Sunday, September 24, 2023


Speaking of Which

Got a late start, as I thought it was more important to get my oft-delayed Book Roundup post out first. Still, I didn't have much trouble finding pieces this week. Seems like there should be more here on the UAW strike, but I didn't land on much that I hadn't noted previously.


Top story threads:

Trump, DeSantis, and other Republicans: Trump did very little of note last week, so it's time to merge him back into the field.

Biden and/or the Democrats: I was expecting more interest in the Franklin Foer book, but the bottom two articles are about it here. Biden's foreign policy issues are treated elsewhere, as is the breaking Menendez scandal.

  • Kate Aronoff: [09-21] Biden takes a tiny step toward a Roosevelt-style climate revolution: He's creating a Civilian Climate Corps, almost a homage to Roosevelt's CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). While the new group may also plant some trees, I suspect it will wind up mostly on the back side of climate change: not prevention, but clean up.

  • Perry Bacon Jr: [09-19] There's a simple answer to questions about Biden's age. Why don't Democrats say it? "Yes, there's a chance Vice President Harris becomes president -- and that would be fine."

  • Marin Cogan: [09-22] Why Biden's latest gun violence initiative has activists optimistic: By executive order, Biden is creating a new White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, which won't do much, but will surely talk about it more.

  • Oshan Jarow: [09-21] We cut child poverty to historic lows, then let it rebound faster than ever before: "The expanded child tax credit was a well-tested solution to child poverty." Since it has expired, the case is clearer than ever.

  • Robert Kuttner: [09-20] Winning the ideas, losing the politics: "Progressives have won the battle of ideas. And reality has been a useful ally. No serious person any longer thinks that deregulation, privatization, globalization, and tax-cutting serve economic growth or a defensible distribution of income and wealth." Biden has "surprisingly and mercifully" broke with the "self-annihilating consensus" of neoliberalism that gripped and hobbled the Democratic Party from Carter through Obama. Meanwhile, "Republicans have become the party of nihilism." So why do Republicans still win elections? Whatever it is -- some mix of ignorance and spite -- is what Democrats have to figure out a way to campaign against, before the desruction gets even worse.

    Kuttner recommends a piece by Caroline Fredrickson: [09-18] What I most regret about my decades of legal activism: "By focusing on civil liberties but ignoring economic issues, liberals like me got defeated on both." She recalls the opposition to Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. Liberals objected to Bork's views on race and abortion, but completely ignored his influential reframing of antitrust law. (For my part, I always understood that Sherman was written to protect businesses from monopolies. The idea that its intent existed for consumer protection was as far from "originalism" as possible.) She also points to Ted Kennedy's pivotal role providing liberal blessing for right-wing business initiatives, and Democratic Supreme Court appointments being "far more business-friendly than Democratic appointees of any other Court era." It should give us pause that ever since 1980, income and wealth inequality has grown even more when Democrats were in the White House. Republicans sat the table with tax cuts and deregulation, but also depressed wages and the economy. Democrats grew the economy, giving that much more to the rich. Biden shows signs of breaking with some, but not all, of this.

  • Nathaniel Rakich: [09-20] Democrats have been winning big in special elections: "That could bode well for them in the 2024 elections."

  • Amy Davidson Sorkin: [09-10] The challenges facing Joe Biden: "A new book praises the President's handling of the midterms, but the midterms are beginning to feel like a long time ago." The book, of course, is Franklin Foer's The Last Politician.

  • David Weigel: [09-12] In books, Biden is an energetic leader. Too bad nobody reads them. This was occasioned by Franklin Foer's book because, what else is available? (Actually, he mentions two more books -- the same two in my latest Book Roundup.)

Legal matters and other crimes: The Supreme Court isn't back in session yet, but cases are piling up.

Climate and environment:

Economic matters, including labor: The UAW strike is escalating. It looks like the Writers Guild has a tentative deal, after a lengthy strike, while the actors strike continues. Republicans blame all strikes on Biden, probably for raising the hopes of workers that they might get a fairer split of the record profits they never credit Biden for.

  • Dean Baker:

    • [09-22] Do people really expect prices to fall back to pre-pandemic levels? No, unless you're a Republican, then you'll run by promising miracles after you win, then forget about them the next day.

    • [09-18] Quick thoughts on the UAW strike: "Low pay of autoworkers; Higher productivity can mean less work, not fewer workers; CEO pay is a rip-off; Auto industry profits provide some room for higher pay; Inflated stock prices for Tesla and other Wall Street favorites have a cost; It is not an issue of electric vs. gas-powered cars; The UAW and Big Three are still a really big deal."

