Lesser Evil Voting

Although I think a very strong affirmative case can be made for voting for Hillary Clinton, some liberals are obsessed with viewing this election as one of voting for the “lesser evil.”  And in this framework, voting for the “lesser evil” is a practical, yet unexciting and impure choice.  Noam Chomsky has made a clear argument for why voting for Hillary Clinton is imperative for all liberals.  His An Eight Point Brief for LEV (Lesser Evil Voting) ends:

However, the left should also recognize that, should Trump win based on its failure to support Clinton, it will repeatedly face the accusation (based in fact), that it lacks concern for those sure to be most victimized by a Trump administration.

Often this charge will emanate from establishment operatives who will use it as a bad faith justification for defeating challenges to corporate hegemony either in the Democratic Party or outside of it. They will ensure that it will be widely circulated in mainstream media channels with the result that many of those who would otherwise be sympathetic to a left challenge will find it a convincing reason to maintain their ties with the political establishment rather than breaking with it, as they must.

Conclusion: by dismissing a “lesser evil” electoral logic and thereby increasing the potential for Clinton’s defeat the left will undermine what should be at the core of what it claims to be attempting to achieve.

Lesser Evil Voting

Where Will It End?

This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it—that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.  The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes . . . understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon.  McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for.  Jesus!  Where will it end?  How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?

-Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

Where Will It End?

The Annals of Modern Slavery

The obvious, and yet rarely acknowledged, problem with private prisons is that their obvious market objective is to imprison as many people as possible and then profit off of them:

With their growing influence, this heavily financed lobby has also been able to slowly erode restrictions on the use of prisoners as commercial employees. Prison labor has long been banned in various states from competing on the free market since it violates numerous labor laws and essentially amounts to a slave workforce who can be paid subminimum wages and have little recourse against harsh working conditions. The for-profit prison industry is determined to change that.


This profiteering might be defended as part and parcel of running an efficient penitentiary, but it’s hard not to view it as a vicious cycle of exploitation; prisoners are used as cheap labor, sometimes against their will, obstructed from leaving in due time, and given worse treatment all to help fund a lobby that seeks to trap ever more into their galley. When the venture is not profitable enough, the inventory can be auctioned off to the lowest bidder like chattel, creating a kind of de facto system of legitimized slavery.

The Annals of Modern Slavery

The Ant Trade’s Consequences

The ant trade is the name for the trickle of guns that flow south to Mexico as drugs come north.  It’s called that, because traditionally, only a handful of guns cross the border in any single arms run.  Done enough times, however, and the flow of arms can be quite large.  Hence the image of ants crossing the border all with several weapons.  It seems that trickle has increased greatly in the past few years:

No other state has produced more guns seized by police in the brutal Mexican drug wars than Texas. In the Lone Star State, no other city has more guns linked to Mexican crime scenes than Houston. And in the Texas oil town, no single independent dealer stands out more for selling guns traced from south of the border than Bill Carter.

Carter, 76, has operated four Carter’s Country stores in the Houston metropolitan area over the past half-century. In the past two years, more than 115 guns from his stores have been seized by the police and military in Mexico.

As an unprecedented number of American guns flows to the murderous drug cartels across the border, the identities of U.S. dealers that sell guns seized at Mexican crime scenes remain confidential under a law passed by Congress in 2003.

A year-long investigation by The Washington Post has cracked that secrecy and uncovered the names of the top 12 U.S. dealers of guns traced to Mexico in the past two years.

Eight of the top 12 dealers are in Texas, three are in Arizona, and one is in California. In Texas, two of the four Houston area Carter’s Country stores are on the list, along with four gun retailers in the Rio Grande Valley at the southern tip of the state. There are 3,800 gun retailers in Texas, 300 in Houston alone.

“One of the reasons that Houston is the number one source, you can go to a different gun store for a month and never hit the same gun store,” said J. Dewey Webb, special agent in charge of the Houston field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “You can buy [a 9mm handgun] down along the border, but if you come to Houston, you can probably buy it cheaper because there’s more dealers, there’s more competition.”

Drug cartels have aggressively turned to the United States because Mexico severely restricts gun ownership. Following gunrunning paths that have been in place for 50 years, firearms cross the border and end up in the hands of criminals as well as ordinary citizens seeking protection.

“This is not a new phenomenon,” Webb said.

What is different now, authorities say, is the number of high-powered rifles heading south – AR-15s, AK-47s, armor-piercing .50-caliber weapons – and the savagery of the violence.

Federal authorities say more than 60,000 U.S. guns of all types have been recovered in Mexico in the past four years, helping fuel the violence that has contributed to 30,000 deaths. Mexican President Felipe Calderon came to Washington in May and urged Congress and President Obama to stop the flow of guns south.

U.S. law enforcement has ramped up its focus on gun trafficking along the southwestern border. Arrests of individual gunrunners have surged. But investigators rarely bring regulatory actions or criminal cases against U.S. gun dealers, in part because of laws backed by the gun lobby that make it difficult to prove cases.

First, a big problem here is there’s a politically powerful vested interest that profits from arming the drug cartels. The U.S., generally, is very good about controlling the flow of our military arms, but it seems the security state is turning a blind eye to this problem. Second, as crime has continued to decrease in the U.S. despite the recession, the increase in violence in Mexico may be the actual consequence of the lapsing of the assault weapons ban.  I’ll also just note that border states have particularly lenient gun ownership laws, which no doubt helps fuel the ant trade.  I wonder when this problem will create enough political pressure to change current gun policy.


Conservatives at Red State, of course, have a genuinely insane idea related to this: invade Mexico.

The Ant Trade’s Consequences

Lithium Blogging

Matt Yglesias has a post up about an article posted on CNAS’s national security blog about lithium and mentions political problems between the U.S. and Bolivia. This is the key part:

But going forward, the center of lithium influence is likely to shift to Bolivia, since vast reserves lie beneath its Salar de Uyuni salt flats. For the United States, this could be a problem: the Morales government remains hostile to U.S. concerns, and there is potential for instability given serious rifts in Bolivian politics. (emphasis added by Yglesias)

As Yglesias says, “[t]his mostly strikes me as an example of how the American foreign policy establishment’s ability to gin up ‘threats’ to our national security is really impressive.” It goes a bit beyond that, as if we wanted to improve our relations with Bolivia and Morales, we easily could.

But first, I think Yglesias does not frame the problem well. He argues, essentially, we shouldn’t worry because we have money, and since we have money, it’s a done-deal we’ll get a slice of the lithium. On the world commodity markets, I think that’s true. But if we want to get in on the extraction of lithium, and view that as a national security prerogative, I don’t think Bolivia will magically open the gates for us. Just in Asia, we are competing with China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea for lithium extraction rights. Yglesias likens the Bolivia/lithium issue to the Venezuela/oil issue, but there are key differences between the two. Neither the U.S. nor Bolivia are dependent on lithium the way the U.S. and Venezuelan economies are dependent on oil. This gives room for the both countries to shape the contours of the relationship and the economic structure of lithium extraction. If we don’t get our act together, I think it’s likely Bolivia will award contracts to states they are friendly with. For example, a state like China, who is working with Bolivia on creating a satellite. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be able to buy lithium, as it will be an internationally traded commodity, but our mining businesses will miss out and our national security apparatus might deem it prudent to have a hand in the extraction process.

Implicit in this conversation is the fact that the Morales government will keep tight control over any foreign venture extracting lithium. For our businesses to have a shot at getting in at the ground level, we need better bilateral relations with Bolivia. In a few easy steps America could drastically improve our relations with the Morales government, who is almost certain to win reelection, and gain a foothold for U.S. companies in any lithium extraction. There’s two things to keep in my mind. First, that Morales rise to power was a reaction to the failure of Goni’s presidency. And in the atmosphere where a president has fled the country for safe haven in the U.S. after riots and protests, the refusal of the U.S. to extradite the man to face charges in Bolivia makes anti-U.S. rhetoric an easy (and successful) electoral strategy. Second, the costs of bad relations with the U.S. hurts Bolivia a lot more than it hurts us.

In no particular order, these are a few actions that would directly improve U.S. relations with Bolivia at little cost to us:

The point is these are all relatively painless actions for the U.S. and would buy goodwill with Morales, yet we refuse to do so. It’s almost as if we are trying to keep Morales mad at us, by deliberately sticking it to Bolivia. I’ll take CNAS’s national security blog post as an invitation for a Nirvana video, too:

Lithium Blogging