Sunday, August 13, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Laura came downstairs yesterday playing Chris Hedges Best Speech in 2017 so I wound up listening to a fair chunk of it. We all know that Hedges in 2007 was a Premature Antifascist -- a term US "intelligence agencies" used to describe Americans who turned against Hitler before Pearl Harbor -- when he published his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, but is he still "premature" in 2017? The world he decries sounds an awful like the one we have come to live in. If there is a common theme to the stories below, it's that Trump and his crew have moved decisively into a fascist orbit: one that worships naked power while practicing shameless greed. Of course, Trump didn't invent this world. He's just risen to the top, like scum in a stockpot.

Brief scattered links this week:

  • Andrew J Bacevich: Yes Congress, Afghanistan Is Your Vietnam. Also by Bacevich: The Great Hysteria. The latter piece goes beyond his specialty area (losing hopeless wars) to spell out a political agenda which in its diagnosis of the symptoms afflicting America is remarkably similar to that of Hedges above (except, being a conservative, he doesn't blame capitalism):

    Yet these advances have done remarkably little to reduce the alienation and despair pervading a society suffering from epidemics of chronic substance abuse, morbid obesity, teen suicide, and similar afflictions. Throw in the world's highest incarceration rate, a seemingly endless appetite for porn, urban school systems mired in permanent crisis, and mass shootings that occur with metronomic regularity, and what you have is something other than the profile of a healthy society.

    He then follows this up with a ten-point political wish list, including a couple proposals I disagree with (mandate a balanced federal budget, return to a draft-based military) and other more sensible points sure to be rejected by his fellow "conservatives" (e.g., "enact tax policies that will promote greater income equality").

  • Dean Baker: The Zika Vaccine: The Miracle of Government-Funded Research. Also by Baker: Breitbart Strikes Out in Trying to Give Donald Trump Credit for Stock Market Run Up. And this tweet, introducing: Why Is It So Hard for Intellectuals to Envision Alternative Forms of Globalization?

    The upward redistribution from globalization was not an accidental outcome; it was the point of globalization.

  • Doug Bandow: North Korea Does Not Trust America for a Pretty Good Reason. For more history, see: Bruce Cummings: Americans once carpet-bombed North Korea. It's time to remember that past.

  • Celisa Calacal: These two Supreme Court cases protect police who use excessive force.

  • Marjorie Cohn: A Preemptive Strike on North Korea Would Be Catastrophic and Illegal: Well, the second point is bound to fall on deaf ears in Washington, where hardly anyone has any fear of or respect for international law. I'm not sure that Americans ever had any such fear, but for many years after 1945 they at least gave lip service to the idea of international law, and took some effort to pretend to respect it. I think this shift started with the developing Cold War in the late-1940s, as the US found it couldn't use the UN to automatically rubber-stamp its policies, but it was in the 1990s when the US stopped going through the motions. The obvious signal point was when Bush refused to sign the International Criminal Court treaty, but Bush's failure to even consider responding to the 9/11 terror attack via international law shows us how far Washington had already crawled up its own asshole. The two world wars led many people to believe that a strong system of international law was necessary to prevent further wars and genocides -- a goal which stalled under the Cold War, but should have been rekindled after the Soviet Union ended and the free market capitalism had become ubiquitous. Indeed, the mass slaughters in Yugoslavia and Rwanda spurred many nations in that direction, but the neocon ascendancy in the US derailed those efforts, and it's rare today even to find Democrats standing up for the UN, the World Court, and (especially) the ICC.

    There are still people in Washington who recognize Cohn's point about "catastrophic" -- and they're the only real defense we have against Trump's impulsiveness and recklessness. Possibly the most definitive statement of the hopelessness of Trump's evident policy of huffing and bluffing North Korea into submission is Jeffrey Lewis: The Game Is Over, and North Korea Has Won.

  • Esme Cribb: Trump TV Ad Attacks Democrats, Media as 'The President's Enemies': Several things about this ad campaign are unprecedented: I've never before seen a president actively campaigning for re-election six months after taking office, but Trump started a few months back -- especially raising money, in stark contrast to his "self-financed" 2016 campaign; Trump is actively building a "cult of personality" while at the same time claiming a false equivalency between his supporters and the nation; he takes every criticism of his program as a personal attack and tries to turn it into an attack on the nation, who in turn are at least implicitly implored to lash back; he adds an air of whininess, pleading to be allowed to be the dictator he imagined being president to be. In some ways I wish Obama had taken this tack -- if anyone ever had just cause to complain about vilification and obstructionism it was he, but he never would have proclaimed himself "our president," even though his efforts to be "a president of all the people" left his own supporters neglected.

