Sunday, January 19. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Barbara Ehrenreich: It Is Expensive to Be Poor:
Most private-sector employers offer no sick days, and many will fire a
person who misses a day of work, even to stay home with a sick child.
A nonfunctioning car can also mean lost pay and sudden expenses. A
broken headlight invites a ticket, plus a fine greater than the cost
of a new headlight, and possible court costs. If a creditor decides
to get nasty, a court summons may be issued, often leading to an arrest
warrant. No amount of training in financial literacy can prepare someone
for such exigencies -- or make up for an income that is impossibly low
to start with. Instead of treating low-wage mothers as the struggling
heroines they are, our political culture still tends to view them as
miscreants and contributors to the "cycle of poverty."
If anything, the criminalization of poverty has accelerated since the
recession, with growing numbers of states drug testing applicants for
temporary assistance, imposing steep fines for school truancy, and
imprisoning people for debt. Such measures constitute a cruel inversion
of the Johnson-era principle that it is the responsibility of government
to extend a helping hand to the poor. Sadly, this has become the means
by which the wealthiest country in the world manages to remain complacent
in the face of alarmingly high levels of poverty: by continuing to blame
poverty not on the economy or inadequate social supports, but on the
No More Mister Nice Blog: The Problem Isn't Wealth Addiction. It's
Letting the Addicts Write the Laws. Starts with an op-ed by a
banker whining that his bonus last year was only $3.6 million, and
how he had become addicted to being filthy rich -- nothing the poor
fellow can do about it. M. argues that the real problem is:
In a way, this is what we do with guns in America, at least at the
national level and in the red states: we let the junkies control who
can obtain the stuff, how freely it's sold, and how few restraints
we can put on its exchange, by means of their unchallenged access
to elected officials. With great wealth, especially over the past
thirty-plus years, we've allowed the the wealthiest and greediest --
whose access to public officials is even greater than that of the gun
lobbyists -- to talk us into curtailing the tax and regulatory policies
that served as checks on their access to the stuff, and have thus
permitted them to do massive harm to society as a result of their
abuse. In a way, with wealth we have a sort of narco-state, where the
cartel leaders intimidate the authorities into avoiding crackdowns on
the trade. The only difference is that, in the case of wealth, it's
actually empowering to be high on your own supply.
Andrew Simmons: The Danger of Telling Poor Kids That College Is the Key
to Social Mobility:
The rhetoric echoes the oft-cited work of Jean Anyon, an education
researcher who died in September. Studying elementary schools, Anyon
looked at how schools can condition kids for positions in life. She
saw that schools teaching the children of affluent families prepared
those kids to take on leadership roles and nurtured their capacity for
confident self-expression and argument. Schools teaching children from
low-income families focused on keeping students busy and managing
behavior. A middle-class school deemphasized individual expression and
in-depth analysis and rewarded the dutiful completion of specified
rote tasks. In each case, according to Anyon, a "hidden curriculum"
has prepared students for a future role in society. Some students
learn to take orders and others learn to chart a course of action and
delegate responsibility. School can either perpetuate inequity through
social reproduction or have a transformative effect and help students
It's not enough for the rich that they are the beneficiaries of a
political-economic system that increases inequality, they also wish
to impose on everyone their insistence that inequitable returns are
the standard by which people should judge their lives, and be judged
by others. Pursuing knowledge for its own sake, taking satisfaction
in non-monetary achievements -- those are heretical ideas that fail
to show sufficient respect for moneymaking. Also worth noting that
the constant harping about how higher education provides a way out
for the lower classes is one of the few plausible options the system
can offer. It is, however, increasingly discredited both by the high
debt loads it imposes and by the efforts of the upper class to lock
its privileges in.
Hedrick Smith: Boeing's power play: For decades Seattle was first
and foremost among Boeing towns, and its fortunes rose or fell with the
company. But then Boeing moved their corporate headquarters to Chicago,
sending a message to Seattle workers that Boeing execs wouldn't feel a
thing if they pulled the plug on their Seattle plants. Boeing had set
up a process where they auction jobs all around the world, and they've
made the state of Washington pay dearly to keep workers employed that
any sane company would be proud to have. They've moved their 787 work
around so far that the plane was years late. And once again Boeing is
shaking down the unions for further concessions.
Boeing's stingy treatment of its highly skilled workforce offers a
vivid example of how America's new economy has created gaping economic
inequalities and steadily squeezed the economic life out of the
U.S. middle class over the past three decades, even as corporate
profits and CEO pay have skyrocketed.
Boeing's case epitomizes that sharp economic divide. For just as
the company was wringing concessions from its workers, its board of
directors approved a 50 percent increase in the company's stock
dividend and a $10 billion stock buyback that will richly reward
investors and executives who get paid in Boeing shares.
Boeing contends that it is not the first to impose such concessions
but that it is merely following the market.
True enough. In 1980, 84 percent of American workers at companies
with 100 or more employees received lifetime pensions from their
companies, and 70 percent got health insurance fully paid for by their
employers. Today, fewer than 30 percent have lifetime pensions and
only 18 percent have fully employer-paid health insurance.
What these numbers mean is that every year hundreds of billions of
dollars in benefit costs have been shifted from company books to the
pocketbooks and checkbooks of average Americans, helping to boost
corporate profits and to leave roughly half of the baby boom
generation facing near poverty in retirement.
Boeing's new contract will accelerate that trend. And it's not as
if hard economic times forced Boeing to slash labor costs. Its profits
and demand for its planes are at record levels.
Over the past decade, Boeing rolled up more than $35 billion in
profits and paid no federal corporate taxes. In fact, Boeing reaped
about $2 billion in federal tax rebates from 2003 to 2012, as well as
the most generous long-term state tax subsidy in U.S. history from
Also, a few links for further study:
Sunday, December 22. 2013
I tried this past week to sign up for a new health care insurance
policy starting January 1. I would like to think successfully, but
the last information I got on the website told me that I have one
more thing to do -- to pay for the first month's insurance -- then
offered me no way to do that. They did leave me with a "customer
service number" so we'll try calling that tomorrow and hoping that
will seal the deal. The policy I wound up with costs more than I've
been paying through COBRA, but the tax credit I've earned by not
making any money blogging all these years helps out.
I didn't notice any terrible performance problems, other than
that the site went down for maintenance three times when I was on
it (late at night). But I did hit a couple of serious bugs. For
one, they sent me a "message" notice in email, and when I followed
the link and logged in I saw a notice that there was a message for
me, but I never found a way to access that message. I then found
myself arbitrarily blocked from going forward to look at plans:
some pages noted an error (big red box), but nothing helped to
explain the error. I used their "chat" and the only help that the
other person could offer was that I should call their "help line."
When I did call the "help line" I spent 30 minutes on hold waiting
to speak to someone. By that time I found a form saying that I
wasn't eligible for Medicaid then asking me whether I wanted to
apply anyway. When I checked that "no" -- hey, I live in Kansas,
remember -- the blockage cleared up and I could finally look at
That turned out to be the real time consumer, and is, I think,
the fundamental problem with "Obamacare": I had to sort through 26
plans (ignoring everything rated Bronze), but they only came from
two companies (one of which is generally regarded as a sick joke
in these parts). But those plans had all sorts of minor tradeoffs
which no one can sort through intelligently, partly for lack of
information but mostly because one cannot define future needs. I
wound up spending several days here, including breaks to call the
insurance company to verify various bits of information. And in
the end I have no idea whether I did the right thing or not.
There was also a glitch concerning dental insurance, which I
haven't had for most of my life and is something I can get by
without having, so I tried skipping it.
So all in all, not a pleasant experience, but still seems likely
to be a big improvement over the pre-"Obamacare" situation, which is
one where a 63-year-old unemployed guy with a lot of medical issues
would have found it virtually impossible to get health insurance of
any value at any cost.
Some scattered links this week:
Ryan Cooper: Today's Top-Down Class Warfare, in Four Infuriating
- North Carolina has been viciously savaging its unemployed, and
the results are exactly what liberals predict.
- Meanwhile, the ultra-wealthy are shirking stupendous quantities
of inheritance taxes through financial chicanery.
- Word is the new farm bill is going to cut $8 billion more from
- This Georgia Republican says poor kids should sweep floors for
Ed Kilgore: Put Away the Chamberlain Umbrellas:
Bad historical analogies for current events are the stock and trade
of lazy writers and ax-grinders, and all the more pestiferous in a
media environment in which any historical knowledge before about 1980
is a bit of a pleasant surprise. We're now in the midst of an epidemic
of really, really bad "Munich" analogies for the new "first step"
agreement with Iran. At Reason's Hit & Run blog, Matt Welch
compiles the authors of "Munich" comparisons nicely: Bret Stephens,
Ben Schapiro, James Carafano, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, John
Bolton, Daniel Pipes, Tom Cotton -- in other words, a predictable
bunch. [ . . . ]
[T]he Munich analogy fails even if you think the Iranians are as
evil or even more evil than the Nazis. It fails because of Iran's
weakness and the relatively small concessions they are obtaining;
giving them back control of some of their own frozen assets isn't
remotely comparable to turning over Sudentenland, much less the
whole of Czechoslovakia.
I've long thought that Chamberlain got a raw deal over Munich:
his real mistake wasn't backing away from a war he was unable to
fight over a thin slice of land where Germany plausibly claimed
that most of the inhabitants favored joining the Reich; it was his
"peace in our time" comment, which proved to be sorely in error.
But there in a greater error in the analogy: the idea that Nazi
Germany would have been stopped had Chamberlain not lost courage
and chose to appease Hitler.
Paul Krugman: Inequality as a Defining Challenge: Good to see
Krugman coming around here -- I've been on this theme for more than
a few years now, not just because increasing inequality is unfair
but because it turns us into more disrespectful, more dishonest,
and downright meaner human beings, and that whole combination
nudges a political system that can already be dubbed an oligarchy
ever further into dysfunctionality. Even if you can't imagine
where that might go in the future, you can plot out the changes
of the last ten-twenty-thirty years and that should leave you
discomfitted enough. Krugman is still behind the curve here, but
he's no longer denying that inequality contributes to the shortfall
of aggregate demand.
Finally, very much tying in with this, is the question of what
progressive think tanks should research. Klein suggests that "how
to fight unemployment" should be a more central topic than "how to
reduce inequality." But here's the thing: we know how to fight
unemployment -- not perfectly, but good old basic macroeconomics
has worked very well since 2008. There's no mystery about the
economics of our slow recovery -- that's what happens when you
tighten fiscal policy in the face of private deleveraging and
monetary policy is constrained by the zero lower bound. The question
is why our political system ignored everything macroeconomics has
learned, and the answer to that question, as I've suggested, has a
lot to do with inequality.
The causes of soaring inequality, on the other hand, are more
mysterious; so are the channels through which we might reverse this
trend. We know some things, but there is much more room for new
knowledge here than in business cycle macro.
So inequality is definitely a defining challenge; whether it is
"the" defining challenge can be argued, but it makes very good sense
for progressives to focus much of their energy on the issue. And yes,
it's also true that inequality is easier to explain to the public
than demand-side macroeconomics -- but since these concerns are
complements rather than substitutes, that's not something that
should induce any feelings of guilt.
