Two Morals We Learned From Europe This Week

Black Jacket or Islamic State Flag?!We learned two important lessons about the Islamic State from our friends in Europe today. And we learn something important about Europe as well: the people there can be as silly as they are here.

In Italy, the police were called. People saw a flag of the Islamic State hanging in a tree. Apparently, there have been months of threats by leaders of the violent group against the country of Italy. It’s all the Vatican’s fault. According to the Islamic State, Italy is “the nation signed with the blood of the cross.” I’m ill inclined to call people crazy, even ones who burn others alive, but this is just silly, childish stuff. But I don’t want to get sidetracked. The people in Italy are understandably concerned. And here was the flag of this group hanging in the little coastal village of Porto Recanati.

Or not. The police showed up and talked to many of the people who lived in the apartment building next to the tree. Eventually, they found someone who had hung some wet laundry out on her balcony. When she looked, she said, “Hey! Why is my black jacket hanging in that tree?!” The wind apparently blew the jacket off the balcony and into the tree, as you can see in the picture above. There is no word on whether the jacket was recovered. But the moral of the story is that not all black jackets hanging in trees are flags of the Islamic State.

Islamic State Terrorist Sarah Ericsson!Less than three weeks before Islamic State sympathizers didn’t start hanging flags in Italy, the terrorist group was not busy Sweden. A pedestrian was walking down the street, when she looked up and saw a large “IS” sign proudly displayed in an apartment window. As far as I can tell, “Islamic State” in Swedish is “Islamisk Stat.” So okay: IS could have indicated that some Swedish terrorist cell had decided to go public. But alas, it was not that.

What was really going on was that Sarah Ericsson had just turned 21 years old. So she put up two gold colored balloons in the window that read: “21.” Looked at from the other side, it does look vaguely like “IS.” But really? These big puffy golden balloons? It’s a stretch. But the moral of the story is that not all vaguely “IS” shaped balloons are terrorist symbols.

So we have learned a few things. First, not all black jackets hanging in trees are flags of the Islamic State. Second, not all things that read “IS” — especially if they are golden balloons — are terrorist symbols. I predict that next week, we will learn that not all black sweaters hanging in trees are Islamic State flags. Or that orange balloons that spell out “21” are not terrorist symbols. It’s hard to say. But there is a lot we have to learn!


I am not claiming Americans are better than the Europeans. Trust me. I am an American. I know that no people are more silly than Americans. And this is not proof that Europeans are as silly as we are. It is just my intent to show that they can be.

Ever More Anti-Venezuela Media Coverage

Venezuela FlagIt is hard to be a defender of Venezuela in this country. I find that I constantly have to add caveats to what I say. Because the truth is that Venezuela has real problems. And it is hardly perfect when it comes to human rights and press freedom. The problem is, it is so much closer to perfection than it is to the despotic hellscape that is portrayed in US media. And that’s probably the main reason that I defend Venezuela: it is the best example I know of to show what lapdogs the press is in this country.

Glenn GreenwaldGlenn Greenwald wrote a good article earlier this week that highlights the problem, Maybe Obama’s Sanctions on Venezuela Are Not Really About His “Deep Concern” Over Suppression of Political Rights. It is in direct response to the new sanctions against Venezuela that are based upon the country being “an extraordinary threat to the national security” of the United States. That’s just too pathetic. I’m always amazed that countries like Venezuela are both about to crumble because they don’t show our corporations enough love and so powerful that they will destroy the US. Of course we know what the problem is: our government just doesn’t like Venezuela because its government doesn’t do what our government wants.

But good luck finding a mainstream source that will do anything but parrot back official US policy about Venezuela. Or, as Greenwald noted, Saudi Arabia. If there were anything objective about which countries the US likes and doesn’t like, we wouldn’t even be talking to Saudi Arabia. This is Saudi Arabia:

Today, one of the Obama administration’s closest allies on the planet, Saudi Arabia, sentenced one of that country’s few independent human rights activists, Mohammed al-Bajad, to 10 years in prison on “terrorism” charges. That is completely consistent with that regime’s systematic and extreme repression, which includes gruesome state beheadings at a record-setting rate, floggings and long prison terms for anti-regime bloggers, executions of those with minority religious views, and exploitation of terror laws to imprison even the mildest regime critics.

But this is nothing compared to Venezuela having a state run television network and generally being suspicious of the “independent” media who were involved in the most recent coup against the democratically elected government in Venezuela. Yes, I know there are worse things that have been done by the regime. But there is no doubt if the coup had been successful and the US liked the government, Venezuela could do far more and the United States — most especially its media — would be just fine with it. Any criticisms would be countered with apologetics, just as I can easily provide an apologia for the current regime in a single word: coup.

Here is Greenwald on this issue:

It’s truly remarkable how the very same people who demand US actions against the democratically elected government in Caracas are the ones who most aggressively mock Venezuelan leaders when they point out that the US is working to undermine their government.

The worst media offender in this regard is The New York Times, which explicitly celebrated the 2002 US-supported coup of Hugo Chavez as a victory for democracy, but which now regularly derides the notion that the US would ever do something as untoward as undermine the Venezuelan government.

