Sunday, March 22. 2015
The top story of last week's news cycle was Israel's elections for a
new parliament (Knesset). Many people hoped that the voters would
finally dispose of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but in the last
minutes "Bibi" swung hard to the racist right and wound up with a
six-seat plurality, mostly at the expense of small parties nominally
to the right of Likud. That still leaves Netanyahu only half way to
forming a new Knesset majority coalition, but few observers see that
as a problem, although it probably means further concessions to the
"religious" parties -- Shas, United Torah, etc. Best place to start
reading about this is
Richard Silverstein: Israeli Election Post-Mortem: Rearranging the
In shreying about the Arab masses running to polling places and foreign
governments funneling shovels-full of cash to topple him, he appealed to
the worst devils of Israel's nature, to turn Lincoln's quotation on his
The results cannot but worsen the growing rancidness of the Likud
vision of contemporary Israel in the noses of many Israelis, Diaspora
Jews and the world at large. There is a growing sense that Israel cannot
get itself out of the mess it's in.
Some other links on Israel:
Robert Fantina: Netanyahu's victory - what is the cost? Netanyahu,
of course, figures there should be none, as he's already walked back
many of the inflammatory things he said to rally Israel's right to his
election cause. If there were any doubts that he is a liar, someone
who will say whatever it takes under any circumstances, that should
have been dispelled, especially if you add the Boehner speech to what
he said before and after election. There is no doubt that more and
more people are noticing this -- especially previous supporters of
Israel who are becoming embarrassed at what their fantasy has turned
into. But the campaign not only haunts Netanyahu, the election taints
the voters. By re-electing Netanyahu, Israel's voters have shown that
they're unwilling to do anything to change course. Therefore, only
other nations can help Israel change course. We've nudged closer to
that realization, but the US in particular probably isn't there yet.
Still, every new event will be seen through the prism of this election.
Allison Deger: Meet the Knesset members from the Joint List:
as I look at these pictures, I'm reminded of Bill Clinton's promise
to appoint a cabinet "that looks like America looks."
Richard Silverstein: Israel's Election: Bibi and Blood in the Water:
Starts with Netanyahu's pre-election press conference statement, then
adds, "Bibi is runnin' scared." Post-election we know that his hysteria
worked, saving Likud from finishing second to "Just Not Bibi." Not sure
this is helpful, but
Annie Robbins: An American translation of Netanyahu's racist get out the
vote speech translates Netanyahu's screed into an American political
context (replacing "Arab" with "black," "right wing" and "Likud" with
"Republican," "Labor" with "Democrats," "Israel" with "United States").
That may help you understand just how far Israeli political culture has
sunk, and why certain Americans are so gung ho about getting the US to
emulate Israel more, but you'll miss some nuances: e.g., Democrats in
the US welcome the support of blacks and aren't ashamed to appoint a
couple to cabinet posts and such, Israel's Labor Party (aka The Zionist
Camp) wouldn't dare do anything like that. Indeed, their fondness of
"the two-state solution" is more often presented as a way to separate
Jewish Israelis from Arabs.
Josh Marshall: Bibi: Wait, the Arabs Love Me!: Netanyahu starts
to explain away his recent racist comments, including extracts from
an interview for American ears (with Andrea Mitchell).
Jonathan Alter: Bibi's Ugly Win Will Harm Israel: "Netanyahu came
back from the dead by doing something politicians almost never do --
predicting his own defeat. He told base voters that he would lose if
they didn't abandon far-right-winger Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayeudi
Party and flock back to Likud. Instead of trying to hide his desperation,
he flaunted (or contrived) it, to great political effect, winning by
several seats more than expected." Something not often talked about
is how often right-wingers have to appeal to liberal values to cover
up their own inadequacies. Thus someone like Netanyahu has to talk
about his desire for peace and security, or even something as specific
(and easily disproven) as his commitment to providing infrastructure
for Arab Citizens of Israel, even while making such laudable goals
impossible. That they get away with it is because their platitudes
are so universal they are rarely questioned. Even rank hypocrisy is
often excused as mere incompetence. GW Bush, for instance, is famous
for his failed wars, his imploded economy, his gross incompetence
after Hurricane Katrina -- an embarrassing string of bad luck, as
no one would dare suggest that his results were intended. But really,
those results were entirely predictable given his worldview. Likewise,
Netanyahu's repeated failures to make any progress whatsoever toward
peace and justice have been deliberate, and in a sense heroic.
Alex Kane: J Street's fall from relevance: "In a postelection
statement [Jeremy] Ben-Ami said J Street would continue to stand 'for
an end to occupation, for a two-state solution and for an Israel that
is committed to its core democratic principles and Jewish values.' It's
a nice sentiment but one that is out of touch with the facts on the
ground, as Netanyahu's final days of campaigning revealed."
David Shulman: Israel: The Stark Truth: "Mindful of Netanyahu's
long record of facile mendacity, commentators on the left have tended
to characterize these statements as more dubious 'rhetoric'; already,
under intense pressure from the United States, he has waffled on the
question of Palestinian statehood in comments directed at a foreign,
English-speaking audience. But I think that, for once, he was actually
speaking the truth in that last pre-election weekend -- a popular truth
among his traditional supporters."
Anshel Pfeffer: Netanyahu stoked primal fears in Israel: "Netanyahu,
in his own tiny bubble of privilege and sycophancy, was on the verge of
losing the election. But he emerged in time to stoke the primal fears of
his electorate of their fate. It was a destructive tactic that took
advantage of racism and ignorance and jeopardised Israel's diplomatic
position within the international community. It won the election but
has divided Israel like never before."
Ryan Rodrick Beller: To evangelicals, Zionism an increasingly tough
sell: When the British invaded Palestine and set up their "home
for the Jewish people" there, about 10% of the native population
were Christians -- communities dating from the Crusades or even
earlier. To the Zionist Yishuv, however, those Christians were just
Arabs, same as the Muslims. It's always been curious how completely
American evangelicals sided with the Zionists against their own
co-religionists. The standard explanation had to do with seeing
Israel's ingathering of Jews as a precondition for the Apocalypse.
That always struck me as sick and demented, and anti-semitic seeing
as how the Jews are destroyed in the end while the true believers
ascend to heaven. But this story suggests that a big part of the
explanation is sheer ignorance, changed when evangelicals learn of
how Palestinian Christians are treated by Israel.
Juan Cole: Obama with Drama: Translating his cojmments on Israel's
Netanyahu from the Vulcan: And not exactly into ordinary English,
more like Cole calls "Bones-speak": "Netanyahu's attitude toward
Palestinian-Israelis makes 1960s Southern governors like George
Wallace and Orval Faubus look like effing Nelson Mandelas in comparison.
He's creating a Jim Crow atmosphere."
Philip Weiss: Who can save Israel now?: "Yaniv was almost in tears.
When will the liberal Zionists help Yaniv and call for real outside
pressure? Last night Peter Beinart, the leading liberal Zionist, tweeted
a comment by Rep. Adam Schiff on CNN that from now on the US must not
veto Palestinian statehood resolutions in the Security Council. Beinart
is rising to the occasion, making his way toward BDS."
Jeff Halper: Netanyahu's victory marks the end of the two-state
solution: "No one can be happy when racism and oppression win the
day. In a wider perspective, however, the election may represent a
positive game-changer. Not that anything has really changed, but finally
the fig-leaf that allowed even liberal Israeli apologists to argue that
the two-state solution is still possible has been removed.
[ . . . ] Since Israel itself eliminated the
two-state solution deliberately, consciously and systematically over
the course of a half-century, and since it created with its own hands
the single de facto state we have today, the way forward is clear. We
must accept the ultimate "fact on the ground," the single state imposed
by Israel over the entire country, but not in its apartheid/prison form.
Israel has left us with only one way out: to transform that state into
a democratic state of equal rights for all of its citizens."
Weiss also quotes the Zionist Camp activist Yaniv as saying "We need
a Mandela." The problem is more like Israel can't even come up with a
De Clerk. (Arguably Yitzhak Rabin auditioned for the part, but he couldn't
deliver, partly because he didn't face the demographics and worldwide
ostracism white South Africa faced, and partly because he got killed
before he could rise to the situation -- if indeed he could.) Still,
nobody remembers De Clerk as a great man, partly because his hands were
plenty dirty before he relinquished power, partly because Mandela took
the glory when he showed such grace and dignity in assuming power.
Still, Israel's situation isn't exactly analogous to De Clerk's.
It's not that the Apartheid metaphor isn't applicable. If anything,
Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is
more rigorous, terrifying, and dehumanizing than anything South
Africa did. And it's only a matter of time until most of the world
sees Israel's Occupation as a gross affront to human rights, peace,
and justice, and takes action to isolate and ostracize Israel. But
the demographics will never be equivalent: whites in South Africa
amounted to no more than 15% of the population, whereas Jews are
a majority within Greater Israel, and that majority could be grown
by lopping off territory with large concentrations of Palestinians
(most easily, Gaza). Sure, free return of Palestinian refugees
from 1947-49 might tip the scales, but realistically that's not
going to happen.
This demographic position gives Israel's leaders options, but
time and again they've chosen to maintain the status quo, at the
cost of continued strife and insecurity. They've done this partly
because they've psyched themselves into both into believing they'll
always live in peril -- that the world will never accept them as
peaceable neighbors -- and into thinking they will always win.
(This mentality was amply illustrated in Tom Segev's 1967,
which showed how terrified Israeli civilians were of impending
war and how utterly confident Israel's generals were of their
History also gives Israel's leaders options. The Zionist
movement is now 135 years old, more than a century has passed
since Britain's Balfour Declaration opened up Jewish immigration,
and the state of Israel has existed for 67 years, under its
current borders for 48 years (aside from returning Sinai to
Egypt in a deal that established that Israel could coexist with
a neighboring Arab state). Fifty years ago one could imagine
Israel meeting the fate of Algeria, but no one believes that
now. By 2001, all Arab states were willing to recognize Israel
in exchange for a deal which would create a Palestinian state
from the territory Israel seized in 1967. The PLO had already
agreed to that, and Hamas has since come to that position.
Only Israeli greed and intransigence has prevented a peace
deal from happening. Well, that and the gullibility of American
political leaders, who for one reason of another have been
spineless when they needed to stand up to Israel.
Netanyahu's great value to Israel has always been his ability
to manipulate US opinion -- something he's been known to brag
about, unseemly as that may be -- but lately he bound his fate
to the Republican Party. In doing so he has started to alienate
Democratic supporters of Israel, but more than that he has opened
up a mental association between Israeli and Republican policies --
militarism, racism, harsh justice, targeted assassinations, an
omnipotent security state, increasing economic inequality, and
I'll try to write more later about what should be done, but
for now I just want to leave you with a warning. Unless something
is done to correct the trends we're seeing in Israel, the situation
there will continue to grow more desperate and unjust, and unless
the US can break its tail-wags-dog subservience to Israel we will
wind up in the same dystopia.
Sunday, March 15. 2015
It's been a slow week for me, as I spent much of it in Oklahoma,
visiting relatives and attending the funeral of my cousin Harold
Stiner. Harold was just shy of his 90th birthday, and is survived
by his wife, Louise, whom he married in 1948 and lived with until
death did they part. Their life together was a sweet story, but I
wouldn't go so far as to dub it the American Dream -- they never
made the sort of money American Dreamers feel entitled to, but they
never really wanted either, and left behind two children, four
grand-kids, and eleven great-grands, so it certainly counts as a
human success story. The one part of the funeral I was somewhat
troubled by was the "military honors" -- the flag-draped coffin,
two soldiers standing at attention, one playing "taps," the ritual
folding and presentation of the flag. It's not that Harold hadn't
earned the honor. Like most Americans his age, he got sucked up
into the US military in the closing stretch of WWII and wound up
in the army that occupied Japan, where he served as a guard in
the courts that tried Japanese war criminals. He talked about that
experience often, but never talked about actual combat -- and he
was a mere 20 on VJ day. My own father (only two years older) was
also in the army at that time, but he never invested any identity
in being a veteran, and died in 2000, before the War on Terror
turned into a bizarre Cult of the Troops. I wondered whether
Harold's identity was conditioned by that newer Cult, and felt
like the stink of America's recent wars (Vietnam most certainly
included) hasn't come to taint Harold's more honorable service.
Just a thought, but war does imbue this week's select links:
Nancy LeTourneau: Feith Demonstrates Republican Ignorance on Foreign
Policy: Lots of things one can say about the 47 Republican Senators
who signed Tom Cotton's letter vowing to sabotage any agreement Obama
manages to sign with Iran, although critics have tended to latch onto
the notion that the letter violates the Logan Act (itself very probably
unconstitutional, something that hasn't been ruled on because no one
has tried to enforce it) and the challenge the letter represents to the
president's prerogative to conduct foreign policy. It would be better
to focus on how totally counterproductive the letter was: how it shows
that the US cannot become a trusted party in negotiations because a
substantial factional power only believes that disputes can only be
solved through war.
One of the unintended consequences of the Tom Cotton letter fiasco is
that the media focus has turned away from the actual negotiations with
Iran to the various excuses
Republican leaders are coming up with to explain why they signed it.
But there are a couple of exceptions. I have to give Joshua Muravchik
some credit. At least he dispensed with all the right wing cover about
how we need a "better deal" and got right down to it with
War With Iran is Probably Our Best Option. But what he's really
recommending are surgical strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.
He has to admit that won't stop Iran from continuing to build new ones,
so we'll have to commit to a kind "whack-a-mole" ongoing war. And then
he has to admit that we'll have to do that without IAEA inspectors, so
the whole argument devolves into one big mess.
Then there's Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal that published an
op-ed on the negotiations by none other than Doug Feith, who purports
to have found the
"fatal flaw in Obama's dealings with Iran."
[ . . . ]
Feith's point is that President Obama is taking a "cooperative"
approach to the negotiations when he should be taking a "coercive"
approach. [ . . . ]
This one reminds me a lot of the Republican insistence that we can't
talk about a "pathway to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants until
we "secure the border." The result of that insistence is that the border
is never secure enough -- just as Iran never stops being enough of a
threat to pursue an agreement. It is meant to leave regime change (most
likely via military intervention) as the only option on the table.
I can only shake my head at the ignorance of people who don't remember
that it was regime change in Iran that got us here in the first place.
I think it's time Americans admit that we got off on the wrong foot
with Iran's Islamic Republic in 1979, and that we need a fresh start
based on mutual respect. That won't be easy because we utterly lack
the ability to see ourselves as others do (not that many others dare
say so to our faces -- cf. "The Emperor's New Clothes" for insight).
Americans always assume that our own intentions are benign, and never
think that our interventions in the rest of the world aren't welcome;
actually, we wouldn't even call them interventions, despite presence
of US military in over 100 other countries and the CIA in the rest,
the US Navy on all seven seas and satellites in space able to spy on
every square inch of the world's surface. We do, however, perpetuate
childish grudges against any nation that offends us, regardless of
how counterproductive our shunning becomes: North Korea is the longest
running example, and for its people perhaps the saddest; then there is
Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Syria, and a few others -- the neocons would love
to add Russia and China to that list. The fact is that the US has done
Iran much more harm than vice versa, yet we are totally unaware of any
of that: the 1953 coup, equipping the Shah's police state, supporting
Iraq's invasion (one of the deadliest wars since WWII), prodding the
Saudis to promote anti-Shiite propaganda, crippling sanctions, cyber
warfare. Iran hasn't been totally without fault either, and a little
contrition on their part would be good for everyone. But the attitudes
you see from Cotton, from Feith, from Muravchik and so forth show you
how blind and vicious we can be. Iran, after all, has at least as much
reason to worry about a nuclear-armed Israel as vice versa, and even
more so about a nuclear-armed United States -- a country which within
the last fifteen years has invaded and pretty much wrecked two neighboring
countries (Afghanistan and Iraq). And an isolated, villified, wounded
Iran is far more dangerous than an Iran that is integrated into global
trade and culture. The latter might even contribute constructively to
our many problems in the region.
I could say much more about this, but for now I just want to bring
up one side point. I have no real worries about Iran producing nuclear
bombs -- I don't think they ever intended to build them let alone to
use them, possibly because they suspect that they would be useless (as
they have been for everyone else but the US against WWII Japan). But
I do worry about Iran's ambitions to build nuclear power plants: to
see why, recall that the worst nuclear wasteland in Japan isn't the
A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it's the drowned nuclear
power plants at Fukishima. On the other hand, I don't see that the US
can arbitrarily deny Iran access to nuclear power -- the NPT promises
not to limit that access, and dozens of other countries (most notably
India) have nuclear power plants. But if Iran is going to have nuclear
power plants, we should do everything possible to ensure that they
will be as safe as those plants can be, which means sharing advanced
technology and making sure the plants are inspected and follow "best
practices." To do that we need cooperation, not war.
Gideon Levy: To see how racist Israel has become, look to the left:
Of course the right is racist -- see Max Blumenthal's Goliath:
Life and Loathing in Greater Israel for abundant proof of that --
but loathing of Arabs is as much of a driving force behind the former
left in Israel as for the right.
The foreign minister [Avigdor Lieberman] said "Those who are against
us . . . we need to pick up an ax and cut off his head,"
aiming his ax at Arab Israelis. Such a remark would end the career and
guarantee lifetime ostracism of any Western statesman.
[ . . . ] But such is the intellectual, cultural
and moral world of Israel's foreign minister, a bully who was once
convicted of physically assaulting a child. The world can't understand
how Lieberman's remark was accepted with such equanimity in Israel,
where some highly-regarded commentators still believe this cynical,
repellent politician is a serious, reasonable statesman.
No less repugnant was his savaging, in a televised debate, of Joint
List leader Iman Odeh, whom he called a "fifth column" and told, "you're
not wanted here," "go to Gaza." None of the other party heads taking part,
including those of leftist and centrist slates, leader in the debate,
stepped in to stop Lieberman's tirade. [ . . . ]
The racism of the campaign season has been planted well beyond the
rotten, stinking gardens of Lieberman, Naftali Bennett, Eli Yishai and
Baruch Marzel. It is almost everywhere. Our cities have recently been
contaminated by posters whose evil messages are nearly on a par with
the slogans "Kahane was right" and "death to Arabs."
"With BibiBennett, we'll be stuck with the Palestinians forever,"
threaten the posters plastered on every overpass and hoarding, on
behalf of the Peace and Security Association of National Security
Experts. It is impossible to know their level of expertise on matters
of peace and security, but they are clearly experts in incitement.
The message and its signatories are considered center-left, but it
too spreads hate and racism. [ . . . ]
Such is the state of public discourse in Israel. Yair Lapid and
"the Zoabis," in reference to Haneen Zoabi, Moshe Kahlon who says he
won't sit in a government coalition "with the Arabs," Isaac Herzog
who will conduct coalition negotiations with all the parties with the
exception of the Arab ones, Tzipi Livni and her obsession with her
Jewish -- and also nationalistic and ugly -- state. Even the dear and
beloved (to me) Amos Oz, who in Haaretz ("Dreams Israel should abandon --
fast," March 13) called for a "fair divorce" from the Palestinians. He
has the right not to believe in the prospects for a shared life, we must
call for their liberation, but to call for a divorce without asking the
Palestinians what they want rings with a rejection of them. And what
about Israel's Arab citizens? How are they supposed to feel when one
of the most important intellectuals of Israel's peace camp says he
wants a divorce? Are they to remain among us as lepers?
I've said for quite some time now that the main rationale behind the
"two-state" partition resolution is that it doesn't depend on Israelis
to rise above their deep-seated racism; all it depends on is their will
to cut loose some land and prerogatives they still want and a lot of
people they can't stand and have constantly wronged.
Haviv Rettig Gur: Is Netanyahu about to loose the election? for its
review of the prospects for post-election coalition building, especially
in the face of the refusal of all Zionist parties (left, right, or center)
to negotiate with the Joint (Arab) List. For more on this, see
Philip Weiss: Herzog and Netanyahu are likely to share power --
because Herzog won't share it with Arab List. (I suppose there
are Republicans who feel that the election of a Democrat should be
invalidated if a majority of whites vote otherwise, but unlike
Israel we don't have a political system that makes it easy to sort
out votes like that, or a media that legitimizes such racism. In
Israel Jews even have their own language.)
More Israel links:
Akira Eldar: Who will stop the Israeli settlers?:
On March 13, 2005, the second Ariel Sharon government decided to
dismantle all the illegal outposts that had been erected since the
government came into office in March 2001, and were listed in the
report prepared by attorney Talia Sasson.
The government averred that it would thus fulfill the first stage
of the Road Map set down by the Quartet, in keeping with an Israeli
commitment made in May 2003. This clause, which included a total freeze
on settlement construction, was not included among the 14 reservations
Israel presented to the Quartet.
The signature of then-Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this
decision is just as worthless as the paper upon which the Wye River
Memorandum, the Bar-Ilan speech and all the "two-state" speeches made
before the United States Congress and the United Nations General Assembly
But it's time to remind those with short memories that Isaac Herzog
and Tzipi Livni were also part of that government. The latter was appointed
head of a special ministerial committee whose job was to convert the outpost
report into action -- primarily by ensuring the dismantling of outposts
built after the formation of the previous government (in which Livni also
served). A significant portion of those outposts were built on private
Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics show that over the past
decade, the settler population in the West Bank has grown by 112,000
(from 244,000 to 356,000).
Figures from Peace Now show that in the same period, the illegal
outposts gained 9,000 more residents -- about three times their population
10 years ago. More than half of the growth occurred during the time when
Livni and Herzog bore ministerial responsibility for this gross violation
of Israeli and international law.
The Kadima/Hatnuah leader and the Labor Party and Zionist Union chairman
were also both partly responsible for allowing hundreds of millions of
shekels to flow to the settlements via the leaky pipe known as the
"settlement division," which suddenly became the national punching bag.
According to the outpost report (presented a decade ago), the division
"mainly erected many unauthorized outposts, without approval from the
authorized political officials." [ . . . ]
Every Israeli government since 2005 has ignored the report's unequivocal
recommendation to clip the wings of the division, especially its budget,
which continues to fund the effort to wreck peace.
William Greider: What About Israel's Nuclear Bomb? Israel began its
work on developing nuclear weapons in the 1950s when fear that it might
be overwhelmed by much more populous adversaries was more credible. By
the mid-1960s, Israel's denials offered a convenient out while the US
attempted to corral all other nations (including Iran) within the confines
of the NPT. But one side effect of US acquiescence in this "don't ask,
don't tell" treatment is that we're not allowed to factor in Israel's
nuclear deterrence capabilities when evaluating possible threats from
possible enemies like Iran. No nuclear-armed power has ever directly
attacked another nuclear-armed power, not even at the height of conflict
between the US and the Soviet Union. One can even argue that conflicts
become more stable when both adversaries possess nuclear weapons: one
can point not only to the Cold War but to the way India and Pakistan
walked back from a likely fourth war in 2002. Israel hates the idea of
a nuclear-armed Iran less because it fears Iran -- Iran, after all, has
not committed direct military aggression against another country for
several centuries now, whereas Israel has done so close to ten times
since 1948 -- so much as because it hates the idea that any nation it
attacks might fight back.
Anne-Marie Codur: Why Iran is not and has never been Israel's #1
Mike Lofgren: Operation Rent Seeking: Reviewing James Risen's
book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, on how
the Global War on Terror turned into a racket and a cash cow for
the nation's military profiteers:
It is difficult to read Pay Any Price and not come away with
the sick feeling that the Bush presidency -- which, after all, only
assumed office by the grace of judicial wiring and force majeure --
was at bottom a corrupt and criminal operation in collusion with
private interests to hijack the public treasury. But what does that
say about Congress, which acted more often as a cheerleader than a
constitutional check? And what does it tell us about the Obama
administration, whose Justice Department not only failed to hold
the miscreants accountable, but has preserved and expanded some of
its predecessors' most objectionable policies?
Partisans may squabble over the relative culpability of the Bush
and Obama administrations, as well as that of Congress, but that
debate is now almost beside the point. If Risen is correct, America's
campaign against terrorism may have evolved to the point that endless
war is the tacit but unalterable goal, regardless of who is formally
Sunday, March 8. 2015
Some scattered links this week:
David Atkins: Missing Selma: The Final Death of GOP Minority Outreach:
When I saw the movie Selma, I couldn't help but think of how much
that was gained by the civil rights movement in the 1960s has been lost
in the last decade due to Republican courts, state legislatures, and the
failure of Congress to renew voting rights protections. (Of course, more
than renewal is needed: voting rights protections need to be extended
beyond the deep South to everywhere Republicans hold power.)
