Sunday, April 26. 2015
Geology trumped the news twice this week: first with a volcanic
eruption in Chile, then a massive earthquake in Nepal. Worth noting
that bad things can still happen that can't be attributed to bad
policies of the political right. Also in the news: anniversaries
keep happening, including this week the 100th anniversary of one
of Winston Churchill's most immediately obvious blunders, the
Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey. Churchill got his first taste of
battle at Omduran in the Sudan and found it totally exhilarating.
Had he been present at Gallipoli he would have gotten a taste of
what the Sudanese experienced. Also 100 years ago, the Ottomans
started their genocide against the Armenians, ultimately killing
up to 1.5 million of them. Turkey has refused to acknowledge what
Taner Akcam termed A Shameful Act, which has the accidental
benefit of letting Britain and Russia -- who tried to cultivate
the Christian Armenians as a "fifth column" against the Ottomans --
off the hook.
Some scattered links this week:
Brendan James: Michele Bachmann: Thanks Obama for Bringing On the
Apocalypse: As Bachmann explains:
"Barack Obama is intent, it is his number one goal, to ensure that Iran
has a nuclear weapon," she said. "Why? Why would you put the nuclear
weapon in the hands of madmen who are Islamic radicals?"
Bachmann, however, then seemed to approve of the President moving
mankind into "the midnight hour."
"We get to be living in the most exciting time in history," she said,
urging fellow Christians to "rejoice."
"Jesus Christ is coming back. We, in our lifetimes potentially, could
see Jesus Christ returning to Earth, the Rapture of the Church."
"These are wonderful times," she concluded.
Now, I come from a long line of "Revelations scholars" -- I can still
recall (and I was less than ten at the time) my grandfather asking me
whether I thought Israel's founding was a sign that the rapture was near.
My father, too, spent a lifetime studying "Revelations" -- mostly, as
best I could figure out, to prove that his father had understood it all
wrong. (My own theory was that the "book" was tacked onto the end just
to discredit the whole Bible, as if the other "books" weren't proof
enough of some sick hoax.) So I do have a little trouble treating the
people who believe in the rapture as batshit crazy, but there is at
least one difference between Bachmann and my forefathers: the latter
didn't go around acting like it's going to happen any day now.
Paul Krugman: The Fiscal Future I: The Hyperbolic Case for Bigger
Government: Turns out Clinton threw the baby out with the bath
water when he declared that "the age of big government is over."
Back in the 1990s some conservatives were arguing that the ideal
size of government relative to GDP was set during the Coolidge
administration and we should lock that into law. Others preferred
to idealize the McKinley administration, and Grover Norquist just
wanted to shrink the whole thing so small he could drown it in the
bathtub. It's taken a while for someone like Brad DeLong to come
along and argue that the opposite is the case: that government
should grow even larger.
So, how big should the government be? The answer, broadly speaking,
is surely that government should do those things it does better than
the private sector. But what are these things?
The standard, textbook answer is that we should look at public
goods -- goods that are non rival and non excludable, so that the
private sector won't provide them. National defense, weather
satellites, disease control, etc. And in the 19th century that was
arguably what governments mainly did.
Nowadays, however, governments are involved in a lot more --
education, retirement, health care. You can make the case that there
are some aspects of education that are a public good, but that's not
really why we rely on the government to provide most education, and
not at all why the government is so involved in retirement and health.
Instead, experience shows that these are all areas where the government
does a (much) better job than the private sector. And Brad argues that
the changing structure of the economy will mean that we want more of
these goods, hence bigger government.
He also suggests -- or at least that's how I read him -- the common
thread among these activities that makes the government a better provider
than the market; namely, they all involve individuals making very-long-term
decisions. Your decision to stay in school or go out and work will shape
your lifetime career; your ability to afford medical treatment or food
and rent at age 75 has a lot to do with decisions you made when that
stage of life was decades ahead, and impossible to imagine.
Now, the fact is that people make decisions like these badly. Bad
choices in education are the norm where choice is free; voluntary,
self-invested retirement savings are a disaster. Human beings just
don't handle the very long run well -- call it hyperbolic discounting,
call it bounded rationality, whatever, our brains are designed to cope
with the ancestral savannah and not late-stage capitalist finance.
When you say things like this, libertarians tend to retort that if
people mess up on such decisions, it's their own fault. But the usual
argument for free markets is that they lead to good results -- not
that they would lead to good results if people were more virtuous
than they are, so we should rely on them despite the bad results
they yield in practice. And the truth is that paternalism in these
areas has led to pretty good results -- mandatory K-12 education,
Social Security, and Medicare make our lives more productive as well
as more secure.
I'm not wild about calling this stuff "paternalism" -- one of the
things that has made government spending objectionable is how often
it is subject to political propriety. (For instance, art is generally
a public good, especially when it can be reproduced at zero marginal
cost. It would be a good public investment to pay lots of artists to
produce lots of art, but not such a good idea if every piece had to
be approved by a local board of prudes.)
I think there's also a macroeconomic argument. For a variety of
reasons, it strikes me that the private sector economy has become
increasingly incapable of sustaining full employment, and as such
needs permanent, possibly increasing, stimulus. (It could be that
the deficit is the result of increasing inequality, which depresses
demand while producing a savings glut. And/or it could be due to
technology which keeps reducing the number of work hours needed to
produce a constant amount of goods and services. Most likely both.)
Krugman followed up with
The Fiscal Future II: Not Enough Debt?. This is more technical,
so I won't bother quoting it here. The upshot is that you can grow
government without having to pay for all of it through increased
Caitlin MacNeal: White House: Two Hostages Killed in US Counterterrorism
Attack: Quotes the White House statement disclosing that the CIA had
killed two Al-Qaida hostages with a drone strike "in the border region
of Afghanistan and Pakistan" (evidently doesn't matter which side of the
border was struck). Also that two US citizens involved with Al-Qaida were
killed (but not targeted) in drone strikes "in the same region." Of the
hostages, "No words can fully express our regret over this terrible
tragedy." Of the other two, well, stuff happens. The statement goes on:
"The President . . . takes full responsibility for these operations."
The statement doesn't explain how Obama intends to "take responsibility":
Will he turn himself over to the ICC or local authorities to be tried?
Will he change US policy to prevent any repeat of these tragedies? Or
is he just enjoying one of those "the buck stops here" moments? What
should be clear is that the CIA has no fucking idea who they're killing
and maiming with their Hellfire missiles. Lacking such "intelligence"
all they're doing is embarrassing themselves (and Obama and the nation)
and aggravating and escalating animosities. Indeed, by going into their
back yards to kill anonymous people with no hint of due process they're
conceding the moral high ground as surely as Al-Qaida did on Sept. 11,
2001 when they launched attacks on American soil.
For more on the drone strikes, see
Spencer Ackerman: Inside Obama's drone panopticon: a secret machine
with no accountability:
Thanks to Obama's rare admission on Thursday, the realities of what
are commonly known as "signature strikes" are belatedly and partially
on display. Signature strikes, a key aspect for years of what the
administration likes to call its "targeted killing" program, permit
the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill.
The "signatures" at issue are indicators that intelligence analysts
associate with terrorist behavior -- in practice, a gathering of men,
teenaged to middle-aged, traveling in convoys or carrying weapons. In
2012, an unnamed senior official memorably quipped that the CIA considers
"three guys doing jumping jacks" a signature of terrorist training.
Civilian deaths in signature strikes, accordingly, are not accidental.
They are, as Schiff framed it, more like a cost of doing business -- only
the real cost is shielded from the public.
An apparatus of official secrecy, built over decades and zealously
enforced by Obama, prevents meaningful open scrutiny of the strikes. No
one outside the administration knows how many drone strikes are signature
strikes. There is no requirement that the CIA or JSOC account for their
strikes, nor to provide an estimate of how many people they kill, nor
even how they define legally critical terms like "combatant," terrorist
"affiliate" or "leader." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is
suing an obstinate administration to compel disclosure of some of the
most basic information there is about a program that has killed thousands
of people. [ . . . ]
Schiff's reaction condensed the root argument of the administration's
drone advocates: it's this or nothing. The Obama administration considers
the real alternatives to drone strikes to be the unpalatable options of
grueling ground wars or passive acceptance of terrorism. Then it
congratulates itself for picking the wise, ethical and responsible
choice of killing people without knowing who they are.
[ . . . ]
No Obama official involved in drone strikes has ever been disciplined:
not only are Brennan and director of national intelligence James Clapper
entrenched in their jobs, David Barron, one of the lawyers who told Obama
he could kill a US citizen without trial as a first resort, now has a
Beyond the question of when the US ought to launch drone strikes
lie deeper geostrategic concerns. Obama's overwhelming focus on
counter-terrorism, inherited and embraced from his predecessor,
subordinated all other considerations for the drone battlefield of
Yemen, which he described as a model for future efforts.
The result is the total collapse of the US Yemeni proxy, a regional
war Obama appears powerless to influence, the abandonment of US citizens
trapped in Yemen and the likely expansion of al-Qaida's local affiliate.
A generation of Yemeni civilians, meanwhile, is growing up afraid of the
machines loitering overhead that might kill them without notice.
Sinéad O'Shea: Mediterranean migrant crisis: Why is no one talking
Horror has been expressed at the latest catastrophe in the Mediterranean.
Little has been said, however, about Eritrea. Yet 22% of all people
entering Italy by boat in 2014 were from Eritrea, according to the UN
refugee agency, the UNHCR. After Syrians, they are the second most
common nationality to undertake these journeys. Many who died this
week were from the former Italian colony.
So why is it so rarely discussed? The answer is essentially the
problem. Eritrea is without western allies and far away. It is also
in the grip of a highly repressive regime. This week, it was named
the most censored country in the world by the Committee to Protect
Journalists, beating North Korea, which is in second place. Reporters
without Borders has called it the world's most dangerous country for
Nobody talks about Eritrea because nobody (ie westerners) goes
there. In 2009, I travelled there undercover with cameraman Scott
Corben. We remain the only independent journalists to have visited
in more than 10 years. There we witnessed a system that was exerting
total control over its citizens. It was difficult to engage anybody
in conversation. Everyone believed they were under surveillance,
creating a state of constant anxiety. Communications were tightly
controlled. Just three roads were in use and extensive documentation
was required to travel. There were constant military checks. It is
one of the most expensive countries in the world to buy petrol. Even
maps are largely prohibited. At the time, Eritreans had to seek
permission from a committee to obtain a mobile phone.
Dissent is forbidden. It is thought there are more than 800
prisons dispersed across the country. Some take the form of shipping
containers in the desert. Torture is widespread.
[ . . . ]
Eritreans are thus faced with a terrible choice. They must either
live in misery or risk death by leaving. I met a number of people who
were preparing to go. Despite a shoot-to-kill policy on the border,
thousands still leave each month.
Of course, one reason some of us don't talk much about bad countries
is that we don't want the US to attack, invade, and "fix" them.
Also, a few links for further study:
Christian Appy: From the Fall of Saigon to Our Fallen Empire: Appy
has a new book out, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our
National Identity, which I've just started reading. This piece
is written for the 40th anniversary of the "fall of Saigon" (or the
end of Vietnam's American War). Subtitle: "How to Turn a Nightmare
into a Fairy Tale."
Oddly enough, however, we've since found ways to reimagine that
denouement which miraculously transformed a failed and brutal war
of American aggression into a tragic humanitarian rescue mission.
Our most popular Vietnam end-stories bury the long, ghastly history
that preceded the "fall," while managing to absolve us of our primary
responsibility for creating the disaster. Think of them as silver-lining
tributes to good intentions and last-ditch heroism that may come in
handy in the years ahead.
The trick, it turned out, was to separate the final act from the
rest of the play. To be sure, the ending in Vietnam was not a happy
one, at least not for many Americans and their South Vietnamese
allies. This week we mark the 40th anniversary of those final days
of the war. We will once again surely see the searing images of
terrified refugees, desperate evacuations, and final defeat. But
even that grim tale offers a lesson to those who will someday
memorialize our present round of disastrous wars: toss out the
historical background and you can recast any U.S. mission as a
flawed but honorable, if not noble, effort by good-guy rescuers
to save innocents from the rampaging forces of aggression.
The worst thing about the Vietnam War wasn't losing it, nor
even not learning anything from the experience. It was the lies
we told ourselves to keep from facing what actually happened,
including how much responsibility the US bore for making the
whole debacle far more horrendous than it was bound to be. We
wouldn't, for instance, have wound up with any less of a loss
had we allowed democratic elections in 1956, as agreed to in
Geneva in 1954. Instead, we escalated again and again, unleashing
new horrors for no practical gain. I've always thought the worst
of those escalations was Nixon's "incursion" in Cambodia, which
soon destabilized the neutral Prince Sihanouk and delivered the
country to "the killing fields" of Pol Pot. Millions died because
Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon couldn't face losing the war,
and while they clearly cared nothing at all about the Vietnamese,
the damage they did to their own country may have seemed relatively
trivial -- 58,000 Americans dead, many billions of dollars wasted --
it went far deeper and lasted much longer. The war was founded on
lies, even well before the fake "Gulf of Tonkin Incident," and in
the end that lying became a way of life. Nixon himself must have
set some record for mendacity, but it was Ronald Reagan who recast
American politics on a basis of sheer narcissistic fantasy, and
no American politician has ever looked at reality squarely again.
The Vietnam War was the worst thing that ever happened to America,
not because we lost it but because we were wrong in the first place
and never learned better. That in turn led to the recapitulation
in Iraq and Afghanistan: the main differences there were that the
latter wars had less effect on everyday life so they generated
less anti-war movement, while the undrafted army proved somewhat
more resilient, allowing the propagandists more leeway to cover
up the debacle. Appy himself concludes:
The time may come, if it hasn't already, when many of us will forget,
Vietnam-style, that our leaders sent us to war in Iraq falsely claiming
that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction he intended
to use against us; that he had a "sinister nexus" with the al-Qaeda
terrorists who attacked on 9/11; that the war would essentially pay
for itself; that it would be over in "weeks rather than months"; that
the Iraqis would greet us as liberators; or that we would build an
Iraqi democracy that would be a model for the entire region. And will
we also forget that in the process nearly 4,500 Americans were killed
along with perhaps 500,000 Iraqis, that millions of Iraqis were displaced
from their homes into internal exile or forced from the country itself,
and that by almost every measure civil society has failed to return to
pre-war levels of stability and security?
The picture is no less grim in Afghanistan. What silver linings can
possibly emerge from our endless wars? If history is any guide, I'm
sure we'll think of something.
Ben Branstetter: 7 whistle-blowers facing more jail time than David
Petraeus: OK, that's a low bar, given that Petraeus avoided all
jail time, punished with two years of probation after pleading guilty
to passing classified secrets to his mistress-hagiographer Paula
Broadwell. But then his intent was never to help Americans understand
that their government is doing in secret. It was just self-promotion,
business-as-usual for the ambitious general. On the other hand,
Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison -- nearly
twice as long as Albert Speer was sentenced for running Nazi Germany's
Chris Wright: Always Historicize!: Chews on the old Leninist bone
of what-is-to-be-done, the perennial of those who think of themselves
as activists, as opposed to us normal folk who only occasionally get
swept up in the tides of history. Wright starts with the pitiful state
of the Left, concluding that to be unsurprising given that the Left is,
by nature of its constituency, always starved of resources, and "one
needs resources to get things done." Yet this does nothing to explain
the few cases when everything suddenly lurches toward the Left. That
happens not when the balance of resources shifts from Right to Left,
but when the Establishment collapses in chaos, opening up opportunity
for the Left to save the day, provided some combination of ideas and
organization. Wright sort of understands this. He is skeptical of the
notion that "radical social change is a matter mainly of will and
competence . . . pushing back against reactionary institutions so as,
hopefully, to reverse systemic trends." He argues, instead, that "the
proper way for radicals to conceive of their activism, on a broad
scale, is in terms of the speeding up of current historical trends,
not their interruption or reversal."
I suppose that all depends on what trends you're talking about,
but the notion that historical trends are for the better hasn't
been born out by history: I can think of a few that turned rotten
after initial promise, and others that were rotten from the start.
The trend Wright identifies is "the protracted collapse of corporate
capitalism and the nation-state system itself." I'm not so sure of
that myself -- not that I don't see some problems there, but they
mostly come from overreach, something not all that far removed from
panic. (The Right's massive attempt to corner the political system,
which has much to do with the resource imbalance cited above, seems
more rooted in fear than in greed, not that its sponsors can ever
free themselves of the latter. Sometimes it looks like the Right is
winning, but their successes rarely go beyond the most corruptible
of institutions, and when they do seize power they often crash and
I keep coming back to ideas and organization. While there are a
lot of the former floating around, it's proven remarkably difficult
to get them into common circulation -- the point, I would say, of
Philip Mirowski's Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste,
showing how a prison of constantly reiterated neoliberal ideology
kept politicians from even considering alternatives after an economic
collapse caused by precisely that thinking. That suggests to me that
ideas have to be channelled through organization -- a role that unions
filled during the industrial revolution but are unlikely to recover
and repeat in the future. Figure that out and the Left won't look so
lame. Don't and we run the risk that no one will be able to pick up
the pieces after the Right fucks everything up.
Sunday, April 19. 2015
Late start but I had the Civil War links, and added a couple more.
Plus, for local color, let's start with Crowson's cartoon today:
By the way, babyfaced State Senator O'Donnell (R) happens to represent
my district. You can read more about his bill in, well,
The Guardian, or
The Chicago Tribune. Jordan Weissmann looks at what welfare
recipients actually spend money on
here. One thing I haven't seen much discussion of is how this law
is to be enforced. Will the state be assigning accountants to go over
welfare recipients' books? Or will we expect movie ticket takers to
rat out customers they suspect of being on welfare?
Gregory P Downs: The Dangerous Myth of Appomattox: When I was 10
years old the centennial of the Civil War seemed like such a big deal,
whereas I hadn't noticed any 150th anniversaries until someone wrote
that Lee's surrender at Appomattox should be a national holiday. Back
in 1960 you could still practically taste the gunpowder residue. I
knew, for instance, that my great-great-grandfathers had fought in
that war -- on my father's side from Pennsylvania, a man who after
the war homesteaded in western Kansas and named his first son Abraham
Lincoln Hull; on my mother's side from Ohio, a man who then moved to
northern Arkansas and became sheriff of Baxter County (in other words,
one of those oft-villified "carpetbaggers"). Back then Kansas still
identified with the North, and I saw enough of the South to reinforce
my belief in civil rights, because by then the South had reconstituted
its racist caste system as if their "war for independence" had won out.
(Downs quotes Albion Tourgée saying that the South "surrendered at
Appomattox, the the North has been surrendering ever since.")
Over the course of the Civil War's Centennial the tide of surrender
had shifted with the passage of landmark civil rights acts. Fifty
years later we're more inclined to memorialize the 50th anniversary
of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march than the 150th of
Lee's surrender. Not that we shouldn't worry about erosion of voting
rights. But one thing we don't worry about over is that the South
will secede again -- indeed, when various Texans spout off to that
effect, the usual reaction is "good riddance." But celebration of
Appomattox has always been something of a ruse. As Downs points out,
the war didn't really end there, nor has the reunification of the
country gone smoothly. Indeed, one of the great ironies of American
history is that the party of Lincoln -- the party my great-greats
fought for -- has lately been captured by the sons of the Confederacy
(often, amusingly enough, in the guise of adopted sons with names
like Jindal, Cruz, Rubio, and Bush).
Meanwhile, Downs is more concerned with the problems the postwar
occupation (aka reconstruction) ran into:
Grant himself recognized that he had celebrated the war's end far too
soon. Even as he met Lee, Grant rejected the rebel general's plea for
"peace" and insisted that only politicians, not officers, could end
the war. Then Grant skipped the fabled laying-down-of-arms ceremony
to plan the Army's occupation of the South.
To enforce its might over a largely rural population, the Army
marched across the South after Appomattox, occupying more than 750
towns and proclaiming emancipation by military order. This little-known
occupation by tens of thousands of federal troops remade the South in
ways that Washington proclamations alone could not.
And yet as late as 1869, President Grant's attorney general argued
that some rebel states remained in the "grasp of war." When white
Georgia politicians expelled every black member of the State Legislature
and began a murderous campaign of intimidation, Congress and Grant
extended military rule there until 1871.
Meanwhile, Southern soldiers continued to fight as insurgents,
terrorizing blacks across the region. One congressman estimated that
50,000 African-Americans were murdered by white Southerners in the
first quarter-century after emancipation. "It is a fatal mistake,
nay a wicked misery to talk of peace or the institutions of peace,"
a federal attorney wrote almost two years after Appomattox. "We are
in the very vortex of war."
Downs has a book that sounds interesting: After Appomattox:
Military Occupation and the Ends of War. It is inevitable that
any such book written these days will reflect the manifest failures
of the US occupation of Iraq. One recalls that in the run up to the
invasion of Iraq, Bush's intellectuals studied up on the post-WWII
occupations of Germany and Japan -- held to be a model of enlightened
reconstruction, although that conceit took a good deal of misreading
both of history and of the current state of Bush politics to come to
that cheery conclusion. But in all cases, the fiasco is the consequence
both of poorly understood goals and corrupt practices.
Also worth reading:
Christopher Dickey: The Civil War's Dirty Secret: It Was Always About
Slavery. A sequel could be written on how racism went from being
a rationale for slavery to becoming a proxy. In any case, the two are
so inextricably linked that the iconography for one, like the continuing
cult of the Confederacy, supports the other. That's why if you don't
like the one, you shouldn't make excuses for the other.
Mark Mazzetti/Helene Cooper: Sale of US Arms Fuels the Wars of Arab
States: Even if we overlook Israel, the most intensely militarized
nation in the world, the Middle East has long been a bonanza for arms
dealers -- and not just for American ones, although the US remains by
far the largest purveyor of lethal hardware. And to paraphrase Madeleine
Albright, what's the point of having this magnificent military technology
if you never use it? That's been a conundrum for many years, but more
and more nominal US allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, even Egypt,
are discovering targets they can safely attack: the ad hoc militias of
destabilized neighbors like Yemen, Libya, and Syria. All they have to
do is to pin a label like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or Iran, and the US blesses
them with further supplies. For example:
Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion on weaponry last year -- the
most ever, and more than either France or Britain -- and has become the
world's fourth-largest defense market, according to figures released
last week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute,
which tracks global military spending. The Emirates spent nearly $23
billion last year, more than three times what they spent in 2006.
Qatar, another gulf country with bulging coffers and a desire to
assert its influence around the Middle East, is on a shopping spree.
Last year, Qatar signed an $11 billion deal with the Pentagon to
purchase Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin air-defense
systems. Now the tiny nation is hoping to make a large purchase of
Boeing F-15 fighters to replace its aging fleet of French Mirage jets.
Qatari officials are expected to present the Obama administration with
a wish list of advanced weapons before they come to Washington next
month for meetings with other gulf nations.
American defense firms are following the money. Boeing opened an
office in Doha, Qatar, in 2011, and Lockheed Martin set up an office
there this year. Lockheed created a division in 2013 devoted solely
to foreign military sales, and the company's chief executive, Marillyn
Hewson, has said that Lockheed needs to increase foreign business --
with a goal of global arms sales' becoming 25 percent to 30 percent
of its revenue -- in part to offset the shrinking of the Pentagon
budget after the post-Sept. 11 boom. [ . . . ]
Meanwhile, the deal to sell Predator drones to the Emirates is
nearing final approval. The drones will be unarmed, but they will be
equipped with lasers to allow them to better identify targets on the
If the sale goes through, it will be the first time that the drones
will go to an American ally outside of NATO.
There's very little here to keep these wars from spinning out of
control. The US has allied itself with dictatorial oligarchs, and
enabled them to suppress all manner of popular movements, including
peaceful demonstrations for democracy. And when the most violent of
those movements blowback against the US, that just reinforces the
war mentality. Sure, some worry about putting US troops in harm's
way, but we're pretty cavalier about getting Arabs to kill other
Arabs, especially when Arabs are paying us for the gear -- think of
all those "good jobs" proxy wars will create. Invading Iraq in 2003
was still a hard sell, but spinning up ISIS as an enemy was a breeze.
Also see Richard Silverstein's comment on this article,
War is America's Business.
Justin Logan: Iraq 2.0: The REAL Reason Hawks Oppose the Iran Deal:
Let's be honest for a second: 90-plus percent of supporters of the Iran
framework would have supported any framework the Obama administration
produced (this author included). Close to 100 percent of the opponents
of the framework would have opposed any framework it produced.
What's going on here? Why are we having this kabuki debate about a
deal whose battle lines were established before it even existed? At
Brookings, Jeremy Shapiro suggests that "the Iranian nuclear program
is not really what opponents and proponents of the recent deal are
Shapiro says the bigger question is about what to do regarding
"Iran's challenge to U.S. leadership" in the countries surrounding
Iran and whether to "integrate Iran into the regional order."
One could put this more baldly: anti-agreement hawks want to
preserve a state of belligerency (non-cooperation at the very least)
between the US and Iran; agreement supporters want to defuse the
state of belligerency, ultimately by normalizing relations between
the two countries. One reason the hawks have is the profits from
arms sales generated through the Middle East's growing set of proxy
wars (see the Mazzetti/Cooper article above). It's also likely that
oil profits would skyrocket if there was any disruption of Persian
Gulf exports -- something which may matter more than usual given
how invested US oil companies are in expensive sources (like shale
and offshore oil). But there's also a more basic ideological reason:
right-wingers believe in a world where conflict, like hierarchy, is
inevitable and brutal, whereas left-wingers believe that conflicts
can be resolved and people can cooperate to level up everyone's
standard of living.
After torching Palestinian cafe and painting 'Revenge' on its door,
4 Israeli teens get community service;
Before prayers finished Friday, Israeli military began firing teargas
canisters and rubber-coated bullets;
A 22-year-old Palestinian dies after imprisonment, then his cousin, 27,
is killed at his funeral:
'Passover siege' in Hebron: Palestinians endure military lockdown so
Israelis can enjoy holiday in occupied West Bank:
more of Kate's remarkable compilations of Israeli news reports.
Alice Rothchild: The most massive child abuse int he world:
"Not a single house has been rebuilt in Gaza since the end of the
devastating war 9 months ago, UNRWA reports."
Sunday, April 12. 2015
The big, and for that matter good, news today is
Chapa, the missing beaver, returns home to Riverside Park.
That Hillary Clinton chose today to launch her 2016 presidential
campaign just shows she doesn't have the sort of control over the
news cycle she'd like. If you want to fret about Clinton, you can
Bill Curry: Hillary Clinton just doesn't get it: She's already
running a losing campaign. Still, for me, the most interesting
On Friday, Clinton's campaign let slip its aim to raise $2.5 billion;
maybe that's not the best way to say hello to a struggling middle class.
