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Category: General

This Hour’s Idiotic Republican Presidential Candidate Argument

[ 158 ] October 7, 2015 |


Carly Fiorina claims that her B.A. in medieval history she received nearly 40 years ago gives her qualifications to fight ISIS. Yeah, no. Medieval historian David Perry with the smackdown:

As a medievalist, I believe that we need to study the past in order to respond to the present, but we must learn the right things. Isis is, undoubtedly, inspired by medieval and pre-medieval Islamic ideas about power, purity and what they believe to be the “true nature of Islam.” Medieval Islam, like all religions, contained many different types of ideas and practices. Some were comparatively tolerant and open to innovation and differences; others were more restrictive. I argue, as the president did in February, that you can look into the history of any religion and find examples of both the best and worst of humanity within it, then draw inspiration as you see fit.

It’s vital to recognize, though, as John Terry writes in Slate, that the viciousness of Isis emerges from its modernity, not its artificial links to the past. Terry writes: “Isis is not re-enacting the seventh-century Arab conquests, even though some among its ranks may think they are. They’re nostalgic for a make-believe past, and those among them who know plenty about Islam’s first decades have conveniently revised medieval history to fit modern ideological needs.”

Isis depends on modernity. Their growth was made possible by modern wars – from the division of the Middle East post-World War I to the most recent wars in Iraq and Syria. It’s only in this ultra-modern context that a group like Isis could grow and flourish. They expertly deploy modern technology to recruit and communicate. Some of their recruits even purchased Islam for Dummies before trying to head to the war zone. Now there’s an ultra-modern “fake it until you make it” mentality.

If Carly Fiorina really wants to draw on the Middle Ages for inspiration, I do have some suggestions. Lesson one: support universities, scholars, writers and artists, as their contributions outlive us all. Lesson two: peasants, oppressed for too long, always rebel. Lesson three: don’t go to war in the Middle East without a good exit plan.

In other words, “medieval” is just an incorrect word to describe policies we find distasteful, not only is no one qualified to lead the United States because they have a particular degree but Fiorina is especially unqualified because she misunderstands ISIS and what period of history created them, and third, Fiorina, like the Bush administration and all the other Republican presidential candidates not only doesn’t understand Islam but doesn’t want to understand it because said understanding would create complexity and get in the way of bombing the savages and making Americans feel awesome about themselves through war against unworthies. Meanwhile, actual medieval Islam was saving the knowledge of the Greeks from the illiterate, warlike, and brutal European tribes marauding through Rome.


The Left, Politics, and the Democratic Party

[ 85 ] October 7, 2015 |


Dissent’s new issue is titled “Arguments on the Left” and pairs authors together to argue a point. One of the questions is the relationship of the left to the Democratic Party. This is a case however where both sides are essentially correct because they aren’t really arguing with each other. First, Michael Kazin argues that the left must also be Democrats:

It would be wonderful to belong to and vote for a party that stood unambiguously for democratic socialist principles, articulated them to diverse constituencies in fresh and thrilling ways, and had the ability to compete for every office from mayor to legislator to governor to senator to president. But not many Americans speak Norwegian.

In the United States, there are innumerable obstacles to starting and sustaining a serious new party on the left: the electoral laws work against it, most of the media would ignore it, the expenses of building the infrastructure are prohibitive, and the constituency for such a party doesn’t currently exist. A majority of Americans do say they would like to have a third party to vote for. But at least as many of those people stand on the right as on the left, and many others just despise “politics as usual” and seldom, if ever, vote. In the meantime, a tiny, existing left-wing party can run a famous individual for president who manages to win enough votes to tip a critical state to the Republican nominee. In 2000, if just one percent of the 97,488 Floridians who voted for Ralph Nader had, instead, chosen Al Gore, George W. Bush would have remained in Texas. And the United States would probably not have invaded Iraq in 2003. Bernie Sanders knows all this—which is why he decided to run for president as a Democrat.

