Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The new BRICS development bank: new challenge to the IMF/Washington Consensus

The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) last week announced they were setting up a new development bank that would provide an alternative source to the IMF for development loans.

Joe Stiglitz discusses it in this Democracy Now! report, Nobel Economist Joseph Stiglitz Hails New BRICS Bank Challenging U.S.-Dominated World Bank & IMF 07/17/2014. Stiglitz says this "reflects a fundamental change in global economic and political power."

The YouTube summary of this reports says:

A group of five countries have launched their own development bank to challenge the U.S.-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Leaders from the so-called BRICS countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- unveiled the New Development Bank at a summit in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza. The bank will be headquartered in Shanghai. Together, BRICS countries account for 25 percent of global GDP and 40 percent of the world's population. To discuss this development, we are joined by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia University and the World Bank's former chief economist. "It's very important in many ways," Stiglitz says of the New Development Bank's founding. "This is adding to the flow of money that will go to finance infrastructure, adaptation to climate change -- all the needs that are so evident in the poorest countries. It [also] reflects a fundamental change in global economic and political power. The BRICS countries today are richer than the advanced countries were when the World Bank and the IMF were founded. We're in a different world -- but the old institutions haven't kept up."
Here are a couple of reports from The Real News.

Is the New BRICS Bank a Challenge to US Global Financial Power? 07/18/2014 features a debate between a heterodox economist and a more-or-less dogmatic left thinker:

Leo Panitch in that interview argues that the new BRICS efforts are just another variation on neoliberal economics. He cites the example of the Bank of the South, which in his description was made ineffective by Brazil's insistence on it being "a very conventional development bank."

Michael Hudson of the University of Missouri-Kansas City considers it far more significant. I didn't find Panitch's criticism convincing just because it isn't so clear to me. Hudson stresses the significance of the aspect of independence from US financial hegemony in the new BRICS effort. Panitch seems to be saying that because the BRICS isn't an anti-capitalist bloc of nations, it's not that significant. Hudson's stress on the independence aspect seems to me to be the better measure of the significance of this development.

Panitch even says demands at around 14:40 that Hudson not "try to turn Putin and his cronies into the vanguard of a new socialist society," which is not something Hudson or anyone else I know of is arguing about the BRICS and the new development bank. (See Stiglitz' discussion above.) I'm fond of utopian criticism when it's done right. But Panitch really seems to be arguing that if this is not some explicit and pure vision of whatever brand of socialism he favors, it has no real importance.

Actually, a break from the neoliberal international system on things like capital controls can be vital in enabling a country to pursue Keynesian, pro-labor policies, as we see in Argentina. And that is extremely important. That would presumably be especially so for anyone who wants to see a society that fits into the classical socialist vision, as Panitch seems to. But the truth is that some leftwing intellectuals have carved out niches for themselves as more-or-less permanent cranks to the point they can be entertaining but often falls into a lazy and sterile this-isn't-perfect-so-why-should-I-care type of analysis.

At just after 12:30, Hudson brings the conflict between Argentina and the Nixon-appointed zombie judge Thomas Griega into the conversation.

Here's another Real News video emphasizing the neoliberal practices that can be found among the BRICS, BRICS: Progressive Rhetoric, Neoliberal Practice 07/19/2014:

Mario Osava reports for Inter Press Service on the disappointment of some activists over the new bank in International Reform Activists Dissatisfied by BRICS Bank 07/22/2014:

The creation of BRICS' (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) own financial institutions was "a disappointment" for activists from the five countries, meeting in this northeastern Brazilian city after the group’s leaders concluded their sixth annual summit here.

The New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), launched Tuesday Jul. 15 at the summit in the northeastern Brazilian city of Fortaleza, represent progress "from United States unilateralism to multilateralism," said Graciela Rodriguez, of the Brazilian Network for the Integration of Peoples (REBRIP).
I'm more inclined initially to see this as a hopeful, progressive development in the world.

Time will tell. Time and the actual performance of the NDB and CRA.

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Richard Eskow on Netroots Nation 2014

Richard Eskow of the Campaign for America's Future has an account of Snakes and Ladders at Netroots Nation 07/21/2014, his report on the Netroots Nation 2014 convention. (Full disclosure: I was a part of one of those table conversations he mentions.)


Monday, July 21, 2014

Argentina and the BRICS

Argentina was invited to the recent BRICS meeting that announced a new development bank, which is actually called the New Development Bank (NDB). As Fabiana Frayssinet notes in Argentina Once More on the Map, Invited by BRICS Inter Press Service 06/18/2014, this could mean that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) might have to be changed to "BRICSA, ABRICS or BRICAS, if Argentina is admitted."

The Buenos Aires Herald reports that Argentine President Cristina Fernández used the opportunity of the BRICS meetings to state her position in defiance of Nixon-appointed zombie judge Thomas Griesa that is trying to push Argentina into bankruptcy at the end of this month (Default by default 07/21/2014):

There her tone was not so much that Argentina would not pay as that Argentina had already paid (remitting the corresponding deposit to New York at the end of last month, which was immediately frozen by Manhattan judge Thomas Griesa) — she further argued that the existing 2005 and 2010 bond swaps favoured holdout creditors because even a starting 70 percent haircut would later permit them profits trebling the outlay on debt bought at junk bond levels of 10 percent. CFK also seemed to assume that there could be no default without one being declared by the government in question and she herself had no intention of taking such a step herself, ergo no chance of default. The substance of this speech hardly differed from her Flag Day declaration of a willingness to "pay 100 percent of bondholders," a pledge prompting the market optimism until recently, but the change of tone has prompted uncertainty.
There is another hearing before the Nixon zombie judge on July 22.

A Mexican economist uses the Argentine conflict with the Nixon zombie judge to illustrate the need for institutions like the NDB (reported by Mario Osava, International Reform Activists Dissatisfied by BRICS Bank Inter Press Service 07/22/2014):

“We want an international system that serves the majority, not just the seven most powerful countries (the Group of Seven),” that does not depend on the dollar and that has an international arbitration tribunal for financial controversies, said Oscar Ugarteche, an economics researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

"It is unacceptable that a district court judge in New York should put a country at risk," he told IPS, referring to the June ruling of the U.S. justice system in favour of holdouts ("vulture funds") in their dispute with Argentina, which could force another suspension of payments.

"We need international financial law," similar to existing trade law, and an end to the dominance of the dollar in exchange transactions, which enables serious injustice against nations and persons, like embargoes on payments and income in the United States, he said.

"Existing international institutions do not work," and the proof of this is that they have still not overcome the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, said the Mexican researcher.

Major powers like the United States and Japan have unsustainable debt and fiscal deficits, yet are not harassed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in contrast to the treatment meted out to less powerful nations, particularly in the developing South.
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Ukraine: asking the right questions - or not

I don't have any particular insight on the Ukrainian situation.

As Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund put it in a panel at Netroots Nations this past Saturday, we - the US, NATO - do not have any vital security interest in Ukraine.

Therefore, going to war over Ukraine is highly unlikely. Of course, the bold Maverick McCain is warmongering over it. (Also, the sun rose in the east this morning.)

Still, Western miscalculations could cause big problems. And since the neocons are particularly interested in provoking a more belligerent US stance toward Russia, we all need to be concerned about bad actors on Our Side doing stupid and unnecessary things.

For pretty obvious reasons, no one seems to be taking credit for the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.

