Sunday, June 14. 2015
We'll start with Richard Crowson's cartoon this week, since we can't
seem to escape Brownbackistan. The Kansas state legislature had to go
way into overtime to finally come up with a deal to patch up a $400
million shortfall in state tax revenues opened up by Brownback's 2011
income tax cuts (the one which notoriously exempted businessmen from
having to pay any state income tax). It's hard to get Republicans to
raise any kind of taxes, but some reconciled themselves by coming up
with the most regressive tax increases they could find. And some held
out to the bitter end, hoping instead to wreck the government and all
the evil it stands for. Brownback himself took both positions at one
point or another, and reportedly broke down and wept during one of
many hopeless meetings with state legislators. The final scheme they
came up with satisfied no one, but Brownback did manage to keep some
semblance of his signature programs in place (story
here). One downside of keeping the legislature in session so long
was that they passed even more dumb and vicious bills than they had
time for during the regular session -- see the Rosenberg piece below.
Chuck Powell sent in a link to a piece posted on Tyler Cowen's blog
(thankfully not written by Cowen),
The political economy of Kansas fiscal policy. The post makes a
number of reasonable points, such as the split between rural and urban
Kansas, and factors which distort both Wichita and Kansas City from
urban/suburban norms. Also that "cutting the size of government was
never a serious option," mostly because the costs of education and
health care -- the two main expenses of state government -- have been
rising much faster than inflation and economic growth. At one point
the author says, "Republicans should be wise enough to not depend on
luck, and they should be wiser predicting how trend lines go." But he
doesn't go into why our current generation of Republicans are so bad
at those things. For one thing, past generations were a different
story -- you could argue that their priorities were wrong, but you
rarely doubted their basic competence: something which Brownback and
many others make you wonder about daily. One could write a whole post
on this one question, but for now I think there are two main reasons:
(1) the Republicans have created a very effective grass roots political
organization, largely peopled by gun nuts and anti-abortion fanatics,
backed by local chambers of commerce and big money, and they have
become very effective at scamming the system; one result of this is
that Republicans rarely have to worry about losing to Democrats --
their only meaningful debate is among themselves, which makes them
increasingly isolated from and ignorant of other people and their
problems; (2) in other words, they live in a bubble, and this bubble
is increasingly saturated with Fox News and other right-wing media,
which mostly just teaches them to scapegoat while making them stupid
and mean. The latter, of course, is a problem with Republicans all
over the nation. What makes Kansas worse than the rest is how hard
it is to beat them at the game they've rigged. In 2014, Republicans
ran 5-8% above the best polls all across the ballot, on top of the
gerrymander that guaranteed them legislative majorities. I wouldn't
rule out fraud and intimidation, but most likely that's their
superior get-out-the-vote organization.
Some more scattered links this week:
Tom Carson: H.W. Brands: Reagan: The Life: Book review of the new
H.W. Brands biography of Ronald Reagan, Reagan: The Life, with
a look back at Edmund Morris: Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan.
I've read two previous books by Brands: Traitor to His Class: The
Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
(2008) and American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (2010),
and have found him to be a fair and compiler of history, though not
much of an interpreter. The limits that Carson notes are plausible --
especially if, as seems to be the case, he feigns admiration for a
character I've always regarded as a shill and a fraud, and whose
political legacy, both actual and imaginary, has brought us nothing
but grief. I've also read Sean Wilentz: The Age of Reagan: A
History 1974-2008 which also goes way too far into buying the
myth that Reagan was anything more than an aberration. For more
sober views, see Will Bunch: Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan
Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future (2009),
and William Kleinknecht, The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald
Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America (2009), or
Carson here -- my only real gripe with his review is that he buys
into the notion that Reagan deserves some credit for the collapse
of the Soviet Union ("something only a churl would deny him any
credit for" -- I'll grant that his early sabre-rattling may have
resulted in some unforced errors that weakened the Sovier Union,
and that later on Reagan swung against the hard core cold warriors
giving Gorbachev some breathing room). Carson is right when he
writes: "All these years later, it isn't just outrage that keeps
his political opponents from managing or even trying to see him
in perspective; it's disbelief." The roots of that disbelief are
firmly grounded in reality. Unless you're extremely rich, it's
impossible to see how anything that Reagan accomplished -- and
beyond all the sleight-of-hand horseshit (like the rejuvenation
of "morning in America" or his triumph in the cold war and the
vanquishing of Communism) he clearly did accomplish a lot --
has in any way made our lives better.
Many interesting comments here, like this one:
Brands also doesn't grasp the extent to which industry politics --
that nerve-wracking combo of power, fickle fashionability, ambition as
a form of submission, and submission as an expression of ambition --
were Reagan's Harvard and Yale. During much of his showbiz career, his
agent and patron -- note that contradiction and you'll understand
Hollywood -- was Lew Wasserman, the legendary head of MCA. Because
Wasserman's links to the Chicago Mob known as "the Outfit" are what
makes a man endow hospital wings to burnish his image, whole books
could be written about the dark side of Ron's debt to Lew; indeed,
one or two have been. But Wasserman's name shows up in Reagan: The
Life's index just once, and the reference turns out to be anodyne.
Why dwell on what Brands gives short shrift? Because Hollywood stayed
Reagan's primary frame of reference even after he found the ultimate
golden parachute, that's why. When he was an actor facing the glue
factory, he couldn't shut up about politics. Once he was president,
he had the definition of a captive audience while blathering away
about his life in movies as the phone never rang.
Up to then, we'd never had a professional fantasist in the White
House. Nixon needed to be awfully drunk to think gabbing at portraits
on walls was a good idea, but Reagan could do it cold sober. His
fabled remoteness was eerie enough to disconcert his own family --
even wife Nancy confessed it sometimes unnerved her -- and his most
immovable mental furniture seems to have been fashioned with such
disregard for most people's notions of corroborating evidence that
he and Michael Jackson, his '80s pop-culture counterpart at flights
of Peter Pan fancy, really could have been long-lost twins. But
Brands doesn't even quote the most celebrated blooper of his man's
career: the farewell speech to the 1988 Republican convention in
which John Adams's "Facts are stubborn things" came out as "Facts
are stupid things -- stubborn things, I should say."
Even at the time, I viewed Reagan as primarily a front man, the
real power residing in his famous "kitchen cabinet" -- the cabal
of rich businessmen who had recruited him and backed his political
career from the start. (At the time, I wasn't aware that Reagan's
real initiation into politics was as a corporate spokesperson for
General Electric, a company whose management still nursed grudges
over the New Deal.) His was not the first administration where the
president seemed blithely unaware of the rampant corruption within --
Ulysses Grant and William Harding were obvious examples -- but
Reagan was way more disconnected: to call him a "fantasist" is
rather generous. As I frequently said at the time, under Reagan
the only growth industry in America was fraud. The HUD scandal,
the Savings and Loan fiasco, Iran/Contra all bore that out, but
it was evident even earlier, all the way back to the "voodoo
economics" behind Reagan's signature tax cut. Carson notes:
What you'd hardly guess from reading Reagan: The Life is that
the United States went from being the world's No. 1 creditor to its
No. 1 debtor nation during his tenure. His zest for replacing red
tape with red ink ended any pretense that the GOP was the party of
fiscal prudence, but when Brands mentions toward the end that the
Reagan era's hemorrhaging deficits had tripled the public debt from
$700 billion to $2 trillion by 1988, it's the first time the subject
has come up [ . . . ] and it's virtually the last
The problem with Reagan's deficits isn't that he created them,
and certainly not that we enjoy scolding the Republicans for their
spendthrift ways (not to mention hypocrisy), but that Americans
got so little of real value out of the extravagance: a lot of
worthless military hardware -- the Star Wars-marketed
anti-missile system still doesn't work, but the stuff that did
work and has since been deployed in wars all around the world
has been far more damaging -- and a small number of billionaires
with their correspondingly inflated egos. Perhaps even worse,
that explosion of debt is now commonly seen as crippling our
government -- originally conceived of, by, and for the people
as a tool for securing the general welfare -- from doing even
relatively simple things that need to be done. The single most
damaging thing Reagan ever did was to make a joke about "the
scariest words in the English language: I'm from the government
and I'm here to help." That such a joke can be turned into a
full-blown ideology is a testament to a deeper innovation that
Reagan wrought: he liberated American conservatism from the
bounds of reality, allowing them to focus on imaginary problems,
oblivious to whatever consequences their madness may produce.
Back in the 1980s he was said to have "Teflon" -- a non-stick
coating that protected him from any of his scandals. Looking
back, it now seems that the key to his innocence was his very
disconnectedness. Maybe someday a biographer will manage to
identify the point when his fantasy gave way to Alzheimer's,
but for all practical purposes it hardly matters.
Michael Knights: Doubling Down on a Doubtful Strategy: Subhed:
"Why the current US plan to win back Iraq only guarantees the Islamic
State won't be defeated." Knights seems to be arguing that the US
should take over and greatly escalate the war despite his analysis
that what the US is actually doing can't possibly work. Still you
have to wonder whether any amount of commitment could overcome the
mental blinders the US military brings with it to Iraq:
Time is decidedly not on the side of the United States. As then-Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki told me in March 2014, the Iraqi government
had been requesting U.S. airstrikes and Special Forces assistance
against the Islamic State since the end of 2013. The U.S. unwillingness
to act then did not save it anything: Its Iraqi ally collapsed, and now
it has been forced into another military campaign.
When U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opined that Iraqis "showed
no will to fight" in Ramadi, he demonstrated a complete lack of empathy
for the situation of the Iraqi combat troops on the front lines against
the Islamic State.
America's Iraqi allies are exhausted, and many units are barely
hanging on. They've been demonstrating plenty their "will to fight"
in the 12 months since Mosul fell, in the 16 months since Fallujah
and Ramadi were overrun, and in the decade since Iraqi forces came
to outnumber U.S. forces as the main security force in Iraq.
No U.S. service member serving in Iraq ever had to stay in the
combat zone for as long as the Iraqi troops have. Many of these
Iraqis have no safe place to go on leave, allowing no respite for
years on end. No U.S. unit in recent history has ever had to suffer
the chronic lack of supply and near-complete lack of good officers
that Iraqi soldiers live with every day.
If the United States can totally misunderstand the conditions
its allies are experiencing, it's fair to ask what else it is
getting wrong about how Iraqis are going to behave in the future.
Knights offers a list of "faulty assumptions" the US has about
Iraq, but two of them are just clichés ("The more we do, the less
they do" and "We cannot want the stability of Iraq more than Iraqis
want it themselves" -- both assume Iraqis want what we want but
just don't want it bad enough) and the third is false ("The Islamic
State is a terrorist group, not an army" -- ISIS is both and will
fight according to its opponent, so the more you Americanize the
war, the more ISIS will adapt with techniques proven effective
against the US military). Consider Knights' final pitch:
If America is only in Iraq to kill Islamic State fighters, it is
eventually going to face the reality of an unfixable collapsed state
that will demand an open-ended counterterrorism campaign. The alternative
is that the United States help Iraqis preserve the fabric of their nation
to whatever extent is still possible. To do so will require a different
outlook and greater decisiveness. Deliberation is understandable, but
U.S. policy in Iraq has been verging on paralysis.
This is not rocket science: The U.S. options are clear. If the Obama
administration wants to fully commit to the hard work of rebuilding Iraq,
it should commit 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. Special Forces and support elements
as combat advisers, so that Iraqi ground forces and coalition airpower
can become far more effective. Secondly, it should use this intensified
U.S. military commitment as leverage with Baghdad to win more sustained
federal Iraqi government engagement of the Sunnis and the Kurds. Finally,
it should accelerate the training of Iraqi forces to leave the next
president with a better chance of responsibly downscaling the U.S.
commitment in Iraq.
Without these steps, we should not expect to expel the Islamic State
from Iraq. In the absence of undeniable U.S. commitment, our Iraqi allies
may define victory down into something that looks more like defeat. And
that is a risk that neither Iraq, nor the United States, can afford.
What exactly can we not afford? The worst case scenario is that
ISIS occupies about a third of Iraq -- it has no appeal in the Shiite
south or in Kurdistan, and Baghdad is effectively Shiite now -- and
the rump state in Baghdad concedes those gains, thereby ridding
themselves of a lot of people they don't like and who don't want
them. That allows ISIS to focus on Syria, where the US has no real
interests or concerns. Why can't we afford that? That represents no
real US investment or trade, so we have nothing to lose in that
regard. We wouldn't be spending anything bombing and killing them,
so that would be a gain. US trade with and investment in Iraq and
Kurdistan would be more stable with an end to Iraq's civil war.
ISIS might eventually threaten Jordan or Saudi Arabia, but those
nations would be much easier to defend than Iraq is. ISIS might
try to export terrorism, but they'd have much less reason to do
so if the US wasn't bombing them. Sure, ISIS rule would be bad
for some of the people living under it, but that's true of other
nations and is much easier to remedy diplomatically than through
On the other hand, fighting ISIS means we have to somehow reform
Iraq's government to make it more amenable to the Sunnis who have
deserted it in favor of ISIS. This is something the US has repeatedly
proved incapable of doing. It's something the present government of
Iraq doesn't want, and that government is backed by a democratic
mandate, so who are we to tell its people they didn't make the right
choices? It also means coming to a solution in Syria, which either
involves some deft diplomacy that the US has repeatedly failed at
or a massive ground invasion and occupation, which is what the US
tried in Iraq and failed so miserably at. One might fantasize, but
really, why should anyone think the US might do a better job there?
One obvious downside is that everyone who might conceivably oppose
us -- which is to say everyone -- is already armed and fighting.
At least with Iraq the US had a grace period until the resistance
got up to speed and changed the US mission from "nation building"
to force protection. That's the point where we throw all the
humanitarian ballast overboard and decide that the war is only
about us. That's the point where we're lost, even if we haven't
technically lost yet, because if anything has become clear through
America's post-WWII wars, it's that we can't look into our own
hearts and see the arrogance and contempt that reside there.
When people like Knights say that the US can't afford to lose
in Iraq, what they mean is that the US can't continue if people
get the idea that we're not omnipotent. The obvious first riposte
is that it's a little late in the day to be worrying about that.
The second is that would make us like everyone else, and what's
so bad about that? It doesn't mean that desirable outcomes to
world problems can't be worked out. It just means that the US
would have to work with other countries to reach agreement, on
terms that are mutually inoffensive. It means the US would have
to learn to respect others, rather than just dictating to them.
But it would also steer US foreign policy away from the maxim
that power corrupts (and absolute power corrupts absolutely).
But even if all we did was curl up into an isolationist ball
and mope, that would probably be better for all concerned than
bumbling our way into a holy war we don't have the slightest
understanding of -- which is pretty much what Knights wants us
to do. Perhaps the "paralysis" Knights complains of is really
just because there's an irreconcilable division in the foreign
policy elite as more and more people sober up and realize the
lack of good options. For one example of this shift, see
Stephen M Walt: What Should We Do if the Islamic State Wins?
His answer: "live with it." Really, you think "die with it" is a
better answer? Even Donald Rumsfeld (see
George W. Bush Was Wrong About Iraq) is thinking that it would
be better to counter ISIS with ideas ("more like the Cold War")
rather than bullets. By the way, what Rumsfeld thinks Bush was
wrong about wasn't invading Iraq; it was thinking that the US
could build "an American-style democracy" there. As a long-time
Cold Warrior, Rumsfeld always had a preference for compliant strong
men over democracy.
Heather Digby Parton: The Koch brothers just took a huge step toward a
GOP civil war: Having created a system where money is everything,
the Republican Party is now turning into a plaything for a handful of
billionaires, especially the Kochs, who seem intent to use their deep
pockets to launch a hostile takeover of the RNC.
One of the more enduring metaphors of this political era is bound to be
that of the Republican Dr. Frankenstein and his Tea Party monster. What
was once a staid, mainstream political party full of Rotary Club
businessmen, hard-scrabble farmers and pillars of America's communities
has become a boisterous bunch of rebellious revolutionaries.
[ . . . ]
Its ideology became a matter of faith-based adherence to abstract
principles about "freedom" and "small government" even as the Republican
Party made a devil's bargain with both the religious right, which sought
to enforce "family values," and the military industrial complex, which
grew to gargantuan proportions under both parties. These alliances were
strategic moves by the Party elders seeking a winning governing coalition
and it worked beautifully for decades. They formed a strong "conservative"
identity out of this coalition, while demonizing the identity of liberalism
to such an extent that liberals were forced to abandon it altogether and
adopt another name to describe themselves.
Meanwhile, the party banked on overweening victimization among its
mainly white, resentful voters in the wake of the revolution in law and
culture that began in the 1960s with civil rights for minorities and the
economic and social changes that sent women pouring into the workplace
and changing the traditional organization of family and home. This too
worked very well for quite some time. Fear, anger and resentment of
everything from racial integration to middle class stagnation to
imaginary foreign threats became intrinsic to the Republican identity.
All of this was of great benefit to the Republican party's electoral
success and the message discipline within the echo chamber of their
partisan media ensured that the ideology among the various strands of
the Republican coalition held together in what sounded like a coherent
program. But it never really was coherent. [ . . . ]
But the irony of the Party that fetishizes money now becoming a victim
of the 1 percent monster it has coddled, nurtured and enabled is
overwhelming. Unfortunately, that particular beast has been unleashed
on all of us and it doesn't seem as though anyone knows how to stop it.