Not sure why Krugman still considers the "source of inequality" to be
so "mysterious" -- Joseph Stiglitz has a long list of reasons in his book,
The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our
Future, and way back when Marx had a working model of surplus value
at least for the manufacturing sector. Add rents and divide by whatever
the current factor is for redistribution and you have a basic model. From
that it's easy to see what policies -- reducing rents and increasing
redistribution -- reduce inequality, and also you can see where the
political resistance to those policies is coming from: the oligarchy
and its ideologists. Unsurprisingly, the resistance against textbook
macro comes from the exact same sources, precisely because they understand
that once you start using the government to shape the economy there's
no reason why beleaguered voters in a democracy will be satisfied with
more dead-end jobs and won't start demanding a more equitable share.
The task for these "think tanks" is less to understand the problem than
to dispell the myths that cloak the right-wing onslaught.
Krugman has "further numerical thoughts"
Also, a few links for further study:
Allison Deger: At New America Foundation, Max Blumenthal warns Israeli
policy is to 'finish 48': I'm still reading Blumenthal's Goliath,
and it's proving to be the broadest survey of current Israeli political
opinion I've yet seen in English -- the touchy spot being how much of
that opinion is rotted with racism, fascism, and militarism (but not a
lot on religion thus far, although his suggestion that the Kookists are
the true heirs, as well as the last refuges, of labor Zionism is a very
interesting insight). By "finish 48" Blumenthal means to complete the
ethnic cleansing that started with the explusion of 700,000 Palestinians,
but thus far the means have mostly to be to render the remaining native
population legally and politically invisible. Thus the renewed emphasis
on the Jewish State, something that had been downplayed after 1949 when
Israel enjoyed an overwhelming Jewish majority.
Gershom Gorenberg: Bibi's Agreement Anxiety Disorder: Fairly basic
explanation of Netanyahu's over-the-top reaction to the US-Iran agreement
to freeze (and in some cases reverse) Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment
program and reduce some sanctions subject to a longer-term agreement
within six months.
To explain Benjamin Netanyahu's frenzied reaction to the Geneva agreement
on Iran's nuclear program, let me begin with the stack of brown cardboard
boxes under my wife's desk.
Each of the five cartons contains a gas mask and related paraphernalia
for a member of my family to use in the event of a chemical-weapons attack.
They were delivered last January, as part of the gradual government effort
to prepare every household in Israel for a rain of Syrian missiles. I
suppose that having "defense kits" in the house could be macabre, but
what we usually notice is that they're a nuisance: another thing on which
to bang your toe in an overstuffed city flat.
It now looks like Israel is discontinuing its gas mask program because
Syria's is disposing of its chemical weapons: something which happened,
and only could have happened, due to an agreement (in Geneva, no less)
between Syria, Russia, and the US -- an agreement that Netanyahu, of
Imminent Iran nuclear threat? A timeline of warnings since 1979:
- 1992: Israeli parliamentarian Benjamin Netanyahu tells his colleagues
that Iran is 3 to 5 years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon --
and that the threat had to be "uprooted by an international front headed
by the US."
- 2002: President George W. Bush labels Iran as part of the "axis of
evil," along with Iraq and North Korea.
- 2006: The drums of war beat faster after the New Yorker's Seymour
Hersh quotes US sources saying that a strike on Iran is all but inevitable,
and that there are plans to use tactical nuclear weapons against buried
- 2007: A month later, an unclassified National Intelligence Estimate
(NIE) on Iran is released, which controversially judges with "high
confidence" that Iran had given up its nuclear weapons effort in fall
- January 2011: When Meir Dagan steps down as director of Israel's
Mossad spy agency, he says that Iran would not be able to produce a
nuclear weapon until 2015.
Alex Kane: Meet the American Hedge Fund Billionaire Who Could Start a 'Holy
War' in the Middle East: On Henry Swieca, his funding of the Temple
Institute, and its growing influence within Israel.
Michael B Katz: How America abandoned its "undeserving" poor:
Excerpt from Katz's new book, The Undeserving Poor: America's
Enduring Confrontation With Poverty. Picks up the story in the
1970s, shortly after William Ryan explained the same thing in his
book, Blaming the Victim. (For some reason my mind filed that
title with Frances Fox Piven. Her 1971 book with Richard Cloward was
called Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare.
Katz, by the way, I recall especially for his 1968 book, The
Irony of Early School Reform, about how universal education
was promoted in 1840s Massachusetts primarily to "socialize" the
immigrant Irish (and resisted by the poor for just that reason).
So there's not much new here, but whereas the 1970 books meant to
sweep out the last vestiges of pre-War-on-Poverty thinking, the
new ones are starting to pick up the struggle again.
Eric Laursen: Faux Progressivism: Review of George Packer's book,
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, starting with
some character assessment -- my first thought here was "assassination,"
but went with the more accurate term -- of an author who worked so hard
to help Bush invade Iraq. I found Packer's book on Iraq worth reading,
although one did have to slog through a lot of nonsense with Paul Berman
and Kanan Makiya before you get to anything useful. Most likely The
Unwinding has some useful reporting as well, although I also don't
doubt that Laursen is right that Packer misses much of the story, not
least a last chapter that sums up the problems even if he can't see a
Alex Parene's annual Hack List:
Mike Allen: "For Allen, a source is indistinguishable from a friend
and both are indistinguishable from sponsors. The result is a daily
exercise in favor-trading carried out by people using him as a conduit
and people using him as an unpaid spokesman."
Mark Halperin and John Heilemann: "Didn't political reporters
like us create an environment in which every single dumb thing anyone
even tangentially connected to any campaign said became a four-day-long
"gaffe" story, forcing everyone involved to make the entire presidential
race even more of a series of rehearsed and scripted pseudo-events than
it already had been?"
Benny Johnson: "Benny works for a website called Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed
refined a style of web writing that at this point is scarcely web
'writing.' It is a sort of one-page scrolling picture book with some
bits that move. Buzzfeed uses this form primarily to create harmless
diversions, but also sometimes to 'report' news!"
David Brooks: "Ideas, for those who aren't clear on the concept, are
simply attention-grabbing assertions. The Columnist is one of a group of
people who create these assertions and sell them to rich people. His
first book, I Confirmed All My Biases By Driving to a Strip Mall,
is a big hit among people who like to feel superior while reading gentle
mocking of people who like to feel superior. 'Some Americans enjoy NASCAR,'
he writes. 'Others prefer arugula and are very proud of themselves for this
fact.' He treats this observation as a bold Idea."
Richard Cohen: "First of all, it hurts to be called a racist. It's
deeply hurtful, and unfair. I myself have felt the ugly sting of being
accused of racism on more occasions than I can count. And I know that
if I weren't a reasonably well-off white man of a certain age with a
prestigious job in journalism, I'd certainly never be victimized like
Erick Erickson: "With his soft physique and his inexplicable belief
that 'blogger' is an appropriate job for a man who has a family to feed
and protect, Erickson represents the epitome of the modern beta male.
Can you imagine an alpha male in the animal kingdom 'working from home'?
Erickson is practically made of arugula."
Henry Blodget: "A few months ago I was browsing the Internet, reading
websites, when I clicked on a link to an article on a website called
Business Insider. The article was about how a man named Henry Blodget
flew on an airplane. He wrote, 'I got a free pillow.' And then, under
that, he posted a picture of the pillow. Most of the post was pictures,
Peggy Noonan: "Peggy Noonan had a lot of things to say, about how the
president is weak and uncertain, how Chris Christie is good at playing a
game, and knows it's a game, and is a winner, and how amazing it is
that Peggy Noonan can ride on an airplane and type thoughts about JFK on
a computer machine. Peggy Noonan is on airplanes, and in airports, a lot,
in real life and in her columns."
Thomas Friedman: "Thomas Friedman is an app. People who read Thomas
Friedman, like President Obama and other rich Americans, are like teens
using apps on their iPhones. Only this app doesn't take a selfie, it
takes a they-mie. See, Friedman's a mirror, and like a mirror, he
reflects. I call the people he's reflecting 'Friedman World.'
In Friedman World, America is always saving Muslims from themselves
by bombing them and columnists never learn any lessons from their
worst mistakes. In Friedman World, the destabilization of America's
former middle class is actually an opportunity for formerly employed
people to work on building their branded reputations.
[ . . . ] Most of his columns are just nonsensical
buzzwords he's been repeating for literally 10 years and his foreign
policy analysis is usually either incredibly facile or actively
offensive to Arabs and Muslims. It's actually terrifying how influential
he is. Like it legitimately makes me despair of anything improving
anywhere in the world for anyone but the super-rich."
Malcolm Gladwell: "But it turns out that the very skills necessary
to write compelling profiles and thoughtful explorations of interesting
topics can also be used to connect a bunch of anecdotes to some unrelated
social sciences work and claim it all proves a conclusion that is basically
a truism described as an unexpected insight. And once you can do that, you
can do anything -- even get your book hawked to Glenn Beck's credulous
Slavoj Zizek: If Nelson Mandela really had won, he wouldn't be seen as
a universal hero: True enough, but the memory of Apartheid-era South
Africa is so embarrassing to past supporters -- at least in the US; not
so sure about Israel -- that it's really convenient that Mandela can be
seen as a "universal hero."
Sunday, November 24. 2013
The big news this week is the deal Iran signed with the world's
"5+1" superpowers -- you know, the ones who actually have nuclear
weapons programs capable of destroying most life on earth, or in
the case of Germany, one that has mastered all of the so-called
"peaceful" technologies of nuclear power that Iran says it aspires
to without wasting extra effort into packaging that power in bomb
form. (Curious that Japan didn't make the cut, especially as they
have some painful experience with the blessings of nuclear power --
what Iran so much wants to experience itself.) If one goes by history,
an Iranian bomb might actually stabilize the Middle East inasmuch
as it would deter Israel and Saudi Arabia from starting another war
with Iran, but Iranian nuclear power plants could turn into a real
environmental hazard. Still, the agreement is good news, especially
in that it represents a step away from war.
War in Context has a good series of links on the agreement:
Iran, six world powers clinch breakthrough nuclear deal: cites
Michael R Gordon at New York Times.
How Iran and world powers finally got to yes on a nuclear deal:
New US sanctions would spell 'end of deal' to limit nuclear program:
which is, of course, why Israel stooges like
Chuck Shumer and
Bob Corker are working to pass them.
With Iran deal sealed, don't expect Israel to send out the air force:
cites Amos Harel at Haaretz; also notes that Israel's stock market
responded favorably to the deal (unlike Israel's Prime Minister).
Geneva deal seals Netanyahu's legacy: An ineffectual leader:
cites Amir Oren at Haaretz. ("This morning, in Switzerland, Netanyahu
had his toy gun taken away. In Basel, Herzl founded the state of the
Jews, and in Geneva, Obama ended Netanyahu's era.") Actually, the deal
wouldn't have been made except for Netanyahu, because without his
relentless propagandizing for war no one would have seen the issue
as needing such a solution. And if, as I suspect, Netanyahu's real
purpose was merely to avoid talking about the Palestinians, he's
managed that rather successfully, if not very elegantly.
