Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Monday, February 26, 2018
Sunday, February 25, 2018
Saturday, February 24, 2018
"Repeat after me: Mass shooters are not disproportionately mentally ill."
This is the opening line of a meme that's been circulating in the aftermath of the shooting in Parkland, Fla.
But this and other efforts to downplay the role of mental illness in mass shootings are simply misleading. There is a clear relationship between mental illness and mass public shootings.
At the broadest level, peer-reviewed research has shown that individuals with major mental disorders (those that substantially interfere with life activities) are more likely to commit violent acts, especially if they abuse drugs. When we focus more narrowly on mass public shootings — an extreme and, fortunately, rare form of violence — we see a relatively high rate of mental illness.
According to our research, at least 59% of the 185 public mass shootings that took place in the United States from 1900 through 2017 were carried out by people who had either been diagnosed with a mental disorder or demonstrated signs of serious mental illness prior to the attack. (We define a mass public shooting as any incident in which four or more victims are killed with a gun within a 24-hour period at a public location in the absence of military conflict, collective violence or other criminal activity, such as robberies, drug deals or gang turf wars.)
Mother Jones found a similarly high rate of potential mental health problems among perpetrators of mass shootings — 61% — when the magazine examined 62 cases in 2012.
Both rates are considerably higher than those found in the general population — more than three times higher than the rate of mental illness found among American adults, and about 15 times higher than the rate of serious mental illness found among American adults.
And yet this nuance often gets lost in mainstream news reports. In a story that largely suggested mass murderers are not "insane," the New York Times cited research showing that, in fact, mass murderers are nearly 20 times more likely to have a "severe" mental illness than the general population.
According to our research, only one-third of the people who have committed mass shootings in the U.S. since 1900 had sought or received mental health care prior to their attacks, which suggests that most shooters did not seek or receive care they may have needed.
This treatment gap is underscored by evidence showing that the U.S. has higher rates of untreated serious mental illness than most other Western countries. Additional research shows that the gap is even larger for males, who have committed 99% of the country's mass public shootings.
Although the link between mass shootings and mental illness has only recently gained widespread recognition, the correlation itself is longstanding. Indeed, we see it in some of the earliest such shootings in the U.S. Gilbert Twigg, who opened fire on a concert crowd in Winfield, Kan., in 1903, killing nine, had displayed signs of paranoia beforehand. Howard Unruh, who shot and killed 13 people in Camden, N.J., in 1949, was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. (Both were also Army veterans who had seen combat.)
One of the primary reasons some are reluctant to establish the link between mass shootings and mental illness is a fear that it will lead to the stigmatization of such disorders. This concern is valid. The vast majority of people with mental disorders are not violent, after all.
Conversely, some have insisted — wrongly, in our opinion — that mass public shootings are strictly a mental health problem rather than a gun problem. They, too, are on the wrong side of the evidence. It's possible for mass public shootings to be both a gun problem and a mental health problem.
Increasing access to mental health care may reduce mass public shootings. But while such events are more commonplace than they should be, the reality may be that they're still too rare to develop and implement policies that reduce their incidence or severity specifically.
Policymakers should therefore focus on strategies that have shown promise in reducing gun violence in general, like a federal universal background check.
Because there's still a lot we don't understand about mass shootings, we need to invest in research to develop evidence-based solutions. In the meantime, the media should stop glorifying this violence. In the midst of our tribal hyperpartisanship, the debate over mass shootings is doomed to continue ignoring facts. We won't make any progress until those on the mental health side and those on the gun side find common ground that's rooted in empirical reality.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
It's not just homicides that have increased in Baltimore — commercial robberies are up 88 percent.
Jalina Thompson hardly noticed the two customers who walked into her Metro PCS store in Northeast Baltimore in January with their hoods pulled tight. Temperatures in the city had been frigid for days.
Then one of the men placed a gun on the counter and demanded cash.
“This is real,” he said. “I need you to move fast.”
While the three-year spike in violent crime in Baltimore draws most of the attention, business owners across the city have suffered a similar increase in commercial robberies. Such crime has risen 88 percent in the last five years, from 560 commercial robberies in 2013 to more than 1,000 last year.
Business owners are also complaining of threats outside their stores: drug dealing, intimidation, stabbings and shootings. They’re fighting back with security measures — guards, surveillance cameras, door buzzer systems — moving out of the city or, in some cases, shutting down altogether.
“Our members are very concerned,” said Cailey Locklair Tolle, president of the Maryland Retailers Association. “Unfortunately, a lot of our members don’t relocate. It’s a massive endeavor. A lot of times they just go out of business.”
Police have taken notice — and say recent arrests should make a dent. Five men have been charged recently in at least six robberies across the city. They included a 26-year-old man wanted in four robberies since July, two of them at Metro PCS stores.
“It’s a small group of people responsible for these,” police spokesman T.J. Smith said.
Smith said police are increasing checks on stores and are monitoring CitiWatch cameras more closely. He described an apparent robbery attempt thwarted by CitiWatch personnel in January.
Two men appeared to be casing a 7-Eleven store downtown. It had been robbed days earlier, and three times last year, police said.
The CitiWatch personnel directed officers to the store. They confronted the suspects at the front door. At least one officer and one suspect fired at each other, police said, but no one was injured. The suspects escaped.
City Councilman Brandon Scott chairs the council’s public safety committee. He represents Northeast Baltimore, home to the retail thoroughfares of Harford and Belair roads. Commercial robberies rose 93 percent in the Northeast over five years, to 164 last year.
He says the concentration of businesses and their location have made the region a target for robberies.
“They were happening along our corridors, also because of the proximity to [Baltimore] County,” he said.
Scott said recent figures offer hope. As homicides have fallen in the first weeks of 2018, so have commercial robberies.
The number of such robberies fell 36 percent through early February as compared to the same period last year. In the Northern District, they fell 77 percent, to just six robberies.
Scott said police commanders have emphasized business checks and increased patrols of problem areas.
Thompson, the Metro PCS store owner, said the January robbery at her store on Belair Road was over in a matter of minutes. She said the man with the gun apologized, and told her it was nothing personal.
“He had a look like he didn’t want to do anything,” she said. “It could have been different if I had been contradicting.”
The two men left the store on foot. Thompson called police, and crime scene lab technicians went to the store and dusted for fingerprints. A detective took a copy of the surveillance video, but the suspects’ faces were obscured by their hoods. No arrests have been made.
Vivian Igwe was working behind the counter at a 7-Eleven on Belair Road in November when a man threw coffee in her face and tried to grab money from the register.
“It was scary,” she said. But “he wasn’t fast enough,” and didn’t get any cash.
Police and medics arrived. She said her injuries weren’t serious enough to go to the hospital, but she took the rest of the week off. Her boss visited to check on her, and paid her for the rest of the week.
Igwe said she was concerned about returning to work, but said she needed the job.
“I just had to get around it,” she said.
Police showed her photos of possible suspects, but she said she couldn’t positively identify the man.
A Family Dollar Store on nearby Northern Parkway was robbed twice in the last two months of 2017, an assistant manager said. He said he was working in December when an armed man wearing a ski mask walked into the store as it opened and demanded cash and cigarettes.
The assistant manager did not want to be identified because no arrests have been made. He believes the store is a target because it’s set back from the road and away from other shops.
“It’s kind of isolated — quick hit and go,” he said.
He said Family Dollar is considering deploying a security guard. But the Family Dollar locations that have guards tend to be larger and higher-volume stores, which helps offset the cost.
In the meantime, the store has added a sign at the entrance asking customers to remove face masks and hoods before entering.
“I’m just more mindful of my surroundings and who is in the store,” the assistant manager said.
Similarly, Thompson has added a sign to her Metro PCS store, handwritten on a piece of notebook paper: “Please remove all hats, hoods, masks. Wait to be buzzed in — Thanks!”
The buzzer system allows her to keep the front door locked. When customers press a button, she can open the door from behind the register.
“We are just trying to stay vigilant,” she said.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
In the aftermath of yet another horrific mass murder of innocents, we are, as always, besieged by calls for stricter gun control laws, from the daily media buffet of rallies and protests to politicians spewing what now has become a familiar script. But is the redundant, knee-jerk reaction calling for gun control a viable solution or just another political football being tossed into our daily cultural scrum?
