Sunday, February 7. 2016
I threw this together rather quickly, but here are some links of
interest this week:
Thomas Frank: It's not just Fox News: How liberal apologists torpedoed
change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street:
As the Obama administration enters its seventh year, let us examine one
of the era's greatest peculiarities: That one of the most cherished
rallying points of the president's supporters is the idea of the
Today, of course, the Democrats have completely lost control of
Congress and it's easy to make the case for the weakness of the White
House. For example, when Frank Bruni sighed last Wednesday that
presidents are merely "buoys on the tides of history," not "mighty
frigates parting the waters," he scarcely made a ripple.
But the pundit fixation on Obama's powerlessness goes back many
years. Where it has always found its strongest expression is among
a satisfied stratum of centrist commentators -- people who are well
pleased with the president's record and who are determined to slap
down liberals who find fault in Obama's leadership. The purveyors
of this fascinating species of political disgust always depict the
dispute in the same way, with hard-headed men of science (i.e.,
themselves) facing off against dizzy idealists who cluelessly rallied
to Obama's talk of hope and change back in 2008.
Frank brings up many examples, especially the Obama administration's
response to the financial collapse and recession of 2008:
It would have been massively popular had Obama reacted to the financial
crisis in a more aggressive and appropriate way. Everyone admits this,
at least tacitly, even the architects of Obama's bailout policies, who
like to think of themselves as having resisted the public's mindless
baying for banker blood. Acting aggressively might also have deflated
the rampant false consciousness of the Tea Party movement and prevented
the Republican reconquista of the House in 2010.
But Obama did the opposite. He did everything he could to "foam the
runways" and never showed any real interest in taking on the big banks.
Shall I recite the dolorous list one more time? The bailouts he failed
to unwind or even to question. The bad regulators he didn't fire. The
AIG bonuses that his team defended. The cramdown he never pushed for.
The receivership of the zombie banks that never happened. The FBI agents
who were never shifted over to white-collar crime. The criminal referral
programs at the regulatory agencies that were never restored. The
executives of bailed-out banks who were never fired. The standing
outrage of too-big-to-fail institutions that was never truly addressed.
The top bankers who were never prosecuted for anything on the long,
sordid list of apparent frauds.
Frank concludes that "the financial crisis worked out the way it
did in large part because Obama and his team wanted it to work out
that way." After all the "hopey-changey" campaign blather in 2008,
it came as a shock to discover how hard Obama would work to conserve
a banking industry which had frankly gone berserk: not only could
Obama not imagine America without its predatory bankers, he couldn't
imagine changing ownership of those banks, or even dislodging Jamie
Dimon from Chase. It's not clear that anyone in the Republican party
is that conservative. Rather, they are like those proverbial bulls
in the china shop, blindly breaking stuff just to show off their
Paul Krugman Reviews The Rise and Fall of American Growth by
Robert J. Gordon: Gordon's big book (762 pp.) argues that growth
is largely driven by the introduction of new technologies, but that
not all technologies have the same growth potential. In particular,
a set of technological breakthroughs from the late 19th century up
through the 1930s drove high rates of growth up to about 1970, but
more recent innovations have had much less effect, so the prospects
for future growth are much dimmer. This is pretty much the thesis of
James K. Galbraith's 2014 book, The End of Normal: The Great Crisis
and the Future of Growth, who I suspect is clearer about why this
is the effect, while spending a lot less time on the case histories.
For Galbraith, the key is that the earlier innovations tended to move
work from the household to factories while cheaper transportation and
energy made those factories much more cost-effective. On the other hand,
recent innovations in computing and automation increase efficiency at
the expense of jobs, and increasingly some of those labor savings are
taken as leisure. One reason this matters is that our political system
was built around an assumption that growth makes up for inequality --
that conflict over the distribution of wealth is moot as long as there
is ample growth for all. But this isn't something that we're just
discovering now: growth rates in the US started to dip around 1970,
and the result over the next decade was the growth of a conservative
political movement that aimed to maintain profit rates even as growth
slumped. I actually think that shift was triggered by more tangible
factors -- peak oil, moving from a trade surplus to deficit, the many
costs of the Vietnam War (including inflation) -- but the technology
shift helps explain why no amount of supply-side stimulus ever did
any good: every subsequent growth spurt has turned out to be a bubble
accompanied by more/less fraud. Krugman suggests some of this, but
the more explicit (and challenging) suggestions are in Galbraith's
So what does this say about the future? Gordon suggests that the future
is all too likely to be marked by stagnant living standards for most
Americans, because the effects of slowing technological progress will
be reinforced by a set of "headwinds": rising inequality, a plateau
in education levels, an aging population and more.
It's a shocking prediction for a society whose self-image, arguably
its very identity, is bound up with the expectation of constant progress.
And you have to wonder about the social and political consequences of
another generation of stagnation or decline in working-class incomes.
A couple more things worth noting here. One is that the exceptionally
high growth rates of recent years in China, India, and similar countries
is tied to them belatedly adopting the technologies that fueled high
growth in Europe and America nearly a century ago. Nothing surprising
here, although one would hope they'd be smarter about it. The other is
that while newer technologies produce less economic growth, they still
quite often have quality of life benefits. So while wages and other
economic metrics have stagnated, many people don't really feel the
pinch. (And where they do, I suspect is largely due to the oppressive
weight of debt.)
Paul Krugman: Electability: Alright, so
Vox asked 6 political scientists if Bernie Sanders would have a shot in
a general election, and they said: no, no way. In particular:
Fear of sudden, dramatic change could impede Sanders in a general election.
But just as powerfully, Republicans could also successfully portray Sanders
as out of step with the average American's political views, according to
the academics interviewed for this story.
There isn't a lot of doubt that this would have a big impact in an
election. Political scientists have had a pretty good idea since the 1950s
of how voters tend to make their choices: by identifying which candidate
fits closest to them on an ideological spectrum.
Who's Krugman to argue with such august personages:
I have some views of my own, of course, but I'm not a political scientist,
man -- I just read political scientists and take their work very seriously.
After all, man, they're scientists! They must be right, even
though Krugman has occasionally -- well, more like 3-4 times a week --
been moved to note that the professional practitioners of his own branch
of the social sciences, economics, often have their heads wedged. But,
I guess, political science must be much more objective than
economics, more predictive and all that, less likely to be biased by
the political biases of its researchers and analysts. Sure, makes
a lot of sense. After all, I know a lot of people who went into political
science, and who among them did so because they were interested in
politics? Uh, every one of them. I myself majored in sociology, and
spent most of my time there dissecting the myriad ways biases corrupt
research. I could have done the same thing in economics or political
science, but the nonsense in those social sciences was just too easy
to debunk. But it's been ages since I've been so reminded how shoddy
political science is as I was by the Vox article.
As for Krugman's value-added, there really isn't any. He doesn't
even explain why electability is such a concern. He just proclaims,
"The stakes are too high for that, and history will not forgive you,"
after taunting us: "That's what Naderites said about Al Gore; how'd
that work out?" So, like, it's my fault Gore couldn't make a
convincing argument why Bush would be a much more terrible president
than himself? Sure, in retrospect that's true. In retrospect, it's
also clear that enough hints were available at the time to make that
argument -- and it's not only Gore's fault that he failed to do so,
you can also blame a press that was totally smitten with Bush's good
ol' boy shtick.
I don't doubt the importance of the election, at least in terms
of how much damage a Republican victory might inflict. But I don't
buy the idea that we all live on a simple left-right ideological
continuum, let alone that we all make rational choices based on who
is closest to one's individual perch. Gore's problem, for instance,
wasn't that he wasn't close enough to the median voter. It was more
like he didn't convince enough of his base that he would fight for
them, that his election would be better off for them than Bush's.
No doubt Clinton is closer to that median voter, but will she fight
for you? Or will she cut a deal with whatever donor woos her most?
My first close encounter with Hillary was listening to a radio
interview with her while her ill-fated health care plan was still
in play. She was asked how she would feel if it was rejected, and
she said "sad." Right then I realized this was a person who didn't
care enough even to get upset. Sanders wouldn't take that kind of
rejection lying down. But the Clintons simply forgot about health
care for the rest of his terms, and went on to doing "pragmatic"
things the Republicans would let them pass: NAFTA, welfare "reform,"
the repeal of Carter-Glass.
Robert Freeman: The new social contract: This is what's roiling the
electorate & fueling the success of anti-establishment candidates
Trump, Cruz and Sanders: Actually, less about those candidates --
that's just bait -- than the dissolution of the notion that rich and
poor are bound together through a "social contract":
But shared prosperity is no longer the operative social contract.
Ronald Reagan began dismantling it in 1981 when he transferred vast
amounts of national income and wealth to the already rich. He called
it "supply side economics."
Supposedly, the rich would plow their even greater riches back
into the economy, which would magically return that wealth -- and more --
to everyone else. George H.W. Bush called it "voodoo economics." It
seemed too good to be true. It was. Consider the facts.
Since the late 1970s, labor productivity in the U.S. has risen
259 percent. If the fruits of that productivity had been distributed
according to the post-World War II shared prosperity social contract
the average person's income would be more than double what it is today.
The actual change?
Median income adjusted for inflation is lower today than it was in
1974. A staggering 40 percent of all Americans now make less than the
1968 minimum wage, adjusted for inflation. Median middle-class wealth
is plummeting. It is now 36 percent below what it was in 2000.
Where did all the money go? It went exactly where Reagan intended.
Twenty-five years ago, the top 1 percent of income earners pulled
in 12 percent of the nation's income. Today they get twice that, 25
percent. And it's accelerating. Between 2009 and 2012, 95 percent of
all new income went to the top 1 percent.
This is the exact opposite of shared prosperity. It is imposed penury
That is the new deal. Or more precisely, the new New Deal, the
new social contract.
Freeman is right that this is the rot and ferment that breeds support
for "anti-establishment" candidates. Trump and Sanders have different
answers to the problem: Trump flames foreigners, and that seems to appeal
to certain voters; Sanders blames the rich, and that appeals to others.
I'm less sure why Freeman lumps Cruz here. Sure, he's "anti-establishment"
in the sense that he too has a scapegoat: the government. But he has the
very opposite of a solution.
I should also quote Freeman on Clinton and Sanders, since this runs
against the "common sense" of Krugman's "political scientists":
It is unlikely Hillary will pull many Republicans away from whomever
the Republicans nominate. She is both an object of visceral hatred to
most Republicans and the establishment candidate in a year of
Sanders, on the other hand, pulls well from disaffected Republicans.
He has little of Hillary's baggage and polls much better against either
Trump or Cruz than does Hillary. He is anti-establishment in a year of
ervid anti-establishmentism, a fiery mouthpiece for the intense
cross-partisan anger roiling the electorate.
If Sanders can survive the primaries he has a much greater chance of
beating any Republican challenger than does Hillary. Whether he can
implement his vision of a retrofitted social contract is another matter.
Links on the presidential campaign trail:
Josh Marshall: Making Sense of the Last NH Debate: And relishing
how "Chris Christie simply eviscerated Rubio." I doubt if this means
the end of the Rubio bubble, which exists because major players --
I suspect "the establishment" gives them more credit than they deserve --
need to front a candidate who is pliant enough to do their bidding,
and the others they've entertained have proven more obviously flawed
(especially Jeb Bush). For post-debate damage control, see
Amanda Terkel: Marco Rubio Says He'll Keep Using the Same Obama Attack
Line Over and Over Despite Being Mocked.
Cody Cain: Donald Trump's Iran idiocy: The interview that should have
ended his candidacy once and for all: as the article notes, Trump
couldn't even negotiate the sacking of Megyn Kelly at the Fox debate.
The idea that with nothing more than ignorance and bluster he could
have negotiated a better deal with Iran -- one that would have allowed
the US to keep $150 billion in Iranian assets impounded after the
revolution -- is pretty farcical.
This was highly revealing of Trump's character. He exhibits a tendency
toward paranoia, he immediately concludes that others are conspiring
against him without a shred of evidence, and he perceives himself as
being victimized. These are traits that are not exactly well suited
for a leader of a nation.
In another encounter, a lady from the audience expressed concern
that Trump had not provided enough specificity about his policies.
Trump's answer was that he prefers not to provide detailed policies
because he desires to remain unpredictable.
Seriously? A presidential candidate running on a platform of
Gary Legum: The special hell of a Ted Cruz rally: What it's like to spend
an evening with the GOP's oiliest operator.
Conor Lynch: These guys are killing conservatism: How Trump & Cruz
are accelerating the intellectual debasement of the right: Not that
the big-name conservative thought leaders aren't hoping for a more pliant
and innocuous standard bearer (like Marco Rubio), but Cruz and Trump get
the headlines. Actually, he write another article about how those same
are debasing the right -- George Will and David Brooks are good examples,
yet somehow they're still considered the "reasonable" guys.
Rebecca Gordon: American Presidential Candidates Are Now Openly Promising
to Commit War Crimes: specifically focuses on Republicans Cruz, Carson,
Bush, and Trump (the piece was published on Jan. 7; I'm sure that had it
appeared last week the author would have mentioned Rubio, who seems to
have emerged as the neocon favorite in the race). I'll also note that
Gordon focuses on torture -- she wrote Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical
Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States -- which seems to be more
of a Republican psychosexual obsession. Had she taken a broader view,
she might have said something about Clinton, whose "no fly zones" also
advocate war crimes.
Daniel Denvir: Dems, stop lying to yourself about Hillary: Sure, she "gets s*** done" -- atrocious s***, that is: Pretty much reiterates a point
I thought I made above.
Paul Campos: Hillary Clinton's self-satisfied privilege: Her Goldman Sachs
problem helps explain the popularity of Bernie Sanders and Donald
Trump: Among other things, reveals that "together the Clintons have
a yet worth in excess of $100 million" -- a curious figure given that
one or the other has either been on the public payroll or been preparing
to run for office virtually all of their adult lives (at least the last
30 years). Just brilliant I guess -- why else would a savvy (and more than
a little underhanded) business like Goldman Sachs be willing to pay you
$650,000 for a single speech?
Martin Longman: The Tide Has Turned Against Clinton: Argues that
her establishment connections and "no, we can't" campaign is losing
[W]hen they got to policy, she had the distinct disadvantage of having
to argue that we can't have a health care system as good as Canada's
and we can't afford to give people free tuition to college like we give
them free tuition to K-12 education, and that we can't raise the minimum
wage as much as her opponent would like. [ . . . ]
The problem is that she is thereby pushed into being a naysayer who
can't speak to the aspirations of the base. Her incrementalism is probably
well-suited to actually occupying the White House in a time of Republican
dominance in Congress and in the states. But it's a wet blanket on the
What seems to be happening here is that Sanders is disrupting the
time-tested Clinton-Obama campaign strategy, which is to promise great
things when running for the first term, then sandbag them and yield
Congress to a Republican backlash, which in turn gives them an excuse
for never delivering anything, and turns their re-election campaign
into a defensive struggle against the barbarians. Longman also cites
Quinnipiac poll which shows that Sanders has closed the gap, now
trailing Clinton among Democrats 42% to 44% (previously 53%-36% in
Clinton's favor). CNN also reports that "general election match-ups
between the top Republian and Democratic candidates suggest Sanders
and Rubio would be their party's most competitive standard-bearers,"
with Sanders defeating Trump by 10 points but only tied with Rubio
Richard Silverstein: Interview: Bernie's Commie Mohel Speaks:
A sneak preview of the anti-Sanders smear to come, modelled, no
surprise, on the anti-Obama smear of eight years past.
Nomi Prins: The Big Money and What It Means in Election 2016:
includes particulars for most candidates, especially the billionaires
behind Cruz and Rubio, plus a long section on Clinton -- her electability
argument depends as much on her fundraising prowess as on her centrism;
however, there's a catch:
As of October 16, 2015, she had pocketed $97.87 million from individual
and PAC contributions. And she sure knows how to spend it, too. Nearly
half of that sum, or $49.8 million -- more than triple the amount of
any other candidate -- has already gone to campaign expenses.
She doesn't talk much about the Kochs, who a year ago were torn
between Scott Walker and Rand Paul as their favorite candidates.
For more on them, see:
Robert Faturechi: How dark money stays dark: The Koch brothers, Sheldon
Adelson and the right's biggest, most destructive racket going. Also,
Chris Gelardi: Capitalist puritans: The Koch brothers are pushing pure
economic liberty as the only road to true prosperity -- to the detriment
of all but the rich -- actually, I'm not sure that even the rich
(even the Kochs) would prosper under true Kochian freedom. I expect it
would in rather short order lead to the sort of dystopia you see in the
Oscar-nominated Mad Max: Fury Road.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Andrew J Bacevich: Out of Bounds, Off-Limits, or Just Plain Ignored:
Sub: "Six national security questions Hillary, Donald, Ted, Marco, et al.,
don't want to answer and won't even be asked." Only one has to do with
the "war on terror" -- still the biggest game in town. Not sure that
Bacevich has much of a handle on his question six: "Debt."
Tom Engelhardt: "The Finest Fighting Force in the History of World":
Take Afghanistan, for instance. Engelhardt cites Anand Gopal's No
Good Men Among the Living, America, the Taliban, and the War Through
Afghan Eyes, which argues that the Taliban disbanded and dissolved
after their first taste of American firepower, but the US couldn't
leave well enough alone:
Like their Bush administration mentors, the American military men who
arrived in Afghanistan were determined to fight that global war on
terror forever and a day. So, as Gopal reports, they essentially
refused to let the Taliban surrender. They hounded that movement's
leaders and fighters until they had little choice but to pick up their
guns again and, in the phrase of the moment, "go back to work."
It was a time of triumph and of Guantánamo, and it went to everyone's
head. Among those in power in Washington and those running the military,
who didn't believe that a set of genuine global triumphs lay in store?
With such a fighting force, such awesome destructive power, how could
it not? And so, in Afghanistan, the American counterterror types kept
right on targeting the "terrorists" whenever their Afghan warlord allies
pointed them out -- and if many of them turned out to be local enemies
of those same rising warlords, who cared?
It would be the first, but hardly the last time that, in killing
significant numbers of people, the U.S. military had a hand in creating
its own future enemies. In the process, the Americans managed to revive
the very movement they had crushed and which, so many years later, is
at the edge of seizing a dominant military position in the country.
[ . . . ]
It's probably accurate to say that in the course of one disappointment
or disaster after another from Afghanistan to Libya, Somalia to Iraq,
Yemen to Pakistan, the U.S. military never actually lost an encounter on
the battlefield. But nowhere was it truly triumphant on the battlefield
either, not in a way that turned out to mean anything. Nowhere, in fact,
did a military move of any sort truly pay off in the long run. Whatever
was done by the FFFIHW and the CIA (with its wildly counterproductive
drone assassination campaigns across the region) only seemed to create
more enemies and more problems.
Engelhardt concludes that "Washington should bluntly declare not
victory, but defeat, and bring the U.S. military home. Maybe if we
stopped claiming that we were the greatest, most exceptional, most
indispensable nation ever and that the U.S. military was the finest
fighting force in the history of the world, both we and the world
might be better off and modestly more peaceful."
Ann Jones: Social Democracy for Dummies: After having written
books on American failure in Afghanistan and on how maimed US
veterans have fared on their return, Jones moved to Norway, to
see what life is like in an affluent country free from war. Not
Thomas Piketty: A New Deal for Europe: The author of possibly
the most important book yet in growing inequality, Capital in
the Twenty-First Century, offers a few modest proposals for
reforms in the Eurozone. Also see Piketty's earlier review of
Anthony B Atkinson's Inequality: What Can Be Done?:
A Practical Vision of a More Equal Society.
Philip Weiss: Dov Yermiya, who said, 'I renounce my belief in Zionism
which has failed,' dies at 101. Yermiya fought in Israel's "War for
Independence" in 1948, and only issued his renunciation in 2009, in a
letter quoted here. You might also take a look at
Steven Erlanger: Who Are the True Heirs of Zionism? -- which starts
with a bloody admission:
ZIONISM was never the gentlest of ideologies. The return of the Jewish
people to their biblical homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty
there have always carried within them the displacement of those already
living on the land.
The Israeli general and politician Yigal Allon defined Zionism in 1975
as "the national liberation movement of a people exiled from its historic
homeland and dispersed among the nations of the world." Some years later,
and more crudely, perhaps, another general and politician, Rehavam Ze'evi,
a tough right-winger, said, "Zionism is in essence the Zionism of transfer,"
adding, "If transfer is immoral, then all of Zionism is immoral."
Admissions like this were rarely broadcast to the public during the
early days of Israel, when David Ben-Gurion spoke of Israel becoming "a
state just like any other." So the recent tendency to speak in such terms
may sound like a confession but is rarely accompanied by reflection much
less shame: rather, they are bragging, and preparing the grounds for
another round of "ethnic cleansing."
Monday, January 25. 2016
Some scattered links this week. The longest involves some recent
attacks on Bernie Sanders from normally left-leaning individuals who
have reconciled themselves to a Hillary Clinton nomination. I hadn't
given this contest much thought previously, and still don't feel all
that partisan today. I have in fact been critical of both candidates,
especially on foreign policy where I believe both are dangerously
fond of American (and even more so Israeli) military might -- not
identically so, as Clinton has been more consistently hawkish (cf.
her recent attacks on Sanders for thinking that normalizing relations
with Iran might be a good idea).
I suppose you can count me as one of those reconciled to an eventual
Clinton nomination. I was very much against her in 2008, not only for
the usual policy reasons but because I didn't like the smell of dynasty
(something eight years of Bush II did nothing to dispell). That's still
an issue, but has been mitigated somewhat by her growing experience and
stature, as well as the passage of time. The fact that Obama turned out
to be almost identical to what I feared from Clinton in 2008 has added
to the fatigue factor. I am, after all, an old guy, cynical after so
many disappointments, and skeptical of what any one person can really
accomplish as president. On the other hand, being reconciled to Clinton
is a far cry from having any will to support her. I don't really have
the will to support Sanders either, but at least I find his popularity
refreshing -- something I want no part in dampening. So when he is
attacked unfairly, which is how I would characterize Krugman and Geier
(two writers I generally admire) below, I feel that's worth pointing
out. Much as I expect to protest against many policies of whoever wins
Still, it's worth bearing in mind that fundamentally I regard Sanders
as decent, honest, and earnest -- more so than any significant presidential
candidate since George McGovern. (Nothing still says more about the decay
and decline of America during my lifetime than Nixon's margin over McGovern.)
Clinton, on the other hand, is every bit as corrupt and opportunistic as
her husband (albeit probably somewhat less vain). The Republicans, on the
other hand, are all far off the deep end. What distinguishes Clinton from
them isn't any edge she has in intellect or character -- it's merely that
she hangs with somewhat more decent and sensible people, and knows she has
to broaden her appeal more across class and racial and other lines, which
means she has to behave more decenty and sensibly herself.
Amy Davidson: The Contempt That Poisoned Flint's Water: Flint,
Michigan was in bad shape way back in 1989 when Michael Moore filmed
his documentary on his dilapidated home town, Roger and Me,
but not even Moore followed up to see how bad it could get. Thanks
to austerity measures, many of Flint's children have been poisoned
Until April, 2014, Flint had been part of Detroit's water system, which
had Lake Huron as its source. It was scheduled to be connected to a new
pipeline in 2016 or 2017, which would save money; Flint is in such
desperate financial straits that it was under the oversight of an
Emergency Manager. When that manager felt he couldn't negotiate a
low enough price for Detroit water in the interim, the city was left
with the option of drinking from the river that ran by it, and past its
active and derelict factories, and had been last regularly used decades
before. The city would treat the water itself. All the city had to do
was pass a few tests; as long as it did, it didn't matter if the residents
were, in effect, drinking dirt. But then, almost immediately, the water
began to fail the tests. In August, 2014, and again that September, the
water was found to have unacceptably high levels of fecal coliform
bacteria, and specifically E. coli. Certain neighborhoods were instructed
to boil their water, while the city added chlorine to the supply to
disinfect it. It took a lot of chlorine -- and that may be where Flint's
troubles really began. [ . . . ] By October, 2014,
General Motors had announced that it would no longer use the water,
because it was corroding its equipment. It was also -- and this should
have been entirely predictable -- eating into the lead pipes that
delivered the water to people's homes, causing them to crumble into
the water. Flint is old, and its water system took decades to
build. It took only months of cheap, corrosive water to mangle and
perhaps permanently destroy it.
A lot of things make Flint a bellweather for America -- a depressed
city in a depressed state in a depressed region, leading to bankruptcy
and a suspension of democratic accountability. But for a big picture,
you might look at the American Society of Civil Engineers'
2013 Report Card on Drinking Water. DR Tucker's
post has numerous links on this story, especially to Rachel Maddow.
Paul Krugman: Weakened at Bernie's: Starting with a lame, ungrammatical
pun isn't a good sign. While admitting that "Hillary Clinton is no paragon
of political virtue," Krugman takes a couple of cheap shots at Bernie
Sanders: first on his single-payer health plan, second on his desire to
restore Glass-Steagall and break up the "too big to fail" banks. In both
cases he argues that Sanders' plans aren't detailed enough, that they
hand-wave some important details and muff others. More substantively, he
argues that Sanders fails to appreciate the shadow banking problem. And
as often as not, the linch pin in his argument is that political realities
don't make Sanders' preferred solutions practical. For
details he cites
Mike Konczal on banking and
Ezra Klein on health care. Between us wonks, those pieces have some
merit. But the cheap shot is the way Krugman turns his technical critique
into a way of diminishing Sanders' integrity, honesty, and competence:
But here's the thing: we now have a clear view of Sanders' positions on
two crucial issues, financial reform and health care. And in both cases
his positioning is disturbing -- not just because it's politically
unrealistic to imagine that we can get the kind of radical overhaul
he's proposing, but also because he takes his own version of cheap
shots. Not at people -- he really is a fundamentally decent guy --
but by going for easy slogans and punting when the going gets tough.
I won't say that Krugman et al. are simply shilling for Clinton,
even though the timing -- a week before the first contest -- is a
bit suspicious. But the effect of this sniping is to paint Sanders
as some sort of fantasist, implying Clinton -- whose thinking on
these issues is utterly conventional, not to mention compromised
to the hilt by industry profits -- is the pragmatic choice. But in
another post --
How to Make Donald Trump President -- Krugman reveals his fear
that if Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, the consequences
could be dire. That's always a risk in America, but it would be a
shame if we let fear of Trump (or really of any Republican likely
to be nominated) stifle much needed debate on real problems and
sensible solutions. There will be plenty of time to worry about
the demise of civilization after the nominating conventions. (By
the way, part of Krugman's nightmare scenario is based on Michael
Bloomberg running as a third party -- a threat he's made if Trump
and (or?) Sanders are nominated. No More Mister Nice Blog analyzes
a possible Bloomberg run
A second front of attack on Sanders bothers me more:
Kathleen Geier: Bernie's Greatest Weakness, who writes:
On Tuesday, his offhand remarks describing Planned Parenthood and the
LGBTQ rights organization the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as "part of
the establishment" created a firestorm, particularly on social-justice
Twitter. Less than 24 hours later, his tone-deaf comments on reparations
stoked even more outrage. Sanders's left-wing critics have seized on
both statements as evidence of his alleged weakness on civil rights,
women's rights, and LGBTQ issues.
Although some of their attacks on Sanders have been unfair, his
critics, regrettably, have a point. For all his political virtues,
Sanders has had difficulty connecting his message of economic populism
to the other major social justice concerns of the modern left, such
race, gender, and sexuality. And unless he overcomes these problems,
he will be unable to achieve his goal of expanding beyond his base
and sparking a popular mass movement. [ . . . ]
Sanders's Achilles heel is that because he focuses so singlemindedly
on economic inequality, he is not always able to speak to the needs and
desires of the modern left, a left that is passionate not only about
economic injustice but also about injustices tied to race, gender, and
sexual identity and orientation. Today the left urgently needs leaders
who are fully comfortable with and fluent in the politics of intersectionality,
and who clearly understand that, while race and gender inequality are deeply
rooted in economics, they also have separate dimensions that cannot be
addressed by economic remedies alone.
And here I was, thinking that the great work Sanders was doing was
to restore inequality to the center of political debate. Granted, he's
talking in terms of inequality instead of class, but there isn't much
difference between the two, and adopting the more inclusive terminology
isn't a bad move. When I was growing up there was a tendency in the new
left to think of liberation as something you deliver to other people --
the image was pampered suburbanites struggling for oppressed minorities
here (and the depressed majority in the third world). The immediate
effect was to put all sorts of fringe groups on tiny pedestals, policed
by a cult of "political correctness," just as that mindset dovetailed
with the right's campaign against unions and workers and pretty much
everyone who wasn't filthy rich. The result is that the affluent visions
of the 1960s have decayed into a world where a substantial majority
have become distressed and depressed -- and the cause there is almost
Especially disappointing (to me, at least) is that the piece was
written by Geier, who until recently had focused her writings pretty
much exclusively on inequality.
More explicitly pro-Clinton than anti-Sanders is
Katha Pollitt: The Hillary Clinton Double Standard (the article's
magazine title is less nasty: "Yes, Hillary's a Democrat"): She says
some nice things about Sanders, then cavalierly dismisses him:
But Bernie Sanders isn't going to win the nomination . . .
can we at least be honest about that? And if he did, he wouldn't win the
general election. And if, by some miracle, he did, he'd still get creamed
by the same political and economic forces that hemmed in President Obama.
I worry a bit about the final point myself, but then I remember that
for all the insanity and abuse heaped upon Obama he's still president,
and that entails quite a lot. The bigger problem is his inability to
implement much of a legislative legacy, but that assumes he wanted to.
Sanders may run into more trouble for wanting to do more, but he also
might do more because he tries to do more, or because after a decade
or two of debauchery and decay more needs to be done. As for the first
two arguments, that's mostly conventional thinking: all Sanders needs
to do to win the Democratic nomination is to convince most Democrats
that he's more committed to their aspirations than Clinton is, which
given her slavish devotion to the banking and health care industries
plus her penchant for perpetuating and extending overseas wars may be
easier done than said. And winning the general election is a proposition
that this year's crop of Republican blowhards practically seals: anyone
with a proper fear of radical upheaval will have no choice but whoever
the Democrats nominate -- even if they prefer a dedicated defender of
the status quo like Clinton or Obama, they'll find plenty of ways to
rein in Sanders.
The rest of Pollitt's article is an argument with Doug Henwood, who
wrote a long essay in Harper's titled
Stop Hillary! Vote no to a Clinton dynasty and has expanded it to
My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency. I haven't seen
the book, but the article strikes me as actually pretty mild -- aside
from giving Dick Morris unwarranted opportunity to fantasize. The main
problem I see is that the Clintons have built a political machine that
serves their personal ambitions while the Democratic Party atrophies.
Obama was similarly neglectful of the party base, so both presidents
spent most of their terms with Republican-dominated Congresses as the
excuse for not delivering any gains for their voters, while they were
free to cozy up to business supporters. Given her track record and
connections, it's inconceivable that Hillary will break that pattern.
Nor is she likely to undermine the neocon orthodoxies of US foreign
policy. So why lift a finger for her until the conventions, when she's
likely to wind up the last ditch defense against the Republicans?
