Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Kapernick

It was September 2017, and bad boy Trump spouts off; “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out,’” He’s fired. He’s fired!’” The crowd of supporters erupted in cheers.

With just a few words and by the close of that weekend, Trump had managed to get hundreds of NFL players taking a knee like Kaepernick or staying in the locker room during the playing of the National Anthem. Kaepernick was on his way out the door and Trump managed to slam the door shut and turn it around for him. In one weekend and a few stupid words by Trump and Kapernick, as Atlantic’s David Graham pointed out, became an icon of protest.

And now? After the NFL’s plea to dismiss the case was rejected by an arbitrator last August, the NFL folded and agreed to settle before the next hearing in a month. Too much at stake and too much to be exposed in depositions by owners and coaches. And as Jemele Hill said in yesterdays Atlantic; “Technically, Colin Kaepernick withdrew his collusion case. Technically, the NFL did not admit that it conspired to blackball Kaepernick from the league after he began taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. But nontechnically speaking, the NFL lost. Massively.”

Kapernick may never play NFL football again; but, he did win a much bigger game for all of us.

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The Wrongness of the Green Lanthern Theory of the Presidency

Just one of the many mixes of comments and publications I see at AB in the comments sections. Not sure where EMichael got the Goldwater comment.

“What’s wrong with the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency?

Basically, it denies the very real (and very important) limits on the power of the American presidency, as well as reduces Congress to a coquettish collection of passive actors who are mostly just playing hard to get.

The Founding Fathers were rebelling against an out-of-control monarch. So, they constructed a political system with a powerful legislature and a relatively weak executive. The result is that the US President has little formal power to make Congress do anything. He can’t force Congress to vote on a bill. He can’t force Congress to pass a bill. And even if he vetoes a bill Congress can simply overturn his veto. So in direct confrontations with Congress — and that describes much of American politics these days — the president has few options.

Green Lantern theorists don’t deny any of this. They just believe that there’s some vague combination of public speeches and private wheedling that the president can employ to bend Congress to his will.”

The Green Lantern Theory of The President Explained

We’ve certainly seen this theory pushed in here many times over the last decade (and we’ll see it down the road), but I bring it up here now as it explains another mental issue trump has.

He believes in the green lantern theory. You can see it many, many times over his first two years. And it now appears in Andrew McCabe’s book:

“After we agreed on a time to meet, the president began to talk about how upset he was that Comey had flown home on his government plane from Los Angeles—Comey had been giving a speech there when he learned he was fired. The president wanted to know how that had happened.

I told him that bureau lawyers had assured me there was no legal issue with Comey coming home on the plane. I decided that he should do so. The existing threat assessment indicated he was still at risk, so he needed a protection detail. Since the members of the protection detail would all be coming home, it made sense to bring everybody back on the same plane they had used to fly out there. It was coming back anyway. The president flew off the handle: That’s not right! I don’t approve of that! That’s wrong! He reiterated his point five or seven times.

I said, I’m sorry that you disagree, sir. But it was my decision, and that’s how I decided. The president said, I want you to look into that! I thought to myself: What am I going to look into? I just told you I made that decision.”

Every Day Is a New Low in Trump’s White House

Then again, there is also just plain mean:

“Toward the end of the conversation, the president brought up the subject of my wife. Jill had run unsuccessfully for the Virginia state Senate back in 2015, and the president had said false and malicious things about her during his campaign in order to tarnish the FBI. He said, How is your wife? I said, She’s fine. He said, When she lost her election, that must have been very tough to lose. How did she handle losing? Is it tough to lose?

I replied, I guess it’s tough to lose anything. But she’s rededicated herself to her career and her job and taking care of kids in the emergency room. That’s what she does.

He replied in a tone that sounded like a sneer. He said, “Yeah, that must’ve been really tough. To lose. To be a loser.”

In the 1964 elections we saw the Dems employ this against Barry Goldwater:

“In your guts, you know he’s nuts.”

A Johnson campaign barb.

It needs to be brought back for 2020. But 1964 and Goldwater was the beginning of the modern GOP, and that is easily shown by:

“In 1960, Goldwater’s book, The Conscience of a Conservative, publicizes his views—including strong opposition to creeping Communism. His message taps into post-war anxieties about the communist revolution in China, expansion of the Soviet Union, and a growing club of nations armed with nuclear bombs.

At the ’64 Republican convention, Goldwater wins the presidential nomination over objections from centrists. Many are worried he could start a nuclear war-and worried with good reason, given Goldwater’s record of comments such as, “Let’s lob one into the men’s room at the Kremlin.” The Johnson campaign uses groundbreaking TV ads to zero-in on voter anxieties.

