Sunday, June 11, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Started this on Saturday and finished before midnight on Sunday, so quick work given all the crap I ran into. If I had to summarize it, I'd start by pointing out that as demented as Trump seems personally, the real damage is coming from his administration, his executive orders, and the Republican Congress, and all of that is a very logical progression from their rightward drift since the 1970s. To paint a picture, if you're bothered by all the flies buzzing and maggots squirming, focus first on the rotting carcasses that are feeding them. Secondly, America's forever war in the Middle East seems to have entered an even more surreal level, which again can be traced back to a bunch of unexamined assumptions about friends and enemies and how we relate to them that ultimately make no sense whatsoever. The simplest solution would be to withdraw from the region (and possibly the rest of the world) completely, at least until we get our shit together, which doesn't seem likely soon. That's largely because we've come to tolerate a political and economic system of all-against-all, where we feel no social solidarity, where we tolerate all kinds of lying, cheating, and gaming -- anything that lets fortunate people get ahead of and away from the rest of us. Last week's UK election suggests an alternative, but while the votes there were tantalizingly close, the resolution is still evasive -- probably because not enough of us are clear enough on why we need help.

Meanwhile. this is what I gleaned from the week that was, starting with a summary piece I could have fit several places below, but it works as an intro here: Matthew Yglesias: The week, explained: Comey, Corbyn, Qatar, and more -- Obamacare repeal, debt ceiling. I don't doubt that the section on Qatar is true, but still don't really understand it (nor, clearly, does Trump: see Zeshan Aleem: Trump just slammed US ally Qatar an hour after his administration defended it; also Juan Cole: Tillerson-Trump Rumble over Qatar shows White House Divisions; Richard Silverstein: All's Not Well in Sunnistan; also Vijay Prashad: ISIS Wins, as Trump Sucks Up to the Saudis, and Launches Destructive Fight with Qatar; and perhaps most authoritatively, Richard Falk: Interrogating the Qatar rift; more on Qatar below).

The UK held its "snap election" on Thursday, electing a new parliament (House of Commons, anyway) and, effectively, prime minister. Conservative (Tory) Party leader Theresa May called the election, hoping to increase her party's slim majority -- a result that must have seemed certain given polls at the time. But after a month or so of campaigning -- why can't we compress American elections like that? -- the Tories lost their majority, but will still be able to form a razor-thin majority by allying with the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party, a right-wing party which holds 10 seats in Northern Ireland). The results: 318 Conservative (-12), 262 Labour (+30), 35 SNP (Scottish National Party, -21), 12 Liberal Democrats (+4), 10 DUP (+2), 13 others (-2). The popular vote split was 42% Conservative, 40% Labour (up from 30% with Ed Miliband in 2015, 29% with Gordon Brown in 2010, and 35% for Tony Blair's winning campaign in 2005 -- almost as good as Blair's 40.7% in 2001).

As victory margins go, the Tories are no more impressive than Trump's Republicans in 2016, but like Trump and the Republicans they've seized power and can do all sorts of horrible things with it. Still, this is widely viewed as a major, perhaps crippling setback for May and party. And while it doesn't invalidate last year's Brexit referendum, it comes at the time when the UK and EU are scheduled to begin negotiations on exactly how the UK and EU will relate to each other during and after separation.

Perhaps more importantly, the gains for Labour should (but probably won't) end the charges that Jeremy Corbyn is too far left to win an election. At the same time the business-friendly New Democrats (e.g., Clinton and Gore) took over the Democratic Party in the 1990s, the similarly-minded Tony Blair refashioned New Labour into a neoliberal powerhouse in the UK. Both movement proved successful, but over the long haul did immense damage to the parties' rank-and-file, who were trapped as opposition parties moved ever further to the right. After New Labour finally crashed, Corbyn ran for party leader, won in a stunning grassroots campaign, and faced down a mutiny by surviving Labour MPs by again rallying the rank-and-file. The result is that this time Labour actually stood for something, and the fact that they improved their standing rebukes the Blair-Clinton strategy of winning by surrendering. We, of course, hear the same complaints about Bernie Sanders. It may well be that the majority is not yet ready for "revolution," but voters (especially young ones) are getting there, and many more are rejecting the NDP/NLP strategy appeasement.