  • David Dayen: [09-21] Amazon's $185 billion pay-to-play system: "A new report shows that Amazon now takes 45 percent of all third-party sales on its website, part of the company's goal to become a monopoly gatekeeper for economic transactions."

  • Paul Krugman:

    • [09-19] Inflation is down, disinflation denial is soaring: So, is the denial fueled by people who have a vested interest in blaming Biden for inflation? The same people who always root for economic disaster when a Democrat is president (and who often contribute to it)? You know, Republicans?

    • [09-22] Making manufacturing good again: "Industrial jobs aren't automatically high-paying." They do tend to have relatively high margins, but whether workers see any of that depends on leverage, especially unions.

  • Harold Meyerson: [09-18] UAW strikes built the American middle class.

Ukraine War: Since Russia invaded in February 2022, I've always put Responsible Statecraft's "Diplomacy Watch" first in this section, but there doesn't seem to be one this week. They've redesigned the website to make it much harder to tell, especially what's new and what isn't.

Israel:

Around the world:

  • Zack Beauchamp: [09-20] The wild allegations about India killing a Canadian citizen, explained: "The killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada has exposed a big problem for US foreign policy." There's a list here that limits foreign assassinations to "the world's most brutal regimes -- places like China, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia," conveniently ignoring the US and Israel.

  • Edward Hunt: [09-23] US flouts international law with Pacific military claims.

  • Ellen Ioanes: [09-23] The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, explained: This is one of a half-dozen (or maybe more) cases where the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union eventually resulted in border disputes: this one between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the latter including a region that is primarily Armenian. This developed almost immediately into a war, which has fluctuated and festered ever since. Several others revolted: in Georgia and Moldova, where Russia favored separatists, while brutally suppressing Chechen separatists. Crimea and Donbas in Ukraine also: they didn't detonate until the pro-west coup in 2014, but now are engulfed in what is effectively a world war. It would have been sensible to recognize these flaws at the time, and set up some processes for peaceful resolution, but the US has embraced every opportunity to degrade Russian power, while Russia has become increasingly belligerent as it's been backed into a corner.

  • Daniel Larison: [09-22] Rahm Emmanuel in Japan, goes rogue on China: When Biden appointed him ambassador to Japan, I figured at least that would keep him from doing the sort of damage he did in the Obama White House. And here he is, trying to start WWIII. For more details, see [09-20] White House told US ambassador to Japan to stop taunting China on social media.

  • Bryan Walsh: [09-22] Governments once imagined a future without extreme poverty. What happened?


Other stories:

Merrill Goozner: [09-12] As dementia cases soar, who will care for the caregivers?

Anita Jain: [09-15] Should progressives see Sohrab Ahmari as friend or foe? He has a book, Tyrany, Inc.: How Private Power Crushed American Liberty -- and What to Do About It, which I wrote something about but didn't make the cut in yesterday's Book Roundup. He's right about some things, wrong about others, a mix that gives him to obvious political leverage, so does it matter? The key question is whether he decides to be friend or foe, because if he aligns with the Democrats he can hope for a seat at the table, and he'll find people who agree with him on most of his issues (but probably not the same people all the time). But Republicans are never going to support his economic critique, not so much because they love capitalism (although about half of them do) as because they believe in hierarchical order, and rich capitalists are clustered at the top of that totem pole.

Peter Kafka: [09-21] Why is Rupert Murdoch leaving his empire now? At 92, he's turned control over to one of his sons, Lachlan Murdoch. More:

  • Michelle Goldberg: [09-21] The ludicrous agony of Rupert Murdoch: Draws on Michael Wolff's "amusingly vicious and very well-timed book," The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty.

    In his tortured enabling of Trump, Murdoch seems the ultimate symbol of a feckless and craven conservative establishment, overmatched by the jingoist forces it encouraged and either capitulating to the ex-president or shuffling pitifully off the public stage. "Murdoch was as passionate in his Trump revulsion as any helpless liberal," writes Wolff. The difference is that Murdoch's helplessness was a choice.

    Few people bear more responsibility for Trump than Murdoch. Fox News gave Trump a regular platform for his racist lies about Barack Obama's birthplace. It immersed its audience in a febrile fantasy world in which all mainstream sources of information are suspect, a precondition for Trump's rise.

  • Alex Shephard: [09-21] Rupert Murdoch made the world worse: And he got very rich doing it.

Omid Memarian: [09-14] Lawrence Wright on why domestic terrorism is America's 'present enemy'. Interview with the author of The Looming Tower, one of the first important books on Al Qaeda after 9/11.

