Saturday, March 16, 2019
Stories that caught folks' interest this week included an airplane
that aims to crash, mass slaughter of Muslims in New Zealand, and the
revelation that some rich people got caught trying to cheat their way
into getting their kids enrolled by elite colleges (as opposed to the
proper way, which is to give the colleges extra money). On the latter,
I'd like to quote Elias Vlanton (on Facebook):
Missing the Forest for the Trees: A few rich people bribed their kids
into elite colleges. So what? The real scandal is an educational system
that favors rich students over poorer ones (regardless of color) from
the first day of pre-K through crossing the graduation stage, diploma
in hand. If every bribing parent is jailed, the real injustice of social
inequality will remain. Ending it is the real task.
The post was accompanied by a photo of some of Elias's students, who
look markedly different from the students caught up in this scandal.
This seems to be one of the few crimes in America with a means test
limiting it to the pretty rich. Actually, I feel a little sorry for
the parents and children caught up in this fraud -- not so much for
being victimized (although they were) as for the horrible pressures
they put upon themselves to succeed in a world that is so rigorously
rigged by the extreme inequality they nominally benefit from. I got
a taste of their world when I transferred to Washington University
back in 1973. That was the first time I met student who had spent
years prepping for SATs that would assure entrance to one of the
nation's top pre-med schools. It was also where I knew students who
tried (and sometimes managed) to hire others to write papers and to
take graduate school tests -- so I suppose you could say that was
my first encounter with the criminal rich. I always thought it was
kind of pathetic, but it really just reflects the desperation of
a pseudo-meritocracy. And true as that was then, I'm sure it's much
more desperate and vicious today.
One more thing I want to mention here: I saw a meme on Facebook
forwarded by one of my right-wing relatives. It read:
YESTERDAY IN THE PHILIPPINES A CHURCH WAS BOMBED BY MUSLIM TERRORISTS
KILLING 30 CHRISTIANS. NO MEDIA COVERAGE.
I suppose the intent was to complain about news coverage of the mass
shooting in New Zealand, where a "white nationalist" slaughtered 50
Muslims, implying that the "fake news" media is playing favorites again,
acting like Muslim lives are more valuable than Christian lives. I thought
I should at least check that claim out. Google offered no evidence of
such an attack, at least yesterday. However, I did find that two bombs
had been set off on January 27, 2019, at a Catholic Cathedral in Jolo,
Sulu, in the Philippines, killing 20 people. There's a pretty detailed
Wikipedia page on the attack, so that could be the event the meme
author is referring to. I've also found an article in the
New York Times, although the emphasis there is more on the growth
of ISIS within the long-running Islamic separatist revolt -- which
started immediately after he US occupied the Philippines in 1898,
and has flared up repeatedly ever since, most recently in response
to Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte (one of Trump's favorite
strongmen). (Also another article in
CNN.) The context stripped from the meme doesn't excuse the
atrocity, but it does help explain American media's limited interest.
I have several links on the New Zealand shooting below, and they too
reflect our rather parochial interest in the subject. Although pretty
much everyone deplores the loss of life in all terrorist atrocities,
the New Zealand one hit closer to home (for reasons that will be
obvious below -- see, e.g., Patrick Strickland).
Some scattered links this week:
"Jexodus," the fake departure of American Jews from the Democratic Party,
explained: Starts with two Trump tweets, not that he coined the term
but it was the sort of thing that stuck to his brain. To quote:
- "Jewish people are leaving the Democratic Party. We saw a lot of anti
Israel policies start under the Obama Administration, and it got worse
& worse. There is anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party. They don't
care about Israel or the Jewish people." Elizabeth Pipko, Jexodus.
- The 'Jexodus' movement encourages Jewish people to leave the Democrat
Party. Total disrespect! Republicans are waiting with open arms. Remember
Jerusalem (U.S. Embassy) and the horrible Iran Nuclear Deal! @OANN
If anyone's antisemitic here, it's Trump, with his assumption that
American Jews will flock to whichever party that gives Israel the most
uncritically blind support. Trump assumes the old charge that Jews feel
more allegiance to Israel than to America, and his second tweet makes
plain how he sets US policy based on his own political calculation.
