Sunday, August 17. 2014
It's been a very distracting week, what with the blog sometimes working
and more often not. I've been working on a "pseudo-blog" system that should
prove more robust -- throughout the troubles of the last few weeks we've
always been able to serve static pages -- and I should unveil that soon.
Meanwhile, a few scattered links this week:
Matthew Harwood: One Nation Under SWAT:
When the concept of SWAT arose out of the Philadelphia and Los Angeles
Police Departments, it was quickly picked up by big city police officials
nationwide. Initially, however, it was an elite force reserved for uniquely
dangerous incidents, such as active shooters, hostage situations, or
Nearly a half-century later, that's no longer true.
In 1984, according to Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop,
about 26% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had SWAT
teams. By 2005, that number had soared to 80% and it's still rising,
though SWAT statistics are notoriously hard to come by.
As the number of SWAT teams has grown nationwide, so have the raids.
Every year now, there are approximately 50,000 SWAT raids in the United
States, according to Professor Pete Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University's
School of Justice Studies. In other words, roughly 137 times a day a SWAT
team assaults a home and plunges its inhabitants and the surrounding
community into terror.
In a recently released report, "War Comes Home," the American Civil
Liberties Union (my employer) discovered that nearly 80% of all SWAT
raids it reviewed between 2011 and 2012 were deployed to execute a
You can draw a couple short lines from the US counterinsurgency wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq to militarized policing: one is that surplus
military equipment is often dumped no charge onto police departments
(Tom Engelhardt starts with a story about the Bergen County Police
Dept. obtaining MRAPs -- armored personnel carriers designed to
survive IED attacks.) Another is the relatively high percentage of
ex-soldiers in police departments. Another is lack of accountability:
with the cult of the troops, it's virtually impossible for the US
military to hold any of its personnel accountable for unnecessary or
excessive force, and as the police become militarized that ethic (or
lack thereof) carries over. (Israel, which used to pride itself on
discipline, has lately become as bad or worse.) Then there's the
increasing proliferation of guns (and "stand your ground" laws) in
the general population. Harwood starts with a story of a Florida man
who heard through social media that he was going to be "burned."
When the man called the police with the threat, he was told to get
a gun and defend himself. The threat arrived in the form of a SWAT
team sent to serve a search warrant: seeing the gun, they killed
the man. Harwood titles one section, "Being the police means never
having to say you're sorry."
Sarah Stillman: The Economics of Police Militarism.
Elias Isquith: Reagan is still killing us: How his dangerous "American
exceptionalism" haunts us today: Always good to read a bad word
about "the Gipper," but this piece is more about Hillary Clinton and
neocon unveiling in the Atlantic. She's always been eager to
show how bellicose she can be, and it certainly doesn't hurt to
put some distance between herself and Obama, especially as long
as she takes positions that don't get tested in practice. But
before going into her, and back to Reagan, I'm reminded of how
Gordon Goldstein, in Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the
Path to War in Vietnam, quoted Bundy on the contrast between
JFK and LBJ: "Kennedy didn't want to be dumb, Johnson didn't want
to be a coward." In this, it's tempting to map Obama onto Kennedy,
and Clinton onto Johnson. Except that Obama doesn't want to be
seen as a coward either, so time and again he backs down and goes
with dumb. Clinton is only promising to get to dumb faster.
Weirdly, Clinton's decision to speak about the U.S.'s role in global
politics as if she, in contrast to Obama, was an unapologetic,
"old-fashioned" believer in American exceptionalism made her sound
like no one so much as Ronald Reagan, the last president who told
a humbled America to buck up and forget its recent mistakes.
[ . . . ]
So here's a prediction about Hillary Clinton and the 2016 presidential
race. At one point or another, there will be a television ad in which
Hillary Clinton will speak of bringing back the former glory of the
United States. She'll say it's time to mark an end to nearly 20 years
of terrorism, depression, war and defeat. It's time to feel good again
about being the leader of the free world. It's morning in America; and
everything is great.
Actually, that sounds like a good idea, especially if she could
combine it with a policy shift that gets away from the losing struggles
of the last twenty years. One of the interesting things about Reagan
is that with a few minor exceptions -- wasting a lot of money on the
military and helping turn Afghanistan and Central America into the
hellholes they are today -- Reagan was satisfied with "talking the
talk" and rarely pushed it too far. For instance, he spent all of
1980 campaigning against Carter's Panama Canal Zone treaty, but once
he was elected he didn't lift a finger to change it. On the other
hand, Clinton won't be given a pass on her toughness. She'll have
to earn it. How successful she may be will depend on how accurately
she identifies the malevolent forces that have been dragging America
down: namely, the Republicans, and their pandering to the rich and
Saree Makdisi: The catastrophe inflicted on Gaza -- and the costs to
Israel's repeated claim that it targets only rocket launchers or tunnels
is belied by the scale and nature of the weapons it unloaded on Gaza.
Its 2000-pound aerial bombs take down entire buildings along with everyone
in them (almost a thousand buildings have been severely damaged or destroyed
in such air strikes). Its 155mm howitzer shells have a margin of error of
300 yards and a lethal radius of up to 150 yards from the point of impact.
Each of the 120mm flechette shells its tank crews fire burst into a 100
by 300 yard shower of 5,000 metal darts carefully designed to shred human
Having sealed Gaza off from the outside world and blanketed almost half
of the territory with warnings telling people to flee for their lives (to
where?!), Israel has been indiscriminately firing all of these munitions
into one of the most densely-inhabited parts of our planet. Entire
neighborhoods have been leveled; entire families have been entombed
in the ruins of their homes. The catastrophic result of Israel's
bombardment is no surprise.
No surprise -- but also not exactly thought through either; more a
matter of casual disregard. For it's not as though Israel has carried
out this violence in pursuit of a strategic master plan (its endless
prevarications over its objectives in Gaza are the clearest indicator
of this). Such gratuitous outbursts of violence (this episode is the
third in six years) are, rather, what Israel falls back on in place of
the strategic vision of which it is bereft. It can indulge in these
outbursts partly because, in the short run at least -- endlessly
coddled by the United States, where venal politicians are quick to
parrot its self-justifications -- it does not pay a significant price
for doing so.
Sandy Tolan: Going Wild in the Gaza War: "Going wild" was Tzipi Livni's
description of how Israel reacts to any Palestinian provocation they bother
to react to. The idea is to overreact so viciously and indiscriminately
that the Palestinians will learn to fear offending Israel in any way,
settling meekly into their role as "an utterly defeated people." The 2014
edition of "going wild" -- by no means finished yet -- has left over 1,900
Palestinians dead, over 12,000 injured, some 100,000 homeless, many more
displaced, pretty much all of 1.8 million people without power or many of
the other amenities of civilization, like the ability to shop in the
globalized marketplace, or to take a holiday more than 20 miles from
home. Those 1.8 million people have certainly been reminded of Israel's
carelessness and cruelty. It's hard to see that as a lesson that bodes
well for the future. Tolan's first point is that this war could easily
have been avoided had Israel and/or the US recognized and worked with
Hamas, and he steps through a series of initiatives and "truce" offers
that were summarily rejected by Israel and the US -- to this day they
insist that "once a terrorist, always a terrorist" (to which Tolan
can't help but point out that the leaders responsible "for a horrific
massacre in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin and the Irgun
bombing of the King David Hotel, killing 91 people" subsequently
became Prime Ministers of Israel). Tolan regards Israel as "a deeply
traumatized society whose profound anxieties are based in part on
genuine acts of horror perpetrated by countless terrorist attacks
over decades, and partly on an unspeakable past history of Europe."
Tragically, Israeli fears have created a national justification for
a kind of "never again" mentality gone mad, in which leaders find it
remarkably easy to justify ever more brutal acts against ever more
dehumanized enemies. At the funeral for the three slain teens,
Benjamin Netanyahu declared, "May God avenge their blood." An Israeli
Facebook page, "The People of Israel Demand Revenge," quickly garnered
35,000 likes. A member of the Knesset from a party in the nation's
ruling coalition posted an article by Netanyahu's late former chief
of staff that called for the killing of "the mothers of [Palestinian]
martyrs" and the demolition of their homes: "Otherwise, more little
snakes will be raised there."
On NPR, Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., decried the
"culture of terrorism" in Palestinian society, adding: "You're
talking about savage actions . . . In the case of
Israel, we take legitimate actions of self-defense, and sometimes,
unintentionally, Palestinian civilians are harmed." That day, the
Palestinian teenager Mohammed Khdeir was abducted and burned alive,
and soon afterward, Israel began bombing Gaza.
Within Israel, the act of dehumanization has become institutionalized.
These days, Israeli newspapers generally don't even bother to print the
names, when known, or the stories of the children being killed in Gaza.
When B'tselem, the respected Israeli human rights organization, attempted
to take out an advertisement on Israeli radio naming names, the request
was denied. The content of the ad, censors declared, was "politically
Actually, Israel is more schizophrenic than Tolan admits. One thing
you notice over history is the extreme contrast between the confidence
(to the point of arrogance) of Israel's top security officials (both
in the military and in organizations like Shin Bet) and the dread held
by large segments of public. No doubt that scaring the people lets the
elites do what they want, but that's as much due to the one thing that
both agree on, which is that Israeli Jews are different and infinitely
more valuable than anyone else. Their specialness, after all, is the
whole point of "the Jewish State." Once you believe that, there is no
limit to the dehumanization of others.
More Israel links:
Dan Glazebrook: Israel's Real Target is Not Hamas: It's any possibility
of Palestinian statehood.
Sarah Lazare: Only Mideast Democracy? In Midst of War, Israel Clamps Down
Dylan Scott: For All the Hype, Does Israel's Iron Dome Even Work?:
"The essence of his analysis is this: Iron Dome's missiles almost never
approached Hamas's rockets at the right trajectory to destroy the
incoming rocket's warhead. . . . And if the warhead
is not destroyed, but merely knocked off course, the warhead will
likely still explode when it lands, putting lives and property in
danger." The underlying fact is that Hamas' rockets almost never do
any substantial damage whether they are intercepted or not, and since
they are unguided, deflecting them has no appreciable effect on their
accuracy (or lack thereof). One question I still haven't seen any
reports on is what happens when the shrapnel from Iron Dome rockets
lands. As I recall, in 1991 Israel's US-provided Patriot anti-missile
system did about as much damage as the Iraqi Scuds they were trying
to defend against. That was a heavier system, but another difference
was that Israel's censors had less interest in suppressing reports
of Patriot failures and blowback. Part of the significance of Iron
Dome is that it exemplifies Israel's unilateralist strategy -- Ben
Gurion's dictum that "it only matters what the Jews do" -- so any
failure is not just a technical problem but a flaw in the strategy.
Even if Iron Dome were 85% effective, that would still be a lower
success rate than could be achieved by a truce. Also see:
Or Amit: Checking under Israel's Iron Dome.
Tascha Shahriari-Parsa: Is Israel's Operation Protective Edge Really
About Natural Gas? Turns out there's a natural gas field off the
Gaza coast, estimated in 2000 to be worth $4 billion, so that may be
another angle on Israel's "security demands" to keep the Gaza coast
closed, to keep Gaza under occupation and deny any sort of independent
Also, a few links for further study:
Jenn Rolnick Borchetta: One nation under siege: Law enforcement's
shameful campaign against black America: not on Ferguson -- you
don't think that's the only such case, do you?
Stephen Franklin: Lawyer: 'We Should Stay on the Parapets and Keep
Fighting': The lawyer interviewed here is Thomas Geoghegan,
argues both that the labor movement is essential ("People who talk
about maintaining the welfare state without a labor movement behind
it are kidding themselves. You will not be able to have a full-employment
economy without a labor movement") as is working through the courts
("We don't have majority-rule here. We have a lot of gridlock, and
lots of checks and balances. Over the years, to break gridlock, you
do rely upon the courts to come in from the outside").
Paul Krugman: Secular Stagnation: The Book: Funny name for the
condition where economies don't bounce back from recessions but drag
on with higher unemployment rates and negligible growth for many
years -- Japan in the 1990s now looks like merely an early example
of a more general trend. There's a new
VoxEU ebook with essays on this, something the US is very much
affected by at the moment. Krugman explains more
And let me simply point out that liquidity-trap analysis has been
overwhelmingly successful in its predictions: massive deficits didn't
drive up interest rates, enormous increases in the monetary base didn't
cause inflation, and fiscal austerity was associated with large declines
in output and employment.
What secular stagnation adds to the mix is the strong possibility
that this Alice-through-the-looking-glass world is the new normal, or
at least is going to be the way the world looks a lot of the time. As
I say in my own contribution to the VoxEU book, this raises problems
even for advocates of unconventional policies, who all too often
predicate their ideas on the notion that normality will return in
the not-too-distant future. It raises even bigger problems with
people and institutions that are eager to "normalize" fiscal and
monetary policy, slashing deficits and raising rates; normalizing
policy in a world where normal isn't what it used to be is a recipe
Martin Longman: On Rick Perry's Indictments: I just wanted to take
note of the occasion. It's rare that sitting governors get indicted for
anything, and I don't expect much is going to come out of this. Perry's
supporters are not only likely to see them as politically motivated,
they're likely to take that a proof that Perry's their kind of
politician -- one not above getting his hands dirty.
Sunday, August 10. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Phyllis Bennis: Obama's Iraq airstrikes could actually help the Islamic
State, not weaken it: Could be -- at any rate they will more clearly
align the US as the enemy of Islam, a meme that's already in fairly broad
circulation both there and here (although thus far only Osama bin Laden
bothered to construct the "far enemy" theory to strike at the US -- most
Jihadists prefer to fight their local devils). For example, TPM reports:
Graham Urges Obama Act in Iraq, Syria to Prevent Terrorist Attack in US --
he actually means "to produce terrorist attack in US" since no one in Iraq
or Syria would be sufficiently motivated to attack the US unless the US
was acting in their own countries. Of course, the idea that the only way
to prevent something is to motivate it is a peculiar affliction of the
fascist mindset, rooted not in logic but in the taste for blood. (Speaking
of warmongers, TPM also reports,
Clinton Knocks Obama's 'Don't Do Stupid Stuff' Foreign Policy Approach
on Syria -- lest anyone think that if given the chance she would flinch
from doing "stupid stuff." In another TPM report,
Shock and Awe, Josh Marshall quotes an anonymous long-time Iraq
war consultant on ISIS tactics -- similar to Taliban tactics right down
to the shiny new Toyota pickups -- and suggests that Obama will see
some initial successes against ISIS frontal attacks, at least until
they adjust. I've noted before his the first flush of US airpower and
advanced weapons creates a false sense of invincibility, "the feel-good
days of the war," which soon ends as "the enemy" adjusts tactics and
as the US blunders from atrocity to atrocity. So, pace Bennis, the
short-run game is likely to look good to the hawks, and being hawks
they're unlikely to ever look at something that produces perpetual war
as having a downside. No, the problem with Bennis' piece is that she
want to argue US policy in Iraq on the basis of what it means to Iraqis,
instead of the affect intervening in Iraq will have in the US. Foreign
wars are catnip for the right because they propagate hate and violence
and they show the government doing nothing to make American lives better
(even the ruse that they create jobs has worn thin).
And, of course, there's always the oil angle: see,
Steve Coll: Oil and Erbil. So far, Obama has been more active
in defending Kurdish autonomy than backing Iraq's central government.
Coincidentally, ExxonMobil and Chevron have made major deals with
the Kurds, bypassing the central government. Favorite line here:
"ExxonMobil declined to comment."
Erbil's rulers never quite saw the point of a final compromise with
Baghdad's Shiite politicians -- as each year passed, the Kurds got
richer on their own terms, they attracted more credible and deep-pocketed
oil companies as partners, and they looked more and more like they led
a de-facto state. The Obama Administration has done nothing to reverse
And so, in Erbil, in the weeks to come, American pilots will defend
from the air a capital whose growing independence and wealth has loosened
Iraq's seams, even while, in Baghdad, American diplomats will persist
quixotically in an effort to stitch that same country together to confront
Obama's defense of Erbil is effectively the defense of an undeclared
Kurdish oil state whose sources of geopolitical appeal -- as a long-term,
non-Russian supplier of oil and gas to Europe, for example -- are best
not spoken of in polite or naïve company, as Al Swearengen [a reference
back to HBO's series, Deadwood] would well understand. Life,
Swearengen once pointed out, is often made up of "one vile task after
another." So is American policy in Iraq.
Elias Isquith: Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on his growing unpopularity:
It's Obama's fault! Brownback won the Republican Party nomination
last week, with a 63-37 margin over Jennifer Winn. Winn had no political
experience, and no money. Her campaign was managed by a libertarian who
came out not of the Tea Party but the Occupy movement. Winn's primary
motivation for running was the experience and sense of injustice she
felt when her son was arrested for drugs. A big part of her platform
was calling for legalization of marijuana. She was not, in other words,
a natural fit with any identifiable fragment of the Republican Party in
Kansas, and still Brownback -- a sitting governor, two-term Senator,
former Congressman, rich, pious, with a postcard family, someone who's
never faced a closely contested election in his life -- still couldn't
run up a two-to-one margin among his own people. So, yeah, he should
take the result as a wake-up call. Instead, he explained:
"I think a big part of it is Barack Obama," Brownback said, referring
to his only securing two-thirds of the primary vote. "[A] lot of people
are so irritated at what the president is doing, they want somebody to
throw a brick."
Brownback continued: "I think it's a lot of deep irritation with the
way the president has taken the country, so much so that people are so
angry about it they're just trying to express it somehow."
Why Kansas voters would be so irrational as to punish Brownback, who
in many ways represents everything Obama does not, for the president's
sins, the governor did not say.
Having just suffered through a big-money Republican primary, it's
obvious that Republicans in Kansas are totally convinced that everyone
in the country (well, except, you know, for them) utterly can't
stand Obama or anything associated with him (especially "Obamacare"),
so they've concluded that the sure path to election is to go as far
over the top in denouncing Obama as possible. But just working yourself
up into ever greater levels of hysteria doesn't make that claim any
more credible. On the other hand, Brownback has nearly wrecked the
state government he was entrusted with nearly four years ago, and
he can hardly blame what he did on anyone else.
John Cassidy: Memo to Obama's Critics: He's Not Callow Anymore
has an explanation why Republicans have turned up the vitriol against
Obama, what with the Republican House suing the president while many
among them talk of impeachment: "But it isn't his inexperience and
glibness that's infuriating them. It's the fact that he's learned to
play the Washington power game, and, perhaps, found a way to go around
them." What Obama's done with all that executive power hasn't been
very impressive -- except in Israel-Iraq-Syria-Ukraine foreign policy,
where every step he's taken has been wrong, something Cassidy doesn't
appreciate -- but Republicans were so used to pushing Obama around
that any attempt to call their bluff is seen as a calamity. (I am, by
the way, not very happy with Cassidy's recent posts on the four ISIU
wars, nor his defense of Obama in them. Nor are the Republicans much
concerned there, except inasmuch as they can paint Obama as weak.
Too bad: when they impeached Clinton way back when, I wrote that I
would have cast a guilty vote, not on the basis of the charges but
due to his mishandling of Iraq. Obama is little if any better now.)
Ed Kilgore: The Tea Party Is Losing Battles but Winning the War: Kansas
Senator Pat Roberts, so well ensconced in Washington he no longer bothers
to own or rent any residency in the state he represents, defeated a rather
weird Tea Party challenger named Milton Wolf by a 48-41 margin: Wolf's sound
bite description of Roberts was "liberal in Washington, rarely in Kansas."
Roberts had never been accused of being a RINO, but fearing Wolf's challenge
he became noticeably more dilligent about his conservative bona fides over
the last year (before that he was mostly known for routing federal money
to agribusiness interests). So Kilgore chalks this up as yet another case
of the Tea Party moving the Republican Party to the right even when they
fail to get their crackpots nominated. (Wolf, an orthopedist, reportedly
had a nasty habit of posting his patients' X-rays on Facebook along with
denigrating "humorous" comments.)
Ed Kilgore: The "New" Rick Perry: "New" as in he's distancing himself
from the "old" Perry who self-destructed in the 2012 presidential race,
presumably to run again in 2016.
As for Perry's famous message of presenting Texas as an economic template
for the country, I think it's a mistake to view this as easy, non-controversial
mainline GOP rap that the rest of us can live with. What Perry exemplifies
is the ancient southern approach to economic development based on systematic
abasement of public policy in order to make life as profitable and easy as
possible for "job-creators," at any cost. If it sort of "works" (if you don't
care about poverty and low wage rates and inadequate health care and
deliberately starved public resources) in Texas thanks in no small part to
the state's fossil fuel wealth and low housing costs (though as Philip
in the April/May issue of WaMo, even that level of success is debatable),
it sure hasn't ever "worked" in similarly inclined but less blessed places
like Mississippi and Alabama, where the local aristocracy has been preaching
the same gospel for many decades.
Mike Konczal/Bryce Covert: The Real Solution to Wealth Inequality:
In The Nation, this appeared as "Tiny Capitalists":
Democrats and Republicans advocate different solutions to inequality,
but both seek to shift financial risk from the state to the individual.
Republicans promote the "ownership society," in which privatizing social
insurance, removing investor protections and expanding home ownership
align the interests of workers with the anti-regulatory interests of the
wealthy. Democrats focus on education and on helping the poor build wealth
through savings programs. These approaches demand greater personal
responsibility for market risks and failures, further discrediting the
state's role in regulating markets and providing public social insurance.
Instead of just giving people more purchasing power, we should be taking
basic needs off the market altogether.
Consider Social Security, a wildly popular program that doesn't count
toward individual wealth. If Social Security were replaced with a private
savings account, individuals would have more "wealth" (because they would
have their own financial account) but less actual security. The elderly
would have to spin the financial-markets roulette wheel and suffer
destitution if they were unlucky. This is why social-wealth programs
like Social Security combat inequality more powerfully than any
privatized, individualized wealth-building "solution."
Public programs like universal healthcare and free education function
the same way, providing social wealth directly instead of hoping to boost
people's savings enough to allow them to afford either. Rather than
requiring people to struggle with a byzantine system of private health
insurance, universal healthcare would be available to cover the costs
of genuine health needs. Similarly, broadly accessible higher education
would allow people to thrive without taking on massive student loans and
hoping that their "human capital" investment helps them hit the jackpot.
Emphasis added to the key point. Aside from moving basic needs off
market, we would also be moving them into the realm of society-guaranteed
rights. Also, from optional (something enjoyed by an elite) to mandatory
(something securely available to all). Conversely, the political agenda
of trying to impose greater market discipline over any area of life is
meant to increase inequality, and to make its consequences more acute.
Paul Krugman: Libertarian Fantasies: I've always had sympathies for
libertarian thinking: the lessons of the "don't tread on me" American
Revolution were imprinted early, and the notion that the state was out
to keep me from enjoying "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"
was backed by clear evidence from my teens, most perniciously through
the draft and the drug war. However, I eventually realized that while
self-interested public menaces like J. Edgar Hoover occasionally worked
in the public sector they tended to be the exception, in corporations
they were the rule, so ubiquitous that their corruption lapped over
and gnawed at the very idea of public service. But things like the
continuing drug war show that their is a need for libertarian types.
Unfortunately, they rarely stop at defending freedom from real threats.
Many become obsessed with false threats, and have no clue how to go
from critique to policy, mostly because their anti-government bias
blinds them from the possibility of using government for increasing
freedom. (For instance, I'd say that the FDA increases my freedom as
a consumer by saving me time worrying about contaminated food. You
might say that the FDA limits the freedom of food producers to cut
costs and poison people, but there are a lot more of us than them,
and regulation is a fairly efficient scheme to even out minimal
quality costs and avoid a disastrous "race to the bottom.") Krugman
has his own examples, concluding:
In other words, libertarianism is a crusade against problems we don't
have, or at least not to the extent the libertarians want to imagine.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the case of monetary policy,
where many libertarians are determined to stop the Fed from irresponsible
money-printing -- which is not, in fact, something it's doing.
And what all this means in turn is that libertarianism does not
offer a workable policy agenda. I don't mean that I dislike the agenda,
which is a separate issue; I mean that if we should somehow end up with
libertarian government, it would quickly find itself unable to fulfill
any of its promises.
I read a lot of Murray Rothbard way back when, and he actually spent
a lot of time coming up with private sector solutions to functions like
justice that are invariably performed by government. I easily understand
why a public justice system may become corrupt and repressive -- traits
ours exhibits way too often -- but I couldn't see how Rothbard's scheme
could every work, even badly. Rothbard's cases for private firefighters
and other services were more workable, but everything he came up was
vastly more inefficient than what we already have.
Gideon Levy: Go to Gaza, see for yourself: An Israeli journalist,
recently named by a right-wing Israeli commentator as someone Israel
should lock up in a concentration camp:
Let's talk about Gaza. The Gaza strip is not a nest of murderers; it's
not even a nest of wasps. It is not home to incessant rampage and murder.
Most of its children were not born to kill, nor do most of its mothers
raise martyrs -- what they want for their children is exactly what most
Israeli mothers want for their own children. Its leaders are not so
different from Israel's, not in the extent of their corruption, their
penchant for "luxury hotels" nor even in their allocating most of the
budget to defense.
Gaza is a stricken enclave, a permanent disaster zone, from 1948 to
2014, and most of its inhabitants are third- and fourth-time refugees.
Most of the people who revile and who destroy the Gaza Strip have never
been there, certainly not as civilians. For eight years I have been
prevented from going there; during the preceding 20 years I visited
often. I liked the Gaza Strip, as much as one can like an afflicted
region. I liked its people, if I may be permitted to make a generalization.
There was a spirit of almost unimaginable determination, along with an
admirable resignation to its woes.
