August 2021 Quickie

Power Is as Power Does: Immigration, Budgets and Drones.

SUMMARY: Momma always said, "Power is as power does." With Democrats in charge, Bernie managing the budget and endless wars ending, it's a new day in Washington. Or is it? Today's Quickie highlights three policies - Immigration, Military Spending and Drone Strikes - that seemed to be changing under Biden but might be more of the same.

LISTEN TO THE FULL QUICKIE HERE


PRE QUICKIE NOTES: (Like, super fast foreplay) 

Called it dead wrong. Never thought Cuomo would leave. Even said so again recently. 

It was coming from a mile away but I just didn’t believe it. This is no Al Franken incident. When the AG’s report came out it was pretty fucking cut and dry. And yet, I didn’t think he’d do it. 

The great sadness of this, beyond the fact that our use of his ‘Black and white’ clip losing relevance over time is, well, nothing. As a New Yorker I saw him drag his feet on progressive issues that we should have been the leading edge of. Watched him try to dismantle and destroy the careers of people I know and love. And saw him bully New York City into a corner over his personal grievances with arguably the world’s worst mayor, but still. And as we now know, his sociopathic tendencies extended into abuse of privilege and sexual encounters. 

Buh-bye, Andrew. 


I have another mea culpa, this one being more serious. In the last episode I explained why we only distribute our native roasted coffee through the U.S. Postal Service. I believe the USPS to be one of the most important institutions in the United States and was angry at how its workers were abused and maligned during the Trump years especially. 

For too long, the Postal Service has been on the receiving end of budget cuts and harassment even before Trump. But the vitriol with which he went after the institution was particularly offensive and so when we set up our operation I insisted that only the workers of the United States Postal Service would carry our product from warehouse to consumer. 

But then I went a step further last week and added, “UPS and FedEx can go fuck themselves” in off the cuff commentary in show notes. I’d like to read a response that means a lot to me on several levels. It’s from an Unf*cker named Cedrick H. 

“Hey Max, just wanted to respond to a comment you made [last episode]. It was in regard to not shipping with UPS or FedEx because "fuck them, I want to support the unionized post office". I happen to work for the UPS and we are in fact a union company, we are Teamsters. I just wanted to let you know that as a driver we are some of the highest paid blue collar guys out there and our pension, 401k matching and insurance are outstanding. I'm only chiming in not to cheerlead for my company but to say that I have a large group of friends who's [sic] mortgages, second homes, private school and hobbies have been made possible from a solid middle class dirty sweaty hard job. All this to say if it is ever more efficient or cheaper, don't hesitate to use my company. Myself and so many other UPS Teamsters earn solid livings, we are lifers and invest back to a company that has invested in us due to collective bargaining. thanks and love the podcast...fuck Milton Friedman.”

Here’s why I love this. First off, we do indeed support union workers. Second, I appreciate the love with which Cedrick delivered his message because my comments didn’t deserve it. Third, he ended with “Fuck Milton Friedman”. And, finally, because he’s right. So, fuck me for making such an ill informed off the cuff remark. To Cedrick and his union brothers and sisters, you have my unfettered apology. No other commentary required other than I’m sorry. 


Momma always said life is like a box of chocolates. 

You never know which politician took a shit in a box and tried to pass it off as chocolate. 

99: That’s not how it goes. 

Anyway, I’ve been thinking. You know how we got ourselves a new president and Democrats took over the United States Congress? I’m not a smart man, but it seems to me that the more things change the more they stay the same. 

Like momma always said, power is as power does. 

Immigration

I’m going out on a limb that most Unf*ckers consume information from places other than mainstream cable news channels. I’m making this broad assumption because you’ve told me as much and it’s unlikely you would tune into shows like UNFTR, Pitchfork Economics, Canadaland or Best of the Left if you didn’t possess the ability to think critically and smell bullshit from a mile away. So, based on this assumption I want to play a couple of clips to contextualize the first issue of our Quickie today. And that’s immigration. 

In the episode we play three separate Fox News clips that offer hot takes on immigration and the crisis on the border. 

MANNY: Warning, these clips are from Fox News and might be disturbing for some of our listeners. Excessive exposure to this information has been linked to permanent brain damage. Listener discretion is advised. 

Segment One

Segment Two

Segment Three

Fucker Carlson kicks it off by blaming American welfare policy for making it so damn enticing to come here. The next segment shows large groups of families seeking refuge under a bridge with some refusing the vaccine. It also highlights five individuals caught wearing camouflage and carrying weapons to emphasize that not everyone crossing is trying to save their families. And the third is a standard talking head segment where pundits simply blame Biden. 

The point of this exercise is not to fear monger or rile you up. That’s their job. But it does set up another episode in the pipeline on immigration where we’ll examine the true statistics, the positive and negative side of immigration, how larger trends like birthrate should color our perspective and the meaning behind the term net migration, which is probably the most important economic term. 

