SocraticGadfly: 3/1/15 - 3/8/15

March 07, 2015

Exxon CEO delivers bracing dose of reality on #oilprices

ExxonMobil CEO
Rex Tillerson
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, not in this blog's Hall of Fame, due to the company's stance on climate change, and funding the deniers in the past, even more so under his predecessor Lee Raymond, nonetheless is willing to be honest about the world of oil itself.

So, folks like the GOP contingent of the Texas Legislature, especially Lite Guv Dan Patrick and his Texas Senate GOP minions, along with Comptroller Glenn Hegar, need to listen up to Rex's latest message.

He says oil will stay at $55 through at least part of 2017. Yes, two full years or more of oil (I presume he means WTI, not Brent) at an average of $55/barrel. BP's Bob Dudley is saying the same.

Both cite expected low demand growth and a world that is still awash with supplies over that whole time. On the demand side, besides Europe's and Japan's economies still being slow, and China slowing down, let's not forget that more stringent CAFE standards here in the US will kick in during the years ahead, dampening need here.

Meanwhile, as I blogged a couple of weeks ago, domestic storage at Cushing, Okla., continues to fill up, and will probably max out by the end of May. Commodities speculators are already buying storage elsewhere, but, given the words of Tillerson and Dudley, look ever more to be making losing bets. Because, we're awash in supply and prices haven't soared even with the speculators taking that much oil off the market. It's amazing how dumb some of these people can be.

Indeed, Tillerson said in another interview that Cushing maxing out could push prices even lower. Others, like Tom Kloza of OPIS, a respected name in oil analysis, are saying the same — that a Cushing maxout could push WTI back to $40/bbl. Inventories are already at an 80-year high and climbing.

Of course, spring and summer gas blending and other things mean that there will be ups and downs around that center point of $55. In fact, Tillerson said elsewhere he expects some volatility ahead.

That said, oil companies in the past have tried to buy up production when worried about that, or buy up overlaps if that might produce efficiencies. And, in what would be the mother of all non-nationalized oil companies, speculation continues to mount that Exxon is eyeballing a BP takeover.

And, as for claims that OPEC is dead? Tosh. The Gulf states, at least, have lower overhead than non-nationalized US oil companies, even in dying conventional plays, and certainly for tight oil.

Update: The city of Houston is getting a bracing dose of reality, too, as housing sales tumble.

March 06, 2015

The arrogance of Congress passes on to the hired help

I know it's kind of shitty being a Congressional aide. The pay's pretty shitty, at least in terms of Washington professional class dollars. And, the boss can often be a shithead.

But, that's no excuse to be a shithead yourself.

Several days ago, as the clock started ticking ever faster for New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez to face federal corruption charges, a couple of his aides were hauled in front of a grand jury.

Where they refused to testify.

On what grounds? Not the Fifth Amendment, since they (at least right now) aren't facing charges themselves.

No, they called into play the "speech and debate clause" of the body of the Constitution, which reads as follows:
The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

Just one SMALLLLLL problem.

The paragraph mentions "Senators and Representatives."

It does NOT mention the hired help. 

A federal district court read that clearly, and they appealed. For some reason, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals doesn't read the Constitution the same way, and has ordered a hearing. It had better see things the same way as the district court, or else, Members of Congress will treat their aides like Hillary Clinton treats private email servers.

The Constitution is pretty clear. Yeah, Congressmen didn't have a bunch of aides 200-plus years ago. But there was a sergeant at arms and other officials from the start. If the Founders had wanted this to extend to Congressional staff, they could have put that in the Constitution.

Unfortunately, a three-judge appellate panel disagreed, and said the district judge must wade through a mass of individual emails. It also notes the court system has generally extended the clause to aides, which is bullshit itself.

Meanwhile, that first link has an interesting side note, and that is that the Menendez investigation could expand to include Minority Leader Harry Reid. Reid was good as Majority Leader and so far as Minority Leader; he's not afraid to play hardball with the GOP.

That said, he's long struck me as no higher than the midpoint in ethical rankings of Senators.

Folks, including any tea partiers who read me, this is why you have to stop voting for Democrats AND Republicans. It's why you have to vote YOUR rascal out of office.

