What Fiscal Conservatives Want

The biggest Budget Bill of our lifetimes is heading into committees this week. You know what happens next.

Hi everyone. Jack Crosbie from Discourse Blog here. I am going to preface my intro to this week’s newsletter with the statement that I am not an economic expert. I don’t really even write about the economy at all. The reason for this is that I do not understand it and it appears it would require an enormous amount of knowledge and research to change that.

But the general concept of “money,” as it relates to our society as a representation of who has access to resources and who does not, is extremely easy to understand. The problem is that there is more than enough “money” (resources) to go around, but a very small amount of people control far more of it than they need to, at the direct expense of basically everyone else. 

I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot recently because we are about to enter into a particularly fraught period of “economy talk,” with the drafting and then arguing and maybe (hopefully) eventual passing of Bernie Sanders/Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget bill. The proposed framework for the bill is far from a panacea to the general concept of inequality I have explained stupidly above, but from everything I’ve read about it, would definitely move some things in the right direction. 

This bill is already encountering staggering opposition, which almost always takes one form: it is too expensive to do this, and would also be bad. This argument is made by “moderates” like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and rampant Conservatives alike, who often refer to themselves as “fiscal conservatives.” The fiscal conservative argument, in general, often exploits another phenomenon that I am attempting to explain in this piece: that the economy is very complicated, and only they know how to run it. Fiscal conservatives want people like me to see big numbers and feel out of their depth. What fiscal conservatives want, most of all, is to convince you that because you are a bit unclear on the specifics of how we should redistribute all of this wealth, that the concept as a whole is wrong. The slightly milder side, often seen from moderates, tells you that the concept isn’t wrong per se it’s just too hard to do and therefore we shouldn’t do it (which is essentially saying the concept is wrong. It is not.)

In reality, this isn’t true! There are all kinds of smart and logical and important theories that explain that yes, the concept of redistributing our society’s massive amount of wealth is not only possible but would drastically improve the lives of basically everyone who is not Jeff Bezos. There are writers who are extremely knowledgeable about these things (not me). You can read and research these things if you want, but even if you don’t, what is most important to me is that we don’t fall for the fiscal conservative’s bait. A logical person can look at a graph of who owns what in America and discern that shit is a bit wonky there. Any argument that tells you you are stupid for thinking that is not one you should take heed of.

Anyway. That’s what I’m thinking about this week, as we cope with the loss of pandemic-expanded unemployment benefits, a change that we can directly see is hurting the economy. That last link is a good blog today by my colleague Jack Mirkinson at Discourse Blog. 

Last week, we had a few more posts as well: my blog about the union wave at Gannett, Katherine’s patient but frustrated debunking of the “we lost SCOTUS because of Bernie Sanders in 2016,” and Rafi’s blog about Zambonis. We’ll be blogging all week and forever after. I’ll let everyone else get their piece in.

Wars of Future Past

Kelsey D. Atherton

No war can truly have a last image, but that hasn’t stopped the Pentagon’s Public Affairs Officers from trying. Shot through a night vision lens, “Last American Soldier Leaves Afghanistan” is supposed to be the canonical end of almost 20 years of the US-led War in Afghanistan.

I had already written most of my latest newsletter when that picture was released. I focused on the shifting frequencies of image production over the years, the ebbs and flows of the military trying to tell its story visually. A change in events on the ground, as it became clear to the average Afghan soldier that the government responsible for paying and supporting them was going to flee rather than hold out, meant the US had to drastically shift how it photographed its own withdrawal.

Image production, which had not yet hit 100 pictures before August, quadrupled as the military rebranded the withdrawal as a rescue mission. After professional photographers and journalists alike captured pictures of crowds and chaos at the airport, the Pentagon produced images of calm and order. This content flowed steadily, even as car bombs and drone strikes around the airport compounded the deeply unphotogenic war, a grim reality left cordoned off beyond the edge of the frame until wheels up.

The Flashpoint

Eoin Higgins

Last week at The Flashpoint I talked to workers in New Haven about what it's like dealing with Yale students. Their assessment likely won't surprise you:

Rick, a longtime New Haven resident, said that he’s seen both respectful and disrespectful students come through the school. Yale is not a monolith.

“As a waiter for nine years here I dealt with a lot of entitled little shits, but also a number of genuinely nice kids,” Rick said. “The undergrads are generally not regarded well by the waiters and bar staff I know but some of them get it.”

But the damage done to the community is from the sneering attitude toward service workers that manifests as dismissiveness, said George, a bartender in the city.

“The undergrads were shit tippers, but I’m willing to chalk that up to just being young and dumb,” George told me. “The real problem is their general sort of attitude that service workers were ‘the help.’ I’d sometimes get the impression that regular New Haveners were just a nuisance for them. Like flies buzzing around their heads or whatever. Just a lack of human courtesy.”

I also featured a guest post by Jack Crosbie from Discourse Blog on Gannett's unionization drive.

This week, as schools are reopening I look at masking mandates and the limits of compelling people to do the right thing for public health. 

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Sick Note

Libby Watson

Having a baby is expensive—which is the most common reason people wait to have children in the first place—and America’s backwards health insurance system doesn’t help. Last week, I covered two stories that show how insurance bullshit can make birth even more expensive. Michael’s wife had their baby in January, meaning their deductible had reset; Patrick’s wife had their baby in December, and after some confusing situation with open enrollment that is too ridiculously complicated to recount here, ended up with thousands of dollars more in bills for the baby’s birth. (Don’t forget that it’s not just insurance to blame here; hospitals also charge crazy prices, which most of us don’t see until insurance fails to cover them. Michael’s wife was charged $748 per hour in the recovery room.)

