Thursday, July 18. 2013
Special Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman edition links:
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice:
Takes "a very hard look" at the applicable law, especially as formulated
in the judge's instructions to the jury, and concludes that Zimmerman's
"not guilty" verdict was pretty much what the system ordained.
I have seen nothing within the actual case presented by the prosecution
that would allow for a stable and unvacillating belief that George
Zimmerman was guilty.
That conclusion should not offer you security or comfort. It should
not leave you secure in the wisdom of our laws. On the contrary, it
should greatly trouble you. But if you are simply focusing on what
happened in the court-room, then you have been head-faked by history
and bought into a idea of fairness which can not possibly exist.
The injustice inherent in the killing of Trayvon Martin by George
Zimmerman was not authored by a jury given a weak case. The jury's
performance may be the least disturbing aspect of this entire affair.
The injustice was authored by a country which has taken as its policy,
for the lionshare of its history, to erect a pariah class. The killing
of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is not an error in programming.
It is the correct result of forces we set in motion years ago and have
done very little to arrest.
One need only look the criminalization of Martin across the country.
Perhaps you have been lucky enough to not receive the above "portrait"
of Trayvon Martin and its accompanying text. The portrait is actually
of a 32-year old man. Perhaps you were lucky enough to not see the
Trayvon Martin imagery used for target practice (by law enforcement,
no less.) Perhaps you did not see the iPhone games. Or maybe you missed
the theory presently being floated by Zimmerman's family that Martin
was a gun-runner and drug-dealer in training, that texts and tweets
he sent mark him as a criminal in waiting. Or the theory floated that
the mere donning of a hoodie marks you a thug, leaving one wondering
why this guy is a criminal and this one is not.
[ . . . ]
It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of
American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system
malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our
juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this,
is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter
and wonder why we couldn't come back from twenty-four down.
I don't know that the verdict itself was racist, but the examples
in the next-to-last paragraph -- go to the article to get all the
links -- really are racist. Moreover, I think there is probable cause
to think that anyone who argues that Zimmerman was fully justified
or did the right thing and celebrates him as some sort of hero is
racist. Also that you will be able to get a good sense of how racist
Zimmerman is by whether he embraces or distances himself from those
people. (One sign is
this report on TPM: "Quite telling that in the immediate aftermath
of the Zimmerman verdict, Zimmerman's lawyer is going off about reverse
racism and his brother is suggesting that Martin was a drug dealer and
Jason Gubbels: Burned Baby Burned: The Riots That Weren't: Quotes
from right-wing hacks Pat Buchanan, Paul Huebl, Paul Joseph Watson,
Rush Limbaugh, and gullible journalist Adam Nagourney predicting
massive black rioting if Zimmerman is acquitted. Most people have a
tendency to project their own character flaws onto others, and that's
a big chunk of what's going on here: these right-wingers are bitter,
violent, paranoid minds, so they assume everyone else; moreover, they
subconsciously understand that blacks have good reason to be bitter
and paranoid, but don't get that violence only plays into the hands
of the forces capable of the most violence -- the state. Or maybe
they just hope they can change the story away from self-appointed
vigilante acosts and murders harmless black teenager and gets away
with it, as whites have done for hundreds of years down South.
David Weigel: Who's Disappointed About the Lack of Mass Zimmerman
Verdict Riots?, which focuses on the Drudge Report.
Ed Kilgore: Cohen Goes All Archie Bunker: That's Richard Cohen,
Washington Post columnist, past winner of (and perennial
contender in) Alex Pareene's Hackathon, whose column on the Zimmerman
verdict amounts to a defense brief of racial profiling, both by
police and by self-appointed vigilantes like Zimmerman. Kilgore:
You'd think that in cogitating so hard on this situation it might
have occurred to Cohen that in the equation -- vigilante + gun +
black hoodie-wearing teenager + fight = "tragic" but not culpable
slaying -- the first two items might have stood out to him as a
problem. But no, we are left to infer, the danger posed by these
savage young black men justifies not just racial profiling and
deadly force deployed by trained and sworn public authorities,
but by anyone "understandably" suspecting young black men of
Let's be clear about this much: racial profiling is racist,
and for the most part it is illegal. Police can get away with it,
to a point, because they're police, and also because pretty much
everyone recognizes that they have to submit to the police, even
when it's clearly unwarranted harrassment. Maybe, once you're
cleared and released, you can go file a complaint and argue that
the cop harrassed you solely on the basis of your race, but you
can't do that on the spot, and for most people it's not worth
the trouble. So the police to a large extent can get away with
racial profiling. But George Zimmerman wasn't police. He had no
authority to follow and accost Martin, and Martin had no reason
or obligation to submit to Zimmerman. In fact, had Martin been
armed and shot and killed Zimmerman after the latter accosted
him, he most likely would also have been acquitted on grounds
of self-defense, if indeed he was charged (he would have had a
much better case than Zimmerman did).
That Cohen justifies what Zimmerman did as "racial profiling"
shows that he assumes that Zimmerman had a right to police his
claimed turf. The only explanation for such an assumption is
racism. If the DoJ decides to charge Zimmerman with violating
Martin's civil rights, they can use Cohen's testimony.
For more on Cohen, see
Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Banality of Richard Cohen and Racial Profiling:
What you must understand is that when the individual lives of those
freighted by racism are deemed less than those who are not, all other
inhumanities follow. That is the logic of Richard Cohen. It is the
logic of Barack Obama's potential head of the DHS [Ray Kelly, NYC
police commissioner, "the most prominent advocate of profile our
current pariah classes -- black people and Muslim Americans"]. This
logic is not new, original or especially egregious. It is the logic
of the country's largest city. It is the logic of the American state.
It is the logic scribbled across the lion's share of our history.
And it is the logic that killed Trayvon Martin.
Richard Florida: It's Not Just Zimmerman: Race Matters a Lot in
'Stand Your Ground' Verdicts: It makes perfect sense to me that
had Martin as well as Zimmerman been armed, and had Martin managed
to shoot Zimmerman first, he would have been justified under the
self-defense doctrine, with or without the "Stand Your Ground" law.
Of course, I'm assuming the law is neutral regarding race, but lots
of people think race makes a difference, and I'm as aware as any
of you that's been the case in the past -- indeed, we can cite many
cases where white murderers far more premeditated than Zimmerman
have gotten off scot free. Florida provides some statistics and
charts that show that race still does matter:
Based on this new analysis, Roman tells me via email that: "The
criminal justice system is rife with racial disparities. From
searches of motor vehicles during traffic stops, to stop-and-frisk
encounters and arrests, to sentencing and parole decisions, black
Americans -- especially young black males -- come in contact with
the police and courts far more often than their share of the
population would predict. The chasm in justifiable homicide
rulings, however, is vastly larger than other disparities and
deserves intense scrutiny."
The Zimmerman verdict is clearly not an isolated incident. It
instead reflects the deep and enduring ways that race has become
entangled with how America views, treats, and prosecutes crime --
a problem that is not going away.
William Saletan: You Are Not Trayvon Martin: Almost didn't bother
with this one -- Saletan was a Hackathon finalist, although he did
lose to Cohen -- and it starts out: "His death wasn't about race,
guns, or your pet issue. It was about misjudgment and overreaction --
exactly what we're doing now to the verdict." Maybe, but those "pet
issues" are real issues, and are more important than this specific
case. Still, this much is worth adding to the record:
Zimmerman is guilty, morally if not legally, of precipitating the
confrontation that led to Martin's death. He did many things wrong.
Mistake No. 1 was inferring that Martin was a burglar. In his 911
call, Zimmerman cited Martin's behavior. "It's raining, and he's
just walking around" looking at houses, Zimmerman said. He warned
the dispatcher, "He's got his hand in his waistband." He described
Martin's race and clothing only after the dispatcher asked about
them. Whatever its basis, the inference was false.
Mistake No. 2 was pursuing Martin on foot. Zimmerman had already
done what the neighborhood watch rules advised: He had called the
police. They would have arrived, questioned Martin, and ascertained
that he was innocent. Instead, Zimmerman, packing a concealed firearm,
got out and started walking after Martin. Zimmerman's initial story,
that he was trying to check the name of the street, was so laughable
that his attorneys abandoned it. He was afraid Martin would get away.
So he followed Martin, hoping to update the cops.
Mistake No. 3 was Zimmerman's utter failure to imagine how his
behavior looked to Martin. You're a black kid walking home from a
convenience store with Skittles and a fruit drink. Some dude in a
car is watching and trailing you. God knows what he wants. You run
away. He gets out of the car and follows you. What are you supposed
to do? In Zimmerman's initial interrogation, the police expressed
surprise that he hadn't identified himself to Martin as a neighborhood
watch volunteer. They suggested that Martin might have been alarmed
when Zimmerman reached for an object that Zimmerman, but not Martin,
knew was a phone. Zimmerman seemed baffled. He was so convinced of
Martin's criminal intent that he hadn't considered how Martin, if
he were innocent, would perceive his stalker.
This inability to understand what other people are thinking is
one of the great problems of our (or probably any) time. Saletan
then goes on to blame Martin for referring to Zimmerman as a
"creepy-ass cracker," arguing that both were in the wrong for
"racial profiling." Maybe, but only one of the two had a gun and
an itchy trigger finger, and only one presumed the right to poke
his nose into the other's business.
Steve M: I'm Not Sure Zimmerman Will Become a Full-Fledged Right-Wing
Zimmerman is already a hero of a sort to a certain segment of the public,
which thinks he did absolutely the right thing and got crucified for it.
But for him to become a real right-wing rock star, I think he's going to
have to own his hatred of Trayvon Martin. He's going to have to go out
in public and boast of what he did. He's going to have to do things like
show up at Ted Nugent shows waving his gun in sync with Ted waving one
of his, in a sort of NRA version of the twin-guitar attack. He's going
to have to be defiant.
He hasn't looked that way through the trial. He's looked sheepish.
Yeah, he won, and the wingnut population of America likes the fact that
liberals' and African-Americans' faces were rubbed in the verdict, but
he doesn't come off as having rubbed our faces in it, just because he
looked cowed during the trial. Right-wingers want him to seem
angry. [ . . . ]
I think that's Zimmerman's future -- being a sad man who briefly
became a hero to angry people for doing a horrible thing, but who,
fortunately, will never fully exploit the situation.
M. makes a comparison to Bernhard Goetz, "the 1980s vigilante
who shot four young men he said were attempting to mug him on the
New York subway in 1984." He was acquitted of attempted murder,
and was lauded as a hero for a while, but has scarcely been heard
from since then. Zimmerman certainly has reason to lie low now:
the possibility that the feds will bring civil rights charges
against him, and the greater likelihood that he will be sued in
civil court for wrongful death damages. But several things make
him less likely to crawl under a rock than Goetz (who did some
jail time for having the gun, whereas Zimmerman gets his back):
the political climate, for one. Good chance he'll brush up with
the law in the future, and he's unlikely to be as lucky next
Other links of some interest:
Finally, there's this
Dexter/Zimmerman image. If you don't immediately get the joke,
you probably don't know Dexter, a TV show now in its eighth
season where the hero is a psychopathic serial killer who's not
such a bad guy because he's been programmed only kill other serial
killers who otherwise can't be brought to justice. Some debate as
to whether Zimmerman is really worth Dexter's attention -- after
all, he isn't really a serial killer . . . yet!
Dexter, whose hero, by the way, works as a cop, is one of
many examples of how far US popular culture has gone toward embracing
real criminality. I date this back to a 1968 television series called
It Takes a Thief -- I recall especially that the hero there
used to describe prison time as "graduate school." He was released
from jail to steal things for US government "secret intelligence
agency." Of course, by then characters in I Spy (1965-68) and
Mission Impossible (1966-73), not to mention the real life CIA,
were doing similar things (admittedly, the CIA not as competently). It
wasn't long after (1974) until Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson in Death
Wish) was roaming the streets of New York hoping to get mugged so
he could "defend himself" and kill the malefactors. I don't recall the
first time I saw a movie where clearly identified good guys managed
to get rich by ripping off drug dealers -- there must have been dozens
of them, with some coming undone and others living happily ever after.
Eventually you get to something like Breaking Bad where it
ceases to even matter whether the hero is evil, except insofar as
you wonder how evil can he really get, and how much of it you can
stand. (I gave up on that one after the first season.)
I don't blame popular culture. Rather, I think it reflects the
nation's declining moral state, as exemplified by the CIA, the FBI,
the Vietnam War, Watergate, the War on Drugs, Iran-Contra, the War
on Terror, Obama's drone war and secrecy prosecutions, alongside
which we've allowed and encouraged business to be ever more greedy
and rapacious, while the vast expansion of gambling shows how we've
come to view money as a plaything rather than a measure of work --
a confluence of greed and violence that an earlier America strived
against, but which are celebrated today.
And that's the world that made George Zimmerman, and some people --
I've already lost that Ann Coulter link, but you know she's one --
regard him as a hero. I'd worry more about them than Zimmerman.
Sunday, July 14. 2013
Some scattered links this week. But first, this week's Richard
Crowson cartoon, which would have been a fine illustration for last
night's Koch post, or indeed on anything else on Kansas over the
last two years:
Today's "Opinion Line" was roughly divided between comments critical
of the Kochs and ones that echoed their smug lines: "I fail to understand
why it is 'greed' to want to keep your hard-earned money but not 'greed'
to take someone else's money." "The biggest problem with this country is
that there are too many people sitting in the wagon rather than pulling
the wagon. Unless our government quites giving able-bodied people free
rides, we're doomed financially." Somehow I find it hard to think of
Charles Koch's income as "hard-earned money," and if anyone's "riding
in the wagon" it is he.
In other Wichita news, five people were shot last night, one dead,
but the paper had no details. Earlier a guy was killed in his apartment,
where he retreated after having fired shots in a local K-Mart. Not clear
on the details there, either. Then there was this front-page article:
Lawyer says robbery victim 'stepped over the line': Someone tried
to rob a coin shop, using a BB gun that looked like a 9mm handgun. The
clerk handed over $2,800 in loot, then pulled out a real gun, and they
fought over it, leaving both clerk and robber shot, but the robber was
able to break free and escape. The clerk then took another gun and shot
the fleeing robber in the back. The robber survived: he was quickly
caught, was convicted of the robbery, and sentenced to 12 years (a
long time, but he had a history and was on probation). Hard to say that
the latter act was self-defense, but for once I wouldn't be inclined
to charge him (even if the robber had died). The continuity of the
acts counts for something, and it's hard to recognize just when the
threat ends (especially if you've been threatened with a gun, beaten,
On the other hand, I worry that the conclusion armed robbers will
draw from this is to shoot sooner, and I'll note that if the clerk
hadn't had the guns nobody would have been shot. Our ultra-lax gun
policy is creating a cult of aggressive self-defense that will lead
to a sort of arms race between criminals and target-victims, with
lots of borderline cases and extraneous victims. I wrote about a
case a few months ago --
Over a Barrel -- where a Wichita man named Cheever was charged
with second degree murder. He took a gun and a friend with him,
entered the back yard of a neighbor (Gammon) he suspected of stealing
his motorcycle. Gammon challenged the intruder, and had his own gun
for emphasis. The intruder, Cheever, then shot and killed Gammon in
his own backyard and claimed he did so in self-defense. The trial
was underway when I wrote, so I didn't know the verdict then, but
the jury bought the self-defense argument, so Cheever was acquitted.
Had Gammon shot first he almost certainly would have been acquitted
too, if indeed he had even been charged. It occurs to me now that
if Cheever had intended to kill Gammon from the start -- and they
seem to have had a long history of mutual hatred -- what he did was
a perfectly good scheme to get away with it.
As you all no doubt know by now, a while back a white guy in
Florida, George Zimmerman, shot and killed a unarmed black teenager
and claimed it was self-defense. (For a straightforward account
of the uncontested facts of the case, see this piece by
Roberto Martinez.) Since Florida is a state with a
sordid past of allowing white guys to kill blacks and get away with
it, this became a big news story, and it ultimately resulted in
Zimmerman being charged with and tried for second-degree murder
(with a manslaughter option). The jury acquitted Zimmerman. It's
not clear what this proves: one possibiity is that Florida is as
racist as ever, but another is that we've gotten very soft in the
head over claims of self-defense. (Here's a thought experiment:
what if Trayvon Martin, the black teenager, had his own gun and
had shot first?)
TPM quoted a letter from "a criminal defense lawyer in Wisconsin,"
who tried to figure out what happened and attributes much of it to
nuances of law specific to Florida:
I was astounded that the defense would put on a "self-defense" argument
without the defendant testifying. In most civilized jurisdictions, the
burden is on the defense to prove, at least more likely than not, that
the law breaking was done for reasons of self-defense. I couldn't
figure out how they could do this without the defendant's testimony.
I got curious and read the jury instructions Friday night and, I was
wrong. In Florida, if self-defense is even suggested, it's the states
obligation to prove it's absence beyond a reasonable doubt(!). That's
crazy. But 'not guilty' was certainly a reasonable result in this case.
As I told in friend in Tampa today though, if you're ever in a heated
argument with anyone, and you're pretty sure there aren't any witnesses,
it's always best to kill the other person. They can't testify, you don't
have to testify, no one else has any idea what happened; how can the
state ever prove beyond a doubt is wasn't self-defense? Holy crap!
What kind of system is that?
Well, it's a system that we've talked ourselves into constructing
because we've bought into the argument that people need to be armed
to defend themselves. Lots of things go into that argument: declining
respect for the law, for the police, and for the courts; distrust of
government, which is often justified because the government reports
to, and is preoccupied with, the rich. This is yet another area where
increasing inequality has been poisoning the culture: today's mantra
is we have to be responsible for ourselves, and can only depend on
ourselves, which soon degenerates into the notion that the last true
friend and ally we are allowed is a gun. The more people with guns
there are, the more people get shot: accidentally, of course, like
this incident, where two toddlers were playing "cops and robbers,"
or in all sorts of fuzzy gray areas, like Zimmerman and Cheever. And
this, in turn, has led to all sorts of perverse scenarios, like the
"recommendation" of the defense attorney above.
My own theory is that the right, attempting to cling onto power
despite the fact that virtually nothing they've done in the last 30
years has worked even on its own terms, have actively adopted a
program of inculcating mass stupidity. This is just one of many
But I also have to admit that I can't hear the words "self-defense"
without thinking of Israel. If you want some idea of how far a "right
to self-defense" can go toward covering up cold-blooded murder, take
a look at Israel's recent history (like ever since
Qibya in 1953).
