Sunday, July 7. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Juan Cole: How Egypt's Michele Bachmann Became President and Plunged
the Country Into Chaos:
Despite Egypt's sagging economy, Morsi did not make stimulating it his
first priority, and instead tried to please the International Monetary
Fund with austerity policies, rather on the model of the Mariano Rajoy
government in Spain. The Brotherhood's class base is private business,
whether small or large, and Morsi has been distinctly unfriendly to the
demands of labor unions and to those of the public sector, which account
for half of the country's economy. In 2009, economists such as Paul
Krugman warned that Barack Obama's stimulus was far too small. Morsi,
steward of a much more fragile economy, put forth no stimulus at all.
[ . . . ]
In November 2012, Morsi abruptly announced on television that he was
above the rule of law and his executive orders could not be overturned
by the judiciary until such time as a new constitution was passed. He
seems in part to have been trying to protect the religious-right-dominated
constitutional drafting committee. His announcement enraged substantial
sections of the Egyptian public, who had joined to overthrow dictator
Hosni Mubarak precisely because the latter had held himself above the
rule of law.
In response to the massive demonstrations that his presidential decree
provoked, Morsi pushed through a constitution that is unacceptable to a
large swath of Egyptians. Even though two dozen members of the drafting
committee resigned to protest key provisions of the draft constitution,
which they saw as back doors for theocracy, Morsi accepted the
Brotherhood/Salafi draft and presented it to the nation in a countrywide
referendum. Egypt's judges, who are supposed to preside over and certify
the balloting, went on strike, but the president forged ahead anyway.
Only 33 percent of voters went to the polls, many of them supporters of
the president. The constitution was passed, but much of the country
clearly was uncomfortable with it. Morsi's promise of a consensual
document was hollow. The referendum could not be certified as free
and fair by international standards.
In that dodgy 2009 speech in Cairo -- in which he [Obama] managed to
refer to Palestinian "dislocation" rather than "dispossession" --
Obama made the following remarkable comment, which puts the events
in Egypt today into a rather interesting perspective. There were some
leaders, he said, "who advocate for democracy only when they are out
of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights
of others . . . you must respect the rights of minorities,
and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must
place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the
political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections
alone do not make true democracy."
Obama did not say this in the aftermath of the coup-that-wasn't.
He uttered these very words in Egypt itself just over four years ago.
And it pretty much sums up what Mohamed Morsi did wrong. He treated
his Muslim Brotherhood mates as masters rather than servants of the
people, showed no interest in protecting Egypt's Christian minority,
and then enraged the Egyptian army by attending a Brotherhood meeting
at which Egyptians were asked to join the holy war in Syria to kill
Shiites and overthrow Bashar al-Assad's regime.
I don't have much to say about the coup in Egypt. It does appear
New York Times article) that the US was excessively involved in the
coup. The region, and for that matter the US, would be much better off
if the US could develop real indifference to every country's internal
affairs. As it is, we regularly work off bad information and prejudices
with no sensitivity to how our actions are viewed -- time and again, a
recipe for disaster.
Ed Kilgore: "Getting Over" Jim Crow:
What makes this "oh, get over it" attitude especially maddening is that
the extraordinary effort that culminated in the enactment of the Civil
Rights Act (and then the Voting Rights Act the next year) was necessitated
by the refusal of the South to accept defeat in a war a century earlier
and its successful resistance to the Civil Rights Amendments enacted to
ensure the region didn't just revert to its antebellum racial practices.
The entire history of race relations in the South has been a story of
racists taking the long view and outlasting the wandering attention span
of those demanding change -- who out of fatigue or competing priorities
or their own prejudices "got over it" and left the South to its own
devices. [ . . . ]
The ultimate point is that the "discriminatory" special rules governing
the South that conservatives find so offensive is actually pretty light
penance for centuries of systematic denial of human rights to (depending
on the particular time and place) nearly half or more than half the local
population -- which from the perspective of history just ended the day
before yesterday, over the violent resistance of the perpetrators, who
more or less continued their political and economic hegemony over the
South without serious interruption.