A path towards peace with Iran -- Netanyahu's worst nightmare:
with another link to Haaretz you can't read. Paul Woodward adds:
"Netanyahu's goal has never been for the nuclear issue to be resolved.
It's political value resides wholly in this remaining an unresolved
issue and in Israel's ability to cast Iran as a perpetual threat.
For Netanyahu, any deal is a bad deal because absent an
Iranian threat, Israel will find itself under increasing pressure
to address the Palestinian issue."
A nuclear deal to which no one can reasonably object: cites
Fred Kaplan in Slate: "It's everything Obama hoped to achieve in
Secret US-Iran talks set stage for nuke deal: cites AP and Haaretz.
After rapid release of hot air, Israeli leaders may soon run out of
Jodi Rudoren at New York Times, and
Jeffrey Goldberg. Rudoren quotes Efraim Inbar: "At a time when
appeasing Iran seems to be in vogue, an Israeli strike could invigorate
elements in the international arena who are unwilling to accept an Iran
with a nuclear breakout capability. In addition, many people around the
world would be reminded that muscular reactions to evil regimes are
often truly necessary." Not a lot of self-awareness in that invitation.
Some scattered links this week:
Tom Engelhardt: Boo!: On our national psyche:
On August 1, 1966, a former Marine sniper took to the 28th floor of a
tower on the campus of the University of Texas with an M-1 carbine and
an automatic shotgun, killing 17, while wounding 32. It was an act that
staggered the American imagination, shook the media, led to a commission
being formed, and put those SWAT teams in our future. But no one then
could have guessed how, from Columbine high school (13 dead, 24 wounded)
and Virginia Tech university (32 dead, 17 wounded) to Sandy Hook Elementary
School (26 dead, 20 of them children), the unhinged of our heavily armed
nation would make slaughters, as well as random killings even by children,
all-too-common in schools, workplaces, movie theaters, supermarket parking
lots, airports, houses of worship, navy yards, and so on.
And don't even get me started on imprisonment, a category in which
we qualify as the world's leader with 2.2 million people behind bars, a
500% increase over the last three decades, or the rise of the punitive
spirit in this country. That would include the handcuffing of remarkably
young children at their schools for minor infractions and a fierce
government war on whistleblowers -- those, that is, who want to tell
us something about what's going on inside the increasingly secret state
that runs our American world and that, in 2011, considered 92 million of
the documents it generated so potentially dangerous to outside eyes that
it classified them.
Steve M: Sam Tanenhaus Doesn't Print the Legend, but Why Is That
the Legend? Cites Peggy Noonan claiming, "We all talk about
JFK's death because for the 18 years leading up to that point --
between the end of the war, as we used to say, and 1963 -- America
knew placidity": Kennedy's assassination brought that to an end,
revealing a bitterly (and violently) divided nation. Tanenhaus has
a variation on that theme. M. writes:
I was four years old when JFK was shot, so this isn't my nostalgia;
I have trouble looking back and understanding how people saw the era
The fissures that became obvious in the post-assassination era
were evident in the very first presidential election after World
War II, when Henry Wallace ran to the left and Strom Thurmond ran
to the racist right. Beyond that, I could run through the whole "We
Didn't Start the Fire" litany: McCarthyism, China going communist,
Cuba going communist, integration of the military and baseball and
Little Rock and Ole Miss (and the backlashes), the Montgomery bus
boycott, the Freedom Rides, the fear of "juvenile delinquents" and
comic books and rock and roll, the Pill, Bircherism. . . . I wasn't
there, but did Joe and Jane America really feel that the era was
Maybe compared with the Depression and the war it was. Maybe a
fairly broad-based prosperity made it all go down easy -- maybe
that's all it takes.
Let me add a couple points here: First, before the civil rights
movement challenged Jim Crow and exposed the violence that it had
always been based on -- a violence which if anything was much more
ominous when it didn't have to appear. The civil rights movement
didn't divide America and didn't lead to more violence. Pre-civil
rights Jim Crow was already as divided and as violent as it could
Second, isn't the word "placidity" a bit quaint? What Noonan
means was that most people accepted their place in the social and
class hierarchy, and that they seemed to conform to a set of common
beliefs about what it meant to be an American. This was at least
partly because coming out of the New Deal and the reinforced unity
of the World War those beliefs were overwhelmingly liberal. And it
had at least something to do with the sense that class differences
would melt into a common middle class -- the result of the leveling
measures of the New Deal (more union membership, higher taxes on
the rich) and the postwar boom. But that consensus was also based
on hypocrisy -- on ignoring the exceptions which became obvious as
young people in the 1960s discovered poverty and prejudice, and
how cold war ideology advanced the right-wing against workers here
and around the world. Only conservative shmoozes like Noonan look
back on those naïve years as a golden age of placidity.
Steven M. has another quoteworthy paragraph in
Republican Obstructionism: But Aren't Republicans the Real Victims?:
Actually, that's not true. Republicans are not "eager to show they have
not been stripped of all power." Republicans are never "eager to show
they have not been stripped of all power." Republicans are almost always
eager to convey the impression that they have no power, that power
is something they've been viciously cheated out of, but that they are
nonetheless plucky, determined underdogs who have God and the Constitution
on their side, which helps them fight for freedom despite the tyranny of
the Liberal Monolith. Even when Ronald Reagan could bend Democratic Blue
Dogs to his will, or George W. Bush and a Republican Congress ran the
country with impunity, the message was that they were under the bootheel
of Sam Donaldson or Dan Rather, or persecuted by left-wing college
professors, or by Michael Moore and the Dixie Chicks, who had all the
After all, if you thought the Republicans had power, you might think
the Republicans were responsible for the consequences of their actions --
which is kind of what happened in the 2006 and 2008 elections, before
Iraq and Afghanistan and the Great Recession and dozens of other disasters
suddenly became Obama's fault.
Steven refines this further here:
The GOP Is Not in the Business of Governing -- It's a Propaganda Operation
That Also Runs Candidates for Government Offices.
Also, a few links for further study:
Sunday, November 17. 2013
Front page story in the Wichita Eagle today is titled "Obama struggles
to save his health law." Anyone able to recall back more than a week --
a group that evidently excludes most of the political media -- knows that
a month or so ago the Republicans in Congress forced a government shutdown
to try to extort the president into surrendering his signature health care
insurance reform. He didn't buckle then, so why should he "struggle" now.
All he has to do is to sit tight while his minions fix some buggy software
and let the crisis pass. As it is, he tripped himself up a bit on his
"promise" that people who like their current insurance policies can keep
them. In theory, the only insurance policies that are being canceled now
are ones that don't meet the new law's minimum standard. He might have
been better advised to simply point out that no one should be happy with
an insurance policy that doesn't protect you from financial ruin, noting
that a very large percentage of people who go bankrupt due to medical bills
do so despite having active, but deficient, health insurance policies. His
equivocations have in turn unnerved some Democrats, but he can stop any
damaging changes to the law, and hardly needs to "struggle" with whether
to do so.
The story, by the way, is
here, and doesn't support the headline hysteria, nor for that matter
the cheekiness of its longer web title ("Obama struggles to save his
cherished health law").
Some scattered links this week:
Dean Baker: No, Obama Didn't Lie to You About Your Health Care Plans:
This goes through the various cases of insurance plans that are being
cancelled -- in all cases because they are not up to ACA standards. This
even includes some plans that had been grandfathered until the insurance
companies jacked up the rates and/or deductibles beyond what the law
allows. Also, note this:
Finally, there will be many plans that insurers will stop offering in
large part because of the changed market conditions created by the ACA.
For example, last week the Washington Post highlighted a plan for the
"hardest to insure" that was being cancelled by Pathmark Blue Cross of
This plan is likely being cancelled because it is unable to compete
with the insurance being offered through the exchanges. The exchanges
charge everyone the same rate regardless of their pre-existing health
conditions. A plan that is especially designed for people who have
serious health conditions would almost certainly charge a far higher
rate. If these high-priced plans no longer exist because they cannot
compete with the exchanges would this mean that President Obama had
broken his pledge?
I'll also note that many individual "high risk" plans were developed
without any chance of competition driving the prices down. A major
effect of the exchanges is to allow comparative shopping, and as such
to create a competitive market where none existed before.
Steven M: No, Because We Don't Lie to Ourselves: Responds to a
piece by "concern troll" Conor Friedersdorf titled
Will the Left Turn on President Obama Like the Tea Party Did on President
Bush. Makes several points, starting with the fact that the Tea Party
activists were never that unhappy with Bush, especially nowhere near
unhappy enough to defect to someone like Obama:
Teabaggers feel no authentic "chagrin at the ways he [Bush] had
transgressed against their values." The only "chagrin" they feel is
at the fact that he was their dreamboat and everything they cheered
him for doing failed, the result being humiliation for them and and
a national rejection of their holy conservative Cause. They can't
bear to hate themselves for this, or question the way they mooned
over Bush's codpiece for eight years (or at least six, until Democrats
won the '06 midterms), so they lie to themselves now and say they never
liked all those deficits and expenditures they didn't give a goddamn
about when Bush was riding high. They tell themselves that fiscal
prudence has always been their core principle, when in fact their
core principle is now what it has always been: liberalism and the
Democratic Party must be destroyed so that we can rule forever.
Wearing tricorn hats and putting the word "constitutional" into every
sentence they utter is just their latest scheme to achieve that end.
Ted Snider: Their Hardliners Are Right; Our Hardliners Are Wrong:
On the Iran negotiations:
That the American hardliners' ideology has infiltrated the Western
P5+1 negotiating team is suggested by reports coming out right after
this past weekend's disintegration of the promised preliminary agreement
that, at least publicly, the diplomats from the other five countries
were not angry with France for breaking ranks on the potential deal,
but for breaking protocol and announcing the failure prior to the
final press conference. It appears that the six countries may have
been in agreement about questioning Iran's "right" to enrich and
about questioning the heavy-water reactor at Arak. Though originally
presented as France's breaking ranks with the other five countries,
no one but Iran has publicly criticized France, and John Kerry has
said "The French signed off on it, we signed off on it" and that
"We're grateful to the French for the work we did together."
[ . . . ]
But while American hardliners are wrong about their claims, the
Iranian hardliners are historically justified in their claims that
the Americans will sabotage the talks and will never make a fair
deal with Iran. While talks progress more positively than they have
in a decade and a deal seems possible for the first time, American
hardliners continue to press for sanctions on Iran and continue to
raise the bar of what would constitute an acceptable deal.
Gareth Porter has more on the Iran talks:
Why Iran Nuclear Talks Failed and Why They Will Get Tougher.
Stephem M Walt: Why Do We Keep Insisting That Use of Force Be 'On the
The more I think about it, however, the dumber that expression sounds.
