Speaking of * [0 - 9]

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Speaking of Which

I started collecting this on Thursday, and was pretty much done on Saturday before the "debt ceiling deal" broke. Most of the links there are to now-forgettable, soon-forgotten thinking, which I sympathized at the time, but the thing I like best about the deal is that it kills the issue until well after the 2024 election, whereas the unorthodox fixes would be litigated that long, even if they're ultimately found valid. In the meantime, the Republican House is going to cut more spending and encumber it with more stupid rules than Biden agreed to this round. The only response to that is to kick their asses in 2024, and any cause they give you should be used back against them.

Top story threads:

Ron DeSantis: The Florida governor announced he's running for president, which got enough ughs and moans to temporarily bump Trump off the top spot here.

Trump and other Republicans:

The debt ceiling: Latest reports are that Biden and McCarthy came to some sort of deal, which still needs to be passed before the latest June 5 disaster date projection (see: Li Zhou/Dylan Matthews: [05-28] Biden and McCarthy's budget deal to lift the debt ceiling, explained). Nihilist Republicans will still try to trash the deal (e.g., see: Furious Freedom Caucus vows to scuttle debt deal), so it will need Democratic votes to pass Congress. Left Democrats will also be unhappy that Biden went back on his initial position and caved in negotiations with terrorists. But most Democrats are solidly pro-business, and will line up behind any deal to save capitalism -- even one that hurts many of their voters. Most of the links below are pre-deal (check dates).

Ukraine War: There is a report that first steps in counteroffensive have begun. Ukraine has been advertising its "spring offensive" all winter, while pleading for more and more weapons, and waiting their arrival.

  • Connor Echols: [05-26] Diplomacy watch: Denmark offers to hold Ukraine peace talks in July: That sounds kinda squishy, but expectations are high that Ukraine will launch a "spring offensive" soon, and they're unlikely to consider any form of talks until they first give war a chance -- after all, that is the point and the promise of all those tanks and planes they've been lobbying so hard for. Echols also wrote: [05-22] The West must prepare for Putin to use nukes in Ukraine. Interview with Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan, whose prediction that Russia will use nukes seems intended on pushing them along. But how exactly does one prepare for such an attack? It's not like fallout shelters are a practical project at this time. The only real defense is negotiating a winding down of the war. Anything else is just fucking insane. Robert Wright: also writes about Ryan: [05-26] Why the chances of nuclear war grew this week.

  • Julian E Barnes: [05-26] Russian public appears to be souring on war casualties, analysis shows: I'd be inclined to file this under propaganda, not least because no one's reporting solid casualty figures. But sure, you can't totally hide these costs, so it makes sense that ordinary Russians would start to question the mission -- as happened with the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Just how that public perception can turn into policy is hard to imagine. Gorbachev gave his generals enough rope to hang themselves, then pulled the plug. Putin, on the other hand, is much more invested this time.

  • Isaac Chotiner: [05-24] Why Masha Gessen resigned from the PEN America board: An interview.

  • Eli Clifton: [05-24] Dedollarization is here, like it or not: The effective shift may have more to do with the US-China conflict, but Ukraine sanctions are convincing more and more nations not to trust the US. Few people talk about this, but the debt ceiling nonsense is further undermining world trust in the dollar. Clifton also wrote: [05-26] Jamie Raskin and Rachel Maddow, brought to you by Peter Thiel and Lockheed Martin.

  • David Cortright/Alexander Finiarel: [05-25] Russians' support for the war may be softer than you think. I've always suspected there was little public support for war, which is why Putin moved so decisively to quash dissent. Still, there is no evidence that Putin's grasp on power is precarious.

  • Daniel L Davis: [05-21] F-16s won't fundamentally alter the course of Ukraine War.

  • Gregory Foster: [05-26] How war is destroying Ukraine's environment.

  • Ellen Ioanes: [05-21] How Ukraine is trying to woo the Global South -- and why it's so hard: Ukraine has massive support from the US and Europe, but the rest of the world is a much tougher sell.

  • Fred Kaplan: [05-16] How the Russia-Ukraine war has changed Europe: Mostly on Germany, where Kaplan spent a month recently. Russia burned a lot of bridges when they invaded Ukraine, and this has pushed Europe back into a closer alliance with America. The link title suggested a broader topic: "The ripple effects from the Ukraine War are becoming clear now." That could have been a more interesting story. Kaplan also wrote: [05-20] The alarming reality of a coming nuclear arms race.

  • Michael Klare: [05-18] The G-3 and the post-Ukraine world: The Ukraine War dominated the latest G-7 confab, with all seven powers -- effectively the US and its six dwarfs -- firmly in the pro-Ukraine/anti-Russia camp. But it's impossible for such a group to mediate regional conflicts when they're busy fighting them. Back in the day, the US and USSR could quickly agree to impose a ceasefire on their clients (as they did in the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars), yet no one today can do that -- even Klare's hypothetical G-2 of the US and China, or G-3 adding India (the world's most populous country; as Klare notes, the three of them would represent 40% of all people on the planet). Getting those three nations to work together for world peace will be much harder than lining up the G-7 to ratify Washington's wishes, but might actually work. This complements a piece by Juan Cole: [05-16] China and the Axis of the Sanctioned, occasioned by China taking the lead in reconciling Saudi Arabia and Iran.

  • Eric Levitz: [05-24] Will the Ukraine War become a 'frozen conflict'? By "frozen conflict" he seems to mean something like Korea, where fighting has halted but neither side admits defeat or can reconcile with the other. Apparently, this is an idea being circulated in Washington (see Nahal Toosi: [05-18] Ukraine could join ranks of 'frozen' conflicts, US official say). But that's no solution. The main thing that's allowed the Korean War "freeze" to persist is how isolated North Korea is from the rest of the world. Russia is a much larger country, with a much more complex set of trading partners and relationships, including a large portion of the world not currently on board with America's sanctions regime.

  • Anatol Lieven: [05-25] Ukraine attacks in Russia should be an alarm bell for Washington: Supposedly the US disapproves of such attacks, but that doesn't seem to be limiting the supply of weapons that could be used to attack beyond the Russian border. This is doubly dangerous as long as the US seems to be leaning against peace talks.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [05-23] What does the fall of Bakhmut in Ukraine really mean? Interview with Anatol Lieven and George Beebe.

Around the world:

Other stories:

Dean Baker: [05-22] Should Jamie Dimon get a government salary? Points out that Dimon got $34.5 million last year as CEO of JP Morgan, and stands to get much more in coming years, despite much evidence of mismanagement. On the other hand, the head of FDIC makes $181 thousand, and the head of the Fed makes $190 thousand. I'm not really sure how the suggestion that bank heads should be put on civil service salaries would work, but it seems unlikely it would undermine the competency of management, and it might make the banks a bit less predatory. Then there's inequality: "We have let the right rig the market to generate the extremes of inequality we see. While government tax and transfer policy to reduce inequality is desirable, it is best not to structure the market to create so much inequality in the first place."

Zachary D Carter: [03-16] On Silicon Valley Bank, and finance as a public good: This is old as news goes, but worth the effort. One current thought is to wonder how many similar banks would have failed had the feds defaulted on the debt. I also like this line: "Nobody ever just came out and said it, but the basic attitude from the bill's Democratic supporters seemed to be that it was unfair to harp on Democrats doing something corrupt and stupid when Republicans were corrupt and stupid as a matter of principle."

Coral Davenport: [05-28] You've never heard of him, but he's remaking the pollution fight: "Richard Revesz is changing the way the government calculates the cost and benefits of regulation, with far-reaching implications for climate change."

David Dayen: [05-25] A liberalism that builds power: "The goals of domestic supply chains, good jobs, carbon reduction, and public input are inseparable." Related:

David French: [05-28] The right is all wrong about masculinity: Occasioned by Josh Hawley's silly new book, but no need to dwell there when the inanity is everywhere: "But conservative catastrophism is only one part of the equation. The other is meanspirited pettiness. Traditional masculinity says that people should meet a challenge with a level head and firm convictions. Right-wing culture says that everything is an emergency, and is to be combated with relentless trolling and hyperbolic insults."

Luke Goldstein: [05-24] How Washington bargained away rural America: How farm bills get made, usually a bipartisan grand bargain ensuring food (SNAP) for the poor and profits for agribusiness.

DD Guttenplan/John Nichols: [05-26] Biden must remake his candidacy: I doubt I'll bother with many of the articles I'm sure we'll be seeing as various Democrats debate strategy going into 2024. But the point these left-Democrats make about Biden's lousy polling numbers is valid. It means that he can't run a campaign based on his personal charisma while ignoring the needs of his party, as Clinton did in 1996, and as Obama did in 2012. To win, he needs a Democratic Party sweep, giving him sufficient margins in Congress to actually get things done. You'd think Republicans are making such a campaign easy, but the media landscape remain treacherous, and Democrats have little practice settling on a winning message.

Benji Jones: [05-23] Why the new Colorado River agreement is a big deal -- even if you don't live out West.

Peter Kafka: [05-23] Do Americans really want "unbiased" news? "CNN and the Messenger both say they're chasing the middle." Well, bias is inevitable, and just because its 'centrist" variation is often incoherent doesn't except it from the rule. You can, of course, muddy up the situation by providing countervailing points of view, but as a practical matter that rarely works. In theory, you could clarify the situation by taking an unflinchingly critical view of everything, but in today's political arena, that would get you tagged as "left-biased" because the right is almost always not just wrong but lying their asses off.

Ian Millhiser:

Timothy Noah: [05-26] Why workers will be treated better in the future. Researchers have noticed that in many cases higher wages pay for themselves, but it usually takes pressure to get companies to move in that direction. So much of what Noah predicts is based on the notion that political power will shift toward workers. It's clear enough what needs to happen, but harder to see how it happens. But the great suppression of wages can clearly be dated to the rise of Reagan Republicans in the 1980s.

McKenna Oxenden: [05-27] An 11-year-old boy called 911. Police then shot him.

Aja Romano: [05-24] Puritanism took over online fandom -- and then came for the rest of the internet: "Puriteens, anti-fans, and the culture war's most bonkers battleground." After reading Kurt Andersen's Fantasyland, I should have been prepared for this piece, but my basic reaction is to imagine that no one, even the author, could have anticipated how much more blurred the line between fantasy and reality could become in a mere six years. Less clear is how ominous all this fantasy is.

The temptation to inhabit imaginary worlds probably goes back to the oral folklore preserved as myths, and certainly encompasses the whole history of literature (usually explicitly labeled fiction). In recent years, three inventions have intensified this: television has immersed us in fiction, making it both easier to consume and more much vivid; gaming has added an interactive dimension; and the internet (social media) has made it trivially easy for people to react and expound upon the stories. As long as people recognize the line between fact and fiction, and as long as they maintain respect and decorum in their posts, it's hard to see much harm. But there have always been gray areas, especially where fantasy is presented as fact, even more so when it's driven by malign politics. Still, the problem here is less the art than the politics. As long as you can keep them straight, I don't see much problem. (For instance, we watch a lot of shows where cops are extraordinarily insightful and smart, have integrity and character, are profoundly committed to justice, and rarely if ever make gross mistakes -- traits uncommon among real cops.)

One thing that made this article difficult is the terminology. In particular, I had to go to Fanlore to find a definition of shipping: it is contracted from relationship, and used for promoting or derogating hypothetical relationships between fictional characters. This all seems to be tied to an increase in anti-sex attitudes -- no doubt this is amplified by the internet, but really? -- including an obsession with pedophilia and trafficking. Supposedly this has been made worse by the FOSTA-SESTA act, which originally sounded unobjectionable but its loudest advocates can turn it into cruel repression.

Jim Rutenberg/Michael S Schmidt/Jeremy W Peters: [05-27] Missteps and miscalculations: Inside Fox's legal and business debacle: "Fox's handling of the defamation suit brought by Dominion Voting Systems, which settled for $787.5 million, left many unanswered questions."

Lily Sánchez/Nathan J Robinson: [05-18] Robert F Kennedy Jr is a lying crank posing as a progressive alternative to Biden. Also:

Richard Sandomir: [05-27] Stanley Engerman, revisionist scholar of slavery, dies at 87: Engerman co-wrote, with Robert W Fogel, the 1974 book Time on the Cross: The Economics of Negro Slavery, which significantly changed our understanding of how slavery function within American capitalism. Fogel & Engerman were among the first prominent historians to base their work on extensive data analysis, as opposed to the standard practice of collecting stories from primary and secondary sources.

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-26] The Clintons and the rich women: No "roaming charges" this week, sad to say, so St Clair dusted off an oldie from his book, An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (a compilation of short essays published in 2022). This one explores the lobbying effort (and the money behind it) that secured Marc Rich a pardon in 2000. One surprise name that pops up here is Jack Quinn.

Maureen Tkacik: [05-23] Quackonomics: "Medical Properties Trust spent billions buying community hospitals in bewildering deals that made private equity rich and working-class towns reel."

Nick Turse: [05-23] Blood on his hands: "Survivors of Kissinger's secret war in Cambodia reveal unreported mass killings." More occasioned by his 100th birthday:

  • Ben Burgis: [05-27] Henry Kissinger is a disgusting war criminal. And the rot goes deeper than him.

  • Greg Grandin: [05-15] Henry Kissinger, war criminal -- still at large at 100: "We now know a great about the crimes he committed while in office, . . . But we know little about his four decades with Kissinger Associates." Grandin has a 2015 book on Kissinger: Kissinger's Shadow: The Long Reach of America's Most Controversial Statesman. In that book, I found this quote, based on Seymour Hersh's 1983 Kissinger book, The Price of Power:

    Hersh gave us the defining portrait of Kissinger as a preening paranoid, tacking between ruthlessness and sycophancy to advance his career, cursing his fate and letting fly the B-52s. Small in his vanities and shabby in his motives, Kissinger, in Hersh's hands, is nonetheless Shakespearean because the pettiness gets played out on a world stage with epic consequences.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [05-27] Henry Kissinger is 100, but his legacy is still shaping how US foreign policy works. I've never tried to figure out how much US foreign policy in the pivotal 1969-75 period was Kissinger as opposed to Nixon. My guess was that Kissinger added intellectual filigree to Nixon's baser impulses, but Kissinger was callous enough to suit Nixon's needs. As for his later freelance efforts, I knew few specifics, so I'm most likely to chalk them up as ordinary graft. With all the criminality -- in some ways, Kissinger's most damaging legacy isn't what he did but that he made such things seem normal, expected even, for those who followed -- it's easy to overlook one of Nixon's most important moves, which was to end the Bretton-Woods system, during which the US was responsible for maintaining a stable capitalist world market. After, it was each nation for itself, which ultimately turned into the US (and the few "allies" it intimidated) against the world.

  • Fred Kaplan: [05-27] Henry Kissinger's bloody legacy: "The dark side of Kissinger's tradecraft left a deep stain on vast quarters of the globe -- and on America's own reputation."

  • Jerelle Kraus: [05-27] Henry Kissinger: A war criminal who has not once faced the bar of justice.

  • Bhaskar Sunkara/Jonah Walters: [05-27] Henry Kissinger turns 100 this week. He should be ashamed to be seen in public: The picture, from 2011, shows him with a rather giddy-looking Hillary Clinton.

You can also watch a piece from the Mehdi Hasan Show on Kissinger. You might also take a look at this chart of life expectancy in Cambodia, which falls off a cliff during the years Kissinger was in power (1969-77). Some commenters want to make a distinction between bombing deaths (150-500K) and the genocide unleashed by the Khmer Rouge (1.5-3M), but the the former destabilized the studiously neutral Sihanouk regime, allowing the Khmer Rouge to seize power.

Kayla M Williams: [05-28] Who should we honor on Memorial Day? The article argues that many veterans are unfairly not counted among the war dead heroes because they were felled by longer, slower maladies that only started in war, such as exposure to toxic chemicals (Agent Orange in Vietnam, burn pits in Iraq) or PTSD (the suicide rate among veterans if if anything even higher than the battlefield death rate). I have no quarrel with that argument, but my initial gut reaction to the title is that we shouldn't limit honor to war dead or even to veterans.

When I was young, the focus of Memorial Day was Fluty Cemetery down in Arkansas: either we went there, or my mother arranged for flowers to be placed there by relatives. Some served, but none of the people I knew of under the headstones were killed in war. But they worked the hardscrabble Ozark soil, and built homes and families, eventually leading to me (and, well, many others). As far as I know, they were all honorable people, and deserved remembrance. Of course, those who did die in war deserve remembrance as well, but less for their lives (however valiant) than for their waste, which we should be reminded of lest we blunder into even more wasteful wars.

Li Zhou: [05-23] Montana's TikTok ban -- and the legal challenge of it -- explained. My preferred solution is to ban all companies from collecting personal data, much less passing it on to others. If that impacts their business models, maybe that's a good thing.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Speaking of Which

Let this be done. I'd rather go watch the basketball game -- well, practically anything -- than keep digging up more articles I have to comment on. Especially ones that suggest that Biden's is not going to do the right thing and tell the Republicans where to stuff their extortion demands.

Top story threads:

Trump: He didn't do much new this week, but he's still the cutting edge of Republican dystopia, so might as well hang onto the top slot here.

  • Ed Burmila: [05-21] How Trump left Washington even swampier: "The battle for power and influence in the nation's capital is more shameless, desperate, and embarrassing than ever."

  • Michael Tomasky: [05-18] Donald Trump against America: "He loves an America of his twisted imagination. He hates -- and fears -- the America that actually exists. And if he gets back to the White House . . . look out." I would have skipped over the diatribe on Trump's call for "peace without delay" in Ukraine, and I wouldn't have interpreted "reevaluating NATO's purpose" as "giving Putin a free hand in what the Russian dictator calls the 'near abroad.'" Trump had similar sentiments when he became president in 2017, but failed to do anything constructive about them, and would likely find the State/Defense/CIA blob equally inpenetrable in 2025. His real threat is elsewhere, as Tomasky goes on to demonstrate: in 2016 he sold a vision that he could "make America great again," and declared America "great" as soon as he got elected -- not that many people noticed much change. But like a bad movie sequel, this time he's out for redemption and revenge. There are people who will relish just that, but a majority? Even outside of the America he's written off, the one he's sworn to destroy, that's going to be a tall order.

  • Michael Tomasky: [05-19] Did Donald Trump seriously sell pardons? The question is being raised in a complaint against Rudy Giuliani, along with much more. For that, see Prem Thakker: [05-16] Rudy Giuliani is a raging alcoholic and sexual predator, says new lawsuit.


Economy and Debt:

  • Jen Kirby: [05-19] What a debt default could mean for America's superpower status: Interview with Marcus Noland, mostly about the demand for US Treasuries and dollars abroad. One side effect could be that it becomes harder to enforce US sanctions against target nations. Given that sanctions rarely work, that doesn't strike me as much of a problem, but there are people with a lot of money at stake, and long-term this gives other nations incentive to cut the US out of their banking systems.

  • Paul Krugman:

    • [05-19] Death, Napoleon and debt: Just the fundamentals. Anyone who claims that governments should pay off their debts like individual have to is profoundly stupid, or (more likely) trying to snow you. Individuals age and die, so their creditors need to get repaid before they lose out. But governments go on and on, usually with growing economy and taxes, so all they have to do is service the debt, which is easy (especially if it is denominated in currency you control).

    • [05-18] Will the US economy pull off a 'soft landing'? His definition is unemployment under 4% and inflation under 3%. Over the last few months inflation has come down a lot while unemployment has increased little, so this convergence seems plausible. However, if the Fed holds to its 2% inflation target, and insists on achieving it through high interest rates and induced recession, this would get bumpier.

    • [05-16] How Biden blew it on the debt ceiling. This was written a few days ago, when Biden and McCarthy were meeting, and signals appeared that some sort of deal was imminent. As of the moment [05-21] that prospect appears to have been quashed by the Republicans, who are greedy and/or malicious.

  • Jason Linkins: [05-20] The Beltway media is spreading debt limit misinformation: "The political press bears a share of the blame for the fact we are once again on the precipice of default."

  • Branko Marcetic: [05-19] The debt ceiling crisis is laying bare the lies both parties tell their voters.

