Speaking of * [0 - 9]

Sunday, February 5, 2023


Speaking of Which

One of the big stories this week was the saga of a Chinese weather balloon that at 60,000 feet got caught up in the jet stream and drifted across Alaska and western Canada, dipping into Montana and cutting a path through North Carolina and into the Atlantic. There, having completed its spy mission (if that's what it was), Biden ordered it blown up -- an act of pure spite and bloody-mindedness. Reports say he didn't act earlier because he was worried about debris landing on Americans, but odds of that happening in eastern Montana were pretty slim. Rather, he gave Republicans and the press three days to play up their China loathing -- fueled in part by Blinken canceling a visit to Peking in protest -- then jumped to the head of the line.

As you may recall, this incident comes about a week after Air Force General Mike Minihan predicted war with China in 2025, a prospect he (and therefore the United States) is currently planning for -- a plan that House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul heartily endorses. With so much sabre-rattling in the background, you'd think that Biden would work harder at smoothing over the tensions, but having been taunted into action, he scarcely had the resolve to resist.

Some further reading:


Top story threads:

Sometimes it's hard to find the right lead-in piece for what you know will be a cluster of links.

Debt Limit: Stealing a page from 2011, Kevin McCarthy (or whoever's pulling his strings) is willing to crash and burn the economy just to watch Biden squirm. So far, Biden's not falling for it:

  • Paul Krugman: [02-02] Republicans and Debt: Blackmailers Without a Cause.

  • Eric Levitz: [02-02] The GOP Can't Remember Why It Took the Debt Ceiling Hostage.

  • Li Zhou: [02-01] The lessons of the 2011 debt ceiling crisis, explained by the negotiators who were there: "Democrats and Republicans took different, sometimes contradictory, lessons from the last standoff." Democrats realized that Republicans couldn't be trusted, and didn't care how much damage they'd do, confident that the media would blame Obama. Republicans thought they had won a victory, not so much in imposing their will as in turning the discussion in their favor, by making debt and spending seem like bigger problems than the sluggish economy they were helping to stall. Pretty much the same calculation this time, except that in the meantime Trump's tax cuts blew a hole in the budget, and Biden is less inclined to give debt reduction the oxygen it needs to derail every other issue he has campaigned for.

    As it happens, right after linking to this piece, I read this from Ryan Cooper's How Are You Going to Pay for That?, where he minces fewer words on the 2011 doomsday negotiations:

    All told, this gruesome incident was a world-historical episode of moronic policy incompetence. It's as if your house were on fire, and the mayor and the fire department were arguing furiously about which grade of gasoline should be sprayed on the blaze.

    Cooper's book is very good, but I don't care for his coinage of the term "propertarianism" as a substitute for terms commonly used on the new left ("neoliberalism") and old left ("capitalism"). All of these terms refer to the notion of putting property rights ahead of human needs, but the problem is not so much property itself as a particular form of property: capital (as opposed to personal property, which means something you have exclusive use of, but not necessarily that produces income or rent). Neoliberalism is slightly different: an ideology aligned with capital, but couched in the idea of individual freedom, with contempt for notions of labor and society. Also note that neoliberalism was another neologism, designed at cross purposes: its advocates wanted to lay claim to tenets of classical liberalism, yet dispose of elements like New Deal support for unions (same tactic used by New Democrats and New Labour).

Trump: I'm sorry to inform you that as the only declared candidate so far for president in 2024, he's back in the news, and already stimulating horserace coverage for primaries that supposedly face him off with this year's favorite media goon, Ron DeSantis.

Other Toxic Republicans:

Ukraine War (Continued):

  • Blaise Malley: [02-03] Diplomacy Watch: Second thoughts on Ukraine retaking Crimea? Very little to report here. Elsewhere, there is a story that Biden Offered Putin 20% of Ukraine to End War, but all sides deny that (no one wants to look reasonable).

  • Helene Cooper/Eric Schmitt/Thomas Gibbons-Neff: [02-02] Soaring Death Toll Gives Grim Insight Into Russian Tactics. "The number of Russian troops killed and wounded in Ukraine is approaching 200,000, a stark symbol of just how badly President Vladimir V. Putin's invasion has gone, according to American and other Western officials." These figures are clearly wild guesses, exaggerated for propaganda purposes. I referred back to these number after reading much smaller figures cited by Jeffrey St Clair below. The difference is that to St Clair, the numbers (which focused more on civilians) demanded a ceasefire and negotiated settlement; here they're just another excuse for further punishing Russia, even when suggesting that Ukrainian losses are comparable.

  • Bruno Marcetic: [02-03] Diplomatic Cables Prove Top US Officials Knew They Were Crossing Russia's Red Lines on NATO Expansion. Of course, one could argue that the "red lines" were stupid. One could also argue that the US was daring Russia to do something stupid. The one thing that's inarguable is what Putin finally did was profoundly stupid.

Israel: As the Palestinian Authority, despite its legendary corruption, has found it impossible to do business with the new fascist government, Biden sent Secretary of State Blinken to kiss the ring, to reassure Netanyahu that nothing he can do will shake American fealty to the Zionist regime. Meanwhile, efforts in the US and UK are heating up to police any discussion of Israel's crimes. One of the few sources still reporting on Israel is Mondoweiss.


Other Stories:

Kate Aronoff: [02-03] The Biden Administration Has Been Very Good for Big Oil: "Despite climate legislation passed by Democrats last year, oil companies are securing loads of drilling deals and posting huge profits."

Rachel DuBose: [01-31] What can the world learn from China's "zero-Covid" lockdown?

Constance Grady: [02-03] The mounting, undeniable Me Too backlash: This has less to do with the ebbing of the "Me Too" moment a few years back than with the long reaction against the women's liberation movement in the 1970s, which has scored some recent purely political wins recently, like overturning Roe v. Wade. Hence, re-reading Susan Faludi's 1991 book, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. I will note that while this reaction is inflicting real damage, it is not especially popular. So perhaps instead of relitigating points that have sense become common sense and embedded in popular culture, we should look at the political anomaly that has given such power to, well, Republicans -- one can add adjectives to reinforce one's sense of disgust, but doing so suggests that there are other, more decent Republicans, and there's little to no practical evidence of that.

Ezra Klein: [02-05] The Story Construction Tells About America's Economy Is Disturbing: Declining productivity, ever since the 1970s.

Paul Krugman: [01-30] Will Americans Even Notice an Improving Economy? That's a good question. Part of the problem is statistics: few people are aware of them, and fewer still have any idea how they relate to their own lives. (Statistics are the only way to make sense of massive amounts of data, but we'd prefer anecdotes we can relate to. But also there is the problem of gauging the significance of variations that are smaller than we normally perceive. This is a big problem with climate change: each degree warmer is a really big deal, but every day we experience temperature swings 10-20 times as great.) Part of the problem is the political bubbles we all live in: as far as I'm concerned, the Bush and Trump economies were disasters, even if the nature varied from time to time; Republicans, with far greater experience at denying reality, thought those times were peachy keen, only to be devastated by Obama and Biden (despite much higher top line statistics). But one other source of confusion is that under both parties, fortune favors the already rich. This is especially true with the Fed, which supposedly tries to manage employment and inflation, but actually implements its policy decisions to giving rich people (via bankers) more or less money at any given point. So it's quite possible that the economy is going gangbusters, but none of it is trickling down to you. Conversely, the vacuuming up, whether through inflation or taxes, is something everyone feels personally, which makes it relatively easy to exploit politically.

Eric Levitz: [02-03] The Fed Can Stop Choking the Economy Now: But they keep missing Powell's target figures for unemployment (er, reducing inflation).

Megan McArdle: [01-29] The $400K conundrum: Why America's urban rich don't feel that way: Refers back to the Todd Henderson case, the guy who in 2010 claimed that it's hard to get by on a meager $450,000 per year. I wrote a bit about this back then. The thing that struck me about Henderson's budget was that most of the money went for things that a decent modern social democracy would provide for most people: health insurance, schooling, retirement. Of course, for his extra money, he's also getting exclusivity: private instead of public schools. And maybe his children need the extra leg up his high income provides. McArdle refers to such people as "broke 2-percenter" -- so close to the 1-percent, yet they keep coming up just short.

Louis Menand: [01-30] When Americans Lost Faith in the News. "The press wasn't silenced in the Trump years. The press was discredited, at least among Trump supporters, and that worked just as well. It was censorship by other means." Menand tries to sketch out the origins of public distrust in the press. Those origins weren't in the 1950s, when journalists were all too happy to shill for the CIA, but the more "bad news" -- riots and anti-war protests -- they reported, the more suspect they became. Nixon may not have coined the phrase "fake news," but as so often in arts Trump perfected, Nixon was the originator, his practice of shooting the messenger only ending when the messengers shot back. Menand wades through various books, finally Margaret Sullivan's "memoir slash manifesto" Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) From an Ink-Stained Life.

Ian Millhiser:

Eve Ottenberg: [02-03] Egalitarian Paradise Lost: David Graeber and the Pirates of Madagascar. Review of the late anarchist anthropologist's second posthumous book, Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia.

Eric Reinhart: [02-05] Doctors Aren't Burned Out From Overwork. We're Demoralized by Our Health System. It's a big slide from the heyday of the AMA, when doctors organized as a business racket, to today, when doctors are talking about the need for unions.

Dylan Scott:

Jeffrey St Clair: [02-03] Roaming Charges: See No Evil: "There have been at least 52 people killed by police in the US since the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols on January 7th. In 2021, there were 1055 people killed by police in the US. In the same year, 31 people were killed by police in all of Europe. . . . Most of the people killed by police in 2022 were killed by officers responding to mental health calls, traffic violations, disturbances, other *non-violent* issues and situations where no crime was alleged." Examples follow. Behind a paywall, St Clair also wrote: [01-29] The Murder of Tyre Nichols and the Death of Police Reform.

Zeynep Tufecki: [02-03] An Even Deadlier Pandemic Could Soon Be Here: Actually, H5N1 avian flu is already here. It just hasn't broken out as a pandemic in humans yet. In 2005, Mike Davis took the threat seriously enough to write a book: The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu. We should have learned from our Covid-19 experience how better to face such threats, but a powerful bloc of nihilists (aka Republicans) drew the opposite lessons, and are working hard to make sure public health officials never again have the tools to protect public health. Note that David Quammen, who has followed these threats for decades and recently wrote Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus, wrote a piece about this back on [2022-10-31]: A Dolphin, a Porpoise and Two Men Got Bird Flu. That's a Warning to the Rest of Us.

David Wallace-Wells:

  • [02-02] Why Are So Many Americans Dying Right Now? Covid, but that only explains about half of "excess deaths" since April 2022. The author, by the way, has written extensively about the pandemic: e.g., [01-04] 9 Pandemic Narratives We're Getting Wrong (although it's not always clear what he's debunking, let alone whether he's right -- my takeaway from the Operation Warp Speed narrative is that the economic incentives that motivated Pfizer and Moderna aren't very trustworthy, and probably aren't the best approach in the long run), and [2022-12-01] China Has an Extraordinary Covid-19 Dilemma (China is often viewed through strange political blinders; I'm not sure this piece is immune, but it's far from the worst).

  • [01-25] Britain's Cautionary Tale of Self-Destruction: Starts off talking about the death toll from Covid-19, then noting how the entire post-Brexit economy and political system are ailing. For instance, economists were asked whether the slowdown in productivity was unprecedented. They did manage to find a worse case, but that was 250 years ago. Then there's: "Liz Truss failed to survive longer as head of government than the shelf life of a head of lettuce." Part of this problem was touched on by Eshe Nelson [01-09]: Britain's Economic Health Is Withering With Sick Workers on the Sidelines. Also: Ellen Ioanes: [02-04] The labor strikes in Britain are years in the making: "Austerity, Brexit, wage stagnation and a cost of living crisis have pushed British workers to the brink."


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Sunday, January 29, 2023


Speaking of Which

I thought I'd spend this last week of January wrapping up my music review of 2022, and indeed I'm giving myself an extra day, so don't expect Music Week until Tuesday, probably late. But I had a few tabs open, and made the usual rounds, and this is what I came up with.


Maggie Astor: [01-25] G.O.P. State Lawmakers Push a Growing Wave of Anti-Transgender Bills: Subhed describes this as "part of a long-term plan," but I don't see much planning. Rather, it feels like a combination of latching onto any sort of bigotry that still seems credible, and using that to hype up fears that have no basis in reality. I also suspect they've gotten a boost by overly aggressive transgender supporters -- clever of them to latch onto the much more popular LGB bandwagon -- where both sides get blown out of proportion. True, I am surprised at how often I run into trans or non-binary performers in music, but I've never even heard of an actual case the "save women's sports" might apply to.

Jelani Cobb: [01-29] Ron DeSantis Battles the African-American A.P. Course -- and History: "The state's intent seems to be to provide white Floridians, from a young age, with a version of history that they can be comfortable with, regardless of whether it's true." More DeSantis:

Dave DeCamp: [01-29] Air Force General Predicts the US Will Be at War With China in 2025. This is pretty chilling. I don't see it happening, but this sort of planning can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Also on China:

Connor Echols: [01-27] Diplomacy Watch: Switzerland weighs break with policy of neutrality. Germany and US agreed to send tanks to Ukraine. Switzerland agreed to allow re-export of Swiss-made weapons to Ukraine. Estonia and Latvia withdrew their Moscow ambassadors. None of these moves offer hope of a ceasefire and negotiated peace. Echols also wrote: [01-26] US weapons makers report 'all-time record orders' since Russian invasion: Just in case you've wondered, cui bono? More on the ongoing war:

  • Hrair Balian: [01-28] Will the war in Ukraine inevitably freeze? "With the conflict more likely than not headed for stalemate, how long can the US maintain support in the absence of negotiations?" Proposes four scenarios that could push the US into suing for peace, but I don't see any of them as more than remotely likely (Russian battlefield gains; nuclear war becomes imminent; China moves against Taiwan; Republicans defund the war to spite Biden). No one around Putin will admit it, but Russia is much more likely to find the war insupportable, if not this year than somewhere down the road. What the US needs to realize is not that the war isn't affordable but that it is hopeless and unnecessary. Still, that realization needs to sit in on both sides before much progress can be made. Meanwhile, both sides desperately try to impress the other with their stubborn determination.

  • Dave DeCamp: [11-25] Lockheed Says It's Ready With F-16s If US and Allies Choose to Send Them to Ukraine. And now that Ukraine is getting US and German tanks, Zelensky has already moved on to requesting F-16s. Cheering him on: [01-28] At the Pentagon, push to send F-16s to Ukraine picks up steam.

  • Charles W Dunne: [01-29] Arab, Israeli positions on Ukraine continue to frustrate US: Turns out America's "closest ally" isn't much help here. Similarly, America's closest Arab allies have business interests more closely aligned with Russia. I wouldn't say that support on Ukraine should be a litmus test of alliance, but non-support should tone down the hyperbole.

  • Jen Kirby:

  • Anatol Lieven:

  • Blaise Malley: [01-27] New senator JD Vance leads GOP effort to put Ukraine aid under a microscope: Given the amount of money the US is putting into Ukraine, and given that the organizations involved have never been very good at accounting, I doubt they'll need much of a microscope' to find evidence of waste and corruption. Of course, had they paid attention to Afghanistan and Iraq, they would have found plenty, but those wars didn't break along partisan lines, and the waste and corruption was easily written off as cost of doing business. That's harder to do once it gets mentioned, which is the point of this notice.

  • Branko Marcetic: [01-29] Ukraine's Postwar Reconstruction Has Big Business Licking Its Lips: Good. Maybe we've finally found a business lobby that can compete with the arms merchants, to at least make the idea of negotiating an end to the war more palatable. After all, if we've learned one thing from Iraq and Afghanistan, it's that it's impossible to rebuild a country while it's still wracked by war.

Eric Foner: [01-23] The Constitution Has a 155-Year-Old Answer to the Debt Ceiling. The 14th Amendment specifies that: "The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned." Republican efforts to force the government to default on its debt are, therefore, illegal under the Constitution. By the way, there is more in the 14th Amendment that Republicans should study up on. Also:

Lawrence B Glickman: [01-21] The Real Origins of the "Democrat Party" Troll. It first sounds like a verbal tic, but you hear it so often, it finally registers as an easy way to identify that the speaker is under the spell of the Republican Party. "Perhaps the answer lies in the face that many critics of the New Deal were also critics of democracy." And perhaps that's why the slur has become ever more common: Republicans have given up on even giving lip service to democracy.