On election night, Johnson wins by a landslide. Goldwater picks up Arizona and five Southern states, where white Democrats like his opposition of the Civil Rights Act of ’64 (a position consistent with Goldwater’s view of states rights). The election is a political watershed. After ’64, the South becomes a dependable Republican stronghold, contributing to the election of seven Republican Presidents during the next 10 elections.”

The Sixties, The Years That Shaped a Generation.

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Amazon defeated in New York UPDATED

Amazon defeated in New York UPDATED

In the biggest ever defeat for a subsidized project in history, Amazon announcedFebruary 14th that it was canceling its planned half of HQ2 for New York City, which was to receive subsidies worth at least $3.133 billion. After facing months of public opposition, the company provided a Valentine’s Day present in the form of capitulation. Amazon showed that, like Electrolux, its efforts to extract maximum subsidies from 238 cities constituted corporate rent-seeking on a grand scale. Not only did Amazon conduct an exploitative public auction for the supposedly single HQ2 facility, it furthered the impression that it was engaging in rent-seeking by its refusal to discuss alternatives with New York officials, by its absolute insistence on opposing a union for its workers, and by its sudden though not unexpected cancellation announcement. Activists scorched the firm, too, for the fact that for the second year running, Amazon will pay 0 in federal income tax despite earning $11.2 billion in profits in 2018 and $5.6 billion in 2017.

This is not to be confused with Foxconn, which is looking more and more like an economic development failure. There, it appears that the company will not be able to provide the investment and benefits it promised in Wisconsin. With Amazon, what we have is a case of the company being unwilling to continue the political battle to obtain its $3+ billion in incentives. While Amazon is by far the largest project ever defeated, such defeats are not unprecedented. I participated in two successful campaigns in the late 1990s and early 2000s against abusive tax increment financing (TIF) projects in the St. Louis suburbs of Olivette and O’Fallon, but these were on the order of $40 or $50 million, not $3 billion. Alas, I was also on the losing side of an exceptionally bitter battle against a TIF-funded mall in Hazelwood, Missouri, which still hurts to think about. The residents lost their homes to eminent domain, the city administration was high-handed and manipulative, and the new mall contributed substantially to the death of at least two nearby malls, part of the $2 billion retail subsidy merry-go-round during 1990-2007 documented by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments.

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Who Is Really A Socialist?

Who Is Really A Socialist?

Here are some varieties of “socialism:” command socialism, market socialism, socialist market economy, social democracy, democratic socialism, right wing socialism, utopian socialism, corporate socialism, just plain vanilla socialism. Here are some people who have claimed to be socialist, some of them selecting one or another of these types, but some just keeping it plain vanilla generic: Kim Jong-Un, Xi Jinping, Stefan Lofven, Nicolas Maduro, Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). Who is really a socialist and can we make any sense of all this?

Among the strictly economic issues involved here, aside from the political ones, there are three that stick out prominently: ownership, allocation, and distribution. The first may be the most important, or at least the most fundamentally traditionally classical: who owns the means of production? This is bottom line Marx and Engels, and they were unequivocal: socialism is state ownership of the means of production, even though in the “higher stage of socialism” generally labeled “pure communism,” the state is supposed to “wither away.” Capitalism is private ownership of the means of production, although there are debates over some intermediate collective forms such as worker-owned collectives, something favored by anarchistic and utopian socialism and its offshoots and relatives.

Regarding allocation the issue is command versus market, with command in its socialist form coming from the state, although clearly a monopoly capitalist system may involve command coming from the large corporations, with this reaching an extreme form in corporatism and classical fascism, sometimes called corporate socialism. Needless to say, it is possible to have state ownership of the means of production, classical socialism, but some degree of markets dominating allocative decisions.

Then we have distribution. In the Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx said the goal of communism was “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Emphasizing if not precisely that at least a focus on minimizing poverty and supporting those in need as well as increasing the overall level of income and wealth equality is another element of many forms of socialism. This focus has been especially strongly emphasized by social democracy and its relatives, although most forms of socialism have at least officially supported this, if not always in practice.

Regarding our list of socialisms, where do they stand on these three, adding in the big political issue of democracy and free rights versus dictatorship, well: command socialism involves as its name suggests both command in terms of allocation combined with state ownership of the means of production, with no clear outcome on distributional view. Historically permanent command as a system has coincided fully with dictatorship, including when this occurs with capitalism as in fascism, especially in its German Nazi form, a nearly pure form of command capitalism. The classic model of this form was the USSR under Stalin, with its leading current example being the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK), aka North Korea, which pretty much tells us what kind of socialist Kim Jong-Un is.

