Sunday, January 25. 2015
Don't have much to show here, but enough to run. I wasn't able to
find anything very useful on renewed hostilities in eastern Ukraine:
I gather the central ("pro-western") government broke the cease fire,
and now they're complaining about civilian deaths caused by Russian
rockets. This is one of four major wars from 2014 -- Israel, Iraq,
and Syria -- that have been allowed to fester and grow by the inability
and/or unwillingness of the US to engage in diplomacy, especially with
Russia. That failure is rooted in the kneejerk US belief that foreign
affairs is always a test of will where only force matters. In particular,
the US has been seduced by the idea that all problems can be solved by
killing "bad guys" -- a notion that's rife in American culture, that
is the basic idea behind the drone warfare program, that excuses all
manner of secret operations. That American Sniper beat out
Selma both in the box office and Oscar nominations is par for
I skipped the "Israel Links" this week, not because I couldn't find
them but because I didn't feel a need to bother. If you do feel the
need, the first place to look is
Some scattered links this week:
Murtaza Hussain: Saudi Arabia's Tyrant King Misremembered as Man of Peace:
Point taken, although the late King Abdullah mostly continued policies
of his predecessors, both in savagely repressing any hints of dissent
in the Middle East's only real Islamic State and in promoting Salafist
fundamentalism throughout the Islamic world, generously subsidizing
interference in other nations' political affairs, always with cash and
often with guns. On the other hand, maybe he should be remembered as
"a man of peace": he was primarily responsible for signing the entire
Arab League up behind UNSC Resolutions 235 and 338 as the basis for
resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Acceptance of that proposal
would have been a major advance both for peace and for respect for
international law as a means of resolving belligerent disputes. But
Abdullah's proposal was simply ignored by US President GW Bush, who
preferred giving Israel's Arik Sharon carte blanche to create "new
facts on the ground." The episode was detailed in Ron Ruskind's book,
The One Percent Doctrine, describing an April 2002 meeting
between Abdullah and Bush:
Relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States
were in tatters. The Saudis had been stewing for more than a year, in
fact, ever since it became clear at the start of 2001 that this
administration was to alter the long-standing U.S. role of honest
broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to something less than
that. The President, in fact, had said in the first NSC principals
meeting of his administration that Clinton had overreached at the end
of his second term, bending too much toward Yasser Arafat -- who then
broke off productive Camp David negotiations at the final moment --
and that "We're going to tilt back ward Israel." Powell, a chair away
in the Situation Room that day, said such a move would reverse thirty
years of U.S. policy, and that it could unleash the new prime
minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Israeli army in ways that could be
dire for the Palestinians. Bush's response: "Sometimes a show of force
by one side can really clarify things."
What Abdullah was proposing was exactly what US official policy
had been since 1967, so Bush's response must have been shocking --
but Bush was himself half way between 9/11 and invading Iraq, so
his faith in force was running at a fever pitch. In one of his
notorious malaproprisms Bush later described Sharon as "a man of
peace." (Sharon's own autobiography was titled Warrior.)
Surely when Bush passes he at least won't be remembered as "a
man of peace" -- but obviously such words are cheap to political
figures who have so much to bury.
Glenn Greenwald: Compare and Contrast: Obama's Reaction to the Deaths
of King Abdullah and Hugo Chávez:
But when it comes to western political and media discourse, the only
difference that matters is that Chávez was a U.S. adversary while
Abdullah was a loyal U.S. ally -- which, by itself for purposes of
the U.S. and British media, converts the former into an evil villainous
monster and the latter into a beloved symbol of peace, reform and
Also, a few links for further study:
Adrian Bonenberger: There Are No War Heroes: A Veteran's Review of
American Sniper: I haven't seen Clint Eastwood's movie,
and it looks like the only way I might would be if I went alone --
my wife's reaction to every mention of the movie is so scabrous I
doubt I could focus with her present. I don't follow many people
on Twitter, but two I do -- Max Blumenthal and Matt Taibbi -- have
been relentless in attacking the film (e.g., see Taibbi's
American Sniper Is Almost Too Dumb to Criticize; I'm finding
many rebuttals to Blumenthal's line that "Chris Kyle was just a popular
mass murderer" but not the original source). I did read Nicholas Schmiddle's
June 2013 piece on sniper Chris Kyle
the Crosshairs) so have some sense of the story line, notably how he
cashed in on his war "service": his bestselling memoir, how he became a
"patriotic icon" for the gun crusade, and how he was shot and killed by a
PTSD-damaged soldier. A movie of his life would seem to have all sorts of
possibilities, and Eastwood showed himself capable of seeing more than one
side of a war in his two Iwo Jima films. But one of those possibilities
was to invest whole hog in the jingoism (and racism and murderousness)
that floated around Kyle -- that made him a "hero" to the powerful people
who patronized him. As Bonenberger points out, the controversy predates
This reflects a truth that the movie itself seeks to avoid: War is political,
and a movie about war is bound to make political pronouncements. When you
sit down to enjoy American Sniper, you are committing a political
act, and your evaluation of the movie, and Kyle as a person, reflects your
political attitudes. But it's more complicated than the simple equation
that progressives dislike it and conservatives enjoy it. Politics
notwithstanding, those who've seen it tend to describe the experience in
religious terms: awe-struck congregations of Americans seeing the Iraq War
the way it happened, traveling down the path to PTSD together. Ask around:
Be it Texas or Williamsburg, it's not uncommon to hear of packed theaters
with the patrons filing out in reverent silence after the closing credits.
The very notion that this movie is "non-partisan" or "apolitical" is
the most insidious notion of all. It asserts that fundamentally we all
agree on wars that many of us see as very foolish and self-destructive
(not to mention criminal) acts. What I fear is that time is being used
to cement a mythic memory of the "Terror Wars" -- myths that only pave
the way for more war.
Peter Maas: How Clint Eastwood Ignores History in American Sniper.
Sebastian Budgen & Stathis Kouvelakis: Greece: Phase One:
Useful background on the development of Greece's leftist Syriza
party, which evidently won big in Greece's elections today. Also
Tariq Ali: Greece's Fight Against European Austerity.
Mike Konczal: The 2003 Dividend Tax Cut Did Nothing to Help Real
Economy: Supposedly, cuts in dividends would spur investment
and (maybe) increase employee compensation but it did neither --
especially if you compare affected C-corporations with unaffected
S-corporations. Did lead to more payouts to already rich owners.
DR Tucker: Let Choice Ring!: Starts with a quote from Mitt Romney
supporting woman's right to choose to abort a pregnancy, something he
believed in when running for the Senate from Massachusetts in 1994 but
has conveniently evolved his views on since the anti-choice stand has
become Republican dogma. Tucker collects that and other links here,
and take a strong stand in defense of abortion rights, something more
pressing than it's been in many years precisely because it's being so
A Perilous Year for Abortion Rights, a NY Times editorial.)
Unfortunately, Tucker sinks to exploiting various prejudices in
support of his position. For instance, his link to the NY Times
piece reads: "The radical anti-abortion movement in this country
is out own Boko Haram, trying to kidnap women's rights in the
name of an extremist and backward ideology." That anti-choice
activists and Boko Haram may share a similar psychology about
women doesn't justify exploiting anti-Islam prejudice against
the former. Tucker goes on to argue that ending medical abortion
would result in more "welfare queens" (indeed, a much larger
welfare state), as if that might dissuade "your Republican
friends." Appealing to bigots may seem like a cute idea, but
one doubts doing so would ever do any good. There used to be a
strong conservative case for abortion rights: parenthood is a
great personal responsibility, and the social order depends on
individual commitment to and fulfilling of that responsibility.
Commitment derives from choice: a society where people choose
to be parents is far stronger than one where it happens by
haphazard chance. You don't hear arguments like that any more
because Republicans have settled on building a coalition of
bigots and haters, and there's still a sizable faction out to
keep women in "their place" -- and that seems to trump freedom,
responsibility, or any other ideal that fleetingly enters their
Sunday, January 11. 2015
The big news of the week was the
massacre in the Paris offices of
the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, where ten journalists (mostly
cartoonists) and two police were gunned down. This was followed by
a shooting of a police officer at Montrouge, and an attempt to take
hostages at a kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes, resulting
in four more deaths (five counting the assailant). French officials
hunted down and killed the two Charlie Hebdo shooters, but the story
doesn't end there. Whereas mass shootings by non-Muslims in Europe
and America (including one in
Norway in 2011 that killed 77 people) are typically treated as
"lone wolf" aberrations, any such violence committed by Muslims
automatically triggers a chain reaction where all the usual reactors
resume the positions they took after 9/11, mostly to escalate US,
European, and Israeli violence against Muslims. The effect is much
like watching a train wreck, where no matter how clear every detail
seems, one is helpless to prevent or even affect the crash.
The most immediate response has been a huge outpouring of racist
rhetoric from Europe's right, especially from the strategically
placed, shamelessly opportunistic Marine le Pen. And as rightists
almost reflexively respond, this has already resulted in a number
of attacks against mosques in France. Meanwhile, more respectable
elites have tended to the propaganda campaign. In particular,
Charlie Hebdo has become an icon of free speech, championed by
people who spend billions of dollars every year to shape public
discourse to advance their own agendas. Over the longer term they
will use this attack as an excuse to launch -- actually, to
continue -- many more of their own. Moreover, those attacks --
indeed, this week's mosque attacks -- will scarcely raise a
ripple in the western press, or a twinge of conscience in the
Needless to say, this kneejerk reaction is insane. If, say, one
suffers and barely survives a heart attack, the normal response is
to take a look at your own life and see you can do better -- stop
smoking, eat differently, exercise more, take a daily aspirin,
whatever. It's not to go out and bomb Afghanistan, or burn down
a convenient mosque. And this is not because you feel personally
culpable for the heart attack. It's more because the only change
you can make is to yourself. Yet terror attacks, which for nearly
everyone are mere impersonal news, are never allowed to evoke a
moment's self-examination. There's a complex psychology behind
this, but it's ultimately because the elites (especially the
right-wingers who predominate) have something to hide, and much
to fear if this is ever discussed rationally.
The attackers in Paris, for instance, identified themselves as
affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda was effectively invented in the
1980s when the United States recruited Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
to raise an Islamist army ("the mujahideen") to sabotage the Soviets
in Afghanistan. The US was arguably naive to do so, but American
Cold Warriors had often (and successfully) used religion against
"Godless Communism," and colonial powers had routinely recruited
Islamic clerics to help control the masses -- in fact, the US used
Iranian clerics to organize the mobs that helped overthrow Iran's
democracy in 1953. So what could go wrong? (This was, after all,
the Reagan administration, where naivete was little less than a
When recruited by the US, the Saudi monarchy and Pakistan's
Islamist dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq built their Afghan war
machine with the clerics they had in hand -- the fundamentalist
Wahhabi and Deobandi sects, militantly orthodox especially in
their excoriation of heretics (especially Shiites) and used to
using their religious beliefs as a platform for war -- nor did
they limit their scope to Afghanistan: since its founding,
Pakistan has been obsessed with India, while Saudi Arabia was
locked in a long struggle with secularizing, socialist, and
nationalist forces throughout the Arab world. It was only a
matter of time before the muhahideen turned their venom against
their patrons, especially the infidel ones.
Still, jihadism was never more than a sliver movement within
Islam. If you read Gilles Kepel's definitive history of jihadism
up to 2000 (Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam), you
will see that before 9/11 the movement had largely burned itself
out. In that context, 9/11 was a "hail Mary pass" -- an effort
not to strike the enemy so much as to provoke a monster, which
would then invade the Land of Islam and drive the faithful to
take up arms. Thanks to the ignorance and ego of GW Bush, Bin
Laden was successful in his provocation. His only disappointment
was in how few Muslims rose to fight alongside him. But a small
number did, joining the ranks of those caught up in local wars --
some like Iraq the result of US imperial adventures, others like
Syria only slightly removed -- adding a religious fire to those
conflicts. And very rarely, as in Paris last week, the blowback
All this has been plainly obvious for many years, even as a
succession of presidents (and both apologists and antagonists)
have been oblivious to the consequences of their actions. And
by consequences I don't mean the rare blowback event -- I mean
the obviously direct consequences of aerial attacks and covert
operations, of sanctions and propping up cruel dictators, of
repeatedly proving to the world that US leaders have no respect
for foreign lives, least of all Muslim ones. There are a great
many reasons why the US should withdraw from such behaviors.
Fear of reprisal (of blowback) is a relatively minor one, but
even it isn't as silly as refusing to do the right thing, and
insisting on repeating past mistakes, for fear of looking like
you're giving in to terrorism. Elites like to brand terrorists
as cowards, but the real cowardice is failing to do the right
thing for fear of looking weak.
Only by changing our ways will this problem ever go away.
Some more links and comments follow (some on other topics):
Juan Cole: Sharpening Contradictions: Why al-Qaeda attacked Satirists
in Paris: This is a variant, or complement to, my argument above.
I'll add one small note on return on investment. Al-Qaeda sacrificed
three (maybe five, or a bit more) fighters on this operation. How many
people they killed may matter as a provocation, but this isn't a war
of attrition. So it really comes down to recruitment: how many new
fighters will flock to Al-Qaeda after this? That, in turn, depends on
how many Muslims are alienated by France's reaction (and any other
countries where right-wingers use this to try to advance). The number
doesn't have to be very big to make the action worthwhile. But also
understand that they're starting from a deficit, because this act
itself is as offensive to most Muslims as it is to everyone else.
The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment
pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most
Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam.
France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim
heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that
they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular
Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often
also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in
the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate
people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern
fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai.
In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious,
the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.
Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall
of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to
ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start
creating a common political identity around grievance against
discrimination. [ . . . ]
The only effective response to this manipulative strategy (as
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani tried to tell the Iraqi Shiites a decade
ago) is to resist the impulse to blame an entire group for the actions
of a few and to refuse to carry out identity-politics reprisals.
Teju Cole: Unmournable Bodies: Since the massacre, I've seen many
Charlie Hebdo cartoons in my twitter feed -- a good many offensive,
stupid, or both. I have no idea how representative they are -- I've
read that the magazine is non-partisan, analogous to Mad in
the US, so there must be a mix (if not a balance) of views. And I
know there's no lack of offensive and/or stupid cartoons on the right
in America, and that (especially where Obama is concerned) these all
too frequently slump into blatant racism. Of course, if you go back
in history you can find even worse: see, for a relevant example, the
cartoons reproduced in John W. Dower's War Without Mercy: Race
and Power in the Pacific War for shockingly racist depictions
of Japanese during WWII -- war always brings out the worst in people.
None of this is meant as excuse: as Hamas put it in their PR reaction:
"differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder." But we
shouldn't forget that Charlie Hebdo wasn't singled out for attack
because it represented a free press; it was singled out because it
had allowed itself to become a propaganda organ in a virtual war
against (at least one strain of political) Islam.
More than a dozen people were killed by terrorists in Paris this week.
The victims of these crimes are being mourned worldwide: they were human
beings, beloved by their families and precious to their friends. On
Wednesday, twelve of them were targeted by gunmen for their affiliation
with the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Charlie
has often been aimed at Muslims, and it's taken particular joy in flouting
the Islamic ban on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. It's done more than
that, including taking on political targets, as well as Christian and
Jewish ones. The magazine depicted the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Ghost in a sexual threesome. Illustrations such as this have been cited
as evidence of Charlie Hebdo's willingness to offend everyone.
But in recent years the magazine has gone specifically for racist and
Islamophobic provocations, and its numerous anti-Islam images have been
inventively perverse, featuring hook-nosed Arabs, bullet-ridden Korans,
variations on the theme of sodomy, and mockery of the victims of a
massacre. It is not always easy to see the difference between a certain
witty dissent from religion and a bullyingly racist agenda, but it is
necessary to try. Even Voltaire, a hero to many who extol free speech,
got it wrong. His sparkling and courageous anti-clericalism can be a
joy to read, but he was also a committed anti-Semite, whose criticisms
of Judaism were accompanied by calumnies about the innate character of
This week's events took place against the backdrop of France's ugly
colonial history, its sizable Muslim population, and the suppression,
in the name of secularism, of some Islamic cultural expressions, such
as the hijab. Blacks have hardly had it easier in Charlie Hebdo: one
of the magazine's cartoons depicts the Minister of Justice Christiane
Taubira, who is of Guianese origin, as a monkey (naturally, the defense
is that a violently racist image was being used to satirize racism);
another portrays Obama with the black-Sambo imagery familiar from Jim
Crow-era illustrations. [ . . . ]
But it is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech
without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech. It is
possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is
possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal.
Moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of
the responsibility of making distinctions. The A.C.L.U. got it right
in defending a neo-Nazi group that, in 1978, sought to march through
Skokie, Illinois. The extreme offensiveness of the marchers, absent
a particular threat of violence, was not and should not be illegal.
But no sensible person takes a defense of those First Amendment rights
as a defense of Nazi beliefs. The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists
were not mere gadflies, not simple martyrs to the right to offend:
they were ideologues. Just because one condemns their brutal murders
doesn't mean one must condone their ideology.
Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis
in free speech -- as so many commentators have done -- it is necessary
to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are
already in crisis in Western societies; the crisis was not precipitated
by three deranged gunmen. The U.S., for example, has consolidated its
traditional monopoly on extreme violence, and, in the era of big data,
has also hoarded information about its deployment of that violence.
There are harsh consequences for those who interrogate this monopoly.
The only person in prison for the C.I.A.'s abominable torture regime
is John Kiriakou, the whistle-blower. Edward Snowden is a hunted man
for divulging information about mass surveillance. Chelsea Manning is
serving a thirty-five-year sentence for her role in WikiLeaks. They,
too, are blasphemers, but they have not been universally valorized,
as have the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.
Since the attacks, money has poured into Charlie Hebdo, and with
all the publicity the next press run will be bumped from the usual
60,000 to one million copies.
Michael S Schmidt/Matt Apuzzo: Federal prosecutors recommend charges
against ex-CIA chief David Petraeus: Allegedly, Petraeus disclosed
top-secret files to journalist Paula Broadwell, who was sleeping with
him as well as writing a fawning hagiography. The key point here is
that Obama and Holder have prosecuted leakers to an unprecedented
degree, so what kind of favoritism would it be if they let Petraeus
off the hook? A pretty obvious one, I'd say. But much as I'd like to
"send the pre-eminent military officer of his generation to prison,"
I'd rather see pardons for Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and all
the others who have been or would be prosecuted for disclosing what
the CIA and NSA has been doing with our tax dollars. The difference
is that Petraeus didn't do the public any favors with his leaks. He
did them purely as an act of self-promotion -- coincidentally his
only real accomplishment during his long tenure in the Army and at
Other Charlie Hebdo links:
Mat Taibbi: Cartoons Are Worth Fighting For: "The answer here isn't
more self-censorship, but standing on the principle of everyone learning
to calm down, get a life, and tolerate the occasional weird idea." Yes,
but tolerance, while vastly preferred over intolerance, isn't the real
goal. The goal should be to get to a just and equitable society, and to
do that we need to get to the truth. Free speech and a free press are
necessary to facilitate that.
Diana Johnstone: What to Say When You Have Nothing to Say?: "Along
with taking innocent lives, they have surely deepened the sense of brutal
chaos in this world, aggravated distrust between ethnic groups in France
and in Europe, and no doubt accomplished other evil results as well."
Tariq Ali: Maximum Horror: "Charlie Hebdo sees itself as having
a mission to defend republican secular values against all religions.
It has occasionally attacked Catholicism, but it's hardly ever taken
on Judaism (though Israel's numerous assaults on Palestinians have
offered many opportunities) and has concentrated its mockery on Islam.
French secularism today seems to encompass anything as long as it's
not Islamic. [ . . . ] Defending its right to
publish, regardless of consequences, is one thing, but sacralising
a satirical paper that regularly targets those who are victims of a
rampant Islamophobia is almost as foolish as justifying the acts of
terror against it. Each feeds on the other."
Arthur Chu: Trolls and Martyrdom: Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie:
"Shooting people is wrong." But that doesn't mean that the people
who shouldn't be shot are all right. (For some reason that is a
principle a lot of Americans have trouble with: we live in a society
that seems to want to settle every dispute with a gun, somehow
believing that problems go away when you kill the people most
identified with them.) Interesting factoid: "They're only even
called Charlie Hebdo as an inside joke after the original
publication, Hara-Kirk Hebdo, got shut down for mocking
former President Charles de Gaulle immediately after his death."
Josh Marshall: Is There a Future for French Jewry? There are about
600,000 Jews in France. In 2013 a bit more than 3000 emigrated to Israel
(at least according to the figures here). After events like the attack
on a kosher supermarket in Paris last week, as well as "a series of
attacks on French Jews over recent years," Israeli sources expect more
to emigrate to Israel next year. Marshall somehow took the bait and is
projecting the collapse of the entire community. This is a meme that
pops up every few years -- see
Tony Karon: Where do France's Jews Belong?, published in 2004 when
Sharon was offering French Jews a safe haven in the midst of the Al-Aqsa
Intifada. One thing that's missing here is stats on the other side of
the coin: I've seen estimates that over 700,000 Israelis have moved
abroad, and while the US and Germany (!) are the most frequently cited
destinations, France cannot be far behind. (Most of the Israeli jazz
musicians I'm familiar with live abroad, and France is a popular base.)
More Guns: The Cure-All? After 9/11, I remember Eric Raymond arguing
that we should allow passengers on airplanes to carry guns so they could
defend themselves, as if the hijackers wouldn't have been the first to
take advantage of that option. So no surprise that someone should come
forward with the idea that if only the office workers at Charlie Hebdo
had been packing heat . . . (not that the dead police
weren't). No need to read this article for that, but you might be
interested in how a Kansas gun shop owner was shot dead and robbed.
Steve M. also pays more attention to
David Brooks' take on Charlie Hebdo than you should.
