Speaking of * [0 - 9]

Sunday, October 2, 2022


Speaking of Which

The top story this week is the War in Ukraine. Russia held its long-threatened referendum on whether the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine wanted to be annexed by Russia, and lo and behold, they did, by implausibly large margins. The next step will be for Russia to accept the votes and annex the territories. (They already did this with Crimea in 2014, so the new territories are Luhansk, plus parts of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson.) This matters because it presumably makes a Russian retreat from any of those territories harder for Russia to accept, and also because it means that Russia will characterize attacks on its troops in Ukraine as acts of war against Russia's homeland.

Thus far, Ukraine has refrained from launching attacks over the recognized Russian border (although they have attacked some spots in Crimea), and the US has been reluctant to give Ukraine weapons that would make it easier to launch such attacks. Ukraine and its allies will not accept the referenda or annexation, nor are they likely to change their battle plans. On the other hand, Russia has explicitly threatened significant (but unspecified) escalation if its territory is attacked, and it's easy to imagine scenarios escalating to nuclear weapons.

So the upshot is that it's become more urgent than ever to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the war. At the same time, hawks on both sides see recent events as vindicating their positions, making them even less willing to negotiate. (Hawks always see talk as a sign of weakness, and insist that the other side will crumple when allowed no other option, even though there's no evidence of the world working that way.) Western moderates may also be inclined to dig in their heels against Russia -- even if, as many do, they see Russia's aggressiveness as a sign of weakness, they remain in thrall to their desire to punish Putin for his transgression.

I understand and sympathize with the sentiment, but caution that justice is always hard to achieve, especially given that superior power is impossible between nations. I believe that Putin's war is rooted in the rot of his nationalist, chauvinist, oligarchic, and authoritarian political beliefs, and I pray that Russia will free itself from his grip. But I recognize that as something that no one outside Russia can affect, or has any business trying. It is sheer arrogance -- madness, really -- to think otherwise. As such, we need to prepare ourselves for some way to live and do business with a postwar Putin-led Russia. That means we have to advance a settlement that can be seen as fair and just.

I remain convinced that the key to this is allowing people in the disputed regions to vote to decide their own future. The referenda last week were illegitimate because Russia did not seek agreement with Ukraine to accept the results. I don't have time (let alone any responsibility) to sketch out how I think such elections should work, but they obviously start with a ceasefire. One wrinkle I would like to see is a second round, 5-10 years later, which would give residents of the territories a chance to rethink their vote (and would motivate the initial winners to rebuild and prosper).

I wrote most of what I have to say in my 23 Theses. Both sides have hardened their positions since then, but the solutions are unchanged -- just more desperately needed than ever.

Other pieces on Ukraine:

Connor Echols:

Anatol Lieven: [09-30] Putin annexations mean US-Russian talks more critical than ever.

Isaac Arnsdorf: [10-01] CPAC backpedals on pro-Russia tweet as some US conservatives back Putin: This isn't much of a story, because there's little chance that the "irritable mental gestures" of the right will come together into any sort of coherent challenge to Biden's foreign policy, with its reassertion of world hegemony. But the more Republicans seem to be aligned with Putin, the more even left-of-center Democrats rally behind Biden, compromising their own peace credentials.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [10-01] China and India remain neutral, even on Russia annexation.

Luke Harding/Isobel Koshiw: [09-30] Ukraine applies for Nato membership after Russia annexes territory. Another gesture only meant to provoke Russia and make negotiation less likely.

Susan B Glasser: [09-29] What if we're already fighting the third world war with Russia? This is a good example of rationalizing why "now's not the right time" to negotiate with Putin, empathizing how he "is not one to walk away from a fight or back down while losing -- escalation is his game, and by now he's very, very practiced at it." After acknowledging that we're engaged in nuclear brinksmanship, she reaches for a favorite warmonger's cliché: "Will Washington stay the course?"

Leonie Kijewski: [10-01] Russia retreats from Lyman a day after Putin's annexation. A victory for the Ukrainian counteroffensive, but I wasn't aware of the "key strategic city" ("important railway junction") until now: it is in the far north of Donetsk Oblast, had a prewar population of 20,469 (13.8% Russian), was captured by Russia on May 27.

Jen Kirby:

  • [09-28] The Nord Stream pipeline sabotage, explained. Agreed, the evidence points to sabotage. But the argument that Russia blew up their own pipeline doesn't make any sense: Russia already has the ability to shut the pipeline down, just by closing a valve. The effect isn't to disrupt the flow of gas, since Russia has already done that. What the sabotage does is prevent Russia from turning the flow back on after a peace deal, so if you're looking for "who benefits" you might start with the people who are lobbying Germany to send tanks to Ukraine.

  • [09-30] Putin's desperate attempt to annex parts of Ukraine.

Matt Stieb: [09-30] Putin Decries US 'Satanism' in Bizarre Speech Annexing Parts of Ukraine.

Robert Wright: [09-30] Putin beyond the brink. "Yet many American elites -- politicians, journalists, even "think" tankers -- have been reacting to this war as if it were a football game or some other purely zero-sum contest. They've celebrated Ukrainian gains on the battlefield with no ambivalence, blissfully unaware that dramatic Ukrainian military success was always bound to encourage Kremlin risk taking, raising the chances of regional or even nuclear war."


Other pieces worth noting:

Muizz Akhtar: [09-29] Climate change has come for the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter: "China's catastrophic summer shows its climate adaptation plans still have a long way to go." Also its climate change diplomacy, as most of China's problems are caused by emissions elsewhere -- much as most of America's, most of Europe's, and most of the rest of the world's.

Jonathan Chait: [09-29] Republican House Majority Will Try to Melt Down Global Economy: "Democrats need to sabotageproof the government while they still can." I imagine one could write a broader article on Republican plots and schemes, but this one only deal with one: the debt ceiling. It used to be an automatic extension, but since the 1990s Republicans have used it repeatedly to sabotage government and try to extort concessions. And while it's difficult to do things now that couldn't be undone by a Republican House, ending the debt ceiling renewal requirement is one thing that should have been done long ago.

Nate Cohn: [09-30] Gerrymandering Isn't Giving Republicans the Advantage You Might Expect.

Margaret Hartmann: [09-30] Bonkers Revelations From Maggie Haberman's Trump Book, Ranked. She lists 18 of them, from the mundane to the ridiculous to things that aren't even remotely news, none of which will make even the most ill-tempered critic's Very Short Introduction to the Trump presidency.

Sean Illing: [09-25] Do we ask too much of parents? Interview with Nate Hilger, author of The Parent Trap: How to Stop Overloading Parents and Fix Our Inequality Crisis. Well, we ask too much of children, then blame the parents for failing, even when schools are far short of adequate. While the demands have grown as the world has become more complex and more difficult to understand, much of the anxiety comes from the vastly unequal economy, and the conservative politics that insists on failure being a personal fault. (Of course, we now also have to deal with an even more reactionary politics, that seeks to capture schools and turn them into right-wing indoctrination centers, even if that means not teaching the skills necessary to function in our synthetic world.)

Ellen Ioanes: [09-26] The rise of Giorgia Meloni, Italy's new far-right prime minister, explained. More on Meloni:

Sarah Jaffe: [09-23] The Country That Could Not Mourn: "The Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how hard it is for Americans to grieve." Review of a book edited by Rhae Lynn Barnes, Keri Leigh Merritt, and Yohuru Williams: After Life: A Collective History of Loss and Redemption in Pandemic America.

Ed Kilgore: [09-29] Do Republicans Really Want to Punish Women for Having Abortions? Well, they have no qualms about punishing women who even think about having an abortion. When Trump read the room and suggested that women seeking abortions should be jailed, that was the only faux pas of the 2016 campaign he actually had to walk back, because he hadn't understood the public posture, but he certainly tapped into the vein of hatred underlying it. Trump was never one to miss a chance to be cruel. (As Kilgore explains: "But sometimes referring to abortion as 'murder' while calling the person who chooses to have an abortion blameless strikes hammerheaded men like Mastriano and Trump as nonsensical.")

Branko Marcetic: [10-01] Journalist Katie Halper Has Been Fired for Calling Israel an Apartheid State. She was fired from The Hill's political morning program. Calling Israel an "apartheid state" is an approximation, but not far from the mark. One difference is that South Africa still depended on cheap, underclass workers, where Israel has largely freed themselves on dependency (and therefore concern for) Palestinian workers. By the way, every time you read "illegal annexation" think back to Israel's annexations of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which were every bit as illegal. Another example is Iraq's annexation of Kuwait, but that was reversed by foreign power.

Ruth Marcus: [09-30] You thought the Supreme Court's last term was bad? Brace yourself.

Julian Mark: [09-28] Teen sought in Amber Alert dies in shootout after running toward deputies: Further proof, as if we needed it, that police aren't very sharp or dependable when it comes to split-second thinking with guns in their hands. Needless to say, zero chance that anyone will be charged, damn little that anyone will be disciplined.

Nicole Narea: [09-30] Ken Paxton keeps running. Will his legal issues ever catch up? He's the worst state Attorney General in the country, at least until/unless Kris Kobach wins in Kansas. Also:

Andre Pagliarini: [09-29] Capitalism Triumphed in the Cold War, but Not by Making People Better Off: A review of Fritz Bartel's book, The Triumph of Broken Promises: The End of the Cold War and the Rise of Neoliberalism. Looks to me more like the old switcheroo: Just as the Soviet Bloc was warming to the idea of getting in on the broad-based growth that Europe and America enjoyed from postwar to the 1970s, the West fell sway to the "greed is good" prophets and financiers cannibalized the productive economy, while imposing austerity on those who couldn't afford it. By the time the Soviet Union fell, oligarchs were all the rage, and those with the inside track seized it, to the detriment of nearly all of their people.

Nathan J Robinson: [09-26] Biden Declared the Pandemic Over. I Immediately Got COVID. The numbers have gotten slightly better since a recent peak on July 17 (130,035 new cases, on Oct. 1 down to 46,783), but deaths are still at 405 (that's 147,825 per year; I'm having trouble finding comparative data for other infectious diseases, but that's still close to 3 times the highest numbers I've seen for flu + pneumonia, which is probably the runner up). The ratio of deaths to hospitalized in ICU is 11.8%, and deaths to hospitalized is 1.4%. That's probably a long-term downward trend, but the ratio of hospitalized to cases still looks pretty high (60.2%), so it's likely that there are many more unreported cases. (Test positivity is 9.1%, which is another sign of unreported cases.) That still looks like a pandemic to me, even if it's nowhere near dire enough to force the sort of lockdowns we had in early 2020. Unfortunately, many survivors have decided that they were never at risk, and Republicans have been moving to make sure that public health officials can never interfere with business again.

Dylan Scott: [09-30] Republican states keep refusing to expand Medicaid -- until you ask their voters: "Medicaid expansion is 6-for-6 with voters on ballot initiatives. South Dakota could make it seven in a row." I have zero doubt that Kansas voters would approve expansion if given a choice. Even with a Republican supermajority in Topeka, they've only been able to stop expansion through parliamentary tricks. The political decision to spite Obamacare is especially hard on rural doctors and hospitals.

Jeffrey St Clair: [09-30] Roaming Charges: Shelter From the Surge. If you want to read about Hurricane Ian, start with the intro here, then continue to the notes on fossil fuels and climate change and insurance premiums, and a note you're unlikely to read elsewhere on how "Nigeria was hit with its worst flooding in decades with more than 300 deaths and more than half a million people displaced."

Lauren Sue: [10-02] Marjorie Taylor Greene accuses Democrats of violence and wanting to make Republicans 'disappear': When people are this gullible, it's tempting to mess with them. But realistically, all Democrats want to do to Republicans is give them free health care and education, jobs that pay decently and come with union rights, infrastructure that works, and a full panoply of human rights. Many Republicans, on the other hand, actually do . . . well, psychologists call this kind of thinking "projection."

Jay Swanson: [09-29] The Left Needs to Take Back the Constitution: Review's the new book by Joseph Fishkin and William E Forbath: The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution: Reconstructing the Economic Foundations of American Democracy, which argues "the Constitution is best understood as a document calling for the unashamed struggle for equality." I've read a number of books along these lines, starting with Staughton Lynd's Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism (1968) and Gordon S Wood's The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992), and more recently Ganesh Sitaraman's The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution (2017) and Erwin Chemerinsy's We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution in the Twenty-First Century (2018). You can slice that loaf many ways, but there's much to chew on if you're so inclined -- and these interpretations are at least as sensible, and much more useful, than what's passed off as "originalism" these days.

Jake Whitney: [09-26] Shattering the 'Myth of War': Review of Chris Hedges' new book, The Greatest Evil Is War. Evidently, he wrote this after Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, which he condemns, as he does Bush's invasion of Iraq, and much more. There is also an excerpt, in which Hedges writes: "The true costs of war are hidden from the public because the reality is too horrific to accept."


That's enough for now. I had maybe 5-8 links from early in the week, and wrote the first half of the intro on Saturday, so that committed me to doing something to post on Sunday -- instead of a bunch of other things I'd rather be doing. Obviously, there's much more going on. Hurricane Ian is still a big story: death toll is at 58 (or 76 or 88), "second-largest catastrophe loss event on record" in the US, Hurricane Ian may leave behind a trail of environmental hazards, and I've seen very little on whatever it did in the Carolinas. This is the first week in many where I haven't bothered with the Trump legal stuff (a mere 5 mentions otherwise). Nothing yet on the election in Brazil. And I'm continuing my blackout on the November elections. More time for all that later.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 25, 2022


Speaking of Which

I'm pleased with nearly everything Joe Biden has done as President, but the last couple weeks suggest that his understanding of foreign policy is fundamentally flawed, and that his grip on the tiller is slippery and gaffe-prone. Biden's comment about how US soldiers would fight on Taiwan to beat back a Chinese invasion is easily the worst gaffe: not only could it not possibly happen, the mere threat could precipitate the invasion the comment was meant to deter. Such blunders are possible because Biden, like every US president since (let's say) Eisenhower, vastly overrates the efficacy of the US military. But also because he doesn't understand, and doesn't respect, China (or, let's get real, Taiwan).

There are stories of similar cluelessness everywhere the US sticks its toe in. One minor example concerns Venezuela: Trump (who knows a thing or two about stealing elections) decided to back a pretender to head the government, then tried to force his choice through sanctions and seizure of Venezuelan assets, which had no effect other than to break relations, boost oil prices, and cause thousands of Venezuelans to become refugees (including the ones DeSantis kidnapped and sent to Martha's Vineyard). This made the news last week when an American fled bail, was arrested in Venezuela, but cannot be extradited due to this stupid political spat (see 'Fat Leonard' caught in Venezuela after fleeing Navy bribery sentencing). I don't much care whether he gets away or not, but America has been known to invade countries just to arrest people. I doubt Biden will do anything that stupid, but this is one more cost to his failure to reverse Trump's (or was it really just Marco Rubio's?) policy.

Another example is Iran, where Biden is reported to actually want to reverse Trump's withdrawal from the Obama-negotiated JCPOA, where Iran agreed to close monitoring of its nuclear energy program, in exchange for lifting of sanctions that have hampered the welfare of the Iranian people. Supposedly there is a new agreement ready to go, but it keeps getting kicked down the road, mostly because Biden isn't willing to stand up to pressure from Israel and Saudi Arabia, who whipped up hysteria about Iran's "nuclear threat" in the first place. (Back in the 1990s, Israel predicted Iran would have bombs as soon as a couple years. Agreed-to monitoring is the only way to make sure that doesn't happen, so Israel's continued opposition to any sort of agreement suggests their original alarms were really part of some other scam.) Then last week, when Iran erupted in protests that were very similar to the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, Biden's administration took its eye off the JCPOA objective to throw its full-throated support behind the protesters, who neither needed nor wanted friends like the US.

But by far the most perilous arena for Biden is the growing abyss in Ukraine. I go into this at some length below, but it's worth stressing here that the proximate trigger for Putin's "escalation" last week -- calling up reserves and drafting soldiers (including, evidently, some Ukrainians), accelerating referenda in occupied territories requesting annexation by Russia, and some awkward nuclear sabre rattling -- was Russia's loss of territory east of Kharkhiv, and the renewed vows of Zelensky and his supporters to keep fighting until they take back all of Ukraine. This is Putin's way of saying that he will do everything in his power to prevent defeat on the battlefield, including destroying it all. Still, no one seems to have grasped the obvious next sentence: so now is the time to finally negotiate a settlement, before this gets much, much uglier.

Obviously, one reason this lesson hasn't sunk in is Biden's (or more often his administration's) abiding faith in the efficacy of military power. Ukraine's limited successes to date have intoxicated long-time believers in American military power, while the costs of fighting never seem to register. Accurate information is hard to come by, but here's a six-month assessment: [08-24] Thousands of Civilian Deaths and 6.6 Million Refugees: Calculating the Costs of War. While the material costs are immense, the most striking number is the 6.6 million refugees who have left the country, another 7 million internally displaced, and perhaps 13 million "stranded or unable to escape contested ground." Also missing here are the more distant economic impacts -- I don't think anyone really has a handle on this, but this six-month review outlines the issues [08-21] Russia's war at 6 months: A global economy in growing danger. Of course, even these costs can be reduced to footnote status should the conflict escalate to nuclear arms. However right one thinks one side is, and however wrong the other, the overriding concern has to be how to end the war as soon as possible. That means negotiating, and that means recognizing and respecting differences. And that means the US needs to fundamentally rethink its attitudes toward the world: both its high-minded moralizing and its indifference to human suffering.


Naema Ahmed/John Muyskens/Anna Phillips: [09-23] Summer in Sedgwick County, Kan. was 2.2°F warmer this year than the average of the last 50 years. I had to pick a county to get into this page, so I picked mine. By some research I did a while back, this year was the 4th hottest in the last 23 since we moved back here in 1999. This summer was also dryer than usual. The average across America was 1.8°F hotter than usual. Very few spots were cooler than usual (northern Alaska, some counties near the upper Great Lakes).

Ryan Bort: [09-20] Fentanyl Halloween Candy Will Kill Your Kids, RNC Chair Says After Being Accused of Fear Mongering.

Nate Cohn: [09-24] Lost Hope of Lasting Democratic Majority: Revisits the 2002 book The Emerging Democratic Majority, by Ruy Teixeira and John Judis, which hasn't proved to be particularly prescient -- unlike Kevin Phillips' The Emerging Republican Majority (1969). I read the Phillips book when it came out, with a mixture of love and hate: love because his research methods dovetailed closely with mine, and hate because his conclusions predicted a much worse America than the one I grew up in. I never looked at the Teixeira/Judis book, but have wondered about it recently -- turns out it is out of print, and nearly forgotten. I don't have time to expand on my thoughts here, but flagging the article will make it easier to find.

Connor Echols: [09-23] Diplomacy Watch: Is AMLO's peace plan really that ridiculous? No. It doesn't come with a lot of detail, but starts with a cease fire, which stays Ukraine's offensive and Putin's latest escalation threats. What is ridiculous is thinking on either side that military victory is possible. Indeed, Russia's threats (more on those below) sound to me more like a plea for negotiation, which makes Ukrainian (and implicitly US) insistence on driving Russia completely out of pre-2014 Ukraine the real ridiculous. Even if this were possible -- something I seriously doubt -- I have to question the desirability of leaving Putin and Russia so humiliated. (Sure, there have been a rash of pieces recently suggesting Putin's perch atop the Kremlin has become less secure, but even if he's pushed out, that would be for tactical failures, not because he misrepresents the goals and intents of Russia's ruling class. On the other hand, odds are not good that Putin will be removed, and he only becomes more dangerous as his existence is undermined.) Americans don't want to admit it, but the world needs a stable Russia going forward, not one seething with the recriminations of defeat.

Note the item where Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister "disclosed that Russian officials have attempted to reach out for talks but said Ukraine is not ready to negotiate." Also note the item where China called for a ceasefire. It's possible they did that without Russian approval, but if Putin wants to negotiate, China offers one way to communicate that. Earlier in the week, Echols wrote [09-21] Putin mobilizes 300,000 reservists in significant escalation. More pieces on Ukraine:

  • Anatol Lieven: [09-22] Tick-tock: Putin escalation begins countdown of diplomacy clock. One shouldn't forget that this was also a week when Biden and Zelensky hardened their stands, perhaps feeling that Ukraine's offensive is gaining ground and pushing Putin into a corner. Putin's "escalation" is basically a warning to beware what you wish for. The part that bothers me most is the rushed scheduling of annexation referendums in Russian-occupied territories. Such referendums, under fair and honest international direction, are the preferable way to settle the disposition of disputed territories, but are effectively reduced to a sham under one-sided Russian control. I think it was very likely that a fair referendum in 2014 would have transferred Crimea to Russia, but Ukrainians boycotted the Russian-run one, and nobody but Russia recognized the results. (Similar referenda in Donetsk and Luhansk might have also favored Russia, but by lesser margins. Other disputed oblasts, like Odesa and Kherson, would probably have voted to stay in Ukraine.) The situation is much messier now, what with military occupation and millions of displaced refugees, but Russia unilaterally staging its own referenda just poisons the well. The idea that once annexed the territories would be protected by Russia's nuclear deterrent is even more troubling, not least because it's hard to know how seriously to take that threat (but the risks of not taking it seriously are painful to contemplate).

    Lievien notes: "If these areas are annexed by Russia, this will make any peace settlement in Ukraine much more difficult for a long time to come. The very best we could then hope for would be a situation like that of Kashmir over the past 75 years: unstable ceasefires punctuated by ared clashes, terrorist attacks, and occasional full-scale war."

  • James Carden: [09-21] Stop the escalatory ladder in Ukraine, we want to get off: "Ukraine is asking for new 'security guarantees' from the West, which will only ratched up the spending and risk a nuclear spiral."

  • Ted Galen Carpenter: [09-24] Biden's UN speech misreads global unity: "Attempts to isolate Russia over Ukraine with sanctions that are ultimately hurting the global economy aren't having the desired impact."

  • Daniel Drezner: [09-20] Russians believe they can win the war. Here are 3 reasons why. Subheds: "The West is weak and worthless"; "China will be Russia's lifeline"; "The technology sanctions will not be too painful for Russia." The first is something Dugin has been telling Putin all along, but the US was willing to drag losing war in Afghanistan out for 20 years, and while it wasn't popular, politicians risked very little stretching it out. In 2020, the US spent 12 times as much on its military as Russia did. The US GDP is 12 times as much as Russia. Since the debacle in Vietnam, the US has worked hard to insulate the people from costs and impacts of military adventures abroad. The US is also very isolated from loss of Russian business. All this gives the US a lot of leeway to continue a proxy war -- especially one that costs relatively trivial amounts of money and risks no American soldiers. Europe may be a weaker link, especially as right-wing parties gain ground over anti-immigrant issues and often look to Russia as a nationalist model, but I doubt they'll break ranks with the US. India and China have no appetite for quarreling with Russia, but don't relish conflict with the US either (hence, the second point is unlikely to be true, unless the US way overplays its anti-China impulses). But we should also be clear that rejecting Russia's reasoning on these points doesn't mean that Russia is going to cave in. Russia is strong enough it can persist for a very long time, without much help from China, and despite some degree of pain from sanctions. The problem with this kind of thinking, and this applies to both sides, is that it encourages continuing war to avoid admitting defeat, when in fact both sides are losing a lot, and will continue to lose the longer they fight.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [09-21] The West is testing out a lot of shiny new military tech in Ukraine.

  • Seth Harp: [09-19] Putting Ukrainian battle successes in cold, hard perspective.

  • David Ignatius: [09-22] To confront Putin, Biden should study the Cuban missile crisis. And what exactly should he learn from the Cuban missile crisis? That the country closest to the conflict cares the most about resolving it on their own terms? That the country most willing to risk nuclear war has the upper hand? That the leader of the country that backs down will get sacked? I got this link from Rick Perlstein, who says "a good argument can e made that it was a major cause of the Vietnam War." I don't quite get why, but unintended consequences are inevitable.

  • Ellen Ioanes: [09-18] Here's what we know about the state of Russia's military.

  • Fred Kaplan: [09-22] What the West Should Do About Putin's Increasingly Dangerous Desperation. I think he's reading the signs correctly, but doesn't have a lot of useful advice. He also wrote: [09-13] When Will Russians Realize the Disaster in Ukraine Is Putin's Fault? The protests and evasion efforts following mobilization suggest that more Russians are beginning to feel impacted by Putin's decisions, which is the first step toward blaming him. But also remember that his main defense is to deflect blame to the US. Now may not be the time to cut back on arms to Ukraine, but it is a good time to take a public stand for ceasefire and negotiations, allowing Russia an exit that's not totally humiliating.

  • Jen Kirby: [09-22] What Putin's latest threats mean for the risk of nuclear war: Interview with Andrey Baklitskiy, an expert at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research.

  • Paul Sonne/John Hudson: [09-22] US has sent private warnings to Russia against using a nuclear weapon. I'm sorry, but I find this article much scarier than Putin's veiled threats. Putin was basically saying that if you go too far, we'll do something crazier. The response is more like: if you think that's crazy, you ain't seen nothing yet. The "madman theory" was calculated on the assumption that the other side was sane. If not, the bluff fails, and backfires spectacularly.

