Sunday, May 19. 2013
After a lazy week, some more links to ponder:
Igor Bobic: Obama Promises to Hold IRS Accountable on 'Outrageous'
Targeting: Given the history of the federal government harrassing
left-wing political organizations, "outrageous" isn't the first word
that pops into my mind regarding the revelations that some IRS personnel
singled out "tea party" group applications for review of 501(C) status.
My reaction was more like a giggle, but then I found out that none of
the "targeted" organizations were actually denied. I'm not expert in
the relevant law, but I do know that a
peace organization I'm close to
has both a 501(C) fund that is strictly non-political ("educational")
and another funding stream that isn't tax exempt but can be used for
more political activities (although in practice it isn't used for
anything partisan or electoral). So it doesn't exactly surprise me
that "tea party" groups would skirt that law: they are primarily
political propaganda outlets, funded by rich right-wingers who can
use the tax-exempt feature to stretch their self-interested bucks.
Unlike most of the people who donate to our little peace group. (We
haven't itemized deductions in many years, so our donations don't
save us a dime on our taxes.) Obama is right that the IRS should be
non-partisan, but his reaction shouldn't be an outrage that feeds
into enemy talking points. (For instance, I see
Glenn Beck now claiming that the "IRS scandal" is "all connected"
with the Benghazi attack and the Boston bombings. On the Republicans'
ability to keep these pseudo-scandals in the news cycle, crowding out
real issues, see
Julian Rayfield: Sunday Shows Round-Up: All About the IRS and
Benghazi. As for real but ignored issues, see
Conor Friedersdorff: The Biggest Obama Scandals Are Proven and Ignored --
a list Republicans don't care about or even applaud.)
Connie Cass: A Look at Why the Bengazi Issue Keeps Coming Back for
a useful review of what happened there and who said what when. Of the
various facts, the one that jumps out at me was that the "US consulate"
in Benghazi was actually a CIA station, and aside from Ambassador
Stevens the people involved were CIA agents and contractors, so the
instinct to lie and cover up is deeply ingrained. The other key point
is that the real political issue here was Obama's decision to intervene
in Libya's civil war and help ouster Moammar Gaddafi. Obama promised
not to put US military forces on the ground in Libya, but it seems
inevitable that the CIA were active, routing guns and information to
anti-Gaddafi forces -- some of which were bound to be anti-American
Islamists (proving again how little the CIA learned from Afghanistan,
where US clients included future leaders of the Taliban and indeed
Osama Bin Laden himself).
Of course, intervention in Libya isn't on the Republican's own
"talking points": they'd rather attack the administration for trying
to substitute "extremists" for "terrorists," mostly in the belief
that their language is a more potent stimulus to further US-backed
wars in the region. Even there, what they loathe Obama for isn't
that he hasn't been belligerent enough for their taste -- excepting
McCain and Graham, of course, who never met a war they didn't want
to plunge into -- but that Obama isn't jingoistic enough.
Paul Krugman: How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled: Book
review of: Neil Irwin: The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers
and a World on Fire (Penguin); Mark Blyth: Austerity: The
History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford University Press); and
David A. Stockman: The Great Deformation: The Corruption of
Capitalism in America (Public Affairs). But starts off with
the Reinhart-Rogoff fiasco -- the paper that claimed that when
a nation's debt/GDP ratio crosses the 90% mark the economy sinks
into catastrophe, but turned out to be wrong in so many ways:
The real mystery, however, was why Reinhart-Rogoff was ever taken
seriously, let alone canonized, in the first place. Right from the
beginning, critics raised strong concerns about the paper's methodology
and conclusions, concerns that should have been enough to give everyone
pause. Moreover, Reinhart-Rogoff was actually the second example of a
paper seized on as decisive evidence in favor of austerity economics,
only to fall apart on careful scrutiny. Much the same thing happened,
albeit less spectacularly, after austerians became infatuated with a
paper by Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna purporting to show that
slashing government spending would have little adverse impact on
economic growth and might even be expansionary. Surely that experience
should have inspired some caution.
So why wasn't there more caution? The answer, as documented by some
of the books reviewed here and unintentionally illustrated by others,
lies in both politics and psychology: the case for austerity was and
is one that many powerful people want to believe, leading them to seize
on anything that looks like a justification.
Here's a very good explanation of how recessions (depressions)
happen, especially following a prolonged expansion of debt:
All that was needed to collapse these houses of cards was some kind
of adverse shock, and in the end the implosion of US subprime-based
securities did the deed. By the fall of 2008 the housing bubbles on
both sides of the Atlantic had burst, and the whole North Atlantic
economy was caught up in "deleveraging," a process in which many
debtors try -- or are forced -- to pay down their debts at the same
Why is this a problem? Because of interdependence: your spending
is my income, and my spending is your income. If both of us try to
reduce our debt by slashing spending, both of our incomes plunge --
and plunging incomes can actually make our indebtedness worse even
as they also produce mass unemployment.
Krugman could have extended these paragraphs into a tutorial on
how [Keynesian] macroeconomics has learned how to ameliorate and
reverse recessions, but he wound up illustrating the principles
negatively, by showing how actual central bankers ignored standard
prescriptions and made their economies worse. The key insight is
that if my income is someone else's spending, and others in the
private sector aren't spending, that deficit can be made up by
having government spend more. In other words, all it takes to
avoid disaster is the political will to deliberately do something
constructive about it. That will power was undone by a coalition of
bankers and conservative politicians, partly because they fixated
on threats (to them, anyway) that were mostly imaginary, and mostly
because they didn't give a damn about the hardships their welfare
forced on everyone else.
Krugman notes how many advocates of austerity see it as a morality
play -- as Andrew Mellon put it "to purge the rottenness" from the
system (nor is this view limited to curmudgeonly bankers; see
Alex Pareene: Kinsley Loves Austerity Because It Is "Spinach") --
and he finds examples in Stockman's book (a tirade against one "spree"
after another). Krugman then adds:
So is the austerian impulse all a matter of psychology? No, there's
also a fair bit of self-interest involved. As many observers have noted,
the turn away from fiscal and monetary stimulus can be interpreted, if
you like, as giving creditors priority over workers. Inflation and low
interest rates are bad for creditors even if they promote job creation;
slashing government deficits in the face of mass unemployment may deepen
a depression, but it increases the certainty of bondholders that they'll
be repaid in full. I don't think someone like Trichet was consciously,
cynically serving class interests at the expense of overall welfare; but
it certainly didn't hurt that his sense of economic morality dovetailed
so perfectly with the priorities of creditors.
It's also worth noting that while economic policy since the financial
crisis looks like a dismal failure by most measures, it hasn't been so
bad for the wealthy. Profits have recovered strongly even as unprecedented
long-term unemployment persists; stock indices on both sides of the Atlantic
have rebounded to pre-crisis highs even as median income languishes. It
might be too much to say that those in the top 1 percent actually benefit
from a continuing depression, but they certainly aren't feeling much pain,
and that probably has something to do with policymakers' willingness to
stay the austerity course. [ . . . ]
I'd argue that what happened next -- the way policymakers turned their
back on practically everything economists had learned about how to deal
with depressions, the way elite opinion seized on anything that could be
used to justify austerity -- was a much greater sin. The financial crisis
of 2008 was a surprise, and happened very fast; but we've been stuck in
a regime of slow growth and desperately high unemployment for years now.
And during all that time policymakers have been ignoring the lessons of
theory and history.
It's a terrible story, mainly because of the immense suffering that
has resulted from these policy errors. It's also deeply worrying for
those who like to believe that knowledge can make a positive difference
in the world. To the extent that policymakers and elite opinion in general
have made use of economic analysis at all, they have, as the saying goes,
done so the way a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.
Papers and economists who told the elite what it wanted to hear were
celebrated, despite plenty of evidence that they were wrong; critics
were ignored, no matter how often they got it right.
It would take a much longer piece, but at some point it would be
worth breaking out the things that constitute "immense suffering":
the unfairness of so much unemployment; discrimination against all
sorts of marginalized workers, especially the old (who policymakers
expect to work longer and longer) and the young (who face extra
difficulties in starting careers, and in many cases start with
unprecedented debt burdens); and much more. Nor is public spending
only needed to counterbalance the drop in private spending -- the
need for infrastructure and public goods has never been greater,
and the austerity fixation is crippling us (physically, mentally,
Sunday, May 12. 2013
Another last-minute link grab:
Nicholas Blanford: Hizballah and Israel Spar as Syria's Conflict Threatens
to Spin Out of Control: Israel's 2006 war against Hezbollah (effectively
Lebanon) should have yielded several clearcut lessons. One is that Hezbollah
is a very effective defensive fighting force against Israeli land assaults.
Another is that Hezbollah's cache of Iranian or Syrian rockets aren't worth
a thing, either as a deterrent against Israeli attack -- if anything, their
existence provoked that attack -- or as an offensive weapon. Yet Hezbollah
is evidently so concerned about maintaining their Syrian weapons pipeline
that they've joined Assad's Syrian army in fighting against the rebels.
Hezbollah's presence in Syria, in turn, gives Israel all the excuse they
think they need to fly into Syria and bomb targets they think are related
to Hezbollah -- presumably pro-Assad forces, although they've also claimed
to be neutral in the Syrian Civil War, and some Israelis have argued they
would prefer Assad (you know, "the devil you know"; see
Israel has no desire for Assad to fall) to stay in power, so they
may not care who they bomb. Needless to say, both Israel and Hezbollah
are making the mess in Syria worse, adding dangerous factors that make
it very likely to spill over into Lebanon, while Israel is just stirring
the pot in Syria, giving all sides more reason to hate it and plot
Robert Fisk talk about Syria, attesting to the extreme brutality of
the war, also questioning the logic of Israel's intervention:
Are they really bombing missiles going to the Hezbollah, the so-called
Fateh-110 missile, which was first test-fired by Iran, what, 11 years
ago? Conceivable. But when you consider the Syrians have also used these
missiles, according to the Americans, last December against rebel forces,
why would they use armaments, which they use against -- in this ferocious
life-and-death battle against the rebels, why should they be shipping
them out of Syria en route to Lebanon, where the Hezbollah don't appear
at the moment to have any need for them, since they have thousands of
other weapons, a weapon which I would have thought the government would
want to keep in Damascus?
Fisk also says something about the state of journalism:
And I think one of the problems is, as I say, this parasitic, osmotic
relationship between journalists and power, our ever-growing ability,
our wish, to -- you know, to rely on these utterly bankrupt comments
from various unnamed, anonymous intelligence sources. And I'm just
looking at a copy of the Toronto Globe and Mail, February 1st,
2013. It's a story about al-Qaeda in Algeria. And what is the sourcing?
"U.S. intelligence officials said," "a senior U.S. intelligence official
said," "U.S. officials said," "the intelligence official said," "Algerian
officials say," "national security sources considered," "European security
sources said," "the U.S. official said," "the officials acknowledged."
I went -- boy, I've got another even worse example here from The Boston
Globe and Mail [ sic ], November 2nd, 2012. But, you know, we might
as well name our newspapers "Officials Say." This is the cancer at the
bottom of modern journalism, that we do not challenge power anymore. Why
are Americans tolerating these garbage stories with no real sourcing
except for very dodgy characters indeed, who won't give their names?
E Douglas Kihn: The Political Roots of American Obesity:
It was during Reagan's first term that the phrase bean counter came into
prominent usage. These were the efficiency experts whose job it was to
increase profits for the major corporations, mainly by introducing
speedups, job consolidations, forced overtime, the hiring of part-time
workers -- along with artful and ruthless union-busting.
This was also the beginning of the "War on Iran," the "War on Drugs,"
the war against the people of Nicaragua and El Salvador (all of them
Marxists doubtless bent on rampaging through the streets of US cities)
and a dangerous escalation of threats against the Soviet Union/Evil
As social fear and insecurity rise, mental health declines.
Apparently, so does physical health. According to a new study from
Rice University and the University Colorado at Boulder in Social Science
Quarterly, despite modest gains in lifespan over the past century, the
United States still trails many of the world's countries when it comes
to life expectancy, and its poorest citizens live approximately five
years less than more affluent people. The United States, which spends
far more money on medical care than other advanced industrialized
countries, has the sickest residents in every category of unwellness.
Sunday, May 5. 2013
Didn't squirrel away any links last week, but came up with a few
Ed Kilgore: America Haters: A recent
poll found that 29% of Americans agree with the statement, "In the next
few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect out
liberties." The poll also found that 25 percent of voters "believe the
American public is being lied to about the Sandy Hook elementary school
shooting 'in order to advance a political agenda.'" The NRA had a convention
last week where the incoming president called for a "culture war" but at
least they stopped short of adopting a new slogan like, "Guns: they're
not just for self-defense any more."
Why is revolutionary rhetoric becoming so routine these days? Some of it
stems from the kind of "constitutional conservatism" that raises every
political or policy dispute to a question of basic patriotism or even
obedience to Almighty God. But a big part of it can also be attributed
to cynical opportunists who manipulate those fearful (usually without
much cause) of tyranny for their own very conventional ends -- usually
power and money.
Wherever you think it's coming from, it needs to stop, and if it
can't stop, it must be made disreputable as part of ordinary partisan
At a minimum, those who toy with the idea of overthrowing our government
to stop Obamacare or prevent gun regulation need to stand up to the charge
that they hate America. It will make them crazy to hear it, but it's the
This puts several observations together. One is that nearly everything
conservatives put forward these days is objectively damaging to the lives
and welfare of large segments of the American public. Austerity is a good
example: it directly hurts everyone the government had previously attempted
to help, plus it drags down the economy weakening the labor market -- i.e.,
the job security and prospects of everyone who works for a living. Another
observation is that many of the people who support conservatives clearly
do hate large segments of the American people. Add those up and you have
to wonder whether conservative policies aren't just foolishly misguided
but deliberately malevolent. And since then intend to hurt some Americans,
how many targets does it take to add up to hating America?
Robert Kuttner: Austerity Never Works: Deficit Hawks Are Amoral -- and
Wrong: An excerpt from his new book, Debtor's Prison: The Politics
of Austerity Versus Possibility (Knopf):
In today's economy, which is dominated by high finance, small debtors
and small creditors are on the same side of a larger class divide. The
economic prospects of working families are sandbagged by the mortgage
debt overhang. Meanwhile, retirees can't get decent returns on their
investments because central banks have cut interest rates to historic
lows to prevent the crisis from deepening. Yet the paydays of hedge
fund managers and of executives of large banks that only yesterday
were given debt relief by the government are bigger than ever. And
corporate executives and their private equity affiliates can shed
debts using the bankruptcy code and then sail merrily on.
Exaggerated worries about public debt are a staple of conservative
rhetoric in good times and bad. Many misguided critics preached austerity
even during the Great Depression. As banks, factories and farms were
failing in a cumulative economic collapse, Andrew Mellon, one of
America's richest men and Treasury secretary from 1921 to 1932,
famously advised President Hoover to "liquidate labor, liquidate
stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate . . .
it will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living
and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more
moral life." The sentiments, which today sound ludicrous against the
history of the Depression, are not so different from those being
solemnly expressed by the U.S. austerity lobby or the German Bundesbank.
[ . . . ]
The combination of these two trends -- declining real wages and
inflated asset prices -- led the American middle class to use debt as
a substitute for income. People lacked adequate earnings but felt
wealthier. A generation of Americans grew accustomed to borrowing
against their homes to finance consumption, and banks were more than
happy to be their enablers. In my generation, second mortgages were
considered highly risky for homeowners. The financial industry
rebranded them as home equity loans, and they became ubiquitous.
Third mortgages, even riskier, were marketed as "home equity lines
State legislatures, meanwhile, paid for tax cuts by reducing
funding for public universities. To make up the difference, they
raised tuition. Federal policy increasingly substituted loans for
grants. In 1980, federal Pell grants covered 77 percent of the cost
of attending a public university. By 2012, this was down to 36
percent. Nominally public state universities are now only 20 percent
funded by legislatures, and their tuition has trebled since 1989.
By the end of 2011, the average student debt was $25,250. In mid-2012,
total outstanding student loan debt passed a trillion dollars, leaving
recent graduates weighed down with debt before their economic lives
even began. This borrowing is anything but frivolous. Students without
affluent parents have little alternative to these debts if they want
college degrees. But as monthly payments crowd out other consumer
spending, the macroeconomic effect is to add one more drag to the
Had Congress faced the consequences head-on, it is hard to imagine
a deliberate policy decision to sandbag the life prospects of the next
generation. But this is what legislators at both the federal and state
levels, in effect, did by stealth. They cut taxes on well-off Americans
and increased student debts of the non-wealthy young to make up the
difference. The real debt crisis is precisely the opposite of the one
in the dominant narrative: efficient public investments were cut,
imposing inefficient private debts on those who could least afford
to carry them.
The 1929 and 2008 crashes are more similar than most people recognize:
if you look at charts of economic output, they start at almost the same
trajectory and spread equally fast throughout the world. The difference
is that the latter crash was arrested in early 2009, the result of three
things: a much larger public sector which was (at least initially) free
from the crash mentality; automatic stabilizers like unemployment
insurance and welfare; and extraordinary government intervention to
prop up failing banks. Perversely, since so much of the recovery was
pushed through the banking system, the rich were the first satisfied
by the recovery, and they celebrated by engineering an economic pogrom
against the middle class: they used the crisis to depress the labor
market, and they lobbied for more austere government to cut services
and put further pressure on wages. Consequently, the human costs of
the current recession rival the 1930s -- the big stories of the last
few weeks concern the number of long-term unemployed and the stigma
against them, and a sudden increase in the suicide rate of Boomers --
but there is scarcely any viable political effort to help out. To me,
the most striking difference between Obama and FDR was that the latter
was pre-occupied with keeping both wages and prices up, whereas Obama
doesn't seem to grasp that there is even an issue here.
Jordan Smith: The Real Reason Not to Intervene in Syria: Well,
one real reason:
More generally, a significant body of international-relations scholarship
suggests that not only can outside intervention in humanitarian emergencies
in places like Rwanda not ameliorate the situation -- it can actually make
things worse. Even simply dispensing aid can prolong suffering, in what the
former Doctors Without Borders leader Fiona Terry calls "the paradox of
Why are humanitarian interventions so difficult? Kuperman theorizes that
when rebels are assisted by outside forces, they are unintentionally
encouraged to become more reckless in fighting a regime or provoking it,
resist negotiations, and expand their ambitions. Intervention can thereby
produce a perverse situation of prolonging a conflict that results in more
deaths. He calls this the "moral hazard of humanitarian intervention."
Even the expectation or the mistaken belief of outside support can
encourage rebels to continue fighting or resist settlements.
Another real reason is that military interventions in other countries
is a bad habit that the United States sorely needs to break. The reason
is not just because it doesn't work out very well -- Afghanistan and Iraq
are recent examples, but you can go back to 1898 and find more examples
in Cuba and the Philippines, and most of the cases in between (especially
including CIA operations) are more/less as unambiguous. But even if we
(or, say, a more appropriate body, like the UN) could push a button and
magically bring the conflict to a close, ask yourself what that solution
would look like. It wouldn't be to tilt the arms balance so the rebels
could take over, since doing that would only create a new regime at war
attempting to suppress yet another segment of the Syrian public. No, such
a solution would be to arrange a ceasefire, an amnesty, and a democratic
path forward with sufficient minority protections. I don't know whether
Obama has tried to do that, but many decades of hostilities between the
US and Syria have resulted in the US having very little leverage there.