  • Jeff Stein: [05-14] 7 doomsday scenarios if the US crashes through the debt ceiling: stocks crash; a sudden recession; federal workers in limbo; Social Security and Medicare miss payments; US borrowing costs soar; economic problems spread worldwide; the dollar drops, along with US prestige. As one commenter puts it: "These outcomes read like a GOP Wish List. If they can make things bad enough people would welcome a strongman dictator, particularly a fascist like 45 who will blame it all on minorities, immigrants, gays, Democrats, nasty Women, etc., etc." Still, this is one problem that Trump actually could solve in a day, inasmuch as all it would take is for Republicans in Congress to pass a bill that raises the debt limit (as they did repeatedly for Trump). Stein's piece was recycled from an earlier one. He's been covering this issue with little insight into either the politics or economics. A recent piece is [05-20] GOP rejects White House compromise to limit spending as talks stall, partly because debt-conscious Republicans want even higher defense spending.

  • Dean Baker: [05-21] Quick note on the debt burden and the burden of patent and copyright monopolies.


Ukraine War: Russia claims to have taken Bakhmut after a nine-month siege. Ukraine denies this, but are pushing forces to encircle city. Meanwhile, Ukraine hasn't quite gotten around to its much-ballyhooed spring offensive, but has started to test Russian lines on southern front.


Other stories:

Nina Burleigh: [05-16] Who is Leonard Leo's mysterious dark money king? "America needs to know who Barre Seid is, what kind of country he wants, and just how massive an impact his $1.6 billion gift can have on our political discourse."

Steve Early/Suzanne Gordon: [05-20] Corporate politicians are privatizing the VA, the crown jewel of socialized medicine: Phillip Longman wrote a book back in 2007 touting Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours. The basic reason was that not just insurance but actual care was fully socialized (directly run by the government). There were still a couple obvious problems: one is that while veterans were numerous and evenly distributed following WWII, the number of people eligible for VA care has steadily declined; the other is that care is concentrated in large centers, so for many veterans isn't easily accessible. Horror stories about access has led to various efforts for the VA to pay for profit-seeking care, which in turn jacks up costs while reducing quality. And needless to say, the privatization lobbies are all over this, and up to no good.

Connor Echols: [05-16] The War on Terror led to over 4.5 million deaths: That works out to a bit more than 1,000 revenge deaths for every American killed on 9/11. If you factor in American soldiers lost in those wars, the kill ratio drops to a bit more than 400-to-1. Occupying powers from the Romans to the Nazis made a point of threatening kill ratios of 10- or even 100-to-1 to deter rebellion -- a range that Israel has pretty consistently maintained. Of course, you can reduce the ratio further by including contractor deaths (8,000), suicides by veterans (30,000), and deaths of various allies (both local and foreign), but that hardly offers any comfort. (Some of these numbers come from Brown University's Costs of War page.)

Lee Harris: [05-17] Rahm Emmanuel's gas pipeline: "The Biden administration is promoting a new liquefied natural gas complex on the Pacific Coast, with expanded subsidies from the bipartisan infrastructure bill and Inflation Reduction Act." "West Coast" means Alaska. We counted ourselves lucky that Biden didn't give Emmanuel a post, but the only real difference is that now he's explicitly working for the oil and gas industry. Article quotes Lukas Ross: "Rahm Emmanuel did more than any single individual to sabotage Barack Obama's climate agenda at a time when there were congressional majorities."

Patrick Iber: [05-15] When Milton Friedman met Pinochet: "Chicago economists had free rein in Chile. The country is still recovering." Review of Sebastian Edwards: The Chile Project: The Story of the Chicago Boys and the Downfall of Neoliberalism.

Umair Irfan: [05-17] It's not just climate disasters. "Normal" weather is getting weirder, too.

Whizy Kim: [05-19] The billionaire's guide to self-help: "It's a phenomenon of our age that entrepreneurs are celebrities at all."

Eric Levitz: [05-19] The return of the emerging Democratic majority? The 2002 book of that name, by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, fell flat, but new research suggests that young voters (Gen Z/Millennials) have continued to break for Democrats, and are becoming more dependable voters.

Ian Millhiser:

Mark Paul: [05-16] Economists hate rent control. Here's why they're wrong. In my own experience, I've always felt landlords enjoyed a huge power advantage every time a lease was up, as well as all the rest of the time. So I've long felt that some sort of countervaling power was needed. Rent control would help, but as this article admits, that's only goes so far.

Joshua Raff: [05-20] John Durham's vacuous report: A fitting end to Bill Barr's ugly legacy: Barr appointed Durham as an independent counsel to dig into the origins of the 2016 FBI investigation of allegations that the Trump campaign was in cahoots with the Russians. After four years, Durham submitted a report, which Attorney General Merrick Garland released "unexpurgated, unredacted and without comment or commentary." As someone who never put any stock into that thing called Russiagate, and who is whatever the polar opposite of shocked is at the suggestion that the FBI might have been swayed by politics, I have no interest in the fine points here (if, indeed, there are any). But I'll add a couple more links (without elevating it to a section):

Becca Rothfeld: [05-18] How to be a man? Josh Hawley has the (incoherent) answers. Well, he has a book called Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, which the reviewer notes is "the latest in a long line of guides," citing others by Jack Donovan, Jordan Peterson, Robert Bly, and Harvey Mansfeld. Insights? "Men do not 'blame someone or something else,' such as 'society,' or 'the system,' but men do, apparently, blame 'Epicurean liberalism' for almost everything that ails them." And: "A man is a rugged individualist who figures things out for himself, but he also relies on how-to guides to teach him how to exist."

Dylan Scott: [05-19] Hundreds of thousands of Americans are losing Medicaid every month: "Medicaid's 'Great Unwinding' is even worse than experts expected."

Avi Selk/Herb Scribner: [05-16] Musk says George Soros 'hates humanity,' compares him to Jewish supervillain. I know nothing about Magneto, but the admission that the villain "drew inspiration from Zionist leaders Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Meir Kahane" is troubling on multiple levels. But what is clear is that Musk views his political antipathy to Soros as clearly tied to Soros's identity as a Jew. Why Musk thinks that Soros "hates humanity" and "wants to erode the very fabric of civilization" isn't specified.

Also on Musk:

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-19] Roaming Charges: Living With the Unacceptable: Starts with a classic Dwight MacDonald quote: "The Ford Foundation is a large body of money completely surrounded by people who want some." Sure, it's part of a fund appeal, but it doesn't hit you over the head.

Li Zhou: [05-17] How Democrats pulled off a big upset in Florida: Jacksonville ("the most populous Republican-led city in the country") elected Donna Deegan mayor.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Speaking of Which

Enough for now. Started early but with little enthusiasm, more links and fewer comments, as the Trump articles piled up. While it was gratifying to see Trump lose in court, he came out of the week looking more indomitable than ever.

One article to single out below is the long one by Nathan J Robinson and Noam Chomsky. Sure, it's old news, but it's the root of so much that is happening today (not least in Ukraine). Chomsky has been collecting this book for decades now, but Robinson helps a lot, advancing it beyond the usual dry contempt.

Top story threads:

Trump: On Tuesday, a jury found Trump guilty of sexual assault and defamation of E. Jean Carroll, and fined Trump $5 million. On Wednesday evening, CNN allowed Trump to flip the story, by hosting a "town hall" limited to his rabid followers, where among numerous other blatant lies, he doubled down, defaming Carroll again. Seems like a dubious legal strategy, but masterful politically.


The economy and its politics (including the debt ceiling): I'm seeing a lot of articles recently about how Biden is going to blink and give into McCarthy's extortion demands.



  • Ellen Ioanes: [05-14] Title 42 is over. Immigration policy is still broken..

  • Ed Kilgore: [05-14] Immigration is still fueling Trump's political future: No doubt. It's also an issue that Democrats are having a very hard time coming up with a coherent policy on. Republicans are divided between moguls who want cheap labor and bigots who want zero immigration (except, perhaps, when Trump needs his next trophy wife, or someone like Rupert Murdoch wants to buy a television station). They, at least, can compromise on a program that lets the rich enter discreetly, that lets workers in through back channels to keep them powerless, and that displays maximum cruelty to everyone else. Democrats have it much harder: they are torn between loud advocates of even more immigration, even louder pleas for accepting refugees from every godforsaken corner of the world (many fleeing US-backed regimes, and many more from US-condemned ones), while most rank-and-file Democrats don't care much one way or another, but are willing to go along with the pro-immigrant forces because the anti-immigrants are so often racist and xenophobic. I suspect most Democrats would be happy with a reasoned compromise*, but Republicans like having a broken system they can campaign against without ever having to fix, so there's no one to compromise with. And in a world governed by sound bites, the demagogue always come off as strong and clear while the sophisticate looks muddled and middling.

  • Nicole Narea: [05-11] The seismic consequences of ending Title 42.

  • Tori Otten: [05-11] House Republicans pass immigration bill that would completely destroy asylum process.

*For a compromise, how about this? Clean up the undocumented backlog by allowing citizenship or subsidized return. Impose quotas to cut back on new immigration rates, at least for a few years. Figure out a way to distribute refugees elsewhere, subsidizing alternate destinations. (Everybody deserves to live somewhere safe and healthy, but that doesn't have to be the US.) And stop producing so many refugees (war, economic, climate) -- this may require more foreign aid (and not the military kind). And do real enforcement against illegal immigrants, including thorough checks on employment. But also get due process working.


Artificial intelligence and other computations: Vox has a whole section on The rise of artificial intelligence, explained, and a few other articles have popped up. I've barely poked around in all this material, partly because I have my own ideas about what AI can and/or should do -- I had a fairly serious interest in the subject back in the 1980s, but haven't kept up with it -- and partly because I'm dubious about how it might affect me. (Although, as someone with serious writers block, this title caught my eye: If you're not using ChatGPT for your writing, you're probably making a mistake.

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols: [05-12] Diplomacy Watch: China's top diplomat earns mixed reception in Europe.

  • Anatol Lieven/Jake Werner: [05-12] Yes, the US can work with China for peace in Ukraine.

  • Eve Ottenberg: [05-12] Beltway mediocrities bumble toward Armageddon.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [05-11] Trump tells CNN town hall: 'I want everyone to stop dying' in Ukraine. He actually has some points here, including the point about how calling Putin a war criminal only makes it harder to get to a deal. His brags that Putin wouldn't have invaded if Trump was president, and that if he were president, he'd end the war within 24 hours, seem pretty ridiculous. On the other hand, you have to ask yourself: would Putin have been more likely to invade knowing that he had a indifferent US president who wouldn't fight back, or because he feared he was being pushed into a corner by Biden's much more militant backing of an increasingly hardline Zelinsky? I find the latter much more plausible, but the conventional wisdom would argue that strengthening support for Ukraine should have deterred a Putin attack. Sure didn't work out that way.

  • Robert Wright: [05-12] The ultimate Blob blind spot: A recent Foreign Affairs has a batch of five pieces by foreign policy experts in the global south, casting into relief how Americans fail to see how others sees them. That leads to a lecture on the lack of "cognitive empathy" as a key defect among Blob thinkers. That's true enough, but I think there's a simpler and easier solution, which is to check your hubris and to admit that most things beyond your borders are beyond your control.


Other stories:

Andrew Cockburn: [05-07] Getting the defense budget right: A (real) grand total, over $1.4 trillion: Significantly more than the already obscenely high $842 billion Department of Defense appropriation.

Ben Ehrenreich: [05-10] How climate change has shaped life on earth for millenia: Review of Peter Frankopan: The Earth Transformed: An Untold Story, which attempts to reframe all of human (and for that matter geologic) history in terms of climate change -- that being something we've lately noticed matters.

David A Farenthold/Tiff Fehr: [05-14] How to raise $89 million in small donations, and make it disappear: "A group of conservative operatives using sophisticated robocalls raised millions of dollars from donors using pro-police and pro-veteran messages. But instead of using the money to promote issues and candidates, an analysis by The New York Times shows, nearly all the money went to pay the firms making the calls and the operatives themselves, highlighting a flaw in the regulation of political nonprofits." Not to mention a flaw in the enforcement of consumer fraud laws.

Ed Kilgore: [05-08] Democrats shouldn't freak out over one really bad poll.

Erin Kissane: Blue skies over Mastodon: General piece on Twitter-alternatives, which in turn lead to Mike Masnick: Six Months In: Thoughts on the Current Post-Twitter Diaspora Options. Just FYI. Neither piece has convinced me to sign up for either, although it's fairly clear that my Twitter following is in decline (followers 591, but views on latest Music Week notice down to 227).

Eric Levitz: [05-11] Do the 'Woke' betray the left's true principles? A review of Susan Neiman's book, Left Is Not Woke. I'm all for emphasizing the primacy of the left-right axis, but I don't see much practical value in opposing that to woke. On the other hand, Levitz's take on "toxic forms of identity politics" are well taken. I recall from my own political evolution how I started out with a deep antipathy to rationalism, but changed my mind when I discovered that reason could lead to the right answers I had intuited, but put them on a much firmer basis.

David Owen: [04-24] The great electrician shortage: "Going green will depend on blue-collar workers. Can we train enough of them before time runs out?" Plumbers, too. I've spent months trying to get a plumber to fix a floor drain, which no one seems to want to touch. I'm tempted to rent a jackhammer and deal with it myself, but then again, I'm also a bit scared to.

Andrew Prokop: [05-12] The potential indictment of Hunter Biden, explained. If you care, some parameters. Worst case is that he's a fuck up who got sloppy on his taxes. Trump would say that makes him smart. The gun form is supposedly the clearest violation, but how often is that seriously investigated?

Nathan J Robinson:

Aja Romano: [05-12] Why the Vallow-Daybell murders are among the bleakest in true crime memory: I normally skip right over mundane crime stories, but the author is right, that this one is profoundly unsettling, not just for what a couple of very crazy people did but for the broader cultural roots of where their thoughts came from. By the way, Rexburg, Idaho, rings a bell: it was once described as the most Republican town in America.

Dylan Scott: [05-10] 3 things you should know about the end of the Covid public health emergency: "A hidden experiment in universal health care is about to end."

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-12] Roaming Charges: Neely Don't Surf: Starts off with the murder of Jordan Neely in a NYC subway car by Daniel Penny, who "loved surfing." He then links to a Clash song: "Charlie Don't Surf".

A society that systematically victimizes people tends to reflexively blame its victims for their own misfortune: poverty, hunger, chronic illness, homelessness, mental distress and, as we're witnessing once again with the case of Jordan Neely, even their own deaths.

Traditionally, this role has fallen to the New York Times and when it came to the murder on the F train they sprang into action. . . .

Penny is described as easy going, a people person, an unstressed former Marine who loved surfing. Yes, he too was jobless, but unlike Neely, he had aspirations. He wanted to become a bartender in Manhattan and a good citizen in the city he loved.

When the Times turns to Neely, we are treated to sketches in urban pathology -- the portrait a troubled black youth, who has been in decline since high school. His life is reduced to his rap sheet, his arrests, his confinements to the psych ward. . . . Neely is depicted as ranting, homeless, troubled, erratic, violent, mentally ill and ready to die. It's almost as if we're meant to believe that Neely's murder was a case of "suicide by vigilante." He was, the story implies, almost asking for someone to kill him.

After protests, NYC prosecutors finally announced that they will charge Penny "with Manslaughter in the Second Degree, which is classified as a Class C Non-Violent Felony, where first-time offenders often receive a non-incarceratory sentence, usually of probation."

Matt Taibbi, et al: [05-10] Report on the Censorship-Industrial Complex: The top 50 organizations to know: Taibbi wrote the introduction, which ginned up the title, while others wrote the profiles that follow. The organizations include a broad mix of non-profits with a few companies and government sections thrown in. They give you a good idea of who's monitoring the internet to identify misinformation. They may do a lot of complaining, but few have any actual ability to censor, which makes this one of the more tenuous X-industrial complex coinages.

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Sunday, May 7, 2023

Speaking of Which

Got a late start, and really not feeling it this week. Seems like plenty of links, but not a lot of commentary.

Top story threads:

Trump: I got some flak for not taking the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit seriously enough last week, and wound up dropping a couple parenthetical remarks. The case will presumably be wrapped up and given to the jury early next week, so we'll see. One thing I missed was that while Trump cannot be prosecuted for rape (statute of limitations), he can be sued for assault, so this is not just a defamation case. Also, his own deposition makes him look guilty as hell. I'm particularly bothered by the "she's not my type" defense. In order for that to be a thing, he has to have a pretty large population to choose from, and do so with extreme shallowness. (Ok, maybe Trump does have a type, but think about what that says about him.)


More Fox fallout:


Slow civil war: Section name derives from Jeff Sharlet's book (see below). Mostly assorted right-wing wackos taking pot shots at whoever, but it doesn't seem to be random circumstance.


Ukraine War: Jeffrey St Clair (see below) offers a long quote from an El Pais interview with Lula da Silva, where the key point is: "This war should never have started. It started because there is no longer any capacity for dialogue among world leaders." He didn't single out the US in this regard -- the country he condemned was Russia, which "has no right to invade Ukraine" -- but by focusing on the question of how to prevent wars from starting, the US is most clearly negligent. The US has lost its capacity to act as an advocate for peace because US foreign policy has been captured by the merchants and architects of war.


  • Connor Echols: [05-03] NATO foray into Asia risks driving China and Russia closer together: So, NATO's opening a "liaison office" in Tokyo -- something they've also done in Ukraine, Georgia, Kuwait, and Moldova. As I've noted many times, the prime mission of NATO over the last 10-20 years has been to promote arms sales (mostly US but also European), often by provoking threats. The war in Ukraine would seem to validate their prophecies -- and indeed has been a boon for arms sales, with more to come in Sweden and Finland. A similar US sales pitch has been racking up big sales in Taiwan, so it's not so surprising that European arms makers want a piece of the action, and NATO gives them a calling card. While China is less likely to be bullied into a war, the risks are even greater.

  • Ben Freeman: [05-01] 'Acceptable' versus 'unacceptable' foreign meddling in US affairs: "It all seems to depend on whether the offending nation is an ally or adversary." And (talk about elephants in the room) not even a word here about Israel.

  • Frank Giustra: [05-03] De-dollarization: Not a matter of it, but when. The US has been able to run trade deficits for fifty years because the world has uses for dollars beyond buying American-made goods. (One, of course, is buying American assets, including companies.) But when the US levies sanctions, it motivates others to find alternatives to the dollar, to make themselves less dependent on the US. This has been tempting for a long time, but war with Russia and efforts to intimidate China are quickening the pace.

  • Daniel Larison: [05-05] US military driving and exacerbating violence in Somalia: "Americans have been intervening there for decades. Isn't it past time to ask whether we are the problem?"

  • Blaise Malley: [05-02] In Washington, China is a four-letter word and the excuse for everything: "Lawmakers have introduced nearly 275 measures this session, while bureaucrats are busy using the CCP to justify ballooning budgets."

  • Kiyoshi Sugawa: [05-02] Should Japan defend Taiwan?: Biden says the US will defend Taiwan. It is rare, at least since WWII, for the US to enter into a war without enlisting support of its nominal allies, so this prospect is something every US ally should think long and hard about. Still, it's striking how easily the US has recruited former occupiers into its "coalition of the willing": for Iraq, not only the the UK sign up, but so did Mongolia. Japan occupied Taiwan from 1895-1945, a time that few there remember fondly.

Other stories:

William Hartung/Ben Freeman: [05-06] This is not your grandparents' military industrial complex: "Arsenals of influence, the consolidation of contractors, the blob -- all would make Eisenhower blink with unrecognition."

Ellen Ioanes: [05-06] Serbia's populist president pledges "disarmament" after mass shootings: File this under "it can't happen here." Note that Serbia is tied for the third-highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world (39.1 firearms per 100 residents; US rate is 117.5), but mass shootings are "quite rare" (vs. more than 1 per day in the US). In the two events, a 13-year-old boy killed nine people at a Belgrade-area elementary school, and a day later a 20-year-old killed eight people and wounded 14.

Umair Irfan: [05-01] Smaller, cheaper, safer: The next generation of nuclear power, explained. Still, those terms are only relative, and the old generation of nuclear power plants, which are nearing the end of their planned lifetimes, have set a pretty low bar. I can imagine a scenario where nuclear complements other non-carbon sources of energy, but first you have to solve two problems that are more political than technical: figure out what to do with the waste, and end the linkages between nuclear power and bombs, by disposing of the latter. Of course, you'll still have economic questions: how cost-effective nuclear power is compared to alternatives that are still compatible with climate goals. Even then, perhaps on some level nuclear power is still just too creepy.

Benjamin Keys: [05-07] Your homeowners' insurance bill is the canary in the climate coal mine. As climate disasters mount, their cost is going to be average out over everyone, with the result that insurance will become increasingly unaffordable. For most people, this will happen before actual disasters happen, which will make it hard to see and understand. But in the long run, I think this will fundamentally change the way government has to work.

