Beto O’Rourke is a Catspaw for the Establishment Democrats

As the New Year approaches, the 2020 race to see which Democrat gets to take the blame for Trump’s disastrous policies is starting to reluctantly take shape. The field will only get weirder, surely, as the imperiled incumbent administration continues to shed support in the face of further legal turmoil and a continued shut down of the government. Nobody has actually declared yet, but obvious early frontrunners are emerging and a bitter feud is already starting to bubble over between the starry-eyed backers of Texas congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, fresh off a narrow loss for Ted Cruz’s senate seat, and the more jaded supporters of 2016 Democratic nominee runner-up Bernie Sanders from Vermont.

While Beto and Bernie aren’t publicly trading barbs, making this entire debate that has subsumed the political corners of the internet even odder, their respective bases have turned vicious against one another and exposed fractures in the party. O’Rourke, a moderate congressman from Texas who largely tread water with a middle-of-the-road voting record, may have had some promise to left-leaning Democrats as a more progressive senator, but that was dashed during the mid-terms and he’s since been floated as a kind of “Great White Hope” Barack-Obama-second-coming type by the establishment seeking to capitalize on any kind of excitement. Beto got liberal Texans energized, sure, but after seeing the middling job that a compromising but charismatic centrist did from 2008-16, most nationwide progressives are looking for a cadidate with more drastic solutions, ready to tackle crises and shift paradigms.

The Bernie wing has reason to close up ranks a little bit. The party establishment, largely stacked with Clinton acolytes, very obviously anointed Hilary with the 2016 nomination and then took for granted the energy a new generation of democratic socialists had for Sanders. The superdelegate system was an absolute sham, the primary system so obviously a First-Passed-the-Post system clearly designed for a party-favored (and moneyed) candidate, and mechanisms that saw every bit of dissent towards this process snuffed out or outright sneered at. They went onto lose to a game show host and real estate con artist after failing to close an enthusiasm gap, having not learned their lessons from 2000 or 2004, and ineptly handling basic campaigning, messaging, or maneuvering around manufactured scandals from the right-wing with a candidate that has literally spent forty years doing just that. Continue reading →

Parsing the Leftist Outrage Over the Syrian Pullout

Last week, Donald Trump unilaterally ordered for the US military to withdraw from the Syrian’s civil war theater. Coming as somewhat of a surprise to the Pentagon, this prompted the high-profile resignations of both Secretary of Defense James Mattis and anti-ISIS coalition envoy Brett McGurk. A bipartisan condemnation ensued, accusing Trump of abandoning allies and setting a dangerous precedent for future military excursions.

This also enraged the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces primarily responsible for waging the lion’s share of the war it took to dislodge ISIS from control of vast swaths of Syria, largely with the help of coalition air support from the United States and Russia. Some 2,000 US military personnel on the ground, training SDF forces and providing targeting information over the last several years, were reportedly deeply unhappy as well with the order to abandon the SDF’s mission.

While ISIS isn’t quite, as Trump declared, extinguished in Syria, the idea that they would regain significant territory or pose a threat beyond guerrilla terror actions is a slim chance. Assad, as his father before him did, has endured the war and will likely seek Russian-guided mediation with the remaining fractured rebel groups. The NATO proxy now abandoned, reconciliation between the SDF and Assad also seems likely as the two rarely fought during the war.

On paper, this seems like a tidy end to what has been a devastating, terrifying conflict for the region. Supporters of Donald Trump attracted to his isolationist foreign policy rhetoric cheered the move and chided Democrats that otherwise normally encourage reductions in US military involvement in foreign lands as flip-floppers, even accusing them of being in line with the neoconservatives so reviled by so-called libertarians and anti-war liberals alike.

Some anti-imperialist internationalist “far-leftists” decried the pull-out too, eyeing the social revolution in Kurdish Rojava (a presently semi-autonomous zone carved out during the war, seen as an opportunity for a Kurdish homeland) and its vulnerability to being crushed by an imminent invasion from Turkey, citing elements of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) operating within or controlling entirely the YPG/YPJ (People’s Protections Units, largely Kurdish militias that spearhead the SDF) as casus belli. Other anti-imperialist internationalist “far-leftists” praised the move, citing that a reduction in US military imperialism as more important than a burgeoning revolution, likely still bitter that an ostensibly anarcho-communist influenced militia made the frankly pragmatic move to accept US military support in exchange for not being completely wiped out by ISIS at the peak of their strength just a few years ago.

There’s a lot going on here, it’s extremely confusing, there’s a lot of acronyms, and making sense of the various viewpoints and ideological axes to grind is tough to do.

Continue reading →

The Contractually-Obligated-by-Blog-Law Lists of Shit I Enjoyed in 2018: Music

One down, three to go, everybody.

