Sunday, April 24. 2016
The New York primaries were held last week. Hillary Clinton won a
huge win with 58.0% of the vote, giving her 139 delegates to Bernie
Sanders 108. On the Republican side, Donald Trump won with his first
majority in a primary all year, a big one with 60.4% of the vote vs.
25.1% for John Kasich and 14.5% for that sworn enemy of "New York
values" Ted Cruz. Trump got 89 delegates, Kasich 4, and Cruz 0, so
this primary went a long ways to putting Trump back on track for a
first ballot win at the Republican Convention. Still, it's worth
noting that Trump only got 19.5% of the votes cast on Tuesday.
Sanders got 28.4%, and Clinton got 39.2% -- together the Democrats
got 67.7% of the total vote, a big change from earlier primaries
where Republicans generally got more votes than Democrats.
I looked at 538's
What Went Down in the New York Primaries, and one thing I checked
was the Clinton-Sanders split by congressional district. What I found
was that Clinton ran especially well in New York City, and was much
stronger in districts represented by Democrats (she won 17 of 18, only
losing around Albany). Sanders, on the other hand, won 5 (of 9)
districts represented by Republicans, and did better than his state
average in the other four (also in Democratic districts in Buffalo
and Rochester, plus the 6th in Queens and the 18th in Westchester).
What this suggests is that the party machine and its patronage
network held firm for Clinton. Of course, one thing that helped
the machine was that the primary was closed (way in advance of the
vote), so independents, which Sanders has regularly won this year,
often by large margins, couldn't vote.
I came out of this feeling pretty down, not so much because I
expected a Sanders win -- I did think it might be closer, but knew
Clinton had a lot of structural advantages there -- but because it
underscored how difficult it's going to be to dislodge the Party's
power structure. Sanders could win in Republican areas because he
appealed especially to people deprived of power, but the Democrats
so controlled New York City that the oligarchy -- especially the
nabobs of Wall Street -- owned the Party. And what made matters
worse for me was that while this smackdown was going on, I was
reading Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened
to the Party of the People?, where his big point is that the
Democrats ever since Carter had courted educated professionals
(following Chris Hedges, he calls them the Liberal Class), often
at the expense of the workers and unions who had previously been
the most effective supporters of the Democratic Party -- the net
effect is that the Democrats are as much in bed with big business
as the Republicans, making them preferable only in that they'll
try to defend certain liberties and civil rights, and work a bit
less hard at destroying the middle class. That explains the sort
of marginal differentiation that is supposed to convince us that
we need Clinton to save the world from Trump or Cruz, even though
there is no reason to think she'll even try to do the things that
need to be done to reverse the increase in inequality and the rot
in practically everything else. So while the horserace watchers saw
New York as the primary that virtually cinched Clinton's nomination,
it looked more to me like the end of any hope for change.
Next Tuesday's primaries promise to be more of the same. Clinton
is favored in Connecticut (56.2-41.3%, closest poll Clinton +6),
Maryland (63.3-33.9%, closest +13), and Pennsylvania (58.9-38.2%,
closest +6); I don't see any polling on Delaware and Rhode Island,
but I'd expect them to be similar to Maryland and Connecticut
(although there is one Delaware poll with Clinton +7, suggesting
much closer than Maryland). Trump is also expected to mop up:
45.2-31.7-21.3% in Connecticut (Kasich over Cruz), 40.3-30.6-27.1%
in Maryland (Kasich over Cruz), and 41.1-29.4-27.4% in Pennsylvania
(Cruz over Kasich -- looks like a second straight brutal week for
Looking further ahead, Clinton should keep on winning: 52.7-44.4%
in Indiana (May 3), 56.8-41.7% in California (June 7), 51.0-41.4% in
New Jersey (also June 7). Trump continues to lead in the Republican
races (with Cruz getting a bit closer): 38.1-37.5-22.2% (T-C-K) in
Indiana, 41.9-33.5-23.4% (T-C-K) in California, and 50.4-23.4-17.2%
(T-K-C) in New Jersey.
Meanwhile I have to share the following image. Just think, with
three-hundred million people in America, this is the best we can do?
Back in 1776 there were only four million people in America, yet
somehow we managed to find a wide range of capable leaders. Now we
find that the only possible surrogate for one Clinton is another,
and that the best the opposition party can come up with is their
former party pal. Hard to see any significant differences among
this crowd, yet both Trump and Clinton have managed to convince
most of their followers that the other is the Devil incarnate,
and those followers are hysterical as expected. Still, the odds
of a comparably jovial post-election photo are pretty high --
especially if Clinton wins and reverts to form, serving the
Some scattered links this week:
Gerald Friedman: Orthodox Economics Has Become a Place Where Visions Die
and Hopes Are Banished: Subhed: "Why liberal economists dish out
despair." Friedman was the economist who analyzed Bernie Sanders'
platform and concluded that it would lead to a growth rate that the
US economy hasn't seen in over fifty years. He was, in turn, attacked
by economists like Christine Romer and Paul Krugman for suggesting
that such growth rates were even possible. Basically, they regarded
Friedman's calculations as proof that Sanders was fantasizing. (In
fairness, a few economists like James Galbraith defended Friedman.)
Much of interest here:
There is, of course, a politics as well as a psychology to this economic
theory. If nothing much can be done, if things are as good as they can be,
it is irresponsible even to suggest to the general public that we try to
do something about our economic ills. The role of economists and other
policy elites (Paul Krugman is fond of the term "wonks") is to explain to
the general public why they should be reconciled with stagnant incomes,
and to rebuke those, like myself, who say otherwise before we raise false
hopes that can only be disappointed. But this approach leaves liberals
like Hillary Clinton with few policy options to offer in response to the
siren call of demagogues like Donald Trump. And it makes the work of
self-proclaimed "responsible" elite economists that much more pressing.
They have to work even harder to persuade the public that nothing can be
done to head off the challenge of Trump and other irresponsible politicians
who capitalize on the electorate's appetite for change. They have to slap
down critics like myself. "Responsible" elite economists have to keep the
party of "good arithmetic" from overpromising at all costs.
Were the orthodox classical economists correct, then of course their
politics would follow. But what if they are wrong? What if government
action could, in fact, raise growth rates or narrow disparities? What
would be the expected value of a higher GDP growth rate? Would it be
worth some academic debate, even if it leaked into the public realm?
Might this debate even serve a socially useful function by giving voters
an alternative to the xenophobic political economy of Donald Trump? Many
Americans believe that government action can improve economic conditions,
especially for workers, and many of these support Trump because they see
him as the only candidate who is even willing to consider government
action to help working Americans. These voters can look long and hard
at the "responsible" Clinton platform for some policy, for any policy
to raise growth rates and narrow income disparities. But they won't find
it, because policy elites have closed their minds to the possibility of
This reminds me that Krugman has repeatedly defended Democratic Party
compromises (e.g., ACA, Dodd-Frank) as adequate and satisfactory (even
if not ideal) solutions, while implying that little more can be done,
and that when Sanders argues otherwise, he's out on some lark beyond
anything that is economically possible. This gets me wondering whether
there were any Keynesians during the 1930s, even after it had become
clear that government spending was working to bring the economy out of
the Great Depression, who could imagine what a radical expansion --
one aimed not just as restoring the pre-depression equilibrium but
achieving a whole new level of prosperity -- might accomplish. That
experiment was (perhaps unwittingly) done with the total mobilization
for WWII. What Sanders is proposing goes way beyond repairing the
damage done by Bush's bubble. What's lacking is political will, not
the "laws of economics," and the net effect of Krugman's (and others')
naysaying is to help suppress that political will.
I don't doubt that there are long-term issues with sustaining
economic growth, but it's also clear that the US economy is performing
way below what it's capable of, and a crash program of public works --
not just to fix our sorely degraded infrastructure -- would make a big
difference (even Krugman understands that much, although his argument
doesn't go nearly as far as Sanders or Friedman). The infrastructure
work would also move a huge current liability into the asset column,
and would improve future productivity, but there's much more value to
be gained from spending on public works. One area where Sanders may
be overly optimistic is how to pay for this: it's not clear to me that
simply "soaking the rich" with higher taxes will raise enough revenue
(not that that's not worth doing in its own right), especially if one
implements other reforms to reverse increasing inequality. Most likely
we would need some sort of broad-based consumption tax (in addition to
more progressive taxes on profits and estates), but that's almost a
technical issue compared to the broader question of vision.
I should also remind you of Philip Mirowski's big book, Never
Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the
Financial Meltdown (2013), which is largely about how mainstream
economists throttled (well, more like strangled) any serious political
change following a severe crisis which pretty clearly proved that
their understanding of the economy was faulty.
Emmett Rensin: The smug style in American liberalism: Much I agreed
with here, and much that rubbed me the wrong way. I believe that good
politics derives from respect for everyone, notably people who grew up
differently from yourself, who consequently have different world views.
However, that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't disagree with some of
those world views. It's just that the ones you should reject are the ones
where respect isn't reciprocal or generalizable. Many people, for instance,
think they should be privileged over other groups of people, and that is
a creed that is based on disrespect for the unprivileged, that cannot be
generalizable. We can all, for instance, settle for equality, which is
what makes it such a fundamental principle of political society. Given
all this, smugness is inappropriate and often counterproductive. Yet it
is pretty much impossible to engage in political discourse without at
some point appearing to someone as smug. And consequently, Rensin's
examples are all over the range from sensible to outrageous. There are
some ideas -- the gold standard, for instance, or creationism -- that
are so indefensible many of us skip past re-litigating them and resort
to derision, even if that leaves the impression of smugness. Similarly
there are people -- e.g., Sen. Jim Inhofe on climate change (fresh on
my mind because I read a quote from him today) -- who having repeatedly
clung to indefensible positions have lost the right to be taken seriously,
even though such instant rejection smacks of smugness. At some point you
have to realize that it's not practical to re-argue everything from first
principles every time it comes up (though it is useful to be able to cite
someone who has thought the issue through). Still, I don't disagree with
It is impossible, in the long run, to cleave the desire to help people
from the duty to respect them. It becomes all at once too easy to decide
you know best, to never hear, much less ignore, protest to the contrary.
At present, many of those most in need of the sort of help liberals
believe they can provide despise liberalism, and are despised in turn.
Is it surprising that with each decade, the "help" on offer drifts even
further from the help these people need?
Even if the two could be separated, would it be worth it? What kind
of political movement is predicated on openly disdaining the very people
it is advocating for?
The smug style, at bottom, is a failure of empathy. Further: It is a
failure to believe that empathy has any value at all. It is the notion
that anybody worthy of liberal time and attention and respect must
capitulate, immediately, to the Good Facts. [ . . . ]
The smug style did not arise by accident, and it cannot be abolished
with a little self-reproach. So long as liberals cannot find common cause
with the larger section of the American working class, they will search
for reasons to justify that failure. They will resent them. They will
find, over and over, how easy it is to justify abandoning them further.
They will choose the smug style.
One thing that Rensin has stumbled onto here is that the relationship
between liberalism and the working class has been fraught with difficulty
throughout American history, perhaps only bound together by accident of
the egalitarian words of the Declaration of Independence and the power
shifts of the New Deal. Liberalism has always focused on individuals,
defined as free and equal as opposed to the old orders of aristocracy
(and peasantry or slavery). As such, liberals sought to advance people
one-by-one based on merit, whereas socialists sought to "level up" the
working class to share in the entire nation's wealth (mostly created
by the labor of the working class). As such liberals -- Chris Hedges
and Thomas Frank speak of a distinct "liberal class" rooted in highly
educated professionals -- have tended to accept inequities, provided
that opportunities were more or less equal -- all the more so in times
of increased inequality, such as ours.
Indeed, at this point I suspect that the only thing that keeps the
liberal class and the working class -- which is a pretty fair first
approximation of the Clinton-Sanders contest -- from splitting the
Democratic Party in two is their shared horror at the prospect of
Republican rule. It will be interesting to see whether the dominant
liberal faction makes any serious nods toward the white working class
(with Republicans like Trump and Cruz, blacks and Latinos are pretty
much locked in).
Yusef Munayyer: Wanted: A US Strategy in the Middle East:
In 2006, as Israel and Hezbollah were engaged in what would be a 34day war,
the longest of any ArabIsraeli war since 1948, US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice reflected on the region's volatile dynamics calling them
"the birth pangs of a new Middle East." She further stated, "We have to be
certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East not back to the
Indeed, there was something new in the Middle East that Dr. Rice was
observing then. For the first time, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan all
seemed to align with Israel in the war and condemned Hezbollah in a very
overt way. Earlier in the year, Al-Qaeda in Iraq launched the first major
salvo in what became a sectarian war in Iraq when it bombed the Shi'a
AlAskari Mosque in Samarra. The Iraq war had made this regional
realignment, which we have seen develop further in the years since,
come into fruition.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the subsequent dismantlement of the
Iraqi state had many devastating implications for the region. Perhaps
most significant was the fact that it shattered any semblance of regional
order in the Middle East and the longstanding modus vivendi
between Riyadh and Tehran. Saddam had been a bulwark against Iran and
a buffer that limited Iranian influence from reaching the Arab Gulf
countries and the Levant. With Saddam gone, the US fired the starting
pistol in a regional power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Militias, insurgencies, sectarianism and bloodshed would characterize
this power struggle.
Today, more than a decade into this contest, the labor pains have
subsided and a demon child called ISIS, nurtured from embryo to beast
in the womb of a failed Iraqi state, has not only learned to walk but
is running amok across the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.
Munayyer's big point is that while the US thought it had all the
power in the world, it had no real idea what it wanted to do with
that power, and consequently wound up thrashing, unable to decide
on goals, or even friends and enemies (actually, both camps tended
to be defined by their opposite in ways that wound up contradicting
one another). And in this context US power turned out to be far less
than super (let alone hyper). Munayyer sees the 2003 invasion of Iraq
as pivotal, but the 1990 war was nearly as bad, and the US had made
a muddle of its strategy ever since Carter declared the Persian Gulf
a "vital US interest," or Nixon looked to Saudi fundamentalism as a
bulwark in the Cold War, or LBJ had no interest in brokering an end
to the Arab-Israeli wars despite having friends on both sides. And
all through America's Orientalists never showed the slightest interest
in the welfare of the region's people, least of all their desires for
free societies and modern economies.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Dean Baker: Patently Absurd Logic on Budget Deficits and Debt:
Time did a cover story attempting to rile up hysteria about the
federal deficit again, so Baker knocks it down plank by plank -- stuff
you should already know by now, but I'm flad he's also talking about
There is one other point about treating the debt as a serious measure
of generational equity. Interest payments on debt are just one of the
ways in which the government makes commitments for the future. When
the government grants patent and copyright monopolies, it is also
making commitments that carry into the future. Patent and copyright
monopolies allow the holders to charge prices for the protected items
that are hugely higher than the free market price. They are in effect
a tax that is privately collected by drug companies, software companies,
the entertainment industry and others.
These payments are in fact enormous relative to the interest burdens
that get the deficit hawks so excited. In the case of prescription drugs
alone, the difference between what we pay for patent protected drugs,
compared to drugs being sold at free market prices, is in the neighborhood
of $360 billion a year. That's equal to 2 percent of the GDP, twice the
size of the current interest burden on the public debt.
Jesse Eisinger: Why Haven't Bankers Been Punished? Just Read These Insider
SEC Emails: Follows longtime SEC lawyer James Kidney. Ends with:
Kidney became disillusioned. Upon retiring, in 2014, he gave an impassioned
going-away speech, in which he called the SEC "an agency that polices the
broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors."
In our conversations, Kidney reflected on why that might be. The oft-cited
explanations -- campaign contributions and the allure of private-sector jobs
to low-paid government lawyers -- have certainly played a role. But to Kidney,
the driving force was something subtler. Over the course of three decades,
the concept of the government as an active player had been tarnished in the
minds of the public and the civil servants inside working inside the agency.
In his view, regulatory capture is a psychological process in which officials
become increasingly gun shy in the face of criticism from their bosses,
Congress, and the industry the agency is supposed to oversee. Leads aren't
pursued. Cases are never opened. Wall Street executives are not forced to
explain their actions.
Rebecca Gordon: Exhibit One in Any Future American War Crimes Trial:
Author of a new book titled American Nuremberg: The US Officials
Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Previously wrote
Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United
States (2014, Oxford University Press). This excerpt focuses on
the torture of Abu Zubaydah, which surely qualifies although I'd say
that the decisions to invade and start decades-long wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq are far more serious crimes.
William Hartung: What a Waste, the US Military: Given all the evil
that the US military perpetrates, the fact that they do such a lousy job
of managing their bloated allowance ranks rather low on in my view, but
it's always worth a reminder that their lack of care and foresight starts
at home, well before they use it to screw up the rest of the world.
Matt Karp: Against Fortress Liberalism;
Lily Geismer: Atari Democrats;
Rick Perlstein: The Chicago School: three essays from Jacobin
magazine, which we recently subscribed to. On the other hand, they also
published a hatchet job by Jonah Walters on "hippie-hating hawk" Merle
Haggard that totally misses the boat. (Kathleen Geier fumes
here, and Eric Loomis gets down to brass tacks in a reply titled
Walking on the Fighting Side of Me.)
David Swanson: US Wars Are Not Waged Out of Generosity or for Democracy:
Interview by Mark Karlin with the author of War Is a Lie, originally
written in 2010 and now out in a 2nd edition paperback (Just World Books),
and founder of the
World Beyond War website.
In 2006, Republicans believed they'd have to end the wars, and Democrats
were elected to congressional majorities with that mandate. Rahm Emanuel
then openly told The Washington Post that the Democrats would keep the
wars going for two more years in order to run "against" them again in
2008. The Democrats took the chairs of committees and proceeded to do
nothing with them. And people who identified with the Democratic Party
in 2007 began obsessing with the 2008 presidential election, at the
expense of ending the slaughter in 2007 or 2008.
Endless, lawless war at massive expense was clearly established as a
bipartisan norm. Entire presidential debates in 2016 have passed by
without a single mention of the world outside the United States. No
candidate has been asked whether 54 percent of discretionary spending
on militarism is too much, too little or just right. Young people have
grown up in this climate and accepted in some cases -- just like most
old people -- all the propaganda or at least the part that maintains
that we are powerless to stop wars. Corruption by war profiteers and
general cultural taboos contribute: The big environmental groups won't
take on the biggest destroyer of the environment, the big civil liberties
groups won't touch the biggest cause of rights violations etc. But the
fact is that a massive movement against war is extremely active and
broad in comparison to what the media suggests.
For an excerpt from the new edition of War Is a Lie, see
Fear of ISIS Used to Justify Continued Military Intervention in Middle
How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk: As Secretary of State, Clinton
was consistently more hawkish than President Obama. Indeed, she's
always been quick to resort to military force. Long story, including
a possibly apocryphal story about Clinton wanting to join the Navy.
Sunday, April 17. 2016
Quickly, some scattered links this week:
George Monbiot: Neoliberalism -- the ideology at the root of all our
problems: The term is scarcely ever used in the US, where right-wing
pundits insist that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (pictured at
the top) are regarded as purely conservative folk heroes. Yet the term
was coined at a 1938 conference featuring Austrian economists Ludwig
von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, who used it to articulate an extreme
belief in free markets in opposition to "collectivism" -- a term they
felt rounded up all the evil political movements of the era: nazism,
communism, and most importantly social democracy. The term soon fell
out of use: in the US the ideas mostly appealed to red-baiting right
wingers who preferred to call themselves "conservatives"; in Britain,
the term has mostly been picked up by its opponents, since it seems
to tie together both the Conservative and Liberal parties, as well as
describe where the "New Labour" party faction went so terribly wrong.
Of course, the same ideas infected the Democratic Party, particularly
through Carter's deregulation mania, Clinton's embrace of "free trade"
deals and "small government," continuing through Obama (whose signature
plans, like health care reform and a "cap-and-trade" greenhouse gas
market were originally hatched in neoliberal "think tanks"). Still,
I wonder if it isn't too pat to catalog every instance of self-serving
capitalist greed and dignify it with an innocuous ideological label.
Monbiot notes that neoliberal policy directives have failed so often
their underlying theories have achieved zombie status, then complains
that "The left has produced no new framework of economic thought for
80 years. This is why the zombie walks." The zombie walks because the
rich have rigged the system. What we need isn't another framework;
it's countervaling power.
Much quotable here; this is just a sample:
The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes.
Governments use neoliberal crises as both excuse and opportunity to
cut taxes, privatise remaining public services, rip holes in the
social safety net, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens.
The self-hating state now sinks its teeth into every organ of the
Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the
economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the
domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course
of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal
theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But
some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or
shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The
result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of
the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies,
disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people
have been shed from politics.
Monbiot has a new book, How Did We Get Into This Mess?
(Verso). He also cites another interesting title, Andrew Sayer:
Why We Can't Afford the Rich (Policy Press, paperback in
May). Also links to
Paul Verhaeghe: Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us.
Michael Specter: Life-Expectancy Inequality Grows in America:
It will surprise nobody to learn that life expectancy increases with
income. Coming, however, in the midst of a Presidential campaign in
which the corrosive effects of income inequality have been a principal
debate topic, the data and its implications for public policy are
particularly striking: the richest one per cent of American men live
14.6 years longer on average than the poorest one per cent. For women,
the average difference is a just over ten years.
The gap appears to be growing fast. The researchers, led by Raj
Chetty, a professor of economics at Stanford University, analyzed
more than 1.4 billion federal tax returns, as well as mortality data
from the Social Security Administration, from the years 2001 to 2014.
In that period, the life expectancy of the richest five per cent of
Americans increased by roughly three years. For the poorest five per
cent, there was no increase.
DR Tucker: Ship of Fools: The fourth down of five straight rants
about "Bernie or Bust"-ers ("who still insist that under no circumstances
will they vote for the 'corporatist' Hillary Clinton if she defeats
Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination"). After
five paragraphs of imagining Trumpian hell, he concludes:
The inconvenient truth is that the "Bernie or Bust" crowd is
indistinguishable from right-wing fundamentalists in their loathing
of compromise and their refusal to recognize that sometimes people
can make bad decisions in good faith. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton
and Al Gore are neither evil nor corrupt. Neither is Bernie Sanders,
for that matter . . . but what does it say about those who only
recognize morality in the latter, and malevolence in the former?
First, he probably should have stopped at "evil" and not brought
up "corrupt": if there's anything the Clintons have done consistently
throughout their political careers, it's been to cozy up to moneyed
interests -- be they Tyson and Walmart in Arkansas, or Goldman Sachs
and Citibank in New York. Maybe it's legal for a company that was
saved by billions of dollars of federal bailouts to pay you $650k
for one little speech, but it's hard to say there's nothing corrupt
about it. Second, are we really talking about compromises, or simply
different goals? When the Clinton's concocted their health care
scheme, were they backing off from a single-payer approach just
enough to secure passage, or were they trying to pitch fat business
opportunities to the insurance companies and HMOs? If you want an
example of a compromise, take Sanders supporting Obama's ACA even
though he clearly was aware of and wanted something better. I'm
not saying that the Clintons don't compromise, let alone that they
have no principles to compromise. But I do think it's fair to say
that their principles and aims are very different from those of
people who prefer Sanders. Probably very different from their own
It's pathetic that Tucker can't tell the difference between Sanders
supporters and right-wing fundamentalists. Also that he doesn't recognize
that most Sanders supporters aren't died-in-the-wool leftists. The least
of Clinton's problems is that those "Bernie-or-bust"-ers will wind up
voting for Jill Stein. Two much bigger problems are that Clinton won't
campaign on anything that materially promises to help the lives of the
voters who have been energized by Sanders' campaign and/or that she's
already lost so much credibility that many people won't trust her. And
again, her problem isn't with confirmed leftists, who are hypersensitive
to the perils of fascism and accustomed to settling for "lesser evils."
Her problem is the vast mass of Americans who can't tell the difference
between the two parties, either because they're uninformed or because
they're all too aware that changing the guard in Washington hasn't made
any appreciable difference in their own lives.
Worse still is Tucker's
Running Up That Hill, where he urges the DNC to ban Sanders from
speaking at the Democratic Convention:
Why should Clinton genuflect to someone who a) explicitly said she
doesn't have what it takes to be president, b) called for a primary
challenge to the current Democratic President, and c) is not a
Speaking of concessions, a compelling case can be made that if
Sanders suspends his campaign after losing badly in this Tuesday's
New York Democratic primary, he should be excluded from speaking in
any capacity at the Democratic convention. It would be rather divisive
to give a prominent speaking position at that convention to someone
who seems to believe that the Democratic Party has prostituted itself
to economically powerful johns and contracted the social disease of
"corporatism." If Sanders addressed the convention and repeated his
campaign rhetoric, would he not offend convention attendees who regard
certain elements of Sanders's shtick as a tone-deaf and tacky trashing
of President Obama? [ . . . ] Those who are
thinking dispassionately will not be offended by the exclusion of
Sanders from the convention, and will understand the reasons why he
wasn't invited to speak.
Didn't the DNC try to suppress dissent (or do I mean democracy?)
once before -- in 1968? As I recall, that didn't work out so well.
A sane person would see the convention as an opportunity to bind the
Party divided by the primaries back together, but Tucker seems to
prefer laying waste to those who had challenged party orthodoxy,
thereby exacerbating the split in the Party. I suppose he could
point to Pat Buchanan's speech at the Republican Convention in 1992
as an example where such a concession backfired. (If you recall that
speech, it's probably because Molly Ivins allowed that "it probably
sounded better in the original German.") Nonetheless, I can't imagine
Sanders following suit -- especially after the votes are counted --
unless Clinton follows Tucker's advice and pushes him out. And if
she's that thin-skinned, she's unprepared for the job ahead.
PS: I wouldn't have read these pieces had they not appeared in
the otherwise admirable
Washington Monthly blog,
which Tucker has totally hijacked for his rants. Please bring back
Corey Rubin: Magical Realism, and other neoliberal delusions:
Among many other thoughts, this on the obsolescence of the DLC
Though I'm obviously pleased if Sanders beat Clinton in the debate, it's
the other two victories that are most important to me. For those of us
who are Sanders supporters, the issue has never really been Hillary
Clinton but always the politics that she stands for. Even if Sanders
ultimately loses the nomination, the fact that this may be the last one
or two election cycles in which Clinton-style politics stands a chance:
that for us is the real point of this whole thing.
I'm always uncertain whether Clinton supporters have a comparable view.
While there are some, like Jonathan Chait or Paul Starr, for whom that
kind of politics is substantively attractive, and who will genuinely
mourn its disappearance, most of Clinton's supporters seem to be more
in synch with Sanders's politics. They say they like Bernie and agree
with his politics; it's just not realistic, they say, to think that
the American electorate will support that.
Which makes these liberals' attraction to Clinton all the more puzzling.
If it's all pure pragmatism for you -- despite your personal support for
Bernie's positions, you think only her style of politics can win in the
United States -- what are you going to do, the next election cycle, when
there's no one, certainly no one of her talent or skills and level of
organizational support, who's able to articulate that kind of politics?
Daniel Larson: The Libyan War and Obama's 'Worst Mistake': When
asked one of those self-flagellating questions, Obama offered that
his worst mistake was "Probably failing to plan for the day after
what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya." I
can think of several worse ones. One was not fixing the Bush tax
cuts when he had the votes to do so right after the 2008 election.
(Sure, I understand that he didn't do so because raising taxes in
a recession would have seemed contractionary, and because he wanted
to play up his bipartisanship, and because they were due to sunset
in a few years anyway, but they would have cut into the swollen
deficits that caused so much alarm, in turn leading to austerity
cutbacks that really were contractionary. Moreover, he could have
floated tax rebates to counter the increases short-term, so they
would have been neutral or better while improving the long-term
outlook.) Another was pretending that the US had succeeded in Iraq
when his belated withdrawal was complete, which left him open to
the charge that his withdrawal turned Bush's victory into the rise
of ISIS. I could come up with a few dozen more before getting into
Libya, where in retrospect the intervention has come to look like
a worse decision than the aftermath. As Larson puts it:
I don't think this was Obama's biggest mistake, but it is revealing
that he remains convinced that this lack of post-Gaddafi planning is
worse than the far greater error of intervening in Libya in the first
place. As we saw last week, this has become the self-serving rallying
cry of Libyan war supporters. The only error interventionists are
capable of recognizing is that of doing "too little." They can't admit
that the intervention itself is a mistake without fully acknowledging
their bad judgment in supporting it. [ . . . ]
Obama knew at the time that there was absolutely no political
support in the U.S. or anywhere else for a prolonged mission in Libya.
Promising not to start an open-ended mission in Libya is what made the
war politically viable here at home. The public would tolerate bombing
for eight months and then writing off the country, but there wouldn't
be similar patience for a new occupation in yet another Muslim country
with the costs and casualties that would likely entail.
It was not an oversight by the intervening governments when they
left Libya to its own devices. That was part of the plan, such as it
was, from the very beginning. So it is hard to take Obama seriously
when he faults himself for not committing the U.S. to a larger, costlier
role in Libya when he and the other allied leaders deliberately decided
against doing that. They made that decision because they wanted a low-risk
intervention on the cheap, and they certainly weren't prepared to make a
long-term commitment to police and rebuild Libya. But they were willing
to help throw the country into chaos and to destabilize the surrounding
region and declare victory when the regime change they supposedly weren't
seeking had been achieved.
One last point is that the US intervention didn't end when the bombing
did. Obama may not have planned for the aftermath, but the CIA blundered
in anyway, which is how that Benghazi! fiasco happened.
I want to close with a fairly long quote from Thomas Frank's new
book, Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the
People? (pp. 89-91):
[Bill] Clinton's wandering political identity fascinated both his
admirers and biographers, many of whom chose to explain it as a quest:
Bill Clinton had to prove, to himself and the nation, that he was a
genuine New Democrat. He had to grow into presidential maturity. And
the way he had to do it was by somehow damaging or insulting
traditional Democratic groups that represented the party's tradition
of egalitarianism. Then we would know that the New Deal was really
dead. Then we could be sure.
This became such a cherished idea among Clinton's campaign team
that they had a catchphrase for it: "counter-scheduling." During the
1992 race, as though to compensate for his friend-of-the-little-guy
economic theme, Clinton would confront and deliberately antagonize
certain elements of the Democratic Party's traditional base in order
to assure voters that "interest groups" would have no say in a New
Democratic White House. As for those interest groups themselves,
Clinton knew he could insult them with impunity. They had nowhere else
to go, in the cherished logic of Democratic centralism.
The most famous target of Clinton's counter-scheduling strategy was
the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, the bête noir of centrists and
the living embodiment of the poilitics the Democratic Leadership
Council had set out to extinguish. At a 1992 meeting of Jackson's
Rainbow Coalition, with Jackson sitting to his left, Clinton went out
of his way to criticize a controversial rapper called Sister Souljah
who had addressed the conference on the previous day. The exact
circumstances of Clinton's insult have long been forgotten, but the
fact of it has gone down in the annals of politicking as a stroke of
genius, an example of the sort of thing that New Democrats should
always be doing in order to discipline their party's base.
Once Clinton was in the White House, counter-scheduling mutated
from a campaign tactic to a philosophy of government. At a retreat in
the administration's early days, Bill's chief political adviser,
Hillary Clinton, instructed White House officials how it was going to
be done. As Carl Bernstein describes the scene, Hillary announced that
the public must be made to understand that Bill was taking them on a
"journey" and that he had a "vision" for what the administration was
doing, a "story" that distinguished good from evil. The way to
dramatize this story, the first lady continued (in Bernstein's
telling), was to pick a fight with supporters.
You show people what you're willing to fight for, Hillary said,
when you fight your friends -- by which, in this context, she clearly
meant, When you make them your enemy.
NAFTA would become the first great test of this theory of the
presidency, with Clinton defying not only organized labor but much of
his own party in Congress. In one sense, it achieved the desired
results. For New Democrats and for much of the press, NAFTA was
Clinton's "finest hour," his "boldest action," an act befitting a real
he-man of a president who showed he could stand up to labor and
thereby assure the world that he was not a captive of traditional
But there was also an important difference. NAFTA was not
symbolism. With this deed, Clinton was not merely insulting an
important constituency, as he had done with Jesse Jackson and Sister
Souljah. With NAFTA he connived in that constituency's ruin. He
assisted in the destruction of its economic power. He did his part to
undermine his party's greatest ally, to ensure that labor would be too
weak to organize workers from that point forward. Clinton made the
problems of working people materially worse.
One effect of Clinton's NAFTA push was that the unions were unable
to muster effective support for Clinton's signature health care bill.