Jonathan Guyer: [01-27] Why violence in Israel and Palestine has spiked in the last 48 hours. Only thing surprising here is that it's not just Israelis on the warpath. More on Israel:

Robert Hunziker: [01-27] Doomsday Clock Jitters and "How to Fix a Broken Planet": The latest update of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' "doomsday clock" was played for laughs on late night shows. There are fundamental problems with it, which you'd expect atomic scientists, of all people, to figure out. The first is that "doomsday" is not very well defined. Even in its original context -- nuclear war -- does it mean total annihation, or would more localized outbreaks suffice? If the latter, did Chernobyl or Fukushima cross that threshold? If not, why not? They are comparable to nuclear bombs: in some ways less destructive, in others worse, but on the same qualitative scale. They do have the advantage of looking like accidents, so are unlikely to cascade like the actual use of nuclear weapons could, or like war between nuclear-armed powers with conventional weapons might. The main reason they advanced the clock to its most alarming level ever is that we're experiencing such a war between NATO and Russia -- albeit, for now, with Ukraine as a buffer. Still, the closer you get to "midnight," the more dubious the scale seems. The unveilers as much as admitted this point by pausing in silence for more than the 90 seconds they allowed us to survive -- looking ridiculous when we were still here. All this proved was that the clock mataphor, with its linear gradations, wasn't the right model for the risk they wanted to represent.

I'd be more inclined to come up with some kind of wave function or probability matrix, which you could then reduce to a single number only at the expense of missing the point. Wouldn't it be nice to come up with some way of calculating how the likelihood of various bad events happening varies as you alter input today? There's no standard method, but we've been doing something like that with climate change models for quite some time now: what's lacking is the ability to get people in policy positions to understand how they work and what they mean. The doomsday clock folks thought they might help by trying to factor climate change into their calculation, but that turned out not to help: the scales and probabilities are fundamentally different, and the disaster-point is very ill-defined (and worse, many definitions would throw the clock on the wrong side of midnight).

By the way, Hunziker's piece is actually a review of a book by Julian Cribb, How to Fix a Broken Planet. It outlines all the usual threats not to the planet itself but to human life and culture on the planet, so it's probably good as far as it goes, until it starts scolding individuals for the failures of states and organization that claim to be acting in our best interests.

Ben Jacobs: [01-28] Trump struggled with identity at his first public campaign stop: "Trump tried to cast himself as both a great Republican leader and the ultimate outsider." He may think he can play it both ways, but to be a serious contender, he has to win back the outsider rail, because his opponents are so vulnerable to that kind of attack. Still, it will demand a lot of credulity from his voters, although he can blame many failures of his administration on Pence and the people Pence installed. More Trump trivia:

Mike Konczal: [01-27] Do We Need a Recession Because Wages Are Too High? 5 Responses Answering No.

Dylan Matthews: [01-26] FairTax, the GOP plan for a 30 percent national sales tax, explained. Not noted here, but worth pondering, is the extent to which Sam Brownback's budget-busting tax "reforms" incorporated FairTax principles: he raised sales taxes, while exempting business income from income taxation. True, nobody got a rebate to soften the blow. And while Kansas sales tax became one of the nation's highest, Kansas income tax was never more than a small fraction of federal, so the biggest beneficiaries still complained a lot.

Ian Millhiser: [01-25] Trump's worst judge is now a dangerous threat to press freedom: "An unhinged case brought by anti-vaxxers will be heard by one of the biggest reactionaries in the federal judiciary."

Sara Morrison: [01-24] Google's bad year is getting worse.

Nicole Narea: [01-27] The brutal, politically motivated attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband, explained.

Nicole Narea/Sean Collins/Ellen Ioanes: [01-28] The fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, explained: "Five Memphis police officers are facing murder charges over Nichols's death." Related:

Tori Otten: [01-27] Marjorie Taylor Greene Says Biden "Abused His Power" by Lowering Gas Prices: "Do Republicans even want lower gas prices or not?" Nothing in their administrative history suggests that they do, which shouldn't be much of a surprise given how skewed donations from oil companies are in their favor. Nor is this just Greene saying something stupid. See: [01-27] House GOP passes bill to curb Biden's use of oil reserve. After ranting nonstop about gas prices, they're upset that Biden released oil from the US Strategic Reserve to reduce prices (and undercut their campaign messaging). A normal person, concerned first and foremost about solving the problem, would have applauded Biden's move. But there's nothing normal about Republicans any more. Even worse are Republican efforts to make sure public health officers can't order lockdowns or mask requirements when the next pandemic hits.

Kim Phillips-Fein: [01-24] The Change We Want: "What does it take to build a political majority?" Review of Timothy Shenk's Realigners: Partisan Hacks, Political Visionaries, and the Struggle to Rule American Democracy. The book appears to be a sweeping history of American politics told through a dozen or so individuals regarded as uniquely influential (Madison and Hamilton lead off; I'm more suspicious of Barack Obama at the end, but not every example need be successful to make a point).

Christopher Reeves: [01-21] Voters told them no, but Kansas Republicans are advancing wild new anti-abortion legislation anyway. Normal people would think that the referendum, where nearly 60% of Kansans voted to protect abortion rights, would have settled the issue, but Republicans aren't normal. They stick to their demented principles and pursue their obsessions with no concern about public opinion, using whatever power than can usurp.

Rebecca Robbins: [01-28] How a Drug Company Made $114 Billion by Gaming the U.S. Patent System.

Nathan Robinson: [01-23] Rush Limbaugh's Toxic Legacy: A review of the late right-wing icon's "new book" -- actually, as the title (Radio's Greatest of All Time) makes way too obvious, a tribute assembled by family of his most outrageous rants (a 500-page "timeless collection of Rush's brilliant words" and "authoritative body of Rush's best work"), larded with photos of Limbaugh hobnobbing with his politician fans, who provide their own tributes. Nor do the paeans end there: "Many of the transcripts printed in the book are from callers who claim that Limbaugh changed their lives in one way or another."

Jeffrey St Clair: [01-27] Roaming Charges: The Ugliest Thing in America. "Mass shootings are an unimpeachable proof of American exceptionalism."

Joseph Stiglitz: [01-10] Milton Friedman Set Us Up for a 21st Century Version of Fascism: "In 2023, market fundamentalism is fostering authoritarianism -- in the United States and abroad."

Michael Stavola: [01-25] Authorities name Wichita man killed in hunting accident when dog stepped on gun.

Asawin Suebsaeng/Patrick Reis: [01-27] Trump's Killing Spree: The Inside Story of His Race to Execute Every Prisoner He Could: "Before 2020, there had been three federal executions in 60 years. Then Trump put 13 people to death in six months."

Gary Younge: [01-23] Heavy Is the Head: "The British Royals in the age of streaming." A review of The Crown, which is an interesting and entertaining, albeit somewhat peculiar, chronicle of the long reign of Queen Elizabeth II, starting with her wedding in 1947, before her coronation in 1952. The recently concluded 5th Season covers 1991-97, ending just after Tony Blair succeeded John Major as Prime Minister, and just before the recently divorced and deposed Princess Diana perished in a Paris car wreck. Showrunner Peter Morgan clearly wants to refocus England's history around a public-service monarchy he sees as deeply interwoven into the fabric of national life (its imperial conceits conveniently ignored after the first two episodes), yet their self-centeredness and irrelevance can help but rise to the surface. By season five they've become such a disgrace that the series is largely given over to Prince Charles' Trust and his vain blatherings about how as King he would make the monarchy relevant again. You can say that he's trying to humanize the monarchy, except that the monarchy doesn't make for very good humans. As Younge notes, "History has already delivered its verdict on those who inherit power and remain unaccountable; The Crown merely illustrates the degree to which the institution doesn't even work for the people who run it."

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Sunday, January 22, 2023


Speaking of Which

Plenty below. No need to pad it out with an introduction. I do want to note that so far I'm very impressed with Ryan Cooper's book, How Are You Going to Pay for That? Smart Answers to the Dumbest Questions in Politics.


House Republicans: Expect this to be the main story for the next year or two, as Republicans use their five-seat margin in the House to repeatedly remind us why they should never again be trusted with any power whatsoever in Washington. This week's stories:

  • Robert Kuttner: [01-17] Turning the Debt Ceiling Crisis Against McCarthy's Republicans: "Biden needs to play serious hardball, or he will get rolled." I could cite a dozen pieces on this issue, but it really comes down to a political test of will: a question of whether the Republican faction which McCarthy surrendered to can intimidate Biden and the Democrats into agreeing to the first tranche of insatiable demands. Control of the House gives Republicans a lot of leverage if they really want to cut the budget going forward, but that's not what they're demanding here: they want to undo already passed budgets, and they want to force Biden to do their dirty work for them. Do they have the power to do this? Not really, given that there are workaround solutions (e.g., the platinum coin, "a silly solution to a silly problem"). More importantly, will this brinkmanship help or hurt them politically? Past experience says it will hurt them. So why are they doing it? Mostly because they don't care. They believe they'll never be held responsible for the mischief they wreak.

  • Eric Alterman: [01-20] Deal-Making Republican 'Pragmatists'? Like, Who? The eternal search for the "adult" Republicans who are willing to break from the crazies when nothing sort of disaster looms. (One of the hopeful scenarios in Kuttner, above.)

  • David Dayen: [01-20] McCarthy's 21 Republican Defectors Didn't Get Much: "That's because the party already agreed with them."

  • Pablo Manriquez: [01-10] Here's the First Salvo in House Republicans' War on Transgender People: "They're reversing a rule Democrats passed in 2021 calling for gender-neutral pronouns."

  • Timothy Noah: [01-20] Go Ahead, Republicans, Pass a National Sales Tax. How many people really want to pay a 30% sales tax just so rich people can escape being taxed on income, dividends, capital gains, and estates? True that many people are poor judges of self-interest, but this one will be hard to swallow.

  • Areeba Shan: [01-18] GOP rages at McCarthy over committee as MAGA extremists score key assignments.

  • Peter M Shane: [01-20] Jim Jordan's Reckless New Committee: He's actually calling it the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. It is, of course, the weaponization of congressional investigative authority for purely political ends. "It will start with overheated demands for information. . . . The Biden administration will comply with some requests while resisting others. Republicans will denounce recalcitrance as a coverup. Fox News, for its part, will condemn any lack of transparency as Democratic hypocrisy." Yes, you can write it all up now, not least because we've seen it all before (remember Benghazi!?).

  • Alex Shephard: [01-20] Actually, George Santos Has Been Pretty Good for the Republican Party: "It may not last forever, but the scandal-plagued congressman is helpfully distracting attention from the House's bona fide extremists and their weird ideas."

  • Abby Zimet: [01-21] Mogadishu Redux: Bring in the Malignant Clowns.

And beyond the House, Republicans don't get any brighter (or saner, let alone more civil):

William Astore: [01-15] Imperial Dominance Disguised as Democratic Deterrence: Reading the Pentagon's latest NDS (National Defense Strategy) paper, which identifies five threats, prioritized: 1. China; 2. Russia; 3. the War on Terror; 4. North Korea and Iran; 5. climate change -- and proposes that the only way to deal with these problems is to spend more money on arms and bases straddling the world. Astore goes on to list seven things "you'll never see mentioned in this NDS":

  1. Any suggestion that the Pentagon budget might be reduced. Ever.
  2. Any suggestion that the U.S. military's mission or "footprint" should be downsized in any way at all.
  3. Any acknowledgement that the U.S. and its allies spend far more on their militaries than "pacing challengers" like China or "acute threats" like Russia.
  4. Any acknowledgment that the Pentagon's budget is based not on deterrence but on dominance.
  5. Any acknowledgement that the U.S. military has been far less than dominant despite endless decades of massive military spending that produced lost or stalemated wars from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq.
  6. Any suggestion that skilled diplomacy and common security could lead to greater cooperation or decreased tensions.
  7. Any serious talk of peace.

For more, see:

Dean Baker: [01-21] Biden has earned a solid 'A' halfway through his term. A bit of boosterism from an economist who's normally quite critical, but compared to whom? Baker argues that Biden managed to wring more positive legislation out of Congress than any president since LBJ, with a razor-thin margin in Congress (unlike Clinton or Obama in their first two years, which brought us NAFTA and ACA/Dodd-Frank). He doesn't dwell much on the executive orders, which reversed much (though by no means all) of the damage Trump wrought. He also doesn't have anything to say about Biden's foreign policy, which allows many newspapers to pair his piece with Meaghan Mobbs: Joe Biden deserves a 'D' for his administration's foreign policy. I don't know her political affiliation, but she's a West Point grad, former Army captain, and well established in the pro-military think tank racket. She blames Biden for getting out of Afghanistan (that alone should bump the grade to 'B'), and more generally for not being militant enough everywhere: "President Joe Biden and his administration speak harshly against our adversaries while failing to follow through with the necessary hard actions." I'm critical too, but for opposite reasons. Biden has pretty much everywhere focused on rebuilding military alliances -- which he saw Trump as undermining -- while failing to mitigate tensions and pursue diplomatic breakthroughs, including some that were obviously there for the taking. I'm uncertain how much to grade him down for those shortcomings -- and sure, there have been some of those on the domestic side as well, but the foreign policy ones are more glaring because he supposedly has more autonomy there -- but on a curve that goes back at least to Reagan, he looks pretty good.

Baker also wrote:

Irin Carmon: [01-20] What the Supreme Court Left Out of Its Dobbs-Leak Report: After Roberts' huffing and puffing when the leak occurred, the report didn't find the culprit, suggesting that the real answer was one that Roberts didn't want to hear.

Chas Danner: [01-22] 10 Dead in Lunar New Year Shooting in California: What We Know. Third mass shooting in California so far this year, 33rd nationwide (that's about 1.5 per day).

Lawrence B Glickman: [01-21] The Real Origins of the "Democrat Party" Troll.

Jonathan Guyer: [01-20] Israel's new right-wing government is even more extreme than protests would have you think: "It's also not a huge departure from previous ones."

Margaret Hartmann: [01-20] Did a $1 Million Fine Teach Trump a Lesson About 'Frivolous' Lawsuits? Remember the one he filed in March "accusing Hillary Clinton, former FBI director James Comey, the Democratic National Committee, and many others of orchestrating 'a malicious conspiracy'"? Well, it's not only been thrown out. Trump and his attorneys have been sanctioned for filing it. And one day later, Trump prudently dropped another "similarly dubious lawsuit": see Samaa Khullar: [01-20] Trump rushes to withdraw frivolous lawsuit against NY AG after a stark warning from judge. Speaking of frivolous lawsuits by thin-skinned billionaires meant to stifle criticism, see Jordan Uhl: [01-20] A Texas Billionaire Is Suing to Stop Free Speech Against Billionaires.

More Trump trivia:

Jeet Heer: [01-17] Why Biden and Trump Are Both Trapped in Secret-Document Scandals: "The real problem is the national security state's love of classification." Also:

  • Jason Linkins: [01-21] Biden's Document Screwup Is an Ethical Opportunity: "Rather than follow the Beltway's cynical damage-control playbook, the president should put on a master class in how to take responsibility for a mistake." Not that doing so will get noticed with the Republicans and their media idiots demanding blood.

Heather Souvaine Horn: [01-19] Davos Still Sucks: "How can the World Economic Forum earnestly pretend to address global crises while being funded by the corporations that fuel these crises?" I skipped over a bunch of articles on Davos, as none seemed to convey the true story. This one merely sums it up briefly. Also includes a picture which shows their logo, which reads "Committed to improving the state of the world." One article I skipped was about a high-five between attendees (of course they are) Kirsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. They proved their commitment by repeatedly torpedoing Democratic bills over the last two years. But most likely what they're actually doing in Davos is prospecting for their post-Senate payouts.

Jill Lepore: [01-09] What the January 6th Report Is Missing: "The investigative committee singles out Trump for his role in the Capitol attack. As prosecution, the report is thorough. But as historical explanation it's a mess." Point taken, but the report's antecedents are hardly better. Part of the blame may be that to get the cooperation of Cheney and Kinzinger the Committee spared any Republican who wasn't directly tied to Trump. Beyond that, one thing the Committee didn't want to do was to offer any sort of mitigating circumstances, which is what a history of Republican voting schemes would have provided. Sure, Trump was not the only one, but he went farther than anyone else ever, so it's not such a surprise that he got singled out.

