Thursday, March 17, 2022

Speaking of Which

In started to do a "Speaking of Which" back on March 6 (or a bit earlier), so that provides the first pieces below. I picked it up again on Tuesday, March 15. As I was trying to wrap it up on Thursday, March 17, I noticed a new piece by Eric Levitz: The Emerging Path to Peace in Ukraine. Levitz has provided some of the most useful reporting on the conflict, so I've cited him below, and in previous pieces. His comments on a possible security agreement are closely aligned with what Phyllis Bennis has discussed (also see Fred Kaplan, below). Disappointing to me is the seeming Ukraine intransigence on parting with Donbas and even Crimea. I'm convinced that Ukraine would be better off disowning them. (A more proper decision would be to allow them to vote, which would almost certainly give Crimea to Russia, but it's harder to be sure about Donbas -- which certainly leaned Russian up to 2014, but haven't fared so well since.)

The following are some pieces that I read on Ukraine and care to note and/or comment on. I'm providing the dates because events are changing fast, although my selection of the piece implies continuing relevance.

[02-28] Ted Galen Carpenter: Many Predicted NATO Expansion Would Lead to War. Those Warnings Were Ignored: Collects the more famous quotes, like Strobe Talbott ("Many Russians see Nato as a vestige of the cold war, inherently directed against their country") and George Kennan ("it is the beginning of a new cold war . . . Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake"). Carpenter concludes: "History will show that Washington's treatment of Russia in the decades following the demise of the Soviet Union was a policy blunder of epic proportions."

[02-28] Fred Kaplan: No, You're Not Imagining It: Russia's Army Is Inept. I'm not seeing much detailed reporting on the actual fighting, and don't really have the perverse interest anyway, but links to and sums up a fair amount. What is clear from looking at the maps almost daily over three weeks is that the Russian offensive stalled at the big cities of Kharkiv and Kyiv (and even bypassed the much smaller Chernihiv), which probably reflects a fear of getting stuck in an urban guerrilla trap. You may recall that the US sent heavily armored convoys into Baghdad to gauge the resistance before they claimed the city. Russia hasn't got that close yet. Kaplan also speculates that as its ineptitude sinks in, Russia will try to compensate by increased bombing "for destruction's sake," as Russia did in Chechnya "when its officers feel frustrated." That we've seen. Kaplan has continued to report and offer thoughtful comments:

[03-02] Moustafa Bayoumi: They are 'civilised' and 'look like us': the racist coverage of Ukraine: I can't deny that racial prejudice has an effect on how Europeans and Americans respond to the atrocities of war, but the main reason the US and EU are responding so attentively to Ukraine is that Russian aggression fits our preferred political narrative, one that is readily and happily repeated by our political and military figures. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was very similar to Russia in Ukraine now, yet there was little outpouring of support for Iraqi refugees, let alone efforts to financially cripple the US war machine. The one place where race may be having a big impact is that far-right parties haven't yet rallied to exclude Ukrainian refugees, despite directing a great deal of bigotry against East Europeans in the past.

[03-02] John Feffer: No Pasaran: Ukraine 2022: I've resisted linking to Feffer, less because I disagree than because he seems so predictable. Still, I found this analogy amusing: "Vladimir Putin is the Franco of today, and Ukraine must become the graveyard of Putinism." Sure, it's cliché, but he makes a fairly good case for Putin as "the contemporary face of fascism," and for you "antifa" types Ukraine offers a venue to get your feet wet and your hands bloody, without much more than the usual risk. And while I don't regard Putin as anywhere near the threat that Hitler was -- if you want an apples-to-apples comparison, compare the two invasions of Ukraine -- no doubt Putin's a bad dude who deserves to be taken down a notch or two. Still, I don't see his call for a "new internationalism" working elsewhere. Feffer also wrote [03-09]: Why Ukraine Matters.

[03-02] Eric Levitz: The War in Ukraine Looks Unwinnable (for Everyone). I didn't ever think it looked winnable. Russia can wreak a lot of destruction, but doing so only drives most Ukrainians more implacably against them. At most they can conquer a wasteland, at immeasurable cost not just to Ukraine but to their own souls. Why Putin ever thought otherwise is hard to grasp. It may just be that he had been lucky in war before (in Chechnya, in Georgia, in Syria) so he figured his run will last. As Napoleon and Hitler can attest, luck lasts only until it runs out. And surely Putin knows enough Russian history to realize that those defeats weren't because Russian were inherently superior fighters, but because they were defending their home turf. Putin's not doing that in Ukraine (even if he's trying to convince himself otherwise).

