Sunday, October 16, 2022

Speaking of Which

Should be a short week for me. I didn't get started on this until Sunday around noon. Just figured I'd do the usual on Ukraine, and probably had to mention the January 6 committee hearing (which for once I actually saw some of, plus getting the late-night recaps).

Still avoiding election/campaign pieces. You shouldn't need my reporting to know that if you want to preserve any semblance of fairness, decency, progress, and prosperity in America you have to keep Republicans from power, which means you have to vote Democrats in. I restrained myself from including "peace" in that list, because this hasn't been a good week for extolling Democratic yearnings for peace. But I have much more hope for peace under Democrats than I do with Republicans, not just because the worst warmongers (a list that starts with Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton) are Republicans, but because contempt for justice and making a fetish of wealth and power are strategies that beg for violent resistance.

I will note that I'm getting annoyed at the late-night bashing of Herschel Walker, which has become so severe it risks raising a sympathy backlash. The subtext may well be that Republicans have no personal standards for candidates, given that all Republicans are expected to follow the same set of marching orders, a bill that any Republican can fill. But Walker is hardly the only example they can find to pick on, and it's starting to look bad. Meanwhile, Rafael Warnock is a world-class candidate, and nobody notices him. Kind of like the 2016 presidential race. (Not that I'm a Hillary Clinton fan, but jeez, look at what she was running against, and how little it mattered to 98% of Republicans.)

Connor Echols: [10-14] Diplomacy Watch: Gulf states join Turkey in push for Ukraine peace talks: Again, this is the only Ukraine War story that really matters: the war can only end in some sort of agreement, and its indefinite continuation spells disaster for all sides and interested parties, and hardships for everyone else.

More on Ukraine and Russia:

  • Kyle Anzalone: [10-14] NATO Set to Kick Off Nuclear War Games on Monday: This seems really stupid, as evidenced by Jens Stoltenberg's belief that "NATO's firm, predictable behavior, our military strength, is the best way to prevent escalation." Isn't the US nuclear threat credible enough already? Why risk it in what is clearly a moment of crisis?

  • Ben Armbruster: [10-10] Former Joint Chiefs chair calls for talks to end Ukraine war.

  • Benjamin H Friedman: [10-14] The dangers of letting blustery rhetoric dictate US policy in Ukraine: "If the Biden team really views the war as a protracted stalemate, as has been reported, why isn't is pushing for a settlement?"

  • Anatol Lieven: [10-11] Is Putin on the way out? No, and it's not helpful to bank on such speculation. I don't doubt that Putin's long-term prospects have dimmed, but it's unusual for warring powers to change leaders, and when they do they're more likely to pick someone more hawkish (like Churchill after Chamberlain, or Nixon after Johnson; I guess Lenin is the exception here). What might help would be to put forth a reasonable compromise deal: in that case, Putin may still refuse, but it might motivate someone else to sideline him (an example here is Eisenhower accepting a Korean War armistice that Truman hadn't). With no election imminent, Putin can only be removed by his Kremlin cronies and/or the military (which after 20+ years is pretty safely in the Putin camp). Even if a replacement emerges from those camps, that's unlikely to change the course of the war. Moreover, demanding Putin's head as a condition for ending the war will force Russia to dig in deeper.

  • Sarang Shidore: [10-13] Global South again shows ambivalence on the Ukraine war: "The UN General Assembly voted to condemn Russia's annexation of four Ukrainian territories on Wednesday. The vote was 143 in favor, five opposed, 35 abstentions and ten absent."

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [10-10] Russia unleashes fury; Zelensky implores West for more help. Last week, I described Russia's missile barrage following the bomb attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge as "pot shots," which I still think is more apt than the quotes here about "a major escalation in the war" or Macron's "profound change." They're simply reminders that Russia has the power to make every inch of Ukraine unsafe, not unlike Israel's periodic shelling of Gaza whenever Palestinians do something that riles them up. And sure, it's a war crime, but what isn't? There's a risk in over-thinking this, as Daniel Drezner does here: [10-15] How Vladimir Putin is thinking about the war. The obvious reply is that Drezner doesn't know.

Kate Aronoff: [10-12] Florida and the Insurance Industry Weren't Built to Withstand a Flooded World.

Michael Bluhm: [10-14] Why OPEC's cuts shouldn't have been a surprise -- and may not hurt as much as you think: Interview with Samantha Gross, from Brookings Institution.