Blaise Malley: [01-20] Diplomacy Watch: White House signals that retaking Crimea is in the cards: "Officials say it has been US policy all along." One thing that all sides have managed to do is to hold fast to their maximalist demands without suggesting that they might be willing to settle for anything less. That makes some sense as a public stand, but it makes negotiation, and therefore any chance of ending the war, hopeless. I suppose it's possible that somewhere there's a secret channel where some kind of compromise can be negotiated, but the harder the public proclamations, the less credible that is. Key quote here is: "the Biden administration does not think that Ukraine can take Crimea militarily . . . but, officials said, their assessment now is that Russia needs to believe that Crimea is at risk." The fuller quote suggests that the US is angling toward eventual negotiations, which is to say they recognize that no military solution is possible, but in trying to psych out Russia, aren't they also building up false hopes for Zelensky? The recent rush to give Ukraine tanks seems to promise a spring offensive to drive Russia back toward the pre-2014 borders. But Russia's big tank advantage back in March soon turned into a liability. Is there any reason to think Ukraine can better defend their tanks?

More on Ukraine:

  • Chas Danner: [01-20] Ukraine's Latest Arms Haul: Thanks but No Tanks. Germany is balking at sending tanks, at least unless the US agrees to send some, which hasn't happened yet.

  • Fred Kaplan: [01-21] The Clash Over Whether to Send German Tanks to Ukraine Is a Pretty Big Deal. One point here is that US reluctance to send its M1 Abrams tanks partly technical, as the M1 is a "maintenance nightmare; it runs on jet fuel and sucks up three gallons per mile (not the other way around); a separate, massive supply line would have to be set up, manned, and defended, just for these tanks."

  • Anatol Lieven: [01-19] Six questions Western defense chief never seem to raise but should today. Lieven followed this up with: [01-20] Germans remain adamantly opposed to sending any Leopard tanks to Ukraine. [PS: Later: [01-22] Germany won't object if Poland sends tanks to Ukraine, foreign minister says.]

  • Suzanne Loftus: [01-21] No one will win a protracted war in Ukraine.

  • Trita Parsi: [01-20] No, Weakening Russia Is Not "Costing Peanuts" for the U.S. "Some analysts argue that America is getting a great deal for its money. But there are a lot of strategic costs that don't show up on the balance sheet." The Pentagon is notoriously incompetent at accounting for the money it spends directly, and everyone involved is extremely myopic (often plain blind) to the indirect costs occurred by others. (Economists have since estimated that the total costs of the Iraq War exceed $3 trillion. You may recall that when it was launched, some sales pitches estimated that it would pay for itself.) But I would start by questioning the premise: that degrading Russia's military forces, and embarrassing its political leaders, thus destabilizing the state, is a positive outcome. I'm not talking about who deserves what: that Putin should fail in his invasion is proper and just, but once the war ends, so should the further hostilities with Russia. (The failure of the elder Bush to accept the end of the Gulf War, leaving Saddam Hussein in power, almost guaranteed that the younger Bush would return to "finish the job," and make the situation even worse.) Anyone who doubts that this war is a massive tragedy for all sides has no business anywhere near power.

  • Jordan Michael Smith: [10-17] The Neocons Are Losing. Why Aren't We Happy? This chronicles a factional shift in the Republican Party that unlike the neocons who dominated the GW Bush administration, are less inclined to threaten the world with devastation, and who tend to see American interests as focused within the nation's borders. Still, there is considerable variation among the people profiled here -- few are antiwar where the enemy threatens American business class interests, and some (not least Donald Trump) are so full of bluster they could stumble into a war backwards. To group them together as Jacksonian seems wrong -- although I suppose it allows for the bluster and bigotry, but it strays a bit from the Quincy Institute watchwords of realism and restraint.

Ian Millhiser: [01-22] The coming legal showdown over abortion pills.

Madeleine Ngo: [01-19] The US just hit the debt limit. What happens now?

Kelsey Piper: [01-18] Operation Warp Speed was a huge success. So why is the US turning away from it? Rather than simply proclaiming Operation Warp Speed as "one of the biggest accomplishments of the Trump administration," perhaps a little critical distance is in order. It was Congress that put up the money, and the federal bureaucracy that implemented the program -- both subject to the usual corruption and political wiles, which were hardly unmitigated blessings. At best, Trump -- and, let's face it, he was rarely at best -- was a cheerleader. In the end, he was ambivalent about taking credit, because the anti-vax culture war cut deep into his base, leaving its leaders to catch up (something Ron DeSantis has done far more energetically than Trump). The problem isn't that "Democrats are loath to admit Trump did anything right" -- they just don't see any mileage when Trump himself is reluctant to take credit.

There are legitimate questions one could ask: Did this need to cost so much (e.g., elevating drug company moguls to billionaires). Why wasn't it more effective? Why wasn't it better distributed beyond the US? How can you speed up the process even more? Unfortunately, the Republican political thrust isn't how to do a better job, but how to avoid even being this effective ever again?

Luke Savage: [01-21] If America Had Fair Laws, 60 Million Workers Would Join a Union Tomorrow.

Dylan Scott: [01-20] When hospitals merge, patients suffer. Study is in the UK, but the profit motive amplifies the effect in the US.

More on health care:

Jeffrey St Clair: [01-20] Roaming Charges: The Specter of Equity and Other Evils.

George Tyler: [01-20] Ron DeSantis symbolizes that it's Richard Nixon's Republican Party now. Although, in a sign of the times, he admits that "in contrast to Nixon, DeSantis' cruel streak is already evident to voters." It took a while to realize that Nixon's malice wasn't just opportunism -- and many people continue to be shocked at Republican cruelty, even as evidenced by someone as sociopathic as Trump. I'm old enough to still regard Nixon as the most loathsome creature in American political history. In his calculated efforts to out-Trump Trump, DeSantis is aiming for Nixonian notoriety.

More DeSantis:

Dan Zak: [01-11] The boring journey of Matt Yglesias: "The Washington ur-blogger's slightly contrarian, mildly annoying, somewhat influential, very lucrative path toward the political center." During his time at Vox, Yglesias was the first person I checked every week, and most often provided the structure for my own blog posts. I had followed him as he maneuvered the blogosphere, but his paywall at Substack was one step too many. Still, by then I was beginning to have doubts. He got entered in, and won, a poll for "neoliberal shill of the year," and took unseemly pride in the fact. He never was as bad as most of the people friends on the left castigate as neoliberals, but he did seem to get up on a few ideas I found obnoxious, like "congestion pricing." (Even if you wanted to, how would that work? And what does it say about our values?) Then he wrote a big book called One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, which looked and smelled like a bid for the Thomas Friedman market. Nowadays, the only time I read him is when one of his Bloomberg columns gets syndicated in my local paper. Few are memorable, but he has enough command of his subject he's not useless. And while he seems politically more centrist than ever, the bigger problem may be that he's just not very deep. Consider this:

Perhaps it's instructive to think about two topics that bookend his public life. At age 21, Yglesias was laying out the logician's case for the invasion of Iraq, because how could the most powerful, informed men on Earth be so stupid? In May of this year, Yglesias declared that Bankman-Fried "is for real," because why else would wealthy people risk their money? . . .

This is Matt Yglesias coddling the powerful, his critics would say, and exposing a gullible dilettantism. And yet plenty of people view him as an early, sensible and stalwart voice for incremental progress on key issues of the 21st century, such as marijuana reform and same-sex marriage.

I wouldn't call those "key issues of the 21st century" -- they fall far short of war, inequality, labor rights, a very distorted system of justice, climate, sustainability, etc. Even his strong pro-immigration stance is based on his romanticism around growth.


Memorable tweets:

Connie Schultz:

Word of warning for parents supporting these book bans: As a child, I found a way to read every book someone told me I could not read. You see how I turned out. Think this through.

Context is notice that "Virginia's Madison County School Board approved banning 21 books from its high school library." The list includes four books by Toni Morrison, three by Stephen King (including 11/22/63), and The Handmaid's Tale.

I could offer myself as another example: I instinctively hated (and in some cases refused to read) required literature, and sought out pretty much everything that was banned or condemned. And yes, see how I turned out. My brother followed suit, and got kicked out of school for turning in a poetry notebook which opened with "Howl." Both of us were sent to see a shrink (who, by the way, thought the whole affair was hilarious).

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, January 15, 2023


Speaking of Which

Still feeling indifferent about continuing this column, but hadn't gotten into anything else at the moment, so had some time to fiddle. Then, of course, it got late, and I had to cut it short.

Lots missing below, including the six-year-old child who shot his school teacher, and another story here in Wichita where a toddler shot a mother. A wee bit, but not much, on the Biden classified documents snipe hunt, which reads like a comedy of errors, and is mostly significant for allowing Republicans to run around screaming bloody murder -- a thought that never occurred to them when Trump was hoarding top secrets, in part because they were so busy painting him as a victim of the politically woke FBI. Meanwhile, Democrats are scrambling to point out how different the cases are (although at least one writer has observed that the Biden case is is "really like Hillary's"). Few people have stressed the obvious: that way too many government documents are classified, which both makes them easy to lose and encourages their users to get sloppy.

As much as I'd enjoy Trump being sent to prison, it's hard to get excited about the legal jeopardy he seems to be in. Classified documents are basically bullshit. I wouldn't put whistleblowers like Reality Winner and Edward Snowden in jail, nor do I care much about people who sold secrets to Russia or China or Israel (many of whom, unlike whistleblowers, eventually get repatriated anyway). I don't see how Trump can complain about the Mar-a-Lago raid, given how much the FBI found, but he's probably right that if they prosecute him, it's mostly political. And, let's face it, the Feds have prosecuted lots of people for politics, most much more worthy of sympathy than Trump is.

The Georgia phone call is another mostly bullshit case. At what point does imploring someone to commit a crime become criminal? It depends a lot on who you are, and who you're talking to, which is why such cases do occasionally do get prosecuted when some Muslim is entrapped by an undercover FBI operative. I also don't care about the defamation suit brought by a woman who alleges Trump raped her. Defamation suits are almost all bullshit moves brought by people with too much money and too many lawyers -- the sort of move that Trump actually specializes in. (James Zirin has a 2019 book on this: Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits.)

Trump already dodged one bullet this year in avoiding getting indicted for the massive fraud at The Trump Organization, letting his CFO take the fall. It'll cost him some money, but the fine strikes me as pretty light, something he can easily afford. Maybe Trump's tax returns will catch up with him, but again that will probably just be a big fine (and not enough to satisfy Eddie Murphy's proposition in Trading Places: "the best way to hurt rich people is to turn them into poor people").

As for seditious conspiracy, that's most often another bullshit charge, usually directed against powerless people who never were real threats. (The first time I ran across the charge was in 1989, when Robert Mueller prosecuted members of the Ohio 7, most still serving long jail terms. My friend Elizabeth Fink was a defense lawyer, and got Patricia Levasseur acquitted.) I'm willing to consider that Trump is the rare case where there's actually some substance that should be redressed -- if what he did wasn't technically illegal, it's only because Congress couldn't imagine how far he would go -- but I don't expect it to happen. Justice in America may be some kind of ideal, but it's rarely practiced, no matter how people like to sound sanctimonious about it.

Of course, if Trump does somehow manage to get prosecuted and convicted and jailed, I won't mind. He seems to have a unique knack for screwing up and letting crises get out of hand. He also seems to have insanely poor choice in lawyers (although he has yet to embrace the cliché of representing himself).


House Republicans: Now that a Speaker is elected, and rules have been passed, House Republicans can get down to implementing their warped agenda. That leads to stories like these:

  • Jake Johnson: [01-14] House GOP Says Pentagon Budget Is Safe -- but Social Security and Medicare Aren't.

  • Ed Kilgore: [01-12] McCarthy Is Open to Expunging Trump's Impeachments.

  • Paul Krugman: [01-12] Why Republican Politicians Still Hate Medicare. Curious lines here: "Advocating a welfare state for white people might well be politically effective. But in America, it's a road not taken." Perhaps Krugman should read Ira Katznelson's When Affirmative Action Was White. Admittedly, Republicans mostly opposed those programs, even with their racial discrimination, but the more such programs benefitted non-whites, the more racist innuendo they have worked into their denunciations. A better piece here is Jamelle Bouie: [01-10] The Less Talked About Part of Kevin McCarthy's Deal With Republican Radicals.

    But left untouched by a democratically accountable state, the free market is just another arena for the domination of the many by the few, of the subordination of labor to the dictates of capital.

    Social insurance and the welfare state are more than a ballast against the winds of capitalism; they are part of the foundation of self-government and the cornerstone of democratic citizenship as we now understand it, where individuals are as free as possible from the arbitrary domination and authority of others.

    Extreme opposition to social insurance and the safety net is, in that case, a natural fit for an authoritarian movement that tried to overturn the constitutional order and now wants to use the power it has to clean up as much of the scene of the crime as it can manage.

    It is, for that matter, a natural fit for the entire Republican Party. Even after you exclude the MAGA radicals, you find a political party whose hostility to a broader, more equitable democracy is deep-seated and profound.

  • Amanda Marcotte: [01-13] House Republicans want to make smoking great again: "Masculinity gets toxic -- literally!"

  • Norman Solomon/Jeff Cohen: [01-13] The dangerous myth of the "moderate Republican" keeps pushing the media rightward.

  • Kenny Stancil: [01-12] 11 New GOP Picks for House Financial Oversight Panel Took Over $6.1 Million From Wall Street.

  • Kenny Stancil: [01-14] As Debt Ceiling Alarm Sounded, GOP Accused of Plotting 'Terrorist Attack on the Economy': Headline could be sharper. What Republicans are threatening is morally equivalent to terrorism, but its ramifications are far greater, affecting many more people (and businesses, and through them even more people). Dean Baker's quote is: "They have the tiniest majority of one house and they are prepared to use it to get concessions they know are incredibly unpopular." Left unsaid, but key, is how Republicans are convinced that if they do their damage while a Democrat is president, they'll be able to deflect blame for their acts. Where common terrorist attacks betray a desperate, even pathetic limit of power -- "if we can't do anything else, at least we can make you hurt" -- Republicans are deliberately hoping to leverage their power to cause much greater economic harm. Nor is this new with the nihilist rump of the Party: Republicans have repeatedly tried to tank the economy every time the president was a Democrat (at least with Clinton, Obama, and now Biden).

  • Marcus Stanley: [01-11] House creates controversial new select committee on China: One thing that argues against Republicans flipping on war and defense spending is their deep-seated hatred for China. There is a huge body of literature on current and coming civilizational clashes between the US and China, claiming that China aspires to dominate the globe like the US and the UK have before, which includes not just the usual militarist flunkees like Lindsey Graham but extends deep into MAGA ranks (thanks largely to Peter Navarro).

  • Peter Wade: [01-15] GOP House Oversight Chair Can't Explain Why He's Investigating Biden Classified Docs But Not Trump's. Wade also wrote this, not about the House, but they say state legislatures are the "laboratories of democracy": [01-15] Wyoming GOP Considers Declaring War on Electric Vehicles to Protect Fossil Fuels.

Ezra Klein: [01-15] Three Reasons the Republican Party Keeps Coming Apart at the Seams:

  1. Republicans are caught between money and media.
  2. Same party, different voters.
  3. Republicans need an enemy.

The Republican Party has long consisted of two factions in an uneasy equilibrium: plutocrats, who may think of themselves as libertarian but are only concerned with freedom for the rich to increase their power and wealth; and culture warriors, who see America at great risk of moral collapse unless they can impose their values on everyone else. As long as the latter let the former slide, which may entail embracing wealth as a virtue, the two sides can work together, defined primarily by their shared enemy (the secular left).

Two more pieces on Republicans beyond the House:

Andrew Koppelman: [01-12] Forced Labor: Why the Thirteenth Amendment Protects Abortion Rights: "Roe v. Wade was built on a less-than-compelling Constitutional argument. But the right to choose is solidly grounded in the amendment that abolished slavery."