  • Matt Stieb: [09-23] Prominent Russians Keep Dying Under Mysterious Circumstances: This is kind of weird. Maybe being an oligarch isn't all it's cracked up to be.

  • TOI Staff: [09-23] Zelensky 'shocked' by lack of Israel defense support: 'They gave us nothing': US politicians go on and on about how Israel's is our closest, bestest ally, but Israel gives the US nothing either. As Moshe Dayan put it, "America gives us arms, money, and advice. We take the arms and money, ignore the advice."

Robin Givhan: [09-20] King Charles III: The epitome of inherited everything.

Jonathan Guyer: [09-19] Biden's promise to defend Taiwan says a lot about America's view of China. I don't have time (or at present enough of a sense of urgency) to pick this apart, but we're seeing the convergence of a lot of unexamined myths Americans hold about their role in the world and the power of military force projection to enforce order, along with vastly changed economic factors, along with utter disregard for Chinese views of how the world of power has shifted. It doesn't help that the "strategic ambiguity" doctrine never made much sense: at the time it was a way to "agree to disagree" and thereby put that issue aside, hopefully to be forgotten about -- as it was for a long time, but it's recently been revived, as China regards any change as hostile, while the US arms lobby -- that that's who has really driven US foreign policy since the 1990s -- sees Taiwan as a lucrative customer. But also: Biden got a little sloppy here. He should always preface his remarks with the admission that it's totally up to the people of Taiwan, through their democratically-elected government, to decide whether they want to unite with China. The US is not going to pressure Taiwan to join China, or to stay independent. If the latter, the US may honor Taiwan's requests for arms and/or economic support, which may include the imposition of severe sanctions on China if the latter attempts to coerce union -- much like the US has done for Ukraine to fend off Russia's invasion. But the notion that US troops will fight alongside Taiwanese troops to fend off such an invasion is sheer folly, not a notion Biden or anyone else should entertain.

  • Michael D Swaine: [09-23] Biden trashes what remained of US One China policy, strategic ambiguity.

  • David P Goldman: [09-20] Five Myths About China: This piece from a right-wing think tank (Claremont Institute) was recommended by a reader, and the bottom line is awful (he wants to spend trillions of dollars to push America ahead in the high-tech arms race), but the five points he identifies as myths are basically right (quotes in italics):

    1. America is making China rich, and can weaken it by reducing imports, investment, and so forth.
    2. China depends on stolen American technology.
    3. China faces demographic collapse.
    4. China wants to take over Taiwan because it is led by an expansionist Marxist-Leninist party that hates and fears democracy.
    5. We can deter China by shifting military forces to Asia and adding to conventional capabilities.

    I needn't cover these point-by-point. China is a big country now. It has lots of world-class scientists and engineers, and is at the cutting edge of technology. (Sure, they "steal" some ideas. Everyone smart "steals" good ideas.) It doesn't need to, or particularly want to, emulate the US. (Best line here: "We imagine that China wants to spend trillions to project military power around the world, because we think China is as stupid as we are.") China can, and does, plan. China invests in itself. China cultivates relationships abroad, and is relatively easy to deal with, because they don't judge, and they don't get too greedy. America cannot plan, and does not invest in itself. Americans trust the market to work its magic, even though it mostly works for other people. China is patient. Sure, they got a bug up their ass about Taiwan, but unless we panic them, they're more likely to bide their time. And frankly, it doesn't matter. Our wealth doesn't depend on their poverty. If anything, the opposite. So maybe we should stop going out of our way to piss them off, and start trying to learn how to work with them, for mutual benefit. The alternative is, well, not likely to be good, for anyone.

Derek Hawkins: [09-20] U.S. can't ban gun sales to people indicted on felony charges, judge says.

Alex Henderson: [09-23] Privatizing Social Security is 'a loser' for Republicans -- but they keep proposing it anyway: The thing that gets me about their campaign isn't how unpopular it is, or how cruel, but how the very suggestion shows they don't understand the first fucking thing about how Social Security works. You can starve it, kill it even, but you can't save it by replacing it with a less efficient system, especially one that is endemically corrupt. But it's been a Republican talking point since 1936, so some people are dumb enough to assume it makes sense.

Arelis R Hernández: [09-20] They were still rebuilding 5 years after Hurricane Maria. Then Fiona hit. In more hurricane news:

Sean Illing: [09-20] The profound pessimism of Clarence Thomas: Interview with Corey Robin, who wrote the 2019 book The Enigma of Clarence Thomas. Interesting sidelight here is Robin citing Albert Hirschman's The Rhetoric of Reaction, with its typology of reactionary arguments: perversity ("if you try to make things better, you're gonna make them the opposite"), jeopardy ("you try to do one thing, you may achieve it, but you're gonna jeopardize something else"), and futility ("in the end, you can't do a damn thing . . . because politics is really not a sphere that can either transform or ameliorate the human condition").

Ed Kilgore: [09-23] House Republicans Release Their Vague 'Agenda' for 2023: Talking points for the apocalypse, which makes them less alarming (and less forthcoming) than Rick Scott's Senate Campaign Manifesto.

Jen Kirby: [09-24] The far right is having a moment in Europe. Actually, everywhere. Interview with Pietro Castelli Gattinara. I don't know how to quantify the effect of the Ukraine War on this, but my guess is that it is substantial. Some examples:

Daniel Larison: [09-23] Grover Cleveland: One of the great anti-imperialist presidents: More accurate to say "one of the last," but why fudge with "one of": unless you want to try to argue that NATO, the World Wars, or Gunboat Diplomacy weren't imperialist. You could also argue that he was the first -- unless for some reason you want to exempt Indian wars, "from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli," Manifest Destiny, Seward's Folly, much more. As for "great," that rests on a rather slim foundation: he rejected annexation of Hawaii after American planters overthrew the Queen. He was possibly the most conservative president the US has ever had, at least in the sense of not wanting to change anything. Nor is he all that forgotten. I've run across him several times in my recent reading, mostly for his role in using the army to break the Pullman strike. Brad DeLong describes him rather generously as "always triangulating." And you'll hear a lot more about Cleveland if Trump's nominated in 2024, giving him a shot at matching Cleveland's two non-consecutive terms. (By the way, Larison commits another sad hedge in describing Cleveland as "one of a few men to win the popular vote three times" -- the only other one is Franklin Roosevelt, who won four times, and no one else even tried; on the other hand, Trump could join William Jennings Bryan as the only major party candidate to lose the popular vote three times.)

Louis Menand: [09-19] Was Rudy Giuliani Always So Awful: Reviews Andrew Kirtzman's new book Giuliani: The Rise and Tragic Fall of America's Mayor. Tragic? I knew the name, and knew that most of my friends in New York City couldn't stand him, but I didn't have any direct experience with him until 9/11. I was in Brooklyn at the time, staying in our friend Liz Fink's apartment. Liz and my wife had the TV on constantly, so we saw a lot of Giuliani's daily press conferences. At one point, I was moved to point out that he was actually doing a pretty good job: he managed to project the right combination of concern and competency, something very few politicians did at the time (certainly not GW Bush, nor NY's new junior senator, Hillary Clinton, both mostly concerned with appearing tough and eager to fight). I chalked it up mostly to having real work to do. Giuliani was a lame duck at the time -- the primary to pick his successor was held on 9/11, and had to be redone a month later. By that time, Giuliani got a chance to look at his polls, and decided he was such a hero he should have been accorded another term -- but by then he was too late, and he was well on his way to becoming insufferable again. But at least he made a lot of money out of the good will his momentary character lapse elicited. The book figures he made $8 million in speaking fees in 2002 alone. He became the early favorite in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, but he couldn't find any he could actually compete in. (He skipped Iowa and New Hampshire, settled on Florida, and dropped out after finishing 3rd, with 14.68% of the vote and no delegates.) It probably didn't help his campaign to find his crony Bernie Kerik going to jail. But scandal followed Giuliani everywhere he went, especially once he hitched his wagon to his fellow New York bigot, Donald Trump. But tragic? You'd have to find something noble to him first.

Jack Meserve: [09-24] The Mississippi welfare fraud involving Bret Favre, explained.

Ian Millhiser: [09-19] Two Republican judges just let Texas seize control of Twitter and Facebook.

Trita Parsi: [09-22] Iranian regime's allergy to reform breeds violence for change: Iran is again faced with mass demonstrations, this time protesting the death of a woman (Mahsa Amini) who was arrested and detained by the regime's "morality police" -- a unit set out to enforce submission to the Ayatollah's religious dictates.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [09-24] Why Iranian women are risking everything by burning their hijabs.

  • Al Jazeera: [09-23] US relaxes internet sanctions on Iran in support of protesters: Not sure where to start with this. The US shouldn't be seen as supporting civil unrest in any other country, but especially in a country where the US is universally discredited for its long history of hostility -- not least because any support now will be seen as underhanded. Second, if relaxing sanctions "aims to support the free flow of information," why was the US trying to interfere with "free flow of information" in the first place? Or did the US not understand the effect of these sanctions until Iran itself moved to choke off access? At which point it became just another way to spite Iran?

  • Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani: [09-22] Democrats Are Dropping the Ball on Iran: "Why is Tom Cotton the loudest member of Congress speaking about human rights abuses in Iran right now?" Because he's one of those "real men go to Tehran" hawks, who wants to start a war (or at least a blockade) to kill the people he supposedly is defending, if for no other reason than to gain some brownie points with Israel. But the point of the article isn't to puff up Cotton. It's to smear Democrats for not being interventionist enough to join Cotton's war. John Le Carré's quip about the Cold War applies equally to Iran's Revolution: "the right people lost, but the wrong people won." That leaves unfinished business for the Iranian people, and God bless them. But Uncle Sam has fucked up everything he's touched over there, so there's zero reason to think he can help now. (Less than zero if you let Tom Cotton lead the fight.)

  • Robin Wright: [09-25] Iran's ferocious return to the belligerent policies of the revolution's early days. Isn't doubling down a classic reaction when things aren't going your way? Iran has gone back and forth between reformers who were never quite able to get America off their neck and hard-liners who figured you might as well fight back. Raisi is one of the latter, and here he's being slagged for failing to revive the JCPOA deal that Trump pulled out of just to spite Iran.

Jennifer Rubin: [09-19] Trump's frightening rally in Ohio shows the media still doesn't get it.

Alex Shephard: [09-19] Donald Trump Is More Deranged Than Ever. So much shit on Trump every week that I always have to hang a list off a lead article, which can be hard to single out (especially early). But while Trump is in more legal trouble this week than last, or for that matter ever, it might be better to start out not with what the world is doing to Trump but with what Trump is doing to himself: a profile of character under stress, if you like. Interesting tidbit here is "J.D. Vance didn't invite Donald Trump to Ohio, where the president gave a lengthy, rant-filled speech at a rally on Saturday -- and it's easy to see why." So one thing unprecedented about these "midterms" is how a former president is imposing himself on the narrative. He's making a big bet that if Republicans win in November, he can take the credit and slingshot himself into front runner status in 2024. On the other hand, if Republicans get creamed -- especially after all those articles early in the year about how the election was a lock -- he'll make a convenient scapegoat for failure. In a sane world, that should send him into hiding (as GW Bush did in 2009). Unfortunately, Trump is incapable of realizing when he's lost, as are most of his fan base.

Amy B Wang: [09-20] Migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard file class-action lawsuit against DeSantis.

Edward Wong: [09-06] Biden Puts Defense of Democracy at Center of Agenda, at Home and Abroad. Robert Wright drew my attention to this piece: see [09-20] Biden's grand and dangerous vision. This was his Philadelphia "soul of a nation" speech, where he depicted "MAGA Republicans" as a threat to American democracy. He is, of course, right to note their threat, which manifests across a broad spectrum of areas, from unlimited campaign donations to gerrymandering to voter suppression to efforts to deny election losses and to use whatever power levers they can find (the Supreme Court is the big one) to unilaterally impose their reactionary policies and worldview on people. His stand for democracy at home is both necessary and laudable. However, that doesn't mean that defense or promotion of democracy should be the mission of US foreign policy. That mission should be getting along with the rest of the world. And that's something the US has done very poorly ever since Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Program fell into disrepair (or more accurately, was gutted by the Cold War).

Sure, Americans have a long history of talking up democracy -- even before Woodrow Wilson promised World War would "make the world safe for democracy." During the Cold War, America like to tout the moral virtue of democracy, but was quick to settle for friendly dictators, and often worked to subvert elections where it feared the left might win. This tendency to regard democracy as a team sport tied not to popular support but to US interests persisted after the fall of the Soviet Union. Nowadays, we are quick to condemn regimes we don't like as undemocratic, even if their leaders won office in elections at least as free as our own (Iran, Russia, and Venezuela are favorite examples, with Turkey coming and going -- at least in those countries the winner was the one who got the most votes, unlike our GW Bush and Trump).

But before Biden, this was just self-serving hypocrisy. With Biden, the enemy seems to have become more unified and nefarious. The roots of this go back to Russian interference in the 2016 election, which left many Democrats with a mental link between Putin and Trump -- one the latter never did much to dispel. Democrats have also noticed how Steve Bannon has been working to turn a cast of international rogues (including Putin, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Modi, Orban, and Trump) into a mutual admiration society. The problem here isn't that we shouldn't sympathize with victims of fascism everywhere, but that US foreign policy should not interfere in the internal affairs of other regimes, no matter how abhorrent we find them. We're not that perfect ourselves, and we're also not very good at it.


Biden made a comment about the pandemic being over, so I thought I'd take a look at Latest Map and Case Count. New cases are down from about 125,000 per day around July 24 to 54,239, with 432 deaths, which is still 156,680 per year. When I first heard the quote, I thought maybe the toll had dropped to the ignorable level of gun deaths, car deaths, and opioid overdoses, but it's still more than all three combined.

Late-breaking tweet:

Alan Dershowitz tells Tucker Carlson why he's decided to represent Mike Lindell:

"Whoever the government oppresses and violates their constitutional rights, I'll defend them."

I wish I could ask the late Liz Fink about how much help Dershowitz was on the many constitutional rights cases she worked so tirelessly on.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 18, 2022


Speaking of Which

A week I was planning on skipping this exercise, then wrote the long Bacevich comment, then had a peek around the usual sources. Rather haphazard approach, but quite a bit got stuck in my net.


Tariq Ali: [09-14] King Charles III May Keep His Head -- His Kingdom is Another Story: "The monarchy needs death and weddings for its cyclical renewal." I like this opening: "Charles is a name that most English monarchs have avoided since the 17th century. Let's therefore start where we really should."

Andrew Bacevich: [09-13] Will the U.S. Learn Anything from Putin's Disastrous Invasion? Alternate title: "Russia's Underperforming Military (and Ours)." Not really. Even though the U.S. military studies its own failures, the conclusions rarely waft up to policy levels, unless they argue that the failures can simply be solved by spending more money -- that's something the top brass and their congressional enablers can always get behind. This suggests that the real obstacles to change are high up in the security state, with their broad misconceptions about the competency, efficacy, and desirability of military power. To the extent that they can explain Russia's failures in terms where the U.S. is plausibly more proficient (like logistics), they shield themselves from self-doubt. But as should have been clear from Iraq, a virtuoso performance in capturing Baghdad wasn't anywhere near sufficient to achieve the desired political goals (roughly speaking, leaving Iraq as a stable and peaceful democracy integrated into the western capitalist economy). That's basically because it's very hard to occupy a foreign country, and very easy for natives to disrupt it, and once that starts, military domination does as much or more harm than anything else.

It may be clear now that Russia lacks the ability to conquer alien territory like the U.S. did in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it remains to be seen whether Russia will be able to defend its occupation of predominantly Russian areas like Crimea and Donbas -- where they know the language, and have cultural affinities unlike the U.S. in the Middle East.

One lesson the U.S. should draw from this war is that Russia isn't much of a threat beyond its borders, except for the nuclear threat. If the U.S. was seriously interested in world peace, it would make nuclear disarmament a major diplomatic priority, offering to sacrifice its own arsenal in the process. Secondly, it would negotiate pullbacks around Russia's borders. Thirdly, it would try to come up with a process for adjudicating border disputes in the region (and elsewhere: Kosovo and Bosnia are still unsettled; also, more ominously, Korea and Taiwan). But none of this is going to happen as long as U.S. politicians (and their security mandarins) think wars can be won, and that the projection of military power matters.

Bacevich has a book coming out in November on this theme: On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century. One thing I've long been struck by is how poorly the British people have been served by their deep feelings of their imperial past -- now mostly nostalgic but never far removed from the racist prerogatives the British claimed. When you look at the history of imperialism, it's easy to sympathize with the oppressed, but the experience has also warped the humanity of their oppressors, and that too takes a toll.

In looking up Bacevich's book, I noticed that Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad have a new book, with a striking subtitle: The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power. One lesson few have learned from the last few years is how fragile many things we depend on are, like supply lines. As systems get more complicated, as fewer people understand how they work, as resources get stretched, as responsibility is blurred or shirked, the world becomes more fragile, and things break, often catastrophically. (Which, by the way, is a mathematical term, meaning suddenly. There is a branch of mathematics called catastrophe theory, which studies discontinuous functions.) We live in a world which is increasingly fragile, governed by economic and political systems which assume it isn't, and are regularly blindsided when things break.

Jamelle Bouie: [09-13] It Is a Well-Known Truth That Opponents of Democracy Don't Want You to Have Nice Things: Looks at "the old idea that political democracy requires a certain amount of economic equality." Finds many examples, especially before 1870, when the Gilded Age took off -- like the 1920s and 1980s, a brief period when greed grew into "irrational exuberance" before the bubbles burst. "Wherever you look in U.S. history, you see Americans grappling with the connections among equality, inequality and democracy. Crucially, many of those Americans have struggled to make democracy itself a tool for the more equitable distribution of wealth and status." Which is, of course, why conservatives, as the self-recruited (or otherwise employed) defenders of the rich, have always distrusted and often plotted against democracy.

Rachel M Cohen: [09-14] What Republicans would do if they win back Congress. I could elaborate, but short answer is that it would be very bad and real ugly. Given how clear Republicans have been about their plans, I'm left with the nagging question: why would any significant number of American voters want to hurt themselves like that?

Artin DerSimonian: [09-15] New attacks on Armenia call for immediate Western diplomatic engagement. This is the latest flare up of another post-Soviet territorial conflict, with ramifications for Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, and the US -- which is to say lots of countries with ulterior motives and chips on their shoulders. U.S. involvement is particularly disturbing: see Eldar Mamedov: [09-16] Caucasus conflict highlights US hawks' reckless support for Azerbaijan.

Connor Echols: [09-16] Diplomacy Watch: Putin reportedly spiked a peace deal in early days of war. A roundup of news in this week of no serious diplomacy. Robert Wright [09-16] writes more about the "spiked deal" report: You can't prevent a war after it starts.

On the battlefield, Ukraine has regained significant territory to the east of Kharkiv, including the strategic town of Izium, but has not yet crossed the border into Luhansk. Ukrainian gains in the southwest near Kherson have been less impressive. Russia responded to its losses with attacks on infrastructure in Kharkiv.

More on Ukraine:

  • Ross Douthat: [09-17] The Quality That Sustained Queen Elizabeth Is Hobbling Putin: Get ready for this: Putin "has been hobbled in his fight because his regime lacks the mystical quality we call legitimacy." For the record, Putin's been in power for 16 of the last 22 years (and arguably for the other 6), and unlike Queen Elizabeth II he was actually elected (four times). There are lots of problems with Putin, but this one is purely in Douthat's noggin. He's never worth reading, but sometimes he's so bad you can't miss him as an example of how little talent and insight it takes to write for the New York Times.

  • Connor Echols: [09-14] Zelensky takes weapons push to Congress -- and the defense industry: Seems at first like a rude reach, but you can hardly blame him for thinking that the arms merchants, pulling their strings in Congress, are the real powers behind American support for war in Ukraine.

  • Fred Kaplan: [09-13] When Will Russians Realize the Disaster in Ukraine Is Putin's Fault? Russia's political system and media are so closed off it will be hard to measure. On the other hand, any whiff of dissent is likely to be blown up as propaganda. Kaplan cites some examples, but cautions: "the fog of this war is particularly thick; there is so much that independent analysts and journalists can't yet see."

  • Paul Krugman: [09-16] What Ukraine Needs From Us: Gets off on the wrong foot by accusing "realists" as having "spent the whole war urging Ukraine to surrender and have been disappointed in their predictions of military defeat, are now predicting inevitable economic collapse." That's not a fair description of any "realist" I'm familiar with. I don't identify as such, but I've often found the realists to be more grounded than the fantasists and ideologues who dominate US foreign policy. But after reiterating his credentials as a liberal hawk, Krugman does have some interesting things to say about the macroeconomic effects of the war on Ukraine. Still, he runs out of space before getting to the question raised in the title. It's an open question whether the U.S. and E.U. will offer anywhere near as much support in rebuilding Ukraine as they did in tearing it apart. Past history doesn't offer many positive examples, but the West's welcome of Ukrainian refugees is categorically different from refugees from other war-torn nations. But we should be clear on two things: one is that no significant rebuilding will be possible before a negotiated peace; the second is that a lot of money will be required, and on more favorable terms than the West (especially the private sector) is used to. Probably a couple more things are worth mentioning: prewar Ukraine had quite a reputation for corruption and cronyism, which won't be easy to recover from; also Ukraine's recovery will to some extent be tied to Russia's own economic recovery, which is something U.S. planners will be especially reluctant to support.

Susan B Glasser: [09-15] A Second Trump Term Would Be a Scary Rerun of the First: "Scary" may be too mild of a word, given how the subhed cites velociraptors in Jurassic Park. The most obvious point is that the one thing Trump has clearly learned from his first term is to hire flunkies who are above all personally loyal to Trump and Trump alone. Don't expect any adults-in-the-room types. Maybe some diehard conservative agenda types will get on board, but only if they grovel a lot. (Mike Pompeo is the model here.) But it's not inconceivable that he felt sabotaged by the conservative apparatchiki Pence stocked his administration with, so he could lean more to popular/demagogic policies, most effectively in foreign policy (where the liberal/interventionist worldview has led to disaster after disaster). But it's not likely, because he doesn't seem to be capable of coherent thought, and his focus on hiring only the most servile flunkies all but guarantees incompetence. Still, it's hard to imagine how ugly it can get.

Julia Gledhill/William D Hartung: [09-11] How the Arms Industry Scams the Taxpayer. Arms spending is so popular on Capitol Hill that the House added $37 billion to the Defense Department's already astronomical ask, and the Senate topped with with $45 billion.

Briahna Joy Gray: [09-15] Debt is a Form of Social Control: "To be indebted means to lack freedom. That's why elites melt down in response to Biden's new plan to forgive $10k of student debt. They don't want you to be free." There's more to this the author goes into, and more beyond that. Much as debt maintains the class order here in America, the IMF has proven to be a more effective tool at preserving the domain of elite capitalism than imperial armies ever were. That's because most of the time debt is easier tolerated than challenged, but not always. Which makes one wonder: why do we keep paying tribute to the rich, when they don't have anything better to do with their wealth than loan it out?

Caroline Houck: [09-13] The questions over the queen's role in Britain's violent empire, explained by a historian: Interview with Caroline Elkins, who is the right historian to ask this question to -- see her recent book, Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire. The British Empire had started to unravel before Elizabeth was coronated, but the most brutal periods of repression in Malaya and Kenya occurred on her watch, and she was often called to represent the fading empire (she was in Kenya when her predecessor died).

Sarah Jones: [09-16] What Happens When a Party Rejects Humanity? No need to ask "what party?" And while Ron DeSantis got the photo op, Greg Abbott and Doug Ducey joined him in the second paragraph: all three governors thought it would be funny to bus immigrants to liberal enclaves up north. For more on this:

Sarah Jones: [09-14] Lindsey Graham Caught the Garbage Truck: He probably thinks he's some kind of great compromiser with his federal abortion ban after 15 weeks, but he's just another jerk who thinks he's funny. But his stunt is not only view as proof of malevolence by the left; isn't not very well received on the right:

Sarah Leonard: [09-08] Free the Internet: "A handful of companies control the web. It doesn't have to be that way." A review of Ben Tarnoff's book, Internet for the People: The Fight for Our Digital Future. The Internet wasn't always a business. Since it became one, it may have become slightly more entertaining, but also misinforming and exploitative in ways that are hard to even grasp and reckon with. Page also links to a 2019 article: Jason Linkins: [2019-12-31] The Death of the Good Internet Was an Inside Job. That was part of a Decade From Hell retrospective of the 2010s.

David Leonhardt: [09-17] 'A Crisis Coming': The Twin Threats to American Democracy. Big article, covers the partisan divide in considerable depth, as well as structural issues (quotes Steven Livitsky with this oxymoron: "We are far and away the most countermajoritarian democracy in the world"), but I find curious the lack of data on money in politics. This is part of a broader Democracy Challenged thread, but again there I don't see anything specifically on money, or the fact that most major media organizations (including the New York Times) are owned by very rich special interests.

Milo Milfort/Anatoly Kurmanaev/Andre Paultre: [09-16] Fuel Hike Plunges Haiti Into Near Anarchy: "Discontent over economic misery spilled into the largest national protests in years, prompting international calls for action."

