Sunday, July 23. 2017
I'm having a lot of trouble with websites making demands: that I
pay them money, or sign up for things, or other demands I don't have
the patience to parse. I understand that internet media businesses
have a tough time making ends meet, and I'm not unsympathetic, but
I'm not rich, and I'm not in the business of reporting on media,
and I really hate where this is going: a world where information
is locked up behind a handful of companies, where people have to
decide something is worth paying for before they can find out
whether it's worth anything at all. In such a world many people
will only be able to read things that they value because they
agree with, and most people will never read anything because the
practical value of most information is vanishingly small. This
is a hideous prospect promising a world that only grows more and
more dysfunctional. Allowing paywalls to be bypassed by agreeing
to look at tons of advertising only makes the information more
untrustworthy and unappealing. Advertising may not be the root of
all evil in America, but it's certainly contributed, especially
by raising consumer manipulation to the level of a science.
I should probably compile a list of websites I'm boycotting --
or, effectively, that are boycotting me -- but I find the practice
too annoying to obsess over. Looks like I should add the Washington
Post to the list -- clicked on several pieces and all I get now are
subscription screens. (The ad there started "I see you like great
journalism" but the WP has rarely met that mark; e.g., see
The Washington Post's War on Disability Programs Continues,
and ask yourself: why should anyone pay these people money?) I'm
especially annoyed at
The Nation blocking me out,
and have decided to stop linking to their articles. (We actually
subscribe to the print edition of The Nation, which as I
understand it entitles us to "full digital access" but I've never
set that up before -- indeed, never had to.) I've started to avoid
The New York Times and The New Yorker -- again, we
pay them money for print editions, but they have "free article"
counters, and I'd hate to waste my quota by looking at something
stupid by David Brooks. We actually pay for quite a bit of print
media, and my wife subscribes to digital things I don't even know
about (and probably wouldn't be happy about if I did know). Still,
we don't read so much or so widely because we find it entertaining
or necessary for business. We do it because we're trying to be
concerned, responsible citizens. And it sure looks like the goal
of business in America is to make citizenship cost-prohibitive.
I'll add that I don't have paywalls, advertisements, or even
any form of begware on my websites. I'm not paid for what I write,
nor do I make any money off the occasional music discs I'm sent.
I do this for free, and find that at least a few people find my
analysis and information to be useful and worthwhile -- I guess
that's my reward (that plus satisfaction in my craft). I even
spend some money to make this possible, but I do feel the need
to limit my losses. In this current media environment, that may
mean limiting the sources I consult.
PS: Add Foreign Policy to that list, demanding
about $90/year under the unsavory slogan, "Today, truth comes at
a cost." The link I was following came from
Trump assigns White House team to target Iran nuclear deal, sidelining
State Department. This probably complements several links on Iran
Binta Baxter: How the Student Loan Industry Is Helping Trump Destroy
American Democracy: Also, how Trump's helping the student loan
Cristina Cabrera: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Have Raked in $212
Million Since 2016.
Daniel José Camacho: Hillary Clinton is more unpopular than Donald Trump.
Let that sink in: At least before the election, she polled better
than Trump. You'd think she'd do even better after six months of Trump's
non-stop scandals, but many recent polls show she'd still lose, and the
Democrats have yet to register tangible gains by targeting Trump --
despite Trump's own favorability polling sinking into "worst ever"
territory. Still, I'd take these polls with a grain of salt. Clinton's
own favorability ratings have taken a hit partly because people who
voted for her -- mostly people who would never have voted for Trump --
are still pissed at her for losing. As for the Democrats, they've yet
to move on from her -- something that probably won't happen until the
2018 campaigns get seriously under way. Meanwhile, for all the scandal
in Washington, there hasn't been a lot of evident everyday damage that
most people can blame directly on Trump (immigrants are the exception
here). Those things will compound over the next year -- something
Democrats need to position themselves for.
Jonathan Cohn: Only 32 House Democrats Voted Against Reauthorizing Trump's
Deportation Machine: Note, however, 9 Republicans also voted no.
Thomas Frank: The media's war on Trump is destined to fail. Why can't
it see that? Wait, there's a "media war on Trump"? How can you
tell? Didn't mainstream media gave Trump ten times as much coverage
in 2016 as they did anyone else? The New York Times gave him an
interview sandbox just last week. Sure, it made him look stupid,
but doesn't that just play into his appeal? One might argue that
Steven Colbert and Seth Myers are waging something like a war on
Trump, but they're also catering to large niche market of people
who can't stand Trump (and who have insomnia, possibly related).