Rebecca Leber: [01-11] The gas stove regulation uproar, explained. I grew up with a gas stove, and have been a partisan all my life. I've rented places with electric stoves, and hated them. When I rebuilt our kitchen, the first thing on my shopping list was a big, fancy gas stove. (I bought a 36-inch Capital with six full-power burners, and a very expensive range hood which was a bear to vent outside. At the time, I saw a bunch of arguments that electric was better for baking, so I bought an electric wall oven as well, which I use more often than the gas oven, but each has its advantages, and it's nice to have both.) I didn't panic when this news came out, but was curious about the evidence -- not really answered here (but I guess I'm running my exhaust fan more regularly). Also:

  • Margaret Hartmann: [01-13] The Gas-Stove Ban Freak-out Is the Story We Need Right Now: "It's stupid and low-stakes." One thing I didn't know here is that gas stoves are much more common in Blue States (CA, NY, NJ, IL, NV), and are generally more preferred (well, at least owned) by Democrats than by Republicans. Also some stuff on induction ranges. I had heard about them when I bought my gas range, but was under the (possibly mistaken) impression I'd have to buy new cookware.

  • Alex Shepherd: [01-13] How Right-Wing Gasbags Cooked Up a Fantastically Dumb Culture War: "The incredible story of how conservatives took a consumer product warning about stoves and fried their brains to a crisp."

Matt McManus: [01-11] Why Conservatism Can Never Be "Populist". Review, based on Paul Elliott Johnson's I the People: The Rhetoric of Conservative Populism in the United States. As Johnson points out, it is "important to stop waxing nostalgic about conservatism's reasonable past."

Blaise Malley: [01-13] Diplomacy Watch: Are European countries diverging on Ukraine aid? "As Poland preps to send tanks, Italy delays its latest package of weapons and financial assistance to Kyiv." Once again, little here. For more:

  • George Beebe: [01-13] Laying the foundations for a settlement in Ukraine.

  • Ed Kilgore: [01-13] Republican Opposition to Ukraine Is Reaching Tipping Point. Democrats have been notably united behind arms aid for Ukraine. Republicans are more conflicted, but opponents are scattered, with varied rationales ranging from ranging from culture war sympathies for Putin (a key member of the fraternal order of fascists Steve Bannon has been courting) to anti-spending hawks to neo-isolationists to pure snark (e.g., Donald Trump Jr.'s dismissal of Zelensky as an "ungrateful international welfare queen"), but the numbers have been small -- the only rationale anywhere near a "tipping point" is the reflex to oppose anything that Biden endorses. Still, Ukraine is a bonanza for the arms merchants, and while they've always been expert at lining up bipartisan majorities, most Republicans have always bent over backwards to please them. But I worry that Republicans could flip and take a stronger anti-war position than Democrats -- especially with Biden so wedded to the security wonks (and to the arms industry). Trump flirted with this, but couldn't do anything as long as he preferred to project machismo and/or prostrated himself to the military class.

Ian Millhiser: [01-10] The legal loophole that could arm mass shooters with makeshift automatic rifles.

Nicole Narea: [01-12] Why a special counsel is looking into Biden's classified documents: "Any time classified materials go to a place they're not supposed to go, there is almost always an inquiry into how they got to that place." And what never happens is any investigation of why we have so much classified shit in the first place. I wouldn't be surprised to find that 80% of it all is pure bullshit: not stuff the government is trying to hide from the public, but the habitual use of secrecy markers and clearance levels to establish rank and privilege in the security bureaucracy (where the main privilege is excluding others from questioning your authority). The sheer ubiquity of classified markings ensures that documents will get lost or stolen, resulting in periodic hysteria and vendettas. That someone as sloppy as Trump seems inevitable. As for the special counsel, Garland probably just wanted to duck the inevitable questions about equivalency, even if it should be obvious that President Biden needs a level of access that ex-President Trump doesn't.

Alan Rappeport/Jim Tankersley/Jeanna Smialek: [01-13] The U.S. May Finally Breach the Debt Ceiling. Here's Why That Would Be Very Bad. I'm not sure how bad it really would be, but I am sure it would be stupid and totally unnecessary, a crisis contrived by a Republican Party that has no concern for anything other than their own political power.

Nathan J Robinson: [01-12] There Are No Good Royals: "If a member of Britain's degenerate ruling family doesn't like attention, he should go away and do something useful with his life." But where's the evidence that he could even imagine doing "something useful." He can't even grasp the concept of going away. I have no interest in doing so, so I can't fault Robinson for saving us the dirty work of reading Prince Harry's book, but I'd be inclined to dissect it somewhat differently. For instance, instead of dwelling on Harry's boast of long-distance murder in Afghanistan, I'd wonder what made him want to be a soldier in the first place. It's not a common choice for rich folk who have lots of other options -- especially in a third-rate power whose foreign policy consists of nothing but supplication to American power (perhaps his marriage to an American is another dimension of servility?). It takes a degree of priggishness that is hard to imagine outside of the British royal cocoon.

Robinson makes clear that the book is a considered, ghostwritten PR ploy, and notes how briskly it has sold, but what does that tell us? Clearly, the context is the "vicious coverage [of the royal family] in the British tabloid press," but are they looking for sympathy, or just playing the role of fools who regularly justify our instinct to bring them down with ridicule?

Bill Scher: [01-11] Democrats Need an Immigration Strategy Before They Turn on Each Other: Title seems obvious enough, and the problem is true enough: there is a vocal faction which supports everyone's right to immigrate any time they see fit, which makes it hard to settle on any approach that limits immigration, especially for refugees. Republicans have their own divide on immigration: the larger faction is nativist and exclusionary, but there's also a business-oriented faction that likes the idea of importing cheap foreign labor, kept powerless by special work permits. My own take has long been that the top priority should be in clearing up the backlog of undocumented immigrants (especially from the 1990s, when NAFTA dislocated Mexican workers and farmers, and the process was largely tolerated). To do that, I'd be willing to accept lower numbers of legal immigrants (as well as more enforcement against new illegals, although we've already spent tons of money on that). (I'm not personally bothered by higher numbers, but it looks to me like promoting more immigration is a losing political issue, and distracts from the more important one of providing better public service for the people who are here now.) But, as I said, it's hard to get any sort of consensus among Democrats, and Republicans would rather just campaign on being hard and mean and, in most cases, cruel. Still, one thing I was struck by in this article is this:

As Bier explained, before 2021, we had almost no southern border crossings originating from countries outside Mexico and Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. In 2000, only 6,271 people from outside those four countries were arrested for crossing illegally. By 2020, that number ticked up to 43,715. But in 2022, just through October, the number exploded to 947,054, with the bulk coming from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

The obvious point here is that Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are problems caused largely by US foreign policy, and which could be fixed by changing policy to help those economies rather than hinder them. It always seem ironic that people should seek to immigrate to the very countries that are responsible for their local plights, yet there is a certain logic to it. Perhaps those who get so upset when refugees arive should think a bit more about how to prevent such calamities from happening, instead of simply thinking they can beat every problem to death.

Jeffrey St Clair: [01-13] Roaming Charges: Woke Me When It's Over.

Brett Wilkins: [01-11] New study blows up myth that Russian bots swayed 2016 election for Trump. "Blows up" is a bit strong: the study is limited to Twitter, which was probably less significant than Facebook (not that a study there wouldn't correlate, but there are differences in how the two platforms are used); and it basically quantifies the limits of how much influence Russian bots could have had (not much, as they were mostly viewed by small numbers of pro-Trump Republicans). In any case, the bots were only one small part of the broader "Russiagate" story, which always had a political charge behind it, but one may say the same about many detractors. I always minimized the claims that Russia sabotaged Hillary Clinton, for three reasons: from the start, the story was floated to shift blame from Clinton for losing to Trump, when there were many other reasons to be critical of her campaign; given the massive investment of the Republican propaganda machine (including Fox and their ilk), it's hard to imagine how Russia could further tip the scales; and the whole campaign was clearly intended to inflame anti-Russian sentiment by playing up Cold War themes, and this played into militarist plans to challenge Russia's borders and temperament (the Ukraine War being a self-fulfilling prophecy of such hawks, a cult that counted Clinton as a charter member). On the other hand, anyone (like Matt Taibbi) who has claimed that Russiagate is the biggest journalistic fraud of recent history has either a very selective memory or a strange political agenda. Such people see this report as vindication on everything, because to them it's all one vast conspiracy.

Also see:

  • Luke Savage: [01-13] It Turns Out Hillary Clinton, Not Russian Bots, Lost the 2016 Election. Sure, the "Russian bots" story has been greatly exaggerated by Clinton supporters -- people my wife likes to calll Hillbots -- it's also been strangely fixated on by people who want to drive home the point that Clinton, saddled as she was with neoliberal entanglements, was a uniquely bad candidate. I basically agree as far as Clinton goes, but I don't think that "Russian interference" has anything major to do with her loss. I suspect her vulnerabilities lie elsewhere (and not really in being a woman, although being the wife of a widely reviled former president complicates that question). The key fact of 2016 was that she lost to Donald Trump, which is unforgivable but also unnecessary. Lots of people had many good reasons for opposing Trump, but the one that she chose came off as smug and priggish, reinforcing the public's view of her as an elite political insider, bound to all the corruption and dysfunction of such elites. Trump's promise to "drain the swamp" was always bullshit, but she didn't expose him for that. She seemed to be saying that Trump wasn't good enough for the swamp, and that just reinforced what Trump was saying. Of course, her failure was embarrassing, which led to all manner of blame shifting -- Russiagate was just part but flourished because it was easy to play off Cold War tropes.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, January 8, 2023


Speaking of Which

After hustling to get the 17th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll posted on Friday, including my essay at Arts Fuse, I was pretty uncertain as to what to do next. Making matters worse was that same day the dog we inherited from the late Elizabeth Fink breathed her last. I was, at the time, figuring it'd be at least a week before I'd bother with a Music Week, much less a Speaking of Which, column. But lacking any other inspiration, I sat down and started collecting this. I had very little news exposure over the last month, first coming down with a fairly mild but disconcerting case of Covid, then finding our internet connection increasingly flaky. The latter was finally cured by a new cable modem, so as I started collecting this, I was pleased to find the system as solid and even faster than ever.

Of course, even without my usual news sources, I was aware of the comedy/horror show in the US House, mostly through the late night shows, which emphasized the comedy side. Still, I didn't see any lasting value in citing articles while the votes were going on. Now, of course, we can not only look back on the debacle, we can look forward to the dysfunctional future.


Eric Alterman: [01-06] George Santos a Liar? Small-Time When Compared to His Fellow Republicans.

Bernard Avishai: [01-07] Netanyahu's government takes a turn toward theocracy. Religious parties have often been part of ruling coalitions, but they've never been so prominent before, or as demanding. One obvious flashpoint is Itamar Ben Gvir, who's often run afoul of Israeli law, yet now is in charge of (selectively) enforcing it. More on Israel:

Jonathan Chait: [01-04] 'Reactionary Centrism,' the Left's Hot New Insult for Liberals: "New jargon just dropped." I'm not much for jargon, let alone insults, but the definition offered here is a recognizable type: "someone who says they're politically neutral, but who usually punches left while sympathizing with the right." The first clause is pretty exactly how self-proclaimed centrists describe themselves. But centrism seems to extend to people who are not politically neutral -- who align with a major political party, which since the GOP purge mostly means Democrats these days -- but who recognize and try to balance multiple interests. If such people are honest, they should be arguing equally with both sides in favor of the other. In practice, though, a lot of them seem to relish fighting with the left, while letting all but the extreme right-wingers off the hook.

Hence there is a need to qualify centrist with some adjective other than fair or honest: reactionary might do the trick, but one should beware that it has two meanings. The root meaning is someone who reacts adversely (perhaps even violently) to change. That may apply to many centrists, especially those who worry that any change or challenge might rock the boat, leading to an even more vicious right-wing backlash. The other meaning, which is why the word is problematic, refers to that backlash itself.

Reactionaries are generally distinguished from conservatives because where the latter merely want to preserve their system and privileges, reactionaries want to radically change the system to restore their own expected privileges. On the left, we often refer to reactionaries as fascists, since that's the more vivid example. Chait is concerned, because he feels vulnerable as a centrist (albeit a Democratic one). I'd be inclined to cut him some slack, but the whole article seems like an excuse to kick the left for impolitic terminology, rather slight grounds that kind of make the point he's arguing against.

It seems to me that we would be better off trying to figure out real, viable solutions to problems, than simply mapping out who is left or right of whom. Not every left solution is ideal, but there are many to choose from, which isn't something you can say about a right that has drifted so far into its fantasies that centrists need to wake up and recognize that they're actually well left of center, and need to treat their comrades with more respect.

Neel Dhanesha: [01-06] California's deadly floods won't break the megadrought: "Atmospheric rivers are dumping rain on California. That's not a good thing." I'm pretty sure that the first time I ever heard "atmospheric river" was in Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, which was "science fiction" two years ago. For more:

Connor Echols: [01-06] Diplomacy Watch: Russia takes aim at Western resolve: Aside from Russia announcing a 3-day ceasefire around the Orthodox Christmas -- a ploy that Ukraines were quick to dismiss -- very little to report here, devolving into the propaganda trope about "Western resolve." Little reason to fear there: American foreign policy seems largely under the thumb of the weapons cartel, who are having the time of their lives, feeding a voracious war without American casualties. While Ukraine still has dreams of regaining ground, Russia's war has largely become one of attrition, which despite inflicting real damage only intensifies Ukrainian resolve. (The German Battle of Britain is an example, although the hardship here may well be a bit worse.) More:

  • Connor Echols: [01-05] How Western tanks could change Ukraine's war effort. Recent arms promises to Ukraine have shifted toward tanks, both from France and the US. The thinking, at least on paper, is that tanks could lead a breakthrough in regaining occupied land. But a big tank advantage didn't help Russia much early in the war, and tanks have rarely been effective without sufficient air coverage, which Ukraine still lacks, so this may mostly be for show.

  • Jen Kirby: [06-06] Putin's so-called Christmas ceasefire, explained, or rationalized away, since Ukraine is unhappy to play along.

  • Paul Krugman: [01-06] What Ukraine Teaches Us About Power: I'm not sure I agree with his argument that there were no decisive battles in WWII -- what about Stalingrad? El Alamein? Midway? -- but he is quite right that in the end, it was economic power that prevailed. The key chart here is the one that compares GDP: while Russia towers over Ukraine, the Russian economy is but spare change compared to Europe and the US, which is what allows NATO to fund Ukraine without breaking a sweat.

  • Anatol Lieven: [01-06] Where the war in Ukraine could be headed in 2023.

  • Condoleezza Rice/Robert M Gates: [01-07] Time is not on Ukraine's side: Talk about people I have no interest in weighing in on anything! Title suggests a note of caution, that it would be good to negotiate sooner rather than later, but they're really urging escalation now to counter Putin: e.g., "For Putin, defeat is not an option. . . . Count on Putin to be patient to achieve his destiny." Perhaps they worry because they understand that Americans aren't very patient people. After all, they spent much of their public disservice prolonging wars most people had realized had gone sideways. What's missing is even the rudiments of a theory suggesting that their push for more weapons will do any good. Rather, they cite 1914, 1941, and 2001 as lessons that "unprovoked aggression and attacks on the rule of law and the international order cannot be ignored." And finally they resort to quoting Zelensky channeling Churchill: "Give us the tools, and we will finish the job." Surely they know that Churchill needed a lot more than tools (Lend-Lease) to defeat Nazi Germany. You'd also expect them to know that taking direct aim at a country with the "strategic depth" and nuclear arms of Russia is a fool's errand. But these two didn't get to the pinnacle of the US war machine by virtue of their grasp of reality (or history).

    And just to nitpick, why 1914 but not 1939, or 1941 but not 1917? And why 2001 instead of 2003? The latter was the war they wanted in 2001, but had to postpone until they could snow us. And while Iraq fits their "unprovoked aggression" line to a tee, note that no other nation raised the alarm and came to Iraq's defense, and the aggressors failed anyway.

