Sunday, September 27. 2015
With the weekend approaching, I had one entry (on drug pricing) in
the draft file. Don't have time to add much, but I do have some open
tabs I want to take note of before I go offline:
Paul Krugman: Religions Are What People Make Them:
The current crop of Republican presidential candidates is accomplishing
something I would have considered impossible: making George W. Bush look
like a statesman. Say what you like about his actions after 9/11 -- and
I did not like, at all -- at least he made a point of not feeding
anti-Muslim hysteria. But that was then.
Reason probably doesn't do much good in these circumstances. Still,
to the extent that there are people who should know better declaring
that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with democracy, or science,
or good things in general, I'd like to recommend a book I recently
read: S. Frederick Starr's Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden
Age From the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane. It covers a place and a
time of which I knew nothing: the medieval flourishing of learning --
mathematics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy -- in central Asian cities
made rich by irrigated agriculture and trade.
As Starr describes their work, some of these scholars really did
prefigure the Enlightenment, sounding remarkably like Arabic-speaking
precursors of David Hume and Voltaire. And the general picture he paints
is of an Islamic world far more diverse in its beliefs and thinking than
anything you might imagine from current prejudices.
Now, that enlightenment was eventually shut down by economic decline
and a turn toward fundamentalism. But such tendencies are hardly unique
People are people. They can achieve great things, or do terrible
things, under lots of religious umbrellas. (An Israeli once joked to
me, "Judaism has rarely been a religion of oppression. Why? Lack of
opportunity.") It's ignorant and ahistorical to claim unique virtue
or unique sin for any one set of beliefs.
A couple quick points: Bush understood that American intervention
in the Middle East wouldn't work without local allies, which the US
at least had to go through the motions of cultivating. One side effect
of this is that Americans and Arabs would develop attachments which
would eventually result in many of the latter coming to the US (much
as had happened with Cuba and Vietnam). Islamophobes should have
understood this dynamic from the beginning, and as such should have
resisted Bush's imperial ventures. Of course, they didn't do that --
they're not very bright, but at least they understood that Bush's
wars in the Middle East were wars against the people there. Not so
clear that either side understood that long-term wars there would
only increase intrinsic Islamophobia among Americans, but that's
probably the easiest lesson one could have deduced from a study of
The ending of the Arab enlightenment didn't correspond to economic
downturn so much as military defeat, primarily by the Mongols and
Turks. (A similar thing happened in Spain, first with the Moors then
the Christians.) Of course, once the Mongols sack Baghdad it's hard
to rebuild the economy. We've seen that in real time with the American
occupation, which by most accounts was considerably less brutal.
In Israel, Jewish military power has turned Judaism into a religion
of oppression -- indeed a remarkably nasty one. Perhaps that "lack of
opportunity" has prevented any safeguards from evolving. Indeed, one
can point to episodes where Christian rule was at least as brutal --
the Spanish Inquisition, for one.
Andrew Pollack: Drug Goes From $13.50 a Tablet to $750, Overnight:
The drug is Daraprim, a 62-year-old generic which was acquired by
"Turing Pharmaceuticals, a start-up run by a former hedge fund manager."
The first thing you learn in MBA school is that the price of something
has nothing to do with its cost: it's simply what the market will bear.
For a drug that can be the difference between life and death, a seller
can get away with a pretty steep price. Under such circumstances, there's
little difference between "smart business" and the highwayman's motto,
"your money or your life." What's unusual here is that the drug is
generic, so in principle there's nothing to stop other companies from
competing, and competition should bring the price down to something
related to costs. However, as the article shows, there are ways an
operator can create and exploit a temporary monopoly -- even where
none should exist. One the article doesn't mention goes back to MBA
school doctrine: if all the smart operators look for is huge margin
opportunities, they'll never bother to compete a price down -- which
leaves the first mover with monopoly rents.
The article gives several other examples of extortionate price
increases. I've seen other reports that couple of them have been
rolled back, basically by shaming the companies, although I suspect
that the real leverage is that a few large insurance companies and,
ultimately, the government are the main buyers of pharmaceuticals --
and while you may be powerless, they less committed to your health
than to their own bottom line.
Dean Baker tweeted: "We don't negotiate firefighters' pay when
they show up at the burning house, why would we pay for drugs this
way?" Baker argues that we should
End Patent Monopolies on Drugs. I agree with everything Baker
The United States stands out among wealthy countries in that we give
drug companies patent monopolies on drugs that are essential for people's
health or lives and then allows them to charge whatever they want. Every
other wealthy country has some system of price controls or negotiated
prices where the government limits the extent to which drug companies
can exploit the monopoly it has given them. The result is that we pay
roughly twice as much for our drugs as the average for other wealthy
countries. This additional cost is not associated with better care; we
are just paying more for the same drugs. [ . . . ]
A monopoly that allows drug companies to sell their drugs at prices
that can be hundreds of times the free market price has all the problems
economics predicts when governments interfere with the market. Drug
companies routinely mislead doctors and the public about the safety
and effectiveness of their drugs to increase sales. The cost in terms
of bad health outcomes and avoidable deaths runs into the tens of
billions of dollars every year.
Drug companies also spend tens of millions on campaign contributions
and lobbying to get [even] longer and stronger patent protection. The
pharmaceutical industry is one of the main forces behind the Trans-Pacific
Partnership, and its demands for stronger patent protections is one of
the main obstacles to reaching an agreement with the other countries.
We don't need patent monopolies to support research. We already spend
more than $30 billion a year financing research through the National
Institutes of Health. Everyone, including the drug companies, agrees
that this money is very productive. We could double or triple this
spending and replace the patent supported research done by the drug
companies. With the research costs paid upfront, most drugs would be
available for the same price as a bottle of generic aspirin.
Still, as Pollack's article proves, the problem with drug
pricing isn't just patents. Purchasers also need more leverage
in negotiating prices -- by consolidating their purchasing power
and by promoting more competitive options.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't
have time for this shit right now):
Dean Baker: Labor Unions: The Folks Who Gave You the Weekend: Also
Social Security, Medicare, and most of the protections that keep us from
sinking into the abyss of red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism.
Harrison Fluss: Donald Trump: American Psycho: "Donald Trump is
the rotten fruit of the American ruling class." Also see:
Rula Jebreal: Donald Trump is America's Silvio Berlusconi, and
Michael D'Antonio: Mentored in the art of Manipulation: Donald Trump
learned from the master -- Roy Cohn. The Berlusconi model is
analogous for Trump, similar but unrelated paths. The Cohn model,
however, is phylogenetic: the one begets the other.
Indira A.R. Lakshmanan: "If You Can't Do This Deal . . . Go Back to
Tehran." "The inside story of the Obama administration's Iran
diplomacy." -- i.e., mostly inside the American side.
Paul Rosenberg: John Boehner was really bad at his job. Now things
are about to get epically worse. Also,
Paul Krugman had this comment:
Lots of talk about the Boehner resignation. It was especially excruciating
to hear pundits going on about the soon-to-be-ex Speaker's motivations for
not just stepping down, but actually leaving his seat. Is there some rule
preventing them from saying the obvious: his extremely lucrative career as
a lobbyist can't start until he's out of Congress?
Brian Tashman: Scott Walker, Who Said Presidential Bid Was 'God's Plan,'
Drops Out: Being so obviously a toady for the Kochs and other megadonors
while focusing his ire on working Americans who happen to still belong to
unions turns out not to be what the Republican masses were yearning for.
And when he finally got hip to the idea that what turned on the masses
was a wall against immigrants, he agreed but wanted to build it on the
Canadian border. Now the remaining 15 candidates are scrambling to pick
up Walker's remaining 0.5% poll share. I hope someone asks him -- a
question I first posed with Rick Perry -- how it feels to be the second
loser from this field?
Ed Kilgore: What Walker's Demise Means.
Sandy Tolan: On Night in Gaza and The 51 Day War: Ruin and
Resistance in Gaza: Reviews of new books by Mads Gilbert and
Max Blumenthal, respectively, on Israel's 2014 attack on Gaza (what
Israelis refer to as "mowing the lawn").
Sunday, September 20. 2015
Short post this week. Got a late start, and didn't get beyond the
usual US political campaign grist. Rest assured though that the Middle
East remains as fucked as ever, that Europe is struggling with a refugee
crisis, that Greece is stuck with a choice between two defeatist parties,
that the rich still aren't satisfied, and environmental disasters are
still multiplying. Meanwhile, our "best and brightest" reporters are
mired in what Matt Taibbi calls "the stupid season."
David Atkins: Why Does the Press Continue to Get It So Wrong on Donald
Trump?: Why do pundits, and for that matter pretty much all of the
mainstream press, keep getting popular political opinions wrong?
Conservatives will claim that journalists are liberal and don't
understand Republican politics. Perhaps, but progressives have made
equally scathing critiques of the press for years in their underestimation
of progressive populist sentiment and elevation of centrist candidates.
It's less that the political press is liberal, and more that it is trapped'
in a bubble inhabited by the wealthy and powerful.
[ . . . ]
But more importantly, there is a bias in the press toward political
neutrality and the perception of balance. After a debate in which
Republican candidates peddled an endless string of falsehoods and
fantasies, the political press has a crisis on its hands: let it all
slide and simply transcribe the lies without challenge, or contribute
to a perception of "liberal bias" by actually calling out the falsehoods
and holding the candidates accountable?
Trump presents a similar problem. Trump's extremist positions on
immigration and foreign policy, combined with his vulgar, racist and
sexist remarks, are so obviously appalling that for him to continuously
lead the GOP field not only proves the
Mann/Ornstein thesis that the
Republican Party has grown uniquely extreme, but also shows that problem
extends beyond Republican Party leadership to the actual voters themselves.
Even more, the fact that Trump's apostasy on taxes and healthcare has not
significantly damaged him is a demonstration that GOP voters are not
actually so committed to the libertarian supply-side economics of the
Republican Party as they are to using the power of government to benefit
traditionally powerful whites at the expense of women and minorities.
This a problem for the press. As long as Trump leads, it's impossible
to maintain the fiction of equally extreme "both sides do it" partisanship.
As long as Trump rules (and, to a lesser extent, that Bernie Sanders
continues to rise on the left) it's also increasingly difficult to pretend
that "moderates" in either party are actually the center of public opinion,
rather than caterers to a unique brand of corporate-friendly upper-class
comfort that labels itself as moderate without holding any legitimate
claim to the title.
Acknowledging those realities would force the press to start reporting
the fundamentals of American politics as they stand today:
First, that the Republican base wants a rebel leader to take their
country back from the inconvenience of being nice to women, gays and
Second, that the wealthy Republican establishment and its center-right
Third Way Democratic counterparts don't actually have a legitimate base
of voters, but rather illegitimate institutional capture of government
via legalized bribery; and
Third, that the rest of the country wants liberal public policies that
would resemble a Scandinavian government, but most of them are so turned
off by the futility of the American political process that not enough of
them turn out to vote to make a real difference outside of the bluest
The first two of these points could be phrased better but are pretty
self-evident. The Republican Party is an uneasy coalition of leaders
and followers: the former that segment of the wealthy that seeks to
gain through zero-sum strategies (reducing taxes, suppressing wages,
growing monopolies, exchanging wealth for debt, arbitrage); the latter
various segments of gullible single-issue voters (racists, religious
bigots, anti-abortion, pro-gun, flag wavers, anything that distracts
one from class). The appeal to the latter is a combination of flattery
(you're the real Americans) and demagoguery (they're
hell-bent on destroying your life). That coalition is unstable because
the leaders are actively undermining the followers' material basis,
and this fracturing only increases as the leaders gain power. It may
be possible for a politician to crack this coalition by running against
the elites, but I don't see any reason to expect Trump will do that.
Rather, as his own billionaire sponsor, his potential independence
worries the elites and offers some hope to the gullible followers.
Still, I don't see it panning out: even if his understanding of class
never extends beyond his own bottom line, you know where he's going
to land on every significant issue.
The third point is the controversial one, because the main obstacle
a significant extension of social democratic policies faces comes not
from the Republicans -- who would cut their base's throats to achieve
their goal of reducing government -- as from the mainstream Democrats,
who chase after campaign money with the avarice of Republicans but at
least have some scruples against wrecking the status quo (not that
they always have the wisdom, as shown by their support for wrecking
Carter-Glass banking regulation). The public may very well want more
than the Democrats are offering, but without unions or other groups
pressuring the Democrats to deliver, they'll keep playing defense
(with the occasional fumble).
Josh Marshall: The War Party: Responding to the Republican dog
and pony show, Marshall points out that when foreign policy issues
came up, "Trump may have been silent because he just doesn't know
enough details or doesn't care enough about them to engage," while
the others "turned not so much to foreign policy as to each candidate
trying to outdo the other in embracing the sort of petulant unilateralism
that made the aughts such a disaster for the United States. It was, to
put it simply, a race to embrace Bush foreign policy on steroids." I
wouldn't give Trump much of a pass here -- he has, after all, claimed
he's "the most militaristic person there is" (see
Scott Eric Kaufman and
Glen Healy -- the latter defending Trump by arguing that his boast
is the "biggest lie" of a pathological braggart). Still, Marshall is
right to focus on Rubio and Fiorina, who pundits like to praise for
their ability to spew this shit with a straight face.
Let's start with Marco Rubio, who has tried to carve out a space as
the candidate of the neoconservatives in exile. Joe Klein saw him as
the clear winner of the debate with a crisp and incisive command of
national defense policy. "To my mind, Marco Rubio won that debate
with his obvious fluency on a range of topics . . . Marco Rubio is
becoming a force to be reckoned with -- on the debate stage. He is
fluent, smart and bold."
That is not what I saw at all.
I agree that Rubio continues to come off as likable and he makes
no obvious mistakes in these encounters. I actually think that just
by dint of process of elimination he has a substantial better shot
at the nomination that most people realize. But in his recitations
on foreign policy he doesn't come off as knowledgable or seasoned.
He comes off as someone who has obligingly internalized, in a kind
of rote manner, the wisdom of Bill Kristol to get the money of Sheldon
Adelson. There is a strong DC insider appetite for these nostrums. So
it's not just the money. But these are dangerous, discredited ideas
that were tried and failed miserably under the last Republican President.
Indeed, they failed so miserably that even in President Bush's second
term the standard-bearers were largely ushered aside in favor of a
slightly more realist approach to cleaning up the messes created in
the first term.
If there is one thing the country does not need it is another
impressionable foreign policy neophyte who comes under the influence
of this war-addicted DC coven.
Next is Carly Fiorina. I entirely agree that she had a strong,
commanding debate. She seemed particularly focused and knowledgable
on national security questions as she rattled off a number of things
she would do to take a more aggressive posture toward America's
adversaries and rivals.
Unless of course you actually have any idea what you're talking
about. In which case, the things she said seemed quite different.
At a broad level, it's the same kind of confrontational and dangerous
foreign policy that got the country into trouble a decade ago. But
as Ezra Klein explains here, Fiorina's list of proposed actions were
a mix of things that were irrelevant to the questions at hand, are
already happening, or things that operate on a time scale such that
they can't have any real affect on the challenges she suggests they're
aimed at countering. The dangerous ground of half-knowledge. Or policies
as puzzle pieces with no larger picture or understanding.
I think the appeal the necons have among Republicans now is tied up
with the right's obsession with condemning all things Obama. It is,
after all, an extremist doctrine, one that takes common assumptions of
the cold war security state and through a combination of logical rigor
and macho posturing drives them to seductive but untenable extremes.
It's worth recalling that the neocons' original nemesis was none other
than Henry Kissinger, no minor war criminal himself, so casting Obama
as cowardly and unpatriotic was easy. (Lazy and shameless too: after
all, the crime they wailed about in Benghazi! wasn't Obama's running
an illegal CIA operation there or getting it blown up but not spouting
the correct anti-Islamic bigotry afterwards -- i.e., the one that
would justify further disastrous intervention.)
The neocon parlor game of rhetoric is hard to beat in the salons
of Washington, even though it has never been shown to work in the
real world -- where America isn't omnipotent, where American efforts
to "shock and awe" other into submission merely publicize the moral
rot that somes with superpower hubris. The neocons always have the
excuse that their principles were compromised by weaklings who didn't
believe and didn't try hard enough. The real antidote to neoconism
is to question the assumptions -- something Obama and Clinton never
had the guts to do, because the institutional power of the security
state is too entrenched. Some of the leading dimwits of the Tea Party
movement were tempted in that direction, but Michelle Bachmann fizzled
before she could articulate much, and Rand Paul let himself be convinced
that only by prevaricating could he win the nomination -- leaving himself
no principle to stand on.
The attitude of embattlement and grievance that currently animates
the Republican party is something we're quite familiar with in the
domestic sphere but it's even more present in the outlook abroad.
It is a dangerous thing to take a coalition which feels embattled,
victimized and disempowered and put them in charge of the most
powerful military in the world. A coalition like that, with an
untrained hand at the helm, guided by terrible advisors is a recipe
Philip Weiss: Coulter's point is that Republicans pander on Israel to win
donors, not voters: I referred to the Republican presidential debate
above as a "dog and pony show" -- a phrase that back in my corporate days
we used to refer to any staged presentation (to customers, to investors,
or to anyone else you hoped to deal with). I was looking for an alternative
turn of phrase, but also I was a bit uncomfortable with "debate" -- that
suggests a high-minded collegiate contest being scored by experts, and
while many pundits are conceited enough to think of themselves that way,
that wasn't necessarily the judgment the candidates were looking for.
Some were mostly intent on selling themselves to potential voters, while
some were no doubt more concerned with donors. It now occurs to me that
the latter may have been the main focus, one that resonates with my "dog
and pony show" quip: after all, who bothers to watch a dog or horse race
unless they have some money riding on the result?
Coulter is a thoroughly obnoxious pundit, one who built her entire
career by heaping hateful invective on liberals, a torrent so vile it's
consumed her, turning her into such a fount of hatred that she's lost
the ability to distinguish between former friends and foes. It wouldn't
surprise me if her "fucking Jews" tweet reveals anti-semitism because
her hate has become so universal, although it sounds as much like her
usual stock in trade. Still, the sequence of her tweets shows she's at
least trying to think through what she's seeing. She quickly figures
out that Republican appeals on Israel aren't meant to curry favor with
Jewish voters, because there aren't that many of them, and most vote
Democratic anyway. She considers whether it's "to suck up to the
Evangelicals" -- they are more numerous, and they're a key target
constituency for Republicans: many see Israel as an essential step
toward the second coming of Jesus, the "end times" and all that.
(I've known people obsessed with that, although you don't read much
about them as it's considered impolite to talk about such delusions.)
But in the end Coulter decides the candidates are pitching their
donors, and she comes up with this tweet, which despite everything
is pretty much on target:
How to get applause from GOP donors: 1) Pledge to start a war 2) Talk
about job creators 3) Denounce abortion 4) Cite Reagan 5) Cite Israel.
Worth noting that (1) is an implicit case of (5), not that war with
Iran isn't the only pledge, but if it wasn't Iran it'd be someone else
on Israel's "existential threat" list -- ISIS, for one, is looming.
Coulter's hot button issue at the moment seems to be nativism, which
whenever it has erupted in American history has been rooted in racism
(and often linked to anti-semitism, although these days the semites
are much more often Muslim). Nativism has also tended to be associated
with autarky and isolationism, and Coulter seems to be leaning that
way -- if you don't want foreigners coming to America, you shouldn't
go around the world starting wars and stirring up distress, like
America's liberal interventionists have been doing ever since FDR.
One could build a coherent conservative argument around such notions,
but I have yet to hear one from Trump or Coulter or even Rand Paul.
Part of the problem there is that Fascists in the 1930s discredited
those notions for generations. Part is that capital -- the money of
the superrich who think they run the GOP -- has become so globalized
that any real autarky has become unimaginable. And while it's not
clear that global capital really requires America's military sprawl,
no Republican has come around to asking that question.
In a sense, (3) has become the core point: not so much that the
money Republicans hate abortion, but abortion has become a litmus
test issue, something no Republican can question without being
drummed out of the tribe. But then all the points are increasingly
like that: litmus tests, articles of faith, self-commitments. They
draw applause because Republicans love to applaud themselves. But
they're increasingly self-selecting themselves into a power-losing
By the way, we can thank Netanyahu for moving Israel out of the
realm of bipartisan consensus and into the Republican column. That
will eventually free the Democrats of a terrible burden. As Weiss
One good result of this conversation will be more Jews condemning
Sheldon Adelson and Norman Braman and the Republican Jewish Coalition
moneybags for trying to have a war with Iran, more Jews declaring that
they aren't Zionists.
As for Coulter's (4) point, see:
Jon Schwarz: Seven Things About Ronald Reagan You Won't Hear at the
Reagan Library GOP Debate: "And maybe that's appropriate -- since
if Reagan stood for anything as president, it was creating a completely
fictionalized version of the past."
Sunday, September 13. 2015
Saturday was the 14th anniversary of the 2001 Al-Qaeda "attack"
against America, when nineteen Arabs (mostly Saudis) hijacked four
airliners and committed suicide by flying those planes into iconic
buildings in New York City and Virginia (and a Pennsylvania corn
field). The media went berserk, describing all of America as "under
attack." The political class decided this was war, and vowed to
return the fight back to foreign lands -- which, after all, is the
only experience any of them had ever had of war. Within days the
intelligentsia, including way too many who had identified with the
left, launched a pre-emptive attack on pacifists and anyone else
who tried to talk reason -- especially anyone who expressed doubts
that America was wholly innocent of wrong-doing.
I experienced those "attacks" from a barely comfortable distance,
visting a friend, staying in her apartment above Grand Army Plaza
in Berlin. I could stick my head out the window and see the smoking
(still-standing) towers, and could watch masses of people trudging
home on foot as the subways were stopped. One of my first thoughts
was that I knew it wasn't an atomic bomb because the pedestrians'
panic had subsisted a mere three miles into Brooklyn. I tried to
imagine what it must be like to be under siege in Sarajevo -- the
most graphic experience of war from the 1990s -- and concluded that
this wasn't at all like that. War wasn't something that ordinary
people in New York felt that day. War was just a concept in the
fevered minds of the people who talk on TV. For people who were
in lower Manhattan that morning, of course, it was immediate: a
disaster on a scale no one had experienced or was prepared for.
But just a few miles away from "ground zero" more than anything
else it was damn inconvenient. Like the Con Ed blackout I lived
through in the 1970s. Well, in some ways worse, but on that order.
Of course, if you knew someone who was killed that day, it also
had a tragic dimension. I knew one such person, a niece (the wife
of my first wife's nephew), and I spent a fair amount of time the
next two weeks with the family, so I did feel something other than
inconvenienced. But I didn't experience that as war, but as random,
sudden, violent, shattering -- like when my uncle was killed by a
drunk driver, leaving his wife and three pre-teen children to fend
for themselves. My niece had two children, one so young he'd never
remember her. The manner of her death was obscenely worse, giving
us days of uncertainty and months before they identified some of
her DNA in the megatons of rubble. And something like that happened
to nearly 3,000 other people, their families and friends, in not
much more than an instant. Still, that's only about one in 2700
New Yorkers (or one in 94000 Americans, just barely one-thousandth
of 1%). No one else I knew in New York in those weeks had such bad
I wish someone would sift through the new coverage and punditry
we saw on TV those first few days and edit a fair sampling of the
insanity we saw. I clearly remember Shimon Peres and Benjamin
Netanyahu smiling and cackling about how this was "very good"
for Israel, and John Major lecturing on how much the Uk could
teach America about how to handle terrorism. I remember a bit of
fuzzy nighttime footage of a rocket explosion near Kabul being
aired over the presumptive banner line "America Strikes Back."
I remember the junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton,
standing on the Capitol steps and daring Al-Qaeda to take their
best shot at her. I spent much of the day thumbing through a
book of photographs called Century, looking at images
of the real wars that plagued the past century while the phony
warriors nattered on TV. It helped to keep it all in perspective,
something almost everyone was losing.
For me, it wasn't hard to see that no good would come of such
war fever. But how much bad would come was always hard to grasp,
or even imagine. One might cite the nominal costs of 14 years of
non-stop war, of endless war, of war with no prospect of victory
or redemption -- over 6,700 US soldiers dead, many more maimed
(physically and/or psychologically), trillions of dollars spent,
and many times that much death, destruction, and destabilization
that those wars have inflicted abroad -- but I'm ever more worried
about the cognitive toll those wars have taken on American society,
indeed on the ability of Americans to think clearly and to engage
the world constructively.
Another thought I had on 9/11 was even rarer, and I think more
profound: it occurred to me that the "attacks" were a "wake up call" --
a reminder to look into your own self to see whether anything you've
done might have contributed to this tragedy. Needless to say, no
notion was more unwelcome in post-9/11 America. The idea isn't to
partition blame. Rather, it is to make certain that we do not spread
the blame with future acts. Within a few months the United States
had done just that: protected against self-awareness, obsessed by
a sense of self-righteous victimhood, Bush marshaled the full force
of American military power not against the individuals who plotted
9/11 but against whole nations of people who had nothing to do with
the "attacks." He thereby greatly compounded the crime many times
over, something he could do because so few Americans questioned the
assumptions he made: that America's fortunes depended on the world's
fear of America's military power; that the "attacks" had been an
affront to that power, which could only be restored by reassertion;
and that the United States, due to its unique virtue, was uniquely
entitled to project that power over the rest of the world; and that
the American people would continue to support a bold leader (like
Bush) who would restore America to its rightful greatness.
It is difficult to overstate the amount of hubris, let alone
ignorance, that feeds this worldview. Fourteen years later, by any
objective measure, the stance has failed. Yet when Obama, recognizing
that America's power to impose its will on Iran's leaders and people
was limited, resorted to negotiating a framework that would at least
ensure that Iran could not develop nuclear weapons -- the same "hot
button" issue that Bush had used to provoke his ill-fated war in
Iraq -- every single Republican senator and presidential candidate
rose in opposition. Their objections have nothing to do with what
Iran may or may not do. They object to the deal because it represents
a retreat from their belief that American might (American greatness)
is the answer to all problems in the world.
Nonetheless, it is not just the Republicans who continue to cling
to these core assumptions. You'd be hard pressed to find any example
where Obama has rethought why America is involved in the Middle East,
or reconsidered what effect that involvement has had. The Iran deal
is merely a change of tactics: he continues to assume that Iran is
America's (and Israel's) mortal enemy, and that it meant to escape
the omnipresent threat of American (and Israeli) attack by developing
its own nuclear deterrence. The difference is that Obama chose a more
realistic, more effective, and less risky method of preserving nuclear
monopoly than, say, Bush did while allegedly pursuing the same goals
Of course, realism, effectiveness, and risk-limits are among the
things Republicans hate about the deal. They suggest that Obama is
not a true believer in America's greatness. Perhaps they even recall
the Bush-era neocon mantra, "anyone can go to Baghdad; real men go
to Tehran." Obama isn't their idea of a real man. Simple as that.
Some scattered links this week:
Josh Marshall: You'll Want to Read This: Marshall, in his intro and
outro, shows he doesn't really known what to make of "TMP Reader JB" --
"no one bats 1000% at this" [presumably he means a batting average of
1.000, which means 100% of at bats turned into base hits] -- but it's
helpful that he published it last year and reminded us of it this year.
Could an attack happen tomorrow? Of course. But once every 13 years
would still be an anomalous event, not a systemic threat. Remember the
talk as the rubble smoldered of hundreds, maybe thousands, of "sleeper
cells" lurking out there, waiting to strike? Well, we now know there
were none at the time, and apparently none were formed even after we
have fought two wars and killed thousands of innocent civilians since
9/11. One would think our actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan,
etcetera would spawn at least a few motivated and effective enemies
bent on revenge through domestic attacks. Apparently not.
So, ironically, if we had done absolutely nothing in response to
9/11 aside from hold funerals and shake our heads in disbelief, we
would have been no less safe than we are now after two useless wars,
trillions of dollars and thousands of lives lost, and a decade of
taking off our shoes for domestic flights. I'm not saying this was
obvious when 9/11 happened. Far from it. I was just as freaked out
as anyone else at the time and I think it would have been foolish
to ignore the threat. But the fact is if we had we would have been
far better off, because as it turns out there were not hundreds of
other Mohammed Attas out there in the wings. In fact, there were
none, at least not with any meaningful capabilities (which would
exclude folks like the shoe bomber and the Tsarnaev brothers). We
know this to be the case because if such people did exist we would
have been hit 100 times over by now. It is too damn easy to sow
terror and chaos with motivation and even a below average IQ. Think
Newtown or D.C. sniper.
A few sad teenagers have committed far, far more domestic terror
attacks than all the Islamic militants in the world over the past
decade, and that is an outcome I think very few would have predicted,
myself included, in the aftermath of 9/11. I'm sure the Rudy Giuliani
set would love to take credit for the lack of attacks, but I think
any serious expert on stopping domestic terrorism attacks would agree
that the only way to bat as close to 1000 as we have is if your enemy
This is a little confused, but the basic point is surely correct:
that the long-term incidence of terror attacks is extremely marginal
and doesn't justify such major expense as wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq. Moreover, while those wars generated a lot of resistance locally,
they don't appear to have generated any blowback inside the homeland.
This suggests that Bin Laden's focus on the "far enemy" hasn't found
any further adherents. (This may be changing in that ISIS has started
to encourage sympathetic "lone wolf" attacks against hostile countries
like the US and France, but that appears to be secondary to their
recruitment campaigns, and it's not clear that they are organizing
I would stress three points: (1) that the current and future incidence
of terror attacks would go way down if the US wasn't intervening and
otherwise supporting violence in the Middle East; (2) that continued
US support for violence, including support for repressive measures by
corrupt and reactionary regimes in the region, will build up a reservoir
of ill will that will be increasingly difficult to defuse over time;
and (3) the longer we engage in wars in the Middle East, the more
Islamophobic our domestic population becomes, and that prejudice is
likely to generate more jihadi recruitment and/or "lone wolf" incidents.
So while I agree with "JD" that the actual incidence of domestic terror
events doesn't justify the outsized response, I would also argue that
the "war on terror" generates a lot more terror than would otherwise
This doesn't mean I'm against TSA security efforts (I can think of
a half-dozen things about airlines that bother me worse), or that I
object to the government keeping track of who's buying fertilizer or
AK-47s (not that anyone's doing the latter). I do think some of the
law enforcement efforts go too far. Like so much wartime hysteria in
the nation's history, they are less intended to protect the public
than to drive a wedge between the war agenda and people who might
question it. From the Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1790s to the
PATRIOT Act in the wake of 9/11, war fever has repeatedly tarnished
the democracy and freedom allegedly being fought for, often in ways
that once peace returned would be looked back on with embarrassment.
(The one exception, by the way, was the War of 1812, scrupulously
managed by the one president who understood the constitution above
all others, James Madison.)
Mark Z Barabak: Republican voters turn their rage against party
establishment: Front page article in Wichita Eagle this
morning, but I can't find it on their website:
After years of raging against President Obama, unhappy conservatives have
a new target for their anger and disgust: the Republicans in Congress.
The GOP seized control of the House in 2010 and four years later took
the Senate. Yet even with those majorities, Republican lawmakers have
failed to achieve such conservative priorities as rolling back Obamacare,
their derisive name for the national health care law, or cracking down
harder on illegal immigration.
The controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline is no closer to being built --
indeed, it may soon be dead -- tough anti-abortion legislation has languished
in the Senate, and a fiercely disputed nuclear deal with Iran seems virtually
certain to take effect, despite near-unanimous opposition from Republicans
In short, as many see it, the promise of the 2010 tea party movement and
its 2014 echo have been dashed on the marble steps of the Capitol.
"People feel betrayed," said Greg Mueller, a longtime conservative
activist and campaign strategist. "They feel like they keep working and
fighting to elect Republicans to get us back to a limited-government
approach to life, and all they get is more spending, more taxes and
people who are afraid to fight liberal Democrats."
What a bunch of conceited, whiny, self-important, ignorant assholes!
In 2008, after nearly eight years of the most inept and corrupt Republican
Administration in history, 69,498,516 Americans voted for change, for
Barack Obama as president, 9.55 million more than voted for his Republican
opponent, and they elected a heavily Democratic Congress with a supposedly
"fillibuster-proof" Senate, and what did we get for all that effort? Not
much. Then a few thousand bitter enders hold a few rallies, wave flags
and spout Revolutionary War slogans, and the media goes crazy for them,
and the Kochs write them checks, and all of a sudden they feel entitled
to run the country their Party had just spent eight years driving to
ruin. (Remember the bit about how Obama was running ruinous
deficits? During the middle of a recession the Republicans created
and were doing everything they could to extend?) And even after all
that Tea Party enthusiasm, Obama was easily reelected in 2012 -- no
longer promising change, just sanity relative to the parched earth
obstructionism of the Republicans.
I'm pretty sure no one on the right feels more disappointment in
their elected partisan leaders than I do. Obama spent most of his
presidency unwilling to even speak up for the promises he made in
his 2008 campaign, much less to act to stand up for the people who
voted for him (a big part of why so many didn't vote in 2010 --
turnout dropped from 129 to 82 million -- and 2014, handing Congress
to the big money-backed Republican minority). But though I complain,
I'm too used to losing to whine. My first political efforts, after
all, opposed the Vietnam War. The rule of thumb is that politicians
may appeal to the voters during a campaign, but once the ballots are
counted they have to operate in a world dominated by moneyed (and
other hidden) interests, a world of obstacles for anyone marginally
on the left. Conservatives should rationally see such unelected power
as their final bulwark against change, and indeed that's what happened
to Obama. On the other hand, the whiners aren't rational. They expect
their favored politicians to serve their every whim, no matter how
dumb and debilitating: why not shut down the government in order to
prevent women from choosing Planned Parenthood as their health care
provider? Who needs Social Security checks anyway? And if it wasn't
Planned Parenthood, it would be something else -- shutting down the
government has become an annual ritual with them, anything "to get
us back to a limited-government approach to life." (Anything, that
is, but defunding the military, the government's most bloated and
inefficient and, nonetheless, counterproductive bureaucracy.)