(Egypt, for instance, was a different case: the US had a longterm military
alliance there which helped to ease Mubarak from office.) Maybe Russia,
China, and Iran could have more influence on the Assad regime, but the
US doesn't have a lot of influence with them either.
Smith goes on to write:
The humanitarian impulse is a noble one, spurred by good intentions.
But good intentions, even if they don't pave the road to hell, can
sometimes take us a good way there.
I would caution, though, that not every "humanitarian impulse" is
a noble one. Individuals, perhaps, but nations rarely practice foreign
policy to attain nobility. They usually have some sort of interest or
agenda, and one should be especially suspicious of a nation that claims
to be the advocate and defender of free markets, since the only acts
expected in the market are ones that advance self-interests.
Ben White: Sidelining Palestinians in Israel Will Doom Prospects for
Peace: Headline's a bit off as there are no "prospects for peace,"
but the real point to draw here is that the longer Israel's occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza continues, the more the brutality Israelis --
both the IDF and settlers often acting on their own -- is reflected
back on the second-class citizens of Israel.
In mid-April, the United States state department published its annual
human rights review -- and the country report for Israel makes for
interesting reading. An ally praised in public as the embodiment of
liberal democratic values in a "tough neighbourhood" is described as
practising "institutional discrimination" against its own Palestinian
citizens (the so-called Israeli Arabs).
Even in a far-from-comprehensive summary of Israel's systematic
racism, the report notes discrimination in the education system, the
land regime and housing, and the legal restrictions on a Palestinian
from the West Bank or Gaza living with his or her spouse in Israel.
[ . . . ]
But it is not just discrimination and segregation that raise concerns.
There are those in Israel who would like to be rid of Palestinian citizens
altogether -- and see an opportunity to do so in the context of the "peace
Responding to recent protests by Palestinian citizens to mark their
expulsion in 1948, the former foreign minister and current chair of the
Knesset foreign affairs and defence committee, Avigdor Lieberman, called
the Nakba commemoration events proof that "any arrangement with the
Palestinians must include Israeli Arabs as well".
Sunday, April 28. 2013
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Eric Harvey: Writing the Record: Interview with Devon Powers, author of
Writing the Record: The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism,
which focuses on Richard Goldstein and Robert Christgau. Lots of stuff
here, and I should probably dig into the book. One comment I have, based
on this quote:
When Christgau talks about monoculture, he's talking about the idea
that there was a period before fragmentation. A period before audiences
were segmented, where all kinds of people were listening to the same
thing, some of it out of necessity just because there weren't other
options. When you have people who are listening to the same kind of
things, they have something in common to talk about that they simply
don't when there is more variance in the media landscape.
Two problems here. One is that monoculture means something else:
not a single all-encompassing culture but an isolated stripe of only
one thing -- as in agriculture: wheat, soybeans, oranges, etc. --
which may coexist independently with lots of other monocultures.
Music has never been that formally constrained, and never will be,
in large part because it's always being mediated and deconstructed,
and most often as a social activity. The other is that the idea of
integrating most musical strands into a common pool of experience
was new in the late 1960s, itself a political project rooted in
the newfound equal integration of all divisions in a relatively
classless society. It didn't exist earlier because people grew up
in a divided (segregated) world, and since then the right-wing
counterrevolution with its increasing inequality has done all it
could to strain the ideal.
Paul Krugman and others have made a big point recently about
"the great compression" which reduced income and wealth inequality
and culminated in the 1960s. I must say that it didn't feel like
much of a class-free utopia at the time, but the idea was present,
and there was a sense of it being progressively realized -- and
that sense of progress helped fuel the great upheavals of the
decade, including the civil rights and women's movements. Still,
that atmosphere of equality was propitious for critics inclined
to jump from genre to genre, to poke into music from all over the
world, and who believed that popular music could storm the citdels
of "high culture" -- the last refuge of the ancien regime.
Circa 1973, I dropped out of college, stopped reading critical
theory, and took up rock crit. Seemed like the way forward, and
was practical at the same time.
Alex Parrene: Bush Family Furiously Selling Itself to Americans Once
Again: As ever, Bush realizes the importance of timing when rolling
out a new "product" -- his library, of course, but that's the easy part
given that every ex-president (at least from Truman on) has one (and a
figure as insignficant as Gerald Ford has two). The harder part is
rehabilitating the entire family brand name, but polls indicate the
ignorance of the average American is hard to underestimate -- I very
much blame Obama and the Democrats for letting Bush off the hook.
More Bush links:
My vote for the single worst thing about George W. Bush goes to his
instinctive, visceral attrraction to violence as a way of solving problems.
Even before 9/11, Bush rejected the Saudi peace plan for Israel-Palestine
by saying (as
Ronald Suskind reported), "Sometimes a show of force can really
clarify things." His green light for Sharon destroyed eight years of
fitful progress toward resolving the most intractable conflict in the
Middle East. He reacted to 9/11 the same, only with more vigor and
ambition, going after Iraq as well as Afghanistan, and threatening
wars against Iran and North Korea. Then there was his encouragement
of Israel's brutal 2006 carpet-bombing of Lebanon, an act of war that
his secretary of state memorably described as "the birth-pangs of a
new Middle East."
MJ Rosenberg: Time to Admit US Policies Can Cause Terrorism:
To prevent something you have to have some concept of causation.
The Boston bombings again raise the question of terrorism, but we
are stuck within an officially sanctioned blind spot.
There is one change that the United States could make in response to
the terrorism threat that is never discussed. That is to consider the
part U.S. policies have played in creating and sustaining it.
I understand that we are not supposed to say this, as if discussing
why we are hated justifies the unjustifiable: the targeting of innocent
Americans because of the perceived sins of their government.
But nothing justifies terrorism. Period. That does not mean that
nothing causes it.
Acts of terror do not come at us out of the blue. Nor are they
directed at us, as President George W. Bush famously said, because
the terrorists "hate our freedom." If that was the case, terrorists
would be equally or more inclined to hit countries at least as free
as the U.S., those in northern Europe, for instance.
No, terrorists (in the case of the Boston Marathon bombings Muslim
terrorists) target the U.S. because they perceive us as their enemy.
One reason they perceive us as enemies is that we regard them as
enemies. Nor is this just a matter of opinion: the US has, ever since
FDR met with King Saud in 1945, backed the most repressive regimes in
the Middle East, training and arming their secret police, their armed
forces; we've backed wars, and in a pinch we've jumped in and invaded
countries ourselves; and we've fomented civil wars, creating massively
destructive contagions, such as the Sunni-Shiite divide in Iraq. (For
some of this history, see
Tom Engelhardt: Field of Nightmares, on Jeremy Scahill's new book,
Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.) If we don't like this
"blowback," the place to start is in reconsidering our own actions.
But even if there was no terror blowback, the US record in the Middle
East has been an unmitigated mess. Most often we've backed forces based
on the shabby enemy-of-my-enemy principle: from the Saudi regime to
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Afghanistan, we've repeatedly backed the most
extremely reactionary Islamists because they were anti-communist, only
to discover that their anti-communism was part of an anti-western agenda
bound to bite the hand that feeds them. We've backed Saddam Hussein's
war against Iran, then backed Iranian-backed militias against Hussein.
We've backed Israel against everyone, even against our own policies --
we even backed Israel when they attacked and sunk a US Navy ship in
1967. Presumably some arms and oil companies have profited along the
way, but what has the average American gotten out of this incoherency?
Nothing but the task of fighting a series of useless, hopeless wars.
Yet the right-wing still clamors for more -- see the recent
Cal Thomas rant: "How many more Americans must be killed and
wounded before we fight back, not just overseas, but here?" As Mort
Sahl said about someone else, "if he were more perceptive, he'd be
a happy man." Still, Thomas is as incoherent as anyone. He notes
the vast size of America's homeland security force, yet bemoans
their inability to stop two disaffected young men from "shutting
down a major city." Aside from calling for a more bigoted immigration
policy and a fevered, nativist witch hunt mentality, how exactly are
we supposed to "fight back"? And is it even justified in a democracy
to talk about enemies at home? The Tsarnaevs, after all, were US
citizens, Americans, entitled to dissenting opinions. When weren't
enemies, and when they set off those bombs, they didn't become our
enemies -- just criminals.
Tom Engelhardt: The Enemy-Industrial Complex: Or, "How to turn
a world lacking in enemies into the most threatening place in the
universe." Out of alpha order, but this follows up nicely on the
above entry. Consider 9/11 as a "Wizard of Oz" facade:
The U.S., in other words, is probably in less danger from external
enemies than at any moment in the last century. There is no other
imperial power on the planet capable of, or desirous of, taking on
American power directly, including China. It's true that, on September
11, 2001, 19 hijackers with box cutters produced a remarkable,
apocalyptic, and devastating TV show in which almost 3,000 people
died. When those giant towers in downtown New York collapsed, it
certainly had the look of nuclear disaster (and in those first days,
the media was filled was nuclear-style references), but it wasn't
actually an apocalyptic event.
The enemy was still nearly nonexistent. The act cost bin Laden
only an estimated $400,000-$500,000, though it would lead to a series
of trillion-dollar wars. It was a nightmarish event that had a malign
Wizard of Oz quality to it: a tiny man producing giant effects. It
in no way endangered the state. In fact, it would actually strengthen
many of its powers. It put a hit on the economy, but a passing one.
It was a spectacular and spectacularly gruesome act of terror by a
small, murderous organization then capable of mounting a major
operation somewhere on Earth only once every couple of years. It
was meant to spread fear, but nothing more.
When the towers came down and you could suddenly see to the horizon,
it was still, in historical terms, remarkably enemy-less. And yet 9/11
was experienced here as a Pearl Harbor moment -- a sneak attack by a
terrifying enemy meant to disable the country. The next day, newspaper
headlines were filled with variations on "A Pearl Harbor of the
Twenty-First Century." If it was a repeat of December 7, 1941, however,
it lacked an imperial Japan or any other state to declare war on,
although one of the weakest partial states on the planet, the Taliban's
Afghanistan, would end up filling the bill adequately enough for
Engelhardt then tries to put 9/11 into perspective by bringing
up stats for "suicide by gun and death by car" -- numbers which
annually dwarf even the 9/11 death toll. Actually, it would make
more sense to write off 9/11 as a fluke and look at more typical
terrorist tolls. You don't have to look hard. On the same day as
the Boston bombings, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas caught fire
and exploded, killing many more people. This doesn't mean that we
shouldn't pay attention to terrorist threats -- indeed, one reason
we should is that many could be avoided by policy changes that we
should implement anyway; but we should keep them in perspective.
Even the 9/11 death toll was ultimately topped two times over by
the number of US soldiers we sacrificed in post-9/11 wars -- wars
meant to do little more than restore the invincible lustre of US
imperial power, and perhaps blindly punish people only vaguely
related to those who actually planned 9/11.
Without an enemy of commensurate size and threat, so much that was done
in Washington in these years might have been unattainable. The vast
national security building and spending spree -- stretching from the
Virginia suburbs of Washington, where the National Geospatial-Intelligence
Agency erected its new $1.8 billion headquarters, to Bluffdale, Utah,
where the National Security Agency is still constructing a $2 billion,
one-million-square-foot data center for storing the world's intercepted
communications -- would have been unlikely.
Without the fear of an enemy capable of doing anything, money at ever
escalating levels would never have poured into homeland security, or the
Pentagon, or a growing complex of crony corporations associated with our
weaponized safety. The exponential growth of the national security
complex, as well as of the powers of the executive branch when it comes
to national security matters, would have far been less likely.
Without 9/11 and the perpetual "wartime" that followed, along with
the heavily promoted threat of terrorists ready to strike and potentially
capable of wielding biological, chemical, or even nuclear weapons, we
would have no Department of Homeland Security nor the lucrative
mini-homeland-security complex that surrounds it; the 17-outfit U.S.
Intelligence Community with its massive $75 billion official budget
would have been far less impressive; our endless drone wars and the
"drone lobby" that goes with them might never have developed; and the
U.S. military would not have an ever growing secret military, the Joint
Special Operations Command, gestating inside it -- effectively the
president's private army, air force, and navy -- and already conducting
largely secret operations across much of the planet.
So there is a lot of money at stake on convincing you that we have
to fight such unscrupulous enemies. But it also fits a political agenda:
conservatism, as Michael Tomasky explains below, depends on fear to
promote its political agenda.
Michael Tomasky: The Conservative Paranoid Mind:
The common thread through all of this is the conservative need to
instill and maintain a level of fear in the populace. They need to
make gun owners fear that Dianne Feinstein and her SWAT team are
going to come knocking on their doors, or, less amusingly, that
they have to be armed to the teeth for that inevitable day when
the government declares a police state. They need to whip up fear
of immigrants, because unless we do, it's going to be nothing but
terrorists coming through those portals, and for good measure,
because, as Ann Coulter and others have recently said, the proposed
law would create millions of voting Democrats (gee, I wonder why!).
And with regard to terrorism, they need people to live in fear
of the next attack, because fear makes people think about death,
and thinking about death makes people more likely to endorse tough-guy,
law-and-order, Constitution-shredding actions undertaken on their
behalf. This is how we lived under Bush and Cheney for years. This
fear is basically what enabled the Iraq War to take place. Public
opinion didn't support that war at first. But once they got the
public afraid with all that false talk of mushroom clouds, the
needle zoomed past 50 percent, and it was bombs away.
Conservatism, I fear (so to speak), can never be cleansed of
this need to instill fear. Whether it's of black people or of
street thugs or of immigrants or of terrorists or of jackbooted
government agents, it's how the conservative mind works.
Matthew Yglesias: The Koch Brothers Might Be Just What Conservative
Journalism Needs: Sometimes smart people can be pretty stupid,
especially when they let their logic run away from reality. The Koch
brothers are rumored to be in the market for the Tribune Company,
which would give them control over the largest newspapers in Los
Angeles and Chicago, among other cities. Yglesias writes:
Certain niches -- talk radio and cable television -- are very friendly
to a conservative editorial product but others are not. Which is exactly
why what conservative media needs is a couple of extremely rich people
to buy a newspaper company and lose a ton of money building a great
conservative media product.
After all, the big problem with right-leaning media in America isn't
that it doesn't exist. It's that it's terrible. There is a large
audience out there that's so frustrated with the vile MSM that it's happy
to lap up cheaply produced content from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity,
and you can make lots of money serving that kind of thing up. By contrast,
to build a great media company that's top-to-bottom staffed with
conservatives is going to be very expensive. The possible talent pool
of great reporters is tilted toward liberals. The talent pool of great
photographers and graphic designers is probably even more tilted toward
liberals. Finding the great conservatives out there and hiring them is
going to be relatively costly, and there's no real economic point to
doing so. Is your much worse cost structure going to get you a larger
audience than Rush? No, it won't. It's a bad bet.
But the Kochs have plenty of money. If they want to see it happen,
they can make it happen. And America would be better off for it.
The obvious problem here is that there is no latent pool of "great
conservatives" ready to move into newspaper journalism at any price,
because they simply don't exist. Conservatives in media are hacks, not
because they're lazy but because their message is nothing more than a
crock of lies and distortions. The net effect won't be "a great conservative
media product" -- it will just reduce marginally decent newspapers into
ever-deeper hackdom. And America will be worse off on two counts: one
is that it increase our current trend toward shoddiness in all manner
of work; the other is that it will reinforce the notion that politics
is purely cynical -- a fixed game controlled by the rich (the Kochs a
particularly egregious example).
One cautionary note is that the Kochs have never gotten into a
business to lose money, which makes it unlikely they would jump on
such a losing proposition. On the other hand, they have shown a
deep commitment to undermine democracy, both through their political
spending and through their use of corporate control as a channel
for pushing their political beliefs. Major urban newspapers have a
huge "first mover" advantage -- it's impossible to capitalize new
competition, so they are effectively monopolies, and as such should
be subject to public trust. Allowing them to be taken over by
extremist political ideologues like the Kochs will irreparably
destroy that trust, and America would be worse off for that.
Also, a few links for further study:
Sunday, April 21. 2013
Some scattered links of special interest. Caught most of them today,
which shows it isn't all that hard to find trouble these days:
Joe Conason: Protecting the 'Second Amendment Rights' of Thugs and
Terrorists: The NRA used to push the mantra, "if guns are outlawed,
only outlaws will have guns." Now they seem to be saying, if criminals
are denied guns, no one will be permitted them.
As Will Saletan pointed out in Slate last January, the NRA has consistently
(and successfully) sought to kill the most basic efforts to keep guns away
from convicted criminals and other dangerous characters -- including abusive
spouses under court protection orders, drug dealers and even individuals
listed on the Justice Department's terrorist watch list.
In the wake of the Boston bombing, as the nation ponders how to bolster
its security, the gun lobby's tender concern for the Second Amendment
"rights" of terrorists and thugs ought to permanently discredit them and
their political servants.
Background checks and registration should not prevent people who have
legitimate reason for owning guns from doing so, nor establish a "slippery
slope" leading to gun confiscation (as is routinely asserted). They would,
however, do much to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not
have them, and they would help law enforcement track gun violence. There
is, after all, enough gun violence in America to warrant precautions,
and it should be clear that there are people who should not be entitled
to own or use guns. Reasonable people should be able to find some common
ground here, but the NRA has taken a position far beyond reason, and it's
time to start calling it what it is: their main purpose is to safeguard
the gun-owning rights of criminals, because if criminals can't own guns,
no one can.
As near as I can tell, the NRA is mostly a front for gun manufacturers,
and their business is booming because they're able to promote fear -- of
crime, of terrorists, and of the government -- into ever more gun sales.
For an example of his this works, here's a Wichita Eagle letter from
Hank Price, of Goddard, KS:
I need an AR-15. Furthermore, I need several 30-round magazines to go
Why, you ask? Well, let's put aside the fact that it is none of your
business or, for that matter, none of government's business to ask. (The
Second Amendment affirms my right to keep and bear arms.)
I need an AR-15 because the bad guys have them. I need an AR-15 because
the police, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of
Homeland Security, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives have them. If someone is attempting a home invasion with
semi-automatic or even automatic weapons, I don't want to wait the 15
to 20 minutes it takes for the police to arrive with their semi-automatic
I need an AR-15 because as long as I and other law-abiding citizens
have them, the government will think twice before infringing on the
other rights affirmed by the Constitution. That is the real reason we
have the Second Amendment. Not so we can hunt. Not so we can target
practice. Not so we can defend our home and family until the police
come to file their reports. But to protect our rights.
This is a good example of the NRA business plan: let the "bad guys"
have X and "good guys" like Price will have to buy the same thing --
an arms race, which certainly won't stop with AR-15s. Moreover, if
the "bad guys" include the US government, Price is already way down
the technology curve: they already have helicopters, tanks, snipers,
noxious gas, and enough firepower to obliterate your house -- no need
to merely "invade" it. Also, that bit about using guns to protect your
rights, how's that worked out over time? From the Whiskey Rebellion
in 1791 up until any recent example you can cite, not very well. To
pick one relatively recent example, Leonard Peltier is in jail for
life for allegedly defending himself against federal agents. Why
should Price expect to fare better? The fact is that the only way
to defend yourself against the government is through the courts --
your best friend there, by the way, is the ACLU. Better still, elect
a government that will respect your rights -- shouldn't be that big
of a problem, if you really are one of the "good guys." If not, at
least you have the NRA working for you.
