Sunday, November 20, 2022


Speaking of Which

Spent most of last week working on Jazz Critics Poll, enough so that I would have skipped this week had it not been for several fairly huge stories: the WWIII scare in Poland, the House falling into a Republican cesspit, Trump's announcement that he'll be glad to take your money in exchange for pretending to make yet another run for President (by the way, it's his 5th run, not his 3rd), and the death of Staughton Lynd. Other things popped up almost randomly, but I skipped over much more than I flagged. While I continue to be interested in Democratic strategy, I did skip over the House leadership turnover. In particular, I don't care whether Nancy Pelosi was a political mastermind (the word "consequential" is getting a lot of play) or a neoliberal hack who repeatedly screwed us over.

Hopefully next week will be boring, with its holidays and such, and I'll be able to skip it.


Margaret Carlson: [11-17] Hey, Democrats. Don't Give Up On Ohio. I'd stress that Democrats shouldn't give up on anywhere, but losing in Ohio especially hurts, because the state used to be competitive, and I don't understand why Democrats haven't done better, especially since it was the swing state in the 2004 presidential election (and they put those funny voting machines in). Sure, the steel-and-rubber belt has been in decline (for which Democrats deserve some but far from all of the blame), and southeast Ohio closely resembles West Virginia (where Democrats have been hit hardest, for reasons not entirely clear to me). On the other hand, Columbus and Cincinnati have become much more Democratic. Whether Tim Ryan was a good or bad candidate is open for argument -- my wife dislikes him intensely, but even with his retrograde politics (like his opposition to student loan forgiveness), he missed a golden opportunity in running against JD Vance, an effete phony with his Ivy League airs, his hedge fund business, and a billionaire pulling his strings. Beyond Ohio (and West Virginia), Iowa is another state the Republicans have gamed so successfully I'm inclined to suspect that something crooked is going on.

Howard Dean, who coined the phrase "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party," became chair of the DNC in 2006, and immediately looked beyond his own wing to support Democrats running in all 50 states. The 2006 and 2008 elections, with Dean at the helm, were the most successful for the Party since the 1970s. After Obama won, Dean was sent packing, and Democrats had a disastrous election in 2010, much like they did in 1994 when Clinton turned the Partly leadership into his own private vassal state. Both Clinton and Obama managed to get reŽlected, but the second time without any appreciable coattails, so they could pursue their pro-business strategies without concern for their traditional party bases. That was a fine strategy for their own fundraising, but left the base with bitter resentments -- some peeled off to try their luck with Trump (bad luck, of course), and many more found a way back through Bernie Sanders.

Rachel M Cohen: [11-17] Anti-abortion groups don't think they lost the midterms: Well, by delivering the House to the Republicans, they'll stave off any attempt by Democrats to add abortion rights to federal law. That will in turn allow Republican states and their court allies to continue running amuck, sowing chaos and terror. I'm not sure that's much of a long-term strategy, but they did dodge a serious loss, which is about the best they could hope for given how unpopular their stand is.

Conor Echols: [11-18] Diplomacy Watch: Grain deal extended as Putin signals interest in peace talks. In a week when hawks got excited by an opportunity to start WWIII, some news that suggests sanity may still be possible. Especially read the following article by Echols:

  • Connor Echols: [11-16] How a lightly-source AP story almost set off World War III: "A deadly explosion in Poland kicked off hours of near-gleeful speculation about whether NATO would join the fight against Russia." Probably more accurate to say that NATO has already joined the fight -- they are, after all, providing massive amounts of arms and other support to Ukrainians directly fighting Russian invaders -- so the question was less whether a couple errant missiles was a cassus belli (a cause that is never real unless one is already itching for war -- otherwise the US would have declared war against Israel after the 1967 Liberty sinking, a much more flagrant attack than the ones cited by US warmongers in 1898, 1917, and 1964, although still less than 1941) than a time for reflection about how far NATO wants to escalate the existing war, and what the risks of continuing it may be.