Some scattered UK election links:

And the usual scattered links on this week's Trump scandals:

  • Dean Baker: Trump Versus Ryan: The Race to Eliminate the Federal Government: Another piece on Trump's budget. It bears repeating that the real reason conservatives seek to shrink government is that they want people to forget that the government is there to serve them, and that with integrity and a sense of public service government can make their lives better. So anything they can do to make government look bad works to their favor. And, of course, they don't apply their pitch lines to the parts of government they not only like but depend on to maintain their privilege. On a related issue, see William Rivers Pitt: We Are Not Broke: Trashing the Austerity Lies. One of their favorite pitches is that we can't afford to do things (yet somehow we manage to spend a trillion dollars on a war machine that does little but blowback).

  • Peter Baker/Maggie Haberman: Trump Grows Discontented With Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Trump may have thought he was appointing a loyalist who would make his legal problems go away, but all he got was a racist/right-wing ideologist who recognizes there are still some limits to how much he can undermine America's system of justice.

  • Moustafa Bayoumi: Trump's Twitter attacks on Sadiq Khan reveal how pitiful the president is

  • Mohamad Bazzi: The Trump Administration Could Provoke Yet Another Mideast War: "Trump has emboldened a recklessly aggressive Saudi government, which is now destroying Yemen, imposing a blockade on Qatar -- and could even stumble into a war with Iran." Long piece on how "the Saud dynasty views itself as the rightful leader of the Muslim world" and how that view leads them into conflicts with Iran, all secular Arab nationalists, and challengers (like the Muslim Brotherhood) and pretenders (like ISIS). A little short on exactly why the Saudis turned on Qatar, another rich autocracy which has turned into a rival by becoming even more prone to intervention:

    Aside from their anger toward Iran, the Sauds were also enraged by Qatar's support for the revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, and especially Egypt, where Qatar became a primary backer of the Muslim Brotherhood, which in 2012 won the first free elections in Egypt's modern history. (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates later backed an Egyptian military coup, in July 2013, against the government of President Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader.) The Sauds were already irritated at Qatar for pursuing an independent foreign policy and trying to increase its influence after the regional turmoil unleashed by the US invasion of Iraq. And, like other Arab monarchs and autocrats, the Sauds disdained Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite network, which was critical of the monarchies and supported the uprisings in 2011.

  • Shawn Boburg: Trump's lawyer in Russia probe has clients with Kremlin ties

  • Gilad Edelman: Trump's Plan to Make Government Older, More Expensive, and More Dysfunctional: "Slashing federal employees doesn't save money. It just makes the government more dependent on private contractors and more prone to colossal screw-ups."

  • Robert Greenwald: Trump Is Sending a Murderer to Do a Diplomat's Job: "Trump just put Michael D'Andrea -- the man who invented so-called 'signature drone strikes' -- to head up intelligence operations in Iran. Probably pure coincidence that almost immediately Tehran was hit by an ISIS terror bomb attack (see Juan Cole: ISIL Hits Tehran; Trump Blames Victim, Iran Hard-Liners Blame Saudis -- who probably blame Qatar, a country they've broken relations with while suggesting they have ties to Iranian terrorists). Also, Richard Silverstein asks Iran Terror Attack: Who Gains? And then there's this: US Congressman suggests his country should back ISIS against Iran following Tehran attacks: That's Dana Rorhbacher (R-CA).

  • Mark Karlin: Organizations Representing Corporations Pass Regressive Legislation in the Shadows: Interview with Gordon Lafer, who wrote The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time. One reason Republicans have spent so heavily at taking over state legislatures is that they can use that power base for cultivating corporate favors. For an excerpt from Lafer's book, see Corporate Lobbies Attack the Public Interest in State Capitols.

  • Anne Kim: Deconstructing the Administrative State: "Donald Trump promises that his deregulatory agenda will lead to a boom in jobs. The real effect will be the opposite."

  • Naomi Klein: The Worst of Donald Trump's Toxic Agenda Is Lying in Wait -- A Major US Crisis Will Unleash It: Long piece, adapted from Klein's new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.

  • Paul Krugman: Wrecking the Ship of State: Also see Jacob Sugarman's more pointed comments: If You Think the United States Is a Disaster Now, Just Wait.

  • Mike Ludwig: Pulling Out of the Paris Climate Pact, Trump Is Building a Wall Around Himself

  • Josh Marshall: Trump's Saudi Arms Deal Is Actually Fake: $110 billion in arms sales -- think of all the jobs (well, actually not that many, and not working on anything valuable in itself, like infrastructure). But:

    The $110 price tag advertised by the Trump White House includes no actual contracts, no actual sales. Instead it is made up of a bundle of letters of intent, statements of interest and agreements to think about it. In other words, rather than a contract, it's more like a wishlist: an itemized list of things the Saudis might be interested in if the price of oil ever recovers, if they start more wars and things the US would like to sell the Saudis. . . .