Next up on the yearly review is music, and all the releases I kept up with despite, in a Spotify-estimated 35,000+ minutes this year, mostly listening to old Frank Zappa albums, the first four records from The Mars Volta I’ve memorized since the age of 13, and Run the Jewels 1-3 on repeat. It’s been a banner year for a lot of different artists, and this is what liked, not necessarily what was culturally relevant enough to be the Album of the Year. I’m not going to jerk off the (excellent) Black Panther soundtrack, rank dead or imprisoned Soundcloud rappers, pontificate on the artistic and social importance of Janelle Monae’s brilliant ongoing oeuvre, express my complicated, conflicted feelings about Greta Van Fleet, or argue about Turnstile (it’s good).

Also, as a guy not (often) paid for criticism or reviews, there’s probably tons I’ve missed or overlooked. Just like I haven’t seen Widows or The Favorite because nobody pays me to go to the theater, or sat my ass down to watch The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Sorry to Bother You yet (all films very much on my radar), I simply haven’t had enough time or energy to devote to pouring over every release that’s piqued my interest or came out from an artist I like. I’m also getting old, and so a lot of what The Kids™ are into or whatever is probably irritating to me (Cardi B holds absolutely zero sway over my life) and I’d rather listen to Cursive’s Domestica for the six-hundredth time. This is also in no particular order, lightly segregated by a loose sense of genre, and if I had to guess, it’s probably going to come out to like ten with maybe a few honorable mentions. If you have Spotify, there’s links for everything! Continue reading →

The Contractually-Obligated-by-Blog-Law Lists of Shit I Enjoyed in 2018: Film

Navigating the intricacies of blogger law can be tricky. Just as having any kind of opinion on movies means you have to write a post about the Oscars, at the end of every year, it’s required of you to write a series of lists of media you liked over the course of the preceding twelve months. This is non-negotiable, nobody likes it or really cares, but it serves as a clearinghouse to broadcast your tastes to whatever niche audience you’ve cultivated and it looks good as a sample when applying for freelance positions if you can avoid swearing.

Usually, you start the article with some kind of whimsical, oh-what-a-year-it’s-been statement while still lamenting the inevitable passage of time, perhaps remarking on how your tastes are changing as you get older, or how becoming a new parent has colored your film or music lists as “more for those of us with little ones.” It’s all irritating. It’s long, drawn out, and we’re all judging you for it.

But here’s mine! Film, music, television, video games, but not books because I didn’t read anything that came out this year. Some stuff, particularly in the video game column, is definitely me catching up, and I don’t really care. This is stuff I consumed this year, maybe it is leftovers from the back of the fridge. We’re going to do like, five each, probably. Today is film! It’s all spoiler free, don’t worry. Continue reading →

MUSIC BRIEFS: La Dispute “ROSE QUARTZ/FULTON STREET I” & Forewarned “Unforgiving Years”

The first album from Grand Rapids, Michigan’s hyper-literate post-hardcore luminaries La Dispute in four years is due out in March. Last week, the band premiered an ethereal introduction track “ROSE QUARTZ” followed by a trademark, instant-classic song for longtime fans. Characterized by a quiet-loud dynamic familiar to any veteran of the genre, replete with the lyrical themes (interstates, water) that make up much of La Dispute’s catalog, the music was debuted with an animated music video:

It’s going to be a long wait to March 22nd. The album, Panorama, evidently focuses on the drive vocalist Jordan Dreyer and his partner used to make from Grand Rapids to Lowell, MA, where the latter grew up. Right off the bat, it sounds a little more aggressive and a lot closer to earlier albums than 2014 release Rooms of the House which would come to a relief to those of us enjoying the spate of emo revival and new post-hardcore acts but a little dismayed when by the third album they soften up and stop the throat-destroying, primal scream therapy that got us in the game in the first place (cough… Pianos Become the Teeth).

ForeWarned_HighRes-3

Photos: Veronica Reinert

In regards to throat-destroying, I could not be more amped up about Orange County, California’s Forewarned. Their four-track debut release Unforgiving Years is without a doubt some of the most loudly aggressive but elegantly dynamic, layered hardcore I’ve heard in years. There’s real, passionate musicianship here, carefully highlighted by some great mixing and production work, but the lyricism is what helps underscore a lot of the intensity.

Despite adhering to what could be charitably described as a “toxic death wish” lifestyle, vegan straight-edge hardcore is one of my absolute first loves and what initiated me into punk rock as a whole when I was young. The righteous principles, the gang vocals, and above all the “play violence” of the raucous live performances is something I grew up with in Orange County and Denver, and something that helped shape my politics. To hear something this vital come out of the area I’ve been removed from, nearly fifteen years later, is such a blast both sonically and personally. Continue reading →

Walmart REALLY Wants You To Use Their Layaway Service

This holiday shopping season, a remarkable phenomenon is taking place: people using Walmart’s layaway service, likely for gifts for family and friends, are having their balances wiped out by celebrities and anonymous philanthropists! All over the country, hundreds of thousands of dollars are being paid out to the country’s largest retailer, giving free Christmases to consumers using the layaway desk as an alternative to credit cards. Tyler Perry, Kid Rock, and even the owner of the New Orleans Saints are getting in on the cheery action.