Market socialism combines state (or collective) ownership of the means of production with market forces driving allocation decisions. The old example of this that also had that holdover from utopian socialism of workers’ management, was Tito’s not-so democratic Yugoslavia, which blew up, although its former province of Slovenia eventually was the highest real per capita income of all the former officially socialist nations. According to Janos Kornai, market socialism, including his home of Hungary, suffered from the problem of the soft budget constraint, although we have seen that in many mostly market capitalist economies with rent seeking powerful corporations.

There is no clear difference between market socialism and the “socialist market economy,” but the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) has gone out of its way to officially label itself this latter term, perhaps due to the collapse of Yugoslavia. Many, including the late Ronald Coase, claim China is really capitalist, but in fact while there is now much private ownership, state ownership remains very strong, and while there is no longer organized central planning, command elements remain important, and the ownership situation is very complicated, with many firms having substantial while partial state ownership. In principle this form could be democratic, but it is not at all that in Xi’s current PRC, which has had a largely successful economic system for the last four decades, despite high inequality and other problems. In any case, this is the system Xi Jinping is identified with.

Social democracy now is the form that emphasizes distributional equality and support for the poor over the ownership and allocation elements. This is now, most dramatically in the Nordic nations, although it has had a weaker version in Germany in the form of the social market economy. The name “social democracy” comes from the now century and a half old German Social Democratic Party, within which at the end of the 19th century several of these forms debated with each other, although in the end what came out, inspired by the original “revisionist” Eduard Bernstein, was what we now call social democracy, which is indeed politically democratic and supporting an expansive welfare state, while not pushing either state ownership or command. Stefan Lofven is the current prime minister of Sweden and also leader of the Social Democratic Party of Sweden. A welder and union leader, Lofven just managed to get reelected and form another government last month, although his new government is “moving to the center,” and while he is certainly a social democrat, he has also described himself as being a “right wing socialist,” and Sweden has pulled back somewhat from its strongly social democratic model over the last quarter of a century.

Which brings us to democratic socialism, currently highly faddish in the US given that both Bernie Sanders and AOC have identified themselves as followers of this ideology. The problem is that of all the others mentioned, this one is the least well defined, and Bernie and AOC themselves seem to disagree. Thus, when pushed Bernie posed Denmark as his model, which is a leading example of social democracy, arguably more so even than Sweden now, although its current prime minister is not a Social Democrat (party) and argues that Denmark is “not socialist” (noting its lack of command state ownership). But AOC has at times said that democratic socialism is not social democracy, while exactly what it is remains not well defined.

One source might be the platform of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which AOC officially belongs to. This supports a democratic and decentralized form that emphasizes worker control, if not clearly ownership, with this harking to utopian socialism, with an ultimate goal of state or some other form of collective ownership, but not in this document command. AOC herself has now pushed forward the Green New Deal, (GND) which should perhaps be labeled “Green Socialism,” yet another form. I do not wish to get into a discussion in this post of the details of the GND, regarding which there has been some confusion (retracted FAQ versus 14-page Resolution) about which there remain some uncertainties. DSA has at times nodded to the British Labour Party, which after 1945 under Clement Atlee, both nationalized many industries while expanding the social safety net, while avoiding command central planning. However, the GND seems to avoid nationalizations, while emphasizing a major expansion of r
the social safety net, along with some fairly strong command elements largely tied to its Green environmental part, arguing that mere market forces will be insufficient to move the US economy off its current fossil fuel base soon enough.

Which brings us to generic socialism and the still not described Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela. He is loudly describing himself a socialist, but what form, if any, is unclear. But his economy is the biggest current economic disaster on the planet, so his ongoing claims of being a socialist are damaging the label, as seen in the eagerness of conservatives to identify socialism with him and denounce people like Bernie and AOC and all the Dem prez candidates signing onto the GND even before they knew what was in it, with this exemplified by Trump ranting loudly on this theme during his SOTU.

Looking closely it seems that indeed Maduro and Chavez before him, who preferred labeling the system “Bolivarianismo” rather than “socialism,” did carry out portions of various of the forms of socialism. Many firms were nationalized, with currently the number of privately-owned firms about half of what there were 20 years ago (when Chavez was elected), although many of those original firms have simply disappeared. About 20% of farmland was nationalized, mostly large-scale latifundia, supposedly to be turned over to landless peasants. But much of it has simply come to be uncultivated by anybody. In any case, there remain large portions of the economy privately owned, with still wealthy owners living in gated communities and not suffering.

Perhaps the most damaging of the socialist policies have been scattered efforts at command, not based on any central plan, especially using price control. In agriculture this has been a complete disaster, especially once hyperinflation hit. Food production has collapsed, and lack of food has driven 3 million out of the country, with many still behind having lost much weight. OTOH, the regime is supposedly being green by emphasizing traditional local crops. But this is not even a joke. Bolivarianismo’s main positive was its popular redistribution policy, which increased real incomes in poor areas, especially while Chavez was in power, borrowing from the social democracy model.