Then in 1994 the Republicans gained control of Congress and Clinton
never again had to worry about the Democrats pushing some progressive
reform through Congress. And by crippling the unions, Clinton was able
to consolidate his control of the Democratic Party machine, something
which kept Democrats weak in Congress (except for 2006-2010, when
Howard Dean was Party Chairman) and set up Hillary's campaigns in
2008 and this year. (Sure, Obama beat Hillary in 2008, but welcomed
her people into his team, got rid of Dean, and restored presidential
crony control of the Party machinery, making Hillary a shoe-in this
year -- at least until the rank-and-file weighed in.)
The bottom line here is that most people's interests should align
with the Democrats -- they damn sure don't line up with the Republicans --
yet the Democrats don't get their votes, because party leaders like the
Clintons, despite whatever they may promise during a campaign, cannot
be trusted to support them.
Sunday, April 3. 2016
Started to work on this, then got so waylaid by allergies my brain
froze up. Of course, trying to write about whether Trump is a fascist
is a question that begs so much backtracking it's easy to get lost.
Worth noting here that the Wisconsin primary is Tuesday. Cruz has
long been favored over Trump and Kasich: the latest 538 poll averages
are 44.1-32.1-21.4%, and since it's mostly winner-take-all Trump is
likely to fall short of the delegate count to stay on track for a
first ballot win -- so expect some pundit talk about Trump stumbling,
but Trump is a lock for a big win in New York on April 19, and has
a good chance of scoring his first greater than 50% win there (538's
poll average is 52.1-24.0-21.8%, with Cruz second and Kasich third).
More interesting is the Democratic primary, which 538 still gives
to Clinton, but the poll averages have narrowed to 48.8-48.6%, with
Sanders leading in five of the seven most recent polls. At this point
I expect Sanders to win there, but it won't be a landslide. 538 is
still showing Clinton with a huge lead in New York, 61.0-37.0%, but
the last two polls there have Clinton +12 and +10, a far cry from the
71-23% outlier 538 still factors in. Clinton also has big leads in
the other April primaries (65.9-30.5% in Pennsylvania, 70.6-27.0% in
Maryland); also in California and New Jersey on June 7.
Some scattered links this week:
Steve Coll: Global Trump:
Trumpism is a posture, not a coherent platform.
[ . . . ]
Trump hasn't indicated that he would definitely pull out of treaty
commitments to Europe and Asia. He seems to think that his threats and
his pleas of poverty will soften up allies so that, once in the White
House, he can close some of those great deals he often talks about. For
"many, many years," he told the Times, the U.S. has been the "big stupid
bully and we were systematically ripped off by everybody," providing
military security without adequate compensation.
Like a hammer viewing everything as a nail, Trump desperately wants
to reconceive foreign relations as something that can be fixed by a
flamboyant and shrewd deal maker -- i.e., by himself. He reminds me
of a guy who was brought in to become CEO of a troubled company I used
to work for. The company had racked up massive losses over several
quarters, staving off bankruptcy only because they had sold a lot of
bonds a few years earlier -- they didn't need the bonds but sold them
"because they could" and just sat on the cash until they burned it all
up. Anyhow, this new CEO (I don't even remember the name now) had the
huge ego you get in jobs like that, so the first thing I decided to do
was to renegotiate all of the company's supplier contracts, just because
he figured he was a better negotiator than his predecessor. Turned out
that he never successfully renegotiated a thing: all he did was piss off
suppliers the company was already in arrears to, companies that no longer
saw us as viable long-term customers. America isn't in as bad shape as my
company was, but if Trump follows through and tries to shake down traditional
allies, he's not likely to net much other than bad will. (Japan, for instance,
pays us for defense because it's a pittance compared to our trade deficits.
Maybe they'll pay a bit more, but the US market isn't what it used to be,
nor is the US commitment to defend them.)
Coll has a pretty rosy view of American military spending abroad --
surprising for someone who's mostly covered the Middle East for the last
Trump also argues that reduced defense spending abroad would free up funds
for investment at home. We do need to rebuild bridges, airports, railways,
and telecommunications. But defense spending isn't stopping us from doing
so; the problem is the Republican anti-tax extremists in Congress, who
refuse to either raise revenues or take advantage of historically low
long-term interest rates. In all probability, the U.S. can afford its
global-defense commitments indefinitely, and an open economy, renewed by
immigration and innovation, should be able to continue to grow and to
share the cost of securing free societies. The main obstacle to realizing
this goal is not an exhausted imperial treasury. It is the collapse of the
once-internationalist Republican Party into demagoguery, paralysis, and
That, of course, is pretty much the Clinton position, one that argues
that America is still great, has never been anything else. Such platitudes
are baked into the Belt Area foreign/security policy professional class.
They even seep into
Stephen M Walt: No, @realDonaldTrump Is Not a Realist.
Tierney Sneed: How Trump Ticked Off Anti-Abortion Groups by Trying to
Prove His Creed: So Trump commits this gaffe, realizes his error
(or more likely has it pointed out to him), and walks it back within
In practical terms this should be treated as a wash -- like a muons
which appears in a high-energy burst then vanishes within microseconds --
except that I think it shows two things:
For months, the major concern the anti-abortion movement had with Donald
Trump was that he was too wobbly on the issue. But on Wednesday, Trump
staked out an abortion position so extreme that he blew up years of
abortion foes' careful messaging.
Trump's remark at an MSNBC town hall that an abortion ban should carry
a punishment for women who seek out the procedure sent anti-abortion
activists immediately scrambling to correct the damage.
"Mr. Trump's comment today is completely out of touch with the pro-life
movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as
abortion," Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life Education and
Defense Fund, said in a statement rushed out about an hour after Trump's
remarks were first broadcast. "No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a
woman who has chosen abortion. This is against the very nature of what we
- Trump understands the logic of the anti-abortion movement, which is
about little more than punishing women (for sexual licentiousness, or
getting raped, or just being poor), much as he understands punishment
as the essential means of disciplining errant children and other rabble.
No doubt being a major league misogynist helped Trump on this score.
- The much alleged "political correctness" police on the left are pikers
compared to those who dictate orthodoxy on the right: the latter turned
Trump around in hours, whereas Trump held firm on his assertions that
"Mexicans are rapists" and his embrace of support from the KKK and
outright Fascists. Sure, one might argue that this proves that the
offenses he held firm on reflected deeply held beliefs, whereas his
anti-abortion stance was never more than pure political opportunism.
But I doubt he has any bedrock beliefs beyond his obsessions with
the media spotlight and making money off that.
Here's How a Republican Is Supposed to Answer That Abortion Question
Trump Flubbed, which shows how Ted Cruz handled the same question.
See, Donald? That's how you do it. When someone asks you about abortion
penalties after the overturn of Roe, here's what you do:
You attack the questioner.
You attack the media.
You attack Barack Obama.
You tell them what a swell pro-life person you are.
You do everything except answer the question.
Olivia Ward: Is Donald Trump actually a fascist? I'll add that leftists
like myself are hypersensitive to fascist airs, and apply the label broadly
to any right-winger who threatens violence, glories in empire, and/or seeks
to reverse liberal progress (which they often decry as decadence and decay).
Trump loosely qualifies, but so does Cruz and Kasich and most Republican
activists, especially anyone who thinks America enjoyed a golden age under
Calvin Coolidge or William McKinley (or Jefferson Davis). What makes Trump
seem exceptional is the way he draws the sort of people who historically
have supported fascism: racists, xenophobes, ultra-nationalists, those
who want to use state power to enforce religious morality, those who hate
unions, those who are contemptous of democracy (and other people), those
who are prone to violence and hung up on patriarchy, those who feel the
need to follow a charismatic and forceful leader. So it's not so much that
Trump started out as a fascist as that by style and temperament he's been
anointed as the Führer of the fascists, a role he hasn't shirked.
Susan Sarandon Lives in a Very Small World: A not-very-smart critique
of the "scandal" caused when Sarandon said that some Sanders supporters
won't vote for Clinton against Trump, and that her own view was "I don't
know. I'm going to see what happens." I wrote more about this piece then
tore it up. Two points are that Sanders' popularity shows that there is
much more quasi-left in America than anyone gave us credit for, and that
transitioning from voting for one candidate who wants changes you want
to another one who wants to defend the status quo (or somewhat mitigate
the damage the goons on the other side are plotting) isn't likely to be
smooth or automatic: perhaps if Clinton wins the nomination she should
campaign for Sanders' supporters instead of veering to the right so to
come off as slightly saner than Trump or Cruz, assuming everyone else
will fall in line. At any rate, it's premature to worry about Sanders'
supporters breaking ranks. As for the ad hominem attacks about Sarandon
"living in a very small world," I think her political engagement is
admirable and far-sighted, showing much more awareness of other people
than is common in her tax bracket.
Sunday, March 27. 2016
We finally got around to seeing the movie Spotlight (A-) on
Wednesday afternoon. When we came out of the theatre in west Wichita,
the sky to the west was extremely dark but mostly featureless, and
the wind was blowing hard from the south. Looked very ominous, but
not like the squall lines and thunderstorms we're used to seeing.
Turns out that what we were seeing was smoke from wildfires to our
southwest: at the time, about 72,000 acres had burned from the
Oklahoma border to near Medicine Lodge, and there were two smaller
fires to the northwest in Reno and Harvey counties. The next day
the wind turned around to the north, which cleared the smoke from
Wichita but expanded the wildfire to more than 400,000 acres (625
square miles). Here's a report on
Anderson Creek fire in Oklahoma and Kansas. The fire is still
burning as I write this, although reports are that it is no longer
Winters are typically dry in south-central Kansas, and high winds
are common, so this is the prime season for grass fires. (A large
chunk of south-central Kansas was subject of a
red flag warning back on February 8.) Still, this
year has been dryer than normal, and much warmer, which set the stage
for what is already the largest wildfire in Kansas history. The area
is very sparsely populated, the farms more used to pasture cattle
than to grow wheat. No cause has been determined (although we can
rule out lightning). I've seen lots of reports about cattle (and deer)
but nothing yet about oil wells, which are fairly common in the most
heavily fracked (and recently most earthquake-prone) part of the
state. (Most wells collect oil in adjacent tanks, so I'd be surprised
if a few didn't contribute to the fire.)
I also ran across
this report on a 160-acre fire near Salina caused by gun nuts
shooting at exploding targets:
Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end
user create an explosive when shot by a high-velocity projectile. They
have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years,
have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. In
June, 2013 a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota
was killed after shrapnel from the device struck him in the abdomen
causing his death. The Missoulian reported that two years ago a woman
in Ohio had her hand nearly blown off while taking a cellphone video
of a man firing at an exploding target placed in a refrigerator about
150 feet away.
You'd think that natural selection would start to limit this kind of
stupidity, and evidently it works very slow.
Meanwhile, Governor Brownback declared two counties to be disaster
areas. That leaves him 103 counties short, but if he declared disasters
everywhere he has caused them he'd have to commit to fixing some of
the problems he's caused. That would cost money, and require that
someone in power care, so no chance of that.
Bernie Sanders won all three Democratic caucuses on Saturday, by
landslides, with 69.8% in Hawaii, 72.7% in Washington, and 81.6% in
Alaska. When Kansas voted back on March 5, Sanders' 67.7% share here
was his second largest total (after Vermont), but he has since done
better in Idaho (78.0%), Utah (79.3%), and yesterday's trio. Next up
is Wisconsin on April 5, Wyoming on April 9, and New York on April 19.
538's polling average favors Clinton in Wisconsin 55.6-42.1%, and
much more dubious polling has Clinton ahead in New York 67.4-24.3%
(only one poll in March, a 71-23% outlier; three previous polls had
Clinton +21, going back to September). Nothing on Wyoming, but Sanders
has won four (of four) abutting states (Montana and South Dakota haven't
If you care about such things, Cruz is heavily favored to win
Wisconsin (polling average 42.8-32.2-22.4%, Trump ahead of Kasich),
while Trump is ahead in New York (limited polling: 58.8-11.6-2.8%,
which would give him his first majority win, but Kasich's share
strikes me as way low). The Republicans have already done Wyoming,
with Cruz winning.
Not much time for this, but some quick scattered links this week:
Franklin Foer: Donald Trump Hates Women: E.g.:
Humiliating women by decrying their ugliness is an almost recreational
pastime for Trump. When the New York Times columnist Gail Collins
described him as a "financially embittered thousandaire," he sent her
a copy of the column with her picture circled. "The Face of a Dog!" he
scrawled over her visage. This is the tack he took with Carly Fiorina,
when he described her facial appearance as essentially disqualifying
her from the presidency. It's the method he's used to denounce Cher,
Bette Midler, Angelina Jolie, and Rosie O'Donnell -- "fat ass," "slob,"
"extremely unattractive," etc. -- when they had the temerity to criticize
him. The joy he takes in humiliating women is not something he even
bothers to disguise. He told the journalist Timothy L. O'Brien, "My
favorite part [of the movie Pulp Fiction] is when Sam has his
gun out in the diner and he tells the guy to tell his girlfriend to
shut up. Tell that bitch to be cool. Say: 'Bitch be cool.' I love those
lines." Or as he elegantly summed up his view to New York magazine
in the early '90s, "Women, you have to treat them like shit."
Nancy LeTourneau: The Nexus of Trump's Racism/Sexism: Dominance.
She quotes Foer and various others, including Rebecca Traister, whose
summed up her reflections on Trump (and Cruz) as
The Election and the Death Throes of White Male Power. While I don't
disagree with the general point, pieces like this tempt me to point out
that Trumpism isn't the only common response to economic and/or social
decline by whites (even males). Said group also makes up a substantial
slice of support for Bernie Sanders' campaign -- and I doubt that any
white males who've backed Sanders have done so expecting him to restore
lost white/male privileges, or to deny the benefits he's campaigned for
to blacks, Latinos, and/or women.
Meanwhile, I suppose this is where I should file links like
Mary Elizabeth Williams: Donald Trump despises women: Mocking Heidi Cruz's
looks is a new low in this grotesque sausage-waving campaign and
Gary Legum: Trump vs. Cruz: How the National Enquirer became a battleground
in the GOP primary
David Kurtz: What Just Happened in North Carolina?: Quotes a reader,
who was more on the ball than TPM:
In a span of 12 hours, the GOP political leadership of this state [North
Carolina] called the General Assembly back to Raleigh for a special session,
introduced legislation written by leadership and not previously made
available to members or the public, held "hearings" on that legislation,
passed it through both chambers of the legislature, and it was signed by
the GOP Governor.
The special legislation was called, ostensibly, to prevent an ordinance
passed last month by the Charlotte City Council, from going into effect on
April 1. That ordinance would have expanded the city's LGBT anti-discrimination
ordinance, and would have allowed transgendered people to use public restrooms
that corresponds with their gender identity.
But the legislation introduced and passed into law by the General Assembly
yesterday didn't simply roll back that ordinance. It implemented a detailed
state-wide regulation of public restrooms, and limited a person's use of
those restrooms to only those restrooms that correspond with one's "biological
sex," defined in the new state law as the sex identified on one's birth
certificate. [ . . . ]
But wait, there's more. The legislation also expressly states that there
can be no statutory or common law private right of action to enforce the
state's anti-discrimination statutes in the state courts. So if a NC
resident is the victim of racial discrimination in housing or employment,
for example, that person is now entirely barred from going to state court
to get an injunction, or to get damages of any kind. The new law completely
defangs the state's anti-discrimination statute, rendering it entirely
unenforceable by the citizens of the state.
For more, see
Caitlin MacNeal: NC's Sweeping Anti-Gay Law Goes Way Beyond Targeting
LGBTs. The US prides itself on a unique system of "checks and
balances," but this is the clearest example yet of what can happen
when voters cede complete political control to one party, at least
if that party is of one mind -- in North Carolina that would be Art
Pope, who personally spent millions electing that legislative majority
and governor. (Of course, it's still possible that the courts will
throw this law out, but the Republicans are working that angle too.)
Also note two key things: the speed, intended to produce a fait
accompli before there could be any public discussion let alone
organized opposition; also how the bill's used the "emergency" to
push through extra measures that most likely couldn't have stood on
Also in the captured red state category:
Amanda Marcotte: Mike Pence's sadistic abortion law: Indiana passes
draconian anti-choice bill geared towards humiliating and bankrupting
women who have abortions.
Caitlin MacNeal: AIPAC Denounces Trump Criticism of Obama's Relationship
With Israel: Trump's actual speech to AIPAC contained nothing but
red meat for Israel's bloodthirsty right wing, yet somehow he managed to
offend at least one important faction in the lobby's leadership -- perhaps
the one that realizes that Obama is still president, and that while he
hasn't been the perfect lackey of their dreams, he has still treated
pretty generously. AIPAC's annual conference provided an opportunity for
all aspiring American politicians to show their colors and salute the
flag of the Jewish State. And once again pretty much everyone played
their assigned role as expected -- indeed, Hillary Clinton was second
to none in her obsequiousness, which may be why she has a fair number
of AIPAC's high rollers backing her. I doubt that they really minded
what Trump said in his speech -- I heard the thing, and he certainly
didn't lack for applause -- so their worries have more to do with what
he's said elsewhere. And even there it's probably not so much that he's
promised to be a "neutral" peacemaker (hard to take that seriously) or
that he doesn't think the US should spend so much on military aid to
the 4th (or 5th) largest military power on earth (more possible, but
still not likely) as in his slogan about "making America great again" --
as opposed to being a big country in thrall to its little "ally."
Some other AIPAC-related links:
You can also
Read the speech Bernie Sanders planned to give to AIPAC. Doesn't go
nearly as far as I'd like, but wouldn't have gone over well at AIPAC
(see the link above). Also see:
Richard Silverstein: Bernie Finally Addresses Israel-Palestine.
Eamon Murphy: 'Do we get to win this time?': Trump foreign policy appeal
based on revenge for Iraq War failure: The notion that the American
military's persistent failure to win wars -- in the sense of achieving
initial intentions; I'm more inclined to argue that all sides in war
invariably lose, so the concept of winning is excluded by definition --
is caused by civilian leaders holding the soldiers back is America's own
peculiar version of the Dolchstoßlegende (the stab-in-the-back myth).
Trump's embrace of this theory is one more thing he shares with past
generations of fascists, a minor one unless his own ego is so huge that
he thinks his leadership genius will turn the tide.
Though the public may feel burned by what was undeniably a wasteful war
launched on trumped-up pretexts, withdrawal is always unacceptable, on
patriotic grounds -- a sentiment at least as old as the overseas U.S.
empire. ("American valor has easily triumphed in both sea and land,"
declared Senator David Hill, an advocate of annexing the Philippines,
in 1898, "and the American flag floats over newly acquired territory --
never, as it is fondly hoped, to be lowered again.") The advent of ISIS
compounded this problem, mocking official claims that American arms had
achieved some measure of progress in Iraq. The resultant agony was
epitomized by a January 2014 New York Times story, "Falluja's Fall
Stuns Marines Who Fought There": completely ignoring Iraqi suffering,
the reporter rendered vividly the anguish of veterans at the city's
takeover by Sunni insurgents, which left them "transfixed, disbelieving
and appalled," and was "a gut punch to the morale of the Marine Corps
and painful for a lot of families who are saying, 'I thought my son died
for a reason.'"
So what is to be done? If invading Iraq was a costly mistake, how
can we keep fighting there? But if we paid so dearly for it, how can
Richard Silverstein: Identities of IDF Soldier Who Executed Unarmed
Palestinian -- and His Commanding Officer -- Exposed: You've
probably read about stabbing incidents in Israel/Palestine, where
typically Jewish victims receive light injuries, often treated at
the scene, and Palestinian assailants are usually shot dead. You
may be expected to think that the shooting was necessary to disarm
fanatic knife-wielders, but this is a case where the Palestinian
was executed after being disarmed, and this case is not unique or
all that exceptional (aside from the video).
The shooter later told investigators that he shot a-Sharif because
he was "moving," and was afraid he would detonate a suicide vest.
The victim is seen clearly on the video and he has no suicide vest.
Nor does his Shapira seem to sense danger as he stands near the
wounded man speaking on the telephone.
Let no one think of this is a one-off aberration. Palestinians
are executed in the same fashion virtually every day. Nor are these
summary executions a product of Israeli policy over the past few
months alone. Such murders go all the way back to the 2002 incident
I described above. The murderers are rewarded for their callousness
as Levy has been, by being a respected member of the Knesset.
Stephen M Walt: Monsters of Our Own Imaginings: A big news story
last week was the terror bombing in Brussels, which unlike other big
bombings last week (e.g., in Baghdad and Lahore) was meant to scare
us and/or was used to promote further reinforcement of the war against
More US Combat Troops Headed to Iraq Soon -- no, we don't get any
say in the matter; how could we when Brussels is on TV 24/7?). Walt
says, sure, this is a serious problem, but let's not get hysterical,
and offers four key points. The fourth is the most important: "Terrorists
cannot deeat us; we can only defeat ourselves."
The bottom line: Terrorism is not really the problem; the problem is
how we respond to it. My first thought when I heard the news from
Brussels, I'm sorry to say, was "Brexit," meaning my worry that this
act of violence might irrationally bolster support for the United
Kingdom leaving the EU, thereby dealing that already-struggling
experiment another body blow. It might also boost the political
fortunes of xenophobes in other Western countries, further poisoning
the political climate in Europe. It is also worth noting that
presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have already
offered up idiotic proposals of their own (such as Cruz's call for
stepped-up police patrols in Muslim neighborhoods in the United
States), steps that would give the Islamic State a new propaganda
victory. But these developments would be entirely our own doing,
and we have no one to blame but ourselves if we try to fight
extremism by abandoning our own values and becoming more like them.
Does anyone really fail to understand that Brussels was attacked
because it's the headquarters of NATO and NATO is engaged in killing
Muslims in a broad swath from Afghanistan to Libya but especially in
the parts of Iraq and Syria ISIS is trying to govern? But who actually
says that? Hardly anyone, because doing so would imply that the most
effective way to safeguard Europe and America against terrorism would
be to withdraw from the fruitless wars the US and Europe (and proxies
like the Saudis who epitomize "Islamic extremism") have been waging.
Walt prays for leaders who understand the "value the calm resolution
in the face of danger or adversity" without noting that (a) that's a
fair description of Barack Obama, and (b) Obama still hasn't managed
to end the wars his predecessors started. Granted, replacing Obama
with Trump or Cruz could result in even more counterproductive acts --
their proposals to "police Muslim neighborhoods" (are there any?) and
otherwise harass Muslims seem deliberately designed to radicalize US
Muslims, even worse than their reckless escalation abroad.
Walt's exemplars are WWII heroes -- he even asks "what would
Churchill say?" which is like asking the proverbial stopped clock
for the time -- but his list includes one name who did successfully
face a colonial quagmire not unlike the present situation: Charles
DeGaulle, who stood up to enormous pressure and withdrew French
forces from Algeria.
Tom Engelhardt: Don't Blame It All on Donald Trump, or "Entering
Uncharted Territory in Washington," which points out how far "grown ups"
like Obama have already veered toward creating a world where terrorism
will long be a fact of life. Engelhardt cites a news story from the
last week or two (I forget exactly), when the US "killed 150 more or
less nobodies (except to those who knew them) and maybe even a top
leader or two in a country most Americans couldn't locate on a map"
The essential explanation offered for the Somali strike, for instance,
is that the U.S. had a small set of advisers stationed with African
Union forces in that country and it was just faintly possible that
those guerrilla graduates might soon prepare to attack some of those
forces (and hence U.S. military personnel). It seems that if the U.S.
puts advisers in place anywhere on the planet -- and any day of any
year they are now in scores of countries -- that's excuse enough to
validate acts of war based on the "imminent" threat of their attack.
[ . . . ]
When was it, by the way, that "the people" agreed that the president
could appoint himself assassin-in-chief, muster his legal beagles to
write new "law" that covered any future acts of his (including the
killing of American citizens), and year after year dispatch what
essentially is his own private fleet of killer drones to knock off
thousands of people across the Greater Middle East and parts of
Africa? Weirdly enough, after almost 14 years of this sort of behavior,
with ample evidence that such strikes don't suppress the movements
Washington loathes (and often only fan the flames of resentment and
revenge that help them spread), neither the current president and his
top officials, nor any of the candidates for his office have the
slightest intention of ever grounding those drones.
And when exactly did the people say that, within the country's vast
standing military, which now garrisons much of the planet, a force of
nearly 70,000 Special Operations personnel should be birthed, or that
it should conduct covert missions globally, essentially accountable
only to the president (if him)? And what I find strangest of all is
that few in our world find such developments strange at all.
William Astore: America's Post-Democratic Military
David Atkins: Republicans Don't Care What Works; whereas "moderate"
Democrats will drop any principle if the polls don't support it (and
some that actually do poll well), e.g.
On Marijuana, the American People Agree with the "Radical" Left, not the
Patrick Cockburn: How Politicians Duck the Blame for Terrorism
Branko Marcetic: Neocon War Hawks Want Hillary Clinton Over Donald Trump.
No Surprise -- They've Always Backed Her.
Adam Hochschild: The Oilman Who Loved Dictators: Cites Jane Mayer's
book Dark Money on how Fred Koch, sire of the dynasty that's
working so hard to undermine American democracy, got his start building
oil refineries for Hitler and Stalin, but Hochschild's main subject is
Torkild Rieber of Texaco, who blatantly broke America's neutrality laws
to ship oil to Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Adapted
from Hochschild's new book, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the
Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.
Paul Krugman: Return of the Undeserving Poor -- a meme that's never
actually gone away among right-wing "thinkers" (Michael B Katz wrote an
important book on this in 1989 (revised in 2013), The Undeserving
Poor: America's Enduring Confrontation With Poverty, although
William Ryan had figured most of this out in his 1971 Blaming the
Victim -- and
Trump Didn't Put the Con in Conservatism.
No More Mr Nice Blog: Dear David Brooks: The "Post-Trump" GOP Will Be
Exactly Like the Pre-Trump GOP, Only Trumpier, and
Trump Will Lose, but I Don't See a GOP Crack-Up Coming:
the right-wing rank-and-file just want someone or something to hate, and
they're not picky: Show them a clip of George W. Bush standing on the
9/11 rubble with a bullhorn and they'll cheer. Show them a clip of
Trump denouncing W for lying about Iraq WMDs and they'll cheer. They
don't know what they believe. They just want enemies.
Sandy Vargas: A Successful Fight for Universal All-Day Kindergarten in
Minnesota: This is a far cry from free college, but shows that a
state government (legislature and governor) controlled by Democrats
can get something worthwhile (albeit modest) done -- as opposed to the
Republicans in states like North Carolina and Kansas.
Sunday, March 13. 2016
Not much time for my usual weekly survey, but I did find a few pieces
on the Donald Trump/Fascism axis, and for your convenience I've added a
bit of forecasting for Tuesday's elections at the bottom.
Josh Marshall: Someone Will Die: Reflecting on recent incidents
at Trump rallies, violent and merely threatening or maybe just
For all the talk about Mussolini, let alone Hitler, George Wallace is
the best analog in the last century of American politics -- the mix of
class politics and racist incitement, the same sort of orchestrated
ratcheting up of conflict between supporters and protestors. As all
of this has unfolded over the course of the day there have been
numerous instances of Trump supporters calling for protestors to "go
back to Africa" and another on video calling on them to "go to fucking
Is the man invoking Nazi concentration camps in that video an
anti-Semite or just a ramped hater in a frenzy of provocation? I'm not
sure we know. And as I'll argue in a moment, in a climate of incitement
and crowd action, it doesn't necessarily matter.
It may sound like hyperbole. But this is the kind of climate of
agitation and violence where someone will end up getting severely
injured or killed. I do not say that lightly.
Actually, more than Wallace this reminds me of the Rolling Stones
at Altamont, hiring Hell's Angels for "security" then playing "Sympathy
for the Devil" as they killed a fan. That's the sort of thing that
happens when a cavalier attitude toward violence makes it cool.
I'll add that I don't particularly approve of protesting at Trump
events. That's partly because I don't regard him as in any way unique
in the Republican Party today -- he's certainly not the "worst of the
worst" policy-wise, although he does seem to be the most careless and
cavalier regarding the racist violence they all more or less pander
to. I do understand that the people who protest Trump are concerned
to nip his attitude in the bud, and to make it clear that his kind of
incivility will always be challenged in America today -- although I
also think it's hard to make that point in the heat of a rally. But
also I think there's a fuzzy line where protest becomes harrassment --
indeed, I think anti-abortion activists often cross that line -- and
I worry it might backfire. Marshall concludes:
The climate Trump is creating at his events is one that not only
disinhibits people who normally act within acceptable societal norms.
He is drawing in, like moths to a flame, those who most want to act
out on their animosities, drives and beliefs. It is the kind of
climate where someone will eventually get killed.
I'm reminded that one of the defining characteristics of fascism
is how readily, in the very early days in Italy and Germany, fascists
resorted to violence against people they regarded as enemies (which
is to say pretty much everyone).
David Atkins: Donald Trump is Merely the Symptom. The Republican Party
Itself is the Disease: We on the left have long had an acute sense
of the smell of fascism -- possibly the most basic definition is that
fascists are the people who want to kill you, so we're talking less
about political theory than existential anxiety. It's long been clear
to me that there are elements of fascism in the American right, but
I've been more focused on the anti-democratic manipulations of the
elites than on the swelling tide of hatred they've stirred up. Still,
interesting to read this:
We no longer have to speculate whether fascism, in Sinclair Lewis'
famous words, would come to America wrapped in the flag and carrying
a cross. We already know what its beginnings look like in the form of
Trump rallies, which are carrying an increasingly violent, overtly
racist, authoritarian aura strongly reminiscent of the 1930s in
Germany or Italy.
Those comparisons were once the province of liberal activists or
traffic-seeking headline writers. No longer. The incipient racist
violence has reached such a fever pitch that a Trump rally in Chicago
had to be canceled entirely. It's one thing to talk in theoretical
or strictly political terms about Trump's authoritarian behavior,
his effect on the Republican Party generally or the potential
feasibility of Trump's policy proposals. But the influence of
Trumpism on the country is already so obviously toxic and dangerous
that it must be called out and mitigated before people start getting
seriously hurt or killed.
That's not the fault of Donald Trump. It's the fault of the GOP itself,
for three main reasons.
First, the Republican Party abandoned the notion of shared truths
and shared reality. They set up an alternative media empire and convinced
their voters that every set of authorities from journalists to scientists
were eggheaded liberals not to be trusted. They peddled conspiracy theories
and contrafactual dogmas of all stripes -- from the notion that climate
scientists were all lying about global warming in order to get more grant
money, to the notion that tax cuts for the rich grow the economy and pay
for themselves. Their base became convinced that no one could be trusted
except for the loudest and angriest voices who told them exactly what they
wanted to hear. Fox News, talk radio and the Drudge Report became the only
trusted media sources. But at a certain point those outlets stopped becoming
the media arm of the Republican Party; instead, the Republican Party became
the legislative arm of those media outlets. It should come as no surprise
that when the Republican establishment seemed unable to deliver on its
promises to their voters, conspiracy theory peddlers new and old from
Breitbart to Drudge would turn on the establishment and convince the GOP
masses that Fox News was the new CNN, just another liberal arm of the media
not to be trusted.
Second is, of course, the Southern Strategy of exploiting racial
resentment. That worked just fine for Republicans while whites were the
dominant majority under no particular threat. It was a great way to win
elections in much of the country while discounting voters who couldn't
do them much damage. As long as the rhetoric remained, in Lee Atwater's
words, "abstract" enough, the tensions created wouldn't boil over into
anything much more damaging than the slow, quiet destruction of generations
of minority communities via legislatively enforced instituional racism.
But as whites have become a smaller and smaller part of the electorate,
that Southern Strategy has not only cost the GOP elections by throwing
away the minority vote; it has also heightened the fears and tensions of
the formerly dominant white voters it courts. What was once quiet and
comfortable racism has become a loud and violent cry of angst. That,
again, isn't Donald Trump's fault. It's the Republican Party's.
Third and most important is the effect of conservative economics. For
decades laissez-faire objectivism has hurt mostly the poorest and least
educated communities in America. Due mostly to institutional racism,
those have tended in the past to be communities of color. The deregulated
economy simply didn't need their labor so it tossed them aside, leaving
squalor and a host of social problems in its wake. This was convenient
for those peddling racist theories, as it laid the blame for drug and
family problems in those communities directly on the individuals involved --
and by extension on their racial background.
I would phrase these last two points slightly differently. Republicans
not only swept up white southerners who had grown up as the supposedly
top dogs in a racially segregated society. They also appealed to new
suburbanites in the north, again white, many Catholic, many moving up
the economic ladder, hoping (among other things) to escape what they
viewed as the decay of the (increasingly black) central cities. These
were the so-called Reagan Democrats, and they were recruited through
ploys as tinged with racism as the Southern Strategy.