The bigger problem is likely to be that once Russia withdraws and Putin is humiliated, the assholes in and around NATO that did so much to pave the way for this war will start taking victory laps, claiming credit for the people who suffered and resisted this madness -- the very people they so callously put in harm's way. And as they do so, they'll make sure we forget the true lessons of this war -- as they have done in all the other wars (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq) they've botched and left as open sores. Levitz returned to this in [03-04]: Putin's War Looks Increasingly Insane. I wouldn't put much stock in the armchair psychiatry, but the piece recaps the list of Putin's previous military "successes" and how they fall short here.

[03-02] Ezra Klein: Biden Has the Right Idea, but the Wrong Words: On the State of the Union speech, with his resolution to fight (up to a point) for Ukraine.

[03-03] Eric Levitz: Is America to Blame for Russia's War in Ukraine? Yes, in three ways. The first is that after 1945 the US developed an arrogant conceit that this was "our century" and that as the biggest economy and richest nation in the world were were entitled to set the rules by which everyone else would have to live. This conceit was relatively tolerable back when we were a progressive, relatively equitable and generous country, but that image became increasingly tarnished over the years. Still, with the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, America's ego got a shot of adrenaline that made us increasingly insufferable (for examples, see Global War on Terrorism). Second, we made no effort to ameliorate the immense suffering caused by economic collapse as Russia and its former clients attempted to transition to capitalist economies. This was largely because we had forgotten the great truth learned so hard from the Great Depression: that capitalism only works within regulation by a state that has the public welfare in mind. Third, instead of developing international institutions that could be used to build broad consensus on problems like arms and climate, the US only went with organizations that it could run to its own taste, like NATO -- organizations that were design to divide and exclude parts of the world beyond our control. Still, it took about 20 years before NATO and Russia were irreconciliably at loggerheads, and the US made scant effort to repair the damage. None of this excuses Putin from the specific decision to send troops into Ukraine. While it's not clear how Putin could have changed the historical context, he certainly could have opted for some other diplomatic approach, and claimed some measure of moral high ground in doing so. So, yeah, he is the culpable party. But we shouldn't allow his guilt to distract from the deeper critique.

[03-03] Sarah Jones: Russia Tests the American Left. "What's so hard about condemning Vladimir Putin?" Nothing, really. Even leftists who still feel a strong sense of international solidarity (which certainly isn't as prevalent as it used to be) will, if they know anything but US propaganda attacks on Putin, recognize him as a nationalist, right-wing foe, not just of America but of the working class in Russia and around the world. What is hard is backing down from a principled critique of US foreign policy which has only been proven more prescient by recent events. Expansion of NATO and the increasing sanction of Russia, both of the state and of its prominent (and presumably influential) oligarchs, must be regarded as proximate causes of the crisis that led to the invasion. Same for the propaganda war and the often clandestine efforts by any number of western parties to realign Ukraine against Russia's economic interests. On the other hand, Russia did make its own clandestine moves to foment civil war in Ukraine, leading to the annexation of Crimea and the "illegal" but de facto separation of the Donbas region -- which have done as much or more than western entreaties to drive a wedge between Russia and Ukraine. And most importantly, Russia did invade, a decision that is impossible to defend, or even rationalize. And in invading, Putin has done something that US propaganda has never been able to do, which is to grant NATO a justification, one that we will be stuck with well into the future. Still, the left's anti-NATO stance was never predicated on allowing Russia to build up arms and threaten and subvert others. It was always tied to multilateral disarmament and the development of international institutions and laws that would peaceably resolve conflicts. Once this crisis abates, that we'll need to recognize that left critique as the path forward.

[03-03] Ben Jacobs: Was Ted Cruz Right About Russia? "He spent years fighting Putin's prized pipeline." Let's face it, Ted Cruz is never right about anything. He's been a loyal servant of the Texas oil industry, which is all you need to know about his efforts to exclude Russian gas from European markets, securing more profits for his sponsors. I doing so, all he has done is increase Russia's paranoia about American intentions, while preventing an economic trade bond that might have helped integrate Russia more peaceably into the world trade system.