  • Connor Echols: [11-15] Biden wants $37B more for Ukraine, setting up lame-duck fight. I seriously doubt Republicans will balk on more war subsidies, but note Dave DeCamp: [11-17] House Republicans Introduce Resolution to Audit Ukraine Aid. The Republicans listed are from the Trumpian fringe, but when this kind of money's available, it's almost inevitable that some will get lost or stolen, and that could be weaponized against Biden.

  • Patrick Cockburn: [11-18] Why a Diplomatic Solution to the Ukraine War is Getting More and More Elusive.

  • Jen Kirby: [11-18] Can Ukraine's infrastructure survive the winter?

  • Branko Marcetic: [11-18] NATO expansion and the origins of Russia's invasion of Ukraine: This is essential background history, an important part of the context necessary to make any sense out of Putin's invasion. (Although I still prefer my 23 Theses, which goes deeper and broader.)

    As far as I'm concerned, the best way to understand NATO is as follows: European nations could surrender military autonomy to the US in exchange for a guarantee they probably didn't need (the UK and France were allowed to rebuild to keep their colonies, but that didn't work out very well); the US accepted effective control over Europe's armed forces to keep them from doing anything stupid (although that didn't always work out, e.g., between Greece and Turkey, and didn't keep the US from doing stupid things).

    During the Cold War era, several countries opted for neutrality and fared as well or better than NATO members (e.g., Austria, Finland). After the Cold War, the more effective guarantor of peace was the expansion of the EU, but NATO persisted as a captive market for US arms manufacturers, who lobbied to expand it.

    Part of the NATO sales pitch was an effort to build up Russia as an enemy threat, which in turn made NATO a threat to Russian economic interests, as well as to Russian notions of sovereignty -- Russia was never going to turn its military over to US command -- and prestige. This was exacerbated by the US and its allies imposing sanctions on Russia, and by efforts to flip traditional Russian allies (like Ukraine and Georgia).

    In all this, both sides can be faulted for arrogance, ignorance, and reckless disregard for people caught in the middle. Still, explaining how this war came about doesn't excuse it. Rather, it helps deliver a severe indictment of each side, not that either's mistakes in any way justify the other's.

  • Rajan Menon/Dan DePetris: [11-17] Deep breaths: Article 5 will never be a flip switch for war: "After yesterday's NATO crisis that wasn't, it's clear we need to get a grip on what the alliance's obligations are -- and what they aren't."

  • Ted Snider: [11-15] Is Ukraine dropping talk of an accelerated NATO bid? "Zelensky just issue a '10 point plan for peace' with the Russians at the G20. But one thing was missing from the conversation." Some time before the invasion, I posed the question as: will Ukraine be more secure as a member of NATO (given that NATO is by definition anti-Russia) or as a non-member? The point was moot at the time, because NATO would never agree to accept a member which would immediately engage the alliance in a pre-existing war. And it's probably moot now, because Ukraine has the advantages of NATO membership -- massive arms and political support and more -- without having to give up autonomy. As Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov put it: "We are trying to be like Israel -- more independent during the next years."

Dexter Filkins: [11-14] A dangerous game over Taiwan. Better for background than for strategic thinking, but then I doubt there is any good strategic thinking on the subject. E.g.: "Taiwan's defeat would dramatically weaken America's position in the Pacific, where US naval ships guard some of the world's busiest sea lanes." Guard them from what, pray tell? Most of the shipping in the area is to and from China. What I think should be obvious is that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be much more difficult to pull off than Russia's invasion of Ukraine, even if the US military remains disengaged, and more prone to catastrophic escalation. But China has never risked that kind of confrontation, and Taiwan is unlikely to try to provoke it. I'm not so sure about the China-haters in the US.

Also on China:

Samuel Gardner-Bird: [11-15] The unipolar moment is over. When will the US get it? "These former Global South leaders don't mince words when it comes to America's diminishing leadership and the 'rules base order.'" Unfortunate, this was just a Quincy Institute colloquium, but we've heard grumblings like this in more formal forums, like last week's COP27, and the Doha round of world trade talks.

