An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Speaking of* [0 - 9]
Sunday, February 5, 2023
Speaking of Which
One of the big stories this week was the saga of a Chinese weather balloon that at 60,000 feet got caught up in the jet stream and drifted across Alaska and western Canada, dipping into Montana and cutting a path through North Carolina and into the Atlantic. There, having completed its spy mission (if that's what it was), Biden ordered it blown up -- an act of pure spite and bloody-mindedness. Reports say he didn't act earlier because he was worried about debris landing on Americans, but odds of that happening in eastern Montana were pretty slim. Rather, he gave Republicans and the press three days to play up their China loathing -- fueled in part by Blinken canceling a visit to Peking in protest -- then jumped to the head of the line.
As you may recall, this incident comes about a week after Air Force General Mike Minihan predicted war with China in 2025, a prospect he (and therefore the United States) is currently planning for -- a plan that House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul heartily endorses. With so much sabre-rattling in the background, you'd think that Biden would work harder at smoothing over the tensions, but having been taunted into action, he scarcely had the resolve to resist.
Some further reading:
Top story threads:
Sometimes it's hard to find the right lead-in piece for what you know will be a cluster of links.
Debt Limit: Stealing a page from 2011, Kevin McCarthy (or whoever's pulling his strings) is willing to crash and burn the economy just to watch Biden squirm. So far, Biden's not falling for it:
Trump: I'm sorry to inform you that as the only declared candidate so far for president in 2024, he's back in the news, and already stimulating horserace coverage for primaries that supposedly face him off with this year's favorite media goon, Ron DeSantis.
Other Toxic Republicans:
Ukraine War (Continued):
Israel: As the Palestinian Authority, despite its legendary corruption, has found it impossible to do business with the new fascist government, Biden sent Secretary of State Blinken to kiss the ring, to reassure Netanyahu that nothing he can do will shake American fealty to the Zionist regime. Meanwhile, efforts in the US and UK are heating up to police any discussion of Israel's crimes. One of the few sources still reporting on Israel is Mondoweiss.
Kate Aronoff: [02-03] The Biden Administration Has Been Very Good for Big Oil: "Despite climate legislation passed by Democrats last year, oil companies are securing loads of drilling deals and posting huge profits."
Rachel DuBose: [01-31] What can the world learn from China's "zero-Covid" lockdown?
Constance Grady: [02-03] The mounting, undeniable Me Too backlash: This has less to do with the ebbing of the "Me Too" moment a few years back than with the long reaction against the women's liberation movement in the 1970s, which has scored some recent purely political wins recently, like overturning Roe v. Wade. Hence, re-reading Susan Faludi's 1991 book, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. I will note that while this reaction is inflicting real damage, it is not especially popular. So perhaps instead of relitigating points that have sense become common sense and embedded in popular culture, we should look at the political anomaly that has given such power to, well, Republicans -- one can add adjectives to reinforce one's sense of disgust, but doing so suggests that there are other, more decent Republicans, and there's little to no practical evidence of that.
Ezra Klein: [02-05] The Story Construction Tells About America's Economy Is Disturbing: Declining productivity, ever since the 1970s.
Paul Krugman: [01-30] Will Americans Even Notice an Improving Economy? That's a good question. Part of the problem is statistics: few people are aware of them, and fewer still have any idea how they relate to their own lives. (Statistics are the only way to make sense of massive amounts of data, but we'd prefer anecdotes we can relate to. But also there is the problem of gauging the significance of variations that are smaller than we normally perceive. This is a big problem with climate change: each degree warmer is a really big deal, but every day we experience temperature swings 10-20 times as great.) Part of the problem is the political bubbles we all live in: as far as I'm concerned, the Bush and Trump economies were disasters, even if the nature varied from time to time; Republicans, with far greater experience at denying reality, thought those times were peachy keen, only to be devastated by Obama and Biden (despite much higher top line statistics). But one other source of confusion is that under both parties, fortune favors the already rich. This is especially true with the Fed, which supposedly tries to manage employment and inflation, but actually implements its policy decisions to giving rich people (via bankers) more or less money at any given point. So it's quite possible that the economy is going gangbusters, but none of it is trickling down to you. Conversely, the vacuuming up, whether through inflation or taxes, is something everyone feels personally, which makes it relatively easy to exploit politically.
Eric Levitz: [02-03] The Fed Can Stop Choking the Economy Now: But they keep missing Powell's target figures for unemployment (er, reducing inflation).
Megan McArdle: [01-29] The $400K conundrum: Why America's urban rich don't feel that way: Refers back to the Todd Henderson case, the guy who in 2010 claimed that it's hard to get by on a meager $450,000 per year. I wrote a bit about this back then. The thing that struck me about Henderson's budget was that most of the money went for things that a decent modern social democracy would provide for most people: health insurance, schooling, retirement. Of course, for his extra money, he's also getting exclusivity: private instead of public schools. And maybe his children need the extra leg up his high income provides. McArdle refers to such people as "broke 2-percenter" -- so close to the 1-percent, yet they keep coming up just short.
Louis Menand: [01-30] When Americans Lost Faith in the News. "The press wasn't silenced in the Trump years. The press was discredited, at least among Trump supporters, and that worked just as well. It was censorship by other means." Menand tries to sketch out the origins of public distrust in the press. Those origins weren't in the 1950s, when journalists were all too happy to shill for the CIA, but the more "bad news" -- riots and anti-war protests -- they reported, the more suspect they became. Nixon may not have coined the phrase "fake news," but as so often in arts Trump perfected, Nixon was the originator, his practice of shooting the messenger only ending when the messengers shot back. Menand wades through various books, finally Margaret Sullivan's "memoir slash manifesto" Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) From an Ink-Stained Life.
Eve Ottenberg: [02-03] Egalitarian Paradise Lost: David Graeber and the Pirates of Madagascar. Review of the late anarchist anthropologist's second posthumous book, Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia.
Eric Reinhart: [02-05] Doctors Aren't Burned Out From Overwork. We're Demoralized by Our Health System. It's a big slide from the heyday of the AMA, when doctors organized as a business racket, to today, when doctors are talking about the need for unions.
Jeffrey St Clair: [02-03] Roaming Charges: See No Evil: "There have been at least 52 people killed by police in the US since the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols on January 7th. In 2021, there were 1055 people killed by police in the US. In the same year, 31 people were killed by police in all of Europe. . . . Most of the people killed by police in 2022 were killed by officers responding to mental health calls, traffic violations, disturbances, other *non-violent* issues and situations where no crime was alleged." Examples follow. Behind a paywall, St Clair also wrote: [01-29] The Murder of Tyre Nichols and the Death of Police Reform.
Zeynep Tufecki: [02-03] An Even Deadlier Pandemic Could Soon Be Here: Actually, H5N1 avian flu is already here. It just hasn't broken out as a pandemic in humans yet. In 2005, Mike Davis took the threat seriously enough to write a book: The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu. We should have learned from our Covid-19 experience how better to face such threats, but a powerful bloc of nihilists (aka Republicans) drew the opposite lessons, and are working hard to make sure public health officials never again have the tools to protect public health. Note that David Quammen, who has followed these threats for decades and recently wrote Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus, wrote a piece about this back on [2022-10-31]: A Dolphin, a Porpoise and Two Men Got Bird Flu. That's a Warning to the Rest of Us.
Sunday, January 29, 2023
Speaking of Which
I thought I'd spend this last week of January wrapping up my music review of 2022, and indeed I'm giving myself an extra day, so don't expect Music Week until Tuesday, probably late. But I had a few tabs open, and made the usual rounds, and this is what I came up with.
Maggie Astor: [01-25] G.O.P. State Lawmakers Push a Growing Wave of Anti-Transgender Bills: Subhed describes this as "part of a long-term plan," but I don't see much planning. Rather, it feels like a combination of latching onto any sort of bigotry that still seems credible, and using that to hype up fears that have no basis in reality. I also suspect they've gotten a boost by overly aggressive transgender supporters -- clever of them to latch onto the much more popular LGB bandwagon -- where both sides get blown out of proportion. True, I am surprised at how often I run into trans or non-binary performers in music, but I've never even heard of an actual case the "save women's sports" might apply to.
Jelani Cobb: [01-29] Ron DeSantis Battles the African-American A.P. Course -- and History: "The state's intent seems to be to provide white Floridians, from a young age, with a version of history that they can be comfortable with, regardless of whether it's true." More DeSantis:
Dave DeCamp: [01-29] Air Force General Predicts the US Will Be at War With China in 2025. This is pretty chilling. I don't see it happening, but this sort of planning can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Also on China:
Connor Echols: [01-27] Diplomacy Watch: Switzerland weighs break with policy of neutrality. Germany and US agreed to send tanks to Ukraine. Switzerland agreed to allow re-export of Swiss-made weapons to Ukraine. Estonia and Latvia withdrew their Moscow ambassadors. None of these moves offer hope of a ceasefire and negotiated peace. Echols also wrote: [01-26] US weapons makers report 'all-time record orders' since Russian invasion: Just in case you've wondered, cui bono? More on the ongoing war:
Eric Foner: [01-23] The Constitution Has a 155-Year-Old Answer to the Debt Ceiling. The 14th Amendment specifies that: "The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned." Republican efforts to force the government to default on its debt are, therefore, illegal under the Constitution. By the way, there is more in the 14th Amendment that Republicans should study up on. Also:
Lawrence B Glickman: [01-21] The Real Origins of the "Democrat Party" Troll. It first sounds like a verbal tic, but you hear it so often, it finally registers as an easy way to identify that the speaker is under the spell of the Republican Party. "Perhaps the answer lies in the face that many critics of the New Deal were also critics of democracy." And perhaps that's why the slur has become ever more common: Republicans have given up on even giving lip service to democracy.