[03-04] Jeffrey St. Clair: Roaming Charges: Hate and War, It's the Currency: Cue Clash video for the title. Usual set of ramblings, some memorable:

  • At some point, our oligarchs & their oligarchs are going to decide that sanctions on oligarchs are "counterproductive" and return to tried-and-true sanctions on the poor, the sick, the old, and the young.
  • [Richard] Engel and [Rachel] Maddow wanted the US to go to war over RussiaGate, a non-scandal their network pushed more aggressively than William Randolph Hearst did the Spanish American War.

[03-04] Jack Watling: Russia's callousness towards its own soldiers is undermining its combat power. I'm not sure this is right. Stalin's callousness was off the charts, yet Russians fought bravely and tenaciously against Nazi Germany, even though they suffered immensely. On the other hand, they had reason to fight, whereas Russian soldiers in Afghanistan and Chechnya (at least in the First Chechen War) found little reason to risk their lives. The US gave up on trying to field a conscript army after Vietnam, but Russia still has a lot of conscripts in Ukraine.

[03-04] Masha Gessen: The War That Russians Do Not See: As is usually the case, Putin is fighting his war on two fronts: in Ukraine, as you know, and at home, for the support of his own people. State-controlled media is key to that effort.

[03-04] Glenn S Gerstell: I've Dealt With Foreign Cyberattacks. America Isn't Ready for What's Coming. I'm not sure I'm right on this, but two weeks later we don't seem to have seen much cyberwarfare, on either side, so maybe there is a sense of deterrence, or maybe the stakes just aren't all that promising. For an update, see [03-14] Matt Stieb: Why Have Russian Hackers Been So Quiet?

[03-05] Ellen Ioanes: Russia is deploying brutal siege tactics in Ukraine: I'm not sure the narrow definition of siege applies here: back in the Middle Ages and before, cities were often fortified, and sieges aimed at breaking down those fortifications, so the attacking army could invade cities and take over. At least that's what I think of when I hear the word, and Russia isn't doing that. I suspect that the reason is that the psychological plus of capturing a city isn't worth the risk of getting stuck in a hostile confinement. On the other hand, I've used a broader definition of siege myself; e.g., to describe Israel's wanton shelling and bombing of Gaza. I suppose the fact that Gaza is surrounded by walls legitimizes the word, but the walls of Gaza weren't meant to defend against invasion. They were built by Israel to keep the Gazans penned in. The only real historical precedent for this is the Warsaw Ghetto, constructed by Nazi Germany in 1939 to detain Jews until the Nazis got around to slaughtering them later. What Russia is doing is different, but not much: they're camping outside of cities, then shelling and bombing them. Unclear whether they mean to kill them all, drive most away, or just see it as sport. Any way you slice it, the "brutal" is an understatement.

[03-07] Branko Marcetic: The Orwellian Attacks on Critics of NATO Policy Must Stop. Every time someone gins up a war, their first target isn't the other party; it's dissenters at home. Many people would like to think that war is above politics, but there's very little about war that isn't political -- perhaps the distribution of pain and tragedy. Marcetic recalls the days after 9/11, as do I. If I'm less bothered now, it's probably because the history of NATO provocation seems to be better understood than the "chickens come home to roost" critique of US's Cold War sponsorship of Al-Qaeda and other mujaheddin. But also, we all take heart in Russia's fledgling antiwar movement. Moreover, if you look at serious proposals for a negotiated end to the war -- and given Russia's nuclear depth that's the only thinkable option (note word choice) -- they all start with an understanding of how this all started with NATO expansion (e.g., see Kaplan, below, and Lieven, op. cit.). So while the kneejerk option is to double down on NATO, we need to resist that temptation. A good start would be to tamper down on the crazy talk. Putin is way too crazy already.

[03-09] Phyllis Bennis: Diplomacy, not war, is the way to help.

[03-09] Ben Walsh: The unprecedented American sanctions on Russia, explained: One estimate here is that "Russia's economy will shrink 35 percent in the second quarter of 2022 and 7 percent for the entire year." You can view that as a lot, or as not so much. My takeaway from this is that sanctions, even if imposed urgently, work slowly and gradually, which gives target countries time and reason to adjust. The track record of sanctions in past conflicts is decidedly mixed, and only rarely effective. (Perhaps the worst case example so far is the US ban on oil and metal sales to Japan, which the Japanese responded to at Pearl Harbor.) Also see: [03-07] Robin Wright: Why Sanctions Too Often Fail.