On to the links:
Paul Krugman: Political Inflationistas: Quotes Noah Smith
suggesting that economists who predict inflation from expansionary
monetary policy these days -- and we're actually talking Bernanke,
so not all that expansionary -- are either fools, blowhards, or
cynics (not exactly his terms), although personally I wouldn't
exclude the possibility of all three.
Look at the 23-economist letter warning Bernanke against QE, and
you'll see several people who really don't fit his typology. Michael
Boskin, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, John Taylor, and several others have
not, historically, been equilibrium-macro types, devoting their
careers to the proposition that monetary policy can do nothing but
cause inflation. On the contrary, their analytical models have always,
whether they admit it or not, been more or less Keynesian. The same
is true for a few other monetary hawks who didn't sign this letter,
e.g. Allan Meltzer and Martin Feldstein. (Way back, one colleague
described Meltzer's work with Karl Brunner as "Just Tobin with some
So what is it that makes these guys -- whose analytical framework,
when you come down to it, doesn't seem very different from Bernanke's,
or mine -- so hostile to expansionary monetary policy? What do they
have in common? The obvious answer is that they're all very committed
Republicans. And it's hard to escape the suspicion that what's really
going on is that they're bitterly opposed to expansionary policy when
a Democrat is in the White House.
We could have tested that proposition if Mitt Romney had won. But
doing that test would have been a clear case of unethical human
Andrew Leonard: Peak oil's death has been greatly exaggerated:
I haven't looked at
The Oil Drum lately, but I'm
sad to hear that the website is no longer being updated. I bought
into the "peak oil" theory some years ago, reading Kenneth S. Deffeyes'
Beyond Oil: The View From Hubbert's Peak (2005, Hill and Wang),
Richard Heinberg's The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of
Industrial Societies (2003, New Society), and Matthew Simmons'
Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World
Economy (2005, Wiley), among other books. The basic theory still
strikes me as correct, but we've seen a temporary burst of production,
especially in the US, due to fracking (but also note that demand has
dropped along with the economy), and that's pushed peak oil talk to
the back burner. Leonard quotes "Joules Burn" as saying:
Closer to reality is that, while there have been some advances, it is
mostly that continued high prices made the application of pre-existing
technology worth the financial risk of drilling expensive, rapidly
depleting wells on land that one must pay royalties on in addition.
We have had some recent posts indicating that well performance has
been getting worse instead of better, so even at current prices, the
future is uncertain. At the same time, US consumption is still down
from what it was prior to 2008, and the net result is a lot of feel-good
myths about imminent US energy independence.
Critics of the theory of peak oil will argue that higher prices will
always result in new technological advances that will increase production
or otherwise improve the efficiency with which fossil fuels are transformed
into energy. But if Joules Burn is right, the long-run "truth" of peak oil
is currently being obscured by a short-term unsustainable boost in production.
And if that's the case, one could argue that, now, more than ever, we need
voices disputing the new complacency while we still have time to move more
aggressively to renewable sources of energy before we hit the real crunch.
Catherine Thompson: Insurer Refuses to Cover Gun-Carrying Kansas Schools:
When a bunch of children in Connecticut were killed by a gunman, our
genius Kansas legislators rushed out their solution, which is to arm
Kansas schoolteachers so they can shoot it out with would-be mass
murderers. Turns out that the company that writes most of the school
insurance policies in the state didn't think that was such a good
idea: their actuarial models, or maybe just common sense, suggested
that more guns will spell greater risks. Probably just a blip as far
as the law is concerned, as other insurance companies are willing to
overlook the risk issue for new business. Whether doing so lets them
remain in business is an open question, but presumably the state
will make up for the losses (or just pass new laws disclaiming the
liability). After all, the state can always raise the sales tax,
making sure everyone (but businesses) pays their fair share.
Had to cut this short because I lost a few hours to a power outage
along the way -- not to mention the long preamble. Leaves that much
more for later, I guess.
Sunday, July 7. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Juan Cole: How Egypt's Michele Bachmann Became President and Plunged
the Country Into Chaos:
Despite Egypt's sagging economy, Morsi did not make stimulating it his
first priority, and instead tried to please the International Monetary
Fund with austerity policies, rather on the model of the Mariano Rajoy
government in Spain. The Brotherhood's class base is private business,
whether small or large, and Morsi has been distinctly unfriendly to the
demands of labor unions and to those of the public sector, which account
for half of the country's economy. In 2009, economists such as Paul
Krugman warned that Barack Obama's stimulus was far too small. Morsi,
steward of a much more fragile economy, put forth no stimulus at all.
[ . . . ]
In November 2012, Morsi abruptly announced on television that he was
above the rule of law and his executive orders could not be overturned
by the judiciary until such time as a new constitution was passed. He
seems in part to have been trying to protect the religious-right-dominated
constitutional drafting committee. His announcement enraged substantial
sections of the Egyptian public, who had joined to overthrow dictator
Hosni Mubarak precisely because the latter had held himself above the
rule of law.
In response to the massive demonstrations that his presidential decree
provoked, Morsi pushed through a constitution that is unacceptable to a
large swath of Egyptians. Even though two dozen members of the drafting
committee resigned to protest key provisions of the draft constitution,
which they saw as back doors for theocracy, Morsi accepted the
Brotherhood/Salafi draft and presented it to the nation in a countrywide
referendum. Egypt's judges, who are supposed to preside over and certify
the balloting, went on strike, but the president forged ahead anyway.
Only 33 percent of voters went to the polls, many of them supporters of
the president. The constitution was passed, but much of the country
clearly was uncomfortable with it. Morsi's promise of a consensual
document was hollow. The referendum could not be certified as free
and fair by international standards.
In that dodgy 2009 speech in Cairo -- in which he [Obama] managed to
refer to Palestinian "dislocation" rather than "dispossession" --
Obama made the following remarkable comment, which puts the events
in Egypt today into a rather interesting perspective. There were some
leaders, he said, "who advocate for democracy only when they are out
of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights
of others . . . you must respect the rights of minorities,
and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must
place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the
political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections
alone do not make true democracy."
Obama did not say this in the aftermath of the coup-that-wasn't.
He uttered these very words in Egypt itself just over four years ago.
And it pretty much sums up what Mohamed Morsi did wrong. He treated
his Muslim Brotherhood mates as masters rather than servants of the
people, showed no interest in protecting Egypt's Christian minority,
and then enraged the Egyptian army by attending a Brotherhood meeting
at which Egyptians were asked to join the holy war in Syria to kill
Shiites and overthrow Bashar al-Assad's regime.
I don't have much to say about the coup in Egypt. It does appear
New York Times article) that the US was excessively involved in the
coup. The region, and for that matter the US, would be much better off
if the US could develop real indifference to every country's internal
affairs. As it is, we regularly work off bad information and prejudices
with no sensitivity to how our actions are viewed -- time and again, a
recipe for disaster.
Ed Kilgore: "Getting Over" Jim Crow:
What makes this "oh, get over it" attitude especially maddening is that
the extraordinary effort that culminated in the enactment of the Civil
Rights Act (and then the Voting Rights Act the next year) was necessitated
by the refusal of the South to accept defeat in a war a century earlier
and its successful resistance to the Civil Rights Amendments enacted to
ensure the region didn't just revert to its antebellum racial practices.
The entire history of race relations in the South has been a story of
racists taking the long view and outlasting the wandering attention span
of those demanding change -- who out of fatigue or competing priorities
or their own prejudices "got over it" and left the South to its own
devices. [ . . . ]
The ultimate point is that the "discriminatory" special rules governing
the South that conservatives find so offensive is actually pretty light
penance for centuries of systematic denial of human rights to (depending
on the particular time and place) nearly half or more than half the local
population -- which from the perspective of history just ended the day
before yesterday, over the violent resistance of the perpetrators, who
more or less continued their political and economic hegemony over the
South without serious interruption.
How long should the South have to put up with the terrible indignity
of being treated differently? Well, at least until most of the last
victims of full-fledged, unapologetic Jim Crow persecution are laid to
rest: maybe until 2031, the date when the last congressional extension
of the Voting Rights Act (the extension casually pushed aside by
Shelby County v. Holder) expires.
I'd like to add two things. One is that it is common in America to
subject criminals to a period of probation where they have fewer rights
than other people, so why not apply this to the criminal acts of states?
Jim Crow was a severe violation of the US constitution and of the basic
principles of human rights, and as such should be viewed as a crime, one
that by its magnitude is all the more despicable. The other thing is that
the limitation specified by the Voting Rights Act is not onerous: it lets
the federal government review and intercede before illegal state laws can
take effect, rather than have to wait until they can be challenged in the
courts. If all the Roberts court wanted to do was to remove the "stigma"
of a law which was limited to the set of states that had previously (and
repeatedly) violated it, they could have extended the limitation to all
states. Indeed, there would be good reason for such a ruling: the Voting
Rights Act prevented "voter ID" laws in Alabama and Texas from disenfranching
minority voters, while very similar laws in Arizona and Kansas were allowed
to go into effect. Moreover, by extending the law, the Court wouldn't have
overturned the intent of Congress in passing the Voting Rights Act.
John Sides: Race and voting after the Voting Rights Act: What you need
to know. Six point, most showing that the "covered areas" the Supreme
Court let off probation were covered for good reason and are still
Paul Krugman: On the Politican Economy of Permanent Stagnation:
Not as clear as he could be, a lot of hem and haw on austerity, "dubious
reasons for monetary tightening," sustained high unemployment, and so
forth, raises the question "how does this end?"
Here's a depressing thought: maybe it doesn't.
[ . . . ]
But won't there be an ever-growing demand from the public for action?
Actually, that's not at all clear. While there is growing "austerity
fatigue" in Europe, and this might provoke a crisis, the overwhelming
result from U.S. political studies is that the level of unemployment
matters hardly at all for elections; all that matters is the rate of
change in the months leading up to the election. In other words, high
unemployment could become accepted as the new normal, politically as
well as in economic analysis.
I guess what I'm saying is that I worry that a more or less permanent
depression could end up simply becoming accepted as the way things are,
that we could suffer endless, gratuitous suffering, yet the political
and policy elite would feel no need to change its ways.
Don't we already know that "the political and policy elite" has
already decided that there's no need for change? The recession has
been over for the rich for several years now -- a signal that was
clearly sent when the stock markets started posting new record highs.
They've been able to push all their depression-extending proposals
because they've discovered that slowing down the economy doesn't
really hurt the rich. All it does is to depress the labor market,
and that just makes the rich feel -- relatively speaking, but that's
what matters most to them -- that much richer. And that isn't going
to stop until people take increasing inequality seriously and stop
For a long time, there's been an implicit social contract around
the importance of economic growth. In a nutshell, business said that
if you give us more freedom to operate worldwide, we'll be able to
grow the economy more, and that will be good for everyone. That may
have seemed like a good deal as long as labor got their share and
the public got taxes and converted them into public goods, but all
that has changed over the last couple decades. Business has abused
their "freedom" and kept ever more of the profits, so that growth
no longer benefits labor and the public -- it all goes to the owners.
Moreover, they've found that they don't even need growth to get a
bigger cut: they can obtain it directly by impoverishing labor and
the public. Of course, they couldn't do that in the old days when
labor was organized and able not only to challenge business directly
but also to elect labor-friendly governments. But for the time being
that's not a problem. What is a problem is that their impoverishment
of labor and the public has made the economy stagnant: there can't
be growth because there isn't sufficient demand because money is
ever more concentrated in the hands of people who save rather than
Seems to me this has to break sooner or later, because it's a
Jane Mayer: Koch Pledge Tied to Congressional Climate Inaction:
Another way the Kochs aim to subvert democracy in the US:
Fossil fuel magnates Charles and David Koch have, through Americans
for Prosperity, a conservative group they back, succeeded in persuading
many members of Congress to sign a little-known pledge in which they
have promised to vote against legislation relating to climate change
unless it is accompanied by an equivalent amount of tax cuts. Since
most solutions to the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions require
costs to the polluters and the public, the pledge essentially commits
those who sign to it to vote against nearly any meaningful bill
regarding global warning, and acts as yet another roadblock to
action. [ . . . ]
The 2010 mid-term elections were a high watermark for the pledge.
The Kochs, like many other conservative benefactors, gave generously
to efforts to help shift the majority in the House of Representatives
from Democratic to Republican. Koch Industries's political action
committee spent $1.3 million on congressional campaigns that year.
When Republicans did take control of the House, a huge block of
climate-change opponents was empowered. Fully one hundred and
fifty-six members of the House of Representatives that year had
signed the "No Climate Tax Pledge." Of the eighty-five freshmen
Republican congressmen elected to the House of Representatives in
2010, seventy-six had signed the No Climate Tax pledge. Fifty-seven
of those received campaign contributions from Koch Industries's
political action committee. The study notes that more than half
of the House members who signed the pledge in the 112th Congress
made statements doubting climate-change science, despite the fact
that there is overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject.
There is a common problem in economics called externalities,
where producers are able to escape paying for public costs --
the prime example is pollution -- and therefore have no reason
to minimize or limit their actions. The simplest way to compensate
for externalities is for the government to levy a tax on them,
which moves (a part of) the public cost back to the perpetrator.
For instance, a carbon tax would help level the real costs of
burning fossil fuels vs. non-carbon-burning energy sources (like
wind and solar). This is precisely what the Kochs aim to keep
Also, a few links for further study:
Walden Bello: Obama should have listened to Paul Krugman: An
excerpt from Bello's book, Capitalism's Last Stand? Deglobalization
in the Age of Austerity (paperback, 2013, Zed Books): Makes the
usual Krugman bullet points, then adds:
Related to this absence of a program of transformation was the sixth
reason for the Obama debacle: his failure to mobilize the grassroots
base that brought him to power. This base was diverse in terms of class,
generation, and ethnicity. But it was united by palpable enthusiasm,
which was so evident in Washington, D.C., and the rest of the country
on Inauguration Day in 2009. With his preference for a technocratic
approach and a bipartisan solution to the crisis, Obama allowed this
base to wither away instead of exploiting the explosive momentum it
possessed in the aftermath of the elections.
Of course, Obama was faced with the bad example of the Tea Party
movement, but what they did was create an illusion of popular support
for even more extreme policies than the Republicans wanted, whereas
with Obama sacking Dean and putting the nationwide Democratic Party
to sleep all he pad to point back to were election results -- old news
in a Washington that's built to lay down for the lobbyists. Obama did
get a pick up when Occupy broke out: even though it could be viewed
as against him, it showed that there are people out there who support
progressive policies. Obama did little to earn their votes other than
to be less noxious than the other guy, which wasn't hard.
Kathleen Geier: Your semi-regular reminder: Chris Christie is a) a
hardcore conservative and b) a jerk: Just in case you had doubts:
I can understand Republicans' infatuation with Christie. To conservative
dweebs like George Will and David Brooks, Christie is sort of like a theme
park version of a white ethnic. He shares those pundits' nightmarish
politics, especially the slavish devotion to servicing economic elites,
but scores fake populist points with his unslick appearance and tell-it-like
it is Jersey-ness. In this context, the fact that Christie is a nasty bully
is a feature, not a bug. He's a thug, but they think of him as "their" thug.
Honestly, I think the guy's size and his affinity for tracksuits may have
them confused, and on some level they mistake him for Tony Soprano.
Reminds me that the funniest scene I recall from The Sopranos
was Carmela reading a book by Fred Barnes.
Paul Krugman: Regions of Derpistan: Krugman and Brad DeLong have
recently adopted the word "derp" in a big way. Urban Dictionary defines
it as "a simple, undefined reply when an ignorant comment or action is
made," and refers to a South Park character named Mr. Derp.
Krugman cites Noah Smith describing it as "the constant, repetitive
reiteration of strong priors," and translates that as "people who take
a position and refuse to alter that position no matter how strongly the
evidence refutes it, who continue to insist that they have The Truth
despite being wrong again and again." Given how prevalent such people
are, I guess we're going to be stuck with the word for quite a while.
Too bad, but Krugman's effort to map out the various reaches of
"Derpistan" offers a helpful overview of macroeconomic follies at
Sunday, June 30. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Sandra Coliver: US Prosecution of Snowden and Manning Exceeds International
In the United Kingdom, the United States' closest military and intelligence
ally, the maximum penalty for public disclosure of intelligence or security
information is two years. Since Britain's Official Secrets Act (OSA) of 1989
entered into force, 10 public servants with authorized access to confidential
information have been prosecuted under the act.
Of those, the longest sentence -- one year in prison -- was served by
Steven Hayden, a navy petty officer who pled guilty to selling security
and intelligence information to the Sun tabloid concerning a plot by Saddam
Hussein to launch anthrax attacks in the UK. In the US, that offence would
be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, the same law being used to prosecute
Bradley Manning, which brings a possible life sentence.
A survey of the laws and practices of 20 European countries found that
in at least 13 countries things are even more relaxed: a disclosure of
classified information to the public would not result in any penalty in
the absence of a showing of harm. Ten countries -- Albania, Czech Republic,
Germany, Italy, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, and Sweden --
require the government to prove either actual or probable harm in order for
any penalty to be imposed. An additional three countries -- Denmark, France
and Hungary -- allow the lack of harm to be raised as a defense or mitigating
A couple weeks ago I wrote a peace plan post about Israel where I
noted that there should be an internationally recognized Right to
Exile -- sort of a "get out of jail" card for people who are locked
up or persecuted in one country for acts that other countries don't
consider to be crimes at all. I've never written this up in detail,
but I recognize that one might need to make an espionage exception,
otherwise such a right could be an incentive for nations to recruit
people to commit crimes by promising them asylum abroad if/when they
get caught. Snowden, however, doesn't qualify as a spy -- even though
that's what the US has charged him as -- because all he's done has
been to make secrets public (there's no evidence that he's acted as
an agent for a foreign government). Normally Americans would be
sympathetic to a Right of Exile because they'd assume that it only
applied to people we relate to, like pro-democracy dissenters in
China and Iran. But the US has its own share of political prisoners,
an increasing number -- something perhaps related to the fact that
the US leads the world in incarcerating its citizens. So one thing
the whole Snowden affair does is to make it less likely that the
US would support an international Right to Exile.
The other thing that should be clear from the Snowden affair is
that the US government is increasingly looking at it as an affront
to our superpowerdom: that we can't possibly let Snowden get away
with this not just because it sets a bad example for other future
whistleblowers but because it shows that US power isn't omnipotent.
