What now for the GOP?

Trump won in New Hampshire and has been polling strong in South Carolina, which is next. Kasich is a surprise second. Cruz is still in there and probably gets to run for a while on his Iowa win. But Rubio? If he stays at fifth it’s hard to see where he’s going from here. After all, he was only third in Iowa and that was supposed to catapult him up, not into a blunder and a further back finish. I don’t imagine Jeb is going away right now either, even though he hasn’t done well anywhere.

I think the short answer is: it’s on to South Carolina. Maybe Carson and Fiorina drop out, but it will probably be well into March until the GOP field is down to a two person race and by then Trump may have gained enough of a lead to make him hard to stop.

Not much of a surprise on the Dem side. If Bernie can’t convert that win into progress in South Carolina and Nevada, people will lose interest. If he does, there’s no telling when this one will be over. Maybe even after the Republicans, who at least have a frontrunner.

Why I’m For Hillary

Yes, I support single-payer healthcare, drastic changes to funding of college education, and above all $15 minimum wage. But I support Hillary.

Here’s why. I believe that if Congress put any of those issues (let’s call them the “Bernie issues”) on Hillary’s desk, she’d sign them. But I also know that Congress won’t put them there and that she won’t waste a term Quixotically pursuing them.

If you think Hillary would veto any of these, then you’re right to support Sanders, I guess. But the reality is, she would and he can’t.

So, while Bernie is talking about things that will never, ever happen, Clinton is talking about things she can actually do. I know this is the kind of thing that the young and the revolutionary-minded don’t like to hear, but politics doesn’t work that way and 50+ million Republican voters won’t just disappear and can’t and shouldn’t be ignored in a democracy.

Response to “What the Western Left” Below

I agree fully, but I would just add that the case of whiteness = Jewishness is Exhibit A in the morally bankrupt political exercise that is “intersectionalism.”

The far left advocates of that theory, I think, believe that there is some moral compass driving the distinctions that they make, but there isn’t. It’s simply a political calculation with no more ethical insight that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

If there were any kind of rules guiding the hierarchy of oppression in intersectionality, the rank hypocrisy of advocating that European nations be burdened with refugees from the Levant seeking to escape slaughter while denying the legitimacy of refugees from Europe seeking to escape slaughter by heading to the Levant—even if there were no historical tie between those “refugees” and the Levant—would be a cause of some hesitation.

The scary part isn’t just that there is no moral compass in intersectionalism, it’s that the Jew has taken his traditional spot as the hated outcast within it just as we find again and again in history. Now, instead of wearing yellow stars, or being forced to run with pigs on easter, Jews are expected to denounce the “occupation” as an auto da fe anytime they want to participate in a lefty event when citizens of no other country are supposed to seek atonement for their sins. If the people enforcing these rules had any historical perspective, they would see that all their singling out of Israel does (ironically for them) is underscore the very need for Israel: as a place to go when the next society turns its back on Jews.

A few years ago, I might have thought all of this was harmless, but given recent events in Europe, I simply can’t deny that politics has not only blinded people to history, it’s blinded them to the present and to the principle of equal justice under the law.

I should add: recent events on American campuses too. The Intersectional Jew is the one minority who gets no safe space, for whom discrimination is not only not frowned upon, but is encouraged, from whom cultural appropriation is not shameful but indeed from whose own ranks traitors are sought and paraded as if they were part of a Roman triumph.

At least old fashioned right-wing antisemitism made plain that Jews were subhuman and filthy and were overt about it. This kind attempts to think that rather than a genetic defect, it’s merely a mental one that can be cured by reeducation.

Naive Pundits

I really don’t know if it was all the Aaron Sorkinesque praises of “real America” but the Pundit class doesn’t seem to understand politics very well or why Donald Trump would receive and endorsement from Jerry Falwell.

Even Nate Silver thinks this means the Republican Party is failing.  Why? Because he thinks the party is no longer capable of nominating a Presidential candidate that advances the agendas of all of their factions.

But that presumes that Donald Trump’s failure to be a doctrinaire market conservative or a religious fundamentalist means that. It doesn’t. Because the Republican party isn’t just a coalition of business, fundamentalists, small government purists, and hawks.[1] Since the realignment of the parties in the 60s at least, and arguably since the end of World War II, the Republican Party has been the White Christian Nationalist party. If you see that as the center of gravity for Republicans, then Trump’s candidacy makes perfect sense.

Just think about what all of those tired liberal charges of hypocrisy against Republicans are saying after all. They favor small government but want to regulate contraception or abortion? Well, not exactly. Those are two “wings” of the Republican coalition. But the reason they work together, the reason these folks have an easier time imagining a low tax world where abortion is illegal than a high tax one where it’s illegal or vice versa is because that world is a Saturday Evening Post cover. It’s every white person’s gossamer memory of the 1950s. In that world, unwanted children are a problem for other people. Paying taxes to support them is to support other people.

This may just be an Instrumentalist Theory of the GOP. It may not actually be “real” in anyone’s head but it perfectly explains their behavior in the last 70 years.

So, in sum, what I’m saying is, there may be some Republicans who have a red line on abortion or a red line or privatizing social security or a red line on this issue or that, but they are mostly willing to operate under the banner of someone who will use those as chits to preserve the world dominating role of the American white christian middle class.

I think this also explains the other side of it: why Obama using markets to improve healthcare from the libertarian/small government think tank wing of the GOP, why Clinton making the economy boom and enacting ideas from the same, while also tickling the law and order G-spot with the crime bill and welfare reform, or Carter balancing the budget did nothing or in fact made Republicans hate them more. Because those ideas are not sacrosanct to them the way that preventing the universalizing of opportunity or the changing of identity roles are.

[1] There are liberal evangelicals like Jimmy Carter, pro-business Democrats like Bill Clinton, Hawkish Democrats like Joe Lieberman, Jim Webb, or even, according to liberals, Barack Obama. There are “small government” governing Democrats like Bill Clinton and Al Gore who wrote “The Gore Report on Reinventing Government.” There are taxcutting Democrats like Kennedy. There are Neoliberal Democrats and Neoconservative Democrats. There are isolationist and globalist Democrats. There are even a few Democrats who aren’t “gun grabbers.” None of these things alone, therefore, can be sufficient to be liked by Republicans.

 

Are Boomers About to Reverse the 60s?

Pat Buchanan used to say that the left won the culture wars and the right won the political ones. This was during the first Bush administration when there had been Republican presidents for 25 years with only the one term of Carter in between.

As the Boomer generation heads into retirement, we are very close to seeing some of those advances reversed. If a Republican wins the White House in November, it is extremely likely that the Supreme Court will reverse Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood either leaving abortion rights to the states or going so far as to make abortions unconstitutional altogether.

It would be conceivable, though less likely, that the Supreme Court could reverse itself on gay marriage. On the other hand, I think we will soon see the end of affirmative action regardless of the outcome of the Presidential election unless the case is put over for a term, which seems unlikely.

On the other hand, a certain economic populism that didn’t exist in the 80s has arisen. For right-wingers it is directed mostly at the government, for left-wingers, mostly at the banks. Right now we have a candidate leading the Republican primaries who is for taxes on the rich, for not cutting Social Security, and for universal healthcare even if he’s for deporting 11 million workers from Latin America.

I won’t be shocked to see a less tolerant yet more economically fair America in 5 years.

The “Pinkwashing” Slander

This week, a Jewish LGBT group was excluded from an event. The pretext was security reasons, but the subject immediately turned to BDS and the term “pinkwashing” which is a term invented to allege that Israel “overemphasizes” its gay rights record in order to “cover up” other “crimes.” The truth is that the term and those pushing it are covering up for the intolerance of the societies they are defending.

This is another one of the many contradictions of the toxic mix of “intersectionalism” and illiberal practices on speech and participation. The state policy of course is about denying platforms to those that spread oppression, but the problem is, almost everyone is part of some group that is more privileged than another or comes from a country with an imperfect record. I wonder how Americans are ever allowed into any of these events with our record both past and present.

But my big problem is that this actually punishes good behavior. If you care about liberal values, if you care about gay rights, more gay rights are good. If North Korea became a gay paradise, it wouldn’t make North Korea a great place or give it a responsible government, but it certainly wouldn’t add to its demerits. Indeed, I detect a bit of a claim of “Jewish swindle” in the whole concept of pinkwashing as if this isn’t a genuine thing. It’s genuine. A just like most places, not everyone is on board. Religious conservatives in Israel don’t care for how open Israel is about gays and have even engaged in acts of violence recently. It’s a shame.

StandWithUS-on-gay-rights-in-Israel-e1438804981259.pngThe test is simple. If you are gay or a woman (or even a Muslim!) you have to ask yourself, where would you rather find yourself if you were parachuted into a foreign country? Those who have brought themselves to believe that Israel isn’t probably the best in its region have found out the hard way what the truth is.

The entire concept, the term itself, and every time it is raised are simply attempts by Israel’s enemies to try and poison one of its positives. Oddly, it’s only Israel that gets left out in these cases. No one seems to think of banning people or organizations actually from countries that punish homosexuality.

Worse, the organization that was banned worked with Palestinian gays, including those in trouble with the religious conservatives who govern the Gaza strip.

“Intersectionality” is a recipe to accomplish “none of the above” and to completely undermine western civilization in a doe-eyed sophomoric attempt to bring about “justice” when it’s simply a set of values created by politicking and personal tastes.Pew-Survey-April-2014-Homosexuality-Views-by-Country

A Dangerous Gamble

Though I still expect Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee,  I must admit that it’s less certain than it was before. Sanders is starting to get his first serious critiques from pundits like Jonathan Chait and Ezra Klein and he’s not holding up terribly well. I wonder, though, how much of Sanders’s rise is connected with Trump.

No, I’m not suggesting their peas in a pod the way others are on the basis of the superficial fact that they are outsiders, but that their candidacies both reflect dissatisfaction with the slow workings of politics and that many Democrats figure, hey, if they are going to nominate Trump, why can’t we nominate Sanders?

That’s the dangerous gamble, for both sides and for the country.

Imagine if Barry Goldwater ran against George McGovern. The two iconic failures of each party never faced someone equally as far out on the other side. Goldwater faced the incumbent President who had led the country out of the chaos of the Kennedy assassination, and McGovern faced a president who, despite being disliked, hadn’t caused the world to end when he took power and had a handful of decent accomplishments by the time the election arose.

First, everyone has to admit that we have no idea what the outcome of such an election would be. We also have to speculate about what a term for either man would mean for liberal values. I suspect a Trump presidency would set back the conservative movement for a generation, even more than Bush II did. It would finally force the Republican party to recalibrate towards the center. Maybe. Or it could diverge into a scary “it can’t happen here” scenario. A Democratic controlled senate would stymie everything it could, but it wouldn’t matter. The damage to the United States would be irreparable.

