Sunday, May 24, 2020
Robert Christgau wrote an impassioned piece last week on why it matters
for people to vote for Biden and the Democrats against Trump and the
Republicans in November. You can find it
here -- scroll down to the last question and answer. I agree
substantively, but have a few quibbles.
First, I gagged on the phrase "criminally stupid." Stupid, maybe,
but that isn't (and shouldn't be) a crime. Gauging the importance of
any election requires both a lot of information and a good sense of
political dynamics over time. How difficult it is should be clear
from our different estimates and prognoses of what a Trump victory
would mean. (Which, just to be clear, don't diminish our agreement
that this election is "crucial" and that if it goes the wrong way
a lot of very bad things will happen.)
For instance: "Abortion will end, feminism atrophy, gay rights
shrivel." If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, states will
be free to outlaw abortion (and for that matter birth control),
but only a few states will. Same with LGBTQ rights. The effect
will be to undermine rights that currently all Americans share,
but unless this can be followed up with new federal legislation
the effect will be to make red and blue states diverge further.
Granted, if Republicans win by landslides (augmented or enabled
by gerrymandering and voter suppression, which is the only way
that seems possible) they might be able to rewrite federal law
to force their views on blue states. They might even amend the
constitution to get rid of parts they don't like (although most
likely they'll be happy enough to have their packed courts read
the constitution their way).
None of this woud cause feminism to "atrophy": if anything, it
will make it sharper and more necessary. Indeed, while we prefer
not to speak of it, one thing that invariably happens is that when
power tilts one direction, resistance grows. A lot of bad things
have happened since 2016, but resistance has grown, both in numbers
and in clarity and resolve. The lines about what Hillary would have
done differently aren't very convincing -- especially the one about
billionaires, because while she was chummy with different ones than
Trump was, she was always very deferential to them (as were Democrats
like Obama and Biden). At least with Trump as president, we don't
have to go through this election defending her. I'm not a person who
believes that things have to get worse before they can get better,
but I do recognize that people often learn things only the hard way.
I voted for Hillary even though I thought she was fucking awful,
because I understood how much worse Trump was, but also because I
thought we'd be better off starting from her as a baseline than we'd
be with Trump.
Obviously, I think that with Biden vs. Trump, as well. I voted
for Bernie Sanders, and Biden was one of my least favorite candidates,
so I'm not happy he's the nominee, but I'm also not very unhappy with
the way the race has shaped up. Aside from the necessity of beating
Trump and the Republican ticket -- which in terms of policy (if not
personality) if anything worse than Trump -- the second most important
thing for me is to advance the ideas of the left. While Sanders and
others have made remarkable progress, it was clear that they have not
swayed the powers in the party, and that the latter would stop at
nothing (including self-defeat) to keep control of the Democratic
Party. With Biden we have a seat at the table to argue for policies
on their merits, and we shouldn't have to spend much of our energy
fighting off internecine attacks from the right. Nothing is certain,
but as I keep insisting, the answers to our major problems are on
the left. Biden needs answers as much as we do.
The Democratic Primary in
Hawaii went for Joe Biden (63.23%), over Bernie Sanders (36.77%).
You can draw either conclusion from this. On the one hand, Biden has
drawn consistent majorities everywhere since shortly after Super
Tuesday, and there's no real chance he's going to weaken. On the
other hand, there's still a sizable bloc of Democrats who think we
can do better, and that too -- despite the campaign blackout and
Bernie's own endorsement of Biden -- shows no sign of weakening.
Some scattered links this week:
Jon Lee Anderson:
The coronavirus hits Brazil hard, but Jair Bolsonaro is unrepentant.
America's deadly obsession with intellectual property.
Still, the Global War on Terrorism goes on.
The American right's favorite strongman: "Viktor Orbán dismantled
Hungary's democracy. Conservatives love him." What they really love
about him is how his party (Fidesz) has managed to lock themselves into
power even if elections turn against them.
In the United States, the Republican Party has shown a disturbing
willingness to engage in Fidesz-like tactics to undermine the fairness
of the political process. The two parties evolved independently, for
their own domestic reasons, but seem to have converged on a similar
willingness to undermine the fairness of elections behind the scenes.