But mainstream media -- the so-called objective reporters -- are
fatally compromised by corporate direction and an eye towards
entertainment, and both of those factors have played into Trump
while leaving the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party
largely unexamined. One could imagine a responsible media going
after Trump's administration, examining in depth the conflicts
of interest, the money trails, the intense lobbying both of
business fronts and other interests like the NRA and AIPAC --
and they needn't be partisan (all the better if they catch a
few corrupt Democrats along the way). But that's not going to
happen as long as the media is owned by a handful of humongous
conglomerates. On the other hand, Trump's own war on the "fake
news" media does seem to be working, if not to deter them from
serious reporting, to reinforce the tendency of his believers
to disregard anything critical they may come up with.
Glenn Greenwald/Ryan Grim: US Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support
for Boycott Campaign Against Israel:
The Criminalization of political speech and activism against Israel has
become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the West. In France,
activists have been arrested and prosecuted for wearing T-shirts advocating
a boycott of Israel. The U.K. has enacted a series of measures designed
to outlaw such activism. In the U.S., governors compete with one another
over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses
from participating in any boycotts aimed even at Israeli settlements,
which the world regards as illegal. On U.S. campuses, punishment of
pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticisms of Israel is so
commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as
"the Palestine Exception" to free speech.
But now, a group of 43 senators -- 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats --
wants to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans
to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched
in protest of that country's decades-old occupation of Palestine. The
two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland
and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Perhaps the most shocking aspect
is the punishment: Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will
face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty
of $1 million and 20 years in prison.
Philip Weiss: Critics of US 'Israel Anti-Boycott Act' say even requests
for information could expose citizens to penalties. For an example
of a similar state bill, see
Heike Schotten/Elsa Auerbach: National movement to silence BDS disguises
itself in MA legislature as 'No Hate in Bay State' act.
As this is happening, there are dozens of articles on the unfolding
human catastrophe in Gaza; e.g.
Gaza on Verge of Collapse as Israel Sends 2.2 Million People "Back to
Middle Ages" in Electricity Crisis. There is also renewed violence
in the West Bank; see:
Jason Ditz: Six Killed, Hundreds Wounded as Violence Rages Across West
Sheren Khalel: Three settlers stabbed to death and three Palestinians
shot dead in turmoil over security measures at al-Aqsa mosque compound;
also always useful to check out
Kate's latest press compilation.
Benjamin Hart: Obamacare and the Limits of Propaganda:
But now, Republicans control every lever of the federal government,
and any illusion that replacing Obamacare would be simple has been
well and truly shattered. Instead, the relentless news coverage
around health care has finally revealed Republicans' philosophy on
the issue: nothing more than knee-jerk opposition to the previous
president combined with an overwhelming desire to cut taxes for
And by thus far rejecting any reasonable fixes to the law, the
GOP has inadvertently helped drag the American public to the left.
A recent Pew survey found that 60 percent of Americans now believe
that government has a responsibility to ensure health care for its
citizens, the highest number in a decade. That includes 52 percent
of Republicans with family incomes below $30,000, up from 31 percent
a year ago.
Propaganda works best when the enemy it conjures is hazy and
easily caricatured; it works less well when everyday reality intrudes.
Americans have now gotten a taste of what citizens in other
industrialized nations have long become accustomed to, and they don't
want less of it. They want more.
John Judis: The Conflict Tearing Apart British Politics: An Interview
With David Goodhart: Judis' interviews have generally been interesting,
but this one gets pretty stupid. Goodhart's distinction between Somewheres
and Anywheres isn't ridiculous -- certainly they're more neutral terms
than Provincials and Cosmopolitans, but that's pretty much what they boil
down to. On the other hand, the way he maps British partisan politics onto
his concepts is scattered and arbitrary, obviously intent primarily on
marginalizing Jeremy Corbyn, who he clearly detests on all levels:
Jeremy Corbyn probably represents the view of about five percent of the
British people, but a lot of naïve people don't remember the 1970s and
the 1980s and the thing called the Soviet Union. They live in this
ahistorical world. Even older people who are not so naïve and realize
that Jeremy Corbyn was not to their taste in almost every respect
nonetheless planned to vote for him as a protest against Brexit on
the assumption that he was not going to be prime minister. The things
that pushed him up, gave him twelve points more than were expected,
were the very high turnout of the blob youth left, the hard core
Remainers, and enough of the blue collar voters coming back to Labour
on anti-austerity grounds. . . .
I think the traditional Labour coalition has blown apart, but on a
one-off basis Jeremy Corbyn has managed to stitch it back together
sufficiently to give him the uplift of ten percent in the vote. By
going helter skelter for the educated or semi-educated youth vote
and playing on the soft left ideology that so many kids come out of
the university with, combined with this bribe to abolish student
tuition fees, he is shoring up for his own political ends, the
middle class welfare state. So he has this huge uplift of the student
vote and enough of the blue-collar vote, but it's a one-off and I
think Labour is still on the road to oblivion as a party.
