Sunday, October 6. 2013
Hit the shutdown hard yesterday, and didn't have much time today,
but still have a few scattered links to share:
Janet Allon: 10 of the Most Appalling Statements From America's
Right-Wing Madhouse This Week: And just think: there were only
seven last week:
- On Fox TV, it is assumed that the Nicaraguan meterologist knows all about tacos.
- Poor Ted Cruz: first a Republican "lynch mob" is after him, and then Democrats hurt his feelings.
- Rep. William O'Brien (R-NH): "Obamacare is as bad as Fugitive Slave Act."
- Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN): Obamacare is the worst law known to man, pretty lady.
- Not to be outdone: Bill O'Reilly finally weighs in on Obamacare
- Rafael Cruz (Yep, Ted's Dad): Obama's on the side of the Muslims.
- Rick Joyner, Christian TV host: Time for God to impose martial law to save us from Obama's tyranny.
- Pat Robertson to elderly woman viewer: It's your fault your husband's health is suffering.
- PA officials continue thtie rich history of offensive same-sax marriage analogies: This week, it's pets and incest.
- Hatefulness prize-winner of the week: Fox News' Stuart Varney.
RJ Eskow: 7 Signs America Has Regressed Back to the Harsh, Cruel
- Wall Street can "send your man around to see my man" again.
- Workers aren't unionized.
- Our rights end at the workplace door.
- They're advocating child labor again.
- It's practically legal to shoot people down in the streets again.
- The rich have more of our national wealth than they did in colonial times.
- Political debates are getting rough again.
I wonder how long it will be before a congressman from South Carolina
assaults a senator from Massachusetts on the Capitol floor again. As
Fortunately, government leaders have yet to turn on one another physically.
But that day may be coming. Michael Schwartz, Chief of Staff for Sen. Tom
Coburn, said this: "I'm a radical! I'm a real extremist. I don't want to
impeach judges. I want to impale them!"
Ann Jones: Americans Can't Remember, Afghans Will Never Forget:
After 50 years of scheming behind the scenes, the U.S. put boots on
the ground in 2001 and now, 12 years later, is still fighting there --
against some Afghans on behalf of other Afghans while training Afghan
troops to take over and fight their countrymen, and others, on their
Through it all, the U.S. has always claimed to have the best
interests of Afghans at heart -- waving at various opportune moments
the bright flags of modernization, democracy, education, or the rights
of women. Yet today, how many Afghans would choose to roll back the
clock to 1950, before the Americans ever dropped in? After 12 years
of direct combat, after 35 years of arming and funding one faction or
another, after 60 years of trying to remake Afghanistan to serve
American aims, what has it all meant? If we ever knew, we've forgotten.
Weary of official reports of progress, Americans tuned out long ago.
[ . . . ]
But even when the war "ends" and Americans have forgotten it
altogether, it won't be over in Afghanistan. Obama and Karzai continue
negotiations toward a bilateral security agreement to allow the U.S.
to keep at least 9 of the biggest bases it built and several thousand
"trainers" (and undoubtedly special operations forces) in Afghanistan
It won't be over in the U.S. either. For American soldiers who took
part in it and returned with catastrophic physical and mental injuries,
and for their families, the battles are just beginning.
For American taxpayers, the war will continue at least until
midcentury. Think of all the families of the dead soldiers to be
compensated for their loss, all the wounded with their health care
bills, all the brain damaged veterans at the VA. Think of the ongoing
cost of their drugs and prosthetics and benefits. Medical and disability
costs alone are projected to reach $754 billion. Not to mention the
hefty retirement pay of all those generals who issued all those reports
of progress as they so ambitiously fought more than one war leading
I saw a report in the Wichita Eagle that Afghanistan may reject the
"status of forces" agreement that would allow the US to hang on -- see
Impasse With Afghanistan Raises Prospect of Total U.S. Withdrawal in
2014. Can't happen soon enough, I'd say.
David D Kirkpatrick/Nicholas Kulish/Eric Schmitt: U.S. Raids in Libya
and Somalia Strike Terror Targets: Obama had the good sense to ask
Congress before attacking Syria, but has no such scruples regarding
Somalia or Libya -- perhaps figuring he's done it so often nothing's
different this time.
Disclosure of the raid is likely to inflame anxieties among many Libyans
about their national sovereignty, putting a new strain on the transitional
government's fragile authority. Many Libyan Islamists already accuse their
interim prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, who previously lived in Geneva as part
of the exiled opposition to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, of collaborating too
closely with the West. [ . . . ]
Since the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi, Tripoli has slid steadily into
lawlessness, with no strong central government or police presence. It has
become a safe haven for militants seeking to avoid detection elsewhere,
and United States government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity
to discuss confidential information, have acknowledged in recent months
that Abu Anas and other wanted terrorists had been seen moving freely
around the capital.
So the US, once again, has added to the lawlessness, in no small part
created by past US actions.
Also, a few links for further study:
Andrew Bacevich: Thank You for Your Service: Review of David Finkel's
new book, Thank You for Your Service, which looks at what has
happened to American soldiers after they've returned home from the Bush
(and Obama) wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which is to say there's a lot
here on PTSD.
Lydia DePillis: Why big business failed to stop its worst nightmare
One strategic reason that business groups haven't made much headway in
this latest political conflagration is that even though Republicans
have basically abandoned them, they've refused to defect to the
Democrats, which might be the fastest way of breaking the deadlock.
And urging both sides to just play nice increasingly just looks like
Paul Krugman: CEOs All at Sea comments more on this.
John Lanchester: The Snowden files: why the British public should be
worried about GCHQ.
Trita Parsi: Pushing Peace: How Israel Can Help the United States
Strike a Deal With Iran -- And Why It Should: Unconvincing to me
as to why Israel will do any such thing, especially as long as Israel
is able to keep Obama so uncomfortable that he misplays the opportunity
Iran's recent elections has handed him. I've never felt that Netanyahu's
obsession with Iran has been anything more than a way to distract Obama
from the need to push for a resolution to the Palestinian conflict.
Israel needs to show nimbleness now more that ever. With Egypt, Iraq,
Libya, and Syria all in various states of chaos, Iran appears to be the
most resolvable challenge that the United States faces in the Middle East,
and Obama seems to know it. By personally taking ownership of reaching out
to Iran by seeking a meeting with Rouhani and later calling him, he has
demonstrated the political will to move things forward. And Rouhani seems
ready to meet the challenge. By contrast, Netanyahu's knee-jerk rejection
feeds the perception that Israel -- not Iran -- is the chief stumbling
block. Ultimately, even short of a nuclear agreement, that impression
can help Iran break out of its isolation and delegitimize the sanctions
regime suffocating its economy.
Note also that Robert Fisk, with less deference to Obama, converges
with some of Parsi's insights -- see
US cowardice will let Israel's isolated right off the hook. I saw
a bit of Netanyahu on Charlie Rose the other night where he tried to
liken Iran's leadership to suicide bombers. That's a rather extreme
stretch, asking us to believe that Iran would do something no other
nation has ever done.
Martha Rosenberg: Get Ready for Extra Helpings of Feces, Pus and Chlorine
on Your Plate -- America Is Deregulating Its Meat Industry: Describes
HACCP, a protocol for industry self-regulation -- i.e., less regulation.
Concerns over food safety was one of the driving forces in the Progressive
era, so this is another example of rolling America back to the 19th century
robber baron era.
Sunday, September 29. 2013
Big story this coming week will be the government shutdown, forced
by Republicans in the House for no better reason than that they can.
They've staked out an ignorant position, one voters should remember
next November -- one the Democrats should relentlessly remind voters
of. Moreover, I feel their vindictiveness is aimed explicitly at me.
I'm 62 now and unemployed and the only way I'll be able to buy health
insurance next year is through an ACA exchange. I don't have any links
on this below, but that doesn't mean this isn't important.
Some scattered links this week:
Janet Allon: From the Mean-Spirited to the Asinine: 7 Prime Examples
of Right-Wing Lunacy This Week: Actually, looks like a formula
for a piece she can write every week. The headline list:
- Ken Blackwell: Cutting Food Stamps, Oh So Christian
- Bill O'Reilly: Jesus Died for Our Taxes
- AIG CEO: My Plight Is Similar to Lynch Mob Victims
- Gohmert's Pile (of Crap) -- Obamacare and Immigration Are Plots to Deprive Real Americans of Full-time Jobs
- NRA Lobbyist: Opposing Elephant Slaugher Is Hitlerian Animal Racism
- Bryan Fischer Gets in on the Teenaged Bullying Action
- Kansas Christian Group: Stop Oppressing Our Kids By Teaching Them Science
Tom Engelhardt: Bragging Rights: Eight exceptional(ly dumb) American
achievements of the twenty-first century: Starts quoting and commenting
on Obama's "bomb Syria (but not quite yet)" speech, especially the bit
about "That's what makes us exceptional." Indeed, let us count the ways:
- What other country could have invaded Iraq, hardly knowing the
difference between a Sunni and a Shiite, and still managed to successfully
set off a brutal sectarian civil war and ethnic cleansing campaigns between
the two sects that would subsequently go regional, whose casualty counts
have tipped into the hundreds of thousands, and which is now bouncing back
on Iraq? [ . . . ]
- What other country could magnanimously spend $4-6 trillion on two
"good wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq against lightly armed minority
insurgencies without winning or accomplishing a thing?
[ . . . ]
- And talking about exceptional records, what other military could
have brought an estimated 3.1 million pieces of equipment -- ranging
from tanks and Humvees to porta-potties, coffee makers, and computers --
with it into Iraq, and then transported most of them out again (while
destroying the rest or turning them over to the Iraqis)? Similarly,
in an Afghanistan where the U.S. military is now drawing down its
forces and has already destroyed "more than 170 million pounds worth
of vehicles and other military equipment," what other force would have
decided ahead of time to shred, dismantle, or simply discard $7 billion
worth of equipment (about 20% of what it had brought into the country)?
The general in charge proudly calls this "the largest retrograde mission
in history." [ . . . ]
- What other military could, in a bare few years in Iraq, have
built a staggering 505 bases, ranging from combat outposts to ones
the size of small American towns with their own electricity generators,
water purifiers, fire departments, fast-food restaurants, and even
miniature golf courses at a cost of unknown billions of dollars and
then, only a few years later, abandoned all of them, dismantling some,
turning others over to the Iraqi military or into ghost towns, and
leaving yet others to be looted and stripped?
[ . . . ]
- [ . . . ] Opinion polls there indicate that
a Ripley's-Believe-It-or-Not-style 97% of Pakistanis consider [America's
drone] strikes "a bad thing." Is there another country on the planet
capable of mobilizing such loathing? [ . . . ]
- And what other power could have secretly and illegally kidnapped
at least 136 suspected terrorists -- some, in fact, innocent of any
such acts or associations -- off the streets of global cities as well
as from the backlands of the planet? [ . . . ]
- Or how about the way the State Department, to the tune of $750
million, constructed in Baghdad the largest, most expensive embassy
compound on the planet -- a 104-acre, Vatican-sized citadel with 27
blast-resistant buildings, an indoor pool, basketball courts, and a
fire station, which was to operate as a command-and-control center
for our ongoing garrisoning of the country and the region? Now, the
garrisons are gone, and the embassy, its staff cut, is a global
white elephant. [ . . . ]
- Or what about this? Between 2002 and 2011, the U.S. poured at
least $51 billion into building up a vast Afghan military.
[ . . . ] In 2012, the latest date for which
we have figures, the Afghan security forces were still a heavily
illiterate, drug-taking, corrupt, and inefficient outfit that was
losing about one-third of its personnel annually (a figure that
may even be on the rise).
We've never been able to shake the notion that America is
exceptional because there are many respects in which it is true.
The real problem comes from inflating the facts into a sense of
moral superiority and destiny -- Madeleine Albright's formulation,
that the United States is "the indispensible nation" sums up this
conceit perfectly, and from there it is only a short step to the
"exceptional(ly dumb)" blunders enumerated above. Some time ago
I found a useful corrective in a Camper Van Beethoven lyric:
"And if you weren't born in America, you'd probably have been
born somewhere else." And having been born somewhere else, you
would likely not be so full of yourself as America's political
class feels the need to be.
Engelhardt also introduces
Dilip Hiro: A World in Which No One Is Listening to the Planet's
Sole Superpower. It's worth noting that not only isn't the US
"indispensible" -- the world is stepping up to take the lead, not
least because the US under Obama (as under Bush) is inapable of
doing the right thing. If was Russia, after all, that secured the
agreement of Syria to give up its chemical weapons, when the only
"solution" the US could think of was to shoot some cruise missiles
its way. And it was Iran that broke the ice in proposing talks to
monitor its nuclear power program when all Obama could think of
is crippling economic sanctions. If this looks like marginalizing
US power, that's largely because US superpowerdom has crawled
into such a tiny mental space already: the Pavlovian impulse to
lash out militarily is only exceeded by the whining when others
decline to follow Washington's lead.
On Iran, see
Can Washington Reciprocate Iran's "Constructive Engagement"?.
John Allen Gay: Obama's Post-Humanitarian Interventionism:
An interesting turn of phrase.
Of course, the administration had many good reasons for making the
distinction -- after all, if its justification for war were saving
lives, it would have acted sooner. And, as officials repeatedly
emphasized, no number of cruise missiles could put Syria back
together again. Yet at the bottom of it all, this was a decision
rooted in the necessities of domestic politics (few Americans wanted
to go into Syria) and of selfish national interests (Syria's war
hurts America, but not in a direct, urgent and vital way). Officials
certainly would have preferred to defend both the norm against killing
innocent civilians and the norm against using chemical weapons. But
they recognized that the means available to them could only defend
I don't think the US has ever entered a war for anything remotely
resembling humanitarian purposes, but US (and other) hawks have often
tried their best to cloak their intents in humanitarian guise. It's
hard to tell whether Obama's unwillingness to join this charade is
because he recognizes that humanitarianism has no political clout
anymore -- the GOP-dominated House, after all, just wiped out the
food stamp program, so how eager will they be to "protect" Syrians
if they could care less whether Americans starve to death -- or
because he recognizes the fundamental deceit of the ploy. After
all, if he enters a war to "help" people, shouldn't he be judged
on whether his war actually does help people? -- a standard which
guarantees failure. Yet he's stuck with this "magnificent military"
(in Madeleine Albright's conventionally inarguable words), ready
to intervene but only in the destructive and self-defeating manner
of its design. A sensible president would start to disassemble a
military that only leads to such bad outcomes, but a clever one
might just try to limit the damage by making the prospect so
Stephen M Walt: Threat Inflation 6.0: Does al-Shabab Really Threaten
the U.S.? While I was in Arkansas, the big story was the "terror"
attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya -- a tragic story, but
nothing on why Somalis would be attacking targets in Kenya (like all
those Kenyan troops that invaded Somalia in 2011. Rather, favorite
angles were whether al-Shabab had recruited Somali-Americans to
take part in the attack, and the implication that they could just
as well attack here.
Ditto al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden didn't get up one day and decide he
wanted to launch a few terrorist attacks, pull out his atlas, and pick
the United States at random. His decision to attack U.S. military forces
and government installations, and then to attack the United States
directly, was reprehensible and an obvious threat, but it didn't come
out of nowhere. On the contrary, the emergence of al Qaeda was a direct
response to various aspects of America's Middle East policy (e.g.,
blanket support for Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
military presence in the Persian Gulf through the 1990s). As I've
noted before, the United States has devoted most of its energy and
effort since then to chasing down bad guys and killing them, but
hardly any time trying to act in ways that would make the terrorists'
message less appealing to potential recruits.
Note that Walt feels the need to remind us of his opposition to
al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks, but he doesn't say anything about the many
more people that the US has killed. As such, his argument against
inflating threats of terrorism is that doing so is ineffective. In
effect, his argument inflates the threat as well. Evidently, the
"realist" creed means that we can only talk about ourselves.
On Kenya, see:
David Zarembka: No "Cake Walk" for Kenya in Somalia.
Also, a few links for further study:
Robert Christgau: Blind Lemon Jefferson/Rokia Traore/Robert Sarazin Blake
With Jefferson Hamer and the Powderkegs: The last batch of capsule
reviews written under the benign patronage of Microsoft as the post-Ballmer
beancounters have now decided to dispense entirely with original, much less
expert and professional, content -- thinking, perhaps, that even paltry
profits on zero costs are infinite. Given the logic of the system it's
remarkable that it ever worked at all, but the takeaway lesson is that
we can no longer count on the inefficiencies of the oligarchy to allow
anything worthwhile to be produced. The three reviews provide a microcosm
of Christgau's range of interests: in Robert Sarazin Blake he's found a
remarkable album by someone you've never heard of (I know I hadn't), in
Rokia Traore he shows his pioneering expertise in African pop by not quite
falling for the latest by a relatively established star, and in Blind Lemon
Jefferson he looks back to the first major bluesman of the recorded music
era. But the main reason for following the link is to read the numerous
comments (233 at the moment) with dozens of thoughtful remembrances, if
not of Christgau himself then of the impact his writing and recommendations
have had. Nothing by me, yet -- I've got my own blog to do.
David Denby: Hitler in Hollywood: Comments on two new books:
Ben Urwand: The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler
(Harvard), and Thomas Doherty: Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939
(Columbia), favoring the latter's less acusatory treatment. One thing
people forget now is how respectable Hitler seemed back in the 1930s,
though part of that was because the Nazis were pretty aggressive at
keeping critical views out of print. George Gyssling was one such
agent, and his beat was Hollywood, where he was at least moderately
successful, as shown here.
Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the 'pathetic' American media:
Haven't heard much from him lately, so this interview piece is most
Don't even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends
"so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they
would" -- or the death of Osama bin Laden. "Nothing's been done about
that story, it's one big lie, not one word of it is true," he says of
the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.
Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a
chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by
an "independent" Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad
compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny.
"The Pakistanis put out a report, don't get me going on it. Let's put
it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It's a
bullshit report," he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.
[ . . . ]
"Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone
programme, why aren't we doing more? How does he justify it? What's
the intelligence? Why don't we find out how good or bad this policy
is? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that
monitor drone killings. Why don't we do our own work?
"Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say --
'here's a debate' -- our job is to go beyond the debate and find out
who's right and who's wrong about issues. That doesn't happen enough.