  • Yochi Dreazen: The North Korean crisis won't end until Donald Trump stops talking.

  • John Feffer: Welcome to 2050. The 'Climate Monster' Has Arrived.

  • Katie Fite: Grouse Down: Focuses mostly on the sage grouse population in California, but her description of the political pressures has also been echoed here in Kansas, where Republicans have all but campaigned for the extermination of prairie hens -- a nuisance, evidently, to the local oil industry. Also, note that grouse hunting is a controversy in the UK: Mark Avery: Grouse shooting: half a million reasons why time's up for this appalling 'sport'.

  • Margaret Flowers: Improved Medicare for All Is the Answer: A rebuttal to the recent Nation article, Joshua Holland: Medicare for All Isn't the Solution for Universal Health Care. Flowers answers many point by positing an Improved Medicare for All Act. The real differences have to do with political will, especially in the face of special interests that make a lot of money off the current system, and stand to keep making more and more. One may critique Single Payer/Medicare for All schemes for not being able to fix all of America's many health care problems. But private insurance companies add very little value for their cut of the pie, which makes them the easiest target for reform, and therefore the obvious place to start. But also see: Steven Rosenfeld: Eleven Steps for States to Rein in Health Care Costs While Building Toward Single-Payer. Even if you support single-payer, here is a list of things that can be done (many at the state level) to help manage cost -- things that contribute to providing more/better actual care, which is what we're really looking for:

    1. Create a state-chartered body to process all medical bills with a single form.
    2. Require all private insurers to offer three uniform plans with simple rules.
    3. Create a single state agency to buy drugs for pharmacies and physicians.
    4. Restore hospital price regulation so all facilities charge the same fees.
    5. File anti-trust legal actions against monopolistic hospital networks.
    6. Put price controls in medical group contracts with private insurers.
    7. Reject spending caps for hospitals and patients as that hurts care.
    8. Ban drug company payments to doctors by their sales reps.
    9. Issue public reports on the few doctors causing most medical errors.
    10. Integrate other social safety net services with providing health care.
    11. Give the state subpoena power to review claims and find fraud.

    Also note what's going on in Maryland: Ann Jones: Medicare for All in One State.

  • Thomas Frank: Finally, Democrats are looking in the mirror. That's reason for optimism.

  • Ryan Grim: Gulf Government Gave Secret $20 Million Gift to DC Think Tank: That would be the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and the MEI (Middle East Institute).

  • Gabriel Hetland: Venezuela May Be on the Brink of Civil War: I'm having a tough time getting a coherent explanation of just what's the problem with Venezuela these days, and this doesn't answer many of my questions, but it's a start. (There's also Hetland's Why Is Venezuela in Crisis?, which cites government blundering but also a violent opposition supported by Washington, and the pre-election Greg Grandin: What Is to Be Done in Venezuela?) Of course, never underestimate the power of Donald Trump to make things even worse: Ben Jacobs: Trump threatens 'military option' in Venezuela as crisis escalates.

  • David Leonhardt: Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart:

    The chart measures income growth at every percentile starting with 5th, with additional subdivisions for the 99th, at two points in time: 1980 and 2014. There's also an animated chart showing the intervening years, which the lower percentiles being depressed before the top percentile really spikes after 2000. A third chart shows that average income growth dropped from 2.0% in 1980 to 1.4% in 2014, with the median dropping far more than that -- they don't pull the number out, but the median in 2014 is so depressed that only the top 15 percentile receive even the reduced average income growth.

  • Conor Lynch: Emmanuel Macron's Sudden Collapse: French 'Radical Centrist' Now as Unpopular as Trump: Oh my, that was an awfully short honeymoon. Could it be that shameless neoliberalism isn't all that popular? I've seen columns by so-called centrists speculating that Macron's model could be translated to the UK and even to the US. If the US had a top-two runoff like France, I could imagine a fairly charismatic independent (someone like a younger Ross Perot, say, but not Michael Bloomberg) getting close to Macron's first round vote (23.8%), then beating either Trump or Clinton in the runoff (although it's unlikely that either Trump or Clinton would sink that low).