For Americans on the left, whether to vote and canvass for Democrats, and perhaps run for office as one, ought not to be a matter of principle. It’s a pragmatic question: can one do more to make the United States a more just and humane society and help people in other societies by working inside, as well as outside, the party, or by ignoring or denouncing it? Of course, leftists in the United States should continue to do what they have always done: stage protests, build movements, educate people, lobby politicians, and create institutions that try to improve the lives of the people whom they serve. But political parties are essential to a healthy democracy. And right now, the Democrats are the only party we have.

Right. There is no question that any serious discussion of how left-leaning change will happen must include running through the Democratic Party. There are no third-party alternatives in the United States, moreover THERE NEVER HAS BEEN. Third parties at best can be advocacy groups to promote a cause that eventually gets taken up by one or both of the two dominant parties. But it’s usually an awfully ineffective way to raise the issue because the amount of work it takes to build the party detracts from working on the actual issue. The only possible exception is the Populists, but as I have stated many times before, the Populists only gained traction in states that did not have a functional second party and totally failed in any state that was competitive. And then when it did try to go national, it was easily co-opted by the Democrats and completely collapsed. This one example, 120 years ago, is the best example third party activists have. So that’s not good.

But at the same time, it’s not like all leftist activity should go through the Democratic Party. That would also be a terrible idea. Tons of organizing needs to happen on every issue outside the 2-party system in hopes that the necessary policy changes to enact those agendas becomes part of the legislative conversation. David Marcus:

It has often been said that citizen activism alone is not enough—that real political action begins after the street marches and sit-ins. This is when the tough and necessary compromises of politics happen, the so-called “sausage making” required to turn a movement’s demands into policies and legislation. And the point is well taken. In a liberal democracy, elected representatives will almost always be the main agents of social change and the democratic left—no matter how committed it is to a citizen politics—will never entirely be released from its obligation to engage with the Democratic Party.

But the left’s strength, and its power, will always lie outside formal politics. From the abolitionists and the suffragists to the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, our advantage has always been the result of our outsider status. By working outside formal bodies of power, we can demand what appears to be impossible to those within; our acts of organized dissent—our pressure and publicity campaigns—can insist on a set of political alternatives. Michael Harrington was right to see the democratic left as a core element of the “left wing of the possible,” those working within the Democratic Party to help elect and empower its liberal and progressive factions. But we must also remain just left of the possible, reminding those in power not only of what is achievable within the limits of the political system but what ought to be achievable.

This is a politics of protest and public persuasion, the work of citizen activists and amateur politicians organizing and persuading neighbors and co-workers. It will almost certainly take too many evenings, as Oscar Wilde once complained. But this is also the steady work that has always been the purview of a left committed to democratic opposition. “Socialism is done from below,” a Cuban activist recently told one of our writers. Our hope is that one day it will also trickle up.

That’s fine too. In fact, I don’t even think they really disagree. Kazin doesn’t say to avoid non-party politics and Marcus doesn’t seem to support pointless third party runs. Rather, he’s saying that organizing should take place on the ground and in the streets. Which is absolutely correct. Labor should work to elect Democrats but it should also promote grassroots activism outside the political realm, like the Fight for $15. Environmentalists should work to promote Obama’s EPA coal-fired power plant restrictions and get arrested over the Keystone XL Pipeline. Etc. There’s plenty of room to create change both inside and outside the Democratic Party. What I hope we can unite around is that third parties are a pointless waste of time and resources that rarely if ever serve a good for anyone. But as for outside or inside the political system, both please.

Biden and Reproductive Freedom

[ 79 ] October 7, 2015 |
20 Sep 1991, Washington, DC, USA --- Senator Joseph Biden holds up the book Order and Law by Charles Fried during the Clarence Thomas hearings. --- Image by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS

20 Sep 1991, Washington, DC, USA — Senator Joseph Biden holds up the book Order and Law by Charles Fried during the Clarence Thomas hearings. — Image by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS

I have argued that dreams of a Biden run for the presidency only have a couple of minor problems, such as that he’s plainly a much worse candidate than Clinton and there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between them on policy. On the latter point, I was being unfair to Clinton:

It’s no secret that Biden is personally a pro-life Catholic. He takes what he believes is a “middle-of-the-road” position on abortion law, as he wrote in his 2007 campaign memoir, Promises to Keep: “I still vote against partial-birth abortion and federal funding, and I’d like to find ways to make it easier for scared young mothers to choose not to have an abortion, but I will also vote against a constitutional amendment that strips a women of her right to make her own choice.” That, at least, was an improvement from 1982, when, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he did vote for a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade.

In 2012, the National Right to Life Committee compiled a report on Biden’s anti-abortion voting record that was intended to highlight what it called Obama’s “extreme pro-abortion positions.” The documentation in the dossier is solid. There is a scan, for example, of a 1994 letter that Biden sent to a Delaware constituent who was concerned that abortion funding would be included in health care reform. “I will continue to abide by the same principle that has guided me throughout my 21 years in the Senate: those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them. As you may know, I have consistently – on no fewer than 50 occasions – voted against federal funding of abortions.”

It must be said in Biden’s defense that Roe would have been overruled had Robert Bork not been defeated, a defeat Biden played a major role in. It must also be said that he seemed cowed by the remarkably successful Republican effort to argue that accurately characterizing Robert Bork’s views was the greatest breach of civility in the history of American political discourse, and his subsequent handling of the Thomas hearings was a disaster for women on every possible level.

Would Biden being worse on reproductive freedom than Clinton as an occupant? Possibly not, although I’m not sure if I would trust him to veto clever anti-abortion legislation that got passed by a Republican Congress like Bill Clinton did. Is there any reason to think he’s a better choice for the Democratic nomination than Hillary Clinton? No.

Among the Most Pathetic of the Worst

[ 163 ] October 7, 2015 |


Lindsey Graham, who has managed the impressive feat of being a nonentity even by the standards of 2016 Republican presidential candidates, is an asshole:

Lindsey Graham is asking for federal aid for his home state of South Carolina as it battles raging floods, but he voted to oppose similar help for New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2013.


Graham was among the Republican senators who opposed a federal aid package in January 2013 to assist states hit by Hurricane Sandy, but now he doesn’t remember why.

“I’m all for helping the people in New Jersey. I don’t really remember me voting that way,” Graham said.

But lots of primary voters hate me, so I must be a moderate!

Anyway, fellow also-sorta-ran Bobby Jindal is not about to be out-assholed by anyone:

In a lengthy blog post published on his presidential campaign website Tuesday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) claimed the father of Oregon gunman Chris Harper Mercer was a “complete failure” and demanded that he apologize for the shooting.

In the blog post — titled “We fill Our Culture With Garbage, And We Reap The Result” — Jindal blamed the prevalence of mass shootings in America on “deep and serious cultural decay in our society,” jumping from a condemnation of violence in media and a reference to abortion to a discussion of the reported absence of the father of the Harper Mercer in the young man’s life.

“This killer’s father is now lecturing us on the need for gun control and he says he has no idea how or where his son got the guns,” Jindal wrote. “Of course he doesn’t know. You know why he doesn’t know? Because he is not, and has never been in his son’s life. He’s a complete failure as a father, he should be embarrassed to even show his face in public. He’s the problem here.”

It’s amazing how the United States has vastly worse parents and worse culture than any other liberal democracy, even if the parenting and culture situations are much better than they used to be. At any rate, you can be sure policy has nothing to do with it.

…Ben Carson, Retrospective Armchair Warrior (TM), makes a strong entry:

GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson implied Tuesday that the Oregon shooting victims didn’t do enough to save themselves, and that if he himself had been there, he would have been more aggressive in confronting the attacker.

“I would not just stand there and let him shoot me,” Carson said on “Fox & Friends,” as seen in the clip above. “I would say, ‘Hey, guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.'”

It’s amazing how easy it is to be courageous thousands of miles away from and several days after the shootings. At least he didn’t politicize them!

Out of Sight in Cambridge

[ 54 ] October 6, 2015 |

Given that approximately 113 percent of LGM commenters live in the greater Boston area, it was really good to meet so many of you tonight. Meeting the regulars been the most enjoyable part of these book events. FYI, the next event is November 10 at Marist College in Poughkeepsie.

Chantal Akerman

[ 5 ] October 6, 2015 |


More here.

Finally, Someone With the Courage and Originality to Write About New York City in the 70s

[ 98 ] October 6, 2015 |


City on Fire, or “We Didn’t Start the Fire?”

For all I know, Hallberg’s novel is a towering masterpiece of American letters that is being ill-served by the people fawning over it. But the “finally somebody willing to discuss that most underdiscussed era and locale, gritty New York City in the 70s when men were men and artists were artists and muggers were muggers and Times Square had porno theaters and subway cars had graffiti” vibe of the reviews makes my bullshit detector go to about 50. (What potential reader of the book doesn’t know the things about the city in the 70s that Kakutani cites as examples of Hallberg’s attention to period detail?)

Sometimes a bit of police brutality might be nice

[ 106 ] October 6, 2015 |

The specimen in this nine-minute video is Luke Gatti. He seems to have a little too much to drink Sunday night. In the world of the cyber-panopticon, that can make you famous:

The blog entry below is slightly more than a year old, so props to our aspiring scholar for not getting arrested again for 54 weeks:

Apparently Phillips Street, alcohol, Luke Gatti and late night weekends, make for a bad combination. Perhaps because he’s only 18-years-old, but still no excuse for such outlandish behavior.

Arrested two weeks ago on Phillips Street for disorderly conduct (which included calling a detective the N-word), this time around Mr. Gatti seemed to go out of his way to get arrested yet again on that same notorious street, and when taken back to the police station, assaulted an officer.

With his father looking on, Luke Gatti was arraigned this morning before Judge John Payne who set bail at $250, taken out of the $1,000 bail posted over the weekend to get out of jail.

Noting the arrest only two weeks ago Judge Payne said to Gatti, “I’m a little concerned you’re going to pull a trifecta before the month is over.”

Gatti will appear in Eastern Hampshire District Court with his hired lawyer on October 15 for a pre-trial conference.

Unless of course, in the meantime, he gets arrested again.

So, You’re Offering George W. Bush With More Tax Cuts?

[ 92 ] October 6, 2015 |


Rubio’s answer to the question of whether he disagrees with Romney or G. W. Bush about anything is indeed priceless:

Well, we’re in a different era. For example, my policies are about taking free enterprise and limited government, but applying them to the unique challenges of the 21st century. So you’ll hear me spend a tremendous amount of time talking about higher-education reform. Our higher-education model is outdated. And I proposed concrete bipartisan ideas about how to fix some of those things. We’re in an era now of increased global competition where America no longer can put in place policies because we think ideologically it’s a good or bad idea. The fundamental question is does it make us competitive again. And on many of those issues, I’ve offered solutions and ideas that no Republican’s ever talked about before because they were not part of the 20th century debate.

I’ll take these words next to each other as a “no.” In addition, I will observe that there’s a long history of both politicians and pundits using the march of time as a substitute for an argument. My favorite example of this is Joe Klein’s assertion that while Social Security was fine for the “industrial age” we need private accounts for the “information age.” So, work is becoming less stable and less likely to offer pension benefits, so we need public pensions…less? What? Somehow, it makes even less sense than Rubio’s “to respond to the unique challenges of the 21st century, we need the upper-class tax cuts and wars Republicans brought to the 20th and all previous years of the 21st century.”

Guns, Slavery, and America’s Permanent White Wingnuttery

[ 147 ] October 6, 2015 |


Conservatives, including the conservative I ended up across the table from last weekend who I told that I wanted the government to invade his home and take his guns, love to say that their ability to have 8000 high-powered guns was the direct intent of James Madison. To say the reality is a wee bit more complicated is a huge understatement. The supposed iron-clad judicial approval of unlimited gun control is only true if you take the decisions of pro-slavery southern judges as your guide. If you consider what is happening in the antebellum north, it’s a different story.

The slave South’s enthusiasm for public carry influenced its legal culture. During the antebellum years, many viewed carrying a concealed weapon as dastardly and dishonorable—a striking contrast with the values of the modern gun-rights movement. In an 1850 opinion, the Louisiana Supreme Court explained that carrying a concealed weapon gave men “secret advantages” and led to “unmanly assassinations,” while open carry “place[d] men upon an equality” and “incite[d] men to a manly and noble defence of themselves.” Some Southern legislatures, accordingly, passed laws permitting open carry but punishing concealment. Southern courts followed their lead, proclaiming a robust right to open carry, but opposing concealed carry, which they deemed unmanly and not constitutionally protected. It is this family of Southern cases that gun-rights advocates would like modern courts to rely on to strike down popularly enacted gun regulations today.

But no similar record of court cases exists for the pre-Civil War North. New research produced in response to Heller has revealed a history of gun regulation outside the South that has gone largely unexplored by judges and legal scholars writing about the Second Amendment during the last 30 years. This history reveals strong support for strict regulation of carrying arms in public.

In the North, publicly carrying concealable weapons was much less popular than in the South. In 1845, New York jurist William Jay contrasted “those portions of our country where it is supposed essential to personal safety to go armed with pistols and bowie-knives” with the “north and east, where we are unprovided with such facilities for taking life.” Indeed, public-carry restrictions were embraced across the region. In 1836, the respected Massachusetts jurist Peter Oxenbridge Thacher instructed a jury that in Massachusetts “no person may go armed with a dirk, dagger, sword, pistol, or other offensive and dangerous weapon, without reasonable cause to apprehend an assault or violence to his person, family, or property.” Judge Thacher’s charge was celebrated in the contemporary press as “sensible,” “practical,” and “sage.” Massachusetts was not unusual in broadly restricting public carry. Wisconsin, Maine, Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, Oregon, and Pennsylvania passed laws modeled on the public-carry restriction in Massachusetts.

But then having unlimited access to guns has always been the goal of conservative white men. And this brings us to Douglas County, Oregon sheriff John Hanlin, who has come under a lot of criticism for his own embrace of extremist gun culture now that his county was the site of a mass murder.

John Hanlin, the sheriff of Douglas County who has been in charge of the police response and investigation of Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College, has fallen under media scrutiny because he’s left an eyebrow-raising trail of gun nuttery that shades into conspiracy theorist territory. His past behavior calls into question not just his own office’s ability to handle this case responsibly, but tells us a lot about why it’s so hard to even begin to have a reasonable conversation about guns in this country, much less move towards sensible policies to reduce gun violence.

Conservatives aren’t lying when they say they need guns to feel protected. But it’s increasingly clear that they aren’t seeking protection from crime or even from the mythical jackbooted government goons come to kick in your door. No, the real threat is existential. Guns are a totemic shield against the fear that they are losing dominance as the country becomes more liberal and diverse and, well, modern. For liberals, the discussion about guns is about public health and crime prevention. For conservatives, hanging onto guns is a way to symbolically hang onto the cultural dominance they feel slipping from their hands.

This comes across clearly in the letter that Hanlin wrote to Vice President Joe Biden in 2013 where he asked that the administration “NOT tamper with or attempt to amend the 2nd Amendment” and where he threatened ominously, “any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the president offending the constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or by my deputies, nor will I permit the enforcement of any unconstitutional regulations or orders by federal officers within the borders of Douglas County Oregon.”

Despite all the attempts at formal, legalistic language, Hanlin is clearly writing more in a mythical vein than he is actually addressing any real world policy concerns. His absolutist language about the 2nd amendment ignores the fact that there are already federal and state regulations on guns and who can buy them. More disturbingly, his posturing about open rebellion against the federal government evokes the conspiracy theory-mindset of the hard right, the kind of paranoid hysteria about federal power that led to so much violence during the Clinton administration, from shootouts at Waco and Ruby Ridge to the federal building bombing in Oklahoma City. This is not a letter from someone soberly assessing the pros and cons of proposed regulations on firearms. This is the letter of someone wrapped up in childish fantasies of revolution.

But then this plays so well in Douglas County. The county just south of my hometown is still recovering from the end of the timber industry and the cultural changes that have transformed Oregon in the last 30 years. A place like Douglas County, rural, poor, and white, feels threatened by a secular America, one with a scary black man with a scary name from a scary city as president. With the gays marrying and the women running around, and the libtards in Eugene ruining their resource exploitation state, everything is threatening. Everything. The America they dreamed once existed is no more. And they don’t know what to do. So they arm themselves and kill each other. And this scenario is played out over and over again around the nation, such as Tennessee Attorney General Ron Ramsey urging Christians to arm themselves against the impending atheist-led apocalypse. With white male hegemony under supposed threat from so many places, even as white men still control most of the levers of society, only putting down the strange new people with guns will make them feel remotely safe. But of course they will just put down each other.

Oregon’s White History Uniforms

[ 85 ] October 6, 2015 |


Oregon loves its white heritage. As a native, I’ll be honest, Oregon history is really boring. It missed out on most of the interesting flash points of US West history. It lacked almost all of the Old West violence that people love. There were no major wars with Native Americans. There was almost no mining, especially compared to every other state. It experienced relatively little transformation during World War II, especially as its major World War II city was wiped out by a flood soon after the war. So what Oregon as its central mythology is logging, which is controversial enough in an environmentalist-oriented state with an embittered pro-logging minority that is too recent to embrace, and its pioneer history. That is pretty boring to tell you truth. It’s a bunch of conservative white people moving from Ohio and Indiana and starting farms in the Willamette Valley. And that’s pretty much it. But at the beginning of that is the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Oregon loves it some Lewis and Clark. It’s kind of unclear why. It’s an exciting story in a sense. But it’s also a story that is central to American conquest. Yes, the expedition was relatively nonviolent toward Native Americans. But there’s no question what this was about–Clark’s brother George Rogers Clark was an architect of the late 18th century Indian conquest and William came from the same cloth. And that this is so central to Oregon historical mythology makes sense in how the state is so white. Portland has become the nation’s white paradise, but it kind of always was, with the original Oregon constitution banning African-Americans from the state and with the state never developing a large African-American population.

And then there are the Oregon uniforms. Largely, I love them, even the ugly ones, because I want the Ducks to win, as challenging as that has been with the atrocious quarterbacks of the 2015 edition. They help Oregon win because the kids love crazy uniforms. So it really helps a team in a state with a big zero of high school talent to recruit quality players. They keep coming up with new ideas. And on Saturday, Oregon will be wearing Lewis and Clark uniforms. I have trouble with this because it’s another example of Oregonians embracing a white supremacist history as its core mythology. I can’t be comfortable with this. No, it’s probably not the equivalent of Mississippi fans bringing Confederate flags to games. But then we still downplay racism toward Native Americans in American culture, even on the left, as we often forget about them when thinking about racism in the present. Lewis and Clark uniforms are uniforms celebrating American conquest. That’s not cool. Not at all.

Maybe I’m taking this too seriously. But the politics of history matter and so much of American history is based upon exclusion and white supremacy. That includes the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Supreme Court History: THE MOVIE

[ 20 ] October 6, 2015 |

As both an educator and quasi-journalist whose specialty is judicial politics, this looks potentially useful. I will be upset, however, if the films do not involve a lot of historical re-enactments.

Brilliant filmmaking, even if it lets Marshall off the hook for showing insufficient deference to the equal sovereign dignitude of the states. Now pipe down or I’ll CLAMP YOU IN IRONS.

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