March 05, 2015

#ClintonEmail — cui bono?

If I were Hillary Clinton, I would hope this photo never, ever again
sees the light of day. Too late! (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

That's the old Latin phrase, often used in the world of law, for "who benefits."

So, yes, as we learn more and more about Hillary Clinton using private email, and not just Gmail, but, on a private, specially created domain, it's a good question to ask.

(Update, March 9: A sidebar cui bono is Saturday Night Live, with a smashing opening. Click link for video of SNL's opening.)

First person that benefits is, of course, Hillary Clinton.

(Note on photo at right: Clinton has herself claimed that one reason she didn't use a government email account is that BlackBerrys only handle one email account. But that ignores the fact that she should have used another BlackBerry, or some other smartphone for her private email.)

Anyway, back to Hillary Clinton being at the front of the line on cui bono with her private email domain.

After all, via a conservative blog that shall not be linked here, there's this, with the goods starting at about 3:30:

That's where Hillary admits, at a 2000 dinner party, that she stopped using email due to "all the investigations." And, of course, working at the Department of State, she knew that, should Republicans ever get majority rule in either house of Congress, investigations might just happen.

So, Hillary Clinton benefits from having a private email system. Now, her paid flaks, whether employees at her office, or outside hired guns, insist that she's turned over every email from that domain except "personal notes."

First, we should trust her flaks on this why? Especially when one of them, Phillippe Reines, has used a Gmail account whose emails apparently have not all been archived properly per federal regulations? Second, we should trust her flaks as to what "personal notes" are, given that Friend of Bill and Hillary Sid Blumenthal reportedly talked with her concerning a "sensitive source" who had direct access to Libyan President Mohammad Magarief about ....


Now, I don't believe the wingnuts' mouth-foaming over Benghazi. But, as I have blogged before, NEITHER "mainstream" party wants to talk about everything the CIA was doing there.

OK, back to cui bono. Details of other beneficiaries, and how their likely benefits redound to Hillary Clinton's, below the fold.

Hillary Clinton, meet Sarah Palin

If I were Hillary Clinton, I would hope this photo never, ever again
sees the light of day. Too late! (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Because you now have one big thing in common: using personal email accounts, repeatedly, deliberately, for an extended period of time, to conduct government business.

Update, March 4: And having one of your top assistants using an email account on the same domain. This story is expanding, and even as Media Matters and other Clintonistas attempt to quash it, they're failing.

Update 2, March 5: The plot thickens over who was running the ClintonEmail server. See below. And, it's time to ask "who benefits." See this post for that.

And, vote in the new poll at right!

I wasn't going to vote for Hillary Clinton if she got the Democratic nomination anyway, but this is more reason to be even firmer in that resolve.

Brains and Eggs has yet more, with plenty of links, all of which I fully endorse, including how it stinks in manifold ways and underscores every myth out there about the deviousness of both Hillary and Bill.

That deviousness is likely more hers than his, anyway. I doubt there was anything criminal in Whitewater, and I do think Ken Starr was on a witch hunt, but Hillary Clinton's deviousness goes back to Rose Law Firm days. So, too, does the issue of which one of the two wears the pants in this family. Please, folks, no "blue dress" or "not wearing pants" jokes!

Media Matters works hard to shoot some of the story, at least, down. It seems correct in that Hillary Clinton's practice was not illegal. Beyond that, though, the optics still aren't good, no matter what MM protrays.

And, MM can't explain away what the Times notes in a follow-up: That Hillary had been asked for emails before, and the State Department had not provided them. Whether that's simply due to not being aware of her personal account, or active stonewalling, is unclear.

And, contra MM, the Times notes that since 2009, government officials using private email have had a responsibility for appropriate archiving:
Mrs. Clinton’s aides have said her use of private email was not out of the ordinary, pointing to the fact that former Secretary of State Colin Powell also used a personal email account, before the current regulations went into effect. But since 2009, said Laura Diachenko, a National Archives and Records spokeswoman, federal regulations have stated that “agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system.”

Seems pretty clear. So, MM trying to claim that another, 2014 law requiring public email accounts be used as the only operative law in this situation is wrong.