The Tea Partyers who come together and vote out a stale incumbent they
don't like in favor of a right wing zealot is not something that's good
for the country, to be sure. But at least it's democratic, however
unpleasant the result. The idea that a vastly wealthy pair of right
wing fanatics could literally take over one of the two major American
political parties is more than a little disturbing. It's downright
Paul Rosenberg: Sam Brownback guts Kansas even more: This is life under
America's worst Republican governor: Brownback, then a Senator,
ran for President in 2008. He expected to do especially well in Iowa,
but got no credit for coming from the corn belt, and lost the holy
rollers to Mike Huckabee (a baptist minister, whereas Brownback's a
convert to high church catholicism). He was polling about 2% when he
dropped out. He then regrouped, giving up his safe Senate seat to
run for Governor, with the hope of proving himself such a brilliant
state executive that party and nation would have to bow down to his
next presidential campaign. He won handily, then proved himself to
be, as the headline says, "America's worst Republican governor" (not
that several others I can think of, including Bobby Jindal and Scott
Walker, have a lot of breathing room). First thing he did was pulling
a Reagan and hiring Arthur Laffer to prescribe a round of pro-business
income tax cuts, including an exemption for business moguls from all
state income taxes. That saved one Republican legislator $60,000 per
year (do the math and that means he's raking in about $10 million;
he actually proposed reducing the break). That probably saved Charles
Koch a lot more. But the economy didn't respond as advertised, and
Kansas has been facing budget gaps on the order of $400 million/year,
and responding with drastic spending cuts -- which have further tanked
the economy -- and increases in regressive sales taxes, "sin" taxes,
and local property taxes. Brownback has another signature program where
he's promising tax exemptions to out-of-staters to move into depopulating
counties in rural Kansas. Presumably the people struggling to hang on in
those counties will be happy to pay for their new neighbors schooling
and services. That, of course, hasn't cost Kansas much so far, because
hardly anyone is desperate enough for a tax break to live in Gove or
Hodgeman counties. Indeed, hardly anyone lived there before the breaks
(my relatives got out of Hodgeman, where my great-great-grandfather
homesteaded in the 1860s). When not appealing to tax cheats, the state
legislature has passed an extraordinary number of dumb and/or vicious
bills this session. Rosenberg writes about one that allows Secretary
of State Kris Kobach, a notorious partisan hack, to prosecute anyone
he sees fit for voting fraud. Back in Brownback's first term Kansas
passed one of the most restrictive anti-voter registration laws in the
country. I'll let Rosenberg describe another law:
This past week drew national attention to two of those aspects in the
form of new laws Brownback signed. The first law would defund the state
courts if they rule against a 2014 law which was seen by many as
retaliation for the Gannon decision. That law stripped the Supreme
Court of supervisory functions established in the state constitution.
Hence, Brownback and the legislature are defying the power of the court
to decide constitutional law. This is the very opposite of the true
meaning of "limited government" -- government limited by the rule of
law (as opposed to absolute government, limited by nothing.)
Another of the new laws in Kansas is one that drops the requirement
of a license (and some minimal training) for concealed carry of guns.
By contrast, see:
Katie McDonough: This is the NRA's worst nightmare: The new gun safety
study that gun nuts don't want you to hear about:
A law requiring people to apply for a permit before buying a handgun
helped Connecticut quietly reduce its firearm-related homicide rate
by 40 percent, according to a new study out from Johns Hopkins Center
for Gun Policy and Research. And this week, announced in conjunction
with the research, lawmakers from Connecticut introduced a measure to
encourage other states to adopt their own permit programs.
Sunday, June 7. 2015
Some scattered links this week:
Jason Ditz: Senate Votes to Block Pentagon Paying Millions to NFL
to 'Honor Troops': You probably thought (if you thought about
it at all) that the NFL was just engaging in patriotic showboating,
but it turns out they were on the government dole. Precious quote,
from Sens. McCain, Flake, and Blumenthal: "the US cannot afford to
give 'scarce defense dollars to wealthy sports teams.'" They're
talking about $5.4 million, a tiny drop in the trillion or so
dollars the US spends on "defense" each year. Indeed, it's probably
only a small fraction of what the Defense Dept. spends on PR, the
effect of which is to make war more politically acceptable.
Paul Krugman: Why Am I a Keynesian?
Noah Smith sort-of approvingly quotes Russ Roberts, who views all
macroeconomic positions as stalking horses for political goals, and
declares in particular that
Krugman is a Keynesian because he wants bigger government. I'm an
anti-Keynesian because I want smaller government.
OK, I'm not going to clutch my pearls and ask for the smelling
salts. Politics can shape our views, in ways we may not recognize.
[ . . . ]
So, am I a Keynesian because I want bigger government? If I were,
shouldn't I be advocating permanent expansion rather than temporary
measures? Shouldn't I be for stimulus all the time, not only when
we're at the zero lower bound? When I do call for bigger government --
universal health care, higher Social Security benefits -- shouldn't
I be pushing these things as job-creation measures? (I don't think I
ever have). I think if you look at the record, I've always argued for
temporary fiscal expansion, and only when monetary policy is constrained.
Meanwhile, my advocacy of an expanded welfare state has always been
made on its own grounds, not in terms of alleged business cycle
In other words, I've been making policy arguments the way one would
if one sincerely believed that fiscal policy helps fight unemployment
under certain conditions, and not at all in the way one would if trying
to use the slump as an excuse for permanently bigger government.
But in that case, why am I a Keynesian? Maybe because of convincing
First of all, the case for viewing most recessions -- and the Great
Recession in particular -- as failures of aggregate demand is
Now, this could be a case for using monetary rather than fiscal
policy -- and that actually is the policy I advocate in response to
garden-variety slumps. But when the slump pushes rates down to zero,
and that's still not enough, any simple model I can think of says
that fiscal expansion can be a useful supplement, while fiscal
austerity makes a bad situation worse.
And while it's true that there was limited direct evidence on
the effects of fiscal policy 6 or 7 years ago, there's now a lot,
and it's very supportive of a Keynesian view.
Krugman is generally right that Keynesian macro is preferred
because it provides a more accurate and efficient understanding
of the interaction between government spending and economic growth,
and can back that up with evidence, especially of a predictive
nature. But whether you want growth and what kind of growth you
want are political issues. Those who do, like Krugman (or Nixon,
when he wanted to take credit for a robust economy, and had one
that often seemed to be on the verge of collapse), will be Keynesians
because they want tools that work. But those who don't care about
growth (except of business profits) will disparage Keynes -- after
all, why acknowledge an analysis that could work when that's not
what you want? Keynes wouldn't be controversial but for the purely
political desire to slag the economy. You might wonder why Republicans
would want to do that -- some combination of making a Democrat in the
White House look bad and a preference for increasing inequality over
The "big government" association with Keynesianism is, as Krugman
shows, misdirection. I'd personally like to trim large segments of
government -- especially the biggest one of all, the military. That
doing so would be contractionary doesn't bother me. One can always
spend more elsewhere, and finding more productive investments than
the US military should be easy. Or you can reduce taxes and, as Bush
liked to put it, let people spend their own money. Strangely enough,
anti-government obsessives rarely worry about the military -- even
though from the founding of the republic up to WWII many Americans
regarded a standing army as the greatest threat to liberty. Rather,
what they object to is that government is subject to democratic rule
and as such can be used to rebalance private fortunes, whereas their
vaunted private sector tends to exacerbate inequities. They object
not to the government which they need to secure private property,
but to what that government might do to satisfy the masses. Over the
ages they've pulled every trick imaginable to keep the belief that
the nation was founded upon -- that all men are created equal --
from becoming reality. Denying the efficacy of Keynesian economics
is just one such trick.
Bill McKibben: How mankind blew the fight against climate change:
Strange scenes from Exxon Mobil's annual shareholders meeting:
The meeting came two days after Texas smashed old rainfall records --
almost doubled them, in some cases -- and as authorities were still
searching for families swept away after rivers crested many feet beyond
their previous records. As Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson -- the highest-paid
chief executive of the richest fossil fuel firm on the planet -- gave
his talk, the death toll from India's heat wave mounted and pictures
circulated on the Internet of Delhi's pavement literally melting.
Meanwhile, satellite images showed Antarctica's Larsen B ice shelf on
the edge of disintegration.
And how did Tillerson react? By downplaying climate change and mocking
renewable energy. To be specific, he said that "inclement weather" and
sea level rise "may or may not be induced by climate change," but in any
event technology could be developed to cope with any trouble. "Mankind
has this enormous capacity to deal with adversity and those solutions
will present themselves as those challenges become clear," he said.
But apparently those solutions don't include, say, the wind and sun.
Exxon Mobil wouldn't invest in renewable energy, Tillerson said, because
clean technologies don't make enough money and rely on government mandates
that were (remarkable choice of words) "not sustainable." He neglected to
mention the report a week earlier from the not-very-radical International
Monetary Fund detailing $5.3 trillion a year in subsidies for the fossil
All in all, a sneering and sad performance by a man paid nearly $100,000
a day, whose company spends $100 million a day looking for new oil and gas
even though scientists say we simply can't burn most of the fossil fuel
we've already located without devastating consequences.
The science explaining climate change, like Keynesian economics
(above), has become inconvenient for certain well established interests
who prefer to think that politics trumps science, or that anything that
challenges their personal interests and prejudices must be nothing but
propaganda against them. While this is often true, nowhere more so than
in the oil industry, where fortunes were built on nothing more than a
lottery of land titles, yet every tycoon considers himself a self-made
man, not to mention graced by God.
Daniel Strauss: Brownback May Empower Kris Kobach to Prosecute 'Voter
Fraud' Cases Himself: Kobach has been lobbying for this power ever
since he was elected Secretary of State in 2010, although it's never
been clear who he'd prosecute with this -- as he hasn't been able to
get a single county to prosecute one of his cases yet. If anyone
should be prosecuted for voter fraud it's Kobach, Brownback, and
the state legislature, whose ID laws have prevented thousands of
otherwise eligible citizens from voting.
Josh Marshall comments: "He can just prosecute anyone he wants."
Certainly a dream come true for a self-aggrandizing demagogue.
Maybe the GOP Candidates Are Just as Self-Deluding as Their Voter Base:
Much discussion with little insight into the plethora of Republicans who
are mounting campaigns for president in 2016. This keys off a Kevin Drum
Why Do So Many Obvious Losers Think They Can Be President?) that, in
the most pedestrian tradition of horserace journalism tries to handicap
the hopefuls. Both pieces are governed by the idea that only candidates
with reasonable chances should bother running -- an idea which in the
past has mostly been used to avoid considering the issues that "fringe"
candidates (Dennis Kucinich is pretty close to the archetype here) run
on and for. But Republicans are so ideologically homogeneous that it's
hard to think of a candidate with issues to be silenced. (Drum tries to
dismiss Rand Paul as having views "just flatly too far out of the tea
party mainstream" -- actually, Paul's tea party bona fides are as strong
as any candidate's [Cruz being the only obvious competition], his one
major unorthodoxy [opposition to the PATRIOT Act] is quite popular among
tea party rank-and-file, and he's shown remarkable willingness to shelve
libertarian positions on fetish issues like abortion and Israel.)
Of course, Drum's supposition is fully operative among Democrats.
Hillary Clinton's inevitability -- a combination of name, stature, and
an almost unique access to a resource base formidable enough to stand
up to Republican money power -- doesn't give any other Democrats any
real chance at raising the money they'd need to be taken seriously.
(This on top of the usual Democratic fundraising disadvantages, such
as a lower return on graft.)
On the other hand lots of Republicans seem to be coming up with
the money to run, and the fact that they're all saying the same thing
just helps reinforce the brand. (One person's may be a crackpot, but
three add up to a trend, and nine gives you a new conventional wisdom
even if what they're saying still sounds crazed.) And all saying the
same thing reduces the contest to one of personality -- something
they'd much rather have us talking about than issues, which usually
require a thick layer of packaging to be palatable at all. As usual
with the Republicans, one suspects that this is just pre-primary
dog-and-pony show to drum up interest, with the fix revealed later
at an appropriately dramatic moment.
One hint here is the recent demise of the candidacy of
Dennis Michael Lynch -- a candidate you never heard of, probably
because he doesn't fit the profile of "rising Republican star," maybe
because his obsessive issue (anti-immigration) is one Republican
powers would rather not talk about. On the other hand, there is a
role for the nearly-as-obscure Carly Fiorina.
Steve M. writes:
My first impression of [Fiorina's] campaign wasn't that it was a
campaign for president or vice president -- it was that,
as a candidate, she's like the one female member of a rich accused
rapist's defense dream team, the attorney whose principal role is
to do a really vicious cross-examination of the victim, because
that would come of as sexist if a man did it.
Also, a few links for further study:
Chloe Angyal: The Subculture of Embattled Abortion Workers:
Abortion is one of the very few political issues today where ordinary
debate is shadowed and haunted by one side adopting a network of
harrassment and terror. Of course, this is not unprecedented in
American history: the civil rights movement was met by even more
violence, both in the 1960s and throughout the previous century,
with much of that violence orchestrated by the various states. The
labor movement up to the 1930s comes in a not-too-distant second.
Still, while racism and anti-laborism persist, the level of violence
and its chilling effects are far less than that experienced by the
people who run and work with clinics that provide abortions. (Part
of the reason may be the demagoguery of anti-choice politicians like
Sam Brownback, playing the role George Wallace and Lester Maddox did
on race.) Angyal reviews a book by David S Cohen and Krysten Connon:
Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion
Terrorism (2015, Oxford University Press), which details much
of this history.
Jared Bernstein/Ben Spielberg: Inequaliity Matters: Lead in:
Lately, one argument that's been making the rounds is that people should
worry less about inequality and more about opportunity. Arthur Brooks,
head of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said, "I don't
care about income inequality per se; I care about opportunity inequality."
Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio believes that inequality
is but a symptom of immobility and constrained opportunity. Tyler Cowen
argued in the New York Times that what matters is not the fact
that the top 1 percent is capturing a much larger share of total income
growth than they used to, but that the poor are stuck in poverty.
These individuals have identified a worthy goal. Unequal access to
opportunity offends deeply held American values, and poverty is not only
a matter of near-term material deprivation -- too often, it also robs
low-income children of the chance to realize their intellectual and
But it's not possible to effectively address either poverty or
inadequate opportunity if America hives off its opportunity concerns
from the broader problem of inequality (nor, as Senator Rubio intimates,
can America reduce inequality by focusing solely on increasing mobility).
Boosting mobility will require reductions in wage, income, and wealth
The authors back up their initial assertions. One question they
don't address is whether opportunity is whether opportunity is being
deliberately constricted by the rich; e.g., by making elite education
both more necessary for advancement and more inaccessible to the
unwealthy. It makes sense that a politically aggressive upper class
recognizing a stagnant economy with austerity reducing the number
of slots near the top would focus more on securing those slots for
their own progeny. I don't know that anyone has sorted out the
evidence for this, but there are many hints -- e.g., the nepotism
boom under the second Bush administration.
Garrett Epps: Out of Spite: The Governor of Nebraska's Threat to Execute
Prisoners: Nebraska's state legislature passed a bill to ban capital
punishment. Governor Ricketts vetoed the bill, and the legislature overrode
the veto, making the bill law. So what does Ricketts do? Follow the law?
No. He vows to speed up the executions of ten prisoners already on death
row. Epps surveys many of the issues, including the increasing difficulty
that states are having obtaining lethal injection drugs.
David Himmelstein/Steffie Woolhandler: The Post-Launch Problem: The
Affordable Care Act's Persistently High Administrative Costs:
Insuring 25 million additional Americans, as the CBO projects the ACA
will do, is surely worthwhile. But the administrative cost of doing so
seems awfully steep, particularly when much cheaper alternatives are
Traditional Medicare runs for 2 percent overhead, somewhat higher
than insurance overhead in universal single payer systems like Taiwan's
or Canada's. Yet traditional Medicare is a bargain compared to the ACA
strategy of filtering most of the new dollars through private insurers
and private HMOs that subcontract for much of the new Medicaid coverage.
Indeed, dropping the overhead figure from 22.5 percent to traditional
Medicare's 2 percent would save $249.3 billion by 2022.
The ACA isn't the first time we've seen bloated administrative costs
from a federal program that subcontracts for coverage through private
insurers. Medicare Advantage plans' overhead averaged 13.7 percent in
2011, about $1,355 per enrollee. But rather than learn from that mistake,
both Democrats and Republicans seem intent on tossing more federal dollars
to private insurers.
Esther Kaplan: Losing Sparta: The Bitter Truth Behind the Gospel of
Productivity: That's Sparta, Tennessee, home of a huge unionized
factory owned by Philips and shut down in 2010, the equipment (and
business) to be moved to Mexico.
When Philips announced its plans to shut down the plant in Sparta,
the firm was in the black, aided by $7.2 million in federal stimulus
grants and contracts. Profits were even better the following year as
the firm began to lay off the plant's nearly 300 workers. Even Philips's
lighting division was doing well. By late 2010, three years into the
recovery, corporate profits, in general, had bounced back decisively,
reaching record highs. Yet layoffs continued apace -- 1.4 million in
2010, 1.3 million a year in 2011 and 2012 -- well above prerecession
Among other profitable firms -- indeed, Fortune's list of
America's most profitable firms in 2012, the year the Philips plant
finally closed its gates -- closures and layoffs have been widespread:
Chevron lays off 103 from a New Mexico mine; Walmart shuts down a New
York office, putting 275 out of work; Ford shuts down two assembly
plants in Minnesota, laying off nearly 1,700; IBM lays off 1,790 from
its business units; Microsoft lays off 5,000. Exxon, ranked number one
in profitability by Fortune in 2012, with $41 billion in profits in
2011, shrank its global workforce by more than 15,000 between 2010
and 2012. Chevron, at number two with profits of $27 billion, added
only a thousand US jobs during that period. Apple was the only one of
the country's five most profitable firms to add more than 10,000 jobs
during that time (and Apple's public disclosures don't specify how many
of those jobs were domestic). The latest Commerce Department data show
that all US multinationals combined added a net total of only half a
million jobs domestically between 2002 and 2011, but added 3.5 million
jobs abroad, an indication of offshoring on a very grand scale.
Sunday, May 24. 2015
Some scattered links this week:
Charles Krauthammer: It's Obama who lost Iraq: I don't normally
bother citing right-wing propagandists here. I'd rather use links to
learn something or at least point out something new, and the insight
that Krauthammer is a devious, despicable warmonger is far from new.
Nor is Krauthammer capable of the sort of idiosyncracies -- like you
might find from Cal Thomas or David Brooks -- that might shed some
light into the bizarre thinking processes of conservatives. The one
strength Krauthammer has is his ability to proceed from false premise
to faulty conclusion: few conservatives are as rigorous, or as ridgid.
But I can't let this false premise go unnoted:
Second, the "if you knew then" question implicitly locates the origin
and cause of the current disasters in 2003. As if the fall of Ramadi
was predetermined then, as if the author of the current regional
collapse is George W. Bush.
This is nonsense. The fact is that by the end of Bush's tenure,
the war had been won. You can argue that the price of that victory
was too high. Fine. We can debate that until the end of time.
