Tag Archives: rachel maddow

LePage, race, and what this is all about

Trigger warning: racism, Nazism

If you haven’t watched this detailed recap of the on-going contentions against Governor Paul LePage (R-Maine), please do. While laying out all of these racist statements is in and of itself useful, what stood out to me most in the whole set is what Rachel Maddow’s guest Bill Nemitz said-

“What nobody seems to be able to get their head around is this fixation on race. I mean, if, yes, Maine like many other states has a real problem with this inflow of drugs into our state, and there’s unanimity on that, that we need to do something about it. What people can’t figure out is why whenever he raises this problem, he has to overlay this issue of race on to it, rather than just address the fact that we have to stop the drugs.”

In a nutshell, what has left many confused is the way that a rational, reasonable discussion about social problems caused by drug trafficking and abuse has been transformed by LePage into rants about race.

The reality of drugs in Maine is a problem for security and public health, independent of the race of the sellers, consumers, and others affected by the availability of drugs. But that understanding is of that in and of itself as an issue. The presumption here is that in LePage’s mind this issue is in and of itself relevant, rather than a potential opportunity to raise his reading of a manifestation of a broader political reality – one that is about race.

That’s a concept that might, to those not used to reading certain historical pieces, seem strange, but if you have read up on some branches of anti-fascist criticism, you may have run across a similarly confused assessment. Here’s Ernesto Laclau on page 121 of Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (published in 1977):

[T]he radicalized German petty-bourgeoisie which was experiencing in a confused way the post-war crisis, the iniquity of the Versailles Treaty, inflation, foreign occupation, etc., was interpellated by nazism as a race. All the anti-plutocratic, nationalist, democratic aspects, that is to say all those elements which constituted the identity of the dominated classes as ‘people’, and which thus expressed their contradiction with the power bloc, were present in Nazi discourse but the interpellated subject was a racial one. Through this identification of popular traditions with racism, a dual aim was achieved: all the jacobin radicalism proper to a radical confrontation with the system was retained whilst its channeling in a socialist direction is obstructed.

Like much of Laclau’s work, it can be difficult to decipher this tidbit, but in essence the exact same transformation as that of today’s Governor LePage played out under the Weimar Republic. A set of messy yet interrelated issues – the Versailles Treaty, inflation of the Reichsmark, French and Belgian occupations of the Rhineland – were not really addressed by the Nazis so much as subsumed into their politics within which race was an inescapable foundation. What could have been subjects in and of themselves became vehicles for discussing the primary issue for Nazis under their worldview: the topic of race.

Ausstellung "Der ewige Jude"(A 1937 Nazi poster describing Jewish people as having “typical external features”.)

What does it say that a remarkably similar dynamic to one of the Nazis’ has cropped up in, of all places, Maine? It’s easy to very this as another piece of evidence to sew into the broader debate about whether the Republican Party under Donald Trump is veering into fascism. That’s too easy though. This is a public official elected governor in 2010 and reelected in 2014. His racist comments on this particular issue began before the Iowa Caucuses and before eleven of the seventeen major candidates in the Republican primary had dropped out.

Perhaps this says less about LePage or Trump as individuals than it does about the Republican Party nationally.

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The Afghanistan made by the US

In the wake of a recent attack on US service members in Afghanistan, the long ignored issue has come to the fore in national discussions. For the many in mainstream media who particularly highlight veterans’ and military issues, like Rachel Maddow, this was an opportunity to ask if we’re still an occupying presence in Afghanistan (technically, no; effectively, maybe).

Even in reporting focused beyond the experiences of US military, there’s a looming expectation. The attacks on not only the few US service members remaining in the country but also on religious and ethnic targets, namely the Hazara minority, are presented as the alternative to a larger US military presence. The implication is that they’re on the ends of a fulcrum, with US presence dampening the terrorism and related violence, which proliferates in our absence.

Another, more seldom presented, way of understanding the situation is that perhaps the recent attacks – against Hazara and US military – are themselves the result of the way that US became involved in the country. Far from opposites, they essentially encourage each other.

Long before the US’s presence there under the auspices of the War on Terror, the funding of counter-Soviet jihadists armed radical Sunni groups in Afghanistan to the teeth. Long hostile to Hazara and other ethnic groups who are predominantly Shia, this already threatened to tip the already militarized balance of ethnic power within the country against the Hazara and others. The Soviet invasion was, of course, a colonial nightmare, like most of the Soviet escapades through central Asia. This one, however, has reached even more nightmarish heights because of how another power, the US, perpetuated the internal conflicts.

Even as the Cold War melted away and new global struggles captured the US’s interest, Afghanistan remained a site of proxy war. A number of ethnic groups, including the Hazara to some extent, were the backbone of the Northern Alliance, the primary opponents to Taliban rule – the ultimate state-like incarnation of those same radical Sunni circles. Supported by many neighbors, primarily those further north and with similar ethnic compositions, this and other groups fighting against the Sunni supremacist and largely Pashtun-run Taliban were effectively off the US’s radar until Sunni supremacists hit here. Suddenly, those same largely Pashtun Sunni supremacists transformed from militants upsetting another empire to militants striking within the heart of ours.

With the overwhelmingly US-driven NATO presence then arriving in Afghanistan, you might expect the US’s alignments to change. Not so, as Pashtun politicians rode the wave of US-backed democratization into a new form of power. Even outside of positions explained by the formidable Pashtun voting bloc, they tended to rise to the top. Hamid Karzai, later the president of Afghanistan, rose to power first as an appointed interim leader at least to some extent condoned by the US military occupation.

The most notable exception to that trend was Mohammed Fahim – a prominent leader within the Northern Alliance and a non-Pashtun. His exceptional status is dampened somewhat when it’s pointed out that he was Tajik, not Hazara, and like many Tajiks, he was a Sunni Muslim, and at that one who studied Sunni Islamic law. What’s more, his role within the nominally moderate Karzai administration was to find as much common ground as possible with radical Sunnis and draw them back into non-violent politics. He died of natural causes just before the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014.

Beyond the political world as well, the part Pashtun Khaled Hosseini captured the US’s interest with The Kite Runner. While not fully Pashtun and quite vocally in favor of expanding the opportunities for Hazara and other ethnic minorities, his non-Pashtun ancestry is apparently Tajik, like Fahim. In his most prominent of several well-received stories, he painted a sympathetic picture of the Hazara as a uniquely constrained minority within Afghanistan, even as he at once embodied the greater attention paid by the US to the other groups within and from the country.