Jonathan Guyer: [01-27] Why violence in Israel and Palestine has spiked in the last 48 hours. Only thing surprising here is that it's not just Israelis on the warpath. More on Israel:
Robert Hunziker: [01-27] Doomsday Clock Jitters and "How to Fix a Broken Planet": The latest update of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' "doomsday clock" was played for laughs on late night shows. There are fundamental problems with it, which you'd expect atomic scientists, of all people, to figure out. The first is that "doomsday" is not very well defined. Even in its original context -- nuclear war -- does it mean total annihation, or would more localized outbreaks suffice? If the latter, did Chernobyl or Fukushima cross that threshold? If not, why not? They are comparable to nuclear bombs: in some ways less destructive, in others worse, but on the same qualitative scale. They do have the advantage of looking like accidents, so are unlikely to cascade like the actual use of nuclear weapons could, or like war between nuclear-armed powers with conventional weapons might. The main reason they advanced the clock to its most alarming level ever is that we're experiencing such a war between NATO and Russia -- albeit, for now, with Ukraine as a buffer. Still, the closer you get to "midnight," the more dubious the scale seems. The unveilers as much as admitted this point by pausing in silence for more than the 90 seconds they allowed us to survive -- looking ridiculous when we were still here. All this proved was that the clock mataphor, with its linear gradations, wasn't the right model for the risk they wanted to represent.
I'd be more inclined to come up with some kind of wave function or probability matrix, which you could then reduce to a single number only at the expense of missing the point. Wouldn't it be nice to come up with some way of calculating how the likelihood of various bad events happening varies as you alter input today? There's no standard method, but we've been doing something like that with climate change models for quite some time now: what's lacking is the ability to get people in policy positions to understand how they work and what they mean. The doomsday clock folks thought they might help by trying to factor climate change into their calculation, but that turned out not to help: the scales and probabilities are fundamentally different, and the disaster-point is very ill-defined (and worse, many definitions would throw the clock on the wrong side of midnight).
By the way, Hunziker's piece is actually a review of a book by Julian Cribb, How to Fix a Broken Planet. It outlines all the usual threats not to the planet itself but to human life and culture on the planet, so it's probably good as far as it goes, until it starts scolding individuals for the failures of states and organization that claim to be acting in our best interests.
Ben Jacobs: [01-28] Trump struggled with identity at his first public campaign stop: "Trump tried to cast himself as both a great Republican leader and the ultimate outsider." He may think he can play it both ways, but to be a serious contender, he has to win back the outsider rail, because his opponents are so vulnerable to that kind of attack. Still, it will demand a lot of credulity from his voters, although he can blame many failures of his administration on Pence and the people Pence installed. More Trump trivia:
Mike Konczal: [01-27] Do We Need a Recession Because Wages Are Too High? 5 Responses Answering No.
Dylan Matthews: [01-26] FairTax, the GOP plan for a 30 percent national sales tax, explained. Not noted here, but worth pondering, is the extent to which Sam Brownback's budget-busting tax "reforms" incorporated FairTax principles: he raised sales taxes, while exempting business income from income taxation. True, nobody got a rebate to soften the blow. And while Kansas sales tax became one of the nation's highest, Kansas income tax was never more than a small fraction of federal, so the biggest beneficiaries still complained a lot.
Ian Millhiser: [01-25] Trump's worst judge is now a dangerous threat to press freedom: "An unhinged case brought by anti-vaxxers will be heard by one of the biggest reactionaries in the federal judiciary."
Sara Morrison: [01-24] Google's bad year is getting worse.
Nicole Narea: [01-27] The brutal, politically motivated attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband, explained.
Nicole Narea/Sean Collins/Ellen Ioanes: [01-28] The fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, explained: "Five Memphis police officers are facing murder charges over Nichols's death." Related:
Tori Otten: [01-27] Marjorie Taylor Greene Says Biden "Abused His Power" by Lowering Gas Prices: "Do Republicans even want lower gas prices or not?" Nothing in their administrative history suggests that they do, which shouldn't be much of a surprise given how skewed donations from oil companies are in their favor. Nor is this just Greene saying something stupid. See: [01-27] House GOP passes bill to curb Biden's use of oil reserve. After ranting nonstop about gas prices, they're upset that Biden released oil from the US Strategic Reserve to reduce prices (and undercut their campaign messaging). A normal person, concerned first and foremost about solving the problem, would have applauded Biden's move. But there's nothing normal about Republicans any more. Even worse are Republican efforts to make sure public health officers can't order lockdowns or mask requirements when the next pandemic hits.
Kim Phillips-Fein: [01-24] The Change We Want: "What does it take to build a political majority?" Review of Timothy Shenk's Realigners: Partisan Hacks, Political Visionaries, and the Struggle to Rule American Democracy. The book appears to be a sweeping history of American politics told through a dozen or so individuals regarded as uniquely influential (Madison and Hamilton lead off; I'm more suspicious of Barack Obama at the end, but not every example need be successful to make a point).
Christopher Reeves: [01-21] Voters told them no, but Kansas Republicans are advancing wild new anti-abortion legislation anyway. Normal people would think that the referendum, where nearly 60% of Kansans voted to protect abortion rights, would have settled the issue, but Republicans aren't normal. They stick to their demented principles and pursue their obsessions with no concern about public opinion, using whatever power than can usurp.
Rebecca Robbins: [01-28] How a Drug Company Made $114 Billion by Gaming the U.S. Patent System.
Nathan Robinson: [01-23] Rush Limbaugh's Toxic Legacy: A review of the late right-wing icon's "new book" -- actually, as the title (Radio's Greatest of All Time) makes way too obvious, a tribute assembled by family of his most outrageous rants (a 500-page "timeless collection of Rush's brilliant words" and "authoritative body of Rush's best work"), larded with photos of Limbaugh hobnobbing with his politician fans, who provide their own tributes. Nor do the paeans end there: "Many of the transcripts printed in the book are from callers who claim that Limbaugh changed their lives in one way or another."
Jeffrey St Clair: [01-27] Roaming Charges: The Ugliest Thing in America. "Mass shootings are an unimpeachable proof of American exceptionalism."
Joseph Stiglitz: [01-10] Milton Friedman Set Us Up for a 21st Century Version of Fascism: "In 2023, market fundamentalism is fostering authoritarianism -- in the United States and abroad."
Michael Stavola: [01-25] Authorities name Wichita man killed in hunting accident when dog stepped on gun.
Asawin Suebsaeng/Patrick Reis: [01-27] Trump's Killing Spree: The Inside Story of His Race to Execute Every Prisoner He Could: "Before 2020, there had been three federal executions in 60 years. Then Trump put 13 people to death in six months."
Gary Younge: [01-23] Heavy Is the Head: "The British Royals in the age of streaming." A review of The Crown, which is an interesting and entertaining, albeit somewhat peculiar, chronicle of the long reign of Queen Elizabeth II, starting with her wedding in 1947, before her coronation in 1952. The recently concluded 5th Season covers 1991-97, ending just after Tony Blair succeeded John Major as Prime Minister, and just before the recently divorced and deposed Princess Diana perished in a Paris car wreck. Showrunner Peter Morgan clearly wants to refocus England's history around a public-service monarchy he sees as deeply interwoven into the fabric of national life (its imperial conceits conveniently ignored after the first two episodes), yet their self-centeredness and irrelevance can help but rise to the surface. By season five they've become such a disgrace that the series is largely given over to Prince Charles' Trust and his vain blatherings about how as King he would make the monarchy relevant again. You can say that he's trying to humanize the monarchy, except that the monarchy doesn't make for very good humans. As Younge notes, "History has already delivered its verdict on those who inherit power and remain unaccountable; The Crown merely illustrates the degree to which the institution doesn't even work for the people who run it."
Sunday, January 22, 2023
Speaking of Which
Plenty below. No need to pad it out with an introduction. I do want to note that so far I'm very impressed with Ryan Cooper's book, How Are You Going to Pay for That? Smart Answers to the Dumbest Questions in Politics.
House Republicans: Expect this to be the main story for the next year or two, as Republicans use their five-seat margin in the House to repeatedly remind us why they should never again be trusted with any power whatsoever in Washington. This week's stories:
And beyond the House, Republicans don't get any brighter (or saner, let alone more civil):
Li Zhou: [01-19] Introducing the new, even Trumpier class of Senate Republicans: Markwayne Mullin (OK), Ted Budd (NC), Katie Britt (AL), J.D. Vance (OH), Eric Schmidt (MO).