A couple months ago, the Koch's made news by threatening to raise
just shy of $1 billion for their war on democracy in 2016. Suddenly,
that doesn't look like such a daunting amount of money. And the fact
is, Clinton is probably a good investment for her big-money donors --
at least compared to the sort of morons running for the Republican
nomination. And while the middle class aren't likely to get much from
Clinton, they're not where that $2.5 billion is coming from. Main
thing they can hope for is less collateral damage in the partisan
struggle between pro-growth money and the people who'd rather wreck
the economy than see any of their spoils levelled down.
I've paid very little attention to the Republicans who aspire to
be president. The "tea party" reaction did little more than double
down on the dumbest, crudest platforms of the party, and now there
is nothing left there. For example, one thing that has been popping
up a lot is the idea of convening a constitutional convention to
pass an amendment forbidding the federal government from running a
deficit. They might as well poke their eyes out -- that's the level
of self-mutilation such an amendment would produce. Clinton has
nothing to offer, but at least she's not that stupid. Or take Iran:
Clinton has frequently made her mark as a hawk, but she's not so
delusional as to think we'd be better off rejecting negotiations
with Iran that gave us every assurance we wanted.
I opposed Clinton in 2008 and I would do so again given any real
chance of winning something tangible. But I don't see who else is
going to raise the sort of money she can raise, and more and more
it looks like that money will be needed to make it plain enough how
necessary it is to beat the Republicans in 2016. I just hope to see
some of that money trickle down the party ticket.
Some more scattered links this week:
Patrick Cockburn: A Young Prince May Cost Syria and Yemen Dear:
Someone could write a very interesting book on the waxing and waning
of Saudi outreach -- a broad term ranging from strategic investments
to salafist proselytizing to armed intervention -- since the 1970s
(with some pre-history back to WWI contacts with the British and
FDR's WWII meeting with Kind Saud), how they viewed their mission,
and how it did or didn't dovetail with US interests. It would be
hard to get the nuances right. For instance, when Bill Casey would
meet with King Fahd, neither was playing with a full deck, nor no
matter how much they seemed to agree were their intents aligned.
While it is clear that the US pressed the Saudis to pump a lot of
money for arms into the Afghan muhajideen, was the salafist export
part of the deal, or just part of the price? Lately, the Saudis
seem to be taking charge: I doubt that Obama would be plotting his
own intervention in Yemen, but he didn't hesitate in supporting
the new Saudi king.
Part of the explanation may lie with the domestic politics of Saudi
Arabia. Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi visiting professor at LSE's Middle
East Centre, says in the online magazine al-Monitor that Saudi
King Salman's defence minister and head of the royal court, his son
Mohammed bin Salman, aged about 30, wants to establish Saudi Arabia
as absolutely dominant in the Arabian Peninsula. She adds caustically
that he needs to earn a military title, "perhaps 'Destroyer of Shiite
Rejectionists and their Persian Backers in Yemen,' to remain relevant
among more experienced and aspiring siblings and disgruntled royal
cousins." A successful military operation in Yemen would give him the
credentials he needs.
A popular war would help unite Saudi liberals and Islamists behind
a national banner while dissidents could be pilloried as traitors.
Victory in Yemen would compensate for the frustration of Saudi policy
in Iraq and Syria where the Saudis have been outmanoeuvred by Iran.
In addition, it would be a defiant gesture towards a US administration
that they see as too accommodating towards Iran.
Yemen is not the only country in which Saudi Arabia is taking a
more vigorous role. Last week, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria
suffered several defeats, the most important being the fall of the
provincial capital Idlib, in northern Syria, to Jabhat al-Nusra which
fought alongside two other hardline al-Qaeda-type movements, Ahrar
al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa. Al-Nusra's leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani,
immediately announced the instruction of Shia law in the city. Sent
to Syria in 2011 by Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to create
al-Nusra, he split from Baghdadi when he tried to reabsorb al-Nusra
in 2013. Ideologically, the two groups differ little and the US has
launched air strikes against al-Nusra, though Turkey still treats
it as if it represented moderates.
One thing I'm always struck by is how viscerally divergent our
views are of the Islamic State we know (in Saudi Arabia) and the
one we don't know (ISIS). The two have much in common, including a
great fondness for beheadings and an intolerance of non-Muslims.
One difference is that ISIS proclaims its leader to be Caliph, but
the Saudi royal family is similarly blessed by the Wahabbi ulema,
and the Saudi possession of the "holy cities" of Mecca and Medina
confers great prestige. What sets the Saudis apart for US officials
may be nothing more than the size of Saudi bank accounts. The old
notion that advancing Saudi hegemony over the Muslim world in any
way helps us looks ever more misguided.
Michelle Goldberg: Indiana Just Sentenced a Woman Convicted of Feticide
to Twenty Years in Prison: More disturbing than Indiana's Religious
On Monday, 33-year-old Purvi Patel, an unmarried woman from a conservative
Hindu family who bought abortion drugs online, was sentenced to twenty
years in prison for the crimes of feticide and neglect of a dependent.
It was not the first time that feticide laws, passed under the guise of
protecting pregnant women from attack, have been turned against pregnant
women themselves. Indiana, after all, was also the state that jailed Bei
Bei Shuai, an immigrant who tried to commit suicide by poisoning herself
while pregnant, and whose baby later died. But the Patel case is still
a disturbing landmark. "Yes, the feticide laws in other states have been
used to arrest and sometimes punish the pregnant women herself," says
Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant
Women, which advised Patel's defense. "This is the first time it's
being used to punish what they say is an attempted self-abortion."
The feticide law has an exception for "legal abortion" so I have
to wonder about the quality of legal representation afforded these
immigrant women. The great fear we always had about feticide laws
was that prosecutors would abuse their authority. In some ways the
suicide attempt bothers me more: if the woman was depressed enough
to try to kill herself before, I don't see how locking her up in
jail will improve her spirits.
Nicola Perugini/Neve Gordon: How Amnesty International Criminzliaes
Palestinians for Their Inferior Weapons:
Unlawful and Deadly, Amnesty International's recent report on
'rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014
Gaza/Israel conflict,' accuses Hamas and others of carrying out
'indiscriminate attacks' on Israel: 'When indiscriminate attacks
kill or injure civilians, they constitute war crimes.'
[ . . . ]
There is an implied contrast with Israel's superior technological
capabilities, which the IDF claims allow it to carry out airstrikes
with 'surgical precision.' But the figures tell a different story. At
least 2100 Palestinians were killed during Israel's military campaign
in Gaza last summer; around 1500 are believed to have been civilians
(according to Amnesty some of them were killed by stray Palestinian
rocket fire). On the Israeli side, 72 people were killed, 66 combatants
and six civilians. These numbers point to a clear discrepancy. It is
not only that Israel killed 300 times as many Palestinian civilians,
but that the proportion of civilian deaths among Palestinians was much
greater: 70 per cent of those killed by Israel were civilians, compared
to 8 per cent of those killed by Palestinians. These figures clearly
indicate that there is no correlation between precision bombing and
distinguishing combatants from civilians. Hi-tech weapons systems can
kill indiscriminately too.
I don't have a problem declaring that Palestinian rockets shot
into Israel constitute some kind of crime -- I am, after all, of the
belief that all war under all circumstances is criminal -- so long
as doing so doesn't distract from the proportionate responsibility
for the violence, and the original responsibility for setting the
conditions and context within which such violence occurs. The above
statistics give you some idea of proportion -- which is to say that
nearly all of the violence was launched by Israel against Gaza and
its population. I might even quibble that the stats understate how
disproportionate Israeli firepower was. As for responsibility for
the context of war, that is totally due to Israel's occupation.
One might even argue that Palestinian violence aimed at freeing
Gaza from Israel's grip is justified, whereas Israeli violence to
curb the revolt and prolong the occupation is not. I wouldn't go
that far because I don't believe that the ends excuse the means,
but those of you who view fighting for freedom as a noble cause
should find it harder to condemn those who fight for Palestine.
One can make other arguments, too. It occurs to me that the
inaccuracy and extreme inefficiency of Palestinian rockets makes
whoever fires them less culpable: who's to say that they're not
mere "warning shots"? On the other hand, launching "precision
munitions" clearly shows the intent to kill. Still, the real
problem with the Amnesty International report, as with the
Goldstone report on previous Israeli atrocities in Gaza, is
that by criminalizing Palestinian rockets they suggest a false
equivalence between both sides. There is in fact nothing equal
about Israel and Gaza.
By the way, Perugini and Gordon have a forthcoming book on
how "human rights" arguments can be used to extend and expand
The Human Right to Dominate.
Also, a few links for further study:
Grégoire Chamayou: Manhunters, Inc.: An excerpt from Chamayou's
book, A Theory of the Drone, offering a fairly lengthy history
of drone development and applications. E.g.:
In 2001, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had become convinced
that "the techniques used by the Israelis against the Palestinians could
quite simply be deployed on a larger scale." What he had in mind was
Israel's programs of "targeted assassinations," the existence of which
had recently been recognized by the Israeli leadership. As Eyal Weizman
explains, the occupied territories had become "the world's largest
laboratory for airborne thanatotactics," so it was not surprising that
they would eventually be exported. [ . . . ]
Within the United States, not all the high-ranking officers who were
informed of these plans greeted them with enthusiasm. At the time,
journalist Seymour Hersh noted that many feared that the proposed type
of operation -- what one advisor to the Pentagon called "preemptive
manhunting" -- had the potential to turn into another Phoenix Program,
the sinister secret program of murder and torture that had once been
unleashed in Vietnam.
Chamayou goes on to talk about "hunting warfare" ("a competition
between the hiders and the seekers"), "network-centric warfare,"
"nexus topography," "effects-based operations" ("targeting a single
key node in a battlefield system has second, third, n-order effects"),
and "prophylactic elimination." The jargon suggests that the campaign
is endless, that there is no way to determine when the enemies list
has been exhausted, let alone when it might become counterproductive.
Steve Fraser: Plutocracy the First Time Around: An excerpt from
Fraser's new book, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of
American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power.
Rivka Galchen: Weather Underground: About injection wells and the
sudden surge in earthquakes in Oklahoma, not that you can get a straight
answer from the state government. I always thought that the reason there
are pumping oil wells on the state capitol grounds had less to do with
making money than with reminding the legislators who they work for.
Seymour M Hersh: The Scene of the Crime: Hersh returns to Vietnam
to see how the massacre at My Lai, which he first reported back in 1969,
Mike Konczal: Liberal Punishment: Book review of Naomi Murakawa's
The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America
(2014, Oxford University Press). Focuses on anti-crime initiatives
by liberals connected to racial violence in the 1940s, 1960s, and
prison revolts in the 1970s. No doubt that's part of the story, but
conservatives have contributed too, only partly because they pushed
liberals into a corner where they wound up competing to see who is
the more draconian.
Jill Lepore: Richer and Poorer: A survey of recent literature on
increasing inequality, including: Robert Putnam, Our Kids: The
American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster); Steve Fraser,
The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance
to Organized Wealth and Power (Little Brown); and Anthony Atkinson,
Inequality: What Can Be Done? (Harvard). Fraser's book is the one
I rushed out to buy. One of my own theories that I'll test against
Fraser is that the Cold War's celebration of capitalism was meant as
much to cower the working class into submission and impotence. Another
is that the evident acquiescence is concentrated in the media.
David Palumbo-Liu: Business of backlash: GOP cashes in on Koch/Adelson
anti-BDS donations: Based on a report, "The Business of Backlash:
The Attack on the Palestinian Movement and other Movements for Social
Justice," by a group I'm not familiar with, the "International Jewish
Anti-Zionist Network," this starts to identify a who's who of the
secret funders who always seem to come down whenever some academic
says something politically incorrect about Israel. I'm a bit surprised
to see the non-Jewish Koch brothers listed alongside Sheldon Adelson
and the usual suspects. Makes me wonder about extending BDS.
Richard Silverstein: South African Intelligence Cables Expose Mossad
Africa Operations: Long and fascinating survey of Israeli spying
in Africa, both in cooperation with Apartheid-era South Africa and
beyond. A couple points that particularly struck me: one was about
Mossad's use of El Al Airlines as a cover; another was the estimate
that Mossad has 4,000 "sayanim" (voluntary spy assets) "in the UK
alone" -- make me wonder whether certain people here in Wichita have
Matt Taibbi: The Year's Most Disgusting Book: "From Jailer to
Jailed: My Journey From Correction and Police Commissioner to Inmate
#8488-054," by Bernard Kerik -- famous NYC Corrections Commissioner
and Police Commissioner, contractor hired to help train the Baghdad
police, Bush nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security before all
the dirty laundry came out and he wound up in jail, where he finally
discovered that US prisons are run poorly, counterproductively even.
Taibbi remains a stickler for hypocrisy, preferring the prison memoir
of an unrepentant asshole like G. Gordon Liddy. Meanwhile, I can
think of a few other candidates for "most disgusting book of the
year" -- Mike Huckabee's God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy leaps
to mind, but I'm sure there would be others if I took a bit of time
to research the subject.
Tzvia Thier: My personal journey of transformation: An Israeli
reexamines what she's been taught:
It has been hard work to examine my own mind. Many questions that leave
me wondering how could I have not thought about them. My solid identity
has been shaken and then broken . . . I have been an
eyewitness to the systematic oppression, humiliation, racism, cruelty
and hatred by "my" people towards the "others" and what you see, you
can no longer unsee . . .
Sunday, April 5. 2015
I've been groping for some handle on understanding last week's deal
between the US and Iran. The deal is very good news. What it means is
that certain crazy people will not pre-emptively launch a disastrous
war to impose their will secured in their conviction that they represent
a higher power. (Not that those people -- "neocons" in the US along with
their allies in the ruling camp in Israel -- are taking this agreement
lying down. They're doing everything they can to undo it, as it both
admits exception to their cherished prerogative to start wars, it also
normalizes one of their most successful fear-inducing bogeymen.) It also
suggests that key leaders in the US may have learned something from the
Bush debacle in Iraq -- even though the return of US troops to Iraq to
fight ISIS shows that they haven't learned enough.
The Iran Nuclear Scare is almost precisely a repeat of the Great WMD
Scare that led up to the Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003. The theat was
invented largely from whole cloth, and sold on the basis of a paranoia
largely rooted in Israel (where every conceivable enemy is quickly seen
as Hitler reincarnate). The only possible solution was held to be regime
change, and while one held hope that the Iraqi/Iranian people would rise
up and throw off their oppressive regimes, the only timely way to affect
that is to invade and conquer. (Fortunately, secure in the conviction
that we will be greeted as liberators.)
Of course, Bush could have negotiated with Iraq in 2002-03. Iraq
had allowed UN weapons inspectors full access and they were well on
the way toward establishing that Iraq had none of the proscribed WMD,
a finding which should have defused the crisis. But Bush wanted war,
not just to save us from the threat of imaginary WMD but to show the
world what US power could do, and that resistance to US power would
be futile. And Bush hadn't just aimed at overthrowing Iraq: he conured
up an "Axis of Evil" to serve notice to Iran (Iraq's mortal enemy) and
North Korea (even more isolated from Iraq and Iran than from the US)
that they would be the neocons' next target.
While the US invasion of Iraq was overwhelming, the occupation soon
fell into disarray and disaster, something the US survived by playing
Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds off against each other. In the end, what
Iraq proved was not the invincibility of American power but how inept,
corrupt, and clueless it really was. (Of course, that lesson was already
available from the occupation of Afghanistan a little more than a year
earlier, but disaster there unfolded more slowly, probably because Bush
didn't put as much effort there.)
At the time it was widely recognized that Iran and North Korea would
be more formidable military opponents than Iraq -- one widely quoted
neocon line was, "anyone can go to Baghdad; real men want to go to
Tehran." Iran is much larger, with over three times as many people.
Although its military struggled to a draw with Iraq over eight years
in the 1980s, it hadn't been degraded after 1990 like Iraq's: it still
has an air force, a navy, a substantial number of missiles which could
conceivably hit US bases in the region (although not the US directly).
Iran could conceivably block shipping through the Straits of Hormuz,
which would greatly reduce the world supply of oil. Iran had also
cultivated allies abroad -- notably Hezbollah in Lebanon -- that could
conceivably retaliate against a US strike on Iran. Given all that had
gone wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all that could go wrong with
Iran, we are fortunate that cooler heads prevailed.
As for North Korea, the US military had even less interest in
indulging neocon fantasies -- despite the fact that North Korea
(alone among the Axis of Evil) actually had programs to develop
nuclear bombs and intercontinental missiles (successfully testing
a bomb in 2006 and twice since). Even assuming that China wouldn't
come to North Korea's aid, as they did in the stalemated 1950-53
war that cost the lives of over 35,000 US soldiers, North Korea
is the most thoroughly militarized and best bunkered nation on
earth. Moreover, their primary threat should war start is a mass
of thousands of pieces of large artillery aimed at South Korea's
capital, Seoul (pop. 10 million): they could kill thousands almost
instantly without bringing out the nukes.
It's worth noting that during the 1989-92 thaw when the Soviet
Union broke up and Communist governments collapsed from Mongolia to
Albania, the only ones that survived were the ones that had fought
most directly with the US, and (aside from China) had consequently
been singled out for punitive sanctions: North Korea, Vietnam, and
Cuba. Similarly, US sanctions against Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya
only served to harden those regimes. Presumably, all this experience
finally weighed in for Obama as he chose to negotiate rather than
continue the malign neglect that US presidents had long considered
the more prudent course. Cuba is another example, but Iran has been
more difficult for Obama not so much because there was ever anything
to worry about in Iran's "nuclear program" as because Iran has been
caught up in the neocons' ideology, the increasing Islamophobia of
the "terror wars," and Israel's own calculated Holocaust anxiety.
The basic fact is that America's relationship with Iran got off
on the wrong foot in 1953 and we've never had the self-consciousness
to recognize that or the will to repair the damage. Iran was never
officially a European colony but in the 1800s England and Russia
took advantage of the weakness of the Qajar dynasty and obtained
various rights and privileges at the expense of Iranian sovereignty --
for instance, an English company (BP, formerly Anglo-Iranian) was
bought very cheaply exclusive rights to all the oil in Iran. After
the Russian Revolution, Lenin renounced Russian interests in Iran,
but the British hung on, and in the 1940s deposed the first Shah
Reza Pahlavi (the first post-Qajar Shah), replacing him with his
more compliant son, Reza Mohammed Pahlavi, but shifting authority
(if now power) toward the Majlis -- Iran's parliament. By 1953,
Mohammad Mossadeq was Prime Minister, and he had nearly unanimous
support within the Majlis to confiscate British oil holdings in
Iran. Mossadeq was very popular both in Iran and in America, which
he had recently visited. But when Eisenhower became president,
his security team (the Dulles brothers, one secretary of state,
the other head of the CIA) were persuaded by the British that
Iran had become a hotbed of Communist insurrection, so they set
in motion a coup to overthrow Mossadeq. The result was that
Mossadeq was imprisoned, the Majlis was suspended, the Shah
became an absolute despot, and Anglo-Iranian's oil interests
were sold to a consortium of mostly US oil companies. (For more
details, see Stephen Kinzer's book, All the Shah's Men: An
American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror .)
The coup was run by a CIA operative named Kermit Roosevelt,
a son of president Theodore Roosevelt. Two aspects of the story
struck me as particularly telling. The atmosphere for the coup
was started by staging various demonstrations in Tehran, and for
the counter-demonstrations Roosevelt mostly bribed local imams --
one of the first instances of CIA alliances with Muslim clergy.
The second was that when Mossadeq realized he was in trouble, he
went to the US embassy hoping his American friends would help him,
when in fact they were running the coup. (Under Truman the US had
not infrequently leaned against British efforts to restore their
Of course, the US was delighted by the post-coup Shah, and
didn't even mind when he finally did what Mossadeq had set out
to and nationalized Iranian oil. (He did, after all, sell the
oil through American companies, and had no qualms about selling
oil to Israel.) The Shah bought weapons from the US and built
a vicious police state which suppressed all opposition -- the
communists, socialists, liberals, and just as well conservative
clergy like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who went into exile in
1964 after denouncing a "status of forces agreement" which would
give US soldiers stationed in Iran immunity from Iranian law.
The Shah became an increasingly hated figure in Iran and was
deposed by massive street demonstrations in 1979. At the time the
Shah fled, the revolution was a broad coalition of left and right,
but after Khomeini returned he was able to consolidate power in
the clergy, largely based on his longstanding critique of the Shah
as an American puppet. At this point many Americans were delighted
to see the Shah deposed, but the relationship between Americans
and the revolution turned sour after Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah
to take refuge in the US. Remembering Mossadeq's folly at the US
embassy in 1953, a group of Iranian "students" seized the embassy
and held 52 Americans hostage there for over a year. (They were
released immediately after Ronald Reagan became president. It is
widely believed that the Reagan campaign, fearing an "October
surprise," secretly negotiated with Iran to keep the hostages
until after the 1980 election.)
The US was alternately upset at losing its client and influence
and at its own impotence at securing the return of its diplomats.
Khomeini, for his part, found it useful to blame the US both for
the Shah and for Iran's post-revolution isolation. Khomeini caused
further problems in attempting to exploit his notoriety for standing
up to the US (the "great satan" rhetoric comes from this period) to
export Iran's revolution elsewhere in the Middle East -- notably to
Saudi Arabia, and more effectively to Lebanon, torn up by its own
civil war. The US, meanwhile, rallied its Sunni clients around the
Persian Gulf against Iran, and they largely bankrolled Iraq's war
against Iran. That war lasted from 1980-88, with horrendous losses
on both sides, but especially to Iran.
Carter had previously declared the Persian Gulf as a strategic
interest of the US and started building bases around the Gulf. US
troops occasionally clashed with Iran: shooting down a civilian
airliner, attacking an offshore Iranian oil rig. Under Reagan, the
US sold arms to Iran via Israel (embarrassingly, and illegally,
what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal), then tilted toward
Iraq and sold arms to Saddam Hussein. After the Iran-Iraq War, oil
prices tanked and Iraq was pressed to repay war debt to Kuwait.
Hussein answered by invading Kuwait, but was ejected in 1990 by
a multinational force led by the US, with Syria an ally and Iran
a supportive non-combatant. Since then the US and Iran have often
had their interests in the region align, but the US was unable
to let go of past affronts -- let alone to own up to its own past
From Independence Day (1948), Israel pursued a strategy to ally
with non-Arabs against Arabs throughout the Middle East. This led
to close relationships with Turkey and Iran as well as subversive
support for Marionites in Lebanon and Kurds in Iraq. After the
revolution, Israel continued to enjoy a close relationship with
Iran, which even extended to bombing Iraq's nuclear center during
the Iraq-Iran War, and acting as a conduit for American arms under
Iran-Contra. After the 1990 Gulf War, Iraq ceased to be a serious
threat to Israel, so Israel cast about and decided that Iran would
work as an existential threat to justify maintaining the high level
of Israeli militarism. The main reason Iran worked was that American
officials were already primed to view Iran as a renegade and enemy.
As it happens, Iran had started a fledgling nuclear program with US
support under the Shah, so Israel could point to the reactor project
as a development path toward nuclear weapons. From there it was a
short step to the equation: Islamic fanaticism + nuclear weapons =
Israeli leaders started projecting that Iran was five years or less
away from testing a nuclear bomb as early as 1996. That it has never
happened -- that Iran has disavowed any intention of developing nuclear
bombs, that Iran continues to belong to the NPT, that IAEA inspectors
have never shown any evidence of bomb development, that supreme leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa declaring that nuclear bombs
are contrary to Islam -- has never led Israel to tone down its hysteria,
nor has it phased the credulity of American politicians, often shameless
in their devotion to all things Israeli.
Moreover, if anything the level of Israeli hysteria jumped a notch
when Netanyahu became Prime Minister in 2009. At that time Obama gave
former Senator George Mitchell the task of negotiating a peace between
Israel and the Palestinians -- something Netanyahu could not possibly
be bothered with discussing as long as Israel was at the mercy of
Iranian bombsights (although Netanyahu had plenty of time to plan
more illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank). And now
that there is a deal which ensures that Israel will never be threatened
by the prospect of an Iranian bomb, Netanyahu is pulling out stops in
his haste to scuttle the deal. It seems that the only thing Netanyahu
fears more than Iran developing nuclear weapons is Iran signing a
detailed, verifiable deal that precludes any possibility of developing
nuclear weapons and which ends the isolation and hostility that has
pushed Iran into such a defensive posture that there seemed to be a
need for nuclear deterrence.
It's as if Israel's worst fear is living in a world where it has
no existential enemies, except perhaps living in a world where Jews
and non-Jewish Arabs enjoy equal rights and justice. The great irony
of the deal is that Obama seems to have taken Israel's concerns so
literally that he held out and wore Iran down until the point where
he could deliver the most ironclad assurance to Israel possible.
Indeed, the deal is so strong it's hard not to see any opponent of
the deal as a completely bonkers warmonger -- an interesting trap
for Netanyahu and for the Republicans who instinctively assume that
anything Obama would agree to must be weak-kneed appeasement.
The more interesting question is why would Iran agree to such
restrictions on rights they regard as their under the NPT, rights
that many other nations are clearly allowed. (Germany and Japan,
for instance, have such extensive nuclear facilities and know how
that their "breakout" time is unlikely to be more than a few months.)
One is that Iran's leader must realize that while having the skills
and know how to build a bomb may offer some prestige, the weapons
themselves are effectively unusable, so giving them up is hardly
a sacrifice. One might argue that nuclear weapons mean deterrence
against foreign attack, but Iran's most threatening enemies are
Israel and the US, and Iran has no hope of winning an arms race
with either. (Pakistan and India came close to a fourth war in 2002.
The fact that both had demonstrated nuclear weapons by then may
have contributed to the cool down, but so did other factors like
the chilling effect war would have had on foreign investment.
South Africa developed nuclear weapons but they turned out to be
useless against their own beleaguered majority, let alone against
world opinion. Israel's nuclear weapons may have ended any hopes
by neighboring Arab countries of ending Israel's existence, but
by the time they became public knowledge Egypt was suing for peace
and Syria had no hopes without Egyptian support.)
It's also possible that Iran's interest in nuclear power has
waned, particularly has oil prices have dropped and the popularity
of nuclear power in Japan and Germany has plummeted -- right now
only India seems to be particularly bullish on nuclear power. That
leaves things like medical isotopes as something Iran can continue
to work on -- a mere fig leaf for all the investment, but ending
sanctions and normalizing relations and trade is worth much more,
especially in the short term. Indeed, given the intransigence the
US has displayed in perpetuating its view of its enemies, one has
to wonder what else Iran could have created to trade for normalcy.
The costs to Iran of sanctions have been great, but the costs to
the US from isolating Iran -- mostly slightly higher oil costs and
extra defense spending, both of which have influential political
beneficiaries in the US -- have been trivial.