Perhaps most iconically however, there’s Sharbat Gula, better known the world over as simply “the Afghan girl”:

Sharbat_GulaSteve McCurry’s “The Afghan Girl” taken in December 1984.

She is also Pashtun, and like a large number of Pashtun people in the part of the world, even though not a Taliban supporter, she was sympathetic to their causes and was essentially open to their return. As she put it, quite accurately for many Sunni Pashtuns in all likelihood, under the Taliban “there was peace and order”.

That Pashtun-designed peace and order disintegrated with the US shifting from Cold War proxy support, to 1990s disinterest, to War on Terror occupation. The many modern militant groups currently threatening Hazara and US military members alike, are all committed to recreating some small slice of that in an era in which US drones can and regularly do coldly strike their villages along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

It’s a rather indirect path from US intervention to a toxified Afghanistan, in which the political choices are often between Pashtun-dominated/Sunni supremacist rule and an anemic centrist government that regularly negotiates with that precise political bloc. That said, there are recurrent patterns here – about whom the US chooses to arm, to fund, to advance, and otherwise to support. Our relationship with the many different Pashtun communities in the world is one riddled with inconsistency, but that stands in sharp contrast to a monolithic disinterest towards all things Hazara, which clearly extends out into higher standards for other non-Pashtuns too.

There are other, more common ways of noting that the US presence isn’t necessarily a check against extremism. If nothing else, our military presence anywhere in the Islamic world serves as a reason to radicalize. Beyond that, however, there’s a very simple question of which people in Afghanistan have been the recipients of our resources.

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The featured image for this article is an ethnographic map of Afghanistan, from here.

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The F Word: Revisited

Before taking the risk of making what isn’t just about Trump sound like it’s just about Trump, let me quickly remind you of some facts. There are anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican elements in American popular culture, which Trump and others have tapped into to gain political support. The Republican Party’s leadership and Trump’s competitors as a result haven’t actually condemned him for his past or recent comments. In fact, their failure to chime in with Trump in agreement has come under fire within certain parts of the conservative media.

These political ideas, about who can enter or live within the US, knit together a worryingly familiar set of policies. They are the path to success within the Republican Party’s presidential primary and a means to an amount of popularity in broader US politics as well. Even as we recognize the larger context, it seems necessary to note exactly what the political appeal that Trump is. I was one of the earliest to note there is a word commonly used to describe those politics. It is fascism.

During the Bush years, anti-fascist activist David Neiwert penned a series of essays which today read like a careful examination of the different political movements at that time which have ultimately evolved into Donald Trump’s base. One of them attempted to wrestle with one of the most common features in looks at fascism – the various competing lists of fascist political goals, attributes, and policies. There’s not much of a consensus on what a fascist looks, talks, and thinks like.

I think his choice of the ultimately best one, which is also one of the most specific, might be of use when looking over Trump’s rhetoric and plans and doing as Rachel Maddow asked earlier this week – deciding if we can use the word fascism to describe them (spoilers: you can). Neiwert recommended we listen to Oxford professor Roger Griffin in times like these. Griffin’s definition is a full paragraph that we can properly sink our teeth into:

Fascism: modern political ideology that seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and often presses for the destruction of elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. Despite the idealistic goals of fascism, attempts to build fascist societies have led to wars and persecutions that caused millions of deaths. As a result, fascism is strongly associated with right-wing fanaticism, racism, totalitarianism, and violence.

We can easily break that apart into a few different elements: a call for the regeneration of the country, the basis of that being a policing of who can be assimilated or otherwise included in the nation, which necessitates certain forms of repression and disruption to democratic norms. As Neiwert summarizes it, “palingenetic [phoenix-like in rebirth] ultranationalist populism.”

Here’s how The Donald, his followers, and his competitors stack up against that worldview:

Make America Great Again

trump-announce

From here.

His slogan, borrowed from Reagan, is now purchasable on hats, on t-shirts, and bumper stickers. As its origins make clear, almost everyone runs for office with improvements in mind, potentially restorative ones even, but the centrality his campaign gives this phrase does mirror the fascist appeal towards national rebirth.

What little policy specifics Trump has currently doled out hit the exact same note as well – calling for an overhaul of US policy towards China (currently “a typical example of how politicians in Washington have failed our country”), the administrative pile-up at the Veterans’ Administration (“when Donald J. Trump is president, it will be fixed – fast”), and on immigration (present policies “must change”). On taxes, he showcases his plan as a restoration of competitiveness:

“Politicians in Washington have let America fall from the best corporate tax rate in the industrialized world in the 1980’s (thanks to Ronald Reagan) to the worst rate in the industrialized world. That is unacceptable. Under the Trump plan, America will compete with the world and win by cutting the corporate tax rate to 15%, taking our rate from one of the worst to one of the best.”

Gun policy is just about the only issue he doesn’t quite sound this way on, but even there he’s suggested reworking the background check system, instituting a national right to carry, and encouraging concealed weapons in military facilities. After all, when making “America great again, we need a strong military” meaning”we need to allow them to defend themselves” which entails conceal-carry apparently. The resurrection of the nation makes a guest appearance in the end.

Woven into almost everything he does are familiar tropes to almost every major Republican candidacy these days – a witnessing of others feeling stung by being cheated by a broken system, appeals to a better time this country could see again, and so on. None of that is particularly unique to Trump, or unique to fascists, but it’s just one key rhetorical and ideological aspect of their politics that he has similarly centered.

Morning in America: for whom?

So all of the major candidates, especially in the Republican primary, have made their case for how to rework this country into something more efficient, more fair, and just generally better. What Trump has done, at a unique decibel level, is make it incredibly clear that his better world has reserved seating. He literally launched his campaign while making that clear:

Part of what’s made some of the shock over his recent comments seem silly is that he’s been saying this sort of thing all along. He entered the arena blaring this message: that the improvements he promises to work for will come at a price and that’s millions displaced. An emerging plurality in the Republican primary appear to have answered him that that’s not a cost at all as far as they’re concerned.

His more recent statements on Muslims just expand the scope of who, in his theoretical presidency, would be drawn on the other side of a line of acceptance. This cuts straight to the ultranationalist core of fascism. The line demarcating the inside and the outside has to be strictly applied in most historical forms of fascism, and it tends to create elaborate metrics to allow a tight boundary indeed.

