Sunday, May 12, 2019
I spent much of the week in Oklahoma, visiting my 92-year-old cousin,
his two daughters, and various other family. I packed my Chromebook, then
forgot it, so went a few days without my usual news sources -- not that
anything much changed while I was away. Trying to catch up here, including
a few links that seem possibly useful for future reference.
Looks pretty obvious from my "recent reading" sidebar that I'm in
a gloomy mood about the viability of democracy in this nation. The
odd book out is subtitled "On the Writing Process" -- thought that
might inspire me to write about it, and it has made me a bit more
self-conscious in my writing. The one I recommend most is Jason
Stanley's How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.
I lumped it into a list in my recent
Book Reports, but it's well thought out and clear, with a fair
smattering of historical examples but more focused on here and now:
things you will recognize. I rather wish there was a more generic
word than "fascism": one with less specific historical baggage,
one that can be used in general discourse without tripping off
unnecessary alarms. On the other hand, as a leftist, I've always
had a keen nose for generic fascism, so the word suits my purposes
just fine. I have, in fact, been using it since the 1970s, which
is one reason the modern American conservative movement always
seems to coherent and predictable.
Some scattered links this week:
More US pressure on North Korea is not the path to denuclearization.
Matt Apuzzo/Adam Satariano:
Russia is targeting Europe's elections. So are far-right copycats.
I don't doubt Russia's capacity for spreading cyber-havoc, but isn't
it more likely that Russia is the copycat, echoing and amplifying the
Andrew J Bacevich:
Why did we fight the Iraq War? Review of Michael J Mazarr's book,
Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America's Greatest Foreign
Trump is a bad businessman. Is he a tax cheat, too?
Once again, the US embarrasses itself on climate change.
It will be very hot and very wet -- we've exceeded 415ppm of carbon
dioxide for the first time since the pliocene.
The Complete Mercenary: "How Erik Prince used the rise of Trump to
make an improbable comeback."
US fossil fuel subsidies exceed Pentagon spending: "according to
a new report from the International Monetary Fund."
Revenge of the coastal elites: "How California, Oregon and Washington
are winning the fight against Trump's hateful policies."
Neil Eggleston/Joshua A Geitzer:
The court handling Trump's lawsuit must move at breakneck speed: "The
president deserves his day in court. But the American people deserve that
day to come quickly."
A farewell to arms control? "With Trump and Bolton at the helm, the
international arms control regime is effectively dead."
What's behind Bolton's attacks on the 'troika of tyranny'? "Bolton's
broadsides against Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela hint at ambitions for
much more dangerous geopolitical conflict -- and nothing short of a new
Cold War." You might think this impossible with the Soviet Union gone,
and Russia more focused on promoting right-wing extremism, but the real
enemy the US faced in the Cold War was always the workers and peasants
oppressed by capitalists and their oligarchic allies, and that's an
"enemy" that still exists.
Niall Ferguson/Eyck Freymann:
The coming generation war: "The Democrats are rapidly becoming the
party of the young -- and the consequences could be profound." There
are few scholars I hold in lower regard than Ferguson, but there are
enough charts and numbers here to let you think. I still think that
class matters more than age, probably other demographic factors as
well, but I wouldn't be surprised that age skews as advertised in all
categories. Maybe you could object that class rises with age -- as
successful people accumulate wealth, the poor die off younger -- but
the rich are such a slim slice of the population even a big skew is
unlikely to amount to much.
O billionaires!: Review of Michael R Bloomberg: Bloomberg by
Bloomberg and Howard Schultz/Joanne Gordon: From the Ground Up:
A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America. One thing about
these political wannabes: they'll never be accused of being traitors
to their class.
Putin and Trump's ominous nostalgia for the Second World War.
The roots of Trumpian agitprop.
Bernie Sanders's political revolution on foreign policy, explained.
Related: Zack Beauchamp:
What should a left foreign policy look like? An Elizabeth Warren adviser
offers his vision. An interview with Ganesh Sitaraman, whose
The emergence of progressive foreign policy. I still find parts of
this disturbing, like the insistence on maintaining military alliances
like NATO, as opposed to negotiating demilitarization and de-escalating
conflicts through more even-handed institutions like the United Nations.
Also, the shift in focus needs to be clearer: for a long time US foreign
policy has mostly been dictated by the needs of multinational corporations,
with little if any concern for economic justice, either for the majority
of Americans or for people around the world.
The Democratic counterrevolution has a self-appointed leader: Josh
Has Trump actually done anything about drug prices?
William Hartung/Mandy Smithberger:
A dollar-by-dollar tour of the national security state: How a "base
budget" of $554.1 billion adds up to $1.2542 trillion.
