An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Sunday, June 5, 2022
Speaking of Which
I started today reading this tweet by John Cardillo:
The happiest edit would just be to just swap in "Republicans" for "Democrats" and "fascists" for "leftists," but that's not quite right. If you got rid of all of the Republicans in Congress, you'd still pitched debates over most important issues. You'd still have a long list of legacy problems, which Democrats would approach with different plans and urgencies, but at least most Democrats are able to admit when a problem exists, and to entertain the possibility of different solutions. Still, few Democrats would make that edit. All democracies have legitimate opposition parties. Wanting to purge one is an attack not just on that party but on democracy itself.
Still, it's hard to see how this Republican omnipotence could work. First, how could you arrive at it other than by excluding most of the people Republicans hate? Then wouldn't you have to convince the people you've excluded to not resist, either by resigning themselves to be ruled over by people who hate them, or by incarcerating or killing them.
Then there's the matter of whether Republican policies, given a free hand to implement them, actually do the things the tweet claims. For instance, if more guns made us safer, wouldn't the US already be the safest country in the world by now? Republicans are opposed to pretty much any reform of the private health care system, which is unique in the world and a long ways from making us the healthiest nation. And we've seen repeatedly that economic growth increases when Democrats have more power, not less. Maybe there's some wiggle room Republicans can claim definitions of "freest" and "strongest," but I can think of lots of ways we are neither. Conservatives tend to view life as a zero-sum game, so they expect their freedom, wealth, etc., to come at someone else's expense. And while you may expect that the superlatives touted in the first line should apply to everyone, conservatives only care for peak values, as their primary concern is social hierarchy.
I also don't get the cancer analogy. Despite my quip above, I don't see fascism as a cancer either. Cancer is a disease that eats you out from the inside. Racism is more like a cancer. Inequality too. Capitalism can be like a cancer if you don't keep it in check. One could say the same thing of bureaucratic government. But isn't fascism an external attack on the body, like bedbugs or bubonic plague? Sure, the left has on occasion tried to lead revolutions against entrenched orders that ruled through violent repression, but self-identified socialists have mostly been mild reformers -- and these days there is hardly other kind. The term simply means that we value an equitable society above the individual pursuit of wealth and power. (Republicans like to condemn the much broader class of all Democrats as socialists, by which time the term has lost all meaning. The term seems to have some cachet given their past success with red-baiting.)
But I suppose there is one reason conservatives may view socialism as cancerous rather than simply an external threat: socialists insist that it is possible to change social and economic relations, and that idea is corrosive to the principle that social hierarchy is natural and necessary to good order. As with religious dogmas, the first instinct is not to reason with them but to stamp them out. Further proof of this is how right-wingers have increasingly attacked reason and science to keep their followers from doubting their orders.
Maggie Astor: [05-31] Trump Policies Sent US Tumbling in a Climate Ranking: As you may recall, The Trump Administration Rolled Back More Than 100 Environmental Rules. The full impact of those changes accrues over much longer timespans, and in many cases may be irreversible. This includes some (but not all) of what amounted to a war against the very idea of climate change, and the science behind it. Trump also sent a powerful message to the rest of the world not to take climate change seriously, so although the US fell more than most nations in this ranking, the effect extended far beyond US boundaries (as should be expected, given that air flow is global). Economics recognizes what are called opportunity costs: losses that are incurred indirectly, when comparing how resources could have been used better than they were. Especially in the climate domain, it is likely that opportunity costs will swamp the actual damage Trump caused (which is itself a huge burden). For a primer on opportunity costs, see John Quiggin's book Economics in Two Lessons: Why Markets Work So Well, and Why They Can Fail So Badly -- the title refers to Henry Hazlitt's famous Economics in One Lesson, the second lesson that Hazlitt missed being the impact of opportunity costs. Speaking of Quiggin, relevant here is his post on Climate change after the pandemic. Also on climate change:
Ross Barkan: [06-01] The War in Ukraine Can Be Over If the US Wants It: It must have seemed deliciously ironic to start this piece with two nonogenarians from opposite ends of the political spectrum agreeing on the most eminently practical path to ending the war: in particular, the need to give Putin a face-saving exit path, by ceding Ukrainian claims to Donbas and Crimea (preferably with some sort of referendum that makes the concessions look like self-determination -- Zelensky and Biden also need a face-saving exit path). Many observers, including Anatol Lieven and Fred Kaplan, have settled on this basic compromise, as I have myself. Barkan's additional point here is also right: US arms and economic support for Ukraine should be tied to a desire and willingness to negotiate an end to the war. "Diplomacy is not appeasement. It is the only way out."