Tyler Koteskey: [05-04] 'Mission Accomplished' was a massive fail -- but it was just the beginning.

Keren Landman: [05-05] What the ending of the WHO's Covid emergency does (and doesn't) change: "For Americans, the coming [May 11] end of the US public health emergency will have much bigger impacts."

Bruce E Levine: [05-05] Once radical critiques of psychiatry are now mainstream, so what remains taboo?.

Eric Levitz: [05-03] The Biden administration just declared the death of neoliberalism.

Nicole Narea/Li Zhou: [05-05] How New York City failed Jordan Neely: A black, unhoused person, choked to death on a New York subway, by "a white 24-year-old former Marine," who hasn't been named, much less arrested. Also:

Elizabeth Nelson: [05-02] The Ed Sheeran lawsuit is a threat to Western civilization. Really.

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-05] Roaming Charges: How White Men Fight.

Emily Stewart: [05-04] What the lottery sells -- and who pays. I know a guy who signs his emails with: "lottery (n.): a tax on stupidity." My reaction was that it's more like a tax on hopelessness, or maybe just on hope, for the set of people who realize they'll never have a chance to make qualitatively more than they have, but are willing to give up a little to gain a rare chance of change. Still, I'm not one of them. I've never bought a ticket or a scratch card of whatever form they take -- even before I got taken to task for using the "if I won the lottery" rhetorical foil (my cousin pointed out that if I did, I'd never be able to tell who my real friends are, which she insisted would be a worse problem than the supposed gain). Still, I'm glad that the state runs the racket, instead of leaving it to organized crime. Same is true for all other forms of gambling. Beware all efforts to privatize them.

Aric Toler/Robin Stein/Glenn Thrush/Riley Mellen/Ishaan Jhaveri: [05-06] War, Weapons and Conspiracy Theories: Inside Airman Teixeira's Online World: "A review of more than 9,500 messages obtained by The New York Times offers important clues about the mind-set of a young airman implicated in a vast leak of government secrets."

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Sunday, April 30, 2023

Speaking of Which

PS: Added the Kessler piece below (under Trump).

Started early, mostly just to grab some of the early Tucker Carlson reactions. Then I focused more on the Book Roundup. I've been pretty unhappy the last couple days, but keep finding links, and things to write about. Hoping to wrap this up as soon as possible.

Although I say some nice things about Biden in his section, pay extra attention to the world sections. Biden's foreign policy is not an absolute, unmitigated disaster, but the mitigations are minor, especially compared to the threats that of so much focus on power, and the arrogance that comes from that.

Top story threads:

Fox and fiends (mostly Tucker Carlson): As you know, Carlson was fired Monday morning, effective immediately, with Brian Kilmeade lined up as a temporary replacement. CNN followed almost instantly by firing Don Lemon. A couple days later, ABC fired FiveThirtyEight guru Nate Silver. And there was more (see Stieb).

Trump: E. Jean Carroll's defamation case against Trump is in a court room, being argued. The case is a poor proxy for a charge of rape, which happened about 25 years ago.

Kevin McCarthy, terrorist, sociopath, nincompoop: What else would you call someone who wants to destroy the economy along with the government?

  • Alex Shephard: [04-28] Kevin McCarthy Is Not Good at This: "The 'budget' passed by House Republicans is terrible for the party politically." Well, he did get his hostage note passed by the House, but in no scenario will he come out of this looking like anything but a heel. Threatening to default, like shutting down the government, has backfired every time Republicans have tried it, but somehow Republicans like McCarthy can't resist the moment in the spotlight. If they could, they could quietly cut all the spending they wanted in the coming year's appropriations process. It might seem harder, because the lobbyists will be all over his case, but it's his leverage according to the constitution. But default over spending that's already been passed is just terrorism.

  • Peter Wade: [04-30] Ted Cruz Maligns Biden, Claims He Is 'Behaving Like a Terrorist' with Debt Ceiling: Talk about the kettle calling the pot black. "The senator also called White House staffers 'little Marxists with no experience in the real world."

  • Li Zhou::

Other Republicans:

Biden: He announced that he is running for reëlection in 2024, so I figured I should give him a section, as I've been giving Trump (and sometimes DeSantis) for several months now. Surely there would be an outpouring of articles praising his accomplishments and auguring future hope? Well, not so much. One thing only I noticed is that this breathes a faint bit of hope into my theory about political eras: that each starts with a major two-term president (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Reagan) and ends with a one-term disaster (John Adams, Buchanan, Hoover, Carter, Trump). Biden still seems like a stretch, but he wouldn't be as much of an anomaly as Reagan, whose whole era is the only one to witness a retreat of fundamental rights. But also, Biden is the only president in my lifetime who has impressed me beyond expectations. (True, I have no memory of Truman, and was at best ambivalent about Eisenhower and Kennedy. Johnson I now see did some good, but far worse was his war in Vietnam. Nixon, well, you know about Nixon.)

Ukraine War:

World at Large:

  • Michael Barnett/Nathan Brown/Marc Lynch/Shibley Telhami: [04-14] Israel's One-State Reality: It's Time to Give Up on the Two-State Solution: Introduction to a new book, a collection of essays edited by the author, called The One State Reality: What Is Israel/Palestine?. Mitchell Plitnick wrote about it here: [04-21] The one-state reality goes mainstream, as did Philip Weiss: [04-26] White House officials know Israel is an apartheid state, but they can't say so. This insight isn't particularly new: it's hard to think of anyone other than Washington diplomats who've talked about "two-state solution" since 2012, which is the date of a book I read: Ariella Azoulay/Adi Ophir: The One-State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine. As for "apartheid," Jimmy Carter: Palestine Peace Not Apartheid came out in 2006. So I'm not surprised to find that prospects for separating the former West Bank into an independent Palestinian state have been demolished: that's been the plan since 1967, as was made clear by Avi Raz: The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War. What does surprise me is that nobody talks about the obvious two-state division, which breaks Gaza off as an independent state. Palestinians don't like this, presumably because they see it as a divide-and-conquer policy, aimed as finalizing the subjugation of the Palestinian West Bank. And Israelis don't like it, because it would mean recognizing that there is a legitimate Palestinian state. But it would end the current "open air prison," and allow at least some Palestinians to get on the path of becoming a normal country. That at least is a separable, solvable problem. Sure, that would leave Israel's foundational problem (call it apartheid for lack of a sufficient alternative), with little chance of solution, but why not fix what you can do now?

  • Tanya Goudsouzian: [04-28] What would it take to recognize the Taliban? While I would like to see many of the concessions the US and others are demanding, I doubt you get there in one initial step, or ever unless you offer some basic level of recognition.

  • Michael T Klare: [04-26] A US-China War Over Taiwan? "What will happen when China invades Taiwan, as so many in Washington believe is inevitable?" But why should we credit anything people in Washington think about China? What gives them such special insight? One thing we should know is that China has been very patient as well as very stubborn about territorial claims. They patiently negotiated their takeover of Hong Kong and Macau, which they could easily have occupied (as India, for instance, grabbed Goa). I don't like the elaborate fiction they have insisted on regarding "one China" and/or their claim to Taiwan (which has only been part of China for 4 years since 1895, and a very divided China at that), but the push to arm Taiwan and turn it into a satellite dependent on the US for its security seems very clearly meant as aimed at China. And it is precisely the sort of move that could provoke China to unseemly action.

  • Dan Lamothe/Joby Warrick: [04-22] Afghanistan has become a terrorism staging ground again, leak reveals. As Robert Wright points out, the headline here is misleading, in such a way as to imply "that this amounts to an indictment of President Biden's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan -- that, just as his critics had warned, turning Afghanistan over to the Taliban has turned it into a playground for anti-American terrorists." The "terrorists" in question identify as ISIS, although how closely (if at all) they are affiliated with ISIS in Syria isn't clear. The enemy of the Afghan ISIS is the Taliban, if the US had any interest in countering ISIS terrorism, they would recognize and work toward stabilizing the Taliban regime. It is, after all, the de facto government there, and there's nothing practical the US can do to alter that, so huffing off in a snit helps no one. PS: See Robert Wright: [04-29] No, Afghanistan has not become a 'staging ground for terrorists'.

  • James Park: [04-28] What the Biden-Yoon summit left out: "Nuclear saber rattling hasn't changed North Korea's behavior in the past and it likely won't now." As best I recall, it's mostly made it worse. One of the clearest lessons we should but haven't learned from Ukraine is that deterrence doesn't work: more precisely, it can be safely ignored by countries that have no interest in attacking you in the first place (which includes the Soviet Union for the entire duration of the Cold War), while it presses countries that think they can get away with it into acting more boldly (as Russia did in Ukraine). The lessons from North Korea itself should be even clearer. Ever since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and with it the security umbrella and life support Russia provided, North Korea has been desperately flailing, threatening at times and otherwise accommodating, trying to protect its security and enter into trade that could revive a moribund economy. The US and/or South Korea has sometimes started to engage, which lowered the threat level, then backed out and double crossed North Korea, which lead to increased threats. Why? This seems monumentally stupid to me, but the war gamers in Washington may figure a threatening North Korea is better for their budgets, plus it keeps Japan and South Korea in the US orbit, which matters when you're ulterior motive is to muscle China around.


Other stories:

Chas Danner: [04-29] Texas Family Gunned Down by Neighbor in Yet Another Horrific Shooting.

David Dayen: [04-18] Big Tech Lobbyists Explain How They Took Over Washington: "An amazing research paper unearths how the tech industry invented the concept of digital trade and sold it to government officials."

Daniel Gilbert: [04-29] Moderna's billionaire CEO reaped nearly $400 million last year. He also got a raise.

Ethan Iverson: [04-10] The End of the Music Business.

Jay Caspian Kang: [04-04] The case for banning children from social media: Not a subject I particularly want to think about, at least right now, but bookmarked for future reference. I will say that throughout history, banning something is a good way to get people to do it anyway, and make them more anti-social and anti-civil in the process. Also that we tend to be overprotective of children, while at the same time making it harder for people of all ages to overcome mistakes and recover their lives. Also that the real problem with social media is commercial capture, and if you want to work on something, start there: if, for instance, you severely limited data capture, banned selling it and/or using it for advertising, and made advertising strictly opt-in, you could drive most of the bad actors off the Internet, and solve most of the problems associated with them. Just a few thoughts off the top of my head. I'm sure much more could follow. And perhaps this is just me, but I was miserable as a child, in many ways that access to the Internet (even in the benighted form of today's social media) would probably have helped.

Robert Kuttner: [04-26] The Soaking at Bed Bath & Beyond: "Who bought up all that stock, as the retailer was on the route to bankruptcy?"

Joel Penney: [04-29] Right-wing media used to shun pop culture. Now it's obsessed with it. I'm not so sure about the first line, given how popular music from rock and roll in the 1950s to hip-hop in the 1980s were met with hysterical denunciations from self-appointed guardians of decency, but sure, it seems to be getting both more trivial and more frantic. Part of that may be the perception that popular culture trends have become so broad, so ubiquitous that all the right can do is rant and rail -- also feeds into their general sense of victimhood and grievance. I remember back in the 1970s it seemed like a big insight to understand how politics permeated cultural artifacts. (One famous example was How to Read Donald Duck.) But while the right managed to claw back (or cling to) political power, culture has continued its popular (if ever more varied) drift, and "high culture" is hardly even a term anymore (maybe "highbrow," but even that may be showing my age).

Still, I can't help but be amused watching right-wingers discover bits of formerly left-wing methodology, exposing hidden political memes in everyday cultural artifacts. But haven't they been doing that all along? It's just funnier now that symbols of satanism have given way to the currently more alarming curse of wokeness.

Adam Rawnsley/Jim Laporta: [04-27] The Online Racists Stealing Military Secrets: Jack Teixiera: If he's to be believed, you can't call him a whistleblower, because he wasn't trying to expose secrets that needed further scrutiny. He was just showing off to his friends, which turns out to be a part of a broader complex of pathological personal traits: the guns, the racism, etc. People have wondered why the military gave someone like him such access to top-secret material. Perhaps they should wonder about the mutual attraction between the military and people like him, or, say, Timothy McVeigh, or Michael Flynn. I'm not a big fan of a culture where the most basic principle is the necessity of following orders, but at least that's an ordering principle. Just recruiting psychotics who think they should answer to "higher powers" is crazy.

And speaking of crazy, while I didn't think much of the revelations at first, the more we get into them, the more bizarre they become. I've long suspected that secret classifications were more meant to keep the truth from ourselves than from supposed enemies. And the big secret here is that nobody in a position of power seems to know what they're doing.

Jeffrey St Clair: [04-28] Roaming Charges: Nipped and Tuckered: Starts with Carlson, but has surprisingly little to add, other than his observation that: "Tucker Carlson seems to be a truly weird person. His obsessions -- filth, bizarre animal stories ('sex crazed pandas' and 'psycho raccoons'), obesity, bodily excrescences, the subliminal gender messages in candy, testicle tanning -- which he regularly inflicted on his audiences, range far beyond the usual tabloid grotesqueries and border on the pathological."

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Sunday, April 23, 2023

Speaking of Which

Supposedly Obama's motto as president was "don't do stupid shit." Republicans this week, perhaps more than ever before, proved themselves to be his polar opposite.

Sad to hear of the death of Fern Van Gieson (1928-2023), a dear friend we met twenty-some years ago through the Wichita Peace Center.

Also passing this week was Australian comedian Barry Humphries, better known as Dame Edna Everage. I can't say as I've ever been much of a fan, but this reminds me how common, innocent, and downright silly drag has been going back longer than I can remember. Republicans want to vilify and criminalize drag. While it's always possible that their schemes are just some cynical plot hatched from Frank Luntz's polling, the deeper implication is that their fears are rooted in deep insecurities, as well as a defective sense of humor, and a general loathing not just for people who are a bit different, but also for people who are a bit too similar.

Top story threads:

Kevin McCarthy v. America: I don't have time to write more, but this reminds me of the scene in Blazing Saddles where the black sheriff escapes a lynching by threatening to shoot himself.

Trump: No new indictments. E. Jean Carroll's defamation case against Trump is scheduled to start on April 25, with or probably without Trump's presence. I skipped over a bunch of articles on how Trump is polling (he seems to be burying DeSantis).

  • Isaac Arnsdorf/Jeff Stein: [04-21] Trump touts authoritarian vision for second term: 'I am your justice': He goes on: "And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution." "The former president is proposing deploying the military domestically, purging the federal workforce and building futuristic cities from scratch." The latter are to be called "freedom cities": "with flying cars, manufacturing hubs and opportunities for homeownership, promising a 'quantum leap in the American standard of living.'" Stephen Moore wants to build them with tax incentives and deregulation, as well as a "super police force that keeps the place safe." Some ideas do suggest Trump input, like "classical-style buildings, monuments to 'true American heroes,' and schools and streets named 'not after communists but patriots.'"

  • Sophia A McClennen: [04-22] Sick of Trump? Try laughing at him. Author wrote a book on the subject: Trump Was a Joke: How Satire Made Sense of a President Who Didn't (Routledge, rather pricey at $35.96 paperback). Author previously wrote [02-01] Donald Trump is the worst kind of fool.

  • Luke Savage: [04-20] Donald Trump's NFTs Are the Perfect Symbol of American Capitalilsm in 2023.

Other Republicans: If you want an intro here, refer back to the top.

Guns: OK, this is the week I finally gave up on trying to rationalize a right to guns. Take them away. Consider "my cold dead fingers a taunt." I'm the first to admit that banning something people really want doesn't make it go away, but in this case it would certainly make it harder for a lot of very stupid people to do vicious things that are completely unjustifiable. Jeffrey St Clair (more on his piece below) offers a quick rundown:

In one 24-hour period last weekend, there were at least 15 mass shootings in the US, including 4 shot in Northridge, California, 6 in Louisville, 36 in Dadeville, Alabama, 6 in Cyrus, Minnesota, 3 in New Orleans, 6 in Paterson, NJ, 5 in Wiainai, Hawaii, 4 in Detroit, another 3 in Louisville, 4 in Phoenix, 3 in Los Angeles, 3 in Charlotte, 4 in Newark and 3 in Cincy.

This week in America . . .

  1. A teenage boy was shot for ringing the wrong doorbell.
  2. A teenage girl was shot for entering the wrong driveway.
  3. A cheerleader was shot for going up to the wrong car.
  4. A six-year old girl shot for rolling a ball into the wrong yard.

Globally, 87% of the children killed by gunfire were shot in the USA.

He also offers stats for mass shootings in US by year, rising from 272 in 2014 to 415 in 2019, then to 610-690 from 2020-22. This year's total of 164 in 108 days is actually a bit behind the recent pace (although 554 would be the 4th most ever). [PS: Others insist Frequent shootings put US mass killings on a record pace.] Further down, he also notes that "Boston cops shot two dogs this week while serving a warrant against a man for . . . driving without a license." I'm beginning to feel wistful for the threatened dystopia of a "world where only criminals have guns." For one thing, that would make it easier to identify the criminals. Some of these stories below (and by Sunday there'll no doubt be more):

The Courts:

Fox: Just before the trial opened, Dominion Voting Machines agreed to settle their defamation suit with Fox, for a whopping $787 million (they had originally sued for $1.6 billion, so about half that).

Next up, Mike Lindell: But even before he faces his own Dominion lawsuit, there's this:

Earth Day:

  • Elizabeth Kolbert: [04-22] It's Earth Day -- and the news isn't good: "New reports show that ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting faster than anticipated, and other disasters loom."

  • Kate Aronoff: [04-18] Is Jimmy Carter Where Environmentalism Went Wrong? "Carter's austerity was part of a bigger project. It didn't really have much to do with environmentalism." There is a lot to chew on here, but also more stuff the author doesn't mention, like the "Carter Doctrine" that committed the US to securing oil shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf -- the second of two major decisions in the 1970s to keep gas cheap (the other being Nixon's refusal to conserve oil after production peaked in 1969, leading to a trade deficit in 1970 that has only grown ever since).

  • Liza Featherstone: [04-20] Nixon Was the Weirdest Environmentalist: "Richard Nixon, the original culture warrior, helped establish Earth Day and poured millions of dollars into conservation, despite his own ambivalence about the environmental movement." There was a brief period 10-20 years ago when some liberal pundits thought it would be clever to rehabilitate Nixon as a closet progressive, largely on the basis of a series of bills that he signed after Democrats in Congress passed them, including the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and OSHA. But the best you can say for Nixon is that he recognized that government needed to move left to even begin to deal with some pressing problems (and with the Cuyahoga River burning down bridges, the environment was the most obvious one). But Nixon rarely if ever cared about solving problems (one fine example of his indifference was making Donald Rumsfeld head of the EEOC). He just didn't want to lose any political power by taking the wrong side of an issue, and the one thing he really did care about was power.

Buzzfeed, Twitter, etc.:

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols: [04-21] Diplomacy Watch: US ignores calls for negotiations at its own peril: "Huge swathes of the world want the war in Ukraine to end as soon as possible. Can Washington afford to disregard them?" Brazilian president Lula da Silva "sparked a controversy" when he said the US "needs to stop encouraging war and start talking about peace." A US spokesman replied that "Lula's comments amounted to little more than 'Russian and Chinese propaganda.'" The Americans aren't even to the stage of pretending they' care about peace. Granted, Russia isn't at that stage either, but why should that stop the US from offering the prospect of a future where the present conflict is dead and buried? Failure to do so suggests that the real US goal isn't to defend Ukraine but to destroy Russia -- which is the belief, and fear, of most hawkish Russians. The Ukrainian position that they'll only talk after Russia fully withdraws is similarly unhelpful.

    Echols also interviewed John Sopko in: [02-21] Afghanistan watchdog: 'You're gonna see pilferage' of Ukraine aid. No doubt. It happens everywhere else -- the Pentagon is notoriously unable to keep track of their own allocations. Opponents of US support for Ukraine have latched on this, hoping to discredit the war effort by taint of scandal (see Kelly Beaucar Vlahos: [04-20] Republican lawmakers to Biden: no more 'unrestrained aid' to Ukraine. It doesn't mean there should be no aid, but it's always important to stay vigilant against corruption (Afghanistan and Iraq being prime examples, but same thing was endemic in Vietnam).

  • Joshua Frank: [04-21] Will the West Turn Ukraine Into a Nuclear Battlefield? Specifically, he's talking about the use of depleted uranium shells, which are effective for penetrating tank armor, but are also radioactive and toxic ("depleted" means they are pure U-238, after the slightly more fissile U-235 isotopes have been removed). Depleted uranium was used extensively by the US in Iraq in 1991 and 2003, where it caused cancer, both in Iraqis and in US troops.