In recent years Gaza has become a cage, a roofless prison surrounded
by fences. Before that it was also bisected. Whether or not they are
responsible for their situation, these are ill-fated people, a great
many people and a great deal of misery. [ . . . ]
But in Hebrew, "Gaza," pronounced 'Aza, is short for Azazel, which
is associated with hell. Of the multitude of curses hurled at me these
days from every street corner, "Go to hell/Gaza" is among the gentler
ones. Sometimes I want to say in response, "I wish I could go to Gaza,
in order to fulfill my journalistic mission." And sometimes I even want
to say: "I wish you could all go to Gaza. If only you knew what Gaza is,
and what is really there."
Andrew O'Hehir: Is Obama haunted by Bush's ghost -- or possessed by him?
Lots of things have bothered me about Obama, but his disinterest to put
any real distance between his administration and the Bush one on issues
of war, peace, and security is foremost -- all the more so because by the
time Bush left office those policies had been shown to be utterly bankrupt,
and because Obama was elected with a clear mandate for change.
As we were reminded earlier this week, Obama's efforts to separate his
own management of intelligence and spycraft from the notorious torture
policies of Bush's "war on terror" now look exceedingly murky, if not
downright mendacious. Throughout his campaigns and presidential years,
Obama has relied on shadow-men like former CIA director George Tenet,
former counterterrorism chief and current CIA director John Brennan
and director of national intelligence (and spinner of lies to Congress)
James Clapper, all of whom are implicated to the eyeballs in "extraordinary
rendition" and "enhanced interrogation techniques" and the other excesses
of the Bush regime. [ . . . ] Despite all the things
he said to get elected, and beneath all the stylistic and symbolic elements
of his presidency, Obama has chosen to continue the most fundamental
policies of the Bush administration. In some areas, including drone
warfare, government secrecy and the persecution of whistle-blowers, and
the outsourcing of detainee interrogation to third-party nations, Obama
has expanded Bush's policies.
Stephen M Walt: Do No (More) Harm: Subtitle: "Every time the U.S.
touches the Middle East, it makes things worse. It's time to walk away
and not look back." Good argument, but could use a better article.
Walt's list of all the things that have gone wrong is detailed and
long enough, but when he tries to apply his "realist" paradigm he
doesn't come with any clear sense of the American interests in the
region that he assumes must exist. (Closest he comes is the desire
to keep any [other] nation from controlling the Persian Gulf oil
belt, which at the moment is so fragmented it hardly calls for any
US action at all. He misses what strike me as the two obvious ones:
peace and a sense of equality and justice throughout the region,
which would in turn undercut past/current trends toward militant
and repressive Islam.) He rejects isolationism, but that may well
be the best solution one can hope for given how pathological US
intervention has been. (After all, alcoholics are advised to quit,
rather than just scale back to the occasional drink non-alcoholics
can handle without harm.) He does suggest that the US give up on
trying to guide any sort of "peace process" between Israel and the
Palestinians. Indeed, he goes to far as to say that we shouldn't
bother with Israel's imperious fantasies if that's what they want
to do -- evidently being a "realist" means you never have to think
in terms of principles. On the other hand, isn't such a total lack
of scruples a big part of how the US became the Middle East plague
it so clearly is?
Kate: Three Palestinian men killed in separate West Bank protests, one
outside a Jewish settlement: a long, depth-ful compendium of links
and stories all around the conflict. Regarding the title incidents,
I recall that the second ("Al-Aqsa") intifada started in response to
Israel killing a dozen or so Palestinian demonstrators. I always
thought that should have been called the "Shaul Moffaz Intifada,"
in honor of the murderer-in-chief (then-IDF chief-of-staff). One
article notes: "More than 1,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel were
arrested by Israeli police during Operation Protective Edge, according
to a lawyer representing a number of the detainees. While some were
arrested for protesting the Israeli military incursion into Gaza,
dozens were held without charge." Another article called for "the
establishment of camps modeled after the internment camps the United
States established in World War II" for anti-war "agitators" (names
included Gideon Levy, Haneen Zoabi, and Amira Haas). Also, an earlier
compendium by Kate:
After destroying 10,000 homes, Israel says Gaza can rebuild if it
Michael Lerner: Israel has broken my heart: I'm a rabbi in mourning for
a Judaism being murdered by Israel: A powerful testament on the
disconnect between Israel and Jews elsewhere who as part of their
identity take injustice seriously.
Falguni Sheth: The West' selective amnesia: Gaza, the war on terror and
the paradox of human rights: Starts by citing the 1948 Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document from a period when the
world was exhausted by war and prescient enough to understand that the
key to peace is treating people right. Those aspirations have fallen
by the wayside, both as various nations came to view their interests
as depending on trodding on human rights -- a reassertion of the
imperialist mindset that led to two world wars -- and the self-defense
doctrine, which holds that one's own self-defense is so critical that
it allows one to act against other nations and peoples with impunity.
(Sheth's term for this is FLOP, an acronym for Fuck the Lives of Other
People.) Israel is the paradigm for that doctrine, although it has
been invoked by other countries when they thought they could get away
with it -- the US reaction to 9/11 is a prime example.
Richard Silverstein: Col. Ofer Winter: Poster Boy for IDF's New Dirty 200, Ceasefire Dies (Again); and
IDF Col. Ofer Winter's Holy War Against Latter-Day Philistines:
These two pieces single out one Israeli commander who has repeatedly
distinguished himself for war crimes.
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, August 4. 2014
Running a day behind and coming up short as I try to sum up what's
been happening around the world and how Israel/Gaza fits into it. The
blog, by the way, has experienced intermittent failures, something the
ISP (addr.com) has thus far been completely unhelpful at fixing. Sorry
for the inconvenience. Music Week will also run a day late (assuming no
This week's links will once again focus mostly on Israel's continuing
assault on Gaza. It is not the only significant war in the world at the
moment -- the governments in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine are simultaneously
engaged in brutal campaigns to bring their own people back under central
state control -- but it is the one that most immediately concerns us in
the US, partly because American partisanship in largely responsible for
the conflict (i.e., the failure to resolve the conflict peacefully);
partly because Israel's thinking and practice in power projection and
counterterrorism is seen as an ideal model by many influential American
foreign policy mandarins (the so-called "neocons," of course, but many
of their precepts have infiltrated the brains of supposedly more liberal
actors, notably the Clintons, Kerry, and Obama); and partly because
Israel has managed to recapitulate the violence and racism of our own
dimly remembered past, something they play on to elicit sympathy even
though a more apt reaction would be horror.
I don't want to belittle the three other "civil wars": indeed, the
US (almost entirely due to Obama) has actively sided with the governments
of Iraq (the US has sent a small number of ground troops and large amounts
of arms there) and Ukraine (the US has led the effort to sanction and
vilify Russia). On the other hand, the US condemned and threatened to
bomb Syria, and has sent (or at least promised) arms to "rebels" there,
although they've also (at least threatened) to bomb the "rebels" too.
But we also know relatively little about those conflicts, and probably
understand less, not least because most of what has been reported has
been selected for propaganda effect. For instance, when "separatists"
in Ukraine tragically shot down a Malaysian airliner, that story led
the nightly news for more than a week, but hardly anyone pointed out
that Ukraine had been shelling and bombing separatist enclaves, and
that anti-aircraft rockets had successfully shot down at least one
Ukrainian military plane before the airliner. (The effective blackout
of news of the conflict, including the use of anti-aircraft missiles
in the region, should bear at least some measure of blame for the
airliner tragedy.) Similarly, we hear much about extreme doctrines
of the breakaway "Islamic State" in Iraq, but virtually nothing of
the Maliki government practices that have managed to alienate nearly
all of northwestern Iraq (as well as the Kurdish regions, which have
all but declared their own breakaway state, one that the US is far
more tolerant of -- perhaps since it doesn't serve to flame
Islamophobic public opinion in the US).
Syria is a much messier problem, for the US anyhow. The state was
taken over by the Ba'ath Party in 1963, and led by the Assad family
since 1971. Syria fought against Israel in the 1948-49 war, and again
in 1967, when Israel seized the Golan Heights, and again in 1973. At
various times Syria made efforts to ally itself with the US (notably
in the 1990 coalition against Iraq), but several factors prejudiced
US opinion against the Assads: the border dispute with Israel and
intermittent Syrian support for the PLO, Syria's resort to Russia
(and later Iran) as its armaments supplier, the repressive police
state and the brutality with which the Assads put down rebellions
(e.g., they killed at least 10,000 people in the Hama massacre of
1982 -- a tactic much admired by Israeli military theoreticians like
Martin Van Creveld). One might think that Syria's lack of democracy
would be an issue, but the US has never objected to other tyrants
that could be counted as more reliable allies, such as the kings
of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. But when Assad fired on Arab Spring
demonstrations, prejudice turned Obama against Assad, as the revolt
became militarized he chipped in guns, as it became Islamicized he
waffled. Obama set a "red line" at the use of chemical weapons, and
when that appeared to have been violated, he felt it was his place
to punish Syria with a round of gratuitous bombings, but Congress
demurred, and Putin interceded with an offer by Syria to give up
their chemical weapon stocks. Since then, Obama has promised more
arms to Syrian "rebels" and also threatened to bomb those rebels
connected with the revolt in Iraq, and he ruined his relationship
with Putin -- the only real chance to mediate the conflict -- for
recriminations over Ukraine. Meanwhile, Israel (always seen as a
US ally even though usually acting independently) bombed Syria.
At this point there will be no easy resolution to Syria. One
obvious problem is how many foreign countries have contributed to
one side or the other (or in the case of the US to both, if not
quite all). So the first step would be an international agreement
to use whatever pressure they have to get to a ceasefire and some
sort of power-sharing agreement, but obvious as that direction is,
the other ongoing conflicts make it impossible. Just to take the
most obvious example, the US (Obama) is by far more committed to
marginalizing Russia in Ukraine than it is to peace anywhere in
the Middle East, least of all Israel. Russia is likewise more
focused on Ukraine than anywhere else, although it doesn't help
that its main interest in Syria and Iraq appears to be selling
arms (it supports both governments, making it a US ally in Iraq
as well as an enemy in Syria, blowing the Manichaean minds in
Washington). Saudi Arabia and Iran are far more invested against
or for Syria and Iraq. One could go on and on, but absent any
sort of enlightened world leader willing to step outside of the
narrow confines of self-interest and link the solution to all
of these conflicts, their asymmetries will continue to grind on,
and leave bitter legacies in their paths. In Syria alone, over
more than three years the estimated death toll is over 250,000.
In Iraq estimated deaths since the US exit in 2011 are over
21,000, but much more if you go back to 2003 when the US invaded
and stirred up much sectarian strife. (I couldn't say "started"
there because US culpability goes back to 1991, when Bush urged
Iraqi shiites to rise up against Saddam Hussein, then allowed
the Iraqi army to crush them mercilessly, then instigated "no
fly" zones with periodic bombings, along with sanctions lasting
until the 2003 invasion.)
As for Israel's latest assault on Gaza, in three weeks Israel has
killed over 1,800 Palestinians -- I won't bother trying to separate
out "civilians" and "militants" since Gaza has no organized military
(like the IDF). That may seem like a small number compared to Syria
above, but if you adjust for the relative populations (22.5 million
in Syria, 1.8 million in Gaza) and length of war (171 weeks for Syria,
3 for Gaza) the kill rate is about five times greater in Gaza (333
per million per week vs. 65 per million per week in Syria). Moreover,
the distribution of deaths is extremely skewed in Gaza, whereas in
Syria and Iraq (I have no idea about Ukraine) they are close to even
(to the extent that "sides" make sense there). The distinction between
IDF and "civilians" makes more sense in Israel, especially as nearly
all IDF casualties occurred on Gazan soil after Israel invaded. The
ratio there is greater than 600-to-one (1800+ to 3), a number we'll
have to come back to later. (The first Israeli killed was a settler
who was voluntarily delivering goodies to the troops -- i.e., someone
who would certainly qualify as a "militant"; another was a Thai
migrant-worker, and some tallies of Israeli losses don't even count
him.) The number of Israeli soldiers killed currently stands at 64,
some of which were killed by Israeli ("friendly") fire. (The first
IDF soldier killed was so attributed, but I haven't seen any later
breakdowns. There have been at least two instances where an Israeli
soldier was possibly captured and subsequently killed by Israeli fire --
IDF forces operate under what's called the Hannibal Directive, meant
to prevent situations where Israeli soldiers are captured and used as
bargaining chips for prisoner exchanges, as was Gilad Shalit.) Even
if you counted those IDF deaths, the overkill ratio would be huge.
But without them, it should be abundantly clear how little Israel was
threatened by Hamas and other groups in Gaza. In 2013, no one in Israel
was hurt by a rocket attack from Gaza. This year, in response to Israel
and Egypt tightening Gaza borders, to Israel arresting 500+ people
more or less associated with Hamas (many released in the Shalit deal)
in the West Bank, and to Israel's intense bombardment now lasting three
weeks, more than a thousand rockets were launched from Gaza at Israel,
and the result of all this escalation was . . . 3 dead,
a couple dozen (currently 23) wounded. Just think about it: Israel
gave Gazans all this reason to be as vindictive as possible, and all
it cost them was 3 civilian casualties (one of which they don't even
count). In turn, they inflicted incalculable damage upon 1.8 million
people. The trade off boggles the mind. Above all else, it makes you
wonder what kind of people would do such a thing.
A little history here: Zionist Jews began emigrating from Russia
to the future Israel, then part of the Ottoman Empire, in the 1880s,
following a breakout of pogroms (state-organized or -condoned attacks
on Jews) following the assassination of Czar Alexander. Britain went
to war against the Ottoman Empire in 1914, and made various promises
to both Arabs and Jews of land they would seize from the Ottomans,
including Palestine. In 1920 the British kept Palestine as a mandate.
They took a census which showed the Jewish population at 10%. The
British allowed Jewish immigration in fits and spurts, with the
Jewish population ultimately rising to 30% in 1947. Britain's reign
over Palestine was marked by sporadic violence, notably the Arab
Revolt of 1937-39 which Britain brutally suppressed, using many
techniques which Israel would ultimately adopt, notably collective
punishment. Meanwhile, the British allowed the Zionist community
to form a state-within-the-state, including its own militia, which
aided the British in putting down the Arab Revolt. In 1947, Britain
decided to wash its hands of Palestine and returned the mandate to
the then-new United Nations. The leaders of the Jewish proto-state
in Palestine lobbied the United Nations to partition Palestine into
two parts -- one Jewish, the other Arab (Christian and Moslem) --
and the UN complied with a scheme that offered Jewish control of a
slight majority of the land, Arab control of several remaining
isolated pockets (West Bank, West Galilee, Gaza Strip, Jaffa),
with Jerusalem a separate international zone. There were virtually
no Jews living in the designated Arab areas, but Arabs were more
than 40% of the population of the Jewish areas. The Arabs rejected
the partition proposal, favoring a single unified state with a
two-to-one Arab majority. The Zionist leadership accepted the
partition they had lobbied for, but didn't content themselves
with the UN-specified borders or with the international zone for
Jerusalem. When the British abdicated, Israel declared independence
and launched a war to expand its territory, swallowing West Galilee
and Jaffa, capturing the west half of Jerusalem, and reducing the
size of the Gaza Strip by half. Several neighboring Arab countries
joined this war, notably Transjordan, which was able to secure east
Jerusalem (including the Old City) and the West Bank (including the
highly contested Latrun Salient), and Egypt, which wound up in
control of the reduced Gaza Strip. During this war more than 700,000
Palestinian Arabs were uprooted and fled beyond Israeli control, to
refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria, leaving
the land occupied by Israel as 85% Jewish.
Israel signed armistice agreements in 1949-50 with its neighbors.
Jordan annexed its occupied Palestinian territories and gave their
inhabitants Jordanian citizenship, not that that meant much in an
monarchy with no democratic institutions. Egypt didn't annex Gaza;
it styled itself as a caretaker for a fragment of a future independent
Palestinian state, which left its inhabitants in limbo. Israel passed
a series of laws which gave every Jew in the world the right to
immigrate to Israel and enjoy citizenship there, and denied the
right of every Palestinian who had fled the 1948-50 war to ever
return, confiscating the lands of the refugees. Palestinians who
stayed within Israel were granted nominal citizenship, but placed
under military law. Gazan refugees who tried to return to Israel
were shot, and Israel repeatedly punished border incidents by
demolishing homes in Gaza and the West Bank. (Ariel Sharon first
made his reputation by making sure that the homes he blew up in
Qibya in 1953 were still occupied.) Israel was never happy with
its 1950 armistice borders. After numerous border incidents, Israel
launched a sneak attack on Egypt in 1967, seizing Gaza and the
Sinai Peninsula up to the Suez Canal, then quickly expanded the
war into Jordan (grabbing East Jerusalem and the West Bank) and
Syria (the Golan Heights).
The UN resolution following the 1967 war called for Israel to
return all the lands seized during the war in exchange for peace
with all of Israel's neighbors. The Arabs nations were slow to
respond to this "land-for-peace" proposal, although this was the
basis of the 1979 agreement that returned the Sinai Peninsula to
Egypt, and would be the basis of subsequent peace proposals backed
by every nation in the Arab League -- the sole difference is that
Jordan has since renounced its claim to the West Bank and East
Jerusalem, so those as well as Gaza might form the basis of an
independent Palestinian state, as originally envisioned by the
UN. The PLO has agreed to this solution, and Hamas has announced
tacit approval (they have what you may call a funny way of putting
things, one that unfortunately allowed for a large measure of
distortion by Israeli "explainers" [hasbara-ists]). So if Israel
ever wanted peace, both with its neighbors and with its current
and former Palestinian subjects, that simple deal is on the table
(as well as several subsequent ones which allow Israel additional
concessions, although those are less universally accepted).
The rub is that Israel has never wanted peace, and nowadays the
political consensus in Israel is further than ever from willing to
even consider the notion. This is a hard point for most people to
grasp -- who doesn't want peace? -- but nothing Israel does makes
any sense until you realize this. We can trace this back over history,
or you can just look at the current fracas. Israel, after all, could
have decided to handle the June 12 kidnapping-murder as a normal
police matter. Despite everything they've done since, they haven't
caught their two prime suspects, so they couldn't have done less
as to solving the crime, and they would have gotten a lot more
credit and sympathy. But rather than react as any normal country
would, they went out and arrested 500 people who had nothing to
do with the crime, and in the process of doing that they killed
another nine Palestinians. The rockets, which in any case did no
real damage, were primarily a response to the arrests, and more
basically to Israel's blockade of Gaza, which is itself a deeper
manifestation of Israel's belligerency. Even then, Israel could
have ignored the rockets. The decision to start shelling/bombing
Gaza was completely their own, as was the decision to send troops
into Gaza to destroy tunnels that hadn't caused any actual harm
to Israel. In short, all that destruction is the direct result of
Israel reacting the way Israel always reacts to provocations: by
escalating the level of violence. And that's simply not the way a
nation that wants to live in peace behaves.
I can think of several reasons why Israel has chosen to be a state
of perpetual war:
- The essential precept of Zionism is that anti-semitism is endemic
in the world, leaving Jews with no recourse except to separate themselves
from everyone else, to retreat to a common defensible redoubt, and to
build iron walls around themselves that their enemies cannot breach.
Because anti-semitism is eternal, peace is illusory, a temptation to
lapse the martial spirit necessary to maintain those walls. The
Holocaust only served to reinforce this early view, and has been
driven deep into the psyches of subsequent generations. The "iron
wall" doctrine was developed by Vladimir Jabotinsky. Proof of how
little Zionism has evolved is that Benjamin Netanyahu is the son of
Jabotinsky's secretary and main disciple.
- The core fact of Zionism is that it created a colonial enclave in
a region that was already occupied with the intent of dominating and
expanding that region. In order to survive, the colonists had to
alienate themselves from their surroundings, to cohere and act as a
community, to defend themselves and vanquish the aboriginals. Every
successful example (as well as near misses like French Algeria and
Afrikaner South Africa) developed the same pathologies of racism and
violence, and these are especially sharp in Israel now because the
success of the project seems so tenuous.
- Israel's early history, especially the wars of 1948 and 1967, are
exceptionally susceptible to self-mythologizing, both due to the level
of leadership and the semi-miraculous outcomes of those wars: in 1948
Israel declared independence, expanded its UN-specified borders by
nearly 50%, and radically consolidated a large Jewish majority despite
the combined efforts of the Arab armies; in just six days 1967 Israel
won an even more stunning victory over rising Arab nationalists, again
greatly expanding their territory. Such wars are seductive, casting a
mythic glow over the nation's self-conception that none of the later
wars, muffled and muddled as they've been, have managed to erode. Of
course, it helps that one can make a case that the 1948 and 1967 wars
were necessary -- at least to convince neighboring countries that
Israel was a fact they wouldn't be able to forcibly undo.
- War is one of the few human endeavors that gives a nation a joint
sense of purpose and belonging, at least as long as it is successful
(or not too dreadfully disastrous). Israelis tasted that in 1948 and
1967 and ever since they fear losing that sense of unity, of common
purpose, identity, fear, and hope. Indeed, every war -- even one that
looks so pointless and horrifying as this one does to the rest of the
world -- creates a huge spike of support for whoever leads it. You
see this elsewhere -- Margaret Thatcher's Falklands War and George H.W.
Bush's original Gulf War are textbook examples, although for the US
World War II was the one that really hit the spot, putting us so far
on top of the world that in many ways, despite many disasters, we
still haven't crashed to earth yet -- but perhaps the sense is even
stronger in a nation with such broad and deep military service, where
the preferred career path in politics or business is promotion in the
IDF (or Israel's numerous other security agencies).
Those four points are all true, self-reinforcing in various combinations
at various times. They help explain why David Ben-Gurion, for instance,
sabotaged his successor for fear that Moshe Sharrett might normalize
relations with Israel's Arab neighbors, turning Israel into an ordinary
country. They help explain why Abba Eban was so disingenuous following
1967, giving lip service to "land-for-peace" while never allowing any
negotiations to take place. They help explain why a long series of
Israeli politicians -- Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon are the two that
stand out in my mind -- tied up so much land by encouraging illegal
settlements, and why today's West Bank settlers retrace the steps
both of the Yishuv's original settlers and of even earlier Americans
encroaching on Indian lands. They help explain why Israelis habitually
label anyone who crosses them a terrorist (something John Kerry was
accused of last week), and why Israel habitually refuses to negotiate
with those it sees as enemies. They help explain why Israel places so
little value on the life of others. (One irony is that a nation which
has no capital punishment for its own citizens, even when one kills a
Prime Minister, yet has casually engaged in hundreds of extrajudicial
I've gone on at some length here about Israel's innate tendencies
because there seems to be little else directing Netanyahu's process.
It used to be the case that the Zionist movement depended on forming
at least temporary alliances with foreign powers to advance their
goals. For instance, they got the UK to issue the Balfour Declaration
and commit to creating a "Jewish homeland" in Palestine. Later, when
the UK quit, the nascent Israel depended first on the Soviet Union
then on France for arms. Eventually, they found their preferred ally
in the US, but for a long time US presidents could limit Israel's
worst instincts, as when Eisenhower in 1956-57 pressured Israel into
withdrawing from Egypt's Sinai, or when Carter in 1978 reversed an
Israeli effort to enter Lebanon's Civil War. (Neither of those limits
proved long-lasting: Israel retook Sinai when a more accommodating
LBJ was president, and moved recklessly into Lebanon in 1982 under
Reagan's indifference.) As late as 1992, voters were sensitive
enough to Israel's US relationship to replace obdurate Yitzhak
Shamir with the much friendlier Yitzhak Rabin (a former Israeli
ambassador to the US and initiator of the Oslo Peace Process --
ultimately a sham, but one that broke the ice with the US, and
got him killed by a right-wing fanatic). But since then Bush II
turned out to be putty in Ariel Sharon's grubby hands, and Obama
has proven to be even more spineless viz. Netanyahu. So whatever
limits America might have posed to Israeli excesses have gone by
the wayside: Israeli cabinet ministers can accuse Kerry of terrorism
just for proposing a ceasefire, confident that such rudeness won't
even tempt Congress to hold back on an extra $225M in military aid.
Still, you have to ask, "why Gaza?" Two times -- in 1993 when
Israel ceded virtually all of Gaza to the newly formed Palestinian
Authority, and in 2005 when Israel dismantled its last settlements
in Gaza -- Israel signaled to the world that it had no substantive
desire to administer or keep Gaza itself. (It is still possible
that Israel could annex all of the West Bank and Jerusalem and
extend citizenship to Palestinian inhabitants there -- there are
Israelis who advocate such a "one-state solution" there as an
alternative to trying to separate out a Palestinian state given
the scattering of Israeli settlements in the territory, but there
is no way that Israel would entertain the possibility of giving
citizenship to Palestinians in Gaza.) However, Israel has continued
to insist on controlling Gaza's borders and airspace, and limited
its offshore reach to a measly three kilometers. Then in 2006
Palestinians voted for the wrong party -- a slate affiliated with
Hamas, which was still listed by the US and Israel as a "terrorist
entity" (as was the PLO before it was rehabilitated by signing the
Oslo Accords). The US then attempted to organize a coup against
Hamas, which backfired in Gaza, leaving the Strip under Hamas
control. From that point, Israel, with US and Egyptian backing,
shut down the border traffic between Gaza and the outside world --
a blockade which has severely hampered Gaza ever since.
Hamas has since weaved back and forth, appealing for international
help in breaking the blockade, and failing that getting the world's
attention by launching small rockets into Israel. The rockets themselves
cause Israel little damage, but whenever Israel feels challenged it
responds with overwhelming violence -- in 2006, 2008, 2012, and now
in 2014 that violence has reached the level of war. In between there
have been long periods with virtually no rocket fire, with resumption
usually triggered by one of Israel's "targeted assassinations."