Ian Millhiser: [09-15] 3 takeaways from that Trump judge's latest order in the Mar-a-Lago case: "Judge Aileen Cannon's latest order shows a disregard for established law." Millhiser also wrote: [09-15] The Supreme Court hands the religious right an unexpected loss. Don't expect it to last. "The Supreme Court disposes of the Yeshiva University case with an implicit threat." Update: Hurubie Meko: [09-16] Yeshiva University Halts All Student Clubs to Block L.G.B.T.Q. Group.

More on Trump and associates:

Timothy Noah:

  • [09-12] Why Isn't Everybody Rich Yet?: "The twentieth century promised prosperity and leisure for all. What went wrong?" Reviews new books by J Bradford DeLong (Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century) and Thomas Piketty (A Brief History of Equality): the former on how since 1870 previously unimaginable wealth has been created, the latter on how the rich prevented it from being widely disseminated, but also on how the more egalitarian period between WWII and the Reagan-Thatcher reaction produced the peak growth of DeLong's "long century," creating the broad "middle class" we're in danger of losing now. I have a number of nits to pick with Noah here -- like his Timothy Snyder-credited assertion that Stalin and Mao were greater monsters than Hitler -- but would rather note that his 2013 book, The Great Divergence: America's Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It, is still, as I put it in one of my Book Roundups, "probably the first book to start with if you want to understand how incomes and wealth have diverged since 1973, with the rich and the superrich pulling ever further ahead while everyone else stagnates or worse."

  • [09-16] Strike Settled. Now Let's Nationalize the Railroads. Settling the strike is a good example of something Biden could take an interest in and make work, while Trump or any other Republican would either ignore the problem or come down solidly on the side of the owners (see Reagan, Coolidge, and Benjamin Harrison for particularly gross examples). As for nationalizing the railroads, that wasn't something I've given much thought to. But the profit figures Noah cites are suggestive. Railroads are natural monopolies, which is why they've been heavily regulated in the past. The profit figures suggest not heavily enough. The thinking for wanting to nationalize companies has changed since the early days of socialism, but that doesn't mean that there aren't good reasons to nationalize some companies/industries today. Amtrak is already an example, where there is a public need that the private sector is not able to provide. That could be true for rail freight, or at least its infrastructure, as well.

Kaila Philo: [09-14] Election Deniers Are Running to Control Voting in More Than Half of U.S. States: 18 of 36 gubernatorial races, 10 of 30 races for attorney general, 13 of 27 races for secretary of state; no need noting which party ticket they are all running on.

Charles P Pierce:

Andrew Prokop: [09-14] The case for Democratic optimism -- and pessimism -- in the midterms. I'm not in a position where I have to, or want to, worry about November elections. For me there is very little to think about, and very little I can do about it. Still, it seems odd to me that 538 gives Republicans a 71% chance of taking the House, and Democrats a 71% chance of keeping the Senate. I know the former is gerrymandered to help Republicans, but have no clear idea how much. I also have no notion of how much effect the Republican voter-suppression bills will actually have, and even less idea whether the provisions that allow officials to reject results will kick in. (Georgia seems to be the main test case.) I do know that voter turnout will be down this year from 2020, because it always is in non-presidential elections. (I hate to say "midterm," which implies that electing a new Congress and a majority of state governors and legislators is not just less important but a mere reflection of the exalted presidency.) That killed the Democrats in 2010, but same thing happened in 2006 and 2018 and those are counted as "blue waves." I'm not sure that having more uninformed voters in presidential election years is really such a good thing. The other thing I do know is that it would be tragic to elect Republicans almost anywhere, let alone in quantities sufficient to do real damage. And I get the sense that more and more people see that. The question is whether enough do.

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [07-11] We Can Build Paradises for the Public: "We need to recover the concepts of great public goods, public services, and public works. The New Deal's WPA provides a vision of what is possible." Cites Joseph Maresca's book, WPA Buildings: Architecture and the Art of the New Deal. It shouldn't be hard to think of nice things even the WPA didn't envision, but catching up is a start.

  • [09-14] Can We Drop the Silly Idea That America Is "Heading for a Civil War"? Reviews the recent literature, which I and others have debunked several times before, then points out: "The idea distracts us from the class war we're actually in, and is a deeply misleading framework for understanding the real risks we face." Democratic politicians don't like to talk about class, probably because they spend most of their time and energy begging money from rich donors, who'd rather talk about abstract threats to democracy than tangible benefits at their expense. Even the phrase "real risks" detracts from the "class war" point, offering an alliance on issues that do threaten the rich, like climate change. On the other hand, a coat of "populist" culture war paint can scarcely hide the fact that Republicans are first and foremost servants of oligarchy. By the way, the term when people rise up against oligarchies isn't civil war. It's revolution.

  • [09-15] How Media Copaganda Hides the Truth about the US Punishment Bureaucracy: Interview with Alec Karakatsanis, author of Unusual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Justice System, and publisher of the Copaganda (I take this coinage to mean: propaganda for cops). Also see his [2020-08-10] piece: Why "Crime" Isn't the Question and Police Aren't the Answer. "The U.S. is currently caging human beings at a rate that is unprecedented in its own history and in the recorded history of the modern world. We're caging people at five times the rate that we did when Nixon was president. We're caging people at a rate of five or 10 times what other comparably wealthy countries do right now."

Sigal Samuel: [09-14] China is committing genocide. The world has no plan to stop it. This is about the Uyghur minority in the northwest province of Xinjiang, where they represent about 45% of a population of 26 million (vs. 42% Han, a number that has been rising and no doubt will eventually constitute a clear majority). Like many minorities around the world, they are subject to unfair treatment, prone to rebellion, and subject to harsh repression. The word "genocide" gets bandied about liberally in such cases, especially because it implies an obligation of other countries to step in and stop the perpetrators -- not that this has ever actually happened, even in the case of Rwanda, a much less fearsome power than China. (Ok, it has occasionally been used as a pretext for invasion, as when Russia invaded Ukraine ostensibly to protect ethnic Russians from Nazi genocide, but who really believes that?) While it seems likely that China trods on basic human rights in Xinjiang and elsewhere, you have to wonder why such hysteria over China -- especially given that there is absolutely no way the UN or any other world power can rectify the situation. There is no global world order. We live in a system where nations are not accountable to law or other nations, and that can only improve when all nations agree to establish some common standards -- something that is impossible to achieve with nations at each others' throats.

Alex Skopic: [09-13] The Commodities Markets are Absurd, Unstable, and Dangerous. Cites the recent book by Rupert Russel: Price Wars: How the Commodities Markets Made Our Chaotic World.

Emily Stewart: [09-08] What if we're fighting inflation all wrong?. Points out that the Fed is a blunt instrument for fighting inflation, rather limited and indirect in its efficacy, and indiscriminate in its side effects. Meanwhile, what we're calling inflation is often just an aggregation of discrete market failures, each better dealt with through direct policy changes. If your house has a roach infestation, the Fed can probably fix it by burning the house down, but less destructive solutions are possible -- just not from the Fed.

Derrick Bryson Taylor: [09-17] Western Alaska Lashed by Strongest Storm in Years: "Remnants of Typhoon Merbok" hit Alaska with "winds of around 90 miles per hour and heavy rain, causing significant coastal flooding. Also [09-17]: Storm Surge in Alaska Pulls Homes From Their Foundations. "Sea surface temperatures recorded along Alaska's western coast were at or near record highs."

Speaking of climate:

It looks like Tropical Storm Fiona will turn north into the Atlantic after hitting Puerto Rico. (PS: [09-18] Hurricane Fiona knocks out power to all of Puerto Rico, with "catastrophic flooding.") Typhoon Nanadol is heading north to Japan, and expected to follow the entire length of Honshu, with 39 million people facing hurricane-force winds in the south, and many more heavy rain. Meanwhile "dangerous heat" returns here to Kansas, with record-setting 100°F days in the forecast.

Michael Wines: [09-07] In Voter Fraud, Penalties Often Depend on Who's Voting: Author "searched through newspapers, online databases and other sources to compile a list of roughly 400 voter fraud prosecutions over the last five years." That may seem like a number, but it's "infinitesimal in a country where more than 159.7 million votes were case in the 2020 general election alone."

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 11, 2022


Speaking of Which

Queen Elizabeth II of England, or what's left of the British Empire, died at 96, ending her 70-year reign. No links follow, because it's not a story that matters, or should matter, to much of anyone. During her reign, the British monarchy has become a total irrelevancy. I'm not sure whether her being a woman had something to do with that -- most likely it would have happened anyway, as she followed a longterm trend or diminishing competency and clout, going back at least as far as George III, or perhaps even to the so-called Glorious Revolution. But watching Claire Foy play her in the first season of The Crown, one must note that she was trained for irrelevance and decorum in a way that must have been common for well-bred women in an era sorely lacking for feminism, and that she took to her role uncommonly well, with a grace and temperance that eluded her ridiculous progeny. The only sensible thing to do at this point would be to spare us from further humiliation and depredation by dissolving the monarchy. And, while you're at it, flush the aristocracy, including the House of Lords, away as well.

Of course, as an American, I grew up staunchly opposed to any and all shreds of aristocracy. One of the first things I learned was that we fought a revolution to free ourselves from the rule of a hereditary "noble" class. So I've always found it bizarre when Americans show any fascination, let alone deference, to European or other monarchs and aristocrats, yet many do, and I can't begin to fathom why. Surely it's not the aura of awe that monarchs have traditionally tried to cultivate, as these days anyone can see through that. That viewpoint is so unnatural I find it hard even to watch fantasy shows like Game of Thrones, where all one can hope for in life is pledge allegiance to a Great House and suffer their fate. Invariably, such societies are marked by their ignorance and cruelty, and their leaders by vanity and stupidity. We've come far too close to that with the Houses of Bush, Clinton, and Trump.

PS: I wrote the above the day after. Turns out I did find some links worth mentioning (although they were a small minority):

  • Victoria Brownworth: [09-11] The queen is dead. The legacy of her colonies is not.

  • Hari Kunzru: [09-11] My Family Fought the British Empire. I Reject Its Myths. Choice line here: "She spent a lifetime smiling and waving at cheering native people around the world, a sort of living ghost of a system of rapacious and bloodthirsty extraction." Also: "My hope is that as the screen of Elizabeth falls away, Britons ay find it easier to recognize the unhealthiness of a dependency on imperial nostalgia for self-esteem."

  • Anatol Lieven: [09-10] How Queen Elizabeth shepherded England out of Empire: "She showed that her country could retain roots and tradition while accepting change and ultimately becoming something better." Not really. The "roots and tradition" she maintained was the residue of Empire, which was preserved as a mindset even after all the territory was lost. Lieven pretty much admits as much in his last paragraph: "That the legacy of the British Empire should have helped to produce a consensual multi-racial Britain, and that the Monarchy should have played a positive role in this, . . ." But it and she didn't.

  • Hamilton Nolan: [2021-03-09] Down With the British Monarchy: An old piece, but still timely. "What is a monarchy if not the highest veneration of inequality?"

  • Nathan J Robinson: [09-09] What Will Future Historians Think of Our Priorities? Why is the late Queen on page 1, while Failure to Slow Warming Will Set Off Climate 'Tipping Points,' Scientists Say is relegated to page A20?

  • Ryan Zickgraf: [09-10] Thomas Paine Was History's Greatest Hater of the British Crown. I'm sure he had plenty of rivals for intensity, but if you want to talk about effectiveness, the only competition I can think of was Oliver Cromwell. Subhed: "The American Revolution was inspired by ruthless criticism of the British monarchy. Why stop now?" Perhaps because the British monarchy has atrophied to the point where it's become a quaint if unseemly relic, where further criticism borders on cruelty. But then you see how the death and succession is played up in the media, and think it still needs to be knocked down a few rungs.


David Atkins: [09-09] Voters Don't Believe You Stand for Things Until You Actually Do Them: "What's behind the Democratic comeback summer? Chalk it up to voters seeing Republicans overturn Roe and Democrats making big moves on issues like climate change." One problem with this is that Republicans seem to think Democrats stand for all kinds of nefarious things they've never seen them make the slightest move to implement. But credibility is always a problem when you run on one set of issues, then when you win pivot to servicing your donors' lobbyists. Republicans have it easier: they get votes because they profess to hate the same people their voters hate, after which all they have to do to deliver is to keep slinging the same shit. Still, nice to see Democrats believing in things and doing something about those beliefs.

Gil Barndollar: [08-28] The 'Stabbed in the Back' Myths of the War Hawks: "They're always eager to cover failures in cries of betrayal." Examples, working back, from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, and Imperial Germany, which gave us the definitive term: Dolchstosslegende. That was the term that was parlayed by the Nazis into their WWII rematch. In America, it's just used to keep adding to the ignominious list.

Patrick J Buchanan: [09-10] How Liberal Elites Detest Middle America: How can anyone really believe this? Sure, elites of all stripes tend toward snobbery, and liberal ones can come off as condescending, but that's usually because they at least care, even if not enough to understand. Conservative elites, including the author, are the ones who like to see working people suffer. And if you want to talk about condescension, how can you think that someone like Trump has a mystical bond with Middle America because he likes fast food, pro wrestling, Ted Nugent, and the occasional lynching?

David Corn: It Didn't Start With Trump: The Decades-Long Saga of How the GOP Went Crazy. Nice to see more people recognizing this: "Since the 1950s, the GOP has repeatedly mined fear, resentment, prejudice, and grievance and played to extremist forces so the party could win elections." Corn explores this more in his new book: American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy.

Chas Danner: [09-06] A Guide to the Intense Debate Over Biden's Big Democracy Speech: No surprise, but most of the debate is over peripheral issues, like the lighting, the flag and Marines in the background, and the issue that most perturbs Republicans: how many of their followers are being dissed for MAGA-ness. The fact that the Republican Party, not as a bunch of ill-tempered individuals but acting in concert as a party, is consistently, systematically working to undermine democracy, not so much. Useful for one-stop opinion scanning, in an age where media would much rather cover what people say than what they do.

More recent examples:

Nonetheless, what's important to stress is that the message isn't "Republicans are bad people," but Republican politicians want to do bad things, which will ultimately cause much harm -- even to most Republicans. It's hard to draw such a fine line, especially given that most Republicans aren't going to hear what you say, and that many of them really do seem to be filled with hate.

Dave DeCamp: [09-08] White House: Biden Wants 'Other Options' for Iran if Nuclear Deal Talks Fail: He seems to be asking for war plans: "Back in July, Biden said he was willing to use force as a 'last resort' against Iran to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon." If his war planners are honest, there is no way to use force against Iran in a way that won't make them more motivated to build nuclear weapons. And if you recall the timelines Netanyahu was spouting about how soon Iran could have nuclear weapons (less than 5 years from the early 1990s), you should realize that the only reason Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons is that they don't want them. That means Biden will most likely order up another round of sanctions, which annoy but don't really threaten Tehran, and which express such deep-seated hostility that every marginal encounter between Iran or "Iran-backed forces" and the US and its "allies" threatens to blow up into broader conflict.

It doesn't seem to have sunk in yet, but the experience with Russia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba, and elsewhere has shown that sanctions have no significant effect on resolve to resist US dictation, regardless of how much pain they inflict on ordinary citizens or even elites. The only place where sanctions worked was South Africa, where the Afrikaner elites finally put their business interests above what was already a losing political position. (There is some chance that sanctions might sway Israel to compromise with Palestinians, either by calving off chunks of territory Israel has little future in, like Gaza, or by extending political rights and economic opportunities to Palestinians within Israel's extended borders. On the other hand, sanctions could just as well backfire there, too. One critical element is to extend an acceptable off-ramp, which the US has almost never been willing to do.)

More on Iran:

  • Ben Armbruster: [09-08] Iran derangement syndrome season is here again: "With the rebirth of the nuclear accord seemingly within reach, those who'd rather have war are turning their hysterics into overdrive."

  • Connor Echols: [09-06] Saudi-led OPEC+ snubs Biden with oil production cuts: I'm not saying that we need more, let alone cheaper, oil, but if that's a goal that Biden thinks might be worthwhile, the obvious way to get it is to dial back the sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. Such a move would also make it easier to tighten the squeeze on Russian oil. Guess who's opposed to any such move?

  • Faezeh Foroutan: [09-11] Suspicious bind: Iran's relationship with Russia. This relationship is complicating restoration of JCPOA, which by design has to get Russia on the same page as the US and the EU powers, but Russia has little reason to cooperate with the West these days, and the US (under the thumbs of Israel and Saudi Arabia) only knows how to drive Iran away. The smart move is usually to divide your "enemies," but hostility is so hegemonic in the US that they're driving them together -- most consequentially the one "enemy" the US cannot afford: China.

  • Daniel Larison: [09-09] Spoiler! Israel may get its fondest wish to see the JCPOA die. Sooner or later, this idea of subcontracting US foreign policy to Israel and Saudi Arabia -- an idea started by Kissinger but only reduced to an unthinking jerk reflex by Trump -- is going to be viewed as a horrible mistake. Isn't it?

Ross Douthat/Kristen Soltis Anderson/Erick Erickson: [09-07] Is the Democratic Midterm Surge Overrated? Why Republicans Can Still Win the House and Senate. A "round table" where the partisans try to psych each other up. I don't mind them fantasizing, other than that if they're right it will be such a tragedy for the whole country. Also, we can't let up. Democrats not only need to win majorities; the larger the majority, the better the prospects (especially in the Senate, where its undemocratic rules don't stop with the filibuster).

Related:

  • Frank Bruni/Molly Jong-Fast/Doug Sosnik: [08-25] 'A Stirring of Democratic Hearts': Three Writers Discuss a Transformed Midterm Landscape. A similar confab on the Democratic side, just as shallow, but at least you don't feel like they're cheering the Devil.

  • John Quiggin: [09-05] "Republican" as an identity: Points out that Ross Douthat continues to reflexively identify with the Republican Party, even though his fellow Republicans do virtually nothing he advises, and often do things he takes exception to. It's really remarkable how otherwise decent people have stuck with the Party even as they have recognized how badly Trump has betrayed them -- especially as it should have been clear that Trump wasn't leading the Party astray; he was channeling its deepest and ugliest convictions.

  • Andrew Kirell: [2018-12-11] Why Does Anyone Take Erick Erickson Seriously? An oldie, but worth trotting out every time he opens his yap.

Connor Echols: [09-09] Diplomacy Watch: Erdogan's balancing act between Russia and the West. Remember: the only thing that ends the war in Ukraine, and therefore the only story on Ukraine that really matters, is a ceasefire and constructive negotiations. Once again, that didn't happen this week. Only good news I see here is that Biden resisted the chorus demanding that Russia be added to the "state sponsor of terrorism" list, which would have kicked in a raft of dangerous US laws. Also note the quotes from Matteo Salvini, a far-right politician in Italy who seems to be on the rise, questioning the value of sanctions against Russia ("I would not want the sanctions to harm those who impose them more than those who are hit by them").

More on Ukraine and Russia:

  • Anne Applebaum: [09-11] It's Time to Prepare for a Ukrainian Victory: "The liberation of Russian-occupied territory might bring down Vladimir Putin." No, I didn't cross the paywall to read this fantasy. She's cultivated her hatred of Russia through several books -- first historical, but more and more polemical -- and developed as a world-class warmonger. The link is here merely to document how far self-propagandizing can go.

  • Connor Freeman: [09-09] EU Backs Off Russian Energy Price Cap. The ideal originally advanced by Janet Yellen, that we could arbitrarily cap Russia oil and gas prices to keep Russia from financing Putin's war without reducing global supply, was never going to work.

  • Brandon Gage: [09-11] 'We ask you to relieve yourself of your post': Kremlin officials have begun a mutiny against Vladimir Putin. I have no idea whether to give this any credibility, but it's not from an obvious propaganda source, and it's at least as hard to doubt that there are whispers and rumblings along those lines. Still, it's not an environment conducive to accurate polling.

  • Valerie Hopkins: [09-06] 'Nothing Has Really Changed': In Moscow, the Fighting Is a World Away: The same basic article could have been written about the US at any point in the 20+ year War on Terror, which even indirectly affected only a tiny sliver of the people, most comfortably out of sight and mind. The Vietnam and Korea Wars cut a slightly broader swath, but few Americans were exposed to serious risks or hardships. No doubt, US war planners had hoped that the sanctions they imposed on Russia would generate some opposition to the War in Ukraine, but Putin's government seems to be covering up those hardships rather nicely. No doubt Moscow will look bleaker come Winter, but thus far it's Europe that seems to be more seriously worried.

  • Fred Kaplan: [09-08] Why Vladimir Putin's Latest Threat to the Rest of the World Is So Not Scary.

  • Paul Krugman: [09-08] Wartime Economics Comes to Europe: "The West isn't exactly at war with Russia." But US/NATO support for the war in Ukraine is having a disproportionate economic impact on Europe, which over the last 20-30 years had much more business with Russia, and therefore much more to lose to sanctions (especially gas, a major import that is relatively hard to second-source). Two interesting things here: one is that the stock complaints about Biden (e.g., inflation) are hitting Europe much worse than the U.S. (which, if anything, suggests that Biden's extra spending isn't the problem, and may even be part of the solution); the other is that while Biden seems to have been successful in bringing Europe back under the NATO umbrella (after 4 years of Trump trashing the franchise), continuing the war in Ukraine through a harsh winter risks finally breaking the alliance. Right now, it's mostly right-wing parties (e.g., in Hungary and Italy) that have turned anti-Ukraine, but as hardships like high prices, controls, and even rationing pile up, that could change suddenly.

  • Karl Ritter/Joanna Kozlowska: [09-10] Russia announces troop pullback from Ukraine's Kharkiv area: This is being touted as a big gain for Ukraine's counteroffensive, but also suggests that Russia doesn't feel the need to hold the area northwest of the breakaway Luhansk region. The map also shows some Ukrainian gains north of Kherson in southern Ukraine.

PS: We're starting to see breathless reports like [09-11] Amid Ukraine's startling gains, liberated villages describe Russian troops dropping rifles and fleeing. And: [09-11] Ukraine's New Offensive Is Going Shockingly Well. And where there's less progress to report, excuses: [09-10] Ukraine's southern offensive 'was designed to trick Russia'.

Sarah Jones: [09-08] The Magic of Barbara Ehrenreich. Tributes to the late writer -- as I put it last week, "the most important writer the American left has produced" -- continues to pour in, the new ones using their time to delve even deeper.

Jen Kirby: [09-06] New prime minister, same old battles over Brexit: Liz Truss takes over the Conservative Party, replacing Boris Johnson.

Robert Kuttner: [09-09] Bannon in Custody: "This time, there's nobody to pardon him." Kuttner's written about Bannon before: an interview, published the day before Bannon got fired from the White House.

Branko Marcetic: [09-07] Ignoring Gorbachev's Warnings. I could have filed this under Ukraine, which is a good example of the consequences of ignoring Gorbachev's insightful critique of America's attitude toward the world, but it is only one example, of which there are many. This piece even misses some. Gorbachev was surely joking when he told told Bush that Russia no longer needed the Brezhnev Doctrine -- the excuse for overthrowing the reform government in Czechoslovakia in 1968 -- so the U.S. was welcome to it (e.g., in Panama). The article does point out that Gorbachev continued to be an insightful critic of American power long after he left office. His proposals for Ukraine are thoughtful and almost certainly would have prevented the current war. Many American business thinkers celebrate "thinking outside the box," but nowhere is that notion more anathema than in the salons of Washington's foreign policy establishment -- a group that alternately celebrated and deprecated Gorbachev but, much to our peril, never took him seriously.

Ruth Marcus: [09-11] What Chief Justice Roberts misses. I doubt if he actually misses the point, but having lost control, is basically trying to make the best of a nasty situation -- the phrase "putting lipstick on a pig" comes to mind. Marcus quotes Justice Kagan: "The way the court retains its legitimacy and fosters public confidence is by acting like a court. By doing the kind of things that do not seem to people political or partisan. By . . . doing something that is recognizably law-like." But the majority today, the Court having been meticulously packed over several decades (but packed nonetheless), think themselves free to act out their prejudices, with only the flimsiest gossamer of legalistic reasoning -- with or without Roberts on their side.

David Marques: [09-09] Conservatives Want You to Die for Their Personal Beliefs: "A Texas judge's ruling that employers don't have to cover HIV-prevention medication is further proof that the right sees public health policy merely as a tool to punish political enemies."

Dylan Matthews: [09-07] Humanity was stagnant for millennia -- then something big changed 150 years ago. Interview with economist Brad DeLong, whose "new magnum opus" is Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century. It's a big subject, and an important one. During those years humans created previously unimaginable wealth, and have fought over that wealth, even to the point of threatening to destroy it all. We've literally changed the surface of the earth and our relationship to nature, yet our understanding of what we've done remains shallow and conflicted. This is an interview.

By the way, when I looked up DeLong's book, I found the same title by George Scialabba: Slouching Toward Utopia: Essays & Reviews (paperback, 2018, Pressed Wafer). Here's an interview from 2013: What Are Radicals Good For?.