Why? Because for the United States, the option of using military force
is always on the table, especially when we're dealing with weak states
like Iran. After all, since the end of the Cold War the United States
has used force over and over: in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen,
Bosnia, Serbia, and a host of other places too. We've fired cruise
missiles, Hellfires, and other sophisticated chunks of ordnance at a
wide variety of targets, and you could add Special Forces operations
and computer viruses (e.g., Stuxnet) to the list.
Of course, people do not use this admonition to keep force "on the
table" in a serious or sophisticated fashion; it's just an easy way
for politicians and pundits to show they're tough-minded and not averse
to using the pointed end of the stick. In other words, it's a way to
maintain your inside-the-Beltway street cred. But it's really a
meaningless phrase, because countries like Iran (and others) are
well aware that the option of using force is right there and could
be used if U.S. leaders ever decided it would accomplish a genuine
In fact, this constant insistence that force must be "on the table"
also reveals a pervasive blindness about how the United States looks
to others. People repeat this phrase because they seem to think that
other countries see the United States as a feckless wimp that will
never do anything to harm them and that our politicians need to rattle
sabers and bluster just to get other countries' attention. News
flash: That's not how the rest of the world sees Uncle Sam these
days. In reality, everybody knows the United States is still very
powerful -- the sequester notwithstanding -- and other countries are
well aware of the frequency with which we've been blowing things up
in different places for the past 20 years. Our politicians may be
trying to remind U.S. voters that they are willing to use force, but
the rest of the world hardly needs to be told at this point.
This great fondness for threatening force, and the propensity to
use it, strikes me as the institutionalization of Nixon's "madman
strategy." Back when Nixon was president and trying to figure out
some way to get the Russians to pressure Vietnam into capitulating
to the US in negotiations, he tried scramgling SAC bombers and
pointing them at Moscow in hopes of convincing the Russians that
he was crazy enough to start World War III. It never really worked,
mostly because the Russians didn't have that kind of control over
their Vietnamese allies. (But it did lead to the Russians to great
paranoia over Ronald Reagan, who unlike Nixon was certifiably loony
even if he was less personally inclined to incinerate the world.)
Washington is awash with clichés, and this is just one of them.
The bigger question is why anyone still thinks that such acts of
force actually work. After all, we have performed many experiments
over the years, bombing places and finding that no desired outcome
ensues. The bluster of Obama's planned punitive attacks on Syria
for using chemical weapons are a case in point. Maybe you can argue
that the threat of force was what caused Assad to surrender his
weapons, but you can be sure that it wouldn't have happened had
the US actually acted on its threats. Moreover, it is only through
agreement and inspection that the US could ever be assured that
Assad had indeed given up those arms. (Iraq, where the US refused
to allow inspectors to do their work, is the obvious comparative.)
Teddy Roosevelt's motto was "speak softly, but carry a big stick."
But now that US presidents do little but speak, they feel the need
to shout, then they get taunted to use the stick anyway lest their
rants no longer be taken seriously. Nixon's "madman" terminology is
really too kind.
Walt also has a useful post
How Not to Think About the Israel Lobby, especially given Israel's
prominence among those who want to scuttle any sort of diplomatic deal
between the US and Iran:
Finally, if you're not wearing blinders, it is impossible to miss the
fact that AIPAC, WINEP, JINSA, the RJC, the ADL, and a host of other
hardline groups in the lobby are now the principal opponents to a
diplomatic deal with Iran. Just look at
this article from The Forward, or
this one from Ha'aretz, which make it clear that these are
the principal groups holding Obama's feet to the fire on this issue.
And of course it is many of these same groups or individuals who have
been insisting for years that the U.S. keep all options "on the table"
and use force against Iran if necessary. Absent pressure from these
groups, it would be much, much easier for the United States to come
to terms with Tehran.
Also, a few links for further study:
Ira Chernus: If Only Right-Wing Christians Knew Where Their Ideas Came
From: Looks back at 19th century evangelicals, who tended to be
progressive more than conservative, and find a resurgence in that same
radicalism today, positing it as an opportunity for the left. William
Jennings Bryan is one of Chernus' cases-in-point, but I must point out
that he's remembered today as much for his embarrassing role in the
Scopes "monkey trial" as for his "Cross of Gold" speech. Curiously,
Bryan's opposition to teaching about evolution was rooted at least as
much in his sense of social justice as in Biblical literalism. And
he's not remembered at all today for leaving the Wilson administration
as it marched off to war. Sometimes this is tricky, but if you believe
that the major political problems of our day are gaping inequality and
war, it is certainly true that you can find allies among evangelicals.
Reaching and keeping them is another problem.
Chernus also has a post on the Obamacare nonsense:
"End Times for Obama": A Dangerous Conservative Myth.
Jonathan Cook: Why Israel wanted Arafat dead: The recent autopsy of
Arafat shows traces of Polonium-210, which is not something you run across
in everyday life. You generally have to have a nuclear reactor to obtain
significant quantities of the toxic, radioactive isotope, which makes
Israel a candidate. You also have to be willing to engage in assassination,
which also makes Israel a candidate. Cooks lists more reasons.
Ann Jones: War Wounds: An excerpt from Jones' new book, They
Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America's Wars -- The
Untold Story (Dispatch Books/Haymarket Books). Jones previously
wrote two books coming out of her experiences in Afghanistan:
Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan (2007),
and War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women Speak Out from the
Ruins of War (2010).
David Kenner: Why Saudi Arabia Hates the Iran Deal: One thing that
will seem strange to American observers is how intensely Saudi Arabia
orients itself against Iran, so this at least helps a bit to illuminate
it. It could, of course, go further. One of the first things that Ayatollah
Kohmeini did on taking power in 1979 was to explicitly challenge Saudi
Arabia for leadership in the Moslem world. Before that the Saudis had
a long-time rivalry with Arab nationalists like Nasser, but that had
cooled off after the Arabs' disastrous showing in the 1967 Israel war.
However, after 1979 the Saudis started spending billions of dollars to
promote abroad their own quaint and antiquated form of Islam -- Wahabism,
which relates back to the older school of Salafism -- with its peculiar
emphasis on jihad as a political tool. US officials, in the naïve belief
that any conservative religion was preferable to Godless Communism,
approved, especially as the Saudis invested billions in Afghanistan.
And Saudi Arabia has continued its pro-Islamist interventionism to
this very day: they berate Iran for supporting political factions in
Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, precisely because those factions are rivals
to the factions Saudi Arabia supports. It is easy to say that Iran
is wrong to intervene in foreign countries, but Saudi Arabia is every
bit as guilty on that charge, and the results of its interventions
have been at least as damaging. The US has long backed Saudi Arabia
in its aggressive foreign policy but must be having second thoughts
now -- especially given the ease with which Saudi-backed militants
have gravitated toward Al Qaeda. (Saudi clerics are quick to condemn
Al Qaeda, but not very effective at dissuading them.) At this point,
the best thing for all concerned would be to mutually withdraw from
interfering in other countries.
John Quiggin: Wall Street Isn't Worth It: Argues that "society as a
whole would be better off if the financial sector were smaller, and
received much smaller returns." I don't have any doubts about that.
Joseph Stiglitz: The Insanity of Our Food Policy: Much more on
the Republican cuts to the food stamp program than on farm subsidies,
although he points out that as originally implemented in the 1930s
farm "subsidies were an anti-poverty program." They've largely become
a subsidy to corporate agriculture since then, which still -- my
opinion here, since Stiglitz doesn't really address it -- doesn't
mean they're unnecessary (although could mean they're unjust as
currently implemented). For the most part, US agriculture policy
has been based on a grand bargain of rural and urban interests:
subsidies ensure that the food supply will not be disrupted by the
vagaries of the market, and those surpluses will be used to end
hunger. The Republicans have broken that deal. What Stiglitz is
describing is more immoral than insane, but if they manage to
return agriculture to laissez faire markets that will indeed be
Sunday, November 3. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Paul Krugman: Rentiers, Entitlement, and Monetary Policy: With
unemployment still way high and the economy further depressed by
political shenanigans, the rentiers keep pushing for tighter money
"in an economy that seems to need the opposite":
This kind of behavior -- ever-shifting rationales for an unchanging
policy (see: Bush tax cuts, invasion of Iraq, etc.) -- is a "tell."
It says that something else is really motivating the policy advocacy.
So what is going on here? When I read Gross and others, what I think
is lurking underneath is a belief that capitalists are entitled to
good returns on their capital, even if it's just parked in safe assets.
It's about defending the privileges of the rentiers, who are assumed
to be central to everything; the specific stories are just attempts
to rationalize the unchanging goal.
The thing to realize here, then, is that nothing about our current
situation says that rentiers are entitled to their rent. And it's a
perversion of alleged free-market thinking to suggest otherwise.
Bear in mind where we are, economically: we are still in a liquidity
trap, and we are very much in a paradox of thrift world, where hoarding --
not spending -- is a positive social evil.
What is the role of interest in this world? Interest, classically
(and I do mean classically, as in Mr. Keynes and the), is the reward
for waiting: there's supposedly a social function to interest because
it rewards people for saving rather than spending. But right now we're
awash in excess savings with nowhere to go, and the marginal social
value of a dollar of savings is negative. So real interest rates
should be negative too, if they're supposed to reflect social
This really isn't at all exotic -- but obviously it's a point
wealth-owners don't want to hear. Hence the constant agitation for
I'll add that economists have routinely campaigned for savings
(and policies that promote savings) for decades, or maybe forever,
so it's a bit unsurprising that they'd be caught flat-footed by a
glut. The glut, of course, turns out to have nothing to do with
the supposed virtue of delayed gratification. It occurred simply
because the rich were able to use their political clout to grab
so much more than they could spend, while pushing everyone else
down to where they're unable to spend enough to justify further
investment. And note that artificially tightening the money supply
would do nothing to fix this problem. If anything, it would make
Award-winning Paragraphs, where Krugman quotes John Taylor saying
that the Congressional Budget Office has projected that federal debt
"will rise to more than 250% without a change in policy." Krugman
questions the time frame, and provides a chart showing that even 25
years out CBO is only projecting a debt/GDP ratio of 90% -- "a debt
level well within historical experience for advanced nations." In
response to Taylor's second paragraph, Krugman writes:
But what I really found noteworthy is Taylor's declaration that we
must not say that the GOP has been taken over by extremists, because
it prevents a serious discussion. Suppose we just posit the possibility
that the GOP really has been taken over by extremists; are supposed to
pretend otherwise, for the sake of discussion? When does it become OK
to acknowledge reality?
And of course the GOP really has been taken over by extremists.
Normal political parties don't shut down the government and threaten
to push us into default in an attempt to derail legislation that has
been duly enacted by Congress, and they lack the votes to repeal.
Sorry, but that's just not something one can pretend not to notice.
