Sunday, April 13. 2014
Crowson this week, following up on the Kansas legislature's emergency
school spending bill, which stripped schoolteachers of the right to a
hearing if terminated:
Some scattered links this week:
John Feffer: NATO on Viagra: Asks the question, why does NATO still
exist? The Warsaw Pact, after all, set a good example and closed up shop
long ago. That the US and Russia are increasingly seen in conflict has
much to do with the persistence of NATO and its continuing encroachment
on (but exclusion of) Russia.
NATO has long resisted retirement. It has been cooking up new mandates
ever since the Iron Curtain unexpectedly melted away and with it the
alliance's raison d'être. First it rediscovered its military
mojo during the collapse of Yugoslavia. Then it got involved in
"out-of-area operations." September 11 offered a full-blown coalition
effort in Afghanistan. And Libya was an opportunity to test out the
"responsibility to protect" doctrine. Every time that NATO appeared
to be on its way out, a new crisis convinced everyone of the alliance's
necessity. And there has also been a steady stream of aspiring members
who want to shelter under the umbrella in case of rain.
[ . . . ]
During its Cold War youth, NATO didn't engage in military operations.
In the post-Cold War era, when the collective defense of members had
become largely moot, NATO justified its existence through combat. "It
is still struggling with a Hamlet-like identity crisis: to attack or not
to attack," I wrote at the time. "The Afghan war has only underscored
this central paradox. If the alliance doesn't engage in military
operations, everyone questions its ultimate purpose. But if it does go
to war -- and the war is unsuccessful -- everyone questions its ultimate
Five years later, just when the testosterone levels seemed to be on
an irreversible decline, NATO is back. The current crisis in Ukraine is
the geopolitical equivalent of Viagra. "This is the age where giving up
isn't who you are," the ads proclaim, and NATO has fallen for the
copywriter's hook. [ . . . ]
Geopolitics abhors an exception. Instead of emulating Japan's
"peace constitution," the United States has been pressing the country
to acquire a "normal" military. Instead of embracing the reductions in
military spending in Europe, the United States has been pushing NATO
members to "shoulder more of their burden." We need to be praising
European countries for their sensible military reductions and urging
other parts of the world to follow suit.
Of course, we can't rerun history to test whether how a different
decision, like abolishing NATO in 1992, would have played out. In the
1990s NATO expanded into eastern Europe, tightening their noose around
Russia, plus NATO intervened in Serbia against Russian interests --
threats and insults which, combined with the economic disaster of
privatization, led to Putin's nationalist resurgence. At the same
time, the persistence of anti-Soviet institutions in the US (NATO,
CIA, NSA, etc.) combined with the "Washington consensus" economic
dogma kept the US from providing any real aid as Russia floundered.
Moreover, those institutions have rarely missed an opportunity to
kick back at Russia for the slightest offense -- see
Stephen F. Cohen: Distorting Russia for a prescient piece dated
back on March 4 on American media coverage of Russia. Since then the
distortions have only gotten worse.
By the way, I got to Cohen's piece via
James Kirchik: How the 'Realists' Misjudged Ukraine, which
decries Cohen as "noxious" and says the piece "will go down in
history as one of the most slavish defenses of Putinism." Kirchik's
piece is a perfect example of what Cohen complained about. I can't
quite see in it what it is that Kirchik wants to do, other than to
sweep away any "realist" arguments that might inhibit the US from
vigorous intervention in the Ukraine. Kirchik doesn't go quite so
far as to rattle sabres, but he definitely wants to keep all those
deadly options on the table.
For my part, I'm not particularly sympathetic to Putin's point
of view there, but I do believe one has to be realistic. And one
thing I am fairly sure of here is that the Obama, so wrapped up in
the leftover rhetoric of the cold war, is missing an opportunity
for a mutually beneficial deal with Putin over Syria.
Paul Krugman: Offshore and Underground: Points out that economists
have established that "a lot of wealth at the top is held in offshore
I think this is telling us something important about how the world
really works. There was a flurry of interest in the offshore haven
issue when Mitt Romney's Cayman Islands accounts; a bit more interest
when Cyprus hit the wall, and the question of what it was doing arose.
But the issue keeps receding, I think due to a sense that it's somehow
trivial, a matter of a few Russians and maybe a handful of our own
In reality, however, it's almost surely a much bigger deal than
that. At the commanding heights of the US economy, hiding a lot of
one's wealth offshore is probably the norm, not the exception.
Also, a few links for further study:
John Cassidy: Forces of Divergence: Review of Thomas Piketty's
Capital in the Twenty-first Century, an (reputedly the)
new book on what's driving the massive increase in inequality over the
last few decades. Sample paragraph:
Piketty believes that the rise in inequality can't be understood
independently of politics. For his new book, he chose a title evoking
Marx, but he doesn't think that capitalism is doomed, or that ever-rising
inequality is inevitable. There are circumstances, he concedes, in which
incomes can converge and the living standards of the masses can increase
steadily -- as happened in the so-called Golden Age, from 1945 to 1973.
But Piketty argues that this state of affairs, which many of us regard
as normal, may well have been a historical exception. The "forces of
divergence can at any point regain the upper hand, as seems to be
happening now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century," he writes.
And, if current trends continue, "the consequences for the long-term
dynamics of the wealth distribution are potentially terrifying."
One point only now occurs to me. In discussing "big pay packages"
for CEOs, Pikkety points out how hard it is to measure the "marginal
productivity" of any one individual in a large corporation, but I
doubt that anyone tries except at the corporation's margins. Pikkety
also notes, no doubt truly, "that people in a position to set their
own salaries have a natural incentive to treat themselves generously."
But it occurs to me that another factor contributes here, which is
the outsized self-regard CEOs typically have, reinforced by the myth
of individualism, itself an artifact of increasing inequality.
Also, see the review by Andrew Hussey:
Occupy was right: capitalism has failed the world. Also, the
long-awaited review by Paul Krugman:
Why We're in a New Gilded Age. Brad De Long has more, including
An Ongoing Discussion: Democracy and Plutocracy.
Laura Gottesdiener: Fantasy, Greed, and Housing, the Prequel:
Reports that private equity firms are buying up housing -- she
identifies Blackstone Group as "the largest owner of single-family
rental homes in the nation" -- turning their debt leverage into
"rental-backed" derivatives, and squeezing their renters much like
they do the employees of companies they plunder.
David E Sanger: Obama Lets NSA Exploit Some Internet Flaws, Officials
Say: A more apt title was provided by Paul Woodward in linking
to this peace: "NSA pretends it can increase national security while
diminishing internet security." It's not clear now whether the NSA
knew about and exploited the recently disclosed "Heartbleed" virus --
it has been reported that they did, then denied -- but it would have
been extremely irresponsible had they done so. Otherwise all they are
doing is putting their own organization goals above the security of
the people they supposedly work for. Still, we have good reason to
suspect they did just that, as Sanger explains:
But documents released by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor,
make it clear that two years before Heartbleed became known, the N.S.A.
was looking at ways to accomplish exactly what the flaw did by accident.
A program code-named Bullrun, apparently named for the site of two Civil
War battles just outside Washington, was part of a decade-long effort to
crack or circumvent encryption on the web. The documents do not make
clear how well it succeeded, but it may well have been more effective
than exploiting Heartbleed would be at enabling access to secret data.
Dan Gillmor: How to stop the next Heartland bug: pay open-source coders
to protect us.
Sunday, April 6. 2014
After yesterday's post on Kansas Republicans' latest attack on the
environment, and the federal government's pathetic effort to protect it
Prairie Chickens) I thought of another point I could have tacked onto
the end. Most people think Kansas Republicans are a wholly owned subsidiary
of Koch Industries, but the Kochs suffered a dramatic setback in the House
a couple weeks ago when their campaign to end subsidies for wind power was
voted down. Aside from certain shorelines, Kansas is probably the windiest
state in the union -- constantly battered by front moving in from the north
and the south, both deflected by westerlies which pick up speed (and warmth)
descending from the Rocky Mountains. And Kansas has a lot of grazing land, so
many landowners have taken advantage of various tax shelters and subsidies
and installed "wind farms." The Kochs don't like this because they're in
the oil business, and wind power competes with them. Of course, that's not
how their propaganda arm -- the sorely misnamed Americans for Prosperity --
puts it. The party line is: government shouldn't pick winners and losers.
That's the market's job, especially since the market doesn't charge oil and
gas producers for externalities like pollution and global warming. If oil
companies had to pay the full bill for their wares, wind power wouldn't
need those subsidies to compete.
Of course, the Kansas House members don't understand externalities any
more than they understand global warming, biodiversity, or the need for
a competent school system. It's just that it's easier to satisfy the
landowners and businesses that profit from wind subsidies, and they know
good and well the oilmen will get their breaks too. Still, I have to
wonder whether the windmills didn't have a secret selling point: they
kill birds -- thousands every year. Maybe windmills are a secret weapon
in the GOP's jihad against avian freeloaders?
Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon this takes on the Kansas state
legislature's growing sense of omnipotence as they seek to nullify both
federal and local laws, aggregating all power to themselves:
The little dog in the lower right corner is a regular feature of
Crowson's cartoons. If its quote seems obscure, the endangered bird
is technically known as the lesser prairie chicken. Meanwhile, the
legislature continues to make news. The courts have ordered the state
to come up with $120 million in extra education funding to make up for
gross inequities in school funding, so the Republicans are begrudgingly
offering a bill, trying to make it as hideous as possible. One clause
denies teachers the right to a hearing on dismissal, inviting flagrant
abuses of power by administrators. Another offers property tax relief
to parents who undermine the public school system by home schooling
or sending their children to private schools. (But, alas, not for those
of us with no grade school children.)
The requirement for equitable school funding is written into the
state constitution. Many Republicans would rather repeal that plank
than cough up the money. [Also, it now appears that the House
killed the Senate's education bill, so back to the drawing board.]
[UPDATE: The bill was revived and passed both houses. They kept
the plank that denies due process hearings when teachers are fired --
the teachers unions have vowed to take that to court, but one way or
another it's an additional burden for teachers, and an invitation for
administrators to abuse their power. The property tax breaks seemed
to have died, but new tax breaks for corporations were added.]
Some scattered links this week:
Rhonda Holman: No future without water: Wichita Eagle editorial,
of interest for illustrating the amazing credulity of some people --
Holman is politically aware enough to be on the Eagle's editorial board --
that lets Republicans continue to be taken seriously despite amazingly
awful track records.
The jury is still out on much of Gov. Sam Brownback's first term, as
well as the certainty of a second. But hopes continue to build that
his legacy will include preserving and protecting Kansas' water supply
far into the century.
If so, that will be a big gift to his native state. As he said during
one State of the State address, "We have no future without water."
And that future long has looked grim, with lots of worried talk and
some helpful regional efforts but no viable statewide strategy. That's
unsustainable, either for Kansas' standing as an agricultural state or
Experts say that 85 percent of the water use in the state happens in
western Kansas and that the Ogallala Aquifer could be 70 percent depleted
in 50 years. By then, the state's reservoirs also could be 40 percent
Last fall Brownback launched a process to craft a 50-year water plan.
About 140 public meetings have been held and more than 7,000 people have
weighed in -- impressive numbers.
So, starting with a life-or-death problem, Brownback's leadership
contribution has been to "launch a process" aimed 50 years down the
road: what you might call "just-in-time disaster management," except
that would only call attention to the stupidity of the approach. Any
hack can start a process, and most do it precisely to avoid having to
make a hard decision -- how gullible is Holman? Well, she cites Local
Enhanced Management Areas (LEMAs) working on "voluntary plans to cut
consumption" as an early victory. Of course, conservation could mean
a thoughtful effort to make a limited resource last longer, or it
could be evidence of ongoing failure. For instance, she cites farmers
switching to crops that require less water, begging the question: how
many farmers do you know who would do that voluntarily if they still
had the water available? In recent years, farmers in southwest Kansas --
what used to be known as the Great American Desert, then later as the
Dustbowl -- used irrigation to grow a lot of corn. In the future they
can try wheat or sugar beets but eventually they'll wind up reverting
to grass. The Ogalala isn't renewable: the more water you pump from
it, the further it drops, and the more energy it takes to lift that
water. It ceases to be usable even before it dries up. How much worse
it is in 50 years depends solely on how much is pumped betwen now and
then. One can plan for this eventuality, but let's face it, Brownback
can't plan for it, because he's part of the Republican "wrecking crew" --
Thomas Frank's apt phrase for the narrow-minded partisans who are out
to destroy "big government" and turn out fates over to small-minded
profit-seeking private interests.
The only idea in the editorial that
seeks to replenish declining water resources is a hail Mary "aqueduct
from far-northeast to western Kansas to pipe excess water from the
Missouri River" with a (current) price tag of $4.4 billion. Someone
thinking fifty years ahead might well be thinking about how to pay
for that, but clearly Brownback isn't that person: his signature thus
far has been to cripple the state's income tax collections, promising
deficits and spending crises far into the future, and his stated dream
is to abolish the state income tax altogether. Moreover, the growth
that those tax cuts were supposed to generate hasn't happened: under
Brownback Kansas has benefitted from the nationwide economic recovery
less than any neighboring state. And his signature plan to offer tax
breaks to motivate people to move into the rural parts of the state
which have been depopulating for decades has been a total bust. And
we need hardly go into the issue that will have the most impact 50
years from now: given that every known model of climate change shows
that as the earth warms Kansas will become ever more drought-prone.
Needless to say, that's an issue that Brownback, like his sponsors
in Koch Industries, won't even give lip service to. So how can anyone --
even the dumbest writer on the Eagle editorial board -- think that
Brownback has answers, or even cares about the real world? Yet here
we have a trusted voice of the state's largest newspaper continuing
to take the governor seriously, to credit him with good intentions,
and to respect him as a credible future candidate. Nor is Brownback
the only Republican who has totally discredited everything he stands
for, yet still enjoys the deference of the press. Paul Ryan is the
first additional name that pops into my mind, but there are droves
more where he came from.
Thomas L Friedman: Sheldon: Iran's Best Friend: Speaking of morons
who write columns, in the New York Times this qualifies as "thinking"
(out of the box, for sure):
It occurred to me the other day that the zealously pro-Israel billionaire
Sheldon Adelson and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
actually have one big thing in common. They are both trying to destroy
Israel. Adelson is doing it by loving Israel to death and Khamenei by
hating Israel to death. And now even Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey
inadvertently got drawn into this craziness.
What's the logic? Very simple. Iran's leaders want Israel destroyed
but have no desire, in my view, to use a nuclear bomb to do it. That
would expose them to retaliation and sure death. Their real strategy
is more subtle: Do everything possible to ensure that Israel remains
in the "occupied territory," as the U.S. State Department refers to
the West Bank, won by Israel in the 1967 war. By supporting Palestinian
militants dedicated to destroying any peace process, Tehran hopes to
keep Israel permanently mired in the West Bank and occupying 2.7 million
Palestinians, denying them any statehood and preventing the emergence
of a Palestinian state that might recognize Israel and live in peace
alongside it. The more Israel is stuck there, the more Palestinians and
the world will demand a "one-state solution," with Palestinians given
the right to vote. The more Israel resists that, the more isolated it
becomes. [ . . . ]
Iran could not be happier. The more Israel sinks into the West Bank,
the more it is delegitimized and isolated, the more the world focuses
on Israel's colonialism rather than Iran's nuclear enrichment, the more
people call for a single democratic state in all of historic Palestine.
And now Iran has an ally: Sheldon Adelson -- the foolhardy Las Vegas
casino magnate and crude right-wing, pro-Israel extremist. Adelson gave
away some $100 million in the last presidential campaign to fund
Republican candidates, with several priorities in mind: that they
delegitimize the Palestinians and that they avoid any reference to the
West Bank as "occupied territories" and any notion that the U.S. should
pressure Israel to trade land for peace there. Both Newt Gingrich and
Mitt Romney took the money and played by Sheldon's rules.
[ . . . ]
I don't know if Israel has a Palestinian partner for a secure
withdrawal from the West Bank, or ever will. But I know this: If Israel
wants to remain a Jewish, democratic state, it should be doing everything
it can to nurture such a partner or acting unilaterally to get out.
Because, I'm certain that when reports about the "Adelson primary"
reached the desk of Supreme Leader Khamenei in Tehran, a big smile
crossed his face and he said to his aides: "May Allah grant Sheldon
a long life. Everything is going according to plan."
If that's the plan, well, you've got to admire the Ayatollah's
patience in laying out so much line just to hook Israel: 47 years
of occupation, 22 before Ali Khamanei became Supreme Leader of Iran
(in 1989), 12 before Iran's 1979 revolution. Moreover, while Iran
does provide some small backing to Hamas, Israel has been equally
incapable of striking a deal with Mahmoud Abbas, who is primarily
supported by the US and Europe. It's much more likely that Israel
has no peace deal because Israel's leaders want no peace deal: they
are quite happy with a status quo which allows them to bomb supposed
enemies on the slightest arbitrary whim, while no one is able to
threaten them with anything worse than scornful looks. Indeed,
nothing Friedman says about Iran has the slightest air of truth to
it, least of all the plainly invented quotes. Friedman assumes that
the Iranian leader's hates Israel because that's what his Israeli
friends tell him, and doesn't give it a critical thought.
Friedman's a little sharper when it comes to Adelson, but that
is probably dumb luck. He's right that Adelson is able to make his
politician cronies like Gingrich, Romney, and Christie dangle from
his strings, but there's no evidence that he's anything more than
a loud cheerleader for Israel's ultra-right. In pressuring someone
like Christie to apologize for using the common and legally proper
term "occupied territories" he has managed to embarrass everyone
involved, and through this chain of subservience he's given Israel's
ultra-right all the more reason to be confident of their ability to
wag America any way they want, whenever they want. When Americans
jump through hoops to pledge allegiance to the craziest shit Israeli
right-wingers can imagine, they thrill in their power, and push on
to demand even more. The facts are: they don't want peace, let alone
any whiff of one-state or two-state equal rights, and they are very
confident in their ability to eventually grind the Palestinians into
submission (and preferably exile, although they're not going to close
their jails and interrogation rooms either), regardless of world
opinion. Adelson isn't their leader; he's their stooge, and through
him the Republican Party, and through them Obama.
But poor Friedman, his tiny brain unable to grasp the fact that his
1990s propaganda points, so carefully memorized and internalized back
when he was Israel's stooge, has no clue how washed up and useless he's
become. But he's so committed to those propaganda points that he feels
compelled to try to save Israel from itself but he's still unable to
blame Israelis, so he conjures up this imaginary Adelson-Khamanei axis
of evil. Despite his dementia, I suppose we can count as progress that
he's admitting that the occupation and settlements are driving Israel
to ruin -- if not physically, at least in the minds of potentially most
people all around the world. But that's been clear enough for long enough
that most of the Israeli right have moved on, groping towards what strikes
them as a better solution: it smells like fascism in that it's racist and
wed to a cult of violence, but it's more of an ethnocratic caste system,
with trappings of democracy for those on top and serfdom for those on
the bottom. Sooner or later Friedman will have to decide which side of
that he's on. Unfortunately, it will involve thinking -- something
Friedman is not only bad at but will probably ead to even greater
By the way, it looks like all that embarrassing "Sheldon Primary"
publicity paid off for Adelson in a
$2.1 billion stock market uptick, so he's likely to become even
Kathleen Geier: 460,000 people with college degrees are working in
minimum wage jobs: This casts doubt on the common nostrum that
sending more people to college is "the main fix for inequality."