  • Ishaan Tharoor: [12-14] Ukraine's resilience sets a global standard. Not that I'm unimpressed, but I thought the global standard was set by Vietnam from before 1954 to 1975. I can give you other examples, including Finland and Afghanistan against Russia (as well as Afghanistan against the UK and the US). I'd also like to note that Ukraine's resistance against invasion was most impressive in the early days, before the US offered any significant weaponry, back when the US wanted to offer Zelensky "a ride," so he could become a propaganda tool, like Juan Guaidó.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [01-06] What foreign policy elites really think about you: "If public opinion doesn't match up with the Washington program then it must be wrong, misunderstood, or worse, irrelevant." US foreign policy has always been tightly controlled by special interests, and usually ignored by parties struggling over the domestic economy. That didn't change with WWII, but before it was mostly trading companies, with resource (especially oil) companies gaining ground after 1900. What did change with WWII was the creation of the military-industrial complex, which shifted focus away from peace and stability to war and chaos. Since 2001, hardly any of the self-organized elites bothers to pretend otherwise. Anyone who thinks otherwise is ridiculed or worse. One of the clearest measures of this is US support for Israel, which has significantly lessened among the public, but if anything has hardened and become more reflexive among the elites. For more on their thinking, see:

  • Gregory Foster: [01-02] The zombification of US national security: "Time to drive a stake through the heart of these establishmentarian ideas, which are super dysfunctional but never seem to die." Sub-heds: The Fetishization of .mil-ism; The Enduring Gluttony of Defense Spending; The Canonization of Military Essence; The Delusion of Military Autarky; "The Capabilities-Commitments Conundrum; The Great Power Competition Subterfuge.

Thomas Geoghegan: [01-06] The Constitutional Case for Disarming the Debt Ceiling: "The Framers would have never tolerated debt-limit brinksmanship. It's time to put this terrible idea on trial. Related:

Luke Goldstein: [01-06] FTC Ban on Noncompetes Sets Up Huge Legal Fight. Having had my own bitter experience with a noncompete dictate, I'm very happy to see this rule. In my case it was a rare requirement only demanded of top management, and we were presumably compensated for our loss of freedom (though I'd argue I wasn't). It still left a great deal of bitterness, which probably capped any possibility I had of further advancement. Still, that's not what this is about. Rather, companies have since started demanding noncompete restrictions on even bottom-rung employees. Had that been in effect in my day, most of my job changes would have been prohibited. No surprise that groups like the Chamber of Commerce are up in arms over this rule. Employers are still nostalgic for the days when they had complete power over their workers.

Melissa Gira Grant: [01-03] Welcome to Ron DeSantis's 2024 Campaign Against "Wokes": One of the most important planks of Trump's 2016 campaign was the revolt he led against "political correctness." It worked because pretty much no one likes having their speech corrected, especially the object isn't a notorious slur and the substitute is awkward and tortured ("differently abled" is one I've been hit with). (Bill Maher, who may be a jerk but isn't a right-winger, made political incorrectness his calling card.) However, I'm not sure that attacking "wokes" (or even the more abstract "wokeness") is going to be such a winning strategy. The difference is that it's one thing to say that you have the right to be a bigot and to hold opinions many of us deem ignorant, and another to say that if you're not a bigot, and take offense at bigots, you're evil, and need to be throttled -- which is basically DeSantis's position. DeSantis doesn't stop at hitting liberal columnists for their "wokeness"; he's gone after big corporations that simply don't see the profit in racism.

Margaret Hartmann:

Ellen Ioanes: [01-07] North Korea's nuclear escalation, explained: The author seems more puzzled, but the right-wing turn in South Korea -- after the attempted thaw was largely sabotaged by Trump lieutenants like Bolton -- and also by the Biden administration's indifference to the issue. Despite occasional bouts of panic, North Korea's nuclear arsenal has never been, and will never be, a serious threat to the US (not that it couldn't annihilate South Korea and cause a lot of damage to Japan). From a military standpoint, nuclear weapons have never been worth a hill of beans, as the US has repeatedly found out in the series of military blunders that actually started in Korea. What is dangerous is trying to keep North Korea bottled up, when its leader have been trying so frantically for decades now to signal that they just want to be respected and treated decently.

Ben Jacobs: [01-07] How Kevin McCarthy (finally) became speaker of the House: "McCarthy was able to sway several far-right members of his party by agreeing to extraordinary concessions that will rewrite the politics of the House." Of course, there was never a chance that he wouldn't cave in to the far right, because he's not fundamentally opposed to them. While it was fun watching Republicans make fools of themselves, McCarthy's own demeanor during the ordeal suggests he was in on the scheme, which allowed him to shift effective power to the nihilists -- at this point, even "far right" doesn't do them justice, and "MAGA" isn't quite fair to Trump (not that he deserves any better) -- and also blame, when it all blows up. Jacobs has been covering this story in real time, so his older pieces are already dated: e.g., [01-03] Kevin McCarthy's once-in-a-century House speakership failure.

David Cay Johnston: [12-31] Trump's Taxes Are the Best Case Yet for Putting Him in Prison. Author also wrote [12-27] Trump's Brazen Tax Cheating Revealed.

Whizy Kim: [01-04] The ultrarich are getting cozy in America's tax havens at everyone else's expense. One serious problem that hardly anyone talks about is how having multiple state and local tax jurisdictions creates intense competition to carve out tax loopholes, which are now so widespread and so lucrative that they drive many business decisions. Every carve-out is ultimately compensated by taxpayers with less leverage, either in higher taxes or in reduced services. I don't know how you could go about doing this, but a single national taxation system, when they distributes money down to state and local governments (which, if they have nothing better to spend it on, could ultimately rebate it to citizens), would wring the incentive for this out of the system, and in doing so would end much of the system's inherent corruption. As I recall, Nixon made a start back around 1970 with his "revenue sharing" program. It's strange that no one talks about this, even though a lot of federal money is routinely transferred to states and on down the line.

Ezra Klein: [01-08] The Dystopia We Fear Is Keeping Us From the Utopia We Deserve. Features a book of "reactionary futurism" by J Storrs Hall, Where Is My Flying Car?. The argument is that we got sidetracked in trying to conserve energy (or at least utilize it more efficiently), when we should have been figuring out how to create much more, enough to enable the wonders of a set of formerly futurist inventions like the flying car.

Robert Kuttner: [01-03] Who Will Talk Jay Powell off the Ledge? "He has committed the Fed to an interest rate course that will create a needless recession, and he refuses to admit that inflation is subsiding on its own." Again, Biden made a bad mistake appointing this Republican to a second term (much as Obama did with Bernanke, and Clinton with Greenspan). For what it's worth, I'm not terribly upset that he raised interest rates up off the floor: that's helped cool down house prices, and perhaps most important, it's slowed down speculative gambling on futures, which now seems to have been the main thing driving oil prices up. When several left-of-center economists were lobbying for Powell to get that second term, they pointed to his changed views. I can't tell you now what they thought he was thinking, but he seems to have clung to the hoariest of old views: that the only proof that inflation is declining is that unemployment is rising.

Ian Millhiser:

Charles P Pierce: [01-04] Given the Choice Between Free Money or Sicker Residents, Republicans Chose Sickness: "Their refusal to expand Medicaid is making it impossible for rural hospitals to stay in business." His examples are elsewhere, but this is particularly a problem here in Kansas -- where a significant majority want Medicaid expansion, but the Republicans they foolishly elect think it's smart politics to discredit Obamacare by turning away people who would benefit from it. Pierce, by the way, kicks out 2-3 useful posts every day.

Andrew Prokop: [11-02] Will 2023 be the year Donald Trump is indicted? I suspect, the less it matters, the more likely it becomes. Also on Trump:

Nathan J Robinson: [12-06] Let ChatGPT Convert You to Socialism. I got interested in AI back in the 1980s, but haven't followed it since. One idea I had back then was to write a program that could crank out weekly letters to my mother. I would feed it a couple bullet points if I had any actual news, and it would mix them in with semi-random swatches of boilerplate. I was quite certain that she would be delighted, and none the wiser. That sort of thing is probably much closer to reality today, but will more likely be used by spammers trying to defraud you. On the other hand, I can imagine smarter programs that read your mail for you, sort out the dangerous and the merely crappy. Still, any arms race is likely to ultimately blow up. The best solution is to refashion the world to make predatory behavior less likely.

I haven't rekindled my interest in AI, so I know very little about where it's gone and how it's being used (other than my impression of badly). My nephew is pretty seriously into AI image generation: he's a graphic artist, and wants to see if he can use it to generate his style of art more efficiently. Robinson has done some of that too, but has focused more on ChatGPT, which he reports on here.

Jeffrey St Clair: [01-06] Roaming Charges: No Speaker, No Cry. "There are 100 members of the 'Progressive Caucus,' who capitulated within seconds to nearly every demand Pelosi made, and 40 members of the Freedom Caucus who don't mind waterboarding their own leader in public to get their way & ditching him if they don't." Also: "The problem is McCarthy himself is endorsed by Trump and the neo-fascist Marjorie Taylor-Greene, along with Freedom Caucus hardliners Jim Jordan and Louis Gohmert. In the face of a MAGA raid on the Capitol, McCarthy still voted to overturn the 2020 elections and boasted: 'I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it.'"

Eric Topol: [01-08] The coronavirus is speaking. It's saying it's not done with us.

New York Times: [01-08] Live Updates: Brazilian Authorities Clear Government Offices of Rioters, Official Says: Right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro lost his re-election bid a couple months ago, so now as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has taken office, Bolsonaro's mob has decided to throw their own January 6 riot. For more, see Ellen Ioanes: [01-08] Bolsonaro supporters storm Brazil's seat of power.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022


Speaking of Which

Long time, many delays, most significant of which was coming down with Covid a week ago. It followed a couple days of socializing, something I'm clearly ill-practiced at. The wife of a cousin died the previous week. I missed the funeral, but went out to the farm to see some of the family, who had all been at the funeral. Then, next day, I fixed our usual latke holiday dinner, for a rather tightly packed crowd of nine. Two days later I tested positive. I've had all three booster shots, and got a 5-day run of paxlovid. As illnesses go, I've suffered worse, but in this politically charged time, this one feels both sad and infuriating. And there have been many compounding hardships, from record cold that broke an appliance to a dog sadly on her last legs. Plus fear of infecting my wife, which so far hasn't happened, and as such remains a constant struggle.

Still, the main side-effect has been a huge sense of disinterest in everything I've been doing, or wanting to do. The most immediate victim is the Francis Davis Jazz Poll, which won't come out on time, because I haven't gotten it together. My usual Music Week post is also delayed, perhaps indefinitely. (Certainly no guarantee it will appear tomorrow.) For some reason, this post framework has been easier to get back into than anything involving music. It started just jotting down links, and most of the ones I grabbed early are still pretty bare (and I'm unlikely to return to them). But over several days, a few comments started to form. Still, I figure this is still mostly an exercise to file away bookmarks, in case I ever feel like revisiting the history.

Beware that Covid-19 cases have been rising steadily since new cases dropped under 37,000 on Oct. 30, to 70,425 (+90%) on Dec. 22 (numbers around Christmas bounce due to reporting fluctuations).


Ben Armbruster: [12-16] Diplomacy Watch: Is the Overton window of the Ukraine war's end game shifting? Also: Connor Echols: [12-23] Diplomacy Watch: Sketching the uncomfortable path to peace. Both titles sound more optimistic than there seems to be evidence for.

  • Connor Echols: [12-21] Zelensky addresses Congress, makes push for advanced weapons.

  • Masha Gessen: [12-22] Volodomyr Zelensky's critical visit to Washington, DC: I have a major bone to pick here: the notion that, "The United States and its allies have not done enough to stop the war in Ukraine." The context here is Ukraine's demands for ever more powerful weapons, which the US (or as Biden shifted responsibility, the European "allies") have slow-pedalled for fears of provoking Russia into a broader war (something Putin has repeatedly, if not all that convincingly, threatened). Gessen finds this caution "obscene." But there's no reason to think that more (and fancier) weapons would "end the war." That's only going to happen in negotiation. And while one can fault the US and Europe for not doing enough to bring about negotiations -- not least by fueling fantasies that Ukraine might regain all Russian-occupied territory -- Biden et al. (especially Zelenskyy) have done one key thing, which is to show Putin that the only way out is through negotiation. Adding Patriot missiles to the mix is a big win for Raytheon, but not an essential step toward ending the war.

  • Jonathan Guyer/Li Zhou: [12-21] Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy's unexpected visit to the US, explained.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [12-16] This DC party invite shows all the money to be made off the Ukraine war: "A Ukrainian Embassy reception, sponsored by America's biggest weapons makers."

  • Ben Freeman/William Hartung: [12-23] New Ukraine aid is a go -- and it's more than most states get in a year: "Congress just passed a $45 billion assistance package for Kyiv on the way out of the door for the holidays. We put this spending into context."

  • Fred Kaplan: [12-22] The Power of Volodymyr Zelensky's Charm Offensive: "The next Congress can't slash support for Ukraine now." As Kaplan notes, Zelensky "knew all the right buttons to push." Kaplan also wrote: [12-16] Henry Kissinger Wrote a Peace Plan for Ukraine. It's Ludicrous. Actually, the "peace plan" isn't so bad. Kaplan's probably right that it isn't something Putin can accept, but I don't agree with the posture (which Kaplan seems to have adopted after his own proposals fell into history's dustbin) that until Putin is ready to sue for peace, there's no need for anyone to sketch out a possible compromise. The piece's other point is that Kissinger and his worldview, largely formed by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, is ludicrous.

  • Greg Sargent: [12-23] Tucker Carlson's rage at Zelensky caps a year of getting things wrong. Bizarrely fascinating to watch right-wing jerks like Carlson lose their minds, as they try to apply old attack tropes to new cases that fit even worse -- like characterizing Zelensky at a "welfare queen." Still, the first thing this reminded me of was the counterexample of Reagan proclaiming the Afghan mujahideen as "like our founding fathers." Which led me to:

  • Cathy Young: [12-22] Putin's Useful Idiots: Right Wingers Lose It Over Zelensky Visit. A term often attributed to Stalin, but vastly exercised by right-wing pundits to ridicule liberals as soft-in-the-head fools, still, it literally works in this case: the targets are certifiable idiots, and their rage and sputterings serve little purpose other than to comfort Putin. I don't doubt that one can make a case that Ukraine is corrupted by oligarchs, tainted by collaboration with fascists, and far from a liberal democracy; also that anti-Putin Democrats are having way too much fun watching Ukrainians die just to spite the guy they blame for Hillary Clinton losing to Trump in 2016. One could go deeper and critique the deep direction of US foreign policy ever since globalists started promoting US hegemony in the early 1940s. But these jerks aren't saying anything like that. They want to see Ukraine safely under Putin's illiberal thumb, and they want to see Washington's "democracy promoters" -- which, frankly, has mostly been a propaganda ploy to spread American hegemony -- rebuffed at every turn.

Dean Baker: [12-16] We Don't Need Government-Granted Patent Monopolies to Finance Drug Development: Quite frankly, they do much more harm than good.

Doug Bandow: [12-21] Ending the Syrian war, getting US troops out, and lifting sanctions: "The status quo is doing more harm than good. Let's admit failure before more people are hurt and put in harm's way." I would have been quite happy had Assad been driven into exile, or even strung up, but that didn't happen, despite the efforts of at least a dozen other countries to intervene. Realism suggests the need to reach some sort of deal where the US offers to normalize relations (including removing troops and ending sanctions), provide humanitarian aid, and use its influence to dissuade its "allies" from attacking and/or trying to subvert the Assad regime (Turkey being the most immediate threat, but Israel regularly bombs Syria), in exchange for agreement not to punish dissidents and to allow political prisoners to go into exile. Note, however, that the US has never negotiated such a deal, as it always seemed politically expedient to perpetuate "cold war" hostilities, and in the end the US never cared that much about the people it supposedly entered the conflict to help -- most were left to their own devices, then begrundingly allowed to immigrate if they made it that far.

Dave Barry: [12-25] Dave Barry's 2022 Year in Review: Getting old here, and there. Old enough I can remember a time when he was genuinely funny. Probably because less seemed to be at stake then.

Matthew Cooper: [12-22] Charlie Peters, Washington Monthly Founder and Mentor to Leading Journalists, Turns 96: Peter founded Washington Monthly in 1969. I started subscribing shortly after that. For a while, I suppose I could have followed two different political paths: one into reform-minded Democratic Party politics, which was influenced significantly by reading the policy-wonky articles in Washington Monthly, and the other into more radical left movements. Peters was a guru of the former path, but I probably stopped reading him before the McGovern loss crushed my faith in elections. But while the new left offered a convincing critique of liberal capitalism, I never found a practical politics there. I stopped subscribing to Washington Monthly after a few years, so I didn't notice when Peters was one of the first to expound a new notion of neoliberalism. I've never been clear how much his adoption of the term has in common with the "New Democrats" who made neoliberalism a dirty word. The last thing I read by him was a lament on how his native West Virginia abandoned the Democratic fold.

