An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
My Other Websites
Sunday, March 5, 2023
Speaking of Which
I made some comments about a couple of these pieces back in Monday's Music Week, so I'm revisiting them below (Linker on DeSantis, Babbage on China, neither piece recommended but they expose thinking that needs to be shot down. One piece I do recommend you check out is Spencer Ackerman's.
So I got an early start, but still found myself running out of time and patience. Plus ça change, plus c'est le même chose.
Top story threads:
CPAC: Initials stand for Conservative Political Action Conference, which used to be an annual meeting of the luminaries of the political right, but is increasingly seen as a circus side show -- a transformation which suits Trump fine. But also note that the Koch network's Club for Growth is holding their own confab at the same time, and is easily the bigger draw for Republicans looking for big donor money.
DeSantis, Trump, etc.: Trump went to CPAC, so his speech there tends to land above, while his general inanity (much in evidence in the speech) belongs here.
Inflation: Fed chairman Jerome Powell may or may not be looking at the mixed bag of inflation stats, but seeing employment remain robust still believes we haven't suffered enough.
Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu has presided over right-wing governments in the late 1990s and for most of the last 15 years, but we need a new term for this one, so how about ultra-right? (After the peculiarly Israeli ultra-orthodox, who provide much of the ultra-right's support.) Back during the height of the Sharon anti-intifada, someone asked me what I thought the likelihood of Israel committing genocide was. I thought chances were very small then, but they've obviously increased considerably in the last 20 years (let's say 2% then, more like 20% now, but those are the sort of numbers I'd assign to Germany in 1923 and 1932; and the word "genocide" is a very high bar: the atrocities of the last few weeks are roughly comparable to the first wave of Nazi assaults on Jews, so admitting that it's not genocide yet in no way excuses what's happening).
Of course, whatever Israel does will wind up being different from what Nazi Germany did, or from any of the other well known cases. It's become commonplace to liken Israel's caste system to Apartheid, but one difference stands out: both regimes brutally suppresses any sign of political dissent, but South Africa (like the "Jim Crow" South) still depended on cheap black labor, so there was an economic brake that kept state-sanctioned violence from escalating to genocide. On the other hand, Israel's doctrine of "Hebrew Labor" (which dates back to Ben Gurion in the 1930s) makes Palestinian labor dispensible. For an increasing number of Israelis, the final solution is to drive all Palestinians into exile (as many were in 1947-49, in 1967, and in smaller numbers ever since). A major focus of the new ultra-right government is to strip Israeli Arabs of their citizenship rights and force them into exile, so the mechanisms for massive "ethnic cleansing" are quickly being put into place.
The fundamental logic of expulsion and/or extermination has been baked into Zionism from the beginning, but it's always been tempered by the understanding that Israel is a small country, dependent on the US and Europe for good will and protection, so Israelis took pains to cushion and minimize their frequent atrocities and affronts to public opinion. However, a series of US administrations (you can start with Clinton, who was chummy with the Labor governments, or Bush, who gave it all up to Sharon) have abdicated any possible oversight role, leaving Israelis free to indulge their worst impulses. Ironically, Biden seems even more completely under Israel's thumb than Trump, even as many Democrats are horrified by the ultra-right regime. (Republicans were quicker to recognize Israel as racist, militarist, and fanatically fundamentalist, because those are traits they want America to embrace.)
Of course, the real problem with genocide as a final solution in Israel isn't that the world will object and recognize Israel as a pariah state (although there's a movement to do that), or that the Israelis themselves will develop a conscience (although some have), but that there are just too damn many Palestinians. That's always been the problem. Settler colonies have succeeded only in places where the numbers favored them (America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina). They failed where the settlers weren't able to muster majorities (South Africa, Algeria, lots more). Israel has always been the borderline test case, and while sometimes they appear to have won, their refusal to grant Palestinians rights to coinhabit their territory keeps their project in peril. In recent years, Palestinians have put their faith in mobilizing international sentiment to their cause, and as such have avoided returning to the violence of the second intifada. Israel, on the other hand, appears convinced that the best way to sway the world is to provoke an armed uprising. As the final solution approaches, that will surely happen. We should prepare ourselves for that eventuality, and make sure that blame is accorded properly.
Ukraine War: The St Clair piece, above, includes excerpts from the Biden and Putin war anniversary speech, which are highly revelatory.
Spencer Ackerman: [03-05] The Iraq War Unleashed an Age of Grift. We're Still Living in It: "This month marks the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, a giant con that heralded a thousand more." Jim Mattis and Elizabeth Holmes are threads in a broad mosaic:
Ross Babbage: [02-27] A War With China Would Be Unlike Anything Americans Faced Before: Unfortunately, this article doesn't do a very good job of explaining why -- although he has some fanciful ideas of how China might fight, he misses lots of things, including basic strategy. Worse, he insists "building a stronger deterrence by addressing such weaknesses is the best means of averting war." Deterrence is a fine theory if neither side has any desire to fight the other, as was the case in the Cold War, but it's just daring otherwise, and mistake-prone. Israel, for instance, has used its nuclear deterrence as a shield for low-grade offensive operations against Syria and Iran, confident that isolated, infrequent acts of war won't be reciprocated. Deterrence has limited the war in Ukraine, but didn't keep Russia from invading, and won't force it to withdraw. And if deterrence has worked so poorly against Russia, what about a far stronger opponent like China, where the theory cuts both ways? That's unknown, unfathomable territory?
