Friday, June 7, 2019
No introduction. Cut my finger while cooking, and can't type worth
a damn. Getting late, too.
Some scattered links this week:
13 Democrats recorded messages about Israel. Only one spoke with
courage. Bernie Sanders.
Democrats learned the wrong lesson from Clinton's impeachment: "It
didn't actually cost the GOP all that much."
Alexia Fernández Campbell:
The May jobs report is a big disappointment for workers and bad news for
Juliet Eilperin/Josh Dawsey/Brady Dennis:
White House blocked intelligence agency's written testimony calling
climate change 'possibly catastrophic'.
The persistent ghost of Ayn Rand, the forebear of zombie neoliberalism.
Review of Lisa Duggan's Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed.
After mentioning various political figures, like Paul Ryan and Mike Pompeo,
infatuated with Rand, Gessen finishes:
Their version of Randism is stripped of all the elements that might
account for my inability to throw out those books: the pretense of
intellectualism, the militant atheism, and the explicit advocacy of
sexual freedom. From all that Rand offered, these men have taken only
the worst: the cruelty. They are not even optimistic. They are just
What HBO's "Chernobyl" got right, and what it got terribly wrong:
We watched all five episodes this week, and I thought they did a
remarkable job of explaining the causes and consequences of one of
the devastating man-made disasters of our time. Gessen compliments
the series whenever it sheds a harsh light on the Soviet bureaucracy,
then attacks it for not being harsh enough. Her critique is most
effective regarding Ulyana Khomyuk (Emily Watson), a single character
invented to represent the hundreds of scientists assigned to figure
out what went wrong, what more could go wrong, and how best to deal
with all that. Gessen faults Khomyuk as a stock Hollywood hero, but
what bothers me more is the reduction of a large group effort, with
all the complex interaction of major scientific endeavors, to small
acts of individual heroism. I've made the same complaint about the
series Manhattan, which reduced nearly all of the high-level
technical decision to just two characters -- both American, losing
any recognition that most of the major scientists working on the
project were Europeans (who, aside from some Brits and a celebrity
visit by Niels Bohr, were totally written out of the story). The
other conspicuous omission/error I found was when the lead scientist
attributed the critical "design flaw" and the lack of a containment
chamber to the Soviets' tendency to do things on the cheap. As I
understand it, the main consideration for the RBMK reactor design
was its use for producing bomb fuel as well as electricity, which
required frequent access to extract plutonium from the core. Still,
I think the writer here, Craig Mazin, makes a good case for telling
the story this way. See: Emily Todd VanDerWerff:
HBO's Chernobyl is a terrific miniseries. Its writer hopes you don't
think it's the whole truth. I haven't yet followed the link to
podcasts, which reportedly go into more detail about what's true
and what's been fictionalized in the series. VanDerWerff also wrote:
Chernobyl's stellar finale makes a case for the show as science
fiction. Also: Peter Maass:
What the horror of "Chernobyl" reveals about the deceit of the Trump
John Hudson/Loveday Morris:
Pompeo delivers unfiltered view of Trump's Middle East peace plan in
off-the-record meeting: What he told "a closed-door meeting with
An Iranian activist wrote dozens of articles for right-wing outlets.
But is he a real person? "Heshamat Alavi is a persona run by a
team of people from the political wing of the MEK. This is not and
has never been a real person."
Why conservatives are winning the internet: Interview with Jen
Schradie, author of The Revolution That Wasn't: How Digital Activism
Favors Conservatives. "Ultimately, it's not about the tool; it's
about the inequalities in our society that give certain people advantages
4 disturbing details you may have missed in the Mueller report: "and
none of them are favorable to the president."
How Trump could restart the nuclear arms race. And how this dovetails
with Putin's interests in the same: Reese Erlich:
Nuclear disarmament: the view from Moscow.
Manifest destinies: "The tangled history of American and Israeli
exceptionalism." Review of Amy Kaplan's book, Our American Israel:
The Story of an Entangled Alliance.