It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There
are some people -- the New York Times still has investigative
journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president
than I ever thought they would . . . it's like you
don't dare be an outsider any more."
Avi Shlaim: It's now clear: the Oslo peace accords were wrecked by
Netanyahu's bad faith: Actually, it's been clear for a long time,
but the effect was partially masked by Ehud Barak's bad faith, and
ultimately by Ariel Sharon's aggression. But Rabin and Peres hadn't
laid down a very firm foundation either.
David Swainson: Top 45 Lies in Obama's Speech at the UN: I won't
list them all, but particularly appreciate this one:
2. "It took the awful carnage of two world wars to shift our thinking."
Actually, it took one. The second resulted in a half-step backwards in
"our thinking." The Kellogg-Briand Pact banned all war. The U.N. Charter
re-legalized wars purporting to be either defensive or U.N.-authorized.
After WWI the War Department reverted to a skeletal operating force
(aside from occupying the Phillipines and various spots in Central
America and the Caribbean). After WWII the War Department was renamed
the Department of Defense and after an initial bit of contraction
they got ever larger, deadlier, and more reckless.
29. "Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons." Iran's what?
Israel started predicting that Iran would develop nuclear weapons
"within five years" back in the mid-1990s. They've occasionally
predicted shorter time frame, and never predicted a longer one,
yet it never happened. In the entire history of nuclear weapons,
no nation has come so close and yet never managed to produce a
weapon. It's almost as if they aren't trying. But they say they're
not trying, so we know they must.
Michael Vlahos: Why Americans Love Bombardment: "Has justice through
retribution become the new American virtue?" Vlahos argues that "bombardment
is theater," which makes me think of the Situationist notion of "spectacle" --
above all else, "shock and awe" over Baghdad promised to be a grand fireworks
show, photographed at just enough distance to spare you the blood and gore.
I'm also reminded of Jim Geraghty's Voting to Kill -- my, what
vicious bloodsuckers we've become.
More critically, it has replaced original, more compassionate framings
of American virtue. Bombing nations has in some cases (especially after
9-11) actually come to stand in our minds for liberation itself. It is
intended not only as the punishment of evil, but also as its very
purification. [ . . ]
We are Americans, and Americans are by definition, exceptional,
because we are chosen. No one else: Not ancien monarchs and sultans,
not Victorian prime ministers and les presidents, can go forth among
humanity today and lay waste to the wicked. Only we Americans are
entitled to do so, declaring all the while the unimpeachable
righteousness of what we do.
Sunday, September 8. 2013
Some scattered links this week (sorry, no cartoons):
Max Ehrenfreud: Flouting International Norms in Kenya:
In Nairobi this week (since I promised not to discuss Syria on this
blog this morning) the Kenyan parliament voted to withdraw from the
International Criminal Court. If Kenya follows the motion with a
formal notice to the United Nations, Kenya will be the first country
to withdraw from the court, establishing a clear precedent for leaders
in all of the courts' member states: You can commit atrocities as long
as you have the support of a a majority of the electorate and your
allies in the region. Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta is accused of
inciting his followers to violence after the disastrous election of
2007. It is true that his case hasn't gone to trial yet, so it would
be wrong to make assumptions about his culpability. In addition, the
country's withdrawal does not remove Kenyatta's legal obligation to
appear before the court, since the investigation was already underway.
Still, the Kenyan parliament's message seems clear. Perhaps in the
future, other countries where heads of state have guilty consciences
will remove themselves from the court in a more timely manner.
This is one "norm" the US is unlikely to enforce, given that the
"guilty consciences" in the US Senate refused to join the International
Criminal Court in the first place.
Paul Krugman: It Takes a Government (to Make a Market), and
Picturing the Winners and Losers from Obamacare: A couple posts
on private insurance rates under ACA, which now look to be up but
"are generally lower than expected." From the former piece:
What's going on here? Partly it's a vindication of the idea that you
can make health insurance broadly affordable if you ban discrimination
based on preexiting conditions while inducing healthy individuals to
enter the risk pool through a combination of penalties and subsidies.
But there's an additional factor, that even supporters of the Affordable
Care Act mostly missed: the extent to which, for the first time, the
Act is creating a truly functioning market in nongroup insurance.
Until now there has been sort of a market -- but one that, as
Kenneth Arrow pointed out half a century ago, is riddled with problems.
It was very hard for individuals to figure out what they were buying --
what would be covered, and would the policies let them down? Price and
quality comparisons were near-impossible. Under these conditions the
magic of the marketplace couldn't work -- there really wasn't a proper
market. And insurers competed with each other mainly by trying to avoid
covering people who really needed insurance, and finding excuses to
drop coverage when people got sick.
With the ACA, however, insurers operate under clear ground rules,
with clearly defined grades of plan and discrimination banned. The
result, suddenly, is that we have real market competition.
I think that's true as far as it goes, but how much "magic" we
get remains to be seen. Any opportunities to scam this system will
be exploited. And while a market should reduce the profit share
the insurance companies take, the entire health care system is
chock full of rent-seeking opportunists. Krugman reminds us that
"I believe that single-payer would be better and cheaper, and it's
still a goal we should seek."
MJ Rosenberg: Obama Is No JFK: I'm not a big believer in the JFK
revisionism that argues that he was on his way out of Vietnam, and
even less so that he "had decided to reach out to Castro" -- points
Rosenberg makes citing David Talbot's Brothers: The Hidden History
of the Kennedy Years, but much evidence suggests that Kennedy was
at least aware that the CIA, FBI, and DOD were untrustworthy:
Kennedy got it, not all of it or he would have survived his
term, but enough of it to begin changing the world.
There is no evidence Obama gets it at all. He is now planning to
launch an attack on the Middle East advocated by the same people who
gave us the Iraq war. He is about to appoint as head of the Federal
Reserve, the very same official whose policies gave us the economic
collapse of 2008.
If he has learned anything since becoming president, it is hard
to know what it is. Kennedy stopped trusting the system, understanding
that he didn't run it. Obama thinks he does and that, although it is
far from perfect, all it will take to fix it is some tinkering around
Gordon Goodstein's book on McGeorge Bundy, Lessons in Disaster,
makes the point that in their respective approaches to Vietnam, Lyndon
Johnson wanted to be perceived as strong, whereas Kennedy wanted to be
right. Obama, like Clinton before him, seems to share LBJ's concern,
perhaps because they have repeatedly been slagged as weak and wobbly,
and challenged to prove their manhood by senselessly killing people,
and once they've tasted blood they have more and more trouble backing
away. Has anyone noticed that this is more like an initiation rite
into organized crime than anything else?
Kennedy was a virulent anti-communist, but the most egregious
examples of that came early in his career -- such as being the last
Democrat to defend Joseph McCarthy. But Kennedy's first taste of
blood was the Bay of Pigs, and he didn't enjoy it one bit.
Also, a few links for further study:
Sasha Abramsky: Shake a Stick in Post-Financial Collapse America, and
One Hits Poverty: Intro to Abramsky's book, The American Way
of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives (Nation Books).
Leslie H Gelb: Bomb Scare: The doyen of American foreign policy
hacks reviews Kenneth M. Pollack's newbook, Unthinkable: Iran, the
bomb, and American Strategy. Pollack, a CIA veteran and Brookings
Institute pundit, argued for invading Iraq in his influential 2003
book, The Threatening Storm, but in his later book on Iran,
The Persian Puzzle, politely stepped back from the "real men"
who yearned to invade Tehran. It now looks like, having considered
Iran's "nuclear program" further, he's backed off even further --
to the point that he'd rather coexist with Iran having nuclear
weapons than risk all the mayhem that could result from trying to
prevent those weapons with military interventions. But Obama has
already proclaimed a "red line" against that, and Congress has
already committed at least to supporting any act of war Israel
takes against Iran. Gelb goes even further than Pollack, urging
If negotiations fail, they fail, and that, of course, would be tragic.
But Obama's current path is already heading toward war, and Pollack's
position of containment may not be able to prevent it. Only negotiating
all the hot-button issues offers the hope of reconciling two enemies --
enemies who should be friends.
Rachel Maddow: Overcommitted: Book review of Andrew J Bacevich:
Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their
What is successful is the persuasiveness of Bacevich's argument --
through this and his last several books -- that we try to use the
United States military against problems that have no military
solution, and in ways that exacerbate our inclination to overuse
it in the first place. In Breach of Trust, with prose that
is occasionally clunky but always unsparing, Bacevich dismantles
the warrior myth we civilians and politicians so enjoy worshiping
from afar, and replaces that idol with flesh and blood, vulnerable
humans, who deserve better than the profligate, wasteful way in
which we treat them.
John Perr: Health Insurance "Coverage Gap" Coming to a Red State Near
You: The tally of Republican rejection of expansion of Medicaid
under the Affordable Care Act.
Corey Robin: Jean Bethke Elshtain Was No Realist: A review of
the late hawk's life and work.
Matt Taibbi: The Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis: Explores
the ratings agencies, like S&P, who were paid handsomely to
certify toxic securities as AAA.
And today's reading on Syria:
Andrew J Bacevich: The Hill to the Rescue on Syria?: A conservative
who blames it all on the Carter Doctrine wants a definitive answer on
America's "30 years war" in the Middle East:
A debate over the Syrian AUMF should encourage members of Congress --
if they've got the guts -- to survey this entire record of U.S. military
activities in the Greater Middle East going back to 1980. To do so means
almost unavoidably confronting this simple question: How are we doing?
To state the matter directly, all these years later, given all the
ordnance expended, all the toing-and-froing of U.S. forces, and all
the lives lost or shattered along the way, is mission accomplishment
anywhere in sight? Or have U.S. troops -- the objects of such putative
love and admiration on the part of the American people -- been engaged
over the past 30-plus years in a fool's errand? How members cast their
votes on the Syrian AUMF will signal their answer -- and by extension
the nation's answer -- to that question.
No reason Congress will be forthcoming, in large part because so
many have so much vested in the mistakes of the past, but if we had
not seen one misjudgment after another, one fiasco after another,
for so long this wouldn't be happening. In retrospect, a clear sign
that their war fever had broken was when the Republicans let the
sequester eat away at the military budget.
Juan Cole: When Syria was a US Ally (or at Least Helpful): Recently
I've made several comments about Syria's efforts to ally, or at least
curry favor, with the United States. Cole has a checklist here. Of course,
the US has mostly taken its cues on Syria from Israel, so that limits
the list -- as does Syria's dependency on Russia for arms. And there's
much more to Syria's involvement is Lebanon: the US invited Syria in, and
eventually insisted that Syria leave, and in between their role wasn't
always to our liking, although for the long period when Israel occupied
southern Lebanon (1982-2000) Syria's presence elsewhere in Lebanon was
more often than not a stabilizing force.
Conor Friedersdorf: President Shouldn't Be Able to Credibly Threaten
Wars That the People Oppose: You keep hearing that we have to bomb
Syria so people (in Iran, no less) will realize that they have to take
him seriously even when he makes an ill-considered offhand comment
that virtually no one in America actually agrees with.
It is the hawks who threaten American credibility most in the long run,
both because they'd make us subject to any chance comment from the series
of fallible politicians who make it to the White House, and because waging
an ill-conceived war, with all the attendant negative consequences, hurts
the credibility of a nation a lot more than any mere rhetoric. When we
look back at blows to American credibility, we think of Vietnam and Iraq,
not some bit of rhetoric and the way the world interpreted our follow
through. If an American intervention in Syria goes badly, our credibility
will suffer profoundly, and hawks will once again bear blame for weakening
America more than any other Americans.
America Has Little to Fear From Congress Rejecting Force in Syria:
For some time, we've known that the Iraq War will cost trillions of dollars,
that almost 5,000 Americans lost their lives there, that their families are
devastated, that tens of thousands of combat veterans are wounded due to
the war, some with missing limbs and others with traumatic brain injuries,
and that PTSD is epidemic and suicides are epidemic. But Galston says we're
only now reckoning its full costs -- now that the "costs" include reluctance
to enter another war of choice. If you compare the actual costs the United
States and its people bore from Vietnam and Iraq to the costs we've born as
a result of a reluctance to intervene, it becomes clear that interventionists
are the ones with a "syndrome."
MJ Rosenberg: The Education of Congressman Van Hollen: From Mensch to
AIPAC Hack: Recounts how Van Hollen (D-MD) criticized Israel for
its 2006 war on Lebanon and felt the political fury of AIPAC. "Two
years later, when Israel smashed Gaza killing 1400 civilians including
400 children, Van Hollen not only didn't criticize, he applauded. And
now he supports bombing Syria."
David Sirota: Narcissists are ruining America: "We're on the verge
of bombing another country -- because a few conceited people want to
feel good about themselves."
Many Americans supporting a new war in the Middle East want to feel
good about themselves. Many want to feel like we did "the right thing"
and didn't stand by while chemical weapons were used (even though we
stand by -- or use them ourselves -- when we're told that's good for
America). But, then, many war supporters desperately want these
heartwarming feelings without the worry that they may face
any inconvenient costs like higher taxes or body bags at Dover Air
What emerges is a portrait of pathological self-absorption. That's
right -- despite the pro-war crowd's self-congratulatory and sententious
rhetoric, this isn't about helping the Syrian people. Channeling the
zeitgeist of that famous quote in Broadcast News, this is all
about us. To the pro-war crowd, if both feeling morally superior and
avoiding any real sacrifice mean having to kill lots of Syrians without
a chance of actually stopping their civil war, then it's worth the
carnage, especially because it's half a world away.
A classic example of this was Madeleine Albright's comment, when
asked about reports that US sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s had
resulted in up to a million deaths of Iraqis while not in any serious
way undermining the regime, insisting that the sanctions were "worth
it." Easly to be callous when all you think about is yourself.
Max Weiss: Diplomacy is the best way to intervene in Syria:
For lack of a compelling legal, moral or humanitarian argument, the U.S.
administration seems to be ramping up for what might be called Operation
Save Face. Obama wants to drop bombs because he once said he would. Such
a callous calculus is hardly grounds for a just and viable Middle East
Key figures in the Syrian opposition abroad and inside the country
reject negotiations with the regime; they want al-Assad's head on a
pike. Yet there is good reason to believe that military escalation in
Syria will likely only result in further military escalation in Syria.
Bashar al-Assad is unlikely to respond without a credible threat, but
a stick-heavy approach devoid of carrots is a policy bound to fail.
Rory Stewart draws the same conclusion, although he writes more
about Bosnia, recalling the negotiations that ended the war, where
most hawks point to the bombs that preceded the negotiations. There
is no necessary correlation between bombing and negotiation, and the
differences between Bosnia and Syria are daunting: Milosevic had the
simple option of retreating to Serbia (although the deal wound up
more generous, giving Serbs a slice of Bosnia); Assad has no other
country to retreat to.
Stephen Kinzer goes even further, arguing
To resolve the Syria crisis, the US must negotiate with Iran.
Kinzer, you may recall, wrote the book on the the CIA's 1953
plot against democracy in Iran (All the Shah's Men: An American
Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, which he followed up
with Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii
to Iraq). Nor is Syria the only thing the US should negotiate
with Iran over.
Sunday, August 18. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Brad DeLong: Obama: Please be nice to me as I fail to deal with this
awful mess I created!:
"Surreal." "Kafkaesque." The best you can say is "pathetic." The kicker
is that without a single finger lifted on the part of congress Obama
could have implemented four years ago procedures for his administration
that match those that he now wants congress to undertake. He could have:
- had the government's presentations to FISA include arguments from
an advocatus diaboli
- created a task force
- established internal executive-branch safeguards against abuse of §215
- released his own administration's justifications
- required the NSA to explain what it was doing.
He did none of those things, which he now says that he dearly wants
Obama concedes that Snowden's leaks triggered a passionate and welcome
debate. But he claims that Snowden is no patriot because "we would have
gotten to the same place" eventually.
This does not pass the bullshit test.
Brad DeLong: Why we need a bigger Social Security system with higher,
not lower benefits:
Edward Filene's idea from the 1920s of having companies run employer-sponsored
defined-benefit plans has, by and large, come a-crashing down. Companies
turn out not to be long-lived enough to run pensions with a high enough
probability. And when they are there is always the possibility of a Mitt
Romney coming in and making his fortune by figuring out how to expropriate
the pension via legal and financial process. Since pension recipients are
stakeholders without either legal control rights or economic holdup powers,
their stake will always be prey to the princes of Wall Street.
That suggests that what we really need is a bigger Social Security
system -- unless, of course, we can provide incentives and vehicles for
people to do their retirement saving on their own. But 401(k)s have turned
out to be as big a long-run disaster as employer-sponsored defined-benefit
pensions when one assesses their efficiency as pension vehicles.
At any given dollar amount, Social Security is bound to be vastly
more efficient than any possible private pension scheme: it's "pay as
you go," so it's relatively inflation-proof, and while demographic
changes -- people living longer so the ratio of recipients to payees
increases -- seem like they may undermine the deal, their real effect
is fairly minor. One way to cover that shift would be to fund Social
Security with more aggressive estate taxes as well as FICA. The main
reason we have private savings schemes, especially 401k and its ilk,
is that it makes it easier to tolerate inequal systems, and I needn't
have to remind you who likes that idea. The other approach would be
to work systematically to reduce the cost-of-living for the elderly
(and/or disabled). Health care and maintenance support are the big
things there, and it's easy to find possible savings at least in the
Mike Konczal: Conservatives don't get that some problems are public,
and it's hurting them: Talks about William F. Buckley's red-baiting
of Paul Samuelson, at bottom an attack on the notion that the public
has a valid interest in economic policy. Conservatives love Hayek because
he warns against any sort of public policy, and they loathe Keynes for
his interest in such policy.
Conservatives spend a lot of time discussing how inequality isn't as big
as we think, or how the poor have a much better life because certain
durable goods are cheaper, or how austerity and liquidation are better
for the overall economy than stimulus. But what they really think is
that these don't belong in the realm of the public, and that's the
realm of policy.
Of course, the real root of evil in public policy is that it might
be the result of democracy. If you let everyone vote they might do
something in their own interests.
