An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Sunday, January 15, 2023
Speaking of Which
Still feeling indifferent about continuing this column, but hadn't gotten into anything else at the moment, so had some time to fiddle. Then, of course, it got late, and I had to cut it short.
Lots missing below, including the six-year-old child who shot his school teacher, and another story here in Wichita where a toddler shot a mother. A wee bit, but not much, on the Biden classified documents snipe hunt, which reads like a comedy of errors, and is mostly significant for allowing Republicans to run around screaming bloody murder -- a thought that never occurred to them when Trump was hoarding top secrets, in part because they were so busy painting him as a victim of the politically woke FBI. Meanwhile, Democrats are scrambling to point out how different the cases are (although at least one writer has observed that the Biden case is is "really like Hillary's"). Few people have stressed the obvious: that way too many government documents are classified, which both makes them easy to lose and encourages their users to get sloppy.
As much as I'd enjoy Trump being sent to prison, it's hard to get excited about the legal jeopardy he seems to be in. Classified documents are basically bullshit. I wouldn't put whistleblowers like Reality Winner and Edward Snowden in jail, nor do I care much about people who sold secrets to Russia or China or Israel (many of whom, unlike whistleblowers, eventually get repatriated anyway). I don't see how Trump can complain about the Mar-a-Lago raid, given how much the FBI found, but he's probably right that if they prosecute him, it's mostly political. And, let's face it, the Feds have prosecuted lots of people for politics, most much more worthy of sympathy than Trump is.
The Georgia phone call is another mostly bullshit case. At what point does imploring someone to commit a crime become criminal? It depends a lot on who you are, and who you're talking to, which is why such cases do occasionally do get prosecuted when some Muslim is entrapped by an undercover FBI operative. I also don't care about the defamation suit brought by a woman who alleges Trump raped her. Defamation suits are almost all bullshit moves brought by people with too much money and too many lawyers -- the sort of move that Trump actually specializes in. (James Zirin has a 2019 book on this: Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits.)
Trump already dodged one bullet this year in avoiding getting indicted for the massive fraud at The Trump Organization, letting his CFO take the fall. It'll cost him some money, but the fine strikes me as pretty light, something he can easily afford. Maybe Trump's tax returns will catch up with him, but again that will probably just be a big fine (and not enough to satisfy Eddie Murphy's proposition in Trading Places: "the best way to hurt rich people is to turn them into poor people").
As for seditious conspiracy, that's most often another bullshit charge, usually directed against powerless people who never were real threats. (The first time I ran across the charge was in 1989, when Robert Mueller prosecuted members of the Ohio 7, most still serving long jail terms. My friend Elizabeth Fink was a defense lawyer, and got Patricia Levasseur acquitted.) I'm willing to consider that Trump is the rare case where there's actually some substance that should be redressed -- if what he did wasn't technically illegal, it's only because Congress couldn't imagine how far he would go -- but I don't expect it to happen. Justice in America may be some kind of ideal, but it's rarely practiced, no matter how people like to sound sanctimonious about it.
Of course, if Trump does somehow manage to get prosecuted and convicted and jailed, I won't mind. He seems to have a unique knack for screwing up and letting crises get out of hand. He also seems to have insanely poor choice in lawyers (although he has yet to embrace the cliché of representing himself).
House Republicans: Now that a Speaker is elected, and rules have been passed, House Republicans can get down to implementing their warped agenda. That leads to stories like these:
Ezra Klein: [01-15] Three Reasons the Republican Party Keeps Coming Apart at the Seams:
The Republican Party has long consisted of two factions in an uneasy equilibrium: plutocrats, who may think of themselves as libertarian but are only concerned with freedom for the rich to increase their power and wealth; and culture warriors, who see America at great risk of moral collapse unless they can impose their values on everyone else. As long as the latter let the former slide, which may entail embracing wealth as a virtue, the two sides can work together, defined primarily by their shared enemy (the secular left).
Two more pieces on Republicans beyond the House:
Andrew Koppelman: [01-12] Forced Labor: Why the Thirteenth Amendment Protects Abortion Rights: "Roe v. Wade was built on a less-than-compelling Constitutional argument. But the right to choose is solidly grounded in the amendment that abolished slavery."
Rebecca Leber: [01-11] The gas stove regulation uproar, explained. I grew up with a gas stove, and have been a partisan all my life. I've rented places with electric stoves, and hated them. When I rebuilt our kitchen, the first thing on my shopping list was a big, fancy gas stove. (I bought a 36-inch Capital with six full-power burners, and a very expensive range hood which was a bear to vent outside. At the time, I saw a bunch of arguments that electric was better for baking, so I bought an electric wall oven as well, which I use more often than the gas oven, but each has its advantages, and it's nice to have both.) I didn't panic when this news came out, but was curious about the evidence -- not really answered here (but I guess I'm running my exhaust fan more regularly). Also:
Matt McManus: [01-11] Why Conservatism Can Never Be "Populist". Review, based on Paul Elliott Johnson's I the People: The Rhetoric of Conservative Populism in the United States. As Johnson points out, it is "important to stop waxing nostalgic about conservatism's reasonable past."
Blaise Malley: [01-13] Diplomacy Watch: Are European countries diverging on Ukraine aid? "As Poland preps to send tanks, Italy delays its latest package of weapons and financial assistance to Kyiv." Once again, little here. For more:
Ian Millhiser: [01-10] The legal loophole that could arm mass shooters with makeshift automatic rifles.