Paul Krugman: Charlatans, Cranks, and Apparatchiks:
The Jeb! tax plan confirms, if anyone had doubts, that the takeover of
the Republican Party by charlatans and cranks is complete. This is what
the supposedly thoughtful, wonkish candidate of the establishment can
come up with? And notice that the ludicrous claim that most of the
revenue effects of huge tax cuts would be offset by higher growth
comes from economists who, like Jeb!, are very much establishment
figures -- but who evidently find that the partisan requirement that
they support voodoo outweighs any fear of damage to their professional
While the intellectual implosion of the GOP is obvious, however,
it's less obvious what is driving it. Or to be more specific, stories
that explain why one set of crank ideas flourish don't seem to work
well for other sets of crank ideas.
Krugman examines two cases of crank economic ideas -- opposition
to expansionary economic policy and claims that cutting taxes on the
rich will grow the economy -- and finds their rationales are different,
but doesn't go much beyond that. I think the former case is more
cynical: Republicans only oppose expansionary monetary policy when
Democrats are in office and might get credit for growing the economy;
otherwise, well, Cheney said "deficits don't matter" and Nixon said
"we're all Keynesians now." Sure, there's some residual Gold-buggery
in the Ron Paul camp, but that's marginal.
As for reducing taxes on the rich, that's a policy constant that
has been served by every conceivable rationale -- Lafferism is only
one such ploy for the exceptionally gullible. And while rank and
file Republicans may not get excited about creating a more inequal
society, they'll usually buy the notion that tax cuts should be
matched by spending cuts, especially subsidies to "those people."
But if Krugman is having trouble finding "a general theory of
crankification," that's because he's looking at economics, not
politics. Once Republicans decided that any argument that
sounded remotely plausible could be used to support their favored
policies, validity ceased to be one of their concerns. Then they
found that by cultivating the ignorance and illogic of their
followers they could greatly expand their crackpot arguments
and, well, the rest is show biz.
Middle East links: Seems like more war all the time.
Perhaps unfair to blame all that on the region's number one arms
supplier. Kind of like blaming junkies on pushers.
Yousef Munayyer: Gaza is already unlivable:
The United Nations said on Sept. 1 that the Gaza Strip could become
unlivable by 2020 without critical access to reconstruction and
For Gaza's beleaguered residents, none of this is surprising. Gaza
is already uninhabitable and has been on a fast track to a complete
collapse. The U.N. issued similar warnings three years ago, even before
last summer's 50-day war, which left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead
and countless others injured -- most of them civilians.
"Three Israeli military operations in the past six years, in addition
to eight years of economic blockade, have ravaged the already debilitated
infrastructure of Gaza," the latest U.N. report said. "The most recent
military operation compounded already dire socioeconomic conditions and
accelerated de-development in the occupied Palestinian territory, a
process by which development is not merely hindered but reversed."
Actually, what's needed isn't humanitarian aid but a political
agreement that splits Gaza free from the isolation and deprivation
imposed by Israel (and, for that matter, Egypt's dictatorship).
Sara Yael Hirschhorn: Israeli Terrorists, Born in the USA: Did
you ever wonder why so many of the illegal settlers in the West
Bank, especially the ones most notorious for acts of violence,
originally came from the United States? This piece doesn't delve
very deeply into why, aside from mentioning the model of Meir
Kahane, but I can think of several factors that might predispose
Americans to seek out a situation where they can lord it over
others with impunity. Israel is one such place. For a current
example of such impunity, see
Palestinians in Duma are angry that no one has been charged for
murders, after 38 days.
By the way, but I don't see much fundamental difference between
these young Americans to go to Israel to join the settler movement,
or for that matter to serve in the IDF, and those who go to Syria
to fight for ISIS. Both derive from mistaken senses of identity.
Both get to mistreat people and feel superior for doing so. Sure,
the US government tolerates one case while pushing the other --
even when the other doesn't happen (see
Adam Goldman: An American family saved their son from joining the Islamic
State. Now he might go to prison.)
Nima Shirazi: Slaughtering the Truth and the False Choice of a War
With Iran: Anne-Marie Slaughter supports the Iran Deal, for bad
reasons, because she's a bad thinker:
Five years after supporting the invasion of Iraq, Slaughter was annoyed
by the "gotcha politics" of being held accountable for her bad judgment,
grousing in The Huffington Post that "debate is still far too much about
who was right and who was wrong on the initial invasion."
In 2011, after leaving the State Department, Slaughter lent her
full-throated support to the NATO bombing campaign in Libya, extolling
herself as a champion of humanitarianism and democracy and then hailing
the operation as an unmitigated success. It's been anything but.
A year later, she was calling for US allies to arm rebel forces
against the Assad government in Syria, writing in The New York Times,
"Foreign military intervention in Syria offers the best hope for
curtailing a long, bloody and destabilizing civil war."
In 2013, Slaughter openly lamented her support for the invasion of
Iraq a decade earlier. "Looking back, it is hard to remember just how
convinced many of us were that weapons of mass destruction would be
found," she wrote in The New Republic. "Had I not believed that, I
would never have countenanced any kind of intervention on purely
Nicola Abé: The Vanishing: Why Are Young Egyptian Activists Disappearing?
Back around 1970 I read a book by Egyptian Marxist Anouar Abdel-Malek
(1924-2012) called Egypt: Military Society which argued that the
military in Egypt was the sometimes hidden/often not backbone power in
the nation. I was reminded of this in 2011 when Mubarak was moved out
of power in response to mass demonstrations, and shortly later when the
democratically elected Mohammed Morsi was deposed by a military coup.
Arguably, Morsi overshot his mandate and abused his power, but the same
is true of the new dictator, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
More than four years after the Egyptian revolution, the government headed
by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is cracking down on unwelcome journalists,
former revolutionaries and, most of all, Islamists. In the name of fighting
terror, laws are enacted that limit freedom of the press and freedom of
expression. In some cases, government forces are breaking the country's
laws, in what sometimes feels like a retaliation campaign against those
who drove out former dictator Hosni Mubarak and believed in democracy.
Young people are being detained -- on the street, at work and at home.
They are interrogated without arrest warrants or access to an attorney,
and their family members are kept in the dark about their whereabouts.
There were occasional cases like these already under Mubarak, but since
Interior Minister Magdy Abdul Ghaffar came into office in March, the
police are disappearing scores of people, especially members and
supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the new regime collectively
treats as terrorists. Human rights activists believe there are up to
around 800 such cases in Egypt today.
Eric Schmitt/Ben Hubbard: US Revamping Rebel Force Fighting ISIS in
Syria: The American decision to fight both Assad and ISIS (and
possibly other anti-Assad and/or anti-ISIS forces) with hired local
proxies continues to be plagued by . . . well, everything. It is
one measure of the blind faith Americans put in armed force that
they are stuck in this schizophrenic nightmare.
The Pentagon effort to salvage its flailing training program in Turkey
and Jordan comes as the world is fixated on the plight of thousands of
refugees seeking safety in Europe from strife in the Middle East,
including many fleeing violence of the Syrian civil war and oppression
in areas under the control of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
Officials in Washington and European capitals acknowledge that halting
this mass migration requires a comprehensive international effort to
bring peace and stability to areas that those refugees are now fleeing.
The 54 Syrian fighters supplied by the Syrian opposition group
Division 30 were the first group of rebels deployed under a $500
million train-and-equip program authorized by Congress last year.
It is an overt program run by United States Special Forces, with
help from other allied military trainers, and is separate from a
parallel covert program run by the CIA.
After a year of trying, however, the Pentagon is still struggling
to find recruits to fight the Islamic State without also battling the
forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, their original adversary.
A Downward Spiral: The Saudi war in Yemen, where the Saudi attack on
the local Houthi tribe has been joined by Qatar, UAE, Egypt, and (soon)
Sudan, in one of the most naked examples of belligerent aggression the
world has seen recently:
The action certainly has the whiff of revenge. Onlookers have already
been questioning what the coalition's campaign, now in its sixth month,
hopes to achieve. It is unclear how much support Iran has given to the
Houthis, which is one of the main justifications for the coalition's
action. Quashing the Shia Houthis is nigh on impossible. Gulf officials
and media talk bombastically of preparations to take back Sana'a from
them and reinstall Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi as president (the Houthis
drove him out of the country in March). But Yemen has long been
treacherous territory for foreign invaders, and Gulf armies are
Since committing ground troops in August, the coalition has taken
control of Aden, the southern port city, and is advancing on Taiz.
But it is struggling in Maarib, the gateway to Sana'a, where the
extra troops, backed by armoured vehicles and missile launchers,
are said to be massing. The fighting will only get harder since
the Houthis' remaining strongholds are in mountainous redoubts.
The high toll exacted on civilians may be losing the coalition the
support of allied fighters on the ground, a mixture of tribesmen,
units of the fractured army and Islamist types including al-Qaeda
fighters. "Everyone has now lost someone," says Mr Boucenine. He
says civilians make up an increasing proportion of the dead, now
Amanda Marcotte: Conservatives' Freakout Over Iran Has Absolutely
Nothing to Do With Iran: Picture is from the Trump-Cruz rally
against the Iran Deal. I saw a bit of Trump talking there and it
was the first time he really scared me.
Obama's plan looks like a done deal, but now the clowns are spilling out,
honking their noses and trying to get attention by screaming about how
we're all going to die now. As Nick Corasanti of the New York Times
reports, a veritable who's-who of unserious but self-important demagogues,
led by known foreign policy experts Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, have
descended on DC to impart their collective wisdom about diplomacy, which
appears to amount to implying that the president's testicles aren't big
Ted Cruz in particular seems to think that this is his moment to prove
to the doubters that he is a big tough guy who gets things done because
he's tough and that's what tough guys do. He, along with other House
conservatives, is leading a plan to derail the deal by harping on legal
technicalities, with Rep. Peter Roskam fully admitting it's a "process
Now we have Rep. Louie Gohmert threatening to resign over all this.
Clearly, Congress will be bereft of this leading luminary who graces
this country with conspiracy theories about Jade Helm, how ISIS is
being snuck in by Mexican drug dealers, and how God will destroy the
country for legalizing same-sex marriage.
In other words, two of the worst Republican traits of the past 20
years -- pointless obstructionism for the sole purpose of sticking it
to the Democrats and mindless demagoguery about the nefarious Middle
Eastern threat to convince voters of your manhood -- are joining
together to create a massive, misshapen beast that represents
everything that's gone wrong with politics in the 21st century.
"Jimmy Carter's cancer is God's punishment for his behavior toward Jews,"
says leading Israeli newspaper: Stuff like this make you think God's
some kind of jerk, or maybe I just mean people who presume to speak for
Him? Carter's negotiation of the 1979 peace treaty between Sadat and Begin
was a great gift of peace for Israel, one that has lasted to this day,
even though Begin reneged on the promise of "autonomy" for Palestinians,
and three years later squandered the blessing of peace by invading
Sunday, September 6. 2015
This week's scattered links:
Billmon: Once the best political blogger in the country,
he gave that up only to return as an excessively prolific tweeter, often
spewing out cryptic numbered series of 140-charactertudes that could be
collected and polished up into respectable blog posts. Consider this
transcribed (and slightly edited) example:
If GOP was hoping party's enraged wingnuts would calm down, tug forelocks
and vote for approved establishment candidates, today's dual Senate defeats
on Iran deal, Planned Parenthood will be about as helpful as a couple of
snorts of pure crystal meth. Endless frustration of GOP's BS promises of
sweeping victories -- "We'll END Obamacare! We'll STOP the baby killers!" --
that can't be kept is a big part of what's whipped the lumpen GOP into such
a frenzy of hate and rage. But instead of becoming more skeptical of BS
promises of "final victory," lumpen GOP is becoming even more passionate
about demanding it. And so a fraud like Trump or a laid back fanatic like
Carson can still be seen as the saviors who will make good on the BS
This reminds me that the most persistent character trait of Republicans
ever since Reagan has been their sense of being entitled to lord it over
America -- a sense so deeply felt that they are gobsmacked by every shred
of evidence to the contrary. And I'm talking less about
the elites, who actually do exercise considerable power whenever they
can buy or rent it, than the rank and file, the chumps who loyally
vote Republican, who think they alone are the country and that everyone
who disagrees with them is alien scum. Only exaggerated egos can sustain
their sense of entitlement despite perceptions of victimhood. They get
that way through flattery, by constantly being reminded by politicians
and pundits that they are the true Americans, the source of the nation's
greatness and, if only they can regain power, redemption.
Billmon's also been bothering to post poll results, like:
All adults: 37/59
Ain't Ronny Reagan's America any more, Donald
"70% of 18-29-year-olds see Trump unfavorably, +12 points since
July." His base is white equivalent of Last of the Mohicans
More evidence that America is slipping away from the self-anointed
Ed Kilgore: The Ultimate Jerking Knee of Anti-Obamaism: Obama used
his executive powers to order the federal government to change the
designated name of a large heap of rock in the middle of Alaska from
Mt. McKinley to Denali. I was surprised because I thought the deal
had been done in 1980 when Denali National Park and Reserve was
established, but evidently some dolt at the US Board on Geographic
Names didn't get (or honor) the memo. Indeed, the official name in
Alaska has long been Denali, as Julia O'Malley explains
here. Still, Republicans -- especially those trotting around
the country campaigning for president -- blew a gasket. Kilgore
sees this as one more example of knee-jerk anti-Obamaism:
Yet here we have Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee -- so far -- attacking
the move and promising (Trump) or demanding (Huck) that it be stopped.
There is zero plausible rationale other than hostility to Obama and all
his infernal works. If it spreads, that will be incontestable.
When I first heard about this, I found Ohio politicians like Bob
Portman complaining, making me think they should find a mountain in Ohio
to name after McKinley (and, while they're at it, a slightly smaller
one for Harding)? But I can think of at least two other reasons for
their agita. One is that having totally sandbagged Obama's legislative
agenda, they've long been primed to cry foul any and every time he
uses the routine executive powers of an office that he was popularly
elected to twice -- even on something this innocuous. But the other
is that Republicans have become obsessed with naming things after
themselves, so this seems like backsliding. Their campaign kicked
into high gear when they formed a full-time lobby to get things named
after Ronald Reagan, figuring that if they could plaster his name
everywhere he might achieve exalted Washington-Lincoln status. We've
seen fruits of this campaign locally with the VA Hospital named for
Robert Dole and the airport named for Eisenhower. (Koch Arena, of
course, wasn't a political decision; its naming was bought the
Ed Kilgore: Defending the God-Given Liberty of County Clerks to Ignore
Duties They Don't Like: Evidently there's a county clerk in Kentucky
who's gotten attention by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay
couples -- something recently established as "the law of the land." She
regards her refusal to be a matter of religious conscience, but doesn't
feel strongly enough to resign her position, which would be the principled
thing to do. Rather, she feels entitled to keep her job and use it to
discriminate against people she doesn't like, to prevent them from one
of their legal rights. She has no legal basis to stand on, although there
are a few politicians -- including a "Tea Party dude" named Matt Bevin
who's running for governor in Kentucky -- who would like to invent a
legal right for at least some people to impose their bigotry on others
according to some definition of religious conscience. They key word in
that last line is "some" because there are way too many weird tenets
in way too many religions to generalize any such "right" -- it doesn't
take much imagination to see that the result would be chaos. On the
other hand, respect for religious conscience isn't a bad principle.
But the way to honor it isn't to turn it into a way to obstruct and
frustrate justice. It's to allow the conscientious objector to step
back and be replaced by someone amenable to the situation. For the
clerk, that means resign and find some new job that doesn't present
her with such moral qualms. For a pharmacist, say, who objects to
filling prescriptions for birth control, that may even mean finding
a new profession. (No business can afford to keep extra staff on
hand to compensate for the "religious convictions" of staff that
refuse to do their job.) Still, none of these recent examples compel
people to do things against their principles like the military draft
did, and which military enlistment contracts still do. I strongly
believe that any soldier should be able to resign at any moment
when faced with an understanding that one's task may be illegal,
unethical, and/or immoral. However, even given how much I hate war,
I wouldn't go so far as to insist that conscientious objectors be
retained in military posts so they can undermine the operation.
Rather, I'd hope that enough people would object to bring the
whole operation into question.
Admittedly, resigning a position, possibly even changing a career
path, involves an economic cost. If politicians wish to support more
people exercising conscientious objection, they could help cushion
those costs -- e.g., by providing unemployment compensation for
anyone who resigns on principle. But that's not what Bevin, et al.,
want. All they want is to undermine civil rights by allowing
self-righteous cranks to muck up the system. That's why this clerk
is their poster child.
Norman Pollack: The Trump Phenomenon: This Is Getting Serious:
News coverage of US presidential campaigns has been abysmal for a
long time, and seems to get worse as a function of how long the
campaigns last and how much money is spent on them. One problem
this year is having to slog through so much rubbish about Donald
Trump's "populism" -- the word they're looking for is "popularity,"
itself a highly circumscribed property when the only people you're
sampling are those who show up for Republican campaign events. I
figured the writer most likely to debunk this nonsense is the one
who introduced me to the history of the People's Party -- checking
back, the book I recall was The Populist Mind (1967), which
he edited; he also wrote The Populist Response to Industrial
America: Midwestern Populist Thought (1962); The Just
Polity: Populism, Law, and Human Welfare (1987), and The
Humane Economy: Populism, Capitalism, and Democracy (1990). And
he makes a clear distinction between populism and the gruff Trump
is peddling. The latter is what he calls "neo-fascism," something
he doesn't see Trump pushing so much as pandering:
Yet Trump is less important than the American people, who, thirsting
for strong leadership, pathetic in their wallowing in contrived fear,
brought on by decades of gut redbaiting and subliminally-wrought and
manipulative anticommunism, place him on a political-ideological
pedestal tokening authoritarian submissiveness. America, not Trump
himself, is the primary explanation for his standing.
The political culture is one of uncritical acceptance of war,
business, militarism (in truth neo-fascism corrected for eroding
Constitutional principles still in place), a long-term historical
process in the shaping of a hierarchical capitalist structure,
value system, and class relationships. Old Glory is self-immolating,
its fabric torn asunder by unreasoning fear (an inflexible societal
framework, in essence, counterrevolutionary in scope and substance,
because opposed to social change in recognition that property, class,
privilege might be questioned if critical judgment were encouraged
and allowed to operate freely), and by frustration over obstacles
to US unilateral global hegemony. This is not something new, fear
being a weapon in the elites' arsenal, permanent, yet trotted out,
intensified, when they sense a mass awakening and/or restiveness
usually associated with war and its aftermath.
This neo-fascist impulse is summed up in the mass craving
for a strong leader -- the word that expresses it perfectly is
Führerprinzip (this is one of those cases where a German
word is clearer than anything I could say in English). They can
only hope Trump is the Führer of their dreams -- clearly
most other Republican candidates aren't, being mere puppets of
their billionaire sponsors (most obviously, I'd say, Walker and
Rubio). It's safe to say that Trump will ultimately disappoint,
if not as Hitler did then at some lower level of catastrophe
and/or corruption. Given Trump's track record I'd bet on the
latter. Few figures in our time have more consistently pursued
fame as a means to fortune. Give him "the most powerful office
in the world" and you can be sure he won't rule as the humble
servant of the people who voted for him. He will only have his
own self-interest to guide him.
I've never seen anyone mention this, but the obvious model for
Trump as a politician is Silvio Berlusconi, the media mogul who
became prime minister of Italy three times between 1994 and 2011.
Forbes pegs Berlusconi's net worth at $7.7 billion, almost double
the $4 billion Trump is supposedly worth, although Berlusconi was
certainly worth less before he became prime minister. As it happens,
there is a new book out: Being Berlusconi: The Rise and Fall
From Cosa Nostra to Bunga Bunga, where we find that along
with his great fortune and political triumphs, he also "became
bogged down by his hubris, egotism, sexual obsessions, as well
as his flagrant disregard for the law."
His followers say America wants and needs a Great Leader, but
the more I look at Trump, the more he looks like a cheap knock
off of Silvio Berlusconi.
Still, otherwise intelligent reporters keep buying at least part
of the Trump = populism meme (like Pollack, they're usually people
who don't have a very high opinion of most white Americans. E.g.,
Matt Taibbi: The Republicans Are Now Officially the Party of White
Paranoia. Taibbi follows up a quick rundown of how oligarchy
works followed by a dubious example of Trump breaking rank:
They donate heavily to both parties, essentially hiring two different
sets of politicians to market their needs to the population. The
Republicans give them everything that they want, while the Democrats
only give them mostly everything.
They get everything from the Republicans because you don't have to
make a single concession to a Republican voter.
All you have to do to secure a Republican vote is show lots of
pictures of gay people kissing or black kids with their pants pulled
down or Mexican babies at an emergency room. Then you push forward
some dingbat like Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin to reassure everyone
that the Republican Party knows who the real Americans are.
[ . . . ]
Trump has pulled all of those previously irrelevant voters completely
out of pocket. In a development that has to horrify the donors who run
the GOP, the candidate Trump espouses some truly populist policy beliefs,
including stern warnings about the dire consequences companies will face
under a Trump presidency if they ship American jobs to Mexico and China.
All that energy the party devoted for decades telling middle American
voters that protectionism was invented by Satan and Karl Marx during a
poker game in Brussels in the mid-1840s, that just disappeared in a puff
And all that money the Republican kingmakers funneled into Fox and
Clear Channel over the years, making sure that their voters stayed
focused on ACORN and immigrant-transmitted measles and the New Black
Panthers (has anyone ever actually seen a New Black Panther? Ever?)
instead of, say, the complete disappearance of the manufacturing sector
or the mass theft of their retirement income, all of that's now backing
up on them.
What fakes people out, I think, is that the more ideologically rigorous
Republican moneymen (starting with the Kochs) are so wary of Trump, not
so much because they think he's not on their side as because he's not
(yet) in their pocket. That'll change soon enough when they realize his
shtick is just shtick.
For another piece that takes Trump populism seriously, see
David Atkins: Why Donald Trump Will Defeat the Koch Brothers for the Soul
of the GOP:
In order to understand how Donald Trump continues to dominate the
Republican field despite openly promoting tax hikes on wealthy hedge
fund managers, hinting support for universal healthcare and other
wildly iconoclastic positions hostile to decades of Republican dogma,
it's important to note the that the Republican Party was teetering
on the edge of a dramatic change no matter whether Trump had entered
the race or not. [ . . . ]
As for Wall Street? Most Republican voters can't stand them. The
majority of the Republican base sees the financial sector as crony
capitalist, corrupt liberal New Yorkers who got a bailout. Most GOP
voters won't shed a tear if Trump raises taxes on the hedge fund crowd.
Donald Trump reassures these voters that the "wrong kind of people"
won't be getting any freebies on his watch. That's all they really care
about -- so if Trump supports universal healthcare it's simply not that
big a deal.
And this ultimately is what the real GOP realignment is going to look
like: less racially diverse corporatism, and more socialism for white
people. It stands to reason. Blue-collar white GOP voters aren't about
to forget decades of fear-based propaganda, and their economic position
remains precarious enough that they still need the welfare state help.
The first point to remember is that no politician can, and many don't
even want to, deliver on all campaign promises. Second, it's especially
far fetched to think that Trump will, not least because there's scant
evidence he really believes in any of this -- especially the "socialism
for white people" planks Atkins touts. If/when he gets elected, he'll
have to work with a Republican party that has been leaning the other
way hard for years -- especially on taxes and benefits, but also on
things like trade and capital flows. He could try to push some things
through with Democratic support, but that runs the risk of losing not
the base so much as the media machine that has kept the GOP so united
of late. If I had to guess, I'd expect him to demagogue anti-immigrant
positions -- that, after all, is his trademark issue -- but he'll
accommodate all the usual interest groups, notably the banks, oil,
and the military, and I doubt he'll do anything to undermine the
predatory nature of the health care industry (though he'll preserve
some form of rebranded, "fixed" Obamacare). But he won't do anything
to slow down much less reverse the increasing inequality that is
undoing the white middle class. He may get a short term blip because
a lot of voters are gullible, but he can't build a realignment on
delivering nothing but hot air.
Trump's slogan is to Make America Great Again, but he can't deliver
on that because nothing he knows how to do will work. He is popular
now because his jingoism resonates with a certain type of mainstream
Republican, but you shouldn't confuse popularity with populism. The
latter is a set of principled beliefs. The former is fleeting, most
of all for frauds and crooks, and every experience we've had suggests
that's all he is.
PS: It will be interesting to see whether Trump support
manages to break off some of the odder chinks in the conservative
worldview. The most likely candidates are schemes like the flat tax
and the various privatization schemes for Social Security/Medicare --
programs that are very popular among the GOP base but under attack
from the libertarian-oriented (i.e., Koch-financed) think tanks.
Right now the groups that seem to be most upset by Trump are Koch
fronts: having entered this election cycle planning on spending
$900 million to finally take control of the whole nation, they've
suddenly found themselves on the defensive, in a fight over the
mindset of the Republican Party. And they're liable to find that a
lot of their pet issues are deeply unpopular even among the party
faithful: for instance, their rabid anti-wind push couldn't even
pass the neanderthal Kansas legislature, and the exemption that
businessmen get from state income tax was only saved by Brownback's
unwillingness to compromise on the point.
There's probably a formal model for this somewhere, but just
thinking off the top of my head, let me try to sketch one out.
In any political party, there are some stances that are widely
held by the masses, and multiple others that are held by the
elites. The elites control the media, the think tanks, and in
normal times the discussion -- a mix of their own concerns plus
a little red meat to keep the masses riled up. Until Trump came
along, the race was between a bunch of whores sucking up to the
party's top money men, the cream of the elites. Any of those
guys would have been acceptable to the masses, but none of them
really satisfied their craving for a strong charismatic leader,
a Führer. Trump changed all that, mostly by appealing
directly to the masses (bypassing the elites) by seizing on a
mass hot-button issue, immigration. (The elites are generally
pro-immigration, correctly seeing it as good for business and
bad for labor, although they often bite their tongue so as not
to stir up the shit storm Trump raised.)
My sense of the Republican masses is: people who basically
feel economically secure (unless they own small business); are
cynical about government but less so about business; regard
wealth and self-sufficiency as signs of virtue, and poverty as
a personal failing; regard hierarchies as normal, and tend to
defer to strong male figures; strongly identify with like groups,
especially the nation. You can probably tune this further. The
GOP has been very effective at cultivating single-issue voters,
like gun nuts (I added "self-sufficiency" thinking of them),
anti-abortion zealots (male-dominated hierarchies has a lot to
do with this), and the military (ditto). I could add something
about people who aspire to be rich and vote their dreams, but
such people mostly fall into hierarchies, and that's sort of
a self-serving cliché -- besides, most of the mass base know
they'll never get rich (many are already on Social Security),
they're just satisfied with their lot. Obviously, most are
white and native-born over at least a couple generations --
but there are exceptions, including such over-compensating
strivers as Rubio, Cruz, Jindal, Santorum (and I suppose I
should add Carson). I didn't include religion in part because
I'm not convinced that Republicans have any edge there (let
alone monopoly), although they may be more clannish, dogmatic,
and bigoted about their religion.
I also didn't include prejudice or stupidity in this list,
mostly because I think they are effects of the way Republican
elites manipulate their mass base rather than defining factors
of membership. The unavoidable fact is that the mass base is
incredibly misinformed about just about everything -- something
easy to blame on the right-wing media and their knack for
spinning facts and spicing them up with "dog whistle" nuance,
something the mass base doesn't just buy into but gobbles up
with disturbing relish. Still, this ignorance is a weak spot for
the mass base, one that's likely to fracture whenever contrary
facts break through -- which happens regularly as Republican
programs inevitably blow up.
Iran Deal links:
Celestine Bohlen: Europe Doesn't Share US Concerns on Iran Deal:
Given the sound, fury and millions of dollars swirling around the debate
in Washington over the Iranian nuclear deal, the silence in Europe is
striking. It's particularly noticeable in Britain, France and Germany,
which were among the seven countries that signed the deal on July 14.
Here in France, which took the toughest stance during the last years
of negotiation, the matter is settled, according to Camille Grand,
director of the Strategic Research Foundation in Paris and an expert
on nuclear nonproliferation.
"In Europe, you don't have a constituency against the deal," he said.
"In France, I can't think of a single politician or member of the expert
community who has spoken against it, including some of us who were critical
during the negotiations."
Mr. Grand said the final agreement was better than he had expected.
"I was surprised by the depth and the quality of the deal," he said.
"The hawks are satisfied, and the doves don't have an argument."
Grace Cason/Jim Lobe: Committee for the Liberation of Iraq Members on
Iran Deal: As you've probably noticed by now, most of the people
who brought you the Iraq War are opposed to Obama's Iran Deal. This
article provides an exhaustive rundown:
Virtually all of the political appointees who held foreign-policy posts
under George W. Bush -- from Elliott Abrams to Dov Zakheim, not to
mention such leading lights as Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz,
Eric Edelman, and "Scooter" Libby -- have all assailed the agreement as
a sell-out and/or appeasement with varying degrees of vehemence, if not
The piece especially covers the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq
(CLI), which was set up in November 2002 to sell the war -- "a classic
letterhead organization (LHO), a collection of individuals with widely
varying degrees of knowledge about Iraq gathered together by the Bush
White House, PNAC, and Chalabi." Of that group, Chalabi seems to be the
only one to favor the deal. Many others are quoted, the most flamboyant
being Bernard Lewis, who said that "for Iran's leadership, mutually
assured destruction is 'not a deterrent, it's an inducement.'" They
did find four CLI members who supported the deal, and several others,
ranging from James P. Hoffa to Donald Rumsfeld, who have yet to weigh
Fred Kaplan: How the Iran Deal Will Pass -- and Why It Should:
This runs through a lot of opposition arguments and knocks them down.
Then ponders the politics, which is subject to a different form of
The biggest source of uncertainty, among some vote counters, is that
the whole exercise is a bit theatrical. Because Obama has said he
would veto a rejection, all the Republicans and a few Democrats feel
that they have leave to succumb to political pressures. They can vote
"no," and satisfy their party whips or constituents, without shouldering
any responsibility for their actions.
The irony and danger of this is that, the safer Obama's margins seem,
the more Democrats might defect, believing that the deal will pass
without their support. But if enough Democrats act on that calculation,
the outcome could shift -- maybe enough to override a veto, even though
none of the swing voters has that intention.
This can happen in a political system, such as ours today, that
encourages legislators to take their jobs less than seriously.
Paul R Pillar: The Iran Issue and the Exploitation of Ignorance:
Most of this is on public polling, which confirms here, as it has on
many other occasions, that most Americans are ignorant and/or stupid.
He then moves on to cases where opponents have sought to exploit this
ignorance by spinning minor details into supposed problems -- the "24
day" issue is an example -- but he also points out that supporters
can use the issue as an opportunity for educating the public (e.g.,
Congressman Jerrold Nadler Statement on the P5+1 Joint Comprehensive
Plan of Action).
Stephen M Walt: The Myth of a Better Deal:
The most obvious example of magical thinking in contemporary policy
discourse, of course, is the myth of a "better deal" with Iran. Despite
abundant evidence to the contrary, opponents of the JCPOA keep insisting
additional sanctions, more threats to use force, another round of Stuxnet,
or if necessary, dropping a few bombs, would have convinced Iran to run
up the white flag and give the United States everything it ever demanded
for the past 15 years. The latest example of such dubious reasoning is
the New York Times's David Brooks, who thinks an agreement where Iran
makes most of the concessions is a Vietnam-style defeat for the United
States and imagines that tougher US negotiators (or maybe war) would
have produced a clear and decisive victory.
Never mind that while the United States ramped up sanctions, Iran
went from zero centrifuges to 19,000. Never mind that there was no
international support for harsher sanctions and that unilateral US
sanctions wouldn't increase the pressure in any meaningful way. Never
mind that attacking Iran with military force would not end its nuclear
program and only increase Iran's interest in having an actual weapon.
Never mind that the deal blocks every path to a bomb for at least a
decade. And never mind that the myth of a "better deal" ignores
Diplomacy 101: To get any sort of lasting agreement, it has to
provide something for all of the parties.
The next paragraph has another good line but I wanted to stop
on the "Diplomacy 101" point. Deals shouldn't turn into contests
of power, in part because they're never really zero-sum games.
When both sides are equal in power, their deals can be expected
to find mutual benefits that exceed either party's losses. But
when power is inequal, when one side has to make concessions to
the other, it becomes essential that the more powerful side limit
those concessions to what will be viewed as just. Failure to do
so breeds resentment, both against the unjust treaty and the
powerlessness it demonstrates. The classic example, of course,
was Versailles, where the reparations Germany was forced to pay
fueled a revolt that led to an even deadlier war. I'd worry more
that the deal was stacked too much against Iran than that the US
negotiators could have held out for something more punitive. The
US did not enter these negotiations with a much of a reputation
for justice, at least in Iranian eyes, and reneging on the deal
(as the Republicans propose) will only sully America's reputation
Needless to say, no nation has a worse reputation for turning
negotiations into contests of power than Israel (the main reason
the power-crazed neocons so love and envy it).