  • Jen Kirby: [04-22] So what's the deal with Ukraine's spring offensive? While it can be said that both sides are refusing to negotiate based on the hopes that they can still improve their territorial positions with an offensive once conditions permit, Ukraine's hopes are slightly better grounded: they made net gains around Kharkiv and Kherson in the fall; they've withstood Russian efforts to capture Bakhmut (in one of those classic "destroy the village to save it" operations); they've gained tanks and other weapons for offensive operations. A year ago, Russia was on offense, and Ukraine was pinned down, focusing on defending its capital, Kyiv, while giving ground in the south, including Kherson and Mariupol. I question whether their offensive will be much more successful than Russia's, especially when it comes to areas that have been effectively part of Russia since 2014, but it's not unusual for people to have to learn their limits the hard way.

  • Branko Marcetic: [04-21] Why is Facebook censoring Sy Hersh's NordStream report?

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [04-17] Lieven inside Ukraine: some real breaks, and insights.

Other stories around the world:

Other stories:

Kenneth Chang: [04-20] SpaceX's Starship 'Learning Experience' Ends in Explosion: Elon Musk's biggest erection yet blew up a few minutes after liftoff, but somehow nearly every article has followed the company line that the disastrous failure is really just a "learning experience." It's true that there is a hip management culture in Silicon Valley that sees taking risks as something to be encouraged, and it's always important to learn from mistakes, but you usually want to keep your test cases small and discrete, and do them in ways you can easily observe. Piling several billion dollars worth of hardware up and blowing it up 24 miles into space is far from ideal, which makes the spin seem a bit desperate.

Jay Caspian Kang: [04-21] Has Black Lives Matter changed the world?: "A new book makes the case for a more pragmatic anti-policing movement -- one that seeks to build working-class solidarity across racial lines." The book is by Cedric Johnson: After Black Lives Matter.

Rebecca Leber: [04-19] Why Asia's early heat wave is so alarming: This should probably be the biggest story of the week. With no further references in my usual sources, I looked more explicitly and found:

Will Leitch: [04-18] The Sports-Betting Ads Are Awful, and They're Not Going Away. Just because something is legal (in the sense of not being illegal), doesn't mean you should be able to advertise it everywhere (or for that matter, anywhere). One critical thing that distinugishes advertising from free speech is that it almost always appears as a sales proposition -- this is every bit as true for political as for deodorant ads -- which means that mistruths should be prosecuted as fraud. Still, the gray areas, where they dance around the truth, or say one thing while implying another (like when big pharma ads list side-effects while everyone keeps smiling), is often worse. I think this is basically true for everything, but gambling has got to be one of the worst things you could possibly advertise. It's not just that gamblers lose (while foolishly led to believe they won't), or that the people who take their money are among the most undeserving and unscrupulous of racketeers, but that the very idea that one should so disrespect one's hard-earned labor destroys the soul.

I should add a personal note: When I was a child, I noticed that most TV shows were sponsored ("brought to you by") big corporations, which splashed their names about, taking full credit for things I enjoyed, and mostly selling things I could imagine my family buying. Then I saw a list of America's biggest companies, and noticed that insurance companies were huge, but hadn't been buying TV advertising. So I wished that they would share some wealth and contribute to my entertainment . . . until they did, and I was shocked and disgusted by their sales pitch. That's when I decided some things should not be advertised. Of course, lots of services couldn't be advertised back then, like lawyers. Later, cigarette advertising was banned, and that turned out all to the good.

Back in the 1970s, I wound up doing a fair amount of work behind the scenes in advertising. I read numerous books on the subject (notably David Ogilvy). I came to respect the craft, creativity, art, and science of the industry -- the latter was built on the social sciences, which was my major in college, and something I viewed with an especially critical eye. Of course, I also came to be repulsed by the whole business. While there needs to be ways for honest businesses to make the public aware of their products and services, our current system of advertising does much more harm than good. And depending on advertisers to support essential public services like journalism (see Robinson below) does even more harm. So ban it all. But sports betting would be a particularly good place to start.

Jasmine Liu: [04-21] On the Road With the Ghost of Ashli Babbitt: "Jeff Sharlet saw close up how the far right has used grief and bitterness to grow its ranks." Interview with Sharlet, whose new book is: The Undertow: Scenes From a Slow Civil War.

Samantha Oltman/Brian Resnick/Adam Clark Estes/Bryan Walsh: [04-21] The 100-year-old mistake that's reshaping the American West: "What happens if the Colorado River keeps drying up?" Introduction to a new batch of articles.

David Quammen: [04-23] Why Dead Birds Are Falling From the Sky: Another pandemic may be just around the future (or if you're a bird, already here).

Nathan J Robinson: Also look for Buzzfeed above.

  • [04-17] We Can't Overstate the Danger of Tom Cotton's "Might Makes Right" Foreign Policy: The Arkansas Republican Senator has a new book out, called Only the Strong: Reversing the Left's Plot to Sabotage American Power, arguing that "Democrats are insufficiently militaristic" (an argument Robinson derides as "laughable," citing examples from Truman to Obama). Given that US foreign policy is already massively, if not admittedly, tilted in the direction that Cotton advocates -- naked projection of power for purely selfish ends, the only thing extra he's advocating is that US power should be utterly shameless (regarding purely self-interested motives) and unapologetic (regarding collateral damages) -- a foreign policy which was only seriously attempted by Germany and Japan in WWII (although Israel seems to think in those terms, which is why American neocons are so enamored, but somewhat more limited given their lack of size). While there is something to be said for cutting out the hypocrisy about democracy and freedom -- things Cotton has no desire to preserve domestically, let alone anywhere else -- such frankness would make it even harder to command alliances, and would only increase the resolve of those inclined to resist US dictates. Cotton seems to think that the only thing that has held kept his strategy from dominating is the pathetic wobbliness of lily-livered Democrats.

  • [04-19] Homelessness Is an Entirely Solvable Problem: "Whether we let people have houses is a choice we make." Also: "Shocking, I know. The more expensive a place is, the more people struggle to afford housing, and the more they struggle to afford housing, the more likely they are to be unhoused."

  • [2022-02-11] On Experiencing Joe Rogan: This is a bit old, but probably all you need to know.

Priya Satia: [04-18] Born Imperial: The lingering ghosts of the British Empire. Review of Sathnam Sanghera: Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain.

Jeffrey St Clair: [04-21] Roaming Charges: In the Land of Unfortunate Things: Opens with a bit about Dr. Bruce Jessen ("the CIA's torture shrink"), before moving on to the Dominion-Fox settlement, which winds up noting Rupert Murdoch's lobbying the British to nuke China rather than giving up Hong Kong, and on to other topics. "[US Supreme Court Justice Clarence] Thomas isn't being bribed to make decisions; he's being rewarded for the fact that he'd make these decisions without being bribed. So would Alito." This is actually a common model, but is more conspicuous with Supreme Court justices, as their lifetime appointments don't allow a tasteful wait until retirement. Clinton and Obama earned their post-presidential fortunes for their service to an oligarchy they made all the richer.

Michael Tomasky: [04-23] Here's the Gutsy, Unprecedented Campaign Biden and the Democrats Need to Run: Here's the guy who thought Obama would be transformational. (Or was that Robert Kuttner? Similar thinkers who get a bit myopic when they get their hopes up.) The one thing Tomasky is right is that Democrats need to win big in 2024 in order to get a chance to deliver on whatever it is they campaign on, big or small. And while I'm reasonably comfortable that Biden can beat Trump, DeSantis, Pence, or the lower echelon of GOP apparatchiki, he's not very good at explaining why a solid majority of Americans should vote for him, and he's not what you'd call charismatic. The only thing that distinguishes him from the next 20-30 contenders is that he's acceptable to both the party rank-and-file and to the moneybags who'd sabotage the election to make sure no one too far left got in.

Still, two problems here. One is that the laundry list of bills isn't all that big or helpful. Free opioid clinics and adding dental coverage to Medicare are tiny compared to Medicare for All. New laws to limit monopolies and to encourage unions could help, but will take some time to gain traction. Why not a Worker's Bill of Rights, which would combine some of these things (minimum wage, overtime) with some other recent proposals (like parental leave and prohibiting NDAs) with some more ideas that are overdue (like rebalancing arbitration systems)? What about a Reproductive Health Act, which would guarantee the right to abortion, and also provide universal insurance for pregnancy and early infancy? And why not combine marijuana legalization/regulation with pain clinics that could finally make some headway on opioids (not that pot is a panacea here; sometimes opioids are needed, but legal ones, administered under care with counseling)? And there's still a lot more work to do on infrastructure, climate change, and disaster relief. And if you really want to wow minds, why not work for world peace, instead of dedicating US foreign policy to arms sales (like Trump did, although one can argue that Biden is even better at it)?

Still, I doubt that policy ideas, no matter how coherent and bold, are the key to winning elections. Sure, eventually you have to do something worthwhile (which is why Republican regimes never last: they get elected in a wave of good feeling, then invariably spoil it within 8-12 years), but first you need to get people (who don't understand much about policy) to trust you to do the right things, and not just sell out to private donor interests. Granted, like the campers running from a bear, the Democrat should only have to be faster than the Republican, but appearing less crooked is trickier than you'd expect, as proven by Hillary Clinton's loss to Trump on just that issue.

Brian Walsh: [04-19] Are 8 billion people too many -- or too few? Wrong question, as the writer (if not the titlist) realizes. No time for a disquisition here, but the goal should never be to see how many people you can cram into Malthusian misery, but to figure out how to reduce the misery of those who we do have, then try to sustain that.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Speaking of Which

While writing this, I threw out the following tweet:

Thinking about major patterns in American history: one is that progressive change often leads to reaction, which in turn inevitably falls into dysfunction and catastrophe, necessitating further progressive change.

First pass omitted "often" and "inevitably," but I had more characters to work with. I was thinking about adding a clause to the effect that the trick will be to sell progressive change so broadly and deeply that reaction won't be able to take root. Past progressive periods have had lasting impact, even once power shifted to opposing forces. Often, as in FDR's successful switch of focus to WWII or in LBJ's Vietnam War debacle, power shifted mostly due to other factors. Republicans have often been granted grace periods on the assumption that they wouldn't really do the awful things they campaigned for -- at least that they wouldn't do them to their own voters. On the other hand, reactionaries are directly responsible for their disastrous turns, because the stratified societies and repressive governments they favor are inherently destabilizing and suicidal.

This meme showed up in my Facebook feed, forwarded by a dear friend who's not known for lefty politics. Title is: "Shocking Things Liberals Believe." The list:

  • People working 40 hours a week should not live in poverty.
  • CEOs should not receive 3,000 times the pay of their workers.
  • Wall Street gangsters should go to prison when they steal.
  • No child should ever have to worry about being shot at school.
  • No one, especially veterans, should be homeless.
  • There should not be subsidies for profitable corporations.
  • Equal rights and equal pay should be the benchmark for all Americans.
  • Politicians should not dictate medical decisions for women.
  • Lobbyists should not be allowed to bribe our representatives.
  • Companies should not be permitted to trash the earth for profit.
  • Healthcare should be given to all, not be a luxury for rich people.
  • Everyone should have access to higher education.

That's certainly not an exhaustive list, but nothing there I'd nitpick much less argue against. I'm not sure I'd describe liberals thusly, but if liberals are serious about protecting their idea of individual liberty, they need to get behind an agenda that does a much better job of securing basic rights, including Roosevelt's "freedom from want" and "freedom from fear," than America does now.

Top story threads:


Other Republicans:

  • Ryan Cooper: [04-13] Republicans' Self-Inflicted Budget Impasse: "The GOP discovers that shouting lies on television is not a good way to figure out how to tax and spend." Further down: "It turns out to be quite difficult to operate a political party made up of 75 percent crack-brained yahoo attention hounds, whose voters are 'egged on by a media apparatus that has trained its audience to demand the impossible and punish the sell-outs who can't deliver,' in the words of Alex Pareene." Pareene also wrote (back in 2017): "Donald Trump today is a cruel dolt turned into a raving madman by cable news and Breitbart.com." Yeah, but four years later he's much further gone.

  • Gabriella Ferrigne: [04-14] New docs reveal racist messages by man Abbott wants to pardon in BLM protester killing: "Daniel Perry repeatedly made racist comments and discussed plans to kill people."

  • David French: [04-13] How Tennessee Illustrates the Three Rules of MAGA: I hadn't seen this formulation before: "First, that before Trump the G.O.P. was a political doormat, helplessly walked over by Democrats time and again. Second, that we live in a state of cultural emergency where the right has lost everywhere and must turn to politics to reverse this cultural momentum. And third, that in this state of emergency, all conservatives must rally together. There can be no enemies to the right." Like so much Republican drivel, it's hard to pick which thread to unravel first. But sure, I suppose you can divide the public sphere into economics and culture. The focus on culture is convenient for many Republicans because it distracts from the main thrust of Republican policy going back to Reagan, which has been economic: to shift power and wealth from labor and customers to business, leading to a massive increase in inequality. It's easy to understand why Republicans don't want people thinking about economics, except insofar as they can fob blame off on Democrats (gas prices works for this, even though most of the executives who profit from higher prices skew hard Republican). Culture change, on the other hand, happens irrespective of politics, which feeds into both their victimization complex and their sense of desperation.

  • Gabrielle Gurley: [04-13] Tennessee Republicans Step Up Attacks on Democratic Cities: "States rights" supposedly tries to bring government closer to the people, but Republicans only want to decentralize power when the net flow is in their favor. That's led to many cases of Republican-controlled states limiting what mostly Democratic cities can do. Tennessee got a reminder of that when the state legislature expelled representatives from Memphis and Nashville, only to have them returned to office.

  • Josh Kovensky: [04-16] Texas GOP Struggles Over What Crisis to Manufacture at Border. The state legislature is pushing a bill that would declare that Texas is being invaded from Mexico, authorizing a "state-run Border Patrol Unit, empowered to deputize and train citizens, and to 'repel' and 'return' undocumented migrants seen crossing the border" (or, as critics dubbed it, a "vigilante death squads policy").

  • Eric Levitz: [04-13] Why the GOP Can't Moderate on Abortion Pill Bans: A big part of this is tactics: they decided to equate abortion with murder, which created a strong force dragging the law toward conception. And they threw in a few more axioms which, again, couldn't be compromised. And they billed themselves as the champion of the fetus, building up what is essentially a single-issue voting bloc, one they cannot afford to lose. They did pretty much the same thing with guns, so again they're incapable of compromise. Any time you adopt a moral absolute, you can only move toward that pure point. Any deviation is seen as a sign of weakness, and Republicans can't bear to show that. Their whole self-image is built up around resolute strength, no matter how stupid that gets.

  • Jason Linkins: [04-15] It's Really Quite Simple: Republicans Hate Young People. Scott Walker blames "liberal indoctrination," but it's conservatives who are legislating curricula and banning books. And banning abortion: "Everywhere you look, Republicans are finding it very difficult to actually run on the post-Roe dystopia they've engineered -- so much so that they're now trying to get people to just stop talking about it."

  • Nicole Narea: [04-11] Why these Democrats are defecting to the GOP: "Three Democratic lawmakers in Louisiana and North Carolina switched parties recently."

  • Heather Digby Parton: [04-14] Republicans, facing devastating fallout from "Dobbs effect," refuse to quit abortion bans.

  • Bill Scher: [04-14] Why DeSantis Should Take a Pass on the 2024 Presidential Election: "The idea that the Florida governor could cinch the GOP nomination by running as a competent, no-drama Donald Trump is fundamentally flawed." [For a counter argument, see: Ross Douthat: [04-15] Why DeSantis Has to Run.] I wouldn't presume to offer advice, but I do think that last week's Frank Luntz argument that Republicans want Trumpy policies without Trump's personality, which is DeSantis in a nutshell, is exactly wrong -- something which I think DeSantis realizes, which is why he keeps trying to fabricate media outrages like attacking Disney perks and trafficking refugees from Texas to Martha's Vineyard. I doubt he'll succeed, but if he has the money lined up, he might as well run. (Not that he needs to rush it, as he's already getting the sort of press few candidates other than Trump get.) If Trump beats him then loses, he'll have a case that it should have been him. If DeSantis gets the nomination, 2024 against Biden is probably his best timing.

  • Dylan Scott: [04-13] Republicans want to force doctors to mislead patients about reversing abortions: Kansas, in particular, though why anyone would go to the trouble of taking a dose of mifepristone then change their mind and try to get the effect reversed is hard to imagine. The much more likely explanation is that Republicans just want to make the lives of women seeking abortions as miserable as possible. By the way, there's more evil brewing in the KS legislature, despite the fact that voters overwhelmingly rejected their anti-abortion constitutional amendment.

  • Kyle Swenson: [04-16] Iowa to spend millions kicking families off food stamps. More states may follow.

  • Michael Wines: [04-14] If Tennessee's Legislature Looks Broken, It's Not Alone.

  • Li Zhou: [04-12] The return of two expelled Tennessee Democrats is a powerful rebuke to Republicans.

Matters of (in)justice: The long-brewing Clarence Thomas scandal got so big last week I moved it out into its own section. And, of course, other stories that could be filed here got slotted under Trump or Other Republicans. Still much to report:

Clarence Thomas:

Matters of economy:

  • Dean Baker: [04-13] Can Jerome Powell Pivot on Interest Rates, Again? Reminds us of why Baker thought Powell deserved a second term, and offers hope that as inflation abates he will "buck the conventional wisdom" and lower interest rates to keep the economy strong. I felt that Biden made a mistake -- as did Obama and Clinton in renominating the Republican Fed chairmen they inherited -- in not picking a more reliable ally, and so far I feel vindicated in my position.

  • Miles Bryan: [04-14] The real reason prices aren't coming down: "Excuseflation"; another new word here is "greedflation." Let me try: for many years now, at least since the Bork reformulation of antitrust rules in the 1980s and the mania of mergers and leveraged buyouts, markets have been becoming less competitive, which means companies could demand higher monopoly rents. But it didn't always happen, because price gouging ticks people off, and threatens a backlash. However, the pandemic produced a lot of supply-side glitches, which eventually coalesced into a plausible excuse for raising prices. When the expectation of higher prices sat in, the companies that could raise them without losing significant market share did so. To the extent this is true, the Fed isn't tackling the real causes of inflation. They're just trying to beat it with their stick.

  • Meg Jacobs: [04-13] The Forgotten Left Economics Tradition: "In the Progressive and New Deal eras, there was a markedly different response to rising prices, and a different usage of economic theory." I missed this one in last week's batch of American Prospect economics articles (under Stiglitz).

  • Robert Kuttner: [04-12] Will the Fed Wreck an Improving Economy? Fed chairman Jerome Powell says he's trying to control inflation, but sometimes he gives the impression that the statistic he's tracking to decide when to let up isn't inflation itself but unemployment. Kuttner also wrote: [04-13] A Revolution in Cost-Benefit Rules: "How Biden's new team at the Office of Management and Budget is reversing several decades of pseudo-technical right-wing mischief."

Ukraine War: As far as I can tell, the leaks don't amount to much. Granted, there are details they'd rather you not know, or not talk about, and there are things they should find embarrassing, but they don't amount to much.

  • Blaise Malley: [04-14] Diplomacy Watch: Biden administration in 'damage control' after intel leaks: "Leaders in Kyiv 'suspicious' of Washington's commitment to Ukrainian counteroffensive." Little diplomacy to report, other than that Pope Francis and Lula da Silva came out in favor, while Charles Kupchan and Richard Haass have "laid out a plan" to get to negotiations later while escalating now. It amazes me that serious people can make such arguments. The only question on negotiation is figuring out what each side really needs and what they can reasonably give up. The big points -- that Putin's invasion failed, that neither side can prevail on the battlefield, that the US and NATO will resist any further Russian expansionism, and that sanctions aren't a very effective deterrent -- should be pretty clear by now. The only real stickler is territory, and there the offer has been obvious from the start: let people in each disputed territory vote to decide on their fate. There are a lot of technical problems with this: chiefly, what are the boundaries of the territories in dispute, how refugees from those territories can vote, timing, etc. But fair-minded people can solve technical problems. Granted, neither side qualifies yet, and that's something each needs to work on. But what won't work is thinking that if only "we" (and this applies to either "we") can grab a bit more leverage, we'll be able to bend the other side to our will. Even unconditional surrender only works when the winning side tries to do the right thing (as the US mostly did after WWII, but as France/UK didn't do after WWI).