William Astore: [01-15] Imperial Dominance Disguised as Democratic Deterrence: Reading the Pentagon's latest NDS (National Defense Strategy) paper, which identifies five threats, prioritized: 1. China; 2. Russia; 3. the War on Terror; 4. North Korea and Iran; 5. climate change -- and proposes that the only way to deal with these problems is to spend more money on arms and bases straddling the world. Astore goes on to list seven things "you'll never see mentioned in this NDS":
For more, see:
Dean Baker: [01-21] Biden has earned a solid 'A' halfway through his term. A bit of boosterism from an economist who's normally quite critical, but compared to whom? Baker argues that Biden managed to wring more positive legislation out of Congress than any president since LBJ, with a razor-thin margin in Congress (unlike Clinton or Obama in their first two years, which brought us NAFTA and ACA/Dodd-Frank). He doesn't dwell much on the executive orders, which reversed much (though by no means all) of the damage Trump wrought. He also doesn't have anything to say about Biden's foreign policy, which allows many newspapers to pair his piece with Meaghan Mobbs: Joe Biden deserves a 'D' for his administration's foreign policy. I don't know her political affiliation, but she's a West Point grad, former Army captain, and well established in the pro-military think tank racket. She blames Biden for getting out of Afghanistan (that alone should bump the grade to 'B'), and more generally for not being militant enough everywhere: "President Joe Biden and his administration speak harshly against our adversaries while failing to follow through with the necessary hard actions." I'm critical too, but for opposite reasons. Biden has pretty much everywhere focused on rebuilding military alliances -- which he saw Trump as undermining -- while failing to mitigate tensions and pursue diplomatic breakthroughs, including some that were obviously there for the taking. I'm uncertain how much to grade him down for those shortcomings -- and sure, there have been some of those on the domestic side as well, but the foreign policy ones are more glaring because he supposedly has more autonomy there -- but on a curve that goes back at least to Reagan, he looks pretty good.
Baker also wrote:
Irin Carmon: [01-20] What the Supreme Court Left Out of Its Dobbs-Leak Report: After Roberts' huffing and puffing when the leak occurred, the report didn't find the culprit, suggesting that the real answer was one that Roberts didn't want to hear.
Chas Danner: [01-22] 10 Dead in Lunar New Year Shooting in California: What We Know. Third mass shooting in California so far this year, 33rd nationwide (that's about 1.5 per day).
Lawrence B Glickman: [01-21] The Real Origins of the "Democrat Party" Troll.
Jonathan Guyer: [01-20] Israel's new right-wing government is even more extreme than protests would have you think: "It's also not a huge departure from previous ones."
Margaret Hartmann: [01-20] Did a $1 Million Fine Teach Trump a Lesson About 'Frivolous' Lawsuits? Remember the one he filed in March "accusing Hillary Clinton, former FBI director James Comey, the Democratic National Committee, and many others of orchestrating 'a malicious conspiracy'"? Well, it's not only been thrown out. Trump and his attorneys have been sanctioned for filing it. And one day later, Trump prudently dropped another "similarly dubious lawsuit": see Samaa Khullar: [01-20] Trump rushes to withdraw frivolous lawsuit against NY AG after a stark warning from judge. Speaking of frivolous lawsuits by thin-skinned billionaires meant to stifle criticism, see Jordan Uhl: [01-20] A Texas Billionaire Is Suing to Stop Free Speech Against Billionaires.
More Trump trivia:
Jeet Heer: [01-17] Why Biden and Trump Are Both Trapped in Secret-Document Scandals: "The real problem is the national security state's love of classification." Also:
Heather Souvaine Horn: [01-19] Davos Still Sucks: "How can the World Economic Forum earnestly pretend to address global crises while being funded by the corporations that fuel these crises?" I skipped over a bunch of articles on Davos, as none seemed to convey the true story. This one merely sums it up briefly. Also includes a picture which shows their logo, which reads "Committed to improving the state of the world." One article I skipped was about a high-five between attendees (of course they are) Kirsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. They proved their commitment by repeatedly torpedoing Democratic bills over the last two years. But most likely what they're actually doing in Davos is prospecting for their post-Senate payouts.
Jill Lepore: [01-09] What the January 6th Report Is Missing: "The investigative committee singles out Trump for his role in the Capitol attack. As prosecution, the report is thorough. But as historical explanation it's a mess." Point taken, but the report's antecedents are hardly better. Part of the blame may be that to get the cooperation of Cheney and Kinzinger the Committee spared any Republican who wasn't directly tied to Trump. Beyond that, one thing the Committee didn't want to do was to offer any sort of mitigating circumstances, which is what a history of Republican voting schemes would have provided. Sure, Trump was not the only one, but he went farther than anyone else ever, so it's not such a surprise that he got singled out.
Blaise Malley: [01-20] Diplomacy Watch: White House signals that retaking Crimea is in the cards: "Officials say it has been US policy all along." One thing that all sides have managed to do is to hold fast to their maximalist demands without suggesting that they might be willing to settle for anything less. That makes some sense as a public stand, but it makes negotiation, and therefore any chance of ending the war, hopeless. I suppose it's possible that somewhere there's a secret channel where some kind of compromise can be negotiated, but the harder the public proclamations, the less credible that is. Key quote here is: "the Biden administration does not think that Ukraine can take Crimea militarily . . . but, officials said, their assessment now is that Russia needs to believe that Crimea is at risk." The fuller quote suggests that the US is angling toward eventual negotiations, which is to say they recognize that no military solution is possible, but in trying to psych out Russia, aren't they also building up false hopes for Zelensky? The recent rush to give Ukraine tanks seems to promise a spring offensive to drive Russia back toward the pre-2014 borders. But Russia's big tank advantage back in March soon turned into a liability. Is there any reason to think Ukraine can better defend their tanks?
More on Ukraine:
Ian Millhiser: [01-22] The coming legal showdown over abortion pills.
Madeleine Ngo: [01-19] The US just hit the debt limit. What happens now?
Kelsey Piper: [01-18] Operation Warp Speed was a huge success. So why is the US turning away from it? Rather than simply proclaiming Operation Warp Speed as "one of the biggest accomplishments of the Trump administration," perhaps a little critical distance is in order. It was Congress that put up the money, and the federal bureaucracy that implemented the program -- both subject to the usual corruption and political wiles, which were hardly unmitigated blessings. At best, Trump -- and, let's face it, he was rarely at best -- was a cheerleader. In the end, he was ambivalent about taking credit, because the anti-vax culture war cut deep into his base, leaving its leaders to catch up (something Ron DeSantis has done far more energetically than Trump). The problem isn't that "Democrats are loath to admit Trump did anything right" -- they just don't see any mileage when Trump himself is reluctant to take credit.
There are legitimate questions one could ask: Did this need to cost so much (e.g., elevating drug company moguls to billionaires). Why wasn't it more effective? Why wasn't it better distributed beyond the US? How can you speed up the process even more? Unfortunately, the Republican political thrust isn't how to do a better job, but how to avoid even being this effective ever again?
Luke Savage: [01-21] If America Had Fair Laws, 60 Million Workers Would Join a Union Tomorrow.
Dylan Scott: [01-20] When hospitals merge, patients suffer. Study is in the UK, but the profit motive amplifies the effect in the US.
More on health care:
Jeffrey St Clair: [01-20] Roaming Charges: The Specter of Equity and Other Evils.
George Tyler: [01-20] Ron DeSantis symbolizes that it's Richard Nixon's Republican Party now. Although, in a sign of the times, he admits that "in contrast to Nixon, DeSantis' cruel streak is already evident to voters." It took a while to realize that Nixon's malice wasn't just opportunism -- and many people continue to be shocked at Republican cruelty, even as evidenced by someone as sociopathic as Trump. I'm old enough to still regard Nixon as the most loathsome creature in American political history. In his calculated efforts to out-Trump Trump, DeSantis is aiming for Nixonian notoriety.
Dan Zak: [01-11] The boring journey of Matt Yglesias: "The Washington ur-blogger's slightly contrarian, mildly annoying, somewhat influential, very lucrative path toward the political center." During his time at Vox, Yglesias was the first person I checked every week, and most often provided the structure for my own blog posts. I had followed him as he maneuvered the blogosphere, but his paywall at Substack was one step too many. Still, by then I was beginning to have doubts. He got entered in, and won, a poll for "neoliberal shill of the year," and took unseemly pride in the fact. He never was as bad as most of the people friends on the left castigate as neoliberals, but he did seem to get up on a few ideas I found obnoxious, like "congestion pricing." (Even if you wanted to, how would that work? And what does it say about our values?) Then he wrote a big book called One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, which looked and smelled like a bid for the Thomas Friedman market. Nowadays, the only time I read him is when one of his Bloomberg columns gets syndicated in my local paper. Few are memorable, but he has enough command of his subject he's not useless. And while he seems politically more centrist than ever, the bigger problem may be that he's just not very deep. Consider this:
I wouldn't call those "key issues of the 21st century" -- they fall far short of war, inequality, labor rights, a very distorted system of justice, climate, sustainability, etc. Even his strong pro-immigration stance is based on his romanticism around growth.
Context is notice that "Virginia's Madison County School Board approved banning 21 books from its high school library." The list includes four books by Toni Morrison, three by Stephen King (including 11/22/63), and The Handmaid's Tale.
I could offer myself as another example: I instinctively hated (and in some cases refused to read) required literature, and sought out pretty much everything that was banned or condemned. And yes, see how I turned out. My brother followed suit, and got kicked out of school for turning in a poetry notebook which opened with "Howl." Both of us were sent to see a shrink (who, by the way, thought the whole affair was hilarious).