Between 2008-12 the blockade was partially relieved by brisk use of
smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. In 2013 Gaza benefited
from relatively free above-ground trade with Egypt, but that came
to an end with the US-backed military coup that ended Egypt's
brief experiment with democracy (another case of the "wrong"
people, as viewed by the US and Israel, getting elected). With
Egypt as well as Israel tightening the blockade of Gaza, followed
by the mass arrest of Hamas people in the West Bank, rocket fire
resumed, only to be met by the recent widespread slaughter.
Hamas has thus far insisted that any ceasefire include an end to
the blockade. As I've written before, that seems like a completely
reasonable demand. Israel has mistreated Gaza ever since occupying
it in 1967, and that treatment became even worse after 2005, becoming
little short of sadistic. Hamas has even offered to turn its control
of the Gaza administration back over to a "unified" PA, which would
be backed but not controlled by Hamas. (In my view an even better
solution would be to spin Gaza off as an independent West Palestine
state, totally free of Israeli interference.) Israel's assertions
regarding Gaza are inevitably confused: they claim they need to
blockade Gaza for security against missiles that in fact are fired
mostly to protest the blockade (the other cases are a weak response
to Israel's far more powerful arsenal). On the other hand, Israeli
control keeps Gaza from ever developing a normal economy, and
Israel's tactics (like targeted assassinations) keep Gaza in a
state of constant terror.
Throughout history, there have been two basic approaches to
counterterrorism: one is to kill off all the terrorists one-by-one;
the other is to negotiate with the terrorists and let them enter
into responsible democratic political procedures. The former has
worked on rare occasions, usually when the group was extremely
small and short-lived (Che Guevara in Bolivia, Shining Path in
Peru). The outer limit was probably the Algerian anti-Islamist
war of 1991-94 where Algeria killed its way through more than
ten generations of leaders before the movement self-destructed,
but even there the conflict ended with negotiations and amnesty.
Israel's practice of collective punishment pretty much guarantees
an endless supply of future enemies. As long as you understand
that Israel's intent and desire is to fight forever, such tactics
make sense. And as long as Israel can maintain that 600-to-1 kill
ratio, someone like Netanyahu's not going to lose any sleep.
Inside Israel military censorship keeps the gory details out of
sight and out of mind, reinforcing the unity that makes this such
a happy little war, but elsewhere it's all becoming increasingly
clear: how flimsy Israel's excuses are, how much they destroy and
how indifferent they are to the pain they inflict, indeed how callous
and tone-deaf they have become. Moreover, this war shows what chumps
the US (and Europe) have become in allying themselves with Israel.
No matter how this war ends, more people than ever before are going
to be shocked that we ever allowed it to happen. Even more so if
they come to realize that there was never any good reason behind it.
Back in June, when all this crisis amounted to was three kidnapped
Israeli settler teens and Israel's misdirected and hamfisted "Operation
Brother's Keeper," I argued that someone with a good journalistic nose
could write a whole book on the affair, one that would reveal everything
distorted and rotten in Israel's occupation mindset, possibly delving
even into the warped logic behind those kidnappings. Since then, I've
been surprised by three things: the scale of human tragedy has become
innumerable (at least in a mere book -- only dry statistics come close
to measuring the destruction, and they still miss the terror, even for
the few people who intuit what they measure); how virulent and unchecked
the genocidal impulses of so many Israelis have become (the trend, of
course, has been in that direction, and every recent war has seen some
outbursts, but nothing like now); and how utterly incompetent and impotent
the US and the international community has been (aside from Condoleezza
Rice's "birthpangs of a new Middle East" speech during the 2006 Lebanon
War, the US and UN have always urged a ceasefire, but this time they've
been so in thrall to Netanyahu's talking points they've scarcely bothered
to think much less developed any backbone to act). It's a tall order,
but this may be Israel's most senseless and shameful war ever.
This week's scattered links:
Arno J Mayer: The Future of Israel and the Decline of the American
Empire: This originally ran in 2009 following Israel's 2008 war
with Gaza, but nothing since has invalidated it.
Israel is in the grip of a kind of collective schizophrenia.
Not only its governors but the majority of its Jewish population have
delusions of both grandeur and persecution, making for a distortion of
reality as a chosen people and part of a superior Western civilization.
They consider themselves more cerebral, reasonable, moral, and dynamic
than Arabs and Muslims generally, and Palestinians in particular. At
the same time they feel themselves to be the ultimate incarnation of
the Jewish people's unique suffering through the ages, still subject
to constant insecurity and defenselessness in the face of ever-threatening
extreme and unmerited punishment.
Such a psyche leads to hubris and vengefulness, the latter a response
to the perpetual Jewish torment said to have culminated, as if by a
directive purpose, in the Holocaust. Remembering the Shoah is Israel's
Eleventh Commandment and central to the nation's civil religion and
Weltanschauung. Family, school, synagogue, and official culture propagate
its prescriptive narrative, decontextualized and surfeited with
ethnocentrism. The re-memorizing of victimization is ritualized on
Yom Ha Shoah and institutionalized by Yad Vashem.
Israel uses the Holocaust to conjure the specter of a timeless
existential peril, in turn used to justify its warfare state and
unbending diplomacy. [ . . . ]
Although its leaders avoid saying so in public, Israel does not
want peace, or a permanent comprehensive settlement, except on its
own terms. They do not dare spell these out publicly, as they presume
the enemy's unconditional surrender, even enduring submission. Instead
the Palestinians continue to be blamed for a chronic state of war that
entails Israel's continuing self-endangerment and militarization.
[ . . . ]
Since Israel's foundation, the failure to pursue Arab-Jewish
understanding and cooperation has been Zionism's "great sin of
omission" (Judah Magnes). At every major turn since 1947-48 Israel
has had the upper hand in the conflict with the Palestinians, its
ascendancy at once military, diplomatic, and economic. This prepotency
became especially pronounced after the Six Day War of 1967. Consider
the annexations and settlements; occupation and martial law; settler
pogroms and expropriations; border crossings and checkpoints; walls
and segregated roads. No less mortifying for the Palestinians has
been the disproportionately large number of civilians killed and
injured, and the roughly 10,000 languishing in Israeli prisons.
Mayer, by the way, is one of the most distinguished historians of
our times, known especially for his landmark book on Versailles and
the post-WWI settlement. More recent books include Why Did the
Heavens Not Darken? The Final Solution in History and Plowshares
into Swords: From Zionism to Israel.
Nathan Thrall: Hamas's Chances: In this conflict, Hamas has been made
to look bad by rejecting the one-sided ceasefire proposals of Israel,
Egypt, and the US (although Israel was the first to gun down the latter,
branding John Kerry as a terrorist). Perhaps Hamas simply remembers
Israel's duplicity the last time they negotiated a ceasefire (details
of that ceasefire have rarely been discussed):
The 21 November 2012 ceasefire that ended an eight-day-long exchange of
Gazan rocket fire and Israeli aerial bombardment was never implemented.
It stipulated that all Palestinian factions in Gaza would stop hostilities
against Israel, that Israel would end attacks against Gaza by land, sea
and air -- including the 'targeting of individuals' (assassinations,
typically by drone-fired missile) -- and that the closure of Gaza would
essentially end as a result of Israel's 'opening the crossings and
facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods, and refraining
from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in
border areas.' An additional clause noted that 'other matters as may be
requested shall be addressed,' a reference to private commitments by
Egypt and the US to help thwart weapons smuggling into Gaza, though
Hamas has denied this interpretation of the clause.
During the three months that followed the ceasefire, Shin Bet recorded
only a single attack: two mortar shells fired from Gaza in December 2012.
Israeli officials were impressed. But they convinced themselves that the
quiet on Gaza's border was primarily the result of Israeli deterrence and
Palestinian self-interest. Israel therefore saw little incentive in
upholding its end of the deal. In the three months following the ceasefire,
its forces made regular incursions into Gaza, strafed Palestinian farmers
and those collecting scrap and rubble across the border, and fired at
boats, preventing fishermen from accessing the majority of Gaza's waters.
The end of the closure never came. Crossings were repeatedly shut.
So-called buffer zones -- agricultural lands that Gazan farmers couldn't
enter without being fired on -- were reinstated. Imports declined, exports
were blocked, and fewer Gazans were given exit permits to Israel and the
Israel had committed to holding indirect negotiations with Hamas over
the implementation of the ceasefire but repeatedly delayed them, at first
because it wanted to see whether Hamas would stick to its side of the
deal, then because Netanyahu couldn't afford to make further concessions
to Hamas in the weeks leading up to the January 2013 elections, and then
because a new Israeli coalition was being formed and needed time to settle
in. The talks never took place. The lesson for Hamas was clear. Even if an
agreement was brokered by the US and Egypt, Israel could still fail to
Yet Hamas largely continued to maintain the ceasefire to Israel's
satisfaction. It set up a new police force tasked with arresting
Palestinians who tried to launch rockets. In 2013, fewer were fired
from Gaza than in any year since 2003, soon after the first primitive
projectiles were shot across the border. Hamas needed time to rebuild
its arsenal, fortify its defences and prepare for the next battle,
when it would again seek an end to Gaza's closure by force of arms.
But it also hoped that Egypt would open itself to Gaza, thereby
ending the years during which Egypt and Israel had tried to dump
responsibility for the territory and its impoverished inhabitants
on each other and making less important an easing of the closure
In July 2013 the coup in Cairo led by General Sisi dashed Hamas's
hopes. His military regime blamed the ousted President Morsi of the
Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, its Palestinian offshoot, for all of
Egypt's woes. Both organisations were banned. Morsi was formally
charged with conspiring with Hamas to destabilise the country. The
leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and hundreds of Morsi's supporters
were sentenced to death. The Egyptian military used increasingly
threatening rhetoric against Hamas, which feared that Egypt, Israel
and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority would take advantage of its
weakness to launch a co-ordinated military campaign. Travel bans were
imposed on Hamas officials. The number of Gazans allowed to cross to
Egypt was reduced to a small fraction of what it had been before the
coup. Nearly all of the hundreds of tunnels that had brought goods
from Egypt to Gaza were closed. Hamas had used taxes levied on those
goods to pay the salaries of more than 40,000 civil servants in Gaza.
Thrall also has more details on the "unification" agreement with
Fatah, which is widely seen as the main reason Netanyahu singled out
Hamas -- not that he really cares which Palestinian faction he refuses
to do business with:
The final option, which Hamas eventually chose, was to hand over
responsibility for governing Gaza to appointees of the Fatah-dominated
Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, despite having defeated it in the
Hamas paid a high price, acceding to nearly all of Fatah's demands.
The new PA government didn't contain a single Hamas member or ally,
and its senior figures remained unchanged. Hamas agreed to allow the
PA to move several thousand members of its security forces back to
Gaza, and to place its guards at borders and crossings, with no
reciprocal positions for Hamas in the West Bank security apparatus.
Most important, the government said it would comply with the three
conditions for Western aid long demanded by the US and its European
allies: non-violence, adherence to past agreements and recognition
of Israel. Though the agreement stipulated that the PA government
refrain from politics, Abbas said it would pursue his political
programme. Hamas barely protested.
The agreement was signed on 23 April, after Kerry's peace talks
had broken down; had the talks been making progress, the US would
have done its best to block the move. But the Obama administration
was disappointed in the positions Israel took during the talks,
and publicly blamed it for its part in their failure. Frustration
helped push the US to recognise the new Palestinian government
despite Israel's objections. But that was as far as the US was
prepared to go. Behind the scenes, it was pressuring Abbas to
avoid a true reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
[ . . . ]
The fears of Hamas activists were confirmed after the government
was formed. The terms of the agreement were not only unfavourable but
unimplemented. The most basic conditions of the deal -- payment of the
government employees who run Gaza and an opening of the crossing with
Egypt -- were not fulfilled. For years Gazans had been told that the
cause of their immiseration was Hamas rule. Now it was over, their
conditions only got worse.
The June 12 kidnappings took place ten days after the new PA
government was formed. That soon led to the current war, which in
some ways has given Hamas another lease on life (peculiar as that
For Hamas, the choice wasn't so much between peace and war as between
slow strangulation and a war that had a chance, however slim, of loosening
the squeeze. It sees itself in a battle for its survival. Its future in
Gaza hangs on the outcome. Like Israel, it's been careful to set rather
limited aims, goals to which much of the international community is
sympathetic. The primary objective is that Israel honour three past
agreements: the Shalit prisoner exchange, including the release of the
re-arrested prisoners; the November 2012 ceasefire, which calls for an
end to Gaza's closure; and the April 2014 reconciliation agreement,
which would allow the Palestinian government to pay salaries in Gaza,
staff its borders, receive much needed construction materials and open
the pedestrian crossing with Egypt.
These are not unrealistic goals, and there are growing signs that
Hamas stands a good chance of achieving some of them. Obama and Kerry
have said they believe a ceasefire should be based on the November
2012 agreement. The US also changed its position on the payment of
salaries, proposing in a draft framework for a ceasefire submitted
to Israel on 25 July that funds be transferred to Gazan employees.
[ . . . ]
The greatest costs, of course, have been borne by Gaza's civilians,
who make up the vast majority of the more than 1600 lives lost by the
time of the ceasefire announced and quickly broken on 1 August. The
war has wiped out entire families, devastated neighbourhoods,
destroyed homes, cut off all electricity and greatly limited access
to water. It will take years for Gaza to recover, if indeed it ever does.
[ . . . ]
The obvious solution is to let the new Palestinian government return
to Gaza and reconstruct it. Israel can claim it is weakening Hamas by
strengthening its enemies. Hamas can claim it won the recognition of
the new government and a significant lifting of the blockade. This
solution would of course have been available to Israel, the US, Egypt
and the PA in the weeks and months before the war began, before so
many lives were shattered.
More Israel links:
Joel Beinin: Racism is the Foundation of Israel's Operation Protective
Edge: Quotes Israeli Knesset member Ayelet Shaked, urging the wholesale
slaughter of women in Gaza: "Now, this also includes the mothers of the
martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They must follow
their sons. Nothing would be more just. They should go, as well as the
physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little
snakes will be raised there." Another Israeli urged that the mothers
and sisters be raped. "Racism has become a legitimate, indeed an
integral, component of Israeli public culture, making assertions
like these seem 'normal.' The public devaluation of Arab life enables
a society that sees itself as 'enlightened' and 'democratic' to
repeatedly send its army to slaughter the largely defenseless
population of the Gaza Strip -- 1.8 million people
[ . . . ] imprisoned since 1994."
Juan Cole: Top 5 Ways the US Is Israel's Accomplice in War Crimes in Gaza:
the US shares raw signals intelligence directly with Israel; the US
continually replenishes Israel's ammunition; the US pressures Egypt to
uphold the blockade of Gaza; "Since 2012, the USA has exported $276
million worth of basic weapons and munitions to Israel"; the US actively
opposed nonmember observer state status to Palestine at the UN (which
would give Palestine recourse to the International Criminal Court, which
would offer a legal pathway for challenging Israeli war crimes).
Evan Jones: A Short History of Israeli Impunity: starts with a
semi-famous 1891 quote from Ahad Ha'am reporting on the first Zionists
in Palestine: "[Our brethren in Eretz Israel] were slaves in their
land of exile and they suddenly find themselves with unlimited
freedom . . . This sudden change has engendered in
them an impulse to despotism as always happens when 'a slave becomes
a king,' and behold they walk with the Arabs in hostility and cruelty,
unjustly encroaching on them'." Of course, it only goes downhill from
there. The rest of the long piece is pure screed, in case that's what
you're in the mood for.
David Kirkpatrick: Arab Leaders, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel,
Stay Silent: "After the military ouster of the Islamist government
in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states --
including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- that
has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the
Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip." Israel supporters
(David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer are two I recall) are quick
to enlist this "coalition" as proof of how out of step Hamas is --
I've even heard Syria added to the list. Each of those has its own
peculiar reasons, but net effect is likely to backfire, as it aligns
the Arab despots with Israel while relegating the entire Palestinian
resistance against Israel to extreme Islamists -- as if they are the
only ones with sufficient integrity to defend human rights.
Philip Kleinfeld: Racists Are Rampaging Through Israel: Many, many
examples. "Israel has never been the kind of free and open society it
has tried so hard to project. Racism did not begin with the murder of
Mohammed Abu Khdeir or the beating and attempted lynching of Jamal
Julani. 'Zionist doctrine has always pushed society in a very particular
direction,' the academic Marcelo Svirsky told me. But it is getting
worse. [ . . . ] One of the most striking aspects
of this 'phenomenon' is how young the people taking part appear to be.
Those posting on social media, running amok in lynch mobs, and crashing
leftist rallies with sticks, chains, and brass knuckles are, for the
most part, young people -- many in their mid-20s, some in their teens."
Stephen Robert: There'll be more Gazas without a two-state solution:
The author still hopes for a "two-state solution," but realizes that
regardless of what Netanyahu may say when it is convenient, he will
never allow that. "The Netanyahu coalition favors a bi-national state,
a state where a large percentage of its inhabitants will not be citizens
and will be governed without their consent. They will continue, as has
been the case for forty-seven years, to be denied the most basic rights
of a civil society."
Richard Silverstein: Israeli TV Poll, What to Give Barack Obama for His
Birthday? 48% Say: Ebola: "Doesn't this tell us quite a bit about the
Israeli political environment? The leader of Israel's only real ally in
the world is despised so much that Israelis would like to see him dead."
As I recall, during Bush's two terms the right-wing hype machine was
ever-so-sensitive about any perceived slight against America's president,
out of respect for the office and the country if nothing else. But that
all went away when Obama was elected -- given the things Republicans
routinely say about Obama, it's no wonder that Israelis think it's all
right to pile on.
Is Iron Dome better at destroying missiles or spreading fear: Quotes
a letter: "One commentator rightly said that Iron Dome functions as the
Deus-ex-Machina of this war. Everyone but us is convinced it saves lives.
We see it more as a psychological warfare device. Curiously, much of the
explosion sound that gets people so worked up here is largely produced
by the Iron Dome system itself. What is striking if not outright suspicious
is that there is hardly any information in the aftermath of interceptions;
we know nothing about it and nobody cares."
Killings of 2 protesters on 'Day of Anger' brings West Bank deaths to 13,
Palestinian teens assaulted and detained by Israeli soldiers after being
attacked by settlers in Hebron: Two more of Kate's extraordinary
compendiums of links covering stories rarely reported elsewhere.
Sunday, July 27. 2014
Scattered links this week, mostly Israel (but what else can one do?).
Information is less forthcoming in the world's other hotspots -- Libya
has emerged as one, alongside Syria and Iraq, and Ukraine. One thing I
wonder about the latter is how intense the fighting has been as the
central government attempts to beat down the seccessionists. It seems
likely that Russia provided the latter with the BUK missile believed
to have shot down the Malaysian Airlines plane, and that the rocket
was fired by someone expecting Ukrainian military planes rather than
a neutral airliner. The downed airliner should be a cautionary lesson
for both sides, but instead has been up as a political tool, to villify
Russia, making matters worse rather than better. I don't doubt that
there is some amount of villainy on the Russian side, but the other
side (Ukraine? Europe? America?) is hardly innocent either, and
restarting the Cold War will only be worse for all. At times like
this, one needs statesmen. Instead, all we got is Obama, hounded
by spooks like Lindsey Graham.
Let's start with a couple twitter images, reportedly Gaza City's
Sheijayia neighborhood before and after Israeli bombing. Not the
same views, but you get the idea:
Meanwhile, back to the links:
Mustafa Akyol: Turkey Can Teach Israel How to End Terror: Turkey
had battled Kurdish separatists since 1984, their approach described
by one of their generals as "killing all terrorists one by one." A
couple years ago Turkey changed its approach, started negotiating with
PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, and has largely resolved the problem. (Was
it a coincidence that Turkey's change coincided with the ending of
their alliance with Israel?)
The Kurds were not angry at Turkey because they were innately prone to
violence. They were angry because Turkey had done something grievously
wrong to them. And a peace agreement became possible only when the
Turkish public and the state acknowledged this fact.
If Israel is ever going to achieve peace, Israelis will have to
overcome their own self-righteous hawkishness as well -- and abandon
the intellectually lazy reflex that explains Palestinian militancy as
the natural product of Arab and Islamic culture's supposedly violent
Uri Avnery: Once and for All!: Of course, it isn't really this
symmetric, but the headline talking points could be solved easily:
In this war, both sides have the same aim: to put an end to the situation
that existed before it started.
Once And For All!
To put an end to the launching of rockets into Israel from the Gaza
Strip, Once And For All!
To put an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt,
Once And For All!
So why don't the two sides come together without foreign interference
and agree on tit for tat?
They can't because they don't speak to each other. They can kill each
other, but they cannot speak with each other. God forbid.
This is not a war on terror. The war itself is an act of terror.
Neither side has a strategy other than terrorizing the civilian
population of the other side. [ . . . ]
Both hopes are, of course, stupid. History has shown time and
again that terrorizing a population causes it to unite behind its
leaders and hate the enemy even more. That is happening now on both
Avnery didn't point out the greatest symmetry, which is that
compliance with the other side's goals would cost nothing and
actually benefit both sides. Despite the claims of Israel's most
blinded supporters, there is no reason to think that Gazans take
any absolute satisfaction in killing Israelis with rockets. Nor,
if the rockets stopped, should Israel gain any succor watching
Gazans starve. I'm not sure that any Israelis can articulate the
real reason they've persisted in keeping Gaza locked up and down.
Twice now, Israel has adopted policies which show that they have
no long-term desire to keep Gaza: at the start of Oslo when they
handed the whole Strip over to the PA, and in 2004 when they
dismantled their last settlements in the Strip. One has to wonder
why they didn't
Cut Gaza Loose -- hand the Gaza Strip off to the UN to form an
independent state, more or less as I proposed a couple weeks ago.
I tried circulating my post around a bit, but got no interest or
feedback whatsoever in it. Pro-Palestinians don't like it because
they think that splitting off Gaza will make it that much harder to
get any sort of independence for a Palestinian state in the West
Bank and East Jerusalem, and they may be right. (Assuming no right
of return -- I think that's a totally dead prospect given Israel's
strength and racism -- it tilts the demographics to the point where
Israel might consider granting citizenship to all extant West Bank
and Jerusalem Palestinians, although that's likely a long struggle
away.) And pro-Israelis don't like it because most Gazans are
Israeli refugees with a still legitimate right of return, so at
the very least they fear that a Palestinian state might legitimize
the refugees' moral case. (If this sounds kind of fishy, it's
because it is, but Israelis are raised to see existential threats
everywhere; that is, after all, the bedrock Zionism is founded
Avnery only sees one way out of the mutual destruction of
war-after-war, and that's to do something very similar to what
I proposed. So I count him (and the Israeli peace camp) among the
people who might advance such a plan. It should also appeal to
liberal Zionists, especially outside Israel. It is, for instance,
something that should make sense to Kerry and Blair but they
can't currently grasp because of their phobia about Hamas and
how they see Gaza and Hamas as one. And if they did embrace it,
what rejoinder would Netanyahu have? He can't claim that Israeli
control in any way benefits Gaza. Nor can he claim that Israel's
past and current security efforts are the only way Israel can
ensure its own security. The problem with nearly every scheme to
resolve the conflict is that it would impose some unacceptable
cost to Israel, but cutting Gaza loose doesn't have any costs:
it's a scheme that even an implacable stonewaller like Netanyahu
can't resist forever. And it would be a positive step, breaking
the blockade/rockets cycle that resulted in Israeli escalation
and war in 2006, 2008, 2012, and now 2014.
Richard Silverstein: Israel's Slaughter, Based on a Lie:
Evidently, at least one Israeli "official source" confirms that they
realize that Hamas was not responsible for the kidnapping-murder of
three Israeli teenagers back on June 12, the event that kicked off
a series of events leading to Israel's latest intensive demolition
of Gaza. The crime was, instead, the work of a "lone cell" in Hebron.
However, Netanyahu sought to use the murders as an excuse to break
up the unification deal between Hamas and Fatah. He sent 10,000 IDF
troops into the West Bank where they ransacked thousdands of homes,
arresting 500 Palestinians (mostly associated with Hamas, many of
whom had been in Israeli prisons before being released in last
year's prisoner exchange deal), and killing seven. When Hamas
protested by shooting off some rockets from Gaza, Israel then
began its bombardment and invasion of Gaza, killing well over a
This entire slaughter is based on a lie. And not just a small lie, but
a huge, cancerous, evil lie. I do not like to make absolute moral
statements if I can avoid it. But there is no doubt in my mind that
Bibi Netanyahu is evil. While that doesn't necessarily mean all of
Israel is evil, as long as they elect this megalomaniac to office,
then all of Israel is culpable in his malevolence.
[ . . . ]
To return to Sheera's tweet, lest anyone question her source,
the BBC's Jon Donnison is reporting that Israeli police spokesflack,
Mickey Rosenfeld is saying the same thing explicitly.
On a related matter, several thousand Israelis marched yesterday
night in Tel Aviv against the Gaza massacre. It is not easy to do so
when 90% of your fellow citizens believe you're being traitorous.
I don't know if such protests are enough to exonerate the nation of
war crimes. But they are some small solace.
The lie at the root of the war gives this some resonance with the
Bush invasion of Iraq, although lies leading to war are old hat --
the sinking of the Maine in 1898 and the Tonkin Gulf incident in 1964
are two of the more notorious ones in US history. Nor is this anything
new for Israel: the false rumors of Syria massing troops on the border
in 1967, the assassination of Israel's UK ambassador in 1982 that was
used as a pretext for invading Lebanon, and whatever that cockamamie
story was in 1956, are just the first examples that jump into mind.