Shirin Ghaffary: [12-16] Elon Musk's Twitter journalist purge has begun.

Melvin Goodman: [12-23] How the New York Times Mythologizes US-Israeli Relations. Something they're not alone in, but have been at the forefront of, at least since . . . well, the earliest examples in this article are from the 1950s.

Margaret Hartmann: [12-16] 7 Great Things About Trump's Incredibly Dumb NFT Announcement: You know the bar's low when the article starts with: "NFTs are the least harmful thing Trump could have announced." Other Trump trivia pieces (see Prokop below for the Jan. 6 criminal referrals, and Narea for his taxes):

  • Olivia Nuzzi: [12-23] The Final Campaign: "Inside Donald Trump's sad, lonely, thirsty, broken, basically pretend run for reelection. (Which isn't to say he can't win.)" You can compare this with Nuzzi's July 14 piece: Donald Trump on 2024: 'I've Already Made That Decision': "The only question left in the former president's mind is when he'll announce." Not why? Or: do I have a chance? Or: how stupid will I look? The only thing he seems to understand is the graft another campaign makes possible.

Ben Jacobs: [12-23] Did George Santos lie about everything? And how incompetent was the media in failing to figure him out before the election? Same for whoever was supposed to do "oppo research" for the Democrats. Too little, too late, but the New York Times has more: [12-23] George Santos's Early Life: Odd Jobs, Bad Debts and Lawsuits. On the other hand, while journalists aren't much good at discovering, they are pretty adept at piling on: Joe Perticone: [12-23] George Santos's Problems Are Just Getting Started.

Ed Kilgore: [12-14] Democrats Came Shockingly Close to Keeping the House: Going into the election, my working assumption was that Democrats would win the popular vote for the House, but could lose control due mostly to gerrymanders. But it appears now that Republicans actually won the popular vote (50.6% to 47.8%, a margin of 2.8%) while winning the House by somewhat less (222-213, a margin of 2.0%). I don't know what this means, but one effect of gerrymandering is to suppress turnout by making elections less competitive ("safe" seats were often won by 70% or more), but also slanting competitive seats toward Republicans may have boosted R turnout more than D.

Siobhan McDonough: [12-22] Why are American lives getting shorter? "US life expectancy got worse during Covid-19, and then kept getting worse."

Ian Millhiser:

Brian Murphy: [11-09] Ernie Lazar, who quietly amassed huge FBI archive, dies at 77: Late tip here from Rick Perlstein, a beneficiary of his research.

Nicole Narea: [12-21] Trump's tax returns are about to become public. What happens now?

New Republic: The Scoundrels, Ghouls, and Crooks of 2022.

Timothy Noah:

Andrew Prokop: [12-19] The January 6 committee's case against Trump.

Dylan Scott: [12-15] Ron DeSantis's vaccine "investigation" is all about beating Trump.

Dan Secatore: [12-19] What I Learned Curating Presidential Theater for Obama: "A former Obama advance man on how the hollow pageantry of political stagecraft legitimizes bad policy and distracts us from more substantive political discussions."

Stephen M Walt: [12-13] The United States Couldn't Stop Being Stop Being Stupid if It Wanted To. The "realist" blames liberals, for thinking that the rights and liberties we expect at home should be available to everyone else, but what kind of liberalism is one that extends its values at gun point? Granted, Americans like to talk about liberal values when they go to war, but that's only because it sounds better than admitting to crass imperialist aims.

Brett Wilkins: [12-20] UN Experts Decry Record Year of Israeli Violence in Occupied West Bank: "Israel's deplorable record in the occupied West Bank will likely deteriorate further in 2023."


Also, a golden oldie: Rick Perlstein: [2021-10-26] A Short History of Conservative Trolling.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2022


Speaking of Which

I opened this during a brief lull on Friday, adding a bit here and there, but by Sunday evening I was so swamped with my collation of the 17th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll that it became clear that I wouldn't be able to find time to post until after Monday's deadline.l That's pushed it back two days, and will push Music Week back another, to Wednesday (at the earliest). In making a final round, I haven't limited myself to Sunday's articles, but I am trying to keep it light and manageable.


Zack Beauchamp: [12-09] The bizarre far-right coup attempt in Germany, explained by an expert: Interview with Peter Neumann. Also:

Melissa del Bosque: [12-11] Arizona governor builds border wall of shipping crates in final days of office.

Jessica Corbett: [12-10] Kari Lake files suit to reverse her loss in race for Arizona governor: I've occasionally wondered who is the Trumpiest governor in America -- Ron DeSantis is certainly the most prominent, although Kristi Noem pops into mind -- but to be truly Trumpy, you have to lose an election and refuse to let it go. Lake is the only one other than Trump with the ego to do that, although one suspects that even she is only following the Leader.

Tim Craig: [12-10] As bitcoin plummets, Miami vows to hold onto its crypto dreams: Paul Krugman linked to this and tweeted: "Republicans have long insisted that governments shouldn't try to pick winners. So I guess they've decided to pick losers instead." He continued: "Crypto has always been a combination of technobabble and libertarian derp. But the sheer scope of the scam continues to amaze. The fact that there's still an FTX arena is the cherry on top."

Connor Echols: [12-09] Diplomacy Watch: NATO infighting continues as Putin signals long war: "Western policy on Ukraine is hitting a snag as Turkey and Hungary flex their new-found geopolitical muscles." Little here beyond the hostage swap of Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout.

More on Ukraine:

Rhoda Feng: [12-07] The Gamification of Everything Is No Fun: Review of Adrian Hon: You've Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us.

William Hartung: [12-09] New spending bill squanders billions on dysfunctional weapons programs: "The increase alone [$80 billion] from last year is more than what some of the world's biggest countries spend on their own defense budgets." This year's bill allocates $858 billion. More on this:

  • Andrew Cockburn: [12-08] The B-21: another Air Force diva that can't deliver?

  • Fred Kaplan: [12-08] There Is No Good Reason for a Defense Budget This Large: "And yet, no one is even talking about the additional $45 billion." That's beyond the DOD's request; $80 billion over last year (+10%); adjusted for inflation, it's still "the largest U.S. military budget since World War II."

  • Charles P Pierce: [12-08] The Money the US Spends on its Military Is Obscene, and So Is the Way It's Legislated.

  • Li Zhou: [12-07] Why Republicans are so intent on rolling back the military's Covid-19 vaccine mandate. Let me give you my theory: Most Americans were willing and even eager to get vaccinated, but a tiny minority objected, giving all sorts of cockamamie reasons that basically boiled down to them insisting on putting their personal health concerns over public ones. I'm not unsympathetic to individuals taking that stand, although in this case I think their reasoning is unsound, and because it shows their disinterest in public health. However, the military is supposedly committed not to the individuals that constitute it but to the core and the public as a whole. When one joins, one gives up a certain amount of personal freedom to support that whole, and in this context, vaccine mandates are a small personal price to pay. By the way, the military has a long history of requiring vaccinations and much more, ranging from standard hair cuts to (in my father's WWII case) circumcision. Why Republicans should choose to take up the anti-vax cause in the military has less to do with opposition to the imposition of state power -- which they often promote for causes they like -- than with the idea that anti-vax soldiers are politically sympathetic to their agenda, and their desire to grow a political column within the armed forces that might eventually be used to seize power and impose the dictatorship of their dreams. After all, soldiers who put the public welfare and a belief in the sanctity of law ahead of their personal political allegiances aren't likely to overthrow the government. By the way, it's not true that all anti-vaxxers are right-wingers. Only the ones who attempt to impose their idiot views on others are.

Shirin Ghaffary: [12-09] What the Twitter files don't tell us: "The documents are ammo for conservatives, even if they lack crucial context." Elon Musk selected Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss to orchestrate these leaks, figuring they'd give them the political spin he wanted. Also on this:

Margaret Hartmann: [12-08] Donald Trump Cost Lara Trump Her Fox News Gig: "Nepotism giveth, and nepotism taketh away."

Eric Herschtal: [12-08] How the Right Turned "Freedom" Into a Dog Whistle: "A new book traces the long history of cloakroom racism in the language of resistance to an overbearing federal government." Review of Jefferson Cowie: Freedom's Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power.

Ellen Ioanes: [12-10] Iran's months-long protest movement, explained. Also:

Ed Kilgore: [12-13] Is DeSantis More Electable Than Trump?: This is not a question Democrats should fret over. Better or worse? Perhaps, but best to prepare against the union of their two sets of views, which is often worse than any divergences you might be able to discover. (And note that Trump's deviances from Republican orthodoxy are like subatomic particles: tiny, unstable, and very short-lived.) No real need to go down this rabbit hole, but:

Keren Landman: [12-06] The US has never recorded this many positive flu tests in one week: "And health care systems are getting crushed . . . again."

Rebecca Leber: [12-10] The weird Republican turn against corporate social responsibility: "Companies say they want to acknowledge environmental impacts. Republicans are mad about that." It used to be easy to think that Republicans are simply shills for big business, and that they'll reflexively support anything that adds to corporate bottom lines. The reality is more complex and more nuanced than that -- much more than I can unpack here, but whatever the political and ideological underpinning may be, for all practical purposes it just seems like Republicans really want a world that is even more dystopian than the one they've already created.

Eric Levitz: [12-08] Climate Hawks Should Have Given Joe Manchin His Pipeline: Because Manchin's "permitting reform" bill would have made it easier not just to build his pet pipeline but to install more wind power and transmission lines, which are currently bogged down in the permit process.

Neal Meyer/Simon Grassmann: [12-12] The Case for Proportional Representation. This is a "response" to another piece, by Benjamin Studebaker: [06-16] Proportional Representation Is a Terrible Idea That the Left Should Not Embrace. From a practical standpoint, I'm not sure exactly that they are proposing (or opposing), but I had a related idea a couple weeks back, and this gives me a chance to jot it down. My idea wasn't to divide the number of representatives up proportionately, but to keep districts (including states) and award weighted votes to the top two (or possibly more than two, subject to some minimum threshold) representatives. With a two-party system, each district would have two representatives: one Republican, one Democrat, with their voting weight set by the election split (rounded up for the winner, down for second place). The Senate could also be organized this way, with or without factoring the state population in. (Obviously, factoring it in would eliminate one big problem with the Senate.) I'm not sure what you'd do about executives (other than reduce their power). Think about it: this would solve a lot of problems, starting with gerrymandering; it would give more people a stake in representative government (living in Kansas, I can testify that at present "my" representatives are totally fucking useless); it would also reduce the incentive people have to invest in campaigns, given that most districts can only be swayed by a few percentage points. What this has to do with "left" political strategy is beyond me, but a more functional democracy seems likely to be a good thing.

Ian Millhiser:

Françoise Mouly: [12-02] Remembering the artist Aline Kominsky-Crumb, a trailblazing funny woman: Dead, at age 74.

Nathan J Robinson: [12-12] Why We Need Book Reviews: "Books are where the knowledge is. A flourishing democracy depends on a culture that care about and talks about books." Amen to that. Given that my own reading capacity is so starkly limited, I find that it also helps to have a map to books I (mostly) haven't read.

Paul Rosenberg: [12-10] How the New York Times helped Republicans win the House: "The Gray Lady told America that rising crime and worsening inflation were driven by Democrats. None of it was true." Among other things, quotes Dean Baker: "In short, the media decided that we had a terrible economy, and they were not going to let the data get in the way."

Storer H Rowley: [12-05] Biden Faces Netanyahu and Israel's Most Right-Wing Government. One imagines that Democrats including Biden should take offense at the rampant racism and the callous contempt for human rights and peace, but they've tolerated (and for all practical purposes endorsed) such behavior in increasing amounts for decades. It's hard to see why that changes now, although we are seeing more articles like Uriel Abulof: [11-25] "Have I Just Met the Jewish Hitler?"

Barbara Slavin: [12-10] When will the US learn that sanctions don't solve its problems? "Harsh economic penalties rarely, if ever, work to change a targeted regime's behavior; so why do we still use them?" Could have filed this under Ukraine, but it's a much more general problem. In Russia's case, sanctions -- even if ineffective -- may be justifiable as a way to do something in response to invasion short of escalating the war. One might also imagine scenarios where the threat of sanctions might work to deter undesired behavior, but that's only likely to work if you're threatening to take away something a country depends on: South Africa is the poster case, and Israel might work the same way (at least that's the hope of the BDS movement). And relieving sanctions can be useful as a diplomatic bargaining chip, but only if you're willing to bargain and withdraw the sanctions: Iran and North Korea should be success examples here, but aren't, because ultimately preferred to nurse their grudges over allowing other nations any degree of normal freedom.

Jeffrey St Clair: [12-09] Roaming Charges: The Mask of Order.

Emily Stewart: [12-13] FTX's implosion and SBF's arrest, explained. This has become much bigger news than I care to go into. One wonders, for instance, if the decision to prosecute Brinkman-Fried isn't an attempt to whitewash the rest of the crypto racket, much like Bernie Madoff became the fall guy for a much larger and deeper financial scandal. But, what the hell:

Li Zhou: [12-06] Raphael Warnock is officially Democrats' 51st senator. Here's why that matters. On the other hand, days later the other shoe dropped: Christian Paz: [12-09] How Kyrsten Sinema's decision to leave the Democratic Party will change the Senate. She's registering as an Independent, and says she won't caucus with the Republicans, so that probably means that for organizational purposes Democrats will retain a 51-49 advantage, but now dependent on three independents (also Angus King and Bernie Sanders). More on these stories:

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Sunday, December 4, 2022


Speaking of Which

This week's column will be the schematic one I thought I was going to write last week. How do I know? Well, I didn't open this file until 6:00 PM, and I still have other work to get done by bedtime.


Dean Baker: Evidently Baker has been banned from Twitter (see: Left-Wing Twitter Accounts Criticizing Elon Musk Are Being Suspended for "Platform Manipulation and Spam", yet Elon Brings One of America's Most Prominent Nazis Back to Twitter, as Hate Speech's Rise on Twitter Is Unprecedented).

Charles Bethea: [12-04] Will Republicans who have soured on Trump turn out for Herschel Walker? I don't think we're talking about a very big group here, but if you're a Republican and Walker is the only candidate on the ballot, would you bother to vote? Especially when a victory means Walker will be in the public eye, as a "leading light" of the GOP, for six more years?

Christopher Byrd: [12-04] Cory Doctorow wants you to know what computers can and can't do: "A conversation about the 'mediocre monopolists' of Big Tech, the weirdness of crypto, and the real lessons of science fiction."

Patrick Cockburn: [12-05] The Cruel, Dishonest and Shameful Story of Britain's Last Colony May Be Coming to an End: The Chagos Archipelago, in the Indian Ocean.

Connor Echols: [12-02] Diplomacy Watch: Divisions flare in the West as winter looms: "As energy prices rise and temperatures drop, European publics are feeling squeezed by the Ukraine's war's secondary effects." More on Ukraine:

Omar Guerrero: [11-28] Why the Right Can't Boogaloo.

Margaret Hartmann: [10-30] Trump Was Tricked Into Dining With Too Many Antisemites: The story of his life, in a nutshell. A downside of wearing his prejudices and ignorance on his sleeves is that he's amazingly easy to con into saying and/or doing something disgusting. You'd think that with his money and exposure, he'd take some precautions, but the only people willing to work for him are ones as debased as he is -- and even then they're often playing a long game to find the most propitious moment to sell him out (e.g., Omorosa, Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels).

More on Trump and/or antisemitism:

Ellen Ioanes: [12-04] What Congress can do with Trump's tax returns.

Paul Elliott Johnson: How the Right Developed Its Victim Complex: "Once a party that touted rugged individualism, today's Republicans have an ever-expanding list of grievances and complaints about perceived wrongs."

John Limbert: [12-01] Iran's clerics have declared war on their own people: "A tight, privileged fraternity of religious leaders has monopolized power in Tehran since 1979. It's now backed itself into a corner." More on Iran:

Ian Millhiser:

Lily Sánchez: [11-23] On Slowing Down to Cook.

Jeffrey St Clair: [12-02] Roaming Charges: Railroaded, Again: He's very unhappy, but not surprised, about Biden and the Democrats ending the railroad strike.