    As I said, it's remarkably like the Trump-branded phony job announcements: earlier plans, themselves not committed to, rebranded as new decisions, with the Saudis happy to go along with the charade to curry favor with the President who loves whoever showers praise on him.

    Also, as the Bazzi piece above notes, "From 2009 to 2016, Obama authorized a record $115 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia, far more than any previous administration. (Of that total, US and Saudi officials inked formal deals worth about $58 billion, and Washington delivered $14 billion worth of weaponry from 2009 to 2015.)"

  • Ruth Marcus: Why Comey's testimony was utterly devastating to Trump: This was the story Washington insiders obsessed about all week. Everyone has an opinion, so I should probably just drop into second-tier bullets and let you figure it out (if you care):

  • Jim Newell: Trumpcare Is on the March: "GOP Senators have quietly retooled a Trumpcare bill that could pass." This was also noted by Zoë Carpenter: Senate Republicans Hope You Won't Notice They're About to Repeal Obamacare. Also, in case you need a refresher: Alex Henderson: 9 of the most staggeringly awful statements Republicans have made about health care just this year:

    1. Raul Labrador claims that no one dies from lack of health insurance in the U.S.
    2. Rep. Jason Chaffetz compares cost of health care to cost of iPhones
    3. Warren Davidson's message to the sick and dying: Get a better job
    4. Mo Brooks equates illness with immorality
    5. Mick Mulvaney vilifies diabetics as lazy and irresponsible
    6. Roger Marshall claims that America's poor "just don't want health care"
    7. President Trump praises Australian health care system, failing to understand why it's superior
    8. Steve Scalise falsely claims that Trumpcare does not discriminate against preexisting conditions
    9. Ted Cruz, Jim Jordan claim Canadians are coming to U.S. in droves for health care, without a shred of evidence
  • Ben Norton: Emails Expose How Saudi Arabia and UAE Work the US Media to Push for War

  • Jonathan O'Connell: Foreign payments to Trump's businesses are legally permitted, argues Justice Department: Something else Trump "hoped" the DOJ would see his way.

  • Daniel Politi: Afghan Soldier Opens Fire on US Troops, Kills Three Service Members: I first heard this story from a TV report, where VP Mike Pence was proclaiming the dead soldiers "heroes" and no one mentioned that the shooter was a supposed ally. Now we hear that the shooter was a Taliban infiltrator. However, note another same day report: US Air Raid Kills Several Afghan Border Police in Helmand. "Several" seems to be 10, and they were "patrolling too close to a Taliban base."

  • Nomi Prins: In Washington, Is the Glass(-Steagall) Half Empty or Half Full? Republicans in Congress are hard at work tearing down the paltry Dodd-Frank reforms that Congress put in place to make a repeat of the 2008 financial meltdown less likely -- it was, quite literally, the least they could do. The Wichita Eagle ran an op-ed today by our idiot Congressman Ron Estes and it gives you an idea what the sales pitch for the Finance CHOICE Act is going to be: Repealing Obama's regulatory nightmare. Republicans seem to think that all they have to do to discredit regulations is count them (or compile them in a binder and drop it on one's foot). As Estes put it, "The scale of regulations added is incredible. Dodd-Frank added almost 28,000 new rules, which is more than every other law passed under the Obama administration combined." He may be right that some of those regulations "hinder smaller local lenders" -- the Democrats' Wall Street money came from the top, and while they weren't fully satisfied (at least after they got bailed out), they did get consideration. Beyond that Estes spools out lie after lie -- the baldest is his promise that "consumers must be protected from fraud." (The first bullet item on Indivisible's What is the Financial CHOICE Act (HR 10)? says the act would: "Destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and obliterate consumer protections as we currently know them, including allowing banks to gouge consumers with credit card fees." One reason Dodd-Frank needed so many regulations was how many different ways banks could think of to screw consumers.

    Prins' article doesn't mention Financial CHOICE, but does mention a couple of mostly-Democratic bills to restore the separation concept of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act. Arguably that isn't enough, but one can trace a direct line from the 1999 Glass-Steagall repeal (which was triggered by Citibank's merger with Traveler's Insurance -- a much smarter response would have been to prosecute Citibank's CEO and Board) to the 2008 meltdown and bailouts. Also see Paul Craig Roberts: Without a New Glass-Steagall America Will Fail.

