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Category: General

Western Water

[ 69 ] June 21, 2016 |


I know the law job market is horrible, but I always felt that going into water law in the West was a pretty much limitless market, given the brutal battles between states and between the U.S. and Mexico, over scarce water supplies in a vastly overdeveloped region. With the rapid growth of Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver, Albuquerque, and of course southern California, on top of preexisting agricultural commitment and of course that little problem called climate change, the future of the Southwest is very much in doubt. The more we can know about water, the better we can manage it responsibly. Or just keep on keeping on but know why we are destroying everything. Whatever. Anyway, this is interesting:

Scientists have known for a long time that flow in rivers is sustained by contributions from both snowmelt runoff and groundwater. The groundwater is composed of rivulets of water hidden below ground —some thousands of years old — that are particularly important for sustaining a river’s flow after the spring snowmelt has subsided. Less clear, however, was exactly how much of the flow in rivers came from groundwater, a critical source of much of the West’s water supply. Now, a new study, released last month by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), helps quantify just how much: more than half the flow of rivers in the upper part of the Colorado River Basin is sustained by groundwater. That finding, say experts, highlights the need to better protect a resource threatened by overuse and climate change.

“Because we now have numbers on this connection, we have a better understanding of the importance of groundwater as a contributor to our surface water supply, and anything impacting the groundwater system will also impact flow in rivers.” says Matthew Miller, a USGS scientist and the lead author of the study.

Managing groundwater more sustainably has become a much greater emphasis of western water managers in recent years, with some level of success in not depleting it. But the law around these issues in byzantine with lots and lots of stakeholders all aggressively pushing their claims.



[ 167 ] June 21, 2016 |


Do you care what Joe Lieberman thinks about the 2016 elections? No, of course not. But since he was interviewed about it and refused to endorse either Trump or Clinton, go ahead and make fun of him anyway.

Stein’s History

[ 14 ] June 21, 2016 |


Judith Stein is one of the finest historians working today. Her book, Pivotal Decade, is a superb discussion of the 1970s and the economic shift away from manufacturing to financialization. Critical work. You should read it.

Stein has a long interview with Jacobin that is also worth your time. I don’t agree with her on every point–she does underplay the central role of racism in southern politics to make the case that there were alternatives for the region, both during the Populist years and after the civil rights movement. And some of the questions are a bit eyerolling as they make cheap attempts to connect the “Democratic Party elites” of the 1890s killing Populists in the South and “Democratic Party elites” today, as if they were remotely the same people. But as a whole, this is good stuff. One excerpt:

First of all, both the labor movement and the Civil Rights Movement were diverse. But I can make some generalizations. Let’s start with the AFL-CIO and its leader, George Meany.

Unlike Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers, Meany did not support the March on Washington in 1963. Nevertheless, he was the muscle behind the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including the very important Title 7, banning employment discrimination.

The Civil Rights Movement, and blacks in general, did not have much weight in Congress, so labor played a crucial role in getting legislation passed. And where labor was weak, the churches stepped in.

One of the reasons that Meany was so insistent on Title 7 was that the law had evolved so that unions, but not employers, were liable for employment discrimination. Making employment discrimination illegal would place the blame on employers, whom labor leaders believed were the cause of discrimination.

In addition, it wasn’t just Reuther who gave money to Martin Luther King Jr. In 1963, the United Steelworkers in Birmingham gave $40,000 so that jailed demonstrators could be released. Claude Ramsay, head of the Mississippi AFL-CIO, worked very closely with Medgar Evers, the main civil rights leader in the state.

Having said that, it is also true that the hurricane of racism that enveloped the South in the late 1950s and early 1960s included many unionized white workers. This period halted some of the postwar progress that had been made and replaced the populists, who stressed economic issues, with the racists in state and local government.

Nonetheless, most union leaders in the South tried the best they could to promote black rights because they saw black voting as crucial to union success, as well as to their own liberalism.