But what is not debatable is that it was a victory. Bush bequeathed
to Obama a success. By whose measure? By Obama's. As he told the troops
at Fort Bragg on Dec. 14, 2011, "We are leaving behind a sovereign,
stable, and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that
was elected by its people." This was, said the President, a "moment
Which Obama proceeded to fully squander. With the 2012 election
approaching, he chose to liquidate our military presence in Iraq. We
didn't just withdraw our forces. We abandoned, destroyed or turned
over our equipment, stores, installations and bases.
We surrendered our most valuable strategic assets, such as control
of Iraqi airspace, soon to become the indispensable conduit for Iran
to supply and sustain the Assad regime in Syria and cement its
influence all the way to the Mediterranean.
[ . . . ]
Iraq is now a battlefield between the Sunni jihadists of the Islamic
State and the Shiite jihadists of Iran's Islamic Republic. There is no
viable center. We abandoned it. The Obama administration's unilateral
pullout created a vacuum for the entry of the worst of the worst.
Probably the biggest mistake Obama made in the early days of his
presidency was how graciously he let Bush off the hook, not only for
his disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but for his mishandling
of the economy and numerous other malfeasances of government. He did
this in some sort of unrequited lust for bipartisan appeal, thinking
that, for instance, if he expressed confidence that would help the
economy. The real definition of the "success" he referred to was that
he had managed to extricate American troops from an occupation that
went sour from the very start and that would continue to be resisted
violently as long as it went on. Those troops left not because they
had accomplished any American goals but because the Iraqi government,
whose legitimacy we could not dispute, had insisted on their leaving --
indeed, that government would never be regarded as legitimate in the
eyes of its own people had the US continued to prop them up. Whether
Obama wanted that to happen or not is beside the point. What he tried
to do was to buck up the troops is a moment of retreat. Doing so was,
I think, a mistake, and not just because it allowed Krauthammer to
twist his words around. It was mostly a mistake because he squandered
an opportunity to remind the nation that the entire Iraq War was a
disastrous misjudgment, principally by George W. Bush. His generous
words to the troops not only sullied his own reputation, it denied
America a critical opportunity to learn from past mistakes.
For an example of Krauthammer's weasel wording, consider his
line: "With the 2012 election approaching, he chose to liquidate
our military presence in Iraq." After the Dec. 14, 2011 "success"
pronouncement, this implies that the "liquidation" came later --
perhaps closer to November 2012 election. In fact, the "liquidation"
was completed by Dec. 18, 2011, four days after Obama's speech. And
as I said, it wasn't Obama who chose to withdraw. All he decided
was to honor and implement an agreement Bush signed in 2008 that
set a Dec. 31, 2011 timetable for US withdrawal, and that was
largely because Iraq didn't offer any other option.
Perhaps had Obama sided with history, and the vast majority of
the American people, that the 2003 invasion of Iraq had been a
mistake, and laid the blame for that mistake clearly at the feet
of the people responsible for it, he might not have repeated the
mistake in sending troops back to Iraq to fight ISIS -- a move
which, by the way, Krauthammer applauded. By the way, Ramadi fell
to ISIS not in the wake of the US withdrawal, but after Obama
sent troops back into Iraq.
The implication that Iraq had a "viable center" before Obama
withdrew is especially scurrilous. Iraq has essentially the same
shiite-dominated government now it had in 2011 (or for that matter
since the US arranged for Nouri al-Maliki to become Prime Minister
in 2006). While a continued US military presence might have meant
a few more "allies" ready to take American cash, they would never
have developed into a politically significant faction -- in large
part because as far back as Bush I the US viewed Iraq as a triad
of sectarian forces to play against each other (first urging the
shiites to rise up against Saddam Hussein, then helping the Kurds
break away, then using both as proxies in the 2003 invasion, and
later fomenting a Shiite-Sunni civil war to keep the anti-American
Sadr movement from linking up with various anti-American Sunni
forces (everything from Baathists to Al-Qaida-in-Iraq). But also
because "American interests" in Iraq never extended beyond the
military-industrial complex and other corporations (notably in
the oil industry), so the US never offered anything concrete to
the Iraqi people.
Krauthammer also has a peculiar argument about 2003:
It's a retrospective hypothetical: Would you have invaded Iraq in
2003 if you had known then what we know now?
First, the question is not just a hypothetical, but an inherently
impossible hypothetical. It contradicts itself. Had we known there
were no weapons of mass destruction, the very question would not have
arisen. The premise of the war -- the basis for going to the UN, to
the Congress and, indeed, to the nation -- was Iraq's possession of
WMD in violation of the central condition for the ceasefire that
ended the first Gulf War. No WMD, no hypothetical to answer in the
He seems to be saying that had Bush known Iraq had no WMD, he
wouldn't have even considered invading Iraq. But actually there
is little reason to think either that Bush's top security people
believed Iraq possessed WMD or that that possession was the real
reason they wanted to invade and occupy Iraq. Every scrap of
stovepiped intelligence that the administration presented had
been refuted well before the invasion -- the Niger uranium buy,
the aluminum tubes, the mobile biological weapons vans, what
else was there? -- and repeated inspections had failed to find
anything. If Bush wanted to find proof he should have allowed
the UN inspectors to continue their work, but he cut them short.
As for real reason, Bush's people were very forthcoming about
their desire to remake the Middle East in America's image --
actually, during the Bremer viceroyship it looked more like
the aim was Texas's image -- while Bush himself much enjoyed
the political prospects of leading a successful war (something
his father nearly managed but lost by allowing Saddam Hussein
to survive). The phrase "knowing what we know now" doesn't just
mean "knowing Iraq had no WMD"; it means "knowing that the war
would last eight year, cost over 4,000 US soldiers lives, kill
hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and leave the country mired in
a civil war with no end in sight, hosting groups like ISIS that
present threats impossible under Saddam Hussein." Krauthammer
doesn't like that question because even now, even given that
everyone across the political spectrum from George W. Bush to
Jeb Bush would answer the question "no" -- Krauthammer himself
would still say "yes," because quite frankly Krauthammer likes
disastrous wars as much as he likes rousing wars, because he
knows how to spin both into future wars, and that's all he
really cares about.
By the way, in looking up some points above, I ran across
Ali Khedery: Why we stuck with Maliki -- and lost Iraq. Khedery
was a high-level US operative in Iraq, working for various US
ambassadors and General Petraeus, and claims to be the guy who
secured US support to make Maliki Prime Minister in 2006. His
article supports several of Krauthammer's premises. In particular,
he regards Petraeus's "surge" was a brilliant success, and as such
he thinks that Iraq was something the US had to lose, then lost it.
But he sees this as something that Iran did, not something Obama
didn't do. In fact, his only mention of Obama is rather oblique:
The crisis now gripping Iraq and the Middle East was not only
predictable but predicted -- and preventable. By looking the other
way and unconditionally supporting and arming Maliki, President
Obama has only lengthened and expanded the conflict that President
Bush unwisely initiated. Iraq is now a failed state, and as countries
across the Middle East fracture along ethno-sectarian lines, America
is likely to emerge as one of the biggest losers of the new Sunni-Shiite
holy war, with allies collapsing and radicals plotting another 9/11.
Khedery is arguing that Maliki (his own pick in 2006) should have
been removed from power in 2009-10 in favor of an alternative who
would have worked to heal the sectarian divisions the US exacerbated
since 2003 (actually 1991), as if the US effectively had the power
(and insight and wisdom) to manipulate the elected government. Had
Obama managed that, and had the reformed government reunited Iraq
and sparked widely shared economic growth, then ISIS wouldn't have
been able to expand from Syria, and the US wouldn't have gotten
dragged back into Iraq's conflict. That's a lot of hypotheticals.
As for the "radicals plotting another 9/11" that's almost completely
because the US continues to be intimately involved in the civil war
conflicts of the Middle East, picking allies and attacking enemies on
both sides of the Sunni-Shiite divide, because the only coherent
allegiance we have is how we favor the oligarchs over the masses --
no big surprise that the Cold War lives on in Washington, firm in
the conviction that we'll support any despot willing to do business
with us, and we'll adopt any religious fanaticism that seems to help
our cause. Long ago sane people realized that this was an insane way
to view the world, and we'd be better off just quietly doing nothing.
Then all we'd have to worry about is pundits like Krauthammer and
Trudy Rubin and their perpetual warmongering.
Brent Frazee: Tying lures and fishing help put veteran on the road
back from war: After reading several articles trying to use vets
as pawns in debates over the Iraq War, I ran across this one, which
may not be typical but at least is a realistic slice of life:
When Joe Bragg caught a live well full of big crappies Thursday, it
represented one more step on his road to recovery.
Just two months ago, the Army veteran couldn't imagine such moments
would ever be enjoyed again.
"I was totally stressed out," said Bragg, 36, who served two tours
of duty in Iraq. "My life just hit rock bottom.
"At the time I couldn't see any way out."
After returning from the war, Bragg's life unraveled. His wife left
him, he lost his house, he couldn't find a job, and he suffered from
the effects of post traumatic stress disorder.
That's when he turned to a unique kind of therapy. During the nights
when he couldn't sleep, he started tying feather crappie jigs. It was a
craft he learned years ago from his father, who looked for unique lures
that the fish hadn't seen before. [ . . . ]
"I started tying jigs so I didn't have to sit in front of Wal-Mart
begging for money," said Bragg, who lives in Topeka. "It was that bad.
"I was a master carpenter before I went into the service, but after
you've been in the Army, your body gets banged up. The mind's willing,
but the body just can't handle a lot of things."
[ . . . ]
Serving in a war can be tough on a man, he'll tell you. He witnessed
horrors that he wouldn't wish on anyone. He saw friends killed. He
survived mortar fire 17 times (yes, he remembers the exact number),
and he suffered the pain of losing three friends to suicide.
"Not one of them was over 25 years old," he said.
Bragg served in the Army from October 2006 to July 2013 and was
in a unit that did scouting. He was on the front line, and he and
his unit won commendations for their service.
Personally, I don't think that anyone, ever, under any circumstances,
should sign up to join the US Army or any of the other "armed services"
(with the marginal exception of the Coast Guard). I don't think the US
military has done anything in my lifetime that's been worth the cost,
and not just in dead or broken soldiers. Moreover, I think that people
should be sufficiently well informed to decide not to join -- as I was
and did when my time came. So when they do join, especially now that
the draft is no longer trying to coerce them, I think that's a person
who doesn't understand what they're getting into, or why -- certainly
not someone I can give any credit to. Some survive their ordeal without
obvious damage, but many -- it seems like the ratio has increased over
time -- come out more/less damaged. Some learn better, and some come
out with totally warped worldviews. People like to believe that what
they do for a living is worthwhile to the world at large, and sometimes
they go to ridiculous lengths to do so.
One of the veterans pieces I saw was
Rebecca Santana: Iraq war question frustrating veterans:
Veterans of the Iraq war have been watching in frustration as Republican
presidential contenders distance themselves from the decision their party
enthusiastically supported to invade that country.
Some veterans say they long ago concluded their sacrifice was in vain,
and are annoyed that a party that lobbied so hard for the war is now
running from it. Others say they still believe their mission was vital,
regardless of what the politicians say. And some find the question being
posed to the politicians -- Knowing what we know now, would you have
invaded? -- an insult in itself.
All sorts of comments follow, starting with an ex-Army sniper who
"feel such a strong attachment to Iraq that he's thought about going
back to fight as the country has plunged into chaos since U.S. troops
left." Another vet says he "feels the emphasis really shouldn't be on
the decision to invade but on whether the U.S. should have stayed
past its 2011 departure date to secure the gains made. Many vets
blame President Obama -- not Bush -- for the current state of affairs,
saying he was in too much of a hurry to withdraw." The fact is that
people go to remarkable lengths to justify their choices and actions,
to impart some greater value to them than they ever had. Of course,
there are antiwar vets too -- one is quoted, "A mistake doesn't sum
up the gravity of that decision."
No More Mr. Nice Blog cites a story about the mother of a SEAL
who died in Ramadi, complaining "my son's blood is on Ramadi soil.
Now ISIS has it . . . that's 'gut wrenching' to me." Steve M. replies
(emphasis in original):
Look, I'm sorry it worked out this way for everyone who fought there.
But I'm not sorry we withdrew -- I'm sorry we sent these troops to a
war we never should have asked them to fight. It's a harsh truth,
but yes, their sacrifice was for nothing. That's our fault. They
did what we asked them to do. We deserve to burn in hell for asking
them to do it.
Paul Krugman: Hypocritical Sloth: Notes Politico posted a "hit piece
on Elizabeth Warren, alleging that she's being hypocritical in her
opposition to a key aspect of TPP," because, well, I'm not sure --
something. Krugman sees this as "another illustration of the poisonous
effect the determination to sell TPP is having on the Obama team's
intellectual ethics." He goes on to generalize:
And more generally, the whole affair is an illustration of the key role
of sheer laziness in bad journalism.
Think about it: when is the charge of hypocrisy relevant? Basically,
only when a public figure is preaching about individual behavior, and
perhaps holding himself or herself up as a role model. So yes, it's fair
to go after someone who preaches morality but turns out to be a crook or
a sexual predator. But articles alleging that someone's personal choices
are somehow hypocritical given their policy positions are almost always
off point. Someone can declare that inequality is a problem while being
personally rich; they're calling for policy changes, not mass self-abnegation.
Someone can declare our judicial system flawed while fighting cases as
best they can within that system -- until policy change happens, you have
to live in the world as it is.
Oh, and it's very definitely OK to advocate policies that would hurt
one's own financial interests -- it's just bizarre when the press suggests
that there's something insincere and suspect when high earners propose
So why are charges of hypocrisy so popular? Mainly, I think, as a way
to avoid taking on policy substance. Is Elizabeth Warren right or wrong
about TPP? Never mind, let's sneer at her for having been a prominent
The same motives drive the preoccupation with flip-flopping. You once
said that deficits were bad, now you say that they're OK. Hah! Never mind
whether deficits are in fact OK right now, and whether either the situation
has changed or you have learned something. (As someone pointed out, both
Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton have rejected policies they used to support --
but Romney has rejected policies that worked, while Clinton has rejected
policies that didn't. A bit of a difference.)
I think it was Violent Femmes who did a song that went
America is the home of the hypocrite. I remember hypocrisy being
a big deal when I was a teenager and seemed to be running into it in
every corner. The writer then known as Leroi Jones (you know him as
Amiri Baraka) wrote a novel -- one of the first "adult" books I read --
called The System of Dante's Hell where he noted that he would
assign hypocrites to a lower spot in hell than Dante had, because they
were a more egregious problem now than then. Some early examples were
pompous public preachers getting caught in sex scandals -- the sort
of thing that returned as farce with this week's
Josh Duggar scandal -- but the worst cases always struck me as
political, like J. Edgar Hoover as the defender of freedom, or the
refrain "kill for peace." I suspect that charges of hypocrisy often
have instant resonance for ex-believers. Still, these days I worry
more about consistent, relentless liars -- like Charles Krauthammer
up above, who always has an agenda to make the world a more miserable
place. And it hardly matters whether his interest in doing so is because
he's a paid hack or a true believer (in God or the ruling class or the
principle of sheer greed or something equally loony). On the other
hand, hypocrisy is starting to look like part of the human condition,
a failing we should probably forgive lest we lose everything. For
instance, Thomas Jefferson is well known to us as a slaveholding
hypocrite, but his declaration that "all men are created equal"
should still matter to us.
Cathy O'Neil: Kansas redistributes money from the poor to the banks:
Reaction to a recent Kansas state law which imposes a long list of
restrictions on welfare recipients, intended to prevent them from
enjoying any "luxuries" at the state's expense. One such restriction
is that one cannot withdraw more than $25 from an ATM at one time.
As O'Neil points out, most ATMs (certainly all the ones I use) only
deal in $20 bills, so that is the effective limit. Also, most charge
fixed fees per transaction, the same amount for $20 as for $200 or
more, so forcing people to make more transactions is effectively a
subsidy for the banks. O'Neil doesn't note that this part of the
state law is contrary to federal law and will probably have to be
dropped unless the point is to kill off the state welfare program
by disqualifying it from federal money -- that is, after all, where
the money comes from. (That may seem insane, but Kansas is one of
the states that refuses Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, much to
the consternation of the program's real beneficiaries: the state's
hospitals, doctors, and their corporate support networks.) There's
also much more to the state law than this banking proviso. Among
the prohibited "luxuries" are movie tickets -- note that Wichita
has a discount second-run theater where shows are $2 on Tuesdays,
but that's still a prohibited luxury. I've seen a lot of discussion
about this law -- the sponsor, by the way, is Michael O'Donnell,
a young Republican who unfortunately represents my state senate
district; he is what we used to call a PK [preacher's kid], and
is a textbook example of how ignorant and unrealistic a sheltered
and pampered young person can be -- but one thing I've never seen
discussed is how the hell all these restrictions are going to be
enforced. Are movie theaters going to be held responsible for
making sure no welfare recipients buy tickets? Are ATMs going
to be reprogrammed to enforce limits on withdrawals? (That, at
least, would be easier given that the accounts could be flagged.)
Maybe they could hire auditors to comb through the books of the
poorest people in Kansas? Or they could set up a hot line so
nosy neighbors could rat on the welfare cheats? If there is any
enforcement, it is bound to be sporadic and arbitrary -- just
the thing to impress on poor people that government is hostile
and views them as probable criminals. Indeed, that seems to be
where this anti-welfare mindset is heading, even if someone like
O'Donnell is way too clueless to figure it out. If they succeed
in making the welfare system so onerous that no one will deal
with it, they will wind up driving more people into crime, and
into prisons -- the most expensive and destructive of "safety
nets." They forget that welfare, even with the stigma that it is
unearned, is the least destructive and least expensive remedy for
people who lack the skills and/or opportunity to earn a living --
and increasingly for people whose jobs don't pay enough to live
on. Welfare could be done better if government put more effort
into developing skills and personal discipline, in increasing
opportunity by growing the economy, and in providing affordable
services -- especially banking. (For one thing, free bank accounts
would kill off the predatory check cashing/payday loan industry;
for another it would give poor people the chance to manage their
money the way the better off do.)