Yet The Nation is running articles like
Suzanna Danuta Walters: Why This Socialist Feminist Is for Hillary --
the subtitle concludes with a myopic "but it can't hurt." Again, she
embraces Clinton by assuming the inevitability of conventional wisdom:
And visibility matters: It's substantively different to have a woman
president advocating for gender equality as opposed to having a man
do so, just as it is to have a black president advocating for racial
justice -- because gender and racial difference live in and through our
marked bodies. This is why, for example, the struggles for affirmative
action and diversity remain so pertinent to all aspects of social,
political, and educational life. It's unlikely that Bernie's redistributive
economic policies, admirable as they are, would ever make their way through
Congress. How is a leftist agenda that remains little more than a vision
better for women than actually having a woman (who has, don't forget, an
agenda that shares much in common with this vision) -- after all these
years -- in the Oval Office?
A lot of wishful thinking and special pleading there, from the notion
that the wife of a former president will be a feminist icon to the claim
that claim that Clinton "shares much in common" with Sanders' vision.
I'm old enough to recall a bunch of cases, especially in the South,
where term-limited male governors ran their spouses as surrogates --
the Wallaces of Alabama for one -- not to see the Clintons furthering
that tradition. I'm not saying that Hillary will be a transparent front
for an extra Bill Clinton term, but I'll be surprised if there's any
Robert Kuttner: Thinking Harder about Political Correctness:
But what exactly is political correctness? The term was first used by
lefties to make fun of themselves. I've been hearing it used ironically
since the 1970s. As in: "This may not be politically correct, but may
I buy you a drink?"
This use of "politically correct" initially reflected the New Left
and the feminist movement of that era mocking the efforts by the
Communist Party to insist on rigid conventions of speech, along the
lines of George Orwell's Thought Police in his novel 1984.
Then the right got hold of the phrase and used it to claim that
left-wingers were the new conformists, enforcing speech codes and
embracing extreme identity politics. Allan Bloom's 1987 book, The
Closing of the American Mind, attacked liberal college professors
for imposing "politically correct" ways of thinking on impressionable
undergraduates. The term then became a staple of rightwing rhetoric
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Bernie Sanders and the Liberal Imagination:
I found this too late to work into the attacks-on-Sanders section
above, even as a footnote to Geier's piece. Coates at least doesn't
argue that we should dump Sanders because Clinton is inevitable.
Rather, he argues that Sanders is fair game to attack because he
purports himself as someone who supports the same ends as Coates --
an end to racism and equality regardless of race -- but disagrees
with Coates' preferred means (reparations). To make his point,
Coates flips the roles of class and race inequality, arguing that
you can't make real progress on the former unless you first tackle
race. If that were true -- and I think it partly is -- it would
behoove us to find ways to target race-specific economic inequality
above and beyond the universal. (And note that this is different
from the more common notion of attempting to redress past iniquity,
something which in a zero-sum context would create as many present
losers as there had been past losers.) On the other hand, a point
I think has been clearly proven is that attempting to end racism
at the same time political forces are driving economic inequality
to unprecedented heights does not work -- and not just because
creating a black 1% that parallels the white 1% helps so few, but
it also if anything deepens the grip of inequality on our thinking,
inevitably adding to the iniquities that already exist.
Gilad Edelman: How to Corral the Donor Class: Book review of Richard
L Hasen: Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and
the Distortion of American Elections. E.g.:
The corruption theories, Hasen explains, tend to boil down to inequality
anyway. Lessig's argument -- that money causes politicians to rely too
much on wealthy funders -- is just another way of saying that rich people
have more influence than the rest of us. Teachout's theory of corruption
as putting private interests ahead of public interests sounds appealing,
but how do we know the $74 million spent by the environmentalist Tom
Steyer to support Democratic candidates in 2014, for example, wasn't in
the public interest? We have to assume that public interest is, by
definition, determined only through equal democratic participation.
Hasen thinks that assumption is right; it just has nothing to do with
corruption. "[G]iven that we have fundamental disagreements over the
meaning of the public interest," he writes, "the best we can do is to
define the public interest procedurally, by ensuring that every voter
has a roughly equal chance to influence policies and elections." In
other words, what makes money different is that there's no correlation
between how rich someone is and how closely his views align with what
the public wants. The problem with Senator Smith, who wants Soros's
money, isn't that he's "corrupt." It's that letting one rich benefactor
sidestep the deliberative democratic process and determine a policy
choice that affects everyone seems fundamentally unfair.
Bill McKibben: The Real Zombie Apocalypse: Thought I'd flag this
now that 2015 looms as the hottest year in recorded history globally
(although only the second-hottest in the US, a tiny victory for all
David Remnick: Seeds of Peace: Profile of MK Ayman Odeh, a Palestinian
leader of the Balad Party.
Sunday, January 10. 2016
Some scattered links this week, mostly about that perennial favorite,
war in the Middle East -- nothing on the Oregon standoff (aside from
this link to
Josh Marshall, who describes it as "white privilege performance
art"). Also, in honor of the five 4.0 or higher earthquakes that
hit just northwest of Enid, Oklahoma, here's Crowson's cartoon:
You'd think anyone worried that much about the price of gas would
take an interest in the wars disrupting the world's largest oil producing
region, but, well, Kansas isn't lacking for "stone-age brains" (see
below). So back to the wars:
Thomas E Ricks: What are the Saudis up to with those executions? Regional
dominance: Actually, this column appears to have been subcontracted to
Sarah Kaiser-Cross, no great loss since Ricks has never impressed us as a
deep thinker. The argument:
Saudi Arabia had a difficult year. Despite Saudi Arabia's best efforts at
restoring order in neighboring Yemen, the Kingdom's efforts to pummel its
way to peace have largely failed. Near Saudi Arabia's northern borders,
Syria and Iraq continue to struggle through maddening states of chaos and
civil war. Internally, Saudi Arabia is battling domestic terror cells,
ISIS recruiters, and Shiite protesters. Finally, its American partner,
in Saudi Arabia's eyes, all but abandoned the Kingdom by signing the
nuclear deal that resulted in greater economic and political power for
its long time rival, Iran.
Saudi Arabia's recent executions and the subsequent tension with its
rival, Iran, were calculated moves, designed to send a clear message to
opponents at home and abroad that Saudi Arabia remains in control.
Simultaneously, the executions forced Iran to engage in a no longer
subtle political battle for regional dominance.
Power (and hubris) in Saudi Arabia has long been based on two things:
the world's largest and most profitable oil reserves, and possession of
the "holy cities" of Mecca and Medina. Even in the 1960s the Saudis
thought they could take on the rising tide of pan-Arab nationalism in
a proxy war against Egypt in Yemen. Oil provided the money to advance
their ambitions, and much of that went into propaganda as they pushed
their rigid, backward-looking version of Islam throughout the region.
Through the 1970s, that seemed to be working out, with oil prices on
the rise and the Nixon-Kissinger policy of bolstering regional allies
(Iran and Saudi Arabia). However, in 1979 there were two crises: one
was the revolt in Mecca that seized the Grand Mosque; the other was
the revolution in Iran which, among other things, presented a new
claimant for leadership of the Islamic world. The Saudis struggled
through the depressed oil market of the 1980s, doubling down on their
proselytizing -- conveniently tied to the US-sponsored jihad against
the infidel Soviets in Afghanistan -- and helping finance Iraq's
ambitious and brutal war against Iran. That led to a new crisis in
1989-90, when Iraq, ending its bloody stalemate with Iran, turned
on Kuwait and threatened the rest of the Persian Gulf. The Americans
saved Kuwait then, at the expense of compromising the sovereignty of
the Saudi Kingdom -- at least in the eyes of its salafist followers.
Meanwhile, Iran carefully cultivated ties to Shiite Muslims, aided by
the increasingly virulent anti-Shiite behavior of the salafists. Then
the US finally returned to "finish the job" in Iraq in 2003, igniting
a full-bore Sunni-Shiite civil war that eventually spread into Syria,
and erupted elsewhere where order had broken down (mostly due to the
sort of interventionism Saudi Arabia has so long engaged in). The net
result is that the Saudis find themselves facing opposition from the
increasingly restless Shiites living in the Kingdom's eastern parts
(i.e., where the oil is), from the increasingly militant salafists
who resent the Kingdom's cozy relationship with the US, and from the
ever-present pressures to liberalize -- iconically represented by
efforts to overturn the Kingdom's ban on women driving, although the
prospect of the people voting for their own leaders is surely more
disconcerting. And, well, bummer about those low oil prices, which
has plunged the government into deficits for the first time in many
This situation has been deteriorating for some time, but has gotten
much worse in the past year -- especially after King Abdullah's death,
which brought to power a new king and a much more aggressive coterie
of bureaucrats. It suits this power elite to see every turn against
them as having been orchestrated by archenemies in Tehran, much as it
suited American cold warriors to see every peasant revolt and strike
as the handiwork of devious manipulators in Moscow. Hence, the mostly
Shiite Houthis in Yemen were viewed as Iranian proxies when they had
more likely emerged as an indigenous alternative to the complete mess
that pro- and anti-Saudi Sunnis had made of the country. (Much the
same happened with Hezbollah in Lebanon, although the fracturing and
the level of foreign manipulation there was much more complex.)
So, sure, Ricks (Kaiser-Cross) is right that the mass executions
were KSA's way of showing who's in charge, and that the consequences
of rebellion will be severe. (And thankfully they didn't throw in a
couple of women drivers to round out their demonology.) But they've
also demonstrated to the world that their ridiculous regime rests on
little more than sheer brutality, with even its usual trappings of
piety looking shamefully tattered. Thankfully, the Iranians reacted
crudely as usual: if they had any sense, they'd stop chanting "death
to . . . ," issue a fatwa that capital punishment is un-Islamic, and
curtail their own efforts to force a return to medieval religion.
It would, after all, be easier to counter anti-Muslim hysteria in
the west if the self-appointed leaders of the Islamic world can't
control their bloodlust.
For more on the paranoia and madness underlying Saudi aggression,
Kenneth M Pollack: Fear and Loathing in Saudi Arabia. I found the
following paragraphs particularly amusing:
Finally, the Saudis feel frustrated and abandoned by the United States.
Many Saudis and other Gulf Arabs consider President Barack Obama deeply
ignorant, if not outright foolish, about the world and the Middle East.
They evince out-and-out contempt for him and his policies. From their
perspective, the United States has turned its back on its traditional
allies in the Middle East. Washington is doing the least it can in Iraq,
and effectively nothing in Libya and Syria, with the result that none
of those conflicts is getting better. If anything, they are actually
getting worse. Moreover, Saudi Arabia seems to differ over whether Obama
is using the new nuclear deal with Tehran to deliberately try to shift
the United States from the Saudi side to the Iranian side in the grand,
regional struggle or if he is allowing it to happen unintentionally.
The more charitable Saudi position is the former, because that suggests
that Obama at least understands what he is doing, even if they think it
a mistake and a betrayal. The latter view, for Saudis, sees him as a
virtual imbecile who is destroying the Middle East without any
understanding or recognition.
The depth of Saudi anger and contempt for the current American
leadership is important to understand because it is another critical
element of their worldview and policies, as best we can understand them.
With the Middle East coming apart at the seams (in Saudi Arabia's view),
the United States -- the traditional regional hegemon -- is doing nothing
to stop it and even encouraging Iran to widen the fissures. Since the
United States can't or won't do anything, someone else has to, and that
someone can only be Saudi Arabia. The dramatic increase in Riyadh's
willingness to intervene abroad, with both financial and military power,
has been driven by its sense that dramatic action is required to prevent
the region from melting down altogether and taking the kingdom down with it.
This view of Obama correlates with reading too much Chales Krauthammer,
a certifiable form of dementia. The fact is that US interests have never
aligned very well with Saudi interests, but the US humored the theocratic
despots because they helped recycle a lot of money back to the US, and
the Saudis had a way of dismissing what they didn't like (especially US
support for Israel) because alignment with the US let them pursue their
real interests -- pre-eminence in the Islamic world -- relatively freely.
Along the way they (like Israel) learned that they could push America's
buttons by opposing Iran, so they wound up blaming everything on Iran.
American enmity toward Iran has been irrational (and counterproductive)
ever since the 1980 Hostage Crisis. Obama wasn't ignorant in realizing
that, although he was perhaps foolish in not admitting as much, and in
not pursuing a more constructive relationship with Iran -- one that would
defuse much of the hostility in the region, not least by undermining the
rationales for Saudi (and Israeli) aggression. Pollack's next paragraph
almost admits that the Saudis have a cockeyed view of everything:
That is why the Saudis have been consistently overreacting to events in
Washington's eyes. We look at Bahrain and see an oppressed Shiite majority
looking for some degree of political participation and economic benefit
from the minority Sunni regime. The Saudis see an Iranian-backed mass
uprising that could spread to the kingdom if it were to succeed -- which
is why the Iranians are helping it do so. We look at the Yemeni civil war
and see a quagmire with only a minor Iranian role and little likelihood
of destabilizing Saudi Arabia. The Saudis see an Iranian bid to stealthily
undermine the kingdom. We see a popular Saudi Shiite cleric who would
become a martyr if he is executed. The Saudis see an Iranian-backed
firebrand stoking revolution in their country's oil-producing regions.
In the Syrian peace talks, we see a need to bring the Iranians in because
of their critical support for Bashar al-Assad's regime. The Saudis see
the United States legitimizing both a Shiite/Persian/Iranian influence
in a majority Sunni Arab state and the murderous, minority Shiite regime.
The list goes on.
Pollack then suggests that the Saudis are right and the the US is
abandoning its traditional ally in favor of its enemy. Actually, Obama's
real shortcoming is his failure to criticize nominal allies like Saudi
Arabia when they are dead wrong (and Iraq and Egypt and Turkey and most
of all, in case you're wondering where this cowardice comes from, Israel).
But then his failure to criticize is symptomatic of a deeper problem,
which is the lack of constructive principle behind US foreign policy --
a legacy of the cold war when America routinely favored pro-business
despotism over popular democracy -- and the naive faith that a sufficient
show of force solves every problem.
Stephen M Walt: Give Peace a Chance (And why none of the current presidential
candidates want to talk about it): As a "realist" Walt admits "one could
argue that the United States benefited from war in the past." I won't let
myself be sucked into that one, even though one of his examples -- "the
Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s" -- cries out for correction. The thing about
being a "realist" is that you can excuse anything if it furthers your
"national interest" -- whatever that means. For a long time American
foreign policy was nothing but service to American business interests:
mainly supporting "open trade" (as in the "opening" of Japan), allowing
American banks and business to make loans and investments abroad. Then
came WWII and the US started building bases around the world, evolving
into the capital vs. labor class struggle known as the Cold War. Business
(and not just American business) obviously gained from this shift, but
along with foreign bases and alliances came a cult of power for its own
sake. When you go down a list of the world's countries, America's view
is that the "good guys" are the ones largely subservient to US power, and
the "bad guys" are the ones that chafe and resent us, or worse still go
their own way. (The closest to exceptions here are Israel and Saudi Arabia,
which profess alliance but go their own way, showing that one of the traits
we most appreciate in a foreign country is hypocrisy.)
Walt lays out four reasons why promoting peace should be considered part
of the national interest, and therefore a goal of our government:
- "When a country is on top of the pyramid, the last thing it should want
is anything that might dislodge it." The US is the richest country in the
world, so why risk that through the risk and uncertainty of war? Especially
since the US hasn't been very successful at war lately (like since WWII).
Or, as Walt puts it, "as we learned to our sorrow in Iraq, what looks like
a smashing success at first can easily turn into a costly quagmire."
- "Second, peace is good business." Sure, there are a few businesses that
sell arms, but they are "a small and declining fraction of America's $17
trillion economy." He adds, "peace encourages economic interdependence
and thus global growth and welfare. . . . If you think globalization is
a good thing, in short, promoting peace should be a key part of your
- "Third, peace privileges people who are good at promoting human welfare,
whether in the form of cool new products, better health care, improved
government services, inspiring books, art, and music, and all the other
things that bring us joy. War, by contrast, elevates people who are good
at using violence and who profit from collective hatred: rebel leaders,
warlords, terrorists, revolutionaries, xenophobes, etc."
- "Last, but not least, peace is morally preferable. There's an enormous
amount of human suffering in any war, and our basic moral instincts tell
us that the alleviation of that suffering is intrinsically desirable."
Still, every Republican presidential candidate dwells on how much more
tougher he'd (or she'd) be than any Democrat, and every Democrat (including
Sanders) takes pains to show how high a hurdle that would be to clear. So
why isn't anyone even giving lip service to peace? Walt offers some reasons,
including the excess adulation for "the troops" that practically everyone
feels obliged to buy into. Let me add a few more:
- We've become highly compartmentalized, so very few people (voters)
in America have any conscious stake in foreign policy, or indeed in the
rest of the world. If the US overthrows a democratic government in Iran
or Chile, that may be big news there but it means nothing here. As such,
the few people who really care about foreign policy are like a special
interest group, and virtually all of them are economically bound to the
current system. That only gives a practical politician one option for a
campaign pitch. And it's even worse when you win and find yourself stuck
in an unmovable system.
- The title of "commander in chief" has become baked into the job
description of President of the United States, and indeed has come to
tower over the position's other responsibilities (like respecting and
protecting the constitution). Maybe it has something to do with the idea
that chief executives delegate tasks but commanders lead. Politicians
certainly prefer the latter image. (Indeed, we came to wonder whether
Bush thought the job entailed anything else.)
- People readily accept the assertion that "we're engaged in a war"
even though the alleged war is almost totally disconnected from their
everyday lives. Selecting a president is one of the few war-related
acts anyone has to do -- an appeal that the media readily subscribes
to. This is especially attractive to Republican candidates, who have
nothing else of substance to offer (their economic programs are all
geared to the donor class).
- It is widely thought that leading the nation in a time of war is
a higher calling than leading it during peace. Franklin Roosevelt, for
instance, broke tradition and ran for a third term because war loomed
and he wanted to be the man who ran it. Both Bushes started wars to
recast themselves as glorious commanders (although one failed to pick
fights he could claim to win).
- Indeed, the US has a long history of electing former generals to
become president: Washington, Jackson, Harrison, Taylor, Pierce, Grant,
Hayes, Garfield, the other Harrison, but only Eisenhower in the last
120 years. Theodore Roosevelt was famous for his Rough Riders stunt.
Truman in WWI, and Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, and the first Bush in WWII,
and Carter post-WWII all made a big point about their service (if not
their rank; Reagan was in the US Army Reserve, where he "narrated
pre-flight training films").
Walt also revisits Syria, asking
Could We Have Stopped This Tragedy? It's a fair question, and after
a fair review he concludes "no" -- vindicating his initial suspicions.
Still, his "realism" trips him up, leading him to imagine counterfactuals
whereas simply listing what the US in fact did should have sufficed to
show that no variation could have worked. He touches on that here:
To be sure, the Obama administration has not handled Syria well at all.
President Barack Obama erred when he jumped the gun in 2011 and insisted
"Assad must go," locking the United States into a maximalist position and
foreclosing potential diplomatic solutions that might have saved thousands
of lives. Second, Obama's 2012 off-the-cuff remark about chemical weapons
and "red lines" was a self-inflicted wound that didn't help the situation
and gave opponents a sound bite to use against him. The president wisely
backed away from that position, however, and (with Russian help) eventually
devised an arrangement that got rid of Assad's chemical arsenal. This was
no small achievement in itself, but the whole episode did not exactly
inspire confidence. The administration eventually agreed to start a
training program for anti-Assad forces, but did so with neither enthusiasm
And consider what has happened since then. More than 200,000 people are
now dead -- that's approaching 100 times as many victims as 9/11 -- and
numerous towns, cities, and villages have been badly damaged, if not
destroyed. There are reportedly some 11 million displaced people either
internally or out of the country, about half Syria's original population.
A flood of refugees and migrants has landed in Europe, provoking a new
challenge to the European Union's delicate political cohesion and raising
the specter of a sharp increase in right-wing xenophobia. The carnage in
Syria has also helped fuel the emergence and consolidation of the so-called
Islamic State, intensified the Sunni-Shiite split within Islam, and put
additional strain on Syria's other neighbors.
Obama's failures here largely stem from his blanket acceptance of the
main tenets of American foreign policy. The only thing he's rejected has
been the Bush (Cheney/Bremer/but probably not Rumsfeld) notion that US
troops can occupy and rebuild a Middle East nation like Iraq -- a tenet
that no one in the security establishment still believes. But he still
accepts: that the US has vital interests in the region; that the main
thing there is to credibly project power such that the nations' leaders
defer to American directives; that the US should have a free hand to
intervene destructively anywhere we are challenged (or evidently just
for the hell of it); and that the people in those nations don't matter
at all. Thus the US instinctively saw the uprising in Syria as an
opportunity to get rid of the insufficiently servile Assad regime.
They just couldn't figure out a way to make that happen once a direct
command failed. Even now, there is no "humanitarian" option: all they
can do is destroy, so all they can do is to add ISIS (and Al-Nusra and
who knows what else) to their enemies list. The result is that the US
is actively engaging in attacking both sides of the civil war. It's as
if the US had decided to fight WWII by bombing both German and Russian
forces on the Eastern Front, hoping that they'd be able to recruit
some Free Poles once everyone was killed.
Until the US realizes that the lives and welfare of ordinary people
matter more than the fickle allegiances of a handful of corrupt elites,
the US will have nothing constructive to offer the region (or the world).
And if they did, they'd realize that the brutal force they so worship is
the problem, not part of the solution. Of course, it's hard to imagine
the US changing to improve the lives of people abroad when Republicans
here are working so hard to reduce the livelihoods of most Americans
here. (Similarly, Democrats need to realize that they cannot help their
voters here unless they start to respect people abroad, which means
they have to start to unwind America's imperial tentacles, and return
to the Four Freedoms that Roosevelt envisioned as the New Deal of the
postwar order. You'd think that Sanders, at least, would figure that
Rick Shenkman: How We Learned to Stop Worrying About People and Love the
Bombing: Lest you think that my comments above about how Americans
react to problems with brute, unthinking force, without any care for the
human lives affected, here's a case example: when Sen. Ted Cruz promised
to "carpet bomb" ISIS, his poll numbers went up.
While many factors can affect a candidate's polling numbers, one
uncomfortable conclusion can't be overlooked when it comes to reactions
to Cruz's comments: by and large, Americans don't think or care much
about the real-world consequences of the unleashing of American air
power or that of our allies. The other day, Human Rights Watch (HRW)
reported that, in September and October, a Saudi Arabian coalition
backed by the United States "carried out at least six apparently
unlawful airstrikes in residential areas of the [Yemeni] capital,"
Sana'a. The attacks resulted in the deaths of 60 civilians. Just about
no one in the United States took notice, nor was it given significant
media coverage. More than likely, this is the first time you've heard
about the HRW findings.
Shenkman has a theory on this, something to do with what he calls
"our stone-age brain" -- in fact, he has a whole book on the subject
(Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of
Smart Politics). In particular, we fail to recognize the victims
of our bombs as human, let alone as people much like us. Distance
has much to do with this, as do the various grouping words we use
to sort people. I tend to think of it as a failure of imagination:
in particular, the ability to imagine the situation reversed, as
almost any interaction can be. (The Golden Rule, in its numerous
variations, is an attempt to formulate this logically. When you
hear someone talk like Cruz, you should realize that he lacks the
most basic skill needed to live in society.) Shenkman emphasizes
the value of storytelling as a means of restoring humanity to the
people our warriors target.
Shenkman suggests that this "stone-age brain" may have had some
Darwinian advantage, but you don't have to buy that. What you do need
to recognize is that we're no longer living in stone-age tribes. We
live in a complex society where we routinely confront strangers, and
indeed depend on their good will for our own survival. In this world,
the instinct to rally behind a charismatic strongman is overrated and
quite possibly disastrous, even though it still seems to be the bread
and butter of American politics -- at least it's second nature to
politicians with a natural knack for appealing to our basest instincts.
But it's not uniquely American: people all around the world think the
same thing. The difference is in who has the power to "carpet bomb"
other countries. In that regard, the US is most potent and dangerous,
but probably not unique -- despite neocon fantasies of a unipolar
Paul Woodward: How to lose the propaganda war with ISIS: Big
announcement Friday was that the Obama administration is launching
a new propaganda ministry to counter ISIS's mastery of social media
New York Times article). After all, nothing can be more potent
than their lies except for our lies. Woodward comments (emphasis
Picture the many meetings that must have taken place over recent months
in which policymakers repeatedly said: in order to stop ISIS we need
to improve the image of the West.
This proposition should have been met with howls of scorn and yet
instead, multiple teams of straight-faced bureaucrats from multiple
agencies nodded their heads in agreement.
At the same time, I greatly doubt anyone believes this kind of PR
exercise will have any value whatsoever and yet the consensus of support
derives from one fact: no one has come up with a better idea.
Better to do something worthless than to do nothing at all -- so
the thinking goes.
The term radicalization has been pathologized, thereby
divorcing it from its psychological meaning. It's viewed as a disease,
with the implication that if the right steps are taken, the contagion
can be controlled.
But to be radicalized is to rebel and anyone who has taken
up such a position of defiance has, in the case of ISIS, already reached
a conclusion about the West. Indeed, they have most likely reflected
more deeply on the West than the majority of their generational
counterparts who, being less likely to engage in cultural critiques
of any kind, don't have a particularly coherent view of the
West -- good or bad.
Woodward's critique is right but the problem is worse than that.
The one group of people most likely to swallow the propaganda whole
is the one that creates. It amounts to a process of self-delusion,
where constant reiteration drums the talking points deep into the
psyche. As such, it moves the argument away from reality and into the
fantasy world of the propagandist, where logic turns self-fulfilling.
It's already hard to think of any war the US entered more thoughtlessly
than the war against ISIS, and the propagation of this propaganda is
likely to cement current delusions (e.g., about our righteousness and
their evil). If, that is, it works at all, which I guess isn't a
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Nu'man Abd al-Wahid: How Zionism helped create the Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia: Delicious lede:
The covert alliance between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Zionist
entity of Israel should be no surprise to any student of British
imperialism. The problem is the study of British imperialism has very
few students. . . . but if you would like to delve into how and why the
British Empire waged war on mankind for almost four hundred years you're
practically on your own in this endeavor. One must admit, that from the
British establishment's perspective, this is a formidable and remarkable
The Saud family took over Hijaz in 1925 after the British switched
sides against their former "Arab revolt" client, Sharif Hussain --
the main disagreement between the latter and the British was the
Zionist colony in Palestine. Thus Saudi Arabia became a Beitish (and
later American) client state.
Justin Fox: Why Economists Took So Long to Focus on Inequality.
Income of the top 1% started to grow cancerously in the 1980s, but
few economists noticed let alone studied it, at least until Thomas
Piketty and Emmanuel Saez came along and made the data impossible
to ignore. Fox has some ideas, but they aren't very convincing.
Paul Krugman has a comment
Olivier Roy: France's Oedipal Islamist Complex: Roy is a French
expert on militant Islam -- has written several books on the subject.
He points out that French jihadists are either recent converts, which
he sees as radicalized youth who turned to Islam to formalize their
revolt, or second generation Muslims, similarly radicalized from their
experiences. On the other hand, he notes that there are no jihadis
among first-generation immigrants or the more thoroughly integrated
third-generation. That seems roughly right for the US as well.
Why Islam? For members of the second generation, it's obvious: They
are reclaiming, on their own terms, an identity that, in their eyes,
their parents have debased. They are "more Muslim than the Muslims"
and, in particular, than their parents. The energy that they put into
reconverting their parents (in vain) is significant, but it shows to
what extent they are on another planet (all the parents have a story
to tell about these exchanges). As for the converts, they choose
Islam because it's the only thing on the market of radical rebellion.
Joining the Islamic State offers the certainty of terrorizing.
Omid Safi: Ten Ways on How Not to Think About the Iran/Saudi Conflict:
All are worth considering, including "we in the United States should do
some long and hard looking into our own culpability" -- and not just for
the two points Safi mentions (selling arms to Saudi Arabia and overlooking
Saudi human rights violations) -- for starters, I recall how we did the
same things when Iran was controlled by a despotic monarchy, how much we
resent Iran's rejection of us, and how we've let Israel and Saudi Arabia
manipulate our loathing of the Iranian government to hurt the Iranian
people. Also noteworthy is oil: Saudi Arabia is already suffering from
low oil prices; once we let Iranian oil flood the world market, Saudi
Arabia will be hurting even more. The history of the waxing and waning
of Shi'ism is fascinating, but that's the sort of fact that opportunists
can parlay into an excuse for war and repression, as we've seen, e.g.,
in America's attempts to pit Shi'a against Sunni since 1990 (not that
Iran didn't try something similar after Iraq attacked in the 1980s).
Sunday, December 6. 2015
Very busy with other stuff today, so these are abbreviated -- mostly
links to pieces I happened to have left open, and scattered comments
when I had something quick to say.
Eoin Higgins: The double standard for white and Muslim shooters:
I haven't been paying a lot of attention to the week's mass shootings,
but the San Bernadino case took a weird turn when it was discovered
that the two shooters were Muslim.
Rhania Khalek: US cops trained to use lethal Israeli tactics:
"Officers from 15 US police agencies recently traveled to the Middle
East for lessons from their Israeli counterparts." You may recall how
on 9/11 Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu were crowing about how
Israel could help the US with its newfound terrorism problem. Hell,
I'm old enough to remember when David Ben Gurion offered to help
Charles DeGaulle with its little problem in Algeria. DeGaulle
rejected that offer, fearing that Ben Gurion wanted to turn France
into another Israel. On the other hand, the neocons who dominated
the Bush administration (and who still exercise some strange magic
over Obama) envy Israel, which is one reason they organize these
junkets for American cops to learn how to use "advanced Israeli
technology" like "skunk spray" and rubber bullets. However, this
is happening at a time when Israel's own law enforcement groups
have gone on a rampage of summary executions, where they've killed
more than 100 Palestinians since October 1. Also happening at a
time when police killings of (mostly black) Americans are subject
to ever more scrutiny and outrage.
Ed Kilgore: Extremist Republican Rhetoric and the Planned Parenthood
Attack: Given the current state of rhetoric on abortion even by
such supposedly respectable as Republican presidential candidates,
it's not surprising when anti-abortion violence occurs -- if anything
the surprise is that it's as rare as it is (although living in Wichita,
where much violence and one of the most notorious murders occurred, it
pains me to write that line).
Conservative opinion-leaders should, however, be held accountable for
two persistent strains of extremist rhetoric that provide a theoretical
basis for violence against abortion providers specifically and enemies
of "traditional values" generally.
The first is the comparison of legalized abortion to the great
injustices of world history, including slavery and the Holocaust. The
first analogy helps anti-choicers think of themselves as champions of
a new civil-rights movement while facilitating a characterization of
Roe v. Wade as a temporary and disreputable constitutional precedent
like Dred Scott. The second follows from the right-to-life movement's
logic of regarding abortion as homicide and treats the millions of
legal abortions that have been performed in the U.S. since 1973 as
analogous to the Nazi extermination of Jews and other "undesirables."
[ . . . ]
And virtually every Republican presidential candidate has supported
the mendacious campaign to accuse Planned Parenthood of "barbaric"
practices involving illegal late-term abortions and "baby part sales."
But there's a second element of contemporary extremist rhetoric from
conservatives that brings them much closer to incitement of violence:
the claim that the Second Amendment encompasses a right to revolution
against "tyrannical" government.
Kilgore quotes from Messrs. Carson, Cruz, Huckabee, and Rubio, who
are merely the most egregious demagogues.