There is no doubt that there were conflicts, generally over methods and the speed of black advancement. The conflicts escalated when the number of jobs was falling.

And some unions were better than others. The craft unions were less willing to change than the CIO industrial unions, which especially in the North had eliminated many of the discriminations of the pre-union era.

Even so, the unionized construction companies [strongholds of craft unionism] had better records on training blacks for skilled work than the nonunionized companies.


[ 387 ] June 21, 2016 |

If my Bernie bona fides have been established, I’d like to turn to the priority of defeating the Republican presidential candidate. Actually, “defeat” does not do justice to my hopes. More like, we need to break them on the wheel. We need to drive them before us, and hear the lamentations of their women. Or deir vimen. You get the idea.

I’m not from high school political science club, earnestly raising the value of a strong two-party system and isn’t it sad that the Republicans have wigged out. If we’re to have two parties, then the Democrats can be the neo-liberal party and contend with a new social-democratic party. The conservatives have nothing to offer, AFAIC.

Meanwhile I see goofy arguments from lefts that discount the importance of Bernie’s priority of keeping Trump out of the White House. Would that they were left enough to appreciate the dangers of fascism.

One delusion is that there is little difference between Trump and Clinton. This is not well-founded on any comparison of policy proposals since Trump has no policies; he has psychoses. His penchant for changing his view in mid-sentence is well-known. So what can be foreseen about him as president? In my view there will be two Trumps in the White House.

One is utterly ignorant in all policy areas and uninterested in becoming informed. He will be putty in the hands of a Republican Congress. (It’s reasonable to expect that a Trump victory will be matched by Republican control of both houses of Congress.) Such a Congress would take a wrecking ball to the U.S. welfare state.

Every so often I see lefty comments to the effect that our welfare state has been destroyed, so there is nothing left to defend. In actuality, over $700 billion a year is devoted to means-tested programs, in addition to our much larger social insurance system, in addition to state and local government spending. Ms Clinton might interest herself in trimming the edges in objectionable ways (they call it “modernizing,” or “strengthening the program”), but there is no case for her matching the scale of destruction that the Republicans promise.

It is true that the Clintons were responsible for destroying the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, but there has been no indication that they would follow suit for other Federal anti-poverty benefits. Liberal defenders of so-called welfare reform have been put back on their heels rather than urging more of the same.

The greater lefty delusion is that Trump would somehow be less adventurist in foreign policy than Ms Clinton. This gets me to Trump #2. While his policy pronouncements are murky, his dependence on the mob is clear. He is good at reading it and performing for it.

What is the mob? Its proletarian character has been exaggerated. Perhaps some mistake its boorish behavior for that of working people, in contrast, say, to some well-heeled student out of Stanford University. What comes out most clearly is the desire for violence, the hatred of minorities, of gays, of immigrants, of women. The thirst for violence is two-tiered.

One tier is street level abuse of other Americans. I would argue that indulgence of such scenarios is related to Trump’s denunciations of the press. I have doubts that the left would be able to function even at its present level given Trump’s lack of commitment to democratic norms.

The other tier is the wish for mass violence committed by the U.S. military against foreigners. I’ve tried to establish my opposition to Ms Clinton’s brand of American exceptionalism. Those who would rank it as more dangerous than a Trump administration need to answer this question: given his rhetoric to date, not to mention his loopy foreign policy advisers, how do you think a President Trump would react to a non-trivial provocation from what could be labeled an Islamic source? He has has spoken of his desire to “bomb the shit out of them.” I understand that remark as a lack of concern for any collateral damage. When the subject of water-boarding has come up, he promises to go further, as if torture is not a device for obtaining intelligence, however dubious, but as a means of punishment.

In a nutshell, the Trump campaign displays all sorts of sirens, flashing lights, and strains of  the Ride of the Valkyries, signaling danger. Obliterating his campaign would have the added benefit of diminishing Republican prospects in other races. I submit that this would be a good thing.