By the way, as the Kansas state legislature tries to plug the
budget hole caused by Brownback's income tax cuts (especially,
exempting business income from taxation) and their inverse Laffer
Effect (rather than stimulating the economy, they forced cutbacks
which depressed it). They've been scrounging around for ways to
make the tax code more regressive -- a favorite has been increasing
one of the nation's highest state sales tax rates -- and they've
finally found a real winner: eliminate the earned income tax credit
(EITC). Conservatives have traditionally supported EITC as a way
to make low-wage jobs more attractive -- a break to skinflint
employers as much as to their workers. The only problem with such
poor-get-poorer strategies is their isn't much tax revenue to be
raised there. Sooner or later they're going to have to tax the rich
if for no other reason than that's where all the money is. (The
state legislator who's trying to write the new tax bill admits
that the exclusion for business owners goes too far. He's one of
the beneficiaries of the scheme, but he's pushing a compromise,
whereby his current $60,000 savings would be reduced to $32,000.
As I recall, the top state income tax rate is about 6%, so that
means his pretax income is about $10 million.)
Max Ehrenfreud: Kansas has found the ultimate way to punish the
poor is also about this.
Nancy LeTourneau: President Obama is "Deeply in Touch With the Heart
and Spirit of the Jewish People": Mostly taken from an interview
Jeffrey Goldberg did with Obama, including a long quote where
Obama expands upon his sense of how the principles of "Jewish democracy"
are inextricably linked with his commitment to civil rights. This is
And I care deeply about preserving that Jewish democracy, because when
I think about how I came to know Israel, it was based on images of, you
know -- Kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and the sense that
not only are we creating a safe Jewish homeland, but also we are remaking
the world. We're repairing it. We are going to do it the right way. We
are going to make sure that the lessons we've learned from our hardships
and our persecutions are applied to how we govern and how we treat others.
In other words, Obama's stuck in a time warp, believing in an Israel
that probably never existed but was constructed as myth and embraced by
distant, hopeful admirers. Josh Ruebner, in Shattered Hopes: Obama's
Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace, has a long section on
Obama's tutelage and mentorship by liberal Jewish political figures in
Chicago, offering many examples of why Obama has such deep sentimental
affiliation with Israel. So sure, this quote rings true as something
Obama believes, and it helps explain why he is so ineffectual in his
efforts to realign Israel with its supposed ideals. I find it especially
ironic that he cites Dayan as one of his Zionist icons. Dayan once said
"Our American friends offer us money, arms, and advice. We take the
money, we take the arms, and we decline the advice." When you revere
Dayan, as Obama does, you don't even notice the latter. You're so
convinced of Israel's moral authority it never occurs to you that
their failure to achieve peace or to manage a society that is even
remotely just and equitable could be their own fault. It must, you
know, be those evil Palestinians, so full of hate they constantly
provoke good Israelis to tear down their houses, rip up their land,
jail and kill them. What's that Golda Meir line? "We can forgive
the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for
forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with
the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us."
Obviously, they don't, because we don't have peace yet. So when
Obama reiterates his belief in Jewish/Israeli ideals, all the
Israelis have to do is smile and agree. Acts are never required.
By the way, after writing the above, I found this link:
Donald Johnson: The grotesque injustice of Obama's speech at the
Washington synagogue. Much the same language, but also a joke
that "Palestinians are not easy partners."
Nancy LeTourneau: President Obama Helped Moved the Overton Window to
the Left: The "Overton Window" is defined as "the range of ideas
the public will accept," which for all practical purposes is equivalent
to "the range of ideas the mainstream media will discuss seriously."
The latter is a more conservative formulation since, well, mainstream
media is by definition owned by rich people, who as a class skew well
to the right. One can think of things like, say, nuclear disarmament
that the public may very well endorse but are never seriously discussed
because few elites feel like bucking the status quo. Until recently,
marijuana legalization was in that category. LeTourneau expects Clinton
to run a much more progressive presidential campaign in 2016 than she
did in 2008, and attributes this to Obama moving "the Overton Window
to the left." Clearly, some things (like marijuana legalization) are
on the table now that weren't a few years ago, but it's hard to relate
most of them with anything that Obama has done (Cuba is an exception
here, and maybe Iran). Rather, it looks to me like the window has
shifted partly because conditions on the ground have worsened -- e.g.,
it's harder to pretend that inequality isn't a problem, that the rich
are undertaxed, that government services are extravagantly inefficient,
or that the US military is the answer to all the Middle East's problems --
and partly because Republican nostrums for common problems have fallen
off the deep end, becoming so implausible Democrats are losing the fear
they developed during the Reagan era. It's also notable that while
Democrats in Washington have been prevented from enacting any remotely
progressive legislation -- there wasn't even much to show for the large
2009-11 "fillibuster-proof majority" (not that the finance and health
care laws were nothing; indeed, they've clearly helped, even if not as
much as we wanted) -- left-leaning think tanks and bloggers have kept
working on real problems, advancing real solutions. I think all of this
does add up to a slight leftward shift in public opinion, not that there
aren't plenty of well-moneyed obstacles (including a mainstream media
that cares little for "public interest journalism"). So I wouldn't be
surprised if that drift shows up in Clinton's polls as something she
needs to cultivate, regardless of her disinclination. And in the long
run, Obama will probably deserve some credit: although I'm much more
struck by how deeply conservative his conventional liberalism is, he
clearly has broken some barriers, and the nonsense spouted by his
crazed enemies will soon enough fade into the shameful dark corners
of American history.
Sunday, May 17. 2015
No head start this week, and didn't have much time on Sunday what
with going to a Global Learning Center panel on Israel/Palestine
(Laura Tillem was one of the panelists). Still came up with the
following links and comments:
Josh Marshall: Sorry. Iraq Wasn't a Good Faith Mistake. It Was Based on
Lies. Fox News is on a kick of asking Republican presidential wannabes
whether "knowing what we know now" they would still have invaded Iraq in
2003. Most candidates answered no, they wouldn't invade, although it did
take Jeb Bush two guesses to get the right answer. Frank Conniff tweeted:
"Stop asking GOP candidates about Iraq War. It distracts us from their
stupid & incoherent thoughts on a host of other issues." Actually,
they remain pretty stupid and incoherent today. Whether they would have
invaded is only part of the question. Another is whether they would have
contrived the phony evidence Bush and Cheney collected to support their
predisposition to go to war. Marshall explains:
While it's welcome to see the would-be heirs of President Bush, including
his own brother, acknowledging the obvious, this history is such a
staggering crock that it's critical to go back and review what actually
happened. Some of this was obvious to anyone who was paying attention.
Some was only obvious to reporters covering the story who were steeped
in the details. And some was only obvious to government officials who
in the nature of things controlled access to information. But in the
tightest concentric circle of information, at the White House, it was
obviously all a crock at the time.
While it is true that "WMD" was a key premise for the war, the sheer
volume of lies, willful exaggerations and comically wishful thinking
are the real story.
Marshall got some catcalls for this piece, at least from those who
remembered that he was one of the ones suckered into supporting Bush's
folly. Many of us knew better at the time -- even if we didn't know
exactly which points were fabricated, we had better instincts, mostly
because we had learned painful lessons from previous wars. The real
question that the presidential candidates (Clinton included) should
be asked is what have they learned from the Iraq War experience? Given
how many of them are itchy to rejoin and escalate the war against ISIS,
it doesn't look like they learned enough.
and Lies) repeats the point then adds something more:
Finally, and this is where
Atrios comes in, part of the answer is that a lot of Very Serious
People were effectively in on the con. They, too, were looking forward
to a splendid little war; or they were eager to burnish their non-hippie
credentials by saying, hey, look, I'm a warmonger too; or they shied away
from acknowledging the obvious lies because that would have been partisan,
and they pride themselves on being centrists. And now, of course, they
are very anxious not to revisit their actions back then.
[ . . . ]
But back to Iraq: the crucial thing to understand is that the invasion
wasn't a mistake, it was a crime. We were lied into war. And we shouldn't
let that ugly truth be forgotten.
I want to emphasize one more point here: the lies weren't just what
the Bush administration told us about Saddam Hussein and Iraq. They
also lied to us about ourselves (who America was and what US troops
could and would do) and about themselves (what Bush's own ambitions
were for the war). And those lies worked mostly because they built on
self-delusions that Americans have been telling themselves for years,
especially since the nation turned its back on reality in electing
Ronald Reagan in 1980. That, too, was known (or knowable) at the
time: I recall John Dower writing that the occupation of Iraq would
not resemble the US occupation of Japan not only because Iraq is not
Japan but also because America now is not the same country America
was then. It's an easy (and sobering) exercise to sort out both sides
of that ledger, and that's all it should have taken. But politicians
in America aren't selected for their grasp of history. They are, rather,
elected for their ability to flatter voters, telling us how wonderful
we are, how capable, how competent, how righteous, how magnamimous.
That's a much bigger crock than the one Marshall sees. Indeed, it's
the one that swallowed him up.
Richard Silverstein: Israeli Government Most Racist, Extremist in
Israel named its new cabinet yesterday and the names are a Who's Who
of the most rabid, racist, brutal and cruel politicians in the nation.
The only one who rivals them and is missing from the show is Avigdor
Lieberman, who's bowed out for political reasons of his own. In the
past, nations of the world have isolated individual leaders of nations
and refused to visit or meet with them because their ideas are so
noxious that they fall outside the consensus of international discourse.
Kurt Waldheim and Jorg Haider are examples of this. The time has come
to put the Israeli government in herem. You can pick your poison among
them as to which deserves special ostracism.
This intro is followed by quotes, their "Greatest Hits of Hate,"
with Naftali Bennett's "I've killed many Arabs in my life and there's
no problem with that" and Eli Ben-Dahan's "In my opinion, they are
beasts, not humans" singled out, although I'm not sure those are
worse than the many cancer analogies. Not everyone managed to score
an obscene quote. Some were noted for their felony records. And for
an example of exception-proving-the rules, there's Benny Begin (son
of terrorist prime minister Menachem Begin): "ejected from [Likud]
Party leadership during last party primaries for his so-called
'moderate' views; apparently he's been included as a moderate
fig-leaf for an extremist government." I remember Begin when he
was a young firebrand trying to outflank his father, so score one
for maturity, and subtract two for the rabid drift that has managed
to make him look good (albeit only relatively).
Richard Silverstein: AIPAC Wants Congress to Criminalize BDS:
I have three points to make about BDS (the boycott-divest-sanctions
movement against Israel's occupation and apartheid regime): one is
that if Europeans and Americans reject BDS they'll be sending a
message to Palestinians that violence is their only resort. The
other is that BDS is something America and Europe routinely does
to express disapproval without resorting to war -- the difference
here is that by starting with individuals and private organizations
BDS is a grass roots movement, not just something imposed by state
powers for their own purposes. Third is that Israel is enough of
a democracy that its political response should be fluid -- as
opposed to dictatorships (North Korea being the most extreme example)
which have only been hardened by sanctions. BDS finally imposes a
(small) cost on Israel for acts it gets away with the way most
bullies do, and that's their basic response to BDS. Gandhi on
non-violent political movements: "First they ignore you, then
they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Trying to
outlaw BDS is the kneejerk reaction of bullies. With all due
respect to AIPAC's Congressional prowess, I can't see Americans
abandoning their right to free speech just to let Israel ignore
criticism. Indeed, it looks like AIPAC's proposal is somewhat
more circuitous in that what it seeks to do is impose trading
sanctions on Europe if Europe implements BDS through some back
door TPP-like mechanism. Looks like Gandhi's stage three.
Richard Silverstein: GOP's Go-To Jews: One of the classic
anti-semetic tropes is the suggestion that Jews are secretly
running things, pulling strings to exert inordinate power. In
the old days such aspersions were demonstrably untrue, but the
trope seems due for a comeback, partly because one can point
to real-life examples like these. And while truth be told Adelson
et al. are acting more like pompous billionaires than Jews, they
make matters worse when they wrap themselves in the Israeli flag
and use their influence to prod the US into self-destructive wars
in the Middle East.
Over the past week, the media has exposed several critical relationships
between major GOP presidential candidates and their key Jewish donors,
including Sen. Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. Though I didn't coin this
term, it's apt to call these individuals "go-to" Jews; or in older
parlance, they are the Court Jews who provide access for the pro-Israel
community to the arenas of power.
Rubio has for years enjoyed the patronage of Norman Braman, a wealthy
Miami auto-dealer. Braman has not only heavily financed the Senator's
campaigns for state and federal office, he's employed both Rubio and his
wife and engaged in an extensive set of financial relationships with
them involving gifts, loans and other support.
But in just the past week or so, an even greater Jewish (blue and)
white knight has emerged to bless Rubio's candidacy: none other than
Sheldon Adelson. It seems the self-made fat cat Jews who pulled themselves
up by their own bootstraps are enamored by Rubio's life story of growing
up poor as a Cuban immigrant and making something of his life in the
contemporary version of the American Dream. The media report that Adelson
has decided to go "all-in" with Rubio, as he did with Newt Gingrich in
the last presidential campaign. Politico adds that Paul Singer, the
Likudist hedge fund billionaire, is joining Rubio's camp as well.
I'm wondering when Adelson's involvement with the Chinese mob,
including offering his blessing to Chinese triads engaged in gambling,
prostitution and loansharking at his Macau casino, will catch up to
him. GOP presidential candidates are delighted to take his $100-million
(in the last election cycle -- likely to rise to $200-million in the
2016 cycle). But when will the moment come when the public will realize
how dirty Sheldon's money is and severely penalize candidates who've
availed themselves of it? This is a ticking bomb for Republicans.
Adelson is a golden teat, till he isn't.
Walker's sugar daddy is Larry Mizel: "paving the way for Scott
Walker's visit to the Holyland, where he will presumably make a
pilgrimage to the Stations of the GOP pro-Israel cross. . . .
Walker, having no previous pro-Israel credentials given his role
as Wisconsin governor, is strongly in need of a pro-Israel
heksher (kosher certification), which Mizel provides."
Sunday, May 10. 2015
We had four or five straight days this week of "elevated" severe weather
threats. Most of the real damage took place in Oklahoma and north Texas,
but we did have one EF-3 tornado on the ground for 15 miles near Rose Hill,
about ten miles west of here. Rain itself has been spotty, and most likely
we're still below average year-to-date. More surprising to me is Tropical
Storm Ana appearing a month ahead of the Atlantic hurricane season -- the
earliest such storm since 2003.
Wikipedia says the forecast for hurricanes this year is about 20%
below the 1950-2014 average, but such an early storm strikes me as
This week's scattered links:
Mark Bittman: Obama and Republicans Agree on the Trans-Pacific Partnership
. . . Unfortunately: I gather from Twitter (err,
TPM) that Obama dismissed Elizabeth Warren's opposition to TPP by
saying, "The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a
politician like everybody else." Obama, on the other hand, is so far
above the political fray that he's got George Will applauding TPP as
"Obama's best idea." Of course, it's easy for Obama to dismiss the
concerns of Democrats as "speculation" because he's spent the last
five years negotiating TPP in secret.
Smith: "There would be no reason to keep it so secret if it was
in the public interest."] Indeed, it's only come up now
because he wants Congress to write him a blank check to negotiate
whatever without allowing future amendments. You'd think folks as
paranoid as the Republicans in Congress would never go for that, but
evidently the fix is in. Bittman normally writes about food -- I can
recommend his cookbooks How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes
for Great Food and The Best Recipes in the World: More Than
1,000 International Dishes to Cook at Home -- so it's surprising
to see him wander into political waters, but he points out:
Even if you look "only" at food and the environment, the TPP should
be ripped apart and put back together with public and congressional
input. The pact would threaten local food, diminish labeling laws,
likely keep environmentally destructive industrial meat production
high (despite the fact that as a nation we're eating less meat) and
probably maintain high yields of commodity crops while causing price
It would certainly weaken food safety. For example, more than 90
percent of our seafood is imported, a figure that includes fish that
were caught domestically and sent overseas for processing before
coming back in, which makes the inspection process even more complicated.
All told, that's more than five billion pounds of imports annually,
and according to the Center for Food Safety, just 90 federal inspectors
guarantee its safety. (The Food and Drug Administration inspects less
than 2 percent of imported seafood.) By reducing restrictions on
Southeast Asian imports, the TPP would allow more fish containing
chemicals that are illegal in domestic aquaculture to reach our
shores; by making inspections less effective, it would virtually
guarantee that those chemicals make it to our tables.
The agreement would even allow countries to challenge one another's
laws, so that "equivalency" may simply mean that the least powerful
regulations become the norm. The United States would have no special
standing: If our laws are seen as restraining trade or limiting profits,
they could be challenged in special courts, per the TPP's "investor
state" clause. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay over that country's
antismoking laws under just such circumstances; there are several
examples of American companies' flouting local laws and citing trade
agreements as an excuse; and Mexico has been sued repeatedly for
theoretically diminishing investor profits.
When individual governments have little say, corporate "efficiency"
amounts to the global economy's being run as an ill-regulated business
model (an equally egregious trans-Atlantic agreement is currently being
negotiated). The projected benefits to the public -- as usual, "job
creation" leads the list -- are mythical, and you don't have to take
my word for it.
Some other relevant links:
Peter Baker: Obama Scolds Democrats on Trade Pact Stance: Obama gave
his TPP speech at Nike corporate headquarters. Baker wrote, "Nike was a
risky choice for Mr. Obama to make his case for trade. For years, the
multibillion-dollar company has been cited as a case study by opponents
of trade liberalization for its reliance on low-wage workers in Asia."
Robert Reich: Nike is everything that's wrong with the U.S. economy:
OK as a gut reaction to Obama's choice of venue, but it's really not
just Nike that's a problm -- Boeing, Comcast, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer,
Walmart, and many others have made their own unique contributions to
Josh Bivens: The Trans-Pacific Partnership Is Unlikely to Be a Good Deal
for American Workers [Economic Policy Institute].
Jeff Faux: TPP: Obama's Folly.
Glenn Kessler: The Obama administration's illusionary job gains from the
Trans-Pacific Partnership: linked to by Bittman under "and you don't
have to take my word for it."
Lori Wallach: NAFTA on Steroids.
Electronic Frontier Foundation: What Is TPP: Brief summary of leaked
"intellectual property" (IP) provisions. The US has consistently been
very aggressive about protecting and extending the monopoly rents of
IP owners, presumably because the net balance of rents favors American
(or more often multinational) companies but in fact those rents only
benefit a tiny share of the very rich, at great cost to most Americans.