Philip Weiss: Don't let's go to the war of civilizations again:
"Speaking of double standards, our obsession with radical Islam overlooks
the incredible peacefulness of most Arab societies
[ . . . ] and the wide destruction we've wrought in
the Middle East. Steve Walt used to keep a counter on how many Muslims
we've killed -- over 200,000 Muslims a few years ago. Bill Kristol and
George Packer and Roger Cohen seem to think the answer is to undertake
actions that will kill more, because we are now in a civilizational
clash. That will just radicalize more Kouachis and make us all more
Also, a few links for further study:
Max Blumenthal: Politicde in Gaza: How Israel's Far Right Won the
War: In a scholarly journal, with footnotes, a first draft at
the history of the 2014 war. Sample quote:
With rocket sirens sounding around the country, calls for genocide
by Israeli public figures grew more frequent and forceful. Moshe
Feiglin -- one of ten deputy speakers of the Knesset so extreme
that Likud employed a series of legal tricks to boot him from its
2009 electoral list -- issued a detailed plan to "exterminate" or
"concentrate" all residents of Gaza.57 Dov Lior, the
chief rabbi of the religious nationalist settlement, Kiryat Arba,
issued an edict declaring that Jewish law supported taking "crushing
deterring [sic] steps to exterminate the enemy."58
Meanwhile, Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer on Arabic literature at
Bar Ilan University, opined in an interview on the day after the
bodies of the three Israeli teens were found that the only way to
deter young Palestinian men from militant activity was to rape
their sisters and mothers. "It sounds very bad, but that's the
Middle East . . . [y]ou have to understand the culture in which
Incitement at the top emboldened Israeli teens flooding social
media to spin genocidal fantasies of their own. David Sheen, an
independent Israeli journalist, translated dozens of frightening
Twitter posts by adolescent Israeli women alternating between
revealing selfies and annihilationist rants. "Kill Arab children
so there won't be a next generation," wrote a user called
@ashlisade.60 Another teenage female Twitter user, @shirzafaty,
declared, "Not just on summer vacation we hate stinking ugly Arabs,
but for the rest of our lives."61 On a mortar shell that
was to be launched into a civilian area in Gaza, a young Israeli
soldier complained about a boy-band concert that was scrapped
because of the fighting: "That's for canceling the Backstreet Boys,
you scum!" he wrote.62
Stephen Kinzer: Joining the military doesn't make you a hero:
Certainly one reason not to join the military. Of course, there are
- Tom Hull: Re Voltaire on Jews, Maher on Muslims, note how
people who lose their religion still feel most confident dumping on
- Max Blumenthal: Netanyahu wants Jews to leave France and move
to the nation he describes as the key target of anti-Semitic terror:
- Matt Haig: Rupert Murdoch thinks all Muslims should apologise
for terrorism. So on behalf of white people, I'd like to apologise for
- Max Blumenthal: Netanyahu could not address the Paris killings
without mentioning Hamas and Hezbollah and insinuating some connection
- Matt Taibbi: Bush was like an ordinary mean Republican politician
with a tiny FunnyBot hiding in his frontal lobe.
- Matt Taibbi: I think Bush's paintings are kind of cute. It's
like art for dogs or some thing.
Sunday, December 7. 2014
I've been meaning on writing something about justice, the lack of
it, or the insane perversion of it within the US, but I wanted to
start off with a quote and can't find the book. In fact, I can't
find most of the things I look for these days: the place is a total
mess, and getting oppressively so. Don't even know where to start
sorting it out. So I figured I'd skip the links post today, then
found a couple already tucked away in the draft file. So it seems
like I can't even follow a plan on not doing something any more.
Another thing I've been thinking about is coming up with a more
systematic piece on "the four wars of 2014" -- Israel/Gaza, Syria,
Iraq, and Ukraine -- and how they are mutually reinforcing, mostly
due to delusions prevalent in Washington these days (some examples
of which follow).
Anyhow, shorter and more scattered than I'd like, but more than
Thomas Frank: Ann Coulter and David Brooks play a sneaky, unserious
class card: As I understand Brooks' post-Ferguson spin (hat tip
No More Mister Nice Blog), nobody (on the right, anyway) is a
racist any more, but good conservatives do practice something he
calls "classism" -- i.e., they do look down on lazy people whose
lack of responsibility and work ethic have resulted in their being
poor and miserable. That, of course, is a spin on reality. The fact
is that conservatives encourage their followers to believe such
things, and some poor whites are flattered, ignorant, and gullible
enough to do so. Frank then tries to link this up with some of
Coulter's nonsense, quoting her:
Liberals thrive on the attractions of snobbery. Only when you appreciate
the powerful driving force of snobbery in the liberals' worldview do all
their preposterous counterintuitive arguments make sense. They promote
immoral destructive behavior because they are snobs, they embrace
criminals because they are snobs, they oppose tax cuts because they
are snobs, they adore the environment because they are snobs.
Now, I remember practically the very day in 7th grade when my
classmates discovered the word "snob" and it spread like a virus as
an all-purpose epithet to shame anyone you had any sort of complaint
about. It works, of course, because the only mutually agreeable
relationships are based on equality, and it did tend to level the
field -- although one soon came to suspect that the ones who led
the charge had the most to hide. (And if that suggests that Coulter
never really grew out of 7th grade, well, the foo shits.) The fact
is, I never knew any real snobs until I went to an expensive private
college -- and even that was muted because, after all, I was one of
them. Still, nothing in Coulter's paragraph makes any sense. There
are lots of things that snobs think and do differently from the rest
of us, but none of them made Coulter's list. Frank tries to join the
two quotes around "embracing criminals," but that's overwhelmed by
the negatives: Brooks seems to be thinking that it's OK to generalize
from criminals to class they frequent, while Coulter is generalizing
from criminals to the snobs (i.e., liberals) who "embrace" them. And
once you criminalize someone, you can never punish them too much.
When Democrats finally get over the impulse to deny and prevaricate
and blame others, and instead ask where they themselves went wrong,
one place they might begin is their beloved issue of free trade.
Take NAFTA, the granddaddy of all trade agreements, whose twentieth
anniversary we celebrated this year: There has never been a more
obviously class-based piece of legislation. It was supported with
uncanny unanimity by members of the commentariat and the professional
class, and, indeed, it has worked well for such people. For members
of the working class, however, it has been precisely the disaster
their organizations predicted.
The deal crushed enthusiasm for the Democratic Party among the
working-class voters who were then considered part of the Democratic
base and contributed to the Democrats' loss of the House of
Representatives in 1994, a disaster from which, the economist Jeff
Faux wrote in 2006, "the Democratic Party still has not recovered."
And, indeed, from which the party seemingly has no desire to recover.
Just the other day, President Obama announced that he is fired up
and ready to go . . . with the Republicans in Congress on the Trans
Pacific Partnership, even though much of his own party is opposed
Democrats who sign up for our master class on classism might also
look back over their response to the financial crisis, during which
they bailed out their BFFs on Wall Street and let everyone else go
to hell. Or the many favors they failed to do for their former BFFs
in organized labor. Or their lack of interest in getting a public
option included in health-care reform.
Simon Maloy: "A fan of blowing things up": Why new DefSec nominee Ashton
Carter was ready to restart Korean War: Not a huge surprise that
Obama's pick to replace Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is a hawk
more committed to the military than to democracy, but it's hard to
imagine a more vivid example of his myopia than his cavalier attitude
toward bombing North Korea. If there's anything one should have learned
from studying wars throughout history it's that you never can predict
all the consequences. Still, Carter thinks the US can blow up a working
nuclear reactor without causing it to malfunction, melt down, explode,
and spread toxic radiation. He also thinks that North Korea wouldn't
retaliate for such an attack, even though their main defense against
US attack for more than 60 years has been the deterrence of their
artillery pointed at Seoul. And in any case he thinks that the many
thousands of Koreans who would die from that test of will are a small
price compared to the risk that North Korea might eventually possess
nuclear weapons and long-range missiles (which, by the way, they now
do, and like most nations with such arms do nothing with). In other
words, Carter is not just the wrong person to become Secretary of
Defense; he probably ought to be packed away to a mental ward
somewhere. (It goes without saying that he's already been endorsed
by Lindsay Graham and Donald Rumsfeld.) Another example of how
Obama's "changing the way we think about war"?
Ron Paul: Reckless Congress 'Declares War' on Russia: On H. Res.
758: "16 pages of war propaganda that should have made even neocons
blush." Only 10 representatives voted against it (5 Democrats and 5
These are the kinds of resolutions I have always watched closely in
Congress, as what are billed as "harmless" statements of opinion often
lead to sanctions and war. I remember in 1998 arguing strongly against
the Iraq Liberation Act because, as I said at the time, I knew it would
lead to war. I did not oppose the Act because I was an admirer of Saddam
Hussein -- just as now I am not an admirer of Putin or any foreign
political leader -- but rather because I knew then that another war
against Iraq would not solve the problems and would probably make
things worse. We all know what happened next.
Nathan Thrall: Rage in Jerusalem: Useful background about Jerusalem,
the center of the ad hoc violence that threatens a "third intifada," how
the expanded-and-annexed city's 30% Palestinian minority has been isolated
and estranged by the political system.
Palestinians in general feel disconnected from their political leaders,
but the sense of abandonment is particularly acute in Jerusalem, where
the PA is strictly forbidden from acting and to which Ramallah, like
most of the Arab world, devotes many lofty words but very few deeds.
When he assented to the five-year interim arrangements for Palestinian
self-governance in the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat agreed to exclude
Jerusalem from the areas that would be governed pro tempore by the PA.
Local leaders, notably the late Faisal Husseini, refused to agree to
this, which is one reason Yitzhak Rabin, who resolutely opposed dividing
Jerusalem when he was prime minister and said he would rather abandon
peace than give up a united capital, chose to bypass Husseini and
instead pursued secret negotiations in Oslo with Arafat's emissaries.
Palestinians in Jerusalem have been bereft of political leaders since
Husseini's death in 2001. All four of Jerusalem's representatives in the
Palestinian parliament -- all of them members of Hamas, elected in 2006 --
have been deported. Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, monitors
'political subversion,' which includes lawful opposition to the Israeli
occupation. Since all Palestinian political parties oppose the occupation,
they and their activities have, in effect, been criminalised. Even innocuous
Palestinian institutions such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce have been
shut down. Years of Israeli suppression of Palestinian political activity
have ensured that when violence erupts in Jerusalem, there is no legitimate
leadership to quell it; and spontaneous, unorganised protests and attacks
are far more difficult for the security forces to thwart and contain.
More Israel links:
Philip Weiss: Lieberman unveils racist peace plan: Pay Palestinians to
leave Israel: First point here is that he's talking about Israel's
so-called "Arab citizens": a 15-20% minority within the Green Line and
not a peace problem despite their de facto second class status. The much
larger problem is Israel's occupation of territories beyond the Green
Line where Palestinians are a huge (and in many cases severely oppressed)
majority. Their disposition either pushes the price tag up enormously
or turns Lieberman's "economic incentives" into something more ominous.
Still, the focus on Israel's "Arab citizens" is plenty ominous already:
this and the new "Nationality Law" (supported by Lieberman) suggest that
many right-wing Jews in Israel are unable to tolerate the presence of
any ethnic or religious minority.
Allison Deger: Israel sent Palestinian Authority letter to 'stop incitement'
over bus driver's death: There is plenty of reason to suspect that
Israel's decree that the death of Yousef Hassan al-Ramouni was suicide
("no suspicion of criminal activity") was in error. Now Israeli officials
are warning Palestinians that questioning their judgment in this case is
"encitement" -- something illegal under Israeli law. Anyone who thinks
Israel's "democracy" is anything like ours should take note. (On the
other hand, free speech evidently extends to
50 rabbis call for storming the Aqsa platform: "Some of these religious
figures have issued religious rulings ordering the killing of Arabs.")
Allison Deger: Palestinian flag is an 'enemy'flag' -- Netanyahu's latest
crackdown: His proposed law will allow Israel to strip citizenship rights
and exile to Gaza any "Arab citzens of Israel" who engage in "terrorism or
encitement" -- the latter includes flying a Palestinian flag. As Netanyahu
explains, in Israel "only the Jewish People have national rights: A flag,
anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to the country, and other
Kate: Int'l volunteer and Palestinian youth both shot in chest with live
.22 rounds inside occupation: one of many horror stories from this
week's press, including floods in Gaza, and "US to provide 3,000 'smart
bombs' for Israel."
Kate: Israeli bus driver runs over two Palestinians at Jenin checkpoint,
killing one: More press clips. Also see:
Kate: Palestinian youth hospitalized after being attacked by Israeli
settlers in Jerusalem.
Kate: 14 Palestinians injured by Israeli army fire in Ramallah clashes.
Kate: Israeli forces killed nine Palestinians, arrested 650, during month
Kate: 'There's no coexisting with cancer': Bilingual Arabic/Hebrew school
damaged in Jerusalem arson attack.
Roland Nikles: David Remnick undermines Israel's one-state president:
Detailed critique of David Remnick's article,
The One-State Reality, where Remnick reflexively defends the "two-state
solution" idea even as it becomes ever more impossible.
Jen Marlowe: One Family, Two Doors, Nowhere to Run: Focuses on one
family in Gaza.
Israel accused of launching air strikes near Damascus in act of 'aggression
against Syria': This would normally be a very important story, but
with Assad tied up with his civil war, and the US and Iran already bombing
elsewhere in Syria, it just seems like capricious piling on.
Only US and Israel Oppose UN Ban on Weapons in Outer Space: OK,
the US I can understand: that's the only country in the world that
fully expects to be able to bomb anywhere in the world any time it
takes a hankering to. Moreover, the only country with the resources
to waste on that nonsense. (Although China is known to have technology
to shoot down satellites, just in case it needs to level the playing
field.) But Israel? You'd think they'd think the only reason anyone
would position weapons in space would be to kill Jews, wouldn't
Also, a few links for further study:
Sunday, November 23. 2014
This week's notable links follow, especially on Israel, where this
summer's Gaza war and the coming elections, on top of nearly twenty
years of Likud rule (minus two years for Ehud Barak, 1998-2000) and
far-right demagoguery have left a great many Israelis more racist
and bloodthirsty than ever. When I talk to people about Israel, they
usually throw their hands up in the air, but this is important --
not least because the US is becoming increasingly Israelized, as
you can see from Obama's latest escalations in Afghanistan, Iraq,
and Syria, and as is portended by the Confederate/Tea Party revolt --
the lynchings the latter dream about are now real in Israel.
Michael Konczal: Frenzied Financialization:
The financialization revolution over the past thirty-five years has moved
us toward greater inequality in three distinct ways. The first involves
moving a larger share of the total national wealth into the hands of the
financial sector. The second involves concentrating on activities that
are of questionable value, or even detrimental to the economy as a whole.
And finally, finance has increased inequality by convincing corporate
executives and asset managers that corporations must be judged not by
the quality of their products and workforce but by one thing only:
immediate income paid to shareholders. [ . . . ]
But the most important change will be intellectual: we must come
to understand our economy not as simply a vehicle for capital owners,
but rather as the creation of all of us, a common endeavor that creates
space for innovation, risk taking, and a stronger workforce. This change
will be difficult, as we will have to alter how we approach the economy
as a whole. Our wealth and companies can't just be strip-mined for a
small sliver of capital holders; we'll need to bring the corporation
back to the public realm. But without it, we will remain trapped inside
an economy that only works for a select few.
Bill McKibben: Congress is about to sabotage Obama's historic climate
deal: Slams Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) for voting in favor of the
Keystone/XL pipeline, despite praising Obama for his "climate deal
with China." But that's just an example.
By now it should be clear that giving in to the Republicans does not
"pave the way" for future compromises -- that's the Lucy-with-the-football
lesson that President Obama has spent his entire term in office learning.
Much more fundamentally, though, the problem is this: you can't cut
carbon without, you know, cutting carbon.
The president's accord with China doesn't actually do anything except
set a target. To meet that target you have to do things. If you don't do
things -- if you keep approving pipelines and coal mines and fracking
wells -- then you won't meet the target.
For the moment, Keystone is the best example of this principle. So
far we've stopped it for three years, and in the process pushed companies
to pull $17 billion in investment out of the tar sands. That money would
have built projects that would have dumped the carbon equivalent of 700
new coal-fired power plants into the atmosphere. We've done something
real -- something that will actually help, say, Delaware which has a,
you know, coastline.
Israel links: There's been a steady stream of reports of
communal violence between Israelis (especially West Bank and Jerusalem
settlers) and Palestinians, which might seem to be symmetrical except
for the Israeli state, which holds a practical monopoly on violence
and directs it at Palestinians. The number of incidents of attacks by
Palestinians against Israelis (an errant car here, a stabbing there,
five killed in a Jewish synagogue) has triggered speculation that a third
Intifada is in the works. Like the first two, all a third will prove
is how intransigent and unengaging Israeli politics has become -- an
old story where pent-up frustration gets the best of caution, even
knowing that Israel will take every provocation as an excuse for ever
greater violence. However, what is different this time is the degree
that Israeli civilians have taken the lead in attacking Palestinians,
both violently and economically through their campaign to rid Jewish
businesses of Palestinian workers. This is happening partly due to
the unchecked racism in Israeli political discourse, and to the loss
of restraint in Israel's legal system. So the question this time isn't
whether there will be an intifada but why there is already a pogrom --
a state-backed civilian riot against a hated ethnic minority.
Kate: Israeli government plans 185 miles of new Jewish settler roads in
the West Bank: That's just one of dozens of press reports: Israel
to approve 200 units in Jerusalem settlement; Palestinian shot dead by
Israeli forces in al-Arrub; Palestinian worker shot dead in Israel;
Body of Palestinian man found with signs of torture; Soldier stabbed
in Tel Aviv dies; Palestinian suspect shot; Israeli forces open live
fire at Palestinians during clashes [in Bethlehem]; 58 Palestinians
kidnapped in various Arab towns; Israeli settlers torch mosque in
Ramallah-area village; Israeli settlers accost Palestinian officers
near Nablus; Gun-toting settlers attack female students near Bethlehem;
Jews threaten to kill head teacher for having Arab workers at school.
link about the Rasmea Odeh case which shows that Israeli injustice
is practiced even in Chicago.
Kate: Hate attacks in Jerusalem and Israel include one by settler girls:
Also: Palestinian woman run over by Israeli near Shu'fat; 2 Israelis
stabbed in fight with Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Child seriously
injured during interrogation in Jerusalem; Vandals deface car of Acre
imam who called for tolerance after J'lem attack. It was also the 20th
anniversary of Baruch Goldstein's massacre of 56 worshippers at the
Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron -- often cited as the pivotal event that
wrecked the Oslo Peace Process. Goldstein died during the attack, and
has been treated as a martyr: "At his funeral, Goldstein was eulogized
as a hero, with one speaker, Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, declaring that even
1 million Arabs 'are not worth a Jewish fingernail,' while attendees
shouted, 'We are all Goldsteins!' and 'Arabs out of Israel!' Following
the slaughter, Goldstein was also lauded by Rabbi Dov Lior, who was
and continues to be the chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba and one of the most
influential figures in the religious Zionism movement, who called
Goldstein, 'holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.'" And many
more reports along these lines.
Annie Robbins: Kahanists attack school after synagogue killings:
In Hebron, where the martyred murderer Goldstein is buried, so I
figure the "provocation" was merely convenient. Nor was that the
only case of settler violence reported here: "And speaking of
stories that the mainstream is not covering, Yusuf Hasan al-Ramouni,
32, a Palestinian husband, father, son, and brother was lynched
Sunday in a bus in Mount Scopus, which adjoins Jewish settlements
in East Jerusalem." Robbins also has
videos of Israeli forces spraying "skunk spray" in Palestinian
Gideon Levy: In Israel, only Jewish blood shocks anyone: In Israel,
five Israelis killed in a Jerusalem synagogue is a world-class outrage,
but 2200 Palestinians killed in Gaza is a statistic. "But this is a
society that sanctifies its dead to the point of death-worship, that
wears thin the stories of the victims' lives and deaths, whether it be
in a synagogue attack or a Nepal avalanche. It's a society preoccupied
with endless commemorations in the land of monuments, services and
anniversary ceremonies; a society that demands shock and condemnation
after every attack, when it blames the entire world."
Philip Weiss: Netanyahu's 'battle for Jerusalem' can't end well for
any of us: When some horrible act of violence occurs, the instinct
of most political leaders is to call for calm, but Netanyahu's speech
following the killing of five Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue was,
as Weiss puts it, "blood curdling."
Jeff Halper: Israel sows despair and senseless violence: "And the
'Zionist answer' to the downward cycle of senseless violence in which
Jerusalem finds itself: house demolitions, mass arrests, revoking the
'residency' of native-born Jerusalemites, closing Palestinian neighborhoods
with concrete blocks, arming Israeli Jewish vigilantes and cheap shots
at the last person who believes in a two-state solution, Abu Mazen.
Everything, that is, except an end to occupation and a just political
solution. This is what happens when a powerful country forgoes any
effort to address the grievances of a people under its control and
descends into raw oppression."
Isabel Kershner: Israeli Cabinet Approves Nationality Bill: Could
use more detail here, but the legislation appears to be aimed at stripping
rights away from "Arab citizens of Israel," including citizenship in some
cases. Intriguing sentence: "In what appeared to be a political deal, Mr.
Netanyahu promised government support for the hard-line versions of the
bill in a first reading in Parliament this week on the condition that the
law would be moderated before any final approval."
William Saletan: Hate Thy Neighbor: Subtitle: "How Israel teaches its
citizens all the wrong lessons." For instance, there's the policy of
demolishing the homes of the families of already-killed "terrorists":
"In other words, the logic of the policy is that it punishes people who
don't commit acts of terror. Terrorists want to die, so they aren't
deterred. Israel targets their loved ones, who would suffer more acutely,
in the hope that this "price" will intimidate the would-be perpetrator.
That is the logic of hostage taking, and of terrorism."
Michael Wilner: Cornered but unbound by nuclear pact, Israel reconsiders
military action against Iran: So the sabre-rattling resumes, just
as the US and Iran are putting the finishing touches on a deal promising
to return Iran to the good graces of the NPT, certified as a state that
is not developing nuclear weapons. Of course, Netanyahu wants to torpedo
that deal (and is probably expecting the Republican congress to do his
dirty work for him -- after all, they were elected precisely for their
inability to think independently). He also no doubt wants to bring up
the spectre of Iran any time the US suggests he negotiate peace with
the Palestinians. But wasn't it just a few months ago when he admitted
that his last round of sabre-rattling was nothing more than a scam to
hustle the dumb Americans, and that Israel never had any intention of
attacking Iran in the first place?
I also want to single out
Richard Silverstein: Terror Rules Jerusalem: He points out that the
"heinous synagogue terror attack by Palestinians in the West Jerusalem
neighborhood of Har Hof" took place on grounds of the former Palestinian
village of Deir Yassin, "where the Irgun murdered 100 Palestinians as
part of the pre-war (1948) violence that eventually led to the Nakba,"
adding "It's horrible to think that this single place could be the site
of two such tragedies." He doesn't mention that the ratio of dead is
close to the historical norm for matched sets of Israeli and Palestinian
massacres. He then quotes
In the next few days, after the IDF and the settlers will have taken
their vengeance, under the Orwellian cover of "deterrence," life will
go on. The settlers who commit price-tag attacks will be condemned
for a day, then understood, then arrested, maybe, convicted maybe,
and pardoned, probably. The soldiers and police will do whatever they
want with impunity, B'tselem cameras or not. Land will be expropriated,
freedoms eliminated, the matrix of control and, most of all, the routine
will continue until the next time, when Jews die, and the clueless
Israelis hold everybody and everything but themselves responsible.
