I think Donald Trump is running for re-election and may be seeking a “rally ’round the flag” bump like George W. Bush got with the 9/11 attacks. We see that Trump wants to appear at least as tough as John Bolton, who quit or was fired a few days ago, and has declared that the U.S. is “locked and loaded.” That said, I’m waiting for a refutation of the bit about “the scope and precision of the attacks [coming] from a west-northwest direction.” (The site of the attack, which is also near Kuwait, lies to the west, across the Persian Gulf, from Iran.) It could be that the Iranian government has offered Trump a gift, albeit a gift that may come at considerable cost to its own people.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed credit for a drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil production facilities 500 miles away.
Hours later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directly blamed Iran for “an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.” Pompeo, however, offered no specific evidence.
If the Trump administration is looking for an excuse to attack Iran, I suppose this will do. Even if Mike Pompeo is wrong about Iran launching the attack, Iran backs the Houthi rebels and would likely have supplied the drones that would capable of hitting the target. It would almost be as if Donald Trump got rid of John Bolton just in time (four days ago) to avoid him taking credit or blame for such a decision.
The Washington Post caption: “In a photo first published in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the bodies of Salvadoran migrant Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter, Valeria, are seen on the banks of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, after they drowned trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Tex. (Julia Le Duc/AP)” Image via the Washington Post, June 27, 2019, fair use.
Where have we heard this before? Oh yes, here it is:
July 11, 2002 – “Support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse after the first whiff of gunpowder.” – Richard Perle, then Pentagon Defense Policy Board chairman. . . .
November 14, 2002 – “The Gulf War in the 1990s lasted five days on the ground. I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks or five months. But it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” – Then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. . . .
March 16, 2003 – “I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” – U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney to U.S. television network NBC. . . .
May 1, 2003 – “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” – U.S. President George W. Bush, aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished”.
I am also recalling David Halberstam’s description of the “Five O’Clock Follies” in which military officials daily delivered rosy assessments of the war effort in Vietnam.
So okay, let’s play. According the CIA World Factbook:
Afghanistan has a land surface area of 652,230 sq km and a population of 34,940,837 (July 2018 est.). We are still at war there.
Iraq has a land surface area of 437,367 sq km and a population of 40,194,216 (July 2018 est.). The war with the Islamic State has mostly wound down, but I haven’t heard anyone say we’re finished with the war in Iraq.
So now, drum roll, please: Iran has a land surface area of 1,531,595 sq km and a population of 83,024,745 (July 2018 est.). That is, over twice the land area of Afghanistan and nearly four times the area of Iraq. And something approaching three times the population of Afghanistan and over double that of Iraq. “President Trump said Wednesday [June 26] that a war with Iran would not ‘last very long’ or involve ground troops, as he seemingly dismissed warnings that limited U.S. military action could spiral into a larger conflict.” He proposes this while we are still embroiled in George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (even if we don’t call it that anymore).
I am remembering Jürgen Habermas’ description of a conflict between business leaders and royalty in which the latter felt ordinary people too ignorant, idiotic, and ill-informed to judge discussions with foreign leaders. Of course, a lot of people think the “ignorant, idiotic, and informed” description would apply to Donald Trump himself and so when we see Trump saying that what he says to Vladimir Putin is “none of your business,” what we see is how deep the gulf is between Trump with his sycophants and many of the rest of us.
Meanwhile, I’m remembering another photograph:
The Time caption: “A handout photograph from the German government shows a group of leaders at the Group of Seven summit, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Trump, in Canada on June 9, 2018.” Via Time, June 10, 2018, fair use.
I can’t help but think that foreign leaders on the one hand understand they must deal with Trump due to U.S. military and economic heft. And I’ll grant that Putin probably sees a man he can take advantage of. But for the rest, that must somehow still fail to answer the question, why are they dealing with this man?
It’s hard to say who is more shameless: Donald Trump or Binyamin Netanyahu.
In yesterday’s installment, we learned that Netanyahu was reconsidering the move to a second election after having failed to form a coalition to govern. It turns out that the basic law which controls how Israel is governed is much, much easier to amend than, say, the U.S. Constitution. So guess what Likud’s plan is? Anything, it seems, is legitimate, so long as it keeps Netanyahu in power. Netanyahu may match Trump in shamelessness, but Trump probably can’t match Netanyahu’s execution.
Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger with Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1991).↩
One way to begin any discussion of war with Iran is with a recognition that the country is larger and more populous than either Iraq or Afghanistan. And that the U.S. isn’t finished with either of George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s wars in those countries. So it’s hard to fathom any claim of easy or instant victory, at least on the terms in which the U.S. has fought its existing wars.
How could this time be different? Could it be that when Donald Trump threatens obliteration and “overwhelming force,” he means nuclear force?
We’re actually back to talking about Brexit. Yes, actually Brexit. Which probably means that the Tory power struggle is all but settled in favor of Boris Johnson, at least until he actually wins the Tory contest, when he will need to secure a confidence vote in Parliament.. Of course, nothing else actually has changed. The backstop is unavoidable, no matter what the Tories fantasize. A hard Brexit remains the default. But the new government could well collapse, failing even to secure an vote of confidence.
I remember telling my students not to be oblivious to the student loans they were racking up, but to consider that this is a middle class issue, and that some kind of relief was all but inevitable. In fact, this was manifest with Barack Obama’s steps on income-based repayment but there’s an argument for considerably more. The trouble will lie in that relief, especially for those like myself who racked up huge loans in graduate school, will often flow to those unlike myself who are most able to repay.
I think my own view is that student loans are only one part of the problem in academia. First and foremost, a neoliberal takeover of institutions must be reversed, restoring universities to something somewhat closer to what they are supposed to be, and moving away from job training. Universities are supposed to be centers for the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge; not all knowledge fits neatly with the capitalist profit motive and though we forget this under neoliberalism, there is much, much more to life than the neoliberal particularization and essentialization of human beings as economic units of production and this latter creates severe social problems which also need to be, but are increasingly rarely, addressed as social science programs and humanities programs seem caught in a downward spiral.
Second, athletics need to be divorced from universities. Athletics programs help feed the administrative lust for money, which largely goes to overpaid and self-aggrandizing administrations, and increasingly less toward faculty and research. Visit the University of California, Berkeley, or Stanford on the day of a big game and you see what universities have become really about. Alumni don’t care about current students (except their own children) and they don’t care about what universities are about. It’s about the football, baby. And that needs to end, decades ago.
Third, that anything like two thirds or three quarters of faculty hiring is for woefully underpaid adjuncts should be a scandal. But neoliberalism seemingly makes it all okay. Because despite all these “ivory towers,” we’re anti-intellectual. We just use universities to lie to ourselves about that.
Fourth, that success in attracting grants covering not only the cost of research but helping to defray the administratively-inflated costs of academic programs seem increasingly essential in securing tenure-track faculty positions should be a scandal. Again, neoliberalism, baby, as scholars are particularized and essentialized as economic units of production rather than as what they’re supposed to be: contributors to knowledge.
Fifth, the notion of academic disciplines in the social sciences deserves a very hard look. Right now, they are centers for empire building. They function as blinders as the boundaries between them are arbitrary and ambiguous and scholars inevitably transgress them but lack the preparation to do so. This is deeply damaging to scholarship as the silo walls are reinforced under a neoliberal assault and transdisciplinary scholars such as myself are excluded.
Finally, we need to understand the university, with its mission properly understood, as a social good in and of itself. That we do not informs us that the political and economic elite are not interested in actual solutions to or even in actually understanding problems but rather in pandering to whomever and whatever protects their position.
Joe Biden might not be the only candidate for the neoliberal party nomination tripped up by race. The police in South Bend, Indiana, are tripping up Pete Buttigieg with—oh, gee, this should be a surprise—the shooting of a Black man.
What’s this? Do the British take domestic arguments apparently verging on violence seriously and possibly as a reflection on the prime minister-apparent’s character? It seems some of them might. Not Boris Johnson: He claimed that voters were entitled to know about his character but then refused to answer questions on the incident as if it had no relevance to his character whatsoever. Neither the Telegraph: Their coverage emphasizes that the neighbor who recorded the fight and called police supports Jeremy Corbyn and is a remainer. The Telegraph also suggests that Carrie Symonds may have been distraught about a black cab rapist, whom she apparently had ridden with and been drugged by.