The omnipresent role that that issue plays in his campaign is unique within the Republican field. The degree to which he departs from his fellow candidates, however, is not very large. Questions of which broad swathes of the world’s population are beyond the pale are just answered a little more narrowly by the rest of the field.

Marco Rubio is certainly encouraging people to think of essentially all Muslims in that way as well, but not as interested in a Trump-like heavy handed set of immigration and entry policies. Jeb Bush has gone on record in favor of restrictions on Muslim refugees and said quite a few things about “anchor babies.” Arguably, Trump’s successful jump to the top of the polls while fixating on this type of discussion has paved the way for them and others to speak similarly.

Fie the constitution

Trump’s most recent comments of that caliber advocate a set of policies that are pretty unambiguously not legal. While his prior policy proposals have largely stayed within legal lines, he has been curiously cavalier with how he talks about basic constitutional freedoms.

There are the regular conventions – a disdain for the media, which is an essential check within our democratic system – but also a troubling recurrence of intimidation and assault on protesters by his supporters, which Trump has pretty much encouraged. It’s even led to a near death.

Just as there’s been a race to match Trump on immigration and related policies, at least one competitor has tried to match him on illegal demands. Ben Carson all but argued for a religious test for someone to become president – a flagrant violation of the First Amendment’s ban on religious tests for political office.

While Trump and Carson stumble on some rather large and obvious questions of legality, there’s a more casual disregard for democratic convention that’s permeated the Republican primary. A small amount of bucking trends and tradition is probably healthy, but the party establishment and Trump have painted themselves both into a corner. Trump continues to not so subtly hint he might break with the party’s process and make an independent run. The party, meanwhile, has tried to keep hold on him and other candidates all the more tightly in response.

In US politics, our parties are more of a pragmatic organization solution than strictly part of our democracy or constitutionally recognized, let alone mandated. That said, disrupting their normal process could, arguably, have an undemocratic effect, in terms of upending expectations that primary and general voters can have about candidates. In that light, Trump’s fight with party leadership and their own interest in changing around party rules and standards to either accommodate or challenge him both represent a casual departure from democratic norms.

That’s the same “just do what needs to be done” mentality that when applied to constitutional and human rights can lead to dark places, particularly when imbued with the zeal of someone saving their country from an Other which fills them with rage, disgust, and terror.

Popularity contests

Speaking of other candidates playing catch-up with Trump, there’s one element of the definition that Neiwert’s three word summary catches and Griffin’s paragraph misses: populism.

Here’s where Trump and the rest of the Republican field most dramatically part ways. While he has promised not to threaten Social Security and other key entitlement programs, almost everyone one of his competitors has suggested something similar. Their tax plans vary a little less neatly, but Trump’s has the distinction of most overtly appealing to the working and middle classes, to a degree that few others really do.

Before someone starts calling Trump a Democrat plant, realize he’s still to the right of Democrats on those and other economic issues. Particularly the Warren wing of the Democrats stands in sharp contrast with him on questions of international corporate tax policy, but their party as a whole is generally fixated on growing and increasing entitlement and pension programs (although, often, not by much). Amid expansion-minded Democrats and restriction-minded Republicans, Trump sticks out oddly, seemingly wanting to keep things as they are more or less.

Within the American political landscape, there’s arguably a large chunk of the electorate who could be described as populists, more than liberals or conservatives. They’re often explained as those who tend to skew towards tradition and other conservative points on social issues, but favor economic redistribution and other liberal policies economically. It’s often bemoaned that members in that group who vote Republican aren’t voting in their own self interest. It’s seldom asked why they’re doing that.

Arguably, part of what Trump has done is very careful tilt his policies in that groups direction. He’s not asking them to give up their benefits to Republican cuts, and his racially-charged campaign is arguably encouraging fears in that group that the Democrats will ask them to give their benefits over to someone scary and different.

One of the recurring questions in this campaign has been the dumbfounded demand of how Trump catapulted himself to the lead in the Republican primary, later replaced with asking how he’s stayed there. Here’s an answer: he’s better replicating this fascist checklist, primarily in terms of a few economic populist policies (available to those on the right side of the nation’s social, cultural, economic, and political boundaries). There’s a ghoulish impulse that taps into, of thinking that if there’s fewer mouths to feed, there’s more for me.

Pairing that with ultra-nationalist rhetoric allows him to maintain significant support among conservatives, but while also being uniquely appealing to many populists sometimes turned off by conservative economic policy prescriptions. They have to be populists who don’t mind extremist rhetoric, or, ones vulnerable to being whipped into fear or anger in the midst of ultra-nationalist fervor.

The language used, particularly when paired with disdainful talk for “political correctness” also helps pick up a scattered group of extremist conservatives, and potentially even some populists, who aren’t scared off by conservative economics but want more intense conservative social policies. In short, it spreads the support thin, but it also picks up support in demographics boilerplate Republicans were potentially overlooking.

The fact that fully stitching together this fascist policy plank helps someone leap to front-runner status within the Republican primary should give you and hopefully everyone in this country pause. Donald Trump isn’t just arguing for fascism on the campaign trail and, unrelatedly, leading in the primary. His articulation of an essentially fascist collection of policy proposals and rhetorical tricks created his lead. He’s giving the kind of people who vote in the Republican primary what they want, and what they want, looks to be fascism.

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The resurrection of anti-LGBT politics

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism

The coming 2016 elections have struck many as a retread of the same issues that dominated the past couple presidential elections. Already, much of the national discussion has centered on the morality of restricting and ability to limit the social and economic options available to women and people of color. Most immediately, there has been a steady focus on the right to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, refugee status, and freedom from police violence, all familiar subjects particularly in 2012.

It’s interesting to see the ways that similar discussions around LGBT rights have been a less remarked on element. Rachel Maddow’s post-2012 recap, which highlighted issues like marriage equality and anti-LGBT hate crimes, almost sounds like a dispatch from another country.

Part of why the conversation has shifted so much is the huge shift on marriage – there aren’t fun maps about varying legal recognitions to circulate anymore – but also, that the anti-LGBT rhetoric has taken on a different tone. Republican movers and shakers have stayed more on course with the plan of avoiding this type of conversation about marginalized groups. It’s still a key topic in the primary, but one that’s less boldly discussed.