Martin Longman: What's in a Lie?:
In The New Republic, Jeet Heer says that it is much less accurate
to call Donald Trump a "liar" than it is to simply refer to him as "a
bullshit artist." [ . . . ]
A liar is fully aware of what is true and what is not true. They know
whether or not they paid the electricity bill, for example, so when they
tell you that they have no idea why the power is out, that's a lie.
A bullshitter, by contrast, doesn't even care what is true. They're
not so much lying to deceive as to create an impression. Maybe they want
you to be afraid. Maybe they want you to think that they are smarter or
more well-informed than they really are.
It's a useful distinction to make, I think, although I also think
people who engage in a lot of bullshit probably lie their heads off,
too. [ . . . ]
That's a lot of academic language that basically says that stupid
and gullible people are easy to fool. I think we knew that.
But the real key is that, although there is never any shortage of
credulous people, they need to be lied to first before they are led
astray. If you don't exploit their cognitive weaknesses and you lead
them toward the truth, they aren't so misinformed. By constantly
bullshitting them, you're making them less informed and probably
more cynical, too.
Few books have been more influential on my thinking than one I
read when it came out in 1969, Charles Weingarten and Neil Postman:
Teaching as a Subversive Activity. The main argument there
was that the main goal of teaching should be to equip students
with a finely-tuned "bullshit detector," so they would learn to
recognize whenever they were being conned with bullshit. It was
clear to me then that the actual schools I had attended were much
more preoccupied with spreading bullshit than with subverting it,
but then authorities had long viewed schools as factories for
turning out loyal citizen-followers. Didn't really work with me --
some bullshit was much too obvious to miss.
Tierney Sneed: At Jewish Summit, Trump Says He's a Good Negotiator
Like 'You Folks':
Speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition 2016 candidate forum, GOP
frontrunner Donald Trump repeatedly returned to a riff about being a
good negotiator like "you folks." He also said the attendees wouldn't
support him because "I don't want your money."
Early in his remarks, he bragged about how little money he spent on
his campaign thus far, adding, "I think you, as business people, will
feel good about this and respect it."
I suppose you could argue that these old-fashioned Jewish caricatures
weren't anti-semitic because he was so obviously enthralled with those
traits -- maybe the awkwardness was just that he wasn't used to buttering
up an audience so obscenely? And rest assured that the ADL won't be
bothered because he reminded them that "you know I am the best thing
that could ever happen to Israel." Still, I find it all pretty
creepy. For another view, here's
Gary Younge: Bombing Hasn't Worked. Bombing Won't Work. And Yet,
We Will Bomb: I should link to something like this every week.
This one is specifically addressed to the UK, recently deliberating
on whether to join the bombing party in Syria, perhaps out of
nostalgia for the old Triple Entente -- their alliance with France
and Russia which trapped them in the Great War of 1914, although
this time Germany will also be on their side, and they won't have
to wait for the United States to pick up the slack. Wouldn't you
think that someone would have noticed this reunion of the world's
faded imperialist powers, resolved as they are to once again attack
(or as they might prefer to put it, "rescue") an impoverished but
less than properly subservient third world country -- even to have
been a bit embarrassed by the fact? One can't help but be reminded
that Britain and France have still not come to grips with the much
deserved collapse of their worldwide empires. Actually, Younge
gets some of this:
Which brings us neatly to the second point: The West's desire to intervene
in the name of civilization and Enlightenment values betrays a stunning
lack of self-awareness. The military and philosophical force with which
it makes its case for moral superiority, and then contradicts it, is
Unfortunately, his first point was not just that bombing never works --
he doesn't recall the Blitz, which mainly consolidated British public
opinion against the Nazis in a way that concern for the Poles never
could have -- but he questioned their seriousness, taunting them to
send ground troops instead. The problem there is that while sufficient
ground troops might be able to advance against ISIS, we know from the
failures of the French and British colonial projects in the Middle
East (and, well, everywhere) as well as the more recent US occupation
of Iraq that a renewed ground invasion will also fail. (If you think
Russia might make the difference, cf. Afghanistan.) Younge admits
ISIS isn't limited to a handful of states in the Middle East, places
like Syria, Iraq, and Libya; instead, it's a multinational phenomenon.
Many of those who terrorized Paris came from Belgium and France. The
West can't bomb everywhere. And wherever it does bomb, it kills and
injures large numbers of civilians. These civilian casualties, in
their turn, stoke resentment and outrage, not least in the Muslim
communities from which jihadis draw their recruits. Since 9/11, the
West's military interventions have created far more terrorists than
they have killed, and have generally made things worse, not better.
Yet Younge adds this snark: "If ISIS represents a true threat
against humanity, as is claimed, then we should do the heavy lifting
of mobilizing humanity to fight it." I suppose he would admit that
mobilizing "the willing" (as Bush did against Iraq) doesn't quite
add up to "humanity," but why taunt people to do the impossible if
they're just going to cheap out and do the expedient anyway? All the
"humanity" that the combined forces of ISIS and the US have managed
to mobilize is a handful of sad European states nostalgic for the
golden days when they thought they ruled the world.
OK, I should find better links to make this point each week.
Also, a few links for further study (even more briefly noted):
Barbara Ehrenreich: Dead, White and Blue: "The Great Die-Off of
America's Blue Collar Whites." This story has been kicking around
for a while, and Ehrenreich covers the basics. But to me the story
has less to do with what's killing people younger than how it upsets
the customary expectations that science and the ever-more-expensive
health care industry will make everyone live longer. It turns out
that how those benefits are distributed matters, and is subject to
politics as well as economics. It also may mean that such progress
itself is tainted: that businesses searching for more profits aren't
necessarily searching for more effective health care. And by the
way, singling out whites hides (or reveals) some other truths:
notably that the things that are killing more whites now are things
that have been depressing the life expectancy of blacks for many
years. One way to put that is that we're leveling down, not up.
Paul Krugman: Challenging the Oligarchy: Review of Robert B Reich's
new book, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (Knopf).
He spends a lot of time talking about Reich's 1991 book The Work of
Nations, which I read at the time (well, a couple years later, in
paperback), thought insane (his thesis that we didn't need to care
about declining low-skill jobs because everyone was going to move
upscale as they learned the arts of symbol manipulation), but found
one brilliant (and scary) insight (the withdrawal of the rich from
mainstream society and into their own gated communities and clubs --
not that the real rich hadn't done that forever). Krugman takes great
pains to demolish the insane part before moving on to the new book
and the messier question of what to do about inequality.
Krugman also has a couple of brief notes about the abuse of
The Farce Is Strong in This One, and
Avars, Arabs, and History. Krugman various dubious lines about the
fall of the Roman Empire and a couple books he's read on the expansion of
Arab influence after 700. I can recommend Timothy Parsons' The Rule of
Empires, which dovetails nicely with what Krugman has learned -- the
first two cases are the Romans in Britain and the Arabs in Spain, both
how they came and why they failed. Parsons piles on eight other case
studies and a postscript about the US in Iraq, showing how empires
Michael Massing: Reimagining Journalism: The Story of the One Percent:
The first of two parts on the rich and how they are covered (or not) by
an often subservient press.
Rick Perlstein: The Secret to Trump's Ratings. Much here, but let me
single out this story about bullshit detection (some got it, most don't):
I've covered three Republican conventions. Watching The Apprentice
was by far the hardest reporting job I've ever endured. If you watched it,
you'd probably agree. But political junkies aren't the type of people who
watched it. Let me tell you a story. Once, when I was in my early 20s, my
parents dragged my entire family to a performance of Donny Osmond in
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was awful -- and
again, if you watched it, you'd probably agree. When the curtain fell,
every last person in the audience leaped to their feet in a standing
ovation, except me and my three siblings. We sophisticates, we looked
at each other, incredulous, glued to our seats.
Andrea Thompson/Brian Kahn: What Passing a Key CO2 Mark Means to Climate
Scientists: The mark, as measured at the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii,
is 400 parts per million. As I recall, Bill McKibben named his organization
350 because that was the highest limit he felt the world could stand. I
think it's safe to say that global warming is no longer a treat. This is
one of those numbers we've been warned about for decades. It's here now,
Sunday, November 29. 2015
Not much time to collect things today, but here are a few links on
the week's newsk:
Julie Turkewitz/Jack Healy: 3 Are Dead in Colorado Springs Shootout at
Planned Parenthood Center: A gunman, identified as Robert Lewis
Dear, entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, shot
some people, and shot at police when they arrived on the scene. He
was captured alive and unhurt after killing three people and wounding
nine others. This link provides some preliminary reporting. Note
Since abortion became legal nationally, with the Supreme Court's
decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, many abortion clinics and staff
members across the country have been subjected to harassment
including death and bomb threats, and hundreds of acts of violence
including arson, bombings and assaults and eight murders, according
to figures compiled by the Naral Pro-Choice America Foundation.
Planned Parenthood's Colorado Springs center was one of many
locations around the country that became the site of large anti-abortion
protests over the summer after abortion opponents released surreptitious
videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing using fetal organs
for research. On Aug. 22, the day of nationwide protests to defund
Planned Parenthood, more than 300 people protested outside the clinic
here, according to local news reports.
The campaign not just to stigmatize Planned Parenthood but to put
it out of business was led this summer by all 16 Republican presidential
candidates, while most Republicans in Congress (especially in the House)
were so agitated over the issue that they wanted to shut down the federal
government if Congress and the President didn't bow to their extortion.
Such politicians are casually given the benefit of the doubt when they
try to distance themselves from vigilante-terrorists who take their words
so seriously they translate them into criminal acts. But in fact most of
those politicians do support extra-legal murder and mayhem when the US
practices it abroad (e.g., from drones). And one hardly need add that
virtually every one of them is equally committed to making sure that
vigilante-terrorists here in America have unfettered access to all the
guns they can handle. So why excuse them from complicity in murders that
are known to have a chilling, and sometimes devastating, effect on the
constitutional rights of American women to private health care? (Indeed,
see this report:
GOP Presidential Candidates Sharing Stage With Pastor Who Hailed Murder
of Abortion Provider. The article specifically mentions Cruz, Huckabee,
and Jindal. Cruz subsequently received the endorsement of
Troy Newman, the leader of Operation Rescue, a group which has been
closely aligned with anti-abortion criminals.)
A few more links on the shooting:
- Several pieces from No More Mr Niceblog:
Colorado Planned Parenthood Siege: Obama's Fault, Naturally, According
to Fox: the complaint here is that Obama has tried to cut back on
the distribution of military surplus hardware to police departments,
just when it's more needed than ever to fight domestic terrorists --
"this is war," exclaimed one Fox head, demonstrating complete ignorance
about what "war" means. In Afghanistan, for instance, war means calling
in a AC-130 gunship like the one that destroyed the MSF hospital in
Kunduz. Fortunately, that sort of collateral murder isn't normal in
domestic police operations. Then there is
When GOP Presidential Candidates Finally Address the Colorado Shooting,
They'll Sound a Lot Like Adam Kinzinger. Kinzinger is a Republican
congressman who was quick to issue his disclaimer: "And if he's targeting
Planned Parenthood -- and again, we don't know -- if he is, he has taken
a legitimate disagreement with the practice and turned it into an evil
response, which is to go in and shoot people." In other words, Republicans
will use this as an opportunity to renew their attacks on Planned Parenthood,
just in their "less evil" way. Then there's
Republicans Hate What They Hate Much More Than They Love What They Love,
I See What Fox News Did There, and
There Was an Ever-Thinning Line Between the GOP and the Lunatic Fringe,
and Ted Cruz Just Erased It.
Josh Marshall: Malign Hesitation.
Zoë Carpenter: The Colorado Shooting Comes Amid an 'Alarming' Escalation
of Anti-Abortion Violence.
DR Tucker: Emma's World: Part III: The first two parts were an attempt
to put a human face on one of the casualties of the Paris ISIS attack:
specifically, a tourist from Tasmania named Emma Parkinson. This one
quotes from a piece written on the occasion of an earlier gun massacre,
about a still earlier gun massacre:
Will Oremus: After a 1996 Mass Shooting, Australia Enacted Strict Gun
Laws. It Hasn't Had a Similar Massacre Since. You may recall that
the intermediary massacre, the slaughter of elementary school children
and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, was followed by a loosening of
gun regulation, and a few dozen only marginally less shocking mass
shootings. Following the 1996 Australian shooting, over 90% of all
Australians agreed on the need for much stricter gun control. As I
recall, polling showed that after Newtown a majority of Americans
also desired stricter gun control, but opinion was far less united,
and various institutional factors allowed the gun industry to prevail.
A lot of factors differ between Australia and America here. One might,
for instance, point to the cultural import of the old west in America,
or to the fact that the US since WWII has fought far more wars than
anyone else, and that the US government spends more money on arms
than the rest of the world does. Still, two factors stand out: one
is that Americans care very little about the welfare of their fellow
Americans; the other is that Americans have very little understanding
of the actual effects of mass gun proliferation. In particular, they
don't realize that Australia provides a very relevant case study of
the effects of strict gun regulation. Oremus writes:
What happened next has been the subject of several academic studies.
Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia,
of course. But as the Washington Post's Wonkblog pointed out in
August, homicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006,
with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The
drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a
close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks.
Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile,
home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership
is needed to deter such crimes. But here's the most stunning statistic.
In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass
shootings in the country. There hasn't been a single one in Australia
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't
have time for this shit right now):
Phyllis Bennis: After the Paris Attacks, a Call for Justice -- Not
Vengeance. Recapitulates a similar statement made after 9/11,
predicting no good would come of responding to the attacks with a
"war of vengeance." Indeed. Also cites the common French response
to 9/11: "nous sommes tous Américains" -- showing then as now that
the French can't shake their self-gratifying identity as colonial
masters, even long after their empire went bankrupt.
Lauren Fox: Why the Paris Attacks Unleashed a New Level of Anti-Muslim
Vitriol in the US: Certainly did, but I'm not sure the author here
got the reasons right. For one thing, the US has been fighting several
wars against Muslims for 14 years -- and arguably a good deal longer,
with 1990 and 1979 key moments of escalation, on top of America's
increasing support of Israel, especially coming out of the 1967 and
1973 wars. For another, while the Bush administration was fairly
conscientious about positing a battle between "good Muslims" and "bad
Muslims," Obama has largely dropped that ball, partly as a result of
disengaging from major theatres like Iraq, and partly because the
picture itself has become increasingly murky. Also, I think, because
the wars have been so unsatisfying that we've lost the commitment
that most imperial powers feel to the natives who aligned with them,
and are increasingly in trouble because of that -- although this
point may just be swamped by the rising tide of nativism stirred up
by demagogues like Trump, and the general meanness of the American
Rebecca Gordon: Corruption USA: Doesn't review so much as jump off
from Sarah Chayes' book about corruption in Afghanistan, Thieves of
State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. Raises the question
of whether the US is similarly beleaguered by corruption. Spends a lot
of time on Ferguson, Missouri, which while pretty clear (and graphic)
is small potatoes -- compared to, say, oil and finance.
John B Judis: The Paradoxical Politics of Inequality.
Nomi Prins: The American Hunger Games: "Six top Republican Candidates
Take Economic Policy Into the Wilderness." Looks at the proposed economic
policies of Bush, Carson, Cruz, Fiorina, Rubio, and Trump.
Abba Solomon: Golem and Big Brother: A review of Jeff Halper's
new book, War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and
Global Pacification (Pluto Press). Halper founded the Israeli
Committee Against House Demolitions, and wrote an essay called
"The Matrix of Domination" which was one of the first expositions
to show how Israel's many mechanisms for controlling Palestinians
work together. The new book shows how Israeli businesses are taking
technology developed for controlling Palestinians and marketing it
to the rest of the world. If you don't yet think that the conflict
over Israel-Palestine concerns you, this book should prove
Philip Weiss: Trump's claim of 9/11 celebration in New Jersey is based
on arrest of 5 'laughing' Israelis: A story to file away for a
possible footnote, if that's what it is. I do clearly recall Benjamin
Netanyahu and Shimon Peres smiling on 9/11 and bragging about how good
the terror attacks was for Israel -- a faux pas that John Major also
made, one that combines "now you know what it feels like" with "with
our vast experience in these things we can help you." It should have
occurred to people then that the US was being attacked because it had
usurped Britain's colonial role in the Middle East and had doubled
down on its alliance with Israel against any reasonable alternative.
I also recall that Israel almost instantly released stock video that
purported to show Palestinians celebrating and burning American flags --
an image that did its intended damage before anyone could soberly think
Sunday, November 22. 2015
Much blather this week about the existential threat posed to the
United States by the prospect of allowing 10,000 Syrian refugees to
resettle here. Some demagogues like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush insisted
that we only allow Syrian Christians to enter (7.8% in 1960, the
last Syrian census to bother to count sectarian identity, although
a 2006 estimate bumps this up to 10%). Others insisted on a vetting
process to weed out terrorist infiltrators, evidently unaware that
a rather onerous one already exists. Dozens of Republican governors,
including our own Sam Brownback (who recently displaced Bobby Jindal
as the least popular sitting governor in the US), issued executive
orders to help stanch the deluge of Syrian/Arab/Muslim immigrants.
Donald Trump not only opposed all immigration, but went further to
entertain the idea of a federal registry of Muslims in America. He
finally received some backlash for that (rather casual) statement,
but it appeals to a base distinguished only by the depths of their
ignorance. I'm seeing reports that "only 49% of GOP voters in Iowa
think that the religion of Islam should even be legal."
Reading Wikipedia's piece on
Islam in the United States would help alleviate this ignorance.
You will find, for instance, that about 1% of the American population
is Muslim (2.77 million). Also, Muslims are immigrating to the US at
a rate of about 110,000 per year. So 10,000 extra Syrians represents
less than 10% of the current immigration rate, about 0.36% of the
total Muslim population (1 in 277). If everyone shut up and just let
this happen, no one would ever notice anything. The problem, though,
is that by making a big stink about it, you're not just barring 10,000
Syrians, you're sending a message of hate and fear to 2.77 million
Americans. How does that help?
About one-fourth of the Muslims in America are African-Americans,
notably political leaders (including two members of Congress) and
many prominent athletes and musicians. Most others are first or
second generation immigrants, but some date back to immigrants
from the 1880-1910 era, and some can trace their families back to
the colonial era. The piece has numerous examples, plus a section
on "Religious freedom" that shows that Americans were aware of Islam
when they declared freedom of religion in the US Constitution.
One minor point I wasn't aware of is that the first country to
recognize the United States as an independent country was the
Sultanate of Morocco. It's worth adding that the US had generally
good relationships in the Arab world up through WWII. In the first
world war, Woodrow Wilson had refused to join Britain and France
in declaring war on the Ottoman Empire, and he later declined an
Anglo-French proposal that the US occupy Turkey when they were
divvying up the spoils of war. Before then, the US was primarily
known for its missionary schools like the American Universities
in Beirut and Cairo. (The Presbyterians who founded those schools
restricted their missionary work to Christians so as not to offend
Muslim authorities, but welcomed Muslims to study and respected
them, allowing the Universities to develop as intellectual centers
of liberal, nationalist, and anti-colonial thinking.) Arab/Muslim
respect for America only eroded after the US sided with Israel's
colonialist project and replaced Britain as the protector of the
aristocracies that claim personal ownership of the region's oil
US good will in the Arab world was built on a reputation for
fairness and mutual respect, but has since been squandered in an
anachronistic, foolhardy attempt to grab the spoils of empire.
In some sense, we've gone full circle. The first significant
number of Muslims to appear in colonial America were brought
here from Africa, and they proved to be especially difficult to
manage as slaves. Islam was then and now a religion that stood
for justice and fought back against injustice. It should not be
surprising that today's right-wing sees imposing Christianity
on Muslims as key to ending their disobedience, as that was
precisely what their forebears the slaveholders had done. After
all, the prime directive of conservatism is to defend hierarchy
by forcing everyone into their "proper" place. Of course, that
was easier to do before conservative institutions like slavery
and the inquisition were discredited, but the more we live in
a world where people with money think they can buy anything,
the more we see even the hoariest fantasies of conservatism
come back to haunt us.
Some scattered links this week:
Richard Silverstein: Why "Reform" Islam?: This is mostly a response to
a NY Times piece,
Tim Arango: Experts Explain How Global Powers Can Smash ISIS.
(If I may interject, my own response is that the piece shows how low
the bar is to qualify as an "expert" on this subject.) Arango writes:
Talking to a diverse group of experts, officials, religious scholars
and former jihadis makes clear there is no consensus on a simple
strategy to defeat the Islamic State. But there are some themes --
like . . . pushing a broader reformation of Islam --
that a range of people who follow the group say must be part of a
Some of those "experts" go further in insisting that terrorism is
so intimately tied to Islam that only by "reforming" the latter can
it be purged of such instincts. Silverstein replies:
But even if we concede for argument's sake that there is some correlation,
no matter how tenuous, why do we blame an entire religion? Why do we blame
an entire sacred book when a tiny minority of a religion misinterpret it?
Why do we say the religion is at fault rather than the human beings who
betray or distort it?
Baruch Goldstein was a mass murderer who killed 29 Palestinian Muslim
worshippers at a religious shrine. He did this in the name of his twisted
form of Judaism (which I prefer to call settler Judaism to distinguish it
from normative Judaism). Did I hear Tim Arango or anyone else wring their
hands about the correlation between Torah and mass murder? Even if I did,
should I have?
There is nothing wrong with Torah. Just because Jews misread their
sacred text, must I blame the text itself?
The problems here are so ridiculous it's hard to enumerate them.
One, of course, is scale: there are over a billion Muslims in the
world today, and hardly any of them present a "terrorist" threat,
so why try to discredit the majority's religion? And who are we to
decide to reform what they believe? Religions are changed by prophets,
not by academics or politicians, and for lots of reasons it's ever
getting harder to do that. Established religions like Christianity
are certain non-starters, as they've already been rejected. Doubt
is easier than replacement, so maybe atheism, secular humanism, or
Marxism might make a dent, especially if one attempted to apply such
"reform" here as well as there -- but even the Soviets weren't very
effective at banishing old religions. So why even talk about such
Well, it's mostly transference: our way of saying that they're
the problem. The facts rather argue differently. At the simplest
level, you can compare the frequency and size of acts of violence
by Muslims that occur in Europe and the US -- what we like to call
"terrorism" -- with the same measure of acts of violence by the US
and Europe in the Muslim world, and you'll find that there are far
more of the latter than the former. Also, if you put them on a
timeline, you'll find that the latter predate the former (at least
for any time after the early 8th century). Maybe the religions or
the ideologies of the west are the ones that should be reformed?
A more promising route might be to find a sense of justice that is
acceptable to both (or all) religions, and build on that. But the
key to doing so isn't dominating the other into submission. It is
looking into oneself to find something that might work as common
ground. Unfortunately, you don't get to be an "expert" on ISIS by
Also see another of Silverstein's pieces:
"Remember the Stranger, for You Yourselves Were Strangers:
This could just as well be the motto of the United States as one of the
cardinal verses in the Torah. It should be stamped on Bibi Netanyahu's
forehead since he violates this precept virtually every day that he
maintains prison camps for African refugees, who he refuses to grant
asylum or even an application process. For those who take the passage
to heart, it means be humble, remember the refugee, show kindness and
hospitality to the less fortunate. The Republican presidential candidates
apparently don't read their Bibles. Or if they do, they're reading the
The GOP is now making hay out of the Paris terror attacks. Each
candidate falls all over himself to be more punitive, more intolerant
than the next. 23 governors, including one Democrat, have said they
will refuse to accept Syrian refugees within their states. This,
despite the fact that governors have no say in immigration matters
and may not expel legal refugees. That's the job of the federal
government. But don't tell the governors that. It might educate them
about the separate powers delegated to the states and federal
government. A little something called the Constitution.
Another historical fact worth mentioning: in 1938, 937 European
Jews boarded the S.S. St. Louis en route to America where they hoped
to find refuge from Hitler's encroaching hordes. They waited for
months in Cuba and other sites while their supporters sought a safe
haven in this country. At long last, they gave up and sailed back to
Europe. Where 250 of them were swallowed in the Holocaust and
exterminated along with 6-million other European Jews.
There is a catastrophe enveloping Syria in which nearly 200,000
civilians have died. 500,000 Syrians have fled toward Europe and any
other safe harbor they might find. These are not terrorists, not ISIS,
though most are Muslim. There is nothing criminal in being either
Syrian, a Muslim or a refugee. Despite what viewers saw on this FoxNews
panel which quoted approvingly Winston Churchill's bit of colonial
Islamophobia: "Islam is as dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog."
It would take FoxNews to dredge up 19th century British religious-cultural
imperialism, spoken by the leader who epitomized empire in all its
Yousef Munayyer: There Is Only One Way to Destroy ISIS: This says
pretty much what I said last week, except that I didn't feel the need
to cast the optimal outcome as the destruction of ISIS. I think it's
clear that ISIS will adapt to conditions, so I'd say that the thing
to do is to change the conditions to render ISIS much less malign.
Munayyer is aiming at the same result, but he's pitching it to people
who assume that destroying ISIS is a necessity, but who are flexible
and sensible enough to comprehend that just going into ISIS territory
and killing (or as we like to call it, liberating) everyone won't do
the trick (even if it is possible, which isn't at all clear). Munayyer
draws the picture this way:
I've found that the best way to think about comprehensive counter-terror
strategy is the boiling-pot analogy. Imagine that you're presented with
a large pot of scalding water and your task is to prevent any bubbles
from reaching the surface. You could attack each bubble on its way up.
You could spot a bubble at the bottom of the pot and disrupt it before
it has a chance to rise. Many bubbles might be eliminated in this way,
but sooner or later, bubbles are going to get to the surface, especially
as the temperature rises and your counter-bubble capabilities are
The other pathway is to turn down, or off, the flame beneath the
pot -- to address the conditions that help generate terrorism. When
it comes to the question of ISIS in particular and broader terrorism
in general, Western counter-terror strategy has focused on the bubbles
and not the flame. While significant resources have been invested in
intelligence and homeland security, too few have been invested in
resolving the conditions that generate terrorism. In fact, too often,
the West has contributed significantly to those conditions.
Munayyer blames the US for invading Iraq, but while key leadership
of ISIS came from the anti-American resistance in Iraq, the context
which allowed them to claim statehood was the civil war in Syria. End
that civil war and ISIS can no longer claim statehood and caliphate.
That still leaves the concept, and we've seen that the concept can
inspire guerrilla groups and lone wolves elsewhere, but concepts are
a poor substitute for reality. Ending that civil war is no easy task,
partly because every belligerent group believes they can ultimately
impose their will by force -- a fantasy fueled by foreign support --
and partly because every group fears that the others will treat it
unjustly. To turn the heat down, you have to phase out the foreign
interests, convince each group that its cause is futile, and get
each group to accept a set of strictures that will ensure fair and
equal treatment for all. ISIS might well be the last group to join
into a peace agreement, and it may take force to get the leaders of
ISIS to see that their war is futile, but the vow to destroy them
is premature: a peace which includes them is much sounder than the
perpetual war you get from excluding them or the stench of martyrdom
that remains even if you manage to kill them all. Moreover, as you
reduce the heat, the popular support that the leaders depend on will
After Paris, no one wants to speak about ISIS in terms other than
its unconditional destruction, yet when they do so, they reveal how
little they understand ISIS, and how little they know about themselves.
France and Britain still like to think of their recent empires as some
sort of blessing to mankind, but their actual history is full of
contempt, repression, racism, and bloody violence. The former colonial
master of Syria was no arbitrary target for ISIS, a point which was
underscored by how quickly Hollande was able to reciprocate by bombing
Raqqa. Similarly, New York and Washington were not picked for 9/11
because they would look good on TV. The US was cited for specific
offenses against the Muslim world, and Bush wasted no time proving
America's culpability by doing exactly what Bin Laden wanted: by
sending his army in to slaughter Muslims in foreign lands, starting
with Afghanistan. Bush did that because was locked into an imperial
mindset, believing that America's power was so great he could force
any result he wanted, and that America's virtue was so unquestioned
that he never needed to give a thought to why or how. And Hollande,
ostensibly a man of the left, proved the same. (Indeed, so does
Bernie Sanders -- see the link below -- even though he's neither
as careless nor as cocky as Bush.)
Protester gets punched at Trump rally. Trump: "Maybe he deserved to get
roughed up": Billmon has been obsessed this week with Trump-as-Fascist
analogies (see his
Twitter feed), but this is one
story that brings the point home. The thing that distinguished Mussolini
and Hitler was not that they held conservative views but that they were
so bloody minded about it: they were bullies, eager to fight, anxious to
draw blood, and they started with beating up bystanders who looked at them
funny. They celebrated such violence, and the more power they grabbed the
more they flaunted it. Trump may not be in their league, but he's doing
something more than merely condoning this "roughing up" -- he's feeding
his crowd's frenzy of hate. I thought Jim Geraghty was onto something
when he described Bush's supporters as "voting to kill." Trump's fans
are basically the same folks, but now he's offering them something more
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't
have time for this shit right now):
David Atkins: White Resentment of Welfare Is More Than Just About Racism
Now: Builds on a NY Times piece on Kentucky,
Alec MacGillis: Who Turned My Blue State Red?, noting that Republican
voters are as harsh and unforgiving of the white poor as they are of blacks,
etc. I can think of anecdotal evidence that confirms this, and it revolves
around shame: the belief that we are each personally responsible for our
success and failure. Part of the trick is to get the "failures" to blame
themselves and drop out of the political process -- the only way poorer
states vote red is when poor people give up on voting their own interest.
And part of it is that marginally successful people think they're immune
from failure thanks to their superior characters.
Benjamin Balthaser: Jews Without Money: Toward a Class Politics of
Anti-Zionism: Starts by noting the class divide between the rich
patrons of the Jewish National Fund and the middle class Jewish Voice
for Peace protesters outside. I figured he would expand on this by
noting how often rich Jews have supported Zionism almost as a way of
shuttling their poor brethren from Russia to Israel -- Lord Balfour,
after all, addressed his Declaration to Baron von Rothschild, the
richest Jew of his time and the one he most wanted to ingratiate
himself with. Instead, Balthaser goes off in other directions, all
Tom Boggioni: Ex-CIA director: White House ignored months of warnings
about 9/11 to avoid leaving 'paper trail' of culpability: Some of
these stories are familiar, although Tenet used to be more dedicated
to sucking up to Bush, whose indifference to Al-Qaeda before 9/11 was
exceeded only by his demagogic opportunism after.
Daniel Marans: How Wall Street's Short-Term Fixation Is Destroying
the Economy: The business management motto at the root of
short-termism is "make your quarters, and you'll make your year."
Of course in the real world businesses stumble from time to time,
so managers have learned to adjust, packing the quarters they blow
with all the losses they've been hiding to make it easier to make
new quarters, the year be damned. Marans notes that corporate
reinvestment of profits averaged 48% from 1952-84 but dropped to
22% from 1985-2013. The obvious reason is that high pre-Reagan
taxes favored reinvesting profits, whereas low taxes made it less
painful to extract those profits and put them elsewhere -- indeed
set up a dynamic of owners devouring their companies (a practice
which vulture capitalists soon perfected). There are a couple
more epicycles to this diagram: tying CEO compensation to the
stock market helped to ween top management from the workforce
and turn them into stock manipulators, opening up all sorts of
opportunities for insider trading scams. This, in turn, makes
the stock market more volatile, an opportunity for quick traders
to trample over ordinary investors, reducing the quantum of
short-term thinking from the quarter to weeks, days, minutes.