Silverstein then moves on to the death of Yusuf Al-Ramuni, who was
found hung in an egged bus he drove. The Israelis promptly declared
the death a suicide, although there is evidence that he was lynched.
Further, in the media rush to cover the horrific attack on the Har Nof
synagogue, let's not forget that this incident preceded it. Terror
always has a context. Do not forget that no matter how heinous an
event, something equally heinous preceded and incited it.
While the world justifiably gasps at an attack on a Jewish house of
worship, let's remember that Palestinians see their own mosques and
cemeteries torched and desecrated by settler price taggers. They see
hundreds of heavily armed Israeli Police defiling the sacred precinct
of Haram Al Sharif. Does anyone believe that a Muslim is not as
horrified by this encroachment as a Jew is by an assault on praying
It takes two, and Palestinian rage derives from Israeli provocation.
Certainly, the settlers who murder Palestinians believe the converse.
So why not credit Palestinian rage as much as Israeli?
[ . . . ]
Examine once again Bibi's response to the Kafr Kana police murder.
He dispensed with rote regret altogether. He launched into barely
controlled rage at Palestinian protests against this cold-blooded
murder and warned they would be "dealt with" severely if they didn't
learn to behave themselves.
Bibi doesn't mind the current level of civil unrest. It plays into
his hand for upcoming elections, and this is literally all he cares
about. Israelis flock to the strong man, even if he's utterly unable
to stifle Palestinian terror. The problem will be that Bibi will win
an election, but have no more idea how to quell the rebellion after
the election than he does now.
Silverstein thinks a Third Intifada is already here, "but unlike
the earlier Intifades, this one is a mutual affair in which Jewish
terror (whether official and State-sponsored or vigilante-based)
responds to Palestinian terror (or vice versa)." Actually, he
forgets the overwhelming preponderance of Israeli violence in
both previous Intifadas -- a term which gives Palestinians more
strategic credit than they deserve. (In fact, I've long argued
that the second Intifada should have been named for Shaul Moffaz,
the man who started it, and looking back Pogrom might have been
more accurate; looking forward it certainly will be.)
You might also read Silverstein's later post,
In Race for Next Shin Bet Chief, May Worst Man Win. In the US we're
so used to voting for "lesser evils" that the "may worst man win" notion
is not just alien, it's downright terrifying. Ever since the German CP
really did let the worst man win, we've been popular frontists -- partly
because the world has never been so vile, nor the hope for revolution so
sweet, to let the world crash so dismally. (The right, on the other hand,
with its distorted vision and messianic fervor, has often done just that.)
On the other hand, Silverstein has become so pessimistic about Israel that
the only chance he sees is complete breakdown. It's a scary argument.
Also, the US war machine is heating up: If Republicans
want to pick a fight over the arbitrary, unilateral abuse of presidential
power, they're welcome to start here:
Also, a few links for further study:
Paul Krugman: The Structure of Obamacare: This is fairly basic, but
still above most heads, so worth explaining:
It's important to be clear what this does NOT mean -- it doesn't mean
that there is a huge hidden burden on the public. For the most part,
people buying health insurance would have bought it anyway. Under
single-payer, they would have stopped doing that, and paid taxes
instead; under the ACA, they continue to pay premiums but don't pay
the extra taxes. There's no secret extra cost.
So, why was Obamacare set up this way? It's mainly about politics,
but nothing that should shock you. Partly it was about getting buy-in
from the insurance industry; a switch to single payer would have
destroyed a powerful industry, and realistically that wasn't going
to happen. Partly it was about leaving most people unaffected:
employment-based coverage, which was the great bulk of private
insurance, remained pretty much as it was. This made sense: even
if single-payer would have been better than what people already had,
it would have been very hard to sell them on such a big change. And
yes, avoiding a huge increase in on-budget spending was a consideration,
but not central.
The main point was to make the plan incremental, supplementing the
existing structure rather than creating massive changes. And all of
this was completely upfront; I know I wrote about it many times.
Most single-payer advocates will counter that the health insurance
industry deserved to be destroyed. Of course, I agree, and would like
to go further in nationalizing health care -- the insurance industry
isn't the only sector that rips the public off, even if it is unique
in how little value it adds to the system. However, if the obstacle to
single-payer is the political power of the health insurance industry,
it would be worthwhile looking at reforms to ACA that would knock that
industry down a notch or two. The "public option," which was a key
part of the original act, was one: this would weaken the industry in
two ways: by drawing customers away, and by reducing profit margins
through tougher competition.
I suspect the main source of opposition to the ACA is the kneejerk
belief common on the right that prefers policy made by profit-seeking
private companies over the public-servants of government bureaucracies.
It's hard to see why anyone should believe that, but sometimes business
doesn't cut its own throat, and sometimes government does.
Krugman writes more about ACA and partisan blinders
The mind reels. How is it possible for anyone who has been following
politics and, presumably, policy for the past six years not to know
that Obamacare is, in all important respects, identical to Romneycare?
It has the same three key provisions -- nondiscrimination by insurers,
a mandate for individuals, and subsidies to make the mandate workable.
It was developed by the same people. I and many others have frequently
referred to ObamaRomneycare.
Well, I've know for years that many political pundits don't think
that understanding policy is part of their job. But this is still extreme.
And I'm sorry to go after an individual here -- but for God's sake, don't
you have to know something about the actual content of a policy you
And what's actually going on here is worse than ignorance. It's pretty
clear that we're watching a rule of thumb according to which if Republicans
are against a proposal, that means it must be leftist and extreme, and the
burden on the White House is to find a way to make the GOP happy. Needless
to say, this rewards obstructionism -- there is literally nothing Obama can
do to convince some (many) pundits that he's making a good faith effort,
because they don't pay any attention to what he does, only to the Republican
Nancy Le Tourneau: Understanding the Threat of a Confederate Insurgency:
Starts with a long quote from Doug Muder's
Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party, which makes the point that the
first war the US lost was the Civil War -- not in 1865, when the Confederate
Army was disbanded, but by 1877, when Reconstruction ended with the restoration
of the Confederate aristocracy, setting the stage for Jim Crow and all that.
If I understand LeTourneau correctly, she's arguing that the explosion of
neo-Confederates is a last-ditch reaction against change -- something more
likely to be a sporadic nuisance than a gathering wave. Nonetheless, the
ability of the right to resist and even roll back reform is a repeated
theme in American history, and we're seeing way too much of it now.
Sunday, November 9. 2014
Thought I'd do a quickie on post-election links but I've been so
bummed and lethargic this week it's taken until Sunday anyway. Not
just the elections, either, nor the news that the Supreme Court will
practice its ideological activism on insurance subsidies for people
unfortunate enough to live in states that couldn't (actually, wouldn't)
get their act together under the ACA.
The takeaway from the election seems to be that voter suppression
and nearly infinite money works for Republicans. The 4% "skew" toward
the Democrats that Nate Silver found in the polls seems to be people
who intended to vote but at the last minute either didn't or couldn't.
That was enough to tilt about 5-6 senate races. But also Democrats
didn't do a good job of articulating issues -- it's noteworthy that
progressive issues won pretty much across the board when they weren't
attached to candidates who could be linked to Obama. To pick on one
example: Mark Pryor's campaign consisted of a vacuous slogan ("Put
Arkansas First") and ads warning that Tom Cotton wanted to kill off
Medicare and Social Security. That's not inaccurate, and would have
won if voters really took Cotton to be that much of a threat, but
many voters concluded that the risk wasn't that great. On the other
hand, Cotton's ads did nothing more than equate Pryor with Obama.
I can't tell you why that mattered, or why that worked, but it did.
Ryan Cooper: What Democrats get wrong about inequality: Lots of
There are various complex models for this, but the general explanation
is fairly intuitive: Modern economies are built on a mass market. But
if the great majority of people don't have much (or any) disposable
income, then there is no mass market, and it's harder to start a
business relying on any kind of mass sales. And with weak consumer
spending, existing businesses have little reason to invest in growth,
and instead disgorge their profits to shareholders, exacerbating the
trend. In the end, you get a hollowed-out, bifurcated economy, where
low-grade goods are sold to the broke masses on razor-thin margins,
while incomprehensible sums slosh around weird luxury markets.
There's more to it than this. The breakdown of capital controls
makes it easy to reinvest profits abroad, where there is more potential
for middle-class growth. (I first noticed this in the early 1990s,
when Greenspan lowered interest rates to stimulate the economy, and
virtually all of that cheap money went abroad -- mostly, it seemed,
into currency speculation, resulting in busts in East Asia, Mexico,
and elsewhere. Conversely, foreign investors buy up assets in the US --
there was a tremendous boom in this during the 1980s, and while less
commented on the trend continues.)
By the way, I accidentally clicked on a link in Cooper's article
and it led to a fascinating article by J.W. Mason,
Disgorge the Cash:
If you read the business press, you're used to these kinds of stories.
A company whose mission is making something gets bought out or bullied
into becoming a company whose mission is making payments to shareholders.
Apple is only an especially dramatic example. But the familiarity of this
kind of story is a sign of a different relationship between corporations
and the financial system from what prevailed a generation ago.
Prior to the 1980s, share repurchases were tightly limited by law, and
a firm that borrowed in order to pay higher dividends would have been
regarded as engaging in a kind of fraud. Shareholders were entitled to
their dividends and nothing more -- neither a share in any exceptional
profits, nor a say in the management of the firm. In the view of Owen
Young, the long-serving chairman of General Electric in the early 20th
century, "the stockholders are confined to a maximum return equivalent
to a risk premium. The remaining profit stays in the enterprise, is paid
out in higher wages, or is passed on to the customer."
This, of course, has all changed since the 1980s, and it's worth
underscoring that changes in law, and therefore political policy,
were necessary to enable it. Much more of interest here -- I like
the line on the post-WWII corporation: "Whether the managerial firm
was the 'soulful corporation' of Galbraith or the soul-crushing
monopoly capital of Baran and Sweezy, it was run according to its
own growth imperatives, not to maximize returns to shareholders."
Then there's this:
Keynes's call for the "euthanasia of the rentier" toward the end of
The General Theory is typically taken as a playful provocation.
But as Jim Crotty has argued, this idea was one of Keynes's main
preoccupations in his political writings in the 1920s. In his 1926
essay "The End of Laissez Faire," he observed that "one of the most
interesting and unnoticed developments of recent decades has been the
tendency of big enterprise to socialize itself." As shareholders' role
in the enterprise diminishes, "the general stability and reputation of
the institution are more considered by the management than the maximum
of profit for the shareholders." With enough time, the corporations
may evolve into quasi-public institutions like universities, "bodies
whose criterion of action within their own field is solely the public
good as they understand it." Veblen, observing the same developments
but with a less sunny disposition, imagined that the managers of
productive enterprises would eventually tire of "sabotage" by the
notional owners and organize to overthrow them, seizing control of
production as a "Soviet of engineers."
Of course, that never happened, but maybe it should have -- the
"euthanasia of the rentier" if not necessarily the "Soviet of
Kathleen Geier: Inequality, the Flavor of the Month: From June, but
linked to post-election to remind us how little mileage the Democrats
gained from the great issue of our time.
Truth be told, it was never clear how serious Obama ever was about
fighting inequality. Though his big inequality speech marked a step
forward, as many of us noted at the time, it also contained serious
omissions. The economist Max Sawicky observed that much of that
speech didn't actually concern inequality. Rather, it was about
social mobility, which is something entirely different.
Writer Anat Shenker-Osorio pointed out that perhaps the most
glaring omission of all in Obama's inequality speech was a simple one:
a villain. To hear Obama and the Democrats tell it, inequality is
something that just happened. An awful lot of sentences in Obama's
speech used passive voice constructions -- phrases like "the deck
is stacked," "taxes were slashed," and so on. His speech failed to
craft any compelling narrative about exactly who did what to whom.
Inequality remained an abstract concept.
The timidity of Obama's rhetoric -- a faintness of heart that
extends to many other Dems -- stands in sharp contrast to the
talking points of many Republicans. Right-wing populists consistently
point the finger at a rogues' gallery of liberal elitists, government
bureaucrats, and the like. In the past, not only did economically
progressive presidents vilify the plutocratic enemies of the American
people, but they went about it with a certain gusto. Theodore Roosevelt
issued thundering denunciations against "malefactors of great wealth."
In his "I welcome their hatred" speech, FDR attacked as "tyrants" the
"employers and politicians and publishers" who opposed the pro-labor
policies of the New Deal.
But today's Democratic Party is a different animal. By default,
Democrats are the party of working Americans, and sometimes they do
pass legislation that helps the majority. But they are also deeply
corrupted by their own corporate ties. The Democrats' anti-equality
agenda is a case in point. The party supports some admirable policies
targeted at helping low-income Americans -- like raising the minimum
wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, and universal pre-K.
But party leaders are far more ambivalent about policies that challenge
the one percent and the power of capital -- stricter financial regulations,
cracking down on CEO pay, a return to confiscatory income tax rates, fair
trade, and intellectual property reform. Unless we rein in the wealth and
power of the one percent, inequality will continue to spiral out of control.
Paul Krugman: The Uses of Ridicule: Case example is billionaire hedge
fund operator Paul Singer, who has discovered proof that hyperinflation
is actually happening:
Meanwhile, a quick hit.
Matt O'Brien has a lot of fun with Paul Singer, a billionaire inflation
truther who is sure that the books are cooked because of what he can see
with his own eyes:
. . . check out London, Manhattan, Aspen and East Hampton real
estate prices, as well as high-end art prices, to see what the leading
edge of hyperinflation could look like
Hyperinflation in the Hamptons; hard to beat that for comedy, although
Matt adds value with the Billionaires Price Index.
Actually, I noticed this long ago (so long it certainly doesn't suggest
Weimar- or Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation). When workers' wages rise, we
worry about inflation, assuming those rises will be factored into future
prices (because, heaven forbid, they can't possibly come out of profits).
On the other hand, when asset prices rise, we assume they're finding their
true value, even though the 2008 collapse of the housing bubble shows us
that there is no such thing. That all seems awfully convenient for asset
holders (and damn unfortunate for wage earners). But doesn't basic economic
theory tell us that prices reflect the balance of supply and demand? When
demand goes up relative to supply, prices rise -- and how is that different
from inflation? We happen to live in a world where the rich is getting so
much richer so fast that there simply isn't enough rich-folk-goods (Hamptons
real estate, high-end art) to go around, so of course they bid up, and
therefore inflate, the prices. That's really all there is to the bubble
in Hamptons real estate. And the corrollary to that is that a lot of very
rich people currently own assets that aren't really worth anything like
they think: there is a substantial real transfer of wealth going on from
the 99% to the 1%, but also this asset inflation bubble. If, say, there
was a serious effort to rein in the super rich -- increasing income (and
capital gains) taxes up toward 70%, regulating hedge funds and other
rentiers out of business -- that asset bubble would collapse.
Krugman makes other good points, but the best come from this
golden oldie by Molly Ivins (from 1995, on Rush Limbaugh, but
how little has changed?).
Psychologists often tell us there is a great deal of displaced anger
in our emotional lives -- your dad wallops you, but he's too big to
hit back, so you go clobber your little brother. Displaced anger is
also common in our political life. We see it in this generation of
young white men without much education and very little future. This
economy no longer has a place for them. The corporations have moved
their jobs to Singapore. Unfortunately, it is Limbaugh and the
Republicans who are addressing the resentments of these folks, and
aiming their anger in the wrong direction.
In my state, I have not seen so much hatred in politics since the
heyday of the John Birch Society in the early 1960s. Used to be you
couldn't talk politics with a conservative without his getting all
red in the face, arteries standing out in his neck, wattles aquiver
with indignation -- just like a pissed-off turkey gobbler. And now
we're seeing the same kind of anger again.
Martin Longman: Waning Power for Blacks and Democrats: No coincidence
that 2014 was the first election without the Voting Rights Act to protect
black voters in the Old South. The Republicans have put a lot of effort
into eradicating white Democratic office holders in the South, no matter
how little ideological difference they present. The effect is reduce
visible Democratic office holders to the black minority, reinforcing
the Republican brand as the White People's Party. Whether they've done
this because they are racists or just because it's a winning strategy,
the effect is to prolong racism in the South and elsewhere. Assuming
Landrieu is toast, the only Democratic senator in the old confederate
states are in outliers Virginia and Florida, and neither is easy.
There's no point in sugar-coating this. In the Deep South, the Democratic
Party is now the non-white party, and minority politicians don't have the
white partners they need to exercise any but the most local political
power. While the problem is less severe in the border states, it has
clearly made advances there. You can look at pretty much the whole
Scots-Irish migration from the Virginias to Oklahoma and see that the
Democrats were trounced last Tuesday. They badly lost Senate elections
in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas,
and they actually lost two Senate elections each in South Carolina and
Oklahoma. Their seat in Virginia was only (just barely) saved by the
DC suburbs in the northeastern part of the state.
Longman also has a detailed piece on the House elections,
The Midterm Results Were Not Completely Preordained, if you're
still interested. If not, you might consider this paragraph -- one
recipe for an exceptionally low turnout is the media message that
these elections didn't matter:
Regardless, you can say that your models predicted a big night for the
Republicans all you want, but I still blame the media. I blame the media
for creating the first federal election season in my lifetime in which
the elections weren't the top story for the last two months of the
campaign. By focusing so heavily on other stories, like ISIS and the
Ebola virus, the media smothered the Democratic message.
Wendy R Weiser: How Much of a Difference Did New Voting Restrictions Make
in Yesterday's Close Races?: The 2014 election was the first one run
without the protections of the Voting Rights Act. It was also the first
midterm election run under a spate of new voter suppression laws ushered
in by Republicans after 2010 to keep turnout low. Weiser cites close
election cases in North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Florida, with
various studies showing 2-3% drops due to new laws. "Under Florida's
law, the harshest in the country, one in three African-American men is
essentially permanently disenfranchised." Weiser also points out that
while the Texas governorship was decided by more than "the 600,000
registered voters in Texas who could not vote this year because they
lack IDs the state will accept" those citizens' inability to vote has
an effect up and down the ticket, and indeed makes it that much harder
for Democrats to run candidates. One thing that's rarely commented
upon is that voter restriction laws not only prevent some people from
exercising their voting rights, they intimidate many more from even
For more, see
Brad Friedman: The Results Were Skewed Toward Republicans, which
cites Wieser but goes much further, as well as casting a jaundiced
eye at Nate Silver's conclusion that the polls were skewed.
Also, a few links for further study:
Q&A: James K Galbraith on the Myth of Petpetual Growth, How Language
Shapes Economic Thought, and More: An interview with Galbraith,
whose new book, The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future
of Growth is next on my reading list. Galbraith seems to doubt
Ryan Cooper's argument that we need to counter inequality to increase
growth. I've long agreed with Cooper (and Stiglitz, but not Krugman)
that inequality is depressing demand at least in the US, but Galbraith
seems to be arguing that growth is being hampered by more than just
inequality -- e.g., that technology has something to do with it. One
thing I'm pretty sure of is that technological advances have done
much to blunt the political impact of inequality -- in effect, big
TVs and smart cell phones make us less bitter about the rich getting
richer. The new book is certain to be interesting. I've said many
times that Galbraith's The Predator State: How Conservatives
Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too is the
best political book of the last decade.
Mike Konczal/Bryce Covert: The Real Solution to Wealth Equality:
"Instead of just giving people more purchasing power, we should be
taking basic needs off the market altogether." Social Security does
this. So would universal healthcare and free education. Konczal and
Covert have expanded this into a regular column in The Nation.
All of these are worth reading:
Peter Van Buren: What Could Possibly Go Right? Iraq War 3.0, he calls
it. Ignoring 1.0, I'm reminded more of Marx's quip about the Bonapartes:
history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce -- although for
all concerned it'll look more like tragedy all over again: it's only from
an insensitive distance that one can sit back and revel in how ridiculous
everyone involved is.
Sunday, November 2. 2014
Tuesday is election day. Six years ago Barack Obama was elected
president with 69 million votes -- 52.9% of the 132 million voters
(56.8 of the voting-age population, the highest share since 1968) --
and the Democrats swept both houses of Congress, even achieving what
was widely touted as a "fillibuster-proof Senate" (not that I can
recall them breaking any fillibusters with narrow partisan votes,
aside from the ACA health care reform). Almost immediately, right
wing talk radio exploded with hatred for Obama and the Democrats,
and the Republican members of Congress turned into intransigent and
remarkably effective obstructionists.
Meanwhile, Obama quickly pivoted from promising to change Washington
to doing whatever he could to salvage the status quo, starting with the
banks that had crashed the economy and Bush's military misadventures in
the Middle East. Instead of using his congressional majorities, he plead
for bipartisan support, often compromising before he even introduced a
plan -- as when he sandbagged his own stimulus program by saddling it
with ineffective tax cuts, or introduced health care reform and global
warming proposals that were originally hatched in right-wing think
tanks. He gave the incumbent Republican Federal Reserve chair an extra
term, and he kept on the incumbent Republican Secretary of Defense --
and both screwed him in short form. Moreover, like Bill Clinton when
he won in 1992, Obama dismantled a successful national Democratic Party
leadership and replaced them with cronies who promptly threw the 2010
The 2010 elections rival 1946 as one of the dumbest things the
American people ever did. The Republicans took over the House, not
only ending any prospect of progressive legislation but constantly
threatening to shut down the federal government. Republicans also
took over many governorships and state houses, and used those power
bases to consolidate their power: by gerrymandering districts, and
by passing laws to make it harder to vote. It turns out that the
difference between 2008 and 2010 was not just a matter of Republican
enthusiasm and Democratic lethargy: it registered as a massive drop
in the number of voters, from 132 million to 90 million, from 56.8%
of voting-age population to 37.8%
note also that the 2006 turnout was only 37.1% and that produced
a Democratic landslide, so it's somewhat variable who stays home).
In 2012, when Obama finally took a personal interest in an election,
he was again able to get out the vote (albeit still a bit off from 2008
with 130 million, 53.6%). Obama won again, the Democrats increased their
share of the Senate, and won a majority of the vote for the House (but
not a majority of seats, thanks to all that gerrymandering, so the last
two years have seen the same level of obstruction as the previous two).
If those trends hold, turnout will be down again this year, and that
will give the elite-favoring Republicans an edge: at this point, nobody
expects them to lose the House, and most "experts" expect the Republicans
to gain control of the Senate. That would be a horrific outcome, which
makes you wonder why the Democrats don't seem to be taking it seriously,
and more generally why the press doesn't talk about it as anything but
a horserace. That trope suggests a race between two more-or-less equals,
horses, whereas the actual race is between predator and prey: if the
Democrat is a horse, the Republican is more like a lion, or a pack of
wolves (or an army of flesh-eating ants). The Republicans don't back off
when a Democrat wins a race. They don't socialize, and don't compromise.