[03-11] Keith Gessen: Was it inevitable? A Short history of Russia's war on Ukraine. Pretty good background piece on the conflict.

[03-11] Alec MacGillis: How Putin's Invasion of Ukraine Upended Germany: "In the wake of Russia's attack, Germany has reoriented its energy policy and committed to dramatic military expansion for the first time since the Cold War." I'm old enough that any hint of German re-armament brings a twinge, but I suspect their pledge to spend an extra 100 billion Euros is mostly their way of saluting the Americans and NATO, in a way that doesn't really hurt all that much. And if they spend much of that, as promised, on the F-35 albatross, they will have made friends with Lockheed without really threatening anyone. The bigger issue is what to do about losing access to Russian gas. It probably means they will stick with nuclear longer than they wanted to.

[03-13] Ellen Ioanes: Why the US scrapped Polish plans to give Ukraine fighter jets.

[03-13] Zack Beauchamp: Could Putin actually fall? A lot of poorly grounded speculation here, largely based on mere wishes, like this from David Rothkopf: "Vladimir Putin's attack on Ukraine will result in the downfall of him and his friends." If history is just, of course, but how can you count on that? Worse still is when the wish turns into a threat, as when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says: "The only way this ends is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out." Almost makes you think he doesn't want it to end. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it's about a million times easier to get Putin to agree to a deal that leaves Putin in power without further disgrace than it is to insist that Russia also give us his head on a platter. That's why I worry when Americans try to paint him as a fount of evil. It's not because it might hurt his feelings (for all I know, he might take it as a compliment). It's because those terms lock us into a mindset that makes it harder to find compromises and seal the deal. As for speculating about odds, Graham's plea to the military to act is almost certain not to work. Much more likely is that Kremlin insiders will quietly usher him into retirement, as he did Yeltsin. They may even let him serve out his term, and thank him for his service. One thing we should know by now is that totalitarianism is never as total as it's cracked up to be. A "strong man" like Putin needs a lot of hench men and cronies, and when he fucks up, as Putin has done, he starts to lose that aura of invincibility. But that's longer term. Right now, you need to cut a deal with him.

[03-13] Stephen Kinzer: Assassinating Putin Won't Work. It Never Has for America. Includes the line before the Lindsey Graham line I made fund of above, and it's even more insane: "Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there a more successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian military?" Kinzer has written about these plots in the past, and includes a few here I was unfamiliar with, as well as many I've heard about. Some (not many) hit their target. None accomplished their erstwhile goal.

[03-14] Kevin T Dugan: Goldman Sachs CEO Says Ostracizing Russia Isn't the Finance Industry's Job: There's a guy who puts his mouth where his money is. Dana Milbank has a list of companies that are dragging their feet on disengaging from Russia: Zelensky says 'peace is more important than profit.' Koch Industries disagrees.

[03-15] Ariel Petrovics: NATO's restraint has made things worse for Russia in Ukraine: "The absence of US and allied forces in the conflict has highlighted that Putin is his own worst enemy."

[03-15] Patrick Cockburn: Demonizing Russia Risks Making Compromise Impossible, and Prolonging the War: Same thing can be said for demonizing Putin, which is the more prominent focus at the moment. "The problem is that the hatreds generated by war gain momentum during the conflict and do not have a reverse emotional gear." Cockburn also wrote [03-14]: Putin Has Grossly Overplayed His HAnd, but NATO Could Be Making the Same Mistake as It Senses It's Winning.

[03-15] David Ignatius: The best peace plan for Ukraine is military support: Link above is to Paul Woodward's Attention to the Unseen, which includes links to a couple more pieces. Besides, Ignatius is one of the geniuses who brought you the War on Terror. I don't know why anyone invites him to write in public anymore, but here he is, eager as ever to defend freedom by fighting to the last dead Ukrainian (or Iraqi or Afghan or fill in the blank). AJ Muste is still right that the way to peace is peace. The notion that peace comes from strength, that we have to always stand our gound and never show compassion or anything that could be interpreted as weakness, that mindset is a big part of why we find ourselves in this predicament. That said, if Americans want to send anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and small arms to Ukraine -- weapons that can be used to make Putin's troops feel some of the pain they're inflicting -- that's far from the worst thing they could do. Maybe it even nudges Putin a bit toward a settlement, but the only viable ending will come not from who holds the upper hand on the battlefield, but when both sides give up their fantasies and try to agree on the right thing. There's scant evidence of that realization in Ignatius or the others here. Their preferred scenario is to fuel a long-term guerrilla war against Russian occupation. They'd be quite happy to turn Ukraine into a multi-generational wasteland, like they did to Afghanistan.