The Manafort case is a reminder that we invest too little in catching
white-collar criminals: "It shouldn't take a special counsel to
catch a tax cheat."
Big walls, fruitless wars, and fortress America: Review of Greg
Grandin: The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall
in the Mind of America.
A mother swept away by climate change: About "Generation Hot":
"some two billion young people, all of whom have grown up under global
warming and are fated to spend the rest of their lives confronting its
mounting impacts." Also this week at TomDispatch:
US regime change blueprint proposed Venezuelan electricity blackouts as
'watershed event' for 'galvanizing public unrest'. Related:
Venezuela coup leader's oil plans revealed: Guaidó hopes to privatize
Robert L Borosage:
Democrats must expose Trump's betrayal of working people.
The trouble with Biden.
Reminder: The president regularly spends the weekend hobnobbing privately
with rich clients.
The New Zealand shooter's manifesto shows how white nationalist rhetoric
spreads: "The same language featured in the alleged gunman's manifesto
is seen in white nationalist writings and outlets around the world."
Gaby Del Valle:
A Yelp-style app for conservatives wants to protect right-wingers from
"socialist goon squads": "63red Safe claims to identify which businesses
are 'safe' for conservatives." The notion of "socialist goon squads" strikes
me as pure projection, but I don't doubt that the fantasy is being embedded
in reactionary minds as an excuse for forming their own goon squads, maybe
even igniting civil war. It's not like it hasn't happened before. Indeed,
in 1993 and 2009 Republicans went to unprecedented extremes to fight back
from loss of presidential power, and unlike then it's pretty clear that
Trump is not going to bow out gracefully. Still, this app belongs to a long
line of hucksters who exploit and prey on conservative fears.
Why are millennials burned out? Capitalism. Interview with Malcolm
Harris, author of Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of
Millennials. There's a very striking chart here, showing that from
1948 up to about 1973 productivity and hourly compensation increased
(almost doubled) at the same rate, but after 1973 (and especially after
1980) they started to diverge: hourly compensation actually declined
up to the late 1990s, then rose slowly, winding up about 20% higher,
while productivity more than doubled again.
An autopsy of the American dream: Interview with Steven Brill,
author of Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America's Fifty-Year
Fall -- and Those Fighting to Reverse It (also, back in 2015,
America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the
Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System). Starts with five
examples of American decline: the fifth is the one I always find the
most damning (although it's arguably a consequence of the more prosaic
first four): "Among the 35 richest countries in the world, the US now
have the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy."
Conor Friedersdorf: Parts of an ongoing series remembering
The college-admissions scandal and the banality of scamming:
This week's exposure of the college-admissions scam is significant exactly
because, in its trite ordinariness, it makes granular and concrete what is
usually abstract and difficult to pin down. The parents who responded "I
love it" to Singer's criminal propositions reminded me, viscerally, of
Donald Trump, Jr.,'s breezy e-mail reply when, in 2016, he was told of a
Russian source's ability to share dirt on Hillary Clinton: "If it's what
you say I love it." When the e-mail was revealed, in 2017, I felt a similar
satisfaction. In both cases, casual corruption, usually obscured by several
layers of secrecy and legal trickery, was finally laid bare. The people
involved were so self-satisfied and secure in their power that they greeted
unethical, perhaps felonious proposals with complete nonchalance.
How I would cover the college-admissions scandal as a foreign
Where is William H Macy in the college admissions scandal?
Trump Administration plans to close key immigration operations
UK Parliament rejects second referendum in latest Brexit vote.
A short history of President Trump's anti-Muslim bigotry.
The failures of neoliberalism are bigger than politics: A response
to "an excellent
discussion with economist Brad Delong" (cited last week). Delong
argued that neoliberals need to ally with the left because there are no
viable options on the right. Konczal points out that left neoliberals
have deeper problems: much of what they expected their pro-market plans
to accomplish has failed, or worse. For another comment on this, see
Three-Toed Sloth. Konczal works for the Roosevelt Institute. Some
recent articles and reports there:
Don't blame robots for low wages.
