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The 35

[ 27 ] July 26, 2015 |

Noreen Malone’s story about Bill Cosby’s accusers will be a blockbuster, and it eminently deserves to be. The sheer fact of 35 women pictured together and telling their stories is powerful enough. But what they have to say is equally important. Essential reading.

Fulda!

[ 86 ] July 26, 2015 |
Military power of NATO and the Warsaw Pact states in 1973.svg

“Military power of NATO and the Warsaw Pact states in 1973″. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Over at the National Interest, I run through some of the history of late-Cold War operational planning…

During the 1950s and 1960s, NATO and the Warsaw Pact agreed about two things regarding combat on the Central front. First, Warsaw Pact forces would quickly overrun NATO forces, achieving rates of advance across Western Europe that exceeded even those of World War II. Second, both NATO and the Warsaw Pact would make plentiful use of tactical nuclear weapons, both to break up enemy formations and also to pave the way for advancing forces.

Both of these assumptions began to break down in the early 1970s. On the first, the increasing strength of NATO land forces (especially American and German) suggested that Western armies might have something more to hope for than reaching the English Channel ahead of the Russians. Second, both sides became skeptical that conflict would necessarily result in the use of tactical nukes.

Comments are a bit less entertaining this week.

That Green Lantern Won’t Raise Itself!

[ 170 ] July 26, 2015 |

NN_19Senators2

In this confusing, ever-changing world, it’s reassuring to know that Joe Lieberman is always an asshole:

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is pressuring a top Senate Democrat to buck the Obama administration on its Iran nuclear deal to ensure a safer future for Israel.

Yes, nothing would ensure a “safer future for Israel” than having the sanctions regime that is inflicting immense suffering on ordinary Iranian citizens collapse without getting any concessions at all! But, of course, Lieberman is pretending that this wouldn’t be the outcome of Congress overriding Obama’s veto and preventing the deal from going into effect:

Lieberman blasted White House negotiators for a deal that he said would allow Iran to ignore U.S. demands and instead support its own regional allies, which he described as “terrorist.”

“How can you make a deal with somebody who says they want to kill you?” Lieberman asked, reiterating the stance of Israeli leaders and its supporters who oppose the deal. “Pretty impossible in my opinion.”

Israel’s leaders say the agreement will make the country more vulnerable in an already-volatile region.

Instead, Lieberman encouraged the White House to go back to the drawing board to negotiate a better deal.

See, your garden-variety warmongering hack would just stop with saying that Obama should have gotten everything hawks want from Iran in exchange for nothing, using the same powers he could have used to get Congress to pass the Patient Protection, Single Payer, and a Clinic Offering Free Abortions in Every County Act of 2010 only he Didn’t. Even. Try. That Lieberman makes this argument only after asserting that it’s inherently impossible to make any deal with the Iranian state is the kind of thing that makes Lieberman very special.

The Flagship Journal of American Conservatism, Everybody!

[ 141 ] July 26, 2015 |

Raging_Abe_Simpson_and_His_Grumbling_Grandson_in_The_Curse_of_the_Flying_Hellfish001

Shorter Crazy Andy McCarthy: “Given that Obama has used his imaginary “executive branch” powers to reach an agreement with Iran, he should be impeached for treason. I am not a crackpot.”

Meanwhile, at America’s most popular winger blog:

McCarthy’s right, of course. But as his ending query reveals, no one realistically expects the Republican establishment to call for impeachment, despite the fact that the House GOP could issue articles of impeachment with a simple majority vote, sending the case to the Senate for conviction (which would require 2/3 supermajority).

Why not? Because the GOP leadership has given up, and like a jilted lover, is trying so hard to “look the other way” that it no longer sees the obvious, and has lost all self-confidence in its own power, and the power of the truth. It also is betting the farm–i.e., the country–that the U.S. can survive another 18 months of an Obama presidency, and that the next (hopefully) GOP President can magically “cure” all of the Obama-induced cancers. It’s a risky and stupid gamble.

Yes, impeaching Obama on absolutely ludicrous grounds and have removal fail massively in the Senate would be the risk-averse and intelligent gamble. I hope that Ms. Foley will go on to a long and lucrative career as a Republican consultant.