Anand Giridharadas: [11-19] This Week, Billionaires Made a Strong Case for Abolishing Themselves. Starts with the obvious low-hanging fruit: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, the already-abolished crypto king Sam Bankman-Fried, and Donald Trump (who also isn't much of a billionaire). It shouldn't be hard to find similar stories among the less storied. Much harder to find exceptions (and no, I wouldn't give George Soros an automatic bye). Giridharadas has a new book, The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy. For a review, see:

Margaret Hartmann: [11-16] 7 Ways Trump's 2024 Announcement Was Totally Sad! "There was no way Trump's 2024 campaign announcement on Tuesday night was going to beat 2015's iconic, racist spectacle, but the event failed to meet even significantly lowered expectations." First thing I noticed was that there was no escalator in Mar-A-Lago. Trump's entrance was shrouded by a crowd, so you could barely see him until he stepped up on the stage. Then he went into his bored teleprompted voice, with his laundry list of absurd claims about how America was perfect back when he was President. Not quite how I remember it. I tuned out after a few minutes of that, but here's Hartman's list:

  1. Multiple Trump family members skipped the event. [Most strategically Ivanka, who issued a press release saying she wouldn't be part of the 2024 campaign.]
  2. Cable news networks didn't carry the whole speech. [Even Fox cut away.]
  3. The pump-up music was from Les Mis. [As opposed to "Rockin' in the Free World" in 2016.]
  4. He made a lot of confusing flubs.
  5. Security wouldn't let people leave.
  6. Former Trump officials bashed him on-air. [The most carefully crafted line was "I think he's the only Republican who could lose."]
  7. The New York Post's coverage was savage.

More on Trump:

  • Jonathan Chait: [11-19] Trump Says He's 'Not Going to Partake' in Being Charged by Special Counsel: But "that is not how our legal system works."

  • George T Conway III: [11-15] Trump is out for vengeance -- and to protect himself from prosecution.

  • Shirin Ghaffary: [11-19] Elon Musk just let Trump back on Twitter. Sounds like a desperate ploy to gin up some traffic, but if Trump takes the bait, it will also be an easy way to kill Trump's competing network. Ghaffary also wrote: A comprehensive guide to how Elon Musk is changing Twitter.

  • Briahna Joy Gray: [11-18] Don't Write Him Off Yet. I think he's probably toast, but that's mostly because he's stuck in a rut moaning about how everyone is picking on him, while pretending everything he did as president was perfect -- when most of what he did was rote Republicanism, liberally seasoned with his trademark vanities and vulgarities (which his people love and others hate). Still, it's not inconceivable he could turn it around, but only if he's willing to step outside the system, admit some failures (while blaming them on other Republicans), and make the case that if you give him the chance again, he'll finally deliver on what he intended to do in his first campaign (before Pence, Christie, McConnell, Ryan, etc., buggered it all up). Sure, I don't think he's smart enough to do that, and he still has a massive credibility problem, and he's no longer someone people are willing to take a chance on just because they hate his opponent even more. But when he starts debating primary Republicans, they're going to give him a lot of ammunition to use, and he at least used to have an instinct for that. And by the way, no need to waste energy rooting for or against him, because every other Republican is as bad.

  • Eric Lipton/Maggie Haberman: [10-20] Trump Family's Newest Partners: Middle Eastern Governments: "The government of Oman is a partner in a real estate deal signed last week by the former president, intensifying questions about a potential conflict as he seeks the White House again."

  • Ruth Marcus: [11-19] Garland's appointment of a special counsel was cautious. But also bold.

  • Andrew Prokop: [11-18] Why special counsel Jack Smith might be different from Robert Mueller: I don't have any particular insight here, but it seems to me that the criminal investigations into Trump should be handled by someone with a degree of political independence. Interesting that Smith has experience at the Hague prosecuting war crimes, but that doesn't seem to be in his remit here.