By the way, Ignatius's [03-17] piece suggests that he's beginning to get cold feet: Watching Russia's military failures is exhilarating. But a cornered Putin is dangerous. One thing he finally realizes is that no matter how much he enjoys kicking Putin when he's down, "Zelensky's allies should also be thinking about how to put the pieces back together when this war ends." I'll add that while the US did a half way decent job of rehabilitating Germany and Japan after WWII, the US has an absolutely dismal record of addressing postwar reconciliation ever since. (Two more recent examples: the US claimed most Afghan foreign reserves for possible payout to 9/11 victims; Afghanistan is being forced to close its US embassy and consulates, for lack of expense money. Nobody's saying we have to like the Taliban, but we do owe the Afghan people a certain measure of respect, and to do that you have to go through their de facto leaders.)

[03-15] Anatol Lieven: What Zelensky will say to Congress and how the US should respond: The Ukraine president is schedule to address Congress on Wednesday. Presumably he'll say much of what he's been saying in public over the last 2-3 weeks, ranging from "give us more arms" to "impose a no-fly zone." Congress, as usual, will be sympathetically hawkish, so he'll get a lot of applause. Or maybe he'll trim his message back a bit to stay within Biden's guildelines (yes on some weapons, but no on others, including that no-fly zone). Just because Netanyahu can speak to Congress over and against the President doesn't mean it's a good idea. The article makes a reference to "a shameful history going back to Georgia in 2008 of Americans making quasi-promises of military aid that they had no real intention of ever fulfilling," which feels tacked on but was scooped up for the subhed. It really needs to be qualified carefully, because the implication here is to turn it into a Munich appeasement lesson. The underlying dynamic is similar -- Russia encouraging former SSRs to break up into smaller ethnic enclaves, some of which would turn to Russia for help -- but the conflicts themselves are vastly different. In 2008, Russia intervened in Georgia to stop a Georgian military operation to take back two breakaway provinces. Russia stopped the advance, then withdrew, leaving Abkhazia and South Ossetia quasi-independent. The Russian invasion of Ukraine also involves breakaway provinces (Donetsk and Luhansk, and one might add Crimea), but the focus of the Russian invasion is the rest of Ukraine. Lieven has generally been a good, level-headed reporter, but I'm confused here. Some other recent pieces:

[03-16] Benjamin Hart: Zelenskyy Invokes Pearl Harbor and 9/11 in Impassioned Speech to Congress. Much as he parrotted Churchill in his address to the UK Parliament, you gotta admit he knows how to read a room, and play into its prejudices. He repeated his plea for a "no-fly zone," which he knew Biden and the rest of NATO had pointedly ruled out, but how better to fish for other concessions? The US response was: Pentagon dials up size, scope of Ukrainian military aid. Now, the Washington Post is marveling: Outmatched in military might, Ukraine has excelled in the information war.

[03-16] Barbara Garson: Volodymyr Zelensky Is Not a Comedian -- and That's No Joke: A "belated review" of his TV show, Servant of the People. Life may imitate art, but it was funnier when it was just art.

Some other pieces of interest, way short of a systematic survey:

[01-31] John McPhee: Tabula Rasa: Volume Three: working toward a book on the books he never got around to writing.

[02-24] Jane Mayer: Why Does New York's Criminal Investigation of Donald Trump Appear All but Over? Two prosecutors resigned when not allowed to proceed further. On the other hand, others are more convinced than ever that a case should go forward: [03-16] Laurence H Tribe/Dennis Aftergut: The evidence is clear: it's time to prosecute Donald Trump.

[02-28] David Dayen: Larry Summers Shares the Blame for Inflation: And not for "warning that government spending could increase inflation" (which is a standard bugaboo against all spending you don't like; funny how stuff you want, like a war or a Wall Street bailout, never raises any red flags).

