Monday, November 24, 2014

It's always good to see democracy score a win against segregationism

From Bill Morlin, Nevada’s speaker-designate declines position after reports of controversial views surface Hatewatch 11/24/20147:

The speaker-designate of Nevada’s State Assembly is declining the position just days after reports surfaced detailing his controversial views on blacks, women, gays, Israel and fellow Republicans.

The views of Republican legislator Ira Hansen – considered racist by many – received extensive attention in Nevada and elsewhere, including the Washington Post, after they were first reported Thursday by Dennis Myers, a columnist for the Reno News & Review.
Good. I'm glad to see it.

Chuck Hagel resigns: was he too militant or not militant enough in pursuing New Hitler?

Chuck Hagel resigned as Secretary of Defense today. It's pretty clear he was fired.

The Young Turks discuss Hagel's resignation/firing in Pentagon Boss Chuck Hagel Fired - Why And What Now?



This is the PBS Newshour report on the resignation, Why is Chuck Hagel stepping down? 11/24/2014. One of the two guests interviewed is neoconservative Thomas Donnelly from AEI, aka, Neocon Central. The other is P.J. Crowley, a former Assistant Secretary of State in the Obama Administration.



Robert Reich posted on Facebook today that he thinks Hagel was dumped from being Defense Secretary because Obama and his advisers think Hagel's not enthusiastic enough for more wars:

Why is Chuck Hagel being canned after having been Defense chief for less than two years? Competence aside, part of the answer is the White House has moved from seeing events in Iraq and Syria through the Vietnam lens to the Nazi Germany lens, and Hagel is still seeing them as Vietnam.

For the last fifty years, American foreign policy has swung between two polar-opposite views: Through the Vietnam lens, we don’t want to be dragged into foreign civil wars that can end up costing tens of thousands of American lives. But through the Nazi Germany lens, we must stop barbarous and aggressive fascist movements before they overwhelm civilization. Obama himself began with Vietnam lenses but he and his advisers view the Islamic State as more like Nazi Germany.
I hope Reich is wrong about the Obama team seeing Middle East crises through a "Nazi Germany" lens. One of the biggest problems in US foreign policy since the Second World War is that policymakers inflate opponents in "Hitler." It gets particularly dysfunctional in a situation like Syria where no one can really decide whether the New Hitler is the Islamic State group or their mortal enemy the Assad regime.

One of the most useful books I've ever read on US foreign policy - one we're unlikely to see Little Tommy Friedman ever quoting - is The Specter of Munich: Reconsidering the Lessons of Appeasing Hitler by Jeffrey Record of the Army Air War College; a version of it is available via that link. He thinks the "Munich analogy" has been so overused that it not only ignores the real history of "Munich" in 1938 and why it was a bad policy for the West but also leads to wildly inflating threats and over-reacting in self-destructive ways. As he puts it, the real Hitler and Nazi Germany were not only enormously powerful militarily (and got a huge boost from the Skoda arms factories they got in Czechoslovakia from the Munich Agreement) but were also "unappeasable *and* undeterrable." And, "No post-1945 foreign dictatorship bears genuine comparison to the Nazi dictatorship."

When Chicken Littles like Sen. Lindsay Graham squawk that the Islamic State is going to come "kill us all" in the United States, that's just crackpot warmongering. Only bad policy comes out of that.

Historian Andrew Bacevich has been one of the best analysts of US military affairs for the last decade plus. He has basically a conservative-realist framework for looking about foreign and military policy, based on the thinking of Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. He has meaningful criticisms of both Democratic and Republican thinking on foreign policy without falling into the vapid Both Sides Do It cliches our star pundits so often use. This piece of his at TomDispatch addresses the current poor state of US foreign policy, Malarkey on the Potomac: Five Bedrock Washington Assumptions That Are Hot Air (with an introduction by Tom Engelhardt) 11/23/2014.

But as The Young Turks discuss in the clip above, it's not entirely clear that Hagel is being pushed out because of his caution and restraint.

Chemi Shalev writs in The bitter irony is that Israel is the sorriest to see Hagel go Haaretz 11/24/2014:

Hagel was brought in to withdraw American forces from Iraq and Afghanistan at a time of severe budgetary cuts, but reality in the Middle East and elsewhere had other plans. Rightly or wrongly, through its own fault or that of others, the Pentagon has been perceived in recent months as being caught flat-footed by the rampage of Islamic State in Iraq, the survival of Bashar Assad in Syria, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the belligerency of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and more. Under these circumstances, the credibility of America’s veiled threat that “all options are on the table” against Iran also took a serious hit.

But rather than displaying the kind of resolute confidence and leadership needed in such dangerous times, Hagel often sounded like Chicken Little shouting “the sky is falling.” He told Charlie Rose only last week that ISIS is “an incredibly powerful new threat” to every interest we have, the likes of which have never been seen before. Hagel’s panicky overkill, which already rankled Obama back when he still referred to ISIS as “junior varsity” may have been the final nail in his coffin: better the momentary embarrassment of an appointment gone wrong, Obama’s advisers reasoned, than the long term damage incurred by a defense secretary who sometimes sounds as if he hasn't convinced even himself that he can get the job done. [my emphasis]
For the next Secretary of Defense, I hope he at least finds a Democrat to nominate this time.

The pending "Jewish nation-state law" in Israel

There is a law pending in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) that's known as the "Jewish nation-state law." If passed, it would seemingly be a significant step toward creating a formal apartheid-like type of government.

The Israeli paper Haaretz provides a summary of the pending law in Israel's Jewish nation-state bill: a primer 11/25/2014:

The legislation, which was originally drafted by right-wing MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), is an attempt to resolve the tension between the country's dual Jewish and democratic character, as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.

It does that by defining Jewishness as the default nature of the state in any instance, legal or legislative, in which the state's Jewishness and its democratic aspirations clash.

The bill defines the State of Israel’s identity as "the nation-state of the Jewish people.” That not only means that the country's national holidays are Jewish religious holidays or that the flag is the Magen David; it also means that Jewish law will be the inspiration for Israel's legal system and it enshrines the automatic citizenship granted by the Law of Return.

Crucially, while the bill affirms “the personal rights of all [Israel's] citizens according to law,” it reserves communal rights for Jews only. In other words, individual Arabs are equal in the eyes of the law, but their communal rights are not recognized.
It isn't law yet. It's apparently not any kind of done deal. Haaretz notes, "both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni have proposed watered-down versions of the bill. At this stage, it's not clear which version will be brought to vote in the Knesset plenum."

Euronews reports on the proposed law in Israeli cabinet backs bill which critics describe as 'undemocratic' 11/23/2014:


The Korean War, anti-Communism and California politics with Nixon in 1950

My close encounter with the Nixon Library and Museum a few weeks ago got me curious about Tricky Dick's early political career in California, which was steeped in Red Scare politics. "Red" in the 1940s and 1950s referring to Communists, not Republicans.

A couple of references reminded me how significant the Korean War was in allowing its practitioners to ramp up the Red Scare to even more hysterical proportions than it was going into 1950.

Stephen Ambrose in Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962 (1987) wrote about the boost the Korean War gave to Nixon's red-baiting "Pink Lady" campaign against Democratic liberal Helen Gahagan Douglas in the 1950 Senate race:

... Nixon's campaign got a tremendous boost when the Communist North Koreans attacked South Korea [June 1950]. He and the other China Lobby people had been warning that such an event was coming because of the Truman-Acheson policy of Europe first. Appeasement in Asia, Nixon charged, led to war. Like most other Republicans, Nixon praised Truman for his quick and vigorous response to the Communist challenge in Korea, then in the same breath criticized him for not doing enough beforehand to deter the enemy. ... [my emphasis] (pp. 214)
Which reminds me of Arlo Guthrie's saying, "Some things don't change, you know. Some things do."

We tend to think of the Democrats' chronic defensiveness over military affairs to the experience of the Vietnam War and the Reagan reaction against it. But this is an older problem. The Cold War, like the War on Terror, involved the promotion of irrational fear, chronic fear. The Republicans have just been better than the Democrats for decades on politically profiting from irrational fears of menacing foreigners. Maybe it's time for the Democrats to take a different approach. Like maybe promoting a consistently more realistic view of the situation of the United States in our world.

In the case of the Korean War, even though it was the Democratic Truman Administration that was being Tough against the Communists, the Republicans profited from it politically. Ambrose explains:

The Korean War made Nixon an almost certain winner. It made him look like a prophet, and made his appeal to fear irresistible. At the end of spring 1950, anti-Communism, which had been growing at a steady rate ever since the end of World War II, came into its own. It had not happened suddenly, not [sic, surely "nor" was meant] was it inevitable, but when it came, it did so with a vengeance, and it stayed onstage far longer than most political issues. The air was poisoned with anti-Communist talk and hate literature. The picture most Americans had by the end of June 1950 was of a Soviet Union led by a madman worse thah Hitler and just as bent on world conquest, who had fifth columns all around the world striving to topple free governments, and who was being helped even in the United States by unwitting dupes and outright traitors. Since the people felt these fears so strongly, obviously politicians used it to help themselves. [my emphasis] (pp. 214-215)
John Steinbeck was to write a few year later, comparing the days of the Second World War to that of the Cold War in the Introduction to a collection of his wartime reporting:

For what they are worth, or for what they may recapture, here they are, period pieces, fairy tales, half-meaningless memories of a time and of attitudes which have gone forever from the world, a sad and jocular recording of a little part of a war I saw and do not believe, unreal with trumped-up pageantry, so that it stand in the mind like the battle pictures of Crécy and Bunker Hill and Gettysburg. And, although all war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal, still there was in these memory-wars some gallantry, some bravery, some kindliness. A man got killed, surely, or maimed, but, living, he did not carry crippled seed as a gift to his children.