Some Iran links:
Trita Parsi: Confirmed: The Hawks Were Wrong on Iran:
Peace won. War lost. It's as simple as that. Make no mistake, the framework
agreement that was announced yesterday is nothing short of historic. A cycle
of escalation has been broken -- for the first time, Iran's nuclear program
will roll back, as will the sanctions Iran has been subjected too.
In 2003, as I describe in Treacherous Alliance - the Secret Dealings
of Israel, Iran and the US, Iran only had 164 centrifuges. It offered
to negotiate with the United States, but the George Bush administration
refused. "We don't talk to evil," Vice President Dick Cheney quipped in
response to the negotiation offer. Instead, the Bush administration resorted
to threats of war and sanctions.
Iran, in turn, expanded its program. By 2005, it had 3,000 centrifuges.
Again, it sought negotiations and offered to stop expanding its nuclear
program. Again, the United States refused.
By the time President Barack Obama came to power, the Iranians were
operating around 8,000 centrifuges. After his initial, limited attempt
at diplomacy failed, Obama embarked on what was called the pressure track --
sanctions. As the United States ramped up unprecedented sanctions, Iran
accelerated its nuclear activities. By end of 2013, Iran had 22,000
centrifuges. It had a large stockpile of both low and medium enriched
uranium. It had mastered the fuel cycle. It was closer to a breakout
capability than ever before.
Pressure yielded pressure. Sanctions begot centrifuges. The escalation
had left the United States increasingly faced with the worst option --
Until diplomacy begun in earnest -- much thanks to the commitment of
President Obama and the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
It's only now -- thanks to their persistent and tireless diplomacy --
that the growth of the Iranian nuclear program has not only been stopped,
it has been reversed. This is the first time that the number of centrifuges
Iran operates will have been reduced. No other policy has achieved this.
The critics can't touch this.
They have not only been wrong in how to handle the Iranian nuclear
program -- they have been wrong on almost anything about Iran.
Also see Parsi's pre-deal (Mar. 26)
Why Iran's Supreme Leader Wants a Nuclear Deal. One popular meme in
the American press, at least among supporters of the deal, is that hawks
on both sides want to derail the deal. But for now at least, it's
hard to identify those hawks in Iran.
Fred Kaplan: The Deal of a Lifetime: "Anyone who denounces this
framework is not a serious person or is pursuing a parochial agenda."
Netanyahu's unlikely allies in opposing the deal -- the rulers of
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Sunni Muslim oligarchies -- simply don't
want a deal at all. They fear above all an ascendant Shiite Iran,
especially an Iran enriched by the flow of money that comes with the
end of sanctions and the resumption of global investment and trade.
They would, in fact, prefer an Iran that aspires to build nuclear
weapons -- an Iran that blatantly looks like a threat -- to an Iran
that might be stalled in the nuclear realm (and thus might seem more
peaceful) but in fact still pursues its expansionist aims.
Peter Beinart: The Real Achievement of the Iran Nuclear Deal:
"Details of the accord matter less than the potential end of
Washington's cold war with Tehran."
American hawks, addled by the mythology they have created around Ronald
Reagan, seem to think that the more hostile America's relationship with
Iran's regime becomes, the better the United States can promote Iranian
democracy. But the truth is closer to the reverse. The best thing Reagan
ever did for the people of Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R. was to embrace
Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1987, American hawks bitterly attacked Reagan for
signing the INF agreement, the most sweeping arms-reduction treaty of
the Cold War. But the tougher it became for Soviet hardliners to portray
the United States as menacing, the tougher it became for them to justify
their repression at home. And the easier it became for Gorbachev to
pursue the policies of glasnost and perestroika that ultimately led to
the liberation of Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the U.S.S.R.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, like Gorbachev, wants to end his
country's cold war with the United States because it is destroying his
country's economy. And like Gorbachev, he is battling elites who depend
on that cold war for their political power and economic privilege. As
Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick recently noted, Iran's hardline
Revolutionary Guards "thrive on hostile relations with the U.S., and
benefit hugely from sanctions, which allow them to control smuggling."
But "if the sanctions are lifted, foreign companies come back in, [and]
the natural entrepreneurialism of Iranians is unleashed." Thus "if you
want regime change in Iran, meaning changing the way the regime operates,
this kind of agreement is the best way to achieve that goal."
Ariane Tabatabai: Don't Fear the Hard-Liners:
The scenes in Tehran in the hours following the announcement of the
nuclear deal were a testament to how important Iranians felt it was
to their lives. In different cities, people took to the streets on
Thursday, honking horns, waving flags, cheering. It had been a long
time coming. In the months leading up to the deadline, whenever I
visited or called friends and family in Iran, the first questions I
heard were typically, "What's going on in the talks? Will we get a
deal?" A day after the agreement was made public in Lausanne, when
Friday prayers were held across Iran, prayer leaders welcomed a
"success" for the Islamic Republic, and upon his arrival at the
airport, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's return to the country was
celebrated as if he'd led Iran to the next World Cup.
[ . . . ]
The hard-liners will continue to stage their protests. A headline
in Saturday's Kayhan, for instance, reads, "The nuclear [program]
is gone, the sanctions remain." But popular support, the ayatollah and
the IRGC's cautious endorsements, and Zarif's efforts to set the terms
of this round of debate early on mean that hard-line criticism from
Tehran will likely be contained to a few scathing editorials, harsh
statements, and attempts to undermine the negotiating team -- but no
major efforts at sabotage. If only Congress were so predictable.
Jeffrey Goldberg: On Iran, the Least-Worst Option: Per title,
supports the deal, but as one of the most inflamatory war shills
rejects the idea that "a bullying, terror-supporting, Assad-backing
would-be regional hegemon whose ideology is built on anti-Americanism
becomes more reasonable once it becomes richer and more empowered."
Goes further and calls on Obama to "confront Iran in Syria and Yemen
and Lebanon in a sustained and creative way." (But not Iraq?).
David Atkins: Netanyahu Continues to Erode the Alliance Between US
and Israel: Starts with a quote on some recent polling:
The number of Americans who view Israel as an ally of the United States
has sharply decreased, according to a new poll published Thursday. Only
54% of Americans polled said that Israel is their country's ally, a
decline from 68% in 2014 and 74% in 2012.
This is mostly the result of Netanyahu's partisan alignment with
the Republicans, which may provide a limit to how low the polling
can sink, but the sheer implausability of Netanyahu's rejection of
an agreement that gives Israel exactly what they've said they've
wanted from Iran for two decades now in favor of doing nothing but
threatening a war that can only make matters worse has yet to fully
If I had the time, I could probably dig up many more links -- e.g.,
Philip Weiss: The epic season of spinning the Iran deal begins!,
Gareth Porter: Iran Won Upfront Sanctions Relief, but With Potential Snags,
Rachel Shabi: Poof! There goes Netanyahu's Iran bogeyman (ever hear
of the "Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis"?),
Paul Waldman: The Insane Logic Underlying Republican Opposition to the
Josh Marshall: The Emerging GOP War Platform.
Sunday, March 22. 2015
The top story of last week's news cycle was Israel's elections for a
new parliament (Knesset). Many people hoped that the voters would
finally dispose of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but in the last
minutes "Bibi" swung hard to the racist right and wound up with a
six-seat plurality, mostly at the expense of small parties nominally
to the right of Likud. That still leaves Netanyahu only half way to
forming a new Knesset majority coalition, but few observers see that
as a problem, although it probably means further concessions to the
"religious" parties -- Shas, United Torah, etc. Best place to start
reading about this is
Richard Silverstein: Israeli Election Post-Mortem: Rearranging the
In shreying about the Arab masses running to polling places and foreign
governments funneling shovels-full of cash to topple him, he appealed to
the worst devils of Israel's nature, to turn Lincoln's quotation on his
The results cannot but worsen the growing rancidness of the Likud
vision of contemporary Israel in the noses of many Israelis, Diaspora
Jews and the world at large. There is a growing sense that Israel cannot
get itself out of the mess it's in.
Some other links on Israel:
Robert Fantina: Netanyahu's victory - what is the cost? Netanyahu,
of course, figures there should be none, as he's already walked back
many of the inflammatory things he said to rally Israel's right to his
election cause. If there were any doubts that he is a liar, someone
who will say whatever it takes under any circumstances, that should
have been dispelled, especially if you add the Boehner speech to what
he said before and after election. There is no doubt that more and
more people are noticing this -- especially previous supporters of
Israel who are becoming embarrassed at what their fantasy has turned
into. But the campaign not only haunts Netanyahu, the election taints
the voters. By re-electing Netanyahu, Israel's voters have shown that
they're unwilling to do anything to change course. Therefore, only
other nations can help Israel change course. We've nudged closer to
that realization, but the US in particular probably isn't there yet.
Still, every new event will be seen through the prism of this election.
Allison Deger: Meet the Knesset members from the Joint List:
as I look at these pictures, I'm reminded of Bill Clinton's promise
to appoint a cabinet "that looks like America looks."
Richard Silverstein: Israel's Election: Bibi and Blood in the Water:
Starts with Netanyahu's pre-election press conference statement, then
adds, "Bibi is runnin' scared." Post-election we know that his hysteria
worked, saving Likud from finishing second to "Just Not Bibi." Not sure
this is helpful, but
Annie Robbins: An American translation of Netanyahu's racist get out the
vote speech translates Netanyahu's screed into an American political
context (replacing "Arab" with "black," "right wing" and "Likud" with
"Republican," "Labor" with "Democrats," "Israel" with "United States").
That may help you understand just how far Israeli political culture has
sunk, and why certain Americans are so gung ho about getting the US to
emulate Israel more, but you'll miss some nuances: e.g., Democrats in
the US welcome the support of blacks and aren't ashamed to appoint a
couple to cabinet posts and such, Israel's Labor Party (aka The Zionist
Camp) wouldn't dare do anything like that. Indeed, their fondness of
"the two-state solution" is more often presented as a way to separate
Jewish Israelis from Arabs.
Josh Marshall: Bibi: Wait, the Arabs Love Me!: Netanyahu starts
to explain away his recent racist comments, including extracts from
an interview for American ears (with Andrea Mitchell).
Jonathan Alter: Bibi's Ugly Win Will Harm Israel: "Netanyahu came
back from the dead by doing something politicians almost never do --
predicting his own defeat. He told base voters that he would lose if
they didn't abandon far-right-winger Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayeudi
Party and flock back to Likud. Instead of trying to hide his desperation,
he flaunted (or contrived) it, to great political effect, winning by
several seats more than expected." Something not often talked about
is how often right-wingers have to appeal to liberal values to cover
up their own inadequacies. Thus someone like Netanyahu has to talk
about his desire for peace and security, or even something as specific
(and easily disproven) as his commitment to providing infrastructure
for Arab Citizens of Israel, even while making such laudable goals
impossible. That they get away with it is because their platitudes
are so universal they are rarely questioned. Even rank hypocrisy is
often excused as mere incompetence. GW Bush, for instance, is famous
for his failed wars, his imploded economy, his gross incompetence
after Hurricane Katrina -- an embarrassing string of bad luck, as
no one would dare suggest that his results were intended. But really,
those results were entirely predictable given his worldview. Likewise,
Netanyahu's repeated failures to make any progress whatsoever toward
peace and justice have been deliberate, and in a sense heroic.
Alex Kane: J Street's fall from relevance: "In a postelection
statement [Jeremy] Ben-Ami said J Street would continue to stand 'for
an end to occupation, for a two-state solution and for an Israel that
is committed to its core democratic principles and Jewish values.' It's
a nice sentiment but one that is out of touch with the facts on the
ground, as Netanyahu's final days of campaigning revealed."
David Shulman: Israel: The Stark Truth: "Mindful of Netanyahu's
long record of facile mendacity, commentators on the left have tended
to characterize these statements as more dubious 'rhetoric'; already,
under intense pressure from the United States, he has waffled on the
question of Palestinian statehood in comments directed at a foreign,
English-speaking audience. But I think that, for once, he was actually
speaking the truth in that last pre-election weekend -- a popular truth
among his traditional supporters."
Anshel Pfeffer: Netanyahu stoked primal fears in Israel: "Netanyahu,
in his own tiny bubble of privilege and sycophancy, was on the verge of
losing the election. But he emerged in time to stoke the primal fears of
his electorate of their fate. It was a destructive tactic that took
advantage of racism and ignorance and jeopardised Israel's diplomatic
position within the international community. It won the election but
has divided Israel like never before."
Ryan Rodrick Beller: To evangelicals, Zionism an increasingly tough
sell: When the British invaded Palestine and set up their "home
for the Jewish people" there, about 10% of the native population
were Christians -- communities dating from the Crusades or even
earlier. To the Zionist Yishuv, however, those Christians were just
Arabs, same as the Muslims. It's always been curious how completely
American evangelicals sided with the Zionists against their own
co-religionists. The standard explanation had to do with seeing
Israel's ingathering of Jews as a precondition for the Apocalypse.
That always struck me as sick and demented, and anti-semitic seeing
as how the Jews are destroyed in the end while the true believers
ascend to heaven. But this story suggests that a big part of the
explanation is sheer ignorance, changed when evangelicals learn of
how Palestinian Christians are treated by Israel.
Juan Cole: Obama with Drama: Translating his cojmments on Israel's
Netanyahu from the Vulcan: And not exactly into ordinary English,
more like Cole calls "Bones-speak": "Netanyahu's attitude toward
Palestinian-Israelis makes 1960s Southern governors like George
Wallace and Orval Faubus look like effing Nelson Mandelas in comparison.
He's creating a Jim Crow atmosphere."
Philip Weiss: Who can save Israel now?: "Yaniv was almost in tears.
When will the liberal Zionists help Yaniv and call for real outside
pressure? Last night Peter Beinart, the leading liberal Zionist, tweeted
a comment by Rep. Adam Schiff on CNN that from now on the US must not
veto Palestinian statehood resolutions in the Security Council. Beinart
is rising to the occasion, making his way toward BDS."
Jeff Halper: Netanyahu's victory marks the end of the two-state
solution: "No one can be happy when racism and oppression win the
day. In a wider perspective, however, the election may represent a
positive game-changer. Not that anything has really changed, but finally
the fig-leaf that allowed even liberal Israeli apologists to argue that
the two-state solution is still possible has been removed.
[ . . . ] Since Israel itself eliminated the
two-state solution deliberately, consciously and systematically over
the course of a half-century, and since it created with its own hands
the single de facto state we have today, the way forward is clear. We
must accept the ultimate "fact on the ground," the single state imposed
by Israel over the entire country, but not in its apartheid/prison form.
Israel has left us with only one way out: to transform that state into
a democratic state of equal rights for all of its citizens."
Weiss also quotes the Zionist Camp activist Yaniv as saying "We need
a Mandela." The problem is more like Israel can't even come up with a
De Clerk. (Arguably Yitzhak Rabin auditioned for the part, but he couldn't
deliver, partly because he didn't face the demographics and worldwide
ostracism white South Africa faced, and partly because he got killed
before he could rise to the situation -- if indeed he could.) Still,
nobody remembers De Clerk as a great man, partly because his hands were
plenty dirty before he relinquished power, partly because Mandela took
the glory when he showed such grace and dignity in assuming power.
Still, Israel's situation isn't exactly analogous to De Clerk's.
It's not that the Apartheid metaphor isn't applicable. If anything,
Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is
more rigorous, terrifying, and dehumanizing than anything South
Africa did. And it's only a matter of time until most of the world
sees Israel's Occupation as a gross affront to human rights, peace,
and justice, and takes action to isolate and ostracize Israel. But
the demographics will never be equivalent: whites in South Africa
amounted to no more than 15% of the population, whereas Jews are
a majority within Greater Israel, and that majority could be grown
by lopping off territory with large concentrations of Palestinians
(most easily, Gaza). Sure, free return of Palestinian refugees
from 1947-49 might tip the scales, but realistically that's not
going to happen.
This demographic position gives Israel's leaders options, but
time and again they've chosen to maintain the status quo, at the
cost of continued strife and insecurity. They've done this partly
because they've psyched themselves into both into believing they'll
always live in peril -- that the world will never accept them as
peaceable neighbors -- and into thinking they will always win.
(This mentality was amply illustrated in Tom Segev's 1967,
which showed how terrified Israeli civilians were of impending
war and how utterly confident Israel's generals were of their
History also gives Israel's leaders options. The Zionist
movement is now 135 years old, more than a century has passed
since Britain's Balfour Declaration opened up Jewish immigration,
and the state of Israel has existed for 67 years, under its
current borders for 48 years (aside from returning Sinai to
Egypt in a deal that established that Israel could coexist with
a neighboring Arab state). Fifty years ago one could imagine
Israel meeting the fate of Algeria, but no one believes that
now. By 2001, all Arab states were willing to recognize Israel
in exchange for a deal which would create a Palestinian state
from the territory Israel seized in 1967. The PLO had already
agreed to that, and Hamas has since come to that position.
Only Israeli greed and intransigence has prevented a peace
deal from happening. Well, that and the gullibility of American
political leaders, who for one reason of another have been
spineless when they needed to stand up to Israel.
Netanyahu's great value to Israel has always been his ability
to manipulate US opinion -- something he's been known to brag
about, unseemly as that may be -- but lately he bound his fate
to the Republican Party. In doing so he has started to alienate
Democratic supporters of Israel, but more than that he has opened
up a mental association between Israeli and Republican policies --
militarism, racism, harsh justice, targeted assassinations, an
omnipotent security state, increasing economic inequality, and
I'll try to write more later about what should be done, but
for now I just want to leave you with a warning. Unless something
is done to correct the trends we're seeing in Israel, the situation
there will continue to grow more desperate and unjust, and unless
the US can break its tail-wags-dog subservience to Israel we will
wind up in the same dystopia.
Sunday, March 15. 2015
It's been a slow week for me, as I spent much of it in Oklahoma,
visiting relatives and attending the funeral of my cousin Harold
Stiner. Harold was just shy of his 90th birthday, and is survived
by his wife, Louise, whom he married in 1948 and lived with until
death did they part. Their life together was a sweet story, but I
wouldn't go so far as to dub it the American Dream -- they never
made the sort of money American Dreamers feel entitled to, but they
never really wanted either, and left behind two children, four
grand-kids, and eleven great-grands, so it certainly counts as a
human success story. The one part of the funeral I was somewhat
troubled by was the "military honors" -- the flag-draped coffin,
two soldiers standing at attention, one playing "taps," the ritual
folding and presentation of the flag. It's not that Harold hadn't
earned the honor. Like most Americans his age, he got sucked up
into the US military in the closing stretch of WWII and wound up
in the army that occupied Japan, where he served as a guard in
the courts that tried Japanese war criminals. He talked about that
experience often, but never talked about actual combat -- and he
was a mere 20 on VJ day. My own father (only two years older) was
also in the army at that time, but he never invested any identity
in being a veteran, and died in 2000, before the War on Terror
turned into a bizarre Cult of the Troops. I wondered whether
Harold's identity was conditioned by that newer Cult, and felt
like the stink of America's recent wars (Vietnam most certainly
included) hasn't come to taint Harold's more honorable service.
Just a thought, but war does imbue this week's select links:
Nancy LeTourneau: Feith Demonstrates Republican Ignorance on Foreign
Policy: Lots of things one can say about the 47 Republican Senators
who signed Tom Cotton's letter vowing to sabotage any agreement Obama
manages to sign with Iran, although critics have tended to latch onto
the notion that the letter violates the Logan Act (itself very probably
unconstitutional, something that hasn't been ruled on because no one
has tried to enforce it) and the challenge the letter represents to the
president's prerogative to conduct foreign policy. It would be better
to focus on how totally counterproductive the letter was: how it shows
that the US cannot become a trusted party in negotiations because a
substantial factional power only believes that disputes can only be
solved through war.
One of the unintended consequences of the Tom Cotton letter fiasco is
that the media focus has turned away from the actual negotiations with
Iran to the various excuses
Republican leaders are coming up with to explain why they signed it.
But there are a couple of exceptions. I have to give Joshua Muravchik
some credit. At least he dispensed with all the right wing cover about
how we need a "better deal" and got right down to it with
War With Iran is Probably Our Best Option. But what he's really
recommending are surgical strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.
He has to admit that won't stop Iran from continuing to build new ones,
so we'll have to commit to a kind "whack-a-mole" ongoing war. And then
he has to admit that we'll have to do that without IAEA inspectors, so
the whole argument devolves into one big mess.
Then there's Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal that published an
op-ed on the negotiations by none other than Doug Feith, who purports
to have found the
"fatal flaw in Obama's dealings with Iran."
[ . . . ]
Feith's point is that President Obama is taking a "cooperative"
approach to the negotiations when he should be taking a "coercive"
approach. [ . . . ]
This one reminds me a lot of the Republican insistence that we can't
talk about a "pathway to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants until
we "secure the border." The result of that insistence is that the border
is never secure enough -- just as Iran never stops being enough of a
threat to pursue an agreement. It is meant to leave regime change (most
likely via military intervention) as the only option on the table.
I can only shake my head at the ignorance of people who don't remember
that it was regime change in Iran that got us here in the first place.
I think it's time Americans admit that we got off on the wrong foot
with Iran's Islamic Republic in 1979, and that we need a fresh start
based on mutual respect. That won't be easy because we utterly lack
the ability to see ourselves as others do (not that many others dare
say so to our faces -- cf. "The Emperor's New Clothes" for insight).
Americans always assume that our own intentions are benign, and never
think that our interventions in the rest of the world aren't welcome;
actually, we wouldn't even call them interventions, despite presence
of US military in over 100 other countries and the CIA in the rest,
the US Navy on all seven seas and satellites in space able to spy on
every square inch of the world's surface. We do, however, perpetuate
childish grudges against any nation that offends us, regardless of
how counterproductive our shunning becomes: North Korea is the longest
running example, and for its people perhaps the saddest; then there is
Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Syria, and a few others -- the neocons would love
to add Russia and China to that list. The fact is that the US has done
Iran much more harm than vice versa, yet we are totally unaware of any
of that: the 1953 coup, equipping the Shah's police state, supporting
Iraq's invasion (one of the deadliest wars since WWII), prodding the
Saudis to promote anti-Shiite propaganda, crippling sanctions, cyber
warfare. Iran hasn't been totally without fault either, and a little
contrition on their part would be good for everyone. But the attitudes
you see from Cotton, from Feith, from Muravchik and so forth show you
how blind and vicious we can be. Iran, after all, has at least as much
reason to worry about a nuclear-armed Israel as vice versa, and even
more so about a nuclear-armed United States -- a country which within
the last fifteen years has invaded and pretty much wrecked two neighboring
countries (Afghanistan and Iraq). And an isolated, villified, wounded
Iran is far more dangerous than an Iran that is integrated into global
trade and culture. The latter might even contribute constructively to
our many problems in the region.
I could say much more about this, but for now I just want to bring
up one side point. I have no real worries about Iran producing nuclear
bombs -- I don't think they ever intended to build them let alone to
use them, possibly because they suspect that they would be useless (as
they have been for everyone else but the US against WWII Japan). But
I do worry about Iran's ambitions to build nuclear power plants: to
see why, recall that the worst nuclear wasteland in Japan isn't the
A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it's the drowned nuclear
power plants at Fukishima. On the other hand, I don't see that the US
can arbitrarily deny Iran access to nuclear power -- the NPT promises
not to limit that access, and dozens of other countries (most notably
India) have nuclear power plants. But if Iran is going to have nuclear
power plants, we should do everything possible to ensure that they
will be as safe as those plants can be, which means sharing advanced
technology and making sure the plants are inspected and follow "best
practices." To do that we need cooperation, not war.
Gideon Levy: To see how racist Israel has become, look to the left:
Of course the right is racist -- see Max Blumenthal's Goliath:
Life and Loathing in Greater Israel for abundant proof of that --
but loathing of Arabs is as much of a driving force behind the former
left in Israel as for the right.
The foreign minister [Avigdor Lieberman] said "Those who are against
us . . . we need to pick up an ax and cut off his head,"
aiming his ax at Arab Israelis. Such a remark would end the career and
guarantee lifetime ostracism of any Western statesman.
[ . . . ] But such is the intellectual, cultural
and moral world of Israel's foreign minister, a bully who was once
convicted of physically assaulting a child. The world can't understand
how Lieberman's remark was accepted with such equanimity in Israel,
where some highly-regarded commentators still believe this cynical,
repellent politician is a serious, reasonable statesman.
No less repugnant was his savaging, in a televised debate, of Joint
List leader Iman Odeh, whom he called a "fifth column" and told, "you're
not wanted here," "go to Gaza." None of the other party heads taking part,
including those of leftist and centrist slates, leader in the debate,
stepped in to stop Lieberman's tirade. [ . . . ]
The racism of the campaign season has been planted well beyond the
rotten, stinking gardens of Lieberman, Naftali Bennett, Eli Yishai and
Baruch Marzel. It is almost everywhere. Our cities have recently been
contaminated by posters whose evil messages are nearly on a par with
the slogans "Kahane was right" and "death to Arabs."
"With BibiBennett, we'll be stuck with the Palestinians forever,"
threaten the posters plastered on every overpass and hoarding, on
behalf of the Peace and Security Association of National Security
Experts. It is impossible to know their level of expertise on matters
of peace and security, but they are clearly experts in incitement.
The message and its signatories are considered center-left, but it
too spreads hate and racism. [ . . . ]
Such is the state of public discourse in Israel. Yair Lapid and
"the Zoabis," in reference to Haneen Zoabi, Moshe Kahlon who says he
won't sit in a government coalition "with the Arabs," Isaac Herzog
who will conduct coalition negotiations with all the parties with the
exception of the Arab ones, Tzipi Livni and her obsession with her
Jewish -- and also nationalistic and ugly -- state. Even the dear and
beloved (to me) Amos Oz, who in Haaretz ("Dreams Israel should abandon --
fast," March 13) called for a "fair divorce" from the Palestinians. He
has the right not to believe in the prospects for a shared life, we must
call for their liberation, but to call for a divorce without asking the
Palestinians what they want rings with a rejection of them. And what
about Israel's Arab citizens? How are they supposed to feel when one
of the most important intellectuals of Israel's peace camp says he
wants a divorce? Are they to remain among us as lepers?
I've said for quite some time now that the main rationale behind the
"two-state" partition resolution is that it doesn't depend on Israelis
to rise above their deep-seated racism; all it depends on is their will
to cut loose some land and prerogatives they still want and a lot of
people they can't stand and have constantly wronged.
Haviv Rettig Gur: Is Netanyahu about to loose the election? for its
review of the prospects for post-election coalition building, especially
in the face of the refusal of all Zionist parties (left, right, or center)
to negotiate with the Joint (Arab) List. For more on this, see
Philip Weiss: Herzog and Netanyahu are likely to share power --
because Herzog won't share it with Arab List. (I suppose there
are Republicans who feel that the election of a Democrat should be
invalidated if a majority of whites vote otherwise, but unlike
Israel we don't have a political system that makes it easy to sort
out votes like that, or a media that legitimizes such racism. In
Israel Jews even have their own language.)