Chase Madar: The Trials of Bradley Manning: Not just on Manning,
since you need some context; e.g.:
There was no security to speak of at the SCIF (sensitive compartmented
information facility) at FOB Hammer, where the "infosec" (information
security) protocols were casually flouted with the full knowledge of
supervisors. This was not an anomaly: 1.4 million Americans have top-secret
security clearances -- 480,000 of them private contractors. Security
clearance vetting is cursory, like so much else about the sloshy and
erratic US infosec: intact military hard drives can turn up for sale
in the bazaars of Kabul, and top-secret documents have been accessed
by all sorts of people through the file-sharing technology installed
on government laptops by the children and grandchildren of national
security officials, as Dana Priest and William Arkin documented in
Top Secret America, their book on our ballooning security
state. [ . . . ]
The panicky response to WikiLeaks from some liberals has had its opera
buffa highlights. WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer and New Yorker
liberal hawk George Packer clucked like wet hens in horror at WikiLeaks'
release of a (ludicrously) classified list of world locations of strategic
interest to the United States. Can we ever be safe now that the terrorists
know there are vast mineral reserves in Central Africa, and that the Strait
of Gibraltar is a vital shipping lane? Ambrose Bierce said that war is
God's way of teaching geography to Americans, but have we become so
infantilized that grade-school factoids must be guarded as state secrets?
[ . . . ]
The individual is erased in mass media smears. We have not heard much
about the Bradley Manning who shocked his classmates and teachers by
announcing his atheism in grade school; who took care of his alcoholic
mother as soon as he was old enough to add up the bills and write the
checks; who came out as gay to his best friends at 13. The boy who was
designing websites at age 10, who won his school's science fair three
years running. The teen who, when he graduated from high school, didn't
find sufficient financial support from home or the state to attend
college, where he badly wanted to study physics or engineering. The
post-adolescent youth sleeping in his truck in the parking lot of
O'Hare airport, getting by on minimum-wage jobs, a Joad without the
family. The young man trying to find stability and a way to get a
college education, who joined the Army even though he is queer,
fiercely independent of mind and will, and stands 5 feet, 2 inches
tall. The soldier who could not join in the celebration of his comrades
in Iraq when a convoy of US soldiers narrowly missed an IED that blew
up a truck full of Iraqi civilians instead. The intelligence analyst
who found out that a group of civilians had been arrested by Iraqi
police for handing out a leaflet alleging financial corruption and
ran horrified to his commanding officer, since he was well aware that
the Iraqi police had a habit of torturing prisoners. The young soldier
reported his CO telling him to shut up and get back to work.
And now he's facing life in a military brig for the crime of making
public information that should have been public in the first place.
Julian Rayfield: Santorum: Term "middle class" is "Marxism talk":
Not just another way of saying "Obama is a socialist":
"Who does Barack talk about all the time?" Santorum asked a group of
Republicans recently in Lyon County, Iowa. "The middle class. Since
when in America do we have classes? Since when in America are people
stuck in areas, or defined places called a class? That's Marxism talk.
When Republicans get up and talk about middle class we're buying into
their rhetoric of dividing America. Stop it."
This reminds me when I discovered that we lived in a country with
politically significant class divisions: back in the 1960s, I drew up
a map of Wichita with precinct-by-precinct voting returns, only to see
that they correlated almost perfectly with housing prices. (I also saw
I lived in a pretty solid Democratic neighborhood.) Of course, I didn't
get a real sense of class until I got into an elite private college
where nearly everyone had backgrounds and experiences that were totally
alien to me. I learned to negotiate some of that, and failed miserably
at other parts. So one thing you cannot tell me and retain any shred of
credibility is that America is a classless society.
I doubt that even Santorum is that dumb, but one thing that he has
made clear through all his religious hoo-hah and such is that he's one
of those prudes who clings to the notion that "unmentionables" should
never be mentioned -- and that applies not just to matters of the flesh
but to anything that irritates and unsettles his worldview. Knowledge,
for instance; science and reasoning. He's about the only politician
I've seen argue that people shouldn't go to school, because when they
do so they tend to learn things that undermine their faith in Rick
Santorum's pathetic dark ages worldview.
Also, a few links for further study:
John Cassidy: The Statistical Debate Behind the Stop-and-Frisk
David D Kirkpatrick/Peter Baker/Michael R Gordon: How American Hopes for
a Deal in Egypt Were Undercut: Most important thing is how Israel
sought to reassure Egypt's General Sisi that the US wouldn't be a problem
if they overthrew the elected Egyptian government. Indeed, AIPAC got the
Senate to vote down a Rand Paul amendment to halt military aid to Egypt
by an 86-13 margin. Also that Saudi Arabia is on board, evidently preferring
dictatorship and displays of repressive force over its spiritual kin in
the Moslem Brotherhood. Also on Egypt:
Dion Leffer: Sen. Jerry Moran: Deficit the top threat to future
generations: Describes a speech Moran gave to the Wichita
Independent Business Association, much like the Romney speech that
became famous for casting 47% of America as "takers." I'll write
more about Moran's little pep speech in a later post. Suffice it
to say that if his "kids" inherit a world of less opportunity than
he did, it will largely have been due to the blindness of politicians
Matt Taibbi: Ripping Off Young America: The College-Loan Scandal:
Big and critically important piece. Nothing more succinctly sums up
how much the future of America has dimmed since 1980 than the sad
story of what it takes to get a college education these days. In my
own day, which is to say the early 1970s, I accumulated $2,000 in
debts in my somewhat abbreviated college career. (I didn't graduate,
but actually had enough coursework to do; just got burned out and
left a couple incompletes, never wondering what the lack of a BA
might do to my career -- 40 years later I can say not much.) On the
other hand, people in their 20s today can easily run up $100,000 in
debt and find themselves unemployed or way-underemployed -- I can
think of a bunch of examples I know personally. Taibbi has more
stories like that, plus more dirt on how it happened -- plus some
colorful language, like: "The answer lies in a sociopathic marriage
of private-sector greed and government force that will make you
shake your head in wonder at the way modern America sucks blood
out of its young."
Sunday, August 11. 2013
A couple some scattered links this week (got a slow start and didn't
find much, other than that Kathleen Geier should be Washington
Monthly's weekend blogger every week):
Kathleen Geier: An important new paper shows us what's driving economic
inequality -- and how we can stop it: Starts by quoting her own
earlier post today -- guess it's one of those lines worth repeating --
that Larry Summers "agreeing to investigate the causes of stagnating
wages is something akin to O.J.'s vow to 'find the real killers.'"
(The Summers post originally appeared
New York Times piece about "the walking conflict of interest that
is Larry Summers.")
Geier then moves on to the Josh Bivens/Larry Mishel paper,
The Pay of Corporate Executives and Financial Professionals as
Evidence of Rents in Top 1 Percent Incomes."
The authors make a strong case that the engine driving the rise in
income in the top 1 percent has been the financial sector. Among other
things, the financial sector has had both increased opportunities and
increased incentives for rent-seeking. Rent-seeking in finance has had
spillover effects to other sectors of the economy and driven up wages
in the top 1 percent of those other occupations as well. Crucially,
the authors argue that the rise in rent-driven incomes among the top
1 percent has been "the primary impediment to having growth in living
standards for low- and moderate-income households approach the growth
rate of economy-wide productivity." I'm summarizing here, but it's well
worth reading the entire article and working through the details of the
Also see Geier on
No, Walmart doesn't create jobs, and
What's different about today's conservatives?
Sean McElwee: Republicans have no clue how businesses work: Makes
a few points and could make many more, but the central point is that
the Republicans help the very rich become relatively richer, often at
the expense of the rest of the economy. The Democrats do a somewhat
better job by recognizing that more people matter than just the top
1% (not that they don't pay plenty of attention to the superrich).
There is a chart here with the number of jobs created under every
president from Obama.
The totals are even worse: Democrats created 45 million jobs, while
Republicans created only 23 million, and Republicans actually had
more time in the White House. But what's truly interesting about
this data is that even if you take the highest numbers under Bush
(in January 2008, before the recession) he still created only 3.9
million jobs. And remember, he did that after coming into office
with great economic indicators and a balanced budget. So much for
supply-side economics. On the other hand, Obama, who was dealt far
more strife, has focused more, although not entirely, on the middle
class -- and so far, this nonsense about the "Obama economy" isn't
even close to true. If job growth keeps improving like it has over
the past year (at about 2 percent), then by July of 2016, Obama
would create more than 12 million jobs over his eight years. Larry
Bartels finds in his book, Unequal Democracy, that income
growth is not only higher when a Democrat is in office, it's also
more equally distributed.
Reminds me of a Harry Truman quote that goes something like: "If
you want to live like a Republican, you have to vote Democrat." But
even with all those new jobs, it's unlikely that income, let alone
wealth, will be more equitable in 2016 than when Obama was elected
in 2008. Growing inequality is the central political problem of our
time, and Obama has hardly even talked about it -- just offered an
occasional nudge, hoping no one will notice. Indeed, no one has.
Also, a few links for further study:
Tessie Swope Castillo: Everything you know about drugs is wrong:
Interview with Carl Hart, author of High Price: A Neuroscientist's
Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About
Drugs and Society (2013, Harper).
Michael Klare: The Third Carbon Age: Or, as Tom Engelhardt put it
in his preface, "How to Fry a Planet": Klare surveys the latest gains
in fracking, accepting the industry's claims of vast new reservoirs of
gas -- more than we'll need for decades, which is kind of like forever,
at least to a corporate accountant.
Sunday, August 4. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Paul Krugman: Chaos Looms: My bold, but it's also the line that
Julian Rayfield highlighted over at Salon.
In the short run the point is that Republican leaders are about to reap
the whirlwind, because they haven't had the courage to tell the base that
Obamacare is here to stay, that the sequester is in fact intolerable, and
that in general they have at least for now lost the war over the shape of
American society. As a result, we're looking at many drama-filled months,
with a high probability of government shutdowns and even debt defaults.
Over the longer run the point is that one of America's two major political
parties has basically gone off the deep end; policy content aside, a sane
party doesn't hold dozens of votes declaring its intention to repeal a law
that everyone knows will stay on the books regardless. And since that party
continues to hold substantial blocking power, we are looking at a country
that's increasingly ungovernable.
The trouble is that it's hard to give this issue anything like the amount
of coverage it deserves on substantive grounds without repeating oneself. So
I do try to mix it up. But neither you nor I should forget that the madness
of the GOP is the central issue of our time.
Paul Krugman: Delusions of Populism: One of several smackdowns I've
read recently attempting to address the oxymoron "libertarian populism."
Supposedly this is the next big wave in the neverending effort to sell
oligarchy to the masses. Krugman makes good points, including debunking
the notion that "Mitt Romney fell short last year largely because of
'missing white voters' -- millions of 'downscale, rural, Northern whites'
who failed to show up at the polls." He adds:
Moreover, if you look at what the modern Republican Party actually stands
for in practice, it's clearly inimical to the interests of those downscale
whites the party can supposedly win back. Neither a flat tax nor a return
to the gold standard are actually on the table; but cuts in unemployment
benefits, food stamps and Medicaid are. (To the extent that there was any
substance to the Ryan plan, it mainly involved savage cuts in aid to the
poor.) And while many nonwhite Americans depend on these safety-net programs,
so do many less-well-off whites -- the very voters libertarian populism
is supposed to reach.
Specifically, more than 60 percent of those benefiting from unemployment
insurance are white. Slightly less than half of food stamp beneficiaries
are white, but in swing states the proportion is much higher. For example,
in Ohio, 65 percent of households receiving food stamps are white.
Nationally, 42 percent of Medicaid recipients are non-Hispanic whites,
but, in Ohio, the number is 61 percent.
So when Republicans engineer sharp cuts in unemployment benefits, block
the expansion of Medicaid and seek deep cuts in food stamp funding -- all
of which they have, in fact, done -- they may be disproportionately hurting
Those People; but they are also inflicting a lot of harm on the struggling
Northern white families they are supposedly going to mobilize.
Of course, it's not those downscale whites the Republicans
want to get out to vote. Their entire concept of populism is limited to
prejudice-baiting and demagoguery, and if they aren't already pushing
those buttons, anyone else low class is unlikely to respond to their
messages. Moreover, libertarianism is peculiarly anti-populist: its
big appeal is to John Galt types imposing their will on a craven world,
not something Americans used to getting the short end of the stick can
much relate to. Any thoughts otherwise is just further evidence of the
Andrew O'Hehir: Give Manning and Snowden the Nobel Peace Prize:
This isn't the first time I've linked to such a proposal, but it bears
repeating, especially given that one of the week's big news stories
is Bradley Manning's conviction on numerous "espionage" charges.
Can you even imagine how outraged, how red-faced and apoplectic, John
McCain and Lindsey Graham and Dianne Feinstein and the talking heads
on the Sunday news shows would be? It would partly make up for the
profound shame of having given the prize to Henry Kissinger, one of
the 20th century's great war criminals, in 1973. And then there was
what Svallfors calls the "hasty and ill-considered decision" to award
it to Barack Obama in 2009. That seemed mysterious at the time -- his
great accomplishment was that he was a brand new American president
who wasn't George W. Bush -- and it looks considerably worse now.
[ . . . ]
Manning and Snowden peeled back the curtain of empire and showed us
its inner workings. Understandably, we didn't much like what we saw, but
the real question is what we're going to do about it. More specifically,
they gave Americans a brief glimpse of our country as the rest of the
world sees it, a boorish and blundering military-intelligence superpower
so convinced of its moral superiority that it respects no universal
human rights, no law and no authority except its own.
[ . . . ]
Here's a handy guide to American politics: Anytime John McCain,
Chuck Schumer and Jeffrey Toobin all try to convince you of something,
you can be 100 percent sure you're being bamboozled. Toobin, the New
Yorker writer who presents as a moderate, mainstream legal scholar,
has led the ideological charge in support of Manning's conviction. He
assures us that the right people are in charge of keeping secrets and
that he, with his prep school-Harvard-Harvard Law pedigree, trusts
those people a whole heck of a lot more than he trusts some kid from
Oklahoma with a high school education. No, the nerd has to be locked
away forever for the grievous crime of telling us the truth[.]
Patrick L Smith: Snowden, Manning: The Face of Patriotism. And
John Cassidy: In Defense of Leakers: Snowden and Manning:
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the Snowden case has been the
official effort, going all the way up to Secretary of State John Kerry,
to depict him as a traitor. Actually, Snowden appears to be an idealistic
young man who had no ill intentions toward his country but who gradually
became disillusioned with some of its actions. He enlisted in the Army
during the Iraq War because, he told the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, "I
believed in the goodness of what were were doing," only to be discharged
several months later. Even now, he told Greenwald, he believes that
"America is a fundamentally a good country; we have good people with
good values who want to do the right thing, but the structures of power
that exist are working to their own ends to extend their capability at
the expense of the freedom of all publics."
Also, a few links for further study:
Ben Birnbaum: Here's What John Kerry's Peace Settlement Will Look
Like (Probably): Israeli writer at what I've long assumed to be
one of the major Zionist mouthpieces in the US, sketches out a set
of compromises that Netanyahu supposedly might live with, although
I've never seen any evidence that he would allow any such thing.
Even more fancifully, there's this:
David Makovsky: Benjamin Netanyahu Hopes to Sell Peace. Here's
Now: The Israeli prime minister's new path. And Birnbaum, again:
Seven Reasons There's Hope for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. I
would, of course, be delighted to see any form of deal. In fact,
my recent thinking calls for solutions that offer Palestinians
less territory, little if any of Jerusalem, and no prayer for any
sort of return, in exchange for complete independence, a promise
of equal rights for those Palestinians who wind up in Israel, a
lot of cash, and maybe a couple players to be named later. And
my thinking behind it is that Israel has no need to negotiate nor
any desire for peace, so you need both to appease it and to move
the rest of the world powers, including the US, into a position
which allows Israel no other option. Given the way Nethanyahu
has kicked Obama around for five years now the US isn't ready
for that, and since the US isn't ready, neither is Netanyahu.
And there's one more non-trivial problem: nowhere in these three
articles is Hamas mentioned. How exactly can you make a "final
status" deal with Abbas only when the Palestinians are so split?
That may not matter to Birnbaum and Makovsky, nor to Netanyahu
and Kerry, but it's got to be a concern deep in the mind of
Abbas. Bringing in the Arab League may provide some measure of
proxy support for Hamas, but you can't close the deal without
Hamas support, and continuing the hostilities against Hamas is
a sure way for Kerry et al. to telegraph that they're not really
John Cassidy: Obama's Corporate-Tax-Cut Proposal Is Clever, but Is It
Wise?: I haven't tried to unpack Obama's proposal, mostly because
it's clear to me that anything progressive has to surmount impossible
obstacles in Washington (starting with Obama himself), but also because
the top-line message -- let's cut taxes on corporate profits -- winds
up so much louder than the bits about closing loopholes, because the
"revenue-neutral" promise doesn't drive the additional spending that
we need, and especially because what we really need is more equitable
income distribution, and you're never going to get there by helping
rich people avoid taxes. And let's add one more reason: Obama's great
fondness for "nudges" has never worked: on the one hand it makes him
look shifty and devious, on the other inept and ineffective. We'll
never know, for instance, whether he could have sold the people on
a better health care system than the one he got his name stuck on.
We do know that he can be an eloquent spokesman if only he had some
principles to speak up for.
G William Domhoff: Wealth, Income, and Power: All the basic numbers,
charts, and information you need on the growing maldistribution of
income and wealth in America is here. Domhoff wrote a book back in
1967 called Who Rules America? that showed that the egalitarian
society Paul Krugman recently celebrated as "the great compression"
wasn't all that equitable -- I read it at the time along Ferdinand
Lundberg's The Rich and the Super-Rich: A Study in the Power of
Money Today, an update of his 1937 book America's Sixty
Families -- and I'm pleased to see that Domhoff has kept his
book, now in its 7th edition, up to date (although it seems to be
Kevin Drum: Supreme Court's Gutting of Voting Rights Act Unleashes
GOP Feeding Frenzy: Drum's prime example is North Carolina, which
is at the moment in thrall to exceptionally rabid Republicans, and is
a state where the partisan balance is so tight that it wouldn't take
a lot of disenfranchisement to keep the Republicans in power. Most of
the commentary to date on the Roberts Court's decision has been to
look at voting rights in the context of the 1960s struggle, but what
really matters is the struggle now. Republicans have clearly understood
that the main difference between victory (as in 2010) and defeat (as
in 2008 and 2012) is voter turnout, so anything they can do to suppress
voter turnout helps their odds, and they have absolutely no scruples
about manipulating the electoral system for their advantage -- even
using their edge in the Supreme Court, as they did in Bush v. Gore.
