Sunday, August 9, 2020


Weekend Roundup

One thing I've noticed here but don't have the time or patience to try to unpack is that a significant share of the articles below look ahead to after the November election -- usually assuming that Trump will be defeated, some allowing for the possibility that Trump will cheat massively and produce a disputed result. This was bound to happen sooner or later, but this soon is a bit surprising. Maybe it's because the whole year is something we can't wait to get over with?

Some of the future articles imagine a chance for the Republican Party to reform itself after the Trump debacle, but I don't see that happening any time soon -- in large part thanks to the speed with which the Party recovered after the 2008 debacle. In many ways, Democrats will find it harder to function after winning than Republicans will -- especially if their victory isn't deep enough to capture both houses of Congress, allowing Republicans to obstruct their efforts, and Fox to blame those losses on the Democrats.

Finally, some pieces start to look at where the economy is headed -- not so much after the pandemic but along with it. Had I tried to speculate on that 4-6 months ago, I no doubt would have come up with little more than reassertions of what I had long been thinking. Now I'm less certain than ever.

Biden's date for announcing his VP pick is August 10. Good to get this posted before then.


Some scattered links this week:

Zeeshan Aleem: Trump falsely claims coronavirus is "disappearing" and Russia isn't meddling in the 2020 election: "Trump's surprise news conference held at his private club was packed with false claims about America's crises."

Michael Arria: Biden personally intervened to get the word 'occupation' removed from the Democratic Party platform: I don't discount the significance of one's views on Israel-Palestine as a test of political principles, but as a practical matter in a contest between Biden and Trump, and more generally between the parties, dropping it from the platform, and inserting some pablum, doesn't bother me. Biden isn't stuck in Sheldon Adelson's pocket, and he's not going to owe anything to the fundamentalist Christian apocalypse-mongers backing Trump. After the election, he'll have options based on future events, which he may or may not respond to constructively. But at this point, Israel has gone so far down its racist-militarist apartheid path that it's hard to see the US having any real influence (as if it ever has). Elsewhere, it's more important that the US disengage from its own occupations and interventions. Dismantling systemic racism and militarism at home would also help, perhaps more than anything else. Israel has chosen to follow its own rogue path, but that choice has always been easier with the US as a model. Take that away, and maybe Israel will start to realize the folly of its path. In the long run, all nations have to change of their own accord -- even the ones the US is so obsessed with bending to its will, like North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, Russia, and China.

Joshua A Barocas/Jennifer E Lacy: The pandemic is an extraordinary opportunity to reform US education: "We should allow kids to take a gap year and waive standardized testing before it's too late."

If anything, there is a sense that many in the Trump administration and its allies across the country want public education to fail. For example, Kansas City Metropolitan charter and private schools received between $19.9 million and $55.9 million from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), program whereas Kansas City Public Schools received nothing.

Isaac Chotiner: Why Stuart Stevens wants to defeat Donald Trump: Interview with Stevens, who worked in the GW Bush presidential campaigns and was Mitt Romney's top strategist in 2012. More recently, he wrote It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump, and is an adviser to the Lincoln Project. Still a lot of delusions here for past Republicans, especially Romney. Also a strong belief that the president's number one job is opposing Putin. For another interview with Stevens, see David Corn: The Republican Party is racist and soulless. Just ask this veteran GOP strategist.

Patrick Cockburn:

Chas Danner: Yes, Trump actually did want to be added to Mount Rushmore: "A White House aide reportedly looked into the process for adding another president's face to the monument." Filed under "Delusions of grandeur."

Wade Davis: The unraveling of America: "Anthropologist Wade Davis on how Covid-19 signals the end of the American era."