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.
Sunday, January 8, 2023
Speaking of Which
After hustling to get the 17th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll posted on Friday, including my essay at Arts Fuse, I was pretty uncertain as to what to do next. Making matters worse was that same day the dog we inherited from the late Elizabeth Fink breathed her last. I was, at the time, figuring it'd be at least a week before I'd bother with a Music Week, much less a Speaking of Which, column. But lacking any other inspiration, I sat down and started collecting this. I had very little news exposure over the last month, first coming down with a fairly mild but disconcerting case of Covid, then finding our internet connection increasingly flaky. The latter was finally cured by a new cable modem, so as I started collecting this, I was pleased to find the system as solid and even faster than ever.
Of course, even without my usual news sources, I was aware of the comedy/horror show in the US House, mostly through the late night shows, which emphasized the comedy side. Still, I didn't see any lasting value in citing articles while the votes were going on. Now, of course, we can not only look back on the debacle, we can look forward to the dysfunctional future.
Eric Alterman: [01-06] George Santos a Liar? Small-Time When Compared to His Fellow Republicans.
Bernard Avishai: [01-07] Netanyahu's government takes a turn toward theocracy. Religious parties have often been part of ruling coalitions, but they've never been so prominent before, or as demanding. One obvious flashpoint is Itamar Ben Gvir, who's often run afoul of Israeli law, yet now is in charge of (selectively) enforcing it. More on Israel:
Jonathan Chait: [01-04] 'Reactionary Centrism,' the Left's Hot New Insult for Liberals: "New jargon just dropped." I'm not much for jargon, let alone insults, but the definition offered here is a recognizable type: "someone who says they're politically neutral, but who usually punches left while sympathizing with the right." The first clause is pretty exactly how self-proclaimed centrists describe themselves. But centrism seems to extend to people who are not politically neutral -- who align with a major political party, which since the GOP purge mostly means Democrats these days -- but who recognize and try to balance multiple interests. If such people are honest, they should be arguing equally with both sides in favor of the other. In practice, though, a lot of them seem to relish fighting with the left, while letting all but the extreme right-wingers off the hook.
Hence there is a need to qualify centrist with some adjective other than fair or honest: reactionary might do the trick, but one should beware that it has two meanings. The root meaning is someone who reacts adversely (perhaps even violently) to change. That may apply to many centrists, especially those who worry that any change or challenge might rock the boat, leading to an even more vicious right-wing backlash. The other meaning, which is why the word is problematic, refers to that backlash itself.
Reactionaries are generally distinguished from conservatives because where the latter merely want to preserve their system and privileges, reactionaries want to radically change the system to restore their own expected privileges. On the left, we often refer to reactionaries as fascists, since that's the more vivid example. Chait is concerned, because he feels vulnerable as a centrist (albeit a Democratic one). I'd be inclined to cut him some slack, but the whole article seems like an excuse to kick the left for impolitic terminology, rather slight grounds that kind of make the point he's arguing against.
It seems to me that we would be better off trying to figure out real, viable solutions to problems, than simply mapping out who is left or right of whom. Not every left solution is ideal, but there are many to choose from, which isn't something you can say about a right that has drifted so far into its fantasies that centrists need to wake up and recognize that they're actually well left of center, and need to treat their comrades with more respect.
Neel Dhanesha: [01-06] California's deadly floods won't break the megadrought: "Atmospheric rivers are dumping rain on California. That's not a good thing." I'm pretty sure that the first time I ever heard "atmospheric river" was in Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, which was "science fiction" two years ago. For more:
Connor Echols: [01-06] Diplomacy Watch: Russia takes aim at Western resolve: Aside from Russia announcing a 3-day ceasefire around the Orthodox Christmas -- a ploy that Ukraines were quick to dismiss -- very little to report here, devolving into the propaganda trope about "Western resolve." Little reason to fear there: American foreign policy seems largely under the thumb of the weapons cartel, who are having the time of their lives, feeding a voracious war without American casualties. While Ukraine still has dreams of regaining ground, Russia's war has largely become one of attrition, which despite inflicting real damage only intensifies Ukrainian resolve. (The German Battle of Britain is an example, although the hardship here may well be a bit worse.) More:
Thomas Geoghegan: [01-06] The Constitutional Case for Disarming the Debt Ceiling: "The Framers would have never tolerated debt-limit brinksmanship. It's time to put this terrible idea on trial. Related:
Luke Goldstein: [01-06] FTC Ban on Noncompetes Sets Up Huge Legal Fight. Having had my own bitter experience with a noncompete dictate, I'm very happy to see this rule. In my case it was a rare requirement only demanded of top management, and we were presumably compensated for our loss of freedom (though I'd argue I wasn't). It still left a great deal of bitterness, which probably capped any possibility I had of further advancement. Still, that's not what this is about. Rather, companies have since started demanding noncompete restrictions on even bottom-rung employees. Had that been in effect in my day, most of my job changes would have been prohibited. No surprise that groups like the Chamber of Commerce are up in arms over this rule. Employers are still nostalgic for the days when they had complete power over their workers.
Melissa Gira Grant: [01-03] Welcome to Ron DeSantis's 2024 Campaign Against "Wokes": One of the most important planks of Trump's 2016 campaign was the revolt he led against "political correctness." It worked because pretty much no one likes having their speech corrected, especially the object isn't a notorious slur and the substitute is awkward and tortured ("differently abled" is one I've been hit with). (Bill Maher, who may be a jerk but isn't a right-winger, made political incorrectness his calling card.) However, I'm not sure that attacking "wokes" (or even the more abstract "wokeness") is going to be such a winning strategy. The difference is that it's one thing to say that you have the right to be a bigot and to hold opinions many of us deem ignorant, and another to say that if you're not a bigot, and take offense at bigots, you're evil, and need to be throttled -- which is basically DeSantis's position. DeSantis doesn't stop at hitting liberal columnists for their "wokeness"; he's gone after big corporations that simply don't see the profit in racism.
Ellen Ioanes: [01-07] North Korea's nuclear escalation, explained: The author seems more puzzled, but the right-wing turn in South Korea -- after the attempted thaw was largely sabotaged by Trump lieutenants like Bolton -- and also by the Biden administration's indifference to the issue. Despite occasional bouts of panic, North Korea's nuclear arsenal has never been, and will never be, a serious threat to the US (not that it couldn't annihilate South Korea and cause a lot of damage to Japan). From a military standpoint, nuclear weapons have never been worth a hill of beans, as the US has repeatedly found out in the series of military blunders that actually started in Korea. What is dangerous is trying to keep North Korea bottled up, when its leader have been trying so frantically for decades now to signal that they just want to be respected and treated decently.
Ben Jacobs: [01-07] How Kevin McCarthy (finally) became speaker of the House: "McCarthy was able to sway several far-right members of his party by agreeing to extraordinary concessions that will rewrite the politics of the House." Of course, there was never a chance that he wouldn't cave in to the far right, because he's not fundamentally opposed to them. While it was fun watching Republicans make fools of themselves, McCarthy's own demeanor during the ordeal suggests he was in on the scheme, which allowed him to shift effective power to the nihilists -- at this point, even "far right" doesn't do them justice, and "MAGA" isn't quite fair to Trump (not that he deserves any better) -- and also blame, when it all blows up. Jacobs has been covering this story in real time, so his older pieces are already dated: e.g., [01-03] Kevin McCarthy's once-in-a-century House speakership failure.
David Cay Johnston: [12-31] Trump's Taxes Are the Best Case Yet for Putting Him in Prison. Author also wrote [12-27] Trump's Brazen Tax Cheating Revealed.
Whizy Kim: [01-04] The ultrarich are getting cozy in America's tax havens at everyone else's expense. One serious problem that hardly anyone talks about is how having multiple state and local tax jurisdictions creates intense competition to carve out tax loopholes, which are now so widespread and so lucrative that they drive many business decisions. Every carve-out is ultimately compensated by taxpayers with less leverage, either in higher taxes or in reduced services. I don't know how you could go about doing this, but a single national taxation system, when they distributes money down to state and local governments (which, if they have nothing better to spend it on, could ultimately rebate it to citizens), would wring the incentive for this out of the system, and in doing so would end much of the system's inherent corruption. As I recall, Nixon made a start back around 1970 with his "revenue sharing" program. It's strange that no one talks about this, even though a lot of federal money is routinely transferred to states and on down the line.
Ezra Klein: [01-08] The Dystopia We Fear Is Keeping Us From the Utopia We Deserve. Features a book of "reactionary futurism" by J Storrs Hall, Where Is My Flying Car?. The argument is that we got sidetracked in trying to conserve energy (or at least utilize it more efficiently), when we should have been figuring out how to create much more, enough to enable the wonders of a set of formerly futurist inventions like the flying car.
Robert Kuttner: [01-03] Who Will Talk Jay Powell off the Ledge? "He has committed the Fed to an interest rate course that will create a needless recession, and he refuses to admit that inflation is subsiding on its own." Again, Biden made a bad mistake appointing this Republican to a second term (much as Obama did with Bernanke, and Clinton with Greenspan). For what it's worth, I'm not terribly upset that he raised interest rates up off the floor: that's helped cool down house prices, and perhaps most important, it's slowed down speculative gambling on futures, which now seems to have been the main thing driving oil prices up. When several left-of-center economists were lobbying for Powell to get that second term, they pointed to his changed views. I can't tell you now what they thought he was thinking, but he seems to have clung to the hoariest of old views: that the only proof that inflation is declining is that unemployment is rising.