Quick everyone! Go put your holiday shopping on the Walmart layaway desk! Maybe a Secret Santa will pay it off for you!

Call me a Grinch (I am) or perhaps an anti-capitalist conspiracy theorist (also true), but I’m a little suspicious of all of this. Layaway is traditionally used as a way for poorer consumers that largely don’t have access to lines of credit to pay incrementally for larger purchases while having a minimal amount of interest run against them. It’s also not a bad strategy to keep larger gifts hidden from their recipients and a pretty decent way to ensure an expensive electronic or hot must-have toy doesn’t run out of stock before you’ve put away enough cash to go grab it. Trying to avoid last-minute shipping gouges or delays? Layaway!

The fee structures differ from store to store, as well as in different levels of predatory practice, but it’s largely not horrible to put things on layaway. My red flag here, and this is all pretty baseless, is whether or not Walmart or a PR company is orchestrating these payments and media reports to concentrate layaway business at a single retailer. It’s true that not a lot of stores offer layaway anymore and the option isn’t available at online shopping giants like Amazon without a credit check or membership, but it seems like a lot of “free advertising” once you calculate the sum total cost of these payouts. Is this a viral marketing strategy, or has a generous streak in the rich and/or famous struck this year?

I’m never going to poo-poo lower-income people getting free stuff, but it seems awfully convenient that entertainment staples of both white and black working class people (Kid Rock and Tyler Perry) are at the forefront of these stories. Don’t fit into those marketing demographics? Anonymous people are paying off stuff too! Perhaps this is all looking at a gift horse in the mouth anyway, and my bias towards advertising, holiday shopping, and capitalism in general is tainting what’s probably just corporate goodwill (what?) and the Good Thing of people who put a bunch of stuff on layaway getting it for free. Maybe I’m just too cynical.

GUEST POST: Briefly Uniting a Divided America in Somber Civility to Hollowly Eulogize and Mourn a Decrepit War Criminal – by Centrist Cathy

business photo 2014

Seriously, give it a rest. This isn’t the time for a nuanced and factual analysis of the man’s role in the illegal deaths of thousands of people.

America’s longest-living President, George Herbert-Walker Bush, passed away in Texas last night. It’s been a rough year for elder statesmen in this great nation, the American people are only just now finishing glossing over the casualized racism of John McCain’s bloodthirsty foreign policy and putting to the back of their minds his airborne strafing runs against innocent Vietnamese civilians as a volunteer Navy pilot fail-son. In these trying times, with all the mean tweets, blatant cronyism, and the backbiting, the passing of the senior Bush so soon after losing McCain feels like the passing of an American generation, one that more adequately and eloquently hid its profoundly disturbing contempt for humanity and heinous crimes in the Global South behind a veil of need-to-know National Security and a veneer of unquestionably patriotic civil service.

In H.W’s day, one wouldn’t brazenly castrate an institution like the glad-handing White House Correspondent’s Dinner by banning all comedians, no, you’d invite your SNL impersonator Dana Carvey to the White House yourself, effectively co-opting and neutralizing an effective critical satire. Politicians these days might blatantly sell their influence to the highest bidder no matter the ethical cost or concern for their reputation because the sedated American public is largely one paycheck away from starving, but Bush lived in a simpler time when one could rely more on a media monopoly more effective at masking a candidate’s blue-blooded Nazi war profiteering family ties or admission in nepotistic, shadowy secret Ivy League college fraternities of silver-spoon wealthy rape-pigs with no ideology other than power and profit. Back then, we weren’t talking about shady real estate deals with adversarial dictatorships, we just looked away as one family bought up the largest state in the country to plunder the natural resources of with little to no concern about later environmental impacts and we were happier that way. Wouldn’t it be nice to get back there? That was a time in an America this “radical centrist” knew, loved, and was comfortable enough during to have an unquestioning blanket support for the ruling class’s status quo.

Radical leftists might use this time of grieving to highlight how Bush was instrumental in the Republican’s bigoted “Southern Strategy”, peeling off members of the John Birch Society and integrating them into the right-wing as he campaigned against Civil Rights at the inception of his political career in the early 1960s. They might bring up how he was a steadfast defender of Richard Nixon and helped steer the RNC away from imploding, ever being held accountable for their erosion of democratic institutions and helped cement it as an inter-generational white-collar criminal enterprise that has defenestrated America out of the Overton Window; where it is presently hurdling at terminal velocity to an undignified, likely brutal and cannibalistic death in which its flag will be as globally reviled as the swastika within the next half-century. Continue reading →