Oklahoma Abortion Bill Is Just Raw, Mafia-Like Intimidation

The Oklahoma Legislature on Thursday passed a bill that would effectively ban abortions by subjecting doctors who perform them to felony charges and revoking their medical licenses — the first legislation of its kind.

Pictured: Nathan Dahm, who clearly sees bigger things for himself. 

 

The measure passed by the Oklahoma legislature will be struck down by any court- it’s as blatantly unconstitutional as it is punitive. Senator Nathan Dahm, the sponsor, said he knew it would be challenged, but that he hoped it would lead to overturning Roe v. Wade. It won’t, or course- if Mary Fallin (who is openly angling for a Trump/Fallin ticket and has November on the mind) signs it, it’ll get slapped down by the first judge whose desk it slithers across.

 I don’t know if Dahm is stupid enough to believe his bill will make the Supreme Court, or just cruel, but it doesn’t matter. This bill isn’t about the law. It’s nothing more than intimidation, making it chokingly oppressive to provide women’s health services in Oklahoma. It’s about putting fear in the heart of anyone who wants to perform a vital (and as we seem to need to be reminded, legal) service.  It’s goons smashing windows and breaking kneecaps, and it is designed to encourage violence by legal labelling any abortion doctors as felons. You don’t want felons in your neighborhood, do you Clem? Of course not. Let’s go get ’em.

That defending the bill will cost money doesn’t make this less a mafioso tactic. The mob rarely did anything that didn’t turn a profit, but they knew that while war would cost business, it was sometimes needed. And that’s what this is: the biggest bomb yet dropped in the war against women’s health. Cost doesn’t matter. Can you really put a price tag on fear?

Breaking! Mars Oceans Wiped The Hell Out By Tsunami

 

Pictured: Mars

OK, so this isn’t as much “breaking” as “happened 3.4 billion years ago”, but it is still pretty amazing.

Dr. Rodriguez said that some 3.4 billion years ago a meteor crashed into the ocean triggering a mega-tsunami that plowed into the coast with waves as tall as 400 feet. The meteor left behind a crater about 19 miles across. When the water retreated into the ocean it dropped 30-foot tall rocks that obscured the original shoreline and also left behind channels that provided clues to the ocean’s elevation.

It’s always important to remember that we live in a solar system so vast and in a universe so unimaginable that it can wipe us out- our science and our Shakespeare, our dumb wars and our fierce loves- without even noticing. It would just be a matter of a couple of tiny rocks smacking into each other.

That’s not nihilism. That the sun will one day explode makes every day that it doesn’t- every day that we’re near enough to that gigantic nuclear cataclysm to live but not near enough to melt- a day to celebrate. Just, you know, keep funding Near Earth Objects research. It’s sort of important.

 

 

Legacy And Language: Politico vs. Tim Noah

Timothy Noah had a typically sharp article this morning in Politico about the Obama administration implementing new rules that help promote a progressive policy, the most important being the new overtime wage rule, which guarantees the dangerous and un-American notion that people should be paid for the work they do.

The reason there is a rush of rules is due, as Noah explains, to a regulation passed in 1996 by Newt’s Congress. Per Noah:

Blame the Congressional Review Act. Enacted by a newly Republican Congress in 1996 as part of Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, the CRA law gave Congress 60 legislative days after a regulation was issued to block it by using an expedited procedure.

Aimed at taming the regulatory leviathan, the law proved almost entirely ineffective because presidents could — and did — routinely veto resolutions of disapproval against their own agencies’ rules. But under one circumstance, the CRA could be deadly. Late in a president’s final year, 60 legislative days (which extend much longer than calendar days) could carry over into another administration. A new president of the opposite party would be tempted to squelch a predecessor’s pet project.

Now, since then, there have only been two changes of administration: Clinton to Bush and Bush to Obama, so this is still new. Geroge W. Bush knew to protect himself. He was the first President to use the law, overturning a late-term Clinton regulation that instituted ergonomic standards to protect workers against the crippling problems of repetitive stress. It’s important to remember that Bush wasn’t a hapless doof thrust into global chaos; he was an evil boneheaded dork who ran a cruel administration from the jump.