The power of petty personal rage: After some examples:
The point is that demented anger is a significant factor in modern
American political life -- and overwhelmingly on one side. All that
talk about liberal "snowflakes" is projection; if you really want to
see people driven wild by tiny perceived slights and insults, you'll
generally find them on the right. Nor is it just about racism and
misogyny. Although these are big components of the phenomenon, I
don't see the obvious connection to hamburger paranoia.
Just to be clear: To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, I'm not saying
that most conservatives are filled with rage over petty things. What
I'm saying instead is that most of those filled with such rage are
conservatives, and they supply much of the movement's energy. Not to
put too fine a point on it, pathological pettiness almost surely put
Donald Trump over the top in the 2016 election.
Indeed, pathologically petty is a pretty fair description of Donald
America the cowardly bully: "What the world has learned from Trump's
trade war." Easy to make fun of Trump's "trade war" negotiations, and
easier still to make light of the "improved" agreements he's made, not
least because their impact on actual trade effects is so negligible --
the bottom line is that the US under Trump is running even higher trade
deficits than even before. Still, I recoil at "the deal would do little
to address real complaints about Chinese policy, which mainly involve
China's systematic expropriation of intellectual property." That's only
an issue because rent-seeking IP owners have inordinate influence over
US trade negotiations. It's not something that benefits average people
anywhere in the world, least of all in the US. Indeed, in most cases
that's not something we should be forcing Americans to pay for, let
Michael LaForgia/Matthew Rosenberg/Gabriel JX Dance:
Facebook's data deals are under criminal investigation.
US bars entry to International Criminal Court investigators.
American schools can't figure out ow to teach kids about slavery:
The game-playing examples sound awful, and I can't think of any way to
redeem them. But there's been a tremendous amount of research since I
was in school -- I was ten when the Civil War centenary came along,
close enough you could still see and touch its artifacts and legacies,
although political interests made sure there was plenty of smoke to
obscure the reasons and repercussions. I can't remember what I learned
at the time -- I had a wonderful US history teacher in 8th grade, and
learned tons of stuff from him, but nothing on the Civil War era stands
out -- but by the early 1970s the picture had changed considerably. By
then, two major books on racism had appeared: David Brion Davis: The
Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1966), and Winthrop Jordan:
White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negrok, 1550-1812
(1968). Those books made it clear how racism was invented to justify and
perpetuate slavery. Along with those books, I read everything by Eugene
D Genovese, who showed how the economic institution of slavery grew
into self-contained worldviews of slaveholders and slaves, and much
else, including C. Vann Woodward, Eric Foner, James McPherson, David
Montgomery -- scholars influenced by the civil rights (and labor, at
least for Montgomery) movements. I'm less familiar with later books,
but I gather they follow along similar lines. It should be simple to
put together a survey of what we know about what we know about race
and slavery in American history, but we're still plagued by people
wanting to impose their political agendas on the past. Perhaps such
impositions are inevitable, but they came easier (because they made
more sense) fifty years ago, when America's major wars -- Revolution,
Civil War, WWII -- could be justified as steps toward a freer, more
equal and just world. That narrative has always been burdened with
nasty details, but lately conservatives have added more obstacles to
understanding. The fruit of such constant thrashing is often ignorance
and indifference, which is what these examples add up to.
Andrew Yang, the 2020 long-shot candidate running on a universal basic
income, explained. I'm not going to do many links on presidential
candidates, partially because I want to downplay the presidency relative
to other political campaigns (e.g., Congress), and partly because these
days professional politicians are so practiced in the art of boilerplate
they almost never say anything interesting. On the other hand, Yang is
someone cut from different cloth, with real ideas (not that I've taken
the trouble to see whether I agree with many of them), and that makes
him worth pointing out. At the bottom of the article, there's a list
of "who's officially running so far," eleven names, 8-10 you probably
already know, one I wasn't even aware of:
Marianne Williamson is Oprah's spiritual adviser. She's also running
for president. I only mention her because I'm always fascinated by
things I didn't know. I see no reason to take her seriously, but she's
no less qualified and probably more fun than Ben Carson. She may even
be competitive with her most similar match among Democratic hopefuls:
Kamala Harris. Oh, speaking of similarities, I have very little worth
saying about new candidate Beto O'Rourke, but his track record (a few
years in the House, losing high-profile Senate race) matches pretty
closely one previous presidential candidate: Abraham Lincoln.