Philip Bump: [05-31] What if -- and bear with me here -- John Durham doesn't have the goods? Bump also wrote [06-01] A brief history of failed efforts to make Trump the Russia probe's victim. The special counsel has been investigating the tip that led the FBI to look at possible collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia about twice as long as Robert Mueller took to investigate Russia's electioneering, the various actual contacts made between Trump's people and various Russians, and the sundry attempts to cover up what did or did not happen, during which time he not only wrote a report but also obtained dozens of indictments and a fair number of convictions (many subsequently pardoned by Trump). Durham has brought one charge against a former Clinton lawyer, Michael Sussmann, who was acquitted last week. Bump may be giving Durham more credit than he deserves, but does a good job of summing up I'd be more tempted to describe as Bill Barr's parting effort to piss on the incoming Biden administration. (One thing Republicans understand is how much fun you can have investigating the opposition, which is also why they've fought efforts to investigate them, from Mueller to the Jan. 6 committee, so doggedly.) Of course, the story doesn't end with Durham's failures. He did what he was supposed to do, which is to generate some flak that will be taken as gospel by whoever still has an axe to grind over "the Russiagate hoax" -- Trump-lovers, sure, but especially Hillary-haters. For example, see Peter Van Buren: [05-30] Hillary Was In on Russiagate. Matt Taibbi probably has a whole file on this theme.
I've been pretty critical of Hillary, but don't have the interest or inclination to be a hater. I don't doubt the fact of Russian interference in the 2016 election. I think it was a dumb move on Putin's part, but he was probably right that Hillary would be more aggressive in sanctioning and marginalizing Russia. (She was, after all, Secretary of State under Obama when US Russia policy started to change.) He was also right that Trump's vanity, bigotry, and corruption could be played, but didn't get much out of it, given that Trump never cared enough to wrestle foreign policy from the neocons who've dominated it the last 20-30 years. (He might have had a better chance had he managed to keep Bannon and Flynn, who were among the Blob's first victims in his advisers.) But he was wrong in thinking nobody would notice or care. When Trump won, Clinton's fan club rushed to distribute blame elsewhere, and Putin was the easiest possible villain. Too easy.
I've resisted the "Russiagate" tide since its inception, not because I thought it was a hoax, but because it fed into two degenerate trends. First, it distracted from looking at other reasons Clinton lost, most importantly the piss-poor record New Democrats -- including Obama, who stocked his administration with so many he might as well have been a charter member -- had accumulated. And second, because it made conflict and possibly war with Russia much more likely (QED Ukraine). Also:
Kate Kelly/David D Kirkpatrick: House Panel Examining Jared Kushner Over Saudi Investment in New Firm: This kind of corruption was what I expected them to start investigating after the 2018 wins, and step up as new stories of payback and payouts emerge. We're talking $2 billion here, you know.
John E King: [05-28] Joan Robinson Changed the Way We Think About Capitalism. Profile of the path-breaking economist (1903-83), who collaborated with Keynes while keeping alive a connection to Marx, argues her "creative and heterodox thinking has much to offer us."
Sarah Jones: [06-04] White Christian Nationalism 'Is a Fundamental Threat to Democracy': Interview with Philip S Gorski and Samuel L Perry, authors of The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy. Chris Hedges covered much of this same ground in his 2007 book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, although as a minister Hedges is more insistent on separating religion from fascism. I'm sympathetic to his position, but not committed: it seems to me that "white Christian nationalists" are fascists first and foremost, their religion not so much telling them what to do as reassuring them that their prejudices are right and just, that they are impervious to critics, who are by definition not just wrong but evil. Jones also wrote: [06-03] Little Martyrs: A nihilistic religion worships the gun.