Consequently, this is the worst possible time since the 1970s to gut
the voting rights act, because this is the time when the "white man's
party" is most prepared to press its every advantage.
Alex Henderson: 10 Worst Examples of Christian or Far-Right Terrorism:
One can quibble about the order and omissions, and also note that only
one predates 1994 (the murder of Alan Berg in 1984), but the list is a
sober reminder that not only do conservatives "vote to kill" but some
even practice what they preach.
Sunday, July 28. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Jonathan Cook: Israel's thriving arms trade is a setback to peace
agreement: Actually, more like Israel's arms trade is one big
reason why Israel leaders have no taste for peace.
Last month, defence analysts Jane's put Israel in sixth place [among
the world's largest exporters of armaments], ahead of China and Italy,
both major weapons producers. Surveys that include Israel's growing
covert trade put it even higher, in fourth place, ahead of Britain
and Germany, and beaten only by the United States, Russia and France.
The extent of Israel's success in this market can be gauged by a
simple mathematical calculation. With record sales last year of $7
billion (Dh25.7 billion), Israel earned nearly $1,000 from the arms
trade per capita -- up to 10 times the per capita income the US derives
from its manufacture of weapons.
The Israeli economy's reliance on arms dealing was highlighted this
month when local courts forced officials to reveal data showing that
some 6,800 Israelis are actively engaged in the business of arms exports.
Separately, Ehud Barak, the defence minister in the last government, has
revealed that 150,000 Israeli households -- or about one in 10 of the
population -- depend economically on the weapons industry.
[ . . . ]
Attacks such as Operation Cast Lead of winter 2008-09 or last year's
Operation Pillar of Defence, the film argues, serve as little more than
laboratory-style experiments to evaluate and refine the effectiveness of
new military approaches, both strategies and weaponry. Gaza, in particular,
has become the shop window for Israel's military industries, allowing them
to develop and market systems for long-term surveillance, control and
subjugation of an "enemy" population. [ . . . ]
But the film's convincing thesis offers a disturbing message to those
who hope for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Israel has
made its arsenal more lethal and its soldiers ever safer, its society
has become increasingly tolerant of war as the background noise of life.
If Israelis pay no price for war, the army and politicians face no pressure
to end it. Rather, the pressure acts in the opposite direction. Regular
attacks on Palestinians to test and showcase its military systems provide
Israel with a business model far more lucrative than one offered by a
Kevin Drum: The Cost of Austerity: 3 Million Jobs: Cites the
Congressional Budget Office's latest estimate of the economic benefit
of eliminating sequestration.
Spending cuts and tax increases since 2011 have cut the deficit by
about $3.9 trillion over the next ten years. The sequester accounts
for $1.2 trillion of that, about a third of the total. So a rough
horseback guess suggests that the total effect of our austerity
binge has been a GDP reduction of 2 percent and an employment
reduction of nearly 3 million.
If the economy were running at full capacity, deficit slashing
wouldn't have this effect. It would be perfectly appropriate policy.
Unfortunately, Republicans don't believe in cutting spending during
good times and increasing it during bad times. They believe in cutting
it during Democratic presidencies and increasing it during Republican
William Greider: No More Second Chances for Larry Summers:
Throughout its history, there's no better example of "regulatory
capture" than the Federal Reserve: the Fed was even designed to
be subservient to the banks. Summers is by all accounts a very
bright economist, but he's also a guy who cultivates access to
the rich and powerful by flattering them, and he's run up a pretty
checkered legacy, including as Treasury Secretary presiding over
the repeal of Glass-Steagall and severely limiting Obama's options
as chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers.
These scandalous matters are relevant once again because the White House
propagandists are pushing hard to make Larry Summers the next Federal
Reserve chairman. If Obama makes that choice, Wall Street wins again.
Summers is their candidate and at home in their money culture. As Fed
chair, he would become their main watchdog.
If so, this will be a sick joke on us hopeful voters who re-elected
the president last fall. Summers worked on Wall Street after he got
bounced as Harvard president and before he joined the Obama administration
in 2009. During the year before, he earned $5.2 million at a leading hedge
fund, D.E. Shaw.
Then he made another $2.8 million for speeches, more than forty of
them, mostly delivered to audiences at mega-banks and leading financial
firms. These included JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and
others. Goldman Sachs paid him $135,000 for one speech. When Summers
learned Merrill Lynch was receiving federal bailout money, he gracefully
contributed his $45,000 speaking fee to charity. The point is, this
watchdog will know some of the swindlers personally.
Actually, I would have been pleased had Obama nominated Summers,
as was talked about, in 2009 to replace Ben Bernanke, on the theory
that if Obama is going to be responsible for recovering from the
deep recession he should at least appoint his own guy to the single
most important relevant post, instead of giving Bush's guy another
go. Since then Bernanke has managed to tick off everyone, but most
of the flak he gets is from fellow Republicans furious that he has
continued to do anything at all to aid the recovery. The only good
news there is that no one is talking about giving him a third term.
That leaves Fed vice-chair Janet Yellen as the obvious choice, and
I've also seen Christina Romer mentioned, so there are alternatives
to Summers -- ones without his taint of corruption and arrogance.
Also see Greider's earlier piece,
Stop Larry Summers Before He Messes Up Again. But also note that
Brad DeLong says Summers would be "a very very good choice," which
is one more "very" than he gives Alan Blinder, and two more than Janet
Yellen (although he also included Yellen and Summers as "two of the four
best people in the world to be Fed Chair," so I'm not sure how rigorous
he's being). On the other hand,
Mike Konczal compares Yellen and Summers and finds Summers MIA or
worse on every issue he can think of, while Yellen was engaged and
consistently worked toward expanding the economy.
One thought I have here is that the Fed chair is a very powerful
post, so one thing you should ask is how a given candidate will
react to holding such power. Past chairs, with Alan Greenspan the
most obvious case (although I'd add Paul Volcker here, and I'm not
sure that any are really exempt) responded by becoming imperious.
One thing that Summers does have is a track record of how he acts
when given the reins of power, and most of that record reflects
poorly on him: as Treasury Secretary, as President of Harvard, as
Chair of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers (where, at least
according to Ron Suskind's Confidence Men, his main act
was to keep Obama from hearing from any other advisers, especially
Christina Romer). In these roles he has been spectacularly inept,
arrogant, abrasive, and tainted with corruption. Given all these
negatives, the fact that anyone has anything good to say about
him at all, and is saying it, suggests to me that he's campaigning
hard for the job. That strikes me as yet another red flag.
And -- the supply seems boundless -- here's a personal anecdote
Paul Krugman, recalling how in 1998 he "had a long, very unpleasant
phone conversation with a Senior Administration Official who berated
me for my anti-market ideas. Today, that wild and crazy idea is so
orthodox it's part of standard IMF policy."
Paul Krugman: To the Brink, Again:
If John Boehner is to be believed -- which, admittedly, is a real
question -- Republicans are once again willing to push America into
default and/or shut down the government if they don't get their way.
[ . . . ]
What adds to the awesomeness of the whole phenomenon is the absence
of any halfway plausible rationale. To the extent that there ever was
an economic justification for this brinksmanship -- the claim that we
were on the verge of a debt crisis, the claim that slashing spending
would boost the economy -- that justification has collapsed in the
face of declining debt projections and overwhelming evidence that
austerity has large negative impacts in a slump.
[ . . . ]
Well, my guess is that despite being drenched in reality-repellent,
Republicans are beginning to suspect an inconvenient truth: Obamacare
is not going to be a self-destroying train wreck. Instead, it's going
to work -- not perfectly, not as well as it should, but well enough to
help far more people than it hurts. And if that's how it turns out, it
will be irreversible. So here comes a last-ditch effort to stop it, at
But think about that for a moment: the cause for which the GOP is
willing to go to the brink, breaking all political norms, threatening
the US and world economies with incalculable damage, is the cause of
preventing people with preexisting conditions and/or low incomes
from getting health insurance. Apparently, the prospect that their
fellow citizens might receive this help is so horrifying that nothing
Alex Pareene: Weiner's repellent personality: Not his worst quality!:
Not that deeply damaged people don't sometimes make fine politicians.
[ . . . ] When Clinton ran for president, or when
he campaigned for Hillary Clinton, he could articulate reasons to
support him. Eliot Spitzer's comeback is predicated on his history
of battling Wall Street, not on nostalgia for the long-ago period
when everyone loved him. But Weiner has never run on anything besides
his own personality, and his personality is repellent.
[ . . . ]
The primary reason Anthony Weiner shouldn't be mayor, or anything
else, is still that he's an unaccomplished opportunist with few
principles and malleable views on every public policy issue besides
the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a subject on which he has indefensible
and insane views. But if people decide to not vote for him because of
the dick pics I'm fine with that too.
MJ Rosenberg: No Peace Process Til U.S. Becomes "Honest Broker" Not
"Israel's Lawyer": Reports of John Kerry's efforts to "restart" some
sort of negotiation process between Israel and the currently unelected
former Palestinian leadership have been too pathetic to bother with,
largely because even if the US leaders think they want peace, they're
unprepared to see it through. Rosenberg is absolutely right here:
The Palestinians understand the role of the Israel lobby in keeping
Congress in line behind Israel, with Congress doing the job of making
sure the administration doesn't stray. As recently as 2012, the United
States led the opposition to a resolution granting Palestine observer
status at the United Nations (only seven countries voted with us).
In March of this year, President Obama visited Israel to deliver,
both in words and symbolic actions,the message that the United States
and Israel were essentially one, a vivid demonstration of Vice President
Biden's oft-repeated pledge that there must be "no daylight, no daylight"
between U.S. and Israeli policies.
Exactly why would the Palestinians trust the United States? The
answer is that they don't and they shouldn't because, during two
presidencies in a row, we have made not the slightest attempt to
play "honest broker," remaining even more "Israel's lawyer" than
we were when Clinton-era negotiator, Aaron Miller first used the
term to describe our modus operandi.
This is significant. The only successful U.S. mediation between
Israelis and Arabs was conducted by President Jimmy Carter at Camp
David in 1978. Carter managed to bridge the gaps that had led Israel
and Egypt to go to war three times previously by being the ultimate
In his book about Camp David, Gen. Moshe Dayan, who was then
Israel's foreign minister, described how Carter would keep the
pressure on both sides equally, telling President Sadat and Prime
Minister Begin, in turn, that if the talks failed, he would publicly
name who was responsible. All during the long arduous process that
produced a peace treaty that has survived 34 years, Carter refused
to act as either side's advocate. His only client was peace and that
is how he achieved an agreement.
Rashid Khalidi's recent book, Brokers of Deceit: How the US
Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East, reviews four post-Carter
US-backed peace initiatives, and shows how in each and every case
the US feigned then forgot about neutrality, allowing Israel to get
away without making any concessions or achieving any semblance of
peace. The closest Israel ever came was when Rabin jumped off the
reservation and negotiated a separate deal, kept secret from the
US, with Arafat, offering little and promising nothing. Perhaps
Rabin intended to turn his deal into two states, but he was killed
by a right-wing Israeli before he could do anything about it, and
no subsequent Israeli leader went nearly that far.
The fact is, Israel's Labor and/or Likud coalitions have never
been willing to finalize borders -- except for the 1979 treaty
Carter brokered with Egypt over the inessential desert in Sinai --
with a neighboring state or with the Palestinians, despite the fact
that international law (UN Security Council resolutions) demands it,
and that from 1967 US policy has supported those resolutions (at
least up until 2000 when Clinton started to muddy the issue). See
Avi Raz, The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the
Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War, for a
detailed accounting of Israel's subterfuges to keep the US and
the UN off their case while they made their first steps to clear
and colonize the West Bank. See Patrick Tyler, Fortress Israel:
The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country,
for a broad overview of how Israel came to embrace militarism and
adopted a permanent war culture: Tyler mostly dates this from
Ben Gurion's split with his successor as Prime Minister, Moshe
Sharrett, but you can find evidence of it earlier -- even as early
as the period documented by Amy Dockser Marcus, Jerusalem 1913:
The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. And for a general
overview, see the single best book yet written on how Israel has
become addicted to war, Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The
Alex Seitz-Wald: Secrets of the right: Selling garbage to your fans:
For instance, is Glenn Beck a political commentator or just a gold
Glenn Beck is the most egregious, with his partnership with Goldline
International, which also enjoys endorsements from Mark Levin and,
until recently, Sean Hannity and others. Beck cut tearful promotional
videos for the company, hawks them passionately on his radio and TV
programs, and even designed a coin for the company this year (it
reads "mind your business" on the front).
As it turns out, the company's business model is built on
systematically swindling its mostly elderly clientele by talking or
tricking them into buying overpriced coins or just sending them
different products than they bought, prosecutors in California
alleged, leading the company to settle for $4.5 million in refunds
to its customers. A judge instructed the company to foot the bill
for a court-appointed monitor, who was supposed to ensure the
company stopped its alleged "bait and switch" scam.
Not long after that, the company's former chief compliance
officer came forward to say the company was back to its old tricks.
"Goldline specifically targets vulnerable consumers with sales
tactics designed to pressure those consumers into buying products
that would often result in the consumer losing over one-third of
his or her investment the instant the purchase is made," she said
in a legal complaint filed late last year.
And yet, Beck's support is undiminished. The company's banner ad
still graces the top of TheBlaze.com and Beck still touts them on
air. "Before I started turning you on to Goldline, I wanted to look
them in the eye. This is a top notch organization that's been in
business since 1960," Beck says in an endorsement on the company's
The article has more examples. The prevalence of such fraud on
the right shouldn't surprise. For one thing, their ideology starts
with the assumption that everyone is out for themselves in the
struggle to get rich, and that anyone who succeeds should be
celebrated pretty much no matter how they got there. And there's
a thick streak of sadism to it, so why not masochism too?
Matt Vasilogambros: Americans Increasingly Wonder: Was Afghanistan
Even Worth It?
Now, only 28 percent of Americans think the war in Afghanistan has been
worth fighting, according to an ABC News/Washinton Post poll released on
Friday. Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Americans, by
and large, were united in wanting to track down the people responsible
(as high as 90 percent in 2002). But after 2,000 deaths in America's
longest war, 67 percent of Americans don't think it was worth it.
This poll, conducted July 18-21, represents an 11-point drop since
March. During that time, countless headlines about Afghanistan have
been marked with the unmistakable tension between the U.S. and Afghan
The ten percent of Americans who opposed the mad rush to war in
September 2001 deserve more respect. It was, at the time, entirely
predictable that the war would be disastrous. (If anything, given
how poorly the British, the Russians, and the Americans had faired
in past and recent Afghan wars, such a prediction was if anything
too easy.) While the mess in Afghanistan is readily apparent, what
is harder for people here to grasp is how much damage the Bush Wars
have done to the US: driving deficits and bankruptcy, accumulating
a huge burden of obligations to Veterans, building an insatiable
worldwide security complex, and just turning us into a meaner,
more trigger-happy society. All of that could have been avoided
if only the people who stampeded public opinion had stopped to
consider what they were biting off.
Also, a few links for further study:
Brad DeLong: Mobility, Equality, Geography: Not DeLong's work, but
you can dive in here. The big map shows the odds of a bottom-quintile
child growing up to belong to a higher income quintile, which aren't
good odds anywhere -- the range is from 4.0% in Atlanta (Detroit: 5.1%)
to 11.5% in Salt Lake City (San Diego: 11.2%), so don't buy the notion
that poor national totals just mask local variations. The low-opportunity
areas are overwhelmingly concentrated in the southeast plus parts of
the rust belt and isolated counties with Native American concentrations.
Those are all depressed areas, but they also seem to be areas offering
limited escape options. On the other hand, I can assure you that the
only thing that makes western Kansas and Nebraska high-opportunity areas
is that most young people can't wait to get the hell out of there. The
Dakotas probably have some of that too, but North Dakota is likely helped
by its oil boom, and Utah is indeed growing.
Glenn Greenwald: Democratic establishment unmasked: prime defenders of
NSA bulk spying: The House rejected, 205-217, a bipartisan amendment
to defund the NSA's domestic surveillance program. The program only
became public knowledge when whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed it,
an act for which he has been charged with crimes under the hideous WWI
Espionage Act. The amendment was supported by 94 Republicans and 111
Democrats (vs. no votes by 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats), so it
took the combined party leadership of both parties to prevent it.
Greenwald is especially furious about Nancy Pelosi, but in this she
is mostly a pawn of the White House. Meanwhile, the DOJ conceded that
if the Russians would extradite Snowden, they wouldn't execute or
torture him (noting only that torture is illegal in the US, as if
that is assurance enough that it never happens). Given that nearly
half of the House of Representatives, which isn't exactly the most
representative body in the world, have voted against a policy they
were unaware of before Snowden revealed it, it's really hard to see
that what he did was anything other than a public service.
Tom Engelhardt: Luck Was a Lady Last Week, which compares the
US's relentless international manhunt for Snowden with the search
for CIA honcho Robert Seldon Lady, who was arrested in Panama on
an Interpol warrant from Italy, where he had been convicted of
kidnapping and torturing a Egyptian cleric who had been granted
asylum in Italy. The next day Lady disappeared again, evidently
swept up by the CIA.
I don't have any particularly useful links for the turmoil in Egypt.
The military coup continues to avoid US sanction, probably because
they've moved hard to shut down the border with Gaza, returning Egypt
to its pre-Morsi status as an outpost of Israeli occupation policy.
Increased violence against Morsi's party is also very disturbing: it
is very likely to push Islamists away from democracy and toward armed
resistance, possibly leading to something like the Algerian civil war --
another case where the US backed a military junta against democracy.
We're also starting to see problems in Tunisia, as
Juan Cole explains.
Sunday, July 21. 2013
Rather little and late, but some scattered links this week:
Paul Krugman: Hunger Games, U.S.A.: I've been saying for some time
now that the real pro-business party in DC is the Democrat. All the
Republicans are is the anti-labor party, but of course their loathing
isn't just for unions. They really can't stand just about everyone:
Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party.