Liza Featherstone: [02-27] Here's Proof That Gas Stoves Are Overrated: "As the end of a study that gave people induction stoves to try, not a single person wanted their gas stove back." I grew up with a gas stove, but have lived in several places with electrics, and managed to cook some pretty good dinners on the latter -- including Chinese, which really demands the ability to raise and lower the heat dramatically (something electrics cannot do, although induction electrics are better in that regard). So when we remodeled the kitchen in 2008, I shopped around seriously. At the time there was a trend in high-end stoves for gas burners on top and an electric oven -- they were called "dual-fuel ranges." I also read a bit about induction ranges, which had just came out, but I gave them little consideration, partly because I understood that I'd have to buy new cookware (and I was very happy with what I had). So I wound up spending $5,000 on a 36-inch, 6-burner Capital, plus a couple thousand more on a range hood and a second oven (an LG electric -- I was originally considering a warming oven, but got a good deal on a full-size wall unit).
It turns out that I mostly use the electric oven, although the gas is good for large roasts, and the broiler is better. No complaints about the gas range top, other than that it takes a fair amount of work to keep it clean. If there's an air pollution problem, that's never been evident -- although since this controversy flared up, I'm more conscientious about running the hood fan. Since then, I've read good things about induction stoves, and can well see this article's claims being true. If I was redoing the kitchen now, I may wind up making the same choices, but I'd certainly consider induction. (That clean glass top is attractive.) If I were building new houses or apartments, I probably would go electric. But it's no big deal being a bit out of step with the world. Some years back, there was a big push to get people to switch from incandescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs, and there was an idiot backlash against the change. Still, it wasn't long before LED bulbs made compact fluorescents obsolete, and there was hardly any controversy about that. As it happens, we have all three types around the house. The world may change fast, but most of us tend to lag behind.
Kurt Hackbarth: [03-04] No, AMLO Is Not Undermining Mexican Democracy. The last couple weeks have seen a sudden propaganda tirade to scratch Mexico off the list of the world's democracies. Similar broadsides have occurred whenever America's self-appointed guardians of democracy have taken offense at a world leader who has proven insufficiently pliable for global business interests. So it's not easy to get some straight reporting on the subject. For another case where the propaganda got way ahead of the horse:
Richard Heinberg: [03-03] Why News of Population Decline and Economic Slowdown Isn't Necessarily a Bad Thing. Long ago, I read Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, and it's had a long impact on my thinking, even as I came to realize that much of his argument was wrong. The thing he's most often faulted for is not realizing that technology (especially the "green revolution") would create resources that could support much more population. But a bigger error was in his assumption that resource usage would scale with population increase, or conversely that people would all get relatively equal shares of resources. Even then it should have been obvious that resource distribution was extremely inequal, so he was depending on a liberal political reform that never happened. But what brought this home to me was a chart that showed China's population approaching a plateau, while Chinese use of materials and energy continued a steep rise. What happened was that Chinese got richer, and that effect was all the more dramatic because they didn't have all those extra people to support. The most interesting part of this piece is that virtually every nation with a declining population "is seeing stable or rising wages and historic lows in unemployment." Brad DeLong's Slouching Towards Utopia makes this same point, even more globally. Heinberg sees this as a shift to a post-growth economy, and wonders whether China will handle it better than the rest of us.
Jake Johnson: [03-02] 'Time to End the Greed': Sanders Vows Bill to Cap Price of Insulin at $20 Per Vial: After having raised insulin prices "up by over 1000% since 1996," Eli Lilly got a lot of good press last week for pledging to "cut the list prices of its most commonly used insulin products by 70%." This explains why, and why that isn't enough.
Dylan Matthews: [03-01] Joe Biden is pretty good at being president. He should run again. Well, he's been better than I expected (although I'm not very happy with his foreign policy, where he seems to have married the blob, while gently applying the brakes against its worst excesses). He's supported generally progressive legislation. He's avoided appointing some of the Party's worst neoliberal hacks (especially economists who did so much damage to Obama's administration). Still, it doesn't automatically follow that he should run for a second term. Age is the obvious problem: he was gaffe-prone in his 30s, but past 80 every slip up is going to pounced on as a sign of dementia. The Democratic Party could use a leader who can articulate a vision, and he's not really up to that. On the other hand, the question isn't whether he can hang on for another 4-5 years -- that's what the VP and cabinet are for.
The real question is: can he win in 2024? I'm not particularly worried about the election itself -- any Republican will be a fat target that any Democrat should be able to overcome. The real problem is that an open primary will pit the progressives against the neoliberals, and the latter (e.g., Mike Bloomberg and whoever he tabs as his billion-dollar proxy) hate the left even more than they fear Republicans. Biden bridges that gap better than I imagined he could. Still, someone needs to solve his crisis-prone foreign policy. Democrats will be easily preferable on the economy, on rights, on freedom, but they can't afford to be viewed as the globalist war party. Biden needs to settle the Ukraine War, and to reach some accommodation with China. And fixing easily solvable standoffs with North Korea and Iran would be a plus. Some balance on Israel is probably too much to ask for, especially as the current regime seems to be intent on provoking a third intifada, confident that will provide a pretext for massive collective punishment.
Kim Phillips-Fein: [02-27] The Betrayal of Adam Smith: "How conservatives made him their icon and distorted his ideas." Review of Glory M Liu: Adam Smith's America: How a Scottish Philosopher Became an Icon of American Capitalism.
Brittany Shammas/Maham Javaid: [03-05] Another Norfolk Southern train details in Ohio.
Maxwell Strachan: [02-21] Companies Can't Ask You to Shut Up to Receive Severance, NLRB Rules: This is good news, but you have to wonder that companies ever thought they had the authority to enforce it. If "freedom of speech" is to mean anything, it has to cover the right to dis a company that did you wrong.