And, per Brains linking back to me, yea, it's kind of sad that Media Matters is going down the road of "all in for Hillary." It's now redoubled down, attacking the Times follow-up.

MM is also claiming that Business Insider supports all of its diatribe against the Times. Erm, no!

First, MM claims that her email “was revealed” in 2013. Here’s the details:
Her address was revealed in early 2013, shortly after she left the State Department. It was published when a hacker obtained messages written by her former aide, Sidney Blumenthal.
In other words, if not for this hack, we might not have known today (or until her email addy came up in other emails), that she was using this address, and solely this address.

And, as Chris Hitchens political readers know, Sid Blumenthal himself needs to be taken with a grain of salt at times.

Then this:
Clinton's spokesman Nick Merrill issued a statement in response to the article wherein he argued Clinton corresponded with people on their government account whenever she conducted official business. In the statement, which he sent to Business Insider, Merrill said this meant Clinton knew all of her official emails would be preserved. 
"Like Secretaries of State before her, she used her own email account when engaging with any Department officials. For government business, she emailed them on their Department accounts, with every expectation they would be retained," Merrill said. 
Does that “expectation” amount to a “must ensure”? No. And, even if it did, it ONLY covers emails sent BY Clinton to State Department staffers. It does NOT cover emails sent to or received from (for whatever reasons) state governments, and certainly not foreign governments.

Business Insider then links to a Gawker 2013 story to say this is a tempest in a teapot.  Other than the fact that this was public knowledge two years ago, and didn’t raise quite as much ruckus then, the Gawker story otherwise pretty much undercuts Business Insider’s whole angle. It asks questions about Blumenthal’s security clearance,  possible leaks about him and Libya issues (Benghazi!) and more. Nor does the 2013 story spell out that Clinton used this address for ALL her official emails.

Maybe an Obama staffer put a new bug in somebody's ear, given Blumenthal's involvement.

But let's turn this back to the first NYT story.

First is this:
It was only two months ago, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, that Mrs. Clinton’s advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her personal emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department. All told, 55,000 pages of emails were given to the department. Mrs. Clinton stepped down from the secretary’s post in early 2013.
Thus, the rest of Business Insider’s story, specifically Nick Merrill’s claim, is refuted.

Second, the NYT original story explicitly spells out what I did above:
He did not address emails that Mrs. Clinton may have sent to foreign leaders, people in the private sector or government officials outside the State Department.

As for the Business Insider claim that BlackBerry wouldn’t handle two email accounts? First, email forwarding exists. Second, giving up a second email account exists. Third, doing personal email on a second “device” exists.

As for everybody pouncing on the Times story that “Colin Powell did the same,” well, email was different a decade ago, first, and second, Condoleezza Rice followed Powell and came before Clinton, and we've not heard such a claim about her.

Finally, as for the claim Clinton didn't break any "laws"? Yes, true in a narrow, technical sense. A federal regulation like the one in 2009 is not a "law." But it is a federal regulation.

As for how it came (back) to light? Also per the first NYT story:
The existence of Mrs. Clinton’s personal email account was discovered by a House committee investigating the attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi as it sought correspondence between Mrs. Clinton and her aides about the attack.
Two weeks ago, the State Department, after reviewing Mrs. Clinton’s emails, provided the committee with about 300 emails — amounting to roughly 900 pages — about the Benghazi attacks.
Yes, it’s House wingnuts on Benghazi.

On the other hand, per the Gawker piece, it’s Sid Blumenthal and him having gotten inside information about events on the ground in Libya.

Maybe, if not a full fire, there’s a few embers behind the smoke.

Beyond the Libya connection and Blumenthal, there's other problems. For that, go below the fold.

March 04, 2015

Lincoln rejects American exceptionalism and divine anointing

One hundred fifty years ago today, Abraham Lincoln challenged John Winthrop's (and later, Ronald Reagan's and today's religious right) idea that America was a "city on a hill." And, though this term wasn't around, arguably he at least indirectly challenged American exceptionalism.

First, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, if anything, rejects the occasional off the wall claim, whether by some modern Gnu Atheists or his old law partner, William Herndon, that Lincoln was an atheist. Even when clerking with Herndon, he wasn’t; his “Doctrine of Necessity” pegs him as being something like a Deist run through a Calvinist filter.