In summary, if you’re any kind of semi-conscious lefty, you have to want to see a Republican Party meltdown, the counterpart of which is a Democratic Party landslide, this year.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.



Don’t diddle. Organize.

[ 61 ] June 21, 2016 |

I’ve already mentioned the habit of seeing everything through an electoral frame. Bernie lost, Hillary won, Bernie’s been insufficiently magnanimous, Bernie’s followers are going to make a mess in Philadelphia, Bernie lost so his people roll over, we should make nice with his people, ho hum. I’ve moved past that. The election will be over in November. Most Bernie supporters will vote Democrat. I’m interested in where the movement goes.

joe-hill-portraitA friend asked me how organizing should be done, and I had to confess I didn’t really know. It isn’t my wheelhouse. My best guess is, build the email list, raise money, rally behind progressive issues, start local political clubs, support local and state candidates, and most important, do not dissolve into Hillary’s Democratic Party apparatus. Basically the job is to build a new party that runs as Democrats and gets strong enough to take over the DNC, root and branch.

I have to laugh when I read that Bernie isn’t a Democrat. Can you actually join the Democratic Party? Is there a place you can go and commune with party members, discuss policy, propose directions for the party? You can certainly get on their fundraising lists. You can answer one of their jive surveys, your answers to which will feed their micro-targeting of you for contributions. You can volunteer for grunt work during actual election campaigns. There is a brand controlled by an elite, but for the rank-and-file person, there is no there there. There is no party life outside of donating money and volunteering during elections. The conventions are a joke.

I referenced previous upsurges. You can’t push a button and make these happen. You can take advantage of them when they bust out, support them, try to guide them to something greater. You can get behind more narrow campaigns, of which there are plenty.

Presently we have a constellation of groups that ought to be the basis for a new, united effort. There is Democracy for America, Democratic Socialists of America, MoveOn, Progressive Democrats of America, Black Lives Matter, Americans for Democratic Action (my old group, solid for Bernie this year), and of course the Sanders campaign itself. There have been huge gatherings around issues of climate change and world poverty, among others. Put these together and you have something really powerful. Of course, all sorts of logistical, political, and ego issues are in the way. But the potential is there.


[ 50 ] June 21, 2016 |

In different ways and places, I’ve been doing policy analysis since 1984. I’ve invented a few things that received favorable notice, but it’s hard to prove the value of such arcane accomplishments. All I will claim here is some experience, some decades of toiling in the vineyards.

The legend of Hillary Clinton includes the belief that she is a wizard of policy analysis, in the face of which Bernie is some kind of caveman.

cavemanSome of this is founded on the Clinton campaign’s superior resources, including legions of aspiring political appointees. I don’t blame them one bit. If you want to do public service, whatever your ulterior motives, she’s the ticket. At the start, Sanders’ campaign had no money. They did have supporters among academics, but it tended to be uneven. The financial regulation bench was deep. By all appearances, some areas were undermanned. (I’ve noted previously that I aspired to a position of this type but was rejected, so take that any way you like.) Once a campaign gets rolling, there is not much opportunity for deep contemplation about policy. You pretty much dance with what you brung.

The upshot is that from a technical standpoint, Clinton should have the best policy material that money can buy. In the actual event, the vast bulk of critical policy analysis was directed at Sanders’ proposals. I’d say this has been a curious omission. After all, Clinton is the person widely favored to be president. Shouldn’t there have been more interest in her proposals? Instead the big analytical guns targeted Sanders’ platform.

Perhaps there is an archive in Clintonland of extensive plans on every sort of initiative. The web site, however, is often limited to slim pickings. About George Will (or maybe Newt Gingrich), it used to be said, “He’s a dumb person’s idea of a smart person.”) About Hillary’s platform, I’d say the policies are an uninformed person’s idea of detailed policy proposals. I don’t say ‘dumb.’ Uninformed has a different meaning.