More Israel links:
Akira Eldar: Who will stop the Israeli settlers?:
On March 13, 2005, the second Ariel Sharon government decided to
dismantle all the illegal outposts that had been erected since the
government came into office in March 2001, and were listed in the
report prepared by attorney Talia Sasson.
The government averred that it would thus fulfill the first stage
of the Road Map set down by the Quartet, in keeping with an Israeli
commitment made in May 2003. This clause, which included a total freeze
on settlement construction, was not included among the 14 reservations
Israel presented to the Quartet.
The signature of then-Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this
decision is just as worthless as the paper upon which the Wye River
Memorandum, the Bar-Ilan speech and all the "two-state" speeches made
before the United States Congress and the United Nations General Assembly
But it's time to remind those with short memories that Isaac Herzog
and Tzipi Livni were also part of that government. The latter was appointed
head of a special ministerial committee whose job was to convert the outpost
report into action -- primarily by ensuring the dismantling of outposts
built after the formation of the previous government (in which Livni also
served). A significant portion of those outposts were built on private
Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics show that over the past
decade, the settler population in the West Bank has grown by 112,000
(from 244,000 to 356,000).
Figures from Peace Now show that in the same period, the illegal
outposts gained 9,000 more residents -- about three times their population
10 years ago. More than half of the growth occurred during the time when
Livni and Herzog bore ministerial responsibility for this gross violation
of Israeli and international law.
The Kadima/Hatnuah leader and the Labor Party and Zionist Union chairman
were also both partly responsible for allowing hundreds of millions of
shekels to flow to the settlements via the leaky pipe known as the
"settlement division," which suddenly became the national punching bag.
According to the outpost report (presented a decade ago), the division
"mainly erected many unauthorized outposts, without approval from the
authorized political officials." [ . . . ]
Every Israeli government since 2005 has ignored the report's unequivocal
recommendation to clip the wings of the division, especially its budget,
which continues to fund the effort to wreck peace.
William Greider: What About Israel's Nuclear Bomb? Israel began its
work on developing nuclear weapons in the 1950s when fear that it might
be overwhelmed by much more populous adversaries was more credible. By
the mid-1960s, Israel's denials offered a convenient out while the US
attempted to corral all other nations (including Iran) within the confines
of the NPT. But one side effect of US acquiescence in this "don't ask,
don't tell" treatment is that we're not allowed to factor in Israel's
nuclear deterrence capabilities when evaluating possible threats from
possible enemies like Iran. No nuclear-armed power has ever directly
attacked another nuclear-armed power, not even at the height of conflict
between the US and the Soviet Union. One can even argue that conflicts
become more stable when both adversaries possess nuclear weapons: one
can point not only to the Cold War but to the way India and Pakistan
walked back from a likely fourth war in 2002. Israel hates the idea of
a nuclear-armed Iran less because it fears Iran -- Iran, after all, has
not committed direct military aggression against another country for
several centuries now, whereas Israel has done so close to ten times
since 1948 -- so much as because it hates the idea that any nation it
attacks might fight back.
Anne-Marie Codur: Why Iran is not and has never been Israel's #1
Mike Lofgren: Operation Rent Seeking: Reviewing James Risen's
book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, on how
the Global War on Terror turned into a racket and a cash cow for
the nation's military profiteers:
It is difficult to read Pay Any Price and not come away with
the sick feeling that the Bush presidency -- which, after all, only
assumed office by the grace of judicial wiring and force majeure --
was at bottom a corrupt and criminal operation in collusion with
private interests to hijack the public treasury. But what does that
say about Congress, which acted more often as a cheerleader than a
constitutional check? And what does it tell us about the Obama
administration, whose Justice Department not only failed to hold
the miscreants accountable, but has preserved and expanded some of
its predecessors' most objectionable policies?
Partisans may squabble over the relative culpability of the Bush
and Obama administrations, as well as that of Congress, but that
debate is now almost beside the point. If Risen is correct, America's
campaign against terrorism may have evolved to the point that endless
war is the tacit but unalterable goal, regardless of who is formally
Sunday, March 8. 2015
Some scattered links this week:
David Atkins: Missing Selma: The Final Death of GOP Minority Outreach:
When I saw the movie Selma, I couldn't help but think of how much
that was gained by the civil rights movement in the 1960s has been lost
in the last decade due to Republican courts, state legislatures, and the
failure of Congress to renew voting rights protections. (Of course, more
than renewal is needed: voting rights protections need to be extended
beyond the deep South to everywhere Republicans hold power.)
Facing demographic reality after their devastating defeat in 2012,
Republicans issued a report saying they needed to consider policy changes
to court minority voters. That olive branch lasted a few weeks before
their base and its mouthpieces on AM radio urgently reminded them that
bigotry is a core Republican value and would only be dismissed at the
peril of any politician that didn't toe the Tea Party line.
Now the party finds itself shutting down Homeland Security to protest
the President's mild executive order on immigration and almost ignoring
the Selma anniversary entirely. The minority outreach program is not just
dead: it's a public embarrassment and heaping ruin.
[ . . . ]
And they will continue to try to disenfranchise as many minority voters
as possible -- one of the reasons why the Selma memorial is so problematic
for them. Republicans are actively trying to remove as many minority voters
as possible from the eligible pool, and have no interest in being reminded
of Dr. King's struggle to achieve the end of Jim Crow and true voting
rights for African-Americans.
The GOP has made it abundantly clear that things are going to get much
uglier before they get better. Their base won't have it any other way.
This is probably as good a place as ever to hook a link to
Kris Kobach Floats Idea Obama Wants to Protect Black Criminals From
Prosecution. Of course that's taken a bit out of context --
Kobach is obsessed with voting irregularities and has repeatedly
pleaded with the Kansas state legislature to give him authority to
prosecute voting infractions (seeing that county prosecutors rarely
do so, preoccupied as they are with killing and stealing), and his
actual examples are voting-related. Still, he was unwilling to raise
any objection to a caller who repeated the whole racist canard, and
by adding his own parochial examples the caller no doubt considered
his paranoia confirmed.
Conservatives Who Hate "Big Government" Are, Shockingly, Not Up in Arms
About Ferguson: References
Adam Serwer, who dug through the DOJ's report on police abuses in
Ferguson, Missouri (those protests last year weren't only about police
shooting an unarmed teenager -- that sort of thing happens all over
the country -- but were rooted in a long pattern of predation).
You're probably aware that Ferguson used the cops and courts to generate
tax revenues. How extreme were the fines? From the report:
[O]ur investigation found instances in which the court
charged $302 for a single Manner of Walking violation; $427 for a
single Peace Disturbance violation; $531 for High Grass and Weeds;
$777 for Resisting Arrest; and $792 for Failure to Obey, and $527
for Failure to Comply, which officers appear to use interchangeably.
Now, here's the thing: Isn't this the sort of thing right-wingers
ought to be complaining about? Government charging you a three-figure
fine for walking wrong, or not cutting your grass properly? Aren't
some of these an awful lot like taxes? Don't right-wingers hate taxes?
Don't they hate government attempts to micromanage citizens' lives?
Isn't turning "high grass and weeds" into a rime punishable by large
fines a sort of aesthetic political correctness?
[ . . . ]
Oh, but of course. . . .
Available data show that, of those actually arrested by FPD only because
of an outstanding municipal warrant, 96% are African American.
Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows
that African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations,
and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of
So I guess it doesn't matter that this is oppressive Big Government
using jackbooted-thug powers to restrict citizens' FREEDOM!!!! and
shovel more and more cash into the insatiable maw of the bureaucracy --
because, y'know, that stuff doesn't matter when it happens to Those
No More Mr. Nice Blog also reports that
This Frigid Winter Is Not Frigid in the West (see the map).
And on that front, see
Florida Officials Banned From Using Term 'Climate Change'. Not clear
whether this also means that Floridians will be banned from calling for
help when the last glaciers melt and their state vanishes under the rising
ocean. (The article points out that "sea-level rise" is still a permitted
It's always tempting to shame conservatives for their hypocrisies and
frequent lack of principles, much as it's tempting to point out that the
movement to change the existing order to make it even more hierarchical
and inequal (and usually more brutal) is more properly termed fascist.
My own pet example is abortion/birth control, which used to be more
closely associated with the right (albeit often tainted with racist
"eugenics" concerns) than the left. More properly, conservatives should
support abortion/birth control rights because: (a) it is a matter of
personal freedom in an area where the state has no legitimate interest;
(b) we expect parents to assume a great deal of responsibility for their
children, and the assumption of such responsibility should be a matter
of choice (whereas pregnancy is much more a matter of chance). If you
want, you can add various secondary effects: unwanted children are more
likely to become burdens on the state, to engage in crime, etc. But the
Republicans sniffed out a political opportunity for opposing abortion --
mostly inroads into traditionally Democratic religious blocks (Roman
Catholic and Baptist), plus the view resonated as prohibitionist and
anti-sex, reaffirming their notion of the Real America as a stern
patriarchy, and adding a critical faction to the GOP's coalition of
Conservatives should also be worried by unjust and discriminatory
law enforcement such as we've seen in Ferguson -- after all their own
property depends on a system of law that is widely viewed as basically
fair and just. They also should worry about global warming, which in
the long run will disproportionately affect property owners -- that
they aren't is testimony to the political influence bought by the oil
industry (along with the short-sightedness of other businesses). But
again these worries are easily swept aside by demagogues seeking to
discredit science, reason, and decency.
Ed Kilgore: How Mike Huckabee Became the New Sarah Palin: I always
thought that had Huckabee run in 2012 he would have won the Republican
nomination: he was as well established as the "next guy in line" as
Romney, we would have captured all of the constituency that wound up
supporting Rick Santorum (I mean, who on earth really wanted Santorum?).
I'm less certain he's got the inside track in 2016, but he's kept up
his visibility and he's learned a few tricks from his fellow Fox head,
Sarah Palin. On the other hand, it's hard to look at Huckabee's new
book title -- God, Guns, Grits and Gravy -- and not wonder
whether he's toppled over into self-caricature.
While nobody has written a full-fledged manifesto for conservative cultural
resentment, Mike Huckabee's new pre-campaign book is a significant step in
the direction of full-spectrum cry for the vindication of Real Americans.
It is telling that the politician who was widely admired outside the
conservative movement during his 2008 run for being genial, modest,
quick-witted, and "a conservative who's not mad about it" has now released
a long litany of fury at supposed liberal-elite condescension toward and
malevolent designs against the Christian middle class of the Heartland.
[ . . . ]
In a recent column recanting his earlier enthusiasm for Sarah Palin,
the conservative writer Matt Lewis accused La Pasionaria of the
Permafrost of "playing the victim card, engaging in identity politics,
co-opting some of the cruder pop-culture references, and conflating
redneck lowbrow culture with philosophical conservatism." The trouble
now is that she hardly stands out.
Speaking of Huckabee, he's been pushing this
placcard on twitter, proclaiming "Netanyahu is a Churchill in a
world of Chamberlains." This vastly mis-estimates all checked names.
Neville Chamberlain's reputation as a pacifist is greatly exaggerated:
he did, after all, lead Britain into WWII when he decided to declare
war against Germany over Poland after having "appeased" Hitler in
letting Germany annex a German-majority sliver of Czechoslovakia.
From a practical standpoint, his war declaration did Poland no good
whatsoever, so it's impossible to see how declaring war any earlier
would have had any deterrence or punitive effect. (Moreover, declaring
war over Poland definitely moved up Hitler's timetable for attacking
France, leading to the British fiasco at Dunkirk.) Of course, by the
time Chamberlain declared war, hawks like Churchill were on the rise
in Britain, and Churchill took over once Britain was committed to war
Churchill is generally given high marks for leading Britain through
WWII, but more so in America than in England, which voted him out of
office as soon as the war was over. A more sober assessment is that as
a military strategist he didn't make as many bad mistakes in WWII as he
had in the first World War (at least nothing on the scale of Gallipoli).
But he failed miserably in his attempt to keep the British Empire intact,
in large part because he was so tone deaf about it. If you look at his
entire career, you'll see he did nothing but promote war and imperialism,
and in doing so he left his stink on nearly every disastrous conflict
of the 20th century. Indeed, he got a head start in the 1890s in the
Sudan, then moved on to the Boer War in South Africa. His penchant for
dividing things led to the partitions of Ireland, India, and Palestine,
each followed by a series of wars. He was a major architect of Britain's
push into Palestine and Iraq (and, unsuccessfully, Turkey) during the
first World War, and followed that up by supporting Greece against
Turkey and the "whites" in the Russian Civil War. As WWII was winding
down he sided in yet another Greek Civil War and attempted to reassert
British control of Malaya. After WWII he is credited with the keynote
speech of the Cold War, which led to virtually all of the world's
post-WWII conflicts (up to 1990) aside from his post-partition wars.
He also was the main instigator behind the 1953 US coup in Iran, so
give him some credit for all that ensued there -- including Netanyahu's
speech this week. Churchill died in 1965, but even today he is invoked
by hawks in the US and UK as the patron saint of perpetual war and
injustice. He should be counted as one of the great monsters of his
Netanyahu, on the other hand, is a much smaller monster, if only
because he runs a much smaller country. Still, even within Israeli
history, he hasn't had an exceptionally violent career: certainly he
ranks far behind Ariel Sharon and David Ben Gurion, nor does he have
the sort of intimate sense of blood-on-his-hands as Menachem Begin
or Yitzhak Shamir or even Ehud Barak, nor the sort of military glory
of Yitzhak Rabin or Moshe Dayan. I'm not even sure I'd rank him above
Shimon Peres, the political figure most responsible for Israel's own
atom bomb project, but he certainly moved up on the list with last
year's turkey shoot in Gaza (and to a lesser extent the West Bank).
But for two decades of rant about the "existential threat" posed by
Iran, he's stayed out of actual war. What he is really exceptional
at is avoiding peace. He was the most effective politician in Israel
when it came to sabotaging the Oslo "peace process" and he has been
singularly effective at wrecking Obama's peace efforts. Indeed, his
entire Iran obsession makes more sense as an anti-Palestinian stall
than as a real concern. What makes Netanyahu inordinately dangerous
isn't so much what he can do directly as prime minister of Israel as
his skill at persuading official opinion in the US: as we saw, for
instance, when he helped parlay the 9/11 attacks into a Global War
on Terror, or when he shilled for Bush's invasion of Iraq, or his
longstanding efforts to drive the US to war against Iran. Huckabee's
attempt to ride on Netanyahu's coattails should show you just how
dangerous Netanyahu can be, and what a fool Huckabee is.
Paul Krugman: Larry Kudlow and the Failure of the Chicago School:
On the conservative predeliction for economic frauds:
Jonathan Chait does insults better than almost anyone; in his recent
note on Larry Kudlow, he declares that
The interesting thing about Kudlow's continuing influence over
conservative thought is that he has elevated flamboyant wrongness
to a kind of performance art.
And Chait doesn't even mention LK's greatest hits -- his sneers at
"bubbleheads" who thought something was amiss with housing prices, his
warnings about runaway inflation in 2009-10, his declaration that a high
stock market is a vote of confidence for the president -- but only,
apparently, if said president is Republican.
But what's really interesting about Kudlow is the way his influence
illustrates the failure of the Chicago School, as compared with the
triumph of MIT.
But, you say, Kudlow isn't a product of Chicago, or indeed of any
economics PhD program. Indeed -- and that's the point.
There are plenty of conservative economists with great professional
credentials, up to and including Nobel prizes. But the right isn't
interested in their input. They get rolled out on occasion, mainly as
mascots. But the economists with a real following, the economists who
have some role in determining who gets the presidential nomination,
are people like Kudlow, Stephen Moore, and Art Laffer.
[ . . . ]
Maybe the right prefers guys without credentials because they really
know how things work, although I'd argue that this proposition can be
refuted with two words: Larry Kudlow. More likely, it's that affinity
fraud thing: Professors, even if they're conservative, just aren't the
base's kind of people. I don't think it's an accident that Kudlow still
dresses like Gordon Gekko after all these years.
Also see Krugman's
Slandering the 70s. Some time back I read Robert J. Samuelson's
The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of
American Affluence, which tries to argue that the stagflation
of the 1970s was every bit as disastrous as the Great Depression.
I figured out that Samuelson's mind was permanently wedged -- a
conclusion that's been repeatedly reaffirmed ever since -- but I
never quite understood why he was so agitated. Krugman's third
graph suggests an answer: changes in income for the top 1% only
rose by about 1% from 1973-1979, vs. 72% for 1979-1989, 55% for
1989-2000, and 13% for 2000-2007. Moreover, median income 1973-79
was up nearly 4%, so the elite 1% actually trailed the economy as
a whole. Still, no one actually came out and said that the right
turn from 1979 through Reagan's reign was needed because capital
returns during the 1970s were insufficient. But that does seem to
be the thing that motivated the rich to so brazenly exploit the
corruptibility of the American political system to advance their
own interests. And they succeeded spectacularly, so much so that
there doesn't seem to be any countervaling power that can bring
the system back toward equilibrium. On the other hand, the second
surprise in the chart is the relatively anemic gains of the 1%
under Bush, as the increasingly inequal economy started to drag
everyone down -- an effect Bush was desperate to hide behind tax
cuts, booming deficits, and the real estate bubble.
Mike Konczal: Why Are Liberals Resigned to Low Wages? I'm not
sure that Konczal's term "liberal nihilism" helps us in any way,
but I am reminded that throughout history liberals, unlike labor
socialists, have sucked up the notion of free markets -- one source
of our political dysfunction is that even left-of-center we tend to
confuse two rather different sets of political ideas. But Konczal
is right that the stagnant or declining wages -- one part of the
increasing inequality problem -- has little to do with the "stories"
you hear urging resignation to the status quo. He explains:
But wage growth is also a matter of how our productive enterprises
are organized. Over the past thirty-five years, a "shareholder
revolution" has re-engineered our companies in order to channel
wealth toward the top, especially corporate executives and shareholders,
rather than toward innovation, investments and workers' wages. As the
economist J.W. Mason recently noted, companies used to borrow to invest
before the 1980s; now they borrow to give money to stockholders.
Meanwhile, innovations in corporate structures, including contingent
contracts and franchise models, have shifted the risk down, toward
precarious workers, even as profits rise. As a result, the basic
productive building blocks of our economy are now inequality-generating
The third driver of wage stagnation is government policy. As
anthropologist David Graeber puts it, "Whenever someone starts talking
about the 'free market,' it's a good idea to look around for the man
with the gun." Despite the endless talk of a "free market," our economy
is shaped by myriad government policies -- and no matter where we look,
we see government policies working against everyday workers. Whether
it's letting the real value of the minimum wage decline, making it harder
to unionize, or creating bankruptcy laws and intellectual-property
regimes that primarily benefit capital and the 1 percent, the way the
government structures markets is responsible for weakening labor and
causing wages to stay stuck.
Konczal delves deeper into the robots story
Various links on or related to the Netanyahu speech:
Mondoweiss: Annotated text of Netanyahu's address to Congress: Closest
thing I've found to instant, contextual correction of Netanyahu's numerous
lies and misrepresentations. Still woefully incomplete; e.g.: "But
unfortunately, for the last 36 years, Iran's attacks against the United
States have been anything but mock. And the targets have been all too
real." That presumably includes the occupation of the US Embassy in
Tehran in 1979 and the ensuing hostage crisis, but what are the other
attacks? It was the US that send a commando force into Iran supposedly
to extract those hostages. It was the US that shot down an Iranian
airliner full of civilians, and that shot up an Iranian oil platform.
It was the US and Israel that engaged in the "Stuxnet" cyberterrorism.
- James Fallows: A whole series of pieces:
On the Use and Misuse of History: The Netanyahu Case;
The Central Question: Is It 1938?;
The Mystery of the Netanyahu Disaster, and a Possible Explanation;
The 'Existential' Chronicles Go On;
On 'Existential' Threats (subhed: "A word that has replaced thought").
Gareth Porter: The Long History of Israel Gaming the 'Iranian Threat':
As you probably know, Israeli spokesmen started hyping the Iranian Threat
in the early 1990s, often projecting schedules for Iran building nuclear
arms within five years (or less). Iran moved to the top of Israel's enemies
list after Iraq was disabled in the 1991 Gulf War: it seems that Israel
always has to keep an "existential threat" on the horizon, both to justify
continued militarism long after peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan
and effective deterrence against Syria, and to trivialize and excuse its
continuing unjust occupation of Palestinian territories and exile of
millions of Palestinians.
Tony Karon/Tom Kutsch: Netanyahu's hard line on Iran: A four-point reality
check: is this an existential threat? is Iran "hellbent on conquest
and subjugation"? would an agreement "all but guarantees that Iran gets
nuclear weapons"? would the allies "get a much better deal" by killing
the current deal? Netanyahu is wrong on all four counts.
Max Blumenthal: Top Republicans to welcome Netanyahu, who called 9-11 attacks
"very good," said anti-US terror helps Israel: by the way, I remember
seeing 9/11 interviews both with Netanyahu and Shimon Peres where they were
beside themselves with glee in anticipation that the attacks would force
the US to become ever more like Israel.
Matt Taibbi: After Netanyahu Speech, Congress Is Officially High School:
"First of all, the applause from members of the House and Senate was so
over the top, it recalled the famous passage in the Gulag Archipelago
about the apparatchik approach to a Stalin speech: 'Never be the first one
to stop clapping.'"
Brank Marcetic: Netanyahu's Crime Isn't Playing Politics -- It's
Uri Avnery: The Speech: Numerous impressions, the sheer nonsense of
Netanyahu's speech evident in how far afield Avnery's mind wanders,
from "the moral imposter" Elie Wiesel and the fake Holocaust fetish
to the security of Israel's "second strike" capability which, if Iran
did attack Israel, "would annihilate Iran within minutes."
Philip Weiss/Adam Horowitz: It was a bad week for the Israel lobby:
Not just Netanyahu's folly, but Obama finally appointed Rob Malley to
his top Mideast security post ("Malley has said that only international
pressure will make Israel do anything about the occupation"), and it
looks like Netanyahu's leading Democratic stooge on Iran, Sen. Robert
Menendez (D-NJ) will be indicted for corruption.
Jim Newell: Netanyahu blew it: How he misunderstood Congress &
inadvertently ruined his own goals
Josh Marshall: Can an Israeli Government End the Occupation?:
Gives you some background on how Palestinian parties have been frozen
out of government coalition building in Israel. Palestinians in the
West Bank and Gaza can't vote in Israeli elections, but "Palestinian
Citizens of Israel" amount to about 20% of the electorate, and have
typically claimed about 10% of Israel's Knesset membership (voting
turnout is typically light, and some Arabs vote for Zionist parties).
Bill Moyers/Michael Winship: "We are hostage to his fortune": Sheldon
Adelson, Benjamin Netanyahu and America's dark money conspiracy:
I've long warned that one reason Israel is so dangerous for American
democracy is that neocons idolize Israel's stealthy belligerence as a
model for American foreign policy, which given US size and worldwide
interests would be even more disastrous. However, with Adelson trying
to export America's money-politics to Israel, Israelis should also
worry about the fate of their own democracy (as if right-wing efforts
there to trample on non-Jewish rights weren't ominous enough).
Actually, Adelson is worse than either: his serious proposal for
dealing with Iran is to drop a "demonstration" nuclear bomb in
their desert, then follow it up with "the next one in the middle
of Tehran" if they refuse to surrender.
Also, a few links for further study:
Andrew Bacevich: How to Create a National Insecurity State: Much here
going back to Vietnam, occasioned by Christian Appy's new book, American
Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, but in the plus
ça change, plus c'est le même chose spirit I want to point out this
paragraph on Obama's new Defense Secretary, Ash Carter:
So on his second day in office, for example, he dined with Kenneth Pollack,
Michael O'Hanlon, and Robert Kagan, ranking national insecurity intellectuals
and old Washington hands one and all. Besides all being employees of the
Brookings Institution, the three share the distinction of having supported
the Iraq War back in 2003 and calling for redoubling efforts against ISIS
today. For assurances that the fundamental orientation of U.S. policy is
sound -- we just need to try harder -- who better to consult than Pollack,
O'Hanlon, and Kagan (any Kagan)?
Subhankar Banerjee: Arctic Nightmares: Author of Arctic Voices:
Resistance at the Tipping Point, on oil exploration in the Arctic
Ocean, what it entails, and where it's taking us.
Lee Drutman: A Lobbyist Just for You: Businesses have hired lobbyists
in Washington to defend and advance their interests in all matter of ways.
Sometimes they seek advantages over other businesses, as in the recent
squabble between retailers and banks over "cash card" fees, but mostly
they seek to cheat the less organized "public interest" -- i.e., you. We
could seek to limit their predation by regulating lobbying, but courts
have increasingly viewed that as a restriction of free speech (the idea
that corporations should enjoy individual rights weighs in here, even
though "free speech" for corporations is mostly a matter of money pushing
its weight around -- there's nothing free about it). So Drutman poses
another approach, which is to support public interest lobbyists as an
antidote to private interest lobbyists. He also proposes more transparency
in lobbying, and more competent staff for Congress to sort through the
pros and expose the cons of lobby propaganda. It's a useful start, but
he ignores another aspect, which is all the PAC money going to elect
Congress in the first place.
Phillip Longman: Lost in Obamacare: A review of Steven Brill:
America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Back-Room Deals, and the
Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System, promising "Buried in
Steven Brill's convoluted tome are important truths about how to
reform our health care delivery system." That does indeed take some
digging, even in the review, but here's one point:
What Brill gets most importantly right about the political economy of
health care is the role that provider cartels and monopolies increasingly
play in driving up prices. He provides excellent on-the-ground reporting,
for example, on how the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has
emerged as a "super monopoly" dominating the health care market of all
of western Pennsylvania -- first by buying up rival hospitals or luring
away their most profitable doctors, and now by vertically integrating to
become a dominating health insurance company as well.
Brill similarly reports how the Yale-New Haven Hospital gobbled up
its last remaining local competitor in 2012 to become a multibillion-dollar
colossus. Importantly, Brill shows readers how, after the merger, an
insurer could not "negotiate discounts with Yale-New Haven," because "it
could not possibly sell insurance to area residents without including the
only available hospital in its network and the increasing share of the
area's doctors whose practices were also being bought up by the hospital."
Obamacare essentially attempted to rebalance the health care industry
on a basis of universal coverage as opposed to the previous (and worsening)
basis of discriminatory insurance pricing (which had pushed most Americans
out of the market, often into "safety net" programs), while leaving the
rest of the profit-seeking industry unchanged. That was a real improvement,
but a rather temporary one as the industry adjusts to the changes. Clearly
one such adjustment is increasing consolidation and monopoly rents. I know,
for instance, that the largest hospital in Wichita (Via Christi) has been
buying up previously independent physician groups. At the very least, this
calls for aggressive antitrust enforcement -- something Bush destroyed and
Obama has been loathe to resurrect. Or single-payer. Or both.