A Sanders presidency, I think would be damaging to liberalism as well. It’s impossible to imagine that anything he wants to accomplish would occur. It would be blocked by Congress. If the kind of economic collapse occurred that opened a door to his ideas, it would be blamed either on his fellow Democrat Obama or on Sanders himself. Similarly, the kind of crisis that would require a transition to single payer would indicate a failure, not a success, of Obamacare and would not set the table well for such a change.

He would most likely be a feckless and obstinate commander in chief, a sort of reverse Bush, whose certitude contrasts with Obama’s empiricism and pragmatism.

The best I can offer about a Sanders presidency is that in his 4 years he would likely be able to replace some Supreme Court justices, though that is far from certain if he can’t gain control of the senate or if senators distance themselves from him.

His failures would be even more disheartening for the progressive movement than Obama seemed to be because while many progressives believed Obama was a crypto-left-liberal, he campaigned as a pragmatic center-leftist and delivered on that. But someone who campaigns as a left-liberal and whose government will only result in moving the country further to the right would be a disaster of Buchananian proportions.

I suspect that in their hearts, many folks know this about Trump and Sanders but are restless with incremental change but when the time comes, I think we’ll see different results.

 

 

 

After months atop the polls, Trump still surprises opponents

Why is Trump ahead? There’s more to it than the extreme statements and refusing to bow to critics. What no one seems to be noticing is that he’s actually pulling off a masterclass in appealing to his voters. Are mainstream politicians so drowned in mainstream narratives that the best they can do is make hints about what they’ll do here and there and otherwise snap back to the main talking points? It appears so.

Trump knew that the “natural born” question was more complicated than the media, who hadn’t bothered to look, was reporting. Now it is an ongoing story backed up by renowned Constitutional scholars and will certainly dog Cruz for the rest of his run.

Trump knew that despite what seemed “shocking” that most of his voters favored stopping and removing illegal immigrants and preventing Muslims from coming here. The fact that the implementation of all of this is complex can be left to the pinheads in government to point out. It’s what the voters want, and we live in a democracy.

This is seemingly transparent. He’s saying what voters want. Yet it still surprises everyone and seems mysterious to the press.

When Jeb Bush and the rest point out we need the other Muslim countries, or that requiring fair trade with China would make [Chinese] products more expensive, it’s music to the business interests’ ears, but the actual Republican voters don’t want to play in their neoliberal sandbox anymore, if they ever did. And they don’t care if it’s wrapped in the sympathetic cosmopolitan political correctness of lefty versions of neoliberalism.

In this way, and not in the superficial anti-PC “hate” label, he is leading the American version of the UKIP and similar movements in other European countries.

Dismissing this as merely racist or xenophobic is to forget the very narrative liberals tell themselves about Republican voters, which is that they vote against their self interest when supporting the business elite of the Republican party. And when both parties can be seen as doing so, and one party seems, from their point of view, bent on making everyone equal, but equally average instead of forcing more income equality, why side with the Democrats? To put it in terms of Supreme Court decisions, it’s a world where corporations can spend billions on elections, teachers unions are likely to be defunded, but a court decision made gay marriage legal. That is the Neoliberal political order of the United States as it is now. So why side with Democrats who are at least somewhat complicit?

My answer is that in their guts, the instinct of Democrats is to help working people. They took it on the chin to pass the ACA and shouldn’t be blamed for failing to achieve what the Republicans stopped them from doing regarding Wall Street. But when Democrats don’t talk about working people, they aren’t as strong.

But not everyone buys that answer. And those that don’t are likely to at least hear a few things coming from Trump that they agree with and while they might not totally agree wit what Trump says about immigrants and Muslims, it’s not a deal breaker for them—and why should it be if we live in a democracy where people can vote for their own self-interest however they construe it?

This should surprise no one. At all.

For me, the notion of expelling Latino immigrants is a deal breaker that would change life as we know it not just for the workers, but for anyone who buys food. It would cause a disgusting human toll. But again, that’s the implementation. The theory of it, heard as “give American jobs to Americans” is harder to dismiss.

With the birther issue unlikely to be off of Cruz’s back in time, I suspect Trump is the most likely person to now win the Republican nomination.

He is very beatable but he must not be dismissed.

European Elites Have Failed

In the last 10 years, the ruling parties of most major European countries have failed to protect their citizens from an economic collapse, an influx of terrorism, and now myopic but well intentioned policies towards refugees have shaken the continent in the wake of the Cologne attacks.

Let’s not forget that Germany found a way to pay for a million refugees to come into their country but could not let Greece off the hook for a much smaller amount. European unity, indeed!

And yet people still sort of wonder what these new insurgent parties are about. Why are UKIP, Five Star, Sweden Democrats, Syriza, Podemos, Front National, Pegida, the True Finns and so on all about.

These certainly aren’t the kinds of “right wing” parties that we associate with the wealthy banking elites pulling the strings of masses to enrich themselves. Indeed, it’s been the center-left and center-right parties who have governed these countries to the benefit of the neoliberal order and who have failed, not the other way around.

What they reek of is nationalism and xenophobia. But it’s unclear why in a democracy people don’t have the power to exclude outsiders. The United States is a different case, a nation founded on immigration and a culture based on ideas. European cultures are ancient and they are entitled to preservation in their homelands if that’s what the inhabitants choose.

What’s interesting is how the relatively comfortable and progressive welfare states of postwar Europe responded to the economic collapse with austerity while the United States and Canada were more pro-growth, with the United States doing massive stimulus packages and expanding the safety net to include health care for most people.

It’s easy to label these parties as “neo-nazi” or “nationalist” or “right-wing” but what I think they are is anti-establishment; they are against the prevailing order that has failed.

When libertarianism fails, libertarians dissemble into a No True Scotsman fallacy—”there’s never been a truly libertarian state.” Marxists say the same thing. As if we have the opportunity to start from scratch with any country. Political ideologies need to include ways to get from point A to point B without total anarchy or the destruction of the state.

It seems now that the message from the European elites: more austerity, more immigration resulting from a situation where that plan and its ideology have failed.

This is why a majority of the British now favor an EU exit, which may collapse the whole project. These same stupid leaders must see this but won’t act for the same stupid reasons they’ve failed in the past.

Trump’s Gamble on Refugees

Politicians are usually risk averse, but Donald Trump is gambling that something like what happened in Cologne, Germany on New Years Eve will happen in the United States. Worse has happened in San Bernardino, but Trump only announced his anti-Muslim policy after that occurrence. He’s betting it will happen again, and he’s probably right.

What Trump does is announce the policies that sound ridiculous to pundits but are the exact kind of solution talk average people engage in. Too many illegals from Mexico? Build a wall. Terrorism in the US? Ban all Muslims. Forget for a minute if these things are good policy or feasible. You have to admit that to most people they sound like solutions, perhaps even of the very kind they themselves have thought of.

To some extent, Bernie Sanders does the same thing. All of his cerebral supporters would surely tell you, very polysyllabically, that what he proposes are sound policies. But is it really feasible to break up all of the big banks and make college free in the current political environment? No, of course not. But these are the very things that liberals talk about when they get together and complain about things.

When people are frustrated or scared, they don’t want to hear about implementation and compromise. They want action. They even want rash action. This is how we got talked into Bush’s war in Iraq.

You can mock racists for suddenly caring about women’s rights or rape culture when it involves muslims, but accusations of that kind are double edged because it shows that people who claim to care about women’s rights have their own exceptions, asterisks, and rules. It’s these rules that are political and decided by elites in their dialogues about “intersectionality” that determines whose oppression is most important, and this is too complicated for most people to understand or care about. We understand when people aren’t given a fair shake; we don’t like that. But when we compensate for that and then are told it doesn’t always apply, that seems less like fairness or justice and more like a complicated framework meant to screw anyone not at the top of the oppression ladder.

Given these dynamics, every time something like San Bernardino or Paris or Cologne happens, Trump can say I told you so and his solutions will sound like many people’s own dinner table or water cooler conversations.

I think it will happen, I think that will bolster Trump. I don’t think any kind of 2008-like collapse is likely on Obama’s watch so I don’t think the left will be as thirsty for a cowboy as the Republicans are.

Israel and the Sunni Bloc

As we watch the diplomatic kabuki intensify between Saudi and Iran, the media is both over- and underplaying the significance. First, the tension between the two nations is not new in any scale you want. It’s century old, millennium old, decades old, but it’s also been heating up in the Sunni/Shi’a conflict in Yemen (even though the majority of Yemeni Shi’a are Yazidis, which are not all that different than Sunnis) and in Syria where the Saudis are aligned with the Sunni factions if not officially with ISIS.

Some interesting angles in all of this include the position of Bahrain, which has a majority Shi’a population but a Sunni ruling class—and a major US naval installation on it.

There’s Iraq which has its own internal sectarian tensions. We can pretty much expect the Gulf emirates to line up with the Saudis. Turkey borders Iran and Syria but is overwhelmingly Sunni, though it may want to see itself as a power balancer. Factions in Palestine have been supported by Iran but could risk their own survival if they align against Sunni powers. Lebanon and Syria have Iranian-aligned factions, but this is far from a lock on the whole territory.

This leaves Israel in the position of possibly finally finding some alliances in the Middle East which could be used against their allies for propaganda reasons to be sure, but which could be a spark towards changing the dynamic altogether. If Israel allies with the Sunni bloc, it would give them added security both with respect to the Palestinians and the Iranians, the former as I see it the real challenge for Israel and the latter the worst external one at the moment, but still only distantly second. But this creates problems on Israel’s norther borders.

Or, perhaps, Israel could align itself with Turkey and perhaps Egypt to form a Mediterranean bloc.

The United States’s interests seem best served by staying aloof in a Sunni/Shi’a conflict. Will we be able to?

 

Free College Is A Dumb Idea

In a very middle-class mindset, it sure would be nice if college were cheap. I’m not saying that the way things are doesn’t have issues. Why the cost of college has gone up so much is a good question. But making it free for everyone, or enabling everyone to go, regardless of what the outcomes are for people can only be something that the middle class fishbowl has foisted on people.

It’s interesting that this is associated with the lefty Sanders campaign, because it, just like “intersectional” identity politics are really concepts that come from the upper middle class and people already in college. Poor people don’t really care about the white male cishet hegemon. This politics is about making all of us equally poor.

If the same amount of people remain in low wage, downwardly mobile jobs, there’s little reason to suggest that they should be spending instead of earning money for 4 years.

It won’t make you earn more if everyone has a degree. It will just cheapen a degree. It won’t make a smarter workforce, it will make a more disaffected one. That is not a recipe for a stable and thriving society.

Something like a $15 minimum wage and an even higher level of free healthcare would actually help everyone and give people a chance without a degree, which is the only way we’re going to really deal with poverty and inequality.

However much free college would cost, dump that into healthcare, childcare, minimum wage increases, and housing for the poor and you’ll do way more good.