By the way, here's today's Crowson:
David Graeber: There's No Need for All This Economic Sadomasochism:
More on austerity politics, piling on the Reinhart-Rogoff debacle:
The morality of debt has proved spectacularly good politics. It appears
to work just as well whatever form it takes: fiscal sadism (Dutch and
German voters really do believe that Greek, Spanish and Irish citizens
are all, collectively, as they put it, "debt sinners," and vow support
for politicians willing to punish them) or fiscal masochism (middle-class
Britons really will dutifully vote for candidates who tell them that
government has been on a binge, that they must tighten their belts,
it'll be hard, but it's something we can all do for the sake of our
grandchildren). Politicians locate economic theories that provide
flashy equations to justify the politics; their authors, like Rogoff,
are celebrated as oracles; no one bothers to check if the numbers
actually add up.
Also on Reinhart-Rogoff:
New Tools for Reproducible Results.
Glenn Greenwald: What Rights Should Dzokhar Tsarnaev Get and Why Does
It Matter?: When I heard Sen. Lindsey Graham insisting that the
Boston Marathon bomber should be declared an "enemy combatant" I thought
that was the dumbest thing I've heard him say in, well, weeks. As I
understand it, the main purpose of the "enemy combatant" designation
is to allow the Feds to hold people indefinitely they suspect but don't
have any evidence against, at least that wouldn't hold up in court.
Assuming they got the right person, the odds that they wouldn't be able
to secure a conviction are vanishingly small -- unless they did something
really stupid, like waterboarding him in Guantanamo. Tsarnaev is a US
citizen, captured in the US after (allegedly) committing a major crime
on US territory. Isn't that what the US justice system is about? Then I
read that Obama's DOJ decided not to "Mirandize" him, as if not reminding
him that he has rights under the constitution strips him of those rights.
To get on top of this, I consulted Glenn Greenwald, and he explains it
Now, the cheers for this erosion of Miranda are led not by right-wing
Supreme Court justices such as William Rehnquist (who wrote the opinion
in Quarles), but by MSNBC pundits like former Obama campaign media aide
Joy Reid, who -- immediately upon the DOJ's announcement -- instantly
became a newly minted Miranda expert in order to loudly defend the DOJ's
actions. MSNBC's featured "terrorism expert" Roger Cressey -- who,
unbeknownst to MSNBC viewers, is actually an executive with the
intelligence contractor Booz Allen -- also praised the DOJ's decision
not to Mirandize the accused bomber (if you want instant, reflexive
support for the US government's police and military powers, MSNBC is
the place to turn these days). [ . . . ]
Just 30 years ago, Quarles was viewed as William Rehnquist's
pernicious first blow against Miranda; now, it's heralded by MSNBC
Democrats as good, just and necessary for our safety, even in its
new extremist rendition. That's the process by which long-standing
liberal views of basic civil liberties, as well core Constitutional
guarantees, continue to be diluted under President Obama in the name
of terrorism. [ . . . ]
Needless to say, Tsarnaev is probably the single most hated figure
in America now. As a result, as Bazelon noted, not many people will
care what is done to him, just like few people care what happens to
the accused terrorists at Guantanamo, or Bagram, or in Yemen and
Pakistan. But that's always how rights are abridged: by targeting
the most marginalized group or most hated individual in the first
instance, based on the expectation that nobody will object because
of how marginalized or hated they are. Once those rights violations
are acquiesced to in the first instance, then they become institutionalized
forever, and there is no basis for objecting once they are applied to
others, as they inevitably will be (in the case of the War on Terror
powers: as they already are being applied to others).
Also see Greenwald's earlier post,
The Boston Bombing Produces Familiar and Revealing Reactions.
Greenwald also links to an interesting piece by Ali Abuninah:
Was the Boston Bombing Really a "Terrorist" Act? Aside from the
specialized legal aspects, I have no problem describing any bombing
as an act of terror (including those bombs released by US drones in
Pakistan and elsewhere), just because of its intrinsically indiscriminate
nature. But at this point there is very little that can be said about
the motivations and intentions of the perpetrators. But somewhere I
read that this was the first "terrorist attack" on US soil since the
November 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hasan -- a
statement that overlooks dozens of mass shootings since, many (e.g.,
the recent murder of schoolchildren in Newtown, CT) truly terrorful.
At the very least, we've managed to muddle up the language here: the
9/11 attack were both terrorizing and a radical affront to the image
of US power as projected across the world. The Boston bombing and
the Newtown shootings were both terrorizing, but what they have to
do with US power is still mostly confined to the fevered imaginations
of US politicians, who, as always, are happy to use whatever tragedy
is at hand to further their own interests.
Glenn Greenwald: Margaret Thatcher and Misapplied Death Etiquette:
Missed this post from April 8, but still timely. The fact is, when you
hear that someone has died, you remember what they did. If what you say
then usually seems positive, that may be because we are predisposed to
forget or forgive the bad and cherish the good. Or perhaps one feels a
tinge of relief that the threat of the bad has passed. But the threat
of someone like Thatcher hasn't passed with her, and it would be grossly
unresponsible to gloss over much of what she actually did. As Greenwald
This demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure's
death is not just misguided but dangerous. That one should not speak
ill of the dead is arguably appropriate when a private person dies,
but it is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public
figure, particularly one who wielded significant influence and political
power. "Respecting the grief" of Thatcher's family members is appropriate
if one is friends with them or attends a wake they organize, but the
protocols are fundamentally different when it comes to public discourse
about the person's life and political acts. I made this argument at
length last year when Christopher Hitchens died and a speak-no-ill rule
about him was instantly imposed (a rule he, more than anyone, viciously
violated), and I won't repeat that argument today; those interested can
my reasoning here.
But the key point is this: those who admire the deceased public figure
(and their politics) aren't silent at all. They are aggressively exploiting
the emotions generated by the person's death to create hagiography. Typifying
these highly dubious claims about Thatcher was this (appropriately diplomatic)
statement from President Obama: "The world has lost one of the great champions
of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend." Those gushing
depictions can be quite consequential, as it was for the week-long tidal
wave of unbroken reverence that was heaped on Ronald Reagan upon his death,
an episode that to this day shapes how Americans view him and the political
ideas he symbolized. Demanding that no criticisms be voiced to counter that
hagiography is to enable false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of
bad acts, distortions that become quickly ossified and then endure by virtue
of no opposition and the powerful emotions created by death. When a political
leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise
be permitted but not criticisms.
Ed Kilgore: Fertilizer Explosion Update: Weak Inspections and Strong
Kolaches: While the nation's media was fixated on the bombings in
Boston, a far larger (and deadlier) explosion occurred in the place
where you might most expect it, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas,
but nobody was looking there:
The explosion shone a harsh light on the US fertilizer industry and
the weak, toothless regulation thereof. One problem Plumer notes is
that, "the Occupational Safety and Health Administration tends to be
understaffed and inspections are relatively infrequent. The Texas
fertilizer industry has only seen six inspections in the past five
years -- and the West Texas Fertilizer Co. facility was not one of
them." This was despite the West facility receiving a $2,300 fine
from the EPA in 2006 for poor risk-management planning. The last
time the facility had been inspected by the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration was in 1985. Think Progress reports that the
plant had been inspected in 2011 by the Pipeline and Hazardous
Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which resulted in a $10,100
fine for missing placards and lack of security plans. The fine was
reduced in 2012 after improvements were made at the plant.
Fertilizer explosions are relatively common in history. There
have been 17 unintended explosions of ammonium nitrate causing
casualties since 1921. The worst of these was the explosion of a
cargo ship in the Port of Texas City that killed 581 people and
Mike Konczal: Mapping Out the Arguments Against Chained CPI:
Konczal has been linked to by everyone commenting on Reinhart-Rogoff
Researchers Finally Replicated Reinhart-Rogoff and There Are Serious
Problems, followed up by
Andrindrajit Dube: Reinhart/Rogoff and Growth in a Time Before Debt).
Here he analyzes another real bad idea: Obama's budget proposal to cut
Social Security by fudging the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). (If you
were really paying attention, you'll recall that this has already been
done once before, by Clinton as a favor for Greenspan: in the 1990s, the
government changed how the consumer price index (CPI) was calculated,
nominally lowering inflation and thereby reducing Social Security COLA
increases.) With "friends" like Obama (and Clinton) you enemies are
already halfway home.
If you look into the data, the elderly spend a lot more of their limited
money on housing, utilities, and medical care. Health care costs have
been rising rapidly over the past several decades, and it is difficult
to substitute on other necessary, fixed-price goods like utilities. With
the notable exception of college costs, the things urban wage earners
spend money on haven't increased in price as quickly as what the elderly
purchase. As a result, the CPI-E (the index tailored to the elderly) has
increased 3.3 percent a year from 1982 to 2007, while the CPI-W (tailored
to wage earners) has only increased 3 percent a year.
[ . . . ]
You'll hear arguments that a Grand Bargain is necessary, so it's
better to bring Social Security into long-term balance now, with
Democrats at the helm, than in the future, when there will be less
time and an uncertain governance coalition. You can get fewer cuts
and more revenue than you would otherwise and take the issue off the
table for the foreseeable future to concentrate on other priorities.
But if that's your idea, then this is a terrible deal and sets a
terrible precedent, because this deal would accomplish none of your
goals. You'd cut Social Security without putting in any new revenue.
And it wouldn't be sufficient to close the long-term gap, so the issue
would stay on the table. Indeed, the deficit hawks would probably be
emboldened, viewing this as a "downpayment" on future cuts, and require
any future attempts to get more revenue for Social Security, say by
raising the payroll tax cap, to involve significant additional cuts.
Konczal also points out that the longer you live, the more "chained
CPI" eats into your check; also the more likely you are to have exhausted
your savings. The net result is to plunge the very elderly into poverty.
One thing he didn't mention is that some big expenses, like nursing home
care, are means-tested. The effect of this is to first confiscate all of
your savings before making you a ward of a state that has never been
known for generous welfare policies. Over the last twenty-some years,
we've done a lot to lighten estate taxes for the rich, never noticing
that for the poor the effective tax rate is 100%.
Matthew Yglesias: Banning Late-Term Abortions Reduces the Quality of
Late-Term Abortion Providers: Same for extra-legal bans, like
murder. Talks about the Kermit Gosnell case in Philadelphia, but he
starts with a more commonplace example:
I used to buy illegal drugs sometimes and in addition to me, personally,
not being a huge fan of said substances I really didn't enjoy the
purchasing process. The quality of customer service was just deplorable.
And the problem, roughly speaking, was that even though it was not in
practice all that difficult to obtain marijuana you still had to get
it from a drug dealer rather than, say, a highly efficient global
retailer operating with industry best practices and huge economies of
scale. And for better or for worse, that's one of the goals of drug
prohibition in the United States. It's not simply that making something
illegal deters some people from use. It inhibits the emergence of
above-board providers with strong franchises and brand value and
robust competition between multiple high quality providers.
It also opens up opportunities for police to profit through bribes
or other favors, and it makes it easier for criminals to rob drug
dealers, and it opens up drug dealers to further crime, etc. But back
to medicine: any operation is more likely to be performed competently
by someone who does it often, thereby developing skill and experience.
One reason universal health care is better even for the people who
can afford whatever you call our health care system is that doctors
learn from experience.
Thursday, April 18. 2013
Some links and comments. Originally started last week, then postponed
to mid-week, then a bit later:
Gerry Adams: Thatcher's Legacy in Ireland: On the late UK prime
Margaret Thatcher was a hugely divisive figure in British politics.
Her right wing politics saw Thatcher align herself with some of the
most repressive and undemocratic regimes in the late 20th century --
including apartheid South Africa and Chile's Pinochet. Her description
of the ANC and Mandela as terrorists was evidence of her ultra
conservative view of the world.
She championed the deregulation of the financial institutions,
cuts in public services and was vehemently anti-trade union. She set
out to crush the trade union movement. The confrontation with the
miners and the brutality of the British police was played out on
television screens night after night for months. The current crisis
in the banking institutions and the economic recession owe much to
these policies. And she went to war in the Malvinas.
But for the people of Ireland, and especially the north, the
Thatcher years were among some of the worst of the conflict. For
longer than any other British Prime Minister her policy decisions
entrenched sectarian divisions, handed draconian military powers
over to the securocrats, and subverted basic human rights.
Her most immediate impact on the US came out of the Malvinas
(Falklands) War, which played so jolly well on British TV that
she got a big popularity boost. She later used it to convince
the first George Bush how he could use war in Kuwait to push up
his own ratings, a lesson Bush's idiot son not only learned but
refined, thus sparking the neverending War on Terror.
Thatcher has been all over the pundit-world recently. On two
succesive days, the Wichita Eagle had opinion pieces that doted
on her: one by the Kansas Republican chairman extolling Brownback
as a Thatcherite; and one by Cal Thomas on how the left is full
of hate for pointing out her supposed faults. One thing that I
haven't read about recently was how Thatcher was so extreme in
her reactionary views that she eventually became an embarrassment
to the Conservative Party, which replaced her with John Major.
Now the efforts to canonize her are reminiscent of the much more
organized efforts to name things after Ronald Reagan.
John Cassidy: The Crumbling Case for Austerity Economics:
Starts off with a nod to Thatcher, who put austerity into practice
back in 1979, a prescription for national impoverishment that the
current Conservative cabal running the UK has embraced, once again
disastrously. Cassidy then moves on to "glaring faults and omissions
in the widely cited research of Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff" --
turns out that their paper predicting doom when a national debt
exceeds 90% of GDP was severely fudged ("omitted relevant data,
weighted their calculations in an unusual manner, and made an
elementary coding blunder," slanting their results in favor of
their thesis). For more on Reinhart-Rogoff, see
Mike Konczal (wonkish), and
Paul Krugman (although if you rumage through his blog you'll find several
Maureen Dowd: Courting Cowardice:
Swing Justice Anthony Kennedy grumbled about "uncharted waters," and the
fuddy-duddies seemed to be looking for excuses not to make a sweeping
ruling. Their questions reflected a unanimous craven impulse: How do we
get out of this? This court is plenty bold imposing bad decisions on the
country, like anointing W. president or allowing unlimited money to flow
covertly into campaigns. But given a chance to make a bold decision
putting them on the right, and popular, side of history, they squirm.
"Same-sex couples have every other right," Chief Justice John Roberts
said, sounding inane for a big brain. "It's just about the label in this
case." He continued, "If you tell a child that somebody has to be their
friend, I suppose you can force the child to say, 'This is my friend,'
but it changes the definition of what it means to be a friend."
[ . . . ]
Charles Cooper, the lawyer for the proponents of Prop 8, which banned
same-sex marriage in California, was tied in knots, failing to articulate
any harm that could come from gay marriage and admitting that no other
form of discrimination against gay people was justified. His argument,
that marriage should be reserved for those who procreate, is ludicrous.
Sonia Sotomayor was married and didn't have kids. Clarence and Ginny
Thomas did not have kids. Chief Justice Roberts's two kids are adopted.
Should their marriages have been banned? What about George and Martha
Washington? They only procreated a country.
As Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out to Cooper, "Couples that aren't
gay but can't have children get married all the time."
Justice Elena Kagan wondered if Cooper thought couples over the age
of 55 wanting to get married should be refused licenses. Straining to
amuse, Justice Antonin Scalia chimed in: "I suppose we could have a
questionnaire at the marriage desk when people come in to get the
marriage -- you know, 'Are you fertile or are you not fertile?'"
Scalia didn't elaborate on his comment in December at Princeton:
"If we cannot have moral feeling against homosexuality, can we have
it against murder?"
Paul Krugman: Europe in Brief: A good basic summary of what's happened
to the Euro:
The first effect of the euro was an outbreak of europhoria: suddenly,
investors believed that all European debt was equally safe. Interest
rates dropped all around the European periphery, setting off huge
flows of capital to Spain and other economies; these capital flows
fed huge housing bubbles in many places, and in general created booms
in the countries receiving the inflows.
The booms, in turn, caused differential inflation: costs and prices
rose much more in the periphery than in the core. Peripheral economies
became increasingly uncompetitive, which wasn't a problem as long as
the inflow-fueled bubbles lasted, but would become a problem once the
capital inflows stopped.
And stop they did. The result was serious slumps in the periphery,
which lost a lot of internal demand but remained weak on the external
side thanks to the loss of competitiveness.
This exposed the deep problem with the single currency: there is no
easy way to adjust when you find your costs out of line. At best,
peripheral economies found themselves facing a prolonged period of
high unemployment while they achieved a slow, grinding, "internal
The problem was greatly exacerbated, however, when the combination
of slumping revenues and the prospect of protracted economic weakness
led to large budget deficits and concerns about solvency, even in
countries like Spain that entered the crisis with budget surpluses
and low debt. There was panic in the bond market -- and as a condition
for aid, the European core demanded harsh austerity programs.
Austerity, in turn, led to much deeper slumps in the periphery --
and because peripheral austerity was not offset by expansion in the
core, the result was in fact a slump for the European economy as a
whole. One consequence has been that austerity is failing even on its
own terms: key measures like debt/GDP ratios have gotten worse, not
One thing to note is that aside from his concern about the human
costs of austerity programs little in Krugman's critique of the euro
is political. The euro could easily be seen as a liberal project, and
as a failure of liberalism. And while one could argue that the failure
had less to do with its liberal intent than with an implementation
that was overly controlled by conservative bankers -- regulation of
those capital flows would have helped -- Krugman tends not to do so.
Brad DeLong: The Future of the Euro: Lessons From History:
How did this come about? Why didn't Maastricht set up a single Eurovia-wide
banking regulator and supervisor to align financial policy with monetary
policy? Why didn't Maastricht set up the fiscal-transfer funds that would
be needed when -- as would inevitably happen -- some chunk of the future
Eurovia went into recession while other chunks were in boom? Why did
Maastricht leave a good chunk of lender-of-last-resort authority in the
hands of national governments that could not print money and so fulfill
the lender-of-least-resort function rather than placing all of it in the
European Central Bank, which could? And why -- given that one country's
exports are another's imports -- does the adoption of policies in deficit
countries to reduce their imports and boost their export not automatically
trigger the adoption of policies in surplus countries to boost their
imports and reduce their exports?
Barry Ritholtz: 12 Rules of Goldbuggery: Mostly about gold as a
speculative investment, which is easy to see as a psychological disorder.
As for tying the economic system to the gold standard, that is the
all-time number one stupid idea in the history of economics.
MJ Rosenberg: Netanyahu to US: Drop Dead: What's the difference
between Binyamin Netanyahu and Yitzhak Shamir? Netanyahu will make
a bit of effort to string you along, whereas it was obvious even to
Americans that Shamir would never budge on anything. The first Bush
administration's displeasure with Shamir led to his downfall, replaced
by Yitzhak Rabin, which led to the ill-fated Oslo Accords. Lots of
things made them ill-fated, but pride of place went to Netanyahu, who
when pushed hard enough agreed to things he'd never get around to
implementing. Well, Netanyahu's back, but with Oslo dead and
Congress in his pocket, is reverting to his inner Shamir:
The good news is that Netanyahu has made everything so clear. He has no
interest in peace, negotiations, any kind of territorial withdrawal or
even freezing settlements. Like Shamir, he just wants to buy time until
it will be absolutely impossible to create a Palestinian state, if it
isn't already. As for the United States, Netanyahu is not interested
in what it wants.
The only question left is what the Obama administration will do in
response. It could follow Baker's example and take a walk. Even better,
it could tell Netanyahu that future aid from the U.S. will be linked
to its occasional compliance with U.S. wishes regarding the occupation.
Or it could say, it won't keep following Israel's dictates on sanctions
or Palestine's right to recognition by the United Nations. Or it could,
as Bush and Baker did, squeeze the Israeli prime minister until the
Israeli public dumps him.
It could do any of those.
Will it? I'm taking bets.
But here is a sure one. There is no possibility of serious negotiation
so long as Binyamin Netanyahu is prime minister of Israel.