Monday, March 2. 2015
The Kansas state legislature has past the half-way point in their
scheduled session this year, and the Republicans there have already
succeeded in their most evident goal: to make Kansas the laughing
stock of the nation (with all due respect to the state legislatures
of Texas and Missouri). Crowson's cartoon:
This primarily refers to a bill that passed the Senate (see
Luke Brinker: Kansas could put teachers in prison for assigning books
prosecutors don't like), but the war on public schools has gone
through a number of skirmishes: first and foremost a massive funding
cut -- from levels that the courts had already established were the
minimum required by the state constitution. But also there have been
two bills to rejigger the election of local school boards (a festering
ground for people likely to sue when the state doesn't deliver its
mandated funding): one is to move the election dates and make them
partisan (assuming the Republican brand holds; voters have been known
to accidentally elect Democrats in non-partisan elections), and another
to make it illegal for any schoolteacher or relative of a schoolteacher
to run for any school board (this would, for instance, disqualify 2014
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis). There is also a bill,
still pending, where the state would pay foster parents more for foster
children who are privately- or home-schooled.
Some more scattered links this week:
Dean Baker: Robert Samuelson's 'Golden Age' Mythology: I actually
read Samuelson's book The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The
American Dream in the Age of Entitlement (2008), where he argues
that the inflation spiral of the 1970s was every bit as damaging as
the Great Depression in the 1930s -- a point my parents, who lived
through both, would have found incredible. So I'm well prepared to
reject anything Samuelson has to say, but note the following:
Robert Samuelson (Washington Post, 2/22/15) was inspired by a graph in
the new Economic Report of the President to tell readers that the
real problem for the middle class is not inequality but rather productivity
growth. His point is that if we had kept up the rates of productivity
growth of the Golden Age (1943-73), it would have mattered much more to
middle-income families' living standards than the rise in inequality
This is true in the sense of "if I were six feet five inches, I would
be taller than I am," but it's not clear what we should make of the point.
We don't know how to have more rapid productivity growth (at least not
Golden Age rates), so saying that we should want more rapid productivity
growth is sort of like hoping for the Second Coming.
Superficially, Samuelson is just grasping at straws to dismiss the
obvious effects of increasing inequality. Sure, if we had much more
productivity growth, the middle class might be better off, but only if
it were possible for the middle class to capture a substantial share of
that productivity growth -- but in recent years, no share of productivity
growth has gone to increased wages. As Baker points out:
If we can only sustain the 1.5 percent annual productivity growth of the
slowdown years (1973-1995), this would still imply income gains of almost
60 percent over three decades. While it would of course be better to have
Golden Age productivity growth, since we don't know how to get back such
rapid growth, why not pursue the policies that we know will be effective
in restoring middle class income growth?
It is also worth noting that these equality enhancing policies are also
likely to provide some boost to productivity. We know that the most important
determinant of investment is growth in demand. This means that if we push
the economy, rather than have the Fed slam on the brakes with higher interest
rates, we will likely see more investment in new plant, equipment and
software, and therefore more productivity growth.
In addition, in a tighter labor market workers will leave low-productivity
jobs for jobs with higher productivity that offer higher wages. A reason that
many workers, including many with college degrees, have taken jobs in
restaurants is that there are not better-paying jobs available. If the
economy were stronger, better jobs would be available causing productivity
to rise due to a shift in composition.
The bulk of the article reviews Samuelson's period breakdown and shows
where his effort to force history into his preconceived periods breaks
down. Baker skips over the question of why 1946-64 productivity levels
are no longer attainable, but James K. Galbraith wrote a whole book on
the subject: The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of
Growth (2014) -- something I'll get around to writing about sooner
By the way, see Galbraith's
Reading the Greek Deal Correctly. He sees the recent agreement
between Greece's new left-leaning government and the ECB not as a
defeat for Greece's voters so much as a way everyone can save face
by kicking the ball down the road a few weeks.
Josh Marshall: Kerry's Clean Hit: When John Kerry pointed out how
wrong Benjamin Netanyahu's predictions supporting the 2003 Iraq War
were, I recalled how Kerry had voted for the Iraq War Resolution in
2002 and wrote them off as two peas in the same pod. Marshall argues
that Kerry's position was more, uh, nuanced than my memory recalled:
There's some important background on this new intrusion of the Iraq War
into the current debate about Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli
election. It's true that like a number of Senate Democrats, John Kerry
voted for the Iraq War resolution in late 2002. That was due to a mix
of belief in national unity, political cowardice and a credulous
assumption that President Bush was actually on the level when he said
he needed the authorization to wage war to avoid it, to get inspectors
back into Iraq. It was or should have been clear that this was not true,
that inspectors and Weapons of Mass Destruction were not the goal that
made the threat of war necessary. They were cudgels and covers to help
make the war a fait accompli.
Many Democrats either didn't think Saddam would relent or thought
that if he did, Bush would lose his casus belli. I don't exonerate
them. They were helped along in these maybe misunderstandings by a
health dose of cowardice and what they saw at the time as political
self-preservation. As it happened, when Bush lost his rationale
for war, he simply invaded anyway.
This was mainly obvious at the time, not entirely obvious to everyone.
But to suggest that Secretary Kerry 'supported' the Iraq War like
President Bush or Benjamin Netanyahu is silly.
That brings us to Netanyahu. Some believe that the Israeli government
either wanted the Iraq War to happen or goaded the Americans into the
attack. In fact, the Israeli security establishment was very divided on
the wisdom of the US administration's policy. Indeed, Ariel Sharon
pointedly warned President Bush of the dangers of what he was planning.
Indeed, the best account of his discussions with President Bush suggests
his warnings were highly prescient -- about the spillover of radicalism
growing out of a US occupation, the zero sum empowerment of Iran and
It was Netanyahu, then technically a private citizen, though he would
soon enter Sharon's government in late 2002 who not only supported a US
attack on Iraq but advocated for it endlessly within the US.
Italics in the original; I added the bold. Of course,
the practical effect of Kerry, Clinton, Edwards, and others in voting
for Bush's Iraq War Resolution was to rubber-stamp the invasion. (As
I recall Marshall at least wobbled on the war plans: in particular,
I recall him praising Kenneth Pollack's influential pro-war book,
The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.) But he is
right that Netanyahu's warmongering went much further, both in words
and in actually lining up his rich American donor network to lobby
war support. Marshall also includes a video of Netanyahu testifying
before a House committee promoting the war. Even among Israelis few
politicians have that sort of chutzpah. Of course, no one's dredging
this episode up because we're interested in learning from history.
Netanyahu's past record of influencing Congress matters right now
because he's still at it, with an invitation by House Republicans
to address Congress to try to undo any progress Obama might make on
negotiating a deal that would ensure that Iran not develop nuclear
weapons. I haven't bothered collecting links on the various aspects
of this -- either the propriety of Natanyahu's speech (widely opposed
both in Israel and in the US) or on the tortuous negotiations (often
hamstrung by hypothetical scenarios only Americans can imagine). (OK,
if you are curious, check out:
Paul R Pillar;
Gareth Porter, also
William J Perry, et al.;
Stephen M Walt (interview);
Richard Silverstein.) Also, let's quote from
Jeffrey Goldberg: A Partial Accounting of the Damage Netanyahu Is Doing
to Israel (recalling that Goldberg has a long history of parrotting
whatever Israel's current propaganda line is on Iran):
Netanyahu is engaging in behavior that is without precedent: He is
apparently so desperate to stay in office that he has let the Republicans
weaponize his country in their struggle against a Democratic president
they despise. Boehner seeks to do damage to Obama, and he has turned
Netanyahu into an ally in this cause. It's not entirely clear here who
is being played.
For decades, it has been a cardinal principle of Israeli security and
foreign-policy doctrine that its leaders must cultivate bipartisan support
in the United States, and therefore avoid even the appearance of favoritism.
This is the official position of the leading pro-Israel lobbying group in
Washington, AIPAC, as well, which is why its leaders are privately fuming
about Netanyahu's end-run around the White House. Even though AIPAC's
leadership leans right, the organization knows that support for Israel
in America must be bipartisan in order for it to be stable. "Dermer and
Netanyahu don't believe that Democrats are capable of being pro-Israel,
which is crazy for a lot of reasons, but one of the main reasons is that
most Jews are Democrats," one veteran AIPAC leader told me.
In Israel, cynicism about Netanyahu's intentions is spreading.
"Netanyahu, who purports to be the big expert on everything American,
subordinated Israel's most crucial strategic interests to election
considerations, and the repercussions will endure for some time,"
Chuck Freilich, a former deputy head of Israel's National Security
Council, wrote last week.
Robert Wright: The Clash of Civilizations That Isn't: Reaction to
Roger Cohen's polarizing rant, "Islam and the West at War," along with
Graeme Wood's Atlantic piece, "What ISIS Really Wants" (links
in the article if you really want them). You may recall that GW Bush
(aside from a momentary slip-of-the-tongue about "crusades") was very
careful to make clear that his Global War on Terror wasn't a campaign
against his family friends in Saudi Arabia. (Indeed, Bush was practically
the only politician in America to defend a deal that would sell US ports
to Abu Dhabi: proof, if you want it, that for him at least money always
trumps identity.) But most Americans have never been very disciplined
or principled about distinguishing the targets of our wars from anyone
else who might share superficial traits, so it isn't surprising that
prolonged war with self-identified Muslims should result in more than
random acts of slander and violence. In the days of purely nationalist
wars (e.g., the two World Wars), this was mostly ugly and repaired easy
enough once the war ended. (Indeed, the anti-Kraut hysteria of WWI was
much reduced in WWII, as the embarrassment of the former provided a
vaccination against repeat in the latter -- not that Japanese-Americans
were spared.) But in more recent wars -- let's call them "post-colonial" --
US entry is predicated on dividing populations into groups we call allies
and enemies, one we support and the other we kill, and in such wars any
mental generalization undermines the mission and ultimately loses the war.
(Vietnam is as good an example of the dynamic as Afghanistan or Iraq, but
the downside was much more limited there: it ultimately turned into a
nationalist war, with the US deciding that perpetual scorn and isolation
was still some measure of victory.)
Those post-colonial wars have, without exception that I am aware of,
been fools' missions, but they would pale compared to the fevered notion
that "the West" must wage war with all of Islam -- well over one billion
people, including a few million already resident in "the West." Wright
points out that this insanity can point to an intellectual pedigree:
In 1996, when I reviewed Samuel Huntington's book The Clash of
Civilizations for Slate, I fretted that Huntington's world view
could become "a self-fulfilling prophecy." This was before 9/11, and
I wasn't thinking about Islam in particular. Huntington's book was
about "fault lines" dividing various "civilizations," and I was just
making the general point that if we think of, say, Japanese people as
radically different from Americans -- as Huntington's book, I believed,
encouraged us to do -- we were more likely to treat Japan in ways that
deepened any Japanese-Western fault line.
Since 9/11, I've realized that, in the case of Islam, the forces that
could make the clash of civilizations a self-fulfilling prophecy are
particularly powerful. For one thing, in this case, our actual enemies,
such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, themselves favor the clash-of-civilizations
narrative, and do their best to encourage it. When the Atlantic tells
us that ISIS is "very Islamic" and the New York Times runs the headline
"Islam and the West at War," it's party time in Mosul. Order up another
round of decapitations! Get Roger Cohen more freaked out! Maybe he'll
keep broadcasting a key recruiting pitch of both Al Qaeda and ISIS:
that the West is at war with Islam! (Wood noted, a week after his
article appeared, its "popularity among ISIS supporters.")
Wright doesn't go very deeply into the people in "the West" that
buy into this "clash of civilizations" malarkey, except to note:
I don't think it's a coincidence that commentators who dismiss attempts
to understand the "root causes" of extremism tend to be emphatic in
linking the extremism to Islam, and often favor a massively violent
response to it.
By the way, the wind is at their backs. Last week, CBS News reported
that, for the first time, a majority of Americans polled -- fifty-seven
per cent -- favored sending ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and
Haven't we seen this movie? The Iraq War, more than any other single
factor, created ISIS. After the 2003 invasion, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a
Jordanian who led an obscure group of radical Islamists, rebranded it as
an Al Qaeda affiliate and used the wartime chaos of Iraq to expand it.
Al-Zarqawi's movement came to be known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, and then
evolved into ISIS.
Note that more and more post-colonial rationales -- the idea that
we're fighting for some (good) Afghanis/Iraqis/Muslims against other
(bad) ones -- is giving way to outright nationalist/colonialist ideas
(not yet with Obama and his echelons but with the people most loudly
beating the war drums).
Also worth quoting Paul Woodward on
ISIS and the caliphate:
Millions of Muslims, without being extremists of any variety, see the
Islamic world as having been carved up by Western colonialism, robbed
of its sovereignty, and placed under the control of compliant and corrupt
rulers. Broadly speaking, what's on offer right now is a brutal ISIS
caliphate vs. a fractious status quo. That seems like a lousy choice.
As Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya demonstrated over the last half
century, the project of pan-Arab secular nationalism was a spectacular
On the other hand, the Arab monarchies have the durability of a
chronic disease -- their ability to survive has accomplished little
more than cripple the region.
If ISIS and the other forms of Islamic extremism are seen for what
they are -- symptoms of a disease, rather than the disease itself --
then the remedy cannot be found by merely looking for ways to suppress
Also, a few links for further study:
Henry Farrell: Dark Leviathan: Subhed: "The Silk Road might have
started as a libertarian experiment, but it was doomed to end as a
fiefdom run by pirate kings." As a libertarian experiment, this reminds
me of some of those Murray Rothbard schemes I typeset for the Kochs
back in the 1970s -- especially the naive notion that trust can be
comoditized and brokered through a marketplace.
All of these petty principalities are vulnerable to criminals trying
to extract ransom, and increasingly to law enforcement, which has
inveigled its way into trusted positions so that it can gather
information and destroy illicit marketplaces. The libertarian hope
that markets could sustain themselves through free association and
choice is a chimera with a toxic sting in its tail. Without state
enforcement, the secret drug markets of Tor hidden services are
coming to resemble an anarchic state of nature in which self-help
Nancy Le Tourneau: The Scott Walker Antidote: Minnesota: Compares
and contrasts the results of Democratic government in Minnesota under
Mark Dayton and Republican government in Wisconsin with Scott Walker.
You can follow up with
Ed Kilgore: Scott Walker's Koch Angle: you don't have to be as
screwed up as Kansas to get screwed. For more on Walker, see
A Noun, a Verb, and "Union Thugs".
Sunday, February 22. 2015
I've been very lazy when it comes to politics the last few weeks.
Much of what's wrong is so wrong on so many levels it boggles the
mind. You can try to organize it, boxing various articles up into
bins like "Republicans acting dumb," "Democrats acting dumb," "The
bipartisan Washington foreign policy mandarins fumbling one stupid
war after another," and so on -- the common thread is a chronic
inability to think clearly about anything. There was a piece in
the Eagle today about a "post-mortem" report some Democratic Party
bigwigs cobbled together (can't find the Eagle link, but here's a
similar one at
CNN). The "report" includes lines like this:
It is strongly believed that the Democratic Party is loosely
understood as a long list of policy statements and not as people with
a common set of core values (fairness, equality, opportunity). This
lack of cohesive narrative impedes the party's ability to develop and
maintain a lifelong dialogue and partnership with voters.
What these party bigwigs fail to recognize is for the party to win
it has to go beyond touting common values and articulate a set of viable
self-interests that will motivate popular support. A classic example of
this was the 1860 Republican platform, which instead of decrying slavery
or declaring the sanctity of the union crassly declared: "vote yourself
a farm -- vote yourself a tariff." Even today, Republican appeals are
scarcely less crass: vote yourself a tax cut, vote for guns everywhere,
vote to outlaw abortion. If the Democrats wanted to compete, they should
consider a slogan like "vote yourself a government that works for you" --
and if they wanted to scare the bejesus out of the Republicans, they could
add: "vote yourself a union."
Instead, there was a story this week about the head of the Democratic
Party in Kansas testifying in favor of a Republican state bill that would
double the limits for political contributions. That may make his particular
job a bit easier, but it would move the party away from the people it needs
votes from, and it would reinforce the notion that elections are up for
The report lays out brutal losses since Obama swept into office in
2008: Democrats have shed 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, 910 state
legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers and 11 governor's
Obama deserves a substantial amount of blame for those offices --
not so much for his policies, mediocre and unfocused as they've been,
as for his messaging, and for undermining the party for his personal
benefit. By messaging, I mean his failure to clearly break from the
Bush administration's manifest disasters as well as to keep the public
focused on the partisan responsibility for those disasters, But he
also wrecked the Democratic Party organization that won elections in
2006-08. Just because he personally could raise money to beat McCain
and Romney doesn't mean that he was right to ignore the problem of
money in politics. He has, after all, done nothing to counter the
Kochs' threat to raise $900 million to buy 2016. If anything, he's
made their corruption all the more inevitable.
So while it's possible to make fun of the Republicans in Kansas,
as Crowson does here:
Still, it's not that funny. Most of the Kansas legislature's bills
have been predictable, but this one breaks new ground in terms of being
wrong on so many levels:
Kansas bill would reward foster parents who are married, faithful,
alcohol-free. Among other things, the bill treats foster care as
a business, offering incentive pay for behaviors which the drafter
believes to be morally superior, and hidden within it is "state
education aid to either home school or send their foster kids to
private school" -- yet another ploy to undermine public schools and
the idea that everyone has an equal right to a quality education.
As for church going, my recollection is that some of the worst
scandals in the history of foster care involve churches.
Nor is Kansas the only state where absolute Republican power has
corrupted absolutely. See
Kansas not only state trying to prevent LGBT protections. Brownback
recently revoked a Kansas executive order extending various protections
to LGBT workers. Arkansas wants to go one step further and prevent any
local governments from offering anti-discriminatory protections to its
A few more scattered links this week:
Justin Gillis/John Schwartz: Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful
Climate Researcher: You always hear from right-wingers about how the
scientific research on anthropogenic climate change ("global warming")
is conflicted. One major source of that conflict is Wei-Hock Soon, "who
claims that variations in the sun's energy can largely explain recent
But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon's work
has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.
He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel
industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict
of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has
published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight
of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the
journals that published his work.
The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate
funders, described many of his scientific papers as "deliverables" that
he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe
testimony he prepared for Congress.
Ali Khedery: Iran's Shiite Militias Are Running Amok in Iraq: I think
Khedery puts more emphasis on Iran's relationship to the Shiite militias
than is warranted. The US was actively organizing those same militias to
fight Saddam Hussein before and during the 2003 invasion, and they've
alternately been turned loose or reined in at various times during the
American occupation: I doubt they are wholly tools either of the US or
Iran so much as autonomous agents only loosely aligned with Iraqi shiite
political parties, but what should be clear by now is that they cannot
be trusted to implement a disciplined military campaign -- such as the
much-touted plan to retake Mosul.
Countless memories haunt me after a decade of service in Iraq. Gripping
the hands of an assassin-felled member of the provisional government as
the life slipped out of her body in 2003; watching al Qaeda's beheadings
of American hostages in 2004; seeing photos of young Sunni prisoners
raped and tortured by Iran-backed Shiite militias serving within the
Iraqi police in 2005; and sitting helplessly at the U.S. Embassy in
Baghdad as news came in of al Qaeda's 2006 bombing of al-Askari Mosque,
one of the holiest sites for Shiite Islam, ushering in the civil war.
[ . . . ]
The Iraqi government is hopelessly sectarian, corrupt, and generally
unfit to govern what could be one of the world's most prosperous nations.
Washington's response to the Islamic State's (IS) advance, however, has
been disgraceful: The United States is now acting as the air force, the
armory, and the diplomatic cover for Iraqi militias that are committing
some of the worst human rights abuses on the planet. These are "allies"
that are actually beholden to our strategic foe, the Islamic Republic of
Iran, and which often resort to the same vile tactics as the Islamic State
itself. [ . . . ]
There is no reason to believe that the militias will disarm and disband
after IS's defeat. Indeed, with the central government weaker than ever,
trillions of dollars of Iraqi oil wealth up for grabs, and the U.S. military
no longer deployed in large numbers to constrain them, the militias have
more incentive than ever to stay in business. And let's not forget that it
is in Iran's strategic interest to use these militias to consolidate its
gains over Iraq and the Levant, and to advance its ambitions for regional
hegemony, which Iranian commanders are now publicly flaunting.
Iran's "ambitions for regional hegemony" is one of those things that
could (and should) be covered in bilateral talks between the US and Iran --
indications are that Iran would see more value in normalizing relations
with the US than in vying for "hegemony" over wastelands like Iraq and
Paul Krugman: Rip Van Skillsgap:
What strikes me about this paper -- and in general what one still hears
from many people inside the Beltway -- is the continuing urge to make
this mainly a story about the skills gap, of not enough workers having
higher education or maybe the right kind of education.
[ . . . ]
But if my math is right, the 90s ended 15 years ago -- and since then
wages of the highly educated have stagnated. Why on earth are we still
hearing the same rhetoric about education as the solution to inequality
The answer, I'm sorry to say, is surely that it sounds serious. But,
you know, it isn't.
I'm not even sure how serious it is: it's just that the right doesn't
have many options for addressing increasing inequality that don't impact
the gains of the rich. Prescribing more education is a way of punting,
knowing that it might help a few individuals -- at least compared to peer
individuals, as opposed to the effect it had several decades ago -- and
for everyone else it will take time to fail. But as a general rule, it is
already clear that more education isn't an answer: given stagnant wages,
the rising cost of education (and it has risen a lot) mean the return on
investment in more education has been negative, and growing more so. And
if there really is a "skills gap" that loss has depressed the economy.
Of course, if the "skills gap" was seriously regarded as a real problem,
the people conscious of it would be proposing real programs to solve it:
they would be hard at work increasing wages for workers with the needed
skills, and they would be urging the government to shoulder more of the
costs of education to get those needed workers trained. You don't exactly
see that happening. In fact, you see right-wingers working to undercut
education all the way from pre-school to college, and to make what
education is still available more class-stratified -- something the rich
can still provide for their own children through private channels while
everyone else rots or struggles.
Chris Stephen: Libya's Arab spring: the revolution that ate its
children: It's worth considering Iraq and Libya as two models of
what can go wrong in establishing post-intervention states. In Iraq
the US dug in and tried to micromanage every aspect of nation building
following the 2003 invasion -- an approach that failed not just because
the Bush administration was clueless and had its own peculiar interests
but because the US military became a symbol and target of occupation.
On the other hand, NATO's intervention in Libya left no troops on the
ground as competing militias turned on each other resulting in chaos.
The latest development in Libya has been the emergence of ISIS -- I
suspect more as an idea than an outgrowth of the rump Islamic State
in war-torn Syria and neighboring Iraq -- which in turn has provoked
further military intervention by Egypt. (ISIS has proven a potent
brand both of rebellion and for deadly foreign intervention.) I have
no real idea how to fix this -- even less so than Syria where much
of the problem is tied to foreign interests. The gist of the article
is that many of the people who initially supported the revolt against
Gaddafi have come to regret their stands. On the other hand, I doubt
that many of the better-dead-than-red types in the NSC or CIA have
had second thoughts. After all, they never risked their own lives on
the outcome, and they enjoy the luxury of putting their ideals above
the lives of real people.
Talking Points Memo's sense of politics remains skin deep at most,
but today's headlines are even shallower than usual -- gotcha news like
Giuliani: Obama Influenced by Communism At Young Age,
Giuliani Says He Received Death Threats After Comments On Obama,
Scott Walker Says He Doesn't Know If Obama Is Christian, and
Issa: 'We Should Thank' Giuliani For Comment On Obama's Patriotism.
More Mister Nice Blog has an amusing story about how while Obama's
grandfather served during WWII, Giuliani's father did not -- because he
was a convicted felon.) Only slightly deeper is
Is Obama Failing the YAARRRR! Test?, which compares Obama's anti-ISIS
war rhetoric unfavorably to Mel Gibson in Braveheart.
Also, a few links for further study:
James Carden: Here's Why Arming Ukraine Would Be a Disaster: Well,
some of the reasons, anyway. It's not clear to me to what extent Russia
is actually arming or otherwise supporting separatist groups in eastern
Ukraine, but it certainly is true that if Obama chose to add more fuel
to the fire, Putin could more than reciprocate in kind. (Carden quotes
Putin as saying, "if I want to, I can take Kiev in two weeks." Russia
didn't go that far in Georgia when the latter tried to quash separatist
provinces in 2008, but could easily have.) Also see
Barry R. Posen: Just Say No: America Should Avoid These Wars --
Ukraine leads the list, but the list doesn't stop there.
Dylan Scott: Meet the Man at the Center of the Unprecedented US-Israeli
Rift: A report on Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the US since
2013, and evidently the person who worked out the deal for Netanyahu to
speak before the US Congress "just days before elections in Israel" --
evidently to do what he can to torpedo any deal Obama works out to limit
(or eliminate) Iran's alleged "nuclear program." Dermer was well placed,
having been born in the US and having worked for Newt Gingrich before
emigrating to Israel.
Imraan Sidiqi: Hate in the aftermath of Chapel Hill: On February
10 three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC were murdered. Sidiqi
notes other recent examples of violence directed at American Muslims.
That isn't the only possible context --
Michael A. Cohen argues that the killer was a gun nut and that
the crime fits the pattern of a long list of gun-enabled crime. No
doubt that has something to do with "how" but as so much gun crime
is "senseless" it doesn't explain "why" -- for that we have to look
at the continuing series of wars where the US has sent hundreds of
thousands of soldiers to abroad to kill (and be killed by) Muslims.
The US has never engaged in a war abroad where Americans didn't also
project the hatred of war onto those fellow Americans most similar
to foreign enemies. So it isn't surprising that it is happening
again now, or that it is worst among the racist, militarist bigots
of the far right. Nor that it is one of the things that makes war
so poisonous, here as well as there.
Sunday, February 8. 2015
If I was much younger and had ambitions in journalism, I'd go up to
Topeka and hang out with Republican legislators, trying to draw them
out on the logic behind a plethora of bills being bandied about. In some
ways, it seems inconceivable that in an age of ubiquitous information
technology we could ever forgo and forget knowledge and understanding
on the level of the Dark Ages of medieval Europe, yet that's what is
on display strive to build their utopian society upon near-absolute
power at the state level. The big headlines, of course, still belong
to the governor and his disastrously failed experiment in Lafferism --
David Atkins: More Kansas Fallout: Brownback Doubles Down on His Failed
Policies, or just take a look at Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon
in the Eagle today:
Brownback, you may recall, created a huge deficit hole by pushing
a major state income tax reduction (including complete exemption from
income taxes for "small businessmen" like Charles Koch), at a time when
the state was losing a lawsuit for unconstitutionally underfunding
public schools. (Ironically, when the state legislature increased
state funding before the 2014 elections, Brownback's ads touted that
as proof of his support for education.) This year, Brownback's fix
for the fiscal hole has been to propose increasing taxes on cigarettes,
slashing school funding, and a variety of schemes to raid a long list
of dedicated funds (like highway maintenance and pensions -- even
some federal money related to Obamacare). In other words, the idea
is to cover up a big hole with lots of little holes, each hoping to
kick the problem a bit further into the future: cheat workers out of
their pensions and they may not realize the effect for many years,
until they retire; stop maintaining roads and it may be years before
they're eaten up with potholes; cheap out on educating children and
it may be decades before it fully dawns on employers how few people
are prepared for work. And so on, as these decisions add up, as
political interests forget that they could ever be solved, the
future grows ever dimmer: dark ages ahead.
