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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Very well stated: Speech in North Carolina legislature on their new budget

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 October 2014 at 10:50 am

Posted in Government, GOP, Politics

Politicians who cannot comment on climate change because they are “not a scientist” speak out about Ebola

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Inconsistency, thy name is Politician. Emily Atkin reports at ThinkProgress:

On Saturday, political blogger Lee Papa made an interesting observation about Republicans who widely recommend panicking about Ebola. “Does any Republican talking about Ebola say, “I’m not a scientist” like they do with climate change?” he tweeted, referencing the long list of political figures who claim to not know the science behind climate change, even though they actively oppose any policy to fight it.

On Monday, Papa answered the question for us with a resounding “no.” As might be expected, most prominent Republican politicians who are not willing to talk about climate change because they lack qualifications are willing to talk about Ebola, despite the fact that they lack qualifications. As might also be expected, all those politiciansfavor strict policy measures to deal with the disease, even though most scientists say Ebola is not easily transmittable and does not pose a widespread threat to Americans.

“Republicans are glad to tell you that either the evidence is inconclusive or that they are too dumb to understand the science when it comes to climate change, so they think it’s wrong to act like it’s a crisis and refuse to do anything to slow or halt it,” Papa writes at his blog Rude Pundit. “However, they will go bugnuts crazy and try to cause panic when it comes to the science around the spread of Ebola, even when they have it wrong.”

The list of perpetrators is long. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 4:09 pm

It is not religion that is wrecking the Muslim world

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Take a look at what else is going on. Religion is often used as a kind of tarpaulin: it covers a bunch of disparate things, presenting only itself to view. Best to look under the tarp. Sean McElwee writes in Salon:

Earlier this month, the perennial debate about religion and atheism was stirred up again by the combustible combination of Bill Maher, Ben Affleck and Sam Harris. And, while much ink has already been spilled dissecting the debate and its implications from nearly every conceivable angle, much of that coverage has been problematic, to say the least.

At the core of this debate is the extent to which the religion of Islam is responsible for the violence of ISIS, and other atrocities often committed in the name of god. But the problem with such debates, as I’ve argued previously, is that they mistake cause and effect. Religious belief is ultimately historically contingent: Religious beliefs, like cultural beliefs, are shaped by the material circumstances that give rise to them.

Those, such as Maher and Harris, who wish to defend “liberalism” against the tyranny of “religious fanaticism” are attempting to shift the blame from actual historical circumstances to ephemeral ideologies.  Should we blame the rise of ISIS on “religious fanaticism,” or on the failed 2003 invasion of Iraq, the de-Baathification policy, the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the disastrous regime of Nouri al-Maliki? Furthermore, there is a long history of colonial oppression, military aggression and economic hegemony. These complaints, as well as historical grievances relating back to the Crusades, inform the views of radicals like Osama bin Laden.

Further, while the violence of ISIS is put in terms of a “caliphate” and religious symbols, such strategic violence has been deployed in war for centuries. The political scientist Stathis N. Kalyvas has written a rather comprehensive essay on the military tactics of ISIS and how they relate to other guerrilla fighters. He notes,

there is nothing particularly Islamic or jihadi about the organization’s violence. The practices described above have been used by a variety of insurgent (and also incumbent) actors in civil wars across time and space. Therefore, easy cultural interpretations should be challenged. Third, if the Islamic State ought to be characterized, it would be as a revolutionary (or radical) insurgent actor … Revolutionary groups can appropriate a variety of other causes (nationalism, ethnic or sectarian identities), but their revolutionary identity is central and helps make sense of much of their activity.

