The Problem We All Live With, Norman Rockwell (1964)

The Problem We All Live With, Norman Rockwell (1964)

There is something startling, breathtaking even, about Massive Resistance, the set of segregationist policies attempted in light of Brown v. Board. In place of accepting equality and inclusion of a previously stigmatized out-group, Massive Resistance represents backlash. In part, it asserts that the state’s functions would better be dismantled than permit entry of the out-group.

The policy that stands out foremost in my mind is the shutting down of public education in some communities specifically for the purpose of avoiding integration – rather no public schools at all than allow desegregation. Let injustice be done though the heavens fall, a twisted perversion of the maxim.

Unfortunately, and much to the discredit of the state legislators involved, the legal sweep towards same sex marriage is facing a modern day version of Massive Resistance. United States v. Windsor’s reshaping of the legal landscape with regard to gay rights is the parallel for Brown v. Board in this instance. And paralleling the part played by segregationists like Harry F. Byrd Sr., we have Oklahoma state representative Mike Turner (via News9):

State lawmakers are considering throwing out marriage in Oklahoma.

The idea stems from a bill filed by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Edmond). Turner says it’s an attempt to keep same-sex marriage illegal in Oklahoma while satisfying the U.S. Constitution. Critics are calling it a political stunt while supporters say it’s what Oklahomans want.


“Would it be realistic for the State of Oklahoma to say, ‘We’re not going to do marriage period,'” asked News 9’s Michael Konopasek.

“That would definitely be a realistic opportunity, and it’s something that would be part of the discussion,” Turner answered.

In sum, Turner’s position amounts to: better to stop opposite-sex marriage than permit same-sex marriage. Aside from the fundamental obscenity of denying people fundamental rights, is this a stance that one can be proud of? In ten years time? A hundred years time?

Posterity takes names, makes judgements, and shouts through the decades, “For shame!”


C. Montgomery Burns’ note on the sensitivity of the well-off came to mind when reading Tom Perkins’ brief letter to the Wall Street Journal, entitled Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?. Perkins “perceive[s] a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent”. Essentially he sees parallels between the current state of the US discussion on inequality to the anti-semitism of Nazi Germany.

It is hard to capture succinctly the many ways the view Perkins presents is profoundly wrongheaded. He references the Occupy movement as part of this “tide of hatred”. Now, I was not deeply engaged in Occupy. I visited Zuccotti Park and I attended an Occupy sponsored teach-in at Union Square Park, on both occasions with a friend more sympathetic to Occupy than me. The beginnings of pogroms these were not. Where was the violence? Where was the threat of violence (other than that of the state against the protesters)? Where even, were the calls to forcefully seize the means of production in favor of the revolutionary proletariat?

In Zuccotti Park there was a lending library. There was recycling, with handy signs making the significant distinction between compost and non-compost items. At no time during my visit did I feel physically endangered by the then-denizens of the park. Essentially, a really sophisticated sit-in was underway. A peaceful protest that, by way of its location, called attention to many of capitalism in America’s central disjunctures: the unfulfilled promise of work hard and play by the rules yielding social mobility, the relative inattention to the well-being of the common man and underclass versus the well-being of the elite, and perhaps foremost, the mobilization of hundreds of billions in government resources in short order to shore up threatened financial institutions while the unemployed and downtrodden receive(d) scant attention.

With respect to the teach-in, two professors from liberal arts colleges in New York State discussed unions. We sat in a circle on the south side of Union Square Park; our circle gained or lost members or onlookers as the course of the discussion went along. Starting at maybe five to eight people, and maybe at its highest point reaching 30 . Yes, it was a progressive vision of the history of the union movement in America.

My previous questions obtain for the teach-in as well: Where was the violence, or threat thereof? Where was the call to arms, assault, battery, theft, rioting, arson? From the tenor of the discussion we could have been talking about Romantic poets or the architectural history of New York. Nary a voice raised in anger. If you’ve had a college seminar meet outside on a spring day, then you had the essence of this teach-in’s atmosphere.

Now, I don’t present my experiences with Occupy as definitive. But if Perkins has evidence of “a tide of hatred” in part represented by Occupy he needs to provide it.

As for the meaning of Nazi Germany’s targeting of Jews, it is a topic that won’t adequately be served by the attention I can give it here. The drawing upon centuries of exclusion and Othering. The erection of boundaries between a supposedly pure German identity as set against a supposedly Other, suspect, Jewish identity. Being in the society, but not of the society. The dehumanization and of course the violence.

The orgy of violence.

Preceded by violence and followed by violence. To invoke Kristallnacht is to invoke a web of terror, totalitarianism, and authoritarianism rarely equaled in human history.

I don’t know what kind of bubble being a billionaire provides for someone – the kind of insulation from the day-to-day insecurities of the average citizen. And what’s more, to have all kinds of society’s institutions falling over themselves to stroke your ego. But Tom Perkins, you urgently need to use some of that $8 billion to buy yourself a clue. Some clue as to what it means to live in a democratic society where people may peacefully protest and put their public institutions under scrutiny for compliance with key principles of social justice and human rights.