The problem here is that all of these things, even many of them together, have been recently tried in neighboring nations, such as Bolivia, without similarly disastrous results. Somehow Venezuela has just completely blown apart, with reportedly 86% of the population now opposed to Maduro and people in the poor neighborhoods of Caracas who were the Chavismo base now out demonstrating in large numbers (and being violently suppressed) after Maduro got reelected in a clearly fraudulent election, with most of his neighbors calling for his removal.

I think two things not related specifically to socialism have played crucial roles here: corruption and hyperinflation. The most important agent in the Venezuelan economy is the state-owned oil company, which was nationalized long before Chavez came to power. But he, with Maduro made this worse later, firing the competent technocratic managers of that company and replacing them with political cronies, with the outcome being a serious decline in oil production, this in the nation with the world’s largest oil reserves. Which leads to the other problem, massive corruption, with the incompetent cronies at the top of the state-owned oil company the worst. The other killer item has been the hyperinflation, whose source I do not really know, although Venezuelan tax rates are lower than those in the US. Certainly, part of it is massive budget deficits, and as the MMT people note, they were borrowing from abroad. I do not fully understand all involved in the hyperinflation, although that is not a standard phenomenon in a full-blown command socialist economy, but the hyperinflation has clearly been the final killer of the economy, collapsing support for Maduro. Apparently about a third of the population still supports “socialism,” while many of those people reject Maduro, claiming he has blown what Chavez implemented, which Maduro certainly has.

So, for a summary. Command socialism a la the DPRK is an awful disaster, famine plus dictatorship. Market socialism/socialist market economy a la China has been good at rapid economic growth and much else, although suffering many ills on the environment and income distribution, not to mention also being dictatorial. Social democracy a la Sweden and Denmark has done as well as any economic system on the planet and is democratic and free, but has also suffered from various problems. The “democratic socialism” of certain American politicians remains poorly defined and is in danger of being tied to the disastrous and vaguer form of “socialism” happening in Venezuela, with the danger for US politics being that conservatives may actually succeed in tying this poorly defined democratic socialism with the barely socialist disaster in Venezuela.

Personally, I wish that Maduro would stop calling himself a socialist. Then he should also resign and get lost for the good of his people ASAP, although I do not support overdone US efforts by sanctions or possible invasion to bring this about. Let it be the Venezuelan people who remove him, however.

Barkley Rosser

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Test Tube Politics: llhan Omar, Anti-Semitism and AIPAC

Test Tube Politics: llhan Omar, Anti-Semitism and AIPAC

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a political statement triggering evidence (mixed) about its own truth as dramatically as Ilhan Omar’s quip that pro-Israeli bias in congress is “about the Benjamins, baby”.  It’s as if you wrote a letter criticizing the Post Office and had it returned to you with a USPS message stamped on it.

But let’s dig down one level.  The criticism, partly fair, of Omar is that she bought into (so to speak) the anti-semitic slur that Jewish money constitutes a secret conspiracy against “the people”.  This is the old socialism-of-fools stuff, endlessly recycled by bigots right up until this morning; see the demonization of George Soros, for instance.  Because it exists, people who want to combat bigotry—and this includes progressive politicians—should build a giant moat around it and not go there.  By suggesting that hidden Jewish money had bribed Congress into blind support for Israel, Omar crossed a line.  It’s the same line that George Bush senior crossed with the Willie Horton ad, and that Trump crosses a dozen times every Twitter-soaked evening.  Invoking a bigoted stereotype is a bad thing to do, especially for politicians with giant megaphones.

Yet the very response to Omar’s tweet demonstrated the truth she was stumbling for.  A chorus of political and media honchos of every denomination, religious and political, rose up to denounce her.  They didn’t make fine distinctions and they didn’t welcome a correction; their goal was to punish and silence.  Sweeping accusations were made against Omar’s character, leaving the impression that any criticism of AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, was proof of antisemitism.  And this attempt to isolate and politically crush Omar was itself the embodiment of her protest.  This is the power of AIPAC in action, the lobby that can’t be named, the doctrine—the transcendental importance of Israel and the rightness of its religious self-definition—that can’t be questioned.

So the truth content of the original Omar tweet depends on how we explain this onslaught.  If it’s really just about the Benjamins (the hundred dollar bills with Ben Franklin looking back at us), that means she was being trashed, directly or indirectly, for pay.  Politicians joined the mob either to protect their campaign revenue or shield themselves from other politicians defending their own campaign revenue.  How likely is that?  The answer depends on two prior questions: how important is campaign finance in setting the basic contours of US policy, and what proportion of this finance is controlled or strongly influenced by AIPAC?

