Sunday, April 2, 2023

Speaking of Which

I opened this file by linking to Jeffrey St Clair's latest "Roaming Charges" piece (way down below), because any time he writes one of his scattershot columns, I feel duty-bound to link to it. Not that we see eye-to-eye on everything. I could certainly do without the gratuitous sniping at Bernie Sanders (even if he occasionally has a point). But he's never tried to critique both parties from some imaginary point in the middle, so when he does hold Democrats to account, he never tries to blur the distinction by making Republicans seem a bit less evil.

[PS: Although further down he berates Biden as "old, tired, powerless, out of ideas and lacking any genuine outrage," then turns around and says, "One thing you have to admire about Trump is that he didn't give up pursuing his agenda, no matter how debased it was . . . people liked that he was a fighter." That strikes me as unfair to Biden, who evinces far more outrage than I think is politically savvy, and inaccurate on Trump, who never had an agenda to fight for, aside from symbolic gestures like the wall, and whose ineffectiveness had more than a little to do with his lack of compassion or conviction. Anyone who values Trump as a fighter has a fleeting grasp of reality.]

I may be more inclined to pull my punches for the sake of partisan solidarity, but I have to respect his principles, not least because they come with important insights. This week's column starts with one so important it needs to go here, on top, before you get distracted with what's likely to be a veritable tsunami of political bullshit. (I'm writing this on Friday, before collecting the rest, so it'll be easy to check my prediction.) He opens as follows (my bold):

The US is not going to solve its gun violence epidemic until it addresses its war violence epidemic. There's a reason the AK-15 has become the weapon of choice for post-Gulf War shooters. Blame guns if you must, but start with the war culture that has indoctrinated so many people to crave them, not, I suspect for self-protection, but for the projection of power in a society where the individual is left with so little.

For three decades, we have saturated our society with government-sponsored violence, where every type of killing is officially sanctioned, including that of children. We've committed infanticide with impunity from Kandahar to Belgrade. The sniper and the drone have become cultural icons, grotesque symbols of the American imperium.

Predictably, the chickens that have come home to roost haven't only been the relatives of the victims, but also the children of perpetrators, nurtured on fear, bloodshed and high-capacity ammo. They've been reared to see people in uniform -- from Mosul to Memphis -- kill with impunity. The lessons seem to have taken root.

I've said the first sentence before, probably many times. The rest just drives home the point, not that you couldn't add volumes more.

I have no fondness for guns, and wouldn't mind if they were totally banned. (I don't mind people who hunt, as many of my recent ancestors did, but even there I could imagine a program where people rent hunting guns when they obtain their in-season licenses. Among other things, it would match guns to game. I could also see letting people target shoot, but renting the guns there, too. Again, you'd get a better match. And, really, it wouldn't be any more onerous than having to rent shoes at the bowling alley -- I assume they still do that, as it's been a while.) But politically that's not going to happen, at least any time soon, at least as long as many people feel like they need to own guns, and are willing to live with the inevitable costs. What anti-gun people need to do is to shift some mind, to get people to realize that they don't need (and shouldn't want) guns.

A big part of the reason for my indifference or resignation to the dearth of gun control is that I really don't like the instinct that drives so many people to ban anything they don't like. That was the driving ideology behind prohibition, including the war on drugs, and creates bad side-effects as well as not working very well. I suppose there are limits to my preference for never banning anything: we still have bans on fully-automatic machine guns and artillery, and it makes sense to keep tight regulation on toxic chemicals and explosives. And while I'd cut way back on criminal penalties for drugs, I'd like to see enough regulation to keep them from being commercialized.

I have a somewhat similar position on immigration. I think most immigration is driven not by wonderful economic opportunities in America, but by the spread of violence that is largely backed or motivated by America's global projection of power, and by the global financial system that continuously works to extract profit from the rest of the world (often protected by American arms). If you want to limit immigration, the most effective thing would be to reduce the fear and hunger elsewhere that drives people here. (Needless to say, you can substitute Europe for America in the preceding sentences and still make perfect sense. And Europe and America are linked in that way, such that the political/economic powers in each no longer discriminate in favor of own interests.) So my argument to anyone who wants to restrict immigration is to start by reforming the foreign policies that drive people to come here. Oh, and by the way, also climate policies, given that changing climate is likely to be the biggest driver of migration in coming decades.

Of course, I know people (my wife, for one) who want no limits on immigration, as they believe that every person should have the right to live wherever they see fit. I don't have a strong argument against that position, but I can see a sensible one. Borders act as baffles, which aren't impermeable but do so some extent allow nations to work on their own problems independently of other nations and pressures. While America may look like some kind of paradise to outsiders, it isn't. We have a lot of work to do to make it more livable and vital for the people who already live here, and adding more people makes it harder.