A future without fossil fuels? Review of two short reports: 2020
Vision: Why You Should See the Fossil Fuel Peak Coming, and A New
World: The Geopolitics of Energy Transformation.
This is what happens when corporations run the government: Specifically,
Boeing. Also note: Tara Copp:
Trump's defense secretary faces ethics complaint over Boeing promotion.
This influence peddling suggests why we've wound up with titles like
America last: After 42 other countries put safety first, US finally joins
ban on flights of Boeing 737 Max aircraft, itself a link to the more
Boeing planes are grounded in US after days of pressure. That pressure
happened because US pilots had been complaining for months. See
Kalhan Rosenblatt/Jay Blackmann:
US pilots complained about Boeing 737 Max 8 months before Ethiopia crash.
Suresh Naidu/Dani Rodrik/Gabriel Zucman:
Economics after neoliberalism: A forum, with additional responses
(Corey Robin pointed me to this piece). Starts with a straightforward
statement of the problem:
We live in an age of astonishing inequality. Income and wealth disparities
in the United States have risen to heights not seen since the Gilded Age
and are among the highest in the developed world. Median wages for U.S.
workers have stagnated for nearly fifty years. Fewer and fewer younger
Americans can expect to do better than their parents. Racial disparities
in wealth and well-being remain stubbornly persistent. In 2017, life
expectancy in the United States declined for the third year in a row,
and the allocation of healthcare looks both inefficient and unfair.
Advances in automation and digitization threaten even greater labor
market disruptions in the years ahead. Climate change-fueled disasters
increasingly disrupt everyday life.
It's certainly possible for reasonable people to disagree on how best
to deal with these problems, but the basic political divide in America
today isn't about competitive solutions. It's about our ability to see
problems like these. One camp simply denies their existence, or denies
that they matter as problems, or denies that anything can be done about
them without making matters worse. The effective difference between the
last three is nihil. The article makes a lot of worthy points. For a
taste, here are some pull quotes:
- Economics is in a state of creative ferment -- a sense of public
responsibility is bringing people into the fray.
- Neoliberalism -- or market fetishism -- is not the consistent
application of modern economics, but its primitive, simplistic perversion.
- Economics' recent empirical bent makes it more difficult to idolize
markets because it makes it more difficult to ignore inconvenient facts.
- Economics does not necessarily have definite answers, but it does
supply the tools needed to lay out the tradeoffs, thus contributing to
a more informed democratic debate.
- Taking contemporary economics seriously is consistent with recommending
fairly dramatic structural changes in American economic life.
- These proposals all show a willingness to subordinate textbook
economic efficiency to other values such as democratic rule and
egalitarian relationships among citizens.
- Many economists dismiss the role of power, but these tackle power
asymmetries frontally and suggest ways of rebalancing power for
One good idea here might be retiring "neoliberalism" in favor of
"market fetishism" -- which really gets to the point, shorn of the
increasingly muddle political overtones. (The original neos tried to
hijack a well-established political tradition, although their ideas
ultimately had more appeal to the right.) Some more pieces I noticed
at Boston Review:
US officials offered my friend cash to take down Tehran's power grid:
and now they seem to have succeeded in Venezuela.