Charles P Pierce: [01-04] Given the Choice Between Free Money or Sicker Residents, Republicans Chose Sickness: "Their refusal to expand Medicaid is making it impossible for rural hospitals to stay in business." His examples are elsewhere, but this is particularly a problem here in Kansas -- where a significant majority want Medicaid expansion, but the Republicans they foolishly elect think it's smart politics to discredit Obamacare by turning away people who would benefit from it. Pierce, by the way, kicks out 2-3 useful posts every day.
Andrew Prokop: [11-02] Will 2023 be the year Donald Trump is indicted? I suspect, the less it matters, the more likely it becomes. Also on Trump:
Nathan J Robinson: [12-06] Let ChatGPT Convert You to Socialism. I got interested in AI back in the 1980s, but haven't followed it since. One idea I had back then was to write a program that could crank out weekly letters to my mother. I would feed it a couple bullet points if I had any actual news, and it would mix them in with semi-random swatches of boilerplate. I was quite certain that she would be delighted, and none the wiser. That sort of thing is probably much closer to reality today, but will more likely be used by spammers trying to defraud you. On the other hand, I can imagine smarter programs that read your mail for you, sort out the dangerous and the merely crappy. Still, any arms race is likely to ultimately blow up. The best solution is to refashion the world to make predatory behavior less likely.
I haven't rekindled my interest in AI, so I know very little about where it's gone and how it's being used (other than my impression of badly). My nephew is pretty seriously into AI image generation: he's a graphic artist, and wants to see if he can use it to generate his style of art more efficiently. Robinson has done some of that too, but has focused more on ChatGPT, which he reports on here.
Jeffrey St Clair: [01-06] Roaming Charges: No Speaker, No Cry. "There are 100 members of the 'Progressive Caucus,' who capitulated within seconds to nearly every demand Pelosi made, and 40 members of the Freedom Caucus who don't mind waterboarding their own leader in public to get their way & ditching him if they don't." Also: "The problem is McCarthy himself is endorsed by Trump and the neo-fascist Marjorie Taylor-Greene, along with Freedom Caucus hardliners Jim Jordan and Louis Gohmert. In the face of a MAGA raid on the Capitol, McCarthy still voted to overturn the 2020 elections and boasted: 'I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it.'"
Eric Topol: [01-08] The coronavirus is speaking. It's saying it's not done with us.
New York Times: [01-08] Live Updates: Brazilian Authorities Clear Government Offices of Rioters, Official Says: Right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro lost his re-election bid a couple months ago, so now as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has taken office, Bolsonaro's mob has decided to throw their own January 6 riot. For more, see Ellen Ioanes: [01-08] Bolsonaro supporters storm Brazil's seat of power.
Tuesday, December 27, 2022
Speaking of Which
Long time, many delays, most significant of which was coming down with Covid a week ago. It followed a couple days of socializing, something I'm clearly ill-practiced at. The wife of a cousin died the previous week. I missed the funeral, but went out to the farm to see some of the family, who had all been at the funeral. Then, next day, I fixed our usual latke holiday dinner, for a rather tightly packed crowd of nine. Two days later I tested positive. I've had all three booster shots, and got a 5-day run of paxlovid. As illnesses go, I've suffered worse, but in this politically charged time, this one feels both sad and infuriating. And there have been many compounding hardships, from record cold that broke an appliance to a dog sadly on her last legs. Plus fear of infecting my wife, which so far hasn't happened, and as such remains a constant struggle.
Still, the main side-effect has been a huge sense of disinterest in everything I've been doing, or wanting to do. The most immediate victim is the Francis Davis Jazz Poll, which won't come out on time, because I haven't gotten it together. My usual Music Week post is also delayed, perhaps indefinitely. (Certainly no guarantee it will appear tomorrow.) For some reason, this post framework has been easier to get back into than anything involving music. It started just jotting down links, and most of the ones I grabbed early are still pretty bare (and I'm unlikely to return to them). But over several days, a few comments started to form. Still, I figure this is still mostly an exercise to file away bookmarks, in case I ever feel like revisiting the history.
Beware that Covid-19 cases have been rising steadily since new cases dropped under 37,000 on Oct. 30, to 70,425 (+90%) on Dec. 22 (numbers around Christmas bounce due to reporting fluctuations).
Ben Armbruster: [12-16] Diplomacy Watch: Is the Overton window of the Ukraine war's end game shifting? Also: Connor Echols: [12-23] Diplomacy Watch: Sketching the uncomfortable path to peace. Both titles sound more optimistic than there seems to be evidence for.
Dean Baker: [12-16] We Don't Need Government-Granted Patent Monopolies to Finance Drug Development: Quite frankly, they do much more harm than good.
Doug Bandow: [12-21] Ending the Syrian war, getting US troops out, and lifting sanctions: "The status quo is doing more harm than good. Let's admit failure before more people are hurt and put in harm's way." I would have been quite happy had Assad been driven into exile, or even strung up, but that didn't happen, despite the efforts of at least a dozen other countries to intervene. Realism suggests the need to reach some sort of deal where the US offers to normalize relations (including removing troops and ending sanctions), provide humanitarian aid, and use its influence to dissuade its "allies" from attacking and/or trying to subvert the Assad regime (Turkey being the most immediate threat, but Israel regularly bombs Syria), in exchange for agreement not to punish dissidents and to allow political prisoners to go into exile. Note, however, that the US has never negotiated such a deal, as it always seemed politically expedient to perpetuate "cold war" hostilities, and in the end the US never cared that much about the people it supposedly entered the conflict to help -- most were left to their own devices, then begrundingly allowed to immigrate if they made it that far.
Dave Barry: [12-25] Dave Barry's 2022 Year in Review: Getting old here, and there. Old enough I can remember a time when he was genuinely funny. Probably because less seemed to be at stake then.
Matthew Cooper: [12-22] Charlie Peters, Washington Monthly Founder and Mentor to Leading Journalists, Turns 96: Peter founded Washington Monthly in 1969. I started subscribing shortly after that. For a while, I suppose I could have followed two different political paths: one into reform-minded Democratic Party politics, which was influenced significantly by reading the policy-wonky articles in Washington Monthly, and the other into more radical left movements. Peters was a guru of the former path, but I probably stopped reading him before the McGovern loss crushed my faith in elections. But while the new left offered a convincing critique of liberal capitalism, I never found a practical politics there. I stopped subscribing to Washington Monthly after a few years, so I didn't notice when Peters was one of the first to expound a new notion of neoliberalism. I've never been clear how much his adoption of the term has in common with the "New Democrats" who made neoliberalism a dirty word. The last thing I read by him was a lament on how his native West Virginia abandoned the Democratic fold.
Shirin Ghaffary: [12-16] Elon Musk's Twitter journalist purge has begun.
Melvin Goodman: [12-23] How the New York Times Mythologizes US-Israeli Relations. Something they're not alone in, but have been at the forefront of, at least since . . . well, the earliest examples in this article are from the 1950s.
Margaret Hartmann: [12-16] 7 Great Things About Trump's Incredibly Dumb NFT Announcement: You know the bar's low when the article starts with: "NFTs are the least harmful thing Trump could have announced." Other Trump trivia pieces (see Prokop below for the Jan. 6 criminal referrals, and Narea for his taxes):
Ben Jacobs: [12-23] Did George Santos lie about everything? And how incompetent was the media in failing to figure him out before the election? Same for whoever was supposed to do "oppo research" for the Democrats. Too little, too late, but the New York Times has more: [12-23] George Santos's Early Life: Odd Jobs, Bad Debts and Lawsuits. On the other hand, while journalists aren't much good at discovering, they are pretty adept at piling on: Joe Perticone: [12-23] George Santos's Problems Are Just Getting Started.
Ed Kilgore: [12-14] Democrats Came Shockingly Close to Keeping the House: Going into the election, my working assumption was that Democrats would win the popular vote for the House, but could lose control due mostly to gerrymanders. But it appears now that Republicans actually won the popular vote (50.6% to 47.8%, a margin of 2.8%) while winning the House by somewhat less (222-213, a margin of 2.0%). I don't know what this means, but one effect of gerrymandering is to suppress turnout by making elections less competitive ("safe" seats were often won by 70% or more), but also slanting competitive seats toward Republicans may have boosted R turnout more than D.
Siobhan McDonough: [12-22] Why are American lives getting shorter? "US life expectancy got worse during Covid-19, and then kept getting worse."
Brian Murphy: [11-09] Ernie Lazar, who quietly amassed huge FBI archive, dies at 77: Late tip here from Rick Perlstein, a beneficiary of his research.
Nicole Narea: [12-21] Trump's tax returns are about to become public. What happens now?
New Republic: The Scoundrels, Ghouls, and Crooks of 2022.
Andrew Prokop: [12-19] The January 6 committee's case against Trump.
Dylan Scott: [12-15] Ron DeSantis's vaccine "investigation" is all about beating Trump.