Regardless, he understood the rules, and so did the same thing that President Obama is doing now. As Noah said, Obama is actually behind the Bush pace for pushing rules. Obviously, that means he’s a tyrant, because nothing that happened before Obama was elected counts, but that’s not really the point. I’m interested in Politico here.

I don’t know if Noah writes his own headlines. But the headline here is at clickbaity and incendiary odds with the rest of the piece: “Obama Rushes Out Rules To Guarantee Legacy.” To be fair, Noah’s first sentence includes the weighted and misleading phrase “shoveling out regulations nearly one-third faster in its final year than during the previous three”, mentions the cost to business, and has a GOP congressman talk of a “regulatory onslaught” before any explanation, but the rest is sober and measured and comprehensive.

So a lot of this is on Politic, though some on Noah. If you read the headline, and skimmed the beginning, you’d think this was some kind of dastardly new scheme. “Rushing out rules” and “shoveling” at a clip nearly 1/3rd faster (which isn’t that much faster if you think about it- I don’t know how much heavy lifting “nearly” does there). It’s dramatic, and makes the continuation of the job he was elected to do seem nefarious.

But it’s the word “legacy” that really sticks. Journalists, especially of the Politico ilk, love to do this. The Climate Change accord was Obama shoring up his environmental legacy. The deal with Iran was his foreign policy legacy. Now, Presidents, as are people who aren’t in history books, are concerned with how they’ll be remembered. There’s no doubt about that. But the quest for a”legacy” is really them doing the job they were elected to do. The Climate Change and the Iran Accord were smart policy: progressive and important and a chance to make the world a better, more livable, and more peaceful place. Even if you disagree, this was policy. It was policy he was elected to enact.

But to Politico, all is artifice. The actions don’t matter; just the perception. It’s a TV show and a ratings grab, a garish tent of fools. It’s not just that they paint these pictures. They assume everyone is acting in equally bad faith, and that makes it easy for us to believe they are. It’s both cynical and credulous, and misses the point in every way.

Politico’s  main sin isn’t that it is a suck-up fest of conservative 3rd-wayism or that it is as shallow as it is insipid (writers like Noah notwithstanding). It’s that it wants you to be as dumb as it is. It believes that you want it. It degrades anything that is real because it can’t understand how someone can look beyond tomorrow’s headline. That’s the main reason Obama has always confounded them. He refuses to see the world in the same blinkered and pointless way that they do.

Labor and The Environment: Ask And Ye Shall Receive

Yesterday I said I hoped that Eric Loomis at LGM would do a post on the “environmental/labor rift” that the Times said was threatening Dem turnout this year. And he did!  He frames it as a long-standing rift in the labor movement.

This is related to changes in the labor movement over the past four decades. What the CIO did was undermine the building trades’ domination over the labor movement. But even though the rise of public sector unionism has to some extent replaced it, the loss of the giant and generally progressive industrial unions like the UAW (now only the 11th largest union in the country) and USWA has left a vacuum that the building trades were more than happy to fill. So what you have in the labor movement, other than remnant industrial unions, are the often very politically conservative (although not universally so) building trades that have been conservative for a century or more and the public sector unions that really operate with very different classes (and races) of workers and that sometimes really have very little in common with a union like the Laborers.

That makes sense, and it really gets to the heart of what “unions” mean these days. We have the romantic notion of them being about helping people in the rough and dangerous trades, which they have, for the betterment of the nation. But those aren’t the only unions, and in a time when they are under assault, certainly not the most powerful, and obviously not the most progressive (those trades were the heart of the “Reagan Democrats”, who are now just called “Republicans” by everyone but the media). It’s probably time the media realized they aren’t the sole voice of unions.

Sanders and the Kentucky Recount

(Note: I really wanted to do some kind of “Sanders” and “Kentucky Fried Recount” joke, but it’s one of those things that sounds like a joke, but it really isn’t, under any scrutiny. It’s just a collection of words that trigger the referential part of your brain. Scientifically, it’s the Family Guy Correlation.)

As The Guardian reports this morning, the Sanders campaign is “mulling” over calling for a recount in the Kentucky primary, an extremely close race. This is, simply put, narcissistic madness.