Ben Railton: For More Than 200 Years, America Has Shunned a 'War on
Islam': Looks like Railton has read the Wikipedia article I opened
with, although he adds a little more on the Barbary Wars (which gave
the Marines that "shores of Tripoli" stanza). Along similar lines, see
John Nichols: Muslims Have Been Living in America Since Before the
Rich Yeselson: The Decline of Labor, the Increase of Inequality:
Useful, informative piece on the decline of labor unions in recent
Senator Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States:
Fairly major speech by Sanders attempting to establish a "democratic
socialism" brand name that is so modest and reasonable it's as American
as apple pie. I haven't read this closely: if I did, I'd probably find
much to second guess (and some things to outright oppose, minimally
including much of the end section on ISIS). On the other hand, as I
get older and more modest in my ambitions, I find myself gravitating
more toward Keynes than Marx, and more to FDR's "second bill of rights"
than more radical manifestos, and those are things that are central to
By the way, I backed into this link from
Mike Konczal: Thoughts on Bernie Sanders's Democratic Socialism and
the Primary. Also note that one thing Konczal cites is a new book
by Joseph Stiglitz: Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy:
An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity (he mentions hardcover
and Kindle, but a paperback is also available) -- a book I intend to
pick up ASAP. He also mentions Lane Kenworthy's Social Democratic
America, which makes the case for increasing government spending
up toward Scandinavian levels -- an argument I have some sympathy for,
but I wouldn't neglect the smarter rules Stiglitz (and others like
Dean Baker) argue for, and I can think of some times the Scandinavians
haven't managed to do yet. (Kenworthy also has an outline and parts of
a future book, The Good Society,
Konczal doesn't mention this, but there is at
least one more "vision of left-liberalism": see the pro-union books
of Thomas Geoghegan: Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? How
the European Model Can Help You Get a Life and Only One Thing
Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement.
Finally, several pieces to file under "Americans Acting Like Jerks":
Sunday, November 15. 2015
It's been a good week for warmongering anti-Islamist bigots, what
with the Kurdish "liberation" of ISIS-held Sinjar, the ISIS-blamed
bombing of a Russian airliner, the drone-murder of reality TV star
"Jihadi John," and ISIS-linked murderous assault in Paris on the
innocent fans of a band called Eagles of Death Metal. Ann Coulter
was so thrilled she tweeted that America just elected Donald Trump
as its next president. Shell-shocked post-Benghazi! Democrats were
quick to denounce it all as terrorism, using the precise words of
the Republican thought police. Someone even proposed changing the
Freedom Fries to "French Fries" in solidarity. French president
François Hollande declared that the Paris attacks meant war,
momentarily forgetting that he had already started the same war
when France joined the anti-ISIS bombing party in Syria. He and
other decried this "attack on western civilization." Gandhi could
not be reached, but he's probably sticking to his line that
western civilization would be a good idea.
I'll return to this subject below, but the main point to make
up here is that this is above all a time to keep your cool. In
fact, take a couple steps back and try to recover some of the
cool we've lost ever since demonizing ISIS became so ubiquitous
nobody gives it a second thought. I have no wish to defend them,
but I will point out that what they're accused of is stuff that
virtually all armies have done throughout history. Also that
they exist because governments in Damascus and Baghdad became
so violently oppressive that millions of people (who in normal
times want peace and prosperity as much as everyone else does)
became so desperate as to see them as the lesser evil. No doubt
ISIS can be brutal to those under their thumb, but ISIS could
not exist without some substantial measure of public support,
and that means two things: one is that to kill off ISIS you'd
have to kill an awful lot of people, revealing yourself to be
an even more brutal monster; the other is that you can't end
this by simply restoring the old Damascus and Baghdad powers,
because they will inevitably revert to type. Yet who on the US
political spectrum has a plan to do anything different?
Before this flare up I had something more important I wanted to
write about: inequality. Admittedly, war is more urgent: it has a
way of immediately crowding out all other problems. But the solution
is also much simpler: just don't do it. All you need to know about
war has been said many times, notably by people like A.J. Muste and
David Dellinger. It might be argued that inequality is the root of
war, or conversely that equitable societies would never have any
reason to wage war. The ancient justification for war was always
loot. And while we've managed to think of higher, more abstract
and idealized concepts for justifying war, there's still an awful
lot of looting going on. In America, we call that business.
The piece I've been thinking about is a Bloomberg editorial that
appeared in the Wichita Eagle:
Ramesh Ponnuru: Is income inequality a big deal? He starts:
We conservatives tend to get less worked up about economic inequality
than liberals do, and I think we're right about that.
We should want most people, and especially poor people, to be able
to get ahead in absolute terms. We should want to live in a society
with a reasonable degree of mobility rather than one where people are
born into relative economic positions they can never leave.
But so long as those conditions are met, the ratio of the incomes
of the top 1 percent to the median worker should be fairly low on our
list of concerns; and if those conditions aren't met, we should worry
about our failure to meet them rather than their effects on inequality.
If you take "worked up" in the sense of bothered, sure, but if you
mean concerned, his disclaimer is less true. The bare fact is that
virtually every principle and proposal conservatives hold dear is
designed to increase inequality. Cutting taxes allows the
rich to keep more income and concentrate wealth, lifting them up
further. Cutting food stamps and other "entitlements" pushes the
poor down, also increasing inequality. Maybe desperation will nudge
some people off welfare into low wage jobs, further depressing the
labor market and allowing savvy businessmen to reap more profits.
Of course, making it harder for workers to join unions works both
ways -- lower wages, higher profits -- and conservatives are in the
forefront there. They're also in favor of deregulating business --
never deny the private sector an opportunity to reap greater profits
from little things like pollution or fraud. They back "free trade"
agreements, designed mostly to protect patent (property) owners and
let businesses expand into more profitable markets overseas, at the
minor cost of outsourcing American jobs -- actually a double plus
as that outsourcing depresses the labor market, meaning lower wages
and higher profits. Sandbagging public education advantages those
who can afford private schools. Saddling working class upstarts with
college debt helps keep the children of the rich ahead. And the list
goes on and on. Maybe you can come up with some conservative hot list
items that don't drop straight to the bottom line (abortion? guns?
drug prohibition? gambling? war? -- one could argue that all of those
hurt the working class more than the rich, but I doubt that's really
the point). Still, you won't find any conservative proposals to counter
From time immemorial the very purpose of conservatism has been to
defend the rulers against the masses. From time to time that's required
some adjustments to conservative thinking: in America at least, cons
no longer defend the prerogatives of kings and titled aristocracy (not
that they have any problems with the Saudis or Hashemites, or nearly
any tin-pot dictator who lets their companies profit); and they've
given up on slavery (and the most overt expressions of racism), but
still can't stand the idea of unions, and they never have trusted
democracy. For a while they liked the idea that America offered a
chance for equal opportunity (without guaranteeing equal results),
an idea Ponnuru is still fond of, not that he'd actually cross any
of his betters by suggesting we do something about it. For one thing
they'd probably point out that equal opportunity is how we wound up
with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, whereas the worst you'd have to
put up with in a closed oligarchy is someone like Jeb Bush (or, pick
your poison, Donald Trump).
Ponnuru refers to an article by
George Packer: The Republican Class War, probably because the
article starts off a "reformocon" conference organized by Ponnuru's
wife April (high among the Republican Party's "family values" is
nepotism). The reformocons have a book full of policy proposals
that allegedly help the middle if not the lower class, but none of
the things Packer mentions looks promising. Ponnuru cites a study
on opportunity mentioned by Packer then dismisses it with another
study on something else. He continues:
When he moved to macroeconomics, Packer was on even shakier ground:
"Inequality saps the economy by draining the buying power of Americans
whose incomes have stagnated, forcing them to rely on debt to fund
education, housing, and health care. At the top, it creates deep
pools of wealth that have nowhere productive to go, leading to asset
bubbles in capital markets bearing little or no relation to the health
of the overall economy. (Critics call this the "financialization" of
the economy.) These fallouts from inequality were among the causes of
the Great Recession."
Saying that "inequality" has caused income stagnation is
question-begging. If most Americans are experiencing stagnant incomes,
that would cause difficulties regardless of how the top 1 percent is
doing. In the 1980s and 1990s, though, income growth for most people
coincided with rising inequality. And the theory that inequality
leads to financial crises has a weak evidentiary basis.
Uh, 1907? 1929? 2008? That's a pretty strong series. Maybe some
lesser recessions don't correlate so well: 1979-81 was induced by
the Fed's anti-inflation hysteria, so the recovery was unusual as
well. Income stagnation also started with the early 1980s recession,
as did the first major tax cuts for the rich, although even larger
sources of inequality that decade were trade deficits (resulting
in a major sell-off of assets to foreign investors) and real estate
fraud (bankrupting the S&L industry, resulting in a recession).
In the 1990s the main sources of inequality were the massive bid-up
of the stock market and a loosening of bank regulations, and they
too led to a recession in 2001. The labor market did tigheten up
enough in the late 1990s for real wages to rise a bit, but that
was wiped out in the following recession, and the "Bush recovery"
was the worst to date at generating new jobs, as it was fueled
almost exclusively by debt and fraud.
Packer finally splits from the reformocons, and Ponnuru's reaction
is basically a hand wave.
"The reformocons, for all their creativity and eloquence, don't grasp
the nature of the world in which their cherished middle-class Americans
actually live," Packer said. "They can't face its heartlessness."
I don't mean to sound heartless myself when I say that no sensible
policy agenda is going to protect all towns and industries from the
effects of global competition and technological change. But most members
of the vast American middle class aren't looking for work in the steel
mills or wishing they could be.
Ponnuru may not relish it, but being heartless is part of what it
takes to be a conservative these days. So is being a devious little
prevaricator. Let me close this section with a couple paragraphs from
Packer (starting with the one on macro that Ponnuru thinks he disproved,
because it's so very succinctly stated):
Inequality saps the economy by draining the buying power of Americans
whose incomes have stagnated, forcing them to rely on debt to fund
education, housing, and health care. At the top, it creates deep pools
of wealth that have nowhere productive to go, leading to asset bubbles
in capital markets bearing little or no relation to the health of the
over-all economy. (Critics call this the "financialization" of the
economy.) These fallouts from inequality were among the causes of the
Great Recession.Inequality is also warping America's political system. Greatly
concentrated wealth leads to outsized political power in the hands
of the few -- even in a democracy with free and fair elections --
which pushes government to create rules that favor the rich. It's
no accident that we're in the era of Citizens United. Such rulings
give ordinary Americans the strong suspicion that the game is rigged.
Democratic institutions no longer feel legitimate when they continue
to produce blatantly unfair outcomes; it's one of those insights that
only an élite could miss. And it's backed up by evidence as well as
by common sense. Last year, two political scientists found that, in
recent times, policy ideas have rarely been adopted by the U.S.
government unless they're favored by corporations and the wealthy --
even when those ideas are supported by most Americans. The persistence
of the highly unpopular carried-interest loophole for hedge-fund
managers is simply the most unseemly example.
Some scattered links this week:
Dan Sanchez: On Veterans Day, Who Should Thank Whom?:
Randolph Bourne famously wrote, "War is the health of the State." By that
he meant that foreign wars nourish domestic tyranny because they place
people into a siege mentality that makes them more apt to give up their
freedoms for the sake of the war effort. And indeed, the American national
security state, from militarized cops to domestic spying, has metastasized
under the cover of the War on Terror.
So, no, the activity of U.S. soldiers has not secured our freedoms, but
eroded them. More specifically, contrary to the common argument discussed
above, the troops are not busy protecting freedom of speech for all
Americans, including those who are anti-war. Rather, by contributing to
foreign wars, they make it more likely that someday the country's siege
mentality will get so bad that speech (especially anti-war speech) will
Since foreign wars are inimical to domestic freedom, it is those who
strenuously oppose war who are actually fighting for freedom. If not for
opponents and skeptics of war, we would have even more war than we do.
And in that case, individual freedoms would have been even more infringed
I grew up visiting houses that had pictures of young men in uniform
on their shelves and mantles, mostly from WWII, some from Korea. My
grandfather went to Europe for the Great War: I don't recall any photos
but he came back with a couple ribbons and medals. Some relatives posted
a couple of those photos on Facebook, and I found them touching -- not
so much that I thought they did anything worthwhile as because they
were just ordinary Americans who happened to get caught up in America's
last popular war. On the other hand, we had no such photos in my house,
not because my father didn't get drafted into the war but because he
considered the experience so pointless. That probably contributed to
my skepticism about the army, but Vietnam sealed my opposition. Ever
since my opposition to war has only grown. I know a handful of people
who went to Iraq, and I have nothing to say to them: I can't thank
them because they did nothing worthwhile, and I can't apologize to
them because I did everything I reasonably could to keep them from
going. So for me all Veteran's Day does is remind me of old (and in
many cases now dead) men, who thankfully survived the holocaust and
returned to live relatively normal lives -- no one in my family
perished in that war -- something I can't say for the atrocities
that came later. The only heroes from those wars are the people
who opposed them.
David Atkins: The Morning After Paris: What Do We Do Now?:
A generally thoughtful piece, although sometimes he thinks himself into
odd positions, especially when he tries to counter straw puppets from
the left, but this bit of equivalence with the right resonates:
Ultimately, what drives both domestic jingoist conservatism and ISIL's
brand of extremism is a commitment to violent aggression beyond its own
borders, a weird fetishization of guns and gun violence, a misogynistic
hatred of sexual freedom for women and non-traditional relationships of
all kind, and a deep commitment to conservative religious fundamentalism
and patriarchal gerontocracy as the organizational structures of society.
Earlier he wrote:
The immediate reaction from many on the left is to simply blame the
problem on blowback, insisting that if Western powers simply stopped
trying to exert influence on the Middle East, terrorism would not
reach Western shores. Many liberals further argue that the social
problems in most middle eastern countries suffering from extremist
violence are the direct result of a history of imperialism and
These are thornier arguments to dismiss, not only because they
contain a great deal of truth, but also because unlike conservative
claims that are testable and false, the blowback argument is
He also charges liberals with "special pleading," which he tries
to disprove by comparing the CIA coups in Iran and Chile, noting
that the latter "has not led to decades of Chilean anti-American
terrorism." He doesn't bother adding that even after Pinochet fell
the US didn't impose sanctions on Chile, or shoot down Chilean air
liners, or blow up Chilean oil rigs -- clear instances of American
belligerence, some of which if done by anyone else would meet our
definition of terrorism. Nor does he admit that there's not much if
any case that Iran has actually committed any acts of anti-American
terror. Anti-American sentiment? Sure, but that's not unknown in
Chile either. But these are minor quibbles, and clearly the effects
of colonialism, imperialism, and cronyism on the Middle East are
more layered and more complex than this caricature. (Also note that
"blowback" isn't always so indirect: when the US armed the Afghan
mujahideen and Hekmatyar and Bin Laden later turned on the US, that
wasn't "unfalsifiable.") Atkins carries his confusion forward:
One could step back and remove all Western influence from the region,
both in Syria and in Iraq. One could simply let the Shi'ites, Kurds,
Syrian Assad loyalists and Syrian anti-Assad moderates (if any exist)
battle it out themselves and hope that some combination of the above
emerges victorious, trying not to draw any of their ire and taking
in as many refugees from the war-ravaged conflict zones as possible.
But it's highly unlikely that the attacks against the West would stop,
it's likely that their propaganda would be increasingly successful at
radicalizing young men in the West, and it's certainly true that
populations across Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East would
be greatly harmed by allowing ISIL to expand. Even if America and its
allies immediately abandoned all conflict in the Middle East, terrorism
would likely continue -- and even 30 years from now the Glenn Greenwalds
of the world would still say any such attacks were just so much blowback.
Those outcomes and that ideology are not acceptable at a moral or a
Atkins' conjecture here (and it's really nothing more) -- that Islamic
groups will continue to commit acts of terror in the West even if the US
and its allies cease all provocations -- is unfalsifiable as well, because
it's not going to be tested: US business has too much money at stake to
back away, and US military power has too much ego at stake to back down.
(One might imagine a political challenge to the latter, but it's hard to
see where it might come from: clearly not Clinton, and even nominal critics
of US war policy Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul are pretty compromised.) But
one reason to doubt Atkins is that no less an authority than Bin Laden has
stated that if the provocations cease, so will the attacks in the West. I'm
not sure that the anonymous intellects behind ISIS have thought this through
so rigorously, but Atkins seems to have bought the whole party line on their
inhumanity -- "an active group of murderous, barbaric theocratic cutthroats
who adore violence, desire and rape women as a matter of official policy,
desecrate and destroy monuments that have stood for thousands of years, and
seek to establish a regional and global caliphate with the goal of a final
battle against the Great Satan" -- a definition that is far outside the
bounds of any group in the history (and not just of Islam). It clearly
serves the interest of Americans who want to escalate the war against ISIS
to inflate such visions of evil, and I fear Atkins' repetition of these
claims just helps them out.
My own prescription for what the US should be doing is straightforward:
- We should eschew the use of force to settle any and all disputes in
the region (or anywhere else, really, but let's focus here on the Middle
East). Consequently, we should negotiate a multilateral arms embargo for
the entire region (including Egypt, Israel, the Arabian peninsula, Iran,
and Turkey), and we should move toward this unilaterally as long as doing
so doesn't create a vacuum to be filled with other arms suppliers.
- We should promote and facilitate negotiations aimed at resolving all
conflicts and protecting minority and individual human rights in accordance
with well-established international standards (like the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights).
- We should negotiate an international treaty which establishes a new
human right: to exile, which allows anyone jailed or otherwise endangered
anywhere to appeal to be granted asylum elsewhere.
- We should be willing to grant amnesty to anyone (including ISIS) that
agrees to participate in peaceable democratic conflict resolution. We
should recognize that disarmament is a goal of this process, not a
- We should back up these diplomatic appeals with economic aid.
Conversely, any nations that persist in using violence against their
own people and/or exporting violence abroad should be ostracized
with economic sanctions. (The BDS campaign against Israel is a start
How hard can that be to understand? But in today's media heat, who's
talking like that?
Some more related ISIS links:
Why John Kerry and the French president are calling ISIS "Daesh":
A little history on the ever-shifting arts of naming yourself and your
enemies. Kerry et al. don't like Islamic State (or IS) because it
suggests at least the potential of a single state representing all
Muslims, something they want to nip in the bud. So they've come up
with something meaningless and slightly exotic, DAESH (or Daesh)
derived from the transliterated Arabic initials (like Hamas). Still,
ISIS makes more sense to the rest of us, since it spatially delimits
the Islamic State within Iraq and Syria (actually more accurate than
the broader al-Sham they used to use, which got translated as Levant).
My takeaway is to use ISIS, since I think it is very important to
understand that their rump state is an artifact of the lost control
of the governments in Damascus and Baghdad. On the other hand, I'm
not sure that the aspiring but still pre-state groups in Libya,
Yemen, etc., are all that linked with ISIS. Still, Islamic State
is clearly a concept (and increasingly a brand name) that resonates
with a good many people outside Syria and Iraq. That matters mostly
because it means that even if the West smashes (or as Sarkozy put
it "exterminates") ISIS the concept will continue to inspire terror
groups indefinitely. Obama probably understood this when he talked
about "containing and degrading" ISIS -- words that now test as
namby-pamby (compared to defeat and exterminate).
DR Tucker: And That's the Way It Is: Live-Blogging the CBS Democratic
Debate: Bad timing, the evening after the Paris attacks. And, no
big surprise, the Democrats all vow to wage war:
In his opening statement, Sanders condemns the attacks and vows to "rid
this planet of ISIS" as president, before decrying income inequality,
the broken campaign finance system, and calling for a political revolution.
Clinton says prayers are not enough for Paris; we need resolve to bring
the world together to combat jihadist radicals. Clinton vows to fight
terrorism aggressively as president. O'Malley says his heart goes out
to the people of France, and says the US must work collaboratively with
other nations to thwart terrorism.
Sanders seems to prefer using Arab proxies in the war against ISIS,
calling this a "war for the soul of Islam." He doesn't that if this
metaphorical war is fought with real arms, armed warfare will be the
only winner. Clinton insists that ISIS "cannot be contained; it must
be defeated." She doesn't wonder what an American "victory" might mean
for the vanquished, or whether indeed there will be any. David Atkins
has a follow-up post to the one quoted above:
The Right Will Win if the Left Doesn't Forcefully Confront ISIS.
He applauds Hollande and Sanders for "sounding aggressively militaristic
in response." The idea is that leftish politicians should deliberately
act stupid and malicious in order to save electorates from electing
right-wingers who would act stupid and malicious, and in the process
really screw everything up. In the debate, at least, Sanders was able
to scold Clinton, reminding her that her Iraq War vote was profoundly
wrong. Atkins wants to squelch that dissent, and Sanders seems willing
to throw his career away going along. Indeed, it's reasonable to argue
that had the 2003 Iraq War not happened, ISIS would never have come
around. On the other hand, it did, and we're here. Still, that doesn't
make bowing to a flare-up of war fever right just because it is (for
the moment) popular. Saddam Hussein was painted as every bit as evil
then as ISIS is now. But it really doesn't matter how evil the enemy
is if you can't do anything constructive about it, and we've proven
that we can't. One more thing: while Sanders voted against Iraq, he
did vote for the post-9/11 Afghanistan War -- in the heat of the moment,
you might say. To my mind, that was the real strategic blunder.
Alissa J Rubin/Anne Barnard: France Strikes ISIS Targets in Syria in
Retaliation for Attacks: Hollande, having vowed to be "unforgiving
with the barbarians," takes the path with the least mental effort, not
to mention conscience, and goes straight after command headquarters
in Raqqa. Of course, they wouldn't have been able to react so quickly
except that they were already bombing Syria. The article also quotes
Nicolas Sarkozy saying, "We need everybody in order to exterminate
Daesh." Grammar isn't totally clear there, but the genocide word is.
Peter Beinart: ISIS Is Not Waging a War Against Western Civilization:
Mostly critiques some particularly dumb things Marco Rubio said. Beinart,
who has a checkered history of first supporting and then having second
thoughts about America's wars in the Middle East -- he wrote one book,
The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War
on Terror which can be read as why conservatives are clueless, and
another The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris. He
concludes here that "both morally and strategically, limiting -- and
ultimately eliminating -- the Islamic State's nightmarish dominion
over millions of human beings justifies war," but he also argues that
it's mostly geopolitics and not some clash of civilizations. One thing
I will add is that even if you accept Beinart's conclusion that war
against ISIS is justified, it doesn't follow that the US is the one
that should be fighting that war. Given Beinart's track record, he'll
figure that out . . . eventually.
Beinart's pre-Paris piece is better:
The Mindless Logic of Republican Foreign Policy: Sure, it's like
shooting sitting ducks. But at least he's still skeptical on Syria:
The experience of the last 15 years offers little reason to believe
that waging a larger war in Syria will make Syria more stable or
America more safe. But for most of the GOP presidential contenders,
that's irrelevant. It doesn't really matter where American foreign
policy leads, as long as America leads.
Peter Van Buren: Paris: You Don't Want to Read This:
But I do have this: stop what we have been doing for the last 14 years.
It has not worked. There is nothing at all to suggest it ever will work.
Whack-a-mole is a game, not a plan. Leave the Middle East alone. Stop
creating more failed states. Stop throwing away our freedoms at home on
falsehoods. Stop disenfranchising the Muslims who live with us. Understand
the war, such as it is, is against a set of ideas -- religious, anti-western,
anti-imperialist -- and you cannot bomb an idea. Putting western soldiers
on the ground in the MidEast and western planes overhead fans the flames.
Vengeance does not and cannot extinguish an idea.
Chris Floyd: Age of Despair: Reaping the Whirlwind of Western Support
for Extremist Violence:
Without the American crime of aggressive war against Iraq -- which, by
the measurements used by Western governments themselves, left more than
a million innocent people dead -- there would be no ISIS, no "Al Qaeda
in Iraq." Without the Saudi and Western funding and arming of an amalgam
of extremist Sunni groups across the Middle East, used as proxies to
strike at Iran and its allies, there would be no ISIS. Let's go back
further. Without the direct, extensive and deliberate creation by the
United States and its Saudi ally of a world-wide movement of armed Sunni
extremists during the Carter and Reagan administrations (in order to
draw the Soviets into a quagmire in Afghanistan), there would have been
no "War on Terror" -- and no terrorist attacks in Paris tonight.
[ . . . ]
I write in despair. Despair of course at the depravity displayed by
the murderers of innocents in Paris tonight; but an even deeper despair
at the depravity of the egregious murderers who have brought us to this
ghastly place in human history: those gilded figures who have strode
the halls of power for decades in the high chambers of the West, killing
innocent people by the hundreds of thousands, crushing secular opposition
to their favored dictators -- and again, again and again -- supporting,
funding and arming some of the most virulent sectarians on earth.
Jason Ditz: Yazidis Burn Muslim Homes in 'Liberated' Iraqi City of
Sinjar: What goes around comes around.
ISIS carried out several bloody attacks against the Yazidis early in
their takeover of the region, and labeled the homes of Sinjar's Sunni
residents as such, apparently to advise their forces to leave them
alone in their various crackdowns. Now, the homes labeled Sunni are
Sunnis are often the targets of violent recriminations after ISIS
loses control of cities and towns, under the presumption that anyone
ISIS wasn't persecuting (or at least was persecuting less publicly)
must've been secretly collaborating with them.
Patrick Cockburn: Paris Terror Attacks: No Security Can Stop ISIS --
the Bombers Will Always Get Through, and
Paris Attack: ISIS Has Created a New Kind of Warfare.
Graeme Wood: What ISIS Really Wants: This is evidently the source
of the notion that ISIS is obsessed with hastening the apocalypse
that Atkins cites in his pieces. I have no way of judging such views,
but I am skeptical that there is a single idea and a single motivation
behind a group the size of ISIS. I'll also note that there are plenty
of Christians who are similarly obsessed with end times, and while we
don't often talk about them, some have even had an inordinate amount of
influence when it comes to the Middle East. (One I am aware of was David
Lloyd George, Britain's Prime Minister who oversaw the Balfour Declaration,
which announced Britain's intention to facilitate the return of the Jews
to Palestine, as foretold in the Book of Revelations. Another, who's been
very vocal on the subject of late, is former GOP presidential candidate
Scott Atran: Mindless terrorists? The truth about Isis is much worse:
Another attempt to probe the ISIS mind, this one focusing on the
psychological appeal of jihad to young Western Muslims -- the
recruiting grounds for attacks like the ones in Paris. One lesson
I draw from this is the importance of establishing the perception
that the West treats the Muslim world fairly and justly. Another
is that the rising racism and bigotry that prevents Muslims from
assimilating in the West helps drive them against us.
If I stayed up a few more hours I could collect many more ISIS
links, but this will have to be enough for now. I doubt that my
main points will change any. And I don't mind the occasional
pieces that show you how maniacal ISIS can be. None prove that
the US military is the answer.
Monday, November 9. 2015
Nothing from Crowson this week: he wasted his editorial space with
a celebration of the World Series victors. I enjoyed the Kansas City
Royals' wins, too -- even watched a couple innings of Game 2, where
I didn't recognize a single name but had no problem understanding the
many nuances of the game. At least that much doesn't change much, or
The main topic this week is the mental and moral rot that calls
itself conservatism, also known as the Republican Party. Scattered
Anne Kim: The GOP's Flat Tax Folly: It seems like every Republican
presidential candidate has his own special tax jiggering plan, although
they all have common features, namely letting the rich pay less (so
they can save more) and increasing the federal deficit (hoping to trim
that back a bit by cutting spending, although not on "defense" or on
privatization schemes or on putting more people in jail). And those
who lack the staff or imagination to come up with signature schemes
fall back on the so-called "flat tax" scam (even more euphamistically
called "the fair tax" -- as spelled out in Neal Boortz's The Fair
Tax Book): Kim's list of flat-taxers includes Rand Paul, Lindsey
Graham, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson, who likens the tax
to a tithe. One thing flat-taxers always claim is that a single rate
would greatly simplify the income tax code, but today's "complicated"
rate chart is maybe two pages of the code. Reducing that to one line
in an age where everything is computerized is nothing. All the rest
of the complexity addresses the many questions of what is (or is not)
income, at least for taxability purposes. For individuals who don't
have many itemizable deductions that's already been simplified, but
for businesses that's where all the complexity comes in. The loopholes
for any given business may vary, but the bottom line is that businesses
(including self-employed individuals) get to deduct many expenses that
the rest of us cannot. The flat-taxers may think they're going to cut
through a lot of special cases, but it's often hard to separate perks
out from necessary expenses, to take one example. Another complicating
factor is that we often implement policy through tax incentives. For
instance, the tax code favors property owners over renters, married
people over single, and families with dependent children over those
without (although not nearly as much as the actual increased cost of
maintaining those children). The tax code has long favored private
health insurance (effectively subsidizing it), and since ACA added
penalties for those who are uninsured (who are, after all, not only
hurting themselves but becoming public liabilities). And this list
could go on and on, from things that seem eminently reasonable to
others that are truly perverse (like the oil depletion allowance).
If the economy itself were totally fair -- if all markets were
optimally transparent and competitive, and if had enough leverage
they could fully share in productivity gains and profits -- then a
flat income tax might also be a fair tax (although it would be easier
to account for and collect a business-only tax like a VAT). However,
virtually everything in the private sector economy is unbalanced in
ways that favor property owners and limit potential competitors. The
result, as we plainly see today, is vast and increasing inequality,
which at its current stage is undermining democracy and tearing at
the social fabric. Indeed, this is happening despite a current tax
system which is still progressive: which taxes the rich more than
it taxes the poor, and which provides some redistribution from rich
to poor. In this context, the flat tax does three things, all bad:
it reduces the tax on the rich, increasing inequality; it increases
taxes on the poor and at least half of all working Americans, in
many cases pushing them into (or deeper into) poverty; and it kills
the critical idea of progressivity in tax collection. If anything,
we need to extend the notion of progressivity throughout the tax
system. For instance, we currently have a flat tax on capital gains
and dividends -- almost exclusively a favor to the rich -- but both
are forms of income. If anything, as unearned income you can make
a case for taxing them more progressively -- since they contribute
more to inequality, and since the tax rate has no disincentive.
(A higher tax rate offers more incentive to hide income through
fraud, but not to gain the income in the first place. I've argued
in the past that the proper framework for calculating a progressive
scale for unearned income should be the lifetime, which would
encourage saving by the young and/or poor.) I'd also like to see
progressive taxes on corporations, which would help even the playing
field between small and large companies. (At present the latter tend
to use their scale advantage to crowd out competition.) Of course,
it's not true that every tax should be progressive. But some taxes
have to be progressive enough to counter the economic system's
built-in bias toward inequality.
As a rule of thumb, any time you hear "flat-tax" or "fair-tax"
you should automatically reject its advocate. Most likely they don't
know what they're talking about, but to the extent that they do they
are out to trash society, the economy, and the public institutions
that make them possible.