I don't know anything more about Goodhart -- e.g., I have no idea
why he should be considered some sort of expert on UK politics --
but he seems like a prime example of neoliberalism, especially in
his disdain for "the middle class welfare state" and his painting
anything government might do to help out any but the poorest of
citizens as a "bribe" -- and needless to say the poor who still
do get some paltry dole will also face a substantial helping of
shame. The left's counter to this is to establish a set of rights
which raise everyone up.
Goldhart's view of Labour as a declining, obsolescent political
force seems to be stuck in the "end of history" fantasies prevalent
in the US/UK after the collapse of Communism. Until the fall, the
ruling capitalists in the West at least had a healthy fear of worker
revolution, and therefore sought to make society and economy more
palatable. After the collapse, they lost that fear, and went on a
binge of greed that still hasn't subsided, even though they seemed
to trip up severely with the 2008 meltdown. Meanwhile, the left
tried to rethink and regroup. A recent, interesting piece on this is:
Tim Barker: The Bleak Left. I haven't finished it, and have my
own ideas which gradually formed as I was trying to write about
post-capitalism in the late 1990s. One of the first things I did
was to jettison Marx, reinterpreting his revolutionary impulses
not as early-proletarian but as late-bourgeois. Paraphrasing
Benjamin on Baudellaire, I saw him (and later Marxists) as "secret
agents, of the bourgeoisie's discontent with its own rule." That
brought me back to equality as the foundation seed both of liberal
politics and any just society. No way to properly unpack this here,
but given recent trends toward extreme inequality (thanks mostly
to neoliberalism, although inherited money also has much to do
with it, especially on the US right) it isn't at all surprising
that the left would reform to countervail, and that it would draw
both on liberal and on socialist traditions to do so.
Sam Knight: Trump's Environmental Protection Pick Is BP's Former Lawyer --
and May Preside Over Cases Involving BP.
Mike Konczal: "Neoliberalism" isn't an empty epithet. It's a real,
powerful set of ideas. Centrist Democrats are getting touchy
about being called "neoliberal" -- even in The Nation I've
seen Danny Goldberg (link, if you can read it,
here) insist that the left stop using the term. He doesn't
offer an alternative, but the first one that pops into my mind
is "corporate stooges" -- "neoliberal" at least suggests some
degree of coherence and integrity. Konczal tries to sketch out
how that ideology developed historically, going back to Charles
Peters' 1983 "A Neoliberal's Manifesto." Since then, adherents
have preferred to call themselves New Democrats (or New Labour
in Britain), while British critics have tended to use neoliberal
for macroeconomic policies that promoted free flow of capital
and trade while forcing governments to adopt austerity, with
no linkages to other issues (thus, for instance, one could be
neoliberal on economic policy, neoconservative on war, and
either liberal or conservative on social issues). However, at
present neoliberalism is a cleavage line that splits Democrats --
even if Clinton had to compromise on trade and college tuition
to secure the 2016 nomination. Indeed, neoliberal only became
an epithet as it became clear that its promises of widespread
prosperity turned out to be not just hollow but fraudulent.
Richard Lardner: Lawmakers Announce Bipartisan Deal on Sweeping
Russia Sanctions Bill: Proves two things: (1) nothing brings
a nation together like a shared enemy, even a phony one; and (2)
the Democrats have still not made a serious review of America's
habit of imperial power projection, even though it objectively
hurts both their base and their political message. A crude way
to understand the latter point is that the only times Republicans
join with Democrats is when they intuit that doing so hurts (and
helps disillusion) the Democratic Party base. Democrats wouldn't
have to go full isolationist to turn the corner on the neocon
fetish with single-power projection that has dominated US policy
since the mid-1990s. (The Iraq regime change vote marked their
ascendancy, again keyed to take advantage of an enemy Democrats
wouldn't doubt.) Democrats could, for instance, revert to their
early beliefs in international law and institutions -- a belief
that led to the UN, an organization the neocons have managed to
totally marginalize (except when they can use it). That reminds
me of a third point: this bill again testifies to the singular
anomaly of US subservience to Israel. You'd think at the very
least that Democrats would defend Obama's nuclear deal with Iran,
but their allegiance to Israel trumps party loyalty.
One should note that while Congress is limiting Trump's power
to reduce international tensions by curtailing sanctions, that
same body is evidently giving Trump a free hand to start any war
that strikes his fancy. See (if you can):
John Nichols: Paul Ryan Hands Donald Trump a Blank Check for
Dylan Matthews: President Trump's essentially unlimited pardon power,
explained: Reports are that Trump has already started discussing
using his pardon powers to obstruct the Russia investigation. Can he
do that? Yes. Would that be grounds for impeachment? Probably. Will
the Republican congress act on that? Nope. Also, where early reports
merely stated that Trump was asking about his pardon powers, now he
seems to have gotten the answer he wants:
Cristina Cabrera: Trump Asserts His 'Complete Power' to Pardon.
