The Manchin-Toomey expansion of background checks to private gun sales was reasonable legislation, its advocates insist, because it would have forbidden the creation of a federal registry and exempted transfers of guns between family members and between friends.
Those features appear to be in the bill, but why should that matter? The champions of Manchin-Toomey would have us believe that once the bill passed, no more gun laws would ever be proposed again. That is, they’re either naïve or dishonest. I don’t think they’re naïve.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former member of the House and self-styled Second Amendment man who supported Manchin-Toomey, is an egregious example of this dishonesty. He spent weeks mocking opponents for not being mollified by the bill’s compromises. Can he be unfamiliar with the legislative tactic of gradualism? Start a program small to minimize opposition, then expand it in later years when people have become inured.
It’s not as though this tactic has never been used. The income tax started small in 1913 and applied only to the richest Americans. Those who expressed concern that the tax would expand were ridiculed as paranoid. Sen. William Borah, an Idaho Progressive Republican said, “No sane man would take from industry its just reward or rob frugality of a fair and honest return.”
As I wrote in Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax (1999):
The 1913 income tax was put at 1 percent on net income after a personal exemption of $3,000, some credits, and an additional $1,000 exemption for married couples living together. There was also a graduated 2 percent to 7 percent surcharge on incomes from $20,000 to $500,000….
In 1913, the average personal income was $621. Only 2 percent of the population was liable for the tax between 1913 and 1915.
In other words, the tax was introduced as a tax on the rich exclusively.
If the system were in place today, a single person making less than about $45,000 (the bottom 75 percent of filers) would pay no tax. A couple earning less than $60,000 would pay nothing. Incomes up to $300,000 would be in the 1 percent bracket. Someone would have to make $7.5 million before paying the top 7 percent rate. In 1994 dollars, the exemptions of 1913 would be worth $44,776 for a single person and $59,701 for married couples.
But it didn’t take long for the tax to become a tax on the masses. War, as usual, fueled the expansion. The anti-tax prophets were right.
The income tax is not the only example of gradualism. Social Security was also introduced as a modest program with a low tax. (The public was against it.) Now it and Medicare take about 15 percent of a worker’s income. For details see Charlotte Twight’s Dependent on D.C.
The upshot is that you cannot judge a legislative bill in isolation. The dynamics of politics must be taken into account, especially the politicians’ ability to (in Twight’s words) “manipulate political transaction costs.” This refers to the many methods that government officials have to conceal what they’re doing and to make it costly for people to resist if they find out.
How might this idea apply to Manchin-Toomey? This isn’t rocket science. The bill may promise universal background checks (except for family members and friends), but it can’t keep that promise. Criminally minded people will always find ways to obtain guns outside the system. Theft and the black market will make that a certainty. Gun-running is as old as guns themselves, and nothing is more adaptive than the black market.
So what will happen after the next atrocity occurs with a firearm? The advocates of universal background checks will surely say, “We tried this modest approach, and it failed to keep guns out of the hands of bad people. We must do more.”
“More” could well include national registration. It’s a matter of logic. If I own a gun, how can the government assure that I haven’t sold it without running a background check on the buyer? One way the government might find out is to establish a gun registry and periodically do spot checks to see if people still possess the guns that are registered to them. If people are serious about outlawing sales without backgrounds checks, wouldn’t they be driven to such a proposal? As the ACLU has pointed out, the civil-liberties implications are ominous. Registration makes confiscation feasible.
This is not paranoia. It’s a recognition of the dynamics of demagogic politics. If, as polls purport to show, 90 percent of people favor universal background checks and they prove futile in stopping gun atrocities, what will people favor next? Which way are they likely to go: toward full deregulation of gun ownership or toward more draconian measures?
I know where my money is.
When I say that market failure is a myth, I don’t mean to deny that ... regrettable situations can occur. I only mean to deny that they are peculiar to the market.Read: "The Myth of Market Failure."
NBC chief diplomatic stenographer Andrea Mitchell noted yesterday that President Obama embarks today on his visit to Israel and the West Bank. This is incorrect. Obama will visit Israel and Israeli-occupied Palestine. The state of Palestine declared independence almost 25 years ago and has since been recognized by 131 of the UN's 193 member states. That the U.S. government doesn't recognize Palestine is part of its long-standing policy of enabling Israel's oppression of the Palestinians.
My latest op-ed explores the case of Aaron Swartz, the programming prodigy and Internet freedom activist who faced 35 years in prison before taking his own life this month.