Now for many years we have suckled on fear and fear alone, and there is no good product of fear. Its children are cruelty and deceit and suspicion germinating in our darkness. And just as surely as we are poisoning the air with our test bombs, so are we poisoned in our souls by fear, faceless, stupid sarcomic terror. [my emphasis] (Once There Was a War; 1958)
Like Steinbeck, Ambrose in the quotation above references how fanatical anti-Communist poisoned the political atmosphere. "The air was poisoned with anti-Communist talk and hate literature."

One the result of this atmosphere of exaggerating fear, hatred and suspicion was the McCarthyist attacks on the State Department, in which anyone writing reality-based analyses of the Chinese Communists might fall under suspicion and attack for not enthusiastically promoting the pro-Nationalist position favored by the Republicans in the Chinese Civil War, which Mao Zedong's Communists won in 1949, everywhere but in Taiwan/Formosa.

As Roger Morris notes in his Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician (1990), the lack of realistic understanding and evaluation of what was happening in the "Sino-Soviet bloc" was a real problem in 1950 and the coming years:

The war in Korea: within hours, U.S. armed forces were to be committed to the defense of the south "in a seemingly routine manner," as one historian recorded Harry Truman's decisions, and "turning back ... thereafter was practically out of the question." Seeing the invasion by North Korea as a direct, orchestrated Soviet challenge to U.S. interests and prestige - the fall of South Korea having "calculably grave ... repercussions" everywhere, as the U.S. Embassy in Moscow cabled Washington that weekend - both the administration and their right-wing critics forgot their earlier depreciation of Korea's strategic importance. Forgotten, too, was how much the chauvinistic, feudal oligarchy in South Korea resembled the brutal Communist Party zealots of the north. Only long afterward would U.S. intelligence learn or begin to measure the Byzantine nationalist politics within the Soviet camp, politics that left Moscow with much less actual control or instigation in client governments like North Korea than presumed or feared in the simple demonology of the postwar years. But none of that would matter now. No subtleties of international communism would be recognized or pondered by either Republicans or Democrats as the sudden fighting in northeast Asia seemed to give awful reality to the worst evocation of the Red peril. Without the outbreak of war that summer, some other political posterity for the country-even for the 1950 Senate race in California-might have been possible. With it, the sequels seemed inevitable. (p. 570)
That "fear, faceless, stupid sarcomic terror" that Steinbeck wrote about in 1958 exacted a heavy price.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The EU, Angie-nomics and Ukraine

Paolo Pini talks about the building resistance from the current government of France against Angela Merkel's ruinous austerity program and her nationalistic course in eurozone matters (Italy Calls For A Bretton Woods For The Eurozone - a somewhat misleading title - Social Europe Journal 20.11.2014):

French President Francois Hollande has announced that he will ignore the European budget constraints; his intention is to defer the return of the deficit/GDP ratio to below 3% for two years. This could signal the end of Fiscal Compact austerity.

The French decision only highlights the critical state of the overall system (and the widespread violation of the rules) that has existed for some time. There are many countries in the EU whose deficit/GDP ratio is greater than 3% (in addition to France, also Spain, Portugal, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia and even virtuous Poland), while Germany has been persistently violating the upper limit to the trade surplus. [my emphasis]
It was foolish in the extreme for the eurozone countries to agree with Merkel's Fiscal (Suicide) Pact, which writes Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economics into the Constitutions of the countries that entered into the treaty.

That was the treaty that Hollande was elected President in 2012 promising he would insist on renegotiating it. On coming to office, he almost instantly capitulated to Merkel and approve the Fiscal Suicide Pact. His obsequiousness to Merkel and her reactionary economic policies were a huge reason for his subsequent rapid slide in popularity, unprecedented for French Presidents.

Despite the title of Pini's piece, his article is not referring to a current formal demand by the government of Italy, but rather a petition by prominent academics which he supports, calling for an end to Merkel's ordoliberal economic policies. Two points in the demands Pini lists highlight the kind of expansionary, Keynesian policies Pini and other petition supporters are hoping to see implemented urgently. One is:

These macroeconomic advantages would enable member countries to implement structural reforms with regard to the main drivers of economic modernization (digital infrastructure, industrial policy, technological and organizational innovation, efficiency and effectiveness of public administration and of the justice system, social welfare for the jobless, measures to combat unacceptable economic and social inequalities which compromise economic growth). The implementation of these structural reforms is essential to increase the benefits of i) and ii) and must be carried out both as part of an overall European policy and through a process of democratic choice within each member country. [my emphasis]
The use of "structural reforms" to refer to changes that would enable expansionary, pro-worker policies is a refreshing reversal of the current neoliberal meaning of "reforms" that the press in the US and Europe commonly uses to refer to changes that cut public services, lower workers' income, decrease job security and further deregulate banking and business corporations.

The other point:

The construction of mechanisms able to counteract asymmetries in the euro area. This will involve, first, a penalty mechanism not only for countries in deficit, but also for surplus countries, with an obligation to implement policies to raise domestic demand to offset asymmetries, and, second, a European subsidy for the unemployed as an automatic stabilizer providing benefits or re-training in exchange for social work, a subsidy to be suspended if a job offer is refused. [my emphasis]
Raising demand to combat the eurozone depression is just sound, basic macroeconomic policy. But in Germany, not only Merkel's CDU but her coalition partners the Social Democrats reject basic macroeconomics in favor of crackpot Hoover/Brüning austerity policies.

Andrés Cala in EU Wobbles Amid Conflicting Priorities Consortium News 11/20/2014 points out that Merkel's high-risk austerity economics is a significant constraint on the confrontational policy toward Russia that Merkel theoretically agrees the NATO should pursue:

Concern over the consequences of possibly overplaying the West’s hand in its showdown with Russia on Ukraine is strongly felt in Germany where Chancellor Angela Merkel has tried to walk a middle line, harshly critical of Russia in rhetoric but hesitant to engage in a full-scale economic war with a major trading partner that supplies much of the EU’s natural gas.

“I can’t see how [sanctions against Russia] would help us move forward economically,” German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said this month. “It’s right that Angela Merkel [is] focusing on dialogue – and not confrontation as others are. … I think it’s totally wrong to react with permanent NATO saber-rattling on the Russian border.”
Political divisions over economic policy interferes with unity on geostrategic affairs. But the dangers of the prolonged eurozone depression can't being ignored in the confrontation with Russia:

Germany also is facing a strong EU backlash against its orthodox economic policies which were imposed on the EU to rein in European government debt especially in Mediterranean nations. This strategy initially helped restore faith in the EU’s ability to recover from the financial crisis, but now those policies are being blamed for the region’s economic stagnation.

Many Europeans even blame Merkel’s austerity recipe for tipping Europe back into yet another recession, which is made potentially more dangerous by the prospect of deflation, the decline in consumer prices that can result from weak demand or an insufficient money supply. A similar debt trap hobbled Japan’s once vibrant economy and left it limping for the past two decades.

If deflation is not countered – by raising demand or expanding the money supply – it can begin a downward spiral of falling profits, declining investments, stunted consumer spending, debt delinquency, unemployment and bankruptcies. Such a crisis could spread quickly through the EU backbone, the 18-member eurozone which shares the euro as a common currency and limits what individual countries can do to address their own economic problems.
The eurozone's One Percent isn't paying the price for Merkel's destructive austerity policies. But the price is very high.

Bryan MacDonald also writes on the problems of the EU and the eurozone, EU is in serious trouble and it’s not Russia’s fault RT America (Russia Today) 11/20/2014. I should note here that in recent years Vladimir Putin's government has been exerting more direct control over the content of RT broadcasts and publications. That doesn't mean that readers should regard the work of a reporter like MacDonald as Russian government press releases, but rather that RT's editorial leanings need to kept in mind when using the source.

MacDonald writes, "Angela Merkel has criticized Vladimir Putin’s, apparent, strategy to spread Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. The Chancellor doesn't acknowledge that Germany’s domination of Europe has been disastrous for some states." And it certainly has been!

And  MacDonald's characterization here is a broad one that is scarcely detailed, it's broad outline is correct:

The Berlin government, which she has led for 9 years is sucking the continent dry. While peripheral states flounder and pivotal countries stagnate, Germany is doing just fine. This is because the entire EU system – especially the Euro currency – is propping up its largest member while choking the rest."