Sanders Is More Honorable Than His Followers

And he should probably fire his campaign manager. If you’re going to run as the last honest man then you should do what Sanders did and apologize. You should not vent your spleen and deflect the issue on to literally everyone else involved in your misfeasance.

And the worst part is that he (the campaign manager) did that not because he had a legal or principled argument to stand on, but because he knew it was good politics. It fired up Sanders supporters and hauled in a lot of money, some of which is going into the toilet on their Quixotic lawsuit, but never mind that.

That is completely perpendicular to Sanders’s style and message.

And let’s not get into the bleating conspiracy theories from the Regressive Left’s blathersphere on this who are either completely ignorant or are faking the old Polyanna routine. The DNC is political?! Oh. My. God.

The DNC is not a public trust or the federal elections commission. It is made up of elected delegates that vote people into executive positions and set policy. The fact that more of those people support Hillary Clinton is just part of politics. In a democracy, having more support means you get to run things. Clinton is not rigging the system to give a minority candidate majority powers. On the contrary, her almost total support among DNC members has done virtually nothing to harm the chances of any other candidate. The debates the Sanders people complain about have only coincided with his rise in the polls from single digits and irrelevant status to being a competitor in some states. Maybe they should be careful what they wish for. I’m not sure that Sanders’s angry grampa routine would really benefit from all that many appearances, to be honest. Only those drunk beyond sanity on the Kool-Aid honestly believe that anything the DNC has done has stunted the Sanders campaign at all which is considerably outperforming expectations at this point (unless your expectations are winning all 50 states and enacting Sweden unanimously in Congress).

The whole complaint coming from the Sanders campaign (but not so much from Sanders) is that the DNC is supposed to ensure that everyone gets equal time in the time most advantageous for them.

But based on their conduct with the data scandal and its fallout, we know that if Sanders’s supporters were in charge of the DNC there would have been 15 debates about whatever they though Sanders’s strongest issue was whenever and wherever they wanted. And let’s be honest: would a Sanders DNC give equal time to Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley? Please.

If you’re going to take the holier than thou ground, doing it in the wake of your campaign getting caught stealing is not the time to do it and it’s even more ridiculous to do so in a way that’s asking for everyone else to play by rules you wouldn’t play by which is, just to spell it out, not holier.

Sanders has been good, so far, for the Democratic party by keeping the base’s issues in focus and preventing a demoralizing coronation. But if he cannot talk some sense into his own people, if he can’t get them to stop with the conspiracy theories, or at least act and vote in their best interest even if they don’t get exactly everything they DEMAND (like they’re used to in college, I know) then he will have simply been an undetonated Nader (assuming he does not run as an independent).

There will be a reckoning between the far left and it’s Moral Relativism For Me, Authoritarian Identity Politics For Thee bizarro world and the party’s current electoral coalition, but that doesn’t appear to be in this year’s primary season, thank god.

GOP Nightmare Scenario

I always get a combination of surprise and condescension when people in the national media and pundit corps forget that we live in a democracy. Not that democratic will isn’t easily thwarted in this country on certain issues, but that eventually, you can’t get away from the fundamentals.

So, in the Internet era, which for most people is just barely younger than the Fox News era, it shouldn’t surprise people that men like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz lead in the GOP primary. This is the fruit of 20 years of Rupert Murdoch and his Internet imitators.

They had been buying into “we need someone who can win” until 2010. When the Tea Party wave swept the country, that was the sign that Republicans had bucked their elites. After all, it was Bush, who despite being one of the most conservative presidents ever, screwed up by not being a winner and creating, in their view, Obama’s win, Obamacare, and everything else.

The Internet is doing some of the same damage to the left, where politicians and leaders have ever more and more purity tests put to them. But for right now, the Democratic party nationwide is being very pragmatic. Most Democrats support what Bernie Sanders says but most realize he probably couldn’t have even won in 2008, let alone in 2016 when the fatigue is directed at their own incumbent.

After looking—just quickly—at delegate math, it seems unlikely that the GOP primary will be over in February. The Democratic primary could be over the first week of February if Clinton sweeps Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and, even if she loses New Hampshire, the huge number of primaries on March 1 should effectively end the race.

The GOP race—where Carson is still in it in Iowa—has 4 or 5 candidates that have a good chance of being awarded delegates in all of the early proportional primaries.

And, again, I’m just looking quickly at this stuff, but it looks to me like getting a non-insane Republican candidate will require Marco Rubio to last at least until April to get a head-to-head against either Trump or Cruz, and even then, it might come down to a three-way race.

In other words, unless things start changing fast—and they aren’t likely to change much until after the first week of January due to the holidays—the Republicans are looking at these scenarios being the most likely: Trump, Cruz, or brokered convention in that order.

I think all three scenarios augur a 400EV blowout for Hillary.

If Cruz and Trump are first in second in all of the February primaries and the March 1 super tuesday, Rubio will more or less have to be third in all of them for there to be any chance of an establishment candidate to win. And I think in the end that only gains them 50-70EVs.

The Terrorists Want…

They want us to be scared, they want to suck us into a land war in the Middle East…

The list of things that people who aren’t experts on terrorists tell us they want is almost limitless these days. In fact, you can try to persuade people not to do something just by saying that’s what the terrorists want.

But I don’t understand what we’re supposed to do then. Simply not react? First of all, that’s just humanly impossible. You cannot train millions of people to react to such things with perfect stoicism.

To me this is just more evidence of how badly the invasion of Iraq broke our national discussion about security. It was stupid and pointless, and more or less caused this problem, and now has made it politically complicated to do anything that must be done.

Did Trump Go Too Far This Time?

I doubt it. If the Republican party wants to save itself, running attack ads against Trump, as I’ve read they are planning, isn’t the solution. The solution is to everyone except Rubio to drop out now. There’s my advice, guys. Don’t be mad if you don’t take it.

Trump has made the same error that people are making. Muslims, especially those coming to the United States, aren’t the problem. Islam, the religion, though, is in a crisis. I could write essays and books on why that is, but keeping people from being radicalized is really the issue.

Protestant Islam

The Islam of the “moderate Muslim” as described by most western liberals sounds like a great religion, one that is vastly superior to Christianity or Judaism. The truth, however, is that Moderate Islam doesn’t exist and Moderate Muslims are mostly apostatizing.

In Christianity, starting in the 16th century, there was a Reformation that made Protestant Christianity a personal religion, based on an individual’s personal relationship with god and his personal reading of scripture. Over time, this took on many variations and the pluralism that created led to the notion of religious toleration and then religious freedom. Protestantism’s general distrust of authority and its pluralism led to the separation of church and state, which ultimately led to the liberalization of both church and state.

Even Catholicism eventually was sucked into modernity by the competition from Protestantism. However, even today, Catholicism is more like Islam in that Church doctrine hasn’t changed so much as most of its followers simply ignore its teachings. In Western countries, over 90% of Catholics disagree with the Church about birth control, for example.

In Judaism, the situation is similar. The Jews remained in a medieval timewarp until the Jewish Enlightenment, or Haskala, starting in the late 18th century. Immediately thereafter, Haskala theologians essentially created a Protestant version of Judaism, which eventually led to the liberal streams, to which the vast majority of American Jews belong. In other places, most are either Orthodox or secular.

The main distinction to be made between the Islamic world and that of Christians and Jews is that the latter two have a way to be religious—devout, even—without subscribing to a medieval or quasi-medieval version of the faith. This isn’t to say that some don’t choose the latter; they do. But when there is no moderate version of the faith to speak of, then anyone drawn into a more religious life is drawn towards the older ways.

Certainly, this doesn’t mean that everyone drawn towards Muslim spirituality becomes a terrorist, but it does mean that, for example, they won’t be likely to have modern attitudes towards women, gays, or other western behavior.

Affirmative Action Done For?

Affirmative action supporters are worried about the fate of race-based college admissions programs with the Supreme Court taking another such case up again after only a short break since the last.

Given the Court’s attitude towards the Voting Rights Act, the worry is probably well founded. What can be done?

First, the majority of high-profile Supreme Court cases involving affirmative action involve the fate of students who end up at a slightly worse school, hardly a death sentence. Of course, the reverse is true: the minority student ending up merely one rung down the ladder at one law school instead of the other is still on track to become part of America’s professional elite.

Rearranging deck chairs on the ship of the professional elite is probably not the only end racial equality advocates had in mind when the program began.

Meanwhile, basic education for minorities is hardly better than it was decades ago.

If the Supreme Court stops race-based college admissions, the appropriate response would be to shore up Kindergarten, not law schools, in poor and minority neighborhoods. That, in the long run, would do much more for the fate of far more minorities than moving them one rung up the law school hierarchy.

Can’t Stump Trump

Another poll is out today showing Donald Trump with a commanding lead in the GOP primary race. This seems to be confusing the pundit class. By now, a few have figured out that he isn’t going to be the 2012-style candidate du jour—something that most of the other candidates are apparently counting on. Ben Carson appears to have played that role this time.

But for those who cannot believe Trump is showing persistent support and who can’t believe anyone could vote for him, I’ll just leave this right here:

PalinDerpFace.jpg

 

Delusion

On an Internet site I visit from time to time, the users had posted a link to a website that repeats police scanners over the web. Before noon they had recorded that the San Bernardino Police were looking for a man named Syed Farook. NBC News did not report this name until about 9pm, several hours after he was dead.

I can think of a number of possible explanations for this, but the ones I’ve heard don’t make sense. Would it hinder police work? Maybe, but if it’s on the scanner how much of a secret is it? Once he’s dead and the SUV is shown on TV anyone they’re hunting would have access from the same source of information that won’t print the name.

No, of course, the reason is the name is an Arabic language name (Muslims from non-Arabic speaking countries uses Arabic names too). The CAIR and the pundit class have worked the refs on the media very hard. If they “prematurely” report anything like this, they will be accused of Islamophobia. There was no such compunction about reporting the identity—including a mugshot—of the Planned Parenthood shooter.

As the facts came out, it became apparent that there is at least a possible link to terrorism. But the specificity of the target maybe points to some combination of an ISIS copycat or someone motivated to “martyrdom” that used it to settle a personal score.

Does it seriously not concern liberals that someone like this is potentially getting trained and encouraged to do things like this? Or is gun control all that matters?

I certainly think we must severely restrict gun availability in this country, but being in denial about the growing worldwide problem of Islamic terrorism is just as stupid as ignoring the gun problem.

 

Multipolar Middle East

After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the United States came increasingly aligned with the Sunni Arab states. A few years previous, Egypt had switched its alliances from the Soviet bloc to the United States. Baathist Iraq and Syria remained in the Soviet bloc until the latter’s collapse.

But the invasion of Iraq—something I must continue to harp on as the strategic blunder of the century, and it was only made in 2003—redrew the map, by, among other things, turning Iraq into a Shi’a governed state (Iraq is majority Shi’a).