Paul Krugman: Race, Class and Neglect:
Every time you're tempted to say that America is moving forward on race --
that prejudice is no longer as important as it used to be -- along comes
an atrocity to puncture your complacency. Almost everyone realizes, I hope,
that the Freddie Gray affair wasn't an isolated incident, that it's unique
only to the extent that for once there seems to be a real possibility that
justice may be done.
And the riots in Baltimore, destructive as they are, have served at
least one useful purpose: drawing attention to the grotesque inequalities
that poison the lives of too many Americans.
Yet I do worry that the centrality of race and racism to this particular
story may convey the false impression that debilitating poverty and
alienation from society are uniquely black experiences. In fact, much
though by no means all of the horror one sees in Baltimore and many
other places is really about class, about the devastating effects of
extreme and rising inequality.
Take, for example, issues of health and mortality. Many people have
pointed out that there are a number of black neighborhoods in Baltimore
where life expectancy compares unfavorably with impoverished Third World
nations. But what's really striking on a national basis is the way class
disparities in death rates have been soaring even among whites.
Most notably, mortality among white women has increased sharply since
the 1990s, with the rise surely concentrated among the poor and poorly
educated; life expectancy among less educated whites has been falling at
rates reminiscent of the collapse of life expectancy in post-Communist
And yes, these excess deaths are the result of inequality and lack
of opportunity, even in those cases where their direct cause lies in
self-destructive behavior. Overuse of prescription drugs, smoking, and
obesity account for a lot of early deaths, but there's a reason such
behaviors are so widespread, and that reason has to do with an economy
that leaves tens of millions behind.
Actually, the adverse effects of inequality have been well documented
(see, e.g., Ichiro Kawachi/Bruce P Kennedy: The Health of Nations:
Why Inequality Is Harmful to Your Health and Richard Wilkinson:
The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier).
Still, the Russian analogy is shocking (if I recall correctly, life
expectancy for males dropped from close to 70 to 49 in a decade, which
probably hasn't happened anywhere else since WWII). It's hard to believe
that the US economy and safety net have sunk that far, but the sheer
indifference of many political figures borders on cruelty, and the cult
of austerity has convinced many people that public action is impossible.
It's curious that one effort no one has lined up to celebrate the 50th
anniversary of is the War on Poverty: even the heirs of its supporters
don't seem to have the energy or vision (or memory) to recall that it
actually was working until sabotaged by political indifference (Nixon)
and contempt (Reagan) and cowardice (Clinton).
Jeff Madrick: The Cost of Child Poverty.
Dean Obeidallah: Muslim-Bashing Can Be Very Lucrative: Geller got
more than the usual press this week when her "Draw Muhammad" cartooning
event in Texas provoked a couple of overly sensitive American muslims
to commit martyrdom-by-cop trying to shoot their way into the event.
That may have seemed like a PR coup, but I haven't seen anyone -- even
muslimphobes like Bill Maher -- stand up to identify with her. Author
looks at the money trail, such as it is, citing a "Fear, Inc. report
that found that certain key foundations have donated close to $60
million in recent years to these anti-Muslim advocates." Geller's
only getting a small slice of that, but she's more than making ends
Also, a few links for further study:
Dean Baker: The Reconnection Agenda: The Fun and Easy Route to
Broadly Shared Prosperity: Review of Jared Bernstein's new book,
The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity --
available as a
free PDF, a cheap Kindle book, or a moderately priced paperback.
Bernstein was briefly famous when VP Joe Biden hired him as economic
advisor in 2009, although I ran into him earlier when I read his 2008
book Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Unsolved Economic
Mysteries). As the Biden appointment shows, obviously not a flaming
radical, but much of what he argues for -- like full employment --
proved unthinkable even within Obama's circle of "confidence men."
Bernstein's book looks to be heavy on policy wonkery -- i.e., he
describes what could be done if we wanted to do it, rather than
exploring why such political will doesn't exist (at least at the
level of practical politicians). Baker adds some quibbles, notably
pointing out that the persistent trade deficit (and overvaluation
of the dollar) is something that exists because certain US interest
groups favor it.
Andrew Cockburn: The Kingpin Strategy: Subhed: "Assassination
as Policy in Washington and How It Failed, 1990-2015." I've been
inclined to attribute Washington's jones for targeted assassination
to a case of neocon Israel envy, but Cockburn finds earlier roots
in the War on Drugs' "kingpin strategy": a program to put faces on
various "drug cartels" and mark progress by knocking off their
heads -- Pablo Escobar, of the Medellin cartel in Colombia, was
an early target. (Of course, now that I think of it, this is the
Vietnam Phoenix Program all over again.) Of course, it turns out
that killing drug kingpins actually resulted in more drugs at
lower prices -- the cartels, after all, were just that, so breaking
them up only increased competition. With the War on Terror, drug
kingpins gave way to HVIs ("high-value individuals"). Turns out
that didn't work so well either:
The results, [Rivolo] discovered when he graphed them out, offered
a simple, unequivocal message: the strategy was indeed making a
difference, just not the one intended. It was, however, the very
same message that the kingpin strategy had offered in the drug wars
of the 1990s. Hitting HVIs did not reduce attacks and save American
lives; it increased them. Each killing quickly prompted mayhem.
Within three kilometers of the target's base of operation, attacks
over the following 30 days shot up by 40%. Within a radius of five
kilometers, a typical area of operations for an insurgent cell,
they were still up 20%. Summarizing his findings for Odierno,
Rivolo added an emphatic punch line: "Conclusion: HVI Strategy,
our principal strategy in Iraq, is counter-productive and needs
to be re-evaluated."
As with the kingpin strategy, the causes of this apparently
counter-intuitive result became obvious upon reflection. Dead
commanders were immediately replaced, and the newcomers were
almost always younger and more aggressive than their predecessors,
eager to "make their bones" and prove their worth.
Cockburn, by the way, has a new book: Kill Chain: The Rise of
the High-Tech Assassins. Article also at
Seymour Hersh: The Killing of Osama bin Laden: Much new detail here,
if you're into that sort of thing -- I didn't bother with any of the Seal
memoirs, although I wonder how clear they were that Bin Laden was an ISI
prisoner, or that the raid was arranged with collaboration and consent of
Pakistani officials. For instance:
One lie that has endured is that the Seals had to fight their way to
their target. Only two Seals have made any public statement: No Easy
Day, a first-hand account of the raid by Matt Bissonnette, was
published in September 2012; and two years later Rob O'Neill was
interviewed by Fox News. Both men had resigned from the navy; both had
fired at bin Laden. Their accounts contradicted each other on many details,
but their stories generally supported the White House version, especially
when it came to the need to kill or be killed as the Seals fought their
way to bin Laden. O'Neill even told Fox News that he and his fellow Seals
thought 'We were going to die.' 'The more we trained on it, the more we
realised . . . this is going to be a one-way mission.'
But the retired official told me that in their initial debriefings
the Seals made no mention of a firefight, or indeed of any opposition.
The drama and danger portrayed by Bissonnette and O'Neill met a deep-seated
need, the retired official said: 'Seals cannot live with the fact that they
killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of
their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the
bar and say it was an easy day? That's not going to happen.'
They did make the operation more dramatic by crashing a helicopter,
which they then had to blow up while ordering in a replacement. Hersh's
High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy,
along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids,
bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.
Costas Lapavitsas: The Syriza strategy has come to an end: An
interview with the Greek economist, author of Profiting Without
Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (2014, Verso), on the
various differences in Europe, especially between Germany and Greece,
and how they're tearing the Eurozone apart.
Nomi Prins: The Clintons and Their Banker Friends: Adapted
from her book, All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances
That Drive American Power, recently reprinted in paperback.
Although Bush and Obama did more to bail out bankrupt banks, no
one made them more money, through generous legislation and hands
off regulation, than Bill Clinton.
Sandy Tolan: The One-State Conundrum: What makes Tolan's The
Lemon Tree one of the most accessible books on Israel-Palestine
is how he uses a couple very real individuals as a prism for the big
picture story. His new book, Children of the Stone: The Power of
Music in a Hard Land, picks another such example, a Palestinian
violinist who founded a music school in the Occupied Territories.
I have spent the last five years documenting both the harsh realities
of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Ramzi Aburedwan's dream
of building a music school that could provide Palestinian children
with an alternative to the violence and humiliation that is their
everyday lives. I sat with children in the South Hebron hills, who
had been stoned by Israeli settlers and set upon by German shepherds
as they walked two miles to school. I met a 14-year-old girl who was
forced to play a song for a soldier at a checkpoint, supposedly to
prove her flute was not a weapon.
Farmers in villages shared their anguish with me over their lost
livelihoods, because the 430-mile-long separation barrier Israel has
built on Palestinian land, essentially confiscating nearly 10% of the
West Bank, cuts them off from their beloved olive groves. I've seen
men crammed into metal holding pens before being taken to minimum-wage
jobs in Israel, and women squeezed between seven-foot-high concrete
blocks, waiting to pray at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque. I've spoken
with countless families who have been subject to night raids by the
Israeli military, including one young mother, home alone with her
one-year-old boy, who woke up to the sight of 10 Israeli soldiers
breaking down her door and pointing guns at her. They had, it turned
out, raided the wrong apartment. The baby slept through it all.
Ramzi and the teachers at his school, Al Kamandjati (Arabic for
"The Violinist"), see it as an antidote to the sense of oppression
and confinement that pervades Palestinian life. And it's true that
the students I talked to there regularly reported that playing music
gave them a transformative sense of calm and protection -- and not
only in the moments when they picked up their instruments and
disappeared into Bach, Beethoven, or Fairuz.
Hope they play some Ellington too.
Philip Weiss: 'NY Review of Books' says Tony Judt didn't really mean
it when he called for the end of a Jewish state: A rebuttal to
assertions made in a review of Judt's essay collection When the
Facts Change: Essays, 1995-2010 by
Jonathan Freedland (paywalled). The late historian's piece,
included in the book, dated from 2003, and as Weiss points out
included a number of predictions which have held up rather well.
I don't think I've seen anything like this before: such a retraction,
issued after the author's death, of a signature portion of his beliefs.
And I understand why; it anguished liberal Zionists to hear anyone
thoughtful come out against the idea of a Jewish state, won so
heroically over 80 years of battle in the chambers of western
officials. It was a betrayal of an article of faith, by someone who
had previously been a Zionist.
The New York Review of Books has done all it can to bury Judt's
essay. It never asked Judt to expand on his views in the years that
followed, let alone ask Ali Abunimah or Ghada Karmi or any other
Palestinian who can pick up a pencil to respond. No, this was an
all-Jewish event. And the retraction here is being performed by a
man who wrote a year back that Ari Shavit is a "liberal" and the
right person to talk to American Jews about the conflict (Shavit
who "opposed the Oslo Agreement, calling it 'a collective act of
messianic drunkenness' and defending its most prominent opponent,
Netanyahu, against charges that he was partly to blame for its
failure . . . [who] during the Second Intifada, . . . praised
Sharon for having 'conducted the military campaign patiently,
wisely and calmly' and 'the diplomatic campaign with impressive
talent' [, who in] the final week of the war in Gaza this summer
that took the lives of 72 Israelis and more than 2100 Palestinians,
. . . wrote that strong objection to Israeli conduct was illegitimate
and amounted to anti-Semitic bigotry").
As he's explained in his memoirs, Judt was very attached to Israel,
even working on a kibbutz there, so his 2003 essay had the impact of
a jilted believer -- Judt was a huge fan of a collection of essays by
disenchanted ex-Communists, The God That Failed, so he would
have appreciated that a comparable book could collect key essays by
Some links on the UK (and other) elections: I still have
enough residual sense of international solidarity to at least root for
left-leaning parties all around the world, although UK "New Labour"
leader Tony Blair's "Bush's Poodle" act sorely tried those sympathies,
and it seems like France's Socialists have long tended to be more
enthusiastic about French imperialism than the competing Gaullists
were. On the other hand, I keep favoring the Democratic Party here
in the USA, even though they have the worst record of all, so I'm
not unaware of how these travesties happen. My sense of solidarity
even extends to Israel's Labor Party (if indeed it still exists).
But beyond oft-frustrated sympathies, I haven't tried to sort out
what's just happened in the UK. I'll just note some links for future
Sunday, April 26. 2015
Geology trumped the news twice this week: first with a volcanic
eruption in Chile, then a massive earthquake in Nepal. Worth noting
that bad things can still happen that can't be attributed to bad
policies of the political right. Also in the news: anniversaries
keep happening, including this week the 100th anniversary of one
of Winston Churchill's most immediately obvious blunders, the
Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey. Churchill got his first taste of
battle at Omduran in the Sudan and found it totally exhilarating.
Had he been present at Gallipoli he would have gotten a taste of
what the Sudanese experienced. Also 100 years ago, the Ottomans
started their genocide against the Armenians, ultimately killing
up to 1.5 million of them. Turkey has refused to acknowledge what
Taner Akcam termed A Shameful Act, which has the accidental
benefit of letting Britain and Russia -- who tried to cultivate
the Christian Armenians as a "fifth column" against the Ottomans --
off the hook.
Some scattered links this week:
Brendan James: Michele Bachmann: Thanks Obama for Bringing On the
Apocalypse: As Bachmann explains:
"Barack Obama is intent, it is his number one goal, to ensure that Iran
has a nuclear weapon," she said. "Why? Why would you put the nuclear
weapon in the hands of madmen who are Islamic radicals?"
Bachmann, however, then seemed to approve of the President moving
mankind into "the midnight hour."
"We get to be living in the most exciting time in history," she said,
urging fellow Christians to "rejoice."
"Jesus Christ is coming back. We, in our lifetimes potentially, could
see Jesus Christ returning to Earth, the Rapture of the Church."
"These are wonderful times," she concluded.
Now, I come from a long line of "Revelations scholars" -- I can still
recall (and I was less than ten at the time) my grandfather asking me
whether I thought Israel's founding was a sign that the rapture was near.
My father, too, spent a lifetime studying "Revelations" -- mostly, as
best I could figure out, to prove that his father had understood it all
wrong. (My own theory was that the "book" was tacked onto the end just
to discredit the whole Bible, as if the other "books" weren't proof
enough of some sick hoax.) So I do have a little trouble treating the
people who believe in the rapture as batshit crazy, but there is at
least one difference between Bachmann and my forefathers: the latter
didn't go around acting like it's going to happen any day now.
Paul Krugman: The Fiscal Future I: The Hyperbolic Case for Bigger
Government: Turns out Clinton threw the baby out with the bath
water when he declared that "the age of big government is over."
Back in the 1990s some conservatives were arguing that the ideal
size of government relative to GDP was set during the Coolidge
administration and we should lock that into law. Others preferred
to idealize the McKinley administration, and Grover Norquist just
wanted to shrink the whole thing so small he could drown it in the
bathtub. It's taken a while for someone like Brad DeLong to come
along and argue that the opposite is the case: that government
should grow even larger.
So, how big should the government be? The answer, broadly speaking,
is surely that government should do those things it does better than
the private sector. But what are these things?
The standard, textbook answer is that we should look at public
goods -- goods that are non rival and non excludable, so that the
private sector won't provide them. National defense, weather
satellites, disease control, etc. And in the 19th century that was
arguably what governments mainly did.
Nowadays, however, governments are involved in a lot more --
education, retirement, health care. You can make the case that there
are some aspects of education that are a public good, but that's not
really why we rely on the government to provide most education, and
not at all why the government is so involved in retirement and health.
Instead, experience shows that these are all areas where the government
does a (much) better job than the private sector. And Brad argues that
the changing structure of the economy will mean that we want more of
these goods, hence bigger government.
He also suggests -- or at least that's how I read him -- the common
thread among these activities that makes the government a better provider
than the market; namely, they all involve individuals making very-long-term
decisions. Your decision to stay in school or go out and work will shape
your lifetime career; your ability to afford medical treatment or food
and rent at age 75 has a lot to do with decisions you made when that
stage of life was decades ahead, and impossible to imagine.
Now, the fact is that people make decisions like these badly. Bad
choices in education are the norm where choice is free; voluntary,
self-invested retirement savings are a disaster. Human beings just
don't handle the very long run well -- call it hyperbolic discounting,
call it bounded rationality, whatever, our brains are designed to cope
with the ancestral savannah and not late-stage capitalist finance.
When you say things like this, libertarians tend to retort that if
people mess up on such decisions, it's their own fault. But the usual
argument for free markets is that they lead to good results -- not
that they would lead to good results if people were more virtuous
than they are, so we should rely on them despite the bad results
they yield in practice. And the truth is that paternalism in these
areas has led to pretty good results -- mandatory K-12 education,
Social Security, and Medicare make our lives more productive as well
as more secure.
I'm not wild about calling this stuff "paternalism" -- one of the
things that has made government spending objectionable is how often
it is subject to political propriety. (For instance, art is generally
a public good, especially when it can be reproduced at zero marginal
cost. It would be a good public investment to pay lots of artists to
produce lots of art, but not such a good idea if every piece had to
be approved by a local board of prudes.)
I think there's also a macroeconomic argument. For a variety of
reasons, it strikes me that the private sector economy has become
increasingly incapable of sustaining full employment, and as such
needs permanent, possibly increasing, stimulus. (It could be that
the deficit is the result of increasing inequality, which depresses
demand while producing a savings glut. And/or it could be due to
technology which keeps reducing the number of work hours needed to
produce a constant amount of goods and services. Most likely both.)
Krugman followed up with
The Fiscal Future II: Not Enough Debt?. This is more technical,
so I won't bother quoting it here. The upshot is that you can grow
government without having to pay for all of it through increased
Caitlin MacNeal: White House: Two Hostages Killed in US Counterterrorism
Attack: Quotes the White House statement disclosing that the CIA had
killed two Al-Qaida hostages with a drone strike "in the border region
of Afghanistan and Pakistan" (evidently doesn't matter which side of the
border was struck). Also that two US citizens involved with Al-Qaida were
killed (but not targeted) in drone strikes "in the same region." Of the
hostages, "No words can fully express our regret over this terrible
tragedy." Of the other two, well, stuff happens. The statement goes on:
"The President . . . takes full responsibility for these operations."