These are questions for specialists in these areas, not me.  I will go out on a limb, however, and say that the truth lies between the endpoints: some but not all of the bias in the US political system is attributable to the influence of big donors, and AIPAC has a substantial but far less than a complete lock on the flow of political money.  You could compare it to other lobbies, like the NRA (National Rifle Association) and AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), both of which are feared for their ability to alter the balance of funding in competitive political contests.  But neither of these two outfits is immune from attack, while AIPAC is.  Gun control advocates go after the NRA all the time, and, while AARP is not exactly a political lightening rod, the complaint that greedy seniors are stealing money from our children is a popular meme on the Right.  So AIPAC is different.  This difference does not seem to be about money, at least not solely, as important as money is to the system and the groups that try to dominate it.  AIPAC appears to possess a complementary form of power, perhaps rooted in the infrastructure of synagogues and other religious organizations as well as the allegiance of many socially prominent Jews active in secular organizations.  When it marshals this network, you get the sort of response we saw to Omar.

This was a ferocious rebuke of a politician, clearly intended to be career-ending.  It will be interesting to see if she can recover without abandoning her advocacy of Palestinians; I certainly hope so.  The attack on Omar, however, is itself the embodiment of the fear all of her colleagues have to feel, that if they step out of line on Israel they will be crushed.  Catering, intentionally or otherwise, to antisemitic tropes is completely unnecessary: the proof of the pudding is in the attack on it.

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Amazon defeated in New York; more to come

Amazon defeated in New York; more to come

In the biggest ever defeat for a subsidized project in history, Amazon announcedyesterday that it was canceling its planned half of HQ2 for New York City, which was to receive subsidies worth at least $3.133 billion. After facing months of public opposition, the company provided a Valentine’s Day present in the form of capitulation. Amazon showed that, like Electrolux, its efforts to extract maximum subsidies from 238 cities constituted corporate rent-seeking on a grand scale.

Moreover, as Richard Florida reports at Citylab, the victory has also energized reformers around the country searching for a solution to the problem of corporate bidding wars. I myself have received inquiries from multiple elected officials’ offices about the European Union’s systematic control of investment incentives.

I’m playing at a chess tournament in Texas right now, so I will have more to say about this when I next have time to post.

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Congressional Representative Ilhan Omar, A Semite

My new Congressional Representative likes to use Facebook to inform her constituents of what she is doing in the House. I do engage in Facebook and probably shouldn’t do so. Facebook is too much of a waste of time and it is filled with advertising and silliness. Then too, I like knowing what our Rep is doing so I use Facebook. I also connect with various people I hope to keep in contact with as their status allows me to input my thoughts and ideas. Here is what my Congressional Representative had to say:

“I would like to make the following statement regarding Rep. Omar’s comments of Feb. 10. Her comments traffic in age-old stereotypes and anti-Semitic bias, drag down public conversation, and are counter to our fundamental values of religious freedom and mutual respect – the very values that led to Rep. Omar’s historic election last year. While I recognize Rep. Omar’s apology for her comments, I call upon her to strictly avoid anti-Semitic speech, particularly when violent anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise, as we saw in the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue. Elected officials must lead by example, particularly now, and carry out their responsibility to unite rather than divide the American public.”

Well ok and she joined a chorus of others including Pelosi, McCarthy, Trump, and the other female Semite in the House. Seeing it was safe to bash Omar and not have anyone take issue, Pence joined the crowd yesterday. For Ilhan Omar, its gotta be a lonely life when you screw up, do not make your point clear enough, the sharks with which you hang with come in to feed off of your wounds, and everyone starts to call you an anti-Semite.

A little history: anti-Semitism was coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr to designate the anti-Jewish campaigns under way in central Europe then. The term has a broad and extensive usage which is a misnomer since it implies a discrimination against all Semites of which Arabs and other peoples may also be Semites. Yet other peoples identified are not the targets of anti-Semitism as it is usually understood today. The term is inappropriate as a label for the anti-Jewish prejudices, statements, or actions of Arabs or other Semites.

Others may take exception with my definition or citation above. I am fine with it and am going to move along in my complaint. In his editorial “Representative Ilhan Omar is Not Anti-Semitic (So Says this Jew)” Political Writer for “Paste Magazine” Jacob Weindling starts off: “First off, Representative Omar is a Semite. Secondly, even if the people claiming that Omar is being anti-Semitic in the anti-Jewish sense are right (which again, they’re not), equating AIPAC with ‘all Jews’ is being FAR more anti-Semitic than what these folks claim Omar is asserting.

