There is a role for the feds, and they and us need to own it

Standing Rock is about sovereignty and the rule of law

This is not an environmental issue so much as a sovereignty issue. America has always treated treaty rights with natives as speed bumps to be disregarded without great concern; they simply don’t have a history of taking them seriously or respectfully.
But those rights are real.
This is a nutshell demonstration of the battle between laws for little people, and government abetting of illegal actions for the wealthy. The Bundy occupation in Oregon was about federal mismanagement of land that ought to be treated as local. This is more than that: this is about federal mismanagement of land that wasn’t even theirs to begin with… compounded with a healthy dose of corporate greed and willful, shameful destruction.
If America wasn’t so divided, the crowds that cheered on the Bundys should be there. For those that want to speculate on such things: in an American two-party state wherein those parties are captured by oligarchs, it would be to their advantage to keep challenges to the de facto oligarchy isolated from each other.
There are, of course, complicating counterfactual narratives. The Bundys were basically going to bat for some arsonists that didn’t want to hold the bag on what they’d done. Here, there’s hay to be made about environmentalists holding back a multistate permitting process that’s already exceedingly complicated and has multiple rounds of reviews with stakeholders. And in the end, any solution here will have to be arrived at through some kind of compromise with the acquiescence of the feds themselves, which is why we both need to maintain federal power as well as govern it more wisely: petroleum interests in ND aren’t going to stand against big money, especially for natives. Someone has to be the adult in the room or else in the end money rules everything, and that adult is supposed to be laws administered by fair arbiters.
The way things are now, money does rule most things, as it ever has. It’s really up to the people to scale that truth back.

The Problem isn’t the Presidency

Worrying about who is President makes sense, but it’s been accentuated by the abysmally incompetent Congress.


Bernie Sanders is making the case here that he’s the right guy for the Presidency, owing to Hillary Clinton’s weaker prospects against Trump. That’s a legitimate concern if you’re a Democrat, because Trump with a GOP Congress is about as disruptive a combination I can imagine to run the American federal government.

What’s unfortunate is that the narrative of a supreme President calling the shots misses out on some key points about what the American federal system ought to be, which is “only slightly dysfunctional”. As it is, we are historically at “highly dysfunctional”: Congress is, in historical terms, the most inactive it’s been in over a century. We’re at war in a half-dozen places under a Congressional authorization that’s over a decade old and in another half-dozen places which are only pretending to be under that authorization. The intelligence services and FBI are so empowered to be playing games with Congress that Congress can’t get itself together to outlaw or sanction the agencies for their criminal activities. Judges aren’t getting approved by the Senate.

America needs a revised Church Committee and a revised War Powers Resolution. The Dodd-Frank Act was passed in the midst of crisis and managed to chip away at out-of-control financial power in the US, but that was probably the last hurrah for big Congressional acts to address systemic dysfunction in America. The Affordable Care Act was the best we could do to control America’s broken healthcare system, and in essence it’s a giveaway to insurance companies which is only going to slightly un-break the system, basically ensuring that no one goes without the ability to receive high-end health care in exchange for everyone not making $300k+ a year from getting screwed with low-end medical costs and higher insurance premiums.

The country needs some serious help, and if Clinton wins she’s going to be facing an even more hostile Congress than Obama faced… and I don’t get the impression she’s going to be half as restrained as Obama was in the face of Congressional torpor. Leaving aside her policies, yet another eight years of an expanding executive and Presidency isn’t going to do a damn bit of good to create a more functional Congress; it’s going to exacerbate the situation so far as I can tell. We all know Clinton is going to do what she wants – she’s had decades to get tired of GOP bullshit – and considering Congress is probably going to be worse than useless the country will need that kind of attention to get anything done, with the inevitable backlash and deepening GOP intransigence to follow. I doubt that in such an environment that the party could mount an effective resurrection and resurgence.

It took the Federalist Party a few decades to die out. While it lingered on, it was irrelevant and basically handed the non-judicial reins of government over to the Democratic-Republican Party. I can only hope that the GOP’s apparent atrophying is sped along by the faster pace of modern life and that something new and powerful emerges. The country will not functional well with a one-party system any more than it has done through the current one-and-a-half party system.

Mexico and Echoes of the Past

Mexico’s current troubles are also their old troubles

A recent New York Times article lays out the facts from Mexico’s investigation into the deaths of 43 disappeared students from Sept 2014. It belies a place where law has little meaning: the students hijack multiple buses, and the local police open fire on them. Multiple one-sided gun battles erupt. Innocents are targeted and shot. Survivors are hunted, and shot; in one case, beaten to death. Two years later, a report. I do not expect much to come of any of it.

Student insurgents, 1968

Mexico has long had troubles with their indigenous population and low-level insurgencies, with corruption and local power brokers delegitimizing the state, and with assassinations and oppression. The modern drug gangs are only echoes of this tumultuous past of failed federal governance, the newest iteration of an old problem… and also its most successful and powerful. Whereas previous revolutions might have turned parts of Chiapas into an anarchic collective or persuaded students they could change the world before being smashed and sending everyone else home, the drug gangs have managed to pervade most of Mexico and transform the entire nation at a very high level into a state only in the sense that it can exercise power against the relatively powerless, with every other major entity co-opted along the way.


Zapata’s revolutionary army on the march, sometime between 1910-1920

This very long-running battle within Mexico between government and governing has, for the next decade or more, been finally sundered. Forty-three aggressive activist kids were murdered by police in cahoots with drug gangs with a follow-on coverup that must inevitably go higher than wherever this one investigation is going to end.