In the past couple of days, there’s been some indications that the comparative quiet within the GOP on LGBT rights may not last much longer. On Monday, the Heritage Foundation released a report throwing every argument in their arsenal at anti-discrimination laws. From tradition to the free market to a perceived insult to race-focused anti-discrimination measures, they pulled almost everything out.

Heritage is no longer the huge player that they once were in social conservative politics, but this still speaks loudly about the continuing anti-LGBT animus within the conservative movement. Spurred on by the defeat of the Houston area’s anti-discrimination measure and the Family Research Council’s recent libertarian-friendly arguments against anti-discrimination laws, it’s a pretty telling indication of how conservatives are mobilizing against LGBT rights. The FRC has been making noises during the past few weeks about federal work towards broader anti-discrimination laws.

kevin-swanson-x750_2.jpg
Kevin Swanson, from here.

So far, much of the Republican presidential field has competed to appeal to the conservative political base on the issues of abortion, counter-terrorism, and immigration. Ted Cruz’s brief but recurring interactions with anti-LGBT figures like Kevin Swanson hint that more uniquely LGBT-related issues might make a return. If the FRC, Heritage Foundation, and other major policy groups within the conservative movement continue to push for action against LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination laws, it’s likely that this could again resurface as a defining issue in the race, both in primaries and in the general election.

Marrying the visceral anti-LGBT language that remains common in some of those circles to the more libertarian-friendly and business-minded language the FRC and Heritage Foundation have been developing is an interesting strategy. The Supreme Court’s rulings against  anti-LGBT laws on personal conduct and marriage recognition have depended on the support of Justice Kennedy, a libertarian-ish Republican, not particularly moved by traditional, socially conservative arguments. Using this type of language to justify discriminatory practices might be an attempt to drum up support among economic conservatives, containing their periodic defections – whether in court or in the ballot box – on this issue.

That’s admittedly just one of the many arguments advanced against the various anti-discrimination policies. Only time will tell if Republican candidates pick it up with the hope of recreating the anti-LGBT lurch towards their party that many credit with their only win in the presidential popular vote in over two decades.

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2016: the mixed bag

As I mentioned yesterday, enacting significant reform on a laundry list of issues is something that the Democratic Party by its very nature is going to have trouble doing. At an absolute minimum, it’s something they will need to do at the least by controlling three national centers of power: the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House. With that in mind, many of the vague predictions you can make this early about how the major parties will do in the coming 2016 election have found reason for the Democrats to celebrate. Rachel Maddow, admittedly an often optimistic voice, noted that as a presidential election year turnout will likely be higher, favoring the Democrats in down ticket races. What’s more, elections in the Senate are built around six-year terms, so a number of the seats that Republicans have to defend within that body will be freshmen elected in the unusually Republican-favoring midterms in 2010.

Here’s a bit of a rundown of why in spite of that Democrats shouldn’t rest on their laurels, so to speak, and need to be extremely organized if they want the chance to do something more than the waiting game that the Obama presidency has unfortunately become.

What goes around comes around

The rhythms to Senate elections do favor the Democrats in the coming election in a way that they largely haven’t in other recent elections. In 2014, they had to maintain the seats they won in 2008 which coincided with high turnout for even a presidential election year, but during a midterm and with that sort of a turnout. In 2012, the Democrats were largely defending their unusual gains from the 2006 midterms. In 2010, they saw one of the most quintessentially midterm-esque elections in modern US politics. 2008 is in many ways the closest model to what might happen in 2016.

That year was a reelection year for the class of Senators who had benefited from in the shellacking the Democrats took in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Six years later, they faced a broad rejection of the Republican military, economic, and political policy planks. All their strengths had become weaknesses which the Democrats could and did use against them. With growing interest in a proactive economic populism and lingering distaste for Republican military policy, Republican senators elected in 2010 might prove similarly vulnerable in 2016.

That said, these six year patterns are just that – patterns. 2016 might usher in a new class of Democrats but within a scant two years it will be the Democratic members elected in 2012 that will be vulnerable in yet another midterm election with most likely the lower turnout that favors Republicans. Maybe 2018 won’t be 2010, but that’s a risk that the Democrats are going to have to consider when working with whatever they can get after the coming election. Any majority or plurality they can get in the Senate comes with a ticking clock.

The game is rigged

What’s more, it’s not clear what numerically the Democrats could get in the Senate. They current sit at 44 seats, with ten of those seats up for election. The majority of those will be in both relatively uncontested general elections for the Democrats and with sitting incumbents – a solid six of the ten. California will be an odd one out in that the general election is highly likely to go to the Democrats, but they will be paying special attention to the fielding of a new candidate to replace the retiring Barbara Boxer. On the other hand, Colorado will probably be a hard fight, but one with a sitting Democratic incumbent, Michael Bennet. Since he previously pulled off a narrow victory in 2010, it will likely be harder for the Republicans to unseat him than many might think. Nevada and Maryland will see their sitting Democratic Senators replaced, although given that it is a presidential election year, the Democrats have reason to be optimistic about both those elections as well.

That’s all good news, but it still only leaves them with back where they started, with 44 seats. There’s other reasons to be optimistic, as the sitting Republicans in much of the Midwest (particularly Illinois) have made a number of blunders that the Democrats will likely be able to exploit. That said, the Senate is inherently biased towards Republicans given the way it allots representation, the way modern US’s population is distributed, and the way political parties have targeted different groups. By design, the Senate divvies out representation by state, awarding lower population states with equal representation to more populous ones. The US has steadily become a more urban nation, as a growing portion of the population lives in metropolitan areas in just a handful of states. Meanwhile, the Republican party has increasingly become the party of rural voters and the Democrats the party of urban voters, for a number of reasons.

pop density dem gopFrom here.

Independent of that, whichever party has received the most voters for their Senatorial candidates nationally tends to win upwards of sixty percent of the available seats. But, because of those effects, those wins aren’t rewarded equally. The Republican Party in 2010 received a plurality, not an outright majority, of votes for Senate candidates and still received that lion’s share of the available seats. In 2014, the Republicans also pulled in the most votes, and that time with an actual majority of votes cast for that type of candidate. Still, it was a smaller lead than the Democrats had in 2008, and yet they received more seats. With the country’s population tightly concentrated in a few urban areas, geographically larger rural areas hold disproportionate political power.