Indeed, it suggests that raising the minimum wage would be a much
more immediate fix: raising the floor, although getting people off
the floor matters too.
According to the report, there are 260,000 workers with bachelor's
degrees and 200,000 workers with associate's degrees who are making
the minimum wage. As a reminder, the federal minimum wage is $7.25
an hour, and the minimum wage for tipped workers is a shockingly low
$2.13 an hour. In some cities and states, the minimum wage is higher,
but the BLS report defines only those making $7.25 an hour or less
as "minimum wage workers."
Some other fun facts about the minimum wage: the U.S. has the
third lowest minimum wage of any OECD country, the value of the
minimum wage has declined dramatically since its peak in 1968, and
about half of the increase in inequality in the bottom half of the
income distribution is due to the decline in the minimum wage.
Alex Pareene: Want to cut the rich's influence? Take away their money!:
That advice is also pretty close to the Eddie Murphy line in Trading
Places: How's the best way to punish rich people? Make them poor.
Not that punishment is necessarily what we need, but we can look back
at the 1950s and see that when things like CEO salaries were more
compressed CEOs had less reason to misbehave.
So, if we think that money in politics is a problem; if we think it
creates the appearance of corruption, alienates non-wealthy citizens
from the democratic process, perverts incentives for politicians and
candidates, and creates an unequal system in which the speech of the
rich drowns out the speech of everyone else -- and all of those things
are already the long-standing status quo -- we can no longer seek to
address the problem by preventing money from flowing into politics.
The Supreme Court is clearly not going to meet a new spending
restriction that it likes any time soon. Instead of attempting to
dictate how the wealthy spend their money, we are probably just
going to have to take away their money.
If the super-rich had less money, they would have less money to
spend on campaigns and lobbying. And unlike speech, the government
is very clearly allowed to take away people's money. It's in the
Constitution and everything. [ . . . ]
There is one glaring problem with my plan, of course, which is
that Congress is already captured by wealthy interests, and is not
inclined to tax them. But all I'm saying is that would-be campaign
finance reformers ought to give up on their lost cause and shift
their energies toward confiscation and redistribution.
Also see Parene's
The conservative book industry isn't dead, it's just embarrassing.
I've noted before the astonishing decline in sanity (much less quality)
in conservative publishing around the election of Obama. There appears
to be very little new on that front now -- just a couple briefs for
Also, a few links for further study:
Robert Christgau: They Bet Your Life: Review of several books on
hedge funds and the relevant chapter of Jeff Madrick's excellent Age
of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to
the Present. Sample quote:
Two points, then. First is that, at the very least, the financial markets
attract natural gamblers. There are exceptions, and some gamblers are more
mindful of risk management than others. But there are always going to be
addicts and high rollers, just as there are always going to be crooks, and
it's in the public interest to constrain both. Second is that philanthropy
will always involve, at the very least, unnecessarily rich men (and a few
women) riding their hobbyhorses. Wealthy speculators may indeed underwrite
causes that save some real ordinary lives and improve many others. But their
careers as championship number pushers limit their insight into -- and
sympathy for -- the duller struggles of their fellow citizens.
Kathleen Geier: Piketty-mania: progressives are going gaga about a sobering
new book about economic inequality. Why is that?: Thomas Piketty's
Capital: In the Twenty-First Century has been at the top of my
Amazon recommended new books list for a while now -- a suggestion I had
initially resisted as someone who never got more than a hundred pages
deep into Marx's Capital and has far less interest in trying to
do so now. (Although I did make my way through David Harvey's The
Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism and Philip Mirowski's
Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived
the Financial Meltdown, two long books that were deadly slogs but
occasionally brilliant.) I've known for some time that Paul Krugman's
writing a review of it, but initially I wasn't clear whether that's
because he learned things from the book or just wanted to use it to
teach. Geier finally convinces me with this cheery note, although
I should have noticed her
review first. When I went back to Amazon, I saw that the book
is "temporarily out of stock." I also noticed that the blurbs
section has exploded. Robert Skidelsky's quote:
You many think that it doesn't require 600 pages to get this message
across. This would be wrong. The strength of Piketty's book is his
close attention to the different sources of inequality, the massive
documentation underpinning his history and conclusions, and his
impressive culls from sociology and literature, which exhibit the
richness of 'political economy' compared to its thin mathematical
successor that has attained such prominence.
As I've mentioned before, I want to write a lengthy essay (or
small book) on inequality, and one challenge there is to detail
the many ways -- other than political favoritism; that's obvious --
the economy generates inequality. It sounds like Pikkety has done
the right legwork there.
Sunday, March 30. 2014
I haven't posted anything since last Monday's Music Week. Not sure
where all the time has gone, but after Monday's Music Week I should
have a books post and a Rhapsody Streamnotes coming pretty quick.
Tried to knock out a links post today and didn't get through nearly
everything I wanted to look at. Still, a few things to chew on:
Tom Engelhardt: In Memoriam: Jonathan Schell: He died on March 25,
of cancer, age 70, after a life as one of the one of our most important
writers on wars real and potential. His early book on Vietnam, The
Village of Ben Suc, was an instant classic. He had wangled some
press credentials, dropped in on the war for just a couple weeks,
but in that time witnessed an atrocity which turns out to have been
remarkably common in that war. (Nick Turse's recent Kill Anything
That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam finally gives us a
sense of just how common such atrocities really were.) He wrote many
eloquent "opinion" pieces, perhaps most notably during the Watergate
scandal and in the lead up to the Iraq War. He wrote about nuclear
weapons and what war with them would be like (The Fate of the
Earth), and in 2003 he wrote a prescient book about how difficult
it is to impose new political orders: The Unconquerable World:
Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People -- just in time
to forecast the horrible failure of the Iraq War and so much more,
but more importantly the folly of man's appetite for conquest. The
obituaries have focused more on the bestseller, but the latter book
is the one I read and will return to. This link touches on much I
have mentioned, but from the vantage point of someone who knew and
worked with Schell. It also includes an interview Chris Appy did
with Schell focusing on the Vietnam War, but even there he winds
up cycling back to nuclear war -- where the war we couldn't afford
to fight somehow excused the lack of limits when fighting people
who didn't have the luxury of nuclear weapons: instead of causing
a cascade where the impossibility of big wars ruled out any war,
those weapons made small wars all the more vicious. They called it
"credibility" back then. Perhaps you've heard that term recently.
More on Schell:
Katrina vanden Heuvel: This Week in 'Nation' History: The Horrific Legacy
of the Invasion of Iraq:
This Monday marks the eleventh anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq --
a solemn punctuation mark to the steadily increasing violence that has
gripped that country over the past two years. Sectarian violence claimed
more than 8,000 Iraqis in 2013 alone, and this year's toll has already
surpassed 2,000. Iraq today is a broken and failing state: the war that
many would prefer to believe ended in 2011 continues unabated, with
Iraqis continuing to suffer, as much as ever, the fallout from this
country's callous lies and avoidable mistakes.
Vanden Heuvel goes on to cite a number of articles, some old like
Jonathan Schell's 2003 editorial,
American Tragedy, and some new, like
John Feffer: Revisiting the Pottery Barn Rule:
The real Pottery Barn rule -- the same rule that all retailers have --
is to write off the broken merchandise as a loss. And that is what we
have done to Iraq.
The latest violence in Iraq rivals the levels last seen during wartime.
Last year, between 8,000 and 10,000 civilians were killed, the highest
number since 2008. According to one recent study, half a million Iraqis
have died from war-related causes since the 2003 US invasion, a figure
that includes indirect casualties from the breakdown of the country's
Most Iraqi deaths since 2003 were the result of sectarian violence
between Iraqi shiite and sunni groups, and that violence was the direct
result of US invasion policy: specifically the arming of shiite and
Kurdish militias to aid the invasion forces. From the very beginning,
the US made virtually no effort to restrict killing by "friendly"
militias. (Evan Wright's Generation Kill helps provide a time
line here, as the troops he was embedded with were locked down at
night as soon as they arrived in Baghdad so that shiite bands could
rove the streets and exact whatever revenge they felt entitled to.)
Later on the US learned to fine tune the sectarian warfare, mostly
to prevent any kind of unity that could threaten US occupation
(either with war or peace).
Alex Pareene: Our Glorious Golden Era of Nepotism: When I read
Robert Townsend's Up the Organization, I was a bit surprised
to see its brief section slamming nepotism, then I remembered what
happened at a printing company I once worked for when the founder
became incapacitated and his idiot son took over. When I asked for
a raise, the son told me I was already making for max for Wichita,
but if I really needed more I should move to a higher wage market,
like Tulsa. When I did quit, he coughed up $2/hour more plus free
parking, but after a couple months I left anyway and moved to New
York City. Next time I checked the company, which when I left still
had more than 50 employees, was out of business. Townsend's argument
was considerably subtler than nepotism favors morons. It included:
The fatal fact about nepotism is that the really good people won't go
to work for you in the first place or will quit or quit trying for
your job when they spot your uncle, brother, nephew, wife, mistress
or son on the payroll.
In other words, ambitious hard-workers will know the organization
won't be evaluate them fairly. It also means that the whole incentive
scale is skewed, which probably means that the organization is sliding
into dysfunctionality. Nepotism has been spreading in recent years --
it's hard to tell whether political dynasties like the Bushes, Romneys,
and Gores are a symptom or a cause, but Bush must have set the record
for crony appointments (e.g., the sons of Antonin Scalia and Colin
Powell). Pareene has a long list of these people, and didn't even
think of my examples. The trend is not only toward more of them, but
to more prominence of inherited wealth. Moreover, I suspect recent
moves against opportunity and mobility, like the ever-increasing debt
burden of education, are meant to open up jobs for the excess progeny
of the rich. Even among family farmers and small-time businessmen,
nepotism attempts to create an air of aristocracy, but that's nothing
compared to what the real aristocracy does.
Also, a few links for further study:
Bernard Avishai: Truman's Folly?: A lengthy review of John Judis:
Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli
Conflict (2014, Farrar Straus and Giroux) -- a book I am currently
about two-thirds of the way through, which gets the point when Britain
decided to withdraw from Palestine and turn responsibility for it back
to the United Nations. Avishai starts by hailing the Truman-period
section as "a provocative, learned, even masterful book," while arguing
that Judis let his moral views slant his treatment of the "prehistory."
I actually found his history of the theory and practice of Zionism in
Europe, Palestine, and the US to be remarkably well balanced given its
succinct length -- the main contention being how exclusivist the various
advocates for a Jewish state were at various points in history. Avishai
prefers to believe that Israel's founders were less destined to ethnic
cleansing than what actually happened, and to that aim he does a fair
amount of nitpicking on the latter sections of the book. That is an
interesting question, one that is perhaps even urgent in a day when a
writer like Ari Shavit can write a book arguing that Israelis should
embrace the expulsion of Palestinians from Lydda and Ramleh as an
essential milestone in Israeli history. But I doubt Judis will go
that far. The more likely "lesson for today" is that the US political
system is still susceptible to the sort of pressures that led Truman
to support policies he didn't think right, and that Israeli politicians
are still able to manage US lobbying in ways that prevent them from
having to compromise. But even there, Judis would not be drawing an
insight from history to explain the present. Rather, he is showing how
the current dynamic worked even in the much simpler Truman period.
Another Nation book review, of Max Blumenthal's Goliath: Life
and Loathing in Greater Israel:
Nadia Hijab: In 'Goliath,' the Past Is Always Present for Palestinians.
Several minor problems with the review, starting with the title. The book
has relatively little to do with what Israel does to Palestinians -- more
so about what right-wing Israelis would like to do, but much more of the
book is about the chilling effect the ascendant right-wing is having on
democracy and freedom within Israel. Moreover, you soon discover that Israeli
Jews are not immune from having to reface the past in the present: indeed,
they face constant reminders of the whole history of anti-semitism, always
culminating in the Holocaust. Hijab identifies two main themes in the book:
the growth in power of the extreme right-wing (certainly the main theme),
and "the way in which today's Israel is the logical evolution of the Zionist
enterprise from its inception in the late nineteenth century." Blumenthal
actually offers very little of the history you'd need to hang that point
on, and I suspect that if you pressed him he'd be more inclined to find
the roots of today's right-wing in the ongoing process of occupation and
settlement building -- along with things like the draft and the thorough
propagandizing process known as hasbara -- as opposed to ideology
handed down from Pinsker and Herzl. In many ways this is an offshoot of
the old "zionism = racism" argument. Historically you can probably find
a few individuals who could keep those threads separate, but most Europeans
in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were significantly racist, and
that certainly didn't preclude them from being zionist. Moreover, decades
of exposure, misunderstanding, and violent conflict were much more likely
to reinforce those prejudices than relieve them. And Israel is currently
so severely segregated that few people have any opportunity to learn
better, so the practical equivalence of "zionism = racism" is very real,
even among the ideologically ignorant.
Nick Turse: US Military Averaging More Than a Mission a Day in Africa:
The last thing the American people need these days is another war to stop,
and the US military certainly doesn't want to provoke any sleeping giants,
so AFRICOM tries to keep whatever it is it's doing under the radar. Still,
546 "activities," "a 217% increase in operations, programs, and exercises
since the command was established in 2008," suggest there is a daily risk
of something small ("airstrikes targeting suspected militants, night raids
aimed at kidnapping terror suspects") blowing up into something big. The
only way to keep that from happening is to illuminate what they're doing
now, and question it.
Stephen Zunes: Straight Talk on the US and Ukraine: Useful
general perspective on the Ukraine crisis, condemning Russian
expansion into Crimea but also point out that the US, by its
own longstanding behavior, has little credibility to stand on.
What is needed here is application of international law, but
to make a persuasive moral case against Russia the US would
have to show some respect of its own for international law --
as opposed to just invoking it when it's convenient, as here.
On the other hand, Americans continue to say really stupid
things about Crimea, as in this report:
Obama Suggests Russian Annexation of Crimea Is Worse Than Iraq
Invasion. (John Glaser comments: "This is perhaps the most
aninine thing the president has said in the entirety of his
presidency.") There was once a rumor, widely circulated c. 2008,
that Obama had opposed Bush's invasion of Iraq, but as Zunes
pointed out, Obama has persistently undercut the credit he gained
from opposing the Iraq war by appointing supporters of that war
to key foreign policy positions (Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Joe
Other links related to Ukraine:
Wednesday, March 12. 2014
Meant to pull one of these together last Sunday, but I got sidetracked
on the many horrors of gun mishaps.
Brad DeLong: The "Bush Boom" and the Obama Stagnation: Big chart
contrasts the very different "recoveries" from the tech crash in 2000
and the housing/banking crash in 2008. The Bush period was slightly
more productive than the Obama (3.2% vs. 2.8%), but both barely qualify
as recoveries, and if you looked closer you'd find that virtually none
of the gains trickled down to the majority of workers. But DeLong is
more focused on component sectors, which show two things: the Obama
period has actually been much more favorable for business than the
Bush one -- exports and nonresidential investment are up, whereas all
Bush had going was deficit war spending and a housing boom largely
based on fraud; but what killed Obama has been the poltiically imposed
austerity that not only kept government from compensating for the
crash but actually added to it. DeLong concludes:
When the economic history of 2002-2020 comes to be written, it will
be all about at least three extraordinary self-inflicted economic
disasters: the deregulation of housing and high finance and the
consequent Greater Crash of 2007-2009; the failure to nationalize
and then rationalize housing finance and so restore the housing
credit channel at any point starting in 2009; and the extraordinary
counterproductive wave of short-term austerity beginning in late 2010.
Paul Krugman: Nation of CRINOs: Links to
John Sides, quotes, and adds:
Sides surmises that when people call themselves conservative, they're
talking about lifestyle choices -- and we're talking about their personal
lifestyles, not necessarily their desire to impose their choices on others.
Americans who go to church, and/or are faithful to their spouses, and/or
are devoted to their children, say that they are conservative -- but more
often than not also favor a higher minimum wage and stronger social safety
Basically, economic conservatism has very little popular constituency.
If it has often dominated policy nonetheless, that has to do with the
power of organized money and the popularity of conservative ideas among
the political elite.
I'll add that a lot of Ronald Reagan's popularity among white middle
class folk was because the feel-good rhetoric hadn't yet impacted their
bottom lines. Also that the triumph of right-wing policy usually occurs
behind closed doors, due to the easy corruptibility of our political
Joseph E Stiglitz: Stagnation by Design: One of the odder terms to
have emerged in economic discourse lately is "secular stagnation" --
Larry Summers' term for a lengthy period of post-recession slow growth,
much as Japan suffered after its real estate bubble burst in the 1980s.
This time is no different, but in some ways it could be worse: the sectors
that should be growing, reflecting the needs and desires of citizens, are
services like education and health, which traditionally have been publicly
financed, and for good reason. But, rather than government facilitating
the transition, austerity is inhibiting it.
Malaise is better than a recession, and a recession is better than a
depression. But the difficulties that we are facing now are not the result
of the inexorable laws of economics, to which we simply must adjust, as we
would to a natural disaster, like an earthquake or tsunami. They are not
even a kind of penance that we have to pay for past sins -- though, to be
sure, the neoliberal policies that have prevailed for the past three
decades have much to do with our current predicament.
Instead, our current difficulties are the result of flawed policies.
There are alternatives. But we will not find them in the self-satisfied
complacency of the elites, whose incomes and stock portfolios are once
again soaring. Only some people, it seems, must adjust to a permanently
lower standard of living. Unfortunately, those people happen to be most
Also, a few links for further study:
David Bromwich: The Leader Obama Wanted to Become and What Became of Him.
A rather vague article poking around but never quite settling the basic
evasiveness of Obama's presidency. The only sense you get of "the leader
Obama wanted to become" is that there wasn't any. Backtracking through
his previous posts you find a wily figure who prefers to be a tabula
rasa onto which both friend and foe can project their hopes and fears,
knowing that while he will never satisfy he'll never prove you wrong
either. One representative paragraph (plus):
Perhaps the thin connection between Obama's words and his actions does
not support the use of the word "conviction" at all. Let us say instead
that he mistook his preferences for convictions -- and he can still be
trusted to tell us what he would prefer to do. Review the record and it
will show that his first statement on a given issue generally lays out
what he would prefer. Later on, he resigns himself to supporting a lesser
evil, which he tells us is temporary and necessary. The creation of a
category of permanent prisoners in "this war we're in" (which he declines
to call "the war on terror") was an early and characteristic instance.
Such is Obama's belief in the power and significance of his own words
that, as he judges his own case, saying the right thing is a decent
second-best to doing the right thing. [ . . . ]
He cares far less about doing everything possible to uphold the
Constitution (a word that seldom occurs in his speeches or writings).
Nevertheless, if you ask him, he will be happy to declare his preference
for a return to the state of civil liberties we enjoyed in the pre-2001
era. In the same way, he will order drone killings in secret and then
give a speech in which he informs us that eventually this kind of
killing must stop.
Ryan Gallagher/Glenn Greenwald: How the NSA Plans to Infect 'Millions" of
Computers with Malware: A pretty detailed summary of NSA efforts to
hack into computers, initially with "hundreds" of targets but increasingly
aiming for "millions" -- the typical approach being to infect those target
machines with malware, mostly to snoop but sometimes to damage them. The
inside info comes from Edward Snowden's leaks, and if this is true it
shows a government organization that has completely gone off the rails.