Gareth Porter: Barak's tales of Israel's near war with Iran conceal
with real story: A tale of frantic sabre-rattling, designed more
for show than as a real military action (kind of like Nixon's "Madman"
The latest episode in the seemingly endless story of Israel's threat
of war followed the broadcast in Israel of interviews by Barak for a
new biography. The New York Times' Jodi Rudoren reported that, in
those interviews, Barak "revealed new details to his biographers about
how close Israel came to striking Iran." Barak "said that he and Mr
Netanyahu were ready to attack Iran each year," but claimed that
something always went wrong. Barak referred to three distinct episodes
from 2010 through 2012 in which the he and Netanyahu were supposedly
manoeuvering to bring about an air attack on Iran's nuclear programme.
The bulk of the article show how Obama used Israel's threats to
gain UN agreement on harsher sanctions against Iran.
Trita Parsi/Reza Marashi: Obama's Real Achievement With the Iran Deal:
In his speech at American University on August 5, Obama made clear that
the Iran nuclear deal is a product of him leading America away from the
damaging over-militarization of America's foreign and national security
policies following the September 11th attacks. "When I ran for President
eight years ago as a candidate who had opposed the decision to go to war
in Iraq, I said that America didn't just have to end that war -- we had
to end the mindset that got us there in the first place," Obama said.
"It was a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over
But a single foreign-policy achievement, however historic and momentous,
a mindset does not change. Particularly if the debate surrounding the deal
remains deeply rooted in the old, militaristic mindset. Herein lies the
Obama administration's own shortcomings in the debate. While the president
made clear his aim to shift America's security mindset, most of the arguments
employed to convince lawmakers to support to deal are rooted in the mindset
that led America into Iraq, not in the mindset that enabled the diplomatic
victory with Iran.
The Iraq war mindset is one where strength above all else produces
security. An attitude that, in the words of Obama, "equates security
with a perpetual war footing." This mindset, in turn, produces a fear of
not projecting strength; of looking weak. As the president pointed out
in his speech, "Those calling for war labeled themselves strong and
decisive, while dismissing those who disagreed as weak -- even appeasers
of a malevolent adversary."
This desire to look strong, borne out of this mindset, continues to
define the debate over the Iran deal. It has led some supporters of the
deal to highlight the military justifications behind their support, even
though this defeats the larger purpose of the deal itself: To shift the
paradigm from militarism to diplomacy.
But Obama's line about wanting to change the way we think about war
had turned into a joke long ago by the man himself. Whatever doubts he
may have had before, they evaporated pretty quickly once his minions
started calling him "commander in chief," as he started racking up his
own personal body count -- as I recall, the first person he directly,
personally ordered assassinated was a Somali pirate, and the list has
grown much longer since then. Obama didn't change the way we think
about war; war changed the way we think about Obama (not, of course,
that the Republicans can be accused of thinking here).
Even Obama's great diplomatic breakthrough has all the marks of a
military campaign, deftly executed to line up a broad front of allies
whose combined leverage was so great that Iran saw no alternative but
to surrender its Ayatollahs' dreams of nuclear apocalypse. Admittedly,
Obama did (at least for the moment) effect a change within American
military strategy, preferring a clean surrender signed by Iran's
leaders, who remain in place to enforce it, to the usual American
military clusterfuck -- you know, invade a country, kill people
indiscriminately, destroy the infrastructure to commit mass mayhem,
buy off the most corruptible elements and turn them into the face of
occupation, then spend eternity putting down guerrilla insurrections.
Nonetheless, Obama reserved the latter option in case the deal doesn't
work out. You'd think his opponents would at least take heart in
that. But then you'd also think that anyone who grasped the alleged
problem would recognize that an agreement with positive incentives
for compliance will be much more effective than disagreement with
random punishments and unpredictable reprisals, which is all that
Netanyahu, Lieberman (take your pick), and their ilk have to offer.
As the debate over the Iran deal concludes and the next policy crisis
comes to the fore, both Obama's friends and foes would be wise to take
his advice: "Resist the conventional wisdom and the drumbeat of war.
Worry less about being labeled weak; worry more about getting it right."
Indeed, if the Iran nuclear deal solely prevents an Iranian bomb but
fails to shift the security paradigm in America towards peace building
through diplomacy rather than the militarism of perpetual warfare, then
truly a historic opportunity will have been lost.
Changing the way we think about war will take some leadership who's
already changed the way they think, but when it happens we'll look back
on this debate and wonder how both sides could have been so drunk on
Noam Chomsky: On the Iran Deal: I might say he's a little long-winded,
but he makes so many solid points the piece comes off as a breath of fresh
air. For instance:
Turning to the next obvious question, what in fact is the Iranian threat?
Why, for example, are Israel and Saudi Arabia trembling in fear over that
country? Whatever the threat is, it can hardly be military. Years ago, US
intelligence informed Congress that Iran has very low military expenditures
by the standards of the region and that its strategic doctrines are
defensive -- designed, that is, to deter aggression. The US intelligence
community has also reported that it has no evidence Iran is pursuing an
actual nuclear weapons program and that "Iran's nuclear program and its
willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons
is a central part of its deterrent strategy."
The authoritative SIPRI review of global armaments ranks the US, as
usual, way in the lead in military expenditures. China comes in second
with about one-third of US expenditures. Far below are Russia and Saudi
Arabia, which are nonetheless well above any western European state.
Iran is scarcely mentioned. Full details are provided in an April report
from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which
finds "a conclusive case that the Arab Gulf states have . . .
an overwhelming advantage of Iran in both military spending and access
to modern arms."
Iran's military spending, for instance, is a fraction of Saudi Arabia's
and far below even the spending of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Altogether, the Gulf Cooperation Council states -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman,
Saudi Arabia, and the UAE -- outspend Iran on arms by a factor of eight,
an imbalance that goes back decades.
Next up is the "existential threat" that Iran is said to present to
nuclear-armed Israel. And of course Chomsky brings up the 1953 coup,
American arms sales to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, etc. I suspect he
goes a little too far in belittling Iran's efforts to recruit allies
around the Middle East -- their interventionism pales in comparison to
what the US and even Saudi Arabia has done, but that doesn't make it
constructive. Also, their human rights record, including religious
intolerance (particularly against the Baha'i) leaves a lot to be
desired -- although, again, maybe not in comparison to our great ally,
Jason Diltz: Four US Troops Among Six Injured in Sinai IED Blasts:
I can't say I was aware of any US troops anywhere in Egypt, but here
you go, in harm's way. Evidently they are part of an observer group
demanded by Israel to monitor Egyptian forces in Sinai, but Egyptian
forces there are mostly fighting other Egyptians, some allegedly
affiliated with ISIS. Rather than admitting that their presence has
become a complicating factor, doing neither Egypt nor Israel any
good, the sensible thing would be to move those troops out, lest
they become an excuse for sending more in. But it seems like that's
just what the military wants to do: to send more firepower in and
escalate the conflict.
Jason Diltz: 45 UAE Troops, 10 Saudis, and 5 Bahrainis Killed in
Yemen War: Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen has mostly
involved killing Yemenis from the air, but as you can see here
the Saudis and their Gulf allies actually have "boots on the ground,"
as 60 deaths in a two-day span clearly shows. Not clear whether the
US is actively or merely passively supporting the Saudi effort, but
as the Saudis' main arms supplier this is effectively yet another
American proxy war effort.
DR Tucker: Everything in Moderation: Part II: Starts with a quote
from a Rachel Maddow monologue back in 2010, but relevant to much of
At the top of the show today, we talked about the myth of bipartisanship,
the futility of Democrats, including the president, wasting time trying
to persuade Republicans to go along with them on policies that are good
for the country. [ . . . ]
None of this is a secret, which is the most important thing to
understand about it. Republicans right now do not care about policy.
By which I mean, they will not vote for things that even they admit
are good policies . . .
And they are unembarrassed about this fact. They are not embarrassed.
Charging them with hypocrisy, appealing to their better, more practical,
more what's-best-for-the-country patriotic angels is like trying to
teach your dog to drive.
It wastes a lot of time. It won't work. And ultimately the dog comes
out of the exercise less embarrassed for failing than you do for trying.
The bulk of the piece has to do with climate change, but it could
just as well be the Iran Deal or pretty much anything else. Republicans
can't imagine a better outcome to the "manufactured crisis" than the
one Obama handed them, but they've negotiated a deal which lets them
sputter on about the deal, secure that nothing they do will undermine
the deal, and confident that no one will remember their pig-headedness
come next election.
This feeling Republicans have that nothing can stick to them was
hugely reinforced when they took control of Congress in 2010, only
four years after Iraq and Katrina wiped them out in 2006, only two
years after they caused the largest recession since the 1930s. This
sense that no matter what they do they'll never have to pay for it
is about the only thing that explains their intransigence on global
warming and health care.
By the way, Tucker is also saying very laudatory things about
Arctic Blast speech. I haven't read or seen the speech, so will
take his word (with the usual grain of salt). However, I have been
saying all along that even if Obama can't legislate solutions he
should be using his pulpit to speak about problems, so this seems
to be a step in the right direction. I just wish his convictions on
war/peace and economic equality were more laudable.
Sunday, August 23. 2015
Some scattered links this week:
Josh Marshall: Breaking: Nuclear Stuff Really Complicated:
But they've had an extremely difficult time making substantive arguments
against the deal because according to almost all technical experts it is
about as tight and comprehensive and total a surveillance regime as we've
ever seen. Ever. Iran will not have a nuclear weapon under any circumstances
for 10 to 20 years. Unless they choose to cheat. And if they do, the U.S.
and the international community will almost certainly catch them and catch
them before they're able to weaponize. But here's the problem -- that's
only the opinion of people who actually know what they're talking about.
Marshall follows this up with examples of stories based on ignorance
and innuendo that supposedly show flaws in the inspections process, and
cites the appropriate authorities on why they're false. I don't see any
point in going down these various rat holes. The most comprehensive
rebuttal I've seen is from Uzi Even, an Israeli physicist who's built
nuclear weapons, who studied the deal and concluded: "the deal was
written by nuclear experts and blocks every path I know to the bomb."
The only exception I would take to Marshall's "nuclear stuff is
complicated . . . so it's important to consult the
people who know about nuclear stuff, people called scientists" is
that the details of the inspection process only really matter if you
assume that Iran actually was working on developing nuclear weapons,
and that they secretly intend to continue on that path after sanctions
are lifted, once Iran opens up to foreign investment and can trade
freely with the rest of the world -- in short, starts to become a
I think that Ayatollah Khamanei drew a sharp line in the sand with
his fatwa declaring nuclear weapons contrary to Islam, so while Iran
certainly wanted to show the world its mastery of nuclear technology,
including the fuel cycle, and possibly thereby gain some deterrence
against the long-present threat of foreign attack, they never had any
intention of moving from capability to weaponization. Hence, it makes
sense to me that Iran would agree to an inspections process that
foreclosed any possibility of doing what they hadn't intended on
doing in the first place -- especially in exchange for ending the
sanctions, which were extremely offensive to Iran in the first
Dan Simpson: The United States owns part of Europe's migrant problem:
If anything, he understates American responsibility. Even though most
of the political pressure for intervention in Libya came from Europe,
the model (as well as the firepower) came from the US. Nor should one
ignore US impacts further south in Africa, especially in countries like
Somalia and Mali. (Ironically, Libya used to be able to absorb many
migrants from war-torn Africa.)
The biggest problem of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa at the
moment is massive migration.
It is a result of American direct and indirect war-making in recent
years in those regions. Most Americans regard the problem as someone
else's. We get away with it because people don't think the matter through.
The United States is responsible for two aspects of the problem. The
first is that we have massively disrupted the societies and economies of
the countries that are producing the refugees through war. The second
source of our responsibility is that our role in the overthrow of the
government in Libya turned that country into a rat's nest of chaos and
non-government. The result is that Libya has come to serve as the
jumping-off point for the boatloads of African and other refugees
jamming their way into Southern Europe and even trying to cross the
A quick glance at the countries of origin of the refugees make
America's role clear. They are Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans and Syrians,
nationals of countries where we have tried to determine what government
should be in power, including by raining countless bombs and drone-mounted
missiles down on them. In each of these countries, America has destroyed
order and the economy, making life unbearable and employment unobtainable.
Put another way, we have turned Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria into
countries that people are desperate to escape, no longer able to imagine
their lives there given the dangerous, lawless cauldrons the countries
But I also blame Europe for not having the smarts and guts to stand
up to the American neocons' misguided and mistaken efforts to transform
the world through fire. (GW Bush: "Sometimes a show of force by one
side can really clarify things." Quoted in Ron Suskind: The One
Stephen M Walt: So Wrong for So Long: Why neoconservatives are never
right: Well, some of the reasons anyway:
Getting Iraq wrong wasn't just an unfortunate miscalculation, it happened
because [the neocons'] theories of world politics were dubious and their
understanding of how the world works was goofy.
[ . . . ]
For starters, neoconservatives think balance-of-power politics doesn't
really work in international affairs and that states are strongly inclined
to "bandwagon" instead. In other words, they think weaker states are easy
to bully and never stand up to powerful adversaries. Their faulty logic
follows that other states will do whatever Washington dictates provided
we demonstrate how strong and tough we are. This belief led them to
conclude that toppling Saddam would send a powerful message and cause
other states in the Middle East to kowtow to us. If we kept up the
pressure, our vast military power would quickly transform the region
into a sea of docile pro-American democracies.
[ . . . ]
Today, of course, opposition to the Iran deal reflects a similar
belief that forceful resolve would enable Washington to dictate whatever
terms it wants. As I've written before, this idea is the myth of a
"better deal." Because neocons assume states are attracted to strength
and easy to intimidate, they think rejecting the deal, ratcheting up
sanctions, and threatening war will cause Iran's government to finally
cave in and dismantle its entire enrichment program. On the contrary,
walking away from the deal will stiffen Iran's resolve, strengthen its
hard-liners, increase its interest in perhaps actually acquiring a
nuclear weapon someday, and cause the other members of the P5+1 to
part company with the United States. [ . . . ]
Fourth, as befits a group of armchair ideologues whose primary goal
has been winning power inside the Beltway, neoconservatives are often
surprisingly ignorant about the actual conditions of the countries
whose politics and society they want to transform. Hardly any
neoconservatives knew very much about Iraq before the United States
invaded -- if they had, they might have reconsidered the whole scheme --
and their characterizations of Iran today consist of scary caricatures
bearing little resemblance to Iran's complicated political and social
reality. In addition to flawed theories, in short, the neoconservative
worldview also depends on an inaccurate reading of the facts on the
Walt lists a couple more reasons neocons are always wrong, and
misses or only glances on a few more. One is that they're extremely
squeamish about dealing with people they perceive as enemies --
i.e., people who don't show the proper submissive repose to the
righteousness of their power. Neocons not only can't accept the
idea that the US might come to an agreement with Iran; they can't
stand that the US would even meet with Iranians in person. In some
ways, their insistence on only dealing with the world by projecting
force derives from insecurities about personal (they would say
Walt correctly notes that "the neoconservatives' prescriptions for
US foreign policy are perennially distorted by a strong attachment to
Israel," but doesn't add that the obvious motive behind that attachment
is envy: they want the US to confront the whole world with the same
arrogance and contempt Israel projects in its neighborhood. One can
make a pretty good argument that such policies don't even benefit
Israel let alone are scalable worldwide.
Despite the terminology, there is nothing especially new about
neocon-ism. The core idea first emerged following the development
of nuclear bombs and the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
that's when the US became the world's sole superpower, a moment
of omnipotence the neocons have been yearning to regain ever since
(hence all the "end of history" brouhaha after the collapse of the
Soviet Union). Aside from the early Bush-Cheney administration,
they've rarely been able to dictate American policy, but the
delusions of power their ideas spring from has been a driving
force behind America's post-WWII war machine -- indeed, they've
spun up an entire ideology (calcified into a secular religion)
that nearly all American politicians are swamped by. This, despite
the fact that every war started with the assumption that American
power will prevail, and every fiasco with the notion that nothing
unmanageably bad could occur.
But even before the bomb, neocon-ism rested on a conservative
doctrine that goes back millennia: the master-slave relationship,
the eternal backbone of American conservatism, and of empires
everywhere. Conservatism has always depended on two assumptions
so deep you can only accept or reject them: one is that some
people are (usually innately) superior to others and therefore
should be privileged to rule; the other is that contrary to the
first can (meaning should) ever change over time. But critics
as far back as Hegel understood that the relationship wasn't
timeless: that over time the master engenders opposition that
ultimately undoes slavery. By the same measure, the projection
of American power creates resistance, something no amount of
belief in enduring superiority can overcome. Jonathan Schell
called this "the unconquerable world."
More Iran links:
Also, a few links for further study:
Eric Foner: Struggle and Progress: An wide-ranging interview with
one of the most important historians working today.
Reynard Loki: Environmentalists Blast Obama's Decision to Let Shell
Drill in Arctic: I recall something about Republican presidential
platforms always ticking off the same five or so bullet items, one of
which was energy self-sufficiency for the US, generic blather for
loosening up environmental regulations and importing a lot more
Canadian crude (which in the tar sands tundra is very crude indeed),
possibly with something about "clean coal" (the oxymoron to end all
oxymorons). I don't expect Obama will ever get any credit for it,
but during the time Obama has been president that plank has largely
been realized. For one thing, by delaying the Keystone Pipeline he
hasn't solved the problem with Canadian imports. Nor has he done
it with coal, although you have to give wind and solar some credit
there. Actually, it's mostly been North Dakota's Bakken field plus
a lot of fracking -- which he hasn't raised a finger to slow down
despite environmental concerns. But the one big thing Obama has
done to promote the oil industry has been to open up a lot more
offshore drilling -- this article reports on Shell's project to
drill in the Arctic Ocean. Still, I doubt Obama's offshore license
has had much effect yet: just when he was opening up the Atlantic,
BP blew a major spill in the Gulf of Mexico and that gummed up the
Aman Sethi: At the Mercy of the Water Mafia: On the edges of Delhi.
In conversations, Sanghwan is annoyed by concerns about the sustainability
of his small empire, about the short-term nature of his profits compared
with his work's potentially devastating long-term implications. Such
questions, he says, demonize the poor and water providers like him, while
letting the rich and the government off the hook. He claims he would
welcome efforts to lay a proper pipe network in his neighborhood, but
given the government's track record, he isn't holding his breath.
Chris Sullentrop: The Kansas Experiment: Long article by the
nephew of Kansas Republican legislator Gene Sullentrop. Kinship
opened a few doors, not that the lowdown on Brownback's dog or
his preferred basketball strategies humanizes him, much less
renders his obsessions sensible. Still, the nephew provides a
fair accounting of the session's fiscal crisis. He does drop in
the line about how "the state is a petri dish for movement
conservatism, a window into how the national Republican Party
might govern if opposition vanished." But he doesn't even mention
80% of the vile insanity that was passed by the legislature in
addition to the education cuts and regressive tax increases.
Steve Weintz: Worst Idea Ever: Dropping Nuclear Bombs During the Vietnam
War: As I recall, there was occasional loose talk all during the long
American War in Vietnam about using nuclear weapons. At the time the US
was putting a lot of effort into reducing the size of nuclear weapons to
try to come up with something that could be used for "tactical" strikes
as opposed to obliterating entire cities. They even managed to deploy an
Atomic Bazooka (1961-68) -- a portable launcher that could shoot
a 10-20 kiloton (i.e., Hiroshima/Nagasaki-sized) bomb about three miles.
Weintz reports on some recently declassified documents, which show that
the possible use of "tactical nukes" in Vietnam was seriously studied,
and wasn't rejected for the obvious moral and political reasons -- the
Mandarins doing the studying didn't want to look "soft" -- but because
they couldn't figure out a way to make them work effectively.
Sunday, August 16. 2015
I just saw a tweet by Ben Norton (author of an article linked to below).
It consists of two lists: "places bombed by the US" and "places where ISIS
is growing." The lists are identical: "Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan,
Yemen, Pakistan." The only chance the US has of breaking that identity
would be for the US to bomb more non-Muslim countries.
Some scattered links this week:
William D Cohan: How Wall Street's Bankers Stayed Out of Jail: "After
the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s, more than 1,000 bankers were
jailed." However, after the much larger 2008 financial crisis? One,
even though plenty of wrongdoing was uncovered:
Since 2009, 49 financial institutions have paid various government entities
and private plaintiffs nearly $190 billion in fines and settlements,
according to an analysis by the investment bank Keefe, Bruyette &
Woods. That may seem like a big number, but the money has come from
shareholders, not individual bankers. (Settlements were levied on
corporations, not specific employees, and paid out as corporate expenses --
in some cases, tax-deductible ones.) In early 2014, just weeks after
Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, settled out of court with the
Justice Department, the bank's board of directors gave him a 74 percent
raise, bringing his salary to $20 million.
The more meaningful number is how many Wall Street executives have
gone to jail for playing a part in the crisis. That number is one.
(Kareem Serageldin, a senior trader at Credit Suisse, is serving a
30-month sentence for inflating the value of mortgage bonds in his
trading portfolio, allowing them to appear more valuable than they
The authors quote several sources arguing that, despite all those
fines paid by companies, "the evidence does not show clear misconduct
by individuals." What this suggests to me is that we as a country (at
least our prosecutors, who are usually pretty vigilant about such things)
have radically changed our view of individual responsibility for ethical
behavior: either we consider things ethical now that were deemed unethical
two decades ago (especially in pursuit of corporate and/or personal
profits), or we think that individuals (extending up to corporate CEOs)
no longer have sufficient autonomy to be considered responsible for their
own actions. I suppose there is a third possibility (or factor), which
is that the political system has become so corrupt that it's become all
but unthinkable to prosecute the donor class. But no matter how you
slice this, it speaks volumes about the moral rot that goes hand-in-hand
with a world of increasing inequality and decreasing democracy.
Conor Friedersdorf: A Letter to Donald Trump Supporters With One Big
Dear Donald Trump Supporters:
You're fed up. This much I understand. You're fed up with politicians
who say one thing on the campaign trail, like that they're going to stop
illegal immigration, and then do another in Washington; you're fed up with
insiders who rig the system for their benefit at your expense; and you're
fed up with coastal media elites and their insular subculture.
[ . . . ]
What I don't understand is why you think a President Trump would
treat us better. If you elect the billionaire, what makes you think
that he will use whatever talents that he possesses to address your
grievances rather than to benefit himself? After all, he's a man who
has zealously pursued his self-interest all his life.
[ . . . ]
Right now, Trump is telling you all the things you want to hear.
There was a time when his two ex-wives and the many former business
partners he has since sued felt the same way. Those relationships didn't
work out very well for them.
Why do you think that you'll fare better?
"Trump brags about making a lot of money in Atlantic City, then
ditching the place as it slid into misery," Michael Brendan Dougherty
observed in The Week. "Believing Trump will bring America back
is as foolish as believing he would bring Atlantic City back. Unlike
Rubio and Bush, he's a free man -- and perfectly willing to walk away
and say it was your fault, but that he enjoyed the ride anyway."
Trump is a billionaire, you say, so he won't need to pander to
special interests -- unlike other Republicans, he can ignore the
business lobby and stop illegal immigration.
But that makes no sense. Granted, Trump has all the money he'll
ever need, yet that's been true for decades, and he's continued to
expend a lot of effort to earn still more money. Like other men with
significant, diversified business holdings -- some of them hotels and
golf courses, no less! -- a large supply of cheap immigrant labor is
in his personal financial interests. If the business elite is for
illegal immigration, he is the business elite! And he'll face
the exact same political incentives as every other elected Republican
from George W. Bush to John McCain. [ . . . ]
Instead you're just taking him on faith. Why? Does Trump
strike you as a person who is unusually inclined to keep his word?
Someone who never flip-flops? Come on.
On the other hand, there's already a
Trump Fulfills Campaign Promise article out -- clearly, the bar's
so low it doesn't take much.
Stanley Aronowitz: The Real Reason Donald Trump Embarrasses the GOP:
At the debate and numerous public appearances, Trump has matter-of-factly
stated that he is an equal opportunity donor to Republican and Democratic
candidates -- not for the purpose of civic duty or altruism, but in exchange
for influence. He has openly deemed his gifts to politicians a business
expense. He went so far as to declare, before 24 million viewers at the
debate, that he uses his donations to obtain favors from legislators who
are all too eager to bow to his requests. He not-so-subtly implies that
politicians are bought and paid for by him and other financial moguls.
And he expects a fair return for those dollars, measured in policy rewards
like zoning adjustments, subsidies for building projects and long-term tax
In short, he lets the cat out of the bag about something the political
system has spent more than a century to disguise.
Fred Kaplan: Shallow Jeb: Jeb Brush tried to burnish his foreign
policy cred with a 40-minute speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential
Library. Kaplan describes it as "a hodgepodge of revisionist history,
shallow analysis, and vague prescriptions." The main revisionist claim
is the assertion that the Petraeus "surge" in Iraq was a big success
which gave the US a "hard-won victory," which was in turn squandered
by Obama's withdrawal of US forces from Iraq in 2011. Every word in
that claim is false, but it has already become gospel among Republican
presidential aspirants. From such false premises, all sorts of insane
inferences can be made.
Later in Tuesday night's speech, Bush said that the Iraq surge can serve
as a model for how "Islamic moderates can be pulled away from extremist
forces" in Syria. I doubt that he was proposing to send 100,000 U.S.
troops to Syria, as his brother did in Iraq -- an idea that would appeal
to almost no American generals or voters. But what he was proposing isn't
at all clear. [ . . . ]
He did say, "In all of this," referring to the fight against jihadists,
"the United States must engage with friends and allies, and lead again in
that vital region." Which friends and allies does he mean? The Saudis try
to rope us into a savage, fruitless war against the Houthi rebels, whom
it portrays as Iranian proxies. The Turks lend us an air base to step up
strikes against ISIS but then use the moment of goodwill as cover to
attack their bigger enemy, the Kurds, who rank as the jihadists' most
potent foe (and to whom Bush promised in his speech to send heavy
armaments). ISIS derives much of its strength from the deep disunity
of its natural foes, some of whom are our allies, some of whom aren't.
"Action, coordination and American leadership," the solutions Bush
calls for, are more complex than he -- and many other Republicans who
have never held national office -- seems to recognize.
He criticized Obama for drawing a "red line" against Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons, then failing to follow through.
Many of Obama's defenders have filed the same complaint. But what would
Bush do? "Under my strategy," he said, "the aim would be to draw the
[Syrian] moderates together and back them up as one force . . . not just
in taking the fight to the enemy but in helping them to form a stable
moderate government once ISIS is defeated and Assad is gone." How would
he do this? By replicating his brother's surge in Iraq. After all, he
added with blithe confidence, "the strategic elements in both cases
[Iraq circa 2007 and Syria today] are the same" -- thus demonstrating
that he and his speechwriters have no understanding of the tangled
politics in Syria or of what made the Iraqi surge work to the extent
that it did.
The most maleable concept here is "Islamic moderates" -- the proper
definition seems to be "Muslims who are willing to follow the US lead,"
which actually says less about them than about us. Following the Surge --
which if you recall at the time escalated the violence without any
tangible results -- a number Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq made a deal
with the US where in exchange for money and protection from Shiite
militias and the central Iraqi government they turned against Al-Qaeda
in Iraq, thereby becoming "Islamic moderates." When the US left, the
deal broke down, and the same tribal leaders discovered they would be
better off siding with ISIS than with the Maliki government. Clearly,
for them becoming "radicals" or "moderates" is mere tactics.
I don't think I've mentioned this before, but for some insight into
where Bush's money comes from, see
Nomi Prins: All In: The Bush Family Goes for Number Three (With the Help
of Its Bankers). You don't think he's running for president on brains
or looks, now do you?
Matt Riedl: Kris Kobach comments on how GOP has done on six key issues:
Kansas' Secretary of State is probably more wired into ALEC and its push
to enact right-wing legislation at the state level, so it's interesting
both what he considers the critical issues and how he measures progress.
The six: "guns, abortion, elections, illegal immigration, taxation and
spending, and courts." He likes what Kansas has done on the first three:
"constitutional carry" means criminals as well as citizens don't have to
get permits or have any training to carry guns; late-term abortions have
been banished in Kansas, though he doesn't mention that the trick there
was extralegal: the murder of Dr. George Tiller; and Kobach himself has
been empowered to prosecute his imaginary "election fraud" cases. He's
had more trouble pushing his anti-immigrant laws (hint: there are business
interests in the state that profit from cheap labor). On taxes, he touts
the Brownback cuts that have brought disaster, but bemoans this year's
regressive tax increase that was needed to keep the state solvent. As
for the courts, he complains about "no accountability" and says "we need
to have a court that's not activist in striking things down." The main
complaint Republicans have with the Kansas Supreme Court is that the
Court has ruled that the State Constitution requires adequate funding
of local schools, and that messes with their tax/spending cut agenda.
But then Kobach has such a peculiar notion of constitutionality that he's
constantly running into trouble with the courts.
Some Iran Deal links:
Abbas Milani/Michael McFaul: What the Iran-Deal Debate Is Like in Iran:
Long story short, most Iranians -- especially the sort of people who
westerners hope will moderate the Revolution -- support the deal, while
many of those who are heavily invested in Iran's opposition to the west
are opposed to the deal (much like their hawkish counterparts in the US
and Israel -- indeed the rationales and tactics are almost equivalent):
Conservative opponents of the deal tend to emphasize its near-term negative
security consequences. They point out that the agreement will roll back
Iran's nuclear program, which was intended to deter an American or Israeli
attack, and thereby increase Iran's vulnerability. They have denounced the
system for inspecting Iranian nuclear facilities as an intelligence bonanza
for the CIA. And they have issued blistering attacks on the incompetence of
Iran's negotiating team, claiming that negotiators caved on many key issues
and were outmaneuvered by more clever and sinister American diplomats.
And yet such antagonism appears to be about more than the agreement's
clauses and annexes. The deal's hardline adversaries also seem concerned
about the same longer-term consequences that the moderates embrace. For
instance, IRGC leaders must worry that a lifting of sanctions will undermine
their business arrangements for contraband trade. In a not-too-discreet
reference to these concerns, Rouhani declared them to be "peddlers of
sanctions," adding that "they are angry at the agreement" while the people
of Iran pay the price for their profiteering. Over time, more exposure to
the wider world of commerce is likely to diminish if not destroy the IRGC's
lucrative no-bid government contracts for infrastructure and construction
Perhaps more threatening for this coalition is the loss of America as
a scapegoat for all domestic problems. The conservatives need an external
enemy to excuse their corrupt, inefficient, and repressive rule. Some have
even suggested that the United States is trying to do to Iran what it did
to the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
foolishly trusted U.S. President Ronald Reagan and sought closer ties with
the West. The result was the collapse of the Soviet regime.
Obviously, some conservatives like Ayatollah Khamanei are not too worried
about the deal bringing down the political system, but he probably has a
broader view of the system than the Revolutionary Guards do. Conversely,
Reagan's opening to Gorbachev was opposed by nearly all of Reagan's cold
war advisers, who were convinced to the end that the Evil Empire's reform
efforts were just a feint to get the US to lower its guard. Deal critics
who keep bringing up Iranian mobs chanting "death to America" are every
bit as far estranged from reality.
Michael R Gordon: Head of Group Opposing Iran Accord Quits Post,
Saying He Backs Deal: The group, United Against Nuclear Iran
(UANI) was founded by Gary Samore several years ago to agitate
for harsh sanctions against Iran over its suspected (alleged)
nuclear program. However, Samore concluded that the deal does
in fact address his concerns, so he's come out in favor of it,
saying, "I think President Obama's strategy succeeded. He has
created economic leverage and traded it away for Iranian nuclear
concessions." UANI, in turn, rejected the deal, nudged him out,
and replaced him with a more politically dependable flack, Joe
Lieberman (you remember: McCain's favorite "useful idiot").
Samore, by the way, is still very anti-Iran.
He is also not convinced that Iran will continue to adhere to the
accord once economic sanctions are lifted. Even so, he argues, the
accord will put the United States in a stronger position to respond
than a congressional rejection would.
"We will have bought a couple of years, and if Iran cheats or
reneges we will be in an even better position to double down on
sanctions or, if necessary, use military force," Mr. Samore said.
"If I knew for certain that in five years they would cheat or
renege, I'd still take the deal."
He'd take the deal because he seems to be one of the few people
who was actually worried about Iran's "nuclear program" -- as opposed
to the many who have cynically manufactured the spectre of an Iranian
bomb to show off their own toughness. Had those people actually been
worried, they would have been hard pressed to favor a strategy --
continued sanctions and threats of war -- that would only push Iran's
efforts further underground over one that fully discloses whatever
Iran is doing.
Richard Silverstein: Israeli Ex-Security Chiefs Endorse Iran Nuclear
Deal: Thirty-six of them, although some appear more interested in
the bonanza of military hardware Obama is offering Israel. The fact
is that Israeli opinion at all levels is very divided on the deal,
so you'd think that Americans -- especially those whose primary loyalty
is to Israel -- would be equally divided. But Netanyahu has made a
big deal out of rejecting the deal -- and I suspect this is for pure
political reasons, as it benefits him to show his right-wing supporters
that he can stand up to America and even kick her around a little --
and AIPAC is less an Israeli front than the Likud's Washington PAC.