Existing members, such as Ireland and Spain were flooded with cheap German credit. This was basically a form of captive loan-sharking. German banks handing out easy money to facilitate the purchase of German-made goods, from cars to electronics. When the scheme went wallop in 2008, the German creditors didn't accept a haircut. Instead, the penalties were passed on to Irish and Spanish taxpayers, further enslaving them to Berlin.

Meanwhile, Germany’s trade surplus continued to expand and they were happy to leave the rest of Europe to rot. Instead of showing empathy, the Hamburg and Berlin media were full of features mocking the economically wrecked nations. Ireland, apparently, had an epidemic of wild, abandoned, horses and the Spanish were delighted at the extra time for Siestas. Oh, what fun the yellow-press had in those halcyon days – and what harm they did to perceptions of Germany. [my emphasis]

Political fights in Argentina: Cristina vs. vulture funds and opposition political schenanigans

Floyd Norris in the New York Times, a somewhat poorly titled piece called Argentina’s Case Has No Victors, Many Losers 11/20/2014. As Norris explains, Argentina hasn't caved in to the predatory hedge funds (vulture funds) and their compliant Nixon-appointed zombie judge Thomas Griesa:

Five months later, Argentina has not paid any money to the hedge funds. The judge has succeeded in blocking it from paying any money to holders of other bonds, but that just increases the number of losers.

In a way, the current fight is reminiscent of the battles more than 300 years ago in the American colonies over debtor’s prisons, which were widespread. Such punishment might have made sense for deadbeats, and it presumably had a deterrent effect, but prisoners were unable to earn the money needed to pay their creditors even if they wished to do so. [my emphasis]
Norris explains some of why the Nixon zombie judge's decision in this case was such a radical one:

For international bonds issued under New York law, as many are, it used to be that a country that defaulted could be sued and the courts would order it to pay. But sovereign immunity meant that decision could not be enforced. So most bondholders would eventually agree to some sort of debt restructuring, often involving the International Monetary Fund.

The Argentine ruling has clearly given bondholders an incentive to hold out in future international restructurings. Under Judge Griesa’s ruling, holdouts could do much better than those who agreed to the restructuring, and could not do worse.

If, that is, the decision can be enforced.

The judge, aware of that problem, has barred banks and other financial firms from doing anything to help Argentina evade the ruling. That has meant extending the ruling to cover not only bonds issued under New York law but also those issued under English and Argentine laws.
This is a report from TV Pública argentina, Visión 7 - Fondos buitre: El New York Times habla de excesos de la Justicia de EEUU 11/21/2014:



The political maneuvering for the 2015 Presidential elections in Argentine is intensifying, not surprisingly. Aside from Peronism being an exceptionally challenging political movement to understand, Argentina's political system has confusing fluidities within continuities in other ways. Argentine President Cristina Fernández' Peronist Partida Justicialista (PJ) governs with a legislative coalition called the Frente para la Victoria (FpV). The main opposition party is the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR). But the leading opposition figure right now is the governor of the City of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri. He has a separate political party called the PRO (Propuesta Republicana). But in a two-way match-up in a national campaign against a PJ candidate in 2015, he would very likely be supported by the national umbrella coalition called Frente Amplio UNEN, aka, FAUNEN. FAUNEN includes the UCR and the Argentine Socialist Party, both of which are formal members of the Socialist International. Both UCR and the Socialist Party are married to neoliberal economic ideology. UCR is the main political vehicle of the "oligarchy," the political villain that is perhaps the most significant constant in the political trend called Peronism. The Socialist Party is effectively their ally, promoting the same interests and policies with more left-sounding rhetoric. FAUNEN also includes several smaller parties.

In a national meeting this past week, the UCR decided that they would seek to put forward their own UCR candidate rather than seek a unified FAUNEN candidate. (A nivel nacional, en el FAUNEN Página/12 17.11.2014). This rules out an early formal alliance between Macri's PRO and the neoliberal-Peronist Sergio Massa, whose current political vehicle is called the Frente Renovador (FR). Massa's ideology is known as "federal" Peronism.

Also this past week, Jorge Capitanich, head of Cristina Fernanez' cabinet, attacked the opposition for "golpismo activo" (active coup activity [!]) in connection with allegations of corruption in connection with the Hotesur company. TV Pública argentina reports in Visión 7 - Capitanich denunció "golpismo activo" 11/21/2014:



The Buenos Aires Herald reports (Gov’t says Bonadío uses Hotesur raids to 'extort and play politics' 11/23/2014):

Justice Secretary Julián Álvarez has joined the group of government officials who have questioned recent judicial raids at the Hotesur company partly owned by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Álvarez accused federal judge Claudio Bonadío – who ordered the raids - of “extortion” and a “clear institutional coup-mongering.”

“When we speak of Bonadío, we are not talking about a paladin of justice, we are talking of someone who uses cases to extort and to play politics,” Álvarez stated during an interview with Página/12 newspaper.

The official described the judge’s raids as “clear institutional coup-mongering” and said that they are the result of the magistrate’s reaction against the “nine motions for his impeachment he faces in the Magistrates Council.” [my emphasis]

Santiago Rodríguez interviews Álvarez for Página/12 in “Usa causas para extorsionar y hacer política” 17.11.2014. Rodriguez reports that Hotesur administers a hotel owned by Cristina, a somewhat different description than the Buenos Aires Herald piece just cited provides. Álvarez claims that Judge Bonadío is an "activist" (militante) of the FN and is in active discussions with Massa about posts he might get under a Massa Presidency. Citing Bonadío's history as a loyal supporter of neoliberal causes as a judge and a long history of association with the neoliberal strand of Peronism says, "Cuando hablamos de Bonadio no hablamos de un paladín de la justicia, sino de alguien que utiliza las causas para extorsionar y hacer política." ("When we're talking about Bonadio, we're not talking about a paladin of justice, but rather about someone who uses court cases to extort and to make policy.")

Punishing debt sinners, Angela Merkel style

Yannis Varoufakis got into a war of words over a historical analogy with Klaus Kastner, the analogy in question being whether their is a meaningful Versailles Treaty parallel in the relations between Germany and the "periphery" countries in the eurozone. Varoufakis has been featuring the dialogue on his blog.

Policy-by-analogy is a tricky exercise that often produces more confusion than clarity. But both Varoufakis and Kastner both make some important points relevant to the current situation in the process of this little polemic. In this one, Kastner addresses the Merkel notion of punishing sinner nations for debt higher than what Her Angie-ness approves (Klaus Kastner replies – On the Versailles Treaty parallels 11/19/2014):

I don't believe in ‘crime & punishment’ when it comes to financial restructurings. For the simple reason that it doesn’t work. On several occasions, I have participated in ‘bankers’ meetings’ where we bankers faced a borrower who had literally taken us for a ride. Who had terribly cheated us. Where our gut told us to drive his company into bankruptcy and to send him to jail. And when reason returned, we had to recognize that we would only be shooting ourselves into the foot. When the borrower is a corporate, the ‘shooting in the foot’ is easier to recognize because the corporate can go bankrupt. When the borrower is a sovereign and since there are no bankruptcy laws for a sovereign, the ‘shooting in the foot’ is often not recognized at first. In the long run, the foot will be shot. Any financial restructuring has to be an unemotional give-and-take if it is to work well.
Varoufakis kicked off the discussion with CRUSH THE GREEKS! The Greek bailout revisited in the light of the Geithner revelations 11/13/2014, referring to recent revelations from former US Treasury Secretary Tim Giethner:

Tim Geithner is now on the public record, confirming that which we have always known: In February 2010, clueless as to the Euro Crisis that was about to engulf them, Northern European leaders decided to crush Greece. Collectively to punish (against even the Geneva Convention) a nation for having gone bankrupt within a Eurozone whose architecture never took into consideration the possibility that a member-state could become insolvent. ...

The rest is, of course, history. Greece was crushed. And it was crushed not by letting it default but, instead, by imposing the largest loan in history upon its weakened shoulders on condition that it should forfeit 30% of its nominal (euro-denominated) GDP. In the process, the rest of the Periphery (where the ‘Crush Greece’ model of crisis management was exported) was fiscally waterboarded with the result that the Eurozone came to the brink and, once Mr Draghi intervened, entered a long, slow-burning debt-deflationary spiral from which only fragmentation and discord can spring. [emphasis in original]
Kastner in Klaus Kastner responds to the Geithner revelations, and my Versailles Treaty allegory 11/14/2014 cites a 1992 piece from the French Le Figaro to argue that in one sense, the Maastricht Agreement creating the EU was a kind of new Versailles Treaty that imposed costs on Germany. "All I am saying is that huge costs will hit Germany once they can no longer be covered up. And they cannot be covered up forever, that's for sure!," he writes.