Oil politics required that we maintain decent relations with the Sunni Gulf states (many of which have substantial Shi’a populations, including Saudi Arabia in the part of it that has the oil) once Iran became anathema. When the Saudi government was threatened and the Kuwaiti government was ousted by Saddam, we ran to their defense. This was smart from an oil point of view.

But so much of that money goes to fund the very branch of Islam that attacked us on 9/11 and is in the process of creating a refugee crisis that is destabilizing Europe: salafism. Wherever you turn where there are Muslims, there are Saudi-funded salafi centers. Even in places like Ashland, Oregon.

Our stalwart ally in the region, Israel, now seems to feel more threatened by the radical Iranian regime than by the sunni regimes. This is fair enough since it’s Iran that funds Hezbollah to their north and Hamas in Gaza. But the salafi supremacists have no love for Israel. If they are allowed to succeed in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and now even Afghanistan, it will not improve Israel’s security.

This is not to suggest that we change alignment to the Shi’a. It is to suggest that we keep our distance from both and allow this centuries’ old conflict play out on its own without our being in the middle. This has the added advantage of ceasing to act like a desperate suitor with respect to the Sunni Arabs and let them try to increase their bidding for a change, something Dennis Ross astutely argues that we have done too much of in his recent work Doomed to Succeed. (In his work he argues that distancing ourselves from Israel has never impressed the Arab regimes.)

Just look at the two sides at war in Yemen at the moment. The Houthis, who are presented in our media as the bad guys, are Yazidi Shi’a—different than the Twelver Shi’a of Iraq and Iran, but nevertheless allied with Iraq. They have been in conflict with the Sunnis to their south for centuries. Their allies include Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Hizbollah. Yuck. But look at the other side! Saudi Arabia. ISIS. Al Qaeda. They are fighting each other! Great, let them. Can we arm both sides?

We did this in the Iran-Iraq war (with no follow-up in our relationship with Iran thanks to the scandal it generated), and the British did this successfully during the pax britannia between Napoleon and World War I.

Hezbollah is fighting ISIS in Syria, too. We don’t need to hope for one side winning or the other. We don’t need to decide either are our friend. Just let them beat the shit out of each other for now.

If this works, if we can finally warm up just a little with Iran, and play them off the Sunni Arabs a little bit, it might even improve Israel’s lot by giving us more leverage, should we choose to use it to boost Israel.

The money for ISIS is coming from somewhere. It’s likely Saudi Arabia. Someone is paying Afghani fighters $700 per month (!) according to Frontline to switch from the Taliban to ISIS. Where is this money coming from? Our great ally, Saudi Arabia.

It’s time to be a little more coy in the Middle East.

Update:

What about the idea we should back up our allies? A lot of the thinkers on this issue note that we don’t give the impression of being in it for the long haul. This is true, but I’m not entirely sure why it should be different. As a democracy, we are constitutionally required to be able to change course from time to time. If “moderate muslims” need a 50-year commitment from the US, then I don’t think they’re serious about improving their lot. Plus, our perfidy is overstated. We have stood by many of our allies for a very, very long time, even in the Middle East, such as Israel when both our values and our interests align.

References:

The Hawkish Neo-Con Gates Institute seems to have something similar to say, but in the context of a few years ago. This didn’t stop them from hating the JCPOA.

In the New York Times, something from 2007 from Noah Feldman of the CFR, who, I must say fatuously states that Shi’a and Sunni have mostly lived side-by-side peacefully.

Here’s a Cato Institute guy arguing, I think, mostly to not be seen as taking sides.

Note: reading through a lot of articles on this topic, you see a lot of people trying to sound like hard-headed realists who can’t seem to get over their butthurt at Iran.

A 2014 New York Times article, sorta of the “man bites dog” variety about how Iran and US have shared interests in the Middle East. Think of the scene where the Israeli and the Arab smile and shake hands to unite against the alien/zombie apocalypse.

A long rambling blog with some mention of the situation in Yemen at HuffPo.

Of course, here’s something from a Hoover Institute guy playing the “Obama is naive” tune in the WSJ, warning against a Shi’a alliance. A lot of binary thinking on this issue.

Here’s a headline in something called The Fiscal Times saying we can’t support both, but nothing in the article really says why or follows up on that headline.

Andrew Sullivan, someone I seem to think like to just argue with people he doesn’t like instead of sticking to his guns, says no point in picking a side.

Blame for Terror

Some of my friends still scoff at Pat Robertson blaming hurricane Katrina or 9/11 on gay people. The absurd notion that the mere existence of certain kinds of people in a certain place can metaphysically pollute that place in a such a manner and that the consequence would be a man in the sky altering the laws of nature to bring untold suffering to that place is impossible, so it would seem, for the liberal mind to comprehend. It is so absurd that it is an evergreen source of derision and humor.

And it should be. Such a notion is, in fact, absurd.

It’s startling then that the same liberals who wonder if their brains are wired differently than Pat Robertson’s ascribe the same kind of metaphysical pollution as the cause of terrorist attacks. The mere presence of a Jew in Samaria or an American in Saudi Arabia is “why they hate us.” (Remember The Nation was onto this just days after 9/11.)

The proximate cause of terrorism is the terrorist’s conscious decision to engage in civilization destroying activity. To the extent his free will is at all constrained, it is due to a systematic ideology that promotes this. Either way, it is not the fault of those who are attacked, whether they are gays in New Orleans or French teenagers at a concert.

There can be two wrongs

Here’s an article downplaying and at the same time defending political correctness. (i.e. it doesn’t exist, but it’s justified)

I’m sure there are people on the right who don’t like “uppity” blacks, but college administrators are not those people. I for one don’t blame people for being mad about the disparity of death sentences or the fact that people irrationally freak out about interracial couples.

But framing the behavior at Yale etc. as some sort of reaction to those issues is ridiculous. It is possible to mock students for deliberately misreading an e-mail to create the pretext for someone losing their job on the one hand and on the other be completely passionate about ending race-based police brutality. There is no contradiction there.

Is there anyone outside of the fringe that doesn’t believe minorities deserve respect?

Politically, this is bad because it polarizes and alienates those most sympathetic to that cause and gives fuel to the people who were against this all along.

To say that well, black people have had to put up with this forever, so now it’s your turn!  Ha ha! Is just the road to nowhere. If it was wrong then, it’s wrong now. Everyone can be at fault and everyone can deserve respect.

And the oversensitivity goes for white people too. Freaking out about how people wear their pants is pointless and miserable.

You’ll notice that I didn’t write a single word about protests after Ferguson or any of these other police events because I understand that. I don’t understand this. They are not part of the same movement. Regardless of skin color, millionaires cannot understand the day-to-day life of the poor even if they have one thing in common. That’s a lie.

The fact that people are trying to connect these two things just shows the level of delusion. Every college president in America could be fired tomorrow and it wouldn’t change the behavior of a single police officer.

The Unhinging of the Campus Left Means We Can’t Mock The “Both Sides Do It” Narrative Anymore

Whatever the causes, whether it’s that the online generation has sought out only the kind of information they are comfortable with online, or whether their parents were overly protective (obviously, I think, the answer is all of the above) there appears to be a chasm opening on the left. It’s interesting that so many of the “Netroots” bloggers of the 2000s defend this behavior; they created the liberal hugbox on the Internet in response to a perception that the media was too Bush friendly. At the time, they were proud of being “the reality based community.”

Much like the Tea Party/Country Club Republican split, the differences are often more of style than substance, though there are important substantive differences. The main objection from my generation of liberals appears to be that speech and debate is being stifled. Jonathan Chait points out that through this behavior, they essentially inoculate actual racists by letting them whine about the PC police.

I think it goes further than that, because I don’t agree that this is simply a case of a group of passionate youth rejecting certain things like racism out of hand. This is because they actually use hate speech and hateful speech. They do hold biased and prejudiced views. But their cultural logic permits this as long as the target is a political enemy. Even if we stipulate that a few stray heated and frustrated comments against white male elites are ok, they are still made. They are not taboo. But lumping together people and attacking them on the basis of perceived qualities pervades their dialogue, whether it’s the police, or even politically incorrect minorities, like Jews.

So, to be clear: it’s not about suppressing “hate speech” or speech that is hurtful or harassing a particular group on the basis of their group characteristics. It’s about policing speech according to a political logic that permits “hate speech” against some and not against others. And by “hate speech” we mean, according to the protesters themselves, anything that hurts their feelings. They define it. They get to legislate for everyone individually.

At the University of Missouri, an unconfirmed photo (one that appeared online 11 months ago) of an Indian-style, not Nazi-style, swastika was taken as a threat to black students, not to the Jewish students who were the chief victims of Nazism. But that’s not the issue here, the issue here is that this was consciously chosen as the causus belli for these students.

The graduate student who was formerly on hunger strike for reasons related to health care benefits had his cause “appropriated” and when the football team threatened to go along with it, the scalp of the university president was offered on a plate like Imam Husayn’s to the Caliph.

What’s ironic is that in all of this discussion of privilege and institutions, no one seems to point out that this is the privileged class. Yale more so, but Mizzou, Wesleyan, etc. are nothing to sneeze at. These folks may not end up in the 1%, but they are at least headed for the middle class. Their deepest concerns are offensive halloween costumes?

Maybe they’re frustrated. Maybe they expect things to be different in 2015, as John Oliver keeps reminding us. But as a person with some experience in politics they have only managed to push their cause back years by alienating allies and kicking up an opposition by blowback.

I would also point out that the intellectually disdainful way that the left has looked at the non-left over the last 20 years, as if the right was nothing more than a sociological petri dish of Hofstaeder’s paranoid style, or the way guys like Paul Krugman lampooned centrist “both sides do it types” basically loses it’s justification with behavior like this. The left has turned into a paranoid style reflection of the right, by creating its own media on the Internet, which reflect the right creating its own media in response to the perception that the mainstream media had a liberal bias. Campuses have become islands of leftist correctness in response to the perceived fascism of the rest of the world.

Probably due to the Internet, but perhaps due to some of the childhood factors people have suggested, it appears that the tribalism of our politics is making us all forget why we joined the tribe in the first place, what our values really are. I suspect this is going on on both sides. I suspect there many folks who lean Republican because they’ve had trouble with a bizarre regulation on their business that have been pumped so full of the tribalism and conspiratorialism of modern politics that they think the only way to solve their problems is to go along with the flat earth society that dominates the right.

Likewise, I bet there are quite a few liberals who know that the economy is so biased towards the rich that they are willing to tolerate fellow travelers who have buried economic issues in favor of New Left Totalitarianism.

Remember what you really value. I bet you value a good justice system, a clean environment, equality under the law, fair economic opportunities, strong families, good schools, and, though we don’t want it to trump all, we want security too.