But, by the time the Civil War was nearing its conclusion, even if he were not an “orthodox Christian,” he had become more religious than before, not less.

Let’s get to the meat of his Second Inaugural, which will show that, as he talks about the two sides in the Civil War.
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.
Since the Old Testament positively detailed slavery, and the New Testament had Paul telling Onesimus (and other unnamed slaves in other authentic writings of Paul) to accept slavery because the eschaton was near, Lincoln’s “strange” is interesting. I see it as being in part a rhetorical trope. Yet, I see it as being literally meant, as well. And Lincoln knew his bible well enough. This shows that he, whatever his religious background was at this point, was not a fundamentalist.

But, back to the main point. Because neither was fully right, and (taking Lincoln’s assumption of a divinity as fact for the sake of this piece), neither was fully granted its boons sought in prayer, a “divine anointing” of America, i.e., a city on a hill, simply wasn’t true. Nor was it true back in 1600s Massachusetts.

After all, Winthrop’s own Massachusetts explicitly legalized slavery in 1641. It was never huge, but it was about 2 percent of the population in the middle of the 1700s. And, as both Lincoln and Southerners knew, Massachusetts ships transported many of the South’s slaves from Africa. (And, Massachusetts never did formally and legally abolish slavery within its own borders until passing the 13th Amendment.)

So, if slavery were wrong, by some non-theistic natural law and morals, or whatever, Winthrop's city on a hill wasn't one so much.

And, further undermining at least the idea of American exceptionalism? This:
He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.
Divine justice, more than a denial of American exceptionalism, to be sure.

However, it is also a denial of American exceptionalism. If America were that exceptional, then it would not need to be so chastised by a deity as to learn again that:
(T)he judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
Now, some Christians of the conservative stripe may try to stand that on its head, and claim that the amount of chastisement god delivers to America is proof of his special love for America, and thus, as his city on a hill, its exceptionalism.

Hmm … Second Isaiah tried the same tack for post-exilic Judah. And, it was also wrong. And proven to be wrong by those post-exilic people.

As for Lincoln? He wasn't perfect, and he wasn't a 2-dimensional plaster saint, nor even the 2.5 dimensions that Spielberg made him. But, he was our best president and this shows why.

Meanwhile, 100 years later, Lyndon Johnson followed up on Lincoln with his "Selma" speech, explicitly calling for full civil rights for African-Americans — and Hispanics.

Yes, the bible is anti-gay, contra deniers

For people coming here from the AcademicBiblical subreddit go here for updates, mainly a condensed version of my responses to Aractus, including links to the two journal pieces he cites … but, no, not directly to his comments.

And no, the New Testament part of the bible is DEFINITELY NOT “pro-gay.” Go here for refutation of someone making claims as groundless as some would-be amateur historians who have claimed Abe Lincoln secretly was teh gay. Or, even more, like claiming Lincoln was an atheist.

Updated in 2015 to note that Jesus' silence about homosexuality issues as an alleged mark of liberality actually doesn't necessarily mean that. See italicized section below for details, about 25 percent down. Or just click here.

There are several passages in both Old Testament/Tanakh and New Testament that have commonly been cited by Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, and Orthodox to ultra-Orthodox Jews (on the Tanakh side) as strongly condemning homosexuality.

Two similar and interconnected but not identical questions arise:
1. Are the passages that clear about what they're condemning?
2. Are they condemning homosexual desires/status/inclination or "just" individual acts of homosexual sex? (That's assuming the two are that delinkable.)

More on both of these, with a passage-by-passage overview of the biggies, below.

Now, I can understand liberal Christians (and to a lesser degree, liberal Jews against less animosity on the issue) wanting to say, no the bible doesn't say that. For liberal Christians, I can definitely understand them wanting to say the New Testament with Jesus, love, and other pablum, wanting to say that. (That ignores the fiery Jesus of Revelation, the Jesus of "I came to bring a sword, not peace," and other things.)