Trump tightens Cuba travel rules: "The US bans cruises and restricts
certain travel in a move meant to pressure Cuba. . . . All of these
policy moves reflect the administration's Cold War-esque approach to
Latin America that has emerged since Bolton arrived as National Security
I want to live in Elizabeth Warren's America: "The Massachusetts
senator is proposing something radical: a country in which adults
discuss serious ideas seriously."
I'm impressed instead by something more simple and elemental: Warren
actually has ideas. She has grand, detailed and daring ideas, and
through these ideas she is single-handedly elevating the already
endless slog of the 2020 presidential campaign into something
weightier and more interesting than what it might otherwise have
been: a frivolous contest about who hates Donald Trump most.
Michael E Mann:
Trump is giving Americans dirty water, dirty air, and a very dirty
climate: Alternate title by Paul Woodward -- Newsweek's is "Trump
lied to Prince Charles's face -- and to the world."
To say that Donald Trump's jaw-dropping display of environmental ignorance
while in the United Kingdom is an embarrassment to all Americans would be
an understatement. But the worst part of his ramblings about how we have
"among the cleanest climates there are based on all statistics" isn't that
it sounds like the ramblings of a Fox News addict. It's that his
administration is doing everything it can to work towards the opposite:
dirty water, dirty air, and, well, a very dirty climate.
Found a link there to another article which people who regard Trump
as Putin's stooge might pick up and run with: Hannah Osborne:
Climate change could make Russia's frozen Siberia far more habitable
by the 2080s.
Dylan Matthews/Byrd Pinkerton:
The incredible influence of the Federalist Society, explained.
The nudgeocrat: "Navigating freedom with Cass Sunstein." Review of
Sunstein's recent short book, On Freedom, although he's been
rehashing those same ideas for a long time now, most notoriously in
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
(co-authored by Richard H. Thaler). He pushes "libertarian paternalism,"
where technocratic elites rig default choices to help guide the minions
to better choices without making them feel like they're being run.
Joe Biden's evolution on abortion, explained.
America needs to reexamine its wartime relationships: "The lessons
of the 1920s have been painfully relearned." Evidently not the author's
title, as the main thrust of the article is that Keynes was right about
the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and is still right today. Quiggin also
pointed me to this report:
Advertising as a major source of human dissatisfaction: Cross-national
evidence on one million Europeans.
Nathan J Robinson:
The best they've got: "Examining the National Review's 'Against
Socialism' issue" -- an article-by-article answer, which mostly suggests
that the writers are blithering idiots, with most authors understanding
nothing more than that socialism is bad, bad, bad.
Forget GDP -- New Zealand is prioritizing gross national well-being.
Why Joe Biden is holding on to such a strong lead in the 2020 primary
polls: "Biden has one big advantage in the 2020 Democratic primary
polls: older voters." Some numbers: with voters over age 45, Biden leads
sanders 45-10%; under 45, Sanders leads Biden 26-19%. Older dividing
lines increase the break for Biden. I'd guess that the world looks very
different as you move away from the 45 dividing line: older voters have
their lives relatively set and secure, as long as moderate Democrats can
protect Social Security/Medicare against further Republican depredation;
on the other hand, younger voters have bleaker job prospects, lots of
debt (their children's prospects looking even worse), and longer range
fears over the environment and war. They see Biden as representative of
the generation of mainstream Democrats whose accommodation to business
and the Republicans have let their prospects decline.
Trump is really unpopular in the most important 2020 battleground states:
"Trump is deep underwater in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other
key 2020 states.
Tim Starks/Laurens Cerulus/Mark Scott:
Russia's manipulation of Twitter was far vaster than believed. Of
course, not just Russia funds trolls. See: Jason Rezaian:
The State Department has been funding trolls. I'm one of their targets.
The climate crisis is our third world war. It needs a bold response.
I get his point, but when he brings up this particular analogy he wanders
into all sorts of conceptual minefields. War and climate change both
cause vast devastation, but the agencies are different, and so are most
of the effects. Even more specious is the notion that we need a war to
work up the courage and will to tackle difficult problems -- as phony
wars on poverty and drugs and so forth have repeatedly shown. Moreover,
you can never measure the true cost of wars in dollars -- as Stiglitz
tried to do in The Three Trillion Dollar War: The Truth Cost of the
Iraq Conflict (2008, so by now probably a couple trillion short).