  • Bill McKibben: The Trump administration's solution to climate change: ban the term. And for more on language chance on Trump government websites, see: Oliver Milman/Sam Morris: Trump is deleting climate change, one site at a time.

  • David McCoy: Even a 'Minor' Nuclear War Would Be an Ecological Disaster Felt Throughout the World: Just in case you were wondering.

  • Peter Montgomery: Trump's dominionist prayer warriors: Inside the "Prophetic Order of the United States":

    In the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, God told Frank Amedia that with Donald Trump having been elected president, Amedia and his fellow Trump-supporting "apostles" and "prophets" had a new mission. Thus was born POTUS Shield, a network of Pentecostal leaders devoted to helping Trump bring about the reign of God in America and the world. . . .

    POTUS Shield's leaders view politics as spiritual warfare, part of a great struggle between good and evil that is taking place continuously in "the heavenlies" and here on earth, where the righteous contend with demonic spirits that control people, institutions and geographic regions. They believe that Trump's election has given the church in America an opportunity to spark a spiritual Great Awakening that will engulf the nation and world. And they believe that a triumphant church establishing the kingdom of God on earth will set the stage for Christ's return. Amedia says that the "POTUS" in the group's name does not refer only to the president of the United States, but also to a new "prophetic order of the United States" that God is establishing.

    Related: Chris Hedges: What Trump Owes America's Christian Fascists.

  • Sarah Newell: Is Foxconn a Fantasy? The High Cost of Bringing Manufacturing Jobs to Wisconsin. Trump and Gov. Scott Walker are bully on a deal where giant Chinese electronics Foxconn would build a factory, adding 3000 jobs in Wisconsin, maybe 13000 eventually. All they need in return:

    In order for this plan to become a reality, the Wisconsin state legislature would need to approve $3 billion in corporate incentives to defray capital costs and workforce development costs. The math is startling: Wisconsin will pay out $230,000 in tax dollars for each one of the 13,000 jobs. This means Wisconsin taxpayers will shell out $66,000 per year to subsidize jobs that will pay less than the state average income.

  • Trita Parsi: For Netanyahu and the Saudis, Opposing Diplomacy With Iran Was Never About Enrichment: An excerpt from Parsi's new book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy. I suspect that the real reason both Israel and Saudi Arabia decided to take such rejectionist stands against Iran was that they realized that they could push American buttons by doing so -- most Americans have harbored deep-seated grudges against Iran ever since the fall of the Shah and the Hostage Crisis -- thereby elevating their own importance in Washington's eyes. They've doubled down since the Iran deal, and while leaving the deal intact (so far), both countries have effectively increased their influence in Washington (especially with Trump).

  • William Rivers Pitt: We Have Been at War in Iraq for 27 Years: It started in 1990, when Saddam Hussein misinterpreted ambiguous signals from a US ambassador as a go-ahead to invade Kuwait, an oil-rich sheikdom that, following American inclinations, had made large loans to Iraq for its war against Iran -- loans it then insisted Iraq must repay. The first George Bush thought he'd get a nice political boost from a quick little war, but sold it by comparing Saddam to Hitler, digging a hole for political himself when the initial Gulf War came up short -- a hole which Clinton defended and deepend through his sanctions and no-fly zones until the Bush II decided to fix it by plunging the US into a massive occupation morphing into a civil war which led to ISIS and Obama re-entering Iraq. Throughout this whole quarter-century, official Washington doctrine has blocked out any and all dissent against the ever-expanding sinkhole of Middle Eastern carnage fed by the massive introduction of US troops in 1990. Actually, one can point to a few earlier signs of the wars to come: US inheritance of British outposts around the Gulf, Carter's declaration that the Persian Gulf is an US security area, Reagan's installation of American troops in Lebanon, and US support for proxy wars against Afghanistan and Iran. Any way you slice this, the only Americans with any clue as to how this might go awry were the antiwar protesters. And note that while Pitt focuses on Iraq, US involvement in Afghanistan started in 1979 -- 38 years ago -- and is at least as far from resolution (never mind success) there as it is in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, anywhere else you find American drones and/or special forces.