Jason Ditz: Superhawk Elliott Abrams named Special Envoy on Iran: Most recently, he's been Special Envoy for Venezuela, a job he's made a total mess of. Disasters are nothing new for Abrams. Ever since he got out of jail for his role in Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal, he's using his foreign policy clout to make things worse -- especially his tenure as GW Bush's top dog on Israel-Palestine. More on Abrams:

Tom Engelhardt: The unexpected past, the unknown future: It could have been different: Nostalgia for the bad old days, just following 9/11, when the Bushies thought all they had to do to rule the world was "to take the gloves off." Engelhardt resisted that idea from its inception, and if he's ever been wrong, it was to underestimate how bad it might get.

Amy Gardner/Josh Dawsey: As Trump leans into attacks on mail voting, GOP officials confront signs of Republican turnout crisis: It's real hard to anticipate how turnout is going to break, but this is one part of the question. This was the first of several articles linked to in As Trump attacks mail voting, GOP officials confront signs of Republican turnout crisis. Another is Pema Levy: Democracy depends on the postal service more than ever. Republicans won't help fix it. Some more pieces on Trump, voting, and mail:

Shirin Ghaffary:

Susan B Glasser: "Mr President, what are your priorities?" is not a tough question: "Trump is running for reŽlection, but, unlike four years ago, he can't even say why." Reduced to red hat slogans, he wants to keep America as great as it became the moment he was elected and inaugurated in 2017, which by definition will cover four more years. Why can't people grasp that? I mean, aside from the fact that none of the people are Donald J Trump?

Trump's vapid answer is more than a reflection of a political-messaging dilemma -- it's a sign of decline, both in terms of the President's ability to respond cogently to a simple query and as a warning for American democracy, given that such a large segment of the electorate apparently finds it acceptable to support a leader whose only campaign selling point is himself. Is Trump's inability to come up with something to say about the next four years a reflection of the fact that even he thinks he is going to lose? Perhaps, but it's also a measure of how far Trump has descended into full "l'ťtat, c'est moi"-ism. Running for reŽlection without offering even a hint of a program is a sure indicator of at least aspirational authoritarianism.

John F Harris: Donald Trump has the sole authority to blow up the world. It is madness to let him keep it. Madness to give any president solo authority, much less one who seems incapable of understanding what nuclear weapons can do, yet who seems fascinated with finding out. Thought about filing this under Hiroshima (below), but decided this is a current issue, not history. One thing that keeps is current is how completely Trump has dismantled arms limitation treaties with Russia. Also how he's approved the plan to spend a trillion dollars rebuilding America's nuclear arsenal. I sometimes wonder what else Trump can do to destroy the country before leaving office, and this is high on the list.

Kaleem Hawa: Present absences: Review of Rashid Khalidi's new book, The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017, selecting the Balfour Declaration as his arbitrary starting point, no doubt cognizant that the "war" isn't over at a mere century.

Jacob Heilbrunn: Why the United States invaded Iraq: Review of Robert Draper's new book, To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq. Seems like there should be more here on Afghanistan, but for Bush, Cheney, et al., war with Iraq was predetermined, and if anything Afghanistan just slowed them down a bit. One thing here I previously missed was the 1998 "Rumsfeld Commission," where Congress gave "Donald Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and other hawks . . . a high-profile platform" to fantasize about and play up the Iraqi threat. Draper also "presents the former CIA director George Tenet in a particularly unflattering light, suggesting that he made up for his frustrations with Bill Clinton by excess ("slam dunk") enthusiasm for GW Bush.

If Draper expertly dissects the ferocious turf battles that took place within the administration over the war, he does not really seek to set it in a wider context other than to note rather benignly that "the story I aim to tell is very much a human narrative of patriotic men and women who, in the wake of a nightmare, pursued that most elusive of dreams: finding peace through war." But there was more to it than that. Thanks to Donald Trump's bungling, Bush may be benefiting from a wave of nostalgia for his presidency. But he was criminally culpable in his naÔvetť and incuriosity about the costs and consequences of war. At the same time, Cheney and Rumsfeld were inveterate schemers whose cynicism about going to war was exceeded only by their ineptitude in conducting it.

Sean Illing:

Alex Isenstadt: Trump antagonizes GOP megadonor Adelson in heated phone call.