Similarly, the best way to understand Osama bin Laden is not as a religious radical yearning for virgins in the afterlife, but rather as a political actor repelling what he sees as a colonial incursion. This is the preferred interpretation of Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who spent three years hunting Osama bin Laden. He writes in “Imperial Hubris,”

One of the greatest dangers for Americans in deciding how to confront the Islamist threat lies in continuing to believe — at the urging of senior U.S. leaders — that Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than for what we do. The Islamic world is not so offended by our democratic system of politics…

He argues that, “What the United States does in formulating and implementing policies affecting the Muslim world, however, is infinitely more inflammatory.” So rather than seeing terrorism as the outgrowth of religion, it stems from, “the Muslim perception that the things they love are being intentionally destroyed by America that engenders Islamist hatred toward the United States …

This leads to the core delusion pushed by the Maher/Harris/Dawkins “New Atheist” team: that religion exists independently of social, political and economic systems, and that religion influences these structures. In fact, the opposite is true: Religion is largely the handmaiden of economic and political power. It is fluid, able to mold to whatever needs are suited to those wielding it.

As Karl Marx writes,

The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.

His colleague Friedrich Engels adds in a letter to Franz Mehring,

Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives.

While these ideas seem radical, there are important real-life examples of the ways in which changes in material structures shift cultural norms (or ideology). Take, for instance, birth control. The advent of birth control (a material change) has dramatically changed our political, cultural and legal superstructure. Women rapidly joined the workforce and elite educational institutions were almost entirely reshaped. As contraception has improved, social norms against sexual promiscuity have declined. Regardless of what religious people believe, their opposition to birth control was rooted in a simple, but now outdated, calculation: Premarital sex used to bear very large costs in the form of children and disease and these costs have been minimized. Jeremy Greenwood has demonstrated persuasively that the sexual revolution has been rooted in profound material changes, which have altered cultural norms.

These days, religions are already shifting to accommodate this sexual change, just as the church has accommodated to largely accept divorce, will sooner than later accommodate to accept gays, and will eventually accept other norms now considered odd. As population growth presses on economic and environmental constraints, stigmas about contraception and abortion will inevitably erode. And yet the religious texts will remain the same; they will simply be interpreted differently. . .

Continue reading. One good point made later:

When Maher criticized all Muslims, he paints with a broad brush manifold people, interpretations, cultures and sects. But what he is crudely attempting to say is that some religious beliefs are responsible for violence in the area of the world he is discussing. Might there be some other source of violence in the region and anger at the United States? Might colonization, imperial interventionism, deprivation, war, murder and widespread theft explain the chaos in the region? Might Sykes-Picot be of some remaining relevance? (Ironically, the “New Atheists” share with Christian conservatives their desire to use history as nothing but an ideological bludgeon.) The militant Islamic ideology, as we have seen, is not unique to the region; such tactics are commonly used by guerrilla groups fighting against overwhelming power. It’s as if Sam Harris and his cohort believe that were we to ignore religion, the Palestinians would be content to live under an occupying force. History suggests otherwise.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2014 at 9:10 am

Democracy in the Mideast will require participation of Muslim political parties

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Neil Thompson has an insightful essay at Informed Comment, worth thinking about:

When many Westerners think of the Middle East today they tend to see a region gripped by religious and sectarian violence. What all the many conflicts have in common is the participation of inflexible and fanatical groups of fighters dogmatically opposed to the further modernization and Westernization of their home countries. If they seize power, it is feared that they will impose a backwards-looking theocratic form of governance across the spaces that they dominate, and will trample on the human rights of vulnerable groups. The panacea for this in the eyes of many Western citizens is to temper religious fervour by separating it from politics and implementing a secular and liberal democratic system of government. However, no Middle Eastern state has yet to obtain such a system by its own efforts, while Western attempts to enact nation-building have so far ended in failure. Consequently, Western policymakers have tended to back authoritarian governments as a bulwark against fundamentalist rule.

The chronic weakness of state authority in the Middle East, coupled with the flourishing of extremist movements, once helped to maintain this ‘strongman’ model of governance. Yet, this strategy is now regarded at best as a stop-gap measure rather than a long-term solution to the region’s myriad problems. The default Western response to this double-sided problem has been to propose the transfer of functions performed by some religious organizations (for example healthcare) over to a stronger state. Under this scenario, religious groups would cease to perform political functions and the state would guarantee their freedom to practice their beliefs without interference.