We've gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We've even gone beyond
selfishness and special interests. At this point we're talking about
a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further
suffering on the already miserable.
The occasion for these observations is, as you may have guessed,
the monstrous farm bill the House passed last week.
[ . . . ]
So House Republicans voted to maintain farm subsidies -- at a higher
level than either the Senate or the White House proposed -- while
completely eliminating food stamps from the bill.
To fully appreciate what just went down, listen to the rhetoric
conservatives often use to justify eliminating safety-net programs.
It goes something like this: "You're personally free to help the
poor. But the government has no right to take people's money" --
frequently, at this point, they add the words "at the point of a
gun" -- "and force them to give it to the poor."
It is, however, apparently perfectly O.K. to take people's money
at the point of a gun and force them to give it to agribusinesses
and the wealthy.
Now, some enemies of food stamps don't quote libertarian philosophy;
they quote the Bible instead. Representative Stephen Fincher of Tennessee,
for example, cited the New Testament: "The one who is unwilling to work
shall not eat." Sure enough, it turns out that Mr. Fincher has personally
received millions in farm subsidies. [ . . . ]
What is it about, then? Somehow, one of our nation's two great parties
has become infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness, a contempt
for what CNBC's Rick Santelli, in the famous rant that launched the Tea
Party, called "losers." If you're an American, and you're down on your
luck, these people don't want to help; they want to give you an extra
kick. I don't fully understand it, but it's a terrible thing to behold.
"Pathological meanspiritedness" is an accurate enough diagnosis, but
I think the rationale runs more like this: most people below the top
couple percent are taking a beating, and those who aren't down yet are
accumulating unprecedented and unappreciated risk, so what politically
savvy right-wingers want to do is to draw lines on the hunch that people
above the line will use that to feel morally superior to people below
the line. You can find dirt-poor reactionaries who take pride in that
they have jobs (unlike those others), that they've never gotten welfare
(unlike those others), that they don't depend on food stamps (unlike
those others), etc. -- anything to let you feel moral, and it's a short
step from there to hating those others. And this not only works on the
people who qualify, it works on more who are in denial, and on people
who are desperately looking for someone to blame their problems on.
What we're seeing isn't the start of this dynamic -- it's the rotten
heart of having lived there too long. On the other hand, this doesn't
work if you identify with the other, or even if you just recognize the
other, especially if you believe no people should suffer so. This isn't
a real promising strategy, but it's kept the Republicans competitive
and kept their base engaged.
Krugman didn't really get into this, but the food stamps program not
only helps people avoid starvation, it helps businesses too: especially
local retailers, and employers who get by with paying unlivable wages --
score two for WalMart there, plus a share of all that trickles back to
agribusiness. Probably helps suppress crime, too, and may be one of the
most cost-effective ways of doing that. And keeps those starving people
from showing up in hospital emergency rooms -- another substantial cost
For whatever it's worth, I don't mind the subsidies on the other end
of the agriculture bill. I'd probably tune them differently, but some
degree of regulation is necessary because the market for agricultural
produce is wildly unstable. And if some big farmers and corporations
get too much, I'd rather tax that back on the other end than rail
against "corporate welfare." We could all use a little more welfare,
and if there's any real evidence that makes us lazy, we can deal with
that then. Could be we don't really need to work so hard after all.
May even be the case that if fewer of us did, there would be more
(and better) opportunities for the others.
Sean McElwee: Steve Jobs didn't build that: On how US patent laws
stifle innovation, not to mention rip us off:
Rather than promoting innovation, patents allow for capitalists to monopolize
public research and knowledge for private gain. At times, it's simply absurd;
David Martin, who has made his career assessing patents, explains that "30
percent of U.S. patents are essentially on things that have already been
invented." Just like the oil barons of Saudi Arabia who build their regimes
by exploiting their country's vast natural resources, the tech barons of
America build their wealth by exploiting a vast intellectual heritage that
is not theirs to take. The implications of IPR are clear: They will be used
to bludgeon poor countries, as we've already seen with trade agreements like
TRIPS; they will drive a further gap between rich and poor by allowing the
rich to monopolize on our shared knowledge; and they will hamper innovation
by preventing new research.
Alex Pareene: Aspiring warlord Liz Cheney is good for democracy:
She announced she's running for Sen. Mike Enzi's seat. When I heard
this I guessed that she wants to run for president (or veep) before
long, and figured that getting elected for something would give her
credibility that she hasn't really garnered through nepotism yet.
Liz Cheney is obviously a resident in fairly good standing of rarefied
political Washington, and she is also undoubtedly a monster, but there
is really no good reason she shouldn't go run for something if she wants
to, even if some guy already has that seat. If we're going to give Wyoming
two senators for some reason, can we really complain if they decide they
want one of them to be Liz Cheney? [ . . . ]
Liz Cheney can help make everyone notice that the Republican Party
has reached rock bottom. She might also help everyone see that our
electoral system is in dire need of a complete overhauling. Sure, she
would be a horrible senator. But since when is Mike Enzi so great?
If he wants to put up a fight, I doubt Enzi would have much trouble
swatting Cheney down. He'd have little trouble portraying her as an
interloper, something that plays especially well in the more parochial
parts of the country. And even if the family name isn't as tarnished
in Wyoming as elsewhere, her dad left office with an approval rating
of something like 8%, about as low as has ever been measured. Plus he
can point to people like Pareene giddy over Cheney running. Her only
real advantage is that she can raise a lot more money, but again,
almost all of it is going to come from out of state, and the only
reason she can raise that is her national ambitions: ergo, this is
just a stepping stone and she doesn't really want to serve Wyoming,
she's just out for herself.
Also, a few links for further study:
Robert Brenner: What Is Good for Goldman Sachs Is Good for America [PDF]:
Long piece (74 pages), and I've only read a bit of it, but let me quote
part of the intro:
The fundamental source of today's crisis is the steadily declining
vitality of the advanced capitalist economies over three decades,
business-cycle by business-cycle, right into the present. The long
term weakening of capital accumulation and of aggregate demand has
been rooted in a profound system wide decline and failure to recover
of the rate of return on capital, resulting largely -- though not
only -- from a persistent tendency to over-capacity, i.e. oversupply,
in global manufacturing industries. From the start of the long downturn
in 1973, economic authorities staved off the kind of crises that had
historically plagued the capitalist system by resort to ever greater
borrowing, public and private, subsidizing demand. But they secured
a modicum of stability only at the cost of deepening stagnation, as
the ever greater buildup of debt and the failure to disperse over
capacity left the economy ever less responsive to stimulus. In a much
heralded attempt to break beyond the addiction to borrowing, in 1993
the Clinton administration, and later its EU counterparts, committed
themselves to balancing the budget, a goal that was more than realized
by the end of the decade. The economy would henceforth be liberated
from the dead hand of the state, and driven ever upwards by the
all-knowing, market. But, what this dramatic shift actually accomplished
was to reveal the persisting stasis of the economy system-wide, no less
shackled than before by its profound problem with profitability and
capital accumulation. The resulting hit to demand helped push the
advanced capitalist world into its worst cyclical downturn of the
postwar period between 1991 and 1995, laying bare the system's lack
of an engine and opening the way to a succession of major financial
crises -- from Japan to England and Scandinavia to Mexico and Brazil.
So far, this is a fairly standard Marxist analysis of the crisis --
David Harvey's The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism
lays out a similar argument. And it's basically true as far as it goes,
but rather than blaming the need for higher returns to capital, I see
this as the mixed effect of increasing inequality and globalization.
The capacity build-up was based on the assumption that demand would
grow in and out of the third world, and political (more than economic)
considerations demanded that it be built there. Both these factors
tended to rot out the middle class in the US, a fact that could only
be masked for so long by expanding consumer debt and the housing
bubble. Will be interesting to see where Brenner goes with this.
His key point, that the downturn goes back to 1973, is essential.
Mike Konczal: We Already Tried Libertarianism - It Was Called Feudalism:
I've always been sympathetic to libertarians -- after all, there's a lot
of evidence of abuse of power by states throughout history -- but I find
they keep smashing into practical problems whenever they try to move from
critique to program. So I doubt that what I see as best in libertarianism
really matches up well with feudalism, but what's worst may well. The
piece discusses this as some length, using Robert Nozick's Anarchy,
State, and Utopia as the standard definition of libertarianism. For
now, all I want to do is quote Konczal's definition of liberalism, as
derived from a paper by Samuel Freeman:
Freeman notes that there are several key institutional features of
liberal political structures shared across a variety of theorists.
First, there's a set of basic rights each person equally shares
(speech, association, thought, religion, conscience, voting and
holding office, etc.) that are both fundamental and inalienable
(more on those terms in a bit). Second, there's a public political
authority which is impartial, institutional, continuous, and held in
trust to be acted on in a representative capacity. Third, positions
should be open to talented individuals alongside some fairness in
equality of opportunity. And last, there's a role for governments
in the market for providing public goods, checking market failure,
and providing a social minimum.
I grew up pretty critical of liberalism, blaming liberals for all
sorts of travesties, especially the Cold and Vietnam Wars, but I
have to say, what's so bad about what this paragraph calls for?
The trick is making government representative and submissive to
public interests, but doing that promises to solve a lot of problems
with markets and private fiefdoms.
John Lanchester: Are we having fun yet? and
Let's consider Kate: Two recent articles on the UK banking system:
the first a long laundry list of expensive scandals including the LIBOR
manipulation and the PPI fraud, which ultimately shows how rotten the
whole system is; and the second more on what, if anything, can be done
about it -- mostly focusing on higher capital requirements, citing
Anat Admati/Martin Hellwig: The Bankers' New Clothes: What's Wrong
With Banking and What to Do About It as "the most important book
to have emerged from the crisis."
By the way, Lanchester also has a piece on
Game of Thrones, in case you're interested.
Thursday, July 18. 2013
Special Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman edition links:
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice:
Takes "a very hard look" at the applicable law, especially as formulated
in the judge's instructions to the jury, and concludes that Zimmerman's
"not guilty" verdict was pretty much what the system ordained.
I have seen nothing within the actual case presented by the prosecution
that would allow for a stable and unvacillating belief that George
Zimmerman was guilty.
That conclusion should not offer you security or comfort. It should
not leave you secure in the wisdom of our laws. On the contrary, it
should greatly trouble you. But if you are simply focusing on what
happened in the court-room, then you have been head-faked by history
and bought into a idea of fairness which can not possibly exist.
The injustice inherent in the killing of Trayvon Martin by George
Zimmerman was not authored by a jury given a weak case. The jury's
performance may be the least disturbing aspect of this entire affair.
The injustice was authored by a country which has taken as its policy,
for the lionshare of its history, to erect a pariah class. The killing
of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is not an error in programming.
It is the correct result of forces we set in motion years ago and have
done very little to arrest.
One need only look the criminalization of Martin across the country.
Perhaps you have been lucky enough to not receive the above "portrait"
of Trayvon Martin and its accompanying text. The portrait is actually
of a 32-year old man. Perhaps you were lucky enough to not see the
Trayvon Martin imagery used for target practice (by law enforcement,
no less.) Perhaps you did not see the iPhone games. Or maybe you missed
the theory presently being floated by Zimmerman's family that Martin
was a gun-runner and drug-dealer in training, that texts and tweets
he sent mark him as a criminal in waiting. Or the theory floated that
the mere donning of a hoodie marks you a thug, leaving one wondering
why this guy is a criminal and this one is not.
[ . . . ]
It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of
American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system
malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our
juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this,
is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter
and wonder why we couldn't come back from twenty-four down.
I don't know that the verdict itself was racist, but the examples
in the next-to-last paragraph -- go to the article to get all the
links -- really are racist. Moreover, I think there is probable cause
to think that anyone who argues that Zimmerman was fully justified
or did the right thing and celebrates him as some sort of hero is
racist. Also that you will be able to get a good sense of how racist
Zimmerman is by whether he embraces or distances himself from those
people. (One sign is
this report on TPM: "Quite telling that in the immediate aftermath
of the Zimmerman verdict, Zimmerman's lawyer is going off about reverse
racism and his brother is suggesting that Martin was a drug dealer and
Jason Gubbels: Burned Baby Burned: The Riots That Weren't: Quotes
from right-wing hacks Pat Buchanan, Paul Huebl, Paul Joseph Watson,
Rush Limbaugh, and gullible journalist Adam Nagourney predicting
massive black rioting if Zimmerman is acquitted. Most people have a
tendency to project their own character flaws onto others, and that's
a big chunk of what's going on here: these right-wingers are bitter,
violent, paranoid minds, so they assume everyone else; moreover, they
subconsciously understand that blacks have good reason to be bitter
and paranoid, but don't get that violence only plays into the hands
of the forces capable of the most violence -- the state. Or maybe
they just hope they can change the story away from self-appointed
vigilante acosts and murders harmless black teenager and gets away
with it, as whites have done for hundreds of years down South.
David Weigel: Who's Disappointed About the Lack of Mass Zimmerman
Verdict Riots?, which focuses on the Drudge Report.
Ed Kilgore: Cohen Goes All Archie Bunker: That's Richard Cohen,
Washington Post columnist, past winner of (and perennial
contender in) Alex Pareene's Hackathon, whose column on the Zimmerman
verdict amounts to a defense brief of racial profiling, both by
police and by self-appointed vigilantes like Zimmerman. Kilgore:
You'd think that in cogitating so hard on this situation it might
have occurred to Cohen that in the equation -- vigilante + gun +
black hoodie-wearing teenager + fight = "tragic" but not culpable
slaying -- the first two items might have stood out to him as a
problem. But no, we are left to infer, the danger posed by these
savage young black men justifies not just racial profiling and
deadly force deployed by trained and sworn public authorities,
but by anyone "understandably" suspecting young black men of
Let's be clear about this much: racial profiling is racist,
and for the most part it is illegal. Police can get away with it,
to a point, because they're police, and also because pretty much
everyone recognizes that they have to submit to the police, even
when it's clearly unwarranted harrassment. Maybe, once you're
cleared and released, you can go file a complaint and argue that
the cop harrassed you solely on the basis of your race, but you
can't do that on the spot, and for most people it's not worth
the trouble. So the police to a large extent can get away with
racial profiling. But George Zimmerman wasn't police. He had no
authority to follow and accost Martin, and Martin had no reason
or obligation to submit to Zimmerman. In fact, had Martin been
armed and shot and killed Zimmerman after the latter accosted
him, he most likely would also have been acquitted on grounds
of self-defense, if indeed he was charged (he would have had a
much better case than Zimmerman did).
That Cohen justifies what Zimmerman did as "racial profiling"
shows that he assumes that Zimmerman had a right to police his
claimed turf. The only explanation for such an assumption is
racism. If the DoJ decides to charge Zimmerman with violating
Martin's civil rights, they can use Cohen's testimony.
For more on Cohen, see
Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Banality of Richard Cohen and Racial Profiling:
What you must understand is that when the individual lives of those
freighted by racism are deemed less than those who are not, all other
inhumanities follow. That is the logic of Richard Cohen. It is the
logic of Barack Obama's potential head of the DHS [Ray Kelly, NYC
police commissioner, "the most prominent advocate of profile our
current pariah classes -- black people and Muslim Americans"]. This
logic is not new, original or especially egregious. It is the logic
of the country's largest city. It is the logic of the American state.
It is the logic scribbled across the lion's share of our history.
And it is the logic that killed Trayvon Martin.
Richard Florida: It's Not Just Zimmerman: Race Matters a Lot in
'Stand Your Ground' Verdicts: It makes perfect sense to me that
had Martin as well as Zimmerman been armed, and had Martin managed
to shoot Zimmerman first, he would have been justified under the
self-defense doctrine, with or without the "Stand Your Ground" law.
Of course, I'm assuming the law is neutral regarding race, but lots
of people think race makes a difference, and I'm as aware as any
of you that's been the case in the past -- indeed, we can cite many
cases where white murderers far more premeditated than Zimmerman
have gotten off scot free. Florida provides some statistics and
charts that show that race still does matter:
Based on this new analysis, Roman tells me via email that: "The
criminal justice system is rife with racial disparities. From
searches of motor vehicles during traffic stops, to stop-and-frisk
encounters and arrests, to sentencing and parole decisions, black
Americans -- especially young black males -- come in contact with
the police and courts far more often than their share of the
population would predict. The chasm in justifiable homicide
rulings, however, is vastly larger than other disparities and
deserves intense scrutiny."
The Zimmerman verdict is clearly not an isolated incident. It
instead reflects the deep and enduring ways that race has become
entangled with how America views, treats, and prosecutes crime --
a problem that is not going away.
William Saletan: You Are Not Trayvon Martin: Almost didn't bother
with this one -- Saletan was a Hackathon finalist, although he did
lose to Cohen -- and it starts out: "His death wasn't about race,
guns, or your pet issue. It was about misjudgment and overreaction --
exactly what we're doing now to the verdict." Maybe, but those "pet
issues" are real issues, and are more important than this specific
case. Still, this much is worth adding to the record:
Zimmerman is guilty, morally if not legally, of precipitating the
confrontation that led to Martin's death. He did many things wrong.
Mistake No. 1 was inferring that Martin was a burglar. In his 911
call, Zimmerman cited Martin's behavior. "It's raining, and he's
just walking around" looking at houses, Zimmerman said. He warned
the dispatcher, "He's got his hand in his waistband." He described
Martin's race and clothing only after the dispatcher asked about
them. Whatever its basis, the inference was false.
Mistake No. 2 was pursuing Martin on foot. Zimmerman had already
done what the neighborhood watch rules advised: He had called the
police. They would have arrived, questioned Martin, and ascertained
that he was innocent. Instead, Zimmerman, packing a concealed firearm,
got out and started walking after Martin. Zimmerman's initial story,
that he was trying to check the name of the street, was so laughable
that his attorneys abandoned it. He was afraid Martin would get away.
So he followed Martin, hoping to update the cops.
Mistake No. 3 was Zimmerman's utter failure to imagine how his
behavior looked to Martin. You're a black kid walking home from a
convenience store with Skittles and a fruit drink. Some dude in a
car is watching and trailing you. God knows what he wants. You run
away. He gets out of the car and follows you. What are you supposed
to do? In Zimmerman's initial interrogation, the police expressed
surprise that he hadn't identified himself to Martin as a neighborhood
watch volunteer. They suggested that Martin might have been alarmed
when Zimmerman reached for an object that Zimmerman, but not Martin,
knew was a phone. Zimmerman seemed baffled. He was so convinced of
Martin's criminal intent that he hadn't considered how Martin, if
he were innocent, would perceive his stalker.