Mel Levine: On Iran, a regrettable rush to judgment: A former
congressman (D-CA 1983-93) and AIPAC board member comes out in favor
of the Iran deal, arguing that "my friends in AIPAC and some of my
friends in Israel have made a regrettable rush to judgment in immediately
opposing the Iran agreement and doing so in ways likely to cause long-term
harm to Israel, especially in terms of Israel's vital need for bipartisan
support in the United States."
Daniel Levy: Israel's Iran Deal Enthusiasts: An authoritative summary
of Israeli reaction to the Iran Deal, which roughly breaks down: against
are the politicians and pundits, especially Netanyahu; in favor are the
security and science czars (Uzi Even, a physics professor and former
senior scientist at the Dimona nuclear reactor, concluded "the deal was
written by nuclear experts and blocks every path I know to the bomb").
Levy goes on to explain Israel's strategly:
Israel led the push to isolate Iran via focusing on its nuclear program
and the nonproliferation imperative. That took some chutzpah, given that
Israel sits on the Middle East's only nuclear weapons stockpile -- but
before milk and honey, Israel has always been a land flowing with chutzpah.
Israel assumed that either its own Washington lobby could indefinitely
hold U.S. negotiators to an unrealistically maximalist negotiating
position or that Iran would never offer a pragmatic compromise or both.
For as long as the deadlock held, Iran would remain at least a permanently
sanctioned pariah; regime change was the preferred alternative, successful
diplomacy was never the goal.
The bet paid off pretty well for the better part of two decades.
Despite its size and lack of natural regional allies, Israel has enjoyed
a degree of unchallenged regional hegemony, freedom of military action,
and diplomatic cover that it is understandably reluctant to concede or
even recalibrate. Israel's status has been underwritten by U.S. preeminence
in the region, which offered other countries there a binary choice: Either
side with the United States and, by extension, go easy on Israel or stand
against it and be isolated or worse (see: Iraq).
Ben Norton: AIPAC spending estimated $40 million to oppose Iran Deal:
In the first half of 2015, AIPAC spent approximately $1.7 million lobbying
Congress to oppose the deal. Yet this is mere chump change compared to what
it has since funneled into advertisements and lobbying.
AIPAC created a new tax-exempt lobbying group in July called Citizens
for a Nuclear Free Iran. The sole purpose of the organization is to oppose
the Iran deal -- which, in spite of the name of the group, will in fact
prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons (weapons the Iranian government
denies ever even seeking in the first place, and for which there is not a
shred of evidence) in return for an end to Western sanctions on the
Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran is spending up to $40 million to place
anti-Iran deal ads in 35 states, according to the Times, up from a
previous estimate of $20 million. This figure may increase even more as
the 60-day period in which Congress can review the deal draws to a close.
Part of AIPAC's lobbying effort involves flying members of Congress
to Israel for some intensive Hasbara; for instance, see:
AIPAC taking all but 3 freshmen Congresspeople to Israel in effort to
sabotage Iran deal.
Gareth Porter: Don't Expect Much Change in Post-Vienna US Middle East
Policy: That's basically because Obama is pushing the deal not as
a diplomatic breakthrough which buries past sins and opens up a future
of US-Iranian cooperation but as a narrow arrangement which reliably
contains Iran's malevolent nuclear ambitions while changing nothing
else. (Porter previously complained about this in
Obama's Line on the Iran Nuclear Deal: A Second False Narrative.
You can get a sense of Porter's take on Iran's nuclear program from
his book title, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran
There are obviously some differences between the administration and
its pro-Israel and Saudi critics regarding Iran's regional role.
Otherwise Obama would not even acknowledge the possibility of
discussions with Iran in the future. But it would be a mistake to
ignore the degree to which Obama's weakness in the face of the lobby's
arguments about the regional dimension of the agreement reflects its
acceptance of the basic premises of those arguments -- just as it has
accepted the lobby's premise that Iran has been trying obtain nuclear
Obama and senior administration officials have repeated many times
in the past two years the mantra that Iran is a state sponsor of
terrorism and that its regional role is destabilizing. Key US national
security institutions also continue to reinforce that hoary political
line on Iran as well. The well-worn habits of mind of senior officials
and institutional interest will certainly continue to impose severe
limits on the administration's diplomatic flexibility with regard to
both Iran and Saudi Arabia through the end of the Obama administration.
As you should recall, Netanyahu has been harping about the Iranian
threat since day one of the Obama administration. Most likely his real
concern was to deflect any desire Obama might have to pressure Israel
into a settlement with the Palestinians, but Obama seems to have taken
Netanyahu's talk at face value. He then came up with a real solution
to the hypothetical problem -- unlike Netanyahu's unilateral bombing
fantasies, which would only have made matters worse -- so I suppose
it makes sense that he's talking like his real solution addresses a
real problem, but it also feeds the opposition's rhetoric. On the
other hand, it's hard to believe that any of the deal's opponents
ever thought Iran was serious about developing nuclear weapons --
otherwise, they'd embrace the real solution. (Indeed, there are a
few such people.) Still, the real payoff of an Iran deal would come
if the US and Iran could work together on diplomatic solutions,
especially in Syria and Iraq (where both nations oppose ISIS).
Other Middle East links:
Omar Ashour: Rabaa's massacre: The political impact: After Egypt's
military coup removed democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi
and his government, the regime cracked down violently on protesters,
killing at least 600 in one 10 hour stretch in 2013. The author compares
this to other notorious government "crimes against humanity."
Michael Young: Talks suggest the endgame is afoot in Syrian crisis:
Reports on Russian efforts to negotiate some form of resolution on
Syria with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the US, aimed at a compromise
between the old Syrian regime (with or without Assad) and whatever
qualifies as "moderate" opposition -- supposedly Jaysh Al Fatah is
involved ("including the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Al Nusra") but
ISIS/ISIL is out. This occurs in the wake of a series of government
defeats, weakening Assad's position. It also seems like a sane turn,
unlike the US's schizo attacks both on Assad and ISIS, or Turkey's
similar attacks both on ISIS and the Kurds.
Nancy LeTourneau: "The Obama Method" and Potential Realignment in the
Middle East: The interesting news here is that Iran will hold talks
with the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Syria and
Yemen. Iran supports Assad in Syria (GCC members have helped finance
oppositions groups, including Salafist Jihadis) and has backed the
Houthis in Yemen (Saudi Arabia is bombing the Houthis there), so this
is a case where both sides should talk because the shooting has been
intolerable. Such talks aren't tied to the US-Iran Deal, but the Deal
makes them much more likely to happen, even to be productive.
Also see the author's
President Obama on Finding Openings. Mostly quotes from journalists
Obama recently engaged, he talked about how Nixon didn't know how his
overture to China might work out at the time, but he saw that as an
example of the sort of "openings" he looked to create. LeTourneau adds:
That is an incredibly wise grasp of how history works -- even for the
most powerful person on the planet. It is a striking rebuke of much that
we hear from would-be Republican leaders these days who presume that a
President of the United States can control world events via military
dominance. For those with some knowledge of history, it is especially
important given that the discussion is taking place about a country
where we tried that back in 1953 and paid the price for it via the
Islamic Revolution in 1979.
She also quotes the rarely lucid Tom Friedman:
What struck me most was what I'd call an "Obama doctrine" embedded in
the president's remarks. It emerged when I asked if there was a common
denominator to his decisions to break free from longstanding United
States policies isolating Burma, Cuba and now Iran. Obama said his
view was that "engagement," combined with meeting core strategic needs,
could serve American interests vis-a-vis these three countries far
better than endless sanctions and isolation. He added that America,
with its overwhelming power, needs to have the self-confidence to
take some calculated risks to open important new possibilities --
like trying to forge a diplomatic deal with Iran that, while permitting
it to keep some of its nuclear infrastructure, forestalls its ability
to build a nuclear bomb for at least a decade, if not longer.
Also, a few links for further study:
Marshall Ganz: Organizing for Democratic Renewal: Essay written in
Nancy LeTourneau: Balancing Private Wealth With Public Voice). Ganz
starts off by quoting Sidney Verba ("Democracy is based on the promise
that equality of voice can balance inequality of resources.") and Alexis
de Tocqueville ("In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine
is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends
that of all the others." I think his key insight is:
But only by joining with others could we come to appreciate the extent
to which our fates are linked, gain an understanding of our common
interests, and make claims on the political power we needed to act
on those interests.
The notion of a public interest, which in pre-Bowling Alone
days was taken for granted, has taken a beating over the last 30-40
years, reducing American democracy into a raw contest between private
interests. Still, the public even now gets some lip service, as one
politician after another asserts that the private profits they seek
will somehow be good for everyone. (My favorite example remains Bush's
giveaway to the timber industry, happily named the Healthy Forests
Christina Larson: The End of Hunting? Essay from 2006, arguing that
"only progressive government can save a great American pastime." Good
description of Kansas' open access program. (I'm not aware of the state's
recent ultra-right turn endangering this program, but it has resulted in
steep rises for hunting and fishing licenses. And the Republicans' lust
to pre-emptively exterminate the lesser prairie chicken -- lest the
species' endangered status cramps local oil interests -- is nothing
short of shameful.)
Rick Perlstein: The New Holy Grail of GOP Primaries: Piece touches
on several Republican presidential candidates, their benefactors, and
the idiot press. Here's just one story, featuring Ohio Governor John
"Randy Kendrick, a major contributor and the wife of Ken Kendrick,
the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, rose to say she disagreed
with Kasich's decision to expand Medicaid coverage, and questioned
why he'd said it was 'what God wanted.'" Kasich's "fiery" response:
"I don't know about you, lady. But when I get to the pearly gates,
I'm going to have to answer what I've done for the poor."
Other years, before other audiences, such public piety might have
sounded banal. This year, it's enough to kill a candidacy:
"About 20 audience members walked out of the room, and two governors
also on the panel, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of
Louisiana, told Kasich they disagreed with him. The Ohio governor has
not been invited back to a Koch seminar."
Which is, of course, astonishing. But even more astonishing was the
lesson the Politico drew from it -- one, naturally, about personalities:
"Kasich's temper has made it harder to endear himself to the GOP's wealth
benefactors." His temper. Not their temper. Not, say, "Kasich's refusal
to kowtow before the petulant whims of a couple of dozen greedy nonentities
who despise the Gospel of Jesus Christ has foreclosed his access to the
backroom cabals without which a Republican presidential candidacy is
To see how consequential the handing over of this kind of power to
nonentities like these is, consider the candidates' liabilities with
another constituency once considered relevant in presidential campaigns:
voters. Chris Christie's home state approval rating, alongside his
opening of a nearly billion-dollar hole in New Jersey's budget, is 35
percent. While Christie has only flirted with federal law enforcement,
Rick Perry has been indicted. Scott Walker's approval rating among the
people who know him best (besides David Koch) is 41 percent, and only
40 percent of Wisconsinites believe the state is heading in the right
direction. Bobby Jindal's latest approval rating in the Pelican State
is 27 percent. Senator Lindsey Graham announced his presidency by all
but promising he'd take the country to war; Jeb Bush by telling Americans
they need to work more. Rick Santorum not so long ago made political
history: he lost his Senate seat by 19 points, an unprecedented feat
for a two-term incumbent.
Richard Silverstein: Transforming the US into Clone of Israeli National
Security State: Article lists many points where techniques and
technologies Israel developed for controlling the Palestinians have
been promoted and often applied by the US, both in operations abroad
(e.g., targeted assassinations) and at home (often by local police
departments). One of the most alarming things about Israel is how
eagerly many Americans follow its model for dealing with the world.
Sunday, July 26. 2015
I got an early start this week, writing some of this on Friday,
then deciding that was close enough to save up for Sunday. This
week's choice links:
David Atkins: The GOP Isn't Choosing a President. They're Choosing a
Rebel Leader. Donald Trump dominated the news cycle last week,
not only by dominating polls among Republican presidential contenders
but by staying there after kneecapping John McCain, a veritable saint
among the Beltway punditocracy. I've looked at a lot of pieces on why
this is (or, mostly, why it's awful), but few of them are convincing
(or even sensible). For one thing, the widespread assumption that
Trump is a fringe candidate is probably untrue. There's very little
difference ideological between the declared or likely Republican
candidates, and only a handful of issues where there is any practical
disagreement. Where exactly Trump stands on issues isn't something
I know or care much about, but I doubt he's going to campaign on
"phasing out Medicare" like supposedly moderate Jeb Bush, and while
he's argued that he could negotiate a better deal with Iran than
Obama did, I doubt he sides with the clique that rejects diplomacy
in toto, or that thinks bombing first would help (e.g., Rand Paul).
True, he has taken a rather brusque nativist stance on immigration
reform, but that's not unique in the field, nor far removed from
the preferences of the base. The fact is that with so little in
the way of practical differences, the primaries will turn on style,
projected character, and money. The main doubt about Trump is how
quickly he folded (after briefly topping the polls) four years ago.
But so far he seems prepared and organized, like he's studied this
contest and knows how to play it. He clearly knows how to dominate
the media cycle, and it's not just a matter of saying crazy shit.
He's campaigning as the guy who won't back down, and what better
way to show that than to say crazy shit and stand by it? And it
turns out that lots of regular Republicans see McCain as a loser,
so maybe Trump's not so crazy after all. Atkins' take on this:
As Donald Trump has surged to the top of the field, his competitors
are resorting to saying ever more outlandish and reprehensible things
just to get noticed.
Witness the spectacle of Mike Huckabee this morning claiming that
the negotiated deal with Iran would constitute President Obama marching
"Israelis to the door of the oven." Even by modern Republican standards
that sort of rhetoric is a bridge too far. But it's the sort of thing a
Republican presidential aspirant has to say these days to get attention
and support from the Republican base.
Or consider Rick Perry today, whose brilliant solution to mass
shootings is for us to all "take our guns to the movie theaters." As
if the proper response to suicidal mass murderers using guns as the
easiest, deadliest and most readily available tool to inflict mayhem
is to arm every man, woman and child in the hope that the shooter
dies slightly more quickly in the crossfire of a dark auditorium.
Even as other moviegoers settle their disputes over cell phone
texting with deadly gun violence.
Under normal circumstances these sorts of statements would be a
death knell for presidential candidates. But these are not normal
times. The Republican Party is locked into an autocatalytic cycle
of increasing and self-reinforcing extremism.
[ . . . ]
Unwilling and unable to moderate their positions, the Republican
base has assumed a pose of irredentist defiance, an insurgent war
against perceived liberal orthodoxy in which the loudest, most
aggressive warrior becomes their favorite son. It is this insurgent
stance that informs their hardline views on guns: many of them see
a day coming when their nativist, secessionist political insurgency
may become an active military insurgency, and they intend to be armed
to the teeth in the event that they deem it necessary. The GOP
electorate isn't choosing a potential president: they're choosing
a rebel leader. The Republican base doesn't intend to go down
compromising. They intend to go down fighting.
Well, they intend to win, and hitching themselves to a guy they
perceive as a winner is strategic. I'll also add that Trump has one
more big advantage in this field: where everyone else is pimping
for some billionaire, he's his own billionaire. Maybe he'll adopt
Billie Holiday's song as his campaign theme: "God Bless the Child
(Who's Got His Own)."
Zoë Carpenter: Bobby Jindal, Does Louisiana 'Love Us Some Guns' Now?:
Last week's gun massacre headliner was in Chattanooga, where a guy with
a history of mental problems and a recent DUI arrest killed five soldiers.
He happened to have been a Muslim, and former Gen. Wesley Clark went on
TV and called for WWII-style internment camps for Muslim Americans who
get depressed and radicalized. This week it was Lafayette, LA, where a
guy with a history of mental problems and spousal abuse killed two and
wounded nine before killing himself. He wasn't a Muslim; just a white
guy with a history of praising Hitler on the Internet (see
So Why Don't We Stop and Frisk Guys Like This Every Time They Leave the
House?). Wesley Clark has yet to comment. (I
Clark's proposal a few days back. Needless to say, it wouldn't have
saved the people in Louisiana.) One common denominator is that both
shooters had non-pacifist beliefs. Another is that they were nuts. But
a third is that they had guns, not least because both lived in states
that seem determined to arm as many bigoted nut-cases as possible. For
example, the Governor of Louisiana:
"We love us some guns," Bobby Jindal once said of his fellow Louisianans.
Two of them were killed, and nine others wounded, on Thursday night when a
man walked into a movie theater in Lafayette, sat for a while, and then
fired more than a dozen rounds from a .40 caliber handgun.
"We never imagined it would happen in Louisiana," Jindal said afterward,
though the state has the second-highest rate of gun deaths in the country,
more than twice the national average. Louisiana also has some of the laxest
firearm regulations, for which Jindal bears much responsibility. During his
eight years as governor he's signed at least a dozen gun-related bills, most
intended to weaken gun-safety regulation or expand access to firearms. One
allowed people to take their guns to church; another, into restaurants that
serve alcohol. He broadened Louisiana's Stand Your Ground law, and made it
a crime to publish the names of people with concealed carry permits. At the
same time Jindal has pushed for cuts to mental health services.
Jindal treats guns not as weapons but political props. On the presidential
campaign trail he's posed repeatedly for photos cradling a firearm in his
arms. "My kind of campaign stop," he tweeted earlier this month from an
armory in Iowa. After the Charleston massacre, he called President Obama's
mild comments about gun violence "completely shameful." The correct response
then, according to Jindal, was "hugging these families," and "praying for
For another reaction to Jindal's call to prayer, see
David Atkins: For Gun Victims, the Prayers of Conservative Politicians
Are Not Enough:
Frankly, that reaction is getting more than a little tiresome no matter
what one's religious beliefs might be. When terrorists used airplanes as
missiles against the United States in 2001, we didn't just pray for the
victims: we changed our entire airline security system, spent billions
on a new homeland security bureaucracy, and invaded not one but two
countries at gigantic cost to life and treasure. When the ebola virus
threatened to break out in the United States we didn't pray for deliverance
from the plague; we went into a collective public policy and media frenzy
to stop it from spreading further. When earthquakes prove our building
standards are inadequate to save lives, we don't beg the gods to avert
catastrophe and pray for the victims; we spend inordinate amounts of
money to retrofit so it doesn't happen again.
On every major piece of public policy in which lives are taken needlessly,
we don't limit ourselves to empty prayers for the victims. We actually do
something to stop it from happening again.
But not when it comes to gun proliferation. On that issue we are told
that nothing can be done, and that all we can do is mourn and pray for
the murdered and wounded, even as we watch the news every day for our
next opportunity to grieve and mourn and pray again -- all while sitting
back and watching helplessly.
Jason Diltz: Sen. Paul Bashes Iran Deal, Says US Must Prepare Military
Force: Whoever the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 turns
out to be, they should have to wear their opposition to the Iran nuclear
deal like one of those gasoline-soaked tires cheerfully referred to as
"necklaces." What they are saying is that the US should unilaterally
renege on an agreement peaceably, voluntarily agreed to by Iran and
all of the world's major powers that guarantees that Iran will never
develop nuclear weapons (unlike said major powers); that they prefer
the old system where sanctions, sabotage, and threats of war had, by
their own fevered assertions, failed to deter Iran, and should escalate
from that point and actually start bombing Iran, risking all-out war.
Opponents of the deal would be rank fantasists if we had not already
put their preferred solution to the test in an almost identical crisis:
the fear the Bush Administration ginned up over Iraq's "WMD programs."
As you all know, that didn't work out so well, and very clearly a deal
like the Iran deal would have been much preferable (and very likely
could have been negotiated -- indeed, Saddam Hussein had already given
UN inspectors full access even while crippling sanctions were in place).
Virtually every Republican presidential candidate now has retreated
from the view that invading Iraq in 2003 was a good idea, yet they are
all adamant about taking the same attitude against Iran now that Bush
and Cheney insisted on viz. Iraq.
One might have expected Sen. Rand Paul to be an exception -- indeed,
his father, former Rep. and presidential candidate Ron Paul, has
come out in favor of it -- but the only distance the son has put
between himself and the worst hawks is to come off even more befuddled.
While Sen. Paul insisted in the comments to Kerry that he supports a
nuclear deal in theory, he also declared that "diplomacy doesn't work
without military force," and insisted he was ready to endorse a US
military attack on Iran to "delay" them from getting nuclear arms.
Sen. Paul acknowledged that attacking Iran would likely force them
to try to get nuclear arms, and would also lead to the expulsion of UN
inspectors from the country, but insisted he was still supportive of
the idea of an attack even if it ended up with Iran getting a bomb
faster because of it.
I suppose the people who reject the deal, including the ones in
Israel, do have one out: they may actually believe that Iran has
never been aiming at building an arsenal of nuclear weapons -- as
Ayatollah Khamenei has insisted in a fatwa (religious ruling) --
so they figure they've never been running any risk in stirring up
this "manufactured crisis" (Gareth Porter's term, and title of his
book). They just like touting Iran as an enemy. For Israel, enemies
are necessary to justify the extent of their militarism, and Iran
is particularly useful because the US never forgave Iran for the
1980 hostage crisis. (Americans, being categorically incapable of
admitting past mistakes, have no shame when it comes to foreign
I've always been rather sympathetic to libertarianism, mostly
because most honest libertarians are opposed to war, the military,
and every aspect of police states. On the other hand, they tend
to hold extreme laissez-faire economic views that cannot possibly
work, and they often reject the notion that collective democratic
effort can do anything worthwhile. The latter views make someone
like Ron Paul an unattractive presidential candidate, even though
he's much more likely to make a much needed break with the foreign
policy establishment than mere liberals like Obama or Kerry (let
alone Clinton). On the other hand, Rand Paul has made it impossible
to find any redeeming merit in his candidacy -- unless you consider
occasionally wavering from the usual party talking points to show
you don't really understand them some kind of plus.
Also see No More Mister Nice Blog's review of Wednesday's "Stop
Iran Rally Coalition" demo in New York
Meet the Wackos Who Gathered in Times Square Yesterday to Protect
the Iran Deal). Only one GOP presidential candidate made it to
the rostrum (George Pataki), only one current member of Congress
(Trent Franks, R-AZ), but there were several former Reps (like Pete
Hoekstra and Allen West) -- in fact, about half the speakers list
was identified as "former" (like James Woolsey, Robert Morgenthau,
and a bunch of ex-military brass), with most of the rest being
Israel flacks (Alan Dershowitz, Caroline Glick). Their message:
Give War a Chance.
Jason Diltz: Defense Secretary: Kurdish Peshmerga a 'Model' for ISIS
War Across Region: More of what passes for deep thinking at the
Visiting Arbil today on his second day in Iraq, US Secretary of Defense
Ash Carter praised the Peshmerga, the paramilitary forces of the Kurdistan
Regional Government (KRG), as a model for the entire nation and indeed
entire region in the war against ISIS.
"We are trying to build a force throughout the territory of Iraq, and
someday in Syria, that can do what the peshmerga does," Carter said
following his meeting with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani.
[ . . . ]
How the US could even theoretically copy this model elsewhere isn't
clear either. The Peshmerga of Iraqi Kurdistan dates back generations,
and doesn't have analogous factions across the rest of Iraq and Syria.
Creating myriad new military forces in the model of them across different
cultures in multiple countries is no small ambition, and with the US
efforts to create a new faction in Syria yielding no more than a few
dozen fighters, it's unclear how they could manage it.
Actually, there are other sectarian militias in Iraq and Syria --
they're just not fighting for the US. To describe the Kurds as a model
for bringing order to two nations where they are small minorities
(about 20% in Iraq, less than 10% in Syria) is evidence of how
clueless the US military efforts against ISIS (and/or Syria) are.
Also note that
Turkey launches massive attack against ISIS's most effective opponent,
the PPK, which is to say the Kurds, Carter's model ally against
ISIS. Turkey has also allowed the US to use Turkish air bases for
bombing strikes against ISIS, so "the US responds by confirming
Turkey's right to defend itself while affirming the PKK's status
as a terrorist organization." So Turkey appears to be almost as
confused about who its allies and enemies and enemies-of-enemies
are as the US is.
Tierney Sneed: Jeb Bush Wants to 'Figure Out a Way to Phase Out'
Medicare: Here's another example of a Republican politician
making his own campaign more difficult by insisting on a position
that can't be sold to the voters and can't possibly work even if
they bought it. The fact is you can't get rid of medicare without
getting rid of health care for people over 65 -- which would mostly
work by getting rid of people over 65, but then who would be left
to vote for the Republicans?
As MSNBC reported, the GOP 2016er was speaking at an Americans for
Prosperity event in New Hampshire, where he brought up a TV ad in
which a Paul Ryan-look-a-like "was pushing an elderly person off the
cliff in a wheelchair." The ad was knocking Ryan's Medicare-related
"I think we need to be vigilant about this and persuade people
that our, when your volunteers go door to door, and they talk to
people, people understand this. They know, and I think a lot of
people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment
to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving
the benefits," Bush said. "But that we need to figure out a way to
phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows
them to have something -- because they're not going to have anything."
The key in all this is "Americans for Prosperity" -- nothing like
telling the Kochs what they want to hear. Still, Bush obviously
realizes that taking Medicare away from the elderly would be painful,
so he's not doing that. On the other hand, why does he think the
system cannot last? And what does he want to replace it with? The
Republicans have thus far only come up with two ideas: one is
tax-exempt savings accounts, so everyone can plan for their future
health care expenses, except that hardly anyone can afford that,
and fewer still can be sure that they've saved enough; the other
is to buy insurance from the private sector -- something they've
already tried as Medicare Advantage and which has proven to be
more expensive and less beneficial than regular Medicare. They've
also pushed ideas like raising the eligibility age, which would
dump more high-risk people into less efficient private markets.
Of course, some such scheme could be means-tested and subsidized,
but then you're just replacing Medicare (which everyone likes)
with Obamacare (which Republicans despise), so how does that
As with Social Security, there is no way to transition from a
pay-as-you-go (where present workers pay for present retirees) to
a save-and-hope-for-the-best system without effectively doubling
the tax burden on the people you're screwing. So even if the
demographics trend unfavorably -- fewer present workers having
to support more present retirees -- you're stuck with that. At
most you can trim back the benefit levels, but productivity gains
also help (sure, they're presently all being captured by the rich,
but only the Republicans think that makes them untaxable). So why
do Republicans (at least when they're talking to the Kochs) keep
insisting on doing something impossible to achieve something
undesirable? The options seem to be malice and stupidity, not
that those are mutually exclusive.
Part of the problem here is the ever-growing fundamentalism
(a specific form of extremism) of the Republican Party. Going way
back, Republicans have generally believed that business pursuing
private interests with relatively light government regulation
build up the national wealth to the benefit of all, but lately
this belief has become much more rigid. In the past, Republicans
supported tariffs to limit free markets; they supported public
investments; they enacted antitrust laws to limit excessive
concentration and increase competition; and they've generally
drawn a line against fraud and unscrupulous profiteering. But
that's nearly all gone by the wayside now. Republicans (like
the Kochs) now tend to believe that any and every pursuit of
private advantage should be supported by public policy, and
that whoever gets rich as a result should be able to keep the
maximum possible portion of their gains. In the case of health
care, they believe that hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical
and equipment companies, labs, and insurance companies should
be able to extract as much profit as the market will bear --
which given that all economists agree markets don't function
at all efficiently for health care has resulted in an immense
increase in the cost of living for everyone. (Their pricing
strategy boils down to "your money or your life," and few if
any of us are in a position to argue.)
The great irony of their attitude is that by defending the
unlimited ability of the health care industry to pillage, they
are objectively undermining every other business they purport
to support, and nearly every person they expect to get a vote
from. Conservative parties in nearly every other country in the
world realize that health care is different from most business:
that it is a necessary service that has to be financed and
regulated by the government, and that the more it is organized
along non-profit lines, the more efficient it runs. There's no
debate about this, except in the US where private interests
buy politicians and fill the media with FUD (fear, uncertainty,
and doubt) to maintain a system which takes two to three times
the slice of GDP health care costs elsewhere. Of course, both
parties are on the industry's payroll -- that is, after all,
where Obamacare came from -- but only the Republicans have
raised their greed-is-good mantra to the level of a religious
totem. And that's what Bush is bowing to, even though he has
no idea how to deliver on his promises.
If the Republicans were smart, they'd be the ones pushing for
a universal non-profit health care system, something that would
go beyond the Democrats' dream of "Medicare for all." But they're
Another comment on Bush's talk is
Paul Krugman: Fire Phasers. I was thinking of something much
better than present Medicare, but there should be no doubt that
lesser reforms are possible and worthwhile -- and indeed have
happened under the ACA. Krugman writes:
What's interesting, in a way, is the persistence of conservative belief
that one must destroy Medicare in order to save it. The original idea
behind voucherization was that Medicare as we know it, a single-payer
system of government insurance, simply could not act to control costs --
that giving people vouchers to buy private insurance was the only way
to limit spending. There was much sneering and scoffing at the approach
embodied in the Affordable Care Act, which sought to pursue cost-saving
measures within a Medicare program that retained its guarantee of
But we're now five years into the attempt to control costs that way --
and what we've seen is a spectacular slowdown in the growth of health
costs, with the historical upward trend in Medicare costs, in particular,
brought to a complete standstill. How much credit should go to the ACA?
Nobody really knows. But the whole premise behind voucherization has
never looked worse, and the case that universal health insurance is
affordable has never looked better.
It's amazing, isn't it? Who could have imagined that conservatives
would keep proposing the exact same policy despite strong evidence that
they were wrong about the facts? Oh, wait.
Krugman has a chart which shows how Medicare spending plateaued
since 2009 under ACA and how it had grown under the system that the
Republicans wanted so much to continue. The spurt in 2005 is probably
due to Medicare D, Bush's giant gift to Big Pharma:
Also see Krugman's
A Note on Medicare Costs, which shows (chart below) that costs
for private insurance have consistently exceeded Medicare: hence,
shifting people from Medicare to private insurance (as happened with
Medicare Advantage, or would happen with raising the eligibility age)
increases costs. (Conversely, moving people from private insurance to
Medicare should manage costs better. The only exception to this data
was 1993-97, when there was a big push for HMOs, and the insurance
industry was on its best behavior, at least until Clinton's proposals
Raphael Ahren: World Jewry ever more uneasy with Israel, major study
Diaspora Jews are not convinced that Israel is doing enough to prevent
military conflicts and are troubled by the number of civilian casualties
they often produce, though they generally blame Israel's enemies for the
bloodshed. The accusation of the use of "disproportionate force" makes it
difficult for these Jews to defend Israeli actions. Somewhat paradoxically,
however, Jews in the Diaspora are disappointed that Israel doesn't manage
to end its wars with decisive victories.
"Many Jews doubt that Israel truly wishes to reach a peace settlement
with the Palestinians, and few believe it is making the necessary effort
to achieve one," according to the study's author, Shmuel Rosner.
Daniella Cheslow: Israeli think tank with GOP ties at center of Iran
deal opposition: The "think tank" is Jerusalem Center for Public
Affairs. Its sugar daddy is Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire whose
money comes from casinos -- a business that before he came around
with his political connections was traditionally run by gangsters,
making him a fine example of how business morals have eroded, and
how they've bought a prime place in the Republican Party (he spent
$465,000 on Republicans in the 2014 election cycle).
One annoying thing about this piece is how a quote from "senior
analyst" Michael Segall is featured: "This nuclear deal, which
preserves all Iranian nuclear capability, will make them more
resolute to export their revolution to the Middle East." That's
pure opinion with neither fact nor logic behind it. Revolutions
face competing desires to extend themselves and to establish a
new stability, and those elements were present at the beginning
in Iran. One of the first things Khomeini did was to challenge
Saudi Arabia for leadership among Islamic nations. However, it
soon became clear that Iran wouldn't overcome the Sunni/Shiite
divide, so they wound up settling for building minor alliances
among Shiite groups, primarily in Lebanon. The only significant
inroads they eventually made was in Iraq, but that was almost
entirely engineered by the Americans. Meanwhile, Iran became
very isolated and defensive. (Indeed, a nuclear capability only
makes sense as a defensive posture: an attempt to deter attacks
from Iran's numerous enemies. Only the US has ever used nuclear
weapons offensively, and then only against a foe that had no
ability to counterattack.) What the deal shows is that Iran is
now willing to exchange one defensive posture (the threat that
it could develop nuclear weapons) for another (threat reduction
that comes from ending sanctions and forced isolation). So why
would Iran risk its hard-earned stability by trying to recreate
the early zeal of a revolution now 35 years old? That doesn't
make sense, and even if they did would only result in renewed
sanctions and isolation -- exactly what they are attempting to
Also, a few links for further study:
Hugh Roberts: The Hijackers: Review of several books about Syria
and ISIS, including Patrick Cockburn's The Rise of Islamic State:
ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution. Provides a great deal of background
about Syria, especially from Sykes-Picot to the Arab Spring, continuing
with the various groups and factions fighting in Syria and how they fit
in with various foreign interests. Much to learn here, and much I could
quote. For instance, about Geneva II, where Lakhdar Brahimi was unable
to bring about any agreement:
The point here is not that one side was slightly more or slightly less
intransigent, but that by making the future of Assad the central question,
and insisting on his departure, the Western powers, in conjunction with
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan -- not
one of which is a democracy -- as well as Turkey, which under Erdogan
has slid a long way towards authoritarian rule, made it impossible for
a political solution to be found that would at least end the violence.
It is in ways like this that the Arab uprisings were really hijacked.
