Liberal Faith in US Military Power

Corey RobinIt’s the fourth anniversary of September 11, and Americans are getting restless about the war in Iraq. Republicans are challenging the President, activists and bloggers are pressing the Democrats and liberal hawks are reconsidering their support for the war. Everyone, it seems, is asking questions.

Two questions, however, have not been asked, perhaps because they might actually help us move beyond where we are and where we’ve been. First, how is it that few liberals and no leftists in 1968 believed that Lyndon Johnson, arguably the most progressive President in American history, would or could airlift democracy to Vietnam, while many liberals and not a few leftists in 2003 believed that the most reactionary President since William McKinley could and would export democracy to Iraq?

Second, why did certain liberals who opposed the war in Iraq refuse to march against it? The reason they gave was that left-wing groups like ANSWER, which helped organize the antiwar rallies, failed to denounce Saddam’s regime. Yet many of those who could not abide an alliance with ANSWER endorsed the war in Afghanistan — even though it was waged by a government that recently invaded three Caribbean countries, funded dirty wars in Latin America and backed the government of Guatemala, the only regime in the Western Hemisphere condemned by a UN-sponsored truth commission for committing acts of genocide. Politics, of course, often entails an unhappy choice of associations. But if the deeds of the US government need not stop liberals from supporting the war in Afghanistan, why should the words — words, mind you, not deeds — of leftists deprive the antiwar movement of these very same liberals’ support?

Both questions register a fundamental shift among liberals, and on the left, since the 1960s: from skepticism of to faith in US power, and from faith in to skepticism of popular movements. During the Vietnam era, liberals and leftists believed not only in social justice but also in mass protest. Whether the cause was democracy at home or liberation abroad, men and women afflicted by oppression had to organize themselves for freedom. Yes, some of yesterday’s activists were blind to coercion within these movements, and others joined elite cadres bombing their way to liberation. Still, the animating faith of the 1960s was in the democratic capacities of ordinary men and women, making it difficult for liberals and leftists to believe in conquering armies from abroad or shock troops from on high.

—Corey Robin
The Fear of the Liberals

We Are All Whores, but Vox Uses Entire Screen!

Vox Home Page is All BP Ad

A big problem with Vox has always been that it is one of the ugliest websites ever. I don’t know whose idea it was to go with yellow and white. And then there is the big image layout that screams to the reader, “Space is cheap; graphic designers are expensive!” But to top off everything else, Vox apparently thinks that its content is so valuable that the vast majority of its front page should be dedicated to an advertisement.

Doubtless Ezra Klein and company are correct. And there is something to be said for one really big ad on the front page rather than than literally dozens of ads using a megabyte of bandwidth on every page of Washington Monthly. Although we will have to wait and see. I’m sure advertisement clutter will be a growing phenomenon on Vox. Still, the “British Petroleum Owns This Site” opening is a bit much.

You see, it is set up to look like Vox itself — except, of course, BP has enough money to afford graphic designers and so the ad doesn’t look as awful as the rest of Vox — they were constrained by having once decided on a nice corporate color. It provides the typical Vox four-column layout. And each explains great things that BP is doing for Alaska, Louisiana, Texas, and the whole United States of America. I feel all warm inside knowing that BP — formerly British Petroleum, formerly Iraq Petroleum Company, formerly Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, formerly the British Empire™, nowa multinational corporation — is out there looking after the interests of ordinary Americans like myself.

It’s sad though. Vox is part of Vox Media, the brainchild of liberal icons Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas. It doesn’t matter who you are, it seems, we all shill for our corporate overlords. You want to read about how foreign corporations are subverting American Democracy? Sure thing! But first, let’s take up your entire screen to explain to you that BP is just looking out for the land of the free and the home of the brave! Oil spill?! You say there was an oil spill?!

BP Oil Spill Ad

That’s the kind of ad I’d like to see on Vox. But I guess when it comes right down to it, we liberals are a bunch of whores. Speaking of which, I’d really appreciate it if you bought your Amazon stuff through this Frankly Curious link. And yes, I do expect a little credit for not taking up your whole screen for that bit of whoring.

What Destroying Obamacare Will Do

We Heart ObamacareI’ve written a couple of articles about the threat that we now face because the Supreme Court decided to review King v Burwell. The first was, Supreme Court May Yet Destroy Obamacare — which goes over the case and how it could ultimately lead to the repeal of Obamacare. The second was just last night, Consservatives Will Kill Textualism to Hurt Obamacare — which discusses how the textualists on the Supreme Court will likely abandon their supposed judicial philosophy for the chance to harm the healthcare law they so hate. What I haven’t discussed is just what the effect of such a decision would be in the thirty-odd states that did not create their own exchanges.

Luckily, Jonathan Cohn is on the job, Here’s What the Supreme Court Could Do to Insurance Premiums In Your State. We are going to see insurance premiums go up — way up. This is a lot of disruption, “Nationwide, more than 4 million people living in 37 states would be in situations like these.” But there’s more. Because the premiums would quickly rise, most people would be unable to continue to afford it and this would have a destabilizing effect on insurers. And this would mean everyone else would be paying more:

The underlying premiums for all people buying insurance on their own in these states would rise by an average of 43 percent, while the number of Americans without insurance could rise by as much as 7 million.

I’m reminded of John Roberts disingenuous comment about just calling balls and strikes. This case is not about playing umpire. If the Supreme Court manages to gut Obamacare, it will be doing it as the partisan judicial arm of the Republican Party. I know this sounds like hyperbole, but it is literally true: if the Supreme Court does this, people will die as a direct result. And John Roberts and the rest of the conservatives on the court are delusional if they think they are just disinterested parties calling strikes.