Derrick Johnson: Voter suppression is back, 55 years after the Voting Rights Act.

Fred Kaplan:

  • Trump's latest move at the Pentagon is brazenly unlawful: Giving Anthony Tata the job of Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (you remember, the job in 2003 filled by "dumbest fucking person on earth" Douglas Feith), without getting Senate approval..

  • Trump's troop tantrum: "There's no strategy behind the decision to withdraw US troops from Germany. It's about the president's anger and ego."

Roge Karma: How cities can tackle violent crime without relying on police: Interview with Patrick Sharkey, author of Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence.

Isabel Kershner/Pam Belluck: When Covid subsided, Israel reopened its schools. It didn't go well.

Ezra Klein: How inequality is changing the Republican Party -- and breaking American politics. Review of Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Economic Inequality. I read the book recently, and recommend it. More on this book:

Hiroki Kobayashi: The elusive horror of Hiroshima: It's the 75th anniversary of our rude awakening to the atomic age. This refers back to John Hersey's early reporting of the bomb's devastation -- you can read Hersey's classic report here. I previously wrote about Hiroshima and Nagasaki on their 70th anniversary: Thinking about the unthinkable. I also wrote an earlier piece in the August 6, 2005 notebook. Some more on Hiroshima:

Zack Kopplin: How Mike Pompeo built a blood-for-oil pipeline: "The State Department, a conservative-connected shell company, and a key Kurdish crime family team up to siphon Syrian oil for US investors."

Josh Kovensky: NRA looted its Foundation to cover cash hemorrhage, DC AG alleges.

Michael Krimmage/Matthew Rojansky: The problem with Putinology: "We need a new kind of writing about Russia." Primarily a review of Catherine Belton's Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West, which exemplifies the "old kind of writing," which trades in paranoia over Russia's evil designs to cripple and dominate the West -- easy enough to sell in America given the legacy and continuing hegemony of Cold War propaganda. The authors counter some of this, but don't go very far -- they certainly don't want to be dismissed as pro-Putin. It's easy for us to be critical of Putin, but we forget what a disaster Russia faced in the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin. With the old regime discredited, Yeltsin turned state-owned enterprises over to a set of underworld figures who emerged as more-or-less criminal oligarchs. Putin's principal task was the bring the oligarchs back from anarchy, which he did in classic Mafia manner by becoming capo di tutti capi. He wrapped his move by playing up nationalism, but he's more often been a limit against the ultra-nationalist opposition, which really does want to restore Russia's imperial greatness by recovering the periphery lost in 1991. He's also embraced the usual center-right power bases, like the church and the military. And he hasn't always respected the tenets of liberal democracy, but that's partly because they've never really taken root in Russia, and also because the left has never been able to form a credible opposition to Putin (remnants of the Communist Party are so wrapped up in nostalgia that they often wind up to Putin's right). Of course, America doesn't really care about Putin strong-arming his opponents -- even the tiny slice devoted to America's vision of neoliberalism. Rather, they cannot abide Russia doing business with countries on America's shit list, like Syria, Iran, and Venezuela. The fact is that Russia has few opportunities to form bonds abroad, and standing up to American bullying is still a popular stance in Russia. This situation only gets worse as American foreign policy gets ever more self-centered and myopic -- a trend that Trump has added a few new twists to but has been the rule since GW Bush decided to lead his Global War on Terror. The art to diplomacy is the ability to see what's important to the other side, and compromises which deliver more than half a loaf to both sides. Simply demanding that the other side bow over and submit has never worked very well (or for very long), and is even more ridiculous given America's declining stature with the rest of the world. A positive step here would be to start showing some respect for Putin, which doesn't necessarily mean glossing over his crimes, just putting them in context.