The Atlantic assembles a neat collection of New Year’s photos from around the world. My favorite, the all-time best World’s Fair investment.

"A reveler writes "2014" with sparklers ahead of New Year's Eve, in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on December 30, 2013. (Reuters/Benoit Tessier)"

“A reveler writes “2014” with sparklers ahead of New Year’s Eve, in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on December 30, 2013. (Reuters/Benoit Tessier)”

Two interpretations of Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere for Christmas Day this year, without ornamentation and with ornamentation. Composed for Holy Week, but those high C’s are just a spectacular gift.

Happy holidays.


Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.
Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam.
Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea: et a peccato meo munda me.
Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco: et peccatum meum contra me est semper.
Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci: ut justificeris in sermonibus tuis, et vincas cum judicaris.
Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum: et in peccatis concepit me mater mea.
Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti: incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi.
Asperges me hysopo, et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.
Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam: et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.
Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis: et omnes iniquitates meas dele.
Cor mundum crea in me, Deus: et spiritum rectum innova in visceribus meis.
Ne proiicias me a facie tua: et spiritum sanctum tuum ne auferas a me.
Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui: et spiritu principali confirma me.
Docebo iniquos vias tuas: et impii ad te convertentur.
Libera me de sanguinibus, Deus, Deus salutis meae: et exsultabit lingua mea justitiam tuam.
Domine, labia mea aperies: et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam.
Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique: holocaustis non delectaberis.
Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus: cor contritum, et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.
Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion: ut aedificentur muri Ierusalem.
Tunc acceptabis sacrificium justitiae, oblationes, et holocausta: tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.

Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness
According to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offences.
Wash me throughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me.
Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified in Thy saying, and clear when Thou art judged.
Behold, I was shapen in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.
Turn Thy face from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence: and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of Thy help again: and stablish me with Thy free Spirit.
Then shall I teach Thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou that art the God of my health: and my tongue shall sing of Thy righteousness.
Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew Thy praise.
For Thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it Thee: but Thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise.
O be favourable and gracious unto Sion: build Thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations: then shall they offer young bullocks upon Thine altar.

Beijing Tokyo BrusselsTufts University political science professor and long-time policy blogger Daniel Drezner pooh-poohs China’s recent, mild efforts to influence US domestic politics over the debt ceiling. Drezner highlights a senior Chinese Treasury official’s fairly anodyne statement, “the Chinese side feels the US needs to take realistic and resolute steps to ensure against default on the national debt”. Drezner finds the attempt “at best futile and at worst counterproductive.” Overall Drezner concludes there isn’t foreign pressure that could help resolve the conflict, given that some GOP members believe a default wouldn’t be a catastrophic crisis. (Drezner adds China probably isn’t the best country to deliver the message as it has been a bogeyman in recent American politics.)

There are two points I’d make in response. First, a point that I suspect Drezner wouldn’t disagree with: foreign leaders have reason to be highly interested in a prospective default. China holding in excess of $1 trillion in US treasuries certainly gives them an interest in expressing concerns about potential default. Beyond China, no one relishes the knock-on consequences for the global economy of a US default.

My second point challenges Drezner’s answer to the question “Is there any kind of foreign pressure [from friends or rivals] that would help [break the deadlock]?”

There is a policy option available to foreign leaders that will focus the minds of Tea Party members of Congress and their sympathizers.

China, Japan, and the European Union should ever so gently leak a draft, of a draft, of a green paper, on a communiqué on US debt default. After stating the obvious, wrecking the global economy by way of default is unwise, the draft Beijing-Tokyo-Brussels Communiqué would say: in the event of a US default we would impose tariffs targeted at those states (and districts) of the GOP’s Suicide Tea Party Caucus. Trade sanctions targeting the key products from states like Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Texas, and Kentucky. Ryan Lizza has already provided a handy map. Three of America’s largest trading partners could cover quite a few industries those states, their businesses, and thus their representatives care deeply about. Pressure from abroad to exert pressure from below on the Tea Party Caucus.

Tariffs targeting key American states is not an unheard of political tool. In its trade dispute with the US over steel tariffs, the EU threatened tariffs aimed at products from specific states due to steel links as well as those states’ electoral significance in the then-upcoming 2004 presidential elections (Guardian). Altogether, it becomes a lot more difficult to say, “Crisis, what crisis?” when confronted with the prospect of home district businesses and jobs being put at risk.

As for drawbacks, there’s the usual reticence on getting involved in the domestic politics of other countries. To quote LBJ, “Never tell a man to go to hell unless you’re sure you can send him there.” There is an ocean of things China, Japan, and the EU want from the US Congress – looser trade restrictions for China, increased US-Japan defense cooperation, and the prospective US-EU trade agreement immediately come to mind. It is ill-advised to reach short-term goals if putting long-term goals in serious jeopardy. Lastly, stabilizing the global economic system by threatening a trade war is pretty counterintuitive. Tariffs and the resultant retaliatory measures likely hurt everyone involved (see, Smoot-Hawley).