  • Chas Danner: [04-14] What Secrets Are in the Leaked Pentagon Documents -- and Who Leaked Them?

  • Robyn Dixon: [04-15] Breaking up with Russia is hard for many Western firms, despite war: "Only a small percentage of the hundreds of companies that promised to leave Russia after its invasion of Ukraine have exited." The Kyiv School of Economics "follows 3,141 foreign companies through its Leave Russia project, reports that only 211 companies have exited -- fewer than 7 percent."

  • Marc Fisher: [04-15] A new kind of leaker: Spilling state secrets to impress online buddies.

  • Anatol Lieven: [04-10] Pentagon leak reinforces what we already know: US-NATO in it to win: "But revelations about American and European boots on the ground are new, and could prove a dangerous and so far unexplained wrinkle."

  • Ashleigh Subramanian-Montgomery: [04-10] Even the Treasury Department admits sanctions don't work. As the last section puts it: "Time for a sanctions rethink."

Elsewhere around the world:

Other stories:

Dean Baker: [04-15] Quick Thoughts on AI and Intellectual Property: I haven't sorted through all of this, but I'll add a few more thoughts. A lot of what passes as creativity is really just the ability to pull disparate ideas out of the ether and reconfigure them in pleasing ways. AI may be hard pressed to come up with anything truly original, but it could swamp the market for "creative" recombination: all it needs to do is scan a lot of source material, then apply a few rules for sorting out what works and what doesn't. If you gave AI copyright standing, you could wind up with an automated trolling machine that would tie up honest work in endless litigation. If you don't, well, humans could use AI to vastly increase their production of copyrightable works, and they could become just as litigious. Either way, it's a mess, but the whole realm of "intellectual property" is a big legal mess even before you add AI to the mix. And as Baker knows, the whole system of enforcement is dead weight on the creative process.

David Dayen: [04-14] The Feinstein Affair: Senate Gerontocracy Reaches Absurd Heights: "Old senators, old rules, and old traditions all are cutting against what should be a simple task of confirming judges."

EJ Dionne Jr: [04-16] Gun absolutists don't trust democracy because they know they're losing: The NRA held another convention last week, attended virtually or physically by a phalanx of Republican presidential hopefuls (Pence, Trump, and Asa Hutchinson in person; DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and Tim Scott on video). "The nonsense floated in Indianapolis -- based on the idea that our national addiction to high-powered weaponry has nothing to do with America's unique mass shooting problem -- speaks to a deep ailment in our democracy." Oh, by the way:

Karen Greenberg: [04-11] The Wars to End All Wars? In his introduction, editor Tom Engelhardt reminds us that he started TomDispatch in 2002 to protest the "unnerving decision of President George W. Bush to respond to the disastrous terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by invading Afghanistan," adding "even then, it seemed to me like a distinctly mad act." What's strange is that even though most observers admit that twenty-plus years of "war on terror" have hurt America more than they've helped, we seem to be further away than ever from a world where demilitarized peace is possible. Greenberg, who first got drawn into the legal morass of Guantanamo (I read her 2009 book, The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days), has a 2021 book, Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy From the War on Terror to Donald Trump, which connects the dots between 9/11 and such Trump abuses his Muslim ban, border policing, his killing of Iranian General Soleimani, his reaction to BLM protests, and his post-election insanity.

Elahe Izadi/Jeremy Barr/Sarah Ellison: [04-16] The Dominion vs. Fox defamation case is finally going to trial. As much as I hate defamation lawsuits in general, this one is exposing grievous malfeasance and public harm in a forums that will be hard to ignore. Key line here: "But First Amendment advocates aren't convinced that a Fox loss is bad for journalism -- and think Dominion has a much stronger case than most defamation plaintiffs." Also quotes Floyd Abrams: "The journalistic sins, which have already been exposed here, are so grievous and so indefensible that a victory for Fox will be hard to explain to the public." Also:

Paul Krugman: [04-11] Inequality Ahoy! On the Meaning of the Superyacht. Krugman used yachts as a measure of inequality in his book The Conscience of a Liberal (2007), contrasting how much yachts had shrunk during the "great compression" of the 1930-60s, compared to the Gilded Age extravagances of J.P. Morgan. Well, yachts are back now, bigger and gaudier than ever, including the one Clarence Thomas has enjoyed. Also on yachts:

Eric Levitz: [04-10] Blaming 'Capitalism' Is Not an Alternative to Solving Problems. Basically, a brief for social democratic reforms as opposed to the belief that only a revolution can root out the core problem that is capitalism. I've long felt that revolutions only occur the old system is too rigid and brittle to adjust to popular pressure, and therefore shatters. Russia in 1917, for instance, was less the "weak link of capitalism" than an autocratic regime locked into a disastrous war and incapable of reforming. A second point is that violence begets violence, and the more violence continues beyond revolution, the more doomed a revolution is to recapitulate the old regime. Levitz cites a bunch of statistics to show that very few Americans are disposed toward revolution, but the more relevant point is that the American political system is flexible enough to reform, if not to a point we can recognize as social democracy, than at least enough to preclude the violent rupture of revolution. (Of course, if you allow Trump and the Republicans sufficient power, all bets are off.)

On the other hand, while "blaming capitalism" isn't a practical political program, it does give one some clarity. Capitalism may tout free markets and free labor and maybe even freedom as an ideal, but it simply means that the profits go to the owners of capital -- a class who of necessity seek insatiably to maximize their returns, not least by manipulating the political system. Every word in that sentence is important, but "insatiable" (i.e., the felt need for infinite growth) is the crux of the problem, as it leads to two things that destabilize and destroy their world: a class system and environmental degradation. It is, of course, possible to limit those catastrophes through political reform, but doing so detracts from pure capitalism. This is why true capitalists regard anything that stands in the way of their quest for profits as socialism, a betrayal of all they believe in.

Adam Nagourney/Jeremy W Peters: [04-16] How a Campaign Against Transgender Rights Mobilized Conservatives: And elevated a political issue that could easily have been ignored into a defense of basic human rights. I've often wondered how many people we're talking about: "About 1.3 million adults and 300,000 children in the United States identify as transgender." That's about 0.5% of the US adult population, and 0.4% of 0-17 children (up to 1.4% of 15-17 children). That's not a lot of people to get so worked up about. But that's the point of the issue: it's a symbolic issue that a few Republicans seized on as a way to revitalize the cause of religious bigotry. And by the way, they've done more to publicize and promote acceptance of transgender people more quickly than any positive movement could.

By the way, if you'd like to meet some transgender people, take a look at: These 12 Transgender Americans Would Love You to Mind Your Own Business. This is part of a series I entered through What Happened to America? We Asked 12 People in Their 70s and 80s. The latter cohort was pretty evenly divided politically (although neither Donald Trump nor Diane Feinstein fared very well). But no Republicans in the transgender group.

Charles P Pierce: The Esquire columnist comments on a number of stories I've filed elsewhere:

Ben Schwartz: [04-14] How Woke Bob Hope Got Canceled by the Right: "The conservative comedian spoke out for gay rights and gun control, and got boycotted and ostracized by friends on the right, including Ronald Reagan." I'm a little surprised to see Hope labelled a conservative. Sure, he was of a generation when it was easy to get jingoistic about America, and I got tired of his USO shows, as he continued to associate with a military that had gone off the rails in Vietnam, but he always seemed like a decent-enough guy. And one thing was pretty unique about him, which is that nearly all of his characters were shameless cowards. He was, in this, the antithesis of John Wayne, who really was a conservative asshole.

Jeffrey St Clair: [04-14] Annals of the Covert World: The Secret Life of Shampoo: "The surveillance state is both more sinister and much sillier than most of us imagine."

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Speaking of Which

The Republican Party had what can only be described as a psychotic breakdown last week. Trump's arrest and arraignment was the big story. It could be read as a cautionary note that his contempt for law and order will not prevail, and indeed the muted response on the streets of New York suggests that he's on his way to being forgotten. But his post-arraignment speech at Mar-A-Lago, and the reactions of virtually all Republican speakers, show that the Party faithful still follow his lead. Not since the Confederate Secession of 1860-61 have so many showed such contempt for American and its people.

Many examples follow. Nor are they limited to the uncritical base of Trump supporters that are increasingly dubbed MAGAs, the slogan's former aspirations having turned into our current nightmare. We've long known that Republicans mentally divide the country into good and evil camps. But this week's stories show them acting on their prejudices, using whatever power they have to punish what they see as evil, and to pardon what we normally regard as criminal behavior when it's done by their side. Trump is an example, but an even purer one is Texas Governor Abbott's promise to pardon the murderer of a Black Lives Matter protester. The decision of Tennessee Republicans to expel two black Democrats from the state legislature was equally blatant.

There are a number of stories below on abortion politics. A Trump judge in Texas ruled invalid the FDA approval 23 years ago of a drug commonly used to induce abortions in early pregnancy. This is an unprecedented ruling, from a judge who is notorious for putting political ideology above the law -- an increasingly common practice among Republican judges. If upheld, this would force women even in states where abortion rights are assured to endure more invasive and expensive procedures. There are other abortion law stories in Idaho, Florida, and Kansas. We should be clear that these are not debates about philosophy or religion. These are attempts by one Party to use the law to deprive Americans of their rights, using the police and courts to intervene in the most private of affairs. Republicans may hate law when it holds them accountable, but they sure like to use it to punish others.

I could have assembled a comparable gallery of cruel Republican bills and maneuvers to harass and defame trans people, or indeed anyone who blurs their expectations of gender identity. As Nicole Narea and Fabiola Cineas point out below, their campaign is broad and coordinated, deceitful and inflammatory. It seeks to take away rights, to impose the police and courts in highly personal matters. It attempts to legitimize hatred, and it almost inevitably will wind up inciting violence.

This last point, of course, brings us back to Trump. From the very beginning of his 2016 presidential campaign, starting with his description of Mexican immigrants as "rapists and murderers," he has repeatedly encouraged his followers to commit violence and mayhem. The two most memorable Jan. 6 soundbites remain his "will be wild" and "hang Mike Pence." We are fortunate that new Trump fanboys have gone as far as Cesar Sayoc (who sent 16 mail bombs targeting Trump critics), but that hasn't dampened Trump's enthusiasm. Nor is it just Trump. Many Republicans pose with guns in their ads, some stalking liberals like they're in a video game, and the MAGA base eats that up.

This psychosis has been coming for a long time. Verbally it's been a fixture at Fox from the beginning. Bush's post-9/11 swagger was built on his presumed "license to kill." Conservative journalist wrote a book about his 2004 campaign called Voting to Kill. Obama and Biden abetted this toxic attitude by continuing Bush's wars, especially by claiming the scalps of Osama Bin Laden and Aymin al-Zawahiri, but it was the Republican-fueled lust for guns that brought the violence home. More than three times as many Americans have been killed by guns so far this year as were lost on 9/11, yet Republicans are so close-minded on the subject that they expelled legislators in Tennessee to shut them up. (We'll see how well that works.)

While gun terrorism is still infrequent enough it comes as a shock, other aspects of Republican governance are harder to ignore. I don't have time to list them all, but Republicans have perverted the fundamentals of democracy, our understanding of education, the notion that law should be just, and much more.

Top story threads:

Trump: Following last week's indictment, Trump was arrested and arraigned in New York on Tuesday, and managed to behave himself until he got home to Mar-A-Lago, and threatened the DA, the presiding judge, their families, and the whole country. It's too bad we can't just charge him with being a psychopath, and be done with it. Also see the Jeffrey St Clair entry below, especially the statistics on misdemeanor prosecutions in New York.

  • Ryan Cooper: [03-27] Donald Trump Deserves to Be Indicted: "But not just for the Stormy Daniels affair; the most corrupt president in American history has gotten away with far too much." Written pre-indictment, but good to start off with a reminder why this matters.

  • David Dayen: [04-06] Our Two-Tiered Justice System and the Trump Indictment: "Corporate crime enforcement in America has been pathetic for decades. One prosecution of a guy screaming to be prosecuted doesn't change that."

  • Christopher Fettweis: [04-03] Ripping up Trump's 'battle plan' of attack on Mexico's cartels: "Chasing drug gangs and an endless rotation of kingpins into the cities and mountains -- do we really want another Afghanistan?" No. We shouldn't even want a repeat of the Pancho Villa Expedition, when US forces under Gen. Pershing invaded Mexico in March 1916 and spent 11 months trampling around northern Mexico, failing to catch a single "bandit." Of course, a repeat would be a much bigger mistake now: the area is much more populated now, everyone is much better armed, and the risk to civilian targets is much greater. The article gives many reasons why this wouldn't work, without even getting into the basic fact that American businesses have massive investments in Mexico that would suddenly become vulnerable, to disruption or worse.

  • Richard Fausset/Danny Hakim: [04-08] Georgia Looms Next After Trump's Indictment in New York.

  • Shirin Ghaffary: [04-05] Trump is no longer the social media king: "Why the former president's arrest was a whimper, not a roar, on Twitter, a platform designed for these moments." This may have less to do with refugee Trump than with Twitter itself, which Chip Goines tells us, "Twitter as a breaking news platform for news junkies like me is terribly broken at this point."

  • Melissa Gira Grant: [04-04] The Weird Religious Fervor of the Trump Faithful:

  • Maggie Haberman/Jonathan Swan: [04-08] Trump and His Lawyers: A Restless Search for Another Roy Cohn: The picture they released of Trump inside the court room mostly exposes how peculiar he is as a defendant. He sits in the middle of no less than four lawyers. Normally one would suffice, or two for the actual trial, but it's like he wants to impress upon the prosecution that he's got deeper pockets than they have. But the key quote here comes from William Barr, who "shook his head at the sight of the defense table on Tuesday," adding "Lawyers inevitably are sorry for taking on assignments with him."

  • Martin Pengelly: [04-09] Trump's indictment and the return of his biggest concern: 'the women'. Pengelly also co-wrote, with Maya Yang: [04-06] New York judge in Trump arraignment reportedly receives 'dozens' of threats.

  • James Poniewozik: [04-05] For Once, Donald Trump Did Not Enjoy the Show: "The ex-president's indictment put him in the rare position of being forced onto a public stage not of his own choosing." Last line: "As a TV draw, Donald Trump holding court is no competition for Donald Trump sitting in one."

  • Nia Prater/Chas Danner: [04-05] Trump Attacks Judge and His Family: "His Mar-a-Lago speech was relatively short but packed with grievance." Various "live updates" pieces, including important links to: Ankush Khardori: [04-04] Prosecuted: What to make of the criminal case against Donald Trump; and Ben Jacobs: [04-04] Trump's Indictment Has Become His Platform. The former leads me to think that if/when the case is tried, Trump will be convicted (although a hung jury is not inconceivable), but that odds are not good that a conviction won't be overturned on appeal (there are technical grounds for that, but also the court system is littered with Trump appointees, who scarcely need grounds for anything they do).

  • Joan Walsh: [04-06] There Was No Trump Violence This Week. But What's Coming? To answer, she interviews Jeff Sharlet, author of The Undertow: Scenes From a Slow Civil War. Cites a review of the book, by Adam Fleming Petty: [03-21] Exploring the crowds that gather for Trump -- and dream of civil war.

  • Amy B Wang: [04-06] Trump ally Jordan issues subpoena to former N.Y. prosecutor: That would be Mark Pomerantz, who resigned after accusing Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg of sandbagging the case against Trump, and wrote a book, People vs. Donald Trump: An Inside Account. Jordan has been threatening to subpoena Bragg -- a move that would be blatantly illegal, but Pomerantz would seem to be fair game. Jordan will no doubt argue that the DA's office was on a "witch hunt" to get Trump, while Pomerantz will counter that Trump was so obviously guilty he should have been charged earlier, and possibly for more. One note here that I somehow missed is that Trump gave Jordan a Presidential Medal of Freedom in January 21 after Jordan refused a subpoena to testify before the Jan. 6 Committee. Of course, those medals were permanently tarnished back when Bush gave them to the three stooges of the Iraq War (Tommy Franks, George Tenet, and Paul Bremer). Trump has found even less worthy people to give the medal to. (List here, including conservative totems Antonin Scalia, Rush Limbaugh, and Arthur Laffer, as well as megadonor Miriam Adelson and Truth Social CEO Devin Nunes; nonetheless, Trump only handed out a below-average 24 medals, 14 of which were to athletes/sports figures. Obama was most generous, with 117 medals over 8 years. Biden has awarded 17 so far, 0.63 per month, compared to 0.50 for Trump, 1.22 for Obama, 0.86 for Bush, 0.93 for Clinton, 0.81 for GWH Bush, 0.93 for Reagan, 0.71 for Carter. The medals started with Kennedy in 1963. Two people turned the medal down, both from Trump: Bill Belichick and Dolly Parton.)

  • Frank Luntz: [04-09] How to Make Trump Go Away: The GOP's language guru runs his focus groups and searches for a narrow path, concluding: "Republicans want just about everything Mr. Trump did, without everything Mr. Trump is or says." No doubt Luntz is one smart cookie, but I think he's got that exactly wrong. They don't know or care what he did, but they want his attitude and his mouth, his style. They want to piss off their nominal enemies, and nobody does that better. Luntz explains: "In 2016, the campaign was about what he could do for you. Today, it's about what is being done to him. If he becomes increasingly unhinged, or if his opponents focus on his tweets, his outbursts and his destructive personality, a sizable number of Republicans could choose someone else, as long as they prioritize core, time-tested priorities like lower taxes, less regulation, and less Washington." But those "core priorities" are killing us. Trump, almost uniquely, gives his followers someone else to blame for Republican failures.

And Other Republicans: Note that there was so much here that I wound up having to move several clusters of links into their own sections.


Abortion: I started out collecting these under the stupid Republican stories section, but a couple stories are big enough to merit their own section. Still, no mistaking that this is what you get when you elect Republicans.

A couple elections: The highly partisan state supreme court election in Wisconsin was won handily by a liberal Democrat, although the state legislature is so severely gerrymandered that they could conceivably impeach the winner out of spite (just as in Tennessee, they're expelling duly elected representatives they dislike). And in the nonpartisan Chicago mayor election, the more progressive candidate edged out a win against a guy the New York Times insists on calling "the moderate": his most conspicuous positions are in favor of undermining the public school system with charter schools, and of blind, reflexive support of the Chicago police union -- how do those positions, which align more closely with Republicans (think Nancy DeVos and Bernie Kerik), qualify as "moderate"?

Ukraine War:


Elsewhere around the world:

  • Zack Beauchamp: [04-08] Meet the MAGA movement's new favorite autocrat: El Salvador's president, Nayib Bukele, whose draconian "anti-gang" measures have resulted in the world's highest incarceration rates (edging out you-know-who). Before this, the only thing I knew about him was his advocacy of BitCoin, which he has made legal tender.

  • Ryan Grim: [04-07] To help end the Yemen war, all China had to do was be reasonable: "With Joe Biden nowhere to be found, China's diplomacy set the stage for Saudi concessions and cease-fire talks." But what about the arms sales the US will be missing out on?

Other stories:

Sam Bell: [03-30] Democrats Slashed Medicaid and Food Assistance Because We Didn't Fight: So why is this our fault? The measures in question were smartly added to the CARES pandemic relief bill, which passed because Trump and the Republicans were panicking over the 2020 stock market collapse, and they needed Democratic support because Democrats controlled the House. But even though the policies were generally popular, Democrats didn't have sufficient majorities to keep them going. It may have been a tactical mistake to have conceded them instead of alternatives, but it's unlikely a demonstration or letter-writing campaign would have made any difference.

Paul Buhle: [03-30] Staughton Lynd: The Perils of Sainthood. Activist-scholar (1929-2022), this focuses on his book My Country Is the World: Staughton Lynd's Writing, Speeches and Statements Against the Vietnam War.

Matthew Cappucci: [04-07] Earth has second-warmest March even before arrival of planet-heating El Niño: "It was the 529th consecutive month to feature temperatures above the 20th-century average." More climate change:

Kyle Cheney/Josh Gerstein: [04-07] Appeals court ruling puts hundreds of Jan. 6 felony cases in limbo. The authors previously wrote about a similar case: [03-07] Judge tosses obstruction charge against Jan. 6 defendant. By the way, Rachel Weiner reads this case somewhat differently: [04-07] Jan. 6 rioters can be prosecuted for obstructing Congress, court rules.

