Crisis and Spectacle

Rather than governing, the leader produces crisis and spectacle.

– Timothy Snyder The Road to Unfreedom

This week’s featured posts are “The End of the Shutdown” and “Extortion Tactics Have No Place in American Democracy“.

This week everybody was talking about the end of the shutdown

The featured posts look at the shutdown from two perspectives: One is news-oriented; it summarizes the events and looks ahead to the possibilities. The other takes a more long-term view: If extortionist tactics are considered legitimate, eventually democracy will unravel. Someday a leader will point to the chaos of a shut-down government and blame not the other party, but democracy itself. He’ll offer to make it all go away, and people will listen.

It’s minor in the long run, but Nancy Pelosi won her staredown with Trump regarding the State of the Union. I like the way Amanda Marcotte summed it up:

Typical. A woman offers a soft no. The man pretends not to understand her and presses his case. And she is forced to resort to a forceful no.

and Roger Stone’s indictment

The indictment itself is here, and a good summary of what it means is at Lawfare. The essence of the 7-count indictment doesn’t concern what Stone did, but how he lied about what he did, both to Congress and to investigators. Also, he tried to influence other witnesses, including telling one to “do a Frank Pentangeli”. (Pentangeli is a character in The Godfather II who claims not to remember anything when it comes time to testify before Congress.)

Trump defenders are once again claiming that an indictment for anything other than conspiracy with the Russians shows that Mueller doesn’t have evidence of conspiracy with the Russians. But that doesn’t follow logically, and they still have no answer to the question: Why did so many of Trump’s people feel that they had to lie about their Russian contacts, even in situations where lying was illegal?

but I’m fascinated to see what’s making it into the public discussion

Maybe I’ll write about this more next week. (There was already so much to cover this week.) But I’m being amazed at the ideas that are being talked about lately.

Last Monday, the head of the flight attendants union called for a general strike to end the government shutdown. The general strike — when workers of all kinds stop working, rather than just workers at a particular place or in a particular industry — is a tactic seldom mentioned these days. But it makes a certain amount of sense as a response to a government shutdown. That speech (as best I can tell) didn’t make the NYT or the WaPo, but Atlantic mentioned it. Teen Vogue gave its readers a primer on the whole idea of a general strike.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has brought a lot of attention to the idea of a much higher top income-tax bracket. She’s been talking about 70% on incomes over $10 million. The idea makes sense and is popular. It’s so hard to argue against that Republicans like Scott Walker have had to misrepresent her plan.

And this week, Elizabeth Warren came out with an “ultra-millionaire” tax that is on wealth rather than income. Net worth higher than $50 million would be taxed at 2%, and over a billion at 3%.

Not so long ago, all these ideas would have been dismissed and ignored by the mainstream media.

and you also might be interested in …

The US and the Taliban have announced agreement on a framework for peace in Afghanistan. The pieces are that the Taliban will not allow its territory to be used as a staging ground for terrorists, the US will withdraw its troops, and the Taliban will begin negotiating directly with the Afghan government amid a general ceasefire.

A framework is a long way from actual peace, as we have seen with North Korea. But this is hopeful.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern foresees a consequence of Brett Kavanaugh replacing Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court (and indirectly of Neil Gorsuch taking the seat that should have gone to Merrick Garland): Concealed carry of firearms may soon be legal everywhere.

The immediate case before the Court simply asks that the right to a handgun in the home be extended to a right to transport a firearm between homes. But a national right to concealed carry or even open carry may be the ultimate result. Once you have a constitutional right to possess a gun outside of your home, it’s hard to come up with any obvious boundary.

Russell Baker died at the age of 93. People under, say, 40 may not remember him (except possibly as a host of Masterpiece Theatre), but he was a long-time New York Times columnist who won two Pulitzers, one for his columns and one for the story of his Depression-era childhood, Growing Up.

I haven’t read Growing Up since shortly after it came out in 1983, but I imagine it would hold up well. In the introduction Baker explains why he wrote it: His mother had just died, and as she faded to the point where she couldn’t converse any more, he thought about all the questions he would still like to ask. Then he thought about his own children, and how they probably wouldn’t be curious about his life until it was too late to ask him about it. He wrote Growing Up in anticipation of their future curiosity. The book is full of memorable characters, including Uncle Harold, whose engaging stories of family history were often interrupted by his wife yelling from another room: “Harold, quit telling those lies!”

Various fixes to Theresa May’s Brexit plan are going to be voted on in Parliament tomorrow. It’s still very unclear what will happen.

and let’s close with something unusual

We all know that fish form schools, but who teaches them? Manatees.

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  • Roger  On January 28, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    Growing Up was probably my favorite book of the last fifth of the 20th century. I read Russell Baker religiously in the NY Times for about a quarter century. (I’m 65, so I’m the demographic)

  • Jeff R.  On January 28, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    “Isn’t it ironic, don’t ya think,” that the air traffic controllers (and flight attendants amongst others) were key in toppling Trump and the shutdown. I’m thinking back to Reagan and the air traffic controllers’ strike. It seems to me that this was an important incident in establishing Reagan’s image and legend.

  • Kaci  On January 29, 2019 at 8:49 am

    Does anyone know what allowing concealed or even open carry anywhere would do to the right of individual places to not have firearms? I imagine I could still say no guns in my house, but could a grocery store or a festival or a church say so?

    • weeklysift  On January 29, 2019 at 3:38 pm

      I found an article about how this works in Texas. It appears a business can ban guns, if it posts proper signage.

      • Kaci  On January 29, 2019 at 3:44 pm

        Thanks! I’d expect that to apply to nonprofit organizations as well as businesses.

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