Not that we thought it would be any different, but revolving door between government and industry spins just as fast in Obama's Washington. Read about it in my latest article at the Project to Restore America.
So GDP is growing at about 2 percent. (That's not the same as "the economy.") The rub is that it's driven by consumer and government spending. Real economic growth requires investment, and investment has not recovered. But private (real) investment requires savings--that is, deferred consumption. So increased consumption is not a path to economic growth. Increased sustainable consumer spending is an effect not a cause of economic growth.
President Barack Obama, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have at least one thing in common when it comes to Iran. All are guilty of flagrant self-contradiction.
'Turning Bedouin village into Jewish settlement is racist'
Government's decision to convert Umm al-Hiran into Jewish settlement enrages Bedouin residents; 'You can’t just take an Arab and put a Jew in his place. This is Nakba of 2012,' they say
The continuous struggle of the Bedouin community in southern Israel has once caused a stir in a move Bedouins are calling "racist."
"They say they want to evict us because of illegal construction," Salim Abu Al-Kian, 53, told Ynet. "We are ready to reach a settlement on the matter. We're willing to issue permits for homes that have yet to receive them. Unfortunately, the state does not want to help us. They want to expel us from our land. We have no value to them," he said.
The new village will be built in place of the Bedouin village which currently houses 500 people.
Amna Abu Al-Kian said that she would be willing to die before leaving her home. "I have six children and we have nowhere else to go to."
"Instead of the state helping us, we are thrown out to the street like animals," she exclaimed.
'We can live alongside Jews'
Other residents of the Bedouin village could not understand the council's decision and offered an alternative solution. "We wouldn't mind living alongside Jews. I wouldn't object to us being neighbors," said Salim Abu Al-Kian.
"You can’t just take an Arab and put a Jew in his place. This is racism. This is the Nakba of 2012," he added.
Another Bedouin resident said "we're citizens of the state of Israel. Israel claims to be a democratic country but it has neglected its citizens for decades. Why not recognize our rights? We have been the most loyal to Israel since its establishment. They can't keep pushing us into a corner."
Attorney Suhad Bshara from the Adala Center said that the "government's decision coincides with Israel's policy to expel the Bedouin residents from their lands and destroy their homes in order to clear the land for Jewish settlements."
The authority charged with regulating Bedouin towns in the Negev said that many of the residents have already found a solution – they are to move to the nearby newly-constructed Bedouin village of Horah.
Hassan Shaalan contributed to this report
A libertarian--a radical, decentralist, pro-market, but anti-capitalist left-libertarian, at any rate--could tell that Alex Cockburn was exceptional when even his eulogy for a departed Marxist compelled interest.
After the Marxist economist Paul Sweezy died, Alex wrote that Sweezy "trenchantly detected and explained: the reasons for the New Deal's failure, until World War II bailed out the system; military Keynesianism and the Korean war as the factors in US recovery after that war; underdevelopment in the Third World, consequence of dependency that was created by imperialism . . . ; the increasing role of finance in the operations of capitalism. . . ."
The implied debunking of the standard left-right fairy tale that constitutes most people's notion of American history, is--or should be--of great interest to libertarians, who ought to understand that capitalism equals, not radically decentralized freed markets, but exploitative corporatism.That insight and attitude are what drew me and my left-libertarian comrades to Alex. My last contact with him was to ask that he blurb a book to which I contributed, Markets Not Capitalism, edited by Gary Chartier and Charles W. Johnson. He delivered the blurb: "We on the left need a good shake to get us thinking, and these arguments for market anarchism do the job in lively and thoughtful fashion."
Unfortunately, I only met Alex once, in 2008. We both spoke at an extraordinary conference put on by the Future of Freedom Foundation in Reston, Virginia titled "Restoring the Republic: Foreign Policy and Civil Liberties." What was extraordinary was that this well-attended anti-empire, pro-Bill of Rights gathering featured the most prominent conservatives, progressives, leftists, and libertarians who were alarmed about imperial war and domestic tyranny. They included: Glenn Greenwald, Bruce Fein, Stephen Kinzer, Robert Higgs, Justin Raimondo, and Ron Paul.
I knew of Alex's work long before that, and followed his writings in The Village Voice, The Nation, even The War Street Journal. Now, finally, I would have my chance to talk to him. (He had already published me at CounterPunch.) He did not disappoint; he was funny and charming, and interested in what subversion I was up to. I'd like to think we hit it off.