Towards Religious Democracies

But what if the West’s secular state model is a merely a product of its own historically violent struggles with modernity in the 17th century? Up until this point in time, the very idea that religious authority should have no place in the political system of a European state would have been controversial to say the least – just as it is in parts of the modern day Middle East. But the creation of democratic systems in Indonesia and Turkey help to disprove the notion that Muslim or Middle Eastern cultures are incapable of living under democratic systems. But the ‘secularist’ price for Islamist participation in the political process was the promise not to pursue a theocratic or one-party model of government once in power.

While the Middle East’s secularists cannot keep the influence of Islamist organizations out of political life, Islamists are seemingly unable to monopolize power without resorting to the same type of oppression that discredited their republican or monarchical enemies. Democratic elections therefore offer a third path between two oppressive political systems. However, developing organic and sustainable democratic processes undoubtedly takes time; the collapse of Libya and Iraq as functioning states shows that removing a dictator does not immediately create the conditions for political transformation. If anything, the ongoing travails within these countries helps to reinforce that the Middle East has been through a whirlwind of political ferment since decolonization began a mere five or six decades ago.

Stop Taking Sides

The emergence of democratic states in other parts of the Islamic world suggests that they can also emerge in Arab and Middle Eastern states. It is also highly likely that any indigenous political group that attains significant popularity under these systems will be influenced by Islam. This is in much the same way as many Western political parties are influenced by Christian frameworks and assumptions, such as Germany’s Christian Democratic Union. Just as Western politicians have to be in favor of ideals such as “freedom” or “democracy“, leaders in Muslim-majority countries also have to appeal to the core values of their societies. Invoking Islam is both a legitimizing measure and a short-cut to the communication of ideas.

Most Islamist movements also offer programs of action that do not necessarily threaten the West. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood’s determination to secure power via democratic processes diverges with the aims of groups like IS or Al-Qaida’s Syrian franchise Jabhat al-Nusra. The West’s tolerance of the removal of elected Islamist political movements by force should be regarded as a strategic blunder that has helped to encourage jihadist narratives of victimization. The recent killing of al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane is a case in point. While this Somali militant group’s profile has undoubtedly increased over the past few years, its rise to prominence was facilitated by the overthrow of its more locally-focused predecessor in a US-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. By being seen to take sides in inter-Muslim disputes and colluding against fundamentalists with their local enemies, the West has indirectly encouraged more extreme forms of Islamism. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2014 at 6:28 am

Warehouses: The largest undercover bribe the FBI ever paid to a public official

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Jessica Garrison has a fascinating story at Buzzfeed. If you ever order stuff from Amazon, check it out. The photos at the link are stunning.

MORENO VALLEY — The largest bribe the FBI has ever paid to a public official in a sting operation wasn’t to a United States senator or even a state lawmaker. It was to a lowly city councilman in this gritty, unglamorous Los Angeles exurb, where a fifth of the population lives below the poverty line, and local headlines play a steady drumbeat of grim news such as the daytime murder of a grandmother at a gas station.

Councilman Marcelo Co didn’t seem particularly interested in improving the town. Even as he ran for office in 2010, he faced criminal charges for renting out apartments that were slummy and unsafe. Midway through his first term, he was caught on tape taking $2.36 million in cash from an undercover agent he thought was a land developer. Co told the agent that for enough money he would vote “yes” on any land-use plans. “I don’t care if it’s the shittiest can of worms,” Co said.

Despite Moreno Valley’s depressed property values, control over its land is actually worth a fortune. Indeed, nearly every major retailer in the world covets the kind of real estate the city offers: empty acres near freeways and train tracks at the epicenter of one of the largest but least noticed land rushes in America.

