March 2017
This issue's contents Current issue Index Search

Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace

Israel rejects the Enlightenment

The slide of Israel into one more far right nationalistic and jingoistic nation is a very sad spectacle. Recent passage of the law excluding from entry anyone who has taken a public stand supporting the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement is one more nail. I am Jewish, have visited twice, and publicly support BDS as a way of countering the insensate and uncontrolled settlement movement, which aims to prevent an independent Palestinian state, and therefore peace in the region, by appropriating land. So I guess I can never go back.

The biggest death panel of all

As a general rule, people are what they most shrilly accuse others of being. Liars accuse everyone else of falsehood, bullies complain of being pushed around, thieves think everyone else is trying to steal from them. To oppose Obamacare, the Republicans created the despicable "death panel" meme, which never made any sense but which was a highly effective and dishonest way to inspire voters not equipped to look under the hood of a phrase. Now the Republican push, which failed so dramatically, to strip millions of Americans of health insurance, showed their real orientation: who's a big old death panel now?

The splintering Republicans

The glorious failure of the Obamacare repeal illustrates that we now live in a parlimentary system crammed into the inadequate and breaking frame of a two party system. What we call the "Republican" party is actually a dysfunctional coalition of four parties, the Trumpists, the liberals (Susan Collins and anyone else who hesitated to repeal Obamacare), the traditional conservatives of the Paul Ryan stripe, and the Freedom Caucus extremists. In a parliamentary system, the Freedom Caucus would be a minority party of somewhat marginal importance; the first time they attempted to blackmail the rest of the coalition, it would reform without them and they would be out in the cold. Only the pretense that it is one party, supported by our rigid and inflexible political structure, allows them to control the government like a nematomorph hairworm driving a grasshopper to water (look it up).

McCarthyism of the weaker?

The most important aspect of McCarthyism was that it was a brutal, lying tactic by which power bullied and destroyed weak and marginal people. Apropos of falsely accusing people of being what you actually are yourself, virtually every usage these days, from President Trump on down, accuses a weaker party, such as the press or a protest group, of using "McCarthyite" tactics to bully the way more powerful. Please.

Presidential wiretapping

While I hope and want to believe that Trump's accusation that Obama wiretapped him is bullshit and misdirection, it needs to be seen in the context of American presidential history. Almost every President since Roosevelt has ordered illegal wiretaps of anyone they pleased. Kennedy reportedly enjoyed listening to illegal taps of Dr. Martin Luther King with women. Johnson knew via illegal wiretaps that candidate Nixon, in a treasonous act, had reached out to the South Vietnamese to induce them to boycott the Paris peace talks. Before the Watergate shit hit the fan, Nixon and Kissinger were already listening to NSC staff to determine who was talking to the press. All this press chatter about FISA warrants and Presidents never ordering a wiretap is nonsense, contradicted not by conspiracy-theory stuff but by actual history.


Shame on ICE, shame on us. The agency is terribly out of control, snatching people at courthouses and outside homeless shelters and when they show up for green card interviews, deporting people married to Americans and parents of American children who have no serious crime in their background. It is cruel, bigoted, vengeful behavior and has nothing to do with law enforcement. I hope when the balance is restored that the people who deliberately crossed the line into bullying and cruelty, who had been waiting for a President who would let them do that, will be fired.

National character

I am reassured that the Australians and Dutch have pushed back against the Trump-like elements in their own nations, but they have something in common with each other Americans lack: humility. We somehow have the idea that we Americans have the God-given right to smack anyone else around in the schoolyard. It is a gross contradiction, but very human, that we can think we are the greatest, and feel so damn sorry for ourselves at the same time. Which is Donald Trump's entire personality.

Putin is a killer

Just in the last few weeks, one Russian inconvenient to Vladimir Putin almost died from an exotic poison, another barely survived a fall from a fourth story window, and a third was shot to death by a Russian assassin in the Ukraine. In the meantime, we have this whole realm of the American chattering and political classes, spanning from Glenn Greenwald on the left to Donald Trump and his alt right supporters, who simply never mention that, as if it was a minor inconvenience, or even just a weird personality feature, in an ally. I guess this is what it felt like to be an independent leftist circa 1940 and listen to old friends defend Stalin's pact with Hitler. Still, I am stunned by the amount of blood we can exclude, for our convenience, from our field of vision.

Deathly courses

A strange feature of modern life and our era of history is that we would still be on the downslope, environmentally, politically, financially, and through population growth and resource depletion, if Hillary Clinton had been elected. She would not have prevented dystopia, we just would not be rushing towards it so chaotically. Some pundit described the attitude of "mainstream" Republicans towards Donald Trump: we are cool so long as he gives us Justice Gorsuch and NOT a nuclear war...