Paul Krugman: The Conspiracy Consensus:
So, are we supposed to be shocked over Donald Trump claiming that Janet
Yellen is keeping rates low to help Obama? Folks, this is a widely held
position in the Republican Party; Paul Ryan and John Taylor accused Ben
Bernanke years ago of doing something dastardly by preventing the fiscal
crisis they insist would and should have happened under Obama. If Trump's
remarks seem startling, it's only because the press has soft-pedaled the
conspiracy theorizing of seemingly respectable Republicans.
Uh, doesn't this mean that Trump understands that low interest rates
are the right thing for the economy? Sure, he's pissed that Obama gets
credit for the stimulated growth, but if he were president he'd want the
same low rates so he could get credit for the growth. Maybe he thinks
that Yellen is such a partisan hack that if a Republican were president
she's raise interest rates just to get them blamed for the downturn. On
the other hand, what does that say about Republicans calling for higher
interest rates? That they're willing to harm the economy as long as they
think a Democrat will be blamed for it? On the other hand, when they
were in power, you have Nixon saying "we are all Keynesians now" and
Cheney "deficits don't matter."
Nancy LeTourneau: The Effects of Anti-Knowledge on Democracy:
Starts with a long quote from
Mike Lofgren: The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge -- worth
checking out on its own, among other things because the first thing
you see after a quote attributed to Josh Billings ("The trouble with
people is not that they don't know, but that they know so much that
ain't so.") is a picture of Ben Carson. Lofgren writes about Carson
(evidently before last week's revelations about pyramids and arks):
This brings us inevitably to celebrity presidential candidate Ben Carson.
The man is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every
imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades. Obamacare is
worse than chattel slavery. Women who have abortions are like slave
owners. If Jews had firearms they could have stopped the Holocaust
(author's note: they obtained at least some weapons during the Warsaw
Ghetto rising, and no, it didn't). Victims of a mass shooting in Oregon
enabled their own deaths by their behavior. And so on, ad nauseam.
It is highly revealing that, according to a Bloomberg/Des Moines
Register poll of likely Republican caucus attendees, the stolid
Iowa burghers liked Carson all the more for such moronic utterances.
And sure enough, the New York Times tells us that Carson has
pulled ahead of Donald Trump in a national poll of Republican voters.
Apparently, Trump was just not crazy enough for their tastes.
[ . . . ]
This brings us back to Ben Carson. He now suggests that, rather
than abolishing the Department of Education, a perennial Republican
goal, the department should be used to investigate professors who
say something he doesn't agree with. The mechanism to bring these
heretics to the government's attention should be denunciations from
students, a technique once in vogue in the old Soviet Union.
Perhaps Lofgren was trying to burnish his conservative bona fides
with that Soviet Union example: one closer to the mark would be the
Salem witch trials.
That's why I'd suggest that the root cause of an attraction to
anti-knowledge was the creation of Fox News. What Murdoch managed to
do with that network was to pose the proposition that facts were
merely the liberal media at work. So on one side of the "debate"
you have the conservative garage logic and on the other you have
liberal facts. The rest of the media -- in an attempt to prove they
weren't liberal -- accepted this frame, giving credence to anti-knowledge
as a legitimate position. That traps us into things like having to argue
over whether the science of human's contribution to climate change is
real because denialism is given credence as the opposing conservative
I've seen an argument that right-wing opposition to climate science
is based on the perception (or maybe just intuition) that the whole
thing is just an excuse to promote government regulation; i.e., that
because we reject the solution, we have to deny the problem and all
the science behind it. That only works if the problems aren't real,
which is to say never -- although global warming has had an unusually
long run because people readily confuse the variability of everyday
weather with the uniformity of climate, and because the latter is a
bit too stochastic for certainty. There are many other examples of
this -- taxes, stimulus spending, military intervention, defense
spending, personal guns: all cases where the right-wing holds to
a position based on political conviction regardless of the facts.
Part of the problem here is that right-wingers have taken extreme
stands, based on pure rhetoric, that have seized their brains like
prime directives: like the notion that all government regulation
is bad, or that government is incompetent to act. Part is that
when right-wing "think tanks" have taken problems seriously and
tried to come up with conservative solutions, they've sometimes
been adopted by their enemy (leading one to doubt their sincerity:
cap-and-trade and Obamacare are examples). As the right-wing has
lost more and more arguments, it's only natural that they'd start
to flail at the facts and science that undermines their ideological
positions. From there it's a slippery slope. For many years, the
right has complained about leftists in academia poisoning young
minds, but in 2012 Rick Santorum broke new ground in arguing that
people shouldn't go to college because the very institutions teach
people to think like liberals. Since then the GOP's struggle against
science, reason, and reality has only intensified. That leads us
guys like Carson, and he's far from alone (see, e.g., the flat-tax
Also see LeTourneau's
"Who's to Blame for This Mess?". Most of the post is a quote
Robert Reich post, where Reich is interviewing "a former Republican
member of Congress," who starts out with "They're all nuts" then goes
down the presidential lineup, starting with Carson and Trump ("they're
both out of their f*cking minds") and ending with Bush and Christie
("they're sounding almost as batty as the rest"). He places blame:
"Roger Ailes, David and Charles Koch, Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh.
I could go on. They've poisoned the American mind and destroyed the
LeTourneau has yet another piece,
The Policy Vacuum of Movement Conservatism, where she quotes
Yet by the 1980s, movement conservatism was running out of steam. Its
young radicals had mellowed into moderate statesman. By the 1970s,
Buckley and his fellow conservatives had abandoned the radical idea
of "rollback" in the Cold War and made their peace with the more
cautious Cold War liberal policy of containment. In the 1960s, Reagan
denounced Social Security and Medicare as tyrannical, but as president
he did not try to repeal and replace these popular programs. When he
gave up the confrontational evil-empire rhetoric of his first term
toward the Soviet Union and negotiated an end to the Cold War with
Mikhail Gorbachev in his second term, many conservatives felt
betrayed . . .
Indeed, it's fair to say that the three great projects of the post-1955
right -- repealing the New Deal, ultrahawkishness (first anti-Soviet, then
pro-Iraq invasion) and repealing the sexual/culture revolution -- have
completely failed. Not only that, they are losing support among GOP voters.
On the other hand, Lind omits the one project that Reagan and successors
succeeded spectacularly at: tilting the economy to favor the well-to-do,
especially at the expense of organized labor. One might argue -- I would
emphatically disagree -- that Reagan offered a necessary correction to
the liberal/egalitarian tilt of the previous five decades, but what's
happened since then has tipped the nation way too far back toward the
rich. And it's clear that the right, like the rich, has no concept of
too much and no will to turn their rhetoric back toward center. Still,
they can only keep pushing their same old nostrums, even having watched
them fail so universally under Bush. Lind's generation of conservatives
may have mellowed as he claims, but there have been at least two later
points when the Republicans turned starkly toward the right -- in the
1990s under Gingrich continuing through the Bush administration, and
after 2009 with the Tea Party doubling down in the wake of failure.
Moreover, they haven't given up on the defeats Lind identified, even
though they continue to look like losing propositions. Indeed, it's
hard to see that they have any viable policy options, leaving them
with little beyond their conviction that all they really need is the
right character -- maybe a Trump or maybe a Carson. After all, they
wrap themselves so ostentatiously in piety and patriotic jingoism
that they feel entitled to rule, even when they lose as bad as McCain
did to Obama.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't
have time for this shit right now):
Olga Khazan: Middle-Aged White Americans Are Dying of Despair:
One of the most disturbing discoveries of the last twenty years: the
average life expectancy in Russia took an alarming downturn after the
fall of communism. When I was growing up, one thing we could take for
granted was that we were making progress on nearly all fronts, one
being that we could expect to live longer lives, and our children
longer still. Russia showed that politically-engendered economic
despair could end and even reverse that progress. But who thought
it could happen here? I first read these reports a year ago and did
a quick inventory. On my mother's side of the family, I have a cohort
of 20 cousins, b. 1925-43. The first of those cousins to die was in
2003 (emphysema, i.e. cigarettes). The youngest to die was 71, in
2011, and the youngest still alive has beat that. The oldest still
alive is 89. But a number of their children are already gone: the
first a victim of the Vietnam War, one to a car wreck, one to cancer
in her 30s, several more (and my records are incomplete). Perhaps the
most striking was one who died at 64, just three days after his father
died at 88. I'm pretty sure all of my cousins did better economically
than their parents, but despite more education that's less true for
the next generation. Just some data, but it fits, and makes the stats
more concrete. Khazan cites the work of two economists who blame
inequality. That's right, but we need a better way to explain how
Paul Krugman also has a comment on this, including this chart
which shows a downward trend in deaths for all the charted wealthy
countries (plus US Hispanics), compared to a slight rise among US
The Anne Case/Angus Deaton paper both posts refer to is
Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic
Americans in the 21st century.
Gareth Porter: The New Yorker Doesn't Factcheck What 'Everyone Knows' Is
True: Examines a New Yorker article by Dexter Filkins on the
shooting of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had tried to make a
case that Iran and Hezbollah were responsible for the 1994 bombing of a
Jewish community center (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. I've long be skeptical
about Hezbollah's (and Iran's) guilt here, mostly because it seems out
of character, but it's become such a propaganda point for Israel and
the US that most western journalists (like Filkins) take it for fact.
Nisman's indictment of prominent Iranian and Hezbollah added fire to
the charges, but as Porter points out there is little substance in the
indictment -- the main source is the MEK, an anti-Iranian terrorist
organization originally set up by Saddam Hussein but lately primarily
used by Israel to disseminate disinformation about Iran's nuclear
program. Nisman further charged that Argentine presidents Carlos Menem
and Cristina Kirchner conspired with Iran to cover up the bombing, but
again his evidence is suspicious. As is Nisman's death, apparently a
suicide but still, like the bombing, unresolved.
David Waldman: Good guy with a gun takes out a theater shooter! GunFAIL
CLXIII: What's that, 168? Looks like Waldman's been collecting
stories of gun mishaps for a while now, and this is about one week's
worth (Oct. 11-17, 2015): 47 events. The title refers to a guy in
Salina, KS who was watching a movie and fidgeting with a gun in his
pant-pocket, finally shooting himself in the leg (i.e., the "theater
shooter" he "took out" was himself).
Sunday, November 1. 2015
Some scattered links this week:
Gary Legum: Sam Brownback is a harbinger of national doom: Bleeding
Kansas' scary lesson for America: Brownback's approval ratings
are down to 18%, about where Bush's were when his presidency ended.
Crowson put it like this:
Of course, Brownback wasn't much more popular when he was reëlected
governor in 2014, but the trick there is to play up the fear of the
unknown Democrat -- that plus a mysterious shift where Republicans
across the board ran about five points higher than the polls predicted.
Brownback's income tax cuts, including a free ride for business owners,
passed early in his first term, and immediately blew a $600 billion
hole in the state budget, leading to massive spending cuts and tax
increases (both state and local, all regressive) to keep government
marginally functional. Kansas had gotten through the early stages
of the Great Recession relatively well, mostly because there was
relatively little real estate bubble to pop, but since Brownback
became governor economic growth has lagged in every comparison.
This should be no surprise to anyone who knows the first thing
about macroeconomics: just as more government spending stimulates
more economic growth, less undermines growth (or worse). What's
harder to calculate is how much long-term damage this level of
economic strangulation will cause -- especially the hardships to
be inflicted on a whole generation of students -- but there can
be no doubt that harm is being done.
Legum properly sees Kansas
as a warning to the nation of what happens when Republicans get
too much (or actually any -- his other example is Wisconsin)
power, especially when led by an ambitious ideologue. Legum
quips: "The biggest mystery about Brownback at this point is
that he has been such an awful governor, it's a wonder he's not
running for president." Brownback did run for president in 2008
and quit after he couldn't top 2% in Iowa polls. He then decided
to give up his Senate seat and run for governor to prove himself
as an executive and, well, he simply hasn't done that yet -- in
fact, his unwillingness to compromise on rolling back some of his
income tax cuts last year shows he's still convinced that they'll
pan out eventually. Besides, the early field for governors with
hideous records was already overfull with Scott Walker and Bobby
Jindal (whose approval rates in Louisiana are even worse), plus
his Bible buddy Rick Perry was running -- sure, that niche has
opened up with Perry and Walker the first dropouts, but nothing
suggests that Brownback would do any better.
Paul Krugman: The Hamptons Hyperinflation Endorsement:
As a public service, some background to Marco Rubio's latest campaign
coup. As the Times reports, Paul Singer -- a huge contributor to
Republican causes -- has thrown his support behind Rubio.
What it doesn't mention are two facts about Paul Singer that are,
I think, relevant.
First, he's most famous for his practice of buying up distressed
debt of Third World governments, then suing to demand full repayment.
Second, he's an inflation truther -- with an unusual twist.
[ . . . ] But Singer has taken a different tack:
he knows, just knows, that inflation is running away because of what
it's doing to the prices of the things he cares about:
Check out London, Manhattan, Aspen and East Hampton real estate prices,
as well as high-end art prices, to see what the leading edge of
hyperinflation could look like.
Even if you only know one thing about economics, it's probably
that prices rise on fixed goods when buyers have more money to
spend. If the price of Aspen real estate is going up faster than
the general rate of inflation, it's because the people who are
in the market to buy that real estate are bidding each other up,
and what makes that possible is that they have more money to
spend. That would be obvious for a commodity, but real estate
and fine art are also thought of as assets, so it's easy for
buyers to fool themselves into thinking they're worth all they
paid. One sign of increasing inequality is asset inflation,
and the more the merrier.
Also see Richard Silverstein on Singer:
Pro-Israel Hedge Fund Billionaire, Paul Singer, Buys Large Stake
in Rubio Inc..
Rubio also appears in
Policy and Character, but more importantly Krugman gets to
remind you of how prescient he's been in the past, and it's a
case worth repeating:
My view here is strongly influenced by the story of George W. Bush.
Younger readers may not know or remember how it was back in 2000,
but back then the universal view of the commentariat was that W was
a moderate, amiable, bluff and honest guy. I was pretty much alone
taking his economic proposals -- on taxes and Social Security --
seriously. And what I saw was a level of dishonesty and irresponsibility,
plus radicalism, that was unprecedented in a major-party presidential
candidate. So I was out there warning that Bush was a bad, dangerous
guy no matter how amiable he seemed. [ . . . ]
And proposing wildly unaffordable stuff is itself a declaration of
priorities: Rubio is saying that keeping the Hair Club for Growth happy
is more important to him than even a pretense of fiscal responsibility.
Or if you like, what we've seen is a willingness to pander without
constraint or embarrassment.
Tom Engelhardt: Campaign 2016 as a Demobilizing Spectacle: No
less than a short history of post-WWII America pivoting around the
question of when and where the American public is actively engaged
("mobilized") in public affairs, or not. For instance, he quotes
Bernie Sanders: "We need to mobilize tens of millions of people to
begin to stand up and fight back and to reclaim the government,
which is now owned by big money." He ten adds a telling example:
"We do, of course, have one recent example of a mobilization in an
election season. In the 2008 election, the charismatic Barack Obama
created a youthful, grassroots movement, a kind of cult of personality
that helped sweep him to victory, only to demobilize it as soon as
he entered the Oval Office." He doesn't mention the Tea Party, but
that's another reflection of the sense that the government has turned
into an alien entity that needs to be "taken back" (perhaps because
they view it as something to be destroyed rather than restored as an
instrument of the public interest).
The desire to take the American public out of the "of the people, by
the people, for the people" business can minimally be traced back to
the Vietnam War, to the moment when a citizen's army began voting with
its feet and antiwar sentiment grew to startling proportions not just
on the home front, but inside a military in the field. It was then
that the high command began to fear the actual disintegration of the
Not surprisingly, there was a deep desire never to repeat such an
experience. (No more Vietnams! No more antiwar movements!) As a result,
on January 27, 1973, with a stroke of the pen, President Richard Nixon
abolished the draft, and so the citizen's army. With it went the sense
that Americans had an obligation to serve their country in time of war
From that moment on, the urge to demobilize the American people and
send them to Disney World would only grow. First, they were to be removed
from all imaginable aspects of war making. Later, the same principle
would be applied to the processes of government and to democracy itself.
In this context, for instance, you could write a history of the monstrous
growth of secrecy and surveillance as twin deities of the American state:
the urge to keep ever more information from the citizenry and to see ever
more of what those citizens were doing in their own private time. Both
should be considered demobilizing trends.
The line that stands out there is "No more antiwar movements!" --
most likely because antiwar movements question not just the strategy
of a particular war but the material basis that makes it possible to
fight wars, and the very morality of starting wars. Also, in the case
of the United States, it is very easy to uncover a long list of dubious
choices that led to war -- many taken in secret and covered up by the
self-perpetuating security state.
Robert Parry: A Glimmer of Hope for Syria: For many years one of
the best sources on the Middle East has been Paul Woodward's
War in Context blog, but
something unfunny happened a few years back when he started giving
half or more of his blog to articles that seemed to be promoting
western intervention in the Syrian Civil War. That didn't render
the blog worthless, but it gave it an off odor. (An example today is
Syria's horror shows the tragic price of Western inaction. I
wouldn't call any of these things inaction: Obama's speech telling
Assad he had to step down, the CIA's many attempts to train and arm
"moderate" opposition groups, the "red line" ultimatum on chemical
weapons, the arming of Kurdish troops operating in Syria, the bombing
of all things ISIS, last week's insertion of Special Forces into
Syria. And while I'm not sure what Woodward means by "Western" the
US, at least, is at least partly complicit in the acts of its allies
like Israel, Turkey (above and beyond NATO), Jordan, Saudi Arabia,
and Qatar -- the first three have bombed Syria, and the latter two
have at least shipped arms and money into the war. If anything there's
been way too much action -- a charge I don't exempt Russia, Iran, and
Hezbollah from.) Woodward doesn't flinch from the human tragedy the
war has wrought, but the notion that some "action" is what's needed
to bring the war to a just (or merely sane) close is magical thinking
of the most fantastical sort. The only thing that can work is some
form of agreement where all sides give up the war. Parry's article
gives you some background, and a bit of hope. (The part I don't see
as hopeful is that while he posits that Russia and Iran may press
Assad to compromise, which is indeed essential, I don't see any
comparable pressure to get the US to step down. Indeed, it seems
to be a common hope that an agreement on Damascus will make it
possible for the US, Russia, and Iran to join forces in demolishing
ISIS, which is to say in not ending the war.) Also worth reading
along these lines is
Jimmy Carter: A Five-Nation Plan to End the Syrian Crisis. Still,
even Carter's endgame leaves ISIS fighting:
Mr. Assad's governing authority could then be ended in an orderly
process, an acceptable government established in Syria, and a concerted
effort could then be made to stamp out the threat of the Islamic State.
Scaling the civil war back to just ISIS vs. the world would be
preferable to the status quo, but certainly isn't optimal.
The US Spends $35 Billion Helping Out the World . . . But Where Does All
This Money Really Go?: Well, the graphic says it all:
I doubt this factors in the money the Defense Department and the
CIA spend -- Afghanistan would be much larger -- but it does seem to
count some money not destined for established governments (e.g., Syria,
but where is Libya?). Of course, Israel you know about, and its two
neighboring dictatorships, primarily tasked with keeping Palestinians
pent up on their reservations in Gaza and the West Bank. One thing
this shows is the extent to which "economic aid" has been reduced to
a slush fund for America's imperial ventures. Another is that the US
is becoming increasingly entangled in Africa.
DR Tucker: The Dawn of Darkness:
This Wednesday marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of one of the great
tragedies in American history, a moment of indelible shame, a choice
that harmed so many in this country and around the world: the defeat
of President Jimmy Carter at the hands of right-wing former California
Governor Ronald Reagan. [ . . . ]
Reagan's economic agenda literally took from the poor and gave to
the rich. His race-baiting on the 1980 campaign trail and his demonization
of civil rights as president laid the foundation for reckless Republican
rhetoric on race during the Obama era. His illegal wars in Central America
and his irresponsible invasion of Grenada served as the model for George
W. Bush's Iraq misadventure. His scorn of environmental concerns put us
on the painful path to a climate crisis.
Amen. I'll add that while the full horror of those points only became
clear over time, even back when Reagan was president I frequently noted
that under him the only growth industry in America is fraud.
David Atkins: Will the Press Recognize the Existential Threat and Fight
Back, or Buckle Under?:
It should astonish even the jaded that Republicans are calling CNBC,
that stodgy home of supply-side Wall Street cheerleading, an agent of
Still apoplectic at being asked some basic questions at the debate,
Republican candidates are doubling down on their freakout.
Ted Cruz is flat-out calling CNBC debate moderators "left-wing
operatives" and demanding that right-wing radio hosts moderate their
Donald Trump, who openly lied during the debate about what is on
his own website, called debate moderator John Harwood a "dope" and
All of this after Republican candidates spewed forth one of the
most embarrassing explosion of lies ever witnessed during a television
The press is facing an existential threat. With Republicans
increasingly unashamed to tell grandiose lies and respond to any
press criticism with derogatory insults and whines about media bias
as well as blackmail threats to cancel appearances if the questions
are too tough, the press must decide how to respond on two fronts.
First, it must decide how to present an objective face while
acknowledging that both sides do not, in fact, behave equally
badly. Second, it must determine whether it will continue to ask
the tough questions that need answers regardless of the threats
made by the GOP, or whether it will meekly submit to the demands
for kid-glove treatment.
Atkins also argues that
Debate Questions Naturally Lean Left Because Mainstream Voters and
Reality Do. One piece of evidence here is how often the right
starts to dissemble when they plan on doing something unpopular --
like when Bush dubbed his giveaway bill to the timber industry the
"health forests initiative." Brownback moved heaven and earth in
2014 to try to convince Kansans that he was the education governor,
after years of underfunding schools and attacking teacher rights.
This doesn't necessarily mean that voters lean that far left --
all they need to do is come in left of the Republicans, which isn't
hard to do: a little decency and integrity suffices.
The fact that Republicans have more unpopular positions and a weaker
track record of success isn't the fault of debate moderators. It's
the fault of Republican candidates and their ideology.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted):
Rebecca Gordon: How the US Created Middle East Mayhem: Provides an
explanation why Tunisia alone among the "Arab Spring" countries seems
to have developed into a viable democracy -- while there are some local
factors of note, one big one is that the US hadn't had much involvement
or interest in Tunisia, especially its military. Gordon goes on to report
on the region's "Arab Spring" failures: Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and
Syria -- each of those are nations the US and/or its so-called allies
have repeatedly interfered in. Supposedly these are all nations the US
state and defense departments regard as "vital national interests" --
yet somehow stability, popular democratic rights, and social justice
aren't reckoned as things that matter.
James George Jatras: Benghazi: What Neither Hillary Nor the Republicans
Want to Talk About: I'm afraid I'm not following all of this, but
it is clear that the ending of the Gaddafi regime put a large amount of
weapons into circulation, and it seems not unlikely that the CIA was in
Benghazi to help direct some of those weapons to supposed allies/clients
in Syria and possibly elsewhere.
Dylan Matthews: Ben Carson accidentally stumbled on a great idea for
improving education: James Hamblin quotes Carson: "Wouldn't it
make more sense to put the money in a pot and redistribute it throughout
the country so that public schools are equal, whether you're in a poor
area or a wealthy area?" Carson eventually walked part of that back, but
he stumbled onto a basic truth: the federal government has much stronger
tax authority than state/local government, plus has the ability to run
deficits, but most government spending, especially on things that (unlike
the military) directly affect Americans, is done at the state and local
level. Figuring out a scheme to redistribute tax receipts from the federal
level down would eliminate a lot of inequities -- especially the current
race-to-the-bottom of giving tax subsidies to businesses -- and provide
more robust support for essential government spending.
George Monbiot: Indonesia is burning. So why is the world looking
away? Massive forest fires in the US have been a news staple,
but this one is new to me:
A great tract of Earth is on fire. It looks as you might imagine hell
to be. The air has turned ochre: visibility in some cities has been
reduced to 30 metres. Children are being prepared for evacuation in
warships; already some have choked to death. Species are going up in
smoke at an untold rate. It is almost certainly the greatest environmental
disaster of the 21st century -- so far.
Well, it is far away from here, but it's still the same planet, and
ultimately the same atmosphere:
Fire is raging across the 5,000km length of Indonesia. It is surely, on
any objective assessment, more important than anything else taking place
today. And it shouldn't require a columnist, writing in the middle of a
newspaper, to say so. It should be on everyone's front page. It is hard
to convey the scale of this inferno, but here's a comparison that might
help: it is currently producing more carbon dioxide than the US economy.
And in three weeks the fires have released more CO2 than the annual
emissions of Germany. [ . . . ]
It's not just the trees that are burning. It is the land itself.
Much of the forest sits on great domes of peat. When the fires penetrate
the earth, they smoulder for weeks, sometimes months, releasing clouds
of methane, carbon monoxide, ozone and exotic gases such as ammonium
cyanide. The plumes extend for hundreds of miles, causing diplomatic
conflicts with neighbouring countries.
Thomas Schaller: 55-45 Politics in a 50-50 Country: This looks into
various areas where the Republicans have built-in advantages which skew
power in their favor -- something which includes but extends beyond the
gerrymandered House districts. Then there's also the peculiarity that
Republicans ("the party of no") are more often satisfied simply to
obstruct Democratic initiatives -- a task that the system's numerous
checks and balances favors, as do historical quirks like the Senate
Sunday, October 25. 2015
No real time to write this week's roundup -- it's my birthday
and I'm busy cooking (see the notebook for the menu). But I do
have a bunch of links open in various tabs and I thought I might
share them before they become stale. In no particular order:
Uri Avinery: The Settler's Prussia: In the 19th century, Germany
was, fatefully, taken over by a marginal state on its far northeastern
border, Prussia. Avinery sees the settler movement doing something like
that in Israel. Also see Avinery's
Weep, Beloved Country.
Andrew J Bacevich: Yes, the US can leave Afghanistan:
What we have here is temporizing dressed up in policy drag. It is a
gesture designed to convey an appearance of purposefulness to an
enterprise whose actual purpose has long since vanished in the mists
Having inherited from his predecessor two wars begun in 2001 and
2003, respectively, Obama will bequeath those same two wars to the
person who will succeed him as president in 2017. It is incumbent
upon Americans to contemplate the implications of this disturbing
fact. By their very endlessness, the conflicts in Afghanistan and
Iraq constitute a judgment on American statecraft, one further
compounded by the chaos now enveloping large swaths of the Islamic
world. Here are the consequences that stem from misunderstanding
military power and misusing a military instrument once deemed
Only by owning up to the mindless failure of U.S. military efforts
since 9/11 does it become possible to restore real choice. Alternatives
to open-ended war waged on the other side of the globe do exist.
Contrary to Carter's lame insistence, the United States can leave
Afghanistan. Protecting Americans from the relatively modest threat
posed by the Taliban or Al Qaeda or Islamic State -- or all three
combined for that matter -- does not require the permanent stationing
of U.S. forces in the Islamic world, especially given the evidence
that the presence of American troops there serves less to pacify
than to provoke.
Bacevich also wrote a more substantial piece at TomDispatch,
On Building Armies (and Watching Them Fail).
Peter Beinart: Trump Is Right About 9/11: As was well known if
not at the time then shortly after, there were a number of concrete
things the Bush administration could have done that might have kept
9/11 from happening. Terrorism "czar" Richard Clarke was especially
unhappy about how Bush's neocons dropped the ball on Al-Qaeda, and
Beinart dredges up all that story -- one that few in the press seem
to recall, but which makes Trump's reminder that 9/11 happened
during Bush's presidency appear to have more weight. Beinart
could have made an even stronger case had he pointed out some of
the things Bush did to aggravate tensions in the Middle East, such
as his Clinton-esque bombing of Iraq and his support for Sharon's
Counter-Intifada in Palestine. One might counter that Trump has
unrealistic notions about what presidents can do, but that's a big
part of his charm (or absurdity).
Tom Carson: 'Spies' Like Us: Steven Spielberg and the Cold War's
Forgotten Battles: Review of Bridge of Spies and the
Cold War it illuminates, for once.
Kathleen Frydl: Donald Trump and the Know-Nothings: More useful
as an historical excursion into the short-lived 1850s nativist party
than as an analysis of Trump himself, but that's because the "Know
Nothings" were more colorful and their ignorance was more florid.
One of history's great truisms: stupid people in the past could be
interesting, but stupid people today are just tiresome.
Assaf Gavron: Confessions of an Israeli traitor:
The internal discussion in Israel is more militant, threatening and
intolerant than it has ever been. Talk has trended toward fundamentalism
ever since the Israeli operation in Gaza in late 2008, but it has recently
gone from bad to worse. There seems to be only one acceptable voice,
orchestrated by the government and its spokespeople, and beamed to all
corners of the country by a clan of loyal media outlets drowning out all
the others. Those few dissenters who attempt to contradict it -- to ask
questions, to protest, to represent a different color from this artificial
consensus -- are ridiculed and patronized at best, threatened, vilified
and physically attacked at worst. Israelis not "supporting our troops" are
seen as traitors, and newspapers asking questions about the government's
policies and actions are seen as demoralizing.
[ . . . ]
The cumulative effect of this recent mindless violence is hugely
disturbing. We seem to be in a fast and alarming downward swirl into a
savage, unrepairable society. There is only one way to respond to what's
happening in Israel today: We must stop the occupation. Not for peace
with the Palestinians or for their sake (though they have surely suffered
at our hands for too long). Not for some vision of an idyllic Middle
East -- those arguments will never end, because neither side will ever
budge, or ever be proved wrong by anything. No, we must stop the
occupation for ourselves. So that we can look ourselves in the eyes.
So that we can legitimately ask for, and receive, support from the
world. So that we can return to being human.
Ed Kilgore: The Cult of the Second Amendment:
And to a remarkable extent, the default position of conservatives has
less and less to do with arguments about the efficacy of gun regulation
or the need for guns to deter or respond to crime. Instead, it's based
on the idea that the main purpose of the Second Amendment is to keep
open the possibility of revolutionary violence against the U.S.
This was once an exotic, minority view even among gun enthusiasts
who tended to view the Second Amendment as protecting an individual
right to gun ownership not to overthrow the government but to supplement
the government's use of lethal force against criminals.
[ . . . ]
Nowadays this revolutionary rationale for gun rights is becoming
the rule rather than the exception for conservative politicians and
advocates. Mike Huckabee, a sunny and irenic candidate for president
in 2008, all but threatened revolutionary violence in his recent
campaign book for the 2016 cycle, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy:
If the Founders who gave up so much to create liberty for us could see
how our government has morphed into a ham-fisted, hypercontrolling
"Sugar Daddy," I believe those same patriots who launched a revolution
would launch another one. Too many Americans have grown used to Big
Government's overreach. They've been conditioned to just bend over and
take it like a prisoner [!]. But in Bubba-ville, the days of bending
are just about over. People are ready to start standing up for freedom
and refusing to take it anymore.
Dr. Ben Carson, another candidate thought to be a mild-mannered
Christian gentleman, recently disclosed that he used to favor modest
gun control measures until he came to realize the importance of
widespread gun ownership as a safeguard against "tyranny."
"When you look at tyranny and how it occurs, the pattern is so
consistent: Get rid of the guns," Carson told USA Today.
[ . . . ]
Indeed, a lot of Second Amendment ultras appear to think the right
to revolution is entirely up to the individual revolutionary.
My own view is that the second amendment was meant to ensure
that state militias would be able to fight the Civil War, although
the other obvious reading had to do with fighting Indians. Both
meanings had become obsolete by 1900, and civilians have never
had a significant role in fighting against criminals. The second
amendment wasn't repealed then because it didn't seem to be all
that harmful -- no least because the courts consistently ruled
against an individual right to guns. That's only changed recently,
and the full impact has yet to be felt, but what's disturbing
about it isn't just the increase in the number of guns out there
and the number of (often incompetent) people carrying them, but
the sheer nonsense gun advocates wind up spouting. One stupid
idea is that if everyone was armed we'd all wind up treating
each other with more proper respect. A deeper one is that we're
shifting responsibility for managing conflict from law and the
courts to the streets. Then there's the notion Kilgore dwells
on, that because individuals have a right to own guns they have
a right to use them to oppose the rule of law when they (alone)
find it unjust. The latter is often used not just to rationalize
gun ownership but to permit individuals to own ever more powerful
firearms because that's what it would take to neutralize the
power of the state. The problem here is not just practical --
after all, we're talking about a state that owns AC-130 gunships
that can fire thousands of rounds of depleted uranium per minute,
and that's not even the scariest example. The real problem is
that it gives up on making sure the state is responsible to the
public in a fair and equitable way.
Nancy LeTourneau: What I Learned From Watching the Benghazi Hearing:
Mostly, that Clinton kept her cool through eleven hours of idiots
trying to rile her. But also it has something to do with the word
preferences between Republicans and the administration, not that
I get all the nuances there. For example, I tire of hearing the word
"terrorist" used so indiscriminately: partly because it seems to be
all it takes to gain license to kill someone (and perhaps a few others
in the vicinity), partly because it seems like much (if not most) of
the real terror is perpetrated by the so-called anti-terrorists.
Still, lest the Republicans turn Clinton into some sort of heroic
Jason Ditz: Bizarre Revisionism: Hillary Claims Libya Shows Consequences
of US Military Withdrawals.
Mark LeVine: The tide is turning against Zionist extremism:
As the inherent contradiction between Israel's self-image as a modern,
democratic and progressive country and the reality of a half-century-long
brutal occupation become clear to all, the erosion of support for Israel
by the emerging generation of American Jews will continue and likely
increase, with profound consequences not just for Israel but also for
the future of the American Jewish community.
For an example LeVine didn't cite, see
Two establishment Jews (Harvard and Microsoft) endorse boycott of
Israel and 'single state' in Washington Post.
Josh Marshall: Netanyahu Reduced to Defending Hitler, Really . . .:
This is the first piece I saw on Netanyahu's speech to the World Zionist
Congress, where he argued that Hitler "just wanted to deport the Jews"
until he met exiled Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, whose answer
to Hitler's "So what should I do with them?" was "Burn them." With the
Palestinian Revolt of 1937-39 failed, al-Husseini went into exile and
spent WWII in Nazi Germany. It is known that he met with Hitler once,
in 1941, and Israelis have been trying to make mountains out of that
mole hill ever since. Still, it seems bizarre that any Israeli, much
less the Prime Minister, would try to make Hitler seem less horrific
just to blame some Palestinian -- anything, I guess, to distract from
all of Israel's self-inflicted problems. More links on this:
Gareth Porter: Why the US Owns the Rise of Islamic State and the Syria
The causal chain begins with the role of the U.S. in creating a mujahedeen
force to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Osama bin Laden
was a key facilitator in training that force in Afghanistan. Without that
reckless U.S. policy, the blowback of the later creation of al-Qaida would
very likely not have occurred. But it was the U.S. invasion and occupation
of Iraq that made al-Qaida a significant political-military force for the
first time. The war drew Islamists to Iraq from all over the Middle East,
and their war of terrorism against Iraqi Shiites was a precursor to the
sectarian wars to follow.
The actual creation of Islamic State is also directly linked to the
Iraq War. The former U.S. commander at Camp Bucca in Iraq has acknowledged
that the detention of 24,000 prisoners, including hard-core al-Qaida
cadres, Baathist officers and innocent civilians, created a "pressure
cooker for extremism." It was during their confinement in that camp
during the U.S. troop surge in Iraq 2007 and 2008 that nine senior
al-Qaida military cadres planned the details of how they would create
Gareth Porter: The US Could End Saudi War Crimes in Yemen -- It Just
Doesn't Want To:
According to a joint report by the UN Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs, 2,682 civilian deaths and injuries resulted from
air bombardment in Yemen from late March to the end of July 2015 --
more than anywhere else in the world during the first seven months of
The Saudis have also imposed a tight blockade on Yemen by air, land
and water, to prevent not only weapons, but also food, fuel and medicine
from reaching millions of Yemenis, creating a humanitarian disaster.
Doctors Without Borders declared in July that the Saudi blockade was
killing as many people in Yemen as the bombing. US Navy ships have
been patrolling alongside Saudi ships to prevent arms from entering
Yemen, while disclaiming any involvement in the Saudi-led blockade
of food, fuel and medical supplies.
The Amnesty report points out that the United States has a legal
obligation under the Arms Trade Treaty not to provide weaponry it
knows will be used in the indiscriminate bombing of Yemen. Article
6 of that treaty, which entered into force in October 2014, forbids
the transfer of arms and munitions to a party to an armed conflict
if it has knowledge that the weaponry will be used for "attacks
directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such,
or other war crimes as defined by international agreements to which
it is a party."
I suspect one reason for Obama's reluctance to criticize Saudi
Arabia for killing civilians in Yemen is that the US had been doing
exactly that through its drone program for many years now. Some
details of that (plus much more) appear in
Cora Currie: The Kill Chain: The Lethal Bureaucracy Behind Obama's
Jon Schwarz: A Short History of US Bombing of Civilian Facilities, and
Tom Engelhardt: The US Has Bombed at Least Eight Wedding Parties Since
2001: Two immediate (and rather obvious) responses to the US bombing
of a Médicins Sans Frontières hospital in Afghanistan. The Schwarz
piece includes a cartoon with a quote from Obama's then-latest mass
shooting speech (the one in Oregon).
Nathan Thrall: The End of the Abbas Era:
For Abbas, political survival depended on making significant gains
before any of this occurred. His strategy entailed several gambles.
First, that providing Israel with security, informing on fellow
Palestinians, and suppressing opposition to the occupation would
convince Israel's government that Palestinians could be trusted
with independence. Second, that after Palestinians had met US
demands to abandon violence, build institutions and hold democratic
elections, the US would put pressure on Israel to make the concessions
necessary to establish a Palestinian state. Third, that after being
invited to participate in legislative elections, Hamas would win
enough seats to be co-opted but too few to take over. Fourth, that
by improving the Palestinian Authority economy and rebuilding its
institutions, Abbas would buy enough time to achieve Palestinian
In all four respects, he came up short. Israel took his security
co-operation for granted and the Israeli public did not demand that
its government reward Abbas for his peaceful strategy. The US did not
apply the necessary pressure to extract significant concessions from
Israel. Hamas won the legislative elections, took over Gaza, and
refused to adopt Abbas's political programme (though Hamas's victory
also strengthened international support for Abbas, as the international
community shifted from democracy promotion to democracy prevention).
And West Bankers, though dependent on the jobs and economic infrastructure
provided by the PA, also resent it, and have lost whatever faith they
once had that Abbas's strategy could succeed. According to an opinion
poll taken last month, two-thirds of West Bankers and Gazans want him
Sunday, September 27. 2015
With the weekend approaching, I had one entry (on drug pricing) in
the draft file. Don't have time to add much, but I do have some open
tabs I want to take note of before I go offline:
Paul Krugman: Religions Are What People Make Them:
The current crop of Republican presidential candidates is accomplishing
something I would have considered impossible: making George W. Bush look
like a statesman. Say what you like about his actions after 9/11 -- and
I did not like, at all -- at least he made a point of not feeding
anti-Muslim hysteria. But that was then.
Reason probably doesn't do much good in these circumstances. Still,
to the extent that there are people who should know better declaring
that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with democracy, or science,
or good things in general, I'd like to recommend a book I recently
read: S. Frederick Starr's Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden
Age From the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane. It covers a place and a
time of which I knew nothing: the medieval flourishing of learning --
mathematics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy -- in central Asian cities
made rich by irrigated agriculture and trade.
As Starr describes their work, some of these scholars really did
prefigure the Enlightenment, sounding remarkably like Arabic-speaking
precursors of David Hume and Voltaire. And the general picture he paints
is of an Islamic world far more diverse in its beliefs and thinking than
anything you might imagine from current prejudices.
Now, that enlightenment was eventually shut down by economic decline
and a turn toward fundamentalism. But such tendencies are hardly unique
People are people. They can achieve great things, or do terrible
things, under lots of religious umbrellas. (An Israeli once joked to
me, "Judaism has rarely been a religion of oppression. Why? Lack of
opportunity.") It's ignorant and ahistorical to claim unique virtue
or unique sin for any one set of beliefs.
A couple quick points: Bush understood that American intervention
in the Middle East wouldn't work without local allies, which the US
at least had to go through the motions of cultivating. One side effect
of this is that Americans and Arabs would develop attachments which
would eventually result in many of the latter coming to the US (much
as had happened with Cuba and Vietnam). Islamophobes should have
understood this dynamic from the beginning, and as such should have
resisted Bush's imperial ventures. Of course, they didn't do that --
they're not very bright, but at least they understood that Bush's
wars in the Middle East were wars against the people there. Not so
clear that either side understood that long-term wars there would
only increase intrinsic Islamophobia among Americans, but that's
probably the easiest lesson one could have deduced from a study of
The ending of the Arab enlightenment didn't correspond to economic
downturn so much as military defeat, primarily by the Mongols and
Turks. (A similar thing happened in Spain, first with the Moors then
the Christians.) Of course, once the Mongols sack Baghdad it's hard
to rebuild the economy. We've seen that in real time with the American
occupation, which by most accounts was considerably less brutal.
In Israel, Jewish military power has turned Judaism into a religion
of oppression -- indeed a remarkably nasty one. Perhaps that "lack of
opportunity" has prevented any safeguards from evolving. Indeed, one
can point to episodes where Christian rule was at least as brutal --
the Spanish Inquisition, for one.
Andrew Pollack: Drug Goes From $13.50 a Tablet to $750, Overnight:
The drug is Daraprim, a 62-year-old generic which was acquired by
"Turing Pharmaceuticals, a start-up run by a former hedge fund manager."
The first thing you learn in MBA school is that the price of something
has nothing to do with its cost: it's simply what the market will bear.
For a drug that can be the difference between life and death, a seller
can get away with a pretty steep price. Under such circumstances, there's
little difference between "smart business" and the highwayman's motto,
"your money or your life." What's unusual here is that the drug is
generic, so in principle there's nothing to stop other companies from
competing, and competition should bring the price down to something
related to costs. However, as the article shows, there are ways an
operator can create and exploit a temporary monopoly -- even where
none should exist. One the article doesn't mention goes back to MBA
school doctrine: if all the smart operators look for is huge margin
opportunities, they'll never bother to compete a price down -- which
leaves the first mover with monopoly rents.
The article gives several other examples of extortionate price
increases. I've seen other reports that couple of them have been
rolled back, basically by shaming the companies, although I suspect
that the real leverage is that a few large insurance companies and,
ultimately, the government are the main buyers of pharmaceuticals --
and while you may be powerless, they less committed to your health
than to their own bottom line.
Dean Baker tweeted: "We don't negotiate firefighters' pay when
they show up at the burning house, why would we pay for drugs this
way?" Baker argues that we should
End Patent Monopolies on Drugs. I agree with everything Baker
The United States stands out among wealthy countries in that we give
drug companies patent monopolies on drugs that are essential for people's
health or lives and then allows them to charge whatever they want. Every
other wealthy country has some system of price controls or negotiated
prices where the government limits the extent to which drug companies
can exploit the monopoly it has given them. The result is that we pay
roughly twice as much for our drugs as the average for other wealthy
countries. This additional cost is not associated with better care; we
are just paying more for the same drugs. [ . . . ]
A monopoly that allows drug companies to sell their drugs at prices
that can be hundreds of times the free market price has all the problems
economics predicts when governments interfere with the market. Drug
companies routinely mislead doctors and the public about the safety
and effectiveness of their drugs to increase sales. The cost in terms
of bad health outcomes and avoidable deaths runs into the tens of
billions of dollars every year.
Drug companies also spend tens of millions on campaign contributions
and lobbying to get [even] longer and stronger patent protection. The
pharmaceutical industry is one of the main forces behind the Trans-Pacific
Partnership, and its demands for stronger patent protections is one of
the main obstacles to reaching an agreement with the other countries.
We don't need patent monopolies to support research. We already spend
more than $30 billion a year financing research through the National
Institutes of Health. Everyone, including the drug companies, agrees
that this money is very productive. We could double or triple this
spending and replace the patent supported research done by the drug
companies. With the research costs paid upfront, most drugs would be
available for the same price as a bottle of generic aspirin.
Still, as Pollack's article proves, the problem with drug
pricing isn't just patents. Purchasers also need more leverage
in negotiating prices -- by consolidating their purchasing power
and by promoting more competitive options.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't
have time for this shit right now):
Dean Baker: Labor Unions: The Folks Who Gave You the Weekend: Also
Social Security, Medicare, and most of the protections that keep us from
sinking into the abyss of red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism.
Harrison Fluss: Donald Trump: American Psycho: "Donald Trump is
the rotten fruit of the American ruling class." Also see:
Rula Jebreal: Donald Trump is America's Silvio Berlusconi, and
Michael D'Antonio: Mentored in the art of Manipulation: Donald Trump
learned from the master -- Roy Cohn. The Berlusconi model is
analogous for Trump, similar but unrelated paths. The Cohn model,
however, is phylogenetic: the one begets the other.
Indira A.R. Lakshmanan: "If You Can't Do This Deal . . . Go Back to
Tehran." "The inside story of the Obama administration's Iran
diplomacy." -- i.e., mostly inside the American side.
Paul Rosenberg: John Boehner was really bad at his job. Now things
are about to get epically worse. Also,
Paul Krugman had this comment:
Lots of talk about the Boehner resignation. It was especially excruciating
to hear pundits going on about the soon-to-be-ex Speaker's motivations for
not just stepping down, but actually leaving his seat. Is there some rule
preventing them from saying the obvious: his extremely lucrative career as
a lobbyist can't start until he's out of Congress?
Brian Tashman: Scott Walker, Who Said Presidential Bid Was 'God's Plan,'
Drops Out: Being so obviously a toady for the Kochs and other megadonors
while focusing his ire on working Americans who happen to still belong to
unions turns out not to be what the Republican masses were yearning for.
And when he finally got hip to the idea that what turned on the masses
was a wall against immigrants, he agreed but wanted to build it on the
Canadian border. Now the remaining 15 candidates are scrambling to pick
up Walker's remaining 0.5% poll share. I hope someone asks him -- a
question I first posed with Rick Perry -- how it feels to be the second
loser from this field?
Ed Kilgore: What Walker's Demise Means.
Sandy Tolan: On Night in Gaza and The 51 Day War: Ruin and
Resistance in Gaza: Reviews of new books by Mads Gilbert and
Max Blumenthal, respectively, on Israel's 2014 attack on Gaza (what
Israelis refer to as "mowing the lawn").
Sunday, September 20. 2015
Short post this week. Got a late start, and didn't get beyond the
usual US political campaign grist. Rest assured though that the Middle
East remains as fucked as ever, that Europe is struggling with a refugee
crisis, that Greece is stuck with a choice between two defeatist parties,
that the rich still aren't satisfied, and environmental disasters are
still multiplying. Meanwhile, our "best and brightest" reporters are
mired in what Matt Taibbi calls "the stupid season."
David Atkins: Why Does the Press Continue to Get It So Wrong on Donald
Trump?: Why do pundits, and for that matter pretty much all of the
mainstream press, keep getting popular political opinions wrong?
Conservatives will claim that journalists are liberal and don't
understand Republican politics. Perhaps, but progressives have made
equally scathing critiques of the press for years in their underestimation
of progressive populist sentiment and elevation of centrist candidates.
It's less that the political press is liberal, and more that it is trapped'
in a bubble inhabited by the wealthy and powerful.
[ . . . ]
But more importantly, there is a bias in the press toward political
neutrality and the perception of balance. After a debate in which
Republican candidates peddled an endless string of falsehoods and
fantasies, the political press has a crisis on its hands: let it all
slide and simply transcribe the lies without challenge, or contribute
to a perception of "liberal bias" by actually calling out the falsehoods
and holding the candidates accountable?
Trump presents a similar problem. Trump's extremist positions on
immigration and foreign policy, combined with his vulgar, racist and
sexist remarks, are so obviously appalling that for him to continuously
lead the GOP field not only proves the
Mann/Ornstein thesis that the
Republican Party has grown uniquely extreme, but also shows that problem
extends beyond Republican Party leadership to the actual voters themselves.
Even more, the fact that Trump's apostasy on taxes and healthcare has not
significantly damaged him is a demonstration that GOP voters are not
actually so committed to the libertarian supply-side economics of the
Republican Party as they are to using the power of government to benefit
traditionally powerful whites at the expense of women and minorities.
This a problem for the press. As long as Trump leads, it's impossible
to maintain the fiction of equally extreme "both sides do it" partisanship.
As long as Trump rules (and, to a lesser extent, that Bernie Sanders
continues to rise on the left) it's also increasingly difficult to pretend
that "moderates" in either party are actually the center of public opinion,
rather than caterers to a unique brand of corporate-friendly upper-class
comfort that labels itself as moderate without holding any legitimate
claim to the title.
Acknowledging those realities would force the press to start reporting
the fundamentals of American politics as they stand today:
First, that the Republican base wants a rebel leader to take their
country back from the inconvenience of being nice to women, gays and
Second, that the wealthy Republican establishment and its center-right
Third Way Democratic counterparts don't actually have a legitimate base
of voters, but rather illegitimate institutional capture of government
via legalized bribery; and
Third, that the rest of the country wants liberal public policies that
would resemble a Scandinavian government, but most of them are so turned
off by the futility of the American political process that not enough of
them turn out to vote to make a real difference outside of the bluest
The first two of these points could be phrased better but are pretty
self-evident. The Republican Party is an uneasy coalition of leaders
and followers: the former that segment of the wealthy that seeks to
gain through zero-sum strategies (reducing taxes, suppressing wages,
growing monopolies, exchanging wealth for debt, arbitrage); the latter
various segments of gullible single-issue voters (racists, religious
bigots, anti-abortion, pro-gun, flag wavers, anything that distracts
one from class). The appeal to the latter is a combination of flattery
(you're the real Americans) and demagoguery (they're
hell-bent on destroying your life). That coalition is unstable because
the leaders are actively undermining the followers' material basis,
and this fracturing only increases as the leaders gain power. It may
be possible for a politician to crack this coalition by running against
the elites, but I don't see any reason to expect Trump will do that.
Rather, as his own billionaire sponsor, his potential independence
worries the elites and offers some hope to the gullible followers.
Still, I don't see it panning out: even if his understanding of class
never extends beyond his own bottom line, you know where he's going
to land on every significant issue.
The third point is the controversial one, because the main obstacle
a significant extension of social democratic policies faces comes not
from the Republicans -- who would cut their base's throats to achieve
their goal of reducing government -- as from the mainstream Democrats,
who chase after campaign money with the avarice of Republicans but at
least have some scruples against wrecking the status quo (not that
they always have the wisdom, as shown by their support for wrecking
Carter-Glass banking regulation). The public may very well want more
than the Democrats are offering, but without unions or other groups
pressuring the Democrats to deliver, they'll keep playing defense
(with the occasional fumble).
Josh Marshall: The War Party: Responding to the Republican dog
and pony show, Marshall points out that when foreign policy issues
came up, "Trump may have been silent because he just doesn't know
enough details or doesn't care enough about them to engage," while
the others "turned not so much to foreign policy as to each candidate
trying to outdo the other in embracing the sort of petulant unilateralism
that made the aughts such a disaster for the United States. It was, to
put it simply, a race to embrace Bush foreign policy on steroids." I
wouldn't give Trump much of a pass here -- he has, after all, claimed
he's "the most militaristic person there is" (see
Scott Eric Kaufman and
Glen Healy -- the latter defending Trump by arguing that his boast
is the "biggest lie" of a pathological braggart). Still, Marshall is
right to focus on Rubio and Fiorina, who pundits like to praise for
their ability to spew this shit with a straight face.
Let's start with Marco Rubio, who has tried to carve out a space as
the candidate of the neoconservatives in exile. Joe Klein saw him as
the clear winner of the debate with a crisp and incisive command of
national defense policy. "To my mind, Marco Rubio won that debate
with his obvious fluency on a range of topics . . . Marco Rubio is
becoming a force to be reckoned with -- on the debate stage. He is
fluent, smart and bold."
That is not what I saw at all.
I agree that Rubio continues to come off as likable and he makes
no obvious mistakes in these encounters. I actually think that just
by dint of process of elimination he has a substantial better shot
at the nomination that most people realize. But in his recitations
on foreign policy he doesn't come off as knowledgable or seasoned.
He comes off as someone who has obligingly internalized, in a kind
of rote manner, the wisdom of Bill Kristol to get the money of Sheldon
Adelson. There is a strong DC insider appetite for these nostrums. So
it's not just the money. But these are dangerous, discredited ideas
that were tried and failed miserably under the last Republican President.
Indeed, they failed so miserably that even in President Bush's second
term the standard-bearers were largely ushered aside in favor of a
slightly more realist approach to cleaning up the messes created in
the first term.
If there is one thing the country does not need it is another
impressionable foreign policy neophyte who comes under the influence
of this war-addicted DC coven.
Next is Carly Fiorina. I entirely agree that she had a strong,
commanding debate. She seemed particularly focused and knowledgable
on national security questions as she rattled off a number of things
she would do to take a more aggressive posture toward America's
adversaries and rivals.
Unless of course you actually have any idea what you're talking
about. In which case, the things she said seemed quite different.
At a broad level, it's the same kind of confrontational and dangerous
foreign policy that got the country into trouble a decade ago. But
as Ezra Klein explains here, Fiorina's list of proposed actions were
a mix of things that were irrelevant to the questions at hand, are
already happening, or things that operate on a time scale such that
they can't have any real affect on the challenges she suggests they're
aimed at countering. The dangerous ground of half-knowledge. Or policies
as puzzle pieces with no larger picture or understanding.
I think the appeal the necons have among Republicans now is tied up
with the right's obsession with condemning all things Obama. It is,
after all, an extremist doctrine, one that takes common assumptions of
the cold war security state and through a combination of logical rigor
and macho posturing drives them to seductive but untenable extremes.
It's worth recalling that the neocons' original nemesis was none other
than Henry Kissinger, no minor war criminal himself, so casting Obama
as cowardly and unpatriotic was easy. (Lazy and shameless too: after
all, the crime they wailed about in Benghazi! wasn't Obama's running
an illegal CIA operation there or getting it blown up but not spouting
the correct anti-Islamic bigotry afterwards -- i.e., the one that
would justify further disastrous intervention.)
The neocon parlor game of rhetoric is hard to beat in the salons
of Washington, even though it has never been shown to work in the
real world -- where America isn't omnipotent, where American efforts
to "shock and awe" other into submission merely publicize the moral
rot that somes with superpower hubris. The neocons always have the
excuse that their principles were compromised by weaklings who didn't
believe and didn't try hard enough. The real antidote to neoconism
is to question the assumptions -- something Obama and Clinton never
had the guts to do, because the institutional power of the security
state is too entrenched. Some of the leading dimwits of the Tea Party
movement were tempted in that direction, but Michelle Bachmann fizzled
before she could articulate much, and Rand Paul let himself be convinced
that only by prevaricating could he win the nomination -- leaving himself
no principle to stand on.
The attitude of embattlement and grievance that currently animates
the Republican party is something we're quite familiar with in the
domestic sphere but it's even more present in the outlook abroad.
It is a dangerous thing to take a coalition which feels embattled,
victimized and disempowered and put them in charge of the most
powerful military in the world. A coalition like that, with an
untrained hand at the helm, guided by terrible advisors is a recipe
Philip Weiss: Coulter's point is that Republicans pander on Israel to win
donors, not voters: I referred to the Republican presidential debate
above as a "dog and pony show" -- a phrase that back in my corporate days
we used to refer to any staged presentation (to customers, to investors,
or to anyone else you hoped to deal with). I was looking for an alternative
turn of phrase, but also I was a bit uncomfortable with "debate" -- that
suggests a high-minded collegiate contest being scored by experts, and
while many pundits are conceited enough to think of themselves that way,
that wasn't necessarily the judgment the candidates were looking for.
Some were mostly intent on selling themselves to potential voters, while
some were no doubt more concerned with donors. It now occurs to me that
the latter may have been the main focus, one that resonates with my "dog
and pony show" quip: after all, who bothers to watch a dog or horse race
unless they have some money riding on the result?
Coulter is a thoroughly obnoxious pundit, one who built her entire
career by heaping hateful invective on liberals, a torrent so vile it's
consumed her, turning her into such a fount of hatred that she's lost
the ability to distinguish between former friends and foes. It wouldn't
surprise me if her "fucking Jews" tweet reveals anti-semitism because
her hate has become so universal, although it sounds as much like her
usual stock in trade. Still, the sequence of her tweets shows she's at
least trying to think through what she's seeing. She quickly figures
out that Republican appeals on Israel aren't meant to curry favor with
Jewish voters, because there aren't that many of them, and most vote
Democratic anyway. She considers whether it's "to suck up to the
Evangelicals" -- they are more numerous, and they're a key target
constituency for Republicans: many see Israel as an essential step
toward the second coming of Jesus, the "end times" and all that.
(I've known people obsessed with that, although you don't read much
about them as it's considered impolite to talk about such delusions.)
But in the end Coulter decides the candidates are pitching their
donors, and she comes up with this tweet, which despite everything
is pretty much on target:
How to get applause from GOP donors: 1) Pledge to start a war 2) Talk
about job creators 3) Denounce abortion 4) Cite Reagan 5) Cite Israel.
Worth noting that (1) is an implicit case of (5), not that war with
Iran isn't the only pledge, but if it wasn't Iran it'd be someone else
on Israel's "existential threat" list -- ISIS, for one, is looming.
Coulter's hot button issue at the moment seems to be nativism, which
whenever it has erupted in American history has been rooted in racism
(and often linked to anti-semitism, although these days the semites
are much more often Muslim). Nativism has also tended to be associated
with autarky and isolationism, and Coulter seems to be leaning that
way -- if you don't want foreigners coming to America, you shouldn't
go around the world starting wars and stirring up distress, like
America's liberal interventionists have been doing ever since FDR.
One could build a coherent conservative argument around such notions,
but I have yet to hear one from Trump or Coulter or even Rand Paul.
Part of the problem there is that Fascists in the 1930s discredited
those notions for generations. Part is that capital -- the money of
the superrich who think they run the GOP -- has become so globalized
that any real autarky has become unimaginable. And while it's not
clear that global capital really requires America's military sprawl,
no Republican has come around to asking that question.
In a sense, (3) has become the core point: not so much that the
money Republicans hate abortion, but abortion has become a litmus
test issue, something no Republican can question without being
drummed out of the tribe. But then all the points are increasingly
like that: litmus tests, articles of faith, self-commitments. They
draw applause because Republicans love to applaud themselves. But
they're increasingly self-selecting themselves into a power-losing
By the way, we can thank Netanyahu for moving Israel out of the
realm of bipartisan consensus and into the Republican column. That
will eventually free the Democrats of a terrible burden. As Weiss
One good result of this conversation will be more Jews condemning
Sheldon Adelson and Norman Braman and the Republican Jewish Coalition
moneybags for trying to have a war with Iran, more Jews declaring that
they aren't Zionists.
As for Coulter's (4) point, see:
Jon Schwarz: Seven Things About Ronald Reagan You Won't Hear at the
Reagan Library GOP Debate: "And maybe that's appropriate -- since
if Reagan stood for anything as president, it was creating a completely
fictionalized version of the past."
Sunday, September 13. 2015
Saturday was the 14th anniversary of the 2001 Al-Qaeda "attack"
against America, when nineteen Arabs (mostly Saudis) hijacked four
airliners and committed suicide by flying those planes into iconic
buildings in New York City and Virginia (and a Pennsylvania corn
field). The media went berserk, describing all of America as "under
attack." The political class decided this was war, and vowed to
return the fight back to foreign lands -- which, after all, is the
only experience any of them had ever had of war. Within days the
intelligentsia, including way too many who had identified with the
left, launched a pre-emptive attack on pacifists and anyone else
who tried to talk reason -- especially anyone who expressed doubts
that America was wholly innocent of wrong-doing.
I experienced those "attacks" from a barely comfortable distance,
visting a friend, staying in her apartment above Grand Army Plaza
in Berlin. I could stick my head out the window and see the smoking
(still-standing) towers, and could watch masses of people trudging
home on foot as the subways were stopped. One of my first thoughts
was that I knew it wasn't an atomic bomb because the pedestrians'
panic had subsisted a mere three miles into Brooklyn. I tried to
imagine what it must be like to be under siege in Sarajevo -- the
most graphic experience of war from the 1990s -- and concluded that
this wasn't at all like that. War wasn't something that ordinary
people in New York felt that day. War was just a concept in the
fevered minds of the people who talk on TV. For people who were
in lower Manhattan that morning, of course, it was immediate: a
disaster on a scale no one had experienced or was prepared for.
But just a few miles away from "ground zero" more than anything
else it was damn inconvenient. Like the Con Ed blackout I lived
through in the 1970s. Well, in some ways worse, but on that order.
Of course, if you knew someone who was killed that day, it also
had a tragic dimension. I knew one such person, a niece (the wife
of my first wife's nephew), and I spent a fair amount of time the
next two weeks with the family, so I did feel something other than
inconvenienced. But I didn't experience that as war, but as random,
sudden, violent, shattering -- like when my uncle was killed by a
drunk driver, leaving his wife and three pre-teen children to fend
for themselves. My niece had two children, one so young he'd never
remember her. The manner of her death was obscenely worse, giving
us days of uncertainty and months before they identified some of
her DNA in the megatons of rubble. And something like that happened
to nearly 3,000 other people, their families and friends, in not
much more than an instant. Still, that's only about one in 2700
New Yorkers (or one in 94000 Americans, just barely one-thousandth
of 1%). No one else I knew in New York in those weeks had such bad
I wish someone would sift through the new coverage and punditry
we saw on TV those first few days and edit a fair sampling of the
insanity we saw. I clearly remember Shimon Peres and Benjamin
Netanyahu smiling and cackling about how this was "very good"
for Israel, and John Major lecturing on how much the Uk could
teach America about how to handle terrorism. I remember a bit of
fuzzy nighttime footage of a rocket explosion near Kabul being
aired over the presumptive banner line "America Strikes Back."
I remember the junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton,
standing on the Capitol steps and daring Al-Qaeda to take their
best shot at her. I spent much of the day thumbing through a
book of photographs called Century, looking at images
of the real wars that plagued the past century while the phony
warriors nattered on TV. It helped to keep it all in perspective,
something almost everyone was losing.
For me, it wasn't hard to see that no good would come of such
war fever. But how much bad would come was always hard to grasp,
or even imagine. One might cite the nominal costs of 14 years of
non-stop war, of endless war, of war with no prospect of victory
or redemption -- over 6,700 US soldiers dead, many more maimed
(physically and/or psychologically), trillions of dollars spent,
and many times that much death, destruction, and destabilization
that those wars have inflicted abroad -- but I'm ever more worried
about the cognitive toll those wars have taken on American society,
indeed on the ability of Americans to think clearly and to engage
the world constructively.
Another thought I had on 9/11 was even rarer, and I think more
profound: it occurred to me that the "attacks" were a "wake up call" --
a reminder to look into your own self to see whether anything you've
done might have contributed to this tragedy. Needless to say, no
notion was more unwelcome in post-9/11 America. The idea isn't to
partition blame. Rather, it is to make certain that we do not spread
the blame with future acts. Within a few months the United States
had done just that: protected against self-awareness, obsessed by
a sense of self-righteous victimhood, Bush marshaled the full force
of American military power not against the individuals who plotted
9/11 but against whole nations of people who had nothing to do with
the "attacks." He thereby greatly compounded the crime many times
over, something he could do because so few Americans questioned the
assumptions he made: that America's fortunes depended on the world's
fear of America's military power; that the "attacks" had been an
affront to that power, which could only be restored by reassertion;
and that the United States, due to its unique virtue, was uniquely
entitled to project that power over the rest of the world; and that
the American people would continue to support a bold leader (like
Bush) who would restore America to its rightful greatness.
It is difficult to overstate the amount of hubris, let alone
ignorance, that feeds this worldview. Fourteen years later, by any
objective measure, the stance has failed. Yet when Obama, recognizing
that America's power to impose its will on Iran's leaders and people
was limited, resorted to negotiating a framework that would at least
ensure that Iran could not develop nuclear weapons -- the same "hot
button" issue that Bush had used to provoke his ill-fated war in
Iraq -- every single Republican senator and presidential candidate
rose in opposition. Their objections have nothing to do with what
Iran may or may not do. They object to the deal because it represents
a retreat from their belief that American might (American greatness)
is the answer to all problems in the world.
Nonetheless, it is not just the Republicans who continue to cling
to these core assumptions. You'd be hard pressed to find any example
where Obama has rethought why America is involved in the Middle East,
or reconsidered what effect that involvement has had. The Iran deal
is merely a change of tactics: he continues to assume that Iran is
America's (and Israel's) mortal enemy, and that it meant to escape
the omnipresent threat of American (and Israeli) attack by developing
its own nuclear deterrence. The difference is that Obama chose a more
realistic, more effective, and less risky method of preserving nuclear
monopoly than, say, Bush did while allegedly pursuing the same goals
Of course, realism, effectiveness, and risk-limits are among the
things Republicans hate about the deal. They suggest that Obama is
not a true believer in America's greatness. Perhaps they even recall
the Bush-era neocon mantra, "anyone can go to Baghdad; real men go
to Tehran." Obama isn't their idea of a real man. Simple as that.
Some scattered links this week:
Josh Marshall: You'll Want to Read This: Marshall, in his intro and
outro, shows he doesn't really known what to make of "TMP Reader JB" --
"no one bats 1000% at this" [presumably he means a batting average of
1.000, which means 100% of at bats turned into base hits] -- but it's
helpful that he published it last year and reminded us of it this year.
Could an attack happen tomorrow? Of course. But once every 13 years
would still be an anomalous event, not a systemic threat. Remember the
talk as the rubble smoldered of hundreds, maybe thousands, of "sleeper
cells" lurking out there, waiting to strike? Well, we now know there
were none at the time, and apparently none were formed even after we
have fought two wars and killed thousands of innocent civilians since
9/11. One would think our actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan,
etcetera would spawn at least a few motivated and effective enemies
bent on revenge through domestic attacks. Apparently not.
So, ironically, if we had done absolutely nothing in response to
9/11 aside from hold funerals and shake our heads in disbelief, we
would have been no less safe than we are now after two useless wars,
trillions of dollars and thousands of lives lost, and a decade of
taking off our shoes for domestic flights. I'm not saying this was
obvious when 9/11 happened. Far from it. I was just as freaked out
as anyone else at the time and I think it would have been foolish
to ignore the threat. But the fact is if we had we would have been
far better off, because as it turns out there were not hundreds of
other Mohammed Attas out there in the wings. In fact, there were
none, at least not with any meaningful capabilities (which would
exclude folks like the shoe bomber and the Tsarnaev brothers). We
know this to be the case because if such people did exist we would
have been hit 100 times over by now. It is too damn easy to sow
terror and chaos with motivation and even a below average IQ. Think
Newtown or D.C. sniper.
A few sad teenagers have committed far, far more domestic terror
attacks than all the Islamic militants in the world over the past
decade, and that is an outcome I think very few would have predicted,
myself included, in the aftermath of 9/11. I'm sure the Rudy Giuliani
set would love to take credit for the lack of attacks, but I think
any serious expert on stopping domestic terrorism attacks would agree
that the only way to bat as close to 1000 as we have is if your enemy
This is a little confused, but the basic point is surely correct:
that the long-term incidence of terror attacks is extremely marginal
and doesn't justify such major expense as wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq. Moreover, while those wars generated a lot of resistance locally,
they don't appear to have generated any blowback inside the homeland.
This suggests that Bin Laden's focus on the "far enemy" hasn't found
any further adherents. (This may be changing in that ISIS has started
to encourage sympathetic "lone wolf" attacks against hostile countries
like the US and France, but that appears to be secondary to their
recruitment campaigns, and it's not clear that they are organizing
I would stress three points: (1) that the current and future incidence
of terror attacks would go way down if the US wasn't intervening and
otherwise supporting violence in the Middle East; (2) that continued
US support for violence, including support for repressive measures by
corrupt and reactionary regimes in the region, will build up a reservoir
of ill will that will be increasingly difficult to defuse over time;
and (3) the longer we engage in wars in the Middle East, the more
Islamophobic our domestic population becomes, and that prejudice is
likely to generate more jihadi recruitment and/or "lone wolf" incidents.
So while I agree with "JD" that the actual incidence of domestic terror
events doesn't justify the outsized response, I would also argue that
the "war on terror" generates a lot more terror than would otherwise
This doesn't mean I'm against TSA security efforts (I can think of
a half-dozen things about airlines that bother me worse), or that I
object to the government keeping track of who's buying fertilizer or
AK-47s (not that anyone's doing the latter). I do think some of the
law enforcement efforts go too far. Like so much wartime hysteria in
the nation's history, they are less intended to protect the public
than to drive a wedge between the war agenda and people who might
question it. From the Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1790s to the
PATRIOT Act in the wake of 9/11, war fever has repeatedly tarnished
the democracy and freedom allegedly being fought for, often in ways
that once peace returned would be looked back on with embarrassment.
(The one exception, by the way, was the War of 1812, scrupulously
managed by the one president who understood the constitution above
all others, James Madison.)
Mark Z Barabak: Republican voters turn their rage against party
establishment: Front page article in Wichita Eagle this
morning, but I can't find it on their website:
After years of raging against President Obama, unhappy conservatives have
a new target for their anger and disgust: the Republicans in Congress.
The GOP seized control of the House in 2010 and four years later took
the Senate. Yet even with those majorities, Republican lawmakers have
failed to achieve such conservative priorities as rolling back Obamacare,
their derisive name for the national health care law, or cracking down
harder on illegal immigration.
The controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline is no closer to being built --
indeed, it may soon be dead -- tough anti-abortion legislation has languished
in the Senate, and a fiercely disputed nuclear deal with Iran seems virtually
certain to take effect, despite near-unanimous opposition from Republicans
In short, as many see it, the promise of the 2010 tea party movement and
its 2014 echo have been dashed on the marble steps of the Capitol.
"People feel betrayed," said Greg Mueller, a longtime conservative
activist and campaign strategist. "They feel like they keep working and
fighting to elect Republicans to get us back to a limited-government
approach to life, and all they get is more spending, more taxes and
people who are afraid to fight liberal Democrats."
What a bunch of conceited, whiny, self-important, ignorant assholes!
In 2008, after nearly eight years of the most inept and corrupt Republican
Administration in history, 69,498,516 Americans voted for change, for
Barack Obama as president, 9.55 million more than voted for his Republican
opponent, and they elected a heavily Democratic Congress with a supposedly
"fillibuster-proof" Senate, and what did we get for all that effort? Not
much. Then a few thousand bitter enders hold a few rallies, wave flags
and spout Revolutionary War slogans, and the media goes crazy for them,
and the Kochs write them checks, and all of a sudden they feel entitled
to run the country their Party had just spent eight years driving to
ruin. (Remember the bit about how Obama was running ruinous
deficits? During the middle of a recession the Republicans created
and were doing everything they could to extend?) And even after all
that Tea Party enthusiasm, Obama was easily reelected in 2012 -- no
longer promising change, just sanity relative to the parched earth
obstructionism of the Republicans.
I'm pretty sure no one on the right feels more disappointment in
their elected partisan leaders than I do. Obama spent most of his
presidency unwilling to even speak up for the promises he made in
his 2008 campaign, much less to act to stand up for the people who
voted for him (a big part of why so many didn't vote in 2010 --
turnout dropped from 129 to 82 million -- and 2014, handing Congress
to the big money-backed Republican minority). But though I complain,
I'm too used to losing to whine. My first political efforts, after
all, opposed the Vietnam War. The rule of thumb is that politicians
may appeal to the voters during a campaign, but once the ballots are
counted they have to operate in a world dominated by moneyed (and
other hidden) interests, a world of obstacles for anyone marginally
on the left. Conservatives should rationally see such unelected power
as their final bulwark against change, and indeed that's what happened
to Obama. On the other hand, the whiners aren't rational. They expect
their favored politicians to serve their every whim, no matter how
dumb and debilitating: why not shut down the government in order to
prevent women from choosing Planned Parenthood as their health care
provider? Who needs Social Security checks anyway? And if it wasn't
Planned Parenthood, it would be something else -- shutting down the
government has become an annual ritual with them, anything "to get
us back to a limited-government approach to life." (Anything, that
is, but defunding the military, the government's most bloated and
inefficient and, nonetheless, counterproductive bureaucracy.)
Paul Krugman: Charlatans, Cranks, and Apparatchiks:
The Jeb! tax plan confirms, if anyone had doubts, that the takeover of
the Republican Party by charlatans and cranks is complete. This is what
the supposedly thoughtful, wonkish candidate of the establishment can
come up with? And notice that the ludicrous claim that most of the
revenue effects of huge tax cuts would be offset by higher growth
comes from economists who, like Jeb!, are very much establishment
figures -- but who evidently find that the partisan requirement that
they support voodoo outweighs any fear of damage to their professional
While the intellectual implosion of the GOP is obvious, however,
it's less obvious what is driving it. Or to be more specific, stories
that explain why one set of crank ideas flourish don't seem to work
well for other sets of crank ideas.
Krugman examines two cases of crank economic ideas -- opposition
to expansionary economic policy and claims that cutting taxes on the
rich will grow the economy -- and finds their rationales are different,
but doesn't go much beyond that. I think the former case is more
cynical: Republicans only oppose expansionary monetary policy when
Democrats are in office and might get credit for growing the economy;
otherwise, well, Cheney said "deficits don't matter" and Nixon said
"we're all Keynesians now." Sure, there's some residual Gold-buggery
in the Ron Paul camp, but that's marginal.
As for reducing taxes on the rich, that's a policy constant that
has been served by every conceivable rationale -- Lafferism is only
one such ploy for the exceptionally gullible. And while rank and
file Republicans may not get excited about creating a more inequal
society, they'll usually buy the notion that tax cuts should be
matched by spending cuts, especially subsidies to "those people."
But if Krugman is having trouble finding "a general theory of
crankification," that's because he's looking at economics, not
politics. Once Republicans decided that any argument that
sounded remotely plausible could be used to support their favored
policies, validity ceased to be one of their concerns. Then they
found that by cultivating the ignorance and illogic of their
followers they could greatly expand their crackpot arguments
and, well, the rest is show biz.
Middle East links: Seems like more war all the time.
Perhaps unfair to blame all that on the region's number one arms
supplier. Kind of like blaming junkies on pushers.
Yousef Munayyer: Gaza is already unlivable:
The United Nations said on Sept. 1 that the Gaza Strip could become
unlivable by 2020 without critical access to reconstruction and
For Gaza's beleaguered residents, none of this is surprising. Gaza
is already uninhabitable and has been on a fast track to a complete
collapse. The U.N. issued similar warnings three years ago, even before
last summer's 50-day war, which left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead
and countless others injured -- most of them civilians.
"Three Israeli military operations in the past six years, in addition
to eight years of economic blockade, have ravaged the already debilitated
infrastructure of Gaza," the latest U.N. report said. "The most recent
military operation compounded already dire socioeconomic conditions and
accelerated de-development in the occupied Palestinian territory, a
process by which development is not merely hindered but reversed."
Actually, what's needed isn't humanitarian aid but a political
agreement that splits Gaza free from the isolation and deprivation
imposed by Israel (and, for that matter, Egypt's dictatorship).
Sara Yael Hirschhorn: Israeli Terrorists, Born in the USA: Did
you ever wonder why so many of the illegal settlers in the West
Bank, especially the ones most notorious for acts of violence,
originally came from the United States? This piece doesn't delve
very deeply into why, aside from mentioning the model of Meir
Kahane, but I can think of several factors that might predispose
Americans to seek out a situation where they can lord it over
others with impunity. Israel is one such place. For a current
example of such impunity, see
Palestinians in Duma are angry that no one has been charged for
murders, after 38 days.
By the way, but I don't see much fundamental difference between
these young Americans to go to Israel to join the settler movement,
or for that matter to serve in the IDF, and those who go to Syria
to fight for ISIS. Both derive from mistaken senses of identity.
Both get to mistreat people and feel superior for doing so. Sure,
the US government tolerates one case while pushing the other --
even when the other doesn't happen (see
Adam Goldman: An American family saved their son from joining the Islamic
State. Now he might go to prison.)
Nima Shirazi: Slaughtering the Truth and the False Choice of a War
With Iran: Anne-Marie Slaughter supports the Iran Deal, for bad
reasons, because she's a bad thinker:
Five years after supporting the invasion of Iraq, Slaughter was annoyed
by the "gotcha politics" of being held accountable for her bad judgment,
grousing in The Huffington Post that "debate is still far too much about
who was right and who was wrong on the initial invasion."
In 2011, after leaving the State Department, Slaughter lent her
full-throated support to the NATO bombing campaign in Libya, extolling
herself as a champion of humanitarianism and democracy and then hailing
the operation as an unmitigated success. It's been anything but.
A year later, she was calling for US allies to arm rebel forces
against the Assad government in Syria, writing in The New York Times,
"Foreign military intervention in Syria offers the best hope for
curtailing a long, bloody and destabilizing civil war."
In 2013, Slaughter openly lamented her support for the invasion of
Iraq a decade earlier. "Looking back, it is hard to remember just how
convinced many of us were that weapons of mass destruction would be
found," she wrote in The New Republic. "Had I not believed that, I
would never have countenanced any kind of intervention on purely
Nicola Abé: The Vanishing: Why Are Young Egyptian Activists Disappearing?
Back around 1970 I read a book by Egyptian Marxist Anouar Abdel-Malek
(1924-2012) called Egypt: Military Society which argued that the
military in Egypt was the sometimes hidden/often not backbone power in
the nation. I was reminded of this in 2011 when Mubarak was moved out
of power in response to mass demonstrations, and shortly later when the
democratically elected Mohammed Morsi was deposed by a military coup.
Arguably, Morsi overshot his mandate and abused his power, but the same
is true of the new dictator, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
More than four years after the Egyptian revolution, the government headed
by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is cracking down on unwelcome journalists,
former revolutionaries and, most of all, Islamists. In the name of fighting
terror, laws are enacted that limit freedom of the press and freedom of
expression. In some cases, government forces are breaking the country's
laws, in what sometimes feels like a retaliation campaign against those
who drove out former dictator Hosni Mubarak and believed in democracy.
Young people are being detained -- on the street, at work and at home.
They are interrogated without arrest warrants or access to an attorney,
and their family members are kept in the dark about their whereabouts.
There were occasional cases like these already under Mubarak, but since
Interior Minister Magdy Abdul Ghaffar came into office in March, the
police are disappearing scores of people, especially members and
supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the new regime collectively
treats as terrorists. Human rights activists believe there are up to
around 800 such cases in Egypt today.
Eric Schmitt/Ben Hubbard: US Revamping Rebel Force Fighting ISIS in
Syria: The American decision to fight both Assad and ISIS (and
possibly other anti-Assad and/or anti-ISIS forces) with hired local
proxies continues to be plagued by . . . well, everything. It is
one measure of the blind faith Americans put in armed force that
they are stuck in this schizophrenic nightmare.
The Pentagon effort to salvage its flailing training program in Turkey
and Jordan comes as the world is fixated on the plight of thousands of
refugees seeking safety in Europe from strife in the Middle East,
including many fleeing violence of the Syrian civil war and oppression
in areas under the control of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
Officials in Washington and European capitals acknowledge that halting
this mass migration requires a comprehensive international effort to
bring peace and stability to areas that those refugees are now fleeing.
The 54 Syrian fighters supplied by the Syrian opposition group
Division 30 were the first group of rebels deployed under a $500
million train-and-equip program authorized by Congress last year.
It is an overt program run by United States Special Forces, with
help from other allied military trainers, and is separate from a
parallel covert program run by the CIA.
After a year of trying, however, the Pentagon is still struggling
to find recruits to fight the Islamic State without also battling the
forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, their original adversary.
A Downward Spiral: The Saudi war in Yemen, where the Saudi attack on
the local Houthi tribe has been joined by Qatar, UAE, Egypt, and (soon)
Sudan, in one of the most naked examples of belligerent aggression the
world has seen recently:
The action certainly has the whiff of revenge. Onlookers have already
been questioning what the coalition's campaign, now in its sixth month,
hopes to achieve. It is unclear how much support Iran has given to the
Houthis, which is one of the main justifications for the coalition's
action. Quashing the Shia Houthis is nigh on impossible. Gulf officials
and media talk bombastically of preparations to take back Sana'a from
them and reinstall Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi as president (the Houthis
drove him out of the country in March). But Yemen has long been
treacherous territory for foreign invaders, and Gulf armies are
Since committing ground troops in August, the coalition has taken
control of Aden, the southern port city, and is advancing on Taiz.
But it is struggling in Maarib, the gateway to Sana'a, where the
extra troops, backed by armoured vehicles and missile launchers,
are said to be massing. The fighting will only get harder since
the Houthis' remaining strongholds are in mountainous redoubts.
The high toll exacted on civilians may be losing the coalition the
support of allied fighters on the ground, a mixture of tribesmen,
units of the fractured army and Islamist types including al-Qaeda
fighters. "Everyone has now lost someone," says Mr Boucenine. He
says civilians make up an increasing proportion of the dead, now
Amanda Marcotte: Conservatives' Freakout Over Iran Has Absolutely
Nothing to Do With Iran: Picture is from the Trump-Cruz rally
against the Iran Deal. I saw a bit of Trump talking there and it
was the first time he really scared me.
Obama's plan looks like a done deal, but now the clowns are spilling out,
honking their noses and trying to get attention by screaming about how
we're all going to die now. As Nick Corasanti of the New York Times
reports, a veritable who's-who of unserious but self-important demagogues,
led by known foreign policy experts Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, have
descended on DC to impart their collective wisdom about diplomacy, which
appears to amount to implying that the president's testicles aren't big
Ted Cruz in particular seems to think that this is his moment to prove
to the doubters that he is a big tough guy who gets things done because
he's tough and that's what tough guys do. He, along with other House
conservatives, is leading a plan to derail the deal by harping on legal
technicalities, with Rep. Peter Roskam fully admitting it's a "process
Now we have Rep. Louie Gohmert threatening to resign over all this.
Clearly, Congress will be bereft of this leading luminary who graces
this country with conspiracy theories about Jade Helm, how ISIS is
being snuck in by Mexican drug dealers, and how God will destroy the
country for legalizing same-sex marriage.
In other words, two of the worst Republican traits of the past 20
years -- pointless obstructionism for the sole purpose of sticking it
to the Democrats and mindless demagoguery about the nefarious Middle
Eastern threat to convince voters of your manhood -- are joining
together to create a massive, misshapen beast that represents
everything that's gone wrong with politics in the 21st century.
"Jimmy Carter's cancer is God's punishment for his behavior toward Jews,"
says leading Israeli newspaper: Stuff like this make you think God's
some kind of jerk, or maybe I just mean people who presume to speak for
Him? Carter's negotiation of the 1979 peace treaty between Sadat and Begin
was a great gift of peace for Israel, one that has lasted to this day,
even though Begin reneged on the promise of "autonomy" for Palestinians,
and three years later squandered the blessing of peace by invading
Sunday, September 6. 2015
This week's scattered links:
Billmon: Once the best political blogger in the country,
he gave that up only to return as an excessively prolific tweeter, often
spewing out cryptic numbered series of 140-charactertudes that could be
collected and polished up into respectable blog posts. Consider this
transcribed (and slightly edited) example:
If GOP was hoping party's enraged wingnuts would calm down, tug forelocks
and vote for approved establishment candidates, today's dual Senate defeats
on Iran deal, Planned Parenthood will be about as helpful as a couple of
snorts of pure crystal meth. Endless frustration of GOP's BS promises of
sweeping victories -- "We'll END Obamacare! We'll STOP the baby killers!" --
that can't be kept is a big part of what's whipped the lumpen GOP into such
a frenzy of hate and rage. But instead of becoming more skeptical of BS
promises of "final victory," lumpen GOP is becoming even more passionate
about demanding it. And so a fraud like Trump or a laid back fanatic like
Carson can still be seen as the saviors who will make good on the BS
This reminds me that the most persistent character trait of Republicans
ever since Reagan has been their sense of being entitled to lord it over
America -- a sense so deeply felt that they are gobsmacked by every shred
of evidence to the contrary. And I'm talking less about
the elites, who actually do exercise considerable power whenever they
can buy or rent it, than the rank and file, the chumps who loyally
vote Republican, who think they alone are the country and that everyone
who disagrees with them is alien scum. Only exaggerated egos can sustain
their sense of entitlement despite perceptions of victimhood. They get
that way through flattery, by constantly being reminded by politicians
and pundits that they are the true Americans, the source of the nation's
greatness and, if only they can regain power, redemption.
Billmon's also been bothering to post poll results, like:
All adults: 37/59
Ain't Ronny Reagan's America any more, Donald
"70% of 18-29-year-olds see Trump unfavorably, +12 points since
July." His base is white equivalent of Last of the Mohicans
More evidence that America is slipping away from the self-anointed
Ed Kilgore: The Ultimate Jerking Knee of Anti-Obamaism: Obama used
his executive powers to order the federal government to change the
designated name of a large heap of rock in the middle of Alaska from
Mt. McKinley to Denali. I was surprised because I thought the deal
had been done in 1980 when Denali National Park and Reserve was
established, but evidently some dolt at the US Board on Geographic
Names didn't get (or honor) the memo. Indeed, the official name in
Alaska has long been Denali, as Julia O'Malley explains
here. Still, Republicans -- especially those trotting around
the country campaigning for president -- blew a gasket. Kilgore
sees this as one more example of knee-jerk anti-Obamaism:
Yet here we have Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee -- so far -- attacking
the move and promising (Trump) or demanding (Huck) that it be stopped.
There is zero plausible rationale other than hostility to Obama and all
his infernal works. If it spreads, that will be incontestable.
When I first heard about this, I found Ohio politicians like Bob
Portman complaining, making me think they should find a mountain in Ohio
to name after McKinley (and, while they're at it, a slightly smaller
one for Harding)? But I can think of at least two other reasons for
their agita. One is that having totally sandbagged Obama's legislative
agenda, they've long been primed to cry foul any and every time he
uses the routine executive powers of an office that he was popularly
elected to twice -- even on something this innocuous. But the other
is that Republicans have become obsessed with naming things after
themselves, so this seems like backsliding. Their campaign kicked
into high gear when they formed a full-time lobby to get things named
after Ronald Reagan, figuring that if they could plaster his name
everywhere he might achieve exalted Washington-Lincoln status. We've
seen fruits of this campaign locally with the VA Hospital named for
Robert Dole and the airport named for Eisenhower. (Koch Arena, of
course, wasn't a political decision; its naming was bought the
Ed Kilgore: Defending the God-Given Liberty of County Clerks to Ignore
Duties They Don't Like: Evidently there's a county clerk in Kentucky
who's gotten attention by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay
couples -- something recently established as "the law of the land." She
regards her refusal to be a matter of religious conscience, but doesn't
feel strongly enough to resign her position, which would be the principled
thing to do. Rather, she feels entitled to keep her job and use it to
discriminate against people she doesn't like, to prevent them from one
of their legal rights. She has no legal basis to stand on, although there
are a few politicians -- including a "Tea Party dude" named Matt Bevin
who's running for governor in Kentucky -- who would like to invent a
legal right for at least some people to impose their bigotry on others
according to some definition of religious conscience. They key word in
that last line is "some" because there are way too many weird tenets
in way too many religions to generalize any such "right" -- it doesn't
take much imagination to see that the result would be chaos. On the
other hand, respect for religious conscience isn't a bad principle.
But the way to honor it isn't to turn it into a way to obstruct and
frustrate justice. It's to allow the conscientious objector to step
back and be replaced by someone amenable to the situation. For the
clerk, that means resign and find some new job that doesn't present
her with such moral qualms. For a pharmacist, say, who objects to
filling prescriptions for birth control, that may even mean finding
a new profession. (No business can afford to keep extra staff on
hand to compensate for the "religious convictions" of staff that
refuse to do their job.) Still, none of these recent examples compel
people to do things against their principles like the military draft
did, and which military enlistment contracts still do. I strongly
believe that any soldier should be able to resign at any moment
when faced with an understanding that one's task may be illegal,
unethical, and/or immoral. However, even given how much I hate war,
I wouldn't go so far as to insist that conscientious objectors be
retained in military posts so they can undermine the operation.
Rather, I'd hope that enough people would object to bring the
whole operation into question.
Admittedly, resigning a position, possibly even changing a career
path, involves an economic cost. If politicians wish to support more
people exercising conscientious objection, they could help cushion
those costs -- e.g., by providing unemployment compensation for
anyone who resigns on principle. But that's not what Bevin, et al.,
want. All they want is to undermine civil rights by allowing
self-righteous cranks to muck up the system. That's why this clerk
is their poster child.
Norman Pollack: The Trump Phenomenon: This Is Getting Serious:
News coverage of US presidential campaigns has been abysmal for a
long time, and seems to get worse as a function of how long the
campaigns last and how much money is spent on them. One problem
this year is having to slog through so much rubbish about Donald
Trump's "populism" -- the word they're looking for is "popularity,"
itself a highly circumscribed property when the only people you're
sampling are those who show up for Republican campaign events. I
figured the writer most likely to debunk this nonsense is the one
who introduced me to the history of the People's Party -- checking
back, the book I recall was The Populist Mind (1967), which
he edited; he also wrote The Populist Response to Industrial
America: Midwestern Populist Thought (1962); The Just
Polity: Populism, Law, and Human Welfare (1987), and The
Humane Economy: Populism, Capitalism, and Democracy (1990). And
he makes a clear distinction between populism and the gruff Trump
is peddling. The latter is what he calls "neo-fascism," something
he doesn't see Trump pushing so much as pandering:
Yet Trump is less important than the American people, who, thirsting
for strong leadership, pathetic in their wallowing in contrived fear,
brought on by decades of gut redbaiting and subliminally-wrought and
manipulative anticommunism, place him on a political-ideological
pedestal tokening authoritarian submissiveness. America, not Trump
himself, is the primary explanation for his standing.
The political culture is one of uncritical acceptance of war,
business, militarism (in truth neo-fascism corrected for eroding
Constitutional principles still in place), a long-term historical
process in the shaping of a hierarchical capitalist structure,
value system, and class relationships. Old Glory is self-immolating,
its fabric torn asunder by unreasoning fear (an inflexible societal
framework, in essence, counterrevolutionary in scope and substance,
because opposed to social change in recognition that property, class,
privilege might be questioned if critical judgment were encouraged
and allowed to operate freely), and by frustration over obstacles
to US unilateral global hegemony. This is not something new, fear
being a weapon in the elites' arsenal, permanent, yet trotted out,
intensified, when they sense a mass awakening and/or restiveness
usually associated with war and its aftermath.
This neo-fascist impulse is summed up in the mass craving
for a strong leader -- the word that expresses it perfectly is
Führerprinzip (this is one of those cases where a German
word is clearer than anything I could say in English). They can
only hope Trump is the Führer of their dreams -- clearly
most other Republican candidates aren't, being mere puppets of
their billionaire sponsors (most obviously, I'd say, Walker and
Rubio). It's safe to say that Trump will ultimately disappoint,
if not as Hitler did then at some lower level of catastrophe
and/or corruption. Given Trump's track record I'd bet on the
latter. Few figures in our time have more consistently pursued
fame as a means to fortune. Give him "the most powerful office
in the world" and you can be sure he won't rule as the humble
servant of the people who voted for him. He will only have his
own self-interest to guide him.
I've never seen anyone mention this, but the obvious model for
Trump as a politician is Silvio Berlusconi, the media mogul who
became prime minister of Italy three times between 1994 and 2011.
Forbes pegs Berlusconi's net worth at $7.7 billion, almost double
the $4 billion Trump is supposedly worth, although Berlusconi was
certainly worth less before he became prime minister. As it happens,
there is a new book out: Being Berlusconi: The Rise and Fall
From Cosa Nostra to Bunga Bunga, where we find that along
with his great fortune and political triumphs, he also "became
bogged down by his hubris, egotism, sexual obsessions, as well
as his flagrant disregard for the law."
His followers say America wants and needs a Great Leader, but
the more I look at Trump, the more he looks like a cheap knock
off of Silvio Berlusconi.
Still, otherwise intelligent reporters keep buying at least part
of the Trump = populism meme (like Pollack, they're usually people
who don't have a very high opinion of most white Americans. E.g.,
Matt Taibbi: The Republicans Are Now Officially the Party of White
Paranoia. Taibbi follows up a quick rundown of how oligarchy
works followed by a dubious example of Trump breaking rank:
They donate heavily to both parties, essentially hiring two different
sets of politicians to market their needs to the population. The
Republicans give them everything that they want, while the Democrats
only give them mostly everything.
They get everything from the Republicans because you don't have to
make a single concession to a Republican voter.
All you have to do to secure a Republican vote is show lots of
pictures of gay people kissing or black kids with their pants pulled
down or Mexican babies at an emergency room. Then you push forward
some dingbat like Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin to reassure everyone
that the Republican Party knows who the real Americans are.
[ . . . ]
Trump has pulled all of those previously irrelevant voters completely
out of pocket. In a development that has to horrify the donors who run
the GOP, the candidate Trump espouses some truly populist policy beliefs,
including stern warnings about the dire consequences companies will face
under a Trump presidency if they ship American jobs to Mexico and China.
All that energy the party devoted for decades telling middle American
voters that protectionism was invented by Satan and Karl Marx during a
poker game in Brussels in the mid-1840s, that just disappeared in a puff
And all that money the Republican kingmakers funneled into Fox and
Clear Channel over the years, making sure that their voters stayed
focused on ACORN and immigrant-transmitted measles and the New Black
Panthers (has anyone ever actually seen a New Black Panther? Ever?)
instead of, say, the complete disappearance of the manufacturing sector
or the mass theft of their retirement income, all of that's now backing
up on them.