This arid flatland, shimmering and indistinct in the heat and smog, is just perfect for warehouses. These are not, however, warehouses as most people think of them. These are massive, futuristic behemoths that have proliferated on a scale seen nowhere else on the continent to usher in goods from Asia to consumers across a vast swath of the United States.

Americans have grown to expect the goods they want delivered to their homes or nearby store shelves within days or hours. But all this two-day shipping, click-to-ship, and get-it-on-your-doorstep-by-noon-tomorrow has come at a price, paid by the people who live in the shadows of the mega-warehouses: lung-stunting, cancer-causing pollution and, in some cases, political corruption.

The underside of our consumer economy can be seen in a tale of two cities, just 20 miles apart. There is Moreno Valley, where developers have shoveled in money to win the political approvals to build new warehouses. And there is Mira Loma, a tiny community already awash in warehouses and suffering some of the worst pollution in America.

“Everyone wants a new flat-screen TV,” said Ed Avol, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine who has spent the last two decades studying the effects of air pollution on children. “Everyone wants new clothing. But nobody thinks about how it got [to them.]”

Moreno Valley and Mira Loma lie in the vast sprawl east of Los Angeles known as the Inland Empire. Three decades ago, the area was a bastion of orange groves, military bases, and light manufacturing. But in recent years, a number of Inland Empire cities, which even many Southern California residents couldn’t locate on a map, have quietly become pivotal to a transformation in the global economy.

More than 40% of all shipping containers imported to the United States enter through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Most of that cargo then moves through the Inland Empire.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 9:40 am

New Zealand politics is a lot rougher game than I thought

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Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher write in The Intercept:

Agents from New Zealand’s national police force ransacked the home of a prominent independent journalist earlier this month who was collaborating with The Intercept on stories from the NSA archive furnished by Edward Snowden. The stated purpose of the 10-hour police raid was to identify the source for allegations that the reporter, Nicky Hager, recently published in a book that caused a major political firestorm and led to the resignation of a top government minister.

But in seizing all the paper files and electronic devices in Hager’s home, the authorities may have also taken source material concerning other unrelated stories that Hager was pursuing. Recognizing the severity of the threat posed to press freedoms from this raid, the Freedom of the Press Foundation today announced a global campaign to raise funds for Hager’s legal defense.

In August, one month before New Zealand’s national election, Hager published Dirty Politics, which showed that key figures in Prime Minister John Key’s National Party were feeding derogatory information about their opponents to a virulent right-wing blogger named Cameron Slater. Hager published evidence in the form of incriminating emails, provided by a hacker, demonstrating coordination between National Party officials and Slater. The ensuing scandal forced the resignation of a top Key ally, Justice Minister Judith Collins, and implicated numerous other National Party officials and supporters. Despite the scandal, the National Party won a resounding victory in the election, sending Key to a third term as prime minister.

On October 2—less than two weeks after the election—detectives from a regional “major crime team” came to Hager’s Wellington home armed with a search warrant authorizing them to seize anything that might lead them to the identity of his source for Dirty Politics. The warrant shows that prior to the raid, a police “intelligence analyst” had studied Hager’s media appearances in an effort to discover information about his sources for the book, taking particular note of references Hager made to knowing the source’s identity.

While there is no evidence that Hager’s work on NSA documents was a factor in the raid, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Politics

Findings from the Great Kansas Experiment

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According to Gov. Sam Brownback, the finding is that if it all goes wrong, you’ve just not done it enough.  Heather Digby Parton has a terrific column in Salon:

Some years back, Salon’s Thomas Frank wrote a highly regarded book called “What’s the Matter with Kansas” in which he pondered why people who have so much to gain from the various government policies to redistribute wealth and provide some security in an insecure world would vote against their own self-interest and elect people who promised to reverse all the policies and programs that provided those things. Basically Frank observed that the Republicans were able to get people to vote for them on social issues, implement conservative economic policies and blame the “liberal elites” when they failed. He famously described it like this:

Out here the gravity of discontent pulls in only one direction: to the right, to the right, further to the right. Strip today’s Kansans of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land, and next thing you know they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEO, and there’s a good chance they’ll join the John Birch Society. But ask them about the remedies their ancestors proposed (unions, antitrust, public ownership), and you might as well be referring to the days when knighthood was in flower.