Very scary stuff. And while I note that the picture at the top only
shows the NSA attacks targeting the rest of the world, I can take no
comfort from that. Among other things, the US is establishing a world
norm where unbridled cyberwarfare is the order of the day -- a standard
which practically begs Russia, China, and others to do the same unto
us. We are already plagued with spambots and viral mischief coming out
of those countries, something the US government should be working with
others to suppress. Instead, the NSA is working to make the cyberworld
a Hobbesian hell, and doing it in secret where most Americans never
get the chance to second guess them.
Kathleen Geier: How Economic Inequality Kills: Reviews a recent
book by Göran Therborn, The Killing Fields of Inequality (2013,
Polity Press). Therborn sees inequalities as "multidimensional barriers
to human functioning in the world," which makes them "violations of
human rights" -- "human rights" being one of the quintessential equality
definitions (something that most of us believe everyone should be equal
Farhad Manjoo: T-Mobile Turns an Industry on Its Ear: The cell phone
industry, like cable TV, has always been a pursuit for monopoly profits,
but having failed to get antitrust permission to merge, T-Mobile suddenly
decided to compete and drive prices down. Especially since Bush became
president (although to a large extent even before then) the government
has made little effort to enforce antitrust law, let alone to take an
active role in fostering competitive markets, so this is a most welcome
Josh Ruebner: Overcoming the "Manufactured Crisis" with Iran: A
review of Gareth Porter important new book, Manufactured Crisis:
The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. No surprise that the
picture on the cover is that of Benjamin Netanyahu with a ticking
bomb graphic. Trita Parsi has written two earlier books on Israel's
obsession with Iran (Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of
Israel, Iran, and the United States in 2007, then A Single
Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran in 2012), but this
book brings the conflict -- perhaps the most dangerous in the world
today -- up to date. As Ruebner writes:
Porter unravels a complicated, sordid tale in which the United States
and Israel -- sometimes separately and sometimes symbiotically -- act
to ensure the perpetuation, rather than the resolution, of outstanding
concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
Jerome Slater: On John Judis's 'Genesis,' and its critics: Next on my
reading list is John Judis' new book, Genesis: Truman, American Jews,
and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict. This is less a review
of the book than a review of the usual negative reviews, including ones
by Leon Wieseltier, Bernard Wasserstein, and Ronald Radosh (whose own
book on Truman and Israel basically cast Truman as a pro-Israel saint,
when in fact there was a great deal of ambivalence throughout Truman's
administration). I personally expect to find the origins of conflict
much earlier -- I'm rather partial to Amy Dockser Marcus' Jerusalem
1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, which not only
specifies that early date but makes clear that it was decided in Vienna
and not in Palestine -- but the 1945-49 period does appear to be the
crucial one for the formation of the Zionist lobby in America. For
more on Judis' book, see
Heather Hurlburt: Broken Promised Land. And for more on Wieseltier,
albeit in a different theater of warmongering, see
Jim Sleeper: Leon Wieseltier's Moral Posturing on Crimea Suggests He
Learned Nothing From his Moral Posturing on Iraq.
Sunday, February 9. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Uri Avnery: Netanyahu's Pipe Dream: In their neverending search to
make peace terms as unpalatable as possible, Israel's right-wing has put
a lot of emphasis in demanding that others, especially Palestinians,
recognize Israel not only as a de facto governing authority but as a,
or more pointedly, the Jewish state. Avnery points out:
A state is a reality. Ideologies belong to the abstract realm.
When the United States recognized the Soviet Union in 1933, it
recognized the state. It did not recognize its communist nature.
[ . . . ]
Some Israelis (including myself) would like to change the
self-definition of Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," omitting
the word "Jewish." Some other Israelis would like to omit or demote
the word "democratic." Neither of us believe that we need the confirmation
of the Palestinians for this.
It's just none of their business.
I don't know what the real intention of Netanyahu is when he presents
this demand as an ultimatum.
The most flattering explanation for his ego is that it is just another
trick to sabotage the "peace process" before it reaches the demand to
evacuate the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories. The less
flattering explanation is that he really believes in it, that he is driven
by some deeply rooted national inferiority complex that needs outside
assurance of "legitimacy." Recognizing the "National State of the Jewish
People" means accepting the entire Zionist narrative, lock, stock and
barrel, starting from the divine promise to Abraham to this very day.
Part of the problem is that "Jewish state" means different things to
different people at different times, so asking someone else to acknowledge
Israel in just those terms winds up being dangerously open-ended. Herzl's
founding Zionist document was called The Jewish State, but the
idea was described there is utopian terms. The actual Israel is far from
the conflictless dream Herzl imagined: a state which divides its citizens
up into Jews and others and treats them more or less inequally depending
on other factors like where they live. One worries especially that the real
reason the right-wing pushes the "Jewish state" declaration so ardently is
that it provides cover for even more inequal treatment, aimed ultimately
at pushing non-Jews into exile, extending the "ethnic cleansing" of 1948.
This would, of course, be less of an issue if Israel returned to its 1967
borders, where the demographic balance is overwhelmingly Jewish. Conversely,
as the right-wing seeks to consolidate political integration with the West
Bank and East Jerusalem, the privileging of Jews looms even more important.
Many of their recent initiatives have been directed at non-Jewish citizens
of Israel -- loyalty oaths, attacks on free speech, etc. (Max Blumenthal's
book Goliath covers this well). As such, the "Jewish state" is
increasingly part of the anti-democratic efforts of the far right.
The polite thing to do at this point is to change the subject any time
the phrase pops up. Obama made a serious mistake in using the phrase --
one of many reasons Netanyahu has making him think he's got the president
eating out of his hand.
Tithi Bhattacharya/Bill V Mullen: Why is the American elite scared of
BDS? As Max Blumenthal reports in Goliath, the reaction of
Israel's dominant right-wing majority to BDS is to attempt to criminalize
the speech of anyone who advocates boycott, divestment, and/or sanctions
against Israel. As this piece shows, Israel's American cronies are, once
again, following in lock step, even though the US traditionally has a
much stronger tradition of free speech than Israel (e.g., it's in the
constitution, whereas "democratic" Israel doesn't have a constitution).
Much of this effort to muzzle academics comes from nominal liberals --
the two states considering bills to punish pro-BDS profressors are New
York and Maryland -- but it's especially concentrated among university
administrators. I would suspect that university administrators are a
particulary soft touch for well-heeled pro-Israeli donors, but the
authors suggest a deeper orientation:
This history sets a clear pattern in which U.S. University administrators
are keen to become first responders to ideological objectives of the
government. Yet in many ways, events since 9/11 in the U.S. most clearly
index the militarized U.S. University, and best explain the blowback in
higher education against the ASA Boycott vote.
[ . . . ]
Universities were also retooled after 9/11 in specific ways to provide
clear ideological direction to a new generation of students. More than
400 colleges and Universities established Homeland Security Programs,
many receiving direct funding from the government. Duke University,
whose President has condemned the ASA Boycott of Israeli Universities,
offers a Counterterrorism and Public Policy Fellowship Program; the
Fellowship, according to its website, "fulfills the Senior Service
Education (SSE) requirements for military officers and other U.S.
national security professionals."
It is politically of a piece, then, that militarization of the US
university has accompanied a tightening of relations between Israel's
settler-colonial state and a U.S. state which provides it roughly two
billion dollars a year in military assistance.
For more on BDS, see:
Also see Blumenthal's Goliath. And you could also take a look
at Thomas Friedman's confused piece,
The Third Intifada. Given his proven knack for trivializing things,
Friedman has decided that non-violent protests and international pleas
for recognizing the human rights of Palestinians and the enforcement of
international law constitute another uprising, perhaps because Israel's
response is the same as it was during the Intifadas: heavy-handed and
Russell Brand: Philip Seymour Hoffman Is Another Victim of Extremely
Stupid Drug Laws: Of course:
People are going to use drugs; no self-respecting drug addict is even
remotely deterred by prohibition. What prohibition achieves is an
unregulated, criminal-controlled, sprawling, global mob-economy, where
drug users, their families and society at large are all exposed to the
worst conceivable version of this regrettably unavoidable problem.
Countries like Portugal and Switzerland that have introduced
progressive and tolerant drug laws have seen crime plummet and
drug-related deaths significantly reduced. We know this. We know this
system doesn't work -- and yet we prop it up with ignorance and
indifference. Why? Wisdom is acting on knowledge. Now we are aware
that our drug laws aren't working and that alternatives are yielding
positive results, why are we not acting? Tradition? Prejudice? Extreme
stupidity? The answer is all three. Change is hard, apathy is easy,
tradition is the narcotic of our rulers. The people who are most
severely affected by drug prohibition are dispensable, politically
irrelevant people. Poor people. Addiction affects all of us but the
poorest pay the biggest price.
John Cassidy: The CBO's Real Message: Six Million Jobs Are Already
Missing: Republicans have seized upon something commonsensical
in the CBO's employment report: that the ACA, by making it possible
for people to buy health insurance without having a job (and by
making health insurance much less costly for people who make very
little money) will (most likely) result in two million workers
leaving their jobs. This they're trying to frame as a burden to
the economy, but it's basically a relief to workers, most of whom
have been saddled with crappy, unsatisfying jobs they really didn't
need or want except for the threat of illness-induced bankruptcy.
(This is especially true of people who have some savings they can
lean on. I know because I am one such person.) All this upsets
Republicans because everything about ACA upsets them, but also
because they really like forcing people to take crappy low-paying
jobs -- something which makes me think conservatism hasn't really
progressed much since its diehard defense of slavery. Cassidy:
But, first, something the C.B.O. said that you probably missed, which
is based on actual facts rather than on informed speculation: in the
past five years or so -- and this has nothing to do with
Obamacare -- some six million jobs (and workers) have already gone
missing from the U.S. economy.
That figure was in a separate report that the C.B.O. released on
Tuesday, titled, "The Slow Recovery of the Labor Market." As someone
who has written several times about the "missing millions" of workers
in this recovery, I was, naturally, drawn to the new report, particularly
to the estimate that the missing number is six million, which is about
the population of Missouri.
Based on history, all these people should be earning a living and
paying taxes. Instead, they've dropped out of the work force,
and . . . well, the truth is, we don't know exactly
what they've done. Some of them have probably taken early retirement.
Others may be working part time in the black economy. Many of them are
almost certainly sitting at home, doing nothing. A few may be glad
they're no longer working, but, from studies of how being jobless
affects people, we know that many of them are feeling depressed and
worthless. Their inactivity represents a tragic human and economic
waste, but, for some reason, it's not one that the G.O.P. seems
particularly indignant about.
What makes the loss of those six million jobs bad news isn't that
fewer people are enjoying the fruits of a healthy work ethic nor that
more people are depending on others for their sustenance (and you can
be damn sure that the taxpayers are picking up very little of the tab)
nor that the overall effect depresses an already depressed economy.
It's that so few of those people had any real choice in the matter:
maybe some could have settled for lower-paying, less-productive jobs
and simply refused -- count me in that group -- but most didn't even
have that option, and as time has passed they've become less and less
attractive to potential employers while many companies have continued
to downgrade and degrade their job openings.
By contrast, the ACA's liberation of "insurance slaves" is pretty
good news all around. It gives many people a chance to choose time over
money -- to retire early, to spend more time with children, to pursue
non-lucrative projects like art or volunteer work, or even to take a
risk and start a business. It also leaves real jobs unfilled, so many
companies will have to recruit replacements, and maybe even pay and/or
treat them better.
Further relevant links:
Andy Kroll/Daniel Schulman: The Koch Brothers Left a Confidential Document
at Their Last Donor Conference -- Read It Here:
There's one main rule at the conservative donor conclaves held twice
a year by Charles and David Koch at luxury resorts: What happens there
The billionaire industrialists and their political operatives strive
to ensure the anonymity of the wealthy conservatives who fund their
sprawling political operation -- which funneled more than $400 million
into the 2012 elections -- and to keep their plans private. Attendees
of these summits are warned that the seminars, where the Kochs and their
allies hatch strategies for electing Republicans and advancing conservative
initiatives on the state and national levels, are strictly confidential;
they are cautioned to keep a close eye on their meeting notes and
materials. But last week, following the Kochs' first donor gathering of
2014, one attendee left behind a sensitive document at the Renaissance
Esmeralda resort outside of Palm Springs, California, where the Kochs and
their comrades had spent three days focused on winning the 2014 midterm
elections and more. [ . . . ] The one-page document,
provided to Mother Jones by a hotel guest who discovered it, offers a
fascinating glimpse into the Kochs' political machine and shows how
closely intertwined it is with Koch Industries, their $115 billion
Many names follow, both of donors and "players." Any time the
Kochs' political fronts are mentioned I feel obligation to point
out that their aim isn't to influence elections -- it is to
Stephen M Walt: The Top 10 Mistakes Made in the Afghan War: Not
my list, which starts in 1979 -- actually in 1975, but 1979 was the
point when US policy turned from malign neglect to subterfuge, sabotage,
and terrorism in a campaign to destroy the most progressive government
in Afghan history and arm the most reactionary Afghans imaginable. That
said, the 2004 constitution and the 2009 "surge" were huge mistakes,
and he's right that the first problem with the COIN strategy was that
the US Army could never implement it (which is why Petraeus, whose
star rose in the US by promoting it, abandoned it as soon as he took
command in Kabul).
Also on Afghanistan:
Also, a few links for further study:
Chase Madar: The Folly of Arming Israel: The largest recipient of US
foreign aid, mostly in the form of military gear.
Overall, the United States covers nearly one quarter of Israel's defense
budget -- from tear gas canisters to F-16 fighter jets. In their 2008-2009
assault on Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces made use of M-92 and M-84
"dumb bombs," Paveway II and JDAM guided "smart bombs," AH-64 Apache attack
helicopters equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire guided missiles, M141 "bunker
defeat" munitions, and special weapons like M825A1 155mm white phosphorous
munitions -- all supplied as American foreign aid. (Uniquely among Washington's
aid recipients, Israel is also permitted to spend 25% of the military funding
from Washington on weapons made by its own weapons industry.)
Dani Rodrik: When Ideas Trump Interests: Preferences, Worldviews, and
Policy Innovations: PDF of an academic journal article. Reminds me
of Keynes' warning about how the world is ruled by little but ideas,
especially ones of defunct economists.
Sunday, February 2. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Jonathan Chait: Wall Street Journal: Okay, Obama Isn't Hitler,
But He's Pretty Hitler-y: On the WSJ editorial doubling down on
venture capitalist Tom Perkins' Kristallnacht complaint:
The Journal's editorial underscores that the widespread mockery
of Perkins, far from piling on a bewildered plutocrat, actually understates
the broader problem. Perkins's letter provided a peek into the fantasy world
of the right-wing one percent, in which fantasies of an incipient Hitler-esque
terror are just slightly beyond the norm. The Journal editorial defines
persecution of the one percent as the existence of public disagreement.
Liberals are mocking Perkins, therefore Perkins is basically right. For
Perkins to be wrong -- for the rich to enjoy the level of deference the
Journal deems appropriate -- a billionaire could compare his plight
to the victims of the Holocaust and nobody would make fun of him at all.
Chris Dillow: Why Inequality Matters:
Instead, we lefties care about inequality not because we have some idea
of what the Gini coefficient or share of the top 1% should be, but because
we fear that three things that would make inequalities tolerable are -- to
some extent -- missing.
Firstly, inequalities don't all arise from fair processes.
[ . . . ]
Secondly, we fear that inequality has adverse effects. I'm not thinking
so much here of its impacts on economic growth, social cohesion and other
aspects of well-being; the evidence here is convincing if you're prepared
to be convinced, and not if you're not. Instead, the danger is that
inequality is, as Sean McElwee says, an "affront to democracy."
[ . . . ]
Thirdly, we've no great beef with inequality if it is combined with
some form of risk-pooling. Even if our first two conditions were met,
we'd favour some redistribution to mitigate the effects of bad luck --
be it the bad luck of a bad draw in the genetic lottery or of being
hurt by a recession.
Mark Thoma: Sharing the Gains from Economic Growth:
Nevertheless, this represents an important shift in the emphasis of
economic policy. For the last thirty years or so, we have focused
mainly on production -- on enhancing economic growth -- based upon
the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. By lowering taxes on
businesses and on the so-called job creators at the top of the income
distribution, the economy would grow faster and the gains from growth
would be widely shared. Sure, those at the top might do relatively
better than others, but so long as everyone was gaining from growth
that would not be a problem.
But that is not what happened. Tax cuts and other policies favorable
to business and the one percent did not produce a growth miracle as
promised, and the economic gains that we did realize went mainly to
those at the very top of the income distribution. The result was
stagnating wages for the masses and staggeringly high gains for the few.
Aside from consulting Smith and Ricardo, I don't see much here that
fixes the problem, especially when Thoma talks about what Obama talks
about. Thomas does admit: "Workers are not getting what they deserve
according to economic theory and the societal norms we have adopted
that say people should be paid according to their contribution to the
productive process." He admits that declining union power has much to
do with this. Then he adds:
The unequal power relationship has allowed wages to stagnate while
incomes at the top have soared. But whatever the cause, the mechanism
that distributes income to various groups in society is broken, and
this important problem needs to be better studied and better understood.
That is why Obama's shift in emphasis from inequality to opportunity
and his fear of being accused of class warfare is a mistake. We need
better opportunity, particularly at the lower end of the income
distribution, but we also need to be sure that when those opportunities
are realized income rises with productivity.
When it doesn't, correcting the problem through taxes and transfers
or other means is not class warfare. It simply takes income that was
undeserved according to societal norms, and sends it where it rightfully
So unions were a traditional private-sector way of balancing incomes,
but transfers might be more efficient. In particular, they're less likely
to cause workplace strife and inflationary spirals.
Andrew Fieldhouse: 5 Years After the Crisis: Why the Income Gap Is
Widening: This has been reported before, but bears repeating:
Recent U.S. income inequality data published by economists Emmanuel Saez
and Thomas Piketty show that the top 1 percent of households by income has
captured a staggering 95 percent of total income gains between 2009 and
2012, compared with 68 percent of gains between 1993 and 2012. Rather than
sharing in the gains, the bottom 90 percent of households have seen income
fall steeply -- by an amount equivalent to 16 percent of all the
income gains between 2009 and 2012. By comparison, between 1993 and 2012,
the bottom 90 percent lost income equivalent to 5 percent of gains.
In other words, the vast majority of households have been falling
behind even faster than before. Income gains have accrued almost exclusively
to the very top of the income distribution, while the broad middle class
and lower-income households are losing ground.
[ . . . ]
When aggregate demand is depressed below supply, slack in the labor
market makes it easier for firms to cut employee compensation, thereby
increasing profits and capital income as a share of total income. In the
three years since the Great Recession officially ended, non-financial
sector corporate profits have jumped 62 percent per unit of output, while
employee compensation has fallen more than 1 percent per unit of output.
Domestic corporate profits as a share of gross domestic product have
jumped from 7 percent to 10 percent since the fourth quarter of 2007
(the eve of the recession). And as a share of corporate income, both
pre-tax and after-tax corporate profits recently reached post-war highs.
