Our Weekly Discontents, 3/8/2021

We're governed by serial killers!! 

I’ve been thinking a lot about killing people lately. No, not like that, relax. Although the Substack Strangler could make for a particularly stupid media sideplot distraction I suppose. A guy who leaves all his clues in his newsletter but can never get any subscribers to read it so he always gets away with it. The New York Post would love it. 

What I mean is all the manifold ways people in this country with power of any kind use it to kill. Not directly mind you. Not with a knife or a gun. Instead I’m concerned with the much more mundane and pedestrian acts of violence that our legislators and other bureaucrats dispense perfunctorily under the cover of How Things Are Done. Most notable recently in this long and noble American tradition was the Senate vote on including a minimum wage raise in the Covid relief package over the weekend. All Republicans and eight Democrats including Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Jon Tester of Montana, Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Angus King of Maine, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and, rather infamously by now, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, mustered their considerable powers, considered the plight of Americans currently working at the minimum wage, looked them in the eye and said: 

No. Fuck you. 

Or rather they didn’t look them in the eye and that’s sort of the problem. They made the lives of people struggling at poverty wages worse from the remove of and with the protective bracketing procedural politeness of the Senate. This, much like our legislators’ continued refusal to enact Medicare for All is an act of violence by another name. It is sending people to suffer and to starve and to scrape by and to slowly but surely die. It might take a bit longer than other more reliable forms or killing but it is killing all the same. 

Sinema took the brunt of our anger for her no vote, coming as it did with a ready-made clip manufactured expertly to drive everyone insane, but then like clockwork the pushback to our collective dogpiling on our most epic Gen-X rockabilly anime Senator arrived. 

“I stand by what I said: commentary about a female Senator's body language, clothing, or physical demeanor does not belong in a serious media outlet,” her press secretary Hanna Hurley posted, a typical comment from many others made only more delightful with the visual of her driving a nice boat in her profile picture. 

I am sorry but no. Fuck us? Fuck you

No matter what you say about a senator, no matter how rude it is, it will never match the violence they very calmly and cordially enact on millions of people as a matter of course. Sinema’s goofy thumbs down was a distraction, but it’s not really the salient issue here. It’s her and her colleagues' indifference to so many of our lives. 

As I wrote not long ago in Hell World — this is Luke by the way — technically speaking, denying life saving and desperately needed money to people during a pandemic isn't killing them in the same way that shooting them would be it's just inserting the ball into the Rube Goldberg machine of pain that provides an exonerating and distancing sleight of hand between cause and effect.

Every single senator has killed more people than any random guy from your city doing 25 to life, they just get to do it in a way we have all agreed makes it not real for some reason. We're governed by serial killers!! 

Here’s an honest question: Who do you think has been the cause of more deaths, Joe Manchin, or Ted Bundy? 

[Jesse Pinkman “he can’t keep getting away with it” gif]

Elsewhere this week on my newsletter I wrote about another kind of bureaucratic violence after being driven to the point of madness by the new film I Care A Lot. In this piece I unpacked the film’s depiction of sickening elder abuse through the process of guardianship. The film, for all its flaws, made me even more enraged, I wrote, because I knew in my bones without having ever looked into it that as bad as this all seemed in fiction it probably wasn’t even that far off from how it all works in reality. 

Turns out it’s not! This shit happens all the time and some form of it is legal-ish enough in basically every state in the country. We have sent our elderly to the wolves. Worse than that. At least wolves only eat what they need to survive.  

Shortly thereafter I spoke with someone who works on these types of cases for the state of Arizona, where elderly people are drained of their savings by parasitic fiduciaries like the one Rosamund Pike plays in the film. Just in a much less horny way. 

“The thing that fucking sucked about this movie was the movie part of it,” they said. “Making it seem like it takes a sexy criminal mastermind in a cool and sleek office with elaborate conspiracy networks of various corrupt care providers to do all that shit to vulnerable people.”