Lies and wars go hand-in-hand, first as rationales then to cover up
the dirty truth. The only thing remarkable about this war is how fast
Israel's lies are being uncovered -- that's partly explained by the
prevalence of media but also by how baldfaced the lies are. Sure,
Netanyahu is vile, but that's not news either: he was the principal
person responsible for destroying the Oslo framework and inciting
the second intifada. Since returning to power he's sloughed off the
Mitchell and Kerry iniatives and seems well on his way to kicking
off a third intifada. But there's no originality in Netanyahu's
evil, and little of the personal monstrosity you can find in Ariel
Sharon (or Yitzhak Shamir or Menachem Begin or even Yitzhak Rabin,
to limit ourselves to Israeli PMs): you can explain everything he's
done as the dutiful son of his father, who was Vladimir "Iron Wall"
Jabotinsky's secretary in exile in New York. Netanyahu has never
enjoyed an original thought in his life. He is, rather, the slave
of an old and profoundly wrong idea, which is that the only way
Zionism can survive in Israel is by repeatedly beating Palestinians
into submission. That idea is what's evil; Netanyahu's is merely
More on Israel's latest war:
Kate: Six Palestinians are killed in West Bank in protests of Gaza
slaughter: The title piece plus dozens of other reports
Helena Cobham: Absence of "peace process" might help Gaza ceasefire
negotiations: Main point here is that Abbas has agreed with the
Hamas ceasefire proposal, which insists that Israel release the
prisoners covered in the Shalit deal who were arrested by Israel in
their anti-Hamas sweep of the West Bank, and that the blockade of
Gaza be ended. Israel supposedly can't negotiate these points with
Hamas because Israel cannot talk to Hamas.
Annie Robbins: In Photos: Worldwide protest against Israeli attack
on Gaza: Photos and videos of demonstrations from around the world.
Martin Gajsek: Report from historic march on Qalandia checkpoint in
solidarity with Gaza.
Richard Silverstein: Israel Murders IDF Soldier to Prevent His Capture:
Explains the "Hannibal Directive," which basically says that if there is
a chance that an IDF soldier might be captured and turned into a bargaining
chip (like Gilad Shalit was), the IDF should kill that soldier first. As
Silverstein reports, there has been at least one example of that during
the present hostilities.
Rebecca L Stein: How Israel militarized social media: How the
IDF put their best face on for Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Al-Haq: Why Israel's legal justifications for 'Operation Proective Edge'
are wrong: Israel has made a big deal out of their practice of phoning
or other warnings, arguing that if they contact you (or at least try) and
their attack subsequently injures you, they are not responsible. To say
the least, this assumes they have the right to bomb, and hardly shows any
concern for the consequences. Moreover, such calls can themselves be a
form of terror. Or they could be misdirecting. This piece focuses mostly
on international law, which Israel is in gross violation of.
Udi Aloni: The swan song of the Israeli left: Includes a link to
the film Forgiveness.
Jonathan Freedland: Liberal Zionism After Gaza: A postscript
review of Ari Shavit's My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy
of Israel and John B Judis' Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and
the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict. In the latter piece I
particularly appreciate Norman Finkelstein's quote on Shavit's "insights":
"[they] comprise a hardcore of hypocrisy and stupidity overlaid by a
tinsel patina of arrogance and pomposity. He's a know-nothing know-it-all
who, if ever there were a context for world's biggest schmuck, would come
in second." Shavit's the kind of guy who writes movingly about how Israel
force-marched entire towns over the border and into permanent exile, then
proclaims the atrocity worthwhile because it now lets him live in a fully
Jewish state. (As opposed, I suppose, to a guy like Benny Morris, who
uncovered numerous IDF atrocities, only to lament that there weren't
more.) In this war as in so many others, liberal Zionists "shoot and
cry": as Freedland translates, "the Israeli dove gets to win the
admiration of the outside world, Jew and non-Jew alike, but the beauty
and sensitivity of his conscience even as the behavior of his country,
and the army whose uniform he continues to wear, does not change."
And the order is essential: shooting first, by lining up for every
war, he assures his comrades of his loyalty, even if he returns to
Lisa Goldman: The Gaza war has done terrible things to Israeli society:
For example: "Peaceful, unarmed [anti-war] demonstrators in Israel's two
most liberal cities were physically attacked by ultra-nationalists wielding
stones and bottles. In Haifa, nationalist thugs assaulted the Arab deputy
mayor, slamming the middle-aged man down on the pavement. In Tel Aviv, they
chased anti-war protestors into a cafe and smashed a chair over the head
of one of them, even as municipal sirens wailed to announce an incoming
rocket from Gaza. The police were ineffective in stopping the violence."
Melvin A Goodman: Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto: A reminder that
Gaza resembles nothing so much as a classic ghetto, an open air
prison locked down and patrolled from the outside. The most famous
one was the Warsaw Ghetto managed by the Nazis in WWII -- one well
known in Israel thanks to the valliant but doomed Jewish revolt
there, long touted in Israel as one of the few cases where Jews
fought back, like good Israelis do today. It is remembered elsewhere
for the utter carnage of the Nazi "final solution": they killed
over 300,000 Jews in putting the revolt down, laying waste to the
entire ghetto. Israel hasn't approached that level of genocide, at
least not yet, but they've killed thousands, destroyed uncounted
homes and businesses and public buildings and key infrastructure.
What keeps Israel from applying its own "final solution"? A mix
of conscience, practicality, and concern for world opinion. All
of those are wearing thin, especially conscience -- most obviously,
Rabbi Dov Lior's ruling in favor of the "destruction of Gaza
so that the south should no longer suffer."
Also, a few links for further study:
Avi Shlaim: Cursed Victory: Review of Ahron Bregman's new book,
Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories
(2014, Allen Lane [UK]). The review is itself a good short history
lesson, especially on Ehud Barak's ill-fated negotiations with Syria
and Arafat. ("Bregman confirms the view I have long held -- that the
two principal reasons for the collapse of the summit were Barak's
intransigence and Clinton's mismanagement.") I doubt that there's
much here we don't already know, although Bregman has a reputation
for digging through the documents, which as Avi Raz's recent The
Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the
Aftermath of the June 1967 War made clear, show that Israel's
opposition to any sort of peace initiative has been a consistent
policy all along.
Bregman describes Israel as "a heavy-handed and brutal occupier."
He regards the four decades of occupation chronicled in this book
as a black mark on Israeli, and indeed, Jewish history. He finds
it depressing that a people that has suffered such unspeakable
tragedies of its own can behave so cruelly towards another. The
only sign of hope in this otherwise bleak picture is that the
occupation may carry within it the seeds of its own demise. By
forcing the Palestinians to live in squalor, Bregman concludes,
Israel has "hardened those under its power, making them more
determined to put an end to the occupation, by violent means if
necessary, and live a life of dignity and freedom."
On the slaughter of innocents: Unsigned (the author seems to have been
involved in Human Rights Watch), but a long and impressive meditation that
recounts the history of mass slaughter -- examples include the Mongol
practice of sacking cities and similar desires by both sides in WWII --
but is written with Gaza in mind. A couple examples:
The Israeli architect and philosopher Eyal Weizman has analyzed how
groups like Human Rights Watch participate, inadvertently and from
admirable aspirations, in the science of war: their
"collusion . . . with military and political powers."
Their methods involve a shift "from a focus on the victims of war to
an analysis of the mechanism of the violations of law." Law itself,
once broken, is treated as the chief victim; the individuals whose
lives were at stake fade away in the descriptions of the offense
almost as they did in the choosing of targets. This elision, however
unwanted, is built into the methods. "Today's forensic investigators
of violence move alongside its perpetrators, morphing into them,"
according to Weizman. "Humanitarianism, human rights and international
humanitarian law," he writes, "have become the crucial means by which
the economy of violence is calculated and managed."
The Weizman book quoted is The Least of All Possible Evils:
Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza (2012, Verso Books).
I'm not familiar with that book, but have scanned through his
Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation (2007,
Verso Books), one of the most deeply revealing looks at exactly
how Israel manages its occupation system. The point about how
human rights violations can be trivialized as violations of law
is evident in all the reports which claim that Gazan rockets
constitute a war crime, which in routine course balances off
Israel's war crime -- its use of far more deadlier munitions.
The real world difference, of course, is proportionality, which
in the Israel-Gaza case is crudely visible in death and injury
reports and would very likely be even more striking if you could
convert the entire war efforts into some common measure of force.
The focus on civilian casualties generates a strict, technical approach
to the question of responsibility. The individual story is subordinated
not just to the lawbooks, but to the slide rule. No side can ensure
absolutely that it will prevent civilian casualties, as long as it's at
war and killing people. So no side is completely devoid of guilt. But
since the Geneva Conventions give a certain latitude for trying but
failing, even killers can make a claim to innocence as well. The authority
to evaluate such shades of inculpation gives enormous power to the human
rights investigator and his organization, power over fine mathematical
gradations of right and wrong: much greater power than simpler, starker,
less technologically advanced modes of assessing morality could endow.
But this focus buries other questions, broader ones, about responsibility
for the conflict as a whole. [ . . . ]
The aim of Israel's various "operations" in Gaza is not just to take out
specific people, but to cow a population. (Even the famous text messages
that supposedly warn residents a bomb is about to blast their home have,
as Gazans can tell you, at least as much to do with showing off the
invisible, terrifying omniscience of a military surveillance system.
We know where you are.) Unleashed with that intent behind them,
weapons -- however "smart" -- will terrorize, not just target; the very
targeting is an aspect of terror, a reminder of superior knowledge as
well as superior means, but spillover is equally intrinsic to the effect.
The message inevitably exceeds the "purely" military purpose, and the
collateral damage itself becomes the point: a sign of exultant excess,
the means drowning the end. You can't go on talking about equivalence
without acknowledging Israel's military domination, its unmeasurable
ability to destroy. And to cap its technological triumph, it is (and
has been for forty years) the only state in a thousand-mile radius with
Much more in this piece, such as the line: "The confrontation
between popular rebellion and a rapacious settler society isn't
just an old, cowboys-and-Indians story that we can look on with
disinterest or restrained amusement." (One might note that the
US-Indian wars are still taught in the US military academies,
and US troops frequently refer to counterinsurgency operations
as operating in "Injun territory." Judging from scattered quotes,
it would seem that part of Israel's hasbara toolkit is
to remind Americans of their struggle to conquer the Indians --
ancient history in the US but a vivid analogy in Israel.)
In local news, sorry to hear that
Randy Brown died: a longtime newspaperman, journalism professor,
and political dabbler, certainly a positive presence in Wichita. And
sampler of his columns. In other Wichita news today, the Eagle
published Sen. Jerry Moran's
op-ed on why it would be better to let the lesser prairie chicken
go extinct than to inconvenience any Kansas oil or gas producers. And
in the big money 4th Congressional District primary, the Eagle endorsed
vile Mike Pompeo (R-Koch) over evil Todd Tiahrt (R-Boeing). I can't
find the candidate questions box, but Tiahrt's professed desire to be
a public servant was almost touching, until he added that bit about
standing up to special interests. In his sixteen years in the House,
no one was a bigger corporate whore. The best you can say for him is
that he sold himself cheap, and not a lot of the money stuck to his
fingers, so you could buy into his sincerity thing, if only you were
part of the public he so dedicated himself to serving. Curiously,
Tiahrt's gained in the polls recently by attacking Pompeo's defense
of the NSA -- a position he almost certainly wouldn't have thought of
had Pompeo not been so rabid on it. If I could ask a debate question
it would be about where they stand on the Export-Import Bank: the tea
party (and most likely the Kochs) are all agitated against it, but
the main beneficiary is Boeing -- and even though Boeing abandoned
Wichita, I can't imagine "Tanker Todd" parting with them.
Sunday, July 20. 2014
This week's scattered links, but for one reason or another most still
focus on Israel (for one thing, this weekend has been much bloodier than
the previous week). Having recently read Stephen F Cohen's Soviet
Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War
(2011), I expected to have more to say about the civil war in Ukraine
and the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines airliner, but in my short
time I didn't run across much that improved upon speculation (one of
the worst pieces was
Bob Dreyfuss: Vladimir Putin Should Take Responsibility for the MH17
Shootdown.) As someone who is inclined to suspect that Putin was
responsible for the Moscow apartment bombings that he used as a pretext
to re-open the Chechen War, there's not much I would put past him, but
neither evidence nor logic is yet compelling, and the unfounded charge
is actively being used to further estrange relations with Russia,
which quite frankly Obama needs to mend even if that means giving up
ground in Ukraine. As I wrote below, Obama has made a colossal error
in re-entering Iraq, on top of making an almost utter hash of Syria,
and the only way out of the latter is some sort of understanding with
Russia. Cohen's book, by the way, is very prophetic about Ukraine --
not necessarily about the country itself but about the massive level
of cold war hangover America's foreign policy nabobs suffer from and
their utter mindlessness in facing anything having to do with Russia.
I've long said that the whole neocon vision was for America to behave
all around the world with the same reckless dominance fetish that
Israel exhibits in the Middle East. In the last two months that's
pretty much what we've been seeing. The only real surprise here is
how pathetic it makes the leaders look: Netanyahu, for instance, is
wailing about how Hamas is forcing Israel to kill Palestinians, as
if he, himself, has no control over his government. Nor does Obama
seem to be any more in control of his policies. It's really quite
Nor am I the only one saying these things. Just looking at my recent
Saree Makdisi: It's quite clear that Israel plunged into its
bombardment, as usual, without any strategic plan in mind. Quite literally
Roger Cohen: John Kerry says Israel "under siege" by Hamas.
Read that once. Read it twice. Three times. It doesn't get any better.
We have a problem here.
Ali Abunimah: Remember, Israel could have had a ceasefire any
time if it agreed to basic humanitarian conditions for people of Gaza.
Sana Saeed: In case you're keeping count: this is the third
IDF offensive against Gaza since the Obama administration came into
[Actually, the third since Obama was elected president, but Operation
Cast Lead occurred before Obama took office. I like to refer to it as
Israel's pre-emptive strike against the Obama administration.]
Also as Michael Poage noted, today's Kansans for Peace in Palestine
demo today in Wichita drew about 500 people. It led on the KWCH News,
ahead of a fairly even-handed report on Gaza that put more emphasis on
dead Palestinians than on live Israelis whining about rockets.
Juan Cole: Falluja and Gaza: Why Counter-Terrorism fails when the Problem
is Political: Yeah, but for a while counter-terrorism is a workable
excuse to avoid talking about political problems. It simply declares that
authorities can manage dissent with violence.
Just as the enemies of the US ultimately prevailed in Falluja, so the
enemies of Israel will prevail in Gaza.
Oppression and occupation produce resistance. Until the oppression
and the occupation are addressed, the mere inflicting of attrition on
the military capabilities of the resistance will not snuff it out.
Other leaders will take the place of those killed.
If Israel really wanted peace or relief from Hamas rockets, its
leaders would pursue peace negotiations in good faith with Hamas (which
has on more than one occasion reliably honored truces). Otherwise,
invading Gaza will have all the same effects, good and bad (but mostly
bad) that the US invasion of Falluja had on Iraq.
Also see Cole's
Israel's Groundhog Day: Reverse Snowballs and the Horror of
Annie Robbins: Israel is in a pickle:
Israel is likely in a pickle. Its stated goal for this invasion is to
stop the missile fire (and dismantle Hamas's control of the strip). To
do that it must locate Hamas' weapons arsenal and thus far, it appears
it is clueless as to where they are. Israel doesn't know the extent of
weaponry Hamas has amassed, either in quality or quantity. All the
blowing up of civilian infrastructure, including homes and hospitals,
won't end the rocket fire because it's extremely unlikely any central
stash of weaponry is stored in homes, schools, hospitals or mosques.
The weapons are probably underground which is why it requires a ground
invasion to find them. This is what "deal with the tunnels" means when
Obama says "the current military ground operations are designed to deal
with the tunnels."
Rudoren claimed Netanyahu "won plaudits from Israeli leftists this
week for embracing an Egyptian cease-fire proposal." Win plaudits from
media pundits he did, but this was not an Egyptian proposal, it was a
proposal cobbled together by Tony Blair after Obama had previously
spoken with Netanyahu and offered to help broker a truce (without any
input from Hamas). A ceasefire catering to Israel represents nothing
more than a surrender for Palestine, a surrender worse than retreating
to the status quo of endless occupation because hundreds of Palestinian
prisoners who were freed in the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap in 2011, were
rearrested from the West Bank during a pogrom hyped as a response to the
claim Hamas kidnapped the 3 Israeli youths, a claim that has never been
backed by even a shred of evidence.
Nathan Thrall: How the West Chose War in Gaza: Israel's assault on
Gaza is really a war on Hamas, more specifically on the willingness of
Hamas to participate in a "national consensus" government alongside
Yet, in many ways, the reconciliation government could have served
Israel's interests. It offered Hamas's political adversaries a foothold
in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the
same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance
minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply
with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and
its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and
recognition of Israel.
Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government,
however, and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small
step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. Israel's security establishment
objects to the strengthening of West Bank-Gaza ties, lest Hamas raise its
head in the West Bank. And Israelis who oppose a two-state solution
understand that a unified Palestinian leadership is a prerequisite for
any lasting peace. [ . . . ]
Hamas is now seeking through violence what it couldn't obtain through
a peaceful handover of responsibilities. Israel is pursuing a return to
the status quo ante, when Gaza had electricity for barely eight hours a
day, water was undrinkable, sewage was dumped in the sea, fuel shortages
caused sanitation plants to shut down and waste sometimes floated in the
streets. Patients needing medical care couldn't reach Egyptian hospitals,
and Gazans paid $3,000 bribes for a chance to exit when Egypt chose to
open the border crossing.
For many Gazans, and not just Hamas supporters, it's worth risking
more bombardment and now the ground incursion, for a chance to change
that unacceptable status quo. A cease-fire that fails to resolve the
salary crisis and open Gaza's border with Egypt will not last. It is
unsustainable for Gaza to remain cut off from the world and administered
by employees working without pay.
The weird thing about this story is not so much what Israel has done
as how the Obama administration has allowed itself to be paralyzed by
the association of Hamas with terrorism. It's not even has if the US
has never been willing to reclassify an organization once it wound up
on the T-list -- Bush, for instance, made up with Ghaddafi's Libya.
But where Israel is involved, Obama suddenly turns chickenshit. It's
not just that Netanyahu has outfoxed Obama. It's more like Obama is
suffering full-fledged Stockholm Syndrome.
More Israel links:
13 IDF soldiers killed in Gaza as Operation Protective Edge death toll
climbs to 18: The Palestinian death toll is up to
435, although there is no recognition of that in this piece from the
Israeli press. The numbers are increasing quite rapidly as Israel's
"ground incursion" proceeds, and while they are still extremely lopsided,
this is the first indication that Israel will pay a price for its
Massacre in Gaza: At least 60 killed in Shuja'iyeh, over 60,000 in UN
Shelters: This seems to have been the most immediate Israeli response
to the loss of 15 Israeli soldiers.
Mohammed Omer: Gaza Hospitals Can't Cope. No surprise here, but the
problem isn't just increasing demand: it's power plants being disabled,
vital supplies being blockaded, and the occasional Israeli bombing of
Richard Silverstein: Gaza War, Day 14: 18 IDF Dead, 430 Palestinian Dead:
Sums up the above, noting "it is precisely this mounting loss of its own
soldiers which may cause Israelis to take stock of this bloody mess and
step back from the brink. Clearly, Israelis have no sense of proportion
or concern when it comes to Palestinian dead."
Hamas wants to pile up 'telegenically-dead Palestinians for their cause' --
Netanyahu, on television: Israel's propaganda line is that Hamas is
not only responsible for all Palestinian deaths, that they crave more and
more Palestinian deaths in their diabolical scheme to shame Israel. Not
only is Netanyahu saying this, IDF puppet like David Brooks has put it
even more succinctly: "Hamas has basically decided they want to see their
own people killed as a propaganda coup." Or as Bill Clinton put it, "in
the short and medium term Hamas can inflict terrible public relations
damage by forcing (Israel) to kill Palestinian civilians to counter Hamas."
Netanyahu has yet to explain why he fell for this dastardly plan, allowing
his government and the IDF to be so manipulated by Hamas.
Hasbarapocalypse: Naftali Bennett says Hamas committing 'massive
self-genocide': I think Bennett (Israel's Economy Minister, head of
the second largest party in the latest Knesset elections) gets credit as
the first person to describe what's happening in Gaza as "genocide." Most
likely he just mangled the talking point, but maybe added a little wish
Benjamin Wallace-Wells: Why Israel Is Losing the American Media War:
"If Netanyahu is so bothered by how dead Palestinians look on television
then he should stop killing so many of them. But his complaint is in itself
a concession." The author attributes this to social media exposing more of
the actual battleground, but I suspect something that Robbins (above) aludes
to: blockaded off as it is, Gaza is becoming increasingly opaque to Israel
at the same time it is becoming more transparent to the rest of the world.
Moreover, although Israel remains effective at manipulating key parts of the
media -- I could assemble a half dozen links on how distorted coverage has
been in the Washington Post -- there are just too many alternative
sources of news and analysis for them to control. Moreover, there are too
many people in the media who know better -- I'm not seeing the link now,
but there was an amusing report about Barney Frank feeling he was being
ganged up on defending Israel on a CNN interview.
Thalif Deen: Why No Vetoed Resolutions on Civilian Killings in Gaza?
Partly because Russia and China have vetoed resolutions condemning Assad
in Syria, so they don't have a lot of moral authority to go after Israel,
and given that all they would get out of it is a bit of embarrassment for
the US (a country which has already vetoed hundreds of resolutions on
Israel) that's evidently not worth the effort. Turns out all the world's
powers have axes to grind -- not with each other so much as with the
various people unfortunate enough to fall under the thumbs of their
Dead Gazans Missing From Senate Endorsement of Israeli Invasion:
All 100 US senators, including some you might expect to know better,
voted in favor of an AIPAC-authored, which this piece quotes in toto.
While taken as an endorsement of Israel's bombardment and invasion
of Gaza, it actually says no such thing: it denounces Hamas rocket
attacks (which currently threaten 5 million Israelis), declares them
"unprovoked," reaffirms "Israel's right to defend its citizens and
ensure the survival of the State of Israel," and demands that Abbas
"dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas and condemn the
attacks on Israel." To the Senate's knowledge, no Palestinians have
As Israel attacks Gaza, 110 Palestinians injured and 12 detained in clashes
at Al-Aqsa compound: One of Kate's roundups of Israeli press reports,
showing among other things that Israel has not let up on arrests in the
West Bank, that settlers continue to run amok, and that protests against
Israel's operations in Gaza are being brutally suppressed. Also more details
Lawrence Weschler: Israel Has Been Bitten by a Bat: Basically a rant,
and a couple days old, but worth reading: "I know, I know, and I am bone
tired of being told it, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
there is plenty of blame to go around, but by this point after coming on
almost 50 years of Israeli stemwinding and procrastinatory obfuscation,
I'd put the proportionate distribution of blame at about the same level
as the mortality figures -- which is, where are we today (what with
Wednesday morning's four children killed while out playing on a Gaza
beach)? What, 280 to 2?" The title refers to rabies.
Also, a few links for further study:
Hayes Brown: What You Need to Know About the Tunnels That Bring Life -- and
Death -- Into Gaza: Some useful background on the Gaza tunnels that
Israel is so desperately attempting to destroy. The key point is that since
Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza after removing its settlements in
2005 -- Israel referred to this as "putting Gazans on a diet" -- the tunnels
have become an indispensible lifeline, at least partly alleviating the
suffering that Israel imposes:
All told, what passes through the tunnels makes up a substantial portion,
if not the vast majority, of the Gazan economy at this point. In October
2011, United Nations figures estimated that "800,000 liters (around 5,000
barrels) of fuel, 3,000 tons of gravel, 500 tons of steel rods and 3,000
tons of cement" passed through the tunnels daily.
Of course, missiles and other contraband enter Gaza through the tunnels,
but as long as the tunnels are needed for importing essentials like food
and building materials there will be no popular support for shutting them
Dahr Jamail: Incinerating Iraq: Probably the best journalist working
in Iraq since the US invasion -- see his Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches
from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (2007) -- brings us up
to date. From early on the US was responsible for stirring up Sunni-Shiite
civil war in Iraq, and when things got out of hand the US was able to shift
alliances, offering protection to Sunni tribal leaders willing to turn on
"Al-Qaeda in Iraq" and thereby temporarily reducing the violence. When US
troops left, they advised Maliki to ease up on the Sunnis, but true to form --
this was, after all, why the Americans installed him in the first place --
he kept pushing down the Sunnis and wound up with an explosion engulfing
the northwestern third of Iraq and threatening Baghdad. If Obama had any
sense, he would have backed away from Maliki, offering US aid to negotiate
a diplomatic solution (preferably extending the talks to Syria, now that
Assad isn't looking so awful). Instead, he reaffirmed his support for the
discredited post-occupation Iraqi government, the only way Americans seem
to know how: by sending bombers, "advisers," and special forces troops,
a commitment that will convince Maliki that he doesn't have to reform a
thing, that he can win outright, and one that puts Obama on the slippery
slope of having to send more and more reinforcements in to stave off a
face-loosing debacle. This was possibly the single dumbest decision in
month chock full of foreign policy disasters (e.g., Ukraine/Russia,
Israel/Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan/Pakistan).
Sunday, July 6. 2014
Short after spending so much time trying to follow what's happening
in Israel, but still have some scattered links this week:
Bob Dreyfuss: Is Obama on a Slippery Slope Toward Mission Creep in Iraq?