The Great One Speaks

[ 60 ] July 26, 2015 |

M

I will have more about my favorite of today’s Cooperstown honorees later today, but let us explore some other reasons why Pedro Martinez is awesome. First, his remarks on “sock a teenage boy keeps under his mattress” Colin Cowherd:

Second, his comments on blowhard drug war moralism:

Pedro Martinez doesn’t think Alex Rodriguez will someday be elected into the Hall of Fame based on the track records of the BBWAA members with votes.

But he does think Rodriguez and other steroid users with Hall of Fame-worthy statistics deserve to get in.

“There’s nothing I can do with the way voters handle who did what,” Martinez said. “Certainly the numbers are there (for Rodriguez). But as you know, from previous cases where — Why not Roger Clemens? Why not Barry Bonds? — because of the same reason. So I’m not going to go into that and make a big deal out of this. I hope they all make it to be honest.”

Incomparably great on the field, also great off. (He’s also a treat to watch on the MLB Network if you’re into that kind of thing.)

Saturday Night Creatures Feature

[ 22 ] July 25, 2015 |

…and I shall call him “Shenanigans.”

Someone discovered a new species of octopus and rightly deemed it adorable. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s an octopus, a hat that some dude wore in the “Fat Albert” cartoon or an “Octonauts” character come to life. All I know is I have purchased two: I am petting one and wearing the other one on my head.

In other news, the corporation I’m working for demanded I make another picture featuring a dead-eyed, big-headed, vaguely-creepy woman wearing a jaunty hat. Being the corporate drone I am, I syngergized my outer-boxness and made this paradigm-shifting motivational poster. Enjoy, tasteless plebes!

The Clinton Rules

[ 111 ] July 25, 2015 |

ken-starr-leaving-pepperdine-law-for-baylor

Kurt Eichenwald — author of two of my favorite nonfiction books — has an excellent piece about the train colliding with a bus that just got hit by a blimp that is the latest NYT HILLARY CLINTON’S DISTURBING EMAILS story:

The story seemed to further fall apart on Friday morning when Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) issued a statement saying that he had spoken to the inspector general of the State Department and that there had been no criminal referral regarding Clinton’s email usage. Rather, Cummings said, the inspectors general for State and the intelligence community had simply notified the Justice Department—which issues the regulations on Freedom of Information Act requests—that some emails subject to FOIA review had been identified as classified when they had not previously been designated that way.

[…]

Indeed, if the Times article is based on the same documents I read, then the piece is wrong in all of its implications and in almost every particular related to the inspector generals’ conclusions. These are errors that go far beyond whether there was a criminal referral of Clinton’s emails or a criminal referral at all. Sources can mislead; documents do not.

The Times‘s war on the Clinton’s gets all the more deeply strange every year. They thought that uberhack Jeff Gerth gave them the new Watergate when he had given them nothing. But you’d think that one impeachment over a blowjob later they would hold off on reporting Clinton scandals unless there was some actual scandal. But, no, we keep getting the sequels.

Lafayette

[ 201 ] July 25, 2015 |

We can learn lessons from the mass murders that are a monthly event in this nation. We learned, as a nation, from Dylann Roof, that the Confederate flag is a symbol of horrible evil that inspires racist violence. It has since come down at the South Carolina statehouse. That’s pretty amazing. There’s plenty of lessons to learn as well from the Hitler-loving, liberal-hating man who shot up a theater in Lafayette, Louisiana this week. He should not have been able to legally buy a gun. Yet the laws are so lax that he easily avoided any restrictions. Even if you love guns, there’s no good reason to support a regime that allows anyone to buy them, no matter their history of hatred, violence, and mental disturbance. Gun restrictions on people like that is just common sense. Unfortunately, thanks in no small part to the scumbag facilitator of mass murder and terrorism named Wayne LaPierre, as well as craven politicians like Bobby Jindal who made sure anyone could buy just about any gun in Louisiana, there’s no way the nation will learn similar lessons here. And thus the mass murders and right-wing terrorism will continue.