Charles Simic: Bleak House:
Just consider the effort of the Republicans in the House to overrule
the Affordable Care Act, a legislation ratified by the majority of
elected representative of the people and signed into law by the
president. Bettering the lives of anyone but the wealthy, as we
know, has ceased to be a concern of the Republican Party. But
millions of Americans are on the brink of buying affordable health
insurance and freeing themselves from a worry that makes their lives
utter misery; the concerted effort backed by some of the richest men
in this country to deprive them of that chance may be without precedent
for sheer malice. Indifference to the plight and suffering of human
beings of one class or another by some segment of the population is
a universal phenomenon, but spending millions of dollars to deepen
the misery of one's fellow citizens and enlisting members of one
political party to help you do so is downright vile. It must be
motivated as much by sadism as by the political calculation that if
these uninsured were to get insurance, they would give the Democratic
Party a governing majority simply out of gratitude for letting them
see a doctor.
Organized, by what The New York Times calls "a loose-knit coalition
of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III,"
the backers of the government shut-down are ensconced in organizations
like Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Works, Club
for Growth, Generation Opportunity, and Young Americans for Liberty,
their names as fake as those of Communist front organizations in the
1930s and 1940s and as venal as their forerunners. These groups spent
more than $200 million last year to spread disinformation and delude
the gullible among the populace about the supposedly catastrophic harm
giving health care to the uninsured would do to the economy. Using them
as a model, Americans should look out only for themselves. We have
forgotten what this country once understood, that a society based on
nothing but selfishness and greed is not a society at all, but a state
of war of the strong against the weak.
Steve M: I Want to Belong to the Democratic Party That Exists Only in
Rush Limbaugh's Delusional Brain: Early in 2009 after Obama became
president, we hired a father-son team to come in and lay some tile.
They not only insisted on arriving too early but they also brought
their own radio in, and without any consideration of their customers
they tuned in Rush Limbaugh. Surprisingly, he cheered me up: until
then I had no idea that Obama was a socialist, or even that he had
progressive plans. Of course, I was eventually disappointed to find
no evidence of any such thing. And I couldn't exactly blame Limbaugh
for being wrong, because he's always wrong about everything. But
he's still at it, trying to cheer us up with his reverse psychology.
Here's how Steve M. paraphrases him (follow the link if you don't
So I guess Obamacare was deliberately built to fail because, as everyone
knows, if it fails we're just instantly going to throw all the huge
private insurers and all their expensive lobbyists under the bus and
go socialist, because liberals rule, and we're Alinskying this just
the same way we Alinskied our way to the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall
and the restoration of Eisenhower-era 90+ percent top marginal tax rates,
when we weren't getting all those Wall Street bankers arrested and
getting Gitmo closed and stopping the drones and legalizing gay marriage
all the way from Montana to Mississippi. Remember how we pulled all that
off? Good times.
Too bad I can't remember any of that. Just think: if I were as
clueless as Limbaugh, I'd be a happy man.
Speaking of delusion, all see M's
Kathleen Sebelius, Gangsta Bitch, based on a Michelle Malkin rant:
You can question how Sebelius is doing her job, but I think you have to
be an insane wingnut with rage disorder to regard her as a combination
of Torquemada and Whitey Bulger.
Also, a few links for further study:
Amy Goldstein/Juliet Eilperlin: HealthCare.gov: How political fear was
pitted against technical needs: A fairly long article on how the
implementation of the federal insurance exchange under ACA was hampered
by a "poisonous" political atmosphere and some measure of bureaucratic
inefficiency or incompetence -- hard for me to tell. One problem was
that the law envisioned 50 state exchanges, but the more Republicans
were able to block those, the more weight got piled onto the underfunded
federal exchange. By the way, here's a profile of
CGI Federal, the Canadian company most responsible for implementing
the federal insurance exchange.
Paul Krugman: Gambling With Civilization: Review of economist
William D. Nordhaus's book: The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty,
and Economics for a Warming World (Yale University Press):
"Markets alone will not solve this problem," declares Nordhaus. "There
is no genuine 'free-market solution' to global warming." This isn't a
radical statement, it's just Econ 101. Nonetheless, it's anathema to
free-market enthusiasts. If you like to imagine yourself as a character
in an Ayn Rand novel, and someone tells you that the world isn't like
that, that it requires government intervention -- no matter how
d market-friendly -- your response may well be to reject the news and
cling to your fantasies. And sad to say, a fair number of influential
figures in American public life do believe they're acting out Atlas
Finally, there's a strong streak in modern American conservatism
that rejects not just climate science, but the scientific method in
general. Polling suggests, for example, that a large majority of
Republicans reject the theory of evolution. For people with this
mind-set, laying out the extent of scientific consensus on an issue
isn't persuasive -- gets their backs up, and feeds fantasies about
vast egghead conspiracies.
Nordhaus accepts the basic climate science findings, debunks
advocacy and alarmism that he thinks goes too far, attempts a
cost-benefit analysis of various possible solutions, calls for
some sort of carbon pricing/tax scheme to limit emissions, and
considers geoengineering a possible fallback to offset (but not
solve) excess emissions. Seems like a reasonable book, if only
we had reasonable political and business leaders.
Several more links having to do with Max Blumenthal's
new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.
(I have a copy and hope to read soon, but I've been stuck for
a long time in a book on neoliberal economics and it's slow
going.) Found most of these by following links from
MJ Rosenberg, who is of two minds on the book (and for that
matter seems to be of two minds on many things lately):
Rosenberg also links to this Haaretz article:
The Shoah explained to our five-year-olds. I agree with him that
teaching the history of the Holocaust to kindergarten children, as
Israel's Education Minister is proposing, is "child abuse." As I understand it, Israel also has a program where teenagers
are sent to Auschwitz, and their military holds rituals at Masada.
Has there ever been any nation that works harder to traumatize its
own citizens? For a further illustration of this, see Tom Segev's
book 1967, where Israel's generals were shown to be totally
confident of swift victory, while the Israeli people were led to
expect utter doom (and therefore felt remarkable exhilaration at
Yakov M Rabkin: Reform Judaism and the challenge of Zionism:
Book review of Jack Ross: Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American
Jewish Anti-Zionism (2011, Potomac Books). Berger was a notable
exception to the common pro-Zionist stance of American jews. Rabkin
also wrote what is most likely an interesting book: A Threat From
Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism.
Tom Simonite: The Decline of Wikipedia: Some interesting observations
here, especially regarding a slight reduction in the number of active
editors at Wikipedia -- I wouldn't go so far as to call that a decline,
but it means that progress in filling out weak spots may slow down. Also
notable are the growth of "personal, egocentric feeds" (Facebook and
Twitter) and the increasing use of lightweight computers (phones,
tablets) that aren't conducive to any actual work. Also makes sense
to me that as Wikipedia matures people will move on -- where to is as
Also looks like there is a lot of news on Israel, and all bad as
far as I can see. In fact,
WarInContext has nothing but
bad news everywhere it looks. (Right now the top article is on
Sunday, October 27. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
John Cassidy: What's Wrong With Fining JPMorgan Chase $13 Billion?
Still true that none of the bankers who caused the Great Recession
back in 2007-08 have gone to jail, but the fines are adding up into
the sort of numbers that Sen. Everett Dirksen once termed "serious
money" ("a billion here, a billion there"):
In 2010, Goldman Sachs paid $550 million to settle the Fabrice (Fabulous
Fab) Tourre case with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The case
included claims that the firm had conspired with John Paulson, the
hedge-fund titan, to mislead investors in a C.D.O. offering. Goldman
didn't admit to any violation, and today it looks like it got a bargain.
Neither Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive, nor an of his
colleagues at the top of the firm faced any real sanction. Certainly,
other banks have ended up laying out a lot more cash. For example, in
June, 2011, Bank of American agreed to pay $8.5 billion to a group of
investors, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who had
purchased subprime securities constructed from home loans issued by
Countrywide Financial, which Bank of America purchased in 2008.
There have also been some huge group settlements. In February, 2012,
five of the biggest mortgage-service firms in the country -- Bank of
America, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, and Ally Bank/GMAC -- agreed
to a $25 billion settlement with state and federal regulators arising
from charges that they inflated fees, robo-signed foreclosure documents,
and carried out multiple other improprieties during the housing boom
and bust. About two-thirds of this huge sum was supposed to go toward
mortgage relief for struggling homeowners. Roughly $2.5 billion was
reserved for the states. Then, earlier this year, thirteen banks and
mortgage-service providers -- Bank of America and JPMorgan were again
on the list -- agreed to pay another $9.3 billion to settle cases
brought by federal regulators.
Not all of the fines have been mortgage related. Late last year,
UBS agreed to pay $1.5 billion to settle charges from the Libor scandal,
and HSBC agreed to pay $1.9 billion to settle money-laundering charges.
And, in the past month or so, JPMorgan has agreed to pay more than a
billion dollars to settle two cases arising from the London Whale
Compared to the new settlement, which was reportedly raised from
eleven billion dollars to thirteen billion during last-minute negotiations,
the London Whale fines weren't much at all. As part of the deal between
Attorney General Eric Holder and Dimon, federal prosecutors in Sacramento
will be allowed to continue trying to make a criminal case against some
current and former JPMorgan employees, who were reportedly involved in
mortgage-related shenanigans. Holder, to his credit, refused to back down
on this one. However, there remains little prospect of anybody very senior
at the bank being indicted or, it seems, of Dimon losing his job.
Paul Krugman: Maybe Economics Is a Science, but Many Economists Are
Not Scientists: Having more-or-less seriously studied political
science and sociology I'm quite familiar with the ways researchers
manage to impose their political prejudices on their data, and the
skimpiness of their claims to scientific objectivity. I'm also aware
of work by Kuhn and Feyerabend showing that even in "hard" sciences
like physics researchers often are unable to break out of the initial
paradigms they started with. If economics seems to be more scientific
than other social sciences, that's mostly because it has more natural
countable data. (Sociologists are more likely to generate their data
through polling, which involves all sorts of construction issues.)
Still, a lot of what goes on in economics isn't empirical, and that's
especially true when it comes to making predictions. Krugman writes:
But are such results actually being used to inform policy debate?
Have conservative economists like Casey Mulligan said "OK, we were
wrong to argue that extended unemployment benefits are the cause of
high unemployment"? Have economists who oppose Obamacare said, "OK,
we were wrong to say that Medicaid hurts its recipients?"
You know the answer.
And it's not just policy debates. Whole subfields of economics,
notably but not only business-cycle macro, have spent decades chasing
their own tails because too many economists refuse to accept empirical
evidence that rejects their approach.
The point is that while Chetty is right that economics can be and
sometimes is a scientific field in the sense that theories are testable
and there are researchers doing the testing, all too many economists
treat their field as a form of theology instead.
I wouldn't say theology, but I would say that economics is mostly
an art of applied logic. For the most part, economists start with a
model of how they expect the economy to work -- often based on metaphors
like Adam Smith's "invisible hand" -- and then apply that logic to
whatever problems interest them. And while that logic often leads to
specific predictions about the future, they seem to be remarkably
uninterested when the future comes to past and reveals something
completely different. John Quiggin wrote a whole book on ideas that
had completely failed to produce the expected results, but despite
that failure haven't been discarded because so many economists are
more committed to their models than they are to reality. He called
that book Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us.
There are sciences where such a record of empirical failure cannot
be sustained, but that's because they are dominated by scientists
who are willing to discard failed hypotheses.