Of course, he is. The first step is all it really takes: by sending any
troops at all, Obama has chosen sides in Iraq's civil war and committed
America's prestige and power to defending Maliki (even at the same time
admitting that Maliki is the problem and should be replaced by someone
less abrasive). Henceforth, any time Iraq stumbles, the US will have to
pick up the slack, otherwise the prestige and power of the US will be
So in total the president sent troops to Iraq three times, on June 16,
June 27 and June 30. As Kirby put it: "And then so all that comes down
to the bottom there, a total of 770 authorized, 650 on the ground. And
that's where we are right now."
The first question involved the weaponry that the troops are bringing
with them, including helicopters, drones and so on. Kirby said that the
aircraft include "a mix of helicopters and UAVs [drones]," adding, "The
helicopters are attack helicopters, Apaches." And, he said, they'll be
flown by American crews, not Iraqis.
Paul Krugman: Charlatans, Cranks and Kansas: Been there, done that,
but gratifying to see that someone noticed:
Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It
sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would
replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the
legislation -- in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year
any state has ever enacted -- in close consultation with the economist
Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start
an economic boom -- "Look out, Texas," he proclaimed.
But Kansas isn't booming -- in fact, its economy is lagging both
neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state's
budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody's downgrade
of its debt.
There's an important lesson here -- but it's not what you think.
Yes, the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don't have magical powers,
but we already knew that. The real lesson from Kansas is the enduring
power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the
right people. [ . . . ]
And the Kansas debacle won't matter either. Oh, it will briefly give
states considering similar policies pause. But the effect won't last
long, because faith in tax-cut magic isn't about evidence; it's about
finding reasons to give powerful interests what they want.
The whole magic about "supply side" is that it is a trickle down
theory: first you give capitalists more money -- taking less in taxes
is about the laziest way possible to do this -- then you hope that
they will invest the money productively and that their increased
production will trickle down through the economy to at least marginally
lift everyone's standard of living. This never works very efficiently,
but it doesn't work at all if there is already an excess of capacity,
which is usually due to a shortfall of demand. In that case, additional
money forced into the supply side is redirected into asset bubbles.
If what you want is to see the economy functioning more efficiently,
the alternative is to prop up the demand side -- which, sure, can be
done by reducing taxes (especially the most regressive ones, like
sales and payroll), or lots of other ways.
Gideon Levy: Netanyahu's offspring: This does a nice job of summing
up much of what I wrote yesterday/earlier today on Israel:
The media in the Jewish state wallows in the murder of three yeshiva
students, while almost entirely ignoring the fates of several Palestinian
youths of the same age who have been killed by army fire over the last
few months, usually for no reason.
No one was punished for these acts -- in the Jewish state there is
one law for Jews and another for Arabs, whose lives are cheap. There
is no hint of abiding by international laws and conventions. In the
Jewish state, there is pity and humane feelings only for Jews, rights
only for the Chosen People. The Jewish state is only for Jews.
Phillip Longman: Clueless or Craven? The White House Gets the VA Story
Exactly Backwards: Longman wrote the book on the VA health care system
(Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours), so
you'd think someone in the Obama administration would pay him some heed.
He's argued throughout the recent scandal that the problem isn't with the
delivery of care once veterans get in the door, but the bureaucratic
strictures on who's eligible when, and some macro-level alignment of
facilities with population -- the delays seem to be concentrated in Sun
Belt states like Arizona which have higher-than-average numbers of vets.
Longman starts by taking exception to a report by White House Deputy
Chief of Staff Rob Nabors describing the VA as beset with a "corrosive
culture" -- a phrase which became the takeaway headline despite the
lack of any evidence for it even in the report. (If you want to check
out what a "corrosive culture" is, look no further than Congress.)
It's not that Longman doesn't recognize any problems with the VA, but
most of what he sees were introduced by the Bush administration --
greater centralization, and more privatization (which the Bushies
like not to save money but to create patronage opportunities). He
concludes with a real sad thud:
Sadly, rather than reversing that trend, the Obama administation just
let the centralizing continue. As Ken Kizer, Undersecretary for Health
in the Clinton administration and the man most responsible for turning
the VA around in the 1990s observes in a recent piece in the New England
Journal of Medicine: "In recent years, there has been a shift to a more
top-down style of management whereby the central office has oversight
of nearly every aspect of care delivery. Indeed, over that period the
VA central office staff tasked to health care adminstrative duties has
grown from about 800 in the late 1990s to nearly 11,000 today."
Clueless? Yeah it would seem. Except over the weekend, the White
House announced that after deep and thoughtful deliberation, it had
come up with just the man to turn things around at the VA, and he
turned out to be a Republican soap and toothpaste salesman -- a man
with no experience whatsoever in running a health care or social
services organization but who happens to be a close financial backer
of Republican House Speaker John Boehner. No, that's not clueless--
it's a cynical sellout of veterans by an adminstration that, in the
wake of a monumental failure of the press to put this story in context,
just wants to move on at any cost.
Kenneth W Kizer/Ashish K Jha: Restoring Trust in VA Health Care.
Also, a few links for further study:
Alex Fletcher: Tony Blair's (Private) Interests in the Secret World of
Oil: Quotes from Ken Silverstein's new book, The Secret World of
Oil, on how Blair remade himself as a cash register, clinking and
clunking his way to millions of dollars year after year. The old joke
was to describe Blair as "Bush's poodle." Nowadays, evidently, anyone
with the money can take him out for a walk.
More links on Israel:
Sunday, June 29. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Josh Barro: Yes, if You Cut Taxes, You Get Less Tax Revenue: On
Sam Brownback's tax cuts in Kansas:
Kansas has a problem. In April and May, the state planned to collect
$651 million from personal income tax. But instead, it received only
In 2012, Kansas lawmakers passed a large and rather unusual income
tax cut. It was expected to reduce state tax revenue by more than 10
percent, and Gov. Sam Brownback said it would create "tens of thousands
In part, the tax cut worked in the typical way, by cutting tax rates
and increasing the standard deduction. But Kansas also eliminated tax
on various kinds of income, including income described commonly -- and
sometimes misleadingly -- as "small-business income." Basically, if
your income results in the generation of a Form 1099-MISC instead of
a W-2, it's probably not taxable anymore in Kansas.
Barro goes through the details, showing how to move income around
to lower your tax rate, mentioning cases where reduced tax liability
in Kansas is offset elsewhere. But the bottom line is that the revenue
loss is much greater than advertised, and the jobs gain is hard to see
if not flat out negative. Susan Wagle, the Republican Senate leader,
has recently admitted that the purpose of the tax cuts was to "starve
the beast" [state government], and therefore claimed that they were
working, regardless of the disingenuous sales pitch. The latest GOP
plan for making up the shortfall is to borrow $600 million, so that
will also contribute to "starving the beast." Barro also doesn't go
into cases where local governments have raised property and/or sales
taxes to compensate for less state revenue. Nor that things like
state college tuition keeps rising much faster than inflation, so
students will bear extra burden.
John Eligon: Brownback Leads Kansas in Sharp Right Turn, which is
four months old and kind of a puff piece. Brownback ran for president
in 2008 and got something like 3% in neighboring Iowa's Republican
caucus, so he gave up his safe Senate seat to get some executive
experience as governor and prove to the nation how wonderful his
radical "red state model" would be, hoping that would put him back
into the presidential race. Needless to say, he's been a complete
Dominic Gates: 787 still having problems with unfinished work from SC:
You remember this story: Boeing's genius management decided they could
pinch pennies by moving 787 assembly from Washington to South Carolina --
at least they pocketed a big kickback for "creating" all those jobs
(i.e., the ones they destroyed in Washington). The new workers slowed
Boeing down and proved so inept that Boeing has had to ship their work
back to Washington to be repaired.
According to employees, when mechanics removed the cradles that held
the rear fuselage in place on Dreamliner No. 214 -- destined for Royal
Jordanian Airways -- nearly 100 improperly installed fasteners clattered
to the factory floor.
A subsequent inspection found the South Carolina team in Everett had
installed hundreds of temporary fasteners near the join between the two
aft fuselage sections without the collars needed to hold them in place.
"If they can't make sure this is done, what else are they forgetting?"
said a frustrated Everett employee.
He said that the error showed a lack of the most basic knowledge and
that this work should be routine at this stage in the jet program.
Paul Krugman: An Innovation Lesson From Germany: Less Disruption, More
Here's the key point on the remarkable German export story: German labor
is very expensive, even compared with the United States'
(see this chart from
the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
And this has been true for decades, yet Germany is a very successful
exporter all the same. Not by producing the latest tech product, but by
maintaining a reputation for producing high-quality goods, year after
If Germany seems remarkably competitive given its high costs, the
United States is the reverse; our productivity is high, but we seem to
be consistently bad at exporting -- and have remained so throughout my
professional life. I used to think it was our cultural insularity, our
difficulty in thinking about what other people might want. But is that
Actually, Boeing has long been the largest US exporter, usually by
a huge margin, so they clearly know how to build for world markets.
Also, their only serious competitor is Airbus, based in Germany and
France, where their wages are higher than Boeing's, so there's no
competitive reason why Boeing has to cut labor costs. Boeing does
so for purely ideological reasons, and not infrequently they hurt
themselves in the process.
Alicia Johnson: Supreme Court Throws Up More Abortion Barriers by Knocking
Down Buffer Zones: Anti-abortion "protesters" routinely harass
women as they attempt to enter Planned Parenthood and other clinics
where abortions are performed -- happens routinely here in Wichita,
and often elsewhere. Massachusetts passed a law promising a 35-foot
hassle-free buffer zone around clinic entrances, and the Supreme
Court unanimously threw it out claiming it violates the free speech
of the protesters. I tend to think of myself as more protective of
free speech than most Americans, but I find this ruling appalling.
It says in effect not only that one has the right to speak freely
but they also have the right to get in your face, to force you to
listen to their rants. Moreover, in this specific case the ruling
advances a specific political agenda for taking a basic right away --
something the Court should start to take an interest in protecting,
given how anti-abortion agitators have used harrassment, vandalism,
and murder to reduce availability of abortions. (Of course, murder
remains illegal, but in places like Massachusetts and Wichita it
has only occurred after an atmosphere of harrassment has developed,
and that's what this ruling permits.)
Of course, this ruling could be interpreted to allow all sorts
of more aggressive, in-your-face demonstrations for worthy causes.
Why shouldn't Occupy Wall Street protesters be able to hector
traders and bankers all the way to their business doors? Why
shouldn't Code Pink be allowed to say their piece when they
interrupt speeches and government hearings? Why don't we set up
gauntlets around Army recruiting offices similar to what the
anti-abortion protesters do? All of this would be consistent
with the Court's unanimous ruling, but in fact we do commonly
place limits on where free speech can take place -- e.g., many
demonstrations are penned up in so-called "free speech zones"
where they can't make their targets hear their message.
Gaius Publius: Obama Loosens Four-Decade Ban on Crude Oil Exports:
Every GOP platform I can remember has an N-point plan calling for
"energy independence" but it's only under Obama that the elusive goal
has been met. Still, the decision to allow crude oil exports after
banning them for 40 years shouldn't have been automatic. Absent the
export option, one of two things would have happened: companies would
slow production down to conserve oil for later demand, or they'd pump
it and cut the price until current demand caught up. Either would have
benefited consumers, which is to say most Americans, and the former
would be better for limiting carbon emissions. Allowing exports only
helps production companies.
Why worry about climate change when there's money? That's not oil in
those tankers and pipelines; that's cash. And it's Obama's job, and
every other president's so far, to not get between the owners of
carbon and their profit-making (sorry, job-creating).
Your takeaway? This is another example of Obama protecting the
profits of the carbon industry, while at the same time he laments
the damage it does.
Joseph E Stiglitz: Inequality Is Not Inevitable: This sums up a
series of posts called
The Great Divide.
So why has America chosen these inequality-enhancing policies? Part of
the answer is that as World War II faded into memory, so too did the
solidarity it had engendered. As America triumphed in the Cold War,
there didn't seem to be a viable competitor to our economic model.
Without this international competition, we no longer had to show that
our system could deliver for most of our citizens.
Ideology and interests combined nefariously. Some drew the wrong
lesson from the collapse of the Soviet system. The pendulum swung
from much too much government there to much too little here. Corporate
interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those
regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment,
our safety, our health and the economy itself.
But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest
advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept
hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts
that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the
beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of "free" markets and deregulation.
The American political system is overrun by money. Economic inequality
translates into political inequality, and political inequality yields
increasing economic inequality. In fact, as he recognizes, Mr. Piketty's
argument rests on the ability of wealth-holders to keep their after-tax
rate of return high relative to economic growth. How do they do this?
By designing the rules of the game to ensure this outcome; that is,
One minor quibble I have here is that I wouldn't say that "America
[or capitalism] triumphed in the Cold War." I'm reminded of a wrestling
match where one fighter dies of a heart attack and the other falls on
top of the corpse to claim the win. The Soviet Union's economic system
indeed performed poorly in the 1980s, but for Russia the real economic
disaster occurred in the 1990s when state resources were turned over
to a handful of oligarchs.
But the basic point is solid: growing inequality is the result of
policies that favor the rich and disadvantage virtually everyone else,
and can be reversed by other policies. The rich were able to obtain
those policies for a number of reasons, including that the US political
system has always been highly susceptible to corruption -- and was,
therefore, defenseless when business interests started their sustained
assault on the political system in the 1970s (cf. the Potter Stewart
letter, a conspicuous turning point).
Also, a few links for further study:
Juan Cole: Waiting for the Arab Summer: An excerpt from Cole's new
book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the
Middle East. He's looking for a return of the liberal democrats
that started the Arab Spring, that have largely been eclipsed of late,
but figures the demographics will still be there once the flames of
war have burned out.
Fred Guerin: The Compelling Conclusion About Capitalism That Piketty
Resists: Well it's that capitalism, in practice if not necessarily
in theory, sucks. Since Piketty takes pains to distance himself from
Marx (even while adopting his title), it's the first point on the mind
of every Marxist critic. This at least articulates the point at length,
and rather eloquently.
Elias Vlanton: The Unkindest Cut: Book review of Joshua Steckel/Beth
Zasloff: Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His
Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty. Vlanton, by
the way, is a very dear friend from my college days, and could well
write his own book on this subject.
Some Iraq links:
Juan Cole: Top 5 Reasons US Aid to "Moderate" Syrian Fighters Is
Roi Kais: US fears Israel would be dragged into war with ISIS:
Fears? Dragged? Didn't Israel already bomb ISIS positions in Syria
last week? Admittedly, if Israel enters an existing US war against
Arabs, that's going to reflect poorly on the US, but it's not as if
the US hasn't already tarred itself with its slavish support of
Israel's numerous violations of human rights and international law.
Given that alliance, it's all the more stupid for the US to get into
an anti-Arab (or specifically an anti-Sunni) war.
Yifa Yaakov: US: Jordan may ask Israel to go to war against ISIL:
Same credibility issues as the US asking for Israeli support, except
that the latter doesn't involve any domestic risk, it just adds
credibility to ISIS/ISIL in that it gives them another enemy pretty
much anyone likely to support them already detests. On the other
hand, if the Hashemites need Israeli support to survive a revolt
of their own people, they're pretty much doomed anyway. (Not that
they didn't get away with it once before, but that was a long time
ago and a complete surprise.)
There's lots more that could be said on the subject of Iraq, but
I'm not finding many links that make what I feel is the key point.
The only just endpoint for the now-linked civil wars in Syria and
Iraq is a diplomatic agreement where all sides agree to step down
and stop killing each other, and let their differences be sorted
out peacefully at the ballot box. It's widely assumed that Sunni
jihadists would never agree to this, but in fact Sunni Islamists
do exceptionally well in elections, and only resort to terrorism
when peaceful political routes are blocked. One certainly shouldn't
assume that they're the problem, especially when you have dictators
in Damascus (and Amman) and a narrowly sectarian government in Iraq
to deal with, not to mention regional interests of the Kurds. It
won't be easy to solve these issues, especially since a solution
will have to appear to be fair to (i.e., to give a fair chance to)
all groups. One might, for instance, consider redrawing some borders
(since, frankly, Sykes and Picot didn't do a very good job). Or one
might consider restructuring the countries among more federalist
lines, which would allow more local control at a finer level of
granularity. There's also the thorny question of oil revenues, which
should be pooled and distributed per capita (benefitting Syria, and
Jordan if they got involved, but inequity in Iraq is also a problem).
For that matter, it would be good to throw some Saudi and Kuwaiti
oil into the pool (the other Persian Gulf emirates too). But the
most important thing is to get the outsiders to stop interfering:
Iran, of course, but also the Saudis, Qataris, and whoever else
has been bankrolling all those jihadis. Also Russia and the US,
which means the US cutting some kind of side deal with Iran to
ensure that the Persian Gulf shipping lanes will remain open. (It
would also be good to solve the Israel-Palestine thing, but thus
far it looks like that's separable -- a good thing given that
Israel refuses to solve anything, and thinking about Israel costs
the US about 40 IQ points.)
So if that's the end point, what should the US be doing now?
Unless Baghdad is on the verge of getting overrun, I don't see any
value in backing Maliki -- least of all in giving him air support
that suggests he has a hope of regaining lost Sunni territory. Nor
does arming the so-called Syrian "moderate rebels" make any sense,
since that just prolongs the war there. US sanctions against Iran
and Russia are probably not helpful either, although surrendering
them would help as would settling side issues (like that mess in
Ukraine). The bigger problem is how to get some leverage on the
Saudis and Gulf Arabs, but those monarchs (and their families)
own a lot of assets in Europe and the US that could be frozen,
and for that matter those monarchies are overdue for democratic
revolutions (especially given US support, including air cover).
If this reads like fantasy, compare its likelihood to the chance
that anything good might come out of Obama's pledges of "advisers"
and drones for Maliki and $500M of small arms for those "moderates"
in Syria. (And try to recall the last time when any ad hoc group
with $500M of arms exercised any moderation at all.) The US has
repeatedly tried to pick sides in the Middle East, thinking its
"lesser evils" will always trump those "greater evils," and almost
invariably coming up wrong. We need to come to a comprehension
that the only US interest in the region is peace and stability,
and that peace and stability only comes through democracy and a
sense of social justice and equality. Also that one essential part
of the solution is that the US give up its military presence in the
region, which has thus far brought nothing but war and instability,
not least through our backing of a corrupt oligarchy.
Sunday, June 22. 2014
Let's start with Richard Crowson's cartoon of the week for a little
dose of Kansas politics:
Mike Pompeo is the current two-term Republican congressman from the
greater Wichita area. He is generally regarded as a Koch crony, although
he's extremely hawkish, a first-line defender of the NSA. Todd Tiahrt is
his eight-term predecessor, a Tom DeLay disciple, closer to the Christian
right, closer still to Boeing (Bush nicknamed him "Tanker Todd"), and he
feels entitled to reclaim his House seat, so they're fighting it out in
a big money primary. And being Republicans, that means they're trying to
out-asshole one another, something both have real talent for (although
I have to give Tiahrt the edge there, ground Pompeo will try to make up
with money). And, of course, the shifty-eyed guy on the right is Gov.
Sam Brownback, who's actually done the sort of damage that Pompeo and
Tiahrt only dream about.
Some scattered links this week (mostly on Iraq):
Paul Krugman: The Loneliness of the Non-Crazy Republican: Hank Paulson
wrote an opinion piece on the need to face up to climate change, "in the
same way we acted to contain the financial crisis." Paulson is a Republican,
in fact a very rich one, but Krugman points out:
But that's not the sad part about Paulson's piece; no, what's sad is that
he imagines that anyone in the party he still claims as his own is listening.
Earth to Paulson: the GOP you imagine, which respects science and is willing
to consider even market-friendly government interventions like carbon taxes,
no longer exists. The reins of power now rest firmly, irreversibly, in the
hands of men who believe that climate change is a hoax concocted by liberal
scientists to justify Big Government, who refuse to acknowledge that
government intervention to correct market failures can ever be justified.
Given the state of US politics today, climate action is entirely dependent
on Democrats. With a Democrat in the White House, we got some movement
through executive action; if Democrats eventually regain the House, there
could be more. If Paulson believes that he can support Republicans while
still pushing for climate action, he's just delusional.
Nor is climate change the only, or even an exceptional, topic where
Republicans have simply evacuated any sort of rational ground.
Elizabeth Samet: Can an American Soldier Ever Die in Vain?:
Samet teaches literature to officer cadets at West Point, which
leads to more than a little weirdness, as we become sentimental
about war instead of rigorously analytical about how to prevent
or end it.
Yet even after the revolutions in modern consciousness ostensibly
occasioned by conflict in the 20th century, a pernicious American
sentimentality about nation and war has triumphed, typified by
demonstrative expressions of, and appeals to, a kind of emotion
that short-circuits reason.
It is a language of the heart that works to insulate us from the
decisions we have made and paradoxically distances us from those
whose military service we seek to recognize. We see it in the empty
profusion of yellow ribbons and lapel-pin flags. We hear it in the
organized celebrations of American heroes and patriotic values:
celebrity public service announcements, beer commercials about
military homecomings, the more jingoistic variants of country music,
and the National Football League's "Salute to Service" campaign.
All these observances noisily claim to honor and celebrate, in the
words of the NFL, "the service and sacrifice of our nation's troops."
We have become exhibitionists of sentiment: The more public and
theatrical our emotional displays, the better we seem to feel.
Indeed, what's the point of war if it doesn't give you that warm
and fuzzy sense of unity that is so foreign to everyday existence
in America today? Consider this passage:
Everyone rose in unison, and some members of Congress wept as Obama
extolled the sergeant's sacrifice. In this, antagonistic leaders
could evince a solidarity they had not shown since they united in
sending Remsburg to war in the first place. Submerged in the
celebration of a "new generation of heroes" were all those nagging
questions about the use of force that ought to have dominated debate
in the first place. Lawmakers seemed to be seeking absolution for
their earlier uncritical enthusiasm by joining together in a tearful
expression of feeling.
This sort of sentimental ity is one way Americans avoid the actual
experience of war. While plenty of individuals experience tragic loss,
the nation as a whole goes from one fake triumph to another, refusing
to admit that so many individuals died for nothing -- "in vain," as
the unspeakable phrase goes. Last week Obama was explaining the need
to send more military forces into Iraq so as to prevent those who had
died in the 2003-11 war from having "died in vain." The fact is that
all those American soldiers -- more than 3000 of them -- died for no
good reason and to no good effect, "for a mistake" as John Kerry once
(but no more) had the guts to say.
Stephen M Walt: Being a Neocon Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry:
Walt identifies four factors why people (in high places in government
and the media) still take neoconservatives seriously, despite their
perfect track record for being disastrously wrong: Shamelessness (their
utter disregard for the truth); Financial Support (noting that even
Elliott Abrams can "land a well-funded senior fellowship at CFR");
Receptive and Sympathetic Media (including New York Times,
Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post); and Liberal
Allies (including Samantha Power and Susan Rice still working for
The neocons' staying power also reminds us that the United States can
get away with irresponsible public discourse because it is very, very
secure. Iraq was a disaster, and it helped pave the way to defeat in
Afghanistan, but at the end of the day the United States will come home
and probably be just fine. True, thousands of our fellow citizens would
be alive and well today had we never listened to the neoconservatives'
fantasies, and Americans would be more popular abroad and more prosperous
at home if their prescriptions from 1993 forward had been ritually ignored.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be alive too, and the Middle East
would probably be in somewhat better condition (it could hardly be worse).
I'd say that the problem is more deeply ideological. The American
political class suffers from a tightly bound set of delusions that
derive from the notions that America has a unique role in the world,
that it has that role because of its unique commitment to freedom
and justice, that dominant military power enhances that commitment,
and that the result of American hegemony is benevolent for everyone
in the world (except evil people who hate our freedom). The depth
and resilience of belief in these tenets is really pretty amazing.
It derives, I think, from the Cold War interpretation of the US in
WWII, although that story was laid on top of a much older and deeper
doctrine of American exceptionalism. It works because it is deeply
flattering, and it continues to work because our political leaders
(both in office and in the media, including followers of both parties
as well as avowed centrists) keep repeating and reinforcing it --
a fairly trivial but nonetheless annoying example is how Obama ends
every speech with "God bless America."
Yet it wouldn't be hard to rephrase those planks in ways that make
their absurdity obvious. Clearly, there are people who chafe at American
power but are not evil, and all too often American power diminishes
freedom. Clearly, military power does not ensure virtue, and in fact
we readily recognize that power can be and often is abused. And on
some level we must realize that Americans are not all that different
from people elsewhere. In fact, it's worth noting that one of the
old tenets of American exceptionalism was that we were a relatively
classless society (at least as compared to Europe), something clung
to more in theory than in fact then, but grossly overturned now --
whatever moral claims the US had as one of the world's more equitable
societies has been squandered away, yet many cling to the belief and
are repeatedly surprised when the world disagrees.
It's worth noting that this cluster of ideological beliefs is more
often than not untested. Although some people, mostly on the liberal
interventionist side of the spectrum, instinctively see each and every
problem in the world as ripe for American fixing, the powers that be
have less appetite for trouble, so most conflicts are conveniently
ignored. The neocons have little sympathy for all that humanitarian
crap (although, as Walt says, they are shameless when it suits them --
cf. the Bushes fawning over all those Afghan schoolgirls they liberated),
but what gets them worked up is any threat to US power. Thus, the US
had to attack Afghanistan after 9/11, not to help anyone but to remind
the world that the US can still kick their asses.
