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The NFL and the Left

[ 36 ] January 30, 2015 |

Can a leftist have a rooting interest in the Super Bowl? Dave Zirin on why the Seahawks are so awesome from a political perspective:

But to make this a social-media story, or a narrative about the more relaxed nature at the top of the Seahawks organization, takes too much credit away from the courage of the players themselves. To have Seahawks linebacker Michael Bennett use the Super Bowl media scrum to slam the NCAA and say, “I think the NCAA is one of the biggest scams in America” and “I think there are very few schools that actually care about the players. Guys break their legs and they get the worst surgery they could possibly get by the worst doctors with the worst treatment” is more than someone sounding off. It’s an act of solidarity.

To have their always-outspoken cornerback Richard Sherman follow that up by saying, “I tell you from experience that one time I had negative forty bucks in my account. It was in the negative more times than positive. You have to make a decision whether you put gas in your car or get a meal” turns it into a national story.

To have Marshawn Lynch consciously try to control his own labor and by doing so, dredge up the worst impulses in the sports media aristocracy was, intentionally or not, a national service. Thanks to Lynch, we have seen a layer of sports writers regurgitate all of their suppressed bile against young black athletes—tweeting things like their desire for an “English to Marshawn dictionary”—and exposing the long-standing resentments older and mostly whiter sportswriters have towards the people they cover. When Lynch looked at the media and said, “Shout out to all my real Africans out there,” you could almost hear the ventricles in the room constricting.

Plus who does not want to see Roger Goodell squirm if he has to give the MVP trophy to Marshawn Lynch? Now that would be Must See TV! The idiot sports journalist community would also freak out. It’d be great.

Speaking of the NFL, Jeb Lund published a harsh but true attack on Goodell’s NFL in Rolling Stone today. The magazine then pulled it for unspecified reasons. Maybe Goodell is able to persuade mainstream media outlets to kill anything that criticizes him to an extent that even I don’t realize, who knows. You can read the essay at Jeb’s personal website. You should and then publicize Rolling Stone’s cowardice.

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It’s That Time of Year Again…Looking Forward to Game of Thrones, Season 5

[ 16 ] January 30, 2015 |

Thankfully the recent blizzard that hit the northeast did not bring with it White Walkers, pale spiders, wights, and other things that go bump in the (long) night. But it did bring with it the launch of HBO’s Game of Thrones in IMAX and the first proper trailer for Season 5. (EDIT: which it turns out Facebook won’t let me embed)

At 5:30 Eastern, I’ll be discussing the IMAX presentation of Season 4, Episode 9 and 10 and the new trailer with Elana Lavin over at Graphic Policy Radio. You can listen in live here, or just download the podcast afterwards.

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Night Will Fall

[ 34 ] January 30, 2015 |

Night Will Fall is an HBO documentary about one aspect of the Holocaust. Specifically it’s a documentary about the making of another documentary: German Concentration Camps: Factual Survey. GCCFS was filmed, written, and edited — by among others Alfred Hitchcock — in the spring and summer of 1945, but then shelved for political reasons; it was only completed recently, by members of the Imperial War College. It has not yet had any general release, but hopefully Night Will Fall will help change that.

Indeed the most compelling features of Night Will Fall are a few minutes of excerpts from GCCFS, along with digitally restored footage taken for the making of the older film. A few observations:

1. One of the striking aspects of both the British and American response to the liberation of various concentration camps in Germany was that military authorities in both nations immediately mobilized considerable resources to document what their troops had found. Gen. Eisenhower in particular insisted on having a delegation of leaders of both houses of Congress visit the camps at once, even though the war in Europe was still being fought. (The report to Congress this visit generated is well worth reading, as among other things it illustrates how relatively little understanding the Allies had of the true scope and nature of the Final Solution even by the end of the war).

The Russians also brought in cameras to Auschwitz and Majdanek immediately after capturing them. The latter camp was unusually well preserved, because the rapid advance of the Red Army caught the SS by surprise, and much of the sort of evidence that was destroyed at other camps was preserved there. German Concentration Camps: Factual Survey employees some of this footage as well.

All this demonstrates how the Allies appreciated at the the time that the enormity of the Nazis’ crimes would be met with incredulity, no doubt in part because both world wars featured the use on all sides of exaggerated or wholly invented atrocity stories for propaganda purposes. In the case of the Holocaust, the atrocity stories turned out to be considerable understatements.

2. Night Will Fall isn’t an easy film to watch. The restored footage from the camps is in many cases extremely disturbing — as an Imperial War College expert who took part in the restoration notes, the tradition among those who photographed and filmed war had until then been to avoid graphic representations of war’s carnage, but this tradition was certainly not followed by the camera operators (almost all of them military men who had just learned to use their equipment) who chronicled what they found in the camps.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the images is that they make clear the extent to which the deaths in places like Dachau and Bergen-Belsen were products of brute starvation: the sheer emaciation of the corpses (and the film features thousands of corpses, including those of many women and children) is almost beyond belief. A couple of the camera operators — hardened soldiers being interviewed nearly 70 years after the fact — break down in tears when recounting their memories of their roles in the making of the original film.