This is a small but consistent force in the Senate. If Democrats in 2008 had received even an equal proportion of seats as Republicans did in 2014 for a smaller lead in overall electoral returns, they would have gained 15 not 12 seats. That would have securely landed them above the sixty vote filibuster threshhold. The dramatics necessary to appease independent Joe Lieberman wouldn’t have been necessary, the death of Senator Ted Kennedy in office wouldn’t have had quite the same national implications, and the demands of centrist Democrats would have been mitigated. The structure of the Senate works against Democrats in general, particularly as it comes to acting on their returns.

Just end the filibuster, then the Democrats will have a usable majority!

Gladly.

More seriously, the filibuster is something that the Democratic leadership has previously made it quite clear that they’re unwilling to part with. That’s because the pendulum of Senate elections always swings back, making it an annoyance when you’re the majority but a valuable bulwark when you’re the minority. Because of how Republicans stand to benefit more easily from favorable years, the Democrats are especially reluctant to part with the filibuster. As I noted yesterday, the Democrats are a political party, and not one of the few ones that are necessarily committed to radically transforming the political reality of the country they live in (and even those are often hesitant to do certain reforms). The filibuster has evolved out of different procedural elements to the system that the Democrats quite obviously work within. It’s a part of them and they are a part of it, so they’re not terribly likely to dismantle it.

That said, maybe this time will be different. The Democrats are facing a small but persistent challenge from parts of their base to get certain things through the Senate. They have 41 basically guaranteed seats, three that they are likely to retain, two or three they are likely to gain this year, and another two or three they might just pull off under the right circumstances. That leaves them with at most around 50 seats. Assuming they keep the White House (which is probable), that would give them a voting majority in the Senate, but not one that’s filibuster proof. Maybe that would change things.

So we’ll see if they can decide to brave the possible storms in 2018 and 2022 in order to do something in 2017. A likely outcome, however, is that the Democrats look at their probably slim gains and play it safe and keep the filibuster on for the time being. They might not even make it over the finish line to a filibuster-able majority for that matter, in which case the filibuster would still be a lifeline for them in a Republican-majority Senate.

What about the House then, the People’s Chamber?

The lower congressional house is in many ways a body that is less wired for the type of political party the Republicans have mutated into. You can’t win a fraction of the votes in a largely rural area that another person did in a vastly more diverse state and yet have the same administrative and political power. Everyone has more or less the same number of constituents (710,767 as of 2010 redistricting) and differences in power are largely created by either individual ability or the privileges divided up among those in the ruling, majority party. What’s more, all representatives are up for election every year on a two-year cycle, leaving none of the electoral wave patterns built into the Senate.

Here’s the problem for the Democrats though: the House is horrifyingly gerrymandered. Others have crunched the state-specific numbers, but on a national scale, the 2012 House Elections showed the power inherent in choosing the congressional districts’ boundaries. Collectively, the Democrats had a 1.30% lead in aggregate election returns, which translated into a 7.49% lead in sitting representatives for Republicans. Since 2008 that is the only national election in either the House or the Senate where the cumulative party winner was mismatched with which representatives were seated. What 2016 is going to show is whether that was a fluke or the new normal.

The boundaries drawn after the 2010 census were largely done at the state level by Republicans elected in that unusual year, and according to procedural norms they’ll be with us until the next census in 2020. The 2012 House elections are precisely the circumstances in which a new trend would become visible that otherwise would blend into the background. At the Senate level, lower turnout and the structural advantages to rurally based parties disguise the effects. In midterm election years, a similar effect happens in the House, obscuring the level of gerrymandering. 2012 might just have demonstrated what Democrats need to expect for the coming years – a protracted battle for a representational majority even with a clear (if sometimes small) majority of votes. The Republican House is probably here to stay for a long time.

So there’s no hope?

The issue here is not that the Democrats have no meaningful opportunities in this election and other upcoming ones. The point is that if the Democrats want to actual use electoral power to create and change policies and otherwise alter the political realities in this country, they have to take the opportunities they have for that. As I’ve mentioned before that goes against the very nature of their party as an organization, and anyone watching has seen that dynamic play out in the recent years.

Recently, there was a decision made to retain the filibuster because they expected to ultimately fall victim to it. There was poor multitasking on issues in the narrow window between 2008 and 2010. There has been little effort to directly confront the gerrymandered situation besides a vague sense of waiting it out. In short, they have chosen to pass up momentary opportunities off of the belief that doing so would guarantee other brief chances available later on. It’s a strategy that stores up moments for later use and at least so far never cashes them out.

The question everyone from everyday registered Democrats to sitting elected party officials need to ask before the adrenaline rush next November is if that strategy makes sense. If it doesn’t, what can they be mindful of needing to do before it’s once again too late?

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Jus Soli

Trigger Warning: racism, anti-immigration politics, deportation, antisemitism, antiziganism, fascism, The Holocaust, slavery

Last night, Melissa Harris-Perry filled in for Rachel Maddow on the latter’s nightly news program and brought to light a worrying political process happening within the Republican presidential primary. Before Donald Trump’s entry into the race, the immigration policies that dominated were variations on a light-handed approach designed to avoid alienating the increasingly nativist Republican base or the growing Latin@ share of the electorate.

His bombastic arrival stuck out so much because of its overt hostility towards Latin@ immigration, and his campaign has maintained its sizable lead by calling most recently to dismantle jus soli – the “right of the soil”, or in plain English that location of birth can create citizenship. Harris-Perry noted that the various Republican competitors looking to unseat Trump as frontrunner have decided to jump on board, at least becoming willing to consider dismantling the birthright citizenship system central to not only US law but also this country’s image of itself.

jus soli
This would make the US only the second mainland American country to not have total jus soli. In the above map the darkest blue countries have absolute jus soli, light blue with restrictions, and pale blue previously had and have since abolished. From here.

The inevitable question that dismantling jus soli as a legal principle leads to is this – what are we doing instead? The legal world by and large contrasts jus soli with jus sanguinis, the “right by blood”. There are fewer world maps of countries proudly proclaiming they maintain citizenship and related legal rights as a matter of bloodlines, and for obvious reasons. It’s generally a remaining legal practice from earlier, imperialistic, undemocratic eras.

Throughout Europe, jus sanguinis largely became practice as a way of retaining the citizenship of members of the same ethnic group, scattered across conquered holdings away from their nation’s core population. To the extent that jus sanguinis has a democratic history, it’s one tarnished in the long view of history. It echoes a kind of classical Athenian democracy, reserved for a minority of unenslaved men with the right pedigrees.