  • Ned Resnikoff: Trump ends infrastructure week with some binder-themed prop comedy

  • Chris Riotta: Donald Trump Is Sputtering with Rage Behind the Closed Doors of the White House

  • Mica Rosenberg/Reade Levinson: Trump targets illegal immigrants who were given reprieves from deportation by Obama

  • Bill Scheft: Who in the hell is Scott Pruitt?! Everything you were afraid to ask about this suddenly important person

  • Derek Thompson: The Potemkin Policies of Donald Trump: Last week was "Infrastructure Week," during which he unveiled a plan to privatize air traffic control that the big airlines have been lobbying for quite a few years, and something about reducing environmental impact studies to no more than two pages, presumably by eliminating the study part. Trump has also been heard complaining that all the Russia investigations have gotten in the way of doing important work, like jobs, or terrorism, or something like that.

    The secret of the Trump infrastructure plan is: There is no infrastructure plan. Just like there is no White House tax plan. Just like there was no White House health care plan. More than 120 days into Trump's term in a unified Republican government, Trump's policy accomplishments have been more in the subtraction category (e.g., stripping away environmental regulations) than addition. The president has signed no major legislation and left significant portions of federal agencies unstaffed, as U.S. courts have blocked what would be his most significant policy achievement, the legally dubious immigration ban.

    The simplest summary of White House economic policy to date is four words long: There is no policy.

    To be sure, this void has partially been filled up with Paul Ryan's various plans -- wrecking health care, tax giveaways to the rich, undoing regulation of big banks, etc. -- which is the point when people finally realize just how much damage Trump and the Republicans are potentially capable of. So much so that the one thing I'm not going to fault Trump on is the stuff he's threatened but never tried to do. There's way too much bad stuff that he's done to shame him for not doing more. It used to be said that at least Mussolini got the trains to run on time. About the best Trump can hope for is to destroy all the schedules so no one can be sure whether they're on time or not.

  • Trevor Timm: ICE agents are out of control. And they are only getting worse.

  • Paul Woodward: Whatever we call Trump, he stinks just as bad: Reports that CNN fired Reza Aslan after a tweet about Trump, then hired former Trump campaign strategist Corey Lewandowski. For the record, here is Aslan's tweet:

    This piece of shit is not just an embarrassment to America and a stain on the presidency. He's an embarrassment to humankind.

    Woodward comments:

    Donald Trump is the embodiment and arguably purest distillation of vulgarity and yet the prissy gatekeepers of American mainstream-media civility have a problem when vulgar language is used to describe a vulgar man.

    What other kind of language is in any sense appropriate?

    There's no good answer to this. The fact is it's impossible to convey the extent and intensity to which I'm personally disgusted by Trump both in word and action, and I'm not alone. Sometimes I erupt with vulgarity. Sometimes I try to be clever. Most of the time I try to explain with some factual reference which should be self-evident. But nothing seems to break through the shell his supporters wear. Still, I can't blame anyone for trying. I can't blame Kathy Griffin for her severed head joke. (Actually, I smiled when I saw the picture, and that doesn't happen often these days. Then my second thought was, "that's too good for him.") But I don't like getting too personal about Trump, because regardless of how crass he seems, the real problems with his politics are much more widespread, and in many cases he's just following his company around. So that's why I'd object to Aslan's tweet: it narrows its target excessively. Still, I wouldn't fire him. He's got a voice that's grounded in some reasonable principles -- more than you can say for "the tweeter-in-chief."

  • Stephen M Walt: Making the Middle East Worse, Trump-Style: I've lodged a number of links on the Saudi-Qatari pissfest, the ISIS-Iran terror, and the long-lasting Israel-Palestine conflict elsewhere in this post, and apologize for not taking the time to straighten them out. But this didn't fit clearly as a footnote to any of those: it's more like the core problem, so I figured I should list it separately. Walt continues to be plagued by his conceit that the US has real interests in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world other than supporting peace, justice, and broad-based prosperity, so what he's looking for here is a "balance of power" division, something Trump is truly clueless about.

    I don't think Trump cares one way or the other about Israelis or Palestinians (if he did, why would he assign the peace process to his overworked, inexperienced, and borderline incompetent son-in-law?) but jumping deeper into bed with Saudi Arabia and Egypt isn't going to produce a breakthrough.