I would also point out that Republican economic orthodoxy did more
to destroy the middle class than it did to pillage the already poor.
They used a two-prong strategy to slide their agenda past an unwary
and somewhat oblivious base: on the one hand, they convinced their
target voters that the were only for those other people and
that real Americans like themselves didn't need to be propped up by
the government -- indeed, they made it a point of pride that they
weren't; on the other, they made it possible for their audience to
live beyond their means by offering credit so things like education
and housing, previously "affordable" thanks to government programs,
could still be had. They realized that most people don't recognize
a declining standard of living until it smacks them in the face,
and even then they assured you that your misfortune was you own
damn fault -- not something government could (let alone should)
help you out with.
Tuned up a bit, this is pretty accurate, but still missing a key
fourth point: war. You may think that war's good for "absolutely
nothing," but it's proven very useful for Republicans. For one thing
it creates a false unity of us-against-them, which they can exploit
with God-and-country shtick; it undermines democracy, which they
fear and dread anyway; more importantly, it debases the value of
human life, elevating killing to a patriotic act, and tempting us
to think that the solution to all our problems is to kill supposed
enemies; needless to add, it also opens up incredible opportunities
for graft; it forestalls any pressure to collaboratively work on
worldwide problems, to shift from competition to cooperation. It
also turns out that it's been pretty easy to sucker Democrats into
supporting war, which both saddles them with insupportable costs
and alienates them from their base.
Michael Tomasky: The Dangerous Election: Written before "Super
Tuesday" this has some details that have been overtaken by events --
one certainly wouldn't write about Rubio's nomination path today --
but it's worth quoting his own three-item explanation for Trump's
domination of the Republican Party (it is both more succinct and
more narrowly political than Atkins'):
The fury that led to Trump's rise has three main sources. It begins
with talk radio, especially Rush Limbaugh, and all the conservative
media -- Fox News and, now, numerous blogs and websites and even hotly
followed Twitter and Instagram feeds -- that have for years served up
a steady series of stories aimed at riling up conservatives. It has
produced a campaign politics that is by now almost wholly one of
splenetic affect and gesture. If you've watched any of the debates,
you've seen it. The lines that get by far the biggest applause rarely
have anything to do with any vision for the country save military
strength and victory; they are execrations against what Barack Obama
has done to America and what Hillary Clinton plans to do to it.
A second important factor has been the post-Citizens United
elevation of megarich donors like the Koch brothers and Las Vegas's
Sheldon Adelson to the level of virtual party king-makers. The Kochs
downplay the extent of their political spending, but whether it's
$250 million or much more than that, it's an enormous sum, and they
and Adelson and the others exist almost as a third political party.
When one family and its allies control that much money, and those
running want it spent supporting them (although Trump has matched them),
what candidate is going to take a position counter to that family and
the network of which it is a part? The Kochs are known, for example,
to be implacably opposed to any recognition that man-made climate
change is a real danger. So no Republican candidate will buck that.
[ . . . ]
This fear of losing a primary from the right is the third factor
that has created today's GOP, and it is frequently overlooked in the
political media. [ . . . ]
Few Americans understand just how central this reality is to our
current dysfunction. All the pressure Republicans feel is from the
right, although they seldom say so -- no Republican fears a challenge
from the center, because there are few voters and no money there. And
this phenomenon has no antipode on the Democratic side, because there
exists no effective group of left-wing multimillionaires willing to
finance primary campaigns against Democrats who depart from doctrine.
Very few Democrats have to worry about such challenges. Republicans
This creates an ethos of purity whose impact on the presidential
race is obvious. The clearest example concerns Rubio and his position
on immigration. He supported the bipartisan bill the Senate passed in
2013. He obviously did so because he calculated that the bill would
pass both houses and he would be seen as a great leader. But the base
rebelled against it, and so now Rubio has reversed himself on the
question of a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens and taken
a number of other positions that are designed to mollify the base but
would surely be hard to explain away in a general election were he to
become the nominee -- no rape and incest exceptions on abortion,
abolition of the federal minimum wage, and more.
Bob Dreyfuss: Will the Donald Rally the Militias and the Right-to-Carry
Movement?: OK, that makes three straight pieces on Donald Trump and
fascism, a subject we'll have to call "trending." This one consults
Richard J Evans' The Coming of the Third Reich -- premature
antifascist that I am, that occurred to me more than a decade ago,
but I have to admit I never got around to reading the book:
If you decide to read the book, try doing what I did: in two columns
in your head draw up a list of similarities and differences between
the United States today and Weimar Germany in the 1920s and early
In this edgy moment in America, the similarities, of course, tend
to jump out at you. As Trump repeatedly pledges to restore American
greatness, so Hitler promised to avenge Germany's humiliation in World
War I. As Trump urges his followers, especially the white working class,
to blame their troubles on Mexican immigrants and Muslims, so Hitler
whipped up an anti-Semitic brew. As Trump -- ironically, for a
billionaire -- attacks Wall Street and corporate lobbyists for
rigging the economy and making puppets out of politicians, so Hitler
railed against Wall Street and the City of London, along with their
local allies in Germany, for burdening his country with a massive
post-World War I, Versailles Treaty-imposed reparations debt and for
backing the Weimar Republic's feckless center-right parties. (Think:
the Republican Party today.) As with Trump's China-bashing comments
and his threats to murder the relatives of Islamist terrorists while
taking over Iraq's oil reserves, Hitler too appealed to an atavistic,
reckless sort of ultra-nationalism.
He finds some differences too, but expects American fascism to be
Corey Robin: This is why the right hates Donald Trump: He doesn't question
their core beliefs, but they still see the danger:
Trump hasn't dared touch a lot of the orthodoxy of the right, including
its penchant for tax cuts, which is the keystone of the conservative
counterrevolution, as everyone from Howard Jarvis to George W. Bush
understood. But without the fear of the left -- listening to the
Republican debates, you'd never know the candidates were even concerned
about their opposition, so focused is their fratricidal gaze -- Trump
is free to indulge the more luxurious hostilities of the right.
And this, in the end, may be why Trump is so dangerous. Without
the left, no one has any idea when his animus will take flight and
where it will land. While counterrevolutionaries have always made
established elites nervous, those elites could be assured that the
wild Quixotism of a Burke or a Pat Buchanan would serve their cause.
As today's Republicans and their allies in the media have made clear,
they have no idea if Trump won't turn on them, too. Like Joe McCarthy
in his senescence, Trump might try to gut the GOP. At least McCarthy
had a real left to battle; Trump doesn't.
Trump is dangerous, then, not because he is an aberration from
conservatism but because he is its emblem. He's a threat not because
the movement he aspires to lead is so strong but because the one he
will lead is so weak. It's weak not because it has failed but because
it has succeeded.
This doesn't make an obvious lot of sense, but we can unpack a few
things here. The best evidence of the weakness of the left is how much
politicians like Clinton and Obama remain in thrall to still hegemonic
parts of the conservative mindset, even as the so-called conservative
movement has moved on to even more dysfunctional hysteria. Or maybe
the best evidence is how alien Sanders' programs seem to the Clinton
(and Obama) worldview, even though they'd be little more than common
sense in any social democracy in western Europe. On the other hand,
the conservative movement has greatly weakened since Reagan, at least
in the sense that nothing they do works (unless you consider obstruction
and fraud forms of art). I've long assumed that the right hates Trump
because they fear that if given power he would abandon their batshit
theories for compromises that might at least muddle through, and that
that would undermine the hegemony of key ideas they've invested so
much money and effort in. Or to put it slightly differently, they
may just fear that he wouldn't follow orders like the political hacks
who've spearheaded the party for the last few decades. I suspect in
this they're giving him too much credit.
Bill Clinton's odious presidency: Thomas Frank on the real history
of the '90s: The history should be familiar. The conclusion:
Some got bailouts, others got "zero tolerance." There was really no
contradiction between these things. Lenience and forgiveness and
joyous creativity for Wall Street bankers while another group gets
a biblical-style beatdown -- these things actually fit together
quite nicely. Indeed, the ascendance of the first group requires
that the second be lowered gradually into hell. When you take
Clintonism all together, it makes sense, and the sense it makes
has to do with social class. What the poor get is discipline; what
the professionals get is endless indulgence.
I don't necessarily agree with the argument that financialization
requires dismantling the safety net, although history does show us
that once the bankers got their bailout, they weren't bothered that
nobody else did. The bigger point, I think, is that the Clintons
went to elite colleges and spent all their lives rubbing shoulders
with the rich and super-rich and that rubbed off on them. Whereas
in politics they were ready to do whatever was expedient, in their
personal lives they always yearned to be one with the rich, and
they were pretty successful at that. I also think the same can be
said for Obama, which is a big part of why he worked so hard to
avoid upsetting the status quo.
By the way, here are the latest poll projections at 538, for Tuesday's
primaries. First, Democrats:
- Florida: Clinton 67.6%, Sanders 29.4%. Best Sanders poll 34%.
- Illinois: Clinton 56.2%, Sanders 40.8%. Latest polls show Sanders
+2 (YouGov, 3/9-11) and Clinton +6 (3/4-10), so this has tightened up a lot;
all earlier polls Clinton +19 or more (two early March polls have Clinton
+37 and +42). Nonetheless, 538 gives Clinton a 95% chance of winning.
- North Carolina: Clinton 63.0%, Sanders 33.7%. Best Sanders poll
- Ohio: Clinton 58.9%, Sanders 38.4%. Latest polls are +9 and +20
for Clinton; Sanders led one poll in February, but his best recent poll is
Clinton is likely to sweep, but Sanders has a real upset chance in
Illinois, and a more remote one in Ohio. I wouldn't be surprised if
Sanders beats his polling averages in all four states.
- Florida: Trump 39.9%, Rubio 30.6%, Cruz 17.2%, Kasich 10.1%.
Rubio's best poll is 32%, but other recent polls give him 22% and 20%.
538 gives Trump a 85% chance of winning.
- Illinois: Trump 32.1%, Rubio 27.1%, Cruz 21.1%, Kasich 17.4%.
Trump has led every poll there since last July, when Walker was the
front runner, but 538 doesn't give any of the polls much weight.
- North Carolina: Trump 36.4%, Cruz 28.8%, Rubio 20.3%, Kasich
12.5%. Latest, highly weighted poll shows Trump over Cruz 41-27%.
- Ohio: Kasich 37.8%, Trump 31.8%, Cruz 20.9%, Rubio 7.7%.
Latest poll shows a Kasich-Trump tie at 33%, with Cruz at his highest
polling number ever, 27%. Two previous polls show Kasich +6 and +5
leads, but everything before that favored Trump.
Florida and Ohio are "winner take all" states, so the stop Trump
effort has to stop him there. Kasich is done if he loses Ohio, and
Rubio is done if he loses Florida. Cruz isn't likely to have much
good news, but he can rationalize away his losses -- especially if
Rubio is eliminated.
Thursday, March 10. 2016
The Wichita Eagle was a veritable catalog of horrors yesterday.
I'm working off hard copy, but if you hurry you might find the URIs
Kansas.com. Here are some of the
things that caught my eye (or nose, as the case may be).
Page 1: Wichita school district officials will consider staff
cuts. This story has gone around the block several times before. When
Sam Brownback was elected governor in 2010, he passed a state income tax
cut, promising it would act as "a shot of adrenaline" straight into the
heart of the Kansas economy. (To reduce his credibility, he even hired
Arthur Laffer to study and recommend the cut.) The most notable thing
about the cut wasn't that it favored the already rich: it zeroed out
all income taxes on "small business owners," i.e., those with "Chapter
S" businesses, e.g., Wichita billionaires Charles Koch and Phil Ruffin.
The result was that tax revenues fell far short of spending, so Brownback
tried balancing the books with spending cuts, while the state legislature
raised taxes on sales and "sins" (like tobacco) -- Kansas now has the
highest sales tax on food in the country, and it's even higher in many
counties since they've been encouraged to levy their own sales taxes
(as opposed to, say, property taxes). So state and local government
have been severely pinched for five years now.
To complicate matters, there's a clause in the Kansas state constitution
which says that the state government has a responsibility to provide
adequate funding for local school districts. Many school districts have
repeatedly sued the state for failing to honor the constitution, and
the Kansas Supreme Court has repeatedly sided with them, ordering the
state to pony up more money. A couple years back the legislature came
up with what they called a "block funding" scheme to satisfy a court
order, which promptly was challenged and ruled unconstitutional. This
year the legislature is considering various bills to replace the sitting
Supreme Court with one more to their liking. (To be fair, the Justices
have been remiss in dying, like Antonin Scalia had the decency to do,
so Brownback hasn't had much opportunity to leave his mark, as he has
done to virtually every corner of the state.)
Page 1: Westar seeking rate hike for homes, cuts for businesses:
Wester is the local electric company, formerly known as Kansas Gas &
Electric before it got conglomerated. Like most electric companies, they
are a natural monopoly, and as such are regulated by a state utility
board. Every year Westar asks for ridiculous rate increases, and every
year they get beat down to something slightly less ridiculous. However,
Brownback has managed to restaff that board with crony appointments,
and sometime last year then decided to fire the staff that reviews the
rate proposals and rededicate themselves to fighting against federal
government regulation of utilities, leaving those utilities free to
gouge Kansas consumers. Well, it turns out that Westar is taking full
advantage of this "regulatory capture" and proposing a 31% increase
in residential electric rates. They're willing to give some of this
increase back in the form of rate cuts to large business users --
after all, you can't be too grateful to "job creators" in Kansas --
but that looks pretty paltry by comparison. Like I said, normally
when you read about rate increase proposals, you know it's a game
and most of the hit will be knocked down, but this time it's
different: the "regulators" having surrendered, there is no one
to stand up for Kansas consumers, so the predators will feast.
Page 2: Police: Hutch students planned to detonate pipe
bombs in school: Juveniles, ages 14 and 15, no names released.
Page 2: Hesston police chief: 'I am not a hero':
There was a mass shooting at the Excel factory in Hesston (a small,
mostly Mennonite, town less than an hour north of Wichita) a week or
two ago. The shooter killed three and wounded more than a dozen,
before the police chief fatally wounded the shooter. Needless to
say, another triumph for gun rights in Kansas.
Page 5: Kansas bills seek to reduce early-term birth costs:
Kansas has its own privatized Medicaid service ("KanCare"), which costs
the state a lot of money. The legislature has been looking for ways to
trim costs, so they hired someone to study the situation, and they've
come up with long lists of ways to reduce costs by denying services they
regard as inessential. One of these is to outlaw cesarean deliveries of
premature babies (any under 39 weeks). Presumably there is still some
way to establish a medical necessity, but this adds a whole new layer of
legal interference with women's reproductive care. (Of course, a more
effective way to save money would be to allow, or even encourage, covered
women to opt for abortions, but it's taboo to even mention that in the
state legislature.) Another proposed law would "require physicians to
offer birth risk factor screenings for women in the first trimester to
determine whether a pregnant woman uses tobacco, consumers alcohol,
abuses substances, suffers from depression or is a victim of domestic
violence." (No info on what happens if she does.)
Page 6: Old Town shooting a test of new chief's approach to
policing: Another mass shooting, the first since Wichita got a new
Chief of Police a few weeks ago.
Page 6: 4 people shot to death in KCK; fifth killing in
mid-Missouri may be linked: Kansas City, Kansas. Shooting deaths
there hardly ever get reported here, so I guess 4 must be the magic
Page 6: Trump wins Mich., Miss.; Democrats split states:
So, Tuesday's presidential primary election results get buried deep
in the paper, a single column about eight inches long, under a head
no larger than "Prepaid card users, under scrutiny, find tax refunds
frozen" and "Drug in Sharapova case used by Soviet troops in 1980s."
The night's big story, barely mentioned, was Bernie Sanders' surprise
upset of Hillary Clinton in Michigan (a state 538 gave her a 21-point
poll advantage and a 99% chance of winning). On the other hand, they
make no mention of Trump's third win in Hawaii, or Cruz's solo win in
Idaho, or that Marco Rubio got zero delegates from those states.
Page 12: Sports Authority default ripples through sporting-goods
industry: One store in Wichita, now shuttered, employees sacked.
Another overleveraged chain bites the dust.
Page 13: Two Sedgwick County officials back measure that would
restrict property tax increases: Not enough for Sedgwick County
Commissioners Jim Howell and Karl Peterjohn to not pass property tax
increases, they want to use their limited time in office to lobby the
state legislature to prohibit future tax increases -- otherwise, like,
future county commissioners might try to use county and local government
to, like, do things for people.
Page 13 (Opinion): Cal Thomas: Culture beast to blame for
Trump's rise: Nearly everything in this column is absurdly wrong,
but my eyes were drawn to this paragraph:
On the other side of the political fence, Bernie Sanders and Hillary
Clinton feed into the entitlement mentality that the government exists
to give you stuff and take care of you. Democrats have exploited race
and class for political advantage, deepening the divide between whites
and blacks (and increasingly Hispanics), as well as the three classes --
poor, middle class and wealthy. If the left really cared about
African-Americans, wouldn't that core Democratic constituency be
better off now than they have ever been, given the amount of money
spent on social programs supposedly created to improve their lot in life?
First point: the United States government does exist to "give
us stuff" (the wording in the US Constitution is "promote the general
welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty"). What Thomas calls an
"entitlement mentality" is what most of us think of as the basic rights
of citizenship -- one of which is that we elect, and therefore effectively
own, the government. If the government is ours, why shouldn't we use it
for our own benefit? Where Sanders and (even) Clinton run afoul of Thomas
is that they encourage us to take advantage of our own citizenship and
use our votes to increase "the general welfare." On the surface, it's
hard to understand how people like Thomas can even write this nonsense,
but that they can gives you an idea of how completely they are enclosed
in the right-wing media bubble.
Second point: Thomas remains a captive of one of the right wing's
oldest and deepest cons: the notion that helping people hurts them.
Conservatives love this con because they hate sharing: it makes them
feel especially virtuous, and if the disadvantaged fall for it they
might go away blaming themselves for a system that is rigged against
them. A corollary to this point is the belief that liberal efforts to
improve the general welfare of Afro-Americans have only hurt them (and
that the Democrats are hypocrites or just plain cruel for pursuing
such policies). The problem with this point and corollary is not just
that they're cynical and self-serving: it's that they're flat out
falsehoods. The fact is that most Afro-Americans are much better off
now than they were before the Great Society programs, before the Civil
Rights laws, before the New Deal. It's certainly true that much more
could be done, that there is much room for improvement, but you can't
begin to justify an argument that those programs haven't helped. (As
I'm writing this, one example of this is the full-color Berkshire
Hathaway ad on the opposite page, showing showing a prosperous-looking
black couple talking to a real estate agent in front of some rather
upscale suburban housing. Ads like that didn't exist when I was a
child. You can readily find examples elsewhere. For example, this
piece was written to dispell misconceptions Sanders' supporters
may have about blacks, but could enlighten Thomas as well.)
Third point: blaming the Democrats for exploiting "race and class
for political advantage" and "deepening the divide between whites and
blacks (and increasingly Hispanics)" is, well, obscene. Class exists
because one group owns property and makes its income from rents and
profits, and another only makes a living by selling its labor, and
that difference puts those two classes in conflict with one another.
Political parties didn't invent capitalism; they arose because of it.
What Thomas is really saying is that it would be good for his side if
the other side never talked about class conflict. Race complicates
this only a little bit: most Afro-Americans came to America as
slaves, were held as such until 1865, and even after emancipation
were discriminated against in ways designed to maintain them as a
low-wage labor pool. Slaveholders, in turn, used the ever-present
threat of slave revolts to organize poor white militias, a division
that persists to this day, undermining class solidarity which could
improve the lot of both black and white working classes. Similar
divisions have long existed between native and immigrant workers --
again something that owners have often exploited to increase their
advantages in class struggle.
Thomas is not objecting to class, racial, or ethnic divisions --
indeed, he views them as immutable, the very foundation of his ideal
conservative order. What he objects to is any possibility that the
people not favored by his ideal hierarchy should become conscious
and realize that change is possible -- that the general welfare can,
in fact, becomg more general.
Page 13: Letters to the Editor: One letter points out
the value of burying electrical lines rather than the cheaper (and
much more outage-prone) stringing of lines from poles -- perhaps
something that could be added to Sanders' infrasructure program,
but that's hard to do when the power grid is trusted to predators
like Westar. One letter touted Sanders' supporters, and two more
had praise for Ted Cruz. Consider this paragraph:
Beck opined that unless Republicans quit their infighting and unite
behind a principled Republican conservative such as Sen. Ted Cruz,
R-Texas, they will lose the election to an unworthy Democrat, who
will follow President Obama's job-killing policies.
It still shocks me when I find people so totally ignorant of the
facts. GW Bush was the job killer, winding up with negative job growth
after eight years after his short-term housing bubble gains were wiped
out when the bubble burst. Obama, on the other hand, has seen America
steadily add jobs after an initial dip bequeathed by Bush, and the net
result as been sharply positive (despite a loss in public sector jobs
thanks to Republican slagging on government spending, especially at
the state and local level -- remember Brownback?). In fact, ever since
WWII Democratic presidents have average over twice the growth rates of
Republicans (despite huge increases in deficit spending by Reagan and
the Bushes). I'll leave it to you to look up the numbers, but believe
me, the differences are huge.
There is also a letter on Trump:
Trump is what the base of the Republican Party has been clamoring for --
nay, demanding -- for decades and has given an outlet to racists, bigots
and misogynists who blame political correctness on their inability to
practice these openly. So why is the party surprised?
Well, because Republicans' capacity for self-delusion is boundless --
almost as great as their knack for passing the buck (for example, see
Bobby Jindal Blames President Obama for Donald Trump's Rise; it's
really pretty galling how easily Republicans fling about "job-killing,"
especially with "Obamacare" -- but never with job-massacres like NAFTA
or TPP). Leaving
Trump aside for the moment, I've seen Ted Cruz talk passionately about
stagnating wages, and then in the next breath proposing to abolish the
IRS to solve the problem. How is that supposed to work? If the federal
government has no facility for collecting taxes, how can it afford to
do anything, much less encircle the globe in military bases armed to
the hilt with state-of-the-art weapons systems? Without future tax
income the federal government won't even be able to borrow money.
Printing more money doesn't begin to solve the problem. And then what
happens to the 20-25% of the workforce who lose their government jobs?
And the millions more who lose Social Security and Medicare? You know,
I hate taxes too, but I can't pretend nothing bad will happen if you
abolish the IRS.
As for Trump, Republicans have plenty of reason to be embarrassed
by him, but the actual complaints coming from people like Thomas and
Jindal and everyone from Glenn Beck and Bill Kristol to David Brooks
and Mitt Romney boil down to two points: one is that Trump deviates
from (and is not seen as a true believer in) the conservative dogma
that right-wingers have spent millions (possibly billions) of dollars
drumming into the movement, and the other is that Trump isn't wholly
dependent on said right-wingers -- so they fear he's liable to go off
For many years we suffered bad politicians with bad ideas and somehow
muddled through. Even now, people my age are more likely to die quietly
than to see their world descend into dystopia. But I have little faith
now that young people today will be able to muddle through even as we
did. Throughout much of my lifetime the left tried to organize on the
basis of helping other people -- something noble but when push came to
shove not exactly dependable. But with the Sanders campaign what I see
is young people mobilizing to defend themselves against a future full
of peril. Meanwhile, when you look at newsdays like the above, that
peril appears not just as something looming like global warming but as
something frightfully urgent.
A couple quick links on the election:
FiveThirtyEight: What Went Down in the March 8 Presidential Primaries:
Live blog from the night, closed out before anything from Hawaii reported,
so not really the whole night. They spent a lot of time patting themselves
on the back for nailing the Republican contests, and more time complaining
about the bad polling data that screwed up their 99% prediction of a
Clinton win in Michigan. For more of the latter, their Carl Bialik
added a post-mortem,
Why the Polls Missed Bernie Sanders's Michigan Upset. The reason
that makes the most sense to me was that Sanders really hit the right
notes with the Flint debate and the Detroit town hall events, although
that's too subjective for these guys (they complain about not having
any post-event polls, an excuse they also used with Cruz in Iowa). The
one I don't believe at all is that over-confident Clinton supporters
switched to the Republican primary to stop Trump. That doesn't make
sense on any level, and exit polls tell us that only 4% of identified
Democrats crossed over anyway so it couldn't have been much of an
effect (sure, 4% would have tilted the election to Clinton, but I
really suspect that most of that 4% crossed to vote for Trump, not
against him, and I doubt that Trump-leaning Democrats would have
preferred Clinton over Sanders -- unless they were super hawkish).
Nate Silver: Marco Rubio Never Had a Base: Rubio finished below
the delegate threshold in all four Republican primaries on Tuesday,
so he wound up with zero delegates. He trailed Kasich (and Cruz) in
Michigan, so wound up fourth there. He significantly underperformed
expectations in all four states. He's trailing in 538's poll average
in his home state of Florida to Trump 30.6-39.9% (or 24.7-40.2%,
depending on which chart you use; his best recent polls are 30-38%
and 32-42%, but others are 22-42%, 20-43%, and 22-45%). He's dropped
from 2nd to 3rd in all recent polls in North Carolina. He's still a
bit better in Illinois (20.4%), but that reflects more on Trump
(33.0%) and Cruz (19.5%). Silver has some ideas on why Rubio hasn't
done well, but they don't go far toward explaining why he's tanked
so much lately. I'd say it's basically because he's a placeholder --
a way of saying "none of the above." Let's face it, no one really
likes him, even if they think they should. Silver trots out one
revealing bit of data: Rubio's best districts so far are all very
Democratic. Good chance what those voters like about Rubio is that
they see him as someone they may be able to slip him past a more
liberal electorate. Sure, he's a phony, but their phony, and no
one doubts that if he wins he'll do as he's told.
This is probably as good a place as any to mention two popular
memes that came out of Super Tuesday and intensified this week.
One is the proposition that if conservatives really want to stop
Trump, the only choice they have left is to back Cruz. Sure, he's
possibly the most toxic politician in America right now, but with
him you get the whole package: a doctrinaire conservative even
more principled (i.e., extreme) than Rubio and Kasich, and a guy
who appeals to the basest instincts of the party base (much like
Trump minus the flim flam). The second is that Rubio should cut
a deal where he withdraws, throws his support to Cruz, and joins
the ticket as Cruz's vice president. It's amusing to think that
Rubio thinks he has supporters so loyal that now they would
follow him into Cruz's arms when it was Cruz (and Trump) that drove
them to Rubio in the first place. He's a politician with no intrinsic
appeal, and it's good that's becoming obvious to everyone.
If you want to read more, there's
Gary Legum: The Marco Rubio post-mortem: How a supposedly ready-made
GOP nominee crashed and burned.
Bill Curry: It should be over for Hillary: Party elites and MSNBC can't
proper her up after Bernie's Michigan miracle: Few people remember
this but when Eugene McCarthy ran against Lyndon Johnson in 1968,
McCarthy actually lost to Johnson in New Hampshire. Nonetheless, that
he came as close as he did rattled Johnson so severely that he dropped
out of the race almost immediately. He could see that McCarthy would
keep gaining traction, and while he could almost certainly have still
won at the convention -- Hubert Humphrey in fact did without running
in a single Democratic primary -- he didn't want to go out like that.
I think of this not only because it was one of my formative political
experiences but because Hillary Clinton started this campaign in every
bit as dominant a perch as Johnson had in 1968. Her nomination was so
pre-ordained that virtually no mainstream Democrat even considered a
run against her. (Martin O'Malley ran a very half-hearted campaign,
having positioned himself as Hillary's backup plan. Sanders and Lincoln
Chafee weren't even Democrats, and Jim Webb wasn't much of one.) So
why does Clinton, unlike Johnson, truck on after repeated primaries --
both in 2008 where she kept her losing campaign going all the way to
the convention, and so far in 2016 -- reveal her to be a flawed and
vulnerable candidate? Could just be hunger, but could also be a sense
of entitlement. One thing it certainly involves is a willingness to
win ugly, especially if that's the only way she can do it. Curry points
out some of the obvious problems. A couple paragraphs, the first from
a section headed "The old politics is over," the second from the end:
I often talk to Democrats who don't know Obama chose not to raise the
minimum wage as president even though he had the votes for it; that he
was willing to cut Medicare and Social Security and chose not to
prosecute Wall Street crimes or pursue ethics reforms in government.
They don't know he dropped the public option or the aid he promised
homeowners victimized by mortgage lenders. They don't know and don't
want to know. Their affection for Bill and Barack -- and their fear
of Republicans -- run too deep. [ . . . ]
In the end, thinking only tactically makes you a bad tactician.
When revolution's in the air polls, money and ads mean far less.
Reporters who know nothing else can't conceive how voters choosing
among a democratic socialist, a pay-to-play politician and a fascist
might pick door number one. They bought Hillary's myth of inevitability,
but as Lawrence of Arabia told Prince Ali in the desert, nothing is
written. If Democratic voters really use their heads, they'll see
through the tactical arguments just like the voters of Michigan did --
and then walk into voting booths all over America and vote their hearts.
Then there will be change.
The first paragraph reminds me of disappointment: that voting for
Obama in 2008 was a vote for change, but in fact what we got was a
president and administration that was dedicated to preserving the
liberal-conservative tradition in America, to not rocking the boat
and not changing anything -- in short, the sort of business-as-usual
administration we expected from Clinton. Looking back, it's easy to
see that we could have done much worse, but we also could have done
better. Now we're being offered the same-old, same-old we rejected
in 2008, and we're being told first that it's inevitable -- that one
is proving flimsy -- and that Clinton is the only one able to stave
off the barbarian hordes. I saw David Corn on TV last night arguing
that Hillary's been "tested by fire" over thirty years, while Sanders
has never had to face the sort of assaults the Republicans will surely
bring against him if he's the nominee. Still, it's not as if Hillary
hasn't been burnt a few times along the way, and he overlooks that
Sanders has actually held elective office for thirty-some years,
whereas Hillary only served one unfinished Senate term, one that
was gift-wrapped for her in a safe state. Maybe Sanders is tougher
than the pundits think. Maybe he just has less unsavory laundry to
Curry also wrote
Hillary's inevitability lie: Why the media and party elites are
rushing to nominate the weakest candidate.
Andy Schmookler: Who Is the Better Bet to Beat Trump, Hillary or
Bernie?: Doesn't offer a clear cut argument for Sanders, but
the argument for Hillary isn't very clear cut either. (Curry, by
the way, subtitled the piece above "She's the one Dem even Trump
Charles Pierce: Why Bernie Won Michigan: One reason was that Clinton
tried to claim Sanders' vote against the TARP fund bank bailout bill was
a vote against the later auto industry bailout that Obama worked out
using TARP funds:
But, as I talked to more and more people around Flint, I got the sense
that the resonance of the exchange was not what HRC and her campaign
thought it would be. The UAW members I talked to clearly considered
HRC's use of the auto bailout against Sanders to be at best a half-truth,
and a cynical attempt to win their support, and they were offended by
what they saw as a glib attempt to turn the state's economic devastation
into a campaign weapon. These were people who watched the auto industry
flee this city and this state, and they knew full well how close the
country's remaining auto industry came to falling apart completely in
2008 and 2009. They knew this issue because they'd lived it, and they
saw through what the HRC campaign was trying to do with the issue.
Pierce also has a piece about Clinton trying to red bait Sanders
over old comments he made about Cuba and Nicaragua:
Bernie Sanders Said Something We Weren't Ready to Hear Last Night:
The pundits are right that Sanders' statements back in the 1980s are
fertile ground for conservative ratfcking -- look how easy it was for
HRC to turn them around on him -- and likely would be used to make a
meal out of him in a general election. The biggest problem that Sanders
has here, though, is that he told a truth that we're still not prepared
to hear. That Elliott Abrams has not been fitted with a leper's bell
yet is proof enough of that.
Still, I can't help but think that Obama has painted himself red,
white and blue in patriotic homilies, fervently striving to steer any
attention away from the fact that as a black American he might have
had a somewhat more nuanced view of this country's legacy in the world.
Note that I'm not saying he does, but no matter what he's said or done
it hasn't cut any mustard with the rabid right, who have spent the last
eight years frantically trying to deny that he's even a real American.