I can less understand a certain strand of atheists, whether gay or straight, who try to defend the Judeo-Christian scriptures. In fact, having read nonsense by one such person, defended by another on Facebook, that's the primary trigger for this post. (I refuse to link to the post, especially since its defender hauled back down the Facebook post that linked to the original blog post. If you can't stand the debate, while attacking me, you don't deserve or get the PR.)

Working in order of appearance, we'll start with Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. On the surface, this appears to be their destruction for wanting gay sex with the angels in disguise. However, with Genesis 18 as background, we learn that they've already been marked for destruction and Yahweh has not specified for what sin or sins. Therefore, I'm in agreement that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (which the blogger above didn't cite, anyway) is not about anti-gay issues.

The biggies, on the Old Testament side, though, are Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20, two similar passages that list a range of prohibited sexual activities, most of which either explicitly or by implication are deemed worthy of death.

Leviticus 18:22 says: "Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable."

Leviticus 20:13 says: "If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

Now, here's where our atheist blogger starts to get fun and funky. 

First, trotting out a German phrase from biblical scholarship, "Sitz im Leben," he claims that the priestly writer can't have been condemning homosexuality because it was never so condemned, and never singled out for condemnation, anywhere in the ancient Near East.

Well, "Sitz in Leben" just means "community setting." And, yes, religious books are written to particular communities in particular settings. However, the entire ancient Near East was NOT the SiL for Leviticus! To claim such makes a mockery of the whole idea.

Also, to claim that religious scriptures can never talk about an idea de novo, even for a true SiL, not a red herring one, is false. I cited for said blogger the example of Buddhism discussing new ideas, and old ideas in vastly new ways, as compared to the proto-Hinduism contemporary with the start of Buddhism.

Said blogger was obtuse enough to not grasp that one can list two separate and independent lines of logical argument in attack on the same point, first of all. Second of all, he appeared to simply not grasp what I said about Buddhism.

Second, in the same response to my comment on his blog, he claimed that the male-male sex in Leviticus was about forcible sex only!!!

That was an easy one to shoot down. In a second comment, I noted that none of the other passages implied force, just sexual acts, period. (I said I wasn't going to return to see his response.)

The person who posted his blog post to a Facebook group then made the claim that Orthodox Judaism has never had the same opposition to being gay (or lesbian), just opposition to actual acts, kind of like some Christian denominations, or Catholics on priests and acts. 

That said, beyond the lack of forcibility, the context of both Leviticus chapters, for all the forbidden acts, at least leaves open the possibility of interpreting them as ongoing relationships. And, overall, are sexual acts really that separable from sexual orientation, inclination, or "status"? Only if one expects gays to be celibate.

Beyond that, at the time of Jesus, many a Pharisee (while not rejecting the idea of unclean foods) would have agreed with him that what came out of the heart was the ultimate definer of purity, an idea Jesus also stresses in the Sermon on the Mount. That, too, would point at sexual inclination, not just individual acts.

One thing the blogger did not do with Leviticus, though I've seen it elsewhere, is claim that because only a male-male sexual act is mentioned, that means that the Old Testament is not anti-homosexual.


Every sexual act in Leviticus is mentioned only from a male-initiator point of view. The reason lesbian sex isn't mentioned in Leviticus is because Leviticus is sexist in general.

Update, March 4, 2015: Now, per the update, what about Jesus? Details below the fold.

Why didn't more people support Occupy Wall Street?

That very issue is the subject of a brand-new book, which is a must-read for any true liberal.

The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and PowerThe Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power by Steve Fraser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Age of Acquiescence

First, Steve Fraser has a word for us to learn: “Precariat.” You can probably see the word from which this portmanteau derives, in turn riffing on “proletariat.” Yes, we are the class of the precarious.

So, why didn’t more Americans join Occupy Wall Street a few years back, or start their own, similar movements? That’s the thesis of this book.

One of the greatest strengths of this book is Chapter 10, titled “Fables of Freedom: Brand X.” Of course, branding and its adjunct, marketing, become fiercer by the day. But, as Fraser shows, their roots go back at least to the Keynesian consumerism which he marks as the real “settlement” of the New Deal and later. He’s true about this in general — American “mainstream” organized labor accepted the offer of a theoretically guaranteed piece of the capital pie on wages, health care and other benefits, while agreeing to keep its collective nose out of corporate operations, unlike in a Germany, and to also play good soldiers abroad in undermining labor movements elsewhere that wouldn’t salute the flag of high-octane American capitalism.