Extreme gerrymandering, voter ID laws, purging nonvoters from the
voting rolls, seizing power from duly elected Democratic governors,
packing courts with partisan judges, creating a media propaganda
network that its partisans consume to the exclusion of other sources --
all Republican approaches that, with some nouns changed, could easily
describe Fidesz's techniques for hollowing out from democracy from
In this respect, Hungary really is a model for America. It's not
a blueprint anyone is consciously aping, but proof that a ruthless
party with less-than-majority support in the public can take durable
control of political institutions while still successfully maintaining
a democratic veneer.
Trump says he's taking hydroxycloroquine. Related:
- Ginia Bellafante:
First they fled the city. Now they're building $75,000 in-ground pools:
"When the going gets tough, the rich buy oases."
IG fired days after inquiring about Pompeo's 'donor dinners'.
Reopening reality check: Georgia's jobs aren't flooding back: "A
month after easing lockdown restrictions, the state is still seeing a
steady stream of unemployment claims, economic data shows."
- John Cassidy:
The coronavirus is exposing Wall Street's reckless gamble on bad
- Casey Cep:
Telling the stories of the dead is essential work. I've been
reading obituaries regularly, at least since my parents died (2000).
Very rarely do I notice anyone I knew or recognized, although I did
run across a couple of Intermediate School teachers I loathed. But
one thing that's always bothered me is that they're not written up
as stories. They're basically run as advertisements: you buy space,
and get to write whatever drivel you want, and for a bit extra you
can add a picture. Made me think that if I ever ran a newspaper,
I'd at least research and write up this one story on everyone. The
point of this article is that in the pandemic, every obituary has
become a story. Same thing happened after 9/11, when the New York
Times took a moment to write about every victim, no matter how
insignificant. Actually, they never were insignificant. They just
looked that way from Mount Olympus.
Stop the $2 billion arms sale to the Philippines.
Duterte's human rights record is atrocious. If the arms sale goes through,
it will escalate a worsening crackdown on human rights defenders and on
dissent -- while fomenting an ongoing bloodbath. Duterte is infamous for
launching a "War on Drugs" that, since 2016, has claimed the lives of as
many as 27,000 souls, mostly low-income people summarily executed by
police and vigilantes.
In Duterte's first three years of office, nearly 300 journalists, human
rights lawyers, environmentalists, peasant leaders, trade unionists, and
human rights defenders were assassinated. The Philippines has been ranked
the deadliest country for environmentalists in the world, after Brazil.
Many of these slayings are linked to military personnel.
Now, Duterte is using COVID-19 as a pretext for further militarization
and repression, despite the dire consequences for public health.
Fired watchdog was investigating arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Trump's HHS secretary accidentally tells the truth: Racism is driving
Will the US try to interdict Iranian tankers bound for Venezuela?
Trump has sabotaged America's coronavirus response: I mentioned this
but one to note one more thing: the date (January 31, 2020). That's
pretty early (before the first US cases were reported), although much
of what's here has since become common knowledge:
For the United States, the answers are especially worrying because the
government has intentionally rendered itself incapable. In 2018, the
Trump administration fired the government's entire pandemic response
chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure.
In numerous phone calls and emails with key agencies across the U.S.
government, the only consistent response I encountered was distressed
confusion. If the United States still has a clear chain of command for
pandemic response, the White House urgently needs to clarify what it
is -- not just for the public but for the government itself, which
largely finds itself in the dark.
The coronavirus wouldn't be decimating meatpacking plants if company
bosses hadn't busted the unions. Although western Kansas hasn't
gotten much publicity, Ford and Finney counties have the highest per
capita infection rates in Kansas.
Umair Irfan/Jen Kirby:
The other plague: Locusts are devouring crops in East Africa and the
There's nothing good about Phyllis Schlafly: Deconstructing
Inspectors general, explained by a former inspector general: Interview
with Clark Ervin, following Trump's firing of State Department IG Steve
Michael T Klare:
The US and China are dangerously close to a military confrontation in the
South China Sea.
Why "essential" workers are treated as disposable: Interview with
SIEU president Mary Kay Henry.
Why are liberals more afraid of the coronavirus than conservatives?