This, again, builds on past practices: when we want our man, we've
shown time and again that we won't let borders or laws stop us. We
have kidnapped suspects and rendered them to be tortured. We have
sent armed drones out to hunt them down and kill bystanders. We
have sent SEAL teams out to assassinate enemies. We have invaded
whole countries. The whole War-on-Terror reaction to 9/11 wasn't
based on any sort of cost-benefit analysis or even simple rage for
revenge. It was done to show the world we really are the world's
supreme superpower. In that frame of mind, there's no telling what
the US might do to make an example out of Snowden.
By the way, to understand what Snowden is running from, consider
the case of fellow whistleblower Bradley Manning. In fact, read
Mairead Corrigan-Maguire: Bradley Manning should win the Nobel Peace
Prize. I agree: even though historical standards are spotty, this
would help make up for one recent gross miscalculation.
Peter Van Buren: Edward Snowden's Long Flight:
If he had a deeper sense of history, Snowden might have found humor
in the way the Obama administration chose to revoke his passport just
before he left Hong Kong. After all, in the Cold War years, it was the
"evil empire," the Soviet Union, which was notorious for refusing to
grant dissidents passports, while the U.S. regularly waived such
requirements when they escaped to the West.
To deepen the irony of the moment, perhaps he was able to Google up
the 2009-2011 figures on U.S. grants of asylum: 1,222 Russians, 9,493
Chinese, and 22 Ecuadorians, not including family members. Maybe he
learned that, despite the tantrums U.S. officials threw regarding the
international obligation of Russia to extradite him, the U.S. has
recently refused Russian requests to extradite two of its citizens.
Snowden might have mused over then-candidate Obama's explicit pledge
to protect whistleblowers. "Often the best source of information about
waste, fraud, and abuse in government," Obama then said, "is an existing
government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak
out. Such acts of courage and patriotism . . . should be
encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush
administration." It might have been Snowden's only laugh of the flight.
Kathleen Geier: The Roberts Court on labor rights: be afraid. Be very
The extent to which the courts are eviscerating workers' rights to be
free of workplace harassment and discrimination has been little noticed,
but it is an alarming trend. Carmon reports that while appeals court
judges reverse employer wins at a rate of 9 percent, they reverse
employee wins by a whopping 41 percent. She quotes a prominent
employment discrimination attorney, Cyrus Mehri, who recently said,
"The doors are closing on people's ability to vindicate their civil
rights . . . To some extent you had a judicial repeal
of Title VII that hasn't caught the public's attention."
Andrew Leonard: Turnkey Totalitarianism: Quotes Cato Institute's
The problem is that such an architecture of surveillance,
once established, would be difficult to dismantle, and prove too potent
a tool of control if it ever fell into the hands of people who -- whether
through panic, malice, or a misguided confidence in their own ability to
secretly judge the public good -- would seek to use it against us.
McCain: U.S. Will Have 'Most Militarized Border Since the Fall of the
Berlin Wall: Needless to say, McCain approves: in fact, he was
describing the effect of an amendment to the Senate's immigration
bill. I'm curious, though, about the pecking order: will it really
be more militarized than Israel's West Bank "security fence" or its
Gaza border? And, are Israel's borders really less militarized than
East Germany's Berlin Wall? Surely McCain didn't mean to disrespect
Andrew O'Hehir: America's split personality: Paranoid superstate and
land of equality: Salon's movie critic, so this starts
with White House Down and The Heat before getting down
to Edward Snowden and recalling a fugitive from further back (1970),
At the close of one of the most momentous news weeks in recent history --
with a historic step forward for marriage equality, a historic disembowelment
of voting rights and the United States coming off like an incompetent
supervillain in the hunt for Edward Snowden -- we're faced once again
with utterly confusing signals about what kind of country we live in.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the deepening similarities between
our society and the imagined dystopias of 1984 and Brave New
World, but it's important to acknowledge that that isn't the whole
story. At the same time, American society remains immensely dynamic,
and has become far more diverse and tolerant over the last several
decades. I know this is a metaphorical misuse of a clinical term that
refers to a serious and complex mental disorder, but at least in the
old-fashioned, split-personality sense of the word, America is
schizophrenic. For that matter, I'm not so sure we can rule out the
clinical mental disorder either.
He concludes: "What kind of country do we have? The kind that
could use more rebels."
Also, a few links for further study:
Jon Lee Anderson: State of Terror: On Al-Qaeda in Mali, unfortunately
behind the paywall, but recommended by Robert Christgau, whose own piece
on Mali --
Voices From a Desert War -- focused on the music but couldn't escape
Kathleen Geier: EPI launches fab new website on economic inequality:
this "a fabulous new website," but
I had a lot of trouble finding my way around it -- even after I had
me to upgrade my browser) -- and wound up with a cartoon Robert Reich
talking. No speakers, so don't know what he was saying, but he probably
wasn't apologizing for that stupid The Work of Nations book
where he promised we had nothing to worry about free trade wiping out
jobs because we'd all wind up being rich "symbolic manipulators."
Still, this is an important subject. Hope they get it together.
Livia Gershon: No, manufacturing jobs won't revive the economy:
The notion that manufacturing jobs are high wage depended historically
on unions and a measure of protectionism. Manufactured goods typically
have high margins, especially as volume increases; they depend on large
initial investments in capital, and labor costs are relatively small,
which gives labor unions leverage they don't have in service industries
(where labor typically overwhelms all other costs). But in competitive
global markets, companies are hard pressed to pass on increased labor
costs, and without unions workers have no power to force wages up. So
what you see in US manufacturing today is what Gershon describes: a
minimum wage pressure cooker.
Chris Maisano: Machiavelli doesn't belong to the 1 percent:
Makes his case without citing Antonio Gramsci, who long ago argued
that The Prince could only have been written for the powerless,
since the real princes already knew its counsels.
The main lessons from The Discourses are that "the few always
act in favor of the few," and that the ambitions of the rich are so
destructive that they must be vigorously suppressed in order to maintain
the egalitarian foundations of republican liberty. His is a political
vision with no place for superyachts, carried interest, tax breaks for
luxury condo developments, or the legalized bribery of private campaign
Sunday, June 23. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Mark Binelli: Rogue State: How Far-Right Fanatics Hijacked Kansas:
Once in office, Brownback surprised critics and supporters alike with the
fervor of his pursuit of power, pushing what reporter John Gramlich of
Stateline described as perhaps "the boldest agenda of any governor in the
nation": gutting spending on social services and education, privatizing
the state's Medicaid system, undermining the teacher's union, becoming
the only state to entirely abolish funding for the arts, boasting that
he would sign any anti-abortion bill that crossed his desk, and -- most
significantly -- pushing through the largest package of [income] tax cuts
in Kansas history. His avowed goal is to eliminate the state income tax
altogether, a move that many predict will torpedo the budget and engender
even more draconian cuts in spending. "Other Republican-led states have
experimented with many of the same changes," Gramlich pointed out -- the
difference in Kansas being that Brownback "wants to make all of those
I added the "[income]" to be clear: the state sales tax has actually
gone up under Brownback, and local property tax levies are also likely
to rise to make up for cuts at the state level. Brownback ran in 2008
for president, but found no support in Iowa. In 2010, he left a safe
Senate seat to run for governor, figuring that the executive experience
would bolster a future presidential campaign. (Meanwhile, in 2012 he
was one of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's loudest boosters -- yet another
gross miscalculation.) The Kansas legislature was solidly Republican
after the 2010 elections, but not extremist enough for Brownback, who
led a purge of the last traces of Republican moderation in the state
Binelli's piece is long and detailed on how all this came about.
One minor error: the Wichita ballot initiative attempted to add
fluoride to the drinking water, not remove it; the measure failed,
as have similar measures over many decades.
John Cassidy: Why America Still Needs Affirmative Action:
Describes the University of Texas case before the Supreme Court now,
where UT guarantees that anyone who tests in the top 10% of their
high school class, regardless of race and regardless of how shitty
the high school, can claim a slot at UT. Some white girl who didn't
make the grade sued, and pundits figure the Roberts Court will side
Almost twenty years ago, when I first pointed to studies suggesting
that social mobility in the United States had been greatly exaggerated,
and that other advanced countries were more fluid, many of my American
friends and colleagues would stare at me blankly. They simply didn't
believe it. But in the past decade or so, many more studies have been
done, and almost all of them deliver the same message. Yes, some people
start out at the bottom and work their way to the top, but not very
many. Statistically speaking, if you are born into a household in the
bottom fifth of the income distribution, the probability that by the
age of forty you will have reached the top forty per cent of the
distribution is about one in six. To put it another way, the odds of
you staying where you are, or moving up one just quintile, are about
five in six.
In a merit-based system, family ties shouldn't matter very much.
But compared to people in places like Canada and Scandinavia, Americans
tend to follow the earnings paths of their parents. On close inspection,
the vast majority of highly successful Americans -- Bill Gates, Mark
Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama among them -- turn out to be the progeny
of highly educated professionals. For folks who start out in the cellar
of U.S. society, even climbing up to the parlor level is quite a feat,
and one that, these days, often demands a college education.
Affirmative action was always based on a fallacy: the notion that
we can solve some inequality problems while leaving class inequality
intact. Nonetheless, it did make sense to extend extra opportunities
to blacks: to compensate for centuries of discrimination, to provide
a check against continuing racism, and to start to reduce the class
basis for racism, and as such the potential conflict over race. (It's
worth nothing here that historians like David Brion Davis have shown
that slavery preceded the articulation of racist theories, with the
latter used as rationalizations for the former.) Moreover, by opening
up those extra opportunities, the nation as a whole has benefited
by the extra talent.
All those reason are as valid now as ever, but they've become
unfashionable in certain circles (namely conservative Republicans):
on the one hand they'd like to pretend all that unpleasant racism
stuff is behind us; on the other they want their white constituents
to think that the reason they're getting screwed is because liberals
are sucking up to blacks and immigrants. But deeper than that, they've
decided that this is no longer a land of increasing opportunity, and
as the economy collapses the only way those on top can stay on top
is to use their power to push everyone else down. Just to take one
example, the way advanced education has been priced up makes it an
ever more exclusive domain of the already rich. Even the old ideas
of meritocracy have been abandoned. After all, when you let people
rise by merit, you wind up with the likes of Clinton and Obama --
and even if their chief merit is sucking up to the rich and powerful,
well, that's not enough any more.
Tim Dickinson: Michael Hastings, 'Rolling Stone' Contributor, Dead at 33:
Killed in a car crash in Los Angeles. His reporting on Gen. Stanley McChrystal
brought the "supreme commander" in Afghistan's career to a quick close, and
his book on McChrystal and Petreus The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying
Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan is one of the best we have
on that foolish misadventure.
Glenn Greenwald: On the Espionage Act Charges Against Edward Snowden:
The US government has charged Edward Snowden with three felonies, including
two under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute enacted to criminalize dissent
against World War I. My priority at the moment is working on our next set of
stories, so I just want to briefly note a few points about this.
Prior to Barack Obama's inauguration, there were a grand total of three
prosecutions of leakers under the Espionage Act (including the prosecution
of Dan Ellsberg by the Nixon DOJ). That's because the statute is so broad
that even the US government has largely refrained from using it. But during
the Obama presidency, there are now seven such prosecutions: more than double
the number under all prior US presidents combined. How can anyone justify
For a politician who tried to convince Americans to elect him based on
repeated pledges of unprecedented transparency and specific vows to protect
"noble" and "patriotic" whistleblowers, is this unparalleled assault on
those who enable investigative journalism remotely defensible? Recall that
the New Yorker's
Jane Mayer said recently that this oppressive climate created by the
Obama presidency has brought investigative journalism to a "standstill,"
James Goodale, the General Counsel for the New York Times during its
battles with the Nixon administration, wrote last month in that paper
that "President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the
worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom."
Read what Mayer and Goodale wrote and ask yourself: is the Obama
administration's threat to the news-gathering process not a serious
crisis at this point? [ . . . ]
The irony is obvious: the same people who are building a ubiquitous
surveillance system to spy on everyone in the world, including their
own citizens, are now accusing the person who exposed it of "espionage."
It seems clear that the people who are actually bringing "injury to the
United States" are those who are waging war on basic tenets of transparency
and secretly constructing a mass and often illegal and unconstitutional
surveillance apparatus aimed at American citizens -- and those who are
lying to the American people and its Congress about what they're doing --
rather than those who are devoted to informing the American people that
this is being done.
Charlie Savage/Michael S Schmidt: The FBI Deemed Agents Faultless in
150 Shootings: You may be thinking you'd have to have a police
department as inept as the Seattle PD depicted in The Killing
to let a suspect be shot to death during interrogation, but the FBI
managed to do just that in Orlando a few weeks back. Needless to say,
the FBI launched a prompt and thorough investigation into itself, and
duly determined that they had done nothing wrong. They say "practice
makes perfect," and indeed the FBI has a lot of practice investigating
"The F.B.I. takes very seriously any shooting incidents involving our
agents, and as such we have an effective, time-tested process for
addressing them internally," a bureau spokesman said.
But if such internal investigations are time-tested, their outcomes
are also predictable: from 1993 to early 2011, F.B.I. agents fatally
shot about 70 "subjects" and wounded about 80 others -- and every one
of those episodes was deemed justified, according to interviews and
internal F.B.I. records obtained by The New York Times through a
Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The last two years have followed the same pattern: an F.B.I.
spokesman said that since 2011, there had been no findings of
improper intentional shootings.
In most of the shootings, the F.B.I.'s internal investigation was
the only official inquiry. In the Orlando case, for example, there
have been conflicting accounts about basic facts like whether the
Chechen man, Ibragim Todashev, attacked an agent with a knife, was
unarmed or was brandishing a metal pole. But Orlando homicide
detectives are not independently investigating what happened.
Also, a link for further study:
Sunday, June 16. 2013
Big event this week was the election of Hassan Rouhani as president
of Iran, succeeding scarecrow Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The arrival of an Axis
of Evil leader who apparently isn't evil -- who in fact had attempted to
reason with the West before -- threw the hawks in Jerusalem and Washington
into a tizzy. First they assured us that the president of Iran has no
actual power, so the change of president will leave Iran as evil as ever.
And just before the election, Obama suddenly changed course and decided
to actively arm Syria's anti-Assad "rebels," a move which (not for the
first time) brought us into an alliance with Al-Qaeda. Reason? Because
Iran backed Assad, and Iran is out eternal enemy, and we all know that
the enemy of our enemy is, well not exactly our friend, but the cheapest,
most cost-effective pawn we can rent in the Great Game. (Sure, there was
some fluff about Assad using chemical weapons, but what press release
escalating a war in the Middle East would be complete without something
Meanwhile, some scattered links:
Ramzy Mardini: Bad Idea, Mr. President: A few days before Obama made
his Syria announcement, Bill Clinton lectured him publicly, warning that
if he fails to intervene in Syria he will be viewed as a "total wuss."
I suppose Clinton knows this because he used to be a "wuss" himself, but
he reversed himself and bombed Kosovo and thereby came to be recognized
as a decisive leader comparable to Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.
I'd love to see some polling reflecting that, but Obama took the bait.
Lacking a grand strategy, Mr. Obama has become a victim of rhetorical
entrapment over the course of the Arab Spring -- from calling on foreign
leaders to leave (with no plan to forcibly remove them) to publicly
drawing red lines on the use of chemical weapons, and then being obliged
to fulfill the threat.
For nearly two years, the Obama administration has described the
Syrian regime as having "lost all legitimacy" and "clinging to power."
And yet, it has surprisingly endured. That's because neither assertion
is really accurate. Mr. Assad still has strong support from many Syrians,
including members of the Sunni urban class. While the assistance Syria
receives from its external allies, like Iran and Russia, is important,
it would be inconsequential if the Assad regime were not backed by a
significant portion of the population. [ . . . ]
The Syrian revolution isn't democratic or secular; the more than
90,000 fatalities are the result of a civil war, not a genocide --
and human rights violations have been committed on both sides.
Moreover, the rebels don't have the support or trust of a clear
majority of the population, and the political opposition is neither
credible nor representative. Ethnic cleansing against minorities is
more likely to occur under a rebel-led government than under Mr.
Assad; likewise, the possibility of chemical weapons' falling into
the hands of terrorist groups only grows as the regime weakens.
And finally, a rebel victory is more likely to destabilize Iraq
and Lebanon, and the inevitable disorder of a post-Assad Syria
constitutes a greater threat to Israel than the status quo.
Mardini concludes that Obama "would have been wise to make a
forceful diplomatic push first before succumbing to the na´vetÚ
of his pro-intervention critics." But he also pointed out that
Obama trashed his ability to do anything diplomatic when he gave
up any pretense to neutrality and disinterest by publicly insisting
that Assad step down.
Shamus Cooke: Who Killed the Syrian Peace Talks? He argues that
talks instigated by Russia and the US have failed "because the
U.S.-backed rebels are boycotting negotiations." I'm not sure if
that's all there is to it, but we've seen before -- Kosovo and
Darfur are two cases I've heard the same thing about -- that when
the US picks sides, that side ups its ante in any negotiations.
It is certainly arguable that one reason, besides the repressive
nature of the Assad government, Syrian groups turned so quickly
from peaceful protests to civil war was their expectation that
the US would come to their aid, as had happened in Libya.
MJ Rosenberg: To Win UN Job, Samantha Power Begged Forgiveness, Wept,
for Criticizing Israel: You may recall that Power got booted from
Obama's 2008 campaign for bad-mouthing Hilary Clinton. She did wind
up with an under secretary job, under Clinton, and now gets a bump to
the UN Ambassador job, but only after taking back every blasphemous
thing she's ever said about Israel: specifically a 2002 interview:
She told an interviewer that she did not believe that Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon or Palestinian President Yasir Arafat would ever stop the
killing on their own and that "external intervention is required." She
specifically called on the United States to "put something on the line,"
by which she meant the "imposition of a solution on unwilling parties."
Admitting that the idea of imposing a settlement was "fundamentally
undemocratic," she said it was preferable to "deference" to leaders
who seem "politically destined to destroy the lives of their own
This was not surprising coming from Power. She is the leading advocate
of what is known as "liberal interventionism." She has said that as a
child she was shaken by the world's indifference to the Holocaust. Her
feelings were deepened by her experiences as a journalist in Bosnia.
Ever since, most notably in the case of Libya, Power has recommended
"going in" to stop the killing of innocents. Right or wrong, it's who
Unfortunately for Power, the reality of U.S. politics dictates that
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be exempted from rules or theories one
applies elsewhere. That is why some of the most aggressively anti-war,
pro-human rights progressives in Congress, the media and the blogosphere
simply go silent, at best, on the subject of the Israeli occupation or,
at worst, openly support military actions like Israel's wars in Gaza.