Creeping toward tyranny: I haven't read Hedges for a few years
now, so it hadn't quite sunk in how his principled hypersensitivity
has decayed into an all-consuming pessimism (of the intellect, but
also of the will):
Capitalists, throughout history, have backed fascism to thwart even
the most tepid forms of socialism. All the pieces are in place. The
hollowing out of our democratic institutions, which cannot be blamed
on Trump, makes tyranny inevitable.
Bad timing to exempt Trump from any blame right now, as his defiance
of Congressional subpoenas, his rejection (veto) of resolutions ending
his border "state of emergency" and Yemen War support, and his unilateral
sabre rattling over Venezuela and Iran are unprecedented. Still, he's
right that the signs anticipated and enabled Trump. Indeed, we're likely
to look back on his Bush-era books and accord him the honor of being our
first major "premature anti-fascist" (as Americans who fought against the
Fascists in Spain were labelled after the US declared war on Germany and
Italy). The only real problem with his 2007 American Fascists: The
Christian Right and the War on America was in focusing on gullible
Christians rather than their secular manipulators. The last book I read
by him was The Death of the Liberal Class (2010), which anticipated
Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal (2016), his broadside on mainstream
Democrats. But when I checked out Hedges' latest book, America: The
Farewell Tour, I couldn't get into it. I'm past needing to learn how
bad it can get.
Right-wing Israeli author writes "The Virtue of Nationalism" -- and
accidentally exposes its pitfalls: On Yoram Hazony. Pull quote:
"Alongside Israel, there are two other countries Hazony claims have
been similarly victimized by the shaming campaigns of liberals and
globalists: apartheid South Africa and Serbia under the dictatorship
of Slobodan Milosevic."
Juan Guaidó makes open plea for US military coordination in Venezuela.
Trump has a new solution for poverty: pretend poor people don't exist:
"A proposal to redefine 'poverty' would throw potentially millions of
low-income people out of government-assistance programs."
E Tammy Kim:
Do corporations like Amazon and Foxconn need public assistance?
US-China trade talks end with no deal -- and more tariffs.
Trump to Congress: pass legislation to end surprise medical bills:
"The president has a good idea on health care -- and one that could actually
Climate change and the new age of extinction: Until now, or maybe
I just mean recently, this hasn't had much to do with climate.
To keep nearly eight billion people fed, not to mention housed, clothed,
and hooked on YouTube, humans have transformed most of the earth's surface.
Seventy-five per cent of the land is "significantly altered," the I.P.B.E.S.
noted in a summary of its report, which was released last week in Paris.
In addition, "66 per cent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing
cumulative impacts, and over 85 per cent of wetlands (area) has been lost."
Approximately half the world's coral cover is gone. In the past ten years
alone, at least seventy-five million acres of "primary or recovering forest"
have been destroyed.
Habitat destruction and overfishing are, for now, the main causes of
biodiversity declines, according to the I.P.B.E.S., but climate change is
emerging as a "direct driver" and is "increasingly exacerbating the impact
of other drivers." Its effects, the report notes, "are accelerating."
Watson wrote last week, in the Guardian, that "we cannot solve
the threats of human-induced climate change and loss of biodiversity in
isolation. We either solve both or we solve neither."
Related: Brad Plumer:
Humans are speeding extinction and altering the natural world at an
'unprecedented' pace. Also: Robert Watson:
Loss of biodiversity is just as catastrophic as climate change;
Human society under urgent threat from loss of Earth's natural life;
What is biodiversity and why does it matter to us?.
Want to expand Medicare? Then answer the $5 trillion questions.
"If you think the fight with insurance companies is tough, just wait
until single-payer advocates have to go head-to-head with doctors."
Admits that switching to "Medicare for All" could save overall health
care costs ($2.1 trillion is the number given), but that assumes cost
cuts, only 20% of which come from eliminating the insurance companies,
with 70% expected to come from paying doctors and hospitals less. I
don't see much of a problem here, although as usual the devil is in
the details. Big chunks of that 70% can be recovered without hitting
the wages of doctors, nurses, and other essential personnel. I also
see reason to cap top earners, but that's something that should be
done not just with doctors and administrators -- inequality is a
problem everywhere. On the other hand, why not just focus on easy
wins like cutting the private insurance companies out?
Beto's long history of failing upward: I've tended to resist citing
links on candidates, but this one is fairly deep. O'Rourke is one I don't
have much enthusiasm for, but while this is sharply critical, it doesn't
really lower my estimation of him.
A reporter's long, strange trip into the darkest parts of the American
mind: Review of Anna Merlan's new book, Republic of Lies: American
Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power. With a
picture of Alex Jones.
Trump, the billion-dollar loser -- I was his ghostwriter and saw it
Who owns South Africa?: "A fiercely debated program of land reform could
address racial injustice -- or cause chaos."