Michael D Swaine: [11-28] Here's how the US shouldn't respond to China protests: "Washington has a habit of getting involved in ways that make things worse for demonstrators on the ground." More on China:


The story above that needs the most unpacking is the way US media has lined up behind the idea that China's anti-Covid strategy was a disaster, even though America's schizophrenic response to the pandemic resulted both in a per capita death rate 600 times as high, while China's economy has continued to grow faster than America's. One might argue many sides of this issue, but those facts do not prove that China has less regard for the health and welfare of its people than we do -- if anything, quite the opposite. Yet the implication seems to be politicians who actively sabotaged pandemic response were somehow being heroic. For a prime example, see Charles P Pierce: [11-30] The Ghoulish Hubris of Letting People Die and Calling That Bravery.

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Sunday, November 27, 2022


Speaking of Which

Early in the week, I thought: maybe I won't have to do one of these this week. Later, I thought: well, if either of two weekly pieces I've been linking to -- Connor Echols' "Diplomacy Watch" and Jeffrey St Clair's "Roaming Charges" -- appear, I should at least include them. But it looks like they had the good sense to take the week off, even if the world didn't. Still, I have a few more pieces in tabs that I figured I should note now rather than save for next week. Then a quick round of the usual sources, and I'm close to a typical week's work.


Ukraine: The war grinds on. Connor Echols skipped his usual "Diplomacy Watch" this week, but I'm not aware that he had much to write about.

  • Yehonatan Abramson/Dean Dulay/Anil Menon/Pauline Jones: [11-25] Why are Germans losing enthusiasm for helping Ukraine? It's not just about energy costs, our research finds. Germans have a deep cultural aversion toward military intervention."

  • Fred Kaplan: [11-21] Where Realpolitik Went Wrong: This is a devastating critique of several interviews John Mearsheimer has given about the Ukraine War. Just this week, I looked over the latest and decided it wasn't worth citing here. I've long given Mearsheimer credit for being one of the few foreign policy mandarins to recognize the corrosive effects of The Israel Lobby, but I've mostly followed his "realist" stance through his co-author, Stephen Walt, and found it lacking even if not nearly as bad as the neocon ideologues both usefully criticize. Still, Mearsheimer seems so committed to the inevitabilities of great power rivalry that he thinks the US should drop Ukraine to cultivate Russia as a potential ally for an inevitable war with China. That's not just dangerous and immoral, it's down right stupid.

  • Eric Levitz: [11-22] Should Ukraine Give Peace Talks a Chance? Raises six questions, which he doesn't have very good answers to:

    1. What are Ukraine's odds of making further territorial gains?
    2. How interested is Putin in peace?
    3. How large are the humanitarian costs of appeasing Putin?
    4. How can Ukraine's future security be preserved?
    5. How much more economic damage will Ukraine suffer from a prolonged war?
    6. How likely is Putin to respond to total defeat by deploying nuclear weapons?

    Come to think of it, the questions aren't very good either. The only tangible one is territory, but as long as neither side is able to dictate peace, it's hard to see much value in the possible exchanges of territory: Ukraine might still gain a bit, but nowhere near enough to satisfy their victory goals; similarly, Russia could mount a new offensive, but recent losses suggest they are already overextended. At this point, the only possible agreement on territory is to let the people who live there (or used to live there before the war) vote, and trust the vote to decide. The third point is poisoned by "appeasing," especially with no account of the human costs of continued war.

    The answer to number four is: when Russia no longer sees Ukraine and its alliances, which are significantly deeper now than they were before the March invasion, as a threat. That may require a "leap of faith" Putin is incapable of, but it certainly won't be achieved by integrating Ukraine into NATO. Nor does it seem likely that the US and its allies are going to be making any "leaps of faith" either. One paradox of the war is that it seems to validate the core assumptions of NATO (that Russia is a threat to neighboring parts of Europe) while at the same time proving that the logic of deterrence is itself destabilizing and perilous.

  • Nicolai Petro: [11-25] The tragedy of Crimea: "A history of the region's difficult relationship with Ukrainian rule before 2014 shows why Kyiv's attempt to retake it would be difficult. There are a few things here even I wasn't aware of, helping explain why Crimea revolted in 2014 even before Russia intervened.

  • Robert Wright: [11-23] What was Zelensky thinking? "Last week's false claim about a missile strike in Poland carries two important lessons." Unfortunately, the article cuts off before getting to the meat of the argument, but the two lessons are: "interests can differ among allies" and "the picture we're getting of this war isn't wholly unreliable." It may be possible to portray Zelensky's initial claim that missiles landing on Poland was a Russian escalation to directly attack a NATO member, and more generally that Zelensky's statements that no negotiation is possible until Russia withdraws from all Ukrainian territory (even Crimea) reveal him to be a fanatical warmonger. But it makes more sense to accept that, as Wright puts it, he "was just doing his job." That job entails not only rallying his troops to fight the Russians but also lobbying America and anyone else who'll listen to send him arms and support to carry on that fight. Sometimes that involves shameless flattery, as when he quoted Churchill to the UK Parliament, and sometimes the distortions aren't exactly true. Sometimes he feels the need to stand up as a tough guy, and sometimes he he stresses how vulnerable Ukraine is. And sometimes what he says in public isn't the same thing he's saying in private, although even there it probably depends on who he's saying it to. It's a difficult balancing act, and actually he's proven remarkably skillful at it, but you do need to keep several things in mind: his interests aren't necessarily the same as those of his countrymen, and neither are more than incidentally aligned with the US and/or NATO; because his interests aren't exactly the same, he's not really a proxy (although the US could probably guide him if it's somewhere he's willing to go -- one worries that the Americans don't really know where they want to go, which makes them that much easier to take them for a ride). One should always remember that the news coming out of Ukraine is mostly filtered through the war machine, selected to make Ukrainians appear heroic and sympathetic [see examples below], and thus to rally support for them and opposition to Russia. They've been pretty successful so far, but I worry the distortions will make it harder to actually settle the war.

    Example stories, these from the Washington Post (I'm not saying that these are untrue, but there aren't many counterexamples):

Jacqueline Alemany/Josh Dawsey/Carol D Leonnig: [11-23] Jan. 6 panel staffers angry at Cheney for focusing so much of report on Trump: "15 former and current staffers expressed concern that important findings unrelated to Trump will not become available to the American public."

Kate Aronoff: [11-18] Effective Altruism Is Bunk, Crypto Is Bad for the Planet, and Other Basic Truths of the FTX Crash: "The overarching lesson of sam Bankman-Fried's downfall is that the gauzy philosophical natterings of CEOs are just meant to distract us from their real goal: accumulating cash without interference."

Zack Beauchamp: [11-22] How the right's radical thinkers are coping with the midterms: "The New Right emerged to theorize Trumpism's rise. Can they explain its defeat?" They mostly seem to be doubling down on the idea that the "left" secretly controls many critical institutions in America, making it all but impossible to "save America" by through democratic processes. One even urges the American right to emulate the Taliban: "The Mujahideen fighters who brought the Soviets to their knees in Afghanistan were outmanned and outgunned. And yet they removed the godless occupiers from their land." This is wrong on more levels than I can count, but illustrates the growing paranoia and attendant recklessness of what passes for thought on the far right.

Geoffrey A Fowler: [11-23] It's not your imagination: Shopping on Amazon has gotten worse: "Everything on Amazon is becoming an ad."

Graham Gallagher: [11-25] Elite Conservatives Have Taken an Awfully Weird Turn.

Forrest Hylton: [11-25] A Historian in History: Staughton Lynd (1929-2022).

Eric Levitz: [11-25] One Worrying Sign for Democrats in the Midterm Results: "The gubernatorial elections in Georgia and Ohio suggest that a right-wing Republican could win moderate voters in 2024 merely by not being Trump." A big part of the problem is that Democrats tend to focus on the "MAGA fringe" and ignore the fundamental truth: that virtually all Republicans share the same set of far-right policy preferences.

Dylan Matthews: [11-22] How one man quietly stitched the American safety net over four decades: On Robert Greenstein, who founded the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in 1981. The safety net they came up with is a hodge-podge of often unclear and inadequate programs which nonetheless add up to significant help against poverty. This is part of a Vox Highlight series on The world to come, which also includes:

  • Kevin Carey: [11-21] The incredible shrinking future of college: This starts with a demographic decline in "college-aged" Americans, but isn't the more significant problem that we've given up on higher education as anything more than credentialism for job training? The notion that adults might wish to learn more for their own gratification, and that society might benefit from a more knowledgeable citizenry, has fallen by the wayside, and in some cases succumbed to deliberate political attack.

  • Kelsey Piper: [11-28] AI experts are increasingly afraid of what they're creating.

  • Yasmin Tayag: [11-22] Will America continue to turn away from vaccines?

  • Bryan Walsh: [11-21] Are 8 billion people too many -- or too few? I read Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb shortly after it came out in 1968, so this is a question that has long haunted me, even as history has shown the need for a more nuanced view. The alarm raised by Ehrlich, like that of Malthus in the early 19th century, faded not because population growth was throttled -- although countries that did so have seen their average wealth increase more than elsewhere -- but because it's been possible to find and utilize resources more efficiently. Still, no one (other than mad men and economists) think this trend can continue indefinitely. This continues to interest me because the Earth's carrying capacity depends a lot on social and economic organization, and because hitting resource limits can stress and even break those institutions. Many of the problems we've encountered over the last couple years -- climate disasters, supply chain issues, inflation, even the pandemic itself -- are tied to resource limits, even if only very loosely to population.

Mike McIntire: [11-26] At Protests, Guns Are Doing the Talking: "Armed Americans, often pushing a right-wing agenda, are increasingly using open-carry laws to intimidate opponents and shut down debate."

Ian Millhiser: [11-27] A Trump judge seized control of ICE, and the Supreme Court will decide whether to stop him: "Judge Drew Tipton's order in United States v. Texas is completely lawless. Thus far, the Supreme Court has given him a pass."

Prem Thakker: [11-23] Glenn Youngkin, Who Supports No Gun Control, Is Heartbroken Over Virginia Walmart Shoting; and Tori Otten: [11-23] Glenn Youngkin Blames Virginia Walmart Shooting on "Mental Health Crisis." So What's His Plan?.

Adam Weinstein: [11-23] Six reasons the Afghan government utterly collapsed during US withdrawal: "A new official watchdog report sheds light on what led to the Taliban's rapid takeover last year and implications for America's future foreign policy." The list:

  1. Kabul failed to recognize the U.S. would actually leave;
  2. the decision to exclude the Afghan government from US-Taliban talks undermined it;
  3. Kabul insisted that the Taliban be integrated into the Republic rather than create a new model altogether;
  4. the Taliban wouldn't compromise;
  5. former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani "governed through a highly selective, narrow circle of loyalists" (read: yes men) which destabilized the government;
  6. Kabul was afflicted by centralization, corruption, and a legitimacy crisis.

Given time I don't have, I could nitpick my way around these points. I suspect number 4 has less to do with inflexibility than with the fact that neither the US nor Ghani had any real popular support that needed to be recognized much less compromised with. The other points should be studied by Ukraine, lest they find themselves in a position where the US wants out and that could leave them high and dry. (That doesn't seem to be the case now, but see the Wright comment above.)

Li Zhou: [11-25] The high stakes and unique weirdness of the Georgia Senate runoff, briefly explained.


Found this on Twitter:

The Colorado shooter's dad on finding out his son murdered people: "They started telling me about the incident a shooting . . . And then I go on to find out it's a gay bar. I got scared, 'Shit, is he gay?' And he's not gay, so I said, phew . . . I am a conservative Republican."

For more, here's an article: Kelly McClure: [11-23] "I'm just glad he's not gay," says father of alleged Club Q shooter: article includes Twitter link. Also quotes the father as saying: "I praised him for violent behavior really early. I told him it works. It is instant and you'll get immediate results." It also notes that the shooter legally changed his name to distance himself from this asshole. Steve M. wrote two more pieces about this (more than the story needs, but they observe the political spin): [11-23] National Review: Don't politicize the Colorado Springs shooting. The rest of the right: Well, actually . . . and, more importantly, [11-24] Bad parents are the original stochastic terrorists. [PS: He's been riffing on "stochastic terrorists" lately. For another example, see: [11-21] Republicans sound like stochastic terrorists even when they're (apparently) not trying to. The occasion here is Mike Pompeo declaring that "the most dangerous person in the world" is Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers.]

Also note that Steve M. continues to have his finger on the pulse of elite Republican thinking: see [11-27] Maureen Dowd's brother recites the approved GOP establishment talking opoints. Notice what's not included. In particular, he points out:

If you ever ask yourself, "What does the GOP stand for?," the answer is "The GOP stands for GOP winning elections."

I've been saying for some time now that Richard Nixon was the godfather of the Republican Party, because he taught the party that winning is the only thing that matters, and no scruples should get in your way. The reason many prominent Republicans didn't like Trump when he was running in 2016 is because they didn't think he could win. But they voted for him anyway, and when he did win, he was not only forgiven; he was their hero. That should have lasted only until he lost in 2020, but thanks to the Big Lie, his popular support kept them in check until the 2022 loss gave them an excuse to brand him a loser -- which is really the only thing that they care about, and the one thing they think might work.

However, the polls haven't caught up, in large part because rank-and-file Republicans care much less about winning than about hating the Dems and being hated in turn, which Trump still has a knack for. See: That pro-DeSantis right-wing consent won't manufacture itself.

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Sunday, November 20, 2022


Speaking of Which

Spent most of last week working on Jazz Critics Poll, enough so that I would have skipped this week had it not been for several fairly huge stories: the WWIII scare in Poland, the House falling into a Republican cesspit, Trump's announcement that he'll be glad to take your money in exchange for pretending to make yet another run for President (by the way, it's his 5th run, not his 3rd), and the death of Staughton Lynd. Other things popped up almost randomly, but I skipped over much more than I flagged. While I continue to be interested in Democratic strategy, I did skip over the House leadership turnover. In particular, I don't care whether Nancy Pelosi was a political mastermind (the word "consequential" is getting a lot of play) or a neoliberal hack who repeatedly screwed us over.

Hopefully next week will be boring, with its holidays and such, and I'll be able to skip it.


Margaret Carlson: [11-17] Hey, Democrats. Don't Give Up On Ohio. I'd stress that Democrats shouldn't give up on anywhere, but losing in Ohio especially hurts, because the state used to be competitive, and I don't understand why Democrats haven't done better, especially since it was the swing state in the 2004 presidential election (and they put those funny voting machines in). Sure, the steel-and-rubber belt has been in decline (for which Democrats deserve some but far from all of the blame), and southeast Ohio closely resembles West Virginia (where Democrats have been hit hardest, for reasons not entirely clear to me). On the other hand, Columbus and Cincinnati have become much more Democratic. Whether Tim Ryan was a good or bad candidate is open for argument -- my wife dislikes him intensely, but even with his retrograde politics (like his opposition to student loan forgiveness), he missed a golden opportunity in running against JD Vance, an effete phony with his Ivy League airs, his hedge fund business, and a billionaire pulling his strings. Beyond Ohio (and West Virginia), Iowa is another state the Republicans have gamed so successfully I'm inclined to suspect that something crooked is going on.

Howard Dean, who coined the phrase "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party," became chair of the DNC in 2006, and immediately looked beyond his own wing to support Democrats running in all 50 states. The 2006 and 2008 elections, with Dean at the helm, were the most successful for the Party since the 1970s. After Obama won, Dean was sent packing, and Democrats had a disastrous election in 2010, much like they did in 1994 when Clinton turned the Partly leadership into his own private vassal state. Both Clinton and Obama managed to get reëlected, but the second time without any appreciable coattails, so they could pursue their pro-business strategies without concern for their traditional party bases. That was a fine strategy for their own fundraising, but left the base with bitter resentments -- some peeled off to try their luck with Trump (bad luck, of course), and many more found a way back through Bernie Sanders.

Rachel M Cohen: [11-17] Anti-abortion groups don't think they lost the midterms: Well, by delivering the House to the Republicans, they'll stave off any attempt by Democrats to add abortion rights to federal law. That will in turn allow Republican states and their court allies to continue running amuck, sowing chaos and terror. I'm not sure that's much of a long-term strategy, but they did dodge a serious loss, which is about the best they could hope for given how unpopular their stand is.