Osita Nwanevu: [09-20] The mass disappointment of a decade of mass protest: "The demonstrations of the last decade were vast and explosive -- and surprisingly ineffective." Review of Vincent Bevins: If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution. Mostly not about America, although I can't think of any protests here that have been notably successful. But the author starts with Tunisia and Arab Spring, where protests were often brutally repressed, turning into civil wars and attracting other nations for bad or worse. But despite many bad tastes, not all of them have been failures. And even those that failed leave you with the question: what else could one have tried?

Andrew Prokop: [09-22] The indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez, explained: "He and his wife were given gold bars, a car, and envelopes of cash, prosecutors say." How long before he joins Republicans in complaining about how the Justice Department has been politically weaponized? This isn't his first run in with the law. While he managed to dodge jail last time, and even got reŽlected afterwards, Democrats should do whatever they can to get rid of him, especially as doing so wouldn't cost them a Senate seat. It would also get rid of the most dangerous foreign policy hawk on their side of Congress.

Gabriela Riccardi: [09-21] Luddites saw the problem of AI coming from two centuries away: "A new book surfaces their forgotten story -- along with their prescience in a new machine age." The book is Brian Merchant: Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech. Ned Ludd's army has long been decried, becoming synonymous with the futile, kneejerk rejection of progress, but we shouldn't be so quick to insist that any new technology that can be created must be used. Indeed, we've already decided not to use a number of chemicals that have ill side effects, and that list is bound to grow. Certain weapons, like poison gas and biological agents, have been banned, and others like depleted uranium should be. There is growing reluctance to nuclear power. Biotech and AI raise deep concerns. Of course, it would be better to settle these disputes rationally rather than through breaking machines, but where no resolution seems possible -- the use of fossil fuels is most likely -- sabotage is a possibility.

Rich Scheinin: [09-22] How Sam Rivers and Studio Rivbea supercharged '70s jazz in New York: "On the saxophonist's centennial, Jason Moran and other artists celebrate his legacy." I'd put it more like: jazz (at least the free kind) nearly was effectively on life support in the 1970s. Rivers, both by example and patronage, revived it. Of course, he wasn't alone. There was Europe, where the most important labels of the 1980s were founded. But in New York, it re-started in the lofts, especially chez Rivers.

Dylan Scott: [09-22] Another Covid-19 winter is coming. Here's how to prepare. Also:

Nick Shoulders: [09-24] Country music doesn't deserve its conservative reputation: "the genre isn't inherently right-wing -- it can also broadcast the struggles and aspirations of the working class." Shoulders is a singer-songwriter from Fayetteville, interviewed here by Willie Jackson. I grew up with a lot of Porter Waggoner and Hee Haw, but didn't take country music seriously until I met George Lipsitz, who was a leftist who became a country music fan through organizing. I didn't need much persuasion: all you have to do is listen. Of course, that doesn't mean there isn't a market for jingoism in country music: any time someone cuts a right-wing fart, you can be sure it will go viral. Shoulders, by the way, wrote an In These Times piece in 2020: Fake twang: How white conservatism stole country music. I haven't heard his albums, but will check out All Bad, at least, for next Music Week.

Jeffrey St Clair: [09-22] Roaming Charges: Then they walked: Starts with more horror stories of what cops do and get away with. One story from Reuters "documented more than 1,000 deaths related to police use of tasers." Much more, of course. There's a chart of new Covid-19 hospitalizations by state. Number 1, by a large margin, is Florida, followed by Arkansas, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana. There's a fact check on a David Brooks tweet, complaining that a hamburger & fries meal at Newark Airport cost him $78: "This is why Americans think the economy is terrible." Same meal was found for $17, but that didn't factor in the bar tab. If you can stand more: Timothy Bella: [09-23] David Brooks and the $78 airport meal the internet is talking about.

I didn't bother reading any of the Jann Wenner scandal last week, but St Clair couldn't resist: "There's nothing more satisfying than to watch a pompous bigot, who has paraded his misogyny and racism for decades with a sense of royal impunity, suddenly implode with his own hand on the detonator." He then excerpts the interview, meant to promote The Masters: Conversations With Bono, Dylan, Garcia, Jagger, Lennon, Springsteen, Townshend. A couple days later, Wenner was kicked off his board seat at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and denounced by most of the staff at Rolling Stone. Most likely he'll wind up as an example in some future book about "cancel culture." Also on Wenner:

Jia Tolentino: [09-10] Naomi Klein sees uncanny doubles in our politics: An interview with the author of Doppelganger.


After the Brooks flare up above, someone recommended a 2004 article by Sasha Issenberg: David Brooks: Boo-Boos in Paradise.

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