They know that the Israel lobby will make life very difficult for those
who insist on applying the same moral yardstick to Israel as to other
Ed Kilgore: Power and the Neocons: one reason she was able to
escape the wrath of the Israel lobby is that the neocons lover her
Paul Ryan: The Mythical Promise of Obamacare Doomed Me and Mitt Romney:
How unfair of the Democrats, promising people that their government
would help make their lives better, when we all know that the real
function of government is to make you more miserable (unless, that
is, you're rich):
Former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan told conservatives Friday
that Obamacare helped President Obama defeat Mitt Romney in the 2012
election, decrying the "empty promises" of the law that hadn't yet
"This was our challenge that Mitt Romney and I had in this last
election," Ryan said in a speech at the annual Faith and Freedom
Coalition conference in Washington, DC. "We had to argue against
the promise and the rhetoric of President Obama. The great soaring
rhetoric, all of the empty promises."
You might be wondering why the Republicans didn't think of that
("soaring rhetoric/empty promises") themselves. Actually, they did,
but couldn't resist attacking Obama even when he adopted their
Dan Zevin: Hazy With a Chance of Apocalypse: This week's weather
forecast. A little far-fetched, I think, especially for Thursday.
Also, a few links for further study:
Tom Engelhardt: The Making of a Global Security State: Does a nice
job of summing up how the NSA revelations fit into the imperial security
complex that seems to have become a permanent, unassailable feature of
Nicholas Schmiddle: In the Crosshairs: How Chris Kyle became one of
America's most proficient killers in Iraq, then brought his gun culture
home, parlaying his success into a bestselling memoir, building an empire
ranging from training snipers to taking vets on shooting trips to help
release stress. Eventually one of the crazed vets he took out shot him.
Kyle, of course, was pretty crazed himself, but he hung out with people
like the Palins who celebrated that.
Sunday, June 9. 2013
Some scattered links, but nothing on the NSA scandal yet:
Kathleen Geier: A disturbing trend: labor's falling share of GDP, virtually
everywhere in the world: A recent ILO (International Labor Organization)
report shows a significant drop in labor's share of national income in 26
out of 30 developed countries, from 66.1 to 61.7 percent in 1990-2009.
It wasn't always this way. As Taylor notes, before the 1980s, labor's
share of national income fluctuated somewhat from year to year but
tended to be stable overall. Also, during this period, we've seen
large surges in productivity -- and yet those productivity gains are
not being shared by labor. This is an ominous sign for any society.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is this one, from John Maynard
Keynes: "Nothing corrupts society more than to disconnect effort
and reward." [ . . . ]
Thus, you had the Great Compression, where wage inequality was kept
in check, and the excesses of the previous era's robber barons (and
what a wonderful turn of phrase that was!) seemed a thing of the past.
Paul Krugman and others have noted that it wasn't market forces or
laws against self-dealing or excessive executive compensation that
reined in the corporations of yesteryear. It appears to have been
"social norms." Or, as I would describe it, a soundly based, and
healthy, fear of working class power.
Gradually, though, that system began to unravel. The trauma of
the Great Depression was forgotten. Global competition cut profit
margins and the capital class realized they didn't want to be so
generous to their workers any more. More to the point, it dawned
on them that they didn't have to be. Thus, the neoliberal new world
order was born -- not only in the U.S., but throughout the world.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, there were cuts to social welfare
programs in many countries, and there were also a number of important
worldwide fights against labor unions, which labor usually lost. In
the U.S., the corporate right poured enormous resources into political
lobbying efforts and to propaganda shops that massaged public opinion.
It worked! It's taken the current years-long depression to finally
dislodge some that neoliberal propaganda from a lot of folks' skulls.
Although this trend is international,
David Cay Johnston: Inequality Rising -- All Thanks to Government
Policies puts much of the blame on the US government. Nor should
this be surprising: starting about 30 years ago, the Democratic Party
abandoned its dependence on organized labor and became the pro-business
party; meanwhile the Republicans had nowhere to go to outflank them
than to become the flat-out anti-labor party. Both stances hurt, and
in a two-party system that's what you get.
Matthew Yglesias: The Charts That Should Revolutionize D.C.'s Fiscal
Policy Debate and Why They Won't: First, the charts, which show
that projected "Federal budget deficit as a share of GDP" drops in
2014 and remains relatively stable for a decade, as does "publicly
held debt as a share of GDP."
Looking at this, the deficits scolds should at least tone it down
a bit, but they haven't: "the political dialogue on the subject doesn't
seem to have changed at all." As Yglesias says:
The dialogue hasn't changed because the elites steering the discourse
don't care, even slightly, about deficits or debt.
What they care about is reducing the federal government's fiscal
commitment to bolstering the living standards of elderly people.
The Powers That Be hate Social Security and always will because it's
a program whose entire purpose is to pay people money not to work.
That's not a perverse consequence of Social Security. It's not a
contentious partisan claim about Social Security. It's not a dubious
interpretation of what Social Security is all about. That's the point.
It's to give people money so they can retire with dignity. "Retire"
being a fancy word for "not working." You're never ever going to
persuade business leaders to stop agitating for cuts in a program
that has this feature. Business leaders want people to work! At a
minimum, if people are hoping to not work, business leaders are
going to want people to save (i.e., loan funds to business leaders)
in order to achieve that purpose. Taxing people who are working in
order to pay money so that people can enjoy retired life in peace
is the antithesis of everything business elites want out of public
My boldface there. I was originally tempted to end the quote
there to leave the basic point, but the rest of it is worth saying
too -- just don't forget the point in boldface.
One thing that no one really got into during the depths of the
recession was the observation that in a period where the private
sector was deleveraging and therefore killing jobs, sensible public
policy would have tried to compensate by moving optional workers
out of the workforce, so that those remaining would have a better
chance of keeping their jobs and wages. One way to do this would
be move people into early retirement -- to make Social Security
and Medicare and such available to somewhat younger workers if they
are willing to retire. Another way would be to make college more
attractive -- more scholarships and even stipends to cut down on
those part-time jobs that distract students from their studies.
And, of course, you could expand public employment, or pump more
money into the creation of public goods, including things like
art. When you think about it, a lot of this sort of thing was in
fact done during the New Deal, but none of it happened during the
Great Recession, when politicians -- mostly Republicans but I
can't remember many Democrats complaining -- decided that the
whole brunt should be shouldered by the working class.
Also, links for further study:
David Bromwich: Stay Out of Syria!: No point wishing for a plague
on both sides since that plague has already arrived:
And each day adds a new reminder of the futility of allegedly pragmatic
solutions. A Times report on May 15 by Anne Barnard and Hania Mourtada
("An Atrocity in Syria, with No Victim Too Small") told of the sectarian
"cleansing" by pro-government forces of Sunni enclaves, in the village
of Bayda and the city of Baniyas, both located in a mainly Alawite and
Christian province. Three hundred twenty-two corpses have been identified,
many of them horribly mutilated. As a pledge of retaliation, a rebel
commander filmed himself "cutting out an organ of a dead pro-government
fighter, biting it and promising the same fate to Alawites." It is a
saccharine optimism that says the country has begun to fall apart and
a more "proactive" US could hold it together.
Kelefa Sanneh: Paint Bombs: On anthropologist David Graeber,
his old book (Debt: The First 5,000 Years) and his new book
(The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement),
the latter spawned by the Occupy Wall Street movement and effectively
a history and handbook of same, with various asides into all sorts
of anarchist tendencies -- James C. Scott's Two Cheers for
Anarchism is another book cited, but Sanneh also talks about
Murray Rothbard. Can't say as he does a very good job of clarifying
all this, but the last couple lines are worth quoting:
But in America anarchism's appeal surely has something to do with the
seeming durability of our current arrangement, and the inexorable growth
of the government that maintains it. Such is the power of a sprawling
and sophisticated state: the bigger it gets, the easier it becomes for
us to imagine that we could live without it.
Sunday, May 26. 2013
Some scattered links from the previous week:
Paul Krugman: The Closing of the Conservative Mind:
Start with the proposition that there is a legitimate left-right divide
in U.S. politics, built around a real issue: how extensive should be make
our social safety net, and (hence) how much do we need to raise in taxes?
This is ultimately a values issue, with no right answer.
There are, however, a lot of largely empirical questions whose answers
need not, in principle, be associated with one's position on this left-right
divide but, in practice, are. A partial list:
- The existence of anthropogenic climate change
- The effects of fiscal stimulus/austerity
- The effects of monetary expansion, and the risks of inflation
- The revenue effects of tax cuts
- The workability of universal health care
I've deliberately chosen a list here where the evidence is, in each
case, pretty much overwhelming. There is a real scientific consensus on
1; the evidence of the past few years has been very strong on 2 and 3;
there are no serious studies supporting the view that we're on the wrong
side of the Laffer curve; one form or another of UHC operates all across
the advanced world, with lower costs than the US system.
So? You could, as I said, take the "liberal" position on each of these
issues while still being conservative in the sense that you want a smaller
government. But what the "reformish" conservatives Ryan Cooper lists do,
in almost all cases, is either (a) to follow the party line on these
issues or (b) to hint at some flexibility -- and thereby cultivate an
image of being open-minded -- as long as the issues don't get close to
an actual policy decision, but to always find a way to support the
Republican position whenever it actually matters.
I think what's happening on these five issues is that Republicans
have wound up denying the science because they don't like the usual
policies liberals propose to deal with these problems, so instead of
thinking up alternatives that they find more palatable they deny
everything. One thing that has pushed Republicans into a corner here
is that after some conservative counterproposals have been accepted
by liberals, figuring anything is better than no solution, they've
had to retrench. Examples include cap-and-trade for managing carbon
emissions, and "Romneycare/Obamacare" to provide universal health
care coverage while preserving insurance industry profits. One thing
this shows is that the conservative think tank proposals were often
meant to be red herrings.
The striking thing here isn't just that conservative denialism has
been elevated to a matter of faith. It's their general obliviousness
to problems and their effects -- and not just on the poor, who they
make a point of hating, or on the middle class, whoever they are, but
even on the rich, and more generally on business people they claim to
support. For instance, they defend a health care industry that is set
up to increasingly extort ever larger shares of the economy, putting
every other industry at a competitive disadvantage. They oppose any
effort to regulate consumer fraud by the banking industry, even though
a large slice of those "consumers" are really investors. They oppose
any efforts to limit fossil fuel depletion, even though the effect of
that depletion is not only more pollution and climate change, it's
also dramatically higher energy prices for everyone. They oppose any
increase in taxes (well, except for regressive sales taxes) even when
that means degradation of essential infrastructure (which business
needs more than anyone), of the school system (which business depends
on to train workers), and even police and fire (which are especially
important government services for property owners).
Jamie Malanowski: I Stand With Rosen: Evidently James Rosen, of
Fox News, "was named by the Justice Department as a possible criminal
'co-conspirator' for his alleged role in publishing sensitive security
information." Malanowski regards him as "a meticulous reporter, a person
of good judgment, the author of a deeply researched biography of John
Mitchell that has convinced me that Nixon's Attorney General got a bum
rap in Watergate," etc. So he doesn't sound like all that sympathetic
a person to me, but he somehow got caught up in Obama's (or Holder's)
anti-leak obsession, and when it comes to government secrets, my position
is that we owe Bradley Manning a Medal of Honor. Malanowski writes:
The Justice Department can go to hell. James is getting legally muscled
because the government wants to stop leakers, and thinks the best way to
stop leakers is to criminalize the people who report the leaks, that is,
reporters. It is shocking that this action is being performed by the Obama
administration; one had such higher expectations of Obama, although no
more. Once again we see that power does corrupt. And this why we need
people like Rosen, because when we have stars in our eyes we are often
blind to the limitations of public officials in whom we have invested
our hopes and aspirations. Our leaders are only human, susceptible to
temptation, and therefore must be watched, watched, watched, by leakers,
and by reporters.
Add this to the AP debacle, and it seems clear that someone in the
administration has gone badly off the rails. Obama needs to dump Eric
Holder, and pronto. I stand with Rosen.
I haven't followed the AP case closely, nor this, but Glenn Greenwald
has. See his
Justice Department's pursuit of AP phone records is both extreme and
dangerous, and on Rosen,
Obama DOJ formally accuses journalist in leak case of committing crimes.
Greenwald compares these acts to the grousing against leakers by presidents
Nixon and GW Bush, and finds that Obama has gone much farther in attempting
to intimidate and coerce the press.
No More Mister Nice Blog: A Grand Unified Theory of Government-Created
Tornadoes and the IRS Scandal: I don't exactly understand the various
conspiracy theories but I just want to point out one more thing: if the
government could create and direct tornados, the perfect place to test
that capability would be Oklahoma City. For one thing, there is a lot of
comparison data which would allow them to contrast this tornado against
previous tornados: this is the third time in the last decade that a
major tornado has followed the same south suburban track. (But I'll
also note that a similar Haysville-to-Andover track has been hit by
numerous tornados around Wichita.) But you also have to figure that
nobody's more gullible about "acts of God" than Oklahomans. Also
there's an economic angle, what with Sen. Coburn complaining about
about all the federal disaster aid corrupting his constituents --
something you'll never hear from Kansas Sen. Roberts (no matter how
much he wants to screw the rest of the world). But the real teaser
is that the government did something like this before: back in the
early 1970s when they wanted to know how supersonic flights across
the US would affect people on the ground they used Oklahoma City
for test subjects. Turned out that even Oklahomans couldn't stand
being barraged with sonic booms, and the SST project was killed.
A couple more relevant posts from the same blog:
Why Republicans Can Politicize Disaster Relief and Democrats Can't; and
Only Wingnuts Are Stupid Enough to Believe That a Guy Who Can't Get
Anything Done Is All-Powerful..
David Sirota: There's no substitute for government disaster relief:
Within hours of this week's tornado disaster in Oklahoma, I (like many
others) received emails from the president of the United States and my
U.S. senator. With impassioned language, they both claimed to care deeply
about yet another community devastated by a cataclysm, and then said the
best way for America to support private charities.
The work of non-governmental organizations, no doubt, is critical,
and contributing money to them is laudable. But there is something
troubling about government leaders initially implying -- if subtly --
that a non-governmental response is as significant as a governmental
one. And there is something even more disturbing about that message
being sent at a time when budget cuts and sequestrations engineered
by those very governmental leaders threaten to prevent a more effective
response to such disasters in the future. [ . . . ]
After all, while local, state and federal governments are just as
imperfect as corporations and nonprofits, they are -- unlike those
private sector counterparts -- popularly controlled institutions.
That means in a democratic society they should be a primary way we
collectively prepare for and respond to mass emergencies. Indeed,
one of the most basic definitions of the term "civilization" -- as
opposed to anarchy -- is a society that simply recognizes we're all
in this together and consequently builds publicly run institutions
to honor that truism.
Though they refuse to publicly admit it, anti-government conservatives
actually seem to realize this truism when they or their constituents are
personally involved. Oklahoma provides an illustrative example.
In the wake of the tornado, you haven't seen Oklahoma's right-wing
legislators making anti-"Big Government" arguments to deride the fact
that their state receives more federal tax dollars than it contributes.
Instead, you will likely -- and rightly -- see them lobbying to bring
back disaster relief funds from Washington. Likewise, you haven't see
Oklahoma's arch-conservative demagogues like Republican Sen. Tom Coburn
saying government shouldn't help respond to the latest tornado. Instead,
he's now insisting "there's a legitimate role" for government to play.
He's absolutely correct. It just shouldn't take a tragedy for him
or anyone else to realize that this will always be the case, at least
if America is going to remain a truly civilized society.
I think Sirota overrates private charities. I, for one, would much
rather pay taxes and expect that the government will respond appropriately
to each and every disaster that comes along, including ones too obscure
for me to notice, than to have to sort through all of the appeals from
all sorts of more or less legitimate, more or less efficient charities,
even if I wasn't pretty certain that most of them deliver very little
real value. Moreover, Sirota misses some important reasons why it should
be government that provides a backstop for disaster relief. One is that
the federal government can always raise whatever funds it needs, whereas
no private group, state or local government can. Another is that solid
disaster relief halts economic downturns caused by disasters. (For an
example of what happens when the government, mostly due to politics,
isn't up to the task, look at post-Katrina New Orleans.) Economic
stimulus not only put people to work and puts money in their pockets,
it helps make them long-term employable.
Also, a few links for further study:
Peter Frase: Post-Work: A guide for the perplexed: Uses Ross
Douthat as his whipping boy, who sees wage-work as a bond that holds
the proper order of society together (not that the case for slavery
was ever much different):
Although it's pitched in a kindlier, New York Times-friendly
tone, Douthat's argument is reminiscent of Charles Murray's argument
that the working class needs the discipline and control provided by
working for the boss, lest they come socially unglued altogether.
Good moralistic scold that he is, Douthat sees the decline of work
as part of "the broader turn away from community in America -- from
family breakdown and declining churchgoing to the retreat into the
virtual forms of sport and sex and friendship." It seems more plausible
that it is neoliberal economic conditions themselves -- a scaled back
social safety net, precarious employment, rising, debts and uncertain
incomes -- that has produced whatever increase in anomie and isolation
we experience. The answer to that is not more work but more protection
from the life's unpredictable risks, more income, more equality, more
democracy -- and more time beyond work to take advantage of all of it.
Also see Frase's
Curious Utopias, which talks about "basic income" proposals.
Joseph Massad: The Last of the Semites: Article was originally posted
on Al Jazeera, then pulled down after people like Jeffrey Goldberg charged
it with being anti-semitic. For background, see
Ali Abunimah; also
Glenn Greenwald. I know people who liked this article, probably because
they feel that Zionism is tainted by its early appeal to anti-semitism,
and further tainted by the notable support given to Israel by people who
are still effectively anti-semites, and it isn't often that someone makes
those arguments. But the argument is carried too far: it's oddly amusing
to claim that West Germany's "reparations" to Israel is a consistent
extension of Nazi Germany's "pro-Zionist" policies (mostly the transfer
arrangement that let German Jews flee for Palestine), but it isn't true,
because there was no post-WWII extension of pre-WWII policies attacking
Jews. Massad argues that Europeans and Americans only came to sympathize
with Jews who perished in the Holocaust after they came to see Jews as
"white." One could just as easily argue that while the Holocaust was
fully shocking when it was discovered, the West didn't really own up
to the history until the 1960s, when the civil rights movement and the
anti-colonial movements were first successful. What happened then, and
in subsequent decades, was that anti-semitism in America and Europe all
but dissolved, contrary to the founding perception of Zionism -- that
no matter where Jews went, they would wind up facing murderous hatred,
so the only way they could live in security would be by establishing
their own mightily armed nation. Nonetheless, and unnecessarily as it
turned out, they built just such an armed nation.