The Tunisian revolution was a real revolution not because it toppled
Ben Ali, but because it went on to establish a new form of government
with real political representation and the rule of law. The hijacking
of the Arab uprisings by the Western powers has been effected by their
success in substituting for profound change a purely superficial "regime
change" that merely means the ejection of a ruler they have never liked
(Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad) or have no further use for (Mubarak), and his
replacement by someone they approve of. In seeking this change in their
own interests, they have repeatedly shown a reckless disregard for the
consequences of their policies, from Iraq to Egypt to Libya to Syria.
Brahimi told Der Spiegel that he feared Syria would become "another
Somalia" . . . a failed state with warlords all over the place." What is
taking at least partial shape in Syria -- unless the country is partitioned,
which is also on the cards -- is another Afghanistan.
When the Afghan jihadis -- backed, like their Syrian successors today,
by the Gulf states and Anglo-America -- finally overthrew the secular-modernist
Najibullah regime, they immediately fell out among themselves and Afghanistan
collapsed into violent warlordism. But, unlike Somalia, Afghanistan was rescued
by a dynamic movement that suddenly appeared on its southern marches and swept
all before it, crushing the warlords and finally establishing a new state. In
the aftermath of the jihad our governments had sponsored and our media had
enthusiastically reported, secular modernism was no longer on offer: militantly
retrograde Islamism was the only political discourse around and it was
inevitably the most fundamentalist brand that won.
I don't pretend to know what the truth is. But there is no need to prove
malign intent on the part of the Western powers. The most charitable
theory available, "the eternally recurring colossal cock-up" theory of
history, will do well enough. If a more sophisticated theory is required,
I suggest we recall the assessment of C. Wright Mills when he spoke of
US policy being made by "crackpot realists," people who were entirely
realistic about how to promote their careers inside the Beltway, and
incorrigible crackpots when it came to formulating foreign policy.
[ . . . ]
Western policy has been a disgrace and Britain's contribution to it
should be a matter of national shame. Whatever has motivated it, it has
been a disaster for Iraq, Libya and now Syria, and the fallout is killing
Americans, French people and now British tourists, in addition to its
uncounted victims in the Middle East. The case for changing this policy,
at least where Syria is concerned, is overwhelming. Can Washington,
London and Paris be persuaded of this? Cockburn quotes a former Syrian
minister's pessimistic assessment that "they climbed too far up the tree
claiming Assad has to be replaced to reverse their policy now."
Kathryn Schulz: The Really Big One: Despite the presence of a string
of volcanos along the spine of the Cascades, from Mt. Baker down to Mt.
Lassen, there has been little seismic activity in Oregon and Washington
since Lewis & Clark explored the area two centuries ago. We now know
that the volcanoes occur where the Juan de Fuca oceanic plate bends down
under the North American plate far enough to melt and send magma upwards.
We also know that the seismic quiescence is temporary and misleading:
that a massive earthquake occurred along the whole plate front -- from
northern California to Victoria Island in Canada -- in 1700, and we can
date it precisely because it lines up with a tsunami that hit Japan a
few hours later. We also know that there is evidence of such earthquakes
occurring every 250 years for the last 10,000, so . . . if anything,
we're overdue for a very big one. Schulz details the likely consequences
here, and they will be more devastating than any disaster in American
history. Interesting science, and one more reason to keep the Bushes
away from FEMA.
This problem is bidirectional. The Cascadia subduction zone remained
hidden from us for so long because we could not see deep enough into
the past. It poses a danger to us today because we have not thought
deeply enough about the future. That is no longer a problem of
information; we now understand very well what the Cascadia fault line
will someday do. Nor is it a problem of imagination. If you are so
inclined, you can watch an earthquake destroy much of the West Coast
this summer in Brad Peyton's San Andreas, while, in neighboring
theatres, the world threatens to succumb to Armageddon by other means:
viruses, robots, resource scarcity, zombies, aliens, plague. As those
movies attest, we excel at imagining future scenarios, including awful
ones. But such apocalyptic visions are a form of escapism, not a moral
summons, and still less a plan of action. Where we stumble is in
conjuring up grim futures in a way that helps to avert them.
That problem is not specific to earthquakes, of course. The Cascadia
situation, a calamity in its own right, is also a parable for this age
of ecological reckoning, and the questions it raises are ones that we
all now face. How should a society respond to a looming crisis of
uncertain timing but of catastrophic proportions? How can it begin to
right itself when its entire infrastructure and culture developed in
a way that leaves it profoundly vulnerable to natural disaster?
That comment is equally applicable to climate change. (I was going
to make some disclaimer that earthquakes at least are not anthropogenic,
but the recent dramatic increase of them in Oklahoma and Kansas are
quite clearly the results of human activity, specifically the oil and
gas industry.) Worth noting this latest confirmation of the threat --
not the sudden sea rise of a tsunami but the slightly more gradual one
of sea level rising due to melting ice sheets:
Elizabeth Kolbert: A New Climate-Change Danger Zone? Again, if
political solutions are inconceivable due to the ideological chokehold
of vested interests (see "guns" above) and because we don't seem to be
able to distinguish between those private interests and public ones
(see "health care" above), the critical battleground will be over the
remedial efforts of disaster control (e.g., FEMA).
Sunday, July 19. 2015
Another week with the usual scattered links:
Robert Parry: US/Israeli/Saudi 'Behavior' Problems: Much of the
opposition to the US+5/Iran deal is based on an assumption that Iran
cannot be trusted -- a naive and rather ironic posture given how the
US and its allies have repeatedly meddled in the region's affairs.
In this American land of make-believe, Iran is assailed as the chief
instigator of instability in the Middle East. Yet, any sane and informed
person would dispute that assessment, noting the far greater contributions
made by Israel, Saudi Arabia and, indeed, the United States.
Israel's belligerence, including frequently attacking its Arab
neighbors and brutally repressing the Palestinians, has roiled the
region for almost 70 years. Not to mention that Israel is a rogue
nuclear state that has been hiding a sophisticated atomic-bomb arsenal.
An objective observer also would note that Saudi Arabia has been
investing its oil wealth for generations to advance the fundamentalist
Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, which has inspired terrorist groups from
Al Qaeda to the Islamic State. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were
identified as Saudis and the U.S. government is still concealing those
28 pages of the congressional 9/11 inquiry regarding Saudi financing of
Al Qaeda terrorists.
The Saudis also have participated directly and indirectly in regional
wars, including encouragement of Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980, support
for Al Qaeda-affiliate Nusra Front's subversion of Syria, and the current
Saudi bombardment of Yemen, killing hundreds of civilians, touching off
a humanitarian crisis and helping Al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate expand its
The US list is even longer, with the CIA's 1953 coup against Iran,
the US alliance with the hated Shah, and US support of Iraq in its 1980s
war against Iran looming especially large, although most Americans remain
remarkably blind to their nation's past errors and offenses, even when
they plainly blow back. It's no surprise that the people most critical
of the agreement with Iran are the ones most blind to the disasters US
intervention has caused in the region.
More pieces on the Iran agreement:
Gareth Porter: How a weaker Iran got the hegemon to lift sanctions:
One journalist who has understood all along that Iran's "nuclear ambitions"
had nothing to do with creating a nuclear arsenal, much less launching a
colossal suicide bomb attack against Israel -- his book on the subject
was titled Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear
Scare. Rather, he argues that Iran's nuclear program was a chit for
negotiating the end of US sanctions against Iran which have been in place
since 1979. Israel, by the way, was instrumental in making this deal
happen: had Netanyahu not whined so much about Iran the US would have
had no compelling reason to reëxamine its reflexive prejudice against
Iran. On the other hand, Israel's preferred solution would have plunged
the US into a war even more hopeless than the Afghanistan and Iraq
fiascos. That Obama chose to negotiate is a rare victory for sanity,
suggesting that he at least has learned something from Iraq. The deal
preserves order and responsibility in Iran, so the various restrictions
and inspections will be honored. But more importantly, by dropping the
sanctions, the US will stop poisoning the ground, forcing an antipathy
that often needn't happen. (In fact, the US and Iran have often found
themselves with similar interests but unable to work together.)
Fred Kaplan: Why Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Neocons Hate the Iran Deal:
Well, you know the answer:
The most diehard opponents -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
Saudi King Salman, and a boatload of neocons led by the perennial naysayer
John Bolton -- issued their fusillades against the accord ("an historic
mistake," "diplomatic Waterloo," to say nothing of the standard charges
of "appeasement" from those with no understanding of history) long before
they could possibly have browsed its 159 pages of legalese and technical
What worries these critics most is not that Iran might enrich its
uranium into an A-bomb. (If that were the case, why would they so
virulently oppose a deal that put off this prospect by more than a
decade?) No, what worries them much more deeply is that Iran might
rejoin the community of nations, possibly even as a diplomatic (and
eventually trading) partner of the United States and Europe.
Which is to say that beyond the letter of the agreement, which
ensures that Iran will make no advance toward nuclear weapons for
at least ten years (recall that Israel started predicting an Iranian
bomb in less than five years back in the mid-1990s), might reduce
the desire of both nations for conflict. The assumption here is that
Iran is more valuable as an enemy than it is risky.
Rick Perlstein: Down With the Confederate Flag, Up With Donald Trump!:
Even though the purpose of the Republicans' big move into the south was
to recruit all the racist Dixiecrats, and even though the Republicans
have jettisoned virtually every tenet of the GOP's progressive legacy,
one suspects they've never been all that enamored of the confederate
flag. So when SC Gov. Nikki Haley took the lead, they didn't have much
reason not to follow (they are, after all, the sort of people who blindly
follow their so-called leaders). Besides, it deflected a repeat of the
usual arguments for gun control. And it rather neatly distanced most of
the Republican establishment from a nasty racist massacre: could the
killer who wrapped himself in the confederate flag have foreseen that
that the flag itself would be one of his victims? Perlstein:
Suddenly, with a single flap of the Angel of History's wings, America
has experienced a shuddering change: the American swastika has finally
become toxic -- a liberation that last month seemed so impossible that
we'd forgotten to bother to think about it.
One doesn't waste energy worrying over the fact that America controls
over 700 military bases in 63 countries and maintains a military presence
in 156; or that Israel has staged a civilian-slaughtering war approximately
every other year since 2006; or that in America there is no constitutionally
guaranteed right to vote or that unregulated pyramid schemes fleece Middle
Americans out of $10 to $20 billion a year or that a private organization
runs our presidential debates, sponsored by the same corporations that
underwrite Democratic conventions . . . on and on and on: permanent
Still, the flag is just an icon, now finally tarnished beyond any
hope of mainstream redemption . . . like the swastika, which also had
a (much briefer) fashion fling on the American right. Still, while
some things change, conservatives don't really. At the same time the
"American swastika" was bowing out, Donald Trump was rising to top
Republican polls on the basis of blatantly racist blanket statements
about Mexicans. Jefferson Davis may be a waning American hero, but
James R. Polk is due for a revival. (If now Woodrow Wilson, who holds
the record for two wars against Mexico, but nothing resembling Polk's
victory.) Perlstein explains:
This is important: conservatism is like bigotry whack-a-mole. The
quantity of hatred, best I can tell from 17 years of close study of
60 years of right-wing history, remains the same. Removing the flag
of the Confederacy, raising the flag of immigrant hating: the former
doesn't spell some new Jerusalem of tolerance; the latter doesn't
mean that conservatism's racism has finally been revealed for all to
see. The push-me-pull-me of private sentiment and public profession
will always remain in motion, and in tension.
A few days later, Trump's star started to eclipse, when he suggested
that John McCain's heroism in Vietnam was tainted ("a war hero because
he was captured. I like people who weren't captured"). (See
Donald Trump Can't Stop, Won't Stop.) We'll see how that plays out,
in particular how well Trump holds up with McCain's fawning admirers
gunning for him, but it isn't obvious to me that Trump's stance will
lose him the base. After all, McCain is a loser: he lost to Obama in
2008, unleashing this whole national nightmare, and maybe that wasn't
such an accident, considering how he lost his plane and spent years
on the sidelines in America's loser war, a victimhood he parlayed into
a political career that again failed when it mattered most. Thus far,
Trump has held back on part of what he must be thinking: that the real
American Vietnam War hero was Rambo. Maybe he's reluctant to commit
to a fiction, but it's not like reality is holding him back. (Ronald
Reagan would certainly go for it.) But maybe he's holding out for
himself: Trump, after all, is a winner, and isn't that what America
(Never mind the divorces and bankruptcies and all that, or the fact
that he's never been elected anything, or whatever else journalists
will dig up real soon: Trump missed out on Chris Lehmann's review of
The Candidates (good grief), a roll call meant to document that
"Of the dozen or so people who have declared or are thought likely
to declare, every one can bedescribed as a full-blown adult failure."
His only line on Trump came at the end: "He can make anyone in his
general vicinity look good.")
Andrew O'Hehir: The Republican prison experiment: How the right-wing
conquest of the GOP altered political reality: Bemoans the loss
of sanity in the Republican party, seeing "the evil zombie sock-puppet
condition of the GOP [as] the most gruesome single sympton of our
I would contend that the Republican Party has been the subject, willing
or otherwise, of a version of the Stanford prison experiment, conducted
on a grand scale. I wrote about that famous 1971 simulation, now the
subject of a new feature film, earlier this week: A group of normal,
middle-class California college students eagerly embraced roles as
sadistic guards and abused prisoners, submitting almost immediately to
the social order of an entirely fictional institution they knew had no
real power. Properly understood, the Stanford experiment is not about
prisons or schools or other overtly coercive social institutions,
although it certainly applies to them. It is about the power of
ideology and the power of power, about the fact that if you change
people's perception of reality, you have gone most of the way to
changing reality itself.
The Republican Party did not organically evolve into a xenophobic,
all-white party of hate that seeks to roll back not just the Civil
Rights movement and feminism, but the entire Enlightenment. It did
not accidentally become untethered from reality and float off to the
moons of Pluto. Those possibilities were already present, but they
had to be activated. Partly as a result of its own ideological
weakness and internal divisions, the GOP was taken over from within
and from above: In the first instance, by a dedicated core of right-wing
activists, and in the second by the ultra-rich, super-PAC oligarchy
epitomized by the Koch brothers. The two forces sometimes worked
separately, but ultimately the first was funded and sponsored by the
second. [ . . . ]
Among other things, the GOP's flight to Crazytown has permitted
leaders of the Democratic Party to crawl ever more cozily into the
pockets of Wall Street bankers and to become ever more intertwined
with the national security state -- while still proclaiming themselves,
in all innocence and with considerable plausibility, to be less noxious
than the alternative. So we see millions of well-meaning people getting
ginned up to vote for Hillary Clinton, despite the nagging sensation
that the political universe in which she represents the best available
option is a cruel hoax. Pay attention to that feeling! It's the reality
we have discarded, banging on the door.
People forget this, but when Ronald Reagan ran for president in
1980, his hot button issue wasn't his desire to slash taxes on the
rich or open up every bureau of government to corporate lobbyists
to loot and plunder. It was to "take back" the Panama Canal, which
was "ours" until Jimmy Carter treacherously "gave it away." Speech
after speech hammered away on the Canal, but after Reagan was
elected he didn't lift a finger to undo Carter's treaty. Even
after his VP became president and sent the army into Panama to
apprehend a former CIA asset who had gone off the reservation,
Bush left the treaty intact. The Canal was never anything but a
talking point, recycled over and over because the Republicans
thought it made Carter look weak, when in reality it only showed
he was sane: losing one of the last vestiges of imperialism was
good for the US and for Panama, for everyone. Rhetoric-wise, the
Republicans were as removed from reality in 1980 as they are now.
Their problem now is that their rhetoric has a track record that
shows it only makes matters worse, and they've surrendered so
completely to their rhetoric that they're trapped. If their snap
judgments on the Iran deal are any indication, the Republican
nominee in 2016 -- it doesn't matter who becuase they're all
interchangeable clones -- will snort and fume against Iran like
Reagan did Panama. Again, the idea is that making a deal with
the devil just makes America look weak, and no Republican would
I wouldn't assume that if elected whoever the Republican is
will backtrack, realizing that Obama's deal was the best they'd
ever get, even though that would make sense. But I also think
it's a losing argument, and the Republicans haven't realized
that yet. Arguing against the deal is necessarily arguing for an
undetermined, dangerous result, most likely another war in a
region where we've repeatedly failed. But then very few of the
platform issues the Republicans have locked themselves into are
either popular or potentially workable.
More pieces on Greece:
Tariq Ali: Diary: Before Syriza was elected in Greece, the Euro
masters focused on providing only what was needed to bail out their
own banks. After, the focus became destroying Syriza, which turned
out to be easy because Tsipras was more committed to the euro than
to the political will of his supporters.
The EU has now succeeded in crushing the political alternative that
Syriza represented. The German attitude to Greece, long before the
rise of Syriza, was shaped by the discovery that Athens (helped by
Goldman Sachs) had cooked its books in order to get into the Eurozone.
This is indisputable. But isn't it dangerous, as well as wrong, to
punish the Greek people -- and to carry on doing so even after they
have rejected the political parties responsible for the lies? According
to Timothy Geithner, the former US treasury secretary, the attitude of
the European finance ministers at the start of the crisis was: "We're
going to teach the Greeks a lesson. They lied to us, they suck and they
were profligate and took advantage of the whole thing and we're going
to crush them." Geithner says that in reply he told them, "You can put
your foot on the neck of those guys if that's what you want to do,"
but insisted that investors mustn't be punished, which meant that the
Germans had to underwrite a large chunk of the Greek debt. As it happens,
French and German banks had the most exposure to Greek debt and their
governments acted to protect them. Bailing out the rich became EU policy.
Debt restructuring is being discussed now, with the IMF's leaked report,
but the Germans are leading the resistance to it. "No guarantees without
control": Merkel's response in 2012 remains in force.
Barry Eichengreen: Saving Greece, Saving Europe
Ashoka Mody: Germany, Not Greece, Should Exit the Euro: After all,
if Germany exited, the Euro would depreciate, which would help everyone
else, while Germany merely became richer.
Jordan Weissmann: Europe's Economic Misery Has Worked Out Pretty Well
for Germany: Some more background for the Mody piece above, based
on a piece by Ben Bernanke. One chart shows that Germany's unemployment
is below 5 percent, while the rest of the Eurozone is above 13%.
If Germany still had to rely on its own currency, it would be far more
expensive than the euro. That would hurt its ability to export Volkswagens,
prescription drugs, and Becks around the world. But, instead, it shares
a currency with the eurozone's many weaker members. That has two big
effects. First, it lets German companies sell their products in countries
like France, Italy, and Greece, where otherwise consumers might not be
able to afford them. Second, it keeps German wares relatively cheap
outside of Europe, most importantly in crucial markets like the United
States and China.
While Germany has reaped the benefits of euro membership, it hasn't
returned the favor by buying more goods from, say Southern Europe.
Instead, by keeping government spending in its neighbors tight, it has
basically put a lid on imports. The end result is a massive trade
surplus that has left its economy in decent shape while leaving its
eurozone compatriots hanging out to dry. Worse yet, it has demanded
harsh austerity measures in return for bailouts, which have murdered
domestic demand in countries including Greece, making it difficult
for them to recover.
So Germany has managed to turn the euro into a mechanism for
transferring wealth into its own coffers.
Cédric Durand: The End of Europe: When the EU and the Eurozone
were founded, there was considerable optimism on the left that the
new institutions would lead to equalized outcomes across the entire
zone, but that didn't happen as the institutions came under the
ever tighter control of neoliberal capital.
Mark Weisbrot: Why the European authorities refuse to let Greece
recover: As Yanis Varoufakis put it, "The complete lack of any
democratic scruples, on behalf of the supposed defenders of Europe's
Also, a few links for further study:
Max Blumenthal: The Next Gaza War: Since Israel unilaterally withdrew
its settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel has maintained a
blockade on Gaza, bombed or shelled its prisoners numerous times, the
intensity rising to the level of war at least once every other year.
Blumenthal has a new book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in
Gaza (Nation Books) about the July-August 2014 war, which like its
2012 and 2010 predecessors, settled nothing, leaving opportunities open
for the next set of Israeli politicians to prove their mettle:
Among the leaders of Israel's increasingly dominant religious nationalist
movement is Naftali Bennett, the 43-year-old head of the pro-settler
Jewish Home Party. Bennett spent much of last summer's war railing
against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for refusing to order a
full reoccupation of Gaza and the violent removal of Hamas -- a
potentially catastrophic move that Netanyahu and the Israeli military
brass vehemently opposed. While Bennett accused Palestinians of
committing "self-genocide," his youthful deputy, Ayelet Shaked,
declared that Palestinian civilians "are all enemy combatants, and
their blood shall be on all their heads." According to Shaked, the
"mothers of the martyrs" should be exterminated, "as should the
physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more
little snakes will be raised there."
In the current Israeli governing coalition, Bennett serves as
Minister of Education, overseeing the schooling of millions of
Jewish Israeli youth. And Shaked has been promoted to Minister of
Justice, giving her direct influence over the country's court system.
Once one of the young Turks of the right-wing Likud Party, Netanyahu
now finds himself at the hollow center of Israeli politics, mediating
between factions of hardline ethno-nationalists and outright fascists.
Where Gaza is concerned, Israel's loyal opposition differs little
from the country's far-right rulers. In the days before the January
national elections, Tzipi Livni, a leader of the left-of-center Zionist
Union, proclaimed, "Hamas is a terrorist organization and there is no
hope for peace with it . . . the only way to act against it is with
force -- we must use military force against terror . . . and this is
instead of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's policy to come to an
agreement with Hamas." Livni's ally, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog,
reinforced her militaristic position by declaring, "There is no
compromising with terror." [ . . . ]
Months after the cessation of hostilities, even as foreign
correspondents marvel at the "quiet" that has prevailed along
Gaza's borders, the Israeli leadership is ramping up its bloody
imprecations. At a conference this May sponsored by Shurat HaDin,
a legal organization dedicated to defending Israel from war crimes
charges, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned that another crushing
assault was inevitable, either in Gaza, southern Lebanon, or both.
After threatening to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran, Yaalon pledged
that "we are going to hurt Lebanese civilians to include kids of
the family. We went through a very long deep discussion . . . we
did it then, we did it in [the] Gaza Strip, we are going to do it
in any round of hostilities in the future."
Bill Berkowitz: Why Is the Mainstream Media Running Away From Max
Blumenthal's New Book About Israel?.
Tim Weiner: The Nixon Legacy: Adapted from Weiner's new book,
One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon
(Henry Holt). Post focuses on Nixon's paranoia as Watergate moved
toward resolution, but that madness was hard earned, intrinsic to
a politician who made an art of escalating and withdrawing at the
same time, of turning defeats into vindictive grudges -- a psyche
that the US government has still never managed to free itself
from, probably because those who run covert programs there have
always had need to cover up what they do. They say power corrupts,
but you rarely glimpse how addictive that corruption is until you
uncover someone like Nixon.
Sunday, June 14. 2015
We'll start with Richard Crowson's cartoon this week, since we can't
seem to escape Brownbackistan. The Kansas state legislature had to go
way into overtime to finally come up with a deal to patch up a $400
million shortfall in state tax revenues opened up by Brownback's 2011
income tax cuts (the one which notoriously exempted businessmen from
having to pay any state income tax). It's hard to get Republicans to
raise any kind of taxes, but some reconciled themselves by coming up
with the most regressive tax increases they could find. And some held
out to the bitter end, hoping instead to wreck the government and all
the evil it stands for. Brownback himself took both positions at one
point or another, and reportedly broke down and wept during one of
many hopeless meetings with state legislators. The final scheme they
came up with satisfied no one, but Brownback did manage to keep some
semblance of his signature programs in place (story
here). One downside of keeping the legislature in session so long
was that they passed even more dumb and vicious bills than they had
time for during the regular session -- see the Rosenberg piece below.
Chuck Powell sent in a link to a piece posted on Tyler Cowen's blog
(thankfully not written by Cowen),
The political economy of Kansas fiscal policy. The post makes a
number of reasonable points, such as the split between rural and urban
Kansas, and factors which distort both Wichita and Kansas City from
urban/suburban norms. Also that "cutting the size of government was
never a serious option," mostly because the costs of education and
health care -- the two main expenses of state government -- have been
rising much faster than inflation and economic growth. At one point
the author says, "Republicans should be wise enough to not depend on
luck, and they should be wiser predicting how trend lines go." But he
doesn't go into why our current generation of Republicans are so bad
at those things. For one thing, past generations were a different
story -- you could argue that their priorities were wrong, but you
rarely doubted their basic competence: something which Brownback and
many others make you wonder about daily. One could write a whole post
on this one question, but for now I think there are two main reasons:
(1) the Republicans have created a very effective grass roots political
organization, largely peopled by gun nuts and anti-abortion fanatics,
backed by local chambers of commerce and big money, and they have
become very effective at scamming the system; one result of this is
that Republicans rarely have to worry about losing to Democrats --
their only meaningful debate is among themselves, which makes them
increasingly isolated from and ignorant of other people and their
problems; (2) in other words, they live in a bubble, and this bubble
is increasingly saturated with Fox News and other right-wing media,
which mostly just teaches them to scapegoat while making them stupid
and mean. The latter, of course, is a problem with Republicans all
over the nation. What makes Kansas worse than the rest is how hard
it is to beat them at the game they've rigged. In 2014, Republicans
ran 5-8% above the best polls all across the ballot, on top of the
gerrymander that guaranteed them legislative majorities. I wouldn't
rule out fraud and intimidation, but most likely that's their
superior get-out-the-vote organization.
Some more scattered links this week:
Tom Carson: H.W. Brands: Reagan: The Life: Book review of the new
H.W. Brands biography of Ronald Reagan, Reagan: The Life, with
a look back at Edmund Morris: Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan.
I've read two previous books by Brands: Traitor to His Class: The
Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
(2008) and American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (2010),
and have found him to be a fair and compiler of history, though not
much of an interpreter. The limits that Carson notes are plausible --
especially if, as seems to be the case, he feigns admiration for a
character I've always regarded as a shill and a fraud, and whose
political legacy, both actual and imaginary, has brought us nothing
but grief. I've also read Sean Wilentz: The Age of Reagan: A
History 1974-2008 which also goes way too far into buying the
myth that Reagan was anything more than an aberration. For more
sober views, see Will Bunch: Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan
Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future (2009),
and William Kleinknecht, The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald
Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America (2009), or
Carson here -- my only real gripe with his review is that he buys
into the notion that Reagan deserves some credit for the collapse
of the Soviet Union ("something only a churl would deny him any
credit for" -- I'll grant that his early sabre-rattling may have
resulted in some unforced errors that weakened the Sovier Union,
and that later on Reagan swung against the hard core cold warriors
giving Gorbachev some breathing room). Carson is right when he
writes: "All these years later, it isn't just outrage that keeps
his political opponents from managing or even trying to see him
in perspective; it's disbelief." The roots of that disbelief are
firmly grounded in reality. Unless you're extremely rich, it's
impossible to see how anything that Reagan accomplished -- and
beyond all the sleight-of-hand horseshit (like the rejuvenation
of "morning in America" or his triumph in the cold war and the
vanquishing of Communism) he clearly did accomplish a lot --
has in any way made our lives better.
Many interesting comments here, like this one:
Brands also doesn't grasp the extent to which industry politics --
that nerve-wracking combo of power, fickle fashionability, ambition as
a form of submission, and submission as an expression of ambition --
were Reagan's Harvard and Yale. During much of his showbiz career, his
agent and patron -- note that contradiction and you'll understand
Hollywood -- was Lew Wasserman, the legendary head of MCA. Because
Wasserman's links to the Chicago Mob known as "the Outfit" are what
makes a man endow hospital wings to burnish his image, whole books
could be written about the dark side of Ron's debt to Lew; indeed,
one or two have been. But Wasserman's name shows up in Reagan: The
Life's index just once, and the reference turns out to be anodyne.
Why dwell on what Brands gives short shrift? Because Hollywood stayed
Reagan's primary frame of reference even after he found the ultimate
golden parachute, that's why. When he was an actor facing the glue
factory, he couldn't shut up about politics. Once he was president,
he had the definition of a captive audience while blathering away
about his life in movies as the phone never rang.
Up to then, we'd never had a professional fantasist in the White
House. Nixon needed to be awfully drunk to think gabbing at portraits
on walls was a good idea, but Reagan could do it cold sober. His
fabled remoteness was eerie enough to disconcert his own family --
even wife Nancy confessed it sometimes unnerved her -- and his most
immovable mental furniture seems to have been fashioned with such
disregard for most people's notions of corroborating evidence that
he and Michael Jackson, his '80s pop-culture counterpart at flights
of Peter Pan fancy, really could have been long-lost twins. But
Brands doesn't even quote the most celebrated blooper of his man's
career: the farewell speech to the 1988 Republican convention in
which John Adams's "Facts are stubborn things" came out as "Facts
are stupid things -- stubborn things, I should say."
Even at the time, I viewed Reagan as primarily a front man, the
real power residing in his famous "kitchen cabinet" -- the cabal
of rich businessmen who had recruited him and backed his political
career from the start. (At the time, I wasn't aware that Reagan's
real initiation into politics was as a corporate spokesperson for
General Electric, a company whose management still nursed grudges
over the New Deal.) His was not the first administration where the
president seemed blithely unaware of the rampant corruption within --
Ulysses Grant and William Harding were obvious examples -- but
Reagan was way more disconnected: to call him a "fantasist" is
rather generous. As I frequently said at the time, under Reagan
the only growth industry in America was fraud. The HUD scandal,
the Savings and Loan fiasco, Iran/Contra all bore that out, but
it was evident even earlier, all the way back to the "voodoo
economics" behind Reagan's signature tax cut. Carson notes:
What you'd hardly guess from reading Reagan: The Life is that
the United States went from being the world's No. 1 creditor to its
No. 1 debtor nation during his tenure. His zest for replacing red
tape with red ink ended any pretense that the GOP was the party of
fiscal prudence, but when Brands mentions toward the end that the
Reagan era's hemorrhaging deficits had tripled the public debt from
$700 billion to $2 trillion by 1988, it's the first time the subject
has come up [ . . . ] and it's virtually the last
The problem with Reagan's deficits isn't that he created them,
and certainly not that we enjoy scolding the Republicans for their
spendthrift ways (not to mention hypocrisy), but that Americans
got so little of real value out of the extravagance: a lot of
worthless military hardware -- the Star Wars-marketed
anti-missile system still doesn't work, but the stuff that did
work and has since been deployed in wars all around the world
has been far more damaging -- and a small number of billionaires
with their correspondingly inflated egos. Perhaps even worse,
that explosion of debt is now commonly seen as crippling our
government -- originally conceived of, by, and for the people
as a tool for securing the general welfare -- from doing even
relatively simple things that need to be done. The single most
damaging thing Reagan ever did was to make a joke about "the
scariest words in the English language: I'm from the government
and I'm here to help." That such a joke can be turned into a
full-blown ideology is a testament to a deeper innovation that
Reagan wrought: he liberated American conservatism from the
bounds of reality, allowing them to focus on imaginary problems,
oblivious to whatever consequences their madness may produce.
Back in the 1980s he was said to have "Teflon" -- a non-stick
coating that protected him from any of his scandals. Looking
back, it now seems that the key to his innocence was his very
disconnectedness. Maybe someday a biographer will manage to
identify the point when his fantasy gave way to Alzheimer's,
but for all practical purposes it hardly matters.
Michael Knights: Doubling Down on a Doubtful Strategy: Subhed:
"Why the current US plan to win back Iraq only guarantees the Islamic
State won't be defeated." Knights seems to be arguing that the US
should take over and greatly escalate the war despite his analysis
that what the US is actually doing can't possibly work. Still you
have to wonder whether any amount of commitment could overcome the
mental blinders the US military brings with it to Iraq:
Time is decidedly not on the side of the United States. As then-Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki told me in March 2014, the Iraqi government
had been requesting U.S. airstrikes and Special Forces assistance
against the Islamic State since the end of 2013. The U.S. unwillingness
to act then did not save it anything: Its Iraqi ally collapsed, and now
it has been forced into another military campaign.
When U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opined that Iraqis "showed
no will to fight" in Ramadi, he demonstrated a complete lack of empathy
for the situation of the Iraqi combat troops on the front lines against
the Islamic State.
America's Iraqi allies are exhausted, and many units are barely
hanging on. They've been demonstrating plenty their "will to fight"
in the 12 months since Mosul fell, in the 16 months since Fallujah
and Ramadi were overrun, and in the decade since Iraqi forces came
to outnumber U.S. forces as the main security force in Iraq.
No U.S. service member serving in Iraq ever had to stay in the
combat zone for as long as the Iraqi troops have. Many of these
Iraqis have no safe place to go on leave, allowing no respite for
years on end. No U.S. unit in recent history has ever had to suffer
the chronic lack of supply and near-complete lack of good officers
that Iraqi soldiers live with every day.
If the United States can totally misunderstand the conditions
its allies are experiencing, it's fair to ask what else it is
getting wrong about how Iraqis are going to behave in the future.
Knights offers a list of "faulty assumptions" the US has about
Iraq, but two of them are just clichés ("The more we do, the less
they do" and "We cannot want the stability of Iraq more than Iraqis
want it themselves" -- both assume Iraqis want what we want but
just don't want it bad enough) and the third is false ("The Islamic
State is a terrorist group, not an army" -- ISIS is both and will
fight according to its opponent, so the more you Americanize the
war, the more ISIS will adapt with techniques proven effective
against the US military). Consider Knights' final pitch:
If America is only in Iraq to kill Islamic State fighters, it is
eventually going to face the reality of an unfixable collapsed state
that will demand an open-ended counterterrorism campaign. The alternative
is that the United States help Iraqis preserve the fabric of their nation
to whatever extent is still possible. To do so will require a different
outlook and greater decisiveness. Deliberation is understandable, but
U.S. policy in Iraq has been verging on paralysis.