They keep attacking, figuring that no matter how much damage they do,
the public will blame the incumbent.
|An old, but not outdated, Crowson cartoon|
It's a long story how the Republicans have gotten to be the menace
they currently are -- one I can't go into with any hope of posting
today. Suffice it to say they've managed to combine three threads:
- An anti-democratic campaign ethic ranging from Nixon's "dirty tricks"
to voter suppression to flooding the airwaves with bile, baldfaced lies,
and carefully vetted pet phrases -- anything to seize power.
- Their single substantial political position is to help the rich grow
richer, a position that has hardened even as business has become more
predatory -- indeed, their individualist, "greed is good" ideology has
hardened into self-destructive dogma.
- Since anti-populism is an inherently losing strategy in a democracy,
they've built a diverse base by cultivating "single issue voters" --
especially ones who can be focused to hate proxy groups (including those
so-called "cultural elites," but mostly the non-white, the poor, single
women, deviants, peaceniks, policy wonks, anyone who doesn't like guns).
I know that this sounds like a recipe for disaster, and indeed every
time the Republicans have tried to put their ideas into practice they
have backfired. (Reagan got away relatively free although his S&L
deregulation disaster was a harbinger of things to come, and his arming
of the mujahideen in Afghanistan still haunts us. But the Bushes plunged
us into endless, bankrupting war, and the latter's laissez-faire bank
policy wrecked the economy, while Katrina exposed the moral rot caused
by Bush's privatization of government services. And right now Kansas is
reeling from Gov. Brownback's "experiments" -- they say that "absolute
power corrupts absolutely," and the total hammerlock of the RINO-purged
ultra-right party in the Sunflower State offers further proof.) Yet
much of the country, led by the fawning mainstream media, continues to
accord Republicans a measure of respect they've done nothing to earn.
For while the Republicans could care less about destroying the social
fabric of the nation, they are always careful to honor the rich, their
businesses, the military, the nation's self-important legacy, and, of
course, almighty God -- their idea of the natural order of things,
one no Democrat politician dare challenge. (Indeed, the Democrats'
cheerleader-in-chief for those verities has been Barrack Obama --
the very man most Republicans insist is the root of all evil.)
When the dust settles the amount of money spent on this election
will be staggering, not that many people will move on to the next
obvious question: since businessmen always seek profits, what sort
of return do the rich expect from their largesse? Thanks to modern
technology -- caller ID to screen calls and a DVR to skip through
commercials -- we've managed to avoid most of the deluge, but I've
managed to catch enough to get a sense of how bad unlimited campaign
spending has become. Kansas and Arkansas both have competitive races
for Governor and Senator, and in both cases the Republicans, with
their sense of entitlement, have pulled out all the stops. However,
their commercials are one-note attacks on Obama, as if that's the
magic word that boils voters' blood.
That acrimony is hard to fathom: a combination of prejudice and
ignorance and, well, gullibility if not downright stupidity. For
anyone who's paid the least bit of attention over the last six years,
Obama is a very cautious, inherently conservative politician -- one
who goes out of his way not to ruffle feathers, least of all of the
rich and powerful. Indeed, that makes perfect sense: all his life
he's strove to conform to the powers that exist, and he's been so
adept at it that he's been richly rewarded for his service. The idea
that he's surrepititiously out to destroy the country that so flattered
him by making him president is beyond ridiculous, yet judging from
their cynical ads, Republicans don't just believe this -- they take
it as something so obvious they need merely to repeat it. And that's
just one of many cases where the Republicans think they can simply
talk their way out of reality.
Some scattered links this week:
Dean Baker: Economists Who Saw the Housing Bubble Were Not Worried
About a Depression: The article doesn't really explain the title,
but the main point is worth repeating:
It is quite fashionable among Washington elite types to insist that
we would have had another depression if we didn't save the Wall Street
banks, but do any of them have any idea what they mean by this?
The first Great Depression was the result of not having enough
demand in the economy. We got out of it finally in 1941 by spending
lots of money. The motivation for spending lots of money was fighting
World War II, but the key point was spending the money. It might have
been difficult politically to justify the spending necessary to
restore the economy to full employment without the war, but that
is a political problem not an economic problem. We do know how to
In effect, the pundits who say that we would have had a depression
if we did not bail out the banks are saying that our economic policy
is so dominated by flat-earth types that we would have to endure a
decade or more of double-digit unemployment, with the incredible
amount of suffering it would cause, because the flat-earthers would
not allow the spending necessary to restore full employment.
That characterization of our political process could be accurate,
but it is important to be clear what is being said. The claim is not
that anything about the financial crisis itself would have caused a
depression. The claim is rather that Washington economic policy is
totally controlled by people without a clue about economics.
In fact, let's repeat it again. One of the most basic things we
know from macroeconomics is that government can restore a depressed
economy to full employment by sufficiently increasing spending, and
that if the depression is caused by insufficient demand, government
spending is the only way that works. We know that this depression
is due to insufficient demand because businesses are sitting on cash
instead of investing in more capacity, and giving them more money
doesn't change a thing. So the only way to bring employment is for
government to spend more, and there are several obvious benefits to
that. For one thing, investments in infrastructure pay dividends
well into the future, and they are never cheaper than during a
depression. That's also true of investments in "human capital" --
education, science, engineering, the arts. But even plain transfers
are a plus, as they move money from people who have more than they
spend to people who need to spend more. One obvious thing to do
when the housing bubble burst was to make it possible to refinance
mortgages -- it would have helped banks clean up their balance
sheets and it would have help people hang onto their homes -- but
it wasn't done, for purely political reasons.
In fact, virtually none of this was done, again for political
reasons -- and that mostly means because of Republican obstruction
(although in states with Republicans in power, like Kansas, they
did considerably worse). Of course, the Democrats weren't too sharp
here either. Obama's belief in "the confidence fairy" was so strong
that he spent his first two years insisting that the economy was in
better shape than it was, foolishly believing that business would
believe him (and not their own accountants) and stop deleveraging.
By the time he realized that wasn't working: he had missed the
opportunity to blame the whole mess on Bush, he had settled for
a stimulus bill way too small, he missed the opportunity to unwind
the Bush tax cuts for the rich (and therefore found himself in a
gaping deficit hole), and then he stupidly bought into the argument
that deficit reduction was more important than cutting unemployment.
It's easy enough to see why the Republicans didn't mind sandbagging
the economy: it weakened labor markets, scarcely touched monopoly
profits, reduced government (and the possibility that government
might do something for the people), and in the end people would
blame Obama anyway. It's harder to understand why Obama inflicted
all this misery on himself, his party, and his voters.
Forty years ago all this was common sense -- so much so that
Richard Nixon proclaimed, "We are all Keynesians now." But the US
was more of a democracy then, and the economic effects of government
were more clearly seen for what they were. Nixon was a Keynesian
because he wanted to get reëlected, and that was what worked. With
Obama, you have to wonder.
Henry Farrell: Big Brother's Liberal Friends: "Sean Wilentz, George
Packer and Michael Kinsley are a dismal advertisement for the current
state of mainstream liberal thought in America. They have systematically
misrepresented and misunderstood Edward Snowden and the NSA." Intellectuals
like those three, who spend [at least] as much time trying to separate
themselves from the left as they invest in their proclaimed liberalism,
are why I felt such contempt for liberals during the Vietnam War (and
its broader Cold War context).
Why do national-security liberals have such a hard time thinking straight
about Greenwald, Snowden and the politics of leaks? One reason is sheer
laziness. National-security liberals have always defined themselves against
their antagonists, and especially their left-wing antagonists. They have
seen themselves as the decent Left, willing to deploy American power to
make the world a happier place, and fighting the good fight against the
This creates a nearly irresistible temptation: to see Greenwald, Snowden
and the problems they raise as antique bugbears in modern dress. Wilentz
intimates that Greenwald is plotting to create a United Front of
anti-imperialist left-wingers, libertarians and isolationist
paleoconservatives. Packer depicts Greenwald and Snowden as stalwarts of
the old Thoreauvian tradition of sanctimonious absolutism and moral idiocy.
Kinsley paints Snowden as a conspiracy-minded dupe and Greenwald as a
Yet laziness is only half the problem. A fundamental inability to
comprehend Greenwald and Snowden's case, let alone to argue against it,
is the other half. National-security liberals have enormous intellectual
difficulties understanding the new politics of surveillance, because
these politics are undermining the foundations of their worldview.
I suspect that part of that worldview is a desire to see themselves
as part of the security state, something they project as having their
own morality, even though there is no evidence of such. This makes
them defensive when confronted with an outsider like Greenwald or a
turncoat like Snowden. It also makes them gullible to campaigns like
the Bush snow job on invading Iraq: their sense of belonging with the
state isolates them from adverse consequences to others, even while
they justify their acts by pointing to supposed benefits to others
(whom I doubt they are actually capable of relating to).
Snowden and Greenwald suggest that this project is not only doomed but
also corrupt. The burgeoning of the surveillance state in the United
States and its allies is leading not to the international spread of
liberalism, but rather to its hollowing out in the core Western
democracies. Accountability is escaping into a realm of secret
decisions and shadowy forms of cross-national cooperation and
connivance. As Princeton constitutional scholar Kim Lane Scheppele
argues, international law no longer supports national constitutional
rights so much as it undermines them. U.S. efforts to promote
surveillance are hurting civil liberties at home as well as abroad,
as practices more commonly associated with international espionage
are redeployed domestically, and as security agencies (pursuing what
they perceive as legitimate goals) arbitrage the commingling of
domestic and international data to gather information that they
should not be entitled to.
Thomas Frank: Righteous rage, impotent fury: the last days of Sam Brownback
and Pat Roberts: I'm still skeptical that Brownback and Roberts will
fall on Tuesday, but he's right that it's close, and that it's notable in
a year when so much of the conventional wisdom expects Republican gains.
It's worth noting that Brownback and Roberts got to this point by two
very different routes, but they're likely to fall for the same reasons.
Six years ago Roberts was cruising to an easy third term, and Brownback
was up in Iowa campaigning for president. Brownback fizzled embarrassingly,
losing the caucuses not just to Mike Huckabee -- his rival for the pious
church crowd -- but to everyone else as well. He then decided to burnish
his credentials with some executive experience, so he gave up his own
safe senate seat in 2010 to run for governor. He won easily, then set
out to establish his presidential bona fides by overhauling everything
in state government to meet state-of-the-art Republican standards. He
was, after all, convinced that his ideology worked, and meant to run
not just on theory but on proven success. For starters, he had Kansas
hire the memorably named Arthur Laffer to come up with a tax proposal:
one that eliminated all state income taxes for "small business" owners,
which in Kansas includes billionaires like Charles Koch. Laffer assured
us that the taxes would be a "shot of adrenaline" straight into the
Kansas economy. The only effect they had was to blow a monster hole
in the state budget, which led to cutbacks all across the state, which
. . . stalled the economy. With Republicans controlling both houses
of the state legislature, Brownback had no trouble getting his
"experiments" approved, but in 2012 he didn't like the occasional
no vote from the few remaining moderate Republicans, so he arranged
a purge of the so-called RINOs -- pushing the legislature even more
to the right. Resistance against Brownback has been growing almost
since the day he took office. The taxes are just one of dozens of
issues Brownback has been offensive on, ranging from fanciful new
restrictions against abortion providers to a campaign to exterminate
the lesser prairie chicken (before the federal government can declare
it an "endangered species" -- some kind of inconvenience to ranchers).
Roberts, on the other hand, had nothing to fear but fear itself,
but being the very definition of chickenshit, when the tea partyfolk
started questioning his fanaticism he lurched suddenly to the right,
even going so far as to vote against the Agriculture bill most Kansas
farming corporations depend on. He barely escaped a primary where he
was tagged as "liberal in Washington, rarely in Kansas" (indeed, he
had to fire a campaign manager who told the press that Roberts had
"gone home to Virginia"). And then when he assumed that he'd have no
trouble with whoever the Democrats nominated, he wound up facing a
well-to-do independent, Greg Orman, with the Democrat bowing out.
Since then, his campaign commercials have never risen above the level
of trying to equate Orman with Obama and Harry Reid. Orman's ads also
identify Obama and Reid as problems in Washington, but add Mitch
McConnell and Pat Roberts to the list. Where Brownback is some sort
of true believer in things that clearly don't work, Roberts is a
mere poster boy for the usual run of Washington corruption. Neither
approach is very popular anywhere, but Kansas offers exceptionally
What Frank doesn't do is take credit for causing this debacle. His
book, What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart
of America (2004) made a big point about how Republicans took
advantage of rank-and-file cultural conservatives, catering to them
with election rhetoric then only implementing business favors once
elected. Since Frank's book came out, the rank-and-file revolted,
and they've pushed their crazy agenda through the legislature --
that's why, for instance, Kansas passed a law to nullify federal
gun laws, and another to allow conceal/carry into all government
office buildings. Under the old pre-Frank scheme, electing far-right
nuts helped the rich get richer but didn't impact many others. Now,
everyone's affected, which is one reason for the backlash. Another
is the purge, which has rallied hundreds of prominent RINOs to
campaign against Brownback.
Stephen M Walt: Netanyahu's Not Chickenshit, the White House Is:
Israeli pawn/propagandist Jeffrey Goldberg quoted an anonymous White
House aid as describing Benjamin Netanyahu as "chickenshit" -- evidently
for not attacking Iran like the Israelis promised Goldberg they'd do --
so the Israelis got worked up into a snit fit and demanded apoligies,
a diplomatic nicety the US didn't bother to demand a few weeks ago
when Naftali Bennett accused John Kerry of anti-semitism. Evidently,
Netanyahu has a very prickly sensibility, whereas we all know that
Obama is used to sloughing off far worse insults. Walt covers the
whole "chickenshit-gate" affair here. I've said a lot of things
about Netanyahu, but I'd never call a politician who wields nuclear
weapons "chickenshit" -- even if he was, I wouldn't dare taunt him.
Actually, I doubt that Netanyahu is that thin-skinned. Rather, he
saw this as an opportunity to remind his supporters how completely
he has Obama under his thumb. When Netanyahu came to power in the
wake of Obama's victory, I figured it would be short order before
his narrow coalition would fall. All the nudge it would take would
be a clear signal from Obama that Netanyahu wasn't someone we could
work with, and that decision wouldn't take long. There even were a
few hints, but nothing Netanyahu couldn't wiggle out of. After a
couple years Obama stopped trying, threw in the towel on settlements,
and he's been Netanyahu's bitch ever since. For more, see
Gideon Levy: Who's the real chickenshit?.
The United States' policy can only be described as "abject cowardice."
Netanyahu, at least, is acting according to his ideology and belief.
Obama is acting against his -- and that's pure cowardice. A captive
of internal politics and a victim of the de-legitimization campaign
in his country, the president didn't have the guts to overcome those
obstacles, follow his world view and bring an end to the occupation.
Yes, he could. Israel is totally dependent on America and he is
America's president. Instead Obama continued the policy of automatic
support for Israel, believing, in vain, that flattery will change
Obama was destined to be the game changer in the Middle East.
When he was elected, he ignited the hope that he would do that.
But he preferred to stay with his cowardice. To grovel before
Israel and turn his back on the Palestinians. To talk about peace
and support Israel's built-in violence.
Now, in the winter of his career, he is showing signs of being
fed up with all this. He can still change things, but not with
insults, only with deeds that shake Israel up. Two years are time
enough for an American president to make it clear to Israel that
its corrupt banquet is over. But for that we need a president who
isn't a chickenshit.
Some stupid politics links (from TPM, where it's impossible to
find stories more than two days old, but they carry roughly a dozen
like these every week):
Then there is:
Also, a few links for further study:
Larry Diamond: Chasing Away the Democracy Blues: It bothers me when
pundits get on their high horse about democracy and use that to dismiss
states with basic democratic institutions that offend them for some other
reason -- usually that they have elected leaders the US doesn't approve
of for one reason or another. Diamond, for instance, doesn't think much
of Russia, Iran, Turkey, or Venezuela, but he likes Ukraine much better
since a coup deposed its last democratically elected president. Of course,
I don't like restrictions on free press like we've seen in Russia and
Turkey recently, nor restrictions on who can run for office like those
practiced in Iran, but few political systems cannot be improved. I'll
add that while I agree with Diamond and virtually everyone else that
China is not a democracy, my impression is that the Chinese government
is more popular and a more effective public servant than the governments
of many nominal democracies. Diamond's US-centric list of democracies --
you don't find Hungary mentioned anywhere, but the antidemocratic laws
recently passed there aimed at perpetuating the power of a right-wing
party look like something ALEC would work up for the Republicans here --
shows widespread decay which a more balanced list might reduce, but
the following paragraph raises an interesting point:
Like many of you who travel widely, I am increasingly alarmed by how
pervasive and corrosive is the worldwide perception -- in both autocracies
and democracies -- that American democracy has become dysfunctional and
is no longer a model worth emulating. Fortunately, there are many possible
models, and most American political scientists never recommended that
emerging democracies copy our own excessively veto-ridden institutions.
Nevertheless the prestige, the desirability, and the momentum of democracy
globally are heavily influenced by perceptions of how it is performing in
its leading examples. If we do not mobilize institutional reforms and
operational innovations to reduce partisan polarization, encourage
moderation and compromise, energize executive functioning, and reduce
the outsized influence of money and special interests in our own politics,
how are we going to be effective in tackling these kinds of challenges
Of course, one answer is that maybe we shouldn't -- especially as long
as we seem incapable of distinguishing public interests from the parochial
private interests and imperial hubris that dominate US foreign policy.
Winston Churchill used to quip that democracy was the worst possible form
of government, except for all the rest. I've long thought that the key
virtue of democracy was that it offers a way to remove leaders like
Winston Churchill from power without having to shoot them. Democracy
promises stability even where leadership changes, and stability is
reason enough to want to see democracy propagated throughout the world.
There are, of course, others, like accountability of leaders to subjects,
an essential element of justice, which is in turn essential for the
mutual trust that every modern society requires.
Mark Kleiman: Cannabis Legalization in Oregon: Is Measure 91 Close Enough
for Government Work?: I don't get (or care for) all the quibbles,
but I am glad to see progress on this front.
Corey Robin: Jews, Camps, and the Red Cross: Recent research shows
that Israel ran several "detention camps" from 1948 into the 1950s
where they kept Palestinians as prisoners and subjected them to the
usual concentration camp degradations, including forced labor. I'm
not sure if this is news -- Israel has run its gulags as long as I
can recall, so 1948 is a plausible starting date. I've long known
that Israel's military rule regime ran from 1948-67, when it was
dismantled a few months before being reconstituted for the Occupied
Territories. I've been reading Shira Robinson's Citizen Strangers:
Palestinians and the Birth of Israel's Liberal Settler State,
which covers this period fairly well.
Juliet Schor: Debating the Sharing Economy: A fairly long survey
both of commercial and nonprofit sharing organizations with various
pluses and minuses -- something that is analogous to my Share the
Wealth project but not clear what I want to do. (I suppose the
nonprofits are close to what I have in mind, but my own thoughts are
far from developed.) Schor has a series of interesting books, the
most recent and relevant True Wealth: How and Why Millions of
Americans Are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically-Light, Small-Scale,
High-Satisfaction Economy (2011), which among other things goes
into makerspace technology at great length.
Sunday, October 26. 2014
Having jotted down one or two of these on the road, I figured on doing
a Sunday links column, followed by a Monday music column, just like normal
times. Didn't work out that way, but thanks to the magic of back-dating
my tardiness will eventually be forgotten.
Alex Henderson: Rise of the American police state: 9 disgraceful events
that paved the way: Let's just list 'em:
- Ronald Reagan Escalates the War on Drugs
- Rodney King Beating of 1991
- 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
- Waterboarding and Torture at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base
- Growth and Expansion of Asset Forfeiture Laws
- National Defense Authorization Act and Erosion of Habeas Corpus
- Department of Homeland Security Promoting Militarization of Local Police Departments
- Growth of the Prison/Industrial Complex
- NYPD Assault on Occupy Wall Street
Note that nothing facilitates the creation of a police state like war --
even pretend-wars like the one on drugs, but see how the pace picks up with
Paul Krugman: The Invisible Moderate: A more accurate assessment of
Obama than the one Krugman put forth in his Rolling Stone puff
I actually agree with a lot of what David Brooks says today. But -- you
know there has to be a "but" -- so does a guy named Barack Obama. Which
brings me to one of the enduringly weird aspects of our current pundit
discourse: constant calls for a moderate, sensible path that supposedly
lies between the extremes of the two parties, but is in fact exactly
what Obama has been proposing. [ . . . ]
Well, the Obama administration would love to spend more on infrastructure;
the problem is that a major spending bill has no chance of passing the House.
And that's not a problem of "both parties" -- it's the GOP blocking it.
Exactly how many Republicans would be willing to engage in deficit spending
to expand bus networks? (Remember, these are the people who consider making
rental bicycles available an example of "totalitarian" rule.)
[ . . . ]
It's an amazing thing: Obama is essentially what we used to call a
liberal Republican, who faces implacable opposition from a very hard
right. But Obama's moderation is hidden in plain sight, apparently
invisible to the commentariat.
Actually, when I think of Obama as a "liberal Republican" I flash
back to an earlier Illinois senator, Charles Percy, who was better on
foreign policy and no worse on economics or civil rights than Obama.
But Obama doesn't have the luxury of being a liberal Republican, or
for that matter a centrist Democrat. Today's Republicans allow no such
luxury, nor do today's problems. As far back as 1998, Jim Hightower
warned: "there's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes
and dead armadillos." Today there's just more roadkill.
By the way, Krugman's too kind to Brooks, whom he quotes as saying,
"the government should reduce its generosity to people who are not
working but increase its support for people who are. That means reducing
health benefits for the affluent elderly . . ." You may wonder why the
party of the rich proposes adding means tests to Medicare. It's because
they don't want anyone to think they have a right to medical care.
Seth McElwee: Why Turning Out the Vote Makes a Huge Difference in Four
Charts: The charts show that non-voters are consistently more liberal
than voters, which reinforces the by-now-conventional view that Democrats
win when then can get the vote out, while the key for Republican gains is
voter suppression. This doesn't go into the question of why non-voters
don't vote, even though voting is one of the few ways they have to advance
their own interests. Clearly one reason is that the economic costs of
voting (which include things like the time it takes to vote) are high
enough to suppress turnout. Another likely reason is widespread cynicism
about politicians -- especially about Democrats, who appeal for public
support on election day but more often than not spend the rest of their
time triangulating between interest group lobbies, raising money that
they often see as more valuable in securing reëlection than any work
they do to benefit their constituents.