On the other hand, Laurence Tribe argues
No, Trump can't pardon himself. The Constitution tells us so.
Caitlin MacNeal: Spicey's Greatest Hits: Trump spokesman Sean Spicer
resigned this week, after Anthony Scaramucci was appointed as White House
Communications Director. Link has videos of some of Spicer's more famous
gaffes, but his root problem was the material he had to work with, and
the so-called journalists who cover the presidency and can't seem to dig
deeper than press briefings and Trump's twitter feed. Scaramucci is a
hedge fund guy, which makes you wonder what he's doing slumming in the
White House staff. His first job, of course, was to clean up his own
Cristina Cabrera: Scaramucci on Twitter Deletion Spree.
Tom McKay: Trump Nominates Sam Clovis, a Dude Who Is Not a Scientist,
to be Department of Agriculture's Top Scientist: But he did work
as host of a right-wing talk show back in Iowa.
Heather Digby Parton: Trump rejects his poll numbers as fake news --
but even his voters are starting to notice the scam.
John Quiggin: Can we get to 350ppm? Yes we can: A relatively
optimistic forecast on climate change, based largely on recent
technological trends like much cheaper solar power, but noting
various risks, and assuming "the absence of political disasters
such as a long-running Trump presidency." Links to a contrasting,
downright apocalyptic view, not specifically linked to Trump:
David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth.
Lisa Rein: Interior Dept. ordered Glacier park chief, other climate
expert pulled from Zuckerberg tour
Sam Sacks: Trump Kicks Off Voter Fraud Commission With Innuendo That
States Are Hiding Something. Kris Kobach's voter suppression
racket is one of the most disgusting of Trump's programs. Still,
it's rather a shock to see Trump so personally involved with it.
Matt Taibbi: What Does Russiagate Look Like to Russians? Kind
of like Americans are war-crazed fanatics whose hatred of Russia
is less ideological than genetic?
For journalists like me who have backgrounds either working or living
in Russia, the new Red Scare has been an ongoing freakout. A lot of
veteran Russia reporters who may have disagreed with each other over
other issues in the past now find themselves in like-minded bewilderment
over the increasingly aggressive rhetoric.
Many of us were early Putin critics who now find ourselves in the
awkward position of having to try to argue Americans off the ledge,
or at least off the path to war, when it comes to dealing with the
There's a lot of history that's being glossed over in the rush to
restore Russia to an archenemy role.
For one, long before the DNC hack, we meddled in their elections.
This was especially annoying to Russians because we were ostensibly
teaching them the virtues of democracy at the time.
The case in point was Boris Yeltsin's 1966 campaign, where "three
American advisers [were] sent to help the pickling autocrat Yeltsin
devise campaign strategy." Yeltsin then created the corrupt oligarchy
we like to blame on Putin.
Evidently, one of the rarest skills in the world is the ability to
imagine how other people view us.
Trevor Timm: ICE agents are getting out of control. And they are only
getting worse: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (not sure
why the article refers to them as "Ice" rather than "ICE"). They've
had the legal authority, for some time, so all Trump had to do to
crank them up was "take the shackles off" ("eerily echoing the CIA's
comments post-9/11 that they would 'take the gloves off' in response
to the terrorist attack"). Of course, Trump is doing more: "stripping
away due process protections for arrested immigrants via executive
order, the US justice department has even attempted to cut off legal
representation for some immigrants."
Robin Wright: Is the Nuclear Deal With Iran Slipping Away?
Also on Iran:
Trita Parsi: War with Iran is back on the table -- thanks to Trump.
By the way, Parsi, who wrote the definitive book on why Israel decided
to pump Iran up as "an existential threat" (Treacherous Alliance:
The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States) has
a new book
Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
the Obamacare repeal push died, then came back; John McCain has brain
cancer; Donald Trump said some things; House Republicans released a
Other Yglesias pieces:
Trump's new communications director used to call him an anti-American
hack politician (not any more: see
Cristina Cabrera: Scaramucci on Twitter Deletion Spree);
Trumpcare still isn't dead;
A new interview reveals Trump's ignorance to be surprisingly wide-ranging;
The latest Trump interview once again reveals total disregard for the rule
Trump is mad Democrats didn't work with him on health care, but he never
tried. Also, here's a Yglesias tweet:
Look, just because Sessions hasn't actually been convicted of a crime is
no reason we can't start seizing his property now.