Paul Krugman: Lies, Damned Lies, and Fox News:
The other day Sean Hannity featured some Real Americans telling tales
of how they have been hurt by Obamacare. So Eric Stern, who used to
work for Brian Schweitzer, had a bright idea: he actually called
Hannity's guests, to get the details.
Sure enough, the businessman who claimed that Obamacare was driving
up his costs, forcing him to lay off workers, only has four employees --
meaning that Obamacare has no effect whatsoever on his business. The
two families complaining about soaring premiums haven't actually checked
out what's on offer, and Stern estimates that they would in fact see
You have to wonder about the mindset of people who go on national TV
to complain about how they're suffering from a program based on nothing
but what they think they heard somewhere. You might also wonder about
what kind of alleged news show features such people without any check
on their bona fides. But then again, consider the network.
Also, a few links for further study:
Juan Cole: The American Quagmire in Afghanistan by the Numbers (21,565
US Troops Dead or Wounded): Way down from the peak levels of Obama's
"surge," but still 51,000 US troops in Afghanistan; 2,150 US military
personnel killed; 19,415 wounded; various other items, including:
Amount of money US has spent to rebuild Afghanistan: $100 billion
Proportion of the $100 billion wasted or misspent or stolen or given
to militants or not received by intended recipient: 85%
Paul Krugman: Why Is Obamacare Complicated?, and
Mike Konczal: What Kind of Problem Is the ACA Rollout for Liberalism?:
As someone with a long history of working on and in some cases managing
complex software projects, I would love to find a really good analysis of
the widely touted problems with the "healthcare.gov" website rollout --
e.g., something that splits out usability from scalability issues. All
I've heard thus far is a mumbo jumble of technical terms wrapped up in
political harangues. Konczal and Krugman point out the obvious: that
the website complexity mirrors the features of the ACA that
were inserted to keep the private insurance companies in business -- in
other words, had Congress gone with a single-payer system the website
issues would be moot (signing up would be no different from signing up
Well, here's a partial exception:
John Pavley: Why the Experts Are Probably Wrong About the Healthcare.gov
Crack-Up, but the harangue there is one I can get behind: "That's
the power of open source and open government: Other people are invested
in fixing your problems for you!" The comments provide other clues. Even
given the law's complexity, why is the code so large? And why is so much
pushed down to the client?
Andrew Leonard: Crowdsource your salary! An economy built on love:
Describes Gittip, a twist on crowdfunding intended to provide
continuous income streams for people whose work appeals to the mass
community. I could see joining something like this to try to fund the
sort of work I do, although I'm skeptical that it would actually work,
or that I really need it. When EW shut down, a number of commenters
expressed a willingness to set up an income stream to entice Christgau
into continuing to write Consumer Guide reviews. This, unlike better
known forums like Kickstarter, might be a viable way to support that
sort of thing.
Paul Rosenberg: Stop enabling the right: The media just makes dysfunction
worse: a catalog of fallacies that function as loopholes crediting
the far right with more legitimacy and respect than they deserve. Along
these same lines, see
Bill Moyers/Michael Winship: The Lies That Will Kill America.
Let me also point out:
Robert Christgau: Toesucker Blues: Robert Christgau's Farewell Salute
to Lou Reed: Reed died today, age 71. He doesn't mention Reed's
early 1970s albums, including his first actual hit ("Walk on the Wild
Side"), the morbid concept album Berlin (my breakthrough with
him), or the live Rock n Roll Animal (scaled his songbook to
arena-metal strength), probably because they pale compared to his VU
albums or to his 1982-84 comeback, but gives more credit to the later
phase of his career (I'm still a fan of 2004's Animal Serenade).
Let me also quote from my 1975 review of Metal Machine Music:
Lou Reed's Strange
As background it's surely no worse than the normal roar of city life,
sirens, machinery, airplanes, dog barks, screams, up against the wall
motherfuckers. But then, many people find that, too, offensive. I mean,
who all do you know hiding out in the suburbs? Or in their own heads?
The sounds are uneasy, unsettled; they betray a life force, a will to
survive which even when it appears as death fetishism is all the more
determined, the force of a potential crying after its actualization.
That, too, some may find offensive; in that I would find hope.
Also see my piece on Reed for
The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, which takes him up to 2004.
Tuesday, October 22. 2013
I ran across a couple cartoons that neatly sum up the last few weeks.
This one is by Kevin Siers, The Charlotte Observer (Oct. 2, 2013):
The suicide vest is a little over-the-top. The GOP actually only
intended to hurt everyone but itself, but that fine line was hard to
maintain. But the relative levels of delusion and madness, and the
eagerness of the GOP to inflict damage on the country and its people,
are approximated fairly enough.
The second cartoon, from Jim Morin, Miami Herald (October 2, 2013),
is more literally correct, although labeling the character with the
gun pointed at Uncle Sam's head the "Tea Party" instead of the GOP
cuts the latter too much slack:
After the Republicans' disastrous loss in the 2008 elections, the
professional political strategists of the Republican Party were widely
discredited, and as they backed off "talk radio" blowhards like Rush
Limbaugh and Glenn Beck with their scorched earth anti-Obama rhetoric
picked the GOP up off the mat and gave them a renewed sense of purpose.
The first signs of "grass roots" actively were quickly cultivated by
Fox and fertilized by billionaire activists like the Koch brothers.
That energy and faux-populism led to the Republican wins -- the House
and a lot of key governorships and state houses -- in 2010, although
the failure of Obama to inspire the Democratic base either by advancing
popular policies or by showing any backbone in fighting obstructionism
from Republicans, had at least as much to do with the results.
Since 2010 the "Tea Party" has increasingly been seen as more of a
liability for Republicans -- often personally as they have targeted
more mainstream conservatives like Richard Lugar whose ability to seem
reasonable did so much to advance Republican aspirations after the
1970s -- but with their frequent challenges from the far right they've
often managed to hold the GOP hostage. Indeed, the same is true of
other fringe interests in the GOP's patchwork of malcontents, such
as the gun nuts and the anti-abortion fanatics: it's hard to find a
single Republican anywhere who'll challenge either, even when it
comes to defending the rights of rapists to force their victims to
bear their children, or training elementary school teachers to use
assault weapons to deal with their disciplinary problems. The "Tea
Party" isn't as narrowly focused -- it's harder to pin them down on
issues, but they've taken anti-government nostrums (ranging from
Grover Norquist to Ayn Rand to Friedrich Hayek to Ronald Reagan) to
heart, they feel they're morally superior to many or most of their
fellow citizens, they don't care who gets hurt as long as they get
their way, and they are quick to attribute their own worst instincts
to their supposed enemies. I can't tell you how many times I've seen
them describe Obama as a dictator or tyrant, often claiming as his
motto "my way or the highway" (one of those popped up in the Eagle
Of course, from my vantage point Obama is no such thing. He is
a man with vaguely liberal ideals, impeccably conservative tastes,
and a pathetic and almost pathological instinct to compromise his
ideals to appease anyone he recognizes as high and mighty -- his
corporate sponsors, of course, especially bankers and media moguls;
the Republican leadership, the military brass, the spy agencies,
Benyamin Netanyahu. I suppose you can credit the "Tea Party" with
finally forcing him to stand firm for once, but only by making such
outrageous demands and threats that they forced a split very ranks
that Obama is so obsequious to: the GOP leadership, of course, fell
under the "Tea Party" thumb, while everyone else recognized that
the government is even more needed by the rich than by the poor,
and that to function the government has to be able to borrow money
(otherwise, like, it might be tempted to tax the rich).
David Frum had a pat explanation for all this, and it still bears
fruit: "Repub pols fear the GOP base; Dem pols hate the Dem base."
The asymmetries here run deep. Both parties seek money from the rich,
who support both parties for favors and cultural reinforcement. And
both parties seek votes from everyone else, but the Republicans have
chosen to appeal to fears and prejudices whereas the Democrats, while
often giving ground to legitimize their opponents, still offer a few
tidbits to self-interest. The different approaches result in distinct
forms of mental illness. The Democrats are schizophrenic, intending to
favor both the rich and the poor at the same time but sometimes finding
their commitments in conflict, in which case they almost invariably
side with the rich -- the poor, after all, have nowhere else to go
(except home, as in 2010), and if they object the party's enforcers
are ever ready to lash out. The Dems hate their base because the base
is in the way of them making their deals with the rich and powerful,
and more viscerally because they themselves want to be rich, powerful,
and not at all like their base.
The Republicans have less trouble reconciling their allegiance to
the rich with their commitments to the prejudices of their base,
except that much of what their base insists on is fucking insane.
That didn't matter so much back in the Reagan era when Republicans
said stupid things but rarely acted on them and the welfare state
still had enough padding it could absorb the occasional cut. But as
more Republicans seized power, their ability to inflict damage grew
and the wear and tear accumulated. And when Thomas Frank explained
to the Republican masses that their leaders were sandbagging them --
"vote against abortion and get tax cuts for the rich" -- they rose
up in revolt, creating the "Tea Party" monstrosity. And what that
did was to make the GOP manic-depressive. The Democrats could get
away with loathing their base because the base didn't have anywhere
else to go -- not even the beleaguered poor are so masochistic to
vote for a party dedicated to stripping away the last shreds of a
social safelty net. But the Republicans had to fear their base, not
least because most of those people would be better off economically
with the Democrats, and without prejudice and fury clouding their
minds, with the middle class melting into the poor and the superrich
becoming ever more rarefied, the Republicans had no other possible
source of votes. So they feared their base, and the temperamental
bullies in the base recognized that fear and took advantage of it.
Lots of Republican bigwigs had no problem with catering to their
base instincts. Wave the flag and thump the bible all you want --
hard to see how that affects the profit margin on pork bellies or
gasoline or depleted-uranium shells. Nor do the bigwigs have any
problem with shrinking the government, as long as it isn't the parts
of government that support their businesses and protect their money.
Immigration is an issue that famously divides the bigwigs and the
base: the former want anything that weakens the labor market, but
the latter can't stand all those foreigners, even if and when they
become Americans. The government shutdown and credit default are
other issues where the base got out of hand, and we'll see more of
this in the future. That may be why the "Tea Party" is getting such
bad press these days: the media hope is that responsible Republicans
will regain control, but there's no reason to expect that to happen.
For one thing, just as the "Tea Party" found its faith in Obama's
2008 election, their takeaway from this defeat is that they have
to double down and take over the rest of the Republican Party, so
that next time the party will finally have the will to fight for
its base's true principles. And if they lose a few elections to
Democrats, they'll just recall how Barry Goldwater's historic loss
led to Ronald Reagan and those "seven fat years" (while conveniently
forgetting that it all led to George W. Bush).
The Democratic left has no symmetrical option, because no one
there is going to sabotage the party and let the "Tea Party" destroy
the country just to make conditions so bad that the only out will
be revolution. It's not so much that it hasn't worked or wouldn't
work as that it involves making unacceptable ethical choices. So
we're stuck with establishment wannabes like Obama and Clinton
itching to sell us out. But with the "Tea Party" ascendant in the
Republican orb, the demands may be so crazy they don't get the
chance. As long as you care about reality some ideas are safely
out of bounds.
