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Twenty Years On

Remembering the past 20 years.

Walking to my morning class, I overheard a student tell another something about a plane crash in New York. That’s all I remember from the day. I’m sure I got home and watched it all unfold on television, but I don’t really remember any of that. Only that first bit stuck with me.

There were daily reports about the search and rescue at Ground Zero. There were first details about the where why how the hell this happened. President Bush vowing revenge, international well-wishing.

I remember glimpses of the next several years, the wars erupting. The shifting security theater of airports. I remember going downtown to a protest against the war in Iraq, scribbling a sign in a notebook that read, “Chew before you swallow. Think before you follow.”

It all felt very strange. Every moment of it, of these 20 years.

America, 20 years after the 2001 attacks, still feels just as lost. Hell, we were lost before that. Probably we always were. Not just America, but humanity. If something good happens, we assume we deserve it and that things are stable. If something bad happens, we assume we deserve it and that things are crashing.

Sure, we might protest sometimes. Righteous indignation. But only so much. Things go back to the middle, the blur. Mostly we focus on the economy, on jobs, on consuming. That was the big call in late 2001: go shopping. Keep the economy running. Healing? Reflection? Not until they can be monetized, if ever.

Politically, those years taught a pretty good lesson: Republicans as a party can’t care. They aren’t able to care. Bush ran on compassionate conservativism. But he didn’t deliver. He tried at some level on some policies, but his party couldn’t get there. They still can’t. Those in the party that try are fooling themselves that it can happen. It’s sadly a lesson we’re still being taught, as roughly one in ten COVID-19 deaths have happened since 1 May, a period when free vaccines have been broadly available.

Democrats, for all their faults, have a mixed record. They often care, but for a variety of reasons can’t get 100%, can’t drag the Republicans along when it’s needed most. The party of Lincoln has calcified into a millstone.

I realize that doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with the topic—the 2001 attacks. I’m not sure much does or doesn’t. I know the media has been building up for the 20th anniversary, and I still don’t really get anything but a strange vibe. The attacks were a very shitty day, but the repercussions, the reaction more than the day itself, still throb in the soul of the country in a very real way. I don’t think it’s loss of innocence. It feels more like a permanent excuse.

All the tragedies big and small, the politicians come out and do their expected rituals. And I don’t mean to belittle them—rituals bring some amount of comfort. But all the flag pins, the gestures in the aftermath, they became more important than actually righting the ship. It started to feel like all the pols and corps were like the mafia don sending a sliced meat platter, but still sending a goon to collect the protection money. That the schmucks never cared enough to stand up to pharma companies or banks or telecoms or any major business.

It feels more like if a married person has an affair, cheats. And the spouse finds out, but they stay together. But every argument, every difference, there’s that weight of the excuse, the old scar to be shown: “I took a bullet for you once, now you have to follow me around until you save my life.” That’s what 11 September feels like on some level. Like America has held it over its own head and said, “We can’t commit to a new paradigm, a renewal, a sanity.”

I still hope one day we can commit to those things. They’d be a hell of a lot more of a fitting legacy to those who died that day, that week, in the months and years since.

The Move to Ban Vape Mail

The legislation to ban postal delivery of vaping products is misguided and ridiculous.

The bill is 116th Congress: S. 1253. It passed the Senate by unanimous consent, which is another way of saying no Senator could be bothered, with everything going on, to say, “I object.”

Now, the bill doesn’t get everything wrong, but it gets one thing very wrong: it adds a ban on the US Postal Service carrying vaping-related packages, either as the primary carrier or as a last-hop service for commercial carriers. (Actual tobacco products have been in that boat for some years, though cigars are exempted because enough rich fools smoke them and have a lot of clout.) Some rural customers, who are often not served by commercial carriers, will be unable to receive delivery of the products at all (though the law being amended does exempt Alaska and Hawaii, which effectively means that rural folks in those states are treated better than rural folks in the remainder of the nation).

With all the attention on the post office these days, what with Donald John Trump and his Postmaster General DeJoy trying to derail the 2020 election, and his OMB with their postal butcher’s chart, one would think the US Senate, or at least one Senator, would not want to cut off another slice of flesh, however small, from one of the most impressive and dependable government organizations. But they did, and now it’s up to the House to finish (the House had previously passed a similar bill, so it seems likely).

The basic idea behind the bill is to prevent teenagers from ordering e-cigarettes online and getting them in the mail. So far, so good. But it also prevents everyone from that basic commercial function. Commercial carriers can continue delivering the products, but only with enhanced age verification measures.