People had guns in the 1950s (and in the '60s, '70s, and '80s), and the gun laws were more lenient than today, so why wasn't there an epidemic of school shootings back then? What's changed, especially in the lives and minds of many young people, over the last two decades?
A lot has changed. From accelerated "progressive" cultural rot to more broken and latchkey homes to incredibly easy access to violence and sex via TV, movies, the internet and social media, and video games, all of these can be listed as possible contributors to the scourge of heinous behavior – much of which is perpetrated by males under the age of 30. But in almost all cases, the killers are found to be "unstable" or "depressed" and taking some type of psychotropic prescription drugs: mind-altering substances to deal with depression, emotional frailty, or just the dramas of everyday life as a young adult. Too many doctors and parents are too quick to dispense some pills; toss the kid a smartphone; and say, "Feel better."
We hear so much about the opioid crisis killing so many young people today. But aside from the speedy, almost inaudible disclaimers at the end of every anti-depressant commercial that state "may cause anxiety or thoughts of suicide," we are not hearing much about the mind-altering medications epidemic. Adding these powerful chemicals to still developing brains, and then setting them loose into the wilds of social media to be cyber-shamed, bullied, or propagandized, can't be therapeutic. But why aren't the media all over the excessive prescribing and the dangers of all these psychotropic drugs and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)? Why aren't there protests outside big pharmaceutical plants rather than NRA headquarters?
According to a study by the British Medical Journal from 2012, for every dollar pharmaceutical companies spend on "basic research," $19 goes toward promotion and marketing. Billions of dollars are spent by companies like Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer to promote their drugs – from commercials to payouts to medical professionals to prescribe their drugs. Billions are spent in advertising revenue to networks and media outlets. In September 2016, the N.Y. Times reported that Big Pharma spent $2.3 billion lobbying Congress over the previous decade. Meanwhile, the NRA has donated $3,533,294 to all current members of Congress since 1998, according to The Washington Post. Feel free to do the math.
As a society, we need to take a deep breath and long look in the mirror before we so easily look to "cure" our kids with mind-altering drugs dispensed by doctors like Halloween candy. Energetic or hyperactive young boys don't always need Ritalin for breakfast – perhaps just more activities outside Xbox playdates. Moody teens in many cases need to deal with and work through adversity without Prozac or Zoloft. Mixing these powerful chemicals into growing and often confused and over-stimulated young brains needs to be more thoroughly scrutinized.
Guns in the hands of the wrong people is certainly a bad thing, and good steps to deter this should be welcome. But today, too many of the wrong people are just mixed up, over-medicated young adults whose triggers to committing unspeakable acts of violence are manufactured not necessarily in gun factories, but perhaps in chemistry labs.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Monday, February 19, 2018
Sunday, February 18, 2018
A few weeks ago, Aly Raisman came to public attention for doing a brave and noble thing: testifying in court against Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor who, over two decades, had sexually abused her and more than 160 other girls and women. Thanks in part to Raisman’s testimony, Nassar has been sentenced to 175 years in prison. The public may feel grateful to the young woman.
Now we are hearing about Raisman again, although it is for a very different reason: She has chosen to appear naked in the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Raisman was in the 2017 issue, but then she wore a bikini, while now she wants to show us that she is “empowered.” With phrases such as “trust yourself,” “live for you,” and “abuse is never okay” inked on her flesh, the 23-year-old former USA gymnast serves as a symbol of delusional third-wave feminism. Says Raisman: “I hope that we can one day get to a point where everyone realizes that women do not have to be modest to be respected. We are free to draw confidence and happiness in our own way, and it is never for someone else to choose for us or to even judge us for that matter.”
The problem for a literal-minded millennial like Raisman is that there is an entire world outside herself: the minds of other people. That world is full of rich symbolic meanings, which cannot be altogether determined by the self—not even when you are the object of others’ perceptions and beliefs. Therefore, despite Raisman’s intention, the impression her naked appearance makes will be this: a mostly male audience will lust after her flesh, while paying only passing attention (if any) to “her message.””
Besides, a modest appearance, in formal contexts, simply means one in which the body is not an egregious distraction. There is no reason why, in a boardroom, or a doctor’s office, or a school, a breast, or a penis, or a vagina should be on display in such a manner as to receive attention from persons who have quite other business to attend to. The expectation of a modest appearance, found all over the world, is not “sexist” but simply adult behavior. Of course, the need for it is much greater in women, but that corresponds to the reality that women have much greater sexual power than men do.
A modest appearance has always been essential to the public-private distinction and to professional seriousness. A female lawyer or male lawyer who shows up half-naked to discuss a case with his or her colleagues would immediately prompt the following reaction: “Why is your body on such prominent display? What does it have to do with the business at hand?” Whatever might be the person’s strange motive, the body would of course have nothing to do with the case, so the lawyer would necessarily lose the respect of his or her colleagues. I once worked at a law firm where, for symbolic reasons, I and the others took care to appear professional (read: modest; conservative) indeed. When people are spending money, and their well-being is at stake, they do not equate, say, bursting cleavage with someone whom they can trust. For such a distinctly sexual thing is associated with the private sphere. Mixing the public with the private will suggest that something may be wrong with you. You are an amateur, or immature. You are acting on interests that are, as it were, irrelevant to why you were hired.
In the background of Raisman’s thinking, one detects the influence of recent feminist thought. While it is true that “abuse is never okay,” there is much more to protecting one’s self from abuse than such naïveté as “We are free to draw confidence and happiness in our own way, and it is never for someone else to choose for us or to even judge us for that matter.” A little while back, a female academic acquaintance of mine who was preparing to give a few lectures in Saudi Arabia told me that female colleagues had been informing her of precisely what not to wear while in that country, because Muslim men might spit on her (or worse) if she failed to comply with local clothing customs. Feminists have led American women to believe that they themselves should be able to determine how they behave at all times. But such a way of thinking, whether you are male or female, is unrealistic and asking for trouble. Our appearance, and actions, and words, have meanings that are far beyond our own ability to determine and control. That has always been so, and it is foolish to expect that to change.
Take the young woman who showed up at the actor Aziz Ansari’s apartment to begin their notoriously bad date. While that unusual action did not, of course, give the man the right to do whatever he wanted with the woman’s body, it wasn’t long ago that going to a man’s home, especially to begin a date, would have been universally interpreted as a sign of intimacy, of presumed romantic interest. While in the past it was understood that certain actions have inescapable symbolic meanings, today the truth of things is to be decided only by the self’s feelings. It is little wonder, for instance, that Ansari made a move on the young woman. Given how the date began, and the fact that she went home with him afterwards, nearly all men would have thought she was interested in them. Presumably, however, she wanted something more than mere sex. In other words, the date should have followed an old-fashioned model.
Like Ansari’s naive date, Raisman thinks that her own choices and judgments should be absolutely sovereign; the external world must conform to them, not vice versa. Meanwhile, her actions betray the impossibility of her words. If Raisman draws some “confidence and happiness” from appearing naked in a magazine, it is not because no one has “judged her.” On the contrary, the woman has been judged as sufficiently attractive to appear alongside the other models. Like other beauties, Raisman’s relationship with those who admire her is symbiotic: She needs their regard, even as their lust needs her for an object. It is not, then, that Raisman does not want to be judged. Rather, she wants to be judged on her own terms. She wants to dress however she pleases, while never being thought inappropriate for doing so, or suffering worse consequences. At bottom, this is a familiar fantasy: absolute individual autonomy, without any pesky negative effects.
I do not mean to be unfair to Raisman or insensitive to what she has been through. As she says, she is a survivor who wants to help other women to overcome sexual abuse. But she also seems to be a vehicle for the worst aspect of feminism: the self as some kind of magical being, with the ability to transcend perceptions and beliefs about one that do not issue from one’s self. Although nobody will ever have such a power, that vain hope can set many women up for trouble, and given what Raisman suffered at the hands of Nassar, there is a terrible irony in her being a voice for that popular delusion, the absolutely autonomous self.