Sunday, October 20. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Max Ehrenfreud: Texas on My Mind: Cites pieces by Brad DeLong and
Tyler Cowen on Texas, the former explaining how "the Texas miracle"
has little if anything to do with the state's neanderthal politics,
and the latter cheerfully resigning the entire country to emulating
the worst aspects of Texas life:
Meanwhile, Cowen describes how life in Texas is changing, and suggests
that the rest of the country will gradually start to resemble Texas
more and more: increasing disparities in wealth, a smaller and weaker
middle class, people giving up on their ambitions, people living off
nothing in 20-by-20 houses built out of scrap metal in the middle of
the desert. Cowen doesn't seem particularly alarmed by these dystopian
predictions, and in any case, he feels that our future will be shaped
by inexorable economic forces, so he suggests we simply start preparing
Rosie Gray: Democratic Congressman Blasts Republicans for Inviting
Anti-Israel Witness to Terrorism Hearing: The Congressman was
Jerrold Nadler (D-NY); the diabolical witness was Michael Scheuer,
formerly of the CIA where in the 1990s he was the in-house expert
on Al-Qaeda and published as "Anonymous" one of the first serious
books on anti-American jihadism. He should be a hero of the "War on
Terrorism" set, but along the way he noticed that one of the major
reasons salafist-jihadis attack the United States is that the US has
for many decades now been the principal supporter of Israel, its
militarism, its periodic wars, and its systematic discrimination
against the Palestinian people, and he's pointedly question whether
this association is really in the national interest. The important
thing here isn't whether Scheuer is right or wrong: his 2007 book,
Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror,
has plenty of examples of both. What's important is that AIPAC tools
like Nadler don't want to discuss right-or-wrong; they'll do whatever
they can to prevent any views critical of Israel from ever being
spoken, at least within the halls of US power. Something similar
happened when Obama nominated veteran US diplomat Chas Freeman for
an advisory role. It's fine with them for Obama to be surrounded
with hacks like Dennis Ross (who can always fall back on Israel's
payroll when they're out of government), but anyone who doesn't
support the "correct views" has to be cut off at the door.
Paul Krugman: The Worst Ex-Central Banker in the World: On Alan
Greenspan's new book. I might have put this in the "further study"
section but there is no need to read the book. This covers all you
Steven Pearlstein reads Alan Greenspan's new book, and discovers that
Greenspan believes that he bears no responsibility for all the bad
things that happened on his watch -- and that the solution to financial
crises is, you guessed it, less government.
What Pearlstein doesn't mention, but I think is important, is
Greenspan's amazing track record since leaving office -- a record of
being wrong about everything, and learning nothing therefrom. It is,
in particular, more than three years since he warned that we were going
to become Greece any day now, and declared the failure of inflation and
soaring rates to have arrived already "regrettable."
The thing is, Greenspan isn't just being a bad economist here, he's
being a bad person, refusing to accept responsibility for his errors in
and out of office. And he's still out there, doing his best to make the
world a worse place.
If you do wish to pursue this further, start with
Brad DeLong, who quotes Pearlstein at length, but only after
exposing you to the turgid prose of another reviewer who takes
great pains to suck up to Greenspan: Larry Summers.
Also, a few links for further study:
Ira Chernus: Uncovering the Tea Party's Radical Roots: Not a
particularly apt title, since in his re-reading of Gordon Wood's
important book, The Radicalism of the American Revolution
he doesn't find any real roots for the Tea Party either in the
federalists or anti-federalists, in Hamilton or in Jefferson.
Rather, what the Tea Party is left with is a delusion of history,
an invented past in the service of a current misunderstanding.
David Benjamin: The Strange Stalinization of the American Right.
Again, not really right, but like Mike Taibbi's Stalin-baiting of
Tom DeLay's ruthless discipline and opportunism, there's something
there, mangled for sure.
Josh Eidelson: Tea Partyers' grave fear: Why they disdain young people --
even their own!: Interview with Theda Skocpol:
And for the ideological forces, Freedomworks, Americans for Prosperity,
Heritage Action -- you just have to go back to Bill Kristol's memo in
1993 on Clinton healthcare. They're worried about filling in one of the
big holes in the American welfare state, and creating a positive
relationship between the government and working-age people that will
make it hard for Republicans to win elections or proceed with their
preference: to roll back Social Security and Medicare, let alone
another big piece of the American welfare state.
Alex Kane: Exposing the Dark Underbelly of Israel: The Horrors Your
Tax Dollars Support: Interview with Max Blumenthal on his new book,
Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. While working on
the book, Blumenthal filmed some street interviews in Jerusalem and,
appropriately enough, titled them "Feeling the Hate":
The second serious point we wanted to make is that this kind of incitement
leads to physical action, and in Zion Square, where we filmed it, a year
later, Jamal Julani, a teenage Palestinian kid, was beaten into a coma by
dozens of Jewish youth who had heard he made a pass at a Jewish girl. It
was like being in 1940s Alabama, being in central Jerusalem. And we had
tried to warn the American public with this video, and warn the Jewish
world, that this area of central Jerusalem, which they consider to be a
spiritual home of the Jewish people, is also a mecca of racist incitement
and nationalistic violence. We were ignored and our worst fears were
I show in my book how the Holocaust has been used as one of the central
tools for establishing political support in Israeli society for the
occupation and for the constant brinksmanship with Iran. And I explain
it through my reporting on the education system, I write about how
four-year-olds were lined up in a school in Holon, a suburb of Tel
Aviv, before a board that says, "who wants to kill us?" And it has
lines pointing to Arabs, lines pointing to Nazis, and lines pointing
to Persians, referring to the Iranians. The lines lead to a question --
"What do we need?" -- and finally to the answer: "We need a state."
And I talk about the militarization of the education system and how
at age 17, as Israeli high schoolers are preparing to go off to the army
service, they are sent to Auschwitz, on the March of the Living, with
their high school classes to be indoctrinated and to be cultivated to
view the Holocaust in the light of their army experience. Polls on
adolescent attitudes in Israel on the occupation and the army show
that they're very conflicted about the whole thing before they go on
these trips. But after going through this whole process, which ends
with a candlelight ceremony in a gas chamber where they're asked to
take on the personas of Jewish children who were slaughtered in the
gas chambers of Auschwitz, they come out with much more strongly
nationalistic opinions and much stronger support for the army as
Blumenthal concludes by talking about the 15,000 Israelis who
have left "Netanyahu's doom and gloom" and moved to Berlin. This
ties in nicely with
Uri Avnery: Why Are So Many Jews Leaving Israel?.
Eric Alterman, in The Nation, published an attack on Blumenthal's
The 'I Hate Israel' Handbook. I thought this quote was revealing:
Blumenthal evinces no interest in the larger context of Israel's actions.
Potential threats that emanate from Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Syria,
Iran, etc., receive virtually no mention in these pages. Israel's actions
are attributed exclusively to the myopia of its citizens. Blumenthal
blames "Israeli society's nationalistic impulses," its politicians who
struggle "to outdo one another in a competition for the most convincing
exaltation of violence against the Arab evildoers," its "fever swamps,"
its "unprovoked violence against the Arab outclass," and its textbooks
that "indoctrinate Jewish children into the culture of militarism." It
would have been easy for him to at least pretend to even-handedness here.
Did it not occur to Blumenthal, for instance, that Palestinians have
textbooks as well?
For at least thirty years after the 1967 occupation began, as I
understand it Palestinian textbooks were published by Israel and were
frozen in whatever state existed under Jordan prior to 1967. If the
PA managed to update the textbooks, that may be an interesting thing
to study, but doing so would miss the most basic truth of all: that
Israel isn't the passive, underpowered object of all those external
forces. The fact is that Israel can do and has done almost exactly
what it wanted ever since 1948, and that is to build a domineering
nation-state at conflict with all its neighbors and approximately
half of the people under its more or less direct control. I think it
was David Ben-Gurion who proclaimed the motto "it only matters what
the Jews do" (a paraphrase; what's the exact quote?). Well, if the
only acts that matter are Israeli, why do Israel's apologists insist
on talking about everyone and anything else? Why can't they take
responsibility for the world they created?
What I at least hope Blumenthal does in his book is to explore
the mentality and culture of the people who run Israel -- and since
they never tire of telling us what a democracy Israel is, of the
people who elect those in power. They matter because they're the
ones who perpetuate the conflict, and because they're the only ones
who can resolve it. It's easy enough to understand why Palestinians
who live as second-class citizens within the Green Line, or under
occupation in East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank, or in open
air prisons under constant threat of bombardment like Gaza, dislike
Israel -- they hardly have any other option. What's far harder to
understand is why Israelis today perpetuate this state of affairs,
and evidently the answer isn't pretty.
An excerpt from Blumenthal's book is here:
Israel Cranks Up the PR Machine. Another article discussing its
promotion and reception is
Philip Weiss: Terry Gross aired Blumenthal when he went after Republicans,
but Israel -- no thank you. There's also a long post by
Corey Robin on Alterman v. Blumenthal.
Pamela Olson: Nakba in The New Yorker, BDS in Variety: Intro to a
couple pieces, the first by Ari Shavit in The New Yorker (behind their
paywall) on "Lydda, 1948" -- one of the major towns that Israeli forces
expelled all Palestinian residents from, forcing them into exile, and
a second piece in Variety on BDS.
Sunday, October 13. 2013
Some scattered links this week, but first this from Richard
Crowson in the Wichita Eagle today:
Legend: "Mikey": Mike Pompeo (US Rep.); "Timmy": Tim Huelskamp (US Rep.);
"Ray": Ray Merrick (KS House Speaker); "Suzie": Susan Wagle (KS Senate
President); all Republicans.
Janet Allon: You Think You Knew Crazy? This week's "10 shockers from
the increasingly hinged right wing":
- Michele Bachmann: 'Obama is part of Al Qaeda and end times are near.'
- Some of Antonin Scalia's best friends are gay -- and yeah, the devil exists.
- Arizona lawmaker: 'Obama is like Hitler.'
- Ted Cruz lollapalooza.
- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK): 'Defaulting on the debt doesn't mean debt default.'
- Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling: 'We don't have to fund laws we didn't pass.'
- Bryan Fischer: 'Good on Vladimir Putin for those anti-homosexual laws.'
- Elisabeth Hasselbeck and John Stossel agree: welfare queens should not have air conditioning
- Glenn Beck on parenting: 'Push your children into walls.'
- Fox's Ben Carson: 'Women need to be re-educated so they don't get all riled up about abortion.'
Third week in a row I've cited Allon, but I'm starting to think
this is a bit lazy: not only picking the low-hanging fruit but only
the stuff within easy reach. For instance, in the Wichita Eagle today
there's an article on Gov. Sam Brownback where he's explaining that
he anticipated the government shutdown and has been working hard to
mitigate its effects on Kansans. I can't tell you how or why because
none of that made any sense, but the notion that a guy who can't even
see that cutting income taxes on the rich will lead to a shortfall in
revenues (about 20% so far this year) understands the intricacies of
the federal government well enough to sort all of that out is, well,
a bit far-fetched.