Massad is right that the pre-1948 Zionist movement leaders shamelessly
catered to anti-semites. But what happened after 1948 was far stranger
than he imagines. He does have one part of it, in that conventional
Euro-American anti-semites still support Israel, but it's not just
because Israel is open to receive unwanted Jews. It's also that Israel
has come to embody so many traits of the old right: racism, militarism,
colonialism. And Israel has largely succeeded in conflating itself
with world Jewry, for better and worse. Advantages for Israel included
being able to capture "reparations" from Germany and Switzerland for
crimes committed against Jews who had no affiliation with Zionism.
The equation has also allowed Israelis to treat anyone who opposes
their political practices as anti-semitic. While such charges are
often ridiculous, there certainly are people who started anti-Israeli
and became anti-semitic. Indeed, Israel now seems to be trapped in a
circular system of creating enemies to validate their original (and
at least in America and Europe disproven) percept that they have to
build unassaible military might to protect themselves against a
perpetually hostile world. And so they do, becoming ever more
paranoid, and ever more inhumane, in the process.
Jane Mayer: A Word From Our Sponsor: Subtitled: Public television's
attempts to placate David Koch. Koch gets such deference because he is
a big contributor, hence a board member, of WNET, the PBS station in
New York, leading to a form of "self-censorship." One aspect of this is
that it doesn't seem to be Koch attempting to flount his power; rather,
it is WNET's management going out of its way not to offend him. That
sort of deference and obsequiousness is actually more typical of how
the ruling class works.
Also relevant here is a piece in the Wichita Eagle:
Roy Wenzl: Koch lawyer says Obama administration has tried to intimidate
Koch Industries. Mark Holden, chief legal counsel for Koch Industries,
bases his charge on a quote a from an Obama political adviser, economist
Austan Goolsbee, which the article finally quotes after fifteen paragraphs
of "he said" from Holden. The Goolsbee quote:
So in this country we have partnerships, we have S corps, we have LLCs, we
have a series of entities that do not pay corporate income tax. Some of
which are really giant firms, you know Koch Industries is a multibillion
dollar business. So that creates a narrower base because we've literally
got something like 50 percent of the business income in the U.S. is going
to businesses that don't pay any corporate income tax. They point out (in
the report) you could review the boundary between corporate and non-corporate
taxation as a way to broaden the base.
Holden argues, "tax records are confidential. Goolsbee's comments raised
the thought that Goolsbee or the White House had broken that confidentiality
illegally, and reviewed the tax records." That isn't much of a thought. In
fact, about the hardest way possible to identify Koch Industries as outside
the corporate income tax system would be to snoop through their non-existent
corporate tax records. On the other hand, if anyone wanted an example of a
large company that doesn't pay corporate income tax, Koch would be obvious,
as it is by far the largest such company in the US. You don't have to have
a political vendetta against the Koch brothers to know that, although the
fact that they've spent millions of dollars to subvert democracy certainly
has increased their profile.
Goolsbee has a point: if you narrow the tax base by exempting a bunch of
companies from corporate income tax, you either have to tax everyone else
more or give up valuable government services. Last year, the state of Kansas
decided to exempt "small business" income from state income tax, a loophole
that will help a few struggling entrepreneurs but will also exempt the
richest person in the state from having to pay Kansas income tax. That
person's name? William Koch.
Jaron Lanier: The Internet destroyed the middle class: Scott Timberg
interviews Lanier, a computer scientist noted for his work in virtual
reality, also the author of two books critical of computerized culture:
You Are Not a Gadget and Who Owns the Future? I don't know
whether those books are worth taking seriously, but his claim that "the
internet destroyed the middle class" ignores the fact that the internet
became significant at least a decade after conservative political forces
started dismembering the middle class. I won't deny that the internet
has added to the forces pushing wages downward, not least by increasing
competition both on the producer and consumer end. On balance, I'm not
sure that's a bad thing, but doing it at the same time as the safety
net and basic support for education are being shredded could well be
Sunday, May 19. 2013
After a lazy week, some more links to ponder:
Igor Bobic: Obama Promises to Hold IRS Accountable on 'Outrageous'
Targeting: Given the history of the federal government harrassing
left-wing political organizations, "outrageous" isn't the first word
that pops into my mind regarding the revelations that some IRS personnel
singled out "tea party" group applications for review of 501(C) status.
My reaction was more like a giggle, but then I found out that none of
the "targeted" organizations were actually denied. I'm not expert in
the relevant law, but I do know that a
peace organization I'm close to
has both a 501(C) fund that is strictly non-political ("educational")
and another funding stream that isn't tax exempt but can be used for
more political activities (although in practice it isn't used for
anything partisan or electoral). So it doesn't exactly surprise me
that "tea party" groups would skirt that law: they are primarily
political propaganda outlets, funded by rich right-wingers who can
use the tax-exempt feature to stretch their self-interested bucks.
Unlike most of the people who donate to our little peace group. (We
haven't itemized deductions in many years, so our donations don't
save us a dime on our taxes.) Obama is right that the IRS should be
non-partisan, but his reaction shouldn't be an outrage that feeds
into enemy talking points. (For instance, I see
Glenn Beck now claiming that the "IRS scandal" is "all connected"
with the Benghazi attack and the Boston bombings. On the Republicans'
ability to keep these pseudo-scandals in the news cycle, crowding out
real issues, see
Julian Rayfield: Sunday Shows Round-Up: All About the IRS and
Benghazi. As for real but ignored issues, see
Conor Friedersdorff: The Biggest Obama Scandals Are Proven and Ignored --
a list Republicans don't care about or even applaud.)
Connie Cass: A Look at Why the Bengazi Issue Keeps Coming Back for
a useful review of what happened there and who said what when. Of the
various facts, the one that jumps out at me was that the "US consulate"
in Benghazi was actually a CIA station, and aside from Ambassador
Stevens the people involved were CIA agents and contractors, so the
instinct to lie and cover up is deeply ingrained. The other key point
is that the real political issue here was Obama's decision to intervene
in Libya's civil war and help ouster Moammar Gaddafi. Obama promised
not to put US military forces on the ground in Libya, but it seems
inevitable that the CIA were active, routing guns and information to
anti-Gaddafi forces -- some of which were bound to be anti-American
Islamists (proving again how little the CIA learned from Afghanistan,
where US clients included future leaders of the Taliban and indeed
Osama Bin Laden himself).
Of course, intervention in Libya isn't on the Republican's own
"talking points": they'd rather attack the administration for trying
to substitute "extremists" for "terrorists," mostly in the belief
that their language is a more potent stimulus to further US-backed
wars in the region. Even there, what they loathe Obama for isn't
that he hasn't been belligerent enough for their taste -- excepting
McCain and Graham, of course, who never met a war they didn't want
to plunge into -- but that Obama isn't jingoistic enough.
Paul Krugman: How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled: Book
review of: Neil Irwin: The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers
and a World on Fire (Penguin); Mark Blyth: Austerity: The
History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford University Press); and
David A. Stockman: The Great Deformation: The Corruption of
Capitalism in America (Public Affairs). But starts off with
the Reinhart-Rogoff fiasco -- the paper that claimed that when
a nation's debt/GDP ratio crosses the 90% mark the economy sinks
into catastrophe, but turned out to be wrong in so many ways:
The real mystery, however, was why Reinhart-Rogoff was ever taken
seriously, let alone canonized, in the first place. Right from the
beginning, critics raised strong concerns about the paper's methodology
and conclusions, concerns that should have been enough to give everyone
pause. Moreover, Reinhart-Rogoff was actually the second example of a
paper seized on as decisive evidence in favor of austerity economics,
only to fall apart on careful scrutiny. Much the same thing happened,
albeit less spectacularly, after austerians became infatuated with a
paper by Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna purporting to show that
slashing government spending would have little adverse impact on
economic growth and might even be expansionary. Surely that experience
should have inspired some caution.
So why wasn't there more caution? The answer, as documented by some
of the books reviewed here and unintentionally illustrated by others,
lies in both politics and psychology: the case for austerity was and
is one that many powerful people want to believe, leading them to seize
on anything that looks like a justification.
Here's a very good explanation of how recessions (depressions)
happen, especially following a prolonged expansion of debt:
All that was needed to collapse these houses of cards was some kind
of adverse shock, and in the end the implosion of US subprime-based
securities did the deed. By the fall of 2008 the housing bubbles on
both sides of the Atlantic had burst, and the whole North Atlantic
economy was caught up in "deleveraging," a process in which many
debtors try -- or are forced -- to pay down their debts at the same
Why is this a problem? Because of interdependence: your spending
is my income, and my spending is your income. If both of us try to
reduce our debt by slashing spending, both of our incomes plunge --
and plunging incomes can actually make our indebtedness worse even
as they also produce mass unemployment.
Krugman could have extended these paragraphs into a tutorial on
how [Keynesian] macroeconomics has learned how to ameliorate and
reverse recessions, but he wound up illustrating the principles
negatively, by showing how actual central bankers ignored standard
prescriptions and made their economies worse. The key insight is
that if my income is someone else's spending, and others in the
private sector aren't spending, that deficit can be made up by
having government spend more. In other words, all it takes to
avoid disaster is the political will to deliberately do something
constructive about it. That will power was undone by a coalition of
bankers and conservative politicians, partly because they fixated
on threats (to them, anyway) that were mostly imaginary, and mostly
because they didn't give a damn about the hardships their welfare
forced on everyone else.
Krugman notes how many advocates of austerity see it as a morality
play -- as Andrew Mellon put it "to purge the rottenness" from the
system (nor is this view limited to curmudgeonly bankers; see
Alex Pareene: Kinsley Loves Austerity Because It Is "Spinach") --
and he finds examples in Stockman's book (a tirade against one "spree"
after another). Krugman then adds:
So is the austerian impulse all a matter of psychology? No, there's
also a fair bit of self-interest involved. As many observers have noted,
the turn away from fiscal and monetary stimulus can be interpreted, if
you like, as giving creditors priority over workers. Inflation and low
interest rates are bad for creditors even if they promote job creation;
slashing government deficits in the face of mass unemployment may deepen
a depression, but it increases the certainty of bondholders that they'll
be repaid in full. I don't think someone like Trichet was consciously,
cynically serving class interests at the expense of overall welfare; but
it certainly didn't hurt that his sense of economic morality dovetailed
so perfectly with the priorities of creditors.
It's also worth noting that while economic policy since the financial
crisis looks like a dismal failure by most measures, it hasn't been so
bad for the wealthy. Profits have recovered strongly even as unprecedented
long-term unemployment persists; stock indices on both sides of the Atlantic
have rebounded to pre-crisis highs even as median income languishes. It
might be too much to say that those in the top 1 percent actually benefit
from a continuing depression, but they certainly aren't feeling much pain,
and that probably has something to do with policymakers' willingness to
stay the austerity course. [ . . . ]
I'd argue that what happened next -- the way policymakers turned their
back on practically everything economists had learned about how to deal
with depressions, the way elite opinion seized on anything that could be
used to justify austerity -- was a much greater sin. The financial crisis
of 2008 was a surprise, and happened very fast; but we've been stuck in
a regime of slow growth and desperately high unemployment for years now.
And during all that time policymakers have been ignoring the lessons of
theory and history.
It's a terrible story, mainly because of the immense suffering that
has resulted from these policy errors. It's also deeply worrying for
those who like to believe that knowledge can make a positive difference
in the world. To the extent that policymakers and elite opinion in general
have made use of economic analysis at all, they have, as the saying goes,
done so the way a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.
Papers and economists who told the elite what it wanted to hear were
celebrated, despite plenty of evidence that they were wrong; critics
were ignored, no matter how often they got it right.
It would take a much longer piece, but at some point it would be
worth breaking out the things that constitute "immense suffering":
the unfairness of so much unemployment; discrimination against all
sorts of marginalized workers, especially the old (who policymakers
expect to work longer and longer) and the young (who face extra
difficulties in starting careers, and in many cases start with
unprecedented debt burdens); and much more. Nor is public spending
only needed to counterbalance the drop in private spending -- the
need for infrastructure and public goods has never been greater,
and the austerity fixation is crippling us (physically, mentally,
Sunday, May 12. 2013
Another last-minute link grab:
Nicholas Blanford: Hizballah and Israel Spar as Syria's Conflict Threatens
to Spin Out of Control: Israel's 2006 war against Hezbollah (effectively
Lebanon) should have yielded several clearcut lessons. One is that Hezbollah
is a very effective defensive fighting force against Israeli land assaults.
Another is that Hezbollah's cache of Iranian or Syrian rockets aren't worth
a thing, either as a deterrent against Israeli attack -- if anything, their
existence provoked that attack -- or as an offensive weapon. Yet Hezbollah
is evidently so concerned about maintaining their Syrian weapons pipeline
that they've joined Assad's Syrian army in fighting against the rebels.
Hezbollah's presence in Syria, in turn, gives Israel all the excuse they
think they need to fly into Syria and bomb targets they think are related
to Hezbollah -- presumably pro-Assad forces, although they've also claimed
to be neutral in the Syrian Civil War, and some Israelis have argued they
would prefer Assad (you know, "the devil you know"; see
Israel has no desire for Assad to fall) to stay in power, so they
may not care who they bomb. Needless to say, both Israel and Hezbollah
are making the mess in Syria worse, adding dangerous factors that make
it very likely to spill over into Lebanon, while Israel is just stirring
the pot in Syria, giving all sides more reason to hate it and plot
Robert Fisk talk about Syria, attesting to the extreme brutality of
the war, also questioning the logic of Israel's intervention:
Are they really bombing missiles going to the Hezbollah, the so-called
Fateh-110 missile, which was first test-fired by Iran, what, 11 years
ago? Conceivable. But when you consider the Syrians have also used these
missiles, according to the Americans, last December against rebel forces,
why would they use armaments, which they use against -- in this ferocious
life-and-death battle against the rebels, why should they be shipping
them out of Syria en route to Lebanon, where the Hezbollah don't appear
at the moment to have any need for them, since they have thousands of
other weapons, a weapon which I would have thought the government would
want to keep in Damascus?
Fisk also says something about the state of journalism:
And I think one of the problems is, as I say, this parasitic, osmotic
relationship between journalists and power, our ever-growing ability,
our wish, to -- you know, to rely on these utterly bankrupt comments
from various unnamed, anonymous intelligence sources. And I'm just
looking at a copy of the Toronto Globe and Mail, February 1st,
2013. It's a story about al-Qaeda in Algeria. And what is the sourcing?
"U.S. intelligence officials said," "a senior U.S. intelligence official
said," "U.S. officials said," "the intelligence official said," "Algerian
officials say," "national security sources considered," "European security
sources said," "the U.S. official said," "the officials acknowledged."
I went -- boy, I've got another even worse example here from The Boston
Globe and Mail [ sic ], November 2nd, 2012. But, you know, we might
as well name our newspapers "Officials Say." This is the cancer at the
bottom of modern journalism, that we do not challenge power anymore. Why
are Americans tolerating these garbage stories with no real sourcing
except for very dodgy characters indeed, who won't give their names?
E Douglas Kihn: The Political Roots of American Obesity:
It was during Reagan's first term that the phrase bean counter came into
prominent usage. These were the efficiency experts whose job it was to
increase profits for the major corporations, mainly by introducing
speedups, job consolidations, forced overtime, the hiring of part-time
workers -- along with artful and ruthless union-busting.
This was also the beginning of the "War on Iran," the "War on Drugs,"
the war against the people of Nicaragua and El Salvador (all of them
Marxists doubtless bent on rampaging through the streets of US cities)
and a dangerous escalation of threats against the Soviet Union/Evil
As social fear and insecurity rise, mental health declines.
Apparently, so does physical health. According to a new study from
Rice University and the University Colorado at Boulder in Social Science
Quarterly, despite modest gains in lifespan over the past century, the
United States still trails many of the world's countries when it comes
to life expectancy, and its poorest citizens live approximately five
years less than more affluent people. The United States, which spends
far more money on medical care than other advanced industrialized
countries, has the sickest residents in every category of unwellness.
Sunday, May 5. 2013
Didn't squirrel away any links last week, but came up with a few
Ed Kilgore: America Haters: A recent
poll found that 29% of Americans agree with the statement, "In the next
few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect out
liberties." The poll also found that 25 percent of voters "believe the
American public is being lied to about the Sandy Hook elementary school
shooting 'in order to advance a political agenda.'" The NRA had a convention
last week where the incoming president called for a "culture war" but at
least they stopped short of adopting a new slogan like, "Guns: they're
not just for self-defense any more."
Why is revolutionary rhetoric becoming so routine these days? Some of it
stems from the kind of "constitutional conservatism" that raises every
political or policy dispute to a question of basic patriotism or even
obedience to Almighty God. But a big part of it can also be attributed
to cynical opportunists who manipulate those fearful (usually without
much cause) of tyranny for their own very conventional ends -- usually
power and money.
Wherever you think it's coming from, it needs to stop, and if it
can't stop, it must be made disreputable as part of ordinary partisan
At a minimum, those who toy with the idea of overthrowing our government
to stop Obamacare or prevent gun regulation need to stand up to the charge
that they hate America. It will make them crazy to hear it, but it's the
This puts several observations together. One is that nearly everything
conservatives put forward these days is objectively damaging to the lives
and welfare of large segments of the American public. Austerity is a good
example: it directly hurts everyone the government had previously attempted
to help, plus it drags down the economy weakening the labor market -- i.e.,
the job security and prospects of everyone who works for a living. Another
observation is that many of the people who support conservatives clearly
do hate large segments of the American people. Add those up and you have
to wonder whether conservative policies aren't just foolishly misguided
but deliberately malevolent. And since then intend to hurt some Americans,
how many targets does it take to add up to hating America?
Robert Kuttner: Austerity Never Works: Deficit Hawks Are Amoral -- and
Wrong: An excerpt from his new book, Debtor's Prison: The Politics
of Austerity Versus Possibility (Knopf):
In today's economy, which is dominated by high finance, small debtors
and small creditors are on the same side of a larger class divide. The
economic prospects of working families are sandbagged by the mortgage
debt overhang. Meanwhile, retirees can't get decent returns on their
investments because central banks have cut interest rates to historic
lows to prevent the crisis from deepening. Yet the paydays of hedge
fund managers and of executives of large banks that only yesterday
were given debt relief by the government are bigger than ever. And
corporate executives and their private equity affiliates can shed
debts using the bankruptcy code and then sail merrily on.