Heather Brandon-Smith: [10-14] The Iraq war authorization turns 20. Given how much Congress likes to tack "sunset clauses" onto bills to force them to be periodically renewed, the absence of an expiration on this blank check for reckless warmaking is scandalous. Still, some hope that Congress might repeal it (20+ years too late). Also see: 20 years after Iraq War vote, Barbara Lee is fighting to end the War on Terror.

Lee Harris: [09-28] Industrial Policy Without Industrial Unions: "Democrats' new industrial manufacturing plan leaves unions behind, fumbling a moment of relative leverage for organized labor." If the point of having an industrial policy is to keep key industries in the country, why not give the workers in those industries the power to defend them? I'd go a step further and give those workers an ownership stake -- and not just in "key" industries (aren't they all worth protecting?).

Drew Harwell: [10-15] Co-founder of Trump's media company details Truth Social's bitter infighting.

Ben Jacobs: [10-14] What the January 6 hearings accomplished: "Further implanting the attack on the Capitol in the public memory might be the committee's most vital function."

Related pieces:

  • Harold Meyerson: [10-13] The Fish Stinks From the Head. We're used to thinking of presidents as creatures endlessly compromised by the limits of their staffs (which were largely picked by other staff, with little more than a nod from the guy in charge), and that's mostly true in the early days, when the job seems so overwhelming. But over time, presidents find they can get the upper hand, and once they realize that, their true natures come out. I don't think Trump was ever fully in charge until he recovered from Covid, which gave him a tremendous ego boost (and probably led to his last-minute spike in an election he should have lost by twice as much). The now-widely-reported stretch from election day through January 6 is the truest of Trump periods -- the one he will start from if given a second term in 2024.

  • Andrew Prokop: [10-13] The January 6 committee's Trump subpoena might not succeed -- but here's what might: Looks to me like the title outran the article, as I don't see any "what might" in the fine print. When I first heard that the Committee would vote at the end of the hearing, I thought they might approve a message to the DOJ that they should indict Trump. So the subpoena vote struck me as anticlimax. Sure, his testimony would be a source of public embarrassment, regardless of whether he takes the 5th amendment, but even if he's caught in numerous lies, that would still make for a difficult prosecution. On the other hand, one thing the Committee has accomplished has been the orderly presentation of evidence. It wouldn't be hard for Trump to turn it into a circus.

  • Jessica Corbett: [10-16] Trump's Truth Social rant called "sharply self-incriminating": Now it's up to DoJ. Well, the first "fruit" of the subpoena is a 14-page screed that starts by reiterating the "big lie," and descends from there.

  • David Badash: [10-14] 'Drivel and pure nonsense': Legal expert mocks Trump's 14-page response to House committee's subpoena.

Andrew Jeong: [10-15] Alaska cancels snow crab season for first time after population collapses.

Stephen Kinzer: [10-12] The most important lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis: "which is that opponents in a game of nuclear chicken should talk and deal, not bluster and threaten." Kinzer makes a point here about the importance of the negotiations being kept secret, which is true to some extent: it kept other parties (like Castro) from mucking up the works, but it was also largely predicated on making Kennedy appear to be the tough guy, while Krushchev looked like the patsy (and paid for it with his career several years later). A secret deal between Biden and Putin would certainly be welcome here (even if it slighted Zelensky), but a public deal that could be viewed as fair to all sides would be better still.

Paul Krugman:

  • [10-11] A Nobel Prize for the Economics of Panic: The winners were Ben Bernanke (who you know as the Fed Chairman during the 2008 panic, but Krugman knew as a colleague at Princeton), Douglas Diamond, and Philip Dybvig. When the prizes were announced, political journos like Matt Taibbi seized on Bernanke as a strangely political pick: not many economists win prizes after global disasters (Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan certainly didn't; I pointed out that the Peace Prize had been won by several with even worse credentials: Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, Barack Obama). Still, I was surprised to find that their pioneering "research on banks and financial crises" largely focused on federal deposit insurance, which was implemented in 1933 (20 years before any of them were born) and instantly found to be smashing success. (Maybe they invented models to explain why?) Granted, deposit insurance was controversial at the time, as some worried that it created a moral hazard which might lead banks to lend carelessly -- as indeed happened with savings & loans in the 1980s, but didn't happen in the better-regulated banking sector, at least until 2008, when Bernanke's alternative plan (bailing out banks) came to the fore.