Varoufakis in Was Maastricht another Versailles for the German nation? A reply to Klaus Kastner 11/16/2014 puts Germany's position in the eurozone in a longer perspective:

This is why I am arguing that Kastner is wrong: Maastricht was not imposed upon a weak Germany. The opposite happened. Once the inane illusions of the French elites (that they would remain, in de Gaulle’s words, the coachman while Germany is the horse) had been ruthlessly crushed by the Bundesbank (giving rise to a slow burning permanent recession in France – which has been strengthening the National Front on a permanent basis), only then did Germany accept Maastricht, making sure that it would work beautifully in its own national interest. [my emphasis]
The problem is not, of course, that the eurozone works in the national interests of Germany. It should work in the national interests of all member states. The problem with Merkel's particular brand of Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economics is that it is a highly nationalistic policy that benefits Germany at the expense of its eurozone partners. At the very high expense of the peripheral countries.

He gives this brief historical sketch:

More precisely, the Eurozone operated as a single currency within which German surpluses would grow inexorably helping its larger corporations to fund their globalisation drive. Part of the surpluses German companies extracted from the deficit Eurozone countries were used to build capacity in China, Eastern Europe, the United States and Latin America. The rest of these surpluses were exported by German banks to the Eurozone periphery funding ponzi growth (real estate in Ireland and Spain; and in the public sector of Greece) which fed, in turn, demand for BMWs and Mercedes-Benz.

And when these bubbles (caused by vendor-financing provided by the German banks to the periphery) burst, the bailouts that followed were nothing more than predatory loans for the purposes of ensuring that Irish banks would not default (as they should) to German bondholders and that Greece would not burn a hole in the books of Deutsche Bank etc. That some of these losses will be passed on to the German taxpayers, after years of ultra low bund yields and a massive flow of capital to the periphery to the Frankfurt banks, can hardly be thought of as a new Versailles imposed upon... Germany. [my emphasis]
And Varoufakis makes this extremely important point in the last paragraph of that post: "A rational Europe should never have imposed, and a virtuous Greek government should never have agreed to, the predatory loans also known as the Greek Bailout."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Obama's immigration reform

President Obama finally announced his immigration reform Executive Order in a national address last night, The President Speaks on Fixing America's Broken Immigration System 11/20/2014:



The White House provides the text of the speech here.

Immigrant-rights advocates applauded the belated move. (Isaías Alvarado, Lágrimas de alegría en LA tras histórico anuncio de alivio migratorio La Opinión 11/20/2014; Peter Hecht and Stephen Magagnini, Central Valley undocumented immigrants see hope in Obama action Sacramento Bee 11/21/2014)

The Republicans howled as usual. (María Peña, Republicanos demandan a Obama por acciones ejecutivas La Opinión 11/21/2014; Amanda Becker, U.S. House will fight Obama's immigration action: Boehner Reuters 11/21/2014)

Golly, if the President hadn't done that, there could have been bipartisan harmony with Republicans for the next two years! Reuters: "All year long I have warned the president that by ... threatening action repeatedly on immigration, he was making it impossible to build the trust necessary to work together," [House Majority Leader John] Boehner told reporters. "With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of ... bipartisan reform that he claims to seek."

Bill Schneider, a resident scholar at the corporatist-Democratic, Centrism Fetishist, Third Way group, sees Obama's immigration reform as a move to shore up Democratic support among Latinos, as part of a legacy-building drive and evidently as an intention to finally push back against Republicans instead of stumbling again and again in failed attempts at Bipartisanship over contentious issues (Immigration effort shows a president who is fighting back Reuters 11/20/2014):

Obama is not sulking. In fact, the midterm defeat seems to have given him new resolve. Obama went to China and came back with an agreement on climate change. China has, for the first time, committed itself to a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Critics of climate change can no longer use China’s unwillingness to act as an excuse for U.S. inaction.

Now Obama looks about to issue an executive order halting the deportation of as many as five million illegal immigrants who would be forced to abandon their families. Obama may not get comprehensive immigration reform through Congress, but he has done what he believes he can do. He wants immigration and climate change to be the signature legacies of his second term.

Oh, and he also surprised everyone by coming out in favor of net neutrality. Where did that come from? The president wants Internet providers to be regulated like public utilities. Republicans are crying foul. They hate government regulation. Net neutrality is popular among tech savvy young people, however, who deserted the Democrats in droves in this month’s midterm. The demographics of the issue are good.

And the politics? Instead of sulking in defeat, Obama is embracing climate change, immigration reform and net neutrality. Republicans are grumbling. The president's response: "In your face!"
At least the immigration reform is mostly a good thing.

Still, I can't help but notice that Obama's speech made one gesture after another to the conservative framing of the immigration issue. For just one example:

When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Although this summer, there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts. ...

Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President –- the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me -– that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.

Tonight, I am announcing those actions.

First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over. [my emphasis]
Obama's six-year record as President has included a pattern again and again of making moves - or at least speeches - that please his base, then follow up by promoting some bad policy (the Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid being the classic so far) in hopes of achieving domestic Bipartisanship with the toxic Republican Party.

We can hope this time will be different.

But he framed even this action which the Republicans consider anathema in the Republicans' own terms. He.Just.Can't'.Help.Himself.

The International Business Times emphasizes the conservative framing of Obama's speech in: Brianna Lee, Immigration Reform 2014: Obama's Deportation Relief Plan Touted As Accountability, Not Amnesty 11/20/2014.

Demetrios G. Papademetriou provides some historical background on immigration issues in this 2013 piece, The Fundamentals of Immigration Reform The American Prospect 03/12/2013

These are guides to the provisions of Obama's immigration reform actions:


Michelle Chen addresses this question of What Will Happen to the Immigrants Left Out of Obama’s Executive Actions? The Nation 11/21/2014:

And while the reprieve will be welcome news for millions, it contains a paradox: young people who were part of the 2012 reprieve, the DACA-mented, will see their parents excluded from the pending relief measures, because the new reforms exclude the undocumented parents of DACA recipients. In other words, the youth who have been on the frontlines campaigning for an expansion of their program now face the devastation of their parents being among the millions who the new measures leave behind.

The ongoing Ferguson drama

Attorney General Eric Holder has issued a statement on new guidelines he expects St. Louis and Missouri police to follow toward citizen protests over the Daryl Wilson grand jury decision and other issues, Maintaining Public Safety while Safeguarding Constitutional Rights Justice Department 11/21/2014:



Missouri's Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon foolishly and irresponsibly created a preemptive state of emergency even before the grand jury hands down its decision of the Wilson indictment. The effect of that action is to encourage the public and trigger-happy police of Ferguson and St. Louis to regard any demonstrations by African-Americans protesting Wilson's killing of Michael Brown as a potentially violent danger that could threaten their personal safety.

He's asking for trouble, in other words.

Charlie Pierce in Jay Nixon's the One Leading the Coming Storm in Ferguson Esquire Politics Blog 11/19/2014 quotes a Washington Post report by Wesley Lowery, Mo. governor declares state of emergency in expectation of more Ferguson unrest 11/17/2014:

The National Guard will be deployed to between 35 and 40 locations where the unified command has determined that, based on past protests and property destruction, it would be wise to have a “presence,” according to St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson.

“The National Guard is not coming to militarize the response,” Dotson said. “It’s a multiplier. It helps us protect our community.”
Pierce's response to this:

Tell you what, Chief. Why don't you and a few friends sit yourself around a table, hold hands, dim the lights, and have yourself a seance whereby you chat with the Ghost of Ross Barnett about how the presence of the National Guard doesn't "militarize" a response. Or the Ghosts of Bill Schroeder, Allison Krause, Sandy Scheuer, and Jeff Miller. Or the Ghosts of 43 People in Detroit. The Guard is a military organization, as many Guardsmen who served under the unsteady command of C-Plus Augustus in Iraq can tell you. Their weaponry and their training are all military. In some cases, such as a response to a natural disaster, this plain fact is evinced simply by the Guard's military efficiency. In this case, however, it will be evinced by bayonets and tanks. And the examples cited occurred when the Guard was called in to face a situation that already had begun. In this case, Nixon has called in the Guard before anything has happened. So, Chief, the response is already "militarized." Multiply that.

If Wilson gets no-billed, there will be a reaction, and all of it will not occur in Missouri. I don't think I'm out of line when I wonder whether or not said reaction will be used as a test case for how much official violence the general public will tolerate to be kept safe from Unruly Others in the street. I do not think I want to know the answer to that.
Chuck Raasch reports on Holder's new guidelines in With Ferguson decision looming, Holder issues new police guidance St. Louis Post-Dispatch 11/21/2014:

Allegations that police in St. Louis County and Ferguson overreacted to demonstrators, looters and others after the Aug. 9 shooting prompted congressional hearings on whether police around the country were becoming "militarized." President Barack Obama has ordered a review of a Department of Defense program that sends surplus military equipment to local police.

Holder's Bureau of Justice Assistance issued the "Resource Guide for Enhancing Community Relationships and Protecting Privacy and Constitutional Rights." It pulls together brochures, guides and other instruction material on topics like "The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement at First Amendment Events."