As Frank wrote here in Salon just a couple of weeks ago, in 2014 the chickens all came home to roost — and they settled right on the big comfortable lap of Governor Sam Brownback, the firebreathing Christian conservative and far right economic zealot. Brownback was the perfect realization of Frank’s thesis, a hard edged social conservative who, after an aborted presidential run in 2008, swept into office on the 2010 GOP tsunami and immediately announced he was going to do God’s work by turning Kansas into a giant GOP petrie dish:

Appearing on Morning Joe on MSNBC in New York, Brownback was interviewed about the recent tax cuts he signed into law that will reduce individual rates and eliminate income taxes for the owners of 191,000 businesses. “On taxes, you need to get your overall rates down, and you need to get your social manipulation out of it, in my estimation, to create growth. We’ll see how it works. We’ll have a real live experiment,” Brownback said, “you’ll get a chance to see how this impacts a particular experimental area, and I think Kansas is going to do well,” he said.

How’d that work out for him? As Frank explained in his recent update on Kansas, he blew up the lab:

It is as though Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay had been transplanted to Topeka and given a free hand to sculpt the state however they chose. You’ve got runaway incompetence in the state administration; heavy-handed partisanship, with conservative Republicans crushing moderate Republicans after the familiar pattern; corporate money—Koch Industries is based in Wichita—sloshing around like a vast underground aquifer. You’ve got privatization, deregulation, and an enthusiastic race to the bottom. (Gotta be more business-friendly than those people in Missouri!) You’ve got tax cuts so severe they’ve brought on fiscal catastrophe and thrown the state’s school system into crisis. You’ve got bullying by state legislators against organizations that criticize Brownback’s healthcare plans, and hints of pay-to-play corruption just under the surface. And, of course you’ve got credit downgrades as all this becomes known to the outside world.

But never let it be said that Brownback is throwing in the towel. You see, conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed. And in this case it’s been failed miserably by other Republicans and, needless to say, Democrats. He went back to his roots this week and spoke to John Brody at the Christian Broadcast network and explained what was really going on. (It’s possible he was speaking in tongues at least half the time since it made no sense at all):

I think they (the mainstream media) want what’s happening in this state to fail that they’re shopping for a factual setting to back that up because it’s working…I think the left is just so desperate. They want this model to fail so bad that they can’t wait for it to and they just want to get me electorally before we get on through this and prove that this is working.

The fact that the entire state is falling apart at the seams is no indictment of his policies. It’s an indictment of the left. And the media. If they’d stop wanting it to fail it wouldn’t fail. Or something. Brownback’s in serious trouble and may lose the seat he won four years ago by 30 points. On the other hand, the Governor does have a secret weapon. Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State and hardcore conservative I wrote about a while back may get the job done by employing the best electoral strategy they have going for them: vote suppression. Just today the GAO released a study showing that where these Republicans have managed to pass these onerous Voter ID laws, they’ve managed to suppress the Democratic vote substantially and Kansas was one of the most successful:

Age. In Kansas, the turnout effect among registrants who were 18 years old in 2008 was 7.1 percentage points larger in size than the turnout effect among registrants between the ages of 44 and 53. ….Race or ethnicity. We estimate that turnout was reduced among African-American registrants by 3.7 percentage points more than among Whites in Kansas. ….Length of registration. In Kansas, the reduction in turnout for people registered to vote within 1 year prior to Election Day 2008 was 5.2 percentage points larger in size than for people registered to vote for 20 years or longer prior to Election Day 2008. . .

Continue reading. It just gets more amazing.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2014 at 1:20 pm

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