When the US was attacked during the second world war no one asked, "Can
we afford to fight the war?" It was an existential matter. We could not
afford not to fight it. The same goes for the climate crisis. Here, we
are already experiencing the direct costs of ignoring the issue -- in
recent years the country has lost almost 2% of GDP in weather-related
disasters, which include floods, hurricanes, and forest fires. The cost
to our health from climate-related diseases is just being tabulated, but
it, too, will run into the tens of billions of dollars -- not to mention
the as-yet-uncounted number of lives lost. We will pay for climate breakdown
one way or another, so it makes sense to spend money now to reduce emissions
rather than wait until later to pay a lot more for the consequences -- not
just from weather but also from rising sea levels. It's a cliche, but it's
true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The war on the climate emergency, if correctly waged, would actually
be good for the economy -- just as the second world war set the stage for
America's golden economic era, with the fastest rate of growth in its
history amidst shared prosperity. The Green New Deal would stimulate
demand, ensuring that all available resources were used; and the
transition to the green economy would likely usher in a new boom.
Lots of other analogies bother me here. I can't imagine that any
amount of climate change will end human habitation or civilization,
and even if it did the earth will carry on, oblivious to evolution
of its surface chemistry. The great risk from climate change is that
it will cause destabilization and disruption, and that those things
will impose pain and loss and, most likely, greater strife. It may
be hard to convince people that such threats matter, but reasonable
people recognize that they do.
Michael Wolff's 'Siege' is like his last book -- but worse.
Bowe Bergdahl's story lays bare the tragedy of our forever wars:
review of American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the U.S. Tragedy in
Afghanistan, a book by Matt Farwell and Michael Ames.
Trump's D-Day speech was great. He was the wrong man to give it.
If all I knew was the title, I'd guess that someone wrote him a fairly
decent speech, but it felt off because Trump is incapable of delivering
the emotions the speech intended to convey. Aside from his peculiar form
of malicious humor, which he manages to deliver with unthinking grace,
he may be the worst speaker I've ever seen among major political figures.
Even when he's reading lines, he's so obviously out of character it's
disconcerting to try to follow him. But Ward doesn't say any of that.
He genuinely praises the speech, quoting sections which reveal nothing
more than the sanctimonious pablum of high school orators. Then he
denies that Trump is entitled to be valedictorian, because he dodged
the draft to avoid Vietnam, and because he's said various impolitic
things about NATO, America's anointed allies, and Robert Mueller --
reminding us that Mueller is a veteran as well as a patriot. Final
line: "If Trump really wants to honor D-Day's heroes, he should live
and work by their values from here on out." Sometimes it's hard to
sort out who confuses Ward the most, but given their demographics
(male, 93+ years old) those surviving "D-day heroes" probably voted
overwhelmingly for Trump. They were no more than typical Americans
at the time, and 75 years of cynical, self-serving militarism later
their view of the world is unlikely to be less warped than that of
anyone else today.
Oh, by the way, isn't the celebration of D-Day anniversaries a
bit chauvinistic (for America, of course, but also for France, which
bequeathed us the term)? The turning point of WWII in Europe was the
Battle of Stalingrad, where the Soviet Union, at enormous cost, halted
and started to reverse the German advance. Even after D-Day the war was
overwhelmingly fought in the East, where the suffering was immense. Not
that D-Day was a picnic. For something realistic, see: David Chrisinger:
The man who told America the truth about D-Day, a profile of famed
journalist Ernie Pyle.
Trump escalates feud with London mayor by calling him a "stone cold
loser": "Trump's spat with Sadiq Khan has lasted years."
In Alabama -- where lawmakers banned abortion for rape victims --
rapists' parental rights are protected.
Human rights in the US are worse than you think: "From police shootings
to voter suppression to arrests of asylum seekers, a new report finds US
human rights are abysmal."
Trump's obfuscation on the climate crisis.