No doubt Raisman got a pretty penny for taking her clothes off for Sports Illustrated, and perhaps down the road she may be able to use that appearance to gain in other ways. But in any case, there seems to be something rather sad about the matter. The assumption is that, by appearing naked in a magazine, Raisman is now “an even bigger hero.” Yet this just reveals how saturated our culture is with sex. Women do not want to be reduced to sex objects, but somehow female sexuality can be attached to any issue whatever, on the view that to be half-naked or naked is to be empowered by definition. This is bizarre, and suggests that, in their own hearts, women think that there is nothing to themselves but their bodies. In fact, however, they are probably just bored. Given the poverty of American culture, and the nagging dullness of their jobs, many women turn to the body for welcome relief from the monotony of their own consciousness. You are on display, so at least you are not bored.
Saturday, February 17, 2018
How a New Generation of Global Economists Turned Us All into Communists thru the Invention of a New Economic Productivity Term Called "Aggregate Efficiency"
How do you grow an economy when your businesses are plugging into a Second Industrial Revolution platform that has matured in 1990 and which hasn’t moved since then?- Jeremy Rifkin, "The Third Industrial Revolution and a Zero Marginal Cost Society"
When we think about the term productivity we tend to think in terms of ‘more output per input’ which translates to ‘more capital for better machines and better workers’. According to Rifkin this represents only 40% of what productivity really is. The rest of productivity occurs as a result of aggregate efficiency, i.e. the ratio of potential work to the actual useful work you get out of a conversion. For example: when a lion devours an antilope, only 10% to 20% of its total energy gets converged into energy that is useful for the lion. All the rest gets lost into the conversion.
The second industrial revolution in the US started in 1903 with a 3% aggregate efficiency. This means that for every conversion along the value chain (extracting, storing, transporting, producing, consuming, recycling) about 97% of the energy was lost. By 1990, the US got up to about 13%, Germany got to 18,5% and Japan up to 20% aggregate efficiency. Since then, nothing changed in that ratio. Labor reforms, market reforms, fiscal reforms or new kinds of incentives or even the best technologies will not help that aggregate efficiency to go up as long as we are operating on the platform of the Second Industrial Revolution. We will never get above the ceiling of 20% aggregate efficiency, which makes up the biggest part of productivity.
Anybody who would put 60% of a "productivity" calculation (used to decide where to invest capital) into the hands of government bureaucrats is an IDIOT!
Thursday, February 15, 2018
After this week’s conclusion of a federal corruption trial that convicted two Baltimore police officers, a Maryland lawmaker floated a radical proposal: Disband the Baltimore Police Department.
Del. Bilal Ali, a Baltimore Democrat, proposed the idea in a memo to Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and her newly appointed police commissioner after a federal jury convicted two Baltimore detectives for their roles in one of the city’s biggest police corruption scandals. Six other officers pleaded guilty in the case.
The idea quickly generated reaction among politicians Tuesday — from one calling it “nonsense” to others saying Ali should not be dismissed. Pugh said the idea was going nowhere.
“I’m not disbanding the police department,” she said at her Wednesday news conference.
To support his argument, Ali cited the example of Camden, N.J., which disbanded its troubled police force in 2013 and rebuilt the agency in ways that some say have led to a reduction in violent crime. Others criticize the move as a union-busting tactic to save money.
“I write today to ask that Baltimore City’s leadership seriously evaluate Camden’s approach, and begin consideration on whether to disband and reconstitute BPD from the ground up,” Ali wrote. “There is a blueprint for success, empirical data to guide us, and a light at the end of the tunnel. Our only choice now is whether we will begin to walk toward it.”
Ali asked Pugh and acting Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa to seriously consider rebuilding the 165-year-old department, whose $497 million budget accounts for nearly a fifth of the city’s $2.8 billion operating budget.
“I am well aware of the enormity of this action, and that its scale may give you reason to pause,” Ali wrote. But he encouraged them to “engage” the public about the idea.
It is unlikely that the delegate’s letter will lead to the dissolution of a department that has faced three dismal years since the 2015 riots spurred by Freddie Gray’s death from injuries suffered in police custody. Last year alone, the U.S. Department of Justice and the agency entered into a consent decree to reform discriminatory and unconstitutional policing; 342 people were killed, a per-capita record; and federal prosecutors began revealing details of a criminal enterprise masterminded by the elite Gun Trace Task Force.
Ali, 66, is an Annapolis newcomer. He’s a freshman delegate who was appointed to his 41st District seat by the Democratic State Central Committee to replace Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks when Oaks was elevated to the Senate. Ali also does not sit on the committee that oversees criminal justice issues.
Some lawmakers quickly dismissed Ali’s proposal.
“That’s nonsense,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. “You can’t throw out the good with the bad.”
Other city lawmakers — including Oaks, Sen. Joan Carter Conway and Del. Cheryl D. Glenn — said they support De Sousa’s and Pugh’s efforts to enforce reforms.
“I completely support the new commissioner and I’m excited we finally have someone who grew up through the ranks,” said Glenn, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus.
Conway questioned Ali’s understanding of the police department, which is a state agency whose commissioner is hired by the mayor. Nearly all of the department’s budget is funded by the city. Conway said she opposes Ali’s idea but is willing to discuss solutions.
“I think Delegate Ali may have some issues like most of us do, but that is definitely not the answer,” she said. “I don’t think he fully understands what he’s saying but I will definitely talk to Del. Ali.”
Other city lawmakers were not as dismissive.
Lester Davis, spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said the concept is worth discussing given the recent corruption exposed.
“It’s something people will need to consider carefully,” Davis said. “Given what has come out of the trial, it’s not something that can be easily dismissed.”
“I don’t think anything is off the table,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat.
“We have to be thoughtful and practical in our approach because community safety is the single most important function of government,” Ferguson said. “There’s no way we can go back to business as usual.”
Ali’s idea is based on Camden, N.J., the once crime-plagued city of 75,000 across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. In 2012, the city’s 67 homicides put it fifth in the nation in per-capita killings.
The following year, facing a budget crisis and pressure from New Jersey officials, the city disbanded its police force and rebuilt it with a new name: the Camden County Police Department. The new entity offered lower pay but was able to pick city officers it wanted to retain. The department also transformed its crime-fighting strategy to focus on “community policing.”
Lou Cappelli, the Camden County elected official who led the effort to rebuild the department, said the 400-officer force has focused on putting more officers on the streets and has required them to go door to door to introduce themselves, walk beats and ride bicycles. In 2015, then-President Barack Obama called the shift a national model.
“Residents used to be afraid of the police, they didn’t trust the police,” Cappelli told The Baltimore Sun. “That has changed dramatically.”
Homicides declined by 60 percent from 2013 through last year. And violent crime declined by a quarter.
Their experience since then has been terrific,” said Gary Cordner, a criminal justice professor at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.
But Cordner said he’s not aware of any cities that have followed Camden’s lead. He noted that Camden also was on the brink of financial collapse and was under pressure from the state to take action.
“It seems to me it was a relatively unique situation,” Cordner said. “The stars must have aligned.”
Camden is also much smaller than Baltimore and part of its surrounding county’s governance structure, he said.
Cordner said disbanding Camden’s force was also seen as a form of “union-busting” — something police labor groups in Maryland would likely oppose.
Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said there is little proof that disbanding Camden’s department helped reduce crime. The move was a way to eliminate a dysfunctional agency, shifting to a cheaper model by firing officers and rehiring them at lower pay, he said.
Maria Haberfeld, another John Jay professor, said the best way forward for Baltimore “is about creating new standards and adhering to them.”
“You have to follow up and make sure you hire the right people, supervise them correctly and discipline them properly,” Haberfeld said.
Pugh said the consent decree mandates reforms that she is confident will change the police department’s culture and practices. The jobs of the decree’s federal monitor and community oversight panel are to assure those reforms are “fully implemented in a way that ultimately renews the trust and confidence of our citizens,” a Pugh spokesman said in an email.
Ali did not back down from his idea.
“We have to put all the options on the table,” Ali said. “I don’t buy into that ‘just a few bad apples’ theory.”
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
This year marks half a century since the May 1968 events in Paris (and elsewhere) which launched a youth-driven liberal movement that changed the world.
Thus, now is a good time to reflect upon the similarities and differences between the sexual liberation and feminism of the 1960’s and the protest campaigns that flourish today, from LGBT+ to #MeToo.