Gotta tell you: The discrepancy in coverage here is jarring as the Telegraph, a conservative paper, appears to seek to deflect blame from Johnson onto anyone else: Symonds or the neighbor, perhaps others yet to be determined (I blame both Symonds and Johnson), while the Guardian, a neoliberal paper, reports that senior Tories are alarmed and that public support for Johnson is dropping.
This is when I wish I had easier access to my old archive because M. Reza Behnam provides a center for the articles I found on elements of social conservatism that deal with eschatology (“end times” ideology) and the link between Israel, armageddon, and the U.S. political class. To say this is an important article is much too cheap.
What isn’t here is much at all on the neoconservative angle, though Behnam points to George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” rhetoric. Bush named Iraq, Iran, and North Korea even though al Qaeda’s leadership was based in Afghanistan and the 9/11 hijackers were mostly (all but four of nineteen) Saudi nationals. Rhetorically, Bush unified these countries to substitute for the old Soviet Union as an essential (to neoconservatives) monolithic enemy.
I have finally managed to get a copy of my dissertation on line. It’s also available in other places, some publicly, but here, I can find it and that, in turn, will make it easier to locate some of the sources I used in writing it.
My dissertation turned out to be much more of an opus magnum than dissertations are supposed to be; it came in at over 400 pages when they’re supposed be closer to 100. But it really was a culmination of my scholarly career to that point, which in turn had unintentionally become an exploration of why my life has turned out the way it has. It’s far from perfect; I think most scholars will tell you in hindsight that they have regrets about their dissertations. But it was the best I could do at the time.
This version is better than what I had managed to previously post on parts-unknown.org thanks to a really cool piece of software called pandoc, which is wonderful for converting between various text formats.
While celebrating Mr. [Ekrem] Imamoglu’s victory, members of his Republican People’s Party, or CHP, cautioned that Mr. [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan had a track record of canceling the results of elections when he doesn’t like the outcome. Mr. Erdogan canceled a legislative vote in 2015 in which the AKP had failed to garner a majority. In recent months, his administration has annulled scores of municipal votes across Turkey, replacing opposition mayors by government-appointed caretakers.
As was suspected when “Mr. Imamoglu had defeated the AKP [Justice and Development Party] candidate in the initial March municipal ballot, but electoral authorities had voided the results after Mr. Erdogan complained of fraud and called for a do-over.”
“I think Iran is showing that it has teeth,” said Charles Hollis, a former British diplomat in Tehran who is now managing director of the Falanx Assynt consultancy. “It’s a way of showing that if they are backed into a corner they are not without means of causing grief.”
I see three additional possibilities, none of which I regard as particularly more likely than any of the others:
Iran’s government has, or perhaps the Revolutionary Guards have, concluded that if war is to come, it’s better to get on with it sooner rather than later. Their assessment would be due to economic sanctions diminishing Iranian war capability (if they in fact do).
A “false flag” operation by either the U.S. or its allies, including Israel.
Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, said “suspicious doesn’t begin to describe” the incident in Gulf of Oman. He previously suggested without evidence that Israel was staging the attacks to undermine Iran.
The video is blurry and black and white. Even if we accept Mike Pompeo’s claim that the attack required a certain level of expertise and weaponry, such a video does not support attribution to any particular state actor.
Some or all of it is bullshit:
[T]he Japanese operator of Kokuka Courageous said the crew saw “flying objects” just before the attack, suggesting the tanker was damaged by something other than mines. Yutaka Katada, the company president, said reports of a mine attack were “false”.
Avenues of information from the region are limited. The U.S. can pretty much say what it wants, claim whatever it wants to claim, and not many folks are going to question it. Remember, John Bolton, who is now Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, has been lusting for war with Iran for decades and he has falsified claims in the past. Further remember that journalists have a long history of falling into line even with dubious White House and Pentagon claims on international affairs.
The Telegraph has the video. Trust nothing, especially appeals to “classified” evidence.