Kate Conger/Ryan Mac: [04-07] Twitter Takes Aim at Posts That Link to Its Rival Substack. I know some people who mostly use Twitter to post links to their articles on Substack. In fact, I mostly use it to notify readers of new pieces on my blog. Matt Taibbi posts 5-10 tweets linking to each and every one of his Substack pieces. He now says he will be leaving Twitter. More on Twitter:

Hannah Crosby: [04-08] How Many More Years of Living Dangerously: "The National Flood Insurance Program can't keep pace with the challenges posed by climate change and insuring oceanfront homes in Scituate, Massachusetts."

Timothy Egan: [04-03] What we can learn from the Midwestern war against the Klan 100 years ago. It's only been 100 years, but we're unlikely ever again to witness 25,000 hooded klansmen marching through Washington, DC. On the other hand, that anyone still considers this history relevant to now is disturbing. It may still be interesting that what destroyed the 1920s Klan wasn't repression, or that racism went out of fashion, but internal power struggles: to the end, assholes be assholes.

Amanda Holpuch: [04-07] New Mexico Police Fatally Shoot Man After Responding to Wrong House. The person they killed was armed, not that he had a chance to defend himself. So tell me again how the Second Amendment works? Note that they were able to fill up a whole sidebar under "New Mexico Gun Violence."

Heather Souvaine Horn: [03-31] Fight Climate Change by Doing Less: "Resist the misconception that sustainable living means more work." Spend less. Work less. Why make this any more complicated than it has to be?

Sarah Jones: [04-08] Children Are Not Property: "The idea that underlies the right-wing campaign for "parents rights." It's hard for me to read this without trembling, as it reminds me of psychic trauma from my own childhood that still haunt me. I wouldn't even concede that "only the unborn are spared the right's cruelty." (Remember the title of Adam Serwer's book: The Cruelty Is the Point.) I'd add that the old term for "property in people" is slavery.

Joshua Kaplan/Justin Elliott/Alex Mierjeski: [04-06] Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire: This is a major report on how Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been the beneficiary of numerous gifts, especially from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow. You know, for many years conservatives complained that seemingly solid Republicans would be nominated to the Supreme Court, then somehow transform into starry-eyed liberals. Eventually, they came up with a way to keep Justices true: they pay them, under the table or off on the side, especially by doling lucrative jobs out to their families. No one has raked in more cash this way than Ginni Thomas. And here we find her husband skating around the world in private planes and superyachts. Some further comments:

Mike Masnick: [04-07] Mehdi Hasan Dismantles the Entire Foundation of the Twitter Files as Matt Taibbi Stumbles to Defend It. Includes video of a 30-minute interview, which I haven't watched yet. Given that Taibbi's work on the Twitter dump is mostly behind his paywall, and that the hype he's been giving it on Twitter rarely makes much sense, I haven't made any real effort to follow the story. But the article here seems to demolish if not everything at least the hype about its importance. Hasan, by the way, has a new book out, called Win Every Argument: The Art of debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking. Trashing Taibbi should help promote that book.

Elie Mystal: [03-22] Corporate America Is No Longer Pretending to Care About Diversity: Following the outcry over the murder of George Floyd, many companies resolved to hire DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) officers. A new study shows that "the attrition for DEI officers was 33 percent at the end of 2022, compared with 21 percent for non-DEI roles."

Nicole Narea/Fabiola Cineas: [04-06] The GOP's coordinated national campaign against trans rights, explained: The key word here is "coordinated." This is not an issue I'm inclined to get involved in, but Republicans have taken such a vile stand that we're being forced to respond. It wouldn't be hard to come up with ten more examples:

Nicole Narea/Ian Millhiser/Andrew Prokop: [04-06] The multibillion-dollar defamation lawsuits against Fox News, explained. As a general rule, I hate defamation lawsuits, which tend to be attacks on free speech, brought on by rich blowhards who want to stifle criticism. For example, when Trump first ran for president, one of his greatest hopes was to change the law so he could sue more people who prickled his thin skin. This one is a little different, inasmuch as it is helping to expose the inner workings of Fox and its right-wing propaganda machine. Whether Dominion deserves billions can be debated, but anything that helps reveal Fox for what they really are should be applauded. Also:

Richard Sandomir: [04-08] Mel King, Whose Boston Mayoral Bid Eased Racial Tensions, Dies at 94: A legend a bit before my time in Boston, so I wanted to note him but didn't have much to say. Title point is certainly true, at least compared to his opponent (Raymond Flynn). Among my friends, he is regarded as a pathbreaking progressive. As Linda Gordon put it: "How I wish Mel King was with us now. I'm not sure I know of another activist/politician I have more respected and loved."

Nicholas Slayton: [04-07] 'How to Blow Up a Pipeline' and the Case for Radical, Direct Action on Climate: "A new film considers what to do when those in power fail to take the problem seriously." The film is about "a diverse group of activists banding together to blow up an oil pipeline in West Texas." Look, I don't approve, and I emphatically reject that people who would do such a thing are coming at the problem from the left, but it's only a matter of time until things like this happen, with some frequency. In Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, which is set in the future but not very damn far, extraordinary things we call "ecoterrorism" happen frequently -- e.g., hypersonic missiles blowing up tankers -- and are shown to contribute significantly to the powers around the world finally addressing the problem. To set such violence in motion, you need three factors converging: (1) the perception that climate change is destroying our way of life; (2) the common, routine resort to violence as a way of coping with problems; and (3) the demonstrated failure of normal politics to address the problem. If I had to put a bet on how far each of these has progressed, it would be somewhere between 30% and 60%. The Ukraine War, to pick one example, has boosted each of these factors. (The NordStream pipeline could conceivably have been an ecoterrorist operation, except that there was little reason: it was already shut down, and it was a difficult target, when many other targets would be much easier -- like the one in the movie.)

Also on this:

  • Kate Aronoff: [04-05] Is Environmental Radicalism Inevitable? "It would be ludicrous, Malm acknowledge, to expect saboteurs to systematically dismantle the fossil fuel economy one homemade incendiary at a time. In this and other work, he's emphasized that only states can do that. Both he and the film's protagonists, accordingly, articulate eco-terrorism as a kind of DIY market signal meant to force states' hand into doing something they otherwise wouldn't."

  • Peter C Baker: [04-05] Will We Call Them Terrorists? A review of How to Blow Up a Pipeline. "We do not know how the future will see us."

Jeffrey St Clair: [04-07] Roaming Charges: Broken Windows Theory of Political Crime: "People griping about the trivial nature of the charges against Trump seem to have forgotten that the aggressive enforcement of trivial offenses has been the hallmark of American policing for 40 years, put into vicious deployment by Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani with Trump cheering him on. With hundreds of thousands of people arrested and jailed for minor offenses like subway fare evasion, loitering, jaywalking, or selling single cigarettes, isn't it time we applied the Broken Windows Theory to political crimes and hold to account the people who enforced it on others?"

St Clair quotes Stephen Miller asking "What is Donald Trump's crime?" Miller's answer is: "His crime is refusing to bow or bend to the corrupt and rotten foreign policy establishment that is used to always getting their way in this country." Nice way of trying to hide a lie (Trump's refusal to bow or bend") behind a truth that is rarely acknowledged. But St Clair show how little resistance Trump offered to the "foreign policy establishment" (he even added a few wrinkles that were uniquely his own):

Let's review: Trump appointed the Deep State's top torturer to run the CIA, put 1000s of troops on the ground in Syria and stole their oil, broke Obama's drone strike record, sanctified Israel's illegal annexation of the Golan Heights, separated children from their parents at the border, extracted pledges of higher military spending from NATO countries, plotted to kill Julian Assange then indicted him on espionage charges, wanted to bomb and invade Mexico . . .

Some head-scratchers here, including most of his section on the extramarital sex lives of various presidents (which Harding had, but I doubt it was as described). One link struck me as strange: Oregon will become 1st state in nation to allow children who enroll in Medicaid at birth to stay to age 6. This is some kind of great liberal accomplishment?

Joseph Stiglitz: [04-03] How Models Get the Economy Wrong: "Seemingly complex and sophisticated econometric modeling often fails to take into account common sense and observable reality." There are a lot of smart points in this piece, but mostly they read as refutations of dumb platitudes. Here's a line I like: "Can it possibly be the case that the most efficient use of our limited research resources should be directed toward making an ever-better advertising machine (the business model underlying Facebook and Google) aimed at better exploiting consumers through discriminatory pricing and targeted and often misleading advertising?" Capitalism sometimes gives us things we want, even if we didn't know that we wanted them, but in this example it's pursuing and refining something we don't want at all, something designed only to make our lives more miserable. Further down, after disposing of the NAIRU model, he points out that advocates of the model wrongly attributed inflation to excess aggregate demand, when it was "clearly the result of a series of pandemic-induced supply-side shortages and demand shifts." This is part of a series of articles on bad models:

  • Robert Kuttner: [04-07] Is Economics Self-Correcting? "Economists are made to learn long-discredited modeling, and then the safe way to win promotion and tenure is to publish articles in the same genre."

  • Rakeen Mabud/David Dayen: [04-03] Hidden in Plain Sight: "The distorting power of macroeconomic policy models."

  • Philip Rocco: [04-06] Prisoners of Their Own Device: "Once computed, the 'hard numbers' found in CBO's baseline tables conceal all the assumptions and uncertainties involved in producing them."

  • Elizabeth Warren: [04-04] How Policymakers Fight a Losing Battle With Models: "Reforms are needed to ensure that inaccurate budgetary math doesn't take precedence over maximizing long-term prosperity."

Matt Stoller: [04-06] Federal Reserve Independence Is the Problem: "A weird, secretive, and unaccountable institution organizes our society, and nobody wants to talk about it." I remember Clinton complaining about how the "fucking bond market" runs the country, but then he turned around and nominated Alan Greenspan for two more terms as Fed Chair. Like Clinton, Obama and Biden both reappointed Republican Fed Chairs, who then turned around and screwed them.

From my Twitter feed:

Dare Obasanjo: Carnage4Life Kyle Rittenhouse was a turning point where Republicans started openly celebrating murdering people whose politics you disagree with.

Turning literal murderers into heroes because you dislike the politics of the victims and government officials normalizing it is a dark place.

Tikun Olam @richards1052 Latest poll shows Likud would lose 12 seats from its current 32 if election was held today. An utter disaster. Opposition parties led by Gantz and Lapid would double their seats to 50.

Also this meme: "The road to fascism is lined with people telling you to stop overreacting."

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Speaking of Which

I opened this file by linking to Jeffrey St Clair's latest "Roaming Charges" piece (way down below), because any time he writes one of his scattershot columns, I feel duty-bound to link to it. Not that we see eye-to-eye on everything. I could certainly do without the gratuitous sniping at Bernie Sanders (even if he occasionally has a point). But he's never tried to critique both parties from some imaginary point in the middle, so when he does hold Democrats to account, he never tries to blur the distinction by making Republicans seem a bit less evil.

[PS: Although further down he berates Biden as "old, tired, powerless, out of ideas and lacking any genuine outrage," then turns around and says, "One thing you have to admire about Trump is that he didn't give up pursuing his agenda, no matter how debased it was . . . people liked that he was a fighter." That strikes me as unfair to Biden, who evinces far more outrage than I think is politically savvy, and inaccurate on Trump, who never had an agenda to fight for, aside from symbolic gestures like the wall, and whose ineffectiveness had more than a little to do with his lack of compassion or conviction. Anyone who values Trump as a fighter has a fleeting grasp of reality.]

I may be more inclined to pull my punches for the sake of partisan solidarity, but I have to respect his principles, not least because they come with important insights. This week's column starts with one so important it needs to go here, on top, before you get distracted with what's likely to be a veritable tsunami of political bullshit. (I'm writing this on Friday, before collecting the rest, so it'll be easy to check my prediction.) He opens as follows (my bold):

The US is not going to solve its gun violence epidemic until it addresses its war violence epidemic. There's a reason the AK-15 has become the weapon of choice for post-Gulf War shooters. Blame guns if you must, but start with the war culture that has indoctrinated so many people to crave them, not, I suspect for self-protection, but for the projection of power in a society where the individual is left with so little.

For three decades, we have saturated our society with government-sponsored violence, where every type of killing is officially sanctioned, including that of children. We've committed infanticide with impunity from Kandahar to Belgrade. The sniper and the drone have become cultural icons, grotesque symbols of the American imperium.

Predictably, the chickens that have come home to roost haven't only been the relatives of the victims, but also the children of perpetrators, nurtured on fear, bloodshed and high-capacity ammo. They've been reared to see people in uniform -- from Mosul to Memphis -- kill with impunity. The lessons seem to have taken root.

I've said the first sentence before, probably many times. The rest just drives home the point, not that you couldn't add volumes more.

I have no fondness for guns, and wouldn't mind if they were totally banned. (I don't mind people who hunt, as many of my recent ancestors did, but even there I could imagine a program where people rent hunting guns when they obtain their in-season licenses. Among other things, it would match guns to game. I could also see letting people target shoot, but renting the guns there, too. Again, you'd get a better match. And, really, it wouldn't be any more onerous than having to rent shoes at the bowling alley -- I assume they still do that, as it's been a while.) But politically that's not going to happen, at least any time soon, at least as long as many people feel like they need to own guns, and are willing to live with the inevitable costs. What anti-gun people need to do is to shift some mind, to get people to realize that they don't need (and shouldn't want) guns.

A big part of the reason for my indifference or resignation to the dearth of gun control is that I really don't like the instinct that drives so many people to ban anything they don't like. That was the driving ideology behind prohibition, including the war on drugs, and creates bad side-effects as well as not working very well. I suppose there are limits to my preference for never banning anything: we still have bans on fully-automatic machine guns and artillery, and it makes sense to keep tight regulation on toxic chemicals and explosives. And while I'd cut way back on criminal penalties for drugs, I'd like to see enough regulation to keep them from being commercialized.

I have a somewhat similar position on immigration. I think most immigration is driven not by wonderful economic opportunities in America, but by the spread of violence that is largely backed or motivated by America's global projection of power, and by the global financial system that continuously works to extract profit from the rest of the world (often protected by American arms). If you want to limit immigration, the most effective thing would be to reduce the fear and hunger elsewhere that drives people here. (Needless to say, you can substitute Europe for America in the preceding sentences and still make perfect sense. And Europe and America are linked in that way, such that the political/economic powers in each no longer discriminate in favor of own interests.) So my argument to anyone who wants to restrict immigration is to start by reforming the foreign policies that drive people to come here. Oh, and by the way, also climate policies, given that changing climate is likely to be the biggest driver of migration in coming decades.

Of course, I know people (my wife, for one) who want no limits on immigration, as they believe that every person should have the right to live wherever they see fit. I don't have a strong argument against that position, but I can see a sensible one. Borders act as baffles, which aren't impermeable but do so some extent allow nations to work on their own problems independently of other nations and pressures. While America may look like some kind of paradise to outsiders, it isn't. We have a lot of work to do to make it more livable and vital for the people who already live here, and adding more people makes it harder.

Sure, maybe not a lot: I accept that the long-term benefits of adding immigrants are real, that the short-term costs aren't as bad as is commonly assumed (or wouldn't be if we didn't allow them to be exploited so badly), and that the idea that America's culture will be undermined by unassimilable aliens is a fantasy. On the other hand, we're hard pressed now to build the political will to make the changes we so sorely need, and there's little reason to think that higher immigration levels might help. Note that the biggest turn to the left in American history was during the 1930s, when immigration was close to nil. On the other hand, recall that 5 (of 16) Republican presidential candidates in 2016 had at least one foreign-born parent.

What I do see as priorities on immigration are that people who have been here for quite some time need to be accepted and documented, and not be treated as "illegals"; also that migrants who do come to America need to be treated humanely and efficiently, not just for their own sakes but because the way we've been treating them just makes us all that much more barbaric.

Top story threads:

Trump: The former president pulled away from the pack this week, by getting indicted, by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, in a case that involves the famous "hush money" payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, or perhaps more technically the hidden audit trail of the payment, but with the indictment (still sealed) of 30 items, it seems likely that the charges will go further into an extensive pattern of corrupt business practices. You might start by watching Jimmy Kimmel, because, as he insists, Trump's indictment is "historic and it's funny." He only had an hour or two to prepare (poor Seth Myers missed it completely), but he makes some good points. Also, once again, I love it that virtually his whole audience is excited by the news. I'm so used to being in a fringe minority that I find it very heartening to see a crowd of normal people clearly aware of just how horrible Trump has been (and still is).

  • Nicole Narea/Ian Millhiser: [03-31] Your biggest questions about Trump's indictment, answered: "Here's what happens next."

  • Zack Beauchamp: [03-31] The best precedent for Trump's indictment is (gulp) Israel: Sure, no nation has more experience with indicting its political leaders, but Trump hasn't pushed his situation nearly as far as Netanyahu has. To make the two analogous, Trump would have to win in 2024, and make every day January 6 all over again.

  • Igor Derysh: [03-31] Trump reportedly "caught off guard" by 34-count indictment -- melts down all night on Truith Social. My instinct is to be agnostic about indicting Trump (or anyone else, at least anyone I've heard of), not just because "innocent until proven guilty," and not just because I never care much for the details, but also because I don't have much faith that justice works in America. If Trump acted like a normal defendant, which is to say hid behind lawyers who exercised some care not to inflame the situation, that would probably be the end of my interest. After all, why get heavily invested in something (like his impeachments) that isn't likely to pan out. On the other hand, when he squirms like a stuck pig, that's something I can enjoy. Not that I usually go in for Schadenfreude, but regardless of whether he's ultimately a convicted felon, he's clearly a malign political force, and quite simply a bad person. Perhaps the squirming is just the mark of a thin-skinned, narcissistic egomaniac, but it feels like at least a taste of justice.

    By the way, Salon is having a lot of fun consulting various "experts" on whatever it is they know about the Trump indictment. Examples as of [04-02]: Experts: Bragg has "very strong case"; Expert: Indictment won't help Trump; Expert: Charges show Trump not a "king"; Experts rip DeSantis' extradition threat; Haberman: Ex-Trumpers "quietly cheering"; Legal experts: Trump will fight back; Right freaks out over Trump indictment. Also, a while back [02-24] "Threatening a prosecutor is a crime": Experts say Trump's Truth Social post could badly backfire.

  • Chris Hedges: [03-31] Yes, Donald Trump has committed many crimes -- but that's not why he faces prosecution: "Like Richard Nixon, Trump is being punished for his sins against the dominant order, not his most serious ones." Mostly true: if I had to rank his crimes, I'd start elsewhere, but suppressing the Storm Daniels story a week before the 2016 election may have been one that was necessary to secure his win, making the later crimes possible. There's no doubt that the story was juicy enough the media would have gone crazy with it, possibly drowning out the last round of Clinton email hoopla. Sure, most of his supporters would have laughed it off, but he won the electoral college by a very slim margin.

    The part that's untrue is that he is being tried for upsetting "the dominant order." That's an odd, imprecise term, but most of the rich and powerful were perfectly happy with all the perks and favors Trump cut them. Even when they found him embarrassing, they were more worried that he'd get voted out and the gravy train would stop (although, let's be real, most of them know how to extract favors from Democrats as well). While Trump occasionally said things that were off base, he did so little on his own that he never was much of a threat. In particular, his much bruited antiwar sentiments led to ever larger defense budgets and an acceleration of random drone attacks, while he tore up many more treaties than he negotiated. And while it's true that most Democrats came to really despise him, the few cases they brought -- including two politically-doomed impeachments -- were constructed narrowly and solidly based. We haven't seen the Manhattan DA case yet, but given how reluctant Alvin Bragg was to charge Trump, he probably has a solid case.

    Since Hedges mentioned Nixon, let's talk about him for a minute. Maybe I was just at an impressionable age when he became president, but I've always thought he was the most evil politician in American history. He's the only one I've truly hated, and I still blame much of what I deplore most in Reagan, Bush, and even Trump on him. When I was trying to figure out what I thought about capital punishment, he was my test case: if we can't execute Nixon, where's the justice in executing anyone else? It really just reduces to a power dynamic: states kill the people too powerless to stop them, and let the rest go free. I remember thinking about death, and concluding that as long as Nixon goes first, I'm willing to deal with it. Yet basically what happened was that after Nixon resigned, and after Ford pardoned him, he became harmless. He didn't become a hermit. He wrote his self-serving books, and enjoyed the rest of his life in relative comfort, but he never really bothered us after that. So, sure, it wasn't justice that Nixon never had to pay for his crimes. But it was effective, just to keep him away from the levers of power that made his crimes so calamitous.