In the aftermath of ‘68, the French “progressive” press published a whole series of petitions demanding the decriminalization of paedophilia, claiming that in this way the artificial and oppressive culturally-constricted frontier that separated children from adults could be abolished and the right to freely use one’s body be extended also to children. They claimed that only dark forces of “reaction” and “oppression” could oppose this measure and among the signatories were iconic cultural figures such as Sartre, de Beauvoir, Derrida, Barthes, Foucault, Aragon, Guattari, Deleuze and Lyotard.
Today, however, paedophilia is perceived as one of the worst crimes imaginable and, instead of fighting for it in the name of anti-Catholic progress, it is mostly associated with the dark side of the Catholic Church itself. Which means that fighting against paedophilia is today a progressive task directed at the forces of reaction.
And the funniest victim of this shift was the politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit, still living in the old spirit of the 60’s, who recently described, in an interview, how while in his younger years, when he worked in a kindergarten, he regularly played masturbatory games with young girls.
Subsequently, to his surprise, he faced a brutal backlash, with many voices demanding his removal from the European parliament and legal prosecution.
The gap separating the ’68 sexual liberation from today’s struggle for sexual emancipation is clearly discernible in a recent polemical exchange between Germaine Greer and some feminists who critically reacted to her negative remarks concerning #MeToo. Their main point was how, while Greer’s main thesis – that women should sexually liberate themselves from male domination and assume active sexual lives without any recourse to victimhood – was valid in the sexual-liberation movement of the 1960s, today the situation is different.
And what has happened, in between, is that the sexual emancipation of women (i.e. their ability to freely assume a social life as active sexual) was itself commodified. While it’s true to say women are no longer perceived as passive objects of male desire, it’s also the case that their active sexuality itself now equates (in male eyes) to their permanent availability and readiness to engage in sexual interaction.
In these new circumstances, forcefully saying NO isn’t considered mere self-victimization since it implies the rejection of this new form of sexual subjectivization of women, and demands women not only passively submit to male sexual domination but act as if they actively want it.
Who’s to Blame?
While there is a strong element of truth in this line of argument, one should nonetheless also admit how problematic it is to anchor one’s political demands to status of victimhood. Is the basic characteristic of today’s subjectivity not the weird combination of the free subject who believes themselves ultimately responsible for their own fate and the subject who bases their argument on their status as a victim of circumstances beyond their own control? Every contact with another human being is experienced as a potential threat – if the other smokes, if he casts a covetous glance at me, he already hurts me; this logic of victimization is today universalized, reaching well beyond the standard cases of sexual or racist harassment.
For instance, think of the growing financial industry around paying damage claims. This notion of the subject as an irresponsible victim involves the extreme Narcissistic perspective: every encounter with the Other appears as a potential threat to the subject's precarious balance. The paradox is that, in today's predominant form of individuality, the self-centred assertion of the psychological subject paradoxically overlaps with the perception of oneself as a victim of circumstances.
One cannot shed the suspicion that the Politically Correct cultural Left is getting so fanatical about advocating “progress,” and fighting new battles against cultural and sexist “apartheids,” to cover up its own full immersion into global capitalism. This is the space where LGBT+ and #MeToo meet Tim Cook and Bill Gates.
How did we come to this? As many conservatives have noticed (and they are right here), our time is marked by the progressive disintegration of a shared network of customs which ground what George Orwell approvingly referred to as “common decency.”
Today, these standards are dismissed as a yoke that subordinates individual freedom to some proto-Fascist, organic social forms. In such a situation, the liberal vision of minimalist laws (which should not regulate social life too much but just prevent individuals encroaching upon - or “harassing” - each other) reverts into an explosion of legal and moral rules, and into an endless process of legal argument and moralization, which is labelled as “the fight against all forms of discrimination.”
If there are no shared mores that are allowed to influence the law, only the fact of “harassing” other subjects, then a new question arises. Who – in the absence of such mores – will decide what counts as “harassment”?
After all, in France we see associations of obese people which demand that all public campaigns against obesity and for healthy eating habits be stopped, since they hurt the self-esteem of obese persons. Meanwhile, the militants of “Veggie Pride” condemn the “specieism” of meat-eaters (who discriminate against animals, privileging humans – for them, a particularly disgusting form of “fascism”) and demand that “vegetophobia” should be treated as a kind of xenophobia and proclaimed a crime. And so on and so forth, until perhaps one day the debate reaches things like incest-marriage, consensual murder and cannibalism.
The problem here IS the obvious arbitrariness of the ever shifting rules. Let us take child sexuality: one can argue that its criminalization is an unwarranted discrimination, but one can also argue that children should be protected from sexual molestation by adults.
And we could go on here: the same people who advocate the legalization of soft drugs usually support the prohibition of smoking in public places; and the same folk who protest against the patriarchal abuse of small children in our societies, worry when someone condemns members of foreign cultures who live among us for doing exactly this (say, the Roma people preventing children from attending public schools), claiming that this is a case of meddling with other “ways of life.”
It is thus for necessary structural reasons that this “fight against discrimination” is an endless process endlessly postponing its final point, a society freed of all moral prejudices which, as Jean-Claude Michea put it, “would be on this very account a society condemned to see crimes everywhere.”
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes next plans to investigate the role former CIA Director John Brennan and other Obama intelligence officials played in promoting the salacious and unverified Steele dossier on Donald Trump -- including whether Brennan perjured himself in public testimony about it.
In his May 2017 testimony before the intelligence panel, Brennan emphatically denied the dossier factored into the intelligence community’s publicly released conclusion last year that Russia meddled in the 2016 election "to help Trump’s chances of victory.”
Brennan also swore that he did not know who commissioned the anti-Trump research document, even though senior national security and counterintelligence officials at the Justice Department and FBI knew the previous year that the dossier was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Last week, Nunes (R-Calif.) released a declassified memo exposing surveillance “abuses” by the Obama DOJ and FBI in their investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia. It said the agencies relied heavily on the uncorroborated dossier to take out a warrant to secretly surveil a Trump adviser in the heat of the 2016 presidential election, even though they were aware the underlying “intelligence" supporting the wiretap order was political opposition research funded by Clinton allies — a material fact they concealed from FISA court judges in four separate applications.
Nunes plans to soon release a separate report detailing the Obama State Department’s role in creating and disseminating the dossier -- which has emerged as the foundation of the Obama administration's Russia “collusion” investigation. Among other things, the report will identify Obama-appointed diplomats who worked with partisan operatives close to Hillary Clinton to help ex-British spy Christopher Steele compile the dossier, sources say.
“Those are the first two phases” of Nunes' multipart inquiry, a senior investigator said. “In phase three, the involvement of the intelligence community will come into sharper focus.”
The aide, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said Nunes will focus on Brennan as well as President Obama’s first CIA director, Leon Panetta, along with the former president’s intelligence czar, James Clapper, and national security adviser, Susan Rice, and security adviser-turned U.N. ambassador Samantha Power, among other intelligence officials.
“John Brennan did more than anyone to promulgate the dirty dossier,” the investigator said. “He politicized and effectively weaponized what was false intelligence against Trump.”
Attempts to reach Brennan for comment were unsuccessful.
Several Capitol Hill sources say Brennan, a fiercely loyal Obama appointee, talked up the dossier to Democratic leaders, as well as the press, during the campaign. They say he also fed allegations about Trump-Russia contacts directly to the FBI, while pressuring the bureau to conduct an investigation of several Trump campaign figures starting in the summer of 2016.
Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort was wiretapped in addition to Trump adviser Carter Page during the campaign. (Page has not been charged with a crime. Manafort was recently indicted for financial crimes unrelated to the Moscow “collusion” activities alleged in the dossier.)
On Aug. 25, 2016, for example, the CIA chief gave an unusual private briefing to then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in which he told Reid the Russians were backing Trump and that the FBI would have to take the lead in an investigation because the FBI is the federal agency in charge of domestic intelligence and, unlike the CIA, can spy on U.S. citizens.
Two days after Brennan’s special briefing, Reid fired off a letter to then-FBI Director James Comey demanding he open an investigation targeting “individuals tied to Trump” to determine if they coordinated with the Russian government “to influence our election.”
“The Trump campaign has employed a number of individuals with significant and disturbing ties to Russia and the Kremlin,” the then-top Democrat in the Senate added in his two-page letter.