    The folly of Trump's approach became clear on Monday, when (Sunni) Saudi Arabia and five other Sunni states suddenly broke relations with (Sunni) Qatar over a long-simmering set of policy disagreements. As Robin Wright promptly tweeted, "So much for #Trump's Arab coalition. It lasted less than two weeks." Trump's deep embrace of Riyadh didn't cause the Saudi-Qatari rift -- though he typically tried to take credit for it with some ill-advised tweets -- but this dispute exposed the inherent fragility of the "Arab NATO" that Trump seems to have envisioned. Moreover, taking sides in the Saudi-Qatari rift could easily jeopardize U.S. access to the vital airbase there, a possibility Trump may not even have known about when he grabbed his smartphone. And given that Trump's State Department is sorely understaffed and the rest of his administration is spending more time starting fires than putting them out, the United States is in no position to try to mend the rift and bring its putative partners together.

    One completely obvious point is that if the US actually wanted to steer the region back toward some sort of multi-polar stability the first thing to do would be to thaw relations with Iran, and to make it clear to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Israel that we won't tolerate any sabotage on their part. The US then needs to negotiate a moderation of the efforts of all regional powers to project power or simply meddle in other nations' business (and, and this is crucial, to moderate its own efforts). Obviously, this is beyond the skill set of Trump, Kushner, et al. -- they're stuck in kneejerk reaction mode, as has been every American "tough guy" since (well before) 2001. But this isn't impossible stuff. All it really takes is some modesty, and a willingness to learn from past mistakes. Would Iran be receptive? Well, consider this:

    Last but not least, Trump's response to the recent terrorist attack in Tehran was both insensitive and strategically misguided. Although the State Department offered a genuine and sincere statement of regret, the White House's own (belated) response offered only anodyne sympathies and snarkily concluded: "We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote." A clearer case of "blaming the victim" would be hard to find, and all the more so given Trump's willingness to embrace regimes whose policies have fueled lots of terrorism in the past.

    Contrast this with how Iranian President Mohammad Khatami responded after 9/11: He offered his "condolences" and "deepest sorrow" for the American people and called the attack a "disaster" and "the ugliest form of terrorism ever seen." There was no hint of a lecture or snide schadenfreude in Khatami's remarks, even though it was obvious that the attacks were clearly a reaction (however cruel and unjustified) to prior U.S. actions. It is hard to imagine any modern American presidents responding as callously as Trump did.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The Bulshitter-in-Chief: "Donald Trump's disregard for the truth is something more minister than ordinary lying." Quotes philosopher Harry Frankfurt's essay "On Bullshit" for authority when making a distinction between bullshitting and lying, then gives plenty of examples (most familiar/memorable). One interesting bit here comes from Tyler Cowen: Why Trump's Staff Is Lying:

    By asking subordinates to echo his bullshit, Trump accomplishes two goals:

    • He tests the loyalty of his subordinates. In Cowen's words, "if you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid."
    • The other is that it turns his aides into members of a distinct tribe. "By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration."

    Sounds to me like how cults are formed. Yglesias continues:

    But the president doesn't want a well-planned communications strategy; he wants people who'll leap in front of the cameras to blindly defend whatever it is he says or does.

    And because he's the president of the United States, plenty of people are willing to oblige him. That starts with official communicators like Spicer, Conway (who simultaneously tries to keep her credibility in the straight world by telling Joe Scarborough she needs to shower after defending Trump), and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But there are also the informal surrogates. . . .

    House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes embarrassed himself but pleased Trump with a goofy effort to back up Trump's wiretapping claims. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who certainly knows better, sat next to Trump in an Economist interview and gave him totally undeserved credit for intimidating the Chinese on currency manipulation. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hailed a small-time trade agreement with China consisting largely of the implementation of already agreed-upon measures as "more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China relations on trade."

    This kind of bullshit, like Trump's, couldn't possibly be intended to actually convince any kind of open-minded individual. It's a performance for an audience of one. A performance that echoes day and night across cable news, AM talk radio, and the conservative internet.

Plus a few other things that caught my eye:

  • Patrick Cockburn: Britain Refuses to Accept How Terrorists Really Work: After ISIS-claimed attacks in Manchester and London:

    When Jeremy Corbyn correctly pointed out that the UK policy of regime change in Iraq, Syria and Libya had destroyed state authority and provided sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and Isis, he was furiously accused of seeking to downplay the culpability of the terrorists. . . .

    There is a self-interested motive for British governments to portray terrorism as essentially home-grown cancers within the Muslim community. Western governments as a whole like to pretend that their policy blunders, notably those of military intervention in the Middle East since 2001, did not prepare the soil for al-Qaeda and Isis. This enables them to keep good relations with authoritarian Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan, which are notorious for aiding Salafi-jihadi movements. Placing the blame for terrorism on something vague and indefinable like "radicalisation" and "extremism" avoids embarrassing finger-pointing at Saudi-financed Wahhabism which has made 1.6 billion Sunni Muslims, a quarter of the world's population, so much more receptive to al-Qaeda type movements today than it was 60 years ago.