Remember as well that Donald Trump 1) can use a distraction or two, 2) relies almost exclusively on various bullying tactics to “negotiate,” and 3) is stymied when bullying tactics fail. With number three on that list, and Bolton’s lust for war, the situation with Iran can only be described as extremely dangerous. This would not be a war the U.S. can win, any more than it won in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq. Many, possibly millions of, people will die all so Bolton can get a hard-on.
Donald Trump “is historically unpopular for a President by many measures, but no matter what he does the allegiance of some forty per cent of the American public has so far remained unwavering.” Presumably that’s based on nine percent response rate polling.
J. Herbert Altschull, Agents of Power: The Media and Public Policy, 2nd ed. (White Plains, NY: Longman, 1995); David Halberstam, The Powers That Be (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 2000); Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon, 2002).↩
Since I began this adventure, my mother has been urging me towards Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I still have relatives and where, apparently, the cost of living is lower. I have explained to her (and she should already know because she’s read the book) that Pittsburgh is on the frontier between Colin Woodard’s Midlands and Greater Appalachia, the latter likely being the source of authoritarian populism. I think either she doesn’t really buy Colin Woodard’s sociocultural analysis of Yankeedom as being more civically engaged and scholarly-oriented or that she doesn’t think the difference between Yankeedom and the Midlands will be that great (figure 1).
And, to be honest, she may have a point: While Woodard’s history is—to say the very least—illuminating, he may essentialize geographic areas in his description of sociocultural regions; his regional archetypes and sharply drawn boundaries (apparently along county lines) all lack nuance. His description of Yankeedom covers an area mainly from New England to the eastern edge of the Dakotas, some of which has looked rather authoritarian populist lately. Authoritarian populism is probably the most anti-intellectual conservative tendency—even more so than social conservatism or paleoconservatism (the other tendencies in Donald Trump’s oh so very precious base).
So now that I’ve fallen flat on my face in western Massachusetts, she’s gotten involved with the apartment hunt and things are distinctly looking up. I already have two appointments for Wednesday in the Pittsburgh area (with a third expected to contact me Monday).
Understand that the point I made yesterday about barriers to housing that affect the poor, especially the homeless, still applies. But my Mom is not poor—to the extent our lives can be compared, she successfully changed careers while I never really found one I both wanted and could succeed in. She succeeded in developing that career, and though she was a newspaper reporter to the end of her career, she managed to buy a house, save some money, and maximize her pensions. Her involvement in my apartment search quite literally makes all the difference and if I didn’t have her, I’d probably have been homeless for the last ten years (I moved back in with her in December 2008 while I was finishing my M.A. and stayed there throughout my Ph.D. work and since).
I am still not yet caught up on the news. But my eyes are glazing over. Good night.
Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin, 2011).↩
I regret that due to my move, at this writing, I do not have access to track down where I found this map. I believe it was in an online article that pointed me to the book by Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin, 2011) wherein, as I recall, a similar map appears.↩
Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin, 2011).↩
Added discussion of my experience driving with Uber and Lyft, January 29, 5:42 am.
January 29, 7:52 pm:
Pacific Gas and Electric’s bankruptcy is likely to be extraordinarily expensive while yielding little relief from the wildfire-related liabilities it faces.
Parliament has voted against a hard Brexit, but 1) the vote is non-binding (as was the original referendum), and 2) the premise that Theresa May will be able to renegotiate the backstop continues to appear impossible.
January 30, 12:56 am:
Added a New Yorker cartoon. I didn’t see who the artist might be.
The Wall Street Journal article noted above (January 29, 7:52 pm) apparently isn’t reassuring very many people. I’m perplexed: Both sides in this seem legally informed to me. Perhaps I’m wrong about that.
January 30, 8:20 pm:
Kevin McCarthy has drawn suspicion for delays in appointing Republican members to the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. With the delay, he has delayed the hand over of transcripts to Robert Mueller, who is widely thought to be nearing completion of his investigation. Given that Donald Trump has blown his opportunity to fire Mueller, I’m not actually seeing Mueller’s limits here: Can he not extend his investigation as long as necessary? (James Comey)
Epistemologically, conservatives are an interesting case, often tending to prefer almost anything, be it ideology or a notion of how things ought to be to empirical information about how things actually are. It’s harder to know with authoritarian populists, as Donald Trump demonstrates yet again.