Matt McManus: [09-11]: The Political Tradition of Republicanism Should Be a Touchstone for Democratic Socialists: No, not the Republican Party, although the early years there are worth knowing about, and might tangentially fit into the framework of the book reviewed here: Radical Republicanism: Recovering the Tradition's Popular Heritage, ed. by Bruno Leipold, Karma Nabulsi, and Stuart White. PS: I looked the book up on Amazon and suffered sticker shock ($81.29). One chapter on US: "Solidarity and Civic Virtue: Labour Republicanism and the Politics of Emancipation in Nineteenth-Century America," so yeah, early Republicans before the oligarchs took over. That's followed by pieces on Marx, Turkey, and France. The major book on this phase of the Republican Party is David Montgomery: Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans, 1862-1872 (1967). I read it a long time ago, when I still had a sentimental attachment to the GOP (my grandfather's middle name was Lincoln), but like Labor Republicanism that didn't last long.

Ian Millhiser: [09-06] Why Trump's FBI investigation could now be delayed for months or even years: "Trump Judge Aileen Cannon's order [appointing a "special master"] is egregiously wrong and could be overturned on appeal. But it helps Trump run out the clock." On Twitter, Millhiser adds: "The unspoken undertone of this piece is that I genuinely wonder whether it will be possile to successfully prosecute Trump, no matter the evidence against him, when so much of the judiciary is on his side." Millhiser followed this up with: [09-08] DOJ warns judge that delaying the FBI's Trump investigation is a national security risk.

Also by Millhiser:

Luke Mogelson: [09-10] How Trump Supporters Came to Hate the Police: "At the Capitol riot and elsewhere, MAGA Republicans have leaped from 'backing the blue' to attacking law-enforcement officials." I can tell you, if not from personal experience at least from long observation, that calling cops names and getting in their face, threatening them, never works out, and I'll add that "white skin privilege" only works in passing (it keeps them from noticing you, but not when you give them no choice). Mogelson has a book coming out next week: The Storm Is Here: An American Chronicle. He started covering the anti-lockdown riots (especially in Michigan, where they stormed the Capitol and tried to kidnap the governor), then continued through the BLM demonstrations and reaction, winding up with January 6.

Andrew Prokop: [09-08] A new book claims Trump's efforts to politicize the Justice Department were worse than we knew.. Of course they were. Do you think Trump appointed Jeff Sessions for any other reason? Wasn't it clear when he turned to William Barr that the problem with Sessions was that he wasn't political enough? Book is by Geoffrey Berman, who was USDA for Southern District of New York until he was fired in June 2020 for not being political enough for Barr. For more, see Benjamin Weiser: [09-08] Trump Pushed Officials to Prosecute His Critics, Ex-U.S. Attorney Says.

Thomas E Ricks: [09-05] Why I've stopped fearing America is headed for civil war. Unlike the 1850s, there's no institutional support for civil war today. I've often joked that the 2nd Amendment was passed to be sure that a strong federal government couldn't nip a civil war in the bud, but wasn't repealed because no one imagined it could be used again (or wanted to admit that was the reason; besides, there were still Indians to kill). And no one could imagine that we'd ever be dumb enough to regard a random psycho with an AR-15 as a "well-regulated militia." While Ricks may sleep tight, there is still a good chance of a fair amount of semi-random right-wing violence from the crazies egged on by the Republicans and their propaganda wing.

Nathan J Robinson: [08-29] Our Invasions: "If we're never going to hold U.S. war criminals accountable, what moral credibility do we have when we condemn Russia and others? We don't even begin to practice what we preach."

Alex Shephard: [09-07] CNN, Politico Want to Give Authoritarianism a Fair Shake: "Are these outlets truly ignorant of the threats facing our democracy, or are they looking to profit from its fall?"

David Siders: [09-09] 'The environment is upside down': Why Dems are winning the culture wars: I think it would be more accurate to say that Republicans are losing "culture wars" to the people affected by them, in many cases decisively enough that Democrats have lost the will to side with the Republicans. Democrats have never seen "culture wars" as a winning political issue: otherwise, why would Bill Clinton push the Defense of Marriage Act? Or why would Democrats repeatedly pass the Hyde Amendment? I've seen a report that Biden will change the federal narcotics definitions to legalize marijuana. Once cultural change issues get to the point where 60-70% support them, they're difficult for the self-proclaimed Democratic Party to oppose.

Jeffrey St Clair: [09-09] Roaming Charges: Special Master Blaster. Starts with a Barbara Ehrenreich quote (more later), then goes into how justice works (or doesn't work) in America. He points out that the rich and powerful get special treatment, but even so Trump is in a class of one. (What other criminal can boast of appointing his own judge?) He also notes that when the FBI raids a residence, they often seize property, and have to face lesser constraints for "forfeitures" than they do with regular indictments.

There is a map here showing "50-Year Change in Summer (Jun-Aug) Temperatures: 1973-2022. The point of the map here is to show how much hotter the West has gotten over this period, which is pretty dramatic, but I couldn't help but look at where I live, in south-central Kansas, where it seems to have gotten a bit cooler. (Also a big chunk of eastern Nebraska, and southeast South Dakota, along with isolated spots in the Midwest, from Indiana down to Oklahoma and up to the northeast corner of Montana. The South and East are all up, but not nearly as much as the West.)

Astra Taylor: [09-06] Debtors, Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Shame. One of the smartest writers on the left, but she got to this op-ed as an activist, fighting for debt relief. As she writes: "If debt is a dual source of profit and power, shame is its handmaiden. Shame isolates and divides, making class solidarity more difficult. The knee-jerk anger at the idea of student debt cancellation in some circles, while ostensibly about fairness, reflects the common though misguided view that when one person gains, another loses."

Michael Tomasky: [09-06] Economics, Democracy, and Freedom: It's All One Argument. Adapted from the author's new book, The Middle Out: The Rise of Progressive Economics and a Return to Shared Prosperity. A major thrust here is the attempt to reclaim "freedom" as a goal (and therefore a principle) of progressive economic policy. As a political proposition, this is similar enough to my own that it may save me writing a book (I don't seem to be making any headway on anyway).

Jason Willick: [09-05] How a 1950s new left manifesto explains the 2020s new right: Well, I had to click this to see what the fuck he was talking about, but I'll save you the trouble: It's C. Wright Mills' 1956 bestseller, The Power Elite, which was about a world very different from the one we inhabit now. (Nicholas Lemann's book Transaction Man does a good job of showing how America changed from the big corporate power Mills wrote about to leaner/meaner financial depredation.) Still, don't expect to learn anything about Mills in a piece that starts: "One of the disorienting features of modern American politics is the sense that the parties' identifies have turned upside down." In Willick's bizarre "upside down" world Republicans are trying to defend the little guy against the tyranny of the FBI and military leaders, while Democrats are conspiring with "big corporations to control expression." Or, as he quotes AEI Fellow Yuval Levin: "Today's Right implicitly understands itself as the outside party, oppressed by the powerful and banging on the windows of the institutions. Today's Left implicitly understands itself as the insider, enforcing norms and demanding conformity."

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 4, 2022


Speaking of Which

I made the point a while back that Trump only became leader of the Republican Party when he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016. Once he became viewed as a winner, all else was not merely forgiven but accepted as virtue. So when he lost in 2020, he should have been disposed of. But he came up with a clever way of escaping the trap: he declared himself the real winner, and most Republicans wound up falling back in line. After all, most Republicans are sheep, mired in a bubble of misinformation, and neither smart nor curious enough to think for themselves. With his "big lie," Trump has not only maintained his position as the leader of his party, he has kept himself in the spotlight continuously over the last two years -- mostly to get beaten up and humiliated even more, but professional Republicans are powerless to to stop him. They, after all, have become too complicit in his lies.

One result of this is that the 2022 elections are going to be a referendum not on Biden but on Trump. This is a huge difference from 2010. In 2008, Bush was even more unpopular than Trump was in 2020, but Bush basically went into hiding after leaving the White House, and two years later had been conveniently forgotten. Biden's record is arguably better in 2022 than Obama's was in 2010: both have presided over economic recoveries that could be better, and both have had legislative wins (although Obama's ACA was little appreciated at the time, partly because implementation was delayed). And give Biden credit for getting out of Afghanistan, where Obama got deeper in (but, at least, out of Iraq, although he got back in again later). But achievements like those don't seem to motivate voters, certainly not like fear and loathing. And let's face it: nobody in America elicits more fear and loathing than Trump.

But let's also note that Trump's onus has rubbed off on much of his party. And that's not just because the Big Lie and all the little liars who have dutifully lined up behind it has come to be viewed by so many as an assault on democracy as well as on the nation as a whole. And it's not just because the investigation and prosecution of January 6 has kept memory of those events from fading -- indeed, Trump's vow to pardon the rioters is a self-own, somewhere between Roosevelt's "I welcome their hate" of "economic royalists" and Napoleon crowning himself emperor. While Trump once could claim 80 million voters, the January 6 riot was just a few thousand fanatics, for which at most a few hundred have been charged with crimes. He's systematically belittling himself, all the while appearing even more ominous and abhorrent to the 85 million who voted him down in 2020.

While voters often remained confused about who is responsible for what, they got a crystal clear demonstrations of who the Republicans are when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. That's been a partisan crusade since the 1980s, and while Trump did the ultimate packing of the Court, the "trigger laws" that have snapped into place, depriving more than a third of Americans of a right that had been secure for 50 years, is purely the work of local Republicans. It remains to be seen whether Republicans will get the blame they deserve for dozens of other unpopular positions they have taken, let alone for the longer-term damage they've done to the economy and to society. Democrats have two more months to make those charges stick.

As for Trump himself, he more and more looks like a walking corpse. He may or may not get indicted, and possibly more than once. Unless he cops a plea, it will be hard to convict him, but the nicks and scrapes aren't likely to help him politically. He's too whiny and peevish to make much of a martyr, and the few who are inclined to see him as such aren't going to have much effect -- except perhaps through self-defeating acts of violence. If Democrats come out of the election stronger than before, his reputation as a winner will take a beating. We're already seeing articles like Nate Silver: [09-02] Why Trump's Presence in the Midterms Is Risky for the GOP. He may still announce a presidential run for 2024 -- it will be hard for him to resist a graft he has been cultivating ever since leaving office -- but I doubt he'll make it to Iowa or New Hampshire, let alone sweep the primaries. He's no longer the outsider he campaigned as in 2016. And he's no longer the winner. While others will seek his blessing, carry his colors, and promise to finally deliver on his vision of Make America Great Again™, no one else is likely to duplicate his clown show, and few (other than the idiot press) will miss the drama.


Facebook tells me that today is Mary McDonough Harren's birthday. Alas, she is no longer with us, and greatly missed.


Natalie Schachar: [09-02] Barbara Ehrenreich, Explorer of Prosperity's Dark Side, Dies at 81. This reads more like a profile than an obituary, including the quote: "So to me, sitting at a desk all day was not only a privilege but a duty: something I owed to all those people in my life, living and dead, who'd had so much more to say than anyone ever got to hear." I figure her as the most important writer the American left has produced. Everyone else who comes to mind filled some niche or other, but she ranged everywhere, and the few subjects she missed were ones we were waiting for her to weigh in on. In 2016, when sensible people were searching for books to explain how it was possible Trump won, few looked back as far as her 1989 Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class. That was probably my introduction, followed by The Worst Years of Our Lives, a title she spent on the 1980s when even worse years were still to come. I imagine that The American Health Empire (1971) and her explicitly feminist works from the 1970s are a bit dated, but wouldn't be surprised to find otherwise. Blood Rites was a wholly original take on war, Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch introduced many of us to the hard work of poverty, Dancing in the Streets offered joy, and Bright-Sided told us not to get too obsessed with it. I read her primer on dying, Natural Causes, earlier this year, and found it reassuring, as she no doubt intended. Too bad I missed the memoir, subtitled A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything, which could double as mine. Something to live for.

Kate Aronoff: [08-23] Made-in-America Electric Cars: Good in Theory but a Complicated Mess in Practice: That's what you get when you try to do two things at once. Biden is starting to move away from free market globalization (which has stripped America of most manufacturing jobs) to a national economic policy that brings manufacturing jobs back. That makes the switch to electric cars harder and more expensive, but it's as good a place to start the policy as any.

Also on electric cars:

Ross Barkan: [08-29] Don't Mock the Payroll Protection Program: Sure, it was an easy reach when Republicans reacted hysterically to Biden's student loan order, especially given that lightning rods Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene were on the list of major beneficiaries of PPP loan forgiveness. But the program was one of a number of measures that helped people get through the early days of pandemic lockdown. Not every measure has to help everyone, and not every measure has to help the poorest of the poor. Forgiving student loans is effectively middle-class relief: the rich don't need it, and the poor can't use it, but for people in the middle it makes a lot of difference. PPP was more of an upper-middle-class program, but it was packaged with things like supplemented unemployment benefits that helped more people. Farm supports only directly help a small population, but they help keep food plentiful for the rest of us. Bank bailouts only obviously help filthy rich bankers, but they can be justified for keeping businesses open and running. (I don't quite buy that, but that's an argument that reasonable people who care about more than bankers can accept.)

I've long hated when people decry business supports as "corporate welfare." Welfare should be thought of as a good thing, something we all deserve more of. The preamble of the U.S. Constitution declared that the reason we have and should want a federal government is "to promote the general Welfare." The art of politics is maintaining a balance that benefits most of the people most of the time. The practice of politics tries to break this asunder, favoring some interests at the expense of others, and in its most degenerate form disfavoring others out of pure spite (or a misguided belief in zero-sum games). Republicans these days offer many examples of such degeneracy. We shouldn't emulate them.

Kim Bellware/Alex Horton: [09-02] VA plans to offer abortions for veterans regardless of state laws. This looks like an important policy change, and a brave one under the circumstances. Still doesn't go as far as an idea I thought of long ago: making VA centers available for abortions for all women, regardless of military affiliation. I liked the idea because it would be almost impossible to set up the sort of gauntlets women often have to pass through to get to clinics (at least that's the case here in Wichita). Related background: Alex Horton/Rachel Roubein: [07-29] Abortion ruling will worsen military personnel crisis, Pentagon says.

Daniel Davis: [08-29] The Real Problem With Biden's Afghanistan Withdrawal: It Came 10 Years Too Late. Or earlier still, but Davis's perspective was formed by serving in Afghanistan in 2010-11 ("at the height of Petraeus's Afghan surge"), which clearly proved that the US was not going to escalate its way to a satisfactory solution, but still had some leverage to negotiate with.

Also:

  • Gil Barndollar/Jason Dempsey: [09-02] Don't Believe the Generals: "Afghanistan was a lost war long before last year's final withdrawal." The authors served in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2014, which is the critical window for understanding that there was nothing the US could do in Afghanistan that had any chance of working. Before that you could make excuses like "we dropped the ball" by rushing into Iraq, imagining that focus would help, that you could find better Afghan leaders than Karzai, that you could get more help from Pakistan, etc. Instead, all focus meant was more firepower, and that failed for all to see.

  • Jacob Batinga: [09-01] Sanctions are Destructive, Illegitimate, and Totally Bipartisan: "Destitution should not be a tool of U.S. foreign policy." I filed this under Afghanistan following the photo, but destitution is a tool (actually, a weapon) the U.S. has used many times, pretty much never with its advertised effect.

Last week I followed Tariq Ali's Churchill: His Times, His Crimes, with The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold, a slim volume compiled from previous essays. They're a little scattershot, but his insights and speculations have proven remarkably solid. Perhaps the best part is his background and analysis of the Russian intervention in 1979 and its 10-year occupation, which like the US invasion in 2001 he viewed as doomed from the start.

Connor Echols: [08-26] Diplomacy Watch: Will six months of war turn into six years? This weekly report came out before Ukraine announced its offensive in the Kherson region, but once again has no progress to report. As for the offensive: Against fierce resistance, Ukraine makes small gains in the south near Kherson. Or so they say.

More on Ukraine:

  • Connor Echols: [09-02] Diplomacy Watch: Did Boris Johnson help stop a peace deal in Ukraine?

  • Jan Cienski: [09-02] Energy war erupts as Putin and the West clash over oil and gas: The G7 thinks they can starve Russia's war effort by capping the price they pay for Russian oil and gas. I don't see how that can work, or why anyone thinks it can.

  • Blaise Malley: [09-01] Can the Quincy Institute Survive Putin's War? This is a rehash of Joe Cirincione's resignation, who felt the "transpartisan" think tank (backed by Koch and Soros money) wasn't sufficiently anti-Putin. I've found their Responsible Statecraft website to be a dependable source for sanity, one I've cited often in these pages (especially the work of resident expert Anatol Lieven and "Diplomacy Watch" reporter Connor Echols. No one there doubts that Putin is responsible for the war, and that his armed intervention deserves to be beaten back. On the other hand, they acknowledge the history that led to the conflict. And most importantly, they recognize that continuing the war only adds to the harms already inflicted. And they realize that the only way out is through negotiation, which they correctly criticize both sides for shirking.

  • Geoffrey Roberts: [08-26] Are these hawks really calling for a preventative war? Well, not exactly. As I understand it, they're saying that we don't need to worry about the war with Russia -- and they're really thinking of this as America's war to defeat Russia, not just to help Ukraine defend itself -- going nuclear, because Putin will always back down when faced with America's nuclear deterrent. Hence, we should send even more dangerous and provocative weapons to Ukraine. But while they are hawks and seek to extend the war, I don't see any reason to call it "preventative": the war is already ongoing, started by Putin when he invaded Ukraine beyond the breakaway regions. Still, the "preventative war" mindset does appear to be operative here: that's how Putin described his invasion. But the term isn't even an oxymoron; it's a self-negation. No one ever prevents a war by starting one.

  • Ravil Maganov is the eighth Russian oil executive to die under mysterious circumstances since the war begun.

Nick French: [09-03] US Life Expectancy Has Declined Again. Neoliberalism and Antidemocratic Rule Are to Blame. The more obvious reason is Covid-19, but it's hit the US much harder than most relatively well-off countries. Plus there's guns, opiates, car wrecks (which St Clair reports are twice as likely to be fatal in the US as in other countries like France and Canada). But sure, having a health care system that is better at making money than saving lives is part of the story. And putting prices on everything ensures that unprofitable people will suffer.

Tareq S Hajjaj: [09-01] Israel's 'Operation Breaking Dawn' killed 49 Palestinians. These are their stories. All wars should be reported like this. All war supporters should be read these reports. Note that the absence of any Israelis profiled is because none died in this particular bit of slaughter.

Jacob Heilbrunn: [08-28] Trumpism Before Trump: "How a small group of reactionaries hijacked the Republican Party -- decades before the 2016 election." Lead photo: Newt Gingrich. Review of Nicole Hemmer: Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s. Dana Milbank's recent The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party covers the same ground.

Alex Henderson: [08-26] Moderna sues two competitors for 'patent infringement' over COVID vaccine technology. Patents are basically a license to steal from the public. By claiming whole swathes of technology, they also inhibit further development of that technology. And when they're applied retroactively, the entire market gets blindsided. The whole racket should be demolished -- as indeed it only exists because political laws have been enacted to favor private interests.

Umair Irfan: [08-31] Why Covid-19 death rates remain stubbornly flat. A little over 400 per day, which would add up to 150,000 for the year: offhand, that's about as many people as die from guns, drug overdoses, and auto accidents combined, which are the three non-disease statistics that routinely outrage various people.

Ben Jacobs: [09-02] Biden defended democracy -- and pounced on a political opportunity: "The goal was to make 'MAGA Republicans' a label for everything that voters find politically toxic about the GOP right now." Biden gave a prime time political speech that quite rightly called out Republicans as a threat to democracy. He tried to limit blame to a subset of the party defined by their blind loyalty to Trump, and phrased that in terms just short of name-calling. I'm not much for broad labels, but one needs some way of making the point that electing Republicans will cost you rights, including the right to fair elections in the future, and impose other hardships. Biden's trying to be gentle about this, leaving a lot of room for Republicans to distance themselves from the most extreme elements of their party, but few of them will give him any respect for the effort. And frankly, I'm not sure coddling them is worth the effort. The Republican Party is designed to ratchet ever further to the right, so you can see where they're going, and should be alarmed. Of course, Republicans are reacting hysterically (reminds me of the old lawyering advice: if you have the facts, pound the facts; if you have the law, pound the law; if you have neither, pound the table).

Benji Jones: [08-30] How melting glaciers fueled Pakistan's fatal floods: "Pakistan has more than 7,000 glaciers. Climate change is melting them into floodwater." For more on Pakistan's floods, see St Clair, below; also:

Benji Jones: [08-31] How Jackson, Mississippi, ran out of water: A massive flood pushed an already stressed system over the brink. Why was it stressed? You know. If you don't, see Krugman, below.

Ed Kilgore: [09-01] Rick Scott Wants Mitch McConnell to Be 'Cheerleader' for Bad Candidates: Over at FiveThirtyEight Republicans are still favored 75-25 to take control of the House, but their Senate prospects have dwindled to 32-68. That's because Republicans have nominated some really bad Senate candidates, although it's quite possible they just don't know yet how bad Republican House candidates are: they just don't get as much polling and media attention (except for Sarah Palin, who just lost a "safe" R seat in Alaska). McConnell's is Republican leader in the Senate, and (whatever else you may think of him) a shrewd judge of whatever he can get away with, at least with respect to the Washington media bubble. He knows that he can get away with more as Majority Leader than as Minority Leader, and he sees chances of that are slipping away, so he's taken discreet steps to cover his ass. Scott is a MAGA fanatic, who was made head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee (with McConnell's approval, no doubt), figuring the time was ripe for his brand of aggression. Democrats should hang Scott's manifesto on the neck of every Republican candidate this year, but in the meantime Republicans are hanging themselves. I don't normally like to get into retail politics here, but a few more examples:

Anatol Lieven: [08-30] The tragedy of Mikhail Gorbachev: Dead at 91, the last President and General Secretary of the Soviet Union, often blamed for its demise, but rarely credited for the reforms he intended, and almost universally eschewed by later Russian voters. His reforms were readily embraced by other Communist nations -- except North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, whose defenses had been hardened by American sanctions, and China, which moved quickly to strangle Glasnost in its crib, while introducing more effective economic reforms. (It's worth recalling that China reacted with similar horror to Krushchev's de-Stalinization.) Gorbachev's Wikipedia page makes reference to him being "committed to preserving the Soviet State and its socialist ideals." The tragedy there is how few of his followers -- nearly all high-ranking functionaries in the Party -- retained any socialist ideals at all. Most, including Boris Yeltsin, shifted effortlessly to kleptocracy, some not even bothering to dress it up as a form of democracy.

Also:

Anatol Lieven: [08-30] There's a good chance Liz Truss's Ukraine, China policy will be worse: "She is expected to win the contest for PM next week but no matter who's in the role, the Brits will continue to follow Washington anywhere." Sounds like a distinction without a difference, but that seems to happen a lot with conservatives. I'm not surprised that Britain has their own security think tanks, but I hadn't heard of the Henry Jackson Society, named after the longtime "Senator from Boeing."

Sarah Mervosh: [09-01] The Pandemic Erased Two Decades of Progress in Math and Reading: "The results of a national test showed just how devastating the last two years have been for 9-year-old schoolchildren, especially the most vulnerable." As someone with decidedly mixed views of education, I'm tempted to point out that the skill they lost most on was test taking, that reading and math are the most intensely tested subjects. I suspect most students should be able to make that up in fairly short course. But I also suspect that what was really lost was something in short supply already: personal attention. There is a lot of debate these days on what school is and should be; e.g., see the New York Times series What Is School For? I haven't read through all of this yet, but the first section I clicked on was Care, which was probably the first thing sacrificed (if indeed it was much provided; in my day it wasn't).

Ian Millhiser: [08-31] The 4 major criminal probes into Donald Trump, explained: This piece has been around for several weeks, but keeps getting updated, so works as a general introduction.

For more on Trump and his tribulations:

Samuel Moyn: [08-31] 'Sweeping' DoD plan to mitigate civilian harm merely humanizes endless war. This sounds like it may be different from the more conventional defense of "humanitarian war," which admits to killing people but in order to achieve some "greater good" -- a nebulous theory that some neoliberals love to push but never seems to work out right. So most likely this is seen as a corrective against the "take the gloves off" mantra of the Bush-Cheney years. But civilian harm is inevitable given the way the US military is trained, and recent attempts to throttle it have failed (e.g., McChrystal's short reign in Afghanistan, which was abandoned not because it didn't work but because American soldiers revolted against the restraints). Moyn has a recent book along these lines, Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War.

Lindsay Owens/David Dayen: [08-31] Why Obama-Era Economists Are So Mad About Student Debt Relief: "It exposes their failed mortgage debt relief policies after the Great Recession." Of course, we've largely buried the memory of those programs, ignoring why they didn't work, and concluding we didn't need them after all. While the Biden policy is much better designed -- for debtors that is, where mortgage debt relief was actually aimed at helping banks -- there are still "a lot of ways the government can mess this up. See Dayen's [08-30] Implementing Student Debt Relief Is Critical.