Book Review: Greg Grandin, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World

[ 8 ] July 25, 2015 |

dc+emancipation+day

We are living in a renaissance of historical writing. There’s always been a good market for popularly written histories, but that market consisted of books on presidents and wars written for a white, male, conservative reading audience. That’s not going away of course. But what has developed in the 21st century is an alternative market of big narrative books by academic historians written for a left-leaning market that take seriously both the insights of the historical profession over the past thirty years and the disturbing history of the American and global past. There’s a few reasons for this. First, historians have moved beyond the social history of the 70s with its demography and number crunching and tightly wound detail that added a tremendous amount to our historical knowledge but didn’t lend itself to a wide readership. Meanwhile, U.S. historians at least largely existed on the edge of the postmodern turn, making it relatively easy for the field to at accept writing for a broader audience (even if most historians don’t have the writing skills). But there’s also a greater popular audience for good histories and a necessary dissemination method for publicity. That’s the internet, where not only might a professor be on Twitter and write for websites, but where a community might spread around important ideas and let a general audience know what books they should read. The democratic nature of that medium–which is less democratic than it once was but still–allows for books to attract reviews and historians to have opportunities that simply wouldn’t have existed when the New York Times Book Review and The New Republic were among the only outlets to disseminate this material. Among those historians who have both benefited from the internet is myself, both in attracting a publisher and in having a market to move copies of a book that brings the past to bear on the present in ways intended to inspire activism.

This makes it an exciting time to be a historian and a reader (and both, in my case). We see straight academic histories like the recent books on slavery and capitalism by Sven Beckert and Ed Baptist take off and have real audiences that have gone far to provide context on the left for already shifting notions about slavery. Eric Foner is basically a national treasure, with his free MOOC a valued history to many. Jill Lepore is a publishing beast, pushing out both a respected book a year and excellent New Yorker essays. There’s historians like Ari Kelman who is telling familiar stories in new ways and people like Kevin Kruse writing books to address the issues that drive progressive politics today.

Of course what these historians all have in common is that they are U.S. historians. What about a Latin Americanist? Can they tap into this new market? That’s the space Greg Grandin has increasingly tried to fill. Long a respected scholar and passionate political writer, Grandin has in his last two books reached out to tell stories that are partially North American within a Latin American context. His last book, Fordlandia, was the story of Henry Ford’s ill-fated attempt to build a rubber plantation and company town reflecting his, shall we say, unique values in Brazil. It received a lot of acclaim. He has followed that with The Empire of Necessity , exploring the slave rebellion aboard the ship Tyral in 1805 and the rescue of the Spanish captain Benito Cerreño by an American captain named Amasa Delano (ancestor of FDR). Yes, this is the same incident that inspired Herman Melville to write his brilliant short novel Benito Cereno.

Winner of the 2015 Bancroft Prize, The Empire of Necessity succeeds in bringing a complex set of stories around slavery, geography, sealing, Latin American independence movements, shipping, the economics of the global shipping industry, African resistance, and much more. Yet while none of these things might immediately suggest to the lay reader a book they must pick up (outside perhaps of the Melville connection), the book succeeds spectacularly. This is the sort of well-written history that hides none of the horrors of the past yet is brilliantly written that people have long wished they could read. And now they can.

Grandin tells the story of slaves taken from Africa, brought to Montevideo after the original slave ship was taken over by a pirate, and then some eventually marched over the Andes into modern Chile. That experience alone, dealing with unbelievable elevation, is something that is central to the experiences of so many of the characters in this book. In Chile, they were placed on yet another ship to go to Peru. They revolted, killing several crew members and attempting to force Cerreño to take them back to Africa. Typically he lied to them and steered his way into the open water off the Chilean coast. Meanwhile, Delano, a sealer trying to be economically independent in a rapidly changing U.S. economy, has taken to sealing, killing thousands of the creatures and then sailing for Asia to sell the skins. An abolitionist, Delano ran into Cerreño’s ship. The self-emancipated slaves played it cool but at the last second, Cerreño jumps into Delano’s boat. Delano’s men then attack the Africans, the owner’s abolitionism instantly irrelevant, and the survivors are either executed or sold. Delano, desperate and in debt because he and others had hunted the south Pacific seals to tiny remnant populations, tried to take Cerreño’s limited profits in return for saving him from likely death, but ultimately he received a relatively small amount from Spanish courts. He died mostly broke while Cerreño settled in Lima to eventually flee the slave rebellions that were part of the Latin American wars for independence in the 1810s.