Nicole Narea: [01-12] Why a special counsel is looking into Biden's classified documents: "Any time classified materials go to a place they're not supposed to go, there is almost always an inquiry into how they got to that place." And what never happens is any investigation of why we have so much classified shit in the first place. I wouldn't be surprised to find that 80% of it all is pure bullshit: not stuff the government is trying to hide from the public, but the habitual use of secrecy markers and clearance levels to establish rank and privilege in the security bureaucracy (where the main privilege is excluding others from questioning your authority). The sheer ubiquity of classified markings ensures that documents will get lost or stolen, resulting in periodic hysteria and vendettas. That someone as sloppy as Trump seems inevitable. As for the special counsel, Garland probably just wanted to duck the inevitable questions about equivalency, even if it should be obvious that President Biden needs a level of access that ex-President Trump doesn't.
Alan Rappeport/Jim Tankersley/Jeanna Smialek: [01-13] The U.S. May Finally Breach the Debt Ceiling. Here's Why That Would Be Very Bad. I'm not sure how bad it really would be, but I am sure it would be stupid and totally unnecessary, a crisis contrived by a Republican Party that has no concern for anything other than their own political power.
Nathan J Robinson: [01-12] There Are No Good Royals: "If a member of Britain's degenerate ruling family doesn't like attention, he should go away and do something useful with his life." But where's the evidence that he could even imagine doing "something useful." He can't even grasp the concept of going away. I have no interest in doing so, so I can't fault Robinson for saving us the dirty work of reading Prince Harry's book, but I'd be inclined to dissect it somewhat differently. For instance, instead of dwelling on Harry's boast of long-distance murder in Afghanistan, I'd wonder what made him want to be a soldier in the first place. It's not a common choice for rich folk who have lots of other options -- especially in a third-rate power whose foreign policy consists of nothing but supplication to American power (perhaps his marriage to an American is another dimension of servility?). It takes a degree of priggishness that is hard to imagine outside of the British royal cocoon.
Robinson makes clear that the book is a considered, ghostwritten PR ploy, and notes how briskly it has sold, but what does that tell us? Clearly, the context is the "vicious coverage [of the royal family] in the British tabloid press," but are they looking for sympathy, or just playing the role of fools who regularly justify our instinct to bring them down with ridicule?
Bill Scher: [01-11] Democrats Need an Immigration Strategy Before They Turn on Each Other: Title seems obvious enough, and the problem is true enough: there is a vocal faction which supports everyone's right to immigrate any time they see fit, which makes it hard to settle on any approach that limits immigration, especially for refugees. Republicans have their own divide on immigration: the larger faction is nativist and exclusionary, but there's also a business-oriented faction that likes the idea of importing cheap foreign labor, kept powerless by special work permits. My own take has long been that the top priority should be in clearing up the backlog of undocumented immigrants (especially from the 1990s, when NAFTA dislocated Mexican workers and farmers, and the process was largely tolerated). To do that, I'd be willing to accept lower numbers of legal immigrants (as well as more enforcement against new illegals, although we've already spent tons of money on that). (I'm not personally bothered by higher numbers, but it looks to me like promoting more immigration is a losing political issue, and distracts from the more important one of providing better public service for the people who are here now.) But, as I said, it's hard to get any sort of consensus among Democrats, and Republicans would rather just campaign on being hard and mean and, in most cases, cruel. Still, one thing I was struck by in this article is this:
The obvious point here is that Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are problems caused largely by US foreign policy, and which could be fixed by changing policy to help those economies rather than hinder them. It always seem ironic that people should seek to immigrate to the very countries that are responsible for their local plights, yet there is a certain logic to it. Perhaps those who get so upset when refugees arive should think a bit more about how to prevent such calamities from happening, instead of simply thinking they can beat every problem to death.
Jeffrey St Clair: [01-13] Roaming Charges: Woke Me When It's Over.
Brett Wilkins: [01-11] New study blows up myth that Russian bots swayed 2016 election for Trump. "Blows up" is a bit strong: the study is limited to Twitter, which was probably less significant than Facebook (not that a study there wouldn't correlate, but there are differences in how the two platforms are used); and it basically quantifies the limits of how much influence Russian bots could have had (not much, as they were mostly viewed by small numbers of pro-Trump Republicans). In any case, the bots were only one small part of the broader "Russiagate" story, which always had a political charge behind it, but one may say the same about many detractors. I always minimized the claims that Russia sabotaged Hillary Clinton, for three reasons: from the start, the story was floated to shift blame from Clinton for losing to Trump, when there were many other reasons to be critical of her campaign; given the massive investment of the Republican propaganda machine (including Fox and their ilk), it's hard to imagine how Russia could further tip the scales; and the whole campaign was clearly intended to inflame anti-Russian sentiment by playing up Cold War themes, and this played into militarist plans to challenge Russia's borders and temperament (the Ukraine War being a self-fulfilling prophecy of such hawks, a cult that counted Clinton as a charter member). On the other hand, anyone (like Matt Taibbi) who has claimed that Russiagate is the biggest journalistic fraud of recent history has either a very selective memory or a strange political agenda. Such people see this report as vindication on everything, because to them it's all one vast conspiracy.