But there also doesn't seem to be any clear evidence of who was behind the shootdown or why. And as horrible as the incident is, it doesn't change the basic stakes for the US and Russia. And Russia clearly perceives itself has having a much greater security stake in Ukraine than the US has.

Investigative reporter Robert Perry and other writers at his Consortium News site have been asking questions that the mainstream press probably needs to be asking more urgently. And almost certainly won't. In What Did US Spy Satellites See in Ukraine? 07/20/2014, Perry observes:

The dog-not-barking question on the catastrophe over Ukraine is: what did the U.S. surveillance satellite imagery show? It’s hard to believe that – with the attention that U.S. intelligence has concentrated on eastern Ukraine for the past half year that the alleged trucking of several large Buk anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia to Ukraine and then back to Russia didn't show up somewhere.

Yes, there are limitations to what U.S. spy satellites can see. But the Buk missiles are about 16 feet long and they are usually mounted on trucks or tanks. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 also went down during the afternoon, not at night, meaning the missile battery was not concealed by darkness.
With the Pentagon busily collecting bizillobytes of our personal communications data via the NSA, maybe they were too busy to be looking at missiles in Ukraine.

And our intelligence agencies have been known to miss important facts in the past. Hard to believe, I know. But they have surely corrected that problem by now!

More seriously, it's a legitimate question. If the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon claim super-competence, why should we not demand this kind of answers and consistent accountability on such things?

After the Vietnam and Iraq Wars and the almost-war with Syria - not to mention many other cautionary examples just from American history - skepticism about claims that may lead to war or to aggressive policies that heighten the risk of war unnecessarily is certainly in order. Although I doubt the bookers for the Sunday morning news shows see it that way.

I'm particularly interested in the European response to this latest escalation in the Ukraine crisis. It's hard to see how, with the eurozone economy badly crippled by Angela Merkel's austerity economics, the EU could mount a major set of sanctions, particularly with German so dependent on Russian natural gas.

Wolfgang Münchau addresses that dependence issue in MH17 und der Konflikt mit Russland: Die fatale Ostorientierung der deutschen Wirtschaftselite Spiegel Online 21.07.2014. He criticizes former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder for remaining on the board of Nord Stream Pipeline, 51% controlled by the Russian state-owned energy firm Gazprom. I've expressed my own cautions about taking Schröder's comments on the Ukraine crisis in the context of his business commitments.

But in today's world, Schröder's role as a post-office corporate ho' for a Russian-controlled firm doesn't make him an accomplice to every bad act of Russian foreign policy, if that's even what we're dealing with here. Münchau seems to think it does. Or at least, that what we know about the MH14 shootdown at this point somehow morally requires Schröder's resignation from Nord Stream Pipeline.

Münchau also seems to think that the EU will press forward with sanctions. But there are sanctions and there are sanctions. The eurozone economy on the edge of deflation can't afford to take much of an actual economic hit from sanctions against Russia. He thinks the Russian economy is particular vulnerable to economic sanctions from the US and the EU due to the predominance of the dollar, the British pound and the euro in global financial transactions. But he does note that traditional trade sanctions are unlikely to be particularly effective against Russia.

Münchau, somewhat paradoxically, would also welcome European sanctions against Russia in the form of reducing gas imports, because dependency on Russia for natural gas is the EU's "Achilles heel."

But that also means that Europe, and Germany in particular, would be subject to counter-sanctions by Russia to interrupt gas supplies or play all sorts of games to remain the EU how dependent they are.

Münchau calls more broadly for a change of "the fatal Eastern orientation of the German economic elite." But that really is a long-term project. And part of the value of deeper integration of the European and Russian economies is that it creates pressure on both sides to avoid war with each other. It would be easy to overstate that potential. After all, the various European participants in the First World War had a high degree of economic interdependence. But still, building a more peaceful world through greater integration of the international economy has been a key concept of the post-Cold War Western policies.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Netroots Nation 2014

I just got back from Netroots Nation 2014. It got a lot out of the conference and had fun, too.

I can't necessarily say I had as much fund as Marcy Wheeler and the rest of the Emptywheel crowd did. (Leaving Motown 07/20/2014) But I enjoyed it.

Getting to see old friends and make new ones is the best part of the conference. And it's good to see political leaders like Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Howard Dean speaking live and experiencing the audience reaction first hand.

I wrote briefly about Biden's speech in the previous post.

Warren's speech Friday morning was better attended than Biden's, no doubt because there were so many schedule conflicts with Biden's speech. He scheduled relatively late and then was about an hour late, he said because he was dealing with the Ukraine crisis. This is the video of Biden's speech, Sen. Elizabeth Warren at @Netroots_Nation|#NN14

But Warren is a longtime netroots favorite. And I would guess there were far more people at that convention who would prefer her as the Democratic candidate over Biden. And she was well-received, giving a solidly progressive speech that focused on inequality. Lesley Clark reports on her speech for McClatchy in Sen. Elizabeth Warren to liberals: I’m fighting back 07/18/2014. Here's the video, Sen. Elizabeth Warren at @Netroots_Nation|#NN14

She had some enthusiastic supporters at the convention:

But Biden actually got more enthusiastic moments of applause than Warren did. He knew he would be compared to Warren at this convention, and he clearly wanted to appeal to the crowd there. So he threw in a number of applause lines that would appeal to a progressive audience. Also, the expectations for Biden were presumably lower. Clark reports on Biden's speech in Biden gets credit for pushing Obama on gay marriage 07/17/2014. And his appearance seems to confirm Clark's earlier suggestion in Biden making pitch to liberals 07/15/2014, "Biden's debut at the annual Netroots Nation comes as the vice president has made a number of moves that could better position himself with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, if he decides to make a third run for the presidency."

Here's the video of Biden's speech, Vice President Joe Biden at @Netroots_Nation 2014|#NN14:

I also attended panels featuring Russian reporters on practicing journalism in Russia; debunking fake science, i.e., Republican anti-science ideology; the successful campaign for Obama to pick Janet Yellin over Larry Summers to be Fed Chair; immigration reform; the school-to-prison pipeline; and, progressive national security priorities. It was a very informative set of sessions.

The Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina Moral Mondays was Friday's evening speaker. Here's the video:

He produced probably the most memorable line of the convention, using an analogy about how snakes don't go higher than a certain point on a mountain, the point known as the "snakeline." He said what we need to do in American politics is to "go above the snakeline." By Saturday, some people had buttons that said, Rise Above The Snakeline. That part starts around 1:03:00 in the video.

Some public controversy has surfaced about the 2015 Netroots Nation plans. Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos is objecting to the Phoenix location for next year because of Arizona's anti-immigrant laws. He explains in Netroots Nation is going to Arizona, Daily Kos is not 07/19/2014, "I made very clear in the wake of Arizona's passage of SB 1070 that I would not be setting foot in the state, nor spending a dime in it until the law was revoked. The law, however gutted by the courts, remains on the books, as does systemic harassment of Latinos, so my pledge still stands."

Since we're talking about Democrats and a left-leaning group, it would be surprising if there weren't some kind of schism. That's probably too strong a word for this. But it's hard not to speculate that there might be other disagreements there over priorities. But for now, we have what Markos himself is saying. His objection is particularly notable. Not only because of the prominence of Daily Kos. But also because it was Markos who started the Netroots Nation conference, which was originally called YearlyKos in 2006 and 2007.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Biden @ Netroots Nation #NN14

Joe Biden on Thursday became the first sitting Vice President to address a Netroots Nation convention. Dick Cheney never showed up.