This is not rocket science: The U.S. options are clear. If the Obama
administration wants to fully commit to the hard work of rebuilding Iraq,
it should commit 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. Special Forces and support elements
as combat advisers, so that Iraqi ground forces and coalition airpower
can become far more effective. Secondly, it should use this intensified
U.S. military commitment as leverage with Baghdad to win more sustained
federal Iraqi government engagement of the Sunnis and the Kurds. Finally,
it should accelerate the training of Iraqi forces to leave the next
president with a better chance of responsibly downscaling the U.S.
commitment in Iraq.
Without these steps, we should not expect to expel the Islamic State
from Iraq. In the absence of undeniable U.S. commitment, our Iraqi allies
may define victory down into something that looks more like defeat. And
that is a risk that neither Iraq, nor the United States, can afford.
What exactly can we not afford? The worst case scenario is that
ISIS occupies about a third of Iraq -- it has no appeal in the Shiite
south or in Kurdistan, and Baghdad is effectively Shiite now -- and
the rump state in Baghdad concedes those gains, thereby ridding
themselves of a lot of people they don't like and who don't want
them. That allows ISIS to focus on Syria, where the US has no real
interests or concerns. Why can't we afford that? That represents no
real US investment or trade, so we have nothing to lose in that
regard. We wouldn't be spending anything bombing and killing them,
so that would be a gain. US trade with and investment in Iraq and
Kurdistan would be more stable with an end to Iraq's civil war.
ISIS might eventually threaten Jordan or Saudi Arabia, but those
nations would be much easier to defend than Iraq is. ISIS might
try to export terrorism, but they'd have much less reason to do
so if the US wasn't bombing them. Sure, ISIS rule would be bad
for some of the people living under it, but that's true of other
nations and is much easier to remedy diplomatically than through
On the other hand, fighting ISIS means we have to somehow reform
Iraq's government to make it more amenable to the Sunnis who have
deserted it in favor of ISIS. This is something the US has repeatedly
proved incapable of doing. It's something the present government of
Iraq doesn't want, and that government is backed by a democratic
mandate, so who are we to tell its people they didn't make the right
choices? It also means coming to a solution in Syria, which either
involves some deft diplomacy that the US has repeatedly failed at
or a massive ground invasion and occupation, which is what the US
tried in Iraq and failed so miserably at. One might fantasize, but
really, why should anyone think the US might do a better job there?
One obvious downside is that everyone who might conceivably oppose
us -- which is to say everyone -- is already armed and fighting.
At least with Iraq the US had a grace period until the resistance
got up to speed and changed the US mission from "nation building"
to force protection. That's the point where we throw all the
humanitarian ballast overboard and decide that the war is only
about us. That's the point where we're lost, even if we haven't
technically lost yet, because if anything has become clear through
America's post-WWII wars, it's that we can't look into our own
hearts and see the arrogance and contempt that reside there.
When people like Knights say that the US can't afford to lose
in Iraq, what they mean is that the US can't continue if people
get the idea that we're not omnipotent. The obvious first riposte
is that it's a little late in the day to be worrying about that.
The second is that would make us like everyone else, and what's
so bad about that? It doesn't mean that desirable outcomes to
world problems can't be worked out. It just means that the US
would have to work with other countries to reach agreement, on
terms that are mutually inoffensive. It means the US would have
to learn to respect others, rather than just dictating to them.
But it would also steer US foreign policy away from the maxim
that power corrupts (and absolute power corrupts absolutely).
But even if all we did was curl up into an isolationist ball
and mope, that would probably be better for all concerned than
bumbling our way into a holy war we don't have the slightest
understanding of -- which is pretty much what Knights wants us
to do. Perhaps the "paralysis" Knights complains of is really
just because there's an irreconcilable division in the foreign
policy elite as more and more people sober up and realize the
lack of good options. For one example of this shift, see
Stephen M Walt: What Should We Do if the Islamic State Wins?
His answer: "live with it." Really, you think "die with it" is a
better answer? Even Donald Rumsfeld (see
George W. Bush Was Wrong About Iraq) is thinking that it would
be better to counter ISIS with ideas ("more like the Cold War")
rather than bullets. By the way, what Rumsfeld thinks Bush was
wrong about wasn't invading Iraq; it was thinking that the US
could build "an American-style democracy" there. As a long-time
Cold Warrior, Rumsfeld always had a preference for compliant strong
men over democracy.
Heather Digby Parton: The Koch brothers just took a huge step toward a
GOP civil war: Having created a system where money is everything,
the Republican Party is now turning into a plaything for a handful of
billionaires, especially the Kochs, who seem intent to use their deep
pockets to launch a hostile takeover of the RNC.
One of the more enduring metaphors of this political era is bound to be
that of the Republican Dr. Frankenstein and his Tea Party monster. What
was once a staid, mainstream political party full of Rotary Club
businessmen, hard-scrabble farmers and pillars of America's communities
has become a boisterous bunch of rebellious revolutionaries.
[ . . . ]
Its ideology became a matter of faith-based adherence to abstract
principles about "freedom" and "small government" even as the Republican
Party made a devil's bargain with both the religious right, which sought
to enforce "family values," and the military industrial complex, which
grew to gargantuan proportions under both parties. These alliances were
strategic moves by the Party elders seeking a winning governing coalition
and it worked beautifully for decades. They formed a strong "conservative"
identity out of this coalition, while demonizing the identity of liberalism
to such an extent that liberals were forced to abandon it altogether and
adopt another name to describe themselves.
Meanwhile, the party banked on overweening victimization among its
mainly white, resentful voters in the wake of the revolution in law and
culture that began in the 1960s with civil rights for minorities and the
economic and social changes that sent women pouring into the workplace
and changing the traditional organization of family and home. This too
worked very well for quite some time. Fear, anger and resentment of
everything from racial integration to middle class stagnation to
imaginary foreign threats became intrinsic to the Republican identity.
All of this was of great benefit to the Republican party's electoral
success and the message discipline within the echo chamber of their
partisan media ensured that the ideology among the various strands of
the Republican coalition held together in what sounded like a coherent
program. But it never really was coherent. [ . . . ]
But the irony of the Party that fetishizes money now becoming a victim
of the 1 percent monster it has coddled, nurtured and enabled is
overwhelming. Unfortunately, that particular beast has been unleashed
on all of us and it doesn't seem as though anyone knows how to stop it.
The Tea Partyers who come together and vote out a stale incumbent they
don't like in favor of a right wing zealot is not something that's good
for the country, to be sure. But at least it's democratic, however
unpleasant the result. The idea that a vastly wealthy pair of right
wing fanatics could literally take over one of the two major American
political parties is more than a little disturbing. It's downright
Paul Rosenberg: Sam Brownback guts Kansas even more: This is life under
America's worst Republican governor: Brownback, then a Senator,
ran for President in 2008. He expected to do especially well in Iowa,
but got no credit for coming from the corn belt, and lost the holy
rollers to Mike Huckabee (a baptist minister, whereas Brownback's a
convert to high church catholicism). He was polling about 2% when he
dropped out. He then regrouped, giving up his safe Senate seat to
run for Governor, with the hope of proving himself such a brilliant
state executive that party and nation would have to bow down to his
next presidential campaign. He won handily, then proved himself to
be, as the headline says, "America's worst Republican governor" (not
that several others I can think of, including Bobby Jindal and Scott
Walker, have a lot of breathing room). First thing he did was pulling
a Reagan and hiring Arthur Laffer to prescribe a round of pro-business
income tax cuts, including an exemption for business moguls from all
state income taxes. That saved one Republican legislator $60,000 per
year (do the math and that means he's raking in about $10 million;
he actually proposed reducing the break). That probably saved Charles
Koch a lot more. But the economy didn't respond as advertised, and
Kansas has been facing budget gaps on the order of $400 million/year,
and responding with drastic spending cuts -- which have further tanked
the economy -- and increases in regressive sales taxes, "sin" taxes,
and local property taxes. Brownback has another signature program where
he's promising tax exemptions to out-of-staters to move into depopulating
counties in rural Kansas. Presumably the people struggling to hang on in
those counties will be happy to pay for their new neighbors schooling
and services. That, of course, hasn't cost Kansas much so far, because
hardly anyone is desperate enough for a tax break to live in Gove or
Hodgeman counties. Indeed, hardly anyone lived there before the breaks
(my relatives got out of Hodgeman, where my great-great-grandfather
homesteaded in the 1860s). When not appealing to tax cheats, the state
legislature has passed an extraordinary number of dumb and/or vicious
bills this session. Rosenberg writes about one that allows Secretary
of State Kris Kobach, a notorious partisan hack, to prosecute anyone
he sees fit for voting fraud. Back in Brownback's first term Kansas
passed one of the most restrictive anti-voter registration laws in the
country. I'll let Rosenberg describe another law:
This past week drew national attention to two of those aspects in the
form of new laws Brownback signed. The first law would defund the state
courts if they rule against a 2014 law which was seen by many as
retaliation for the Gannon decision. That law stripped the Supreme
Court of supervisory functions established in the state constitution.
Hence, Brownback and the legislature are defying the power of the court
to decide constitutional law. This is the very opposite of the true
meaning of "limited government" -- government limited by the rule of
law (as opposed to absolute government, limited by nothing.)
Another of the new laws in Kansas is one that drops the requirement
of a license (and some minimal training) for concealed carry of guns.
By contrast, see:
Katie McDonough: This is the NRA's worst nightmare: The new gun safety
study that gun nuts don't want you to hear about:
A law requiring people to apply for a permit before buying a handgun
helped Connecticut quietly reduce its firearm-related homicide rate
by 40 percent, according to a new study out from Johns Hopkins Center
for Gun Policy and Research. And this week, announced in conjunction
with the research, lawmakers from Connecticut introduced a measure to
encourage other states to adopt their own permit programs.
Sunday, June 7. 2015
Some scattered links this week:
Jason Ditz: Senate Votes to Block Pentagon Paying Millions to NFL
to 'Honor Troops': You probably thought (if you thought about
it at all) that the NFL was just engaging in patriotic showboating,
but it turns out they were on the government dole. Precious quote,
from Sens. McCain, Flake, and Blumenthal: "the US cannot afford to
give 'scarce defense dollars to wealthy sports teams.'" They're
talking about $5.4 million, a tiny drop in the trillion or so
dollars the US spends on "defense" each year. Indeed, it's probably
only a small fraction of what the Defense Dept. spends on PR, the
effect of which is to make war more politically acceptable.
Paul Krugman: Why Am I a Keynesian?
Noah Smith sort-of approvingly quotes Russ Roberts, who views all
macroeconomic positions as stalking horses for political goals, and
declares in particular that
Krugman is a Keynesian because he wants bigger government. I'm an
anti-Keynesian because I want smaller government.
OK, I'm not going to clutch my pearls and ask for the smelling
salts. Politics can shape our views, in ways we may not recognize.
[ . . . ]
So, am I a Keynesian because I want bigger government? If I were,
shouldn't I be advocating permanent expansion rather than temporary
measures? Shouldn't I be for stimulus all the time, not only when
we're at the zero lower bound? When I do call for bigger government --
universal health care, higher Social Security benefits -- shouldn't
I be pushing these things as job-creation measures? (I don't think I
ever have). I think if you look at the record, I've always argued for
temporary fiscal expansion, and only when monetary policy is constrained.
Meanwhile, my advocacy of an expanded welfare state has always been
made on its own grounds, not in terms of alleged business cycle
In other words, I've been making policy arguments the way one would
if one sincerely believed that fiscal policy helps fight unemployment
under certain conditions, and not at all in the way one would if trying
to use the slump as an excuse for permanently bigger government.
But in that case, why am I a Keynesian? Maybe because of convincing
First of all, the case for viewing most recessions -- and the Great
Recession in particular -- as failures of aggregate demand is
Now, this could be a case for using monetary rather than fiscal
policy -- and that actually is the policy I advocate in response to
garden-variety slumps. But when the slump pushes rates down to zero,
and that's still not enough, any simple model I can think of says
that fiscal expansion can be a useful supplement, while fiscal
austerity makes a bad situation worse.
And while it's true that there was limited direct evidence on
the effects of fiscal policy 6 or 7 years ago, there's now a lot,
and it's very supportive of a Keynesian view.
Krugman is generally right that Keynesian macro is preferred
because it provides a more accurate and efficient understanding
of the interaction between government spending and economic growth,
and can back that up with evidence, especially of a predictive
nature. But whether you want growth and what kind of growth you
want are political issues. Those who do, like Krugman (or Nixon,
when he wanted to take credit for a robust economy, and had one
that often seemed to be on the verge of collapse), will be Keynesians
because they want tools that work. But those who don't care about
growth (except of business profits) will disparage Keynes -- after
all, why acknowledge an analysis that could work when that's not
what you want? Keynes wouldn't be controversial but for the purely
political desire to slag the economy. You might wonder why Republicans
would want to do that -- some combination of making a Democrat in the
White House look bad and a preference for increasing inequality over
The "big government" association with Keynesianism is, as Krugman
shows, misdirection. I'd personally like to trim large segments of
government -- especially the biggest one of all, the military. That
doing so would be contractionary doesn't bother me. One can always
spend more elsewhere, and finding more productive investments than
the US military should be easy. Or you can reduce taxes and, as Bush
liked to put it, let people spend their own money. Strangely enough,
anti-government obsessives rarely worry about the military -- even
though from the founding of the republic up to WWII many Americans
regarded a standing army as the greatest threat to liberty. Rather,
what they object to is that government is subject to democratic rule
and as such can be used to rebalance private fortunes, whereas their
vaunted private sector tends to exacerbate inequities. They object
not to the government which they need to secure private property,
but to what that government might do to satisfy the masses. Over the
ages they've pulled every trick imaginable to keep the belief that
the nation was founded upon -- that all men are created equal --
from becoming reality. Denying the efficacy of Keynesian economics
is just one such trick.
Bill McKibben: How mankind blew the fight against climate change:
Strange scenes from Exxon Mobil's annual shareholders meeting:
The meeting came two days after Texas smashed old rainfall records --
almost doubled them, in some cases -- and as authorities were still
searching for families swept away after rivers crested many feet beyond
their previous records. As Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson -- the highest-paid
chief executive of the richest fossil fuel firm on the planet -- gave
his talk, the death toll from India's heat wave mounted and pictures
circulated on the Internet of Delhi's pavement literally melting.
Meanwhile, satellite images showed Antarctica's Larsen B ice shelf on
the edge of disintegration.
And how did Tillerson react? By downplaying climate change and mocking
renewable energy. To be specific, he said that "inclement weather" and
sea level rise "may or may not be induced by climate change," but in any
event technology could be developed to cope with any trouble. "Mankind
has this enormous capacity to deal with adversity and those solutions
will present themselves as those challenges become clear," he said.
But apparently those solutions don't include, say, the wind and sun.
Exxon Mobil wouldn't invest in renewable energy, Tillerson said, because
clean technologies don't make enough money and rely on government mandates
that were (remarkable choice of words) "not sustainable." He neglected to
mention the report a week earlier from the not-very-radical International
Monetary Fund detailing $5.3 trillion a year in subsidies for the fossil
All in all, a sneering and sad performance by a man paid nearly $100,000
a day, whose company spends $100 million a day looking for new oil and gas
even though scientists say we simply can't burn most of the fossil fuel
we've already located without devastating consequences.
The science explaining climate change, like Keynesian economics
(above), has become inconvenient for certain well established interests
who prefer to think that politics trumps science, or that anything that
challenges their personal interests and prejudices must be nothing but
propaganda against them. While this is often true, nowhere more so than
in the oil industry, where fortunes were built on nothing more than a
lottery of land titles, yet every tycoon considers himself a self-made
man, not to mention graced by God.
Daniel Strauss: Brownback May Empower Kris Kobach to Prosecute 'Voter
Fraud' Cases Himself: Kobach has been lobbying for this power ever
since he was elected Secretary of State in 2010, although it's never
been clear who he'd prosecute with this -- as he hasn't been able to
get a single county to prosecute one of his cases yet. If anyone
should be prosecuted for voter fraud it's Kobach, Brownback, and
the state legislature, whose ID laws have prevented thousands of
otherwise eligible citizens from voting.
Josh Marshall comments: "He can just prosecute anyone he wants."
Certainly a dream come true for a self-aggrandizing demagogue.
Maybe the GOP Candidates Are Just as Self-Deluding as Their Voter Base:
Much discussion with little insight into the plethora of Republicans who
are mounting campaigns for president in 2016. This keys off a Kevin Drum
Why Do So Many Obvious Losers Think They Can Be President?) that, in
the most pedestrian tradition of horserace journalism tries to handicap
the hopefuls. Both pieces are governed by the idea that only candidates
with reasonable chances should bother running -- an idea which in the
past has mostly been used to avoid considering the issues that "fringe"
candidates (Dennis Kucinich is pretty close to the archetype here) run
on and for. But Republicans are so ideologically homogeneous that it's
hard to think of a candidate with issues to be silenced. (Drum tries to
dismiss Rand Paul as having views "just flatly too far out of the tea
party mainstream" -- actually, Paul's tea party bona fides are as strong
as any candidate's [Cruz being the only obvious competition], his one
major unorthodoxy [opposition to the PATRIOT Act] is quite popular among
tea party rank-and-file, and he's shown remarkable willingness to shelve
libertarian positions on fetish issues like abortion and Israel.)
Of course, Drum's supposition is fully operative among Democrats.
Hillary Clinton's inevitability -- a combination of name, stature, and
an almost unique access to a resource base formidable enough to stand
up to Republican money power -- doesn't give any other Democrats any
real chance at raising the money they'd need to be taken seriously.
(This on top of the usual Democratic fundraising disadvantages, such
as a lower return on graft.)
On the other hand lots of Republicans seem to be coming up with
the money to run, and the fact that they're all saying the same thing
just helps reinforce the brand. (One person's may be a crackpot, but
three add up to a trend, and nine gives you a new conventional wisdom
even if what they're saying still sounds crazed.) And all saying the
same thing reduces the contest to one of personality -- something
they'd much rather have us talking about than issues, which usually
require a thick layer of packaging to be palatable at all. As usual
with the Republicans, one suspects that this is just pre-primary
dog-and-pony show to drum up interest, with the fix revealed later
at an appropriately dramatic moment.
One hint here is the recent demise of the candidacy of
Dennis Michael Lynch -- a candidate you never heard of, probably
because he doesn't fit the profile of "rising Republican star," maybe
because his obsessive issue (anti-immigration) is one Republican
powers would rather not talk about. On the other hand, there is a
role for the nearly-as-obscure Carly Fiorina.
Steve M. writes:
My first impression of [Fiorina's] campaign wasn't that it was a
campaign for president or vice president -- it was that,
as a candidate, she's like the one female member of a rich accused
rapist's defense dream team, the attorney whose principal role is
to do a really vicious cross-examination of the victim, because
that would come of as sexist if a man did it.
Also, a few links for further study:
Chloe Angyal: The Subculture of Embattled Abortion Workers:
Abortion is one of the very few political issues today where ordinary
debate is shadowed and haunted by one side adopting a network of
harrassment and terror. Of course, this is not unprecedented in
American history: the civil rights movement was met by even more
violence, both in the 1960s and throughout the previous century,
with much of that violence orchestrated by the various states. The
labor movement up to the 1930s comes in a not-too-distant second.
Still, while racism and anti-laborism persist, the level of violence
and its chilling effects are far less than that experienced by the
people who run and work with clinics that provide abortions. (Part
of the reason may be the demagoguery of anti-choice politicians like
Sam Brownback, playing the role George Wallace and Lester Maddox did
on race.) Angyal reviews a book by David S Cohen and Krysten Connon:
Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion
Terrorism (2015, Oxford University Press), which details much
of this history.
Jared Bernstein/Ben Spielberg: Inequaliity Matters: Lead in:
Lately, one argument that's been making the rounds is that people should
worry less about inequality and more about opportunity. Arthur Brooks,
head of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said, "I don't
care about income inequality per se; I care about opportunity inequality."
Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio believes that inequality
is but a symptom of immobility and constrained opportunity. Tyler Cowen
argued in the New York Times that what matters is not the fact
that the top 1 percent is capturing a much larger share of total income
growth than they used to, but that the poor are stuck in poverty.
These individuals have identified a worthy goal. Unequal access to
opportunity offends deeply held American values, and poverty is not only
a matter of near-term material deprivation -- too often, it also robs
low-income children of the chance to realize their intellectual and
But it's not possible to effectively address either poverty or
inadequate opportunity if America hives off its opportunity concerns
from the broader problem of inequality (nor, as Senator Rubio intimates,
can America reduce inequality by focusing solely on increasing mobility).
Boosting mobility will require reductions in wage, income, and wealth
The authors back up their initial assertions. One question they
don't address is whether opportunity is whether opportunity is being
deliberately constricted by the rich; e.g., by making elite education
both more necessary for advancement and more inaccessible to the
unwealthy. It makes sense that a politically aggressive upper class
recognizing a stagnant economy with austerity reducing the number
of slots near the top would focus more on securing those slots for
their own progeny. I don't know that anyone has sorted out the
evidence for this, but there are many hints -- e.g., the nepotism
boom under the second Bush administration.
Garrett Epps: Out of Spite: The Governor of Nebraska's Threat to Execute
Prisoners: Nebraska's state legislature passed a bill to ban capital
punishment. Governor Ricketts vetoed the bill, and the legislature overrode
the veto, making the bill law. So what does Ricketts do? Follow the law?
No. He vows to speed up the executions of ten prisoners already on death
row. Epps surveys many of the issues, including the increasing difficulty
that states are having obtaining lethal injection drugs.
David Himmelstein/Steffie Woolhandler: The Post-Launch Problem: The
Affordable Care Act's Persistently High Administrative Costs:
Insuring 25 million additional Americans, as the CBO projects the ACA
will do, is surely worthwhile. But the administrative cost of doing so
seems awfully steep, particularly when much cheaper alternatives are
Traditional Medicare runs for 2 percent overhead, somewhat higher
than insurance overhead in universal single payer systems like Taiwan's
or Canada's. Yet traditional Medicare is a bargain compared to the ACA
strategy of filtering most of the new dollars through private insurers
and private HMOs that subcontract for much of the new Medicaid coverage.
Indeed, dropping the overhead figure from 22.5 percent to traditional
Medicare's 2 percent would save $249.3 billion by 2022.
The ACA isn't the first time we've seen bloated administrative costs
from a federal program that subcontracts for coverage through private
insurers. Medicare Advantage plans' overhead averaged 13.7 percent in
2011, about $1,355 per enrollee. But rather than learn from that mistake,
both Democrats and Republicans seem intent on tossing more federal dollars
to private insurers.
Esther Kaplan: Losing Sparta: The Bitter Truth Behind the Gospel of
Productivity: That's Sparta, Tennessee, home of a huge unionized
factory owned by Philips and shut down in 2010, the equipment (and
business) to be moved to Mexico.
When Philips announced its plans to shut down the plant in Sparta,
the firm was in the black, aided by $7.2 million in federal stimulus
grants and contracts. Profits were even better the following year as
the firm began to lay off the plant's nearly 300 workers. Even Philips's
lighting division was doing well. By late 2010, three years into the
recovery, corporate profits, in general, had bounced back decisively,
reaching record highs. Yet layoffs continued apace -- 1.4 million in
2010, 1.3 million a year in 2011 and 2012 -- well above prerecession
Among other profitable firms -- indeed, Fortune's list of
America's most profitable firms in 2012, the year the Philips plant
finally closed its gates -- closures and layoffs have been widespread:
Chevron lays off 103 from a New Mexico mine; Walmart shuts down a New
York office, putting 275 out of work; Ford shuts down two assembly
plants in Minnesota, laying off nearly 1,700; IBM lays off 1,790 from
its business units; Microsoft lays off 5,000. Exxon, ranked number one
in profitability by Fortune in 2012, with $41 billion in profits in
2011, shrank its global workforce by more than 15,000 between 2010
and 2012. Chevron, at number two with profits of $27 billion, added
only a thousand US jobs during that period. Apple was the only one of
the country's five most profitable firms to add more than 10,000 jobs
during that time (and Apple's public disclosures don't specify how many
of those jobs were domestic). The latest Commerce Department data show
that all US multinationals combined added a net total of only half a
million jobs domestically between 2002 and 2011, but added 3.5 million
jobs abroad, an indication of offshoring on a very grand scale.
Sunday, May 24. 2015
Some scattered links this week:
Charles Krauthammer: It's Obama who lost Iraq: I don't normally
bother citing right-wing propagandists here. I'd rather use links to
learn something or at least point out something new, and the insight
that Krauthammer is a devious, despicable warmonger is far from new.
Nor is Krauthammer capable of the sort of idiosyncracies -- like you
might find from Cal Thomas or David Brooks -- that might shed some
light into the bizarre thinking processes of conservatives. The one
strength Krauthammer has is his ability to proceed from false premise
to faulty conclusion: few conservatives are as rigorous, or as ridgid.
But I can't let this false premise go unnoted:
Second, the "if you knew then" question implicitly locates the origin
and cause of the current disasters in 2003. As if the fall of Ramadi
was predetermined then, as if the author of the current regional
collapse is George W. Bush.
This is nonsense. The fact is that by the end of Bush's tenure,
the war had been won. You can argue that the price of that victory
was too high. Fine. We can debate that until the end of time.
But what is not debatable is that it was a victory. Bush bequeathed
to Obama a success. By whose measure? By Obama's. As he told the troops
at Fort Bragg on Dec. 14, 2011, "We are leaving behind a sovereign,
stable, and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that
was elected by its people." This was, said the President, a "moment
Which Obama proceeded to fully squander. With the 2012 election
approaching, he chose to liquidate our military presence in Iraq. We
didn't just withdraw our forces. We abandoned, destroyed or turned
over our equipment, stores, installations and bases.
We surrendered our most valuable strategic assets, such as control
of Iraqi airspace, soon to become the indispensable conduit for Iran
to supply and sustain the Assad regime in Syria and cement its
influence all the way to the Mediterranean.
[ . . . ]
Iraq is now a battlefield between the Sunni jihadists of the Islamic
State and the Shiite jihadists of Iran's Islamic Republic. There is no
viable center. We abandoned it. The Obama administration's unilateral
pullout created a vacuum for the entry of the worst of the worst.
Probably the biggest mistake Obama made in the early days of his
presidency was how graciously he let Bush off the hook, not only for
his disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but for his mishandling
of the economy and numerous other malfeasances of government. He did
this in some sort of unrequited lust for bipartisan appeal, thinking
that, for instance, if he expressed confidence that would help the
economy. The real definition of the "success" he referred to was that
he had managed to extricate American troops from an occupation that
went sour from the very start and that would continue to be resisted
violently as long as it went on. Those troops left not because they
had accomplished any American goals but because the Iraqi government,
whose legitimacy we could not dispute, had insisted on their leaving --
indeed, that government would never be regarded as legitimate in the
eyes of its own people had the US continued to prop them up. Whether
Obama wanted that to happen or not is beside the point. What he tried
to do was to buck up the troops is a moment of retreat. Doing so was,
I think, a mistake, and not just because it allowed Krauthammer to
twist his words around. It was mostly a mistake because he squandered
an opportunity to remind the nation that the entire Iraq War was a
disastrous misjudgment, principally by George W. Bush. His generous
words to the troops not only sullied his own reputation, it denied
America a critical opportunity to learn from past mistakes.
For an example of Krauthammer's weasel wording, consider his
line: "With the 2012 election approaching, he chose to liquidate
our military presence in Iraq." After the Dec. 14, 2011 "success"
pronouncement, this implies that the "liquidation" came later --
perhaps closer to November 2012 election. In fact, the "liquidation"
was completed by Dec. 18, 2011, four days after Obama's speech. And
as I said, it wasn't Obama who chose to withdraw. All he decided
was to honor and implement an agreement Bush signed in 2008 that
set a Dec. 31, 2011 timetable for US withdrawal, and that was
largely because Iraq didn't offer any other option.
Perhaps had Obama sided with history, and the vast majority of
the American people, that the 2003 invasion of Iraq had been a
mistake, and laid the blame for that mistake clearly at the feet
of the people responsible for it, he might not have repeated the
mistake in sending troops back to Iraq to fight ISIS -- a move
which, by the way, Krauthammer applauded. By the way, Ramadi fell
to ISIS not in the wake of the US withdrawal, but after Obama
sent troops back into Iraq.
The implication that Iraq had a "viable center" before Obama
withdrew is especially scurrilous. Iraq has essentially the same
shiite-dominated government now it had in 2011 (or for that matter
since the US arranged for Nouri al-Maliki to become Prime Minister
in 2006). While a continued US military presence might have meant
a few more "allies" ready to take American cash, they would never
have developed into a politically significant faction -- in large
part because as far back as Bush I the US viewed Iraq as a triad
of sectarian forces to play against each other (first urging the
shiites to rise up against Saddam Hussein, then helping the Kurds
break away, then using both as proxies in the 2003 invasion, and
later fomenting a Shiite-Sunni civil war to keep the anti-American
Sadr movement from linking up with various anti-American Sunni
forces (everything from Baathists to Al-Qaida-in-Iraq). But also
because "American interests" in Iraq never extended beyond the
military-industrial complex and other corporations (notably in
the oil industry), so the US never offered anything concrete to
the Iraqi people.
Krauthammer also has a peculiar argument about 2003:
It's a retrospective hypothetical: Would you have invaded Iraq in
2003 if you had known then what we know now?
First, the question is not just a hypothetical, but an inherently
impossible hypothetical. It contradicts itself. Had we known there
were no weapons of mass destruction, the very question would not have
arisen. The premise of the war -- the basis for going to the UN, to
the Congress and, indeed, to the nation -- was Iraq's possession of
WMD in violation of the central condition for the ceasefire that
ended the first Gulf War. No WMD, no hypothetical to answer in the
He seems to be saying that had Bush known Iraq had no WMD, he
wouldn't have even considered invading Iraq. But actually there
is little reason to think either that Bush's top security people
believed Iraq possessed WMD or that that possession was the real
reason they wanted to invade and occupy Iraq. Every scrap of
stovepiped intelligence that the administration presented had
been refuted well before the invasion -- the Niger uranium buy,
the aluminum tubes, the mobile biological weapons vans, what
else was there? -- and repeated inspections had failed to find
anything. If Bush wanted to find proof he should have allowed
the UN inspectors to continue their work, but he cut them short.
As for real reason, Bush's people were very forthcoming about
their desire to remake the Middle East in America's image --
actually, during the Bremer viceroyship it looked more like
the aim was Texas's image -- while Bush himself much enjoyed
the political prospects of leading a successful war (something
his father nearly managed but lost by allowing Saddam Hussein
to survive). The phrase "knowing what we know now" doesn't just
mean "knowing Iraq had no WMD"; it means "knowing that the war
would last eight year, cost over 4,000 US soldiers lives, kill
hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and leave the country mired in
a civil war with no end in sight, hosting groups like ISIS that
present threats impossible under Saddam Hussein." Krauthammer
doesn't like that question because even now, even given that
everyone across the political spectrum from George W. Bush to
Jeb Bush would answer the question "no" -- Krauthammer himself
would still say "yes," because quite frankly Krauthammer likes
disastrous wars as much as he likes rousing wars, because he
knows how to spin both into future wars, and that's all he
really cares about.
By the way, in looking up some points above, I ran across
Ali Khedery: Why we stuck with Maliki -- and lost Iraq. Khedery
was a high-level US operative in Iraq, working for various US
ambassadors and General Petraeus, and claims to be the guy who
secured US support to make Maliki Prime Minister in 2006. His
article supports several of Krauthammer's premises. In particular,
he regards Petraeus's "surge" was a brilliant success, and as such
he thinks that Iraq was something the US had to lose, then lost it.
But he sees this as something that Iran did, not something Obama
didn't do. In fact, his only mention of Obama is rather oblique:
The crisis now gripping Iraq and the Middle East was not only
predictable but predicted -- and preventable. By looking the other
way and unconditionally supporting and arming Maliki, President
Obama has only lengthened and expanded the conflict that President
Bush unwisely initiated. Iraq is now a failed state, and as countries
across the Middle East fracture along ethno-sectarian lines, America
is likely to emerge as one of the biggest losers of the new Sunni-Shiite
holy war, with allies collapsing and radicals plotting another 9/11.
Khedery is arguing that Maliki (his own pick in 2006) should have
been removed from power in 2009-10 in favor of an alternative who
would have worked to heal the sectarian divisions the US exacerbated
since 2003 (actually 1991), as if the US effectively had the power
(and insight and wisdom) to manipulate the elected government. Had
Obama managed that, and had the reformed government reunited Iraq
and sparked widely shared economic growth, then ISIS wouldn't have
been able to expand from Syria, and the US wouldn't have gotten
dragged back into Iraq's conflict. That's a lot of hypotheticals.