I personally thought that was obvious when Netanyahu became prime
minister shortly after Obama won his first term. Netanyahu's victory
and coalition were so shaky that it wouldn't have taken much to nudge
them apart, but Obama did nothing and got nothing (but a second term
Wednesday, April 3. 2013
Missed Weekend Roundup on Sunday -- was working on another post
that didn't quite work out -- but I hit a few scattered links today
that I might as well post now.
Chris Hedges: The Treason of the Intellectuals: Excoriates a long
list of liberal-or-left-identified "academics, writers and journalists"
who supported Bush's invasion of Iraq (missing some key figures like
Kenneth Pollack), pointing out not just their complacency but how they
labored to discredit all those who didn't join the war effort. Hedges
takes this personally:
Those of us who spoke out against the war, faced with the onslaught
of right-wing "patriots" and their liberal apologists, became pariahs.
In my case it did not matter that I was an Arabic speaker. It did not
matter that I had spent seven years in the Middle East, including
months in Iraq, as a foreign correspondent. It did not matter that I
knew the instrument of war. The critique that I and other opponents
of war delivered, no matter how well grounded in fact and experience,
turned us into objects of scorn by a liberal elite that cravenly
wanted to demonstrate its own "patriotism" and "realism" about
national security. The liberal class fueled a rabid, irrational
hatred of all war critics.
Actually, the "treason" -- really, a lapse both in principles and
in judgment that betrayed a secret identification with the powers in
Washington as opposed to people all around the world -- that bothered
me worse was the even-more-widespread post-9/11 support for attacking
Afghanistan. Had Al-Qaeda indeed attacked civilization, wouldn't a
civilized response had been more appropriate? Instead, Bush took it
as an attack on American power, and responded with more power, the
way thoughtless brutes do -- the way Osama Bin Laden expected. In
that moment, an awful number of people you would generally regard
as good natured, thoughtful, civilized, rushed to side with
Bush, as if the only alternative to Bin Laden was a bigger army.
Moreover, the liberal hawks of 2001 were far nastier to dissenters
than their 2003 Iraq subset was. Without the supposed success in
Afghanistan, invading Iraq wouldn't have been an option. While the
liberal hawks weren't strictly responsible for the disasters, they
gave aid and comfort those who were, and blunted our understanding
Tom Engelhardt: The 12th Anniversary of American Cowardice: I
slipped this out of alphabetical order to follow up on what I had
already written under Hedges. With the 10th anniversary of Bush's
Iraq misadventure behind us, that 12th anniversary is still a few
months in the future: the Congress's Authorization of Use of Military
Force on September 14, 2001 that plunged us into war in Afghanistan,
but Engelhardt mentions many other anniversary dates, then asks:
When it comes to the Marines, here's a question: Who, this November
19th, will mark the eighth anniversary of the slaughter of 24 unarmed
civilians, including children and the elderly, in the Iraqi village
of Haditha for which, after a six-year investigation and military
trials, not a single Marine spent a single day in prison? Or to focus
for a moment on U.S. Special Forces: will anyone on August 21st
memorialize the 90 or so civilians, including perhaps 15 women and
up to 60 children, killed in the Afghan village of Azizabad while
attending a memorial service for a tribal leader who had reportedly
And not to leave out the rent-a-gun mercenaries who have been such
a fixture of the post-9/11 era of American warfare, this September
16th will be the sixth anniversary of the moment when Blackwater
guards for a convoy of U.S. State Department vehicles sprayed Baghdad's
Nisour Square with bullets, evidently without provocation, killing 17
Iraqi civilians and wounding many more. [ . . . ]
So perhaps the last overlooked anniversary of these years might be
the 12th anniversary of American cowardice. You can choose the exact
date yourself; anytime this fall will do. At that moment, Americans
should feel free to celebrate a time when, for our "safety," and in a
state of anger and paralyzing fear, we gave up the democratic ghost.
Thomas Homer-Dixon: The Tar Sands Disaster: A Canadian chimes
in on the Keystone XL pipeline:
The most obvious reason is that tar sands production is one of the
world's most environmentally damaging activities. It wrecks vast areas
of boreal forest through surface mining and subsurface production. It
sucks up huge quantities of water from local rivers, turns it into
toxic waste and dumps the contaminated water into tailing ponds that
now cover nearly 70 square miles.
Also, bitumen is junk energy. A joule, or unit of energy, invested
in extracting and processing bitumen returns only four to six joules
in the form of crude oil. In contrast, conventional oil production in
North America returns about 15 joules. Because almost all of the input
energy in tar sands production comes from fossil fuels, the process
generates significantly more carbon dioxide than conventional oil
There is a less obvious but no less important reason many Canadians
want the industry stopped: it is relentlessly twisting our society into
something we don't like. Canada is beginning to exhibit the economic
and political characteristics of a petro-state.
Homer-Dixon goes on to explain how Canada's ruling Conservative
Party is entwined with the oil industry, but he doesn't go quite far
enough: he doesn't point out that the very worst thing about the oil
industry is the production of oil men. We should know all about them
in the US, where they form the most reactionary, extremist crust on
the ultra-right: sworn enemies of government despite the fact that
their fortunes are totally based on the laws that grant them rights
to suck as much oil as they can from the ground -- laws that few
countries other than the US and Canada have.
Sally Kohn: New Spill Reveals How Horrible Keystone Could Be.
Dilip Hiro: How the Pentagon Corrupted Afghanistan: This is a
big part of the story, but after Homer-Dixon's reference to Canada
becoming a "petro state," it's worth pondering whether the windfall
in war spending isn't having the same adverse effects in Afghanistan.
Certainly it's resulted in tremendous inflation in Kabul, pushing up
the cost of living and making exports (other than opium) unviable,
thereby stunting an economy that didn't amount to much anyway. Of
course, that point may be too subtle, given the gross numbers.
Corruption in Afghanistan today is acute and permeates all sectors of
society. In recent years, anecdotal evidence on the subject has been
superseded by the studies of researchers, surveys by NGOs, and periodic
reports by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). There
is also the Corruption Perceptions Index of the Berlin-based Transparency
International (TI). Last year, it bracketed Afghanistan with two other
countries as the most corrupt on Earth.
None of these documents, however, refers to the single most important
fact when it comes to corruption: that it's Washington-based. It is, in
fact, rooted in the massive build-up of U.S. forces there from 2005
onward, the accompanying expansion of American forward operating bases,
camps, and combat outposts from 29 in 2005 to nearly 400 five years
later, and above all, the tsunami of cash that went with all of this.
[ . . . ]
Later, the State Department's Agency for International Development
(USAID) took over this role. As with the Pentagon, most of the money
it distributed ended up in the pockets of those local power brokers.
By some accounts, USAID lost up to 90 cents of each dollar spent on
certain projects. According to a Congressional report published in
June 2011, much of the $19 billion in foreign aid that the U.S. pumped
into Afghanistan after 2001 was probably destabilizing the country in
the long term.
Staggering amounts of U.S. taxpayer dollars allocated to aid
Afghanistan were spent so quickly and profligately that they
circumvented any anti-corruption, transparency, or accountability
controls and safeguards that existed on paper. However, those who
amassed bagsful of dollars faced a problem. Afghanistan's underdeveloped
$12 billion economy -- a sum Washington spent in that country in a
single month in 2011 -- did not offer many avenues for legitimate
profitable investment. Therefore, most of this cash garnered on a
colossal scale exited the country, large parts of it ending up in
banks and real estate in the Gulf emirates, especially freewheeling
Dahr Jamail: "My Children Have No Future": In his intro, Nick
Turse reminds us of the costs of invading Iraq:
According to a recent report from the Costs of War Project at Brown
University, at least 123,000-134,000 Iraqi civilians have died "as a
direct consequence of the war's violence since the March 2003 invasion."
In fact, while the U.S. military left Iraq in 2011 and war supporters
have advanced a counterfeit history of success there -- owing to
then-General (now disgraced former CIA director) David Petraeus's
military "surge" of 2007 -- the war's brutal legacy lives on. Last
year, the casualty watchdog group Iraq Body Count tallied 4,570 Iraqi
civilian deaths from violence, a small increase over the death toll
And on the day of Obama's 10th anniversary announcement, car bombs
and other attacks killed and wounded hundreds in the Iraqi capital
Baghdad alone. Add to these numbers the countless wounded of the last
decade and the approximately 2.8 million Iraqis who, to this day,
remain refugees outside the country or internally displaced within
it and the words of both presidents ring hollow indeed.
Jamail goes into the country and finds out things like this:
As he said this, we passed under yet another poster of an angry
looking Maliki, speaking with a raised, clenched fist. "Last year's
budget was $100 billion and we have no working sewage system and
garbage is everywhere," he added. "Maliki is trying to be a dictator,
and is controlling all the money now."
In the days that followed, my fixer Ali pointed out new sidewalks,
and newly planted trees and flowers, as well as the new street lights
the government has installed in Baghdad. "We called it first the
sidewalks government, because that was the only thing we could see
that they accomplished." He laughed sardonically. "Then it was the
flowers government, and now it is the government of the street lamps,
and the lamps sometimes don't even work!"
Despite his brave face, kind heart, and upbeat disposition, even
Ali eventually shared his concerns with me. One morning, when we met
for work, I asked him about the latest news. "Same old, same old,"
he replied, "Kidnappings, killings, rapes. Same old, same old. This
is our life now, everyday."
"The lack of hope for the future is our biggest problem today,"
he explained. He went on to say something that also qualified eerily
as another version of the "same old, same old." I had heard similar
words from countless Iraqis back in the fall of 2003, as violence
and chaos first began to engulf the country. "All we want is to live
in peace, and have security, and have a normal life," he said, "to
be able to enjoy the sweetness of life." This time, however, there
wasn't even a trace of his usual cheer, and not even a hint of gallows
"All Iraq has had these last 10 years is violence, chaos, and
suffering. For 13 years before that we were starved and deprived
by [U.N. and U.S.] sanctions. Before that, the Kuwait War, and
before that, the Iran War. At least I experienced some of my
childhood without knowing war. I've achieved a job and have my
family, but for my daughters, what will they have here in this
country? Will they ever get to live without war? I don't think so."
Ed Kilgore: Bleeding Kansas: Good to see that The Washington
Monthly is at least paying some attention to "the state that is
trying very hard to outdo all its many extremist rivals, even those
steeped in the toxic cultural wastes of my own Deep South." Subject
here, as is so often the case, is abortion:
The dirty little secret of "personhood" initiatives is that they would
proscribe not only abortions, or "abortion pills," but IUD's and "Plan
B" contraceptives on grounds that such devices and drugs are actually
"abortifacients," identical morally to murdering an infant. And indeed,
some "personhood" folk would ban the routine anti-ovulant "pill" used
by many millions of Americans on grounds that it sometimes operates by
interfering with the implantation of a fertilized ovum -- i.e., a
"person" -- in the uterine wall.
If regular Republican-voting Americans had any idea of the radical
vision underlying such legislation -- something straight out of the
Handmaid's Tale, folks -- the solons supporting it wouldn't
even last until the next election. So you'd think they'd be extra
careful about supporting efforts to ensure that most of the female
population of the state of child-bearing age wouldn't have to worry
about being hauled off to the hoosegow and told they needed to get
their procreative groove on or put an aspirin between their legs.
But no: Kansas Republicans consider that sort of concession to the
twentieth century a "little gotcha amendment" they find irritating.
Monday, March 25. 2013
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
John Cassidy: Whither the GOP? A Republican Report Worth Reading:
Well, not really. Focus groups show the Party to be "scary," "narrow-minded,"
and "out of touch," and some of the Party apparatchiki think they'd
like to change it, but what they offer is cosmetic -- "we need a Party
whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit
us." Problem is, the Republicans made most of their gains when people
didn't realize where the party is going, and now that the party is, as
even the report puts it, "driving around in circles on an ideological
cul-de-sac," it's become all too clear what the Party stands for.
It remains to be seen how these strictures go down with the billionaires
that increasingly fund the Republican Party. But in this report, there
is a definite recognition that the party's image as a tool of the one
per cent is doing it great damage. Interestingly, this skepticism towards
being tied to the ultra-rich extends to the activities of the Super PACs,
such as those controlled by Karl Rove and the Koch brothers, which last
year spent about a billion dollars in advertising in swing states, and all
to no avail. Unless the activities of "lone wolf groups" are coördinated
with the activities of the party, the report warns, they are "more likely
to waste their donors' money and act in a redundant, unhelpful manner."
Noura Erakat: Rethinking Israel-Palestine: Beyond Bantustans, Beyond
Reservations: Lots of things here, including some points on Israeli
citizens who happen not to be Chosen People:
In 2011, Israel passed the State Budget Law Amendment. Popularly known
as the Nakba Law, it penalizes, by revoking state funding, any institution
that either challenges Israel's founding as a Jewish and democratic state
or commemorates Israel's Independence Day as one of mourning or loss. The
threat any such commemoration poses is a challenge to Israel's narrative
of righteous conception.
The Prawer Plan, named after its author, former deputy chair of the
National Security Council Ehud Prawer, seeks to forcibly displace up to
70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their homes and communities in the Negev
Desert to urban townships to make room for Jewish-only settlements and a
forest. The plan, approved in September 2011, has no demographic impact,
as these Palestinians are already Israeli citizens. It does, however,
violently sever these Bedouin communities from their agricultural
livelihoods and centuries-long association with that particular land.
Similarly, in 2001 the High Court of Justice rejected an appeal from
internally displaced Palestinians to return to the villages of Ikrit and
Kafr Bir'im, near the Lebanon border, from which they were forcibly
displaced in 1948. Like the Negev-based Palestinians, these Palestinians
are Israeli citizens and therefore pose no demographic threat. In fact,
they currently live only miles away from their demolished villages. Their
return to them only threatens a Zionist narrative that Palestine was a
land without a people for a people without a land. To further the erasure,
Israel plans on building Jewish settlements where these communities once
Israel's land and housing planning policies in the Galilee demonstrate
that the threat is not just about demographics and memory but the cohesion
of Palestinians within the state, and the potential for Palestinian
nationalism. In Nazareth, home to 80,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel,
bidding rights for public building opportunities are reserved for citizens
who have completed military service. This excludes nearly all of Nazareth's
Palestinian population, who do not serve in the Israeli military for
historical and political reasons. In other Galilee cities, "Admissions
Committees" can legally exclude Palestinians from their residential
communities for being "socially unsuitable" based on their race or national
origin alone. Together with its policy of Jewish settlement expansion
within Israel as well as a matrix of similarly discriminatory urban
planning laws, Israel forces its Palestinian citizens to live in
noncontiguous ghettos throughout the state.
Until 1967, Palestinian "citizens of Israel" were second class, subject
to military rule. Later in 1967, Israel invaded Egypt, Jordan, and Syria,
seizing chunks of land and established military control over anyone who
failed to flee, much like their earlier exercise but even more repressive.
At the time, it was widely assumed that Israel would realize that the
occupied territories didn't fit with the model of a democratic Jewish
state, so would be swapped out for peace guarantees -- as happened with
Egypt, although only after a further round of war. However, there were
powerful groups within Israel who hated the idea of ever giving up land,
and they worked hard to make "land-for-peace" and "two-state solution"
impossible. Erakat explains that they succeeded:
Nevertheless, Israel has obliterated the two-state option since the
signing of Oslo in 1993. It sanctioned, funded and encouraged, as a
matter of national policy, the growth of the settler population in the
West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, from 200,000 to nearly
600,000. It built 85 percent of the separation barrier on occupied
West Bank land, circumscribing its largest settlement blocs and
effectively confiscating 13 percent of the territory. Rather than
prepare Area C (62 percent of the West Bank, now under interim Israeli
civil and military jurisdiction) for Palestinian control, it has
entrenched its settlement-colonial enterprise. Israel's siege has
exacerbated the cultural, social and national distance between the
Gaza Strip and the West Bank. And its intense Judaization campaign
in East Jerusalem has accelerated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
there, hardly preparing it to become the independent capital of the
future Palestinian state.
As the settlements chopped up the West Bank, some people on both
sides started advocating a "one-state solution" whereby Israel would
keep its settlements but grant citizenship to the remaining people
living in the seized territories. Many Zionists treat this proposal
as such a non-starter that even mention of it gets you tossed from
the room. In a two-state scenario based on 1967 borders with return
of the 1947-49 refugees barred, Jews would enjoy a large majority,
but adding in the occupied territories changes the balance to 5.9
million Jews vs. 6.1 million non-Jews, threatening the Jewish State's
democratic trappings. Netanyahu and his cohort are unwilling either
to part with land or to unify its people, so they pretend they can
keep their current two-caste system working indefinitely. And the
more Jews appear as overlords in the occupied territories, the more
they target Israel's "Palestinian citizens" -- it's hard to check
the racism, the brutality, the paranoia at the Green Line, so it's
no surprise that Israel's occupation mentality corrupts the whole
Paul Krugman: Marches of Folly: Noting the tenth anniversary of
Bush's ill-fated invasion of Iraq:
There were, it turned out, no weapons of mass destruction; it was obvious
in retrospect that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation
into war. And the war -- having cost thousands of American lives and scores
of thousands of Iraqi lives, having imposed financial costs vastly higher
than the war's boosters predicted -- left America weaker, not stronger,
and ended up creating an Iraqi regime that is closer to Tehran than it is
So did our political elite and our news media learn from this experience?
It sure doesn't look like it.
The really striking thing, during the run-up to the war, was the illusion
of consensus. To this day, pundits who got it wrong excuse themselves on
the grounds that "everyone" thought that there was a solid case for war.
Of course, they acknowledge, there were war opponents -- but they were out
of the mainstream.
The trouble with this argument is that it was and is circular: support
for the war became part of the definition of what it meant to hold a
mainstream opinion. Anyone who dissented, no matter how qualified, was
ipso facto labeled as unworthy of consideration. This was true in political
circles; it was equally true of much of the press, which effectively took
sides and joined the war party.
CNN's Howard Kurtz, who was at The Washington Post at the time, recently
wrote about how this process worked, how skeptical reporting, no matter how
solid, was discouraged and rejected. "Pieces questioning the evidence or
rationale for war," he wrote, "were frequently buried, minimized or
Closely associated with this taking of sides was an exaggerated and
inappropriate reverence for authority. Only people in positions of power
were considered worthy of respect. Mr. Kurtz tells us, for example, that
The Post killed a piece on war doubts by its own senior defense reporter
on the grounds that it relied on retired military officials and outside
experts -- "in other words, those with sufficient independence to question
the rationale for war."
As I recall, at the time it was not difficult to find dissenting views,
but they were always hard pressed to keep up with the avalanche of pro-war
propaganda, disadvantaged by lack of access to sources, and by being shut
out of the limited media sources that seem to sway Washington, as opposed
to public, opinion. But more than media complicity, the one thing that
stands out in my mind as allowing Bush to get away with all the lies and
nonsense was the administration's ability to steer the entire cast of
Democratic Part 2004 presidential aspirants to vote for the war: Kerry,
Gephardt, Edwards, Daschle, Clinton, Schumer, Biden, Dodd, Lieberman.
None wanted to be caught up opposing a successful war -- as had happened
to some Democrats opposed to the first Iraq war in 1990, the definition
of success being rather murky there -- and none had the foresight to
see how this war would turn out differently.