My answer is that liberals still think reality matters, and as such
respond to real problems, whereas conservatives live in a fantasy world
where political will creates its own reality. Klein, liberal that he
is, surveys the research, and even quotes Jon Haidt: "Conservatives
react more strongly than liberals to signs of danger, including the
threat of germs and contamination." On the other hand, people of all
political stripes tend to react as herds, and right now conservative
leaders have their own reasons for making light of the pandemic, and
that's emboldening conservative followers. It's tempting to say that
the scales would be tipped if Obama were president and spouting his
usual lines about confidence. Still, the flip wouldn't be symmetrical:
Democrats are more likely to trust the science, because they believe
that government should serve the public, especially in times of crisis.
Republicans, on the other hand, seek power to favor private interests,
and even go so far as to deny that public interests exist (except for
national security, which they conflate with the needs of private arms
merchants), and would like to cripple government's ability to help,
lest people look to government for help in the future. (Although note
that Republican governors are the first in line for federal relief
when disaster strikes their states.)
Biden's opposition to marijuana legalization is at odds with most
Trump's lethal aversion to reading: "Trump is a know-it-all who
knows almost nothing and refuses to read anything except his own name."
Greg Miller/Josh Dawsey/Aaron C Davis:
One final viral infusion: Trump's move to block travel from Europe
triggered chaos and a surge of passengers from the outbreak's center.
Democrats suddenly have a much better chance of retaking the Senate in
We're not polarized enough: Review of Ezra Klein's book, Why
Nevertheless, the health and stability of the American political system
depends on the defeat of the Republican Party. Absent a radical shift in
the right's priorities, the only way to depolarize our institutions is
to win and win big against those who want to keep them undemocratic,
protecting the right from the moderating influence more competitive
elections could have. Those victories will depend on reformers
successfully marshaling the forces driving group identity, rather than
assuming the balance of power in America has been set primarily by
immutable psychologies. The way forward lies in convincing Americans
not to retreat from national politics but to think even more broadly
and abstractly about where this country ought to go. Why We're
Polarized does some of the job, but leaves a daunting truth unsaid:
To fight polarization, we'll have to get much more polarized. The only
way out is through.
Workers deserve to be owners, too. I think extending significant
ownership shares to workers is one of the most important things that
can be done in America.
Inside the latest plan to "bankrupt" and privatize Social Security:
Bankrupting, sure, but I don't see anything here about privatizing,
which -- beyond the push toward optional 401(k) plans -- has always
been a pipe dream. One can imagine ending Social Security and plunging
millions of elderly and disabled Americans back into poverty, but one
cannot imagine a privatized system where most (let alone all) Americans
would be better off.
Why the pandemic is driving conservative intellectuals mad: Not as
broad as I'd like, focusing as he does on one R.R. Reno, although he
does bring Peggy Noonan into it.
US regional imperialism: big sticks, and even bigger guns.
Will the coronavirus make us rethink mass incarceration?
A predictable catastrophe in Michigan: Multiple dams failed alog
the Tittabawassee River, causing massive flooding.
These are the sorts of problems no one wants to address until it's
too late, not just in Michigan but across the United States, where
the phrase "crumbling infrastructure" has been with us so long that
it too is probably on the verge of collapse. We are an old broken-down
country, physically and spiritually, incapable of meaningful action
until we find ourselves in the middle of a totally predictable crisis.
So many of the issues that have arisen during the current pandemic --
the dangers of nursing homes, racial inequality, social atomization --
were ones that should have been familiar to us and dealt with long
before we found ourselves faced with a novel virus. Instead we waited
as we always do until the dams burst, metaphorically and otherwise.
Peace process was never intended to give Palestinians a state -- true
confessions from Council on Foreign Relations. Cites an article
by Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations.
A huge boost in infrastructure spending is very popular -- if rich people
pay for it. Argues that it's going to be very hard to get a big boost
in infrastructure (or other pubic service) spending if most people perceive
it's being paid for out of their own pockets. (Paying for it by taxing the
rich is OK, and indeed the most popular tax proposal on a long list is the
wealth tax.) Personally, I think this would be a very good time to raise
the gas tax. Sure, a flat sales or excise tax isn't progressive, but prices
at present are so depressed consumers come out ahead anyway. And to the
extent that the tax increase reduces demand (and global warming), that's
not such a bad thing either.
Neil J Young:
Flooding the swamp: "Why Trump's many scandals never seem to stick."
Alternate title: "There's always a bigger scandal.
Li Zhou/Ella Nilsen:
Congress should consider these 7 ideas for the next stimulus package.
Bold ideas, no chance of surviving a Republican veto, and indeed it's
not clear even to me where the money comes from.