So what crime is Sanders committing here by admitting the truth, and
offering lessons from history as a guide for future policy? Merely
that he will be attacked for not parroting common myths. But isn't
the fact that he hasn't been pilloried yet for embracing Socialism
at least a suggestion that the sanctities of the high priests are
slipping? What ultimately undermines Obama and Clinton here is the
widespread (and I'm pretty sure unfounded) belief that they are not
sincere. But by not falling for the homilies, Sanders is showing that
he is sincere, honest, truthful, and trustworthy -- and when he doesn't
get hurt by doing so, that starts to free us from the dead weight of
retrograde ideas. I have to admit, I myself always cringe when I hear
Sanders' line about "a political revolution." I consider myself well to
his left, and I would never use the r-word, partly to be circumspect but
mostly because I don't consider it a real or even particularly desirable
possibility. But then a funny thing happens every time I hear the line:
applause. And I have to admit, I'm not the sort of political purist who
makes a fuss against something worthwhile that seems to be working.
Sarah Leonard: Which Women Support Hillary (and Which Women Can't
Afford To): I saw this piece a while back (posted Feb. 17), and
the title resonated through the Kansas caucuses and into Michigan.
Could go on much longer, but let's close with a Matt Taibbi tweet:
Struggling to find the comp for that Trump victory speech. Ron Jeremy
If anyone out there is too culturally illiterate to get the point,
Ron Jeremy is a pudgy porn actor with modest skills as a comic, perhaps
best known for waging swordfights with his erect penis. Stalin was head
of the Soviet Union from 1929-1953, during which time he had nearly all
of his political opponents killed off, some after elaborate show trials,
at least one by an icepick-wielding assassin. He was famed for giving
marathon speeches, frequently interrupted by long stretches of applause.
It's been observed that the reason the applause lasted so long was that
no one wanted to be seen as the first person to stop clapping. Sorry
if you flash on both images next time you hear Trump speak, but I know
Sunday, March 6. 2016
Kansas held both Democratic and Republican Party caucuses yesterday.
Both had record turnouts, in many cases forcing voters to wait in line
for hours. Still the caucus format is so inconvenient that at most 10%
of the number of people who will vote in November showed up. I suppose
you could argue that that means only the hard core fanatics showed up.
You could go further and point out that both caucuses were won by the
party's extremists -- Cruz and Sanders -- with both trouncing national
favorites (Trump and Clinton) by more than 20 points. Still, while a
primary might have narrowed the outcomes, I seriously doubt if it would
have overturned either winner.
The Republican caucus was a big show here in Wichita, with most (or
maybe all) registered Republicans required to head downtown to the
Century II Auditorium, where the voting took place after speeches in
favor of the candidates. Cruz and Trump represented themselves in
person. Marco Rubio was AWOL, his slot filled in by local Congressman
(and Bill Kristol favorite) Mike Pompeo. Trump was singled out for a
counter-demonstration, and had some hecklers removed from the caucus.
When the votes were counted, the results were: Cruz 48.2%, Trump 23.3%,
Rubio 16.7%, Kasich 10.7%, out of about 72,000 votes (Romney got 689,000
votes in 2012).
The Democratic caucuses were organized by State Senate district. We
attended the 25th, at the SEIU union hall on west Douglas. The 25th
district covers the near west side of Wichita, between the Arkansas
River and the flood control ditch from 25th North to Pawnee (23rd
South), plus Riverside (the area between the Little Arkansas River
and the big one -- this is where we live) and a chunk of south Wichita
from the river east to Hillside, bounded by Kellogg (downtown) on the
north and Pawnee on the south (this is the area I grew up in). The
district is represented by creepy Republican Michael O'Donnell --
a "preacher's kid" who long lived rent-free thanks to his father's
church, and who is best known for authoring a bill passed last year
which placed many restrictions on what welfare recipients could do
with their money (including a restriction that they couldn't draw
more than $25 at a time from an ATM), but who was most recently in
the news for providing beer to a party of underaged "campaign
The district is mostly working class, overwhelmingly white --
Wichita is still pretty segregated, and the Republicans who drew up
the Senate district map worked hard to put every black person they
could find into the 29th district -- the result is that Sedgwick
County has only one Democrat in the state senate, compared to 7-9
Republicans (some suburban and rural slivers overlap into other
counties). The district was formerly represented by Jean Schodorf,
a liberal Republican who was ousted by O'Donnell in the 2012 GOP
primary purge. He will be opposed this year by Lynn Rogers, a
popular school board member who recently switched parties, so
I think he has a good chance to flip the district (until they
redraw it -- Republicans control the state senate 32-8).
We managed to park about three blocks from the caucus site,
and spent a little more than an hour in line to get into the
building. By that time, they had decided to run a primary instead
of a caucus as they couldn't fit a tenth of the people who turned
out into the hall. We saw a couple dozen people we knew (including
a couple carrying Hillary signs), and many hundreds we didn't (a
great many with Bernie signs or stickers). When we got in, I was
chagrined to find that my name wasn't on the voter roll, so I had
to register. (Being Democrats, they didn't require ID or proof of
citizenship, so I'm not sure how my registration will set with
the Voter Suppression Bureau -- or whatever they call it these
days. I've been registered here since 1999, but changed from
independent to Democrat for the 2008 caucus, so it's possible
that the party change didn't stick).
The final vote total was 67.7% Sanders, 32.3% Clinton, with
41,000 votes cast (Obama got almost 440,000 in 2012). I've looked
around for more local election results, but haven't found much yet.
I do know that the 4th Congressional District, which includes Wichita
and mostly rural counties southeast to Montgomery (Independence and
Coffeyville), broke 70-30% for Sanders -- the highest of any Kansas
Congressional District. There's a good chance my caucus went 75-80%
for Sanders. It's likely blacks in Kansas broke for Hillary: I saw
few, but those who did have signs supported Hillary. Sanders got
81.4% in Lawrence (where Cruz only got 37% and Rubio beat Trump
20-18%), but (as I recall) the 3rd District was the closest, so
Hillary must have done better in Wyandotte (largely black) and/or
Johnson (KC suburban) counties.
The 4th was also Cruz's top congressional district. He slumped a
bit in the 3rd (suburban Kansas City, Lawrence) and, a bigger surprise,
in the 1st, represented by his most prominent booster in the state,
Tim Huelskamp. Good chance Huelskamp's endorsement actually cost Cruz
votes: Huelskamp is much hated in the most Republican district in the
state, mostly by farmers who don't appreciate his efforts to wipe out
the government gravy train. Not a good day for other prominent endorsers
either: Gov. Brownback, Sen. Roberts, and Rep. Pompeo all threw their
political weight behind Rubio, who came in a distant third, performing
well below his statewide average in Pompeo's district. The top Trump
supporters -- Kris Kobach (ALEC) and Phil Ruffin (Wichita's other
billionaire, like Trump a casino mogul) -- had no discernible effect.
One might also add Clinton-backer Jill Docking, possibly the best known
Democrat in the state -- she lost a couple statewide races, but bears
the name of two former governors and a state office building in Topeka.
Here are some figures by Congressional District: Cruz got 58% in
the 4th, 49% in the 1st, 46% in the 2nd, and 42% in the 3rd. Rubio
led Trump in the 3rd 22-20%, but with Pompeo's help trailed in the
4th 13-22%. Kasich got 15% in the 3rd, only 6% in the 4th. Sanders
did best in the 2nd District (Topeka) with 72%, followed by 70% in
the 4th, 69% in the 1st, and 62% in the 3rd.]
Sanders also won in Nebraska (57.1-42.9%), while Clinton mopped
up in Louisiana (71.1-23.2%). Evidently Clinton finished the day
with a slight increase in her delegate edge. Maine votes today, and
should go to Sanders. [PS: That indeed
happened, Sanders leading 64.2-35.6%.]
Michigan and Mississippi vote on Tuesday --
Michigan should be an indicator of whether the Sanders campaign is
looking up or down. Recent polls there favor Clinton (60-36%, 57-40%,
55-44%; 538's weighted average is 57.1-37.2%), but Michigan Democrats
have been known to think out of the box -- George Wallace and Jesse
Jackson are former winners -- and the last-minute focus there will
be intense. (Trump is a heavy favorite on the Republican side, leading
Cruz 37.0-21.4% with Kasich above Rubio 20.7-18.4%.)
Trump won primaries yesterday in Kentucky (35.3-31.6% over Cruz,
with Rubio at 16.4% and Kasich 14.4%) and Louisiana (41.4-37.8% over
Cruz, with Rubio way out at 11.2% and Kasich half that), while Cruz
solidly beat Trump in Maine (45.9-32.6%, Kasich over Rubio 12.2-8.0%).
The latter was a surprise to me: Cruz had done very poorly in New
England thus far, and Maine is about the last place in the nation
where moderate Republicans have any traction. May be worth noting
that turnout in Maine was extremely low (18382 votes vs. 292276 for
Romney in 2012, so 6.3% -- about half the ratio in Kansas).
For more on this round, see 538's
How the States Voted on Semi-Super Saturday. They are very impressed
by Cruz, at least as unimpressed by Rubio, and quick to dismiss Sanders.
You also get things like:
The Republican race is quite challenging to model demographically, and
also isn't all that well-explained by ideology. So I expect that
personality really might have something to do with it. Is it a
coincidence that some of Trump's worst performances so far are in
"nice" states like Minnesota and Kansas, and that his best is in
neurotic, loud Massachusetts?
My first reaction to the first line was that there's no division
in the Republican party either demographically or ideologically,
but then the third line made me think of one: Catholics, especially
those who got worked up over race and left the Democratic Party for
Reagan. Massachusetts, which Reagan won in 1984, was ground zero
for them, but Kansas and Minnesota have far fewer Catholics and a
lot less urban/suburban race panic. They are also states where the
Republican Party has never made much effort to pander to racism --
I suppose you could say that was "nice" of them, but they didn't
really have the need in Kansas, nor the opportunity in Minnesota.
Of course, we don't really need to define this group as Catholic:
the more generic term is racist, and Trump does very well in those
One thing that 538 does point out is that Carson's votes seem to
be going to Cruz, not Trump. I think he's right there, especially
in Kansas, where Carson is very highly regarded and would probably
have pulled 10% were he still in the race. They also note that while
Trump led Louisiana in early ballots, Cruz may have gotten more votes
on primary day than Trump.
Some scattered links this week:
Jeffrey Toobin: Looking Back: The New Yorker's legal expert,
author of two books on the Supreme Court -- The Nine: Inside the Secret
World of the Supreme Court (2007), and The Oath: The Obama White
House and the Supreme Court (2012) -- considers the legacy of the
late Antonin Scalia and gets to the point quick:
Antonin Scalia, who died this month, after nearly three decades on the
Supreme Court, devoted his professional life to making the United States
a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy. Fortunately,
he mostly failed. Belligerent with his colleagues, dismissive of his
critics, nostalgic for a world where outsiders knew their place and
stayed there, Scalia represents a perfect model for everything that
President Obama should avoid in a successor. The great Justices of the
Supreme Court have always looked forward; their words both anticipated
and helped shape the nation that the United States was becoming. Chief
Justice John Marshall read the new Constitution to allow for a vibrant
and progressive federal government. Louis Brandeis understood the need
for that government to regulate an industrializing economy. Earl Warren
saw that segregation was poison in the modern world. Scalia, in contrast,
looked backward. [ . . . ]
Scalia described himself as an advocate of judicial restraint, who
believed that the courts should defer to the democratically elected
branches of government. In reality, he lunged at opportunities to
overrule the work of Presidents and of legislators, especially Democrats.
Scalia helped gut the Voting Rights Act, overturn McCain-Feingold and
other campaign-finance rules, and, in his last official act, block
President Obama's climate-change regulations. Scalia's reputation, like
the Supreme Court's, is also stained by his role in the majority in Bush
v. Gore. His oft-repeated advice to critics of the decision was "Get
Toobin has a follow-up piece,
The Company Scalia Kept, including an overdose of the wit and wisdom
of Scalia's hunting buddy, C. Allen Foster ("when the last duck comes
flying over with a sign around his neck 'I am the last duck,' I will shoot
it"). Also post-mortem is
Jedediah Purdy: Scalia's Contradictory Originalism, which treats
Scalia's signature rationale with more respect than I can muster. I've
felt "originalism" was nothing more than Scalia's way of echoing Pope
Urban's "Deus vult" -- a cheap way of selling anything that enters his
wretched mind (although effective only if you think Scalia, like the
pope, is infallible).
Nate Silver: Republican Voters Kind of Hate All Their Choices:
My first thought was, not as much as I hate them, but then I remembered
that we're talking about Republicans, who seem to have a boundless
capacity for hating other people -- so why not themselves? One chart
here shows that in in the 2012 primary season, Republicans were more
likely to have at least a "satisfied" view of Romney (63%) than of
Santorum (55%) or Gingrich (52%). The current leader is Rubio (53%),
followed by Cruz (51%) and Trump (49%). Another chart puts Trump's
49% well below that of all but one previous nominee or major candidate
since 2004: Ron Paul in 2012 was lower; Cruz, Gingrich, and Rubio were
the next lowest, behind Huckabee (2008), Santorum (2012), and Edwards
(57% in 2004). Another chart shows that the 2008 race between Obama
and Clinton was less divisive: Clinton led 71-69 -- the main difference
was that while Clinton never dropped below 58 (in Mississippi), Obama
had lower scores in a few states that turned hard against him in the
general election: West Virginia (43), Kentucky (43), Arkansas (47),
Oklahoma (49), and Tennessee (51). Clinton's figure this year is even
higher at 78, while Sanders is well behind at 62 -- still high enough
to suggest he would do a better job of uniting the party than any of
the current batch of Republicans.
No More Mister Nice Blog has a piece which looks beyond Rubio's bare
margin in acceptability, arguing there's not much to it:
Cruz is the other Trump, and Rubio continues to be friendzoned.
The argument is basically that Trump and Cruz, as militant outsiders,
are more acceptable to each other's bases than an obvious corporate
tool like Rubio would be to either's. The result is that if a brokered
convention hands the nomination to Rubio, a big chunk of Cruz and/or
Trump supporters would go home or break loose or otherwise wreck the
Stephem M Walt: It's Time to Abandon the Pursuit for Great Leaders:
From Napoleon to Donald Trump, the track record of investing great power
in a charismatic individual has been lousy (in Walt's words, "always a
mistake"). The Germans had a word for this, Führerprinzip, which has
since become as discredited as it deserves to be. That's one example
Walt doesn't bother with, for the problem is not just the higher you
fly the harder you fall (surely no one can argue about Napoleon in any
other terms), but that Great Leaders may not even be possible any more
(and that may be for the better). Walt surveys the recent wreckage:
I suspect the appeal of the Great Leader also reflects the present
shortcomings of existing democratic institutions in Europe and North
America, the transparent hypocrisy of most career politicians, and the
colorlessness of many current office-holders. If you strip away the
well-scripted pageantry that tries to make presidents and prime
ministers seem all-powerful and all knowing, today's democratic
leaders are not a very inspiring bunch. I mean, seriously: whatever
their political skills may be, can one really admire an
undisciplined skirt-chaser like Bill Clinton, an insensitive,
privileged bumbler like George W. Bush, or an unprincipled opportunist
like Tony Blair? Does listening to David Cameron or François Hollande
fill you with confidence and patriotic zeal? I still retain a certain
regard for Barack Obama, who is both thoughtful and devoid of obvious
character defects, but nobody is talking about him being a "transformational"
president anymore. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton's lackluster performance
on the campaign trail and the clown show that is the Republican primary
season is just reinforcing the American public's sense that none of
these people are sincere, serious, genuinely interested in the public's
welfare, or deserving or admiration or respect. Instead, they're mostly
out for themselves, and they would say and do almost anything if they
thought it would get them elected. And if that is in fact the case (and
many people clearly believe it is), then a buffoon like Trump or a grumpy
outsider like Bernie Sanders are going to look appealing by comparison.
Leaving aside the irrelevant sidepoint of whether Sanders is grumpy,
the obvious follow-up points are that lacking any policy goals that in
any way bear up under scrutiny, the Republican primaries have turned
into a forum on leadership posturing, may the greatest of the great
prevail (although it's not clear to me how this hasn't ruled Rubio out
yet). Meanwhile Clinton has developed (or should I say was given?) the
counter, that it is not the president but America that is great, a
blessing she will surely shepherd and sustain. From where I stand,
all this adds up to is a culture of narcissism -- the last thing in
the world we should look to our political leaders to fix.
Still, I'm haunted by Trump's "make America great again" -- the
nagging question being, when was America ever really great? Indeed,
what could that possibly mean? Sure, empires from Rome to Brittania
to Nazi Germany have exulted in their brutal power while lavishing
their elites with the spoils of war, but hardly any of their gains
trickled down to the masses, and every last one sowed the seeds of
its own destruction. What's so great about that? For that matter,
what's so good? The difference is not just rhetoric: back when
Lyndon Johnson was president, he had an argument with Bill Moyers
over what to call his programs to lift the poor out of poverty and
broaden the middle class. Moyers wanted to call this vision the
Good Society, but Johnson insisted on cranking up the superlatives,
giving us the Great Society. Problem is, while it's easy to think
of lots of things that would make most lives better, no one could
really envision what it would take to make them great. By overselling
his programs, burdening them with grand gestures and empty rhetoric,
he undermined them. (Same for his War on Poverty, which he actually
did a much better job of executing than his Vietnam War, but which
could never be won as definitively as Americans had come to expect
Perhaps Sanders seems grumpy because he's stuck thinking about real
problems and viable solutions instead of engaging in the great national
ego stroke of our collective and/or individual greatness?
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Partial draft on Libya-Syria, couldn't work my way out of this in time:
Martin Longman: Clinton and Libya: Libya and Syria both erupted in
Arab Spring demonstrations in early 2011. Both nations were ruled by
governments which the US had long regarded as antagonistic (not always
so, but that was certainly the default prejudice). Both were headed by
strongmen, who ruled through a combination of brute force and tribal
favoritism, and they responded to popular demonstrations with brutal
repressive force. In both cases the clashes rapidly became militarized
with some factions within the established military breaking away. In
both cases the opposition was joined by jihadi-oriented islamists,
whose anti-American stance muddied initial anti-regime biases in the
US. While both conflicts had much in common, a few differences led
the US to react differently to them. Actually, there were a range of
reactions and proposals within the US government, with Obama deciding
to go with the interventionists in Libya and against them (at least
initially) in Syria. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State at the
time, and generally sided with the hawks. She largely got her way in
Libya: the US intervened and in fairly short order Gaddafi's offensive
was halted and unwound, Gaddafi was killed, and his government was
dismantled. It turned out that overthrowing Gaddafi left a vacuum
that soon evolved into a civil war that continues today, so it's no
longer easy to view Libya as any kind of success for US policy.
Meanwhile, the initial revolts in Syria degenerated into prolonged
and indecisive civil war. Obama resisted the interventionists at
first, who continued to coo into his ear that if only we could step
in we could put an end to the bloodshed (you know, doing so would be
a humanitarian act). The US approved small scale programs to aid and
abet anti-government rebels, but such programs were ineffective and
only served to extend the war. The US got more active when a former
anti-American group in Iraq mutated into ISIS, setting up an "Islamic
State" that spanned northwestern Iraq and parts of eastern Syria. The
American reaction at that point became kneejerk, so the haphazard
opposition to Assad was supplemented by a more direct war against
Assad's chief adversaries. The US has often been misguided in its
foreign alliances, but it's hard to think of a previous case where
it's acted with such unthinking callousness. Aside from her initial
impulse to intervene in Syria, Clinton has at least been on the
Sunday, February 28. 2016
Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders in South Carolina by a good deal
more than I expected (73.5% to 26.0%). This has finally given the media
carte blanche to harp on the viability of Sanders' campaign as opposed
to his issues and the relative merits (and weaknesses) of the candidates.
I expect that will be the rap from now to convention time, so it may be
true that the fun part of the campaign is over. In theory, Super Tuesday
could mark a turnaround, but that doesn't seem very likely. Nate Silver
has a piece where he estimates the share Sanders would take in each state
if he split the Democratic vote 50-50 with Clinton (see
Bernie Sanders Doesn't Need Momentum -- He Needs to Win These States).
The table compares Silver's estimates with actual results through Nevada
and polling (where available) later on. Where figures are available,
Clinton is consistently beating her estimates -- even in New Hampshire,
where Sanders +22 win fell short of his +32 projection. Silver figures
Sanders needs to win six (of eleven) Super Tuesday states: Vermont (a
cinch), Minnesota-Colorado-Massachusetts (maybe but not much polling,
and Mass. is very close), and Oklahoma-Tennessee (which seem pretty
hopeless, although the Okla. polling isn't so bad -- Clinton +2).
Later in next week, he also lists Sanders as Kansas +18, but polls
here favor Clinton. There are some fishy things about the model --
I'd be surprised if Sanders ran the table in the Rocky Mountain and
Upper Midwest states like Obama did, and I suspect Clinton has more
support in the "white belt" from Oklahoma up through West Virginia
than Silver's model suggests (Silver has West Virginia +17 for
Sanders, but Bill Clinton won the state, and Obama lost it bad).
Still, it's been fun, and regardless of what happens on Tuesday,
we'll probably go to the caucus on Mar. 5 and get counted for Sanders.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump is increasingly viewed as the Republican
winner. 538 has estimates on the following upcoming Republican primaries
(some with very little polling data, and many states are still missing).
Trump is projected to win all but Texas (Cruz), although his leads in
Florida (Rubio) and Ohio (Kasich) aren't unassailable. I've tabled up
the raw poll averages below (* indicates only a single poll was used).
|03-22||Arizona *||35.0%||23.0%||14.0%|| ||7.0%|
They don't seem to have any Kansas polling. As I understand it, Trump
is leading among Kansas Republicans, although Rubio has racked up most of
the big endorsements (Brownback, Roberts, Pompeo, Dole). Tim Huelskamp has
endorsed Cruz. Lynn Jenkins was the first Rep. to endorse Carly Fiorina,
so I guess she's due for a do-over. Last two Republican caucuses went to
the holy roller -- this year that's split between Carson, Cruz, and Trump
(not an evangelical, but he tends to hate the same people evangelicals do,
and that seems to be what counts with them).
Trump, by the way, has very few
endorsements: two sitting governors (Christie and LaPage), one senator
(Sessions), two reps; but he has done well among European fascists (Marine
Le Pen, Matteo Salvini, Geert Wilders) and with some comparably shady
Americans (David Duke, Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Jerry
More about Trump in this week's links, below. Didn't even get around
to last week's mass shooting incident in Hesston, KS:
Martin Longman: How Will Trump Unite the Party? Remember Ronald
Reagan? He used to go around the country saying that the "11th
commandment" was "never speak ill of a fellow Republican." The GOP
was a much larger tent in those days, encompassing Mark Hatfield
and John Chaffee as well as Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms (and my
own so-far-to-the-right-he's-left favorite, Iowa Rep. H.R. Gross --
younger folks can substitute Ron Paul, but you'll miss something).
Reagan was himself pretty far gone on the right, but he never called
anyone a RINO, much less any of the following, courtesy of Donald
When it comes time to unite the party, he'll have to contend with
having insulted all his opponents:
- Kasich: "total dud"
- Rubio: "a lightweight choker"
- Carson: "Pyramids built for grain storage -- don't people get it?"
- Cruz: "the worst liar, crazy or very dishonest"
- Fiorina: "if you listen to Carly Fiorina for more than ten minutes
straight, you develop a massive headache"
- Graham: "dumb mouthpiece"
- Walker: "not smart"
- Pataki: "terrible governor of NY, one of the worst"
- Jindal: "such a waste."
- Paul: "reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning
- Perry: "should be forced to take an IQ test"
And those are just the Twitter insults. Don't forget some of his other
antics, like saying no one would vote for Fiorina's face and that Ben
Carson is a pathological sociopath.
Trump is going to have some problems with Fox News, too. Here's a
sample of what he's said about their personnel:
- Brit Hume: "know nothing"
- Megyn Kelly: "I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that
would not be politically correct"
- Carl Cameron: "consistently fumbles & misrepresents poll results"
- Charles Krauthammer: "should be fired"
- Bill Kristol: "a sad case," "always wrong"
- Frank Luntz: "a low-class snob"
- George Will: "boring and totally biased," "should be thrown off Fox
What about other organs of the right?
Trump said "very few people read" the "dying" National Review,
and their editor in chief, Rich Lowry, is "clueless," "incompetent," and
"should not be allowed on TV."
The Club for Growth is "crooked" and filled with "total frauds."
Brent Bozell of the right-wing Media Research Center is "begging for
money like a dog."
Charles Koch is "looking for a new puppet."
Most of these strike me as pretty accurate, perceptive even. Kristol,
in particular, is wrong so often he makes stopped clocks seem brilliant.
His judgments on Luntz, Will, Lowry, and Koch also get to the point, but
he could stand to expand on Krauthammer. Still, one might note that no
Republican candidate can claim Reagan's commandment as his (or her) own:
they may admire the Gipper for lots of petty and vindictive shit, but not
for the flexibility which made him seem much less the ogre than his record
indicates. Even GW Bush was careful to sugar coat his conservatism, but
to fight Obama the right-wing had to make sure that the ranks would hold,
so they started a purge and everything turned nasty. Trump has taken that
nastiness to a new level, but he didn't start it. He just took advantage
of the seething hatefulness of the Republican masses -- ground tilled and
sown by the right-wing propaganda mills. His only innovation was to turn
that bile toward the Republicans' own puppet- and pundit-class -- the
same people who had conned those masses into thinking that conservative
economic orthodoxy was somehow in their interest (despite overwhelming
evidence to the contrary.
Somewhat related: see
Nancy LeTourneau: Unprecedented for a laundry list of things that
Republicans have done to oppose Obama that no opposition party in US
history has previously done.
Longman also has an interesting post,
The Conservative Movement Collapsed Before Trump. As you know,
since Obama became president the Republicans haven't offered any
alternative policies, because a policy might provide a starting
point for compromise. They've focused on obstructing everything
that Obama has wanted to do, with the sole exception of a couple
issues where Obama broke with the Democratic base (e.g., TPP):
they're OK because they both undercut Obama within his own party
and undercut the Democratic Party in the nation at large. Twenty
years ago the Republicans had a largely unearned reputation as
"the party of ideas" -- that was mostly due to the well-funded
right-wing think tanks. Since then, well, most of the ideas
turned out to be duds, and once Obama and the Tea Party arrived
thinking went out the window, replaced by narrow-minded fervor.
Hence every Republican candidate this year tried to run on
leadership character, and mostly what they tried to lead the
party in was being an asshole. Ergo:
What the Republicans failed to do is to adjust to losing in 2008 and
2012 and come up with a new kind of conservatism that could win where
McCain and Romney had lost.
And that left a giant opening for someone like Trump to walk right
through and begin denouncing everyone on the right as dopes and idiots
and ineffectual morons.
One of the reasons that the Republican Establishment has no answer
for Trump is that their alternatives (basically, now down to Marco
Rubio at this point) have never had an answer for how they could make
the modern brand of conservatism a winner on the presidential level.
If you are definitely not electable, then you can't convince people
to vote against Trump because he's unelectable.
Curiously enough, neocon godfather Robert Kagan is saying pretty much
the same thing:
Trump is the GOP's Frankenstein monster. Now he's strong enough to
destroy the party. Kagan's so alarmed by Trump he's already
endorsed Hillary Clinton as the best hope for Washington's war
mongers. Personally, I find this as disturbing as David Duke's embrace
of Trump. And I'm reminded that when
Antiwar.com was doing a fundraiser
a few weeks back, they included Clinton along with Trump, Cruz, and
Rubio under the headline "are you scared yet?"
DR Tucker: The Sum of All Fears: This is the most over-the-top
paranoid rant I've heard to date regarding Donald Trump. It's worth
quoting, partly for entertainment value, partly to show how sensible
fears can sometimes run amok:
I'm scared for my friends' children. They will be of an impressionable
age over the next four years. When they see President Donald Trump on
the TV screen, what warped values will penetrate their minds? What
flawed lessons will they carry with them for the rest of their lives?
Will I have to tell my friends not to let their kids watch President
Trump, for the same reason one doesn't let children watch movies with
explicit sex, violence and profanity?
What kind of world will those kids inherit? A Trump victory would
be far more devastating for our climate than the Keystone XL pipeline
would have been. I guarantee that within 24 hours of a Trump victory,
China, India and other major polluters will abandon the Paris climate
agreement, reasoning that by electing an unrepentant climate-change
denier, America cannot possibly be trusted to hold up its end of the
deal. Without that deal, you can say goodbye to a livable future --
and say hello to more fires, more floods, more disease, more death.
[ . . . ]
Think about what's at stake. This country is only so resilient.
In 1992, America could have survived four more years of Poppy Bush.
In 1996, America could have survived four years of President Bob
Dole. In 2008, America could have survived four years of President
John McCain. In 2012, America could have even survived four years
of President Mitt Romney.
Does anyone think this country could survive four days, much
less four years, of President Donald Trump?
I certainly agree that there are some pretty unsavory aspects to
a prospective Trump presidency, but I wouldn't put our prospects
under four years of Trump any lower than McCain or Romney. The one
most inordinate power US presidents have is their ability to start
wars, and McCain would easily have been (even without the legacy
of GW Bush) en the most trigger-happy US president since Jackson.
You should never forget that McCain was eager to push the US into
war with Russia over Abkhazia. Romney has less history to review,
but he ran for president in 2012 as an unreconstructed neocon --
an ideology also embraced by Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich. (I briefly
turned on a recent GOP debate only to find Kasich answer another
question by demanding that the US send arms to the Ukraine. That
was, for me at least, the scariest single moment of the campaign
I've witnessed thus far.) It's not unlikely that Trump, who has
on purpose remained vague about most of his policy intentions,
will turn out to be as bad as any of the above, but Tucker isn't
reacting to Trump's agenda so much as to the aesthetics of his
whole campaign. My own take is that Trump is significantly the
least objectionable of the remaining Republican candidates. Also,
my intuition is that once elected, Trump will (more readily than
most) adjust to the confines of business-as-normal. (He will, for
instance, have a much easier time learning to go with the flow in
DC than a president Bernie Sanders would.)
I also want to note that during his business career, Trump has
actually built a few things. That's a pretty stark contrast to
Romney, whose business career mostly consists of buying up companies
and raping and pillaging them. I'm not saying that Trump has done
mankind many favors, but he's not a pure predator like Romney.
I'm not saying that Trump won't go bonkers over immigration:
that is, after all, his signature issue. And sure, he'll do lots
of other horrible things. Tucker tried enumerating some of those
in another post,
Mad World: Part I, although he does get carried away with the
I doubt your pro-Trump friends or family members will acknowledge that
the Republican frontrunner's mendacious mutterings about minorities are
what really attracts them to the former pro wrestling personality, so
it will be up to you to bring that issue up. Ask them if they are bothered
by the bigots in Boston who pledged allegiance to Trump after beating up
a homeless Latino man. Ask them if they are troubled by the violent assault
on an African-American man at a Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama. Ask
them to put themselves in the shoes of Muslim Republicans who are horrified
by Trump's religious intolerance. [ . . . ]
As I write this, I think of my own fears about a Trump presidency, fears
that quite literally keep me awake some nights. I'm troubled by the
thought of young and impressionable men and women thinking that Trump's
behavior is something that should be emulated. I fear that a President
who makes jokes about Megyn Kelly's menstrual cycle will escalate the
level of misogynist microaggression American women have to put up with
on a daily basis. I'm scared that President Trump's Supreme Court nominees
will make Antonin Scalia look like William Brennan. I worry that during
a Trump administration, we will see the worst racial violence since the
pre-civil rights era, with story after story of innocent Mexicans and
Muslims being lynched in the night.
From this you'd think that Trump is planning on relaunching the Brown
Shirts and Hitler Youth. No doubt there are elements of fascism in Trump
and his followers, but Trump spent much of his life working in a medium
where you snarl and gruff a lot but always pull your punches. No doubt
some of his admirers are more prone to violence, but we have that now.
Groups like Black Lives Matter aren't going away if Trump wins. They're
going to become more vigilant than ever.
Finally, it's hard to let the hyperbole about Scalia and Brennan
pass by without comment. I'm not much of an optimist, but I can't
imagine a supreme court justice worse than Scalia. Ok, if you credit
his brains there's Alito, or take away his wit and you get Thomas --
where do they get these guys? Well, they get them from central casting
at the right-wing think tanks, and they keep them in line by keeping
them on the conservative gravy train (otherwise justices have been
known to take the constitution too seriously -- Brennan being something
of the gold standard there). Ok, maybe Trump can find someone a shade
more corrupt and venal and flat-out evil than Scalia, but if anything
he's less likely to rubber stamp the next movement crony in line.
Still, here's something real to worry about:
Trump: We'll Prune Back 1st Amendment. Trump wants to make it easier
for rich people to sue the media for "libel." While this could cut both
ways, in America civil suits favor those with deep pockets, as those
without can hardly afford to defend themselves, while the rich can sue
to harass even if their cases have no merit.