Brownback's folly is the straightforward result of a right-wing
propaganda coup that you can trace back to the 1970s, when a few
disgruntled businessmen decided to wage a war of attrition against
the very idea of government. What they objected to was the idea
that a democratic government might work for the benefit of the vast
majority of the people, as opposed to merely protecting the property
and prerogatives of the rich. (Right-wingers never had a problem with
authoritarian states they controlled; the state only became a problem
when it might be used to reduce the influence and control of the rich.)
Of course, they had good reason to fear that, because it had in fact
been working that way for forty years, from the New Deal through the
The key point here is how successful they've been at characterizing
government as a vicious cycle of "tax and spend" -- with the corrolary
that tax money would have been spent more wisely by those who originally
earned it than by the government bureaucrats who merely took it. A good
example of this mindset appeared in a letter to the Eagle today (Delores
Let rich invest):
"Robbing the rich to feed the idle" does not work very well. It
does not produce any food. Better let the rich invest with those who
do produce things we want, so we can all share.
Most propaganda is dressed up more plausibly than this. By "robbing"
she probably means taxing, since most real robbers don't feed anyone but
themselves, and by "the idle" she most likely means "the disadvantaged" --
most of whom work harder at underpaid jobs than many rentiers (I'm much
more familiar with the phrase "the idle rich" than any alternative). To
figure out what "works" you need some criteria. For "feeding" you might
think something like "reduce the number of people who are malnourished,"
in which case you can collect and test data. Food stamps is one government
program that comes to mind, and by that standard it works very well. Even
the sort of rationing that the US practiced during WWII "worked" by most
Jennison's last sentence is even more problematical. Even if the rich
invest wisely, absent taxation how is it that "we can all share" in their
returns? The notion that we somehow all benefit by basking in the light
reflected by the rich hard to imagine, let alone quantify. Even if some
might draw inspiration and enjoy enough good fortune to become rich
themselves, the numbers must surely be very limited. And how does one
become rich? Very few such people do so by investing in the production
of food or anything else broadly usable. It's not inconceivable that
some entrepreneur might found a business and produce something that
makes our lives better, but it's certainly not the rule.
What's so odd about this mindset isn't that disgruntled businessmen --
the Kochs being prime examples both in the 1970s (my first encounter
with them was typesetting Murray Rothbard books in the mid-1970s) and
now -- would underwrite this sort of propaganda. After all, they've
used it to make and sheltered billions of dollars, and capitalism is
nothing if not a cult of self-interest. But it's pure hubris to insist
that their greed is a blessing for everyone else -- a propaganda line
that is the greatest con of the era.
In the past, Republicans were more cynical about their shit. For
instance, it's well established that increased government spending
stimulates the economy -- and that the American economy depends on
such stimulation. Republicans are dependable deficit scolds whenever
a Democrat is president, but Reagan and the Bushes were happy to run
huge deficits -- they just preferred to build them from tax cuts and
war spending. However, it was only a matter of time before the rank
and file started believing the GOP party line, and thanks largely to
Thomas Frank, Kansas learned that lesson harder than most. Frank's
What's the Matter With Kansas? made a big point about how the
single-issue fringe groups Republicans depended on for votes rarely
got any satisfaction: Republicans may campaign against abortion and
for guns but in office all they seemed to do was to further line the
pockets of the already rich.
Of course, Brownback's income tax cuts (and, by the way, sales tax
increases) and budget hole is mostly a sop to the rich, but the Kansas
legislature has been dilligent about passing new anti-abortion and
pro-gun legislation every year. There's a bill pending this year to
allowed "concealed carry" without a permit or any training -- among
other things that makes it much more difficult to apprehend gun-toting
felons. That's just one example of this year's legislative fever. One
proposal is to move non-partisan municipal elections and make them
partisan -- the sponsor is worried that school teacher unions might
take advantage of low turnout to dominate school boards, and there's
always the risk that a closet Democrat might slip through a nonpartisan
election. Another bill seeks to give police special rights to avoid
prosecution for misdeeds. Another will let teachers be prosecuted for
providing any "harmful information" to students (evidently, accurate
information about sex counts). I've lost the links to these things,
and the Eagle website isn't much help. Like I said, this would make
a good journalism project. On the other hand, there's this --
Texas Republican wants fetuses to have lawyers and "a voice in court" --
so Kansas isn't the only place to observe this insanity.
Also, some scattered links this week (briefly, because I'm running
Nick Hanauer: Stock Buybacks Are Killing the American Economy:
As economic power has shifted from workers to owners over the past 40
years, corporate profit's take of the U.S. economy has doubled -- from
an average of 6 percent of GDP during America's post-war economic heyday
to more than 12 percent today. Yet despite this extra $1 trillion a year
in corporate profits, job growth remains anemic, wages are flat, and our
nation can no longer seem to afford even its most basic needs. A $3.6
trillion budget shortfall has left many roads, bridges, dams, and other
public infrastructure in disrepair. Federal spending on economically
crucial research and development has plummeted 40 percent, from 1.25
percent of GDP in 1977 to only 0.75 percent today. Adjusted for inflation,
public university tuition -- once mostly covered by the states -- has more
than doubled over the past 30 years, burying recent graduates under $1.2
trillion in student debt. Many public schools and our police and fire
departments are dangerously underfunded.
Where did all this money go?
The answer is as simple as it is surprising: Much of it went to stock
buybacks -- more than $6.9 trillion of them since 2004, according to data
compiled by Mustafa Erdem Sakinc of The Academic-Industry Research Network.
Over the past decade, the companies that make up the S&P 500 have spent
an astounding 54 percent of profits on stock buybacks.
[ . . . ]
In the past, this money flowed through the broader economy in the
form of higher wages or increased investments in plants and equipment.
But today, these buybacks drain trillions of dollars of windfall profits
out of the real economy and into a paper-asset bubble, inflating share
prices while producing nothing of tangible value.
Hanauer cites a paper,
James Montier: The World's Dumbest Idea, critiquing the dogma of
"shareholder value maximuzation" -- the main rationalization (when
greed won't quite cut it) behind stock buybacks. Sample quote:
From a theoretical perspective, SVM may well have its roots in the work
of Arrow-Debreu (in the late 1950s/early 1960s). These authors demonstrated
that in the presence of ubiquitous perfect competition and fully complete
markets (neither of which assumption bears any resemblance to the real
world, of course) a Pareto optimal outcome will result from situations
where producers and all other economic actors pursue their own interests.
Adam Smith's invisible hand in mathematically obtuse fashion.
However, more often the SVM movement is traced to an editorial by Milton
Friedman in 1970. Given Friedman's loathing of all things Keynesian, there
is a certain delicious irony that the corporate world is so perfectly
illustrating Keynes' warning of being a slave of a defunct economist! In
the article Friedman argues that "There is one and only one social
responsibility of business -- to use its resources and engage in activities
designed to increase its profits . . ."
Friedman argues that corporates are not "persons," but the law would
disagree: firms may not be people but they are "persons" in as much as
they have a separate legal status (a point made forcefully by Lynn Stout
in her book, The Shareholder Value Myth). He also assumes that
shareholders want to maximize profits, and considers any act of corporate
social responsibility an act of taxation without representation -- these
assumptions may or may not be true, but Friedman simply asserts them, and
comes dangerously close to making his argument tautological.
Paul Krugman: The Fraud Years: As with my Kansas intro, sometimes
it's hard to stop writing, to merely suggest the whole horror of the
As the Bush II administration fades in the rear view mirror, there's a
tendency -- indeed, an avid desire on the part of many people in the
media -- to blur the reality of what happened, to make it seem as if
were just an ordinary time when a Republican happened to be president.
But it wasn't. We were lied into war; torture became routine; raw
dishonesty about everything from national security to the distributional
effects of tax cuts became the norm.
And then there were the people. I had almost forgotten, but Bush
nominated Bernie Kerik to run Homeland Security. Let me repeat that:
he nominated Bernie Kerik to head Homeland Security.
One can, and probably should, go on (and on and on) -- the list of
bad things the Bush II presidency did to us is very long and very dirty
(much like Brownback in Kansas but more slippery, in part because Bush's
deficit hole was easily papered over with debt while the conservative
debt scolds held their tongue -- or in Cheney's case, muttered "deficits
don't matter"). Being less familiar with Kerik (not that I don't get the
point), I might have ended off with Bush's "Healthy Forests Initiative" --
a program to increase logging on public lands, not that they could very
well market that.
By the way, also see Krugman's
Greece: The Tie That Doesn't Bind, both for its sanity and the
suggestion that Syriza's leaders won't be as easily bought off as,
say, "center-leftists" like Tony Blair.
David Lightman: 2016 election campaign will debate U.S. troops to stop
Islamic State: When the Eagle repeated this McClatchy piece, the
title changed to "2016 election likely to focus on terrorism, use of
troops" -- rather misleading because nobody on either side (evidently
not even Rand Paul) seems likely to question "the war on [Islamic]
terrorism" -- i.e., the implicit assumption that the US is entitled
to fly drones over the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa and kill
anyone we suspect of disrespecting us. As for "ground troops" that
discussion will be hedged, as indeed it is in the test quotes here,
with hawks merely wanting to suggest they're tougher than Obama, and
no one standing up for sanity. The death of a Jordanian pilot seems
to have unleashed another pro-war propaganda flurry, with the Eagle
running the latest missives by Charles Krauthammer and Trudy Rubin,
but nothing counter.
Kate: Druze IDF soldier attacked by Israeli Jews for speaking Arabic:
and dozens of other stories.
Richard Silverstein: Israeli Journalist, Ben Caspit: "Kill IDF Refusers":
I'm not sure how far back Israel's policy of "targeted assassination"
goes -- the 1947 murder of UN Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte was an
outlier in that the victim wasn't Palestinian and that Israel had yet
to declare independence, but suggests that the notion that the way to
beat your enemies is to kill them off one-by-one was baked in from the
very beginning. At any rate, in recent years state-sponsored murder has
been so routine that it's hardly surprising that some Israelis would
want to do the same to other Israelis. But there was a day when Israelis
celebrated their own integrity and diversity of opinion. That's passed.
Adam Horowitz: Finkelstein on Joan Peters' legacy (and Dershowitz's legal
troubles): the author of From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the
Arab-Israeli Conflict over Palestine died in January. Interview with
Norman Finkelstein, whose book Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine
Conflict did much to expose Peters' fraudulent claims.
Philip Weiss: Gideon Levy's argument for Netanyahu: Quotes from
Levy's Haaretz column,
win will only entrench the occupation. I've never been a fan of
the argument that you shouldn't differentiate between lesser evils,
and I've long been soft on the soft left -- I was pleased to see
François Hollande elected in France though I can't think of anything
good he's done since, and I even sort of miss Tony Blair, but Israel's
last Labor PM (Ehud Barak) certainly left a bitter taste. What gives
Levy credence is that for much of the last 40 years Labor has been
more efficient and effective at cementing "the facts on the ground"
than Likud (although the latter is more responsible for the poisonous
culture of racism and violence). I didn't read Levy's article as a
brief for Netanyahu so much as an argument that the uglier the face
of Zionism is the sooner the world will turn against it. (I've seen
Richard Silverstein make the same argument, but would have to search
for the link.) Still, it wasn't the ugliest Afrikaner who broke with
Apartheid, nor the ugliest Stalinist who broke up the Soviet Union.
The agents of change there were insider-reformers, and that rules
out Netanyahu. There's no reason to trust Tzipi Livni, but when it
happens it will be someone like her. (On the other hand, Labor leader
Isaac Herzog launched his campaign by accusing Netanyahu of being
soft on Hamas.)
Richard Silverstein: IDF Chief Warns of International Intervention if
Israel Doesn't Solve Palestine Conflict: "Unlike any other Israeli
politician, general or spy chief before him, Gantz offered a warning
that if Israel didn't make progress on negotiating a peace deal with
the Palestinians, it should not expect the world to remain uninvolved
[ . . . ] Whether or not Israel wanted, the world
sees Israel-Palestine as bound up in other dangerous regional conflicts.
These are so critical to the interests of foreign powers that there's
no chance Israel will be allowed to pursue its own interests unhindered."
I doubt he means "intervene" in the sense Lindsey Graham is fond of,
but it does imply pressure -- possibly a lot of pressure. Article also
includes quotes from Mossad chief Tamir Pardo undercutting Netanyahu's
Iran position. Gantz and Pardo are among the unelected people who
really run Israel, and it's auspicious that they're getting nervous.
Jason Ditz: Netanyahu Vows to Sabotage Iran Nuclear Deal: A deal
would not only eliminate Iran as a potential nuclear threat, it would
preclude a preemptory Israeli war against Iran, would align Iran with
US interests in Iraq, and could possibly lead to some progress in
settling the civil war in Syria (if Obama wanted to go that far), so
sure, you can see why Netanyahu is so up in arms.
Richard Silverstein: Ukrainian Oligarch Fugitives Wanted by Interpol,
Pay Bribes for Israeli Citizenship: Someone named Yuri Borisov,
"suspected of looting $40-million in U.S. foreign aid meant for Ukraine."
Scroll through Silverstein's blog and you'll find several scandals like
this, ranging from
Haaretz Removes Report that Netanyahu Pressured Japanese Regulators to
Approve Adelson Casino Bid to
Bayit Yehudi MK, Settlement Leader Questioned in Bribery-Kickback Scandal.
Also, a few links for further study:
Christian Appy: Burying Vietnam, Launching Perpetual War:
Intro to Appy's new book, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and
Our National Identity.
Joe Conason: Bush lied about his military service, and so did Reagan:
Doesn't mention Brian Williams, but does mention a couple others who
tried to puff up their war records.
Bill Curry: Yes, we're stuck with Hillary: "Progressives waiting for
Democrats to change are dangerously deluded. It hurts to admit that their
leaders are addicted to money and to the sense of emotional security
consultants provide in lieu of insight -- and worse, they can't see it
Tom Engelhardt: I.F. Stone and the Urge to Serve: I'll add that
I subscribed to I.F. Stone's Weekly for several years, possibly
up to its end in 1971. Sample quote:
Among the eeriest things about reading Stone's Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia
coverage, 14 years into the next century, is how resonantly familiar so
much of what he wrote still seems, how twenty-first-century it all is. It
turns out that the national security state hasn't just been repeating
things they've done unsuccessfully for the last 13 years, but for the
William Greider: Obama Is Leading the Way Toward Economic Catastrophe:
"Surrounded by Wall Street expertise and conventional political actors,
[Obama] didn't understand the larger bonfire raging in the global economy
or else was persuaded not to take it seriously."
Mike Konczal: How Radical Change Occurs: An Interview With Historian
Sunday, January 25. 2015
Don't have much to show here, but enough to run. I wasn't able to
find anything very useful on renewed hostilities in eastern Ukraine:
I gather the central ("pro-western") government broke the cease fire,
and now they're complaining about civilian deaths caused by Russian
rockets. This is one of four major wars from 2014 -- Israel, Iraq,
and Syria -- that have been allowed to fester and grow by the inability
and/or unwillingness of the US to engage in diplomacy, especially with
Russia. That failure is rooted in the kneejerk US belief that foreign
affairs is always a test of will where only force matters. In particular,
the US has been seduced by the idea that all problems can be solved by
killing "bad guys" -- a notion that's rife in American culture, that
is the basic idea behind the drone warfare program, that excuses all
manner of secret operations. That American Sniper beat out
Selma both in the box office and Oscar nominations is par for
I skipped the "Israel Links" this week, not because I couldn't find
them but because I didn't feel a need to bother. If you do feel the
need, the first place to look is
Some scattered links this week:
Murtaza Hussain: Saudi Arabia's Tyrant King Misremembered as Man of Peace:
Point taken, although the late King Abdullah mostly continued policies
of his predecessors, both in savagely repressing any hints of dissent
in the Middle East's only real Islamic State and in promoting Salafist
fundamentalism throughout the Islamic world, generously subsidizing
interference in other nations' political affairs, always with cash and
often with guns. On the other hand, maybe he should be remembered as
"a man of peace": he was primarily responsible for signing the entire
Arab League up behind UNSC Resolutions 235 and 338 as the basis for
resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Acceptance of that proposal
would have been a major advance both for peace and for respect for
international law as a means of resolving belligerent disputes. But
Abdullah's proposal was simply ignored by US President GW Bush, who
preferred giving Israel's Arik Sharon carte blanche to create "new
facts on the ground." The episode was detailed in Ron Ruskind's book,
The One Percent Doctrine, describing an April 2002 meeting
between Abdullah and Bush:
Relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States
were in tatters. The Saudis had been stewing for more than a year, in
fact, ever since it became clear at the start of 2001 that this
administration was to alter the long-standing U.S. role of honest
broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to something less than
that. The President, in fact, had said in the first NSC principals
meeting of his administration that Clinton had overreached at the end
of his second term, bending too much toward Yasser Arafat -- who then
broke off productive Camp David negotiations at the final moment --
and that "We're going to tilt back ward Israel." Powell, a chair away
in the Situation Room that day, said such a move would reverse thirty
years of U.S. policy, and that it could unleash the new prime
minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Israeli army in ways that could be
dire for the Palestinians. Bush's response: "Sometimes a show of force
by one side can really clarify things."
What Abdullah was proposing was exactly what US official policy
had been since 1967, so Bush's response must have been shocking --
but Bush was himself half way between 9/11 and invading Iraq, so
his faith in force was running at a fever pitch. In one of his
notorious malaproprisms Bush later described Sharon as "a man of
peace." (Sharon's own autobiography was titled Warrior.)
Surely when Bush passes he at least won't be remembered as "a
man of peace" -- but obviously such words are cheap to political
figures who have so much to bury.
Glenn Greenwald: Compare and Contrast: Obama's Reaction to the Deaths
of King Abdullah and Hugo Chávez:
But when it comes to western political and media discourse, the only
difference that matters is that Chávez was a U.S. adversary while
Abdullah was a loyal U.S. ally -- which, by itself for purposes of
the U.S. and British media, converts the former into an evil villainous
monster and the latter into a beloved symbol of peace, reform and
Also, a few links for further study:
Adrian Bonenberger: There Are No War Heroes: A Veteran's Review of
American Sniper: I haven't seen Clint Eastwood's movie,
and it looks like the only way I might would be if I went alone --
my wife's reaction to every mention of the movie is so scabrous I
doubt I could focus with her present. I don't follow many people
on Twitter, but two I do -- Max Blumenthal and Matt Taibbi -- have
been relentless in attacking the film (e.g., see Taibbi's
American Sniper Is Almost Too Dumb to Criticize; I'm finding
many rebuttals to Blumenthal's line that "Chris Kyle was just a popular
mass murderer" but not the original source). I did read Nicholas Schmiddle's
June 2013 piece on sniper Chris Kyle
the Crosshairs) so have some sense of the story line, notably how he
cashed in on his war "service": his bestselling memoir, how he became a
"patriotic icon" for the gun crusade, and how he was shot and killed by a
PTSD-damaged soldier. A movie of his life would seem to have all sorts of
possibilities, and Eastwood showed himself capable of seeing more than one
side of a war in his two Iwo Jima films. But one of those possibilities
was to invest whole hog in the jingoism (and racism and murderousness)
that floated around Kyle -- that made him a "hero" to the powerful people
who patronized him. As Bonenberger points out, the controversy predates
This reflects a truth that the movie itself seeks to avoid: War is political,
and a movie about war is bound to make political pronouncements. When you
sit down to enjoy American Sniper, you are committing a political
act, and your evaluation of the movie, and Kyle as a person, reflects your
political attitudes. But it's more complicated than the simple equation
that progressives dislike it and conservatives enjoy it. Politics
notwithstanding, those who've seen it tend to describe the experience in
religious terms: awe-struck congregations of Americans seeing the Iraq War
the way it happened, traveling down the path to PTSD together. Ask around:
Be it Texas or Williamsburg, it's not uncommon to hear of packed theaters
with the patrons filing out in reverent silence after the closing credits.
The very notion that this movie is "non-partisan" or "apolitical" is
the most insidious notion of all. It asserts that fundamentally we all
agree on wars that many of us see as very foolish and self-destructive
(not to mention criminal) acts. What I fear is that time is being used
to cement a mythic memory of the "Terror Wars" -- myths that only pave
the way for more war.
Peter Maas: How Clint Eastwood Ignores History in American Sniper.
Sebastian Budgen & Stathis Kouvelakis: Greece: Phase One:
Useful background on the development of Greece's leftist Syriza
party, which evidently won big in Greece's elections today. Also
Tariq Ali: Greece's Fight Against European Austerity.
Mike Konczal: The 2003 Dividend Tax Cut Did Nothing to Help Real
Economy: Supposedly, cuts in dividends would spur investment
and (maybe) increase employee compensation but it did neither --
especially if you compare affected C-corporations with unaffected
S-corporations. Did lead to more payouts to already rich owners.
DR Tucker: Let Choice Ring!: Starts with a quote from Mitt Romney
supporting woman's right to choose to abort a pregnancy, something he
believed in when running for the Senate from Massachusetts in 1994 but
has conveniently evolved his views on since the anti-choice stand has
become Republican dogma. Tucker collects that and other links here,
and take a strong stand in defense of abortion rights, something more
pressing than it's been in many years precisely because it's being so
A Perilous Year for Abortion Rights, a NY Times editorial.)
Unfortunately, Tucker sinks to exploiting various prejudices in
support of his position. For instance, his link to the NY Times
piece reads: "The radical anti-abortion movement in this country
is out own Boko Haram, trying to kidnap women's rights in the
name of an extremist and backward ideology." That anti-choice
activists and Boko Haram may share a similar psychology about
women doesn't justify exploiting anti-Islam prejudice against
the former. Tucker goes on to argue that ending medical abortion
would result in more "welfare queens" (indeed, a much larger
welfare state), as if that might dissuade "your Republican
friends." Appealing to bigots may seem like a cute idea, but
one doubts doing so would ever do any good. There used to be a
strong conservative case for abortion rights: parenthood is a
great personal responsibility, and the social order depends on
individual commitment to and fulfilling of that responsibility.
Commitment derives from choice: a society where people choose
to be parents is far stronger than one where it happens by
haphazard chance. You don't hear arguments like that any more
because Republicans have settled on building a coalition of
bigots and haters, and there's still a sizable faction out to
keep women in "their place" -- and that seems to trump freedom,
responsibility, or any other ideal that fleetingly enters their
Sunday, January 11. 2015
The big news of the week was the
massacre in the Paris offices of
the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, where ten journalists (mostly
cartoonists) and two police were gunned down. This was followed by
a shooting of a police officer at Montrouge, and an attempt to take
hostages at a kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes, resulting
in four more deaths (five counting the assailant). French officials
hunted down and killed the two Charlie Hebdo shooters, but the story
doesn't end there. Whereas mass shootings by non-Muslims in Europe
and America (including one in
Norway in 2011 that killed 77 people) are typically treated as
"lone wolf" aberrations, any such violence committed by Muslims
automatically triggers a chain reaction where all the usual reactors
resume the positions they took after 9/11, mostly to escalate US,
European, and Israeli violence against Muslims. The effect is much
like watching a train wreck, where no matter how clear every detail
seems, one is helpless to prevent or even affect the crash.
The most immediate response has been a huge outpouring of racist
rhetoric from Europe's right, especially from the strategically
placed, shamelessly opportunistic Marine le Pen. And as rightists
almost reflexively respond, this has already resulted in a number
of attacks against mosques in France. Meanwhile, more respectable
elites have tended to the propaganda campaign. In particular,
Charlie Hebdo has become an icon of free speech, championed by
people who spend billions of dollars every year to shape public
discourse to advance their own agendas. Over the longer term they
will use this attack as an excuse to launch -- actually, to
continue -- many more of their own. Moreover, those attacks --
indeed, this week's mosque attacks -- will scarcely raise a
ripple in the western press, or a twinge of conscience in the
Needless to say, this kneejerk reaction is insane. If, say, one
suffers and barely survives a heart attack, the normal response is
to take a look at your own life and see you can do better -- stop
smoking, eat differently, exercise more, take a daily aspirin,
whatever. It's not to go out and bomb Afghanistan, or burn down
a convenient mosque. And this is not because you feel personally
culpable for the heart attack. It's more because the only change
you can make is to yourself. Yet terror attacks, which for nearly
everyone are mere impersonal news, are never allowed to evoke a
moment's self-examination. There's a complex psychology behind
this, but it's ultimately because the elites (especially the
right-wingers who predominate) have something to hide, and much
to fear if this is ever discussed rationally.
The attackers in Paris, for instance, identified themselves as
affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda was effectively invented in the
1980s when the United States recruited Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
to raise an Islamist army ("the mujahideen") to sabotage the Soviets
in Afghanistan. The US was arguably naive to do so, but American
Cold Warriors had often (and successfully) used religion against
"Godless Communism," and colonial powers had routinely recruited
Islamic clerics to help control the masses -- in fact, the US used
Iranian clerics to organize the mobs that helped overthrow Iran's
democracy in 1953. So what could go wrong? (This was, after all,
the Reagan administration, where naivete was little less than a
When recruited by the US, the Saudi monarchy and Pakistan's
Islamist dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq built their Afghan war
machine with the clerics they had in hand -- the fundamentalist
Wahhabi and Deobandi sects, militantly orthodox especially in
their excoriation of heretics (especially Shiites) and used to
using their religious beliefs as a platform for war -- nor did
they limit their scope to Afghanistan: since its founding,
Pakistan has been obsessed with India, while Saudi Arabia was
locked in a long struggle with secularizing, socialist, and
nationalist forces throughout the Arab world. It was only a
matter of time before the muhahideen turned their venom against
their patrons, especially the infidel ones.