Given Biden's current position as a part of the Obama Administration and as a potential 2016 Presidential candidate, it's hard to judge the content of one of his speeches without referring to those two roles.

His speech Thursday was not one to say, Obama's program is great, so get out there and help the Party in the midterm elections ! This was a speech to say: If you want somebody to fight for progressive values, I'm your guy!

In fact, some of the Democratic candidates in Michigan will probably be dismayed that he didn't have more to say about the 2014 elections.

But Biden can give a real Democratic campaign speech when he puts his mind to it.

And he didn't promise Bipartisanship or talk about how important it is to "reach across the aisle".

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Post-World Cup politics and propaganda

Business Insider seems to have the hots for the vulture funds that are trying to crash the world bond market over defaulted Argentine debt in cahoots with Nixon-appointed federal zombie judge Thomas Griesa.

But this is just dumb as dirt: Linette Lopez, Argentina's President Welcomed Her Country's Losing World Cup Team Home In The Coldest Way Imaginable 07/16/2014. Linette, if you lose your gig writing trash for Business Insider, you can probably go on wingnut welfare at the National Endowment for Democracy or some other neocon outfit that looks for foreign governments to destabilize for the convenience and profit of outfits like the ones the Nixon zombie judge is in bed with over the Argentine debt.

Luis Bruschtein reports the actual news from Argentine President Cristina Fernández in “Se gana cuando se juega en equipo” Página/12 15.07.2014. Thanks to that fool Nixon zombie judge Griesa, Argentina is looking at the real possibility of another default on its national debt in two weeks. To a frivolous twit like Linette Lopez, that's cause for FOX News-level dishonest snark.

But to the actual President of Argentina, it was an occasion to be sober in congratulating her country's second-place team and staging a welcoming event at the Ezeiza airport. She acknowledged, jokingly it seems to me, her own well-known lack of interest in soccer as a sport, while using the occasional to praise the exemplary teamwork of the players, holding it up as an example for national solidarity among Argentinians facing difficult national challenges and expressing her "immense pride" in the team and its performance. This is a Spanish-language news report on the reception, Visión 7 - Orgullo nacional por la Selección TV Pública argentina 15.07.2014:

Meanwhile, in Germany the World Cup winning team managed to show bad sportsmanship by being dickheads, singing a popular soccer song "So gehen die Gauchos" that may not be obnoxious in itself but presumably any sentient adult could understand in the context would look like they were denigrating the second-place Argentinian team. Here's a YouTube video of it, So gehen die Gauchos, die Gauchos, die gehen so. So gehen die Deutschen, die Deutschen, die gehen so 07/15/2014 (embedding not available on this one). The lines mean, "This is how the gauchos walk, this is how the Germans walk." This version has embedding available as of this writing, So gehen die Deutschen (Gauchos) 07/15/2014:

TV Pública argentina reports on the homecoming celebration in Germany, Visión 7 - Violencia y burlas en el festejo alemán 16.07.2014:

Maybe Linette Lopez would have been more impressed with Cristina's presentation if she had asked the team to stage a dance and sing, "This is how dumb the Germans are, the Germans are this dumb." But Lopez is just a hack.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Evolution and social sexuality

Articles about what makes people attractive to potential sexual and/or life partners are good click-bait.

(Update 07/16/2014: post edited for grammar and clarity.)

Salon features one by Jesse Bering called The secret to successful flirting 07/12/2014. It appeared in his Scientific American blog as Voices Carry (Signals of Your Sexual Intent and Reproductive Value) 07/10/2014, which is a more descriptive title for the article's content.

The Scientific American logo always adds weight, and he writes for them. Although this following piece by the same author is clearly tagged as an opinion piece that is the writer's own: Jesse Bering, A Good Man is Hard to Find, So Here’s an (Evolutionary) Tip 07/15/2014. And seeing that he's written a book called Perv (?!) adds another cautionary note.

While I certainly think that questions of sex and sexual attraction play an huge role in society, Bering's approach strikes me as confusing biological, evolutionary and social factors. For instance, in the "Voices Carry" piece he's discussing research on how men's and women's voices modulate when talking to each other:

So how do Leongómez and his co-authors interpret this puzzling effect? Why, from an evolutionary perspective, of course. "Producing a low pitch at some point during an interaction [with an attractive female] might provide sufficient indication of physical masculinity while freeing men to 'play' with their pitch ... because low-pitched masculine voices might be associated with aggression, such modulation could potentially enable men to signal both their masculinity and lack of threat simultaneously." In other words, "Hey, sexy lady, hear this? Hear how I’m sounding right now? That's right: I'm a virile, testosterone-fuelled male specimen of our species but, cross my heart, I'll be sweet to you ... and our future offspring." And indeed, a group of naïve female listeners asked to judge the verbal recordings of male wooers found those with the most significant pitch variability the most attractive.
This has the virtue of sounding empirical and based on hard-nosed science.

But there are actually a lot of assumptions at work. For instance, in the "evolutionary perspective," did low pitches signal "physical masculinity" for, oh, the last 300,000 years in the ancestry of homo sapiens? Did homo sapiens and our ancestors for the last million years live in conditions where the females were in a position to meaningfully choose their preferred mate? If not, just how did these preferences evolve? And are we talking about biological evolution here or social evolution?

Part of me wonders if I should be griping about this. Because in these days of the Republican Party's anti-science poliical-religious jihad, I wonder if I shouldn't just be glad to see someone talking in a context that accepts evolution as a real process in history and biology.

But this kind of approach raises red flags for me in several ways. One is that whenever I see someone explaining romantic interactions between men and women in this way, I wonder if I'm not looking at some version of "evolutionary psychology", aka, "sociobiology", aka, Social Darwinism.

Also, one of the practical problems with understanding evolution, a key concept in science, is that there's a great temptation in describing evolution, especially in popular presentations, to resort to language suggesting teleology or the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Or to talk about evolution as a conscious agent. As in: this fish developed this characteristic to be able to evade predators. Which raises the obvious question, how did the fish's ancestors evade predators before that? It's important to recognize that successful evolution means that a given species or sub-species grouping was able to survive and reproduce. It doesn't mean that every aspect of the species is the best conceivable adaptation. It's that it was advantageous enough, without features that were so disadvantageous that it prevents survival and reproduction. It certainly doesn't mean that adaptations were in some way designed to maximize an individual's advantage in 2014 forms of family and sexual practices.

So when Bering describes the voice modulation patterns he's discussing as a way for the male of the species to say, "Hey, sexy lady, hear this? Hear how I'm sounding right now? That's right: I'm a virile, testosterone-fuelled male specimen of our species but, cross my heart, I'll be sweet to you ... and our future offspring," I have to wonder if there aren't a few too many corners being cut in the description! Among other things, he seems to be trying awfully hard to give the piece a how-to-pick-up-chicks sound. Which Salon's headline writer also seems to have picked up on.

He also be seems to be balancing a lot of speculation on top of a fairly limited finding. Like presumably most readers of the article, I haven't checked the research he's citing. But he seems to be taking an interesting data point, a finding that men's voice patters show certain modulations in the presence of a woman they find attractive, and speculating fairly freely about what it might imply about sexual evolution. And while the flirtation angle is click-bait fun, the explanation doesn't work without a lot of other findings beyond even confirmation by other similar studies.

For instance, without validating a similar pattern in various languages and numerous cultures and different courtship patterns, it couldn't be held to be a general features of homo sapien evolution. The study he referenced was in English and Czech, which are at least from two separate language groups. And can such a pattern be confirmed over time, through literature or decades of "talkie" movies? Or could it be some effect of dramatic patterns in movies or voice modulations in widely-shared popular music? The fact that a similar voice modulation pattern was found in some (apparently heterosexual) women when speaking to certain other women would seem to raise a bigger question about the mate-selection interpretation in male-female interactions than Bering's article acknowledges.

The "Good Man" post is also about mate selection, in this case reporting on a study on how women's preferences in men are shaped by other women's ideas of which men are desirable. This one is less interesting than the voice-modulation one. Gee, people are influenced by how their peers react to the opposite sex? Who could have guessed?

But I also have to wonder on this one if Bering isn't too quick to read social assumptions back into millennia of biological evolution:

A final caveat is that female mate copying didn't seem to play a role for women with high "self-perceived mate value" (or "SPMV"). Women who are convinced—wrongly or rightly—that they're especially hot aren't so easily swayed by other women's views of a man when rating that man’s desirability. "Women with high mate value may be less likely to copy the choices of other women," speculate the authors, "if those women have lower mate values than themselves, and thus lower standards."

Meow. That sounds a bit harsh, but natural selection can be that way, I suppose.
The value of this speculation is, of course, heavily dependent on how an "SPMV" woman is defined. Does this mean that a narcissistic woman will put more effort into developing a personal appearance and other attributes to develop a high SPMV and her narcissism makes her pay less attention to the opinions of her peers? Does it mean a woman who's too smug (the "self-perceived" part) is more prone to making sloppier choices in mates because she's not gathering the right social intelligence from other women? Or does it mean that a self-confident woman with a rich array of social experiences will come to perceive herself as high-SPMV and also make her more (justifiably) confident of her own perceptions of potential mates so that she doesn't need to rely so much on her friends' superficial assumptions?

So many evolutionary questions, so little time!

And as long as we're looking at sex-and-science click bait, Scientific American also provides, Is Spring Fever Real? – Instant Egghead #68 07/28/2014:


Monday, July 14, 2014

Religion, the Christian Right and Republican Party/Tea Party politics

Digby flags a Daily Beast article by Jack Schwartz The Tea Party Isn’t a Political Movement, It's a Religious One 07/13/2014, in which he writes:

But when religion is thrown into the mix, all that is lost. Religion here doesn't mean theology but a distinct belief system which, in totality, provides basic answers regarding how to live one's life, how society should function, how to deal with social and political issues, what is right and wrong, who should lead us, and who should not. It does so in ways that fulfill deep-seated emotional needs that, at their profoundest level, are devotional. Given the confusions of a secular world being rapidly transformed by technology, demography, and globalization, this movement has assumed a spiritual aspect whose adepts have undergone a religious experience which, if not in name, then in virtually every other aspect, can be considered a faith. [my emphasis]
Digby notes - maybe with a touch of sarcasm? - "I do think the fact that so many of them are also members of the Christian Right may have something to do with this."

Actually, the phenomenon he's describing has mostly to do with the Christian Right. The Republican Party has effectively adopted a theocratic ideology and merged religion with politics. I do think religion can and should inform politics and vice versa.

But merging religion and partisan politics means that if you make a deal on say, taxes or gun proliferation, that you're not just making the best deal you could get and working a set of tradeoffs. It means you're betraying God Almighty!

I actually don't like the way he frames the article. For one thing, you don't need to argue that a social phenomenon is like religion when what you're analyzing is religion.

I would rather look at this as a question of fanaticism, which doesn't require you do define religion so very broadly as he does here. I'm not sure that religion necessary requires a belief in God(s) or even the supernatural. But defining religion as "a distinct belief system which, in totality, provides basic answers regarding how to live one's life" is definitely too broad a definition. A system of ethics, a club, a political doctrine, a secular philosophy can all serve that purpose without a kind of belief in God or a world beyond the material one or the kinds of rituals we typically associate with religion.

With the Christian Right and the five conservative Catholic guys on the Supreme Court who gave us the Hobby Lobby decision, I would prefer to keep definitions of religion more narrow than the one he gives. After all, segregationist thinking provides "a distinct belief system which, in totality, provides basic answers regarding how to live one's life." If we define that as religion, white folks wouldn't even have to claim a church affiliation or even claim a faith in God to say serving African-American customers was against their "religion."

Also, this is a comment that would be hard to defend: "To question the validity of Moses parting the Red Sea or the Virgin Birth or Mohammed ascending to heaven on a flying horse is to confront the basis of a believer's deepest values."

It's true that the Virgin Birth is mentioned in the Nicene Creed, which the Catholic Church and almost all Protestant churches theoretically claim as a basic statement of the faith. But I doubt most non-fundamentalist Christians would thing that was an essential part of "the basis of a believer's deepest values."

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Angela Merkel is threatening to resign? What up with that?

According to this Spiegel Online article, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is suggesting she may resign her office for reasons unknown: Möglicher Amtsverzicht: Merkel-Vertraute erwarten freiwilligen Rücktritt der Kanzlerin 13.07.2014.

It's anybody's guess what that's about!

It certainly doesn't seem to be getting the play one might expect. It's based on an article in the new print edition of Der Spiegel.


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Upteenth example of how white racism fries white people's brains

TPM's Daniel Strauss reports on a perfect example of the kind of convoluted talk that comes out of segregationists mouths and computers in Hometown Editorial: McDaniel Isn't A Racist Because He Played Basketball 07/08/2014.

It's about a pro-Chris McDaniel, anti-black editorial of July 2 in the Mississippi Laurel Call-Leader-Call. It concludes with, "The more free our society is, the more enslaved it becomes."

It begins with the sneering, "It’s the modern-day scarlet letter ... though it’s probably wrong to make a reference to color to characterize it."

But for segregationists, being accused of racism isn't a "scarlet letter." It's a matter of pride. It lets them whine about being persecuted white people. Or is it persecuted Christians? SegregationThink is confusing in some of its rhetorical twists. But the basic idea is easy: us white folks sure are better'n them blacks.

The Laurel Call-Leader-Call editorial written by the paper's editor Mark Thornton is printed and digital evidence of the kind of mind-rot white racism produces in the Caucasian brain.

Update: I should note that I assumed from the language that the editorial's author is white. I grew up about 40 miles from Laurel and the writer is talking like Mississippi Piney Woods white segregationists talk. An African-American writer performing a white supremacist idea of what a Good Negro should be would typically address himself to "fellow blacks" or something similar. In any case, the editorial was straight-up segregationism aimed at a segregationist audience and promoting white racism and segregation. And, yes, those who share the editorial's outlook are proud of being called white racists despite the phony whining.

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Stephen Walt on the downside of liberal internationalist foreign policy

I usually refer to Stephen Walt as a foreign policy Über-Realist because he's a leading representative of the "realist" school of foreign policy.

In Democracy, Freedom, and Apple Pie Aren't a Foreign Policy 07/01/2014, he makes this observation on bipartisan foreign policy faults:

But the real blame lies elsewhere. All three post-Cold War presidents have made their fair share of errors, but there is a common taproot to many of their failings. That taproot has been the pervasive influence of liberal idealism in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, an influence that crosses party lines and unites Democratic liberal internationalists with Republican neoconservatives. The desire to extend liberalism into Eastern Europe lay behind NATO expansion, and it is a big reason that so-called liberal hawks jumped on the neocon bandwagon in Iraq. It explains why the United States tried to export democracy to Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East, instead of focusing laser-like on al Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks. It was the foundation of Bill Clinton's strategy of "engagement and enlargement," George W. Bush's "liberty doctrine," and Barack Obama's initial embrace of the Arab Spring and decision to intervene in Libya. It is, in short, the central thread in the complex tapestry of recent U.S. foreign policy.
He doesn't break it out separately, but part of the problem with liberal internationalism is that in economic policy its liberal in the classic free-market, let the billionaires and corporations do what they want sense. The economic aspects of foreign policy as seen in the so-called Washington Consensus in prescriptions for developing countries and in the eurozone has come to be known as neoliberalism. And its recommendations for lowering wages, drastically cutting pensions and public services and trade treaties that undermine democratic sovereignty have proved to be generally disastrous for those not part of the One Percent.

Walt also notes (my emphasis):

But the moral appeal of these basic liberal principles does not mean that they are a sound guide for the conduct of foreign policy.
Realism is more an academic than a political category. Foreign policy practitioners - diplomats, government foreign policy analysts, advisors, etc. - after the Second World War were fairly eclectic in practice. But all of them prided themselves on their hard-headed opposition to the Soviet Union, which was rightly or wrongly seen by liberals and conservatives alike as an existential threat to the United States. Once the nuclear arms race proceeded to a certain point, of course, both the US and the USSR were existential threats to each other in the most literal sense.

Broadly speaking, liberal internationalism in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson was the dominant foreign policy model in the Democratic Party, and to a large extent remains so today. It was liberal internationalist ideas tempered by pragmatic considerations that lead Kennedy to escalate involvement in Vietnam and later developed major doubts about its effectiveness and advisability. It was a liberal internationalist outlook that led LBJ to escalate the war into one involved major commitments of US ground troops. It was a liberal internationalist outlook that informed the criticism of the war made by Democrats like Robert Kennedy and George McGovern.

You can trace that line through the Presidencies of Carter, Clinton and Obama, as well.

The nationalistic isolationism represented today by Rand Paul, and the libertarians/"paleo-conservatives" has been an undercurrent in the Republican Party since the Second World War, and was dominant before that.

The mainstream Republican position after the war, though, was a conservative-nationalist version of liberal internationalism. Republican support of NATO and the United Nations represented the internationalist side of this Republican outlook. The Eisenhower Administration's notion of "tripwire/massive retaliation" in nuclear policy and "rollback" of Communism in Eastern Europe are examples of the conservative/nationalist impulse.

The Realist outlook also has variations, in both its academic and practical versions. Henry Kissinger during the Nixon and Ford Administrations practiced much more of a Realist foreign policy in relation to the USSR and China, as evidenced by McGovern's agreement with the basic lines of those policies in the 1972 Presidential contest. Whether their Vietnam policy was driven more by ideology, great-power arrogance or domestic political considerations is a matter of continuing debate. It would be hard to make a case that it was based on a small-r realistic assessment of the realities of the war.

By the first Bush Administration, the neoconservatives had developed into a major force in the Republican Party. One could argument that was already the case during the Reagan Administration. Their heritage from Trotskyism to Henry Jackson Democratic hawkishness to Team B and beyond were chronicled ably by many sources during the buildup to the Iraq War and its grim aftermath. Sidney Blumenthal describes the mid-2000s in The neocons' next war Salon 08/03/2006; he wrote about the neocons two days earlier in his book, The Rise Of The Counter-Establishment (1986). Jack Hunter presents a "paleo-conservative" view of the neocons in What’s a Neoconservative? The American Conservative 06/23/2011.

Neocons promote a frankly imperialist power politics, using the rhetoric of spreading democracy and opposing dictatorship to justify it. Leaving aside the remarkable cynicism some of their leading lights such as Richard Perle and Douglas Feith over the Iraq War, the neocons generally regarded the expansion and reinforcing of American power and influence as benign and desirable and value shows of "toughness" and "determination" in a way that considers war as a routine tool of foreign policy. They have been as suspicious of the UN as the John Birch Society mentality informing the Tea Party and Old Right Isolationism. They generally are anti-internationalist, in the sense that they have contempt for foreign alliances. Except in the case of Israel, whose most aggressive, warlike policies they support and want the US to support.

Realist theorist of international relations argue that the practice of nations tend to be based on patterns of behavior that in practice often override ideological considerations. Applying a Realist theory to foreign policy involves being aware of those patterns, using them to the advantage of one's own country, and being carefully empirical in evaluating situations. Dan Drezner gives a helpful description of this tendency in The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion Perspectives on Politics 6:1 (Mar 2008).

He cites some of the best-known advocates and scholars of the Realist theory past and present, including Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer (The Tragedy of Great Power Politics), Andrew Bacevich (The New American Militarism), George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, Hans Morgenthau (Politics among Nations with Kenneth Thompson), Stephen Krasner (Defending the National Interest) and John Mearsheimer.

Drezner gives us a helpful reminder that academic purity isn't how politicians approach decision-making in noting that many of George W. Bush's arguments for going to war in Iraq, particularly the non-existent WMDs, sounded more like Realist arguments than either liberal-internationalist or neocon ones. Most of his article is devoted to challenging the assumption, which ironically Realists tend to make, that the US public is more attracted to idealist solutions (liberal internationalist, neocon) than to the Realist view. He references a number of studies showing that the US public in fact is generally sympathetic to some important realist arguments. It's especially interesting to me that he challenges the deeply flawed argument identified especially with political scientist John Mueller that the US public's support of a war is dependent on the amount of US casualties and basically nothing else.

Sumantra Maitra has an informative take on Realism and its competitors in U.S. Foreign Policy: Back to Realism International Affairs Review 01/13/2013. She uses capital-r Realism the way I'm prone to do. And contrasts it with what she calls the Romantic approach, encompassing both the neocon and liberal internationalist view. She sees an important turning point in US foreign policy with Reagan's famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, which included his famous line, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!" For Republicans, that is a great moment celebrated in Cold War triumphalism. Maitra sees its significance differently:

... Reagan’s Brandenburg speech in 1987 marks the direct shift from a foreign policy of confrontational brinkmanship at worst, and defensive detente at best, to the start of the absolutist promotion of the rhetoric of "freedom." It was the beginning of the all-encompassing idea of liberal democracy, more specifically Romanticism in foreign policy. Over the next two decades, foreign policy of major Western powers had two different directional approaches, neither of which can be defined clearly under Liberalism or Realism. For example, the immediate aftermath of the Cold War and most of the nineties was marked with optimism of epic proportions fueled by the belief in the inevitability of the Western value system and liberal democratic governance as the ultimate way to the future, multilateralism, and the emerging concept of humanitarian intervention.
She expresses great optimism that in the US and the West generally, the Realist approach to international affairs is winning out over the Romantic ones.

I'm not so optimistic on that score. But I do find myself attracted more to Realist analyses of foreign policy than to liberal internationalist ones or the neocon view. And I like Maitra's use of Romantic to apply to both liberal interventionism (a variant of liberal internationalism) and neoconservatism. Because in practice, they often join together to advocate for unnecessary wars and adventurism short of war. As Walt says in the quote at the top, "so-called liberal hawks jumped on the neocon bandwagon in Iraq."

It's also important to remember that foreign policy in practice is notoriously resistant to the application of any kind of dogma, including a Realist one. The Realist Hans Morgenthau, for instance, seriously proposed de-industrializing postwar Germany and requiring it to remain a "pastoral," agricultural country.

The "catch" in Realism's placing principles of national security aggrandizement at the center of their understanding of foreign relations is that national security, national well-being and expansion of national influence are all shaped to some degree by ideas, values and sentiments.

So even with Realism, the search for a dogma that can consistently guide policy in an optimizing direction will go on.

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Accused US spies in Germany

A couple of English-language links on the German spy story going on right now.

Mark Hosenball, Exclusive: CIA had role in Germany spy affair Reuters 07/07/2014

Constanze Stelzenmueller, Revelation at the heart of US-German spying saga Financial Times/German Marshall Fund 07/09/2014

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Cenk Uygur on Obama's latest cave-in on immigration

Cenk Uygur in Obama Answers Immigration Crisis By Bowing To His Critics The Young Turks 07/08/2014:


Gauck and German foreign policy

I had a much better imporession of Joachim Gauck before her became President of Germany!

Lately he's been beating the drums for more military intervention by Germany. And not so much in a particular place. He just wants Germany to do more military actions!

Annika Breidthardt reports for Reuters in President urges Germany to take more military responsibility 06/14/2014:

Europe's largest and the world's fourth biggest economy has faced criticism from allies for not taking a more active role. Gauck said he had repeatedly heard such pleas during his travels.

"That's what I want from Germany, too" Gauck said in an interview with Deutschlandradio Kultur after a trip to Norway.

"I have the feeling our country should maybe drop the reluctance that was in order in past decades in favor of a stronger sense of responsibility." ...

"Sometimes it is necessary to take up arms in order to fight for human rights or for the survival of innocent people," Gauck said.

In 2010, remarks by a previous president, Horst Koehler, justifying military action to back Germany's commercial interests sparked criticism that prompted him to step down.

Gauck, who took office in 2012, said taking a stronger international role did not imply being dominant. "I don't mean the behavior that Germany put on in past centuries or in the decade of the war: a demeanor of German dominance. The opposite is what I mean," Gauck said. [my emphasis]
It was unacceptable coming from Köhler in 2010. But after four years of nationalistic posturing by Chancellor Angela Merkel in the euro crisis, Gauck's demands are yet creating the same kind of uproar.

This is a sad turn of events. When Horst Köhler stepped down in 2010, Gauck was backed by the SPD and the Greens in the campaign for his replacement. Merkel's preferred choice Christian Wulff was selected instead. Gauck is from the DDR, the former East Germany. A pastor there, he managed to stay away from being tainted by involvement with the ruling Communist Party. After unification, he was the director of the archives of the Stasi, the former East Germany secret police. And as such, he was a prominent and influential figure in shaping the public conversation over the history of the DDR after unification.

But like Merkel, who grew up in the DDR, Gauck doesn't seem to have acquired the same sense of a need for foreign policy restraint that politicians in the former West Germany developed.

That's not meant to be a broad generalization. There are definitely former residents of the DDR who aren't in favor of a nationalistic policy by today's Germany. But it is striking that the Chancellor and the President both have taken their lessons from the DDR's past and assimilated it to a more nationalistic foreign policy than former West German leaders were inclined to display, certainly in relation to the Western European countries.

Klaus Stuttmann captures this side of Gauck's public persona in this cartoon of 06/17/2014:

"Germany Onward!"

Gauck has actually been as crass as Köhler was in his comments. What got Köhler in hot water was that he made it sound like Germany should be ready for military interventions for its own national convenience and commercial benefit. (Stefan Berg und Christoph Hickmann, Horst Lübke Der Spiegel 22/2010 31.05.2010) This would sound unexceptional from an American politician. But the German public wasn't quite so content with that kind of thinking from their President. Gauck has managed to avoid sounding quite so crass.

Köhler was Merkel's pick. And once he got himself in trouble, she was quick to dump him. Merkel knows about Dolchstoß, the knife in the back. She's good at it. When her next pick, Christian Wulff, beat out Gauck for the Presidency in 2010 and then got embarrassed with a scandal about taking expensive benefits from a German plutocrat, she dumped him as well and brushed the dirt off her hands. Then she was okay with having Gauck as President.

The postwar German Constitution set up the office of President as the head of state, although with limited powers, due to lessons learned from the mischief made by President Paul Hindenburg during the Weimar Republic that contributed so mightily to its well-known demise. The office's incumbents established it over the years as a moral and humanitarian voice defending democracy in a generally non-partisan way.

Stefan Berg et al in a Spiegel article from 2012, the year Gauck took Wulff's place as President, Apostel der Freiheit 19.03.2012, noted that Gauck could be expected to be a spokesperson for "freedom" in the form of economic liberalism, i.e. free markets:

Seine Gegner, darunter alte Weggefährten aus der DDR, werfen Gauck vor, er lasse über sein Bekenntnis zur Freiheit die Begeisterung für die Gerechtigkeit fehlen. Gauck hat dagegen eingewandt, ihm liege auch die Gerechtigkeit sehr am Herzen. Aber im Kern ist der Befund so falsch nicht. Man darf vermuten, dass das Wort „sozial” für den neuen Bundespräsidenten nicht den Wohlklang hat, den es bei den meisten Bundesbürgern auslöst. Dazu ist es ihm im Sozialismus ein paarmal zu oft um die Ohren gehauen worden.

[His enemies, among them old acquaintance from the DDR, accuse Gauck of leaving justice out of his profession of faith in Freedom. He has objected in response that justice is also very dear to his heart. But at its core, the claim is not so wrong. One may assume that the word "social" doesn't have the harmonious sound that it triggers by most German citizens. He's been whacked on the ears with a few times too often in socialism [i.e., East Germany}.]
Berg seems to be speculating a bit much there.

But Jesuit social ethicist Friedhelm Hengsbach also points to Gauck's East German experience as limiting his realism about the present-day Federal Republik. In "Kapitalismus kann töten" domradio.de 17.01.2014, Hengbach commented on a speech Gauck gave in January in praise of some the notions of "ordoliberal" economic doctrine of the "Freiburg School," a doctrine to which Merkel adheres rather dogmatically in her eurozone policies:

Natürlich hat diese Rede Schwachstellen, sie lebt aus den Erfahrungen in der früheren DDR und ist begeistert von der Freien Marktwirtschaft wie Frau Merkel, bevor ihr Handy abgehört wurde. Da klingt einerseits eine bestimmte Freude über die Freiheitsgeschichte und über das, was der Freie Markt in einer Demokratie bedeutet, heraus. Auf der anderen Seite greift der Präsident die Ideen von Walter Eucken und der Freiburger Schule auf, und da wird eigentlich ganz deutlich gesagt, dass der Wettbewerb gefährdet wird durch private Macht. Als Beispiel dient die Weimarer Zeit. Aber das ist ja heute genauso durch die Lobbyisten in den Banken und den Großkonzernen. Und da heißt es auch, dass der Wettbewerb natürlich auch gefährdet wird durch staatliche Macht. Also: Immer dort, wo Machtballung auftritt, die nicht kontrolliert ist, da sieht er große Gefahren.