I’ll mention two areas I know something about, to make the case that she isn’t all that.

One concerns the quest for universal health insurance coverage. Sanders’ “Medicare for All” has been slammed as prohibitively expensive. The first line of attack on the plan went something along the lines of, Bernie wants to destroy all of your health insurance coverage, then diddle around and eventually try to enact something that’s impossible to enact because Republicans in Congress. Do I have to explain why this was a flaming lie?

Then we heard an attack on a previous, outdated plan from Sanders that would let state governments set up universal coverages. This was scorned on grounds that Republican-controlled state governments would never play along. This becomes relevant below.

The next bit was Bernie will raise your taxes sky-high. The Sanders plan would have been financed by a six percent tax on payroll. Removing employer-paid health insurance premiums would be expected to feed back into wages, at least to some extent. (Economists think most of it would, though not instantly.) Would people come out ahead? This last was never raised, except in dense reports from places like the Urban Institute. In Clintonland, it was all tax tax tax.

Using employers to provide social benefits is a decidedly sub-optimal arrangement. The quality of benefits varies substantially, and in no small number of cases benefits are entirely lacking. This outcome bodes ill for economic security, much less equality. Some alternative paths towards universal coverage that have some role for employers can be observed in other countries, dare I say democratic-socialist ones. What did the wizard of policy, Hillary Clinton, offer in the way of a “road to universal coverage”?

One problem for the lay person is distinguishing an actual proposal that contemplates some kind of mechanism from a goal. “Will work to do” X, Y, or Z is not a policy. This empty commitment to a variety of noble objectives comes up a number of times on the page.

The core of the plan is support for the expansion of ObamaCare, which is just fine with me. I supported O-Care, but it is not universal coverage. The most egregious gap is due to states that have refused to take up the Medicaid expansion. Clinton would increase the matching rate (the extent to which the Federal government defrays expenses for the expansion). But the matching rate is already 90 percent. The resistance of a rogue’s gallery of Republican governors is clearly ideological, not fiscal. By what logic or evidence would a slightly higher rate make a difference? But not to worry, “she will continue to look for other ways to incentivize states.” (See empty commitments, above.)

The web site also asserts Clinton’s support for a ‘public option’ for the states, those damned Republican governors notwithstanding. And in recent weeks, she has played around with advocacy of Medicare for some (over 55, or maybe even 50, but who’s counting). The striking thing about these items for a policy analyst is that they are unencumbered by any presentation of what they would cost or how they would work, and nobody in the policy business looked askance at this loose talk. There were no breathless cost estimates of Clinton’s ideas about the public option, or Medicare for somebody. Bernie should have had it so easy.

Another example. Universal pre-K, sometimes referred to as universal child care. Evidence indicates it has great benefits for children of the poor. Naturally, Hillary “calls for universal preschool for America’s children.” I’m calling for it too, but who will answer?

First bullet, building on bipartisan efforts and expand funding. No specifics here.

Second bullet, “work to ensure every 4-year old has access to high-qualify preschool in the next ten years.” Recall objectives without mechanisms noted above. Also, what about 3-year olds? In ten years, they’ll be . . . thirteen. She will provide new Federal funding to . . . those damned Republican governors. Now a couple of those swine have indeed proven receptive to expanding child care, but a couple do not equal “universal.”

After rehashing some evidence on the value of the objectives, with which I am enthusiastically in accord, and some boilerplate on her record, we finally find another specific: doubling Head Start. I love Head Start, but I’m sorry, it’s a tiny program.

Tallulah, unimpressed.

Tallulah, unimpressed.

My purpose in all this is not to demean the ideas or proposals found at the link above. I support all of them, as far as they go. It’s one of the best things to look forward to, when she is elected. I would go further, and maybe Ms Clinton would too. I’d just suggest the wizard factor in this vein is an overstatement. As Tallulah Bankhead may or may not have said to the Algonquin Club Round Table, “There is less here than meets the eye.”