When voter turnout is discussed in public it is often treated as a civic
obligation, rather than a means to advance individual interests. Republican
candidates often denounce low-income voters for voting for the party that
best advances their class interests (while at the same time supporting
massive tax cuts for their rich constituents). Yet when Benjamin Page
interview the rich he finds that they, "acknowledged a focus on fairly
narrow economic self-interest" when discussing their engagement in the
political process. In this way, the recent Lil' Jon video, "Turnout For
What," while tacky, has reframed the voting as a means to forward political
interests, rather than as a civic obligation. Since some 41 percent of
non-voters claim that their vote wouldn't matter, this message is important.
It's also important to remove barriers to voting. Research by Jame Avery
and Mark Peffley finds, "states with restrictive voter registration laws
are much more likely to be biased toward upper-class turnout." In contrast,
states that have adopted same-day registration and vigorously enforced the
National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) have lower levels of class bias in
their electorate. Research also suggests that unions are an important
mechanism for low and middle income voters to engage with the political
process. Attempts to disempower than should also be viewed through the
lens of voter suppression.
Indeed, Republican opposition to unions seems to have more to do with
reducing their political effectiveness than as a favor to the rich. Since
their blip in 2010, when Obama voters took a nap, Republicans have seized
the opportunity to do as much as they could to suppress voting (as well
as to distort it through the infusion of extraordinary sums of money).
I expect this to produce some kind of backlash -- the message for those
who bother to pay attention is that your vote must be worth something,
otherwise why would they be so eager to take it away? -- but thus far
the clearest message is how shameless Republicans have become about
their desire to exclude a really large segment of the American people.
For more on voter suppression efforts, see
Jeffrey Toobin: Freedom Summer, 2015 (and from 2012,
Jane Mayer: The Voter-Fraud Myth).
Paul Woodward: Terrorism exists in the eye of the beholder: I was
in Arkansas Tuesday [October 22], when a soldier on duty at a "war
memorial" in Ottawa [Canada] was shot by a lone gunman, presumably
the person shot and killed later that day in Canada's Parliament
building. The TV was tuned into CNN, where they spent the entire day
blabbing on and on based on scant information and fervid imagination.
The shooter was later identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
In 2012 there were seven murders in Ottawa (population close to a million),
2013 nine murders, and so far in 2014 there have been five (including
The overwhelming majority of the crazy men running round shooting
innocent people are on this side of the border. What makes them dangerous
is much less the ideas in their heads than the ease with which they can
lay their hands on a gun.
It's often hard to be clear about what should be described as
terrorism. What's much easier to discern is hysteria.
By the way, Zehaf-Bibeau's gun was evidently a
Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle, a design that dates back to
1894 and is limited to eight rounds, which have to be individually loaded --
a very inefficient choice for a "shooting rampage."
Then on Friday [October 24], a high school student in suburban Seattle
went on his own
shooting rampage, killing two and injuring three more before shooting
himself. I missed CNN's wall-to-wall coverage (assuming that's what they
did), but it's safe to guess that the talking heads spent much less time
speculating on the shooter's ties to ISIS. For one thing, shooting each
other is just something Americans do.
- I don't have time to dig through Israel's recent garbage, but if you
do here are some typical links from Mondoweiss:
Also, a few links for further study:
Tom Engelhardt: Entering the Intelligence Labyrinth: An introduction,
or precis, of Engelhardt's new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance,
Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World
(paperback, Haymarket Books). It bears repeating that the US annually
spends $68 billion on 17 major "intelligence" agencies -- sorry for the
quotes but it's hard to think of them without choking on that word --
that do, well, what exactly? Sorry, that's a secret, but thanks to the
occasional leak or boast we do know a wee bit:
You build them glorious headquarters. You create a global surveillance
state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their
communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even morph into
avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a
penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect
information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail
might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for . . .
well, the salacious hell of it. Your employees even use aspects of the
system you've created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane
world, that act of "spycraft" gains its own name: LOVEINT.
You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet.
You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees,
creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first
order. You break into the "backdoors" of the data centers of major
Internet outfits to collect user accounts. You create new outfits
within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and
intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted
among those 17 agencies). Your leaders lie to Congress and the American
people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt. Your
acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of
events and regularly rubberstamp them -- and whose judgments and
substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to
You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information
about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn't
make it into our world. You even have the legal ability to gag
American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects
that would displease you (and they can't say that their mouths have
been shut). You undoubtedly spy on Congress. You hack into congressional
computer systems. And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell
the American public anything unauthorized about what you're doing, you
prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a
foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American
people as if they were a foreign population). You do everything to wreck
their lives and -- should one escape your grasp -- you hunt him implacably
to the ends of the Earth.
As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving
door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the
intelligence-corporate complex. [ . . . ]
Keep in mind that the twenty-first-century version of intelligence
began amid a catastrophic failure: much crucial information about the
9/11 hijackers and hijackings was ignored or simply lost in the labyrinth.
That failure, of course, led to one of the great intelligence expansions,
or even explosions, in history. (And mind you, no figure in authority in
the national security world was axed, demoted, or penalized in any way
for 9/11 and a number of them were later given awards and promoted.)
However they may fail, when it comes to their budgets, their power,
their reach, their secrecy, their careers, and their staying power,
they have succeeded impressively.
Speaking of secrets, also see:
Nick Turse: Uncovering the Military's Secret Military (back from
2011, more relevant than ever):
In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command
carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level
targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night
raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with
indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans.
Once "special" for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are
special for their power, access, influence, and aura.
That aura now benefits from a well-honed public relations campaign
which helps them project a superhuman image at home and abroad, even
while many of their actual activities remain in the ever-widening shadows.
Typical of the vision they are pushing was this statement from Admiral
Olson: "I am convinced that the forces . . . are the most culturally
attuned partners, the most lethal hunter-killers, and most responsive,
agile, innovative, and efficiently effective advisors, trainers,
problem-solvers, and warriors that any nation has to offer."
I suspect that the main target of that propaganda campaign is the
president, to drive home the point that "special forces" are a no-risk,
high-return, small scale option for any problem that can be solved
simply (with a bullet, that is).
Rory Fanning: Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops?: I can't be the
only person who finds the constant adulation given to the "troops" of
the US military downright disgusting, but it sure is hard to find anyone
saying so in print. America has always cultivated hypocrisy, and those
in my generation suffered through more than usual dose. We noted the
beginnings of a cult of the troops in the Vietnam War, where failure
on the battlefield was ever-more-generously decorated with medals, but
memory was too close to WWII to get carried away: WWII was an intense,
all-encompassing collective effort; with so few uninvolved it would have
seemed silly to declare everyone a hero (although as memory dimmed that
eventually happened with the "greatest generation" hype). The obvious
excuse for putting troops on a pedestal today is that so few people
sign up (and many of them are tricked into thinking it's some sort of
jobs program). Still, this idolatry obscures one of the fundamental
political questions of our time: do the sacrifices of US troops do any
good for the vast majority of Americans who are otherwise uninvolved?
The answer, I'm certain, is no. If all the US had done after 9/11/2001
was to put out a few Interpol warrants, I doubt that even the tiny
number of "terrorist attacks" we've seen since would have happened.
Had we practiced policies in the Middle East favoring democracy and
basic human rights for all but eschewing intervention and arms sales
we probably would have missed out on 9/11 (and both Gulf Wars). Sure,
the troops had no real say in the decision to squander their lives in
a vain attempt to buttress the Neocon ego, but I'm not so sure they
shouldn't shoulder some of the blame. Back in the Vietnam War days
there was a popular saying: "suppose they gave a war and nobody came."
We were under no illusion that most of those who "came" for the war
then were compelled to do so. I can understand, and even sympathize,
how one might succumb to the force of the state -- I did, after all,
feel that force -- but for me that made those who resisted, either
by going to jail or avoiding that fate, were the era's real heroes;
nothing one could do in battle came close. Since the draft ended,
the choice to deny the war machine its bodies is less fraught, and
indeed most people choose that path. So today's troops range from
malevolent to the merely misinformed, but they all help to enable
a set of policies that ultimately do massive harm to the nation and
its people. And often, of course, they do great harm to themselves,
adding to the public costs of war. (Aside from the dead and maimed,
Fanning mentions that "there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes
in this country," nor does the PTSD stop there.) Of course, there
are more nuances to the whole phenomenon, but at root is a common
misconception that those who "served" did something to protect the
rest of us, something that we all should be grateful for. That simply
did not happen. That they sacrificed for something we should regret
and be embarrassed by, well, that's more to the point. Only once we
recognize that can we get past the charades, and that will be better
for all of us.
David Bromwich: American Exceptionalism and Its Discontents:
Speaking of hypocrisies, here's the hoary mother lode, the notion
that we're so special the world wouldn't know what to do without
our enlightened guidance. Needless to say, the tone has changed
over time. Once America was unique in declaring that "all men are
created equal"; today our self-esteem is the very celebration of
David Gerald Finchman: The hidden documents that reveal the true borders
of Israel and Palestine: In 1947 David Ben Gurion begged the UN to
vote in favor of partition borders for Palestine which would give 55% of
the mandate to a majority-Jewish nation that represented only 35% of the
total population, and 45% to an almost exclusively Arabic-speaking nation.
In 1948 Israel's Declaration of Independence proclaimed a Jewish State
but said nothing about borders. This unwillingness to define borders has
kept Israel in a state of war ever since, with Israel grabbing another
23% of the Mandate's territory during the 1947-49 war, and the remaining
22% in 1967 (plus chunks of Egypt and Syria). This piece looks into the
decision-making process from UN-borders to no-borders. A longer version
Karen Greenberg: Will the US Go to "War" Against Ebola? It's telling
that Obama's initial response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was to
send in the US military. That made some sense inasmuch as AFRICOM has
money to burn and some expertise in logistics, but it also imposes a
rigid worldview and introduces a dangerous level of intimidation. The
one thing Ebola does have in common with Terrorism is an exaggerated
level of hysteria, but that seems of a piece with the media's highly
orchestrated kneejerk reactions. I'm reminded of the anthrax scare of
2001, which would have soon gone freaking insane had the perpetrator
not had the good sense to stop. Greenberg points out many ways Ebola
differs from the Terrorism model.
Louis Menand: Crooner in Rights Spat: A useful review of copyright
Baldwin joins Saint-Amour, the law professors Lawrence Lessig, Jeanne
Fromer, and Robert Spoo, and the copyright lawyer William Patry in
believing that, Internet or no Internet, the present level of copyright
protection is excessive. By the time most works fall into the public
domain, they have lost virtually all their use value. If the public
domain is filled with items like hundred-year-old images of the back
of Rod Stewart's head, the public good will suffer. The commons will
become your great-grandparents' attic.
As it is, few creations outlive their creators. Of the 187,280 books
published between 1927 and 1946, only 2.3 per cent were still in print
in 2002. But, since there is no "use it or lose it" provision in
copyright law, they are all still under copyright today. Patry, in
his recent book, "How to Fix Copyright," notes that ninety-five per
cent of Motown recordings are no longer available. Nevertheless, you
can't cover or imitate or even sample them without paying a licensing
fee -- despite the fact that your work is not competing in the
marketplace with the original, since the original is no longer for sale.
Katha Pollitt: How Pro-Choicers Can Take Back the Moral High Ground:
An excerpt from Pollitt's new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.
A man's home is his castle, but a woman's body has never been wholly her
own. Historically, it's belonged to her nation, her community, her father,
her family, her husband -- in 1973, when Roe was decided, marital rape was
legal in every state. Why shouldn't her body belong to a fertilized egg as
well? And if that egg has a right to live and grow in her body, why shouldn't
she be held legally responsible for its fate and be forced to have a cesarean
if her doctor thinks it's best, or be charged with a crime if she uses
illegal drugs and delivers a stillborn or sick baby? Incidents like these
have been happening all over the country for some time now. Denying women
the right to end a pregnancy is the flip side of punishing women for their
conduct during pregnancy -- and even if not punishing, monitoring. In the
spring of 2014, a law was proposed in the Kansas Legislature that would
require doctors to report every miscarriage, no matter how early in the
pregnancy. You would almost think the people who have always opposed women's
independence and full participation in society were still at it. They can't
push women all the way back, but they can use women's bodies to keep them
under surveillance and control.
Peter Van Buren: Seven Bad Endings to the New War in the Middle East:
I know what you're saying: "only seven?" Van Buren doesn't get to the
political effects of continuing the War on Terrorism -- of continuing to
fund the surveillance state, of the increasing militarization of police
departments, of the circumvention of the justice system, of how public
funds are being drained as remote and preventable problems are prioritized
over real and immediate ones by a political establishment deeply in hock
to the security phantom.
Sunday, October 12. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Thomas B Edsall: The State-by-State Revival of the Right: Points out that Republicans have "complete control" (governors and state legislatures) in 23 states, "more than at any time since Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952." Also that "they are exercising their power to gain partisan advantage far more aggressively than their Democratic counterparts."
The most visible effort is the drive to gut public sector unions, a key source of votes and financial support for Democrats. Wisconsin, under Republican Governor Scott Walker, has led the charge on this front. With support from the Koch brothers, the state has severely restricted collective bargaining rights for public employees, ended mandatory union dues and limited wage hikes to the rate of inflation.
Both supporters and opponents of Walker's initiative realized that this was a key battleground -- pathbreaking, in fact -- hence the rallies, the recall and so on.
Many Republican-controlled states have weakened or eliminated laws and regulations protecting the environment. In North Carolina the state legislature cut the budgets of regulators and prohibited local governments from enacting strict pro-environmental rules. The state chapter of the League of Conservation Voters has rated members of the legislature every year since 1999. Between 1999 and 2012, the group issued North Carolina a total of 48 scores of zero. In 2013 alone, 82 North Carolina Republicans got zeros. [ . . . ]
Democrats today convey only minimal awareness of what they are up against: an adversary that views politics as a struggle to the death. The Republican Party has demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice principle, including its historical commitments to civil rights and conservation; to bend campaign finance law to the breaking point; to abandon the interests of workers on the factory floor; and to undermine progressive tax policy -- in a scorched-earth strategy to postpone the day of demographic reckoning.
One key point here is that this does not represent a turn in public opinion toward the right. The Democratic Party collapsed in 2010 because Obama gutted the successful national organization that Howard Dean had built, then muddled all the key issues, many by thinking that bipartisan approaches would be superior to partisan ones -- clearly a mistake the Republicans didn't make.
Paul Krugman: In Defense of Obama: If some pollster came along and asked me the standard question of whether I approve or disapprove of the job Obama has done as president, I'd have to answer "disapprove." I'm not unaware of, or unappreciative of, some positive accomplishments under Obama. And I wouldn't withhold my approval just because I thought Obama could have done more and better than he did. On the other hand, I can't give him credit merely for not being as bad as any Republican -- especially John McCain and Mitt Romney -- one might vote for a "lesser evil," but that is no reason to approve of one. Nor should one go to the lengths of creating strawman arguments like Krugman does here:
There's a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who "posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit." They're outraged that Wall Street hasn't been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that "neoliberal" economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have constrained even his much more modest efforts. It's hard to take such claims seriously.
That's hardly the only critique of Obama from the left, but it shouldn't be dismissed so cavalierly. One reason Obama failed to implement much of the "change" he campaigned on in 2008 was that he stopped talking about the need for such change as soon as he was elected. By backpedaling he not only gave up on success, he let the issues vanish from public discussion -- creating a vacuum that all the Tea Party nonsense quickly filled. Maybe we expected more from Obama than he was ever willing to deliver, but the ease with which he moved from critic of the status quo to defender should have been alarming. What alarmed me more than anything was how readily he dismantled the very successful Democratic Party organization that Howard Dean had built -- giving credence to David Frum's quip that where the Republican Party fears its base, the Democratic Party despises its core constituency. Time and again the people who paid the price for Obama's retreats were the people who voted for him, whose trust he squandered, whose interests he sold out.
I pretty much accept Krugman's arguments for Obama's health care and finance reform programs, and for various other details -- the value of the stimulus, of higher tax rates on the rich, of more aggressive environmental regulation, etc. Where I disagree most strongly is on foreign policy, where Obama has failed to break decisively with neocon orthodoxy on everything from Israel to Russia to Iran to Iraq. That is -- what else can he do? -- the point where Krugman resorts to the argument that Obama isn't as bad as McCain. That strikes me as wishful thinking, inasmuch as Obama has wound up doing exactly what McCain wants.
Rick Perlstein: The Long Con: Written in 2012, hence the introduction on "Mittdacity," but the background info on the long association between Republican propaganda and mail order scams and other cons is as apposite as ever.
Wednesday, October 8. 2014
OK, this is an on-the-road experiment: instead of collecting a week's (or half-week's) links and comments, then posting the final result, I'll try it bit-by-bit (with a delayed posting date):
Peter Beinart: Without a two-state solution, Americans will challenge Zionism itself: Behind their paywall, but the basic argument is that American liberals have tended to support Israel because they like the appeal of Israel as a liberal democracy (like us) -- and the only thing holding up the long-promised "two-state solution" is Palestinian intransigence. However, that is in fact wrong -- pretty much categorically so, as should be clear to anyone who listens to what Netanyahu and his cohort say. If, in the end, all the "Jewish state" has to justify itself with is an ethnocracy empowered by gratuitous violence -- i.e., about the only plausible explanation of Netanyahu's tantrum this summer -- few Americans (neocon militarists and Apocalypse-minded Christians) will be willing to continue supporting Israel. That strikes me as fair, even if a bit removed from the jingoism still dominant in US political discourse.
This dawning of reality would be taken as good news by most critical thinkers, but Beinart remains committed to the Zionist idea that Israel's existence is a good thing for Jews not only in Israel (where they are, in Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar's phrase, "lords of the land") but also in the Diaspora. A more accurate analysis would show that Zionism is intrinsically hostile to the Diaspora, no matter how conveniently Zionists suck up to generous (albeit misguided) foreign donors.
I still believe the best answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a democratic Jewish state alongside a democratic Palestinian one. I believe that because, in a post-Holocaust world, I want there to be one country that has as its mission statement the protection of Jewish life. And I believe it because among both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, nationalism remains a massively powerful force. To assume each community could subordinate its deep-seeded nationalism to a newfound loyalty to secular state strikes me as utopian. Secular binationalism barely works in Belgium. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea it's probably a recipe for civil war.
But this requires arguing that Israel/Palestine is, at least right now, fundamentally different than the United States. It requires defending Zionism as something alien to the American experience, something necessary because in Israel/Palestine, the civic nationalism we revere here is neither possible nor desirable. That's very different than arguing that the United States should support Israel because it's America’s Middle Eastern twin.
But if you take the "twin" aspect away, it's hard to see many Americans caring about Jewish nationalism, especially since the anti-semitism that Israel is supposedly the solution to is hardly evident -- nor is it clear that Israel's "solution" really works.
Paul Krugman: Why Weren't the Alarm Bells Ringing?: Review of Martin Wolf's The Shifts and the Shocks: What We've Learned -- and Have Still to Learn -- from the Financial Crisis, which explains the 2008 financial meltdown and ensuing depression using the now-standard Minsky model: that prolonged economic stability leads to financial laxness, excessive leverage, and collapse. Krugman is skeptical that that's all there is to it.
First, while the depression that overtook the Western world in 2008 clearly came after the collapse of a vast financial bubble, that doesn't mean that the bubble caused the depression. Late in The Shifts and the Shocks Wolf mentions the reemergence of the "secular stagnation" hypothesis, most famously in the speeches and writing of Lawrence Summers (Lord Adair Turner independently made similar points, as did I). But I'm not sure whether readers will grasp the full implications. If the secular stagnationists are right, advanced economies now suffer from persistently inadequate demand, so that depression is their normal state, except when spending is supported by bubbles. If that's true, bubbles aren't the root of the problem; they're actually a good thing while they last, because they prop up demand. Unfortunately, they're not sustainable -- so what we need urgently are policies to support demand on a continuing basis, which is an issue very different from questions of financial regulation.
Wolf actually does address this issue briefly, suggesting that the answer might lie in deficit spending financed by the government's printing press. But this radical suggestion is, as I said, overshadowed by his calls for more financial regulation. It's the morality play aspect again: the idea that we need to don a hairshirt and repent our sins resonates with many people, while the idea that we may need to abandon conventional notions of fiscal and monetary virtue has few takers.
I've always found "secular stagnation" to be an oddly opaque term. The "persistent low demand" at its center is most certainly the effect of increasing inequality, where most people are increasingly denied the option to spend on real goods, while the rich often find their gains wrapped up in the illusion of inflated asset prices. This is, of course, a much deeper and more persistent problem than the stability of the banks. The Bush-Obama (or Paulson-Geithner) solution was to save the banks, figuring that if the front lines of the crisis held people wouldn't suspect that there was anything more rotten at the core of the crisis. But
the fact that the "Obama recovery," like the "Bush recovery" before it, feels so hollow should dispel us of such illusions.
Krugman's note on
2011 and All That is worth quoting at length:
But [Bill] Gross was by no means alone in getting these things wrong. Indeed, 2011 was a sort of banner year for bad macroeconomic analysis by people who had no excuse for their wrong-headedness. And here's the thing: aside from Gross, hardly any of the prominent wrong-headers have paid any price for their errors.
Think about it: 2011 was the year when Bowles and Simpson predicted a fiscal crisis within two years. There was never a hint of crisis, but BS are still given reverent treatment by the Beltway media.
2011 was also the year when Paul Ryan warned Ben Bernanke that he was "debasing" the dollar, arguing that rising commodity prices were the harbinger of runaway inflation; the Bank for International Settlements made a similar argument, albeit with less Ayn Rand. They were completely wrong, but Ryan is still the intellectual leader of the GOP and the BIS is still treated as a fount of wisdom.
The difference is, of course, that Gross had actual investors' money on the line. But you should not take that to imply that the profit motive leads to intellectual clarity; Gross has been forced out at Pimco, but I've seen hardly any press coverage tying that to his having the wrong macro model.
Speaking of getting things wrong, also see
Jeff Madrick: Why the Experts Missed the Recession. Madrick's sources are primarily recently released FOMC debates and "Greenbook" economic forecasts, which show how completely events blindsided the very "experts" who were responsible for setting Fed interest rates, and thereby adjusting the economy.
Friday, October 3. 2014
A quick listing of some open tabs as I'm shutting down the computer:
Dean Baker: Eric Holder: The Reason Robert Rubin Isn't Behind Bars
Rosa Brooks: But This Threatiness Goes to 11 . . .