No one should be so confident of their politics that they can guarantee all of those things without criticism. Sure, much political criticism these days is made in bad faith. That’s the price of a free society. Free societies are inefficient. The bad faith criticism can shut down a lot of progress. But only a total snot would look back at even the last 10 years and say that massive progress hasn’t been made. Marriage equality is a reality. We have a vehicle for providing universal health coverage. We avoided a massive depression. If that’s not enough fast enough, then consider what the other side might do if they could move so fast. It was happening in the first Bush term. It was scary.

I’m a liberal, at least in my own mind, because I believe in a certain fundamental fairness and because I think government has a role to play in providing that fairness and I have disdain for bias on the basis of inborn qualities that no one can help, both because it makes for a moribund society and because it seems morally wrong.

I try not to forget that even if it means sometimes that I think other liberals and Democrats have completely lost their grip on reality.

Have Progressives Progressed Too Far?

Molly Ball at The Atlantic says so, but I think using an off-off year election as evidence is strange. Some of the writers at Vox share concern that the Democratic party is collapsing outside of the federal level. (They don’t live in California, I guess.)

The Vox authors don’t connect the issues to the problem and lay it at organizing, claiming the party hasn’t organized well enough or that it’s the teachers unions’ fault or something. But why is that? Why are issues that matter to organized people turning against Democrats?

The echo chamber has hit the reality based community, I’m afraid. Both liberals and conservatives are guilty of assuming that “if everyone knew” they’d vote for their team. But is that really true?

Here’s some of what lost this week:

  • Legal pot—but monopolized—in Ohio
  • Transgender issues in Houston
  • A corrupt sheriff in San Francisco (after a sanctuary city controversy too)
  • Gun issues in Virginia
  • Pollsters in Kentucky

Look, none of this is all that suprising and I think Ball sees a pattern that just isn’t there. As for Democrats’ failing to organize, part of the problem is that the agenda of the party has become the agenda of wealthy white liberals which are almost by definition not organized.

Serious danger lies in the recent turn of the Democratic party back towards an aggressive social agenda. The crime issue strikes me as a serious powder keg. Democrats have unquestioningly parroted calls for “prison reform” and every good liberal will tell you that we incarcerate more people than every other country. If you point out that this coincides with a reduction in crime, they’ll tell you it was because of lead or that some other study says mass incarceration only had 1% to do with it. Right. Unfortunately, any rise in crime will be blamed on this and it appears we are back in a rising period of crime.

Like so many lefty social agenda issues, they mix altering outcomes with altering procedures. Police brutality is a problem. Racial disparity in arrests and imprisonment is a problem. But just releasing people who were convicted isn’t going to help at all. I would compare this with the obsession of affirmative action advocates for making sure everyone gets into the #10 law school instead of the #25 law school instead of making sure everyone has kindergarten. Or, in women’s issues. Waving a magic wand and making half of all corporate board directors be women would just push the glass ceiling lower down to wherever it actually stands, whether it’s business school admissions or middle management.

The political problem with these issues is that they run contrary to American Fairness. What is that? It’s our cultural sense of right and wrong. It’s often very ignorant and myopic, but it’s very easily manipulated by either side of the political divide to win on issues.

It was impossible that religious groups would ever hold back gay marriage because it went against American Fairness. Gay people didn’t choose to be gay–who would?! So why not encourage clean living among them?

You can also call American Fairness something more pejorative like American Self-Centeredness. The question might be, how would I feel if I were in that position? So, if I were denied a position not based on merit, I would be pissed and if I earned one not on merit I would (we want to believe) be ashamed.

I tend to believe that the left liberals are convinced as much as the right wing that our society is degenerate, sick, and evil. Instead of imposing old values, they want new ones and they never will stop wanting new ones. Often, this is beneficial to progress. But politically, it has to be both be compatible with American Fairness and not be too out of the mainstream.

This is why I worry about transgenderism. I don’t think people understand this one yet, really. I think people pretend they are tolerant, but wonder about this one. The “LGBT” formulation equates being gay with being transgender, but that only makes sense to people in the humanities department. The critical difference for most people is choice and it seems like this is understood as a choice.

But the worst part of all of this is that none of this is going to change with the presidency or with control of Congress. All of these issues require social movements, not political ones. If you want to have an anti-cop transgender gun-grabbing presidential candidate just because, then fine. But s/he will lose and even if s/he wins, it won’t change many minds.

Bill Clinton was smart. He was a good president. What was his motto? It was “IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID!” Well, it’s the economy and don’t get bombed by terrorists, but it’s not let everyone out of jail and appear to be enforcing identity quotas, stupid.

NYT and The Atlantic on Killing Baby Hitler

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/10/killing-baby-hitler-ethics/412273/

NYT: 42% Yes, 30% No, 28% Not Sure

The Atlantic writer goes on to show how much he knows about history, but it’s really a simply problem: why are you asking me this? Is it to prevent World War II? To prevent the Holocaust? To prevent a specific person’s death? Am I allowed to assume that will be the result or must I weigh the probabilities.

The Atlantic writer gives the Kantian answer, but I think that’s bullshit. Of course we would do it, whether or not some ethical system says so, if we thought we could save more lives. I agree with him that killing Baby Hitler won’t prevent most of the historical wave that came about and people in that alternate universe might be asking whether it’s OK to kill Baby Goring or Baby Himmler.

There’s not enough information to solve this problem and it’s more or less an ethical Rorschach test less than the Trolley problem that the writer suggests. After all, trolley problems usually give you two or more lives versus one whereas here, we don’t know if we’re guaranteed to save millions or if there is only an infinitesimal chance this works.

For people who say “no” to the trolley problem, though, I’d love to see them show on some empirical basis that that answer is better instead of within their own self-referential framework. It’s more or less a form of pacifism.

Left and Right.

From the point of view of the average European, and indeed to many Americans, there must seem to be not much difference in substance between the right and the left these days. Both have more or less surrendered to a finance-heavy, lightly-regulated form of capitalism, only to slightly varying degrees. There is some separation still on the manner and amount of benefits, but usually even from the left benefits are tied to production: free college for a smarter workforce, free healthcare for a healthy workforce. (Not for more healthy soldiers as we might have seen in the past.)

But is this argument really over?

A new round of identity politics has floated its way into the front of leftwing politics despite the fanfare of Occupy Wall Street, Elizabeth Warren, despite the economic crash, despite everything. Just like the old, this supposed quest for justice is just the same old bigotry, done small time, dicing people even further into smaller groups and adjectives, justified by questionable history and sociological theories. Every single racial, gender, or sexual preference issue gets eclipsed into this nonsense.  The result is that well meaning people from other groups simply ignore all of it. This is not progress.

Politicians throughout the developed world are at a loss for a grand strategy. You hear piecemeal solutions to every world event. We will bomb this group in this city. We will evacuate these people here. Events are far outpacing our leaders’ ability to react. It’s too early to say, but it may be that the status quo of international politics that has held since the end of WWII is collapsing. Too many states lack the basic component of sovereignty that is a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and worse, many have no legitimacy in the eyes of their populations. Is this too much wailing Cassandra? Perhaps. The old order has done a very good, if not perfect, job of prevent interstate wars. But it has utterly failed at dealing with civil war and the collapse of states, where numerous genocides have occurred such as in Cambodia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and Sudan. It seems incapable of dealing with the collapse of the Arab states, either.

In the US, we have a toxic mix of xenophobia, isolationism, exceptionalism, pacifism, and bleeding hearts. We want to pretend we can stay out of everything until we get carried away with emotion about something and we have to act on that, instead of having a plan. Then when we get there we don’t want to get our hands dirty because we went in to be heroes.

Americans have always known very little about the outside world. But today, we know very little about where our interests lie, and if we do understand those interests we dismiss them. Oil in the gulf? Eh, let’s just get off foreign oil. Nukes in Iran? Eh, we did fine against the Soviets.

Getting into land wars in Asia or invading Afghanistan, or whatever other quote you want to cite entirely miss the point. Never get into any war that isn’t over an important national interest, but when you do, go all in. And once the interest is achieved or defunct, leave. That would have meant withdrawing from Vietnam in 1966 after making it clear we wouldn’t surrender entire regions to the communists cheaply–this containment deterrence was the only strategic justification for that war, though it does exist in contrast to many popular myths about our having no interest at all. This would have meant never invading an Iraq that had no nuclear capacity or connections to al Qaeda and would have certainly meant a departure from Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden was killed.

But, to get back to the basic point, neither the right nor the left seems wiling or able to develop a grand strategy at all, let alone one worth following. This leaves us to chose between the same basic economic arrangement.

As someone who does sweat the details, there is no choice. In the United States, the Republican party is febrile, incapable of non-political decision making, incapable of long-term thinking, disdainful of the middle class, and utterly dominated by antiscience nationalism. For all of the Democrats’ many faults, they can still pilot the ship. They can govern, respond to problems, develop solutions, and sometimes implement them.

Where this distinction doesn’t hold, where the right-wing parties aren’t completely dominated by their loonies, such as in Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Israel, Spain, Finland, and Denmark, it’s worth asking if the nihilistic social agenda of the left doesn’t demand defiance.

The Clash of Civilizations

I’m to the point where I think the burden on proof has shifted from those who deny as alarmist the notion that the west is going to have to fight the Islamic world. Much of the same conventional wisdom that denies this seems to think we’re on a collision course with China, but that seems like the desire to sound visionary more than a cold assessment of what’s going on right now.

Right now it seems like we have a vague strategy of containment, but we seem to be living in denial that each state that turns to Islamism, though isn’t one we need to fight, is at least one more that’s embracing a way of life we reject, something we were much more clear about with communism.

It seems like the cultural logic of the west in 2015 forbids any interpretation of events in this way. Even if all of this turmoil is the result of western colonialism, does that mean we have to accept it as our just deserts? Even if you make that argument, you have to convince me that people will accept that and as long as we live in a democracy that matters. And they won’t. I certainly refuse to die for a mistake that wasn’t even made in my lifetime, or even by own ancestors. Round up Queen Victoria’s children if it’ll make you feel better.

Education

Imagine that the next President and Congress pass a sweeping education reform. Forget how it works. Just imagine that the outcome is the best outcome you can imagine actually happening. It exceeds the upper bound of the sober forecasters by an amazing amount. It’s enough to make this President’s legacy. Yes, I know this won’t happen; bear with me.

There will be magazine covers smugly asking Is Government Back? and all kinds of celebration. This is in a sense a Rorschach test for you, but the point is to stipulate that government has done everything it can do. It’s the best thing they’ve done since the Moon shot.

Then what?

Let’s even grant that this leads to some strong growth in the economy and some nice, productivity gains.

The fact is, even if you conjure massive amount of economic growth from this, you aren’t giving everyone economic security. The point of “fixing” education is, largely, to provide people with skills to earn a living and be good citizens. But when you have a lot of idle labor working “below their station” and political scientist will tell you this is not good.