More Trump links:
Conor Lynch: Charles Koch's deceptive Sanders ploy: How the right-wing
oligarch cloaks his dangerous agenda: Koch wrote an op-ed which
appeared in the Washington Post, the Wichita Eagle, and presumably
elsewhere, where he suggested that he shares at least one common cause
with Bernie Sanders: ending "corporate welfare." The op-ed still fell
far short of an endorsement: evidently ending "corporate welfare" is
actually less important to Koch than preventing government from providing
a wide range of services, including more affordable education and health
care, to the middle class, let alone taxing the rich to pay for it all.
The Kochs like to claim their opposition to "government picking winners
and losers" is based on sound economic principles, but the case examples
that they most care about are subsidies that make "green energy" more
cost-competitive with the fossil fuels the Kochs are so invested in.
On the other hand, what makes fossil fuels attractive economically is
that a large portion of the real costs of their use, especially air
and water pollution -- what economists call "externalities" -- is never
factored into the market price of coal and oil products. A simple way
to correct for these market distortions would be a carbon tax, which
is something else the Kochs are dead set against.
Growing up in Wichita, I've occasionally wondered whether it would
be possible to tempt the Kochs to support, even if only through their
professed libertarian lens, some progressive issues. (Disclosure: in
the 1970s I worked in a Wichita typesetting shop where one of my jobs
was to retype several books by Murray Rothbard, which the Kochs were
reprinting as part of their missionary work. So I do have some insight
into the philosophy they espouse as opposed to the corruption they
actually practice.) In particular, anyone concerned about the size
and reach of the federal government should be very critical about the
military-industrial complex and the dozens of federal spy agencies.
They should also be extremely concerned about "the war on drugs" and
similar excuses for building up a police state. The Kochs have spent
hundreds of millions of dollars promoting their narrow political views,
yet have never -- at least to the best of my knowledge -- contributed
a dime to the
Peace & Social Justice Center
of South Central Kansas, which is very active on those very issues.
Rather, they've spent a ton of money buying a congressional seat for
Mike Pompeo, who has turned into one of the worst neocons in Congress.
And they have thus far failed to kill off subsidies for windmills in
Kansas -- turns out too many (Republican) farmers depend on "corporate
Sean Illing: Delusional David Brooks: His blind spot for Republican
nihilism has become pathological: Could have filed this under Trump
as this is yet another explanation how the Republican Party has succumbed
to its intellectual and moral rot, but I figured it's worth quoting at
The Republican Party no longer aspires to governance. The Tea Party, an
offspring of Republican politics, is a nihilistic political movement.
Everyone one they've sent to Congress they sent for one reason: negation.
Under the guise of some nebulous goal to "take the country back," they've
done nothing but undermine Obama and destroy the possibility of compromise.
And this delirium has spread throughout the party. Recall that Republican
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said explicitly that the GOP's "top
political priority over the next two years should be to deny President
Obama a second term."
Only one party insists America is in perpetual decline. Only one party
puts the culture wars at the center of its agenda. Only one party cultivates
anti-intellectualism in its ranks. Only one party sold its soul to religious
fanatics. Only one party refuses to accept the legitimacy of a
democratically elected president.
It was Republicans who abandoned conservatism as a serious governing
philosophy. It was Republicans who repeatedly defied custom with radical
non-filibuster filibusters. It was Republicans who used the nation's
credit rating to blackmail the opposing party. It was Republicans who
threatened to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding.
And yet Brooks says our problem isn't "exclusive to the right"?
Well, Brooks would say that, wouldn't he? He knows that his bread is
buttered on the right. He understands that being a "conservative" pundit
is more of a career decision than a philosophical option. Once you agree
to carry water for the reactionary rich, you have to expect to get wet
now and then. It's not like he doesn't make a tidy living abandoning
any pretense of principles. As a bought man he'll always make excuses
for his proprietors, even when he can't understand them himself.
Bernie Sanders may be an outsider, but only in an ideological sense.
The man has served in public office for more than three decades. Trump
is a political arsonist with no ideas, no experience, no plan -- and
he's the most popular candidate in the party. With a grenade in one
hand and a half-articulated list of platitudes in the other, he's
brought the Republican Party to its knees. And that's because he's a
perfect distillation of the Republican zeitgeist. The establishment
doesn't approve, but Trump didn't emerge from a whirlwind -- he's an
unintended consequence of their cynicism.
Brooks is right: There is a metastasizing cancer in our body politic,
of which Trump is a symptom. But the disease flows from the compromises
of the Republican Party, a party increasingly of ideological troglodytes
with no interest in policy or compromise.
The Republican fringe has become the Republican mainstream, and the
country is the worse for it. Brooks is wise to lament that, but he
discredits himself by pretending this is a bipartisan problem with
bipartisan roots. This is a Republican problem -- and he knows it.
Martha Rosenberg: The FDA now officially belongs to Big Pharma:
I complained above about how Republican obstructionism against Obama
is only briefly lifted on occasions when Obama does something that
actively harms the Democratic Party base. The Senate's confirmation
of Obama appointee Robert Califf to head the FDA is a good case in
point. The vote for Califf was 89-4, with three Democrats (Markey,
Manchin, and Blumenthal) and one Republican (Ayotte) opposed.
(Sanders didn't vote, but spoke against Califf.) Nor is this the
first Obama favor to Big Pharma, as the ACA was written to their
Califf, chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke
University until recently, received money from 23 drug companies
including the giants like Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Merck,
Schering Plough and GSK according to a disclosure statement on
the website of Duke Clinical Research Institute.
Not merely receiving research funds, Califf also served as a
high level Pharma officer, say press reports. Medscape, the medical
website, discloses that Califf "served as a director, officer,
partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for Genentech."
Portola Pharmaceuticals says Califf served on its board of directors
until leaving for the FDA.
In disclosure information for a 2013 article in Circulation,
Califf also lists financial links to Gambro, Regeneron, Gilead,
AstraZeneca, Roche and other companies and equity positions in four
medical companies. Gilead is the maker of the $1000-a-pill hepatitis
C drug AlterNet recently wrote about. This is FDA commissioner material?
Richard Silverstein: Another Mossad Assassination, This Time in
There are only a few things the Mossad is "good" at. And killing is the
primary one. They don't do much that's constructive. They don't make the
world better or safer for Israel. They don't bring peace. They don't
persuade people to compromise.
They kill. They cheat. They steal. They're good at all those things.
But how do those things do anything to help Israel in the long-term?
Yeah, they take out an enemy. But only to see a stronger, more
formidable enemy replace the one they murdered. Often, as in tonight's
case, they get revenge on someone who last posed any danger to any
Israeli decades ago. So what benefit is it to Israel to murder an
unarmed man (story in Telegraph and Ynet) who left militancy long
ago and was eking out a life as a shop owner in a foreign country
to which he'd fled so long ago?
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Celebrating Allen Ginsberg 50 years after 'Wichita Vortex Sutra':
I was surprised to see this long feature piece in the Wichita Eagle.
After I dropped out of high school in 1967 I read a lot of poetry, and
Ginsberg was very important to me. I assembled a poetry notebook for
my younger brother when he was in ninth grade -- I had had a similar
assignment and by then I felt embarrassed at my own pathetic notebook --
and picked out over a hundred poems, typing up over 300 pages. I don't
recall whether I included "Wichita Vortex Sutra" -- if so it would have
been the longest thing in the notebook -- but I am pretty sure that the
first poem was Ginsberg's "Howl." By then I had a large poster of a
bushy-bearded Ginsberg, which I attached to the ceiling over the stairs
to my room with wallpaper paste. (My mother hated it. Unable to tear it
down she painted over it as soon as I left home.) My brother got kicked
out of school for that notebook -- the vice principal, who had been my
ninth grade science teacher (the one that turned me from a future in
science to never taking another science class) was especially livid.
We were both sent off to see a shrink, who found the whole episode
rather amusing. What I find amusing is that it only took fifty years
for upright Wichita citizens to honor the greatest piece of literature
ever situated in our fine burg.
Barbara Ehrenreich: Matthew Desmond's Evicted: Poverty and Profit in
the American City: Book review. Many stories. For example:
The landlord who evicts Lamar, Larraine and so many others is rich enough
to vacation in the Caribbean while her tenants shiver in Milwaukee. The
owner of the trailer park takes in over $400,000 a year. These incomes
are made possible by the extreme poverty of the tenants, who are afraid
to complain and lack any form of legal representation. Desmond mentions
payday loans and for-profit colleges as additional exploiters of the poor --
a list to which could be added credit card companies, loan sharks, pay-to-own
furniture purveyors and many others who have found a way to spin gold out of
human sweat and tears. Poverty in America has become a lucrative business,
with appalling results: "No moral code or ethical principle," he writes,
"no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what
we have allowed our country to become."
Tom Engelhardt: The Disappointments of War in a World of Unintended
Consequences: I agree that Edwin Starr answered the key question
with his 1970 hit song. Still, Engelhardt's litany of the sheer waste
that is devoured by America's war machine took me aback. On the other
hand, when he asks "has war outlived its usefulness?" I start to
wonder whether he's really going far enough.
Alfred McCoy: Washington's Twenty-First-Century Opium Wars:
Author wrote a book about the CIA's role in the heroin trade in
and around the Vietnam War, but that was so 20th-century. Since
2001 the world's heroin trade has moved to another American war
front: Afghanistan. The CIA's interest in heroin in war zones
seems to have been how handy the business was for producing cash
and corruption, but that works both ways as the Taliban has turned
itself into one of the world's leading drug cartels -- its own
potent source of cash and corruption.
Bill McKibben: It's Not Just What Exxon Did, It's What It's Doing:
We now know that Exxon had internal documents as early as 1982 that
acknowledged that global warming is a real (and possibly irreversible)
threat and is caused by burning fossil fuels. Exxon buried the report,
and hasn't become any more conscientious since.
Sunday, February 7. 2016
I threw this together rather quickly, but here are some links of
interest this week:
Thomas Frank: It's not just Fox News: How liberal apologists torpedoed
change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street:
As the Obama administration enters its seventh year, let us examine one
of the era's greatest peculiarities: That one of the most cherished
rallying points of the president's supporters is the idea of the
Today, of course, the Democrats have completely lost control of
Congress and it's easy to make the case for the weakness of the White
House. For example, when Frank Bruni sighed last Wednesday that
presidents are merely "buoys on the tides of history," not "mighty
frigates parting the waters," he scarcely made a ripple.
But the pundit fixation on Obama's powerlessness goes back many
years. Where it has always found its strongest expression is among
a satisfied stratum of centrist commentators -- people who are well
pleased with the president's record and who are determined to slap
down liberals who find fault in Obama's leadership. The purveyors
of this fascinating species of political disgust always depict the
dispute in the same way, with hard-headed men of science (i.e.,
themselves) facing off against dizzy idealists who cluelessly rallied
to Obama's talk of hope and change back in 2008.
Frank brings up many examples, especially the Obama administration's
response to the financial collapse and recession of 2008:
It would have been massively popular had Obama reacted to the financial
crisis in a more aggressive and appropriate way. Everyone admits this,
at least tacitly, even the architects of Obama's bailout policies, who
like to think of themselves as having resisted the public's mindless
baying for banker blood. Acting aggressively might also have deflated
the rampant false consciousness of the Tea Party movement and prevented
the Republican reconquista of the House in 2010.
But Obama did the opposite. He did everything he could to "foam the
runways" and never showed any real interest in taking on the big banks.
Shall I recite the dolorous list one more time? The bailouts he failed
to unwind or even to question. The bad regulators he didn't fire. The
AIG bonuses that his team defended. The cramdown he never pushed for.
The receivership of the zombie banks that never happened. The FBI agents
who were never shifted over to white-collar crime. The criminal referral
programs at the regulatory agencies that were never restored. The
executives of bailed-out banks who were never fired. The standing
outrage of too-big-to-fail institutions that was never truly addressed.
The top bankers who were never prosecuted for anything on the long,
sordid list of apparent frauds.
Frank concludes that "the financial crisis worked out the way it
did in large part because Obama and his team wanted it to work out
that way." After all the "hopey-changey" campaign blather in 2008,
it came as a shock to discover how hard Obama would work to conserve
a banking industry which had frankly gone berserk: not only could
Obama not imagine America without its predatory bankers, he couldn't
imagine changing ownership of those banks, or even dislodging Jamie
Dimon from Chase. It's not clear that anyone in the Republican party
is that conservative. Rather, they are like those proverbial bulls
in the china shop, blindly breaking stuff just to show off their
Paul Krugman Reviews The Rise and Fall of American Growth by
Robert J. Gordon: Gordon's big book (762 pp.) argues that growth
is largely driven by the introduction of new technologies, but that
not all technologies have the same growth potential. In particular,
a set of technological breakthroughs from the late 19th century up
through the 1930s drove high rates of growth up to about 1970, but
more recent innovations have had much less effect, so the prospects
for future growth are much dimmer. This is pretty much the thesis of
James K. Galbraith's 2014 book, The End of Normal: The Great Crisis
and the Future of Growth, who I suspect is clearer about why this
is the effect, while spending a lot less time on the case histories.
For Galbraith, the key is that the earlier innovations tended to move
work from the household to factories while cheaper transportation and
energy made those factories much more cost-effective. On the other hand,
recent innovations in computing and automation increase efficiency at
the expense of jobs, and increasingly some of those labor savings are
taken as leisure. One reason this matters is that our political system
was built around an assumption that growth makes up for inequality --
that conflict over the distribution of wealth is moot as long as there
is ample growth for all. But this isn't something that we're just
discovering now: growth rates in the US started to dip around 1970,
and the result over the next decade was the growth of a conservative
political movement that aimed to maintain profit rates even as growth
slumped. I actually think that shift was triggered by more tangible
factors -- peak oil, moving from a trade surplus to deficit, the many
costs of the Vietnam War (including inflation) -- but the technology
shift helps explain why no amount of supply-side stimulus ever did
any good: every subsequent growth spurt has turned out to be a bubble
accompanied by more/less fraud. Krugman suggests some of this, but
the more explicit (and challenging) suggestions are in Galbraith's
So what does this say about the future? Gordon suggests that the future
is all too likely to be marked by stagnant living standards for most
Americans, because the effects of slowing technological progress will
be reinforced by a set of "headwinds": rising inequality, a plateau
in education levels, an aging population and more.
It's a shocking prediction for a society whose self-image, arguably
its very identity, is bound up with the expectation of constant progress.
And you have to wonder about the social and political consequences of
another generation of stagnation or decline in working-class incomes.
A couple more things worth noting here. One is that the exceptionally
high growth rates of recent years in China, India, and similar countries
is tied to them belatedly adopting the technologies that fueled high
growth in Europe and America nearly a century ago. Nothing surprising
here, although one would hope they'd be smarter about it. The other is
that while newer technologies produce less economic growth, they still
quite often have quality of life benefits. So while wages and other
economic metrics have stagnated, many people don't really feel the
pinch. (And where they do, I suspect is largely due to the oppressive
weight of debt.)
Paul Krugman: Electability: Alright, so
Vox asked 6 political scientists if Bernie Sanders would have a shot in
a general election, and they said: no, no way. In particular:
Fear of sudden, dramatic change could impede Sanders in a general election.
But just as powerfully, Republicans could also successfully portray Sanders
as out of step with the average American's political views, according to
the academics interviewed for this story.
There isn't a lot of doubt that this would have a big impact in an
election. Political scientists have had a pretty good idea since the 1950s
of how voters tend to make their choices: by identifying which candidate
fits closest to them on an ideological spectrum.
Who's Krugman to argue with such august personages:
I have some views of my own, of course, but I'm not a political scientist,
man -- I just read political scientists and take their work very seriously.
After all, man, they're scientists! They must be right, even
though Krugman has occasionally -- well, more like 3-4 times a week --
been moved to note that the professional practitioners of his own branch
of the social sciences, economics, often have their heads wedged. But,
I guess, political science must be much more objective than
economics, more predictive and all that, less likely to be biased by
the political biases of its researchers and analysts. Sure, makes
a lot of sense. After all, I know a lot of people who went into political
science, and who among them did so because they were interested in
politics? Uh, every one of them. I myself majored in sociology, and
spent most of my time there dissecting the myriad ways biases corrupt
research. I could have done the same thing in economics or political
science, but the nonsense in those social sciences was just too easy
to debunk. But it's been ages since I've been so reminded how shoddy
political science is as I was by the Vox article.
As for Krugman's value-added, there really isn't any. He doesn't
even explain why electability is such a concern. He just proclaims,
"The stakes are too high for that, and history will not forgive you,"
after taunting us: "That's what Naderites said about Al Gore; how'd
that work out?" So, like, it's my fault Gore couldn't make a
convincing argument why Bush would be a much more terrible president
than himself? Sure, in retrospect that's true. In retrospect, it's
also clear that enough hints were available at the time to make that
argument -- and it's not only Gore's fault that he failed to do so,
you can also blame a press that was totally smitten with Bush's good
ol' boy shtick.
I don't doubt the importance of the election, at least in terms
of how much damage a Republican victory might inflict. But I don't
buy the idea that we all live on a simple left-right ideological
continuum, let alone that we all make rational choices based on who
is closest to one's individual perch. Gore's problem, for instance,
wasn't that he wasn't close enough to the median voter. It was more
like he didn't convince enough of his base that he would fight for
them, that his election would be better off for them than Bush's.
No doubt Clinton is closer to that median voter, but will she fight
for you? Or will she cut a deal with whatever donor woos her most?
My first close encounter with Hillary was listening to a radio
interview with her while her ill-fated health care plan was still
in play. She was asked how she would feel if it was rejected, and
she said "sad." Right then I realized this was a person who didn't
care enough even to get upset. Sanders wouldn't take that kind of
rejection lying down. But the Clintons simply forgot about health
care for the rest of his terms, and went on to doing "pragmatic"
things the Republicans would let them pass: NAFTA, welfare "reform,"
the repeal of Carter-Glass.
Robert Freeman: The new social contract: This is what's roiling the
electorate & fueling the success of anti-establishment candidates
Trump, Cruz and Sanders: Actually, less about those candidates --
that's just bait -- than the dissolution of the notion that rich and
poor are bound together through a "social contract":
But shared prosperity is no longer the operative social contract.
Ronald Reagan began dismantling it in 1981 when he transferred vast
amounts of national income and wealth to the already rich. He called
it "supply side economics."
Supposedly, the rich would plow their even greater riches back
into the economy, which would magically return that wealth -- and more --
to everyone else. George H.W. Bush called it "voodoo economics." It
seemed too good to be true. It was. Consider the facts.
Since the late 1970s, labor productivity in the U.S. has risen
259 percent. If the fruits of that productivity had been distributed
according to the post-World War II shared prosperity social contract
the average person's income would be more than double what it is today.
The actual change?
Median income adjusted for inflation is lower today than it was in
1974. A staggering 40 percent of all Americans now make less than the
1968 minimum wage, adjusted for inflation. Median middle-class wealth
is plummeting. It is now 36 percent below what it was in 2000.
Where did all the money go? It went exactly where Reagan intended.
Twenty-five years ago, the top 1 percent of income earners pulled
in 12 percent of the nation's income. Today they get twice that, 25
percent. And it's accelerating. Between 2009 and 2012, 95 percent of
all new income went to the top 1 percent.
This is the exact opposite of shared prosperity. It is imposed penury
That is the new deal. Or more precisely, the new New Deal, the
new social contract.
Freeman is right that this is the rot and ferment that breeds support
for "anti-establishment" candidates. Trump and Sanders have different
answers to the problem: Trump flames foreigners, and that seems to appeal
to certain voters; Sanders blames the rich, and that appeals to others.
I'm less sure why Freeman lumps Cruz here. Sure, he's "anti-establishment"
in the sense that he too has a scapegoat: the government. But he has the
very opposite of a solution.
I should also quote Freeman on Clinton and Sanders, since this runs
against the "common sense" of Krugman's "political scientists":
It is unlikely Hillary will pull many Republicans away from whomever
the Republicans nominate. She is both an object of visceral hatred to
most Republicans and the establishment candidate in a year of
Sanders, on the other hand, pulls well from disaffected Republicans.
He has little of Hillary's baggage and polls much better against either
Trump or Cruz than does Hillary. He is anti-establishment in a year of
ervid anti-establishmentism, a fiery mouthpiece for the intense
cross-partisan anger roiling the electorate.
If Sanders can survive the primaries he has a much greater chance of
beating any Republican challenger than does Hillary. Whether he can
implement his vision of a retrofitted social contract is another matter.
Links on the presidential campaign trail:
Josh Marshall: Making Sense of the Last NH Debate: And relishing
how "Chris Christie simply eviscerated Rubio." I doubt if this means
the end of the Rubio bubble, which exists because major players --
I suspect "the establishment" gives them more credit than they deserve --
need to front a candidate who is pliant enough to do their bidding,
and the others they've entertained have proven more obviously flawed
(especially Jeb Bush). For post-debate damage control, see
Amanda Terkel: Marco Rubio Says He'll Keep Using the Same Obama Attack
Line Over and Over Despite Being Mocked.
Cody Cain: Donald Trump's Iran idiocy: The interview that should have
ended his candidacy once and for all: as the article notes, Trump
couldn't even negotiate the sacking of Megyn Kelly at the Fox debate.
The idea that with nothing more than ignorance and bluster he could
have negotiated a better deal with Iran -- one that would have allowed
the US to keep $150 billion in Iranian assets impounded after the
revolution -- is pretty farcical.
This was highly revealing of Trump's character. He exhibits a tendency
toward paranoia, he immediately concludes that others are conspiring
against him without a shred of evidence, and he perceives himself as
being victimized. These are traits that are not exactly well suited
for a leader of a nation.
In another encounter, a lady from the audience expressed concern
that Trump had not provided enough specificity about his policies.
Trump's answer was that he prefers not to provide detailed policies
because he desires to remain unpredictable.
Seriously? A presidential candidate running on a platform of
Gary Legum: The special hell of a Ted Cruz rally: What it's like to spend
an evening with the GOP's oiliest operator.
Conor Lynch: These guys are killing conservatism: How Trump & Cruz
are accelerating the intellectual debasement of the right: Not that
the big-name conservative thought leaders aren't hoping for a more pliant
and innocuous standard bearer (like Marco Rubio), but Cruz and Trump get
the headlines. Actually, he write another article about how those same
are debasing the right -- George Will and David Brooks are good examples,
yet somehow they're still considered the "reasonable" guys.
Rebecca Gordon: American Presidential Candidates Are Now Openly Promising
to Commit War Crimes: specifically focuses on Republicans Cruz, Carson,
Bush, and Trump (the piece was published on Jan. 7; I'm sure that had it
appeared last week the author would have mentioned Rubio, who seems to
have emerged as the neocon favorite in the race). I'll also note that
Gordon focuses on torture -- she wrote Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical
Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States -- which seems to be more
of a Republican psychosexual obsession. Had she taken a broader view,
she might have said something about Clinton, whose "no fly zones" also
advocate war crimes.
Daniel Denvir: Dems, stop lying to yourself about Hillary: Sure, she "gets s*** done" -- atrocious s***, that is: Pretty much reiterates a point
I thought I made above.
Paul Campos: Hillary Clinton's self-satisfied privilege: Her Goldman Sachs
problem helps explain the popularity of Bernie Sanders and Donald
Trump: Among other things, reveals that "together the Clintons have
a yet worth in excess of $100 million" -- a curious figure given that
one or the other has either been on the public payroll or been preparing
to run for office virtually all of their adult lives (at least the last
30 years). Just brilliant I guess -- why else would a savvy (and more than
a little underhanded) business like Goldman Sachs be willing to pay you
$650,000 for a single speech?
Martin Longman: The Tide Has Turned Against Clinton: Argues that
her establishment connections and "no, we can't" campaign is losing
[W]hen they got to policy, she had the distinct disadvantage of having
to argue that we can't have a health care system as good as Canada's
and we can't afford to give people free tuition to college like we give
them free tuition to K-12 education, and that we can't raise the minimum
wage as much as her opponent would like. [ . . . ]
The problem is that she is thereby pushed into being a naysayer who
can't speak to the aspirations of the base. Her incrementalism is probably
well-suited to actually occupying the White House in a time of Republican
dominance in Congress and in the states. But it's a wet blanket on the
What seems to be happening here is that Sanders is disrupting the
time-tested Clinton-Obama campaign strategy, which is to promise great
things when running for the first term, then sandbag them and yield
Congress to a Republican backlash, which in turn gives them an excuse
for never delivering anything, and turns their re-election campaign
into a defensive struggle against the barbarians. Longman also cites
Quinnipiac poll which shows that Sanders has closed the gap, now
trailing Clinton among Democrats 42% to 44% (previously 53%-36% in
Clinton's favor). CNN also reports that "general election match-ups
between the top Republian and Democratic candidates suggest Sanders
and Rubio would be their party's most competitive standard-bearers,"
with Sanders defeating Trump by 10 points but only tied with Rubio
Richard Silverstein: Interview: Bernie's Commie Mohel Speaks:
A sneak preview of the anti-Sanders smear to come, modelled, no
surprise, on the anti-Obama smear of eight years past.
Nomi Prins: The Big Money and What It Means in Election 2016:
includes particulars for most candidates, especially the billionaires
behind Cruz and Rubio, plus a long section on Clinton -- her electability
argument depends as much on her fundraising prowess as on her centrism;
however, there's a catch:
As of October 16, 2015, she had pocketed $97.87 million from individual
and PAC contributions. And she sure knows how to spend it, too. Nearly
half of that sum, or $49.8 million -- more than triple the amount of
any other candidate -- has already gone to campaign expenses.
She doesn't talk much about the Kochs, who a year ago were torn
between Scott Walker and Rand Paul as their favorite candidates.
For more on them, see:
Robert Faturechi: How dark money stays dark: The Koch brothers, Sheldon
Adelson and the right's biggest, most destructive racket going. Also,
Chris Gelardi: Capitalist puritans: The Koch brothers are pushing pure
economic liberty as the only road to true prosperity -- to the detriment
of all but the rich -- actually, I'm not sure that even the rich
(even the Kochs) would prosper under true Kochian freedom. I expect it
would in rather short order lead to the sort of dystopia you see in the
Oscar-nominated Mad Max: Fury Road.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Andrew J Bacevich: Out of Bounds, Off-Limits, or Just Plain Ignored:
Sub: "Six national security questions Hillary, Donald, Ted, Marco, et al.,
don't want to answer and won't even be asked." Only one has to do with
the "war on terror" -- still the biggest game in town. Not sure that
Bacevich has much of a handle on his question six: "Debt."
Tom Engelhardt: "The Finest Fighting Force in the History of World":
Take Afghanistan, for instance. Engelhardt cites Anand Gopal's No
Good Men Among the Living, America, the Taliban, and the War Through
Afghan Eyes, which argues that the Taliban disbanded and dissolved
after their first taste of American firepower, but the US couldn't
leave well enough alone:
Like their Bush administration mentors, the American military men who
arrived in Afghanistan were determined to fight that global war on
terror forever and a day. So, as Gopal reports, they essentially
refused to let the Taliban surrender. They hounded that movement's
leaders and fighters until they had little choice but to pick up their
guns again and, in the phrase of the moment, "go back to work."
It was a time of triumph and of Guantánamo, and it went to everyone's
head. Among those in power in Washington and those running the military,
who didn't believe that a set of genuine global triumphs lay in store?
With such a fighting force, such awesome destructive power, how could
it not? And so, in Afghanistan, the American counterterror types kept
right on targeting the "terrorists" whenever their Afghan warlord allies
pointed them out -- and if many of them turned out to be local enemies
of those same rising warlords, who cared?
It would be the first, but hardly the last time that, in killing
significant numbers of people, the U.S. military had a hand in creating
its own future enemies. In the process, the Americans managed to revive
the very movement they had crushed and which, so many years later, is
at the edge of seizing a dominant military position in the country.
[ . . . ]
It's probably accurate to say that in the course of one disappointment
or disaster after another from Afghanistan to Libya, Somalia to Iraq,
Yemen to Pakistan, the U.S. military never actually lost an encounter on
the battlefield. But nowhere was it truly triumphant on the battlefield
either, not in a way that turned out to mean anything. Nowhere, in fact,
did a military move of any sort truly pay off in the long run. Whatever
was done by the FFFIHW and the CIA (with its wildly counterproductive
drone assassination campaigns across the region) only seemed to create
more enemies and more problems.
Engelhardt concludes that "Washington should bluntly declare not
victory, but defeat, and bring the U.S. military home. Maybe if we
stopped claiming that we were the greatest, most exceptional, most
indispensable nation ever and that the U.S. military was the finest
fighting force in the history of the world, both we and the world
might be better off and modestly more peaceful."
Ann Jones: Social Democracy for Dummies: After having written
books on American failure in Afghanistan and on how maimed US
veterans have fared on their return, Jones moved to Norway, to
see what life is like in an affluent country free from war. Not
Thomas Piketty: A New Deal for Europe: The author of possibly
the most important book yet in growing inequality, Capital in
the Twenty-First Century, offers a few modest proposals for
reforms in the Eurozone. Also see Piketty's earlier review of
Anthony B Atkinson's Inequality: What Can Be Done?:
A Practical Vision of a More Equal Society.
Philip Weiss: Dov Yermiya, who said, 'I renounce my belief in Zionism
which has failed,' dies at 101. Yermiya fought in Israel's "War for
Independence" in 1948, and only issued his renunciation in 2009, in a
letter quoted here. You might also take a look at
Steven Erlanger: Who Are the True Heirs of Zionism? -- which starts
with a bloody admission:
ZIONISM was never the gentlest of ideologies. The return of the Jewish
people to their biblical homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty
there have always carried within them the displacement of those already
living on the land.
The Israeli general and politician Yigal Allon defined Zionism in 1975
as "the national liberation movement of a people exiled from its historic
homeland and dispersed among the nations of the world." Some years later,
and more crudely, perhaps, another general and politician, Rehavam Ze'evi,
a tough right-winger, said, "Zionism is in essence the Zionism of transfer,"
adding, "If transfer is immoral, then all of Zionism is immoral."
Admissions like this were rarely broadcast to the public during the
early days of Israel, when David Ben-Gurion spoke of Israel becoming "a
state just like any other." So the recent tendency to speak in such terms
may sound like a confession but is rarely accompanied by reflection much
less shame: rather, they are bragging, and preparing the grounds for
another round of "ethnic cleansing."
Monday, January 25. 2016
Some scattered links this week. The longest involves some recent
attacks on Bernie Sanders from normally left-leaning individuals who
have reconciled themselves to a Hillary Clinton nomination. I hadn't
given this contest much thought previously, and still don't feel all
that partisan today. I have in fact been critical of both candidates,
especially on foreign policy where I believe both are dangerously
fond of American (and even more so Israeli) military might -- not
identically so, as Clinton has been more consistently hawkish (cf.
her recent attacks on Sanders for thinking that normalizing relations
with Iran might be a good idea).
I suppose you can count me as one of those reconciled to an eventual
Clinton nomination. I was very much against her in 2008, not only for
the usual policy reasons but because I didn't like the smell of dynasty
(something eight years of Bush II did nothing to dispell). That's still
an issue, but has been mitigated somewhat by her growing experience and
stature, as well as the passage of time. The fact that Obama turned out
to be almost identical to what I feared from Clinton in 2008 has added
to the fatigue factor. I am, after all, an old guy, cynical after so
many disappointments, and skeptical of what any one person can really
accomplish as president. On the other hand, being reconciled to Clinton
is a far cry from having any will to support her. I don't really have
the will to support Sanders either, but at least I find his popularity
refreshing -- something I want no part in dampening. So when he is
attacked unfairly, which is how I would characterize Krugman and Geier
(two writers I generally admire) below, I feel that's worth pointing
out. Much as I expect to protest against many policies of whoever wins
Still, it's worth bearing in mind that fundamentally I regard Sanders
as decent, honest, and earnest -- more so than any significant presidential
candidate since George McGovern. (Nothing still says more about the decay
and decline of America during my lifetime than Nixon's margin over McGovern.)
Clinton, on the other hand, is every bit as corrupt and opportunistic as
her husband (albeit probably somewhat less vain). The Republicans, on the
other hand, are all far off the deep end. What distinguishes Clinton from
them isn't any edge she has in intellect or character -- it's merely that
she hangs with somewhat more decent and sensible people, and knows she has
to broaden her appeal more across class and racial and other lines, which
means she has to behave more decenty and sensibly herself.