3. For all the indescribable barbarity and horror of the concentration camps, these camps were in a sense peripheral to the core of the Holocaust: a point which GCCFS cannot have possibly conveyed, since this wasn’t understood at the time, but which the makers of Night Will Fall should have noted.

Although I’m far from an expert in these matters, it seems to me unfortunate that the sites that did make up the core of the Holcaust — Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor, Chelmno, and Auschwitz Birkenau — are referred to in English, following the German usage of the Nazis themselves, as “camps.” The word camp is properly applied to the forced labor prisons, designed originally for political prisoners and other “undesirables,” that are the focus of GCCFS and Night Will Fall. These concentration camps were qualitatively similar to the Soviet gulags, in that, although they ended up killing large numbers of their inmates as a consequence of extremely brutal conditions, rampant disease, starvation diets, and arbitrary executions, they were not designed to carry out bureaucratized, industrialized, carefully cataloged mass murder on a daily basis. What could more properly be called the Nazi murder factories were designed for no other purpose. Indeed these “camps” had essentially no residents, since, with the exception of a handful of inmates conscripted into the sonderkommando, the millions sent to them were murdered within a few hours of their arrival.

The word “camp,” even in the form of “extermination camp” or “death camp” can, I think, obscure what the essence of the Holocaust really was. The Nazis went to extraordinary lengths to hide the existence of these places, and indeed unlike the concentration and labor camps, the murder factories were never liberated or filmed (Auschwitz Birkenau was shut down and mostly dismantled months before the Soviets captured the territory on which it had operated, while the other murder factories were obliterated by the SS when they were abandoned, well before the lands on which they had stood were overrun by the Red Army. The one exception was Majdanek, but it was primarily a concentration camp, and it operated as an extermination center on a relatively small scale).

Holocaust denial is based almost exclusively on this fact, which once again illustrates the prescience of the Allies in doing what they could to document through film those parts of the Nazi murder machine that could not be disassembled before Allied troops swept over them.

Hopefully now that it has finally been completed, German Concentration Camps: Factual Survey will have a general theatrical release, and be made available on DVD. In the meantime, Night Will Fall is a film that ought to be seen.

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You Won’t Have Mittens To Kick Around Anymore

[ 120 ] January 30, 2015 |

Apparently, Romney figured out that if he had to scrap and claw to win a nomination contest in which he was effectively running unopposed, trying to beat actual competition wasn’t going to work out. 

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Speaking of Identity Politics…

[ 69 ] January 30, 2015 |

Shorter Jim Webb:  Sure, Barack Obama won two convincing electoral college majorities.  But it was the wrong kind of majority.  We need to be the party of Andrew Jackson again, if you know what I mean, which I think you do.

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Friday, Friday Links

[ 75 ] January 30, 2015 |
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It’s Not Erik Loomis’ Birthday Until bspencer Wishes Him a Happy Birthday

[ 56 ] January 29, 2015 |

So…a toast to Erik, everybody!!!

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On “Identity Politics”

[ 153 ] January 29, 2015 |

What Yglesias says here, responding to Jon Chait’s definition of “identity politics” as “shorthand for articles principally about race or gender bias” is very true and very necessary:

This is, I think, the problem with idea of “identity politics” as a shorthand for talking about feminism or anti-racism. The world of navel-gazing journalism is currently enmeshed in a couple of partially overlapping conversations, about “PC culture,” diversity, social justice, technological change, and shifting business models. One thread of this is the (accurate) observation that social media distribution creates new incentives for publications to be attuned to feminist and minority rights perspectives in a way that was not necessarily the case in the past. But where some see a cynical play for readership, I see an extraordinarily useful shock to a media ecosystem that’s too long been myopic in its range of concerns.

The implication of this usage (which is widespread, and by no means limited to people who agree with Chait) is that somehow an identity is something only women or African-Americans or perhaps LGBT people have. White men just have ideas about politics that spring from a realm of pure reason, with concerns that are by definition universal.

You see something similar in Noam Scheiber’s argument that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio went astray by emphasizing an “identity group agenda” of police reform at the expense of a (presumably identity-free) agenda of populist economics. For starters, it is actually inevitable that a New York City mayor would end up spending more time on his police department management agenda (something that is actually under the mayor’s control) than on tax policy, which is set by the State Legislature in Albany.

But beyond that, not addressing a racially discriminatory status quo in policing is itself a choice. Indeed, it’s a kind of identity group appeal — to white people, whose preferred means of striking the balance between liberty and security, in many contexts, is that security should be achieved by depriving other people of their civil liberties.

As I mentioned recently, Christopher Caldwell’s assertion that Obama only getting 40% of the white vote suggested that he was racially divisive (something he wouldn’t say about Romney getting less than 10% of the African-American vote or less than 30% of the Hispanic or Asian-American vote) is another classic example. Opposition to “identity politics” generally provides particularly strong illustrations of what it’s decrying.