There is really no good outcome from this. Even if Sanders doesn’t demand a recount, even mulling one over makes the whole thing seem suspect, like the Hillary team and the crooked Democratic Party are trying to steal things, trying to put one over on Sanders and his supporters, the only ones who have a true passion. Everyone else is a hunchbacked pack of Ralph Steadman caricatures, lurching grotesquely hand-in-hand with blood-soaked billionaires, trying to erase the specter of real democracy.

In short, it’s getting ugly. The narrative that Sanders is now pushing- we’re the real voice of the people, despite being outvoted by the millions- has some validity, but not much. His wins are narrow, not just in delegates, but in total votes. And that’s fine: he’s doing amazingly well, and shouldn’t even still be here. But he has triggered something real and genuine, and something important. It’s why I voted for him. He’s highlighting the ur-issues of American politics, the role of money in distorting any electoral equity.

But this narrative comes with inherent dangers, mostly that anyone standing in the way is a counter-revolutionary. Anything that is messy about voting (and much of the system is bizarre and counterproductive) isn’t seen as a glitch to be fixed, but an enemy to be overcome. An enemy put in place to stop the Voice of the People, the popular tribune, the one man that can save us all. And the number one enemy is Hillary Clinton.

That’s why calling for a recount is dangerous. It doesn’t make sense electorally, as virtually no delegates will shift. But it highlights the dangerous game Sanders is playing. He’s trying to negate the votes of millions of people (largely older and minority) that genuinely want Hillary Clinton to be the nominee, by claiming that the real voters want him to be President. He wants to demonstrate that something is being stolen from him, and his most eager supporters are all too willing to believe it.

That isn’t right, and for such a populist campaign, it is weirdly tyrannical. The nomination is mine, because more people cry at my rallies. Their voters don’t count. Only mine do. Sanders should by all means continue his campaign, and keep pushing for genuine progressive policies. But it is possible to do so in a twilight, accepting that he isn’t being robbed, but that the voters of the Democratic Party chose Hillary Clinton. That’s what happens in elections.

As ugly as 2008 was, Hillary moved toward unity. I believe that Bernie can do so, and that he has to in the face of Trump. But this coalescing idea that if Hillary wins it is because she is a thieving harpy will make it harder to win. Remember, this isn’t about the lesser of two evils. It’s about the greater evil being a genuinely epochal disaster, a country-defining tragedy. Fighting the good fight doesn’t mean imagining yourself Spartacus, and demanding a revolt.

Something to make every day better

Bad news on all fronts, so here’s something that can cheer you up.

Birds are dinosaurs (this isn’t breaking news; bear with me). It isn’t that dinosaurs “evolved into birds”; it’s that we saw the evolutionary result and called them birds before we knew what dinosaurs were. If you think that’s disappointing, then think about them ripping a fish from the sea or tearing apart a worm with their fearsome claws and beaks or swooping down at 60 mph to grab and devour a hapless vole or basically just fucking with Tippi Hedren. It’s pretty awesome. Randall Munro at xkcd explains it better, as usual.

Birds and Dinosaurs
So how does that make life better? Just start calling birds “dinosaurs”. As in, “Man, Gary, I got like zero sleep. These dinosaurs were making a ton of racket outside my window,” or “Our blueberry bush is doing great, but I can’t keep the squirrels or the dinosaurs away.” You’ll see that makes every day just a little better.

Donald Trump Foreswears Getting Nasty

“Just getting nasty with Hillary won’t work,” Mr. Trump said. “You really have to get people to look hard at her character, and to get women to ask themselves if Hillary is truly sincere and authentic. Because she has been really ugly in trying to destroy Bill’s mistresses, and she is pandering to women so obviously when she is only interested in getting power.”  –Times

 

“Don’t you people think Hillary is gross?”

 

Donald Trump has openly outlined his campaign, which is going to revolve around:

  • Bill’s infidelities (and Hillary’s role)
  • All the crackpot conspiracies from the 90s (including cattle futures and probably Vince Foster)
  • Benghazi
  • Ties to Wall Street corruption.