  • Dana Milbank: [11-18] As Republicans take the House, the crazies take the wheel. For a bunch of pundits, Marjorie Taylor Greene has already become the face of the Republican House. I doubt that's realistic, but she certainly isn't shying away from the spotlight. For Milbank's predictable pan of the Trump announcement, see: [11-15] At Trump's angry announcement, the magic is gone. He even winds up quoting Marx about history repeating itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce."

William Hartung: [11-17] Corporate Weapons Heaven Is a Hell on Earth. I've often thought that the federal government should take over the arms industries, less for efficiency than to factor out the profit motive. Back in WWII, it made sense to use existing companies to ramp up production, and with cost-plus-10% contracts, everyone wanted to get in on the act. The result was the famous "arsenal of democracy," which brought the wars to a successful conclusion in remarkable time.

After the war, most companies converted back to consumer products, but a few hoped to keep on the gravy train, and they started lobbying efforts to spread fear and promote massive spending on "defense" -- so much so that by 1960, Eisenhower warned that the "military-industrial complex" was becoming an autonomous force in American politics. Since then, the US has repeatedly been thrown into wars, each one adding to bottom line of the arms merchants. But as importantly, the arms merchants have taken over US foreign policy, creating a worldwide market for US arms, fueling other wars, including ones where it's impossible to discern real American interests.

It seems crass to suggest that the only reason for the expansion of NATO was to expand the US arms market to Eastern Europe, but it's hard to explain otherwise. It even seems doubtful that the current war in Ukraine would have erupted had it not been for the insult and injury caused by NATO expansion: insult because expansion depended on playing up the threat posed by Russia, and injury because NATO took business away from Russia, especially their own lucrative arms industry.

Also at the invaluable TomDispatch:

  • Tom Engelhardt: [11-20] Future Heat Wave? "When Will Climate Change Become the Crucial Issue in American Elections?" The glib answer is "too late to make any difference." Americans used to pride themselves for pragmatism, including a willingness to put pre-conceived ideas aside and settle on whatever works (Franklin Roosevelt is the best political example, although George Washington and Abraham Lincoln also fit). But as hard as it is to discard dysfunctional ideas, it's even harder to overcome politically influential interest groups. The result is that Americans regularly get blindsided by reality, and forced to learn things the hard way. Climate is likely to be worse than most, partly because it's a derivative as opposed to an immediate fact, but also because it's going to get worse elsewhere before it gets that bad here. (Micronesian islanders have been terrified for years now, and South Asians are getting there fast.) What's perhaps hardest to anticipate is how Americans will react as the world blames them for their hardships. (We got a hint of this at COP27.)

  • Andrew Bacevich: [11-15] The Unasked Questions of 2022: Scattered ruminations on the UK and US political systems, finding both misguided, but at least credits the Brits with their swift dispatch of Elizabeth Truss: "when faced with a crisis of their politics, their politicians dealt with it expeditiously, even ruthlessly." By contrast, the American system couldn't rid itself of the far more clueless and malign Donald Trump until his fixed four-year term expired. But the American malaise runs far deeper than Trump's Ubu Roi act. Bacevich, who prides himself on his conservatism, offers a useful (but far from complete) bullet list:

    • the pervasive dysfunction that grips Congress;
    • the seemingly terminal irresponsibility to which the Republican Party has succumbed;
    • the corrupting influence of money on politics, national and local;
    • a waning public confidence in the impartiality of the courts;
    • a "way of life" centered on rampant consumption with lip service paid to the rapid environmental deterioration of our world;
    • freedom defined as radical autonomy, shorn of any collective obligation;
    • grotesque economic inequality of a sort not seen since the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century;
    • increasing levels of violence stoked by resentments related to race and class;
    • the invasively corrosive, ever-expanding impact of social media;
    • deep-seated disputes centering on the role of religion in American life;
    • a mindless penchant for military activism sustained by willful amnesia about war's actual costs and consequences;
    • a refusal to acknowledge that the era of American global primacy is ending;
    • and last (but by no means least), a loss of faith in the Constitution as the essential cornerstone of our political order.
  • Bacevich has a new book of old (2016-21) essays, On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century. No doubt I've read most of them when they came out. It is far easier to show how America's worldview is myopic and dysfunctional than it is to actually convince people to open their eyes and see the world as it really is. Democrats and Republicans all have deep but different delusions about American power -- I'd say at least two sets per party -- and they have to be addressed each in turn. For Bacevich, it often suffices to show that the policies rooted in those myths do not work, and often cause even more harm, so the sane (conservative) response is to back away, to learn to exercise more restraint. However, there's another approach that may help Democrats break their kneejerk embrace of omnipotent intervention, and that's to not just do less harm but to do some good.