Facing demographic reality after their devastating defeat in 2012,
Republicans issued a report saying they needed to consider policy changes
to court minority voters. That olive branch lasted a few weeks before
their base and its mouthpieces on AM radio urgently reminded them that
bigotry is a core Republican value and would only be dismissed at the
peril of any politician that didn't toe the Tea Party line.
Now the party finds itself shutting down Homeland Security to protest
the President's mild executive order on immigration and almost ignoring
the Selma anniversary entirely. The minority outreach program is not just
dead: it's a public embarrassment and heaping ruin.
[ . . . ]
And they will continue to try to disenfranchise as many minority voters
as possible -- one of the reasons why the Selma memorial is so problematic
for them. Republicans are actively trying to remove as many minority voters
as possible from the eligible pool, and have no interest in being reminded
of Dr. King's struggle to achieve the end of Jim Crow and true voting
rights for African-Americans.
The GOP has made it abundantly clear that things are going to get much
uglier before they get better. Their base won't have it any other way.
This is probably as good a place as ever to hook a link to
Kris Kobach Floats Idea Obama Wants to Protect Black Criminals From
Prosecution. Of course that's taken a bit out of context --
Kobach is obsessed with voting irregularities and has repeatedly
pleaded with the Kansas state legislature to give him authority to
prosecute voting infractions (seeing that county prosecutors rarely
do so, preoccupied as they are with killing and stealing), and his
actual examples are voting-related. Still, he was unwilling to raise
any objection to a caller who repeated the whole racist canard, and
by adding his own parochial examples the caller no doubt considered
his paranoia confirmed.
Conservatives Who Hate "Big Government" Are, Shockingly, Not Up in Arms
About Ferguson: References
Adam Serwer, who dug through the DOJ's report on police abuses in
Ferguson, Missouri (those protests last year weren't only about police
shooting an unarmed teenager -- that sort of thing happens all over
the country -- but were rooted in a long pattern of predation).
You're probably aware that Ferguson used the cops and courts to generate
tax revenues. How extreme were the fines? From the report:
[O]ur investigation found instances in which the court
charged $302 for a single Manner of Walking violation; $427 for a
single Peace Disturbance violation; $531 for High Grass and Weeds;
$777 for Resisting Arrest; and $792 for Failure to Obey, and $527
for Failure to Comply, which officers appear to use interchangeably.
Now, here's the thing: Isn't this the sort of thing right-wingers
ought to be complaining about? Government charging you a three-figure
fine for walking wrong, or not cutting your grass properly? Aren't
some of these an awful lot like taxes? Don't right-wingers hate taxes?
Don't they hate government attempts to micromanage citizens' lives?
Isn't turning "high grass and weeds" into a rime punishable by large
fines a sort of aesthetic political correctness?
[ . . . ]
Oh, but of course. . . .
Available data show that, of those actually arrested by FPD only because
of an outstanding municipal warrant, 96% are African American.
Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows
that African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations,
and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of
So I guess it doesn't matter that this is oppressive Big Government
using jackbooted-thug powers to restrict citizens' FREEDOM!!!! and
shovel more and more cash into the insatiable maw of the bureaucracy --
because, y'know, that stuff doesn't matter when it happens to Those
No More Mr. Nice Blog also reports that
This Frigid Winter Is Not Frigid in the West (see the map).
And on that front, see
Florida Officials Banned From Using Term 'Climate Change'. Not clear
whether this also means that Floridians will be banned from calling for
help when the last glaciers melt and their state vanishes under the rising
ocean. (The article points out that "sea-level rise" is still a permitted
It's always tempting to shame conservatives for their hypocrisies and
frequent lack of principles, much as it's tempting to point out that the
movement to change the existing order to make it even more hierarchical
and inequal (and usually more brutal) is more properly termed fascist.
My own pet example is abortion/birth control, which used to be more
closely associated with the right (albeit often tainted with racist
"eugenics" concerns) than the left. More properly, conservatives should
support abortion/birth control rights because: (a) it is a matter of
personal freedom in an area where the state has no legitimate interest;
(b) we expect parents to assume a great deal of responsibility for their
children, and the assumption of such responsibility should be a matter
of choice (whereas pregnancy is much more a matter of chance). If you
want, you can add various secondary effects: unwanted children are more
likely to become burdens on the state, to engage in crime, etc. But the
Republicans sniffed out a political opportunity for opposing abortion --
mostly inroads into traditionally Democratic religious blocks (Roman
Catholic and Baptist), plus the view resonated as prohibitionist and
anti-sex, reaffirming their notion of the Real America as a stern
patriarchy, and adding a critical faction to the GOP's coalition of
Conservatives should also be worried by unjust and discriminatory
law enforcement such as we've seen in Ferguson -- after all their own
property depends on a system of law that is widely viewed as basically
fair and just. They also should worry about global warming, which in
the long run will disproportionately affect property owners -- that
they aren't is testimony to the political influence bought by the oil
industry (along with the short-sightedness of other businesses). But
again these worries are easily swept aside by demagogues seeking to
discredit science, reason, and decency.
Ed Kilgore: How Mike Huckabee Became the New Sarah Palin: I always
thought that had Huckabee run in 2012 he would have won the Republican
nomination: he was as well established as the "next guy in line" as
Romney, we would have captured all of the constituency that wound up
supporting Rick Santorum (I mean, who on earth really wanted Santorum?).
I'm less certain he's got the inside track in 2016, but he's kept up
his visibility and he's learned a few tricks from his fellow Fox head,
Sarah Palin. On the other hand, it's hard to look at Huckabee's new
book title -- God, Guns, Grits and Gravy -- and not wonder
whether he's toppled over into self-caricature.
While nobody has written a full-fledged manifesto for conservative cultural
resentment, Mike Huckabee's new pre-campaign book is a significant step in
the direction of full-spectrum cry for the vindication of Real Americans.
It is telling that the politician who was widely admired outside the
conservative movement during his 2008 run for being genial, modest,
quick-witted, and "a conservative who's not mad about it" has now released
a long litany of fury at supposed liberal-elite condescension toward and
malevolent designs against the Christian middle class of the Heartland.
[ . . . ]
In a recent column recanting his earlier enthusiasm for Sarah Palin,
the conservative writer Matt Lewis accused La Pasionaria of the
Permafrost of "playing the victim card, engaging in identity politics,
co-opting some of the cruder pop-culture references, and conflating
redneck lowbrow culture with philosophical conservatism." The trouble
now is that she hardly stands out.
Speaking of Huckabee, he's been pushing this
placcard on twitter, proclaiming "Netanyahu is a Churchill in a
world of Chamberlains." This vastly mis-estimates all checked names.
Neville Chamberlain's reputation as a pacifist is greatly exaggerated:
he did, after all, lead Britain into WWII when he decided to declare
war against Germany over Poland after having "appeased" Hitler in
letting Germany annex a German-majority sliver of Czechoslovakia.
From a practical standpoint, his war declaration did Poland no good
whatsoever, so it's impossible to see how declaring war any earlier
would have had any deterrence or punitive effect. (Moreover, declaring
war over Poland definitely moved up Hitler's timetable for attacking
France, leading to the British fiasco at Dunkirk.) Of course, by the
time Chamberlain declared war, hawks like Churchill were on the rise
in Britain, and Churchill took over once Britain was committed to war
Churchill is generally given high marks for leading Britain through
WWII, but more so in America than in England, which voted him out of
office as soon as the war was over. A more sober assessment is that as
a military strategist he didn't make as many bad mistakes in WWII as he
had in the first World War (at least nothing on the scale of Gallipoli).
But he failed miserably in his attempt to keep the British Empire intact,
in large part because he was so tone deaf about it. If you look at his
entire career, you'll see he did nothing but promote war and imperialism,
and in doing so he left his stink on nearly every disastrous conflict
of the 20th century. Indeed, he got a head start in the 1890s in the
Sudan, then moved on to the Boer War in South Africa. His penchant for
dividing things led to the partitions of Ireland, India, and Palestine,
each followed by a series of wars. He was a major architect of Britain's
push into Palestine and Iraq (and, unsuccessfully, Turkey) during the
first World War, and followed that up by supporting Greece against
Turkey and the "whites" in the Russian Civil War. As WWII was winding
down he sided in yet another Greek Civil War and attempted to reassert
British control of Malaya. After WWII he is credited with the keynote
speech of the Cold War, which led to virtually all of the world's
post-WWII conflicts (up to 1990) aside from his post-partition wars.
He also was the main instigator behind the 1953 US coup in Iran, so
give him some credit for all that ensued there -- including Netanyahu's
speech this week. Churchill died in 1965, but even today he is invoked
by hawks in the US and UK as the patron saint of perpetual war and
injustice. He should be counted as one of the great monsters of his
Netanyahu, on the other hand, is a much smaller monster, if only
because he runs a much smaller country. Still, even within Israeli
history, he hasn't had an exceptionally violent career: certainly he
ranks far behind Ariel Sharon and David Ben Gurion, nor does he have
the sort of intimate sense of blood-on-his-hands as Menachem Begin
or Yitzhak Shamir or even Ehud Barak, nor the sort of military glory
of Yitzhak Rabin or Moshe Dayan. I'm not even sure I'd rank him above
Shimon Peres, the political figure most responsible for Israel's own
atom bomb project, but he certainly moved up on the list with last
year's turkey shoot in Gaza (and to a lesser extent the West Bank).
But for two decades of rant about the "existential threat" posed by
Iran, he's stayed out of actual war. What he is really exceptional
at is avoiding peace. He was the most effective politician in Israel
when it came to sabotaging the Oslo "peace process" and he has been
singularly effective at wrecking Obama's peace efforts. Indeed, his
entire Iran obsession makes more sense as an anti-Palestinian stall
than as a real concern. What makes Netanyahu inordinately dangerous
isn't so much what he can do directly as prime minister of Israel as
his skill at persuading official opinion in the US: as we saw, for
instance, when he helped parlay the 9/11 attacks into a Global War
on Terror, or when he shilled for Bush's invasion of Iraq, or his
longstanding efforts to drive the US to war against Iran. Huckabee's
attempt to ride on Netanyahu's coattails should show you just how
dangerous Netanyahu can be, and what a fool Huckabee is.
Paul Krugman: Larry Kudlow and the Failure of the Chicago School:
On the conservative predeliction for economic frauds:
Jonathan Chait does insults better than almost anyone; in his recent
note on Larry Kudlow, he declares that
The interesting thing about Kudlow's continuing influence over
conservative thought is that he has elevated flamboyant wrongness
to a kind of performance art.
And Chait doesn't even mention LK's greatest hits -- his sneers at
"bubbleheads" who thought something was amiss with housing prices, his
warnings about runaway inflation in 2009-10, his declaration that a high
stock market is a vote of confidence for the president -- but only,
apparently, if said president is Republican.
But what's really interesting about Kudlow is the way his influence
illustrates the failure of the Chicago School, as compared with the
triumph of MIT.
But, you say, Kudlow isn't a product of Chicago, or indeed of any
economics PhD program. Indeed -- and that's the point.
There are plenty of conservative economists with great professional
credentials, up to and including Nobel prizes. But the right isn't
interested in their input. They get rolled out on occasion, mainly as
mascots. But the economists with a real following, the economists who
have some role in determining who gets the presidential nomination,
are people like Kudlow, Stephen Moore, and Art Laffer.
[ . . . ]
Maybe the right prefers guys without credentials because they really
know how things work, although I'd argue that this proposition can be
refuted with two words: Larry Kudlow. More likely, it's that affinity
fraud thing: Professors, even if they're conservative, just aren't the
base's kind of people. I don't think it's an accident that Kudlow still
dresses like Gordon Gekko after all these years.
Also see Krugman's
Slandering the 70s. Some time back I read Robert J. Samuelson's
The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of
American Affluence, which tries to argue that the stagflation
of the 1970s was every bit as disastrous as the Great Depression.
I figured out that Samuelson's mind was permanently wedged -- a
conclusion that's been repeatedly reaffirmed ever since -- but I
never quite understood why he was so agitated. Krugman's third
graph suggests an answer: changes in income for the top 1% only
rose by about 1% from 1973-1979, vs. 72% for 1979-1989, 55% for
1989-2000, and 13% for 2000-2007. Moreover, median income 1973-79
was up nearly 4%, so the elite 1% actually trailed the economy as
a whole. Still, no one actually came out and said that the right
turn from 1979 through Reagan's reign was needed because capital
returns during the 1970s were insufficient. But that does seem to
be the thing that motivated the rich to so brazenly exploit the
corruptibility of the American political system to advance their
own interests. And they succeeded spectacularly, so much so that
there doesn't seem to be any countervaling power that can bring
the system back toward equilibrium. On the other hand, the second
surprise in the chart is the relatively anemic gains of the 1%
under Bush, as the increasingly inequal economy started to drag
everyone down -- an effect Bush was desperate to hide behind tax
cuts, booming deficits, and the real estate bubble.
Mike Konczal: Why Are Liberals Resigned to Low Wages? I'm not
sure that Konczal's term "liberal nihilism" helps us in any way,
but I am reminded that throughout history liberals, unlike labor
socialists, have sucked up the notion of free markets -- one source
of our political dysfunction is that even left-of-center we tend to
confuse two rather different sets of political ideas. But Konczal
is right that the stagnant or declining wages -- one part of the
increasing inequality problem -- has little to do with the "stories"
you hear urging resignation to the status quo. He explains:
But wage growth is also a matter of how our productive enterprises
are organized. Over the past thirty-five years, a "shareholder
revolution" has re-engineered our companies in order to channel
wealth toward the top, especially corporate executives and shareholders,
rather than toward innovation, investments and workers' wages. As the
economist J.W. Mason recently noted, companies used to borrow to invest
before the 1980s; now they borrow to give money to stockholders.
Meanwhile, innovations in corporate structures, including contingent
contracts and franchise models, have shifted the risk down, toward
precarious workers, even as profits rise. As a result, the basic
productive building blocks of our economy are now inequality-generating
The third driver of wage stagnation is government policy. As
anthropologist David Graeber puts it, "Whenever someone starts talking
about the 'free market,' it's a good idea to look around for the man
with the gun." Despite the endless talk of a "free market," our economy
is shaped by myriad government policies -- and no matter where we look,
we see government policies working against everyday workers. Whether
it's letting the real value of the minimum wage decline, making it harder
to unionize, or creating bankruptcy laws and intellectual-property
regimes that primarily benefit capital and the 1 percent, the way the
government structures markets is responsible for weakening labor and
causing wages to stay stuck.
Konczal delves deeper into the robots story
Various links on or related to the Netanyahu speech:
Mondoweiss: Annotated text of Netanyahu's address to Congress: Closest
thing I've found to instant, contextual correction of Netanyahu's numerous
lies and misrepresentations. Still woefully incomplete; e.g.: "But
unfortunately, for the last 36 years, Iran's attacks against the United
States have been anything but mock. And the targets have been all too
real." That presumably includes the occupation of the US Embassy in
Tehran in 1979 and the ensuing hostage crisis, but what are the other
attacks? It was the US that send a commando force into Iran supposedly
to extract those hostages. It was the US that shot down an Iranian
airliner full of civilians, and that shot up an Iranian oil platform.
It was the US and Israel that engaged in the "Stuxnet" cyberterrorism.
- James Fallows: A whole series of pieces:
On the Use and Misuse of History: The Netanyahu Case;
The Central Question: Is It 1938?;
The Mystery of the Netanyahu Disaster, and a Possible Explanation;
The 'Existential' Chronicles Go On;
On 'Existential' Threats (subhed: "A word that has replaced thought").
Gareth Porter: The Long History of Israel Gaming the 'Iranian Threat':
As you probably know, Israeli spokesmen started hyping the Iranian Threat
in the early 1990s, often projecting schedules for Iran building nuclear
arms within five years (or less). Iran moved to the top of Israel's enemies
list after Iraq was disabled in the 1991 Gulf War: it seems that Israel
always has to keep an "existential threat" on the horizon, both to justify
continued militarism long after peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan
and effective deterrence against Syria, and to trivialize and excuse its
continuing unjust occupation of Palestinian territories and exile of
millions of Palestinians.
Tony Karon/Tom Kutsch: Netanyahu's hard line on Iran: A four-point reality
check: is this an existential threat? is Iran "hellbent on conquest
and subjugation"? would an agreement "all but guarantees that Iran gets
nuclear weapons"? would the allies "get a much better deal" by killing
the current deal? Netanyahu is wrong on all four counts.
Max Blumenthal: Top Republicans to welcome Netanyahu, who called 9-11 attacks
"very good," said anti-US terror helps Israel: by the way, I remember
seeing 9/11 interviews both with Netanyahu and Shimon Peres where they were
beside themselves with glee in anticipation that the attacks would force
the US to become ever more like Israel.
Matt Taibbi: After Netanyahu Speech, Congress Is Officially High School:
"First of all, the applause from members of the House and Senate was so
over the top, it recalled the famous passage in the Gulag Archipelago
about the apparatchik approach to a Stalin speech: 'Never be the first one
to stop clapping.'"
Brank Marcetic: Netanyahu's Crime Isn't Playing Politics -- It's
Uri Avnery: The Speech: Numerous impressions, the sheer nonsense of
Netanyahu's speech evident in how far afield Avnery's mind wanders,
from "the moral imposter" Elie Wiesel and the fake Holocaust fetish
to the security of Israel's "second strike" capability which, if Iran
did attack Israel, "would annihilate Iran within minutes."
Philip Weiss/Adam Horowitz: It was a bad week for the Israel lobby:
Not just Netanyahu's folly, but Obama finally appointed Rob Malley to
his top Mideast security post ("Malley has said that only international
pressure will make Israel do anything about the occupation"), and it
looks like Netanyahu's leading Democratic stooge on Iran, Sen. Robert
Menendez (D-NJ) will be indicted for corruption.
Jim Newell: Netanyahu blew it: How he misunderstood Congress &
inadvertently ruined his own goals
Josh Marshall: Can an Israeli Government End the Occupation?:
Gives you some background on how Palestinian parties have been frozen
out of government coalition building in Israel. Palestinians in the
West Bank and Gaza can't vote in Israeli elections, but "Palestinian
Citizens of Israel" amount to about 20% of the electorate, and have
typically claimed about 10% of Israel's Knesset membership (voting
turnout is typically light, and some Arabs vote for Zionist parties).
Bill Moyers/Michael Winship: "We are hostage to his fortune": Sheldon
Adelson, Benjamin Netanyahu and America's dark money conspiracy:
I've long warned that one reason Israel is so dangerous for American
democracy is that neocons idolize Israel's stealthy belligerence as a
model for American foreign policy, which given US size and worldwide
interests would be even more disastrous. However, with Adelson trying
to export America's money-politics to Israel, Israelis should also
worry about the fate of their own democracy (as if right-wing efforts
there to trample on non-Jewish rights weren't ominous enough).
Actually, Adelson is worse than either: his serious proposal for
dealing with Iran is to drop a "demonstration" nuclear bomb in
their desert, then follow it up with "the next one in the middle
of Tehran" if they refuse to surrender.
Also, a few links for further study:
Andrew Bacevich: How to Create a National Insecurity State: Much here
going back to Vietnam, occasioned by Christian Appy's new book, American
Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, but in the plus
ça change, plus c'est le même chose spirit I want to point out this
paragraph on Obama's new Defense Secretary, Ash Carter:
So on his second day in office, for example, he dined with Kenneth Pollack,
Michael O'Hanlon, and Robert Kagan, ranking national insecurity intellectuals
and old Washington hands one and all. Besides all being employees of the
Brookings Institution, the three share the distinction of having supported
the Iraq War back in 2003 and calling for redoubling efforts against ISIS
today. For assurances that the fundamental orientation of U.S. policy is
sound -- we just need to try harder -- who better to consult than Pollack,
O'Hanlon, and Kagan (any Kagan)?
Subhankar Banerjee: Arctic Nightmares: Author of Arctic Voices:
Resistance at the Tipping Point, on oil exploration in the Arctic
Ocean, what it entails, and where it's taking us.
Lee Drutman: A Lobbyist Just for You: Businesses have hired lobbyists
in Washington to defend and advance their interests in all matter of ways.
Sometimes they seek advantages over other businesses, as in the recent
squabble between retailers and banks over "cash card" fees, but mostly
they seek to cheat the less organized "public interest" -- i.e., you. We
could seek to limit their predation by regulating lobbying, but courts
have increasingly viewed that as a restriction of free speech (the idea
that corporations should enjoy individual rights weighs in here, even
though "free speech" for corporations is mostly a matter of money pushing
its weight around -- there's nothing free about it). So Drutman poses
another approach, which is to support public interest lobbyists as an
antidote to private interest lobbyists. He also proposes more transparency
in lobbying, and more competent staff for Congress to sort through the
pros and expose the cons of lobby propaganda. It's a useful start, but
he ignores another aspect, which is all the PAC money going to elect
Congress in the first place.
Phillip Longman: Lost in Obamacare: A review of Steven Brill:
America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Back-Room Deals, and the
Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System, promising "Buried in
Steven Brill's convoluted tome are important truths about how to
reform our health care delivery system." That does indeed take some
digging, even in the review, but here's one point:
What Brill gets most importantly right about the political economy of
health care is the role that provider cartels and monopolies increasingly
play in driving up prices. He provides excellent on-the-ground reporting,
for example, on how the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has
emerged as a "super monopoly" dominating the health care market of all
of western Pennsylvania -- first by buying up rival hospitals or luring
away their most profitable doctors, and now by vertically integrating to
become a dominating health insurance company as well.
Brill similarly reports how the Yale-New Haven Hospital gobbled up
its last remaining local competitor in 2012 to become a multibillion-dollar
colossus. Importantly, Brill shows readers how, after the merger, an
insurer could not "negotiate discounts with Yale-New Haven," because "it
could not possibly sell insurance to area residents without including the
only available hospital in its network and the increasing share of the
area's doctors whose practices were also being bought up by the hospital."
Obamacare essentially attempted to rebalance the health care industry
on a basis of universal coverage as opposed to the previous (and worsening)
basis of discriminatory insurance pricing (which had pushed most Americans
out of the market, often into "safety net" programs), while leaving the
rest of the profit-seeking industry unchanged. That was a real improvement,
but a rather temporary one as the industry adjusts to the changes. Clearly
one such adjustment is increasing consolidation and monopoly rents. I know,
for instance, that the largest hospital in Wichita (Via Christi) has been
buying up previously independent physician groups. At the very least, this
calls for aggressive antitrust enforcement -- something Bush destroyed and
Obama has been loathe to resurrect. Or single-payer. Or both.
Monday, March 2. 2015
The Kansas state legislature has past the half-way point in their
scheduled session this year, and the Republicans there have already
succeeded in their most evident goal: to make Kansas the laughing
stock of the nation (with all due respect to the state legislatures
of Texas and Missouri). Crowson's cartoon:
This primarily refers to a bill that passed the Senate (see
Luke Brinker: Kansas could put teachers in prison for assigning books
prosecutors don't like), but the war on public schools has gone
through a number of skirmishes: first and foremost a massive funding
cut -- from levels that the courts had already established were the
minimum required by the state constitution. But also there have been
two bills to rejigger the election of local school boards (a festering
ground for people likely to sue when the state doesn't deliver its
mandated funding): one is to move the election dates and make them
partisan (assuming the Republican brand holds; voters have been known
to accidentally elect Democrats in non-partisan elections), and another
to make it illegal for any schoolteacher or relative of a schoolteacher
to run for any school board (this would, for instance, disqualify 2014
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis). There is also a bill,
still pending, where the state would pay foster parents more for foster
children who are privately- or home-schooled.
Some more scattered links this week:
Dean Baker: Robert Samuelson's 'Golden Age' Mythology: I actually
read Samuelson's book The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The
American Dream in the Age of Entitlement (2008), where he argues
that the inflation spiral of the 1970s was every bit as damaging as
the Great Depression in the 1930s -- a point my parents, who lived
through both, would have found incredible. So I'm well prepared to
reject anything Samuelson has to say, but note the following:
Robert Samuelson (Washington Post, 2/22/15) was inspired by a graph in
the new Economic Report of the President to tell readers that the
real problem for the middle class is not inequality but rather productivity
growth. His point is that if we had kept up the rates of productivity
growth of the Golden Age (1943-73), it would have mattered much more to
middle-income families' living standards than the rise in inequality
This is true in the sense of "if I were six feet five inches, I would
be taller than I am," but it's not clear what we should make of the point.
We don't know how to have more rapid productivity growth (at least not
Golden Age rates), so saying that we should want more rapid productivity
growth is sort of like hoping for the Second Coming.