Reid then alluded to Page as one of those compromised individuals and repeated an unproven charge from the dossier that Page had met with two Kremlin officials in Moscow in July 2016 to discuss removing U.S. sanctions on Russia. Page has repeatedly denied the allegation under oath, swearing he never even met the Russian officials named in the dossier.
“Any such meetings should be investigated,” Reid asserted.
Less than two months later, Comey signed an application for a surveillance warrant to monitor Page’s emails, text messages, phone conversations and residence.
Unsatisfied with the progress of Comey’s investigation, Reid released an open letter to the FBI chief in late October 2016 accusing him of sitting on evidence. Reid told Comey that from his communications with “other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity.”
Congressional investigators say that the "explosive information” Reid referred to was the false or unverified claims in the Clinton-funded dossier -- which the sources say were passed along by Brennan. They add that Brennan gave more than one briefing.
After Trump won the election, sources say, the CIA director sought to "weaponize" the dossier’s wild accusations against the president-elect.
In early January, just weeks before Trump was inaugurated, investigators say Brennan saw to it that the contents from the dossier were attached to an official daily intelligence briefing for Obama. The special classified briefing was then leaked to the major Washington media, allowing them to use the presidential briefing to justify the publication of claims they had up to that point not been able to substantiate and had been reluctant to run.
CNN broke the news that the dossier — described as “classified documents” — had been attached to the briefing report by the CIA, and had been given to the president. The top-level credence that the government was placing in the dossier gave prominent newspapers, including the Washington Post and New York Times, justification to follow suit.
In addition, BuzzFeed published 35 pages of the dossier in full. (The Internet news outlet was recently sued by Trump campaign lawyer Michael Cohen, whom the dossier accused of conspiring with the Kremlin to pay Russian hackers to steal Clinton campaign emails. It's one of several libel and defamation lawsuits tied to the dossier.)
At the time, the Washington Post was assured by Obama intelligence officials that "the sources involved in the [dossier's] reporting were credible enough to warrant inclusion of their claims in the highly classified [presidential] report.” Months later in public testimony, however, Brennan said the dossier and its sources were not credible enough to incorporate the information in a separate January 2017 intelligence report on Russian election interference publicly released by the administration. The published unclassified version of the report nonetheless echoes the dossier’s central assertion that Moscow meddled in the election to help Trump.
Brennan later swore the dossier did not “in any way” factor into the CIA's assessment that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump. However, congressional investigators suggest a still-classified version of the January 2017 intelligence report contradicts his claim. Also in his May 2017 testimony, Brennan swore he had no idea who commissioned the dossier.
CIA veterans say Brennan was the most politicized director in the agency’s history and was responsible for much of the anti-Trump bias from the intelligence community during the campaign and transition period.
Former CIA field operations officer Gene Coyle, a 30-year agency veteran who served under Brennan, said he was "known as the greatest sycophant in the history of the CIA, and a supporter of Hillary Clinton before the election.”
"I find it hard to put any real credence in anything that the man says,” he added.
Coyle noted that Brennan broke with his predecessors who stayed out of elections. Several weeks before the vote, he said, “Brennan made it very clear that he was a supporter of candidate Clinton, hoping he would be rewarded with being kept on in her administration.” (Brennan is a liberal Democrat. In fact, at the height of the Cold War in 1976, he voted for a Communist Party candidate for president.)
What’s more, his former deputy at the CIA, Mike Morell, who formed a consulting firm with longtime Clinton aide and campaign adviser Philippe Reines, even came out in early August 2016 and publicly endorsed her in the New York Times, while claiming Trump was an “unwitting agent” of Moscow.
“In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation,” he claimed. “My training as an intelligence officer taught me to call it as I see it. This is what I did for the CIA. This is what I am doing now. Our nation will be much safer with Hillary Clinton as president.”
Reid repeated Morell’s allegation against Trump in his August 2016 letter to Comey.
Career U.S. intelligence officials say Morell, like Brennan, was personally invested in a Clinton victory.
Morell “had aspirations of being CIA director if she had won,” said former FBI counterintelligence official I.C. Smith, whose service overlapped with Brennan’s.
Investigators are trying to learn if the Clinton campaign shared, through Reines, the early memos on the dossier it was paying for with Morrell before he wrote his Times op-ed.
Morell could not be reached for comment. But he pushed back hard last week against Nunes releasing his memo exposing the FBI’s reliance on the dossier for Trump wiretaps, which he argued "did not have to happen. It undermines the credibility of the FBI in the public's eyes, and with no justification in my view."
“What happened here underscores the partisanship and the dysfunction of a very important committee in Congress, and that does not serve Congress well. It doesn't serve the intelligence community, and it doesn't serve the country well,” Morell continued earlier this week in an interview with CBS News, where he now works as a “senior national security contributor."
Sources say Brennan is aware that the House Intelligence Committee is targeting him in its wide-ranging investigation of the dossier and investigative and intelligence abuses related to it, and that Nunes plans to call him and other former Obama administration officials before the panel to question them based on newly obtained documents and information.
Last week, perhaps not coincidentally, Brennan signed a contract with NBC News and MSNBC to be their “senior national security and intelligence analyst.”
On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Brennan laced into Nunes for releasing the memo revealing FBI surveillance abuses related to the dossier, claiming the head of the intelligence panel has “abused the office of the chairmanship.”
“It really underscores just how partisan Mr. Nunes has been,” Brennan charged.
In the interview, Brennan claimed he first learned of the existence of the dossier “in late summer of 2016, when there were some individuals from the various U.S. news outlets who asked me about my familiarity with it. And I had heard just snippets about it.”
He further contended that he had neither seen nor read the dossier until a month after the election.
“I did not know what was in there,” Brennan said. "I did not see it until later in that year, I think it was in December.”
Brennan also insisted he did not know who was pulling the strings on the research that went into the dossier.
"I was unaware of the provenance of it as well as what was in it,” he said, and he reasserted that "it did not play any role whatsoever in the intelligence community assessment that was done.”
Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is also coming under scrutiny for his role in the dossier.
He joined Brennan in giving Obama a two-page summary of the dossier memos during the presidential briefing in January 2017. Days later, Clapper expressed "profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press,” and misleadingly referred to the dossier as a “private security company document.”
The intelligence committee plans to press Clapper to find out if he knew at the time that, in fact, the document was political opposition research underwritten by the Clinton campaign, and whether any of the leaks to the media came from his office.
“I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC [intelligence community],” he maintained at the time, adding that “we did not rely upon [the dossier] in any way for our conclusion” on Russian interference.
In October 2016, during the heat of the campaign, Clapper issued a public report declaring that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime directed the cyberattacks on Clinton campaign emails, echoing memos Steele was delivering at the time to the Clinton campaign.
A year later, after it was finally revealed in the national media that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee funded the research that went into the notorious dossier, Clapper insisted it "doesn't matter who paid for it.”
"It's what the dossier said and the extent to which it was -- it's corroborated or not. We had some concerns about it from the standpoint of its sourcing, which we couldn't corroborate,” Clapper added last October in an interview with CNN.
He went on to strongly suggest that the intelligence assessment report he issued with Brennan, which concluded the Kremlin not only hacked the Democratic campaign but did so specifically to put Trump in the White House, was based on “some of the substantive content of the dossier.”
"But at the same time, some of the substantive content, not all of it, but some of the substantive content of the dossier, we were able to corroborate in our Intelligence Community Assessment from other sources, which we had very high confidence of,” Clapper said.
Investigators say Nunes intends to drill down on exactly who those “other sources” are now that his committee has learned that top officials at both the FBI and Justice Department relied on a Yahoo! News article as their additional sourcing to corroborate the dossier allegations they cited to obtain Trump campaign wiretap warrants -- even though it turns out the main source for the Yahoo! story was merely the dossier’s author, Steele, who was disguised as “a Western intelligence source."
Clapper, who recently signed his own media deal, joining CNN as a paid “contributor,” bashed Nunes on the network and suggested the release of future reports could endanger the intelligence community’s mission. He said his release of the FBI memo was “political” and an “egregious” betrayal of "others in the intelligence community who have a lot at stake here with the whole FISA [surveillance] process.”
Monday, February 12, 2018
Baltimore is at more than 10 days and counting without a homicide.
