Unaffordable Luxuries

In the immediate wake of great disasters — a flood, a blackout, or an economic collapse — people tend to behave the same way, reverting to a rough-and-ready communism. However briefly, hierarchies and markets and the like become luxuries that no one can afford. 

— David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years

This week everybody was talking about the Boston Marathon bombing

Living 30 miles from Boston, I had a hard time finding anybody who wanted to talk about anything else.

Here’s my hope for the long-term effect of the Marathon bombing: Maybe this will undo some of 9-11’s impact on the American psyche. That’s the point of this week’s lead article: “Maybe 9-11 Can Be Over Now“.

The way everybody pitched in reminded me of the David Graeber quote at the top of the post. (I reviewed his book in 2011.) In Copley Square and Mass General Hospital, nobody was worrying about how they would get paid. For a few hours it was just “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

The first responders did a great job. The hospitals did a great job. (New Yorker columnist Atul Gawande is both a great writer and a doctor at a Boston hospital, so his account of the symbiosis between systemic planning and individual initiative is particularly insightful.) The police did a great job. (Esquire columnist Charles Pierce is a great writer from Watertown. His account is worth reading too.)

The big corporate media did not do a good job. CNN had that horrible afternoon where it reported an imaginary arrest.

Comedian Andy Borowitz nailed them:

Authorities who have spent the past forty-eight hours combing CNN in the hopes of finding any information whatsoever have called off their search, they confirmed today.

Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post was even worse: It put photos of the wrong suspects on its front page. (Thank God those two guys weren’t lynched.)

Some alternative media did better. TPM assembled a useful chronology of what happened when. And Wikipedia continues to be an under-appreciated resource for staying on top of current events.

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be read his Miranda rights or whether the public-safety exception applies. ThinkProgress explains the history of the exception pretty well. As I get it, officials would be justified in asking something like “Are there any more bombs out there?” to protect public safety. But if they’re asking questions to build a criminal case, Miranda applies.

A lot of Muslim-haters — people who still probably can’t find Chechnya on a map — have been using this event as a new excuse to hate Muslims. Cartoonist Clay Bennett expresses my point of view:

and the Senate filibuster that defeated the gun bill

The background-check amedment, already watered down from a proposal that has consistently polled at around 90%, failed to get past a Republican filibuster Wednesday.

The New Yorker’s Alex Koppelman wrote about how depressingly unsurprising this was:

it wasn’t just the vote to block Toomey-Manchin that was so disheartening—that a minority of the Senate, representing a minority of Americans, was able to vote down legislation that had been so watered-down as to make it utterly unobjectionable. It wasn’t just that the Republican-controlled House would never have passed the bill, even if there had been sixty votes for background checks in the Senate. It was watching the whole process, realizing again so vividly and on an issue that matters so much, that the people who make the laws for three hundred million people are often cowards or fools or both.

The most blood-boiling thing was Mitch McConnell crowing about his ability to thwart the public will, emphasizing that no compromise had ever been possible. (See photo, posted to Facebook by McConnell.)

And satirist Andy Borowitz was having a good week:

In the halls of the United States Senate, dozens of Senators congratulated themselves today for having what one of them called “the courage and grit to stand up to the overwhelming wishes of the American people.”

and the Texas fertilizer explosion

The owners of the West Fertilizer Company caught a break this week. Yeah, their Texas plant blew up Wednesday, killing at least 14 and injuring hundreds, but it didn’t fit into the terrorism narrative established in Boston on Monday, so hardly anybody paid attention.

Nobody knows yet exactly how the blast happened, but on the surface the situation resembles the Upper Big Branch mine disaster of 2010: insufficient inspections, safety violations, and wrist-slap fines that the company treated as a cost of doing business. Congressman Bennie Thompson:

It seems this manufacturer was willfully off the grid. This facility was known to have chemicals well above the threshold amount to be regulated under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Act (CFATS), yet we understand that DHS did not even know the plant existed until it blew up.

The Nation’s Richard Kim does an interesting thought experiment: What if we took this kind of violence and innocent death as seriously as we take terrorism?

Let’s imagine that the question—Why?—became so urgent that the nation simply could not rest until it had overdetermined the answers. We’d discover that OSHA hadn’t inspected the plant in 28 years—did this play a role in the disaster? If it’s found that the company that owns the plant, Adair Grain, violated safety regulations, as it had last year at another facility, we might call it criminal negligence and attribute culpability. But would we ascribe ideology? And which ideology would we indict? Deregulation? Austerity? Capitalism? Would we write headlines that say—Officials Seek Motive in Texas Fertilizer Explosion? And could we name “profit” as that motive in the same way that we might name, say, “Islam” as the motive for terrorism? Would we arrest the plant’s owners, deny them their Miranda rights and seek to try them in an extra-legal tribunal outside the Constitution, as Senator Lindsey Graham has suggested we treat US citizen Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

and the debunking of an influential economics paper

which (believe it or not) you should care about. That’s my second featured article this week: “Why the Austerity Fraud Matters“.

and you also might be interested in …

I have heard from my own high-school-student sources about pro-abstinence assemblies, where outside speakers mix sexual misinformation with conservative religion. So I can’t say I was shocked by the descriptions of the West Virginia assembly that  Katelyn Campbell protested.

Apparently she protested so well that her principal resorted to threats: He said he would call Wellesley College, where Campbell has been accepted to study in the fall, and give her a bad character reference. Campbell refused to be intimidated, and Wellesley appears to be impressed, as they should be.

If you want to discourage something, tax it. So these six states tax poverty.

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