Patrick Cockburn: Does David Cameron Have Any Idea What Kind of War He's
Tom Engelhardt: Failure Is Success: Subtitle: How American Intelligence
Works in the Twenty-First Century. "Intelligence," of course, is not what
the word implies.
Glenn Greenwald: After Feigning Love for Egyptian Democracy, US Back to
Openly Supporting Tyranny
William Hartung/Stephen Miles: Who Will Profit From the Wars in Iraq
Paul Krugman: How to Get It Wrong. His blog is also full of examples
of people getting it wrong; e.g.,
Bill Gross, and
Kate: 'Only a suicidal country doesn't recognize the Bedouin problem':
Israeli minister seeks ways to lower Bedouin birthrate: and other
stories of life under the Zionist state. For another, earlier report:
J'lem settlers amok: 10-year-old Palestinian is run over, 11-year-old
is nearly abducted.
Richard Silverstein: Shin Bet Murders Palestinians Who Killed Three Israeli
Border Police Special Forces Command Confirms Execution of Hebron
Why be curious about "Capital in the Twenty-First Century"?
Meanwhile, TPM is still specializing on stupid people saying stupid
Ed Board Member: Give US Credit for Voluntarily Ending Slavery.
Sunday, September 21. 2014
This week's scattered links:
David Atkins: Unsettling science:
Steve Koonin has an obfuscatory piece in the Wall Street Journal today
claiming that the science of climate change isn't settled. But it's not
the usual radically ignorant posturing. As with much of the evolution
of the conservative "debate" over climate, it represents another move
in the shifting ground of conservative chicanery intended to paralyze
action to solve the problem.
Koonin doesn't dispute that the climate is changing and that the
world is getting hotter. He doesn't dispute that humans are causing
the change through greenhouse gas emissions. He doesn't even dispute
that these changes are dangerous. His position is that because we don't
fully understand all of the complex reverberating effects of climate
change, we can't make good climate policy yet.
[ . . . ]
Of all the cynical arguments against action on climate change,
Koonin's ranks among the most disturbing because it's so obviously
calculated by a very smart person to make a radically irresponsible
conclusion just to protect a few entrenched economic elites.
By the way, a
People's Climate March took place in New York City today:
A comment I noticed on Twitter, from Robert Loerzel:
GOP lawmakers say there's no definitive scientific proof that there's
a Climate Change march today.
Carikai Chengu: How the US Helped Create Al Qaeda and ISIS: I've
alluded to this many times of late -- it's hard to think of Al Qaeda
without thinking of William Casey, even more so with Henry Kissinger
a new book -- but this bears repeating, especially since this
includes a few wrinkles I didn't even recall:
The fact that the United States has a long and torrid history of
backing terrorist groups will surprise only those who watch the news
and ignore history.
The CIA first aligned itself with extremist Islam during the Cold
War era. Back then, America saw the world in rather simple terms: on
one side, the Soviet Union and Third World nationalism, which America
regarded as a Soviet tool; on the other side, Western nations and
militant political Islam, which America considered an ally in the
struggle against the Soviet Union.
The director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan,
General William Odom recently remarked, "by any measure the U.S. has
long used terrorism. In 1978-79 the Senate was trying to pass a law
against international terrorism -- in every version they produced,
the lawyers said the U.S. would be in violation."
During the 1970's the CIA used the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as
a barrier, both to thwart Soviet expansion and prevent the spread of
Marxist ideology among the Arab masses. The United States also openly
supported Sarekat Islam against Sukarno in Indonesia, and supported
the Jamaat-e-Islami terror group against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in
Pakistan. Last but certainly not least, there is Al Qaeda.
Lest we forget, the CIA gave birth to Osama Bin Laden and breastfed
his organization during the 1980's. Former British Foreign Secretary,
Robin Cook, told the House of Commons that Al Qaeda was unquestionably
a product of Western intelligence agencies. Mr. Cook explained that
Al Qaeda, which literally means an abbreviation of "the database" in
Arabic, was originally the computer database of the thousands of
Islamist extremists, who were trained by the CIA and funded by the
Saudis, in order to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan.
The article gets a little cloudier as it approaches ISIS. As far
as I know -- and I haven't read Patrick Cockburn's new book on ISIS,
The Jihadis Return, but I've read much of his reporting --
nobody's assembled a good accounting of the CIA in Syria. We do know,
for instance, that ISIS arms are overwhelmingly American, but we do
not know to what extent those arms were provided by the US by Syrian
rebels, looted from Iraq, or provided by Saudi Arabia or Qatar --
nations which are nominally allied with the US but are free to use
militant jihadis to implement their programs. Chengu does regard
ISIS as an offshoot from Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, but that runs somewhat
counter to the fact that another Syrian group, Al Nusra, claims the
Al Qaeda brand. The problem with secret organizations like the CIA
operating in Syria is that there's never any accountability, and
therefore never any reason for discipline or restraint. I think
that's reason enough to abolish the CIA (at least he "operations"
end of the racket): they can never plausibly deny anything, no
matter how outrageous, because their entire existence is based on
secrecy and lies. The US will never be able to be taken at its word
as long as the CIA exists.
Andrew Levine: Fear of a Caliphate, long and rather rambling, but
this much is surely true (bold added):
Talk of caliphates serves the IS's purpose, much as beheadings on You
Tube do. And talk is cheap, and become cheaper. Since 9/11, the cost
of getting America to do itself in has plummeted.
And so, the IS, wins: Obama's America is off to war again.
Worry about that; not about what the IS says it wants to establish
in the region or the world.
The potential for harm resulting from the United States and other
Western powers fighting against the IS is greater by many orders of
magnitude than any harm that the IS can do in the areas it controls.
As I've written before, what brought the World Trade Center towers
down wasn't Al Qaeda; it was gravity. As long as the US responds to
provocation with the same unthinking, unreflective automation as the
laws of physics, we'll never be able to command our fate.
Juan Cole: Shiite Militias of Iraq Reject US Return, Threaten to Attack
US Forces: More proof that US intervention against ISIS will be a
colossal failure even the Americans manage to kill every Arab who leaves
his house dressed in black. Nor are the threats only coming from Muqtada
al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army: the Badr Brigades and foreign minister
Ibrahim al-Jafari are upset that the US snubbed Iran in putting together
their "coalition of the killing." The Iraqi Army (effectively another
Shiite militia) is beginning to chafe about depending on US air support.
And Prime Minister al-Abadi is unlikely to have any wiggle room to make
concessions to Sunni tribes with the Shiite militias staging their own
revolt. Rather than destroying ISIS, the only thing the US mission is
likely to accomplish is the secession of Kurdistan from Iraq. Cole adds:
It is difficult to tell how serious these militia leaders' pronouncements
are, since they might be attempting to save face with their followers even
as they benefit from the US air cover. On the other hand, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq
actually did in the past kidnap US troops, and the Mahdi Army fought them
tooth and nail in spring of 2004, inflicting high casualties on them. Since
President Obama's air campaign requires Special Ops forces like Navy Seals
or Green Berets to be on the ground with the Iraqi Army, they should
apparently watch their backs. The people they are trying to help against
ISIL don't seem to appreciate their being there. And many of them seem
to prefer Iran's help.
Speaking of which, Kerry seems to have softened the anti-Iran stand (see
Changing US-Iran Relations: Kerry: Iran has a Role in Defeating ISIL
Militants, although I don't think we've heard the last from AIPAC
on this). The fact remains that the US is opposed to Assad in Syria,
but eager to fight against Assad's worst enemy, even if it winds up
aligning with Assad's allies to do so.
Matthew Kalman: Hoping War-Weary Tourists Will Return to Israel:
While Israel has generally been able to escalate its war on Gaza
without incurring any real costs or hardships for its first-class
citizenry, wars still make tourists nervous, so it shouldn't be a
surprise that Israel's tourist business has declined of late. (I
think it was during the 2006 war on Lebanon when we worried that
some of my wife's relatives were going to Israel; upon checking,
we were relieved to find out they had gone to Auschwitz instead.)
This year should have been a record year for Israeli tourism. In 2013,
Israel attracted 3.6 million foreign visitors. Numbers from January
to June showed a 15 percent increase. Then the war began in July,
and the number of visitors slumped. In July and August, the number
of tourists fell to 400,000, down from 578,000 in the same period
last year, a 31 percent decline. Ninety percent of cruise ship
United States flights to Israel were banned for 24 hours after a
rocket landed near Ben-Gurion airport. There was little damage and
few casualties, but those who came found themselves running for shelter
as air-raid sirens wailed in Tel Aviv.
The Israel Hotels Association said that occupancy rates, usually
80 percent in July, fell below 40 percent. Top hotels offered deep
discounts. The new Ritz-Carlton in Herzliya slashed its room rate to
$400 from $575. In Jerusalem, Hilton's new Waldorf-Astoria offered a
10 percent discount online and a 20 percent discount for inquiries
Dan Hotels, which owns the King David in Jerusalem, warned shareholders
in August that third-quarter revenue was liable to fall by 30 percent
because of war-related cancellations.
Wasn't the King David the hotel the Stern Gang blew up in 1948?
Kalman doesn't mention the most famous tourist during the war: a
Palestinian-American teenager visiting Jerusalem, where his cousin
was immolated by Israeli settlers, after which he was beat and
arrested by Israeli police, and was only allowed to leave the country
after Israel's normally servile allies in the US embassy intervened.
The article details various ideas Israelis have to revive the tourism
industry, but they don't include forgoing future wars, opening up
Gaza, or inviting Palestinian refugees to "come home" for a visit.
Alice Rothchild: Gaza and the American awakening:
The seven week war on Gaza is theoretically over though Israeli forces
continue limited incursions into the beleaguered and bombed out strip
of coastal land and over 11,000 wounded and 100,000 homeless pick through
the rubble of their lives, mourn their dead children, and survive hungry
on the generosity of overstretched international aid. The headlines are
all Abbas and airstrikes in Syria and Netanyahu declaring without a shred
of credible evidence that ISIS is Hamas and Hamas is ISIS. Even more
invisible are the ongoing land grabs, continued Jewish settlement growth,
and arrests and killings of Palestinians in the West Bank and East
Jerusalem. [ . . . ]
Although the media has largely turned its gaze elsewhere, the war in
Gaza has forced more of these kinds of contradictions to become painfully
obvious to liberal Jews in the US. While the Israeli government talks about
"pinpoint strikes" and "unprovoked attacks from Hamas" it has become
increasingly difficult to ignore the massive destruction of the Gazan
infrastructure, hospitals, schools, government buildings, UN facilities,
homes. With more than 60 Israelis dead and a Jewish population fearful
of the ever increasing reach of the primitive Qassam rockets, it is time
to ask if three devastating attacks on Gaza in six years and a policy of
periodically "mowing the lawn" is a long-term strategy that leads to an
end to Palestinian resistance and a secure Israel.
Jay Caspian Kang: ISIS's Call of Duty:
The similarities between ISIS recruitment films and first-person-shooter
games are likely intentional. Back in June, an ISIS fighter told the BBC
that his new life was "better than that game Call of Duty."
[ . . . ]
The use of video games as a recruiting tool is not new. The United
States Army has, for the past decade, offered "America's Army," an online
multiplayer shooter; it is among the most downloaded war games of all time
and has been credited with helping boost enlistment. In 2009, according to
the New York Times, Army recruiters hoping to attract enlistees
from urban areas set up stations in a Philadelphia mall where kids could
play video games and, if they so chose, talk to someone about what life
in the armed forces would be like. [ . . . ]
Aside from the recruitment films tailored to evoke video games, they
also have released a series called Mujatweets, which stresses the
brotherhood of ISIS fighters and shows them handing out candy to children.
Paul Krugman: Wild Words, Brain Worms, and Civility:
First, picturesque language, used right, serves an important purpose.
"Words ought to be a little wild," wrote John Maynard Keynes, "for they
are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking." You could say, "I'm
dubious about the case for expansionary austerity, which rests on
questionable empirical evidence and zzzzzzzz . . ."; or you could
accuse austerians of believing in the Confidence Fairy. Which do you
think is more effective at challenging a really bad economic doctrine?
Beyond that, civility is a gesture of respect -- and sure enough,
the loudest demands for civility come from those who have done nothing
to earn that respect. Noah felt (and was) justified in ridiculing the
Austrians because they don't argue in good faith; faced with a devastating
failure of their prediction about inflation, they didn't concede that they
were wrong and try to explain why. Instead, they denied reality or tried
to redefine the meaning of inflation.
And if you look at the uncivil remarks by people like, well, me, you'll
find that they are similarly aimed at people arguing in bad faith. I talk
now and then about zombie and cockroach ideas. Zombies are ideas that
should have been killed by evidence, but keep shambling along -- e.g.
the claim that all of Europe's troubled debtors were fiscally irresponsible
before the crisis; cockroaches are ideas that you thought we'd gotten rid
of, but keep on coming back, like the claim that Keynes would never have
called for fiscal stimulus in the face of current debt levels (Britain in
the 1930s had much higher debt to GDP than it does now). Well, what I'm
doing is going after bad-faith economics -- economics that keeps trotting
out claims that have already been discredited.
[ . . . ]
And of course, people who engage in that kind of bad faith screech
loudly about civility when they're caught at it.
I never think of myself as a rock critic more than when I'm writing
about politics. Rock critics are always sensitive to ambient noise, and
looking for some choice words to break through the din.
Also see Krugman's
Return of the Bums on Welfare, about "John Boehner's resurrection of
the notion that we're suffering weak job growth because people are living
the good life on government benefits, and don't want to work." Conclusion:
So basically the right is railing against the bums on welfare not only
when there aren't any bums, but when there isn't any welfare.
Amanda Marcotte: Creationism is just the start: How right-wing Christians
are warping America's schools: This, of course, is nothing new -- I
recall reading Paul Goodman's book Compulsory Mis-Education back
in the 1960s, when it first occurred to me that the ideological purpose
of school was to brainwash the masses. Still, the broad consensus of
received wisdom in the 1950s at least gave lip-service to science and
smarts, and painted US history as progressive -- we were taught that
the US fought for independence and free trade, that the North faught
against slavery, and that the reunited US frowned on imperialism and
put an end to fascism (although we still had to read Animal Farm
on the evils of Godless Communism). Now, however:
The attempts to indoctrinate children into the belief that America
is basically a Christian theocracy are bad enough, but that's not the
only conservative agenda item the books are trying to trick students
into buying. The books also try to subtly discredit the civil rights
movement by implying that segregation wasn't so bad, with one book
arguing that white and black schools had "similar buildings, buses,
and teachers," which the researchers argue "severely understates the
tremendous and widespread disadvantages of African-American schools."
Researchers also found that the books were playing the role of
propagandist for unregulated capitalism. One textbook argues that
taxes have gone up since 1927, but society "does not appear to be
much more civilized today than it was" back then. It's an assertion
that ignores the much reduced poverty and sickness, improved education,
and even things like the federal highway system, all to make an
ideological point. Another book argues that any government regulation
whatsoever somehow means that capitalism ceases to be capitalism, a
stance that would mean capitalism has never really existed in all of
That these books are stuffed full of lies and propaganda is not a
surprise. From the get-go, the State Board of Education made it clear
it was far more interested in pushing a right-wing ideology on students
than actually providing an education. In July, the Texas Freedom Network
reviewed the 140 people selected to be on the panels reviewing textbooks.
Being an actual expert in politics or history practically guaranteed you
couldn't get a slot, as "more than a dozen" Texas academics with expertise
who applied got denied, while conservative "political activists and
individuals without social studies degrees or teaching experience got
places on the panels." Only three of the 140 members of the panel are
even current faculty members at Texas universities, but a pastor who
used to own a car dealership somehow got a spot.
Heather Digby Parton: Wingnuts' crippling Ebola fury: Why they're enraged
about fighting a disease: Superficially most of these wingnuts appear
to be griping about ISIS rather than Ebola, but I suppose that's because
they prefer threats they can misunderstand to ones they cannot grasp, or
maybe they just prefer enemies they can kill to diseases that could kill
them. For example, Allen West:
The world need to step up against Islamo-fascism but I suppose fighting
Ebola is easier for a faux Commander-in-Chief than to fight a real enemy
of America. Nice optics there Barack, good try to change the subject,
and make yourself seem like a leader fighting a really bad flu bug --
all the while you dismiss the cockroaches who behead Americans.
Then there are the right-wingers who fear illegal child refugees
will sneak Ebola into the country. Unless, of course, we head them
off by setting up an ambush on the Syria-Iraq border.
Paul Rosenberg: We really must remember the epic failures of George W.
Bush: Frank Bruni asks, "Whenever Barack Obama seems in danger of
falling, do we have to hear that George W. Bush made the cliff?" Well,
yes, not that there was no cliff before Bush, but it got much steeper
and less study under Bush's eight years of malign neglect and extreme
But the real problem here was not that Obama supporters attacked Bush.
It was that Obama himself did not. [ . . . ]
While it's true that we can't undo Bush's mistakes, that hardly
means it's foolish to keep them in mind. It would be foolish to forget
them, after the terrible price we've paid -- and at the same time when
the architects of that disaster are urging another mission in the Middle
East to "destroy" ISIS.
And yet, as with domestic policy, Obama's most significant mistake
has been his reluctance to break sharply with previous Republican policy,
call out their failures, and hold them responsible. War crimes have not
even been investigated, much less punished -- only those who sought to
expose them have been prosecuted. Yet, holding our own accountable for
their misdeeds would work wonders for regaining trust throughout the
I don't see how you can blame Obama's supporters. He did promise
change when he ran in 2008, and I'm pretty sure most of us took that
as meaning change from G.W. Bush, who gave us seven years of stupid,
pointless wars; two huge tax giveaways to the already rich; runaway
deficits; a bad recession early, a fake recovery, and an even worse
recession late, which he turned into a trillions of dollars of gifts
to the big banks; perversion of the criminal justice system and the
right-wing politicization of civil service; major failure in federal
disaster relief; complete inattention to festering problems like
health care and climate change; utter disregard for international
law. Obama, the Democrats, the press, everyone should have routinely
repeated that list, not so much to heap scorn upon the Republicans
(although they certainly deserve to be shamed) as to warn ourselves
against repeating such disastrous policies.
Indeed, most of Obama's problems since taking office result not
from the few changes Obama did manage -- Obamacare, for instance,
is a success by any measure, at least against the previous system
if not against the single-payer system we would have preferred --
but from the many ways he continued and conserved Bush policies.
Sunday, September 14. 2014
On September 10, getting a jump on the unlucky 13th anniversary of
Al-Qaida's planes attacks, President Obama laid out
his plans for the fourth US invasion and assault on Iraq:
Barack Obama became the fourth consecutive American president to
deliver a prime time speech to the nation about Iraq on Wednesday,
vowing to wage "a steady, relentless effort" to wipe out ISIS, the
Sunni militant group in Iraq and Syria which recently beheaded two
"Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy,
ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism
strategy," Obama said.
The president was quick to emphasize that this won't be a war like
Iraq or Afghanistan, instead likening it to U.S. engagement in Yemen
and Somalia. He said it "will not involve American combat troops
fighting on foreign soil," and will instead involve "using our air
power and our support for partner forces on the ground" to attack ISIS
(also called ISIL).
"If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat
beyond that region -- including to the United States," Obama said. He
stressed that the strategy will be conducted with global allies,
saying the four elements of his plan are air strikes, support for
rebel forces on the ground, counter-terrorism and intelligence and
humanitarian assistance to civilians.
[Some quick notes: the second invasion of Iraq was under Clinton,
when US forces drove Saddam Hussein's forces out of the Kurdish enclave;
that was done without a military engagement, although Clinton also
conducted a sporadic air war against Iraq over much of his two terms,
a practice Bush continued upon taking office in 2001. US troops first
entered Somalia in 1992, so how is that working? The first person
Obama ordered killed was a Somali pirate in 2009. The US killed a
leader of Al-Shabab there as recently as Sept. 2. The US started
using drones over Yemen to assassinate alleged terrorists in 2002,
so that, too, is at best a slowly evolving "success" story.]
As usual, Obama managed to offend everyone with his position --
the hawks for not acting sooner and more recklessly; the rest of us
for throwing us back into another pointless, hopeless war. For a
guy who claims his first principle of foreign policy is "don't do
stupid shit," Obama just blew it. As near as I can tell, he did
this for three reasons:
When US troops finally left Iraq, due to the Iraqi government's
refusal to sign a "status of forces agreement" that would give US
troops immunity to commit crimes against Iraqis (as they had been
doing since 2003), Obama chose to celebrate the occasion as a great
American success story, and as such he became party to a war that
he had campaigned against. So when the success story unraveled and
Iraq sank back into a civil war that the US had started by turning
Shiite death squads against Sunnis, Obama felt obligated to repair
the damage, even where Bush and 160,000 US troops had failed. (Obama
made a similar gaffe when he touted a false recovery from the Bush
recession, leading people to think he was responsible for the whole
crash.) The net effect is that Obama is willing to destroy his own
reputation in order to salvage Bush's. That sure isn't the "change"
millions of people voted for Obama to bring about.
Obama is a pushover, and he let himself get snowed here. A
lot of people have been pushing for war against ISIS lately, and
they've painted the group as unspeakably evil, pulling out every
cliché and playing on every prejudice that has ever been used to
sell Americans on a war in the Middle East. Granted, most of the
people who've been agitating for war against ISIS were already
trying to push the US into war in Syria against ISIS' primary
enemy, the Assad regime. Many of them belong to the "real men
go to Tehran" faction that wanted to extend the 2003 invasion of
Iraq to overthrow the governments of Iran and Syria. But all the
publicity of ISIS' beheadings and massacres has gripped people
initially inclined against escalating a war, even, some would
say, the Pope (but see
this for a more nuanced reading). For someone like Obama, who
periodically feels the need to prove he's no pacifist, the chance
to vanquish a foe as abhorent as ISIS was irresistible.
Finally, Obama has outsmarted himself, thinking his peculiar
combination of aggression (bombing, special forces) and restraint
(no regular combat troops) will work magic while avoiding the risks,
the abuse and blowback that inevitably follows American troops all
around the world. The fact remains that no matter how light or heavy
you go in, bombing will inevitably kill the wrong people, intelligence
will inevitably be incomplete or faulty, and the proxy forces that
the plan so relies on will have their own agendas, ones that will
become more rigid with the commitment of American support.
Perhaps the worst thing about Obama's speech and the policies he
previously put into place is the open-ended commitment he's made to
the very same Iraqi political leaders whose misbehavior made ISIS
appear to many Iraqis (Sunnis, anyway) to be the lesser evil. Now
they know that when they fuck up again the Americans will have to
stick with them, because the US can never afford to lose face. (On
the other hand, maybe they should review the story of Ngo Dinh Diem.)