Amy Davidson: The Contempt That Poisoned Flint's Water: Flint,
Michigan was in bad shape way back in 1989 when Michael Moore filmed
his documentary on his dilapidated home town, Roger and Me,
but not even Moore followed up to see how bad it could get. Thanks
to austerity measures, many of Flint's children have been poisoned
Until April, 2014, Flint had been part of Detroit's water system, which
had Lake Huron as its source. It was scheduled to be connected to a new
pipeline in 2016 or 2017, which would save money; Flint is in such
desperate financial straits that it was under the oversight of an
Emergency Manager. When that manager felt he couldn't negotiate a
low enough price for Detroit water in the interim, the city was left
with the option of drinking from the river that ran by it, and past its
active and derelict factories, and had been last regularly used decades
before. The city would treat the water itself. All the city had to do
was pass a few tests; as long as it did, it didn't matter if the residents
were, in effect, drinking dirt. But then, almost immediately, the water
began to fail the tests. In August, 2014, and again that September, the
water was found to have unacceptably high levels of fecal coliform
bacteria, and specifically E. coli. Certain neighborhoods were instructed
to boil their water, while the city added chlorine to the supply to
disinfect it. It took a lot of chlorine -- and that may be where Flint's
troubles really began. [ . . . ] By October, 2014,
General Motors had announced that it would no longer use the water,
because it was corroding its equipment. It was also -- and this should
have been entirely predictable -- eating into the lead pipes that
delivered the water to people's homes, causing them to crumble into
the water. Flint is old, and its water system took decades to
build. It took only months of cheap, corrosive water to mangle and
perhaps permanently destroy it.
A lot of things make Flint a bellweather for America -- a depressed
city in a depressed state in a depressed region, leading to bankruptcy
and a suspension of democratic accountability. But for a big picture,
you might look at the American Society of Civil Engineers'
2013 Report Card on Drinking Water. DR Tucker's
post has numerous links on this story, especially to Rachel Maddow.
Paul Krugman: Weakened at Bernie's: Starting with a lame, ungrammatical
pun isn't a good sign. While admitting that "Hillary Clinton is no paragon
of political virtue," Krugman takes a couple of cheap shots at Bernie
Sanders: first on his single-payer health plan, second on his desire to
restore Glass-Steagall and break up the "too big to fail" banks. In both
cases he argues that Sanders' plans aren't detailed enough, that they
hand-wave some important details and muff others. More substantively, he
argues that Sanders fails to appreciate the shadow banking problem. And
as often as not, the linch pin in his argument is that political realities
don't make Sanders' preferred solutions practical. For
details he cites
Mike Konczal on banking and
Ezra Klein on health care. Between us wonks, those pieces have some
merit. But the cheap shot is the way Krugman turns his technical critique
into a way of diminishing Sanders' integrity, honesty, and competence:
But here's the thing: we now have a clear view of Sanders' positions on
two crucial issues, financial reform and health care. And in both cases
his positioning is disturbing -- not just because it's politically
unrealistic to imagine that we can get the kind of radical overhaul
he's proposing, but also because he takes his own version of cheap
shots. Not at people -- he really is a fundamentally decent guy --
but by going for easy slogans and punting when the going gets tough.
I won't say that Krugman et al. are simply shilling for Clinton,
even though the timing -- a week before the first contest -- is a
bit suspicious. But the effect of this sniping is to paint Sanders
as some sort of fantasist, implying Clinton -- whose thinking on
these issues is utterly conventional, not to mention compromised
to the hilt by industry profits -- is the pragmatic choice. But in
another post --
How to Make Donald Trump President -- Krugman reveals his fear
that if Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, the consequences
could be dire. That's always a risk in America, but it would be a
shame if we let fear of Trump (or really of any Republican likely
to be nominated) stifle much needed debate on real problems and
sensible solutions. There will be plenty of time to worry about
the demise of civilization after the nominating conventions. (By
the way, part of Krugman's nightmare scenario is based on Michael
Bloomberg running as a third party -- a threat he's made if Trump
and (or?) Sanders are nominated. No More Mister Nice Blog analyzes
a possible Bloomberg run
A second front of attack on Sanders bothers me more:
Kathleen Geier: Bernie's Greatest Weakness, who writes:
On Tuesday, his offhand remarks describing Planned Parenthood and the
LGBTQ rights organization the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as "part of
the establishment" created a firestorm, particularly on social-justice
Twitter. Less than 24 hours later, his tone-deaf comments on reparations
stoked even more outrage. Sanders's left-wing critics have seized on
both statements as evidence of his alleged weakness on civil rights,
women's rights, and LGBTQ issues.
Although some of their attacks on Sanders have been unfair, his
critics, regrettably, have a point. For all his political virtues,
Sanders has had difficulty connecting his message of economic populism
to the other major social justice concerns of the modern left, such
race, gender, and sexuality. And unless he overcomes these problems,
he will be unable to achieve his goal of expanding beyond his base
and sparking a popular mass movement. [ . . . ]
Sanders's Achilles heel is that because he focuses so singlemindedly
on economic inequality, he is not always able to speak to the needs and
desires of the modern left, a left that is passionate not only about
economic injustice but also about injustices tied to race, gender, and
sexual identity and orientation. Today the left urgently needs leaders
who are fully comfortable with and fluent in the politics of intersectionality,
and who clearly understand that, while race and gender inequality are deeply
rooted in economics, they also have separate dimensions that cannot be
addressed by economic remedies alone.
And here I was, thinking that the great work Sanders was doing was
to restore inequality to the center of political debate. Granted, he's
talking in terms of inequality instead of class, but there isn't much
difference between the two, and adopting the more inclusive terminology
isn't a bad move. When I was growing up there was a tendency in the new
left to think of liberation as something you deliver to other people --
the image was pampered suburbanites struggling for oppressed minorities
here (and the depressed majority in the third world). The immediate
effect was to put all sorts of fringe groups on tiny pedestals, policed
by a cult of "political correctness," just as that mindset dovetailed
with the right's campaign against unions and workers and pretty much
everyone who wasn't filthy rich. The result is that the affluent visions
of the 1960s have decayed into a world where a substantial majority
have become distressed and depressed -- and the cause there is almost
Especially disappointing (to me, at least) is that the piece was
written by Geier, who until recently had focused her writings pretty
much exclusively on inequality.
More explicitly pro-Clinton than anti-Sanders is
Katha Pollitt: The Hillary Clinton Double Standard (the article's
magazine title is less nasty: "Yes, Hillary's a Democrat"): She says
some nice things about Sanders, then cavalierly dismisses him:
But Bernie Sanders isn't going to win the nomination . . .
can we at least be honest about that? And if he did, he wouldn't win the
general election. And if, by some miracle, he did, he'd still get creamed
by the same political and economic forces that hemmed in President Obama.
I worry a bit about the final point myself, but then I remember that
for all the insanity and abuse heaped upon Obama he's still president,
and that entails quite a lot. The bigger problem is his inability to
implement much of a legislative legacy, but that assumes he wanted to.
Sanders may run into more trouble for wanting to do more, but he also
might do more because he tries to do more, or because after a decade
or two of debauchery and decay more needs to be done. As for the first
two arguments, that's mostly conventional thinking: all Sanders needs
to do to win the Democratic nomination is to convince most Democrats
that he's more committed to their aspirations than Clinton is, which
given her slavish devotion to the banking and health care industries
plus her penchant for perpetuating and extending overseas wars may be
easier done than said. And winning the general election is a proposition
that this year's crop of Republican blowhards practically seals: anyone
with a proper fear of radical upheaval will have no choice but whoever
the Democrats nominate -- even if they prefer a dedicated defender of
the status quo like Clinton or Obama, they'll find plenty of ways to
rein in Sanders.
The rest of Pollitt's article is an argument with Doug Henwood, who
wrote a long essay in Harper's titled
Stop Hillary! Vote no to a Clinton dynasty and has expanded it to
My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency. I haven't seen
the book, but the article strikes me as actually pretty mild -- aside
from giving Dick Morris unwarranted opportunity to fantasize. The main
problem I see is that the Clintons have built a political machine that
serves their personal ambitions while the Democratic Party atrophies.
Obama was similarly neglectful of the party base, so both presidents
spent most of their terms with Republican-dominated Congresses as the
excuse for not delivering any gains for their voters, while they were
free to cozy up to business supporters. Given her track record and
connections, it's inconceivable that Hillary will break that pattern.
Nor is she likely to undermine the neocon orthodoxies of US foreign
policy. So why lift a finger for her until the conventions, when she's
likely to wind up the last ditch defense against the Republicans?
Yet The Nation is running articles like
Suzanna Danuta Walters: Why This Socialist Feminist Is for Hillary --
the subtitle concludes with a myopic "but it can't hurt." Again, she
embraces Clinton by assuming the inevitability of conventional wisdom:
And visibility matters: It's substantively different to have a woman
president advocating for gender equality as opposed to having a man
do so, just as it is to have a black president advocating for racial
justice -- because gender and racial difference live in and through our
marked bodies. This is why, for example, the struggles for affirmative
action and diversity remain so pertinent to all aspects of social,
political, and educational life. It's unlikely that Bernie's redistributive
economic policies, admirable as they are, would ever make their way through
Congress. How is a leftist agenda that remains little more than a vision
better for women than actually having a woman (who has, don't forget, an
agenda that shares much in common with this vision) -- after all these
years -- in the Oval Office?
A lot of wishful thinking and special pleading there, from the notion
that the wife of a former president will be a feminist icon to the claim
that claim that Clinton "shares much in common" with Sanders' vision.
I'm old enough to recall a bunch of cases, especially in the South,
where term-limited male governors ran their spouses as surrogates --
the Wallaces of Alabama for one -- not to see the Clintons furthering
that tradition. I'm not saying that Hillary will be a transparent front
for an extra Bill Clinton term, but I'll be surprised if there's any
Robert Kuttner: Thinking Harder about Political Correctness:
But what exactly is political correctness? The term was first used by
lefties to make fun of themselves. I've been hearing it used ironically
since the 1970s. As in: "This may not be politically correct, but may
I buy you a drink?"
This use of "politically correct" initially reflected the New Left
and the feminist movement of that era mocking the efforts by the
Communist Party to insist on rigid conventions of speech, along the
lines of George Orwell's Thought Police in his novel 1984.
Then the right got hold of the phrase and used it to claim that
left-wingers were the new conformists, enforcing speech codes and
embracing extreme identity politics. Allan Bloom's 1987 book, The
Closing of the American Mind, attacked liberal college professors
for imposing "politically correct" ways of thinking on impressionable
undergraduates. The term then became a staple of rightwing rhetoric
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Bernie Sanders and the Liberal Imagination:
I found this too late to work into the attacks-on-Sanders section
above, even as a footnote to Geier's piece. Coates at least doesn't
argue that we should dump Sanders because Clinton is inevitable.
Rather, he argues that Sanders is fair game to attack because he
purports himself as someone who supports the same ends as Coates --
an end to racism and equality regardless of race -- but disagrees
with Coates' preferred means (reparations). To make his point,
Coates flips the roles of class and race inequality, arguing that
you can't make real progress on the former unless you first tackle
race. If that were true -- and I think it partly is -- it would
behoove us to find ways to target race-specific economic inequality
above and beyond the universal. (And note that this is different
from the more common notion of attempting to redress past iniquity,
something which in a zero-sum context would create as many present
losers as there had been past losers.) On the other hand, a point
I think has been clearly proven is that attempting to end racism
at the same time political forces are driving economic inequality
to unprecedented heights does not work -- and not just because
creating a black 1% that parallels the white 1% helps so few, but
it also if anything deepens the grip of inequality on our thinking,
inevitably adding to the iniquities that already exist.
Gilad Edelman: How to Corral the Donor Class: Book review of Richard
L Hasen: Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and
the Distortion of American Elections. E.g.:
The corruption theories, Hasen explains, tend to boil down to inequality
anyway. Lessig's argument -- that money causes politicians to rely too
much on wealthy funders -- is just another way of saying that rich people
have more influence than the rest of us. Teachout's theory of corruption
as putting private interests ahead of public interests sounds appealing,
but how do we know the $74 million spent by the environmentalist Tom
Steyer to support Democratic candidates in 2014, for example, wasn't in
the public interest? We have to assume that public interest is, by
definition, determined only through equal democratic participation.
Hasen thinks that assumption is right; it just has nothing to do with
corruption. "[G]iven that we have fundamental disagreements over the
meaning of the public interest," he writes, "the best we can do is to
define the public interest procedurally, by ensuring that every voter
has a roughly equal chance to influence policies and elections." In
other words, what makes money different is that there's no correlation
between how rich someone is and how closely his views align with what
the public wants. The problem with Senator Smith, who wants Soros's
money, isn't that he's "corrupt." It's that letting one rich benefactor
sidestep the deliberative democratic process and determine a policy
choice that affects everyone seems fundamentally unfair.
Bill McKibben: The Real Zombie Apocalypse: Thought I'd flag this
now that 2015 looms as the hottest year in recorded history globally
(although only the second-hottest in the US, a tiny victory for all
David Remnick: Seeds of Peace: Profile of MK Ayman Odeh, a Palestinian
leader of the Balad Party.
Sunday, January 10. 2016
Some scattered links this week, mostly about that perennial favorite,
war in the Middle East -- nothing on the Oregon standoff (aside from
this link to
Josh Marshall, who describes it as "white privilege performance
art"). Also, in honor of the five 4.0 or higher earthquakes that
hit just northwest of Enid, Oklahoma, here's Crowson's cartoon:
You'd think anyone worried that much about the price of gas would
take an interest in the wars disrupting the world's largest oil producing
region, but, well, Kansas isn't lacking for "stone-age brains" (see
below). So back to the wars:
Thomas E Ricks: What are the Saudis up to with those executions? Regional
dominance: Actually, this column appears to have been subcontracted to
Sarah Kaiser-Cross, no great loss since Ricks has never impressed us as a
deep thinker. The argument:
Saudi Arabia had a difficult year. Despite Saudi Arabia's best efforts at
restoring order in neighboring Yemen, the Kingdom's efforts to pummel its
way to peace have largely failed. Near Saudi Arabia's northern borders,
Syria and Iraq continue to struggle through maddening states of chaos and
civil war. Internally, Saudi Arabia is battling domestic terror cells,
ISIS recruiters, and Shiite protesters. Finally, its American partner,
in Saudi Arabia's eyes, all but abandoned the Kingdom by signing the
nuclear deal that resulted in greater economic and political power for
its long time rival, Iran.
Saudi Arabia's recent executions and the subsequent tension with its
rival, Iran, were calculated moves, designed to send a clear message to
opponents at home and abroad that Saudi Arabia remains in control.
Simultaneously, the executions forced Iran to engage in a no longer
subtle political battle for regional dominance.
Power (and hubris) in Saudi Arabia has long been based on two things:
the world's largest and most profitable oil reserves, and possession of
the "holy cities" of Mecca and Medina. Even in the 1960s the Saudis
thought they could take on the rising tide of pan-Arab nationalism in
a proxy war against Egypt in Yemen. Oil provided the money to advance
their ambitions, and much of that went into propaganda as they pushed
their rigid, backward-looking version of Islam throughout the region.
Through the 1970s, that seemed to be working out, with oil prices on
the rise and the Nixon-Kissinger policy of bolstering regional allies
(Iran and Saudi Arabia). However, in 1979 there were two crises: one
was the revolt in Mecca that seized the Grand Mosque; the other was
the revolution in Iran which, among other things, presented a new
claimant for leadership of the Islamic world. The Saudis struggled
through the depressed oil market of the 1980s, doubling down on their
proselytizing -- conveniently tied to the US-sponsored jihad against
the infidel Soviets in Afghanistan -- and helping finance Iraq's
ambitious and brutal war against Iran. That led to a new crisis in
1989-90, when Iraq, ending its bloody stalemate with Iran, turned
on Kuwait and threatened the rest of the Persian Gulf. The Americans
saved Kuwait then, at the expense of compromising the sovereignty of
the Saudi Kingdom -- at least in the eyes of its salafist followers.
Meanwhile, Iran carefully cultivated ties to Shiite Muslims, aided by
the increasingly virulent anti-Shiite behavior of the salafists. Then
the US finally returned to "finish the job" in Iraq in 2003, igniting
a full-bore Sunni-Shiite civil war that eventually spread into Syria,
and erupted elsewhere where order had broken down (mostly due to the
sort of interventionism Saudi Arabia has so long engaged in). The net
result is that the Saudis find themselves facing opposition from the
increasingly restless Shiites living in the Kingdom's eastern parts
(i.e., where the oil is), from the increasingly militant salafists
who resent the Kingdom's cozy relationship with the US, and from the
ever-present pressures to liberalize -- iconically represented by
efforts to overturn the Kingdom's ban on women driving, although the
prospect of the people voting for their own leaders is surely more
disconcerting. And, well, bummer about those low oil prices, which
has plunged the government into deficits for the first time in many
This situation has been deteriorating for some time, but has gotten
much worse in the past year -- especially after King Abdullah's death,
which brought to power a new king and a much more aggressive coterie
of bureaucrats. It suits this power elite to see every turn against
them as having been orchestrated by archenemies in Tehran, much as it
suited American cold warriors to see every peasant revolt and strike
as the handiwork of devious manipulators in Moscow. Hence, the mostly
Shiite Houthis in Yemen were viewed as Iranian proxies when they had
more likely emerged as an indigenous alternative to the complete mess
that pro- and anti-Saudi Sunnis had made of the country. (Much the
same happened with Hezbollah in Lebanon, although the fracturing and
the level of foreign manipulation there was much more complex.)
So, sure, Ricks (Kaiser-Cross) is right that the mass executions
were KSA's way of showing who's in charge, and that the consequences
of rebellion will be severe. (And thankfully they didn't throw in a
couple of women drivers to round out their demonology.) But they've
also demonstrated to the world that their ridiculous regime rests on
little more than sheer brutality, with even its usual trappings of
piety looking shamefully tattered. Thankfully, the Iranians reacted
crudely as usual: if they had any sense, they'd stop chanting "death
to . . . ," issue a fatwa that capital punishment is un-Islamic, and
curtail their own efforts to force a return to medieval religion.
It would, after all, be easier to counter anti-Muslim hysteria in
the west if the self-appointed leaders of the Islamic world can't
control their bloodlust.
For more on the paranoia and madness underlying Saudi aggression,
Kenneth M Pollack: Fear and Loathing in Saudi Arabia. I found the
following paragraphs particularly amusing:
Finally, the Saudis feel frustrated and abandoned by the United States.
Many Saudis and other Gulf Arabs consider President Barack Obama deeply
ignorant, if not outright foolish, about the world and the Middle East.
They evince out-and-out contempt for him and his policies. From their
perspective, the United States has turned its back on its traditional
allies in the Middle East. Washington is doing the least it can in Iraq,
and effectively nothing in Libya and Syria, with the result that none
of those conflicts is getting better. If anything, they are actually
getting worse. Moreover, Saudi Arabia seems to differ over whether Obama
is using the new nuclear deal with Tehran to deliberately try to shift
the United States from the Saudi side to the Iranian side in the grand,
regional struggle or if he is allowing it to happen unintentionally.
The more charitable Saudi position is the former, because that suggests
that Obama at least understands what he is doing, even if they think it
a mistake and a betrayal. The latter view, for Saudis, sees him as a
virtual imbecile who is destroying the Middle East without any
understanding or recognition.
The depth of Saudi anger and contempt for the current American
leadership is important to understand because it is another critical
element of their worldview and policies, as best we can understand them.
With the Middle East coming apart at the seams (in Saudi Arabia's view),
the United States -- the traditional regional hegemon -- is doing nothing
to stop it and even encouraging Iran to widen the fissures. Since the
United States can't or won't do anything, someone else has to, and that
someone can only be Saudi Arabia. The dramatic increase in Riyadh's
willingness to intervene abroad, with both financial and military power,
has been driven by its sense that dramatic action is required to prevent
the region from melting down altogether and taking the kingdom down with it.
This view of Obama correlates with reading too much Chales Krauthammer,
a certifiable form of dementia. The fact is that US interests have never
aligned very well with Saudi interests, but the US humored the theocratic
despots because they helped recycle a lot of money back to the US, and
the Saudis had a way of dismissing what they didn't like (especially US
support for Israel) because alignment with the US let them pursue their
real interests -- pre-eminence in the Islamic world -- relatively freely.
Along the way they (like Israel) learned that they could push America's
buttons by opposing Iran, so they wound up blaming everything on Iran.
American enmity toward Iran has been irrational (and counterproductive)
ever since the 1980 Hostage Crisis. Obama wasn't ignorant in realizing
that, although he was perhaps foolish in not admitting as much, and in
not pursuing a more constructive relationship with Iran -- one that would
defuse much of the hostility in the region, not least by undermining the
rationales for Saudi (and Israeli) aggression. Pollack's next paragraph
almost admits that the Saudis have a cockeyed view of everything:
That is why the Saudis have been consistently overreacting to events in
Washington's eyes. We look at Bahrain and see an oppressed Shiite majority
looking for some degree of political participation and economic benefit
from the minority Sunni regime. The Saudis see an Iranian-backed mass
uprising that could spread to the kingdom if it were to succeed -- which
is why the Iranians are helping it do so. We look at the Yemeni civil war
and see a quagmire with only a minor Iranian role and little likelihood
of destabilizing Saudi Arabia. The Saudis see an Iranian bid to stealthily
undermine the kingdom. We see a popular Saudi Shiite cleric who would
become a martyr if he is executed. The Saudis see an Iranian-backed
firebrand stoking revolution in their country's oil-producing regions.
In the Syrian peace talks, we see a need to bring the Iranians in because
of their critical support for Bashar al-Assad's regime. The Saudis see
the United States legitimizing both a Shiite/Persian/Iranian influence
in a majority Sunni Arab state and the murderous, minority Shiite regime.
The list goes on.
Pollack then suggests that the Saudis are right and the the US is
abandoning its traditional ally in favor of its enemy. Actually, Obama's
real shortcoming is his failure to criticize nominal allies like Saudi
Arabia when they are dead wrong (and Iraq and Egypt and Turkey and most
of all, in case you're wondering where this cowardice comes from, Israel).
But then his failure to criticize is symptomatic of a deeper problem,
which is the lack of constructive principle behind US foreign policy --
a legacy of the cold war when America routinely favored pro-business
despotism over popular democracy -- and the naive faith that a sufficient
show of force solves every problem.
Stephen M Walt: Give Peace a Chance (And why none of the current presidential
candidates want to talk about it): As a "realist" Walt admits "one could
argue that the United States benefited from war in the past." I won't let
myself be sucked into that one, even though one of his examples -- "the
Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s" -- cries out for correction. The thing about
being a "realist" is that you can excuse anything if it furthers your
"national interest" -- whatever that means. For a long time American
foreign policy was nothing but service to American business interests:
mainly supporting "open trade" (as in the "opening" of Japan), allowing
American banks and business to make loans and investments abroad. Then
came WWII and the US started building bases around the world, evolving
into the capital vs. labor class struggle known as the Cold War. Business
(and not just American business) obviously gained from this shift, but
along with foreign bases and alliances came a cult of power for its own
sake. When you go down a list of the world's countries, America's view
is that the "good guys" are the ones largely subservient to US power, and
the "bad guys" are the ones that chafe and resent us, or worse still go
their own way. (The closest to exceptions here are Israel and Saudi Arabia,
which profess alliance but go their own way, showing that one of the traits
we most appreciate in a foreign country is hypocrisy.)
Walt lays out four reasons why promoting peace should be considered part
of the national interest, and therefore a goal of our government:
- "When a country is on top of the pyramid, the last thing it should want
is anything that might dislodge it." The US is the richest country in the
world, so why risk that through the risk and uncertainty of war? Especially
since the US hasn't been very successful at war lately (like since WWII).
Or, as Walt puts it, "as we learned to our sorrow in Iraq, what looks like
a smashing success at first can easily turn into a costly quagmire."
- "Second, peace is good business." Sure, there are a few businesses that
sell arms, but they are "a small and declining fraction of America's $17
trillion economy." He adds, "peace encourages economic interdependence
and thus global growth and welfare. . . . If you think globalization is
a good thing, in short, promoting peace should be a key part of your
- "Third, peace privileges people who are good at promoting human welfare,
whether in the form of cool new products, better health care, improved
government services, inspiring books, art, and music, and all the other
things that bring us joy. War, by contrast, elevates people who are good
at using violence and who profit from collective hatred: rebel leaders,
warlords, terrorists, revolutionaries, xenophobes, etc."
- "Last, but not least, peace is morally preferable. There's an enormous
amount of human suffering in any war, and our basic moral instincts tell
us that the alleviation of that suffering is intrinsically desirable."
Still, every Republican presidential candidate dwells on how much more
tougher he'd (or she'd) be than any Democrat, and every Democrat (including
Sanders) takes pains to show how high a hurdle that would be to clear. So
why isn't anyone even giving lip service to peace? Walt offers some reasons,
including the excess adulation for "the troops" that practically everyone
feels obliged to buy into. Let me add a few more:
- We've become highly compartmentalized, so very few people (voters)
in America have any conscious stake in foreign policy, or indeed in the
rest of the world. If the US overthrows a democratic government in Iran
or Chile, that may be big news there but it means nothing here. As such,
the few people who really care about foreign policy are like a special
interest group, and virtually all of them are economically bound to the
current system. That only gives a practical politician one option for a
campaign pitch. And it's even worse when you win and find yourself stuck
in an unmovable system.
- The title of "commander in chief" has become baked into the job
description of President of the United States, and indeed has come to
tower over the position's other responsibilities (like respecting and
protecting the constitution). Maybe it has something to do with the idea
that chief executives delegate tasks but commanders lead. Politicians
certainly prefer the latter image. (Indeed, we came to wonder whether
Bush thought the job entailed anything else.)
- People readily accept the assertion that "we're engaged in a war"
even though the alleged war is almost totally disconnected from their
everyday lives. Selecting a president is one of the few war-related
acts anyone has to do -- an appeal that the media readily subscribes
to. This is especially attractive to Republican candidates, who have
nothing else of substance to offer (their economic programs are all
geared to the donor class).
- It is widely thought that leading the nation in a time of war is
a higher calling than leading it during peace. Franklin Roosevelt, for
instance, broke tradition and ran for a third term because war loomed
and he wanted to be the man who ran it. Both Bushes started wars to
recast themselves as glorious commanders (although one failed to pick
fights he could claim to win).
- Indeed, the US has a long history of electing former generals to
become president: Washington, Jackson, Harrison, Taylor, Pierce, Grant,
Hayes, Garfield, the other Harrison, but only Eisenhower in the last
120 years. Theodore Roosevelt was famous for his Rough Riders stunt.
Truman in WWI, and Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, and the first Bush in WWII,
and Carter post-WWII all made a big point about their service (if not
their rank; Reagan was in the US Army Reserve, where he "narrated
pre-flight training films").
Walt also revisits Syria, asking
Could We Have Stopped This Tragedy? It's a fair question, and after
a fair review he concludes "no" -- vindicating his initial suspicions.
Still, his "realism" trips him up, leading him to imagine counterfactuals
whereas simply listing what the US in fact did should have sufficed to
show that no variation could have worked. He touches on that here:
To be sure, the Obama administration has not handled Syria well at all.
President Barack Obama erred when he jumped the gun in 2011 and insisted
"Assad must go," locking the United States into a maximalist position and
foreclosing potential diplomatic solutions that might have saved thousands
of lives. Second, Obama's 2012 off-the-cuff remark about chemical weapons
and "red lines" was a self-inflicted wound that didn't help the situation
and gave opponents a sound bite to use against him. The president wisely
backed away from that position, however, and (with Russian help) eventually
devised an arrangement that got rid of Assad's chemical arsenal. This was
no small achievement in itself, but the whole episode did not exactly
inspire confidence. The administration eventually agreed to start a
training program for anti-Assad forces, but did so with neither enthusiasm
And consider what has happened since then. More than 200,000 people are
now dead -- that's approaching 100 times as many victims as 9/11 -- and
numerous towns, cities, and villages have been badly damaged, if not
destroyed. There are reportedly some 11 million displaced people either
internally or out of the country, about half Syria's original population.
A flood of refugees and migrants has landed in Europe, provoking a new
challenge to the European Union's delicate political cohesion and raising
the specter of a sharp increase in right-wing xenophobia. The carnage in
Syria has also helped fuel the emergence and consolidation of the so-called
Islamic State, intensified the Sunni-Shiite split within Islam, and put
additional strain on Syria's other neighbors.
Obama's failures here largely stem from his blanket acceptance of the
main tenets of American foreign policy. The only thing he's rejected has
been the Bush (Cheney/Bremer/but probably not Rumsfeld) notion that US
troops can occupy and rebuild a Middle East nation like Iraq -- a tenet
that no one in the security establishment still believes. But he still
accepts: that the US has vital interests in the region; that the main
thing there is to credibly project power such that the nations' leaders
defer to American directives; that the US should have a free hand to
intervene destructively anywhere we are challenged (or evidently just
for the hell of it); and that the people in those nations don't matter
at all. Thus the US instinctively saw the uprising in Syria as an
opportunity to get rid of the insufficiently servile Assad regime.
They just couldn't figure out a way to make that happen once a direct
command failed. Even now, there is no "humanitarian" option: all they
can do is destroy, so all they can do is to add ISIS (and Al-Nusra and
who knows what else) to their enemies list. The result is that the US
is actively engaging in attacking both sides of the civil war. It's as
if the US had decided to fight WWII by bombing both German and Russian
forces on the Eastern Front, hoping that they'd be able to recruit
some Free Poles once everyone was killed.
Until the US realizes that the lives and welfare of ordinary people
matter more than the fickle allegiances of a handful of corrupt elites,
the US will have nothing constructive to offer the region (or the world).
And if they did, they'd realize that the brutal force they so worship is
the problem, not part of the solution. Of course, it's hard to imagine
the US changing to improve the lives of people abroad when Republicans
here are working so hard to reduce the livelihoods of most Americans
here. (Similarly, Democrats need to realize that they cannot help their
voters here unless they start to respect people abroad, which means
they have to start to unwind America's imperial tentacles, and return
to the Four Freedoms that Roosevelt envisioned as the New Deal of the
postwar order. You'd think that Sanders, at least, would figure that
Rick Shenkman: How We Learned to Stop Worrying About People and Love the
Bombing: Lest you think that my comments above about how Americans
react to problems with brute, unthinking force, without any care for the
human lives affected, here's a case example: when Sen. Ted Cruz promised
to "carpet bomb" ISIS, his poll numbers went up.
While many factors can affect a candidate's polling numbers, one
uncomfortable conclusion can't be overlooked when it comes to reactions
to Cruz's comments: by and large, Americans don't think or care much
about the real-world consequences of the unleashing of American air
power or that of our allies. The other day, Human Rights Watch (HRW)
reported that, in September and October, a Saudi Arabian coalition
backed by the United States "carried out at least six apparently
unlawful airstrikes in residential areas of the [Yemeni] capital,"
Sana'a. The attacks resulted in the deaths of 60 civilians. Just about
no one in the United States took notice, nor was it given significant
media coverage. More than likely, this is the first time you've heard
about the HRW findings.
Shenkman has a theory on this, something to do with what he calls
"our stone-age brain" -- in fact, he has a whole book on the subject
(Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of
Smart Politics). In particular, we fail to recognize the victims
of our bombs as human, let alone as people much like us. Distance
has much to do with this, as do the various grouping words we use
to sort people. I tend to think of it as a failure of imagination:
in particular, the ability to imagine the situation reversed, as
almost any interaction can be. (The Golden Rule, in its numerous
variations, is an attempt to formulate this logically. When you
hear someone talk like Cruz, you should realize that he lacks the
most basic skill needed to live in society.) Shenkman emphasizes
the value of storytelling as a means of restoring humanity to the
people our warriors target.
Shenkman suggests that this "stone-age brain" may have had some
Darwinian advantage, but you don't have to buy that. What you do need
to recognize is that we're no longer living in stone-age tribes. We
live in a complex society where we routinely confront strangers, and
indeed depend on their good will for our own survival. In this world,
the instinct to rally behind a charismatic strongman is overrated and
quite possibly disastrous, even though it still seems to be the bread
and butter of American politics -- at least it's second nature to
politicians with a natural knack for appealing to our basest instincts.
But it's not uniquely American: people all around the world think the
same thing. The difference is in who has the power to "carpet bomb"
other countries. In that regard, the US is most potent and dangerous,
but probably not unique -- despite neocon fantasies of a unipolar
Paul Woodward: How to lose the propaganda war with ISIS: Big
announcement Friday was that the Obama administration is launching
a new propaganda ministry to counter ISIS's mastery of social media
New York Times article). After all, nothing can be more potent
than their lies except for our lies. Woodward comments (emphasis
Picture the many meetings that must have taken place over recent months
in which policymakers repeatedly said: in order to stop ISIS we need
to improve the image of the West.
This proposition should have been met with howls of scorn and yet
instead, multiple teams of straight-faced bureaucrats from multiple
agencies nodded their heads in agreement.