The truth is until the robot singularity arrives we still need janitors, farm laborers, garbage men, and construction workers. Sure, it might be good for society if all of these people had a well-rounded education that helped them be good voting citizens, but if, at the end of the day, they are only paid $10/hour all of that is for nothing.

Pay teachers more. Break their unions. End testing. More testing. Free college. Charter schools everywhere. Whatever mix of reform and non-reform solution you come up with, no matter how idealized, is missing the product that the system is supposed to deliver, and that it can’t deliver on its own.

If the labor movement can’t deliver this–and there’s no evidence that they can anymore–then the solution is to demand that Americans get a fair deal from the economy. A much higher minimum wage, a stronger safety net, basic healthcare, and preserving and strengthening Social Security would go a long way to fixing these problems.

Would a much higher minimum wage cost jobs? Probably, yeah. My magical pony plan includes a stronger safety net. This would in fact require a slight reconfiguration of the economy, but at least it would do what it supposed to do instead of deluding everyone into thinking they’re going to be a doctor–and even if they were this would only mean doctors made minimum wage.

Education is great. Free education is great. It helps people find jobs and roles that they are well suited for and helps them feel fulfilled in life in the process. But the notion that this is the fix for everything is wrong. It might be an important step in a developing country, but here we have an educated class. What we need is to improve the lot of the working class.

Syria

Things that happen in foreign countries produce strange effects in the media. If you’re a Fox person, you hear one set of talking heads. If you’re an NPR person, you hear another, and so on. There’s still a little bit of overlap, but the usual partisan divides are a little less marked here, but this doesn’t mean that the ideologies aren’t more forceful, just that they are cryptic to the usual news consumer.

For the most part, cable news has already gone wall to wall on the 2016 election. This is sociopathic. The print media and NPR seem to be all about Syria. Last week it was the refugees, this week the Russian involvement.

So we hear some intelligent-sounding, informed-sounding experts with fancy job descriptions saying almost completely the opposite things about Asad or whether the US has an interest. Then there are commentators who think they know a lot, like David Ignatius, warning the president not to cede Syria to the Russians! You know, the columnists who are disguising their hackery in wonk’s clothing.

The fact is these debates are cloaked in so many cognitive dissonances, it’s hard to keep them straight. Largely it has to do with that 21st century American obsession with the Double Half-Decaf Half-Light Mocha Cappucino in a tall cup mentality. We want to have what we want, but we want it “our way” with the atmospherics to match. We want to enjoy our $5 coffee—more than hundreds of millions of people live off of in a week—but we want it to be “organic,” “fair trade,” and with no peanuts.

Similarly, we want our wars to be noble, for the purposes of democracy, without hurting civilians, without any possibility of ethnic cleansing, the propping up of dictators, and the threat to us must not be that it would do something that would make us homicidal (like raising the cost of that coffee to $10!) but that it would mean another 9/11 at home. Fuck you rest of the world, we don’t want to bomb you. We want all of globalization’s fruits with only attention to risks at home.

So, we want to prop up Syrian “moderates.” Moderates are shit at civil war. Have moderates ever not been purged in any civil war, ever? What the hell is a Syrian moderate anyway? Stupid. We want there to be democracy. Great, then they’ll have elections in ethnoreligious blocks and try to buy each other off with the foreign aid money for a while before they start shooting again.

We also don’t want to risk any civilians getting killed so we do nothing that will end civilians getting killed. We don’t want there to be ethnic cleansing so we force people with blood feuds and revenge on their mind (and weapons!) to live next door to each other. Literally!

I understand that nothing will persuade the American public that there’s enough of an American interest in Syria that it would be worth sending in the Marines and having them force transfer groups into ethnic enclaves and blow up everyone who gets in their way. But unlike most of the pundits, I also understand that our unwillingness to do this means that we aren’t serious about an actual solution, we are serious about crying about how the mess won’t work out according to our ideals.

I don’t know enough about the micro-level dynamics of the Syrian groups to draw a map or say what to do with every inch of territory or every subgroup. But it seems to me that you need a coastal Alawite state, a Sunni state, a Kurdish state, and some other map alterations, maybe moving some Druze areas into Lebanon or (gasp!!) Israel. Then you need some kind of neutral zones enforced by someone less limp dicked than the UN—maybe the Russians can guard the Alawite frontier. Whatever.

Yes, ideally, we could all live next to each other and celebrate our common humanity, but when one group is killing your friends and family in another group that gets hard. Sometimes separation is what’s needed.

As for Asad, you can’t put Syria back together with him in charge, but you can’t put it back together anyway. He might as well be used to build a rump Alawite state on the coast. You need an authoritarian state to bring these anarchic lands out of the dark ages anyway, unfortunately. Do not hold any fucking elections.

After all of this is done, if we need to land the 101st in Raqqa fine.

Explaining how this affects US interests isn’t easy. But this situation has already destabilized Europe and if we let the whole country collapse, it probably means the end of Jordan and Lebanon, even more trouble in Turkey too. How does that affect us? Well we do business with Europe and even though not as much oil comes from the Middle East as most people think, it still more or less sets the price world wide. Whether all of that meets your worthiness test is up to you to decide, but don’t tell me it doesn’t affect you. It does.

There may be no solution to insurgent warfare. Counterinsurgency may be fraudulent. It may be that there is no clean way to fight a war and that in order to beat insurgents you have to be much more ruthless than our current politics allows. But politics change. Especially when a long string of military failures confronts an electorate.

Stop Biden Your Time

Americans like decisiveness in presidential candidates. While I’m sure we’d all claim to admire and respect Biden’s decision to consult his family in the wake of his son’s death, decisiveness is what’s needed.

There are a lot of reasons why Biden hasn’t been a great candidate in the past and unlike Hillary he has to run largely on the Obama administration’s record, where Hillary, at least implicitly, gets some 90s nostalgia. Many of these can be overcome, but waffling on a decision to run can’t.

This is a critical election. Perhaps not as critical as 2008, but still more critical than most. The balance of power on the Supreme Court for a generation is at stake. If Biden was the best candidate for the Dems if he was in last summer, he won’t be the best if he doesn’t get ASAP.

Question About Refugees

Famous White House Press Corps journalist Helen Thomas fell from grace for this exchange:

After a visit to the White House, David Nesenoff, a rabbi and independent filmmaker, asked Thomas on May 27, 2010, whether she had any comments on Israel. “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” she replied. “Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not Germany, it’s not Poland,” she continued. Asked where they should go, she answered, “They should go home.” When asked where’s home, Thomas replied: “Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else.”

Jews who were refugees from Europe had managed to survive the Holocaust. Those who did would find that they had nothing to go back to because the reward for denouncing them was their property, especially in Poland. Germany had more slowly dispossessed its Jews prior to the outbreak of war. So, they fled to Palestine in the Levant where a small rump of their kinsman were doing okay.

Let’s leave aside the question of the almost one million Jews that were exiled from Arab lands after the founding of Israel and just ask this: if it was illegitimate for the Jews of Europe to flee and take root in the Levant, how can it be legitimate for the Arabs of the Levant to flee and take root in Europe as they are doing by the hundreds of thousands today?

Would any of the leftists who are shaming anyone who wonders about accepting refugees even in these numbers shame a Palestinian for saying what Thomas said? Most of the same are in varying degrees antisemitic, anti-Israel, or antagonistic to Israeli policy.

Ironically, this same policy of importing massive numbers of Muslims into Europe is creating a huge increase in the Jewish population of Israel through emigration. If not for Israel, these folks would have to figure out a way to get into the United States or else have ride it out the way they did before for millennia.

The Sundering of American Jewry

J.J. Goldberg wonders “Why Does Everybody Sound So Anti-Semitic All of a Sudden?” Without conceding the premise, I agree with his conclusion that the leadership of major Jewish institutions having plunged everyone into a hopeless battle to get utterly defeated, knowing that it would cause a breach in the community and not caring, is to blame. The blowback would have been worse if they had succeeded, but maybe the internal acrimony would have at least been somewhat more justified.

It’s a fine line to walk between the singling out of Israel, the distortions, double standards, and general dislike of the Jewish state found in the media on the one hand and the legitimate criticism of things that it does that aren’t good for the Jews. Expecting John Q. Public to understand this distinction becomes more and more impossible the more this kind of thing happens.

I take a backseat to no one in terms of recognizing the malignancy of the Iranian regime and the need to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons and that has been documented in our archives here since 2002.

The Jewish community is divided, worn out, bitter, and confused in varying mixtures depending on where they stood on this issue. This is too bad, because I think we need to be on yellow alert for another Intifada.

If I were in charge of Iranian strategy right now, I would support another Intifada and be semi-open about it. Just enough to get the Jewish right to foam at the mouth that they told you so and divide the community further.

The Most Retarded Thing I’ve Read Yet On The Iran Deal

Is this. I’ve had a lot of respect for Rabbi Weiss’s work with “Open Orthodoxy” but maybe he should stick to his wheelhouse.

His basic point is that by letting Iran gain billions through the lifting of sanctions it will develop suitcase nukes, provide them to terrorists and/or use them on New York. Therefore the deal is bad. He asks us to imagine 9/11 with suitcase nukes.

Let’s put to one side the whole issue that this deal will prevent Iran from developing the technical capability of developing suitcase nukes, something no other country except the USSR and US has done, even though other nuclear powers possess the technical and financial means to do so.

What’s left is a basic ignorance about nuclear weapons that pervades not just the debate over the Iran Deal, but almost all conversations about them in general. The basic idea is that all nuclear weapons are the same. They are not.

The smallest nuclear weapons tested are very small. So small that if they were detonated in the densest parts of New York City, they might only damage one building. At the other end of the spectrum is the largest bomb ever tested, which was 50 megatons, or over 1,000,000 times more powerful than the smallest weapons.[1] That is not a typo. 1 million times.

The Russian “suitcase nuke” was not really the size of suitcase like you’re being asked to picture, but was about 50 pounds. The American versions were human portable, but in huge packs. And their yields were either the same as the Davy Crockett on the low end, or 6 kilotons at the very highest. That’s about 1/3 of the yield that hit Hiroshima.

If they’re going to use a car, they can go bigger, but then we lose the scare factor of the “suitcase nuke.” A typical “suitcase nuke” detonated by a new nuclear power without sophisticated expertise (and, presumably without testing the device, since that would be detectable in numerous ways and breach even the permanent parts of the Iran deal) would struggle to do the damage that crashing planes into the World Trade Center did.

This is not to suggest that this is some kind of small inconvenience that can be brushed off, but that the scale of the damage we are talking about here is not the city-killing yield of ICBM launched thermonuclear devices. In other words, terrorists can inflict this much damage now without nuclear weapons.