Post-grand jury decision gatherings are planned for at least 100 cities around the country, according to a Web clearinghouse called the Ferguson National Response Network. According to the site, gatherings are being planned in cities from Tampa, Fla., to Batesville, Ark., to Seattle. The site includes postings on planned demonstrations in Columbia, Mo., and Carbondale, Ill.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, leader of the heavily white racist police force in that city, has not surprisingly been pushing back hard against pressure from the Justice Department to clean up his department's act so that it can function as a law enforcement agency instead of a shakedown operation in uniforms. (Stephen Deere, Ferguson police chief fires back at reports his department is disbanding St. Louis Post-Dispatch 10/30/2014)

One thing I've learned from following from the Ferguson situation is that defenders of white cops who murder young black men under even the most questionable circumstances will try to blur two related but distinct matters: the need for police to clearly explain killing somebody, and the individual legal culpability of the cop doing the killing.

Defenders of Michael Brown's killer Daryl Wilson, including Thomas Jackson's rogue police department that is trying to build a one-sided public case supporting Wilson at the expense of doing its duty to enforce the law and explain its actions to the public it allegedly serves, try to concentrate solely on the individual criminal case against the killer cop. As in cop-wanna-be George Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon Martin, the Michael Brown's killer eliminated the one other main witness to the actual killing by acting as judge, jury and executioner all at once.

So the Ferguson police department and their many white defenders and supporters in Brown's killing have concentrated on nitpicking every incriminating bit of evidence before and after the fact to create "reasonable doubt," the standard the prosecution has to exceed in order to secure a conviction under the presumption of innocence that is a key part of American law.

But a police department's duty to explain a killing should not be considered to benefit from any presumption of innocence on the police's party. When a cop like Daryl Wilson kills a citizen like Michael Brown, whether or not the person killed is a young black man as Brown was, the police have an obligation to the public to explain clearly to the public why their cop killed somebody. Their duty is to enforce the law, not to act as defense counsel for rogue cops. If Wilson had good reason to pump bullets into Michael Brown and kill him, the police should be able to give a straightforward explanation of the killing. If they can't give an honest and convincing explanation of the killing, they should investigate the shooter like they would any other criminal suspect.

The fact that virtually no one expects police departments to do so these days is grim sign of the level of distrust that people have of the police who are supposed to be public servants, not a mob in uniform.

Shaun King in A lie in the Darren Wilson defense in the shooting death of Mike Brown that just won't go away Daily Kos 11/19/2014 points to a problem in official explanation, such as it is so far, of Brown's killing:

Mike Brown was not killed 35 feet away from Darren Wilson's SUV.

His final fall was at least 108 feet away from Darren Wilson's SUV. This 300 percent difference is actually a very big deal and is a significant part of Darren Wilson's defense. The St. Louis-area police have continued to advance this lie for over 103 days since Mike Brown was killed on Canfield Drive on the afternoon of August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri. ...

On August 10, 2014, St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar held his first press conference on the shooting of Mike Brown by Officer Darren Wilson of the nearby Ferguson Police Department. His force had been called in to take over the investigation for the much smaller local department. The shooting had occurred less than 24 hours earlier, and the tensions on the ground in Ferguson were already red hot and boiling over. ...

When Chief Belmar sat down the next day to brief the press on his summary of the facts, he stated at 1:13 (and then even more emphatically at 6:01) in the video below, "The entire scene, from approximately the car door (of Officer Wilson) to the shooting, is, uh, about 35 feet." ...

At that time, when the chief said the "entire scene" was just 35 feet in distance from the "car door to the shooting," every observer accepted it as a negligible fact and thought little about it, instead zeroing in on why Darren Wilson stopped Mike Brown in the first place and why a police officer would shoot a young man who was surrendering with his hands up.

It turns, out, though, that the distance Mike Brown fled was not 35 feet, as was stated in the press conference and cited in hundreds of articles since. Nor was it 45 feet, or 75 feet, or even 95 feet, but approximately 108 feet away from Darren Wilson’s SUV. Below, you will find photos from the day of the murder, maps, infographics, and more to confirm for you that the distance was nearly 300 percent farther away than originally claimed by Chief Belmar and subsequently quoted as fact in almost every narrative of the case.

While the initial reporting of this distance from the chief could have been an error, albeit an egregious one, it seems clear now, after over 100 days of requests for the police to clarify this discrepancy have only produced silence, that it wasn’t an oversight, but a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts.

What reason would the chief have for so seriously understating the distance by more than 70 feet? Well, how far Mike Brown fled matters greatly, and the St. Louis County Police Department could have many reasons for purposely understating it. One doubts, though, that they expected to be caught telling this lie. When it was first told, while matters were tense in St. Louis and spreading on social media, nobody had any idea that this case would grip the nation and the world. [emphasis in original]
King goes on to explain in some detail his analysis of the problem here.

Chauncey DeVega has a couple of interviews on Ferguson posted. One is with the Washington Spectator's Lou Dubose, Chauncey DeVega Show: On the Ground in Ferguson With Journalist Lou Dubose 11/13/2014:



And, The Chauncey DeVega Show: On the Ground In Ferguson With Reverend Renita Lamkin 11/20/2014:



Lou Dubose has been writing on the Ferguson situation in the Washington Spectator he edits, such as The Ultimate Question: It explains everything about Ferguson 10/01/2014.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why might African-Americans not trust St. Louis cops?

This article illustrates one of the reasons: Robert Patrick. Lawyer identifies St. Louis officer who killed VonDerrit Myers Jr. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 11/20/2014:

[ Jermaine] Wooten [attorney for the 18-year-old black man killed] noted online posts attributed to [white cop Jason] Flanery that call President Barack Obama “Nobama” and say that in a speech by Michelle Obama, “She looks drunk, high, and dumb as hell.” The lawyer said repeated disparaging remarks about blacks in Flanery’s postings reflected a “strong negatively biased view of African-Americans.”

He also cited Flanery’s online criticism of liberals and homosexuality. The lawyer complained that “right-wing conservatives” have not traditionally been “the friendliest” to people such as Myers.

Wooten said that photos on an Instagram site, showing Flanery’s Marine, police and SWAT training, belie the claim that Myers pulled a gun and fired three shots before the officer could respond. ...

He said online pictures showed “a guy who is actually in love with weaponry.” More problematic, Wooten said, are comments on YouTube videos. In those, Flanery criticizes liberals and posts comments such as, “Conservatives are better. At everything.”

Flanery’s Instagram account showed pictures of him in the Marines and a video of him in civilian clothes, firing a fully automatic rifle. He praises family and farm life and posted comments such as “runyourgunnotyourmouth.” He also wrote, “I’ve been blessed with the ability to be exactly who I wanted to be when I grew up,” followed by the hashtags “lawman” and “Marines.”

Flanery, 32, on the force for six years, also posted comments on videos of police actions, including a shooting in New York. One comment: “And the moral of the story is ... if you shoot at men with guns they are going to shoot you back. And probably a lot.”

Wooten said, “That says to me, if someone has a gun ... he is going to continue to fire shots at that person until he is dead. Meaning if you fire one shot at me, I’ll fire 100 at you.”

The lawyer noted that Flanery was arrested on a weapons charge while he was in high school.

Court documents show that Flanery was charged with felony unlawful use of a weapon and later pleaded guilty of attempted unlawful use, a misdemeanor, and was fined $300 and ordered to take alcohol counseling.
Why would any black person not be suspicious of a police department that gives characters like Flanery a badge and a gun?

And why would any white person in their right mind think feel safe with trigger-happy white racists clowns having badges and a guns and the effective ability to act as judges, juries and executioners?

The job of police is to enforce the law and serve the public. They deserve the public's respect when they do that.

When they murder people unnecessarily, when they knowingly break the law themselves, they don't deserve anyone's respect.

Third Way, "liberal trolls" for the Republicans

If Third Way in the United States was ever anything other than a liberal-troll operation on behalf of Republicans, it is no longer. Sidney Blumenthal was one of early leaders in putting it together, as he describes in his The Clinton Wars (2003). My impression is that his intention was to establish a firmer basis for liberal politics, even if with a corporatist twist.

But now its just another Centrism Fetishist outfit (to adapt a phrase from Joan Walsh) that pushes Democrats to be more like the Republicans. We see the electoral results of that approach in the 2014 midterms. Sam Stein reports in Following 2014 Drubbing, Democrats Fret Things Could Get Worse Huffington Post 11/18/2014:

The president has promised or pursued action on priority items for his base: deferring deportations for groups of undocumented citizens and announcing a climate deal with China. He's also trying to sand down the rough edges of opposition and dissatisfaction in Congress. After a public airing of criticism by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's office, staffers for the White House and the majority leader have reached out to each other to calm tensions.

Some in the party want him to go even further, arguing that at least showing good rapport with Republicans would improve the party's standing.

"He should take their veto-bait bills in stride, not overreact to their rhetorical and legislative excesses," said Matt Bennett, co-founder and senior vice president of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank. "It is very much in his interest that he be seen as getting the wheels of government moving again. That will help his legacy and the prospects of the next Democratic nominee." [my emphasis]
Probably 99% of what anybody needs to know about Third Way's perspective is this paper that scolds the Democrats for not being more aggressive in attempting to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid ("entitlements" in the Republican propaganda phrase which they use): Entitlement Reform (n/d; accessed 11/20/2014).