That notion of citizenship was the norm for most of democracy’s history in Europe, first under Greek and Roman governments that all steadily descended into a toxic mix of corruption and imperial ambitions. Those ideas about democracy later resurfaced with that particular legal quirk in the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment. The many ethnically German thinkers who saw the slow rise of a more modern nation-state out of feudal localism are often forgotten, but their ideas on citizenship left their mark on the Europe that emerged from the medieval era. While Immanuel Kant (although himself quite racist) viewed race as something historically gained and otherwise subjective and environmentally-influenced, later German philosophers like Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel developed the idea of a sort of objective ethnicity without complexity or question.

The path from those opinions to the (then) perpetual statelessness of Jewish and Rromani people was long and complex. But the idea that ethnicity is something objective, with no context, complexity, or ways of operating across otherwise distinct groups helped create the policy of total exclusion of those groups. It helped create a system for legally classifying them. It ultimately bears some responsibility for the violence against them that made possible.

Historically, jus soli also has its own skeletons of course. It’s popularity in the Americas is inseparable from its use under settler colonialism. That history, however, is complicated. The rights of the soil were systemically denied to large populations within the United States, namely to settlers of color, slaves, and indigenous peoples. That said, at many times jus soli was a legal concept used to press against those actions and to insure marginalized communities’ right to live as they wished within the country.

While the origins of birthright citizenship in the United States are complex, its current centrality to our legal system is a byproduct of Reconstruction. The Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause expands already present ideas about natural citizenship often tied into location of birth and declared that literally everyone “born or naturalized in the United States” is a citizen the same as everyone else. At the time, that was a radical statement of equality between former slaves and former slavemasters, but it has since evolved as a legal value that defines a central preoccupation in US law – our shared equality (at least in theory) before it.

Rooted in the national abolition of slavery, our brand of absolute jus soli has been a defining legal tool to expand denied rights to a wide array of disenfranchised groups. In short, the proud history of what it means to be a citizen of the United States articulated time and again by this country’s first president of color and the multiracial and otherwise diverse coalition that was key to electing him is impossible to fully separate from birthright citizenship. When we talk about the country we are becoming, we have to acknowledge the ways in which the expansive and unhindered practice of jus soli in the US has key in us going just this far. That is part of the context we have to understand the rising contempt for birthright citizenship as being at least in part within, a call for a metaphorical destruction of that new concept of what this country could be.

The featured image of this article is from a July protest against deportation policies that would separate birthright citizens from their parents, from here.

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Let’s focus on Christie, starting with his past…

In the on-going realization that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was at least indirectly implicated (for systemically poor staffing choices, if not his personal involvement) in the illegal closing of most of the lanes of the George Washington Bridge, there’s been a shifting of sorts in how the issue has been discussed. With a large amount of information now released, and Christie’s office’s  intentional involvement confirmed, a lot of the criticism has actually moved from him and his staff towards those defending them. That’s not a necessarily counter-productive way of addressing the issue – after all, well-respected figures giving Christie a pass is an issue, but let’s not lose track of the radical revisiting of Christie’s record that this scandal calls for.

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For instance, what was the above? Was it really just a baffling endorsement? Or was it the result of a threat or fear of a threat? Beyond that and a million other odd “coincidences” that appear to have followed Christie throughout his years as governor, there’s also the small unknown matter of how he retained his job as a United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey. In that case, Christie’s political actions are documented, and in short, it’s been established that he maintained a fraudulent corruption case for as long as possible in order to harass a Democratic state Senator.

Political cartoon showing democratic donkey telling a sprinting Christie
(Let’s not even get started on this understanding of the issue, that ignores both the corruption and its defenders in the press, from here.)

The current scandal has brought many of these old memories up, of Bush-era venality which extends as a consistent pattern of corruption to this day. The political discussion should, at least to some degree, remain centered on Christie, but what’s more, we need to acknowledge how the situation has changed. The question we need to ask ourselves is no longer whether Christie is corrupt, but what corrupt activities he engaged in either personally or through his staff.

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Working in an era of turbulence

This Veteran’s Day (also called Armistice Day), I think it’s important to recall what I said last year at this time: that the conversations about and even by veterans in US politics are often detached from reality. In light of that, I think it’s useful to talk about an often overlooked group of current and former military service members, who we not only don’t use in combat but ideally hope to never need to call on. While admittedly far from the risks of combat, the members of the US military that manage our nuclear stockpiles shouldn’t be overlooked. Today of all days it seems worth asking whether our society is meeting their needs.

If Rachel Maddow’s still intriguing 2012 book on the emerging issues within the US military is to be believed, we aren’t successfully supporting those service members, and consequently are leaving our entire society vulnerable to accidents and other nuclear hazards. The problems noted by Maddow are various, but she focuses on one key issue for those that guard the nukes. New recruits assigned to managing nuclear weapons systems generally left the service at their first chance because, as one officer explained, “standing alert duty in missile silos is not considered ‘deployed,’ and ‘if you are not a ‘deployer,’ you do not get promoted.'”

In essence, as one 2008 military self-assessment noted, “We need a nuclear career field”. The lack of an established meritocratic ladder for the military members who control our nation’s vast (I’d argue too vast) reserves of weapons of mass destruction isn’t just a simple matter of not giving these service members stability and security – it impacts our military’s know-how. As Maddow reported, we as a country have multiple 1970s-era nuclear weapons that need a special chemical component (code name: Fogbank) replaced in its trigger. The unique chemical mixture was classified at the time of its development and due to the constant coming-and-going of nuclear technicians “no one today remembers the exact formula for making it.” Our institutional memory is shot and we’re paying the price for it.

Ultimately, this isn’t an issue that’s really restricted to the military, although the risky outcomes there are quite dramatic. As the Digital Arts Service Corps – one of the many smaller subsidiaries of the Americorps program – notes on their website that the new and by most measures modestly successful Americorps system is “not a career path” but “a one year commitment that you can re-up for a few years, but that’s about it”. The situation is even less rose-y if you realize that these subdivided parts within Americorps aren’t even directly connected to the work many volunteers do as a part of getting established in the public sector. They’re more analogous to the obamacare insurance exchanges – as sites where volunteers can connect with projects, rather than the institutions directly hiring them and ostensibly trying to pass down their knowledge about their position. The current system does work fairly well, but it has a weakness in how it fails to efficiently retain useful information.