    Now maybe the same thing could have happened with Trump, but here he is, running for president again, threatening revenge on everyone who slighted him over the years, inspiring and exhorting his coterie of followers to build new crimes on top of his. Never mind remorse, he is utterly without shame or conscience. He still describes himself as "the most innocent man in American history." It is quite possible that had he meekly retired into his mansion, none of the charges -- and now that the ice is broken, I have little doubt that there will be more -- would have been brought. You can object that makes them political, but Trump is the one who made them political: he is the one who made them urgent and necessary. Had he simply retired, he would have been as harmless as Nixon. But by fighting on, several prosecutors decided they had to make clear to the public what kind of man (what kind of criminal) he really is.

    Hedges' other implication: that one shouldn't be prosecuted for a lesser crime once one has committed a greater one, is too ridiculous to address. I rather doubt that's even the rule in divinity school, where Hedges studied, but I'm dead certain that no lawyer in America would try to use that as a defense.

  • Ben Jacobs: [03-31] Trump's indictment has united the Republican Party in apocalyptic rage. Well, they see every rage as apocalyptic.

  • Samaa Khullar: [03-31] Manhattan DA accuses GOP of "unlawful political interference" in Trump case: If you want to talk about "unprecedented," tell me the last time a committee of Congress tried to insert itself into a state or local prosecution, demanding to expose and interrogate a case before it has been tried? I like the British term for this sort of thing: "attempting to pervert the course of justice." Khullar also wrote: [03-31] Fox News stokes fears of political "violence" over Trump indictment.

  • Tori Otten: [03-31] Republicans' Only Defense Against the Trump Indictment: George Soros: Mostly in the context of the "Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney." I shouldn't have to explain the anti-semitic tropes of singling Soros out everywhere. And it's not like left-leaning pundits are going around deriding Republicans as "Koch-backed" or "Adelson-backed" (even though both of those guys, at least before the latter died, held conventions attended by dozens of Republicans hoping to kiss the ring). [OK, full disclosure, back when he was a Congressman, I did refer to "Mike Pompeo (R-Koch)," but that connection was much more direct than Soros ever gets to anyone, and I was contrasting Pompeo to "Todd Tiahrt (R-Boeing)."]

  • Andre Pagliarini: [04-01] What the Right-Wing Freakout Over Trump's "Banana Republic" Indictment Is Really About. Meanwhile, Jair Bolsonaro return to Brazil, and his own possible prosecution for a wide range of crimes.

  • Ramesh Ponnoru: [04-02] Trump's indictment will warp our politics for years to come: I only mention this piece only because it strikes me that Trump's indictment may well be viewed as belonging to the "warp for years to come" that started with Republican attempts to use civil and criminal suits against Clinton in the 1990s. If this seems to be harsher on Trump, it's because he's left so much more evidence to prosecute him with -- and possibly because his "lock her up" campaign slogan amounted to taunting.

  • Andrew Prokop: [03-30] Donald Trump has been indicted. The hush money case against him, explained. The story, updated many times, from a staple post. But until people see the actual indictment, it's hard to speculate on how strong the case is. Prokop also wrote: [04-01] How to tell when an investigation is politicized. His criteria seem to be: how similar is this to the Kenneth Starr prosecution of Clinton? He doesn't really know, but that isn't stopping him from spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). Of course, anything involving Trump is bound to be politicized, as Trump will blame political motives, and likely realizes that his offenses are seen as part of his political persona. This leads to a second question which Prokop doesn't ask: should people with political motives be exempt from prosecution? As someone long identified as a leftist, I can't think of any such precedent. I'm especially annoyed by the line: "if they can go after Trump, they can go after anybody." Where have these people been? They've been going after anybody for well over a century. It's only people like Trump who felt themselves above the law, immune from prosecution.

  • Alex Shephard: [03-30] Did Trump Do Worse Things? Sure. But This Indictment Is a Great Start. Shephard also wrote: [03-31] A Field Guide to the Right's Hysterical and Desperate Response to Trump's Indictment. I always get a kick out of the line (attributed here to Vivek Ramaswamy, but I've probably heard it 20 times so far): "If they can do it to Trump, they can do it to you." Of course, if you committed the same crimes Trump is charged with, they always could have "done it to you" -- and wouldn't have given it a second thought. What's new is that they're even, finally doing it to Trump.

  • Perry Stein/Shayna Jacobs: [03-31] Trump lashes out against New York judge who will hear his criminal case.

  • Asawin Suebsaeng/Adam Rawnsley: [03-29] Trump Asks Advisers for 'Battle Plans' to 'Attack Mexico' if Reelected.

  • Michael Tomasky: [03-31] What Trump and Republicans Don't Understand About the Law.

  • Brett Wilkins: [03-31] 'This P*ssy Grabbed Back': Stormy Daniels Speaks Out After Trump Indictment.

  • Li Zhou: [03-31] The indictment adds to a long list of times Republicans have backed Trump. List is admittedly "non-exhaustive."

  • Inspirational tweet (sure, we're all criminals, which makes it so unfair when any of us get charged):

    Lauren Boebert: If they charge President Trump for his crimes, they could charge any of us for our crimes. The rule of law means nothing to these people.

  • PS: I was later surprised that I didn't come up with anything on Trump's post-indictment fundraising. A quick search revealed:

Other Republicans: DeSantis, McCarthy, and the rest simply couldn't keep up last week.

Israel: If we were keeping something like the "doomsday clock" on the question of when does Israel turn genocidal, I wouldn't put it a few minutes before midnight (like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists does), but this week it definitely moved past noon.

Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc: A couple late items on the 20th anniversary of the Bush invasion of Iraq, but also a sudden rash of articles about the region (mostly about blowing it up).

Ukraine War: Both sides continue to publicly build up their cases that they cannot be defeated, and that they can continue to fight indefinitely. We're supposed to be impressed by that?

  • Blaise Malley: [03-31] Diplomacy Watch: Privately, experts ask White House 'what's the longer-term gameplan?'

  • David Atkins: [03-29] Trump, DeSantis Say They Just Want Peace in Ukraine. Don't Fall for It. I started to write something about this piece, then tore it up, because it's too easy to get sucked into a rathole about the insincerity of "fascists for peace." But I came back to it, because I hate the idea of attacking anyone for "just wanting peace," even characters as execrable as the headline. I also hate the practice of dredging up the reluctance of many Americans to get involved in WWII, even if Charles Lindbergh and "the original 'America First' crowd" were Nazi symps (except to point out that Trump's father attended a notorious 1939 pro-Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden). Having read a lot of history on the subject, I'm probably more attuned to incipient fascism than most, but Nazi/Fascist charges only obscure the causes and stakes of the Ukraine war (as, for that matter, do high-minded paeans to democracy), and act mostly as pro-war recruiting signals. (For example, this page provides links to two 2014 pieces by Ed Kilgore: Russia as the New Fascist Threat, and Ukraine and the Sudeten Analogy. Kilgore, of course, is one of those liberals whose neverending "search for monsters to destroy" led him to support the Bush War in Iraq.)

    I also object to the assumption that the real (or only) reason Trump, DeSantis, and other Republicans have for opposing US support for Ukraine -- if that's what they're doing; describing Ukraine as "a regional conflict" doesn't reflect the official line but isn't all that inaccurate -- is that they are Putin fans/fools. There is a long and honorable tradition in American politics, going back to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and articulated most famously by John Quincy Adams, of military entanglements around the world. This tradition was unfairly lampooned as "isolationism" during the intoxication of WWII and the rise of the Cold Warriors afterwards, but we now have 75 years of evidence suggesting that restraint and peaceful diplomacy and commerce would have been a wiser course. Granted, Trump's actual presidency gives us no reason to believe that he understands what it takes to avoid the wars he claims not to believe in. Indeed, history will record that he made a complete botch of Ukraine during his four years as president.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [03-29] What US weapons tell us about the Russia-Ukraine war: As the chart makes clear, arming Ukraine is overwhelmingly an American project. What isn't clear is how much arms like tanks are meant to advance a negotiating position or just an offensive hoping to reclaim Russian-occupied territory, because neither Ukraine nor the US seems to have a coherent negotiating position.

  • Fred Kaplan: [03-27] What Putin's Latest Nuke Announcement Really means: "It's all just for show -- but it could backfire."

  • Ivan Nechepurenko/Anatoly Kurmanev: [04-02] Influential Russian Military Blogger Is Killed in St Petersburg Bombing.

  • Jake Werner: [03-31] What Biden means when he says we're fighting 'global battle for democracy': So, you see, he's hosting this Summit for Democracy, which among other oddities included a panel featuring Narenda Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu, leaders in legislating ethnocracies, which deny fundamental rights to minorities, while still pretending to practice democracy.

  • Joshua Yaffa: [03-31] The unimaginable horror of a friend's arrest in Moscow: Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested and charged with espionage. Even if true, it's hard to imagine that reporting on Russia is more damaging than descending into hostage-taking. For more, see Connor Echols: [03-30] Ex-CIA official: No way detained WSJ reporter is a US spy. Also Jonathan Guyer: [03-30] The first US journalist was just arrested in Russia since the Cold War.

Other stories:

Dean Baker: [04-01] The Social Security Scare Story Industry: One of those scare stories showed up in my local paper. I'm not surprised at how few people actually understand how Social Security works, but you'd think the ones who write on it for major news chains would show some initiative. The real future problem with Social Security and Medicare is whether we elect politicians who understand the need to take care of the elderly and infirm, or we elect a bunch of jerks (i.e., Republicans) who don't care and can't be bothered. Baker also wrote: [03-29] The Silicon Valley Bank Bailout: The Purpose of Government Is to Make the Rich Richers #63,486. I don't think he's actually counting, but feels like the right ballpark.

Shirin Ghaffary: [03-31] Elon Musk wants to fill your Twitter feed with paid accounts: As of April 15, "Twitter will only recommend content from paid accounts in the For You tab, the first screen users see when they open the app." That sounds like it will be 100% advertising. The alternative to "For you" is "Following," which actually gives me something more like what I expected: tweets from people I follow, plus ones those people forward. I've been looking at my own view stats, and I'm pretty disgusted with what I'm seeing: my tweets announcing "Speaking of Which" posts are ultimately viewed by a bit less than 15% of my followers. "Music Week" announcements get more views, but still only about 50% of my followers (or that's what the total works out to: they usually get a retweet or two, so that helps the spread). Consequently, I'm questioning the whole utility of the platform. And I suspect that that in a few weeks a blue checkmark will be recognized as a stigma instead of as proof of authenticity. They're really just pissing on their brand.

  • Drew Harwell: [04-02] Twitter strikes New York Times' verified badge on Elon Musk's orders: "The Times and other news organizations say they won't pay for the icon, which [was originally] designed to protect against impersonation." Evidently, they haven't removed all the blue checks yet, probably to obscure the question of how many suckers have paid up, but after the Times publicly refused to pay up, Musk decided to make an example of them.

  • Prem Thakker: [03-31] Sorry Elon, No One Cares About Losing Their Blue Checkmark on Twitter. There's a list here of famous publishers opting out. This flows into a another piece: "Twitter Admits It's Been Forcing Elon Musk on Your Timeline." I recently clicked on "Following" instead of the default "For you," and the Musk tweets have (so far) vanished.

William Hartung: [03-26] The Pentagon's Budget from Hell: Congress Has Been Captured by the Arms Industry: "The ultimate driver of that enormous spending spree is a seldom-commented-upon strategy of global military overreach, including 75 U.S. military bases scattered on every continent except Antarctica, 170,000 troops stationed overseas, and counterterror operations in at least 85 -- not, that is not a typo -- countries (a count offered by Brown University's Cost of War Project."

Sean Illing: [03-30] The media wants the audience's trust. But is it being earned? Interview with Brian Stelter, who wrote Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth. Illing has a point: "So it's not that Fox doesn't have a right-wing bias; it's that it primarily exists to flatter the delusions of its audience, and they do it even when they know it's bullshit." That's an insight that could apply to other media companies, which are all defined by their ability to corral and exploit a predictable audience. But Fox's audience is more deluded than most, and it's easy to push their buttons. Moreover, they've captured a political party, which means they can make much of the news they report, and give their audience a rooting interest.

Robert Kuttner: [03-28] What Comes After Neoliberalism? "We are winning the battle of ideas. We have a long way to go before we win the politics." I hear an echo here of one of my pet ideas: I believe that the New Left won the "battle of ideas" in the 1970s, resulting in sweeping changes to how we think about war, race, sex, the environment, and consumer rights, but part of that constellation of ideas was a profound mistrust of power, as well as a sharp critique of the previous generation of liberals (especially those who brought us the Cold War and the hot war in Vietnam), so very little effort got made to secure liberation with political power. (The New Left was also divided on labor unions, which after Taft-Hartley had largely abandoned the struggle to organize poor workers, and which mostly exercised their power within the Democratic Party to support the warmongers.) The result is that we've seen much erosion on these fronts, even though there's little popular support for the reaction.

A big part of this erosion can be ascribed to elements in the Democratic Party who tried to craft a "kindler, gentler" version of neoliberalism -- with scant success, given that any time they tried to make something decent out of market solutions, Republicans were there to wreck their efforts. (Clinton claimed he had crafted a good welfare reform bill, only to find it passed by a Republican Congress wrapped up in "a sack of shit." Obamacare didn't fare much better.) It's true that there are new ideas gaining purchase among Democrats (some even embraced by Biden, who the neoliberal faction settled on as their "anybody but Bernie" candidate), but it's premature to claim that they've gained the upper hand over neoliberalism.

What is clear, though, is that neoliberalism has failed, both as an economic doctrine and as a political movement. As for the terminology problem, I'm inclined to go with democracy: we need a political order that puts people ahead of profit, that puts industry and commerce to work for the betterment of everyone. The key to doing that is to give everyone more rights, so they can take back the state and redirect it for the general welfare. The Republicans ran on exactly that platform in 1860: "Vote yourself a farm; vote yourself a tariff!"

Jack McCordick: [03-29] How Big Business Hijacked Freedom: Interview with Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway, authors of The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market. Telling that the issue that originally set the NAM (National Association of Manufacturers) off was their opposition to child labor laws.

Ian Millhiser: [03-30] The lawsuit that threatens everything from cancer screenings to birth control, explained: "A notoriously partisan judge has launched a new attack on one of Obamacare's key provisions." More on the courts:

  • Matt Ford: [03-30] It's 2023, and Conservatives Are Still Trying to Sue Obamacare Out of Existence. Judge Reed O'Connor "struck down a major part of the Affordable Care Act on Thursday. . . . O'Connor was the favored destination of such suits for years: He has found the ACA to be unconstitutional, either in whole or in part, at least four times now, leaving the appellate courts to clean up his many messes."

Charles P Pierce: He cranks out several posts every day, most worth reading (many I could have filed in various spots above):

Paul Rosenberg: [04-02] What crisis of democracy? Scholar Larry Bartels says the real crisis is corrupt leaders: Shorter title: "Maybe we just elect bad people." Interview with Bartels, who wrote Democracy Erodes From the Top: Leaders, Citizens, and the Challenge of Populism in Europe. Focus is on European leaders like Viktor Orban and Giorgia Meloni, but key point applies to American political leaders as well, especially Donald Trump, who didn't exactly run as an authoritarian but exercised his power as arbitrarily and capriciously as he could get away with, resulting in a quite striking erosion of democratic norms and expectations.

Jason Samenow: [03-26] How Mississippi's tornadoes unfolded Friday night and why they were so deadly: I read this piece with considerable interest, having grown up in what used to be called "tornado alley": roughly an oval from a bit south of Oklahoma City to a bit north of Wichita, spreading out maybe a hundred miles east and west. After a large tornado wiped out the small town of Udall, about 20 miles southeast of Wichita, when I was 5 or 6, Kansas got its act together and built a pretty robust tornado warning system. The frequency of tornados declined over the last decade or two, shifting east and south, but until then the grim statistic was that despite getting many fewer tornados than Kansas, the state with by far the most tornado deaths was Mississippi. That's what happens when your state hates you. I haven't looked at those stats recently, but with the climate shift on top of America's most decrepit state government, the situation can only have grown worse (despite the fact that at the national level, weather forecasting has gotten markedly better). More tornado reports this week:

Kelefa Sanneh: [03-27] How Christian is Christian nationalism? This is a question that I, as someone who doesn't believe in, and for that matter distrusts, both Christianity and nationalism, am indifferent to, yet perversely curious about. The latter is probably because I once had what I felt to be a pretty sound grounding in at least one strain of Christianity, and I suspect that most self-professed Christian nationalists have a very different understanding. This piece reviews a couple books: Paul D Miller's The Religion of American Greatness: What's Wrong With Christian Nationalism; and Stephen Wolfe's The Case for Christian Nationalism.

Dylan Scott: [03-31] The number of uninsured Americans is about to jump dramatically for the first time in years: "Starting April 1, states will begin removing millions of people off Medicaid's rolls as a pandemic-era program that kept them enrolled expires."

Jeffrey St Clair: [03-31] Roaming Charges: Spare the AR-15, Spoil the Child. Beyond the Nashville shooting story (noted in introduction), see the excruciating long list of failures in America's so-called justice system, as well as a few obvious comments about the ICC, and numerous other stories that should make you stop and think. Much more, including a link to hear Pharoah Sanders in 2011.

I don't feel like elevating this to the "major story" section, but if I catch more links on guns, hang them here:

  • Hannah Allam: [03-27] The radicals' rifle: "Armed groups on the right and left exploit the AR-15 as both tool and symbol." Left? Well, they found some, and they've bought guns to defend against "real threats," by which they mean the gun nuts on the right.

  • Ben Beckett: [03-31] The Right Is Flat-Out Admitting It Doesn't Care About Gun Violence. The right don't care whether you, or your children, live or die. The right don't care if you're miserable. The right thinks the world can go to hell, and they'll carry on as oblivious as ever.

  • Emily Guskin/Aadit Tambe/Jon Gerberg: [03-27] Why do Americans own AR-15s: Polling as to why misses the obvious category (although some of the given categories are subsets): "because I'm an asshole." Other factors are largely as expected. Note that only 8% of US adults overall have served in military, but 28% of AR-15 owners have, as have 18% of other gun owners. Hunting is not a reason for 52% of AR-15 owners. The other 48% are lying and/or assholes (the two are not exclusive).

  • Alex Horton/Monique Woo/Tucker Harris: [03-27] Varmints, soldiers and looming threats: See the ads used to sell the AR-15. One ad reads: "Consider your man card reissued."

  • N Kirkpatrick/Atthar Mirza/Manuel Canales: [03-27] The Blast Effect: "This is how bullets from an AR-15 blow the body apart.

Jonathan Swan/Kate Kelly/Maggie Haberman/Mark Mazzetti: [03-30] Kushner Firm Got Hundreds of Millions From 2 Persian Gulf Nations: Now, this is how you do graft. Moreover, it's unlikely that he'll ever get prosecuted for the "stupid shit" that keeps tripping Trump up.

Li Zhou: [03-30] Why train derailments involving hazardous chemicals keep happening: "another train has derailed and caught fire in Minnesota." Also:

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Speaking of Which

Started this on Friday, but by Sunday evening I'm getting really sick and tired of it all. Nearly done with Nathan J Robinson's The Current Affairs Rules for Life: On Social Justice & Its Critics, and I'm getting tired of it too. Not that it's a bad book, but that I so rarely use terms like "social justice" (or for that matter, "socialism") that debate over their use hardly matters to me. Similarly, the long opening section where he tries to rebut conservative writers by taking them seriously wasn't a lot of help. (The chapter on Jordan Peterson was especially hard, as the main point that he writes verbose nonsense was proven by reproducing way too much of it.) Still, I do some of this myself in the Shields comment, which exasperatingly was the last item written here.

The Simmons-Duffin piece is one of the most important below.

Top story threads:

Top stories for the week:

The Fed, Banks, and the Economy: Just a couple notes here. I hardly need to remind you that I thought Biden made a big mistake in reappointing Jerome Powell.

Trump/DeSantis: Maybe we should start merging their names, like Benifer or Brexit? A lot of pieces that could be better sorted, possibly eliminating some redundancy. The race to the bottom makes you wonder how either will ever recover, but the American mainstream media hardly has any attention span at all.

  • James Bamford: [03-23] The Trump Campaign's Collusion With Israel: "While US media fixated on Russian interference in the 2016 election, an Israeli secret agent's campaign to influence the outcome went unreported." This is a big story, but for many of us it's anticlimactic: of course, Israel actively sticks its nose into American politics. I never had any doubt that Israel was more deeply involved in the Trump campaign than Russia could dream of being. All you need to know is that Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson was also Netanyahu's main backer. What this article adds to such common knowledge is that it involves more spies, and it makes the quid pro quo explicit for Israel's support of Trump.