Anita Kumar: 'She is absolutely our No. 1 draft pick': GOP pines for Rice as Biden VP. Hoping not to do a VP cluster this week, but must reiterate that Rice would be a really poor choice. PS: Mine is not the only such opinion:

Daniel Larison: The Jakarta method: How the US used mass murder to beat Communism: Review of Vincent Bevins' book, The Jakarta Method: Washington's Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World. Aside from the brutal wars in Korea and Vietnam, and I suppose in Afghanistan and Iraq, I've long felt that Indonesia's anti-communist purge in 1965-66 was the single most reprehensible event in American foreign policy.

David Leonhardt: The unique US failure to control the virus: "Slowing the coronavirus has been especially difficult for the United States because of its tradition of prioritizing individualism and missteps by the Trump administration." Also of prioritizing business over all other aspects of human life.

Nancy LeTourneau:

  • Trump's latest attack on Biden: Photoshops and cheap shots.

  • David Brooks wants a nicer, more competent form of Trumpism. I for one don't care what Brooks thinks, but I will jump off from this Brooks quote:

    Bannon and Trump got the emotions right. They understood that Republican voters were no longer motivated by a sense of hope and opportunity; they were motivated by a sense of menace, resentment and fear. At base, many Republicans felt they were being purged from their own country -- by the educated elite, by multiculturalism, by militant secularism. . . . It would have been interesting if Trump had governed as a big-government populist. But he tossed Bannon out and handed power to Jared Kushner and a bunch of old men locked in the Reagan paradigm. We got bigotry, incompetence and tax cuts for the wealthy.

    Of course, Trump to offer Republican populists, beyond his own emotions as someone as hated and degraded by those elites as was his base -- yet that never came off as sympathy, only as more rage. As for the post-Trump Party, Brooks suggests building on these "core assumptions":

    1. Everything is not okay. The free market is not working well.
    2. Economic libertarianism is not the answer. Free markets alone won't solve our problems.
    3. The working class is the heart of the Republican Party.
    4. China changes everything.
    5. The managerial class betrays America.

    When I read that list, the answer is pretty simple: put workers in charge of US companies. Worker-owned companies aren't going to ship jobs overseas. Worker-owned companies aren't going to strip assets for short-term gain. Workers who own companies will support their communities, and their nation. And when workers own companies, the managerial class will work for them. Nothing else satisfies these concerns as simply and elegantly. Well, aside from China: not sure that anyone understands what that point means.

Eric Levitz: David Shor's unified theory of American politics. He's obviously a very smart guy who's been paid by Democrats to think about how to win elections for the last decade, and he's come up with insights that are uncomfortable to everyone. One thing that occurred to me in his bit on the Obama-to-Trump voters is that while he's probably right that race was the determining factor, one should consider the different ways the two candidates affected thinking on race. Obama was very conciliatory, which encouraged white voters to credit themselves for rising above the race question. Trump, on the other hand, gave white voters reason to feel good about themselves even if they were racist, which it turns out many still were. But Trump's also allowed super-racists to thrive, and maybe that's starting to make the fence-sitters a bit nervous. All through the interview, Shor is very critical of people who develop any consistent sort of ideology, which includes most Democratic politicians, their campaign staffs, and their donors (even rich ones). His advice: "you should talk about popular issues, and not talk about unpopular ones." And do the research to tell one from the other, rather than just following your instinct. Here's an interesting quote:

So I think people underestimate Democrats' openness to left-wing policies that won't cost them elections. And there are a lot of radical, left-wing policies that are genuinely very popular. Codetermination is popular. A job guarantee is popular. Large minimum-wage increases are popular and could literally end market poverty.

All these things will engender opposition from capital. But if you focus on the popular things, and manage to build positive earned media around those things, then you can convince Democrats to do them. So we should be asking ourselves, "What is the maximally radical thing that can get past Joe Manchin." And that's like a really depressing optimization problem. And it's one that most leftists don't even want to approach, but they should. There's a wide spectrum of possibilities for what could happen the next time Democrats take power, and if we don't come in with clear thinking and realistic demands, we could end up getting rolled.

Amanda Marcotte: Right-wing conspiracy theorists get (even more) unhinged as Trump's chances fade: "With QAnon on the rise, Alex Jones tells his fans to 'kill' progressives: Trump Nation is going full cuckoo."