January 30, 11:21 pm:
I’m all in favor of sticking it to Pacific Gas and Electric over the California wildfires, and probably just on general principle, but William Alsup, the judge in PG&E’s criminal conviction and subsequent probation for the San Bruno gas line explosion seems to go a little overboard as he criticizes both the company and the California Public Utilities Commission for their handling of fire safety.
At least for this issue, it seems the New Yorker is on a roll. Another of their cartoons added.
January 31, 11:38 pm:
So I’ve been leaving this, um, conflict, ahem, between Donald Trump and the intelligence community—The Deep State—to simmer for a while. The spitballs, even when thrown in public, just don’t impress me much. But now, in the wake of Senate testimony given by intelligence agency heads, Trump is discovering that there are limits to his support even in the Republican-controlled Senate. I was wondering a bit, not very much, what was happening with neoconservatives who opposed Trump. Now, it seems like when the Republican neoconservatives can get a few of their Democratic neoconservative colleagues to join in, well, it’s just a bit reminiscent of old days. (You may ask me if this is a good or bad thing; just don’t ask me if this is a good or bad thing relative to the present good or bad thing. There! Did I just answer the question I’d have let you ask without you even having to ask it?)
When I say I’m a BA-A-AD vegan, this is what I mean:
via the New Yorker, fair use (I hope).
Well, that, and a few other things.
I generally think music—including that crap I’m inclined not to count as ‘music’—is one of the ways that generations create their own identities. Just as rock and roll irritated earlier generations, rap and hip hop irritate me. But then there are my less charitable moments. The gist of which an unknown cartoonist for the New Yorker has captured well:
Sadly, many folks around where I live will fail to appreciate the noises that a radiator makes when it heats a room. They’re pretty discordant and often startling.
One of the things that really sucks about driving for work is that people who don’t actually have to do your job get to make decisions about how you’ll do it. So, for example, Uber and Lyft simply relay orders for riders to be picked up where it is illegal, unsafe, or otherwise problematic to pick up. Except, that is, with Uber’s Express Pool service, where Uber sets the illegal, unsafe, or otherwise problematic pick up locations just to make riders walk to them (to save money and, supposedly, but not really, time).
San Francisco blames Uber and Lyft for its traffic problems, allegedly targets drivers for additional enforcement, then uses the results of this alleged targeting to justify blaming Uber and Lyft, expects drivers to pony up for a business license (to my knowledge, no other city in California does this), and then, after picking drivers’ pockets every way it can, demands to know if drivers are making a minimum wage (we generally do not). Nobody makes any effort to make our jobs legally easier, we have no control over pickup locations, and we’re just sitting ducks.
There are places I avoid picking up. I go off line to avoid pickups in San Francisco because one $300 ticket (for picking up in a bus stop where there really was no alternative pickup location available) for a $5 fare is enough, thank you very much; and in Sonoma County, where the business seems disproportionately about drunks who drink to get drunk and conflate such drinking with sociability (and no, this has little to do with the growing winery or microbrew industries). But even so, I still occasionally encounter cops who only care about the law, not about the practicalities of some poor schmuck trying to make a living. In their honor, I present the latest Existential Comics strip:
The philosopher-cop is Socrates. I didn’t study a lot of philosophy in my academic career but whoever it is that draws this strip is brilliant.
Boris Johnson imagines that the European Union will grant Britain an out from the backstop. It won’t and everything else is a sideshow that can, at best, only delay the inevitable. So fasten your seat belts and hold on tight: The powers that be have apparently agreed there will be no second referendum. That means a hard Brexit.
Oh gawd. Yet more “[w]e are fully committed” crap. Somebody really needs to explain to Pacific Gas and Electric’s public relations folks that they have completely and totally annihilated the credibility of that phrase through extreme overuse.
Seriously, when it seems virtually every public statement you issue contains those words, it all adds up to an acknowledgment of numerous commitments that, since you’re constantly having to talk about them, obviously have gone unfulfilled.