Our Weekly Discontents, 3/29/2021

Jessica Walter is dead and Henry Kissinger is not.

Shane Ferro here, from Cruel and Usual. This week, in addition to my dive into how New York’s new legal weed bill might affect police harassment, I’m thinking about George Floyd. Starting today, the man who killed him will stand trial for murder.

It’s a tense moment in Minneapolis, summed up pretty well here:

“People don’t have much faith that he’s going to be convicted,” said Pastor Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church in the neighborhood Near North, the historic heart of Black Minneapolis. “I think there’s hope that he is, but we have seen this movie before. We’ve watched this movie over and over and over again. We can recite the lines.”

We’ve seen over and over clear, bloody injustices committed by police in broad daylight, on camera, with few public consequences for the people who inflicted such brute force on their fellow human beings simply because they are Police and their victim is not (more accurately, is not and is Black).

I like the way that NPR laid out its framework for the trial using these questions, which get to the heart of what the jury actually has to decide to get to “guilty”:

  • Do legal protections for police absolve Chauvin of responsibility for Floyd's death?

  • Could it be considered "reasonable" for Chauvin to have used the amount of force he did?

  • To what degree could other factors, such as Floyd's recent drug use and his health, have contributed to his death?

  • If Chauvin is found to have directly caused Floyd's death, which of the three charges would jurors agree on?

The first two questions are much harder than the second two. The ways in which we systemically devalue Black life is layered on top of a very basic, fundamental belief that state violence is acceptable. The combination of the two is what makes police brutality such a driving force in maintaining white supremacy in America.

It is engrained in our society that the government has a monopoly on violence, expressed through the military and through the police. Violence from citizens is something to be punished, but violence from the State is tolerated, legal, even Good. We learn from a young age that violence from the police is how we keep Order, and it should be not only tolerated but celebrated.

Qualified immunity is basically how this assumption has been written into the law, but even without it, I still think it would be a huge lift to convince 12 people who have grown up in America that state violence is not justified, no matter how easy it is to see if you just open your eyes.

It’s time to see what the rest of the Discontents crew has been doing over the past week. If it’s to your liking, do us a favor and sign up for a free Discontents subscription if you haven’t already:

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Welcome to Hell World

Luke O’Neil

I’m not sure exactly when the switch happened but last week the full force of it hit me when I realized that the standard line you hear from survivors of mass shootings now has changed from “We never thought it would happen here” to something more like “We knew something like this would happen here.”

I wrote more on the latest shootings here in this paid-subscriber piece which also features a dispatch from South Carolina by Dave Infante on the state’s regressive legislative efforts and massive covid fuck ups over the past year.

After passing the abortion ban—which the cash-strapped state will now spend millions to defend in court in hopes of scoring that coveted hearing with Amy Coney Barret & co.—South Carolina’s conservative lawmakers have brought bills that would authorize the state to execute people by firing squad and electric chair, block trans women from high school sports, and prohibit hormone treatments for trans youth. And naturally the GOP is using its expanded majority to push some standard-issue voter suppression under the guise of “safeguarding the voting process,” a time-honored pastime in this state. These are mostly Republican bills, but a few Democrats are involved in each of them, because lol of course. 

Elsewhere I turned in this meandering weird one (even by my standards) on the magic of rock and roll power ballads, the beautiful and haunting new film Saint Maud, and how fucked up it is that many of us are taught as children that there’s a literal realm of lava and monsters that we’ll all be sent to to be tortured in forever if we don’t eat our vegetables or whatever.

The older I get the more I realize that the pinnacle of music and maybe life in general is being a dumb fuck in a crowd of 10,000 people singing “Don’t Look Back In Anger” or whatever in your shitty hoarse voice. “So Sally can wait!” What does it mean? Who cares it doesn’t mean anything it means Sally can wait and that’s good enough.

Subscribe for a mere $4.46 a month here to read them both.

The Flashpoint

Eoin Higgins

A quiet week at The Flashpoint, but there's some follow up reporting coming along to the Boston police cameras story from December—stay tuned. 

For now, a few brief thoughts on this platform and how the New Right's culture war against the trans community is aligning with the country's furthest right major political party….

Dan Rodimer, a former professional wrestler, is running for Congress in Texas's 6th Congressional District. There's a special election May 1 to replace GOP Rep. Ron Wright, who died of COVID-19 on February 7 (and yes, your instinct on Wright's ironic position on the coronavirus is correct).

Much has already been made of Rodimer's ludicrous appropriation of "Texas Tough." Rodimer was born and raised in New Jersey, attended Seton Hall prep school, and ran for Congress in Nevada just six months ago with, shall we say, a different image. 

In a recent ad, Rodimer rode a bull named "Nancy Pelosi," promised to fight against ill-defined Democratic efforts to bring "socialism" to the U.S., and took aim at a new favorite target of the right—trans children. 

Whatever happens with Rodimer's run, and I think we can all agree that it's best that a bigot like this is kept out of the public eye as much as possible, his decision to attack trans kids and trans people in general speaks to the tilt of the right in the new culture wars. 

If someone like Rodimer, a pure opportunist with zero core principles whatsoever, is grabbing onto the attacks, it indicates that the right will continue to go after this community for political gain. That they'll have help from nominal left-wingers on platforms such as this one only compounds the frustration.