How long should the South have to put up with the terrible indignity
of being treated differently? Well, at least until most of the last
victims of full-fledged, unapologetic Jim Crow persecution are laid to
rest: maybe until 2031, the date when the last congressional extension
of the Voting Rights Act (the extension casually pushed aside by
Shelby County v. Holder) expires.
I'd like to add two things. One is that it is common in America to
subject criminals to a period of probation where they have fewer rights
than other people, so why not apply this to the criminal acts of states?
Jim Crow was a severe violation of the US constitution and of the basic
principles of human rights, and as such should be viewed as a crime, one
that by its magnitude is all the more despicable. The other thing is that
the limitation specified by the Voting Rights Act is not onerous: it lets
the federal government review and intercede before illegal state laws can
take effect, rather than have to wait until they can be challenged in the
courts. If all the Roberts court wanted to do was to remove the "stigma"
of a law which was limited to the set of states that had previously (and
repeatedly) violated it, they could have extended the limitation to all
states. Indeed, there would be good reason for such a ruling: the Voting
Rights Act prevented "voter ID" laws in Alabama and Texas from disenfranching
minority voters, while very similar laws in Arizona and Kansas were allowed
to go into effect. Moreover, by extending the law, the Court wouldn't have
overturned the intent of Congress in passing the Voting Rights Act.
John Sides: Race and voting after the Voting Rights Act: What you need
to know. Six point, most showing that the "covered areas" the Supreme
Court let off probation were covered for good reason and are still
Paul Krugman: On the Politican Economy of Permanent Stagnation:
Not as clear as he could be, a lot of hem and haw on austerity, "dubious
reasons for monetary tightening," sustained high unemployment, and so
forth, raises the question "how does this end?"
Here's a depressing thought: maybe it doesn't.
[ . . . ]
But won't there be an ever-growing demand from the public for action?
Actually, that's not at all clear. While there is growing "austerity
fatigue" in Europe, and this might provoke a crisis, the overwhelming
result from U.S. political studies is that the level of unemployment
matters hardly at all for elections; all that matters is the rate of
change in the months leading up to the election. In other words, high
unemployment could become accepted as the new normal, politically as
well as in economic analysis.
I guess what I'm saying is that I worry that a more or less permanent
depression could end up simply becoming accepted as the way things are,
that we could suffer endless, gratuitous suffering, yet the political
and policy elite would feel no need to change its ways.
Don't we already know that "the political and policy elite" has
already decided that there's no need for change? The recession has
been over for the rich for several years now -- a signal that was
clearly sent when the stock markets started posting new record highs.
They've been able to push all their depression-extending proposals
because they've discovered that slowing down the economy doesn't
really hurt the rich. All it does is to depress the labor market,
and that just makes the rich feel -- relatively speaking, but that's
what matters most to them -- that much richer. And that isn't going
to stop until people take increasing inequality seriously and stop
For a long time, there's been an implicit social contract around
the importance of economic growth. In a nutshell, business said that
if you give us more freedom to operate worldwide, we'll be able to
grow the economy more, and that will be good for everyone. That may
have seemed like a good deal as long as labor got their share and
the public got taxes and converted them into public goods, but all
that has changed over the last couple decades. Business has abused
their "freedom" and kept ever more of the profits, so that growth
no longer benefits labor and the public -- it all goes to the owners.
Moreover, they've found that they don't even need growth to get a
bigger cut: they can obtain it directly by impoverishing labor and
the public. Of course, they couldn't do that in the old days when
labor was organized and able not only to challenge business directly
but also to elect labor-friendly governments. But for the time being
that's not a problem. What is a problem is that their impoverishment
of labor and the public has made the economy stagnant: there can't
be growth because there isn't sufficient demand because money is
ever more concentrated in the hands of people who save rather than
Seems to me this has to break sooner or later, because it's a
Jane Mayer: Koch Pledge Tied to Congressional Climate Inaction:
Another way the Kochs aim to subvert democracy in the US:
Fossil fuel magnates Charles and David Koch have, through Americans
for Prosperity, a conservative group they back, succeeded in persuading
many members of Congress to sign a little-known pledge in which they
have promised to vote against legislation relating to climate change
unless it is accompanied by an equivalent amount of tax cuts. Since
most solutions to the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions require
costs to the polluters and the public, the pledge essentially commits
those who sign to it to vote against nearly any meaningful bill
regarding global warning, and acts as yet another roadblock to
action. [ . . . ]
The 2010 mid-term elections were a high watermark for the pledge.
