Friday, June 7, 2019


Weekend Roundup

No introduction. Cut my finger while cooking, and can't type worth a damn. Getting late, too.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Riley Beggin:

  • Peter Beinart: 13 Democrats recorded messages about Israel. Only one spoke with courage. Bernie Sanders.

  • Ronald Brownstein: 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 Trump.

  • Juliet Eilperin/Josh Dawsey/Brady Dennis: White House blocked intelligence agency's written testimony calling climate change 'possibly catastrophic'.

  • Masha Gessen:

    • 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 plain mean.

    • 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 Mazin's 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 era.

  • 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 Jewish leaders."

  • Murtaza Hussain: 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."

  • Sean Illing: 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 over others."

  • Quinta Jurecic: 4 disturbing details you may have missed in the Mueller report: "and none of them are favorable to the president."

  • Fred Kaplan: 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.

  • Rashid Khalidi: 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.

  • Jen Kirby: 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 Advisor."

  • Paul Krugman:

  • Farhad Manjoo: 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.

  • Rani Molla:

  • Samuel Moyn: 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.

  • Ella Nilsen:

  • Anna North: Joe Biden's evolution on abortion, explained.

  • John Quiggin: 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.

  • Aaron Rupar:

  • Sigal Samuel: Forget GDP -- New Zealand is prioritizing gross national well-being.

  • Dylan Scott:

    • 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.

  • Joseph Stiglitz: 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.

  • Matt Taibbi: Michael Wolff's 'Siege' is like his last book -- but worse.

  • Nick Utzig: 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.

  • Alex Ward:

    • 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."

  • Emily Wax-Thibodeaux: In Alabama -- where lawmakers banned abortion for rape victims -- rapists' parental rights are protected.

  • Lauren Wolfe: 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."

  • Paul Woodward: Trump's obfuscation on the climate crisis.

  • Matthew Yglesias:

    • 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, explained.

    • 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 way.

    • 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 campaigns.

  • Gary Younge: How bad can Brexit get? "Theresa May is out, but the crisis that made her premiership both possible and untenable has intensified."