The neocons are back now because one of their cherished myths is
being tested: that the US occupation of Iraq had been a success, leaving
a stable, viable allied government in place. (Conveniently, the neocons
don't have to prove that any such thing ever existed, because they can
quote Obama saying just that.) They argue that Obama has to act now not
because lots of Iraqis may be killed -- their kind of action will just
make that happen earlier rather than later -- but because if he doesn't
act the myth of American omnipotence will be lost. And it looks like
Obama believes them, not because they're credible so much as because
the ideology they all adhere to is beyond question.
Also, a few links for further study:
Hailey Branson-Potts: Oklahoma coming to terms with unprecedented surge
in earthquakes: For thirty years Oklahoma averaged only two magnitude-3.0
or higher earthquakes per year. In 2013 the number jumped to 109, and this
year there have already been more than 200. "Scientists say the more likely
cause of the recent increase is underground injection wells drilled by the
oil and gas industry. About 80 percent of the state is within 9 miles of an
injection well, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey." Oil industry
officials want to study the matter further.
Paul Krugman: Does He Pass the Test?: Review of Timothy Geithner's
book, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises.
Beccy Tanner: Longtime activist Alice Powell dies at age 85: A
good friend, dearly missed.
Finally, a bunch of miscellaneous links on Iraq:
Andrew J Bacevich: The Duplicity of the Ideologues: US Policy & Robert Kagan's Fictive Narrative: "Back in 1996, in a famous Foreign Affairs
article co-authored with William Kristol, Kagan identified 'benign global
hegemony' as the proper basis for US policy. It was incumbent upon the
United Staes to exploit its Cold War victory. Armed with a combination
of 'military supremacy and moral confidence,' Washington needed to put
existing and potential adversaries in their place. The idea was "to make
clear that it is futile to compete with American power."
Phyllis Bennis: Don't Go Back to Iraq!.
Bob Dreyfuss: Obama Sets the US on a Slippery Slope to War in Iraq.
Tom Engelhardt: Who Won Iraq?: "The Busheviks entered Iraq with a powerful
sense that they were building an American protectorate. . . .
And not a thing -- nothing -- worked out as planned. You could almost say that whatever it was they dreamed, the opposite invariably occurred. For
those of us in the reality-based community, for instance, it's long been
apparent that their war and occupation would cost the US, literally and
figuratively, an arm and a leg (and that the costs to Iraqis would prove
beyond calculating). More than two trillion dollars later -- without
figuring in astronomical post-war costs still to come -- Iraq is a
Simon Jenkins: Further military intervention in Iraq? The very idea beggars belief:
"Tony Blair returned this week from beyond the grave and showed no concern
for justice, reason or even national interest. He is a confirmed Iraq
disaster-denier. Civilisation may advance in leaps and bounds over
millennia, but politics remains stuck in Homer's day, in human vanity
and tribal loyalty." "That is why the causes and effects of 2003 must
be nailed to the wall, time and again. Trillions of dollars were spent
and tens of thousands of people died, for no good reason then and no
good reason now. It was a total disgrace."
Marc Lynch: How can the US help Maliki when Maliki's the problem?
Robert Naiman: The President Has No Mandate to Bomb Iraq or Syria:
Obama claims that Bush's 2002 AUMF resolution is all the authority he
needs to bomb Iraq (or to bomb ISIS in Syria). "On Thursday night, 182
Members of the House voted yes on Representative Barbara Lee's amendment
defunding the use of the 2002 Iraq Authorization for the Use of Military
Force." Not a majority, but close.
Bernie Sanders: Flashback: All the Ways the Neocons were Wrong about Iraq:
quotes from Dick Cheney, Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz
Paul Waldman: On Iraq, let's ignore those who got it all wrong: Names
names, too, including: "Yet today, the media once again seek out John
McCain's wisdom and insight on Iraq, which is kind of like saying, "Jeez,
it looks like we might be lost -- we really need to ask Mr. Magoo for
Russ Wellen: Why ISIS Shouldn't Be Branded Terrorists: "Terrorism
leads to panicked over-reaction" -- although that's precisely the
neocon intent: to panic us into over-reaction. I'd add that before
we panic at the mention of some Al-Qaeda-wannabe, we need to figure
out whether that group has adopted Bin Laden's "far enemy" doctrine.
Sunday, June 8. 2014
Spent most of the past week working on a stand for a large TV as
we attempt to adopt some 21st century technology. Project should be
done by now, but for lack of some muscle isn't. Very frustrating.
As, of course, is the news, once again generating some scattered
links this week:
Fred Kaplan: What People Don't Understand About the Bergdahl Deal:
Quite a bit, then there's what Kaplan doesn't understand either. It's
been amusing to watch the right react with horror and disgust over this
all-too-human soldier as if he's the reason their holy war went down the
shitter, much as it's been something else (silly?) as Obama and company
have tried to paint his recovery as a triumph. Still, I take it to be
good news that one of the war's loose ends has been tied up. I also
regard it as a plus that the population of Guantanamo drops by five --
locked up they may not be personal threats but they're glaring symbols
of US injustice, and that's a far more dangerous game. Finally, this
shows some promise for negotiating an end to the Afghan civil war --
a vast improvement over the more likely course, which is to continue
the war through proxies.
Greg Sargent: On Bowe Bergdahl, lawmakers need to do better.
Elias Isquith: Wingnuts' war on the troops: The ugly lesson of Bowe Bergdahl
and Sarah Palin:
We're all familiar with how conservatives -- but especially extreme ones
like Palin -- deify, romanticize and claim ownership of the men and women
in the armed forces. [ . . . ] Less understood is that
when a member of the military fails to adhere to the far right's rigid
formula of what a soldier should be (nationalistic, religious, obedient;
conservative) right-wingers like Palin come down on them like a ton of
bricks. Where they once were heroes of almost mythic proportion, now they
become charlatans -- or maybe even traitors. During these moments, the far
right's hatred for the apostate soldier can only be understood if it's
recognized as a mirror image of their usual reverence. It's not just that
Sarah Palin is disappointed with Bergdahl for loathing the war in
Afghanistan so much that he was "ashamed to be an American"; it's that
she now considers Bergdahl to be someone who is worth so little that the
president's acting to secure his life and liberty is, effectively, an
insult to the rest. [ . . . ] Taken together, the
far right's dehumanization of the American soldier is clear. If he or
she is willing to promote the Sarah Palin version of patriotism, honor
and masculinity (or at least allow themselves to be used for that purpose),
they are not human beings but rather legends and gods. And if they refuse,
they lose their humanity once more, now becoming contemptible beyond all
The right's love-hate relationship with the American soldier shows
up again in their approach to the VA. In particular, they tend to treat
something like PTSD as a character flaw, a disgrace to hero status they
automatically assign to soldiers, until they prove human. They prefer
that the VA only serve soldiers who prove worthy of their worship, as
opposed to the ordinary people who get caught up and spit out by the
military's cult of violence.
Phillip Longman: VA Care: Still the Best Care Anywhere?, and
Part II: A few weeks ago we accidentally picked up a robocall from
Senator Pat Roberts promising to get to the bottom of the VA Scandal --
you can imagine how reassuring that was. Then, as now, the news was
dominated by political reaction with a minimum of facts. On any given
news topic there are people you expect to be able to weigh in with
informed and intelligent opinions, and there are many more you are
best off ignoring. On the VA health care system, the one person I
wanted to hear from was Phillip Longman, who wrote a long article
in 2005 touting the VA as offering
The Best Care Anywhere, which he later expanded into a short book,
Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours
(paperback, 2007, Polipoint Press). Longman's argument runs against
the common wisdom, which basically argues that government bureaucracy
is intrinsically self-interested and therefore careless or incompetent
when it comes to fulfilling its chartered duties. Indeed, the history
of the VA is littered with political cronies with a very mixed record
of performance. However, Longman attributes two moves by Bill Clinton
as leading to a major turnaround at the VA: the appointment of Kenneth
W. Kizer as VHA undersecretary of health, and a 1996 law which greatly
expanded eligibility for VA coverage. Historically, one of the major
problems with VA health coverage has been determining eligibility. Vets
with combat injuries are covered, but vets without combat injuries are
not, and there is a lot of gray area between the obvious cases, and a
lot of the controversy surrounding the VA is over eligibility. Bush,
in 2003, reversed Clinton's expansion of eligibility, probably because
he wanted to make the Iraq war look cheaper, and indeed future medical
needs for veterans are a large component of the costs tallied up by
Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes in The Three Trillion Dollar
War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. Obama, in 2009, loosened
up VA eligibility, but it still remains a bureaucratic battlefield
and a background component of the scandal.
Longman's article and book detail just how the VA health system was
reformed. The key point is that the VA is a single-payer, single-provider
system: all the hospital staff, including doctors, are employees, and
the patients are lifetime wards of the system. This explains why the
VA was able to pioneer the use of electronic records, and thereby to
almost totally eliminate common errors like giving patients the wrong
medication. This also made the VA a leader in measuring outcomes and
determining best practices, and ultimately in building tools to give
management a fine-grained picture of system performance. That should
work very well, but it turns out that one of the metrics -- wait time
for various procedures -- was scammed by various administrators who
risked the health of their patients in order to fake a metric. As
Longman explains, this scandalous practice only happened in Sun Belt
hospitals where resources have been strained by migration. Still,
it's unlikely that the problem ends there. It's rare for managers to
lie like this unless they feel other incentives are more important,
like the desire to limit costs. (Otherwise, any bureaucrat worth his
salt would highlight increasing wait times are proof that he needs
more resources.) Indeed, despite all the sanctimonious blather about
supporting the troops, costs are a contentious issue. Republicans,
in particular, have ideological problems with the VA, which first
and foremost is a welfare organization -- a parasite on the country
which encourages soul-crushing dependency on the state -- plus it's
proof that the most cost-effective way to provide high qualify health
care is through a fully non-profit public system.
But if taxpayers are willing to put a little more money into the
system, the "scandal" can be fixed easily enough. First, of course,
get rid of the administrators who tried to game the system. In the
short term, allow services that the VA system cannot perform in a
timely fashion to be outsourced to commercial. In the medium term
do a better job of tracking veterans' migration and make sure the
resources you'll need are there in time. In the long term, stay out
of war, but that would bring into question the need for a separate
system for veterans -- although even as the number of veterans drops,
the vitality of the system could be extended by allowing non-veterans
to choose the VA as a "public option." (For starters, I wish all VA
hospitals would offer free abortions to all comers. Doing so would
defend a constitutional right of the American people, and it would
be very hard for anti-abortion mobs to disrupt the VA.)
PS: also see
Phillip Longman: How VA Outsourcing Hurts Veterans.
Also, a few links for further study:
Kathleen Geier: Polarizing Plutocracy: Our Broken Higher Education System:
Review of Suzanne Mettler's Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of
Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream (2014, Basic Books).
For affluent students, an elite college education represents a crucial
opportunity for networking and resume-building on their paths to prosperity
and success. But students from low- and moderate-income families are finding
it increasingly difficult to complete their bachelor's degrees, even when
they boast academic qualifications identical to their wealthier counterparts.
Indeed, one study cited in Mettler's book showed that a student with high
test scores from a low-income family is no more likely to graduate than a
low-scoring rich kid. Research has identified rising tuition in public
colleges as the chief reason for lower college completion rates among the
Most people run into crises of some sort during college, but the big
advantage of the wealthy is that their money cushions the blows and gives
them extra opportunities. (I know, for instance, that personal crises,
including lack of money, kept me from the Ph.D. and an academic career
that I was easily capable of. And I'm pretty certain that if G.W. Bush
had been Bill Clinton's cousin, the only way he would have got out of
Tyson's chicken factory was jail.) The poor are more vulnerable, and
they carry the burden of higher costs -- unconscionable debt load is
the best known, but working odd jobs and such take their toll. And in
the end, they don't even get the same education. As inequality increases,
the value of an education shifts from what you learn to who you meet and
how agreeable you are to them. (Clinton and Obama are prime examples of
smart poor kids who met many rich patrons and proved most agreeable.
That used to be an important path to upward mobility, but one wonders
whether future generations will be able to point to similar examples.)
Daniel Schulman: Late Libertarian Icon Murray Rothbard on Charles Koch:
He "Considers Hmself Above the Law": More from Schulman's book,
Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful
and Private Dynasty. Back in the mid-1970s I worked in a type shop
in Wichita. We did occasional work for Koch Industries. The toughest
job I had there was doing some math-intensive technical papers on oil
viscosity, but I was also given whole books by Murray Rothbard to type,
and as such became intimately familiar with the contorted gymnastics
Rothbard went through to come up with schemes for conflict resolution
and justice that didn't involve government. At that point I pretty much
loathed everything associated with government, and I had a relatively
generous view of human nature, but I still couldn't see any way Rothbard's
schemes could work, or even should work, so that was the point when I
soured on libertarianism. It's not clear if Charles Koch also decided
that Rothbard's schemes were unworkable, as it was Rothbard to split
from his sponsor, charging Koch with abusing his political theories for
personal gain. That, of course, rings true.
Sunday, May 25. 2014
Once again, my links are more scattered than usual, most picked up at
the last minute scrounging through the usual suspects.
Barry Eisler: 'Journalist' Argues in NY Times That Publishing Decisions
Should Ultimately Be Made by Government: "Journalist" in question
is liberal opinion "buckraker" Michael Kinsley, who occasionally has an
interesting insight (cf. his characterization of the American people as
"big babies") but is often the first to throw in the towel, believing
that liberalism is better protected by surrendering to "common wisdom"
than by employing principles. The occasion is Glenn Greenwald's new book,
No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance
State, with Kinsley defending the NSA: after all, what could go bad
"in a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are)"? Eisler
places "journalist" in quotes, citing George Orwell: "Journalism is
printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is
Glenn Greenwald: A Response to Michael Kinsley.
Thomas Frank: Congratulations, class of 2014: You're totally screwed:
Welcome to the wide world, Class of 2014. You have by now noticed the
tremendous consignment of debt that the authorities at your college have
spent the last four years loading on your shoulders. It may interest you
to know that the average student-loan borrower among you is now $33,000
in debt, the largest of any graduating class ever. According to a new
study by the Pew Research Center, carrying that kind of debt will have
certain predictable effects. It will impede your ability to accumulate
wealth, for example. You will also borrow more for other things than
people without debt, and naturally you will find your debt level growing,
not shrinking, as the years pass.
As you probably know, neither your parents nor your grandparents were
required to take on this kind of burden in order to go to college.
Neither are the people of your own generation in France and Germany
and Argentina and Mexico.
Of course, all that school debt is only the starter. Not even Frank
can describe in one sitting all the way you're screwed.
Martin Longman: Some Dude Wrote a Manifesto: Among the week's news,
some "dude" named Elliot Rodger exercised his "second amendment rights"
and killed a bunch of people in Santa Barbara [CA] this week. He seems
to have given his rampage a lot of premeditation, going so far as to
write a "137-page manifesto" -- Longman quotes a bit of it here, e.g.:
"Humanity has never accepted me among them, and now I know why. I am
more than human. I am superior to them all." And: "It is my purpose to
punish them all. I will purify the world of everything that is wrong
with it." In the aftermath, most are quick to declare Rodger mentally
ill, although some also point out Rodger's rampant misogyny (e.g.,
Katie McDonough: How toxic male entitlement devalues women's and men's
Jessica Valenti: Further proof that misogyny kills). Still, what
most struck me from the newsreel footage was the spiffy, very expensive
BMW the "dude" was driving. Clearly, he comes from and has access to
a lot of money, and presumes himself entitled to the perks of his class.
Even more characteristically, when he's denied satisfaction, he has the
inbred self-esteem to reaffirm his superiority.
Nick Turse: The US Military's New Normal in Africa: The real
meaning of Benghazi is that even a relatively well managed military
intervention is liable to produce all sorts of surprising and often
malign consequences. As Tom Engelhardt points out in his introduction:
In response to Boko Haram's kidnapping of 276 young women, the Obama
administration has already sent in a small military team (with FBI,
State Department, and Justice Department representatives included)
and launched drone and "manned surveillance flights," which may prove
to be just the first steps in what one day could become a larger
operation. Under the circumstances, it's worth remembering that the
U.S. has already played a curious role in Nigeria's destabilization,
thanks to its 2011 intervention in Libya. In the chaos surrounding
the fall of Libyan autocrat Muammar Qaddafi, his immense arsenals of
weapons were looted and soon enough AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades,
and other light weaponry, as well as the requisite pick-up trucks
mounted with machine guns or anti-aircraft guns made their way across
an increasingly destabilized region, including into the hands of Boko
Haram. Its militants are far better armed and trained today thanks to
But while "Benghazi" should be read as a cautionary tale against
the hubris of military intervention, the lesson the military has taken
is that it needs to be able to act faster with less oversight -- the
drift of the Republican hawks who've been most vociferous in their
congenital desire to depict Obama as a weak leader. (Indeed, he does
wobble at the knees way too much, but mostly when the hawks seek to
trap him in future wars -- the insertion of US troops into Chad,
ostensibly to solve a problem in Nigeria, is a case in point.)
For a broader survey of what's followed the intervention in Libya,
Seumas Milne: Coups and terror are the fruit of Nato's war in Libya:
But it's not just Libya that's living with the fallout from Nato's
intervention. Blowback from the Libyan war has spread across Africa,
destabilising the Sahel region and beyond. After Gaddafi's fall,
Tuareg people who had fought for him went home to Mali, bringing
Libyan arms caches with them. Within months, that had tipped northern
Mali into full-scale armed rebellion and takeover by Islamist fighters.
[ . . . ]
But, as elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East, each outside
intervention only spreads the cycle of the terror war. So the call
for action over the outrage of the Boko Haram kidnapping has brought
US, British and French forces to oil-wealthy Nigeria, just as the
Mali crisis last year led to the establishment of a US military
drone base in neighbouring Niger.
US armed forces are now involved in 49 out of 54 African states,
along with the former colonial powers of France and Britain, in what's
becoming a new carve-up of the continent: a scramble for resources and
influence in the face of China's growing economic role, underpinned
with an escalating military presence that spreads terror as it grows.
That will bring its own backlash, as did the war in Libya.
Also, a few links for further study:
The Cooperative Economy: A Conversation With Gar Alperovitz: Author
of several notable books, most recently What Then Must We Do?: Straight
Talk About the Next American Revolution.
Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Case for Reparations: I spent a good deal of
time this past week with a dear friend who eloquently and persuasively
argued that the middle class has been decimated in New York -- in no
small part due to landlords like her employer -- then seemed to believe
that non-whites were making out like bandits on welfare. I know a lot
of people believe that, but I've never found any evidence of it: either
that welfare is disproportionately routed to non-whites or that anyone
can live off it at anything more than subsistence levels. Moreover, it's
clear to me that the chronically poor (of all races) have many structural
disadvantages that keep them poor. Also, I'm old enough I recall when
racist discrimination was both the law and custom of the land, and while
I've seen much progress in civil rights during my lifetime, I know good
and well that the past lingers on. So I've never been bothered by even
superficial attempts to balance the scales through "affirmative action" --
even though the ideal of eliminating race correlation at every income
level strikes me as a hollow victory compared to reducing inequality for
all. But reparations rubs me wrong, not least because it depends so much
on inheritance as a means of rectifying past wrongs.
Kevin Drum: Retired Army General Explains Why We Lost in Afghanistan and
Iraq: Quote from and comment on Daniel P. Bolger's Why We Lost: A
General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (release date
November). Interesting mostly as a signpost on how Afghanistan/Iraq will
be viewed by military elites: as an inevitable defeat due not so much to
bad policies as to the deep structure of the military. Bolger doesn't go
so far as to criticize why Bush started those wars, and seems to think
that a quick incursion and speedy exit would have been just peachy, but
this does not bode well for the Petraeus types who hope to restructure
the military around counterinsurgency struggles that stretch out forever.
One needs to push this analysis further, but the first step to recovery
is recognizing you have a problem.
Don Leffer: Chanute aims to provide speedy Internet service to all homes,
businesses in town: Chanute is a small town in southeastern Kansas
(pop. 9119 in 2010). Unable to get any company to provide high-speed
internet, they decided to do it themselves as a public utility, and to
their (but not my) surprise they found they can do it much cheaper:
for $13.5 million they could hook up every house and business in town,
but won't be going quite that far, instead offering a wired gigabit
service for $40/month, a bit more for businesses. (Also see
City-run Internet system helps Chanute businesses grow.) The
response of the companies that spurned Chanute? They tried to get
a bill passed to prohibit cities from offering broadband access. (See:
Proposed bill to outlaw community broadband service in Kansas met with
Daniel Schulman: Koch vs. Koch: The Brutal Battle That Tore Apart America's
Most Powerful Family: An excerpt or so from Schulman's new book, Sons
of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private
Dynasty. Mostly background, focusing on the family feuds that moved
brothers Fred and Bill out of the spotlight, leaving control of the family
business to the ideologically compatible Charles and David.
I should also note that Richard Kieffer Feeley died this past week,
way too young at age 34. He was the son of friends from my years in
Boston, so I first met him when he was in his teens, looking forward
to a life of much promise and interest. I never knew him well, but I
do know that chronic illness dimmed those prospects. Such things
happen, more frequently than most people realize. Indeed, it is only
a deranged mind that thinks each person fully responsible for his or
her fate, or indeed that ascribes fate at all.
Sunday, May 11. 2014
Some scattered links this week, somewhat shortened because I've been
distracted with other things today:
Kathleen Geier: What the "Mad Men" Economy Can Teach Us About Ours:
I have a slightly different theory about what Peggy's big raise on Mad
Men meant, one based mostly on personal experience. I got a job with
a start-up in 1986, and got a salary bump from $45k to $53k, which with
a couple other factors was enough to move me out of the red. The company
was hard-strapped for a couple years, then hit a point when they could
afford to hand out a round of raises. Mine was 10k, a little less than
Peggy's bump percentwise, but close. I was floored, but had moved from
individual engineer to working engineer + manager in the meantime, and
the raise was management's way of saying "you're one of us now." Same
with Peggy, plus the added political angle that Lou is trying to use
her for leverage against Don. Pretty straightforward, and given the
management-motivation overtones something that can still happen today:
indeed, given that the gulf between management and workers has grown
so wide, and that management has become so much more self-serving (the
word I first thought of was "evil"), this may be even more prevalent.
Money, after all, is the one thing that managers can count on their
own ranks as responding to -- not least because the right-wing work
so hard to prevent government from doing anything that would lessen
the desperate fear that drives managers to seek ever more money.
The rest of Geier's piece illustrates why large raises are so
unfamiliar to most people. In particular, see this chart on how
wages have been unhooked from productivity gains ever since the
right-wing revival in the late 1970s. (The growing difference goes
to the owners, and that's where most of the gains of the 1% come
from -- what you might call the solid gains, as opposed to a lot
of financialization, corporate predation, and asset inflation
a/k/a bubbles. In between are tax breaks and other efforts to
reduce democratic government's tendency to redistribute income
Ann Jones: How to Lose Friends and Influence No One (The State Department
Way): On funding cuts for the Fulbright scholar exchange programs, $30
million at a time USAID spends $46.2 billion on things like their twitter
spoof for Cuba and their neverending Afghanistan boondoggles. Jones quotes
Senator J. William Fulbright on why he created the program that bears his
name: "Aw, hell, I just wanted to educate these goddam ignorant Americans."
If that's the reason, the program should be more in demand than ever, but
increasingly ignorance is seen as a desirable political goal, not something
that happens naturally in the absence of remedying policy. But in this case
the problem seems to be that the State Department wants programs that they
can manage for their assumed security ends, rather than for the public
good (either our public or anyone else's):
Now the landscape has shifted, and the globe has tilted to match the slant
of America's exceptional (and mostly classified) interests, as well as a
version of "national security" dependent upon secrecy, not exchange, and
war, not peace. You can see how the land lies today by tracing the dispersal
of U.S. troops around that badly bashed and lopsided globe or tracking the
itinerary of President Obama, just back from an Asian trip that included
a new agreement extending the reach of soldiers, not scholars.
You can search hard and find little trace of those quaint old notions
of international understanding and peace on the American agenda. Consider
it a sign of the times that a president who, from his Nobel acceptance
speech putting in a good word for war to his surges in Afghanistan to the
"kill list" he regularly mulls over in the White House, has hardly been
a Nobel Prize-quality executive, yet must still repeatedly defend himself
against charges that he is too slow and far too wussy to go to war,
perhaps as a result of his own "un-American" international childhood.
Robert B Reich: How to Shrink Inequality: I don't mean to be harsh on
the little guy. His insight that the gated communities and exclusive clubs
of the rich were effectively a way of "seceding from America" -- distancing
themselves from the rest of us, and thereby freeing themselves from any
sense of moral responsibility for the welfare of the country -- was major,
almost making up for his idiot notion that the future of the working class
was to become high-paid "symbol manipulators." His heart is usually in the
right place, he recognizes the major problems of our times, and his ideas
about what to do about them aren't the worst, but often they're not the
best either. He clearly recognizes that increasing inequality is a major
problem these days, but consider his list of solutions:
- Make work pay. [raise the minimum wage to $15/hour, peg it to
inflation, abolish the tipped minimum wage, expand the Earned Income Tax
- Unionize low-wage workers. [I prefer regulatory measures which
improve workplace rights and standards, and various mechanisms to give
workers more equity and management responsibility in companies. Unions
compete for resources and that causes strife and inefficiency. Other
arrangements seek to align worker and investor interests around greater
productivity that is more equitably shared.]
- Invest in education. ["Education should not be thought of as
a private investment; it is a public good that helps both individuals
and the economy."]
- Invest in infrastructure. [Reich is vague here. One thing to
look for is opportunities to eliminate toll booths, especially where the
marginal cost of reproduction is near zero -- free software, internet
access, entertainment are examples, as are literal toll booths on
turnpikes and bridges.]