As for the "radicals plotting another 9/11" that's almost completely
because the US continues to be intimately involved in the civil war
conflicts of the Middle East, picking allies and attacking enemies on
both sides of the Sunni-Shiite divide, because the only coherent
allegiance we have is how we favor the oligarchs over the masses --
no big surprise that the Cold War lives on in Washington, firm in
the conviction that we'll support any despot willing to do business
with us, and we'll adopt any religious fanaticism that seems to help
our cause. Long ago sane people realized that this was an insane way
to view the world, and we'd be better off just quietly doing nothing.
Then all we'd have to worry about is pundits like Krauthammer and
Trudy Rubin and their perpetual warmongering.
Brent Frazee: Tying lures and fishing help put veteran on the road
back from war: After reading several articles trying to use vets
as pawns in debates over the Iraq War, I ran across this one, which
may not be typical but at least is a realistic slice of life:
When Joe Bragg caught a live well full of big crappies Thursday, it
represented one more step on his road to recovery.
Just two months ago, the Army veteran couldn't imagine such moments
would ever be enjoyed again.
"I was totally stressed out," said Bragg, 36, who served two tours
of duty in Iraq. "My life just hit rock bottom.
"At the time I couldn't see any way out."
After returning from the war, Bragg's life unraveled. His wife left
him, he lost his house, he couldn't find a job, and he suffered from
the effects of post traumatic stress disorder.
That's when he turned to a unique kind of therapy. During the nights
when he couldn't sleep, he started tying feather crappie jigs. It was a
craft he learned years ago from his father, who looked for unique lures
that the fish hadn't seen before. [ . . . ]
"I started tying jigs so I didn't have to sit in front of Wal-Mart
begging for money," said Bragg, who lives in Topeka. "It was that bad.
"I was a master carpenter before I went into the service, but after
you've been in the Army, your body gets banged up. The mind's willing,
but the body just can't handle a lot of things."
[ . . . ]
Serving in a war can be tough on a man, he'll tell you. He witnessed
horrors that he wouldn't wish on anyone. He saw friends killed. He
survived mortar fire 17 times (yes, he remembers the exact number),
and he suffered the pain of losing three friends to suicide.
"Not one of them was over 25 years old," he said.
Bragg served in the Army from October 2006 to July 2013 and was
in a unit that did scouting. He was on the front line, and he and
his unit won commendations for their service.
Personally, I don't think that anyone, ever, under any circumstances,
should sign up to join the US Army or any of the other "armed services"
(with the marginal exception of the Coast Guard). I don't think the US
military has done anything in my lifetime that's been worth the cost,
and not just in dead or broken soldiers. Moreover, I think that people
should be sufficiently well informed to decide not to join -- as I was
and did when my time came. So when they do join, especially now that
the draft is no longer trying to coerce them, I think that's a person
who doesn't understand what they're getting into, or why -- certainly
not someone I can give any credit to. Some survive their ordeal without
obvious damage, but many -- it seems like the ratio has increased over
time -- come out more/less damaged. Some learn better, and some come
out with totally warped worldviews. People like to believe that what
they do for a living is worthwhile to the world at large, and sometimes
they go to ridiculous lengths to do so.
One of the veterans pieces I saw was
Rebecca Santana: Iraq war question frustrating veterans:
Veterans of the Iraq war have been watching in frustration as Republican
presidential contenders distance themselves from the decision their party
enthusiastically supported to invade that country.
Some veterans say they long ago concluded their sacrifice was in vain,
and are annoyed that a party that lobbied so hard for the war is now
running from it. Others say they still believe their mission was vital,
regardless of what the politicians say. And some find the question being
posed to the politicians -- Knowing what we know now, would you have
invaded? -- an insult in itself.
All sorts of comments follow, starting with an ex-Army sniper who
"feel such a strong attachment to Iraq that he's thought about going
back to fight as the country has plunged into chaos since U.S. troops
left." Another vet says he "feels the emphasis really shouldn't be on
the decision to invade but on whether the U.S. should have stayed
past its 2011 departure date to secure the gains made. Many vets
blame President Obama -- not Bush -- for the current state of affairs,
saying he was in too much of a hurry to withdraw." The fact is that
people go to remarkable lengths to justify their choices and actions,
to impart some greater value to them than they ever had. Of course,
there are antiwar vets too -- one is quoted, "A mistake doesn't sum
up the gravity of that decision."
No More Mr. Nice Blog cites a story about the mother of a SEAL
who died in Ramadi, complaining "my son's blood is on Ramadi soil.
Now ISIS has it . . . that's 'gut wrenching' to me." Steve M. replies
(emphasis in original):
Look, I'm sorry it worked out this way for everyone who fought there.
But I'm not sorry we withdrew -- I'm sorry we sent these troops to a
war we never should have asked them to fight. It's a harsh truth,
but yes, their sacrifice was for nothing. That's our fault. They
did what we asked them to do. We deserve to burn in hell for asking
them to do it.
Paul Krugman: Hypocritical Sloth: Notes Politico posted a "hit piece
on Elizabeth Warren, alleging that she's being hypocritical in her
opposition to a key aspect of TPP," because, well, I'm not sure --
something. Krugman sees this as "another illustration of the poisonous
effect the determination to sell TPP is having on the Obama team's
intellectual ethics." He goes on to generalize:
And more generally, the whole affair is an illustration of the key role
of sheer laziness in bad journalism.
Think about it: when is the charge of hypocrisy relevant? Basically,
only when a public figure is preaching about individual behavior, and
perhaps holding himself or herself up as a role model. So yes, it's fair
to go after someone who preaches morality but turns out to be a crook or
a sexual predator. But articles alleging that someone's personal choices
are somehow hypocritical given their policy positions are almost always
off point. Someone can declare that inequality is a problem while being
personally rich; they're calling for policy changes, not mass self-abnegation.
Someone can declare our judicial system flawed while fighting cases as
best they can within that system -- until policy change happens, you have
to live in the world as it is.
Oh, and it's very definitely OK to advocate policies that would hurt
one's own financial interests -- it's just bizarre when the press suggests
that there's something insincere and suspect when high earners propose
So why are charges of hypocrisy so popular? Mainly, I think, as a way
to avoid taking on policy substance. Is Elizabeth Warren right or wrong
about TPP? Never mind, let's sneer at her for having been a prominent
The same motives drive the preoccupation with flip-flopping. You once
said that deficits were bad, now you say that they're OK. Hah! Never mind
whether deficits are in fact OK right now, and whether either the situation
has changed or you have learned something. (As someone pointed out, both
Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton have rejected policies they used to support --
but Romney has rejected policies that worked, while Clinton has rejected
policies that didn't. A bit of a difference.)
I think it was Violent Femmes who did a song that went
America is the home of the hypocrite. I remember hypocrisy being
a big deal when I was a teenager and seemed to be running into it in
every corner. The writer then known as Leroi Jones (you know him as
Amiri Baraka) wrote a novel -- one of the first "adult" books I read --
called The System of Dante's Hell where he noted that he would
assign hypocrites to a lower spot in hell than Dante had, because they
were a more egregious problem now than then. Some early examples were
pompous public preachers getting caught in sex scandals -- the sort
of thing that returned as farce with this week's
Josh Duggar scandal -- but the worst cases always struck me as
political, like J. Edgar Hoover as the defender of freedom, or the
refrain "kill for peace." I suspect that charges of hypocrisy often
have instant resonance for ex-believers. Still, these days I worry
more about consistent, relentless liars -- like Charles Krauthammer
up above, who always has an agenda to make the world a more miserable
place. And it hardly matters whether his interest in doing so is because
he's a paid hack or a true believer (in God or the ruling class or the
principle of sheer greed or something equally loony). On the other
hand, hypocrisy is starting to look like part of the human condition,
a failing we should probably forgive lest we lose everything. For
instance, Thomas Jefferson is well known to us as a slaveholding
hypocrite, but his declaration that "all men are created equal"
should still matter to us.
Cathy O'Neil: Kansas redistributes money from the poor to the banks:
Reaction to a recent Kansas state law which imposes a long list of
restrictions on welfare recipients, intended to prevent them from
enjoying any "luxuries" at the state's expense. One such restriction
is that one cannot withdraw more than $25 from an ATM at one time.
As O'Neil points out, most ATMs (certainly all the ones I use) only
deal in $20 bills, so that is the effective limit. Also, most charge
fixed fees per transaction, the same amount for $20 as for $200 or
more, so forcing people to make more transactions is effectively a
subsidy for the banks. O'Neil doesn't note that this part of the
state law is contrary to federal law and will probably have to be
dropped unless the point is to kill off the state welfare program
by disqualifying it from federal money -- that is, after all, where
the money comes from. (That may seem insane, but Kansas is one of
the states that refuses Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, much to
the consternation of the program's real beneficiaries: the state's
hospitals, doctors, and their corporate support networks.) There's
also much more to the state law than this banking proviso. Among
the prohibited "luxuries" are movie tickets -- note that Wichita
has a discount second-run theater where shows are $2 on Tuesdays,
but that's still a prohibited luxury. I've seen a lot of discussion
about this law -- the sponsor, by the way, is Michael O'Donnell,
a young Republican who unfortunately represents my state senate
district; he is what we used to call a PK [preacher's kid], and
is a textbook example of how ignorant and unrealistic a sheltered
and pampered young person can be -- but one thing I've never seen
discussed is how the hell all these restrictions are going to be
enforced. Are movie theaters going to be held responsible for
making sure no welfare recipients buy tickets? Are ATMs going
to be reprogrammed to enforce limits on withdrawals? (That, at
least, would be easier given that the accounts could be flagged.)
Maybe they could hire auditors to comb through the books of the
poorest people in Kansas? Or they could set up a hot line so
nosy neighbors could rat on the welfare cheats? If there is any
enforcement, it is bound to be sporadic and arbitrary -- just
the thing to impress on poor people that government is hostile
and views them as probable criminals. Indeed, that seems to be
where this anti-welfare mindset is heading, even if someone like
O'Donnell is way too clueless to figure it out. If they succeed
in making the welfare system so onerous that no one will deal
with it, they will wind up driving more people into crime, and
into prisons -- the most expensive and destructive of "safety
nets." They forget that welfare, even with the stigma that it is
unearned, is the least destructive and least expensive remedy for
people who lack the skills and/or opportunity to earn a living --
and increasingly for people whose jobs don't pay enough to live
on. Welfare could be done better if government put more effort
into developing skills and personal discipline, in increasing
opportunity by growing the economy, and in providing affordable
services -- especially banking. (For one thing, free bank accounts
would kill off the predatory check cashing/payday loan industry;
for another it would give poor people the chance to manage their
money the way the better off do.)
By the way, as the Kansas state legislature tries to plug the
budget hole caused by Brownback's income tax cuts (especially,
exempting business income from taxation) and their inverse Laffer
Effect (rather than stimulating the economy, they forced cutbacks
which depressed it). They've been scrounging around for ways to
make the tax code more regressive -- a favorite has been increasing
one of the nation's highest state sales tax rates -- and they've
finally found a real winner: eliminate the earned income tax credit
(EITC). Conservatives have traditionally supported EITC as a way
to make low-wage jobs more attractive -- a break to skinflint
employers as much as to their workers. The only problem with such
poor-get-poorer strategies is their isn't much tax revenue to be
raised there. Sooner or later they're going to have to tax the rich
if for no other reason than that's where all the money is. (The
state legislator who's trying to write the new tax bill admits
that the exclusion for business owners goes too far. He's one of
the beneficiaries of the scheme, but he's pushing a compromise,
whereby his current $60,000 savings would be reduced to $32,000.
As I recall, the top state income tax rate is about 6%, so that
means his pretax income is about $10 million.)
Max Ehrenfreud: Kansas has found the ultimate way to punish the
poor is also about this.
Nancy LeTourneau: President Obama is "Deeply in Touch With the Heart
and Spirit of the Jewish People": Mostly taken from an interview
Jeffrey Goldberg did with Obama, including a long quote where
Obama expands upon his sense of how the principles of "Jewish democracy"
are inextricably linked with his commitment to civil rights. This is
And I care deeply about preserving that Jewish democracy, because when
I think about how I came to know Israel, it was based on images of, you
know -- Kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and the sense that
not only are we creating a safe Jewish homeland, but also we are remaking
the world. We're repairing it. We are going to do it the right way. We
are going to make sure that the lessons we've learned from our hardships
and our persecutions are applied to how we govern and how we treat others.
In other words, Obama's stuck in a time warp, believing in an Israel
that probably never existed but was constructed as myth and embraced by
distant, hopeful admirers. Josh Ruebner, in Shattered Hopes: Obama's
Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace, has a long section on
Obama's tutelage and mentorship by liberal Jewish political figures in
Chicago, offering many examples of why Obama has such deep sentimental
affiliation with Israel. So sure, this quote rings true as something
Obama believes, and it helps explain why he is so ineffectual in his
efforts to realign Israel with its supposed ideals. I find it especially
ironic that he cites Dayan as one of his Zionist icons. Dayan once said
"Our American friends offer us money, arms, and advice. We take the
money, we take the arms, and we decline the advice." When you revere
Dayan, as Obama does, you don't even notice the latter. You're so
convinced of Israel's moral authority it never occurs to you that
their failure to achieve peace or to manage a society that is even
remotely just and equitable could be their own fault. It must, you
know, be those evil Palestinians, so full of hate they constantly
provoke good Israelis to tear down their houses, rip up their land,
jail and kill them. What's that Golda Meir line? "We can forgive
the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for
forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with
the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us."
Obviously, they don't, because we don't have peace yet. So when
Obama reiterates his belief in Jewish/Israeli ideals, all the
Israelis have to do is smile and agree. Acts are never required.
By the way, after writing the above, I found this link:
Donald Johnson: The grotesque injustice of Obama's speech at the
Washington synagogue. Much the same language, but also a joke
that "Palestinians are not easy partners."
Nancy LeTourneau: President Obama Helped Moved the Overton Window to
the Left: The "Overton Window" is defined as "the range of ideas
the public will accept," which for all practical purposes is equivalent
to "the range of ideas the mainstream media will discuss seriously."
The latter is a more conservative formulation since, well, mainstream
media is by definition owned by rich people, who as a class skew well
to the right. One can think of things like, say, nuclear disarmament
that the public may very well endorse but are never seriously discussed
because few elites feel like bucking the status quo. Until recently,
marijuana legalization was in that category. LeTourneau expects Clinton
to run a much more progressive presidential campaign in 2016 than she
did in 2008, and attributes this to Obama moving "the Overton Window
to the left." Clearly, some things (like marijuana legalization) are
on the table now that weren't a few years ago, but it's hard to relate
most of them with anything that Obama has done (Cuba is an exception
here, and maybe Iran). Rather, it looks to me like the window has
shifted partly because conditions on the ground have worsened -- e.g.,
it's harder to pretend that inequality isn't a problem, that the rich
are undertaxed, that government services are extravagantly inefficient,
or that the US military is the answer to all the Middle East's problems --
and partly because Republican nostrums for common problems have fallen
off the deep end, becoming so implausible Democrats are losing the fear
they developed during the Reagan era. It's also notable that while
Democrats in Washington have been prevented from enacting any remotely
progressive legislation -- there wasn't even much to show for the large
2009-11 "fillibuster-proof majority" (not that the finance and health
care laws were nothing; indeed, they've clearly helped, even if not as
much as we wanted) -- left-leaning think tanks and bloggers have kept
working on real problems, advancing real solutions. I think all of this
does add up to a slight leftward shift in public opinion, not that there
aren't plenty of well-moneyed obstacles (including a mainstream media
that cares little for "public interest journalism"). So I wouldn't be
surprised if that drift shows up in Clinton's polls as something she
needs to cultivate, regardless of her disinclination. And in the long
run, Obama will probably deserve some credit: although I'm much more
struck by how deeply conservative his conventional liberalism is, he
clearly has broken some barriers, and the nonsense spouted by his
crazed enemies will soon enough fade into the shameful dark corners
of American history.
Sunday, May 17. 2015
No head start this week, and didn't have much time on Sunday what
with going to a Global Learning Center panel on Israel/Palestine
(Laura Tillem was one of the panelists). Still came up with the
following links and comments:
Josh Marshall: Sorry. Iraq Wasn't a Good Faith Mistake. It Was Based on
Lies. Fox News is on a kick of asking Republican presidential wannabes
whether "knowing what we know now" they would still have invaded Iraq in
2003. Most candidates answered no, they wouldn't invade, although it did
take Jeb Bush two guesses to get the right answer. Frank Conniff tweeted:
"Stop asking GOP candidates about Iraq War. It distracts us from their
stupid & incoherent thoughts on a host of other issues." Actually,
they remain pretty stupid and incoherent today. Whether they would have
invaded is only part of the question. Another is whether they would have
contrived the phony evidence Bush and Cheney collected to support their
predisposition to go to war. Marshall explains:
While it's welcome to see the would-be heirs of President Bush, including
his own brother, acknowledging the obvious, this history is such a
staggering crock that it's critical to go back and review what actually
happened. Some of this was obvious to anyone who was paying attention.
Some was only obvious to reporters covering the story who were steeped
in the details. And some was only obvious to government officials who
in the nature of things controlled access to information. But in the
tightest concentric circle of information, at the White House, it was
obviously all a crock at the time.
While it is true that "WMD" was a key premise for the war, the sheer
volume of lies, willful exaggerations and comically wishful thinking
are the real story.
Marshall got some catcalls for this piece, at least from those who
remembered that he was one of the ones suckered into supporting Bush's
folly. Many of us knew better at the time -- even if we didn't know
exactly which points were fabricated, we had better instincts, mostly
because we had learned painful lessons from previous wars. The real
question that the presidential candidates (Clinton included) should
be asked is what have they learned from the Iraq War experience? Given
how many of them are itchy to rejoin and escalate the war against ISIS,
it doesn't look like they learned enough.
and Lies) repeats the point then adds something more:
Finally, and this is where
Atrios comes in, part of the answer is that a lot of Very Serious
People were effectively in on the con. They, too, were looking forward
to a splendid little war; or they were eager to burnish their non-hippie
credentials by saying, hey, look, I'm a warmonger too; or they shied away
from acknowledging the obvious lies because that would have been partisan,
and they pride themselves on being centrists. And now, of course, they
are very anxious not to revisit their actions back then.
[ . . . ]
But back to Iraq: the crucial thing to understand is that the invasion
wasn't a mistake, it was a crime. We were lied into war. And we shouldn't
let that ugly truth be forgotten.
I want to emphasize one more point here: the lies weren't just what
the Bush administration told us about Saddam Hussein and Iraq. They
also lied to us about ourselves (who America was and what US troops
could and would do) and about themselves (what Bush's own ambitions
were for the war). And those lies worked mostly because they built on
self-delusions that Americans have been telling themselves for years,
especially since the nation turned its back on reality in electing
Ronald Reagan in 1980. That, too, was known (or knowable) at the
time: I recall John Dower writing that the occupation of Iraq would
not resemble the US occupation of Japan not only because Iraq is not
Japan but also because America now is not the same country America
was then. It's an easy (and sobering) exercise to sort out both sides
of that ledger, and that's all it should have taken. But politicians
in America aren't selected for their grasp of history. They are, rather,
elected for their ability to flatter voters, telling us how wonderful
we are, how capable, how competent, how righteous, how magnamimous.
That's a much bigger crock than the one Marshall sees. Indeed, it's
the one that swallowed him up.
Richard Silverstein: Israeli Government Most Racist, Extremist in
Israel named its new cabinet yesterday and the names are a Who's Who
of the most rabid, racist, brutal and cruel politicians in the nation.
The only one who rivals them and is missing from the show is Avigdor
Lieberman, who's bowed out for political reasons of his own. In the
past, nations of the world have isolated individual leaders of nations
and refused to visit or meet with them because their ideas are so
noxious that they fall outside the consensus of international discourse.
Kurt Waldheim and Jorg Haider are examples of this. The time has come
to put the Israeli government in herem. You can pick your poison among
them as to which deserves special ostracism.
This intro is followed by quotes, their "Greatest Hits of Hate,"
with Naftali Bennett's "I've killed many Arabs in my life and there's
no problem with that" and Eli Ben-Dahan's "In my opinion, they are
beasts, not humans" singled out, although I'm not sure those are
worse than the many cancer analogies. Not everyone managed to score
an obscene quote. Some were noted for their felony records. And for
an example of exception-proving-the rules, there's Benny Begin (son
of terrorist prime minister Menachem Begin): "ejected from [Likud]
Party leadership during last party primaries for his so-called
'moderate' views; apparently he's been included as a moderate
fig-leaf for an extremist government." I remember Begin when he
was a young firebrand trying to outflank his father, so score one
for maturity, and subtract two for the rabid drift that has managed
to make him look good (albeit only relatively).
Richard Silverstein: AIPAC Wants Congress to Criminalize BDS:
I have three points to make about BDS (the boycott-divest-sanctions
movement against Israel's occupation and apartheid regime): one is
that if Europeans and Americans reject BDS they'll be sending a
message to Palestinians that violence is their only resort. The
other is that BDS is something America and Europe routinely does
to express disapproval without resorting to war -- the difference
here is that by starting with individuals and private organizations
BDS is a grass roots movement, not just something imposed by state
powers for their own purposes. Third is that Israel is enough of
a democracy that its political response should be fluid -- as
opposed to dictatorships (North Korea being the most extreme example)
which have only been hardened by sanctions. BDS finally imposes a
(small) cost on Israel for acts it gets away with the way most
bullies do, and that's their basic response to BDS. Gandhi on
non-violent political movements: "First they ignore you, then
they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Trying to
outlaw BDS is the kneejerk reaction of bullies. With all due
respect to AIPAC's Congressional prowess, I can't see Americans
abandoning their right to free speech just to let Israel ignore
criticism. Indeed, it looks like AIPAC's proposal is somewhat
more circuitous in that what it seeks to do is impose trading
sanctions on Europe if Europe implements BDS through some back
door TPP-like mechanism. Looks like Gandhi's stage three.
Richard Silverstein: GOP's Go-To Jews: One of the classic
anti-semetic tropes is the suggestion that Jews are secretly
running things, pulling strings to exert inordinate power. In
the old days such aspersions were demonstrably untrue, but the
trope seems due for a comeback, partly because one can point
to real-life examples like these. And while truth be told Adelson
et al. are acting more like pompous billionaires than Jews, they
make matters worse when they wrap themselves in the Israeli flag
and use their influence to prod the US into self-destructive wars
in the Middle East.
Over the past week, the media has exposed several critical relationships
between major GOP presidential candidates and their key Jewish donors,
including Sen. Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. Though I didn't coin this
term, it's apt to call these individuals "go-to" Jews; or in older
parlance, they are the Court Jews who provide access for the pro-Israel
community to the arenas of power.
Rubio has for years enjoyed the patronage of Norman Braman, a wealthy
Miami auto-dealer. Braman has not only heavily financed the Senator's
campaigns for state and federal office, he's employed both Rubio and his
wife and engaged in an extensive set of financial relationships with
them involving gifts, loans and other support.
But in just the past week or so, an even greater Jewish (blue and)
white knight has emerged to bless Rubio's candidacy: none other than
Sheldon Adelson. It seems the self-made fat cat Jews who pulled themselves
up by their own bootstraps are enamored by Rubio's life story of growing
up poor as a Cuban immigrant and making something of his life in the
contemporary version of the American Dream. The media report that Adelson
has decided to go "all-in" with Rubio, as he did with Newt Gingrich in
the last presidential campaign. Politico adds that Paul Singer, the
Likudist hedge fund billionaire, is joining Rubio's camp as well.
I'm wondering when Adelson's involvement with the Chinese mob,
including offering his blessing to Chinese triads engaged in gambling,
prostitution and loansharking at his Macau casino, will catch up to
him. GOP presidential candidates are delighted to take his $100-million
(in the last election cycle -- likely to rise to $200-million in the
2016 cycle). But when will the moment come when the public will realize
how dirty Sheldon's money is and severely penalize candidates who've
availed themselves of it? This is a ticking bomb for Republicans.
Adelson is a golden teat, till he isn't.
Walker's sugar daddy is Larry Mizel: "paving the way for Scott
Walker's visit to the Holyland, where he will presumably make a
pilgrimage to the Stations of the GOP pro-Israel cross. . . .
Walker, having no previous pro-Israel credentials given his role
as Wisconsin governor, is strongly in need of a pro-Israel
heksher (kosher certification), which Mizel provides."
Sunday, May 10. 2015
We had four or five straight days this week of "elevated" severe weather
threats. Most of the real damage took place in Oklahoma and north Texas,
but we did have one EF-3 tornado on the ground for 15 miles near Rose Hill,
about ten miles west of here. Rain itself has been spotty, and most likely
we're still below average year-to-date. More surprising to me is Tropical
Storm Ana appearing a month ahead of the Atlantic hurricane season -- the
earliest such storm since 2003.
Wikipedia says the forecast for hurricanes this year is about 20%
below the 1950-2014 average, but such an early storm strikes me as
This week's scattered links:
Mark Bittman: Obama and Republicans Agree on the Trans-Pacific Partnership
. . . Unfortunately: I gather from Twitter (err,
TPM) that Obama dismissed Elizabeth Warren's opposition to TPP by
saying, "The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a
politician like everybody else." Obama, on the other hand, is so far
above the political fray that he's got George Will applauding TPP as
"Obama's best idea." Of course, it's easy for Obama to dismiss the
concerns of Democrats as "speculation" because he's spent the last
five years negotiating TPP in secret.
Smith: "There would be no reason to keep it so secret if it was
in the public interest."] Indeed, it's only come up now
because he wants Congress to write him a blank check to negotiate
whatever without allowing future amendments. You'd think folks as
paranoid as the Republicans in Congress would never go for that, but
evidently the fix is in. Bittman normally writes about food -- I can
recommend his cookbooks How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes
for Great Food and The Best Recipes in the World: More Than
1,000 International Dishes to Cook at Home -- so it's surprising
to see him wander into political waters, but he points out:
Even if you look "only" at food and the environment, the TPP should
be ripped apart and put back together with public and congressional
input. The pact would threaten local food, diminish labeling laws,
likely keep environmentally destructive industrial meat production
high (despite the fact that as a nation we're eating less meat) and
probably maintain high yields of commodity crops while causing price
It would certainly weaken food safety. For example, more than 90
percent of our seafood is imported, a figure that includes fish that
were caught domestically and sent overseas for processing before
coming back in, which makes the inspection process even more complicated.
All told, that's more than five billion pounds of imports annually,
and according to the Center for Food Safety, just 90 federal inspectors
guarantee its safety. (The Food and Drug Administration inspects less
than 2 percent of imported seafood.) By reducing restrictions on
Southeast Asian imports, the TPP would allow more fish containing
chemicals that are illegal in domestic aquaculture to reach our
shores; by making inspections less effective, it would virtually
guarantee that those chemicals make it to our tables.
The agreement would even allow countries to challenge one another's
laws, so that "equivalency" may simply mean that the least powerful
regulations become the norm. The United States would have no special
standing: If our laws are seen as restraining trade or limiting profits,
they could be challenged in special courts, per the TPP's "investor
state" clause. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay over that country's
antismoking laws under just such circumstances; there are several
examples of American companies' flouting local laws and citing trade
agreements as an excuse; and Mexico has been sued repeatedly for
theoretically diminishing investor profits.
When individual governments have little say, corporate "efficiency"
amounts to the global economy's being run as an ill-regulated business
model (an equally egregious trans-Atlantic agreement is currently being
negotiated). The projected benefits to the public -- as usual, "job
creation" leads the list -- are mythical, and you don't have to take
my word for it.
Some other relevant links:
Peter Baker: Obama Scolds Democrats on Trade Pact Stance: Obama gave
his TPP speech at Nike corporate headquarters. Baker wrote, "Nike was a
risky choice for Mr. Obama to make his case for trade. For years, the
multibillion-dollar company has been cited as a case study by opponents
of trade liberalization for its reliance on low-wage workers in Asia."
Robert Reich: Nike is everything that's wrong with the U.S. economy:
OK as a gut reaction to Obama's choice of venue, but it's really not
just Nike that's a problm -- Boeing, Comcast, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer,
Walmart, and many others have made their own unique contributions to
Josh Bivens: The Trans-Pacific Partnership Is Unlikely to Be a Good Deal
for American Workers [Economic Policy Institute].
Jeff Faux: TPP: Obama's Folly.
Glenn Kessler: The Obama administration's illusionary job gains from the
Trans-Pacific Partnership: linked to by Bittman under "and you don't
have to take my word for it."
Lori Wallach: NAFTA on Steroids.
Electronic Frontier Foundation: What Is TPP: Brief summary of leaked
"intellectual property" (IP) provisions. The US has consistently been
very aggressive about protecting and extending the monopoly rents of
IP owners, presumably because the net balance of rents favors American
(or more often multinational) companies but in fact those rents only
benefit a tiny share of the very rich, at great cost to most Americans.
Paul Krugman: Race, Class and Neglect:
Every time you're tempted to say that America is moving forward on race --
that prejudice is no longer as important as it used to be -- along comes
an atrocity to puncture your complacency. Almost everyone realizes, I hope,
that the Freddie Gray affair wasn't an isolated incident, that it's unique
only to the extent that for once there seems to be a real possibility that
justice may be done.
And the riots in Baltimore, destructive as they are, have served at
least one useful purpose: drawing attention to the grotesque inequalities
that poison the lives of too many Americans.
Yet I do worry that the centrality of race and racism to this particular
story may convey the false impression that debilitating poverty and
alienation from society are uniquely black experiences. In fact, much
though by no means all of the horror one sees in Baltimore and many
other places is really about class, about the devastating effects of
extreme and rising inequality.
Take, for example, issues of health and mortality. Many people have
pointed out that there are a number of black neighborhoods in Baltimore
where life expectancy compares unfavorably with impoverished Third World
nations. But what's really striking on a national basis is the way class
disparities in death rates have been soaring even among whites.
Most notably, mortality among white women has increased sharply since
the 1990s, with the rise surely concentrated among the poor and poorly
educated; life expectancy among less educated whites has been falling at
rates reminiscent of the collapse of life expectancy in post-Communist
And yes, these excess deaths are the result of inequality and lack
of opportunity, even in those cases where their direct cause lies in
self-destructive behavior. Overuse of prescription drugs, smoking, and
obesity account for a lot of early deaths, but there's a reason such
behaviors are so widespread, and that reason has to do with an economy
that leaves tens of millions behind.
Actually, the adverse effects of inequality have been well documented
(see, e.g., Ichiro Kawachi/Bruce P Kennedy: The Health of Nations:
Why Inequality Is Harmful to Your Health and Richard Wilkinson:
The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier).
Still, the Russian analogy is shocking (if I recall correctly, life
expectancy for males dropped from close to 70 to 49 in a decade, which
probably hasn't happened anywhere else since WWII). It's hard to believe
that the US economy and safety net have sunk that far, but the sheer
indifference of many political figures borders on cruelty, and the cult
of austerity has convinced many people that public action is impossible.
It's curious that one effort no one has lined up to celebrate the 50th
anniversary of is the War on Poverty: even the heirs of its supporters
don't seem to have the energy or vision (or memory) to recall that it
actually was working until sabotaged by political indifference (Nixon)
and contempt (Reagan) and cowardice (Clinton).
Jeff Madrick: The Cost of Child Poverty.
Dean Obeidallah: Muslim-Bashing Can Be Very Lucrative: Geller got
more than the usual press this week when her "Draw Muhammad" cartooning
event in Texas provoked a couple of overly sensitive American muslims
to commit martyrdom-by-cop trying to shoot their way into the event.
That may have seemed like a PR coup, but I haven't seen anyone -- even
muslimphobes like Bill Maher -- stand up to identify with her. Author
looks at the money trail, such as it is, citing a "Fear, Inc. report
that found that certain key foundations have donated close to $60
million in recent years to these anti-Muslim advocates." Geller's
only getting a small slice of that, but she's more than making ends
Also, a few links for further study:
Dean Baker: The Reconnection Agenda: The Fun and Easy Route to
Broadly Shared Prosperity: Review of Jared Bernstein's new book,
The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity --
available as a
free PDF, a cheap Kindle book, or a moderately priced paperback.
Bernstein was briefly famous when VP Joe Biden hired him as economic
advisor in 2009, although I ran into him earlier when I read his 2008
book Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Unsolved Economic
Mysteries). As the Biden appointment shows, obviously not a flaming
radical, but much of what he argues for -- like full employment --
proved unthinkable even within Obama's circle of "confidence men."
Bernstein's book looks to be heavy on policy wonkery -- i.e., he
describes what could be done if we wanted to do it, rather than
exploring why such political will doesn't exist (at least at the
level of practical politicians). Baker adds some quibbles, notably
pointing out that the persistent trade deficit (and overvaluation
of the dollar) is something that exists because certain US interest
groups favor it.
Andrew Cockburn: The Kingpin Strategy: Subhed: "Assassination
as Policy in Washington and How It Failed, 1990-2015." I've been
inclined to attribute Washington's jones for targeted assassination
to a case of neocon Israel envy, but Cockburn finds earlier roots
in the War on Drugs' "kingpin strategy": a program to put faces on
various "drug cartels" and mark progress by knocking off their
heads -- Pablo Escobar, of the Medellin cartel in Colombia, was
an early target. (Of course, now that I think of it, this is the
Vietnam Phoenix Program all over again.) Of course, it turns out
that killing drug kingpins actually resulted in more drugs at
lower prices -- the cartels, after all, were just that, so breaking
them up only increased competition. With the War on Terror, drug
kingpins gave way to HVIs ("high-value individuals"). Turns out
that didn't work so well either:
The results, [Rivolo] discovered when he graphed them out, offered
a simple, unequivocal message: the strategy was indeed making a
difference, just not the one intended. It was, however, the very
same message that the kingpin strategy had offered in the drug wars
of the 1990s. Hitting HVIs did not reduce attacks and save American
lives; it increased them. Each killing quickly prompted mayhem.