Júlia Ledur/Kate Rabinowitz: [06-02] There have been over 200 mass shootings so far in 2022. The actual number in the article is 232, which is actually down a bit from 240 at this point in 2021, but way above any previous year (155 in 2020). The killing of four people in Tulsa was the 20th since the much more publicized killing of 19 children an two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. I get the problem, and would like to see something done about it, but I don't see how Biden urges Congress to act on guns in rare prime-time address helps politically. It just reinforces the Democrats want to take your guns away and leave you defenseless as they take over the country and brainwash everyone to adopt their wokeness -- never mind that that's not even remotely in the cards, let alone that it doesn't make any fucking sense. Guns and crime (and make no mistake: guns are a big part of the crime problem) are a problem, but not a top-five, maybe not a top-ten problem (just off the top of my head: inequality, war, climate, political corruption, pollution, racism, personal debt, bad health care, bad education, crumbling infrastructure, rampant fraud and deceit, disinformation (maybe move that one up), worker powerlessness (maybe move that one up, too), the imminent loss of the right to birth control, whatever the term is for the fact that one political party has totally lost its grip on reality. Of course, these problems all intersect, and guns makes many of them worse: the Buffalo shooting was white supremacy, the Tulsa one was about health care, I don't know what Uvalde was about (beyond blood lust; you could say mental illness, but it would be easier to get rid of the guns). More on guns, shootings, etc.:
Alexander Sammon: [06-02] Why Are Police So Bad at Their Jobs? "It's not just Uvalde. Cops nationwide can't stop crimes from happening or solve them once they've occurred." Seems like a good question, although the answer is unlikely to be obvious or simple -- and once that touches on many interests and prejudices. I'm less bothered by "can't stop crimes from happening" -- not a job anyone can reliably do -- than "solve them once they've occurred" (maybe we're too hooked on the brilliant sleuths of tv?). But just for an example, following a near-dozen shootings here in Wichita over Memorial Day weekend, the police chief was arguing for more money to pay more overtime to put more police on the streets. How can that possibly result in less gunplay? Back when a few people started talking about "defund the police," they actually had some serious ideas about employing other people to address a broader number of social problems, instead of dumping all those cases on police to sort out. But few people heard those ideas. The more common reaction was to superfund the police, giving them more tools of war. Uvalde is likely to wind up as a case example of how that kind of thinking fails. [PS: See Alex Pareene: [06-02] What Do Cops Do?] Sammon also wrote: The RNC's Ground Game of Inches: "Inside the secretive, dubious, and extremely offline attempt to convert minorities into Republicans." Once you've decided the key to successful campaigns is trickery, never miss one." Also on the Republican ground game, Charles P Pierce: [06-01] They're Ratf*cking at Every Level. They're Ratf*cking in Every Direction. Also [06-02] Republicans Have Secured Their Gerryanders Through a War of Institutioal Attrition. Also, a reminder of what happens when they cheat their way into power: [06-02] You'll Be Shocked to Learn Trump's Social Security Bigwigs Immiserated Poor and Disabled People.
Jeffrey St Clair: [06-03] Roaming Charges: Tears of Rage, Tears of Grief. Quotes a David Axelrod tweet on how "The inexplicable, heart-wrenching delay in Uvalde underscores the indispensable role of police." St Clair adds: "Every police atrocity -- either by actions (Floyd, Taylor, Brown), negligence or incompetence -- will inevitably be used as a justification for more police power." He also quotes Brendan Behan: "I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse."
Emily Stewart: [06-02] Might I suggest not listening to famous people about money? Why, indeed, listen to celebrities about anything they're obviously being paid to endorse?
David Wight: [05-31] How the Nixon Doctrine blew up the Persian Gulf, undermined US security: He's specifically referring to the bit where Nixon and Kissinger decided to recruit regional powers with the latest US weapons, thinking they might provide a proxy barrier against the Soviet Union after the American fiasco in Vietnam. Two main recruits were Iran (still under the once-pliant but then megalomaniacal Shah) and Saudi Arabia (just starting its campaign to spread Wahhabism to would-be Jihadis). What could go wrong? What didn't? Both undertook their own agendas, which after the revolution in 1979 clashed. Iran has ever since been regarded as a hopeless enemy, although the Saudis and their followers have actually done more material damage to the US. The obvious lesson is that the US always thinks it can control its proxies, but never can. The most wayward offender is Israel, which not only enjoys carte blanche from America, but actively undermines the American political sphere.