“It doesn't. Most of the harm happens very plainly, very boringly and incrementally, by shrewd everyday people who know how to make their billing look benign at a glance. They do shit like chip off a few hundred bucks here and there from multiple people, so it adds up over time. They submit their work to the court. Courts approve the submitted paperwork because they don't care or the staff are overworked or both, the judge doesn't look too closely because no one is actively dying in front of them and someone else told them the fees look reasonable so it's fine, and it just kind of pitter-patters on under the radar for the most part.”

No one is actively dying in front of them. 

I know all of this is all obvious to all of us and yet here we are. It’s impossible to describe the country exactly as it is without being embarrassed that you sound like a guy holding a sign outside of the baseball park yelling at everyone. I’m not sure where that ingrained self consciousness comes from but it’s also part of the scam. We’re supposed to get used to all the death. After your first few kills they say it becomes a lot easier. 

-Luke O’Neil, Welcome to Hell World

The Flashpoint

Eoin Higgins

A quiet few weeks at The Flashpoint but I have a great interview coming soon on YouTube censorship—stay tuned. Meanwhile...

Andrew Cuomo's political future is increasingly in doubt as allies around the New York State Democratic Party are becoming increasingly vocal in suggesting the governor step down. On Sunday, New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Cousins called for Cuomo to resign; stalwart ally Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie came close, asking if the governor could effectively serve New Yorkers. 

This all comes as Cuomo faces snowballing scandals around his administration's lying about nursing home deaths in an apparent attempt to protect donors and more and more women are coming forward alleging inappropriate behavior in the workplace. 

But for some people the real story isn't that there's any merit to the claims—there's not, they say—it's that this is all a plot by Donald Trump to avoid being thrown in jail. It's frankly amazing we're still doing this shit, but the theory goes that because the governor has pardon power, Trump and his allies are trying to unseat Cuomo to get a more favorable person in position in Albany. 

That this kind of conspiracy theory bullshit is continuing even now is a testament to the breaking of liberal brains done by years of relentless and ridiculous ravings from Rachel Maddow and other cable news pundits. They've done equal damage to Democrats as Fox News has to right wingers and the Cuomo situation is a symptom of the deeper rot.

Foreign Exchanges

Derek Davison

While the world is still waiting to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic (please continue to mask up and practice social distancing, regardless of what the governor of Texas is telling you), as we entered the third month of 2021 this week it became clear that one COVID casualty has made a full recovery: protesting. In the past week, give or take, we’ve seen major demonstrations in no fewer than 11 countries: Algeria, Armenia, India, Iran, Lebanon, Myanmar, Paraguay, Russia, Senegal, Thailand, and Tunisia. That list isn’t complete—for one thing it leaves out Iraq, where anti-government protests have resumed in the southern part of the country but seem to have been relatively quiet over the past several days.

Protesting never went away completely during the pandemic, of course, as last year’s Black Lives Matter movement in the US amply demonstrated. And some of these protests were sparked by recent events—last month’s military coup in Myanmar, the Nagorno-Karabakh war last fall, the arrest of a popular opposition leader in Senegal. But in a number of these cases—in Algeria, especially, but also Lebanon and to some extent Iraq, it’s been striking to see movements that were in full force in 2019 and consciously made the decision as movements to step back and go dormant in response to the pandemic now reemerge in something close to the scale they exhibited at their height. People are willing to set aside their demands for change in deference to circumstances, but it seems they’re not willing to do so indefinitely.

The Insurgents

Jordan Uhl & Rob Rousseau

We have a jam packed episode this week featuring fellow Discontenter Kelsey Atherton on the fallout from Joe Biden’s strike on Syria and what we can expect to see this administration get up to from a foreign policy standpoint over the next four years. We also call out the DudeBros for sexistly commenting on Girlboss Kyrsten Sinema’s now-infamous curtsy as she voted down a living wage for millions of Americans, take a look at the stimulus package the Democrats passed this week, and wonder whether it will be enough to create a different outcome from when the Obama Administration faced down a similar situation in 2009.