Superdelegates and Open Primaries

[ 121 ] June 21, 2016 |


Bernie Sanders and the Congressional Black Caucus are at odds over the former’s demands for changes in the primary process.

In a letter sent to both the Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns, the CBC is expressing its resolute opposition to two key reforms demanded by Sanders in the run-up to the Democratic convention: abolishing the party’s superdelegate system and opening Democratic primaries up to independents and Republicans.

“The Democratic Members of the Congressional Black Caucus recently voted unanimously to oppose any suggestion or idea to eliminate the category of Unpledged Delegate to the Democratic National Convention (aka Super Delegates) and the creation of uniform open primaries in all states,” says the letter, which was obtained by POLITICO. “The Democratic Party benefits from the current system of unpledged delegates to the National Convention by virtue of rules that allow members of the House and Senate to be seated as a delegate without the burdensome necessity of competing against constituents for the honor of representing the state during the nominating process.”

Each side is right about one issue. Sanders is right that the superdelegates need to go. They serve no useful purpose and feed into conspiracy theories. Some look at the Republican nomination this year and say “this is what superdelegates can prevent.” But if superdelegates prevented any winner of a democratic process from being the nominee, total chaos would take place. They serve no real purpose other than giving party elites a slightly more than ceremonial vote in reality, but that’s not enough to keep them given the controversies over them this year.

On the other hand, I believe Democrats should pick the Democratic nominee. I’m fine with same day registration for voting. But declared Democrats should pick the Democratic nominee. If you don’t want to soil your leftist purity by registering as a Democrat, that’s a choice you make.

The caucuses should also be eliminated in favor of primaries in every state, but that’s not at play in this current conflict.

How much more pomo can the Trump campaign get?

[ 208 ] June 21, 2016 |


It’s looking like the answer might be “none.”

A lot of Trump’s “campaign” has consisted of the by now playbook version of the outsider GOP run that’s just a semi-opaque fig leaf for a straight-up old fashioned grifting operation, see, e.g., id. op. cit. Herman Cain, Ben Carson, Sarah Palin et. al. Hence:

What’s more, certain aspects of Trump’s financials are garnering special attention. For instance, about 20 percent of the $6.7 million he spent in May — or about $1.1 million — went to companies he owns or to travel reimbursements for his children, WSJ reports.

His most expensive expenditure for the month was $423,317 to book his own resort — Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach. He paid one of his own golf courses $35,845, another $29,715, and his son Eric’s wine company more than $4,000. About $350,000 of the money the Trump campaign spent on private jets went to TAG Air — an airline Trump owns.

But Trump’s grifting is, not surprisingly, bigger, bolder, classier, and above all, far more suitable for providing the material for both a terrific HBO documentary and several dozen presentations at the MLA on the breakdown between “reality” and “fiction:”

The Trump campaign also paid $35,000 for advertising to a mystery firm called “Draper Sterling,” which might ring a bell for Mad Men fans and which may or may not actually exist.

I’m going with “not.”

Draper Sterling is the name of the ad agency in AMC’s Mad Men. But Legum is right; Trump’s financial filings show that he made several payments to Draper Sterling in April of this year for web advertising.

The address listed for “Draper Sterling” is nothing more than a house in the middle of suburban New Hampshire.

So what going on? Well there are two circumstantial clues. The first is that “Draper Sterling” is located a fifteen-minute drive and a town over from the hometown of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. The second…

Want some Trump news? The campaign is doing a forensic audit on all of Corey Lewandowski’s spending.

— Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) June 21, 2016

When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a proliferation of myths of origin and signs of reality; of second-hand truth, objectivity and authenticity. There is an escalation of the true, of the lived experience; a resurrection of the figurative where the object and substance have disappeared. And there is a panic-stricken production of the real and the referential, above and parallel to the panic of material production. This is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us: a strategy of the real, neo-real and hyperreal, whose universal double is a strategy of deterrence.

— Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

What’s the point of skimming if we’re being skimmed? Defeats the whole purpose of what we’re doin’ out there.


troncating journalism

[ 89 ] June 21, 2016 |

If you want a picture of the future of news journalism, imagine a content optimization system stamping on a newspaper reporter’s face, forever.

Also, more autoplay!

Tribune newspapers were responsible for some of the best journalism of the past century; Tronc, according to its leaders, would instead serve as a “content curation and monetization engine.” Today, in a chilling new video warning issued to all employees, the leaders of the Tronc empire unveiled phase two of their plan: the gradual transformation of the company into a series of video embeds.


The basic idea here is that Tronc will syndicate articles and videos across its properties. Which is fine! But there’s not much money in text, and so Tronc is leaning hard into video. Today, 16 percent of the company’s articles include an embedded video; that number will more than double to 50 percent next year. But what if the article I just wrote doesn’t make sense as a video, you might ask? Congratulations! You’ve just been laid off.

Eventually large print and broadcast news outlets will be staffed by five people who spend their wretched days scanning Twitter, Facebook and Instachat, asking people if they can use their pics and videos and throwing some sort of copy around whatever they get. That’s sure to boost news reporters’ already high morale.

(As an aside, Tribune v. 2.0 is spelled with a lowercase t for maximum disruptive power. But I can imagine the writer saying Fuck that noise, je refuse.)

Sotomayor, Breyer and the Fourth Amendment

[ 129 ] June 21, 2016 |


Yesterday, Sonia Sotomayor wrote one of the strongest defenses of the Fourth Amendment and the underlying relationship between citizen and state it implies in the United States Reports. Unfortunately, despite an 8-person court it was written in dissent, because Stephen Breyer is to the right of the Utah Supreme Court on the Fourth Amendment:

Indeed, Thomas’ holding stands the exclusionary rule on its head, creating incentives for the police to engage in illegal misconduct. If you illegally ask for someone’s ID and you don’t find anything wrong, you’re very unlikely to face a serious sanction. If you do find something, you might uncover evidence that leads to an arrest. This is precisely the kind of misconduct the exclusionary rule was intended to prevent, and, as Justice Elena Kagan explains in her own dissent, finding the outstanding warrant is constitutionally irrelevant.

Writing only for herself, Part IV of Justice Sotomayor’s is a powerful and devastating defense of the exclusionary rule and why gutting it matters. The arbitrary powers this opinion effectively gives to the police will not be applied equally — there is no chance that the police will start stopping people walking around Stephen Breyer’s neighborhood and asking to see their papers. These powers will overwhelmingly be used against the poor and people of color, who risk being treated “as second-class citizens.”

Citing (among others) W.E.B. Dubois, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Michelle Alexander, Sotomayor concisely explains how this arbitrary authority will be disproportionately applied to the most vulnerable citizens. “The white defendant in this case shows that anyone’s dignity can be violated in this manner,” wrote Sotomayor. “But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny. For generations, black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’ — instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger — all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.”

Rewarding the police for illegal, suspicionless searches of people doing nothing wrong is also contrary to the basic individual privacy and equal citizenship the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment are supposed to guarantee. As Sotomayor puts it, the Court’s holding “implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

Sotomayor’s argument is unanswerable, and while it’s not a surprise to see the Court’s Republican nominees ignore such concerns, it’s appalling for Breyer to join them. It’s not as if Breyer is unmindful of the issues Sotomayor raises, or has a generally bad record on civil rights issues. His dissent in Parents Involved v. Seattle School District is a brilliant, powerful demonstration of how formally equal legal language can conceal and reinforce racial hierarchies. But for whatever reason, he has a blind spot from applying this kind of analysis to some Fourth Amendment cases.