The statement doesn't explain how Obama intends to "take responsibility":
Will he turn himself over to the ICC or local authorities to be tried?
Will he change US policy to prevent any repeat of these tragedies? Or
is he just enjoying one of those "the buck stops here" moments? What
should be clear is that the CIA has no fucking idea who they're killing
and maiming with their Hellfire missiles. Lacking such "intelligence"
all they're doing is embarrassing themselves (and Obama and the nation)
and aggravating and escalating animosities. Indeed, by going into their
back yards to kill anonymous people with no hint of due process they're
conceding the moral high ground as surely as Al-Qaida did on Sept. 11,
2001 when they launched attacks on American soil.
For more on the drone strikes, see
Spencer Ackerman: Inside Obama's drone panopticon: a secret machine
with no accountability:
Thanks to Obama's rare admission on Thursday, the realities of what
are commonly known as "signature strikes" are belatedly and partially
on display. Signature strikes, a key aspect for years of what the
administration likes to call its "targeted killing" program, permit
the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill.
The "signatures" at issue are indicators that intelligence analysts
associate with terrorist behavior -- in practice, a gathering of men,
teenaged to middle-aged, traveling in convoys or carrying weapons. In
2012, an unnamed senior official memorably quipped that the CIA considers
"three guys doing jumping jacks" a signature of terrorist training.
Civilian deaths in signature strikes, accordingly, are not accidental.
They are, as Schiff framed it, more like a cost of doing business -- only
the real cost is shielded from the public.
An apparatus of official secrecy, built over decades and zealously
enforced by Obama, prevents meaningful open scrutiny of the strikes. No
one outside the administration knows how many drone strikes are signature
strikes. There is no requirement that the CIA or JSOC account for their
strikes, nor to provide an estimate of how many people they kill, nor
even how they define legally critical terms like "combatant," terrorist
"affiliate" or "leader." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is
suing an obstinate administration to compel disclosure of some of the
most basic information there is about a program that has killed thousands
of people. [ . . . ]
Schiff's reaction condensed the root argument of the administration's
drone advocates: it's this or nothing. The Obama administration considers
the real alternatives to drone strikes to be the unpalatable options of
grueling ground wars or passive acceptance of terrorism. Then it
congratulates itself for picking the wise, ethical and responsible
choice of killing people without knowing who they are.
[ . . . ]
No Obama official involved in drone strikes has ever been disciplined:
not only are Brennan and director of national intelligence James Clapper
entrenched in their jobs, David Barron, one of the lawyers who told Obama
he could kill a US citizen without trial as a first resort, now has a
Beyond the question of when the US ought to launch drone strikes
lie deeper geostrategic concerns. Obama's overwhelming focus on
counter-terrorism, inherited and embraced from his predecessor,
subordinated all other considerations for the drone battlefield of
Yemen, which he described as a model for future efforts.
The result is the total collapse of the US Yemeni proxy, a regional
war Obama appears powerless to influence, the abandonment of US citizens
trapped in Yemen and the likely expansion of al-Qaida's local affiliate.
A generation of Yemeni civilians, meanwhile, is growing up afraid of the
machines loitering overhead that might kill them without notice.
Sinéad O'Shea: Mediterranean migrant crisis: Why is no one talking
Horror has been expressed at the latest catastrophe in the Mediterranean.
Little has been said, however, about Eritrea. Yet 22% of all people
entering Italy by boat in 2014 were from Eritrea, according to the UN
refugee agency, the UNHCR. After Syrians, they are the second most
common nationality to undertake these journeys. Many who died this
week were from the former Italian colony.
So why is it so rarely discussed? The answer is essentially the
problem. Eritrea is without western allies and far away. It is also
in the grip of a highly repressive regime. This week, it was named
the most censored country in the world by the Committee to Protect
Journalists, beating North Korea, which is in second place. Reporters
without Borders has called it the world's most dangerous country for
Nobody talks about Eritrea because nobody (ie westerners) goes
there. In 2009, I travelled there undercover with cameraman Scott
Corben. We remain the only independent journalists to have visited
in more than 10 years. There we witnessed a system that was exerting
total control over its citizens. It was difficult to engage anybody
in conversation. Everyone believed they were under surveillance,
creating a state of constant anxiety. Communications were tightly
controlled. Just three roads were in use and extensive documentation
was required to travel. There were constant military checks. It is
one of the most expensive countries in the world to buy petrol. Even
maps are largely prohibited. At the time, Eritreans had to seek
permission from a committee to obtain a mobile phone.
Dissent is forbidden. It is thought there are more than 800
prisons dispersed across the country. Some take the form of shipping
containers in the desert. Torture is widespread.
[ . . . ]
Eritreans are thus faced with a terrible choice. They must either
live in misery or risk death by leaving. I met a number of people who
were preparing to go. Despite a shoot-to-kill policy on the border,
thousands still leave each month.
Of course, one reason some of us don't talk much about bad countries
is that we don't want the US to attack, invade, and "fix" them.
Also, a few links for further study:
Christian Appy: From the Fall of Saigon to Our Fallen Empire: Appy
has a new book out, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our
National Identity, which I've just started reading. This piece
is written for the 40th anniversary of the "fall of Saigon" (or the
end of Vietnam's American War). Subtitle: "How to Turn a Nightmare
into a Fairy Tale."
Oddly enough, however, we've since found ways to reimagine that
denouement which miraculously transformed a failed and brutal war
of American aggression into a tragic humanitarian rescue mission.
Our most popular Vietnam end-stories bury the long, ghastly history
that preceded the "fall," while managing to absolve us of our primary
responsibility for creating the disaster. Think of them as silver-lining
tributes to good intentions and last-ditch heroism that may come in
handy in the years ahead.
The trick, it turned out, was to separate the final act from the
rest of the play. To be sure, the ending in Vietnam was not a happy
one, at least not for many Americans and their South Vietnamese
allies. This week we mark the 40th anniversary of those final days
of the war. We will once again surely see the searing images of
terrified refugees, desperate evacuations, and final defeat. But
even that grim tale offers a lesson to those who will someday
memorialize our present round of disastrous wars: toss out the
historical background and you can recast any U.S. mission as a
flawed but honorable, if not noble, effort by good-guy rescuers
to save innocents from the rampaging forces of aggression.
The worst thing about the Vietnam War wasn't losing it, nor
even not learning anything from the experience. It was the lies
we told ourselves to keep from facing what actually happened,
including how much responsibility the US bore for making the
whole debacle far more horrendous than it was bound to be. We
wouldn't, for instance, have wound up with any less of a loss
had we allowed democratic elections in 1956, as agreed to in
Geneva in 1954. Instead, we escalated again and again, unleashing
new horrors for no practical gain. I've always thought the worst
of those escalations was Nixon's "incursion" in Cambodia, which
soon destabilized the neutral Prince Sihanouk and delivered the
country to "the killing fields" of Pol Pot. Millions died because
Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon couldn't face losing the war,
and while they clearly cared nothing at all about the Vietnamese,
the damage they did to their own country may have seemed relatively
trivial -- 58,000 Americans dead, many billions of dollars wasted --
it went far deeper and lasted much longer. The war was founded on
lies, even well before the fake "Gulf of Tonkin Incident," and in
the end that lying became a way of life. Nixon himself must have
set some record for mendacity, but it was Ronald Reagan who recast
American politics on a basis of sheer narcissistic fantasy, and
no American politician has ever looked at reality squarely again.
The Vietnam War was the worst thing that ever happened to America,
not because we lost it but because we were wrong in the first place
and never learned better. That in turn led to the recapitulation
in Iraq and Afghanistan: the main differences there were that the
latter wars had less effect on everyday life so they generated
less anti-war movement, while the undrafted army proved somewhat
more resilient, allowing the propagandists more leeway to cover
up the debacle. Appy himself concludes:
The time may come, if it hasn't already, when many of us will forget,
Vietnam-style, that our leaders sent us to war in Iraq falsely claiming
that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction he intended
to use against us; that he had a "sinister nexus" with the al-Qaeda
terrorists who attacked on 9/11; that the war would essentially pay
for itself; that it would be over in "weeks rather than months"; that
the Iraqis would greet us as liberators; or that we would build an
Iraqi democracy that would be a model for the entire region. And will
we also forget that in the process nearly 4,500 Americans were killed
along with perhaps 500,000 Iraqis, that millions of Iraqis were displaced
from their homes into internal exile or forced from the country itself,
and that by almost every measure civil society has failed to return to
pre-war levels of stability and security?
The picture is no less grim in Afghanistan. What silver linings can
possibly emerge from our endless wars? If history is any guide, I'm
sure we'll think of something.
Ben Branstetter: 7 whistle-blowers facing more jail time than David
Petraeus: OK, that's a low bar, given that Petraeus avoided all
jail time, punished with two years of probation after pleading guilty
to passing classified secrets to his mistress-hagiographer Paula
Broadwell. But then his intent was never to help Americans understand
that their government is doing in secret. It was just self-promotion,
business-as-usual for the ambitious general. On the other hand,
Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison -- nearly
twice as long as Albert Speer was sentenced for running Nazi Germany's
Chris Wright: Always Historicize!: Chews on the old Leninist bone
of what-is-to-be-done, the perennial of those who think of themselves
as activists, as opposed to us normal folk who only occasionally get
swept up in the tides of history. Wright starts with the pitiful state
of the Left, concluding that to be unsurprising given that the Left is,
by nature of its constituency, always starved of resources, and "one
needs resources to get things done." Yet this does nothing to explain
the few cases when everything suddenly lurches toward the Left. That
happens not when the balance of resources shifts from Right to Left,
but when the Establishment collapses in chaos, opening up opportunity
for the Left to save the day, provided some combination of ideas and
organization. Wright sort of understands this. He is skeptical of the
notion that "radical social change is a matter mainly of will and
competence . . . pushing back against reactionary institutions so as,
hopefully, to reverse systemic trends." He argues, instead, that "the
proper way for radicals to conceive of their activism, on a broad
scale, is in terms of the speeding up of current historical trends,
not their interruption or reversal."
I suppose that all depends on what trends you're talking about,
but the notion that historical trends are for the better hasn't
been born out by history: I can think of a few that turned rotten
after initial promise, and others that were rotten from the start.
The trend Wright identifies is "the protracted collapse of corporate
capitalism and the nation-state system itself." I'm not so sure of
that myself -- not that I don't see some problems there, but they
mostly come from overreach, something not all that far removed from
panic. (The Right's massive attempt to corner the political system,
which has much to do with the resource imbalance cited above, seems
more rooted in fear than in greed, not that its sponsors can ever
free themselves of the latter. Sometimes it looks like the Right is
winning, but their successes rarely go beyond the most corruptible
of institutions, and when they do seize power they often crash and
I keep coming back to ideas and organization. While there are a
lot of the former floating around, it's proven remarkably difficult
to get them into common circulation -- the point, I would say, of
Philip Mirowski's Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste,
showing how a prison of constantly reiterated neoliberal ideology
kept politicians from even considering alternatives after an economic
collapse caused by precisely that thinking. That suggests to me that
ideas have to be channelled through organization -- a role that unions
filled during the industrial revolution but are unlikely to recover
and repeat in the future. Figure that out and the Left won't look so
lame. Don't and we run the risk that no one will be able to pick up
the pieces after the Right fucks everything up.
Sunday, April 19. 2015
Late start but I had the Civil War links, and added a couple more.
Plus, for local color, let's start with Crowson's cartoon today:
By the way, babyfaced State Senator O'Donnell (R) happens to represent
my district. You can read more about his bill in, well,
The Guardian, or
The Chicago Tribune. Jordan Weissmann looks at what welfare
recipients actually spend money on
here. One thing I haven't seen much discussion of is how this law
is to be enforced. Will the state be assigning accountants to go over
welfare recipients' books? Or will we expect movie ticket takers to
rat out customers they suspect of being on welfare?
Gregory P Downs: The Dangerous Myth of Appomattox: When I was 10
years old the centennial of the Civil War seemed like such a big deal,
whereas I hadn't noticed any 150th anniversaries until someone wrote
that Lee's surrender at Appomattox should be a national holiday. Back
in 1960 you could still practically taste the gunpowder residue. I
knew, for instance, that my great-great-grandfathers had fought in
that war -- on my father's side from Pennsylvania, a man who after
the war homesteaded in western Kansas and named his first son Abraham
Lincoln Hull; on my mother's side from Ohio, a man who then moved to
northern Arkansas and became sheriff of Baxter County (in other words,
one of those oft-villified "carpetbaggers"). Back then Kansas still
identified with the North, and I saw enough of the South to reinforce
my belief in civil rights, because by then the South had reconstituted
its racist caste system as if their "war for independence" had won out.
(Downs quotes Albion Tourgée saying that the South "surrendered at
Appomattox, the the North has been surrendering ever since.")
Over the course of the Civil War's Centennial the tide of surrender
had shifted with the passage of landmark civil rights acts. Fifty
years later we're more inclined to memorialize the 50th anniversary
of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march than the 150th of
Lee's surrender. Not that we shouldn't worry about erosion of voting
rights. But one thing we don't worry about over is that the South
will secede again -- indeed, when various Texans spout off to that
effect, the usual reaction is "good riddance." But celebration of
Appomattox has always been something of a ruse. As Downs points out,
the war didn't really end there, nor has the reunification of the
country gone smoothly. Indeed, one of the great ironies of American
history is that the party of Lincoln -- the party my great-greats
fought for -- has lately been captured by the sons of the Confederacy
(often, amusingly enough, in the guise of adopted sons with names
like Jindal, Cruz, Rubio, and Bush).
Meanwhile, Downs is more concerned with the problems the postwar
occupation (aka reconstruction) ran into:
Grant himself recognized that he had celebrated the war's end far too
soon. Even as he met Lee, Grant rejected the rebel general's plea for
"peace" and insisted that only politicians, not officers, could end
the war. Then Grant skipped the fabled laying-down-of-arms ceremony
to plan the Army's occupation of the South.
To enforce its might over a largely rural population, the Army
marched across the South after Appomattox, occupying more than 750
towns and proclaiming emancipation by military order. This little-known
occupation by tens of thousands of federal troops remade the South in
ways that Washington proclamations alone could not.
And yet as late as 1869, President Grant's attorney general argued
that some rebel states remained in the "grasp of war." When white
Georgia politicians expelled every black member of the State Legislature
and began a murderous campaign of intimidation, Congress and Grant
extended military rule there until 1871.
Meanwhile, Southern soldiers continued to fight as insurgents,
terrorizing blacks across the region. One congressman estimated that
50,000 African-Americans were murdered by white Southerners in the
first quarter-century after emancipation. "It is a fatal mistake,
nay a wicked misery to talk of peace or the institutions of peace,"
a federal attorney wrote almost two years after Appomattox. "We are
in the very vortex of war."
Downs has a book that sounds interesting: After Appomattox:
Military Occupation and the Ends of War. It is inevitable that
any such book written these days will reflect the manifest failures
of the US occupation of Iraq. One recalls that in the run up to the
invasion of Iraq, Bush's intellectuals studied up on the post-WWII
occupations of Germany and Japan -- held to be a model of enlightened
reconstruction, although that conceit took a good deal of misreading
both of history and of the current state of Bush politics to come to
that cheery conclusion. But in all cases, the fiasco is the consequence
both of poorly understood goals and corrupt practices.
Also worth reading:
Christopher Dickey: The Civil War's Dirty Secret: It Was Always About
Slavery. A sequel could be written on how racism went from being
a rationale for slavery to becoming a proxy. In any case, the two are
so inextricably linked that the iconography for one, like the continuing
cult of the Confederacy, supports the other. That's why if you don't
like the one, you shouldn't make excuses for the other.
Mark Mazzetti/Helene Cooper: Sale of US Arms Fuels the Wars of Arab
States: Even if we overlook Israel, the most intensely militarized
nation in the world, the Middle East has long been a bonanza for arms
dealers -- and not just for American ones, although the US remains by
far the largest purveyor of lethal hardware. And to paraphrase Madeleine
Albright, what's the point of having this magnificent military technology
if you never use it? That's been a conundrum for many years, but more
and more nominal US allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, even Egypt,
are discovering targets they can safely attack: the ad hoc militias of
destabilized neighbors like Yemen, Libya, and Syria. All they have to
do is to pin a label like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or Iran, and the US blesses
them with further supplies. For example:
Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion on weaponry last year -- the
most ever, and more than either France or Britain -- and has become the
world's fourth-largest defense market, according to figures released
last week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute,
which tracks global military spending. The Emirates spent nearly $23
billion last year, more than three times what they spent in 2006.
Qatar, another gulf country with bulging coffers and a desire to
assert its influence around the Middle East, is on a shopping spree.
Last year, Qatar signed an $11 billion deal with the Pentagon to
purchase Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin air-defense
systems. Now the tiny nation is hoping to make a large purchase of
Boeing F-15 fighters to replace its aging fleet of French Mirage jets.
Qatari officials are expected to present the Obama administration with
a wish list of advanced weapons before they come to Washington next
month for meetings with other gulf nations.
American defense firms are following the money. Boeing opened an
office in Doha, Qatar, in 2011, and Lockheed Martin set up an office
there this year. Lockheed created a division in 2013 devoted solely
to foreign military sales, and the company's chief executive, Marillyn
Hewson, has said that Lockheed needs to increase foreign business --
with a goal of global arms sales' becoming 25 percent to 30 percent
of its revenue -- in part to offset the shrinking of the Pentagon
budget after the post-Sept. 11 boom. [ . . . ]
Meanwhile, the deal to sell Predator drones to the Emirates is
nearing final approval. The drones will be unarmed, but they will be
equipped with lasers to allow them to better identify targets on the
If the sale goes through, it will be the first time that the drones
will go to an American ally outside of NATO.
There's very little here to keep these wars from spinning out of
control. The US has allied itself with dictatorial oligarchs, and
enabled them to suppress all manner of popular movements, including
peaceful demonstrations for democracy. And when the most violent of
those movements blowback against the US, that just reinforces the
war mentality. Sure, some worry about putting US troops in harm's
way, but we're pretty cavalier about getting Arabs to kill other
Arabs, especially when Arabs are paying us for the gear -- think of
all those "good jobs" proxy wars will create. Invading Iraq in 2003
was still a hard sell, but spinning up ISIS as an enemy was a breeze.