Indeed, though, branding has become much more scientific, at least in theory, than back in Bernays' day. In fact, I've blogged before that people at Zucotti Park were surely communicating not just on cell phones, but the latest version of the iPhone. I've also noted, per self-reporting that nearly 25 percent of them had graduate degrees that, before the great Recession, many may have wanted to work FOR Wall Street. But, I digress. Fraser's point is that branding has been a major factor in inducting acquiescence.

So, too was the challenging of organized labor's often philistine stance on social issues. And so, as the Sixties drew to a close, organized labor had trouble incorporating the Vietnam generation into its ranks. Fraser even shows that many strikes of the early Seventies were wildcats, without hierarchy’s OK, and at times aimed at the hierarchy as much as the employer. Hence, Reagan Democrats were "easy pickings" for the GOP.

And, from there, the first waves of outsourcing and offshoring meant fewer non-Reagan Democrats in unions to protest, let alone pre-Reagan Republicans in middle management, when folks like Chainsaw Al Dunlap popped up.
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the new corporations emerging out of this bazaar of buying and welling were in a new business: the fabrication of companies to trade back and forth.

It's all a game; that's from 245.

And, the game needed old rules broken, which itself became a new rule.
Employers all over the country think nothing of violating labor laws covering minimum wages, overtime pay, hours of work, and safety regulations — all the basics of civilized capitalism. Beating the system is the system. No one is watching.

Page 354

And, it goes without saying that this has become true of both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations.

Fraser notes, correctly:
After Ronald Reagan’s election, what remnants there were of New Deal populism and class consciousness were shuttered away in some attic of the Democratic Party. Legions of working people, whether unionized or like the thirty million or so unorganized working poor, could expect little help from that quarter.. They had been abandoned not only by government but by the political machinery their forbears had created to help them cope.

That quote is part of a section about the rise of neoliberalism after McGovern's defeat.

Fraser also reminds us that finance dereg, along with trucking (bad) and airlines (good and bad, IMO) started under Carter. Ditto for electric utilities.

He then notes that free market thinking pernicious not just in public policies but in exiling communal ways of thought.

As for Democrats becoming more and more associated with social liberalism and identity politics, Fraser notes this as part of the “Southernization” of both politics and of the American working class. This, too, intruded into the modern Democratic party with Carter.

A smiley face on top of this is neoliberalism, which Fraser calls the technocratic equivalent of Marxism. I could go even worse, but that’s a good start.

Specifically, Fraser says, on page 417:
Neoliberalism as a way of thinking about the world has been profoundly disempowering precisely because it conveys a techno-determinism about the way things are. It presents itself as a kind of Marxism of the ruling classes, suggesting that the telos of history and the relentless logic of economic science lead inevitably not where Marx thought they were heading, but rather to just where we are now.

In other words, an economically determined version of Fukuyama’s end of history.

That said, Fraser holds out a modicum of hope in his epilogue. But, he at the same time notes this hope is not guaranteed to come to fruition. A new Gilded Age won't be easy to overturn, and it won't be quick to overturn either.

Update, March 23: Naomi Klein regrets that he doesn't have interviews with today's resisters.

View all my reviews

March 03, 2015

Arizona (and California and Iowa) meet Citizens United II

The Supreme Cour's Obamacare case is important enough (though I bet the Chief, John Roberts, makes sure that Obama wins on this one). Hype aside from Slate, I don't think it's that poorly understood.

Perhaps even bigger (and less understood on its potential ramifications) is the case where Arizona's nonpartisan commission for redistricting after Censuses is being sued by its own state legislature, an earlier version of which created said commission.

It's just Arizona on the surface, but, really, this is Iowa, California and every other state with such a commission. As the New York Times explains in detail, both Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia, at least, seemed determined to take a very narrow view of one sentence in the Constitution about electing Members of Congress to gut such commissions everywhere:
The case, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, No. 13-1314, will turn on the meaning of a single word: “legislature.” The Constitution says that “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”
Gut nonpartisan redistricting commissions, and post-Citizens United Koch money floods states even more than now, in the last election before redistricting, especially if that's a non-presidential election year.