The Insurgents

Jordan Uhl & Rob Rousseau

This week we’re talking to @savannimalz, a housing activist in LA who has been on the ground in Echo Park over the last few weeks as police have brutally displaced the tent encampment there. While talking about this specific incident we wonder why we insist on cruelly criminalizing homelessness and poverty in this way, when drastically overinflated police budgets in pretty much every major city leave no room for housing, mental health or addiction counseling or any other social programs which would actually help these communities.

There’s a pretty obvious case to be made that placing such a huge priority on giving money to cops actually seems to be making many of the social problems that end up falling under police jurisdiction worse instead of better, yet for some reason the very simple to understand concept of Defund the Police has become politically toxic to the liberal intelligentsia class. Sometimes it kind of seems like these people just think the current cruel exploitative economic system needs to remain just as it is and their efforts to appear concerned with the plight of marginalized communities is purely performative! Perhaps someone should look into this.

Wars of Future Past

Kelsey D. Atherton

How, exactly, does science fiction shape the future of war? Later this week, in the first of what I expect will be a recurring series at Wars of Future Past, I dive into a bit of speculative fiction from 2003, about everything from nuclear-powered drones to an air war against California internet separatists.

Air War: California AD 2043”, which appeared in an issue of Popular Science, was mostly written as a showcase for a bunch of weapon concepts then in development. It also, I think, offers a really interesting window into who authors can imagine as enemies, and what sorts of future wars they feel comfortable writing about. It’s unlikely that a breakaway tax-revolt of too-online Los Angelenos was the most likely planned theater for the weapons of the 2040s, but it’s a fascinating choice all the same.


Gaby Del Valle & Felipe De La Hoz

Last week, Maine Sen. Susan Collins toured the border with a group of senators, and the impression she had was harrowing. Border Patrol, she tweeted, is “overwhelmed, overworked & discouraged by new policies. Agents took us through a dangerous path to the Rio Grande where we could hear the Cartel members taunting us across the river. Human trafficking, child abuse & drug smuggling are rampant. This is a crisis.”

There are plenty of problems with Collins’ tweet and her overall impression of the “border crisis,” but let’s start with the most obvious one: the Biden administration hasn’t implemented any new policies with regards to asylum seekers at the border. It hasn’t even rescinded the Trump-era closure of the border to unauthorized migrants that is the root of the supposed crisis everyone has been up in arms about for the last few weeks. 

The morning after Collins’ inane tweet, MSNBC reported that another group of senators would be riding down the Rio Grande on gunboats mounted with machine guns. The goal of this trip? To get a better understanding of the “influx” of unaccompanied migrant children at the border. Naturally.

We dug into the escalation of the border crisis rhetoric in last week’s edition of the newsletter. The biggest takeaway is that everything that pundits and members of Congress are decrying—the prolonged detention of unaccompanied minors in Border Patrol facilities, migrant families’ increased reliance on smugglers—isn’t the result of a porous, open border but of the opposite. Biden has yet to reverse the Title 42 order requiring immigration officers to expel most migrants back to their countries of origin; the administration’s message to asylum seekers continues to be “migrants, we love you and respect you, but also it’s okay if you die.” 

Ultimately, this is all a political game. Biden won’t lift Title 42 because doing so would give his opponents a chance to paint him as some kind of open borders socialist. (God, I wish!) Republicans will use the “crisis” rhetoric to advocate for more restrictive policies; Democrats will stupidly attempt to negotiate in good faith. And while this all happens, thousands of vulnerable people will keep trying to get into the U.S., through more dangerous and remote routes.

Discourse Blog

Hi again, Crosbie here for Discourse Blog. 

I’m going to do a big rundown of most of our blogs from the week, but before that want to highlight Sam Grasso’s deeply reported piece on the ugly union battle at Collectivo Coffee, which despite its egalitarian name and state principles has been engaging in some good old fashioned union busting. But if a long labor story isn’t what you’re feeling right now, then please, have these blogs instead:

We blogged the boat. We blogged Amazon’s PR meltdown, and we blogged about the absurdly early coverage of the 2024 election. We blogged about how Jessica Walter is dead and Henry Kissinger is not, how Bill Kristol remains a ghoul, how Stephen Miller should never be put on television again, and how Paul keeps finding dogs. Variety! That’s the good stuff! Like almost every week, we also blogged about Joe Manchin, who continues to make news because he is basically the only thing standing in the way of Democrats sort of making a little progress. 

We also had one of our first content swaps with Defector, featuring old friend of the blog Drew Magary, who kindly blogged about how he is old. No arguments there! See you next week.

Foreign Exchanges

Derek Davison

I’m taking a little break this week but if you’re a political junky or just interested in the state of the Middle East please check out last week’s Foreign Exchanges podcast. Journalist Séamus Malekafzali joined me to handicap the upcoming Iranian presidential race, with a special focus on why former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is both a polling favorite and also almost certain to be barred from running.

Perspectives: Past, Present, and Future

Patrick Wyman

No new newsletter last week, but I’m in the midst of a long and hopefully interesting series on prehistory. The latest installment dealt with the dispersal of the Afroasiatic languages, the family of related tongues that includes Arabic, Ancient Egyptian, Amharic, Hausa, and many others, and its possible connection to the long-lost era when the Sahara Desert was a green, productive savannah. This week, I’ll be talking about the perishability of the past, and how the ravages of time shape what we can and do learn through history and archaeology.