November 26,2018
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace

Supreme Court legitimacy

With the confirmation of Bret Kavanaugh to join the lamentable Clarence Thomas, we now have a Supreme Court with two highly visible abusive, childish men on it, who will now be tasked to rule on whether the government treats people equally and fairly when they themselves did not. It is a low point for the Court. What John Roberts does now, which direction he leads things, will be critical. I don't really trust him not to allow the Court to become a rubber-stamp for power, though the fact he stood up to Trump's ravings about the Ninth Circuit the other day gives me a little hope.

PO Box Voters

In North Dakota, the Republican legislature disenfranchised native Americans who live on reservations without street addresses by banning voters who have PO boxes listed on their picture ID. For more than a decade, my driver's license has listed a PO box in Amagansett as my address. The post office refuses to deliver mail to my part of town, and requires us to keep a box instead. Mail directed to my actual street address is returned. I have voted with this ID, and so have thousands of my townspeople, across many elections without it ever being an issue. As usual with voter suppression, the effect of the new law is highly visible in the real world, while the purported fraud it addresses cannot be found anywhere.

The "cannot do" government

As private volunteers streamed into the Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Michael, and FEMA did nothing, there was some carefully placed newspaper publicity that FEMA assists the state but does not replace it. After the horrendous Puerto Rico experience after Hurricane Maria in 2017, it should be clear that we are becoming a "cannot do" society, which endlessly talks about every insult, places blame for it (usually by pointing the finger down the chain of command, something a true leader would never do) but has lost even the memory of responsibility. That gives me a depairing vision of my own future: I actually am eager to turn 65 in a year to receive Medicare and social security, but to deprive me, the Republicans need not legislate their repeal; they need only maintain this Narrative of incompetence, talk endlessly and complain and fail to fix "entitlements". Which is the approach Trump already took with Obamacare.

Florida is Over

Florida is not only being flooded by rising oceans, but is infected by organisms which kill marine animals and fish and make standing water stink unbearably. The coral, which I remember vividly from my first scuba dives almost forty years ago, has been dying for a long time. I think what this means is that Florida is over as a tourist destination, and without tourism and fishing, what is left exactly? A third world country, like Puerto Rico, in a status of permanent poverty, inequality and decline that will set the model for many other regions of the US in the years to come. The final irony is that by a thin majority, Floridians just elected Rick Scott their governor and Ron Desantis their senator, two men who don't believe there is a serious problem, or that anything can be done.

Afraid to Register?

I can hold two opposing visions in my head at once. One is of an America fifty or one hundred years from now, in which there is a brown-skinned majority, mainly Latino people, and that is absolutely fine, because they sound like "us", think like "us", value the Constitution, love democracy. Judged by the demographic standards of America in 1776, most of today's "white" people wouldn't form part of "us", which makes the populism of some of them particularly inane.

But the other image arises from a fact reported in passing in an article I read the other day, one I actually hope is false, that Latino citizens in Texas are afraid to register to vote, for fear they will single themselves out for persecution or prosecution.

Which nation do you choose? Those are the only choices.

Elizabeth Warren and Native Americans

I like almost everything about Elizabeth Warren, but sadly think that her boasting of a Native American heritage for which she didn't have evidence, and then bulldoggishly presenting a DNA test to show she may have a small percentage of Native American blood, reveals a major character flaw. Someone that intelligent and who is a former law professor should be more sensitive to the issues which swirl around her claim, of appropriation and offense to actual indigenous communities.


A recent experience I had with PayPal is a case study in late Capitalism (and Internet Capitalism, which is practically synonomous). PayPal stopped allowing me to pay from my balance, and now only serves as an intermediary for me to pay for things with debit cards (a mildly convenient way of paying without having to enter your card information on sites on which you don't have accounts). The only thing PayPal allows me to do with my balance anymore is withdraw it.

I had three or four interactions with different people in customer service, who could not see any problem, were unaware of any change in policy and insisted there was no change in my account. I am morally certain that PayPal decided it no longer wants to carry small balances for people like me (I never had more than two or three hundred dollars) or perhaps it has to do with my having no credit history or a poor one (I haven't had a credit card in more than fifteen years). The fact that PayPal didn't feel that it owed me, the customer, any Obligation of Truth, and that its customer service people didn't know the answer or lied to me, is consistent with the current behavior of Google, Apple and all Internet giants. For me, the iconic image of late Capitalism will always be airline security beating the customers, a low not yet reached by PayPal, which is so far at the stage just prior, of treating customers like trash.

The synagogue shooting

I wasn't particularly overthrown by the mass shooting at the synagogue, and it wasn't just because I felt numb from the volume of mass shootings we are experiencing in this country. The particular sadness I might have felt I had already experienced after the Charleston church shooting in 2015: a strong sense of identification, that the nine African Americans killed were recognizable, kind, appealing people I would have loved to meet and spend time with, sit next to at a church service. If crazy Americans with powerful armament can murder black people for being black, or Sikh people because they think they are Arab, what would exempt Jews? I have tried to formulate a Gandhiesque saying, that everyone who shoots anyone shoots me. It doesn't quite work, but you get the idea.