At the same time, I greatly doubt anyone believes this kind of PR
exercise will have any value whatsoever and yet the consensus of support
derives from one fact: no one has come up with a better idea.
Better to do something worthless than to do nothing at all -- so
the thinking goes.
The term radicalization has been pathologized, thereby
divorcing it from its psychological meaning. It's viewed as a disease,
with the implication that if the right steps are taken, the contagion
can be controlled.
But to be radicalized is to rebel and anyone who has taken
up such a position of defiance has, in the case of ISIS, already reached
a conclusion about the West. Indeed, they have most likely reflected
more deeply on the West than the majority of their generational
counterparts who, being less likely to engage in cultural critiques
of any kind, don't have a particularly coherent view of the
West -- good or bad.
Woodward's critique is right but the problem is worse than that.
The one group of people most likely to swallow the propaganda whole
is the one that creates. It amounts to a process of self-delusion,
where constant reiteration drums the talking points deep into the
psyche. As such, it moves the argument away from reality and into the
fantasy world of the propagandist, where logic turns self-fulfilling.
It's already hard to think of any war the US entered more thoughtlessly
than the war against ISIS, and the propagation of this propaganda is
likely to cement current delusions (e.g., about our righteousness and
their evil). If, that is, it works at all, which I guess isn't a
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Nu'man Abd al-Wahid: How Zionism helped create the Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia: Delicious lede:
The covert alliance between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Zionist
entity of Israel should be no surprise to any student of British
imperialism. The problem is the study of British imperialism has very
few students. . . . but if you would like to delve into how and why the
British Empire waged war on mankind for almost four hundred years you're
practically on your own in this endeavor. One must admit, that from the
British establishment's perspective, this is a formidable and remarkable
The Saud family took over Hijaz in 1925 after the British switched
sides against their former "Arab revolt" client, Sharif Hussain --
the main disagreement between the latter and the British was the
Zionist colony in Palestine. Thus Saudi Arabia became a Beitish (and
later American) client state.
Justin Fox: Why Economists Took So Long to Focus on Inequality.
Income of the top 1% started to grow cancerously in the 1980s, but
few economists noticed let alone studied it, at least until Thomas
Piketty and Emmanuel Saez came along and made the data impossible
to ignore. Fox has some ideas, but they aren't very convincing.
Paul Krugman has a comment
Olivier Roy: France's Oedipal Islamist Complex: Roy is a French
expert on militant Islam -- has written several books on the subject.
He points out that French jihadists are either recent converts, which
he sees as radicalized youth who turned to Islam to formalize their
revolt, or second generation Muslims, similarly radicalized from their
experiences. On the other hand, he notes that there are no jihadis
among first-generation immigrants or the more thoroughly integrated
third-generation. That seems roughly right for the US as well.
Why Islam? For members of the second generation, it's obvious: They
are reclaiming, on their own terms, an identity that, in their eyes,
their parents have debased. They are "more Muslim than the Muslims"
and, in particular, than their parents. The energy that they put into
reconverting their parents (in vain) is significant, but it shows to
what extent they are on another planet (all the parents have a story
to tell about these exchanges). As for the converts, they choose
Islam because it's the only thing on the market of radical rebellion.
Joining the Islamic State offers the certainty of terrorizing.
Omid Safi: Ten Ways on How Not to Think About the Iran/Saudi Conflict:
All are worth considering, including "we in the United States should do
some long and hard looking into our own culpability" -- and not just for
the two points Safi mentions (selling arms to Saudi Arabia and overlooking
Saudi human rights violations) -- for starters, I recall how we did the
same things when Iran was controlled by a despotic monarchy, how much we
resent Iran's rejection of us, and how we've let Israel and Saudi Arabia
manipulate our loathing of the Iranian government to hurt the Iranian
people. Also noteworthy is oil: Saudi Arabia is already suffering from
low oil prices; once we let Iranian oil flood the world market, Saudi
Arabia will be hurting even more. The history of the waxing and waning
of Shi'ism is fascinating, but that's the sort of fact that opportunists
can parlay into an excuse for war and repression, as we've seen, e.g.,
in America's attempts to pit Shi'a against Sunni since 1990 (not that
Iran didn't try something similar after Iraq attacked in the 1980s).
Sunday, December 6. 2015
Very busy with other stuff today, so these are abbreviated -- mostly
links to pieces I happened to have left open, and scattered comments
when I had something quick to say.
Eoin Higgins: The double standard for white and Muslim shooters:
I haven't been paying a lot of attention to the week's mass shootings,
but the San Bernadino case took a weird turn when it was discovered
that the two shooters were Muslim.
Rhania Khalek: US cops trained to use lethal Israeli tactics:
"Officers from 15 US police agencies recently traveled to the Middle
East for lessons from their Israeli counterparts." You may recall how
on 9/11 Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu were crowing about how
Israel could help the US with its newfound terrorism problem. Hell,
I'm old enough to remember when David Ben Gurion offered to help
Charles DeGaulle with its little problem in Algeria. DeGaulle
rejected that offer, fearing that Ben Gurion wanted to turn France
into another Israel. On the other hand, the neocons who dominated
the Bush administration (and who still exercise some strange magic
over Obama) envy Israel, which is one reason they organize these
junkets for American cops to learn how to use "advanced Israeli
technology" like "skunk spray" and rubber bullets. However, this
is happening at a time when Israel's own law enforcement groups
have gone on a rampage of summary executions, where they've killed
more than 100 Palestinians since October 1. Also happening at a
time when police killings of (mostly black) Americans are subject
to ever more scrutiny and outrage.
Ed Kilgore: Extremist Republican Rhetoric and the Planned Parenthood
Attack: Given the current state of rhetoric on abortion even by
such supposedly respectable as Republican presidential candidates,
it's not surprising when anti-abortion violence occurs -- if anything
the surprise is that it's as rare as it is (although living in Wichita,
where much violence and one of the most notorious murders occurred, it
pains me to write that line).
Conservative opinion-leaders should, however, be held accountable for
two persistent strains of extremist rhetoric that provide a theoretical
basis for violence against abortion providers specifically and enemies
of "traditional values" generally.
The first is the comparison of legalized abortion to the great
injustices of world history, including slavery and the Holocaust. The
first analogy helps anti-choicers think of themselves as champions of
a new civil-rights movement while facilitating a characterization of
Roe v. Wade as a temporary and disreputable constitutional precedent
like Dred Scott. The second follows from the right-to-life movement's
logic of regarding abortion as homicide and treats the millions of
legal abortions that have been performed in the U.S. since 1973 as
analogous to the Nazi extermination of Jews and other "undesirables."
[ . . . ]
And virtually every Republican presidential candidate has supported
the mendacious campaign to accuse Planned Parenthood of "barbaric"
practices involving illegal late-term abortions and "baby part sales."
But there's a second element of contemporary extremist rhetoric from
conservatives that brings them much closer to incitement of violence:
the claim that the Second Amendment encompasses a right to revolution
against "tyrannical" government.
Kilgore quotes from Messrs. Carson, Cruz, Huckabee, and Rubio, who
are merely the most egregious demagogues.
Martin Longman: What's in a Lie?:
In The New Republic, Jeet Heer says that it is much less accurate
to call Donald Trump a "liar" than it is to simply refer to him as "a
bullshit artist." [ . . . ]
A liar is fully aware of what is true and what is not true. They know
whether or not they paid the electricity bill, for example, so when they
tell you that they have no idea why the power is out, that's a lie.
A bullshitter, by contrast, doesn't even care what is true. They're
not so much lying to deceive as to create an impression. Maybe they want
you to be afraid. Maybe they want you to think that they are smarter or
more well-informed than they really are.
It's a useful distinction to make, I think, although I also think
people who engage in a lot of bullshit probably lie their heads off,
too. [ . . . ]
That's a lot of academic language that basically says that stupid
and gullible people are easy to fool. I think we knew that.
But the real key is that, although there is never any shortage of
credulous people, they need to be lied to first before they are led
astray. If you don't exploit their cognitive weaknesses and you lead
them toward the truth, they aren't so misinformed. By constantly
bullshitting them, you're making them less informed and probably
more cynical, too.
Few books have been more influential on my thinking than one I
read when it came out in 1969, Charles Weingarten and Neil Postman:
Teaching as a Subversive Activity. The main argument there
was that the main goal of teaching should be to equip students
with a finely-tuned "bullshit detector," so they would learn to
recognize whenever they were being conned with bullshit. It was
clear to me then that the actual schools I had attended were much
more preoccupied with spreading bullshit than with subverting it,
but then authorities had long viewed schools as factories for
turning out loyal citizen-followers. Didn't really work with me --
some bullshit was much too obvious to miss.
Tierney Sneed: At Jewish Summit, Trump Says He's a Good Negotiator
Like 'You Folks':
Speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition 2016 candidate forum, GOP
frontrunner Donald Trump repeatedly returned to a riff about being a
good negotiator like "you folks." He also said the attendees wouldn't
support him because "I don't want your money."
Early in his remarks, he bragged about how little money he spent on
his campaign thus far, adding, "I think you, as business people, will
feel good about this and respect it."
I suppose you could argue that these old-fashioned Jewish caricatures
weren't anti-semitic because he was so obviously enthralled with those
traits -- maybe the awkwardness was just that he wasn't used to buttering
up an audience so obscenely? And rest assured that the ADL won't be
bothered because he reminded them that "you know I am the best thing
that could ever happen to Israel." Still, I find it all pretty
creepy. For another view, here's
Gary Younge: Bombing Hasn't Worked. Bombing Won't Work. And Yet,
We Will Bomb: I should link to something like this every week.
This one is specifically addressed to the UK, recently deliberating
on whether to join the bombing party in Syria, perhaps out of
nostalgia for the old Triple Entente -- their alliance with France
and Russia which trapped them in the Great War of 1914, although
this time Germany will also be on their side, and they won't have
to wait for the United States to pick up the slack. Wouldn't you
think that someone would have noticed this reunion of the world's
faded imperialist powers, resolved as they are to once again attack
(or as they might prefer to put it, "rescue") an impoverished but
less than properly subservient third world country -- even to have
been a bit embarrassed by the fact? One can't help but be reminded
that Britain and France have still not come to grips with the much
deserved collapse of their worldwide empires. Actually, Younge
gets some of this:
Which brings us neatly to the second point: The West's desire to intervene
in the name of civilization and Enlightenment values betrays a stunning
lack of self-awareness. The military and philosophical force with which
it makes its case for moral superiority, and then contradicts it, is
Unfortunately, his first point was not just that bombing never works --
he doesn't recall the Blitz, which mainly consolidated British public
opinion against the Nazis in a way that concern for the Poles never
could have -- but he questioned their seriousness, taunting them to
send ground troops instead. The problem there is that while sufficient
ground troops might be able to advance against ISIS, we know from the
failures of the French and British colonial projects in the Middle
East (and, well, everywhere) as well as the more recent US occupation
of Iraq that a renewed ground invasion will also fail. (If you think
Russia might make the difference, cf. Afghanistan.) Younge admits
ISIS isn't limited to a handful of states in the Middle East, places
like Syria, Iraq, and Libya; instead, it's a multinational phenomenon.
Many of those who terrorized Paris came from Belgium and France. The
West can't bomb everywhere. And wherever it does bomb, it kills and
injures large numbers of civilians. These civilian casualties, in
their turn, stoke resentment and outrage, not least in the Muslim
communities from which jihadis draw their recruits. Since 9/11, the
West's military interventions have created far more terrorists than
they have killed, and have generally made things worse, not better.
Yet Younge adds this snark: "If ISIS represents a true threat
against humanity, as is claimed, then we should do the heavy lifting
of mobilizing humanity to fight it." I suppose he would admit that
mobilizing "the willing" (as Bush did against Iraq) doesn't quite
add up to "humanity," but why taunt people to do the impossible if
they're just going to cheap out and do the expedient anyway? All the
"humanity" that the combined forces of ISIS and the US have managed
to mobilize is a handful of sad European states nostalgic for the
golden days when they thought they ruled the world.
OK, I should find better links to make this point each week.
Also, a few links for further study (even more briefly noted):
Barbara Ehrenreich: Dead, White and Blue: "The Great Die-Off of
America's Blue Collar Whites." This story has been kicking around
for a while, and Ehrenreich covers the basics. But to me the story
has less to do with what's killing people younger than how it upsets
the customary expectations that science and the ever-more-expensive
health care industry will make everyone live longer. It turns out
that how those benefits are distributed matters, and is subject to
politics as well as economics. It also may mean that such progress
itself is tainted: that businesses searching for more profits aren't
necessarily searching for more effective health care. And by the
way, singling out whites hides (or reveals) some other truths:
notably that the things that are killing more whites now are things
that have been depressing the life expectancy of blacks for many
years. One way to put that is that we're leveling down, not up.
Paul Krugman: Challenging the Oligarchy: Review of Robert B Reich's
new book, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (Knopf).
He spends a lot of time talking about Reich's 1991 book The Work of
Nations, which I read at the time (well, a couple years later, in
paperback), thought insane (his thesis that we didn't need to care
about declining low-skill jobs because everyone was going to move
upscale as they learned the arts of symbol manipulation), but found
one brilliant (and scary) insight (the withdrawal of the rich from
mainstream society and into their own gated communities and clubs --
not that the real rich hadn't done that forever). Krugman takes great
pains to demolish the insane part before moving on to the new book
and the messier question of what to do about inequality.
Krugman also has a couple of brief notes about the abuse of
The Farce Is Strong in This One, and
Avars, Arabs, and History. Krugman various dubious lines about the
fall of the Roman Empire and a couple books he's read on the expansion of
Arab influence after 700. I can recommend Timothy Parsons' The Rule of
Empires, which dovetails nicely with what Krugman has learned -- the
first two cases are the Romans in Britain and the Arabs in Spain, both
how they came and why they failed. Parsons piles on eight other case
studies and a postscript about the US in Iraq, showing how empires
Michael Massing: Reimagining Journalism: The Story of the One Percent:
The first of two parts on the rich and how they are covered (or not) by
an often subservient press.
Rick Perlstein: The Secret to Trump's Ratings. Much here, but let me
single out this story about bullshit detection (some got it, most don't):
I've covered three Republican conventions. Watching The Apprentice
was by far the hardest reporting job I've ever endured. If you watched it,
you'd probably agree. But political junkies aren't the type of people who
watched it. Let me tell you a story. Once, when I was in my early 20s, my
parents dragged my entire family to a performance of Donny Osmond in
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was awful -- and
again, if you watched it, you'd probably agree. When the curtain fell,
every last person in the audience leaped to their feet in a standing
ovation, except me and my three siblings. We sophisticates, we looked
at each other, incredulous, glued to our seats.
Andrea Thompson/Brian Kahn: What Passing a Key CO2 Mark Means to Climate
Scientists: The mark, as measured at the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii,
is 400 parts per million. As I recall, Bill McKibben named his organization
350 because that was the highest limit he felt the world could stand. I
think it's safe to say that global warming is no longer a treat. This is
one of those numbers we've been warned about for decades. It's here now,
Sunday, November 29. 2015
Not much time to collect things today, but here are a few links on
the week's newsk:
Julie Turkewitz/Jack Healy: 3 Are Dead in Colorado Springs Shootout at
Planned Parenthood Center: A gunman, identified as Robert Lewis
Dear, entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, shot
some people, and shot at police when they arrived on the scene. He
was captured alive and unhurt after killing three people and wounding
nine others. This link provides some preliminary reporting. Note
Since abortion became legal nationally, with the Supreme Court's
decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, many abortion clinics and staff
members across the country have been subjected to harassment
including death and bomb threats, and hundreds of acts of violence
including arson, bombings and assaults and eight murders, according
to figures compiled by the Naral Pro-Choice America Foundation.
Planned Parenthood's Colorado Springs center was one of many
locations around the country that became the site of large anti-abortion
protests over the summer after abortion opponents released surreptitious
videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing using fetal organs
for research. On Aug. 22, the day of nationwide protests to defund
Planned Parenthood, more than 300 people protested outside the clinic
here, according to local news reports.
The campaign not just to stigmatize Planned Parenthood but to put
it out of business was led this summer by all 16 Republican presidential
candidates, while most Republicans in Congress (especially in the House)
were so agitated over the issue that they wanted to shut down the federal
government if Congress and the President didn't bow to their extortion.
Such politicians are casually given the benefit of the doubt when they
try to distance themselves from vigilante-terrorists who take their words
so seriously they translate them into criminal acts. But in fact most of
those politicians do support extra-legal murder and mayhem when the US
practices it abroad (e.g., from drones). And one hardly need add that
virtually every one of them is equally committed to making sure that
vigilante-terrorists here in America have unfettered access to all the
guns they can handle. So why excuse them from complicity in murders that
are known to have a chilling, and sometimes devastating, effect on the
constitutional rights of American women to private health care? (Indeed,
see this report:
GOP Presidential Candidates Sharing Stage With Pastor Who Hailed Murder
of Abortion Provider. The article specifically mentions Cruz, Huckabee,
and Jindal. Cruz subsequently received the endorsement of
Troy Newman, the leader of Operation Rescue, a group which has been
closely aligned with anti-abortion criminals.)
A few more links on the shooting:
- Several pieces from No More Mr Niceblog:
Colorado Planned Parenthood Siege: Obama's Fault, Naturally, According
to Fox: the complaint here is that Obama has tried to cut back on
the distribution of military surplus hardware to police departments,
just when it's more needed than ever to fight domestic terrorists --
"this is war," exclaimed one Fox head, demonstrating complete ignorance
about what "war" means. In Afghanistan, for instance, war means calling
in a AC-130 gunship like the one that destroyed the MSF hospital in
Kunduz. Fortunately, that sort of collateral murder isn't normal in
domestic police operations. Then there is
When GOP Presidential Candidates Finally Address the Colorado Shooting,
They'll Sound a Lot Like Adam Kinzinger. Kinzinger is a Republican
congressman who was quick to issue his disclaimer: "And if he's targeting
Planned Parenthood -- and again, we don't know -- if he is, he has taken
a legitimate disagreement with the practice and turned it into an evil
response, which is to go in and shoot people." In other words, Republicans
will use this as an opportunity to renew their attacks on Planned Parenthood,
just in their "less evil" way. Then there's
Republicans Hate What They Hate Much More Than They Love What They Love,
I See What Fox News Did There, and
There Was an Ever-Thinning Line Between the GOP and the Lunatic Fringe,
and Ted Cruz Just Erased It.
Josh Marshall: Malign Hesitation.
Zoë Carpenter: The Colorado Shooting Comes Amid an 'Alarming' Escalation
of Anti-Abortion Violence.
DR Tucker: Emma's World: Part III: The first two parts were an attempt
to put a human face on one of the casualties of the Paris ISIS attack:
specifically, a tourist from Tasmania named Emma Parkinson. This one
quotes from a piece written on the occasion of an earlier gun massacre,
about a still earlier gun massacre:
Will Oremus: After a 1996 Mass Shooting, Australia Enacted Strict Gun
Laws. It Hasn't Had a Similar Massacre Since. You may recall that
the intermediary massacre, the slaughter of elementary school children
and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, was followed by a loosening of
gun regulation, and a few dozen only marginally less shocking mass
shootings. Following the 1996 Australian shooting, over 90% of all
Australians agreed on the need for much stricter gun control. As I
recall, polling showed that after Newtown a majority of Americans
also desired stricter gun control, but opinion was far less united,
and various institutional factors allowed the gun industry to prevail.
A lot of factors differ between Australia and America here. One might,
for instance, point to the cultural import of the old west in America,
or to the fact that the US since WWII has fought far more wars than
anyone else, and that the US government spends more money on arms
than the rest of the world does. Still, two factors stand out: one
is that Americans care very little about the welfare of their fellow
Americans; the other is that Americans have very little understanding
of the actual effects of mass gun proliferation. In particular, they
don't realize that Australia provides a very relevant case study of
the effects of strict gun regulation. Oremus writes:
What happened next has been the subject of several academic studies.
Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia,
of course. But as the Washington Post's Wonkblog pointed out in
August, homicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006,
with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The
drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a
close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks.
Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile,
home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership
is needed to deter such crimes. But here's the most stunning statistic.
In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass
shootings in the country. There hasn't been a single one in Australia
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't
have time for this shit right now):
Phyllis Bennis: After the Paris Attacks, a Call for Justice -- Not
Vengeance. Recapitulates a similar statement made after 9/11,
predicting no good would come of responding to the attacks with a
"war of vengeance." Indeed. Also cites the common French response
to 9/11: "nous sommes tous Américains" -- showing then as now that
the French can't shake their self-gratifying identity as colonial
masters, even long after their empire went bankrupt.
Lauren Fox: Why the Paris Attacks Unleashed a New Level of Anti-Muslim
Vitriol in the US: Certainly did, but I'm not sure the author here
got the reasons right. For one thing, the US has been fighting several
wars against Muslims for 14 years -- and arguably a good deal longer,
with 1990 and 1979 key moments of escalation, on top of America's
increasing support of Israel, especially coming out of the 1967 and
1973 wars. For another, while the Bush administration was fairly
conscientious about positing a battle between "good Muslims" and "bad
Muslims," Obama has largely dropped that ball, partly as a result of
disengaging from major theatres like Iraq, and partly because the
picture itself has become increasingly murky. Also, I think, because
the wars have been so unsatisfying that we've lost the commitment
that most imperial powers feel to the natives who aligned with them,
and are increasingly in trouble because of that -- although this
point may just be swamped by the rising tide of nativism stirred up
by demagogues like Trump, and the general meanness of the American
Rebecca Gordon: Corruption USA: Doesn't review so much as jump off
from Sarah Chayes' book about corruption in Afghanistan, Thieves of
State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. Raises the question
of whether the US is similarly beleaguered by corruption. Spends a lot
of time on Ferguson, Missouri, which while pretty clear (and graphic)
is small potatoes -- compared to, say, oil and finance.
John B Judis: The Paradoxical Politics of Inequality.
Nomi Prins: The American Hunger Games: "Six top Republican Candidates
Take Economic Policy Into the Wilderness." Looks at the proposed economic
policies of Bush, Carson, Cruz, Fiorina, Rubio, and Trump.
Abba Solomon: Golem and Big Brother: A review of Jeff Halper's
new book, War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and
Global Pacification (Pluto Press). Halper founded the Israeli
Committee Against House Demolitions, and wrote an essay called
"The Matrix of Domination" which was one of the first expositions
to show how Israel's many mechanisms for controlling Palestinians
work together. The new book shows how Israeli businesses are taking
technology developed for controlling Palestinians and marketing it
to the rest of the world. If you don't yet think that the conflict
over Israel-Palestine concerns you, this book should prove
Philip Weiss: Trump's claim of 9/11 celebration in New Jersey is based
on arrest of 5 'laughing' Israelis: A story to file away for a
possible footnote, if that's what it is. I do clearly recall Benjamin
Netanyahu and Shimon Peres smiling on 9/11 and bragging about how good
the terror attacks was for Israel -- a faux pas that John Major also
made, one that combines "now you know what it feels like" with "with
our vast experience in these things we can help you." It should have
occurred to people then that the US was being attacked because it had
usurped Britain's colonial role in the Middle East and had doubled
down on its alliance with Israel against any reasonable alternative.
I also recall that Israel almost instantly released stock video that
purported to show Palestinians celebrating and burning American flags --
an image that did its intended damage before anyone could soberly think
Sunday, November 22. 2015
Much blather this week about the existential threat posed to the
United States by the prospect of allowing 10,000 Syrian refugees to
resettle here. Some demagogues like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush insisted
that we only allow Syrian Christians to enter (7.8% in 1960, the
last Syrian census to bother to count sectarian identity, although
a 2006 estimate bumps this up to 10%). Others insisted on a vetting
process to weed out terrorist infiltrators, evidently unaware that
a rather onerous one already exists. Dozens of Republican governors,
including our own Sam Brownback (who recently displaced Bobby Jindal
as the least popular sitting governor in the US), issued executive
orders to help stanch the deluge of Syrian/Arab/Muslim immigrants.
Donald Trump not only opposed all immigration, but went further to
entertain the idea of a federal registry of Muslims in America. He
finally received some backlash for that (rather casual) statement,
but it appeals to a base distinguished only by the depths of their
ignorance. I'm seeing reports that "only 49% of GOP voters in Iowa
think that the religion of Islam should even be legal."
Reading Wikipedia's piece on
Islam in the United States would help alleviate this ignorance.
You will find, for instance, that about 1% of the American population
is Muslim (2.77 million). Also, Muslims are immigrating to the US at
a rate of about 110,000 per year. So 10,000 extra Syrians represents
less than 10% of the current immigration rate, about 0.36% of the
total Muslim population (1 in 277). If everyone shut up and just let
this happen, no one would ever notice anything. The problem, though,
is that by making a big stink about it, you're not just barring 10,000
Syrians, you're sending a message of hate and fear to 2.77 million
Americans. How does that help?
About one-fourth of the Muslims in America are African-Americans,
notably political leaders (including two members of Congress) and
many prominent athletes and musicians. Most others are first or
second generation immigrants, but some date back to immigrants
from the 1880-1910 era, and some can trace their families back to
the colonial era. The piece has numerous examples, plus a section
on "Religious freedom" that shows that Americans were aware of Islam
when they declared freedom of religion in the US Constitution.
One minor point I wasn't aware of is that the first country to
recognize the United States as an independent country was the
Sultanate of Morocco. It's worth adding that the US had generally
good relationships in the Arab world up through WWII. In the first
world war, Woodrow Wilson had refused to join Britain and France
in declaring war on the Ottoman Empire, and he later declined an
Anglo-French proposal that the US occupy Turkey when they were
divvying up the spoils of war. Before then, the US was primarily
known for its missionary schools like the American Universities
in Beirut and Cairo. (The Presbyterians who founded those schools
restricted their missionary work to Christians so as not to offend
Muslim authorities, but welcomed Muslims to study and respected
them, allowing the Universities to develop as intellectual centers
of liberal, nationalist, and anti-colonial thinking.) Arab/Muslim
respect for America only eroded after the US sided with Israel's
colonialist project and replaced Britain as the protector of the
aristocracies that claim personal ownership of the region's oil
US good will in the Arab world was built on a reputation for
fairness and mutual respect, but has since been squandered in an
anachronistic, foolhardy attempt to grab the spoils of empire.
In some sense, we've gone full circle. The first significant
number of Muslims to appear in colonial America were brought
here from Africa, and they proved to be especially difficult to
manage as slaves. Islam was then and now a religion that stood
for justice and fought back against injustice. It should not be
surprising that today's right-wing sees imposing Christianity
on Muslims as key to ending their disobedience, as that was
precisely what their forebears the slaveholders had done. After
all, the prime directive of conservatism is to defend hierarchy
by forcing everyone into their "proper" place. Of course, that
was easier to do before conservative institutions like slavery
and the inquisition were discredited, but the more we live in
a world where people with money think they can buy anything,
the more we see even the hoariest fantasies of conservatism
come back to haunt us.
Some scattered links this week:
Richard Silverstein: Why "Reform" Islam?: This is mostly a response to
a NY Times piece,
Tim Arango: Experts Explain How Global Powers Can Smash ISIS.
(If I may interject, my own response is that the piece shows how low
the bar is to qualify as an "expert" on this subject.) Arango writes:
Talking to a diverse group of experts, officials, religious scholars
and former jihadis makes clear there is no consensus on a simple
strategy to defeat the Islamic State. But there are some themes --
like . . . pushing a broader reformation of Islam --
that a range of people who follow the group say must be part of a
Some of those "experts" go further in insisting that terrorism is
so intimately tied to Islam that only by "reforming" the latter can
it be purged of such instincts. Silverstein replies:
But even if we concede for argument's sake that there is some correlation,
no matter how tenuous, why do we blame an entire religion? Why do we blame
an entire sacred book when a tiny minority of a religion misinterpret it?
Why do we say the religion is at fault rather than the human beings who
betray or distort it?
Baruch Goldstein was a mass murderer who killed 29 Palestinian Muslim
worshippers at a religious shrine. He did this in the name of his twisted
form of Judaism (which I prefer to call settler Judaism to distinguish it
from normative Judaism). Did I hear Tim Arango or anyone else wring their
hands about the correlation between Torah and mass murder? Even if I did,
should I have?
There is nothing wrong with Torah. Just because Jews misread their
sacred text, must I blame the text itself?
The problems here are so ridiculous it's hard to enumerate them.
One, of course, is scale: there are over a billion Muslims in the
world today, and hardly any of them present a "terrorist" threat,
so why try to discredit the majority's religion? And who are we to
decide to reform what they believe? Religions are changed by prophets,
not by academics or politicians, and for lots of reasons it's ever
getting harder to do that. Established religions like Christianity
are certain non-starters, as they've already been rejected. Doubt
is easier than replacement, so maybe atheism, secular humanism, or
Marxism might make a dent, especially if one attempted to apply such
"reform" here as well as there -- but even the Soviets weren't very
effective at banishing old religions. So why even talk about such
Well, it's mostly transference: our way of saying that they're
the problem. The facts rather argue differently. At the simplest
level, you can compare the frequency and size of acts of violence
by Muslims that occur in Europe and the US -- what we like to call
"terrorism" -- with the same measure of acts of violence by the US
and Europe in the Muslim world, and you'll find that there are far
more of the latter than the former. Also, if you put them on a
timeline, you'll find that the latter predate the former (at least
for any time after the early 8th century). Maybe the religions or
the ideologies of the west are the ones that should be reformed?
A more promising route might be to find a sense of justice that is
acceptable to both (or all) religions, and build on that. But the
key to doing so isn't dominating the other into submission. It is
looking into oneself to find something that might work as common
ground. Unfortunately, you don't get to be an "expert" on ISIS by
Also see another of Silverstein's pieces:
"Remember the Stranger, for You Yourselves Were Strangers:
This could just as well be the motto of the United States as one of the
cardinal verses in the Torah. It should be stamped on Bibi Netanyahu's
forehead since he violates this precept virtually every day that he
maintains prison camps for African refugees, who he refuses to grant
asylum or even an application process. For those who take the passage
to heart, it means be humble, remember the refugee, show kindness and
hospitality to the less fortunate. The Republican presidential candidates
apparently don't read their Bibles. Or if they do, they're reading the
The GOP is now making hay out of the Paris terror attacks. Each
candidate falls all over himself to be more punitive, more intolerant
than the next. 23 governors, including one Democrat, have said they
will refuse to accept Syrian refugees within their states. This,
despite the fact that governors have no say in immigration matters
and may not expel legal refugees. That's the job of the federal
government. But don't tell the governors that. It might educate them
about the separate powers delegated to the states and federal
government. A little something called the Constitution.
Another historical fact worth mentioning: in 1938, 937 European
Jews boarded the S.S. St. Louis en route to America where they hoped
to find refuge from Hitler's encroaching hordes. They waited for
months in Cuba and other sites while their supporters sought a safe
haven in this country. At long last, they gave up and sailed back to
Europe. Where 250 of them were swallowed in the Holocaust and
exterminated along with 6-million other European Jews.
There is a catastrophe enveloping Syria in which nearly 200,000
civilians have died. 500,000 Syrians have fled toward Europe and any
other safe harbor they might find. These are not terrorists, not ISIS,
though most are Muslim. There is nothing criminal in being either
Syrian, a Muslim or a refugee. Despite what viewers saw on this FoxNews
panel which quoted approvingly Winston Churchill's bit of colonial
Islamophobia: "Islam is as dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog."
It would take FoxNews to dredge up 19th century British religious-cultural
imperialism, spoken by the leader who epitomized empire in all its
Yousef Munayyer: There Is Only One Way to Destroy ISIS: This says
pretty much what I said last week, except that I didn't feel the need
to cast the optimal outcome as the destruction of ISIS. I think it's
clear that ISIS will adapt to conditions, so I'd say that the thing
to do is to change the conditions to render ISIS much less malign.
Munayyer is aiming at the same result, but he's pitching it to people
who assume that destroying ISIS is a necessity, but who are flexible
and sensible enough to comprehend that just going into ISIS territory
and killing (or as we like to call it, liberating) everyone won't do
the trick (even if it is possible, which isn't at all clear). Munayyer
draws the picture this way:
I've found that the best way to think about comprehensive counter-terror
strategy is the boiling-pot analogy. Imagine that you're presented with
a large pot of scalding water and your task is to prevent any bubbles
from reaching the surface. You could attack each bubble on its way up.