  • Aja Romano: Google fird "politically incorrect" engineer has sparked a broad ideological debate: Actually, I only see a relatively narrow debate here, which is corporations can fire employees for what we would otherwise deem constitutionally protected free speech. I would favor more such protections, but these days it's hard to stop a company -- especially one without a union -- from firing anyone for any reason. The two most obvious reasons for firing this particular engineer are that he's very stupid, and that by exposing that stupidity he's embarrassed the company. But I don't see him engendering any serious debate on his claim that women aren't competent at software engineering. More on this: Cynthia Lee: I'm a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain the Google memo to you.

  • Anis Shivani: How we got from George W. Bush to Donald Trump: Liberals had more to do with it than we'd like to think: Big thought piece which is probably a bit harsh on Obama but reminds us how extreme the Bush-Cheney agenda was, and how little of it was rolled back by Obama.

    We need to remind ourselves that the early years of the Bush administration felt utterly radical, that the defense of freedom of speech and mobility, of the civility and respect that make a constitutional democracy work, never felt so threatened, never felt more precious and worth saving, as in those years. That feeling, unfortunately, is gone now, despite Trumpism and whatever else will follow, because the anti-constitutional innovations have become normalized. This happened particularly because the succeeding Democratic administration did not take any steps to counter, philosophically, any of the constitutional violations, or even the disrespect for science, reason and empiricism that had deeply saturated the public discourse.

    I think it's fair to say that Obama left most of his anti-Bush critique on the campaign trail. I'm not sure how to partition the blame for that between his wholesale adoption of Clintonites in his administration and his innate conservatism, with its emphasis on projecting continuity and stability. Clearly, he missed the opportunity to do important things: to roll back the corrosive effects of money on politics; to return to a previous American belief in international law and institutions; and to lean back against increasing inequality. One might counter that he had difficulty enough with more modest efforts on health care, finance reform, and climate change.

    Still, the main difference between the Bush-Cheney agenda and Trump's is the relative shamelessness of the latter -- the garrish greed, the naked lust for power, and the absence of any scruples over how to get the riches they crave. You'd think that would blow up in their face -- that if nothing else the American people and media are still capable of being shocked by corruption. But then why hasn't that already happened? Can you mark that all down to "normalization"?

  • Richard Silverstein: Bibi: "This is the End, My Friend": On the corruption scandal that threatens to bring down Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, with sideward glances toward Trump's own nest feathering. Silverstein also wrote Israel to Shutter Al Jazeera, Join Ranks of Arab Authoritarian Regimes Suppressing Press Freedom. As for everyday life in Israel-Palestine, see Kate's latest news clip compendium: Settler violence against Palestinians nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017. This includes a quote from Gideon Levy about how certain nations have held themselves to be above international law and norms:

    More than 100 states signed the international treaty banning the use of cluster bombs; Israel, as usual, isn't one of them. What has Israel to do with international treaties, international law, international organizations -- it's all one big unnecessary nuisance. Israel's fellow rejectionists are, as usual, Russia, Pakistan, China, India and of course the United States, the world's greatest spiller of blood since World War II. This is the company Israel wants to keep, the club it belongs to. Cluster bombs are an especially barbarous weapon, a bomb that turns into countless bomblets, spreading over a wide area, killing and wounding indiscriminately. They sometimes explode years after were fired. The world was appalled and disgusted by such a weapon of mass destruction, and for good reason. The world -- but not Israel. We're a special case, as is commonly known. We're allowed to do anything. Why? Because we can. This has been proved. We used cluster bombs in the Second Lebanon War and the world was silent. We also use flechettes, unmercifully. In 2002 I saw a soccer field in Gaza hit by IDF flechette shells, which spray thousands of potentially lethal metal darts. All the children playing on it had been hit.

  • Matt Taibbi: Is LIBOR, Benchmark for Trillions of Dollars in Transactions, a Lie? Well, sure.

  • Clara Torres-Spelliscy: Trump Is Already Profiting From His 2020 Campaign.

  • Jason Wilson/Edward Helmore: Charlottesville: one dead after car rams counter-protesters at far-right gathering: I skipped over several articles leading up to Saturday's right-wing rally to oppose removing a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park in Virginia, and "counter-protests" against those defending the pro-slavery icon. However, the events were interrupted when someone droves his car into the "counter-protest" crowd, killing one and injuring 19, then managed to drive off. A police helicopter later crashed in the area, adding two to the death toll.