Mitchell Plitnick: [09-02] Rebutting AIPAC's case for war with Iran. Aside from inflicting random acts of terror upon Iran, I don't see an actual war plan here. Israel doesn't have the proximity of logistics, let alone the numbers, to defeat Iran. Iraq, much better positioned, fought an 8-year war against Iran, and really just for border lands, and failed. In theory the US could launch something from its Persian Gulf crony petrostates, but they're pretty exposed to reprisals, in many cases literally living in glass houses. A US return to Iraq and/or Afghanistan (or for that matter Pakistan) expressly as a base against Iran wouldn't be tolerated. And while the US (or for that matter Israel) can nuke Iran back past the stone age, how will that play when the radiation cloud wafts past India and China and across the Pacific to America? It's hard to think of anything more disgraceful. So why? To stop JCPOA? That agreement delivers exactly what Israel campaigned for before it was signed, except without the gratuitous fireworks that warmongers see as necessary and self-validating. Since the US can't win a war with Iran, wouldn't we be better off learning to live with a world we cannot change?

More on Iran:

  • Richard Falk: [09-02] To Renew or Not to Renew the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement, That is the Question. Nothing other than a treaty with verification can do the job. Anything else simply dares Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Trump trashed a treaty that had been working as planned purely as a sop to Israeli (and possibly Saudi) political interests, and offered nothing to replace it. Biden supposedly wants to restore the treaty, but not at the expense of normalizing or in any way improving relations with Iran. As I noted above, there is no practical alternative. To pretend that Iran is a country the US can continue snubbing forever without suffering any consequences is delusional, yet such delusions are rarely even challenged in Washington.

Jeffrey St Clair: [09-02] Roaming Charges: Losing It: Opens with a terrifying section on the floods in Pakistan (including a satellite picture that takes a while to sink in).


Let me close with this quote from Daniel P.B. Smith, scraped from Facebook, on Trump's cache of secret files:

My theory is that he had completely disorganized piles of mixed-up stuff, including top secret stuff he could show to visitors to impress them with what a big-shot he was [and] how great the US was. If he has photos of Macron in flagrante delicto I can easily see him showing them to everyone.

And that the reason all that stuff went to Mar-a-Lago was not that he is selling it to the Russians, but that his staffers were constantly trying and failing to grab stuff back from him and get it filed back in the proper place. When the time came to move Trump out of the residence at the White House, they suddenly found dozens of boxes with top secret files mixed up with flattering newspaper clippings. "My god, there is no way in hell we can sort this out now. If we leave it here, we could get in trouble ourselves. As well as embarrassing Trump by exposing his childishness and gross mismanagement. The only thing to do is to box it all up quickly, get it the hell out of here, and tell him to hide it at Mar-a-Lago and keep it hidden no matter what."

And the reason why Trump obstructed attempts by the Archives to get them back is that he has occupational defiant disorder, and wouldn't give them back for no better reason than that they asked. Plus that he has enough of a clue to realize that his habit of mixing up documents was something he could get away with while he was still President, but would embarrass him now that he wasn't surrounded by people to cover for him.

That he's embarrassed by what a mess they are in is shown by his accusing the DOJ of spreading out documents on the floor in order to make it look as if Trump had done it.

Heck, the dozens of empty "Top Secret" folders are probably empty because he went through them, didn't find anything that interested him, and tore them in quarters to show he had finished looking at them.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, August 28, 2022


Speaking of Which

OK, here's another week. Apologies for the occasional repetition, and less-than-ideal sorting. I keep finding more shit, and eventually it stinks up the place. As I recall, Warren Wake used to call this sort of thing "shovelware."

Wrapping up, I saw this tweet from Steve M. (who, if you ever look at Twitter, you should be following):

Fox News is the worst thing that's happened to America in my lifetime. 9/11 doesn't even come close.

That was attached to a Fox segment where the hosts were discussing "a Missouri school board plan to allow teachers to spank students with parental consent." But it could have referred to damn near everything they do. They're evil, and millions of people have become meaner and dumber for exposing themselves to their shameless propaganda.

Steve M's blog is also worth following. I don't pay very close attention to primary elections, but he tells me pretty much all I need to know (and then some). Recent stories:

He also writes some at Crooks & Liars:

Also from Rick Perlstein (also worth following), our foremost historian of the US right:

Fed chair Jerome Powell: we need "some pain." In other words (to simplify), for people who work for wages, to help those who live on investments. When I wrote the part of my 1976-80 book REAGANLAND on Volcker doing that in 1979, I almost cried.

When Obama won in 2008 and I saw that Volcker was his top economic adviser, I cringed. Volcker became Chair of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board (until 2011, when he resigned and was replaced by former GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt). Perhaps even more consequential for Obama were economists Lawrence Summers and Jason Furman, who got a mention below.

I've also seen tweets of Senators Lindsey Graham and Josh Hawley threatening riots if Donald Trump is charged and arrested. One tweet, by Tim Hannan, asks: "Is that a threat? Or are you insinuating someone should get away with crimes because there is a threat of violence? Or are you finally admitting Donald Trump can cause riots?"


Dean Baker: [08-22] Bernie Sanders Makes the Washington Post Oped Page: We Don't Need Government-Granted Patent Monopolies to Finance Drug Research: I followed the link to Caleb Watney/Heidi Williams: [08-22] Drug pricing reforms can hurt innovation. Here are 3 ways to prevent that. But one of those three ways proposes extending monopoly rights, so you're better off sticking with Baker, who's pushed this issue hard for many ears now. Moreover, I think it could be pushed harder than even Baker does. I'd say that all drug development should be publicly funded, that the science developed should be shared, and that the testing should be open sourced. I'd also point out that while it would be cheaper and more productive in the long run for the US to replace all private funding, drugs are by their nature an international product. One could negotiate international agreements to share much of the cost of development. The result would be more competition than at present, including manufacturing, which would no longer be tied to patent rights. Also:

  • Alexander Sammon: [08-25] It's Time for Public Pharma. This focuses more on the manufacturing end than on r&d. My own thinking is that if you can provide licensing standards (FDA approval) agreeable to most nations, you can freely import from any nation which meets those standards, and that will provide a lot of manufacturing competition where currently we have very little. Of course, if the private sector fails to compete, I wouldn't mind the public financing of new and competitive companies to fill the gap. I'm thinking they could be set up as employee-owned, to avoid the bureaucratic overhead of public ownership.

Zack Beauchamp: [08-24] How do we know who's winning in Ukraine? The real answer is that there is no winning in this or any other war. There is a map if you think territory matters much: Russia has consolidated gains in the east and southeast, north of Luhansk, and west of Donetsk to Kherson, linking up the breakaway regions of Crimea and Donbas. Early in the war, Ukrainian forces concentrated on defending the major cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv, offering little resistance on the southern front, as Russian forces invaded from Crimea. The move to expand west from Donbas didn't happen until later, after Russia gave up on Kyiv, and refocused on Mariupol. The map shows Ukrainian counteroffensives, which have gained a small amount of ground east of Kharkiv and north of Kherson, but the current map isn't much different from one 2-3 months ago. It's hard to see much ground changing hands from here on, but the destruction of fighting a stalemated war could increase. US weapons shipments to Ukraine have shifted to missiles and drones that can attack sites well beyond the fronts (potentially risking attacks inside pre-war Russia -- already started in disputed Crimea). Russia still has the ability to attack anywhere in Ukraine, even as far removed from the battle lines as Lviv and Odesa. Of course, the map doesn't account for lives ended or maimed, for the destruction of infrastructure and other property, the dislocation of millions of people, the economic costs, for Russia the costs imposed by severe sanctions, which also redound to hurt the rest of the world economy, and for the US and its "allies" many billions of dollars that could have been used for real problems but are being wasted on unnecessary war, one that will only harden feelings and darken prospects for many years to come. So, yes, it's hard to tell who's winning, because that's the wrong question.

Tom Boggioni: [08-28] Truth Social is headed for bankruptcy. Also:

Kevin Carey: [08-24] Biden's big new student loan forgiveness plan, explained. This will be a test of whether an eminently reasonable centrist compromise can survive politically, where the left position is that education, at least in state-supported colleges and universities, should be a right as far as a student wants to take it, and the right position is that people who can't afford to pay for higher education should remain in penury until the last dime of their debt is accounted for. As a practical matter, the right position is untenable, which is why we have a hopeless maze of rules and programs for offering and (in some cases) excusing debt, which several generations of students have been forced into as state austerity has relentlessly fobbed off public investment in favor of private debt. For someone my age, college was mostly affordable, debt was minimal (but I still hated every bit I had to pay off, and not just because I got screwed out of a degree), and there were decent-paying alternative careers (I managed). Later generations, however, faced fewer options, and more obstacles, and the result is that most of this country suffers under the dead weight of politically-induced debt, which is possibly the single main reason generations after mine have had to face declining opportunities -- and nowadays even declining life expectancies. My big complaint about this plan is that it doesn't address the present and future problem of more people having to take on ridiculous debt just to get the bare education they need -- and we need for them to have -- not just to prosper but to survive. Beyond that, sure, the limits are too low, and the means-testing is discriminatory and provocative, but this is a meaningful step, one we have to defend, one that we must because the arguments we're going to be hit with are seductively wrong and ultimately destructive, and have to be overcome to make any further progress.

Steve Coll: [08-27] A Year After the Fall of Kabul: Coll wrote the book on Afghanistan (Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001) before everyone else did and he had to write another (Directorate 5: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan), so he's the obvious choice for this assignment. However, his subhed misses the point: "For the Biden Administration, supporting the Afghan people without empowering the Taliban is the foreign-policy case study from hell." First, the Taliban are already in power, so the worry about "empowering" them is pure crap. Second, the only way the US can "support the Afghan people" is through the Taliban. Anything else is war, and the last thing the Afghan people need is more war. The only conclusion possible from US policy since the Taliban seized power is that the US doesn't want -- and probably never wanted -- to help Afghans. Otherwise, they'd put their bruised egos aside and offer something respectful and constructive.

  • Rozina Ali: [08-24] The Afghan Women Left Behind: "After the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, a U.S. organization shut down the country's largest network of women's shelters. Its founders think that it made a huge mistake."
  • Responsible Statecraft: [08-25] Symposium: Was withdrawing from Afghanistan the right thing to do? They polled 20 "scholars," who with a few exceptions respond with a lot of hemming and hawing. Withdrawing was the only right thing the US did in Afghanistan -- not that they even did that right, but after pretending that everything's hunky dory for 20+ years, it's hard to just turn on thinking clearly.

Ryan Cooper: [08-23] The Big Bet on Natural Gas Is Blowing Up in the World's Face: "It's not clean, it's not cheap, and it's not a bridge fuel to anyplace good." Still, the article is mostly about Russian gas, which has become a political chip in the Ukraine War, which as is so often the case is used to reinforce another separate point. Sure, gas is not clean -- burn it and you get carbon dioxide and water, don't and you're leaking a more potent greenhouse gas -- but it's a lot cleaner than coal, both in its energy equation and in the impurities that also get released by burning it. That led to the "bridge fuel" argument, which made more sense in the 1990s, when wind and solar were more expensive than they are now. I'll have more to say about this under Krugman, below.

David Dayen: [08-19] The Real Inflation Reduction Acts. On the Inflation Reduction Act: "The policies here are fine, but too much of Democratic political positioning involves concealment, and I think it generates natural but unnecessary skepticism." On the other hand, he offers the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 (OSRA 2022) as an example of a law which lowers prices by increasing competition.

Igor Derysh: [08-24] Florida GOP primary loser Laura Loomer cries fraud: "I'm not conceding because I'm a winner". If that last word was a blank, what would you fill in? I suspect the most common pick would be "jackass" (or something comparable but probably more scabrous). If you can stand more on Loomer, see Ali Breland: [08-24] Laura Loomer Loses GOP Primary, Opportunity to Vie for Most Racist Congressperson.

Thomas B Edsall: [08-24] When It Comes to Eating Away at Democracy, Trump Is a Winner. One of those NY Times writers who's taken the newsletter bug, but tends to go for quantity rather than quality, devoting much of his pieces to quoting the latest academic studies of things he's used to covering as news -- I'm reminded here of Karl Rove's taunt about the "reality-based community" being reduced to studying what Rove's crowd were creating through their actions. Edsall studies Trump like that, which makes him useful as a summarizer of conventional wisdom, but a somewhat less than acute critic. For another recent example, see: [08-03] Trump Has Big Plans for 2025, and He Doesn't Care Whether You Think He'll Win, where he points out: "This is no idle threat; Trump has taken some lessons from his first term." His conclusion: "Trump is not just going to walk away and let other candidates stir his toxic political brew." As Trump continues to dominate the news, some more pieces:

Amy Goodman: [08-24] "War Poisons Everybody": Remembering Howard Zinn on His 100th Birthday: He was a historian, died in 2010 at 87, best known for his A People's History of the United States, but I remember him as a peace activist back in the 1960s (I don't recall whether I read his 1967 book Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, but that's about when I first became aware of him. This collects several interviews from 2001-09.

Gabrielle Gurley: [08-25] Democrats in Danger of Missing the Marijuana Moment.

Margaret Hartmann:

Ed Kilgore: [08-22] Ludicrous Kansas Abortion Recount Could Be the Wave of the Future. After losing their anti-abortion referendum by a 59-41 margin, a couple of its proponents insisted on forcing a recount. It was only a partial recount, because they couldn't raise enough money to pay for a full one. But they tried anyway, because they couldn't imagine losing an election in a state they were sure they had locked up. Surprisingly enough, they did manage to nudge the margin 93 votes in their direction, leaving the No margin at 165,000.

Paul Krugman:

  • [08-22] Of Dictators and Trade Surpluses: "According to a new NBC News Poll, U.S. voters now consider 'threats to democracy' the most important issue facing the nation." But does that mean they're worried about Russia and China? Most Democrats I know consider Republicans the major threat to democracy (hence the heightened interest in Jan. 6, Trump's "big lie," the Republicans who echo it, voting suppression laws, gerrymandering, and some of us are still concerned about billionaires who can afford to try to outright buy elections). And the overall poll numbers are no doubt inflated by Republicans who worry about Democrats (and George Soros) subverting their innate right to rule. But aside from some dead end Hillbots, nobody worries about Russia or China subverting our democracy. The main people who talk about autocracies in Russia and China are those in the arms business, which doesn't explain Krugman, who merely wants to argue a point: that trade surpluses, as enjoyed currently by Russia and China, aren't a sign that autocracy works better; indeed, he takes them as a sign of weakness. In this, he's confusing consequences with causes (the trade surpluses have very different causes and meanings). He goes on to make other unfounded declarations, like "China's Covid response has gone from role model to cautionary tale." Economists may enjoy laughing at China, but I wouldn't be so quick to condemn them for still taking the pandemic seriously. Nor would I consider the ability of the state to direct the private sector to prioritize public health over profit a sign of weakness. One reason the American imperial project is bound to fail is that wealth and power has become so concentrated in the hands of a global financial elite that it's a constant political struggle to provide any state direction outside of the defense sector (which is probably why they seem to be running things). Also, about those trade balances: the main effect of running trade deficits for the last 50 years -- they went negative in 1970, a year after Hibbert's Peak, when domestic oil production started to decline -- has been the redistribution of wealth upward, increasing inequality. That's been an unequivocally bad thing for most Americans.
  • [08-23] Must We Suffer to Bring Inflation Down? His conclusion is "there don't seem to be any realistic alternatives," but he doesn't really explain why. Like why is inflation such a problem? The Fed thinks it's a problem, because they're looking out for the banks, and they don't like the idea of paying off debt with inflated dollars, but one could argue that the bigger problem we have is debt overhang, and wouldn't inflation help reduce that? And just because the Fed killed inflation by generating a massive recession once, does that mean recessions are the only way we can limit inflation? Maybe they're the only way the Fed can, but that's not the same thing.
  • [08-26] Europe and the Economics of Blackmail: This does a reasonable job of laying out the broader economic effects of the Ukraine War on oil and food commodity prices, showing why Europe is getting hit harder than elsewhere by gas supply restrictions from Russia. My only gripe is this line: "But whatever happens now, we're getting an object lesson in the dangers of becoming economically dependent on authoritarian regimes." But isn't the real problem the sanctions imposed by the US and its allies? Saudi Arabia, which is practically the gold standard among authoritarian regimes, never seems to run afoul of US dictates. On the other hand, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have governments that were elected at least as democratically as the US. One rule of thumb is that mutually beneficial trade makes conflict less likely. The US has been schizophrenic about this, promoting trade as a way of binding allies (especially in East Asia, where the US has long endured trade deficits), but also blocking trade where political conflicts emerged. Of late, US policy has been dominated by arms sales: those who buy are accepted as allies (like Israel and Saudi Arabia), those who don't are deemed enemies (a useful category, as their hostility boosts the market for arms -- as Russia has done in Eastern Europe, Iran in the Middle East, and China and North Korea in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan). In this, Europe is getting squeezed: one day it's OK to trade with Russia, but now it's not, with gas the trickiest commodity. If the US and China should come to blows, a similar impact will be global. You'd think sane people would recognize that threat and make a strong effort to mitigate possible conflicts, especially by promoting trade. Unfortunately, the level of sanity in Washington, Moscow, and Kyiv leaves much to be desired. One last point: the only ways not to risk "the economics of blackmail" are total autarky (the only example, and not by choice, is North Korea; the only big country with a chance of doing that is China, and that wouldn't be by choice either) or some kind of international focus on mitigating conflicts, which needs to extend beyond ending war to dealing with climate stress and inequality. The US can't do the former (all the "America First" malarkey in the world wouldn't begin to scratch the surface) and doesn't want to do the latter, but as the chief source of conflict these days can help a lot by just dialing the vitriol back. That includes not parroting the line that set me off on this tangent.

Daniel Larison: [08-26] Whose war is the US fighting in Syria, and why? With ISIS demolished, the persistence of US forces in Syria is beginning to remind me of stories of Japanese soldiers creeping out of the jungles of New Guinea to resume a war they hadn't heard had ended 20-30 years before. I would have been as happy as any of you had the Assad regime fallen in the Arab Spring, but that didn't happen, and hanging out and taking pot shots like outlaw bands isn't going to change a thing. Also see:

Andrew Latham: [08-22] What if China is not rising, making it more dangerous? Review of Hal Brands and Michael Beckley: Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China, the latest of a steady stream of books on how China threatens US global supremacy, inevitably leading to conflict and perhaps escalating to war -- because the one thing American experts on China and Russia cannot conceive of is the US adopting a less commanding and confrontational global stance. The twist here is that the authors see the escalation risk coming not from China's hubristic ambition to rule the world, but from the sense that aggression is the only way to save China from its internal contradictions and decline. Others have argued that much, and their track record of predicting declines in Chinese economic growth is abysmal. The net combination suggests America needs urgently to prepare for war (which will be sold as deterrence, because we all know how well that works). On the other hand, their historical analogies should give us pause: were Germany in 1914 and Japan in 1941 really suffering such a degree of decline that they saw no alternative to war? In 1914 some Germans thought their odds against Russia were better then than they might be a decade hence, but the underlying assumption was one of German expansion. Japan in 1941 may be an easier case, but that's only because Japan started its war in 1937, against China, and that war was faltering, compounded by the American oil and steel embargo. On the other hand, if you want to point to a declining empire desperate to score military points, isn't the US the obvious candidate? Is it really a coincidence that a year after the debacle in Kabul, the US is back in the driver's seat with the bankrolling of Ukraine against Russia?

Andrea Mazzarino: [08-14] A Military Rich in Dollars, Poor in People: "And the Frayed Social Safety Net That Goes With It." Military recruitment seems to be down, and will probably drop more if people can get an education otherwise. Meanwhile, services for veterans keep becoming more expensive, even as they benefit an ever-smaller segment of society. Coming out of WWII, it was easy to expand benefits for veterans: because there were so many, those programs had broad (if imperfect) affects. Those days are over. And while both parties give lots of lip-service to veterans, only the Democrats are inclined to do anything about it, and they're under increasing pressure not to limit their programs to veterans.

Harold Meyerson: [08-26] 'Pro-Life': America's Most Patently Absurd Misnomer: "The relationship between anti-abortion states and concern for human life is certifiably inverse."

Nicole Narea: [08-25] DACA is in jeopardy. Can the Biden administration save it?

Anne Nelson: [08-26] A Rare Peek Inside the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy: Recently uncovered documents reveal the inner workings of the Council for National Policy ("a secretive network of powerful conservatives").

Yasmin Rafiei: [08-25] When Private Equity Takes Over a Nursing Home.

Zach Rosenthal/Mary Beth Gahan/Annabelle Timsit: [08-22] At least one dead after Dallas area hit by 1-in-1,000-year flood. This follows three more 1-in-1,000-year rain events, in St. Louis, eastern Kentucky, and southeastern Illinois.

Greg Sargent/Paul Waldman: [08-25] Leaked audio of a billionaire GOP donor hands Democrats a weapon.

Robert J Shapiro: [08-22] Yes, Americans Are Better Off Under Biden: "Households have seen a stunning rise in employment and income, even considering inflation." We're going to be seeing more pieces like this, as there should be -- one thing Democrats have never been much good at is "tooting their own horn." But one shouldn't get smug and complacent here. Everything good that Democrats have done since Biden took office could have been done better with more Congressional support, which means getting more Democrats elected. And people need to understand that their future depends on their political support. Shapiro also wrote [08-22] Forget FDR. Biden Is a Major President in His Own Right. Related here:

Jeffrey St Clair: [08-26] Roaming Charges: Nuclear Midnight's Children: Starts with the nuclear peril in Ukraine, which segues into a rather scathing attack on those who've used recent natural gas shortages as reason enough to revive the nuclear power industry. (Personally, I'm open-minded about nuclear power, but think advocates have to come up with agreed solutions on several problems first: what do you do with radioactive waste? how do you prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons? and how do you prevent reactor sites from acts of war?)

He quotes a Lawrence Summers tweet: "Every dollar spent on student relief is a dollar that could have gone to support those who don't get the opportunity to go to college." So much wrong with this it's hard to know where to start, but I'd start by questioning whether the people who came out of college with debt actually got the "opportunity to go to college." If you get my drift, you'd see that student loan relief is precisely going to the people who Summers claims to be advocating for. Beyond that, every expense on anything can be opposed as an opportunity cost to something else one would rather see. Do we need to start comparing lists? St Clair's comment offers one example: "Just retitle your degree a Toxic Asset -- which it probably is -- and the entirety of the loans that paid for it will be forgiven with interest in no time." He then points out that the average size of PPP loans to businesses "forgiven without a bleat from Summers or anyone else" was $109,000. He follows that up with a list of members of Congress who got their loans forgiven: one as high as $4.3 million, but the line that pops out for me is Matt Gaetz ($476,000). He also notes that "Trump had more then $280 million in loans forgiven and failed to pay taxes on most of the money he pocketed." Also this:

It's probably a good time to revisit the Lewis Powell's 1971 memo to the Chamber of Commerce on how to crush the left, where he lays out a plan (still the playbook for today's Republicans) for how conservatives can take back universities from the Marxist contagion. He argues that one strategy is to raise the cost of higher education, both to keep the working classes out and to force those who do take out loans to get a degree to go to work in corporate American to pay off the debt.

Chris Stirewalt: [08-28] What I Learned About Media Rage After Getting Fired From Fox. He was political editor at Fox News when they called the 2020 election for Biden. Interesting that he survives currently as a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. This piece was excerpted from his book Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America & How to Fight Back.

Margaret Talbot: [08-28] Justice Alito's Crusade Against a Secular America Isn't Over: "He's had win after win -- including overturning Roe v. Wade -- yet seems more and more aggrieved. What drives his anger?"

Kenneth P Vogel/Shane Goldmacher: [08-022] An Unusual $1.6 Billion Donation Bolsters Conservatives: The guy's name is Leonard Leo, operating through a group called the Marble Freedom Trust. Also see the Washington Post editorial [08-28] A $1.6 billion donation lays bare a broken campaign finance system.

Sarah Vowell: [08-28] What's With All the Fluff About a New Civil War, Anyway?

Bryan Walsh: [08-28] Americans keep moving to where the water isn't: After all, "the housing is cheaper and plentiful -- but climate change and extreme weather are worsening."


I've been reading Tariq Ali's new book on Winston Churchill. I've never read any of Churchill's books, nor any of the numerous hagiographies, but I've gathered a pretty comprehensive view of the man over the years -- enough so that I can picture him set in a Mt. Rushmore-like monument of the great monsters of the 20th century (Hitler, Stalin, and Mao are, for us Americans at least, automatic picks, but can't you just imagine Churchill poking his mug out in Theodore Roosevelt's cranny, behind Hitler and Stalin to his left, and flanked by Mao on his right? Ali's subtitle was His Times, His Crimes, and Ali's 432 pages don't come close to exhausting the subject.

One omission I expected something on was the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22), which broke out after Kemal defied the terms of Ottoman surrender to create an independent Turkish Republic. Britain was exhausted after the Great War, but encouraged Greece to grab as much of Asia Minor as possible, with disastrous consequences. Churchill was Secretary of State for War and Air in this period (1919-21), and as such was directly responsible for ordering poison gas in Iraq (in case you ever wondered where Saddam Hussein got such an idea). His role in the Greco-Turkish War would have been a bit more indirect, but it was exactly the sort of thing he would have done. The book does include material on Churchill's scheme to attack the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli in 1915 (which cost him his post as First Lord of the Admiralty), and on Britain's role in defeating the anti-Nazi resistance in and after WWII. (One thing I'm skeptical of is Ali's tendency to treat the post-1945 Labor government of Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin as a mere extension of Churchill's government -- which they were part of until the 1945 elections, when Churchill tried to hog the glory and got soundly booted out of government. Greece does seem to be one case where Attlee followed through on decisions Churchill had initially made. On the other hand, Churchill was lucky to be spared having to deal with independence in India and Palestine -- not that Attlee and Bevin handled either at all well.)

