Monday, April 21, 2014


Final proof: That "register the Jews" leaflet in Ukraine was a hoax. The chief rabbi of Donetsk has so declared. Also see here. (Donetsk is the city where the leaflets were distributed.)

The truly appalling thing about this episode is not that venues like the National Review still pretend that the thing was real. What do you expect from a pig but a grunt? And to be honest, I'm not that bothered that John Kerry initially reacted as though the leaflet represented something real. To err is human, and all that.

What bothers me is that he didn't walk back that initial reaction even after the rest of the world started to ask hard questions. After a certain point, human error starts to look like political calculation.

Gag order: Why did the New York Times follow a gag order issued by an Israeli court? The case itself it of limited importance; it involves the arrest of a Palestinian journalist named Majd Kayyal. What troubles me is what this affair says about the NYT. From an editorial by Times editor Margaret Sullivan:
I asked The Times’s newsroom lawyer, David McCraw, about the situation. He told me that he was consulted by Times journalists this week as they considered publishing an article about Mr. Kayyal’s arrest. Although the situation is somewhat murky, he said, “the general understanding among legal counsel in other countries is that local law would apply to foreign media.” Similar issues arise when America news media organizations cover the British courts, he said.
This is nonsense. I've seen American newspapers cover stories that got an infamous "D notice" in the UK. Richard Silverstein's response is worth reading:
I’m rather shocked by the entire brouhaha because it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain who follows Israel reporting by domestic Israeli and foreign media, that they all abide by gag orders.
After all, what Rudoren and the Times are practicing is a form of self-censorship. They won’t report a story they could report because they know it will inconvenience their professional lives. But if the Times had followed the same rule regarding the Pentagon Papers, it would never have published them. If the Times China bureau followed the same rule it would never have reported the amazing Pulitzer Prize-winning stories of high-level Chinese corruption, which caused a huge uproar and the expulsion from the country of one of the NYT reporters who wrote it. In that case, the fear of repercussions didn’t deter the Times. What’s the difference between Israel and China?
The rule of money: Philip Geraldi has written an interesting but frustrating (and somewhat deceptive) article about a familiar topic, the corrupting influence of money. The opening of this piece is arresting:
I recently had an interesting lunch with a foreign academic who is in the US on a one year sabbatical to study how the political process in Washington shapes foreign policy. She asked me why the United States has a foreign policy that does not appear to serve actual US interests, citing the recent drive to revive the Cold War and to bomb Iran over a weapons program that it does not actually have. The question led to a discussion of how corruption works in the world’s oldest constitutional republic. I explained that money has corrupted every aspect of government at every level in the United States, creating a system in which laws are passed to make various forms of corruption legal rather than trying to have government do things that actually benefit most of the people.
I disagree with Geraldi's belief that the Tea Party was hijacked by the Republican Party. The Tea Party was, from the beginning, the creation of the Ayn-addled Wall Street ueber-capitalists. Also, I can't agree with this:
"...they initially demanded smaller, more responsible government, constitutionalism and an end to America’s perpetual wars, surely all positive objectives."
Positive? Frankly, I want more government. That is: More truly democratic (with a small d) government. In the wake of the 2008 disaster, a lot of us expected greater restrictions on Wall Street, greater aid to the states, greater aid to those struggling with their mortgages, and an FDR-style jobs program.

Geraldi's piece uses the standard Libertarian tactic (Ron Paul division) of decrying neo-con foreign adventurism in order to persuade the public that the very concept of government is irredeemable. Articles like this remind us that Libertarianism has a two-fold plan:

1. First, the Big Money Guys buy the politicians.

2. Then, when the purchased politicians fail to improve our lives, the Big Money Guys (or their shills) say: "See? Gummint doesn't work. All forms of gummint -- including democracy -- don't work. Big Money will always find a way to corrupt the system. So let's just get rid of gummint. It's time for us, the Big Money Guys, to run everything directly! No more Social Security! No more environmental regulations! No more public schools! No more democracy! Wheeee!"

And that's how libertarians like Geraldi end up pushing for more power to the Big Money Guys, even in an article whose announced intent is to decry the corrupting influence of money.

It's Clinton conspiracy season! Our friends at Skydancing published a funny, yet depressing, series of links to the most insane conspiracy theories inspired by Chelsea Clinton's pregnancy. My question: Is this happening because conspiracism has become this country's default mode? Or did some bigwig in the Republican party send a note to his underlings: "We gotta do something with this pregnancy story. Come up with the usual conspiracy bullshit..."?

To put it another way: Do these inane stories occur organically, or are they manufactured under orders from on high?

The same Skydancing post references this Los Angeles Times piece on documents from the Bill Clinton White House...
One unsigned and undated document contained in the files of Jane Sherburne, a Special Counsel to the White House between 1994 and 1996, details theories about how the right wing, with the help of think tanks and conservative publications, was funneling “fringe” stories to the media. It also expounds on the financial powers and connections of billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who was referred to as “The Wizard of Oz.”

Part of the problem, the memo suggested, was the fact that the Internet “allows an extraordinary amount of unregulated data and information to be located in one area and available to all.”

“The right wing has seized upon the Internet as a means of communicating its ideas to people,” the unsigned memo continues. “Moreover evidence exists that Republican staffers surf the Internet interacting with extremists in order to exchange ideas and information.”
I'm sure a lot of right-wingers will interpret these words as evidence of Clintonian perfidy. Frankly, I think that Sherburne was right on the money.
French economist Thomas Piketty has been making favorable impressions across the board with his claims about the emergence of a new financial oligarchy. He argues that by 2030 all appreciable global wealth will be held by a small oligarchy and most of it will be inherited rather than have earned. Piketty's detailed statistical analysis concluded that inherited wealth is the historical norm and that the kind of economic competition and striving that we popularly think of as capitalism is an aberration. He also notes that modern financial capitalism insists on a return of greater than 5% while national economies traditionally only have an averaged growth rate of 2-3%. The end result is that national productivity growth and national assets have to end up with the wealthy classes who insist on the higher rate of return. He notes that since 2008 over 60% of US national growth profits have passed to the top 1% of Americans. Quite simply, they are taking everything. We have seen a similar feature in the US since 1970 with virtually all employee productivity increases (over 100%) have been passed to employers while wages have been held stagnant.

Piketty claims that the mechanism of capitalism is always destined to fail the broader society. It is a startling thesis and one extraordinarily unwelcome to those who think capitalism and inequality need each other. Capitalism requires inequality of wealth, runs the argument, to stimulate risk-taking and effort; governments trying to stem it with taxes on wealth, capital, inheritance and property kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Unfortunately, this fiction merely hastens the rush to wealth accumulation by a select few, a return to the historical norm.

Paul Krugman says he was shocked by Piketty's findings (See also here and here).
About the Israeli gag order, it was only for a few days and has been lifted. I believe the temporary gag order was to protect Israeli assets in Lebanon or find Lebanese assets in Israel. But that’s just a guess. Anyway, I’ve been doing some research on your post “Why they hate us” and will have a lot to say on that soon.
The reason for the gag order or the length of time it was in place has no bearing on the point of what I wrote. The New York Times shouldn't be restricted by the orders of a foreign government. Hell, it shouldn't be restricted by the US government!
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