    Related links: Sheryl Gay Stolberg/Brian H Rosenthal: Man Charged After White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Deadly Violence; Summer Concepcion: David Duke: Charlottesville Rally 'Fulfills the Promises of Donald Trump; Esme Cribb: What We Know About the Man Accused of Ramming Car Into C'Ville Protesters; Michael Eric Dyson: Charlottesville and the Bigotocracy; Josh Matshall: "I'm Not the Angry Racist They See in That Photo" (complains a misunderstood white guy; but when you go around complaining about "the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States" -- when you even think "white heritage" is a thing -- you're racist); Colbert L King: These are your people, President Trump; Glenn Thrush/Maggie Haberman: Trump Is Criticized for Not Calling Out White Supremacists; Esme Cribb: Trump Didn't Want to 'Dignify' White Supremacy by Condemning It (but he has no qualms about dignifying "radical Islamic terror" or Rosie O'Donnell?); German Lopez: We need to stop acting like Trump isn't pandering to white supremacists; and, just for historical context: Philip Bump: In 1927, Donald Trump's father was arrested after a Klan riot in Queens. One thing I noticed during the campaign was that Trump was quick to reverse himself whenever he inadvertently blurted out something contrary to conservative doctrine -- as when he initially argued that women seeking abortions should be punished -- but he never apologized for the violence of his supporters, nor did he ever disown the white supremacists who rallied to his cause.

  • Jana Winter/Elias Groll: Here's the Memo That Blew Up the NSC: The author was Rich Higgins, a Flynn acolyte who has since been fired:

    The full memo, dated May 2017, is titled "POTUS & Political Warfare." It provides a sweeping, if at times conspiratorial, view of what it describes as a multi-pronged attack on the Trump White House.

    Trump is being attacked, the memo says, because he represents "an existential threat to cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing cultural narrative." Those threatened by Trump include "'deep state' actors, globalists, bankers, Islamists, and establishment Republicans."

  • Zak Witus: To Combat Trump's Attacks on Democracy, We Must Understand Precedents Set by Obama: "Seven months into the Trump presidency, many people still deny how some of Donald Trump's most regressive and harmful policies directly continue the legacy of Barack Obama." That's true in a number of cases ranging from prosecution of "leakers" to brutal ICE tactics to Saudi arms sales and drone murders around the world, though the bigger problem is that Obama failed "to change the way we think about war" and many more things -- race, equality, the culture of corruption. Part of that was his "no drama" pledge to restore competency to government after the politicized corruption of the Bush years -- something he rarely claimed credit for, and which few Americans even noticed. One thing about Trump is that he has no quibbles about taking credit for "good" things, regardless of how little he was actually involved, while chalking all of his obvious failures up to "fake news."

  • Matthew Yglesias: What to know about the biggest stories of the week: We had a lot of loose talk about nuclear war; Trump feudud with Mitch McConnell; the opioid crisis gets an official "state of emergency"; Paul Manafort seems to be in legal trouble. Other Yglesias pieces this week: Trump's new immigration plan would make Americans poorer; Big business wants you to think a tax cut for big business will stop outsourcing; The looming debt ceiling fight, explained; Donald Trump gets a daily briefing all about how great he is.

When I looked at Crooked Timber I noticed that Laura Tillem had one of the recent comments. It was in response to Henry Farrell's Five Books, listing five novels:

  • John Le Carré, A Perfect Spy
  • Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
  • Dennis Lehane, The Given Day
  • Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings
  • Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies

I had to look up the authors (although I guessed 3/5, maybe 4). We were recently talking about how much I enjoyed the 1998 BBC/PBS series of Our Mutual Friend, and we had recently watched the 1987 TV rendition of A Perfect Spy (which I didn't much care for). I doubt I've read enough novels (probably about 50, which wouldn't last my wife a year) to construct such a list -- only obvious one is Thomas Pynchon, V., though the unfinished Gravity's Rainbow might have wound up even better.

I probably could offer a list of non-fiction:

  • George P Brockway, The End of Economic Man: Principles of Any Future Economics
  • Geert Mak, In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century
  • John McPhee, Annals of the Former World
  • Jan Myrdal, Angkor: An Essay on Art and Imperialism
  • David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

My "recent books" roll currently runs 552 books, so that at least is a sample (roughly from 2003 to the present), although only one of the books listed above comes from it (Mak's magnificent history-qua-travelogue).