Look at 2010. Obamacare was unpopular, in part because of Dear Leader's lame job of selling both it and his stimulus package. It was an off-term election. The GOP killed Democrats in state legislature and gubernatorial elections, then redistricted like hell.

Where it could.

Eight states, including the three above, have some sort of redistricting structure for both U.S. and state elected positions that is not the state legislature. Swing states Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are among them.

Now is it a bit more clear how big of a deal this could be?

March 02, 2015

Meet the gravediggers of Russian democracy

With the death of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, it's pretty clear that Russia is a non-democratic state, de facto.

So, who killed Russian democracy?

Vladimir Putin is, if anything, only a final cause.

The real gravediggers are six.

And, they are two Russians, and four Americans.

The Russian I propose is Boris Yeltsin, and the three Americans are George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jeffrey Sachs, a single name to represent the neoliberals who got Yeltsin to "burn down" Russia.

Poppy Bush first refused to see Yeltsin as an alternative to Gorbachev, perhaps setting him up for future sensitivity to would-be slights. He then, despite earlier pledges not to do so, became somewhat triumphalist over the end of the Cold War. Even worse, although German Chancellor Helmut Kohl put a big crowbar in the Federal Republic's wallet to ease the financial shock of East Germany being reincorporated into the West, Bush refused to offer significant aid to Gorbachev.

As a result, he lost credibility at home, and thus the coup. When it failed, Yeltsin, still not well-appraised by the West in general, became "the option."

That's even though it was clear that another Russian — vodka — was clearly in charge of Boris Yeltsin.

That alcoholism is why Yeltsin rapidly cycled through would-be political heirs, especially after Sachs et al convinced him to burn down Russia. Nemtsov was the second-last of those heirs, before Putin.

Bush was wrong in encouraging Sachs et al to do a neoliberal sell-off of Russia, and Clinton was wrong in encouraging it to continue.

Then, there's Yeltsin vs. "what are the options," namely leading up to the 1996 elections.

The "leader principle" probably seemed to Clinton to be the best that Russia could do. Was he right?

First, he was wrong to not "nudge" Yeltsin to settle on one good choice.

Second, he was wrong to not have other people, whether instead of, or in addition to, the Sachses of the world, working on improving Russian democratic and electoral structures.

Third, he was wrong to not consult more with Yeltsin on the Balkans War. Even if we eventually ignored Yeltsin's ideas, not talking to him more, especially as we expanded NATO eastward, which made Russia feel more isolated, and  fueled strong nationalistic sentiments inside Russia.

The fourth American?

John McCain. He was right to see "KGB" inside Putin's eyeballs. He, and others, were even more wrong than the first round of NATO expansion, when they wanted to expand at least affiliate membership to countries like Georgia and Ukraine. The result is that Georgia's already gotten its war at Russia's hands, and Ukraine is getting it now.

In both cases, affiliate membership offered little, yet was almost as stupid as full membership. Plus, NATO now looks like its words won't ever be backed with actions. And, Putin and other ultranationalists had their triumphalist lust fed in Georgia, and want it fed again now.

And the second Russian? Symbol of nationalist intellgentsia even as he was dying, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave Putin the intellectual blessing to pursue a neo-Tsarist past to a new, strong, nationalistic Russia. His sentiments about Ukraine, his totally wrong claims that it was never a separate country (Kievan Rus, the first "Russian" state, that introduced Christianity to Russia

Putin as the final cause? Yeltsin's alcoholic erraticness may have led him to settle on somebody worse, if he'd lived another year. That said, once tabbed, Putin wormed himself totally into Yeltsin's life, both personal and political.

But, otherwise, the others are the real gravediggers, and the real pallbearers.

Of these people, Yeltsin died dead and drunk. Solzhenitsyn died dead and unapologetic. Sachs was later partially apologetic; none of the three American politicians ever have been.

To put it another way, other than a bit of euthanizing help, Putin didn't kill Russian democracy. He's just the greedy heir rewriting the will to make sure he's the only real beneficiary of its demise.