Also see Richard Silverstein's comment on this article,
War is America's Business.
Justin Logan: Iraq 2.0: The REAL Reason Hawks Oppose the Iran Deal:
Let's be honest for a second: 90-plus percent of supporters of the Iran
framework would have supported any framework the Obama administration
produced (this author included). Close to 100 percent of the opponents
of the framework would have opposed any framework it produced.
What's going on here? Why are we having this kabuki debate about a
deal whose battle lines were established before it even existed? At
Brookings, Jeremy Shapiro suggests that "the Iranian nuclear program
is not really what opponents and proponents of the recent deal are
Shapiro says the bigger question is about what to do regarding
"Iran's challenge to U.S. leadership" in the countries surrounding
Iran and whether to "integrate Iran into the regional order."
One could put this more baldly: anti-agreement hawks want to
preserve a state of belligerency (non-cooperation at the very least)
between the US and Iran; agreement supporters want to defuse the
state of belligerency, ultimately by normalizing relations between
the two countries. One reason the hawks have is the profits from
arms sales generated through the Middle East's growing set of proxy
wars (see the Mazzetti/Cooper article above). It's also likely that
oil profits would skyrocket if there was any disruption of Persian
Gulf exports -- something which may matter more than usual given
how invested US oil companies are in expensive sources (like shale
and offshore oil). But there's also a more basic ideological reason:
right-wingers believe in a world where conflict, like hierarchy, is
inevitable and brutal, whereas left-wingers believe that conflicts
can be resolved and people can cooperate to level up everyone's
standard of living.
After torching Palestinian cafe and painting 'Revenge' on its door,
4 Israeli teens get community service;
Before prayers finished Friday, Israeli military began firing teargas
canisters and rubber-coated bullets;
A 22-year-old Palestinian dies after imprisonment, then his cousin, 27,
is killed at his funeral:
'Passover siege' in Hebron: Palestinians endure military lockdown so
Israelis can enjoy holiday in occupied West Bank:
more of Kate's remarkable compilations of Israeli news reports.
Alice Rothchild: The most massive child abuse int he world:
"Not a single house has been rebuilt in Gaza since the end of the
devastating war 9 months ago, UNRWA reports."
Sunday, April 12. 2015
The big, and for that matter good, news today is
Chapa, the missing beaver, returns home to Riverside Park.
That Hillary Clinton chose today to launch her 2016 presidential
campaign just shows she doesn't have the sort of control over the
news cycle she'd like. If you want to fret about Clinton, you can
Bill Curry: Hillary Clinton just doesn't get it: She's already
running a losing campaign. Still, for me, the most interesting
On Friday, Clinton's campaign let slip its aim to raise $2.5 billion;
maybe that's not the best way to say hello to a struggling middle class.
A couple months ago, the Koch's made news by threatening to raise
just shy of $1 billion for their war on democracy in 2016. Suddenly,
that doesn't look like such a daunting amount of money. And the fact
is, Clinton is probably a good investment for her big-money donors --
at least compared to the sort of morons running for the Republican
nomination. And while the middle class aren't likely to get much from
Clinton, they're not where that $2.5 billion is coming from. Main
thing they can hope for is less collateral damage in the partisan
struggle between pro-growth money and the people who'd rather wreck
the economy than see any of their spoils levelled down.
I've paid very little attention to the Republicans who aspire to
be president. The "tea party" reaction did little more than double
down on the dumbest, crudest platforms of the party, and now there
is nothing left there. For example, one thing that has been popping
up a lot is the idea of convening a constitutional convention to
pass an amendment forbidding the federal government from running a
deficit. They might as well poke their eyes out -- that's the level
of self-mutilation such an amendment would produce. Clinton has
nothing to offer, but at least she's not that stupid. Or take Iran:
Clinton has frequently made her mark as a hawk, but she's not so
delusional as to think we'd be better off rejecting negotiations
with Iran that gave us every assurance we wanted.
I opposed Clinton in 2008 and I would do so again given any real
chance of winning something tangible. But I don't see who else is
going to raise the sort of money she can raise, and more and more
it looks like that money will be needed to make it plain enough how
necessary it is to beat the Republicans in 2016. I just hope to see
some of that money trickle down the party ticket.
Some more scattered links this week:
Patrick Cockburn: A Young Prince May Cost Syria and Yemen Dear:
Someone could write a very interesting book on the waxing and waning
of Saudi outreach -- a broad term ranging from strategic investments
to salafist proselytizing to armed intervention -- since the 1970s
(with some pre-history back to WWI contacts with the British and
FDR's WWII meeting with Kind Saud), how they viewed their mission,
and how it did or didn't dovetail with US interests. It would be
hard to get the nuances right. For instance, when Bill Casey would
meet with King Fahd, neither was playing with a full deck, nor no
matter how much they seemed to agree were their intents aligned.
While it is clear that the US pressed the Saudis to pump a lot of
money for arms into the Afghan muhajideen, was the salafist export
part of the deal, or just part of the price? Lately, the Saudis
seem to be taking charge: I doubt that Obama would be plotting his
own intervention in Yemen, but he didn't hesitate in supporting
the new Saudi king.
Part of the explanation may lie with the domestic politics of Saudi
Arabia. Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi visiting professor at LSE's Middle
East Centre, says in the online magazine al-Monitor that Saudi
King Salman's defence minister and head of the royal court, his son
Mohammed bin Salman, aged about 30, wants to establish Saudi Arabia
as absolutely dominant in the Arabian Peninsula. She adds caustically
that he needs to earn a military title, "perhaps 'Destroyer of Shiite
Rejectionists and their Persian Backers in Yemen,' to remain relevant
among more experienced and aspiring siblings and disgruntled royal
cousins." A successful military operation in Yemen would give him the
credentials he needs.
A popular war would help unite Saudi liberals and Islamists behind
a national banner while dissidents could be pilloried as traitors.
Victory in Yemen would compensate for the frustration of Saudi policy
in Iraq and Syria where the Saudis have been outmanoeuvred by Iran.
In addition, it would be a defiant gesture towards a US administration
that they see as too accommodating towards Iran.
Yemen is not the only country in which Saudi Arabia is taking a
more vigorous role. Last week, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria
suffered several defeats, the most important being the fall of the
provincial capital Idlib, in northern Syria, to Jabhat al-Nusra which
fought alongside two other hardline al-Qaeda-type movements, Ahrar
al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa. Al-Nusra's leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani,
immediately announced the instruction of Shia law in the city. Sent
to Syria in 2011 by Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to create
al-Nusra, he split from Baghdadi when he tried to reabsorb al-Nusra
in 2013. Ideologically, the two groups differ little and the US has
launched air strikes against al-Nusra, though Turkey still treats
it as if it represented moderates.
One thing I'm always struck by is how viscerally divergent our
views are of the Islamic State we know (in Saudi Arabia) and the
one we don't know (ISIS). The two have much in common, including a
great fondness for beheadings and an intolerance of non-Muslims.
One difference is that ISIS proclaims its leader to be Caliph, but
the Saudi royal family is similarly blessed by the Wahabbi ulema,
and the Saudi possession of the "holy cities" of Mecca and Medina
confers great prestige. What sets the Saudis apart for US officials
may be nothing more than the size of Saudi bank accounts. The old
notion that advancing Saudi hegemony over the Muslim world in any
way helps us looks ever more misguided.
Michelle Goldberg: Indiana Just Sentenced a Woman Convicted of Feticide
to Twenty Years in Prison: More disturbing than Indiana's Religious
On Monday, 33-year-old Purvi Patel, an unmarried woman from a conservative
Hindu family who bought abortion drugs online, was sentenced to twenty
years in prison for the crimes of feticide and neglect of a dependent.
It was not the first time that feticide laws, passed under the guise of
protecting pregnant women from attack, have been turned against pregnant
women themselves. Indiana, after all, was also the state that jailed Bei
Bei Shuai, an immigrant who tried to commit suicide by poisoning herself
while pregnant, and whose baby later died. But the Patel case is still
a disturbing landmark. "Yes, the feticide laws in other states have been
used to arrest and sometimes punish the pregnant women herself," says
Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant
Women, which advised Patel's defense. "This is the first time it's
being used to punish what they say is an attempted self-abortion."
The feticide law has an exception for "legal abortion" so I have
to wonder about the quality of legal representation afforded these
immigrant women. The great fear we always had about feticide laws
was that prosecutors would abuse their authority. In some ways the
suicide attempt bothers me more: if the woman was depressed enough
to try to kill herself before, I don't see how locking her up in
jail will improve her spirits.
Nicola Perugini/Neve Gordon: How Amnesty International Criminzliaes
Palestinians for Their Inferior Weapons:
Unlawful and Deadly, Amnesty International's recent report on
'rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014
Gaza/Israel conflict,' accuses Hamas and others of carrying out
'indiscriminate attacks' on Israel: 'When indiscriminate attacks
kill or injure civilians, they constitute war crimes.'
[ . . . ]
There is an implied contrast with Israel's superior technological
capabilities, which the IDF claims allow it to carry out airstrikes
with 'surgical precision.' But the figures tell a different story. At
least 2100 Palestinians were killed during Israel's military campaign
in Gaza last summer; around 1500 are believed to have been civilians
(according to Amnesty some of them were killed by stray Palestinian
rocket fire). On the Israeli side, 72 people were killed, 66 combatants
and six civilians. These numbers point to a clear discrepancy. It is
not only that Israel killed 300 times as many Palestinian civilians,
but that the proportion of civilian deaths among Palestinians was much
greater: 70 per cent of those killed by Israel were civilians, compared
to 8 per cent of those killed by Palestinians. These figures clearly
indicate that there is no correlation between precision bombing and
distinguishing combatants from civilians. Hi-tech weapons systems can
kill indiscriminately too.
I don't have a problem declaring that Palestinian rockets shot
into Israel constitute some kind of crime -- I am, after all, of the
belief that all war under all circumstances is criminal -- so long
as doing so doesn't distract from the proportionate responsibility
for the violence, and the original responsibility for setting the
conditions and context within which such violence occurs. The above
statistics give you some idea of proportion -- which is to say that
nearly all of the violence was launched by Israel against Gaza and
its population. I might even quibble that the stats understate how
disproportionate Israeli firepower was. As for responsibility for
the context of war, that is totally due to Israel's occupation.
One might even argue that Palestinian violence aimed at freeing
Gaza from Israel's grip is justified, whereas Israeli violence to
curb the revolt and prolong the occupation is not. I wouldn't go
that far because I don't believe that the ends excuse the means,
but those of you who view fighting for freedom as a noble cause
should find it harder to condemn those who fight for Palestine.
One can make other arguments, too. It occurs to me that the
inaccuracy and extreme inefficiency of Palestinian rockets makes
whoever fires them less culpable: who's to say that they're not
mere "warning shots"? On the other hand, launching "precision
munitions" clearly shows the intent to kill. Still, the real
problem with the Amnesty International report, as with the
Goldstone report on previous Israeli atrocities in Gaza, is
that by criminalizing Palestinian rockets they suggest a false
equivalence between both sides. There is in fact nothing equal
about Israel and Gaza.
By the way, Perugini and Gordon have a forthcoming book on
how "human rights" arguments can be used to extend and expand
The Human Right to Dominate.
Also, a few links for further study:
Grégoire Chamayou: Manhunters, Inc.: An excerpt from Chamayou's
book, A Theory of the Drone, offering a fairly lengthy history
of drone development and applications. E.g.:
In 2001, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had become convinced
that "the techniques used by the Israelis against the Palestinians could
quite simply be deployed on a larger scale." What he had in mind was
Israel's programs of "targeted assassinations," the existence of which
had recently been recognized by the Israeli leadership. As Eyal Weizman
explains, the occupied territories had become "the world's largest
laboratory for airborne thanatotactics," so it was not surprising that
they would eventually be exported. [ . . . ]
Within the United States, not all the high-ranking officers who were
informed of these plans greeted them with enthusiasm. At the time,
journalist Seymour Hersh noted that many feared that the proposed type
of operation -- what one advisor to the Pentagon called "preemptive
manhunting" -- had the potential to turn into another Phoenix Program,
the sinister secret program of murder and torture that had once been
unleashed in Vietnam.
Chamayou goes on to talk about "hunting warfare" ("a competition
between the hiders and the seekers"), "network-centric warfare,"
"nexus topography," "effects-based operations" ("targeting a single
key node in a battlefield system has second, third, n-order effects"),
and "prophylactic elimination." The jargon suggests that the campaign
is endless, that there is no way to determine when the enemies list
has been exhausted, let alone when it might become counterproductive.
Steve Fraser: Plutocracy the First Time Around: An excerpt from
Fraser's new book, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of
American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power.
Rivka Galchen: Weather Underground: About injection wells and the
sudden surge in earthquakes in Oklahoma, not that you can get a straight
answer from the state government. I always thought that the reason there
are pumping oil wells on the state capitol grounds had less to do with
making money than with reminding the legislators who they work for.
Seymour M Hersh: The Scene of the Crime: Hersh returns to Vietnam
to see how the massacre at My Lai, which he first reported back in 1969,
Mike Konczal: Liberal Punishment: Book review of Naomi Murakawa's
The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America
(2014, Oxford University Press). Focuses on anti-crime initiatives
by liberals connected to racial violence in the 1940s, 1960s, and
prison revolts in the 1970s. No doubt that's part of the story, but
conservatives have contributed too, only partly because they pushed
liberals into a corner where they wound up competing to see who is
the more draconian.
Jill Lepore: Richer and Poorer: A survey of recent literature on
increasing inequality, including: Robert Putnam, Our Kids: The
American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster); Steve Fraser,
The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance
to Organized Wealth and Power (Little Brown); and Anthony Atkinson,
Inequality: What Can Be Done? (Harvard). Fraser's book is the one
I rushed out to buy. One of my own theories that I'll test against
Fraser is that the Cold War's celebration of capitalism was meant as
much to cower the working class into submission and impotence. Another
is that the evident acquiescence is concentrated in the media.
David Palumbo-Liu: Business of backlash: GOP cashes in on Koch/Adelson
anti-BDS donations: Based on a report, "The Business of Backlash:
The Attack on the Palestinian Movement and other Movements for Social
Justice," by a group I'm not familiar with, the "International Jewish
Anti-Zionist Network," this starts to identify a who's who of the
secret funders who always seem to come down whenever some academic
says something politically incorrect about Israel. I'm a bit surprised
to see the non-Jewish Koch brothers listed alongside Sheldon Adelson
and the usual suspects. Makes me wonder about extending BDS.
Richard Silverstein: South African Intelligence Cables Expose Mossad
Africa Operations: Long and fascinating survey of Israeli spying
in Africa, both in cooperation with Apartheid-era South Africa and
beyond. A couple points that particularly struck me: one was about
Mossad's use of El Al Airlines as a cover; another was the estimate
that Mossad has 4,000 "sayanim" (voluntary spy assets) "in the UK
alone" -- make me wonder whether certain people here in Wichita have
Matt Taibbi: The Year's Most Disgusting Book: "From Jailer to
Jailed: My Journey From Correction and Police Commissioner to Inmate
#8488-054," by Bernard Kerik -- famous NYC Corrections Commissioner
and Police Commissioner, contractor hired to help train the Baghdad
police, Bush nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security before all
the dirty laundry came out and he wound up in jail, where he finally
discovered that US prisons are run poorly, counterproductively even.
Taibbi remains a stickler for hypocrisy, preferring the prison memoir
of an unrepentant asshole like G. Gordon Liddy. Meanwhile, I can
think of a few other candidates for "most disgusting book of the
year" -- Mike Huckabee's God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy leaps
to mind, but I'm sure there would be others if I took a bit of time
to research the subject.
Tzvia Thier: My personal journey of transformation: An Israeli
reexamines what she's been taught:
It has been hard work to examine my own mind. Many questions that leave
me wondering how could I have not thought about them. My solid identity
has been shaken and then broken . . . I have been an
eyewitness to the systematic oppression, humiliation, racism, cruelty
and hatred by "my" people towards the "others" and what you see, you
can no longer unsee . . .
Sunday, April 5. 2015
I've been groping for some handle on understanding last week's deal
between the US and Iran. The deal is very good news. What it means is
that certain crazy people will not pre-emptively launch a disastrous
war to impose their will secured in their conviction that they represent
a higher power. (Not that those people -- "neocons" in the US along with
their allies in the ruling camp in Israel -- are taking this agreement
lying down. They're doing everything they can to undo it, as it both
admits exception to their cherished prerogative to start wars, it also
normalizes one of their most successful fear-inducing bogeymen.) It also
suggests that key leaders in the US may have learned something from the
Bush debacle in Iraq -- even though the return of US troops to Iraq to
fight ISIS shows that they haven't learned enough.
The Iran Nuclear Scare is almost precisely a repeat of the Great WMD
Scare that led up to the Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003. The theat was
invented largely from whole cloth, and sold on the basis of a paranoia
largely rooted in Israel (where every conceivable enemy is quickly seen
as Hitler reincarnate). The only possible solution was held to be regime
change, and while one held hope that the Iraqi/Iranian people would rise
up and throw off their oppressive regimes, the only timely way to affect
that is to invade and conquer. (Fortunately, secure in the conviction
that we will be greeted as liberators.)
Of course, Bush could have negotiated with Iraq in 2002-03. Iraq
had allowed UN weapons inspectors full access and they were well on
the way toward establishing that Iraq had none of the proscribed WMD,
a finding which should have defused the crisis. But Bush wanted war,
not just to save us from the threat of imaginary WMD but to show the
world what US power could do, and that resistance to US power would
be futile. And Bush hadn't just aimed at overthrowing Iraq: he conured
up an "Axis of Evil" to serve notice to Iran (Iraq's mortal enemy) and
North Korea (even more isolated from Iraq and Iran than from the US)
that they would be the neocons' next target.
While the US invasion of Iraq was overwhelming, the occupation soon
fell into disarray and disaster, something the US survived by playing
Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds off against each other. In the end, what
Iraq proved was not the invincibility of American power but how inept,
corrupt, and clueless it really was. (Of course, that lesson was already
available from the occupation of Afghanistan a little more than a year
earlier, but disaster there unfolded more slowly, probably because Bush
didn't put as much effort there.)
At the time it was widely recognized that Iran and North Korea would
be more formidable military opponents than Iraq -- one widely quoted
neocon line was, "anyone can go to Baghdad; real men want to go to
Tehran." Iran is much larger, with over three times as many people.
Although its military struggled to a draw with Iraq over eight years
in the 1980s, it hadn't been degraded after 1990 like Iraq's: it still
has an air force, a navy, a substantial number of missiles which could
conceivably hit US bases in the region (although not the US directly).
Iran could conceivably block shipping through the Straits of Hormuz,
which would greatly reduce the world supply of oil. Iran had also
cultivated allies abroad -- notably Hezbollah in Lebanon -- that could
conceivably retaliate against a US strike on Iran. Given all that had
gone wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all that could go wrong with
Iran, we are fortunate that cooler heads prevailed.
As for North Korea, the US military had even less interest in
indulging neocon fantasies -- despite the fact that North Korea
(alone among the Axis of Evil) actually had programs to develop
nuclear bombs and intercontinental missiles (successfully testing
a bomb in 2006 and twice since). Even assuming that China wouldn't
come to North Korea's aid, as they did in the stalemated 1950-53
war that cost the lives of over 35,000 US soldiers, North Korea
is the most thoroughly militarized and best bunkered nation on
earth. Moreover, their primary threat should war start is a mass
of thousands of pieces of large artillery aimed at South Korea's
capital, Seoul (pop. 10 million): they could kill thousands almost
instantly without bringing out the nukes.
It's worth noting that during the 1989-92 thaw when the Soviet
Union broke up and Communist governments collapsed from Mongolia to
Albania, the only ones that survived were the ones that had fought
most directly with the US, and (aside from China) had consequently
been singled out for punitive sanctions: North Korea, Vietnam, and
Cuba. Similarly, US sanctions against Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya
only served to harden those regimes. Presumably, all this experience
finally weighed in for Obama as he chose to negotiate rather than
continue the malign neglect that US presidents had long considered
the more prudent course. Cuba is another example, but Iran has been
more difficult for Obama not so much because there was ever anything
to worry about in Iran's "nuclear program" as because Iran has been
caught up in the neocons' ideology, the increasing Islamophobia of
the "terror wars," and Israel's own calculated Holocaust anxiety.
The basic fact is that America's relationship with Iran got off
on the wrong foot in 1953 and we've never had the self-consciousness
to recognize that or the will to repair the damage. Iran was never
officially a European colony but in the 1800s England and Russia
took advantage of the weakness of the Qajar dynasty and obtained
various rights and privileges at the expense of Iranian sovereignty --
for instance, an English company (BP, formerly Anglo-Iranian) was
bought very cheaply exclusive rights to all the oil in Iran. After
the Russian Revolution, Lenin renounced Russian interests in Iran,
but the British hung on, and in the 1940s deposed the first Shah
Reza Pahlavi (the first post-Qajar Shah), replacing him with his
more compliant son, Reza Mohammed Pahlavi, but shifting authority
(if now power) toward the Majlis -- Iran's parliament. By 1953,
Mohammad Mossadeq was Prime Minister, and he had nearly unanimous
support within the Majlis to confiscate British oil holdings in
Iran. Mossadeq was very popular both in Iran and in America, which
he had recently visited. But when Eisenhower became president,
his security team (the Dulles brothers, one secretary of state,
the other head of the CIA) were persuaded by the British that
Iran had become a hotbed of Communist insurrection, so they set
in motion a coup to overthrow Mossadeq. The result was that
Mossadeq was imprisoned, the Majlis was suspended, the Shah
became an absolute despot, and Anglo-Iranian's oil interests
were sold to a consortium of mostly US oil companies. (For more
details, see Stephen Kinzer's book, All the Shah's Men: An
American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror .)
The coup was run by a CIA operative named Kermit Roosevelt,
a son of president Theodore Roosevelt. Two aspects of the story
struck me as particularly telling. The atmosphere for the coup
was started by staging various demonstrations in Tehran, and for
the counter-demonstrations Roosevelt mostly bribed local imams --
one of the first instances of CIA alliances with Muslim clergy.
The second was that when Mossadeq realized he was in trouble, he
went to the US embassy hoping his American friends would help him,
when in fact they were running the coup. (Under Truman the US had
not infrequently leaned against British efforts to restore their
Of course, the US was delighted by the post-coup Shah, and
didn't even mind when he finally did what Mossadeq had set out
to and nationalized Iranian oil. (He did, after all, sell the
oil through American companies, and had no qualms about selling
oil to Israel.) The Shah bought weapons from the US and built
a vicious police state which suppressed all opposition -- the
communists, socialists, liberals, and just as well conservative
clergy like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who went into exile in
1964 after denouncing a "status of forces agreement" which would
give US soldiers stationed in Iran immunity from Iranian law.
The Shah became an increasingly hated figure in Iran and was
deposed by massive street demonstrations in 1979. At the time the
Shah fled, the revolution was a broad coalition of left and right,
but after Khomeini returned he was able to consolidate power in
the clergy, largely based on his longstanding critique of the Shah
as an American puppet. At this point many Americans were delighted
to see the Shah deposed, but the relationship between Americans
and the revolution turned sour after Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah
to take refuge in the US. Remembering Mossadeq's folly at the US
embassy in 1953, a group of Iranian "students" seized the embassy
and held 52 Americans hostage there for over a year. (They were
released immediately after Ronald Reagan became president. It is
widely believed that the Reagan campaign, fearing an "October
surprise," secretly negotiated with Iran to keep the hostages
until after the 1980 election.)
The US was alternately upset at losing its client and influence
and at its own impotence at securing the return of its diplomats.
Khomeini, for his part, found it useful to blame the US both for
the Shah and for Iran's post-revolution isolation. Khomeini caused
further problems in attempting to exploit his notoriety for standing
up to the US (the "great satan" rhetoric comes from this period) to
export Iran's revolution elsewhere in the Middle East -- notably to
Saudi Arabia, and more effectively to Lebanon, torn up by its own
civil war. The US, meanwhile, rallied its Sunni clients around the
Persian Gulf against Iran, and they largely bankrolled Iraq's war
against Iran. That war lasted from 1980-88, with horrendous losses
on both sides, but especially to Iran.
Carter had previously declared the Persian Gulf as a strategic
interest of the US and started building bases around the Gulf. US
troops occasionally clashed with Iran: shooting down a civilian
airliner, attacking an offshore Iranian oil rig. Under Reagan, the
US sold arms to Iran via Israel (embarrassingly, and illegally,
what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal), then tilted toward
Iraq and sold arms to Saddam Hussein. After the Iran-Iraq War, oil
prices tanked and Iraq was pressed to repay war debt to Kuwait.
Hussein answered by invading Kuwait, but was ejected in 1990 by
a multinational force led by the US, with Syria an ally and Iran
a supportive non-combatant. Since then the US and Iran have often
had their interests in the region align, but the US was unable
to let go of past affronts -- let alone to own up to its own past
From Independence Day (1948), Israel pursued a strategy to ally
with non-Arabs against Arabs throughout the Middle East. This led
to close relationships with Turkey and Iran as well as subversive
support for Marionites in Lebanon and Kurds in Iraq. After the
revolution, Israel continued to enjoy a close relationship with
Iran, which even extended to bombing Iraq's nuclear center during
the Iraq-Iran War, and acting as a conduit for American arms under
Iran-Contra. After the 1990 Gulf War, Iraq ceased to be a serious
threat to Israel, so Israel cast about and decided that Iran would
work as an existential threat to justify maintaining the high level
of Israeli militarism. The main reason Iran worked was that American
officials were already primed to view Iran as a renegade and enemy.
As it happens, Iran had started a fledgling nuclear program with US
support under the Shah, so Israel could point to the reactor project
as a development path toward nuclear weapons. From there it was a
short step to the equation: Islamic fanaticism + nuclear weapons =
Israeli leaders started projecting that Iran was five years or less
away from testing a nuclear bomb as early as 1996. That it has never
happened -- that Iran has disavowed any intention of developing nuclear
bombs, that Iran continues to belong to the NPT, that IAEA inspectors
have never shown any evidence of bomb development, that supreme leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa declaring that nuclear bombs
are contrary to Islam -- has never led Israel to tone down its hysteria,
nor has it phased the credulity of American politicians, often shameless
in their devotion to all things Israeli.
Moreover, if anything the level of Israeli hysteria jumped a notch
when Netanyahu became Prime Minister in 2009. At that time Obama gave
former Senator George Mitchell the task of negotiating a peace between
Israel and the Palestinians -- something Netanyahu could not possibly
be bothered with discussing as long as Israel was at the mercy of
Iranian bombsights (although Netanyahu had plenty of time to plan
more illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank). And now
that there is a deal which ensures that Israel will never be threatened
by the prospect of an Iranian bomb, Netanyahu is pulling out stops in
his haste to scuttle the deal. It seems that the only thing Netanyahu
fears more than Iran developing nuclear weapons is Iran signing a
detailed, verifiable deal that precludes any possibility of developing
nuclear weapons and which ends the isolation and hostility that has
pushed Iran into such a defensive posture that there seemed to be a
need for nuclear deterrence.
It's as if Israel's worst fear is living in a world where it has
no existential enemies, except perhaps living in a world where Jews
and non-Jewish Arabs enjoy equal rights and justice. The great irony
of the deal is that Obama seems to have taken Israel's concerns so
literally that he held out and wore Iran down until the point where
he could deliver the most ironclad assurance to Israel possible.
Indeed, the deal is so strong it's hard not to see any opponent of
the deal as a completely bonkers warmonger -- an interesting trap
for Netanyahu and for the Republicans who instinctively assume that
anything Obama would agree to must be weak-kneed appeasement.
The more interesting question is why would Iran agree to such
restrictions on rights they regard as their under the NPT, rights
that many other nations are clearly allowed. (Germany and Japan,
for instance, have such extensive nuclear facilities and know how
that their "breakout" time is unlikely to be more than a few months.)
One is that Iran's leader must realize that while having the skills
and know how to build a bomb may offer some prestige, the weapons
themselves are effectively unusable, so giving them up is hardly
a sacrifice. One might argue that nuclear weapons mean deterrence
against foreign attack, but Iran's most threatening enemies are
Israel and the US, and Iran has no hope of winning an arms race
with either. (Pakistan and India came close to a fourth war in 2002.
The fact that both had demonstrated nuclear weapons by then may
have contributed to the cool down, but so did other factors like
the chilling effect war would have had on foreign investment.
South Africa developed nuclear weapons but they turned out to be
useless against their own beleaguered majority, let alone against
world opinion. Israel's nuclear weapons may have ended any hopes
by neighboring Arab countries of ending Israel's existence, but
by the time they became public knowledge Egypt was suing for peace
and Syria had no hopes without Egyptian support.)
It's also possible that Iran's interest in nuclear power has
waned, particularly has oil prices have dropped and the popularity
of nuclear power in Japan and Germany has plummeted -- right now
only India seems to be particularly bullish on nuclear power. That
leaves things like medical isotopes as something Iran can continue
to work on -- a mere fig leaf for all the investment, but ending
sanctions and normalizing relations and trade is worth much more,
especially in the short term. Indeed, given the intransigence the
US has displayed in perpetuating its view of its enemies, one has
to wonder what else Iran could have created to trade for normalcy.
The costs to Iran of sanctions have been great, but the costs to
the US from isolating Iran -- mostly slightly higher oil costs and
extra defense spending, both of which have influential political
beneficiaries in the US -- have been trivial.
Some Iran links:
Trita Parsi: Confirmed: The Hawks Were Wrong on Iran:
Peace won. War lost. It's as simple as that. Make no mistake, the framework
agreement that was announced yesterday is nothing short of historic. A cycle
of escalation has been broken -- for the first time, Iran's nuclear program
will roll back, as will the sanctions Iran has been subjected too.
In 2003, as I describe in Treacherous Alliance - the Secret Dealings
of Israel, Iran and the US, Iran only had 164 centrifuges. It offered
to negotiate with the United States, but the George Bush administration
refused. "We don't talk to evil," Vice President Dick Cheney quipped in
response to the negotiation offer. Instead, the Bush administration resorted
to threats of war and sanctions.
Iran, in turn, expanded its program. By 2005, it had 3,000 centrifuges.
Again, it sought negotiations and offered to stop expanding its nuclear
program. Again, the United States refused.
By the time President Barack Obama came to power, the Iranians were
operating around 8,000 centrifuges. After his initial, limited attempt
at diplomacy failed, Obama embarked on what was called the pressure track --
sanctions. As the United States ramped up unprecedented sanctions, Iran
accelerated its nuclear activities. By end of 2013, Iran had 22,000
centrifuges. It had a large stockpile of both low and medium enriched
uranium. It had mastered the fuel cycle. It was closer to a breakout
capability than ever before.
Pressure yielded pressure. Sanctions begot centrifuges. The escalation
had left the United States increasingly faced with the worst option --
Until diplomacy begun in earnest -- much thanks to the commitment of
President Obama and the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
It's only now -- thanks to their persistent and tireless diplomacy --
that the growth of the Iranian nuclear program has not only been stopped,
it has been reversed. This is the first time that the number of centrifuges
Iran operates will have been reduced. No other policy has achieved this.
The critics can't touch this.
They have not only been wrong in how to handle the Iranian nuclear
program -- they have been wrong on almost anything about Iran.
Also see Parsi's pre-deal (Mar. 26)
Why Iran's Supreme Leader Wants a Nuclear Deal. One popular meme in
the American press, at least among supporters of the deal, is that hawks
on both sides want to derail the deal. But for now at least, it's
hard to identify those hawks in Iran.
Fred Kaplan: The Deal of a Lifetime: "Anyone who denounces this
framework is not a serious person or is pursuing a parochial agenda."
Netanyahu's unlikely allies in opposing the deal -- the rulers of
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Sunni Muslim oligarchies -- simply don't
want a deal at all. They fear above all an ascendant Shiite Iran,
especially an Iran enriched by the flow of money that comes with the
end of sanctions and the resumption of global investment and trade.
They would, in fact, prefer an Iran that aspires to build nuclear
weapons -- an Iran that blatantly looks like a threat -- to an Iran
that might be stalled in the nuclear realm (and thus might seem more
peaceful) but in fact still pursues its expansionist aims.
Peter Beinart: The Real Achievement of the Iran Nuclear Deal:
"Details of the accord matter less than the potential end of
Washington's cold war with Tehran."
American hawks, addled by the mythology they have created around Ronald
Reagan, seem to think that the more hostile America's relationship with
Iran's regime becomes, the better the United States can promote Iranian
democracy. But the truth is closer to the reverse. The best thing Reagan
ever did for the people of Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R. was to embrace
Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1987, American hawks bitterly attacked Reagan for
signing the INF agreement, the most sweeping arms-reduction treaty of
the Cold War. But the tougher it became for Soviet hardliners to portray
the United States as menacing, the tougher it became for them to justify
their repression at home. And the easier it became for Gorbachev to
pursue the policies of glasnost and perestroika that ultimately led to
the liberation of Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the U.S.S.R.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, like Gorbachev, wants to end his
country's cold war with the United States because it is destroying his
country's economy. And like Gorbachev, he is battling elites who depend
on that cold war for their political power and economic privilege. As
Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick recently noted, Iran's hardline
Revolutionary Guards "thrive on hostile relations with the U.S., and
benefit hugely from sanctions, which allow them to control smuggling."
But "if the sanctions are lifted, foreign companies come back in, [and]
the natural entrepreneurialism of Iranians is unleashed." Thus "if you
want regime change in Iran, meaning changing the way the regime operates,
this kind of agreement is the best way to achieve that goal."
Ariane Tabatabai: Don't Fear the Hard-Liners:
The scenes in Tehran in the hours following the announcement of the
nuclear deal were a testament to how important Iranians felt it was
to their lives. In different cities, people took to the streets on
Thursday, honking horns, waving flags, cheering. It had been a long
time coming. In the months leading up to the deadline, whenever I
visited or called friends and family in Iran, the first questions I
heard were typically, "What's going on in the talks? Will we get a
deal?" A day after the agreement was made public in Lausanne, when
Friday prayers were held across Iran, prayer leaders welcomed a
"success" for the Islamic Republic, and upon his arrival at the
airport, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's return to the country was
celebrated as if he'd led Iran to the next World Cup.
[ . . . ]
The hard-liners will continue to stage their protests. A headline
in Saturday's Kayhan, for instance, reads, "The nuclear [program]
is gone, the sanctions remain." But popular support, the ayatollah and
the IRGC's cautious endorsements, and Zarif's efforts to set the terms
of this round of debate early on mean that hard-line criticism from
Tehran will likely be contained to a few scathing editorials, harsh
statements, and attempts to undermine the negotiating team -- but no
major efforts at sabotage. If only Congress were so predictable.
Jeffrey Goldberg: On Iran, the Least-Worst Option: Per title,
supports the deal, but as one of the most inflamatory war shills
rejects the idea that "a bullying, terror-supporting, Assad-backing
would-be regional hegemon whose ideology is built on anti-Americanism
becomes more reasonable once it becomes richer and more empowered."
Goes further and calls on Obama to "confront Iran in Syria and Yemen
and Lebanon in a sustained and creative way." (But not Iraq?).
David Atkins: Netanyahu Continues to Erode the Alliance Between US
and Israel: Starts with a quote on some recent polling:
The number of Americans who view Israel as an ally of the United States
has sharply decreased, according to a new poll published Thursday. Only
54% of Americans polled said that Israel is their country's ally, a
decline from 68% in 2014 and 74% in 2012.
This is mostly the result of Netanyahu's partisan alignment with
the Republicans, which may provide a limit to how low the polling
can sink, but the sheer implausability of Netanyahu's rejection of
an agreement that gives Israel exactly what they've said they've
wanted from Iran for two decades now in favor of doing nothing but
threatening a war that can only make matters worse has yet to fully
If I had the time, I could probably dig up many more links -- e.g.,
Philip Weiss: The epic season of spinning the Iran deal begins!,
Gareth Porter: Iran Won Upfront Sanctions Relief, but With Potential Snags,
Rachel Shabi: Poof! There goes Netanyahu's Iran bogeyman (ever hear
of the "Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis"?),
Paul Waldman: The Insane Logic Underlying Republican Opposition to the
Josh Marshall: The Emerging GOP War Platform.
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