Lower-income workers also suffer disproportionately, as they lose
already scant bargaining power to oppose nominal wage cuts or reduced
hours. We've seen this play out in the Great Recession and its aftermath,
with changes in real household income taking a bigger fall as you move
down the income distribution.
The final section of the piece is called "Monetary Policy is No
Panacea": indeed, how could it be? What the Fed does is to push money
out into the economy through the banks, so it has a long ways to go
to trickle down, and the financial sector has become very adept at
soaking all that money up.
Igor Volsky: 6 Ways Extreme Income Inequality Is Making Your Life
Worse: Assuming, that is, you're not one of the extremely rich,
although I suspect someone could do something with that case as well:
- Income inequality forces Americans into debt.
- Income inequality makes America sick.
- Income inequality makes America less safe.
- Income inequality makes America less democratic.
- Income inequality undermines the American dream.
- Income inequality is undermining long-term economic growth.
"The American dream" is a hack cliché, usually meaning greater upward
economic mobility from generation to generation. The point about debt is
true, but one can argue with how much of it is forced. The basic fact is
that for a long time Americans compensated for lagging income growth by
assuming more debt. That practice took a very severe hit in the 2007-08
collapse, and may not even be an option going forward. A second aspect
is that as credit becomes harder for people to obtain, it quickly gets
to be prohibitively expensive and even predatory.
Kathlee Geier: Walmart's holiday profits are way down. Food stamp cuts
are a big part of the reason.
The Financial Times reports that, according to estimates, fourth quarter
sales and profits were down for Walmart, the nation's largest retailer.
Previously, Walmart had announced that sales were expected to be flat,
but now it's saying sales are likely to be "slightly negative." Official
results are due out on Feb. 20.
What's especially interesting is that Walmart is citing food stamp
cuts as one reason for declining sales. Fully 20 percent of Walmart's
customers use food stamps.
The plain fact is that food stamps are not just a form of welfare
for poor people, they're also a subsidy for corporations. They also
help some companies get away with paying workers less: in fact, see
the cartoon on the right, which also singles out Walmart.
Also, a few links for further study:
John Cassidy: Ten Ways to Get Serious About Rising Inequality:
Ten ideas ("none of which are original"), not my laundry list but some
are obvious, some are stretches, a couple I'm not sure what good they'd
- Establish a guaranteed minimum income for all American households.
- Abolish the payroll tax.
- Replace the payroll tax with a consumption tax.
- Raise the top rate of income tax.
- Tax wealth properly.
- Give ordinary Americans "homestead" grants.
- Nationalize the public-education system.
- Copy the Germans and greatly expand technical education.
- Abolish private schools and legacy admissions to private universities.
- Introduce a financial-transactions tax.
The financial-transactions tax would not only raise money that could be
spent more productively, it would slow down the rate of transactions, and
might suppress the temptation to capture small gains through fast-triggered
trading. I associate a lot of that with hedge funds and don't see how it
helps the economy at all, although it does make a handfull of traders very
rich. Of course, taxing their gains is another approach.
Tom Engelhardt: Ending the World the Human Way: A rant on climate
change as "anti-news" -- not news because it's been rehashed so many
times already, but not accepted as fact either because certain private
interests prefer not to acknowledge it:
What makes climate change so challenging is that the carbon dioxide
(and methane) being generated by the extraction, production, and burning
of fossil fuels supports the most profitable corporations in history, as
well as energy states like Saudi Arabia and Russia that are, in essence,
national versions of such corporations. The drive for profits has so far
proven unstoppable. Those who run the big oil companies, like the tobacco
companies before them, undoubtedly know what potential harm they are doing
to us. They know what it will mean for humanity if resources (and profits)
aren't poured into alternative energy research and development. And like
those cigarette companies, they go right on. They are indeed intent, for
instance, on turning North America into "Saudi America," and hunting down
and extracting the last major reserves of fossil fuel in the most difficult
spots on the planet. Their response to climate change has, in fact, been
to put some of their vast profits into the funding of a campaign of
climate-change denialism (and obfuscation) and into the coffers of chosen
politicians and think tanks willing to lend a hand.
In fact, one of the grim wonders of climate change has been the ability
of Big Energy and its lobbyists to politicize an issue that wouldn't
normally have a "left" or "right," and to make bad science into an ongoing
news story. In other words, an achievement that couldn't be more criminal
in nature has also been their great coup de théâtre.
One thing that became obvious back in 1999 with the "Y2K" scare was
that people don't have a good sense of what is or is not a threat to
their lives or way of life. Terrorism, for instance, is one thing that
people get excessively bent out of shape over, but it is much rarer
and far less dangerous than incompetence -- an everyday problem we
rarely think about. Lots of people tend to overreact to climate change.
I first noticed then during a period when I was reading a lot about
extinction crises in paleontology. It turns out that lots of people
think that every extinction crisis was caused by climate change, even
though few can explain plausible scenarios of how that may have worked.
There can be no doubt that there have been large climate swings over
the course of earth history. Nor can we doubt that those swings have
pushed species hither and yon, have selected for adaptations, and
have on occasion doomed species that couldn't move or adapt. Still,
that rarely adds up to a major extinction event, except in the fevered
imagination of people stuck on the idea. So when someone like Bill
McKibben reaches for an "end of nature" metaphor, or Engelhardt
"borrows" the notion of "anti-news," my bullshit detector goes off.
Still, I'm not into denying the science. I don't see anything there
that mankind cannot adapt to, but it does seem clear that people who
are confined to specific parcels of land -- you know, property owners --
will feel the brunt of the impact of climate changes as assumptions
about what a given piece of land is good for sometimes improve but
often fail. You'd think that property owners -- which is to say the
class of people a good deal richer than the likes of me -- would take
notice and seek to limit climate chance, but land isn't the source of
wealth it used to be, and most owners operate under the notion that
land, being finite and fixed, can only appreciate, so it turns out
they're not much of a factor.
The people who are a factor are the oil men, and they make for a
very peculiar political class. Oil is one of few commodities that is
finite and exhaustible, so one would expect a public bias in favor
of conservation: we should only use a minimum necessary amount of
oil now so we can reserve some for future generations. In virtually
every nation in the world oil is owned by the public, but in the US
it is owned privately, and that fact urges owners to pump it as fast
and completely as possible. Unlike most businessfolk, oil men are
almost exclusively created by luck and law: the luck to own property
that has oil underneath, and the law which lets them turn their luck
into riches. But rather than acknowledge a system so tenuous, and
ultimately so mindless, they have a remarkable intellectual bent
which allows them to take credit for everything, to style themselves
as self-made individuals, and to espouse a political ideology that
is ultimately little more than self-worship. You may think that the
issue of climate change is above left-right politics, but oil men
are the backbone of the far right in this country's politics, and
anything that limits their ability to convert their property into
money must be an ultra-leftist conspiracy.
Public ownership and stewarship of oil (and other minerals) would
make it much easier to have a rational discussion over how fast we
wish to deplete those resources, and what sort of risks to the climate
and to the environment we are willing to tolerate. It may seem too
late for that, but one could reform estate taxes to collect mineral
rights as current owners pass away, and one can introduce taxes to
compensate for the externalities of burning oil. Moreover, those are
things we should do, not so much because climate change is such an
overwhelming threat as because the basic principles make them good
things to do. And if, in the process, we defund the conservative
political movement, that too would be a blessing. It's founded on
a lot of intellectual fallacies, but none so glaring than the notion
that successful oil men (most notoriously at the moment, the Kochs)
are most qualified to run the country.
Greg Grandin: The Terror of Our Age: The Spindletop oil field was
discovered in 1901, so packed with oil it gushed through the first
wells. But everyone who owned property over the field could drill into
it, and they pumped so much oil out of it that first the price crashed
then within three years the field was dry. That's the logic of the oil
industry, but it wasn't new or unique to oil. Grandin has the same
story from a century earlier, about killing seals:
At first the frenetic pace of the killing didn't matter: there were so
many seals. On one island alone, Amasa Delano estimated, there were "two
to three millions of them" when New Englanders first arrived to make "a
business of killing seals."
"If many of them were killed in a night," wrote one observer, "they
would not be missed in the morning." It did indeed seem as if you could
kill every one in sight one day, then start afresh the next. Within just
a few years, though, Amasa and his fellow sealers had taken so many seal
skins to China that Canton's warehouses couldn't hold them. They began
to pile up on the docks, rotting in the rain, and their market price
To make up the margin, sealers further accelerated the pace of the
killing -- until there was nothing left to kill. In this way, oversupply
and extinction went hand in hand.
This is from a new book by Greg Grandin: The Empire of Necessity:
Slavery, Freedom and Deception in the New World (2014, Metropolitan
Books). Same logic applied to seals and oil: you make your fortune as
fast and ruthlessly as possible, and leave nothing for anyone else.
Joshua Frank: Inside Israel's Apartheid State: Interview with Max
Blumenthal, author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel
(2013, Nation Books).
Sunday, January 19. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Barbara Ehrenreich: It Is Expensive to Be Poor:
Most private-sector employers offer no sick days, and many will fire a
person who misses a day of work, even to stay home with a sick child.
A nonfunctioning car can also mean lost pay and sudden expenses. A
broken headlight invites a ticket, plus a fine greater than the cost
of a new headlight, and possible court costs. If a creditor decides
to get nasty, a court summons may be issued, often leading to an arrest
warrant. No amount of training in financial literacy can prepare someone
for such exigencies -- or make up for an income that is impossibly low
to start with. Instead of treating low-wage mothers as the struggling
heroines they are, our political culture still tends to view them as
miscreants and contributors to the "cycle of poverty."
If anything, the criminalization of poverty has accelerated since the
recession, with growing numbers of states drug testing applicants for
temporary assistance, imposing steep fines for school truancy, and
imprisoning people for debt. Such measures constitute a cruel inversion
of the Johnson-era principle that it is the responsibility of government
to extend a helping hand to the poor. Sadly, this has become the means
by which the wealthiest country in the world manages to remain complacent
in the face of alarmingly high levels of poverty: by continuing to blame
poverty not on the economy or inadequate social supports, but on the
No More Mister Nice Blog: The Problem Isn't Wealth Addiction. It's
Letting the Addicts Write the Laws. Starts with an op-ed by a
banker whining that his bonus last year was only $3.6 million, and
how he had become addicted to being filthy rich -- nothing the poor
fellow can do about it. M. argues that the real problem is:
In a way, this is what we do with guns in America, at least at the
national level and in the red states: we let the junkies control who
can obtain the stuff, how freely it's sold, and how few restraints
we can put on its exchange, by means of their unchallenged access
to elected officials. With great wealth, especially over the past
thirty-plus years, we've allowed the the wealthiest and greediest --
whose access to public officials is even greater than that of the gun
lobbyists -- to talk us into curtailing the tax and regulatory policies
that served as checks on their access to the stuff, and have thus
permitted them to do massive harm to society as a result of their
abuse. In a way, with wealth we have a sort of narco-state, where the
cartel leaders intimidate the authorities into avoiding crackdowns on
the trade. The only difference is that, in the case of wealth, it's
actually empowering to be high on your own supply.
Andrew Simmons: The Danger of Telling Poor Kids That College Is the Key
to Social Mobility:
The rhetoric echoes the oft-cited work of Jean Anyon, an education
researcher who died in September. Studying elementary schools, Anyon
looked at how schools can condition kids for positions in life. She
saw that schools teaching the children of affluent families prepared
those kids to take on leadership roles and nurtured their capacity for
confident self-expression and argument. Schools teaching children from
low-income families focused on keeping students busy and managing
behavior. A middle-class school deemphasized individual expression and
in-depth analysis and rewarded the dutiful completion of specified
rote tasks. In each case, according to Anyon, a "hidden curriculum"
has prepared students for a future role in society. Some students
learn to take orders and others learn to chart a course of action and
delegate responsibility. School can either perpetuate inequity through
social reproduction or have a transformative effect and help students
It's not enough for the rich that they are the beneficiaries of a
political-economic system that increases inequality, they also wish
to impose on everyone their insistence that inequitable returns are
the standard by which people should judge their lives, and be judged
by others. Pursuing knowledge for its own sake, taking satisfaction
in non-monetary achievements -- those are heretical ideas that fail
to show sufficient respect for moneymaking. Also worth noting that
the constant harping about how higher education provides a way out
for the lower classes is one of the few plausible options the system
can offer. It is, however, increasingly discredited both by the high
debt loads it imposes and by the efforts of the upper class to lock
its privileges in.
Hedrick Smith: Boeing's power play: For decades Seattle was first
and foremost among Boeing towns, and its fortunes rose or fell with the
company. But then Boeing moved their corporate headquarters to Chicago,
sending a message to Seattle workers that Boeing execs wouldn't feel a
thing if they pulled the plug on their Seattle plants. Boeing had set
up a process where they auction jobs all around the world, and they've
made the state of Washington pay dearly to keep workers employed that
any sane company would be proud to have. They've moved their 787 work
around so far that the plane was years late. And once again Boeing is
shaking down the unions for further concessions.
Boeing's stingy treatment of its highly skilled workforce offers a
vivid example of how America's new economy has created gaping economic
inequalities and steadily squeezed the economic life out of the
U.S. middle class over the past three decades, even as corporate
profits and CEO pay have skyrocketed.
Boeing's case epitomizes that sharp economic divide. For just as
the company was wringing concessions from its workers, its board of
directors approved a 50 percent increase in the company's stock
dividend and a $10 billion stock buyback that will richly reward
investors and executives who get paid in Boeing shares.
Boeing contends that it is not the first to impose such concessions
but that it is merely following the market.
True enough. In 1980, 84 percent of American workers at companies
with 100 or more employees received lifetime pensions from their
companies, and 70 percent got health insurance fully paid for by their
employers. Today, fewer than 30 percent have lifetime pensions and
only 18 percent have fully employer-paid health insurance.
What these numbers mean is that every year hundreds of billions of
dollars in benefit costs have been shifted from company books to the
pocketbooks and checkbooks of average Americans, helping to boost
corporate profits and to leave roughly half of the baby boom
generation facing near poverty in retirement.
Boeing's new contract will accelerate that trend. And it's not as
if hard economic times forced Boeing to slash labor costs. Its profits
and demand for its planes are at record levels.
Over the past decade, Boeing rolled up more than $35 billion in
profits and paid no federal corporate taxes. In fact, Boeing reaped
about $2 billion in federal tax rebates from 2003 to 2012, as well as
the most generous long-term state tax subsidy in U.S. history from
Also, a few links for further study:
Sunday, December 22. 2013
I tried this past week to sign up for a new health care insurance
policy starting January 1. I would like to think successfully, but
the last information I got on the website told me that I have one
more thing to do -- to pay for the first month's insurance -- then
offered me no way to do that. They did leave me with a "customer
service number" so we'll try calling that tomorrow and hoping that
will seal the deal. The policy I wound up with costs more than I've
been paying through COBRA, but the tax credit I've earned by not
making any money blogging all these years helps out.
I didn't notice any terrible performance problems, other than
that the site went down for maintenance three times when I was on
it (late at night). But I did hit a couple of serious bugs. For
one, they sent me a "message" notice in email, and when I followed
the link and logged in I saw a notice that there was a message for
me, but I never found a way to access that message. I then found
myself arbitrarily blocked from going forward to look at plans:
some pages noted an error (big red box), but nothing helped to
explain the error. I used their "chat" and the only help that the
other person could offer was that I should call their "help line."
When I did call the "help line" I spent 30 minutes on hold waiting
to speak to someone. By that time I found a form saying that I
wasn't eligible for Medicaid then asking me whether I wanted to
apply anyway. When I checked that "no" -- hey, I live in Kansas,
remember -- the blockage cleared up and I could finally look at
That turned out to be the real time consumer, and is, I think,
the fundamental problem with "Obamacare": I had to sort through 26
plans (ignoring everything rated Bronze), but they only came from
two companies (one of which is generally regarded as a sick joke
in these parts). But those plans had all sorts of minor tradeoffs
which no one can sort through intelligently, partly for lack of
information but mostly because one cannot define future needs. I
wound up spending several days here, including breaks to call the
insurance company to verify various bits of information. And in
the end I have no idea whether I did the right thing or not.
There was also a glitch concerning dental insurance, which I
haven't had for most of my life and is something I can get by
without having, so I tried skipping it.
So all in all, not a pleasant experience, but still seems likely
to be a big improvement over the pre-"Obamacare" situation, which is
one where a 63-year-old unemployed guy with a lot of medical issues
would have found it virtually impossible to get health insurance of
any value at any cost.
Some scattered links this week:
Ryan Cooper: Today's Top-Down Class Warfare, in Four Infuriating
- North Carolina has been viciously savaging its unemployed, and
the results are exactly what liberals predict.
- Meanwhile, the ultra-wealthy are shirking stupendous quantities
of inheritance taxes through financial chicanery.
- Word is the new farm bill is going to cut $8 billion more from
- This Georgia Republican says poor kids should sweep floors for
Ed Kilgore: Put Away the Chamberlain Umbrellas:
Bad historical analogies for current events are the stock and trade
of lazy writers and ax-grinders, and all the more pestiferous in a
media environment in which any historical knowledge before about 1980
is a bit of a pleasant surprise. We're now in the midst of an epidemic
of really, really bad "Munich" analogies for the new "first step"
agreement with Iran. At Reason's Hit & Run blog, Matt Welch
compiles the authors of "Munich" comparisons nicely: Bret Stephens,
Ben Schapiro, James Carafano, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, John
Bolton, Daniel Pipes, Tom Cotton -- in other words, a predictable
bunch. [ . . . ]
[T]he Munich analogy fails even if you think the Iranians are as
evil or even more evil than the Nazis. It fails because of Iran's
weakness and the relatively small concessions they are obtaining;
giving them back control of some of their own frozen assets isn't
remotely comparable to turning over Sudentenland, much less the
whole of Czechoslovakia.
I've long thought that Chamberlain got a raw deal over Munich:
his real mistake wasn't backing away from a war he was unable to
fight over a thin slice of land where Germany plausibly claimed
that most of the inhabitants favored joining the Reich; it was his
"peace in our time" comment, which proved to be sorely in error.
But there in a greater error in the analogy: the idea that Nazi
Germany would have been stopped had Chamberlain not lost courage
and chose to appease Hitler.
Paul Krugman: Inequality as a Defining Challenge: Good to see
Krugman coming around here -- I've been on this theme for more than
a few years now, not just because increasing inequality is unfair
but because it turns us into more disrespectful, more dishonest,
and downright meaner human beings, and that whole combination
nudges a political system that can already be dubbed an oligarchy
ever further into dysfunctionality. Even if you can't imagine
where that might go in the future, you can plot out the changes
of the last ten-twenty-thirty years and that should leave you
discomfitted enough. Krugman is still behind the curve here, but
he's no longer denying that inequality contributes to the shortfall
of aggregate demand.
Finally, very much tying in with this, is the question of what
progressive think tanks should research. Klein suggests that "how
to fight unemployment" should be a more central topic than "how to
reduce inequality." But here's the thing: we know how to fight
unemployment -- not perfectly, but good old basic macroeconomics
has worked very well since 2008. There's no mystery about the
economics of our slow recovery -- that's what happens when you
tighten fiscal policy in the face of private deleveraging and
monetary policy is constrained by the zero lower bound. The question
is why our political system ignored everything macroeconomics has
learned, and the answer to that question, as I've suggested, has a
lot to do with inequality.
