Unimaginable Reality

A logical fallacy becomes inevitable: If this can’t happen, then the thing that is happening is not it. What we see in real life, or at least on television, can’t possibly be the same monstrous phenomenon that we have collectively decided is unimaginable. … Anything that happens here and now is normalized, not solely through the moral failure of contemporaries but simply by virtue of actually existing.

– Masha Gessen “The Unimaginable Reality of America’s Concentration Camps
The New Yorker, 6-21-2019

This week’s featured post is “Concentrating on the Border“. The back-and-forth about whether to call immigrant internment camps “concentration camps” shouldn’t distract us from what they are.

This week everybody was talking about Iran

By now we all know the pattern: Trump creates a crisis, does something to prevent the worst possible outcome, and then wants credit for what a great achievement that was. Two weeks ago it was Mexican tariffs. This week it was war with Iran.

By Trump’s own account, we were ten minutes away from an attack on Iran that was estimated to kill 150 people. Plans were in motion, but he called them off. The rest of his account sounds like typical Trump story-telling. (I’ll bet Trump’s military advisors told him immediately what the casualty estimates were; they didn’t wait for him to ask and then say “I’ll get back to you.”) But I believe the gist: An attack plan was set in motion and then cancelled.

Instead, we launched a cyberattack and imposed more sanctions.

The attack was supposed to be a reprisal for Iran shooting down a US drone aircraft. Iran claims the drone was in its airspace, which the US denies.

Nobody seems too sure what happens next.

Mike Pompeo went to Congress to make the unlikely case that Shia Iran is allied with Sunni al Qaeda. It’s a little like the global conspiracy of cats and dogs.

The ties between these two arch-enemies, Pompeo claimed, go back to just after 9/11. In other words, his claims are exactly what would be needed to invoke the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to attack Iran. Bogus ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein formed part of the justification for the Iraq War.

and Trump’s campaign launch

He’s officially running for re-election. The first Trump 2020 rally was in Orlando Tuesday.

Here’s the transcript with video, if you really want to know what he said. (If you look at any of it, be sure you also read CNN’s fact check, because much of what he isn’t true. The Wall, for example, is not “moving along rapidly”.) In general, it’s the same-old, same-old: Crooked Hillary, witch hunt, his amazing accomplishments.

“The American Dream is back, it’s bigger and better, and stronger than ever before.” I wonder how that sounds to the millions of Americans who didn’t notice their tax cut, are struggling to pay their student debt, and only have health insurance because (1) John McCain cast a last-minute vote to torpedo Trump’s repeal of ObamaCare, and (2) the courts still haven’t ruled on the Trump-supported lawsuit that would declare ObamaCare unconstitutional.

“Republicans do not believe in socialism, we believe in freedom, and so do you. We will defend Medicare and Social Security for our great seniors.” Consecutive sentences: We don’t believe in socialism; we’ll defend the socialist programs that already exist.

The violent neo-fascist group Proud Boys gathered outside the Orlando rally. Police had to block them from confronting anti-Trump demonstrators. Any other candidate would be expected to denounce such a group of supporters, or at least distance himself from them. But this is Trump, so many news outlets didn’t find their presence worth mentioning.

In 2016, Trump’s outrageousness and unpredictability led cable networks to carry his rallies live, giving him far more free media than any other candidate. CNN and MSNBC appear to be trying to change their ways: Neither televised the whole Orlando speech.

Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz found this lack of free media objectionable. Fox televised the whole Orlando speech.

I suppose it’s fitting for a candidate of no particular morals and zero Biblical knowledge to open his rally with a prayer from evangelist Paula White.

Let every evil veil of deception of the enemy be removed from people’s eyes. So right now, let every demonic network who has aligned itself against the purpose, against the calling of President Trump, let it be broken, let it be torn down in the name of Jesus! Let the council of the wicked be spoiled right now. … I declare that President Trump will overcome every strategy from hell and every strategy of the enemy – every strategy – and he will fulfill his calling and his destiny.

Of course, if some nutcase does the obvious thing — tries to break the anti-Trump “demonic network” by killing a bunch of “wicked” people “from hell” — White will be shocked that anyone might blame her.

and you also might be interested in …

Once upon a time, it would have been earth-shaking news if an advice columnist from a major magazine accused the President of the United States of assault verging on rape. Now it’s like: “Take a number, lady. I guess you’re #22.”

Trump denies the allegation, as he has denied all the others. Vox’ Laura McGann uses his denial as an example of how gaslighting works. To begin with, he says “I’ve never met this person in my life” despite the photo of them together. And if he keeps saying things like “people should pay dearly for such false accusations”, how long will it be before one of his violent supporters decides to make that happen?

For years now, Jon Stewart has had a cause: the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund, which pays for care for the first responders whose illnesses stem from their work in the aftermath of the attack. The fund will expire next year, and Stewart has been lobbying Congress to get its funding extended.