Terrence McCoy: Last year's Amazon fires stirred international outrage. This year's dry season has started out worse.

Alexa Mikhail/Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff/Joel Jacobs: After hundreds of covid-19 deaths in state-run veterans homes, lawmakers press VA to adhere to science. I should mention again that my cousin was one of the victims in a VA facility in Oklahoma.

Nicole Narea: Trump's latest plan to use the census for political gain, explained. As they note, "more than a third of all US coronavirus cases occurred in July."

Michael T Osterholm/Neel Kashkari: Here's how to crush the virus until vaccines arrive: "To save lives, and save the economy, we need another lockdown."

JC Pan: The pandemic benefit seems so great because actual wages are insanely low.

Kim Phillips-Fein: Rethinking the solution to New York's fiscal crisis.

Wendell Potter: The health care scare: "I sold Americans a lie about Canadian medicine. Now we're paying the price."

David Roberts: How to drive fossil fuels out of the US economy, quickly.

Aaron Rupar:

John Quiggin: The end of interest: This is interesting:

Amid all the strange, alarming and exciting things that have happened lately, the fact that real long-term (30-year) interest rates have fallen below zero has been largely overlooked. Yet this is the end of capitalism, at least as it has traditionally been understood. Interest is the pure form of return to capital, excluding any return to monopoly power, corporate control, managerial skills or compensation for risk.

If there is no real return to capital, then then there is no capitalism. In case it isn't obvious, I'll make the point in subsequent posts that there is no reason to expect the system that replaces capitalism (I'll call it plutocracy for the moment) to be an improvement.

I have two thoughts based on this. The first is a corollary, that if capitalism is dead, the free market will no longer be able to rebuild the economy. Therefore, government must step in, providing planning and finance (and possibly even direction) for new ventures. The nations of East Asia (most dramatically China) have been able to grow above market rates thanks to central economic planning, in contrast to the relatively anemic growth in the West, especially if you discount the excess wealth generated by monopolies, corporate predation, and asset inflation (which is what happens when the rich have more money than things to spend it on). The Green New Deal is certainly one way the government could force feed the economy, and thereby prop it up, but probably isn't in itself all that will be needed. Which leads to the second point, which is that we need to come up with a better alternative than plutocracy. Indeed, we're far enough into plutocracy now that it's more properly seen as a problem, not a solution. But if Quiggin wants to scare people, sure, feel free to point out where that road heads.

William K Rashbaum/Benjamin Weiser: DA is investigating Trump and his company over fraud, filing suggests.

Jeffrey D Sachs: America's unholy crusade against China: Reaction to Mike Pompeo's big China speech -- "inflammatory anti-China rhetoric could become even more apocalyptic in the coming weeks, if only to fire up the Republican base ahead of the election" -- not sure why he focuses so much on evangelicals:

According to Pompeo, Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China (CPC) harbor a "decades-long desire for global hegemony." This is ironic. Only one country -- the US -- has a defense strategy calling for it to be the "preeminent military power in the world," with "favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere." China's defense white paper, by contrast, states that "China will never follow the beaten track of big powers in seeking hegemony," and that, "As economic globalization, the information society, and cultural diversification develop in an increasingly multi-polar world, peace, development, and win-win cooperation remain the irreversible trends of the times."

More on China (for pieces on TikTok, see Shirin Ghaffery above):

  • Doug Bandow: Let's face it, China is its own worst enemy: "Much like Trump, Xi's grand ambitions are checked by his inability to make friends." Bandow is a libertarian (Cato Institute) critic of American foreign policy, so so he avoids most of the usual Washington clichťs. Still, he comes up with a long list of ways Xi's instincts to fight back and bully at every slight has hurt China's business relations.

Claudia Sahm: Economics is a disgrace.