Still, I've learned a few things I hadn't previously known here. Consider this paragraph (p. 365):

The introduction to the Nuremberg Laws of 15 September 1935 states: 'If the Jews had a state of their own in which the bulk of the people were at home, the Jewish question could already be considered solved today, even for the Jews themselves. The ardent Zionists of all people have objected least to the basic ideas of the Nuremberg Laws, because they know that these laws are the only correct solution for the Jewish people.' Many years later, Haim Cohen, a former judge i the Supreme Court of Israel, stated: 'The bitter irony of fate decreed that the same biological and racist argument extended by the Nazis, and which inspired the inflammatory laws of Nuremberg, serve as the basis for the official definition of Jewishness in the bosom of the state of Israel.'

Of course, I was aware of a long affinity of antisemites for Zionism. Arthur Balfour, the British minister who attached his name to the declaration of Britain's intent to establish a "Jewish homeland" in Palestine, was well known as an antisemite. From the beginning, From the very beginning, Zionists assumed that antisemitism was so ingrained in Europe that safety can only be gained by leaving Europe. Theodor Herzl and his followers rarely missed an opportunity to pitch Zionism to imperial powers as a way of solving their "Jewish problem." Zionists scored their big diplomatic breakthrough not because Britain was enlightened but because it wasn't. But even with the British, the idea was less to get rid of their own Jews than to build a supposedly loyal white colony with refugees from Eastern and Central Europe (of course, that also helped deflect them from entering the UK). The first modern European state to seek to expel Jews was Nazi Germany, so as soon as Hitler seized power, the Zionist Yishuv started negotiating exit visas for Jews to immigrate to Palestine. This became the Fifth Aliyah (1929-39, a period when Jewish immigration came mostly from Germany). Even so, the numbers were limited by the British and by the Yishuv itself. During this period, Germany was still considering other forced emigration schemes, like expelling Jews to Madagascar or Siberia, so the surprise isn't that Nazis would approve of Zionism, but that they viewed it as a possible "final solution." It wasn't until later that Nazis realized that expulsion was unworkable, so they settled on extermination, giving the word Endlösung its current, bitter tone.

PS: For a recent piece on the tortured relationship of Zionism and antisemitism, see Peter Beinart: [08-26] Has the Fight Against Antisemitism Lost Its Way? People with informed misgivings about Israel's treatment of Palestinians are routinely charged with antisemitism, even if they are Jewish (or dismissed as "self-hating Jews") or progressives who fully support the right of Jews to live in their own countries. Meanwhile, most classic antisemites have become fervent supporters of Israel -- especially Christians who view the establishment of Israel as a prophesied step toward the apocalypse, when true Christians will rise to heaven, and Jews, well, won't. (My grandfather was one such person; I remember that from a conversation we had when I was a child. David Lloyd George was another such person. He was the Prime Minister of the UK who issued the Balfour Declaration committing Britain to creation of a "Jewish homeland.")

In its early days, the suggestion that criticism of Israel was antisemitic cut the Zionists some slack, especially among the left, where people were especially sensitive to classic antisemitism. But 75 years after the founding of Israel, 55 years after the seizure of Gaza and the West Bank (whose occupants are still denied basic human rights), 40 years after Israel's cruel and senseless attack on Lebanon, 20 years after the last even remotely progressive Israeli government, it's gotten hard for Jews and others used to living in peace and prosperity away from Israel to feel any sort of obligation to defend the racist thugs who run Israel these days. Yet it is true that we are seeing not just a rise in anti-Israeli feeling these days, but a totally separate rise in anti-Jewish agitation. People my age can still keep this straight, but I fear younger people will be confused, with "antisemite" reduced to an epithet to use arbitrarily. This is not unlike recent propaganda turn in Russia and Ukraine arguing over which side has the Nazis.

I'm off on a bit of a tangent here, so let me return to Beinart:

In a terrible irony, the campaign against "antisemitism," as waged by influential Jewish groups and the U.S. government, has become a threat to freedom. It is wielded as a weapon against the world's most respected human rights organizations and a shield for some of the world's most repressive regimes.

One more point: what bothers me about Americans who offer blind, dogmatic support to Israel has less to do with their support for oppression and injustice abroad -- of course I disapprove, but I generally don't think Americans should moralize over other nation's internal affairs -- but because I fear that they see Israel as a model for the United States: in their construction of a repressive and racist domestic regime, and in the violence and subversion they so readily resort to when facing other countries. The U.S. has gone way too far down those paths already, and we need to reverse course and treat our own people and the rest of the world with newfound respect and charity. And sure, the latter point suggests that even if we don't go so far as to criticize Israel for its sins against human rights and international peace, at least we stop enabling and subsidizing its worst impulses.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, August 21, 2022


Speaking of Which

In his book on Churchill: His Times, His Crimes, Tariq Ali offers this quote from George Kennan on "the political psychology of the West in relation to Russia in 1917" (where Churchill sent British troops to try to "nip Bolshevism in the bud"):

There is, let me assure you, nothing in nature more egocentrical than the embattled democracy. It soon becomes the victim of its own war propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts its own vision . . . Its enemy becomes the embodiment of all evil. Its own side . . . the centre of all virtue. The contest comes to be viewed as having a final, apocalyptic quality. If we lose, all is lost; life is no longer worth living; there will be nothing to be salvaged. If we win, then everything will be possible; all problems will become soluble; the one great source of evil . . . our enemy will have been crushed; the forces of good will then sweep forward unimpeded; all worthy aspirations will be satisfied.

Churchill viewed all his enemies this way, but this is still a pretty good description of how Americans view the war in Ukraine -- or for that matter, how most protagonists in most wars have viewed their enemies, at least in the last century or so, as the traditional craving for loot and plunder came to be seen as uncouth. (Even in the 19th century, when loot and plunder was clearly the goal, politicians learned to speak of "civilizing missions" and such.) War has never worked like that. Even if one imagines moral differences at the start of a war, they soon disappear over its course. The US, for instance, entered WWII thinking that precision bombing would minimize civilian casualties, and ended the war levelling whole cities with atom bombs.

As Louis Menand noted in his section on Kennan in The Free World, Kennan had a pretty low opinion of democracy. So did Churchill, although he allowed that all other systems are worse. (At least democracies allowed him to retire in disgrace, perhaps to return again.) Americans like to tout democracy to others, but have a pretty tawdry record of practicing it at home, with a long history of contempt for voters -- one that Republicans these days are especially keen on, but Demorats have a pretty spotty record as well, especially where it comes to limiting the inordinate influence of money.


Andrew Atterbury: [08-21] DeSantis uses cash and clout to reshape Florida school races: The money helps build his personal political machine. The focus on school boards signals that he thinks his brainwashing agenda is a winner.

Bruce Bartlett: [08-10] I Quit the GOP and Moved Left. Will Liz Cheney Do the Same? Not likely, but after writing the rest of this I have to allow a slight chance. I still don't trust Bartlett, but at least he built his career on trying to argue that Republicans were better people than Democrats. He wrote a whole book on how conservatives are more generous and care more about their families. He wrote another one on how the Party of Lincoln was still less racist than many Democrats. He was wrong, and eventually admitted as much, but in trying to pretend Republicans were something they weren't, he prefigured his move left. He at least had a shred of integrity. Maybe she does as well, but it's different. She grew up trading on her father's far right brand, deeply imbued in militarism and crony capitalism, so it's reasonable to think she holds the same beliefs, but maybe it was all an act: she's really the DC insider she grew up as, and was never that comfortable going back to Wyoming to validate her political cred. (She failed in her Senate campaign, then lucked out with a House seat, which she immediately turned into a slot in the Republican House leadership.) That she lost her primary suggests less that Trump has real pull in the state than that the locals never really trusted her, not least because she never really was one of them. (They may not have trusted her father either, who abandoned them as soon as he wrangled a posh job in Washington.) She may have initially gambled that she could lead the Republicans back to true conservatism, but soon discovered that the best she could do with her hand was enjoy the publicity, even as it demolished any prospects for a career in Republican politics. Better to be a martyr for principle than to slink back into obscurity like Adam Kinzinger or Jeff Flake. She reminds me of Hillary Clinton: both had to sit back and chafe while knowing they could do a better job as president than the amiable morons they served (GW Bush in her case; sure, Bill Clinton was less of a moron, but he did have his dumb spots). Whether she moves left or not will depend much on who she hangs out with in the next few years: her ambition is the given, where it takes her is secondary, even though that's what matters to other people. I can think of dozens of scenarios that will pay her much more than her House salary, but it's not worth my time to speculate, other than to note that if she runs for president in 2024 as a Republican, she will get crushed much worse than in Wyoming, and that if she runs a spoiler campaign as an independent, she's unlikely to get as many votes as Gary Johnson did in 2016 (3.27%). It's probably still good publicity to encourage such speculation now -- an embarrassing number of pundits can think of nothing better to write about -- but I doubt she will be willing to expose herself to such brutal numbers. Better to enjoy her present celebrity, and indulge in a little buckraking. Also on Cheney:

  • Hunter DeRensis: [08-17] Loser Liz Cheney: We knew ye, and that was the problem: "For 20 years she remained committed to using American power as a blunt force instrument, including torture and endless war."
  • Richard Eskow: [08-19] Liz Cheney and Donald Trump -- The Two Faces of American Totalitarianism.
  • Ben Jacobs: [08-19] The Never Trump wing of the GOP never had a chance.
  • Sarah Jones: [08-17] The Culpable Liz Cheney. I liked the original title better, but lost it.
  • Ed Kilgore: [08-17] Liz Cheney and the Demise of Anti-Trump Republicanism. You have to understand that for Republicans the most important thing in the world is winning -- something they value so highly they're willing and eager to dispense with any scruples in the process. Winning is what makes all the evil they do possible. Trump won many Republicans over during the 2016 primary season, mostly by echoing their own basest instincts, which was easy, given that all they had to do was watch Fox News. Trump won over the rest of the Republicans when he prevailed in the 2016 election. This wasn't an ideological victory (or surrender), because aside from a few minor quirks (like tariffs) they were all singing from the same hymnal. It was a matter of style, and no Republican -- even one whose own instincts left him constantly wrong-footed like Lindsey Graham -- could argue with that. In theory, when Trump lost in 2020, he should have been quickly forgotten, with a new generation of successors rushing forward their new and improved versions of Trump, but he pulled a dirty trick on them: he declared victory anyway, and the rank and file bought it -- showing how little grasp on reality they actually have -- so now all Republicans have to go along with this "emperor's new clothes reality." It's really pretty funny if you can get past your tears for the demise of democracy -- I'm sorry to say, but those of us who grew up on I.F. Stone and Noam Chomsky shed those long ago. Eventually this will become obvious, and Trump will be discarded as the loser he is, much like the Bushes and Nixon and Hoover and Benjamin Harrison (I've only recently read about what a horrible president Harrison was -- so awful the voters brought back Grover Cleveland, only to regret it; that's a story that will probably resurface if Trump wins the 2024 R nomination). But until then, why shouldn't cynical Republicans go along with the charade? Washington has long run on herd instinct, the shroud of popular ignorance, and a natural ease with spouting conventional wisdom. That's why politicians are almost never punished for being wrong, as long as they seemed right at the time. Kilgore also wrote: [08-19] Trump (Mostly) Got His Revenge on Republicans Who Voted to Impeach.
  • Amanda Marcotte: [08-19] If Liz Cheney runs for president, I'm registering as a Republican just to vote for her. This is unspeakably dumb. Marcotte assumes that only Republican primaries matter, and that even if you expect to wind up voting for a Democrat, which one doesn't matter, because they're all interchangeable. Even if Cheney were any good (which she isn't), and even if she had a chance (which she doesn't), this tactic is at best a wet blanket, designed to demoralize the only political party that has any chance of saving your sorry ass from Trump or DeSantis or Cruz or Hawley or dozens of more or less equally loathesome threats.
  • Timothy Noah: [08-16] Liz Cheney's Loss Is a Defeat for Conservatism. Assumption here is that "real conservatives" have character, of which Cheney is an example. "Trumpery," on the other hand, was "mostly a mishmash of nonideological vices: rank bigotry, xenophobia, authoritarianism, greed, and a gleeful breaking of rules and ethical norms large and small." But while conservatives like to claim their own "rules and ethical norms," everything else on that list is their "ideology," perhaps less these days stated as high-minded principle than revealed in crude speech and base actions.
  • Jeffrey St Clair: [08-19] Dizzy Miss Lizzy, the Last Spin. Much more, but on Cheney: "if she doesn't immediately land a gig at CNN or MSNBC she'll get a fat book deal and a seat on an oil company board." He cites what may be the worst liberal swoon over her: a Robert Reich piece titled "In Praise of Liz Cheney. May we have more politicians like her," with the subhed "We need more politicians who stand by their principles, even if it costs them everything." The cost? Cheney's net worth is $14.7 million (24th highest in the House, so she "lost everything" for standing up to Trump?). I expect that to go up a lot, even if she just falls back on the usual post-Congressional job on K Street. St Clair also has a long section on Salman Rushdie, including a lengthy quote from Edward Said.
  • Daniel Warner: [08-19] Is Liz Cheney a Profile in Courage?. Reference to JFK's 1955 book ("ghostwritten by JFK staffer Ted Sorensen, added to Kennedy's intellectual aura and was an important step of the created mythology in the rise of the former president"). Evidently it's still enough of a fetish that "Cheney was one of the recipients of the Kennedy family's Profiles in Courage 2022 awards."
  • Ryan Lizza/Eugene Daniels: [08-17] Cheney to launch anti-Trump organization after primary defeat: First step, a PAC called "The Great Task." Nothing says you're a political player like having your own slush fund.

Zack Beauchamp:

  • [08-12] Trump is pushing us toward the abyss: "His conspiracy theories about the FBI search have spawned a GOP assault on the legitimacy of the American state -- and set the stage for violence."
  • [08-19] To understand what the Trump investigation might do to America, look at Israel: "Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on trial, and it has thrown Israeli politics into chaos." This is an interesting story, but it's hard to see a lot of direct relevance. One possible angle is that both Netanyahu and Trump tried to make themselves personally indispensable to their political parties, and have continued to practice politics as they are facing criminal charges.

Ben Burgis: [08-18] Salman Rushdie's Stabbing Should Remind Us That Free Speech Is a Nonnegotiable Progressive Value. Also on Rushdie:

Jonathan Chait: [08-19] Mitch McConnell's Terrible Candidates Are His Own Fault: Subhed ("This happened because the GOP decided not to confront Trump's election lies") is way off base. Republicans are nominating terrible candidates because Republicans, even ones who are not personally evil, are naturally attracted to really badass candidates. That's why their primaries are full of ads where candidates shoot their enemies. And while most of us are properly offended by both their behavior and by the stupidity that justifies it, this isn't something new: "I'd rather be right" was a 1964 Barry Goldwater bumper sticker. If McConnell, who was pretty emphatic in rejecting Trump's election lies, really feels that sorry for himself, he could switch his party affiliation. He'd probably be welcomed, and most Republicans think he's a RINO anyway.

David Daley/David Faris: [06-29] Democratic Strategies That Don't Court Disaster: This is a couple months old, responding to the the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, but it's a subject I expect to return to. Principles matter, but so do tactics, and Democrats haven't been much good at either. I wasn't very impressed with Faris's "fighting dirty" tactics, but there's something to be said for fighting, especially over things that are important and practical. Here's a line that caught my eye: "Yes, the nation is in this dangerous position because the Republican Party has swerved decisively toward authoritarianism. But this lurch has not happened in a vacuum. Over and over again, the forfeit of democratic freedoms has come about via the right's wing's opportunistic exploitation of a pronounced pattern of Democratic toothlessness in the face of bared GOP fangs."

Kelly Denton-Borhaug: [08-16] Is Moral Clarity Possible in Donald Trump's America? Tom Engelhardt starts his introduction with a story from a recent Trump book (The Divider: Trump in the White House, by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser), where Trump is complaining to John Kelly about US generals not showing him as much loyalty as German generals accorded Adolf Hitler. ("Why can't you be like the German generals?") Hitler's generals wound up trying to excuse themselves as "just following orders," which is exactly what Trump expects of his minions. Author has a book: And Then Your Soul Is Gone: Moral Injury and U.S. War Culture. She tries to come up with some exceptions, but Liz Cheney isn't very convincing. She cites two recent books that illustrate the lengths to which most Republicans are willing to go to stay in Trump's good graces: Mark Leibovich: Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump's Washington and the Price of Submission, and Tim Miller: Why We Did It: Travelogue from the Republican Road to Ruin. This reminds me that when you're talking about an "authoritarian personality" you're not talking about would-be dictators like Hitler and Trump, but about the good folk who freely follow them, even to complete and utter ruin.

Connor Echols: [08-19] Diplomacy Watch: Talks to end the war are back on the agenda: Not a lot of good news here, but after both sides accused the other of risking nuclear disaster, they've finally agreed to worry about it. Some more articles on Ukraine. I'm not much inclined to cite pieces bragging about or deploring long-distance attacks (Ukraine has started to hit deep in Crimea), or accounts that sanctions are crippling Russia or not -- staples of war propaganda. The first batch is from a recent (and possibly ongoing?) Washington Post series about who knew what when:

Melissa Gira Grant: [08-11] Why the Right Can't Quit Its Antisemitic Attacks Against George Soros. Even if it's pure coincidence that the Republicans's chosen billionaire boogieman ("puppet master") is Jewish, when they attack him, they almost inevitably fall back on classic anti-semitic tropes, which seem to be embedded in their genetic heritage. Reminds me that Fred Koch and Fred Trump were nazi-sympathizers back in the 1930s, but few dwell on that given the more recent crimes of their progeny offer plentiful targets.

Jonathan Guyer: [08-15] No one has been held accountable for the catastrophic Afghanistan withdrawal: What do you expect? No one has been held accountable for the orders-of-magnitude more disastrous 20+ year war. No one is every really held accountable for America's foreign policy debacles, largely because they're never freely debated and critiqued before it's too late. At least the final withdrawal, regardless of how ugly it may have seemed, ended the war: the first positive turn in more than 20 years. Still, articles like this make me nervous. For one thing, they exaggerate and isolate the problem: the final withdrawal was far less catastrophic than any given year of the war. It doesn't compare poorly to comparable events, like the evacuation of Saigon. Although many Afghans sought to leave the country as the Taliban took over, the exodus looks to be far less than with Vietnam. The obvious explanation for poor planning is that Americans from Biden down felt they needed to demonstrate faith that the US-installed Afghan regime could stand on its own without US military support (which had, in any case, always been a mixed blessing). Both the US-backed regime in Vietnam and the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan had managed to survive for a couple years after foreign troop withdrawals. It's easy in retrospect to see how this situation was different, but no one in the administration could have argued that ahead of time -- had they done so, they would have been dismissed as defeatist. Second point is that Republicans are looking to hang Afghanistan on Biden, whose approval figures dropped below 50% at that very moment. Democrats can point to the Trump agreement on withdrawal, much as Obama pointed back to Bush's agreement to withdraw from Iraq, but that doesn't seem to be a very convincing argument. Critics will always argue that if we hadn't withdrawn we'd still be able to hold the government together and support our clients, ignoring the fact that doing so only protracted a tragic war. More on Afghanistan:

Margaret Hartmann:

Rebecca Heilweil: [08-17] Airlines are trying to resurrect the Concorde era. Partly they're desperate to take advantage of rising inequality by offering exclusive services for the rich. Let's face it, in a more equal world they wouldn't be so concerned with sorting us by class when we get on public transportation.

  • Jeff Wise: [08-17] The Eternal Disappointment of the Return of Supersonic Travel. For lots of reasons, it's a safe bet that the new companies betting on this working will fail. Still, how dumb is it to call your company Boom? The headline writes itself: "Boom Goes Bust"; still not as bad as the distinct possibility of "Boom Goes Boom."

Sean Illing: [08-14] How capitalism ensnared some of its radical critics: Interview with Stuart Jeffries, author of Everything, All the Time, Everywhere: How We Became Postmodern. This reminded me that Gilles Deleuze invented the term "postmodernism" in 1979. It made no sense to me until I saw it used for architecture, and that reminded me that modernism always sought to push boundaries, but limits were hit at different times -- "modern" typefaces hit theirs with Giambattista Bodoni in the 18th century. The avant-garde in art and music pretty much did their thing in the 1960s, by which time the world didn't have much more that could be modernized. Jefferies (following Deleuze) thought that postmodernism, in letting us escape from the tyranny of the modernist vector, could be liberating, but he has a convenient scapegoat for its failure: neoliberalism. The term now is mostly used by its critics, but it was initially proclaimed by its adherents (much like "New Democrats" and "New Labor"). It would be more accurate to describe it as a degenerate tendency in liberalism, one whose plotline parallels Breaking Bad. Liberalism initially sought a set of freedoms for a set of people, both of which were rather limited by the imaginations of early liberals, but the initial idea spurred people to want more freedoms for more people, until the latter became universal. Neoliberalism limits that spread, not by arguing with the principle (as conservatives do) but by restricting the permissible methods (preserving or restoring the crude capitalism of earlier eras). Unclear to me how this restricts postmodern art, but it does create an ever-widening division of classes, ensuring that the liberal ideal of broad freedoms for all people can never be met.

Ellen Ioanes: [08-14] After the latest clash with Israel, Gazans' struggle continues.

John E King: [08-17] Paul Sweezy Was One of the 20th Century's Great Economic Thinkers.

Will Leitch: [08-17] The 'Real' Home-Run Record is 73, not Not 61. He does mention the Roger Maris asterisk, but not why it ever existed, with no mention of Babe Ruth let alone Ford Frick. I gather that Aaron Judge, who is one of the very few contemporary baseball players I've actually heard of, is on a pace to top 61 home runs this (Maris) season, but probably not 73 (Barry Bonds).

Steve M: [08-19] Threatening Federal Agents: It's a Felony and a Campaign Stunt!: This is about Republican Florida State House candidate Luis Miguel, who wants to introduce a bill where "all Floridians will have permission to shoot FBI, IRS, ATF and all other feds ON SIGHT!" Whether he's a cynic, as the author believes, or simply insane, he's gotten some traction. "Much of the Republican electorate thinks the most batshit insane right-wing proposals sound perfectly reasonable, and the rest might not agree but don't think they're at all objectionable."

Dana Milbank: [08-04] The GOP is sick. It didn't start with Trump -- and won't end with him. An excerpt from the Washington Post columnist's book: The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party. I'm a little suspicious that Milbank only goes back 25 years, basically to Newt Gingrich, because Gingrich (much like Trump today) was clearly a manifestation of a pre-existing malady, a deep sickness in the American soul that only seemed new because no one else had previously acted it out so flamboyantly. But we should be thankful whenever anyone draws attention to the continuity in the Republican program to screw us over so completely.

Ian Millhiser: [08-19] The 4 major criminal probes into Donald Trump, explained.

Eve Ottenberg: [08-19] The Biden-Trump Persecution of Julian Assange: This is the clearest example since 9/11 of the US pursuing a political vendetta for no better reason than spite and arrogance. At least with 9/11, the hunting down of Al Qaeda's leader was tied to thousands of deaths at their hand. What did Assange do to merit so much vitriol? Exposing some secret documents that hardly mattered? More like thumbing his nose at American power, which when you get down to it, was Al Qaeda's core crime -- just writ much more dramatically. Author quotes one famous chicken hawk asking, "can't we just drone him?" This story has gone well beyond sick and embarrassing.

Will Porter: [08-20] Biden Steps Up Somalia Strikes After Redeploying Troops. Follow up on [03-16] Over 1 Million Somali Children Near Starvation as Pentagon Plans New Troop Deployment. Also see:

Matt Stieb: [08-18] The Accountant Flips on Trump's Empire: Trump Organization CFO pled guilty to 15 charges, most dealing with tax evasion, and agreed to testify in a further trial of the Organization itself (how that is not a trial of its owner isn't clear to me).

Margaret Sullivan: [08-21] My final column: 2024 and the dangers ahead.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, August 14, 2022


Speaking of Which

PS: Added another China/Taiwan link [08-15].

Two local friends, distinguished for their writing, teaching, and political activism, died in the last few days: Steve Otto (66) and Dottie Billings (89, obit not yet available, pictures stage right). I knew them through the Peace Center, and they were also involved in DSA (which I've never been involved with). Steve has been a freelance writer, and has several books to his credit. I didn't know him well, but always wished he had turned his blog posts about local KS politicians (especially Rep. Todd Tiahrt) into the vicious little book they deserved. He lived out of town, in Maize, so I rarely saw him, and we never really clicked, though we had much in common. My wife knew him better, through the Peace Cener board.

I knew Dottie better, and knew people who took anthropology courses from her at Wichita State. We had her and her husband Jim Phillips over for dinner several times. She would regale us with stories about growing up in Milwaukee when it still had a Socialist mayor, and challenge us to do more, but was always appreciative of what we did manage.


Tweet of the week, from The Drunk and Learned Armadillo of Doom:

You can tell Republicans deeply love America by their constant desire for things to be worse.