In his wonderfully wide-ranging talk, he discussed the prospect of an alliance between the libertarians and his kind of left. "There has to be more utopianism, and there has to be more straightforward spirit of mutiny, which I think you libertarians are good at offering. If the left would offer a little bit of utopia-some of the utopia may differ-then I think we can continue to have an enjoyable and hopefully a creative association."
When I asked him to elaborate in the Q&A, he referred to an earlier attempted alliance, namely, the old Inquiry magazine (which I helped edit, 1982-1984), which assembled the best anti-statists no matter where they placed themselves on the political spectrum. Acknowledging that there are "some big issues [between libertarians and him] that . . . have to be sorted through," he continued, "I think a battle of the ideas, maybe one a year, would be a lot of fun. We should talk about it. I hope we do." Alas, we never got to do it.
Tom Szasz was what Chris Sciabarra would call a dialectical libertarian. Here's an example. Many years ago the city of Berkeley, California, (if I remember correctly) had a public referendum on whether to outlaw all electroshock, or "electro-convulsive therapy [sic]." Tom endorsed the ban. But he was a libertarian, so how could he possibly support a ban on even voluntary electroshock?
Simple. He knew that electroshock was far more likely to be used on people against their will. In the unlikely case that someone wanted it, he or she could go to a neighboring community. The net result of a ban would be that no one could be subjected to that barbaric procedure against his or her will within the borders of Berkeley. Hence it was a clear-cut victory for freedom.
My 15-year gig editing The Freeman will end September 30. I'm looking for a full-time editorial position with an online or paper publication.
From Philip Weiss and Annie Robbins of Mondoweiss comes the following upsetting story:
The Israeli veterans' organization Breaking the Silence released a shocking new report this morning on the abuse of Palestinian children in the occupied territories.
The report, in pdf format, is “Breaking the Silence: Children and Youth, Soldiers’ Testimonies 2005-2011. BTS also posted a series of video testimonies in which former Israeli soldiers describe the abuse of Palestinian children.
BTS is an extraordinary organization and website. In its own words:
“Breaking the Silence” is an organization of Israeli veterans who served during the Second Intifada, beginning in 2000. The organization aims to make public the everyday life routine as it exists in the Occupied Territories, a reality that remains voiceless in the media, and to serve as an alternative information conduit for the public at large about the goings-on in the State of Israel’s ‘backyard’. The organization was founded in 2004, and since then has received unique public and media standing, bearing the voice of soldiers who have previously kept silent. Since its inception, over 800 male and female soldiers have given testimony about their experiences in the military. They described the reality of military rule in the Occupied Territories for the past twelve years, as reflected by the soldiers’ point of view.
The main purpose of “Breaking the Silence” is to arouse public discussion of the moral price that Israeli society pays for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population and dominate it on a daily basis. Every testimony published by the organization undergoes careful research. This includes verification of the facts and crossing-checking them with other testimonies and archive materials of human rights organizations active on the ground. Our journalistic mode of operation requires the
identity of testifiers to remain confidential.
The most grotesque incidents in the report involve the oppression of entire villages and cities. Soldiers are so bored in Hebron that they provoke riots. They stop people’s movements entirely for hours on end till someone at last lashes out and then the soldiers retaliate and soon there is a full-fledged riot. The soldiers and commanders seem to regard this as a form of entertainment. Shocking.
In coming days I hope to reproduce some of the testimonies here, thanks to the permission of BTS.
Signing the Act, Obama said:
[W]hat this legislation does is bring together all the outstanding cooperation that we have seen, really, at an unprecedented level between our two countries that underscore our unshakeable commitment to Israel security.The Enhanced Cooperation Act passed the Senate (voice vote) and House in June and July, respectively, with Reps. Ron Paul and John Dingell as the only opponents.
The Act pledges “To help the Government of Israel preserve its qualitative military edge amid rapid and uncertain regional political transformation.” Bear in the mind the context. Israel already possesses by far unparalleled military power in the region, although we live in an era where victory is not guaranteed to the militarily superior. Israel did not prevail when it attacked and devastated Lebanon in 2006. We must bear in mind, also, that Israel has a nuclear arsenal estimated at 200-300 warheads, some of them submarine mounted. This puts the faux alarm over Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapons program in perspective. (Both U.S. and Israeli intelligence say that Iran is not building a weapon and has not even decided to do so. Since 2007, the U.S. intelligence complex has concluded that whatever program Iran might have had was scrapped in 2003, when the U.S. military invaded Iranian nemesis Iraq and topped its president, Saddam Hussein.)
The Act details the ways in which the U.S. government will “assist in the defense of Israel.” One should note that there has never been a treaty of alliance between the United States and Israel.