The USPS should, by rights, be able to compete with commercial carriers for revenue, given that Congress has, in their infinitesimal wisdom, requires them to generate revenues rather than funding them as part of the general welfare, as an essential government service, as the necessity they are. It’s not like the military turns a profit, but they get beaucoup. The IRS does bring in revenue, and they get mismanaged and cut down. And the USPS with them.

There is an obvious need for a modern system to verify age for all purposes online. There is also an obvious need for improving the delivery verification mechanisms. Congress has not attempted either of those things. They have simply shrugged off their duty to regulate with care. That is sad.

As the country moves toward cannabis regulation, for example, there will come a day where it will be shipped across state lines. Should the post office be banned from that? Shouldn’t there be a modern system of age verification for it? Or for alcohol. Or any other product that, by law or by a vendor’s choice, is to be age restricted?

And if no children live at an address, why shouldn’t the resident be able to register that fact and have their packages delivered as any other article would be?

The Postal Service should be modernized, including steps that protect and improve its ability to carry ballots during elections. Democrats absolutely should not assist in cynical plots to undermine a bedrock institution like the USPS.

But not a single senator—not my senators, not yours, not the best nor worst, not nobody’s—bothered to object to this bill. It is a damned shame. The weal is left unguarded, the US Postal Service is further neglected, the system gets just a little worse.

Evidence and Allegations

Some thoughts about allegations against politicians and those in power.

There has been an allegation that in the early 1990s Joe Biden sexually assaulted a staffer. This post offers some thoughts on that and the larger problem.

First, Associate Justice Kavanaugh. He was accused of past wrongdoing during his confirmation hearings, and the Republicans in the Senate, along with the White House, blocked any real investigation into the matter. This is a sick pattern among Republicans, of blocking information about matters big and small. The Republican party is a shadow party, content to hide from the light of day all sorts of important information vital to the functioning of capitalism and democracy. So long as it’s not about a Democrat. Indeed, Mitch McConnell has called on Biden to release his Senate papers, while he and the White House blocked the release of thousands of pages of relevant information during the Kavanaugh hearings. To this day, I still do not have enough information to judge whether the allegations against Kavanaugh were true.

Now, Biden. As it stands, I do not have sufficient information to decide whether to believe the allegation. The claims of corroboration do not actually corroborate, but merely repeat. There were no additional details or indications of past details being offered by the people the allegator allegedly told of the incident.

I find it problematic to believe accusations without evidence. That’s not to say I disbelieve the claims, but it is to say I hold in my mind the capacity to place unproven claims in a space dedicated to them. And that’s how my mind is going to operate because there are plenty of things I cannot determine the truth of, at least yet, and I do not also find evidence to dismiss them entirely.

I think that having an independent law firm look through the relevant files and releasing any that apply to the circumstances is reasonable. I think the same should be done for Donald John Trump’s files and the accusations against him. And McConnell can release his own Senate files. But double standards are something I have no interest in. The Republicans who seek to dig into Biden while they hide under the table are public failures and the princelings of loserdom.

Going forward, the reasonable advice that movements like #MeToo should offer is that anyone who has been told by a friend, neighbor, coworker, or other familiar party of serious wrongdoing, sexual or otherwise, should seek out a lawyer to conduct a video recording with a court reporter present. They would make a firm record of the retelling of the telling, including questioning by the lawyer, to be kept in confidence should the need arise in the future to attest to having been told of an incident. That’s prudence, and it would be much more corroborative than anything offered in this instance (or in the allegations against Kavanaugh, for that matter). Nonprofits that specialize in this area can and should work to develop criteria to that end and a process to be followed.

Either we formalize the process, or we continue to entertain allegations and make judgments based on blurry pictures. I’m obviously in favor of formalization.

There are numerous benefits to such a process, and other than the risk of the material being leaked (which would find punitive effects for whatever lawyer allowed that to happen), the defects are few if any.

The allegation against Biden is serious, but without some evidence that is more than an allegation, it would be impossible for me to believe it. I understand others’ judgments work differently and I respect that. My own judgment is my own and is not to say others’ approaches are wrong.

The DNC (and the RNC, for that matter) should, however, have some formal processes in place to investigate any allegations and to, if warranted, replace defective candidates. Voters do at least deserve the reassurance that if details emerge that disqualify a candidate for office, they will not be left holding the bag for that malfeasance.

As for the likes of those who hide from the light like Mitch McConnell, while calling for it only to be shined upon political opponents, one can only hope that the voters of their states wise up and turn them away from their service.

The election is in 26 weeks (half a year).