This inability to understand what other people are thinking is
one of the great problems of our (or probably any) time. Saletan
then goes on to blame Martin for referring to Zimmerman as a
"creepy-ass cracker," arguing that both were in the wrong for
"racial profiling." Maybe, but only one of the two had a gun and
an itchy trigger finger, and only one presumed the right to poke
his nose into the other's business.
Steve M: I'm Not Sure Zimmerman Will Become a Full-Fledged Right-Wing
Zimmerman is already a hero of a sort to a certain segment of the public,
which thinks he did absolutely the right thing and got crucified for it.
But for him to become a real right-wing rock star, I think he's going to
have to own his hatred of Trayvon Martin. He's going to have to go out
in public and boast of what he did. He's going to have to do things like
show up at Ted Nugent shows waving his gun in sync with Ted waving one
of his, in a sort of NRA version of the twin-guitar attack. He's going
to have to be defiant.
He hasn't looked that way through the trial. He's looked sheepish.
Yeah, he won, and the wingnut population of America likes the fact that
liberals' and African-Americans' faces were rubbed in the verdict, but
he doesn't come off as having rubbed our faces in it, just because he
looked cowed during the trial. Right-wingers want him to seem
angry. [ . . . ]
I think that's Zimmerman's future -- being a sad man who briefly
became a hero to angry people for doing a horrible thing, but who,
fortunately, will never fully exploit the situation.
M. makes a comparison to Bernhard Goetz, "the 1980s vigilante
who shot four young men he said were attempting to mug him on the
New York subway in 1984." He was acquitted of attempted murder,
and was lauded as a hero for a while, but has scarcely been heard
from since then. Zimmerman certainly has reason to lie low now:
the possibility that the feds will bring civil rights charges
against him, and the greater likelihood that he will be sued in
civil court for wrongful death damages. But several things make
him less likely to crawl under a rock than Goetz (who did some
jail time for having the gun, whereas Zimmerman gets his back):
the political climate, for one. Good chance he'll brush up with
the law in the future, and he's unlikely to be as lucky next
Other links of some interest:
Finally, there's this
Dexter/Zimmerman image. If you don't immediately get the joke,
you probably don't know Dexter, a TV show now in its eighth
season where the hero is a psychopathic serial killer who's not
such a bad guy because he's been programmed only kill other serial
killers who otherwise can't be brought to justice. Some debate as
to whether Zimmerman is really worth Dexter's attention -- after
all, he isn't really a serial killer . . . yet!
Dexter, whose hero, by the way, works as a cop, is one of
many examples of how far US popular culture has gone toward embracing
real criminality. I date this back to a 1968 television series called
It Takes a Thief -- I recall especially that the hero there
used to describe prison time as "graduate school." He was released
from jail to steal things for US government "secret intelligence
agency." Of course, by then characters in I Spy (1965-68) and
Mission Impossible (1966-73), not to mention the real life CIA,
were doing similar things (admittedly, the CIA not as competently). It
wasn't long after (1974) until Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson in Death
Wish) was roaming the streets of New York hoping to get mugged so
he could "defend himself" and kill the malefactors. I don't recall the
first time I saw a movie where clearly identified good guys managed
to get rich by ripping off drug dealers -- there must have been dozens
of them, with some coming undone and others living happily ever after.
Eventually you get to something like Breaking Bad where it
ceases to even matter whether the hero is evil, except insofar as
you wonder how evil can he really get, and how much of it you can
stand. (I gave up on that one after the first season.)
I don't blame popular culture. Rather, I think it reflects the
nation's declining moral state, as exemplified by the CIA, the FBI,
the Vietnam War, Watergate, the War on Drugs, Iran-Contra, the War
on Terror, Obama's drone war and secrecy prosecutions, alongside
which we've allowed and encouraged business to be ever more greedy
and rapacious, while the vast expansion of gambling shows how we've
come to view money as a plaything rather than a measure of work --
a confluence of greed and violence that an earlier America strived
against, but which are celebrated today.
And that's the world that made George Zimmerman, and some people --
I've already lost that Ann Coulter link, but you know she's one --
regard him as a hero. I'd worry more about them than Zimmerman.
Sunday, July 14. 2013
Some scattered links this week. But first, this week's Richard
Crowson cartoon, which would have been a fine illustration for last
night's Koch post, or indeed on anything else on Kansas over the
last two years:
Today's "Opinion Line" was roughly divided between comments critical
of the Kochs and ones that echoed their smug lines: "I fail to understand
why it is 'greed' to want to keep your hard-earned money but not 'greed'
to take someone else's money." "The biggest problem with this country is
that there are too many people sitting in the wagon rather than pulling
the wagon. Unless our government quites giving able-bodied people free
rides, we're doomed financially." Somehow I find it hard to think of
Charles Koch's income as "hard-earned money," and if anyone's "riding
in the wagon" it is he.
In other Wichita news, five people were shot last night, one dead,
but the paper had no details. Earlier a guy was killed in his apartment,
where he retreated after having fired shots in a local K-Mart. Not clear
on the details there, either. Then there was this front-page article:
Lawyer says robbery victim 'stepped over the line': Someone tried
to rob a coin shop, using a BB gun that looked like a 9mm handgun. The
clerk handed over $2,800 in loot, then pulled out a real gun, and they
fought over it, leaving both clerk and robber shot, but the robber was
able to break free and escape. The clerk then took another gun and shot
the fleeing robber in the back. The robber survived: he was quickly
caught, was convicted of the robbery, and sentenced to 12 years (a
long time, but he had a history and was on probation). Hard to say that
the latter act was self-defense, but for once I wouldn't be inclined
to charge him (even if the robber had died). The continuity of the
acts counts for something, and it's hard to recognize just when the
threat ends (especially if you've been threatened with a gun, beaten,
On the other hand, I worry that the conclusion armed robbers will
draw from this is to shoot sooner, and I'll note that if the clerk
hadn't had the guns nobody would have been shot. Our ultra-lax gun
policy is creating a cult of aggressive self-defense that will lead
to a sort of arms race between criminals and target-victims, with
lots of borderline cases and extraneous victims. I wrote about a
case a few months ago --
Over a Barrel -- where a Wichita man named Cheever was charged
with second degree murder. He took a gun and a friend with him,
entered the back yard of a neighbor (Gammon) he suspected of stealing
his motorcycle. Gammon challenged the intruder, and had his own gun
for emphasis. The intruder, Cheever, then shot and killed Gammon in
his own backyard and claimed he did so in self-defense. The trial
was underway when I wrote, so I didn't know the verdict then, but
the jury bought the self-defense argument, so Cheever was acquitted.
Had Gammon shot first he almost certainly would have been acquitted
too, if indeed he had even been charged. It occurs to me now that
if Cheever had intended to kill Gammon from the start -- and they
seem to have had a long history of mutual hatred -- what he did was
a perfectly good scheme to get away with it.
As you all no doubt know by now, a while back a white guy in
Florida, George Zimmerman, shot and killed a unarmed black teenager
and claimed it was self-defense. (For a straightforward account
of the uncontested facts of the case, see this piece by
Roberto Martinez.) Since Florida is a state with a
sordid past of allowing white guys to kill blacks and get away with
it, this became a big news story, and it ultimately resulted in
Zimmerman being charged with and tried for second-degree murder
(with a manslaughter option). The jury acquitted Zimmerman. It's
not clear what this proves: one possibiity is that Florida is as
racist as ever, but another is that we've gotten very soft in the
head over claims of self-defense. (Here's a thought experiment:
what if Trayvon Martin, the black teenager, had his own gun and
had shot first?)
TPM quoted a letter from "a criminal defense lawyer in Wisconsin,"
who tried to figure out what happened and attributes much of it to
nuances of law specific to Florida:
I was astounded that the defense would put on a "self-defense" argument
without the defendant testifying. In most civilized jurisdictions, the
burden is on the defense to prove, at least more likely than not, that
the law breaking was done for reasons of self-defense. I couldn't
figure out how they could do this without the defendant's testimony.
I got curious and read the jury instructions Friday night and, I was
wrong. In Florida, if self-defense is even suggested, it's the states
obligation to prove it's absence beyond a reasonable doubt(!). That's
crazy. But 'not guilty' was certainly a reasonable result in this case.
As I told in friend in Tampa today though, if you're ever in a heated
argument with anyone, and you're pretty sure there aren't any witnesses,
it's always best to kill the other person. They can't testify, you don't
have to testify, no one else has any idea what happened; how can the
state ever prove beyond a doubt is wasn't self-defense? Holy crap!
What kind of system is that?
Well, it's a system that we've talked ourselves into constructing
because we've bought into the argument that people need to be armed
to defend themselves. Lots of things go into that argument: declining
respect for the law, for the police, and for the courts; distrust of
government, which is often justified because the government reports
to, and is preoccupied with, the rich. This is yet another area where
increasing inequality has been poisoning the culture: today's mantra
is we have to be responsible for ourselves, and can only depend on
ourselves, which soon degenerates into the notion that the last true
friend and ally we are allowed is a gun. The more people with guns
there are, the more people get shot: accidentally, of course, like
this incident, where two toddlers were playing "cops and robbers,"
or in all sorts of fuzzy gray areas, like Zimmerman and Cheever. And
this, in turn, has led to all sorts of perverse scenarios, like the
"recommendation" of the defense attorney above.
My own theory is that the right, attempting to cling onto power
despite the fact that virtually nothing they've done in the last 30
years has worked even on its own terms, have actively adopted a
program of inculcating mass stupidity. This is just one of many
But I also have to admit that I can't hear the words "self-defense"
without thinking of Israel. If you want some idea of how far a "right
to self-defense" can go toward covering up cold-blooded murder, take
a look at Israel's recent history (like ever since
Qibya in 1953).
On to the links:
Paul Krugman: Political Inflationistas: Quotes Noah Smith
suggesting that economists who predict inflation from expansionary
monetary policy these days -- and we're actually talking Bernanke,
so not all that expansionary -- are either fools, blowhards, or
cynics (not exactly his terms), although personally I wouldn't
exclude the possibility of all three.
Look at the 23-economist letter warning Bernanke against QE, and
you'll see several people who really don't fit his typology. Michael
Boskin, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, John Taylor, and several others have
not, historically, been equilibrium-macro types, devoting their
careers to the proposition that monetary policy can do nothing but
cause inflation. On the contrary, their analytical models have always,
whether they admit it or not, been more or less Keynesian. The same
is true for a few other monetary hawks who didn't sign this letter,
e.g. Allan Meltzer and Martin Feldstein. (Way back, one colleague
described Meltzer's work with Karl Brunner as "Just Tobin with some
So what is it that makes these guys -- whose analytical framework,
when you come down to it, doesn't seem very different from Bernanke's,
or mine -- so hostile to expansionary monetary policy? What do they
have in common? The obvious answer is that they're all very committed
Republicans. And it's hard to escape the suspicion that what's really
going on is that they're bitterly opposed to expansionary policy when
a Democrat is in the White House.
We could have tested that proposition if Mitt Romney had won. But
doing that test would have been a clear case of unethical human
Andrew Leonard: Peak oil's death has been greatly exaggerated:
I haven't looked at
The Oil Drum lately, but I'm
sad to hear that the website is no longer being updated. I bought
into the "peak oil" theory some years ago, reading Kenneth S. Deffeyes'
Beyond Oil: The View From Hubbert's Peak (2005, Hill and Wang),
Richard Heinberg's The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of
Industrial Societies (2003, New Society), and Matthew Simmons'
Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World
Economy (2005, Wiley), among other books. The basic theory still
strikes me as correct, but we've seen a temporary burst of production,
especially in the US, due to fracking (but also note that demand has
dropped along with the economy), and that's pushed peak oil talk to
the back burner. Leonard quotes "Joules Burn" as saying:
Closer to reality is that, while there have been some advances, it is
mostly that continued high prices made the application of pre-existing
technology worth the financial risk of drilling expensive, rapidly
depleting wells on land that one must pay royalties on in addition.
We have had some recent posts indicating that well performance has
been getting worse instead of better, so even at current prices, the
future is uncertain. At the same time, US consumption is still down
from what it was prior to 2008, and the net result is a lot of feel-good
myths about imminent US energy independence.
Critics of the theory of peak oil will argue that higher prices will
always result in new technological advances that will increase production
or otherwise improve the efficiency with which fossil fuels are transformed
into energy. But if Joules Burn is right, the long-run "truth" of peak oil
is currently being obscured by a short-term unsustainable boost in production.
And if that's the case, one could argue that, now, more than ever, we need
voices disputing the new complacency while we still have time to move more
aggressively to renewable sources of energy before we hit the real crunch.
Catherine Thompson: Insurer Refuses to Cover Gun-Carrying Kansas Schools:
When a bunch of children in Connecticut were killed by a gunman, our
genius Kansas legislators rushed out their solution, which is to arm
Kansas schoolteachers so they can shoot it out with would-be mass
murderers. Turns out that the company that writes most of the school
insurance policies in the state didn't think that was such a good
idea: their actuarial models, or maybe just common sense, suggested
that more guns will spell greater risks. Probably just a blip as far
as the law is concerned, as other insurance companies are willing to
overlook the risk issue for new business. Whether doing so lets them
remain in business is an open question, but presumably the state
will make up for the losses (or just pass new laws disclaiming the
liability). After all, the state can always raise the sales tax,
making sure everyone (but businesses) pays their fair share.
Had to cut this short because I lost a few hours to a power outage
along the way -- not to mention the long preamble. Leaves that much
more for later, I guess.
Sunday, July 7. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Juan Cole: How Egypt's Michele Bachmann Became President and Plunged
the Country Into Chaos:
Despite Egypt's sagging economy, Morsi did not make stimulating it his
first priority, and instead tried to please the International Monetary
Fund with austerity policies, rather on the model of the Mariano Rajoy
government in Spain. The Brotherhood's class base is private business,
whether small or large, and Morsi has been distinctly unfriendly to the
demands of labor unions and to those of the public sector, which account
for half of the country's economy. In 2009, economists such as Paul
Krugman warned that Barack Obama's stimulus was far too small. Morsi,
steward of a much more fragile economy, put forth no stimulus at all.
[ . . . ]
In November 2012, Morsi abruptly announced on television that he was
above the rule of law and his executive orders could not be overturned
by the judiciary until such time as a new constitution was passed. He
seems in part to have been trying to protect the religious-right-dominated
constitutional drafting committee. His announcement enraged substantial
sections of the Egyptian public, who had joined to overthrow dictator
Hosni Mubarak precisely because the latter had held himself above the
rule of law.
In response to the massive demonstrations that his presidential decree
provoked, Morsi pushed through a constitution that is unacceptable to a
large swath of Egyptians. Even though two dozen members of the drafting
committee resigned to protest key provisions of the draft constitution,
which they saw as back doors for theocracy, Morsi accepted the
Brotherhood/Salafi draft and presented it to the nation in a countrywide
referendum. Egypt's judges, who are supposed to preside over and certify
the balloting, went on strike, but the president forged ahead anyway.
Only 33 percent of voters went to the polls, many of them supporters of
the president. The constitution was passed, but much of the country
clearly was uncomfortable with it. Morsi's promise of a consensual
document was hollow. The referendum could not be certified as free
and fair by international standards.
In that dodgy 2009 speech in Cairo -- in which he [Obama] managed to
refer to Palestinian "dislocation" rather than "dispossession" --
Obama made the following remarkable comment, which puts the events
in Egypt today into a rather interesting perspective. There were some
leaders, he said, "who advocate for democracy only when they are out
of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights
of others . . . you must respect the rights of minorities,
and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must
place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the
political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections
alone do not make true democracy."
Obama did not say this in the aftermath of the coup-that-wasn't.
He uttered these very words in Egypt itself just over four years ago.
And it pretty much sums up what Mohamed Morsi did wrong. He treated
his Muslim Brotherhood mates as masters rather than servants of the
people, showed no interest in protecting Egypt's Christian minority,
and then enraged the Egyptian army by attending a Brotherhood meeting
at which Egyptians were asked to join the holy war in Syria to kill
Shiites and overthrow Bashar al-Assad's regime.
I don't have much to say about the coup in Egypt. It does appear
New York Times article) that the US was excessively involved in the
coup. The region, and for that matter the US, would be much better off
if the US could develop real indifference to every country's internal
affairs. As it is, we regularly work off bad information and prejudices
with no sensitivity to how our actions are viewed -- time and again, a
recipe for disaster.
Ed Kilgore: "Getting Over" Jim Crow:
What makes this "oh, get over it" attitude especially maddening is that
the extraordinary effort that culminated in the enactment of the Civil
Rights Act (and then the Voting Rights Act the next year) was necessitated
by the refusal of the South to accept defeat in a war a century earlier
and its successful resistance to the Civil Rights Amendments enacted to
ensure the region didn't just revert to its antebellum racial practices.
The entire history of race relations in the South has been a story of
racists taking the long view and outlasting the wandering attention span
of those demanding change -- who out of fatigue or competing priorities
or their own prejudices "got over it" and left the South to its own
devices. [ . . . ]
The ultimate point is that the "discriminatory" special rules governing
the South that conservatives find so offensive is actually pretty light
penance for centuries of systematic denial of human rights to (depending
on the particular time and place) nearly half or more than half the local
population -- which from the perspective of history just ended the day
before yesterday, over the violent resistance of the perpetrators, who
more or less continued their political and economic hegemony over the
South without serious interruption.
How long should the South have to put up with the terrible indignity
of being treated differently? Well, at least until most of the last
victims of full-fledged, unapologetic Jim Crow persecution are laid to
rest: maybe until 2031, the date when the last congressional extension
of the Voting Rights Act (the extension casually pushed aside by
Shelby County v. Holder) expires.
I'd like to add two things. One is that it is common in America to
subject criminals to a period of probation where they have fewer rights
than other people, so why not apply this to the criminal acts of states?