It all began with a tweet that admittedly was far too vague, and for a certain kind of person who looks at Omar’s hijab and thinks of anti-Semitism (again, she’s a Semite, just like me), or simply someone who isn’t plugged in to the day-to-day political madness, this looks like it could be another George Soros-type ‘Jews control the world’ conspiracy.

GOP House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who published anti-Semitic memes after George Soros received a pipe bomb in the mail, decided that he was done being an anti-Semite who ginned up support from the anti-Semites in the GOP, and was now an anti-Semite who virtue signals towards the Very Serious People in our nation’s capital to gain their support. Luckily for him, this kind of anti-Semitism is tolerated in our nation’s capital, and he has bent the Democratic Party to his will.

Omar quickly corrected her sole error of vagueness, and specifically identified who she was talking about when she insinuated that a political leader was taking money to advance an agenda.”

In this case Ilhan Omar called out the Israeli PAC “AIPAC!.” As Jacob further explains: “AIPAC is the Israel lobby in Washington D.C. To add to this, there is a difference between Israelis American Jews. This basic nuance is completely lost on much of major media, many of whom echoed McCarthy’s false charges of anti-Semitism, favoring the vagueness of Representative Omar’s first tweet over the specificity of her second one. As a Jew, this kind of stuff is so much more hurtful than the traditional stereotype that Omar is falsely accused of perpetuating:

The first-term Democrat suggests GOP support for Israel is fueled by campaign donations.

Jacob adds . . . AIPAC does not represent most Jews. Eighty-five percent of Israelis supported Trump moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, while just 46% of American Jews did. This hurtful conflation of two very different things reduces people like me to caricatures of whatever AIPAC wants, as if all Jews are united on the topic of Israel. We’re not—far from it. We are very divided and it is frankly, exhausting. I didn’t even want to write this column even though I knew I had to. Jews in Israel are different from Jews in America the same way anyone in Israel is different from anyone in America.

I can’t believe I even need to type those words, but the constant stream of bad-faith attacks on Omar from major power brokers in both the political and media establishment demonstrates an extremely narrow—D.C.-centric—view of the world. I’d bet half the people in our nation’s capital arguing that Omar committed some unforgivable sin haven’t been west of Philadelphia or south of D.C. since the 20th century.”

The rest you can read for yourself the balance of what Jacob has to say at Paste Magazine under his title; “Representative Ilhan Omar is Not Anti-Semitic (So Says this Jew).” Of interest might be Jacob’s comments on Chelsea Clinton’s opinion and the other side’s opinion by Batya Ungar-Sargon who Jacob finds falsely characterizing what AIPAC does.

And if I am wrong in my thoughts? There are enough learned people such as Barkley Rosser, Robert Waldman, Mike Kimel, and Dan who can critique my thoughts. I do place value in having a mix of Congressional Representative from different cultures, races, and genders. The country is evolving and has changed much since my ancestors arrived at the Rock.

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The Empty Quarter, Greenwich and the Mason Dixon Line

by Robert Waldmann  (lifted from Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts)

The Empty Quarter, Greenwich and the Mason Dixon Line

I recall being surprised to learn that I was born, bred and then living South of the Mason Dixon line. I considered the border between North and South to be the Patomac river (honestly felt I was entering enemy territory when I entered Northern Virginia — this was very long ago). My dad explained it was the border between Pennsylvania (North) and Maryland (South). My 91 year old mother recently confessed that she had some doubts about moving South of the Mason Dixon line to live with my Dad. The border is now roughly where 270 shrinks into a normal sized highway. The line is arbitrary.I thought of it when I saw the very common figure showing the empty quadrant of US public opinion. A solid majority is more egalitarian than the center and more socially conservative than the center.

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Hey Rustbelt and beyond, Losing factories is not new

(There’s a movie at the end!)

For decades we have been hearing about the loss of industrial production through out what is called the “Rust Belt”.  It’s presented, even as recent as the prior presidential election as a relative regional problem that only began post Reagan.  What gets me though is that the reporting and ultimately the politics are as if the rust belt is/was unique in their experience with the west and east coast experiencing nothing of the sort.  The presentation is of the west coast Hollywood economy and now the “tech” economy, the east coast (namely New York/Boston) being the money economy.  The south east is not considered other than Disney and orange production.  The north west?  Microsoft and Starbucks.  Well I think it used to be lumber.

Wiki notes that the rust belt is not geographic but is a term that “pertains to a set of economic and social conditions“.     It includes the northeast which is proper in that industry started there but I have had the feeling for a few decades now that such history is forgotten and thus no longer considered when we look to understand what the hell happened to the middle class.

Let me start with this fun fact.  Rhode Island was the most industrialized state per capita in the nation at one point.  Wiki notes that:

…Aldrich, as US Senator, became known as the “General Manager of the United States,” for his ability to set high tariffs to protect Rhode Island — and American — goods from foreign competition.