You could spot a bubble at the bottom of the pot and disrupt it before
it has a chance to rise. Many bubbles might be eliminated in this way,
but sooner or later, bubbles are going to get to the surface, especially
as the temperature rises and your counter-bubble capabilities are
The other pathway is to turn down, or off, the flame beneath the
pot -- to address the conditions that help generate terrorism. When
it comes to the question of ISIS in particular and broader terrorism
in general, Western counter-terror strategy has focused on the bubbles
and not the flame. While significant resources have been invested in
intelligence and homeland security, too few have been invested in
resolving the conditions that generate terrorism. In fact, too often,
the West has contributed significantly to those conditions.
Munayyer blames the US for invading Iraq, but while key leadership
of ISIS came from the anti-American resistance in Iraq, the context
which allowed them to claim statehood was the civil war in Syria. End
that civil war and ISIS can no longer claim statehood and caliphate.
That still leaves the concept, and we've seen that the concept can
inspire guerrilla groups and lone wolves elsewhere, but concepts are
a poor substitute for reality. Ending that civil war is no easy task,
partly because every belligerent group believes they can ultimately
impose their will by force -- a fantasy fueled by foreign support --
and partly because every group fears that the others will treat it
unjustly. To turn the heat down, you have to phase out the foreign
interests, convince each group that its cause is futile, and get
each group to accept a set of strictures that will ensure fair and
equal treatment for all. ISIS might well be the last group to join
into a peace agreement, and it may take force to get the leaders of
ISIS to see that their war is futile, but the vow to destroy them
is premature: a peace which includes them is much sounder than the
perpetual war you get from excluding them or the stench of martyrdom
that remains even if you manage to kill them all. Moreover, as you
reduce the heat, the popular support that the leaders depend on will
After Paris, no one wants to speak about ISIS in terms other than
its unconditional destruction, yet when they do so, they reveal how
little they understand ISIS, and how little they know about themselves.
France and Britain still like to think of their recent empires as some
sort of blessing to mankind, but their actual history is full of
contempt, repression, racism, and bloody violence. The former colonial
master of Syria was no arbitrary target for ISIS, a point which was
underscored by how quickly Hollande was able to reciprocate by bombing
Raqqa. Similarly, New York and Washington were not picked for 9/11
because they would look good on TV. The US was cited for specific
offenses against the Muslim world, and Bush wasted no time proving
America's culpability by doing exactly what Bin Laden wanted: by
sending his army in to slaughter Muslims in foreign lands, starting
with Afghanistan. Bush did that because was locked into an imperial
mindset, believing that America's power was so great he could force
any result he wanted, and that America's virtue was so unquestioned
that he never needed to give a thought to why or how. And Hollande,
ostensibly a man of the left, proved the same. (Indeed, so does
Bernie Sanders -- see the link below -- even though he's neither
as careless nor as cocky as Bush.)
Protester gets punched at Trump rally. Trump: "Maybe he deserved to get
roughed up": Billmon has been obsessed this week with Trump-as-Fascist
analogies (see his
Twitter feed), but this is one
story that brings the point home. The thing that distinguished Mussolini
and Hitler was not that they held conservative views but that they were
so bloody minded about it: they were bullies, eager to fight, anxious to
draw blood, and they started with beating up bystanders who looked at them
funny. They celebrated such violence, and the more power they grabbed the
more they flaunted it. Trump may not be in their league, but he's doing
something more than merely condoning this "roughing up" -- he's feeding
his crowd's frenzy of hate. I thought Jim Geraghty was onto something
when he described Bush's supporters as "voting to kill." Trump's fans
are basically the same folks, but now he's offering them something more
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't
have time for this shit right now):
David Atkins: White Resentment of Welfare Is More Than Just About Racism
Now: Builds on a NY Times piece on Kentucky,
Alec MacGillis: Who Turned My Blue State Red?, noting that Republican
voters are as harsh and unforgiving of the white poor as they are of blacks,
etc. I can think of anecdotal evidence that confirms this, and it revolves
around shame: the belief that we are each personally responsible for our
success and failure. Part of the trick is to get the "failures" to blame
themselves and drop out of the political process -- the only way poorer
states vote red is when poor people give up on voting their own interest.
And part of it is that marginally successful people think they're immune
from failure thanks to their superior characters.
Benjamin Balthaser: Jews Without Money: Toward a Class Politics of
Anti-Zionism: Starts by noting the class divide between the rich
patrons of the Jewish National Fund and the middle class Jewish Voice
for Peace protesters outside. I figured he would expand on this by
noting how often rich Jews have supported Zionism almost as a way of
shuttling their poor brethren from Russia to Israel -- Lord Balfour,
after all, addressed his Declaration to Baron von Rothschild, the
richest Jew of his time and the one he most wanted to ingratiate
himself with. Instead, Balthaser goes off in other directions, all
Tom Boggioni: Ex-CIA director: White House ignored months of warnings
about 9/11 to avoid leaving 'paper trail' of culpability: Some of
these stories are familiar, although Tenet used to be more dedicated
to sucking up to Bush, whose indifference to Al-Qaeda before 9/11 was
exceeded only by his demagogic opportunism after.
Daniel Marans: How Wall Street's Short-Term Fixation Is Destroying
the Economy: The business management motto at the root of
short-termism is "make your quarters, and you'll make your year."
Of course in the real world businesses stumble from time to time,
so managers have learned to adjust, packing the quarters they blow
with all the losses they've been hiding to make it easier to make
new quarters, the year be damned. Marans notes that corporate
reinvestment of profits averaged 48% from 1952-84 but dropped to
22% from 1985-2013. The obvious reason is that high pre-Reagan
taxes favored reinvesting profits, whereas low taxes made it less
painful to extract those profits and put them elsewhere -- indeed
set up a dynamic of owners devouring their companies (a practice
which vulture capitalists soon perfected). There are a couple
more epicycles to this diagram: tying CEO compensation to the
stock market helped to ween top management from the workforce
and turn them into stock manipulators, opening up all sorts of
opportunities for insider trading scams. This, in turn, makes
the stock market more volatile, an opportunity for quick traders
to trample over ordinary investors, reducing the quantum of
short-term thinking from the quarter to weeks, days, minutes.
Ben Railton: For More Than 200 Years, America Has Shunned a 'War on
Islam': Looks like Railton has read the Wikipedia article I opened
with, although he adds a little more on the Barbary Wars (which gave
the Marines that "shores of Tripoli" stanza). Along similar lines, see
John Nichols: Muslims Have Been Living in America Since Before the
Rich Yeselson: The Decline of Labor, the Increase of Inequality:
Useful, informative piece on the decline of labor unions in recent
Senator Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States:
Fairly major speech by Sanders attempting to establish a "democratic
socialism" brand name that is so modest and reasonable it's as American
as apple pie. I haven't read this closely: if I did, I'd probably find
much to second guess (and some things to outright oppose, minimally
including much of the end section on ISIS). On the other hand, as I
get older and more modest in my ambitions, I find myself gravitating
more toward Keynes than Marx, and more to FDR's "second bill of rights"
than more radical manifestos, and those are things that are central to
By the way, I backed into this link from
Mike Konczal: Thoughts on Bernie Sanders's Democratic Socialism and
the Primary. Also note that one thing Konczal cites is a new book
by Joseph Stiglitz: Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy:
An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity (he mentions hardcover
and Kindle, but a paperback is also available) -- a book I intend to
pick up ASAP. He also mentions Lane Kenworthy's Social Democratic
America, which makes the case for increasing government spending
up toward Scandinavian levels -- an argument I have some sympathy for,
but I wouldn't neglect the smarter rules Stiglitz (and others like
Dean Baker) argue for, and I can think of some times the Scandinavians
haven't managed to do yet. (Kenworthy also has an outline and parts of
a future book, The Good Society,
Konczal doesn't mention this, but there is at
least one more "vision of left-liberalism": see the pro-union books
of Thomas Geoghegan: Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? How
the European Model Can Help You Get a Life and Only One Thing
Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement.
Finally, several pieces to file under "Americans Acting Like Jerks":
Sunday, November 15. 2015
It's been a good week for warmongering anti-Islamist bigots, what
with the Kurdish "liberation" of ISIS-held Sinjar, the ISIS-blamed
bombing of a Russian airliner, the drone-murder of reality TV star
"Jihadi John," and ISIS-linked murderous assault in Paris on the
innocent fans of a band called Eagles of Death Metal. Ann Coulter
was so thrilled she tweeted that America just elected Donald Trump
as its next president. Shell-shocked post-Benghazi! Democrats were
quick to denounce it all as terrorism, using the precise words of
the Republican thought police. Someone even proposed changing the
Freedom Fries to "French Fries" in solidarity. French president
François Hollande declared that the Paris attacks meant war,
momentarily forgetting that he had already started the same war
when France joined the anti-ISIS bombing party in Syria. He and
other decried this "attack on western civilization." Gandhi could
not be reached, but he's probably sticking to his line that
western civilization would be a good idea.
I'll return to this subject below, but the main point to make
up here is that this is above all a time to keep your cool. In
fact, take a couple steps back and try to recover some of the
cool we've lost ever since demonizing ISIS became so ubiquitous
nobody gives it a second thought. I have no wish to defend them,
but I will point out that what they're accused of is stuff that
virtually all armies have done throughout history. Also that
they exist because governments in Damascus and Baghdad became
so violently oppressive that millions of people (who in normal
times want peace and prosperity as much as everyone else does)
became so desperate as to see them as the lesser evil. No doubt
ISIS can be brutal to those under their thumb, but ISIS could
not exist without some substantial measure of public support,
and that means two things: one is that to kill off ISIS you'd
have to kill an awful lot of people, revealing yourself to be
an even more brutal monster; the other is that you can't end
this by simply restoring the old Damascus and Baghdad powers,
because they will inevitably revert to type. Yet who on the US
political spectrum has a plan to do anything different?
Before this flare up I had something more important I wanted to
write about: inequality. Admittedly, war is more urgent: it has a
way of immediately crowding out all other problems. But the solution
is also much simpler: just don't do it. All you need to know about
war has been said many times, notably by people like A.J. Muste and
David Dellinger. It might be argued that inequality is the root of
war, or conversely that equitable societies would never have any
reason to wage war. The ancient justification for war was always
loot. And while we've managed to think of higher, more abstract
and idealized concepts for justifying war, there's still an awful
lot of looting going on. In America, we call that business.
The piece I've been thinking about is a Bloomberg editorial that
appeared in the Wichita Eagle:
Ramesh Ponnuru: Is income inequality a big deal? He starts:
We conservatives tend to get less worked up about economic inequality
than liberals do, and I think we're right about that.
We should want most people, and especially poor people, to be able
to get ahead in absolute terms. We should want to live in a society
with a reasonable degree of mobility rather than one where people are
born into relative economic positions they can never leave.
But so long as those conditions are met, the ratio of the incomes
of the top 1 percent to the median worker should be fairly low on our
list of concerns; and if those conditions aren't met, we should worry
about our failure to meet them rather than their effects on inequality.
If you take "worked up" in the sense of bothered, sure, but if you
mean concerned, his disclaimer is less true. The bare fact is that
virtually every principle and proposal conservatives hold dear is
designed to increase inequality. Cutting taxes allows the
rich to keep more income and concentrate wealth, lifting them up
further. Cutting food stamps and other "entitlements" pushes the
poor down, also increasing inequality. Maybe desperation will nudge
some people off welfare into low wage jobs, further depressing the
labor market and allowing savvy businessmen to reap more profits.
Of course, making it harder for workers to join unions works both
ways -- lower wages, higher profits -- and conservatives are in the
forefront there. They're also in favor of deregulating business --
never deny the private sector an opportunity to reap greater profits
from little things like pollution or fraud. They back "free trade"
agreements, designed mostly to protect patent (property) owners and
let businesses expand into more profitable markets overseas, at the
minor cost of outsourcing American jobs -- actually a double plus
as that outsourcing depresses the labor market, meaning lower wages
and higher profits. Sandbagging public education advantages those
who can afford private schools. Saddling working class upstarts with
college debt helps keep the children of the rich ahead. And the list
goes on and on. Maybe you can come up with some conservative hot list
items that don't drop straight to the bottom line (abortion? guns?
drug prohibition? gambling? war? -- one could argue that all of those
hurt the working class more than the rich, but I doubt that's really
the point). Still, you won't find any conservative proposals to counter
From time immemorial the very purpose of conservatism has been to
defend the rulers against the masses. From time to time that's required
some adjustments to conservative thinking: in America at least, cons
no longer defend the prerogatives of kings and titled aristocracy (not
that they have any problems with the Saudis or Hashemites, or nearly
any tin-pot dictator who lets their companies profit); and they've
given up on slavery (and the most overt expressions of racism), but
still can't stand the idea of unions, and they never have trusted
democracy. For a while they liked the idea that America offered a
chance for equal opportunity (without guaranteeing equal results),
an idea Ponnuru is still fond of, not that he'd actually cross any
of his betters by suggesting we do something about it. For one thing
they'd probably point out that equal opportunity is how we wound up
with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, whereas the worst you'd have to
put up with in a closed oligarchy is someone like Jeb Bush (or, pick
your poison, Donald Trump).
Ponnuru refers to an article by
George Packer: The Republican Class War, probably because the
article starts off a "reformocon" conference organized by Ponnuru's
wife April (high among the Republican Party's "family values" is
nepotism). The reformocons have a book full of policy proposals
that allegedly help the middle if not the lower class, but none of
the things Packer mentions looks promising. Ponnuru cites a study
on opportunity mentioned by Packer then dismisses it with another
study on something else. He continues:
When he moved to macroeconomics, Packer was on even shakier ground:
"Inequality saps the economy by draining the buying power of Americans
whose incomes have stagnated, forcing them to rely on debt to fund
education, housing, and health care. At the top, it creates deep
pools of wealth that have nowhere productive to go, leading to asset
bubbles in capital markets bearing little or no relation to the health
of the overall economy. (Critics call this the "financialization" of
the economy.) These fallouts from inequality were among the causes of
the Great Recession."
Saying that "inequality" has caused income stagnation is
question-begging. If most Americans are experiencing stagnant incomes,
that would cause difficulties regardless of how the top 1 percent is
doing. In the 1980s and 1990s, though, income growth for most people
coincided with rising inequality. And the theory that inequality
leads to financial crises has a weak evidentiary basis.
Uh, 1907? 1929? 2008? That's a pretty strong series. Maybe some
lesser recessions don't correlate so well: 1979-81 was induced by
the Fed's anti-inflation hysteria, so the recovery was unusual as
well. Income stagnation also started with the early 1980s recession,
as did the first major tax cuts for the rich, although even larger
sources of inequality that decade were trade deficits (resulting
in a major sell-off of assets to foreign investors) and real estate
fraud (bankrupting the S&L industry, resulting in a recession).
In the 1990s the main sources of inequality were the massive bid-up
of the stock market and a loosening of bank regulations, and they
too led to a recession in 2001. The labor market did tigheten up
enough in the late 1990s for real wages to rise a bit, but that
was wiped out in the following recession, and the "Bush recovery"
was the worst to date at generating new jobs, as it was fueled
almost exclusively by debt and fraud.
Packer finally splits from the reformocons, and Ponnuru's reaction
is basically a hand wave.
"The reformocons, for all their creativity and eloquence, don't grasp
the nature of the world in which their cherished middle-class Americans
actually live," Packer said. "They can't face its heartlessness."
I don't mean to sound heartless myself when I say that no sensible
policy agenda is going to protect all towns and industries from the
effects of global competition and technological change. But most members
of the vast American middle class aren't looking for work in the steel
mills or wishing they could be.
Ponnuru may not relish it, but being heartless is part of what it
takes to be a conservative these days. So is being a devious little
prevaricator. Let me close this section with a couple paragraphs from
Packer (starting with the one on macro that Ponnuru thinks he disproved,
because it's so very succinctly stated):
Inequality saps the economy by draining the buying power of Americans
whose incomes have stagnated, forcing them to rely on debt to fund
education, housing, and health care. At the top, it creates deep pools
of wealth that have nowhere productive to go, leading to asset bubbles
in capital markets bearing little or no relation to the health of the
over-all economy. (Critics call this the "financialization" of the
economy.) These fallouts from inequality were among the causes of the
Great Recession.Inequality is also warping America's political system. Greatly
concentrated wealth leads to outsized political power in the hands
of the few -- even in a democracy with free and fair elections --
which pushes government to create rules that favor the rich. It's
no accident that we're in the era of Citizens United. Such rulings
give ordinary Americans the strong suspicion that the game is rigged.
Democratic institutions no longer feel legitimate when they continue
to produce blatantly unfair outcomes; it's one of those insights that
only an élite could miss. And it's backed up by evidence as well as
by common sense. Last year, two political scientists found that, in
recent times, policy ideas have rarely been adopted by the U.S.
government unless they're favored by corporations and the wealthy --
even when those ideas are supported by most Americans. The persistence
of the highly unpopular carried-interest loophole for hedge-fund
managers is simply the most unseemly example.
Some scattered links this week:
Dan Sanchez: On Veterans Day, Who Should Thank Whom?:
Randolph Bourne famously wrote, "War is the health of the State." By that
he meant that foreign wars nourish domestic tyranny because they place
people into a siege mentality that makes them more apt to give up their
freedoms for the sake of the war effort. And indeed, the American national
security state, from militarized cops to domestic spying, has metastasized
under the cover of the War on Terror.
So, no, the activity of U.S. soldiers has not secured our freedoms, but
eroded them. More specifically, contrary to the common argument discussed
above, the troops are not busy protecting freedom of speech for all
Americans, including those who are anti-war. Rather, by contributing to
foreign wars, they make it more likely that someday the country's siege
mentality will get so bad that speech (especially anti-war speech) will
Since foreign wars are inimical to domestic freedom, it is those who
strenuously oppose war who are actually fighting for freedom. If not for
opponents and skeptics of war, we would have even more war than we do.
And in that case, individual freedoms would have been even more infringed
I grew up visiting houses that had pictures of young men in uniform
on their shelves and mantles, mostly from WWII, some from Korea. My
grandfather went to Europe for the Great War: I don't recall any photos
but he came back with a couple ribbons and medals. Some relatives posted
a couple of those photos on Facebook, and I found them touching -- not
so much that I thought they did anything worthwhile as because they
were just ordinary Americans who happened to get caught up in America's
last popular war. On the other hand, we had no such photos in my house,
not because my father didn't get drafted into the war but because he
considered the experience so pointless. That probably contributed to
my skepticism about the army, but Vietnam sealed my opposition. Ever
since my opposition to war has only grown. I know a handful of people
who went to Iraq, and I have nothing to say to them: I can't thank
them because they did nothing worthwhile, and I can't apologize to
them because I did everything I reasonably could to keep them from
going. So for me all Veteran's Day does is remind me of old (and in
many cases now dead) men, who thankfully survived the holocaust and
returned to live relatively normal lives -- no one in my family
perished in that war -- something I can't say for the atrocities
that came later. The only heroes from those wars are the people
who opposed them.
David Atkins: The Morning After Paris: What Do We Do Now?:
A generally thoughtful piece, although sometimes he thinks himself into
odd positions, especially when he tries to counter straw puppets from
the left, but this bit of equivalence with the right resonates:
Ultimately, what drives both domestic jingoist conservatism and ISIL's
brand of extremism is a commitment to violent aggression beyond its own
borders, a weird fetishization of guns and gun violence, a misogynistic
hatred of sexual freedom for women and non-traditional relationships of
all kind, and a deep commitment to conservative religious fundamentalism
and patriarchal gerontocracy as the organizational structures of society.
Earlier he wrote:
The immediate reaction from many on the left is to simply blame the
problem on blowback, insisting that if Western powers simply stopped
trying to exert influence on the Middle East, terrorism would not
reach Western shores. Many liberals further argue that the social
problems in most middle eastern countries suffering from extremist
violence are the direct result of a history of imperialism and
These are thornier arguments to dismiss, not only because they
contain a great deal of truth, but also because unlike conservative
claims that are testable and false, the blowback argument is
He also charges liberals with "special pleading," which he tries
to disprove by comparing the CIA coups in Iran and Chile, noting
that the latter "has not led to decades of Chilean anti-American
terrorism." He doesn't bother adding that even after Pinochet fell
the US didn't impose sanctions on Chile, or shoot down Chilean air
liners, or blow up Chilean oil rigs -- clear instances of American
belligerence, some of which if done by anyone else would meet our
definition of terrorism. Nor does he admit that there's not much if
any case that Iran has actually committed any acts of anti-American
terror. Anti-American sentiment? Sure, but that's not unknown in
Chile either. But these are minor quibbles, and clearly the effects
of colonialism, imperialism, and cronyism on the Middle East are
more layered and more complex than this caricature. (Also note that
"blowback" isn't always so indirect: when the US armed the Afghan
mujahideen and Hekmatyar and Bin Laden later turned on the US, that
wasn't "unfalsifiable.") Atkins carries his confusion forward:
One could step back and remove all Western influence from the region,
both in Syria and in Iraq. One could simply let the Shi'ites, Kurds,
Syrian Assad loyalists and Syrian anti-Assad moderates (if any exist)
battle it out themselves and hope that some combination of the above
emerges victorious, trying not to draw any of their ire and taking
in as many refugees from the war-ravaged conflict zones as possible.
But it's highly unlikely that the attacks against the West would stop,
it's likely that their propaganda would be increasingly successful at
radicalizing young men in the West, and it's certainly true that
populations across Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East would
be greatly harmed by allowing ISIL to expand. Even if America and its
allies immediately abandoned all conflict in the Middle East, terrorism
would likely continue -- and even 30 years from now the Glenn Greenwalds
of the world would still say any such attacks were just so much blowback.
Those outcomes and that ideology are not acceptable at a moral or a
Atkins' conjecture here (and it's really nothing more) -- that Islamic
groups will continue to commit acts of terror in the West even if the US
and its allies cease all provocations -- is unfalsifiable as well, because
it's not going to be tested: US business has too much money at stake to
back away, and US military power has too much ego at stake to back down.
(One might imagine a political challenge to the latter, but it's hard to
see where it might come from: clearly not Clinton, and even nominal critics
of US war policy Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul are pretty compromised.) But
one reason to doubt Atkins is that no less an authority than Bin Laden has
stated that if the provocations cease, so will the attacks in the West. I'm
not sure that the anonymous intellects behind ISIS have thought this through
so rigorously, but Atkins seems to have bought the whole party line on their
inhumanity -- "an active group of murderous, barbaric theocratic cutthroats
who adore violence, desire and rape women as a matter of official policy,
desecrate and destroy monuments that have stood for thousands of years, and
seek to establish a regional and global caliphate with the goal of a final
battle against the Great Satan" -- a definition that is far outside the
bounds of any group in the history (and not just of Islam). It clearly
serves the interest of Americans who want to escalate the war against ISIS
to inflate such visions of evil, and I fear Atkins' repetition of these
claims just helps them out.
My own prescription for what the US should be doing is straightforward:
- We should eschew the use of force to settle any and all disputes in
the region (or anywhere else, really, but let's focus here on the Middle
East). Consequently, we should negotiate a multilateral arms embargo for
the entire region (including Egypt, Israel, the Arabian peninsula, Iran,
and Turkey), and we should move toward this unilaterally as long as doing
so doesn't create a vacuum to be filled with other arms suppliers.
- We should promote and facilitate negotiations aimed at resolving all
conflicts and protecting minority and individual human rights in accordance
with well-established international standards (like the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights).
- We should negotiate an international treaty which establishes a new
human right: to exile, which allows anyone jailed or otherwise endangered
anywhere to appeal to be granted asylum elsewhere.
- We should be willing to grant amnesty to anyone (including ISIS) that
agrees to participate in peaceable democratic conflict resolution. We
should recognize that disarmament is a goal of this process, not a
- We should back up these diplomatic appeals with economic aid.
Conversely, any nations that persist in using violence against their
own people and/or exporting violence abroad should be ostracized
with economic sanctions. (The BDS campaign against Israel is a start
How hard can that be to understand? But in today's media heat, who's
talking like that?
Some more related ISIS links:
Why John Kerry and the French president are calling ISIS "Daesh":
A little history on the ever-shifting arts of naming yourself and your
enemies. Kerry et al. don't like Islamic State (or IS) because it
suggests at least the potential of a single state representing all
Muslims, something they want to nip in the bud. So they've come up
with something meaningless and slightly exotic, DAESH (or Daesh)
derived from the transliterated Arabic initials (like Hamas). Still,
ISIS makes more sense to the rest of us, since it spatially delimits
the Islamic State within Iraq and Syria (actually more accurate than
the broader al-Sham they used to use, which got translated as Levant).
My takeaway is to use ISIS, since I think it is very important to
understand that their rump state is an artifact of the lost control
of the governments in Damascus and Baghdad. On the other hand, I'm
not sure that the aspiring but still pre-state groups in Libya,
Yemen, etc., are all that linked with ISIS. Still, Islamic State
is clearly a concept (and increasingly a brand name) that resonates
with a good many people outside Syria and Iraq. That matters mostly
because it means that even if the West smashes (or as Sarkozy put
it "exterminates") ISIS the concept will continue to inspire terror
groups indefinitely. Obama probably understood this when he talked
about "containing and degrading" ISIS -- words that now test as
namby-pamby (compared to defeat and exterminate).
DR Tucker: And That's the Way It Is: Live-Blogging the CBS Democratic
Debate: Bad timing, the evening after the Paris attacks. And, no
big surprise, the Democrats all vow to wage war:
In his opening statement, Sanders condemns the attacks and vows to "rid
this planet of ISIS" as president, before decrying income inequality,
the broken campaign finance system, and calling for a political revolution.
Clinton says prayers are not enough for Paris; we need resolve to bring
the world together to combat jihadist radicals. Clinton vows to fight
terrorism aggressively as president. O'Malley says his heart goes out
to the people of France, and says the US must work collaboratively with
other nations to thwart terrorism.
Sanders seems to prefer using Arab proxies in the war against ISIS,
calling this a "war for the soul of Islam." He doesn't that if this
metaphorical war is fought with real arms, armed warfare will be the
only winner. Clinton insists that ISIS "cannot be contained; it must
be defeated." She doesn't wonder what an American "victory" might mean
for the vanquished, or whether indeed there will be any. David Atkins
has a follow-up post to the one quoted above:
The Right Will Win if the Left Doesn't Forcefully Confront ISIS.
He applauds Hollande and Sanders for "sounding aggressively militaristic
in response." The idea is that leftish politicians should deliberately
act stupid and malicious in order to save electorates from electing
right-wingers who would act stupid and malicious, and in the process
really screw everything up. In the debate, at least, Sanders was able
to scold Clinton, reminding her that her Iraq War vote was profoundly
wrong. Atkins wants to squelch that dissent, and Sanders seems willing
to throw his career away going along. Indeed, it's reasonable to argue
that had the 2003 Iraq War not happened, ISIS would never have come
around. On the other hand, it did, and we're here. Still, that doesn't
make bowing to a flare-up of war fever right just because it is (for
the moment) popular. Saddam Hussein was painted as every bit as evil
then as ISIS is now. But it really doesn't matter how evil the enemy
is if you can't do anything constructive about it, and we've proven
that we can't. One more thing: while Sanders voted against Iraq, he
did vote for the post-9/11 Afghanistan War -- in the heat of the moment,
you might say. To my mind, that was the real strategic blunder.
Alissa J Rubin/Anne Barnard: France Strikes ISIS Targets in Syria in
Retaliation for Attacks: Hollande, having vowed to be "unforgiving
with the barbarians," takes the path with the least mental effort, not
to mention conscience, and goes straight after command headquarters
in Raqqa. Of course, they wouldn't have been able to react so quickly
except that they were already bombing Syria. The article also quotes
Nicolas Sarkozy saying, "We need everybody in order to exterminate
Daesh." Grammar isn't totally clear there, but the genocide word is.
Peter Beinart: ISIS Is Not Waging a War Against Western Civilization:
Mostly critiques some particularly dumb things Marco Rubio said. Beinart,
who has a checkered history of first supporting and then having second
thoughts about America's wars in the Middle East -- he wrote one book,
The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War
on Terror which can be read as why conservatives are clueless, and
another The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris. He
concludes here that "both morally and strategically, limiting -- and
ultimately eliminating -- the Islamic State's nightmarish dominion
over millions of human beings justifies war," but he also argues that
it's mostly geopolitics and not some clash of civilizations. One thing
I will add is that even if you accept Beinart's conclusion that war
against ISIS is justified, it doesn't follow that the US is the one
that should be fighting that war. Given Beinart's track record, he'll
figure that out . . . eventually.
Beinart's pre-Paris piece is better:
The Mindless Logic of Republican Foreign Policy: Sure, it's like
shooting sitting ducks. But at least he's still skeptical on Syria:
The experience of the last 15 years offers little reason to believe
that waging a larger war in Syria will make Syria more stable or
America more safe. But for most of the GOP presidential contenders,
that's irrelevant. It doesn't really matter where American foreign
policy leads, as long as America leads.
Peter Van Buren: Paris: You Don't Want to Read This:
But I do have this: stop what we have been doing for the last 14 years.
It has not worked. There is nothing at all to suggest it ever will work.
Whack-a-mole is a game, not a plan. Leave the Middle East alone. Stop
creating more failed states. Stop throwing away our freedoms at home on
falsehoods. Stop disenfranchising the Muslims who live with us. Understand
the war, such as it is, is against a set of ideas -- religious, anti-western,
anti-imperialist -- and you cannot bomb an idea. Putting western soldiers
on the ground in the MidEast and western planes overhead fans the flames.
Vengeance does not and cannot extinguish an idea.
Chris Floyd: Age of Despair: Reaping the Whirlwind of Western Support
for Extremist Violence:
Without the American crime of aggressive war against Iraq -- which, by
the measurements used by Western governments themselves, left more than
a million innocent people dead -- there would be no ISIS, no "Al Qaeda
in Iraq." Without the Saudi and Western funding and arming of an amalgam
of extremist Sunni groups across the Middle East, used as proxies to
strike at Iran and its allies, there would be no ISIS. Let's go back
further. Without the direct, extensive and deliberate creation by the
United States and its Saudi ally of a world-wide movement of armed Sunni
extremists during the Carter and Reagan administrations (in order to
draw the Soviets into a quagmire in Afghanistan), there would have been
no "War on Terror" -- and no terrorist attacks in Paris tonight.
[ . . . ]
I write in despair. Despair of course at the depravity displayed by
the murderers of innocents in Paris tonight; but an even deeper despair
at the depravity of the egregious murderers who have brought us to this
ghastly place in human history: those gilded figures who have strode
the halls of power for decades in the high chambers of the West, killing
innocent people by the hundreds of thousands, crushing secular opposition
to their favored dictators -- and again, again and again -- supporting,
funding and arming some of the most virulent sectarians on earth.
Jason Ditz: Yazidis Burn Muslim Homes in 'Liberated' Iraqi City of
Sinjar: What goes around comes around.
ISIS carried out several bloody attacks against the Yazidis early in
their takeover of the region, and labeled the homes of Sinjar's Sunni
residents as such, apparently to advise their forces to leave them
alone in their various crackdowns. Now, the homes labeled Sunni are
Sunnis are often the targets of violent recriminations after ISIS
loses control of cities and towns, under the presumption that anyone
ISIS wasn't persecuting (or at least was persecuting less publicly)
must've been secretly collaborating with them.
Patrick Cockburn: Paris Terror Attacks: No Security Can Stop ISIS --
the Bombers Will Always Get Through, and
Paris Attack: ISIS Has Created a New Kind of Warfare.
Graeme Wood: What ISIS Really Wants: This is evidently the source
of the notion that ISIS is obsessed with hastening the apocalypse
that Atkins cites in his pieces. I have no way of judging such views,
but I am skeptical that there is a single idea and a single motivation
behind a group the size of ISIS. I'll also note that there are plenty
of Christians who are similarly obsessed with end times, and while we
don't often talk about them, some have even had an inordinate amount of
influence when it comes to the Middle East. (One I am aware of was David
Lloyd George, Britain's Prime Minister who oversaw the Balfour Declaration,
which announced Britain's intention to facilitate the return of the Jews
to Palestine, as foretold in the Book of Revelations. Another, who's been
very vocal on the subject of late, is former GOP presidential candidate
Scott Atran: Mindless terrorists? The truth about Isis is much worse:
Another attempt to probe the ISIS mind, this one focusing on the
psychological appeal of jihad to young Western Muslims -- the
recruiting grounds for attacks like the ones in Paris. One lesson
I draw from this is the importance of establishing the perception
that the West treats the Muslim world fairly and justly. Another
is that the rising racism and bigotry that prevents Muslims from
assimilating in the West helps drive them against us.
If I stayed up a few more hours I could collect many more ISIS
links, but this will have to be enough for now. I doubt that my
main points will change any. And I don't mind the occasional
pieces that show you how maniacal ISIS can be. None prove that
the US military is the answer.