Basic macroeconomics, but still a radical prescription in Angela Merkel's eurozone

Dieter Wermuth in “Mehr Vertrauen in Marktprozesse” Die Zeit Herdentrieb 17.11.2014 talks about the poor economic performance and prospects of the eurozone:

Am wichtigsten ist vermutlich, dass in den Euro-Ländern durchweg eine pro-zyklische Finanzpolitik betrieben wird, mit Deutschland an der Spitze. Durch den forcierten Abbau staatlicher Defizite sollen Unternehmen dazu animiert werden, endlich wieder mehr zu investieren. Denn daran hapert es. Wie wir aber in den USA und Großbritannien in diesen Tagen sehen, ist es den Unternehmen ziemlich gleichgültig, wie hoch die staatlichen Defizite sind. Wenn die Kapazitätsauslastung so niedrig ist wie sie immer noch ist, ist niemand über neue staatliche Schulden beunruhigt – wenn sie im Rahmen bleiben, versteht sich.

Die Investitionen der Unternehmen sind vor allem eine Funktion der Absatzerwartungen, nicht der staatlichen Defizite. Wenn der Fiskus zu stark auf die Bremse tritt, beeinträchtigt das diese Erwartungen. Davon wollen die aber nichts wissen. Spare in der Not, damit es Dir hinterher noch schlechter geht. Die Auflagen des Maastricht-Vertrags zwingen die Regierungen, ständig eine Politik gegen ihre eigenen Interessen zu betreiben. Wer haut denn endlich einmal diesen Knoten durch?

[The most important is supposedly, that in the euro countries a pro-cyclical financial policy has been pursued, with Germany in the lead. By the forced reduction of public deficits, businesses were supposed to be animated to finally invest more again. But that is still lacking. If capacity utilization is as low as it continues to be, no one will be concerned about public debt - obviously, if it stays within bounds.

Business investments are above all a function of sales expectations, not of public deficits. If the fiscal authorities step on the brakes too hard, they impair these expectations. But the experts don't want to hear that. Save during an emergency {is their idea}, so that later things will go even worse for you. The conditions of admission to the Maastricht Treat {that created the EU} require the governments to pursue a policy that is against their own interest. Who will eventually cut through this knot?]
Good question!

Ukraine, neocons, liberal interventionists, the Obama Administration and Henry Kissinger

Unindicted war criminal Henry Kissinger gave an interview to Der Spiegel, the English verison of which appears here, Interview with Henry Kissinger: 'Do We Achieve World Order Through Chaos or Insight?' Spiegel International, interview Conducted By Juliane von Mittelstaedt and Erich Follath 11/13/2014.

Although his bad acts as a government official during the Nixon and Ford Administrations will continue to define his personal and historical reputation, he does have some coherent "realist" ideas on foreign policy that are still worth noting. Like the President Richard Nixon he served, Kissinger combined some bad acts and bad ideas with some constructive policies, particular on relations with China and the Soviet Union and on nuclear arms control.

So his comments on Vladimir Putin's Russia are notable.

SPIEGEL: So let's talk about a concrete example: How should the West react to the Russian annexation of Crimea? Do you fear this might mean that borders in the future are no longer incontrovertible?

Kissinger: Crimea is a symptom, not a cause. Furthermore, Crimea is a special case. Ukraine was part of Russia for a long time. You can't accept the principle that any country can just change the borders and take a province of another country. But if the West is honest with itself, it has to admit that there were mistakes on its side. The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia.
Something I'm not seeing discussed is the effect that Russia's official annexation of the Crimea would have on any attempt to bring Ukraine into NATO. NATO is a military collective defense alliance. And part of nations obligating each other to defend their borders is defining what borders they are defending.

So, if we bring Ukraine into NATO, it seems we would have two choices: officially recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea and agree only to defend the current borders controlled by the Ukrainian government; or, declare war on Russia over Crimea.

Recognizing the annexation of Crimea as an accomplished fact is probably a sensible thing to do. But the US has gone a long time never officially recognizing the government of Cuba that has been in effective control of that country since 1959. But as a practical matter, unless the US and its NATO partners really are willing to go to war with Russia to "liberate" the Crimea that voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to join Russia and which Russia regards as strategically vital its national security, they are going to have to accept it as a reality in practice. But even assuming Russia would allow Ukraine to join NATO without Russia taking further actions to prevent that, the US and NATO would presumably be hesitant any time soon to make a treaty with Ukraine that involved formal recognition of Russia's annexation of the Crimea.

A referendum by a portion of a country to secede or join another is not a sufficient reason in international law and practice for recognition of that choice, by either the original nation or anyone else. With neo-Confederate sentiment in the US Republican Party seemingly becoming stronger by the day, that's something worth emphasizing in this context.

Kissinger's position on this issue seems pragmatic; it may come off as amoral, as well. But that goes without saying: this is Henry Kissinger we're quoting here:

SPIEGEL: What was it then?

Kissinger: One has to ask one's self this question: Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn't make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine. So one has to ask one's self why did it happen?

SPIEGEL: What you're saying is that the West has at least a kind of responsibility for the escalation?

Kissinger: Yes, I am saying that. Europe and America did not understand the impact of these events, starting with the negotiations about Ukraine's economic relations with the European Union and culminating in the demonstrations in Kiev. All these, and their impact, should have been the subject of a dialogue with Russia. This does not mean the Russian response was appropriate. [my emphasis]
The advantage of Kissinger's amoral perspective is that he's not inclined to express self-righteous outrage at the amoral behavior of leaders like Putin, unlike the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists who endlessly moralize about liberty and human rights and international law while they gleefully trample them into the dust in the real world:

SPIEGEL: It seems you have a lot of understanding for Putin. But isn't he doing exactly what you are warning of -- creating chaos in eastern Ukraine and threatening sovereignty?

Kissinger: Certainly. But Ukraine has always had a special significance for Russia. It was a mistake not to realize that.

SPIEGEL: Relations between the West and Russia are tenser now than they have been in decades. Should we be concerned about the prospects of a new Cold War?

Kissinger: There clearly is this danger, and we must not ignore it. I think a resumption of the Cold War would be a historic tragedy. If a conflict is avoidable, on a basis reflecting morality and security, one should try to avoid it. [my emphasis]
It's sad when Henry Kissinger makes more practical good sense on an issue than most of mainstream opinion.

Here he affirms the unlikelihood of NATO actually going to war over the Crimea and the practical risks of economic sanctions against Russia:

SPIEGEL: But didn't the annexation of Crimea by Russia force the EU and US to react by imposing sanctions?

Kissinger: One, the West could not accept the annexation; some countermeasures were necessary. But nobody in the West has offered a concrete program to restore Crimea. Nobody is willing to fight over eastern Ukraine. That's a fact of life. So one could say we don't have to accept it, and we do not treat Crimea as a Russian territory under international law -- just as we continued to treat the Baltic states as independent throughout Soviet rule.

SPIEGEL: Would it be better to stop sanctions even without any concessions from the Russians?

Kissinger: No. But I do have a number of problems with the sanctions. When we talk about a global economy and then use sanctions within the global economy, then the temptation will be that big countries thinking of their future will try to protect themselves against potential dangers, and as they do, they will create a mercantilist global economy. And I have a particular problem with this idea of personal sanctions. And I'll tell you why. We publish a list of people who are sanctioned. So then, when the time comes to lift the sanctions, what are we going to say? "The following four people are now free of sanctions, and the other four are not." Why those four? I think one should always, when one starts something, think what one wants to achieve and how it should end. How does it end?

SPIEGEL: Doesn't that also apply to Putin, who has maneuvered himself into a corner? Does he act out of weakness or out of strength?

Kissinger: I think out of strategic weakness masked as tactical strength. [my emphasis]
Robert Parry cites Kissinger's interview in his article, Letting the Neocons Lead Consortium News 11/17/2014.

I would say that Parry's articles on Ukraine have been a little one-sided for my taste, though I feel weird writing that. I basically agree with his analysis of the West's bad policies over Ukraine and on expanding NATO generally. But in reading his columns, I find myself wishing for a bit more context on the ambitions of the Russian side and the internal dynamics driving Putin's regime. The West, the US in particular, has been reckless in much of its post-1989 policies toward Russia. But that doesn't mean that Russia's actions, even in pursuit of legitimate security concerns, have always been free of reckless impulses, either. But neither do I want to see people aping bad Cold War habits of crouching every criticism of US policy with a Both-Sides-Do-It or Russia-Is-Evil qualifiers in a useless gesture to try to avoid being accused of being pro-Russian by the Dick Cheneys and Ted Cruzes of the world.

But Parry is spot on with this:

In a rational political system, the American neocons would be the most discredited group in modern U.S. history. If not in the dock for complicity in war crimes – from Central America in the 1980s to Iraq last decade – they would surely not be well-regarded scholars at prominent think tanks and welcomed as op-ed columnists at major publications.