Krugman likens this group-think to the current nonsense he struggles
with daily on the mass misunderstanding of Very Serious Persons of basic
macroeconomics. Valid complaint, perhaps even clearer here how moneyed
interests have corrupted even basic science for their own purposes, and
how successfully the elite media has wrapped itself around Washington's
MJ Rosenberg: The Times Eviscerates the Occupation: Use this
link as an introduction to the long New York Times piece by
Ben Ehrenreich: Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?:
The best news about the Ehrenreich piece is that he simply describes
the occupation in all its ugliness, forcing the reader to forget for
a time all the propaganda about Palestinians and instead focus on the
conditions Palestinians are subjected to simply because the settlers
(and the Israeli government that supports them) wants their land. And,
beyond that, he defends non-violent resistance to the occupation as
the one means that can end it. (He quotes one Israeli army official
saying that he prefers dealing with resisters who shoot, "you have the
enemy, he shoots at you, you have to kill him." But he is confounded
by non-violent resistance. Another is quoted as saying, "We don't do
Gandhi very well." In short, Ehrenreich eviscerates the occupation
and describes how it can be ended.
Also see Rosenberg for his review of Obama's Israel-Palestine trip,
No Big Surprises but He Accomplished His Goal. The key point here
was when Obama "compared the Palestinian struggle to the civil rights
movement in America, invoking his own daughters as beneficiaries of
that struggle." This doesn't inspire me with much confidence, but it
does clearly focus on equal rights, as opposed to the caste regime
that Israel has constructed.
Sunday, March 17. 2013
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
John Cassidy: Paul Ryan in Wonderland: Chapter Six: Loosely following
Brad DeLong's quote:
Having wandered back into writing about U.S. politics for the past
eighteen months or so, I sometime wonder how the full-time Washington
correspondents, the lifers, do it: cover the same old junk year after
year. The key to career longevity and job satisfaction, I suppose, is
to buy into the notion, assiduously promoted by the politicians and
their flacks, that what they are doing is serious. Budgets, national
security, energy policy, health policy -- these things
matter. . . . .
Sorry folks. After watching Representative Paul Ryan launch his
much-anticipated budget for the fiscal year 2014, I can't keep up the
pretense. The plan is a joke . . . and nobody should
pay much attention to it, except as another exhibit in the indictment
of latter-day Republicanism. Ryan's numbers don't add up. His proposals --
cutting domestic programs, converting Medicare to a voucher program,
returning Medicaid to the states, reducing the top rate of income tax
to twenty-five per cent -- were roundly rejected by the voters just
five months ago. And the philosophy his plan is based upon -- trickle-down
economics combined with an unbridled hostility toward government programs
designed to correct market failures -- is tattered and shop
worn. . . .
In a more just world, Ryan and his visionary shtick would have been
jeered off the stage after last year's Presidential campaign, when,
apart from ensuring that Mitt Romney didn't face any blowback from the
right at the Convention in Tampa, his presence added virtually nothing
to the G.O.P. ticket, and, arguably, handicapped
it. . . .
I can't let a few things pass without comment. Ryan's proposal to
reduce the top rate of income tax to twenty five per cent would be a
huge giveaway to the rich. How big? . . . people earning
more than a million dollars a year would each gain, on average, $264,970.
DeLong also links to
Ezra Klein on the budget proposed by House Progressives, which
has no chance but would actually do some good for the economy (and
not just the people who own it). Also, DeLong catches
Tyler Cowen going 0-for-4 on "standard stuff" economics. Cowen
is arguing against public spending on public goods and basically
trying to run up the perceived costs so you don't do anything like
that. DeLong knocks those costs down, rightly, but doesn't go near
the main point, which is the value of public goods.
DeLong also quotes
Paul Krugman, on the stock market (and other things):
Stocks are high, in part, because bond yields are so low, and investors
have to put their money somewhere. It's also true . . .
that . . . corporate profits have staged a strong
recovery . . . workers [are] failing to share in the
fruits of their own rising productivity [and] hundreds of billions of
dollars are piling up in the treasuries of corporations that, facing
weak consumer demand, see no reason to put those dollars to
work. . . . What the markets are clearly saying, however,
is that the fears and prejudices that have dominated Washington discussion
for years are entirely misguided. And they're also telling us that the
people who have been feeding those fears and peddling those prejudices
don't have a clue about how the economy actually works.
Ed Kilgore: The Anti-Choice Olympics: Somehow he missed Kansas.
Ever since the 2010 elections, Republican legislators and governors
have been in a competition to see who can enact the most blatantly
unconstitutional -- at least according to existing precedents -- laws
on abortion in the country. The first batch, typically banning abortions
after around 20 weeks of pregnancy, were keyed to dubious claims that
this is the stage when a fetus could experience pain. Earlier this month
the Arkansas legislature picked up the pace with a bill banning abortions
after 12 weeks of pregnancy, this time making the alleged earlier point
of detection of a fetal heartbeat the rationale. That bill was passed
over Gov. Mike Beebe's veto.
Now North Dakota -- a state with just one abortion clinic -- is
springing into action with a bill (just sent to Republican Gov. Jack
Dalrymple) banning abortions after just 6 weeks of pregnancy, based on
an even earlier assumption about the advent of a fetal heartbeat. Also
under consideration in one chamber of the legislature is a bill emulating
Mississippi's efforts (temporarily held up in the courts) to harrass
abortion providers out of the state via bogus medical certification
requirements, and a couple of bills adopting the "personhood" principle
(giving a fertilized ovum the full protections of the law). So I guess
Dalrymple will have the opportunity to sign the 6-week bill as a
With Republican-controlled legislatures all over the South talking
about emulating Arkansas' law (which may already be behind the times if
North Dakota trumps it), the rather transparent purpose of this trend
(other than bragging rights) is to force a fresh Supreme Court review
of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the
decisions banning state prohibitions on pre-viability abortions.
Ed Kilgore: Costs of a "War of Choice":
Most Americans are vaguely familiar with the number of U.S. combat troops
killed in Iraq: 4,488. Less well-known is that another 3,418 U.S. contractors
were killed, plus 318 troops from other allied countries, and 10,819 Iraqi
government troops. Maybe Americans don't care about the 36,400 Iraqi
insurgents killed, but we should care about the 134,000 Iraqi civilians
who perished, which doesn't count the hundreds of thousands who died of
war-related diseases. All told the direct human costs of the war are
estimated at 189,000.
The Brown study predicted the ultimate cost of the war to U.S. taxpayers
at $2.2 trillion dollars -- a bit higher than the initial U.S. government
estimates of $50 to $60 billion issued in 2002 -- and that doesn't count
another $1.7 trillion in interest costs associated with borrowing to cover
It would appear that the conclusions in Joseph E. Stiglitz/Linda J.
Bilmes, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq
Conflict (2008, WW Norton) were in fact too conservative.
Paul Krugman: Ten Years Later:
And there's a very big [tenth] anniversary coming up next week -- the
start of the Iraq war. So why does there seem to be so little coverage?
Well, it's not hard to think of a reason: a lot of people behaved badly
in the runup to that war, and many though not all people in the news media
behaved especially badly.
It's hard now to recall the atmosphere of the time, but there was both
an overpowering force of conventional wisdom -- all the Very Serious People
were for war, don't you know, and if you were against you were by definition
flaky -- and a strong current of fear. To come out against the war, let
alone to suggest that the Bush administration was deliberately misleading
the nation into war, looked all too likely to be a career-ending stance.
And there were all too few profiles in courage.
The war, then, was a big test -- a test of your ability to cut through
a fog of propaganda, but also a test of your moral and to some extent
personal courage. And a lot of people in the media failed.
This remind me that I should go back to March 2003 and check what I
wrote at the time (may be good for a mid-week post). Meanwhile, see
Corey Robin: Bush Did Not Simply Lie in the Run-up to the Iraq War.
Also, a few links for further study:
Michael Hudson: The Big Threat to the Economy Is Private Debt and Interest
Owed on It, Not Government Debt: From 1980 on, Americans have built
ignored stagnant wages and built the illusion of an improving lifestyle
on credit, which reached a peak just before the 2008 crash and is unlikely
to ever recover. For other reasons, businesses have accumulated ever more
debt -- here, tax deductability of interest has rewarded owners, especially
private equity scavengers, for converting equity to debt. All this debt
overhang is dead weight dragging down the economy. On the other hand, as
long as government debt can be financed at low rates, it is no problem
at all [emphasis below in original]:
The problem is that "fiscal responsibility" is economically irresponsible,
as far as full employment and economic recovery are concerned. less
government spending shrinks the circular flow between the private sector's
producers and consumers. [ . . . ] What really is
responsible is for the government to spend enough money into the economy
to keep employment and production thriving.
Instead, the government is creating new debt mainly to bail out the
banks and keep the existing debt overhead in place -- instead of writing
down the debts.
So governments from the United States to Europe face a choice: to save
the economy, or to save the banks and bondholders from taking a loss by
keeping the debt overhead in place and re-inflating real estate prices
to a level high enough to cover the debts attached to the property whose
underwater mortgages are weighing down the banking system.
[ . . . ]
Second, on that flow chart, you will see that for every half a trillion
in federal deficit spending since the 2008 crisis, the Federal Reserve and
Treasury have spent twice as much -- $1 trillion -- in providing new credit
to the banks.
President Obama announced that he hoped the banks would lend it out.
So the solution by his advisors, including some here today, is for the
economy to "borrow its way out of debt." The aim of the Fed and Treasury
subsidies of the commercial banks is to re-inflate housing prices, stock
and bond prices -- on credit. That means on debt.
This obviously will make matters worse. But what will make them worse
of all is the demand that the government "cure" the public-sector deficit
by spending less generally, and specifically by cutting Social Security
and Medicare. As in the case of the recent FICA withholding ostensibly to
fund Social Security, the effect of less public spending into the
economy is to force the private sector more deeply into debt.
Phillip Longman: The Republican Case for Waste in Health Care:
Fearful that knowledge might make government programs more effective,
the health care industry (helped by Republicans) "slipped language
into Obamacare banning cost-effectiveness research." (As I recall,
there is a similar prohibition against research that might prove
troublesome for the gun industry.)
In its final language, the ACA specifically bars policymakers from
using cost-effectiveness as a basis for even recommending different
drugs and treatments to patients. In practical effect, the ACA ensures
that such research won't even be done, let alone be used as a criterion
for guiding how the nearly $2.6 trillion the U.S. spends on health care
each year might be put to best use. Here's what you need to know to
understand how the fix was put in behind the scenes and why correcting
it must become a high priority for health care reformers.
Of course, cost-effectiveness research is fallible, especially at the
level of the individual, who may be unstudied or simply the exception.
Doctors and patients should be able to carve out space for exceptions,
but they should do so on the basis of the best available information,
not the least. Moreover, one needs to look at the expense side of the
ledger. Major cost differences are often the result of patents or other
forms of rent-seeking. Take those rents away and the costs will matter
much less, making it easier to evaluate results on their merits.
Dylan Matthews: Washington Hates Deficits. Why It Hates Them Is Less
Clear: Several charts, including a scatter of "Debt vs Interest
Rates, 2008-2011" which shows that highly indebted Eurozone countries
are indeed in trouble, but hardly anyone else is. We're told we should
fear a high debt/GDP ratio because such a thing would bring high interest
rates, but Japan's ratio is 218 percent and its interest rate is 0.67%,
so? James Galbraith offers a scenario where government debt could keep
growing indefinitely with no real adverse effects.
MJ Rosenberg: My Position on a Fair Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian
It's time Israel read the handwriting on the wall. It should stop any
expansion of settlements and fully end the blockade of Gaza, as first
step towards acknowledging its new situation. Those actions alone would
restore its friendship with Turkey. And it should acknowledge through
words and deed that it is ready for negotiations based on the Arab League
Negotiations won't start now, in the midst of the current turbulence
in Syria and elsewhere. But Israel needs to be ready as soon as the dust
settles. Additionally, it should end its threats toward Iran and let the
Obama administration know that it favors lifting sanctions in return for
tangible steps by Iran toward ensuring that its nuclear program is a
civilian program and will remain one. Currently it supports "crippling
sanctions" until Iran give up its right to any form of nuclear development.
That simply won't fly.
All those who care about the survival and security of Israel should
encourage it to take these steps. It is no act of friendship to encourage
Israel to dig in when the tides of history are running against it.
I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately. My bottom line is
that I'm agreeable to anything Israel might conceivably agree to that
ultimately provides for equal rights for everyone somewhere. That could
be the Arab League plan, and there is good reason adopting it because
most of the concessions Israel could reasonably ask for have already
been included. Or it could be something else, maybe something way out
of the box. But it isn't going to happen, because Israel doesn't feel
the need to agree to anything, because they feel like they're in charge,
and they're convinced time is working for them. (Richard Ben Cramer had
a story about a rabbi who promised to teach a dog to talk, who keeps
begging for more time even though he knows he can't do it. Why, in the
face of such a hopeless task, do you stall for time, he is asked? The
answer: well, maybe the dog will die.)
You can imagine Israel as being split between two types of Jews. One
follows only their own counsel, convinced that the world is ultimately
against them, and that "only what the Jews do matters." Such people are
condemned to fight forever, and they see any attempt to accommodate the
rest of the world as letting their guard down, inviting destruction.
The other feels that Israel can be part of a world at peace, at least
with the support of critical allies. Indeed, Israel has depended on
foreign support throughout the history of the Zionist movement: first
from Britain, then Russia, France, and finally the United States. That
group of Jews can be pressed into concessions if the world, especially
the US, applies enough pressure. (Of course, there is also a third
group of Jews -- those with a conscience -- but they don't seem to
have any practical influence within Israel, even though the number of
people who would like to think of themselves as in this group may be
What's happened, at least since Bush came to power in 2001, is that
the second group hasn't experienced any pressure to come around, so
they've naturally deferred to the first group. Nor has Clinton or
Obama been able or willing to apply any real pressure -- the fact that
both primarily operated through an Israeli flack name of Dennis Ross
attests to their lack of seriousness, erudition, and even self-respect.
Meanwhile, first group leaders like Sharon and Netanyahu learned to
feign enough flexibility to deflect half-hearted US efforts, all the
while digging in deeper.
It is clear that world public opinion is turning against Israel.
What isn't clear is whether as opinion turns there will be a moment
when the US and Europe resolve to put effective pressure on Israel
to make peace, nor is it clear that the second group of Israeli Jews
can coalesce and take charge of Israel to do what needs to be done.
If either fails the long run will be bleak indeed, with the first
group controlling an Israel that is estranged from the world and
locked in mortal combat with those it tramples, and the world as
a whole will be a far nastier place.
Rosenberg has the right idea here -- not so much the details as
the notion that it is urgent for constructive groups both in Israel
and the US to come forward, otherwise they're likely to perish
under the hawks that currently dominate both. (I also think it is
fair to say that the Palestinians have never been more accomodating
in their search for peace -- unless you insist on inequal treatment
and denying their human rights, they are not at present the
Sunday, March 10. 2013
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week, but
first, today's Crowson:
Paul Krugman: What the Malaysians Know: Quotes several cases where
right-wingers, including the Heritage Foundation, have switched tunes
and started praising Malaysia -- after money changed hands:
It seems that some years ago Malaysia's ruling party took a good look
at leading pundits and policy intellectuals in the conservative movement,
reached a judgment about their personal and intellectual integrity or
lack thereof, and acted in accordance with that judgment.
Funny how Malaysia gets who these people are and what motivates them --
while our own press corps doesn't.
Matthew Yglesias: Ben Bernanke Has a Terrible Record on Inflation:
Testifying before Congress recently, Ben Bernanke bragged, "my inflation
record is the best of any Federal Reserve chairman in the postwar period,
or at least one of the best, about 2 percent average inflation."
Catherine Rampell's numbers show that Bernanke has, in fact, delivered
the lowest inflation of any postwar Fed chair, coming in at an average of
2 percent. On the other hand, Floyd Norris notes that unemployment under
Bernanke has been second-highest of any postwar Federal Reserve chairman.
Now if you ignore the "postwar" qualifier, the picture looks different.
Several Depression-era Fed chairs had less inflation and more unemployment
than Bernanke. And putting those Depression-era bankers into the mix serves
to highlight how absurd Bernanke's bust is. No sensible person would look
at America's economic performance in the 1929-1933 period and say "man,
they did a great job of fighting inflation."
I've often remarked on how dumb I thought it was for Obama to nominate
Bernanke for a second term as Fed Chairman: if he's going to be blamed
for a depressed economy, and he was, Obama should at least insist on
putting his own man in charge of the one government job that has the
most day-to-day impact on the economy, but he succumbed to a wave of
hype and renominated Bush's man, and got Bush's economy in the bargain.
Seems unlikely that Bernanke will get a third term, not so much because
Obama's finally decided to appoint people who will help but because the
Republicans have developed a huge grudge against Bernanke for trying
to do anything at all to expand the economy. Bottom line, though, is
that he didn't try much, it didn't work very well, and he has yet to
show any visible displeasure with the results.
Also take a gander at
Businessweek Warns That Minorities May Be Buying Houses Again.
Isn't the real story here in the fine print: "Flips. No-look bids. 300
percent returns. What could possibly go wrong?" That says much more about
the failure of Dodd-Frank to end the practices that caused the housing
bubble and recession in the first place.
Also, a few links for further study:
Steven Brill: Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:
Extensive reporting on how hospitals, doctors, etc., rack up charges
to individuals far in excess of what they charge insurance companies
and Medicare; e.g.:
Dozens of midpriced items were embedded with similarly aggressive markups,
like $283.00 for a "CHEST, PA AND LAT 71020." That's a simple chest X-ray,
for which MD Anderson is routinely paid $20.44 when it treats a patient on
Medicare, the government health care program for the elderly.
Also see Paul Krugman
here for a sanity check on the conclusions. From the latter:
So why does Obamacare run through the private sector? Raw political
necessity: this was the only way that it could get past the insurance
industry's power. OK, that was how it had to be.
But you should really be outraged at the efforts of some states to
ensure that the Medicaid expansion is done not via direct government
insurance but run through the insurance industry. What you need to
understand is that this is a double giveaway, both to the insurers
and to the health care industry, because private insurers don't have
the government's bargaining power. It is, bluntly, purely a matter
of corporate welfare for the medical-industrial complex.
Tim Dickinson: The Gun Industry's Deadly Addiction: Hook the kids,
seduce the ladies, turn shooting ranges into live-action video games,
prep the preppers, supply cartels and criminals.
Henry Farrell: Slaves of Defunct Economists: Review of Mark Blyth:
Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (2013, Oxford University
Press). Normally we like to believe that growth is good for all, even if
its promotion is lavished on business (the job creators get profits, the
jobs trickle down). In other words, the growth paradigm is to suck profits
up the class scale. What austerity does is push losses down, making sure
they are suffered as much or more by the masses as by the rich. Sharing
the misery seems to comfort the rich, probably because it isn't shared
John Quiggin: Open Thread on Hugo Chavez: The comments here are often
as good or better than the pieces. PlutoniumKun seems to have a good start:
The problem with Chavez is that it was so hard to see past his charisma
and ego. His anti-Americanism was justified in many ways, but the manner
in which this extended to supporting the likes of Ahmadinejad and Assad
was less endearing, although I suppose its no worse than considering the
house of al Saud to be a friend. He was good at the broad brush, but it
seems that he wasn't particularly good at building up the internal
structures which Venezuela so badly needed to ensure his reforms had
long term benefits. I fear that he has not left a lasting legacy of
deep structural reform in governance in Venezuela, something which it
desperately needs. Although arguably the problems are so deep rooted
that they are unfixable. But it is absolutely unquestionable for anyone
who has looked at the recent history of Venezuela that his policies
greatly benefited the poor and dispossessed and that he gave great
pride to many South Americans.