We were where the super rich came to escape the heat and play.  And then it started to die.  Not just here though.  Neighboring Massachusetts was hit as was Connecticut.  If you ever get a chance, come visit the New Bedford  Whaling museum and read about the massive industry that was there.  Example, the worlds largest mill of weaving looms.  Some 4000+!  Whaling from that city in the later 1800’s generated some $71 million per year!  Not impressed? Well, using the GDP deflator it’s $1.480 billion per year!

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Ruminations On Virginia’s Difficult Situation

Ruminations On Virginia’s Difficult Situation

A week ago, I posted here supporting VA Gov Ralph Northam, comparing him favorably to the late Robert C. Byrd of WV. A day later I joined the call for him to resign after his bizarre press conference that has still left unpleasant unresolved issues such as who put that awful photo in his yearbook and why. Since then much else has come forth, and this continues. In any case it looks like Northam may hang in for at least awhile, although the situation is complicated and constantly changing, to put it mildly. What I intend to add in this post beyond the latest news is a combination of inside local information as well as, hopefully, a deeper historical perspective.

Last morning’s (Friday, 2/8), Washington Post top headline was that Northam would not resign soon, and late this afternoon I as an employee of the Commonwealth of VA received an email message saying he hoped we would all support him continuing to lead the state, while carefully not being too out there too much on that he would stay in office for his full term.

One reason why he was not going to resign immediately, even without the recent collapse of his most immediate successors, is that until Feb. 23 the VA legislature is debating a serious budget issue. The Trump tax law has resulted in a revenue windfall for Virginia. This involves technical details I know but will not bore any readers with this. So, there is an ongoing debate in the VA legislature on what to do with this extra money, with the barely majority GOP in the legislature saying give it all to upper middle-income persons, while Northam and the Dems have proposed giving half of it to lower income people while using the other half to fund various state initiatives. If this current scandal had not appeared, I think Northam would have gotten an agreement not too far from what he wanted. Now in his weakened state, the ultimate compromise will be closer to the GOP version.

For any not following the news since a week ago, both of Northam’s immediate successors have themselves come under unpleasant scrutiny. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has now been seriously accused of two sexual assaults. When accused of the first he denied it and hired an attorney. The second accusation coming a few hours ago is of rape, and while earlier many were supporting him to replace Northam, this now seems to have become unlikely. I note that I never liked Fairfax. I know all these people personally, and the African American I would like to see as governor is Levar Stoney, currently Mayor of Richmond and a grad of JMU where I teach.

And now the second in line to the governorship of VA, assuming that both Northam and Fairfax resign (neither of which at this point has so far remotely come close to doing so), is Attorney General Mark Herring, now in his second term, having stepped aside from running for Lt Gov to let the now seriously damaged J. Fairfax run for that. Last Thursday AG Herring revealed that he also had performed in blackface in 1980 at UVa at age 19.

If Northam, Fairfax, and Herring all resign or forced out of office, then the acting governor will be the Speaker of the House, Kirk Cox, not only a Republican, but one how just gave an impassioned anti-abortion speech full of ridiculously irrelevant Biblical passages, given that there is nothing in the Bible that directly forbids abortion.

As it is, it appears that all of this blew up because Northam is a pediatric neurologist, who only recently became a politician. So when Dems in the VA legislature attempted to loosen rules on late abortions, Dr. Northam got into rare and weird cases I was not aware of involving treatment of deformed fetuses and whether one born should be “revived.” Personally, I do not know how to deal with such extremely rare cases, although basically siding with mothers and their physicians. But Republicans cherry picking this overly specific discussion by Dr. Northam turned it into “infanticide,” with Trump making this charge in his SOTU.

More immediately and seriously the rumor I have heard is that what triggered the revelation of that embarrassing photo in Northam’s yearbook came as a result of his professional testimony about this odd and rare case, which his opponents seized on, blocking any expansion of abortion rights in VA and providing fodder for Trump’s ranting in his SOTU about “infanticide,” a false charge.
But back in VA, reportedly a roommate from med school of Northam got ticked off by this medical testimony by Northam, and then leaked the story to whatever media about the yearbook photos. This set off the call that he should resign, leading us to the now unacceptable (although I read, he has hired lawyers, puke), and then the now damaged AG Herring. While so far Speaker Cox is “clean,” aside from being a far-right winger, the GOP majority leader of the state senate, Norman Tennant, has been accused of a half century ago being an editor of a yearbook containing racist photos.