- Pay for these investments with higher taxes on the wealthy.
[You can also increase the overall tax level with consumption taxes like
a VAT, but income and estate taxes should be more progressive to better
balance out inequality.]
- Make the payroll tax progressive. [Better to make the income
tax more progressive. The payroll tax wouldn't even be necessary if the
income tax was extended to cover Social Security, etc.]
- Raise the estate tax and eliminate the "stepped-up basis" for
determining capital gains at death.
- Constrain Wall Street.
- Give all Americans a share in future economic gains.
- Get big money out of politics.
One important thing that Reich doesn't mention is patents: they're
a major source of corporate rents, and if anything they hamper innovation.
Another is aggressive antitrust enforcement, which again limits inequality
by supporting more competitive markets. Basically, anything which helps
to reduce the return on capital helps to reduce inequality. One might,
for instance, make it easier to form cooperatives and nonprofits to
compete with corporations. The other major approach is to attempt to
decouple inequality from regressive social policy. The more things
are treated as a public right, the less practical advantage the rich
enjoy, hence the less inequality matters. To a large extent how, the
problem isn't that X makes more or has more than you do; the problem
is that X's advantage converts into a priority and privilege over you
in so many important aspects of everyday life. Redistribution is one
way to redress that problem, but there are others, and probably the
best approach is some combination of both.
Also, a few links for further study:
Kathleen Geier: R.I.P., Gary Becker: Not an obit for the late, arguably
great economist so much as an extended argument with him, as if his death
was just a diversion from everything that matters. Becker was a pioneer
in applying microeconomic logic to numerous everyday situations that we
rarely think of as determined by economics. Geier, a former student of his,
takes him to task for his theory of the family (and various related affronts
to feminism) and his theory of human capital.
Anand Gopal: How to Lose a War That Wasn't There: Excerpt from Gopal's
new book on Afghanistan: No Good Men Among the Living: America, the
Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes.
To understand how America's battle in Afghanistan went so wrong for so
long, a (hidden) history lesson is in order. In those early years after
2001, driven by the idée fixe that the world was rigidly divided into
terrorist and non-terrorist camps, Washington allied with Afghan
warlords and strongmen. Their enemies became ours, and through faulty
intelligence, their feuds became repackaged as "counterterrorism."
The story of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who turned from America's potential
ally into its greatest foe, is the paradigmatic case of how the war on
terror created the very enemies it sought to eradicate.
Several pieces on the FCC's attempt to end "net neutrality":
This week's Piketty pieces:
John Cassidy: The "Piketty Bubble" Is More Than Hot Air
Kathleen Geier: What Piketty's Conservative Critics Get Wrong: "Send
in the clowns!" Reads (so you don't have to) and links to: Reihan Salam,
Daniel Shuchman, Megan McArdle, Fredrik deBoer, Kevin Hassett, Scott
Winship, Tyler Cowen, Joshua Hendrickson, Clive Crook.
Paul Rosenberg: Thomas Piketty terrifies Paul Ryan: Behind the right's
desperate, laughable need to destroy an economist: links to several
of the pieces below, and also reviews Elizabeth Warren's A Fighting
Doug Henwood: The Top of the World
Sunday, May 4. 2014
Some scattered links this week. First, Crowson today, on Governor
Sam Brownback, following the news that his Arthur Laffer-approved
tax cuts have resulted in a massive shortfall in state tax revenues,
while the state economy has lagged behind virtually every other state:
Phillip Brownlee comments in WE Blog:
Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP lawmakers blamed President Obama for why
Kansas tax collections in April were $93 million less than projected.
"There are . . . natural consequences for being in an
ocean, in a sea, that belongs to Obama," said Rep. Pete DeGraaf,
R-Mulvane. Though it is silly to blame the revenue drop on Obama,
it certainly is true that the Kansas economy is linked to the national
and global economies. That being the case, was it unrealistic to think
that Kansas' income-tax cuts, which were relatively small compared
with the larger economy, would act like "a shot of adrenaline into
the heart of the Kansas economy," as Brownback promised? So far,
Kansas' economy is lagging the nation and neighboring states while
personal income-tax collections are $508 million less than at this
point last fiscal year.
Other notable links this week, more than usual from my hometown paper:
Kathleen Geier: The Apple-Samsung Patent Wars and Our Broken IP System:
Regarding Apple v. Samsung, "threatening to become the longest, as well as
most pointless, legal dispute since Jarndyce v. Jarndyce."
In fact, an intellectual property regime that grants excessively strong
protection to rights-holders has the potential to stifle innovation,
incentivize unproductive economic activity, rip off consumers and
taxpayers, and generally increase economic inequality. That, unfortunately,
is the IP regime that has developed in the U.S. today. For instance, the
current system makes it difficult to combine patented features by different
companies in one product. Want to build a smartphone with Android-style
widgets and a Siri-type search function? Unfortunately, you're out of
luck. Firms can also harass the competition by threatening lawsuits,
especially against newer, smaller firms unable to afford access to our
pricey legal system.
Ed Kilgore: Perry "Next in Line?": I don't normally care much for
these presidential horse race pieces, especially when you're talking
about beings with as little human appeal as Republican presidential
aspirants, but I thought Kilgore's last line has broader applicability
than just to Rick Perry (the man who couldn't decide whether Oklahoma's
botched execution was inhumane):
[Dick] Morris deems Perry Next-In-Line simply by dismissing the other
2012 losers as, well, losers, and then suggesting that Perry can do
better this time if he does this and that and doesn't do this and that.
If he had some ham, he could make a ham sandwich, if he had some bread.
As Kilgore explains, "'Next In Line' is one of those theories that
sounds compelling thanks to the very limited sample size of recent
presidential nominating contexts." The evident series goes back to
Ronald Reagan in 1980 (he was runner-up to Ford in 1976), and didn't
apply in 2000 (GW Bush didn't run in 1996; the runner up to Bob Dole
was who? Pat Buchanan? Steve Forbes? no one else won a single primary).
So we're really just talking Reagan (1980), Bush (1988), Dole (1996),
McCain (2008), and Romney (2012). Like Bush (2000), those were all
candidates who quickly gained a consensus backing by the powers in
the party (whoever they may be). Rick Santorum may be next in line,
but I doubt if he can make that grade (although far be it from me to
claim to be able to read the minds of Republicans; on the other hand,
Dick Morris wrote a whole book about his dream match-up between
Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, so his track record may well
be worse than mine).
Tim Potter: In Wichita, gun storage around kids no longer set by law:
Last week in Wichita a four-year old child found a loaded gun in a drawer
and shot and killed his one-year-old brother (see story
here). We haven't yet degenerated to the point where we're trying
four-year-olds as adults, but some people wondered about the father
leaving a loaded gun where his kids could find it. Turns out that's
There was a time in Wichita when an ordinance required adults to properly
secure guns around children. [ . . . ] For 12 years,
Wichita had an ordinance regulating gun storage around children. The
Wichita law required that guns be properly secured if someone under 18
could have access and required that adults keep guns unloaded, locked
away or secured with trigger locks. [ . . . ] In
2005, the Wichita gun storage ordinance was repealed because a state
law nullified it.
After the ordinance was repealed, from 2007 through 2013, Wichita
police recorded on average eight accidental shootings at homes each
year, according to numbers Lt. Dan East provided Friday. In 2013, 10
shootings were reported. [ . . . ]
Last month, the governor [Brownback] signed into law a bill that
will prohibit local governments from enforcing local gun ordinances
and will make gun laws uniform across the state.
[ . . . ]
The death is devastating, but having a law dictating safe gun
storage is not the solution, said Phil Journey, a longtime gun rights
advocate, former legislator and current Sedgwick County District
Safe-storage laws "don't prevent the tragedy. They punish people
afterward," Journey said.
As a legislator in 2005, Journey pushed for passage of a state
law that eliminated the Wichita ordinance on gun storage. He argued
that the law impinged on the right to self defense.
Of course, that's true of most criminal law, but you don't find
many people (even Republican legislators) arguing that we shouldn't
have a law against murder because it won't prevent the tragedy. If
anything, they argue the opposite: that a law against doing something
bad deters people from doing it, as well as punishing them after the
fact. Moreover, it's not unusual to have laws that are only enforceable
when their breach turns tragic. For instance, it is illegal to drive
without wearing seat belts, but it is rare that anyone is charged
except after the violation was revealed by an accident. (I'm not
saying that these are all good laws, just that there is precedent
for them.) But many people seem to get stupid when it comes to guns.
Journey's statement is rather revealing. What he's saying is that
the personal need for self-protection is so urgent that it trumps any
concerns about safety. And he's also saying that having a gun is an
effective means for self-protection. Neither assertion seems all that
valid to me.
Also, a few links for further study:
Stan Finger: Arid opening to 2014 echoes Dust Bowl spring of 1936:
Wichita has had less than two inches of rain so far this year, the
lowest total since 1936 (or before, back to the advent of record-keeping).
Nowadays in Kansas 1936 is mostly known for its record-setting heat
wave -- many of which were finally broken in 2011, when we had 53 100°
days -- but at the time it was the peak year for dust storms, including
one that blew all the way to Washington DC. Wichita has had above-average
rainfall the last two years, so the reservoirs are relatively full, but
this year's crops are hurting. Global warming climate models generally
predict increasing drought in Kansas, so every year that doesn't happen
I figure we got lucky. Still, this year looks to be the reckoning. Last
couple summers were also much milder than the persistent heat waves of
2009-11, and this year has been relatively cool . . .
until, well, yesterday. But as Finger notes, the first of those 100°
days in 2011 was May 9, the earliest that temperature had ever been
hit in Wichita. Well, not any more: as I write this, on May 4, the
official temperature outside is 102°.
Dave Helling/Brad Cooper: Brownback's ties to lobbyists under scrutiny:
As well they should be, as the Kansas governor's aides move on to lucrative
careers in lobbying, selling their access to their old connections. The
counterargument, of course, is that that's the way the system works, but
once you buy into that argument it's tempting to play fast and loose with
rules, thinking they're not really meant to be taken all that seriously
in the first place. Add to that the streak of self-righteousness that
Brownback wears like a cloak and you have the makings for some serious
mischief. The article doesn't wrap it all up, but does help you get a
sense of how the system works. For example:
[Riley] Scott, the son-in-law of Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle,
later picked up Pittsburg State University as a $36,000 client even
though the school had not hired a lobbyist for at least four years.
"Riley fit the bill," said school spokesman Chris Kelly. "He seemed
to fit where we wanted to go."
Wichita Area Technical College, which runs the National Center for
Aviation Training, hired Scott after lawmakers cut funding for the
center by $2 million last year.
It paid Parallel Strategies $30,000 for six months after employing
a different lobbyist for several years.
"I've been in this business a long time, and it's about relationships,"
said the school's president, Tony Kinkel. But, he said, "no one ever told
us who to hire."
The Kansas Dental Association hired Parallel Strategies this year to
oppose legislation creating midlevel dental providers who could perform
some of the duties now handled by dentists.
"We needed to have someone with close ties to the tea party conservative
Republicans," said Kevin Robertson, the association's executive director.
People associated with the governor also have landed lobbying jobs with
the three private companies running the state's Medicaid program, now known
Scott works for United Health Services. Amerigroup Kansas hired former
social services official Gary Haulmark. Matt Hickam, a former partner of
Kensinger's, now lobbies for Centene and its subsidiary, Sunflower State
Phillip Longman/Lina Khan: Terminal Sickness: "How a thirty-year-old
policy of deregulation is slowly killing America's airline system -- and
taking down Cincinnati, Memphis, and St. Louis with it." Interesting to
no small extent because airline deregulation is often regarded as one of
the few successes (trucking is the other one) of the Carter-Reagan era
of deregulation mania.
And, of course, deregulated airlines have nothing to stop themselves
from acknowledging increasing inequality and providing (relatively) lavish
treatment to "woo the one percent": see
David Owen: Game of Thrones.
Kelsey Ryan: Mandated, costly disease-coding system on hold, for now:
In the past, every health insurance company had its own coding system,
requiring doctors offices and hospitals to recode their claims to fit
the insurance company requirements, and in the process creating lots
of opportunities for insurance companies to reject claims, as well as
a market for software companies to sell packages to manage all of that
complexity. Any way you look at it, these coding systems have been a
major source of anti-productivity and bloated cost in health care. It's
not clear from this article whether ICD-10 is meant to solve this problem
by standardization or whether it just piles on, but the reported complaints
of doctors offices shelling out "between $200,000 and $250,000" for
software and training is a red flag. This is clearly a case where a
small investment in free software (on top of a standardized coding
system) would make a huge difference, reducing hassle and ultimately
saving costs without in any way hampering care. In fact, standardized
electronic medical records have been shown to improve care as well
as reduce costs.
Derek Thompson: Why America's Essentials Are Getting More Expensive
While Its Toys Are Getting Cheap: The graphic:
Thompson quotes Jordan Weissmann (link below): "Prices are rising
on the very things that are essential for climbing out of poverty."
The line on education is the most striking, especially compared to
health care, which has been the standard for corporate rapaciousness
for decades now. This strikes me as a compounding effect of inequality:
the rich aren't satisfied with getting richer, they feel even better
watching everyone else fall behind, and especially the high achievers
who would compete with them.
This also suggests that there is something to the notion that
cheaper prices on manufactured goods reduce the perceived impact
of relative impoverishment. As Thompson points out, those falling
prices are achieved through no cost to profits, but rather by
moving manufacturing to cheaper labor markets. Some modern-day
Marx might conclude, "television is the opium of the masses."
Annie Lowrey: Changed Life of the Poor: Better Off, but Far Behind, and
Jordan Weissmann: Why Poverty Is Still Miserable, Even If Everybody Can
Own an Awesome Television.
Some other brief notes on various aspects of the national rot:
Cut this short to wallow in my poverty and watch some TV. There's
just way too much wretchedness to follow, especially when the answers
are so straightforward.
Sunday, April 27. 2014
Woke up this morning with the electric power down, a forced reset of
my entire operating environment. Did manage to sleep through whatever
the morning's storm front wrought (aside from the outage, if that was
related). Meanwhile, I had a lot of this already stashed away.
Some scattered links this week:
Lindsay Abrams: The Koch brothers are going after solar panels:
Not as well known as the story of the Koch's opposition to wind power --
one of the few things the Kochs have been voted down on in Kansas, because
no one appreciates a good tax break more than farmers and farmers still
have some sway in Kansas, even with Republicans. The Kochs are men of
strict principle, sure, but somehow the only principles they recognize
are ones that align with their business interests, which is to say oil.
I mean, if you worry about tax breaks "picking winners in the marketplace,"
how can you miss all the tax breaks favoring oil and coal? Ask them and
they may even tell you they're against those breaks, but you don't find
AFP or ALEC struggling to repeal them, and you sure don't find them in
favor of a carbon tax or anything similar that would force the fossil
fuel industries (and their consumers) to pay for externalities like air
pollution and global warming -- the sort of thing that is truly necessary
for the price of fossil fuels to reflect their true costs.
By the way, the good folks of Wichita are becoming increasingly aware
of those true costs as they contemplate the financial burden that will
be imposed on them if/when Wichita's ozone levels rise above EPA limits.
(Of course, some blame the EPA, but they should worry more about the
polluted air they breathe.) The main cause of smog (low-lying ozone
concentrations) is burned (and especially unburned) gasoline from cars,
trucks, and (especially) lawn equipment, although the other big factor
is urban sprawl -- Wichita has escaped the EPA thus far mostly because
it's a pretty windy place so most of its pollution is quickly dispersed
in the ever-more-distant countryside.
On issues like global warming the Kochs usually play defense, mostly
by trying to confuse or minimize the issue, while stressing the economic
importance of fossil fuels. In fact, few companies with similar interests
go out of their way to fight renewables. However, in their campaigns against
solar and wind power, the Kochs are effectively claiming that burning
up more oil and gas (and coal) with all its attendant side effects is a
good thing, something we should never limit, avoid, or find alternatives
Good quote at the end of the article, where Barry Goldwater Jr. comes
to the defense of solar:
Compared to that, even Goldwater's insistence that utilities are anti-free
market ("Choice means competition. Competition drives prices down and the
quality up. The utilities are monopolies. They're not used to competition.
That's what rooftop solar represents to them") may not be enough to sway
the rhetoric back in solar's favor.
So the Koch's opposition to solar aligns them with the monopoly power
John Cassidy: Is America an Oligarchy? I'd say yes, but the rich
still have to watch what they say, not so much because they have to
worry about the masses as because the ruling class isn't totally
cohesive so some elites may feel obliged (or righteous) enough to
slap down other elites (as Donald Sterling is finding out). But you
don't have to take my opinion for it. There's new research by Martin
Gilens and Benjamin Page that "found that the preferences of rich
people had a much bigger impact on subsequent policy decisions than
the views of middle-income and poor Americans." Cassidy's conclusion:
There can be no doubt that economic élites have a disproportionate
influence in Washington, or that their views and interests distort
policy in ways that don't necessarily benefit the majority: the
politicians all know this, and we know it, too. The only debate is
about how far this process has gone, and whether we should refer to
it as oligarchy or as something else.
Stephen Kinzer: On CIA abuses, denial does Americans no favors:
I was tempted to expand the list of examples, both of other countries
that seem unable to face their pasts (Turkey? UK? Russia?), and of
the long history of American misdeeds (Tom Carson created a trope for
this in his novel Gilligans Wake in the character of Mary Ann,
who remains forever a virgin because she instantly forgets every
The United States is hardly the only country that instinctively rejects
suggestions of past misdeeds. Japan still denies that its soldiers raped
and murdered their way through China before and during World War II.
Indonesia does not acknowledge that pro-government forces massacred
hundreds of thousands of civilians in the mid-1960s. France denies its
role in the Rwandan genocide.
Some countries, like Chile and South Africa, have honestly sought to
confront the sins of their past. These efforts, however, usually come
after an old regime has fallen. That makes honesty less difficult,
because perpetrators have been deposed and blaming them is easy.
Considering our own responsibility is harder.
[ . . . ]
Our country's first torture scandal erupted during the Philippines
campaign that began in 1898. President Theodore Roosevelt named his
closest ally, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, to head an investigating
committee. Lodge made sure the probe faded away without coming to
During the Cold War, a Methodist bishop suggested to Secretary of
State John Foster Dulles that the United States, not just other
countries, had promoted repressive violence abroad. "Why do we have
to run that down?" Dulles replied indignantly. "Why present ourselves
as such a terrible species of being?"
After an American missile destroyed an Iran Air jet over the Persian
Gulf in 1988, killing 290 civilians, then Vice President George H. W.
Bush famously proclaimed, "I will never apologize for the United States
of America, ever. I don't care what the facts are."
[ . . . ]
Instinct pushes us away from reckoning with the mindset that led our
country into disastrous foreign adventures over the last few decades.
We prefer not to ask why we misjudged the world and our ability to
change it. This form of denial is dangerous. Pretending that nothing
went seriously wrong can only lead us to future trouble.
Needless to say, the truth of the last line has been established
Alex Pareene: Blow up the Times Op-Ed page, and start again! Why Friedman,
Brooks and Dowd must go: Also Ross Douthat, Nick Kristof, Joe Nocera,
Frank Bruni, and Roger Cohen -- Gail Collins gets a pass for being funnier
on purpose than Friedman is inadvertently, and Paul Krugman is redeemed
by always being right (admittedly, mostly because he has to keep repeating
himself on the things he is right on because nobody else gets it). The
big problem here is that even Pareene is still caught up in the mystique
of "the most important newspaper in the world." I know a lot of people
who would like to think that, and they do on rare occasions produce some
bit of value, but realistically they produce very little for all their
resources. (It is worth recalling that in Matt Taibbi's 2004 Wimblehack
elimination tournament two of the final four hack journalists were from
the New York Times -- including winner Elisabeth Bumiller. And the other
wasn't Judith Miller, the Pentagon mouthpiece who helped Bush point out
that "even the New York Times" agrees with him on the need to invade
Iraq.) Sample paragraph:
Nick Kristof, the famous superhero, flies about the world rescuing women.
Sometimes that rescuing takes the form of "getting women arrested for sex
work," or "getting them jobs in sweatshops to produce cheap consumer goods
for Americans in appalling conditions." That sort of exploitation is, to
Kristof, more preferable than the other kind. His do-gooder liberalism
also involves the bizarre American conviction that bombing places is a
great way to help them. In a way he represents America's own delusions
about its power, and the supposed beneficence with which it exercises
that power, in columnist form.
Also, a few links for further study:
Alex Henderson: 10 Corporate Behemoths Stifling Competition and Delivering
Awful Service to You: Another laundry list piece, but for the record,
they picked: Comcast; Monsanto; Blue Cross; Bank of America; Verizon;
American Airlines; Wells Fargo; Koch Industries; Goldman Sachs; JPMorgan
Chase. Could have picked any of dozens more. For business, the surest way
to increase profits is to buy up and hobble your competition, and there's
been virtually no restraint on antitrust in decades (if Obama's tightened
standards one iota from Bush's lax free-for-all I haven't noticed it).
There should be a near-complete ban on mergers, even if they don't pose
an immediate monopoly problem: they undermine competition, often in
markets that are already undercompetitive, and they encourage excessive
leverage and predatory behavior. One example hit home here in Wichita:
Lytton Industries, which owns Cessna Aircraft, was allowed to buy up
archrival Beech Aircraft, both located here in Wichita. This week Lytton
announced it will lay off 575 workers scattered across the two
David Leonhardt/Kevin Quealy: The American Middle Class Is No Longer
the World's Richest: And, of course, it's even worse for the poor,
but real wages have stagnated all the way up to the median, and the
US has seriously fallen behind in areas like higher education where
we used to enjoy a huge lead. Lots of boring number crunching here.
I suspect the real effect is understated: in particular, that the
long-term effects of shredding the safety net have not yet been felt,
let along measured.
Timothy Shenk: Thomas Piketty and Millennial Marxists on the Scourge of
Inequality: Review of Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First
Century and several more pointedly leftist books -- Nikil Saval's
Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace, Benjamin Kunkel's
Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis, and several
pieces from Jacobin: A Magazine of Culture and Polemic. Aside
from Piketty's, those books don't appear to be all that notable.
Lynn Stuart Parramore: Why Economist Thomas Piketty Has Scared the
Pants off the American Right. Parramore links to several right-wing
screeds, but doesn't provide a link to this quoted review (i.e., the
one worth reading):
James K Galbraith Takes on Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First
Century. Galbraith has some significant criticism of Piketty's work,
and not the silly stuff from Ross Douthat or David Brooks. In contrast
to Piketty's wealth tax proposal, Galbraith talks about the New Deal:
How did the New Deal tackle the fortress of privilege that was the early
twentieth-century United States? First, it built a system of social
protections, including Social Security, the minimum wage, fair labor
standards, conservation, public jobs, and public works, none of which
had existed before. And the New Dealers regulated the banks, refinanced
mortgages, and subdued corporate power. They built wealth shared in
common by the community as a counterweight to private assets.
Another part of the New Deal (mainly in its later phase) was taxation.
With war coming, Roosevelt imposed high progressive marginal tax rates,
especially on unearned income from capital ownership. The effect was to
discourage high corporate pay. Big business retained earnings, built
factories and (after the war) skyscrapers, and did not dilute its shares
by handing them out to insiders.
If the heart of the problem is a rate of return on private assets that
is too high, the better solution is to lower that rate of return. How?
Raise minimum wages! That lowers the return on capital that relies on
low-wage labor. Support unions! Tax corporate profits and personal
capital gains, including dividends! Lower the interest rate actually
required of businesses! Do this by creating new public and cooperative
lenders to replace today's zombie mega-banks. And if one is concerned
about the monopoly rights granted by law and trade agreements to Big
Pharma, Big Media, lawyers, doctors, and so forth, there is always the
possibility (as Dean Baker reminds us) of introducing more competition.
Finally, there is the estate and gift tax -- a jewel of the Progressive
era. This Piketty rightly favors, but for the wrong reason. The main point
of the estate tax is not to raise revenue, nor even to slow the creation
of outsized fortunes per se; the tax does not interfere with creativity
or creative destruction. The key point is to block the formation of
dynasties. And the great virtue of this tax, as applied in the United
States, is the culture of conspicuous philanthropy that it fosters,
recycling big wealth to universities, hospitals, churches, theaters,
libraries, museums, and small magazines.
Other recent pieces on Piketty:
David Cay Johnston: Too Big to Fail. Not Too Strong: Review of
another important new book, Nomi Prins' All the Presidents' Bankers:
The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power. Goes as far back
as the 1880s, but of course the most notable travesties are recent,
In late summer 2008, banking practices that Glass-Steagall would have
barred combined with lax regulation to produce the worst financial
disaster since 1929. Citigroup ended up getting a bailout of almost
half a trillion dollars. The sum of money required to make good on all
the bad bets and misconduct came to $12.8 trillion, Bloomberg News
calculated -- not much less than the output of the entire economy
In contrast to the conviction of more than 1,000 high-level executives
following the savings-and-loan scandals of the early 1990s, bankers not
only avoided prosecution but turned this disaster into a boon. One major
beneficiary was Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase. His 2013 pay package came
to $18.5 million, a 74 percent increase over 2012. He owns bank stock and
options worth north of $400 million at today's prices. Chase continues in
the routine business of retail banking, taking paychecks as deposits and
issuing credit cards and loans. It also underwrites stocks and bonds while
selling insurance, thanks to the absence of Glass-Steagall. Chase still
places huge bets in the casino game of swapping derivatives, too. In
spring 2012, gambling by a Chase trader known as the "London whale" lost
more than $6 billion, resulting in a $920 million fine. But what does
Dimon need to worry about? These risky bets are placed with the implicit
backing of taxpayers should anything go wrong, as it surely will again.