Within three kilometers of the target's base of operation, attacks
over the following 30 days shot up by 40%. Within a radius of five
kilometers, a typical area of operations for an insurgent cell,
they were still up 20%. Summarizing his findings for Odierno,
Rivolo added an emphatic punch line: "Conclusion: HVI Strategy,
our principal strategy in Iraq, is counter-productive and needs
to be re-evaluated."
As with the kingpin strategy, the causes of this apparently
counter-intuitive result became obvious upon reflection. Dead
commanders were immediately replaced, and the newcomers were
almost always younger and more aggressive than their predecessors,
eager to "make their bones" and prove their worth.
Cockburn, by the way, has a new book: Kill Chain: The Rise of
the High-Tech Assassins. Article also at
Seymour Hersh: The Killing of Osama bin Laden: Much new detail here,
if you're into that sort of thing -- I didn't bother with any of the Seal
memoirs, although I wonder how clear they were that Bin Laden was an ISI
prisoner, or that the raid was arranged with collaboration and consent of
Pakistani officials. For instance:
One lie that has endured is that the Seals had to fight their way to
their target. Only two Seals have made any public statement: No Easy
Day, a first-hand account of the raid by Matt Bissonnette, was
published in September 2012; and two years later Rob O'Neill was
interviewed by Fox News. Both men had resigned from the navy; both had
fired at bin Laden. Their accounts contradicted each other on many details,
but their stories generally supported the White House version, especially
when it came to the need to kill or be killed as the Seals fought their
way to bin Laden. O'Neill even told Fox News that he and his fellow Seals
thought 'We were going to die.' 'The more we trained on it, the more we
realised . . . this is going to be a one-way mission.'
But the retired official told me that in their initial debriefings
the Seals made no mention of a firefight, or indeed of any opposition.
The drama and danger portrayed by Bissonnette and O'Neill met a deep-seated
need, the retired official said: 'Seals cannot live with the fact that they
killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of
their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the
bar and say it was an easy day? That's not going to happen.'
They did make the operation more dramatic by crashing a helicopter,
which they then had to blow up while ordering in a replacement. Hersh's
High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy,
along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids,
bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.
Costas Lapavitsas: The Syriza strategy has come to an end: An
interview with the Greek economist, author of Profiting Without
Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (2014, Verso), on the
various differences in Europe, especially between Germany and Greece,
and how they're tearing the Eurozone apart.
Nomi Prins: The Clintons and Their Banker Friends: Adapted
from her book, All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances
That Drive American Power, recently reprinted in paperback.
Although Bush and Obama did more to bail out bankrupt banks, no
one made them more money, through generous legislation and hands
off regulation, than Bill Clinton.
Sandy Tolan: The One-State Conundrum: What makes Tolan's The
Lemon Tree one of the most accessible books on Israel-Palestine
is how he uses a couple very real individuals as a prism for the big
picture story. His new book, Children of the Stone: The Power of
Music in a Hard Land, picks another such example, a Palestinian
violinist who founded a music school in the Occupied Territories.
I have spent the last five years documenting both the harsh realities
of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Ramzi Aburedwan's dream
of building a music school that could provide Palestinian children
with an alternative to the violence and humiliation that is their
everyday lives. I sat with children in the South Hebron hills, who
had been stoned by Israeli settlers and set upon by German shepherds
as they walked two miles to school. I met a 14-year-old girl who was
forced to play a song for a soldier at a checkpoint, supposedly to
prove her flute was not a weapon.
Farmers in villages shared their anguish with me over their lost
livelihoods, because the 430-mile-long separation barrier Israel has
built on Palestinian land, essentially confiscating nearly 10% of the
West Bank, cuts them off from their beloved olive groves. I've seen
men crammed into metal holding pens before being taken to minimum-wage
jobs in Israel, and women squeezed between seven-foot-high concrete
blocks, waiting to pray at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque. I've spoken
with countless families who have been subject to night raids by the
Israeli military, including one young mother, home alone with her
one-year-old boy, who woke up to the sight of 10 Israeli soldiers
breaking down her door and pointing guns at her. They had, it turned
out, raided the wrong apartment. The baby slept through it all.
Ramzi and the teachers at his school, Al Kamandjati (Arabic for
"The Violinist"), see it as an antidote to the sense of oppression
and confinement that pervades Palestinian life. And it's true that
the students I talked to there regularly reported that playing music
gave them a transformative sense of calm and protection -- and not
only in the moments when they picked up their instruments and
disappeared into Bach, Beethoven, or Fairuz.
Hope they play some Ellington too.
Philip Weiss: 'NY Review of Books' says Tony Judt didn't really mean
it when he called for the end of a Jewish state: A rebuttal to
assertions made in a review of Judt's essay collection When the
Facts Change: Essays, 1995-2010 by
Jonathan Freedland (paywalled). The late historian's piece,
included in the book, dated from 2003, and as Weiss points out
included a number of predictions which have held up rather well.
I don't think I've seen anything like this before: such a retraction,
issued after the author's death, of a signature portion of his beliefs.
And I understand why; it anguished liberal Zionists to hear anyone
thoughtful come out against the idea of a Jewish state, won so
heroically over 80 years of battle in the chambers of western
officials. It was a betrayal of an article of faith, by someone who
had previously been a Zionist.
The New York Review of Books has done all it can to bury Judt's
essay. It never asked Judt to expand on his views in the years that
followed, let alone ask Ali Abunimah or Ghada Karmi or any other
Palestinian who can pick up a pencil to respond. No, this was an
all-Jewish event. And the retraction here is being performed by a
man who wrote a year back that Ari Shavit is a "liberal" and the
right person to talk to American Jews about the conflict (Shavit
who "opposed the Oslo Agreement, calling it 'a collective act of
messianic drunkenness' and defending its most prominent opponent,
Netanyahu, against charges that he was partly to blame for its
failure . . . [who] during the Second Intifada, . . . praised
Sharon for having 'conducted the military campaign patiently,
wisely and calmly' and 'the diplomatic campaign with impressive
talent' [, who in] the final week of the war in Gaza this summer
that took the lives of 72 Israelis and more than 2100 Palestinians,
. . . wrote that strong objection to Israeli conduct was illegitimate
and amounted to anti-Semitic bigotry").
As he's explained in his memoirs, Judt was very attached to Israel,
even working on a kibbutz there, so his 2003 essay had the impact of
a jilted believer -- Judt was a huge fan of a collection of essays by
disenchanted ex-Communists, The God That Failed, so he would
have appreciated that a comparable book could collect key essays by
Some links on the UK (and other) elections: I still have
enough residual sense of international solidarity to at least root for
left-leaning parties all around the world, although UK "New Labour"
leader Tony Blair's "Bush's Poodle" act sorely tried those sympathies,
and it seems like France's Socialists have long tended to be more
enthusiastic about French imperialism than the competing Gaullists
were. On the other hand, I keep favoring the Democratic Party here
in the USA, even though they have the worst record of all, so I'm
not unaware of how these travesties happen. My sense of solidarity
even extends to Israel's Labor Party (if indeed it still exists).
But beyond oft-frustrated sympathies, I haven't tried to sort out
what's just happened in the UK. I'll just note some links for future
Sunday, April 26. 2015
Geology trumped the news twice this week: first with a volcanic
eruption in Chile, then a massive earthquake in Nepal. Worth noting
that bad things can still happen that can't be attributed to bad
policies of the political right. Also in the news: anniversaries
keep happening, including this week the 100th anniversary of one
of Winston Churchill's most immediately obvious blunders, the
Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey. Churchill got his first taste of
battle at Omduran in the Sudan and found it totally exhilarating.
Had he been present at Gallipoli he would have gotten a taste of
what the Sudanese experienced. Also 100 years ago, the Ottomans
started their genocide against the Armenians, ultimately killing
up to 1.5 million of them. Turkey has refused to acknowledge what
Taner Akcam termed A Shameful Act, which has the accidental
benefit of letting Britain and Russia -- who tried to cultivate
the Christian Armenians as a "fifth column" against the Ottomans --
off the hook.
Some scattered links this week:
Brendan James: Michele Bachmann: Thanks Obama for Bringing On the
Apocalypse: As Bachmann explains:
"Barack Obama is intent, it is his number one goal, to ensure that Iran
has a nuclear weapon," she said. "Why? Why would you put the nuclear
weapon in the hands of madmen who are Islamic radicals?"
Bachmann, however, then seemed to approve of the President moving
mankind into "the midnight hour."
"We get to be living in the most exciting time in history," she said,
urging fellow Christians to "rejoice."
"Jesus Christ is coming back. We, in our lifetimes potentially, could
see Jesus Christ returning to Earth, the Rapture of the Church."
"These are wonderful times," she concluded.
Now, I come from a long line of "Revelations scholars" -- I can still
recall (and I was less than ten at the time) my grandfather asking me
whether I thought Israel's founding was a sign that the rapture was near.
My father, too, spent a lifetime studying "Revelations" -- mostly, as
best I could figure out, to prove that his father had understood it all
wrong. (My own theory was that the "book" was tacked onto the end just
to discredit the whole Bible, as if the other "books" weren't proof
enough of some sick hoax.) So I do have a little trouble treating the
people who believe in the rapture as batshit crazy, but there is at
least one difference between Bachmann and my forefathers: the latter
didn't go around acting like it's going to happen any day now.
Paul Krugman: The Fiscal Future I: The Hyperbolic Case for Bigger
Government: Turns out Clinton threw the baby out with the bath
water when he declared that "the age of big government is over."
Back in the 1990s some conservatives were arguing that the ideal
size of government relative to GDP was set during the Coolidge
administration and we should lock that into law. Others preferred
to idealize the McKinley administration, and Grover Norquist just
wanted to shrink the whole thing so small he could drown it in the
bathtub. It's taken a while for someone like Brad DeLong to come
along and argue that the opposite is the case: that government
should grow even larger.
So, how big should the government be? The answer, broadly speaking,
is surely that government should do those things it does better than
the private sector. But what are these things?
The standard, textbook answer is that we should look at public
goods -- goods that are non rival and non excludable, so that the
private sector won't provide them. National defense, weather
satellites, disease control, etc. And in the 19th century that was
arguably what governments mainly did.
Nowadays, however, governments are involved in a lot more --
education, retirement, health care. You can make the case that there
are some aspects of education that are a public good, but that's not
really why we rely on the government to provide most education, and
not at all why the government is so involved in retirement and health.
Instead, experience shows that these are all areas where the government
does a (much) better job than the private sector. And Brad argues that
the changing structure of the economy will mean that we want more of
these goods, hence bigger government.
He also suggests -- or at least that's how I read him -- the common
thread among these activities that makes the government a better provider
than the market; namely, they all involve individuals making very-long-term
decisions. Your decision to stay in school or go out and work will shape
your lifetime career; your ability to afford medical treatment or food
and rent at age 75 has a lot to do with decisions you made when that
stage of life was decades ahead, and impossible to imagine.
Now, the fact is that people make decisions like these badly. Bad
choices in education are the norm where choice is free; voluntary,
self-invested retirement savings are a disaster. Human beings just
don't handle the very long run well -- call it hyperbolic discounting,
call it bounded rationality, whatever, our brains are designed to cope
with the ancestral savannah and not late-stage capitalist finance.
When you say things like this, libertarians tend to retort that if
people mess up on such decisions, it's their own fault. But the usual
argument for free markets is that they lead to good results -- not
that they would lead to good results if people were more virtuous
than they are, so we should rely on them despite the bad results
they yield in practice. And the truth is that paternalism in these
areas has led to pretty good results -- mandatory K-12 education,
Social Security, and Medicare make our lives more productive as well
as more secure.
I'm not wild about calling this stuff "paternalism" -- one of the
things that has made government spending objectionable is how often
it is subject to political propriety. (For instance, art is generally
a public good, especially when it can be reproduced at zero marginal
cost. It would be a good public investment to pay lots of artists to
produce lots of art, but not such a good idea if every piece had to
be approved by a local board of prudes.)
I think there's also a macroeconomic argument. For a variety of
reasons, it strikes me that the private sector economy has become
increasingly incapable of sustaining full employment, and as such
needs permanent, possibly increasing, stimulus. (It could be that
the deficit is the result of increasing inequality, which depresses
demand while producing a savings glut. And/or it could be due to
technology which keeps reducing the number of work hours needed to
produce a constant amount of goods and services. Most likely both.)
Krugman followed up with
The Fiscal Future II: Not Enough Debt?. This is more technical,
so I won't bother quoting it here. The upshot is that you can grow
government without having to pay for all of it through increased
Caitlin MacNeal: White House: Two Hostages Killed in US Counterterrorism
Attack: Quotes the White House statement disclosing that the CIA had
killed two Al-Qaida hostages with a drone strike "in the border region
of Afghanistan and Pakistan" (evidently doesn't matter which side of the
border was struck). Also that two US citizens involved with Al-Qaida were
killed (but not targeted) in drone strikes "in the same region." Of the
hostages, "No words can fully express our regret over this terrible
tragedy." Of the other two, well, stuff happens. The statement goes on:
"The President . . . takes full responsibility for these operations."
The statement doesn't explain how Obama intends to "take responsibility":
Will he turn himself over to the ICC or local authorities to be tried?
Will he change US policy to prevent any repeat of these tragedies? Or
is he just enjoying one of those "the buck stops here" moments? What
should be clear is that the CIA has no fucking idea who they're killing
and maiming with their Hellfire missiles. Lacking such "intelligence"
all they're doing is embarrassing themselves (and Obama and the nation)
and aggravating and escalating animosities. Indeed, by going into their
back yards to kill anonymous people with no hint of due process they're
conceding the moral high ground as surely as Al-Qaida did on Sept. 11,
2001 when they launched attacks on American soil.
For more on the drone strikes, see
Spencer Ackerman: Inside Obama's drone panopticon: a secret machine
with no accountability:
Thanks to Obama's rare admission on Thursday, the realities of what
are commonly known as "signature strikes" are belatedly and partially
on display. Signature strikes, a key aspect for years of what the
administration likes to call its "targeted killing" program, permit
the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill.
The "signatures" at issue are indicators that intelligence analysts
associate with terrorist behavior -- in practice, a gathering of men,
teenaged to middle-aged, traveling in convoys or carrying weapons. In
2012, an unnamed senior official memorably quipped that the CIA considers
"three guys doing jumping jacks" a signature of terrorist training.
Civilian deaths in signature strikes, accordingly, are not accidental.
They are, as Schiff framed it, more like a cost of doing business -- only
the real cost is shielded from the public.
An apparatus of official secrecy, built over decades and zealously
enforced by Obama, prevents meaningful open scrutiny of the strikes. No
one outside the administration knows how many drone strikes are signature
strikes. There is no requirement that the CIA or JSOC account for their
strikes, nor to provide an estimate of how many people they kill, nor
even how they define legally critical terms like "combatant," terrorist
"affiliate" or "leader." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is
suing an obstinate administration to compel disclosure of some of the
most basic information there is about a program that has killed thousands
of people. [ . . . ]
Schiff's reaction condensed the root argument of the administration's
drone advocates: it's this or nothing. The Obama administration considers
the real alternatives to drone strikes to be the unpalatable options of
grueling ground wars or passive acceptance of terrorism. Then it
congratulates itself for picking the wise, ethical and responsible
choice of killing people without knowing who they are.
[ . . . ]
No Obama official involved in drone strikes has ever been disciplined:
not only are Brennan and director of national intelligence James Clapper
entrenched in their jobs, David Barron, one of the lawyers who told Obama
he could kill a US citizen without trial as a first resort, now has a
Beyond the question of when the US ought to launch drone strikes
lie deeper geostrategic concerns. Obama's overwhelming focus on
counter-terrorism, inherited and embraced from his predecessor,
subordinated all other considerations for the drone battlefield of
Yemen, which he described as a model for future efforts.
The result is the total collapse of the US Yemeni proxy, a regional
war Obama appears powerless to influence, the abandonment of US citizens
trapped in Yemen and the likely expansion of al-Qaida's local affiliate.
A generation of Yemeni civilians, meanwhile, is growing up afraid of the
machines loitering overhead that might kill them without notice.
Sinéad O'Shea: Mediterranean migrant crisis: Why is no one talking
Horror has been expressed at the latest catastrophe in the Mediterranean.
Little has been said, however, about Eritrea. Yet 22% of all people
entering Italy by boat in 2014 were from Eritrea, according to the UN
refugee agency, the UNHCR. After Syrians, they are the second most
common nationality to undertake these journeys. Many who died this
week were from the former Italian colony.
So why is it so rarely discussed? The answer is essentially the
problem. Eritrea is without western allies and far away. It is also
in the grip of a highly repressive regime. This week, it was named
the most censored country in the world by the Committee to Protect
Journalists, beating North Korea, which is in second place. Reporters
without Borders has called it the world's most dangerous country for
Nobody talks about Eritrea because nobody (ie westerners) goes
there. In 2009, I travelled there undercover with cameraman Scott
Corben. We remain the only independent journalists to have visited
in more than 10 years. There we witnessed a system that was exerting
total control over its citizens. It was difficult to engage anybody
in conversation. Everyone believed they were under surveillance,
creating a state of constant anxiety. Communications were tightly
controlled. Just three roads were in use and extensive documentation
was required to travel. There were constant military checks. It is
one of the most expensive countries in the world to buy petrol. Even
maps are largely prohibited. At the time, Eritreans had to seek
permission from a committee to obtain a mobile phone.
Dissent is forbidden. It is thought there are more than 800
prisons dispersed across the country. Some take the form of shipping
containers in the desert. Torture is widespread.
[ . . . ]
Eritreans are thus faced with a terrible choice. They must either
live in misery or risk death by leaving. I met a number of people who
were preparing to go. Despite a shoot-to-kill policy on the border,
thousands still leave each month.
Of course, one reason some of us don't talk much about bad countries
is that we don't want the US to attack, invade, and "fix" them.
Also, a few links for further study:
Christian Appy: From the Fall of Saigon to Our Fallen Empire: Appy
has a new book out, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our
National Identity, which I've just started reading. This piece
is written for the 40th anniversary of the "fall of Saigon" (or the
end of Vietnam's American War). Subtitle: "How to Turn a Nightmare
into a Fairy Tale."
Oddly enough, however, we've since found ways to reimagine that
denouement which miraculously transformed a failed and brutal war
of American aggression into a tragic humanitarian rescue mission.
Our most popular Vietnam end-stories bury the long, ghastly history
that preceded the "fall," while managing to absolve us of our primary
responsibility for creating the disaster. Think of them as silver-lining
tributes to good intentions and last-ditch heroism that may come in
handy in the years ahead.
The trick, it turned out, was to separate the final act from the
rest of the play. To be sure, the ending in Vietnam was not a happy
one, at least not for many Americans and their South Vietnamese
allies. This week we mark the 40th anniversary of those final days
of the war. We will once again surely see the searing images of
terrified refugees, desperate evacuations, and final defeat. But
even that grim tale offers a lesson to those who will someday
memorialize our present round of disastrous wars: toss out the
historical background and you can recast any U.S. mission as a
flawed but honorable, if not noble, effort by good-guy rescuers
to save innocents from the rampaging forces of aggression.
The worst thing about the Vietnam War wasn't losing it, nor
even not learning anything from the experience. It was the lies
we told ourselves to keep from facing what actually happened,
including how much responsibility the US bore for making the
whole debacle far more horrendous than it was bound to be. We
wouldn't, for instance, have wound up with any less of a loss
had we allowed democratic elections in 1956, as agreed to in
Geneva in 1954. Instead, we escalated again and again, unleashing
new horrors for no practical gain. I've always thought the worst
of those escalations was Nixon's "incursion" in Cambodia, which
soon destabilized the neutral Prince Sihanouk and delivered the
country to "the killing fields" of Pol Pot. Millions died because
Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon couldn't face losing the war,
and while they clearly cared nothing at all about the Vietnamese,
the damage they did to their own country may have seemed relatively
trivial -- 58,000 Americans dead, many billions of dollars wasted --
it went far deeper and lasted much longer. The war was founded on
lies, even well before the fake "Gulf of Tonkin Incident," and in
the end that lying became a way of life. Nixon himself must have
set some record for mendacity, but it was Ronald Reagan who recast
American politics on a basis of sheer narcissistic fantasy, and
no American politician has ever looked at reality squarely again.
The Vietnam War was the worst thing that ever happened to America,
not because we lost it but because we were wrong in the first place
and never learned better. That in turn led to the recapitulation
in Iraq and Afghanistan: the main differences there were that the
latter wars had less effect on everyday life so they generated
less anti-war movement, while the undrafted army proved somewhat
more resilient, allowing the propagandists more leeway to cover
up the debacle. Appy himself concludes:
The time may come, if it hasn't already, when many of us will forget,
Vietnam-style, that our leaders sent us to war in Iraq falsely claiming
that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction he intended
to use against us; that he had a "sinister nexus" with the al-Qaeda
terrorists who attacked on 9/11; that the war would essentially pay
for itself; that it would be over in "weeks rather than months"; that
the Iraqis would greet us as liberators; or that we would build an
Iraqi democracy that would be a model for the entire region. And will
we also forget that in the process nearly 4,500 Americans were killed
along with perhaps 500,000 Iraqis, that millions of Iraqis were displaced
from their homes into internal exile or forced from the country itself,
and that by almost every measure civil society has failed to return to
pre-war levels of stability and security?
The picture is no less grim in Afghanistan. What silver linings can
possibly emerge from our endless wars? If history is any guide, I'm
sure we'll think of something.
Ben Branstetter: 7 whistle-blowers facing more jail time than David
Petraeus: OK, that's a low bar, given that Petraeus avoided all
jail time, punished with two years of probation after pleading guilty
to passing classified secrets to his mistress-hagiographer Paula
Broadwell. But then his intent was never to help Americans understand
that their government is doing in secret. It was just self-promotion,
business-as-usual for the ambitious general. On the other hand,
Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison -- nearly
twice as long as Albert Speer was sentenced for running Nazi Germany's
Chris Wright: Always Historicize!: Chews on the old Leninist bone
of what-is-to-be-done, the perennial of those who think of themselves
as activists, as opposed to us normal folk who only occasionally get
swept up in the tides of history. Wright starts with the pitiful state
of the Left, concluding that to be unsurprising given that the Left is,
by nature of its constituency, always starved of resources, and "one
needs resources to get things done." Yet this does nothing to explain
the few cases when everything suddenly lurches toward the Left. That
happens not when the balance of resources shifts from Right to Left,
but when the Establishment collapses in chaos, opening up opportunity
for the Left to save the day, provided some combination of ideas and
organization. Wright sort of understands this. He is skeptical of the
notion that "radical social change is a matter mainly of will and
competence . . . pushing back against reactionary institutions so as,
hopefully, to reverse systemic trends." He argues, instead, that "the
proper way for radicals to conceive of their activism, on a broad
scale, is in terms of the speeding up of current historical trends,
not their interruption or reversal."
I suppose that all depends on what trends you're talking about,
but the notion that historical trends are for the better hasn't
been born out by history: I can think of a few that turned rotten
after initial promise, and others that were rotten from the start.
The trend Wright identifies is "the protracted collapse of corporate
capitalism and the nation-state system itself." I'm not so sure of
that myself -- not that I don't see some problems there, but they
mostly come from overreach, something not all that far removed from
panic. (The Right's massive attempt to corner the political system,
which has much to do with the resource imbalance cited above, seems
more rooted in fear than in greed, not that its sponsors can ever
free themselves of the latter. Sometimes it looks like the Right is
winning, but their successes rarely go beyond the most corruptible
of institutions, and when they do seize power they often crash and
I keep coming back to ideas and organization. While there are a
lot of the former floating around, it's proven remarkably difficult
to get them into common circulation -- the point, I would say, of
Philip Mirowski's Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste,
showing how a prison of constantly reiterated neoliberal ideology
kept politicians from even considering alternatives after an economic
collapse caused by precisely that thinking. That suggests to me that
ideas have to be channelled through organization -- a role that unions
filled during the industrial revolution but are unlikely to recover
and repeat in the future. Figure that out and the Left won't look so
lame. Don't and we run the risk that no one will be able to pick up
the pieces after the Right fucks everything up.
Sunday, April 19. 2015
Late start but I had the Civil War links, and added a couple more.
Plus, for local color, let's start with Crowson's cartoon today:
By the way, babyfaced State Senator O'Donnell (R) happens to represent
my district. You can read more about his bill in, well,
The Guardian, or
The Chicago Tribune. Jordan Weissmann looks at what welfare
recipients actually spend money on
here. One thing I haven't seen much discussion of is how this law
is to be enforced. Will the state be assigning accountants to go over
welfare recipients' books? Or will we expect movie ticket takers to
rat out customers they suspect of being on welfare?
Gregory P Downs: The Dangerous Myth of Appomattox: When I was 10
years old the centennial of the Civil War seemed like such a big deal,
whereas I hadn't noticed any 150th anniversaries until someone wrote
that Lee's surrender at Appomattox should be a national holiday. Back
in 1960 you could still practically taste the gunpowder residue. I
knew, for instance, that my great-great-grandfathers had fought in
that war -- on my father's side from Pennsylvania, a man who after
the war homesteaded in western Kansas and named his first son Abraham
Lincoln Hull; on my mother's side from Ohio, a man who then moved to
northern Arkansas and became sheriff of Baxter County (in other words,
one of those oft-villified "carpetbaggers"). Back then Kansas still
identified with the North, and I saw enough of the South to reinforce
my belief in civil rights, because by then the South had reconstituted
its racist caste system as if their "war for independence" had won out.
(Downs quotes Albion Tourgée saying that the South "surrendered at
Appomattox, the the North has been surrendering ever since.")
Over the course of the Civil War's Centennial the tide of surrender
had shifted with the passage of landmark civil rights acts. Fifty
years later we're more inclined to memorialize the 50th anniversary
of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march than the 150th of
Lee's surrender. Not that we shouldn't worry about erosion of voting
rights. But one thing we don't worry about over is that the South
will secede again -- indeed, when various Texans spout off to that
effect, the usual reaction is "good riddance." But celebration of
Appomattox has always been something of a ruse. As Downs points out,
the war didn't really end there, nor has the reunification of the
country gone smoothly. Indeed, one of the great ironies of American
history is that the party of Lincoln -- the party my great-greats
fought for -- has lately been captured by the sons of the Confederacy
(often, amusingly enough, in the guise of adopted sons with names
like Jindal, Cruz, Rubio, and Bush).
Meanwhile, Downs is more concerned with the problems the postwar
occupation (aka reconstruction) ran into:
Grant himself recognized that he had celebrated the war's end far too
soon. Even as he met Lee, Grant rejected the rebel general's plea for
"peace" and insisted that only politicians, not officers, could end
the war. Then Grant skipped the fabled laying-down-of-arms ceremony
to plan the Army's occupation of the South.
To enforce its might over a largely rural population, the Army
marched across the South after Appomattox, occupying more than 750
towns and proclaiming emancipation by military order. This little-known
occupation by tens of thousands of federal troops remade the South in
ways that Washington proclamations alone could not.
And yet as late as 1869, President Grant's attorney general argued
that some rebel states remained in the "grasp of war." When white
Georgia politicians expelled every black member of the State Legislature
and began a murderous campaign of intimidation, Congress and Grant
extended military rule there until 1871.
Meanwhile, Southern soldiers continued to fight as insurgents,
terrorizing blacks across the region. One congressman estimated that
50,000 African-Americans were murdered by white Southerners in the
first quarter-century after emancipation. "It is a fatal mistake,
nay a wicked misery to talk of peace or the institutions of peace,"
a federal attorney wrote almost two years after Appomattox. "We are
in the very vortex of war."
Downs has a book that sounds interesting: After Appomattox:
Military Occupation and the Ends of War. It is inevitable that
any such book written these days will reflect the manifest failures
of the US occupation of Iraq. One recalls that in the run up to the
invasion of Iraq, Bush's intellectuals studied up on the post-WWII
occupations of Germany and Japan -- held to be a model of enlightened
reconstruction, although that conceit took a good deal of misreading
both of history and of the current state of Bush politics to come to
that cheery conclusion. But in all cases, the fiasco is the consequence
both of poorly understood goals and corrupt practices.
Also worth reading:
Christopher Dickey: The Civil War's Dirty Secret: It Was Always About
Slavery. A sequel could be written on how racism went from being
a rationale for slavery to becoming a proxy. In any case, the two are
so inextricably linked that the iconography for one, like the continuing
cult of the Confederacy, supports the other. That's why if you don't
like the one, you shouldn't make excuses for the other.
Mark Mazzetti/Helene Cooper: Sale of US Arms Fuels the Wars of Arab
States: Even if we overlook Israel, the most intensely militarized
nation in the world, the Middle East has long been a bonanza for arms
dealers -- and not just for American ones, although the US remains by
far the largest purveyor of lethal hardware. And to paraphrase Madeleine
Albright, what's the point of having this magnificent military technology
if you never use it? That's been a conundrum for many years, but more
and more nominal US allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, even Egypt,
are discovering targets they can safely attack: the ad hoc militias of
destabilized neighbors like Yemen, Libya, and Syria. All they have to
do is to pin a label like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or Iran, and the US blesses
them with further supplies. For example:
Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion on weaponry last year -- the
most ever, and more than either France or Britain -- and has become the
world's fourth-largest defense market, according to figures released
last week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute,
which tracks global military spending. The Emirates spent nearly $23
billion last year, more than three times what they spent in 2006.
Qatar, another gulf country with bulging coffers and a desire to
assert its influence around the Middle East, is on a shopping spree.
Last year, Qatar signed an $11 billion deal with the Pentagon to
purchase Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin air-defense
systems. Now the tiny nation is hoping to make a large purchase of
Boeing F-15 fighters to replace its aging fleet of French Mirage jets.
Qatari officials are expected to present the Obama administration with
a wish list of advanced weapons before they come to Washington next
month for meetings with other gulf nations.
American defense firms are following the money. Boeing opened an
office in Doha, Qatar, in 2011, and Lockheed Martin set up an office
there this year. Lockheed created a division in 2013 devoted solely
to foreign military sales, and the company's chief executive, Marillyn
Hewson, has said that Lockheed needs to increase foreign business --
with a goal of global arms sales' becoming 25 percent to 30 percent
of its revenue -- in part to offset the shrinking of the Pentagon
budget after the post-Sept. 11 boom. [ . . . ]
Meanwhile, the deal to sell Predator drones to the Emirates is
nearing final approval. The drones will be unarmed, but they will be
equipped with lasers to allow them to better identify targets on the
If the sale goes through, it will be the first time that the drones
will go to an American ally outside of NATO.
There's very little here to keep these wars from spinning out of
control. The US has allied itself with dictatorial oligarchs, and
enabled them to suppress all manner of popular movements, including
peaceful demonstrations for democracy. And when the most violent of
those movements blowback against the US, that just reinforces the
war mentality. Sure, some worry about putting US troops in harm's
way, but we're pretty cavalier about getting Arabs to kill other
Arabs, especially when Arabs are paying us for the gear -- think of
all those "good jobs" proxy wars will create. Invading Iraq in 2003
was still a hard sell, but spinning up ISIS as an enemy was a breeze.
Also see Richard Silverstein's comment on this article,
War is America's Business.
Justin Logan: Iraq 2.0: The REAL Reason Hawks Oppose the Iran Deal:
Let's be honest for a second: 90-plus percent of supporters of the Iran
framework would have supported any framework the Obama administration
produced (this author included). Close to 100 percent of the opponents
of the framework would have opposed any framework it produced.
What's going on here? Why are we having this kabuki debate about a
deal whose battle lines were established before it even existed? At
Brookings, Jeremy Shapiro suggests that "the Iranian nuclear program
is not really what opponents and proponents of the recent deal are
Shapiro says the bigger question is about what to do regarding
"Iran's challenge to U.S. leadership" in the countries surrounding
Iran and whether to "integrate Iran into the regional order."
One could put this more baldly: anti-agreement hawks want to
preserve a state of belligerency (non-cooperation at the very least)
between the US and Iran; agreement supporters want to defuse the
state of belligerency, ultimately by normalizing relations between
the two countries. One reason the hawks have is the profits from
arms sales generated through the Middle East's growing set of proxy
wars (see the Mazzetti/Cooper article above). It's also likely that
oil profits would skyrocket if there was any disruption of Persian
Gulf exports -- something which may matter more than usual given
how invested US oil companies are in expensive sources (like shale
and offshore oil). But there's also a more basic ideological reason:
right-wingers believe in a world where conflict, like hierarchy, is
inevitable and brutal, whereas left-wingers believe that conflicts
can be resolved and people can cooperate to level up everyone's
standard of living.
After torching Palestinian cafe and painting 'Revenge' on its door,
4 Israeli teens get community service;
Before prayers finished Friday, Israeli military began firing teargas
canisters and rubber-coated bullets;
A 22-year-old Palestinian dies after imprisonment, then his cousin, 27,
is killed at his funeral:
'Passover siege' in Hebron: Palestinians endure military lockdown so
Israelis can enjoy holiday in occupied West Bank:
more of Kate's remarkable compilations of Israeli news reports.
Alice Rothchild: The most massive child abuse int he world:
"Not a single house has been rebuilt in Gaza since the end of the
devastating war 9 months ago, UNRWA reports."