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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:
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.
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.