Exaggerated worries about public debt are a staple of conservative
rhetoric in good times and bad. Many misguided critics preached austerity
even during the Great Depression. As banks, factories and farms were
failing in a cumulative economic collapse, Andrew Mellon, one of
America's richest men and Treasury secretary from 1921 to 1932,
famously advised President Hoover to "liquidate labor, liquidate
stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate . . .
it will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living
and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more
moral life." The sentiments, which today sound ludicrous against the
history of the Depression, are not so different from those being
solemnly expressed by the U.S. austerity lobby or the German Bundesbank.
[ . . . ]
The combination of these two trends -- declining real wages and
inflated asset prices -- led the American middle class to use debt as
a substitute for income. People lacked adequate earnings but felt
wealthier. A generation of Americans grew accustomed to borrowing
against their homes to finance consumption, and banks were more than
happy to be their enablers. In my generation, second mortgages were
considered highly risky for homeowners. The financial industry
rebranded them as home equity loans, and they became ubiquitous.
Third mortgages, even riskier, were marketed as "home equity lines
State legislatures, meanwhile, paid for tax cuts by reducing
funding for public universities. To make up the difference, they
raised tuition. Federal policy increasingly substituted loans for
grants. In 1980, federal Pell grants covered 77 percent of the cost
of attending a public university. By 2012, this was down to 36
percent. Nominally public state universities are now only 20 percent
funded by legislatures, and their tuition has trebled since 1989.
By the end of 2011, the average student debt was $25,250. In mid-2012,
total outstanding student loan debt passed a trillion dollars, leaving
recent graduates weighed down with debt before their economic lives
even began. This borrowing is anything but frivolous. Students without
affluent parents have little alternative to these debts if they want
college degrees. But as monthly payments crowd out other consumer
spending, the macroeconomic effect is to add one more drag to the
Had Congress faced the consequences head-on, it is hard to imagine
a deliberate policy decision to sandbag the life prospects of the next
generation. But this is what legislators at both the federal and state
levels, in effect, did by stealth. They cut taxes on well-off Americans
and increased student debts of the non-wealthy young to make up the
difference. The real debt crisis is precisely the opposite of the one
in the dominant narrative: efficient public investments were cut,
imposing inefficient private debts on those who could least afford
to carry them.
The 1929 and 2008 crashes are more similar than most people recognize:
if you look at charts of economic output, they start at almost the same
trajectory and spread equally fast throughout the world. The difference
is that the latter crash was arrested in early 2009, the result of three
things: a much larger public sector which was (at least initially) free
from the crash mentality; automatic stabilizers like unemployment
insurance and welfare; and extraordinary government intervention to
prop up failing banks. Perversely, since so much of the recovery was
pushed through the banking system, the rich were the first satisfied
by the recovery, and they celebrated by engineering an economic pogrom
against the middle class: they used the crisis to depress the labor
market, and they lobbied for more austere government to cut services
and put further pressure on wages. Consequently, the human costs of
the current recession rival the 1930s -- the big stories of the last
few weeks concern the number of long-term unemployed and the stigma
against them, and a sudden increase in the suicide rate of Boomers --
but there is scarcely any viable political effort to help out. To me,
the most striking difference between Obama and FDR was that the latter
was pre-occupied with keeping both wages and prices up, whereas Obama
doesn't seem to grasp that there is even an issue here.
Jordan Smith: The Real Reason Not to Intervene in Syria: Well,
one real reason:
More generally, a significant body of international-relations scholarship
suggests that not only can outside intervention in humanitarian emergencies
in places like Rwanda not ameliorate the situation -- it can actually make
things worse. Even simply dispensing aid can prolong suffering, in what the
former Doctors Without Borders leader Fiona Terry calls "the paradox of
Why are humanitarian interventions so difficult? Kuperman theorizes that
when rebels are assisted by outside forces, they are unintentionally
encouraged to become more reckless in fighting a regime or provoking it,
resist negotiations, and expand their ambitions. Intervention can thereby
produce a perverse situation of prolonging a conflict that results in more
deaths. He calls this the "moral hazard of humanitarian intervention."
Even the expectation or the mistaken belief of outside support can
encourage rebels to continue fighting or resist settlements.
Another real reason is that military interventions in other countries
is a bad habit that the United States sorely needs to break. The reason
is not just because it doesn't work out very well -- Afghanistan and Iraq
are recent examples, but you can go back to 1898 and find more examples
in Cuba and the Philippines, and most of the cases in between (especially
including CIA operations) are more/less as unambiguous. But even if we
(or, say, a more appropriate body, like the UN) could push a button and
magically bring the conflict to a close, ask yourself what that solution
would look like. It wouldn't be to tilt the arms balance so the rebels
could take over, since doing that would only create a new regime at war
attempting to suppress yet another segment of the Syrian public. No, such
a solution would be to arrange a ceasefire, an amnesty, and a democratic
path forward with sufficient minority protections. I don't know whether
Obama has tried to do that, but many decades of hostilities between the
US and Syria have resulted in the US having very little leverage there.
(Egypt, for instance, was a different case: the US had a longterm military
alliance there which helped to ease Mubarak from office.) Maybe Russia,
China, and Iran could have more influence on the Assad regime, but the
US doesn't have a lot of influence with them either.
Smith goes on to write:
The humanitarian impulse is a noble one, spurred by good intentions.
But good intentions, even if they don't pave the road to hell, can
sometimes take us a good way there.
I would caution, though, that not every "humanitarian impulse" is
a noble one. Individuals, perhaps, but nations rarely practice foreign
policy to attain nobility. They usually have some sort of interest or
agenda, and one should be especially suspicious of a nation that claims
to be the advocate and defender of free markets, since the only acts
expected in the market are ones that advance self-interests.
Ben White: Sidelining Palestinians in Israel Will Doom Prospects for
Peace: Headline's a bit off as there are no "prospects for peace,"
but the real point to draw here is that the longer Israel's occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza continues, the more the brutality Israelis --
both the IDF and settlers often acting on their own -- is reflected
back on the second-class citizens of Israel.
In mid-April, the United States state department published its annual
human rights review -- and the country report for Israel makes for
interesting reading. An ally praised in public as the embodiment of
liberal democratic values in a "tough neighbourhood" is described as
practising "institutional discrimination" against its own Palestinian
citizens (the so-called Israeli Arabs).
Even in a far-from-comprehensive summary of Israel's systematic
racism, the report notes discrimination in the education system, the
land regime and housing, and the legal restrictions on a Palestinian
from the West Bank or Gaza living with his or her spouse in Israel.
[ . . . ]
But it is not just discrimination and segregation that raise concerns.
There are those in Israel who would like to be rid of Palestinian citizens
altogether -- and see an opportunity to do so in the context of the "peace
Responding to recent protests by Palestinian citizens to mark their
expulsion in 1948, the former foreign minister and current chair of the
Knesset foreign affairs and defence committee, Avigdor Lieberman, called
the Nakba commemoration events proof that "any arrangement with the
Palestinians must include Israeli Arabs as well".
Sunday, April 28. 2013
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Eric Harvey: Writing the Record: Interview with Devon Powers, author of
Writing the Record: The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism,
which focuses on Richard Goldstein and Robert Christgau. Lots of stuff
here, and I should probably dig into the book. One comment I have, based
on this quote:
When Christgau talks about monoculture, he's talking about the idea
that there was a period before fragmentation. A period before audiences
were segmented, where all kinds of people were listening to the same
thing, some of it out of necessity just because there weren't other
options. When you have people who are listening to the same kind of
things, they have something in common to talk about that they simply
don't when there is more variance in the media landscape.
Two problems here. One is that monoculture means something else:
not a single all-encompassing culture but an isolated stripe of only
one thing -- as in agriculture: wheat, soybeans, oranges, etc. --
which may coexist independently with lots of other monocultures.
Music has never been that formally constrained, and never will be,
in large part because it's always being mediated and deconstructed,
and most often as a social activity. The other is that the idea of
integrating most musical strands into a common pool of experience
was new in the late 1960s, itself a political project rooted in
the newfound equal integration of all divisions in a relatively
classless society. It didn't exist earlier because people grew up
in a divided (segregated) world, and since then the right-wing
counterrevolution with its increasing inequality has done all it
could to strain the ideal.
Paul Krugman and others have made a big point recently about
"the great compression" which reduced income and wealth inequality
and culminated in the 1960s. I must say that it didn't feel like
much of a class-free utopia at the time, but the idea was present,
and there was a sense of it being progressively realized -- and
that sense of progress helped fuel the great upheavals of the
decade, including the civil rights and women's movements. Still,
that atmosphere of equality was propitious for critics inclined
to jump from genre to genre, to poke into music from all over the
world, and who believed that popular music could storm the citdels
of "high culture" -- the last refuge of the ancien regime.
Circa 1973, I dropped out of college, stopped reading critical
theory, and took up rock crit. Seemed like the way forward, and
was practical at the same time.
Alex Parrene: Bush Family Furiously Selling Itself to Americans Once
Again: As ever, Bush realizes the importance of timing when rolling
out a new "product" -- his library, of course, but that's the easy part
given that every ex-president (at least from Truman on) has one (and a
figure as insignficant as Gerald Ford has two). The harder part is
rehabilitating the entire family brand name, but polls indicate the
ignorance of the average American is hard to underestimate -- I very
much blame Obama and the Democrats for letting Bush off the hook.
More Bush links:
My vote for the single worst thing about George W. Bush goes to his
instinctive, visceral attrraction to violence as a way of solving problems.
Even before 9/11, Bush rejected the Saudi peace plan for Israel-Palestine
by saying (as
Ronald Suskind reported), "Sometimes a show of force can really
clarify things." His green light for Sharon destroyed eight years of
fitful progress toward resolving the most intractable conflict in the
Middle East. He reacted to 9/11 the same, only with more vigor and
ambition, going after Iraq as well as Afghanistan, and threatening
wars against Iran and North Korea. Then there was his encouragement
of Israel's brutal 2006 carpet-bombing of Lebanon, an act of war that
his secretary of state memorably described as "the birth-pangs of a
new Middle East."
MJ Rosenberg: Time to Admit US Policies Can Cause Terrorism:
To prevent something you have to have some concept of causation.
The Boston bombings again raise the question of terrorism, but we
are stuck within an officially sanctioned blind spot.
There is one change that the United States could make in response to
the terrorism threat that is never discussed. That is to consider the
part U.S. policies have played in creating and sustaining it.
I understand that we are not supposed to say this, as if discussing
why we are hated justifies the unjustifiable: the targeting of innocent
Americans because of the perceived sins of their government.
But nothing justifies terrorism. Period. That does not mean that
nothing causes it.
Acts of terror do not come at us out of the blue. Nor are they
directed at us, as President George W. Bush famously said, because
the terrorists "hate our freedom." If that was the case, terrorists
would be equally or more inclined to hit countries at least as free
as the U.S., those in northern Europe, for instance.
No, terrorists (in the case of the Boston Marathon bombings Muslim
terrorists) target the U.S. because they perceive us as their enemy.
One reason they perceive us as enemies is that we regard them as
enemies. Nor is this just a matter of opinion: the US has, ever since
FDR met with King Saud in 1945, backed the most repressive regimes in
the Middle East, training and arming their secret police, their armed
forces; we've backed wars, and in a pinch we've jumped in and invaded
countries ourselves; and we've fomented civil wars, creating massively
destructive contagions, such as the Sunni-Shiite divide in Iraq. (For
some of this history, see
Tom Engelhardt: Field of Nightmares, on Jeremy Scahill's new book,
Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.) If we don't like this
"blowback," the place to start is in reconsidering our own actions.
But even if there was no terror blowback, the US record in the Middle
East has been an unmitigated mess. Most often we've backed forces based
on the shabby enemy-of-my-enemy principle: from the Saudi regime to
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Afghanistan, we've repeatedly backed the most
extremely reactionary Islamists because they were anti-communist, only
to discover that their anti-communism was part of an anti-western agenda
bound to bite the hand that feeds them. We've backed Saddam Hussein's
war against Iran, then backed Iranian-backed militias against Hussein.
We've backed Israel against everyone, even against our own policies --
we even backed Israel when they attacked and sunk a US Navy ship in
1967. Presumably some arms and oil companies have profited along the
way, but what has the average American gotten out of this incoherency?
Nothing but the task of fighting a series of useless, hopeless wars.
Yet the right-wing still clamors for more -- see the recent
Cal Thomas rant: "How many more Americans must be killed and
wounded before we fight back, not just overseas, but here?" As Mort
Sahl said about someone else, "if he were more perceptive, he'd be
a happy man." Still, Thomas is as incoherent as anyone. He notes
the vast size of America's homeland security force, yet bemoans
their inability to stop two disaffected young men from "shutting
down a major city." Aside from calling for a more bigoted immigration
policy and a fevered, nativist witch hunt mentality, how exactly are
we supposed to "fight back"? And is it even justified in a democracy
to talk about enemies at home? The Tsarnaevs, after all, were US
citizens, Americans, entitled to dissenting opinions. When weren't
enemies, and when they set off those bombs, they didn't become our
enemies -- just criminals.
Tom Engelhardt: The Enemy-Industrial Complex: Or, "How to turn
a world lacking in enemies into the most threatening place in the
universe." Out of alpha order, but this follows up nicely on the
above entry. Consider 9/11 as a "Wizard of Oz" facade:
The U.S., in other words, is probably in less danger from external
enemies than at any moment in the last century. There is no other
imperial power on the planet capable of, or desirous of, taking on
American power directly, including China. It's true that, on September
11, 2001, 19 hijackers with box cutters produced a remarkable,
apocalyptic, and devastating TV show in which almost 3,000 people
died. When those giant towers in downtown New York collapsed, it
certainly had the look of nuclear disaster (and in those first days,
the media was filled was nuclear-style references), but it wasn't
actually an apocalyptic event.
The enemy was still nearly nonexistent. The act cost bin Laden
only an estimated $400,000-$500,000, though it would lead to a series
of trillion-dollar wars. It was a nightmarish event that had a malign
Wizard of Oz quality to it: a tiny man producing giant effects. It
in no way endangered the state. In fact, it would actually strengthen
many of its powers. It put a hit on the economy, but a passing one.
It was a spectacular and spectacularly gruesome act of terror by a
small, murderous organization then capable of mounting a major
operation somewhere on Earth only once every couple of years. It
was meant to spread fear, but nothing more.
When the towers came down and you could suddenly see to the horizon,
it was still, in historical terms, remarkably enemy-less. And yet 9/11
was experienced here as a Pearl Harbor moment -- a sneak attack by a
terrifying enemy meant to disable the country. The next day, newspaper
headlines were filled with variations on "A Pearl Harbor of the
Twenty-First Century." If it was a repeat of December 7, 1941, however,
it lacked an imperial Japan or any other state to declare war on,
although one of the weakest partial states on the planet, the Taliban's
Afghanistan, would end up filling the bill adequately enough for
Engelhardt then tries to put 9/11 into perspective by bringing
up stats for "suicide by gun and death by car" -- numbers which
annually dwarf even the 9/11 death toll. Actually, it would make
more sense to write off 9/11 as a fluke and look at more typical
terrorist tolls. You don't have to look hard. On the same day as
the Boston bombings, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas caught fire
and exploded, killing many more people. This doesn't mean that we
shouldn't pay attention to terrorist threats -- indeed, one reason
we should is that many could be avoided by policy changes that we
should implement anyway; but we should keep them in perspective.
Even the 9/11 death toll was ultimately topped two times over by
the number of US soldiers we sacrificed in post-9/11 wars -- wars
meant to do little more than restore the invincible lustre of US
imperial power, and perhaps blindly punish people only vaguely
related to those who actually planned 9/11.
Without an enemy of commensurate size and threat, so much that was done
in Washington in these years might have been unattainable. The vast
national security building and spending spree -- stretching from the
Virginia suburbs of Washington, where the National Geospatial-Intelligence
Agency erected its new $1.8 billion headquarters, to Bluffdale, Utah,
where the National Security Agency is still constructing a $2 billion,
one-million-square-foot data center for storing the world's intercepted
communications -- would have been unlikely.
Without the fear of an enemy capable of doing anything, money at ever
escalating levels would never have poured into homeland security, or the
Pentagon, or a growing complex of crony corporations associated with our
weaponized safety. The exponential growth of the national security
complex, as well as of the powers of the executive branch when it comes
to national security matters, would have far been less likely.
Without 9/11 and the perpetual "wartime" that followed, along with
the heavily promoted threat of terrorists ready to strike and potentially
capable of wielding biological, chemical, or even nuclear weapons, we
would have no Department of Homeland Security nor the lucrative
mini-homeland-security complex that surrounds it; the 17-outfit U.S.
Intelligence Community with its massive $75 billion official budget
would have been far less impressive; our endless drone wars and the
"drone lobby" that goes with them might never have developed; and the
U.S. military would not have an ever growing secret military, the Joint
Special Operations Command, gestating inside it -- effectively the
president's private army, air force, and navy -- and already conducting
largely secret operations across much of the planet.
So there is a lot of money at stake on convincing you that we have
to fight such unscrupulous enemies. But it also fits a political agenda:
conservatism, as Michael Tomasky explains below, depends on fear to
promote its political agenda.
Michael Tomasky: The Conservative Paranoid Mind:
The common thread through all of this is the conservative need to
instill and maintain a level of fear in the populace. They need to
make gun owners fear that Dianne Feinstein and her SWAT team are
going to come knocking on their doors, or, less amusingly, that
they have to be armed to the teeth for that inevitable day when
the government declares a police state. They need to whip up fear
of immigrants, because unless we do, it's going to be nothing but
terrorists coming through those portals, and for good measure,
because, as Ann Coulter and others have recently said, the proposed
law would create millions of voting Democrats (gee, I wonder why!).
And with regard to terrorism, they need people to live in fear
of the next attack, because fear makes people think about death,
and thinking about death makes people more likely to endorse tough-guy,
law-and-order, Constitution-shredding actions undertaken on their
behalf. This is how we lived under Bush and Cheney for years. This
fear is basically what enabled the Iraq War to take place. Public
opinion didn't support that war at first. But once they got the
public afraid with all that false talk of mushroom clouds, the
needle zoomed past 50 percent, and it was bombs away.
Conservatism, I fear (so to speak), can never be cleansed of
this need to instill fear. Whether it's of black people or of
street thugs or of immigrants or of terrorists or of jackbooted
government agents, it's how the conservative mind works.
