Sunday, June 3, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Impossible to put the usual amount of work into this weekly feature, but filling out and posting something of a stub is at least a step back toward normalcy, as well as something I can look back on for a timeline to this miserable period in the nation's storied but increasingly sorry history. The main problem is that I'm still waylaid by the crash of my main working computer. I've restored local copies of my websites, but the shift to a new computer, running newer software, has resulted in massive breakage. I'm making slow but steady progress there, but this website in particular is nowhere near stable enough for me to do my usual update. So while I'm doing the usual work locally, the only files I'm updating on the server are the blog posts.

A secondary problem is that my workspace has been disrupted, which among other things leaves me facing a different (even more cluttered) desk, using a different (and less comfortable) keyboard and mouse, with less satisfactory lighting, and other minor nuisances. Among other things, expect more typos: the keyboard touch is worse (although this one is less prone to dropping 'c'), a subtle change in emacs drops spaces where I expect to have to delete them (so I've caught myself deleting first characters of words), and a spellcheck script I wrote is gone and will have to be reinvented. Also note that where I used to keep twenty-some news/opinion sites permanently open, I've yet to re-establish the practice, nor have I looked up passwords to the few sites I have such access to, so my survey this week will be especially limited. I'm also running a browser without NoScript or even an ad blocker, so we'll see how long I can stand that.

Got email from Facebook reminding me that today is Bill "Xcix" Phillips' birthday. I usually don't bother with such notices, but last year I did, only to find out that Bill had died a few months earlier. So today's email reminds me that he's still dead, and how dearly I miss him.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 biggest political stories of the week, explained: Puerto Rico got a credible estimate of Maria's death toll (approximately 4,600 excess deaths); Trump imposed tariffs on American allies; Roseanne got canceled; Dinesh D'Souza got a pardon. Other Yglesias posts:

  • Maureen Dowd: Obama -- Just Too Good for Us: Not my line or take. One problem is that we (by which I mostly mean the liberal punditocracy) spent so much effort into preŰmptively congratulating ourselves on our foresight and good nature in electing Obama, we never bothered to consider whether we shouldn't wait until he did some things. (Case in point: the Nobel Peace Prize.) We did expect him to do things (good things), didn't we? And when he didn't, shouldn't we have been at least a little bit critical? Anyone can be na´ve, but if after eight years you let the Clinton campaign shame you for doubting anything about Obama, you've moved on to foolishness and irrelevance. Dowd, quoting Obama adviser and new author Ben Rhodes (The World as It Is):

    The hunger for revolutionary change, the fear that some people were being left behind in America and that no one in Washington cared, was an animating force at the boisterous rallies for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

    Yet Obama, who had surfed a boisterous wave into the Oval, ignored the restiveness -- here and around the world. He threw his weight behind the most status quo, elitist candidate.

    "I couldn't shake the feeling that I should have seen it coming," Rhodes writes about the "darkness" that enveloped him when he saw the electoral map turn red. "Because when you distilled it, stripped out the racism and misogyny, we'd run against Hillary eight years ago with the same message Trump had used: She's part of a corrupt establishment that can't be trusted to change."

  • Norman G Finkelstein: Strong as Death: "Truth is that the Israeli army has no answer to non-violence resistance. . . . Therefore, the army's reaction is to open fire, in order to induce the Palestinians to start violent actions. With these the army knows how to deal." Note that Finkelstein has two recent books: Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel's Assaults on Gaza, and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance With Israel Is Coming to an End.

  • Thomas Frank: Forget Trump -- populism is the cure, not the disease. A response to two recent books attacking "populism" as a right-wing assault on democracy: Yascha Mounk's The People vs. Democracy and William A. Galston's Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy. As a fellow Kansan, I've long sided with our populist heritage, so I agree with Frank that anti-populism is rooted in elitism, even when dressed up as an embrace of liberal democracy. After all, isn't the point of democracy to bend government to the will of the people?

  • Ed Pilkington: Trump's 'cruel' measures pushing US inequality to dangerous level, UN warns: Just to be clear, the complaint isn't about the rich getting even richer, but how Trump and his party are shredding what's left (after Reagan and Clinton and Bush) of the "safety net," making the poor more miserable and desperate.

  • Andrew Prokop: Why Trump hasn't tried to pardon his way out of the Mueller probe -- yet.

  • Ganesh Sitaraman: Impeaching Trump: could a liberal fantasy become a nightmare? Provocative title for a favorable book review of Laurence Tribe/Joshua Matz: To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment. My view is that impeachment is a purely political act, so unless/until you have the power to back it up there's no point talking about it. On the other hand, if I had a vote, and the question was put to a vote, sure, I'd vote guilty, even if the actual charges didn't exactly align with my own position (cf. Bill Clinton). By the way, I highly recommend Sitaraman's book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. I've since moved on to start Gordon S. Wood's Empire of Liberty, and have been pleased to find the two books in general agreement.

  • David Smith: How Donald Trump is weaponising the courts for political ends. Also by Smith: Trump goes it alone: running the White House not like a president, but a CEO. This hook would make more sense if it was widely understood how CEOs have evolved over the last 30-40 years. Where once CEOs were viewed as competent general managers of vast and complex enterprises, as their rewards have expanded tenfold relative to average employees, they've become increasingly imperious, egotistical, and desperate given how much "skin in the game" they have (mostly short-term bonuses and stock options). Their obsessions with busting unions and stripping regulations are of a piece with their insatiable power grab. On the other hand, Trump is actually worse than a modern CEO. He's an owner, so he's never been constrained by a board or stockholders (let alone the SEC).

    Harry Litman uses a different metaphor in President Trump Thinks He Is a King . . . and not one of your boring constitutional monarchs, either; more like the kind who could say, "L'Útat, c'est moi."

  • Li Zhou: Sen. Gillibrand said Bill Clinton should've resigned over Monica Lewinsky. Clinton disagrees. Well, he certainly should have resigned for something, but one thing about the Clintons is that they've always put their personal fortunes above their party and especially above the people who support that party.