Sunday, April 8, 2018
Meant to write an intro, but ran out of time. So let's cut to the
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The week's main political stories, explained: The
trade war with China heated up: Trump announced tariffs on a wide range
of Chinese exports; China responded with tariffs on US exports; the stock
market panicked, then bounced back. Scott Pruitt is suddenly in ethics
trouble. Teachers are on strike in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Democrats scored
a big win in Wisconsin. More Yglesias pieces:
Tom Hundley: India and Pakistan are quietly making nuclear war more
likely: "Both countries are arming their submarines with nukes."
Umair Irfan: 5 lies Scott Pruitt told this week about his mounting
scandals. Irfan also wrote
Scott Pruitt's bizarre condo scandal and mounting ethics questions,
explained. For Pruitt's background, see
David Roberts: Tribalism put Scott Pruitt in power. It may not be enough
to save him. Roberts means several different things by "tribalism,"
ranging from the belief that following conservative ideology is doing
God's work to simple service to America's "resource industries":
Tribalism explains why Pruitt hired an enormous security team, built a
$43,000 security phone booth, avoids flying coach, hires political
cronies without Senate confirmation, exiles anyone who questions him,
boxes out career staff, works to diminish the influence of scientists,
meets almost exclusively with industry groups, and has issued agency
talking points playing down the threat of climate change.
However deluded Pruitt may be, a perhaps simpler explanation would
be he's simply corrupt. Also:
Rebecca Leber: Making America Toxic Again;
Margaret Talbot: Scott Pruitt's Dirty Politics. It shouldn't be
a surprise when Trump's underlings get caught up in scandals: their
whole belief system celebrates naked and brutal greed, so while they
toil to make the rich richer, they can't help but feel entitled to
their share of the spoils. I suppose what's unique about Pruitt is
the siege mentality he brought to the job -- hence the millions he's
spent on isolating himself from the public and his own department.
He clearly knows that his agenda to reverse fifty years of clean air
and water regulations is vastly unpopular. He's clearly bracing for
revolt. One example is
Matt Shuham: Collins: Pruitt Is 'Wrong Person' to Lead EPA 'On Policy
Grounds Alone': Of course, I've been saying that all along, but
it's good to see anyone (especially a Republican senator) able to see
the fire through the smoke.
At the same time Pruitt is likely to be fired for his scandals,
there's a curious effort -- possibly promoted by Pruitt himself --
to promote him to Attorney General. See
Andrew Prokop: The Scott Pruitt for attorney general rumor Trump
just angrily tweeted about, explained.
Dahlia Lithwick: Secret Handshake: "The depressing truth at the
center of the O'Reilly and Trump settlement agreements."
Suresh Naidu/Eric Posner/Glen Weyl: More and more companies have monopoly
power over workers' wages. That's killing the economy.
Anna North: What would America look like without Roe v. Wade? These
teenagers are finding out: Article doesn't really live up to its
title, but the story it tells is tragic and shows how stupid some
government bureaucrats can be when they let rigid political beliefs
dictate policy. You'd think that even ardent Trump nativists would
see some merit to allowing teenage refugee girls to get an abortion
rather than give birth to new citizens. One of the more chilling
stories I've read about the Trump administration. North also wrote:
How Trump helped inspire a wave of strict new abortion laws, and
Plenty of conservatives really do believe women should be executed
for having abortions.
Mark Perry: Steve Coll's Directorate S is Disturbing Account of
U.S. Mistakes After 9/11: I'm about 200 pages into Coll's book,
which thus far isn't nearly as disturbing as it should be. I've noted
several key points so far: the US categorically rejected any sort of
negotiations that might have shorted the rush to war; the CIA, which
got the jump over DOD by being able to move into Afghanistan quicker,
favored cash deals with warlords over state-building with Karzai or
anything that might have reduced stress or aided development; the CIA
introduced a torture regime which they had no experience with, and
which almost immediately backfired; the US made no effort to reduce
tensions between Pakistan and India, which ultimately were the main
driving force behind Pakistani "duplicity" -- the tendency to salute
the US flag while pursuing their own interests; meanwhile, Rumsfeld
was preoccupied with invading Iraq, while totally hand-waving the
problem of what to do following "catastrophic success." That brings
us to about 2004, before American involvement in Afghanistan really
fell apart. The book goes much further, and no doubt more problems
will become clearer. The one common denominator among every American
involved -- even Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad. ambassador 2003-05
before moving on to Iraq -- was their total indifference to how the
occupying American warriors were perceived by locals.
By the way, one tragic side story. When Hillary Clinton and Jack
Reed, US Senators, came to Afghanistan to support the war (and talk
about all the great things Americans were doing for Afghan women),
they were met by a VIP support convoy, which on their way had hit
and killed an Afghan woman pedestrian (and didn't stop, per security
Emily Stewart: Trump threatens a "big price" after reports of deadly
chemical attack in Syria: Just a week or two ago, Trump was talking
about withdrawing American troops from Syria following the dissolution
of ISIS as its capital in Raqqa was captured. But ever since Obama
declared that use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "red line"
warranting US armed response anti-Assad forces have promoted reports
of chemical weapons use to goad the US into further involvement.
Obama backed down after Assad agreed to destroy all of his chemical
weapons, which should have been the end of the issue. However, in
April 2017 Trump bit on another report and ordered punitive cruise
missile strikes. I've never been convinced that Assad directed the
Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, but hawks were conveniently able
to keep the US pinned down in the Syrian Civil War for another year
afterward, and that history is clearly being repeated here. Lindsey
Graham, in particular, is going out of his way to goad Trump into
further bombing. As for the effect of last year's salvo, see
Fred Kaplan: Lost in Syria: "One year after Trump launched missiles
at Syria, we still don't know what he's trying to accomplish there."
By the way, I'm sure you've heard all about the poisoning of
former Russian spy Sergei Skirpal in London -- especially how the
UK and US have decided to retaliate against Russia's "chemical
weapons attack" by chucking dozens of Russian diplomatic personnel
out. Less likely that you've seen this:
Jason Ditz: Ex-Spy Skirpal Recovering Rapidly, Hospital Confirms.
American media is so slanted that it's easy to get the ball rolling
on a story that blames the Russians, and nearly impossible to reverse
it. I don't doubt that there is much to be critical of Putin and his
country for, but often the point of such stories here is to advance
a (Neo) Cold War agenda that threatens world peace.
Alexia Underwood: Sisi won Egypt's election. That doesn't mean he's
safe. People complain about Putin rigging the Russian presidential
election, but at least he had opposition and Russians had a choice.
(Not very good choices, as at least one potential opposition candidate
was excluded from the ballot.) But there's nothing fair about Egypt's
election, where Sisi got 97% of the vote, defeating "the only other
candidate, Mousa Mostafa Mousa, who was publicly known to be a strong
supporter of the president."