The Kochs, like many other conservative benefactors, gave generously
to efforts to help shift the majority in the House of Representatives
from Democratic to Republican. Koch Industries's political action
committee spent $1.3 million on congressional campaigns that year.
When Republicans did take control of the House, a huge block of
climate-change opponents was empowered. Fully one hundred and
fifty-six members of the House of Representatives that year had
signed the "No Climate Tax Pledge." Of the eighty-five freshmen
Republican congressmen elected to the House of Representatives in
2010, seventy-six had signed the No Climate Tax pledge. Fifty-seven
of those received campaign contributions from Koch Industries's
political action committee. The study notes that more than half
of the House members who signed the pledge in the 112th Congress
made statements doubting climate-change science, despite the fact
that there is overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject.
There is a common problem in economics called externalities,
where producers are able to escape paying for public costs --
the prime example is pollution -- and therefore have no reason
to minimize or limit their actions. The simplest way to compensate
for externalities is for the government to levy a tax on them,
which moves (a part of) the public cost back to the perpetrator.
For instance, a carbon tax would help level the real costs of
burning fossil fuels vs. non-carbon-burning energy sources (like
wind and solar). This is precisely what the Kochs aim to keep
Also, a few links for further study:
Walden Bello: Obama should have listened to Paul Krugman: An
excerpt from Bello's book, Capitalism's Last Stand? Deglobalization
in the Age of Austerity (paperback, 2013, Zed Books): Makes the
usual Krugman bullet points, then adds:
Related to this absence of a program of transformation was the sixth
reason for the Obama debacle: his failure to mobilize the grassroots
base that brought him to power. This base was diverse in terms of class,
generation, and ethnicity. But it was united by palpable enthusiasm,
which was so evident in Washington, D.C., and the rest of the country
on Inauguration Day in 2009. With his preference for a technocratic
approach and a bipartisan solution to the crisis, Obama allowed this
base to wither away instead of exploiting the explosive momentum it
possessed in the aftermath of the elections.
Of course, Obama was faced with the bad example of the Tea Party
movement, but what they did was create an illusion of popular support
for even more extreme policies than the Republicans wanted, whereas
with Obama sacking Dean and putting the nationwide Democratic Party
to sleep all he pad to point back to were election results -- old news
in a Washington that's built to lay down for the lobbyists. Obama did
get a pick up when Occupy broke out: even though it could be viewed
as against him, it showed that there are people out there who support
progressive policies. Obama did little to earn their votes other than
to be less noxious than the other guy, which wasn't hard.
Kathleen Geier: Your semi-regular reminder: Chris Christie is a) a
hardcore conservative and b) a jerk: Just in case you had doubts:
I can understand Republicans' infatuation with Christie. To conservative
dweebs like George Will and David Brooks, Christie is sort of like a theme
park version of a white ethnic. He shares those pundits' nightmarish
politics, especially the slavish devotion to servicing economic elites,
but scores fake populist points with his unslick appearance and tell-it-like
it is Jersey-ness. In this context, the fact that Christie is a nasty bully
is a feature, not a bug. He's a thug, but they think of him as "their" thug.
Honestly, I think the guy's size and his affinity for tracksuits may have
them confused, and on some level they mistake him for Tony Soprano.
Reminds me that the funniest scene I recall from The Sopranos
was Carmela reading a book by Fred Barnes.
Paul Krugman: Regions of Derpistan: Krugman and Brad DeLong have
recently adopted the word "derp" in a big way. Urban Dictionary defines
it as "a simple, undefined reply when an ignorant comment or action is
made," and refers to a South Park character named Mr. Derp.
Krugman cites Noah Smith describing it as "the constant, repetitive
reiteration of strong priors," and translates that as "people who take
a position and refuse to alter that position no matter how strongly the
evidence refutes it, who continue to insist that they have The Truth
despite being wrong again and again." Given how prevalent such people
are, I guess we're going to be stuck with the word for quite a while.
Too bad, but Krugman's effort to map out the various reaches of
"Derpistan" offers a helpful overview of macroeconomic follies at