One of the book’s key points is the connection between white republicanism and chattel slavery. We know the U.S. side of this–southern slaveholders created a white male republicanism based upon the ownership of African people, which expanded rapidly after the invention of the cotton gin. But this was also true in South America, where trade liberalization in the late 18th century meant the trade in Africans and where anti-Spanish colonial agitation often revolved around wanting more trade in African slaves. Like in the U.S., the Age of Liberty was built upon the Age of Slavery. Grandin certainly doesn’t skimp on the brutality, including in the slave trade. The description of the seal trade leaves far too little to the imagination. And those seal knives intended to separate skin from muscle? Well, let’s just say they can be used on rebellious slaves as well.

I recognize that this review is more a thought piece about the nature of historical writing in the present than an in depth discussion of Grandin’s points. This post is long enough and there’s a lot of contours of the book I haven’t discussed at all. But it’s a very good book and you should read it. It’s one of the jewels of this golden age of left-leaning historical writing. Read and learn.

Saturday Links

[ 79 ] July 25, 2015 |

Bad anti-housing arguments

[ 186 ] July 24, 2015 |

In the San Francisco housing thread below, Steven Attewell points to this post by Robert Cruickshank that complicates the most simplistic version of the claim that some portions of ‘the left’ in San Francisco oppose housing. Cruickshank, accurately, points out that a number of recent leftist politicians and mayoral candidates ran on platforms with thoughtful, progressive plans to increase supply, with a strong focus on affordable housing. I don’t doubt this is true, but I don’t think that entirely rebuts the central claim of Metcalf’s central argument; namely, that ‘the left’ has unwittingly contributed to the current housing shortage and attendant affordability crisis. I don’t doubt the sincerity or wisdom of Matt Gonzalez and others’ housing plans, but the rubber meets the road when that faction is forced to choose their second best option amongst the following:

1) New housing built, with significant units set aside for affordable housing

2) New housing built, with relatively few units set aside as affordable housing

3) New housing not built.

The problem isn’t that the left favors (1), it’s that they have repeatedly agitated for (3) over (2). The case that adding more housing to our cities positively contributes to a significant array of progressive goals seems pretty much unimpeachable to me. Martin Duke lists the benefits, in the context of Seattle; most apply just as well to San Francisco:

  • Fewer vehicle miles traveled, resulting in less energy usage, air pollution, and run off into the Sound.
  • Less farmland and virgin forest destroyed for new housing.
  • More legislative representation and better treatment of urban issues in Olympia.
  • More time in congested central cities, where vehicle speeds make fatalities rare.
  • Less competition for existing affordable units.
  • More economic activity both in construction and in the businesses spawned by new units
  • A larger tax base for large capital projects (like light rail) that benefit everybody, as well as social programs

And this is true even when the new housing is expensive, because it takes the pressure off older housing stock by taking rich people out of the bidding for it. But significant portions of the left in San Francisco have worked very hard to convince themselves that (3) makes a greater contribution to progressive policy outcomes than (2). This leads them to make some pretty strange and embarrassing arguments. Since it was linked in the thread below and I saw some anti-housing NIMBYs in Seattle circulating it on facebook a few weeks ago, let’s take a look at Tim Redmond’s effort on that front:

The people with high disposable incomes who fill those condos or luxury rentals will spend money in town, creating a demand for jobs – restaurant workers, grocery clerks, cops and firefighters, bank tellers … and those people will also need a place to live.

(Sup. Scott Wiener notes that the city’s police force hasn’t kept up with the population growth. Perfect example – bring in 5,000 new wealthy residents, and the city faces pressure to hire more cops to protect them. Those cops cost tax money – but they also need places to live. And that puts pressure on the housing market).

So according to the study, by Keyser Marston Associates, every time the city allows 100 new high-end housing units, it needs to build between 20 and 43 new affordable units – just to keep the housing balance the way it is now. Put the affordable units in the main complex and the impact is lower (because fewer millionaires move in). Built them, as is common, somewhere else and the impact is greater.