Still, jihadism was never more than a sliver movement within
Islam. If you read Gilles Kepel's definitive history of jihadism
up to 2000 (Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam), you
will see that before 9/11 the movement had largely burned itself
out. In that context, 9/11 was a "hail Mary pass" -- an effort
not to strike the enemy so much as to provoke a monster, which
would then invade the Land of Islam and drive the faithful to
take up arms. Thanks to the ignorance and ego of GW Bush, Bin
Laden was successful in his provocation. His only disappointment
was in how few Muslims rose to fight alongside him. But a small
number did, joining the ranks of those caught up in local wars --
some like Iraq the result of US imperial adventures, others like
Syria only slightly removed -- adding a religious fire to those
conflicts. And very rarely, as in Paris last week, the blowback
All this has been plainly obvious for many years, even as a
succession of presidents (and both apologists and antagonists)
have been oblivious to the consequences of their actions. And
by consequences I don't mean the rare blowback event -- I mean
the obviously direct consequences of aerial attacks and covert
operations, of sanctions and propping up cruel dictators, of
repeatedly proving to the world that US leaders have no respect
for foreign lives, least of all Muslim ones. There are a great
many reasons why the US should withdraw from such behaviors.
Fear of reprisal (of blowback) is a relatively minor one, but
even it isn't as silly as refusing to do the right thing, and
insisting on repeating past mistakes, for fear of looking like
you're giving in to terrorism. Elites like to brand terrorists
as cowards, but the real cowardice is failing to do the right
thing for fear of looking weak.
Only by changing our ways will this problem ever go away.
Some more links and comments follow (some on other topics):
Juan Cole: Sharpening Contradictions: Why al-Qaeda attacked Satirists
in Paris: This is a variant, or complement to, my argument above.
I'll add one small note on return on investment. Al-Qaeda sacrificed
three (maybe five, or a bit more) fighters on this operation. How many
people they killed may matter as a provocation, but this isn't a war
of attrition. So it really comes down to recruitment: how many new
fighters will flock to Al-Qaeda after this? That, in turn, depends on
how many Muslims are alienated by France's reaction (and any other
countries where right-wingers use this to try to advance). The number
doesn't have to be very big to make the action worthwhile. But also
understand that they're starting from a deficit, because this act
itself is as offensive to most Muslims as it is to everyone else.
The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment
pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most
Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam.
France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim
heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that
they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular
Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often
also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in
the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate
people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern
fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai.
In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious,
the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.
Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall
of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to
ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start
creating a common political identity around grievance against
discrimination. [ . . . ]
The only effective response to this manipulative strategy (as
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani tried to tell the Iraqi Shiites a decade
ago) is to resist the impulse to blame an entire group for the actions
of a few and to refuse to carry out identity-politics reprisals.
Teju Cole: Unmournable Bodies: Since the massacre, I've seen many
Charlie Hebdo cartoons in my twitter feed -- a good many offensive,
stupid, or both. I have no idea how representative they are -- I've
read that the magazine is non-partisan, analogous to Mad in
the US, so there must be a mix (if not a balance) of views. And I
know there's no lack of offensive and/or stupid cartoons on the right
in America, and that (especially where Obama is concerned) these all
too frequently slump into blatant racism. Of course, if you go back
in history you can find even worse: see, for a relevant example, the
cartoons reproduced in John W. Dower's War Without Mercy: Race
and Power in the Pacific War for shockingly racist depictions
of Japanese during WWII -- war always brings out the worst in people.
None of this is meant as excuse: as Hamas put it in their PR reaction:
"differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder." But we
shouldn't forget that Charlie Hebdo wasn't singled out for attack
because it represented a free press; it was singled out because it
had allowed itself to become a propaganda organ in a virtual war
against (at least one strain of political) Islam.
More than a dozen people were killed by terrorists in Paris this week.
The victims of these crimes are being mourned worldwide: they were human
beings, beloved by their families and precious to their friends. On
Wednesday, twelve of them were targeted by gunmen for their affiliation
with the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Charlie
has often been aimed at Muslims, and it's taken particular joy in flouting
the Islamic ban on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. It's done more than
that, including taking on political targets, as well as Christian and
Jewish ones. The magazine depicted the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Ghost in a sexual threesome. Illustrations such as this have been cited
as evidence of Charlie Hebdo's willingness to offend everyone.
But in recent years the magazine has gone specifically for racist and
Islamophobic provocations, and its numerous anti-Islam images have been
inventively perverse, featuring hook-nosed Arabs, bullet-ridden Korans,
variations on the theme of sodomy, and mockery of the victims of a
massacre. It is not always easy to see the difference between a certain
witty dissent from religion and a bullyingly racist agenda, but it is
necessary to try. Even Voltaire, a hero to many who extol free speech,
got it wrong. His sparkling and courageous anti-clericalism can be a
joy to read, but he was also a committed anti-Semite, whose criticisms
of Judaism were accompanied by calumnies about the innate character of
This week's events took place against the backdrop of France's ugly
colonial history, its sizable Muslim population, and the suppression,
in the name of secularism, of some Islamic cultural expressions, such
as the hijab. Blacks have hardly had it easier in Charlie Hebdo: one
of the magazine's cartoons depicts the Minister of Justice Christiane
Taubira, who is of Guianese origin, as a monkey (naturally, the defense
is that a violently racist image was being used to satirize racism);
another portrays Obama with the black-Sambo imagery familiar from Jim
Crow-era illustrations. [ . . . ]
But it is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech
without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech. It is
possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is
possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal.
Moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of
the responsibility of making distinctions. The A.C.L.U. got it right
in defending a neo-Nazi group that, in 1978, sought to march through
Skokie, Illinois. The extreme offensiveness of the marchers, absent
a particular threat of violence, was not and should not be illegal.
But no sensible person takes a defense of those First Amendment rights
as a defense of Nazi beliefs. The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists
were not mere gadflies, not simple martyrs to the right to offend:
they were ideologues. Just because one condemns their brutal murders
doesn't mean one must condone their ideology.
Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis
in free speech -- as so many commentators have done -- it is necessary
to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are
already in crisis in Western societies; the crisis was not precipitated
by three deranged gunmen. The U.S., for example, has consolidated its
traditional monopoly on extreme violence, and, in the era of big data,
has also hoarded information about its deployment of that violence.
There are harsh consequences for those who interrogate this monopoly.
The only person in prison for the C.I.A.'s abominable torture regime
is John Kiriakou, the whistle-blower. Edward Snowden is a hunted man
for divulging information about mass surveillance. Chelsea Manning is
serving a thirty-five-year sentence for her role in WikiLeaks. They,
too, are blasphemers, but they have not been universally valorized,
as have the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.
Since the attacks, money has poured into Charlie Hebdo, and with
all the publicity the next press run will be bumped from the usual
60,000 to one million copies.
Michael S Schmidt/Matt Apuzzo: Federal prosecutors recommend charges
against ex-CIA chief David Petraeus: Allegedly, Petraeus disclosed
top-secret files to journalist Paula Broadwell, who was sleeping with
him as well as writing a fawning hagiography. The key point here is
that Obama and Holder have prosecuted leakers to an unprecedented
degree, so what kind of favoritism would it be if they let Petraeus
off the hook? A pretty obvious one, I'd say. But much as I'd like to
"send the pre-eminent military officer of his generation to prison,"
I'd rather see pardons for Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and all
the others who have been or would be prosecuted for disclosing what
the CIA and NSA has been doing with our tax dollars. The difference
is that Petraeus didn't do the public any favors with his leaks. He
did them purely as an act of self-promotion -- coincidentally his
only real accomplishment during his long tenure in the Army and at
Other Charlie Hebdo links:
Mat Taibbi: Cartoons Are Worth Fighting For: "The answer here isn't
more self-censorship, but standing on the principle of everyone learning
to calm down, get a life, and tolerate the occasional weird idea." Yes,
but tolerance, while vastly preferred over intolerance, isn't the real
goal. The goal should be to get to a just and equitable society, and to
do that we need to get to the truth. Free speech and a free press are
necessary to facilitate that.
Diana Johnstone: What to Say When You Have Nothing to Say?: "Along
with taking innocent lives, they have surely deepened the sense of brutal
chaos in this world, aggravated distrust between ethnic groups in France
and in Europe, and no doubt accomplished other evil results as well."
Tariq Ali: Maximum Horror: "Charlie Hebdo sees itself as having
a mission to defend republican secular values against all religions.
It has occasionally attacked Catholicism, but it's hardly ever taken
on Judaism (though Israel's numerous assaults on Palestinians have
offered many opportunities) and has concentrated its mockery on Islam.
French secularism today seems to encompass anything as long as it's
not Islamic. [ . . . ] Defending its right to
publish, regardless of consequences, is one thing, but sacralising
a satirical paper that regularly targets those who are victims of a
rampant Islamophobia is almost as foolish as justifying the acts of
terror against it. Each feeds on the other."
Arthur Chu: Trolls and Martyrdom: Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie:
"Shooting people is wrong." But that doesn't mean that the people
who shouldn't be shot are all right. (For some reason that is a
principle a lot of Americans have trouble with: we live in a society
that seems to want to settle every dispute with a gun, somehow
believing that problems go away when you kill the people most
identified with them.) Interesting factoid: "They're only even
called Charlie Hebdo as an inside joke after the original
publication, Hara-Kirk Hebdo, got shut down for mocking
former President Charles de Gaulle immediately after his death."
Josh Marshall: Is There a Future for French Jewry? There are about
600,000 Jews in France. In 2013 a bit more than 3000 emigrated to Israel
(at least according to the figures here). After events like the attack
on a kosher supermarket in Paris last week, as well as "a series of
attacks on French Jews over recent years," Israeli sources expect more
to emigrate to Israel next year. Marshall somehow took the bait and is
projecting the collapse of the entire community. This is a meme that
pops up every few years -- see
Tony Karon: Where do France's Jews Belong?, published in 2004 when
Sharon was offering French Jews a safe haven in the midst of the Al-Aqsa
Intifada. One thing that's missing here is stats on the other side of
the coin: I've seen estimates that over 700,000 Israelis have moved
abroad, and while the US and Germany (!) are the most frequently cited
destinations, France cannot be far behind. (Most of the Israeli jazz
musicians I'm familiar with live abroad, and France is a popular base.)
More Guns: The Cure-All? After 9/11, I remember Eric Raymond arguing
that we should allow passengers on airplanes to carry guns so they could
defend themselves, as if the hijackers wouldn't have been the first to
take advantage of that option. So no surprise that someone should come
forward with the idea that if only the office workers at Charlie Hebdo
had been packing heat . . . (not that the dead police
weren't). No need to read this article for that, but you might be
interested in how a Kansas gun shop owner was shot dead and robbed.
Steve M. also pays more attention to
David Brooks' take on Charlie Hebdo than you should.
Philip Weiss: Don't let's go to the war of civilizations again:
"Speaking of double standards, our obsession with radical Islam overlooks
the incredible peacefulness of most Arab societies
[ . . . ] and the wide destruction we've wrought in
the Middle East. Steve Walt used to keep a counter on how many Muslims
we've killed -- over 200,000 Muslims a few years ago. Bill Kristol and
George Packer and Roger Cohen seem to think the answer is to undertake
actions that will kill more, because we are now in a civilizational
clash. That will just radicalize more Kouachis and make us all more
Also, a few links for further study:
Max Blumenthal: Politicde in Gaza: How Israel's Far Right Won the
War: In a scholarly journal, with footnotes, a first draft at
the history of the 2014 war. Sample quote:
With rocket sirens sounding around the country, calls for genocide
by Israeli public figures grew more frequent and forceful. Moshe
Feiglin -- one of ten deputy speakers of the Knesset so extreme
that Likud employed a series of legal tricks to boot him from its
2009 electoral list -- issued a detailed plan to "exterminate" or
"concentrate" all residents of Gaza.57 Dov Lior, the
chief rabbi of the religious nationalist settlement, Kiryat Arba,
issued an edict declaring that Jewish law supported taking "crushing
deterring [sic] steps to exterminate the enemy."58
Meanwhile, Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer on Arabic literature at
Bar Ilan University, opined in an interview on the day after the
bodies of the three Israeli teens were found that the only way to
deter young Palestinian men from militant activity was to rape
their sisters and mothers. "It sounds very bad, but that's the
Middle East . . . [y]ou have to understand the culture in which
Incitement at the top emboldened Israeli teens flooding social
media to spin genocidal fantasies of their own. David Sheen, an
independent Israeli journalist, translated dozens of frightening
Twitter posts by adolescent Israeli women alternating between
revealing selfies and annihilationist rants. "Kill Arab children
so there won't be a next generation," wrote a user called
@ashlisade.60 Another teenage female Twitter user, @shirzafaty,
declared, "Not just on summer vacation we hate stinking ugly Arabs,
but for the rest of our lives."61 On a mortar shell that
was to be launched into a civilian area in Gaza, a young Israeli
soldier complained about a boy-band concert that was scrapped
because of the fighting: "That's for canceling the Backstreet Boys,
you scum!" he wrote.62
Stephen Kinzer: Joining the military doesn't make you a hero:
Certainly one reason not to join the military. Of course, there are
- Tom Hull: Re Voltaire on Jews, Maher on Muslims, note how
people who lose their religion still feel most confident dumping on
- Max Blumenthal: Netanyahu wants Jews to leave France and move
to the nation he describes as the key target of anti-Semitic terror:
- Matt Haig: Rupert Murdoch thinks all Muslims should apologise
for terrorism. So on behalf of white people, I'd like to apologise for
- Max Blumenthal: Netanyahu could not address the Paris killings
without mentioning Hamas and Hezbollah and insinuating some connection
- Matt Taibbi: Bush was like an ordinary mean Republican politician
with a tiny FunnyBot hiding in his frontal lobe.
- Matt Taibbi: I think Bush's paintings are kind of cute. It's
like art for dogs or some thing.
Sunday, December 7. 2014
I've been meaning on writing something about justice, the lack of
it, or the insane perversion of it within the US, but I wanted to
start off with a quote and can't find the book. In fact, I can't
find most of the things I look for these days: the place is a total
mess, and getting oppressively so. Don't even know where to start
sorting it out. So I figured I'd skip the links post today, then
found a couple already tucked away in the draft file. So it seems
like I can't even follow a plan on not doing something any more.
Another thing I've been thinking about is coming up with a more
systematic piece on "the four wars of 2014" -- Israel/Gaza, Syria,
Iraq, and Ukraine -- and how they are mutually reinforcing, mostly
due to delusions prevalent in Washington these days (some examples
of which follow).
Anyhow, shorter and more scattered than I'd like, but more than
Thomas Frank: Ann Coulter and David Brooks play a sneaky, unserious
class card: As I understand Brooks' post-Ferguson spin (hat tip
No More Mister Nice Blog), nobody (on the right, anyway) is a
racist any more, but good conservatives do practice something he
calls "classism" -- i.e., they do look down on lazy people whose
lack of responsibility and work ethic have resulted in their being
poor and miserable. That, of course, is a spin on reality. The fact
is that conservatives encourage their followers to believe such
things, and some poor whites are flattered, ignorant, and gullible
enough to do so. Frank then tries to link this up with some of
Coulter's nonsense, quoting her:
Liberals thrive on the attractions of snobbery. Only when you appreciate
the powerful driving force of snobbery in the liberals' worldview do all
their preposterous counterintuitive arguments make sense. They promote
immoral destructive behavior because they are snobs, they embrace
criminals because they are snobs, they oppose tax cuts because they
are snobs, they adore the environment because they are snobs.
Now, I remember practically the very day in 7th grade when my
classmates discovered the word "snob" and it spread like a virus as
an all-purpose epithet to shame anyone you had any sort of complaint
about. It works, of course, because the only mutually agreeable
relationships are based on equality, and it did tend to level the
field -- although one soon came to suspect that the ones who led
the charge had the most to hide. (And if that suggests that Coulter
never really grew out of 7th grade, well, the foo shits.) The fact
is, I never knew any real snobs until I went to an expensive private
college -- and even that was muted because, after all, I was one of
them. Still, nothing in Coulter's paragraph makes any sense. There
are lots of things that snobs think and do differently from the rest
of us, but none of them made Coulter's list. Frank tries to join the
two quotes around "embracing criminals," but that's overwhelmed by
the negatives: Brooks seems to be thinking that it's OK to generalize
from criminals to class they frequent, while Coulter is generalizing
from criminals to the snobs (i.e., liberals) who "embrace" them. And
once you criminalize someone, you can never punish them too much.
When Democrats finally get over the impulse to deny and prevaricate
and blame others, and instead ask where they themselves went wrong,
one place they might begin is their beloved issue of free trade.
Take NAFTA, the granddaddy of all trade agreements, whose twentieth
anniversary we celebrated this year: There has never been a more
obviously class-based piece of legislation. It was supported with
uncanny unanimity by members of the commentariat and the professional
class, and, indeed, it has worked well for such people. For members
of the working class, however, it has been precisely the disaster
their organizations predicted.
The deal crushed enthusiasm for the Democratic Party among the
working-class voters who were then considered part of the Democratic
base and contributed to the Democrats' loss of the House of
Representatives in 1994, a disaster from which, the economist Jeff
Faux wrote in 2006, "the Democratic Party still has not recovered."
And, indeed, from which the party seemingly has no desire to recover.
Just the other day, President Obama announced that he is fired up
and ready to go . . . with the Republicans in Congress on the Trans
Pacific Partnership, even though much of his own party is opposed
Democrats who sign up for our master class on classism might also
look back over their response to the financial crisis, during which
they bailed out their BFFs on Wall Street and let everyone else go
to hell. Or the many favors they failed to do for their former BFFs
in organized labor. Or their lack of interest in getting a public
option included in health-care reform.
Simon Maloy: "A fan of blowing things up": Why new DefSec nominee Ashton
Carter was ready to restart Korean War: Not a huge surprise that
Obama's pick to replace Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is a hawk
more committed to the military than to democracy, but it's hard to
imagine a more vivid example of his myopia than his cavalier attitude
toward bombing North Korea. If there's anything one should have learned
from studying wars throughout history it's that you never can predict
all the consequences. Still, Carter thinks the US can blow up a working
nuclear reactor without causing it to malfunction, melt down, explode,
and spread toxic radiation. He also thinks that North Korea wouldn't
retaliate for such an attack, even though their main defense against
US attack for more than 60 years has been the deterrence of their
artillery pointed at Seoul. And in any case he thinks that the many
thousands of Koreans who would die from that test of will are a small
price compared to the risk that North Korea might eventually possess
nuclear weapons and long-range missiles (which, by the way, they now
do, and like most nations with such arms do nothing with). In other
words, Carter is not just the wrong person to become Secretary of
Defense; he probably ought to be packed away to a mental ward
somewhere. (It goes without saying that he's already been endorsed
by Lindsay Graham and Donald Rumsfeld.) Another example of how
Obama's "changing the way we think about war"?
Ron Paul: Reckless Congress 'Declares War' on Russia: On H. Res.
758: "16 pages of war propaganda that should have made even neocons
blush." Only 10 representatives voted against it (5 Democrats and 5
These are the kinds of resolutions I have always watched closely in
Congress, as what are billed as "harmless" statements of opinion often
lead to sanctions and war. I remember in 1998 arguing strongly against
the Iraq Liberation Act because, as I said at the time, I knew it would
lead to war. I did not oppose the Act because I was an admirer of Saddam
Hussein -- just as now I am not an admirer of Putin or any foreign
political leader -- but rather because I knew then that another war
against Iraq would not solve the problems and would probably make
things worse. We all know what happened next.
Nathan Thrall: Rage in Jerusalem: Useful background about Jerusalem,
the center of the ad hoc violence that threatens a "third intifada," how
the expanded-and-annexed city's 30% Palestinian minority has been isolated
and estranged by the political system.
Palestinians in general feel disconnected from their political leaders,
but the sense of abandonment is particularly acute in Jerusalem, where
the PA is strictly forbidden from acting and to which Ramallah, like
most of the Arab world, devotes many lofty words but very few deeds.
When he assented to the five-year interim arrangements for Palestinian
self-governance in the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat agreed to exclude
Jerusalem from the areas that would be governed pro tempore by the PA.
Local leaders, notably the late Faisal Husseini, refused to agree to
this, which is one reason Yitzhak Rabin, who resolutely opposed dividing
Jerusalem when he was prime minister and said he would rather abandon
peace than give up a united capital, chose to bypass Husseini and
instead pursued secret negotiations in Oslo with Arafat's emissaries.
Palestinians in Jerusalem have been bereft of political leaders since
Husseini's death in 2001. All four of Jerusalem's representatives in the
Palestinian parliament -- all of them members of Hamas, elected in 2006 --
have been deported. Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, monitors
'political subversion,' which includes lawful opposition to the Israeli
occupation. Since all Palestinian political parties oppose the occupation,
they and their activities have, in effect, been criminalised. Even innocuous
Palestinian institutions such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce have been
shut down. Years of Israeli suppression of Palestinian political activity
have ensured that when violence erupts in Jerusalem, there is no legitimate
leadership to quell it; and spontaneous, unorganised protests and attacks
are far more difficult for the security forces to thwart and contain.
More Israel links:
Philip Weiss: Lieberman unveils racist peace plan: Pay Palestinians to
leave Israel: First point here is that he's talking about Israel's
so-called "Arab citizens": a 15-20% minority within the Green Line and
not a peace problem despite their de facto second class status. The much
larger problem is Israel's occupation of territories beyond the Green
Line where Palestinians are a huge (and in many cases severely oppressed)
majority. Their disposition either pushes the price tag up enormously
or turns Lieberman's "economic incentives" into something more ominous.
Still, the focus on Israel's "Arab citizens" is plenty ominous already:
this and the new "Nationality Law" (supported by Lieberman) suggest that
many right-wing Jews in Israel are unable to tolerate the presence of
any ethnic or religious minority.
Allison Deger: Israel sent Palestinian Authority letter to 'stop incitement'
over bus driver's death: There is plenty of reason to suspect that
Israel's decree that the death of Yousef Hassan al-Ramouni was suicide
("no suspicion of criminal activity") was in error. Now Israeli officials
are warning Palestinians that questioning their judgment in this case is
"encitement" -- something illegal under Israeli law. Anyone who thinks
Israel's "democracy" is anything like ours should take note. (On the
other hand, free speech evidently extends to
50 rabbis call for storming the Aqsa platform: "Some of these religious
figures have issued religious rulings ordering the killing of Arabs.")
Allison Deger: Palestinian flag is an 'enemy'flag' -- Netanyahu's latest
crackdown: His proposed law will allow Israel to strip citizenship rights
and exile to Gaza any "Arab citzens of Israel" who engage in "terrorism or
encitement" -- the latter includes flying a Palestinian flag. As Netanyahu
explains, in Israel "only the Jewish People have national rights: A flag,
anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to the country, and other
Kate: Int'l volunteer and Palestinian youth both shot in chest with live
.22 rounds inside occupation: one of many horror stories from this
week's press, including floods in Gaza, and "US to provide 3,000 'smart
bombs' for Israel."
Kate: Israeli bus driver runs over two Palestinians at Jenin checkpoint,
killing one: More press clips. Also see:
Kate: Palestinian youth hospitalized after being attacked by Israeli
settlers in Jerusalem.
Kate: 14 Palestinians injured by Israeli army fire in Ramallah clashes.
Kate: Israeli forces killed nine Palestinians, arrested 650, during month
Kate: 'There's no coexisting with cancer': Bilingual Arabic/Hebrew school
damaged in Jerusalem arson attack.
Roland Nikles: David Remnick undermines Israel's one-state president:
Detailed critique of David Remnick's article,
The One-State Reality, where Remnick reflexively defends the "two-state
solution" idea even as it becomes ever more impossible.
Jen Marlowe: One Family, Two Doors, Nowhere to Run: Focuses on one
family in Gaza.
Israel accused of launching air strikes near Damascus in act of 'aggression
against Syria': This would normally be a very important story, but
with Assad tied up with his civil war, and the US and Iran already bombing
elsewhere in Syria, it just seems like capricious piling on.
Only US and Israel Oppose UN Ban on Weapons in Outer Space: OK,
the US I can understand: that's the only country in the world that
fully expects to be able to bomb anywhere in the world any time it
takes a hankering to. Moreover, the only country with the resources
to waste on that nonsense. (Although China is known to have technology
to shoot down satellites, just in case it needs to level the playing
field.) But Israel? You'd think they'd think the only reason anyone
would position weapons in space would be to kill Jews, wouldn't
Also, a few links for further study:
Sunday, November 23. 2014
This week's notable links follow, especially on Israel, where this
summer's Gaza war and the coming elections, on top of nearly twenty
years of Likud rule (minus two years for Ehud Barak, 1998-2000) and
far-right demagoguery have left a great many Israelis more racist
and bloodthirsty than ever. When I talk to people about Israel, they
usually throw their hands up in the air, but this is important --
not least because the US is becoming increasingly Israelized, as
you can see from Obama's latest escalations in Afghanistan, Iraq,
and Syria, and as is portended by the Confederate/Tea Party revolt --
the lynchings the latter dream about are now real in Israel.
Michael Konczal: Frenzied Financialization:
The financialization revolution over the past thirty-five years has moved
us toward greater inequality in three distinct ways. The first involves
moving a larger share of the total national wealth into the hands of the
financial sector. The second involves concentrating on activities that
are of questionable value, or even detrimental to the economy as a whole.
And finally, finance has increased inequality by convincing corporate
executives and asset managers that corporations must be judged not by
the quality of their products and workforce but by one thing only:
immediate income paid to shareholders. [ . . . ]
But the most important change will be intellectual: we must come
to understand our economy not as simply a vehicle for capital owners,
but rather as the creation of all of us, a common endeavor that creates
space for innovation, risk taking, and a stronger workforce. This change
will be difficult, as we will have to alter how we approach the economy
as a whole. Our wealth and companies can't just be strip-mined for a
small sliver of capital holders; we'll need to bring the corporation
back to the public realm. But without it, we will remain trapped inside
an economy that only works for a select few.
Bill McKibben: Congress is about to sabotage Obama's historic climate
deal: Slams Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) for voting in favor of the
Keystone/XL pipeline, despite praising Obama for his "climate deal
with China." But that's just an example.
By now it should be clear that giving in to the Republicans does not
"pave the way" for future compromises -- that's the Lucy-with-the-football
lesson that President Obama has spent his entire term in office learning.
Much more fundamentally, though, the problem is this: you can't cut
carbon without, you know, cutting carbon.
The president's accord with China doesn't actually do anything except
set a target. To meet that target you have to do things. If you don't do
things -- if you keep approving pipelines and coal mines and fracking
wells -- then you won't meet the target.
For the moment, Keystone is the best example of this principle. So
far we've stopped it for three years, and in the process pushed companies
to pull $17 billion in investment out of the tar sands. That money would
have built projects that would have dumped the carbon equivalent of 700
new coal-fired power plants into the atmosphere. We've done something
real -- something that will actually help, say, Delaware which has a,
you know, coastline.