But the United States doesn’t currently have a rational political system. Instead of being prosecuted or ostracized, the neocons continue to dominate Official Washington’s foreign policy thinking. They and their “liberal interventionist” sidekicks continue to demonize disfavored “enemy” leaders – just as they did in Central America and Iraq – and bait doubters for “weakness” if they don’t climb onboard. [my emphasis]
He's doing well to calling attention to how little practical difference there is in cases like the new non-war war in Syria and Iraq between the neocons and the so-called liberal hawks or liberal interventionists.

In The Neocons — Masters of Chaos Consortium News 10/17/2014, Parry writes:

The neocons and their “liberal interventionist” junior partners have kept the “regime change” pot boiling with the Western-orchestrated overthrow and killing of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the proxy civil war in Syria to oust Bashar al-Assad, the costly economic embargoes against Iran, and the U.S.-backed coup that ousted Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych last February.

All these targeted governments were first ostracized by the neocons and the major U.S. news organizations, such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, which have become what amounts to neocon mouthpieces. Whenever the neocons decide that it’s time for another “regime change,” the mainstream U.S. media enlists in the propaganda wars.
This is also a context in which news from Latin America needs to be evaluated, especially in Venezuela and Argentina. The Obama Administration has been way too enthusiastic about "regime change" plays and overconfident in their ability to achieve constructive results.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The impeachment choir

The FOXists are laying down the propaganda fire for impeaching Obama over his Executive Order on immigration reform.

This theme isn't solely a post-election phenomenon. Media Matters reports on this example from August: Fox News Host, Contributor Suggest Immigration Executive Action May Be "Impeachment Bait" 08/15/2014.

And Charles Krauthammer is still at it: Jeremy Diamond, Krauthammer: Obama immigration action 'impeachable' CNN 11/15/2014.

The Party's chief ideologist is getting into the act, Limbaugh Credits Fox News For Giving GOP "Permission" To Talk About Impeachment Media Matters 11/18/2014.

And Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal is along for the ride, WSJ Ignores Piles Of Precedent To Question Legality Of Obama's Immigration Order Media Matters 11/17/2014.

David "Bobo" Brooks provides his version of the Republican Party line on why Obama has to be impeached over trying to help out them thar darkie furriners with an Executive Order in Obama in Winter New York Times 11/17/2014.

If he were reading this out loud, I would expect the whole thing to be in his "tell" voice he uses when regurgitating especially crass Party-line whoppers. He may even be getting delusional: "Maybe, in moments of stress, [members of Obama's team] are only really sensitive to criticism from the left flank."

Or maybe there has been a crack in some dimensional barrier and this is the Bobo from an alternative universe in which Barack Obama is "only really sensitive to criticism from the left flank." Bobo outdid himself on this one. At least it shows he has a lively imagination every now and then.

Tom Tomorrow shows us how it works here in Earth Prime:


Monday, November 17, 2014

Argentina vs. a touchy vulture

The Masters of the Universe are amazingly touchy about being criticized. Or being called out for being demonstrably wrong.

Paul Singer, who has been the main face of the vulture funds trying to drive Argentina into default, and probably not incidentally, to undermine Argentine President Cristina Fernández' government in the process, is experiencing a lot of getting things wrong and being touchy about it.

The decision that Singer and the vulture funds persuaded Nixon-appointed zombie judge Thomas Griesa to render in favor of the vulture funds against Argentina, which the Supreme Court allowed to stand this year by refusing to review the case, is having repercussions other than the ones the Singer likely expected. Peruvian economist Oscar Ugarteche, author of Arquitectura financiera internacional: una genealogía de 1850 a 2008 (2014?), tells Página/12 (Julia Goldenberg, “Tendría que existir un tribunal internacional de arbitraje para deuda soberana” 17.10.2014):

La nueva arquitectura que se está delineando tiene otra base, no está supeditada a las Instituciones Financieras Internacionales (IFIS) basadas en Washington. El banco de los Brics y el Banco del Sur no necesariamente utilizan el dólar como moneda para préstamos; no utilizan la ley de Estados Unidos ni a Nueva York como jurisdicción para los contratos, abriendo el camino a un futuro de una arquitectura financiera no dominada por un solo país. En mi trabajo de la Arquitectura financiera internacional: una genealogía de 1850 [a] 2008, se puede apreciar que en el tiempo cambian las instituciones cuando las existentes se vuelven obsoletas, sea porque dejan de responder a las necesidades sistémicas de estabilidad o porque las bases que las sostienen se debilitan.

[The new architecture that is being delineated has another basis, it is not dependent on the International Financial Institutions (IFIS) based in Washington. The bank of the BRICS and the Bank of the South {both recently initiated} will not necessarily use the dollar as the currency to make the loans; they won't utilize the law of the United States nor that of New York as a jurisdiction for the contracts, opening the path to a future of a financial architecture not dominated by a singly country. In my work on Arquitectura financiera internacional: una genealogía de 1850 a 2008, one can appreciate that in time the institutions change when the existing ones become obsolete, whether because they cease to respond to the systemic necessities of stability or because the bases that sustain them have become debilitated.]
Ugarteche argues that the Argentine confrontation with the vulture funds has made a problem of the international financial system visible in a new way, "que es un problema que tiene por lo menos 30 años, es que la jurisprudencia estadounidense se transformó en jurisprudencia universal, sin que haya mediado un acuerdo internacional para convertirla en jurisprudencia universal" ("which is a problem that it has had for at least 30 years, [which is] that American jurisprudence has been transformed into the universal jurisprudence [in matters of sovereign debt], without having been mediated by an international agreement to convert into a universal jurisprudence.")

The truly radical decision of the Nixon zombie judge in the vulture funds favor demonstrated dramatically how damaging that situation can be, even redounding against the real interests of the United States, if that interest is taken to be anything more than whatever financial buccaneer is implementing some money-making scheme for their private benefit at the moment. The implications for the restructuring of Greece, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian debt could be enormous.

Ugarteche observes, "Este caso es fascinante porque ha instalado además que este juez no cree en las reestructuraciones de deuda. Tira abajo 200 años de historia financiera" ("This case is fascinating because it had shown that this judge [Thomas Griesa] doesn't believe in the restructuring of debt. That shoots down 200 years of financial history.") Ugarteche is being conservative in the 200 years estimate; I've seen at least one estimate claiming it violated eight centuries of precedent in sovereign debt.

Ugarteche also calls attention to Singer's role as one of the top donors to Republican Party campaigns in the United States. Most likely aware of the irony of South American countries needing to scold the US for corruption, Ugarteche says, "Cambiar leyes a favor tuyo poniéndoles dinero a los congresistas en nuestros países se llama tráfico de influencias" ("Changing laws in your favor by giving money to Members of Congress in our countries [Argentina and Peru] is called trafficking in influence"). In the US, we call it normal politics, probably never more so than in the Citizen's United era. Peru has also tangled with Singer's Elliott Management Corporation vulture funds.

He endorses what he identifies as Argentine Economics Minister Alex Kicillof's belief that the current international system represents first and foremost the interests of big banks.

Kiciloff carried the fight against Singer and the vulture funds to the G-20 Summit that has been meeting in Australia. And got some nominal support in an official G-20 declaration. (Capitanich praises G20 debt restructurings clause Buenos Aires Herald 11/17/2014)

Paul Krugman discusses Paul Singer's touchiness about being wrong about the threat of impending inflation inThe Uses of Ridicule 11/06/2014)

Singer was depicted by Bloomberg Businessweek this year devouring Argentina (Max Abelson and Katia Porzecanski, Paul Singer Will Make Argentina Pay 08/07/2014); the URL indicates that a one time the title of the story was projected to be, "Argentina's vulture Paul Singer is Wall Street freedom fighter."


Krugman writes:

But Singer will get very angry if you make fun of him; in fact, he denounces reporting that points out how wrong he and others have been as the “Krugmanization” of the media, a term I’ll adopt with pride. It’s yet another illustration of one of the remarkable revelations of recent years, the incredibly sensitive feelings of the superrich, who are so hurt at any suggestion that great wealth does not also go with great wisdom and great virtue that they threaten to take the economy with them and go home. [my emphasis]
Krugman links to Matt O'Brien's This billionaire thinks the Fed is missing the hyperinflation in the Hamptons Washington Post 11/06/2014. And Krugman returns to Singer in Rage of the Traders 11/13/2014:

Sometimes the absurdity of what passes for economic wisdom surpasses even my highly adapted expectations. I really, truly expected that even Wall Street would consider Paul Singer’s hyperinflation in the Hamptons rant embarrassing, and try to pretend that it never happened. But no; apparently it’s being passed around eagerly by traders and big shots who think it’s the greatest thing since sliced foie gras. ...