The streak is the longest since the 2015 unrest that saw a sharp and sustained spike in violence. And it coincides with the start of a 72-hour community-led “ceasefire” that kicked off Feb. 2.
“I am losing my mind thrilled,” said Baltimore Ceasefire organizer Erricka Bridgeford. For days, she said she’s been staying up until midnight, to see if the city has made it through another day without a killing.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “Baltimore deserves this boost of love.”
Bridgeford doesn’t give the ceasefire all the credit for the peace — she sees murder as a public health issue, with many causes — but rather it’s brought by “everything that everyone is doing,” she said. “Everything … is paying off.”
Still, she’s cautious: She said her stepson called earlier to say he’d run from bullets in West Baltimore.
“I’m praying that nobody dead,” she said.
There have been five nonfatal shootings during the span without a homicide, including three on Saturday.
The longest streak in Baltimore without a homicide that I could find came in March 2014, when the city went about 17 days without a homicide. That month saw just seven killings, tied for the fewest in a month since 1970.
Since the unrest, the longest period of consecutive days without a homicide was almost eight days from February 28 to March 8 in 2017.
This year started with 11 killings in the first 12 days, followed by more than six days without a homicide. Mayor Catherine E. Pugh fired Commissioner Kevin Davis, citing impatience with violence, and replaced him with Darryl De Sousa. The next 13 days saw 15 killings, followed by the current streak.
The most recent victim this year was Jerrell Brice, a 27-year-old who was fatally shot on Feb. 1 at around 1:20 p.m. in East Baltimore and who police said died two days later. The case is unsolved. Anyone with information should call police at 410-396-2100.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
Saturday, February 10, 2018
What does "lawfare" mean and how is this significant? Lawfare turns out to be a verb associated with warfare. It's not a war of armed forces, it's a war of legal forces used to impose a particular ideology upon someone else. In this particular case, its' the ideology of "globalism" and "global free trade," an ideology threatened by the presidency of Donald J. Trump. And the modus operandi for any dis-satisfied whistle blower who objects to an Executive decision or action is to leak it to the press, hence James Comey's turning to release his notes to the press by Benjamin Wittes.
Now Mr. Wittes has written many pieces at the Lawfare Blog denouncing the Trump Administration and calling for the Deep State professionals to "slow walk" whenever possible Trump policies, and "reject" them when they conflict with their globalist agenda by either resigning or preferably leaking the objectionable details to the progressive press and suing to stop implementation. Now even though there is nothing "illegal" in this, it would be considered a "termination offense" in any commercial industrial setting other than the Civil Service Deep State, where such actions are "protected" by civil service employment laws that shield whistleblowers. So they do this at little to no peril to their jobs or livelihood.
Now Ben Wittes and his friends (including James Comey and many of his peers and subordinates at DOJ and FBI) have an election party tradition where the loser of an election "toasts" the winner, and all the civil servants accept and make peace with their new bosses. That didn't happen in 2016 when Trump won. Instead, the "partyers" decided to skip this tradition and instead, work actively to undermine the incoming administration to the best of their abilities. Hence their "insurance policy" texted about by Lisa Page and Peter Strzok in FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's office was implemented.
Now, Wittes likes to call his "resistance" movement the "Coalition of All Democratic Forces." That's pretty ironic given that their collective aim is to impede and possibly overturn democratic election results that they don't ideologically like. So, No, they are NOT a Coalition of all Democratic Forces. They are a coalition of globalist free traders committed to corporate globalism. They are not MAGA "America Firsters". They serve Mammon first.
One has to wonder whether a guy like Wittes is really all that worried about the state of democracy, or whether he's just bitter that his wife won't be a State Department bigwig anymore (since Hillary lost and they can't ring the political pay-to-play ka-ching machine). Well, she can always pass her time listening to lectures on foreign policy with her lifetime Council on Foreign Relations membership!
Friday, February 9, 2018
During the Obama era, Republicans campaigned on promises to restrain federal spending and repeal Obamacare. Having gained total control of Washington, they have chosen to repeal the Tea Party instead.
The Tea Party meant a lot of things to a lot of different people, but for many limited government conservatives, the movement’s energy brought a new hope of counteracting the inertia that has traditionally led both parties to expand the size and scope of government. Trump was breaking ground on immigration, then it all went to "shit"
The initial zeal for cutting government in the Reagan Revolution of 1980 and the Gingrich Revolution of 1994 faded over time. But starting in 2010, as underdog candidates toppled established Republicans and virtual unknowns unseated incumbents, the Tea Party seemed like it was something different.
The renewed fervor for shrinking government combined with the ability of activists to mobilize and harness new technologies meant, for the first time, many Republican politicians were feeling more heat for rubber-stamping spending increases than they were when opposing it. This led to high-profile confrontations between congressional Republicans and former President Barack Obama that largely stymied his legislative agenda for the last six years of his presidency, while failing to unravel the sweeping laws he signed in his first two.
Despite many setbacks, the Tea Party had one tangible achievement to show for all of the havoc it caused: the enactment of spending caps that resulted from the 2011 standoff over raising the debt ceiling.
In 2017, for the first time in the post-Tea Party era, Republicans finally gained unified control of government. They spent months blundering on healthcare, and ultimately reneged on their eight-year promise to repeal Obamacare. They have now agreed on a deal with Democrats that would blow up the spending caps that were a legacy of the Tea Party movement — to the tune of $300 billion over the next two years.
During the Obama era, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., rose to stardom on the basis of his sweeping plan to overhaul entitlements, urgently warning in speeches and hearings, with charts and on videos, about the looming debt crisis, which he called, “the most predictable crisis we’ve ever had in this country." He spoke of the need for bold leadership, of tackling the tough problems rather than kicking the can down the road. But the outline of the bipartisan budget deal he is now pushing would return to business as usual, in which both parties agree to give the other side more money to spend on their priorities.
The agreement would boost military spending by $165 billion above the 2011 caps and nonmilitary spending by $131 billion; it boosts emergency disaster relief spending by $90 billion (remember when the Tea Party Republicans believed emergency spending needed to be offset?); provides $6 billion in more money to fight opioid addiction; has $20 billion in infrastructure funding; it provides more funding for community health centers; and it repeals the Independent Payment Advisory Board, one of Obamacare’s cost-containment initiatives, without any significant alternative ideas to curb Medicare spending.
Now, let’s get one thing clear. It's possible to rein in long-term debt while keeping taxes relatively low and military spending relatively high, but only if those policies are met with a dramatic strategy to restrain entitlements and other nondefense spending. But that’s not what Republicans are doing.
During the Obama administration, Republicans were willing to cut defense spending to extract other spending cuts from Democrats without having to agree to raising taxes. During the Trump administration, they are pursuing an all of the above strategy by cutting taxes and then agreeing to boost spending on social programs in exchange for being able to boost defense spending.
“When the Democrats are in power, Republicans appear to be the conservative party. But when Republicans are in power, it seems there is no conservative party,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., one of the early Tea Party senators, observed in a Thursday night senate floor talkathon against the spending deal. “The hypocrisy hangs in the air and chokes anyone with a sense of decency or intellectual honesty.”
When Republicans are in opposition, they have every political reason to obstruct a Democratic president’s agenda. Democrats, if given power, want to raise taxes and reduce military spending to pay for expanded social programs — the opposite of what Republicans’ preferences are. Furthermore, there is a benefit to denying an opposition party’s president any victories, because it makes that president look weak and incapable of getting anything accomplished. Conveniently, these goals are perfectly consistent with the goals of those who want to limit the growth of government, so it allows Republicans to cloak their more cynical motives in lofty limited government rhetoric.
When Republicans, given power, are consistently growing government and adding to the debt, it’s time to stop saying they’re abandoning limited government principles. The reality is, they do not actually have any limited government principles. Their priorities are lower taxes and higher military spending, and they are willing to accede to growth in entitlements and other government programs if that is what it takes to secure their first two goals. This is shortsighted, of course, because their failure to grapple with reality inevitably means the nation will one day face both higher taxes and severe military cuts. If the Tea Party, for all the disruption it caused, couldn’t change this dynamic, nothing ever will.
The next time Republicans seeking office start yammering about the need to restrain government and curb deficits, we should remember the adage of the last Republican president to cut taxes, increase military spending, and expand entitlements: “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.”