Israel links: There's been a steady stream of reports of
communal violence between Israelis (especially West Bank and Jerusalem
settlers) and Palestinians, which might seem to be symmetrical except
for the Israeli state, which holds a practical monopoly on violence
and directs it at Palestinians. The number of incidents of attacks by
Palestinians against Israelis (an errant car here, a stabbing there,
five killed in a Jewish synagogue) has triggered speculation that a third
Intifada is in the works. Like the first two, all a third will prove
is how intransigent and unengaging Israeli politics has become -- an
old story where pent-up frustration gets the best of caution, even
knowing that Israel will take every provocation as an excuse for ever
greater violence. However, what is different this time is the degree
that Israeli civilians have taken the lead in attacking Palestinians,
both violently and economically through their campaign to rid Jewish
businesses of Palestinian workers. This is happening partly due to
the unchecked racism in Israeli political discourse, and to the loss
of restraint in Israel's legal system. So the question this time isn't
whether there will be an intifada but why there is already a pogrom --
a state-backed civilian riot against a hated ethnic minority.
Kate: Israeli government plans 185 miles of new Jewish settler roads in
the West Bank: That's just one of dozens of press reports: Israel
to approve 200 units in Jerusalem settlement; Palestinian shot dead by
Israeli forces in al-Arrub; Palestinian worker shot dead in Israel;
Body of Palestinian man found with signs of torture; Soldier stabbed
in Tel Aviv dies; Palestinian suspect shot; Israeli forces open live
fire at Palestinians during clashes [in Bethlehem]; 58 Palestinians
kidnapped in various Arab towns; Israeli settlers torch mosque in
Ramallah-area village; Israeli settlers accost Palestinian officers
near Nablus; Gun-toting settlers attack female students near Bethlehem;
Jews threaten to kill head teacher for having Arab workers at school.
link about the Rasmea Odeh case which shows that Israeli injustice
is practiced even in Chicago.
Kate: Hate attacks in Jerusalem and Israel include one by settler girls:
Also: Palestinian woman run over by Israeli near Shu'fat; 2 Israelis
stabbed in fight with Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Child seriously
injured during interrogation in Jerusalem; Vandals deface car of Acre
imam who called for tolerance after J'lem attack. It was also the 20th
anniversary of Baruch Goldstein's massacre of 56 worshippers at the
Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron -- often cited as the pivotal event that
wrecked the Oslo Peace Process. Goldstein died during the attack, and
has been treated as a martyr: "At his funeral, Goldstein was eulogized
as a hero, with one speaker, Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, declaring that even
1 million Arabs 'are not worth a Jewish fingernail,' while attendees
shouted, 'We are all Goldsteins!' and 'Arabs out of Israel!' Following
the slaughter, Goldstein was also lauded by Rabbi Dov Lior, who was
and continues to be the chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba and one of the most
influential figures in the religious Zionism movement, who called
Goldstein, 'holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.'" And many
more reports along these lines.
Annie Robbins: Kahanists attack school after synagogue killings:
In Hebron, where the martyred murderer Goldstein is buried, so I
figure the "provocation" was merely convenient. Nor was that the
only case of settler violence reported here: "And speaking of
stories that the mainstream is not covering, Yusuf Hasan al-Ramouni,
32, a Palestinian husband, father, son, and brother was lynched
Sunday in a bus in Mount Scopus, which adjoins Jewish settlements
in East Jerusalem." Robbins also has
videos of Israeli forces spraying "skunk spray" in Palestinian
Gideon Levy: In Israel, only Jewish blood shocks anyone: In Israel,
five Israelis killed in a Jerusalem synagogue is a world-class outrage,
but 2200 Palestinians killed in Gaza is a statistic. "But this is a
society that sanctifies its dead to the point of death-worship, that
wears thin the stories of the victims' lives and deaths, whether it be
in a synagogue attack or a Nepal avalanche. It's a society preoccupied
with endless commemorations in the land of monuments, services and
anniversary ceremonies; a society that demands shock and condemnation
after every attack, when it blames the entire world."
Philip Weiss: Netanyahu's 'battle for Jerusalem' can't end well for
any of us: When some horrible act of violence occurs, the instinct
of most political leaders is to call for calm, but Netanyahu's speech
following the killing of five Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue was,
as Weiss puts it, "blood curdling."
Jeff Halper: Israel sows despair and senseless violence: "And the
'Zionist answer' to the downward cycle of senseless violence in which
Jerusalem finds itself: house demolitions, mass arrests, revoking the
'residency' of native-born Jerusalemites, closing Palestinian neighborhoods
with concrete blocks, arming Israeli Jewish vigilantes and cheap shots
at the last person who believes in a two-state solution, Abu Mazen.
Everything, that is, except an end to occupation and a just political
solution. This is what happens when a powerful country forgoes any
effort to address the grievances of a people under its control and
descends into raw oppression."
Isabel Kershner: Israeli Cabinet Approves Nationality Bill: Could
use more detail here, but the legislation appears to be aimed at stripping
rights away from "Arab citizens of Israel," including citizenship in some
cases. Intriguing sentence: "In what appeared to be a political deal, Mr.
Netanyahu promised government support for the hard-line versions of the
bill in a first reading in Parliament this week on the condition that the
law would be moderated before any final approval."
William Saletan: Hate Thy Neighbor: Subtitle: "How Israel teaches its
citizens all the wrong lessons." For instance, there's the policy of
demolishing the homes of the families of already-killed "terrorists":
"In other words, the logic of the policy is that it punishes people who
don't commit acts of terror. Terrorists want to die, so they aren't
deterred. Israel targets their loved ones, who would suffer more acutely,
in the hope that this "price" will intimidate the would-be perpetrator.
That is the logic of hostage taking, and of terrorism."
Michael Wilner: Cornered but unbound by nuclear pact, Israel reconsiders
military action against Iran: So the sabre-rattling resumes, just
as the US and Iran are putting the finishing touches on a deal promising
to return Iran to the good graces of the NPT, certified as a state that
is not developing nuclear weapons. Of course, Netanyahu wants to torpedo
that deal (and is probably expecting the Republican congress to do his
dirty work for him -- after all, they were elected precisely for their
inability to think independently). He also no doubt wants to bring up
the spectre of Iran any time the US suggests he negotiate peace with
the Palestinians. But wasn't it just a few months ago when he admitted
that his last round of sabre-rattling was nothing more than a scam to
hustle the dumb Americans, and that Israel never had any intention of
attacking Iran in the first place?
I also want to single out
Richard Silverstein: Terror Rules Jerusalem: He points out that the
"heinous synagogue terror attack by Palestinians in the West Jerusalem
neighborhood of Har Hof" took place on grounds of the former Palestinian
village of Deir Yassin, "where the Irgun murdered 100 Palestinians as
part of the pre-war (1948) violence that eventually led to the Nakba,"
adding "It's horrible to think that this single place could be the site
of two such tragedies." He doesn't mention that the ratio of dead is
close to the historical norm for matched sets of Israeli and Palestinian
massacres. He then quotes
In the next few days, after the IDF and the settlers will have taken
their vengeance, under the Orwellian cover of "deterrence," life will
go on. The settlers who commit price-tag attacks will be condemned
for a day, then understood, then arrested, maybe, convicted maybe,
and pardoned, probably. The soldiers and police will do whatever they
want with impunity, B'tselem cameras or not. Land will be expropriated,
freedoms eliminated, the matrix of control and, most of all, the routine
will continue until the next time, when Jews die, and the clueless
Israelis hold everybody and everything but themselves responsible.
Silverstein then moves on to the death of Yusuf Al-Ramuni, who was
found hung in an egged bus he drove. The Israelis promptly declared
the death a suicide, although there is evidence that he was lynched.
Further, in the media rush to cover the horrific attack on the Har Nof
synagogue, let's not forget that this incident preceded it. Terror
always has a context. Do not forget that no matter how heinous an
event, something equally heinous preceded and incited it.
While the world justifiably gasps at an attack on a Jewish house of
worship, let's remember that Palestinians see their own mosques and
cemeteries torched and desecrated by settler price taggers. They see
hundreds of heavily armed Israeli Police defiling the sacred precinct
of Haram Al Sharif. Does anyone believe that a Muslim is not as
horrified by this encroachment as a Jew is by an assault on praying
It takes two, and Palestinian rage derives from Israeli provocation.
Certainly, the settlers who murder Palestinians believe the converse.
So why not credit Palestinian rage as much as Israeli?
[ . . . ]
Examine once again Bibi's response to the Kafr Kana police murder.
He dispensed with rote regret altogether. He launched into barely
controlled rage at Palestinian protests against this cold-blooded
murder and warned they would be "dealt with" severely if they didn't
learn to behave themselves.
Bibi doesn't mind the current level of civil unrest. It plays into
his hand for upcoming elections, and this is literally all he cares
about. Israelis flock to the strong man, even if he's utterly unable
to stifle Palestinian terror. The problem will be that Bibi will win
an election, but have no more idea how to quell the rebellion after
the election than he does now.
Silverstein thinks a Third Intifada is already here, "but unlike
the earlier Intifades, this one is a mutual affair in which Jewish
terror (whether official and State-sponsored or vigilante-based)
responds to Palestinian terror (or vice versa)." Actually, he
forgets the overwhelming preponderance of Israeli violence in
both previous Intifadas -- a term which gives Palestinians more
strategic credit than they deserve. (In fact, I've long argued
that the second Intifada should have been named for Shaul Moffaz,
the man who started it, and looking back Pogrom might have been
more accurate; looking forward it certainly will be.)
You might also read Silverstein's later post,
In Race for Next Shin Bet Chief, May Worst Man Win. In the US we're
so used to voting for "lesser evils" that the "may worst man win" notion
is not just alien, it's downright terrifying. Ever since the German CP
really did let the worst man win, we've been popular frontists -- partly
because the world has never been so vile, nor the hope for revolution so
sweet, to let the world crash so dismally. (The right, on the other hand,
with its distorted vision and messianic fervor, has often done just that.)
On the other hand, Silverstein has become so pessimistic about Israel that
the only chance he sees is complete breakdown. It's a scary argument.
Also, the US war machine is heating up: If Republicans
want to pick a fight over the arbitrary, unilateral abuse of presidential
power, they're welcome to start here:
Also, a few links for further study:
Paul Krugman: The Structure of Obamacare: This is fairly basic, but
still above most heads, so worth explaining:
It's important to be clear what this does NOT mean -- it doesn't mean
that there is a huge hidden burden on the public. For the most part,
people buying health insurance would have bought it anyway. Under
single-payer, they would have stopped doing that, and paid taxes
instead; under the ACA, they continue to pay premiums but don't pay
the extra taxes. There's no secret extra cost.
So, why was Obamacare set up this way? It's mainly about politics,
but nothing that should shock you. Partly it was about getting buy-in
from the insurance industry; a switch to single payer would have
destroyed a powerful industry, and realistically that wasn't going
to happen. Partly it was about leaving most people unaffected:
employment-based coverage, which was the great bulk of private
insurance, remained pretty much as it was. This made sense: even
if single-payer would have been better than what people already had,
it would have been very hard to sell them on such a big change. And
yes, avoiding a huge increase in on-budget spending was a consideration,
but not central.
The main point was to make the plan incremental, supplementing the
existing structure rather than creating massive changes. And all of
this was completely upfront; I know I wrote about it many times.
Most single-payer advocates will counter that the health insurance
industry deserved to be destroyed. Of course, I agree, and would like
to go further in nationalizing health care -- the insurance industry
isn't the only sector that rips the public off, even if it is unique
in how little value it adds to the system. However, if the obstacle to
single-payer is the political power of the health insurance industry,
it would be worthwhile looking at reforms to ACA that would knock that
industry down a notch or two. The "public option," which was a key
part of the original act, was one: this would weaken the industry in
two ways: by drawing customers away, and by reducing profit margins
through tougher competition.
I suspect the main source of opposition to the ACA is the kneejerk
belief common on the right that prefers policy made by profit-seeking
private companies over the public-servants of government bureaucracies.
It's hard to see why anyone should believe that, but sometimes business
doesn't cut its own throat, and sometimes government does.
Krugman writes more about ACA and partisan blinders
The mind reels. How is it possible for anyone who has been following
politics and, presumably, policy for the past six years not to know
that Obamacare is, in all important respects, identical to Romneycare?
It has the same three key provisions -- nondiscrimination by insurers,
a mandate for individuals, and subsidies to make the mandate workable.
It was developed by the same people. I and many others have frequently
referred to ObamaRomneycare.
Well, I've know for years that many political pundits don't think
that understanding policy is part of their job. But this is still extreme.
And I'm sorry to go after an individual here -- but for God's sake, don't
you have to know something about the actual content of a policy you
And what's actually going on here is worse than ignorance. It's pretty
clear that we're watching a rule of thumb according to which if Republicans
are against a proposal, that means it must be leftist and extreme, and the
burden on the White House is to find a way to make the GOP happy. Needless
to say, this rewards obstructionism -- there is literally nothing Obama can
do to convince some (many) pundits that he's making a good faith effort,
because they don't pay any attention to what he does, only to the Republican
Nancy Le Tourneau: Understanding the Threat of a Confederate Insurgency:
Starts with a long quote from Doug Muder's
Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party, which makes the point that the
first war the US lost was the Civil War -- not in 1865, when the Confederate
Army was disbanded, but by 1877, when Reconstruction ended with the restoration
of the Confederate aristocracy, setting the stage for Jim Crow and all that.
If I understand LeTourneau correctly, she's arguing that the explosion of
neo-Confederates is a last-ditch reaction against change -- something more
likely to be a sporadic nuisance than a gathering wave. Nonetheless, the
ability of the right to resist and even roll back reform is a repeated
theme in American history, and we're seeing way too much of it now.
Sunday, November 9. 2014
Thought I'd do a quickie on post-election links but I've been so
bummed and lethargic this week it's taken until Sunday anyway. Not
just the elections, either, nor the news that the Supreme Court will
practice its ideological activism on insurance subsidies for people
unfortunate enough to live in states that couldn't (actually, wouldn't)
get their act together under the ACA.
The takeaway from the election seems to be that voter suppression
and nearly infinite money works for Republicans. The 4% "skew" toward
the Democrats that Nate Silver found in the polls seems to be people
who intended to vote but at the last minute either didn't or couldn't.
That was enough to tilt about 5-6 senate races. But also Democrats
didn't do a good job of articulating issues -- it's noteworthy that
progressive issues won pretty much across the board when they weren't
attached to candidates who could be linked to Obama. To pick on one
example: Mark Pryor's campaign consisted of a vacuous slogan ("Put
Arkansas First") and ads warning that Tom Cotton wanted to kill off
Medicare and Social Security. That's not inaccurate, and would have
won if voters really took Cotton to be that much of a threat, but
many voters concluded that the risk wasn't that great. On the other
hand, Cotton's ads did nothing more than equate Pryor with Obama.
I can't tell you why that mattered, or why that worked, but it did.
Ryan Cooper: What Democrats get wrong about inequality: Lots of
There are various complex models for this, but the general explanation
is fairly intuitive: Modern economies are built on a mass market. But
if the great majority of people don't have much (or any) disposable
income, then there is no mass market, and it's harder to start a
business relying on any kind of mass sales. And with weak consumer
spending, existing businesses have little reason to invest in growth,
and instead disgorge their profits to shareholders, exacerbating the
trend. In the end, you get a hollowed-out, bifurcated economy, where
low-grade goods are sold to the broke masses on razor-thin margins,
while incomprehensible sums slosh around weird luxury markets.
There's more to it than this. The breakdown of capital controls
makes it easy to reinvest profits abroad, where there is more potential
for middle-class growth. (I first noticed this in the early 1990s,
when Greenspan lowered interest rates to stimulate the economy, and
virtually all of that cheap money went abroad -- mostly, it seemed,
into currency speculation, resulting in busts in East Asia, Mexico,
and elsewhere. Conversely, foreign investors buy up assets in the US --
there was a tremendous boom in this during the 1980s, and while less
commented on the trend continues.)
By the way, I accidentally clicked on a link in Cooper's article
and it led to a fascinating article by J.W. Mason,
Disgorge the Cash:
If you read the business press, you're used to these kinds of stories.
A company whose mission is making something gets bought out or bullied
into becoming a company whose mission is making payments to shareholders.
Apple is only an especially dramatic example. But the familiarity of this
kind of story is a sign of a different relationship between corporations
and the financial system from what prevailed a generation ago.
Prior to the 1980s, share repurchases were tightly limited by law, and
a firm that borrowed in order to pay higher dividends would have been
regarded as engaging in a kind of fraud. Shareholders were entitled to
their dividends and nothing more -- neither a share in any exceptional
profits, nor a say in the management of the firm. In the view of Owen
Young, the long-serving chairman of General Electric in the early 20th
century, "the stockholders are confined to a maximum return equivalent
to a risk premium. The remaining profit stays in the enterprise, is paid
out in higher wages, or is passed on to the customer."
This, of course, has all changed since the 1980s, and it's worth
underscoring that changes in law, and therefore political policy,
were necessary to enable it. Much more of interest here -- I like
the line on the post-WWII corporation: "Whether the managerial firm
was the 'soulful corporation' of Galbraith or the soul-crushing
monopoly capital of Baran and Sweezy, it was run according to its
own growth imperatives, not to maximize returns to shareholders."
Then there's this:
Keynes's call for the "euthanasia of the rentier" toward the end of
The General Theory is typically taken as a playful provocation.
But as Jim Crotty has argued, this idea was one of Keynes's main
preoccupations in his political writings in the 1920s. In his 1926
essay "The End of Laissez Faire," he observed that "one of the most
interesting and unnoticed developments of recent decades has been the
tendency of big enterprise to socialize itself." As shareholders' role
in the enterprise diminishes, "the general stability and reputation of
the institution are more considered by the management than the maximum
of profit for the shareholders." With enough time, the corporations
may evolve into quasi-public institutions like universities, "bodies
whose criterion of action within their own field is solely the public
good as they understand it." Veblen, observing the same developments
but with a less sunny disposition, imagined that the managers of
productive enterprises would eventually tire of "sabotage" by the
notional owners and organize to overthrow them, seizing control of
production as a "Soviet of engineers."
Of course, that never happened, but maybe it should have -- the
"euthanasia of the rentier" if not necessarily the "Soviet of
Kathleen Geier: Inequality, the Flavor of the Month: From June, but
linked to post-election to remind us how little mileage the Democrats
gained from the great issue of our time.
Truth be told, it was never clear how serious Obama ever was about
fighting inequality. Though his big inequality speech marked a step
forward, as many of us noted at the time, it also contained serious
omissions. The economist Max Sawicky observed that much of that
speech didn't actually concern inequality. Rather, it was about
social mobility, which is something entirely different.
Writer Anat Shenker-Osorio pointed out that perhaps the most
glaring omission of all in Obama's inequality speech was a simple one:
a villain. To hear Obama and the Democrats tell it, inequality is
something that just happened. An awful lot of sentences in Obama's
speech used passive voice constructions -- phrases like "the deck
is stacked," "taxes were slashed," and so on. His speech failed to
craft any compelling narrative about exactly who did what to whom.
Inequality remained an abstract concept.
The timidity of Obama's rhetoric -- a faintness of heart that
extends to many other Dems -- stands in sharp contrast to the
talking points of many Republicans. Right-wing populists consistently
point the finger at a rogues' gallery of liberal elitists, government
bureaucrats, and the like. In the past, not only did economically
progressive presidents vilify the plutocratic enemies of the American
people, but they went about it with a certain gusto. Theodore Roosevelt
issued thundering denunciations against "malefactors of great wealth."
In his "I welcome their hatred" speech, FDR attacked as "tyrants" the
"employers and politicians and publishers" who opposed the pro-labor
policies of the New Deal.
But today's Democratic Party is a different animal. By default,
Democrats are the party of working Americans, and sometimes they do
pass legislation that helps the majority. But they are also deeply
corrupted by their own corporate ties. The Democrats' anti-equality
agenda is a case in point. The party supports some admirable policies
targeted at helping low-income Americans -- like raising the minimum
wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, and universal pre-K.
But party leaders are far more ambivalent about policies that challenge
the one percent and the power of capital -- stricter financial regulations,
cracking down on CEO pay, a return to confiscatory income tax rates, fair
trade, and intellectual property reform. Unless we rein in the wealth and
power of the one percent, inequality will continue to spiral out of control.
Paul Krugman: The Uses of Ridicule: Case example is billionaire hedge
fund operator Paul Singer, who has discovered proof that hyperinflation
is actually happening:
Meanwhile, a quick hit.
Matt O'Brien has a lot of fun with Paul Singer, a billionaire inflation
truther who is sure that the books are cooked because of what he can see
with his own eyes:
. . . check out London, Manhattan, Aspen and East Hampton real
estate prices, as well as high-end art prices, to see what the leading
edge of hyperinflation could look like
Hyperinflation in the Hamptons; hard to beat that for comedy, although
Matt adds value with the Billionaires Price Index.
Actually, I noticed this long ago (so long it certainly doesn't suggest
Weimar- or Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation). When workers' wages rise, we
worry about inflation, assuming those rises will be factored into future
prices (because, heaven forbid, they can't possibly come out of profits).
On the other hand, when asset prices rise, we assume they're finding their
true value, even though the 2008 collapse of the housing bubble shows us
that there is no such thing. That all seems awfully convenient for asset
holders (and damn unfortunate for wage earners). But doesn't basic economic
theory tell us that prices reflect the balance of supply and demand? When
demand goes up relative to supply, prices rise -- and how is that different
from inflation? We happen to live in a world where the rich is getting so
much richer so fast that there simply isn't enough rich-folk-goods (Hamptons
real estate, high-end art) to go around, so of course they bid up, and
therefore inflate, the prices. That's really all there is to the bubble
in Hamptons real estate. And the corrollary to that is that a lot of very
rich people currently own assets that aren't really worth anything like
they think: there is a substantial real transfer of wealth going on from
the 99% to the 1%, but also this asset inflation bubble. If, say, there
was a serious effort to rein in the super rich -- increasing income (and
capital gains) taxes up toward 70%, regulating hedge funds and other
rentiers out of business -- that asset bubble would collapse.
Krugman makes other good points, but the best come from this
golden oldie by Molly Ivins (from 1995, on Rush Limbaugh, but
how little has changed?).
Psychologists often tell us there is a great deal of displaced anger
in our emotional lives -- your dad wallops you, but he's too big to
hit back, so you go clobber your little brother. Displaced anger is
also common in our political life. We see it in this generation of
young white men without much education and very little future. This
economy no longer has a place for them. The corporations have moved
their jobs to Singapore. Unfortunately, it is Limbaugh and the
Republicans who are addressing the resentments of these folks, and
aiming their anger in the wrong direction.
In my state, I have not seen so much hatred in politics since the
heyday of the John Birch Society in the early 1960s. Used to be you
couldn't talk politics with a conservative without his getting all
red in the face, arteries standing out in his neck, wattles aquiver
with indignation -- just like a pissed-off turkey gobbler. And now
we're seeing the same kind of anger again.
Martin Longman: Waning Power for Blacks and Democrats: No coincidence
that 2014 was the first election without the Voting Rights Act to protect
black voters in the Old South. The Republicans have put a lot of effort
into eradicating white Democratic office holders in the South, no matter
how little ideological difference they present. The effect is reduce
visible Democratic office holders to the black minority, reinforcing
the Republican brand as the White People's Party. Whether they've done
this because they are racists or just because it's a winning strategy,
the effect is to prolong racism in the South and elsewhere. Assuming
Landrieu is toast, the only Democratic senator in the old confederate
states are in outliers Virginia and Florida, and neither is easy.
There's no point in sugar-coating this. In the Deep South, the Democratic
Party is now the non-white party, and minority politicians don't have the
white partners they need to exercise any but the most local political
power. While the problem is less severe in the border states, it has
clearly made advances there. You can look at pretty much the whole
Scots-Irish migration from the Virginias to Oklahoma and see that the
Democrats were trounced last Tuesday. They badly lost Senate elections
in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas,
and they actually lost two Senate elections each in South Carolina and
Oklahoma. Their seat in Virginia was only (just barely) saved by the
DC suburbs in the northeastern part of the state.
Longman also has a detailed piece on the House elections,
The Midterm Results Were Not Completely Preordained, if you're
still interested. If not, you might consider this paragraph -- one
recipe for an exceptionally low turnout is the media message that
these elections didn't matter:
Regardless, you can say that your models predicted a big night for the
Republicans all you want, but I still blame the media. I blame the media
for creating the first federal election season in my lifetime in which
the elections weren't the top story for the last two months of the
campaign. By focusing so heavily on other stories, like ISIS and the
Ebola virus, the media smothered the Democratic message.
Wendy R Weiser: How Much of a Difference Did New Voting Restrictions Make
in Yesterday's Close Races?: The 2014 election was the first one run
without the protections of the Voting Rights Act. It was also the first
midterm election run under a spate of new voter suppression laws ushered
in by Republicans after 2010 to keep turnout low. Weiser cites close
election cases in North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Florida, with
various studies showing 2-3% drops due to new laws. "Under Florida's
law, the harshest in the country, one in three African-American men is
essentially permanently disenfranchised." Weiser also points out that
while the Texas governorship was decided by more than "the 600,000
registered voters in Texas who could not vote this year because they
lack IDs the state will accept" those citizens' inability to vote has
an effect up and down the ticket, and indeed makes it that much harder
for Democrats to run candidates. One thing that's rarely commented
upon is that voter restriction laws not only prevent some people from
exercising their voting rights, they intimidate many more from even
For more, see
Brad Friedman: The Results Were Skewed Toward Republicans, which
cites Wieser but goes much further, as well as casting a jaundiced
eye at Nate Silver's conclusion that the polls were skewed.
Also, a few links for further study:
Q&A: James K Galbraith on the Myth of Petpetual Growth, How Language
Shapes Economic Thought, and More: An interview with Galbraith,
whose new book, The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future
of Growth is next on my reading list. Galbraith seems to doubt
Ryan Cooper's argument that we need to counter inequality to increase
growth. I've long agreed with Cooper (and Stiglitz, but not Krugman)
that inequality is depressing demand at least in the US, but Galbraith
seems to be arguing that growth is being hampered by more than just
inequality -- e.g., that technology has something to do with it. One
thing I'm pretty sure of is that technological advances have done
much to blunt the political impact of inequality -- in effect, big
TVs and smart cell phones make us less bitter about the rich getting
richer. The new book is certain to be interesting. I've said many
times that Galbraith's The Predator State: How Conservatives
Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too is the
best political book of the last decade.
Mike Konczal/Bryce Covert: The Real Solution to Wealth Equality:
"Instead of just giving people more purchasing power, we should be
taking basic needs off the market altogether." Social Security does
this. So would universal healthcare and free education. Konczal and
Covert have expanded this into a regular column in The Nation.
All of these are worth reading:
Peter Van Buren: What Could Possibly Go Right? Iraq War 3.0, he calls
it. Ignoring 1.0, I'm reminded more of Marx's quip about the Bonapartes:
history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce -- although for
all concerned it'll look more like tragedy all over again: it's only from
an insensitive distance that one can sit back and revel in how ridiculous
everyone involved is.