Amir-Hussein Firouz Radjy: A Forgotten Anniversary: Iran's First
Revolution and Constitution: December 1906, when the Qajar
monarchy gave way to a first effort at democracy in Iran.
Dennis B Ross: To Achieve Mideast Peace, Suspend Disbelief:
Proposes 14 steps, evenly divided as if the obstacles to peace are
evenly distributed. For the Palestinians, these tasks reduce to
wait patiently and pretend this is working. For Israel, he wants
to step down from further settlement expansion -- a non-starter
with the current government not that he says so nor suggests any
remedy to -- and tread a bit lighter. The silliest proposal is to
"commit to an exchange of classrooms or regular youth exchanges
starting as early as third grade" to mitigate against "children
on each side are being . . . being socialized to
demonize and dehumanize the other." This is typical Ross: a nice
liberal idea that will take forever and accomplish nothing. He
forgets that the main attraction of the "two state" plan is that
it doesn't require either side to like or even forgive the other,
and that it's tolerable now only because the separation it assumes
has been accomplished, for the most part long ago. Otherwise, if
Israelis accepted Palestinians they could implement a "one state"
equal-rights solution on their own, immediately. That they don't --
that they won't even consider the possibility -- shows that they
won't: that they are too wrapped up in their insistence on ethnic
rule and the violent suppression of others to conceive of living
in an equitable society.
Sunday, February 24. 2013
Didn't pay much attention to the world last week -- too preoccupied
digging out from the biggest snowstorm to hit Wichita since 1962 -- so
I scrambled a bit today. Turns out there's plenty to get worked up about,
and this barely scratches the surface:
Brad DeLong quotes
Josh Barro: Why We Need Republicans:
Democrats make their own errors in evaluating the
economy . . . Republicans have an often-healthy
skepticism of regulation . . . When they try,
Republicans can make government more
efficient . . . Republicans aren't all out to
lunch . . . Republicans are succeeding in states where
their national brand is severely damaged tends to be that their
state-level policy agendas are markedly better than the party's
This sounds like wishful thinking going back to the 1970s or 1980s
when Reagan's "11th Commandment" allowed some moderate, pragmatic
Republicans to run "good government" campaigns, notably winning some
mayoral campaigns in solidly Democratic cities (New York, Los Angeles,
Cleveland, etc.), governorships in Massachusetts and New York, etc.
Even in Kansas, where Republicans didn't have to appeal to Democratic
voters, a long string of moderate Republicans were reasonably competent
stewards of government. (I loathed Bob Dole going all the way back to
his House days, and never forgave him for his scurilous campaigns
against Bill Avery and Bill Roy, but even he came to be seen as a
Republican with enough sense of responsibility and reality to deal
with real national problems.) But none of this stuff is remotely true
Democrats do have weak spots in "evaluating the economy" -- they're
much too fond of finance and high-tech as growth engines -- but the
Republicans have thrown out the entirety of macroeconomics, pushing
an austerity program that seems gleefully self-destructive. Their
"often-healthy skepticism of regulation" is at best a minor merit,
and is often expressed in absolute excess. (For instance, there is
no evidence that environmental regulations in oil and gas are too
strict -- Deepwater Horizon is just one counterexample.) Far more
important is an effort to restore losses in equal opportunity, to
reinforce the safety net that protects ordinary people from ravages
of the (increasingly laissez faire) business cycle, and maintenance
and expansion of public goods like infrastructure and science.
While there is some evidence that Republicans become marginally
saner in power, that's getting to be little comfort. When Republicans
gained state power in 2010 from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, they did
nothing to make government more efficient much less fair; they spent
all their efforts attacking public employee unions and trying to rig
voting in their favor. And Kansas, under Sam Brownback, has gone from
being a boring Republican fiefdom to a dangerous experiment in how
badly mismanaged government can become. (One example is that the Koch
Brothers are now exempt from paying state income taxes because they're
Maybe if the Republicans actually had the sort of influence the
idiocy of their policies deserved -- down around 10-15% of voters,
which is still pretty generous considering how many fewer people
would actually benefit from their policies -- it might make sense
to try to cheer them up a bit. But now isn't the time. And given
how frequently they vote in lockstep in Congress, the notion that
there are other Republicans elsewhere who aren't so embarrassing
isn't much comfort. For all practical purposes, the Republican
mind these days ranges from Cantor to Ryan, a diversity that's
harder to calculate than all those angels on pins.
Also see this
No More Mister Nice Blog piece on Kansas.
Also, a few links for further study:
Jelani Cobb: Lincoln Died for Our Sins: "The greatest impediment
to achieving racial equality is the narcotic belief that we already
have." Also see
Thomas Frank: Team America for its jaundiced view of Doris
Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of
Abraham Lincoln. Both of these touch on Steve Spielberg's
film Lincoln, which I have yet to see. In the end, Frank
If you really want to explore compromise, corruption, and the ideology
of money-in-politics, don't stack the deck with aces of unquestionable
goodness like the Thirteenth Amendment. Give us the real deal. Look the
monster in the eyes. Make a movie about the Grant Administration, in
which several of the same characters who figure in Lincoln played a
role in the most corrupt era in American history. Or show us the people
who pushed banking deregulation through in the compromise-worshipping
Clinton years. And then, after ninety minutes of that, try to sell us
on the merry japes of those lovable lobbyists -- that's a task for a
Chuck Eddy: Mindy McCready: When the Angels Stopped Watching.
Mike Konczal: How Is Inequality Holding Back the Recovery: Follows
Joseph E Stiglitz: Inequality Is Holding Back the Recovery, with
links to Paul Krugman and John Judis, and some twists.
Andrew Leonard: Conservatives Declare War on College: Notably,
governors Scott Walker (WI), Rick Perry (TX), and Rick Scott (FL):
cut funding, cut costs, purge humanities from the curriculum.
Mark Perry: Elliot Abrams' Plan to Divide the Palestinians:
On the 2006 coup that Fatah attempted against Hamas in Gaza, which
led to Hamas seizing power in Gaza and Israel, Egypt, and the US
blockading Gaza and driving it to the brink of catastrophe. That
was just one of many brainfarts from the ever fertile mind of one
of the few people who actually got convicted for Reagan's illegal
Iran-Contra scheme. He was later rehabilitated by G.W. Bush and
given responsibility for the Middle East, and, well, you know how
that turned out. Abrams has a new book out, promsing an inside
look at the Bush era in the Middle East, and he should know, but
he's never shown any awareness of how badly his ideas have worked
out, nor much interest in expressing his motives. But no one has
done more in the last 10-15 years to make peace impossible. He
is a one-man axis of evil, or if you insist on three, remember
that he was the inevitable go-between of G.W. Bush and Ariel
Annie Robbins: Autopsy Reveals Arafat Jaradat Died of Extreme Torture
in Israeli Custody: As I recall, some years ago Israel's Supreme Court
ruled that Israel could not practice torture of prisoners, but this is
more evidence (beyond the Zygier affair reported last week) that the
cuffs are off. One commenter writes: "you do get the impression that
Israel is deliberately trying to provoke another intifada, to provide
cover for god knows what."
Alyssa Rosenberg: As George Tiller's Wichita Clinic Reopens, 'After Tiller'
Reframes the Abortion Debate: After Dr. Tiller was murdered, Wichita
lost its only women's health clinic that provided abortions of any kind.
One of Tiller's former associates is working to open another clinic in
Wichita, and may succeed despite an extraordinary amount of legal and
extra-legal harrassment. (The KS legislature has even more anti-abortion
bills on the way, including one to convict doctors of a felony if a woman
decides to abort based on the sex of the child.) Piece also talks about a
documentary, After Tiller, which goes into the late-term abortions
that Tiller was one of the very few doctors in the country able (and
willing) to perform. The new clinic in Wichita will not help on that
front, but will fill a need and restore a right. It's a shame that it
takes such heroic dedication to do something so basically just.
Matthew Yglesias: Steve Brill's Opus on Health Care: Brill's piece in
Time is the further study, but Yglesias' summary should be quoted here
and now (his italics):
The analytic core of the article shows that when it comes to hospital
prices, who pays determines how high the price is. When an individual
patient comes through the door of a hospital for treatment, he or she is
subjected to wild price gouging. Insane markups are posted on everything
from acetaminophen, to advanced cancer drugs, to blankets, to routine
procedures. Because these treatments are so profitable, internal systems
within the hospital are geared toward prescribing lots of them. And even
though most hospitals are organized as non-profits, most of them in fact
turn large operating profits and their executives are well-paid.
In addition to providing insurance services, a key service that a
proper health insurance company provides is bargaining with hospitals
so you get screwed less. No insurer worth anything would actually pay
the crazy-high rates hospitals charge to individuals. But in most markets,
the hospitals have more bargaining leverage than the insurance companies,
so there's still ample gouging. The best bargainer of all is Medicare,
which is huge and can force hospitals to accept something much closer to
marginal cost pricing, although even this is undermined in key areas
(prescription drugs, for example) by interest group lobbying.
I can see two reasonable policy conclusions to draw from this, neither
of which Brill embraces. One is that Medicare should cover everyone,
just as Canadian Medicare does. Taxes would be higher, but overall health
care spending would be much lower since universal Medicare could push the
unit cost of services way down. The other would be to adopt all-payer
rate setting rules -- aka price controls -- keeping the insurance
market largely private, but simply pushing the prices down. Most European
countries aren't single-payer, but do use price controls. Even Singapore,
which is often touted by U.S. conservatives as a market-oriented
forced-savings alternative to a universal health insurance system,
relies heavily on price controls to keep costs down.
Yglesias also affirms common sense that
Raising the Minimum Wage Is Overwhelmingly Popular.
Sunday, February 17. 2013
Haven't run one of these in more than a month (and I'm backdating this
one -- had it collected but didn't finish it due to an achey back):
Paul Krugman: Hearsay Economics: Chart here shows that federal
government total expenditures has basically remain flat since 2009
when the stimulus ran out, contrary to the opinions of Joe Scarborough
(and many others):
Well, I've gradually come to the realization that most of the commentariat
doesn't do what, say Martin Wolf or I do -- grub around in published data,
read reports, and all that. Instead, they rely on what they heard somebody
say the facts are; hearsay economics. Of course, they don't listen to any
old bum on the street; they listen to people of repute, people in their
circle. But the repute in question has nothing to do with technical
expertise; hey, Admiral Mullen is a serious person, so if he says something
on any subject, such as economics, it must be solid.
And where do the reputable people get their information? Why, it's
what they heard somebody in their circle say. It's hearsay economics all
the way down.
You can see how this leads to the incestuous amplification I've written
about. Everyone they know -- tous le monde, as Tom Wolfe used to say --
says that we have exploding spending and the deficit is a crucial problem.
How could it not be true?
Krugman has the same chart framed more explicitly
here: as federal spending relative to potential GDP.
Yitzhak Laor: Israel needs to be threatened by international sanctions:
From Haaretz, quoted by War in Context:
The tendency to blame the Palestinians for failing to compromise is part
of the colonialist hauteur. We imprison Palestinians, torture, steal,
spread out on their land and ask them to compromise with us? In the name
of what? In the name of fear of the extreme right?
Now Avigdor Lieberman comes along and declares that a comprehensive
peace deal with the Palestinians is impossible and everyone is silent.
The Palestinians are actually offering a peace deal. The big obstacle
and the one that grows from year to year is the settlement enterprise,
which promises that no solution will be achieved until it sinks us all.
In order to put pressure on the government, it is worthwhile learning
from Beitar Jerusalem and its fans' racist war: The fear of international
sanctions work. The time has come to encourage the international community
to fight Israeli intransigence and pressure Israel to give up on the
occupied territories and its residents, who lack a voice from the
perspective of our democracy.
I think one can make this argument more emphatically. Due to various
political factors, Israeli politics is in a right-wing death spiral --
the Palestinians have been utterly marginalized as a possible influence
on Israeli behavior, and no Israeli faction is able to resist the drive
toward expanding the settlement or using brute force as the answer to
to every problem. The only way to moderate Israeli policy is to hold up
a standard of morality and impress that onto public consciousness, and
one effective way to do that short of violence is sanctions.
Chase Madar: Government Persecution, From Aaron Swartz to Bradley Manning:
"Prosecutors destroy a life." That could be a headline in every newspaper
every day in a land where the answer to every problem (and many nonproblems)
is police and prisons. When 26-year-old Internet prodigy and freedom of
information activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide on January 11, the
tragedy was the direct result of US attorneys deciding to throw criminal
charges at him for violating a website's "terms of services" while accessing
publicly subsidized academic research. [ . . . ]
The Justice Department's legal assault on Swartz is of a vindictive
piece with the prosecution of others who have carried important information
into the public realm. Front and center is 25-year-old Bradley Manning, the
Iraq War enlistee accused of being WikiLeaks's source in the military. The
restricted foreign policy documents that Manning allegedly released don't
amount to even 1 percent of the 92 million items the government classified
last year, but the young private faces life in prison at his court-martial
in June for the charge, among twenty-one others, of "aiding the enemy."
Then there's Jeremy Hammond, age 28, who in his freshman year at the
University of Illinois hacked the computer science department's home page,
then told them how they could fix its problem. He got thrown out of school
for that; now he's in a federal prison facing thirty-nine years to life,
charged with various hacks and leaks (all apparently led by an FBI informant)
including the 5 million internal e-mails of Stratfor, a private security
firm hired by corporations to surveil private citizens, among other
I don't know enough about Swartz to write intelligently about him.
There are aspects of "hacker culture" that I deeply disapprove of, but
I have no doubt that the public would be better off if government and
corporations had far less leeway to keep secret the information that
is needed to check their excess powers. It would be better if this
were done through a public policy that would limit possible excesses --
a system that would reliably redact info that should remain private --
but lacking any such policy I can't help but sympathasize with those
who act in the public interest now. Swartz seems to have done that
more often than not, putting him in a long and honorable tradition.
That leads us to the prosecutor, who appears to have abused his
power and misjudged this case, tragically. I suspect this is part of
a deeper cultural problem -- everything in the system selects for
hardline prosecutors, which is part of the reason America jails so
many people for so long -- but it's rarely so glaring as in cases
over the unauthorized leak of information the public needs (e.g.,
the Bradley Manning case).
Another paragraph from Madar which is sort of tangential here but
Circulation of knowledge is a social justice issue, too. Dean Baker
estimates that reforming the patent law regime for pharmaceuticals --
currently a system that guarantees Big Pharma's monopolies -- would
shrink annual spending on prescription drugs from $300 billion to
$30 billion, a savings some five times the annual cost of Bush's tax
cut for the richest 2 percent. Meanwhile, grotesquely prolonged
copyrights for literary and artistic properties are fencing off the
cultural commons, a boot on the throat of a generation's creative voice.
Andrew Leonard: Aaron Swartz, Freedom Fighter.
Also, a few links for further study:
Paul Krugman: The Japan Story: Various points, including that Japanese
output per age 15-64 worker hasn't been nearly as bad as they'd like you
to think (1.2% growth per year), that this has happened despite persistence
of a long-term liquidity trap, and that government macroeconomic policy has
never been as willing to permit inflation as it should have been.
Jamie Malanowski: Richard Ben Cramer, 1950-2012: Recalls the late
journalist's much bruited book on the 1988 presidential campaign,
What It Takes, regarded by many as the best-ever campaign book,
certainly much more ambitious than anything before or since. Doesn't
mention Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions, which I
have read and regard as the single best book on Israel's neverending
conflict with its people and neighbors -- in large part because it
locates the conflict not in every side's wrongs in the past but in
the fear of a future without the reassuring identities of the present
Josh Marshall: Speaking for My Tribe: on guns, and the author's
phobia of them -- one that I share, so I'm reluctant to describe the
fear as irrational. Also:
Not for Everyone: "I do not want to be in a bar, in a mall, at a
school -- and I do not want my children in those places -- where lots
of even well-meaning but absolutely ordinary people have fire arms."
Karen Narefsky: Why Does the US Postal Service Have to Be Profitable?
Good question. Sub: "Losses have forced the USPS to cut back on its
services, and we have only our fetish for privatization to blame."
This would be a good place to drop a brilliant quote from Bill Bryson's
Notes From a Small Island if I could find it quickly, but the
gist is that there are things that government should do even if they
aren't cost-effective -- indeed, given the profit imperative of business,
only government can provide for goods and services that business can't.
The USPS is actually a mixed case: some things it does are good business,
and some aren't.
Joseph Stiglitz: Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth: Mostly
talks about education, since education has long been touted as the
path for lower/middle-class youths to advance and since higher
education has become more and more expensive and inaccessible
over the last few decades. Still, there's much more to the story:
I think the superrich sense that there are fewer slots at the top,
and have been closing ranks to keep what's left in the hands of
their heirs. Conversely, the penalties for starting out poor are
becoming more slippery and severe. Just because a Bill Clinton
or a Barack Obama can slip through the gauntlet doesn't offer much
encouragement, as so few of us have their instinct or knack for
sucking up to power.
Matt Taibbi: Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail: Focuses on
HSBC, engaged in "drug-and-terrorism money-laundering" as well as
the usual financial shenanigans.
Paul Woodward: The Zygier Affair: One of many posts at this
site on Ben Zygier, an Australian who worked for Mossad, crossed
them, was kidnapped by them, then died in an Israeli prison.
Probably a real story there. While on the subject, some posts
say all they need in the title:
If it's time to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, it's
also time to include Mossad.
Sunday, December 2. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
William Astore: Generals Behaving Badly: Among other things,
this answers one question I've been wondering about: how damn many
generals (and admirals) are there?
America's military is astonishingly top heavy, with 945 generals and
admirals on active duty as of March 2012. That's one flag-rank officer
for every 1,500 officers and enlisted personnel. With one general for
every 1,000 airmen, the Air Force is the worst offender, but the Navy
and Army aren't far behind. For example, the Army has 10 active-duty
divisions -- and 109 major generals to command them. Between September
2001 and April 2011, the military actually added another 93 generals
and admirals to its ranks (including 37 of the three- or four-star
variety). The glut extends to the ranks of full colonel (or, in the
Navy, captain). The Air Force has roughly 100 active-duty combat
wings -- and 3,712 colonels to command them. The Navy has 285 ships --
and 3,335 captains to command them. Indeed, today’s Navy has nearly
as many admirals (245 as of March 2012) as ships.
Any high-ranking officer worth his or her salt wants to command,
but this glut has contributed to their rapid rotation in and out of
command -- five Afghan war commanders in five years, for instance --
disrupting any hopes for command continuity. The situation also
breeds cutthroat competition for prestige slots and allows patterns
of me-first careerism to flourish.
Justin Elliott: Have US Drones Become a "Counterinsurgency Air Force"
for Our Allies?: US drone strikes have killed about 2500 people
since Obama became president. Some of those were "high value targets"
that have been publicized, but most weren't. (The number works out
to about two per day.)
Under the Obama administration, officials have argued that the drone
strikes are only hitting operational Al Qaeda leaders or people who
posed significant and imminent threats to the U.S. homeland. If you
actually look at the vast majority of people who have been targeted
by the United States, that's not who they are.
There are a couple pieces of data showing this. Peter Bergen of
the New America Foundation has done estimates on who among those
killed could be considered "militant leaders" either of the
Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, or Al Qaeda. Under the Bush
administration, about 30 percent of those killed could be considered
militant leaders. Under Obama, that figure is only 13 percent.
Most of the people who are killed don't have as their objective
to strike the U.S. homeland. Most of the people who are killed by
drones want to impose some degree of sharia law where they live,
they want to fight a defensive jihad against security service and
the central government, or they want to unseat what they perceive
as an apostate regime that rules their country.