Dan Secatore: [12-19] What I Learned Curating Presidential Theater for Obama: "A former Obama advance man on how the hollow pageantry of political stagecraft legitimizes bad policy and distracts us from more substantive political discussions."
Stephen M Walt: [12-13] The United States Couldn't Stop Being Stop Being Stupid if It Wanted To. The "realist" blames liberals, for thinking that the rights and liberties we expect at home should be available to everyone else, but what kind of liberalism is one that extends its values at gun point? Granted, Americans like to talk about liberal values when they go to war, but that's only because it sounds better than admitting to crass imperialist aims.
Brett Wilkins: [12-20] UN Experts Decry Record Year of Israeli Violence in Occupied West Bank: "Israel's deplorable record in the occupied West Bank will likely deteriorate further in 2023."
Also, a golden oldie: Rick Perlstein: [2021-10-26] A Short History of Conservative Trolling.
Tuesday, December 13, 2022
Speaking of Which
I opened this during a brief lull on Friday, adding a bit here and there, but by Sunday evening I was so swamped with my collation of the 17th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll that it became clear that I wouldn't be able to find time to post until after Monday's deadline.l That's pushed it back two days, and will push Music Week back another, to Wednesday (at the earliest). In making a final round, I haven't limited myself to Sunday's articles, but I am trying to keep it light and manageable.
Zack Beauchamp: [12-09] The bizarre far-right coup attempt in Germany, explained by an expert: Interview with Peter Neumann. Also:
Melissa del Bosque: [12-11] Arizona governor builds border wall of shipping crates in final days of office.
Jessica Corbett: [12-10] Kari Lake files suit to reverse her loss in race for Arizona governor: I've occasionally wondered who is the Trumpiest governor in America -- Ron DeSantis is certainly the most prominent, although Kristi Noem pops into mind -- but to be truly Trumpy, you have to lose an election and refuse to let it go. Lake is the only one other than Trump with the ego to do that, although one suspects that even she is only following the Leader.
Tim Craig: [12-10] As bitcoin plummets, Miami vows to hold onto its crypto dreams: Paul Krugman linked to this and tweeted: "Republicans have long insisted that governments shouldn't try to pick winners. So I guess they've decided to pick losers instead." He continued: "Crypto has always been a combination of technobabble and libertarian derp. But the sheer scope of the scam continues to amaze. The fact that there's still an FTX arena is the cherry on top."
Connor Echols: [12-09] Diplomacy Watch: NATO infighting continues as Putin signals long war: "Western policy on Ukraine is hitting a snag as Turkey and Hungary flex their new-found geopolitical muscles." Little here beyond the hostage swap of Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout.
More on Ukraine:
Rhoda Feng: [12-07] The Gamification of Everything Is No Fun: Review of Adrian Hon: You've Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us.
William Hartung: [12-09] New spending bill squanders billions on dysfunctional weapons programs: "The increase alone [$80 billion] from last year is more than what some of the world's biggest countries spend on their own defense budgets." This year's bill allocates $858 billion. More on this:
Shirin Ghaffary: [12-09] What the Twitter files don't tell us: "The documents are ammo for conservatives, even if they lack crucial context." Elon Musk selected Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss to orchestrate these leaks, figuring they'd give them the political spin he wanted. Also on this:
Margaret Hartmann: [12-08] Donald Trump Cost Lara Trump Her Fox News Gig: "Nepotism giveth, and nepotism taketh away."
Eric Herschtal: [12-08] How the Right Turned "Freedom" Into a Dog Whistle: "A new book traces the long history of cloakroom racism in the language of resistance to an overbearing federal government." Review of Jefferson Cowie: Freedom's Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power.
Ellen Ioanes: [12-10] Iran's months-long protest movement, explained. Also:
Ed Kilgore: [12-13] Is DeSantis More Electable Than Trump?: This is not a question Democrats should fret over. Better or worse? Perhaps, but best to prepare against the union of their two sets of views, which is often worse than any divergences you might be able to discover. (And note that Trump's deviances from Republican orthodoxy are like subatomic particles: tiny, unstable, and very short-lived.) No real need to go down this rabbit hole, but:
Keren Landman: [12-06] The US has never recorded this many positive flu tests in one week: "And health care systems are getting crushed . . . again."
Rebecca Leber: [12-10] The weird Republican turn against corporate social responsibility: "Companies say they want to acknowledge environmental impacts. Republicans are mad about that." It used to be easy to think that Republicans are simply shills for big business, and that they'll reflexively support anything that adds to corporate bottom lines. The reality is more complex and more nuanced than that -- much more than I can unpack here, but whatever the political and ideological underpinning may be, for all practical purposes it just seems like Republicans really want a world that is even more dystopian than the one they've already created.
Eric Levitz: [12-08] Climate Hawks Should Have Given Joe Manchin His Pipeline: Because Manchin's "permitting reform" bill would have made it easier not just to build his pet pipeline but to install more wind power and transmission lines, which are currently bogged down in the permit process.
Neal Meyer/Simon Grassmann: [12-12] The Case for Proportional Representation. This is a "response" to another piece, by Benjamin Studebaker: [06-16] Proportional Representation Is a Terrible Idea That the Left Should Not Embrace. From a practical standpoint, I'm not sure exactly that they are proposing (or opposing), but I had a related idea a couple weeks back, and this gives me a chance to jot it down. My idea wasn't to divide the number of representatives up proportionately, but to keep districts (including states) and award weighted votes to the top two (or possibly more than two, subject to some minimum threshold) representatives. With a two-party system, each district would have two representatives: one Republican, one Democrat, with their voting weight set by the election split (rounded up for the winner, down for second place). The Senate could also be organized this way, with or without factoring the state population in. (Obviously, factoring it in would eliminate one big problem with the Senate.) I'm not sure what you'd do about executives (other than reduce their power). Think about it: this would solve a lot of problems, starting with gerrymandering; it would give more people a stake in representative government (living in Kansas, I can testify that at present "my" representatives are totally fucking useless); it would also reduce the incentive people have to invest in campaigns, given that most districts can only be swayed by a few percentage points. What this has to do with "left" political strategy is beyond me, but a more functional democracy seems likely to be a good thing.
Françoise Mouly: [12-02] Remembering the artist Aline Kominsky-Crumb, a trailblazing funny woman: Dead, at age 74.
Nathan J Robinson: [12-12] Why We Need Book Reviews: "Books are where the knowledge is. A flourishing democracy depends on a culture that care about and talks about books." Amen to that. Given that my own reading capacity is so starkly limited, I find that it also helps to have a map to books I (mostly) haven't read.
Paul Rosenberg: [12-10] How the New York Times helped Republicans win the House: "The Gray Lady told America that rising crime and worsening inflation were driven by Democrats. None of it was true." Among other things, quotes Dean Baker: "In short, the media decided that we had a terrible economy, and they were not going to let the data get in the way."
Storer H Rowley: [12-05] Biden Faces Netanyahu and Israel's Most Right-Wing Government. One imagines that Democrats including Biden should take offense at the rampant racism and the callous contempt for human rights and peace, but they've tolerated (and for all practical purposes endorsed) such behavior in increasing amounts for decades. It's hard to see why that changes now, although we are seeing more articles like Uriel Abulof: [11-25] "Have I Just Met the Jewish Hitler?"
Barbara Slavin: [12-10] When will the US learn that sanctions don't solve its problems? "Harsh economic penalties rarely, if ever, work to change a targeted regime's behavior; so why do we still use them?" Could have filed this under Ukraine, but it's a much more general problem. In Russia's case, sanctions -- even if ineffective -- may be justifiable as a way to do something in response to invasion short of escalating the war. One might also imagine scenarios where the threat of sanctions might work to deter undesired behavior, but that's only likely to work if you're threatening to take away something a country depends on: South Africa is the poster case, and Israel might work the same way (at least that's the hope of the BDS movement). And relieving sanctions can be useful as a diplomatic bargaining chip, but only if you're willing to bargain and withdraw the sanctions: Iran and North Korea should be success examples here, but aren't, because ultimately preferred to nurse their grudges over allowing other nations any degree of normal freedom.
Jeffrey St Clair: [12-09] Roaming Charges: The Mask of Order.
Emily Stewart: [12-13] FTX's implosion and SBF's arrest, explained. This has become much bigger news than I care to go into. One wonders, for instance, if the decision to prosecute Brinkman-Fried isn't an attempt to whitewash the rest of the crypto racket, much like Bernie Madoff became the fall guy for a much larger and deeper financial scandal. But, what the hell:
Li Zhou: [12-06] Raphael Warnock is officially Democrats' 51st senator. Here's why that matters. On the other hand, days later the other shoe dropped: Christian Paz: [12-09] How Kyrsten Sinema's decision to leave the Democratic Party will change the Senate. She's registering as an Independent, and says she won't caucus with the Republicans, so that probably means that for organizational purposes Democrats will retain a 51-49 advantage, but now dependent on three independents (also Angus King and Bernie Sanders). More on these stories:
Sunday, December 4, 2022
Speaking of Which
This week's column will be the schematic one I thought I was going to write last week. How do I know? Well, I didn't open this file until 6:00 PM, and I still have other work to get done by bedtime.