Superficially, Samuelson is just grasping at straws to dismiss the
obvious effects of increasing inequality. Sure, if we had much more
productivity growth, the middle class might be better off, but only if
it were possible for the middle class to capture a substantial share of
that productivity growth -- but in recent years, no share of productivity
growth has gone to increased wages. As Baker points out:
If we can only sustain the 1.5 percent annual productivity growth of the
slowdown years (1973-1995), this would still imply income gains of almost
60 percent over three decades. While it would of course be better to have
Golden Age productivity growth, since we don't know how to get back such
rapid growth, why not pursue the policies that we know will be effective
in restoring middle class income growth?
It is also worth noting that these equality enhancing policies are also
likely to provide some boost to productivity. We know that the most important
determinant of investment is growth in demand. This means that if we push
the economy, rather than have the Fed slam on the brakes with higher interest
rates, we will likely see more investment in new plant, equipment and
software, and therefore more productivity growth.
In addition, in a tighter labor market workers will leave low-productivity
jobs for jobs with higher productivity that offer higher wages. A reason that
many workers, including many with college degrees, have taken jobs in
restaurants is that there are not better-paying jobs available. If the
economy were stronger, better jobs would be available causing productivity
to rise due to a shift in composition.
The bulk of the article reviews Samuelson's period breakdown and shows
where his effort to force history into his preconceived periods breaks
down. Baker skips over the question of why 1946-64 productivity levels
are no longer attainable, but James K. Galbraith wrote a whole book on
the subject: The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of
Growth (2014) -- something I'll get around to writing about sooner
By the way, see Galbraith's
Reading the Greek Deal Correctly. He sees the recent agreement
between Greece's new left-leaning government and the ECB not as a
defeat for Greece's voters so much as a way everyone can save face
by kicking the ball down the road a few weeks.
Josh Marshall: Kerry's Clean Hit: When John Kerry pointed out how
wrong Benjamin Netanyahu's predictions supporting the 2003 Iraq War
were, I recalled how Kerry had voted for the Iraq War Resolution in
2002 and wrote them off as two peas in the same pod. Marshall argues
that Kerry's position was more, uh, nuanced than my memory recalled:
There's some important background on this new intrusion of the Iraq War
into the current debate about Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli
election. It's true that like a number of Senate Democrats, John Kerry
voted for the Iraq War resolution in late 2002. That was due to a mix
of belief in national unity, political cowardice and a credulous
assumption that President Bush was actually on the level when he said
he needed the authorization to wage war to avoid it, to get inspectors
back into Iraq. It was or should have been clear that this was not true,
that inspectors and Weapons of Mass Destruction were not the goal that
made the threat of war necessary. They were cudgels and covers to help
make the war a fait accompli.
Many Democrats either didn't think Saddam would relent or thought
that if he did, Bush would lose his casus belli. I don't exonerate
them. They were helped along in these maybe misunderstandings by a
health dose of cowardice and what they saw at the time as political
self-preservation. As it happened, when Bush lost his rationale
for war, he simply invaded anyway.
This was mainly obvious at the time, not entirely obvious to everyone.
But to suggest that Secretary Kerry 'supported' the Iraq War like
President Bush or Benjamin Netanyahu is silly.
That brings us to Netanyahu. Some believe that the Israeli government
either wanted the Iraq War to happen or goaded the Americans into the
attack. In fact, the Israeli security establishment was very divided on
the wisdom of the US administration's policy. Indeed, Ariel Sharon
pointedly warned President Bush of the dangers of what he was planning.
Indeed, the best account of his discussions with President Bush suggests
his warnings were highly prescient -- about the spillover of radicalism
growing out of a US occupation, the zero sum empowerment of Iran and
It was Netanyahu, then technically a private citizen, though he would
soon enter Sharon's government in late 2002 who not only supported a US
attack on Iraq but advocated for it endlessly within the US.
Italics in the original; I added the bold. Of course,
the practical effect of Kerry, Clinton, Edwards, and others in voting
for Bush's Iraq War Resolution was to rubber-stamp the invasion. (As
I recall Marshall at least wobbled on the war plans: in particular,
I recall him praising Kenneth Pollack's influential pro-war book,
The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.) But he is
right that Netanyahu's warmongering went much further, both in words
and in actually lining up his rich American donor network to lobby
war support. Marshall also includes a video of Netanyahu testifying
before a House committee promoting the war. Even among Israelis few
politicians have that sort of chutzpah. Of course, no one's dredging
this episode up because we're interested in learning from history.
Netanyahu's past record of influencing Congress matters right now
because he's still at it, with an invitation by House Republicans
to address Congress to try to undo any progress Obama might make on
negotiating a deal that would ensure that Iran not develop nuclear
weapons. I haven't bothered collecting links on the various aspects
of this -- either the propriety of Natanyahu's speech (widely opposed
both in Israel and in the US) or on the tortuous negotiations (often
hamstrung by hypothetical scenarios only Americans can imagine). (OK,
if you are curious, check out:
Paul R Pillar;
Gareth Porter, also
William J Perry, et al.;
Stephen M Walt (interview);
Richard Silverstein.) Also, let's quote from
Jeffrey Goldberg: A Partial Accounting of the Damage Netanyahu Is Doing
to Israel (recalling that Goldberg has a long history of parrotting
whatever Israel's current propaganda line is on Iran):
Netanyahu is engaging in behavior that is without precedent: He is
apparently so desperate to stay in office that he has let the Republicans
weaponize his country in their struggle against a Democratic president
they despise. Boehner seeks to do damage to Obama, and he has turned
Netanyahu into an ally in this cause. It's not entirely clear here who
is being played.
For decades, it has been a cardinal principle of Israeli security and
foreign-policy doctrine that its leaders must cultivate bipartisan support
in the United States, and therefore avoid even the appearance of favoritism.
This is the official position of the leading pro-Israel lobbying group in
Washington, AIPAC, as well, which is why its leaders are privately fuming
about Netanyahu's end-run around the White House. Even though AIPAC's
leadership leans right, the organization knows that support for Israel
in America must be bipartisan in order for it to be stable. "Dermer and
Netanyahu don't believe that Democrats are capable of being pro-Israel,
which is crazy for a lot of reasons, but one of the main reasons is that
most Jews are Democrats," one veteran AIPAC leader told me.
In Israel, cynicism about Netanyahu's intentions is spreading.
"Netanyahu, who purports to be the big expert on everything American,
subordinated Israel's most crucial strategic interests to election
considerations, and the repercussions will endure for some time,"
Chuck Freilich, a former deputy head of Israel's National Security
Council, wrote last week.
Robert Wright: The Clash of Civilizations That Isn't: Reaction to
Roger Cohen's polarizing rant, "Islam and the West at War," along with
Graeme Wood's Atlantic piece, "What ISIS Really Wants" (links
in the article if you really want them). You may recall that GW Bush
(aside from a momentary slip-of-the-tongue about "crusades") was very
careful to make clear that his Global War on Terror wasn't a campaign
against his family friends in Saudi Arabia. (Indeed, Bush was practically
the only politician in America to defend a deal that would sell US ports
to Abu Dhabi: proof, if you want it, that for him at least money always
trumps identity.) But most Americans have never been very disciplined
or principled about distinguishing the targets of our wars from anyone
else who might share superficial traits, so it isn't surprising that
prolonged war with self-identified Muslims should result in more than
random acts of slander and violence. In the days of purely nationalist
wars (e.g., the two World Wars), this was mostly ugly and repaired easy
enough once the war ended. (Indeed, the anti-Kraut hysteria of WWI was
much reduced in WWII, as the embarrassment of the former provided a
vaccination against repeat in the latter -- not that Japanese-Americans
were spared.) But in more recent wars -- let's call them "post-colonial" --
US entry is predicated on dividing populations into groups we call allies
and enemies, one we support and the other we kill, and in such wars any
mental generalization undermines the mission and ultimately loses the war.
(Vietnam is as good an example of the dynamic as Afghanistan or Iraq, but
the downside was much more limited there: it ultimately turned into a
nationalist war, with the US deciding that perpetual scorn and isolation
was still some measure of victory.)
Those post-colonial wars have, without exception that I am aware of,
been fools' missions, but they would pale compared to the fevered notion
that "the West" must wage war with all of Islam -- well over one billion
people, including a few million already resident in "the West." Wright
points out that this insanity can point to an intellectual pedigree:
In 1996, when I reviewed Samuel Huntington's book The Clash of
Civilizations for Slate, I fretted that Huntington's world view
could become "a self-fulfilling prophecy." This was before 9/11, and
I wasn't thinking about Islam in particular. Huntington's book was
about "fault lines" dividing various "civilizations," and I was just
making the general point that if we think of, say, Japanese people as
radically different from Americans -- as Huntington's book, I believed,
encouraged us to do -- we were more likely to treat Japan in ways that
deepened any Japanese-Western fault line.
Since 9/11, I've realized that, in the case of Islam, the forces that
could make the clash of civilizations a self-fulfilling prophecy are
particularly powerful. For one thing, in this case, our actual enemies,
such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, themselves favor the clash-of-civilizations
narrative, and do their best to encourage it. When the Atlantic tells
us that ISIS is "very Islamic" and the New York Times runs the headline
"Islam and the West at War," it's party time in Mosul. Order up another
round of decapitations! Get Roger Cohen more freaked out! Maybe he'll
keep broadcasting a key recruiting pitch of both Al Qaeda and ISIS:
that the West is at war with Islam! (Wood noted, a week after his
article appeared, its "popularity among ISIS supporters.")
Wright doesn't go very deeply into the people in "the West" that
buy into this "clash of civilizations" malarkey, except to note:
I don't think it's a coincidence that commentators who dismiss attempts
to understand the "root causes" of extremism tend to be emphatic in
linking the extremism to Islam, and often favor a massively violent
response to it.
By the way, the wind is at their backs. Last week, CBS News reported
that, for the first time, a majority of Americans polled -- fifty-seven
per cent -- favored sending ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and
Haven't we seen this movie? The Iraq War, more than any other single
factor, created ISIS. After the 2003 invasion, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a
Jordanian who led an obscure group of radical Islamists, rebranded it as
an Al Qaeda affiliate and used the wartime chaos of Iraq to expand it.
Al-Zarqawi's movement came to be known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, and then
evolved into ISIS.
Note that more and more post-colonial rationales -- the idea that
we're fighting for some (good) Afghanis/Iraqis/Muslims against other
(bad) ones -- is giving way to outright nationalist/colonialist ideas
(not yet with Obama and his echelons but with the people most loudly
beating the war drums).
Also worth quoting Paul Woodward on
ISIS and the caliphate:
Millions of Muslims, without being extremists of any variety, see the
Islamic world as having been carved up by Western colonialism, robbed
of its sovereignty, and placed under the control of compliant and corrupt
rulers. Broadly speaking, what's on offer right now is a brutal ISIS
caliphate vs. a fractious status quo. That seems like a lousy choice.
As Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya demonstrated over the last half
century, the project of pan-Arab secular nationalism was a spectacular
On the other hand, the Arab monarchies have the durability of a
chronic disease -- their ability to survive has accomplished little
more than cripple the region.
If ISIS and the other forms of Islamic extremism are seen for what
they are -- symptoms of a disease, rather than the disease itself --
then the remedy cannot be found by merely looking for ways to suppress
Also, a few links for further study:
Henry Farrell: Dark Leviathan: Subhed: "The Silk Road might have
started as a libertarian experiment, but it was doomed to end as a
fiefdom run by pirate kings." As a libertarian experiment, this reminds
me of some of those Murray Rothbard schemes I typeset for the Kochs
back in the 1970s -- especially the naive notion that trust can be
comoditized and brokered through a marketplace.
All of these petty principalities are vulnerable to criminals trying
to extract ransom, and increasingly to law enforcement, which has
inveigled its way into trusted positions so that it can gather
information and destroy illicit marketplaces. The libertarian hope
that markets could sustain themselves through free association and
choice is a chimera with a toxic sting in its tail. Without state
enforcement, the secret drug markets of Tor hidden services are
coming to resemble an anarchic state of nature in which self-help
Nancy Le Tourneau: The Scott Walker Antidote: Minnesota: Compares
and contrasts the results of Democratic government in Minnesota under
Mark Dayton and Republican government in Wisconsin with Scott Walker.
You can follow up with
Ed Kilgore: Scott Walker's Koch Angle: you don't have to be as
screwed up as Kansas to get screwed. For more on Walker, see
A Noun, a Verb, and "Union Thugs".
Sunday, February 22. 2015
I've been very lazy when it comes to politics the last few weeks.
Much of what's wrong is so wrong on so many levels it boggles the
mind. You can try to organize it, boxing various articles up into
bins like "Republicans acting dumb," "Democrats acting dumb," "The
bipartisan Washington foreign policy mandarins fumbling one stupid
war after another," and so on -- the common thread is a chronic
inability to think clearly about anything. There was a piece in
the Eagle today about a "post-mortem" report some Democratic Party
bigwigs cobbled together (can't find the Eagle link, but here's a
similar one at
CNN). The "report" includes lines like this:
It is strongly believed that the Democratic Party is loosely
understood as a long list of policy statements and not as people with
a common set of core values (fairness, equality, opportunity). This
lack of cohesive narrative impedes the party's ability to develop and
maintain a lifelong dialogue and partnership with voters.
What these party bigwigs fail to recognize is for the party to win
it has to go beyond touting common values and articulate a set of viable
self-interests that will motivate popular support. A classic example of
this was the 1860 Republican platform, which instead of decrying slavery
or declaring the sanctity of the union crassly declared: "vote yourself
a farm -- vote yourself a tariff." Even today, Republican appeals are
scarcely less crass: vote yourself a tax cut, vote for guns everywhere,
vote to outlaw abortion. If the Democrats wanted to compete, they should
consider a slogan like "vote yourself a government that works for you" --
and if they wanted to scare the bejesus out of the Republicans, they could
add: "vote yourself a union."
Instead, there was a story this week about the head of the Democratic
Party in Kansas testifying in favor of a Republican state bill that would
double the limits for political contributions. That may make his particular
job a bit easier, but it would move the party away from the people it needs
votes from, and it would reinforce the notion that elections are up for
The report lays out brutal losses since Obama swept into office in
2008: Democrats have shed 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, 910 state
legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers and 11 governor's
Obama deserves a substantial amount of blame for those offices --
not so much for his policies, mediocre and unfocused as they've been,
as for his messaging, and for undermining the party for his personal
benefit. By messaging, I mean his failure to clearly break from the
Bush administration's manifest disasters as well as to keep the public
focused on the partisan responsibility for those disasters, But he
also wrecked the Democratic Party organization that won elections in
2006-08. Just because he personally could raise money to beat McCain
and Romney doesn't mean that he was right to ignore the problem of
money in politics. He has, after all, done nothing to counter the
Kochs' threat to raise $900 million to buy 2016. If anything, he's
made their corruption all the more inevitable.
So while it's possible to make fun of the Republicans in Kansas,
as Crowson does here:
Still, it's not that funny. Most of the Kansas legislature's bills
have been predictable, but this one breaks new ground in terms of being
wrong on so many levels:
Kansas bill would reward foster parents who are married, faithful,
alcohol-free. Among other things, the bill treats foster care as
a business, offering incentive pay for behaviors which the drafter
believes to be morally superior, and hidden within it is "state
education aid to either home school or send their foster kids to
private school" -- yet another ploy to undermine public schools and
the idea that everyone has an equal right to a quality education.
As for church going, my recollection is that some of the worst
scandals in the history of foster care involve churches.
Nor is Kansas the only state where absolute Republican power has
corrupted absolutely. See
Kansas not only state trying to prevent LGBT protections. Brownback
recently revoked a Kansas executive order extending various protections
to LGBT workers. Arkansas wants to go one step further and prevent any
local governments from offering anti-discriminatory protections to its
A few more scattered links this week:
Justin Gillis/John Schwartz: Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful
Climate Researcher: You always hear from right-wingers about how the
scientific research on anthropogenic climate change ("global warming")
is conflicted. One major source of that conflict is Wei-Hock Soon, "who
claims that variations in the sun's energy can largely explain recent
But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon's work
has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.
He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel
industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict
of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has
published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight
of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the
journals that published his work.
The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate
funders, described many of his scientific papers as "deliverables" that
he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe
testimony he prepared for Congress.
Ali Khedery: Iran's Shiite Militias Are Running Amok in Iraq: I think
Khedery puts more emphasis on Iran's relationship to the Shiite militias
than is warranted. The US was actively organizing those same militias to
fight Saddam Hussein before and during the 2003 invasion, and they've
alternately been turned loose or reined in at various times during the
American occupation: I doubt they are wholly tools either of the US or
Iran so much as autonomous agents only loosely aligned with Iraqi shiite
political parties, but what should be clear by now is that they cannot
be trusted to implement a disciplined military campaign -- such as the
much-touted plan to retake Mosul.
Countless memories haunt me after a decade of service in Iraq. Gripping
the hands of an assassin-felled member of the provisional government as
the life slipped out of her body in 2003; watching al Qaeda's beheadings
of American hostages in 2004; seeing photos of young Sunni prisoners
raped and tortured by Iran-backed Shiite militias serving within the
Iraqi police in 2005; and sitting helplessly at the U.S. Embassy in
Baghdad as news came in of al Qaeda's 2006 bombing of al-Askari Mosque,
one of the holiest sites for Shiite Islam, ushering in the civil war.
[ . . . ]
The Iraqi government is hopelessly sectarian, corrupt, and generally
unfit to govern what could be one of the world's most prosperous nations.
Washington's response to the Islamic State's (IS) advance, however, has
been disgraceful: The United States is now acting as the air force, the
armory, and the diplomatic cover for Iraqi militias that are committing
some of the worst human rights abuses on the planet. These are "allies"
that are actually beholden to our strategic foe, the Islamic Republic of
Iran, and which often resort to the same vile tactics as the Islamic State
itself. [ . . . ]
There is no reason to believe that the militias will disarm and disband
after IS's defeat. Indeed, with the central government weaker than ever,
trillions of dollars of Iraqi oil wealth up for grabs, and the U.S. military
no longer deployed in large numbers to constrain them, the militias have
more incentive than ever to stay in business. And let's not forget that it
is in Iran's strategic interest to use these militias to consolidate its
gains over Iraq and the Levant, and to advance its ambitions for regional
hegemony, which Iranian commanders are now publicly flaunting.
Iran's "ambitions for regional hegemony" is one of those things that
could (and should) be covered in bilateral talks between the US and Iran --
indications are that Iran would see more value in normalizing relations
with the US than in vying for "hegemony" over wastelands like Iraq and
Paul Krugman: Rip Van Skillsgap:
What strikes me about this paper -- and in general what one still hears
from many people inside the Beltway -- is the continuing urge to make
this mainly a story about the skills gap, of not enough workers having
higher education or maybe the right kind of education.
[ . . . ]
But if my math is right, the 90s ended 15 years ago -- and since then
wages of the highly educated have stagnated. Why on earth are we still
hearing the same rhetoric about education as the solution to inequality
The answer, I'm sorry to say, is surely that it sounds serious. But,
you know, it isn't.
I'm not even sure how serious it is: it's just that the right doesn't
have many options for addressing increasing inequality that don't impact
the gains of the rich. Prescribing more education is a way of punting,
knowing that it might help a few individuals -- at least compared to peer
individuals, as opposed to the effect it had several decades ago -- and
for everyone else it will take time to fail. But as a general rule, it is
already clear that more education isn't an answer: given stagnant wages,
the rising cost of education (and it has risen a lot) mean the return on
investment in more education has been negative, and growing more so. And
if there really is a "skills gap" that loss has depressed the economy.
Of course, if the "skills gap" was seriously regarded as a real problem,
the people conscious of it would be proposing real programs to solve it:
they would be hard at work increasing wages for workers with the needed
skills, and they would be urging the government to shoulder more of the
costs of education to get those needed workers trained. You don't exactly
see that happening. In fact, you see right-wingers working to undercut
education all the way from pre-school to college, and to make what
education is still available more class-stratified -- something the rich
can still provide for their own children through private channels while
everyone else rots or struggles.
Chris Stephen: Libya's Arab spring: the revolution that ate its
children: It's worth considering Iraq and Libya as two models of
what can go wrong in establishing post-intervention states. In Iraq
the US dug in and tried to micromanage every aspect of nation building
following the 2003 invasion -- an approach that failed not just because
the Bush administration was clueless and had its own peculiar interests
but because the US military became a symbol and target of occupation.
On the other hand, NATO's intervention in Libya left no troops on the
ground as competing militias turned on each other resulting in chaos.
The latest development in Libya has been the emergence of ISIS -- I
suspect more as an idea than an outgrowth of the rump Islamic State
in war-torn Syria and neighboring Iraq -- which in turn has provoked
further military intervention by Egypt. (ISIS has proven a potent
brand both of rebellion and for deadly foreign intervention.) I have
no real idea how to fix this -- even less so than Syria where much
of the problem is tied to foreign interests. The gist of the article
is that many of the people who initially supported the revolt against
Gaddafi have come to regret their stands. On the other hand, I doubt
that many of the better-dead-than-red types in the NSC or CIA have
had second thoughts. After all, they never risked their own lives on
the outcome, and they enjoy the luxury of putting their ideals above
the lives of real people.
Talking Points Memo's sense of politics remains skin deep at most,
but today's headlines are even shallower than usual -- gotcha news like
Giuliani: Obama Influenced by Communism At Young Age,
Giuliani Says He Received Death Threats After Comments On Obama,
Scott Walker Says He Doesn't Know If Obama Is Christian, and
Issa: 'We Should Thank' Giuliani For Comment On Obama's Patriotism.
More Mister Nice Blog has an amusing story about how while Obama's
grandfather served during WWII, Giuliani's father did not -- because he
was a convicted felon.) Only slightly deeper is
Is Obama Failing the YAARRRR! Test?, which compares Obama's anti-ISIS
war rhetoric unfavorably to Mel Gibson in Braveheart.
Also, a few links for further study:
James Carden: Here's Why Arming Ukraine Would Be a Disaster: Well,
some of the reasons, anyway. It's not clear to me to what extent Russia
is actually arming or otherwise supporting separatist groups in eastern
Ukraine, but it certainly is true that if Obama chose to add more fuel
to the fire, Putin could more than reciprocate in kind. (Carden quotes
Putin as saying, "if I want to, I can take Kiev in two weeks." Russia
didn't go that far in Georgia when the latter tried to quash separatist
provinces in 2008, but could easily have.) Also see
Barry R. Posen: Just Say No: America Should Avoid These Wars --
Ukraine leads the list, but the list doesn't stop there.
Dylan Scott: Meet the Man at the Center of the Unprecedented US-Israeli
Rift: A report on Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the US since
2013, and evidently the person who worked out the deal for Netanyahu to
speak before the US Congress "just days before elections in Israel" --
evidently to do what he can to torpedo any deal Obama works out to limit
(or eliminate) Iran's alleged "nuclear program." Dermer was well placed,
having been born in the US and having worked for Newt Gingrich before
emigrating to Israel.
Imraan Sidiqi: Hate in the aftermath of Chapel Hill: On February
10 three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC were murdered. Sidiqi
notes other recent examples of violence directed at American Muslims.
That isn't the only possible context --
Michael A. Cohen argues that the killer was a gun nut and that
the crime fits the pattern of a long list of gun-enabled crime. No
doubt that has something to do with "how" but as so much gun crime
is "senseless" it doesn't explain "why" -- for that we have to look
at the continuing series of wars where the US has sent hundreds of
thousands of soldiers to abroad to kill (and be killed by) Muslims.
The US has never engaged in a war abroad where Americans didn't also
project the hatred of war onto those fellow Americans most similar
to foreign enemies. So it isn't surprising that it is happening
again now, or that it is worst among the racist, militarist bigots
of the far right. Nor that it is one of the things that makes war
so poisonous, here as well as there.
Sunday, February 8. 2015
If I was much younger and had ambitions in journalism, I'd go up to
Topeka and hang out with Republican legislators, trying to draw them
out on the logic behind a plethora of bills being bandied about. In some
ways, it seems inconceivable that in an age of ubiquitous information
technology we could ever forgo and forget knowledge and understanding
on the level of the Dark Ages of medieval Europe, yet that's what is
on display strive to build their utopian society upon near-absolute
power at the state level. The big headlines, of course, still belong
to the governor and his disastrously failed experiment in Lafferism --
David Atkins: More Kansas Fallout: Brownback Doubles Down on His Failed
Policies, or just take a look at Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon
in the Eagle today:
Brownback, you may recall, created a huge deficit hole by pushing
a major state income tax reduction (including complete exemption from
income taxes for "small businessmen" like Charles Koch), at a time when
the state was losing a lawsuit for unconstitutionally underfunding
public schools. (Ironically, when the state legislature increased
state funding before the 2014 elections, Brownback's ads touted that
as proof of his support for education.) This year, Brownback's fix
for the fiscal hole has been to propose increasing taxes on cigarettes,
slashing school funding, and a variety of schemes to raid a long list
of dedicated funds (like highway maintenance and pensions -- even
some federal money related to Obamacare). In other words, the idea
is to cover up a big hole with lots of little holes, each hoping to
kick the problem a bit further into the future: cheat workers out of
their pensions and they may not realize the effect for many years,
until they retire; stop maintaining roads and it may be years before
they're eaten up with potholes; cheap out on educating children and
it may be decades before it fully dawns on employers how few people
are prepared for work. And so on, as these decisions add up, as
political interests forget that they could ever be solved, the
future grows ever dimmer: dark ages ahead.
Brownback's folly is the straightforward result of a right-wing
propaganda coup that you can trace back to the 1970s, when a few
disgruntled businessmen decided to wage a war of attrition against
the very idea of government. What they objected to was the idea
that a democratic government might work for the benefit of the vast
majority of the people, as opposed to merely protecting the property
and prerogatives of the rich. (Right-wingers never had a problem with
authoritarian states they controlled; the state only became a problem
when it might be used to reduce the influence and control of the rich.)
Of course, they had good reason to fear that, because it had in fact
been working that way for forty years, from the New Deal through the
The key point here is how successful they've been at characterizing
government as a vicious cycle of "tax and spend" -- with the corrolary
that tax money would have been spent more wisely by those who originally
earned it than by the government bureaucrats who merely took it. A good
example of this mindset appeared in a letter to the Eagle today (Delores
Let rich invest):
"Robbing the rich to feed the idle" does not work very well. It
does not produce any food. Better let the rich invest with those who
do produce things we want, so we can all share.
Most propaganda is dressed up more plausibly than this. By "robbing"
she probably means taxing, since most real robbers don't feed anyone but
themselves, and by "the idle" she most likely means "the disadvantaged" --
most of whom work harder at underpaid jobs than many rentiers (I'm much
more familiar with the phrase "the idle rich" than any alternative). To
figure out what "works" you need some criteria. For "feeding" you might
think something like "reduce the number of people who are malnourished,"
in which case you can collect and test data. Food stamps is one government
program that comes to mind, and by that standard it works very well. Even
the sort of rationing that the US practiced during WWII "worked" by most
Jennison's last sentence is even more problematical. Even if the rich
invest wisely, absent taxation how is it that "we can all share" in their
returns? The notion that we somehow all benefit by basking in the light
reflected by the rich hard to imagine, let alone quantify. Even if some
might draw inspiration and enjoy enough good fortune to become rich
themselves, the numbers must surely be very limited. And how does one
become rich? Very few such people do so by investing in the production
of food or anything else broadly usable. It's not inconceivable that
some entrepreneur might found a business and produce something that
makes our lives better, but it's certainly not the rule.
What's so odd about this mindset isn't that disgruntled businessmen --
the Kochs being prime examples both in the 1970s (my first encounter
with them was typesetting Murray Rothbard books in the mid-1970s) and
now -- would underwrite this sort of propaganda. After all, they've
used it to make and sheltered billions of dollars, and capitalism is
nothing if not a cult of self-interest. But it's pure hubris to insist
that their greed is a blessing for everyone else -- a propaganda line
that is the greatest con of the era.
In the past, Republicans were more cynical about their shit. For
instance, it's well established that increased government spending
stimulates the economy -- and that the American economy depends on
such stimulation. Republicans are dependable deficit scolds whenever
a Democrat is president, but Reagan and the Bushes were happy to run
huge deficits -- they just preferred to build them from tax cuts and
war spending. However, it was only a matter of time before the rank
and file started believing the GOP party line, and thanks largely to
Thomas Frank, Kansas learned that lesson harder than most. Frank's
What's the Matter With Kansas? made a big point about how the
single-issue fringe groups Republicans depended on for votes rarely
got any satisfaction: Republicans may campaign against abortion and
for guns but in office all they seemed to do was to further line the
pockets of the already rich.
Of course, Brownback's income tax cuts (and, by the way, sales tax
increases) and budget hole is mostly a sop to the rich, but the Kansas
legislature has been dilligent about passing new anti-abortion and
pro-gun legislation every year. There's a bill pending this year to
allowed "concealed carry" without a permit or any training -- among
other things that makes it much more difficult to apprehend gun-toting
felons. That's just one example of this year's legislative fever. One
proposal is to move non-partisan municipal elections and make them
partisan -- the sponsor is worried that school teacher unions might
take advantage of low turnout to dominate school boards, and there's
always the risk that a closet Democrat might slip through a nonpartisan
election. Another bill seeks to give police special rights to avoid
prosecution for misdeeds. Another will let teachers be prosecuted for
providing any "harmful information" to students (evidently, accurate
information about sex counts). I've lost the links to these things,
and the Eagle website isn't much help. Like I said, this would make
a good journalism project. On the other hand, there's this --
Texas Republican wants fetuses to have lawyers and "a voice in court" --
so Kansas isn't the only place to observe this insanity.
Also, some scattered links this week (briefly, because I'm running
Nick Hanauer: Stock Buybacks Are Killing the American Economy:
As economic power has shifted from workers to owners over the past 40
years, corporate profit's take of the U.S. economy has doubled -- from
an average of 6 percent of GDP during America's post-war economic heyday
to more than 12 percent today. Yet despite this extra $1 trillion a year
in corporate profits, job growth remains anemic, wages are flat, and our
nation can no longer seem to afford even its most basic needs. A $3.6
trillion budget shortfall has left many roads, bridges, dams, and other
public infrastructure in disrepair. Federal spending on economically
crucial research and development has plummeted 40 percent, from 1.25
percent of GDP in 1977 to only 0.75 percent today. Adjusted for inflation,
public university tuition -- once mostly covered by the states -- has more
than doubled over the past 30 years, burying recent graduates under $1.2
trillion in student debt. Many public schools and our police and fire
departments are dangerously underfunded.
Where did all this money go?
The answer is as simple as it is surprising: Much of it went to stock
buybacks -- more than $6.9 trillion of them since 2004, according to data
compiled by Mustafa Erdem Sakinc of The Academic-Industry Research Network.
Over the past decade, the companies that make up the S&P 500 have spent
an astounding 54 percent of profits on stock buybacks.
[ . . . ]
In the past, this money flowed through the broader economy in the
form of higher wages or increased investments in plants and equipment.
But today, these buybacks drain trillions of dollars of windfall profits
out of the real economy and into a paper-asset bubble, inflating share
prices while producing nothing of tangible value.
Hanauer cites a paper,
James Montier: The World's Dumbest Idea, critiquing the dogma of
"shareholder value maximuzation" -- the main rationalization (when
greed won't quite cut it) behind stock buybacks. Sample quote:
From a theoretical perspective, SVM may well have its roots in the work
of Arrow-Debreu (in the late 1950s/early 1960s). These authors demonstrated
that in the presence of ubiquitous perfect competition and fully complete
markets (neither of which assumption bears any resemblance to the real
world, of course) a Pareto optimal outcome will result from situations
where producers and all other economic actors pursue their own interests.
Adam Smith's invisible hand in mathematically obtuse fashion.
However, more often the SVM movement is traced to an editorial by Milton
Friedman in 1970. Given Friedman's loathing of all things Keynesian, there
is a certain delicious irony that the corporate world is so perfectly
illustrating Keynes' warning of being a slave of a defunct economist! In
the article Friedman argues that "There is one and only one social
responsibility of business -- to use its resources and engage in activities
designed to increase its profits . . ."
Friedman argues that corporates are not "persons," but the law would
disagree: firms may not be people but they are "persons" in as much as
they have a separate legal status (a point made forcefully by Lynn Stout
in her book, The Shareholder Value Myth). He also assumes that
shareholders want to maximize profits, and considers any act of corporate
social responsibility an act of taxation without representation -- these
assumptions may or may not be true, but Friedman simply asserts them, and
comes dangerously close to making his argument tautological.
Paul Krugman: The Fraud Years: As with my Kansas intro, sometimes
it's hard to stop writing, to merely suggest the whole horror of the
As the Bush II administration fades in the rear view mirror, there's a
tendency -- indeed, an avid desire on the part of many people in the
media -- to blur the reality of what happened, to make it seem as if
were just an ordinary time when a Republican happened to be president.
But it wasn't. We were lied into war; torture became routine; raw
dishonesty about everything from national security to the distributional
effects of tax cuts became the norm.
And then there were the people. I had almost forgotten, but Bush
nominated Bernie Kerik to run Homeland Security. Let me repeat that:
he nominated Bernie Kerik to head Homeland Security.
One can, and probably should, go on (and on and on) -- the list of
bad things the Bush II presidency did to us is very long and very dirty
(much like Brownback in Kansas but more slippery, in part because Bush's
deficit hole was easily papered over with debt while the conservative
debt scolds held their tongue -- or in Cheney's case, muttered "deficits
don't matter"). Being less familiar with Kerik (not that I don't get the
point), I might have ended off with Bush's "Healthy Forests Initiative" --
a program to increase logging on public lands, not that they could very
well market that.
By the way, also see Krugman's
Greece: The Tie That Doesn't Bind, both for its sanity and the
suggestion that Syriza's leaders won't be as easily bought off as,
say, "center-leftists" like Tony Blair.
David Lightman: 2016 election campaign will debate U.S. troops to stop
Islamic State: When the Eagle repeated this McClatchy piece, the
title changed to "2016 election likely to focus on terrorism, use of
troops" -- rather misleading because nobody on either side (evidently
not even Rand Paul) seems likely to question "the war on [Islamic]
terrorism" -- i.e., the implicit assumption that the US is entitled
to fly drones over the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa and kill
anyone we suspect of disrespecting us. As for "ground troops" that
discussion will be hedged, as indeed it is in the test quotes here,
with hawks merely wanting to suggest they're tougher than Obama, and
no one standing up for sanity. The death of a Jordanian pilot seems
to have unleashed another pro-war propaganda flurry, with the Eagle
running the latest missives by Charles Krauthammer and Trudy Rubin,
but nothing counter.
Kate: Druze IDF soldier attacked by Israeli Jews for speaking Arabic:
and dozens of other stories.
Richard Silverstein: Israeli Journalist, Ben Caspit: "Kill IDF Refusers":
I'm not sure how far back Israel's policy of "targeted assassination"
goes -- the 1947 murder of UN Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte was an
outlier in that the victim wasn't Palestinian and that Israel had yet
to declare independence, but suggests that the notion that the way to
beat your enemies is to kill them off one-by-one was baked in from the
very beginning. At any rate, in recent years state-sponsored murder has
been so routine that it's hardly surprising that some Israelis would
want to do the same to other Israelis. But there was a day when Israelis
celebrated their own integrity and diversity of opinion. That's passed.
Adam Horowitz: Finkelstein on Joan Peters' legacy (and Dershowitz's legal
troubles): the author of From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the
Arab-Israeli Conflict over Palestine died in January. Interview with
Norman Finkelstein, whose book Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine
Conflict did much to expose Peters' fraudulent claims.
Philip Weiss: Gideon Levy's argument for Netanyahu: Quotes from
Levy's Haaretz column,
win will only entrench the occupation. I've never been a fan of
the argument that you shouldn't differentiate between lesser evils,
and I've long been soft on the soft left -- I was pleased to see
François Hollande elected in France though I can't think of anything
good he's done since, and I even sort of miss Tony Blair, but Israel's
last Labor PM (Ehud Barak) certainly left a bitter taste. What gives
Levy credence is that for much of the last 40 years Labor has been
more efficient and effective at cementing "the facts on the ground"
than Likud (although the latter is more responsible for the poisonous
culture of racism and violence). I didn't read Levy's article as a
brief for Netanyahu so much as an argument that the uglier the face
of Zionism is the sooner the world will turn against it. (I've seen
Richard Silverstein make the same argument, but would have to search
for the link.) Still, it wasn't the ugliest Afrikaner who broke with
Apartheid, nor the ugliest Stalinist who broke up the Soviet Union.
The agents of change there were insider-reformers, and that rules
out Netanyahu. There's no reason to trust Tzipi Livni, but when it
happens it will be someone like her. (On the other hand, Labor leader
Isaac Herzog launched his campaign by accusing Netanyahu of being
soft on Hamas.)
Richard Silverstein: IDF Chief Warns of International Intervention if
Israel Doesn't Solve Palestine Conflict: "Unlike any other Israeli
politician, general or spy chief before him, Gantz offered a warning
that if Israel didn't make progress on negotiating a peace deal with
the Palestinians, it should not expect the world to remain uninvolved
[ . . . ] Whether or not Israel wanted, the world
sees Israel-Palestine as bound up in other dangerous regional conflicts.
These are so critical to the interests of foreign powers that there's
no chance Israel will be allowed to pursue its own interests unhindered."
I doubt he means "intervene" in the sense Lindsey Graham is fond of,
but it does imply pressure -- possibly a lot of pressure. Article also
includes quotes from Mossad chief Tamir Pardo undercutting Netanyahu's
Iran position. Gantz and Pardo are among the unelected people who
really run Israel, and it's auspicious that they're getting nervous.
Jason Ditz: Netanyahu Vows to Sabotage Iran Nuclear Deal: A deal
would not only eliminate Iran as a potential nuclear threat, it would
preclude a preemptory Israeli war against Iran, would align Iran with
US interests in Iraq, and could possibly lead to some progress in
settling the civil war in Syria (if Obama wanted to go that far), so
sure, you can see why Netanyahu is so up in arms.
Richard Silverstein: Ukrainian Oligarch Fugitives Wanted by Interpol,
Pay Bribes for Israeli Citizenship: Someone named Yuri Borisov,
"suspected of looting $40-million in U.S. foreign aid meant for Ukraine."
Scroll through Silverstein's blog and you'll find several scandals like
this, ranging from
Haaretz Removes Report that Netanyahu Pressured Japanese Regulators to
Approve Adelson Casino Bid to
Bayit Yehudi MK, Settlement Leader Questioned in Bribery-Kickback Scandal.
Also, a few links for further study:
Christian Appy: Burying Vietnam, Launching Perpetual War:
Intro to Appy's new book, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and
Our National Identity.
Joe Conason: Bush lied about his military service, and so did Reagan:
Doesn't mention Brian Williams, but does mention a couple others who
tried to puff up their war records.
Bill Curry: Yes, we're stuck with Hillary: "Progressives waiting for
Democrats to change are dangerously deluded. It hurts to admit that their
leaders are addicted to money and to the sense of emotional security
consultants provide in lieu of insight -- and worse, they can't see it
Tom Engelhardt: I.F. Stone and the Urge to Serve: I'll add that
I subscribed to I.F. Stone's Weekly for several years, possibly
up to its end in 1971. Sample quote:
Among the eeriest things about reading Stone's Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia
coverage, 14 years into the next century, is how resonantly familiar so
much of what he wrote still seems, how twenty-first-century it all is. It
turns out that the national security state hasn't just been repeating
things they've done unsuccessfully for the last 13 years, but for the
William Greider: Obama Is Leading the Way Toward Economic Catastrophe:
"Surrounded by Wall Street expertise and conventional political actors,
[Obama] didn't understand the larger bonfire raging in the global economy
or else was persuaded not to take it seriously."
Mike Konczal: How Radical Change Occurs: An Interview With Historian
Sunday, January 25. 2015
Don't have much to show here, but enough to run. I wasn't able to
find anything very useful on renewed hostilities in eastern Ukraine:
I gather the central ("pro-western") government broke the cease fire,
and now they're complaining about civilian deaths caused by Russian
rockets. This is one of four major wars from 2014 -- Israel, Iraq,
and Syria -- that have been allowed to fester and grow by the inability
and/or unwillingness of the US to engage in diplomacy, especially with
Russia. That failure is rooted in the kneejerk US belief that foreign
affairs is always a test of will where only force matters. In particular,
the US has been seduced by the idea that all problems can be solved by
killing "bad guys" -- a notion that's rife in American culture, that
is the basic idea behind the drone warfare program, that excuses all
manner of secret operations. That American Sniper beat out
Selma both in the box office and Oscar nominations is par for
I skipped the "Israel Links" this week, not because I couldn't find
them but because I didn't feel a need to bother. If you do feel the
need, the first place to look is
Some scattered links this week:
Murtaza Hussain: Saudi Arabia's Tyrant King Misremembered as Man of Peace:
Point taken, although the late King Abdullah mostly continued policies
of his predecessors, both in savagely repressing any hints of dissent
in the Middle East's only real Islamic State and in promoting Salafist
fundamentalism throughout the Islamic world, generously subsidizing
interference in other nations' political affairs, always with cash and
often with guns. On the other hand, maybe he should be remembered as
"a man of peace": he was primarily responsible for signing the entire
Arab League up behind UNSC Resolutions 235 and 338 as the basis for
resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Acceptance of that proposal
would have been a major advance both for peace and for respect for
international law as a means of resolving belligerent disputes. But
Abdullah's proposal was simply ignored by US President GW Bush, who
preferred giving Israel's Arik Sharon carte blanche to create "new
facts on the ground." The episode was detailed in Ron Ruskind's book,
The One Percent Doctrine, describing an April 2002 meeting
between Abdullah and Bush:
Relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States
were in tatters. The Saudis had been stewing for more than a year, in
fact, ever since it became clear at the start of 2001 that this
administration was to alter the long-standing U.S. role of honest
broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to something less than
that. The President, in fact, had said in the first NSC principals
meeting of his administration that Clinton had overreached at the end
of his second term, bending too much toward Yasser Arafat -- who then
broke off productive Camp David negotiations at the final moment --
and that "We're going to tilt back ward Israel." Powell, a chair away
in the Situation Room that day, said such a move would reverse thirty
years of U.S. policy, and that it could unleash the new prime
minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Israeli army in ways that could be
dire for the Palestinians. Bush's response: "Sometimes a show of force
by one side can really clarify things."
What Abdullah was proposing was exactly what US official policy
had been since 1967, so Bush's response must have been shocking --
but Bush was himself half way between 9/11 and invading Iraq, so
his faith in force was running at a fever pitch. In one of his
notorious malaproprisms Bush later described Sharon as "a man of
peace." (Sharon's own autobiography was titled Warrior.)
Surely when Bush passes he at least won't be remembered as "a
man of peace" -- but obviously such words are cheap to political
figures who have so much to bury.
Glenn Greenwald: Compare and Contrast: Obama's Reaction to the Deaths
of King Abdullah and Hugo Chávez:
But when it comes to western political and media discourse, the only
difference that matters is that Chávez was a U.S. adversary while
Abdullah was a loyal U.S. ally -- which, by itself for purposes of
the U.S. and British media, converts the former into an evil villainous
monster and the latter into a beloved symbol of peace, reform and
Also, a few links for further study:
Adrian Bonenberger: There Are No War Heroes: A Veteran's Review of
American Sniper: I haven't seen Clint Eastwood's movie,
and it looks like the only way I might would be if I went alone --
my wife's reaction to every mention of the movie is so scabrous I
doubt I could focus with her present. I don't follow many people
on Twitter, but two I do -- Max Blumenthal and Matt Taibbi -- have
been relentless in attacking the film (e.g., see Taibbi's
American Sniper Is Almost Too Dumb to Criticize; I'm finding
many rebuttals to Blumenthal's line that "Chris Kyle was just a popular
mass murderer" but not the original source). I did read Nicholas Schmiddle's
June 2013 piece on sniper Chris Kyle
the Crosshairs) so have some sense of the story line, notably how he
cashed in on his war "service": his bestselling memoir, how he became a
"patriotic icon" for the gun crusade, and how he was shot and killed by a
PTSD-damaged soldier. A movie of his life would seem to have all sorts of
possibilities, and Eastwood showed himself capable of seeing more than one
side of a war in his two Iwo Jima films. But one of those possibilities
was to invest whole hog in the jingoism (and racism and murderousness)
that floated around Kyle -- that made him a "hero" to the powerful people
who patronized him. As Bonenberger points out, the controversy predates
This reflects a truth that the movie itself seeks to avoid: War is political,
and a movie about war is bound to make political pronouncements. When you
sit down to enjoy American Sniper, you are committing a political
act, and your evaluation of the movie, and Kyle as a person, reflects your
political attitudes. But it's more complicated than the simple equation
that progressives dislike it and conservatives enjoy it. Politics
notwithstanding, those who've seen it tend to describe the experience in
religious terms: awe-struck congregations of Americans seeing the Iraq War
the way it happened, traveling down the path to PTSD together. Ask around:
Be it Texas or Williamsburg, it's not uncommon to hear of packed theaters
with the patrons filing out in reverent silence after the closing credits.
The very notion that this movie is "non-partisan" or "apolitical" is
the most insidious notion of all. It asserts that fundamentally we all
agree on wars that many of us see as very foolish and self-destructive
(not to mention criminal) acts. What I fear is that time is being used
to cement a mythic memory of the "Terror Wars" -- myths that only pave
the way for more war.
Peter Maas: How Clint Eastwood Ignores History in American Sniper.
Sebastian Budgen & Stathis Kouvelakis: Greece: Phase One:
Useful background on the development of Greece's leftist Syriza
party, which evidently won big in Greece's elections today. Also
Tariq Ali: Greece's Fight Against European Austerity.
Mike Konczal: The 2003 Dividend Tax Cut Did Nothing to Help Real
Economy: Supposedly, cuts in dividends would spur investment
and (maybe) increase employee compensation but it did neither --
especially if you compare affected C-corporations with unaffected
S-corporations. Did lead to more payouts to already rich owners.
DR Tucker: Let Choice Ring!: Starts with a quote from Mitt Romney
supporting woman's right to choose to abort a pregnancy, something he
believed in when running for the Senate from Massachusetts in 1994 but
has conveniently evolved his views on since the anti-choice stand has
become Republican dogma. Tucker collects that and other links here,
and take a strong stand in defense of abortion rights, something more
pressing than it's been in many years precisely because it's being so
A Perilous Year for Abortion Rights, a NY Times editorial.)
Unfortunately, Tucker sinks to exploiting various prejudices in
support of his position. For instance, his link to the NY Times
piece reads: "The radical anti-abortion movement in this country
is out own Boko Haram, trying to kidnap women's rights in the
name of an extremist and backward ideology." That anti-choice
activists and Boko Haram may share a similar psychology about
women doesn't justify exploiting anti-Islam prejudice against
the former. Tucker goes on to argue that ending medical abortion
would result in more "welfare queens" (indeed, a much larger
welfare state), as if that might dissuade "your Republican
friends." Appealing to bigots may seem like a cute idea, but
one doubts doing so would ever do any good. There used to be a
strong conservative case for abortion rights: parenthood is a
great personal responsibility, and the social order depends on
individual commitment to and fulfilling of that responsibility.
Commitment derives from choice: a society where people choose
to be parents is far stronger than one where it happens by
haphazard chance. You don't hear arguments like that any more
because Republicans have settled on building a coalition of
bigots and haters, and there's still a sizable faction out to
keep women in "their place" -- and that seems to trump freedom,
responsibility, or any other ideal that fleetingly enters their
Sunday, January 11. 2015
The big news of the week was the
massacre in the Paris offices of
the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, where ten journalists (mostly
cartoonists) and two police were gunned down. This was followed by
a shooting of a police officer at Montrouge, and an attempt to take
hostages at a kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes, resulting
in four more deaths (five counting the assailant). French officials
hunted down and killed the two Charlie Hebdo shooters, but the story
doesn't end there. Whereas mass shootings by non-Muslims in Europe
and America (including one in
Norway in 2011 that killed 77 people) are typically treated as
"lone wolf" aberrations, any such violence committed by Muslims
automatically triggers a chain reaction where all the usual reactors
resume the positions they took after 9/11, mostly to escalate US,
European, and Israeli violence against Muslims. The effect is much
like watching a train wreck, where no matter how clear every detail
seems, one is helpless to prevent or even affect the crash.
The most immediate response has been a huge outpouring of racist
rhetoric from Europe's right, especially from the strategically
placed, shamelessly opportunistic Marine le Pen. And as rightists
almost reflexively respond, this has already resulted in a number
of attacks against mosques in France. Meanwhile, more respectable
elites have tended to the propaganda campaign. In particular,
Charlie Hebdo has become an icon of free speech, championed by
people who spend billions of dollars every year to shape public
discourse to advance their own agendas. Over the longer term they
will use this attack as an excuse to launch -- actually, to
continue -- many more of their own. Moreover, those attacks --
indeed, this week's mosque attacks -- will scarcely raise a
ripple in the western press, or a twinge of conscience in the
Needless to say, this kneejerk reaction is insane. If, say, one
suffers and barely survives a heart attack, the normal response is
to take a look at your own life and see you can do better -- stop
smoking, eat differently, exercise more, take a daily aspirin,
whatever. It's not to go out and bomb Afghanistan, or burn down
a convenient mosque. And this is not because you feel personally
culpable for the heart attack. It's more because the only change
you can make is to yourself. Yet terror attacks, which for nearly
everyone are mere impersonal news, are never allowed to evoke a
moment's self-examination. There's a complex psychology behind
this, but it's ultimately because the elites (especially the
right-wingers who predominate) have something to hide, and much
to fear if this is ever discussed rationally.
The attackers in Paris, for instance, identified themselves as
affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda was effectively invented in the
1980s when the United States recruited Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
to raise an Islamist army ("the mujahideen") to sabotage the Soviets
in Afghanistan. The US was arguably naive to do so, but American
Cold Warriors had often (and successfully) used religion against
"Godless Communism," and colonial powers had routinely recruited
Islamic clerics to help control the masses -- in fact, the US used
Iranian clerics to organize the mobs that helped overthrow Iran's
democracy in 1953. So what could go wrong? (This was, after all,
the Reagan administration, where naivete was little less than a
When recruited by the US, the Saudi monarchy and Pakistan's
Islamist dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq built their Afghan war
machine with the clerics they had in hand -- the fundamentalist
Wahhabi and Deobandi sects, militantly orthodox especially in
their excoriation of heretics (especially Shiites) and used to
using their religious beliefs as a platform for war -- nor did
they limit their scope to Afghanistan: since its founding,
Pakistan has been obsessed with India, while Saudi Arabia was
locked in a long struggle with secularizing, socialist, and
nationalist forces throughout the Arab world. It was only a
matter of time before the muhahideen turned their venom against
their patrons, especially the infidel ones.
Still, jihadism was never more than a sliver movement within
Islam. If you read Gilles Kepel's definitive history of jihadism
up to 2000 (Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam), you
will see that before 9/11 the movement had largely burned itself
out. In that context, 9/11 was a "hail Mary pass" -- an effort
not to strike the enemy so much as to provoke a monster, which
would then invade the Land of Islam and drive the faithful to
take up arms. Thanks to the ignorance and ego of GW Bush, Bin
Laden was successful in his provocation. His only disappointment
was in how few Muslims rose to fight alongside him. But a small
number did, joining the ranks of those caught up in local wars --
some like Iraq the result of US imperial adventures, others like
Syria only slightly removed -- adding a religious fire to those
conflicts. And very rarely, as in Paris last week, the blowback
All this has been plainly obvious for many years, even as a
succession of presidents (and both apologists and antagonists)
have been oblivious to the consequences of their actions. And
by consequences I don't mean the rare blowback event -- I mean
the obviously direct consequences of aerial attacks and covert
operations, of sanctions and propping up cruel dictators, of
repeatedly proving to the world that US leaders have no respect
for foreign lives, least of all Muslim ones. There are a great
many reasons why the US should withdraw from such behaviors.
Fear of reprisal (of blowback) is a relatively minor one, but
even it isn't as silly as refusing to do the right thing, and
insisting on repeating past mistakes, for fear of looking like
you're giving in to terrorism. Elites like to brand terrorists
as cowards, but the real cowardice is failing to do the right
thing for fear of looking weak.
Only by changing our ways will this problem ever go away.
Some more links and comments follow (some on other topics):
Juan Cole: Sharpening Contradictions: Why al-Qaeda attacked Satirists
in Paris: This is a variant, or complement to, my argument above.
I'll add one small note on return on investment. Al-Qaeda sacrificed
three (maybe five, or a bit more) fighters on this operation. How many
people they killed may matter as a provocation, but this isn't a war
of attrition. So it really comes down to recruitment: how many new
fighters will flock to Al-Qaeda after this? That, in turn, depends on
how many Muslims are alienated by France's reaction (and any other
countries where right-wingers use this to try to advance). The number
doesn't have to be very big to make the action worthwhile. But also
understand that they're starting from a deficit, because this act
itself is as offensive to most Muslims as it is to everyone else.
The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment
pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most
Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam.
France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim
heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that
they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular
Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often
also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in
the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate
people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern
fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai.
In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious,
the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.
Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall
of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to
ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start
creating a common political identity around grievance against
discrimination. [ . . . ]
The only effective response to this manipulative strategy (as
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani tried to tell the Iraqi Shiites a decade
ago) is to resist the impulse to blame an entire group for the actions
of a few and to refuse to carry out identity-politics reprisals.
Teju Cole: Unmournable Bodies: Since the massacre, I've seen many
Charlie Hebdo cartoons in my twitter feed -- a good many offensive,
stupid, or both. I have no idea how representative they are -- I've
read that the magazine is non-partisan, analogous to Mad in
the US, so there must be a mix (if not a balance) of views. And I
know there's no lack of offensive and/or stupid cartoons on the right
in America, and that (especially where Obama is concerned) these all
too frequently slump into blatant racism. Of course, if you go back
in history you can find even worse: see, for a relevant example, the
cartoons reproduced in John W. Dower's War Without Mercy: Race
and Power in the Pacific War for shockingly racist depictions
of Japanese during WWII -- war always brings out the worst in people.
None of this is meant as excuse: as Hamas put it in their PR reaction:
"differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder." But we
shouldn't forget that Charlie Hebdo wasn't singled out for attack
because it represented a free press; it was singled out because it
had allowed itself to become a propaganda organ in a virtual war
against (at least one strain of political) Islam.
More than a dozen people were killed by terrorists in Paris this week.
The victims of these crimes are being mourned worldwide: they were human
beings, beloved by their families and precious to their friends. On
Wednesday, twelve of them were targeted by gunmen for their affiliation
with the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Charlie
has often been aimed at Muslims, and it's taken particular joy in flouting
the Islamic ban on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. It's done more than
that, including taking on political targets, as well as Christian and
Jewish ones. The magazine depicted the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Ghost in a sexual threesome. Illustrations such as this have been cited
as evidence of Charlie Hebdo's willingness to offend everyone.
But in recent years the magazine has gone specifically for racist and
Islamophobic provocations, and its numerous anti-Islam images have been
inventively perverse, featuring hook-nosed Arabs, bullet-ridden Korans,
variations on the theme of sodomy, and mockery of the victims of a
massacre. It is not always easy to see the difference between a certain
witty dissent from religion and a bullyingly racist agenda, but it is
necessary to try. Even Voltaire, a hero to many who extol free speech,
got it wrong. His sparkling and courageous anti-clericalism can be a
joy to read, but he was also a committed anti-Semite, whose criticisms
of Judaism were accompanied by calumnies about the innate character of
This week's events took place against the backdrop of France's ugly
colonial history, its sizable Muslim population, and the suppression,
in the name of secularism, of some Islamic cultural expressions, such
as the hijab. Blacks have hardly had it easier in Charlie Hebdo: one
of the magazine's cartoons depicts the Minister of Justice Christiane
Taubira, who is of Guianese origin, as a monkey (naturally, the defense
is that a violently racist image was being used to satirize racism);
another portrays Obama with the black-Sambo imagery familiar from Jim
Crow-era illustrations. [ . . . ]
But it is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech
without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech. It is
possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is
possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal.
Moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of
the responsibility of making distinctions. The A.C.L.U. got it right
in defending a neo-Nazi group that, in 1978, sought to march through
Skokie, Illinois. The extreme offensiveness of the marchers, absent
a particular threat of violence, was not and should not be illegal.
But no sensible person takes a defense of those First Amendment rights
as a defense of Nazi beliefs. The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists
were not mere gadflies, not simple martyrs to the right to offend:
they were ideologues. Just because one condemns their brutal murders
doesn't mean one must condone their ideology.
Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis
in free speech -- as so many commentators have done -- it is necessary
to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are
already in crisis in Western societies; the crisis was not precipitated
by three deranged gunmen. The U.S., for example, has consolidated its
traditional monopoly on extreme violence, and, in the era of big data,
has also hoarded information about its deployment of that violence.
There are harsh consequences for those who interrogate this monopoly.
The only person in prison for the C.I.A.'s abominable torture regime
is John Kiriakou, the whistle-blower. Edward Snowden is a hunted man
for divulging information about mass surveillance. Chelsea Manning is
serving a thirty-five-year sentence for her role in WikiLeaks. They,
too, are blasphemers, but they have not been universally valorized,
as have the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.
Since the attacks, money has poured into Charlie Hebdo, and with
all the publicity the next press run will be bumped from the usual
60,000 to one million copies.
Michael S Schmidt/Matt Apuzzo: Federal prosecutors recommend charges
against ex-CIA chief David Petraeus: Allegedly, Petraeus disclosed
top-secret files to journalist Paula Broadwell, who was sleeping with
him as well as writing a fawning hagiography. The key point here is
that Obama and Holder have prosecuted leakers to an unprecedented
degree, so what kind of favoritism would it be if they let Petraeus
off the hook? A pretty obvious one, I'd say. But much as I'd like to
"send the pre-eminent military officer of his generation to prison,"
I'd rather see pardons for Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and all
the others who have been or would be prosecuted for disclosing what
the CIA and NSA has been doing with our tax dollars. The difference
is that Petraeus didn't do the public any favors with his leaks. He
did them purely as an act of self-promotion -- coincidentally his
only real accomplishment during his long tenure in the Army and at
Other Charlie Hebdo links:
Mat Taibbi: Cartoons Are Worth Fighting For: "The answer here isn't
more self-censorship, but standing on the principle of everyone learning
to calm down, get a life, and tolerate the occasional weird idea." Yes,
but tolerance, while vastly preferred over intolerance, isn't the real
goal. The goal should be to get to a just and equitable society, and to
do that we need to get to the truth. Free speech and a free press are
necessary to facilitate that.
Diana Johnstone: What to Say When You Have Nothing to Say?: "Along
with taking innocent lives, they have surely deepened the sense of brutal
chaos in this world, aggravated distrust between ethnic groups in France
and in Europe, and no doubt accomplished other evil results as well."
Tariq Ali: Maximum Horror: "Charlie Hebdo sees itself as having
a mission to defend republican secular values against all religions.
It has occasionally attacked Catholicism, but it's hardly ever taken
on Judaism (though Israel's numerous assaults on Palestinians have
offered many opportunities) and has concentrated its mockery on Islam.
French secularism today seems to encompass anything as long as it's
not Islamic. [ . . . ] Defending its right to
publish, regardless of consequences, is one thing, but sacralising
a satirical paper that regularly targets those who are victims of a
rampant Islamophobia is almost as foolish as justifying the acts of
terror against it. Each feeds on the other."
Arthur Chu: Trolls and Martyrdom: Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie:
"Shooting people is wrong." But that doesn't mean that the people
who shouldn't be shot are all right. (For some reason that is a
principle a lot of Americans have trouble with: we live in a society
that seems to want to settle every dispute with a gun, somehow
believing that problems go away when you kill the people most
identified with them.) Interesting factoid: "They're only even
called Charlie Hebdo as an inside joke after the original
publication, Hara-Kirk Hebdo, got shut down for mocking
former President Charles de Gaulle immediately after his death."
Josh Marshall: Is There a Future for French Jewry? There are about
600,000 Jews in France. In 2013 a bit more than 3000 emigrated to Israel
(at least according to the figures here). After events like the attack
on a kosher supermarket in Paris last week, as well as "a series of
attacks on French Jews over recent years," Israeli sources expect more
to emigrate to Israel next year. Marshall somehow took the bait and is
projecting the collapse of the entire community. This is a meme that
pops up every few years -- see
Tony Karon: Where do France's Jews Belong?, published in 2004 when
Sharon was offering French Jews a safe haven in the midst of the Al-Aqsa
Intifada. One thing that's missing here is stats on the other side of
the coin: I've seen estimates that over 700,000 Israelis have moved
abroad, and while the US and Germany (!) are the most frequently cited
destinations, France cannot be far behind. (Most of the Israeli jazz
musicians I'm familiar with live abroad, and France is a popular base.)
More Guns: The Cure-All? After 9/11, I remember Eric Raymond arguing
that we should allow passengers on airplanes to carry guns so they could
defend themselves, as if the hijackers wouldn't have been the first to
take advantage of that option. So no surprise that someone should come
forward with the idea that if only the office workers at Charlie Hebdo
had been packing heat . . . (not that the dead police
weren't). No need to read this article for that, but you might be
interested in how a Kansas gun shop owner was shot dead and robbed.
Steve M. also pays more attention to
David Brooks' take on Charlie Hebdo than you should.
Philip Weiss: Don't let's go to the war of civilizations again:
"Speaking of double standards, our obsession with radical Islam overlooks
the incredible peacefulness of most Arab societies
[ . . . ] and the wide destruction we've wrought in
the Middle East. Steve Walt used to keep a counter on how many Muslims
we've killed -- over 200,000 Muslims a few years ago. Bill Kristol and
George Packer and Roger Cohen seem to think the answer is to undertake
actions that will kill more, because we are now in a civilizational
clash. That will just radicalize more Kouachis and make us all more
Also, a few links for further study:
Max Blumenthal: Politicde in Gaza: How Israel's Far Right Won the
War: In a scholarly journal, with footnotes, a first draft at
the history of the 2014 war. Sample quote:
With rocket sirens sounding around the country, calls for genocide
by Israeli public figures grew more frequent and forceful. Moshe
Feiglin -- one of ten deputy speakers of the Knesset so extreme
that Likud employed a series of legal tricks to boot him from its
2009 electoral list -- issued a detailed plan to "exterminate" or
"concentrate" all residents of Gaza.57 Dov Lior, the
chief rabbi of the religious nationalist settlement, Kiryat Arba,
issued an edict declaring that Jewish law supported taking "crushing
deterring [sic] steps to exterminate the enemy."58
Meanwhile, Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer on Arabic literature at
Bar Ilan University, opined in an interview on the day after the
bodies of the three Israeli teens were found that the only way to
deter young Palestinian men from militant activity was to rape
their sisters and mothers. "It sounds very bad, but that's the
Middle East . . . [y]ou have to understand the culture in which
Incitement at the top emboldened Israeli teens flooding social
media to spin genocidal fantasies of their own. David Sheen, an
independent Israeli journalist, translated dozens of frightening
Twitter posts by adolescent Israeli women alternating between
revealing selfies and annihilationist rants. "Kill Arab children
so there won't be a next generation," wrote a user called
@ashlisade.60 Another teenage female Twitter user, @shirzafaty,
declared, "Not just on summer vacation we hate stinking ugly Arabs,
but for the rest of our lives."61 On a mortar shell that
was to be launched into a civilian area in Gaza, a young Israeli
soldier complained about a boy-band concert that was scrapped
because of the fighting: "That's for canceling the Backstreet Boys,
you scum!" he wrote.62
Stephen Kinzer: Joining the military doesn't make you a hero:
Certainly one reason not to join the military. Of course, there are
- Tom Hull: Re Voltaire on Jews, Maher on Muslims, note how
people who lose their religion still feel most confident dumping on
- Max Blumenthal: Netanyahu wants Jews to leave France and move
to the nation he describes as the key target of anti-Semitic terror:
- Matt Haig: Rupert Murdoch thinks all Muslims should apologise
for terrorism. So on behalf of white people, I'd like to apologise for
- Max Blumenthal: Netanyahu could not address the Paris killings
without mentioning Hamas and Hezbollah and insinuating some connection
- Matt Taibbi: Bush was like an ordinary mean Republican politician
with a tiny FunnyBot hiding in his frontal lobe.
- Matt Taibbi: I think Bush's paintings are kind of cute. It's
like art for dogs or some thing.
Sunday, December 7. 2014
I've been meaning on writing something about justice, the lack of
it, or the insane perversion of it within the US, but I wanted to
start off with a quote and can't find the book. In fact, I can't
find most of the things I look for these days: the place is a total
mess, and getting oppressively so. Don't even know where to start
sorting it out. So I figured I'd skip the links post today, then
found a couple already tucked away in the draft file. So it seems
like I can't even follow a plan on not doing something any more.
Another thing I've been thinking about is coming up with a more
systematic piece on "the four wars of 2014" -- Israel/Gaza, Syria,
Iraq, and Ukraine -- and how they are mutually reinforcing, mostly
due to delusions prevalent in Washington these days (some examples
of which follow).
Anyhow, shorter and more scattered than I'd like, but more than
Thomas Frank: Ann Coulter and David Brooks play a sneaky, unserious
class card: As I understand Brooks' post-Ferguson spin (hat tip
No More Mister Nice Blog), nobody (on the right, anyway) is a
racist any more, but good conservatives do practice something he
calls "classism" -- i.e., they do look down on lazy people whose
lack of responsibility and work ethic have resulted in their being
poor and miserable. That, of course, is a spin on reality. The fact
is that conservatives encourage their followers to believe such
things, and some poor whites are flattered, ignorant, and gullible
enough to do so. Frank then tries to link this up with some of
Coulter's nonsense, quoting her:
Liberals thrive on the attractions of snobbery. Only when you appreciate
the powerful driving force of snobbery in the liberals' worldview do all
their preposterous counterintuitive arguments make sense. They promote
immoral destructive behavior because they are snobs, they embrace
criminals because they are snobs, they oppose tax cuts because they
are snobs, they adore the environment because they are snobs.
Now, I remember practically the very day in 7th grade when my
classmates discovered the word "snob" and it spread like a virus as
an all-purpose epithet to shame anyone you had any sort of complaint
about. It works, of course, because the only mutually agreeable
relationships are based on equality, and it did tend to level the
field -- although one soon came to suspect that the ones who led
the charge had the most to hide. (And if that suggests that Coulter
never really grew out of 7th grade, well, the foo shits.) The fact
is, I never knew any real snobs until I went to an expensive private
college -- and even that was muted because, after all, I was one of
them. Still, nothing in Coulter's paragraph makes any sense. There
are lots of things that snobs think and do differently from the rest
of us, but none of them made Coulter's list. Frank tries to join the
two quotes around "embracing criminals," but that's overwhelmed by
the negatives: Brooks seems to be thinking that it's OK to generalize
from criminals to class they frequent, while Coulter is generalizing
from criminals to the snobs (i.e., liberals) who "embrace" them. And
once you criminalize someone, you can never punish them too much.
When Democrats finally get over the impulse to deny and prevaricate
and blame others, and instead ask where they themselves went wrong,
one place they might begin is their beloved issue of free trade.
Take NAFTA, the granddaddy of all trade agreements, whose twentieth
anniversary we celebrated this year: There has never been a more
obviously class-based piece of legislation. It was supported with
uncanny unanimity by members of the commentariat and the professional
class, and, indeed, it has worked well for such people. For members
of the working class, however, it has been precisely the disaster
their organizations predicted.
The deal crushed enthusiasm for the Democratic Party among the
working-class voters who were then considered part of the Democratic
base and contributed to the Democrats' loss of the House of
Representatives in 1994, a disaster from which, the economist Jeff
Faux wrote in 2006, "the Democratic Party still has not recovered."
And, indeed, from which the party seemingly has no desire to recover.
Just the other day, President Obama announced that he is fired up
and ready to go . . . with the Republicans in Congress on the Trans
Pacific Partnership, even though much of his own party is opposed
Democrats who sign up for our master class on classism might also
look back over their response to the financial crisis, during which
they bailed out their BFFs on Wall Street and let everyone else go
to hell. Or the many favors they failed to do for their former BFFs
in organized labor. Or their lack of interest in getting a public
option included in health-care reform.
Simon Maloy: "A fan of blowing things up": Why new DefSec nominee Ashton
Carter was ready to restart Korean War: Not a huge surprise that
Obama's pick to replace Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is a hawk
more committed to the military than to democracy, but it's hard to
imagine a more vivid example of his myopia than his cavalier attitude
toward bombing North Korea. If there's anything one should have learned
from studying wars throughout history it's that you never can predict
all the consequences. Still, Carter thinks the US can blow up a working
nuclear reactor without causing it to malfunction, melt down, explode,
and spread toxic radiation. He also thinks that North Korea wouldn't
retaliate for such an attack, even though their main defense against
US attack for more than 60 years has been the deterrence of their
artillery pointed at Seoul. And in any case he thinks that the many
thousands of Koreans who would die from that test of will are a small
price compared to the risk that North Korea might eventually possess
nuclear weapons and long-range missiles (which, by the way, they now
do, and like most nations with such arms do nothing with). In other
words, Carter is not just the wrong person to become Secretary of
Defense; he probably ought to be packed away to a mental ward
somewhere. (It goes without saying that he's already been endorsed
by Lindsay Graham and Donald Rumsfeld.) Another example of how
Obama's "changing the way we think about war"?
Ron Paul: Reckless Congress 'Declares War' on Russia: On H. Res.
758: "16 pages of war propaganda that should have made even neocons
blush." Only 10 representatives voted against it (5 Democrats and 5
These are the kinds of resolutions I have always watched closely in
Congress, as what are billed as "harmless" statements of opinion often
lead to sanctions and war. I remember in 1998 arguing strongly against
the Iraq Liberation Act because, as I said at the time, I knew it would
lead to war. I did not oppose the Act because I was an admirer of Saddam
Hussein -- just as now I am not an admirer of Putin or any foreign
political leader -- but rather because I knew then that another war
against Iraq would not solve the problems and would probably make
things worse. We all know what happened next.
Nathan Thrall: Rage in Jerusalem: Useful background about Jerusalem,
the center of the ad hoc violence that threatens a "third intifada," how
the expanded-and-annexed city's 30% Palestinian minority has been isolated
and estranged by the political system.
Palestinians in general feel disconnected from their political leaders,
but the sense of abandonment is particularly acute in Jerusalem, where
the PA is strictly forbidden from acting and to which Ramallah, like
most of the Arab world, devotes many lofty words but very few deeds.
When he assented to the five-year interim arrangements for Palestinian
self-governance in the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat agreed to exclude
Jerusalem from the areas that would be governed pro tempore by the PA.
Local leaders, notably the late Faisal Husseini, refused to agree to
this, which is one reason Yitzhak Rabin, who resolutely opposed dividing
Jerusalem when he was prime minister and said he would rather abandon
peace than give up a united capital, chose to bypass Husseini and
instead pursued secret negotiations in Oslo with Arafat's emissaries.
Palestinians in Jerusalem have been bereft of political leaders since
Husseini's death in 2001. All four of Jerusalem's representatives in the
Palestinian parliament -- all of them members of Hamas, elected in 2006 --
have been deported. Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, monitors
'political subversion,' which includes lawful opposition to the Israeli
occupation. Since all Palestinian political parties oppose the occupation,
they and their activities have, in effect, been criminalised. Even innocuous
Palestinian institutions such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce have been
shut down. Years of Israeli suppression of Palestinian political activity
have ensured that when violence erupts in Jerusalem, there is no legitimate
leadership to quell it; and spontaneous, unorganised protests and attacks
are far more difficult for the security forces to thwart and contain.
More Israel links:
Philip Weiss: Lieberman unveils racist peace plan: Pay Palestinians to
leave Israel: First point here is that he's talking about Israel's
so-called "Arab citizens": a 15-20% minority within the Green Line and
not a peace problem despite their de facto second class status. The much
larger problem is Israel's occupation of territories beyond the Green
Line where Palestinians are a huge (and in many cases severely oppressed)
majority. Their disposition either pushes the price tag up enormously
or turns Lieberman's "economic incentives" into something more ominous.
Still, the focus on Israel's "Arab citizens" is plenty ominous already:
this and the new "Nationality Law" (supported by Lieberman) suggest that
many right-wing Jews in Israel are unable to tolerate the presence of
any ethnic or religious minority.
Allison Deger: Israel sent Palestinian Authority letter to 'stop incitement'
over bus driver's death: There is plenty of reason to suspect that
Israel's decree that the death of Yousef Hassan al-Ramouni was suicide
("no suspicion of criminal activity") was in error. Now Israeli officials
are warning Palestinians that questioning their judgment in this case is
"encitement" -- something illegal under Israeli law. Anyone who thinks
Israel's "democracy" is anything like ours should take note. (On the
other hand, free speech evidently extends to
50 rabbis call for storming the Aqsa platform: "Some of these religious
figures have issued religious rulings ordering the killing of Arabs.")
Allison Deger: Palestinian flag is an 'enemy'flag' -- Netanyahu's latest
crackdown: His proposed law will allow Israel to strip citizenship rights
and exile to Gaza any "Arab citzens of Israel" who engage in "terrorism or
encitement" -- the latter includes flying a Palestinian flag. As Netanyahu
explains, in Israel "only the Jewish People have national rights: A flag,
anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to the country, and other
Kate: Int'l volunteer and Palestinian youth both shot in chest with live
.22 rounds inside occupation: one of many horror stories from this
week's press, including floods in Gaza, and "US to provide 3,000 'smart
bombs' for Israel."
Kate: Israeli bus driver runs over two Palestinians at Jenin checkpoint,
killing one: More press clips. Also see:
Kate: Palestinian youth hospitalized after being attacked by Israeli
settlers in Jerusalem.
Kate: 14 Palestinians injured by Israeli army fire in Ramallah clashes.
Kate: Israeli forces killed nine Palestinians, arrested 650, during month
Kate: 'There's no coexisting with cancer': Bilingual Arabic/Hebrew school
damaged in Jerusalem arson attack.
Roland Nikles: David Remnick undermines Israel's one-state president:
Detailed critique of David Remnick's article,
The One-State Reality, where Remnick reflexively defends the "two-state
solution" idea even as it becomes ever more impossible.
Jen Marlowe: One Family, Two Doors, Nowhere to Run: Focuses on one
family in Gaza.
Israel accused of launching air strikes near Damascus in act of 'aggression
against Syria': This would normally be a very important story, but
with Assad tied up with his civil war, and the US and Iran already bombing
elsewhere in Syria, it just seems like capricious piling on.
Only US and Israel Oppose UN Ban on Weapons in Outer Space: OK,
the US I can understand: that's the only country in the world that
fully expects to be able to bomb anywhere in the world any time it
takes a hankering to. Moreover, the only country with the resources
to waste on that nonsense. (Although China is known to have technology
to shoot down satellites, just in case it needs to level the playing
field.) But Israel? You'd think they'd think the only reason anyone
would position weapons in space would be to kill Jews, wouldn't
Also, a few links for further study:
Sunday, November 23. 2014
This week's notable links follow, especially on Israel, where this
summer's Gaza war and the coming elections, on top of nearly twenty
years of Likud rule (minus two years for Ehud Barak, 1998-2000) and
far-right demagoguery have left a great many Israelis more racist
and bloodthirsty than ever. When I talk to people about Israel, they
usually throw their hands up in the air, but this is important --
not least because the US is becoming increasingly Israelized, as
you can see from Obama's latest escalations in Afghanistan, Iraq,
and Syria, and as is portended by the Confederate/Tea Party revolt --
the lynchings the latter dream about are now real in Israel.
Michael Konczal: Frenzied Financialization:
The financialization revolution over the past thirty-five years has moved
us toward greater inequality in three distinct ways. The first involves
moving a larger share of the total national wealth into the hands of the
financial sector. The second involves concentrating on activities that
are of questionable value, or even detrimental to the economy as a whole.
And finally, finance has increased inequality by convincing corporate
executives and asset managers that corporations must be judged not by
the quality of their products and workforce but by one thing only:
immediate income paid to shareholders. [ . . . ]
But the most important change will be intellectual: we must come
to understand our economy not as simply a vehicle for capital owners,
but rather as the creation of all of us, a common endeavor that creates
space for innovation, risk taking, and a stronger workforce. This change
will be difficult, as we will have to alter how we approach the economy
as a whole. Our wealth and companies can't just be strip-mined for a
small sliver of capital holders; we'll need to bring the corporation
back to the public realm. But without it, we will remain trapped inside
an economy that only works for a select few.
Bill McKibben: Congress is about to sabotage Obama's historic climate
deal: Slams Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) for voting in favor of the
Keystone/XL pipeline, despite praising Obama for his "climate deal
with China." But that's just an example.
By now it should be clear that giving in to the Republicans does not
"pave the way" for future compromises -- that's the Lucy-with-the-football
lesson that President Obama has spent his entire term in office learning.
Much more fundamentally, though, the problem is this: you can't cut
carbon without, you know, cutting carbon.
The president's accord with China doesn't actually do anything except
set a target. To meet that target you have to do things. If you don't do
things -- if you keep approving pipelines and coal mines and fracking
wells -- then you won't meet the target.
For the moment, Keystone is the best example of this principle. So
far we've stopped it for three years, and in the process pushed companies
to pull $17 billion in investment out of the tar sands. That money would
have built projects that would have dumped the carbon equivalent of 700
new coal-fired power plants into the atmosphere. We've done something
real -- something that will actually help, say, Delaware which has a,
you know, coastline.
Israel links: There's been a steady stream of reports of
communal violence between Israelis (especially West Bank and Jerusalem
settlers) and Palestinians, which might seem to be symmetrical except
for the Israeli state, which holds a practical monopoly on violence
and directs it at Palestinians. The number of incidents of attacks by
Palestinians against Israelis (an errant car here, a stabbing there,
five killed in a Jewish synagogue) has triggered speculation that a third
Intifada is in the works. Like the first two, all a third will prove
is how intransigent and unengaging Israeli politics has become -- an
old story where pent-up frustration gets the best of caution, even
knowing that Israel will take every provocation as an excuse for ever
greater violence. However, what is different this time is the degree
that Israeli civilians have taken the lead in attacking Palestinians,
both violently and economically through their campaign to rid Jewish
businesses of Palestinian workers. This is happening partly due to
the unchecked racism in Israeli political discourse, and to the loss
of restraint in Israel's legal system. So the question this time isn't
whether there will be an intifada but why there is already a pogrom --
a state-backed civilian riot against a hated ethnic minority.
Kate: Israeli government plans 185 miles of new Jewish settler roads in
the West Bank: That's just one of dozens of press reports: Israel
to approve 200 units in Jerusalem settlement; Palestinian shot dead by
Israeli forces in al-Arrub; Palestinian worker shot dead in Israel;
Body of Palestinian man found with signs of torture; Soldier stabbed
in Tel Aviv dies; Palestinian suspect shot; Israeli forces open live
fire at Palestinians during clashes [in Bethlehem]; 58 Palestinians
kidnapped in various Arab towns; Israeli settlers torch mosque in
Ramallah-area village; Israeli settlers accost Palestinian officers
near Nablus; Gun-toting settlers attack female students near Bethlehem;
Jews threaten to kill head teacher for having Arab workers at school.
link about the Rasmea Odeh case which shows that Israeli injustice
is practiced even in Chicago.
Kate: Hate attacks in Jerusalem and Israel include one by settler girls:
Also: Palestinian woman run over by Israeli near Shu'fat; 2 Israelis
stabbed in fight with Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Child seriously
injured during interrogation in Jerusalem; Vandals deface car of Acre
imam who called for tolerance after J'lem attack. It was also the 20th
anniversary of Baruch Goldstein's massacre of 56 worshippers at the
Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron -- often cited as the pivotal event that
wrecked the Oslo Peace Process. Goldstein died during the attack, and
has been treated as a martyr: "At his funeral, Goldstein was eulogized
as a hero, with one speaker, Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, declaring that even
1 million Arabs 'are not worth a Jewish fingernail,' while attendees
shouted, 'We are all Goldsteins!' and 'Arabs out of Israel!' Following
the slaughter, Goldstein was also lauded by Rabbi Dov Lior, who was
and continues to be the chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba and one of the most
influential figures in the religious Zionism movement, who called
Goldstein, 'holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.'" And many
more reports along these lines.
Annie Robbins: Kahanists attack school after synagogue killings:
In Hebron, where the martyred murderer Goldstein is buried, so I
figure the "provocation" was merely convenient. Nor was that the
only case of settler violence reported here: "And speaking of
stories that the mainstream is not covering, Yusuf Hasan al-Ramouni,
32, a Palestinian husband, father, son, and brother was lynched
Sunday in a bus in Mount Scopus, which adjoins Jewish settlements
in East Jerusalem." Robbins also has
videos of Israeli forces spraying "skunk spray" in Palestinian
Gideon Levy: In Israel, only Jewish blood shocks anyone: In Israel,
five Israelis killed in a Jerusalem synagogue is a world-class outrage,
but 2200 Palestinians killed in Gaza is a statistic. "But this is a
society that sanctifies its dead to the point of death-worship, that
wears thin the stories of the victims' lives and deaths, whether it be
in a synagogue attack or a Nepal avalanche. It's a society preoccupied
with endless commemorations in the land of monuments, services and
anniversary ceremonies; a society that demands shock and condemnation
after every attack, when it blames the entire world."
Philip Weiss: Netanyahu's 'battle for Jerusalem' can't end well for
any of us: When some horrible act of violence occurs, the instinct
of most political leaders is to call for calm, but Netanyahu's speech
following the killing of five Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue was,
as Weiss puts it, "blood curdling."
Jeff Halper: Israel sows despair and senseless violence: "And the
'Zionist answer' to the downward cycle of senseless violence in which
Jerusalem finds itself: house demolitions, mass arrests, revoking the
'residency' of native-born Jerusalemites, closing Palestinian neighborhoods
with concrete blocks, arming Israeli Jewish vigilantes and cheap shots
at the last person who believes in a two-state solution, Abu Mazen.
Everything, that is, except an end to occupation and a just political
solution. This is what happens when a powerful country forgoes any
effort to address the grievances of a people under its control and
descends into raw oppression."
Isabel Kershner: Israeli Cabinet Approves Nationality Bill: Could
use more detail here, but the legislation appears to be aimed at stripping
rights away from "Arab citizens of Israel," including citizenship in some
cases. Intriguing sentence: "In what appeared to be a political deal, Mr.
Netanyahu promised government support for the hard-line versions of the
bill in a first reading in Parliament this week on the condition that the
law would be moderated before any final approval."
William Saletan: Hate Thy Neighbor: Subtitle: "How Israel teaches its
citizens all the wrong lessons." For instance, there's the policy of
demolishing the homes of the families of already-killed "terrorists":
"In other words, the logic of the policy is that it punishes people who
don't commit acts of terror. Terrorists want to die, so they aren't
deterred. Israel targets their loved ones, who would suffer more acutely,
in the hope that this "price" will intimidate the would-be perpetrator.
That is the logic of hostage taking, and of terrorism."
Michael Wilner: Cornered but unbound by nuclear pact, Israel reconsiders
military action against Iran: So the sabre-rattling resumes, just
as the US and Iran are putting the finishing touches on a deal promising
to return Iran to the good graces of the NPT, certified as a state that
is not developing nuclear weapons. Of course, Netanyahu wants to torpedo
that deal (and is probably expecting the Republican congress to do his
dirty work for him -- after all, they were elected precisely for their
inability to think independently). He also no doubt wants to bring up
the spectre of Iran any time the US suggests he negotiate peace with
the Palestinians. But wasn't it just a few months ago when he admitted
that his last round of sabre-rattling was nothing more than a scam to
hustle the dumb Americans, and that Israel never had any intention of
attacking Iran in the first place?
I also want to single out
Richard Silverstein: Terror Rules Jerusalem: He points out that the
"heinous synagogue terror attack by Palestinians in the West Jerusalem
neighborhood of Har Hof" took place on grounds of the former Palestinian
village of Deir Yassin, "where the Irgun murdered 100 Palestinians as
part of the pre-war (1948) violence that eventually led to the Nakba,"
adding "It's horrible to think that this single place could be the site
of two such tragedies." He doesn't mention that the ratio of dead is
close to the historical norm for matched sets of Israeli and Palestinian
massacres. He then quotes
In the next few days, after the IDF and the settlers will have taken
their vengeance, under the Orwellian cover of "deterrence," life will
go on. The settlers who commit price-tag attacks will be condemned
for a day, then understood, then arrested, maybe, convicted maybe,
and pardoned, probably. The soldiers and police will do whatever they
want with impunity, B'tselem cameras or not. Land will be expropriated,
freedoms eliminated, the matrix of control and, most of all, the routine
will continue until the next time, when Jews die, and the clueless
Israelis hold everybody and everything but themselves responsible.
Silverstein then moves on to the death of Yusuf Al-Ramuni, who was
found hung in an egged bus he drove. The Israelis promptly declared
the death a suicide, although there is evidence that he was lynched.
Further, in the media rush to cover the horrific attack on the Har Nof
synagogue, let's not forget that this incident preceded it. Terror
always has a context. Do not forget that no matter how heinous an
event, something equally heinous preceded and incited it.
While the world justifiably gasps at an attack on a Jewish house of
worship, let's remember that Palestinians see their own mosques and
cemeteries torched and desecrated by settler price taggers. They see
hundreds of heavily armed Israeli Police defiling the sacred precinct
of Haram Al Sharif. Does anyone believe that a Muslim is not as
horrified by this encroachment as a Jew is by an assault on praying
It takes two, and Palestinian rage derives from Israeli provocation.
Certainly, the settlers who murder Palestinians believe the converse.
So why not credit Palestinian rage as much as Israeli?
[ . . . ]
Examine once again Bibi's response to the Kafr Kana police murder.
He dispensed with rote regret altogether. He launched into barely
controlled rage at Palestinian protests against this cold-blooded
murder and warned they would be "dealt with" severely if they didn't
learn to behave themselves.
Bibi doesn't mind the current level of civil unrest. It plays into
his hand for upcoming elections, and this is literally all he cares
about. Israelis flock to the strong man, even if he's utterly unable
to stifle Palestinian terror. The problem will be that Bibi will win
an election, but have no more idea how to quell the rebellion after
the election than he does now.
Silverstein thinks a Third Intifada is already here, "but unlike
the earlier Intifades, this one is a mutual affair in which Jewish
terror (whether official and State-sponsored or vigilante-based)
responds to Palestinian terror (or vice versa)." Actually, he
forgets the overwhelming preponderance of Israeli violence in
both previous Intifadas -- a term which gives Palestinians more
strategic credit than they deserve. (In fact, I've long argued
that the second Intifada should have been named for Shaul Moffaz,
the man who started it, and looking back Pogrom might have been
more accurate; looking forward it certainly will be.)
You might also read Silverstein's later post,
In Race for Next Shin Bet Chief, May Worst Man Win. In the US we're
so used to voting for "lesser evils" that the "may worst man win" notion
is not just alien, it's downright terrifying. Ever since the German CP
really did let the worst man win, we've been popular frontists -- partly
because the world has never been so vile, nor the hope for revolution so
sweet, to let the world crash so dismally. (The right, on the other hand,
with its distorted vision and messianic fervor, has often done just that.)
On the other hand, Silverstein has become so pessimistic about Israel that
the only chance he sees is complete breakdown. It's a scary argument.
Also, the US war machine is heating up: If Republicans
want to pick a fight over the arbitrary, unilateral abuse of presidential
power, they're welcome to start here:
Also, a few links for further study:
Paul Krugman: The Structure of Obamacare: This is fairly basic, but
still above most heads, so worth explaining:
It's important to be clear what this does NOT mean -- it doesn't mean
that there is a huge hidden burden on the public. For the most part,
people buying health insurance would have bought it anyway. Under
single-payer, they would have stopped doing that, and paid taxes
instead; under the ACA, they continue to pay premiums but don't pay
the extra taxes. There's no secret extra cost.
So, why was Obamacare set up this way? It's mainly about politics,
but nothing that should shock you. Partly it was about getting buy-in
from the insurance industry; a switch to single payer would have
destroyed a powerful industry, and realistically that wasn't going
to happen. Partly it was about leaving most people unaffected:
employment-based coverage, which was the great bulk of private
insurance, remained pretty much as it was. This made sense: even
if single-payer would have been better than what people already had,
it would have been very hard to sell them on such a big change. And
yes, avoiding a huge increase in on-budget spending was a consideration,
but not central.
The main point was to make the plan incremental, supplementing the
existing structure rather than creating massive changes. And all of
this was completely upfront; I know I wrote about it many times.
Most single-payer advocates will counter that the health insurance
industry deserved to be destroyed. Of course, I agree, and would like
to go further in nationalizing health care -- the insurance industry
isn't the only sector that rips the public off, even if it is unique
in how little value it adds to the system. However, if the obstacle to
single-payer is the political power of the health insurance industry,
it would be worthwhile looking at reforms to ACA that would knock that
industry down a notch or two. The "public option," which was a key
part of the original act, was one: this would weaken the industry in
two ways: by drawing customers away, and by reducing profit margins
through tougher competition.
I suspect the main source of opposition to the ACA is the kneejerk
belief common on the right that prefers policy made by profit-seeking
private companies over the public-servants of government bureaucracies.
It's hard to see why anyone should believe that, but sometimes business
doesn't cut its own throat, and sometimes government does.
Krugman writes more about ACA and partisan blinders
The mind reels. How is it possible for anyone who has been following
politics and, presumably, policy for the past six years not to know
that Obamacare is, in all important respects, identical to Romneycare?
It has the same three key provisions -- nondiscrimination by insurers,
a mandate for individuals, and subsidies to make the mandate workable.
It was developed by the same people. I and many others have frequently
referred to ObamaRomneycare.
Well, I've know for years that many political pundits don't think
that understanding policy is part of their job. But this is still extreme.
And I'm sorry to go after an individual here -- but for God's sake, don't
you have to know something about the actual content of a policy you
And what's actually going on here is worse than ignorance. It's pretty
clear that we're watching a rule of thumb according to which if Republicans
are against a proposal, that means it must be leftist and extreme, and the
burden on the White House is to find a way to make the GOP happy. Needless
to say, this rewards obstructionism -- there is literally nothing Obama can
do to convince some (many) pundits that he's making a good faith effort,
because they don't pay any attention to what he does, only to the Republican
Nancy Le Tourneau: Understanding the Threat of a Confederate Insurgency:
Starts with a long quote from Doug Muder's
Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party, which makes the point that the
first war the US lost was the Civil War -- not in 1865, when the Confederate
Army was disbanded, but by 1877, when Reconstruction ended with the restoration
of the Confederate aristocracy, setting the stage for Jim Crow and all that.
If I understand LeTourneau correctly, she's arguing that the explosion of
neo-Confederates is a last-ditch reaction against change -- something more
likely to be a sporadic nuisance than a gathering wave. Nonetheless, the
ability of the right to resist and even roll back reform is a repeated
theme in American history, and we're seeing way too much of it now.
Sunday, November 9. 2014
Thought I'd do a quickie on post-election links but I've been so
bummed and lethargic this week it's taken until Sunday anyway. Not
just the elections, either, nor the news that the Supreme Court will
practice its ideological activism on insurance subsidies for people
unfortunate enough to live in states that couldn't (actually, wouldn't)
get their act together under the ACA.
The takeaway from the election seems to be that voter suppression
and nearly infinite money works for Republicans. The 4% "skew" toward
the Democrats that Nate Silver found in the polls seems to be people
who intended to vote but at the last minute either didn't or couldn't.
That was enough to tilt about 5-6 senate races. But also Democrats
didn't do a good job of articulating issues -- it's noteworthy that
progressive issues won pretty much across the board when they weren't
attached to candidates who could be linked to Obama. To pick on one
example: Mark Pryor's campaign consisted of a vacuous slogan ("Put
Arkansas First") and ads warning that Tom Cotton wanted to kill off
Medicare and Social Security. That's not inaccurate, and would have
won if voters really took Cotton to be that much of a threat, but
many voters concluded that the risk wasn't that great. On the other
hand, Cotton's ads did nothing more than equate Pryor with Obama.
I can't tell you why that mattered, or why that worked, but it did.
Ryan Cooper: What Democrats get wrong about inequality: Lots of
There are various complex models for this, but the general explanation
is fairly intuitive: Modern economies are built on a mass market. But
if the great majority of people don't have much (or any) disposable
income, then there is no mass market, and it's harder to start a
business relying on any kind of mass sales. And with weak consumer
spending, existing businesses have little reason to invest in growth,
and instead disgorge their profits to shareholders, exacerbating the
trend. In the end, you get a hollowed-out, bifurcated economy, where
low-grade goods are sold to the broke masses on razor-thin margins,
while incomprehensible sums slosh around weird luxury markets.
There's more to it than this. The breakdown of capital controls
makes it easy to reinvest profits abroad, where there is more potential
for middle-class growth. (I first noticed this in the early 1990s,
when Greenspan lowered interest rates to stimulate the economy, and
virtually all of that cheap money went abroad -- mostly, it seemed,
into currency speculation, resulting in busts in East Asia, Mexico,
and elsewhere. Conversely, foreign investors buy up assets in the US --
there was a tremendous boom in this during the 1980s, and while less
commented on the trend continues.)
By the way, I accidentally clicked on a link in Cooper's article
and it led to a fascinating article by J.W. Mason,
Disgorge the Cash:
If you read the business press, you're used to these kinds of stories.
A company whose mission is making something gets bought out or bullied
into becoming a company whose mission is making payments to shareholders.
Apple is only an especially dramatic example. But the familiarity of this
kind of story is a sign of a different relationship between corporations
and the financial system from what prevailed a generation ago.
Prior to the 1980s, share repurchases were tightly limited by law, and
a firm that borrowed in order to pay higher dividends would have been
regarded as engaging in a kind of fraud. Shareholders were entitled to
their dividends and nothing more -- neither a share in any exceptional
profits, nor a say in the management of the firm. In the view of Owen
Young, the long-serving chairman of General Electric in the early 20th
century, "the stockholders are confined to a maximum return equivalent
to a risk premium. The remaining profit stays in the enterprise, is paid
out in higher wages, or is passed on to the customer."
This, of course, has all changed since the 1980s, and it's worth
underscoring that changes in law, and therefore political policy,
were necessary to enable it. Much more of interest here -- I like
the line on the post-WWII corporation: "Whether the managerial firm
was the 'soulful corporation' of Galbraith or the soul-crushing
monopoly capital of Baran and Sweezy, it was run according to its
own growth imperatives, not to maximize returns to shareholders."
Then there's this:
Keynes's call for the "euthanasia of the rentier" toward the end of
The General Theory is typically taken as a playful provocation.
But as Jim Crotty has argued, this idea was one of Keynes's main
preoccupations in his political writings in the 1920s. In his 1926
essay "The End of Laissez Faire," he observed that "one of the most
interesting and unnoticed developments of recent decades has been the
tendency of big enterprise to socialize itself." As shareholders' role
in the enterprise diminishes, "the general stability and reputation of
the institution are more considered by the management than the maximum
of profit for the shareholders." With enough time, the corporations
may evolve into quasi-public institutions like universities, "bodies
whose criterion of action within their own field is solely the public
good as they understand it." Veblen, observing the same developments
but with a less sunny disposition, imagined that the managers of
productive enterprises would eventually tire of "sabotage" by the
notional owners and organize to overthrow them, seizing control of
production as a "Soviet of engineers."
Of course, that never happened, but maybe it should have -- the
"euthanasia of the rentier" if not necessarily the "Soviet of
Kathleen Geier: Inequality, the Flavor of the Month: From June, but
linked to post-election to remind us how little mileage the Democrats
gained from the great issue of our time.
Truth be told, it was never clear how serious Obama ever was about
fighting inequality. Though his big inequality speech marked a step
forward, as many of us noted at the time, it also contained serious
omissions. The economist Max Sawicky observed that much of that
speech didn't actually concern inequality. Rather, it was about
social mobility, which is something entirely different.
Writer Anat Shenker-Osorio pointed out that perhaps the most
glaring omission of all in Obama's inequality speech was a simple one:
a villain. To hear Obama and the Democrats tell it, inequality is
something that just happened. An awful lot of sentences in Obama's
speech used passive voice constructions -- phrases like "the deck
is stacked," "taxes were slashed," and so on. His speech failed to
craft any compelling narrative about exactly who did what to whom.
Inequality remained an abstract concept.
The timidity of Obama's rhetoric -- a faintness of heart that
extends to many other Dems -- stands in sharp contrast to the
talking points of many Republicans. Right-wing populists consistently
point the finger at a rogues' gallery of liberal elitists, government
bureaucrats, and the like. In the past, not only did economically
progressive presidents vilify the plutocratic enemies of the American
people, but they went about it with a certain gusto. Theodore Roosevelt
issued thundering denunciations against "malefactors of great wealth."
In his "I welcome their hatred" speech, FDR attacked as "tyrants" the
"employers and politicians and publishers" who opposed the pro-labor
policies of the New Deal.
But today's Democratic Party is a different animal. By default,
Democrats are the party of working Americans, and sometimes they do
pass legislation that helps the majority. But they are also deeply
corrupted by their own corporate ties. The Democrats' anti-equality
agenda is a case in point. The party supports some admirable policies
targeted at helping low-income Americans -- like raising the minimum
wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, and universal pre-K.
But party leaders are far more ambivalent about policies that challenge
the one percent and the power of capital -- stricter financial regulations,
cracking down on CEO pay, a return to confiscatory income tax rates, fair
trade, and intellectual property reform. Unless we rein in the wealth and
power of the one percent, inequality will continue to spiral out of control.
Paul Krugman: The Uses of Ridicule: Case example is billionaire hedge
fund operator Paul Singer, who has discovered proof that hyperinflation
is actually happening:
Meanwhile, a quick hit.
Matt O'Brien has a lot of fun with Paul Singer, a billionaire inflation
truther who is sure that the books are cooked because of what he can see
with his own eyes:
. . . check out London, Manhattan, Aspen and East Hampton real
estate prices, as well as high-end art prices, to see what the leading
edge of hyperinflation could look like
Hyperinflation in the Hamptons; hard to beat that for comedy, although
Matt adds value with the Billionaires Price Index.
Actually, I noticed this long ago (so long it certainly doesn't suggest
Weimar- or Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation). When workers' wages rise, we
worry about inflation, assuming those rises will be factored into future
prices (because, heaven forbid, they can't possibly come out of profits).
On the other hand, when asset prices rise, we assume they're finding their
true value, even though the 2008 collapse of the housing bubble shows us
that there is no such thing. That all seems awfully convenient for asset
holders (and damn unfortunate for wage earners). But doesn't basic economic
theory tell us that prices reflect the balance of supply and demand? When
demand goes up relative to supply, prices rise -- and how is that different
from inflation? We happen to live in a world where the rich is getting so
much richer so fast that there simply isn't enough rich-folk-goods (Hamptons
real estate, high-end art) to go around, so of course they bid up, and
therefore inflate, the prices. That's really all there is to the bubble
in Hamptons real estate. And the corrollary to that is that a lot of very
rich people currently own assets that aren't really worth anything like
they think: there is a substantial real transfer of wealth going on from
the 99% to the 1%, but also this asset inflation bubble. If, say, there
was a serious effort to rein in the super rich -- increasing income (and
capital gains) taxes up toward 70%, regulating hedge funds and other
rentiers out of business -- that asset bubble would collapse.
Krugman makes other good points, but the best come from this
golden oldie by Molly Ivins (from 1995, on Rush Limbaugh, but
how little has changed?).
Psychologists often tell us there is a great deal of displaced anger
in our emotional lives -- your dad wallops you, but he's too big to
hit back, so you go clobber your little brother. Displaced anger is
also common in our political life. We see it in this generation of
young white men without much education and very little future. This
economy no longer has a place for them. The corporations have moved
their jobs to Singapore. Unfortunately, it is Limbaugh and the
Republicans who are addressing the resentments of these folks, and
aiming their anger in the wrong direction.
In my state, I have not seen so much hatred in politics since the
heyday of the John Birch Society in the early 1960s. Used to be you
couldn't talk politics with a conservative without his getting all
red in the face, arteries standing out in his neck, wattles aquiver
with indignation -- just like a pissed-off turkey gobbler. And now
we're seeing the same kind of anger again.
Martin Longman: Waning Power for Blacks and Democrats: No coincidence
that 2014 was the first election without the Voting Rights Act to protect
black voters in the Old South. The Republicans have put a lot of effort
into eradicating white Democratic office holders in the South, no matter
how little ideological difference they present. The effect is reduce
visible Democratic office holders to the black minority, reinforcing
the Republican brand as the White People's Party. Whether they've done
this because they are racists or just because it's a winning strategy,
the effect is to prolong racism in the South and elsewhere. Assuming
Landrieu is toast, the only Democratic senator in the old confederate
states are in outliers Virginia and Florida, and neither is easy.
There's no point in sugar-coating this. In the Deep South, the Democratic
Party is now the non-white party, and minority politicians don't have the
white partners they need to exercise any but the most local political
power. While the problem is less severe in the border states, it has
clearly made advances there. You can look at pretty much the whole
Scots-Irish migration from the Virginias to Oklahoma and see that the
Democrats were trounced last Tuesday. They badly lost Senate elections
in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas,
and they actually lost two Senate elections each in South Carolina and
Oklahoma. Their seat in Virginia was only (just barely) saved by the
DC suburbs in the northeastern part of the state.
Longman also has a detailed piece on the House elections,
The Midterm Results Were Not Completely Preordained, if you're
still interested. If not, you might consider this paragraph -- one
recipe for an exceptionally low turnout is the media message that
these elections didn't matter:
Regardless, you can say that your models predicted a big night for the
Republicans all you want, but I still blame the media. I blame the media
for creating the first federal election season in my lifetime in which
the elections weren't the top story for the last two months of the
campaign. By focusing so heavily on other stories, like ISIS and the
Ebola virus, the media smothered the Democratic message.
Wendy R Weiser: How Much of a Difference Did New Voting Restrictions Make
in Yesterday's Close Races?: The 2014 election was the first one run
without the protections of the Voting Rights Act. It was also the first
midterm election run under a spate of new voter suppression laws ushered
in by Republicans after 2010 to keep turnout low. Weiser cites close
election cases in North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Florida, with
various studies showing 2-3% drops due to new laws. "Under Florida's
law, the harshest in the country, one in three African-American men is
essentially permanently disenfranchised." Weiser also points out that
while the Texas governorship was decided by more than "the 600,000
registered voters in Texas who could not vote this year because they
lack IDs the state will accept" those citizens' inability to vote has
an effect up and down the ticket, and indeed makes it that much harder
for Democrats to run candidates. One thing that's rarely commented
upon is that voter restriction laws not only prevent some people from
exercising their voting rights, they intimidate many more from even
For more, see
Brad Friedman: The Results Were Skewed Toward Republicans, which
cites Wieser but goes much further, as well as casting a jaundiced
eye at Nate Silver's conclusion that the polls were skewed.
Also, a few links for further study:
Q&A: James K Galbraith on the Myth of Petpetual Growth, How Language
Shapes Economic Thought, and More: An interview with Galbraith,
whose new book, The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future
of Growth is next on my reading list. Galbraith seems to doubt
Ryan Cooper's argument that we need to counter inequality to increase
growth. I've long agreed with Cooper (and Stiglitz, but not Krugman)
that inequality is depressing demand at least in the US, but Galbraith
seems to be arguing that growth is being hampered by more than just
inequality -- e.g., that technology has something to do with it. One
thing I'm pretty sure of is that technological advances have done
much to blunt the political impact of inequality -- in effect, big
TVs and smart cell phones make us less bitter about the rich getting
richer. The new book is certain to be interesting. I've said many
times that Galbraith's The Predator State: How Conservatives
Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too is the
best political book of the last decade.
Mike Konczal/Bryce Covert: The Real Solution to Wealth Equality:
"Instead of just giving people more purchasing power, we should be
taking basic needs off the market altogether." Social Security does
this. So would universal healthcare and free education. Konczal and
Covert have expanded this into a regular column in The Nation.
All of these are worth reading:
Peter Van Buren: What Could Possibly Go Right? Iraq War 3.0, he calls
it. Ignoring 1.0, I'm reminded more of Marx's quip about the Bonapartes:
history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce -- although for
all concerned it'll look more like tragedy all over again: it's only from
an insensitive distance that one can sit back and revel in how ridiculous
everyone involved is.
Sunday, November 2. 2014
Tuesday is election day. Six years ago Barack Obama was elected
president with 69 million votes -- 52.9% of the 132 million voters
(56.8 of the voting-age population, the highest share since 1968) --
and the Democrats swept both houses of Congress, even achieving what
was widely touted as a "fillibuster-proof Senate" (not that I can
recall them breaking any fillibusters with narrow partisan votes,
aside from the ACA health care reform). Almost immediately, right
wing talk radio exploded with hatred for Obama and the Democrats,
and the Republican members of Congress turned into intransigent and
remarkably effective obstructionists.
Meanwhile, Obama quickly pivoted from promising to change Washington
to doing whatever he could to salvage the status quo, starting with the
banks that had crashed the economy and Bush's military misadventures in
the Middle East. Instead of using his congressional majorities, he plead
for bipartisan support, often compromising before he even introduced a
plan -- as when he sandbagged his own stimulus program by saddling it
with ineffective tax cuts, or introduced health care reform and global
warming proposals that were originally hatched in right-wing think
tanks. He gave the incumbent Republican Federal Reserve chair an extra
term, and he kept on the incumbent Republican Secretary of Defense --
and both screwed him in short form. Moreover, like Bill Clinton when
he won in 1992, Obama dismantled a successful national Democratic Party
leadership and replaced them with cronies who promptly threw the 2010
The 2010 elections rival 1946 as one of the dumbest things the
American people ever did. The Republicans took over the House, not
only ending any prospect of progressive legislation but constantly
threatening to shut down the federal government. Republicans also
took over many governorships and state houses, and used those power
bases to consolidate their power: by gerrymandering districts, and
by passing laws to make it harder to vote. It turns out that the
difference between 2008 and 2010 was not just a matter of Republican
enthusiasm and Democratic lethargy: it registered as a massive drop
in the number of voters, from 132 million to 90 million, from 56.8%
of voting-age population to 37.8%
note also that the 2006 turnout was only 37.1% and that produced
a Democratic landslide, so it's somewhat variable who stays home).
In 2012, when Obama finally took a personal interest in an election,
he was again able to get out the vote (albeit still a bit off from 2008
with 130 million, 53.6%). Obama won again, the Democrats increased their
share of the Senate, and won a majority of the vote for the House (but
not a majority of seats, thanks to all that gerrymandering, so the last
two years have seen the same level of obstruction as the previous two).
If those trends hold, turnout will be down again this year, and that
will give the elite-favoring Republicans an edge: at this point, nobody
expects them to lose the House, and most "experts" expect the Republicans
to gain control of the Senate. That would be a horrific outcome, which
makes you wonder why the Democrats don't seem to be taking it seriously,
and more generally why the press doesn't talk about it as anything but
a horserace. That trope suggests a race between two more-or-less equals,
horses, whereas the actual race is between predator and prey: if the
Democrat is a horse, the Republican is more like a lion, or a pack of
wolves (or an army of flesh-eating ants). The Republicans don't back off
when a Democrat wins a race. They don't socialize, and don't compromise.
They keep attacking, figuring that no matter how much damage they do,
the public will blame the incumbent.
|An old, but not outdated, Crowson cartoon|
It's a long story how the Republicans have gotten to be the menace
they currently are -- one I can't go into with any hope of posting
today. Suffice it to say they've managed to combine three threads:
- An anti-democratic campaign ethic ranging from Nixon's "dirty tricks"
to voter suppression to flooding the airwaves with bile, baldfaced lies,
and carefully vetted pet phrases -- anything to seize power.
- Their single substantial political position is to help the rich grow
richer, a position that has hardened even as business has become more
predatory -- indeed, their individualist, "greed is good" ideology has
hardened into self-destructive dogma.
- Since anti-populism is an inherently losing strategy in a democracy,
they've built a diverse base by cultivating "single issue voters" --
especially ones who can be focused to hate proxy groups (including those
so-called "cultural elites," but mostly the non-white, the poor, single
women, deviants, peaceniks, policy wonks, anyone who doesn't like guns).
I know that this sounds like a recipe for disaster, and indeed every
time the Republicans have tried to put their ideas into practice they
have backfired. (Reagan got away relatively free although his S&L
deregulation disaster was a harbinger of things to come, and his arming
of the mujahideen in Afghanistan still haunts us. But the Bushes plunged
us into endless, bankrupting war, and the latter's laissez-faire bank
policy wrecked the economy, while Katrina exposed the moral rot caused
by Bush's privatization of government services. And right now Kansas is
reeling from Gov. Brownback's "experiments" -- they say that "absolute
power corrupts absolutely," and the total hammerlock of the RINO-purged
ultra-right party in the Sunflower State offers further proof.) Yet
much of the country, led by the fawning mainstream media, continues to
accord Republicans a measure of respect they've done nothing to earn.
For while the Republicans could care less about destroying the social
fabric of the nation, they are always careful to honor the rich, their
businesses, the military, the nation's self-important legacy, and, of
course, almighty God -- their idea of the natural order of things,
one no Democrat politician dare challenge. (Indeed, the Democrats'
cheerleader-in-chief for those verities has been Barrack Obama --
the very man most Republicans insist is the root of all evil.)
When the dust settles the amount of money spent on this election
will be staggering, not that many people will move on to the next
obvious question: since businessmen always seek profits, what sort
of return do the rich expect from their largesse? Thanks to modern
technology -- caller ID to screen calls and a DVR to skip through
commercials -- we've managed to avoid most of the deluge, but I've
managed to catch enough to get a sense of how bad unlimited campaign
spending has become. Kansas and Arkansas both have competitive races
for Governor and Senator, and in both cases the Republicans, with
their sense of entitlement, have pulled out all the stops. However,
their commercials are one-note attacks on Obama, as if that's the
magic word that boils voters' blood.
That acrimony is hard to fathom: a combination of prejudice and
ignorance and, well, gullibility if not downright stupidity. For
anyone who's paid the least bit of attention over the last six years,
Obama is a very cautious, inherently conservative politician -- one
who goes out of his way not to ruffle feathers, least of all of the
rich and powerful. Indeed, that makes perfect sense: all his life
he's strove to conform to the powers that exist, and he's been so
adept at it that he's been richly rewarded for his service. The idea
that he's surrepititiously out to destroy the country that so flattered
him by making him president is beyond ridiculous, yet judging from
their cynical ads, Republicans don't just believe this -- they take
it as something so obvious they need merely to repeat it. And that's
just one of many cases where the Republicans think they can simply
talk their way out of reality.
Some scattered links this week:
Dean Baker: Economists Who Saw the Housing Bubble Were Not Worried
About a Depression: The article doesn't really explain the title,
but the main point is worth repeating:
It is quite fashionable among Washington elite types to insist that
we would have had another depression if we didn't save the Wall Street
banks, but do any of them have any idea what they mean by this?
The first Great Depression was the result of not having enough
demand in the economy. We got out of it finally in 1941 by spending
lots of money. The motivation for spending lots of money was fighting
World War II, but the key point was spending the money. It might have
been difficult politically to justify the spending necessary to
restore the economy to full employment without the war, but that
is a political problem not an economic problem. We do know how to
In effect, the pundits who say that we would have had a depression
if we did not bail out the banks are saying that our economic policy
is so dominated by flat-earth types that we would have to endure a
decade or more of double-digit unemployment, with the incredible
amount of suffering it would cause, because the flat-earthers would
not allow the spending necessary to restore full employment.
That characterization of our political process could be accurate,
but it is important to be clear what is being said. The claim is not
that anything about the financial crisis itself would have caused a
depression. The claim is rather that Washington economic policy is
totally controlled by people without a clue about economics.
In fact, let's repeat it again. One of the most basic things we
know from macroeconomics is that government can restore a depressed
economy to full employment by sufficiently increasing spending, and
that if the depression is caused by insufficient demand, government
spending is the only way that works. We know that this depression
is due to insufficient demand because businesses are sitting on cash
instead of investing in more capacity, and giving them more money
doesn't change a thing. So the only way to bring employment is for
government to spend more, and there are several obvious benefits to
that. For one thing, investments in infrastructure pay dividends
well into the future, and they are never cheaper than during a
depression. That's also true of investments in "human capital" --
education, science, engineering, the arts. But even plain transfers
are a plus, as they move money from people who have more than they
spend to people who need to spend more. One obvious thing to do
when the housing bubble burst was to make it possible to refinance
mortgages -- it would have helped banks clean up their balance
sheets and it would have help people hang onto their homes -- but
it wasn't done, for purely political reasons.
In fact, virtually none of this was done, again for political
reasons -- and that mostly means because of Republican obstruction
(although in states with Republicans in power, like Kansas, they
did considerably worse). Of course, the Democrats weren't too sharp
here either. Obama's belief in "the confidence fairy" was so strong
that he spent his first two years insisting that the economy was in
better shape than it was, foolishly believing that business would
believe him (and not their own accountants) and stop deleveraging.
By the time he realized that wasn't working: he had missed the
opportunity to blame the whole mess on Bush, he had settled for
a stimulus bill way too small, he missed the opportunity to unwind
the Bush tax cuts for the rich (and therefore found himself in a
gaping deficit hole), and then he stupidly bought into the argument
that deficit reduction was more important than cutting unemployment.
It's easy enough to see why the Republicans didn't mind sandbagging
the economy: it weakened labor markets, scarcely touched monopoly
profits, reduced government (and the possibility that government
might do something for the people), and in the end people would
blame Obama anyway. It's harder to understand why Obama inflicted
all this misery on himself, his party, and his voters.
Forty years ago all this was common sense -- so much so that
Richard Nixon proclaimed, "We are all Keynesians now." But the US
was more of a democracy then, and the economic effects of government
were more clearly seen for what they were. Nixon was a Keynesian
because he wanted to get reëlected, and that was what worked. With
Obama, you have to wonder.
Henry Farrell: Big Brother's Liberal Friends: "Sean Wilentz, George
Packer and Michael Kinsley are a dismal advertisement for the current
state of mainstream liberal thought in America. They have systematically
misrepresented and misunderstood Edward Snowden and the NSA." Intellectuals
like those three, who spend [at least] as much time trying to separate
themselves from the left as they invest in their proclaimed liberalism,
are why I felt such contempt for liberals during the Vietnam War (and
its broader Cold War context).
Why do national-security liberals have such a hard time thinking straight
about Greenwald, Snowden and the politics of leaks? One reason is sheer
laziness. National-security liberals have always defined themselves against
their antagonists, and especially their left-wing antagonists. They have
seen themselves as the decent Left, willing to deploy American power to
make the world a happier place, and fighting the good fight against the
This creates a nearly irresistible temptation: to see Greenwald, Snowden
and the problems they raise as antique bugbears in modern dress. Wilentz
intimates that Greenwald is plotting to create a United Front of
anti-imperialist left-wingers, libertarians and isolationist
paleoconservatives. Packer depicts Greenwald and Snowden as stalwarts of
the old Thoreauvian tradition of sanctimonious absolutism and moral idiocy.
Kinsley paints Snowden as a conspiracy-minded dupe and Greenwald as a
Yet laziness is only half the problem. A fundamental inability to
comprehend Greenwald and Snowden's case, let alone to argue against it,
is the other half. National-security liberals have enormous intellectual
difficulties understanding the new politics of surveillance, because
these politics are undermining the foundations of their worldview.
I suspect that part of that worldview is a desire to see themselves
as part of the security state, something they project as having their
own morality, even though there is no evidence of such. This makes
them defensive when confronted with an outsider like Greenwald or a
turncoat like Snowden. It also makes them gullible to campaigns like
the Bush snow job on invading Iraq: their sense of belonging with the
state isolates them from adverse consequences to others, even while
they justify their acts by pointing to supposed benefits to others
(whom I doubt they are actually capable of relating to).
Snowden and Greenwald suggest that this project is not only doomed but
also corrupt. The burgeoning of the surveillance state in the United
States and its allies is leading not to the international spread of
liberalism, but rather to its hollowing out in the core Western
democracies. Accountability is escaping into a realm of secret
decisions and shadowy forms of cross-national cooperation and
connivance. As Princeton constitutional scholar Kim Lane Scheppele
argues, international law no longer supports national constitutional
rights so much as it undermines them. U.S. efforts to promote
surveillance are hurting civil liberties at home as well as abroad,
as practices more commonly associated with international espionage
are redeployed domestically, and as security agencies (pursuing what
they perceive as legitimate goals) arbitrage the commingling of
domestic and international data to gather information that they
should not be entitled to.
Thomas Frank: Righteous rage, impotent fury: the last days of Sam Brownback
and Pat Roberts: I'm still skeptical that Brownback and Roberts will
fall on Tuesday, but he's right that it's close, and that it's notable in
a year when so much of the conventional wisdom expects Republican gains.
It's worth noting that Brownback and Roberts got to this point by two
very different routes, but they're likely to fall for the same reasons.
Six years ago Roberts was cruising to an easy third term, and Brownback
was up in Iowa campaigning for president. Brownback fizzled embarrassingly,
losing the caucuses not just to Mike Huckabee -- his rival for the pious
church crowd -- but to everyone else as well. He then decided to burnish
his credentials with some executive experience, so he gave up his own
safe senate seat in 2010 to run for governor. He won easily, then set
out to establish his presidential bona fides by overhauling everything
in state government to meet state-of-the-art Republican standards. He
was, after all, convinced that his ideology worked, and meant to run
not just on theory but on proven success. For starters, he had Kansas
hire the memorably named Arthur Laffer to come up with a tax proposal:
one that eliminated all state income taxes for "small business" owners,
which in Kansas includes billionaires like Charles Koch. Laffer assured
us that the taxes would be a "shot of adrenaline" straight into the
Kansas economy. The only effect they had was to blow a monster hole
in the state budget, which led to cutbacks all across the state, which
. . . stalled the economy. With Republicans controlling both houses
of the state legislature, Brownback had no trouble getting his
"experiments" approved, but in 2012 he didn't like the occasional
no vote from the few remaining moderate Republicans, so he arranged
a purge of the so-called RINOs -- pushing the legislature even more
to the right. Resistance against Brownback has been growing almost
since the day he took office. The taxes are just one of dozens of
issues Brownback has been offensive on, ranging from fanciful new
restrictions against abortion providers to a campaign to exterminate
the lesser prairie chicken (before the federal government can declare
it an "endangered species" -- some kind of inconvenience to ranchers).
Roberts, on the other hand, had nothing to fear but fear itself,
but being the very definition of chickenshit, when the tea partyfolk
started questioning his fanaticism he lurched suddenly to the right,
even going so far as to vote against the Agriculture bill most Kansas
farming corporations depend on. He barely escaped a primary where he
was tagged as "liberal in Washington, rarely in Kansas" (indeed, he
had to fire a campaign manager who told the press that Roberts had
"gone home to Virginia"). And then when he assumed that he'd have no
trouble with whoever the Democrats nominated, he wound up facing a
well-to-do independent, Greg Orman, with the Democrat bowing out.
Since then, his campaign commercials have never risen above the level
of trying to equate Orman with Obama and Harry Reid. Orman's ads also
identify Obama and Reid as problems in Washington, but add Mitch
McConnell and Pat Roberts to the list. Where Brownback is some sort
of true believer in things that clearly don't work, Roberts is a
mere poster boy for the usual run of Washington corruption. Neither
approach is very popular anywhere, but Kansas offers exceptionally
What Frank doesn't do is take credit for causing this debacle. His
book, What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart
of America (2004) made a big point about how Republicans took
advantage of rank-and-file cultural conservatives, catering to them
with election rhetoric then only implementing business favors once
elected. Since Frank's book came out, the rank-and-file revolted,
and they've pushed their crazy agenda through the legislature --
that's why, for instance, Kansas passed a law to nullify federal
gun laws, and another to allow conceal/carry into all government
office buildings. Under the old pre-Frank scheme, electing far-right
nuts helped the rich get richer but didn't impact many others. Now,
everyone's affected, which is one reason for the backlash. Another
is the purge, which has rallied hundreds of prominent RINOs to
campaign against Brownback.
Stephen M Walt: Netanyahu's Not Chickenshit, the White House Is:
Israeli pawn/propagandist Jeffrey Goldberg quoted an anonymous White
House aid as describing Benjamin Netanyahu as "chickenshit" -- evidently
for not attacking Iran like the Israelis promised Goldberg they'd do --
so the Israelis got worked up into a snit fit and demanded apoligies,
a diplomatic nicety the US didn't bother to demand a few weeks ago
when Naftali Bennett accused John Kerry of anti-semitism. Evidently,
Netanyahu has a very prickly sensibility, whereas we all know that
Obama is used to sloughing off far worse insults. Walt covers the
whole "chickenshit-gate" affair here. I've said a lot of things
about Netanyahu, but I'd never call a politician who wields nuclear
weapons "chickenshit" -- even if he was, I wouldn't dare taunt him.
Actually, I doubt that Netanyahu is that thin-skinned. Rather, he
saw this as an opportunity to remind his supporters how completely
he has Obama under his thumb. When Netanyahu came to power in the
wake of Obama's victory, I figured it would be short order before
his narrow coalition would fall. All the nudge it would take would
be a clear signal from Obama that Netanyahu wasn't someone we could
work with, and that decision wouldn't take long. There even were a
few hints, but nothing Netanyahu couldn't wiggle out of. After a
couple years Obama stopped trying, threw in the towel on settlements,
and he's been Netanyahu's bitch ever since. For more, see
Gideon Levy: Who's the real chickenshit?.
The United States' policy can only be described as "abject cowardice."
Netanyahu, at least, is acting according to his ideology and belief.
Obama is acting against his -- and that's pure cowardice. A captive
of internal politics and a victim of the de-legitimization campaign
in his country, the president didn't have the guts to overcome those
obstacles, follow his world view and bring an end to the occupation.
Yes, he could. Israel is totally dependent on America and he is
America's president. Instead Obama continued the policy of automatic
support for Israel, believing, in vain, that flattery will change
Obama was destined to be the game changer in the Middle East.
When he was elected, he ignited the hope that he would do that.
But he preferred to stay with his cowardice. To grovel before
Israel and turn his back on the Palestinians. To talk about peace
and support Israel's built-in violence.
Now, in the winter of his career, he is showing signs of being
fed up with all this. He can still change things, but not with
insults, only with deeds that shake Israel up. Two years are time
enough for an American president to make it clear to Israel that
its corrupt banquet is over. But for that we need a president who
isn't a chickenshit.
Some stupid politics links (from TPM, where it's impossible to
find stories more than two days old, but they carry roughly a dozen
like these every week):
Then there is:
Also, a few links for further study:
Larry Diamond: Chasing Away the Democracy Blues: It bothers me when
pundits get on their high horse about democracy and use that to dismiss
states with basic democratic institutions that offend them for some other
reason -- usually that they have elected leaders the US doesn't approve
of for one reason or another. Diamond, for instance, doesn't think much
of Russia, Iran, Turkey, or Venezuela, but he likes Ukraine much better
since a coup deposed its last democratically elected president. Of course,
I don't like restrictions on free press like we've seen in Russia and
Turkey recently, nor restrictions on who can run for office like those
practiced in Iran, but few political systems cannot be improved. I'll
add that while I agree with Diamond and virtually everyone else that
China is not a democracy, my impression is that the Chinese government
is more popular and a more effective public servant than the governments
of many nominal democracies. Diamond's US-centric list of democracies --
you don't find Hungary mentioned anywhere, but the antidemocratic laws
recently passed there aimed at perpetuating the power of a right-wing
party look like something ALEC would work up for the Republicans here --
shows widespread decay which a more balanced list might reduce, but
the following paragraph raises an interesting point:
Like many of you who travel widely, I am increasingly alarmed by how
pervasive and corrosive is the worldwide perception -- in both autocracies
and democracies -- that American democracy has become dysfunctional and
is no longer a model worth emulating. Fortunately, there are many possible
models, and most American political scientists never recommended that
emerging democracies copy our own excessively veto-ridden institutions.
Nevertheless the prestige, the desirability, and the momentum of democracy
globally are heavily influenced by perceptions of how it is performing in
its leading examples. If we do not mobilize institutional reforms and
operational innovations to reduce partisan polarization, encourage
moderation and compromise, energize executive functioning, and reduce
the outsized influence of money and special interests in our own politics,
how are we going to be effective in tackling these kinds of challenges
Of course, one answer is that maybe we shouldn't -- especially as long
as we seem incapable of distinguishing public interests from the parochial
private interests and imperial hubris that dominate US foreign policy.
Winston Churchill used to quip that democracy was the worst possible form
of government, except for all the rest. I've long thought that the key
virtue of democracy was that it offers a way to remove leaders like
Winston Churchill from power without having to shoot them. Democracy
promises stability even where leadership changes, and stability is
reason enough to want to see democracy propagated throughout the world.
There are, of course, others, like accountability of leaders to subjects,
an essential element of justice, which is in turn essential for the
mutual trust that every modern society requires.
Mark Kleiman: Cannabis Legalization in Oregon: Is Measure 91 Close Enough
for Government Work?: I don't get (or care for) all the quibbles,
but I am glad to see progress on this front.
Corey Robin: Jews, Camps, and the Red Cross: Recent research shows
that Israel ran several "detention camps" from 1948 into the 1950s
where they kept Palestinians as prisoners and subjected them to the
usual concentration camp degradations, including forced labor. I'm
not sure if this is news -- Israel has run its gulags as long as I
can recall, so 1948 is a plausible starting date. I've long known
that Israel's military rule regime ran from 1948-67, when it was
dismantled a few months before being reconstituted for the Occupied
Territories. I've been reading Shira Robinson's Citizen Strangers:
Palestinians and the Birth of Israel's Liberal Settler State,
which covers this period fairly well.
Juliet Schor: Debating the Sharing Economy: A fairly long survey
both of commercial and nonprofit sharing organizations with various
pluses and minuses -- something that is analogous to my Share the
Wealth project but not clear what I want to do. (I suppose the
nonprofits are close to what I have in mind, but my own thoughts are
far from developed.) Schor has a series of interesting books, the
most recent and relevant True Wealth: How and Why Millions of
Americans Are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically-Light, Small-Scale,
High-Satisfaction Economy (2011), which among other things goes
into makerspace technology at great length.
Sunday, October 26. 2014
Having jotted down one or two of these on the road, I figured on doing
a Sunday links column, followed by a Monday music column, just like normal
times. Didn't work out that way, but thanks to the magic of back-dating
my tardiness will eventually be forgotten.
Alex Henderson: Rise of the American police state: 9 disgraceful events
that paved the way: Let's just list 'em:
- Ronald Reagan Escalates the War on Drugs
- Rodney King Beating of 1991
- 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
- Waterboarding and Torture at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base
- Growth and Expansion of Asset Forfeiture Laws
- National Defense Authorization Act and Erosion of Habeas Corpus
- Department of Homeland Security Promoting Militarization of Local Police Departments
- Growth of the Prison/Industrial Complex
- NYPD Assault on Occupy Wall Street
Note that nothing facilitates the creation of a police state like war --
even pretend-wars like the one on drugs, but see how the pace picks up with
Paul Krugman: The Invisible Moderate: A more accurate assessment of
Obama than the one Krugman put forth in his Rolling Stone puff
I actually agree with a lot of what David Brooks says today. But -- you
know there has to be a "but" -- so does a guy named Barack Obama. Which
brings me to one of the enduringly weird aspects of our current pundit
discourse: constant calls for a moderate, sensible path that supposedly
lies between the extremes of the two parties, but is in fact exactly
what Obama has been proposing. [ . . . ]
Well, the Obama administration would love to spend more on infrastructure;
the problem is that a major spending bill has no chance of passing the House.
And that's not a problem of "both parties" -- it's the GOP blocking it.
Exactly how many Republicans would be willing to engage in deficit spending
to expand bus networks? (Remember, these are the people who consider making
rental bicycles available an example of "totalitarian" rule.)
[ . . . ]
It's an amazing thing: Obama is essentially what we used to call a
liberal Republican, who faces implacable opposition from a very hard
right. But Obama's moderation is hidden in plain sight, apparently
invisible to the commentariat.
Actually, when I think of Obama as a "liberal Republican" I flash
back to an earlier Illinois senator, Charles Percy, who was better on
foreign policy and no worse on economics or civil rights than Obama.
But Obama doesn't have the luxury of being a liberal Republican, or
for that matter a centrist Democrat. Today's Republicans allow no such
luxury, nor do today's problems. As far back as 1998, Jim Hightower
warned: "there's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes
and dead armadillos." Today there's just more roadkill.
By the way, Krugman's too kind to Brooks, whom he quotes as saying,
"the government should reduce its generosity to people who are not
working but increase its support for people who are. That means reducing
health benefits for the affluent elderly . . ." You may wonder why the
party of the rich proposes adding means tests to Medicare. It's because
they don't want anyone to think they have a right to medical care.
Seth McElwee: Why Turning Out the Vote Makes a Huge Difference in Four
Charts: The charts show that non-voters are consistently more liberal
than voters, which reinforces the by-now-conventional view that Democrats
win when then can get the vote out, while the key for Republican gains is
voter suppression. This doesn't go into the question of why non-voters
don't vote, even though voting is one of the few ways they have to advance
their own interests. Clearly one reason is that the economic costs of
voting (which include things like the time it takes to vote) are high
enough to suppress turnout. Another likely reason is widespread cynicism
about politicians -- especially about Democrats, who appeal for public
support on election day but more often than not spend the rest of their
time triangulating between interest group lobbies, raising money that
they often see as more valuable in securing reëlection than any work
they do to benefit their constituents.
When voter turnout is discussed in public it is often treated as a civic
obligation, rather than a means to advance individual interests. Republican
candidates often denounce low-income voters for voting for the party that
best advances their class interests (while at the same time supporting
massive tax cuts for their rich constituents). Yet when Benjamin Page
interview the rich he finds that they, "acknowledged a focus on fairly
narrow economic self-interest" when discussing their engagement in the
political process. In this way, the recent Lil' Jon video, "Turnout For
What," while tacky, has reframed the voting as a means to forward political
interests, rather than as a civic obligation. Since some 41 percent of
non-voters claim that their vote wouldn't matter, this message is important.
It's also important to remove barriers to voting. Research by Jame Avery
and Mark Peffley finds, "states with restrictive voter registration laws
are much more likely to be biased toward upper-class turnout." In contrast,
states that have adopted same-day registration and vigorously enforced the
National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) have lower levels of class bias in
their electorate. Research also suggests that unions are an important
mechanism for low and middle income voters to engage with the political
process. Attempts to disempower than should also be viewed through the
lens of voter suppression.
Indeed, Republican opposition to unions seems to have more to do with
reducing their political effectiveness than as a favor to the rich. Since
their blip in 2010, when Obama voters took a nap, Republicans have seized
the opportunity to do as much as they could to suppress voting (as well
as to distort it through the infusion of extraordinary sums of money).
I expect this to produce some kind of backlash -- the message for those
who bother to pay attention is that your vote must be worth something,
otherwise why would they be so eager to take it away? -- but thus far
the clearest message is how shameless Republicans have become about
their desire to exclude a really large segment of the American people.
For more on voter suppression efforts, see
Jeffrey Toobin: Freedom Summer, 2015 (and from 2012,
Jane Mayer: The Voter-Fraud Myth).
Paul Woodward: Terrorism exists in the eye of the beholder: I was
in Arkansas Tuesday [October 22], when a soldier on duty at a "war
memorial" in Ottawa [Canada] was shot by a lone gunman, presumably
the person shot and killed later that day in Canada's Parliament
building. The TV was tuned into CNN, where they spent the entire day
blabbing on and on based on scant information and fervid imagination.
The shooter was later identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
In 2012 there were seven murders in Ottawa (population close to a million),
2013 nine murders, and so far in 2014 there have been five (including
The overwhelming majority of the crazy men running round shooting
innocent people are on this side of the border. What makes them dangerous
is much less the ideas in their heads than the ease with which they can
lay their hands on a gun.
It's often hard to be clear about what should be described as
terrorism. What's much easier to discern is hysteria.
By the way, Zehaf-Bibeau's gun was evidently a
Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle, a design that dates back to
1894 and is limited to eight rounds, which have to be individually loaded --
a very inefficient choice for a "shooting rampage."
Then on Friday [October 24], a high school student in suburban Seattle
went on his own
shooting rampage, killing two and injuring three more before shooting
himself. I missed CNN's wall-to-wall coverage (assuming that's what they
did), but it's safe to guess that the talking heads spent much less time
speculating on the shooter's ties to ISIS. For one thing, shooting each
other is just something Americans do.
- I don't have time to dig through Israel's recent garbage, but if you
do here are some typical links from Mondoweiss:
Also, a few links for further study:
Tom Engelhardt: Entering the Intelligence Labyrinth: An introduction,
or precis, of Engelhardt's new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance,
Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World
(paperback, Haymarket Books). It bears repeating that the US annually
spends $68 billion on 17 major "intelligence" agencies -- sorry for the
quotes but it's hard to think of them without choking on that word --
that do, well, what exactly? Sorry, that's a secret, but thanks to the
occasional leak or boast we do know a wee bit:
You build them glorious headquarters. You create a global surveillance
state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their
communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even morph into
avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a
penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect
information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail
might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for . . .
well, the salacious hell of it. Your employees even use aspects of the
system you've created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane
world, that act of "spycraft" gains its own name: LOVEINT.
You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet.
You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees,
creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first
order. You break into the "backdoors" of the data centers of major
Internet outfits to collect user accounts. You create new outfits
within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and
intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted
among those 17 agencies). Your leaders lie to Congress and the American
people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt. Your
acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of
events and regularly rubberstamp them -- and whose judgments and
substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to
You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information
about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn't
make it into our world. You even have the legal ability to gag
American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects
that would displease you (and they can't say that their mouths have
been shut). You undoubtedly spy on Congress. You hack into congressional
computer systems. And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell
the American public anything unauthorized about what you're doing, you
prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a
foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American
people as if they were a foreign population). You do everything to wreck
their lives and -- should one escape your grasp -- you hunt him implacably
to the ends of the Earth.
As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving
door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the
intelligence-corporate complex. [ . . . ]
Keep in mind that the twenty-first-century version of intelligence
began amid a catastrophic failure: much crucial information about the
9/11 hijackers and hijackings was ignored or simply lost in the labyrinth.
That failure, of course, led to one of the great intelligence expansions,
or even explosions, in history. (And mind you, no figure in authority in
the national security world was axed, demoted, or penalized in any way
for 9/11 and a number of them were later given awards and promoted.)
However they may fail, when it comes to their budgets, their power,
their reach, their secrecy, their careers, and their staying power,
they have succeeded impressively.
Speaking of secrets, also see:
Nick Turse: Uncovering the Military's Secret Military (back from
2011, more relevant than ever):
In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command
carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level
targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night
raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with
indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans.
Once "special" for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are
special for their power, access, influence, and aura.
That aura now benefits from a well-honed public relations campaign
which helps them project a superhuman image at home and abroad, even
while many of their actual activities remain in the ever-widening shadows.
Typical of the vision they are pushing was this statement from Admiral
Olson: "I am convinced that the forces . . . are the most culturally
attuned partners, the most lethal hunter-killers, and most responsive,
agile, innovative, and efficiently effective advisors, trainers,
problem-solvers, and warriors that any nation has to offer."
I suspect that the main target of that propaganda campaign is the
president, to drive home the point that "special forces" are a no-risk,
high-return, small scale option for any problem that can be solved
simply (with a bullet, that is).
Rory Fanning: Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops?: I can't be the
only person who finds the constant adulation given to the "troops" of
the US military downright disgusting, but it sure is hard to find anyone
saying so in print. America has always cultivated hypocrisy, and those
in my generation suffered through more than usual dose. We noted the
beginnings of a cult of the troops in the Vietnam War, where failure
on the battlefield was ever-more-generously decorated with medals, but
memory was too close to WWII to get carried away: WWII was an intense,
all-encompassing collective effort; with so few uninvolved it would have
seemed silly to declare everyone a hero (although as memory dimmed that
eventually happened with the "greatest generation" hype). The obvious
excuse for putting troops on a pedestal today is that so few people
sign up (and many of them are tricked into thinking it's some sort of
jobs program). Still, this idolatry obscures one of the fundamental
political questions of our time: do the sacrifices of US troops do any
good for the vast majority of Americans who are otherwise uninvolved?
The answer, I'm certain, is no. If all the US had done after 9/11/2001
was to put out a few Interpol warrants, I doubt that even the tiny
number of "terrorist attacks" we've seen since would have happened.
Had we practiced policies in the Middle East favoring democracy and
basic human rights for all but eschewing intervention and arms sales
we probably would have missed out on 9/11 (and both Gulf Wars). Sure,
the troops had no real say in the decision to squander their lives in
a vain attempt to buttress the Neocon ego, but I'm not so sure they
shouldn't shoulder some of the blame. Back in the Vietnam War days
there was a popular saying: "suppose they gave a war and nobody came."
We were under no illusion that most of those who "came" for the war
then were compelled to do so. I can understand, and even sympathize,
how one might succumb to the force of the state -- I did, after all,
feel that force -- but for me that made those who resisted, either
by going to jail or avoiding that fate, were the era's real heroes;
nothing one could do in battle came close. Since the draft ended,
the choice to deny the war machine its bodies is less fraught, and
indeed most people choose that path. So today's troops range from
malevolent to the merely misinformed, but they all help to enable
a set of policies that ultimately do massive harm to the nation and
its people. And often, of course, they do great harm to themselves,
adding to the public costs of war. (Aside from the dead and maimed,
Fanning mentions that "there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes
in this country," nor does the PTSD stop there.) Of course, there
are more nuances to the whole phenomenon, but at root is a common
misconception that those who "served" did something to protect the
rest of us, something that we all should be grateful for. That simply
did not happen. That they sacrificed for something we should regret
and be embarrassed by, well, that's more to the point. Only once we
recognize that can we get past the charades, and that will be better
for all of us.
David Bromwich: American Exceptionalism and Its Discontents:
Speaking of hypocrisies, here's the hoary mother lode, the notion
that we're so special the world wouldn't know what to do without
our enlightened guidance. Needless to say, the tone has changed
over time. Once America was unique in declaring that "all men are
created equal"; today our self-esteem is the very celebration of
David Gerald Finchman: The hidden documents that reveal the true borders
of Israel and Palestine: In 1947 David Ben Gurion begged the UN to
vote in favor of partition borders for Palestine which would give 55% of
the mandate to a majority-Jewish nation that represented only 35% of the
total population, and 45% to an almost exclusively Arabic-speaking nation.
In 1948 Israel's Declaration of Independence proclaimed a Jewish State
but said nothing about borders. This unwillingness to define borders has
kept Israel in a state of war ever since, with Israel grabbing another
23% of the Mandate's territory during the 1947-49 war, and the remaining
22% in 1967 (plus chunks of Egypt and Syria). This piece looks into the
decision-making process from UN-borders to no-borders. A longer version
Karen Greenberg: Will the US Go to "War" Against Ebola? It's telling
that Obama's initial response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was to
send in the US military. That made some sense inasmuch as AFRICOM has
money to burn and some expertise in logistics, but it also imposes a
rigid worldview and introduces a dangerous level of intimidation. The
one thing Ebola does have in common with Terrorism is an exaggerated
level of hysteria, but that seems of a piece with the media's highly
orchestrated kneejerk reactions. I'm reminded of the anthrax scare of
2001, which would have soon gone freaking insane had the perpetrator
not had the good sense to stop. Greenberg points out many ways Ebola
differs from the Terrorism model.
Louis Menand: Crooner in Rights Spat: A useful review of copyright
Baldwin joins Saint-Amour, the law professors Lawrence Lessig, Jeanne
Fromer, and Robert Spoo, and the copyright lawyer William Patry in
believing that, Internet or no Internet, the present level of copyright
protection is excessive. By the time most works fall into the public
domain, they have lost virtually all their use value. If the public
domain is filled with items like hundred-year-old images of the back
of Rod Stewart's head, the public good will suffer. The commons will
become your great-grandparents' attic.
As it is, few creations outlive their creators. Of the 187,280 books
published between 1927 and 1946, only 2.3 per cent were still in print
in 2002. But, since there is no "use it or lose it" provision in
copyright law, they are all still under copyright today. Patry, in
his recent book, "How to Fix Copyright," notes that ninety-five per
cent of Motown recordings are no longer available. Nevertheless, you
can't cover or imitate or even sample them without paying a licensing
fee -- despite the fact that your work is not competing in the
marketplace with the original, since the original is no longer for sale.
Katha Pollitt: How Pro-Choicers Can Take Back the Moral High Ground:
An excerpt from Pollitt's new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.
A man's home is his castle, but a woman's body has never been wholly her
own. Historically, it's belonged to her nation, her community, her father,
her family, her husband -- in 1973, when Roe was decided, marital rape was
legal in every state. Why shouldn't her body belong to a fertilized egg as
well? And if that egg has a right to live and grow in her body, why shouldn't
she be held legally responsible for its fate and be forced to have a cesarean
if her doctor thinks it's best, or be charged with a crime if she uses
illegal drugs and delivers a stillborn or sick baby? Incidents like these
have been happening all over the country for some time now. Denying women
the right to end a pregnancy is the flip side of punishing women for their
conduct during pregnancy -- and even if not punishing, monitoring. In the
spring of 2014, a law was proposed in the Kansas Legislature that would
require doctors to report every miscarriage, no matter how early in the
pregnancy. You would almost think the people who have always opposed women's
independence and full participation in society were still at it. They can't
push women all the way back, but they can use women's bodies to keep them
under surveillance and control.
Peter Van Buren: Seven Bad Endings to the New War in the Middle East:
I know what you're saying: "only seven?" Van Buren doesn't get to the
political effects of continuing the War on Terrorism -- of continuing to
fund the surveillance state, of the increasing militarization of police
departments, of the circumvention of the justice system, of how public
funds are being drained as remote and preventable problems are prioritized
over real and immediate ones by a political establishment deeply in hock
to the security phantom.
Sunday, October 12. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Thomas B Edsall: The State-by-State Revival of the Right: Points out that Republicans have "complete control" (governors and state legislatures) in 23 states, "more than at any time since Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952." Also that "they are exercising their power to gain partisan advantage far more aggressively than their Democratic counterparts."
The most visible effort is the drive to gut public sector unions, a key source of votes and financial support for Democrats. Wisconsin, under Republican Governor Scott Walker, has led the charge on this front. With support from the Koch brothers, the state has severely restricted collective bargaining rights for public employees, ended mandatory union dues and limited wage hikes to the rate of inflation.
Both supporters and opponents of Walker's initiative realized that this was a key battleground -- pathbreaking, in fact -- hence the rallies, the recall and so on.
Many Republican-controlled states have weakened or eliminated laws and regulations protecting the environment. In North Carolina the state legislature cut the budgets of regulators and prohibited local governments from enacting strict pro-environmental rules. The state chapter of the League of Conservation Voters has rated members of the legislature every year since 1999. Between 1999 and 2012, the group issued North Carolina a total of 48 scores of zero. In 2013 alone, 82 North Carolina Republicans got zeros. [ . . . ]
Democrats today convey only minimal awareness of what they are up against: an adversary that views politics as a struggle to the death. The Republican Party has demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice principle, including its historical commitments to civil rights and conservation; to bend campaign finance law to the breaking point; to abandon the interests of workers on the factory floor; and to undermine progressive tax policy -- in a scorched-earth strategy to postpone the day of demographic reckoning.
One key point here is that this does not represent a turn in public opinion toward the right. The Democratic Party collapsed in 2010 because Obama gutted the successful national organization that Howard Dean had built, then muddled all the key issues, many by thinking that bipartisan approaches would be superior to partisan ones -- clearly a mistake the Republicans didn't make.
Paul Krugman: In Defense of Obama: If some pollster came along and asked me the standard question of whether I approve or disapprove of the job Obama has done as president, I'd have to answer "disapprove." I'm not unaware of, or unappreciative of, some positive accomplishments under Obama. And I wouldn't withhold my approval just because I thought Obama could have done more and better than he did. On the other hand, I can't give him credit merely for not being as bad as any Republican -- especially John McCain and Mitt Romney -- one might vote for a "lesser evil," but that is no reason to approve of one. Nor should one go to the lengths of creating strawman arguments like Krugman does here:
There's a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who "posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit." They're outraged that Wall Street hasn't been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that "neoliberal" economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have constrained even his much more modest efforts. It's hard to take such claims seriously.
That's hardly the only critique of Obama from the left, but it shouldn't be dismissed so cavalierly. One reason Obama failed to implement much of the "change" he campaigned on in 2008 was that he stopped talking about the need for such change as soon as he was elected. By backpedaling he not only gave up on success, he let the issues vanish from public discussion -- creating a vacuum that all the Tea Party nonsense quickly filled. Maybe we expected more from Obama than he was ever willing to deliver, but the ease with which he moved from critic of the status quo to defender should have been alarming. What alarmed me more than anything was how readily he dismantled the very successful Democratic Party organization that Howard Dean had built -- giving credence to David Frum's quip that where the Republican Party fears its base, the Democratic Party despises its core constituency. Time and again the people who paid the price for Obama's retreats were the people who voted for him, whose trust he squandered, whose interests he sold out.
I pretty much accept Krugman's arguments for Obama's health care and finance reform programs, and for various other details -- the value of the stimulus, of higher tax rates on the rich, of more aggressive environmental regulation, etc. Where I disagree most strongly is on foreign policy, where Obama has failed to break decisively with neocon orthodoxy on everything from Israel to Russia to Iran to Iraq. That is -- what else can he do? -- the point where Krugman resorts to the argument that Obama isn't as bad as McCain. That strikes me as wishful thinking, inasmuch as Obama has wound up doing exactly what McCain wants.
Rick Perlstein: The Long Con: Written in 2012, hence the introduction on "Mittdacity," but the background info on the long association between Republican propaganda and mail order scams and other cons is as apposite as ever.