Sotomayor’s dissent should be a landmark that helps set the liberal constitutional agenda should Hillary Clinton win and produce the first Democratic-majority Supreme Court in more than 40 years by filling Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat. And one person who Clinton should not nominate for Scalia’s seat is Merrick Garland. Obama’s lame duck nominee looks too much like another Breyer on civil liberties issues. Senate Democrats should quietly help to ensure that Garland’s nomination dies in the Senate after the election. And if Clinton needs inspiration for a pick, she could do a lot worse than looking to Sotomayor.

Going back to Cardozo, there has been a certain strand of liberal technocrat that doesn’t like the exclusionary rule. Superficially, the argument (which prevails in many liberal democracies) seems persuasive: being obtained illegally doesn’t necessarily make physical evidence (as opposed to confessions) less reliable, so misconduct should be punished directly rather than excluding the evidence. But in practice, at least in the American case, the argument is wrong. An effective civil sanction to punish Fourth Amendment violations is a pipedream. And while the “inevitable discovery” exception to the exclusionary rule makes sense, the “good faith” and “attenuation” exceptions are just illogical end-runs around the rule.

We’re Indispensable and You’re Not

[ 151 ] June 21, 2016 |

Perhaps the most ample source of attacks on Sanders from what I’d call the further left, which will include many ex-friends in the weeks to come, concerns Imperialism. Sanders has voted for defense budgets and endorsed some U.S. imperial adventures in the past. He was reticent about Israel’s brutal oppression of its Arab citizens, as well as the Palestinians whose land it occupies.

I have a theory. It is that Sanders decided he could do more good with lukewarm foreign policies for the sake of industrial-strength domestic social-democratic advocacy. This has carried over into the campaign. In a nutshell, Bernie punts on foreign policy. It’s an inversion of what used to be said about Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, who embraced segregation while upholding liberal views on foreign policy during the Vietnam War.

stopIt’s a mark of the poverty of our national debates about Israel and Palestine that Bernie’s appeal for elementary fairness in re: the Palestinians has been received as some great breakthrough. Of course it should be welcome, as far as it goes. But it needs to go much further.

Perhaps the greatest misgivings about Ms Clinton pertain to her views on foreign policy. Her superior knowledge should not be in dispute. Sanders’ messages on terrorism and the Middle East were repetitive, simplistic, and frankly embarrassing. All that ‘coalition’ bullshit. By contrast, Clinton is well-informed and positively worrisome. I’m more concerned about somebody willing to play with dynamite than someone whose instinct is to back away from it. Reluctance to use mass lethal force is the greatest virtue in foreign policy, and on this scale, Sanders ranks higher. Obama, too.

I read a great book about Afghanistan, forgot the title. Efforts to conquer it by great powers—Great Britain, Russia, Persia—tended to come to grief. Disastrous experiences for the British gave rise to a phrase I would nominate as a model. A disinclination to meddle was given the grand title by chastened British imperialists of “the doctrine of masterly inactivity.” The U.S. could use more of this mastery, but I fear it will elude Ms Clinton.

I had the bad judgement to watch “London Has Fallen” the other night. (It was free on Fios.) It begins with a war crime committed by the U.S. government–the droning of a wedding party. In an effort to kill a notorious arms dealer, some hundred or so innocent civilians are blown up. I doubt it will surprise anybody to know that in the end, the bad guys get their comeuppance. What was a little astonishing, however, was the closing speech by (of course) Morgan Freeman, playing veep. The basic thrust of it was, the U.S. has the right to go where it likes and do what it wants, in effect justifying the atrocity that launches the movie. Liberal Hollywood!

Sorry you'll all have to die because we are the indispensable nation.

Sorry you all must get blowed up because we are the indispensable nation.

A summary statement of U.S. imperial perversity from an official source was once offered by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She said the U.S. is the “indispensable nation.” It falls to us, in this view, to make peace, by lethal force and mass death when necessary. This is the Democratic Party take on “American exceptionalism.” Subsequent to the U.S. onslaught against the Milosevic regime, Ms Albright and another hero of liberal interventionism, General Wesley Clark, were observed grubbing around in the Balkans for business opportunities.