The causes of soaring inequality, on the other hand, are more
mysterious; so are the channels through which we might reverse this
trend. We know some things, but there is much more room for new
knowledge here than in business cycle macro.
So inequality is definitely a defining challenge; whether it is
"the" defining challenge can be argued, but it makes very good sense
for progressives to focus much of their energy on the issue. And yes,
it's also true that inequality is easier to explain to the public
than demand-side macroeconomics -- but since these concerns are
complements rather than substitutes, that's not something that
should induce any feelings of guilt.
Not sure why Krugman still considers the "source of inequality" to be
so "mysterious" -- Joseph Stiglitz has a long list of reasons in his book,
The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our
Future, and way back when Marx had a working model of surplus value
at least for the manufacturing sector. Add rents and divide by whatever
the current factor is for redistribution and you have a basic model. From
that it's easy to see what policies -- reducing rents and increasing
redistribution -- reduce inequality, and also you can see where the
political resistance to those policies is coming from: the oligarchy
and its ideologists. Unsurprisingly, the resistance against textbook
macro comes from the exact same sources, precisely because they understand
that once you start using the government to shape the economy there's
no reason why beleaguered voters in a democracy will be satisfied with
more dead-end jobs and won't start demanding a more equitable share.
The task for these "think tanks" is less to understand the problem than
to dispell the myths that cloak the right-wing onslaught.
Krugman has "further numerical thoughts"
Also, a few links for further study:
Allison Deger: At New America Foundation, Max Blumenthal warns Israeli
policy is to 'finish 48': I'm still reading Blumenthal's Goliath,
and it's proving to be the broadest survey of current Israeli political
opinion I've yet seen in English -- the touchy spot being how much of
that opinion is rotted with racism, fascism, and militarism (but not a
lot on religion thus far, although his suggestion that the Kookists are
the true heirs, as well as the last refuges, of labor Zionism is a very
interesting insight). By "finish 48" Blumenthal means to complete the
ethnic cleansing that started with the explusion of 700,000 Palestinians,
but thus far the means have mostly to be to render the remaining native
population legally and politically invisible. Thus the renewed emphasis
on the Jewish State, something that had been downplayed after 1949 when
Israel enjoyed an overwhelming Jewish majority.
Gershom Gorenberg: Bibi's Agreement Anxiety Disorder: Fairly basic
explanation of Netanyahu's over-the-top reaction to the US-Iran agreement
to freeze (and in some cases reverse) Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment
program and reduce some sanctions subject to a longer-term agreement
within six months.
To explain Benjamin Netanyahu's frenzied reaction to the Geneva agreement
on Iran's nuclear program, let me begin with the stack of brown cardboard
boxes under my wife's desk.
Each of the five cartons contains a gas mask and related paraphernalia
for a member of my family to use in the event of a chemical-weapons attack.
They were delivered last January, as part of the gradual government effort
to prepare every household in Israel for a rain of Syrian missiles. I
suppose that having "defense kits" in the house could be macabre, but
what we usually notice is that they're a nuisance: another thing on which
to bang your toe in an overstuffed city flat.
It now looks like Israel is discontinuing its gas mask program because
Syria's is disposing of its chemical weapons: something which happened,
and only could have happened, due to an agreement (in Geneva, no less)
between Syria, Russia, and the US -- an agreement that Netanyahu, of
Imminent Iran nuclear threat? A timeline of warnings since 1979:
- 1992: Israeli parliamentarian Benjamin Netanyahu tells his colleagues
that Iran is 3 to 5 years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon --
and that the threat had to be "uprooted by an international front headed
by the US."
- 2002: President George W. Bush labels Iran as part of the "axis of
evil," along with Iraq and North Korea.
- 2006: The drums of war beat faster after the New Yorker's Seymour
Hersh quotes US sources saying that a strike on Iran is all but inevitable,
and that there are plans to use tactical nuclear weapons against buried
- 2007: A month later, an unclassified National Intelligence Estimate
(NIE) on Iran is released, which controversially judges with "high
confidence" that Iran had given up its nuclear weapons effort in fall
- January 2011: When Meir Dagan steps down as director of Israel's
Mossad spy agency, he says that Iran would not be able to produce a
nuclear weapon until 2015.
Alex Kane: Meet the American Hedge Fund Billionaire Who Could Start a 'Holy
War' in the Middle East: On Henry Swieca, his funding of the Temple
Institute, and its growing influence within Israel.
Michael B Katz: How America abandoned its "undeserving" poor:
Excerpt from Katz's new book, The Undeserving Poor: America's
Enduring Confrontation With Poverty. Picks up the story in the
1970s, shortly after William Ryan explained the same thing in his
book, Blaming the Victim. (For some reason my mind filed that
title with Frances Fox Piven. Her 1971 book with Richard Cloward was
called Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare.
Katz, by the way, I recall especially for his 1968 book, The
Irony of Early School Reform, about how universal education
was promoted in 1840s Massachusetts primarily to "socialize" the
immigrant Irish (and resisted by the poor for just that reason).
So there's not much new here, but whereas the 1970 books meant to
sweep out the last vestiges of pre-War-on-Poverty thinking, the
new ones are starting to pick up the struggle again.
Eric Laursen: Faux Progressivism: Review of George Packer's book,
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, starting with
some character assessment -- my first thought here was "assassination,"
but went with the more accurate term -- of an author who worked so hard
to help Bush invade Iraq. I found Packer's book on Iraq worth reading,
although one did have to slog through a lot of nonsense with Paul Berman
and Kanan Makiya before you get to anything useful. Most likely The
Unwinding has some useful reporting as well, although I also don't
doubt that Laursen is right that Packer misses much of the story, not
least a last chapter that sums up the problems even if he can't see a
Alex Parene's annual Hack List:
Mike Allen: "For Allen, a source is indistinguishable from a friend
and both are indistinguishable from sponsors. The result is a daily
exercise in favor-trading carried out by people using him as a conduit
and people using him as an unpaid spokesman."
Mark Halperin and John Heilemann: "Didn't political reporters
like us create an environment in which every single dumb thing anyone
even tangentially connected to any campaign said became a four-day-long
"gaffe" story, forcing everyone involved to make the entire presidential
race even more of a series of rehearsed and scripted pseudo-events than
it already had been?"
Benny Johnson: "Benny works for a website called Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed
refined a style of web writing that at this point is scarcely web
'writing.' It is a sort of one-page scrolling picture book with some
bits that move. Buzzfeed uses this form primarily to create harmless
diversions, but also sometimes to 'report' news!"
David Brooks: "Ideas, for those who aren't clear on the concept, are
simply attention-grabbing assertions. The Columnist is one of a group of
people who create these assertions and sell them to rich people. His
first book, I Confirmed All My Biases By Driving to a Strip Mall,
is a big hit among people who like to feel superior while reading gentle
mocking of people who like to feel superior. 'Some Americans enjoy NASCAR,'
he writes. 'Others prefer arugula and are very proud of themselves for this
fact.' He treats this observation as a bold Idea."
Richard Cohen: "First of all, it hurts to be called a racist. It's
deeply hurtful, and unfair. I myself have felt the ugly sting of being
accused of racism on more occasions than I can count. And I know that
if I weren't a reasonably well-off white man of a certain age with a
prestigious job in journalism, I'd certainly never be victimized like
Erick Erickson: "With his soft physique and his inexplicable belief
that 'blogger' is an appropriate job for a man who has a family to feed
and protect, Erickson represents the epitome of the modern beta male.
Can you imagine an alpha male in the animal kingdom 'working from home'?
Erickson is practically made of arugula."
Henry Blodget: "A few months ago I was browsing the Internet, reading
websites, when I clicked on a link to an article on a website called
Business Insider. The article was about how a man named Henry Blodget
flew on an airplane. He wrote, 'I got a free pillow.' And then, under
that, he posted a picture of the pillow. Most of the post was pictures,
Peggy Noonan: "Peggy Noonan had a lot of things to say, about how the
president is weak and uncertain, how Chris Christie is good at playing a
game, and knows it's a game, and is a winner, and how amazing it is
that Peggy Noonan can ride on an airplane and type thoughts about JFK on
a computer machine. Peggy Noonan is on airplanes, and in airports, a lot,
in real life and in her columns."
Thomas Friedman: "Thomas Friedman is an app. People who read Thomas
Friedman, like President Obama and other rich Americans, are like teens
using apps on their iPhones. Only this app doesn't take a selfie, it
takes a they-mie. See, Friedman's a mirror, and like a mirror, he
reflects. I call the people he's reflecting 'Friedman World.'
In Friedman World, America is always saving Muslims from themselves
by bombing them and columnists never learn any lessons from their
worst mistakes. In Friedman World, the destabilization of America's
former middle class is actually an opportunity for formerly employed
people to work on building their branded reputations.
[ . . . ] Most of his columns are just nonsensical
buzzwords he's been repeating for literally 10 years and his foreign
policy analysis is usually either incredibly facile or actively
offensive to Arabs and Muslims. It's actually terrifying how influential
he is. Like it legitimately makes me despair of anything improving
anywhere in the world for anyone but the super-rich."
Malcolm Gladwell: "But it turns out that the very skills necessary
to write compelling profiles and thoughtful explorations of interesting
topics can also be used to connect a bunch of anecdotes to some unrelated
social sciences work and claim it all proves a conclusion that is basically
a truism described as an unexpected insight. And once you can do that, you
can do anything -- even get your book hawked to Glenn Beck's credulous
Slavoj Zizek: If Nelson Mandela really had won, he wouldn't be seen as
a universal hero: True enough, but the memory of Apartheid-era South
Africa is so embarrassing to past supporters -- at least in the US; not
so sure about Israel -- that it's really convenient that Mandela can be
seen as a "universal hero."
Sunday, November 24. 2013
The big news this week is the deal Iran signed with the world's
"5+1" superpowers -- you know, the ones who actually have nuclear
weapons programs capable of destroying most life on earth, or in
the case of Germany, one that has mastered all of the so-called
"peaceful" technologies of nuclear power that Iran says it aspires
to without wasting extra effort into packaging that power in bomb
form. (Curious that Japan didn't make the cut, especially as they
have some painful experience with the blessings of nuclear power --
what Iran so much wants to experience itself.) If one goes by history,
an Iranian bomb might actually stabilize the Middle East inasmuch
as it would deter Israel and Saudi Arabia from starting another war
with Iran, but Iranian nuclear power plants could turn into a real
environmental hazard. Still, the agreement is good news, especially
in that it represents a step away from war.
War in Context has a good series of links on the agreement:
Iran, six world powers clinch breakthrough nuclear deal: cites
Michael R Gordon at New York Times.
How Iran and world powers finally got to yes on a nuclear deal:
New US sanctions would spell 'end of deal' to limit nuclear program:
which is, of course, why Israel stooges like
Chuck Shumer and
Bob Corker are working to pass them.
With Iran deal sealed, don't expect Israel to send out the air force:
cites Amos Harel at Haaretz; also notes that Israel's stock market
responded favorably to the deal (unlike Israel's Prime Minister).
Geneva deal seals Netanyahu's legacy: An ineffectual leader:
cites Amir Oren at Haaretz. ("This morning, in Switzerland, Netanyahu
had his toy gun taken away. In Basel, Herzl founded the state of the
Jews, and in Geneva, Obama ended Netanyahu's era.") Actually, the deal
wouldn't have been made except for Netanyahu, because without his
relentless propagandizing for war no one would have seen the issue
as needing such a solution. And if, as I suspect, Netanyahu's real
purpose was merely to avoid talking about the Palestinians, he's
managed that rather successfully, if not very elegantly.
A path towards peace with Iran -- Netanyahu's worst nightmare:
with another link to Haaretz you can't read. Paul Woodward adds:
"Netanyahu's goal has never been for the nuclear issue to be resolved.
It's political value resides wholly in this remaining an unresolved
issue and in Israel's ability to cast Iran as a perpetual threat.
For Netanyahu, any deal is a bad deal because absent an
Iranian threat, Israel will find itself under increasing pressure
to address the Palestinian issue."
A nuclear deal to which no one can reasonably object: cites
Fred Kaplan in Slate: "It's everything Obama hoped to achieve in
Secret US-Iran talks set stage for nuke deal: cites AP and Haaretz.
After rapid release of hot air, Israeli leaders may soon run out of
Jodi Rudoren at New York Times, and
Jeffrey Goldberg. Rudoren quotes Efraim Inbar: "At a time when
appeasing Iran seems to be in vogue, an Israeli strike could invigorate
elements in the international arena who are unwilling to accept an Iran
with a nuclear breakout capability. In addition, many people around the
world would be reminded that muscular reactions to evil regimes are
often truly necessary." Not a lot of self-awareness in that invitation.
Some scattered links this week:
Tom Engelhardt: Boo!: On our national psyche:
On August 1, 1966, a former Marine sniper took to the 28th floor of a
tower on the campus of the University of Texas with an M-1 carbine and
an automatic shotgun, killing 17, while wounding 32. It was an act that
staggered the American imagination, shook the media, led to a commission
being formed, and put those SWAT teams in our future. But no one then
could have guessed how, from Columbine high school (13 dead, 24 wounded)
and Virginia Tech university (32 dead, 17 wounded) to Sandy Hook Elementary
School (26 dead, 20 of them children), the unhinged of our heavily armed
nation would make slaughters, as well as random killings even by children,
all-too-common in schools, workplaces, movie theaters, supermarket parking
lots, airports, houses of worship, navy yards, and so on.
And don't even get me started on imprisonment, a category in which
we qualify as the world's leader with 2.2 million people behind bars, a
500% increase over the last three decades, or the rise of the punitive
spirit in this country. That would include the handcuffing of remarkably
young children at their schools for minor infractions and a fierce
government war on whistleblowers -- those, that is, who want to tell
us something about what's going on inside the increasingly secret state
that runs our American world and that, in 2011, considered 92 million of
the documents it generated so potentially dangerous to outside eyes that
it classified them.
Steve M: Sam Tanenhaus Doesn't Print the Legend, but Why Is That
the Legend? Cites Peggy Noonan claiming, "We all talk about
JFK's death because for the 18 years leading up to that point --
between the end of the war, as we used to say, and 1963 -- America
knew placidity": Kennedy's assassination brought that to an end,
revealing a bitterly (and violently) divided nation. Tanenhaus has
a variation on that theme. M. writes:
I was four years old when JFK was shot, so this isn't my nostalgia;
I have trouble looking back and understanding how people saw the era
The fissures that became obvious in the post-assassination era
were evident in the very first presidential election after World
War II, when Henry Wallace ran to the left and Strom Thurmond ran
to the racist right. Beyond that, I could run through the whole "We
Didn't Start the Fire" litany: McCarthyism, China going communist,
Cuba going communist, integration of the military and baseball and
Little Rock and Ole Miss (and the backlashes), the Montgomery bus
boycott, the Freedom Rides, the fear of "juvenile delinquents" and
comic books and rock and roll, the Pill, Bircherism. . . . I wasn't
there, but did Joe and Jane America really feel that the era was
Maybe compared with the Depression and the war it was. Maybe a
fairly broad-based prosperity made it all go down easy -- maybe
that's all it takes.
Let me add a couple points here: First, before the civil rights
movement challenged Jim Crow and exposed the violence that it had
always been based on -- a violence which if anything was much more
ominous when it didn't have to appear. The civil rights movement
didn't divide America and didn't lead to more violence. Pre-civil
rights Jim Crow was already as divided and as violent as it could
Second, isn't the word "placidity" a bit quaint? What Noonan
means was that most people accepted their place in the social and
class hierarchy, and that they seemed to conform to a set of common
beliefs about what it meant to be an American. This was at least
partly because coming out of the New Deal and the reinforced unity
of the World War those beliefs were overwhelmingly liberal. And it
had at least something to do with the sense that class differences
would melt into a common middle class -- the result of the leveling
measures of the New Deal (more union membership, higher taxes on
the rich) and the postwar boom. But that consensus was also based
on hypocrisy -- on ignoring the exceptions which became obvious as
young people in the 1960s discovered poverty and prejudice, and
how cold war ideology advanced the right-wing against workers here
and around the world. Only conservative shmoozes like Noonan look
back on those naïve years as a golden age of placidity.
Steven M. has another quoteworthy paragraph in
Republican Obstructionism: But Aren't Republicans the Real Victims?:
Actually, that's not true. Republicans are not "eager to show they have
not been stripped of all power." Republicans are never "eager to show
they have not been stripped of all power." Republicans are almost always
eager to convey the impression that they have no power, that power
is something they've been viciously cheated out of, but that they are
nonetheless plucky, determined underdogs who have God and the Constitution
on their side, which helps them fight for freedom despite the tyranny of
the Liberal Monolith. Even when Ronald Reagan could bend Democratic Blue
Dogs to his will, or George W. Bush and a Republican Congress ran the
country with impunity, the message was that they were under the bootheel
of Sam Donaldson or Dan Rather, or persecuted by left-wing college
professors, or by Michael Moore and the Dixie Chicks, who had all the
After all, if you thought the Republicans had power, you might think
the Republicans were responsible for the consequences of their actions --
which is kind of what happened in the 2006 and 2008 elections, before
Iraq and Afghanistan and the Great Recession and dozens of other disasters
suddenly became Obama's fault.
Steven refines this further here:
The GOP Is Not in the Business of Governing -- It's a Propaganda Operation
That Also Runs Candidates for Government Offices.
Also, a few links for further study:
Sunday, November 17. 2013
Front page story in the Wichita Eagle today is titled "Obama struggles
to save his health law." Anyone able to recall back more than a week --
a group that evidently excludes most of the political media -- knows that
a month or so ago the Republicans in Congress forced a government shutdown
to try to extort the president into surrendering his signature health care
insurance reform. He didn't buckle then, so why should he "struggle" now.
All he has to do is to sit tight while his minions fix some buggy software
and let the crisis pass. As it is, he tripped himself up a bit on his
"promise" that people who like their current insurance policies can keep
them. In theory, the only insurance policies that are being canceled now
are ones that don't meet the new law's minimum standard. He might have
been better advised to simply point out that no one should be happy with
an insurance policy that doesn't protect you from financial ruin, noting
that a very large percentage of people who go bankrupt due to medical bills
do so despite having active, but deficient, health insurance policies. His
equivocations have in turn unnerved some Democrats, but he can stop any
damaging changes to the law, and hardly needs to "struggle" with whether
to do so.
The story, by the way, is
here, and doesn't support the headline hysteria, nor for that matter
the cheekiness of its longer web title ("Obama struggles to save his
cherished health law").
Some scattered links this week:
Dean Baker: No, Obama Didn't Lie to You About Your Health Care Plans:
This goes through the various cases of insurance plans that are being
cancelled -- in all cases because they are not up to ACA standards. This
even includes some plans that had been grandfathered until the insurance
companies jacked up the rates and/or deductibles beyond what the law
allows. Also, note this:
Finally, there will be many plans that insurers will stop offering in
large part because of the changed market conditions created by the ACA.