Or there's this little item from TPM:
Termination hearing for derp-spewing, militia-building, anti-"Libtard"
police chief in Gliberton, PA cut short when apparent supporter
accidentally drops his semi-automatic pistol on the hearing roomfloor.
Mike Konczal: The 'non-essential' parts of government that shut down are
actually quite essential. For example, economic statistics:
These functions are not happening. To give an example, the government
acts as a broker and verifier of income for mortgages. This coordination
of information is not functioning, and an ongoing shutdown will delay
new home mortgages in a very fragile market.
The government also provides public price data on a wide variety of
commodities, facilitating trade across many people. As the Financial
Times reported, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture down information
on pig prices has disappeared, throwing the market into chaos.
As they note, "[t]he situation underscores the commodity trade's
reliance on the U.S. government for supply, demand and other fundamental
data." It also has implications for fairness, as the shutdown's price
opacity "may also empower meatpackers as they deal with farmers." (Or
in other words, the shutdown means you are getting ripped off on your
Other examples include welfare and social service programs, public
health ("the CDC is having trouble tracking food-borne illnesses
under furloughs, it is no longer monitoring the spread of influenza
and other infectious diseases"), various kinds of investments ("an
extended shutdown would affect the reliability of the nation's
electric grid"). One thing I've reported earlier is that for now
it's essentially impossible to sell aircraft, either to the private
sector or to the DoD. Today's Wichita Eagle highlighted another
example: nuclear power plant safety regulators are furloughed. Of
course, that only becomes a problem when one of the most dangerous
things in the world blows up and/or melts down. A lot of things the
shutdown affects don't show up immediately, which helps those
responsible ignore the consequences of their actions.
Salmonella and Hepatitis Outbreaks Start Up as Government Shuts Down.
Also see Konczal's
The Tea Party thinks it hates Wall Street. It doesn't.
Paul Krugman: Business and the GOP: There's some evidence that most
business leaders (mostly Republicans) are none to happy with their home
team's tactics in forcing a government shutdown and probable debt default,
but they also seem to be having little effect on the people responsible
for those debacles (Republicans in the House). For instance, Koch Industries'
lobbyists have lately been trying to distance the company from the two
Koch brothers who literally own the company, and who have personally spent
millions of dollars getting those responsible elected.
Now, it's true that Republicans are bad for business -- and they didn't
start being bad for business when the latest hostage crisis erupted.
Ever since Republicans retook the House, federal spending adjusted for
inflation and population has been dropping fast:
This is exactly the wrong thing to be doing in a still-depressed
economy with interest rates at zero; my back of the envelope says that
GDP would be at least 2 percent higher, and corporate profits at least
6 percent higher, if this wrong-headed austerity weren't taking place.
So even before the current crisis Republican obstructionism was costing
corporate America a lot of money.
But here's the thing: while the modern GOP is bad for business, it's
arguably good for wealthy business leaders. After all, it keeps their
taxes low, so that their take-home pay is probably higher than it would
be under better economic management.
Also, when you make as much money as the 0.1 percent does, it's no
longer about what you can buy -- it's about prestige, about receiving
deference, about what Tom Wolfe (in an essay I haven't been able to
find) called "seeing 'em jump." And there's clearly more of that kind
of satisfaction under Republicans; under Democrats, as Aimai at
No More Mister Nice Blog points out, tycoons suffer the agony of
having to deal with people they can't fire.
In a way, this is an inversion of the usual argument made by defenders
of inequality. They're always saying that workers should be happy to
accept a declining share of national income, because the incentives
associated with inequality make the economic pie bigger, and they end
up better off in the end. What's really going on with plutocrats right
now, however, is that they're basically willing to accept lousy economic
policies from right-wing politicians as long as they get a bigger share
of the shrinking pie.
This may sound very cynical -- but then, if you aren't cynical at
this point, you aren't paying attention. And I suspect that the GOP
would have to get a lot crazier before big business bails.
The Aimai article linked to above is titled "The Punishers Want to
Run the Country or We Are All Tipped Waitstaff Now." Aimai talks about
evidence which shows that at least some restaurant customers feel it
is their responsibility to punish waitstaff that fail to satisfy
We've seen a lot of weird reactions on the right wing to the Government
Shut down. These range from "it doesn't matter" to "it's terrible" but
one thing that really strikes me is the rage and antipathy that has been
displayed towards Federal Workers themselves. It doesn't strike me as
unusual, but it does strike me as significant. Yesterday's on air rant
by Stuart Varney makes it pretty explicit: Federal Workers and, indeed,
the entire Government are failing Stuart Varney. They cost too much and
they do too little. In fact: they are so awful they don't even deserve
to be paid for the work they have already done. Contracts, agreements,
and labor be damned. If Stuart Varney isn't happy then they deserve to
be fired. [ . . . ]
What does this have to do with the Republican Party? The Republican
Party at this point in time is entirely made up of Punishers who think
they are entitled to treat the government -- and especially the government
of Barack Obama -- as waiters who need to be shown their place. This
should surprise no one. At heart the entire Republican Party is made up
of winners and losers and they are united in just one thing: they think
that money is the only way to tell who is who. If you have money, you
use that to distinguish yourself from the losers and to demonstrate your
superiority by punishing them further. If you are a loser -- a worker,
for example, or have no health insurance (say) your job as a Republican
is to take your status as a given, accept it, and turn around and get
your jollies kicking someone else farther down the line.
[ . . . ]
Why are Federal Workers a special case and a problem for Republicans?
In the case of Federal Workers I'd argue that its not merely that they
are workers (who are always despised) it's because they are workers who
for the most part don't conform to Republican ideas of the right boundaries
for workers. The right boundaries for workers are that they know their
place, that they can be fired capriciously, and that they exist
primarily to make the employer feel good about himself and, further,
that like waiters in a restaurant and prostitutes with their johns their
job is also to make the employer believe that he is receiving an extra
good form of treatment not accorded to others diners or johns.
The overarching goal of the right-wing is to get us to accept the
current economic hierarchy as natural or God-given, inviolable, and
ultimately just. Sometimes they try to argue that the hierarchy is
best for everyone, but that's a tough sell and not just for the folks
stuck at the bottom. So another approach is to get the at least some
of the in-betweens to identify with the higher-ups by looking down
on whoever they can: be a winner by hating the losers.
Nick Turse: For America, Life Was Cheap in Vietnam:
Yet America's defeat was probably ordained, just as much, by the Vietnamese
casualties we caused, not just in military cross-fire, but as a direct
result of our policy and tactics. While nearly 60,000 American troops
died, some two million Vietnamese civilians were killed, and millions
more were wounded and displaced, during America's involvement in Vietnam,
researchers and government sources have estimated.
Enraged, disgusted and alienated by the abuse they suffered from troops
who claimed to be their allies, even civilians who had no inclination to
back our opponents did so.
Now, four decades later, in distant lands like Pakistan and Afghanistan,
civilians are again treating the United States as an enemy, because they
have become the collateral damage of our "war on terror," largely
unrecognized by the American public. [ . . . ]
Soldiers and officers explained how rules of engagement permitted
civilians to be shot for running away, which could be considered suspicious
behavior, or for standing still when challenged, which could also be
considered suspicious. Veterans I've interviewed, and soldiers who spoke
to investigators, said they had received orders from commanders to "kill
anything that moves."
"The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does the
Westerner," Westmoreland famously said. "Life is plentiful, life is
cheap in the Orient."
That quote was blatantly racist, but it was also peculiarly true.
The US was meticulous in its accounting of American deaths, going to
great lengths to account for every scrap of dead GI -- when the war
was over, they had no "unknown soldier" to honor, and they obsessed
about MIA for decades, even today. Such concerns were a luxury that
I don't think any previous US war had afforded, but they were also
a political necessity, as the great threat to the US war effort was
the reluctance of the American people to pay the cost, an assessment
in which dead American soldiers loomed large. It was the first war
in US history where it became clear that the American people, even
many American soldiers, couldn't see stakes worth fighting for, and
the military clique went mad trying first to avoid then to evade
responsibility for failure. Turse's new book (Kill Anything That
Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam) is especially welcome
because it helps counter the con job that allowed the US military
to continue without accounting for its failures in Vietnam -- Andrew
Bacevich has written about this (cf. The New American Militarism:
How Americans Are Seduced by War), with Lewis Sorley's A Better
War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years
in Vietnam the most egregious example. Much as gone wrong in America
since Vietnam, and much of that is due to our failure to recognize how
profoundly wrong we were.
Despite revelations about the massacre at My Lai, the United States
government was able to suppress the true scale of noncombatant
casualties and to imply that those deaths that did occur were
inadvertent and unavoidable. This left the American public with a
counterfeit history of the conflict.
Without a true account of our past military misdeeds, Americans
have been unprepared to fully understand what has happened in
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, where attacks on
suspected terrorists have killed unknown numbers of innocent
people. As in Vietnam, officials have effectively prevented the
public from assessing this civilian toll.
We need to abandon our double standards when it comes to human
life. It is worth noting the atrocious toll born of an enemy general's
decisions [Vo Nguyen Giap, who died last week at 102]. But, at the
very least, equal time ought to be given to the tremendous toll borne
by civilians as a result of America's wars, past and present.
Also, a few links for further study:
Max Blumenthal: Expulsion and Revolusion in Israel: Most likely
an excerpt from Blumenthal's new book: Goliath: Life and Loathing
in Greater Israel. This particular piece describes the "Prawer
Plan" to round up 40,000 indigenous Bedouins from the Negev Desert
in southern Israel -- nominally Israeli citizens, living well within
the Green Line -- and relocate them to "American-Indian-style towns
constructed by the Israeli government": a definition just a "security
fence" short of being a concentration camp. Nor is what's happening
today something unforseen in the past:
In Ben Gurion's memoirs, he fantasized about evacuating Tel Aviv and
settling five million Jews in small outposts across the Negev, where
they would be weaned off the rootless cosmopolitanism they inherited
from diaspora life. Just as he resented the worldly attitude of Jews
from Tel Aviv and New York City, Ben Gurion was repelled by the sight
of the open desert, describing it as a "criminal waste" and "occupied
territory." Indeed, from his standpoint, the Arabs were the occupiers.
As early as 1937, he had plans for their removal, writing in a letter
to his son Amos, "We must expel Arabs and take their places."
Corey Robin: David Grossman v. Max Blumenthal for another slice of
Sam Wang: What the Gerrymander giveth with one hand: House control in
2014 now a toss-up: With most voters inclined to blame the Republicans
for the shutdown and credit risk debacles, some polls indicate Democrats
may be able to overcome the gerrymander which gave the Republicans control
of the House despite receiving 1.2% fewer votes in 2012. Makes sense to
me, but Democrats have to get a "ground game" more like 2008 and 2012
than the massive slump of 2010, and wage a broad campaign like Howard
Dean's "50-state campaign" -- something way beyond Obama's narrow focus
on 270 electoral votes. Right now the stakes are relatively clear, but
if Obama caves in on something major, turnout could suffer badly.
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.