Merry Christmas Everybody! I’m heading out of town in a couple hours, but I’m super psyched to be able to fill one of the year’s biggest gaps by putting out a Christmas eve video on Tunisia! I intend to do a better job of keeping on top of Tunisian and North African politics in the new year. In September and October they held a series of elections that I am very late in covering. Tunisia is probably the most important country in the Middle East/North Africa region. There’s a distinct chance that what they’re doing now will be remembered long after the decades of nastiness further East have been forgotten. One can hope anyway…
Hey there. Today’s video talks about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the weird way in which she’s helping put forward one of my very conservative priorities… a more powerful Congress. What the video doesn’t get into is the general “socialism” panic, and what I think of her specific policies. I’ll get into that a bit here, but the first thing to remember is that Ocasio-Cortez does not actually have much institutional power. She can put things on the agenda, she can make specific issues or problems a one-day wonder, but as a freshman congresswoman, she doesn’t actually have the ability to do much in the Congress itself.
First off there’s the topic of her socialism, which some report may already be fading out of her messaging. She’s definitely much more left-wing than the US national average, and maintains that “the workers” are her number one priority. She also focuses on a lot of identity politics issues. That makes a ton of sense for a representative of some of the most diverse and left-leaning places in the country. It’s actually kind of surprising that the Bronx and Queens weren’t already represented by a left-wing firebrand. It’s nothing to flip out about.
So keeping in mind the fact that Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t actually have much real power, let’s dive into what little we know about her legislative program. First off is the Green New Deal, an attempt to bundle together some environmental and jobs programs. I’m on record as not caring much about the environment, and being pretty confident that technology would handle the issue. But that was during the Obama years when things were actually moving in a good direction. Trump’s aggressive promotion of industrial dead ends like coal, and insane decision to let everybody else make the rules for the environment while the US sulks at home, make me a lot less calm on this issue. So I’m happy to see more rabble-rousing about it. That said, Ocasio-Cortez will have trouble getting the Green New Deal past the leadership of her own party, let alone past this president.
Second taxes. Honestly her suggestion of a 70% tax rate on those making more than 10 million dollars a year doesn’t go anywhere near far enough. I believe our national debt and annual deficit to be a near existential crisis. It threatens the world as we know it. More taxes are essential. Now, while Ocasio-Cortez might want more taxes, she does not care about the deficit. After decades of being the only ones who actually cared about the national debt, the Democrats are now beginning to take their cue from the Drunken sailor fiscal habits of the Republicans. Under the banner of “Modern Monetary Theory” they are filing in behind Dick Cheney and his famous proclamation that “Deficits Don’t Matter”. Now, I don’t claim to understand money. But I do know some history. The British didn’t think deficits mattered during the world wars either. Then they had to give up their Empire. I think this MMT thing is just an excuse to accelerate us off a cliff. That said, Ocasio-Cortez couldn’t possibly be worse for the public finances than the Republicans have been for the past 40 years.
Third, Identity Politics. Honestly I just love that. Remember, I’m quite possibly the country’s only proud conservative SJW. Her standpoint on abolishing ICE, and reforming policing fits quite well with mine. Also I kind of enjoy all this “sisters of color in power” social media stuff. I don’t find it threatening in the slightest, and those who do should probably engage in some self-reflection on why that is. This is a process as old as time. The history of New York in particular is one of ethnic group after ethnic group coming to power and building fiefs for themselves. It’s a key part to the melting pot and eventual assimilation. One of the tragedies of the 20th century is that the growing power of the federal government, and especially the white suburbs over inner cities, meant that these local positions of power still existed but had lost their significance in most places. Flint, Michigan or Newark, New Jersey can have as many black Mayors as it wants, it’s not going to bring about real changes in power or wealth. The removal of legal bars to success for people of color 50 years ago was a great victory, but the fact that real power was so much further away than it was for earlier Italian and Irish populations kept real progress from being made. This new, dramatically more diverse congress is a long delayed step forward, and it’s going to be great for all of us.
Let me preface this by saying again that I’m not any kind of Israel expert, but I figured I should talk a bit more about the claim at the end of today’s video, that Israel has helped reduce its neighbors to smoking ruins. The question of Israel’s role in the run-up to the Iraq war is controversial, but the consensus seems to be that they were very much for Bush’s invasion, and did what they could to promote it. The current Israeli government’s almost gleeful support for the destruction of Syria is less controversial. Israel is officially neutral, but in 2017 they conceded that they had carried out around 100 airstrikes against Syrian and Hezbollah targets over the course of the war, and they have acted as a stumbling block to the peace process.
I think this is all a terrible mistake. This policy of aiding in the destruction of Iraq and Syria might have made sense during the Cold War. It would have been vicious then, but it would at least have had some justification. During that era, when they were faced with the opposition of a vastly better armed Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as the opposition of the Soviet Union, taking these sorts of actions would have been rational. Israel’s current leadership still acts as if they face this sort of existential threat. They don’t. And the world knows it. The desperately promoted threat from Iran is virtually nonexistent. The policies against Iraq and Syria that Israel supported did give Iran more power on the ground in these countries, but Israel remains free to bomb them at will in Syria. Most of Iran’s weapons systems date back to the Shah. Iran has made some limited progress with missile technology, but the use of that technology would quickly result in a complete roll-back of Iranian power in the region, and no doubt the destruction of multiple Iranian and Syrian cities by the Israeli and US air forces.
The Soviet Union is gone. Egypt and Jordan are now Israeli allies, and amazingly Saudi Arabia, if still officially hostile, is now largely seen as an Israeli ally as well. The international Palestinian terrorist threat of yore has been almost completely neutralized. It has been co-opted by the Palestinian Authority, and it has been fairly comprehensively rooted out of its old homes in Lebanon and Jordan. With the fences and walls around Gaza and the West Bank, the threat of a third Intifadah is largely meaningless. Palestinians would die in their thousands, in return for a few miles of burned Israeli farms. Netanyahu and company seem to think they are now secure enough to treat the Palestinians any way they want. This is a terrible mistake.
Despite all Israel’s protestations, the world, outside of Washington, DC, can now clearly see that it is more secure than it has ever been. All 21st century wars are media wars, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is even more so than others. Netanyahu’s behavior makes it look, even to Israel’s most natural allies, like Israel is THE destabilizing element in the region. Much of Israel’s support in the world, and in the US in particular, is based on the perception that the country is a plucky underdog. Killing Palestinians by the thousand, with the support of former enemies like Egypt, while increasing security cooperation with Saudi Arabia, does not fit that image. As today’s video says, Israel’s current leadership serves the interest of US defense contractors, not the interests of Israel.
I have loved the Empire State building since I was a child. But have you ever thought about that name? “Empire State”? That’s how New Yorkers saw their state in the early 20th century. New York led the country that was going to lead the world. Parsing the exact definition of “Empire” intended in the name is a much longer topic than a blog post can cover. But that vision, of New York as a leader, went straight to the top. Al Smith, the president of the company that built the building was a former governor of New York.
This video documents how that vision has faded, and how far from national leadership the people and politicians of New York have fallen. I think I’ll have a lot more to say on this topic in future, but I wanted to briefly lay out the facts this week.