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“Won’t Someone Please Think of the Children?” “No.”

[ 15 ] January 29, 2015 |

We’ve already established that for today’s Republicans the minimization of deaths is not a virtue, at least where something as important as arbitrary formal limitations on federal power are at stake. It’s important, therefore, that children get to share in this sweet, sweet freedom from tax credits Congress granted them:

King v. Burwell, the latest Supreme Court case attacking the Affordable Care Act, is largely perceived as a threat to people who purchased insurance through the law’s health exchanges. Should the plaintiffs succeed, at least 8 million people with plans purchased through such an exchange are projected to become uninsured — many of whom have life-threatening conditions. In reality, however, King presents an even bigger threat to American lives. Should the Supreme Court embrace the plaintiffs’ theory in King, up to 5 million children who had insurance long before Obamacare became law would also lose their insurance.

That’s 13 million newly uninsured people, many of them children.

However, it must be noted that Jon Adler has a letter* in which 11 House Democrats are clear that they intended to keep the liberty-destroying boot of health insurance off as many children as possible. Surely the will of Congress must be honored.

*Note: characterization of letter’s contents may not be accurate.

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A Corner in Wheat

[ 45 ] January 29, 2015 |

It is my birthday. I am now 41 with the personality of an 80 year old and the back of a 60 year old (as the snow has reminded me). Speaking of old things, my birthday present to the rest of you is A Corner in Wheat, the D.W. Griffith film from 1909. It has everything you want in a political film from the time. Horrible poverty. Grotesque wealth. Bread riots. And capitalists being killed in grain elevators. One of the best movies representing the Gilded Age.

I had my students watch it out of class for my film course that meets tonight. I also had them read Frederick Winslow Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management. In class, we are watching Modern Times. That’s right, it is early 20th century labor week.

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The Party of Death

[ 57 ] January 29, 2015 |

At The Week, I have some reflections on Michael Strain’s “sure, if we destroy the ACA plenty of people will die, your point being?” op-ed:

But the fact that the costs of the ACA might theoretically exceed the benefits doesn’t get us very far. What benefits, exactly, would accrue if millions of people were denied medical coverage because the ACA is seriously damaged or destroyed? It’s here that Strain’s argument falls apart.

One potential line against the ACA is the radical libertarian one, holding that any effort by the government to provide health care to the non-affluent represents an unacceptable level of state coercion. The problem here is that the “freedom” to die of preventable illnesses and injuries is not one the vast majority of people value very highly. A Republican Party committed to these principles would be transformed into an electoral coalition that would make Barry Goldwater’s 52 electoral votes in 1964 look robust.

Since the people responsible for the anti-ACA effort know this perfectly well, the constitutional arguments against the ACA have the advantage of not logically requiring the Supreme Court to rule the entire modern regulatory state unconstitutional. The disadvantage is that they ask the court to deny many millions of people health coverage based on liberty interests that are ludicrously trivial.

The litigants challenging the constitutionality of the ACA do not contend that the federal government cannot regulate national health care markets. Rather, their constitutional argument boils down to an assertion that the government has the authority to assess a tax to compel people to purchase health insurance, but not a penalty. It’s pretty hard to argue that the fate of liberty in America hinges on this formal limitation on federal power.

The more successful federalist argument launched against the Affordable Care Act is similarly unattractive. Chief Justice John Roberts’ inept re-writing of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion allowed states to opt out. Republican-controlled states have eagerly rejected the large amounts of federal money on offer to insure more poor residents, something that is likely to result in the unnecessary deaths of more than 5,000 people a year.

I don’t think this particular protection of state autonomy is worth that many lives (or, indeed, a single life). But here’s the kicker: The Supreme Court’s decision does not even meaningfully protect state sovereignty. Under the court’s theory, Congress could have enacted the ACA’s Medicaid expansion by repealing the pre-existing Medicaid entirely. This, apparently, would be completely constitutional. There may be things worth 5,000 lives a year; an incoherent legal argument that doesn’t even really protect states’ rights isn’t one of them.

More at the link for those of you who are into that kind of thing. Read Beutler as well. Hiltzik is excellent too.

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Defense Innovation in China

[ 0 ] January 29, 2015 |

The Diplomat: APAC (one of my employers), recently introduced a new app. The app has a magazine format, and I have an article on defense innovation in the Chinese military-industrial complex in the third issue.

Yet for all of this success, serious questions persist. China remains dependent on access to foreign technology, with many of its most important systems stemming from Russian and Western designs. More importantly, however, China must figure out a way to manage the growing divide between its military and civilian economies. The United States and Europe have struggled mightily to harness their military-industrial complexes (MICs) to private industry, particular in the information technology sector. China’s MIC will soon face the same problems, and how it manages this obstacle will matter much more than questions about how much technology it can steal from the West.

I highly recommend both the article, and the app.

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