It is not well-appreciated that the Clinton Administration greased the skids for the Bush-Cheney misadventure by upholding sanctions against Iraq, in effect maintaining a state of war. Absent the Obama deal with Iran, the U.S. could have been on a similar path once again. Would Hillary have made that deal? Fortunately we may never need to speculate.

By virtue of his immeasurably enhanced national prestige, Sanders is positioned to lead the peace movement. Instead of punting on third down, he can make it a practice to keep driving forward. I want to be optimistic, so this is where I hope he goes.

Confessions of a Bernie Bro

[ 192 ] June 21, 2016 |

Some on the left seem to make it their mission to invite the contempt of others. I’m always reminded of an appearance by the late Harvey Pekar on David Letterman’s show, decades ago. Pekar’s message could be boiled down to, I’m the left, and you all suck. Ah, politics. Winning friends and influencing people! His hatred was pure! Some on the left fall prey to this, if only occasionally.


Me, I need all the friends I can get, and not just because of my sad personal life. As a politically-interested person, I want people to like me enough to take an interest in the political jive I am dishing out. So I have to wonder about what is sometimes referred to as “call-out culture.” This culture consists of poisonous tweets, back and forth, between partisans of one or another candidate. Some of these exchanges have resulted in people losing their jobs. Online debates, and tweeting especially, affects the personality, like those “You’re not you when you’re hungry” commercials.

I don’t want to go out on a limb here, but I suspect none of these battles change anybody’s mind about politics. In 140 characters, the scope for reasoned argument is lacking. Little edification is forthcoming. So why engage? I could identify with some Old Testament desire to mete out an eye for an eye, but that ought to get tedious very quickly.

Clinton partisans have fomented the legend of the Bernie Bro. Bernie’s followers are held to be overwhelmingly white, male, and abusive in social media. Examples are easy to find, but all such evidence amounts to anecdata. The vitriol actually flows in both directions. With real data, it has been well-established that the whiteness and maleness of Sanders’ supporters follow strong regional and age-based patterns. The Clintonoid gloss extends to the voices of minority and female Sanders partisans, who speak of being ‘erased.’ (If you look, you can find them. It isn’t difficult.)


Naturally, the Bernie Bro story dovetails with the spurious substitution of race and gender for class discussed previously. It is the most vapid of policy arguments. Out of a variety of motives, it has become the stock in trade of a squadron of (neo-) liberal pundits. I suppose the most charitable explanation is that such people feared a Sanders nomination would doom Democratic electoral prospects. They were in the tank for Clinton, but with the best of intentions. Sad thing about politics: it can lead you to really fuck over your friends.

Absent the powers of mind-reading or psycho-analysis, speculating about motives is not a productive line of inquiry. The upshot is clear enough. The stigmatization of Sanders supporters was one low-down form of political warfare in service to the Democratic Party’s chosen heir to the presidential throne, incidentally casting discredit on the social-democratic policies these same pundits claim to always support.

One might imagine that the Clinton campaign might welcome challenges from the left, the better to stress its moderate bona fides. Advocacy of social-democratic policies ought to magnify the reasonableness of less radical proposals. When such challenges grow formidable, however, the imperative of political supremacy – control of the Democratic Party’s brand – wins out. The strategy of the elites becomes one of rule or ruin. I do acknowledge that the Clinton campaign has shown some restraint, if only out of self-interest; they need Bernie’s voters in November.

Delegate allegiances notwithstanding, the Sanders uprising remains in place and may be cultivated. In reality it is multi-racial and embraces both genders. It seems to have especially roused Arab-Americans and Native Americans, heretofore neglected voices in our politics. In general, the working class itself is become increasingly composed of minority group members.

What will our neoliberal anti-racist/sexist crusaders say in the face of future labor upsurges led by African-Americans and Hispanics?


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