But nearly every aspect of the speech/plan is flawed. ISIS came into
existence in the crucible of Syria's civil war, and some group like
it will inevitably reappear as long as the civil war goes on, so it
will prove impossible to stop ISIS without also ending Syria's civil
war. Chances of that are thin as Obama has sided with the rebels
against Assad, not realizing that the most prominent rebel group
is ISIS, and that the US-favored "moderates" are firmly aligned with
ISIS. The situation in Iraq is no simpler, with the US fighting in
favor of the central government against ISIS but also siding with
Kurdish separatists against the central government. The desire to
work through proxies adds complexity, but perhaps not quite the mess
of a full-blown invasion and its inevitably messy occupation. Plus
you have the problem of managing domestic expectations. Obama came
out with a clever limited intervention plan in the much simpler
context of Libya and, well, look at how that blew up. Obama put a
lot of emphasis on the counterinsurgency doctrine Gen. McChrystall
tried to implement in Afghanistan, and failed totally at. American
soldiers are peculiarly inept at fighting Muslims, yet the are held
on such high pedestals by politicians like Obama that their repeated
failures are overlooked. Similarly, the diplomatic alliances the
US will surely need are often unapproachable due to other conflicts --
Iran and Russia are the major cases, but the traditional wink-and-nod
green light for Saudia Arabia to finance groups like ISIS also comes
And one should probe deeper, although there is little chance that
Obama will. Nothing is so opaque to those who believe that "America
is a light unto the nations" as the actual past behavior of the US.
Since the 1970s the US has financed Jihadis, and has encouraged the
Saudis and others to actively proselytize their fundamentalist brand
of Islam, even as it has turned back against us. Similarly, America's
Cold War ideology, still very much institutionalized, keeps us from
working in any meaningful way to with liberal, socialist, or any kind
of progressive movements in the Middle East.
The US government is similarly ignorant about ISIS, as are the
American people -- even more so as they only enter the equation as
targets for propaganda, where ISIS is made to look at evil as possible
while the good intentions and great deeds of the US are never subject
to scrutiny. We are, after all, the leader of the free world, as such
obliged to act to defend civilization, something no one else has the
resources or moral character to do. And so on, blah, blah, blah. To
be sure, part of the problem here is that ISIS hasn't been running
the sort of media relations program that, say, the Israelis mount
when they go on a five-week killing binge like they did this summer
in Gaza. Rather, ISIS has contemptuously killed journalists who might
have helped them get their story out. They must, after all, have
stories: even the Taliban, who weren't much better at PR, could go
around the room and recount the lost limbs and eyes that scarred
nearly every one of their commanders. Like the Taliban, ISIS sprung
from the killing fields of despotic regimes and foreign occupiers.
I'm not aware of any journalist who has gotten close enough to ISIS
to present their side of the story, although Nir Rosen's In the Belly
of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq (2006) and
Dahr Jamail's Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded
Journalist in Occupied Iraq (2007) got relatively close to earlier
generations of anti-US resistance fighters in Iraq. The journalist who
has written the most about ISIS is Patrick Cockburn, who wrote The
Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (2006), and who has a new
book on ISIS: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising.
For a sampling of his recent writings on ISIS, see:
Some quotes from Cockburn's Sept. 9 piece:
The US and its allies face a huge dilemma which is largely of their
own making. Since 2011 Washington's policy, closely followed by the
UK, has been to replace President Bashar al-Assad, but among his
opponents Isis is now dominant. Actions by the US and its regional
Sunni allies led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey, which were
aimed at weakening Mr Assad, have in practice helped Isis.
[ . . . ]
So far it looks as if Mr Obama will dodge the main problem facing
his campaign against Isis. He will not want to carry out a U-turn in
US policy by allying himself with President Assad, though the Damascus
government is the main armed opposition to Isis in Syria. He will
instead step up a pretense that there is a potent "moderate" armed
opposition in Syria, capable of fighting both Isis and the Syrian
government at once. Unfortunately, this force scarcely exists in any
strength and the most important rebel movements opposed to Isis are
themselves jihadis such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and the
Islamic Front. Their violent sectarianism is not very different to
that of Isis.
Lacking a moderate military opposition to support as an alternative
to Isis and the Assad government, the US has moved to raise such a
force under its own control. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), once lauded
in Western capitals as the likely military victors over Mr Assad,
largely collapsed at the end of 2013. The FSA military leader, General
Abdul-Ilah al Bashir, who defected from the Syrian government side in
2012, said in an interview with the McClatchy news agency last week
that the CIA had taken over direction of this new moderate force. He
said that "the leadership of the FSA is American," adding that since
last December US supplies of equipment have bypassed the FSA
leadership in Turkey and been sent directly to up to 14 commanders in
northern Syria and 60 smaller groups in the south of the country. Gen
Bashir said that all these FSA groups reported directly to the
CIA. Other FSA commanders confirmed that the US is equipping them with
training and weapons including TOW anti-tank missiles.
It appears that, if the US does launch air strikes in Syria, they
will be nominally in support of the FSA which is firmly under US
control. The US is probably nervous of allowing weapons to be supplied
to supposed moderates by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies which
end up in the hands of Isis. The London-based small arms research
organisation Conflict Armament Research said in a report this week
that anti-tank rockets used by Isis in Syria were "identical to M79
rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the Free
Syrian Army umbrella in 2013."
In Syria and in Iraq Mr Obama is finding that his policy of
operating through local partners, whose real aims may differ markedly
from his own, is full of perils.
Some more links on Iraq, Syria, and ISIS:
Tony Karon: Obama promises a long and limited war on Islamic State:
The IS thrives as a result of the alienation of Sunni citizenry by Syrian
and Iraqi regimes and the breakdown of the central state in both countries.
The Islamic State has taken advantage of the enduring hostility to U.S.
intervention in the region -- and also of Washington's subsequent retreat
and passivity. It trades off Iran's sectarian support for allied Shia
militias, Gulf Arab support for equally sectarian Sunni militias and
Turkish hostility to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which translates
into an open border for thousands of international volunteers to cross
and join the IS. The gradual collapse of the nation-state itself in Syria
and Iraq has allowed the IS to break away from the transnational conspiracy
strategy of its Al-Qaeda precursor to raise its black flag in a growing
power vacuum that covers huge swathes of territory.
Phyllis Bennis: The Speech on Diplomacy That Obama Should Have Given Last
What's missing is a real focus, a real explanation to people in this
country and to people and governments in the Middle East and around
the world, on just what a political solution to the ISIS crisis would
really require and what kind of diplomacy will be needed to get there.
President Obama should have spent his fifteen minutes of prime time
tonight talking about diplomacy. Instead of a four-part mostly military
plan, he should have outlined four key diplomatic moves.
First, recognize what it will take to change the political dynamics
of sectarianism in Iraq. [ . . . ]
Second, instead of a Coalition of the Killing, President Obama should
have announced a new broad coalition with a political and diplomatic,
not military, mandate. It should aim to use diplomatic power and financial
pressures, not military strikes, to undermine ISIS power.
[ . . . ]
Third, the Obama administration should, perhaps this month while
Washington holds the presidency of the UN Security Council, push to
restart serious international negotiations on ending the complex set
of multi-faceted wars in Syria. [ . . . ]
Finally, an arms embargo on all sides should be on the long-term
Without political agreement, there is no solution. All you can do
with military power is try to shift the power relationships between
the sides -- in the hope of getting a more favorable agreement. But
if all you have are military goals, they are pointless. And the value
of shifting those power relationships goes down if you're willing to
consider an equitable agreement. No side can legitimately ask for
Paul Woodward: Is ISIS a terminal disease?:
President Obama might have been slow to come up with a strategy for
defeating ISIS but he seems to have been much more resolute in his
choice of metaphor for describing the enemy.
After James Foley was murdered, Obama said, "there has to be a
common effort to extract this cancer so it does not spread." A few
days later he said: "Rooting out a cancer like [ISIS] won't be easy
and it won't be quick." Again, last night he said: "it will take
time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL."
Woodward offers three reasons why he thinks Obama like the cancer
Obama's political goal appears to be to secure support for an open-ended
relatively low-key military operation that will be of such little concern
to most Americans that it can continue for years without any real
I'm less impressed by his "reasons" -- what struck me more from the
quotes is (1) the assumption that it is his (or "our") body that has
been struck by the cancer, and that therefore the US is entitled to
treat it; and (2) how reducing the acts of people to the level of a
disease sanitizes our process of killing those people.
John Cassidy: Obama's Strange Bedfellows: The Right Liked His Speech:
Quotes from Rush Limbaugh, John Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, and Larry
Kudlow applauding Obama's speech. (Podhoretz called it "the most Republican
speech Barack Obama has ever given.") However, afterwards, the right started
looking for high ground further to the right:
If a vote takes place in Congress -- and, at this stage, it's unclear
whether that will happen -- most G.O.P. members will likely express
support for unleashing the U.S. military on the jihadis. (Opposing the
President "would be a huge mistake," Kudlow warned.) The pressure from
the right will be aimed at expanding Obama's war, not stopping it. More
bombing; more U.S. service members involved; more everything. That will
be the line.
It's already being laid down, in fact. "Air strikes alone will not
accomplish what we're trying to accomplish," House Speaker John Boehner
said on Thursday. "Somebody's boots have to be on the ground." Some of
Boehner's foot soldiers went further -- quite a bit further. "This is a
stalemate strategy," said John Fleming, a Louisiana congressman who
serves on the House Armed Services Committee. "I think that we would
want to see an all-out war, shock and awe. We put troops on the ground,
we put all of our assets there after properly prepping the battlefield,
and in a matter of a few weeks we take these guys out."
Of course, when you're the greatest power the world has ever known,
all it should take is a few weeks.
Andrew J Bacevich: Obama is picking his targets in Iraq and Syria while
missing the point: Starts off by trying to out-think David Brooks,
offering that "the core problem" of the era is "a global conflict pitting
tradition against modernity." That conflict exists, of course, but Jihadists
aren't militant defenders of tradition. They belong to a more specific
reaction, one in response to imperialist exploitation working through
the corrupt elites of many Muslim countries, not against modernity's
individualistic ethos. Still, the following point is well taken:
Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
won't create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. It won't restore
the possibility of a democratic Egypt. It won't dissuade Saudi Arabia
from funding jihadists. It won't pull Libya back from the brink of
anarchy. It won't end the Syrian civil war. It won't bring peace and
harmony to Somalia and Yemen. It won't persuade the Taliban to lay down
their arms in Afghanistan. It won't end the perpetual crisis of Pakistan.
It certainly won't resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
All the military power in the world won't solve those problems. Obama
knows that. Yet he is allowing himself to be drawn back into the very war
that he once correctly denounced as stupid and unnecessary -- mostly
because he and his advisers don't know what else to do. Bombing has
become his administration's default option.
Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues
to drift, guns blazing.
Fred Hof: We Can't Destroy ISIS Without Destroying Bashar al Assad First:
Hof worked for the Obama administration 2009-12 and has not rotated to a
Middle East policy think tank, so I count him as untrustworthy, but his
main point strikes me as true:
The Islamic State -- just like its parent, Al Qaeda in Iraq -- cannot be
killed unless the causes of state failure in Syria and Iraq are addressed
and rectified. Although such a task cannot be the exclusive or even
principal responsibility of the American taxpayer, the president's
strategy, its implementation, and its outcome will be incomplete if it
remains solely one of counter-terrorism.
The essential problem that has permitted the Islamic State to roam
freely in parts of Iraq and Syria amounting in size to New England is
state failure in both places. Redressing this failure is far beyond
the unilateral capacity of the United States, as occupation in Iraq
and ongoing operations in Afghanistan demonstrate. Still the fact
remains that until Syria and Iraq move from state failure to political
legitimacy -- to systems reflecting public consensus about the rules
of the political game -- the Islamic State will remain undead no matter
how many of its kings, queens, bishops, rooks, and pawns are swept
from the table. And yet a strategy that does not address how America
and its partners can influence the endgame -- keeping the Islamic
State in its grave -- is simply incomplete.
Hof refuses to consider the possibility that in order to kill ISIS
the US could change sides and support Assad, possibly under some
face-saving deal that would cut the "moderate" rebels some slack,
maybe promising some democratic reforms to isolate ISIS. He basically
wants to run the entire US Army through Damascus ("Airstrikes will not
suffice . . . A ground element is essential, as it has
been in Iraq.") What he doesn't explain is how, once Assad has been
swept away, the US establishes a government in Syria that is broadly
accepted by the bitterly-divided Syrian people as legitimate -- one
cannot, for instance, point to US efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya,
or Somalia as providing any comfort or confidence.
US Pins Hope on Syrian Rebels With Loyalties All Over the Map:
After more than three years of civil war, there are hundreds of militias
fighting President Bashar al-Assad -- and one another. Among them, even
the more secular forces have turned to Islamists for support and weapons
over the years, and the remaining moderate rebels often fight alongside
extremists like the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.
"You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that
respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don't
exist," said Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis
blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It is a very
dirty war and you have to deal with what is on offer."
[ . . . ]
The Obama administration's plans to arm Syrian rebels have been
troubled by false starts since April 2013, when Mr. Obama first
authorized the C.I.A. to begin a secret training mission in Jordan.
Months after the authorization, the White House still had not
delivered details to Congress about the C.I.A.'s plans, and it was
not until September 2013 that the first American-trained rebels
returned to Syria from Jordan.
To date, the C.I.A. mission in Jordan has trained 2,000 to 3,000
Syrian rebels, according to American and Arab officials.
To expand the training, Mr. Obama announced a plan in June to spend
up to $500 million for scores of American Special Forces troops to
train up to 3,000 rebels over the next year. But the proposal languished
on Capitol Hill as lawmakers complained that the plans lacked specific
details. A revised plan now calls for as many as twice that number of
fighters, analysts said.
Even if Congress approves the Pentagon plan, as now appears likely
after Mr. Obama's speech on Wednesday, military planners said it would
be months before the fighters, to be trained at a base in Saudi Arabia,
would be battle-ready.
Fatigue from three years of war has left most of those forces exhausted
and short of resources. Since pushing ISIS from parts of northern Syria
early this year, Syria's rebels have few military advances to point to
and in many areas have lost ground, to Mr. Assad's forces and to ISIS.
But in many places they remain busy fighting Mr. Assad and are not eager
to redirect their energies to ISIS -- even while many say they hate the
Rami G Khouri: Why Obama Has Picked the Worst Allies for His War on
ISIS: Khouri thinks that the Arab states that Obama is trying to
line up for the war against ISIS may be effective in the short-term
but will only make Jihadism more prevalent in the future.
The combination of foreign-led military power and local Arab government
partners that must anchor a successful attack to vanquish the Islamic
State is the precise combination of forces that originally midwifed the
birth of Al-Qaeda in the 1980s and later spawned its derivative -- the
Islamic State -- today. [ . . . ]
The jails of Sunni-majority Arab regimes represent an important aspect
of the mistreatment and humiliation that many prisoners experienced,
especially those jailed for their political views rather than crimes.
Their jail experiences ultimately convinced them to fight to topple
their regimes as part of Al-Qaeda's aim to purify Islamic lands from
apostate and corrupt leaderships.
The fact that tens of thousands of Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis,
Sudanese and other Arabs are in jail today on often questionable
charges -- including many in Gulf Cooperation Council states who are
jailed simply for tweeting critical remarks about their governments --
suggests that Arab autocracy continues to define and plague the region
as a driver of homegrown Arab radicalism and terrorism.
Moon of Alabama: The Caliphate's Anti-Imperial/Imperial Dualism:
Asserts: "The Caliphate is based on original Wahhabi ideas which were
in their essence also anti-colonial and at first directed against the
Ottoman rulers." Those anti-imperial ideas also work against the US,
but the juicier target is the Saudi royal family, which made the
original pact with Abd al-Wahhab and, in their general subverience
to the UK and US may be seen as not holding up their end of the deal.
Much of this has to do with the way the Saudis distribute dividends
on their oil. A small fraction of the money goes through the state
to build a social welfare network which keeps the peace by making
Saudi citizens wards of the state and elevating them above migrant
workers who do the real work and are kept on very short leashes.
But most of the money goes to the numerous princes of the royal
family, who are much like the pampered scions of rich estates all
over the world: spoiled, sheltered, conceited, given to flights of
grandeur and folly. American bankers love these Saudi princes --
some are serious, but most are easy marks. The princes themselves
are schizo: blessed with wealth they never earned, some turn into
notorious playboys, some turn pious and shameful. The latter, plus
some wealthy scions of non-royal families like Osama Bin Laden
and their cohort in the Persian Gulf monarchies, are the ones who
finance jihadists, who hire poor, disaffected Muslims to die for
God, to expiate the sins of the Saudis. Of course, when the Americans
come calling, the top Saudis are quick to condemn the traitors in
their ranks, but they are less eager to cut them out because deep
down they are trapped in their piety. The caliphate is a deep idea
dating back to Muhammad himself -- indeed, the Turks wouldn't have
made a mockery of it had it not worked -- so it's no surprise that
its first appearance of reality should be so dramatic.
The new Caliphate followers are copies of the original Wahhabis who
do not recognize nation states as those were dictated by the colonial
"western" overlords after the end of the Ottoman empire. They do not
recognize rulers that deviate, like the Saudi kings do, from the
original ideas and subordinate themselves to "western" empires. It
is their aim to replace them. As there are many people in Saudi Arabia
educated in Wahhabi theology and not particular pleased with their
current rulers the possibility of a Caliphate rush to conquer Saudi
Arabia and to overthrow the Ibn Saud family is real.
In that aspect the Caliphate is anti-colonial and anti-imperial.
That is part of what attracts its followers. At the same time the
Caliphate project is also imperial in that it wants to conquer more
land and wants to convert more people to its flavor of faith.
Both of these aspects make it a competitor and a danger to imperial
U.S. rule-by-proxy in the Middle East. That is, I believe, why the
U.S. finally decided to fight it. To lose Saudi Arabia to the Caliphate,
which seems to be a real possibility, would be a devastating defeat.
The author cites two pieces by Alastair Crooke that are worth
You Can't Understand ISIS If You Don't Know the History of Wahhabism
in Saudi Arabia, and
Middle East Time Bomb: The Real Aim of ISIS Is to Replace the Saud Family
as the New Emirs of Arabia. A lot of interesting material in those
two pieces. (One thing I didn't realize was that King Abdullah has made
a number of reforms liberalizing Islamic law in Saudi Arabia: recognizing
legal doctrines other than the Salafist, and Shiites to consult their own
legal scholars. All this, of course, exacerbates the split with hardcore
He also cites a "twitter story":
Billmon on Doublethink in U.S. Foreign Policy. Punch line:
Whether U.S. diplos still believe their liberal international bullshit
isn't a particularly important question but it is interesting. I tend
to think that they do: Both as classic Orwellian doublethink, a product
of social conditioning, and on time-honored principle that a salesman
has to believe in his/her product, no matter how fantastical. "Goes
with the territory."
Richard Phillips/Stephan Richter: The dumbest US foreign policy question
asked this century: Who "lost" Syria?
And this begs the question: What are U.S. politicians saying when they
say they want to save Syria?
The answer to this can only be found in American hubris. Syria is not
America's to save. The reality is that only Syrians can save Syria --
just as it is only Iraqis who can save Iraq and only Afghans who can
Seeking an answer to the question "Who lost Syria?" is a foolhardy
quest on the part of U.S. politicians. Rather than a serious question,
it is just another manifestation of Washington's favorite political
sport -- blamesmanship.
Davis Merritt: Americans not ready for the truth about ISIS:
Former Wichita Eagle editor, usually a level-headed thinker, gets
all wrapped up in the futility of wars in the Middle East:
The religious extremism that defines the Middle East has been going on
for more than a thousand years. The West has been involved for more than
900 of those years. From Pope Urban's first crusade in 1095 to President
George W. Bush's ignorantly declared "crusade" amid the rubble of the
World Trade Center, extremists on both sides have periodically fanned
No American president can erase that history nor diminish its allure
to radical Islamists who want to write the next chapter in our blood.
Anyone who believes a few months of bombing can eradicate this latest
iteration of religious intolerance is living a fantasy.
Our 21st-century mindset doesn't tolerate lengthy wars; the half-life
of our resolve is about 18 months. So the president best avoid the word
"war," which implies beginning and ending points.
Unfortunately, neither can he say the truth: This is going to be
life in our world; learn to live with it.
A year ago Americans so overwhelmingly rejected Obama's proposal to
bomb Syria for using chemical weapons, recognizing that it wouldn't
solve anything and wouldn't even make a dent given all the other acts
of war. Indeed, it seemed probable that Congress (for once listening
to the American people) would have voted authorization for bombing
down. Now, supposedly an air war against ISIS enjoys popular support,
with Congress gung ho not only to authorize strikes but to appropriate
billions of dollars to train American proxies to fight the ground war.
This turnaround depends on being able to identify ISIS as uniquely
evil and dangerous, and while flashy stories of beheadings and mass
killings help, I suspect the main cause is deep-seated islamophobia
triggered by the prospect of resurrecting the caliphate. Last year
Syria was viewed as just another internecine sectarian conflict
between people we don't know or care about thousands of miles away.
The caliphate, on the other hand, would be a symbol of growing
Islamic power, an alarming shift in the world order, and that's
what starts dredging up reassuring memories of Pope Urban -- even
though most people who know the history of the Crusades regard them
as an embarrassing blight on European civilization. Merritt accepts
such wars because, regarding "religious extremism" as timeless, as
if the fight today is about an ancient character trait, and not
about anything more tangible -- like oil, or the ability of US
bankers to fleece Saudi princes, or the international market for
arms, or the constant jockeying of regional powers and their
never-very-dependable proxy groups. Those are all things that,
pace Merritt, we really shouldn't have to live with.
Paul Woodward: Most Americans support war against ISIS but lack
confidence it will achieve its goal: A NBC News poll says that
"62 percent of voters say they support Obama's decision to take
action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, while 22 percent oppose it."
But also that "a combined 68 percent of Americans say they have
'very little' or 'just some' confidence that Obama's goals of
degrading and eliminating the threat posed by ISIS will be achieved."
Woodward dissects these numbers. Among other points:
"Do you think President Obama presented a credible
strategy for destroying ISIS?" If the answer's "no" and this is why
you lack confidence in this war, then I'd take that as a fairly good
indication that you are following this story reasonably closely.
Of course the most obvious reason why Americans would be skeptical
about the chances of success for a war against ISIS is the fact that
after sinking trillions of dollars into wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and
the war on terrorism, al Qaeda still exists.