The main thing, however, is that even among liberals, it is hard to find defenders of Venezuela. And it’s strange. Somehow, because Venezuela is an official enemy of the American power elite, it’s wrong to defend Venezuela unless it is perfect. Meanwhile, most liberals stand silent as Saudia Arabia is presented as some bastion of freedom in the Middle East. Regardless, the US government shouldn’t be able to get away with claiming that Venezuela is a threat to us. But it isn’t even questioned. Undoubtedly, the people of Venezuela deserve a better government. But the government that we want to give them would be much worse. And if we continue to do everything we can to destroy the democratically elected government in Venezuela, it has no incentive to become more of what I would like it to be. Of course, our government — and the media that supports it — have no interest in that happening; they all just want a government in Venezuela that supports our power elite.


You should also read Mark Weisbrot’s great article, Obama Absurdly Declares Venezuela a Security Threat:

In the major US and international media, we see that Obama has taken a historic step by beginning the process of normalizing relations with Cuba. But among Latin American governments, the sliver of restored credibility that this move has won has been swiftly negated by the aggression toward Venezuela. You will be hard pressed to find a foreign minister or president from the region who believes that US sanctions have anything to do with human rights or democracy. Look at Mexico, where human rights workers and journalists are regularly murdered, or Colombia, which has been a leader for years in the number of trade unionists killed. Nothing comparable to these human rights nightmares has happened in Venezuela in 16 years under Chávez [and] current President Nicolás Maduro. Yet Mexico and Colombia have been among the largest recipients of US aid in the region, including military and police funding and weapons.

See also: Venezuelan Protests Get Usual US Media Treatment

No Trade Deals Until Our Economy Is Fixed


Paul Krugman wrote a good article in which he came out against the trade agreement, TPP at the NABE. Basically, he makes the same arguments that I’ve been making: there is already free trade and this is mostly about enhancing support for intellectual property law enforcement. He estimates that even a 0.5% increase in global incomes is probably a major exaggeration. This deal is not going to do much for the economy. So you have to ask why it is there is so much interest in the Obama administration and elsewhere in the American political system in favor of this deal.

I think it is the same as it was during the Bush administration and all the talk of drilling oil on federal land in Alaska. At the time, everyone understood that it would have a negligible effect on the oil supply and thus prices in the world and specifically in the US. People wanted to do it because it meant a whole lot of money to the corporations doing the drilling. A billion dollars is nothing in the US — much less the world — economy. But it is a huge amount of money for a company. And that’s why the Bush administration cared about the project: it was good for their friends.

The same thing is going on here. Pharmaceutical companies and Hollywood studies are looking at huge gains from this deal. People will claim that we must do this to incentivize “innovation!” But that’s not true. For one thing, as Dean Baker talks about all the time, there are other (And better!) ways to incentive creative work. Regardless, this is about trying to extract ever higher rents from work these companies have already done. We are not going to get more or better movies as a result of this deal. And even if we got more from the pharmaceutical companies, what would it be? Yet another erectile dysfunction drug?

I have a more fundamental problem with this and all other “trade” deals: in our current economic environment, little gain is going to go to workers. So even if this deal was going to increase average incomes by 50%, what would it matter when 93% of it went to the top 1% and the rest went the next 9%? And that is what will happen. That is the way that the economy is set up. Given that the lower classes don’t share in prosperity, why should we be in favor of deals that increase the prosperity of the already prosperous?

Here’s an idea: maybe the Obama administration could use some of its political capital to work on things like a higher minimum wage, given that that is what an increasing number of college graduates makes? Or perhaps some effort could be put into strengthening unions? We could start just by enforcing the laws that are still on the books. But there are other things we could do as well like card check and repealing these awful Orwellian “right to work” laws. But for some reason, there isn’t intense interest about this kind of thing — even from Democrats.

I say we make a decision right now: no more “trade” agreements — not even negotiations — until America starts working for Americans. If Hillary Clinton wants to prove to me that she ought to be president, she could start by talking about this. But my expectation is that she is going to be even worse than Obama and her husband were. They all know that these deals work because, “A rising tide lifts all the yachts of my friends!” No more trade deals.

Morning Music: Running Bear

Running Bear - Johnny PrestonI’m fascinated by people who try to be respectful but end up being offensive. This is probably because I assume that I do it all the time. Thus it is that I have an uneasy love for the Johnny Preston hit song “Running Bear.” The story in the song sounds like it could be an actual Native American folk story. It’s basically the Indian Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately, it has this horrible “uga uga” chanting under the verses. It also has embarrassing phrases like “happy hunting ground.”

On the positive side, it presents Native Americans as regular people who — oppressed by unjust societies — act foolishly the way young lovers do everywhere. And it’s a compelling story. And it was written by The Big Bopper. This is the man known for “Chantilly Lace” — a song that is somehow offensive to women and men of all races and creeds. So I think “Running Bear” should be given a pass.

And let’s face it: at this point, it’s charming. At the time, with the depiction of Indians on the television and in movies, it was more sketchy. Regardless, it’s fun to watch Johnny Preston do such a terrible job of lip-syncing:

Birthday Post: Al Jaffee

Al JaffeeToday, the great cartoonist Al Jaffee is 94 years old. Everyone my age knows him from Mad magazine. And in particular, I remember him for the last page of every issue with the fold-in. It was a cartoon with some question attached to it. And then, if you folded the page in a particular way, a different image would appear that would answer the question. The question would also be changed. It was generally clever rather than funny. But it was very clever. And when I was a kid, I was just amazed at the technique. In later years it was easy enough to see what the folded image was without folding. But when I was very young, it was always amazing to me.

Here is a typical example. It is from 1995 and in reference to which of the Republicans would become nominated only to lose to Bill Clinton the following year. Good prediction!

Al Jaffee - Fold-in 1995

Happy birthday Al Jaffee!