Jim Crow was a severe violation of the US constitution and of the basic
principles of human rights, and as such should be viewed as a crime, one
that by its magnitude is all the more despicable. The other thing is that
the limitation specified by the Voting Rights Act is not onerous: it lets
the federal government review and intercede before illegal state laws can
take effect, rather than have to wait until they can be challenged in the
courts. If all the Roberts court wanted to do was to remove the "stigma"
of a law which was limited to the set of states that had previously (and
repeatedly) violated it, they could have extended the limitation to all
states. Indeed, there would be good reason for such a ruling: the Voting
Rights Act prevented "voter ID" laws in Alabama and Texas from disenfranching
minority voters, while very similar laws in Arizona and Kansas were allowed
to go into effect. Moreover, by extending the law, the Court wouldn't have
overturned the intent of Congress in passing the Voting Rights Act.
John Sides: Race and voting after the Voting Rights Act: What you need
to know. Six point, most showing that the "covered areas" the Supreme
Court let off probation were covered for good reason and are still
Paul Krugman: On the Politican Economy of Permanent Stagnation:
Not as clear as he could be, a lot of hem and haw on austerity, "dubious
reasons for monetary tightening," sustained high unemployment, and so
forth, raises the question "how does this end?"
Here's a depressing thought: maybe it doesn't.
[ . . . ]
But won't there be an ever-growing demand from the public for action?
Actually, that's not at all clear. While there is growing "austerity
fatigue" in Europe, and this might provoke a crisis, the overwhelming
result from U.S. political studies is that the level of unemployment
matters hardly at all for elections; all that matters is the rate of
change in the months leading up to the election. In other words, high
unemployment could become accepted as the new normal, politically as
well as in economic analysis.
I guess what I'm saying is that I worry that a more or less permanent
depression could end up simply becoming accepted as the way things are,
that we could suffer endless, gratuitous suffering, yet the political
and policy elite would feel no need to change its ways.
Don't we already know that "the political and policy elite" has
already decided that there's no need for change? The recession has
been over for the rich for several years now -- a signal that was
clearly sent when the stock markets started posting new record highs.
They've been able to push all their depression-extending proposals
because they've discovered that slowing down the economy doesn't
really hurt the rich. All it does is to depress the labor market,
and that just makes the rich feel -- relatively speaking, but that's
what matters most to them -- that much richer. And that isn't going
to stop until people take increasing inequality seriously and stop
For a long time, there's been an implicit social contract around
the importance of economic growth. In a nutshell, business said that
if you give us more freedom to operate worldwide, we'll be able to
grow the economy more, and that will be good for everyone. That may
have seemed like a good deal as long as labor got their share and
the public got taxes and converted them into public goods, but all
that has changed over the last couple decades. Business has abused
their "freedom" and kept ever more of the profits, so that growth
no longer benefits labor and the public -- it all goes to the owners.
Moreover, they've found that they don't even need growth to get a
bigger cut: they can obtain it directly by impoverishing labor and
the public. Of course, they couldn't do that in the old days when
labor was organized and able not only to challenge business directly
but also to elect labor-friendly governments. But for the time being
that's not a problem. What is a problem is that their impoverishment
of labor and the public has made the economy stagnant: there can't
be growth because there isn't sufficient demand because money is
ever more concentrated in the hands of people who save rather than
Seems to me this has to break sooner or later, because it's a
Jane Mayer: Koch Pledge Tied to Congressional Climate Inaction:
Another way the Kochs aim to subvert democracy in the US:
Fossil fuel magnates Charles and David Koch have, through Americans
for Prosperity, a conservative group they back, succeeded in persuading
many members of Congress to sign a little-known pledge in which they
have promised to vote against legislation relating to climate change
unless it is accompanied by an equivalent amount of tax cuts. Since
most solutions to the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions require
costs to the polluters and the public, the pledge essentially commits
those who sign to it to vote against nearly any meaningful bill
regarding global warning, and acts as yet another roadblock to
action. [ . . . ]
The 2010 mid-term elections were a high watermark for the pledge.
The Kochs, like many other conservative benefactors, gave generously
to efforts to help shift the majority in the House of Representatives
from Democratic to Republican. Koch Industries's political action
committee spent $1.3 million on congressional campaigns that year.
When Republicans did take control of the House, a huge block of
climate-change opponents was empowered. Fully one hundred and
fifty-six members of the House of Representatives that year had
signed the "No Climate Tax Pledge." Of the eighty-five freshmen
Republican congressmen elected to the House of Representatives in
2010, seventy-six had signed the No Climate Tax pledge. Fifty-seven
of those received campaign contributions from Koch Industries's
political action committee. The study notes that more than half
of the House members who signed the pledge in the 112th Congress
made statements doubting climate-change science, despite the fact
that there is overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject.
There is a common problem in economics called externalities,
where producers are able to escape paying for public costs --
the prime example is pollution -- and therefore have no reason
to minimize or limit their actions. The simplest way to compensate
for externalities is for the government to levy a tax on them,
which moves (a part of) the public cost back to the perpetrator.
For instance, a carbon tax would help level the real costs of
burning fossil fuels vs. non-carbon-burning energy sources (like
wind and solar). This is precisely what the Kochs aim to keep
Also, a few links for further study:
Walden Bello: Obama should have listened to Paul Krugman: An
excerpt from Bello's book, Capitalism's Last Stand? Deglobalization
in the Age of Austerity (paperback, 2013, Zed Books): Makes the
usual Krugman bullet points, then adds:
Related to this absence of a program of transformation was the sixth
reason for the Obama debacle: his failure to mobilize the grassroots
base that brought him to power. This base was diverse in terms of class,
generation, and ethnicity. But it was united by palpable enthusiasm,
which was so evident in Washington, D.C., and the rest of the country
on Inauguration Day in 2009. With his preference for a technocratic
approach and a bipartisan solution to the crisis, Obama allowed this
base to wither away instead of exploiting the explosive momentum it
possessed in the aftermath of the elections.
Of course, Obama was faced with the bad example of the Tea Party
movement, but what they did was create an illusion of popular support
for even more extreme policies than the Republicans wanted, whereas
with Obama sacking Dean and putting the nationwide Democratic Party
to sleep all he pad to point back to were election results -- old news
in a Washington that's built to lay down for the lobbyists. Obama did
get a pick up when Occupy broke out: even though it could be viewed
as against him, it showed that there are people out there who support
progressive policies. Obama did little to earn their votes other than
to be less noxious than the other guy, which wasn't hard.
Kathleen Geier: Your semi-regular reminder: Chris Christie is a) a
hardcore conservative and b) a jerk: Just in case you had doubts:
I can understand Republicans' infatuation with Christie. To conservative
dweebs like George Will and David Brooks, Christie is sort of like a theme
park version of a white ethnic. He shares those pundits' nightmarish
politics, especially the slavish devotion to servicing economic elites,
but scores fake populist points with his unslick appearance and tell-it-like
it is Jersey-ness. In this context, the fact that Christie is a nasty bully
is a feature, not a bug. He's a thug, but they think of him as "their" thug.
Honestly, I think the guy's size and his affinity for tracksuits may have
them confused, and on some level they mistake him for Tony Soprano.
Reminds me that the funniest scene I recall from The Sopranos
was Carmela reading a book by Fred Barnes.
Paul Krugman: Regions of Derpistan: Krugman and Brad DeLong have
recently adopted the word "derp" in a big way. Urban Dictionary defines
it as "a simple, undefined reply when an ignorant comment or action is
made," and refers to a South Park character named Mr. Derp.
Krugman cites Noah Smith describing it as "the constant, repetitive
reiteration of strong priors," and translates that as "people who take
a position and refuse to alter that position no matter how strongly the
evidence refutes it, who continue to insist that they have The Truth
despite being wrong again and again." Given how prevalent such people
are, I guess we're going to be stuck with the word for quite a while.
Too bad, but Krugman's effort to map out the various reaches of
"Derpistan" offers a helpful overview of macroeconomic follies at
Sunday, June 30. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Sandra Coliver: US Prosecution of Snowden and Manning Exceeds International
In the United Kingdom, the United States' closest military and intelligence
ally, the maximum penalty for public disclosure of intelligence or security
information is two years. Since Britain's Official Secrets Act (OSA) of 1989
entered into force, 10 public servants with authorized access to confidential
information have been prosecuted under the act.
Of those, the longest sentence -- one year in prison -- was served by
Steven Hayden, a navy petty officer who pled guilty to selling security
and intelligence information to the Sun tabloid concerning a plot by Saddam
Hussein to launch anthrax attacks in the UK. In the US, that offence would
be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, the same law being used to prosecute
Bradley Manning, which brings a possible life sentence.
A survey of the laws and practices of 20 European countries found that
in at least 13 countries things are even more relaxed: a disclosure of
classified information to the public would not result in any penalty in
the absence of a showing of harm. Ten countries -- Albania, Czech Republic,
Germany, Italy, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, and Sweden --
require the government to prove either actual or probable harm in order for
any penalty to be imposed. An additional three countries -- Denmark, France
and Hungary -- allow the lack of harm to be raised as a defense or mitigating
A couple weeks ago I wrote a peace plan post about Israel where I
noted that there should be an internationally recognized Right to
Exile -- sort of a "get out of jail" card for people who are locked
up or persecuted in one country for acts that other countries don't
consider to be crimes at all. I've never written this up in detail,
but I recognize that one might need to make an espionage exception,
otherwise such a right could be an incentive for nations to recruit
people to commit crimes by promising them asylum abroad if/when they
get caught. Snowden, however, doesn't qualify as a spy -- even though
that's what the US has charged him as -- because all he's done has
been to make secrets public (there's no evidence that he's acted as
an agent for a foreign government). Normally Americans would be
sympathetic to a Right of Exile because they'd assume that it only
applied to people we relate to, like pro-democracy dissenters in
China and Iran. But the US has its own share of political prisoners,
an increasing number -- something perhaps related to the fact that
the US leads the world in incarcerating its citizens. So one thing
the whole Snowden affair does is to make it less likely that the
US would support an international Right to Exile.
The other thing that should be clear from the Snowden affair is
that the US government is increasingly looking at it as an affront
to our superpowerdom: that we can't possibly let Snowden get away
with this not just because it sets a bad example for other future
whistleblowers but because it shows that US power isn't omnipotent.
This, again, builds on past practices: when we want our man, we've
shown time and again that we won't let borders or laws stop us. We
have kidnapped suspects and rendered them to be tortured. We have
sent armed drones out to hunt them down and kill bystanders. We
have sent SEAL teams out to assassinate enemies. We have invaded
whole countries. The whole War-on-Terror reaction to 9/11 wasn't
based on any sort of cost-benefit analysis or even simple rage for
revenge. It was done to show the world we really are the world's
supreme superpower. In that frame of mind, there's no telling what
the US might do to make an example out of Snowden.
By the way, to understand what Snowden is running from, consider
the case of fellow whistleblower Bradley Manning. In fact, read
Mairead Corrigan-Maguire: Bradley Manning should win the Nobel Peace
Prize. I agree: even though historical standards are spotty, this
would help make up for one recent gross miscalculation.
Peter Van Buren: Edward Snowden's Long Flight:
If he had a deeper sense of history, Snowden might have found humor
in the way the Obama administration chose to revoke his passport just
before he left Hong Kong. After all, in the Cold War years, it was the
"evil empire," the Soviet Union, which was notorious for refusing to
grant dissidents passports, while the U.S. regularly waived such
requirements when they escaped to the West.
To deepen the irony of the moment, perhaps he was able to Google up
the 2009-2011 figures on U.S. grants of asylum: 1,222 Russians, 9,493
Chinese, and 22 Ecuadorians, not including family members. Maybe he
learned that, despite the tantrums U.S. officials threw regarding the
international obligation of Russia to extradite him, the U.S. has
recently refused Russian requests to extradite two of its citizens.
Snowden might have mused over then-candidate Obama's explicit pledge
to protect whistleblowers. "Often the best source of information about
waste, fraud, and abuse in government," Obama then said, "is an existing
government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak
out. Such acts of courage and patriotism . . . should be
encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush
administration." It might have been Snowden's only laugh of the flight.
Kathleen Geier: The Roberts Court on labor rights: be afraid. Be very
The extent to which the courts are eviscerating workers' rights to be
free of workplace harassment and discrimination has been little noticed,
but it is an alarming trend. Carmon reports that while appeals court
judges reverse employer wins at a rate of 9 percent, they reverse
employee wins by a whopping 41 percent. She quotes a prominent
employment discrimination attorney, Cyrus Mehri, who recently said,
"The doors are closing on people's ability to vindicate their civil
rights . . . To some extent you had a judicial repeal
of Title VII that hasn't caught the public's attention."
Andrew Leonard: Turnkey Totalitarianism: Quotes Cato Institute's
The problem is that such an architecture of surveillance,
once established, would be difficult to dismantle, and prove too potent
a tool of control if it ever fell into the hands of people who -- whether
through panic, malice, or a misguided confidence in their own ability to
secretly judge the public good -- would seek to use it against us.
McCain: U.S. Will Have 'Most Militarized Border Since the Fall of the
Berlin Wall: Needless to say, McCain approves: in fact, he was
describing the effect of an amendment to the Senate's immigration
bill. I'm curious, though, about the pecking order: will it really
be more militarized than Israel's West Bank "security fence" or its
Gaza border? And, are Israel's borders really less militarized than
East Germany's Berlin Wall? Surely McCain didn't mean to disrespect
Andrew O'Hehir: America's split personality: Paranoid superstate and
land of equality: Salon's movie critic, so this starts
with White House Down and The Heat before getting down
to Edward Snowden and recalling a fugitive from further back (1970),
At the close of one of the most momentous news weeks in recent history --
with a historic step forward for marriage equality, a historic disembowelment
of voting rights and the United States coming off like an incompetent
supervillain in the hunt for Edward Snowden -- we're faced once again
with utterly confusing signals about what kind of country we live in.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the deepening similarities between
our society and the imagined dystopias of 1984 and Brave New
World, but it's important to acknowledge that that isn't the whole
story. At the same time, American society remains immensely dynamic,
and has become far more diverse and tolerant over the last several
decades. I know this is a metaphorical misuse of a clinical term that
refers to a serious and complex mental disorder, but at least in the
old-fashioned, split-personality sense of the word, America is
schizophrenic. For that matter, I'm not so sure we can rule out the
clinical mental disorder either.
He concludes: "What kind of country do we have? The kind that
could use more rebels."
Also, a few links for further study:
Jon Lee Anderson: State of Terror: On Al-Qaeda in Mali, unfortunately
behind the paywall, but recommended by Robert Christgau, whose own piece
on Mali --
Voices From a Desert War -- focused on the music but couldn't escape
Kathleen Geier: EPI launches fab new website on economic inequality:
this "a fabulous new website," but
I had a lot of trouble finding my way around it -- even after I had
me to upgrade my browser) -- and wound up with a cartoon Robert Reich
talking. No speakers, so don't know what he was saying, but he probably
wasn't apologizing for that stupid The Work of Nations book
where he promised we had nothing to worry about free trade wiping out
jobs because we'd all wind up being rich "symbolic manipulators."
Still, this is an important subject. Hope they get it together.
Livia Gershon: No, manufacturing jobs won't revive the economy:
The notion that manufacturing jobs are high wage depended historically
on unions and a measure of protectionism. Manufactured goods typically
have high margins, especially as volume increases; they depend on large
initial investments in capital, and labor costs are relatively small,
which gives labor unions leverage they don't have in service industries
(where labor typically overwhelms all other costs). But in competitive
global markets, companies are hard pressed to pass on increased labor
costs, and without unions workers have no power to force wages up. So
what you see in US manufacturing today is what Gershon describes: a
minimum wage pressure cooker.
Chris Maisano: Machiavelli doesn't belong to the 1 percent:
Makes his case without citing Antonio Gramsci, who long ago argued
that The Prince could only have been written for the powerless,
since the real princes already knew its counsels.
The main lessons from The Discourses are that "the few always
act in favor of the few," and that the ambitions of the rich are so
destructive that they must be vigorously suppressed in order to maintain
the egalitarian foundations of republican liberty. His is a political
vision with no place for superyachts, carried interest, tax breaks for
luxury condo developments, or the legalized bribery of private campaign
Sunday, June 23. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Mark Binelli: Rogue State: How Far-Right Fanatics Hijacked Kansas:
Once in office, Brownback surprised critics and supporters alike with the
fervor of his pursuit of power, pushing what reporter John Gramlich of
Stateline described as perhaps "the boldest agenda of any governor in the
nation": gutting spending on social services and education, privatizing
the state's Medicaid system, undermining the teacher's union, becoming
the only state to entirely abolish funding for the arts, boasting that
he would sign any anti-abortion bill that crossed his desk, and -- most
significantly -- pushing through the largest package of [income] tax cuts
in Kansas history. His avowed goal is to eliminate the state income tax
altogether, a move that many predict will torpedo the budget and engender
even more draconian cuts in spending. "Other Republican-led states have
experimented with many of the same changes," Gramlich pointed out -- the
difference in Kansas being that Brownback "wants to make all of those
I added the "[income]" to be clear: the state sales tax has actually
gone up under Brownback, and local property tax levies are also likely
to rise to make up for cuts at the state level. Brownback ran in 2008
for president, but found no support in Iowa. In 2010, he left a safe
Senate seat to run for governor, figuring that the executive experience
would bolster a future presidential campaign. (Meanwhile, in 2012 he
was one of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's loudest boosters -- yet another
gross miscalculation.) The Kansas legislature was solidly Republican
after the 2010 elections, but not extremist enough for Brownback, who
led a purge of the last traces of Republican moderation in the state
Binelli's piece is long and detailed on how all this came about.
One minor error: the Wichita ballot initiative attempted to add
fluoride to the drinking water, not remove it; the measure failed,
as have similar measures over many decades.
John Cassidy: Why America Still Needs Affirmative Action:
Describes the University of Texas case before the Supreme Court now,
where UT guarantees that anyone who tests in the top 10% of their
high school class, regardless of race and regardless of how shitty
the high school, can claim a slot at UT. Some white girl who didn't
make the grade sued, and pundits figure the Roberts Court will side
Almost twenty years ago, when I first pointed to studies suggesting
that social mobility in the United States had been greatly exaggerated,
and that other advanced countries were more fluid, many of my American
friends and colleagues would stare at me blankly. They simply didn't
believe it. But in the past decade or so, many more studies have been
done, and almost all of them deliver the same message. Yes, some people
start out at the bottom and work their way to the top, but not very
many. Statistically speaking, if you are born into a household in the
bottom fifth of the income distribution, the probability that by the
age of forty you will have reached the top forty per cent of the
distribution is about one in six. To put it another way, the odds of
you staying where you are, or moving up one just quintile, are about
five in six.