As has happened so many times before, Obama formulates his policies
in reaction to banal, superficial, political imperatives whose primary
purpose is to fend off critics.
On Thursday he presented his strategy for destroying ISIS because
only days before he got slammed for admitting he didn't have a strategy.
After he made various comments suggesting that he only aimed to
contain ISIS and was thus criticized for underestimating the threat
it poses and for being too timid in his response, he answered critics
by saying that his aim was to destroy ISIS.
After it was pointed out that fighting ISIS in Iraq would accomplish
little if it could continue to consolidate its strength in Syria, Obama
said the fight would be taken to Syria.
Each of his steps is reactive and political -- as though the primary
task at hand was to deflect criticism.
Probably more stuff to write about, but that's enough for now. I'd
be happy to return to writing about inequality, which is really the
big chronic issue of our era. Or maybe that old standby, the stupidity
of conservative Republicans (here's a
Ted Cruz example; and here's
Steve Fraser: The Return of the Titans, on the Kochs and their ilk).
Or global warming even, but the last couple
months have been overwhelmed by war news, and the one person who
could do something sensible and constructive to defuse conflicts
and resolve problems has repeatedly, almost obsessively managed to
make them worse. That person is US President Barack W. Obama. Yes,
he's finally sunk that low.
Sunday, September 7. 2014
The Wichita Eagle op-ed page featured Trudy Rubin'
Decision Time on ISIS today, three days after the column originally
appeared. Having clamored for more war for years, she must be happy now
that Obama has vowed to "destroy and degrade ISIS" and hopscotched around
the world lining up a new "coalition of the willing" to share the dirt
and blame for another foreign intervention in Iraq and Syria (the last
one having been such fun). Rubin, meanwhile, has gone on seeking further
dragons to slay:
If Putin's actions in Ukraine aren't an invasion, then what is?
Obama's been busy working on locking the US into a war there too. (See
David Frum: Obama Just Made the Ultimate Commitment to Eastern Europe,
something Frum is ecstatic about.) This series of events has reduced my
opinion of Obama to its lowest point ever. Some of this I explain in my
comment on the Peter Beinart piece below, yet even now I doubt that I've
pushed that argument far enough. Perhaps one reason I'm so appalled is
that there doesn't seem to be much uproar over what has to be judged the
most significant American pivot towards war since Bush invaded Iraq. As
Beinart puts it, "[Obama's] fierce minimalism fits the national mood.
President Obama's Mideast strategy is not grand. It's not inspiring.
It's not idealistic. But it's what the American people want and what
their government knows how to do." Really?
That so few rank-and-file Democrats feel up to holding Obama
responsible for his repeated belligerence probably has more to do
with the perception that the Republicans have become a full-fledged
threat to civilization. This is in stark contrast to the 1960s,
when we had no trouble turning on Lyndon Johnson -- and when the
Democratic Party essentially short-circuited the accomplishments
of the New Deal and Great Society out of a blind commitment to an
insane war in Vietnam. Like Johnson, Obama seems bent on sacrificing
whatever good he's accomplished on the altar of war. Little comfort
that he hasn't accomplished much to squander.
Some scattered links this week:
Peter Beinart: Actually, Obama Does Have a Strategy in the Middle East:
Argues that Obama is neither dove nor hawk, but "a fierce minimalist" --
which is to say he's a hawk who prefers small game taken with little risk
or long-term commitment. Of course, that doesn't explain his "Afghanistan
surge" -- in retrospect, that looks like a time-limited concession to the
military, a way of saying "put up or shut up." Beinart goes further than
the facts suggest:
On the other hand, he's proven ferocious about using military force to
kill suspected terrorists. [ . . . ] By contrast,
Obama's strategy -- whether you like it or not -- is more clearly
defined. Hundreds of thousands can die in Syria; the Taliban can
menace and destabilize Afghanistan; Iran can move closer to getting
a bomb. No matter. With rare exceptions, Obama only unsheathes his
sword against people he thinks might kill American civilians.
It's not that simple: Libya never was a threat to American civilians
(at least not until he intervened there). And he's actually broken new
ground in using drones to kill American citizens. So I think the focus
on "terrorist" targets has more to do with scale and risk. He's come to
realize that the US military isn't very effective (and often is down
right counterproductive) when deployed en masse, so he's avoided that.
He also seems to recognize that the US military isn't very effective
as an occupying force: they inevitably embarrass themselves, breeding
resentment and rebellion. On the other hand, give him the opportunity
to kill some "terrorist" and he's happy to pull the trigger. Republicans
taunt him as weak, so he's anxious to prove he's a natural born killer.
One could do worse than minimizing risk and damage, but "minimalism" is
a trap Obama walked into, either because he has no principles or because
he has no willpower to defend them against his security bureaucracy.
Kathy Gilsinan: To Kill a Terrorist, about one of Obama's minimalist
"success stories": the killing of Somali "terrorist" leader Ahmed Abdi
Godane. The most likely result there is that Al-Shabab replaces Godane
with another even-more-embittered leader and nothing more changes. And
I might as well point out Beinart's more recent post,
Pursuing ISIS to the Gates of Hell. Obama's vow "to destroy and
degrade ISIS" remains a bit muddled (why put the weaker verb second?),
and framing it with a "Jacksonian" revenge drama doesn't help.
Andrew O'Hehir: From 9/11 to the ISIS videos: The darkness we conjured
I think it's worthwhile to revisit the examples of Stockhausen and
Baudrillard, and their ideas too, in considering a new outrage that is
both literal and symbolic: the ISIS beheading videos. The criminal acts
depicted in those videos are on an entirely different scale from 9/11,
and it's important not to lose sight of that fact amid the understandable
shock and revulsion they have engendered. But the intended effect is
strikingly similar, and the ISIS videos are conceptually and historically
related to 9/11 as tools of provocation and propaganda. They are designed
to make a ragtag band of apocalyptic rebels look like a symmetrical
adversary to the world's greatest military power; to incite an exaggerated
response from that power, driven by panic and hysteria; and to attract
rootless millennials, both from the West and the Muslim world, to their
incoherent cause. So far it seems to be working.
I'm far less certain that the intent behind the beheading videos is
to provoke the insane response that Obama and nearly everyone on his
hawkish right have committed to, but that's the effect. Rather, they
show a profound inability to step outside of their own skin and see
themselves as others will see them -- a trait that Obama et al. sadly
share with them. If they were smart, they'd court journalists and get
them to at least cast reasonable doubts about their fanaticism. Of
course, if they were smart, they'd recall Islam's past tolerance for
other religions, a principle ("no compulsion in matters of faith")
which had allowed Christians and Yazidis (and Jews) to persevere
through more than a millenia of past caliphates. And they'd play up
the fact that they're seeking freedom from despotic police states
in Damascus and Baghdad. But no side is playing this smart: they
each tailor their propaganda to suit their own prejudices, confirming
their greatest fears and enabling their most vicious and violent
cadres to commit acts that will only exacerbate the initial problem.
Nick Turse: American Monuments to Failure in Africa? Until the US
military created the US Africa Command in 2007, you heard very little
about American military operations in Africa, because there really
weren't many. Now the US military is all over the continent, shooting
people and blowing shit up but also spreading their budget around on
"feel good" projects, much like they did in Iraq and Afghanistan:
As with Petraeus's career, which imploded amidst scandal, the efforts
he fostered similarly went down in flames. In Iraq, the chicken processing
plant proved a Potemkin operation and the much ballyhooed Baghdad water
park quickly fell into ruin. The country soon followed. Less than three
years after the U.S. withdrawal, Iraq teeters on the brink of catastrophe
as most of Petraeus's Sunni mercenaries stood aside while the brutal
Islamic State carved a portion of its caliphate from the country, and
others, aggrieved with the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad, sided with
them. In Afghanistan, the results have been similarly dismal as America's
hearts-and-minds monies yielded roads to nowhere (where they haven't
already deteriorated into death traps), crumbling buildings, over-crowded,
underfunded, and teacher-less schools, and billions poured down the drain
in one boondoggle after another.
More Israel links:
Jeffrey Goldberg: Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, and Israel: "I'm now glad
to report [ . . . ] that Elizabeth Warren has confirmed
for us that, on questions related to Israel, Clinton has nothing to fear
from her, at least."
Ofer Neiman: Israeli officer tosses Palestinian shepherds from their land
so settlers don't have to hear Arabic: Not only is the occupation brutal,
it can also be petty. Note that Arabic is an officially recognized language
in Israel. That anyone could think otherwise is testimony to the prevalence
of segregation in Israel and the occupied territories.
Avi Shlaim: For Israel, the beginning of wisdom is to admit its mistakes:
Not that he offers any indication that anyone in Israel is ready to do so --
least of all Netanyahu, whose "popularity plummeted from 85% at the beginning
of the operation to 38%."
Richard Silverstein: Mossad-Affiliated Israeli NGO: Khaled Meshal to the
Hague: Of course, "Israel hasn't signed the ICC protocol, in an attempt
to keep its own generals and spymasters out of the Hague defendant's chair."
Yet one of Israel's front groups wants the Hamas leader charged. Curiously
enough it's not for those "rocket attacks" Israel provokes then whines
about. It's because Hamas executed a number of Palestinians believed to
have collaborated with Israel during their latest round of war against
Gaza. I'm not fond of the death penalty, and it's hard to be sure of due
process in such a short timespan, but it probably isn't hard to link up
collaborator reports with specific bombings and deaths. Hillel Cohen has
written two books on Israel's use of Palestinian collaborators, one from
1917-48, the other from 1948-67, and obviously the practice hasn't changed
much over 47 years of occupation. For another twist on recent war crimes,
Hannibal Directive Focus of War Crimes Inquiry. Max Blumenthal also
The Hannibal Directive.
Philip Weiss: British pol is beaten by man in Israeli army t-shirt, and
the chattering classes are silent: Isn't this the great fear, that
the violence in the Middle East will be furthered by terrorists in the
Kate: As world watched Gaza, Israel announced 1472 new settlements in West
Bank: And many other stories, like house demolitions in Jerusalem,
an orchard chopped down by settlers near Hebron, the Gaza death toll
continuing to grow even after ceasefire (including a 7th Israeli
civilian). For a view of some of the destruction in Gaza, follow this
Assaf Sharon: Failure in Gaza.
Also, a few links for further study:
Kathleen Geier: Can we talk? The unruly life and legacy of Joan Rivers:
Seems about right, though I'm less of a fan.
Some critics claim to discern a humanistic project behind Rivers' comedy
of cruelty. For example, Mitchell Fain argued that River "says things out
loud what we're all thinking, in our worst moments," and that by doing so,
"the monster gets smaller." What seems far likelier is that the monster
gets socially sanctioned. For decades, a staple of Rivers' act have been
nasty jokes about female celebrities who are fat, stupid, or slutty, and
male celebrities who are allegedly gay. If she ever talked smack about
straight male celebrities, I'm hard-pressed to think of any examples.
That brings us to Joan Rivers' politics, which mostly were horrible.
On the plus side, she was pro-choice, an early supporter of gay rights,
and an Obama supporter. On the negative side, there is pretty much
everything else. Rivers was a lifelong Republican, and made many comments
over the years that left little doubt about her right-wing views. She
hated the movie Precious, not for aesthetic reasons, but for
frankly political ones ("I thought, Oh, get a job! Stand up and get a
job!"). Just last month, she voiced strong support for Israel's military
actions actions in Gaza and said that the Palestinians "deserve to be
dead." She adored Ronald Reagan and shamelessly fawned over the British
royal family. When writers on her show Fashion Police, who were
working full-time and only making $500 a week, went on strike, she
refused to support them. At times, her humor was outright racist.
John Mearsheimer: Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West's Fault:
A useful corrective to a lot of prevailing assumptions. Clearly,
the US (neocon) effort to extend NATO to the borders of Russia
has been deliberately and unnecessarily provocative, although one
could also argue that deep-seated fears that Russia might revert
its past patterns, both before and after the 1917 Revolution, of
trying to control what it thought of as its satellites had more
to do with NATO's expansion. Moreover, while US-backed "democracy
projects" were effectively an attempt at foreign subversion, it
would seem that Russia has been organizing support in Ukraine as
well. In America we reflexively assume we're acting with the best
intentions, but with Cold War blinkers we make little distinction
between democracy and neoliberal economic policies that lead to
inequality and corruption -- something the post-Soviet bloc has
had bitter experience with. There is much to be said in favor of
UN-based programs promoting democracy and human rights throughout
the world, provided such programs focus on need -- Saudi Arabia
is always a good place to start -- rather than the neocon checklist
of governments they dislike.
More dissenting pieces on Ukraine:
Jim Newell: GOP's Kansas nightmare: How a red state is on verge of
unthinkable upsets: I'd caution against counting these chickens
before they hatch, but so far the evidence does suggest that the
Democrats greatly improve their prospects at the polls when they
bother to run candidates. The Senate contest this year represents
a different twist on that, with Democrat Chad Taylor dropping out
to let independent Greg Orman run unfettered. I'm not sure that was
such a good idea, but Orman has a lot more money to work with, and
he might woo more Republicans -- they're pretty regimented on the
far right at the moment, but in doing so they've pissed a lot of
their own off. Also see
Nate Silver. As for the governor, Brownback is widely regarded
as a complete fuck up -- I look forward to campaign commercials
showing him and Rick Perry praying for rain. But oddly enough he's
not only doubled down on the lie that his tax cuts are "working" --
I think that's a euphemism for rich-getting-richer; the new joke is
that the only thing flatter than Kansas is the Kansas economy --
but instead of moving center to pick up votes he's been moving right
for more money. To be specific, the Kochs have been trying to kill
wind power subsidies, which many Republicans (including Brownback
until his flip) favor because it means manufacturing and service jobs
plus big royalties to farmers. The Kochs regard wind power as heresy
against free markets, but if you want to dig a bit deeper, see
Lee Fang: Charles Koch founded anti-environment group to protect
big oil industry handouts.
Monday, September 1. 2014
Music: Current count 23744  rated (+43), 523  unrated (-7).
Main thing that happened this week was that I stumbled across the
Catalytic-Sound website on Bandcamp. Ken Vandermark set this up,
and it currently showcases 137 albums by Vandermark and several of
his closely aligned friends: Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Joe
McPhee, and Paal Nilssen-Love. (Bassist Ingebrigt Háker Flaten has
website with a
good deal of overlap.) Shortly after I wrote my first
Village Voice piece on Vandermark, he sent me a big box of his
recordings -- I was thinking of doing something similar to my
Parker-Shipp CG but never
seemed to have the time -- so many of these are familiar. In fact,
next RS column has a list of 80 Catalytic-Sound records I've
previously reviewed/rated. Still, the site fills in some gaps,
so I spent a good deal of last week picking off the Vandermark
releases (I'll get back to Brötzmann et al. in due course). One
problem is that not every album can be streamed completely, but
the exceptions are (at present, anyway) few. Still, several
omissions particularly disappointed me: the early Vandermark
Quartet album Big Head Eddie (1993), and the brand new
Audio One: The Midwest School (2014) -- its companion,
An International Report, was the week's top find (I
also gave an A- to the early Caffeine). One I have
yet to get to is the 7-CD DKV Trio: Past Present box.
I suppose you could make arguments both ways as to whether
omitting tracks maximizes cash returns -- the idea behind making
all this music available is to sell it -- but for someone who
tries to cover as wide a swath as possible and who has little
time to double back, these sites are a terrific convenience and
help. I wish there were more of them, and hope they stay as open
I haven't been able to update the blog this past week, although
I occasionally do still receive mail about nonsense comments, so
it must be sort of working some of the time. I haven't made any
real progress toward moving on, and hardly know where to begin.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
- Audio One: An International Report (2014, Audiographic): yet another Vandermark large band, live at Green Mill, expect action, don't be too picky [bc]: A-
- Cory Branan: The No-Hit Wonder (2014, Bloodshot): singer-songwriter from Mississippi, went to rock in Memphis but country songs are fresher [r]: B+(*)
- The Bug: Angels & Devils (2014, Ninja Tune): best when he goes upbeat with that dub thing, but also has a penchant for horror soundtrack poses [r]: B+(*)
- Common: Nobody's Smiling (2014, Def Jam): Chicago rapper explores and deplores his home town, not that it isn't tough everywhere else [r]: B+(***)
- Eliana Cuevas: Espejo (2014, ALMA): originally from Venezuela, now "Canada's Latin Music Queen" -- a small fish in a barren pond [cd]: B
- Dirty Loops: Loopified (2014, Verve): three Swedish gents: synth fireworks and histrionic vocals driven by a frantic post-disco beat [r]: C+
- Four Year Strong: Go Down in History (2014, Pure Noise, EP): 5-song EP by punkish group so irrepressibly loud and catchy they're extra annoying [r]: B-
- Larry Fuller: Larry Fuller (2013-14 , Capri): mainstream pianist, came up working with singers and plays juicy standards in this trio, "C Jam Blues" a fave [cd]: B+(***)
- Richard Galliano: Sentimentale (2014, Resonance): French accordion player works the jazz tradition for sentimental moods, played up to the hilt [cd]: A-
- Ariana Grande: My Everything (2014, Island/Republic): no doubt she has what it takes to be a pop star; the question is whether she can make us care [r]: B+(**)
- Eric Harland's Voyager: Vipassana (2014, GSI Studios): mainstream drummer's second album, assembles a fancy band then wastes it with vocal dressing [cdr]: B-
- Horse Meat Disco: Volume IV (2014, Strut): old disco obscurities remixed to sound like old disco obscurities, plus "Gettin' to Know You" [r]: B+(**)
- Ricky Kej/Wouter Kellerman: Winds of Samsara (2014, Listen 2 Africa): Indian keyboard player meets South African flautist for synth-not-so-exotica [cd]: C
- Wiz Khalifa: Blacc Hollywood (2014, Atlantic): after two plays, all I can confirm is that this stoned rapper makes agreeable background music [r]: B+(**)
- J Mascis: Tied to a Star (2014, Sub Pop): Dinosaur Jr. frontman returns to form, his voice cracking and hiding behind some pretty decent guitar [r]: B+(*)
- Brad Paisley: Moonshine in the Trunk (2014, Arista): first half party anthems and livid fantasies; on the backstretch turns into a crunchy con [r]: B-
- Jamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte: The New Standard (2014, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(*)
- Carl Saunders: America (2013 , Summit): spent most of his life in big bands but sounds great as the sole horn here, even when the covers turn corny [cd]: B+(*)
- Side A: In the Abstract (2013 , Not Two): Ken Vandermark reeds trio with Havard Wiik and Chad Taylor, more varied than Free Fall but lands there [bc]: B+(**)
- Spider Bags: Frozen Letter (2014, Merge): garage-punk with a talkie-voiced singer who seems worth listening to, plus they can stretch a riff [r]: B+(*)
- Ed Stone: King of Hearts (2014, Sapphire Music): guitarist-singer, touted as "the new George Benson," he isn't even that, much less the old one [cd]: C+
- Street Priest: More Nasty (2012 , Humbler): guitar-bass-drums trio, can't (or won't) fake the funk so they bust it into shards and stray noise [cdr]: B+(**)
- Randy Travis: Influence Vol. 2: The Man I Am (2012 , Warner Brothers): covers from the classics to Kristofferson, leftovers from Vol. 1 but ring truer [r]: B+(**)
- Ken Vandermark's Topology Nonet: Impressions of Po Music (2013, Okka Disk): Joe McPhee plays McPhee a generation removed, scaled up, not so po [bc]: B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Cables to the Ace (2014, Communicating Vessels): [cd]: B
Old records rated this week:
- AALY Trio with Ken Vandermark: Hidden in the Stomach (1996 , Silkheart): Ken Vandermark joins Mats Gustafsson's rowdy trio, highlight Haden and Ayler covers [r]: B+(**)
- AALY Trio with Ken Vandermark: I Wonder If I Was Screaming (2000, Crazy Wisdom): tighter songwriting limits meltdown by combustible sax men [bc]: B+(**)
- Billy Bang Quintet: Invitation (1982, Soul Note): scrounging, found one I hadn't heard and didn't find it especially remarkable, relatively [r]: B+(**)
- Caffeine: Caffeine (1993 , Okka Disk): Ken Vandermark, Jim Baker (piano), Steve Hunt (drums): I've never heard Baker play so explosively -- sure lights V up [r]: A-
- The John Carter Octet: Dauwhe (1982, Black Saint): adds decorative flute, oboe, tuba, African references to more visceral quartet with Bobby Bradford [r]: B+(**)
- Cinghiale [Mars Williams/Ken Vandermark]: Hoofbeats of the Snorting Swine (1995 , Eighth Day): Ken Vandermark and Mars Williams play sax/clarinet duets, w/surprising interactions [bc]: B+(***)
- DK3: Neutrons (1997 , Quarterstick): Ken Vandermark trio with guitar-drums from Jesus Lizard, one of those post-rock experiments he no longer does [bc]: B+(***)
- The Frame Quartet: 35mm (2009, Okka Disk): Vandermark 4, scratches second sax for an admixture of electronics, interesting but not quite the same [bc]: B+(***)
- The Kevin Norton Ensemble: Knots (1997, Music & Arts): drummer-vibraphonist, toys with Monk and swaps in various clarinets, a mix converging on same [r]: B+(***)
- NRG Ensemble: Bejazzo Gets a Facelift (1997, Atavistic): post-Hal Russell group with Mars Williams and Ken Vandermark racing, crashing, flips [bc]: B+(***)
- Territory Band-4: Company Switch (2004 , Okka Disk, 2CD): Vandermark 11-piece big band, for once does more than just thrash and raise hell [bc]: B+(**)
- The Thing: Action Jazz (2006, Smalltown Superjazz): Mats Gustafsson's power sax trio diversifies, not the worst thing that can happen to them [bc]: B+(**)
- Vandermark Quartet: Solid Action (1994, Platypus): a blast from the past, when V was straddling avant rock and jazz, making trouble for both [bc]: B+(***)
- Ken Vandermark: Standards (1994 , Quinnah): four "improvising trios," nothing standard, just a first taste of DKV, more Mars, some guitar thrash [bc]: B+(**)
- Ken Vandermark: Strade d'Acqua/Roads of Water (2008 , Multi Kulti): soundtrack, hushed tones, moderate tempos, a little color, everyone makes nice [bc]: B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms: From the Region (Delmark)
- Charles Lloyd: Manhattan Stories (1965, Resonance, 2CD): September 16
- Pete Magadini: Bones Blues (1977, Sackville/Delmark)
- Dean Magraw & Eric Kamau Gravatt: Fire on the Nile (Red House): October 14
- Parker Abbott Trio: The Wayfinders (self-released): October 23
- Don Pullen: Richard's Tune (1975, Sackville/Delmark)