[03-08] James North: What the New Democrats' Mistakes Taught Us About Fighting Inequality: Review of Lily Geismer's book Left Behind: The Democrats' Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality. I noticed this book in my recent trawling, and thought: "what attempt?" So now I know a bit more, especially about the Clintons' fascination with "microfinance" -- you may recall that Muhammad Yunus won a Nobel Prize for his work on this in Bangladesh. Not so much that it was a bad idea, but it never raised enough money to work, and the pilot projects got wiped out in the recession that followed Clinton's repeal of Carter-Glass. Some other stories here were also attempt to use market dynamics for the public good: charter schools, public/private partnerships, welfare "reform." On the other hand, Clinton's schemes to help make the rich worked fabulously. The result was a huge inequality.

[03-09] Zach Montellaro: GOP pushes for an 'earthquake in American electoral power': "Conservatives are promoting the "independent legislature" theory, which would hand vast election powers to GOP legislators in battleground states."

[03-09] Jessica J Lee: Hawkish Yoon wins in Seoul, posing challenges for Taiwan, North Korea policy. Always bad news when a country shifts politically to the right, although this piece doesn't bother explaining why. We had an opportunity to finally end the Korean War with Moon Jae-in in office, but it was wasted by saboteurs John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, while a befuddled Donald Trump looked on.

[03-10] Peter Beinart: The US supports illegal annexations by Israel and Morocco. Why the hypocrisy? Pace the subhed, America has long felt free to "pick and choose when to follow international law." The recent resolution calling on the ICC -- an organization the US has pointed refused to join and has repeatedly condemned for investigating Israel -- to investigate Russian war crimes couldn't be clearer on that point. Double standards are the prerogative of the self-anointed "essential nation" (you know, "the last best hope"). Beinart also notes: Russia dehumanizes Ukrainians in strikingly similar ways that Israel dehumanizes Palestinians.

[03-10] Eli Clifton: Mike Pence flies to Israel on Miriam Adelson's private jet. Sheldon Adelson's widow continues her late husband's role as a major financial kingpin in the Republican and Likud parties, a game Pence is only too willing to play.

[03-12] Nathan J Robinson: The Great American World War II Story: One of the great tragedies of American history is that, after struggling through the Great Depression, most Americans came out of WWII feeling really good about the war and themselves. Sure, mostly those were Americans who never got close to the front lines (which was true of most Americans), but it left the country with an overweening sense of its own superiority. And thanks to the gift of selective memory, that sense only grew over the next half-century, peaking with Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation in 1998. When Bush was plotting the invasion of Iraq in 2003, pundits fell all over themselves to make analogies not to Vietnam (a people who fought to free itself from the empires of France and Japan, then America) but to the war we won, WWII. (John Dower's dissent from back then is still worth reading: Occupations and Empires: Why Iraq Is Not Japan.) Robinson's piece offers a tour of the US National WWII Museum, but speaks more about how our selective memory of past wars condemns us to repeat them.

[03-13] Teresa Ghilarducci: Inflation Stings Most If You Earn Less Than $300K. Here's How to Deal. Today's prize for the most gallingly obvious headline. Goes on: "Coping with inflation could mean drastic actions or small ones." Points out that those making $19K or less spend 15% of their income on food, a share which drops significantly with increasing income.

[03-13] Eric Levitz: Here's How Biden Can Lower Gas Prices. Fairly good explanation of how the Ukraine war is driving oil prices up (although I wouldn't be surprised to find that financial speculation is playing a much larger role). Ideas to bring prices down seem reasonable, although they don't include the obvious one of allowing Iranian and Venezuelan oil back on the world market -- something I approve of not so much because I'm all that keen on lowering prices as because doing so would correct some major problems with US foreign policy. By the way, explaining gas prices, here's Paul Krugman: Lies, Damned Lies and Gasoline Prices. [PS: Also see the chart accompanying this tweet, which shows gas prices rising with the price of crude oil, then staying high as crude oil prices have since dropped. With the war in the news every day, people think gas is in short supply, and the oil companies are taking advantage of that.]