My reply to the counterarguments is therein lay the reason for “a draft, of a draft, of a potential green paper”, loads of distance between possibilities and actions. And yet reason for the business communities in these states to sit up and take notice. Since solid Tea Party Caucus members dismiss the prospects of a global-US default crisis as hyperbole, raising the prospects of an alternative default-linked trade crisis aimed squarely at their constituencies would be well worth the effort. Interviewed by the French press on targeting tariffs at specific states, then-EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy remarked “At the end of the day the US president takes a political decision, and you have to be able to play the same game.” (CS Monitor). In this instance, Obama has limited leverage over members of Congress in safe seats with stridently conservative voters. Foreign leaders do have both a significant interest at stake as well as a policy option available beyond standing idly by or (ineffectually) voicing concern. If Tea Party intransigence continues unabated, yes, mess with Texas (among other states). Not least for shaving valuable tenths of a percentage point off US and global growth (Guardian), as well as for inflicting Ted Cruz and his ilk on us all.

Waiting for Halabja

WhiteHouseSouthFacadeWhat exactly is the delay in formulating a comprehensive strategy to transition the Assad regime out of power in Syria? However reluctant President Obama is to get further involved in another Middle East conflict, the clear threats to US national interests are already upon us. Which is why the US and allies have already been on the diplomatic track with Syria for quite some time. Nudging, cajoling, counseling, back channel signaling, and finally threatening to get to some sort of satisfactory agreement that doesn’t allow the Syria conflict to fester.

Keep in mind we are already two UN-Arab League envoys into this conflict, with the current envoy paving the way for stepping down in the coming months (FP). This month marks one year from the first, failed, Geneva conference peace attempt. We’re nine Human Rights Council resolutions and four Commission of Inquiry reports into the conflict. We’ve had one UN General Assembly resolution on the conflict. Altogether, months of diplomacy, reams of resolutions, communiqués, and reports. The diplomatic language has gotten as severe as diplomatic language can get. We have already had the denouncing, deploring, objecting, and condemning. We have even had a red line.

Bashar al-Assad must be transitioned out of power. That has been the US policy. From Obama in August 2011, “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” (WashPo). There can be no doubt that US national interests are implicated. Syria is in a region of longstanding strategic significance to the US. Syria borders one NATO ally, Turkey, and two major non-NATO allies, to use the official designation for Jordan and Israel. Syria possesses significant stockpiles of chemical weapons. And finally, the Assad regime is backed by Iran, a key US strategic challenger in the region. (All the liberals dabbling in realism and lecturing about how foolish the George W. Bush administration was to remove key Iranian challengers, Hussein’s Iraq and the Taliban’s Afghanistan, they should be jumping at the opportunity to remove Assad from power, a key Iranian partner.)

If the geostrategic case isn’t strong enough, there is the fact that Syria is a man-made humanitarian catastrophe with no signs of diffusing without international community intervention. The UN estimates 10 million Syrians will need assistance by years end; that is half the population (BBC). The gross human rights violations have prompted the UN Human Rights Council to pass nine resolutions focusing mainly against Syrian regime misconduct. Misconduct catalogued in detail in reports that should “shock the conscience of mankind”.

And here we come to the paramount test that should dispel all doubt as to whether the US needs to dramatically step up the diplomatic and military pressure against the Assad regime: conduct that shocks the conscience of mankind. Yes, sovereignty is an important aspect of the international system. But we should remember sovereignty was established to solve a particular set of political problems stemming from the European wars of religion. The peace of Westphalia, whose realm, his religion (cuius regio, eius religio), and the principles associated with it must also accommodate the many changes in the world since 1648. One would expect, especially for people who believe in a living Constitution, to not have fixed our notions about statehood and its privileges in the 17th century.

Unfortunately for the people of Syria, the Assad regime has given voluminous evidence that it should no longer benefit from the international community’s normally deferential stance in light of sovereignty. Take for instance a fairly straightforward injunction from customary international humanitarian law Rule 74: “The use of chemical weapons is prohibited.” Sarin use clearly falls into the “not permitted” category.

What leadership looks like. (AP Photo)

What leadership looks like. (AP Photo)

The Obama administration has already waited far too long to demonstrate forceful leadership in implementing an aim expressed in 2011. The Deputy National Security Adviser should not be the one doing the briefing, outlining, and explaining while the president is occupied with other events (as the NYT reports). As with Qom and Iran, where Obama stood with the President of France and the Prime Minister of the UK, Obama should have stood with allies and outlined the next phases in seeing through the removal of Assad from power.

I’ll close with my questions to the non-interventionists and everyone counseling the US and international community to wait and see. Wait and see for what? Wait for more challenges to the stability of the region and the security of Israel, Turkey, and Jordan (let alone Lebanon and Iraq)? Wait for millions more refugees and internally displaced? Wait for more extensive use of chemical weapons? Wait for a Syrian Halabja?

Why wait for even more systematic, widespread, and gross violations of human rights?