Welcome to Hell World

Luke O’Neil

Last week I wrote about the comically evil — almost impressively so — Texas bounty hunter law. “We needn’t have any connection to the person or have even ever heard of them five minutes before we decide to fuck up their life. We are required to suffer no injury ourselves to sue we are simply empowered to injure.” Since then a lot of Democrats have made some pretty impressive tweets. What I still haven’t heard is anything about the two solutions that are desperately needed and for which there is as of yet still at this late fucking date apparently no political will: packing the court and abolishing the filibuster. Read it here.

The way that Texas has deputized us all into a sort of citizen Panopticon and recent news reports about people “looting” during the storms in the southeast and our continued horrific treatment of prisoners during the pandemic also reminded me of good old Hell World about punishment.

After that I covered a new low in the Remington versus the parents of the massacred Sandy Hook Elementary students lawsuit in which the gun manufacturer’s legal team are subpoenaing attendance and disciplinary and academic records of murdered kids to… I don’t know prove that they had it coming?

“The only relevant part of their attendance records is that they were at their desks on December 14, 2012,” the families’ lawyer said. Read it here.

Also this:

Forever Wars

Spencer Ackerman

As the evacuation at the Kabul airport concluded, we got a glimpse of the reality of a drone strike. The latest U.S. incineration of children, seven of them in this case, has yielded what drone strikes have yielded so often: a lack of introspection amongst the custodians and apologists of this engine of death; and a lack of basic acknowledgement of guilt from the Pentagon and the Biden administration. Then we saw the agonizing new death toll from the War on Terror compiled by Brown University’s Costs of War Project. Now, for subscribers only, FOREVER WARS is channeling its despair and anger in the War on Terror into – I still can’t believe this – a song Ted Leo wrote about my book that I drummed on. “Into The Conquering Sun” by Ted Leo and Jeppesen Airplane, available exclusively this week to subscribers, whose money we’re donating to abortion-access organizations at work in Texas.

Foreign Exchanges

Derek Davison

In his newest Foreign Exchanges column, Alex Thurston outlined some of the fundamental errors the US media and foreign policy establishment have been making with respect to understanding the Taliban:

Thus the dominant modes of talking about the Taliban in Washington are to emphasize its ideology and its military behaviors. The idea that the Taliban offer people something—rule of law, stability, cultural compatibility, national pride, religious pride, predictability for businesspeople, etc.—is not unfamiliar to the Blob. But in Washington that idea is often downplayed (“ok, the Taliban make a few compromises, but they’re still fanatics”) or is rebutted with fantasies (“here’s my program for how to convince Afghan villagers that the US-backed government is better at delivering services—it’ll work if all the stars align”). Ultimately, many Blob members cannot admit that there is no magic formula to make an unpopular foreign occupation work. They also cannot admit that however many Afghans may hate the Taliban, one can also find many who welcome, or at least are willing to accept, their rule.

The Blob’s inability to face basic truths is also manifest in the expanding genre of “blame” articles. Blame Pakistan. No, blame the American public. No, it’s Biden. No, it’s Trump. No, everyone is at fault. The blame discourse is still a way of rationalizing, of insisting that there was a way to avoid something that was in reality inevitable. If the last two centuries have taught students of world history anything, it should be this: most peoples will eventually expel foreign occupiers, unless you inflict genocidal levels of violence upon them or explicitly integrate them into your empire.

The Insurgents

Jordan Uhl and Rob Rousseau

This week we spoke to the guys from the QAnon Anonymous podcast about the Ivermectin craze, whether we should laugh at all the D-list anti-vax conservative radio hosts dropping like flies right now, what our friends in the Q community think about Afghanistan, and what an Avengers remake featuring all of the most prominent members of the conservative resistance would look like.

There’s also 10 minutes or so on Magic the Gathering and the superiority of Shaun White’s Xbox 360 snowboarding sim at the very top but you can feel free to skip that part.


Gaby Del Valle & Felipe De La Hoz

There have been so many different and interlocking restrictionist border policies in the last few years that any casual observer could be forgiven for losing track of which one’s which and which are active at any given time. We’ve previously discussed the incredibly draconian Title 42 rule being used to facilitate immediate expulsions; the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as Remain in Mexico, which forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico as their cases played out in U.S. immigration courts; and expedited removal, which permits border officials to conduct quick deportations of people who don’t know to actively claim a fear of persecution (and even many who do).

One policy that often gets forgotten is the practice of so-called metering, or simply turning migrants away from ports of entry on the argument that border officials’ capacity to process them has been exceeded, and they should simply try again some other time. It’s particularly insidious in that it has never been a full, official government policy, but rather is billed as a discretionary action that individual agents can take to manage border flows. Because people were often informally just turned away, it creates few records and has been harder to track.

Now, a federal judge has issued a summary ruling that metering is illegal under the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act. It’s a significant win for asylum seekers and border rights groups, who might be able to use the precedent to argue against other border restrictions that are currently of greater concern. As we broke down in last week’s BORDER/LINES, among the notable elements of the judge’s rulings are affirming that people just arriving at U.S. borders, who aren’t yet on U.S. soil, still have constitutional due process rights.

Photo via Flickr/ Jonathan Gross