Public support for left-wing policymaking has reached a 60-year high:
"Just slightly higher than the previous high point of 1961." The study
specifically looks at public attitudes to "big government," although
that's a right-wing scare term. The more basic question is how many
people think government should take a more active role in addressing
general problems, and consequently look to progressive politicians for
help. One thing I find interesting about this is that this shift in
opinion hasn't been led by Democratic politicians advocating a larger
role for government. Rather, it seems to be a groundswell, as more and
more people realize that the Republican "small government" obsession
has lost credibility. I'd also add that popular belief in liberal and
progressive ideals, so dominant in the New Deal/Great Society era,
never changed. Rather, people lost faith in the Democrats' ability
to defend and extend those ideals, which gave Reagan and his ilk a
chance to argue that their conservative ideas might do a better job
of securing the American Dream. They succeeded to a remarkable degree,
but only used their power to increase inequality and injustice. As
their effects have become more manifest, their rationalizations have
become more threadbare and disingenuous, to the point where fewer
and fewer people believe anything they say. The last to realize
this seem to be the mainstream media and centrist Democrats, but
even they are losing their blinders. Eric Levitz also writes
about this study:
America's political mood is now the 'most liberal ever recorded'.
Why Trump's Mexico tariffs are producing a revolt when China tariffs
didn't. Trump's China trade war is (mostly) pro-business, while
Trump's Mexico trade war is about immigration. Opposing immigration
may still be good politics for Trump, but restricting trade makes it
bad for business, and that's the one thing Republicans are willing to
break with Trump on.
What makes this standoff interesting is that Trump is asking, in a
small way, for a sacrifice the business wing of the GOP is never asked
to make. . . . The way the deal is supposed to work is that cultural
conservatives provide the votes, and they get their way on issues the
business community doesn't care about (until cultural conservatives'
views become an unpopular embarrassment the way opposition to same-sex
marriages and military service is), but business isn't supposed to
actually sacrifice its interests for the sake of cultural conservative
causes. With the tariff gambit on Mexico, Trump is overturning that
logic in a way that his other trade shenanigans haven't. And that's
why congressional Republicans are resisting in an unusual way.
The Joe Biden climate plan plagiarism "scandal," explained: "A
reminder of some bad history, but far and away the least important
part of his climate plan." Reviews the "bad history" of plagiarism
charges against Biden in 1987 for cribbing from a speech by a British
politician, which led to his withdrawal from the 1988 presidential
race. Neither case bothers me as plagiarism -- admittedly, not much
does -- but the charges reinforce the notion that Biden isn't a very
original thinker. But so does his climate plan. Indeed, his embrace
of received opinion is the foundation of his campaign.
Judy Shelton's potential nomination to a Federal Reserve Board seat,
Elizabeth Warren's latest big idea is "economic patriotism": "The
plan is to marry industrial policy to environmentalism and transform
the economy." Robert Reich applauds:
Elizabeth Warren's economic nationalism vision shows there's a better
Jared Kushner's telling indifference on refugees.
Banning former members of Congress from lobbying won't fix the revolving
door: "Congress needs more staff money and public financing, not
tighter rules." Yglesias previously argued
members of Congress themselves should be paid more, so he's extending
that logic to staff members: maybe if they're paid more as public servants
better people would seek these jobs, and be less likely to sell out to
lobbyists later. I rather doubt this. On the other hand, while a lifetime
ban strikes me as excessive, I can imagine some regulations helping. One
could, for instance, limit pay by lobbying firms, which would have put a
severe cramp into Billy Tauzin's move from the House to head up PHARMA
just after Tauzin managed the passage of the Medicare D bill (which kept
insurers from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies). Still,
it's hard to think of things that couldn't be worked around. The core
problem is that we live in a very inequal society, which rewards (and
therefore drives) everyone to maximize income, and rarely (if ever)
enforces taboos (let alone laws) against graft. That may seem like too
tall an order, but some little steps would help: much higher tax rates
for high incomes, making lobbying expenses taxable, and most important
of all, cutting off the main flow of corruption by public funding of
How bad can Brexit get? "Theresa May is out, but the crisis that made
her premiership both possible and untenable has intensified."