Which leads to the problem with nuclear weapons. They are traceable. Isotope analysis would reveal where it came from. And if that analysis revealed Iran as the source, I very much doubt there would be an Iran for very much longer.[2] The United States still has its nuclear deterrent with much more powerful weapons than anyone except China and Russia with much more sophisticated delivery methods than anyone including China and Russia.

If the Iranians wanted to inflict 9/11-like damage on us, why not unleash terrorists with conventional means, do the same amount, and deny plausibility instead of simply stirring up a hornets nest? There’s no response to this that makes any sense and none that in any way is relevant to the “deal.”

If Iran were on the cusp on developing thermonuclear weapons mounted on ICBMs, I would be all for taking them out. But all nuclear weapons are not the same. And if they gave up their program, which is basically what’s happening here, I’d be all for that too.

The reason we don’t want Iran to have even small nuclear weapons has nothing to do with Rabbi Weiss’s idiotic scenario. It has to do with Israel and the Gulf States that are both closer to Iran and so small that even a small attack could cause their collapse. We also do not wish the different strategic dynamics that take place between nuclear states to constrain our actions and our allies actions in the Middle East.

The idea that Iran might deploy a small nuclear weapon on New York is vanishingly unlikely, magnificently stupid, and completely irrelevant to this deal. I think it’s far more likely that ISIS will launch another 9/11 style attack without nuclear weapons or that nuclear weapons are fired in South Asia, East Asia, or in the Middle East simply because the United States retains its powerful nuclear deterrent and the identity of the party who fires a nuclear weapon remains in its traces. There is no false-flagging it.

Maybe in Weiss’s mind the money flowing to Iran will let them develop megaton strength suitcase nukes, but that’s just bad science fiction.

[1] The “Davy Crockett” has a yield of 20 tons. The “Tsar Bomba” was 50 megatons as tested, but designed to be up to 100 megatons.

[2] Iran has a population of about 80 million today. A countervalue strike with just 5 of the US’s B-83s would reduce that population by 10% immediately and injure the same number. Lawlessness, starvation, poisoning, untreated illness, fallout, and other after effects would probably increase that total substantially. Just 5 of our weapons would probably cause Iran to collapse. This is a pretty effective deterrent. Now consider if we fired 50 such weapons.

We caused both Afghanistan and Iraq to collapse and suffer hundreds of thousands of casualties after 9/11 and we did it by conventional means. So, even leaving aside the moral right to respond with nuclear weapons we would gain, we have a conventional deterrent as well.

European Suicide

People from Syria stop being refugees the minute they enter Turkey. There is no civil war in Turkey. Turkey is not in a state of emergency. Their choice to continue to Germany makes them economic migrants. I don’t blame them one bit for heading there. I would do the same. But the responsibilities of a paterfamilias of Syrian origin aren’t the responsibilities of the German government.

But at some point, such drastic, rapid immigration will create even more blowback, which, based on European history, may turn very nasty.

What’s more, the EU is privileging Syrian refugees over those from other war-torn places. Isn’t it strange that the same sympathy isn’t felt for Africans?

Most of these folks, I’m sure, are good people. But they are going to only increase Europe’s problems with Muslim integration and anyone who thinks that European antisemitism isn’t about to take yet another quantum leap is fooling themselves.

The US Must Reengage In Europe Now.

Most well informed citizens these days know quite a bit about the Middle East and perhaps even China. Some of it may come from superficial things like Thomas Friedman op-eds, but these are topics people talk about. Yuppie parents want their children to learn Mandarin.

But this is wrong. We’re taking Europe for granted. We think, at some level, that between World War II and the end of the Cold War that we’ve fixed Europe. Things like the crisis in Ukraine and the financial crisis make the news here, but they seem far away and aren’t met with much anxiety.  They should be.

It may come to nothing, but our level of concern about Europe isn’t high enough. There are three nuclear powers and one of the world’s largest economies (i.e., the EU as a whole) involved, which is the same justifications that we use to stoke yellow peril and all things China.

But Europe is in trouble. At least the post-Cold War Europe we know. Across Europe, politics has been destabilized by anti-immigration sentiment, with immigrants primarily arriving from culturally different societies. This isn’t to say that xenophobia should prevail, just that there is a threshold beyond which immigration always causes some political blowback in the native population, and, based on the votes, that threshold was passed long ago.

The tipping point on this issue may be something dramatic like Marine Le Pen winning the French presidency, but as recent events have shown, it could be as simple as a viral internet photo of a dead toddler.

A similar but related phenomenon is anti-EU sentiment. Eurosceptic parties have made major gains across Europe and today a poll shows that the UK is, for the first time, by a majority, ready to leave. This is probably also in part related to the Greek crisis which, either way you look at it, is bad for European integration. If you took the Greek side, it makes the EU look undemocratic and totalitarian. If you took the other side, it looks like the EU is a resource draining mechanism headed south.

If the UK does vote itself out, this would probably serve to reverse the sentiment in Scotland about independence enough to make a second referendum likely to succeed. That puts rump-England’s capabilities as a nuclear power in question, since its main nuclear force is based in Scotland.

A non-nuclear, fractured UK (ignoring what a rightist France under Le Pen might bring into the equation), certainly changes the NATO bargain. It also would certainly change Russia’s strategic calculus.

The worst-case scenario is a new fractured Europe divided between a xenophobic bloc and an integrationist one, with no clear “Iron Curtain,” but rather a balkanized patchwork of countries with differing views.

While Upper East Side kids are learning Mandarin and our naval aviators are playing chicken with the Chinese over a few uninhabited rocks jockeying for supremacy over the importation of poison dog food and shitty children’s toys, Europe is at risk of falling apart.

Joe Lieberman: The Asshole That Never Dies

“Since it looked like the administration was closing in on enough votes to sustain a presidential veto, we’ve been asking people, just in fairness, ‘Let this come to a vote,’” said former Democratic-turned-independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who’s rallying opposition to the deal.

Reminder that this is the man who killed the public option and almost killed Obamacare by withholding his vote—the 60th vote.

Bibi’s Scorched Earth Politics

The philosophy of maneuver warfare is that you avoid a head-on engagement unless and until it is at a time and a place of your choosing. So it’s possible that Bibi’s many political enemies are simply waiting until they have a decisive advantage before they pounce. But it might be that most politicians’ strong reflex to preserve their freedom of action is akin to maneuver warfare, but in both cases, an aggressive foe can control the field for a long time.

Just look at the fate of Bibi’s domestic political “partners,” the Jewish Home. He stole their voters and their seats to barely preserve his party as the largest in the Knesset (which it was not previously, but of course once it became the largest that was all the excuse it needed to keep the mandate) and then tried to edge them out of their desired portfolios.

Then there’s this self-immolating charge to defeat the Iran deal. It never looked like he would be able to pull it off. There was never a clear pathway to victory. There was just a hope that 13 Democratic senators would turn their back on their President and their Presidential candidates. A fool’s hope.

Only in the very loud, very cloistered hyper-pro-Israel echo chamber of your Jewish grandfather’s e-mail forwards is this even a realistic approach worthy of the term “strategy.” Meanwhile, Bibi has driven a wedge of acrimony right through the middle of an already restless American Jewish community, clearly demonstrating that liberal American Jews are trash to the Israeli right. There’s a lot of proof to this.

To wit, the Netanyahu government has never taken a strong position on the recognition of American streams of Judaism within Israel, has never done much to force the government to honor the conversions of those not converted by the Ultra-Orthodox Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Yet when it’s time to shit on American politicians, every Jew is called to the ramparts. It’s not a two-way street.

Israel’s law of return recognizes that Israel’s status as a homeland for the Jewish people is best served when it is a refuge for people who are defined by antisemites as Jews, which is why it allows anyone who met the Nazi Nuremberg definition of a Jew to move to Israel, settle, and get citizenship on demand. If only Israel would embrace this definition more wholly.

Those, like Chuck Schumer, who stuck their necks out for Bibi and Israel in this Quixotic mission may find their own futures destroyed. While Schumer be the Minority Leader after Reid leaves now?

This bluster has allowed Bibi to survive, but it is not because he has great foresight or is playing 11-dimensional chess. Most of his predictions are garbage. He supported the Iraq war. He was sure Mitt Romney was going to win. And somehow he thinks blocking a US president’s foreign policy will improve Israel’s position. (Can you even imagine the blowback?)

Sure, this post might not have been written or writeable if he had won. But he didn’t and accountability is required.

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).

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+

The GOP Needs A Different Kind of Candidate, But Rand Paul Isn’t It.

Rand Paul today says that the GOP’s “war first” brand sucks. But this is pretty much only relevant to the Iraq War. Lefties get wet for this because they hate all war even if it’s necessary or justified. But if you think that have two viable parties is good for the country, Paul’s kind of rebrand for the GOP won’t help you.

I figured after the wipeout in 2008, the national Republican party would do some soul searching and decide that, due to the electoral college map, they would have to start recruiting more moderates for their primaries and stop alienating people like Jim Jeffords, Arlen Spector, and Linc Chaffee. They did the reverse, of course, because it seems they are content to rely on gerrymandered control of the House and the occasional fluke to gain control of the senate for a while.

One could even argue that the Republican party is doing more of what it wants now than it could if the situation were reversed and Mitt Romney were President, the Democrats controlled Congress and most of the states. But are they really willing to admit they are giving up on the White House for the foreseeable future?

Of course not. But given who is running in 2016, they must think that their best shot is to get a “purer” candidate in 2020 and bet on voter fatigue with Democrats. But that seems almost conspiratorial. None of the candidates they have now are anything other than cartoons or also rans. There are a couple that might be tolerable, like George Pataki, but I think he might be running for 2020 in reality. Maybe, he thinks, they will finally be ready for a blue state Republican that gives them a punchers chance.

The problem isn’t that the electorate sees the Republicans as hawks, as Paul suggests. In fact, being hawkish is generally quite popular unless and until their current war fails. (This doesn’t make it good, but it makes it helpful to winning.) The next war is usually popular.

The problem with the Republicans isn’t that they are largely for the Patriot Act and mass surveillance. In general, that too is popular at least while people feel threatened and see terrorism still going on everywhere.

Also, the problem with Republicans isn’t that they are pro business. Most high level Democrats are pro business. The problem with the Republicans is that they hate the poor.

The problem with the Republicans is also that they are too aligned with the politics of white male resentment. Being mad about affirmative action, feminism, gay marriage, and everything else gives them little room not to look just plain “mean” when they try to argue that, say, hating the cops is a path that leads no where. Even if they are making a good point, all we hear is “down with darky.”

The problem with Republicans is that they ask us to suspend our disbelief on one too many things while being credulous on so many others. They don’t believe in climate change, evolution, vaccination, but they seem to have no such skepticism for any number of other things, like Clinton conspiracies, Benghazi, or Obama being born in Africa. You can ask us to be credulous or you can ask us to skeptical, but it’s hard for most people to selectively adapt to that.