For example, last week the Washington Post highlighted a plan for the
"hardest to insure" that was being cancelled by Pathmark Blue Cross of
This plan is likely being cancelled because it is unable to compete
with the insurance being offered through the exchanges. The exchanges
charge everyone the same rate regardless of their pre-existing health
conditions. A plan that is especially designed for people who have
serious health conditions would almost certainly charge a far higher
rate. If these high-priced plans no longer exist because they cannot
compete with the exchanges would this mean that President Obama had
broken his pledge?
I'll also note that many individual "high risk" plans were developed
without any chance of competition driving the prices down. A major
effect of the exchanges is to allow comparative shopping, and as such
to create a competitive market where none existed before.
Steven M: No, Because We Don't Lie to Ourselves: Responds to a
piece by "concern troll" Conor Friedersdorf titled
Will the Left Turn on President Obama Like the Tea Party Did on President
Bush. Makes several points, starting with the fact that the Tea Party
activists were never that unhappy with Bush, especially nowhere near
unhappy enough to defect to someone like Obama:
Teabaggers feel no authentic "chagrin at the ways he [Bush] had
transgressed against their values." The only "chagrin" they feel is
at the fact that he was their dreamboat and everything they cheered
him for doing failed, the result being humiliation for them and and
a national rejection of their holy conservative Cause. They can't
bear to hate themselves for this, or question the way they mooned
over Bush's codpiece for eight years (or at least six, until Democrats
won the '06 midterms), so they lie to themselves now and say they never
liked all those deficits and expenditures they didn't give a goddamn
about when Bush was riding high. They tell themselves that fiscal
prudence has always been their core principle, when in fact their
core principle is now what it has always been: liberalism and the
Democratic Party must be destroyed so that we can rule forever.
Wearing tricorn hats and putting the word "constitutional" into every
sentence they utter is just their latest scheme to achieve that end.
Ted Snider: Their Hardliners Are Right; Our Hardliners Are Wrong:
On the Iran negotiations:
That the American hardliners' ideology has infiltrated the Western
P5+1 negotiating team is suggested by reports coming out right after
this past weekend's disintegration of the promised preliminary agreement
that, at least publicly, the diplomats from the other five countries
were not angry with France for breaking ranks on the potential deal,
but for breaking protocol and announcing the failure prior to the
final press conference. It appears that the six countries may have
been in agreement about questioning Iran's "right" to enrich and
about questioning the heavy-water reactor at Arak. Though originally
presented as France's breaking ranks with the other five countries,
no one but Iran has publicly criticized France, and John Kerry has
said "The French signed off on it, we signed off on it" and that
"We're grateful to the French for the work we did together."
[ . . . ]
But while American hardliners are wrong about their claims, the
Iranian hardliners are historically justified in their claims that
the Americans will sabotage the talks and will never make a fair
deal with Iran. While talks progress more positively than they have
in a decade and a deal seems possible for the first time, American
hardliners continue to press for sanctions on Iran and continue to
raise the bar of what would constitute an acceptable deal.
Gareth Porter has more on the Iran talks:
Why Iran Nuclear Talks Failed and Why They Will Get Tougher.
Stephem M Walt: Why Do We Keep Insisting That Use of Force Be 'On the
The more I think about it, however, the dumber that expression sounds.
Why? Because for the United States, the option of using military force
is always on the table, especially when we're dealing with weak states
like Iran. After all, since the end of the Cold War the United States
has used force over and over: in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen,
Bosnia, Serbia, and a host of other places too. We've fired cruise
missiles, Hellfires, and other sophisticated chunks of ordnance at a
wide variety of targets, and you could add Special Forces operations
and computer viruses (e.g., Stuxnet) to the list.
Of course, people do not use this admonition to keep force "on the
table" in a serious or sophisticated fashion; it's just an easy way
for politicians and pundits to show they're tough-minded and not averse
to using the pointed end of the stick. In other words, it's a way to
maintain your inside-the-Beltway street cred. But it's really a
meaningless phrase, because countries like Iran (and others) are
well aware that the option of using force is right there and could
be used if U.S. leaders ever decided it would accomplish a genuine
In fact, this constant insistence that force must be "on the table"
also reveals a pervasive blindness about how the United States looks
to others. People repeat this phrase because they seem to think that
other countries see the United States as a feckless wimp that will
never do anything to harm them and that our politicians need to rattle
sabers and bluster just to get other countries' attention. News
flash: That's not how the rest of the world sees Uncle Sam these
days. In reality, everybody knows the United States is still very
powerful -- the sequester notwithstanding -- and other countries are
well aware of the frequency with which we've been blowing things up
in different places for the past 20 years. Our politicians may be
trying to remind U.S. voters that they are willing to use force, but
the rest of the world hardly needs to be told at this point.
This great fondness for threatening force, and the propensity to
use it, strikes me as the institutionalization of Nixon's "madman
strategy." Back when Nixon was president and trying to figure out
some way to get the Russians to pressure Vietnam into capitulating
to the US in negotiations, he tried scramgling SAC bombers and
pointing them at Moscow in hopes of convincing the Russians that
he was crazy enough to start World War III. It never really worked,
mostly because the Russians didn't have that kind of control over
their Vietnamese allies. (But it did lead to the Russians to great
paranoia over Ronald Reagan, who unlike Nixon was certifiably loony
even if he was less personally inclined to incinerate the world.)
Washington is awash with clichés, and this is just one of them.
The bigger question is why anyone still thinks that such acts of
force actually work. After all, we have performed many experiments
over the years, bombing places and finding that no desired outcome
ensues. The bluster of Obama's planned punitive attacks on Syria
for using chemical weapons are a case in point. Maybe you can argue
that the threat of force was what caused Assad to surrender his
weapons, but you can be sure that it wouldn't have happened had
the US actually acted on its threats. Moreover, it is only through
agreement and inspection that the US could ever be assured that
Assad had indeed given up those arms. (Iraq, where the US refused
to allow inspectors to do their work, is the obvious comparative.)
Teddy Roosevelt's motto was "speak softly, but carry a big stick."
But now that US presidents do little but speak, they feel the need
to shout, then they get taunted to use the stick anyway lest their
rants no longer be taken seriously. Nixon's "madman" terminology is
really too kind.
Walt also has a useful post
How Not to Think About the Israel Lobby, especially given Israel's
prominence among those who want to scuttle any sort of diplomatic deal
between the US and Iran:
Finally, if you're not wearing blinders, it is impossible to miss the
fact that AIPAC, WINEP, JINSA, the RJC, the ADL, and a host of other
hardline groups in the lobby are now the principal opponents to a
diplomatic deal with Iran. Just look at
this article from The Forward, or
this one from Ha'aretz, which make it clear that these are
the principal groups holding Obama's feet to the fire on this issue.
And of course it is many of these same groups or individuals who have
been insisting for years that the U.S. keep all options "on the table"
and use force against Iran if necessary. Absent pressure from these
groups, it would be much, much easier for the United States to come
to terms with Tehran.
Also, a few links for further study:
Ira Chernus: If Only Right-Wing Christians Knew Where Their Ideas Came
From: Looks back at 19th century evangelicals, who tended to be
progressive more than conservative, and find a resurgence in that same
radicalism today, positing it as an opportunity for the left. William
Jennings Bryan is one of Chernus' cases-in-point, but I must point out
that he's remembered today as much for his embarrassing role in the
Scopes "monkey trial" as for his "Cross of Gold" speech. Curiously,
Bryan's opposition to teaching about evolution was rooted at least as
much in his sense of social justice as in Biblical literalism. And
he's not remembered at all today for leaving the Wilson administration
as it marched off to war. Sometimes this is tricky, but if you believe
that the major political problems of our day are gaping inequality and
war, it is certainly true that you can find allies among evangelicals.
Reaching and keeping them is another problem.
Chernus also has a post on the Obamacare nonsense:
"End Times for Obama": A Dangerous Conservative Myth.
Jonathan Cook: Why Israel wanted Arafat dead: The recent autopsy of
Arafat shows traces of Polonium-210, which is not something you run across
in everyday life. You generally have to have a nuclear reactor to obtain
significant quantities of the toxic, radioactive isotope, which makes
Israel a candidate. You also have to be willing to engage in assassination,
which also makes Israel a candidate. Cooks lists more reasons.
Ann Jones: War Wounds: An excerpt from Jones' new book, They
Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America's Wars -- The
Untold Story (Dispatch Books/Haymarket Books). Jones previously
wrote two books coming out of her experiences in Afghanistan:
Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan (2007),
and War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women Speak Out from the
Ruins of War (2010).
David Kenner: Why Saudi Arabia Hates the Iran Deal: One thing that
will seem strange to American observers is how intensely Saudi Arabia
orients itself against Iran, so this at least helps a bit to illuminate
it. It could, of course, go further. One of the first things that Ayatollah
Kohmeini did on taking power in 1979 was to explicitly challenge Saudi
Arabia for leadership in the Moslem world. Before that the Saudis had
a long-time rivalry with Arab nationalists like Nasser, but that had
cooled off after the Arabs' disastrous showing in the 1967 Israel war.
However, after 1979 the Saudis started spending billions of dollars to
promote abroad their own quaint and antiquated form of Islam -- Wahabism,
which relates back to the older school of Salafism -- with its peculiar
emphasis on jihad as a political tool. US officials, in the naïve belief
that any conservative religion was preferable to Godless Communism,
approved, especially as the Saudis invested billions in Afghanistan.
And Saudi Arabia has continued its pro-Islamist interventionism to
this very day: they berate Iran for supporting political factions in
Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, precisely because those factions are rivals
to the factions Saudi Arabia supports. It is easy to say that Iran
is wrong to intervene in foreign countries, but Saudi Arabia is every
bit as guilty on that charge, and the results of its interventions
have been at least as damaging. The US has long backed Saudi Arabia
in its aggressive foreign policy but must be having second thoughts
now -- especially given the ease with which Saudi-backed militants
have gravitated toward Al Qaeda. (Saudi clerics are quick to condemn
Al Qaeda, but not very effective at dissuading them.) At this point,
the best thing for all concerned would be to mutually withdraw from
interfering in other countries.
John Quiggin: Wall Street Isn't Worth It: Argues that "society as a
whole would be better off if the financial sector were smaller, and
received much smaller returns." I don't have any doubts about that.
Joseph Stiglitz: The Insanity of Our Food Policy: Much more on
the Republican cuts to the food stamp program than on farm subsidies,
although he points out that as originally implemented in the 1930s
farm "subsidies were an anti-poverty program." They've largely become
a subsidy to corporate agriculture since then, which still -- my
opinion here, since Stiglitz doesn't really address it -- doesn't
mean they're unnecessary (although could mean they're unjust as
currently implemented). For the most part, US agriculture policy
has been based on a grand bargain of rural and urban interests:
subsidies ensure that the food supply will not be disrupted by the
vagaries of the market, and those surpluses will be used to end
hunger. The Republicans have broken that deal. What Stiglitz is
describing is more immoral than insane, but if they manage to
return agriculture to laissez faire markets that will indeed be
Sunday, November 3. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Paul Krugman: Rentiers, Entitlement, and Monetary Policy: With
unemployment still way high and the economy further depressed by
political shenanigans, the rentiers keep pushing for tighter money
"in an economy that seems to need the opposite":
This kind of behavior -- ever-shifting rationales for an unchanging
policy (see: Bush tax cuts, invasion of Iraq, etc.) -- is a "tell."
It says that something else is really motivating the policy advocacy.
So what is going on here? When I read Gross and others, what I think
is lurking underneath is a belief that capitalists are entitled to
good returns on their capital, even if it's just parked in safe assets.
It's about defending the privileges of the rentiers, who are assumed
to be central to everything; the specific stories are just attempts
to rationalize the unchanging goal.
The thing to realize here, then, is that nothing about our current
situation says that rentiers are entitled to their rent. And it's a
perversion of alleged free-market thinking to suggest otherwise.
Bear in mind where we are, economically: we are still in a liquidity
trap, and we are very much in a paradox of thrift world, where hoarding --
not spending -- is a positive social evil.
What is the role of interest in this world? Interest, classically
(and I do mean classically, as in Mr. Keynes and the), is the reward
for waiting: there's supposedly a social function to interest because
it rewards people for saving rather than spending. But right now we're
awash in excess savings with nowhere to go, and the marginal social
value of a dollar of savings is negative. So real interest rates
should be negative too, if they're supposed to reflect social
This really isn't at all exotic -- but obviously it's a point
wealth-owners don't want to hear. Hence the constant agitation for
I'll add that economists have routinely campaigned for savings
(and policies that promote savings) for decades, or maybe forever,
so it's a bit unsurprising that they'd be caught flat-footed by a
glut. The glut, of course, turns out to have nothing to do with
the supposed virtue of delayed gratification. It occurred simply
because the rich were able to use their political clout to grab
so much more than they could spend, while pushing everyone else
down to where they're unable to spend enough to justify further
investment. And note that artificially tightening the money supply
would do nothing to fix this problem. If anything, it would make
Award-winning Paragraphs, where Krugman quotes John Taylor saying
that the Congressional Budget Office has projected that federal debt
"will rise to more than 250% without a change in policy." Krugman
questions the time frame, and provides a chart showing that even 25
years out CBO is only projecting a debt/GDP ratio of 90% -- "a debt
level well within historical experience for advanced nations." In
response to Taylor's second paragraph, Krugman writes:
But what I really found noteworthy is Taylor's declaration that we
must not say that the GOP has been taken over by extremists, because
it prevents a serious discussion. Suppose we just posit the possibility
that the GOP really has been taken over by extremists; are supposed to
pretend otherwise, for the sake of discussion? When does it become OK
to acknowledge reality?
And of course the GOP really has been taken over by extremists.
Normal political parties don't shut down the government and threaten
to push us into default in an attempt to derail legislation that has
been duly enacted by Congress, and they lack the votes to repeal.
Sorry, but that's just not something one can pretend not to notice.
Charles Simic: Bleak House:
Just consider the effort of the Republicans in the House to overrule
the Affordable Care Act, a legislation ratified by the majority of
elected representative of the people and signed into law by the
president. Bettering the lives of anyone but the wealthy, as we
know, has ceased to be a concern of the Republican Party. But
millions of Americans are on the brink of buying affordable health
insurance and freeing themselves from a worry that makes their lives
utter misery; the concerted effort backed by some of the richest men
in this country to deprive them of that chance may be without precedent
for sheer malice. Indifference to the plight and suffering of human
beings of one class or another by some segment of the population is
a universal phenomenon, but spending millions of dollars to deepen
the misery of one's fellow citizens and enlisting members of one
political party to help you do so is downright vile. It must be
motivated as much by sadism as by the political calculation that if
these uninsured were to get insurance, they would give the Democratic
Party a governing majority simply out of gratitude for letting them
see a doctor.
Organized, by what The New York Times calls "a loose-knit coalition
of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III,"
the backers of the government shut-down are ensconced in organizations
like Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Works, Club
for Growth, Generation Opportunity, and Young Americans for Liberty,
their names as fake as those of Communist front organizations in the
1930s and 1940s and as venal as their forerunners. These groups spent
more than $200 million last year to spread disinformation and delude
the gullible among the populace about the supposedly catastrophic harm
giving health care to the uninsured would do to the economy. Using them
as a model, Americans should look out only for themselves. We have
forgotten what this country once understood, that a society based on
nothing but selfishness and greed is not a society at all, but a state
of war of the strong against the weak.
Steve M: I Want to Belong to the Democratic Party That Exists Only in
Rush Limbaugh's Delusional Brain: Early in 2009 after Obama became
president, we hired a father-son team to come in and lay some tile.
They not only insisted on arriving too early but they also brought
their own radio in, and without any consideration of their customers
they tuned in Rush Limbaugh. Surprisingly, he cheered me up: until
then I had no idea that Obama was a socialist, or even that he had
progressive plans. Of course, I was eventually disappointed to find
no evidence of any such thing. And I couldn't exactly blame Limbaugh
for being wrong, because he's always wrong about everything. But
he's still at it, trying to cheer us up with his reverse psychology.
Here's how Steve M. paraphrases him (follow the link if you don't
So I guess Obamacare was deliberately built to fail because, as everyone
knows, if it fails we're just instantly going to throw all the huge
private insurers and all their expensive lobbyists under the bus and
go socialist, because liberals rule, and we're Alinskying this just
the same way we Alinskied our way to the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall
and the restoration of Eisenhower-era 90+ percent top marginal tax rates,
when we weren't getting all those Wall Street bankers arrested and
getting Gitmo closed and stopping the drones and legalizing gay marriage
all the way from Montana to Mississippi. Remember how we pulled all that
off? Good times.
Too bad I can't remember any of that. Just think: if I were as
clueless as Limbaugh, I'd be a happy man.
Speaking of delusion, all see M's
Kathleen Sebelius, Gangsta Bitch, based on a Michelle Malkin rant:
You can question how Sebelius is doing her job, but I think you have to
be an insane wingnut with rage disorder to regard her as a combination
of Torquemada and Whitey Bulger.
Also, a few links for further study:
Amy Goldstein/Juliet Eilperlin: HealthCare.gov: How political fear was
pitted against technical needs: A fairly long article on how the
implementation of the federal insurance exchange under ACA was hampered
by a "poisonous" political atmosphere and some measure of bureaucratic
inefficiency or incompetence -- hard for me to tell. One problem was
that the law envisioned 50 state exchanges, but the more Republicans
were able to block those, the more weight got piled onto the underfunded
federal exchange. By the way, here's a profile of
CGI Federal, the Canadian company most responsible for implementing
the federal insurance exchange.
Paul Krugman: Gambling With Civilization: Review of economist
William D. Nordhaus's book: The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty,
and Economics for a Warming World (Yale University Press):
"Markets alone will not solve this problem," declares Nordhaus. "There
is no genuine 'free-market solution' to global warming." This isn't a
radical statement, it's just Econ 101. Nonetheless, it's anathema to
free-market enthusiasts. If you like to imagine yourself as a character
in an Ayn Rand novel, and someone tells you that the world isn't like
that, that it requires government intervention -- no matter how
d market-friendly -- your response may well be to reject the news and
cling to your fantasies. And sad to say, a fair number of influential
figures in American public life do believe they're acting out Atlas
Finally, there's a strong streak in modern American conservatism
that rejects not just climate science, but the scientific method in
general. Polling suggests, for example, that a large majority of
Republicans reject the theory of evolution. For people with this
mind-set, laying out the extent of scientific consensus on an issue
isn't persuasive -- gets their backs up, and feeds fantasies about
vast egghead conspiracies.
Nordhaus accepts the basic climate science findings, debunks
advocacy and alarmism that he thinks goes too far, attempts a
cost-benefit analysis of various possible solutions, calls for
some sort of carbon pricing/tax scheme to limit emissions, and
considers geoengineering a possible fallback to offset (but not
solve) excess emissions. Seems like a reasonable book, if only
we had reasonable political and business leaders.
Several more links having to do with Max Blumenthal's
new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.
(I have a copy and hope to read soon, but I've been stuck for
a long time in a book on neoliberal economics and it's slow
going.) Found most of these by following links from
MJ Rosenberg, who is of two minds on the book (and for that
matter seems to be of two minds on many things lately):
Rosenberg also links to this Haaretz article:
The Shoah explained to our five-year-olds. I agree with him that
teaching the history of the Holocaust to kindergarten children, as
Israel's Education Minister is proposing, is "child abuse." As I understand it, Israel also has a program where teenagers
are sent to Auschwitz, and their military holds rituals at Masada.