No, the point of these clips is to unravel the big media game being played with willing participants from political elites feigning either horror or humanity, but hoping you just look away from the facts. Fox, for example, is piling on the classic narratives of immigration. Dangerous cartels crossing freely. Non-asylum seeking opportunists who want our welfare or our jobs. Coronavirus spreading as a result of immigrants rather than vaccine hesitancy or failure to adhere to public health policy. 

Fox is the loyal opposition. It’s not a news channel. So it’s their job to stoke fear in the masses and paint Biden out as an irresponsible, open border, come-one-come-all bleeding heart. 

And that’s where I want to pause in today’s Quickie. You see, for Biden this narrative actually works out pretty well. And, obviously it works out well for the right. In the middle you have the bulk of us who live either wholly unaffected by what happens at the border, the people on the border who absolutely contend with migrants crossing on their land or might have some of their land claimed by their own government to build a wall, the courts who have been dealt a shitty policy hand, and… the, um… 99, am I missing anyone?

99: Umm… the…. Migrants?

Right! The migrants themselves. Actual fucking human beings.  

So we’re going to ignore the blatant racism and ethnocentrism, the dehumanizing language used to talk about people coming to the country. Or how the same network that says vaccines are a choice and masks are a violation of civil liberties, then criticizes the government for offering, not mandating vaccines at border crossings, when we have the supply and the self interest in doing so. 

Ignore all of the inconsistencies and hyperbole and turn your attention back to Biden for a moment. 

  • Biden has denied permanent residency to thousands of legal residents. 

  • He’s let visas expire. 

  • He recently announced that the U.S. is going to ramp up a policy of “expedited removal” to send back migrants crossing illegally without hearings. 

  • He’s upholding a discriminatory Trump era policy to prioritize high wage immigrants over people like students. 

  • And he’s allowing Title 42 to stand, which allows us to automatically expel anyone seeking asylum under emergency pandemic authority. 

To be clear, I’m not trying to persuade you one way or the other here. Just one more example of Democrats and Republicans being two sides of the same coin. 

Power is as power does. 

Military Spending

Let’s talk about the recent infrastructure bill and the proposed $3.5 trillion blueprint Bernie just put forward. So we’re about to spend a shit ton of money on a shit ton of things according to everyone. 

There are two simultaneous obsessions in all of the coverage. One, what’s in the spending bill and two, how are we going to pay for it? Democrats are way ahead on the messaging in terms of covering the costs of the increased appropriations because they’re required to put forward offsets. But they’ve readily admitted that we’ll continue to run trillion dollar deficits even with their theoretical offsets over the next decade. 

Of course, as we covered in the MMT episode, as a sovereign currency issuer we can afford it and have plenty of deficit financing to go without creating an inflationary environment or running out of money, which is not a thing. And so long as the increased spending goes toward items with no supply ceiling to create inflationary demand pressure then there’s no reason to assume this will have an impact on inflation one way or another. 

If you’re new here, just check out the MMT episode. The other obsession, of course, is that the gloves are off, the wallet is open and the U.S. is open for business baby! And with Bernie in charge of the budget proposals I bet it’s gonna be juicy!!!

Let’s start with procedure and make sure we’re all talking about the same spending bills. The first bill is the infrastructure bill, H.R. 3684, coming in at a cool $1.2 trillion going toward highways, bridges, electric vehicle infrastructure, carbon reduction programs and other items that represent about ¼ of the $4.5 trillion that is theoretically needed to shore up our physical infrastructure as we have also covered. So this ain’t the big one. 

The big one is on its way and everyone seems pretty pumped about the $3.5 trillion figure that is being bandied about. 

There’s a long way to go before we get actual legislation. For example, Senator Kyrsten Sinema who is one of the co-authors of the $1.2 trillion bill has already signaled that she’s not in favor of doing much beyond what’s in her bill. Same goes for Manchin. So off the bat, there’s dissent in the ranks. Nevertheless, Bernie seems poised, as of this recording, to take the first critical step by establishing a blueprint for the bill. 

The blueprint, so we’re clear, sets theoretical limits for spending and shows where the increases will be. So when the dems talk about $3.5 trillion dollars over the next ten years, though most is up front, they’re talking about additional funds beyond what was previously contemplated in the country’s out years projections. 

So, fine. They’re setting the stage and generally - emphasis on generally - laying out where the budget will land over the next decade. 

After this they actually have to come up with the legislation that specifically allocates funding for next year’s budget so the fighting over federal dollars has only just begun. Because it will be a spending bill, the senate will be able to avoid the filibuster and presumably move the legislation through without Republicans, though, as I said, it’s unclear what the conservative wing of the Democrats will do to hold things up. 

So what’s in this fucking thing anyway? All we hear is $3.5 trillion for healthcare, to battle climate change and harden our infrastructure. Biggest deal for the people since Johnson’s Great Society. Blah bidy blah blah. 

You know I love my man Bernie so I’m confident when all is said and done that this will be a great deal for the country, the world and the planet. There’s just one thing I want to check… hang on a sec…

(shuffles papers)

Sorry everyone. I’m just looking at the budget blueprint resolution.

Let’s see… Federal revenues by year… Expenditures… New budget authority… Public debt levels… Ah, here it is. National Defense. 