Something this popular ought to just sail through Congress, but it never actually does, because politicians see it as the spoonful of sugar that will help the distasteful stuff go down: Why just pass this bill on its own, when you could attach lots of special-interest pork to it and still get it through?

Jon went on Stephen Colbert’s show to take his case to Mitch McConnell.

It’s good to see Turkey’s democracy still works well enough that Erdogan’s party can lose an election.

Wednesday, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony about reparations for slavery.

I’m of two minds about this subject. On the one hand, enslaved Africans and their descendants built a large chunk of America’s wealth and wound up owning none of it. That long-ago injustice (plus Jim Crow plus ongoing racism) still has repercussions, and even those whites whose families never owned slaves have benefited in ways we don’t always appreciate. (In White Like Me, Tim Wise examines his own racial privilege: He inherited little money from past generations, but his family paid for his university education by mortgaging their house. They bought that house at a time when a black family would not have been allowed to bid on it. So a black Tim Wise wouldn’t have gotten that education.)

So the justice of paying some kind of reparations seems clear to me. But what gives me doubt is having seen a Smithsonian exhibit on the Japanese internment. After Pearl Harbor, most Japanese-Americans were imprisoned and held for the next four years or so. In 1988, reparations were declared: $20,000 per surviving detainee.

Picture it: You had a life. The government closed it down and moved you and your family to an internment camp for four years. Decades later, somebody hands you a check for $20,000. Does that cover it? Are we good now?

But in addition to the inadequacy of monetary settlement, there’s a bigger problem: For reparations to bring this chapter to a close, our society needs to reach some kind of consensus about what the payment is for and what it means. We’re nowhere close to that. If reparations for slavery were paid tomorrow, the white-nationalist types would believe blacks had used their political power to extort something, and they would want to get it back. A lot of other whites would feel like racism was a dead topic now: “Don’t ever talk to me about racism again. I paid my bill for that.” Meanwhile, blacks would say, “That was slavery. What about Jim Crow?”

I can’t argue with the justice of reparations. But I wonder if paying them would make our racial divisions worse.

Accused child-molester Roy Moore is going to make another run for the Senate in Alabama. Establishment Republicans howled in frustration, but it’s not clear they can beat him, or that Doug Jones can win the rematch.

Even more than Trump, Moore represents evangelical Christianity’s descent into tribalism. If you’re on their side, nothing you do is wrong and any testimony against you must be a lie.

The Washington Post’s Pulitzer-winning David Fahrenthold takes a look at how Trump’s properties profit from his official visits, and from Republican fund-raisers. He has suggested holding the next G-7 meeting at a Trump property.

The Trump Organization claims, “It generates nothing. We charge domestic government entities our costs.” But:

  • That’s just their word; no disinterested entity is auditing their claim.
  • As Michael Cohen made clear in his testimony, “cost” is a very flexible notion in TrumpWorld. In particular, average cost is very different from marginal cost in the hotel business. If a hotel that wasn’t full fills up, those last few rooms cost virtually nothing to provide.
  • The claim ignores the penumbra of business that Trump’s visits generate. For example, if a Trump hotel holds a high-roller fund-raiser, some number of the donors will naturally stay at the hotel.
  • The value of the free advertising Trump’s visits give his properties is incalculable.

I’ve been struggling to understand why so many European government bonds ($12 trillion worth, at last count) are selling at a negative interest rate. (The bond theoretically pays interest, but the market price of the bond is more than the principal-plus-interest that the bond will pay out. Example: Suppose I issue a $1,000 bond that will pay 1% interest, with it all coming due next year. So at the end of the year the bond holder will get $1,010 from me. Now imagine that the market bids up the price of that bond so that it sells for $1,020.) Well, a WaPo business reporter asked a “Wall Street god” for an explanation, and he doesn’t have one either.

Basically, you pay $1,020 for the bond because you think somebody else will buy it from you for $1,025 before long. This is known as the Bigger Fool Theory: “I’m a fool to buy this, but I’ll make money by selling it to a bigger fool.”

Rosenberg attributes what’s happening to market forces and momentum, not rational analysis. Even though he and people like him are warning that buying negative-yield bonds is crazy (to use the technical term), prices of these bonds are getting higher and higher, making the yields more and more negative.

“Anyone who’s bought them is way ahead,” Rosenberg said. “People are buying into the bond bubble because they’re watching other people making money” on rising bond prices.

But bubbles always eventually pop, and $12 trillion is a lot of money. This may be how the next worldwide recession starts.

and let’s close with some perspective

I love these change-of-scale videos.

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  • Ben  On June 24, 2019 at 11:52 am

    Regarding reparations as a check: here’s a different perspective on what reparations mean. It’s power; it’s a seat at the table; it’s agency and control.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On June 24, 2019 at 10:07 pm

    There’s an IOS app that allows you to zoom in and out from the scale of the entire universe down to the Planck length and quantum foam, in great detail and with the ability to pause at any level.