    Krugman explains much of this, and continues to give Bernanke high praise for his expert handling of the 2008 crisis. I've been less generous, partly because he seemed to have little feel for the human costs of such a recession, even as he moved hell and high water to shelter the banking industry. I thought Obama made a big mistake in nominating him for a second term, instead of picking a Democrat with a greater concern for employment (and for Obama's political fortunes; however, the only Democrat Obama seems to have considered was Larry Summers, so he wouldn't have gained much). Similarly, I think Biden made the same mistake in giving Powell a second term. Nor do I seem to be alone:

    • Robert Kuttner: [10-12] Bernanke's Odd Nobel Prize. "New insights? By 1983, this was standard economic history. So I went back and read the paper, 'Non-Monetary Effects of the Financial Crisis in the Propagation of the Great Depression.' What is striking about the paper is how conventional it is."

    • David Dayen: [10-12] The Selling of Jerome Powell: "Those who favored Powell's renomination to the Federal Reserve insisted that he would never do precisely what he's doing now."

  • [10-11] When Trade Becomes a Weapon. The Biden administration has started to restrict high-tech trade with China, for a mix of good and bad reasons I can't really get into now -- the "bad" has to do with the escalating power-projection rivalry between the world's two largest economic powers, which threatens to backfire spectacularly.

  • [10-14] What's Really Happening to Inflation? I don't know, and after kicking a lot of charts, neither does he: "Basically, simple rules for assessing where inflation is right now are broken." Dean Baker has more on this: [10-15] Inflation: There's Good News Today! (despite admitting up front that "the September CPI was bad news").

Ian Millhiser:

Izzie Ramirez: [10-10] The real source of Puerto Rico's woes: "A broken governance structure, climate disasters, and the legacy of a colonialist past have combined for a perfect storm."

Nikki McCann Ramirez: [10-16] Trump Berates American Jews for Not Having Enough Gratitude Towards Him.

Marcus Stanley: [10-12] Biden's 'schizophrenic' National Security Strategy: "The White House says we need international cooperation, but still wants to decide who's in or out of the global club." The Biden administration just released its "long-awaited" National Security Strategy document, "the first such document since 2017." It represents the desire to reset American foreign policy after the weirdness Trump introduced (talk about "schizophrenic"), but shows that the supposedly more sensible thinkers in power now are still mired in Cold War oppositions between us-and-them and in the hubris of post-Cold War "sole world hyperpower" moment, despite the inestimable decay of American economic and military power, and moral influence, that the last 20+ years has brought. "The NSS at least reflects some awareness of the dangers of global divisions and the need for cooperation. But the challenge of moving from this awareness to a real shift in direction remains."

More reflections on the NSS, and more generally US foreign policy (aside from Ukraine above):

  • Doug Bandow: [10-11] Washington huffs and puffs -- but its adversaries aren't shaking: "North Korea is responding to US demonstrations of strength with their own, and it could get dangerous." There is no clearer demonstration of the futility of provocative "shows of strength" than US-North Korea. US sanctions have succeeded in reducing North Korea's standard of living to about 10% of South Korea's, yet have only strengthened Kim Jong-un's regime. Still, we should know by now that when North Korea tests missiles and nuclear weapons, the thing they're really looking for is recognition and respect, leading to agreements that will end the "state of war" that has persisted since 1953 and allow North Korea to participate in the global economy. On occasion, the US has opened talks, and North Korea has responded by toning down their provocations, but the US had never delivered even what little it has promised. It's stupid to play with nuclear fire when peace costs so little.

  • Connor Echols: [10-12] 'The stakes could not be higher': Top Biden aide says world is at an 'inflection point': "But critics say the White House's new policy document is just a retread of failed liberal internationalism." Quote from Jake Sullivan.

Margaret Sullivan: [10-12] If Trump Runs Again, Do Not Cover Him the Same Way: A Journalist's Manifesto.

I saw this quote from William Shatner (originally in Variety?), and cribbed from a screen grab:

I had thought that going into space would be the ultimate catharsis of that connection I had been looking for between all living things -- that being up there would be the next beautiful step to understanding the harmony of the universe. In the film "Contact," when Jodie Foster's character goes to space and looks out into the heavens, she lets out an astonished whisper, "They should have sent a poet." I had a different experience, because I discovered that the beauty isn't out there, it's down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound.

It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna . . . things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread. My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.

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