  • Rajan Menon: [11-13] Fighting a War on the Wrong Planet: "What climate change should have taught us." Includes a section on the Ukraine War, which strikes me as far from complete, but underscores that the climate, therefore the rest of the world, has a stake in ending the war. Another section asks "What International Community?" As long as Great Power politics dominates, there can be no community.

Sabrina Malhi: [11-20] RSV, covid and flu push hospitals to the brink -- and it may get worse.

Branko Marcetic: [11-18] The Left Has a Lot to Celebrate After the Surprising Midterm Results: Unfortunately, it doesn't take a lot to justify an article like this.

Matt McManus: [11-19] Why Conservative Intellectuals Are Anti-Intellectual: "The heart of the problem for conservatives is this: they fear too much intellectualism will lead people to question authority and hierarchy." Probably shouldn't waste too much time on this subject, but I hadn't noted before one quote, where J.S. Mill called conservatives the "stupid party."

Ian Millhiser: [11-19] The Federalist Society controls the federal judiciary, so why can't they stop whining?

Nicole Narea: [11-17] The GOP captures the House -- and is ready for revenge. Current numbers (Friday evening) are 218 R to 212 D, with 5 seats undecided (AK, 3 in CA, and 1 in CO, with R's currently leading in 3). But of course they're out for revenge. The only thing that motivates Republicans is quest for power, and the thing they like best about being in power is flouting it, especially to punish their enemies. So yeah, expect a non-stop shit-show from House Republicans. That should provide Democrats with plenty of talking points about how Republicans can't be trusted with any power in government. For more on Republicans, especially in the House:

David Price: [11-18] The Great COIN Con: Anthropologists' Lessons Learned After Two Decades of America's Failed Counterinsurgency Operations in Afghanistan.

Clay Risen: [11-18] Staughton Lynd, Historian and Activist Turned Labor Lawyer, Dies at 92. Born 1929, his parents were famous sociologists, and he took their politics further left. He wrote a short book in 1968 called Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism, which I read and loved enough I wrote a letter objecting to Eugene Genovese's savage pan of the book. Genovese replied and suggested I read some of his work. I did, which steered me toward Marxism. Eventually, I conceded Genovese's points, but always remained sympathetic to Lynd -- which he rewarded with a long lifetime of political activism, eventually leaving academia for a second career as a labor organizer and lawyer.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-18] Roaming Charges: The Upside-Down World. As usual, lots of stuff here. One thing I learned about was "Natrium nuclear reactors." I had never heard of "natrium" before, but it turns out it's just a registered brand name for a particular company products, more generically known as sodium-cooled fast reactors (which I had heard of -- they go some way toward solving the worst risks of conventional reactors, but I'm not sure they go far enough). One item here worth quoting at length: a list of things that have already happened in the Ukraine War that weren't anticipated by either side:

We've seen several of these unanticipated turning points already in Ukraine: the thwarted run on Kyiv, the butchery at Bucca, the annexation of the four oblasts, the sabotage of the Crimean bridge and Nordstream pipelines, Putin's nuclear threats, Zelensky's belligerence, the resistance to Putin's draft orders, the retreats from Kharkiv and Kherson, the attacks on Ukrainian civilian power plants, which have left upwards of 10 million people without electricity as winter sets in. This week we narrowly avoided another, when a grain facility in eastern Poland was struck by an errant Ukrainian missile, killing two people and threatening to detonate a chain of events that would have dangerously escalated the war, putting NATO on a direct nuclear collision course with Russia.

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