Robert Reich: Wal-Mart and McDonald's: What's Wrong with U.S.
Employment: "The walkouts were no coincidence. Low wages are
strangling the economy."
Jobs are slowly returning to America, but most of them pay lousy wages
and low if non-existent benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates
that 7 out of 10 growth occupations over the next decade will be low-wage --
like serving customers at big-box retailers and fast-food chains. That's
why the median wage keeps dropping, especially for the 80 percent of the
workforce that's paid by the hour.
It's also part of the reason why the percent of Americans living below
the poverty line has been increasing even as the economy has started to
recover -- from 12.3 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2011. More than 46
million Americans now live below the poverty line.
Many of them have jobs. The problem is that these jobs just don't pay
enough to lift their families out of poverty.
[ . . . ]
The wealth of the Walton family -- which still owns the lion's share
of Wal-Mart stock -- now exceeds the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of
American families combined, according to an analysis by the Economic
Last week, Wal-Mart announced that the next Wal-Mart dividend will be
issued on December 27 instead of January 2, after the Bush tax cut for
dividends expires -- thereby saving the Wal-Mart family as much as $180
million. (According to the online weekly "Too Much," this $180 million
would be enough to give 72,000 Wal-Mart workers now making $8 an hour
a 20-percent annual pay hike. That hike would still leave those workers
under the poverty line for a family of three.)
Reich reminds us that in Paul Ryan's Republican budget 62 percent
of spending cuts fall on the poor. But it's hard to see just how much
can be squeezed there: one key thing that spending does is to make it
possible for workers to work for less, so you might as well view the
"safety net" as a bizarre form of subsidy for low-wage employers. Take
that away and what happens? Hard to say, but it's already ugly, and
getting worse. Businesses feel pressure mostly from their financial
backers to push wages down, but that in turn pushes the buying power
of the economy down, which increases those financial pressures (as
if sheer greed wasn't enough), into a form of death spiral. It's one
of those trends that can't go on forever without something breaking
Also, for further study:
Bruce Bartlett: Revenge of the Reality-Based Community: Oh, to be
young and Republican again. Well, not really. I had pretty much written
him off as a possibly useful source after his series of special pleading
books, but I saw him on TV recently and no one -- and on a panel where
everyone was respectable or better -- managed to be so sharp and pointed.
This piece explains how he got to where he is now, a combination of push
(revulsion over George W. Bush) and pull (realization that Paul Krugman
is always right). Still, he probably does still yearn to be young and
Republican again: he just knows that neither are possible.
Sunday, November 25. 2012
Some scattered links I collected over the previous week:
John Cassidy: Gaza: More Funerals, More Questions: A thoughtful
piece putting the small picture in big picture context.
As is often the case in Israel, some of the most enlightening commentary
is coming from former intelligence officers and members of the armed
forces, who have learned the hard way the limits of military action.
Writing in Monday's Financial Times, Efraim Halevy, the former
head of Mossad, noted that the operation, although militarily successful,
could have unanticipated and negative effects, such as strengthening Hamas'
standing in the Arab world and causing unrest in countries friendly to
Israel, such as Egypt and Jordan. If it doesn't want to become increasingly
isolated, Israel will have to "contribute to an Egyptian-crafted and
American-supported formula for the region," Halevy wrote. And moreover:
"Israel will have to do what no government has done before: determine a
comprehensive strategy on the future of Gaza and its 2m inhabitants."
It's worth noting that these are issues that didn't need a war to
discover, and can't be fixed by war -- although some people evidently
need to be reminded of war's futility before they're willing to move
on and do something constructive. The Israeli exes are always a good
case in point: invariably, they rose through the ranks by being hawks,
only to discover by their retirement that they hadn't accomplished a
Helena Cobban: West Point Military Historian Denies the Net Value
of a Decade of War: Cites a
New York Times piece by Elisabeth Bumiller on Col. Gian Gentile,
a name I've run across in several books on Iraq. Bumiller writes:
Narrowly, the argument is whether the counterinsurgency strategy used
in Iraq and Afghanistan -- the troop-heavy, time-intensive, expensive
doctrine of trying to win over the locals by building roads, schools
and government -- is dead.
Broadly, the question is what the United States gained after a
decade in two wars.
"Not much," Col. Gian P. Gentile, the director of West Point's
military history program and the commander of a combat battalion in
Baghdad in 2006, said flatly in an interview last week. "Certainly
not worth the effort. In my view."
Colonel Gentile, long a critic of counterinsurgency, represents
one side of the divide at West Point. On the other is Col. Michael
J. Meese, the head of the academy's influential social sciences
department and a top adviser to General Petraeus in Baghdad and
Kabul when General Petraeus commanded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
[ . . . ]
The debate at West Point mirrors one under way in the armed forces
as a whole as the United States withdraws without clear victory from
Afghanistan and as the results in Iraq remain ambiguous at best. (On
the ABC News program "This Week" on Sunday, the defense secretary,
Leon E. Panetta, called the Taliban "resilient" after 10 and a half
years of war.)
But at West Point the debate is personal, and a decade of statistics --
more than 6,000 American service members dead in Iraq and Afghanistan
and more than $1 trillion spent -- hit home.
[ . . . ]
In Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal so aggressively pushed
the doctrine when he was the top commander there that troops complained
they had to hold their firepower. General Petraeus issued guidelines
that clarified that troops had the right to self-defense when he took
over, but by then counterinsurgency had attracted powerful critics,
chief among them Mr. Biden and veteran military officers who denigrated
it as armed nation building.
When Mr. Obama announced last June that he would withdraw by the end
of this summer the 30,000 additional troops he sent to Afghanistan --
earlier than the military wanted or expected -- the doctrine seemed to
be on life support. General Petraeus has since become director of the
Central Intelligence Agency, where his mission is covertly killing the
enemy, not winning the people.
Cobban, of course, didn't have to do the math to figure out that
the "war on terror" wasn't worth it. It never is. Cobban talks more
about Syria and Iran: countries that the US threatened to invade from
Iraq in 2003, and which are still in the warmongers' planning book.
Elsewhere, she's trying to raise money to get Gareth Porter to
write what promises to be an important book on Iran: Manufactured
Crisis: The Secret History of the Iranian Nuclear Scare. She
Obama Admin Willfully Blind on Gaza Crisis?.
Juan Cole: Top Ten Steps That Are Necessary for Lasting Gaza-Israeli
Peace (or, Good Luck!): Most of this is basic and should not be
controversial. I would emphasize that every Palestinian should be a
citizen with full and equal rights wherever he or she resides. If,
in any given locale, Israel does not offer such citizenship, that
locale should be completely independent of Israel, with a democracy
established there and freedom to trade and travel with the rest of
the world. And while, as a practical matter, I think it is Israel's
choice what to keep and what to discard, a Palestinian state in the
West Bank must be contiguous, have external borders, and control of
its own air space in order to be completely independent, so not just
any arbitrary whim would work there. (Return to the 1967 borders
would work, and is preferable for many other reasons.) Also, it is
important to recognize that whoever wins elections in Palestine
should be absolved of any past "terrorist" associations. Indeed,
that's pretty much the norm throughout the world, where there have
been many leaders of independence movements who were once branded
terrorists but wound up as respectable heads of state -- Menachem
Begin and Yitzhak Shamir are two who somehow come to mind.
Cole's blog, by the way, has numerous pieces since this one on
Egyptian President Morsi's executive power grab, which instantly
turned him from the hero of the Gaze cease fire to anti-democratic
demon. It certainly looks like he overreached, but bear in mind
that thus far the only targets of Morsi's efforts have been residual
elements of the Mubarak dictatorship.
Gershom Gorenberg: Israel's New Gaza Mess: Israel's strategy
of acting unilaterally, as opposed to negotiating, is inherently
unstable, in large part because it lets each side choose its own
favored narrative, whereas agreements bind both sides to a common
resolution. Case in point: Israel's unilateral withdrawal from
Gaza in 2005, which Hamas viewed as vindicating their militancy,
Fatah regarded as a step toward negotiation, and Sharon saw as a
way of simplifying the firing zone.
Of course, those talks never happened. Sharon chose a unilateral
pullout precisely to avoid peace negotiations, since they could
only succeed if Israel agreed to leave nearly all of the West Bank
as well. As he planned, disengagement squelched interest in Israel
in the Geneva Accord, the model for a peace agreement unofficially
hammered out by Palestinians and Israelis. As one of Sharon's top
advisers predicted, the disengagement put President George W. Bush's
roadmap for peace "in formaldehyde." It allowed Sharon to evade
the challenge posed by Mahmud Abbas's accession to the Palestinian
presidency: Abbas very publicly wanted (and wants) to negotiate
Palestinian independence in the West Bank and Gaza.
Sharon believed that Israel could safely leave Gaza without peace,
and without the security arrangements of a peace agreement. Israeli
military power and its control of Gaza's borders would deter
He was mistaken. What failed was not withdrawal from occupied
territory. The failure was doing so unilaterally. Abbas's unfulfilled
promise of diplomatic progress contributed to Hamas's victory over
Fatah in the 2006 legislative election. That was the first step in
the chain reaction leading to the violent split in the Palestinian
Authority, the Hamas takeover of Gaza, and all that has followed.
[ . . . ]
Dealing with Gaza, one American option is to promote rather than
block creation of a Palestinian unity government. Another is to push
to extend the indirect Israel-Hamas negotiation of recent days in
Cairo, and aim at turning Gaza into a Taiwan-style non-state: able
to claim all of Palestine as long as it does nothing about it, able
to develop free of the Israeli blockade.
MJ Rosenberg: Ugly Senate Gaza Resolution, and
Ceasefire Agreement: What It Means: The two posts mostly quote core
documents, providing a neat summary of Israel's latest Gaza war. I started
to write a post on the former, which shows how completely Congress has
given up both mind and heart to AIPAC. If you follow their subservience
through, the logical conclusion is that the US can have no foreign policy
of its own in the Middle East -- we should just let Israel call the shots.
It's not clear what exactly Obama and Clinton did in the run up to a cease
fire agreement that they graciously let Egypt take credit and blame for,
but despite some lame and embarrassing statements[*], they don't seem to
have goaded Israel on, like Bush and Rice did with Lebanon in 2006. I
don't see any winners in war, but will note that faces in Israel were
most often glum after the cease fire while those in Gaza were jubilant.
The ugly blood lust spewed by right-wing Israelis wasn't even attempted[**],
and the "significant degradation" of the rocket arsenal in Gaza was mostly
accomplished by provoking "militant" groups in Gaza to fire the rockets
harmlessly over the wall. But it wasn't really the resolve of either side
that endured or failed. The cease fire validates the new normal, which
is mostly the result of Egypt's revolution opening up the Gaza border,
putting an end to Israel's stranglehold over "the world's largest outdoor
[*] Aren't you sick of hearing about "Israel's right to defend itself,"
especially when that claim is used to justify attacking others? Rockets
from Gaza were a nuisance this year, but had killed zero Israelis until
Israel started this operation, which provoked the firing of over 1,450
rockets, resulting in six Israeli deaths -- all of which could have been
avoided by relaxing the blockade that had been strangling 1.7 million
people in Gaza. By Israel's same logic, Mexico would have been more than
justified using F-16s to bomb gun shops in Arizona and Texas.
[**] Israel killed 189 Palestinians (Israel's own stats say 177), a
senseless and totally unnecessary number -- far below the 1,417 killed
during Operation Cast Lead in 2008. Six Israelis were killed: two soldiers
and four civilians. Injuries, of course, were far more numerous. On the
last day, 21 Israelis were injured (none killed) by a bomb on a Tel Aviv
bus -- the first such bombing in eight years. Whether this bombing or
the use of more powerful, longer range Iranian rockets had any influence
on Israel's decision to agree to the cease fire is anyone's guess. Hamas
"militants" are likely to conclude that they should replenish their
missile stocks to deter future Israeli attacks -- an argument that can
be undercut by Israeli actively seeking to normalize relations with an
independent Gaza. Israel has shown no interest in any such thing -- a
stance where the "militants" on both sides reinforce each other.
Adam Shatz: Why Israel Didn't Win: The cease fire stopped the shooting
(for now) but didn't solve the conflict:
The fighting will erupt again, because Hamas will come under continued
pressure from its members and from other militant factions, and because
Israel has never needed much pretext to go to war. In 1982, it broke its
ceasefire with Arafat's PLO and invaded Lebanon, citing the attempted
assassination of its ambassador to London, even though the attack was
the work of Arafat's sworn enemy, the Iraqi agent Abu Nidal. In 1996,
during a period of relative calm, it assassinated Hamas's bomb-maker
Yahya Ayyash, the 'Engineer,' leading Hamas to strike back with a wave
of suicide attacks in Israeli cities. When, a year later, Hamas proposed
a thirty-year hudna, or truce, Binyamin Netanyahu dispatched a team of
Mossad agents to poison the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman; under
pressure from Jordan and the US, Israel was forced to provide the
antidote, and Meshaal is now the head of Hamas's political bureau --
and an ally of Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsi.
Operation Pillar of Defence, Israel's latest war, began just as
Hamas was cobbling together an agreement for a long-term ceasefire.
Its military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was assassinated only hours
after he reviewed the draft proposal. [ . . . ]
Israeli leaders lamented for years that theirs was the only democracy
in the region. What this season of revolts has revealed is that Israel
had a very deep investment in Arab authoritarianism. The unravelling of
the old Arab order, when Israel could count on the quiet complicity of
Arab big men who satisfied their subjects with flamboyant denunciations
of Israeli misdeeds but did little to block them, has been painful for
Israel, leaving it feeling lonelier than ever. It is this acute sense
of vulnerability, even more than Netanyahu's desire to bolster his
martial credentials before the January elections, that led Israel
Hamas, meanwhile, has been buoyed by the same regional shifts,
particularly the triumph of Islamist movements in Tunisia and Egypt:
Hamas, not Israel, has been 'normalised' by the Arab uprisings. Since
the flotilla affair, it has developed a close relationship with Turkey,
which is keen to use the Palestinian question to project its influence
in the Arab world. It also took the risk of breaking with its patrons
in Syria: earlier this year, Khaled Meshaal left Damascus for Doha,
while his number two, Mousa Abu Marzook, set himself up in Cairo.
Since then, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the Syrian uprising,
distanced itself from Iran, and found new sources of financial and
political support in Qatar, Egypt and Tunisia.
[ . . . ]
The Palestinians understand that they are no longer facing Israel
on their own: Israel, not Hamas, is the region's pariah. The Arab world
is changing, but Israel is not. Instead, it has retreated further behind
Jabotinsky's 'iron wall,' deepening its hold on the Occupied Territories,
thumbing its nose at a region that is at last acquiring a taste of its
own power, exploding in spasms of high-tech violence that fail to conceal
its lack of a political strategy to end the conflict.
Stephen M Walt: The Real Lessons of L'Affaire Petraeus: Best snark
I've seen so far was on the back page of Entertainment Weekly
which proclaimed All In, Paul Broadwell's hagiography of her
paramour ex-Gen. David Petraeus, the yuckiest book title of all time.
Walt makes several good points, including that Petraeus's reputation
d for Iraq wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and that his performance
in Afghanistan came up even shorter. Also:
Second, this whole episode reminds us of the corrupt and incestual
relationship that exists throughout the national security establishment,
to include lots of people in the media and commentariat. As I've written
before, the excessive deference -- indeed, veneration -- often given the
U.S. military is not healthy, because it encourages both journalists and
academics to suck up to powerful and charismatic generals instead of
treating them as public servants who need to be aggressively challenged.
He also quotes Glenn Greenwald:
So all based on a handful of rather unremarkable emails sent to a woman
fortunate enough to have a friend at the FBI, the FBI traced all of
Broadwell's physical locations, learned of all the accounts she uses,
ended up reading all of her emails, investigated the identity of her
anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), and then possibly
read his emails as well. They dug around in all of this without any
evidence of any real crime -- at most, they had a case of "cyber-harassment"
more benign than what regularly appears in my email inbox and that of
countless of other people -- and, in large part, without the need for
any warrant from a court.
Walt also links to
Michael Hastings: The Sins of General Petraeus, who offers this:
But the warning signs about Petraeus' core dishonesty have been around
for years. Here's a brief summary: We can start with the persistent
questions critics have raised about his Bronze Star for Valor. Or that,
in 2004, during the middle of a presidential election, Petraeus wrote
an op-ed in The Washington Post supporting President Bush and
saying that the Iraq policy was working. The policy wasn't working, but
Bush repaid the general's political advocacy by giving him the top job
in the war three years later.
There's his war record in Iraq, starting when he headed up the Iraqi
security force training program in 2004. He's more or less skated on
that, including all the weapons he lost, the insane corruption, and the
fact that he essentially armed and trained what later became known as
"Iraqi death squads." On his final Iraq tour, during the so-called
"surge," he pulled off what is perhaps the most impressive con job in
recent American history. He convinced the entire Washington establishment
that we won the war.
He did it by papering over what the surge actually was: We took the
Shiites' side in a civil war, armed them to the teeth, and suckered the
Sunnis into thinking we'd help them out too. It was a brutal enterprise --
over 800 Americans died during the surge, while hundreds of thousands of
Iraqis lost their lives during a sectarian conflict that Petraeus'
policies fueled. Then he popped smoke and left the members of the Sunni
Awakening to fend for themselves. [ . . . ]
Petraeus was so convincing on Baghdad that he manipulated President
Obama into trying the same thing in Kabul. In Afghanistan, he first
underhandedly pushed the White House into escalating the war in September
2009 (calling up columnists to "box" the president in) and waged a full-on
leak campaign to undermine the White House policy process. Petraeus
famously warned his staff that the White House was "fucking" with the
The doomed Afghanistan surge would come back to bite him in the ass,
however. A year after getting the war he wanted, P4 got stuck having to
fight it himself. After Petraeus frenemy General Stanley McChrystal got
fired for trashing the White House in a story I published in Rolling
Stone, the warrior-scholar had to deploy yet again.
The Afghan war was a loser, always was, and always would be --
Petraeus made horrible deals with guys like Abdul Razzik and the other
Afghan gangsters and killed a bunch of people who didn’t need to be
killed. And none of it mattered, or made a dent in his reputation.
This was the tour where Broadwell joined him at headquarters, and it's
not so shocking that he'd need to find some solace, somewhere, to get
that daily horror show out of his mind.
My first guess was that the affair was just one more aspect of
Petraeus' cultivation of the press -- although it did make me wonder
what Thomas Ricks got out of him. Walt also links to
Robert Wright: The Real David Petraeus Scandal, which focuses
more on Petraeus' tenure at the CIA:
The militarization of the CIA raises various questions. For example,
if the CIA is psychologically invested in a particular form of warfare --
and derives part of its budget from that kind of warfare -- can it be
trusted to impartially assess the consequences, both positive and
negative, direct and indirect? [ . . . ]
What's wrong with this opaqueness? For starters, you'd think that
in a democracy the people would be entitled to know how exactly their
tax dollars are being used to kill people -- especially people in
countries we're not at war with. But there's also a more pragmatic
reason to want more transparency.
These drone strikes are a radical departure from America's
traditional use of violence in pursuit of national security. In
contrast to things like invading or bombing a country as part of
some well-defined and plausibly finite campaign, our drone strike
program is diffuse and, by all appearances, endless. Every month,
God knows how many people are killed in the name of the US in any
of several countries, and God knows how many of these people were
actually militants, or how many of the actual militants were actual
threats to the US, or how much hatred the strikes are generating
or how much of that hatred will eventually morph into anti-American
terrorism. It might behoove us, before we accept this nauseating
spectacle as a permanent feature of life, to fill in as many of
these blanks as possible. You can't do that in the dark.