Conor Echols: [11-18] Diplomacy Watch: Grain deal extended as Putin signals interest in peace talks. In a week when hawks got excited by an opportunity to start WWIII, some news that suggests sanity may still be possible. Especially read the following article by Echols:

  • Connor Echols: [11-16] How a lightly-source AP story almost set off World War III: "A deadly explosion in Poland kicked off hours of near-gleeful speculation about whether NATO would join the fight against Russia." Probably more accurate to say that NATO has already joined the fight -- they are, after all, providing massive amounts of arms and other support to Ukrainians directly fighting Russian invaders -- so the question was less whether a couple errant missiles was a cassus belli (a cause that is never real unless one is already itching for war -- otherwise the US would have declared war against Israel after the 1967 Liberty sinking, a much more flagrant attack than the ones cited by US warmongers in 1898, 1917, and 1964, although still less than 1941) than a time for reflection about how far NATO wants to escalate the existing war, and what the risks of continuing it may be.

  • Connor Echols: [11-15] Biden wants $37B more for Ukraine, setting up lame-duck fight. I seriously doubt Republicans will balk on more war subsidies, but note Dave DeCamp: [11-17] House Republicans Introduce Resolution to Audit Ukraine Aid. The Republicans listed are from the Trumpian fringe, but when this kind of money's available, it's almost inevitable that some will get lost or stolen, and that could be weaponized against Biden.

  • Patrick Cockburn: [11-18] Why a Diplomatic Solution to the Ukraine War is Getting More and More Elusive.

  • Jen Kirby: [11-18] Can Ukraine's infrastructure survive the winter?

  • Branko Marcetic: [11-18] NATO expansion and the origins of Russia's invasion of Ukraine: This is essential background history, an important part of the context necessary to make any sense out of Putin's invasion. (Although I still prefer my 23 Theses, which goes deeper and broader.)

    As far as I'm concerned, the best way to understand NATO is as follows: European nations could surrender military autonomy to the US in exchange for a guarantee they probably didn't need (the UK and France were allowed to rebuild to keep their colonies, but that didn't work out very well); the US accepted effective control over Europe's armed forces to keep them from doing anything stupid (although that didn't always work out, e.g., between Greece and Turkey, and didn't keep the US from doing stupid things).

    During the Cold War era, several countries opted for neutrality and fared as well or better than NATO members (e.g., Austria, Finland). After the Cold War, the more effective guarantor of peace was the expansion of the EU, but NATO persisted as a captive market for US arms manufacturers, who lobbied to expand it.

    Part of the NATO sales pitch was an effort to build up Russia as an enemy threat, which in turn made NATO a threat to Russian economic interests, as well as to Russian notions of sovereignty -- Russia was never going to turn its military over to US command -- and prestige. This was exacerbated by the US and its allies imposing sanctions on Russia, and by efforts to flip traditional Russian allies (like Ukraine and Georgia).

    In all this, both sides can be faulted for arrogance, ignorance, and reckless disregard for people caught in the middle. Still, explaining how this war came about doesn't excuse it. Rather, it helps deliver a severe indictment of each side, not that either's mistakes in any way justify the other's.

  • Rajan Menon/Dan DePetris: [11-17] Deep breaths: Article 5 will never be a flip switch for war: "After yesterday's NATO crisis that wasn't, it's clear we need to get a grip on what the alliance's obligations are -- and what they aren't."

  • Ted Snider: [11-15] Is Ukraine dropping talk of an accelerated NATO bid? "Zelensky just issue a '10 point plan for peace' with the Russians at the G20. But one thing was missing from the conversation." Some time before the invasion, I posed the question as: will Ukraine be more secure as a member of NATO (given that NATO is by definition anti-Russia) or as a non-member? The point was moot at the time, because NATO would never agree to accept a member which would immediately engage the alliance in a pre-existing war. And it's probably moot now, because Ukraine has the advantages of NATO membership -- massive arms and political support and more -- without having to give up autonomy. As Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov put it: "We are trying to be like Israel -- more independent during the next years."

Dexter Filkins: [11-14] A dangerous game over Taiwan. Better for background than for strategic thinking, but then I doubt there is any good strategic thinking on the subject. E.g.: "Taiwan's defeat would dramatically weaken America's position in the Pacific, where US naval ships guard some of the world's busiest sea lanes." Guard them from what, pray tell? Most of the shipping in the area is to and from China. What I think should be obvious is that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be much more difficult to pull off than Russia's invasion of Ukraine, even if the US military remains disengaged, and more prone to catastrophic escalation. But China has never risked that kind of confrontation, and Taiwan is unlikely to try to provoke it. I'm not so sure about the China-haters in the US.

Also on China:

Samuel Gardner-Bird: [11-15] The unipolar moment is over. When will the US get it? "These former Global South leaders don't mince words when it comes to America's diminishing leadership and the 'rules base order.'" Unfortunate, this was just a Quincy Institute colloquium, but we've heard grumblings like this in more formal forums, like last week's COP27, and the Doha round of world trade talks.

Anand Giridharadas: [11-19] This Week, Billionaires Made a Strong Case for Abolishing Themselves. Starts with the obvious low-hanging fruit: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, the already-abolished crypto king Sam Bankman-Fried, and Donald Trump (who also isn't much of a billionaire). It shouldn't be hard to find similar stories among the less storied. Much harder to find exceptions (and no, I wouldn't give George Soros an automatic bye). Giridharadas has a new book, The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy. For a review, see:

Margaret Hartmann: [11-16] 7 Ways Trump's 2024 Announcement Was Totally Sad! "There was no way Trump's 2024 campaign announcement on Tuesday night was going to beat 2015's iconic, racist spectacle, but the event failed to meet even significantly lowered expectations." First thing I noticed was that there was no escalator in Mar-A-Lago. Trump's entrance was shrouded by a crowd, so you could barely see him until he stepped up on the stage. Then he went into his bored teleprompted voice, with his laundry list of absurd claims about how America was perfect back when he was President. Not quite how I remember it. I tuned out after a few minutes of that, but here's Hartman's list:

  1. Multiple Trump family members skipped the event. [Most strategically Ivanka, who issued a press release saying she wouldn't be part of the 2024 campaign.]
  2. Cable news networks didn't carry the whole speech. [Even Fox cut away.]
  3. The pump-up music was from Les Mis. [As opposed to "Rockin' in the Free World" in 2016.]
  4. He made a lot of confusing flubs.
  5. Security wouldn't let people leave.
  6. Former Trump officials bashed him on-air. [The most carefully crafted line was "I think he's the only Republican who could lose."]
  7. The New York Post's coverage was savage.

More on Trump:

  • Jonathan Chait: [11-19] Trump Says He's 'Not Going to Partake' in Being Charged by Special Counsel: But "that is not how our legal system works."

  • George T Conway III: [11-15] Trump is out for vengeance -- and to protect himself from prosecution.

  • Shirin Ghaffary: [11-19] Elon Musk just let Trump back on Twitter. Sounds like a desperate ploy to gin up some traffic, but if Trump takes the bait, it will also be an easy way to kill Trump's competing network. Ghaffary also wrote: A comprehensive guide to how Elon Musk is changing Twitter.

  • Briahna Joy Gray: [11-18] Don't Write Him Off Yet. I think he's probably toast, but that's mostly because he's stuck in a rut moaning about how everyone is picking on him, while pretending everything he did as president was perfect -- when most of what he did was rote Republicanism, liberally seasoned with his trademark vanities and vulgarities (which his people love and others hate). Still, it's not inconceivable he could turn it around, but only if he's willing to step outside the system, admit some failures (while blaming them on other Republicans), and make the case that if you give him the chance again, he'll finally deliver on what he intended to do in his first campaign (before Pence, Christie, McConnell, Ryan, etc., buggered it all up). Sure, I don't think he's smart enough to do that, and he still has a massive credibility problem, and he's no longer someone people are willing to take a chance on just because they hate his opponent even more. But when he starts debating primary Republicans, they're going to give him a lot of ammunition to use, and he at least used to have an instinct for that. And by the way, no need to waste energy rooting for or against him, because every other Republican is as bad.

  • Eric Lipton/Maggie Haberman: [10-20] Trump Family's Newest Partners: Middle Eastern Governments: "The government of Oman is a partner in a real estate deal signed last week by the former president, intensifying questions about a potential conflict as he seeks the White House again."

  • Ruth Marcus: [11-19] Garland's appointment of a special counsel was cautious. But also bold.

  • Andrew Prokop: [11-18] Why special counsel Jack Smith might be different from Robert Mueller: I don't have any particular insight here, but it seems to me that the criminal investigations into Trump should be handled by someone with a degree of political independence. Interesting that Smith has experience at the Hague prosecuting war crimes, but that doesn't seem to be in his remit here.

  • Dana Milbank: [11-18] As Republicans take the House, the crazies take the wheel. For a bunch of pundits, Marjorie Taylor Greene has already become the face of the Republican House. I doubt that's realistic, but she certainly isn't shying away from the spotlight. For Milbank's predictable pan of the Trump announcement, see: [11-15] At Trump's angry announcement, the magic is gone. He even winds up quoting Marx about history repeating itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce."

William Hartung: [11-17] Corporate Weapons Heaven Is a Hell on Earth. I've often thought that the federal government should take over the arms industries, less for efficiency than to factor out the profit motive. Back in WWII, it made sense to use existing companies to ramp up production, and with cost-plus-10% contracts, everyone wanted to get in on the act. The result was the famous "arsenal of democracy," which brought the wars to a successful conclusion in remarkable time.

After the war, most companies converted back to consumer products, but a few hoped to keep on the gravy train, and they started lobbying efforts to spread fear and promote massive spending on "defense" -- so much so that by 1960, Eisenhower warned that the "military-industrial complex" was becoming an autonomous force in American politics. Since then, the US has repeatedly been thrown into wars, each one adding to bottom line of the arms merchants. But as importantly, the arms merchants have taken over US foreign policy, creating a worldwide market for US arms, fueling other wars, including ones where it's impossible to discern real American interests.

It seems crass to suggest that the only reason for the expansion of NATO was to expand the US arms market to Eastern Europe, but it's hard to explain otherwise. It even seems doubtful that the current war in Ukraine would have erupted had it not been for the insult and injury caused by NATO expansion: insult because expansion depended on playing up the threat posed by Russia, and injury because NATO took business away from Russia, especially their own lucrative arms industry.

Also at the invaluable TomDispatch:

  • Tom Engelhardt: [11-20] Future Heat Wave? "When Will Climate Change Become the Crucial Issue in American Elections?" The glib answer is "too late to make any difference." Americans used to pride themselves for pragmatism, including a willingness to put pre-conceived ideas aside and settle on whatever works (Franklin Roosevelt is the best political example, although George Washington and Abraham Lincoln also fit). But as hard as it is to discard dysfunctional ideas, it's even harder to overcome politically influential interest groups. The result is that Americans regularly get blindsided by reality, and forced to learn things the hard way. Climate is likely to be worse than most, partly because it's a derivative as opposed to an immediate fact, but also because it's going to get worse elsewhere before it gets that bad here. (Micronesian islanders have been terrified for years now, and South Asians are getting there fast.) What's perhaps hardest to anticipate is how Americans will react as the world blames them for their hardships. (We got a hint of this at COP27.)

  • Andrew Bacevich: [11-15] The Unasked Questions of 2022: Scattered ruminations on the UK and US political systems, finding both misguided, but at least credits the Brits with their swift dispatch of Elizabeth Truss: "when faced with a crisis of their politics, their politicians dealt with it expeditiously, even ruthlessly." By contrast, the American system couldn't rid itself of the far more clueless and malign Donald Trump until his fixed four-year term expired. But the American malaise runs far deeper than Trump's Ubu Roi act. Bacevich, who prides himself on his conservatism, offers a useful (but far from complete) bullet list:

    • the pervasive dysfunction that grips Congress;
    • the seemingly terminal irresponsibility to which the Republican Party has succumbed;
    • the corrupting influence of money on politics, national and local;
    • a waning public confidence in the impartiality of the courts;
    • a "way of life" centered on rampant consumption with lip service paid to the rapid environmental deterioration of our world;
    • freedom defined as radical autonomy, shorn of any collective obligation;
    • grotesque economic inequality of a sort not seen since the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century;
    • increasing levels of violence stoked by resentments related to race and class;
    • the invasively corrosive, ever-expanding impact of social media;
    • deep-seated disputes centering on the role of religion in American life;
    • a mindless penchant for military activism sustained by willful amnesia about war's actual costs and consequences;
    • a refusal to acknowledge that the era of American global primacy is ending;
    • and last (but by no means least), a loss of faith in the Constitution as the essential cornerstone of our political order.
  • Bacevich has a new book of old (2016-21) essays, On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century. No doubt I've read most of them when they came out. It is far easier to show how America's worldview is myopic and dysfunctional than it is to actually convince people to open their eyes and see the world as it really is. Democrats and Republicans all have deep but different delusions about American power -- I'd say at least two sets per party -- and they have to be addressed each in turn. For Bacevich, it often suffices to show that the policies rooted in those myths do not work, and often cause even more harm, so the sane (conservative) response is to back away, to learn to exercise more restraint. However, there's another approach that may help Democrats break their kneejerk embrace of omnipotent intervention, and that's to not just do less harm but to do some good.

  • Rajan Menon: [11-13] Fighting a War on the Wrong Planet: "What climate change should have taught us." Includes a section on the Ukraine War, which strikes me as far from complete, but underscores that the climate, therefore the rest of the world, has a stake in ending the war. Another section asks "What International Community?" As long as Great Power politics dominates, there can be no community.

Sabrina Malhi: [11-20] RSV, covid and flu push hospitals to the brink -- and it may get worse.

Branko Marcetic: [11-18] The Left Has a Lot to Celebrate After the Surprising Midterm Results: Unfortunately, it doesn't take a lot to justify an article like this.

Matt McManus: [11-19] Why Conservative Intellectuals Are Anti-Intellectual: "The heart of the problem for conservatives is this: they fear too much intellectualism will lead people to question authority and hierarchy." Probably shouldn't waste too much time on this subject, but I hadn't noted before one quote, where J.S. Mill called conservatives the "stupid party."

Ian Millhiser: [11-19] The Federalist Society controls the federal judiciary, so why can't they stop whining?

Nicole Narea: [11-17] The GOP captures the House -- and is ready for revenge. Current numbers (Friday evening) are 218 R to 212 D, with 5 seats undecided (AK, 3 in CA, and 1 in CO, with R's currently leading in 3). But of course they're out for revenge. The only thing that motivates Republicans is quest for power, and the thing they like best about being in power is flouting it, especially to punish their enemies. So yeah, expect a non-stop shit-show from House Republicans. That should provide Democrats with plenty of talking points about how Republicans can't be trusted with any power in government. For more on Republicans, especially in the House:

David Price: [11-18] The Great COIN Con: Anthropologists' Lessons Learned After Two Decades of America's Failed Counterinsurgency Operations in Afghanistan.

Clay Risen: [11-18] Staughton Lynd, Historian and Activist Turned Labor Lawyer, Dies at 92. Born 1929, his parents were famous sociologists, and he took their politics further left. He wrote a short book in 1968 called Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism, which I read and loved enough I wrote a letter objecting to Eugene Genovese's savage pan of the book. Genovese replied and suggested I read some of his work. I did, which steered me toward Marxism. Eventually, I conceded Genovese's points, but always remained sympathetic to Lynd -- which he rewarded with a long lifetime of political activism, eventually leaving academia for a second career as a labor organizer and lawyer.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-18] Roaming Charges: The Upside-Down World. As usual, lots of stuff here. One thing I learned about was "Natrium nuclear reactors." I had never heard of "natrium" before, but it turns out it's just a registered brand name for a particular company products, more generically known as sodium-cooled fast reactors (which I had heard of -- they go some way toward solving the worst risks of conventional reactors, but I'm not sure they go far enough). One item here worth quoting at length: a list of things that have already happened in the Ukraine War that weren't anticipated by either side:

We've seen several of these unanticipated turning points already in Ukraine: the thwarted run on Kyiv, the butchery at Bucca, the annexation of the four oblasts, the sabotage of the Crimean bridge and Nordstream pipelines, Putin's nuclear threats, Zelensky's belligerence, the resistance to Putin's draft orders, the retreats from Kharkiv and Kherson, the attacks on Ukrainian civilian power plants, which have left upwards of 10 million people without electricity as winter sets in. This week we narrowly avoided another, when a grain facility in eastern Poland was struck by an errant Ukrainian missile, killing two people and threatening to detonate a chain of events that would have dangerously escalated the war, putting NATO on a direct nuclear collision course with Russia.

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