In a merit-based system, family ties shouldn't matter very much.
But compared to people in places like Canada and Scandinavia, Americans
tend to follow the earnings paths of their parents. On close inspection,
the vast majority of highly successful Americans -- Bill Gates, Mark
Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama among them -- turn out to be the progeny
of highly educated professionals. For folks who start out in the cellar
of U.S. society, even climbing up to the parlor level is quite a feat,
and one that, these days, often demands a college education.
Affirmative action was always based on a fallacy: the notion that
we can solve some inequality problems while leaving class inequality
intact. Nonetheless, it did make sense to extend extra opportunities
to blacks: to compensate for centuries of discrimination, to provide
a check against continuing racism, and to start to reduce the class
basis for racism, and as such the potential conflict over race. (It's
worth nothing here that historians like David Brion Davis have shown
that slavery preceded the articulation of racist theories, with the
latter used as rationalizations for the former.) Moreover, by opening
up those extra opportunities, the nation as a whole has benefited
by the extra talent.
All those reason are as valid now as ever, but they've become
unfashionable in certain circles (namely conservative Republicans):
on the one hand they'd like to pretend all that unpleasant racism
stuff is behind us; on the other they want their white constituents
to think that the reason they're getting screwed is because liberals
are sucking up to blacks and immigrants. But deeper than that, they've
decided that this is no longer a land of increasing opportunity, and
as the economy collapses the only way those on top can stay on top
is to use their power to push everyone else down. Just to take one
example, the way advanced education has been priced up makes it an
ever more exclusive domain of the already rich. Even the old ideas
of meritocracy have been abandoned. After all, when you let people
rise by merit, you wind up with the likes of Clinton and Obama --
and even if their chief merit is sucking up to the rich and powerful,
well, that's not enough any more.
Tim Dickinson: Michael Hastings, 'Rolling Stone' Contributor, Dead at 33:
Killed in a car crash in Los Angeles. His reporting on Gen. Stanley McChrystal
brought the "supreme commander" in Afghistan's career to a quick close, and
his book on McChrystal and Petreus The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying
Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan is one of the best we have
on that foolish misadventure.
Glenn Greenwald: On the Espionage Act Charges Against Edward Snowden:
The US government has charged Edward Snowden with three felonies, including
two under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute enacted to criminalize dissent
against World War I. My priority at the moment is working on our next set of
stories, so I just want to briefly note a few points about this.
Prior to Barack Obama's inauguration, there were a grand total of three
prosecutions of leakers under the Espionage Act (including the prosecution
of Dan Ellsberg by the Nixon DOJ). That's because the statute is so broad
that even the US government has largely refrained from using it. But during
the Obama presidency, there are now seven such prosecutions: more than double
the number under all prior US presidents combined. How can anyone justify
For a politician who tried to convince Americans to elect him based on
repeated pledges of unprecedented transparency and specific vows to protect
"noble" and "patriotic" whistleblowers, is this unparalleled assault on
those who enable investigative journalism remotely defensible? Recall that
the New Yorker's
Jane Mayer said recently that this oppressive climate created by the
Obama presidency has brought investigative journalism to a "standstill,"
James Goodale, the General Counsel for the New York Times during its
battles with the Nixon administration, wrote last month in that paper
that "President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the
worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom."
Read what Mayer and Goodale wrote and ask yourself: is the Obama
administration's threat to the news-gathering process not a serious
crisis at this point? [ . . . ]
The irony is obvious: the same people who are building a ubiquitous
surveillance system to spy on everyone in the world, including their
own citizens, are now accusing the person who exposed it of "espionage."
It seems clear that the people who are actually bringing "injury to the
United States" are those who are waging war on basic tenets of transparency
and secretly constructing a mass and often illegal and unconstitutional
surveillance apparatus aimed at American citizens -- and those who are
lying to the American people and its Congress about what they're doing --
rather than those who are devoted to informing the American people that
this is being done.
Charlie Savage/Michael S Schmidt: The FBI Deemed Agents Faultless in
150 Shootings: You may be thinking you'd have to have a police
department as inept as the Seattle PD depicted in The Killing
to let a suspect be shot to death during interrogation, but the FBI
managed to do just that in Orlando a few weeks back. Needless to say,
the FBI launched a prompt and thorough investigation into itself, and
duly determined that they had done nothing wrong. They say "practice
makes perfect," and indeed the FBI has a lot of practice investigating
"The F.B.I. takes very seriously any shooting incidents involving our
agents, and as such we have an effective, time-tested process for
addressing them internally," a bureau spokesman said.
But if such internal investigations are time-tested, their outcomes
are also predictable: from 1993 to early 2011, F.B.I. agents fatally
shot about 70 "subjects" and wounded about 80 others -- and every one
of those episodes was deemed justified, according to interviews and
internal F.B.I. records obtained by The New York Times through a
Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The last two years have followed the same pattern: an F.B.I.
spokesman said that since 2011, there had been no findings of
improper intentional shootings.
In most of the shootings, the F.B.I.'s internal investigation was
the only official inquiry. In the Orlando case, for example, there
have been conflicting accounts about basic facts like whether the
Chechen man, Ibragim Todashev, attacked an agent with a knife, was
unarmed or was brandishing a metal pole. But Orlando homicide
detectives are not independently investigating what happened.
Also, a link for further study:
Sunday, June 16. 2013
Big event this week was the election of Hassan Rouhani as president
of Iran, succeeding scarecrow Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The arrival of an Axis
of Evil leader who apparently isn't evil -- who in fact had attempted to
reason with the West before -- threw the hawks in Jerusalem and Washington
into a tizzy. First they assured us that the president of Iran has no
actual power, so the change of president will leave Iran as evil as ever.
And just before the election, Obama suddenly changed course and decided
to actively arm Syria's anti-Assad "rebels," a move which (not for the
first time) brought us into an alliance with Al-Qaeda. Reason? Because
Iran backed Assad, and Iran is out eternal enemy, and we all know that
the enemy of our enemy is, well not exactly our friend, but the cheapest,
most cost-effective pawn we can rent in the Great Game. (Sure, there was
some fluff about Assad using chemical weapons, but what press release
escalating a war in the Middle East would be complete without something
Meanwhile, some scattered links:
Ramzy Mardini: Bad Idea, Mr. President: A few days before Obama made
his Syria announcement, Bill Clinton lectured him publicly, warning that
if he fails to intervene in Syria he will be viewed as a "total wuss."
I suppose Clinton knows this because he used to be a "wuss" himself, but
he reversed himself and bombed Kosovo and thereby came to be recognized
as a decisive leader comparable to Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.
I'd love to see some polling reflecting that, but Obama took the bait.
Lacking a grand strategy, Mr. Obama has become a victim of rhetorical
entrapment over the course of the Arab Spring -- from calling on foreign
leaders to leave (with no plan to forcibly remove them) to publicly
drawing red lines on the use of chemical weapons, and then being obliged
to fulfill the threat.
For nearly two years, the Obama administration has described the
Syrian regime as having "lost all legitimacy" and "clinging to power."
And yet, it has surprisingly endured. That's because neither assertion
is really accurate. Mr. Assad still has strong support from many Syrians,
including members of the Sunni urban class. While the assistance Syria
receives from its external allies, like Iran and Russia, is important,
it would be inconsequential if the Assad regime were not backed by a
significant portion of the population. [ . . . ]
The Syrian revolution isn't democratic or secular; the more than
90,000 fatalities are the result of a civil war, not a genocide --
and human rights violations have been committed on both sides.
Moreover, the rebels don't have the support or trust of a clear
majority of the population, and the political opposition is neither
credible nor representative. Ethnic cleansing against minorities is
more likely to occur under a rebel-led government than under Mr.
Assad; likewise, the possibility of chemical weapons' falling into
the hands of terrorist groups only grows as the regime weakens.
And finally, a rebel victory is more likely to destabilize Iraq
and Lebanon, and the inevitable disorder of a post-Assad Syria
constitutes a greater threat to Israel than the status quo.
Mardini concludes that Obama "would have been wise to make a
forceful diplomatic push first before succumbing to the naïveté
of his pro-intervention critics." But he also pointed out that
Obama trashed his ability to do anything diplomatic when he gave
up any pretense to neutrality and disinterest by publicly insisting
that Assad step down.
Shamus Cooke: Who Killed the Syrian Peace Talks? He argues that
talks instigated by Russia and the US have failed "because the
U.S.-backed rebels are boycotting negotiations." I'm not sure if
that's all there is to it, but we've seen before -- Kosovo and
Darfur are two cases I've heard the same thing about -- that when
the US picks sides, that side ups its ante in any negotiations.
It is certainly arguable that one reason, besides the repressive
nature of the Assad government, Syrian groups turned so quickly
from peaceful protests to civil war was their expectation that
the US would come to their aid, as had happened in Libya.
MJ Rosenberg: To Win UN Job, Samantha Power Begged Forgiveness, Wept,
for Criticizing Israel: You may recall that Power got booted from
Obama's 2008 campaign for bad-mouthing Hilary Clinton. She did wind
up with an under secretary job, under Clinton, and now gets a bump to
the UN Ambassador job, but only after taking back every blasphemous
thing she's ever said about Israel: specifically a 2002 interview:
She told an interviewer that she did not believe that Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon or Palestinian President Yasir Arafat would ever stop the
killing on their own and that "external intervention is required." She
specifically called on the United States to "put something on the line,"
by which she meant the "imposition of a solution on unwilling parties."
Admitting that the idea of imposing a settlement was "fundamentally
undemocratic," she said it was preferable to "deference" to leaders
who seem "politically destined to destroy the lives of their own
This was not surprising coming from Power. She is the leading advocate
of what is known as "liberal interventionism." She has said that as a
child she was shaken by the world's indifference to the Holocaust. Her
feelings were deepened by her experiences as a journalist in Bosnia.
Ever since, most notably in the case of Libya, Power has recommended
"going in" to stop the killing of innocents. Right or wrong, it's who
Unfortunately for Power, the reality of U.S. politics dictates that
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be exempted from rules or theories one
applies elsewhere. That is why some of the most aggressively anti-war,
pro-human rights progressives in Congress, the media and the blogosphere
simply go silent, at best, on the subject of the Israeli occupation or,
at worst, openly support military actions like Israel's wars in Gaza.
They know that the Israel lobby will make life very difficult for those
who insist on applying the same moral yardstick to Israel as to other
Ed Kilgore: Power and the Neocons: one reason she was able to
escape the wrath of the Israel lobby is that the neocons lover her
Paul Ryan: The Mythical Promise of Obamacare Doomed Me and Mitt Romney:
How unfair of the Democrats, promising people that their government
would help make their lives better, when we all know that the real
function of government is to make you more miserable (unless, that
is, you're rich):
Former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan told conservatives Friday
that Obamacare helped President Obama defeat Mitt Romney in the 2012
election, decrying the "empty promises" of the law that hadn't yet
"This was our challenge that Mitt Romney and I had in this last
election," Ryan said in a speech at the annual Faith and Freedom
Coalition conference in Washington, DC. "We had to argue against
the promise and the rhetoric of President Obama. The great soaring
rhetoric, all of the empty promises."
You might be wondering why the Republicans didn't think of that
("soaring rhetoric/empty promises") themselves. Actually, they did,
but couldn't resist attacking Obama even when he adopted their
Dan Zevin: Hazy With a Chance of Apocalypse: This week's weather
forecast. A little far-fetched, I think, especially for Thursday.
Also, a few links for further study:
Tom Engelhardt: The Making of a Global Security State: Does a nice
job of summing up how the NSA revelations fit into the imperial security
complex that seems to have become a permanent, unassailable feature of
Nicholas Schmiddle: In the Crosshairs: How Chris Kyle became one of
America's most proficient killers in Iraq, then brought his gun culture
home, parlaying his success into a bestselling memoir, building an empire
ranging from training snipers to taking vets on shooting trips to help
release stress. Eventually one of the crazed vets he took out shot him.
Kyle, of course, was pretty crazed himself, but he hung out with people
like the Palins who celebrated that.
Sunday, June 9. 2013
Some scattered links, but nothing on the NSA scandal yet:
Kathleen Geier: A disturbing trend: labor's falling share of GDP, virtually
everywhere in the world: A recent ILO (International Labor Organization)
report shows a significant drop in labor's share of national income in 26
out of 30 developed countries, from 66.1 to 61.7 percent in 1990-2009.
It wasn't always this way. As Taylor notes, before the 1980s, labor's
share of national income fluctuated somewhat from year to year but
tended to be stable overall. Also, during this period, we've seen
large surges in productivity -- and yet those productivity gains are
not being shared by labor. This is an ominous sign for any society.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is this one, from John Maynard
Keynes: "Nothing corrupts society more than to disconnect effort
and reward." [ . . . ]
Thus, you had the Great Compression, where wage inequality was kept
in check, and the excesses of the previous era's robber barons (and
what a wonderful turn of phrase that was!) seemed a thing of the past.
Paul Krugman and others have noted that it wasn't market forces or
laws against self-dealing or excessive executive compensation that
reined in the corporations of yesteryear. It appears to have been
"social norms." Or, as I would describe it, a soundly based, and
healthy, fear of working class power.
Gradually, though, that system began to unravel. The trauma of
the Great Depression was forgotten. Global competition cut profit
margins and the capital class realized they didn't want to be so
generous to their workers any more. More to the point, it dawned
on them that they didn't have to be. Thus, the neoliberal new world
order was born -- not only in the U.S., but throughout the world.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, there were cuts to social welfare
programs in many countries, and there were also a number of important
worldwide fights against labor unions, which labor usually lost. In
the U.S., the corporate right poured enormous resources into political
lobbying efforts and to propaganda shops that massaged public opinion.
It worked! It's taken the current years-long depression to finally
dislodge some that neoliberal propaganda from a lot of folks' skulls.
Although this trend is international,
David Cay Johnston: Inequality Rising -- All Thanks to Government
Policies puts much of the blame on the US government. Nor should
this be surprising: starting about 30 years ago, the Democratic Party
abandoned its dependence on organized labor and became the pro-business
party; meanwhile the Republicans had nowhere to go to outflank them
than to become the flat-out anti-labor party. Both stances hurt, and
in a two-party system that's what you get.
Matthew Yglesias: The Charts That Should Revolutionize D.C.'s Fiscal
Policy Debate and Why They Won't: First, the charts, which show
that projected "Federal budget deficit as a share of GDP" drops in
2014 and remains relatively stable for a decade, as does "publicly
held debt as a share of GDP."
Looking at this, the deficits scolds should at least tone it down
a bit, but they haven't: "the political dialogue on the subject doesn't
seem to have changed at all." As Yglesias says:
The dialogue hasn't changed because the elites steering the discourse
don't care, even slightly, about deficits or debt.
What they care about is reducing the federal government's fiscal
commitment to bolstering the living standards of elderly people.
The Powers That Be hate Social Security and always will because it's
a program whose entire purpose is to pay people money not to work.
That's not a perverse consequence of Social Security. It's not a
contentious partisan claim about Social Security. It's not a dubious
interpretation of what Social Security is all about. That's the point.
It's to give people money so they can retire with dignity. "Retire"
being a fancy word for "not working." You're never ever going to
persuade business leaders to stop agitating for cuts in a program
that has this feature. Business leaders want people to work! At a
minimum, if people are hoping to not work, business leaders are
going to want people to save (i.e., loan funds to business leaders)
in order to achieve that purpose. Taxing people who are working in
order to pay money so that people can enjoy retired life in peace
is the antithesis of everything business elites want out of public
My boldface there. I was originally tempted to end the quote
there to leave the basic point, but the rest of it is worth saying
too -- just don't forget the point in boldface.
One thing that no one really got into during the depths of the
recession was the observation that in a period where the private
sector was deleveraging and therefore killing jobs, sensible public
policy would have tried to compensate by moving optional workers
out of the workforce, so that those remaining would have a better
chance of keeping their jobs and wages. One way to do this would
be move people into early retirement -- to make Social Security
and Medicare and such available to somewhat younger workers if they
are willing to retire. Another way would be to make college more
attractive -- more scholarships and even stipends to cut down on
those part-time jobs that distract students from their studies.
And, of course, you could expand public employment, or pump more
money into the creation of public goods, including things like
art. When you think about it, a lot of this sort of thing was in
fact done during the New Deal, but none of it happened during the
Great Recession, when politicians -- mostly Republicans but I
can't remember many Democrats complaining -- decided that the
whole brunt should be shouldered by the working class.
Also, links for further study:
David Bromwich: Stay Out of Syria!: No point wishing for a plague
on both sides since that plague has already arrived:
And each day adds a new reminder of the futility of allegedly pragmatic
solutions. A Times report on May 15 by Anne Barnard and Hania Mourtada
("An Atrocity in Syria, with No Victim Too Small") told of the sectarian
"cleansing" by pro-government forces of Sunni enclaves, in the village
of Bayda and the city of Baniyas, both located in a mainly Alawite and
Christian province. Three hundred twenty-two corpses have been identified,
many of them horribly mutilated. As a pledge of retaliation, a rebel
commander filmed himself "cutting out an organ of a dead pro-government
fighter, biting it and promising the same fate to Alawites." It is a
saccharine optimism that says the country has begun to fall apart and
a more "proactive" US could hold it together.
Kelefa Sanneh: Paint Bombs: On anthropologist David Graeber,
his old book (Debt: The First 5,000 Years) and his new book
(The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement),
the latter spawned by the Occupy Wall Street movement and effectively
a history and handbook of same, with various asides into all sorts
of anarchist tendencies -- James C. Scott's Two Cheers for
Anarchism is another book cited, but Sanneh also talks about
Murray Rothbard. Can't say as he does a very good job of clarifying
all this, but the last couple lines are worth quoting:
But in America anarchism's appeal surely has something to do with the
seeming durability of our current arrangement, and the inexorable growth
of the government that maintains it. Such is the power of a sprawling
and sophisticated state: the bigger it gets, the easier it becomes for
us to imagine that we could live without it.