For example, the Act mandates that the U.S government “Provide the Government of Israel defense articles and defense services through such mechanisms as appropriate, to include air refueling tankers, missile defense capabilities, and specialized munitions.” Some of this equipment has never been provided to Israel before. Ynet, the Israeli news service, reported, “The legislation, which provides for special aerial armament, is also likely to allow Israel to acquire bunker buster bombs, a privilege previously denied by the Bush Administration.” (Obama provided bunker buster bombs last year.)
The word defense is repeated often Act--rather defensively--but it should be noted that no weapons system is purely defensive; or to put it another way, defensive systems are just as useful for offensive operations as they are for pure defense. A shield can protect the one who is attacking. Given Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians and Arab neighbors since 1948, there is no reason to be confident that defensive systems will be use exclusively for defense.
Keep in mind that the U.S. government already gives Israel $3 billion a year in military aid under the most favorable terms. Obama also announced a $70 billion grant for the Iron Dome rocket defense system. Now Israel will have less reason to turn to a peaceful resolution of the horrendous situation in the Gaza Strip.
As Ynet states, “It must be noted that the Obama Administration has been unprecedentedly responsive to Israel's acquisition requests across the board, even prior to the latest legislation.”
One provision of the Act in particular is rather curious: “Work to encourage an expanded role for Israel with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), including an enhanced presence at NATO headquarters and exercises.” NATO was created in 1949 ostensibly to discourage a Soviet invasion of western Europe. Even if one regards the coalition as having been legitimate then, it should have disbanded in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved. Instead it found new missions never even alluded to in the treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate, meaning that the American people have been victims of a monumental bait and switch. NATO has become the U.S.-led police force available to enter civil wars and other conflicts anywhere in the world. Libya and and now Syria are the latest locations. Moreover, NATO has been used provocatively against Russia, paving the way for the admission of states on the Russian doorstep.
What possible role could Israel have in NATO? This is clearly a bid to expand U.S. policing of the world, which makes other powers, such as Russian and China, apprehensive—justifiably so.
Another provision of the Act pledges “To veto any one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations Security Council.” Of course, U.S. presidents have done this right along. Apparently AIPAC sought specific assurance in writing that this one-sided policy will continue. In U.S.-Israeli parlance, an “anti-Israeli resolution” is one that in any way implies that the Palestinians have rights in what was once Palestine.
The biggest howler in the Act is this:
To assist the Government of Israel with its ongoing efforts to forge a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that results in two states living side-by-side in peace and security, and to encourage Israel’s neighbors to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.Israel is not, and never has been, interested in such efforts. and the U.S government has not been an honest broker for peace. Israel claims to want a two-state solution with the Palestinians, but all the while it seizes land owned by Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem for the exclusive use of Jews. It has built a wall that surrounds Palestinian towns and separates Palestinian homes from farmland. The situation has been likened to two people “negotiating” to divide a pizza while one of them eats it.
Perhaps most egregious of all, the Act’s first provision is to “To reaffirm our unwavering commitment to the security of the State of Israel as a Jewish state” (emphasis added). Thus Congress, speaking for the American people, has put in writing its commitment to a state based on ethno-racial considerations. Would we tolerate that here? As pointed out before, Israel is the only country in the world that even in theory does not belong to all its citizens. It is said to belong to The Jewish People, no matter where individuals Jews lives. Jews from around the world can move to Israel and quickly become citizens and be provided subsidized housing. Yet a Palestinian born in Palestine and driven out by Zionist militias may not return. Since “Jew” is clearly not a religious category (most Israelis are nonreligious and even atheist), it must instead be ethno-racial. (Though this does not mean that Jews actually belong to a single race or ethnic group.)
This insistence on Israel’s remaining forever a Jewish state gives the lie to Israeli claims to being a democratic country. Palestinian “citizens” of Israel are third-class citizens who would never be permitted to become the majority and change the country’s basic, ethno-racial law. (In Israel citizenship is not as important as nationality, the two major categories of which are “Jew” and “Arab.”) In this light, look more closely at Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s repeated statements that Israel and the United States are a partnership of “shared values.”
To this commitment, Rep. Paul objected that the U.S. government should “not guarantee the religious ethnic, or cultural composition of a foreign country.”
The day after Obama signed this Act, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited Israel, where he declared:
It is my firm conviction that the security of Israel is in the vital national security interest of the United States. And ours is an alliance [what alliance?] based not only on shared interests but also on enduring shared values.Thus no matter who wins the election, the American people are joined at the hip with Israel, which means they are at the mercy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is either itching for war with Iran--a war that would have disastrous consequences for the people of the region, as well as most Americans--or is blackmailing Obama to get additional favors between now and election day.