Thursday, February 8, 2018
(Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers were expected to vote on Thursday on a two-year budget deal that would avert another government shutdown but add $300 billion to the federal deficit and leave the thorny issue of immigration unresolved.
The plan faced resistance from conservatives in the Republican Party, who favor less spending on domestic government programs.
At the same time, many liberal Democrats wanted to withhold their support as leverage to win concessions on immigration policy.
That meant the bill's passage was not assured in the House of Representatives and would need some Democratic support. Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican who has backed the agreement, predicted the chamber would pass the budget deal.
"I think we will," Ryan told radio host Hugh Hewitt. "This is a bipartisan bill. It's going to need bipartisan support. We are going to deliver our share of support."
The rare bipartisan deal reached by congressional leaders on Wednesday would stave off a government shutdown before a Thursday night deadline and extend the federal government's debt ceiling until March 2019.
The deal, backed by President Donald Trump, raises spending on military and domestic programs by almost $300 billion over the next two years.
A two-year budget bill would end the fiscal uncertainty that followed Congress' passage of four stopgap funding measures this fiscal year and led to a three-day partial shutdown last month.
The measure fails to end uncertainty, however, for 700,000 young immigrants brought into the United States illegally as children.
Democrats had sought to pass legislation ensuring protections for the so-called Dreamers as part of any budget measure but Republicans refused. Instead, they have pledged to hold a separate immigration debates in Senate this month.
It would allow for $165 billion in extra defense spending and $131 billion more for non-military programs, including health, infrastructure, disaster relief and efforts to tackle an opioid crisis in the country.
Many Republicans, whose party controls both chambers of Congress, said the military's need for funding justified the extra spending.
However, the conservative House Freedom Caucus said it opposed the measure, which caucus chairman Mark Meadows called "eye-popping and eyebrow-raising."
Senators Bob Corker and Rand Paul, Republican fiscal conservatives, said they would not support the bill. "I'm against adding over $1 trillion of debt,” Paul said.
Republican Senator John Kennedy said there were many good things in the measure but he was concerned about adding to the deficit.
"I feel like I have to choose between love and honor here. I don't know how I'm going to vote," he said.
Liberal Democrats opposed the deal because it does not include an agreement to protect the Dreamers from deportation.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday staged an eight-hour speech on the House floor in support of immigration legislation, including reading letters from Dreamers pleading to be allowed to stay in the United States.
In an appeal to Democrats to vote for the budget deal, Ryan repeatedly said during a news conference that he would bring an immigration bill to the House floor after the spending measures are enacted. But he fell short of the unconditional guarantee that many Democrats demand.
Representative Luis Gutierrez, one of the leading advocates in Congress for immigrants, urged colleagues to reject the deal. "Don't collude with this administration," he said. "Vote against the budget."
A number of lawmakers who supported the bill acknowledged the deal was not perfect. "It's not pretty," Republican U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger said on CNN.
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Before the wars1 broke out, Yugoslavia didn’t feel particularly un-European to me when I’d visit; it was poorer, yes, but it was not notably more brutish or atavistic than, say, Italy. And when the wars came, though their horrors were difficult to watch, I was not nearly as baffled as the American commentariat seemed to be by what was going on. The pundits talked about “ancient hatreds,” about religious and even tribal differences, about ill-defined forces that were supposed to have been vanquished from the European continent. To a younger me, it was all a lot less complicated: These wars were primarily about self-determination.2The author is right about one thing. The neoliberals (present author included) haven't a clue.
Having spent a good part of my childhood in the United States, I was puzzled as to why no one saw parallels with America’s struggle for independence. Yes, no soaring talk about universal values came from Zagreb or Ljubljana, but given the way in which the constituent republics sought to throw off Belgrade’s yoke, the parallel seemed clear enough to me. Instead, alongside the honest horror and disgust at the violence, it was easy to detect a note of moral superiority among foreign observers. It took me a long time to understand that for Americans and West Europeans, a struggle that did not evoke universal principles was just a form of barbarism. We in the West were better than this, they seemed to be saying. We had left all this behind. The Balkan Wars bequeathed to me a special sensitivity to this kind of preening.
Fast forward a few decades, to March 2014. An echo of this same kind of condescension—more bewildered than exasperated, but still uncomprehending—could easily be heard in Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks on the occasion of Russia invading Crimea. “You just don’t, in the 21st century, behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped up pretext,” Kerry complained to CBS. In retrospect, Kerry’s lament marked the start of a process still ongoing today: the slow discovery by Western policymakers, politicians, activists, and journalists that their mental frames do not usefully correspond to reality. But the discovery has not led to reflection. Instead, it’s all been confusion and frustration. “This is not supposed to be happening,” has been the repeated refrain to Brexit, the anti-migrant backlash across Europe, and the election of Donald Trump. “What has gone wrong? Aren’t we better than this?”
One answer is, “Obviously, no.” Some, like Damon Linker, argued that our elite worldview has depended on the establishment of a kind of “antipolitical politics”—a bloodless technocratic approach to governance that has lost legitimacy among several clots of the voting public. Others, myself included, have argued that the values behind modern liberalism have never had the kind of legitimating, cohesive power behind them we thought they did—certainly not in “New” Europe, where EU integration has failed to deliver on most of its promises.
Then again, maybe the questions themselves are misleading. Perhaps something deeper is amiss. Maybe it’s not about “liberalism” however defined or construed, but rather about our interpretation of history. Or, to put it more precisely, maybe our problem lies not so much with the strength or weakness of liberalism, but rather in how we have misunderstood its role in recent events. In doing so, we have acquired several huge blindspots that are preventing us from seeing what’s staring us in the face.
Let’s first look at the stories we have told ourselves about the period from 1945 to 1989. As Tony Judt remarked, historians and statesmen have invoked several recurring themes in describing those years in Western Europe: “Europe’s recovery was a ‘miracle’. ‘Post-national’ Europe had learned the bitter lessons of recent history. An irenic, pacific continent had risen, ‘Phoenix-like’, from the ashes of its murderous—suicidal—past.”3 These themes constitute a hopeful and morally redemptive narrative, especially for West Europeans who in large numbers had acquiesced to German occupation and had collaborated with the Nazis right up until liberation. Judt notes that Hitler managed to administer Norway with only 806 German overseers, and that 35 million Frenchmen made little trouble for some 1,500 German officials and 6,000 German civilian and military police. It was humiliating on a grand scale, even before these nations began to grapple with their complicity in the Holocaust.
The way in which these stories were used is also significant. Judt pointed out that a kind of ahistorical determinism related to these redemptive myths was built over time into the project of European unification. To oversimplify a bit, a set of trade treaties had set up an increasingly complex bureaucracy that had started to encroach on national sovereignty. It needed legitimation to continue doing so. “[T]he real or apparent logic of mutual economic advantage not sufficing to account for the complexity of its formal arrangements, there has been invoked a sort of ontological ethic of political community,” Judt wrote. “Projected backward, the latter is then adduced to account for the gains made thus far and to justify further unificatory efforts.”4
This dynamic helps explain the otherwise baffling reality of the European project as we know it today: a largely undemocratic bureaucracy that talks in the lofty language of a post-national political community grounded in a set of universal Enlightenment values. But it’s the inherent determinism of the project—going backwards being unthinkable—that most concerns us here.
Unlike Europe, the United States was not hamstrung by guilt and self-doubt over the cataclysms of the 20th century’s first half. Indeed, the Soviet challenge was quickly understood in Manichean terms, with American foreign policy driven by a form of secularized Protestantism. As James Kurth pithily described it in our pages more than a decade ago, “After World War II, the characteristic pattern of American foreign policy—‘realism’ toward the strong and ‘idealism’ toward the weak—developed further.” Where it could, it sought to impose a version of the American Creed onto the world it encountered. Where it couldn’t, it chose to wait things out.
After 1989 and the fall of global communism, this narrative became turbocharged—triumphalist and self-certain. With the formal declaration of the EU in 1991 at the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, the ambitions for European unification expanded, not just for ever-closer union, but for an ever-broader one as well. By the mid-2000s, with most of the Warsaw Pact countries admitted, some dreamers had started talking about the “European idea” as being universal—applicable to all humanity. In parallel, intellectuals in the United States began to grasp the implications of the fall of not just its chief geopolitical rival, but also of its main ideological foe. Some wrote grandiloquently of the “unipolar moment.” Though historians came to understand that communism was not overthrown but had rather collapsed in on itself, a growing segment of the American public saw the end of the Cold War as a moral triumph. It had everything to do with long-suffering, oppressed people realizing the universal truth of the values that had sustained the anti-Soviet coalition since the defeat of Hitler.