What fakes people out, I think, is that the more ideologically rigorous
Republican moneymen (starting with the Kochs) are so wary of Trump, not
so much because they think he's not on their side as because he's not
(yet) in their pocket. That'll change soon enough when they realize his
shtick is just shtick.
For another piece that takes Trump populism seriously, see
David Atkins: Why Donald Trump Will Defeat the Koch Brothers for the Soul
of the GOP:
In order to understand how Donald Trump continues to dominate the
Republican field despite openly promoting tax hikes on wealthy hedge
fund managers, hinting support for universal healthcare and other
wildly iconoclastic positions hostile to decades of Republican dogma,
it's important to note the that the Republican Party was teetering
on the edge of a dramatic change no matter whether Trump had entered
the race or not. [ . . . ]
As for Wall Street? Most Republican voters can't stand them. The
majority of the Republican base sees the financial sector as crony
capitalist, corrupt liberal New Yorkers who got a bailout. Most GOP
voters won't shed a tear if Trump raises taxes on the hedge fund crowd.
Donald Trump reassures these voters that the "wrong kind of people"
won't be getting any freebies on his watch. That's all they really care
about -- so if Trump supports universal healthcare it's simply not that
big a deal.
And this ultimately is what the real GOP realignment is going to look
like: less racially diverse corporatism, and more socialism for white
people. It stands to reason. Blue-collar white GOP voters aren't about
to forget decades of fear-based propaganda, and their economic position
remains precarious enough that they still need the welfare state help.
The first point to remember is that no politician can, and many don't
even want to, deliver on all campaign promises. Second, it's especially
far fetched to think that Trump will, not least because there's scant
evidence he really believes in any of this -- especially the "socialism
for white people" planks Atkins touts. If/when he gets elected, he'll
have to work with a Republican party that has been leaning the other
way hard for years -- especially on taxes and benefits, but also on
things like trade and capital flows. He could try to push some things
through with Democratic support, but that runs the risk of losing not
the base so much as the media machine that has kept the GOP so united
of late. If I had to guess, I'd expect him to demagogue anti-immigrant
positions -- that, after all, is his trademark issue -- but he'll
accommodate all the usual interest groups, notably the banks, oil,
and the military, and I doubt he'll do anything to undermine the
predatory nature of the health care industry (though he'll preserve
some form of rebranded, "fixed" Obamacare). But he won't do anything
to slow down much less reverse the increasing inequality that is
undoing the white middle class. He may get a short term blip because
a lot of voters are gullible, but he can't build a realignment on
delivering nothing but hot air.
Trump's slogan is to Make America Great Again, but he can't deliver
on that because nothing he knows how to do will work. He is popular
now because his jingoism resonates with a certain type of mainstream
Republican, but you shouldn't confuse popularity with populism. The
latter is a set of principled beliefs. The former is fleeting, most
of all for frauds and crooks, and every experience we've had suggests
that's all he is.
PS: It will be interesting to see whether Trump support
manages to break off some of the odder chinks in the conservative
worldview. The most likely candidates are schemes like the flat tax
and the various privatization schemes for Social Security/Medicare --
programs that are very popular among the GOP base but under attack
from the libertarian-oriented (i.e., Koch-financed) think tanks.
Right now the groups that seem to be most upset by Trump are Koch
fronts: having entered this election cycle planning on spending
$900 million to finally take control of the whole nation, they've
suddenly found themselves on the defensive, in a fight over the
mindset of the Republican Party. And they're liable to find that a
lot of their pet issues are deeply unpopular even among the party
faithful: for instance, their rabid anti-wind push couldn't even
pass the neanderthal Kansas legislature, and the exemption that
businessmen get from state income tax was only saved by Brownback's
unwillingness to compromise on the point.
There's probably a formal model for this somewhere, but just
thinking off the top of my head, let me try to sketch one out.
In any political party, there are some stances that are widely
held by the masses, and multiple others that are held by the
elites. The elites control the media, the think tanks, and in
normal times the discussion -- a mix of their own concerns plus
a little red meat to keep the masses riled up. Until Trump came
along, the race was between a bunch of whores sucking up to the
party's top money men, the cream of the elites. Any of those
guys would have been acceptable to the masses, but none of them
really satisfied their craving for a strong charismatic leader,
a Führer. Trump changed all that, mostly by appealing
directly to the masses (bypassing the elites) by seizing on a
mass hot-button issue, immigration. (The elites are generally
pro-immigration, correctly seeing it as good for business and
bad for labor, although they often bite their tongue so as not
to stir up the shit storm Trump raised.)
My sense of the Republican masses is: people who basically
feel economically secure (unless they own small business); are
cynical about government but less so about business; regard
wealth and self-sufficiency as signs of virtue, and poverty as
a personal failing; regard hierarchies as normal, and tend to
defer to strong male figures; strongly identify with like groups,
especially the nation. You can probably tune this further. The
GOP has been very effective at cultivating single-issue voters,
like gun nuts (I added "self-sufficiency" thinking of them),
anti-abortion zealots (male-dominated hierarchies has a lot to
do with this), and the military (ditto). I could add something
about people who aspire to be rich and vote their dreams, but
such people mostly fall into hierarchies, and that's sort of
a self-serving cliché -- besides, most of the mass base know
they'll never get rich (many are already on Social Security),
they're just satisfied with their lot. Obviously, most are
white and native-born over at least a couple generations --
but there are exceptions, including such over-compensating
strivers as Rubio, Cruz, Jindal, Santorum (and I suppose I
should add Carson). I didn't include religion in part because
I'm not convinced that Republicans have any edge there (let
alone monopoly), although they may be more clannish, dogmatic,
and bigoted about their religion.
I also didn't include prejudice or stupidity in this list,
mostly because I think they are effects of the way Republican
elites manipulate their mass base rather than defining factors
of membership. The unavoidable fact is that the mass base is
incredibly misinformed about just about everything -- something
easy to blame on the right-wing media and their knack for
spinning facts and spicing them up with "dog whistle" nuance,
something the mass base doesn't just buy into but gobbles up
with disturbing relish. Still, this ignorance is a weak spot for
the mass base, one that's likely to fracture whenever contrary
facts break through -- which happens regularly as Republican
programs inevitably blow up.
Iran Deal links:
Celestine Bohlen: Europe Doesn't Share US Concerns on Iran Deal:
Given the sound, fury and millions of dollars swirling around the debate
in Washington over the Iranian nuclear deal, the silence in Europe is
striking. It's particularly noticeable in Britain, France and Germany,
which were among the seven countries that signed the deal on July 14.
Here in France, which took the toughest stance during the last years
of negotiation, the matter is settled, according to Camille Grand,
director of the Strategic Research Foundation in Paris and an expert
on nuclear nonproliferation.
"In Europe, you don't have a constituency against the deal," he said.
"In France, I can't think of a single politician or member of the expert
community who has spoken against it, including some of us who were critical
during the negotiations."
Mr. Grand said the final agreement was better than he had expected.
"I was surprised by the depth and the quality of the deal," he said.
"The hawks are satisfied, and the doves don't have an argument."
Grace Cason/Jim Lobe: Committee for the Liberation of Iraq Members on
Iran Deal: As you've probably noticed by now, most of the people
who brought you the Iraq War are opposed to Obama's Iran Deal. This
article provides an exhaustive rundown:
Virtually all of the political appointees who held foreign-policy posts
under George W. Bush -- from Elliott Abrams to Dov Zakheim, not to
mention such leading lights as Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz,
Eric Edelman, and "Scooter" Libby -- have all assailed the agreement as
a sell-out and/or appeasement with varying degrees of vehemence, if not
The piece especially covers the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq
(CLI), which was set up in November 2002 to sell the war -- "a classic
letterhead organization (LHO), a collection of individuals with widely
varying degrees of knowledge about Iraq gathered together by the Bush
White House, PNAC, and Chalabi." Of that group, Chalabi seems to be the
only one to favor the deal. Many others are quoted, the most flamboyant
being Bernard Lewis, who said that "for Iran's leadership, mutually
assured destruction is 'not a deterrent, it's an inducement.'" They
did find four CLI members who supported the deal, and several others,
ranging from James P. Hoffa to Donald Rumsfeld, who have yet to weigh
Fred Kaplan: How the Iran Deal Will Pass -- and Why It Should:
This runs through a lot of opposition arguments and knocks them down.
Then ponders the politics, which is subject to a different form of
The biggest source of uncertainty, among some vote counters, is that
the whole exercise is a bit theatrical. Because Obama has said he
would veto a rejection, all the Republicans and a few Democrats feel
that they have leave to succumb to political pressures. They can vote
"no," and satisfy their party whips or constituents, without shouldering
any responsibility for their actions.
The irony and danger of this is that, the safer Obama's margins seem,
the more Democrats might defect, believing that the deal will pass
without their support. But if enough Democrats act on that calculation,
the outcome could shift -- maybe enough to override a veto, even though
none of the swing voters has that intention.
This can happen in a political system, such as ours today, that
encourages legislators to take their jobs less than seriously.
Paul R Pillar: The Iran Issue and the Exploitation of Ignorance:
Most of this is on public polling, which confirms here, as it has on
many other occasions, that most Americans are ignorant and/or stupid.
He then moves on to cases where opponents have sought to exploit this
ignorance by spinning minor details into supposed problems -- the "24
day" issue is an example -- but he also points out that supporters
can use the issue as an opportunity for educating the public (e.g.,
Congressman Jerrold Nadler Statement on the P5+1 Joint Comprehensive
Plan of Action).
Stephen M Walt: The Myth of a Better Deal:
The most obvious example of magical thinking in contemporary policy
discourse, of course, is the myth of a "better deal" with Iran. Despite
abundant evidence to the contrary, opponents of the JCPOA keep insisting
additional sanctions, more threats to use force, another round of Stuxnet,
or if necessary, dropping a few bombs, would have convinced Iran to run
up the white flag and give the United States everything it ever demanded
for the past 15 years. The latest example of such dubious reasoning is
the New York Times's David Brooks, who thinks an agreement where Iran
makes most of the concessions is a Vietnam-style defeat for the United
States and imagines that tougher US negotiators (or maybe war) would
have produced a clear and decisive victory.
Never mind that while the United States ramped up sanctions, Iran
went from zero centrifuges to 19,000. Never mind that there was no
international support for harsher sanctions and that unilateral US
sanctions wouldn't increase the pressure in any meaningful way. Never
mind that attacking Iran with military force would not end its nuclear
program and only increase Iran's interest in having an actual weapon.
Never mind that the deal blocks every path to a bomb for at least a
decade. And never mind that the myth of a "better deal" ignores
Diplomacy 101: To get any sort of lasting agreement, it has to
provide something for all of the parties.
The next paragraph has another good line but I wanted to stop
on the "Diplomacy 101" point. Deals shouldn't turn into contests
of power, in part because they're never really zero-sum games.
When both sides are equal in power, their deals can be expected
to find mutual benefits that exceed either party's losses. But
when power is inequal, when one side has to make concessions to
the other, it becomes essential that the more powerful side limit
those concessions to what will be viewed as just. Failure to do
so breeds resentment, both against the unjust treaty and the
powerlessness it demonstrates. The classic example, of course,
was Versailles, where the reparations Germany was forced to pay
fueled a revolt that led to an even deadlier war. I'd worry more
that the deal was stacked too much against Iran than that the US
negotiators could have held out for something more punitive. The
US did not enter these negotiations with a much of a reputation
for justice, at least in Iranian eyes, and reneging on the deal
(as the Republicans propose) will only sully America's reputation
Needless to say, no nation has a worse reputation for turning
negotiations into contests of power than Israel (the main reason
the power-crazed neocons so love and envy it).
Gareth Porter: Barak's tales of Israel's near war with Iran conceal
with real story: A tale of frantic sabre-rattling, designed more
for show than as a real military action (kind of like Nixon's "Madman"
The latest episode in the seemingly endless story of Israel's threat
of war followed the broadcast in Israel of interviews by Barak for a
new biography. The New York Times' Jodi Rudoren reported that, in
those interviews, Barak "revealed new details to his biographers about
how close Israel came to striking Iran." Barak "said that he and Mr
Netanyahu were ready to attack Iran each year," but claimed that
something always went wrong. Barak referred to three distinct episodes
from 2010 through 2012 in which the he and Netanyahu were supposedly
manoeuvering to bring about an air attack on Iran's nuclear programme.
The bulk of the article show how Obama used Israel's threats to
gain UN agreement on harsher sanctions against Iran.
Trita Parsi/Reza Marashi: Obama's Real Achievement With the Iran Deal:
In his speech at American University on August 5, Obama made clear that
the Iran nuclear deal is a product of him leading America away from the
damaging over-militarization of America's foreign and national security
policies following the September 11th attacks. "When I ran for President
eight years ago as a candidate who had opposed the decision to go to war
in Iraq, I said that America didn't just have to end that war -- we had
to end the mindset that got us there in the first place," Obama said.
"It was a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over
But a single foreign-policy achievement, however historic and momentous,
a mindset does not change. Particularly if the debate surrounding the deal
remains deeply rooted in the old, militaristic mindset. Herein lies the
Obama administration's own shortcomings in the debate. While the president
made clear his aim to shift America's security mindset, most of the arguments
employed to convince lawmakers to support to deal are rooted in the mindset
that led America into Iraq, not in the mindset that enabled the diplomatic
victory with Iran.
The Iraq war mindset is one where strength above all else produces
security. An attitude that, in the words of Obama, "equates security
with a perpetual war footing." This mindset, in turn, produces a fear of
not projecting strength; of looking weak. As the president pointed out
in his speech, "Those calling for war labeled themselves strong and
decisive, while dismissing those who disagreed as weak -- even appeasers
of a malevolent adversary."
This desire to look strong, borne out of this mindset, continues to
define the debate over the Iran deal. It has led some supporters of the
deal to highlight the military justifications behind their support, even
though this defeats the larger purpose of the deal itself: To shift the
paradigm from militarism to diplomacy.
But Obama's line about wanting to change the way we think about war
had turned into a joke long ago by the man himself. Whatever doubts he
may have had before, they evaporated pretty quickly once his minions
started calling him "commander in chief," as he started racking up his
own personal body count -- as I recall, the first person he directly,
personally ordered assassinated was a Somali pirate, and the list has
grown much longer since then. Obama didn't change the way we think
about war; war changed the way we think about Obama (not, of course,
that the Republicans can be accused of thinking here).
Even Obama's great diplomatic breakthrough has all the marks of a
military campaign, deftly executed to line up a broad front of allies
whose combined leverage was so great that Iran saw no alternative but
to surrender its Ayatollahs' dreams of nuclear apocalypse. Admittedly,
Obama did (at least for the moment) effect a change within American
military strategy, preferring a clean surrender signed by Iran's
leaders, who remain in place to enforce it, to the usual American
military clusterfuck -- you know, invade a country, kill people
indiscriminately, destroy the infrastructure to commit mass mayhem,
buy off the most corruptible elements and turn them into the face of
occupation, then spend eternity putting down guerrilla insurrections.
Nonetheless, Obama reserved the latter option in case the deal doesn't
work out. You'd think his opponents would at least take heart in
that. But then you'd also think that anyone who grasped the alleged
problem would recognize that an agreement with positive incentives
for compliance will be much more effective than disagreement with
random punishments and unpredictable reprisals, which is all that
Netanyahu, Lieberman (take your pick), and their ilk have to offer.
As the debate over the Iran deal concludes and the next policy crisis
comes to the fore, both Obama's friends and foes would be wise to take
his advice: "Resist the conventional wisdom and the drumbeat of war.
Worry less about being labeled weak; worry more about getting it right."
Indeed, if the Iran nuclear deal solely prevents an Iranian bomb but
fails to shift the security paradigm in America towards peace building
through diplomacy rather than the militarism of perpetual warfare, then
truly a historic opportunity will have been lost.
Changing the way we think about war will take some leadership who's
already changed the way they think, but when it happens we'll look back
on this debate and wonder how both sides could have been so drunk on
Noam Chomsky: On the Iran Deal: I might say he's a little long-winded,
but he makes so many solid points the piece comes off as a breath of fresh
air. For instance:
Turning to the next obvious question, what in fact is the Iranian threat?
Why, for example, are Israel and Saudi Arabia trembling in fear over that
country? Whatever the threat is, it can hardly be military. Years ago, US
intelligence informed Congress that Iran has very low military expenditures
by the standards of the region and that its strategic doctrines are
defensive -- designed, that is, to deter aggression. The US intelligence
community has also reported that it has no evidence Iran is pursuing an
actual nuclear weapons program and that "Iran's nuclear program and its
willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons
is a central part of its deterrent strategy."
The authoritative SIPRI review of global armaments ranks the US, as
usual, way in the lead in military expenditures. China comes in second
with about one-third of US expenditures. Far below are Russia and Saudi
Arabia, which are nonetheless well above any western European state.
Iran is scarcely mentioned. Full details are provided in an April report
from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which
finds "a conclusive case that the Arab Gulf states have . . .
an overwhelming advantage of Iran in both military spending and access
to modern arms."
Iran's military spending, for instance, is a fraction of Saudi Arabia's
and far below even the spending of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Altogether, the Gulf Cooperation Council states -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman,
Saudi Arabia, and the UAE -- outspend Iran on arms by a factor of eight,
an imbalance that goes back decades.
Next up is the "existential threat" that Iran is said to present to
nuclear-armed Israel. And of course Chomsky brings up the 1953 coup,
American arms sales to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, etc. I suspect he
goes a little too far in belittling Iran's efforts to recruit allies
around the Middle East -- their interventionism pales in comparison to
what the US and even Saudi Arabia has done, but that doesn't make it
constructive. Also, their human rights record, including religious
intolerance (particularly against the Baha'i) leaves a lot to be
desired -- although, again, maybe not in comparison to our great ally,
Jason Diltz: Four US Troops Among Six Injured in Sinai IED Blasts:
I can't say I was aware of any US troops anywhere in Egypt, but here
you go, in harm's way. Evidently they are part of an observer group
demanded by Israel to monitor Egyptian forces in Sinai, but Egyptian
forces there are mostly fighting other Egyptians, some allegedly
affiliated with ISIS. Rather than admitting that their presence has
become a complicating factor, doing neither Egypt nor Israel any
good, the sensible thing would be to move those troops out, lest
they become an excuse for sending more in. But it seems like that's
just what the military wants to do: to send more firepower in and
escalate the conflict.
Jason Diltz: 45 UAE Troops, 10 Saudis, and 5 Bahrainis Killed in
Yemen War: Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen has mostly
involved killing Yemenis from the air, but as you can see here
the Saudis and their Gulf allies actually have "boots on the ground,"
as 60 deaths in a two-day span clearly shows. Not clear whether the
US is actively or merely passively supporting the Saudi effort, but
as the Saudis' main arms supplier this is effectively yet another
American proxy war effort.
DR Tucker: Everything in Moderation: Part II: Starts with a quote
from a Rachel Maddow monologue back in 2010, but relevant to much of
At the top of the show today, we talked about the myth of bipartisanship,
the futility of Democrats, including the president, wasting time trying
to persuade Republicans to go along with them on policies that are good
for the country. [ . . . ]
None of this is a secret, which is the most important thing to
understand about it. Republicans right now do not care about policy.
By which I mean, they will not vote for things that even they admit
are good policies . . .
And they are unembarrassed about this fact. They are not embarrassed.
Charging them with hypocrisy, appealing to their better, more practical,
more what's-best-for-the-country patriotic angels is like trying to
teach your dog to drive.
It wastes a lot of time. It won't work. And ultimately the dog comes
out of the exercise less embarrassed for failing than you do for trying.
The bulk of the piece has to do with climate change, but it could
just as well be the Iran Deal or pretty much anything else. Republicans
can't imagine a better outcome to the "manufactured crisis" than the
one Obama handed them, but they've negotiated a deal which lets them
sputter on about the deal, secure that nothing they do will undermine
the deal, and confident that no one will remember their pig-headedness
come next election.
This feeling Republicans have that nothing can stick to them was
hugely reinforced when they took control of Congress in 2010, only
four years after Iraq and Katrina wiped them out in 2006, only two
years after they caused the largest recession since the 1930s. This
sense that no matter what they do they'll never have to pay for it
is about the only thing that explains their intransigence on global
warming and health care.
By the way, Tucker is also saying very laudatory things about
Arctic Blast speech. I haven't read or seen the speech, so will
take his word (with the usual grain of salt). However, I have been
saying all along that even if Obama can't legislate solutions he
should be using his pulpit to speak about problems, so this seems
to be a step in the right direction. I just wish his convictions on
war/peace and economic equality were more laudable.
Sunday, August 23. 2015
Some scattered links this week:
Josh Marshall: Breaking: Nuclear Stuff Really Complicated:
But they've had an extremely difficult time making substantive arguments
against the deal because according to almost all technical experts it is
about as tight and comprehensive and total a surveillance regime as we've
ever seen. Ever. Iran will not have a nuclear weapon under any circumstances
for 10 to 20 years. Unless they choose to cheat. And if they do, the U.S.
and the international community will almost certainly catch them and catch
them before they're able to weaponize. But here's the problem -- that's
only the opinion of people who actually know what they're talking about.
Marshall follows this up with examples of stories based on ignorance
and innuendo that supposedly show flaws in the inspections process, and
cites the appropriate authorities on why they're false. I don't see any
point in going down these various rat holes. The most comprehensive
rebuttal I've seen is from Uzi Even, an Israeli physicist who's built
nuclear weapons, who studied the deal and concluded: "the deal was
written by nuclear experts and blocks every path I know to the bomb."
The only exception I would take to Marshall's "nuclear stuff is
complicated . . . so it's important to consult the
people who know about nuclear stuff, people called scientists" is
that the details of the inspection process only really matter if you
assume that Iran actually was working on developing nuclear weapons,
and that they secretly intend to continue on that path after sanctions
are lifted, once Iran opens up to foreign investment and can trade
freely with the rest of the world -- in short, starts to become a
I think that Ayatollah Khamanei drew a sharp line in the sand with
his fatwa declaring nuclear weapons contrary to Islam, so while Iran
certainly wanted to show the world its mastery of nuclear technology,
including the fuel cycle, and possibly thereby gain some deterrence
against the long-present threat of foreign attack, they never had any
intention of moving from capability to weaponization. Hence, it makes
sense to me that Iran would agree to an inspections process that
foreclosed any possibility of doing what they hadn't intended on
doing in the first place -- especially in exchange for ending the
sanctions, which were extremely offensive to Iran in the first
Dan Simpson: The United States owns part of Europe's migrant problem:
If anything, he understates American responsibility. Even though most
of the political pressure for intervention in Libya came from Europe,
the model (as well as the firepower) came from the US. Nor should one
ignore US impacts further south in Africa, especially in countries like
Somalia and Mali. (Ironically, Libya used to be able to absorb many
migrants from war-torn Africa.)
The biggest problem of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa at the
moment is massive migration.
It is a result of American direct and indirect war-making in recent
years in those regions. Most Americans regard the problem as someone
else's. We get away with it because people don't think the matter through.
The United States is responsible for two aspects of the problem. The
first is that we have massively disrupted the societies and economies of
the countries that are producing the refugees through war. The second
source of our responsibility is that our role in the overthrow of the
government in Libya turned that country into a rat's nest of chaos and
non-government. The result is that Libya has come to serve as the
jumping-off point for the boatloads of African and other refugees
jamming their way into Southern Europe and even trying to cross the
A quick glance at the countries of origin of the refugees make
America's role clear. They are Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans and Syrians,
nationals of countries where we have tried to determine what government
should be in power, including by raining countless bombs and drone-mounted
missiles down on them. In each of these countries, America has destroyed
order and the economy, making life unbearable and employment unobtainable.
Put another way, we have turned Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria into
countries that people are desperate to escape, no longer able to imagine
their lives there given the dangerous, lawless cauldrons the countries
But I also blame Europe for not having the smarts and guts to stand
up to the American neocons' misguided and mistaken efforts to transform
the world through fire. (GW Bush: "Sometimes a show of force by one
side can really clarify things." Quoted in Ron Suskind: The One
Stephen M Walt: So Wrong for So Long: Why neoconservatives are never
right: Well, some of the reasons anyway:
Getting Iraq wrong wasn't just an unfortunate miscalculation, it happened
because [the neocons'] theories of world politics were dubious and their
understanding of how the world works was goofy.
[ . . . ]
For starters, neoconservatives think balance-of-power politics doesn't
really work in international affairs and that states are strongly inclined
to "bandwagon" instead. In other words, they think weaker states are easy
to bully and never stand up to powerful adversaries. Their faulty logic
follows that other states will do whatever Washington dictates provided
we demonstrate how strong and tough we are. This belief led them to
conclude that toppling Saddam would send a powerful message and cause
other states in the Middle East to kowtow to us. If we kept up the
pressure, our vast military power would quickly transform the region
into a sea of docile pro-American democracies.
[ . . . ]
Today, of course, opposition to the Iran deal reflects a similar
belief that forceful resolve would enable Washington to dictate whatever
terms it wants. As I've written before, this idea is the myth of a
"better deal." Because neocons assume states are attracted to strength
and easy to intimidate, they think rejecting the deal, ratcheting up
sanctions, and threatening war will cause Iran's government to finally
cave in and dismantle its entire enrichment program. On the contrary,
walking away from the deal will stiffen Iran's resolve, strengthen its
hard-liners, increase its interest in perhaps actually acquiring a
nuclear weapon someday, and cause the other members of the P5+1 to
part company with the United States. [ . . . ]
Fourth, as befits a group of armchair ideologues whose primary goal
has been winning power inside the Beltway, neoconservatives are often
surprisingly ignorant about the actual conditions of the countries
whose politics and society they want to transform. Hardly any
neoconservatives knew very much about Iraq before the United States
invaded -- if they had, they might have reconsidered the whole scheme --
and their characterizations of Iran today consist of scary caricatures
bearing little resemblance to Iran's complicated political and social
reality. In addition to flawed theories, in short, the neoconservative
worldview also depends on an inaccurate reading of the facts on the
Walt lists a couple more reasons neocons are always wrong, and
misses or only glances on a few more. One is that they're extremely
squeamish about dealing with people they perceive as enemies --
i.e., people who don't show the proper submissive repose to the
righteousness of their power. Neocons not only can't accept the
idea that the US might come to an agreement with Iran; they can't
stand that the US would even meet with Iranians in person. In some
ways, their insistence on only dealing with the world by projecting
force derives from insecurities about personal (they would say
Walt correctly notes that "the neoconservatives' prescriptions for
US foreign policy are perennially distorted by a strong attachment to
Israel," but doesn't add that the obvious motive behind that attachment
is envy: they want the US to confront the whole world with the same
arrogance and contempt Israel projects in its neighborhood. One can
make a pretty good argument that such policies don't even benefit
Israel let alone are scalable worldwide.
Despite the terminology, there is nothing especially new about
neocon-ism. The core idea first emerged following the development
of nuclear bombs and the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
that's when the US became the world's sole superpower, a moment
of omnipotence the neocons have been yearning to regain ever since
(hence all the "end of history" brouhaha after the collapse of the
Soviet Union). Aside from the early Bush-Cheney administration,
they've rarely been able to dictate American policy, but the
delusions of power their ideas spring from has been a driving
force behind America's post-WWII war machine -- indeed, they've
spun up an entire ideology (calcified into a secular religion)
that nearly all American politicians are swamped by. This, despite
the fact that every war started with the assumption that American
power will prevail, and every fiasco with the notion that nothing
unmanageably bad could occur.
But even before the bomb, neocon-ism rested on a conservative
doctrine that goes back millennia: the master-slave relationship,
the eternal backbone of American conservatism, and of empires
everywhere. Conservatism has always depended on two assumptions
so deep you can only accept or reject them: one is that some
people are (usually innately) superior to others and therefore
should be privileged to rule; the other is that contrary to the
first can (meaning should) ever change over time. But critics
as far back as Hegel understood that the relationship wasn't
timeless: that over time the master engenders opposition that
ultimately undoes slavery. By the same measure, the projection
of American power creates resistance, something no amount of
belief in enduring superiority can overcome. Jonathan Schell
called this "the unconquerable world."
More Iran links:
Also, a few links for further study:
Eric Foner: Struggle and Progress: An wide-ranging interview with
one of the most important historians working today.
Reynard Loki: Environmentalists Blast Obama's Decision to Let Shell
Drill in Arctic: I recall something about Republican presidential
platforms always ticking off the same five or so bullet items, one of
which was energy self-sufficiency for the US, generic blather for
loosening up environmental regulations and importing a lot more
Canadian crude (which in the tar sands tundra is very crude indeed),
possibly with something about "clean coal" (the oxymoron to end all
oxymorons). I don't expect Obama will ever get any credit for it,
but during the time Obama has been president that plank has largely
been realized. For one thing, by delaying the Keystone Pipeline he
hasn't solved the problem with Canadian imports. Nor has he done
it with coal, although you have to give wind and solar some credit
there. Actually, it's mostly been North Dakota's Bakken field plus
a lot of fracking -- which he hasn't raised a finger to slow down
despite environmental concerns. But the one big thing Obama has
done to promote the oil industry has been to open up a lot more
offshore drilling -- this article reports on Shell's project to
drill in the Arctic Ocean. Still, I doubt Obama's offshore license
has had much effect yet: just when he was opening up the Atlantic,
BP blew a major spill in the Gulf of Mexico and that gummed up the
Aman Sethi: At the Mercy of the Water Mafia: On the edges of Delhi.
In conversations, Sanghwan is annoyed by concerns about the sustainability
of his small empire, about the short-term nature of his profits compared
with his work's potentially devastating long-term implications. Such
questions, he says, demonize the poor and water providers like him, while
letting the rich and the government off the hook. He claims he would
welcome efforts to lay a proper pipe network in his neighborhood, but
given the government's track record, he isn't holding his breath.
Chris Sullentrop: The Kansas Experiment: Long article by the
nephew of Kansas Republican legislator Gene Sullentrop. Kinship
opened a few doors, not that the lowdown on Brownback's dog or
his preferred basketball strategies humanizes him, much less
renders his obsessions sensible. Still, the nephew provides a
fair accounting of the session's fiscal crisis. He does drop in
the line about how "the state is a petri dish for movement
conservatism, a window into how the national Republican Party
might govern if opposition vanished." But he doesn't even mention
80% of the vile insanity that was passed by the legislature in
addition to the education cuts and regressive tax increases.
Steve Weintz: Worst Idea Ever: Dropping Nuclear Bombs During the Vietnam
War: As I recall, there was occasional loose talk all during the long
American War in Vietnam about using nuclear weapons. At the time the US
was putting a lot of effort into reducing the size of nuclear weapons to
try to come up with something that could be used for "tactical" strikes
as opposed to obliterating entire cities. They even managed to deploy an
Atomic Bazooka (1961-68) -- a portable launcher that could shoot
a 10-20 kiloton (i.e., Hiroshima/Nagasaki-sized) bomb about three miles.
Weintz reports on some recently declassified documents, which show that
the possible use of "tactical nukes" in Vietnam was seriously studied,
and wasn't rejected for the obvious moral and political reasons -- the
Mandarins doing the studying didn't want to look "soft" -- but because
they couldn't figure out a way to make them work effectively.