  • Eric Foner: The Continental Revolution: Review of Noam Maggor: Brahmin Capitalism: Frontiers of Wealth and Populism in America's First Gilded Age, about economic development following the US Civil War.

  • Thomas Frank: From rust belt to mill towns: a tale of two voter revolts: The author of What's the Matter With Kansas?, The Wrecking Crew, and Listen, Liberal tours Britain on the eve of the election. He doesn't predict the election very well, but he does notice things, like this:

    When I try to put my finger on exactly what separates Britain and America, a story I heard in a pub outside Sheffield keeps coming back to me. A man was telling me of how he had gone on vacation to Florida, and at one point stopped to refuel his car in a rural area. As he was standing there, an old man rode up to the gas station on a bicycle and started rummaging through a trash can. The Englishman asked him why he was doing this, and was astonished to learn the man was digging for empty cans in order to support his family.

    The story is unremarkable in its immediate details. People rummaging through trash for discarded cans is something that every American has seen many times. What is startling is that here's a guy in Yorkshire, a place we Americans pity for its state of perma-decline, relating this story to me in tones of incomprehension and even horror. He simply couldn't believe it. Left unasked was the obvious question: what kind of civilisation allows such a fate to befall its citizens? The answer, of course, is a society where social solidarity has almost completely evaporated.

    What most impressed me about the England I saw was the opposite: a feeling I encountered, again and again, that whatever happens, people are all in this together. Solidarity was one of the great themes after the terrorist bombing in Manchester, as the city came together around the victims in a truly impressive way, but it goes much further than that. It is the sense you get that the country is somehow obliged to help out the people of the deindustrialised zones and is failing in its duty. It is an understanding that every miner or job-seeker or person with dementia has a moral claim upon the rest of the English nation and its government. It is an assumption that their countrymen will come to their rescue if only they could hear their cries for help.

  • John Judis: What's Wrong With Our System of Global Trade and Finance: Interview with economist Dani Rodrik, who has written several books on globalization. The main thing I've learned from him is that when nations open up trade (and/or capital and/or labor flows), sensible ones recognize that there will be losers as well as winners and act to mitigate losses. The US, of course, isn't one of the sensible ones. And while Trump seems to recognize some of the losses, he doesn't have anything to offer that actually helps fix those problems. Still, he offers that some sort of real change needs to come:

    I think the change comes because the mainstream panics, and they come to feel that something has to be done. That's how capitalism has changed throughout its history. If you want to be optimistic, the good news is that capitalism has always reinvented itself. Look at the New Deal, look at the rise of the welfare state. These were things that were done to stave off panic or revolution or political upheaval. . . .

    So I think the powerful interests are reevaluating what their interest is. They are considering whether they have a greater interest in creating trust and credibility and rebuilding the social contract with their compatriots. That is how to get change to take place without a complete overhaul of the structure of power.

  • Christopher Lydon: Neoliberalism Is Destroying Our Democracy: An interview with Noam Chomsky.

  • Ed Pilkington: Puerto Rico votes again on statehood but US not ready to put 51st star on the flag; also Michelle Chen: The Bankers Behind Puerto Rico's Debt Crisis.

  • Matthew Rozsa: Kris Kobach, "voter fraud" vigilante, is now running for Kansas governor: He's been Kansas' Secretary of State since 2011, a fairly minor position whose purview includes making sure elections are run fairly, and to that end he's managed to get a "voter ID" bill passed, purge thousands of voters from the registration rolls, and prosecute perhaps a half dozen people for voting twice. Earlier he was best known as author of several anti-immigration bills, and he's continued to do freelance work writing far right-wing bills -- by the way, virtually all of the ones that have been passed have since been struck down as unconstitutional. He is, in short, a right-wing political agitator disguised as a lawyer, and is a remarkably bad one. He was the only Kansas politician to endorse Donald Trump, and he wrangled a couple job interviews during the transition, but came up empty. It's not clear whether Trump worried he might not be a team player (i.e., someone who sacrifices his own ideas to Trump's ego), or simply decided he was an asshole -- the binders he showed up with suggest both. Kobach launched his gubernatorial campaign with a ringing defense of Sam Brownback's tax cuts, which the state legislature had just repealed (overriding Brownback's veto). Rosza asks, "have the people of Kansas not suffered enough under Sam Brownback?" Good question. Although he's by far the most famous (or notorious) candidate, and he ran about 4 points above Brownback in their 2014 reëlection campaigns, I think it's unlikely he will win the Republican primary. For starters, his fanatical anti-immigrant shtick doesn't play well in western Kansas where agribusiness demands cheap labor and hardly anyone with other options wants to live. But also, most business interests would rather have someone they can keep on a tighter leash than a demagogue with national ambitions (a trait Kobach shares with Brownback). Still, either way, I doubt the state's suffering will end any time soon.