Oh, and really rich people often have no idea when they look ridiculous. After all, who in their entourage is going to tell them?
As Roy Edroso says in another context, "Some ideas, if we're so generous as to call them that, are just too stupid for anything but cold buckets of derision." (Who'll Stop the Derp? Alicublog 11/12/2014)

There seems to have been a great deal of wishful thinking in Singer's approach to the Argentine case. He and those supporting his suit, not least Nixon zombie judge Thomas Griega, seem to have seriously underestimated who they were dealing with in Cristina Fernández and Axel Kicillof.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The zombie of Merkel-nomics lurches on

In their 2011 book, Yanis Varoufakis et al describe the basic macroeconomics of pulling the economy out of a depression with counter-cyclical stimulus:

When a complex capitalist economy enters a downward spiral like the one described in the previous paragraph, thrift makes things far, far worse. Then, the only glimmer of hope is the state. Uniquely able to step in and pump money into the economy, it is our only chance of ending the 'beggar they neighbour' logic during a recession. This is exactly what the Second World War did ... and how the post-war economic golden age came about. (pp. 211-212)
Even left-leaning economists now speak of the period of 1945-1973 as a Golden Age of capitalism. And in historical perspective, that seems to be justified.

This doesn't mean that there weren't still substantial destructive and self-undermining features of how the economic system was working. But the system in the advanced countries enjoying a substantial amount of stability and was spared severe, protracted crises on the scale and intensity of those of the Great Depression and whatever the historians eventually call the one that began in 2007-8.

The eurozone is the poster child for the disastrous consequences of doing just the opposite of what basic macroeconomics indicates. Bill Black talks about the eurozone's situation in Germany’s Passive-Aggressive “Stimulus” Program New Economic Perspectives 11/08/2014:

Kilkenomics [in Ireland], being a festival of economists and comedians, has long reflected the economic consensus that austerity in response to a Great Recession is economic malpractice akin to bleeding a patient to make him healthy. One of the great changes in Europe in the last month is that the number of economic voices willing to make this same point have grown rapidly. Germany’s “there is no alternative” (TINA) to austerity claims were always absurd, but now many more European voices are willing to point out that there are superb alternatives – in Germany. ...

There a one trillion euro shortfall on German spending on infrastructure even though such spending (1) improves life, (2) saves lives and reduces injuries, (3) increases productivity, and (4) spurs economic recovery from the self-inflicted disaster of the second, gratuitous Great Depression that Germany inflicted on the eurozone by demanding austerity. Germany is actually running a substantial budget surplus even though this is crippling the German economy’s growth and impairing growth throughout the eurozone. The obvious win-win is for Germany to substantially increase spending on its infrastructure. Naturally, invoking TINA, Germany refused.
He explains that criticism from other eurozone members is now strong and persistent enough that Angela Merkel's government has seen the need to produce what Black calls "a faux stimulus program."

As he explains, the €3.3 billion per year "stimulus" program that Merkel is promoting actually represents a continuation of severe austerity economics. "The surprising fact is that Germany felt the need to gin up even an oxymoronic 'stimulus' plan given her constant invocation of TINA," he writes.

Wolfgang Münchau in The wacky economics of Germany’s parallel universe Financial Times 11/16/2014 describes the hold that austerity economics has on the Sehr Ernste Leute (Very Serious People):

German economists roughly fall into two groups: those that have not read Keynes, and those that have not understood Keynes. To describe the economic mainstream in Germany as conservative misses the point. There are some overlaps with the various neoclassical or neoconservative schools in the US and elsewhere. But as compelling as a comparison between the German mainstream and the Tea Party may appear, it does not survive scrutiny. German orthodoxy straddles the centre-left and the centre-right. The only party with some Keynesian leanings are the former communists [the Left Party]. [my emphasis]
This is his summary of the ordoliberalism that Merkel practices, a definition that in my mind understates how stone conservative (in American political terms) the notion is:

The Germans have a name for their unique economic framework: ordoliberalism. Its origins are perfectly legitimate – a response of Germany’s liberal elites to the breakdown of liberal democracy in 1933. It was born out of the observation that unfettered liberal systems are inherently unstable, and require rules and government intervention to sustain themselves. The job of the government was not to correct market failures but to set and enforce rules.

After 1945, ordoliberalism became the dominant economic doctrine of the centre-right. In the 1990s, the Social Democrats started to embrace it, culminating in Gerhard Schröder’s labour and welfare reforms in 2003. Today the government is ordoliberal. The opposition is ordoliberal. The universities teach ordoliberal economics. In the meantime, macroeconomics in Germany and elsewhere are tantamount to parallel universes.
That's a surprisingly generous description, especially since he goes on to note that the ordoliberals have "no obvious explanations" for that little matter known as the Great Depression.

He also gives some sense of what a basically nationalistic policy it is. And, less clearly, how much it comes down to dogmatic insistence on austerity policies no matter what.

But his conclusions is certainly appropriately pessimistic: "It is hard to think of a doctrine that is more ill suited to a monetary union with such diverse legal traditions, political system[s] and economic conditions than this one. And it is equally hard to see Germany ever giving up on this. As a result the economic costs of crisis resolution will be extremely large."




Saturday, November 15, 2014

Gene Lyons on the immediate future of Bipartisanship

Gene Lyons in The Animal House Republicans Take Control National Memo 11/12/2014 isn't optimistic that the new Senate and House majorities will take a constructive approach to governance over the next two years:

You think a guy like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will be dutifully attending committee meetings and painstakingly crafting legislation? Not as long as President Obama’s still in the White House and there are TV cameras on the premises.

There’s actually an editorial in the influential conservative magazine National Review entitled “The Governing Trap.”

It argues for two more years of Animal House Republicanism: “If voters come to believe that a Republican Congress and a Democratic president are doing a fine job of governing together, why wouldn’t they vote to continue the arrangement in 2016?”
I really like his point that "the demise of regionally and ideologically diverse American political parties — i.e. of liberal Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats — has brought paralysis to Washington."

Some amount of the nostalgia for Bipartisanship reflects just that fact. There used to be Democrats who would vote for liberal economic policies but were conservative on others. And there were Republicans who were critical of segregation and unnecessary wars. Putting together a coalition for a liberal or conservative policy normally meant getting votes from "both sides of the aisle."

But there's no virtue in Bipartisanship as such. Good policies are good policies even they're enacted on a party-line vote. Bad ones are bad no matter how much bipartisan support there is for them.

There is also a geographical aspect to this. Up until 1992, it was a cliche that Democratic Presidential candidates had a big advantage in "the West." That meant, in practice, that California with its bonanza of electoral college votes tended to go Republican. More specifically, California went Democratic in 1948 and 1964 and Republican in 1952, 1958, 1960, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988. Clinton's "It's the economy, stupid" campaign in 1992 won California.

Then in 1994, California's Republican Governor Pete Wilson was successful in passing the anti-immigrant Proposition 187, for which he prominently campaigned. Much of the badly-written law was struck down by the federal courts: "A federal district court temporarily halted Prop 187's restrictions on benefits in December 1994, and this freeze was continued under a November 1995 preliminary injunction. This 1995 decision, LULAC v. Wilson, also overturned most of Prop 187's enforcement procedures." (Larry Eig, California's Proposition 187: A Brief Overview; Congressional Research Service, n/d)

The obvious racist and xenophobic undertones of the Prop 187 campaign - and they weren't always "under" - alerted Latino citizens to the degree of hostility toward them and the undocumented relatives and neighbors. After that, Latino voting participation went up and stayed up. And a higher percentage of Latino voters have been voting Democratic ever since.

So California, and therefore "the West," now are a more reliably Democratic area in Presidential elections.

And that also means that, starting in the early 1990s, the Democrats no longer had to count on carry states in the Old Confederacy to win the Presidency, though it always helps to have Florida's trove of electoral votes, as the Supreme Court's selection of the President in 2000 reminds us in the worst way.

There are many factors in the current Party polarization. But one of them is this geographical situation. The Republicans have recreated the Solid South of earlier years and put it in their column. And they've constructed a partisan narrative that's ties the segregationist anti-democracy perspective to plutocratic economics and cultural conservatism. And they have a level of Party discipline in their national messaging and in both Houses of Congress that was just not the case for either Party after the infamous compromise of the Republican Party after the 1876 election with the Southern anti-democracy "Redeemers" until the last 20 years or so.

In fact, the "Republican Revolution" of 1994 with the election of a Republican House majority under the leadership of Newt Gingrich is a central milestone in the ongoing development of this process.

The 2014 midterm elections were a reminder of how deeply Democrats are stuck in the pre-1994 era: in their narrative framing, in their distancing themselves from their own Party and even from some of its most politically popular positions, in their endless and pointless jabbering about bipartisanship and "reaching across the aisle" (a phrase the Dems should remove from their vocabulary), in their irresponsibly hawkish foreign policy, in their almost bizarre failure to recognize how critical turnout of their own voting base is during midterm elections.

Republican segregationists are always saying that African-Americans need to just "git over it," in this case "it" being any and all objections to white racism.

What the Democrats need to git over is their fixation on the 1980s and their perceived vulnerability to an surging "movement conservatism."

Cenk Uygur here deconstructs the sorry spectacle that way too many Democrats presented in the 2014 election cycle in distancing themselves from Obama and his popular accomplishments, Dems Viciously Blame Obama As Era Of Compromise Begins The Young Turks 11/05/2014: