21 February 2019

Some brief political observations

1) Yeah, yeah, Trump declared a national emergency, whatevs.  Sorry if I can't work up much sense of concern.  This asshole generates outrages every week or two, and yes, a few of them have done real harm, like the migrant family-separation policy or the shutdown.  But I doubt this one will rise to that level.  The expected lawsuits have already begun, and we now have some real power (in the House) and a real leader (Pelosi) who's shown she knows how to handle him.  Meanwhile he's yet again causing consternation and division in his own party, having plunged recklessly into this fight with no clear idea how to win, just as he did with the shutdown.  And it's not like any wall is actually going to get built as a result.  Trump isn't Hitler, he's the Gilderoy Lockhart version of Hitler.  He may yet do horrendous damage somewhere down the line, but this emergency thing is just another example of his usual random blundering and will turn out to be ineffectual.

o o o o o

2) It's long been observed that since roughly the Reagan era, conservative tax and labor policies and the implosion of unions have left real wages for most workers stagnant instead of steadily increasing as they always had before.  Productivity grew dramatically and people are working harder than ever, but the gains in national wealth were skimmed off by the owner/investor class which was already at the peak of the economic pyramid, resulting in the massive inequality and concentration of an obscene amount of wealth in the hands of a tiny oligarchy that we see today.

It occurred to me recently that this third-of-a-century of stagnant real wages (while the costs of things like health care skyrocketed) pretty much coincided with my own entire working lifetime.  If the tax and labor policies that prevailed before the 80s had remained in effect, my income history would probably have been very different, as would my present situation.  So yes, I take the machinations of this vampire party and the oligarchy it serves rather personally.  I'm not alone -- as the shutdown showed, many people with jobs at much higher skill levels than mine are living paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling to cope with even a brief interruption of income.  And I can see why the generation now coming of age -- often "in the hole" before they even start due to massive college loan debt -- are unenthused about participating in the working world or consumer culture at all.  They know a rigged game when they see one.  The kind of economy their grandparents worked in is not even a living memory to them.

o o o o o

3) Does mass rejection of science and reason, and the popularity of crackpot ideas like creationism and global-warming denialism, do concrete harm to US society?  That's increasingly happening as the proliferation of nonsense spreads to more and more areas of thinking.  It now includes millions of people firmly and truculently embracing movements which are directly harmful to their own health, such as fat acceptance and the anti-vax mania.  As a result, we are beginning to unilaterally disarm in the face of a catastrophic obesity epidemic and new outbreaks of diseases which vaccines had long kept at bay.  (If you doubt that fatism is now reaching the point of utter strident raging against reality itself, read this.)  Thank goodness we don't have an equally belligerent and delusional "smoking acceptance" movement to complete the trifecta.

The vaccination rate in measles-stricken Clark county, WA is only 78%, and state-wide it's only 85%.  Despite Trump's rants about disease-bearing migrant caravans, impoverished Guatemala has a higher rate of childhood vaccination than Texas does.  Tens of millions of American parents are rejecting or delaying vaccination for their children.  We already lag behind most other developed countries in universal health coverage, infrastructure maintenance, and some areas of applied technology like high-speed rail.  Now, through sheer stupidity, we risk degenerating into the kind of disease-ridden Third World cesspit which much of the actual Third World is leaving behind.

o o o o o

4) What Ilhan Omar did earlier this month -- invoking an old anti-Semitic trope about shady rich international Jews manipulating politics behind the scenes with money -- was at least as bad as posing in blackface, as Northam did.  And it was contemporary, not from 35 years ago, representing her current views rather than some juvenile stupidity which intervening decades of maturity might have washed away.  Pelosi and the rest of the party leadership were right to come down on her like a ton of bricks about it.  This once again draws a clear line between Democrats, who will not and cannot tolerate such bigotry in their ranks, and Republicans, who almost never condemn the constant barrage of bigotry of all kinds from their own, notably from Trump himself.

Omar's apology was unequivocal, and I'm willing to cut her some slack on this, especially since she came to the US in 1995 as a refugee from Somalia and may have been genuinely unaware of some of the history of anti-Semitic propaganda memes in the West.  But if she ever does anything like this again, the leadership must force her to resign.  We are not the Republicans.


Anonymous Sam240 said...

Some thoughts:

1) This emergency isn't really about the wall. According to Sarah Kendzior at Gaslit Nation, "The national emergency gives Trump the ability to use an internet kill switch, to shut down citizens' bank accounts, to deploy troops to attack protesters. There's no end to the national emergency because it's tied to his fantasy wall."

It would also serve as a useful precedent for a more competent fascist, like Mike Pence. Now that he can replace Trump and still be eligible for two more elections instead of one, the GOP might be willing to shove Trump out.

4) M.J. Rosenberg has an article in The Nation about how AIPAC really does use money to push its agenda through Congress. He was good at one of his past jobs, which was AIPAC lobbyist, and states that Omar was right about how his job worked.

Omar wasn't describing "shady rich international Jews manipulating politics behind the scenes." When asked who was giving out the money, her response was simply, "AIPAC." AIPAC is not a shady group that works behind the scenes; it has been quite open about both its goals and its power for decades.