The one thing that has most defined the Roberts Court has been legal scholars consistently amazed that cases that would have been laughed out of small claims court a few years ago finding a winning audience in the highest court in the nation. If Roberts is really interested in his legacy, he’s doing a terrible job of it. Roger Taney is mostly remembered for a single decision. Roberts will be remembered as the Chief Justice who oversaw the complete breakdown of law in the name of partisan gain.

In this case, the people most targeted are going to see an overwhelming assault. Cohn provided the following graph to show just how big an effect the lack of federal subsidies will be in the states that are directly affected:

Premium Increases as a Result of King v Burwell

That’s a 500% increase in Florida. Good thing they voted for Rick Scott! But that’s actually nothing compared to the people of Mississippi who will see their average premium go from $23 to $438 — an increase of over 1,900%! What’s most remarkable about this lawsuit is that this is exactly what it is trying to do. This isn’t some unfortunate side effect. The idea is to get people angry so that they kill the law. But if that doesn’t happen, it means that people will pay taxes and without getting any benefit from it.

I hate books and television shows with titles like, “America’s Stupidest Criminals!” It doesn’t reflect an understanding that most crime is the result of desperation. Robbing a liquor store is not at the top of most people’s list of, “How to make ends meet!” So I’m very understanding of the millions in our jails and prisons. But the kind of people who push lawsuits like King v Burwell are not desperate. They are simply harming other people — mostly powerless people — just to get an advantage. They are doing this because a tiny tax was enacted for the rich. That is, after all, the reason conservatives are against Obamacare. Forget the individual mandate and all that; they hate the law because it raised taxes on the rich.

So remember this graph when you hear conservatives talk with glee about the impending doom of Obamacare. This is what we are talking about. And these are not the people on welfare — those people won’t be affected. This is something that conservatives are doing to the working poor: people doing hard jobs for little money. That’s what modern conservatism is all about: afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable. They must be so pleased with themselves. Of course, that’s the great thing about being a sociopath: you always sleep well.

Veterans and the End of War

Veterans DayI bristle at most holidays, but Veterans Day has a special place in my mind. I’m not at all bothered by paying tribute to our veterans, but this holiday has a strong jingoist feel to it. Here in the United States, being against war is generally seen as being against the soldiers who we have do our dirty work. But that’s just a con. In general, people don’t like wars. So by grafting “support the war” onto “support the troops” our war mongers can get a pass.

Remember when Donald Rumsfeld said, “You go to war with the army you have — not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time”? The implication there was that the Iraq War was existential. We had to go war right then. Of course, missing from this analysis was the six months that the administration used for a propaganda campaign to goose up support for that war. Where exactly was the support for the troops then?

Rumsfeld was answering a question from Army Specialist Thomas Wilson, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles? And why don’t we have those resources readily available to us?” But in the American psyche, support for the troops is putting a yellow ribbon on your SUV and never questioning the justice or advisability for the war. “America right or wrong!”

Last year, when writing about Veterans Day, I noted that most of our wars were useless and this does not reflect on the men who fight them, “It is no disrespect to Achilles and Hector to note that the Trojan War was useless and tragic.” But useless wars are a reflection on those who start them and those who sell them.

Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day — a celebration of the end of the very useless World War I. It was specifically intended to mark that war and the roughly twenty million who had died fighting it. At the end of World War II, Armistice Day was expanded to celebrate all veterans and the day was changed officially to Veterans Day in 1954 — the first one was 60 years ago today.

It is a technical distinction, but an important one. Armistice Day was always about veterans — specially dead veterans. But it called to mind the end of war — a great gift to soldiers everywhere. Veterans Day flips this on its head. It implies that veterans are a good thing to have. “Let’s make some more veterans!” To me the day is not about celebrating veterans, but of asking forgiveness. Does anyone think it was right to draft young men and have them die for the sake of World War I? Such a distinction is the difference between jingoistic “America, hell yeah!” and, as Woodrow Wilson said when first celebrating Armistice Day, an occasion of “solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service.”

I would think differently if something had changed. We can celebrate past wars and the people who fought in them. My concern is that Veterans Day is used to push casual war as an acceptable practice. Now the United States is in perpetual war. We might as well change Veterans Day to Soldier Day, for all the difference it makes. Many of the founders of this country were concerned about having a standing army. I wonder what they would think of us today with our standing wars.

So celebrate Veterans Day. Honor our veterans — living and dead. But don’t lose sight of reality. There are no “bloody good wars” — just bloody wars.

Crime and Фёдор Достоевский

Fyodor DostoyevskyOn this day in 1821, the great writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky was born. As always, it is hard to know exactly how to judge a writer in translation. But I think that Dosteyevsky’s voice comes across as well in translation as does Cervantes. While Cervantes was clearly a sly and funny man, Dosteyevsky was, well, not. He was more idealistic and thoughtful. He is also profound in a way that I have never found Tolstoy. But that is probably because Dostoyevsky is more of a spiritual writer.

Crime and Punishment is the only novel of his that I know really well. What’s interesting is the process of development of Raskolnikov. He starts off as a kind of Ayn Rand character: rational and evil. It is only as he becomes less rational that he’s able to glimpse the broader truth of life. But that doesn’t make him irrational. It is just, as I see every day, that the fanatical pursuit of ideological truths lead to the most vile of behavior.

If you find someone who is obsessed with Rand or Nietzsche, the logical antidote is Dostoyevsky. Rand especially shows the propagandistic power of a simple idea. But its effectiveness and simplicity does not make it correct. And what Dostoyevsky understands, in Crime and Punishment and elsewhere is that certainty is generally not a good thing. And he didn’t have the Nazis as an example. (Not that it is necessary; in the long history of humanity, the Nazis really aren’t that unusual.)

Happy birthday Fyodor Dostoyevsky!