Arguably, this failure to invest in these positions as even potentially long term positions is reflective of a growing trend that Al Jazeera covered at the beginning of this month. Jobs that last for a few years are something of a dying breed in the US, which is reflective of a number of factors, not least among them the comparative privilege of a well-educated workforce and the less wholesome growing disinterest within powerful corporations and even government to provide both job security and the possibility for at least mild advancement or accruing of seniority.

This common cause among military, public sector, and even private sector workers seems like the elephant in the room that few corporate media sources or powerful people will acknowledge. This experience of finding advancement out of positions that barely qualify as employment difficult seems to be widespread. Within the context of various minimum wage workers protesting for better working conditions, it’s even begun to crop up. Most recently, a protest last week among Walmart employees interested in addressing a number of concerns prioritized three demands: “a living wage, higher and more frequent merit raises, and clear path to career advancement free of favoritism and based on merit and not personality tests.”


In other words, yes underemployment is increasingly its own phenomenon, separate from unemployment, from here.

The spate of protests against a number of fast food franchises and the similar on-going rebukes of Walmart and other corporate stores have attracted most of their media attention with the focus firmly fixed on changes to the minimum wage or greater union rights (with the aim of then negotiating higher wages). That’s ultimately just one part of a larger problem – that most wages are stagnant and that accessing stable and secure employment is increasingly difficult.

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When Maddow finally goes too far…

TW: Syrian conflict, US imperialism

There’s an interesting post that’s made rounds on Tumblr as of late that talks about Rachel Maddow as being fundamentally an apologist for US imperialism and other forms of military aggression, who wraps herself in the cloak of queer liberation and democratic norms. It seems that never has this been more clear than in her most recently electronically available show, which she bookended with two very intriguing if unsettling pieces on the current push within the US for intervention in Syria.

First, she mentions how Obama has broken with previous policy (namely that of Reagan’s) by requesting congressional approval for the conflict before acting (at least, so far). This builds on her book, Drift, which in turn is a more publicly palatable version of her earlier academic work. In short, it’s at least a democratically investigated and analyzed intervention. To be fair, her original works made clear that democratic standards provided some checks on imperialist and interventionist drives within the White House, but there’s no rigid guarantee in that, so she conveniently fails to raise that issue.

Ultimately, she concludes the show on a similar note, asking her audience to imagine a US under the leadership of Obama’s 2008 rival McCain. She runs through the list of countries McCain has suggested we should be bombing, have invaded, or continued the Bush-era occupations of. The implication is clear – the democratic elements to political governance in the US have resulted in a less militaristic governance than they could have (twice even!).


(From here.)

In short, she’s framed the entire discussion around how this intervention (presumed to be inevitable in essence) constitutes a “better” interventionism. The actual ostensible goals – of detaining Assad, penalizing chemical weapons use on the international stage, or cutting short the on-going Syrian conflict – all become minor or nonexistent parts of the policy equation. “It’s not as bad as it could be” cloaks the entire show. Never mind whether we’re an empire, at least we’re democratic in our pursuit of global hegemony!

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I couldn’t say it any better myself

If you’ve followed me for a while now, you probably know that I’m not above reading the riot act to Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, or the two of them simultaneously, but today’s back-to-back broadcast of Haye’s All In and Maddow’s show covered an impressive range of issues with a level of depth that every channel and every show should emulate.

So I’ll give them that.

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Two strikes, MSNBC

Much as I maligned Dan Savage’s discussion with Chris Hayes a few months ago, I have to give him credit – he at least asked an openly queer person to analyze and comment on policies and attitudes that impact queer people. Last Friday, while Alex Wagner was filling in for Lawrence O’Donnell, that was sorely lacking as MSNBC juxtaposed Rob Portman’s new public support for marriage equality with the most vocal voices at the on-going Conservative Political Action Conference. Instead of hearing a very specific gay man (who, of course, is cisgender, White, and an upper class celebrity) speak as though he represented the entire queer community, we actually had MSNBC ask for commentary from either closeted or straight people on one straight man’s opinions on queer people and associated policies. Oh dear.

There was, at the least, a variety of perspectives presented. I agreed fairly strongly with Ari Melber’s point that the Rob Portman’s “evolution” to a queer-friendly perspective is underwhelming in that it took one of his children being queer for him to even consider changing his publicly supported policies (and then took him two years to do so – because this should really be about whether he’s comfortable). Ana Marie Cox, who has been subjected to false allegations of having had an affair with a woman but didn’t comment as to her own sexuality in denying them, retorted, “I don’t think it’s necessarily sad that this is what it took Portman to change to his mind. I’m a supporter of marriage equality – I’ll take what I can get.”

The meaning of that statement cannot be divorced from Cox’s primarily undisclosed sexual orientation. If, though previously married to a man, Cox identifies as queer in some way, her disagreement comes from a very specific place. She is deciding that policies that impact her, which she wants altered in a specific way, are important enough that while Portman’s support might decenter people like her from the discussion, she’s willing to accept that as a price for political change. On the other hand, if she identifies as straight, this sentence is pretty damning. In that case, this was a declaration that as a supporter for that policy she has the right to determine what support for it is valid and what is not – that such decisions aren’t the exclusive property of those directly affected by it. In a literal sense, she would be giving herself permission to determine the shape and form of activism and policy-outcomes that don’t directly impact her, essentially speaking over the voices of actually affected queer people.

Before we cheer on Ari Melber or even Alex Wagner for avoiding such potential foot-in-mouth statements, it’s worth noting that not only were both of them party to this (presumably straight-only) discussion focused on straight people’s feelings about legal recognition of queer families, but they’ve been connected to other such discussions in the past. Melber, while sitting in for Wagner on her usual afternoon show, led a discussion at the end of last year on then Senator Chuck Hagel’s anti-gay comments in the context of his eventually successful installment as Defense Secretary. Like this (ostensibly straight-dominated) analysis of Portman’s opinions on his gay son, that panel was also entirely composed of straight or closeted people. To be charitable to MSNBC, it’s not like they have a resident expert on the intersections between their own queer activism and military policy (oh wait).

Naturally enough, the panel included Catherine Crier, who explained that Hagel’s commentary occurred so long ago as to be meaningless. After all, it was the Clinton administration! Back then dubstep didn’t even exist! And Crier was backhandedly hinting about how Janet Reno was a lesbian! If anyone’s an expert on whether that matters, it’s definitely Crier.