“Congress determines and declares that the appropriate levels of new budget authority and outlays for fiscal years 2022 through 2031 for each major functional category are: 1) National Defense.”

Fiscal year 2022 - $765 billion

Fiscal year 2023 - $782 billion

Fiscal year 2024 - $799 billion

Fiscal year 2025 - $817 billion

Fiscal year 2026 - $835 billion

Fiscal year 2027 - $843 billion

Fiscal year 2028 - $852 billion

Fiscal year 2029 - $861 billion

Fiscal year 2030 - $870 billion

Fiscal year 2031 - $880 billion

Wait. I’m so confused. 99, didn’t we just pull out of Afghanistan?

99: Yup

And, Manny. Didn’t we officially end the war in Iraq?

MANNY: I believe, in fact, we did.

And didn’t Biden promise to end the Bush/Obama/Trump era policy of drone strikes against countries that we’re not at war with?

(silence)

MANNY: Sorry, you talking to one of us?

No, I was just setting up the next segment. 

Droning On

You may recall that President Bush left a rather remarkable gift for incoming President Barack Obama. A fully formed and functional drone program complete with self authorization to use them anywhere in the world, against anyone we wanted to at any time without permission. It was a golden fucking ticket. Obama used it. Trump used it. And even though it’s taken him a while and he promised not to cash it in, good old Tony Blinken reminded Uncle Joe that he too has the golden ticket. 

In fairness, Uncle Joe has used his ticket far more sparingly than his predecessors. In fact, the absence of these illegal, unconstitutional and extrajudicial drone strikes that have murdered thousands of civilians over the past two decades and a couple of American citizens abroad as well, was a welcome change. 

And for a minute, it looked like the Biden administration would be committed to following international norms and law. 

CGTN TV: “The United States has carried out an airstrike in Somalia targeting Al-Shabaab militants. This is the first strike in the country since President Joe Biden took office.” 

By the way, try and find a clip of the U.S. broadcast media talking about this. Somali born Representative Ilhan Omar immediately challenged the Biden administration to demonstrate what authority it was acting under. According to sources, Representative Omar is allegedly holding her breath awaiting a response. 

The media that did cover news of the strike did so in a matter-of-fact and uncritical manner - U.S. bombs a terrorist organization in some country signaling its intent to remain engaged in the war on terror, yada yada. 

First, let me just say that one of the things that I was truly pleased to see was Biden’s complete 180 on the drone program. Or hint of it. We’re still actively engaged along the Syrian border so there’s that. But the turnaround from the Obama and Trump years is actually remarkable. And yet, one can’t help but get the feeling that this is just the beginning. Because, no one cared. 

No one called the president out on this because we’re so indoctrinated in the language of the War on Terror that we’ve normalized this unlawful activity. 

We covered this in our Violent States of America episode, but this is worth repeating and continually spelling out. The last congressional declaration of war was World War II. Every war, every strike, every assassination since then has been carried out under a very shaky and extremely broad execute authority called the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). 

Here’s what’s fascinating and also doesn’t make the news, Unf*ckers. The House only voted to repeal two prior authorizations, one from the Cold War era in the 50s and the other that authorized action in Iraq in 1991, in June of this year. 

Couple of ways to look at this. Some policy observers believe this had to happen in order to achieve the real objective of repealing the authorization following 9/11 that led to every action, strike and assassination for the past 20 years. Including the most recent one from Biden in Somalia. 

It will be interesting to see who actually has the political will and leverage to make this happen. What’s even more interesting is Joe Biden’s relationship to these broad powers. As a member of Congress, like when he first got there, Joe Biden was one of the single most vocal opponents of these powers. Intercepted did a great show on Biden’s slow and steady turn from that guy to the Vice President to the guy that murdered more people by drone than any other president so far that had access to the technology. 

So Biden has been able to straddle this issue throughout his career. The ultimate test, of course, of how he truly feels about this executive authority to murder anyone, anywhere at any time without specific war powers authority, was always going to be when he took office. And like I said, for a while things looked promising. 

But now he’s done it. And no one blinked. A letter from Omar, some television coverage abroad and scant, uncritical coverage domestically. 

Whether you murder by drone once or a thousand times, is there a difference? 

This is the debate we should be having and one of hundreds of hard questions we should be asking ourselves. Instead, it’s business as usual. I guess that’s why the military budget is allowed to just keep growing without anyone asking why. 

Like momma always said, power is as power does. 

Beware of authoritarian creep. Teamsters rock. An $800 billion dollar a year military budget is not okay. 

Here endeth the quickie. 


Resources

The Intercept - Nobody Knows the Identities of the 150 People Killed by U.S. in Somalia, but Most Are Certain They Deserved It

Geopolitical Futures - Why the US Cares About Somalia

Politico - House votes to repeal decades-old war powers amid Middle East debate

Politico - Iraq War authorization repeal clears key Senate hurdle

Bloomberg - U.S. Steps Up Air Strikes Against al-Qaeda Ally in Somalia


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