[Of course this speech has weak points; it lives from the experiences in the former DDR {East Germany} and is enchanted by the free-market economy, like Frau Merkel {was} before her mobile phone was tapped {by the NSA}. So on the one hand, a definite joy sounds out over the story of freedom and over what the free market means in a democracy. On the other hand, the President pick up the ideas of Walter Eucken and the Freiburg School, and there it is actually said very explicitly that the competition is endangered by private power. The Weimar time serves as an example. But that is the very same today through the lobbyists in the banks and large concerns. And there it is also said, of course, that competition is also endangered by state power. Therefore: Always there, where concentration of power emerges that isn't controlled, there he sees great dangers.]
Hengback compares Gauck's perspective unfavorably to that of Pope Francis I, referring again to Gauck's DDR experiences:

Man muss immer den konkreten Kontext sehen, aus dem die Menschen kommen, und ihr Erfahrungsmilieu. Gauck hat das Erfahrungsmilieu des real existierenden Sozialismus in sich aufgesogen. Er sieht natürlich immer den glänzenden Schein der Bundesrepublik, der aber in Wirklichkeit ein Glanz ist, hinter dem sich entregelte Arbeitsverhältnisse und zunehmende bzw. stabil gleichbleibende soziale Armut verbergen. Und beim Papst ist es genau umgekehrt: Der Papst kommt vom Ende der Welt, wie er sagt, nämlich aus Argentinien, aus einem Milieu von Armut und Ausgrenzung, und von daher kann er sagen: Ein Kapitalismus, der Menschen in diesem Maße ausgrenzt und die Verteilung von Einkommen und Vermögen systematisch so asymmetrisch gestaltet, der gefährdet Menschenleben. Dann kann Kapitlaismus töten.

[One must always look at the concrete context out of which someone comes, and his milieu of experience. Gauck has absorbed the experience milieu of real existing socialism {an ironic term in this context for East Germany] into himself. He naturally always sees the shiny appearance of the Federal Republic {Germany}, which in reality is a shine behind which are hidden deregulated working conditions and social poverty that is increasing or at best remaining stable. And by the Pope is it the exact reverse: The Pope comes from the end of the world, as he says, namely from Argentina, out of a milieu of poverty and exclusion. And from that perspective he can say: a capitalism that excludes people to this degree and the division of income and wealth is shaped systematically in such an asymmetric way, it endangers human life. Because capitalism can kill.]

Albrecht von Lucke, Der nützliche Herr Gauck Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 3/2014

Agnieszka Brugger, a Green Member of the German Bundestag, writes on Facebook on 06/16/2014:

Die Äußerungen von ‪#‎Gauck‬ gehen in die falsche Richtung. Statt Militäreinsätze zum Normalfall in der Außenpolitik zu erklären, sollte der Bundespräsident für zivile Krisenprävention, mehr Entwicklungshilfe und weniger Rüstungsexporte werben.

The article she's linking is Annett Meiritz, Bundespräsident: Scharfe Kritik an Gaucks Ruf nach Militäreinsätzen Spiegel Online 15.06.2014. This is a disturbing trend.

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Monday, July 07, 2014

Democracy and the Merkelized EU

Jens Wernicke interviews Horst Teubert, editor of german-foreign-policy.com in Deutsche Eliten setzen auf aggressivere Außenpolitik, Militarisierung und Krieg Nachdenkseiten 07.07.2014 on the tendency among German elites for greater German assertiveness in foreign policy.

Und man sollte nicht vergessen: In einigen Bereichen sind grundlegende demokratische Rechte innerhalb der EU inzwischen faktisch aufgehoben worden. Die Spardiktate in der Euro-Krise, die Aktivitäten der EU-Troika sind demokratisch nicht legitimierte Eingriffe von außen in nationale Hoheitsrechte der verschuldeten EU-Staaten. Darüber wird viel zu wenig gesprochen.

[And one should not forget: In some ways, basic democratic rights inside the EU have in the meantime become in practice annulled {more literally "ablated"}. The austerity diktat in the euro crisis, the activities of the EU Troika are interventions without democratic legitimacy in national sovereign rights of the indebted EU states. Too little is said about that.]
That's very true!

This is the most disturbing fact about the austerity policies that Angela Merkel has successfully imposed on the crisis countries of the eurozone: the contempt for democratic processes that she's shown in doing so. Securing peace and democracy was the fundamental purpose of the European Union. And unfortunately, the past tense is looking increasing appropriate.

And while Merkel was imposed ruinous economic policies on various countries and in the process ousting the government of Greece and dictating a change of government in Italy, the EU has managed to largely ignore the authoritarian turn that Hungary has taken. On the ugly turn in Hungary, see Glenn Ellis, Hungary: Towards the Abyss Aljazeera English 05/22/2013.

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The Christian Right's long game against Obama on contraception

Frank Schaeffer, a former prince of the Christian Right, puts the Hobby Lobby decision in the context of the Christian Right's long game in Hobby Lobby Verdict is a Victory For Ultra-Right Roman Catholic Co-Conspirators With Chuck Colson’s Ghost 07/01/2014:

Alarmed by the Supreme Court pandering to the extreme religious right in the Hobby Lobby case, the new pope might ask "Who is responsible for this?" The answer is: Many people. However two people are the real instigators: the late evangelical far right activist, Charles Colson, and Roman Catholic far right ideologue and anti-gay activist, Princeton Professor Robert George. Their tool has been Justice Antonin Scalia and the other Roman Catholic members of the Court. ...

George, who once was an adviser to John McCain, has worked hard to destroy the Obama presidency. Colson’s and George’s "Manhattan Declaration" was the trap they set for the administration that finally paid off when they talked a number of bishops into branding Obama as anti-religious because he wanted women to have access to contraception, even if they worked for Roman Catholic or evangelical-controlled institutions.

In 2009, Colson was a principal writer with George of the Manhattan Declaration, which called on far right evangelicals, Mormons and Catholics to defeat President Obama in 2012, albeit without mentioning Obama by name under the "non-political" guise of the "sanctity of human life," issues and "traditional marriage" and "religious freedom." These calls for a "return to biblical law" (or the Catholic version so-called "Natural Law") have long since been the bishops' and evangelical right’s code words for gay and women bashing.
Given that it was five Catholic male Justices that voted for Alito's radical Hobby Lobby decision, its definitely worth paying attention to the rising profile of Catholic fundamentalism within the Christian Right and the Republican Party. The fight against contraception as such has become more prominent in significant part because of the priority Catholic fundis give to it.

Schaeffer also notes, "Most Roman Catholics would not sign on to such weird extremism. But "most Roman Catholics" are not in charge of their Church’s image today. George and Scalia are."

Chauncey DeVega comments on a TV appearance by Schaeffer in Did You See Frank Schaeffer's Amazing Truth-Telling Without Giving a Damn Moment on Today's Edition of 'Politics Nation'? WARN 07/02/2014.

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

Radical Republican Roberts Court judicial activism

David Dayen writes in Supreme Court's out-of-control spiral: Ideologues rewriting their own laws Salon 07/02/2014 about the arbitrariness of the Roberts Supreme Court in its Hobby Lobby decision:

First of all, Alito found that, for the purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, corporations are not just people, but people with religious beliefs, granting them the right to free exercise of that religion, which the contraception mandate "substantially burdens." But Alito clearly worried about a slippery slope, where suddenly religious corporations would ignore all sorts of laws by invoking their conscience. So he drew a completely arbitrary line. ...