In summary, for every 100 market rate condominium units there are 25.0 lower income households generated through the direct impact of the consumption of the condominium buyers and a total of 43.31 households if total direct, indirect, and induced impacts are counted in the analysis.

If the city demands 15 percent affordable set-asides, then every market-rate building adds more demand for affordable housing than it supplies. That means every new building makes the housing crisis worse.

This analysis has a rather obvious empirical flaw, so obvious one would think it hardly needs to be stated: refusing to build a luxury unit will not dissuade its would-be wealthy resident from moving to the city. It’s not like they’re moving to the city because they really liked that one particular condo. They’re almost certainly going to come anyway, and bid on some less-nice unit, denying some less-rich person, quite possibly a long-term San Francisco resident, for those worried about displacement, from living in a city.

But the obvious empirical flaw in this argument is trumped by an even more terrible normative flaw: namely, that it’s a good and progressive policy to prevent jobs, including some good middle class jobs, from being created. In the context of 2015, less than a decade after a massive job destroying recession, followed by many years of anemic job growth, which has pushed many thousands out of the job market and harmed the economic well-being and security of the middle class, this is particularly grotesque, simply because the city doesn’t want to go to the trouble of allowing for enough housing for them, should be seen as appalling immediately.

Another thing–there’s plenty of potential for new housing with minimal displacement in the city, simply be liberalizing some of the rules that strangle development in single family zones. One example, which had some success in Vancouver and Portland, and is now being proposed in Seattle, is to change the incentive structure and rules regarding the construction of backyard cottages:

Adding tiny, freestanding structures behind single-family homes across the city would increase density while preserving neighborhood character, proponents say. This would go a long way toward satisfying the city’s official policy of “infill development,” putting more housing on existing underutilized land. But first, the city would have to tweak existing building regulations tailored to mid-20th century lifestyles.

The trend is catching on, with small apartments popping up in urban backyards across North America. Like attached “granny flats” within existing buildings, backyard cottages are smaller dwellings, tucked away off the street — typically 200 to 800 square feet — with little aesthetic impact.

But remarkably, San Francisco seems stuck in a 1950s zoning mentality, mandating single-family dwellings with large backyards across nearly two-thirds of the city’s residential land. Backyard cottages are nearly impossible to construct within city limits, due to a combination of zoning laws, labyrinthine building codes and a lugubrious review process that grinds development to a halt when just about anyone protests.

This isn’t a silver bullet–nothing is–but it’s an obvious no-brainer. Each unit contributes to affordability twice, once for the renter and again for the homeowner, making it easier to make the mortgage. While the linked article overstates the potential here, it’s a good idea that costs the city nothing, is more likely to produce relatively affordable units than luxury construction, and has the potential to help out strapped homeowners, all while distributing density in a low-key way.

The Southern Capitalist Economy, Then and Now

[ 32 ] July 24, 2015 |

slaves-montgomery-alabama

Slaves, Montgomery, Alabama, 1861

Harold Meyerson overstates his argument on the Southern economy as the point of low-wage capitalist production both before the Civil War and today, but he makes a lot of good points and it’s well worth your time. Basically, Meyerson uses the new historical literature on the connections between northern capitalists and southern plantation owners to draw comparisons to the recent growth of low-wage industrialization in the anti-union South. There has been some return of heavy industry to the South in low-wage, non-union states that provide workers few opportunities for economic advancement and are constricted by state governments that are firmly in the pocket of the companies. And that has, as Meyerson states, created two nations in one, as during the mid-19th century, as northern and western liberal states increasingly pass worker-friendly legislation while southern and Midwestern states pass anti-worker legislation.

Meyerson also notes the expansion of southern style governance north in the present, although he significantly underestimates how prominent this was in the pre-Civil War North, as the Democratic Party was a white supremacist party no matter where it ruled. The point about two nations in one is something I’d observed. I will note that the comparison between slavery in 1860 and non-union auto factory work in 2015 is stretching it pretty far; after all, there is still plenty of truly brutal work happening around the world, often in conditions of slave labor. But there’s no question that in a world of globalized capital, low-wage American production can make sense in some industry and unless the U.S. government steps up with pro-labor measures, politicians in the pockets of corporations will bend over backwards to create states that serve those companies as much as possible.

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