Dean Baker: Evidently Baker has been banned from Twitter (see: Left-Wing Twitter Accounts Criticizing Elon Musk Are Being Suspended for "Platform Manipulation and Spam", yet Elon Brings One of America's Most Prominent Nazis Back to Twitter, as Hate Speech's Rise on Twitter Is Unprecedented).
Charles Bethea: [12-04] Will Republicans who have soured on Trump turn out for Herschel Walker? I don't think we're talking about a very big group here, but if you're a Republican and Walker is the only candidate on the ballot, would you bother to vote? Especially when a victory means Walker will be in the public eye, as a "leading light" of the GOP, for six more years?
Christopher Byrd: [12-04] Cory Doctorow wants you to know what computers can and can't do: "A conversation about the 'mediocre monopolists' of Big Tech, the weirdness of crypto, and the real lessons of science fiction."
Patrick Cockburn: [12-05] The Cruel, Dishonest and Shameful Story of Britain's Last Colony May Be Coming to an End: The Chagos Archipelago, in the Indian Ocean.
Connor Echols: [12-02] Diplomacy Watch: Divisions flare in the West as winter looms: "As energy prices rise and temperatures drop, European publics are feeling squeezed by the Ukraine's war's secondary effects." More on Ukraine:
Omar Guerrero: [11-28] Why the Right Can't Boogaloo.
Margaret Hartmann: [10-30] Trump Was Tricked Into Dining With Too Many Antisemites: The story of his life, in a nutshell. A downside of wearing his prejudices and ignorance on his sleeves is that he's amazingly easy to con into saying and/or doing something disgusting. You'd think that with his money and exposure, he'd take some precautions, but the only people willing to work for him are ones as debased as he is -- and even then they're often playing a long game to find the most propitious moment to sell him out (e.g., Omorosa, Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels).
More on Trump and/or antisemitism:
Ellen Ioanes: [12-04] What Congress can do with Trump's tax returns.
Paul Elliott Johnson: How the Right Developed Its Victim Complex: "Once a party that touted rugged individualism, today's Republicans have an ever-expanding list of grievances and complaints about perceived wrongs."
John Limbert: [12-01] Iran's clerics have declared war on their own people: "A tight, privileged fraternity of religious leaders has monopolized power in Tehran since 1979. It's now backed itself into a corner." More on Iran:
Lily Sánchez: [11-23] On Slowing Down to Cook.
Jeffrey St Clair: [12-02] Roaming Charges: Railroaded, Again: He's very unhappy, but not surprised, about Biden and the Democrats ending the railroad strike.
Michael D Swaine: [11-28] Here's how the US shouldn't respond to China protests: "Washington has a habit of getting involved in ways that make things worse for demonstrators on the ground." More on China:
The story above that needs the most unpacking is the way US media has lined up behind the idea that China's anti-Covid strategy was a disaster, even though America's schizophrenic response to the pandemic resulted both in a per capita death rate 600 times as high, while China's economy has continued to grow faster than America's. One might argue many sides of this issue, but those facts do not prove that China has less regard for the health and welfare of its people than we do -- if anything, quite the opposite. Yet the implication seems to be politicians who actively sabotaged pandemic response were somehow being heroic. For a prime example, see Charles P Pierce: [11-30] The Ghoulish Hubris of Letting People Die and Calling That Bravery.
Sunday, November 27, 2022
Speaking of Which
Early in the week, I thought: maybe I won't have to do one of these this week. Later, I thought: well, if either of two weekly pieces I've been linking to -- Connor Echols' "Diplomacy Watch" and Jeffrey St Clair's "Roaming Charges" -- appear, I should at least include them. But it looks like they had the good sense to take the week off, even if the world didn't. Still, I have a few more pieces in tabs that I figured I should note now rather than save for next week. Then a quick round of the usual sources, and I'm close to a typical week's work.
Ukraine: The war grinds on. Connor Echols skipped his usual "Diplomacy Watch" this week, but I'm not aware that he had much to write about.
Jacqueline Alemany/Josh Dawsey/Carol D Leonnig: [11-23] Jan. 6 panel staffers angry at Cheney for focusing so much of report on Trump: "15 former and current staffers expressed concern that important findings unrelated to Trump will not become available to the American public."
Kate Aronoff: [11-18] Effective Altruism Is Bunk, Crypto Is Bad for the Planet, and Other Basic Truths of the FTX Crash: "The overarching lesson of sam Bankman-Fried's downfall is that the gauzy philosophical natterings of CEOs are just meant to distract us from their real goal: accumulating cash without interference."
Zack Beauchamp: [11-22] How the right's radical thinkers are coping with the midterms: "The New Right emerged to theorize Trumpism's rise. Can they explain its defeat?" They mostly seem to be doubling down on the idea that the "left" secretly controls many critical institutions in America, making it all but impossible to "save America" by through democratic processes. One even urges the American right to emulate the Taliban: "The Mujahideen fighters who brought the Soviets to their knees in Afghanistan were outmanned and outgunned. And yet they removed the godless occupiers from their land." This is wrong on more levels than I can count, but illustrates the growing paranoia and attendant recklessness of what passes for thought on the far right.
Geoffrey A Fowler: [11-23] It's not your imagination: Shopping on Amazon has gotten worse: "Everything on Amazon is becoming an ad."
Graham Gallagher: [11-25] Elite Conservatives Have Taken an Awfully Weird Turn.
Forrest Hylton: [11-25] A Historian in History: Staughton Lynd (1929-2022).
Eric Levitz: [11-25] One Worrying Sign for Democrats in the Midterm Results: "The gubernatorial elections in Georgia and Ohio suggest that a right-wing Republican could win moderate voters in 2024 merely by not being Trump." A big part of the problem is that Democrats tend to focus on the "MAGA fringe" and ignore the fundamental truth: that virtually all Republicans share the same set of far-right policy preferences.
Dylan Matthews: [11-22] How one man quietly stitched the American safety net over four decades: On Robert Greenstein, who founded the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in 1981. The safety net they came up with is a hodge-podge of often unclear and inadequate programs which nonetheless add up to significant help against poverty. This is part of a Vox Highlight series on The world to come, which also includes:
Mike McIntire: [11-26] At Protests, Guns Are Doing the Talking: "Armed Americans, often pushing a right-wing agenda, are increasingly using open-carry laws to intimidate opponents and shut down debate."
Ian Millhiser: [11-27] A Trump judge seized control of ICE, and the Supreme Court will decide whether to stop him: "Judge Drew Tipton's order in United States v. Texas is completely lawless. Thus far, the Supreme Court has given him a pass."
Prem Thakker: [11-23] Glenn Youngkin, Who Supports No Gun Control, Is Heartbroken Over Virginia Walmart Shoting; and Tori Otten: [11-23] Glenn Youngkin Blames Virginia Walmart Shooting on "Mental Health Crisis." So What's His Plan?.
Adam Weinstein: [11-23] Six reasons the Afghan government utterly collapsed during US withdrawal: "A new official watchdog report sheds light on what led to the Taliban's rapid takeover last year and implications for America's future foreign policy." The list:
Given time I don't have, I could nitpick my way around these points. I suspect number 4 has less to do with inflexibility than with the fact that neither the US nor Ghani had any real popular support that needed to be recognized much less compromised with. The other points should be studied by Ukraine, lest they find themselves in a position where the US wants out and that could leave them high and dry. (That doesn't seem to be the case now, but see the Wright comment above.)
Found this on Twitter:
For more, here's an article: Kelly McClure: [11-23] "I'm just glad he's not gay," says father of alleged Club Q shooter: article includes Twitter link. Also quotes the father as saying: "I praised him for violent behavior really early. I told him it works. It is instant and you'll get immediate results." It also notes that the shooter legally changed his name to distance himself from this asshole. Steve M. wrote two more pieces about this (more than the story needs, but they observe the political spin): [11-23] National Review: Don't politicize the Colorado Springs shooting. The rest of the right: Well, actually . . . and, more importantly, [11-24] Bad parents are the original stochastic terrorists. [PS: He's been riffing on "stochastic terrorists" lately. For another example, see: [11-21] Republicans sound like stochastic terrorists even when they're (apparently) not trying to. The occasion here is Mike Pompeo declaring that "the most dangerous person in the world" is Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers.]
Also note that Steve M. continues to have his finger on the pulse of elite Republican thinking: see [11-27] Maureen Dowd's brother recites the approved GOP establishment talking opoints. Notice what's not included. In particular, he points out:
I've been saying for some time now that Richard Nixon was the godfather of the Republican Party, because he taught the party that winning is the only thing that matters, and no scruples should get in your way. The reason many prominent Republicans didn't like Trump when he was running in 2016 is because they didn't think he could win. But they voted for him anyway, and when he did win, he was not only forgiven; he was their hero. That should have lasted only until he lost in 2020, but thanks to the Big Lie, his popular support kept them in check until the 2022 loss gave them an excuse to brand him a loser -- which is really the only thing that they care about, and the one thing they think might work.
However, the polls haven't caught up, in large part because rank-and-file Republicans care much less about winning than about hating the Dems and being hated in turn, which Trump still has a knack for. See: That pro-DeSantis right-wing consent won't manufacture itself.