In the opinion, Alito writes, “our decision in these cases is solely concerned with the contraception mandate.” ...

As Kevin Drum notes, this is a very "Bush v. Gore" type of effort, where the majority, as they’re writing the ruling, warn everyone to never use it as precedent. Not only is this not how the law works, the randomness of the distinction makes no sense: Indeed, contraception plays a major role in stopping the spread of infectious diseases!

Justice Alito boiled down all religious sentiment into caring about whether women have too much unauthorized sex. He actually picks and chooses among religions, essentially saying that only beliefs about abortion matter in the religious liberty context. Furthermore, the ruling ignores science, by associating contraception with abortifacients.
This arbitrariness, and the Court's willing to take such innovative steps with a bare 5-4 majority is a sign of the genuine radicalism of this Court. Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas are basically hardcore partisan radicals. All of them, probably not coincidentally, also conservative Catholics. Kennedy is another conservative Catholic who was willing to join them on the Hobby Lobby travesty.

As David puts it, "Dahlia Lithwick calls the Roberts court 'the most hands-on hands-off court in America.' You could also call it passive-aggressive. They chip away at decades of established precedent inch by inch, using absurd eccentricities to protect their credibility."

It's important to recognize the genuine radicalism of this Court. As Justice Ginsburg's dissent explained in some detail, there interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) made it into something like the opposite of what its purpose and clear legislative intent were.

When the Supreme Court is doing its job, it has been a supporter of important Constitutional rights against Executive and Congressional overreach.

When it becomes dominated by ideologues like the current Court has, you get decisions like Bush v. Gore, Citizens United and Hobby Lobby. President Obama criticized the Citizens United decision before the members of the Supreme Court during a State of the Union Address. He said at the time in a message, "This ruling strikes at our democracy itself."

The Republicans have pursued a double strategy: constantly criticizing "activist" liberal judges while working a long game to pack the federal courts with Federalist Society ideologues that would be the most arbitrary kind of activist judges.

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Saturday, July 05, 2014

Krugman and Wolf bash the BIS for its Hoover/Brüning austerity obsession

The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) has issued their annual report, which I quoted earlier on the state of European banks. I quoted from it a few days ago on the state of European banks.

But the report also advocates austerity politics. Which has provoked some pushback from macroeconomists. Paul Krugman among others takes them to task for their dogmatic recommendations for fiscal and monetary austerity policies in Stability or Sadomonetarism? 07/01/2014. Krugman clearly thinks it's the latter:

... it's more or less insane to argue that the economy must be kept persistently depressed for fear that investors will be too exuberant — and at the same time to argue against fiscal expansion or anything else that might offset rising rates. What he doesn’t note, however, is that while the BIS has argued for raising interest rates at least since 2010, it keeps changing its reasoning.
That's a technical economics/finance term, "more or less insane." He concludes, "What all this suggests is that the BIS basically just wants to raise rates, and is always looking for a reason. It’s about sadomonetarism, not stability."

Martin Wolf calls their austericide formula Bad advice from Basel’s Jeremiah Financial Times 07/01/2014. Wolf likes the part of the report on the onset of the financial crisis which began in 2007, which he describes as follows:

One can divide the BIS analysis into three parts: what caused the crisis; where we are now on the way out of it; and what we should do. On the first, the perspective is that of the "financial cycle". This analysis goes back to the work of the great Swedish economist Knut Wicksell at the turn of the 20th century. The core idea is that if the rate of interest is too low, a boom driven by expanding credit and rising asset prices may ensue. One of the crucial (and correct) implications is that credit and money are endogenous: they are created by the economy. When the financial cycle turns from boom to bust, crises erupt. Then follow the "balance sheet recessions" described by Richard Koo of the Nomura Research Institute – painful deleveraging and extended periods of feeble growth. Such cycles, argues the BIS, "tend to play out over 15 to 20 years on average". To give credit where it is due, the BIS gave such warnings well before the crisis hit the high-income countries from 2007.
But he does criticize their analysis of the crisis for ignoring "the impact of adverse shifts in the distribution of income and in business behaviour on propensities to save and invest." It's nice to see maldistribution of income getting more prominence in discussion of the crisis.

This is a memorable jab at the kind of Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning austerity economics the BIS is recommending: There is no doubt that most crises end up with huge long-term losses. But, by the 1950s, the US had recovered fully from the gigantic losses relative to the pre-1929 trend in GDP per head caused by the biggest crisis of all: the Great Depression ... Is this not because, unlike in the pusillanimous present, the US subsequently experienced the biggest fiscal stimulus ever – the second world war? I can imagine how the BIS would have warned against such fiscal irresponsibility. [my emphasis]
And he describes the level of its foolishness this way:

... the notion that the best way to handle a crisis triggered by overleveraged balance sheets is to withdraw support for demand and even embrace outright deflation seems grotesque. The result, inevitably, would be even faster rises in real indebtedness and so yet bigger waves of bankruptcy that would lead to weaker economies and so to further increases in indebtedness. The reasons for abandoning the pre-Keynesian consensus were powerful, whatever the BIS (and many others) may think.

Friday, July 04, 2014

What? Price controls?! That work??!!?!

One of Argentina's current heresies against the neoliberal doctrine of what not so long ago was commonly called the Washington Consensus is that the government practices price controls. Verónica Andrés y Florencia Mambreani report in Un jugador para poner en la barrera Página/12 30.06.2014 that they are working reasonably well:

A inicios del 2014, el gobierno nacional lanzó el programa Precios Cuidados con el objetivo de regular y monitorear los incrementos nominales de precios y, de tal modo, contribuir a contener la inflación. Transcurrido casi un semestre desde el comienzo de su implementación, es posible afirmar que el programa ha tenido relativo éxito, dado que no sólo contribuyó a moderar el incremento de precios de ciertos productos, sino que también logró instalar públicamente la necesidad de que el conjunto de los consumidores esté atento a dicha evolución, teniendo la posibilidad, a su vez, de denunciar los incumplimientos.

[At the beginning of 2014, the national government launched the Precios Cudados program with the objective of regulating and monitoring the nominal increase in prices and, in that way, to contribute to containing inflation. Half a year having passed since the commencement of its implementation, it is possible to affirm that the program has had relative success, given that it has not only contributed to moderate the incremental increase of prices of certain products, but also succeeded in publicly establishing the necessity for the body of consumers to be attention to that evolution, having the possibility in their turn to denounce those not complying. ]
Somewhere in the Great Beyond, John Kenneth Galbraith must be smiling sardonically. Galbraith headed the Office of Price Administration (OPA) for a while during the Second World War, where the future President Richard Nixon was one of the employees.

Ahora bien, herramientas de control de precios de esta naturaleza requieren indudablemente de un Estado dotado de una altísima capacidad técnica y fiscalizadora, que le permita por un lado evaluar y determinar con justeza la estructura de precios relativos en el interior de cada cadena productiva y, por otro, garantizar el efectivo cumplimiento de los compromisos acordados.

[Now it's true that price control mechanisms of this kind undoubtedly require a government equipped with technical and fiscal capacities of the highest quality that will permit, one the one hand, fairly evaluating and determining the structure of relative prices inside every production chain and, on the other hand, guaranteeing the effective fulfillment of agreements reached.]
It's not easy. But when it's necessary, it can be done.

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