Matthew Yglesias: The Koch Brothers Might Be Just What Conservative
Journalism Needs: Sometimes smart people can be pretty stupid,
especially when they let their logic run away from reality. The Koch
brothers are rumored to be in the market for the Tribune Company,
which would give them control over the largest newspapers in Los
Angeles and Chicago, among other cities. Yglesias writes:
Certain niches -- talk radio and cable television -- are very friendly
to a conservative editorial product but others are not. Which is exactly
why what conservative media needs is a couple of extremely rich people
to buy a newspaper company and lose a ton of money building a great
conservative media product.
After all, the big problem with right-leaning media in America isn't
that it doesn't exist. It's that it's terrible. There is a large
audience out there that's so frustrated with the vile MSM that it's happy
to lap up cheaply produced content from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity,
and you can make lots of money serving that kind of thing up. By contrast,
to build a great media company that's top-to-bottom staffed with
conservatives is going to be very expensive. The possible talent pool
of great reporters is tilted toward liberals. The talent pool of great
photographers and graphic designers is probably even more tilted toward
liberals. Finding the great conservatives out there and hiring them is
going to be relatively costly, and there's no real economic point to
doing so. Is your much worse cost structure going to get you a larger
audience than Rush? No, it won't. It's a bad bet.
But the Kochs have plenty of money. If they want to see it happen,
they can make it happen. And America would be better off for it.
The obvious problem here is that there is no latent pool of "great
conservatives" ready to move into newspaper journalism at any price,
because they simply don't exist. Conservatives in media are hacks, not
because they're lazy but because their message is nothing more than a
crock of lies and distortions. The net effect won't be "a great conservative
media product" -- it will just reduce marginally decent newspapers into
ever-deeper hackdom. And America will be worse off on two counts: one
is that it increase our current trend toward shoddiness in all manner
of work; the other is that it will reinforce the notion that politics
is purely cynical -- a fixed game controlled by the rich (the Kochs a
particularly egregious example).
One cautionary note is that the Kochs have never gotten into a
business to lose money, which makes it unlikely they would jump on
such a losing proposition. On the other hand, they have shown a
deep commitment to undermine democracy, both through their political
spending and through their use of corporate control as a channel
for pushing their political beliefs. Major urban newspapers have a
huge "first mover" advantage -- it's impossible to capitalize new
competition, so they are effectively monopolies, and as such should
be subject to public trust. Allowing them to be taken over by
extremist political ideologues like the Kochs will irreparably
destroy that trust, and America would be worse off for that.
Also, a few links for further study:
Sunday, April 21. 2013
Some scattered links of special interest. Caught most of them today,
which shows it isn't all that hard to find trouble these days:
Joe Conason: Protecting the 'Second Amendment Rights' of Thugs and
Terrorists: The NRA used to push the mantra, "if guns are outlawed,
only outlaws will have guns." Now they seem to be saying, if criminals
are denied guns, no one will be permitted them.
As Will Saletan pointed out in Slate last January, the NRA has consistently
(and successfully) sought to kill the most basic efforts to keep guns away
from convicted criminals and other dangerous characters -- including abusive
spouses under court protection orders, drug dealers and even individuals
listed on the Justice Department's terrorist watch list.
In the wake of the Boston bombing, as the nation ponders how to bolster
its security, the gun lobby's tender concern for the Second Amendment
"rights" of terrorists and thugs ought to permanently discredit them and
their political servants.
Background checks and registration should not prevent people who have
legitimate reason for owning guns from doing so, nor establish a "slippery
slope" leading to gun confiscation (as is routinely asserted). They would,
however, do much to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not
have them, and they would help law enforcement track gun violence. There
is, after all, enough gun violence in America to warrant precautions,
and it should be clear that there are people who should not be entitled
to own or use guns. Reasonable people should be able to find some common
ground here, but the NRA has taken a position far beyond reason, and it's
time to start calling it what it is: their main purpose is to safeguard
the gun-owning rights of criminals, because if criminals can't own guns,
no one can.
As near as I can tell, the NRA is mostly a front for gun manufacturers,
and their business is booming because they're able to promote fear -- of
crime, of terrorists, and of the government -- into ever more gun sales.
For an example of his this works, here's a Wichita Eagle letter from
Hank Price, of Goddard, KS:
I need an AR-15. Furthermore, I need several 30-round magazines to go
Why, you ask? Well, let's put aside the fact that it is none of your
business or, for that matter, none of government's business to ask. (The
Second Amendment affirms my right to keep and bear arms.)
I need an AR-15 because the bad guys have them. I need an AR-15 because
the police, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of
Homeland Security, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives have them. If someone is attempting a home invasion with
semi-automatic or even automatic weapons, I don't want to wait the 15
to 20 minutes it takes for the police to arrive with their semi-automatic
I need an AR-15 because as long as I and other law-abiding citizens
have them, the government will think twice before infringing on the
other rights affirmed by the Constitution. That is the real reason we
have the Second Amendment. Not so we can hunt. Not so we can target
practice. Not so we can defend our home and family until the police
come to file their reports. But to protect our rights.
This is a good example of the NRA business plan: let the "bad guys"
have X and "good guys" like Price will have to buy the same thing --
an arms race, which certainly won't stop with AR-15s. Moreover, if
the "bad guys" include the US government, Price is already way down
the technology curve: they already have helicopters, tanks, snipers,
noxious gas, and enough firepower to obliterate your house -- no need
to merely "invade" it. Also, that bit about using guns to protect your
rights, how's that worked out over time? From the Whiskey Rebellion
in 1791 up until any recent example you can cite, not very well. To
pick one relatively recent example, Leonard Peltier is in jail for
life for allegedly defending himself against federal agents. Why
should Price expect to fare better? The fact is that the only way
to defend yourself against the government is through the courts --
your best friend there, by the way, is the ACLU. Better still, elect
a government that will respect your rights -- shouldn't be that big
of a problem, if you really are one of the "good guys." If not, at
least you have the NRA working for you.
By the way, here's today's Crowson:
David Graeber: There's No Need for All This Economic Sadomasochism:
More on austerity politics, piling on the Reinhart-Rogoff debacle:
The morality of debt has proved spectacularly good politics. It appears
to work just as well whatever form it takes: fiscal sadism (Dutch and
German voters really do believe that Greek, Spanish and Irish citizens
are all, collectively, as they put it, "debt sinners," and vow support
for politicians willing to punish them) or fiscal masochism (middle-class
Britons really will dutifully vote for candidates who tell them that
government has been on a binge, that they must tighten their belts,
it'll be hard, but it's something we can all do for the sake of our
grandchildren). Politicians locate economic theories that provide
flashy equations to justify the politics; their authors, like Rogoff,
are celebrated as oracles; no one bothers to check if the numbers
actually add up.
Also on Reinhart-Rogoff:
New Tools for Reproducible Results.
Glenn Greenwald: What Rights Should Dzokhar Tsarnaev Get and Why Does
It Matter?: When I heard Sen. Lindsey Graham insisting that the
Boston Marathon bomber should be declared an "enemy combatant" I thought
that was the dumbest thing I've heard him say in, well, weeks. As I
understand it, the main purpose of the "enemy combatant" designation
is to allow the Feds to hold people indefinitely they suspect but don't
have any evidence against, at least that wouldn't hold up in court.
Assuming they got the right person, the odds that they wouldn't be able
to secure a conviction are vanishingly small -- unless they did something
really stupid, like waterboarding him in Guantanamo. Tsarnaev is a US
citizen, captured in the US after (allegedly) committing a major crime
on US territory. Isn't that what the US justice system is about? Then I
read that Obama's DOJ decided not to "Mirandize" him, as if not reminding
him that he has rights under the constitution strips him of those rights.
To get on top of this, I consulted Glenn Greenwald, and he explains it
Now, the cheers for this erosion of Miranda are led not by right-wing
Supreme Court justices such as William Rehnquist (who wrote the opinion
in Quarles), but by MSNBC pundits like former Obama campaign media aide
Joy Reid, who -- immediately upon the DOJ's announcement -- instantly
became a newly minted Miranda expert in order to loudly defend the DOJ's
actions. MSNBC's featured "terrorism expert" Roger Cressey -- who,
unbeknownst to MSNBC viewers, is actually an executive with the
intelligence contractor Booz Allen -- also praised the DOJ's decision
not to Mirandize the accused bomber (if you want instant, reflexive
support for the US government's police and military powers, MSNBC is
the place to turn these days). [ . . . ]
Just 30 years ago, Quarles was viewed as William Rehnquist's
pernicious first blow against Miranda; now, it's heralded by MSNBC
Democrats as good, just and necessary for our safety, even in its
new extremist rendition. That's the process by which long-standing
liberal views of basic civil liberties, as well core Constitutional
guarantees, continue to be diluted under President Obama in the name
of terrorism. [ . . . ]
Needless to say, Tsarnaev is probably the single most hated figure
in America now. As a result, as Bazelon noted, not many people will
care what is done to him, just like few people care what happens to
the accused terrorists at Guantanamo, or Bagram, or in Yemen and
Pakistan. But that's always how rights are abridged: by targeting
the most marginalized group or most hated individual in the first
instance, based on the expectation that nobody will object because
of how marginalized or hated they are. Once those rights violations
are acquiesced to in the first instance, then they become institutionalized
forever, and there is no basis for objecting once they are applied to
others, as they inevitably will be (in the case of the War on Terror
powers: as they already are being applied to others).
Also see Greenwald's earlier post,
The Boston Bombing Produces Familiar and Revealing Reactions.
Greenwald also links to an interesting piece by Ali Abuninah:
Was the Boston Bombing Really a "Terrorist" Act? Aside from the
specialized legal aspects, I have no problem describing any bombing
as an act of terror (including those bombs released by US drones in
Pakistan and elsewhere), just because of its intrinsically indiscriminate
nature. But at this point there is very little that can be said about
the motivations and intentions of the perpetrators. But somewhere I
read that this was the first "terrorist attack" on US soil since the
November 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hasan -- a
statement that overlooks dozens of mass shootings since, many (e.g.,
the recent murder of schoolchildren in Newtown, CT) truly terrorful.
At the very least, we've managed to muddle up the language here: the
9/11 attack were both terrorizing and a radical affront to the image
of US power as projected across the world. The Boston bombing and
the Newtown shootings were both terrorizing, but what they have to
do with US power is still mostly confined to the fevered imaginations
of US politicians, who, as always, are happy to use whatever tragedy
is at hand to further their own interests.
Glenn Greenwald: Margaret Thatcher and Misapplied Death Etiquette:
Missed this post from April 8, but still timely. The fact is, when you
hear that someone has died, you remember what they did. If what you say
then usually seems positive, that may be because we are predisposed to
forget or forgive the bad and cherish the good. Or perhaps one feels a
tinge of relief that the threat of the bad has passed. But the threat
of someone like Thatcher hasn't passed with her, and it would be grossly
unresponsible to gloss over much of what she actually did. As Greenwald
This demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure's
death is not just misguided but dangerous. That one should not speak
ill of the dead is arguably appropriate when a private person dies,
but it is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public
figure, particularly one who wielded significant influence and political
power. "Respecting the grief" of Thatcher's family members is appropriate
if one is friends with them or attends a wake they organize, but the
protocols are fundamentally different when it comes to public discourse
about the person's life and political acts. I made this argument at
length last year when Christopher Hitchens died and a speak-no-ill rule
about him was instantly imposed (a rule he, more than anyone, viciously
violated), and I won't repeat that argument today; those interested can
my reasoning here.
But the key point is this: those who admire the deceased public figure
(and their politics) aren't silent at all. They are aggressively exploiting
the emotions generated by the person's death to create hagiography. Typifying
these highly dubious claims about Thatcher was this (appropriately diplomatic)
statement from President Obama: "The world has lost one of the great champions
of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend." Those gushing
depictions can be quite consequential, as it was for the week-long tidal
wave of unbroken reverence that was heaped on Ronald Reagan upon his death,
an episode that to this day shapes how Americans view him and the political
ideas he symbolized. Demanding that no criticisms be voiced to counter that
hagiography is to enable false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of
bad acts, distortions that become quickly ossified and then endure by virtue
of no opposition and the powerful emotions created by death. When a political
leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise
be permitted but not criticisms.
Ed Kilgore: Fertilizer Explosion Update: Weak Inspections and Strong
Kolaches: While the nation's media was fixated on the bombings in
Boston, a far larger (and deadlier) explosion occurred in the place
where you might most expect it, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas,
but nobody was looking there:
The explosion shone a harsh light on the US fertilizer industry and
the weak, toothless regulation thereof. One problem Plumer notes is
that, "the Occupational Safety and Health Administration tends to be
understaffed and inspections are relatively infrequent. The Texas
fertilizer industry has only seen six inspections in the past five
years -- and the West Texas Fertilizer Co. facility was not one of
them." This was despite the West facility receiving a $2,300 fine
from the EPA in 2006 for poor risk-management planning. The last
time the facility had been inspected by the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration was in 1985. Think Progress reports that the
plant had been inspected in 2011 by the Pipeline and Hazardous
Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which resulted in a $10,100
fine for missing placards and lack of security plans. The fine was
reduced in 2012 after improvements were made at the plant.
Fertilizer explosions are relatively common in history. There
have been 17 unintended explosions of ammonium nitrate causing
casualties since 1921. The worst of these was the explosion of a
cargo ship in the Port of Texas City that killed 581 people and
Mike Konczal: Mapping Out the Arguments Against Chained CPI:
Konczal has been linked to by everyone commenting on Reinhart-Rogoff
Researchers Finally Replicated Reinhart-Rogoff and There Are Serious
Problems, followed up by
Andrindrajit Dube: Reinhart/Rogoff and Growth in a Time Before Debt).
Here he analyzes another real bad idea: Obama's budget proposal to cut
Social Security by fudging the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). (If you
were really paying attention, you'll recall that this has already been
done once before, by Clinton as a favor for Greenspan: in the 1990s, the
government changed how the consumer price index (CPI) was calculated,
nominally lowering inflation and thereby reducing Social Security COLA
increases.) With "friends" like Obama (and Clinton) you enemies are
already halfway home.
If you look into the data, the elderly spend a lot more of their limited
money on housing, utilities, and medical care. Health care costs have
been rising rapidly over the past several decades, and it is difficult
to substitute on other necessary, fixed-price goods like utilities. With
the notable exception of college costs, the things urban wage earners
spend money on haven't increased in price as quickly as what the elderly
purchase. As a result, the CPI-E (the index tailored to the elderly) has
increased 3.3 percent a year from 1982 to 2007, while the CPI-W (tailored
to wage earners) has only increased 3 percent a year.
[ . . . ]
You'll hear arguments that a Grand Bargain is necessary, so it's
better to bring Social Security into long-term balance now, with
Democrats at the helm, than in the future, when there will be less
time and an uncertain governance coalition. You can get fewer cuts
and more revenue than you would otherwise and take the issue off the
table for the foreseeable future to concentrate on other priorities.
But if that's your idea, then this is a terrible deal and sets a
terrible precedent, because this deal would accomplish none of your
goals. You'd cut Social Security without putting in any new revenue.
And it wouldn't be sufficient to close the long-term gap, so the issue
would stay on the table. Indeed, the deficit hawks would probably be
emboldened, viewing this as a "downpayment" on future cuts, and require
any future attempts to get more revenue for Social Security, say by
raising the payroll tax cap, to involve significant additional cuts.
Konczal also points out that the longer you live, the more "chained
CPI" eats into your check; also the more likely you are to have exhausted
your savings. The net result is to plunge the very elderly into poverty.
One thing he didn't mention is that some big expenses, like nursing home
care, are means-tested. The effect of this is to first confiscate all of
your savings before making you a ward of a state that has never been
known for generous welfare policies. Over the last twenty-some years,
we've done a lot to lighten estate taxes for the rich, never noticing
that for the poor the effective tax rate is 100%.
Matthew Yglesias: Banning Late-Term Abortions Reduces the Quality of
Late-Term Abortion Providers: Same for extra-legal bans, like
murder. Talks about the Kermit Gosnell case in Philadelphia, but he
starts with a more commonplace example:
I used to buy illegal drugs sometimes and in addition to me, personally,
not being a huge fan of said substances I really didn't enjoy the
purchasing process. The quality of customer service was just deplorable.
And the problem, roughly speaking, was that even though it was not in
practice all that difficult to obtain marijuana you still had to get
it from a drug dealer rather than, say, a highly efficient global
retailer operating with industry best practices and huge economies of
scale. And for better or for worse, that's one of the goals of drug
prohibition in the United States. It's not simply that making something
illegal deters some people from use. It inhibits the emergence of
above-board providers with strong franchises and brand value and
robust competition between multiple high quality providers.
It also opens up opportunities for police to profit through bribes
or other favors, and it makes it easier for criminals to rob drug
dealers, and it opens up drug dealers to further crime, etc. But back
to medicine: any operation is more likely to be performed competently
by someone who does it often, thereby developing skill and experience.
One reason universal health care is better even for the people who
can afford whatever you call our health care system is that doctors
learn from experience.
Thursday, April 18. 2013
Some links and comments. Originally started last week, then postponed
to mid-week, then a bit later:
Gerry Adams: Thatcher's Legacy in Ireland: On the late UK prime
Margaret Thatcher was a hugely divisive figure in British politics.
Her right wing politics saw Thatcher align herself with some of the
most repressive and undemocratic regimes in the late 20th century --
including apartheid South Africa and Chile's Pinochet. Her description
of the ANC and Mandela as terrorists was evidence of her ultra
conservative view of the world.
She championed the deregulation of the financial institutions,
cuts in public services and was vehemently anti-trade union. She set
out to crush the trade union movement. The confrontation with the
miners and the brutality of the British police was played out on
television screens night after night for months. The current crisis
in the banking institutions and the economic recession owe much to
these policies. And she went to war in the Malvinas.
But for the people of Ireland, and especially the north, the
Thatcher years were among some of the worst of the conflict. For
longer than any other British Prime Minister her policy decisions
entrenched sectarian divisions, handed draconian military powers
over to the securocrats, and subverted basic human rights.
Her most immediate impact on the US came out of the Malvinas
(Falklands) War, which played so jolly well on British TV that
she got a big popularity boost. She later used it to convince
the first George Bush how he could use war in Kuwait to push up
his own ratings, a lesson Bush's idiot son not only learned but
refined, thus sparking the neverending War on Terror.