I have lived in VA for 42 years and have deep south ancestry including VA. But this matter has made me realize that for all my deep family background going back to the 1600s in VA, I was and am a “damned yankee” to all those born and raised here. My parents were born and raised in Deep South northern Florida, and when young I spent serious time there. This made me think I knew the South, but I now know that ultimately I was an outsider, especially given that I went not only to high school in liberal/progressive Madison, Wisconsin, where the state capitol building has a museum for the Grand Army of the Republic, the ultimate hard core of the northern Union that won the Civil War (“War of Northern Aggression according to a cousin of my father that my wife from USSR/Russia met in 1987).

So, a big revelation to me in the last week is how widespread this “blackfacing” and related racist manifestations were even into recent times. The yearbook where Northam’s photo appeared (Eastern Medical School of Virginia) had racist photos as recently as 2013, when the then dean just shut down the yearbooks. I have never seen a black faced performance, but now old very liberal and local friends have been surfacing with old past incidents of racist conduct. This sort of resembles post-WW II France, where many collaborated with the Nazi Vichy regime, but then later joined the anti-Nazi Resistance. Eventually this became a matter of when one turned from one side to the other, and good liberal close friends have been essentially playing postwar French fessing up to just exactly when they stopped using the “n-word,” much less blackfacing.

The deeper history of all this is in Virginia 400 hundred years ago in 1619 when on the one hand the oldest continuing English-speaking legislative body in North America was founded, the same one (with some modifications over the centuries), that I noted above is trying to resolve the Trump tax “reform” with VA tax law. The other is the first arrival in what is now the USA of African slaves. Needless to say, this latter matter is on many minds and relevant to this current controversy.

To make things even worse, it was in Virginia in 1705 that the crucial laws were passed fully establishing that slavery was to be of people of African descent and that those people could not marry anyone of European descent. So since then in 1860 the state had more slaves than any other, its capitol became the that of the Confederate States of America, with half the battles of the succeeding Civil War (or “War of Northern Aggression” according to some of my cousins of earlier generations), and then its state capital became the capital of the Confederacy. This led to half the battles of the Civil War being fought in Virginia.

More recently we had the Byrd Machine supporting resistance against racial integration of public schools after Brown vs Board of Education in 1954. Eventually this was all over come. But in the private places, including many frats on many campuses until very recently, racist practices such as “blackfacing” persisted. And although the worst violence came from outsiders, in Charlottesville in August, 2017, we saw overt racist violence in Virginia.

Eventually this has become personal. With all these revelations, very liberal friends of mine have now outed themselves as having been varying degrees of racist in the past. I now realize that while I have deep southern ancestry including high officers in the Confederate army, I was born and raised in the North. I did not see all this stuff, and I did not personally have to go through this process of personally ‘deracializing’ myself, which I now realize my deep southern parents went through, my father moving from deep south racist Democratic Party affiliation when he went to math grad school in Princeton in the 30s to being a Republican, When he took us in 1963 to uber-progressive Madison, Wisconsin, well, no wonder I did not do blackface.

A final bottom line is that Gov. Northam’s still unresolved yearbook photo has the absurd idea of possibility of a racial reconciliation to all this. I do not know why he continues to claim no knowledge of the origin or handling of this old photo of black faced white person standing next to someone wearing a KKK hooded outfit that is in his medical school yearbook. But while whatever relation it had to Gov. Northam personally, it could be interpreted in its superficial stupidity as also showing a possible racial reconciliation for the long and troubled racial history of Virginia. This now shocking photo shows a black faced man standing peacefully next to somebody wearing a KKK outfit. While indeed the obvious interpretation of those photo supports racism, another interpretation is of harmony among the races, even including the old southern racists of the KKK.

Observing old Virginia friends of mine now confessing their past racist behavior and views, it seems that for them this looks sort of like the post-WW II French. After the war they were supposedly all anti-Nazi and supporters of the anti-Nazi Resistance. But, of course, many did work for the pro-Nazi Vichy regime after the German conquest of France in 1940. But then, as the Allies increased their obviously ultimate victory over that regime, more and more former collaborators with the Vichy regime would quit and join the Resistance. Eventually this game became a matter of timing one’s switch from working for a ruling Vichy to an anti-Vichy/Nazi Resistance.

Several of my good friends now confessing their past racist conduct have put it in these terms: it has become a matter of timing, just when did one finally stop doing these bad old behaviors? Reportedly Ralph Northam only learned two years ago that “blackfacing” was not socially acceptable. Whatever comes out of the current crisis in Virginia, hopefully in the future we shall have better informed and more deeply understanding leaders in Virginia and more broadly.

Addendum: 2:30 PM, 2/9/19: The VA legislature has reportedly come to an agreement on its budget dispute. Apparently, the agreement tilts strongly towards what the GOP members favored due to the weakness of the Dems arising from these scandals involving their elected leaders in the state. Not surprising.

Barkley Rosser

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