The thing here is that while the first three are nonsense, they all tie in together to portray someone as essentially being sleazy. For Trump to focus on money-and-power grubbing or sexual pecadillos is obviously insane, but it might work. He’ll still lose, I think, as demographics make it very difficult, but the media loves stories about Hillary being crooked and the Clintons as being low and grubby farm people. Maureen Dowd is going to have no less than 11 columns between now and November that are transcripts of phone interviews with Trump (and another 5 which are saucily imagined conversations between Hillary and Bill. Every single one of these columns will mention Lena Dunham). It’s going to be as ugly as you imagine.

On the other hand, I’m not yet emotionally ready to talk about this labor/environmentalist article. I hope Loomis has something about it.

“A Hundred Tiny Hezbollahs”: In Syria, Today’s Desperation is Tomorrow’s Outline

 

John Kerry and Vladimir Putin

Not pictured: Syrians

 

As talks begin again in Vienna on ending the Syrian civil war (which is so much more than that), the main issue revolves around whether Bashar al-Asad should stay or go, with the US favoring the latter and the Russians promoting the former. It seems weirdly removed and high-level, and it is, because the realities on the ground make the removal of one man a short-term fix at best, if not entirely irrelevant.

A really interesting and well-reported article in Foreign Policy by James Harkin helps illustrate why. In the article, Harkin talks of how Hezbollah has flooded the area around Damascus, propping up the Syrian army, and training local militias to fights ISIS, Nusra, and other enemies. The militias are largely Shi’ite, Ismaili, and Druze, all of whom are among the main targets for Sunni extremists. Here’s a taste of how complicated it is.

As Syrians retreat to sect, ethnicity, and tribe, Hezbollah’s services as specialists in irregular warfare are in massive demand. This isn’t only true for Syria’s tiny Shiite minority: Many other religious groups have been threatened — but also emboldened — by the crisis. Faced with the rising tide of a vicious Islamism within the insurgency, they are organizing themselves in Hezbollah-like “self-defense forces.” From the Druze in Swaida to the Syriac Christians in rural Homs to the Alawi-led “Syrian resistance” formations in the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartous, they see themselves as engaged in a life-or-death struggle for their beliefs, and they exist in a fractious, paramilitary relationship to the Syrian state.

In any war, alliances shift and bedfellows that are made are far stranger than in politics. What ISIS has done, among other things, is to further distort who is on the “right” side. It’s easy and correct to say that the battle between ISIS and Asad is a battle between two terrible sides, but what of the other Alawites? What of the Druze who flock to an Asad quasi-ally in Hezbollah, who are also defending Christians but have all but colonized Golan? If the Ismailis side with Asad, who is a monster, against ISIS, who tried to exterminate them, should they end up on the losing side of the civil war if the US gets its way in negotiations?

The point here is that focusing on Asad, while understandable, overlooks the tectonic fractions that created these conditions in the first place. I think it is inevitable that there will be a new map, as Syria and Iraq have, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. In Vienna, they are as much a product of diplomatic imagination as they were at the end of WWI. Understanding the new realities on the ground is the only way to eventually find a path toward peace.

Syria, The New York Times Middle East Map, and the Length of History

On Saturday, the New York Times published a neat little article by Nick Danforth about different ways the Middle East- mostly the Levant and Iraq- could have been divided up after WWI.  There were several plans, including the original Sykes-Picot, and one from King Faisal, which at least had the benefit of being drawn up by an Arab. While there is the discomfort in thinking about conquering Westerners deciding what will be done in the region (based almost entirely on how it would serve their own interests), there are a couple times where one senses a frisson of missed opportunity and possibility, an alternative history that wouldn’t have ended with the agony in Syria and Iraq (not to mention Lebanon). A French plan for an Alawite state makes one think this could have all been avoided- the Asads would have been the king of a tiny zone, if at all, and wouldn’t have to hold on with such grim and bloody determination. Independent states around Damascus and Aleppo allow one to envision the latter city still standing, and the two countries at peace, somehow.

 

Alawite State hugging the Mediterranean. Isn’t it pretty to think so? Image from New York Times

 

 

Of course, any of these drawings would have carried with them their own problems, and their own internal contradictions, such as what to “do” about the Kurdish issue, Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq, and of course the eventual Zionist issue. Every state would have its own religious and ethnic minorities, as the lines would have to be drawn with infinite angel hairs to give everyone national determination or to make “pure” states, if such a thing were even possible, not to say desirable. And humans being humans, there would always be cause for war.  There was no real solution, perhaps.