Context was an Elise Stefanik tweet about "Joe Biden's baby formula crisis," arguing that it "should NEVER have happened," with no mention of the Biden administration's good work to resolve the problem. Steve M. replied:

It's killing them that the many of the worst things that happened this year are resolved or getting better.

For another example, Zachary D. Carter noted:

It is reprehensible for @CNBC to have Luntz on to flat-out lie, and then blast the clip around without acknowledging anywhere that he was wrong. Inflation was 0% in July. That's just the data. Sorry it doesn't fit the political narrative you want.


Sarah Burris: [08-10] Trump pleads the 5th in NY probe after claiming only guilty people do that. Not one of his greater hypocrisies, but he should take this as a learning experience, and become less intemperate when others exercise their constitutional rights. But calling a deposition "a witch hunt" is more ignorance than hypocrisy. He's been handled with kid gloves compared to practically anyone else who's run up against the justice system, and not just because he has a phalanx of lawyers.

Dave DeCamp: [08-11] Sweden Agrees to Extradite Man to Turkey After NATO Deal: Turkey has demanded the right to incarcerate and most likely torture Turks who left the country, mostly for political reasons, as the price of agreeing to NATO membership for Sweden and Finland. I've argued we need an international law securing the right to exile. That would seem to apply here. I rarely understand such an obsession with getting your "pound of flesh."

Connor Echols: [08-12] Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine digs in as its Western support ebbs: "Despite the risk of a Russia-friendly government in Italy and reduced support from the US, Kyiv is showing no appetite for negotiations." I still haven't seen any evidence from Putin that he wants to negotiate, but Zelensky's repeated vows to take back every inch of Russian-occupied territory, including Crimea (annexed by Russia in 2014), show him to be hardly less intransigent. Even if Ukraine could retake the territory, the cost both to soldiers on both sides but also to civilians will be horrific. The obvious deal is to cease fire and run fair elections in the disputed areas. Russia would have to agree to withdraw from areas that voted it out. Once that is done, with reasonable guarantees that neither side will restart hostilities, the sanctions against Russia can be lifted. A sticky issue is whether people who left their homes will still be able to vote, but that is a problem that only gets worse as the war grinds on. I'd like to see a second referendum scheduled for 5-10 years ahead, which can act as a check on the winners of the first referendum delivering the recovery they no doubt will promise, but I can't dictate terms like that. Although I always liked the 1967 UN resolution phrasing about "the inadmissability of the acquisition of territory by war," that hasn't kept Israel from continuing its control of territories seized from Jordan, Syria, and Egypt 55 years ago. The prospects of forcibly ejecting Russia from Russian-majority regions of Ukraine are no better, but a referendum deal (even one that leads to a pro-Russian result) would both end the current bloodbath and offer some principled hope for resolving similar conflicts in the future. (It would, for instance, be better to have pro-Russian referendums in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and settle those disputes than let them fester indefinitely to preserve the pretense that they belong to Georgia. I can think of another half-dozen obvious candidates, including Taiwan.) Echols also wrote [08-10] US foreign arms sales spike to nearly $20B in the dog days of summer. Buyers include Germany, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Netherlands, Kuwait, Taiwan, and Norway. Some more on Ukraine:

  • Phyllis Bennis: [08-09] It's Time for Diplomacy: Sure, it's always been time for diplomacy, but the costs and consequences of not ending this war keep growing.
  • William Hartung: [08-12] There's a nuclear catastrophe on the horizon in Ukraine: Specifically, from shelling near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility.
  • Doug Klain: [08-11] Ukraine's Strike in Crimea Could Be a Turning Point in the War: No. It's just another escalation that digs both sides in even deeper. The war will end only when both sides decide to end it.
  • Anatol Lieven: [08-10] Beware of viewing Balkans as new front in Russia-NATO proxy war. More trouble between Kosovo and Serbia. Lieven also wrote [08-12] Bans on Russian travel and culture play into Putin's hands.
  • Cathy Young: [08-11] What's Behind Amnesty International's Victim-Blaming in Ukraine? "A light-on-facts exercise in bothsidesism." I haven't made much sense out of this, but the greater detail helps get past some of my initial misunderstandings, such as why the head of AI's Kyiv office resigned after the "report" came out. I know from past experience that AI has a "bothsidesism" slant: a prime example being their insistence on blaming Palestinian rockets as well as Israel for the latter's periodic shelling and bombing of Gaza. While Israel often cites the rockets as reason for its attacks, they are usually a response, and their destructive effect is trivial compared to Israel's firepower. But even if they were equivalent, the illegality of Israel's occupation, the limits of Palestinian self-defense, and the failure of Israel to negotiate a resolution all point to Israel as culpable for the war itself. Similarly, Russia is responsible for the war in Ukraine, which makes it responsible not only for its specific war crimes, but for incidental war crimes in defense of Ukraine. That doesn't mean AI cannot criticize Ukrainian (or Gazan) tactics, but it should first make clear that those tactical errors were conditioned by the more basic crime of war itself.

Thomas Edsall: [08-10] How We Think About Politics Changes What We Think About Politics. Draws heavily on Poli Sci papers, but the conclusion fits experience. One thing we've noted is how Republicans became more likely to hold anti-abortion views as the party became increasingly identified with those views, while Democrats became more supportive of abortion rights. The study also shows that party elites are even more susceptible to partisan issue alignment (so the effect is not just due to the threat of purges, which happens in both parties, but much more aggressively in the Republican). Also see the note from Dean Baker: [08-10] Thomas Edsall Can't Even Consider That the Way We Structure Markets Creates Inequality.

Tom Engelhardt: [08-11] The Decline and Fall of Everything (Including Me).

Richard Falk: [08-12] Connecting Toxic Memories: Hiroshima and Nuremberg: It's been 77 years, but some people still remember. Also:

Chas Freeman: [08-09] How China and the US Threaten Each Other: "The Sino-American relationship is proof positive that, if you disregard a country's interests or treat it like an enemy, you can and will make it one." That's an important insight, one that you rarely hear in any facet of American life, especially in foreign policy (where its value should be most obvious). Russia is a good example: they humored the US through the 1990s, even after NATO started encroaching ever closer, through Bosnia and Kosovo, even after Putin came to power and watched the US move through the graveyards of Afghanistan. But still the US kept closing in, expanding NATO into the Baltic states, fomenting revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, until Putin finally snapped -- hence the war in Ukraine. China, too, has been patient and understanding, but the US is snipping at its borders, trying to stir up its minorities (in Tibet and Xinjiang), carping over Hong Kong, arming Taiwan, levying tariffs, talking about a "pivot to Asia." It's almost as if the US wants war with China. I seriously doubt that, but there are business interests that would profit handsomely from the threat. If both sides were absolutely clear about the other's intentions, it might just be a bit of Kabuki for the home crowds, but the lack of understanding in the US is huge and getting worse, and that's dangerous -- all the more so because Xi Jinping doesn't seem to be coping with hostile signals much more intelligently than Putin has. I know people who see WWIII looming. They are not likely right, but they are not categorically wrong either. PS: Here's an interview with Freeman from [08-02], with the transcript. More on China:

  • Dave DeCamp: [08-11] Taiwan Rejects China's 'One Country, Two Systems' Plans for Unification.
  • Ellen Ioanes: [08-06] The US and China might not get over the Taiwan crisis.
  • Daniel Larison: [08-12] Hawks: Time to prepare the nation for war with China: Elbridge Colby said that. He founded and runs a "think tank" called The Marathon Institute, and was "lead architect of the 2018 National Defense Strategy," which helped elevate China as a military threat. He has a 2019 book, The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict. His article is America Must Prepare for a War Over Taiwan. He's probably just shilling for more arms sales, but it wouldn't be surprising if China reads him and decides that their odds are better now than they could be once America "prepares." A big part of Germany's justification for starting WWI was their fear that Russia was getting stronger, so they figured that they'd be better off attacking before that could happen. It was a monumentally stupid decision, but that's how war planners think.
  • PS: [08-11] 'Years to rebuild': Analysts' ominous prediction for US after Taiwan war simulations: "The results are grim for everyone involved." A reader forwarded this unsigned article, pubished on Murdoch's News Corp Australia online outlet. It suggests that if China attacked Taiwan, US ships and planes in the region would provide little defense, and could well be wiped out. Since WWII, the US has never fought against a foe with comparable air (or for that matter, naval) weaponry, and is mostly used to total air superiority, so a direct conflict with China would be uncharted territory. Some time ago, Chalmers Johnson sketched out another scenario which is frightening enough war planners might consider other careers. The US is highly dependent on satellites to provide eyes and ears over potential enemies, as well as communications and GPS used to guide rockets. Yet satellites are very vulnerable. Johnson calculated that the entire system could be disabled by "launching a dumptruck load of gravel into earth orbit" -- a capability that China certainly has, and could see as leveling the playing field. I still believe that a land invasion of Taiwan would be very difficult, and that the human costs of conquering and occupying the island would be horrific for all. But with stakes so high, wouldn't a bit of prudence be in order? Instead, a second US congressional delegation visits Taiwan, and in response China announces new drills.

Susan B Glasser/Peter Baker: [08-08] Inside the War Between Trump and His Generals: My impression was that when Trump entered the White House in 2017, he was inclined to be totally deferential to the military, to let them handle trouble spots any way they wanted, as long as it reinforced the other image Trump wanted to project: that he was one tough motherfucker. But by 2017, most generals had assumed a defensive crouch, trying to recover from the numerous self-inflicted injuries of the War on Terror. And when Trump did push one of his own ideas, it was usually bad -- one the authors point out here was the decision to send the military to patrol the Mexican border, to help with immigration enforcement. This is an excerpt from a new book, The Divider: Trump in the White House 2017-2021. The authors have previous books together on James Baker and Vladimir Putin.

Dylan Gyauch-Lewis: [08-11] Why Is Larry Summers Engaged in Science Denial About Inflation? I had no interest in the title, until I read the subhed: "It could be his conflicts of interest." Oh yeah, that! The article is based on The Revolving Door Project, which sounds like something we need.

Homma Hosseinmardi: [08-12] Why Cable News Still Has a More Polarizing Effect Than Social Media. That strikes me as true. There's a lot of bullshit on social media, but users have much more control over what I see (even ads, though I'd like to have more), so tend to stay in their neighborhood (mind is populated by relatively sane persons, with a couple relatives as exceptions).

Jake Johnson: [07-26] Biden Told Not to Give Publicly Owned Covid-19 Vaccine Tech Over to Corporations. Johnson also wrote [06-17] WTO Deal on Vaccine Patents Decried as a 'Sham' Dictated by Rich Nations, Big Pharma. Thanks to this government generosity, Brett Wilkins: [08-03] Moderna Revenue Shows Pandemic Has Been 'Lucrative Smash-and-Grab' for Big Pharma.

Bonnie Kristian: [08-13] Americans Are Too Pampered and Neurotic to Fight a Civil War: "Thank goodness for laziness." I considered linking to Richard E Rubenstein: [08-12] Talking Sense About "A New American Civil War", but this piece cuts to the point quicker. As someone who thinks that we face a lot of major problems, and that a dangerously large segment of the public are working to make them even worse, and that said segment isn't even approachable by reason, even by appeals to their own interest, I'm the sort of person who should be extra-sensitive to the prospects of civil war, but I still don't feel it. One test was Jan. 6, 2021, and I understand why many people were horrified by what happened then. But I never for a moment doubted that the cops would restore order, and after that law and some sense of normalcy. What we do have to worry about are anti-democratic legal maneuvers that the Republican-packed courts might uphold, and not-really-random acts of violence.

Dylan Matthews: [08-08] How effective altruism went from a niche movement to a billion-dollar force. I'm pretty skeptical of charities, but note this for future reference -- not that I have an informed opinion on the subject. PS: Turns out a flurry of articles have come out on this, most tied to the release of William MacAskill's book, What We Owe the Future. His previous book was Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Help Others, Do Work that Matters, and Make Smarter Choices about Giving Back (2015).

  • Gideon Lewis-Kraus: [08-08] The Reluctant Prophet of Effective Altruism: a profile of MacAskill.
  • Ezra Klein: [08-09] Three Sentences That Could Change the World -- and Your Life: an interview with MacAskill. [Transcript]
  • William MacAskill: [08-05] The Case for Longtermism: Adapted from the book.
  • Robert Wright: [08-10] The Case for Shortermism: "Concern for generations unborn is laudable and right, but is it really a pre-requisite for saving the world?" I'm most familiar with the short-vs.-long-term debate in business, where financial incentives are rigged to favor the short term (quarters rather than years, with decades and centuries all but unimaginable). Often the division is between founders (and employees), who aim to stick around, and financiers, who can't wait to sell out. But short-termers don't have the option of selling out of society (although some politicians seem to think that way). The bigger problem is uncertainty, which not only increases over time, but if pretty rife in the here and now.

AJ McDougall: [08-07] MAGA Clothing Brand Busted Over Fake 'Made in USA' Tags.

Ian Millhiser:

Aryeh Neier: [08-14] The Appalling Attack on Salman Rushdie Is an Attack on Free Speech: Back in the 1980s, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini was in a protracted pissing contest with Saudi Arabia over the spiritual leadership of the Islamic world. The division between Sunni and Shiite was at the root of this, but each side staked out extremist ground within that division. This started in 1979, when Khomeini overthrew the Shah, when Saudi radicals seized control of the Grand Mosque, when Iranian students took hostage of US embassy personnel in Tehran, and continued through the 1981-89 war initiated by Iraq, with the backing of the Saudis and their allies (including, ultimately, the US). In 1989, shortly before his death, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the faithful to kill Salman Rushdie, whose novel (The Satanic Verses) was held to as blasphemous to Islam. The book had already elicited demonstrations, both in the UK and India/Pakistan, sometimes violent. In some sense the fatwa was a mere publicity stunt, but in the context it was taken as a deadly threat. Rushdie went into hiding, appearing in public only with extra security (although that seems to have lapsed in recent years). Iran has paid little attention to the fatwa since Khomeini died, but his successor never revoked it. At this point, no one seems to know how closely the assault was linked to the fatwa, or indeed whether it had anything to do with it. Many of us had hoped that the extreme polarization of the 1980s would give way to acceptance of Iran as a normal nation -- hopes that have been repeatedly strained by the Ayatollah's old enemies across the Persian Gulf, by the Iran's even more virulent later enemy, and by their allies in the US. (Trita Parsi's 2007 book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, has a full accounting of how Israel, which had remained cozy with Iran through the 1980s, turned against them once Iraq ceased to be a serious threat -- it appears that Israel needs an existential enemy to keep its alliance with the US profitable.) Unfortunately, if Iran is responsible for this horrific crime, there's no real way to hole them accountable -- at least not one that doesn't further isolate and embitter Iran. PS: For the latest, see [08-14] Salman Rushdie taken off ventilator as 'road to recovery' begins, agent says. Also:

Jordan Michael Smith: [08-09] Focus on the Israel Lobby Gets U.S. Foreign Policy Wrong: Review of Walter Russell Mead: The Arc of Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People. Tries to argue that American "policymakers increased their support for Israel because they believed it was in the United States' strategic interest, rather than on principle." Supposedly, this disproves the notion that American politicians are simply being manipulated by AIPAC, but he winds up falling back on an ideological crutch: "The United States' bond with Israel is based on love for a strong, isolated country that embodies a macho Judeo-Christian heritage, is vengeful, and subdues its foes." That sentence embodies several fallacies. The success of AIPAC is largely based on their skill at manipulating such misunderstanding.

Jeffrey St Clair: [08-12] Roaming Charges: Gaza by Bomblight. Intro, on Israel's latest bombing of Gaza and its long list of precedents, is worth reading, even if you know it already. "Israel exists; therefore Gaza must be bombed. As long as Israel exists, Gaza will be bombed. Israel defines itself by what it is not. Israel is not Gaza. The more Israel bombs Gaza, the more deeply it becomes its true self." Much more, including a curt summary of the FBI finally looking at Trump instead of their usual prey, and many climate items (e.g., a picture of the waterless Loire River, noting that it is "the source of cooling water for 12 of France's nuclear power plants."

Emily Stewart/Li Zhou/Rebecca Leber: [08-07] The Inflation Reduction Act, explained: "The climate bill is also a health care bill (and it does a few things on taxes, too)."

Brynn Tannehill: [08-11] The Republican Plan to Devastate Public Education in America. More trouble with "thinking" about education:

Nick Turse: [08-10] Post-9/11 era one of the most militarily aggressive in US history: "Aeria has conducted nearly 400 interventions since its founding, with more than a quarter in the last 30 years."

Peter Wade: [08-14] Like Their Cult Leader, Jan. 6 Rioters Try to Cash in on Attempts to Destroy Democracy.

Jeanne Whalen: [08-09] A new era of industrial policy kicks off with signing of the Chips Act. Back when Trump was pulling tariffs out of his ass, I liked to note that tariffs make no sense unless you have a national industrial policy to take advantage of them. The US didn't have a policy, didn't even believe policies were a good thing. Republicans and neoliberal Democrats alike believed that businesses should be free to build or buy anything they want from anywhere they like, even if that means sending manufacturing jobs abroad in search of cheaper workers and more profits. So this bill is a big change, even if cloaked under a veneer of anti-Chinese "national security" rhetoric and larded in favor of the already rich. Whether it's a good thing will depend on myriad details, but the principle that manufacturing decisions can be influenced by the public interest is a major change. Other pieces:

Natasha Hakimi Zapata: [08-01] Boris Johnson's (Far From Final) Bill for Damages.


I saw a Jasper ad on Facebook, touting "NEW AI WRITES CONTENT FOR YOU," claiming "Start writing articles 10X faster." This offers people who suspect the web is heading for oblivion, drowned in a sea of hack content, an obvious target for blame, but humans are pretty efficient creators of crap content even without AI. So this ad, like so many, is targeted mostly at folks who don't know any better. One thing I'd like to see is a program that could read any piece of content and spit out a percentage likelihood that the piece was written by a machine. This could be embedded in a browser with a little meter up in one of the info bars. Google could use such a program to weigh its search options (not that anything but advertising seems to matter to them these days). Of course, that would lead the SEO experts to tricks to rig the standings. Ever since Turing's test, there's been a thin line between Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Stupidity.

The idea isn't new. Back in the 1980s, I imagined writing a program that could generate letters to my mother, who was more concerned with hearing from me than with what exactly I had to say. Ultimately, I didn't bother, but I'm not sure she wouldn't have been happier had I did. Back then the more interesting idea was developing tools to help writers write better. Researchers at Bell Labs developed something they called Writer's Workbench, but it got dropped from their UNIX releases, and I'm not aware of any efforts to reimplement it as free software. The commercial program Grammatik was available for a while, and ultimately incorporated into WordPerfect, but I'm not aware of similar tools these days, even though they should be much more sophisticated and useful. I routinely run my pieces through a wrapper program I wrote based on GNU spell, but it misses a lot of stuff that WWB could have caught in the 1980s. I can imagine much more useful tools, which could help people write better, but wonder whether their development isn't being inhibited by the business plans of big tech companies, which mean to keep AI embedded in products they can exploit commercially, often to our detriment.


Also on Facebook, Gretchen Eick underlined a section from a Carl Sagan book (The Demon-Haunted World, 1995):

But there's another reason: science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

I commented:

This reminds me of Jane Jacobs' similar warnings in her 2004 book, Dark Age Ahead. The book is organized into five sections, of which the third is "Bad Science." The second was on education, where she saw credentials seeking becoming more important than learning. The Sagan book features what he calls the "baloney detection kit." That reminded me of the best book ever written on education, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, by Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner, which argued that the highest goal of education is to equip students with "bullshit detectors" (as I remembered it; the first chapter is "Crap Detecting." It was published in 1969, which in itself is evidence of how much darker the age had become by the time Sagan and Jacobs were writing.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, August 7, 2022


Speaking of Which

After the Kansas referendum on abortion rights, I figured I should post something this week. I've felt all along that the amendment would be defeated in a fair election, while also recognizing that nothing in the wording or scheduling of this issue was meant to be fair. Some of my reasoning is explained below. Of course, even the margin won't alter the will of the anti-abortion forces to come up with some other way to strip Kansans of their rights. The next big battle will be in November, when Kansas elects a new governor: the Republican legislature will continue to pass outlandish bills, but if Democrat Laura Kelly wins they'll have to override her veto. (Republicans currently hold a "veto-proof" majority, but just barely, so we'll also be closely watching minor shifts there.)

Underreported below is the Ukraine War, which continues to grind on, with Ukraine making minor progress in the South toward Kherson, and Russia trying to expand its Donbas enclaves. The war itself has mostly degenerated to long-distance shelling. (Most alarming: Rocket attacks at Zaporizhzhia power plant raise fears of 'nuclear catastrophe'.) Meanwhile, no reported interest on any side for cease fire and talks (other than allowing one ship of grain to leave Odesa).

In late-breaking news, [08-07] Senate approves Inflation Reduction Act, clinching long-delayed health and climate bill, with concessions to Manchin and Sinema, including Republicans block cap on insulin costs for millions of patients (vote was 57-43 in favor of the cap, but in our great democracy that wasn't enough). Vox has an explainer. Also Rebecca Leber: The Senate just passed one of the biggest bills to fight climate change, ever.


Spencer Ackerman: [08-01] First Impressions on the Execution of Ayman al-Zawahiri. Author calls his blog "Forever Wars," of which this is another mark in the forever timeline. Like many other markers, this could be used as a pivot point to exiting the process which generates future terrorists faster than it can wipe them out. Related:

David Badash: [08-06] Rick Scott tells CPAC Democrats' policies are 'evil,' the 'militant left' is the 'enemy' and the 'greatest danger we've ever faced': I've been reading Heather Cox Richardson's history of the Republican Party, To Make Men Free, which recounts Republican claims that Democrats were set on destroying the country going back to the 1870s. (Evidently, the red baiting started immediately after the 1871 Paris Commune, although the Federalists made similar complaints about the Jacobins in the 1790s.) With the New Deal in the 1930s, when it was the Democrats who saved America from the greatest economic collapse in American history, Republican hysteria only became more strident. That Republicans like Scott are dialing their madness up even more now just shows that even they recognize that they have no solutions for our increasingly perilous problems. Of course, Scott was just warming up the crowd for the main event. See Bob Brigham: [08-07] Trump at CPAC: 108 minutes in speech filled with 'unapologetic fascism'.

Peter Baker: [08-04] U.S. Offer to Swap Russian Arms Dealer for Griner Highlights Uncomfortable Choices: The arms dealer is Viktor Bout, arrested in and extradited from Thailand on charges that could just as easily be levied against hundreds of American arms merchants, but the US is one of the very few nations with the means and will to pursue such cases. Brittany Griner, at least, was in Russia when she committed her "crime" -- one which, until recently, the US would have prosecuted her for, though she's enough of a celebrity she would likely have gotten off lightly in our vastly unequal system of justice. (Jeffrey St Clair, link below, notes that "Griner's 9.5-year sentence is actualy 6 months less than John Sinclair got for possession of 2 joints in Michigan in 1971.) In Russia, however, her celebrity may be working against her: while her incarceration isn't winning Putin any "hearts and minds," it does remind us he still wields considerable power. Still, I didn't flag this piece because I want to weigh the relative merits of injustice here and there, or the delicate balance of incentives involved in prisoner swaps. I just want to remind you that the world would be simpler and fairer if we had an international law and protocol that allowed political prisoners to go into exile if they find willing host countries. Both Bout and Griner would easily qualify, without all the messiness of negotiations. And the US wouldn't embarrass itself trying to extradite Julian Assange. PS: Some background history: Here are some prisoner swaps that freed Americans.

Zack Beauchamp:

Nina Burleigh: [07-31] Right-Wing Extremists Are Making Fiction Come True: "Can Democrats craft a winning message off a smorgasbord of misogynist madness?"

Kevin Carey: [08-03] Why Is America Fractured? Blame College, a New Book Argues. Review of Will Bunch: After the Ivory Tower Falls. I recall Bunch writing a good book about how bad Ronald Reagan was: Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future (2009).

Amy Cheng: [08-05] Indiana passes near-total abortion ban, the first state to do so post-Roe; Amber Phillips/Tom Hamburger: [08-06] Abortion law in Indiana leads to fallout for state, politics; Ellen Francis: [08-06] 'Not her body, not her choice': Indiana lawmakers on abortion ban: One thing the Kansas vote didn't do was to dissuade Indiana Republicans from passing the first post-Dobbs abortion ban law. For a summary, see Amanda Marcotte: [08-05] Republicans learn the lesson of Kansas: Indiana takes repulsive abortion debate behind closed doors.

Fabiola Cineas: [08-05] Why the Justice Department made a move in the police killing of Breonna Taylor. It may not be possible to prosecute cops for going on a wanton killing spree, but that doesn't excuse them from filing false and misleading paperwork.

Ryan Cooper:

  • [08-02] The Federal Reserve is risking disaster for U.S. workers: "Impoverishing the American people is the worst way to deal with inflation." After the U.S. economy shrunk for two consecutive quarters -- a well-known (but now we're told incomplete) definition of recession, the Federal Reserve hiked its base interest rate another 0.75%, "the biggest such move since the early 1980s, when it intentionally contributed to a massive recession and crushed the American labor movement to fight price increases."
  • [08-03] Republicans Just Exposed Their Greatest Weakness: "Only a deranged political party votes against health care for wounded veterans out of pure spite." Sure, Senate Republicans got shamed into reversing course, but we should remember their instincts.