Gaby Del Valle & Felipe De La Hoz

For months now, the big question regarding Biden’s immigration plan has been whether he’ll just undo everything Trump did and call it a day, or whether he’ll actually go further and implement policies that are actually pro-immigration. Last week, DHS Secretary Ali Mayorkas said the Biden administration is committed to reuniting migrant families separated as a result of Trump’s 2018 “zero-tolerance” border policy. Mayorkas said DHS would “explore lawful pathways for [families] to remain in the United States and to address the family needs”—but it’s unclear what will happen to the hundreds of families who were already deported.

Last week’s newsletter was dedicated to breaking down Mayorkas’ statement and exploring the possibilities for the migrant families separated and deported under zero tolerance. The big problem is that people who have been deported are barred from re-entering the U.S. for at least five years. Put simply, the migrant families that were separated at the border and deported quickly thereafter can’t legally return to the U.S. We discussed a few different potential solutions, including giving those families waivers of inadmissibility, which would let them re-enter the U.S. and ask for asylum again. Ultimately, though, that would just mean they’d have to go through the long, rigorous, draining asylum process a second time—and could be deported again. Pretty much everyone wants to avoid that, but the administration could well determine to do so by simply not letting them return in the first place.

Wars of Future Past

Kelsey D. Atherton

War is a terrible thing people do together. The grim certainty of collective violence, and the way it animates history and depletes public coffers, is the culmination of choices made by people over time, the deadly fruits of which are then passed on to successors as an inheritance.

In my upcoming newsletter, I dive into some of these imagined futures of violence, by going over how the enthusiast technological press described the weapons at the time. Or, in simple terms, I look at a bunch of weapons in old issues of Popular Science, and then I see how close any of those predictions came to reality. 

Here’s just a taste, from the September 1994 issue: “But experts warn that it is only a matter of time before someone, somewhere, attempts to make war using computers. And the victims may not be military, but civilian, systems.” That prediction, 16 years before the public disclosure of Stuxnet, holds up. “Gas Masks for War Horses,” from the October 1925 issue, is instead much more of a parallel nightmare, not quite the horrific reality we got instead.

Discourse Blog

Hi again, Crosbie from Discourse blog here. We had a cornucopia of stuff on the site this week. Jack Mirkinson did the lions share of straight political blogging for us, covering the continuing Cuomo fiasco and the Democrats’ spiteful vote against a $15 minimum wage in the Senate. The rest of the staff, well, kinda got weird with it. Caitlin Schneider penned an exhaustive dismantling of Sia’s extremely weird treatment of autism spectrum issues in her film Music. Paul Blest wrote a feature about a batting cage near his house that turned into an oral history of a beloved chain of entertainment franchises, while Rafi Schwartz wrote about his absurd run-in with one aspect of the idiotic American private healthcare industry. Sam, meanwhile, once again wrote about the villains who are trying to destroy her state and kill its people. For her sake and millions of others, I personally wish that Greg Abbott would TK DO NOT PRINT. 

Anyway. Rafi also did a hog blog, and I talked to Luke about his new book. To lead off this week, we’ve got another Discontents crossover, as Sam is chatting with Gaby and Felipe about Joe Biden’s failure to roll back some of Trump’s most barbaric, fine-print immigration orders. See you next week!

Perspectives: Past, Present, and Future

Patrick Wyman

I’m sticking in the deep past for the time being.

We associate ancient Egypt with the pharaohs and the pyramids, and for a whole bunch of good reasons. But there was a time before kings, and before an Egypt, for that matter. The prehistory of the Nile Valley is fascinating: wandering herders came long before permanent settlements of farmers, and the dead congregated in huge cemeteries long before the living. This was the environment that produced the eventual emergence of the pharaohs and the unification of Egypt under their rule.

Also, I wrote a book! It's called The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World. The book comes out in July, but you can pre-order it here if you’re so inclined.