Dylan Scott:

Steven Shepard: Kobach and Clay go down: Takeaways from a big primary night: Primaries in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Washington, and Tennessee. In Kansas Republican Senate primary, Roger Marshall beat Kris Kobach 39.41% to 25.68%, with Bob Hamilton at 18.34% and Wichita Eagle-endorsed David Lindstrom in 4th with 6.33%. Kobach barely won the governor primary in 2018 then lost, so he's increasingly viewed as a loser as well as a lunatic. Lacy Clay (D-MO), who's always struck me as a pretty progressive Congressman, lost to Cori Bush, who promises to be even better. Another incumbent, Steve Watkins (R-KS), recently indicted, lost his primary. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) faced a well-financed opponent she had barely won over in 2018, and won 66.27% to 33.73%. The biggest piece of election news was Missouri voting in favor of Medicaid expansion. Article doesn't have any "takeaways" from Tennessee (which voted later), where Trump-endorsed Bill Hagerty appears to have won the Republican Senate nomination. Related:

Alex Shephard:

Richard Silverstein: Israel bombed Beirut:

A confidential highly-informed Israeli source has told me that Israel caused the massive explosion at the Beirut port earlier today which killed over 100 and injured thousands. The bombing also virtually leveled the port itself and caused massive damage throughout the city.

Israel targeted a Hezbollah weapons depot at the port and planned to destroy it with an explosive device. Tragically, Israeli intelligence did not perform due diligence on their target. Thus they did not know (or if they did know, they didn't care) that there were 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a next door warehouse. The explosion at the arms depot ignited the next door warehouse, causing the catastrophe that resulted. More on Beirut:

Silverstein followed this initial report with Ex-CIA analyst confirms Beirut blast initiated by "military munitions," Lebanese President to examine role of "external actors"; and Senior Israeli opposition leader: Hezbollah arms cache caused Beirut explosion. I should note that I haven't seen any corroboration of Silverstein's reports elsewhere. Israel has publicly denied its involvement, although they've frequently attacked alleged Hezbollah supplies and forces in Syria, waged a brutal war against Lebanon in 2006, and invaded Lebanon in 1982, not leaving until 2000. They still occupy a small patch of Lebanon, a major bone of contention with Hezbollah. Mainstream media sources have focused on the large store of ammonium nitrate, which came from an abandoned Russian ship, while claiming that the initial fire which ignited the larger explosion had something to do with fireworks. As the articles below note, Lebanon has been struggling for some time, and there is a lot of pent-up resentment against the long-ruling cliques. There were popular demonstrations against the government over a year ago, and they have flared up again.

Jeffrey Toobin: It really is time to get rid of the filibuster.

Lucian K Truscott IV: Let's remember that long with everything else, Donald Trump's a total pig. Pic here of a much younger Trump with his old buddy, Jeffrey Epstein.

Chris Walker: Students suspended for taking pictures of crowds in Georgia school's reopening: This is the "cancel culture" I remember from the 1950s. PS: 9 people test positive for coronavirus at Georgia school that went viral for crowded photo.

Sean Wilentz: What Tom Cotton gets so wrong about slavery and the constitution: It was the Arkansas Republican Senator to called slavery "a necessary evil upon which the union was built" -- not the founders he cites. See Bryan Armen Graham: Tom Cotton calls slavery 'necessary evil' in attack on New York Times' 1619 Project. Note that Cotton is not only asserting his own views, he's trying to suppress the views of others: specifically, historians who have attempted to document the long and disgraceful history of slavery and racism in the United States.

Matthew Yglesias:

Li Zhou/Ella Nilsen: Why Republicans are dragging their feet on more stimulus. Now that the stock market has recovered, and the rich are richer than ever, their job is done. Sure, they still would like to get lawsuit immunity for businesses. But fuck everyone else. Note: The first group of pieces date from earlier in the week, before Trump punted with his executive orders. I've put them first, then reports on the executive orders and the reaction in a second block.

Then on Saturday, Trump broke off negotiations and signed his orders. They are a purely political ploy: a way to claim he's doing something without delivering much of anything. They are a "free lunch," as in "there's no such thing as a free lunch":