  • Reihan Salam: The Health Care Debate Is Moving Left: "How single-payer went from a pipe dream to mainstream." The author isn't very happy about this, complaining "that Medicare has in some ways made America's health system worse by serving the interests of politically powerful hospitals over those of patients." Still:

    If faced with a choice between the AHCA and Medicare for all, Republicans shouldn't be surprised if swing voters wind up going for the latter. The AHCA is an inchoate mess that evinces no grander philosophy for caring for the sick and vulnerable. Single-payer health care is, if nothing else, a coherent concept that represents a set of beliefs about how health care should work. If Republicans want the single-payer dream to go away, they're going to have to come up with something better than the nothing they have now.

  • Sabrina Siddiqui: Anti-Muslim rallies across US denounced by civil rights groups: On Saturday, a group called Act for America tried to organize "anti-Sharia law" rallies in a number of American cities ("almost 30"; I've heard 28). They seem to have been lightly attended. (My spies here in Wichita say 30 people showed up. There wasn't a counter-demonstration here, although in many cases more people came to counter -- needless to say, not to defend Sharia but to reject ACT's main focus of fomenting Islamophobia.)

  • Ana Swanson/Max Ehrenfreund: Republicans are predicting the beginning of the end of the tea party in Kansas: The overwhelmingly Republican Kansas state legislature finally managed to override Gov. Sam Brownback's veto of a bill that raised state income taxes and eliminated a loophole that allowed most businessmen to escape taxation altogether. The new tax rates are lower than the ones in effect before Brownback's signature "tax reform" became law and blew a hole in the state budget, leading to a series of successful lawsuits against the state over whether education funding was sufficient to satisfy the state constitution. Republicans have done a lot of batshit-insane stuff since Brownback took office in 2011, but the one that kept biting them back the worst was the Arthur Laffer-blessed tax cut bill. One can argue that this represents a power shift within the Republican Party in Kansas: in 2016 rabid right-wingers (including Rep. Tim Huelskemp) actually lost to "moderate" challengers, whereas earlier right-wingers had often won primaries against so-called moderates. But as this article points out, right-wingers like Kris Kobach and their sponsors like the Koch Brothers are pissed off and vowing civil war. Meanwhile, the Ryan-Trump "tax reform" scam looks a lot like Brownback's, with all that implies: e.g., see Ben Castleman et al: The Kansas Experiment Is Bad News for Trump's Tax Cuts.

  • Mark Weisbrot, et al: Did NAFTA Help Mexico? An Update After 23 Years: Executive summary to a longer paper (link within):

    Among the results, it finds that Mexico ranks 15th out of 20 Latin American countries in growth of real GDP per person, the most basic economic measure of living standards; Mexico's poverty rate in 2014 was higher than the poverty rate of 1994; and real (inflation-adjusted) wages were almost the same in 2014 as in 1994. It also notes that if NAFTA had been successful in restoring Mexico's pre-1980 growth rate -- when developmentalist economic policies were the norm -- Mexico today would be a high-income country, with income per person comparable to Western European countries. If not for Mexico's long-term economic failure, including the 23 years since NAFTA, it is unlikely that immigration from Mexico would have become a major political issue in the United States, since relatively few Mexicans would seek to cross the border.

  • Lawrence Wittner: How Business "Partnerships" Flopped at the US's Largest University

I've also collected a few links marking the 50th anniversary of Israel's "Six-Day War" and the onset of the 50-years-and-counting Occupation:

  • Ibtisam Barakat: The Persistence of Palestinian Memory: "Growing up under occupation was like living in a war zone, where people were punished for wanting dignity and freedom."

  • Omar Barghouti: For Palestinians, the 1967 War Remains an Enduring, Painful Wound

  • Neve Gordon: How Israel's Occupation Shifted From a Politics of Life to a Politics of Death: "Palestinian life has become increasingly expendable in Israel's eyes." The piece starts:

    During a Labor Party meeting that took place not long after the June 1967 war, Golda Meir turned to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, asking, "What are we going to do with a million Arabs?" Eshkol paused for a moment and then responded, "I get it. You want the dowry, but you don't like the bride!"

