speaking of Afghanistan, the Afghan people whom the United States is just so concerned about are on the verge of an acute-for-Afghanistan economic crisis as winter begins. Among the obstacles to the survival of an untold number of people are the extensive sanctions now emplaced upon Taliban Afghanistan. Yet, as the Washington Post reports, there are administration officials who consider mass immiseration to be a point of leverage. Their bureaucratic opponents believe that the Biden administration “must decide whether it wants the government in power to fail or if it wants to use its influence in ways that help more Afghans survive.”
Speaking from my own experience, ever since August, I’ve encountered people with influence in national-security circles (I’m bound to Chatham House rules) contending that there’s nothing illegitimate about overthrowing the Taliban. They are unreconciled to defeat and consider sanctions a critical means to regime change. Laurel Miller, who had Richard Holbrooke’s position as State Department Afghanistan-Pakistan coordinator during Obama’s second term, is a voice of sanity in the Post:
“I recognize that it’s very difficult, in the immediate aftermath of losing a war, to contemplate supporting a state that is run by your former enemies,” she said. “But the Afghan people need a state that functions, to at least a minimal degree. There is no way to entirely circumvent the Taliban if you’re going to prevent the continued collapse of the entire economy.”
No matter the pullout of the U.S. military, sanctions in Afghanistan are weapons of war, no less so than bombs and artillery. They are landmines, in the sense that they are far more likely to kill a child at play than dislodge a regime they presume they have the right to dislodge, and also in the sense that by the time they do so America will have forgotten their emplacement.
Last week, we gave you an early look into new research about war powers from the Costs of War Project. We reported on the chilling infiltration of Muslim civil-rights group CAIR by an Islamophobic organization with ties to Israel. And we reported on an indictment about a stunning double-homicide conspiracy. Today, Sam wrote a great essay reflecting on his Christian faith and anti-abortion politics. That’s come in the course of providing receipts for the fundraiser we held for Texas organizations facilitating abortion access, thanks to Ted Leo’s REIGN OF TERROR-inspired song “Into The Conquering Sun,” which I still can’t believe I drum on. The fundraiser continues on Ted’s Bandcamp, where I hope you’ll buy the track instead of just streaming it.
Tomorrow, I’ll have something going into how the Biden administration sees the fruits of its Middle East policies as it rounds out its first year. Then we’re not going to publish until the new year. Omicron is absolutely out of control where I am and I could use some time not worrying about this newsletter. Thanks to everyone who’s subscribed to the first four-plus months of FOREVER WARS! To those that haven’t, when you buy a year of my newsletter, you’ll get six free months at the paid tier for Luke O’Neil’s WELCOME TO HELL WORLD and Derek Davison’s FOREIGN EXCHANGES.
It’s the end of a long year for Discourse Blog. We’re taking the next few days off to recharge before 2022, but I wanted to share a bit of our year-end roundup from our lead editor Jack Mirkinson, which is on the site here:
2021 sucked, is what I’m saying. It was a really bad year. In such a bleak time, it can be hard to find sources of brightness, or things that make you think we might have a chance. But one of the reasons I’m so happy that Discourse Blog exists is that it is a proudly left-wing website, and I don’t think you can really be a leftist if you don’t have some hope that the future can be better than the past.
This has not been an easy year to chronicle. It has not always been the easiest year for us personally. Yet the very fact that we are still here is, for us, a small triumph of hope, because the very existence of Discourse Blog is an act of hope. It’s a hope that there is room in our remorselessly corporate media world for a small independent leftist news site. It’s a hope that there are people out there who see the world like we do. It’s a hope that we can gain a little foothold just by telling you what we think about things, and what makes us angry, and happy, and what we’re scared of, and what annoys us, and what keeps us going. It’s a hope that, by being a place that cheers every time another workplace forms a union, and loses its shit when the malevolent forces who run this planet betray us yet again, we can try and ensure that the heroes of the world are uplifted and the villains pulled down just a little bit, and that things get a little better around here. It’s a hope that people are cool with all the weird things we do, and want us to do more.
You can apply all of what Jack wrote here to Discontents as well. The writers in this group all have the same goal, which is what makes our fledgling project here so important. We haven’t figured out all the details yet on how to best market and advocate for each other’s (bundling subscriptions, etc) work but what we’re doing here, I think, clearly establishes what we all want journalism and media in general to be in the future. As far as Discourse goes, I hope you’ll check out some of the links in our round-up above, and if you’ve been on the fence about a sub to us or anyone else in this letter, now’s a great time to hop off it (metaphorically) and come over to our side. We’ll be here — see you soon.
Regular FX contributor Kate Kizer stopped by last week to offer a critical take on Joe Biden’s big democracy-fest:
After witnessing years of depraved and blatantly illegal US actions under the “war on terror,” I’ve been struck by how nearly every mainstream think tank paper, beltway expert report, or opinion article somehow still talks about other countries’ actions as if they are operating inside a vacuum. They rarely, if ever, offer any context as to why a country is acting the way it is, and there’s little to no effort to understand how US actions might shape what other countries do.
The hysterical rhetoric we see related to China positions the United States as a victim—an underdog fighting the good fight for the rest of the free world. That’s a nice story, and perhaps at one time it might have been true; it’s certainly the story on which I was raised, one told in American public school textbooks and by White America to justify its privilege. It also, conveniently, removes any agency from or responsibility of the United States government for the crises in which we now find ourselves.
President Joe Biden’s “Summit for Democracy” last week echoed those themes, warning about rising authoritarianism and urging countries to come together for democratic renewal. But the attendee list betrayed a lack of good faith on Biden’s part. The summit used the rhetoric of democratic renewal as a means to further divide the world into spheres of influence.
Jordan Uhl & Rob Rousseau
Much like how the US’s partnership with the Saudis remains unshakeable despite some occasional tough talk from those in charge, our ban against Ken Klippenstein was once again revealed to be mostly superficial as he joined us for our last episode of the year to talk about Kamala Harris’s boundless charisma, the Democratic Party and the Biden Administration somehow failing to even come close to meeting the extremely low expectations we all had, elections in Honduras and elsewhere in Central and South America indicating the decline of US international hegemony, entering year 3 of the coronavirus pandemic, our hopes and fears, mainly fears, heading into 2022 and more.