Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Juan Cole is On A Roll

I've been checking with Professor Cole since I started blogging over ten years ago when I discovered he doesn't bend to political correctness if facts take him elsewhere. He's the perfect academic embodiment of If you see something, say something
And see stuff he does. 
This morning has his usual string of cogent observations but these three jumped out at me.

How America Became a Third World Country (Kramer & Comerford)
Written by Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford
Posted on 05/22/2013 by Juan Cole

This is not Juan Cole but he mirrors the Tomdispatch post dramatizing what America will look like ten years from now if the short-sighted political stupidity that brought us sequestration continues unchecked. 
Here are a few snips to catch the flavor. I'm sure most readers here are already in the choir, but time permitting the whole post is a work of art worth reading. 
A good part of the reading public is more likely to be exposed to a March 30 op-ed in the Times by David Stockman bewailing "The Corruption of Capitalism in America." The upshot is not exactly the same but the dismal conclusions are not all that different. 
The streets are so much darker now, since money for streetlights is rarely available to municipal governments. The national parks began closing down years ago. Some are already being subdivided and sold to the highest bidder. Reports on bridges crumbling or even collapsing are commonplace. The air in city after city hangs brown and heavy (and rates of childhood asthma and other lung diseases have shot up), because funding that would allow the enforcement of clean air standards by the Environmental Protection Agency is a distant memory. Public education has been cut to the bone, making good schools a luxury and, according to the Department of Education, two of every five students won’t graduate from high school.
In the early years of the twenty-first century, however, a set of manufactured arguments for “austerity,” which had been gaining traction for decades, captured the national imagination. In 2011-2012, a Congress that seemed capable of doing little else passed trillions of dollars of what was then called “deficit reduction.” Sequestration was a strange and special case of this particular disease. These across-the-board cuts, instituted in August 2011 and set to kick in on January 2, 2013, were meant to be a storm cloud hanging over Congress. Sequestration was never intended to take effect, but only to force lawmakers to listen to reason — to craft a less terrible plan to reduce deficits by a wholly arbitrary $1.2 trillion over 10 years. As is now common knowledge, they didn’t come to their senses and sequestration did go into effect. Then, although Congress could have cancelled the cuts at any moment, the country never turned back.
Once lawmakers wrote sequestration into law they had more than a year to wise up. Yet they did nothing to draft an alternate plan and didn’t even start pointing out the havoc-to-come until just weeks before the deadline. Then they gave themselves a couple more months — until March 1, 2013 — to work out a deal, which they didn’t. All this is, of course, ancient history, but even a decade later, the record of folly is worth reviewing.
If you remember, they tweeted while Rome burned. Speaker of the House John Boehner, for instance, sent out dozens of tweets to say Democrats were responsible: “The president proposed sequester, had 18 mo. to prioritize cuts, and did nothing,” he typically wrote, while he no less typically did nothing. For his part, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tweeted back: “It’s not too late to avert the damaging #sequester cuts, for which an overwhelming majority of Republicans voted.” And that became the pattern for a decade of American political gridlock, still not broken today.
Israel, Syria, Trade Fire, Threats in Golan Heights
Posted on 05/22/2013 by Juan Cole

This puzzles together nicely with my own tongue-in-cheek post a couple days ago about the Israeli jeep (which is the ME agitprop equivalent of whatever domestic scandal du jour is being pedaled in Washington).

This first sentence clarifies the Israel-Syria tentacle of the Syrian civil war octopus better than most analyses. 
The Increasingly desperate Baath regime in Syria appears to be seeking skirmishes with Israel as a way of shoring up its nationalist credentials. If the regime were under fire from Israel, that would put the rebels in the position of acting as allies of Tel Aviv and so discrediting them. Hence, Syria’s troops fired at an Israeli jeep in the Occupied Golan Heights (Syrian territory grabbed by Israel in the 1967 war). It was the fifth such Syrian provocation in the territory. Israel’s top general warned that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would “pay the price” if he undermined security in the area.
The point is underscored by a video. 

PBS and the Koch Brother Scandal (plus “Koch Brothers Exposed”)
Posted on 05/22/2013 by Juan Cole
Unlike PBS which is in the unfortunate position of being bullied by Koch intimidation by proxy, Cole makes it a point to post the entire program at his site. 
It's an hour long and anyone can go there and see it.  As I said above, most readers here, like most of Cole's audience, are already in the choir. The people who need most to learn what's in the film are not likely to be among viewers at these venues. Too bad. As he said, no wonder investigative journalism is an endangered species. 
PBS declined to show “Citizen Koch, a documentary about the Wisconsin public union issue, treating the influence of the dirty energy magnates who are destroying the world through climate change and funding climate change denial, among the various other nefarious things they do. This according to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer. It points to the dangers of declining public funding for institutions such as PBS in favor of corporate sponsorships and the donations of the rich. No wonder investigative journalism is an endangered species!

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