What the college admissions scandal reveals about the psychology of wealth
A chaotic Brexit is part of Trump's grand plan for Europe. Isn't
"grand plan" a bit beyond Trump's grasp? Roger Trilling was closer to
the mark when he described conservatives as only capable of "irritating
mental gestures," although they're more frequent and more impactful in
the Trump era than ever before. Still, something is missing here. It may
make sense that Trump wants Europe to be divided and weakened so it would
be easier prey for American control, but why should anyone in Europe
support that? Two possible reasons I can think of. One is that there's
some sort of "fraternal order of neo-fascists" where politicians with
similar reactionary instincts overcome their natural nationalist dislikes
to cheer each other on. The other is that international business concerns
back right-wingers everywhere because deregulation and chaos suits their
Trump wants to cut billions from the NIH. This is what we'll miss out on
if he does. "Is spending money at the NIH a good deal? The research
is incredibly clear: Yes."
Paul Manafort didn't get off easy -- unless you compare him to whistleblower
Reality Winner: written before Manafort's second sentencing, but still
"Winer performed a public service," and "was sentenced to 63 months, which
is the longest ever handed down to someone accused of leaking to the press."
Related: Henry N Pontell/Robert H Tillman:
Manafort's sentencing shows again that white-collar criminals get off
lightly: I'm not sure I'd place much weight on a single case with
so many political overtones, but the general point is probably right,
not that the perspective shouldn't be flipped: that non-white-collar
criminals get treated more harshly. There are several pretty obvious
reasons for this, but one that is rarely mentioned is that as the US
has become an increasingly unequal society, the law has increasingly
been used to impose a system of class control: to lock up more poor
people, to regulate more through probation, and to intimidate still
more with the threat of horrific consequences should they stray out
of line. It's surely no coincidence that harsh sentencing and mass
incarceration grew at the same time as we were cutting taxes on the
rich, dismantling civil rights protections, and reducing regulation
in ways that made white-collar scofflaws (like Manafort) more likely
to think they could get away with bending the laws even further.
The case for spraying (just enough) chemicals into the sky to fight climate
change: I'm willing to keep an open mind on geoengineering proposals
to counteract global warming, but this particular plan -- "injecting aerosols
into the high atmosphere to reflect sunlight back into space" -- strikes me
as a lot like spraying perfume to cover up the stench of rotting bodies in
the basement. I'd also be skeptical of claims like "no bad side effects."
Somini Sengupta/Alexandra Villegas:
Tiny Costa Rica has a Green New Deal, too. It matters for the whole
White Nationalism's deep American roots: Singles out Madison Grant,
whose 1916 book The Passing of the Great Race was acclaimed as
"bible" by Austrain fan-boy Adolf Hitler. Grant was also the subject of
Jonathan Peter Spiro's book, Defending the Master Race: Conservation,
Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant (2009). I've long been
aware of how American race law provided models for other countries,
especially for South Africa's Apartheid laws, so the news that Nazi
Germany borrowed from American precedents was obvious. I recently read
James Q Whitman's Hitler's American Model: The United States and the
Making of Nazi Race Law (2017), which I would fault on two counts:
one is that he spends way too much time tiptoeing around the feelings
of his American readers; the other is that he misses the one obvious
difference, which is that Nazi race law was aimed at purging (ultimately
annihilating) "inferior races," while American racism originally meant
to maintain a stable, powerless, low-cost labor force. American racism
found its ideal state where it started, in slavery. However, there is
another less-discussed American root for annihilationist racism: the
relentless war against native Americans. Indeed, it is little wonder
that white racists around the world have always turned to the US for
inspiration: we have so much history to choose from -- something to fit
every raging prejudice.
Amy Davidson Sorkin:
What Pelosi means when she said, of impeaching Trump, 'He's just not
worth it" -- to work, impeachment requires substantial Republican
support, and until that arrives, Democrats are better off campaigning
against both Trump and Republicans, rather than trying to split them.
Related: Adam Gopnik:
The pros and cons of impeaching Trump.
White nationalism is an international threat: "The Christchurch
attacks point to a disturbing web reaching from the United States,
to the United Kingdom, to Greece, and beyond."
A European spring is possible: "The DiEM25 proposes immediate
financial changes to end austerity and fund a green -- and hopefully
post-capitalist -- future." For some background on Varoufakis, see
two pieces by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian:
Saving the sacred cow: "Yanis Varoufakis' vision for a more
democratic Europe." And:
Yanis Varoufakis's internationalist odyssey.