Philip Weiss/Adam Horowitz: Israel stops US-led peace talks citing
Palestinian unity: Looks like Israel has found an excuse to end
John Kerry's round of the "peace process": the prospect that Fatah
and Hamas might set aside their differences and form a united front
to negotiate with Israel:
The State Department briefing yesterday was dominated by the reports
that Palestinian factions have reached a reconciliation deal. The deal
was promptly denounced by the Israelis, who said it could not negotiate
a peace deal with a government that includes Hamas; and the U.S. State
Department spokesperson Jen Psaki echoed this line like a slave clock:
Israel can't talk with a party that does not recognize its existence.
I should write more about this, but haven't figured out the right
angle. Some relevant links:
The second Dreyfuss piece insists that the way forward would be for
the US to actually dictate a plan: something Israel could reject, but
not something they could indefinitely dither on, like they've been able
to do for the last 47 years. Dreyfuss sketches out the standard 2-state
plan (roughly speaking, the Clinton parameters, or Geneva Accords). I
have some other ideas.
Russ Wellen: Maliki: One of the Wrongest Horses the US Ever Backed:
Mostly built around the article by
Dexter Filkins: What We Left Behind, his reporting on the renewed
violence in Iraq after the US stopped actively contributing to it.
Much of the blame is laid on Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister the
US insisted on after the Bush administration decided that Ibrahim
al-Jaafari was too leftist and unmanageable.
Dave Zirin: Donald Sterling: Slumlord Billionaire: Some background
on the LA Clippers owner, in the news recently for a rant complaining
bout a girlfriend bringing black friends to Clippers games. Evidently
made much of his money as a slum landlord. Also seems to take
Israel as a role model for his own racism.
Sunday, April 13. 2014
Crowson this week, following up on the Kansas legislature's emergency
school spending bill, which stripped schoolteachers of the right to a
hearing if terminated:
Some scattered links this week:
John Feffer: NATO on Viagra: Asks the question, why does NATO still
exist? The Warsaw Pact, after all, set a good example and closed up shop
long ago. That the US and Russia are increasingly seen in conflict has
much to do with the persistence of NATO and its continuing encroachment
on (but exclusion of) Russia.
NATO has long resisted retirement. It has been cooking up new mandates
ever since the Iron Curtain unexpectedly melted away and with it the
alliance's raison d'être. First it rediscovered its military
mojo during the collapse of Yugoslavia. Then it got involved in
"out-of-area operations." September 11 offered a full-blown coalition
effort in Afghanistan. And Libya was an opportunity to test out the
"responsibility to protect" doctrine. Every time that NATO appeared
to be on its way out, a new crisis convinced everyone of the alliance's
necessity. And there has also been a steady stream of aspiring members
who want to shelter under the umbrella in case of rain.
[ . . . ]
During its Cold War youth, NATO didn't engage in military operations.
In the post-Cold War era, when the collective defense of members had
become largely moot, NATO justified its existence through combat. "It
is still struggling with a Hamlet-like identity crisis: to attack or not
to attack," I wrote at the time. "The Afghan war has only underscored
this central paradox. If the alliance doesn't engage in military
operations, everyone questions its ultimate purpose. But if it does go
to war -- and the war is unsuccessful -- everyone questions its ultimate
Five years later, just when the testosterone levels seemed to be on
an irreversible decline, NATO is back. The current crisis in Ukraine is
the geopolitical equivalent of Viagra. "This is the age where giving up
isn't who you are," the ads proclaim, and NATO has fallen for the
copywriter's hook. [ . . . ]
Geopolitics abhors an exception. Instead of emulating Japan's
"peace constitution," the United States has been pressing the country
to acquire a "normal" military. Instead of embracing the reductions in
military spending in Europe, the United States has been pushing NATO
members to "shoulder more of their burden." We need to be praising
European countries for their sensible military reductions and urging
other parts of the world to follow suit.
Of course, we can't rerun history to test whether how a different
decision, like abolishing NATO in 1992, would have played out. In the
1990s NATO expanded into eastern Europe, tightening their noose around
Russia, plus NATO intervened in Serbia against Russian interests --
threats and insults which, combined with the economic disaster of
privatization, led to Putin's nationalist resurgence. At the same
time, the persistence of anti-Soviet institutions in the US (NATO,
CIA, NSA, etc.) combined with the "Washington consensus" economic
dogma kept the US from providing any real aid as Russia floundered.
Moreover, those institutions have rarely missed an opportunity to
kick back at Russia for the slightest offense -- see
Stephen F. Cohen: Distorting Russia for a prescient piece dated
back on March 4 on American media coverage of Russia. Since then the
distortions have only gotten worse.
By the way, I got to Cohen's piece via
James Kirchik: How the 'Realists' Misjudged Ukraine, which
decries Cohen as "noxious" and says the piece "will go down in
history as one of the most slavish defenses of Putinism." Kirchik's
piece is a perfect example of what Cohen complained about. I can't
quite see in it what it is that Kirchik wants to do, other than to
sweep away any "realist" arguments that might inhibit the US from
vigorous intervention in the Ukraine. Kirchik doesn't go quite so
far as to rattle sabres, but he definitely wants to keep all those
deadly options on the table.
For my part, I'm not particularly sympathetic to Putin's point
of view there, but I do believe one has to be realistic. And one
thing I am fairly sure of here is that the Obama, so wrapped up in
the leftover rhetoric of the cold war, is missing an opportunity
for a mutually beneficial deal with Putin over Syria.
Paul Krugman: Offshore and Underground: Points out that economists
have established that "a lot of wealth at the top is held in offshore
I think this is telling us something important about how the world
really works. There was a flurry of interest in the offshore haven
issue when Mitt Romney's Cayman Islands accounts; a bit more interest
when Cyprus hit the wall, and the question of what it was doing arose.
But the issue keeps receding, I think due to a sense that it's somehow
trivial, a matter of a few Russians and maybe a handful of our own
In reality, however, it's almost surely a much bigger deal than
that. At the commanding heights of the US economy, hiding a lot of
one's wealth offshore is probably the norm, not the exception.
Also, a few links for further study:
John Cassidy: Forces of Divergence: Review of Thomas Piketty's
Capital in the Twenty-first Century, an (reputedly the)
new book on what's driving the massive increase in inequality over the
last few decades. Sample paragraph:
Piketty believes that the rise in inequality can't be understood
independently of politics. For his new book, he chose a title evoking
Marx, but he doesn't think that capitalism is doomed, or that ever-rising
inequality is inevitable. There are circumstances, he concedes, in which
incomes can converge and the living standards of the masses can increase
steadily -- as happened in the so-called Golden Age, from 1945 to 1973.
But Piketty argues that this state of affairs, which many of us regard
as normal, may well have been a historical exception. The "forces of
divergence can at any point regain the upper hand, as seems to be
happening now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century," he writes.
And, if current trends continue, "the consequences for the long-term
dynamics of the wealth distribution are potentially terrifying."
One point only now occurs to me. In discussing "big pay packages"
for CEOs, Pikkety points out how hard it is to measure the "marginal
productivity" of any one individual in a large corporation, but I
doubt that anyone tries except at the corporation's margins. Pikkety
also notes, no doubt truly, "that people in a position to set their
own salaries have a natural incentive to treat themselves generously."
But it occurs to me that another factor contributes here, which is
the outsized self-regard CEOs typically have, reinforced by the myth
of individualism, itself an artifact of increasing inequality.
Also, see the review by Andrew Hussey:
Occupy was right: capitalism has failed the world. Also, the
long-awaited review by Paul Krugman:
Why We're in a New Gilded Age. Brad De Long has more, including
An Ongoing Discussion: Democracy and Plutocracy.
Laura Gottesdiener: Fantasy, Greed, and Housing, the Prequel:
Reports that private equity firms are buying up housing -- she
identifies Blackstone Group as "the largest owner of single-family
rental homes in the nation" -- turning their debt leverage into
"rental-backed" derivatives, and squeezing their renters much like
they do the employees of companies they plunder.
David E Sanger: Obama Lets NSA Exploit Some Internet Flaws, Officials
Say: A more apt title was provided by Paul Woodward in linking
to this peace: "NSA pretends it can increase national security while
diminishing internet security." It's not clear now whether the NSA
knew about and exploited the recently disclosed "Heartbleed" virus --
it has been reported that they did, then denied -- but it would have
been extremely irresponsible had they done so. Otherwise all they are
doing is putting their own organization goals above the security of
the people they supposedly work for. Still, we have good reason to
suspect they did just that, as Sanger explains:
But documents released by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor,
make it clear that two years before Heartbleed became known, the N.S.A.
was looking at ways to accomplish exactly what the flaw did by accident.
A program code-named Bullrun, apparently named for the site of two Civil
War battles just outside Washington, was part of a decade-long effort to
crack or circumvent encryption on the web. The documents do not make
clear how well it succeeded, but it may well have been more effective
than exploiting Heartbleed would be at enabling access to secret data.
Dan Gillmor: How to stop the next Heartland bug: pay open-source coders
to protect us.
Sunday, April 6. 2014
After yesterday's post on Kansas Republicans' latest attack on the
environment, and the federal government's pathetic effort to protect it
Prairie Chickens) I thought of another point I could have tacked onto
the end. Most people think Kansas Republicans are a wholly owned subsidiary
of Koch Industries, but the Kochs suffered a dramatic setback in the House
a couple weeks ago when their campaign to end subsidies for wind power was
voted down. Aside from certain shorelines, Kansas is probably the windiest
state in the union -- constantly battered by front moving in from the north
and the south, both deflected by westerlies which pick up speed (and warmth)
descending from the Rocky Mountains. And Kansas has a lot of grazing land, so
many landowners have taken advantage of various tax shelters and subsidies
and installed "wind farms." The Kochs don't like this because they're in
the oil business, and wind power competes with them. Of course, that's not
how their propaganda arm -- the sorely misnamed Americans for Prosperity --
puts it. The party line is: government shouldn't pick winners and losers.
That's the market's job, especially since the market doesn't charge oil and
gas producers for externalities like pollution and global warming. If oil
companies had to pay the full bill for their wares, wind power wouldn't
need those subsidies to compete.
Of course, the Kansas House members don't understand externalities any
more than they understand global warming, biodiversity, or the need for
a competent school system. It's just that it's easier to satisfy the
landowners and businesses that profit from wind subsidies, and they know
good and well the oilmen will get their breaks too. Still, I have to
wonder whether the windmills didn't have a secret selling point: they
kill birds -- thousands every year. Maybe windmills are a secret weapon
in the GOP's jihad against avian freeloaders?
Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon this takes on the Kansas state
legislature's growing sense of omnipotence as they seek to nullify both
federal and local laws, aggregating all power to themselves:
The little dog in the lower right corner is a regular feature of
Crowson's cartoons. If its quote seems obscure, the endangered bird
is technically known as the lesser prairie chicken. Meanwhile, the
legislature continues to make news. The courts have ordered the state
to come up with $120 million in extra education funding to make up for
gross inequities in school funding, so the Republicans are begrudgingly
offering a bill, trying to make it as hideous as possible. One clause
denies teachers the right to a hearing on dismissal, inviting flagrant
abuses of power by administrators. Another offers property tax relief
to parents who undermine the public school system by home schooling
or sending their children to private schools. (But, alas, not for those
of us with no grade school children.)
The requirement for equitable school funding is written into the
state constitution. Many Republicans would rather repeal that plank
than cough up the money. [Also, it now appears that the House
killed the Senate's education bill, so back to the drawing board.]
[UPDATE: The bill was revived and passed both houses. They kept
the plank that denies due process hearings when teachers are fired --
the teachers unions have vowed to take that to court, but one way or
another it's an additional burden for teachers, and an invitation for
administrators to abuse their power. The property tax breaks seemed
to have died, but new tax breaks for corporations were added.]
Some scattered links this week:
Rhonda Holman: No future without water: Wichita Eagle editorial,
of interest for illustrating the amazing credulity of some people --
Holman is politically aware enough to be on the Eagle's editorial board --
that lets Republicans continue to be taken seriously despite amazingly
awful track records.
The jury is still out on much of Gov. Sam Brownback's first term, as
well as the certainty of a second. But hopes continue to build that
his legacy will include preserving and protecting Kansas' water supply
far into the century.
If so, that will be a big gift to his native state. As he said during
one State of the State address, "We have no future without water."
And that future long has looked grim, with lots of worried talk and
some helpful regional efforts but no viable statewide strategy. That's
unsustainable, either for Kansas' standing as an agricultural state or
Experts say that 85 percent of the water use in the state happens in
western Kansas and that the Ogallala Aquifer could be 70 percent depleted
in 50 years. By then, the state's reservoirs also could be 40 percent
Last fall Brownback launched a process to craft a 50-year water plan.
About 140 public meetings have been held and more than 7,000 people have
weighed in -- impressive numbers.
So, starting with a life-or-death problem, Brownback's leadership
contribution has been to "launch a process" aimed 50 years down the
road: what you might call "just-in-time disaster management," except
that would only call attention to the stupidity of the approach. Any
hack can start a process, and most do it precisely to avoid having to
make a hard decision -- how gullible is Holman? Well, she cites Local
Enhanced Management Areas (LEMAs) working on "voluntary plans to cut
consumption" as an early victory. Of course, conservation could mean
a thoughtful effort to make a limited resource last longer, or it
could be evidence of ongoing failure. For instance, she cites farmers
switching to crops that require less water, begging the question: how
many farmers do you know who would do that voluntarily if they still
had the water available? In recent years, farmers in southwest Kansas --
what used to be known as the Great American Desert, then later as the
Dustbowl -- used irrigation to grow a lot of corn. In the future they
can try wheat or sugar beets but eventually they'll wind up reverting
to grass. The Ogalala isn't renewable: the more water you pump from
it, the further it drops, and the more energy it takes to lift that
water. It ceases to be usable even before it dries up. How much worse
it is in 50 years depends solely on how much is pumped betwen now and
then. One can plan for this eventuality, but let's face it, Brownback
can't plan for it, because he's part of the Republican "wrecking crew" --
Thomas Frank's apt phrase for the narrow-minded partisans who are out
to destroy "big government" and turn out fates over to small-minded
profit-seeking private interests.
The only idea in the editorial that
seeks to replenish declining water resources is a hail Mary "aqueduct
from far-northeast to western Kansas to pipe excess water from the
Missouri River" with a (current) price tag of $4.4 billion. Someone
thinking fifty years ahead might well be thinking about how to pay
for that, but clearly Brownback isn't that person: his signature thus
far has been to cripple the state's income tax collections, promising
deficits and spending crises far into the future, and his stated dream
is to abolish the state income tax altogether. Moreover, the growth
that those tax cuts were supposed to generate hasn't happened: under
Brownback Kansas has benefitted from the nationwide economic recovery
less than any neighboring state. And his signature plan to offer tax
breaks to motivate people to move into the rural parts of the state
which have been depopulating for decades has been a total bust. And
we need hardly go into the issue that will have the most impact 50
years from now: given that every known model of climate change shows
that as the earth warms Kansas will become ever more drought-prone.
Needless to say, that's an issue that Brownback, like his sponsors
in Koch Industries, won't even give lip service to. So how can anyone --
even the dumbest writer on the Eagle editorial board -- think that
Brownback has answers, or even cares about the real world? Yet here
we have a trusted voice of the state's largest newspaper continuing
to take the governor seriously, to credit him with good intentions,
and to respect him as a credible future candidate. Nor is Brownback
the only Republican who has totally discredited everything he stands
for, yet still enjoys the deference of the press. Paul Ryan is the
first additional name that pops into my mind, but there are droves
more where he came from.
Thomas L Friedman: Sheldon: Iran's Best Friend: Speaking of morons
who write columns, in the New York Times this qualifies as "thinking"
(out of the box, for sure):
It occurred to me the other day that the zealously pro-Israel billionaire
Sheldon Adelson and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
actually have one big thing in common. They are both trying to destroy
Israel. Adelson is doing it by loving Israel to death and Khamenei by
hating Israel to death. And now even Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey
inadvertently got drawn into this craziness.
What's the logic? Very simple. Iran's leaders want Israel destroyed
but have no desire, in my view, to use a nuclear bomb to do it. That
would expose them to retaliation and sure death. Their real strategy
is more subtle: Do everything possible to ensure that Israel remains
in the "occupied territory," as the U.S. State Department refers to
the West Bank, won by Israel in the 1967 war. By supporting Palestinian
militants dedicated to destroying any peace process, Tehran hopes to
keep Israel permanently mired in the West Bank and occupying 2.7 million
Palestinians, denying them any statehood and preventing the emergence
of a Palestinian state that might recognize Israel and live in peace
alongside it. The more Israel is stuck there, the more Palestinians and
the world will demand a "one-state solution," with Palestinians given
the right to vote. The more Israel resists that, the more isolated it
becomes. [ . . . ]
Iran could not be happier. The more Israel sinks into the West Bank,
the more it is delegitimized and isolated, the more the world focuses
on Israel's colonialism rather than Iran's nuclear enrichment, the more
people call for a single democratic state in all of historic Palestine.
And now Iran has an ally: Sheldon Adelson -- the foolhardy Las Vegas
casino magnate and crude right-wing, pro-Israel extremist. Adelson gave
away some $100 million in the last presidential campaign to fund
Republican candidates, with several priorities in mind: that they
delegitimize the Palestinians and that they avoid any reference to the
West Bank as "occupied territories" and any notion that the U.S. should
pressure Israel to trade land for peace there. Both Newt Gingrich and
Mitt Romney took the money and played by Sheldon's rules.
[ . . . ]
I don't know if Israel has a Palestinian partner for a secure
withdrawal from the West Bank, or ever will. But I know this: If Israel
wants to remain a Jewish, democratic state, it should be doing everything
it can to nurture such a partner or acting unilaterally to get out.
Because, I'm certain that when reports about the "Adelson primary"
reached the desk of Supreme Leader Khamenei in Tehran, a big smile
crossed his face and he said to his aides: "May Allah grant Sheldon
a long life. Everything is going according to plan."
If that's the plan, well, you've got to admire the Ayatollah's
patience in laying out so much line just to hook Israel: 47 years
of occupation, 22 before Ali Khamanei became Supreme Leader of Iran
(in 1989), 12 before Iran's 1979 revolution. Moreover, while Iran
does provide some small backing to Hamas, Israel has been equally
incapable of striking a deal with Mahmoud Abbas, who is primarily
supported by the US and Europe. It's much more likely that Israel
has no peace deal because Israel's leaders want no peace deal: they
are quite happy with a status quo which allows them to bomb supposed
enemies on the slightest arbitrary whim, while no one is able to
threaten them with anything worse than scornful looks. Indeed,
nothing Friedman says about Iran has the slightest air of truth to
it, least of all the plainly invented quotes. Friedman assumes that
the Iranian leader's hates Israel because that's what his Israeli
friends tell him, and doesn't give it a critical thought.
Friedman's a little sharper when it comes to Adelson, but that
is probably dumb luck. He's right that Adelson is able to make his
politician cronies like Gingrich, Romney, and Christie dangle from
his strings, but there's no evidence that he's anything more than
a loud cheerleader for Israel's ultra-right. In pressuring someone
like Christie to apologize for using the common and legally proper
term "occupied territories" he has managed to embarrass everyone
involved, and through this chain of subservience he's given Israel's
ultra-right all the more reason to be confident of their ability to
wag America any way they want, whenever they want. When Americans
jump through hoops to pledge allegiance to the craziest shit Israeli
right-wingers can imagine, they thrill in their power, and push on
to demand even more. The facts are: they don't want peace, let alone
any whiff of one-state or two-state equal rights, and they are very
confident in their ability to eventually grind the Palestinians into
submission (and preferably exile, although they're not going to close
their jails and interrogation rooms either), regardless of world
opinion. Adelson isn't their leader; he's their stooge, and through
him the Republican Party, and through them Obama.
But poor Friedman, his tiny brain unable to grasp the fact that his
1990s propaganda points, so carefully memorized and internalized back
when he was Israel's stooge, has no clue how washed up and useless he's
become. But he's so committed to those propaganda points that he feels
compelled to try to save Israel from itself but he's still unable to
blame Israelis, so he conjures up this imaginary Adelson-Khamanei axis
of evil. Despite his dementia, I suppose we can count as progress that
he's admitting that the occupation and settlements are driving Israel
to ruin -- if not physically, at least in the minds of potentially most
people all around the world. But that's been clear enough for long enough
that most of the Israeli right have moved on, groping towards what strikes
them as a better solution: it smells like fascism in that it's racist and
wed to a cult of violence, but it's more of an ethnocratic caste system,
with trappings of democracy for those on top and serfdom for those on
the bottom. Sooner or later Friedman will have to decide which side of
that he's on. Unfortunately, it will involve thinking -- something
Friedman is not only bad at but will probably ead to even greater
By the way, it looks like all that embarrassing "Sheldon Primary"
publicity paid off for Adelson in a
$2.1 billion stock market uptick, so he's likely to become even
Kathleen Geier: 460,000 people with college degrees are working in
minimum wage jobs: This casts doubt on the common nostrum that
sending more people to college is "the main fix for inequality."
Indeed, it suggests that raising the minimum wage would be a much
more immediate fix: raising the floor, although getting people off
the floor matters too.
According to the report, there are 260,000 workers with bachelor's
degrees and 200,000 workers with associate's degrees who are making
the minimum wage. As a reminder, the federal minimum wage is $7.25
an hour, and the minimum wage for tipped workers is a shockingly low
$2.13 an hour. In some cities and states, the minimum wage is higher,
but the BLS report defines only those making $7.25 an hour or less
as "minimum wage workers."
Some other fun facts about the minimum wage: the U.S. has the
third lowest minimum wage of any OECD country, the value of the
minimum wage has declined dramatically since its peak in 1968, and
about half of the increase in inequality in the bottom half of the
income distribution is due to the decline in the minimum wage.
Alex Pareene: Want to cut the rich's influence? Take away their money!:
That advice is also pretty close to the Eddie Murphy line in Trading
Places: How's the best way to punish rich people? Make them poor.
Not that punishment is necessarily what we need, but we can look back
at the 1950s and see that when things like CEO salaries were more
compressed CEOs had less reason to misbehave.
So, if we think that money in politics is a problem; if we think it
creates the appearance of corruption, alienates non-wealthy citizens
from the democratic process, perverts incentives for politicians and
candidates, and creates an unequal system in which the speech of the
rich drowns out the speech of everyone else -- and all of those things
are already the long-standing status quo -- we can no longer seek to
address the problem by preventing money from flowing into politics.
The Supreme Court is clearly not going to meet a new spending
restriction that it likes any time soon. Instead of attempting to
dictate how the wealthy spend their money, we are probably just
going to have to take away their money.
If the super-rich had less money, they would have less money to
spend on campaigns and lobbying. And unlike speech, the government
is very clearly allowed to take away people's money. It's in the
Constitution and everything. [ . . . ]
There is one glaring problem with my plan, of course, which is
that Congress is already captured by wealthy interests, and is not
inclined to tax them. But all I'm saying is that would-be campaign
finance reformers ought to give up on their lost cause and shift
their energies toward confiscation and redistribution.
Also see Parene's
The conservative book industry isn't dead, it's just embarrassing.
I've noted before the astonishing decline in sanity (much less quality)
in conservative publishing around the election of Obama. There appears
to be very little new on that front now -- just a couple briefs for
Also, a few links for further study:
Robert Christgau: They Bet Your Life: Review of several books on
hedge funds and the relevant chapter of Jeff Madrick's excellent Age
of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to
the Present. Sample quote:
Two points, then. First is that, at the very least, the financial markets
attract natural gamblers. There are exceptions, and some gamblers are more
mindful of risk management than others. But there are always going to be
addicts and high rollers, just as there are always going to be crooks, and
it's in the public interest to constrain both. Second is that philanthropy
will always involve, at the very least, unnecessarily rich men (and a few
women) riding their hobbyhorses. Wealthy speculators may indeed underwrite
causes that save some real ordinary lives and improve many others. But their
careers as championship number pushers limit their insight into -- and
sympathy for -- the duller struggles of their fellow citizens.
Kathleen Geier: Piketty-mania: progressives are going gaga about a sobering
new book about economic inequality. Why is that?: Thomas Piketty's
Capital: In the Twenty-First Century has been at the top of my
Amazon recommended new books list for a while now -- a suggestion I had
initially resisted as someone who never got more than a hundred pages
deep into Marx's Capital and has far less interest in trying to
do so now. (Although I did make my way through David Harvey's The
Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism and Philip Mirowski's
Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived
the Financial Meltdown, two long books that were deadly slogs but
occasionally brilliant.) I've known for some time that Paul Krugman's
writing a review of it, but initially I wasn't clear whether that's
because he learned things from the book or just wanted to use it to
teach. Geier finally convinces me with this cheery note, although
I should have noticed her
review first. When I went back to Amazon, I saw that the book
is "temporarily out of stock." I also noticed that the blurbs
section has exploded. Robert Skidelsky's quote:
You many think that it doesn't require 600 pages to get this message
across. This would be wrong. The strength of Piketty's book is his
close attention to the different sources of inequality, the massive
documentation underpinning his history and conclusions, and his
impressive culls from sociology and literature, which exhibit the
richness of 'political economy' compared to its thin mathematical
successor that has attained such prominence.
As I've mentioned before, I want to write a lengthy essay (or
small book) on inequality, and one challenge there is to detail
the many ways -- other than political favoritism; that's obvious --
the economy generates inequality. It sounds like Pikkety has done
the right legwork there.