State Building in Europe

Now with a few weeks passing, the heat of the moment gone, there’s a chance to put some perspective on the position of the European Union post-Greece. Politically, the problem is the aggressive nature of German bargaining and the demands it made on the Greeks. It may be unfair to compare it to the past, but in politics, this is how it goes.

But the real lasting damage comes from the fact that not much was done to improve the effectiveness of the Greek state. As far as I can tell, it was left to figure out how to implement the payments at the ground level within some parameters, but there was no help given in creating effective tax collection or reforming the bureaucracy to reduce corruption and patronage. Greece has, in the recent past, gone through a few cycles of political cleansing of its bureaucracy.

This is the kind of thing that can often only be done one bite at a time. Perhaps the taxing agencies need to be given some independence, civil service exams and protections, and so on. Maybe this means waiting to deal with other sectors, but it might be a good start.

I haven’t seen any suggestion, in other words, that the EU has offered to help Greece develop an effective state other than perhaps by osmosis. This is probably not going to be good enough in the long run and the remaining political challenges to European Unification won’t make it much better.

With centrifugal forces fracturing the UK, the Labour Party Naderizing itself, and an upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership (which if it gives an answer of “out” will almost certainly lead to another move towards Scottish independence) and the rise of anti-establishment parties everywhere include Sweden of all places, there are some immediate challenges and long-term trends endangering the situation from within—and this is before we get to the external threats of Russia, ISIS, mass migration from destabilized nations across the Mediterranean, and the increasing ambivalence of the United States (which spearheaded the efforts in the former Yugoslavia up until about 1999, but now has taken a very backseat role in the Ukraine issue a mere 15 years later).

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I Pity the Fool!!

To understand Trump and Trumpism we must focus not on the why, or the what, but on the tactical how. For just as the invented persona of 80s icon Mr. T would take no guff so does the GOP’s 2015 Extreme! Mr. T out-alpha and out-anger anyone that takes his bait or challenges him.

Witness the obliteration of South Carolina’s plantation belle Lindsey Graham, who dared call Mr. T “jackass”. In response, Mr. T recited Lindsey’s personal phone number. To retaliate, Lindsey cut a commercial wherein he goofily breaks his own cellphone again and again. The ad was funny, but stupid because Lindsey responded to a punch in the face from the sandbox bully by doing a jester dance. It doesn’t get more beta than that.

The whole episode was infantile, but it was obvious who the strong one was: Mr. T! And thus the Graham Cracker crumbled.

Not all of Mr. T’s opponents are cowed as easily as Dim Lindsey. Sometimes, Mr. T wins ugly. Fox fox Megyn Kelly got treated to a Mr. T Twitter Troll roll of sexist blather for daring to point out Mr. T’s past sexist blather. Ultimately, Kelly didn’t respond to Mr. T’s assertion of Male Privilege (“… she had blood coming out of her wherever.”), but did skip town for ten days; I suspect, because the row caused her potentially serious threats. Similarly, difficult as it is to feel sympathy for a nimrod like Lindsey Graham, reciting his personal phone number was possibly dangerous for Lil’ Lindsey. When Kelly returned Mr. T re-opened fire (“The bimbo back in town…”). Memo to the chummy, self-obsessed press class: ask Mr. T tough questions and get harried and threatened.

Mr. T turned to White Guy Privilege to take down Jorge Ramos. Evicting Jorge from the press conference (“Go back to Mexico Univision!), letting him back in, and deflecting Ramos’ sensical point that many immigrants actual enter the USA by train thereby undermining the efficacy of Mr. T’s ballyhooed border wall. Was Mr. T’s orchestration of Ramos’ mini-‘Deportation and Re-Entry’ (Mr. T’s immigration plan writ small) a suicidal dick move for the general election? Sure! But Mr. T wins again!

Mr. T plays offense by exerting Rich Guy Privilege, usually by saying that he knows someone (a celebrity, a finance big wig, border guards, lawyers) that has special knowledge about something. YOU do not know these Masters of the Universe, but Mr. T does. YOU do not participate in multi-million dollar law suits or mega-real estate deals or mega-bankruptcies, but Mr. T does. So there!