This is because the Republicans have largely surrendered to the bases of their coalition. They won’t argue with the evangelicals, with certain industrialists, or with old white men.

The Democrats, for all of their innumerable flaws, are much better at at least extracting patience from their base, at least at the national level. (This is not how it used to be, before you drop CW on me.) The ACA is a great example. For many in the Democratic base, anything shy of single payer was a defeat, but the ACA was never in danger of being blocked from the left, to the point where the House, when given a choice between no bill and the Senate’s bill, chose the Senate’s bill.

Life can be tough on a Democrat who is not a creation of labor, or of the environmental movement, or of minority group politics, but they aren’t impossible and both Clintons, Obama, and all but a few senators are none of these.

If the Republicans could come up with a candidate that was at least somewhat moderate, they would have a chance. By “moderate” I don’t mean liberal. I mean, someone who is credibly moderate, even while being pro-business, pro-military, pro-cop or whatever. As long as they are willing to accept compromise and deal with reality from time to time. (You know, someone like Reagan!)

Things Sy Hersh needs to address

I’m not saying his article is bullshit, because all of this is just stuff I’m hearing from one person or another. But when he has insider Pakistani sources reframing the story in a way that makes the Pakistani government look much, much better, is there something besides an anonymous source he can give us to back it up?

Also, cui bono? No one cared about the details. Americans cared that Bin Laden was dead. We don’t care about how/where or whether he was properly buried at sea. Why lie? I mean, seriously, why did the White House do it?

So, there’s every reason in the world for the Pakistanis to tout this version, no reason for Americans to lie the way they allegedly lied—what’s the explanation?

Hersh has been right about a lot of things, so I won’t just dismiss what he writes, but we need more.

England just saved the UK

Canada has had the same political current sweep across it in the last many years. The rise of the Bloc Quebecois wiped out the centrist Liberal party in Quebec, which, coupled with a few scandals, led to its virtual wipeout. The once dominant party isn’t even the opposition anymore, with the left-wing NDP taking on that role in Ottawa.

Similarly, the Labour party in the UK was rolled back due to the rise of Scottish nationalism *after* an independence referendum failed.

The result in both cases was strengthening of the Tory party.

There are even parallels between the UK election and the recent Israeli one, where disaffected right-wing voters “came home” to Likud rather than risk a principled but loss-inducing vote for Libermann or Bennett. UKIP did not achieve the results the polls predicted either in seats or in votes.

What’s the message for the United States? Potential existential threats or radical changes will force people to vote against the rest of their interests, as perceived by a certain economic view.

Democrats lament the white working class’s perceived vote against its own interests by supporting the Republican party, but sometimes this would make sense, if the threat posed by the Democrats weren’t illusory. The threat of a Labour-SNP coalition, though, meant at least radical changes in the UK itself which seems much more immediate than renegotiating the relationship between the UK and the EU.

Democrats need to, more than Republicans, make it perceived that they have a handle on global events like Iran and events at home like Baltimore. The kinds of change Democrats want, and the kinds of conflict it invites with big money elites, cannot be waged by the college faculty class alone.

The UK would be better served by tightening its trade relationship with Canada and the US rather than being sucked into the nihilistic bureaucratic nightmare that is the post-crisis EU, a union of the Germans for the Germans and by the German bankers.

Gaming out the UK elections

As of today, with less than a week to go, there is no likely coalition capable of achieving a majority in the commons. On the other hand, no one seems to note that Sinn Fein is an abstentionist party and its MPs do not take their seats. Normally this doesn’t matter, but when we’re dealing with razor-thin margins, the fact that (probably) 5 MPs won’t be voting matters.

323 forms a working majority in the House of Commons.

It is vanishingly unlikely that the SNP and Tories, the only two-party combination that can reach 323, will cooperate.

Procedure is also important. Just as in Israel, the Queen gives the mandate with some discretion. It is not necessarily the person with the most MPs.

If today’s polling holds, the best the Tories can do is to keep the LibDems and appeal to the DUP.  But that’s only 313 votes. It’s possible that this combination will reach 323 due to polling errors.

Labour is in a better position. Ed Miliband has stated that he would not have SNP in government, but Labour+SNP is 321 at present (and I think some of the minor parties would affirm without much, if any, prodding). All SNP has to do is abstain on the Queen’s speech and motions of no confidence, and Ed Miliband is probably prime minister. Lib/Lab + SNP abstention is a more sure thing.

Labour ought to deeply probe the Scottish electorate and see what happens if the parliament is truly hung. Does Labour win some of the Scottish seats back in the follow on election? It will be interesting to see on a Scale of Canada to Israel how adapted UK politics is to coalition agreements. LibDems could ask a high price indeed despite their lower numbers.

If SNP won’t support anyone who doesn’t give in to their demands, and another election is held, I think, but don’t know, that Labour has the upper hand and will indeed get some of those seats back as people tire of the SNP’s repeated failures to deliver. But again, no one except both the Conservatives and Labour together, can form a government without at least an SNP abstention.

The LibDems wanted a referendum on a different voting system last time, a referendum that failed. With a seemingly more permanently hung parliament, does proportional representation get another shot? UKIP voters will think so, with their polling in the 10s and their likely seats in the 0-2 range.

Based on this polling, I think the British are about to being Ed Miliband to power either before or after another election.

Personally, I think this is a huge mistake. I would never be a Tory, but under Cameron on the big issues, the UK has been well served. Further integration in Europe, losing the pound, Scottish independence, and losing Trident would set the UK, or what’s left of it, into permanent third-rate power status and the results of the Napoleonic Wars, WWI, and WWII would, in effect, be reversed. This might help with certain wage and inequality issues, but I don’t think even the social democrats among the English are actually ready to have their world be so subordinated to Germany and France.

European integration’s primary raison d’être is to prevent future European wars, wars that the British did not start or cause but were affected by. If that weren’t the case, it would be hard to justify for the mainland countries, much less the British, after the performance during the economic crisis.

So, here are the possible results, barring a polling failure:

(1) Labour government w/ or w/o Libs on SNP abstentions. If SNP sees new elections as a reverse and can get some advertisable concession, maybe on taxes or Trident, without being in government, this is more likely.

(2) New election – seems the most likely

(3) Unity government – perhaps a Shamir/Peres type agreement, or something where the party with the most seats gets the premiership but with a very compromised agenda, perhaps only on Scotland and a few other issues with everything else being vote-by-vote coalitions.

Either way, I very much doubt that the next British election is May 2020.

Labor Will Save Us?

Both sides may do it, but I don’t care about sweeping Republican solutions to all of the world’s ills. Liberal solutions are different in that they are often based on empirical evidence rather than faith. Renewable energy and labor are supposed to save us; wealth inequality and carbon dioxide are going to kill us.

There is still this lingering hangover from Al Gore (and to a lesser extent John Kerry’s) presidential run that policies and programs are too boring, and we need to speak in values. That’s fine for political campaigns but we need policies and programs. Just saying “labor” and “renewable energy” are far from actual solutions, much less ones that are realistic. In a divisive political environment, each party waits for 9/11, Katrina, or a financial collapse for its “I told you so” moment and then and only then gets to implement anything.

This is a tough situation. There are other problems. It is inarguable that labor created the middle class. But it seems that it has failed to make much progress. Renewable energy is a great solution, but none has been presented that will actually keep the world powered—not yet, and how long can we wait?

In practice, “labor” has become a non-union movement that pushes for widely applicable laws (as it should) like minimum wage increases in legislatures instead of in collective bargaining. The sooner this is realized as the actual situation instead of a cognitive dissonance the better. Unions are easy to demonize and almost no one outside of old companies and the public sector is or has ever been a member. Getting everyone paid sick leave and $15 an hour leaves no one out.

The environmental movement, in thrall out not selling out to nuclear power, has sold out to all kinds of conservation sins in the name of renewable energy instead. It is inarguable that large corporations, especially Big Oil, has been the number one thing standing in the way of progress, but with nothing other than a Malthusian, Puritanical, punishing vision of the future as an alternative, it will take very big “I told you so” moment indeed to make progress on that agenda, even if we agree it should be pursued.

Specifying certain programs runs the risk of programs becoming ends in themselves. Failing to specify them fails to advance the interests. So, anyone with an interest in advancing more economic and environmental well-being should come up with as many different programs and policies as possible and forget about this bill or that one and remember the endgame.

People motivated by inequality should keep pushing things that provide for economic security, like the implementation of medicare expansion in every state, the increase of the minimum wage, and paid sick and family leave. People motivated by climate change should promote everything that takes carbon out of the air and watts in the grid.

The Soviet Union Was Not Necessary To Win World War II

This is a meme that won’t die.

Tracing it’s origins, we might suspect it came out as a sort of Cold War theme to show that the Russians really weren’t so bad even if it wasn’t actually communist propaganda or simply contrarian.

The argument goes something like this: without the eastern front and the huge numbers of casualties the Soviets took, the Germans wouldn’t have been defeated.

I’ve always argued that this is retrospectively false due to the simple fact of the atomic bomb. Even if the Normandy invasion had stalled or failed, the Allies were still capable of bombing Germany. The Allies had air superiority (thanks to American output) for most of the war.

A nuclear bomb dropped on Berlin would have ended the war even if the Soviets were never able to get through Kursk, even if we never got off the beach in Normandy.

Prospectively, this is also true, though I’ve never bothered to put together a cogent argument before. Here goes.

First, the Soviets actually weren’t in the war at first. Britain pretty much stood alone, because the Soviets and the Nazis had struck a bargain, remember? Once the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, they chose to open that second front. They also declared war on America (though the isolationists could have prevailed if earlier on we hadn’t more or less taken sides. I’m glad we did, but it’s not like we were sucked in unwillingly against Germany).

Second, we sent the Soviets lend-lease equipment. Without it, would they have been able to do what they did? Doubtful. The Germans got very close to taking European Russia. The lend-lease equipment was couple with Stalin’s constant demand that we launch a second front in Europe ASAP.

General Marshall almost resigned over FDR going along with the British and delaying that invasion as we did. The Soviets clearly didn’t think that the essential element to victory was their own arms. They knew America’s involvement was essential.

As I touched on, we very well could have stayed out of Europe and attacked the Japanese first. Yes, yes, Germany declared war on us, but that was a formality. We were neutral in name only. Still the choice to prioritize Germany was largely due to the simple fact that everyone knew at the time that Britain and the Soviet Union might not be able to stand alone even with American production to supply them.

The Japanese never stood much of a chance other than by tiring us out in a war of attrition. They simply lacked the manpower and resources to fight a 1940s war against the United States. Germany did not. Germany, if it had captured more oil, might have been able to force a stalemate with most of Europe in its hands.

That is, until the atomic bomb.

In sum, the political and military actors behaved as if the United States was the essential Allied party, the United States produced the materiel necessary for the victory, the United States also won by miles the race to the atomic bomb.