If Omar had named a bunch of Jews and stated they were working secretly, that would have been anti-Semitic. If she had stated that AIPAC was influencing public health policies and banking regulations, that would have been anti-Semitic, since AIPAC has never claimed to do such a thing. However, since AIPAC itself says it's successful at influencing American Middle Eastern policy through lobbying, I don't see how describing AIPAC as successful in influencing American Middle Eastern policy as anti-Semitic.

- - - - - -

As a counterbalance, here's Donald Johnson arguing that monetary support is not the primary driver towards Congressional Support of Israeli government policies.

P.S. I'm glad you're back.

21 February, 2019 13:43  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sam: Well, if Trump won't be able to get away with diverting non-appropriated money to the wall -- and he won't -- I'm not too worried about him being able to do all that other stuff.

One can hair-split and parse Omar's exact words, but I know a dog-whistle when I hear one, and apparently so does everybody else. Pretty much the entire leadership of both parties agreed that what she said was anti-Semitic, and she herself pretty much acknowledged in her apology that what she said came across that way even if she claims it wasn't intentional (which is frankly a bit dubious given some of her past associations).

22 February, 2019 06:01  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

I had to come back and read you again. Fantastic take on the disaster we're living. Kudos.
I literally laughed out loud when you wrote Gilderoy Lockheart. On. The. Floor.

22 February, 2019 08:13  
Blogger Dave Dubya said...

I'm pretty sure Omar has also been on the receiving end of bigotry. We see little outrage for anti-Muslim bigotry and we have a racist in the White House.

Yet Omar got the public lashing. I dare say more offense was taken than intended.

Omar's politically incorrect comment offended conservatives, politicians, and AIPAC, but not all Jews. Many Jews didn't take it as a bigoted dog whistle attack. After all, it was directed at a powerful lobby, one that indirectly channels a lot of campaign money to both parties.

She should have been more cautious, though. The Right has a history of accusing anyone who criticizes AIPAC, Netnayahu, or the Israeli Right of being anti-Semitic.

We see little condemnation of this tactic in corporate media.

It played for the Right both ways. Those offended might consider how framing this issue gives more ammunition to the Right and their evangelicals to shut down free speech.

There are laws and efforts to expand punishment for companies that boycott Israel over treatment of Palestinians. Whatever one's opinion may be, this is free speech and action based on conscience.

Would it be "anti-American", and should it be illegal, for a foreign company to boycott the US because of Trump?

No nation, political party, politician or lobby should be exempt from criticism. Perhaps Jews should explain how this can be done without it being called an anti-Semitic dog whistle.

Haaretz noted:

AIPAC, particularly, comes under pressure because for much of the last decade the majority of American Jewish voters and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin have not been on the same page. While most Jews backed President Barack Obama, Netanyahu decidedly did not. The reverse is true with President Donald Trump.

In 2015, that meant AIPAC stumped for Netanyahu’s speech to Congress opposing the Iran deal, even though its own leaders well understood that Obama would see it as offensive, especially because then-Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, organized it in secret with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer.

22 February, 2019 08:43  
Anonymous PsiCop said...

I guess what this boils down to is, no one is allowed to condemn AIPAC because it spends a lot of money lobbying Congress. I'm not certain I'm comfortable with that kind of proscription.

22 February, 2019 14:29  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: Thanks! That's definitely how he strikes me.

22 February, 2019 17:05  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Dave: Yes, sometimes individuals belonging to groups which are targets of bigotry are also bigots themselves. There exist black anti-Semites, gay racists, Jewish homophobes, and probably every other permutation imaginable. None of that makes any of the bigotries excusable.

She may well not have intended how her words came across, especially since, as I noted, she spent much of her early life outside the West and may not be familiar with the traditional anti-Semitic tropes which exist here. It's like an immigrant from, say, China not realizing what a KKK uniform represents. But when such errors happen, they need to be corrected.

It's not a matter of "criticizing AIPAC", it's the claim that American leaders who support Israel do so because they're being paid to do so. And what I (and Pelosi and the rest of the leadership) are doing here is not "framing" anything, any more than calling out Northam for his blackface picture was "framing". We have to show that we don't tolerate bigoted language and expressions in our own ranks. Nor is it a matter of repressing freedom of speech, any more than internet platforms kicking right-wing racists off is suppressing free speech. No one is saying that Omar or David Duke or anyone else should be forbidden from expressing their opinions. But when someone expresses views which flagrantly contradict the fundamental values of the party, it must be made clear that they can't remain a member in good standing of the party -- certainly not as a member of Congress. We excoriate the Republicans about Steve King, not because he should be silenced, but because their continued acceptance of him in their ranks says something about them all.

Perhaps Jews should explain how this can be done without it being called an anti-Semitic dog whistle

Think how it would sound if you said "perhaps the blacks should explain how we can discuss X without it being called racist". I think a lot of liberals are simply less attuned to anti-Semitic language than they are to other types of racism. Omar at least recognized that she was unaware and showed a willingness to learn. Would that more rank-and-file liberals were similarly introspective enough to consider their own possible blind spots on this issue rather than immediately and mindlessly going on the attack.

Finally, those who harp on Israel's treatment of the Palestinians without putting at least as much energy into condemning other Middle Eastern governments which have worse human-rights practices than Israel does (which is most of them), to say nothing of Palestinian terrorism, are hypocrites of the worst kind -- and one is entitled to suspicion as to why they attack the only ethnic-Jewish country in the world so obsessively while mostly ignoring worse offenses by other states.

PsiCop: Straw man. See above.

22 February, 2019 17:26  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I am not up for an endless thread of interminable, repetitious bickering about this. Save your keystrokes. I don't go to other people's blogs and harangue them like that.

This has been something of an eye-opener. Israel-bashing is apparently a matter of absolute OCD with some people, including people who very rarely comment here at all otherwise.

23 February, 2019 10:55  
Blogger Professor Chaos said...

1. One of the saving graces of the Trum administration is his inability to focus on anything. He'll come up with some sort of horrific idea or proposal and henerally we can all just shrug it off as he will have forgotten about it by tomorrow.

2. I never understood why anyone bought into the idea that increases in productivityt would equal increases in pay. Increased productivity means that the company can now do the same ammount of work with fewer employees, giving each employee less levereage. You want a raise? How about I just get rid of you and re-hire one of the dozen guys I laid off last month? They'll be desperate enough by now to do the same job for half the pay!

3. Make vaccines Mandatory. How have we never done this? Why in the hell do we allow parents to make decisions that endanger their own children and everyone else's?

4. I don't really see why it is anti-semitic to state that American politicians do the bidding of AIPAC because AIPAC pours money into their campaigns. They are no different from any other lobbying group. The Republicans block any attempt at gun control because of the "Benjamins" funneled inot their coffers by the NRA. Same deal. I could definitely be wrong, I've never met Rep. Omar, I don't have any idea what her personal beliefs are, maybe she does have anti-Semitic leanings, but it doesn't seem fair to call her an anti-Semite based on that. I could be wrong.

23 February, 2019 13:08  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Professor: 1. That's certainly true, and plenty of his nastier pronouncements have just faded with time (though some haven't). He's pretty attached to the wall, though, because his base is. But there are so many obstacles in the way of this emergency declaration that he won't get anywhere. Eventually I think he'll get frustrated and change the subject.

2. Up until the eighties wages had risen steadily. Rising consumer demand meant that it made more sense to use higher productivity to increase production, and strong unions curbed the kinds of abuses that had happened in the 19th century. Now the unions are mostly gone, consumer demand is mostly weak (probably because of stagnant wages), and for the last 30 years we've been in a very different world.

3. Vaccines are mandatory, but there are too many exceptions, especially religious. We need to actually enforce the rules.

4. The way she expressed it echoed anti-Semitic tropes that have long been used in the West, even if she was too naïve to realize that. The links I included in the post should make that clearer. Certainly it was immediately clear to the entire Democratic House leadership. Especially at a time when violent attacks on Jews are escalating, we can't cut anybody any slack on stuff like that -- not when we rightly accuse Trump of egging on violence with his rhetoric.

It's also factually wrong (AIPAC doesn't donate to candidates, anyway). Most American politicians support Israel out of principle, as Pelosi confirmed -- as a fellow democracy with a human-rights record far better than most countries. Any sane liberal should do the same. In any case, I've already rejected several overly-long comments on this subject which basically just rehashed clichés I'd already addressed. Some people just have a fixation on attacking Israel whenever the subject comes up.

23 February, 2019 15:43  
Anonymous NickM said...

I'd give it pause on AGW denialism. That is very complicated science (I'm an astrophysical fluid dynamicist by training). Consider this...


...instead and weep. You ain't gonna get anywhere with the intricacies of greenhouse effects and such and such esoterica to people who don't get great circles.

The reason I gave up teaching maths/physics was willfull pignorance. You wouldn't believe the sheer lack of curiosity or desire to master something not because it is easy but because it is difficult. I mean isn't that like "cool"?

A few years ago my wife bought us a trip to Cambridge. I flew in a DH Tiger Moth (cool) and we stopped off at Trinity Col. I saw The Book. Newton's own copy of the first edition (pub. S. Pepys) of the Principia with Newton's marginalia for the second edition. Now that is cool.

24 February, 2019 04:54  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

The complexity isn't really the problem. Most people don't really understand in detail how electricity works or why tides happen, but they have enough sense to know that the consensus of specialists in those fields is probably right. The widespread global-warming denialism in the US and other Anglosphere countries is the result of a systematic campaign of malignant, conscious lying by the conservative movement and the fossil-fuel industry. It does seem to be passing off, though, as denialism seems to be shrinking down toward that irreducible 20%-30% of the population at the bottom who exist in a clueless fog about more or less everything outside their own direct experience.

Newton's own copy of the Principia is indeed a priceless relic. I'm glad it still exists and apparently is being preserved.

24 February, 2019 06:06  
Blogger Professor Chaos said...

Okay. Not the first time I've been wrong.

24 February, 2019 14:34  

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