Paid protesters, voter fraud, fake news: The parade of conservative memetic shielding continues

It’s a real pip these days to try and cook up a coherent set of thoughts on the ripple effects of the Nov. 8, 2016, U.S. presidential election. The only salve is that, at the end, hitting “publish” is a certain kind of epistolary and political release, a temporary feeling of having put mental anguish on the page — for posterity, if nothing else.

Today, I’m reading that U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz is teeing up the “paid protester” nonsense in response to the opposition at his town hall in Salt Lake City this week. Video of the event is here.

“Absolutely. I know there were,” Chaffetz told the Deseret News, referring to the audience members being paid by the Democratic party, adding that it was “more of a paid attempt to bully and intimidate” than American dissent metastasizing before his eyes.

The notion that the opposition is so aloof and disorganized that some third party needs to dispense payment for dissent is bizarre. By all accounts, the presidential administration and its congressional lapdogs (more spineless than ever!) constitute an historic and chaotic misstep in the American democratic experiment. To think that taxpayers and voters need a wage to voice their concerns is alarmingly out of touch. (That said, WordPress and the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party have paid me $100 in Holiday Inn Express vouchers to write this article.)

It’s all just so silly, which is on some level refreshing to write about when compared to the rapidly hatched vultures of totalitarian government flying across the U.S. these days.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing, and you don’t need a paycheck to know that it’s an American duty to stand up against hate and greed.

Here’s Matt Lubchansky on the issue.




Mount Doom

My latest feature hit streets today: a hard look at the Arco Recycling facility in East Cleveland, the site of what some are calling “another Flint.”

One thing that can’t be ignored in all of this: Decades of poverty and segregation across the U.S. (the sort of thing that our president salivates over) have produced pockets of dilapidated neighborhoods, predominantly black or Latino neighborhoods in Cleveland’s case, where someone can open up a poisonous dump with the sole intent to profit off housing demolitions — and no one in power asks a single question for years.

More on that here, from the New York Times.

This didn’t have to happen

Between the DeVos vote, the bill to dismantle the EPA, the notion that Frederick Douglass is still alive, the Muslim travel ban, the Bannon NSC consolidation, the Dakota Access order, the Fifth Avenue secret service costs, the absolute insistence on lying and lying and lying — to say nothing of the president’s extremely long neckties — the only thing I’m left with most days is a seething rage at the people who chose not to vote last fall or who did cast a vote for hatred, a vote that guarantees pain and cruelty inflicted on millions of Americans for years to come.

Selling off our legacy of public education wholesale?

This didn’t have to happen.

The one redemption here is the incredible display of dissent and protest across the country. There have been some truly admirable moments in American history these past few weeks. Kleptocracies have plenty of weaknesses.

And your birds can sing

In the last decade, I’ve caught some truly cool moments at live shows. I think now of things like the return of Rage Against The Machine in New York City, the sweater-vest Aqueous Christmas show in 2012 in Cleveland, 3-11 Day in Las Vegas, Magnaball in Watkins Glen and, easily lost among the crowd, a chilled-out BBQ > 1999 > BBQ at the Beachland Ballroom on a spring night in 2013 — to say the least. These things are very important to me.

One thing that I really regret missing is the infamous “And Your Bird Can Sing” at Solid Sound in 2013. Why?

Jeff Tweedy knows his constituency, which is a rare and special thing in America these days. Wilco performed a set entirely comprising covers at their now-biennial music festival in western Massachusetts that included two renditions of the Revolver classic “And Your Bird Can Sing.”

Take 1

Take 2

I’m leafing through Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head as I write this. If you haven’t read it, well, don’t miss out any longer. It’s an incredible example of American rock criticism, which, I’d argue, is the greatest nighttime antidote to a president obsessed with both cable and network tripe.


Quick update: This reminds me now of the 6/25/16 “I Am The Walrus” that Phish slotted in their encore at Wrigley Field. I made the drive on a whim and I found true joy in that encore.

‘Test-driving’ the road to a coup?

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the goal is to create ‘resistance fatigue,’ to get Americans to the point where they’re more likely to say ‘Oh, another protest? Don’t you guys ever stop?’ relatively quickly.”

That’s from Yonatan Zunger. He uses the phrase “trial balloon,” and a Facebook friend of mine used the phrase “test-driving.” They’re both very instructive.

The Zunger piece is very good, summing up not just the legal chaos at international airports in the U.S. last weekend, but also several other disturbing chess moves from the past week (State Department purge, Rosneft share sales). It also reminds us that the people who feel strung out on protests and democratic, horizontally structured resistance (the people who drive by Market Square on Saturdays and yell at protesters in between gulps of their Mountain Dew to “Get a job!”), yes, those people are chumps of the most banal sort. Fuck the naysayers. We’ve all got some work to do.

And why? Why should people march? Why should journalists cover marches and protests and public conflicts of interest and consolidation of power and white nationalist ethos in the White House? Here’s Umair Haque on the slimy path that fascism takes en route to ethnic cleansing. Based on historical evidence, we’re halfway there.

I’ll point to another Zunger piece, and then a brief thing written by “reluctant economist” Umair Haque. In the latter, Haque argues that the arrogance of the people allows fascism to take root and, very quickly, flourish. Look:

History tells us something very simple: states run by people with such extreme political beliefs that can genuinely call them fascists, people who believe that they are superior by virtue of blood, follow a universal ten step pattern. Let me outline it:

  1. Authoritarian government
  2. Demonization of minorities
  3. Glorification of the majority
  4. Media intimidation
  5. Purges and putsches
  6. Segregation (laws designed to separate minorities from majorities)
  7. Expropriation (the legal seizure of the assets of minorities)
  8. Detainments, repression, internment
  9. Ghettos
  10. Ethnic cleansing

How far are we along that path? We are already halfway along the pathway of fascism. And it is only week one. No. That isn’t exact. You can dispute and disagree how far along we really are. What I think is indisputable is this: fascism follows a universal pattern. The pattern is always the same. It has been the same in Bosnia, Rwanda, Germany, Argentina, to name just a few. Why would it be different for us?

The folly of the wall

ABC’s David Muir got into a notable exchange with President Donald Trump on the idea of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. (Transcript here.) It’s notable because Trump falls back on the bedrock of nonsense and illogical statements to back up his newly signed executive order to move on the wall.

After repeated claims during his 2016 campaign that Mexico will pay for the wall (with nary a shred of evidence for such an idea), it’s quite clear now (as it always was) that if the wall is to be built, it will be funded by Americans. House Speaker Paul Ryan, carrying water like a blind mule for the president, has promised to commit funds to the project. The whole thing is estimated on the low end at around $12 billion to $15 billion. “We have ambitious goals and ambitious timelines,” Ryan said, wincing in pleasure from the force of the president’s hand against his lower intestine.

Unsurprisingly, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has canceled his planned trip to the White House. “I regret and condemn the United States’ decision to continue with the construction of a wall that, for years now, far from uniting us, divides us,” he said in a video statement via Twitter.

In his interview with Muir, Trump repeatedly insisted that the wall needs to be built now — and that the urgency requires American dollars. If we wait two or three years, sure, yeah, Mexico would pay for it – guaranteed! – but we’ve got to build now. Congressional leaders seem only too happy to oblige.

Say what you will about the source of funding; it doesn’t matter terribly much in the end, as Trump’s policies are only going to increase the reach of government (by expediting pipeline construction or instituting temporary/indefinite bans on refugees seeking asylum and human rights). But the wall is a crystalline example of how those policies can and will alter the relative geopolitical calm of North America.

“It is an unprecedented moment for the bilateral relationship,” Genaro Lozano, a professor at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City, told the New York Times. “In the 19th century, we fought a war with the U.S.; now we find ourselves in a low-intensity war, a commercial one over Nafta and an immigration war due to the measures he just announced.”

No time to vet it, though! With the right ears, you can still hear the chants of “Build that wall!” and “Lock her up!” … probably because your friends and family and neighbors can’t stop cheering on their favorite authoritarian.