Sunday, November 20, 2022
Speaking of Which
Spent most of last week working on Jazz Critics Poll, enough so that I would have skipped this week had it not been for several fairly huge stories: the WWIII scare in Poland, the House falling into a Republican cesspit, Trump's announcement that he'll be glad to take your money in exchange for pretending to make yet another run for President (by the way, it's his 5th run, not his 3rd), and the death of Staughton Lynd. Other things popped up almost randomly, but I skipped over much more than I flagged. While I continue to be interested in Democratic strategy, I did skip over the House leadership turnover. In particular, I don't care whether Nancy Pelosi was a political mastermind (the word "consequential" is getting a lot of play) or a neoliberal hack who repeatedly screwed us over.
Hopefully next week will be boring, with its holidays and such, and I'll be able to skip it.
Margaret Carlson: [11-17] Hey, Democrats. Don't Give Up On Ohio. I'd stress that Democrats shouldn't give up on anywhere, but losing in Ohio especially hurts, because the state used to be competitive, and I don't understand why Democrats haven't done better, especially since it was the swing state in the 2004 presidential election (and they put those funny voting machines in). Sure, the steel-and-rubber belt has been in decline (for which Democrats deserve some but far from all of the blame), and southeast Ohio closely resembles West Virginia (where Democrats have been hit hardest, for reasons not entirely clear to me). On the other hand, Columbus and Cincinnati have become much more Democratic. Whether Tim Ryan was a good or bad candidate is open for argument -- my wife dislikes him intensely, but even with his retrograde politics (like his opposition to student loan forgiveness), he missed a golden opportunity in running against JD Vance, an effete phony with his Ivy League airs, his hedge fund business, and a billionaire pulling his strings. Beyond Ohio (and West Virginia), Iowa is another state the Republicans have gamed so successfully I'm inclined to suspect that something crooked is going on.
Howard Dean, who coined the phrase "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party," became chair of the DNC in 2006, and immediately looked beyond his own wing to support Democrats running in all 50 states. The 2006 and 2008 elections, with Dean at the helm, were the most successful for the Party since the 1970s. After Obama won, Dean was sent packing, and Democrats had a disastrous election in 2010, much like they did in 1994 when Clinton turned the Partly leadership into his own private vassal state. Both Clinton and Obama managed to get reëlected, but the second time without any appreciable coattails, so they could pursue their pro-business strategies without concern for their traditional party bases. That was a fine strategy for their own fundraising, but left the base with bitter resentments -- some peeled off to try their luck with Trump (bad luck, of course), and many more found a way back through Bernie Sanders.
Rachel M Cohen: [11-17] Anti-abortion groups don't think they lost the midterms: Well, by delivering the House to the Republicans, they'll stave off any attempt by Democrats to add abortion rights to federal law. That will in turn allow Republican states and their court allies to continue running amuck, sowing chaos and terror. I'm not sure that's much of a long-term strategy, but they did dodge a serious loss, which is about the best they could hope for given how unpopular their stand is.
Conor Echols: [11-18] Diplomacy Watch: Grain deal extended as Putin signals interest in peace talks. In a week when hawks got excited by an opportunity to start WWIII, some news that suggests sanity may still be possible. Especially read the following article by Echols:
Dexter Filkins: [11-14] A dangerous game over Taiwan. Better for background than for strategic thinking, but then I doubt there is any good strategic thinking on the subject. E.g.: "Taiwan's defeat would dramatically weaken America's position in the Pacific, where US naval ships guard some of the world's busiest sea lanes." Guard them from what, pray tell? Most of the shipping in the area is to and from China. What I think should be obvious is that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be much more difficult to pull off than Russia's invasion of Ukraine, even if the US military remains disengaged, and more prone to catastrophic escalation. But China has never risked that kind of confrontation, and Taiwan is unlikely to try to provoke it. I'm not so sure about the China-haters in the US.
Also on China:
Samuel Gardner-Bird: [11-15] The unipolar moment is over. When will the US get it? "These former Global South leaders don't mince words when it comes to America's diminishing leadership and the 'rules base order.'" Unfortunate, this was just a Quincy Institute colloquium, but we've heard grumblings like this in more formal forums, like last week's COP27, and the Doha round of world trade talks.
Anand Giridharadas: [11-19] This Week, Billionaires Made a Strong Case for Abolishing Themselves. Starts with the obvious low-hanging fruit: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, the already-abolished crypto king Sam Bankman-Fried, and Donald Trump (who also isn't much of a billionaire). It shouldn't be hard to find similar stories among the less storied. Much harder to find exceptions (and no, I wouldn't give George Soros an automatic bye). Giridharadas has a new book, The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy. For a review, see:
Margaret Hartmann: [11-16] 7 Ways Trump's 2024 Announcement Was Totally Sad! "There was no way Trump's 2024 campaign announcement on Tuesday night was going to beat 2015's iconic, racist spectacle, but the event failed to meet even significantly lowered expectations." First thing I noticed was that there was no escalator in Mar-A-Lago. Trump's entrance was shrouded by a crowd, so you could barely see him until he stepped up on the stage. Then he went into his bored teleprompted voice, with his laundry list of absurd claims about how America was perfect back when he was President. Not quite how I remember it. I tuned out after a few minutes of that, but here's Hartman's list:
More on Trump:
William Hartung: [11-17] Corporate Weapons Heaven Is a Hell on Earth. I've often thought that the federal government should take over the arms industries, less for efficiency than to factor out the profit motive. Back in WWII, it made sense to use existing companies to ramp up production, and with cost-plus-10% contracts, everyone wanted to get in on the act. The result was the famous "arsenal of democracy," which brought the wars to a successful conclusion in remarkable time.
After the war, most companies converted back to consumer products, but a few hoped to keep on the gravy train, and they started lobbying efforts to spread fear and promote massive spending on "defense" -- so much so that by 1960, Eisenhower warned that the "military-industrial complex" was becoming an autonomous force in American politics. Since then, the US has repeatedly been thrown into wars, each one adding to bottom line of the arms merchants. But as importantly, the arms merchants have taken over US foreign policy, creating a worldwide market for US arms, fueling other wars, including ones where it's impossible to discern real American interests.
It seems crass to suggest that the only reason for the expansion of NATO was to expand the US arms market to Eastern Europe, but it's hard to explain otherwise. It even seems doubtful that the current war in Ukraine would have erupted had it not been for the insult and injury caused by NATO expansion: insult because expansion depended on playing up the threat posed by Russia, and injury because NATO took business away from Russia, especially their own lucrative arms industry.
Also at the invaluable TomDispatch:
Bacevich has a new book of old (2016-21) essays, On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century. No doubt I've read most of them when they came out. It is far easier to show how America's worldview is myopic and dysfunctional than it is to actually convince people to open their eyes and see the world as it really is. Democrats and Republicans all have deep but different delusions about American power -- I'd say at least two sets per party -- and they have to be addressed each in turn. For Bacevich, it often suffices to show that the policies rooted in those myths do not work, and often cause even more harm, so the sane (conservative) response is to back away, to learn to exercise more restraint. However, there's another approach that may help Democrats break their kneejerk embrace of omnipotent intervention, and that's to not just do less harm but to do some good.
Sabrina Malhi: [11-20] RSV, covid and flu push hospitals to the brink -- and it may get worse.
Branko Marcetic: [11-18] The Left Has a Lot to Celebrate After the Surprising Midterm Results: Unfortunately, it doesn't take a lot to justify an article like this.
Matt McManus: [11-19] Why Conservative Intellectuals Are Anti-Intellectual: "The heart of the problem for conservatives is this: they fear too much intellectualism will lead people to question authority and hierarchy." Probably shouldn't waste too much time on this subject, but I hadn't noted before one quote, where J.S. Mill called conservatives the "stupid party."
Ian Millhiser: [11-19] The Federalist Society controls the federal judiciary, so why can't they stop whining?
Nicole Narea: [11-17] The GOP captures the House -- and is ready for revenge. Current numbers (Friday evening) are 218 R to 212 D, with 5 seats undecided (AK, 3 in CA, and 1 in CO, with R's currently leading in 3). But of course they're out for revenge. The only thing that motivates Republicans is quest for power, and the thing they like best about being in power is flouting it, especially to punish their enemies. So yeah, expect a non-stop shit-show from House Republicans. That should provide Democrats with plenty of talking points about how Republicans can't be trusted with any power in government. For more on Republicans, especially in the House:
Clay Risen: [11-18] Staughton Lynd, Historian and Activist Turned Labor Lawyer, Dies at 92. Born 1929, his parents were famous sociologists, and he took their politics further left. He wrote a short book in 1968 called Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism, which I read and loved enough I wrote a letter objecting to Eugene Genovese's savage pan of the book. Genovese replied and suggested I read some of his work. I did, which steered me toward Marxism. Eventually, I conceded Genovese's points, but always remained sympathetic to Lynd -- which he rewarded with a long lifetime of political activism, eventually leaving academia for a second career as a labor organizer and lawyer.
Jeffrey St Clair: [11-18] Roaming Charges: The Upside-Down World. As usual, lots of stuff here. One thing I learned about was "Natrium nuclear reactors." I had never heard of "natrium" before, but it turns out it's just a registered brand name for a particular company products, more generically known as sodium-cooled fast reactors (which I had heard of -- they go some way toward solving the worst risks of conventional reactors, but I'm not sure they go far enough). One item here worth quoting at length: a list of things that have already happened in the Ukraine War that weren't anticipated by either side: