Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Reading

Shut Up, John Bolton — Peter Beinart in The Atlantic on the warmonger’s reckless case for war with Iran.

According to a 2013 study by the Costs of War Project at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost the United States more than $4 trillion. Over the coming decades, that number will likely rise by trillions more. If you include America’s military operations in Pakistan, these wars have taken the lives of roughly 300,000 people. And almost 15 years later, both Iraq and Afghanistan are virtually failed states.

This does not mean The New York Times should never publish op-eds proposing new wars. Although always tragic, war can sometimes be less horrible than the alternative. And it does not mean The New York Times should never publish op-eds by people who have supported disastrous wars. Even commentators who have made huge errors in the past may still contribute useful arguments in the present. At least I hope so, given that I supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq myself.

But what The New York Times should not do is let people who have supported disastrous wars in the past propose new wars casually. If you want to advocate for a new war in the most prestigious newspaper in the United States, you should have to grapple, at least briefly, with the potential dangers. Given the costs, both financial and human, of America’s post-9/11 conflicts, that’s not too much to ask.

Which brings me to John Bolton’s Thursday New York Times op-ed, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” Bolton was both a booster, and a minor architect, of the war in Iraq. As George W. Bush’s undersecretary of state in late 2002, he told the BBC that, “We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq.” He added that, “the Iraqi people would be unique in history if they didn’t welcome the overthrow of this dictatorial regime,” and that although building a democracy would prove a “difficult task,” the people of Iraq “are fully competent to do it.” So competent, in fact, that “the American role [in post-war Iraq] actually will be fairly minimal.”

That’s what Bolton said publicly. Privately, according to a 2005 report by the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee, he distributed classified information about Joe Wilson in an attempt to smear the former ambassador, who was then questioning President Bush’s claim that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Bolton also played a key role in forcing out Jose Bustani, director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, because he feared Bustani’s inspectors in Iraq would undermine the case for war. It was behavior like this that led Washington Post columnist David Ignatius to observe that Bolton “epitomizes the politicization of intelligence that helped produce the fiasco over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.”

Should this disqualify Bolton from penning a New York Times op-ed urging America to bomb Iran? No. But it should have disqualified him from penning the op-ed he published on Thursday.

Replacing Andrew Jackson — Jaime Fuller in New York magazine in getting a woman on the $20 bill.

On paper, it doesn’t look like it would be difficult to change the faces that greet us on dollar bills whenever we pull out our wallets. The Treasury Secretary has unilateral authority to banish Franklin from the $100 or Lincoln from the five spot whenever he wants; Congress also has the power to change the portraits used on U.S. currency. The possibilities for new monetary muses are nearly limitless — the only requirement is that they be dead, just like the luminaries chosen for stamps. There’s also an expectation that the portraits will be familiar faces from history.

However, the process must be harder than it looks, because the Treasury hasn’t retired a portrait since 1929, when Andrew Jackson replaced Grover Cleveland — which has everyone wondering what will happen with a new campaign to get a woman on the $20.

Plenty of people have tried to change a portrait. Most of these attempts involved Ronald Reagan. In 2004, Grover Norquist tried to boot Alexander Hamilton from the $10 and replace him with the conservative icon; Senator Mitch McConnell thought the idea was a great one. “Hamilton was a nice guy and everything, but he wasn’t president,” Norquist told USA Today. At the same time, a few House Republicans were trying to get Reagan put on the $20. Six years after those efforts failed, Representative Patrick McHenry sponsored legislation to get Reagan on the $50.

“There’s an inherent conservatism when it comes to money here,” notes Matthew Wittmann, assistant curator of American coins and currency at the American Numismatic Society.

A new group has decided to try a different tack by advancing a new portrait that is not Ronald Reagan. Women on 20s has started a campaign to get a woman on money that Americans use (unlike $1 coins) — something that even President Obama has said is a “pretty good idea.” They’ve even picked the perfect guy to kick off currency — Andrew Jackson, once best known for military prowess, and now remembered for causing the Trail of Tears.

“Andrew Jackson folks would complain,” says Daniel Feller, an expert on our seventh president at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, “but there aren’t many Andrew Jackson folks left. I don’t know who in government would be against it.”

However, the problem was never going to be complaints about keeping Jackson on the $20; it was always going to be about narrowing the entire universe of eligible women to put on the bill to one in a town where agreeing is often a laughable dream, and everyone has different reasons for wanting to try something new with currency — or keep it the same.

When the Treasury thinks about redesigning money, it isn’t about the politics. The department — along with the Federal Reserve, the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing — is always thinking about how to best stop people from counterfeiting it. (Everyone forgets, but the Secret Service was created to protect money, not the president.) That’s why dollar bills have slowly morphed over time, with stripes and nearly unnoticed whizbangs continually cluttering the currency, and the important men in them shifting in their invisible seats and switching up their stare. A Treasury official, who stressed the department’s aim to prevent unauthorized production of money, was unable to talk about any specific campaigns to change currency design “or about anything political.”

Making Stupid Official — Andy Borowitz on the new law in Indiana.

INDIANAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report)—In a history-making decision, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana has signed into law a bill that officially recognizes stupidity as a religion.

Pence said that he hoped the law would protect millions of state residents “who, like me, have been practicing this religion passionately for years.”

The bill would grant politicians like Pence the right to observe their faith freely, even if their practice of stupidity costs the state billions of dollars.

While Pence’s action drew the praise of stupid people across America, former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was not among them. “Even I wasn’t dumb enough to sign a bill like that,” she said.

Doonesbury — Without notice.

4 barks and woofs on “Sunday Reading

  1. The law Pence signed in Indiana for ‘religious freedom’ is ridiculous. It is going to cost them dearly. We are all ready assured freedom of religion in the Constitution. This law is mean spirited and ill advised. Indiana is making a huge mistake that is morally repugnant.

  2. Imagine this: All our paper money has pictures of women who are white, black, Asian, atheist, lesbian, etc. That would blow a lot of minds.

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