  • jh  On June 25, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    I agree with you sadly. White culture in the US has never been good at honor or integrity. Our history books don’t teach the reality but rather are just more “see how good white people are” indoctrination. Even libs prefer a tokenism rather than a more authentic answer. (Of course, immigrants and families from other nations.. for example, Indians would say “why are we paying reparations? We’re brown people. We’re Hindus. How did we benefit from your slavery? We suffered under whites just as much. Why should we pay? And honestly, I can’t beyond a “But you still benefit in a system that was designed by white supremacy to benefit whites. You’re part of the system of oppression that ensures that blacks will always have to struggle more. You, as an Indian, get to be a favored “slave” in this system as opposed to the “disfavored slave/black”. But you are all fighting for scraps at the whites only table because whites made the rules and they were violent in implementing this system.)

    And can you imagine if whites had to live with 3/5’s voting power or had to deal with a “no whites” system that barred them from medical schools or getting good loans? Whites would riot and loot and destroy on a level that is unheard of. I’d expect that after their violence, there would not be one person of color alive in the US. Whites would have lynched every single man, woman and child who looked tan.

    The only solution is to educate and civilize whites more because… whites are that rabid feral animal that you can’t reason with. Their culture is a “I’m the persecuted one even if I hit you”.

    The one lesson we might want to learn is how Germany dealt with this. Sure, it happened in their lifetime and in their back yards , and yes, neo nazis are still present in Germany, but they did manage to at least acknowledge their culpability with regards to the Holocaust. In contrast, too many Americans remain in willful ignorance, about how much they owe to slavery. This is why we have to deal with the idiot white who says “Why don’t we have White History Month?” or says “I have a black friend. I can’t be racist.” Maybe a continuous classroom lesson plan that focused specifically on how our history has produced our culture and our reality might help? Personally, I prefer a “let’s kill them all” solution because I’m so tired of their stupidity and ignorance. Stupid and ignorant should not be allowed to exist. But apparently that is inhumane and evil. Go figure.

    (Yeah my comments are inflammatory as hell. But at least then, we aren’t dealing with the moderates trying to stay in the middle between white supremacists and reasonable liberals. Let them try to stay in the middle between white supremacists and radical liberals and then, the moderate position will be far more reasonable. And any moderate who jumps to the conservative side merely shows his or her true colors. That “faux moderate” was always going to side with the conservative side when push came to shove.)

    • Guest  On June 26, 2019 at 9:58 am

      “The one lesson we might want to learn is how Germany dealt with this…Personally, I prefer a “let’s kill them all” solution…”

      If the two poles are slavery and a final solution of killing all stupid and ignorant people, j, then sign me up with the moderates asap.

      Glad to at least see a consensus around the justice of reparations on paper, against a frustration as to how to roll it out in the real world because everything is so messy. For instance, what about those of us who are “mixed race,” do we get a portion of a check, a partially built chair at the table? What metrics can be used that don’t reinforce and reaffirm the powerful myth of races and racial division? Let’s assume that we can find a perfect solution to make reparations for slavery in these all respects – if it’s backwards looking, does it do anything to prevent exploitation of minority groups going forward?

      Call me a moderate, but I’m more and more convinced that reparations have to include a significant forward looking piece, to prevent the physical, economic, and political exploitation of any given minority group in America. It’s a kind of “never again” approach, and that means more or less universal programs. Medicaid for all, expanded Social Security (something like Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend), open access to higher education, ending gerrymandering and the legalized system of bribery that we call lobbying for true political empowerment, etc. Much harder to exploit a group that has access to such programs, so let’s cover everybody. Ending explicitly racist programs like the War on Drugs, and meaningfully reforming our racist 19th-century-style prison system, etc would also have to be included. I’m skeptical that we as a nation can ever fully repay the horrible debt of slavery, but at least we can honor what happened by saying never again and creating a system that gives all people a baseline of physical, economic, and political agency.

      • Anonymous  On June 26, 2019 at 10:21 am

        “ending gerrymandering and the legalized system of bribery that we call lobbying for true political empowerment,”

        Perhaps you would be interested in the American Anti-Corruption Act, which addresses both gerrymandering and lobbying (plus more).


  • mary  On June 25, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    There isn’t enough money in the world to compensate black people for what has been done to them in America. I would prefer to see reparations take a different form: education; social services including access to quality healthcare; rebuild broken communities; jobs programs with training. IOW, change people’s live by helping them change their circumstances and their opportunities.

  • Dale Moses  On June 27, 2019 at 3:18 am

    There is another perfectly good explanation that the “Wall Street God” ignores. People are expecting a recession.

    Now normally you would say “but stashing your money under a matress is better than buying a nefative yield bond” and this is true… when you have a few thousand dollars. But if you have a few million? If you have a few hundred million? If you have a few billion? Large investors and companies cannot simply put their money in a matress. It costs money to secure physical cash and electronic cash is always subject to similar types of institutional risks since electronic cash is always some type of loan(feel free to email me if this is confusing)

    So if people are pessimistic about the economy then they will tend to flee to the thing they think is the safest bet. And the safest bet sure doesnt look to be US or UK bonds at the moment


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