  • John Wagner/Hannah Allam: [03-24] Trump warns of 'potential death & destruction' if he's charged in hush-money case.

  • Laura Jedeed: [03-22] Trump Asked Supporters to Take to the Streets. This Was the Sad Result. "Outside a courthouse in New York City, it was difficult ot tell who had come to protest the pending indictment of the former president and who had come to troll." Tori Otten adds: [03-21] The Pro-Trump Protest Was So Small Organizers Are Pretending They Wanted It to Be "Low-Key".

  • Dan Solomon: [03-24] Why Is Donald Trump Kicking Off His 2024 Campaign in Waco? "During the thirtieth anniversary of the Branch Davidian tragedy, no less." Sounds like an homage to Reagan's launching his 1980 campaign at the site of the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers, except that the appeal is less to plain racists than to even crazier militants (the late Timothy McVeigh would surely be impressed).

  • Zack Beauchamp: [03-22] Yes, Trump's indictment could cause a constitutional crisis. Just look at Israel. I don't really get either point. Israel doesn't have a constitution: Ben Gurion didn't want to pin himself down on principle, plus he like the idea of keeping British colonial law around without really owning it. And Israel has a history of sending politicians to jail. Netanyahu has avoided that fate by exploiting the fundamental weakness of democracy in Israel, and that's come as a shock to a lot of Israelis -- even ones who don't have a problem with Netanyahu's politics. But an indictment of Trump isn't even that.

  • Matt Ford: [03-24] Florida's Attempt to Muzzle the Press Could Hurt Fox News the Most: "Ron DeSantis and the Republican legislature want to make it easier to sue journalists. But right-wing outlets will be the ripest targets if defamation laws are loosened." Still, this is a pretty appalling bill.

  • Susan B Glasser: [03-23] Trolled by Trump, Again: "Thoughts after a week or waiting and waiting for the indictment that the former President promised."

  • Ed Kilgore: [03-26] Donald Trump Thinks America Is a Sh*thole Country: "In Waco, he denounced America more than any alleged super-patriot ever." With quotes so long, the article practically wrote itself. No Trump quotes (just one from a "conservative columnist" defending DeSantis) in Kilgore's [03-25] Can America Survive a Second Trump Presidency, Emotionally? I don't know about emotionally, but he makes a good case that we're in for a serious cognitive breakdown if Trump wins, because he's so far out of whack from everything we're disposed to believe about America.

  • Nicole Narea: [03-25] Would Trump's indictment help or hurt his 2024 campaign? Four "political strategists and pollsters" comment. They're split, but none of their opinions are very convincing.

  • Heather Digby Parton: [03-24] Donald Trump in Waco: It's a signal to the darkest elements of the far right. For more background, see Tara Isabella Burton: [03-23] The Waco tragedy, explained.

  • Areeba Shah: [03-23] Ex-prosecutor warns Trump to get a new lawyer over potential "conflict of interest" in Stormy case. It turns out that Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina previously represented Daniels on the same case. It's amusing to compare his press statements then to now.

  • Walter Shapiro: [03-23] The Trump Indictment Is Bringing Out the Worst in People. Here's a List of Them.

  • Alex Shephard: [03-23] Ron DeSantis Looks Like a Loser: "The Florida governor and presumptive presidential candidate is falling in the polls and making the same mistakes as Trump's past rivals." As James Baker once put it, "we don't have a dog in that fight." The thing is, DeSantis has adopted the Trump policy world in toto, assuming that it holds sway in the party. But Trump's hold over the Republican base has nothing to do with policy -- policy is just something Trump hands over to the donors and party operatives, in exchange for not getting in the way and cramping his style. His hold is his style, and DeSantis doesn't even have a style, much less one that can win against Trump. So if Trump implodes, which always seems like a possibility, is his successor going to be a cardboard cutout with Trump policies, or something else which we haven't seen yet, because nobody dares imitate Trump yet?

  • Kenny Stancil: [03-24] Critics say DeSantis move to expand "Don't Say Gay" exposes law's true intentions. As originally sold, it only covered grades K-3, where it seemed to be prohibiting virtually nothing. Having gotten away with that, extending it to grades 4-12 is something else.

  • Michael Tomasky: [03-26] Why Trump '24 Is Far More Dangerous Than Trump '16: Argues he's added two new "arguments" this time "that make him a much bigger threat to the republic than he was in 2016: revenge and apocalypse." Revenge I get: he started 2016 with his bad ideas about how to "make America great again," but he's so self-centered, and so thin-skinned, that all he can remember now is the people who have wronged him. But apocalypse? Tomasky quotes him: "Our opponents have done everything they can do to crush our spirit and break our will. But they've failed. They've only made us stronger. And 2024 is the final battle. That's gonna be the big one. You put me back in the White House, their reign will be over, and America will be a free nation once again." No doubt a Trump win in 2024 would be a major bummer, but only an incredibly concentrated ego could imagine that it would be so fateful. If he wins, we'll resist him, like we did in 2017, though perhaps more desperately, given that in many respects time is running out.

    I come from a long line of "Revelations scholars" -- people who while away their hours scouring the Bible for signs that the world is coming to an end, where all die but the elect are rewarded with heaven, while the rest are dispatched to hell. I've never understood such macabre fascination, nor the strange politics such a mindset breeds. We increasingly live in a world of plenty, where most people could escape the hardships and misery of the past. And while human justice may never be as perfect as God's is presumed to be, it could be vastly improved here and now, while we're still alive to enjoy it. Alas, not if Trump or his disciples can help it.

Climate: I'm still surprised at how little comment the U.N. report has resulted in.

  • Kate Aronoff: [03-24] Why Optimism Can't Fix Our Climate Politics: "This week's U.N. report shows how hard it is to save the world when capitalism is working against you." Aronoff also wrote: [03-17] Who Is Biden Trying to Please With His Middle-Ground Energy Policy? "He's pissing off environmentalists, and oil executives are still donating to Republicans."

  • Ketan Joshi: [03-21] The U.N.'s Disturbing New Climate Report Is a Call to Battle.

  • Hannah Ritchie: [03-21] We need the right kind of climate optimism: "Climate pessimism dooms us to a terrible future. Complacent optimism is no better." Aronoff cites, and critiques, this piece in her article above. It's tempting to fight back here with the Gramsci quote ("pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will"), but even that strikes me as a panacea. Optimism doesn't work -- doesn't mean anything, whether complacent or contingent -- and isn't even necessary. Maybe I'm betraying my Calvinist upbringing, but you do what you can, what after due consideration you think right, and that may or may not suffice, but as long as you act, it doesn't matter how you feel about it. In fact, feelings can just get in the way. Or perhaps you should consider the second law of thermodynamics: entropy is going to win, but if you work hard enough, you might be able to hold it back a while. Indeed, isn't that the model for life?

Israel: A couple items, no attempt to go deep, but one bit of context comes from a Peter Beinart tweet: "Yes, it's beautiful to see Israelis fighting a fascist government. But we can't forget that if this was a Palestinian protest in Tel Aviv against Israeli fascism, the protesters would likely end up j ailed, maimed or dead."

Ukraine War: Unless war breaks out with China, this remains the most serious story in the world, at least in the short term, yet the media is still asking, not what they can do to impress on everyone how urgent a peaceable solution is, but on furthering the propaganda aims of whoever they're most aligned with. Meanwhile, I filed some non-Ukraine pieces here, because they involve the broader neo-Cold War scenario.

  • Connor Echols: [03-24] Diplomacy Watch: The heavy price of a new cold war: Blinken wasted no time in condemning Xi Jinping for meeting with Putin in Moscow, even though Xi's public remarks were all in favor of a negotiated peace. Although I get the feeling that Zelensky is more hard-line than Biden, at least he doesn't go out of his way to butt heads with China. The US seems to view pushing China into an alliance with Russia as a positive step.

  • Gilbert Achcar: [03-17] There's No Settlement of the War in Ukraine Without China. Actually, there's no settlement without the US and Russia, assuming they can come to a settlement that is acceptable to Ukraine (possibly with the threat of bouncing some blank checks). China might have a bit of influence with Russia, if they want to press it, but the US is mostly reacting negatively to Chinese diplomatic efforts, and there's not much China can do about that. Still, it's good to have China in the mix.

  • Dave DeCamp: [03-22] Seymour Hersh: CIA Planted Nord Stream Cover-Up Story in the Media. (Hersh's article is: The Cover-Up.) Imagine the New York Times falling for such a thing. DeCamp also wrote: [03-23] Pentagon Leaders Say New Budget Will Help Prepare for War With China.

  • Connor Echols: [03-21] UK to send controversial 'depleted uranium' rounds to Ukraine: "The weapons are exceptionally good at breaking through armor but carry risks of long-term harm to civilians." I think the risks are well documented, especially in Iraq, where the US used uranium bullets extensively. "Depleted" means most of the U-235 isotopes have been removed, leaving the only slightly more stable but still radioactive and toxic U-238. There's nothing to stop Russia from reciprocating.

  • Fred Kaplan: [03-22] The Big Takeaway From Xi's Summit With Putin: Not a very clear one, but it boils down to: China will not help Russia fight its war, but China will also not help America strangle the Russian economy. So while China professes to want peace, it will not pressure Russia to surrender on America's terms.

  • Peter Rutland: [03-24] Why pushing for the break up of Russia is absolute folly. I'd go a step beyond this in insisting that the US has no right, and should have no desire, to interfere in the internal politics of any other country. (And yes, I would include Israel as a country we shouldn't interfere with, although the billions we give them to help finance their colonial project is also a form of interference.)

  • Justin Scheck/Thomas Gibbons-Neff: [03-25] Stolen Valor: The U.S. Volunteers in Ukraine Who Lie, Waste, and Bicker.

  • Trita Parsi: [03-22] The U.S. Is Not an Indispensable Peacemaker. I was going to wonder how long it's been since the US was any kind of peacemaker, but the first paragraph here starts with the 1978 Camp David Accords, where the US helped end conflict between Israel and Egypt, not least by promising each a substantial future stipend. Parsi also mentions the 1993 Oslo Accords, where the settlement was less generous, and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement over Northern Ireland. More recent deals are harder to find, mostly because the US has been too intimately involved in creating the conflicts. China, on the other hand, is large enough to offer a steady hand and some economic perks, much like the US once did. Hence the Saudi-Iran deal.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [03-24] US launches airstrikes in Syria after American killed in drone attack: The US still has 900 troops in Syria. It's hard to think of any rationale for keeping them there, other than to provide targets for triggering pointless reprisal attacks like this one.

Iraq: A few more pieces related to the 20th anniversary.

  • Gordon Adams: [03-25] Has America's 'Vietnam syndrome' ever gone away? What a strange thing to ask. The phrase was a supposed ailment caused by completely sensible efforts to learn lessons from the mistakes made in Vietnam. Those who wielded the phrase wanted to deny those lessons (as they advised caution and concern for consequences), which they saw could limit the future use of US military power. So they devised a series of tests, where they meant to show that the US military could engage and win, without generating the popular outcry they blamed for their failures in Vietnam: hence, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq. By the end, what returned wasn't "Vietnam syndrome"; it was reality, where people fight against alien invaders, even American ones. If Ukraine seems to be working out better, it's because the roles are reversed. This time, the US is supporting a people trying to dislodge a foreign invader, much as the Soviet Union supplied arms and support to the Vietnamese defending themselves against an encroaching empire.

  • Anthony DiMaggio: [03-24] 20 Years of Iraq Denialism: The New York Times Continues to Get It Wrong on U.S. Empire: A response to last week's article, 20 Years On, a Question Lingers About Iraq: Why Did the U.S. Invade?

  • Melvin Goodman: [03-24] Still Spinning the Iraq War 20 Years Later.

  • Branko Marcetic: [03-23] For Putin, Iraq War marked a turning point in US-Russia relations: "Leaked diplomatic cables show an increasingly skeptical Moscow, souring by the day on Washington's determination to impose its will."

  • Jeffrey St Clair: [03-23] Selling the Iraq War: a How-to Guide. Essay adapted from his book, Grand Theft Pentagon, provides a lot of detail on the PR firms the Pentagon and CIA hired to promote the invasion of Iraq, as well as the revolving door between those firms and their clients. For instance, I recall Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, but forgot (or never knew) that they were set up as a front by John Rendon, who had previously shilled for the Kuwaiti royal family.

  • Jeffrey St Clair: [03-24] American Dream, Global Nightmare: On the Origins of the Iraq War: Mostly consists of a piece from 2003, which is exceptionally detailed on the impact of sanctions and periodic bombings between 1990 and 2003. As the introduction notes, "One of the problems with commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War is that the Iraq War didn't start 20 years ago. It had been going on for more than a decade before Shock and Awe." He also includes a long list of quotes from 2001 to 2017, "a kind of oral history of the war (mostly) from the perpetrator's point of view."

Other stories:

Zack Beauchamp: [03-24] India's ruling party just kicked a major rival out of Parliament -- and sparked a new crisis: Narenda Modi's government "has rewritten election rules in its favor, assailed the rights of the Muslim minority, jailed anti-government protesters, and reined in the free press." Now they expelled Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi, after he was convicted of defaming the "Modi community" and sentenced to two years, for making what's generally understood to be a joke in a campaign speech. You'd think the "cancel culture" decriers of the US right would be up in arms over this attack on free speech, but Modi is a member of Steve Bannon's International Fraternity of Fascists, so I guess not. (That, by the way, was a joke, as well as an admission that I'm not traveling to India any time soon.)

Kyle Chayka: [03-24] The TikTok hearings inspired little faith in social media or in Congress. By the way, the New Yorker cartoon shows two people sitting on top of a flooded house, one looking at a phone, with the caption: "Looks like Congress might finally do something about TikTok."

Ellen Ioanes: [03-25] America's hypersonic arms race with China, explained. The problem with hypersonic missiles is that they can't be defended against. They make previously defensible targets, like aircraft carriers, vulnerable. Moreover, building more of your own hypersonic weapons doesn't change this. Hence, an arms race only makes you more vulnerable.

Ian Millhiser:

Win McCormack: [03-17] The Thucydides Trap: "Can the United States and China avoid military conflict?" I don't know. Suppose maybe they're overthinking this a bit? Before Britain, there never was a world hegemon, and even at its peak, Britain had rivals and blind spots. After WWII, the US took over and had more size and a bit more range, but still counted Russia and China as rivals, and the international working class as a threat. After 1990, some Americans thought they were had won, coining terms like hyperpower, but then they got tripped up in places as backward as Afghanistan. And then, while Russia imploded, China pulled it self up and came to be viewed as a formidable rival. Over the past 20 years, has any subject collected more stupid and histrionic verbiage than US-China? What makes this especially strange is that while Americans see a rivalry for power, Chinese are much more likely to think in terms of defense of autonomy. Of course, China is not the only nation threatened by American hubris, so it's always possible that they could create alliances with other nations so-threatened. I wouldn't bet against them, especially given how American power has been crushed by inequality and militarism. The best answer is to give up on the dreams of ruling the world (perhaps most explicit in Henry Luce's "American Century" of 1941, and in the Iraq hawks' Project for a New American Century). Pretending that trap is as old as Thucydides is nothing but an evasion.

Timothy Noah: [03-22] GOP's Idea of Youth: Little League? Proms? Try Working in a Slaughterhouse and Marrying at 10. "Republicans have declared war on children, and Democrats should talk more forthrightly about it."

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [03-23] Bernie Sanders Keeps Us Focused on What Matters: Review, sort of, of Sanders new campaign memoir/political manifesto, It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

  • [03-13] Every Libertarian Becomes a Socialist the Moment the Free Market Screws Them: "If the rich customers of Silicon Valley Bank deserv to be protected from economic hardship by the government, what about the rest of us?"

  • [03-04] Why Centrism Is Morally Indefensible: Review of Tim Urban's big book, What's Our Problem? A Self-Help Book for Societies. Urban seems to like to explain his ideas with drawings, so Robinson reproduces a few (of some 300). One is called "The Illiberal Staircase," which descends from "Liberal Environment" to "Even Worse Shit" as it becomes "More Dictatorship-y." They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but all this diagram is exhausted after 26 (including the less "worse shit" I skipped over).

  • [03-24] The Problem With AI Is the Problem With Capitalism. Something I saw about AI last week reminded me of Robert Reich's The Work of Nations (1991), where he reassured us that American workers need not worry about trade sucking manufacturing jobs overseas, because all those lost jobs will be replaced by higher-paying jobs as "symbolic manipulators." (Clinton was so enamored with Reich's reasoning that he picked Reich as his Secretary of Labor, to preside over the great NAFTA exodus.) I can think of a lot of jobs that AI won't be able to degrade much, but it should easily wipe out "symbolic manipulators" -- as if Reich's thesis hadn't been demolished enough already.

Jon A Shields: [03-23] Liberal Professors Can Rescue the G.O.P.: A self-described conservative professor of government begs his liberal colleagues to assign readings from Edmund Burke, David Hume, and Adam Smith, so their impressionable young students will get some exposure to "good conservative thinking." After all, "It's hard to imagine how the next generation of Republican leaders will become thoughtful conservatives if all they've ever been tutored in is its Trump-style expressions." After all, he pairs his assignments with "books by progressive authors" (but doesn't name any in the article). Still, the conservative cause he leads with is the defense of marriage. I don't have a problem with marriage; in fact, I recommend it. My problem is with a legal system that penalizes people who aren't married, and one that traps people (mostly women). Lots of conservative "virtues" are just that, and people who embrace them deserve respect. But that changes when they're used to attack and/or degrade other people who don't conform to conservative ideals -- of which the one that really matters is the belief in a hierarchical social and economic order. Give that a fair hearing, and most people will reject it. As for the rest, lots of complaining and pleading: conservatives are powerless because most professors are liberals, and students are mostly liberal too, so conservatives feel left out. Boo-hoo.

Selena Simmons-Duffin: [03-25] 'Live free and die'? The sad state of U.S. life expectancy: As the chart shows, life expectancy is dropping, so fast that the last two years have wiped out all previous gains since 1996, which had been trailing most "comparable" countries at least since the 1980s. Pandemic is only the most obvious cause: it caused a drop pretty much everywhere, but nowhere near as much as in the US. Moreover, other countries have started to bounce back, but not the US. As noted elsewhere, Republicans not only decided that deaths due to pandemic are acceptable, they've vowed never to allow public health officials to do their jobs again. Still, many other factors add to the problem, and most of have a Republican political component. It's as if they read Hobbes' description of 17th century life as "nasty, brutish, and short," and said, "yeah, that's freedom."

Paul Street: [03-24] Lost and Found: The Republicans Haven't Lost Their Conservative Minds: Review of Robert Draper: Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind. Every time I look at Draper's book, the thing that strikes me as most odd is how he only looks as far back as the 2020 election to date his subject moment ("when the Republican Party lost its mind"), when evidence of deep irrationality and dangerous psychoses has been plain for anyone to see for decades. For example, Dana Milbank's The Destructionists sees Gingrich as pivotal. David Corn's American Psychosis goes back earlier still, to McCarthyism, the Birchers, and Goldwater. Street's a little effusive with the F-word, but I can still figure out what he's talking about.

Prem Thakker: [03-24] Michigan Becomes First State in 58 Years to Repeal Anti-Union "Right-to-Work" Law: But the law in question was only passed in 2012, when Republicans temporarily seized control of state government.

David Wallace-Wells: [03-17] The idea that pandemic response went too far is no longer confined to the margins: Republicans all across the country are trying to pass laws to make sure that public health officials can never again use their offices to protect public health. Linked to by Dean Baker, who has his own point to add: [03-17] NYT Can Trash Trumpers for Leaving Us Less Prepared for Next Pandemic, but Not Drug Companies. Baker also wrote: [03-16] The Cult of Intellectual Property Has Taken Over Our Leading News Outlets.

Sharon Zhang: [03-24] GOP is seeking rich, self-funding candidates as party is outraised by Democrats: If this is true, it flips what has long been standard policy of the two parties. Republican elites are famous for recruiting ambitious young lawyers to run for office, much like they hired help for their businesses (Richard Nixon and Bob Dole are famous examples; Nelson Rockefeller and Pierre DuPont were the exceptions). Meanwhile, Democrats have pined for candidates who could pay their own way, and generally blackballed anyone who couldn't.

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