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Too #Slatepitch For Slate

[ 317 ] July 18, 2015 |


The “we need someone who’s plainly not running to run” genre of primary season op-eds is inherently useless. This call for Al Gore to enter the race, however, is very special. There’s some garden variety specious arguments that Ron Fournier has probably made 20 times since the beginning if the year (“Hillary Clinton is IN BIG TROUBLE because her approval ratings have dropped now that she’s running for office!”) But this is amazing:

Gore is a superstar with impeccable qualifications. The GOP will have a hard time marginalizing someone of his caliber and experience. His background speaks for itself: a former Congressman, U.S. Senator, and two-time Vice President. He’s even succeed wildly in the private sector as a businessman — something Republicans can’t help but praise. In short, Gore passes the credibility test by any measure, and that matters in a national election.

This is…like the Platonic ideal of wrongness. Jonah Goldberg has dreamed his whole life of being this wrong. The idea that it would be impossible for Republicans to demonize any candidate because they have impressive formal credentials is in itself insane. But to say this about Al Gore — who was successfully branded the lyingest liar who ever lied and the phoniest phony who ever phonied who said he invented the internet and said he was a farmer and said he slept with Ali McGraw and wears disturbing three-button suits and lets uppity women tell him to wear earth tones — Jesus Christ. You couldn’t do more to disqualify yourself from offering campaign strategery if you were trying to.

I’m looking forward to future Illing columns such as “Sam Alito would never be a conservative ideologue” and “history tells us it is unpossible for the Yankees to win a pennant.”

The South or the Nation?

[ 520 ] July 18, 2015 |


Tom Sugrue is a great historian and he makes excellent points in this op-ed about how racism is not just a southern problem but a national problem. But let’s face it, this is an overstated case. Even if everything he says about the North is true, and it pretty much is, Dylann Roof still shot up a church in Charleston, South Carolina (Denmark Vesey’s church no less), it is southern states that are seeking to disfranchise African-Americans in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning the most important parts of the Voting Rights Act and it’s also southern states denying the Supreme Court’s verdict on gay marriage, executing African-Americans in racist criminal injustice systems, and where the last die-hards going to the mat for the Confederate flag are hanging on.

Yes, racism is a national problem. No, the North and the West are hardly immune from the horrors of white supremacy. But yes, these problems are worse in the South and it’s important to recognize where the front line of the civil rights struggle remains.

Iran and the Arms Export Game

[ 8 ] July 18, 2015 |
Iran Air Force Grumman F-14A Tomcat Sharifi.jpg

Iran Air Force Grumman F-14A Tomcat by Shahram Sharifi – Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at how Russia and China may compete for the Iranian arms market.

What does Iran need? Pretty much everything. Thirty years of sanctions and war have left the Iranian military with an arsenal of obsolescent weapons. The Iranians have done good work in a few areas, but the country simply lacks the size, technology, and market access to successfully develop an autarkic defense industry.

In the past, Iran has acquired weapons from both Russia and China (as well as the United States and others). We can expect this behavior to continue in the future. Iran offers one of the first, and potentially most important, battlegrounds in the emerging arms export competition between Moscow and Beijing.

But also read this, which has some detail on how the accord affects the arms embargo. Long story short, we’re looking at five years for the big effects to kick in.

That is, the UN arms embargoes will be terminated along with all other, nuclear-specific embargoes. Iran gets to claim that all UN sanctions were removed on Implementation Day.

But here is the clever part. An apparent copy of the proposed UN Security Council Resolution has been leaked to the press. It will terminate the previous Iran sanctions, but also impose a new regime that will retain certain restrictions, including the arms and ballistic missile embargoes for five and eight years, respectively. These new (but really continuing) restrictions come in a separate “statement” (which the UNSC requires all states to comply with) and actually take the form of permitting trade—but only with the advance, affirmative permission of the UNSC. In effect, this amounts to a ban where the UNSC can grant exceptions in advance on a “case-by-case” basis, and the West can use its veto to block any transfers it does not like. The West gets to claim that arms and ballistic embargoes will stay in effect for years after Implementation.


[ 64 ] July 18, 2015 |


Remember the days when we Democrats were supposed to listen to Wesley Clark? Yeah…..

But I do think on a national policy level we need to look at what self-radicalization means because we are at war with this group of terrorists. They do have an ideology. In World War II if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war.

So, if these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States, as a matter of principle fine. It’s their right and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict. And I think we’re going to have to increasingly get tough on this, not only in the United States but our allied nations like Britain, Germany and France are going to have to look at their domestic law procedures.

Oh, OK. That’s the kind of progressive leadership we need today. Why couldn’t we have elected Clark instead of that far, far to the right of Richard Nixon sellout Barack Obama?

Sun Ra Films

[ 15 ] July 17, 2015 |

I realized that some of you have probably never seen any of the Sun Ra films. Allow me to alleviate this serious problem in your life.

Jonathan Strange, Mr. Norrell, and the Napoleonic Wars

[ 105 ] July 17, 2015 |

One of the more interesting things about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is the choice of period – whereas the overwhelming majority of fantasy works are set in a medieval period (something I wrote about way back when I was but a neophyte blogger), Susanna Clarke puts her novel in the Georgian and Regency period. This allows for new themes and new literacy styles that don’t really fit with the medieval, but it also means that Clarke (and her adapters) has to grapple with the Napoleonic Wars.

And this isn’t easy, because magic (especially the kind often found in fantasy genre works) can create difficulties for stories that involve war. As George R.R Martin argued, “I think if you put too much magic in your fantasy it overwhelms the plot, and it starts to make the plot nonsensical. If you do have a sorceress or a wizard who can speak a word and wipe out an army, why would you even assemble an army?” Clarke’s difficulty is that she has to make it work, because she’s decided to tell a story about two magicians and set it during the middle of one of the most famous wars in European history.

So how does Clarke et al. make it work?

Read more…

Thigh-Rubbing Is Not Speaking Truth to Power

[ 104 ] July 17, 2015 |


I’m reluctant to write this post, not only because it involves siding with suits over writers and editors but because many in the latter category are writers I admire, and in some cases they have edited and published my work.  But the brutal truth is that Denton is right: the now-deleted story about the ex-Treasury Secretary’s brother was indefensible.  Arana, Greenwald, and Heer have good explanations of why.  To summarize:

  • Geithner is not a public figure in any meaningful sense.  What power the CFO of Conde Nast holds is relevant to nobody but the Newhouse family and the company’s employees.  Geithner is not a public figure; he has no record of public moralism about sexual issues.  This case involved blackmail, a subject of potential public interest, but Geithner was the target of the blackmail; Gawker was more abetting the scheme than revealing it.
  • The underlying behavior is of no non-purient public interest.  Worse than point 1 is the fact that the behavior being uncovered would be unworthy of publication if it involved Tim Geithner.  His consensual sexual activities simply don’t matter.  The media isn’t the marriage police, and as Greenwald observes we don’t even know that he was doing anything his wife disapproves of.  As long time readers know I have always held the view that the consensual sexual behavior of public officials is in most cases irrelevant, and I stand by that — if there’s any relationship between being an effective politician and a good spouse history keeps it very well-hidden.  But even by the more expansive media mores of today there’s no hint of public relevance here, no “hypocrisy” angle or any other reason to reveal the private behavior.

The problem with the justification that this represents an adversarial media speaking truth to power, then, is that the truths are irrelevant and the meaningful power is absent.  There are many critical things than can be said about Tim Geithner’s public actions; it should also be obvious that humiliating his brother does nothing to address them.  Less than nothing, actually, since it brings discredit to a media voice that is in fact often a very valuable adversarial voice.

…[Erik] See also Evan Hurst

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell podcast — Episode 3 — “The Education of a Magician”

[ 4 ] July 17, 2015 |

This is a video because my computer’s corrupting files I process on it for no particularly good reason. I’ll post audio and publish this on iTunes as soon as I beat down this machine.

Anyway — enjoy!

Republican Governor Named Walker Accepts Medicaid Expansion

[ 23 ] July 17, 2015 |

No, not that one.  But we do now have 30 states who have taken the Medicaid expansion.

And here’s a reminder about the monstrousness of those who are resisting the neoliberal initiatives of the President who makes us long for the unvarnished liberalism of Richard Nixon, who was so liberal he wanted to privatize Medicaid.

Prison for Wage Theft

[ 66 ] July 17, 2015 |


A great start in New York fighting wage theft:

On Wednesday, the owner of nine Papa John’s franchises in New York City pled guilty to the first criminal case brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman against a fast food franchisee over wage theft.

According to court documents, including company records obtained by the attorney general’s office, Abdul Jamil Khokhar, the franchisee, and BMY Foods Inc. paid its 300 current and former workers the same base rate for any hours they worked after putting in 40 a week, which under law should be paid time-and-a-half. To get away with paying less, they allegedly paid overtime hours in cash and created fake names for the employees in the timekeeping system. They then filed fraudulent tax returns that left out the cash payments made to employees under the false names.

Khokhar’s sentencing is set for September 21, when he faces 60 days in jail. He also faces paying the employees $230,000 in back wages as well as an additional $230,000 in damages and $50,000 in civil penalties.

BMY Foods Inc. declined to comment. A Papa John’s spokesperson said in an emailed statement, “Papa John’s is aware of the recent incident involving one of our New York franchisees who was taken into custody this morning. These allegations do not reflect our position as a company. We have a strong track record of compliance with the law. We do not condone the actions of any franchisee that violates the law. This particular franchisee has divested itself of most of its restaurants and is in the process of exiting the system. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and take appropriate action.”

More of this. And Papa John’s itself needs to be held legally liable. Franchising exists in no small part so corporate doesn’t have to have any legal accountability for what happens in their stores. They control what they care about and let the little things like workers be on the backs on the franchisee. It’s a model that exists to help the corporation. One way it helps them is provide legal distance from the actual conditions of work. That has to change, and there has been recent signs that it is changing. We already know that Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter is a terrible human being who likes to keep his labor as poor as possible. I don’t know if Schneiderman can go farther up the food chain, but imprisoning a franchisee for wage theft is a good start.

Florida Courthouse

[ 86 ] July 17, 2015 |


Civil War reenactment, Baker County, Florida

It’s nice that not only does the Baker County, Florida have a courthouse mural heroically portraying the Ku Klux Klan, but that said mural was painted in 2001.

Since we all know our racist past and modern politics are totally unrelated, I’ll just note that Baker County was Mitt Romney’s second strongest showing in the state, winning it 79-20.

David Brooks accuses Ta-Nehisi Coates of “distorting history”

[ 222 ] July 17, 2015 |

So SEK takes David Brooks behind the woodshed. Sample:

The condescension of the privileged is a many blinkered thing, so it’s not surprising that it appears in many forms throughout Brooks’ “letter.”

There’s the knowledgeable lecturer — “You obviously do not mean that literally” — and the old man with children on his lawn — “You reject the dream itself as flimflam.” There’s the backhanded compliment — “You’ve filled my ears unforgettably” — and the historical apologist — “There’s a Lincoln for every Jefferson Davis.” And then there’s whatever this is — “The last year has been an education for white people.”

Making black deaths at police hands about the education of white people is an asymptotic display of white privilege. I take that back — it doesn’t just approach, it actually aspires to whatever the infinite expression of white privilege should be.

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