[ . . . ]
The vision implicit in this program is of an America whose great
calling is to lead the world into a future of chaos and lawlessness.
This prospect was vividly highlighted when, a bit more than a year
ago, Obama had David Petraeus turn in his stars so he could move to
the CIA and keep fighting wars. There have been other military men who
headed the CIA, but never has there been one whose move to Langley
brought so much continuity with what he was doing before he went there.
The circumstances of Petraeus's departure from the CIA are a little
alarming; you'd rather your chief spy not be reckless. But the circumstances
of his arrival at the CIA a year ago were more troubling. Yet no alarm
was sounded that was anywhere near as loud as the hubbub surrounding
Petraeus now. That's scandalous.
Also, a few links for further study:
Gershon Baskin: Israel's Shortsighted Assassination: Hamas military
chief, Ahmed Al-Jabari, the person who negotiated the Gilad Shalit deal:
can't have people like that running free; they night negotiate with you
again, and then where would you be? Of course, the title could have
referred to nearly any of Israel's assassinations. One of the most
short-sighted was when Shimon Peres ordered the murder of Yahya Ayyash
(a previous Hamas military commander, one of a neverending supply) in
1996, triggering a series of reprisal attacks that cost Peres his job.
But then Peres wouldn't have been Prime Minister at the time but for
another Israeli assassination, the one that killed Yitzhak Rabin, and
with him the Oslo Accords Peace Process.
Brad DeLong: The Morgenthau Plan and the Marshall Plan: How to
rebuild (or wreck) post-WWII Germany.
Brad DeLong: Somehow I Think that They Are Still in Kansas, Toto:
An outsider's analysis of what's happening in Kansas politically --
some useful comments here, especially from "Kansas Jack"; I wanted to
do a whole post on this, but never got to it -- partly because I only
have minor quibbles.
Michelle Goldberg: The Obama-Bashing Book Bonanza: On Dinesh
D'Souza's Obama's America, and the market for histrionic
Obama-bashing books. Goldberg also has a review of Robert O. Self:
The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s,
Self has set himself an ambitious goal in his new book: to explain why,
ever since the 1960s, battles over sex, gender and the meaning of family
have become inextricable from battles over the size and scope of the
government. For conservative activists since the '80s, the defense of
the autonomous, idealized nuclear family "was intimately linked to the
way they also sought to limit government interference in the private
market," Self writes. "These stories are not often told together.
Questions of gender, sex, and family have been isolated as part of the
'culture war' -- a struggle that has been seen as tangential to the
politics of equality, power, and money."
Jim Lobe: Israel Ranked World's Most Militarised Nation:
As ranked by Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC).
Looks like US was underrated at 29 (China 82, India 71, Iran
34) -- seems to be a bias toward small countries (Greece 14,
Jordan 5), not that Israel didn't win fair and square. (North
Korea, which might have been a rival, was disqualified.)
Oded Na'aman: Is Gaza Outside Israel?: Quotes from the book
Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies From the Occupied
Territories, 2000-2010 (Metropolitan Books).
Sunday, November 11. 2012
Some scattered links, as usual. But first, the quote of the week
Maureen Dowd (of all people):
Last time, Obama lifted up the base with his message of hope and change;
this time the base lifted up Obama, with the hope he will change.
Also good that she quoted Karen Hughes (who had much more claim to
having been Bush's Brain than Karl Rove ever did): "If another Republican
man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent
crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue."
James K Galbraith: The Coming Debt Battle:
That the looming debt and deficit crisis is fake is something that,
by now, even the most dim member of Congress must know. The combination
of hysterical rhetoric, small armies of lobbyists and pundits, and the
proliferation of billionaire-backed front groups with names like the
"Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget" is not a novelty in
Washington. It happens whenever Big Money wants something badly enough.
Big Money has been gunning for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
for decades -- since the beginning of Social Security in 1935. The motives
are partly financial: As one scholar once put it to me, the payroll tax
is the "Mississippi of cash flows." Anything that diverts part of it into
private funds and insurance premiums is a meal ticket for the elite of
the predator state.
And the campaign is also partly political. The fact is, Social Security,
Medicare and Medicaid are the main way ordinary Americans connect to their
federal government, except in wars and disasters. They have made a vast
change in family life, unburdening the young of their parents and ensuring
that every working person contributes whether they have parents, dependents,
survivors or disabled of their own to look after. These programs do this
work seamlessly, for next to nothing; their managers earn civil service
salaries and the checks arrive on time. For the private competition, this
is intolerable; the model is a threat to free markets and must be destroyed.
[ . . . ]
Can a federal insurance program go bankrupt? Of course it can't.
Bankruptcy is a legal process for private citizens seeking relief
from unpayable debts. How can the obligations of Social Security or
Medicare ever be unpayable? These are public programs, not private
companies. All the federal government has to do is to write the
checks, pursuant to law. As for the size of the checks, it will be
whatever Congress prescribes at any given time. Bankruptcy as a
concept does not apply. So what are they talking about? Lies and
nonsense, nothing more. [ . . . ]
Do we have budget problems? Yes: We spend too much on military
hardware and wars; the talent, materials and technologies that go
into that are wasted and cannot be used, say, to protect New York
from storm surge. Our rich build too many mansions, thanks to their
CEO incomes and their low tax rates; letting the Bush tax cuts
expire will usefully dent that purchasing power.
But Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid impose no such future
burdens. They are transfers in current time. They meet today's
commitments to seniors, survivors, dependents, the disabled and
the ill -- commitments they have earned through work -- providing
them with income and services at the expense of others also currently
alive. This any community can always do, to the full extent of its
will and resources. The future has nothing to do with it. Except
that, from a moral point of view, it's useful for the young to learn
that we are a community, in which working people take care of those
By the way, and I can't say this often enough, Galbraith's book,
The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market
and Why Liberals Should Too, is the most important political
book of the last decade.
Sally Kohn: How Obama Can Turn a Campaign Into a Movement:
More than 10 million Americans donated to the Obama campaign this
election. At least a million volunteered to knock on doors and make
phone calls. Now that the election is over, they can do more than
click on a petition now and then and sign the president's Father's
Day card. They can be organizing in House districts around sequestration
or mounting state-by-state campaigns to pass a constitutional amendment
getting money out of our politics. Converting the president's electoral
base into a vibrant, independent progressive movement in America will
help the president, the Democratic Party and, in the long term, our
Could be done, although I've never seen any evidence that Obama
wants to build up the Democratic Party for anything other than his
own reëlection, and that's over.
Mattea Kramer/Chris Hellman: It's the Politics, Stupid:
Co-authors of the book, A People's Guide to the Federal Budget,
they explain the "fiscal cliff," finding it more an obstacle course,
a set of political evasions timed to look like a crisis until they
can be evaded again. Most items, including sequestration of spending
cuts, they expect will be kicked down the road, while the middle class
fraction of the Bush tax cuts can be repassed if the Republicans don't
hold it hostage for the rich. That leaves:
Among all the spending and tax changes in the queue, and all the hype
around the cliff, the great unknown is whether it's finally farewell
to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. And that's no perilous cliff.
Letting those high-end tax cuts expire would amount to a blink-and-you-miss-it
0.003% contraction in the U.S. economy, according to Moody's, and it
would raise tens of billions of dollars in desperately-needed tax
revenue next year. That's no small thing when you consider that federal
revenue has fallen to its lowest point in more than half a century.
Ending these tax cuts for the wealthy would bring in cash to reduce
deficits or increase funding for cash-starved priorities like higher
Paul Krugman: Let's Not Make a Deal:
Even though preliminary estimates suggest that Democrats received
somewhat more votes than Republicans in Congressional elections, the
G.O.P. retains solid control of the House thanks to extreme gerrymandering
by courts and Republican-controlled state governments. And Representative
John Boehner, the speaker of the House, wasted no time in declaring that
his party remains as intransigent as ever, utterly opposed to any rise
in tax rates even as it whines about the size of the deficit.
So President Obama has to make a decision, almost immediately, about
how to deal with continuing Republican obstruction. How far should he
go in accommodating the G.O.P.'s demands?
My answer is, not far at all. Mr. Obama should hang tough, declaring
himself willing, if necessary, to hold his ground even at the cost of
letting his opponents inflict damage on a still-shaky economy. And this
is definitely no time to negotiate a "grand bargain" on the budget that
snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.
Alex Pareene: Hey, Obama, Let's Actually Fix Elections: I'll
spare you the link to Pareene's bizarre "Why I Voted for Mitt
Romney" post, but this much is worth quoting:
The president should obviously be elected by national popular vote,
and it's outrageous that Wyoming has two senators and D.C. has none,
but short of junking the Constitution, we're stuck with those sad
realities for the time being. It's bizarre that there's not more
outrage over the fact that the House will be majority Republican
(likely until 2022) despite more votes being cast for Democrats,
but unlike the existence of the U.S. Senate, this can be fixed
without altering or amending our nation's archaic founding document.
While I'd obviously most prefer a larger House with proportional
representation and instant-runoff or ranked voting (and, sure,
multiple member districts -- let's dream big!), we should at the
very least stop allowing district drawing to be a partisan-controlled
affair. (And, again, an anti-gerrymandering crusade could be sold
as bipartisan -- fighting back against the extremists in both
But back in reality, none of these things can be fixed as long
as either side thinks it has an advantage in the status quo, and
as long as either side has no commitment to the fundamental idea
of democracy (the Republicans sure don't, and often one wonders
about the Democrats). If you asked ordinary people there'd be a
lot of support for getting rid of the system of bribery known as
campaign fundraising, but everyone elected has more or less been
selected by just that system. A few decades ago one might have
looked to the courts for help in cleaning up partisan efforts to
distort elections, but judges themselves are increasingly selected
for their political allegiances, so they are increasingly part of
Rick Perlstein: America Didn't Vote for a "Grand Bargain":
Now that the Great Compromiser has been reëlected, the great fear
is that he'll cut a deal with Republicans that trades long-term
damage to Social Security and Medicare for a bit of short-term
economic boost. Perlstein argues that that's not his mandate,
and it certainly is true that the key to Obama's recovery and
surge after his weak first debate came from his sudden will to
stand up for principle. Still, politicians routinely walk away
from their pre-election commitments, and he backed off from a
bunch of them in 2009.
America's government is not too big. It is not "out of control."
Measured by the number of public sector employees compared to the
overall population, in fact, it is at its smallest size since 1968.
The Democratic compulsion to take the lead in making it smaller,
to "control" it, is in itself a serious historic problem -- and a
perverse one at that. For it doesn't work. Bill Clinton tried it
in the 1990s, working with Republicans in Congress both to obliterate
the deficit caused by Republican budgetary mismanagement, and "end
welfare as we know it."
What happened to the resulting budgetary surplus they created?
Republican mismanagement and ideological extremism obliterated it
[ . . . ]
A simple historical fact: There is no political payoff for
Democrats in presiding over governmental austerity. The evidence
goes far back to long before Bill Clinton. In the mid-1970s, the
first superstar of the Democratic austerity movement, William
Proxmire, a budgetary obsessive whose campaign bumper stickers
read "Waste Will Bury Us," began awarding a monthly "Golden Fleece
Award" to the government expenditure he judged the most wasteful --
a clown show that frequently had no more effect than making things
difficult for scientists doing basic research that frequently led
to revolutionary breakthroughs. Austerity was the ideology of Gov.
Jerry Brown in California, too -- and also the man who beat Brown
for the Democratic presidential nominee in 1976, Jimmy Carter, who
announced, in his 1978 State of the Union address that "Government
cannot eliminate poverty or provide a bountiful economy or reduce
inflation or save our cities or provide energy."
What Carter said wasn't even true; for instance, he did deploy
the power of government to reduce inflation, by appointing a Federal
Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker, with a mandate to squeeze the money
supply, an act of deliberate austerity that induced the recession
that defeated him. Like I said, there was no political payoff:
Ronald Reagan, depicting Carter on the campaign trail as just
another Democratic spendthrift, defeated him, reappointed Volcker,
then harvested the political credit when Volcker's governmental
policies did slay inflation.
It should be telling that fiscal responsibility is always the
prescription for Democrats, but for Republicans, as Dick Cheney
famously said, "deficits don't matter." Obama makes us nervous
because his commitment to fiscal balance does seem to be real.
However, he must realize that the only way he can get there is
to raise taxes, and primarily on the rich, and also that cuts
and privatization deals on Social Security and/or Medicare don't
save him anything -- they result in less effective less efficient
programs that cost more in the long run. If he wants something
that would actually work to bring deficits under control, he
can't do anything that stupid. What he can shoot for is more
tax revenues (both through higher rates on the rich and through
growth), less wasteful discretionary spending (ending the war
in Afghanistan, not starting any more, trimming the military
budget back), and most important of all, controlling health
care costs. And the key to the latter is the opposite of the
privatization the Republicans demand.
By the way, I'm a big fan of William Proxmire, and he actually
did benefit electorally for his efforts -- he was hugely popular,
often running up 80% margins in Wisconsin. But he mostly attacked
wasteful military spending, and he doesn't seem to have been all
that effective at it, even though he scored lots of small wins.
Mat Stoller: Obama's Second Term: Can Liberals Trust the President?:
Well, no: "My bet is that Obama will continue the policy framework he
pursued in his first term." Stoller lists some "domestic flash points":
Fiscal Cliff, Budget; Global Warming; Fannie/Freddie/Foreclosures;
Dodd-Frank; Marijuana; Trade and Trans-Pacific Partnership; Immigration,
Race to the Top, Strikes; The Post-Election Narrative. I think there is
reason to think Obama will do some things better than four years ago.
For one thing, he has some experience now about what doesn't work. He
also faces smaller problems: even if he gets another dip into recession,
it won't be like the freefall he inherited last time; he's out of Iraq,
and he's given Afghanistan enough of a shot that he can unwind that.
Too bad he didn't do anything useful on housing, but at least some of
the urgency is off that. Too bad about global warming, but at least
FEMA has been saved. He's going to be less cowed by his staff -- he's
been president a while, he's gotten more used to throwing his weight
around, and that whole "team of rivals" shtick is finished: Gates is
gone, so are Summers and Emmanuel and Orszag, and Clinton and Geithner
and probably Holder are leaving, and good riddance to all of them --
and especially to Petraeus. They won't necessarily be replaced by
better people politically, but they'll give way to people who will
owe Obama more and serve him better. None of this changes Obama's
personal conservatism or political pragmatism -- he won't do anything
radical because he's just not that sort of guy. What might nudge him
to the left (or to the right) is grass roots political activism --
like Occupy, or the Tea Party (they do seem like a spent force, not
that the money behind them is all spent).
Rich Yeselson: Rage Machine vs. Turnout Machine: Interesting
contrast here to Canada's Conservative Party, which successfully
appeals to immigrants, doesn't fret about gay marriage or abortion
let alone Canada's hugely popular Medicare system.
In the US, any possibility of the GOP appealing to the economic
interests of most white men, as opposed to massaging their beleaguered
sense of identity, must be subsumed to the antithetical economic
priorities of the GOP's plutocratic donor class. In short, Sheldon
Adelson and the Koch brothers are ardent rent seekers from the
federal government, union haters and tax avoiders, while promoting
the demolition of social insurance for the 99.9%. They do not share
most of the same economic goals as the guy wearing the "Put The
White Back in the White House" t-shirt at a Romney rally. Yet rage
and paranoia paradoxically bind these billionaires and white male
small business owners and contractors: see, for example the Adelson
owned newspaper in Israel's headline after Obama's victory,
"Socialism Comes To America."
The historian Steven Fraser has called the modern Right's proprietary
and gendered authority over both the workplace and the family unit,
"family capitalism." Family capitalism is a shared value system of
both the billionaires and the base. [ . . . ]
Bridging the gap between the rich and the ranks is the professional
activist class that puts forth lunatic politicians like Steve King
and Michelle Bachmann, and the conservative entertainment complex
of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge.
The three rings of this circus -- the paranoid billionaires, the
activist and media crackpots, and the resentful elderly and white
men (and, frequently, their spouses) -- are tied so tightly that it
would destroy the party if the links were broken.
I suppose I could inaugurate a section on truly stupid ideas,
like Kevin Drum's nomination of
Mitt Romney for Treasury Secretary:
"How much friendler toward banks could he be than Tim Geithner?"
Is that the standard to look for? And I thought Erskine Bowles
was a bad idea.
Haven't found anything useful yet on the Petraeus-Broadwell affair,
but it strikes me as something of more than prurient interest: no
general since MacArthur has worked so assiduously and successfully
at courting the press than Petraeus (unless it was Colin Powell,
who if he did managed the feat much less conspicuously) but did
you really expect him to stoop this low? At this point, Broadwell's
motives are less clear, especially with all the innuendo, but the
least one can say is that she went well beyond professionalism to
get the story -- or a story, the one that promoted her source's
Reading Chandrasekaran's recent book on Afghanistan makes it
clear that Petraeus threw his COIN strategy under the bus as soon
as he was dropped into his protégé McChrystal's command post,
then he hastened his exit before he could get excessively tarred
with the war's utter failure. It was only a matter of time before
history caught up with one of the great frauds of our time.
Still, surprise that the tabloids got him first.
Also, a few links for further study:
Charles Duhigg/Steve Lohr: The Patent, Used as a Sword:
Long piece on the evils of patents, especially software and
design patents used in smart phones. I'm personally much more
negative about patents than the authors. I'd get rid of them
even if the result is that nothing new ever gets invented.
But, of course, that wouldn't be the result. The result would
be that no one ever gets sued for inventing something that
someone else has some vague legal claim to. And another result
would be that companies couldn't extort rents from customers,
especially in health care where patented products are claimed
to be lifesaving.
Mark Lilla: The Great Disconnect: Review of Charles R. Kesler's
book, I Am the Change, what Lilla calls "a cheap inflationary
takedown" of Obama, contrasting the book to the more "deflationary"
takedowns typical of right-wingers like Dinesh D'Souza. Kesler accuses
Obama of Hegelianism and finds the missing link in Woodrow Wilson,
while Lilla is so desperate to find a rational conservative counter
to his centrism that he follows him down the rat hole. Lilla even
starts out with an attempt to paint Nixon as the socialist Obama
isn't, an amusing little bit of bullshit. No need to quote this
stuff -- I'm bookmarking it because I'm morbidly fascinated with
right-wing books on Obama. But what I will quote is Denis Clifford's
"The level of political discourse has dropped," Mark Lilla says
(Up Front, Sept. 30), and his review contributes mightily to
diminishing it. He claims that "the Great Society's liberal
architects vastly overreached and overpromised," without mentioning
that the Vietnam War, so vehemently pursued by many of President
Lyndon Johnson's "liberal architects," ruined the hopes of the
Great Society domestic policies. We'll never know what might have
happened in America if those "best and brightest" hadn't made their
first priority the insanity of the Vietnam War.
Nate Silver: As Nation and Parties Change, Republicans Are at an Electoral
College Disadvantage: Seems like it's long been the other way, what
with the Republican domination of the small mountain states and their
disproportionate power in the Senate. Plus you hate to give Republicans
even a whiff of a notion that they're victimized by something structural.
But I have to admire how artfully Silver puts his chart together. The
other thing this shows is while Democrats are effective where they
bother to compete, they don't have a lot of obvious options for growth --
with Missouri and Indiana sunk, and the deep south still locked in the
white column, maybe Arizona or Montana?
Drew Westen: America's Leftward Tilt?: From before the election,
argues that both candidates became more popular when they moved toward