Let’s call all this “democratic determinism,” a vulgarized version of Frank Fukuyama’s more nuanced “End of History” thesis. As a catechism, it was first internalized by liberal internationalists/neoconservatives/the democracy promotion community. But through the years, its ideological vapors have seeped into the public square and are now a part of the air we breathe, undetectable to all but the most sensitive noses.
Like all successful narratives of its kind, it captured important truths about the time it sought to describe. And like all good stories well told, it chose to focus on some things in lieu of others. It is of course also an aspirational and quasi-religious narrative—a story that gives important meaning and purpose to a set of mostly secular societies. It’s thus not wrong in any simple sense, but as a means of understanding reality it is very incomplete.
It can be tricky to point out that which someone is predisposed not to see. Luckily for us, Dr. Branko Milanovic, formerly the lead economist at the World Bank, has written a short essay that manages to do just that. His essay sets out to explain the divergence in perceptions as to the value of ethnic homogeneity between East Europeans on the one hand and Western liberals on the other. But it does much more than that.
The first part of his argument is purely historical. He notes that the struggle for nationhood for most of the countries found along a line extending from Estonia to Greece was one of emancipation from crumbling empires. It is a process that still festers on in parts of the Western Balkans, Milanovic notes, but otherwise has completed. Its end result has been the birth of remarkably homogenous ethno-states.
None of this is particularly controversial, nor is it incompatible with a worldview undergirded by democratic determinism. But Milanovic does not stop there. He goes on to argue that the events of 1989 are best understood not as a casting off of the false god of communism and an embrace of universally true Western values. Rather, he says, they were experienced by most of the people in Eastern Europe primarily as “revolutions of national emancipation”—a rejection of Soviet imperialism.
This is not as revisionist as you might think. Stephen Kotkin’s remarkable monograph Uncivil Societies goes to great lengths to document just how insignificant a force pro-Western liberals represented across the former Warsaw Pact countries on the eve of the communists’ collapse. Poland is the outlier, Kotkin shows, with Solidarity enjoying significant support in the run-up to 1989. But even there, the collapse was ultimately a top-down affair, and had more to do with Gorbachev’s political recklessness than anything else.5
The persecuted idealists and artists left standing in the wreckage of the old system were in some cases best-positioned to capture the imagination of a broader public as it emerged, blinking, from the gray realities of one-party rule and into the bright lights of pluralistic democracy. But the role of their values-based activism in bringing down their countries’ communists has long been overstated, first by the idealists themselves and their supporters on the Western side of the Iron Curtain, and then by the reformed aparatchiks who took over power and kept repeating the catechism in order to keep aid flowing.
Average “Eastern” citizens, on the other hand, were mostly glad to be rid of the threat of Soviet tanks rolling in to prop up a rotten, thieving nomenklatura, and were looking forward to prosperity which they believed would come as a result of adopting Western ways of doing things. This entailed embracing markets and competitive elections, but not, as Milanovic points out, ethnic heterogeneity within their borders. “For Westerners this may be an obvious implication of democracy and liberalism,” he argues. Not so for the Easterners, who had no intention of sacrificing their key accomplishment—national consolidation—“in order to satisfy some abstract principles” they never endorsed in the first place.
The purpose of Milanovic’s essay is narrow: to show how difficult it will be to compel these recalcitrant countries to accept migrants anytime soon—maybe ever. But the essay’s deeper implications are striking, and help illuminate one of the blindspots plaguing democratic determinists. The discomfiting truth is that some amount of ethnic nationalism is not just tolerated, but accepted as completely legitimate by many voters throughout Eastern Europe.
Unlike Milanovic, a democratic determinist sees 1989 primarily as an ideological triumph, and understands the values that underpin it as universal and indivisible from the proper functioning of a modern state. If 1989 is thought of as a successful democratic revolution, then much of the politics of the past ten years in Eastern Europe can only be seen as backsliding. Someone like Viktor Orban, who has self-consciously positioned himself as a kind of soft nationalist, is seen as inherently illegitimate—a symptom of political decay.
But insofar as Milanovic’s model is correct, an “Easterner” listens to the incessant complaining coming from democratic determinists in Brussels and bemusedly scratches his head. His legitimately elected leaders are merely protecting values dear to him and his country from a bunch of messianic foreigners preaching an idealistic universalism he’s never signed up for, and that he doubts exists. He just doesn’t see what the big deal is.
The persistence and legitimacy of nationalism is not the only blindspot for democratic determinists. It’s just one example of a broader pattern of thinking. Several essays could be written on the theme. Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World report frames the current moment in terms of rollback: “At the end of the Cold War, it appeared that totalitarianism had at last been vanquished and liberal democracy had won the great ideological battle of the 20th century,” it states. “Today, it is democracy that finds itself battered and weakened.” The methodology employed by Freedom House is rigorous, and their reports tell us important things about institutional trends. But their framing misrepresents reality and ultimately misunderstands the problems. The tide of “democracy” is not receding, for example; it never really rolled in in exactly the way they think it did. It’s true that authoritarian tendencies are emerging in their data sets, but the very idea of the threat of a resurgent “authoritarianism” is a category error. There is no such ideology.
We can be critical of democratic determinism and still be troubled by what is going on in, say, Central and Eastern Europe. For one, it’s increasingly clear that the rising crop of “Eastern” politicians are leveraging their popular support to entrench themselves and their parties, to expand their patronage networks, and to enrich their cronies. It’s this kind of behavior, and the accompanying undercutting of any credible opposition, that finds its fullest expression in Putin’s mafia-like rule in Russia. These kleptocratic regimes have a nasty polluting effect. Their billionaire oligarch class are the disease carriers; they throw their money around freely in healthier, more developed societies, and begin to rot them out, too.
In addition, we know from history that appeals to nationalism can ultimately lead to zero-sum thinking and unpredictable foreign policies. Though most of these countries are far more ethnically homogeneous than their West European counterparts, their national borders rarely encompass all their irredenta. Hungarians in particular make up notable minorities in Slovakia, Romania, and even Ukraine, and casually bringing up the Treaty of Trianon in conversation will trigger a certain kind of Hungarian conservative.
And provocative nationalism doesn’t just have to do with irredentism. The Polish Holocaust law, which currently awaits ratification in the Sejm’s upper house, is as much directed at Germany as it is at Ukraine, whose own laws about language and history have inflamed Polish sentiments. Overall, even if today’s leaders are soft nationalists, there’s nothing to guarantee that they won’t harden their stances with time, out of expediency or conviction, or some tangle of both. It’s a slippery slope that leads nowhere good.
These unpleasant truths need to be understood in the proper historical context, and our hopes for positive change need to take into account how very long these things can take. We must resist the temptation to think in missionary terms—to save supposedly “fallen” liberal democracies. At the same time, we must not succumb to cynicism either. Tolerance and pluralism are important values that can bring unheard of prosperity and peace to societies that embrace them. Properly constituted, liberal democracy is indeed the best organizing principle.
Overall, humility must be our watchword. We shouldn’t “Orientalize” people, or exaggerate the differences in how societies understand politics or perceive values. Nor should we assume a stubborn, unchanging world. But we also must not assume that these differences do not exist or are immaterial—or that the power of ideas is always revolutionary rather than evolutionary. Without forgetting the importance of values, we need to be wary of a strategy that prioritizes “defending” them, as that approach will likely backfire. Beating people over the head with the idea that they are insufficiently virtuous can only cause resentment. Change may well come; if it does, it will be gradual.1. The 1990s-era Wars of Yugoslav Succession.
2. Of course, the wars ceased to be quite so tidy and one-dimensional as the fights dragged on.
3. Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Penguin Books, 2006), p. 5.
4. Judt, A Grand Illusion?: An Essay on Europe (New York University Press, 2011), p. 23.
5. In Central Asia, myths of popular resistance are less widespread and the real dynamics that brought down the Soviet regimes are much easier to see clearly.