Sunday, October 4, 2015

On the topic of the day: guns, guns, guns, guns, guns


Political response

A few facts, in case anyone actually cares about them

Things that might actually help

And th-th-that's all folks!

Excuse me, I'm going to go wash my brain.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Obergefell v. Hodges (gay marriage) and Democracy

(This was written just after Obergefell was released. The predictions, rather than the commentary, seem to so far be valid.)

This is a beginning, not an end. Already some counties are threatening to stop issuing marriage licenses for all couples. That probably will not stand, since it weighs so heavily against fathers—the religious right is nothing if not patriarchal—but there will be continued, possibly violent, resistance at the state and local level. We may also see further attacks on the 14th amendment, which, if successful, would be deeply destructive of human rights in the United States.

Gay marriage, even before it achieved majority acceptance, was popular, yet could not even be debated before most state legislatures or the national Congress. Reactionaries with a sufficiently motivated group of voters behind them can block almost anything in any US legislature. At the state level, it is not hard for a determined faction to destroy the career of most legislators; at the Federal level, it is easy for any faction to make sure that a measure without overwhelming popular support fails in the Senate. So this is not political cowardice, but political reason; how the system works. That, like Roe, this decision had to be achieved judicially in most states and at the federal level, is an indictment of our democracy. The US legislative process is not merely conservative, as might be reasonable, but actively reactionary and the various legislatures reflect our fears, yet not our aspirations. Undemocratically, a change in law may be delayed indefinitely by minority pressure to keep the various legislative bodies from acting on it. Because the legislatures did not act in this matter, despite much pressure, gay rights activists brought the issue to the Courts.

Obergefell hinges on the 14th amendment, the law that affirmed, once and for all, that African-Americans were citizens and entitled to the same legal rights as all US citizens. Gay rights weren't even on the agenda when the 14th amendment was passed. It's a stretch, though a well-argued one, to make it to cover gay marriage. This practice of stretching the law in default of, and sometimes in contradiction to, legislative action, reduces debate to debate among the Supreme Court Justices. Instead of a debate over the law by elected officials, it is only the unelected Justices and lawyers who hold the debate, and make the decision. This is not even remotely democratic, and apt to favor the party which appointed the Justices. Citizens United, which has legalized unlimited corporate spending in political campaigns, is another such stretch.

Stretching the law at need is a poor substitute for public debate and legislative process. It is not, to be sure, a new thing. Supreme Court decisions both famous and infamous have shaped the United States, from Dred Scott to Brown v the Board of Education and now Obergefell. That we have come to rely on this because our legislative system is fear-dominated and tends to stagnation is cause for great concern.

Germany:Syrians now <=> America:Jews 1930s

Germany has closed its border to Syrian refugees, possibly leaving them to death at the hands of the Islamic State. And my mind drifted back…

In the 1930s, the United States turned away Jewish refugees from Germany. The world is still reeling from consequences. One of those consequences was the swelling of the ranks of Zionist settlers which contributed to the formation of the state of Israel which, through a series of unfortunate consequences, contributed to the emergence of the IS. I think Europe had better take those refugees in. It is the just and compassionate thing to do, and might even prevent a future disaster.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

TISA and the Grebacle (from the notebook)

TISA = Trade in Services Agreement, Grebacle = Greek debacle, a subject I've been too discouraged to write about so far. (I would happily have given a headline link to the US government's page on TISA, but there is almost nothing there, so in protest I'm linking Wikileaks instead.)

On July 6th, I had been writing about Greece for a week or so, and one evening I was reminded by David Dayen that the capital controls the Bank of Greece used to survive would be outlawed under the proposed TISA agreement. If Dayen is correct, most effective consumer banking regulation would be outlawed under TISA, leading to a situation where hoarding cash might again become reasonable. Are we all to be made into Greece? Or what?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Yemen: Saudi Arabia has turned hawkish

This one is a "what Juan Cole said" post. From two months ago:
Watching Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia nowadays, is like Kremlin-watching in the old days of the Cold War. It is not as if most Western journalists have a really good idea of the maneuverings inside the Saudi palace or know why exactly things happen. Since King Salman succeeded the late Abdullah this winter, Saudi Arabia has become a different country with regard to foreign policy. Abdullah was known for being cautious and diplomatic.[…] Since Salman came to power, it is as though Bruce Banner got angry and turned into the Incredible Hulk. […] And then without telling the US it was going to do so until the last minute, the Saudi Air Force began a massive bombing campaign on Yemen in a bid to destroy the rebel Houthi movement of Zaidi Shiites

And, the point:
I think we may conclude that something has changed. The hawks have taken over Saudi Arabia and it is newly militarily assertive and the long-standing paranoia about Iran has spun out of control.
Go read the damn thing. We're in still more trouble, if that is possible.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Thomas Piketty Totally Pwns the German Austerians

My book recounts the history of income and wealth, including that of nations. What struck me while I was writing is that Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt. Neither after the First nor the Second World War. However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them. The French state suffered for decades under this debt. The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.
The fine upstanding German state, I'm sure, deserved its debt relief.

(The German newspaper Die Zeit (The Times) posted this interview in German. An authorized English translation is available at the Indian site, The Wire. Google's mechanical translation is here.)

(Updated July 17, 2015, to include the English translation.)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Grisis 7/5

The Troika lost the referendum. If the Troika hadn't overplayed their hand by forcing a Greek bank shutdown, they might have won: two weeks ago polling showed the Greeks were evenly split on the Troika's position.

The Greeks are dancing in the streets. I am left feeling, though, that little has been won. It is hard for me to see the Germans backing down. It is just possible the Troika will split internally; the leaked (unofficially released?) IMF report indicates that the IMF staff, at least, wants debt reduction for Greece. But for the Greeks, more hard times. And there are terrible risks. The Greek fascist Golden Dawn party also sees this as a victory, and if conditions do not improve in Greece quickly, they will have a chance at power. It is hard for me to imagine any EU nation going to war to collect their Greek debt, but tensions could increase.

Still, at least austerity has taken a hit in the eyes of the world. I think other European counties whose hard times have been made harder by poor decisions of the European Central Bank will fight harder, even if the Troika ultimately prevails in Greece.