Has there ever been any nation that works harder to traumatize its
own citizens? For a further illustration of this, see Tom Segev's
book 1967, where Israel's generals were shown to be totally
confident of swift victory, while the Israeli people were led to
expect utter doom (and therefore felt remarkable exhilaration at
Yakov M Rabkin: Reform Judaism and the challenge of Zionism:
Book review of Jack Ross: Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American
Jewish Anti-Zionism (2011, Potomac Books). Berger was a notable
exception to the common pro-Zionist stance of American jews. Rabkin
also wrote what is most likely an interesting book: A Threat From
Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism.
Tom Simonite: The Decline of Wikipedia: Some interesting observations
here, especially regarding a slight reduction in the number of active
editors at Wikipedia -- I wouldn't go so far as to call that a decline,
but it means that progress in filling out weak spots may slow down. Also
notable are the growth of "personal, egocentric feeds" (Facebook and
Twitter) and the increasing use of lightweight computers (phones,
tablets) that aren't conducive to any actual work. Also makes sense
to me that as Wikipedia matures people will move on -- where to is as
Also looks like there is a lot of news on Israel, and all bad as
far as I can see. In fact,
WarInContext has nothing but
bad news everywhere it looks. (Right now the top article is on
Sunday, October 27. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
John Cassidy: What's Wrong With Fining JPMorgan Chase $13 Billion?
Still true that none of the bankers who caused the Great Recession
back in 2007-08 have gone to jail, but the fines are adding up into
the sort of numbers that Sen. Everett Dirksen once termed "serious
money" ("a billion here, a billion there"):
In 2010, Goldman Sachs paid $550 million to settle the Fabrice (Fabulous
Fab) Tourre case with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The case
included claims that the firm had conspired with John Paulson, the
hedge-fund titan, to mislead investors in a C.D.O. offering. Goldman
didn't admit to any violation, and today it looks like it got a bargain.
Neither Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive, nor an of his
colleagues at the top of the firm faced any real sanction. Certainly,
other banks have ended up laying out a lot more cash. For example, in
June, 2011, Bank of American agreed to pay $8.5 billion to a group of
investors, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who had
purchased subprime securities constructed from home loans issued by
Countrywide Financial, which Bank of America purchased in 2008.
There have also been some huge group settlements. In February, 2012,
five of the biggest mortgage-service firms in the country -- Bank of
America, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, and Ally Bank/GMAC -- agreed
to a $25 billion settlement with state and federal regulators arising
from charges that they inflated fees, robo-signed foreclosure documents,
and carried out multiple other improprieties during the housing boom
and bust. About two-thirds of this huge sum was supposed to go toward
mortgage relief for struggling homeowners. Roughly $2.5 billion was
reserved for the states. Then, earlier this year, thirteen banks and
mortgage-service providers -- Bank of America and JPMorgan were again
on the list -- agreed to pay another $9.3 billion to settle cases
brought by federal regulators.
Not all of the fines have been mortgage related. Late last year,
UBS agreed to pay $1.5 billion to settle charges from the Libor scandal,
and HSBC agreed to pay $1.9 billion to settle money-laundering charges.
And, in the past month or so, JPMorgan has agreed to pay more than a
billion dollars to settle two cases arising from the London Whale
Compared to the new settlement, which was reportedly raised from
eleven billion dollars to thirteen billion during last-minute negotiations,
the London Whale fines weren't much at all. As part of the deal between
Attorney General Eric Holder and Dimon, federal prosecutors in Sacramento
will be allowed to continue trying to make a criminal case against some
current and former JPMorgan employees, who were reportedly involved in
mortgage-related shenanigans. Holder, to his credit, refused to back down
on this one. However, there remains little prospect of anybody very senior
at the bank being indicted or, it seems, of Dimon losing his job.
Paul Krugman: Maybe Economics Is a Science, but Many Economists Are
Not Scientists: Having more-or-less seriously studied political
science and sociology I'm quite familiar with the ways researchers
manage to impose their political prejudices on their data, and the
skimpiness of their claims to scientific objectivity. I'm also aware
of work by Kuhn and Feyerabend showing that even in "hard" sciences
like physics researchers often are unable to break out of the initial
paradigms they started with. If economics seems to be more scientific
than other social sciences, that's mostly because it has more natural
countable data. (Sociologists are more likely to generate their data
through polling, which involves all sorts of construction issues.)
Still, a lot of what goes on in economics isn't empirical, and that's
especially true when it comes to making predictions. Krugman writes:
But are such results actually being used to inform policy debate?
Have conservative economists like Casey Mulligan said "OK, we were
wrong to argue that extended unemployment benefits are the cause of
high unemployment"? Have economists who oppose Obamacare said, "OK,
we were wrong to say that Medicaid hurts its recipients?"
You know the answer.
And it's not just policy debates. Whole subfields of economics,
notably but not only business-cycle macro, have spent decades chasing
their own tails because too many economists refuse to accept empirical
evidence that rejects their approach.
The point is that while Chetty is right that economics can be and
sometimes is a scientific field in the sense that theories are testable
and there are researchers doing the testing, all too many economists
treat their field as a form of theology instead.
I wouldn't say theology, but I would say that economics is mostly
an art of applied logic. For the most part, economists start with a
model of how they expect the economy to work -- often based on metaphors
like Adam Smith's "invisible hand" -- and then apply that logic to
whatever problems interest them. And while that logic often leads to
specific predictions about the future, they seem to be remarkably
uninterested when the future comes to past and reveals something
completely different. John Quiggin wrote a whole book on ideas that
had completely failed to produce the expected results, but despite
that failure haven't been discarded because so many economists are
more committed to their models than they are to reality. He called
that book Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us.
There are sciences where such a record of empirical failure cannot
be sustained, but that's because they are dominated by scientists
who are willing to discard failed hypotheses.
Paul Krugman: Lies, Damned Lies, and Fox News:
The other day Sean Hannity featured some Real Americans telling tales
of how they have been hurt by Obamacare. So Eric Stern, who used to
work for Brian Schweitzer, had a bright idea: he actually called
Hannity's guests, to get the details.
Sure enough, the businessman who claimed that Obamacare was driving
up his costs, forcing him to lay off workers, only has four employees --
meaning that Obamacare has no effect whatsoever on his business. The
two families complaining about soaring premiums haven't actually checked
out what's on offer, and Stern estimates that they would in fact see
You have to wonder about the mindset of people who go on national TV
to complain about how they're suffering from a program based on nothing
but what they think they heard somewhere. You might also wonder about
what kind of alleged news show features such people without any check
on their bona fides. But then again, consider the network.
Also, a few links for further study:
Juan Cole: The American Quagmire in Afghanistan by the Numbers (21,565
US Troops Dead or Wounded): Way down from the peak levels of Obama's
"surge," but still 51,000 US troops in Afghanistan; 2,150 US military
personnel killed; 19,415 wounded; various other items, including:
Amount of money US has spent to rebuild Afghanistan: $100 billion
Proportion of the $100 billion wasted or misspent or stolen or given
to militants or not received by intended recipient: 85%
Paul Krugman: Why Is Obamacare Complicated?, and
Mike Konczal: What Kind of Problem Is the ACA Rollout for Liberalism?:
As someone with a long history of working on and in some cases managing
complex software projects, I would love to find a really good analysis of
the widely touted problems with the "healthcare.gov" website rollout --
e.g., something that splits out usability from scalability issues. All
I've heard thus far is a mumbo jumble of technical terms wrapped up in
political harangues. Konczal and Krugman point out the obvious: that
the website complexity mirrors the features of the ACA that
were inserted to keep the private insurance companies in business -- in
other words, had Congress gone with a single-payer system the website
issues would be moot (signing up would be no different from signing up
Well, here's a partial exception:
John Pavley: Why the Experts Are Probably Wrong About the Healthcare.gov
Crack-Up, but the harangue there is one I can get behind: "That's
the power of open source and open government: Other people are invested
in fixing your problems for you!" The comments provide other clues. Even
given the law's complexity, why is the code so large? And why is so much
pushed down to the client?
Andrew Leonard: Crowdsource your salary! An economy built on love:
Describes Gittip, a twist on crowdfunding intended to provide
continuous income streams for people whose work appeals to the mass
community. I could see joining something like this to try to fund the
sort of work I do, although I'm skeptical that it would actually work,
or that I really need it. When EW shut down, a number of commenters
expressed a willingness to set up an income stream to entice Christgau
into continuing to write Consumer Guide reviews. This, unlike better
known forums like Kickstarter, might be a viable way to support that
sort of thing.
Paul Rosenberg: Stop enabling the right: The media just makes dysfunction
worse: a catalog of fallacies that function as loopholes crediting
the far right with more legitimacy and respect than they deserve. Along
these same lines, see
Bill Moyers/Michael Winship: The Lies That Will Kill America.
Let me also point out:
Robert Christgau: Toesucker Blues: Robert Christgau's Farewell Salute
to Lou Reed: Reed died today, age 71. He doesn't mention Reed's
early 1970s albums, including his first actual hit ("Walk on the Wild
Side"), the morbid concept album Berlin (my breakthrough with
him), or the live Rock n Roll Animal (scaled his songbook to
arena-metal strength), probably because they pale compared to his VU
albums or to his 1982-84 comeback, but gives more credit to the later
phase of his career (I'm still a fan of 2004's Animal Serenade).
Let me also quote from my 1975 review of Metal Machine Music:
Lou Reed's Strange
As background it's surely no worse than the normal roar of city life,
sirens, machinery, airplanes, dog barks, screams, up against the wall
motherfuckers. But then, many people find that, too, offensive. I mean,
who all do you know hiding out in the suburbs? Or in their own heads?
The sounds are uneasy, unsettled; they betray a life force, a will to
survive which even when it appears as death fetishism is all the more
determined, the force of a potential crying after its actualization.
That, too, some may find offensive; in that I would find hope.
Also see my piece on Reed for
The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, which takes him up to 2004.
Tuesday, October 22. 2013
I ran across a couple cartoons that neatly sum up the last few weeks.
This one is by Kevin Siers, The Charlotte Observer (Oct. 2, 2013):
The suicide vest is a little over-the-top. The GOP actually only
intended to hurt everyone but itself, but that fine line was hard to
maintain. But the relative levels of delusion and madness, and the
eagerness of the GOP to inflict damage on the country and its people,
are approximated fairly enough.
The second cartoon, from Jim Morin, Miami Herald (October 2, 2013),
is more literally correct, although labeling the character with the
gun pointed at Uncle Sam's head the "Tea Party" instead of the GOP
cuts the latter too much slack:
After the Republicans' disastrous loss in the 2008 elections, the
professional political strategists of the Republican Party were widely
discredited, and as they backed off "talk radio" blowhards like Rush
Limbaugh and Glenn Beck with their scorched earth anti-Obama rhetoric
picked the GOP up off the mat and gave them a renewed sense of purpose.
The first signs of "grass roots" actively were quickly cultivated by
Fox and fertilized by billionaire activists like the Koch brothers.
That energy and faux-populism led to the Republican wins -- the House
and a lot of key governorships and state houses -- in 2010, although
the failure of Obama to inspire the Democratic base either by advancing
popular policies or by showing any backbone in fighting obstructionism
from Republicans, had at least as much to do with the results.
Since 2010 the "Tea Party" has increasingly been seen as more of a
liability for Republicans -- often personally as they have targeted
more mainstream conservatives like Richard Lugar whose ability to seem
reasonable did so much to advance Republican aspirations after the
1970s -- but with their frequent challenges from the far right they've
often managed to hold the GOP hostage. Indeed, the same is true of
other fringe interests in the GOP's patchwork of malcontents, such
as the gun nuts and the anti-abortion fanatics: it's hard to find a
single Republican anywhere who'll challenge either, even when it
comes to defending the rights of rapists to force their victims to
bear their children, or training elementary school teachers to use
assault weapons to deal with their disciplinary problems. The "Tea
Party" isn't as narrowly focused -- it's harder to pin them down on
issues, but they've taken anti-government nostrums (ranging from
Grover Norquist to Ayn Rand to Friedrich Hayek to Ronald Reagan) to
heart, they feel they're morally superior to many or most of their
fellow citizens, they don't care who gets hurt as long as they get
their way, and they are quick to attribute their own worst instincts
to their supposed enemies. I can't tell you how many times I've seen
them describe Obama as a dictator or tyrant, often claiming as his
motto "my way or the highway" (one of those popped up in the Eagle
Of course, from my vantage point Obama is no such thing. He is
a man with vaguely liberal ideals, impeccably conservative tastes,
and a pathetic and almost pathological instinct to compromise his
ideals to appease anyone he recognizes as high and mighty -- his
corporate sponsors, of course, especially bankers and media moguls;
the Republican leadership, the military brass, the spy agencies,
Benyamin Netanyahu. I suppose you can credit the "Tea Party" with
finally forcing him to stand firm for once, but only by making such
outrageous demands and threats that they forced a split very ranks
that Obama is so obsequious to: the GOP leadership, of course, fell
under the "Tea Party" thumb, while everyone else recognized that
the government is even more needed by the rich than by the poor,
and that to function the government has to be able to borrow money
(otherwise, like, it might be tempted to tax the rich).
David Frum had a pat explanation for all this, and it still bears
fruit: "Repub pols fear the GOP base; Dem pols hate the Dem base."
The asymmetries here run deep. Both parties seek money from the rich,
who support both parties for favors and cultural reinforcement. And
both parties seek votes from everyone else, but the Republicans have
chosen to appeal to fears and prejudices whereas the Democrats, while
often giving ground to legitimize their opponents, still offer a few
tidbits to self-interest. The different approaches result in distinct
forms of mental illness. The Democrats are schizophrenic, intending to
favor both the rich and the poor at the same time but sometimes finding
their commitments in conflict, in which case they almost invariably
side with the rich -- the poor, after all, have nowhere else to go
(except home, as in 2010), and if they object the party's enforcers
are ever ready to lash out. The Dems hate their base because the base
is in the way of them making their deals with the rich and powerful,
and more viscerally because they themselves want to be rich, powerful,
and not at all like their base.
The Republicans have less trouble reconciling their allegiance to
the rich with their commitments to the prejudices of their base,
except that much of what their base insists on is fucking insane.
That didn't matter so much back in the Reagan era when Republicans
said stupid things but rarely acted on them and the welfare state
still had enough padding it could absorb the occasional cut. But as
more Republicans seized power, their ability to inflict damage grew
and the wear and tear accumulated. And when Thomas Frank explained
to the Republican masses that their leaders were sandbagging them --
"vote against abortion and get tax cuts for the rich" -- they rose
up in revolt, creating the "Tea Party" monstrosity. And what that
did was to make the GOP manic-depressive. The Democrats could get
away with loathing their base because the base didn't have anywhere
else to go -- not even the beleaguered poor are so masochistic to
vote for a party dedicated to stripping away the last shreds of a
social safelty net. But the Republicans had to fear their base, not
least because most of those people would be better off economically
with the Democrats, and without prejudice and fury clouding their
minds, with the middle class melting into the poor and the superrich
becoming ever more rarefied, the Republicans had no other possible
source of votes. So they feared their base, and the temperamental
bullies in the base recognized that fear and took advantage of it.
Lots of Republican bigwigs had no problem with catering to their
base instincts. Wave the flag and thump the bible all you want --
hard to see how that affects the profit margin on pork bellies or
gasoline or depleted-uranium shells. Nor do the bigwigs have any
problem with shrinking the government, as long as it isn't the parts
of government that support their businesses and protect their money.
Immigration is an issue that famously divides the bigwigs and the
base: the former want anything that weakens the labor market, but
the latter can't stand all those foreigners, even if and when they
become Americans. The government shutdown and credit default are
other issues where the base got out of hand, and we'll see more of
this in the future. That may be why the "Tea Party" is getting such
bad press these days: the media hope is that responsible Republicans
will regain control, but there's no reason to expect that to happen.
For one thing, just as the "Tea Party" found its faith in Obama's
2008 election, their takeaway from this defeat is that they have
to double down and take over the rest of the Republican Party, so
that next time the party will finally have the will to fight for
its base's true principles. And if they lose a few elections to
Democrats, they'll just recall how Barry Goldwater's historic loss
led to Ronald Reagan and those "seven fat years" (while conveniently
forgetting that it all led to George W. Bush).
The Democratic left has no symmetrical option, because no one
there is going to sabotage the party and let the "Tea Party" destroy
the country just to make conditions so bad that the only out will
be revolution. It's not so much that it hasn't worked or wouldn't
work as that it involves making unacceptable ethical choices. So
we're stuck with establishment wannabes like Obama and Clinton
itching to sell us out. But with the "Tea Party" ascendant in the
Republican orb, the demands may be so crazy they don't get the
chance. As long as you care about reality some ideas are safely
out of bounds.
Sunday, October 20. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Max Ehrenfreud: Texas on My Mind: Cites pieces by Brad DeLong and
Tyler Cowen on Texas, the former explaining how "the Texas miracle"
has little if anything to do with the state's neanderthal politics,
and the latter cheerfully resigning the entire country to emulating
the worst aspects of Texas life:
Meanwhile, Cowen describes how life in Texas is changing, and suggests
that the rest of the country will gradually start to resemble Texas
more and more: increasing disparities in wealth, a smaller and weaker
middle class, people giving up on their ambitions, people living off
nothing in 20-by-20 houses built out of scrap metal in the middle of
the desert. Cowen doesn't seem particularly alarmed by these dystopian
predictions, and in any case, he feels that our future will be shaped
by inexorable economic forces, so he suggests we simply start preparing
Rosie Gray: Democratic Congressman Blasts Republicans for Inviting
Anti-Israel Witness to Terrorism Hearing: The Congressman was
Jerrold Nadler (D-NY); the diabolical witness was Michael Scheuer,
formerly of the CIA where in the 1990s he was the in-house expert
on Al-Qaeda and published as "Anonymous" one of the first serious
books on anti-American jihadism. He should be a hero of the "War on
Terrorism" set, but along the way he noticed that one of the major
reasons salafist-jihadis attack the United States is that the US has
for many decades now been the principal supporter of Israel, its
militarism, its periodic wars, and its systematic discrimination
against the Palestinian people, and he's pointedly question whether
this association is really in the national interest. The important
thing here isn't whether Scheuer is right or wrong: his 2007 book,
Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror,
has plenty of examples of both. What's important is that AIPAC tools
like Nadler don't want to discuss right-or-wrong; they'll do whatever
they can to prevent any views critical of Israel from ever being
spoken, at least within the halls of US power. Something similar
happened when Obama nominated veteran US diplomat Chas Freeman for
an advisory role. It's fine with them for Obama to be surrounded
with hacks like Dennis Ross (who can always fall back on Israel's
payroll when they're out of government), but anyone who doesn't
support the "correct views" has to be cut off at the door.
Paul Krugman: The Worst Ex-Central Banker in the World: On Alan
Greenspan's new book. I might have put this in the "further study"
section but there is no need to read the book. This covers all you
Steven Pearlstein reads Alan Greenspan's new book, and discovers that
Greenspan believes that he bears no responsibility for all the bad
things that happened on his watch -- and that the solution to financial
crises is, you guessed it, less government.
What Pearlstein doesn't mention, but I think is important, is
Greenspan's amazing track record since leaving office -- a record of
being wrong about everything, and learning nothing therefrom. It is,
in particular, more than three years since he warned that we were going
to become Greece any day now, and declared the failure of inflation and
soaring rates to have arrived already "regrettable."
