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).


  • 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."

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