    This anecdote shows that, from the very beginning, Israel made a clear distinction between the land it had occupied -- the dowry -- and the Palestinians who inhabited it -- the bride. The distinction between the people and their land swiftly became the overarching logic informing Israel's colonial project. Ironically, perhaps, that logic has only been slightly modified over the past 50 years, even as the controlling practices Israel has deployed to entrench its colonization have, by contrast, changed dramatically.

    By the way, the bride/dowry metaphor is the organizing principle for Avi Raz's important book on Israel's diplomatic machinations following the 1967 war: The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordaon, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War (2012, Yale University Press). Based on recently declassified documents, the book shows clearly how Israel's ruling circle (especially Abba Eban) weaved back and forth between several alternative post-war scenarios to make sure that none of them got in the way of Israel keeping control of its newly conquered territories.

  • Mehdi Hasan: A 50-Year Occupation: Israel's Six-Day War Started With a Lie

  • Rashid Khalidi: The Israeli-American Hammer-Lock on Palestine

  • Guy Laron: The Historians' War Over the Six-Day War: Author of a recent book, The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East (2017, Yale University Press). Surveys a number of earlier books on the war, including works by Randolph Churchill, Donald Neff, Michael Oren, and Tom Segev (1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East -- the one of those four I've read, but far from the only thing).

  • Hisham Melhem: The Arab World Has Never Recovered From the Loss of 1967: I'm reminded here of Maxime Rodinson's late-1960s book, Israel & the Arabs, which was written at a time when many Arab countries were palpably moving toward modern, secular, socialist societies. The 1967 war didn't in itself kill that dream, but it tarnished it, with Egypt, Syria, and Iraq soon calcifying into stultifying militarist (and hereditary) dictatorships, sad parodies of the monarchies Britain left in its wake. The US Cold War embrace of salafist-jihadism (and the ill-fated Shah in Iran) further clouded the picture, turning Islam into the last refuge of the downtrodden.

  • Jonathan Ofir: The issue isn't 'occupation,' it's Zionism:

    The status of Palestinian citizens within Israel has likewise not been regulated into equal status, as one might expect from a democratic country when it finally offers citizenship. This community is subject to some 50 discriminatory laws, as well as -- and this deserves special attention -- ethnic cleansing, as we have seen recently in the case of Umm Al-Hiran [a Bedouin village razed in 2015].

    We must therefore see Israel's 'occupation' as an all-encompassing paradigm, reaching beyond isolated localities and beyond this or that war or conquering campaign. Occupation is simply what we DO, in a very broad sense.

  • Philip Weiss: How 1967 changed American Jews: Weiss gives many other telling examples, but the one I most vividly recall was that of M.S. Arnoni (1922-1985), who edited and largely wrote a very pointed antiwar (or at least anti-Vietnam War) publication called A Minority of One. I found this magazine early on as I found my own antiwar views, but after the 1967 Six-Day War Arnoni shifted gears and from that point on wrote almost exclusively about Israel and its valiant struggle against the exterminationist Arab powers. I recall that even before I bailed, Bertrand Russell resigned his honorary seat on the editorial board. At the time I was generally sympathetic to Israel -- I hadn't read much about it, but had read a number of things on the Holocaust, including Simon Wiesenthal's The Murderers Among Us. Still, this struck me as a bizarre personal change, which only many years later started to fit into the general pattern Weiss writes about. I do recall watching all of the UN debates on the war, and being impressed both by Israeli ambassador Abba Eban and by whoever the Saudi ambassador was. The event which really made me rethink my sympathy to Israel was the 1982 Lebanon War, although I didn't read Robert Fisk's 1990 book Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon until after 2001. Since then I've read a lot on the subject -- most recently Ilan Pappe's Ten Myths About Israel, a very useful short primer. Still, the single best book is probably Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions (2004), because it makes clear the subtle self-deceptions that success and power breed, how the quest for safety morphed into an addiction to war. And that ties back around to how Arnoni (and many other American Jews) got lost in identity and paranoia and gave up what they once understood about peace and justice.

  • Philip Weiss: 'The greatest sustained exercise in utterly arbitrary authority world has ever seen' -- Chabon on occupation: On a recent book edited by Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon, Kingdom of Olives and Ash.

  • Charlie Zimmerman: Dispatch from 'the most ****ed up place on Earth,' Hedron's H2 quarter: And this is what the Occupation has come down to.

Ask a question, or send a comment.