I’m not underestimating Mr. T. Not at all. He is quicker on his feet, funnier, and more interesting than his fellow cavalcade of conservatron clowns. Many of his disses are soooo true. Jeb!utante Bush is low-watt silver spoon mediocrity, Rick Peary is a dunce wearing “smart” glasses, and the economy of dummScott Walker’s Wisconsin sucks. Mr. T’s support appears to be broad across the various groups of bitter, Epsom salt-oriented white people that make up the GOP base. I hazard that this is because those that feel that they are having what is Mine taken by Them favor a man that berates and beats down all of the Thems that They throw at Him because that proves that He will not back down to all of those Other Thems that are taking what is theirs.

In boxing parlance, Mr. T is a brawler fighting in a small ring. No one will outbrawl him; but the tactics for a boxer-puncher to beat him are already apparent. Pick your spots, be prepared to get hit in exchanges, but punch more effectively by sticking to reality (Ramos almost did this on immigration, but Ramos was way too shaky — and to Mr. T’s credit Mr. T parried well) and forcing Mr. T to respond to substance with substance. Step back as Mr. T gets furious and flails, then wallop him again with more verbal onslaughts that require a cleverer comeback than, “you’re a bimbo!” In other words, the rest of the conservatron Royal Rumble bukakke needs to fight Mr. T with robust, substantive and precise oration face-to-face to win. Good luck with that! They are all too insipid and too hamstrung by goofball reactionary politics that are not much different than Mr. T’s hammy jingoism. Able reporters could corner Mr. T in a similar manner… and risk personal danger like Megyn Kelly or shaming like Jorge Ramos. (Ah, that little extra-oomph of intimidation!)

Mr. T cannot be knocked out until the GOP field is winnowed enough for an opponent to truly engage him. Oh irony of ironies, that may not happen for many moons because Citizens United bequeathed the ability for a single ultra-rich asshole to keep any one of these flailing buffoons around crowding the stage long after he (or she) has flat lined, thereby maintaining Mr. T as the biggest bull trout in a shallow, heavily polluted river.

For now, I pity the fool who thinks that Mr. T is not the favorite to win the GOP nomination!

Reagan to Palin to Trump

Sarah Palin fit the bill a little better, but Reagan was not much a better icon for right-wing populism than Trump. And all three have said ridiculous things. Why did people support them?

For one—and liberals will be loathe to admit this—Trump isn’t letting the soap opera rules of the media shame him. He’s shamelessly promoting his policies, policies that many people support. Don’t we all want the elections to be about policy? Well, Trump’s campaign’s #1 issue is illegal immigration and that does, in fact, have a constituency.

I much prefer this than wondering whether I want to have a beer with him or whether his can fill out a flannel the right way.

Make no mistake, I fundamentally disagree with his policies, but I can say that without having to tattle on him that he broke the press’s rules. Elizabeth Warren and now Bernie Sanders are popular with the left because they appear to say what their audience wants to hear even if it’s “out of bounds” somewhat and liberals cheer them.

I’m not saying “both sides do it” but I am warning people not to dismiss Trump and sneering at him only makes him more popular.

Whether or not he stays in the race, his supporters aren’t going anywhere.

Why Jews Are Freaking Out About The Iran Deal

First, some background. Understanding the institutional Jewish world is beyond the scope of this post and requires more nuance than I can probably give it. On one level, there are so many Jewish organizations and so much fracture in this small community that it’s hard to certify anyone as a spokesperson for “the Jews.” But certain groups have or are given a large microphone. There are certain designated spokespeople and certain organizations like the ADL get a lot of coverage in the mainstream.

But inside the “Jewish world” most of the large organizations that have the capacity to mount campaigns are the children of/in the thrall of very large donors. On the national scale, this means billionaires. In small towns, this usually means upper middle class folks that write the big checks.