T shirt which reads - 'just another straight person for gay rights'
(Not pictured: an explanation of who gets to define what gay rights are and what the best or appropriate means for advancing them are.)

In a nutshell, this has happened twice. At least in the past few months, on two occasions has MSNBC put together a panel of exclusively straight (or closeted) people to talk about policies and attitudes that straight people have imposed on or developed about queer people. From this (perceptively) straights-only zone, twice now comments from people who haven’t publicly identified as queer have declared that a statement by a straight person aren’t nearly as problematic as some people view it to be. It’s wrong when this happens with regards to race, and the same dynamic is problematic when it happens with regard to sexual orientation.

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The unreality in America

TW: gun violence, political killings

Over the past couple of days, one particular study has set much of the US blogosphere on fire (along with a few more established media commentators). In a nutshell, congressional representatives consistently estimate their districts to be more conservative than they actually are – independent of their party identity (although Republicans overestimate more egregiously). It’s not just you, US politics really are distorted.


(Both elected Democrats and Republicans estimate their districts to be much more conservative than they actually are, from here.)

While I’m glad that someone’s gone ahead and quantified this phenomenon, I’m sadly not surprised in the least. The US has long had politics that seemed unreal, a fact that comes with nearly daily reminders. I was particularly struck by that confusing part of living in the US while watching Rachel Maddow of all news programs last night. She was explaining the significance of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and noted that he had connections to so many different countries that the US was in direct or indirect conflict with.

She ran through the list: “He buddied up ostentatiously with the Castro brothers in Cuba. He aligned himself with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – President of Iran. He signed giant oil contracts with the Chinese government. He bought weapons and fighter jets from the Russians.” It’s a bit curious that we think of these deals and connections as making Chavez exceptional, rather than reflecting the oddly solitary nature of the US in the world. Maybe Chavez was friends with many of our enemies, but doesn’t that imply something about how many enemies we have?

I had another such rude awakening this morning while commuting to work. In front of me I noticed a peculiar bumper sticker:


(A bumper sticker proclaiming: “Exist” written in scopes and firearms, from here.)

There’s a lot being said with that one word, but let’s simply start with the obvious: it say exist, rather than co-exist. It blatantly rips off and responds to that image that’s at least iconic to me, but it modifies it. Rather than mutual effort to understand respect one another, it’s a declaration of a right to violence. It’s a summary of a growing political philosophy in this country – that violence is a means of establishing one’s freedom. It joins the ranks of scores of earlier joke “hunting licenses” and maps with scopes on them.

But there’s also an important question in light of the evidence that the political realities of the US are not what they seem, that those stickers should raise: are they so impacting because of an actual threat of violence? Or are they so shocking because while vocal, they’re such outliers from the rest of the US? In other words, are they the last stand of a disappearing political subculture? And what risks do such last stands pose?

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Maddow nailed it

Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you know I’m not going to avoid pointing out worrisome statements even from journalists or media personalities that I happen to think do some good for us all. That’s a rule for myself – not even Rachel Maddow is above criticism. But her piece from earlier this week on the discrepancy between the sort of questions asked of the Obama administration by average citizens and members of the media is pretty much flawless.


(Her piece comes after the White House Press Corps complaining about their lack of access to the President to question him over his meeting with former competitive golfer, Tiger Woods. Photo from here.)

Watch the whole thing – it’s a few seconds longer than five minutes, but it’s an incredible and even revolutionary point packed into there. In short, the average citizen doesn’t have the resources to do journalism, but we have to at least approximate it when actual journalists have transformed into stenographers and gossips.

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Civilian casualties in Afghanistan aren’t actually down

TW: occupation of Afghanistan, civilian casualties

If you read Democracy Now! today, you might have been greeted by one misleading headline: “UN: Afghan Civilian Casualties See First Decline in 6 Years“. On its face, that’s a true claim that indeed the UN’s own press release confirms. As far as they can tell, fewer non-combatant civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2012 than 2011, and no previous set of consecutive years in the occupation has had that same relationship. That being said, that state has a context.

Most obviously, this is the first year with fewer such casualties in the history of the occupation – which is one of the longest in modern politics. For a single drop now to actually translate into substantive and immediate good news, it would have to be significant. Unfortunately looking over the UN report on earlier years’ casualties (available here, on page 1), it’s quite clear that the current number of casualties in 2012 (2,754) is still significantly higher than any year prior to 2010.


(Civilian deaths in Afghanistan topped 2,000 in 2008 and 3,000 in 2011, before declining last year, from the aforementioned UN report.)

Much like the number of casualties among US troops in Afghanistan, comparing the figures before, during the implementation of, and during its more recent years the surge may provide us with some sense of the impact of that policy. Just as Rachel Maddow previously pointed out about the number of casualties among our troops, the number of deaths skyrocketed under the surge when much of the conflict in the country was willfully reignited. Virtually no one disputes that fact – but many, including the Obama administration, have presented the surge as a successful strategy, since over time the number of troop casualties diminished. The same trend can be seen in civilian casualties – as the surge continued, many conflicts were forcibly resolved, in some sense “solving” the problem.

But comparing either the casualties among troops or civilians between the most recent years and those just before the surge’s implementation suggests that this isn’t a case of bitter tasting medicine. The number of deaths is stabilizing, typically with a larger number than prior to the surge. Putting more boots on the ground doesn’t seem like it will reduce violence in either the short or the longer term.


(US troops’ casualties in Afghanistan, as reported on by Rachel Maddow, here. The red arrows indicate November 2009, before the surge, and November 2012, when it had been in place for two consecutive years, marked with the red bracket.)

Ultimately, this is indeed good news. Compared to 2011, a few hundred Afghan civilians lived last year. But compared to 2009, that number could possibly have been a few hundred more. It’s worth asking whether US policy in Afghanistan could be better.

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Maddows gotta Maddow

I’m currently traveling, so I’ll keep this quite brief. I’ll just point out that Rachel Maddow is doing an excellent news series starting this coming Monday on the way the US was led into the Iraq War under false pretenses. If her promo for it last night is any indication, it’ll be unfortunately all too relevant with regard to false or misleading information being used to legitimize a strike on Iran or Syria.


(The imaginary tunnel mockingly used to explain Romney’s comments during the debates last year that Syria is Iran’s “pathway to the sea”, from here.)

I might end up live blogging that, so be sure to check my twitter Wednesday night to see if I find any parts of it worth repeating or elaborating on there.

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