Thatcher has been all over the pundit-world recently. On two
succesive days, the Wichita Eagle had opinion pieces that doted
on her: one by the Kansas Republican chairman extolling Brownback
as a Thatcherite; and one by Cal Thomas on how the left is full
of hate for pointing out her supposed faults. One thing that I
haven't read about recently was how Thatcher was so extreme in
her reactionary views that she eventually became an embarrassment
to the Conservative Party, which replaced her with John Major.
Now the efforts to canonize her are reminiscent of the much more
organized efforts to name things after Ronald Reagan.
John Cassidy: The Crumbling Case for Austerity Economics:
Starts off with a nod to Thatcher, who put austerity into practice
back in 1979, a prescription for national impoverishment that the
current Conservative cabal running the UK has embraced, once again
disastrously. Cassidy then moves on to "glaring faults and omissions
in the widely cited research of Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff" --
turns out that their paper predicting doom when a national debt
exceeds 90% of GDP was severely fudged ("omitted relevant data,
weighted their calculations in an unusual manner, and made an
elementary coding blunder," slanting their results in favor of
their thesis). For more on Reinhart-Rogoff, see
Mike Konczal (wonkish), and
Paul Krugman (although if you rumage through his blog you'll find several
Maureen Dowd: Courting Cowardice:
Swing Justice Anthony Kennedy grumbled about "uncharted waters," and the
fuddy-duddies seemed to be looking for excuses not to make a sweeping
ruling. Their questions reflected a unanimous craven impulse: How do we
get out of this? This court is plenty bold imposing bad decisions on the
country, like anointing W. president or allowing unlimited money to flow
covertly into campaigns. But given a chance to make a bold decision
putting them on the right, and popular, side of history, they squirm.
"Same-sex couples have every other right," Chief Justice John Roberts
said, sounding inane for a big brain. "It's just about the label in this
case." He continued, "If you tell a child that somebody has to be their
friend, I suppose you can force the child to say, 'This is my friend,'
but it changes the definition of what it means to be a friend."
[ . . . ]
Charles Cooper, the lawyer for the proponents of Prop 8, which banned
same-sex marriage in California, was tied in knots, failing to articulate
any harm that could come from gay marriage and admitting that no other
form of discrimination against gay people was justified. His argument,
that marriage should be reserved for those who procreate, is ludicrous.
Sonia Sotomayor was married and didn't have kids. Clarence and Ginny
Thomas did not have kids. Chief Justice Roberts's two kids are adopted.
Should their marriages have been banned? What about George and Martha
Washington? They only procreated a country.
As Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out to Cooper, "Couples that aren't
gay but can't have children get married all the time."
Justice Elena Kagan wondered if Cooper thought couples over the age
of 55 wanting to get married should be refused licenses. Straining to
amuse, Justice Antonin Scalia chimed in: "I suppose we could have a
questionnaire at the marriage desk when people come in to get the
marriage -- you know, 'Are you fertile or are you not fertile?'"
Scalia didn't elaborate on his comment in December at Princeton:
"If we cannot have moral feeling against homosexuality, can we have
it against murder?"
Paul Krugman: Europe in Brief: A good basic summary of what's happened
to the Euro:
The first effect of the euro was an outbreak of europhoria: suddenly,
investors believed that all European debt was equally safe. Interest
rates dropped all around the European periphery, setting off huge
flows of capital to Spain and other economies; these capital flows
fed huge housing bubbles in many places, and in general created booms
in the countries receiving the inflows.
The booms, in turn, caused differential inflation: costs and prices
rose much more in the periphery than in the core. Peripheral economies
became increasingly uncompetitive, which wasn't a problem as long as
the inflow-fueled bubbles lasted, but would become a problem once the
capital inflows stopped.
And stop they did. The result was serious slumps in the periphery,
which lost a lot of internal demand but remained weak on the external
side thanks to the loss of competitiveness.
This exposed the deep problem with the single currency: there is no
easy way to adjust when you find your costs out of line. At best,
peripheral economies found themselves facing a prolonged period of
high unemployment while they achieved a slow, grinding, "internal
The problem was greatly exacerbated, however, when the combination
of slumping revenues and the prospect of protracted economic weakness
led to large budget deficits and concerns about solvency, even in
countries like Spain that entered the crisis with budget surpluses
and low debt. There was panic in the bond market -- and as a condition
for aid, the European core demanded harsh austerity programs.
Austerity, in turn, led to much deeper slumps in the periphery --
and because peripheral austerity was not offset by expansion in the
core, the result was in fact a slump for the European economy as a
whole. One consequence has been that austerity is failing even on its
own terms: key measures like debt/GDP ratios have gotten worse, not
One thing to note is that aside from his concern about the human
costs of austerity programs little in Krugman's critique of the euro
is political. The euro could easily be seen as a liberal project, and
as a failure of liberalism. And while one could argue that the failure
had less to do with its liberal intent than with an implementation
that was overly controlled by conservative bankers -- regulation of
those capital flows would have helped -- Krugman tends not to do so.
Brad DeLong: The Future of the Euro: Lessons From History:
How did this come about? Why didn't Maastricht set up a single Eurovia-wide
banking regulator and supervisor to align financial policy with monetary
policy? Why didn't Maastricht set up the fiscal-transfer funds that would
be needed when -- as would inevitably happen -- some chunk of the future
Eurovia went into recession while other chunks were in boom? Why did
Maastricht leave a good chunk of lender-of-last-resort authority in the
hands of national governments that could not print money and so fulfill
the lender-of-least-resort function rather than placing all of it in the
European Central Bank, which could? And why -- given that one country's
exports are another's imports -- does the adoption of policies in deficit
countries to reduce their imports and boost their export not automatically
trigger the adoption of policies in surplus countries to boost their
imports and reduce their exports?
Barry Ritholtz: 12 Rules of Goldbuggery: Mostly about gold as a
speculative investment, which is easy to see as a psychological disorder.
As for tying the economic system to the gold standard, that is the
all-time number one stupid idea in the history of economics.
MJ Rosenberg: Netanyahu to US: Drop Dead: What's the difference
between Binyamin Netanyahu and Yitzhak Shamir? Netanyahu will make
a bit of effort to string you along, whereas it was obvious even to
Americans that Shamir would never budge on anything. The first Bush
administration's displeasure with Shamir led to his downfall, replaced
by Yitzhak Rabin, which led to the ill-fated Oslo Accords. Lots of
things made them ill-fated, but pride of place went to Netanyahu, who
when pushed hard enough agreed to things he'd never get around to
implementing. Well, Netanyahu's back, but with Oslo dead and
Congress in his pocket, is reverting to his inner Shamir:
The good news is that Netanyahu has made everything so clear. He has no
interest in peace, negotiations, any kind of territorial withdrawal or
even freezing settlements. Like Shamir, he just wants to buy time until
it will be absolutely impossible to create a Palestinian state, if it
isn't already. As for the United States, Netanyahu is not interested
in what it wants.
The only question left is what the Obama administration will do in
response. It could follow Baker's example and take a walk. Even better,
it could tell Netanyahu that future aid from the U.S. will be linked
to its occasional compliance with U.S. wishes regarding the occupation.
Or it could say, it won't keep following Israel's dictates on sanctions
or Palestine's right to recognition by the United Nations. Or it could,
as Bush and Baker did, squeeze the Israeli prime minister until the
Israeli public dumps him.
It could do any of those.
Will it? I'm taking bets.
But here is a sure one. There is no possibility of serious negotiation
so long as Binyamin Netanyahu is prime minister of Israel.
I personally thought that was obvious when Netanyahu became prime
minister shortly after Obama won his first term. Netanyahu's victory
and coalition were so shaky that it wouldn't have taken much to nudge
them apart, but Obama did nothing and got nothing (but a second term
Wednesday, April 3. 2013
Missed Weekend Roundup on Sunday -- was working on another post
that didn't quite work out -- but I hit a few scattered links today
that I might as well post now.
Chris Hedges: The Treason of the Intellectuals: Excoriates a long
list of liberal-or-left-identified "academics, writers and journalists"
who supported Bush's invasion of Iraq (missing some key figures like
Kenneth Pollack), pointing out not just their complacency but how they
labored to discredit all those who didn't join the war effort. Hedges
takes this personally:
Those of us who spoke out against the war, faced with the onslaught
of right-wing "patriots" and their liberal apologists, became pariahs.
In my case it did not matter that I was an Arabic speaker. It did not
matter that I had spent seven years in the Middle East, including
months in Iraq, as a foreign correspondent. It did not matter that I
knew the instrument of war. The critique that I and other opponents
of war delivered, no matter how well grounded in fact and experience,
turned us into objects of scorn by a liberal elite that cravenly
wanted to demonstrate its own "patriotism" and "realism" about
national security. The liberal class fueled a rabid, irrational
hatred of all war critics.
Actually, the "treason" -- really, a lapse both in principles and
in judgment that betrayed a secret identification with the powers in
Washington as opposed to people all around the world -- that bothered
me worse was the even-more-widespread post-9/11 support for attacking
Afghanistan. Had Al-Qaeda indeed attacked civilization, wouldn't a
civilized response had been more appropriate? Instead, Bush took it
as an attack on American power, and responded with more power, the
way thoughtless brutes do -- the way Osama Bin Laden expected. In
that moment, an awful number of people you would generally regard
as good natured, thoughtful, civilized, rushed to side with
Bush, as if the only alternative to Bin Laden was a bigger army.
Moreover, the liberal hawks of 2001 were far nastier to dissenters
than their 2003 Iraq subset was. Without the supposed success in
Afghanistan, invading Iraq wouldn't have been an option. While the
liberal hawks weren't strictly responsible for the disasters, they
gave aid and comfort those who were, and blunted our understanding
Tom Engelhardt: The 12th Anniversary of American Cowardice: I
slipped this out of alphabetical order to follow up on what I had
already written under Hedges. With the 10th anniversary of Bush's
Iraq misadventure behind us, that 12th anniversary is still a few
months in the future: the Congress's Authorization of Use of Military
Force on September 14, 2001 that plunged us into war in Afghanistan,
but Engelhardt mentions many other anniversary dates, then asks:
When it comes to the Marines, here's a question: Who, this November
19th, will mark the eighth anniversary of the slaughter of 24 unarmed
civilians, including children and the elderly, in the Iraqi village
of Haditha for which, after a six-year investigation and military
trials, not a single Marine spent a single day in prison? Or to focus
for a moment on U.S. Special Forces: will anyone on August 21st
memorialize the 90 or so civilians, including perhaps 15 women and
up to 60 children, killed in the Afghan village of Azizabad while
attending a memorial service for a tribal leader who had reportedly
And not to leave out the rent-a-gun mercenaries who have been such
a fixture of the post-9/11 era of American warfare, this September
16th will be the sixth anniversary of the moment when Blackwater
guards for a convoy of U.S. State Department vehicles sprayed Baghdad's
Nisour Square with bullets, evidently without provocation, killing 17
Iraqi civilians and wounding many more. [ . . . ]
So perhaps the last overlooked anniversary of these years might be
the 12th anniversary of American cowardice. You can choose the exact
date yourself; anytime this fall will do. At that moment, Americans
should feel free to celebrate a time when, for our "safety," and in a
state of anger and paralyzing fear, we gave up the democratic ghost.
Thomas Homer-Dixon: The Tar Sands Disaster: A Canadian chimes
in on the Keystone XL pipeline:
The most obvious reason is that tar sands production is one of the
world's most environmentally damaging activities. It wrecks vast areas
of boreal forest through surface mining and subsurface production. It
sucks up huge quantities of water from local rivers, turns it into
toxic waste and dumps the contaminated water into tailing ponds that
now cover nearly 70 square miles.
Also, bitumen is junk energy. A joule, or unit of energy, invested
in extracting and processing bitumen returns only four to six joules
in the form of crude oil. In contrast, conventional oil production in
North America returns about 15 joules. Because almost all of the input
energy in tar sands production comes from fossil fuels, the process
generates significantly more carbon dioxide than conventional oil
There is a less obvious but no less important reason many Canadians
want the industry stopped: it is relentlessly twisting our society into
something we don't like. Canada is beginning to exhibit the economic
and political characteristics of a petro-state.
Homer-Dixon goes on to explain how Canada's ruling Conservative
Party is entwined with the oil industry, but he doesn't go quite far
enough: he doesn't point out that the very worst thing about the oil
industry is the production of oil men. We should know all about them
in the US, where they form the most reactionary, extremist crust on
the ultra-right: sworn enemies of government despite the fact that
their fortunes are totally based on the laws that grant them rights
to suck as much oil as they can from the ground -- laws that few
countries other than the US and Canada have.
Sally Kohn: New Spill Reveals How Horrible Keystone Could Be.
Dilip Hiro: How the Pentagon Corrupted Afghanistan: This is a
big part of the story, but after Homer-Dixon's reference to Canada
becoming a "petro state," it's worth pondering whether the windfall
in war spending isn't having the same adverse effects in Afghanistan.
Certainly it's resulted in tremendous inflation in Kabul, pushing up
the cost of living and making exports (other than opium) unviable,
thereby stunting an economy that didn't amount to much anyway. Of
course, that point may be too subtle, given the gross numbers.
Corruption in Afghanistan today is acute and permeates all sectors of
society. In recent years, anecdotal evidence on the subject has been
superseded by the studies of researchers, surveys by NGOs, and periodic
reports by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). There
is also the Corruption Perceptions Index of the Berlin-based Transparency
International (TI). Last year, it bracketed Afghanistan with two other
countries as the most corrupt on Earth.
None of these documents, however, refers to the single most important
fact when it comes to corruption: that it's Washington-based. It is, in
fact, rooted in the massive build-up of U.S. forces there from 2005
onward, the accompanying expansion of American forward operating bases,
camps, and combat outposts from 29 in 2005 to nearly 400 five years
later, and above all, the tsunami of cash that went with all of this.
[ . . . ]
Later, the State Department's Agency for International Development
(USAID) took over this role. As with the Pentagon, most of the money
it distributed ended up in the pockets of those local power brokers.
By some accounts, USAID lost up to 90 cents of each dollar spent on
certain projects. According to a Congressional report published in
June 2011, much of the $19 billion in foreign aid that the U.S. pumped
into Afghanistan after 2001 was probably destabilizing the country in
the long term.
Staggering amounts of U.S. taxpayer dollars allocated to aid
Afghanistan were spent so quickly and profligately that they
circumvented any anti-corruption, transparency, or accountability
controls and safeguards that existed on paper. However, those who
amassed bagsful of dollars faced a problem. Afghanistan's underdeveloped
$12 billion economy -- a sum Washington spent in that country in a
single month in 2011 -- did not offer many avenues for legitimate
profitable investment. Therefore, most of this cash garnered on a
colossal scale exited the country, large parts of it ending up in
banks and real estate in the Gulf emirates, especially freewheeling
Dahr Jamail: "My Children Have No Future": In his intro, Nick
Turse reminds us of the costs of invading Iraq:
According to a recent report from the Costs of War Project at Brown
University, at least 123,000-134,000 Iraqi civilians have died "as a
direct consequence of the war's violence since the March 2003 invasion."
In fact, while the U.S. military left Iraq in 2011 and war supporters
have advanced a counterfeit history of success there -- owing to
then-General (now disgraced former CIA director) David Petraeus's
military "surge" of 2007 -- the war's brutal legacy lives on. Last
year, the casualty watchdog group Iraq Body Count tallied 4,570 Iraqi
civilian deaths from violence, a small increase over the death toll
And on the day of Obama's 10th anniversary announcement, car bombs
and other attacks killed and wounded hundreds in the Iraqi capital
Baghdad alone. Add to these numbers the countless wounded of the last
decade and the approximately 2.8 million Iraqis who, to this day,
remain refugees outside the country or internally displaced within
it and the words of both presidents ring hollow indeed.
Jamail goes into the country and finds out things like this:
As he said this, we passed under yet another poster of an angry
looking Maliki, speaking with a raised, clenched fist. "Last year's
budget was $100 billion and we have no working sewage system and
garbage is everywhere," he added. "Maliki is trying to be a dictator,
and is controlling all the money now."
In the days that followed, my fixer Ali pointed out new sidewalks,
and newly planted trees and flowers, as well as the new street lights
the government has installed in Baghdad. "We called it first the
sidewalks government, because that was the only thing we could see
that they accomplished." He laughed sardonically. "Then it was the
flowers government, and now it is the government of the street lamps,
and the lamps sometimes don't even work!"
Despite his brave face, kind heart, and upbeat disposition, even
Ali eventually shared his concerns with me. One morning, when we met
for work, I asked him about the latest news. "Same old, same old,"
he replied, "Kidnappings, killings, rapes. Same old, same old. This
is our life now, everyday."
"The lack of hope for the future is our biggest problem today,"
he explained. He went on to say something that also qualified eerily
as another version of the "same old, same old." I had heard similar
words from countless Iraqis back in the fall of 2003, as violence
and chaos first began to engulf the country. "All we want is to live
in peace, and have security, and have a normal life," he said, "to
be able to enjoy the sweetness of life." This time, however, there
wasn't even a trace of his usual cheer, and not even a hint of gallows
"All Iraq has had these last 10 years is violence, chaos, and
suffering. For 13 years before that we were starved and deprived
by [U.N. and U.S.] sanctions. Before that, the Kuwait War, and
before that, the Iran War. At least I experienced some of my
childhood without knowing war. I've achieved a job and have my
family, but for my daughters, what will they have here in this
country? Will they ever get to live without war? I don't think so."
Ed Kilgore: Bleeding Kansas: Good to see that The Washington
Monthly is at least paying some attention to "the state that is
trying very hard to outdo all its many extremist rivals, even those
steeped in the toxic cultural wastes of my own Deep South." Subject
here, as is so often the case, is abortion:
The dirty little secret of "personhood" initiatives is that they would
proscribe not only abortions, or "abortion pills," but IUD's and "Plan
B" contraceptives on grounds that such devices and drugs are actually
"abortifacients," identical morally to murdering an infant. And indeed,
some "personhood" folk would ban the routine anti-ovulant "pill" used
by many millions of Americans on grounds that it sometimes operates by
interfering with the implantation of a fertilized ovum -- i.e., a
"person" -- in the uterine wall.
If regular Republican-voting Americans had any idea of the radical
vision underlying such legislation -- something straight out of the
Handmaid's Tale, folks -- the solons supporting it wouldn't
even last until the next election. So you'd think they'd be extra
careful about supporting efforts to ensure that most of the female
population of the state of child-bearing age wouldn't have to worry
about being hauled off to the hoosegow and told they needed to get
their procreative groove on or put an aspirin between their legs.
But no: Kansas Republicans consider that sort of concession to the
twentieth century a "little gotcha amendment" they find irritating.