Are we in a constitutional crisis? "This is how democracy ends: not with
a bang, but with a long and technical debate over whether we're using the
65 years after Brown v Board of Education, school segregation is getting
North Dakota quietly decriminalized marijuana.
Is noise pollution the next big public-health crisis? Owen has a
book coming out this fall: Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening
Bolton is spinning Israeli 'intelligence' to push for war against Iran.
Related: Sharmini Peries:
The Trump Administration is manufacturing an Iran crisis.
- Alex Ward:
Over 4 months after Mattis quit, Trump picks Patrick Shanahan as defense
James Reston Jr.:
Trump's other impeachable offense: "As Nixon learned, Congress will not
abide a president who defies its subpoenas."
Are we watching John Bolton's last stand? "Is John Bolton about to
get the Iran war he's always wanted, or is he on the verge of losing his
job?" I don't credit Trump with much insight or diligence on foreign
policy, but even so he must suspect that Bolton was a remarkably poor
pick as National Security Adviser. In particular, Bolton has his own
agenda, and has no scruples about contravening and undermining Trump's
own stated objectives. So it would make a lot of sense for Trump to
fire Bolton (and Pompeo, who is an only slightly less egregious hawk,
as well). Indeed, if I thought I'd get into the president's ear, I'd
write an op-ed taunting Trump to do just that, justifying it as key
to his 2020 re-election prospects. I'm still convinced that a major
reason Trump beat Clinton in 2016 was her "commander-in-chief test,"
where she came off as the more dangerous hawk. Hiring Bolton undoes
much of Trump's edge there, even if he doesn't trick Trump into much
Eric Hobsbawm, the communist who explained history: Review of Richard
Evans' biography, Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History, referring back
to Hobsbawm's own memoir, Interesting Times, and various of his
books like The Age of Extremes (on the 20th century).
A new brain study shows a better way to engage voters on climate change:
Call it "climate crisis."
Trump turns shooting migrants into a punchline at Florida rally.
Unconscious bias is running for president: "On Elizabeth Warren and the
false problem of "likeability." Recommended by a Facebook friend, this is
a bit more than half right, but suffers from an as-yet-unnamed form of
specious argument related to the "mansplaining" that Solnit has written
extensively about. I don't doubt that the prejudices she decries are real,
but the "privileges" she seeks to overthrow have never struck me as worth
much. On the other hand, note that Warren's response to these prejudices
hasn't been to whine about them. She's talking to the so-called privileged,
and seems to be winning them over: Alex Thompson:
Trump backers applaud Warren in heart of MAGA country.
Trump lost $1 billion over 10 years, New York Times report shows:
"So much for Trump's brand as a savvy, self-made business leader."
On the trail with Bernie Sanders 2.0.
Time's up for capitalism. But what comes next? "Every day, we help
decide how the future will unfold. But how do we cast ballots for a
democracy that doesn't yet exist?" Adapted from her forthcoming book,
Democracy May Not Exist but We'll Miss It When It's Gone. I've
long meant to read her previous book, The People's Platform: Taking
Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age (2014), recommended by
Let's hit the pause button on more space for prosecutors: op-ed on
prison overcrowding here in Wichita.
The constitutional system is not build to resist Trump's defiance of
Trump's Iran policy is making war more likely.
Trump would have been charged with obstruction were he not president,
hundreds of former federal prosecutors assert.
I don't have much to say about Game of Thrones, but I was struck
by this ratiocination by
"But it's one thing for Daenerys to act like Bush, and another for her
to act like Hitler." He's talking about the indiscriminate fire-bombing
of cities full of innocent civilians, but while Bush criminally started
wars, lied about his reasoning, rounded up and tortured supposed enemies,
disrupted the lives of millions doing irreparable harm, just to show the
world that it's more important to fear his "shock and awe" than to respect
his self-proclaimed beneficence, and while Hitler did those same things
on an even more epic scale, the most comparable historical example of a
leader laying waste to entire cities was Harry Truman -- who we generally
recall as an exceptionally decent and modest president.
You can say that war does that, even to otherwise decent people. You
can say that Hitler and Bush were worse than Truman because they started
wars whereas Truman was simply trying to end one he had inherited. (This
is not the place to get into how he escalated the Cold War and the Korean
War, which in many ways I find more troubling than his "final solution"
to WWII.) You can say that Hitler was worse than Bush because his desire
for war was more deeply rooted in the uncritical imperialism and racism
of the era, which made him even more vindictive and bloodthirsty. But
I'd also note that Truman was not above the prejudices of Hitler's era,
and that Bush (while less racist than Truman let alone Hitler) was, like
all conservatives ever, fully committed to traditional hierarchies of
wealth and power, which made it easy for him to run roughshod over all
I have no idea where Daenerys fits among this trio, as she is a
fictional character in an imaginary world. Even if she reflects the
world of her creators, she does so haphazardly and inconsistently.