[03-13] Ed Kilgore: Tom Cotton's Idea of Law and Order: Andrew Jackson Massacring Fugitive Slaves. A prime example of how Republicans abuse history to reinforce their own myths, rather than trying to understand what actually happened. By the way, I also don't care for how some people, concerned with the need to oppose racism, try to dishonor and reject Jackson and Jefferson, while lionizing elitists like the Adamses and a martinet like Hamilton, just because they held less embarrassing views of slavery. I've found that looking for saints in history is a fool's mission. But there's no reason you can't acknowledge a good idea or a noble sentiment when you find one, even in an unexpected place.

[03-14] Stephanie McCrummen: 'Gutted': What happened when a Georgia elections office was targeted for takeover by those who claim the 2020 election was a fraud.

[03-14] Jason Ditz: 49 Republican Senators Will Oppose Iran Nuclear Deal: This came shortly after Russia blocked the JCPOA, which had been reported as close to settled, by insisting on exemptions from sanctions. (See [03-11] Trita Parsi: Already fragile JCPOA talks 'paused' over Russian demands.) More recent news reports are unclear on the prospects. Israel, of course, is opposed to the any, which is good enough for Republicans (who don't dare criticize their "ally" for abstaining from condemning the Russian invasion at the UN). You may recall that the deal was negotiated by Obama after years of Israel hysterically complaining about the threat of Iran developing nuclear weapons (complete with 20 years of 5-to-1 year schedule predictions). Obama realized that the only way to actually keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons (assuming they wanted to) was to get an agreement that would put inspectors on site, which is what he did. Israel, in turn, opposed the deal: not clear what they did want, but they certainly weren't worried about Iranian nuclear weapons.

[03-15] Nitish Pahwa: Why Absolutely Nothing Republicans Are Saying About Gas Prices Makes Sense: That's a section head, catchier than the "Joe Biden Didn't Do This" title. Next section: "Oil Companies Are Actually Just Trying to Pad Their Profits." At this point I'm more suspicious of financial speculators, who jumped out ahead of whatever shortages may be coming.

[03-15] David Dayen: A Windfall Profits Tax Would Be an Inflation Rebate: When the global price of oil increases, those people already pumping and selling oil get the extra profit of the price rise, with no additional work or value added. We recognized this in the oil crunch of 1973, and passed a windfall tax. Why not now?

[03-15] Ian Millhiser: The constitutional problem with Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill. Looks to me like there are several. One has to do with vagueness, which forces teachers to guess what wording is and is not allowed. Another has to do with allowing parents to enforce it through civil suits (an approach pioneered by the recent Texas anti-abortion bill). This deputizes the "most prudish parents" (also the craziest), virtually guaranteeing a tsunami of frivolous lawsuits teachers and school boards will have to defend against. This law is typical of the thought control planks in Rick Scott's campaign platform, showing how they are meant to terrify teachers. A Supreme Court that respected basic constitutional rights would never let this law stand, but a 6-3 majority of Federalist Society hacks just might.

[03-15] Jane Mayer: Sarah Bloom Raskin Withdraws Her Nomination to the Federal Reserve Board: Score one for the oil, gas, and coal industries, with their magic bullet, Joe Manchin. I don't know that she's any good (she "had wide support from the banking industry"), or what she might have been able to do at the Fed, but this does show you who has power. Mayer previously wrote: [03-02] How Fossil-Fuel Companies Are Stonewalling Sarah Bloom Raskin's Nomination to the Fed. Also see: Kate Aronoff: Why Joe Manchin Sank Sarah Bloom Raskin's Nomination.

[03-15] Bess Levin: Idaho's Uniquely Evil Abortion Bill Gives Rapists Families a Say.

[03-15] Third Way: The Red State Murder Problem: What do you suppose could account for "Trump-voting states account for 8 out of the 10 highest murder rates in 2020"? Guns? Poverty? Kulturkampf assholes?

[03-15] Eric Levitz: Modern Capitalism Is Weirder Than You Think: "Three asset managers [BlackRock, Vanguard Group, and State Street] now collectively own a big chunk of nearly every corporation. As a result, capitalism no longer works as advertised." This leads to several points:

  1. Market competition is becoming impossible under capitalism -- or else increasingly plausible under socialism.
  2. There may now actually be a "committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie."
  3. The dominant theory of corporate governance no longer makes sense.
  4. Wall Street and organized labor are now aligned on monetary policy. I.e., they both want low interest rates, albeit for different reasons.

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