Matt Ford:

David Gelles: [08-05] How Republicans Are 'Weaponizing' Public Office Against Climate Action: "A Times investigation revealed a coordinated effort by state treasurers to use government muscle and public funds to punish companies trying to reduce greenhouse gases." Sometimes "evil" is not hyperbole.

Tareq S Hajjaj/Yumna Patel: [08-05] 10 Palestinians, one child, killed in Israeli attack on Gaza. Israel decided they could assassinate one of the leaders of Islamic Jihad. The rest were collateral damage. Islamic Jihad "retaliated" with some rockets (which didn't hit anyone), so expect Israel to escalate its slaughter. For updates: [08-06] Gaza's only power plant shuts down as Israeli airstrikes continue; and [08-07] Gaza death toll climbs to 43 amid ceasefire reports.

Steph Herold: [08-03] Hollywood's Role in Stigmatizing Abortion. Good article as far as it goes, but it misses one key point, which is that abortions don't work as stories: typically, a woman has a few bad days fretting over the decision, then makes it, does it, and gets on with her life. A rare example where you saw exactly that was in Prime Suspect, where it took up no more than 5 minutes in a season about something else. However, had that happened in the movie Juno, that would have been the end of the story -- instead, it turned into this really ridiculous fairy tale of a young-but-actually-loving couple generously giving their baby away to a rich-but-likable older couple. It's easy to think of movies that helped people get past traditional bigotry, racism and homophobia, but that's because they could build relatable stories around them. Those stories are a big part of why the right so hates Hollywood. But abortion isn't that kind of story, so it's always been easiest just to ignore it.

Fred Kaplan: [08-02] Nancy Pelosi Just Lit a Match at the Dynamite Factory. On the House Speaker's much publicized trip to Taiwan, occurring as it does as the Biden administration has been talking up China as a potential enemy while bankrolling a major war in Ukraine. Also:

  • Ross Barkan: [08-02] Nancy Pelosi Is Creating a Global Military Crisis for No Reason at All.
  • Connor Echols: [08-01] As Pelosi Taiwan visit looms, Menendez bill would 'gut' One China policy.
  • Ben Freeman: [08-04] How the Taiwan lobby helped pave the way for Pelosi's trip.
  • Robert Wright: [08-02] How the war in Ukraine could lead to war in Taiwan: "A wartime psychology knows no bounds." Unfortunately, the paywall kicked in before he could explain why, so here's my guess: Xi could, for instance, decide that with the US stretched bankrolling Ukraine, this may be the most advantageous opportunity China ever gets to seize Taiwan. I could point out that would be stupid, and that China has rarely been that stupid in the past (their war against Vietnam was an exception), but history is rife with blundering war calculations.
  • Sina Azodi/Christopher England: [08-06] Pelosi's Taiwan visit and the limits of American strategy: "It's time for American leaders to stop framing international politics as a competition between democracies and autocracies." One can debate whether the US even has a coherent foreign policy. Empirically, it looks more like, in Lionel Trilling's phrase, a smattering of irritable mental gestures. "Democracy vs. autocracy" has never been a principle, but it's often a propaganda trope -- irresistible as long as you group America among the democracies (but that, too, can be debated).
  • Michael D Swaine: [08-05] China retaliates with snap suspension of dialogues with US. This includes discussions about climate change. As St Clair notes below, "If global warming hits 2C, it could "double" the flooding costs in China compared to 1.5C." Sounds like that should be a much bigger concern for all sides than the egos bruised by Pelosi's visit.
  • Chris Buckley/Amy Chang Chien/John Liu: [08-07] After China's Military Spectacle, Options Narrow for Winning Over Taiwan. Pelosi's trip was foolish, but so is Xi's reaction. Hitherto, China has always shown patience in dealing with border issues (e.g., Hong Kong and Macau), and they've constructed their military primarily as a defensive force. It seemed clear before that the only way Taiwan would reunite with mainland China would be voluntarily, but that became even more unlikely after the crackdown on Hong Kong, along with the repression in Tibet and Xinjiang. Taiwan has only been part of China for 4 years over the last 120, and China was far from whole at the time (1945-49, when Mao ruled much of the country, but not Taiwan). Russia's attack on Ukraine, and the US/NATO response, reduce the prospects for Chinese military takeover even more. I'd say the gig is up, but until Beijing admits as much, why try to goad or humiliate them?

Ezra Klein: [08-07] I Didn't Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message: A dive into some media theorists (especially Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman), finding they were onto something. Klein covers the same territory in his interview with Sean Illing [07-26] How We Communicate Will Decide Whether Democracy Lives or Dies. Illing interviews book authors for Vox, but having co-written a book (The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media, and Perilous Persuasion, with Zac Gershberg), he contrived for Margaret Sullivan to interview him: [07-31] Free speech is essential for democracy. Could it also be democracy's downfall?.

Jonathan Martin: [08-07] Liz Cheney Is Ready to Lose. But She's Not Ready to Quit. I'm ready for her to lose, too, but I wouldn't be surprised if she survives: people in Wyoming don't like to be told what to do, even by morons like Trump. And while I don't mind giving her credit for her work on the January 6 Committee, we should be clear that if she managed to survive and recast the Republican Party in her image, it wouldn't be one iota better than the degenerate party she declaims. Also: Liz Cheney's Latest Fans: Democratic Donors: What a waste!

Jane Mayer: [08-06] State Legislatures Are Torching Democracy: Ohio, for example.

Casey Michel: [08-04] The Kleptocrat Who Bankrolled Rudy Giuliani's Dive for Dirt on Biden: Dmitro Firtash.

Ian Millhiser: [08-02] The uncomfortable problem with Roe v. Wade. A fairly deep and useful background piece on Roe v. Wade and its recent overturn, touching on questions of due process and enumerated vs. unenumerated rights. Much of this will be familiar to readers of Millhiser's Injustices: The Supreme Court's History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: [07-22] Asking "What About . . . ?" Is Essential to Achieving Justice: "Selective empathy prevents us from making connections." War in Ukraine is most obviously on his mind, but he offers examples going back to the 1864 Sand Creek massacre (which reminded me of a crusade in medieval Europe, where the order was to kill everyone, leaving it to God to sort the innocent from the guilty). From Vietnam, he notes that Lt. William Calley was convicted of murder at My Lai, but "a considerable portion of the American people sympathized more with the American murderer . . . than with the Vietnamese dead." With this in mind, feel free to read Masha Gessen: [08-01] The Prosecution of Russian War Crimes in Ukraine, where Ukrainians have identified 25,000 cases so far, but I'd wager none of them involve victims of Ukrainian firepower, even among their own people. Sure, one might argue that none of these crimes would have occurred had Russia not invaded, so Putin bears a unique responsibility there, but it also seems clear that Ukraine and its suppliers and cheerleaders haven't put a lot of effort into negotiating an end to this war. And once again, Americans are especially conspicuous among the self-sanctifiers.

Alex Pareene: [07-11] The Never-Ending War on the Woke: "Or what the Democratic center has failed to learn over the past three decades." Or what it's learned all too well: that the more threatening Republicans seem, the better they can deliver on their own value-proposition, which is to keep the left down, so "centrist" Democrats can deliver greater profits to the rich donors they cultivate. Pareene starts with the example of 1994, where at least some of Clinton's strategists cheered on the Gingrich revolution as a way to neutralize the "dead wood" Democrats who had dominated Congress as far back as any of them could remember. Having demolished the Party (and especially its labor base), liberal Democrats had little choice but to rally behind Clinton in 1996, and a second term that sowed seeds for the disastrous Bush terms to follow. Obama's 2014 debacle followed suit, not least because he stocked his administration with Clintonian "centrists." And now Biden is widely expected to blow 2022 as badly. But I'd submit that things are different this time. The only constant is that the "centrist" hacks are still working to prevent change, but who's listening to them any more? How can anyone seriously believe that Democrats would do better if only they were more racist? (E.g., see Eric Alterman: [08-05] It's Not Wokeism That Threatens Our Democracy.)

John J Pitney Jr: [08-05] Democrats Are Running as Opposition Party: "This year, the Supreme Court and Trump have made it possible for Democrats to run as a check on Republican extremism."

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [07-29] How Bill Gates Makes the World Worse Off: Interview with Linsey McGoey, author of No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy (2015), and The Unknowers: How Strategic Ignorance Rules the World (2019).
  • [07-19] We Need to Get Serious About Universal Access to Shade.
  • [07-13] Are Web3 and Crypto Just a "Grift Pouring Lighter Fluid on Our Already-Smoldering Planet"?: Interview with Molly White, who follows this stuff on her Web3 is going just great website, where you can find articles like "India frees assets of WazirX, Binance's Indian exchange" and "Michael Saylor steps down as MicroStrategy CEO as the company reports a $918 million impairment charge on Bitcoin holdings" and "After five years in prison for a Ponzi scheme and a lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industry, Martin Shkreli announces his new venture: a web3 drug discovery platform."
  • [08-04] Against Liberalism: A review of Luke Savage's forthcoming book, The Dead Center: Reflections on Liberalism and Democracy After the End of History. I read a number of left critiques of liberalism c. 1970 (e.g., Robert Paul Wolff's The Poverty of Liberalism), but have softened my views as conservatives equated liberals with the left and sought to destroy both. I figured that gave us some common ground, and that liberal ideals were prerequisite to left development, but it's still aggravating when liberals' ambitions stop with their own personal freedom. (Adam Gopnik's A Thousand Small Sanities is a good example I've read; Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal at least offers some economic insight that liberalism might be more broadly beneficial.) Still, most leftist critiques these days use the term "neoliberalism" to define their target, as we no longer care to argue with the old liberal virtues (e.g., Wolff's chapter in A Critique of Pure Tolerance), but still find plenty fault in their economic concerns. Savage's book appears to be more topical: a collection of pieces on political figures who often disappoint but are still better than the Republicans they promise to save us from. On the other hand, their faults are more easily explained by corruption than by ideology. PS: Following the link to the publisher, I found several more books that continue the left critique of "centrist" Democrats, like Robert Eisenberg: The Center Did Not Hold: A Biden/Obama Balance Sheet, and a pair of fake-confessionals before and after the 2016 disaster: My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency (by Doug Henwood), and How I Lost by Hillary Clinton ("based on her own words in speeches and emails, a devastating indictment of a disastrous election defeat . . . introduced and annotated by Joe Lauria").

Kevin Roose: [08-06] Don't Expect Alex Jones's Comeuppance to Stop Lies: The trial went against Jones, ordering him to pay $45 million to parents of children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. I'm not much in favor of defamation lawsuits, but Jones crossed a lot of lines, and did so knowingly and maliciously, so some kind of comeuppance is in order. "But, even if Mr. Jones's career is ruined, his legacy of brazen, unrepentant dishonesty will live on -- strengthened, in some ways, by the knowledge of exactly how far you can push a lie before consequences kick in."

Richard Silverstein: [08-05] Aipac Pumps $30-Million into Democratic Primaries to Defeat Israel Critics. Israel not only interferes with US elections more than Russia, they don't even try to hide it.

Sarah Smarsh: [08-03] Why the Defense of Abortion in Kansas Is So Powerful. Author grew up here, and wrote a powerful memoir that was especially conscious of the hardships and dim prospects endured by teenage mothers (Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth). More pieces on the Kansas vote:

  • Miranda Moore: [08-01] Follow the Money: Who Is Funding Kansas Abortion Amendment Ads? Most of the pro-amendment money came from Catholic groups, especially Archdiocese of Kansas City, KS ($2.4 million). It is interesting that the business groups that typically fund Republicans in Kansas didn't put much effort into this (although their money may just be hidden, especially through Kansans for Life; presumably abortion isn't a hot button issue for the Koch Network -- supposedly libertarian, but they've never had qualms about supporting extreme anti-abortion zealots like Mike Pompeo). Some PACs supported the NO campaign, but the largest chunk came from individual donations ($2.3 million).
  • Mitch Smith: [08-02] Millions in Advertising Help Shape Closely Watched Abortion Vote in Kansas.
  • Maggie Astor/Nate Cohn: [08-03] Here's how abortion rights supporters won in conservative Kansas.
  • Nate Cohn: [08-04] Kansas Result Suggests 4 Out of 5 States Would Back Abortion Rights in Similar Vote. Not sure what the methodology is here.
  • Ed Kilgore: [08-04] Kris Kobach Is Making Yet Another Comeback Attempt: He just won a three-way Republican primary for Attorney General with 42% of the vote. As his yard signs make clear, he's not interested in fighting ordinary crimes. He wants to use the AG office to "Sue Joe Biden!"
  • Amanda Marcotte: [08-03] Kansas abortion win is a wake-up call: Americans do not want GOP bans.
  • Rani Molla: [08-03] 4 charts that show just how big abortion won in Kansas: Sorry to be picky, but I only count 3 charts. Big one is that turnout was up 50% from 2020 and more than double from most recent primaries. The Republicans deliberately decided to tie the vote to the primary instead of waiting for November to skew the electorate in their favor: Kansas Democrats almost never have competitive primaries, so few Democrats bother to vote, and independents (30% of total) aren't allowed to vote in primaries so never show up (about 100k did this time). While voter turnout was record-high, it was still down 32% from the 2020 presidential election, so motivation was arguably a factor. But turnout was only down 11% from 2018. PS: As of July, registered voters number 1,929,972, so voter turnout on Amendment was 47.7% (920,671); Republican voter turnout was 53.4% (455,182 / 881,882); Democratic voter turnout was 56.8% (281,546 / 495,574); Independent turnout (counting registered Libertarians) was 31.6% (183,943 / 582,516). Voter turnout in the 2020 primary was 34.2%; in the 2020 general election, the turnout was 70.9%. In 2018, the primary turnout was 27.1%, and the general election (voting for governor but not president) was 56.4%.
  • Ed Kilgore: [08-05] Kansas Shows the Potential Power of Pro-Choice Republican Voters: Starts with a Steve Kornacki tweet that argues that "at least 20% of R's were No's." I'm sure that's right. Before Roe, Kansas had legalized abortion, and that was mostly Republicans (Democrats actually tended to be anti-abortion, which turned out to be a problem in 1994, when KS had an anti-abortion Democratic governor, and anti-abortion Republicans like Sam Brownback took over the GOP). On the other hand, the title is misleading. Pro-choice Republicans have been totally purged from offices in KS, so they have zero power over the party. All they can actually do is defect: a number have, including some once-prominent names, but most keep voting for Republicans who will leave no stone unturned in their campaign to end reproductive rights (a term I'm not wild about, but appropriate here given how Brownback is opposed to all forms of birth control, and to any medical use of stem cells).
  • Harold Meyerson: [08-03] Kansans to Alito: F*ck You. "Americans, it appears, don't like their rights taken away."
  • Bill Scher: [08-05] The Ads That Won the Kansas Abortion Referendum. I got a bit snippy when I read the subhed (of course, Scher would complain about "progressive pieties"; he always does), but that was not only ground we could win on, it was ground worth defending. The sign in our front yard read "Stand for Liberty; Vote No." The Republicans were trying to take that away, so it made perfect sense to call them on it.
  • Peter Slevin: [08-07] Blueprinting the Kansas Abortion-Rights Victory.
  • Tessa Stuart: [08-05] Her Team Helped Beat Back Kansas' Abortion Ban. Here's What She Wants Other States to Know: Interview with Ashley All of Kansas for Constitutional Freedom, shows a very nuanced (and I think accurate) understanding of politics in Kansas.
  • Kathleen Wallace: [08-04] What Happened in Kansas: Common Sense, Common Ground.
  • Jonathan Weisman/Katie Glueck: [08-05] Republicans Begin Adjusting to a Fierce Abortion Backlash: Yeah, but then look at what they did in Indiana (noted above). "For Republicans, one problem might be the extensive trail on the issue they left during the primary season." On the other hand: [08-03] 'Your Bedroom Is on the Ballot': How Democrats See Abortion Politics After Kansas.

Jeffrey St Clair: [08-05] Roaming Charges: The Mad-Eyed Lady of Pac Heights. I've been recommending his columns regularly, figuring his insights make up for his occasional lapses of taste and decorum. But his opening screed on Pelosi and Taiwan goes way beyond my own criticisms, and I never care for his regular potshots at Bernie Sanders (even if one also hits Rand Paul). So, fine, skip the first half, and read about Brianna Grier. Also the one about the Oklahoma Board of Education.

Amy B Wang: [08-03] Sen. Johnson suggests ending Medicare, Social Security as mandatory spending programs: This tells us two things: one is that Johnson doesn't have the vaguest idea how Medicare and Social Security work, so he has no idea how hard it is to replace them with any other even remotely acceptable scheme; the other is that he wants to kill them, but for now he'll settle for being able to hold them ransom every year so they can extort concessions, like Republicans currently do with the debt limit. If people understood what he was asking for, public support would be less than 5% (although it could still be a majority of the people who donate to his campaign, especially if weighted by how much). Which raises another question: Michelle Cottle: [08-07] Why Is Ron Johnson Still Competitive Despite, You Know, Everything?

Li Zhou/Natalie Jennings: [08-03] 4 winners and 1 loser from the Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, and Michigan primaries: I don't think I've commented on any primary elections before this week, and I don't have much to say here. The only races I'm seriously interested in are ones that pit D vs. R, and it doesn't much matter to me which D or which R. So while I would have preferred Andy Levin and Lucas Kunce to have won their primaries, I'll happily take the less promising Democrats who won, and mildly dissent from the notion of "Loser: Progressives." As for "Winner: Democratic meddling in GOP races," I think that's dubious tactically, but it matters little to me whether Peter Meijer or his Trump-backed challenger won. I'm also dubious about how big a trend that is, or whether cross-voting D's had much effect. I know Democratic-leaners here in KS who register R so they can vote in contested and more consequential primaries, but I've never heard of one voting for the more toxic candidate (e.g., Kris Kobach). In any case, the numbers are so vanishingly small it's hard to see them ever having any effect. Perhaps when it comes to donors, it's more of a thing, but no more likely to work. Amy Davidson Sorkin: [08-03] A Bad Democratic Bet in the GOP Primaries talks mostly about Peter Meijer's primary loss, but if he really wanted Democrats to support him, shouldn't he have switched parties? And short of that, why should we care? And if this really is a thing, is there any reason not to think that Republican donors aren't doing the same thing to Democrats?

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, July 31, 2022


Speaking of Which

Mostly just noting things this week, although I couldn't help but make the occasional comment.


Louis Anslow: [07-31] Peter Thiel's Candidates Are More Unabomber Than Tech Bro.

Emily Badger/Margot Sanger-Katz/Claire Cain Miller: [07-28] States With Abortion Bans Are Aong the Least Supportive for Mothers and Children. No surprises here.

Dean Baker: [07-29] The Semi-Conductor Bill and the Moderna Billionaires. Unlike Republicans, Democrats at least try to do good things. But they seem incapable of doing them in ways that don't create windfalls for the already-rich. Baker doesn't draw this conclusion, but has examples that point that way (e.g., the "chips" bill).

Ben Burgis:

Zachary D Carter: [07-29] On Economics and Democracy. A good, general lesson about the New Deal, Keynes, and now. He also suggests that Republicans today are no worse than Democrats were in 1931, so if they could just come up with their own FDR, they could conquer all. But he doesn't nominate any candidates.

Rachel M Cohen: [07-27] The big upcoming vote on abortion rights in Kansas, explained. Also Peter Slevin: [07-30] The first post-Roe vote on abortion.

David Dayen: [07-28] Cut Off Private Equity's Money Spigot. "It is genuinely hard to find a more destructive economic force in America today than the private equity industry."

Andrew Desiderio: [07-28] Pelosi and China: The making of a progressive hawk. An oxymoron? Or just a moron? Related: [07-25] US Officials Grow More Concerned About Potential Action by China on Taiwan. These soto voce concerns are exactly what the Biden administration was doing with Russia prior to the invasion. They can be viewed as taunting or goading, daring China to verify their predictions. Seems especially foolish as long as the war with Russia is going on. Haven't the armchair generals learned that two-front wars are something to avoid?

David Friedlander: [07-25] Why Republicans Stopped Talking to the Press.

Lisa Friedman/Jonathan Wiseman: [07-27] Delay as the New Denial: The Latest Republican Tactic to Block Climate Action.

Jonathan Guyer: [07-29] What think tank drama tells us about the US response to Russia's war: Also see Politico's report: Atlantic Council cuts ties to Koch-funded foreign policy initiative. Koch has his fingers in a number of foreign policy initiatives -- the only one I'm familiar with is the Quincy Institute, which is headed by conservative anti-war historian Andrew Bacevich, and has published many articles I have cited over the years -- including Stand Together, and the Stimson Center, which will take over the Koch-financed NAEI (New American Engagement Initiative). NAEI's previous home was the Atlantic Council, which is largely funded by European governments and "is pro-NATO by design." What seems to be happening is that the think tanks are under increasing pressure to line up behind Ukraine and against Russia. Two related notes: Matthew Rojansky ("director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center") was blackballed from possible appointment to Biden's NSC because he wasn't hawkish enough on Russia (see Biden won't bring on board controversial Russia expert); Joseph Cirincione, a leading expert on nuclear proliferation, charging the Quincy Institute with pro-Russian bias (see America's Top Anti-War Think Tank Is Fracturing Over Ukraine). Robert Wright has written a detailed review of Cirincione's charges: Anti-war think tank attacked.

Michael Hudson: [07-29] American Diplomacy as a Tragic Drama.

Dhruv Khullar: [07-25] Living Through India's Next-Level Heat Wave.

Paul Krugman:

  • [07-26] Recession: What Does It Mean? I've been under the impression that the overly-technical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth, which we've just had, but evidently it isn't as simple as that. Krugman followed up with the optimistic How Goes the War on Inflation? and the pessimistic Much Ado About Wages. Also related: Timothy Noah: [07-27] The Economy Is Doing Amazingly Well for One That's Possibly in a Recession.
  • [07-25] The Dystopian Myths of Red America. He means the widespread belief among the Republican base that Dems are evil and intent on destroying America, even though there's no real evidence. The belief is pervasive enough that it can be invoked to explain anything. Centrists like to think that Blue America harbors comparable views, and indeed many of us have concluded that the Repugs are indeed evil, but first we demand evidence showing a logical connection, and we're willing to consider alternative theories, like ignorance, stupidity, or a callous disregard for others (which, sure, is a kind of evil). We're also more likely to regard people as complex and nuanced.

Robert Kuttner: [07-29] Another Airline Merger That Would Worsen Inflation: JetBlue buys Spirit Airlines.

Sharon Lerner: [06-30] How Charles Koch purchased the Supreme Court's EPA decision.

Ron Lieber: [07-26] The Case of the $5,000 Springsteen Tickets: Welcome to "dynamic pricing."

Ian Millhiser: [07-25] Gavin Newsom's plan to save the Constitution by trolling the Supreme Court.

Judith Newman: [07-26] The Power of Negative Thinking: Quotes Whitney Goodman: "Positivity lingo lacks nuance, compassion and curiosity."

Rick Perlstein: [07-22] They Want Your Child: "How right-wing school panics seek to repeal modernity and progress." Or, more pointedly: "What they're after is crushing the power of their children -- and all of ours -- to choose their own life: to, in other words, acquire the ability to become free." As Perlstein explains, conservative panics over education are a perennial: he cites instances back to 1923, but could have noted the prohibitions against teaching slaves to read and write. The flip side of this fear that liberals are training students to think for themselves is the belief that good, conservative education can train students who will grow up to respect social hierarchies. (Michael B Katz's The Irony of Early School Reform explains how mid-19th century Massachusetts proponents of mandatory universal education sold their program as a way to "socialize" Irish immigrants.) I've personally found that coercive education is as likely to produce rebellion as obedience, but maybe that's just me. One thing it's not capable of doing is stopping the clock.

Jeremy W Peters: [07-29] Fox News, Once Home to Trump, Now Often Ignores Him: It's been more than 100 days since Fox last interviewed Trump. Given that Fox is the real power in Republican politics, this may mean that Rupert Murdoch has decided to move on. However, Fox was cool on Trump early in the 2016 campaign, so I'm reluctant to read much into this.

Jake Pitre: [07-29] The Internet Doesn't Have to Be This Bad. Review of Jonathan Crary: Scorched Earth: Beyond the Digital Age to a Post-Capitalist World.

Mitchell Plitnick: [07-28] AIPAC declares war on any support of Palestinian human rights.

Alexander Sammon: [07-25] It's Time for Public Pharma: Not the worst idea, but better still would be to end drug patents. Development and testing would be funded through public sources (which could be pooled across nations, as the benefits should be shared by all nations), with funding targeted to medical needs, and all information publicly shared. Approved drugs could then be manufactured competitively, with strict limits on marketing.

Jeffrey St Clair: [07-29] Roaming Charges: Tell Tom Joad the News.

Peter Wade: Trump Sides With Russia Over Brittney Griner.

David Wallace-Wells:

Robert Wright: A couple pieces from his archive:


Note that Bill Russell (88) and Nichelle Nichols (89) died this week. Both made indelible impressions on this teenager growing up in 1960s Wichita.

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