The thing is, Greenspan isn't just being a bad economist here, he's
being a bad person, refusing to accept responsibility for his errors in
and out of office. And he's still out there, doing his best to make the
world a worse place.
If you do wish to pursue this further, start with
Brad DeLong, who quotes Pearlstein at length, but only after
exposing you to the turgid prose of another reviewer who takes
great pains to suck up to Greenspan: Larry Summers.
Also, a few links for further study:
Ira Chernus: Uncovering the Tea Party's Radical Roots: Not a
particularly apt title, since in his re-reading of Gordon Wood's
important book, The Radicalism of the American Revolution
he doesn't find any real roots for the Tea Party either in the
federalists or anti-federalists, in Hamilton or in Jefferson.
Rather, what the Tea Party is left with is a delusion of history,
an invented past in the service of a current misunderstanding.
David Benjamin: The Strange Stalinization of the American Right.
Again, not really right, but like Mike Taibbi's Stalin-baiting of
Tom DeLay's ruthless discipline and opportunism, there's something
there, mangled for sure.
Josh Eidelson: Tea Partyers' grave fear: Why they disdain young people --
even their own!: Interview with Theda Skocpol:
And for the ideological forces, Freedomworks, Americans for Prosperity,
Heritage Action -- you just have to go back to Bill Kristol's memo in
1993 on Clinton healthcare. They're worried about filling in one of the
big holes in the American welfare state, and creating a positive
relationship between the government and working-age people that will
make it hard for Republicans to win elections or proceed with their
preference: to roll back Social Security and Medicare, let alone
another big piece of the American welfare state.
Alex Kane: Exposing the Dark Underbelly of Israel: The Horrors Your
Tax Dollars Support: Interview with Max Blumenthal on his new book,
Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. While working on
the book, Blumenthal filmed some street interviews in Jerusalem and,
appropriately enough, titled them "Feeling the Hate":
The second serious point we wanted to make is that this kind of incitement
leads to physical action, and in Zion Square, where we filmed it, a year
later, Jamal Julani, a teenage Palestinian kid, was beaten into a coma by
dozens of Jewish youth who had heard he made a pass at a Jewish girl. It
was like being in 1940s Alabama, being in central Jerusalem. And we had
tried to warn the American public with this video, and warn the Jewish
world, that this area of central Jerusalem, which they consider to be a
spiritual home of the Jewish people, is also a mecca of racist incitement
and nationalistic violence. We were ignored and our worst fears were
I show in my book how the Holocaust has been used as one of the central
tools for establishing political support in Israeli society for the
occupation and for the constant brinksmanship with Iran. And I explain
it through my reporting on the education system, I write about how
four-year-olds were lined up in a school in Holon, a suburb of Tel
Aviv, before a board that says, "who wants to kill us?" And it has
lines pointing to Arabs, lines pointing to Nazis, and lines pointing
to Persians, referring to the Iranians. The lines lead to a question --
"What do we need?" -- and finally to the answer: "We need a state."
And I talk about the militarization of the education system and how
at age 17, as Israeli high schoolers are preparing to go off to the army
service, they are sent to Auschwitz, on the March of the Living, with
their high school classes to be indoctrinated and to be cultivated to
view the Holocaust in the light of their army experience. Polls on
adolescent attitudes in Israel on the occupation and the army show
that they're very conflicted about the whole thing before they go on
these trips. But after going through this whole process, which ends
with a candlelight ceremony in a gas chamber where they're asked to
take on the personas of Jewish children who were slaughtered in the
gas chambers of Auschwitz, they come out with much more strongly
nationalistic opinions and much stronger support for the army as
Blumenthal concludes by talking about the 15,000 Israelis who
have left "Netanyahu's doom and gloom" and moved to Berlin. This
ties in nicely with
Uri Avnery: Why Are So Many Jews Leaving Israel?.
Eric Alterman, in The Nation, published an attack on Blumenthal's
The 'I Hate Israel' Handbook. I thought this quote was revealing:
Blumenthal evinces no interest in the larger context of Israel's actions.
Potential threats that emanate from Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Syria,
Iran, etc., receive virtually no mention in these pages. Israel's actions
are attributed exclusively to the myopia of its citizens. Blumenthal
blames "Israeli society's nationalistic impulses," its politicians who
struggle "to outdo one another in a competition for the most convincing
exaltation of violence against the Arab evildoers," its "fever swamps,"
its "unprovoked violence against the Arab outclass," and its textbooks
that "indoctrinate Jewish children into the culture of militarism." It
would have been easy for him to at least pretend to even-handedness here.
Did it not occur to Blumenthal, for instance, that Palestinians have
textbooks as well?
For at least thirty years after the 1967 occupation began, as I
understand it Palestinian textbooks were published by Israel and were
frozen in whatever state existed under Jordan prior to 1967. If the
PA managed to update the textbooks, that may be an interesting thing
to study, but doing so would miss the most basic truth of all: that
Israel isn't the passive, underpowered object of all those external
forces. The fact is that Israel can do and has done almost exactly
what it wanted ever since 1948, and that is to build a domineering
nation-state at conflict with all its neighbors and approximately
half of the people under its more or less direct control. I think it
was David Ben-Gurion who proclaimed the motto "it only matters what
the Jews do" (a paraphrase; what's the exact quote?). Well, if the
only acts that matter are Israeli, why do Israel's apologists insist
on talking about everyone and anything else? Why can't they take
responsibility for the world they created?
What I at least hope Blumenthal does in his book is to explore
the mentality and culture of the people who run Israel -- and since
they never tire of telling us what a democracy Israel is, of the
people who elect those in power. They matter because they're the
ones who perpetuate the conflict, and because they're the only ones
who can resolve it. It's easy enough to understand why Palestinians
who live as second-class citizens within the Green Line, or under
occupation in East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank, or in open
air prisons under constant threat of bombardment like Gaza, dislike
Israel -- they hardly have any other option. What's far harder to
understand is why Israelis today perpetuate this state of affairs,
and evidently the answer isn't pretty.
An excerpt from Blumenthal's book is here:
Israel Cranks Up the PR Machine. Another article discussing its
promotion and reception is
Philip Weiss: Terry Gross aired Blumenthal when he went after Republicans,
but Israel -- no thank you. There's also a long post by
Corey Robin on Alterman v. Blumenthal.
Pamela Olson: Nakba in The New Yorker, BDS in Variety: Intro to a
couple pieces, the first by Ari Shavit in The New Yorker (behind their
paywall) on "Lydda, 1948" -- one of the major towns that Israeli forces
expelled all Palestinian residents from, forcing them into exile, and
a second piece in Variety on BDS.
Sunday, October 13. 2013
Some scattered links this week, but first this from Richard
Crowson in the Wichita Eagle today:
Legend: "Mikey": Mike Pompeo (US Rep.); "Timmy": Tim Huelskamp (US Rep.);
"Ray": Ray Merrick (KS House Speaker); "Suzie": Susan Wagle (KS Senate
President); all Republicans.
Janet Allon: You Think You Knew Crazy? This week's "10 shockers from
the increasingly hinged right wing":
- Michele Bachmann: 'Obama is part of Al Qaeda and end times are near.'
- Some of Antonin Scalia's best friends are gay -- and yeah, the devil exists.
- Arizona lawmaker: 'Obama is like Hitler.'
- Ted Cruz lollapalooza.
- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK): 'Defaulting on the debt doesn't mean debt default.'
- Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling: 'We don't have to fund laws we didn't pass.'
- Bryan Fischer: 'Good on Vladimir Putin for those anti-homosexual laws.'
- Elisabeth Hasselbeck and John Stossel agree: welfare queens should not have air conditioning
- Glenn Beck on parenting: 'Push your children into walls.'
- Fox's Ben Carson: 'Women need to be re-educated so they don't get all riled up about abortion.'
Third week in a row I've cited Allon, but I'm starting to think
this is a bit lazy: not only picking the low-hanging fruit but only
the stuff within easy reach. For instance, in the Wichita Eagle today
there's an article on Gov. Sam Brownback where he's explaining that
he anticipated the government shutdown and has been working hard to
mitigate its effects on Kansans. I can't tell you how or why because
none of that made any sense, but the notion that a guy who can't even
see that cutting income taxes on the rich will lead to a shortfall in
revenues (about 20% so far this year) understands the intricacies of
the federal government well enough to sort all of that out is, well,
a bit far-fetched.
Or there's this little item from TPM:
Termination hearing for derp-spewing, militia-building, anti-"Libtard"
police chief in Gliberton, PA cut short when apparent supporter
accidentally drops his semi-automatic pistol on the hearing roomfloor.
Mike Konczal: The 'non-essential' parts of government that shut down are
actually quite essential. For example, economic statistics:
These functions are not happening. To give an example, the government
acts as a broker and verifier of income for mortgages. This coordination
of information is not functioning, and an ongoing shutdown will delay
new home mortgages in a very fragile market.
The government also provides public price data on a wide variety of
commodities, facilitating trade across many people. As the Financial
Times reported, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture down information
on pig prices has disappeared, throwing the market into chaos.
As they note, "[t]he situation underscores the commodity trade's
reliance on the U.S. government for supply, demand and other fundamental
data." It also has implications for fairness, as the shutdown's price
opacity "may also empower meatpackers as they deal with farmers." (Or
in other words, the shutdown means you are getting ripped off on your
Other examples include welfare and social service programs, public
health ("the CDC is having trouble tracking food-borne illnesses
under furloughs, it is no longer monitoring the spread of influenza
and other infectious diseases"), various kinds of investments ("an
extended shutdown would affect the reliability of the nation's
electric grid"). One thing I've reported earlier is that for now
it's essentially impossible to sell aircraft, either to the private
sector or to the DoD. Today's Wichita Eagle highlighted another
example: nuclear power plant safety regulators are furloughed. Of
course, that only becomes a problem when one of the most dangerous
things in the world blows up and/or melts down. A lot of things the
shutdown affects don't show up immediately, which helps those
responsible ignore the consequences of their actions.
Salmonella and Hepatitis Outbreaks Start Up as Government Shuts Down.
Also see Konczal's
The Tea Party thinks it hates Wall Street. It doesn't.
Paul Krugman: Business and the GOP: There's some evidence that most
business leaders (mostly Republicans) are none to happy with their home
team's tactics in forcing a government shutdown and probable debt default,
but they also seem to be having little effect on the people responsible
for those debacles (Republicans in the House). For instance, Koch Industries'
lobbyists have lately been trying to distance the company from the two
Koch brothers who literally own the company, and who have personally spent
millions of dollars getting those responsible elected.
Now, it's true that Republicans are bad for business -- and they didn't
start being bad for business when the latest hostage crisis erupted.
Ever since Republicans retook the House, federal spending adjusted for
inflation and population has been dropping fast:
This is exactly the wrong thing to be doing in a still-depressed
economy with interest rates at zero; my back of the envelope says that
GDP would be at least 2 percent higher, and corporate profits at least
6 percent higher, if this wrong-headed austerity weren't taking place.
So even before the current crisis Republican obstructionism was costing
corporate America a lot of money.
But here's the thing: while the modern GOP is bad for business, it's
arguably good for wealthy business leaders. After all, it keeps their
taxes low, so that their take-home pay is probably higher than it would
be under better economic management.
Also, when you make as much money as the 0.1 percent does, it's no
longer about what you can buy -- it's about prestige, about receiving
deference, about what Tom Wolfe (in an essay I haven't been able to
find) called "seeing 'em jump." And there's clearly more of that kind
of satisfaction under Republicans; under Democrats, as Aimai at
No More Mister Nice Blog points out, tycoons suffer the agony of
having to deal with people they can't fire.
In a way, this is an inversion of the usual argument made by defenders
of inequality. They're always saying that workers should be happy to
accept a declining share of national income, because the incentives
associated with inequality make the economic pie bigger, and they end
up better off in the end. What's really going on with plutocrats right
now, however, is that they're basically willing to accept lousy economic
policies from right-wing politicians as long as they get a bigger share
of the shrinking pie.
This may sound very cynical -- but then, if you aren't cynical at
this point, you aren't paying attention. And I suspect that the GOP
would have to get a lot crazier before big business bails.
The Aimai article linked to above is titled "The Punishers Want to
Run the Country or We Are All Tipped Waitstaff Now." Aimai talks about
evidence which shows that at least some restaurant customers feel it
is their responsibility to punish waitstaff that fail to satisfy
We've seen a lot of weird reactions on the right wing to the Government
Shut down. These range from "it doesn't matter" to "it's terrible" but
one thing that really strikes me is the rage and antipathy that has been
displayed towards Federal Workers themselves. It doesn't strike me as
unusual, but it does strike me as significant. Yesterday's on air rant
by Stuart Varney makes it pretty explicit: Federal Workers and, indeed,
the entire Government are failing Stuart Varney. They cost too much and
they do too little. In fact: they are so awful they don't even deserve
to be paid for the work they have already done. Contracts, agreements,
and labor be damned. If Stuart Varney isn't happy then they deserve to
be fired. [ . . . ]
What does this have to do with the Republican Party? The Republican
Party at this point in time is entirely made up of Punishers who think
they are entitled to treat the government -- and especially the government
of Barack Obama -- as waiters who need to be shown their place. This
should surprise no one. At heart the entire Republican Party is made up
of winners and losers and they are united in just one thing: they think
that money is the only way to tell who is who. If you have money, you
use that to distinguish yourself from the losers and to demonstrate your
superiority by punishing them further. If you are a loser -- a worker,
for example, or have no health insurance (say) your job as a Republican
is to take your status as a given, accept it, and turn around and get
your jollies kicking someone else farther down the line.
[ . . . ]
Why are Federal Workers a special case and a problem for Republicans?
In the case of Federal Workers I'd argue that its not merely that they
are workers (who are always despised) it's because they are workers who
for the most part don't conform to Republican ideas of the right boundaries
for workers. The right boundaries for workers are that they know their
place, that they can be fired capriciously, and that they exist
primarily to make the employer feel good about himself and, further,
that like waiters in a restaurant and prostitutes with their johns their
job is also to make the employer believe that he is receiving an extra
good form of treatment not accorded to others diners or johns.
The overarching goal of the right-wing is to get us to accept the
current economic hierarchy as natural or God-given, inviolable, and
ultimately just. Sometimes they try to argue that the hierarchy is
best for everyone, but that's a tough sell and not just for the folks
stuck at the bottom. So another approach is to get the at least some
of the in-betweens to identify with the higher-ups by looking down
on whoever they can: be a winner by hating the losers.
Nick Turse: For America, Life Was Cheap in Vietnam:
Yet America's defeat was probably ordained, just as much, by the Vietnamese
casualties we caused, not just in military cross-fire, but as a direct
result of our policy and tactics. While nearly 60,000 American troops
died, some two million Vietnamese civilians were killed, and millions
more were wounded and displaced, during America's involvement in Vietnam,
researchers and government sources have estimated.
Enraged, disgusted and alienated by the abuse they suffered from troops
who claimed to be their allies, even civilians who had no inclination to
back our opponents did so.
Now, four decades later, in distant lands like Pakistan and Afghanistan,
civilians are again treating the United States as an enemy, because they
have become the collateral damage of our "war on terror," largely
unrecognized by the American public. [ . . . ]
Soldiers and officers explained how rules of engagement permitted
civilians to be shot for running away, which could be considered suspicious
behavior, or for standing still when challenged, which could also be
considered suspicious. Veterans I've interviewed, and soldiers who spoke
to investigators, said they had received orders from commanders to "kill
anything that moves."
"The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does the
Westerner," Westmoreland famously said. "Life is plentiful, life is
cheap in the Orient."
That quote was blatantly racist, but it was also peculiarly true.
The US was meticulous in its accounting of American deaths, going to
great lengths to account for every scrap of dead GI -- when the war
was over, they had no "unknown soldier" to honor, and they obsessed
about MIA for decades, even today. Such concerns were a luxury that
I don't think any previous US war had afforded, but they were also
a political necessity, as the great threat to the US war effort was
the reluctance of the American people to pay the cost, an assessment
in which dead American soldiers loomed large. It was the first war
in US history where it became clear that the American people, even
many American soldiers, couldn't see stakes worth fighting for, and
the military clique went mad trying first to avoid then to evade
responsibility for failure. Turse's new book (Kill Anything That
Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam) is especially welcome
because it helps counter the con job that allowed the US military
to continue without accounting for its failures in Vietnam -- Andrew
Bacevich has written about this (cf. The New American Militarism:
How Americans Are Seduced by War), with Lewis Sorley's A Better
War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years
in Vietnam the most egregious example. Much as gone wrong in America
since Vietnam, and much of that is due to our failure to recognize how
profoundly wrong we were.
Despite revelations about the massacre at My Lai, the United States
government was able to suppress the true scale of noncombatant
casualties and to imply that those deaths that did occur were
inadvertent and unavoidable. This left the American public with a
counterfeit history of the conflict.
Without a true account of our past military misdeeds, Americans
have been unprepared to fully understand what has happened in
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, where attacks on
suspected terrorists have killed unknown numbers of innocent
people. As in Vietnam, officials have effectively prevented the
public from assessing this civilian toll.
We need to abandon our double standards when it comes to human
life. It is worth noting the atrocious toll born of an enemy general's
decisions [Vo Nguyen Giap, who died last week at 102]. But, at the
very least, equal time ought to be given to the tremendous toll borne
by civilians as a result of America's wars, past and present.
Also, a few links for further study:
Max Blumenthal: Expulsion and Revolusion in Israel: Most likely
an excerpt from Blumenthal's new book: Goliath: Life and Loathing
in Greater Israel. This particular piece describes the "Prawer
Plan" to round up 40,000 indigenous Bedouins from the Negev Desert
in southern Israel -- nominally Israeli citizens, living well within
the Green Line -- and relocate them to "American-Indian-style towns
constructed by the Israeli government": a definition just a "security
fence" short of being a concentration camp. Nor is what's happening
today something unforseen in the past:
In Ben Gurion's memoirs, he fantasized about evacuating Tel Aviv and
settling five million Jews in small outposts across the Negev, where
they would be weaned off the rootless cosmopolitanism they inherited
from diaspora life. Just as he resented the worldly attitude of Jews
from Tel Aviv and New York City, Ben Gurion was repelled by the sight
of the open desert, describing it as a "criminal waste" and "occupied
territory." Indeed, from his standpoint, the Arabs were the occupiers.
As early as 1937, he had plans for their removal, writing in a letter
to his son Amos, "We must expel Arabs and take their places."
Corey Robin: David Grossman v. Max Blumenthal for another slice of
Sam Wang: What the Gerrymander giveth with one hand: House control in
2014 now a toss-up: With most voters inclined to blame the Republicans
for the shutdown and credit risk debacles, some polls indicate Democrats
may be able to overcome the gerrymander which gave the Republicans control
of the House despite receiving 1.2% fewer votes in 2012. Makes sense to
me, but Democrats have to get a "ground game" more like 2008 and 2012
than the massive slump of 2010, and wage a broad campaign like Howard
Dean's "50-state campaign" -- something way beyond Obama's narrow focus
on 270 electoral votes. Right now the stakes are relatively clear, but
if Obama caves in on something major, turnout could suffer badly.