That’s really the nut of the matter. The modern Middle East and the Balkans were both born of the same historic moment: when the rise of the nation-state coincided with the death throes of an ancient empire- the Ottomans. They aren’t exactly the same, of course. The Balkans went through a brief Austro-Hungarian phase, but that was due to the long-running collapse of the Ottomans, the Sick Man of Europe.

It’s hard to think about now, but these were places that had a political system in place for hundreds and hundreds of years (the Ottomans began to dominate in the 14th and 15th century). It was a multi-ethnic and ever-shifting empire, with central power waxing and waning, but never disappearing. When it died in the aftermath of WWI, it was suddenly due to be replaced by modern states.

We don’t really recognize that this is a long and uncertain process, but think of it like this: pretend you are reading a history book in the year 3500, or about 1500 years from now. I know there probably won’t be books at that point, but you’re going to be dead by then anyway, so just use your imagination, ok?

You’d read of the 500 years of Ottoman domination, and then the tumult of the 20th century. The Balkans were briefly dominated by the Soviets and Tito’s 3rd-wayism, and the Middle East by colonialism, followed by nationalism and tyranny, followed by religious fanaticism, until it all collapsed, slowly and then suddenly, starting in around 2003. But the thing is, that section wouldn’t be long.

We’re fewer than 100 years since the Ottoman’s collapsed, and while a lot has happened, it always seems like a lot happens when you’re living through it. But we’re still in the last rigor-mortis flicker, the dying tail of that millennial empire. The Soviets mutated the direction of the Balkans, but they were just a blip, a large factor in determining what would happen in the post-Ottoman Balkans, but still a mere factor in that longer story. Everything that has happened in the Middle East is part of that same tale. The mutations of colonialism, nationalism, and religion are just playing a role.

This isn’t historical determinism. No one’s fate was written by the Ottomans. But if we want to look to the future of the region, after the wars and after ISIS, we have to be able to look at the longer story, a region that moved from stagnant empire to the vortex of the modern nationalistic politics in the span of a few scant decades. No matter how the maps were drawn it would take decades or longer to shake out. Understanding this process, and understanding that what comes next won’t look like what came before, can help us avoid the mistakes of the past, the ones that have led to the ruin and pain of the suddenly modern Middle East.

The Right-Wing Martyr Complex, Nutshelled

Above: Glenn Beck

The brave, doomed, Lightweight Brigade  of the rightwing media charges on in the face of Facebook’s despotic decision not to promote the paranoid yippering of Newsmax as, well, news. Don’t worry. Mark Zuckerberg, showing more of an ability to stomach nonsense than I would have thought possible, is meeting with conservative thought leaders, including Glenn Beck, according to Re/Code.

Facebook has since argued, over and over, that the suppression charge isn’t true — or, at least, that it doesn’t have any evidence that it’s true — but the story continues to have legs.

See for example, Beck’s post, which says that Facebook has “the same problem that many in media and Silicon Valley face: suppression of conservative voices and ideas…How does a company who allowed voices to be heard in Iran and Egypt which sparked revolution silence voices of anyone here?”

I don’t think anyone who has been on Facebook would argue that conservative voices are “silenced”- Donald Trump’s fetchservant would probably agree- but this is absolute manna to the right wing. It allows them to try to distract from the Trump fiasco by turning their popguns on the most vulnerable targets: the media. The hated, disgusting, shameful media which refuses to ever let conservatives be heard, except literally all the time. You watch: they’ll figure out a way to tie this into the Rise of Trump, a grand scheme of how Facebook purposely silenced true conservatives and promoted Trump so that a New York liberal could pave the way for Hillary. This is just another thread in the tapestry of their minds, where they all envision themselves a mini-Churchill, fighting bravely against Saracen hordes. It all makes sense to them.

Also, don’t think Glenn Beck isn’t serious about getting something done. “Beck says he hopes that Carly Fiorina, ‘business icon and a woman with a spine of steel,’ will be joining.” I’m sure Zuckerberg can learn a lot about how to run a successful tech business from her.