I’m not going to play armchair psychologist on these donors. Suffice it to say that they are very pro-Israel   not necessarily in the “Israel can do no wrong” sense, but in the “Israeli right is right about everything” sense. The problem here is that while Jews are generally very liberal, the Israeli right has been right about many big picture things, especially relating to security, over the last 25 years and the elections in Israel bear this out.

One can argue some of these points, but the generally accepted narrative in Israel is that Arafat was never serious about peace, the Oslo accords were an example of Israel’s good will being taken advantage of, that the Second Intifada was the reward for trying for peace, and that even pulling out of Gaza has resulted in wars—wars resulting in unfair international criticism—and that the same thing would result from granting the Palestinians recognition, even though Olmert tried too.

And of course, the major security threats to Israel are Hamas and Hezbollah who have been supplied and funded historically by Iran. So while we may think of Iran as a country at some distance from Israel, if you’re physically in Israel, you are more or less surrounded by terrorist agents of Iran that can rain missiles on almost the entire country.

In the United States, on the other hand, except for a brief spike of approval after 9/11, the Republicans have had a bad long-term success rate on security matters. The largest blot, of course, is the Iraq War, and the Iraq war was cheered by many of the same Israeli hawks that are opposing Obama here.

And let’s not forget that many of these same people loathe Obama for partisan reasons and for what they see as his weak approach to the Middle East. Now keeping in mind that the rest of the world, including most in the US, have close to zero credibility when it comes to Israeli security, the partisan hatred, and the different meanings of Iran to different countries, who have two different political cultures and immediate pasts, and you can see the problem.

Under these circumstances it’s easy to see why there is opposition to this deal, why it seems so virulent, why it seems such a big deal for Jews, and why Jews are so apt to listen to Netanyahu who, in the broader world, seems so hard to believe.

I’m not sure what Obama could do different. I don’t think the deal itself is bad, but there is not much trust that (a) it will be enforced to the letter and that (b) it’s not going to embolden a mortal enemy of Israel. Much of the criticism of Obama is unfair, but it’s there.

On the other hand, Netanyahu could have found a way to make a deal of some kind, any kind–even if not a final one–with the Palestinians over the last 6 years that might have strengthened the US’s hand with the other Sunni states. I suspect that on some level, after the last round of talks with Kerry broke down, Netanyahu’s opinion on this deal became unimportant to the US.

But while to an outside observer, Netanyahu may have no credibility on security matters, to Jews and Israelis, his views are more credible that what most of the rest of the world peddles, because of how unfair and incorrect they are on a daily basis regarding Israel.

GOP Nominee Candidates, Ranked

10. Ted Cruz – What do you think it feels like to spend your life being an asshole that no one likes, honing that image to perfection, only to have Donald Trump get bored one day, show up, and do it better?

9. Ben Carson – Has anyone seen him and Clarence Thomas in the same room, at the same time? He is literally only here so that Republicans can assure themselves that they aren’t racist.

8. Rand Paul – Outside of your cult, no one believes your bullshit.

7. John Kasich – Literally, who?

6. Chris Christie – This fat piece of shit is still around only because he’s a blue state governor and for no other reason.

5. Mike Huckabee – The evangelical vote isn’t as relevant in a presidential election as it used to be.

4. Marco Rubio – Le Token Man. We really don’t hate Messicans, believe us!

3. Scott Walker – All of his Koch money will keep him in this for a long, long time. If he can carry his home state, he has a shot.

2. Jeb Bush – Republicans still have a marginal sense of embarrassment, but only in mixed company. In private, they crave a Bush restoration because they don’t want effective government at all, they just want to fuck shit up in an ejaculation of conservatism.

1. Donald Trump – The only candidate who knows his audience. The media can shit all over him, but if you’re honest, everything he says fits his base perfectly. He makes everyone else seem like Al Gore rolling his eyes about lockboxes. Reality, schmeality. Smackdowns and bluster is what every real (no homo!!1!!) daddy loving Republican wants. A+