(A shorter version of this article appears at Mondoweiss.)
The New York Times did us all a favor last week when it published the blunt declaration that "Israel’s Settlers Are Here to Stay." It was an op-ed by Dani Dayan, described as chairman of the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, which is how Israelis and their fanatical supporters, Jews and evangelical Christians, refer to Palestinian occupied territory on the West Bank of the Jordan River. Dayan writes:
Israel legitimately seized the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria in self-defense. Israel’s moral claim to these territories, and the right of Israelis to call them home today, is therefore unassailable. Giving up this land in the name of a hallowed two-state solution would mean rewarding those who’ve historically sought to destroy Israel, a manifestly immoral outcome. . . .
[W]e aim to expand the existing Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, and create new ones. This is not — as it is often portrayed — a theological adventure but is rather a combination of inalienable rights and realpolitik. . . .
Our presence in all of Judea and Samaria — not just in the so-called settlement blocs—is an irreversible fact. . . .
And consequently, instead of lamenting that the status quo is not sustainable, the international community should work together with the parties to improve it where possible and make it more viable. . . .
While the status quo is not anyone’s ideal, it is immeasurably better than any other feasible alternative. . . .
The settlements of Judea and Samaria are not the problem — they are part of the solution.
So the status quo is "is immeasurably better than any other feasible alternative." Easy for Dayan to say since it is not his rights that are systematically trashed by the Israel's occupation force. He is not completely under the arbitrary rule of the Israeli authorities. He was not evicted from his home or cut off from his farmland. He is not detained for hours at checkpoints. He won't be rousted from his bed and held in solitary confinement indefinitely without charge or trial. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Dayan makes much of the threats that Arab leaders voiced against Israel before the June 1967 war, but he omits the fact that not one Israeli political or military leader thought there was an actual threat from Egypt, Syria, or Jordan, which Israel attacked to launch the war. And unsurprisingly he overlooks the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, including massacres of civilians, that began in December 1947 (with abuses and land dispossession starting much earlier) and the attack (aided by England and France) on Egypt in 1956. There was also Israeli provocation in the months leading up to the 1967 war. (Also see this and this.)
Why is the Times’ publication of this op-ed a favor? It allows us to see in full display what we’re dealing with in Israel. All the blather about democracy and human rights that issues from the Israeli government and its supporters is revealed as just so much rubbish.
We are fortunate that Jeremy R. Hammond, author of the excellent short work The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination, has written a concise, virtually point-by-point rebuttal of Dayan: "Wiping Palestine Off the Map: The New York Times’ Racist Editorial Policy." Hammond writes:
It is one thing for a newspaper to publish an op-ed in which a writer expresses his own personal opinion on a topic. It is quite another for the editors to exercise such extreme prejudice by allowing their publication to be used as a mouthpiece for a person who spews lies and hatred. People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Dayan simply makes up his own history to justify Israel’s policy, and the Times editors have no problem at all publishing his fictions. . . .
And both Dayan’s and the Times editors’ understanding of international law is sorely lacking. The argument that if a war is fought in “self-defense” that a country may therefore acquire territory from its enemies has no basis in international law, in no small part due to the simple reason that every aggressor nation claims its wars are launched in “self-defense”, Israel’s ’67 war being no exception. . . .
The fact that it is completely uncontroversial that every inch of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is under international law “occupied Palestinian territory” is apparently not relevant to the Times. There is not a nation on planet Earth that rejects the international consensus that Israel’s settlements are illegal, a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, apart from Israel itself. . . .
[P]ermitting Israel to steal even more land with impunity means rewarding an aggressor nation that has historically sought to destroy Palestine and has occupied and illegally colonized Palestinian territory, oppressing the Palestinians who call that land home, for more than four decades—a manifestly immoral outcome.I urge you to read Hammond's full article.
Alex Cockburn, 71, died today. I am saddened. He was a true maverick who wasn’t afraid to take positions that alienated allies and lost him friends and publishing outlets. From the start he saw through Obama. He distrusted centralized power and hated war. He was pro-gun and a skeptic about manmade catastrophic global warming. Alex was not fond of the free market (which he probably thought could not be kept clear of corporatism) but his website, Counterpunch, was open to libertarians (me and Kevin Carson included).
I met Alex once a few years ago and kept in touch with after that. I liked him and admired him. I’m sorry he’s gone.