Sure, maybe not a lot: I accept that the long-term benefits of adding immigrants are real, that the short-term costs aren't as bad as is commonly assumed (or wouldn't be if we didn't allow them to be exploited so badly), and that the idea that America's culture will be undermined by unassimilable aliens is a fantasy. On the other hand, we're hard pressed now to build the political will to make the changes we so sorely need, and there's little reason to think that higher immigration levels might help. Note that the biggest turn to the left in American history was during the 1930s, when immigration was close to nil. On the other hand, recall that 5 (of 16) Republican presidential candidates in 2016 had at least one foreign-born parent.

What I do see as priorities on immigration are that people who have been here for quite some time need to be accepted and documented, and not be treated as "illegals"; also that migrants who do come to America need to be treated humanely and efficiently, not just for their own sakes but because the way we've been treating them just makes us all that much more barbaric.

Top story threads:

Trump: The former president pulled away from the pack this week, by getting indicted, by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, in a case that involves the famous "hush money" payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, or perhaps more technically the hidden audit trail of the payment, but with the indictment (still sealed) of 30 items, it seems likely that the charges will go further into an extensive pattern of corrupt business practices. You might start by watching Jimmy Kimmel, because, as he insists, Trump's indictment is "historic and it's funny." He only had an hour or two to prepare (poor Seth Myers missed it completely), but he makes some good points. Also, once again, I love it that virtually his whole audience is excited by the news. I'm so used to being in a fringe minority that I find it very heartening to see a crowd of normal people clearly aware of just how horrible Trump has been (and still is).

  • Nicole Narea/Ian Millhiser: [03-31] Your biggest questions about Trump's indictment, answered: "Here's what happens next."

  • Zack Beauchamp: [03-31] The best precedent for Trump's indictment is (gulp) Israel: Sure, no nation has more experience with indicting its political leaders, but Trump hasn't pushed his situation nearly as far as Netanyahu has. To make the two analogous, Trump would have to win in 2024, and make every day January 6 all over again.

  • Igor Derysh: [03-31] Trump reportedly "caught off guard" by 34-count indictment -- melts down all night on Truith Social. My instinct is to be agnostic about indicting Trump (or anyone else, at least anyone I've heard of), not just because "innocent until proven guilty," and not just because I never care much for the details, but also because I don't have much faith that justice works in America. If Trump acted like a normal defendant, which is to say hid behind lawyers who exercised some care not to inflame the situation, that would probably be the end of my interest. After all, why get heavily invested in something (like his impeachments) that isn't likely to pan out. On the other hand, when he squirms like a stuck pig, that's something I can enjoy. Not that I usually go in for Schadenfreude, but regardless of whether he's ultimately a convicted felon, he's clearly a malign political force, and quite simply a bad person. Perhaps the squirming is just the mark of a thin-skinned, narcissistic egomaniac, but it feels like at least a taste of justice.

    By the way, Salon is having a lot of fun consulting various "experts" on whatever it is they know about the Trump indictment. Examples as of [04-02]: Experts: Bragg has "very strong case"; Expert: Indictment won't help Trump; Expert: Charges show Trump not a "king"; Experts rip DeSantis' extradition threat; Haberman: Ex-Trumpers "quietly cheering"; Legal experts: Trump will fight back; Right freaks out over Trump indictment. Also, a while back [02-24] "Threatening a prosecutor is a crime": Experts say Trump's Truth Social post could badly backfire.

  • Chris Hedges: [03-31] Yes, Donald Trump has committed many crimes -- but that's not why he faces prosecution: "Like Richard Nixon, Trump is being punished for his sins against the dominant order, not his most serious ones." Mostly true: if I had to rank his crimes, I'd start elsewhere, but suppressing the Storm Daniels story a week before the 2016 election may have been one that was necessary to secure his win, making the later crimes possible. There's no doubt that the story was juicy enough the media would have gone crazy with it, possibly drowning out the last round of Clinton email hoopla. Sure, most of his supporters would have laughed it off, but he won the electoral college by a very slim margin.

    The part that's untrue is that he is being tried for upsetting "the dominant order." That's an odd, imprecise term, but most of the rich and powerful were perfectly happy with all the perks and favors Trump cut them. Even when they found him embarrassing, they were more worried that he'd get voted out and the gravy train would stop (although, let's be real, most of them know how to extract favors from Democrats as well). While Trump occasionally said things that were off base, he did so little on his own that he never was much of a threat. In particular, his much bruited antiwar sentiments led to ever larger defense budgets and an acceleration of random drone attacks, while he tore up many more treaties than he negotiated. And while it's true that most Democrats came to really despise him, the few cases they brought -- including two politically-doomed impeachments -- were constructed narrowly and solidly based. We haven't seen the Manhattan DA case yet, but given how reluctant Alvin Bragg was to charge Trump, he probably has a solid case.

    Since Hedges mentioned Nixon, let's talk about him for a minute. Maybe I was just at an impressionable age when he became president, but I've always thought he was the most evil politician in American history. He's the only one I've truly hated, and I still blame much of what I deplore most in Reagan, Bush, and even Trump on him. When I was trying to figure out what I thought about capital punishment, he was my test case: if we can't execute Nixon, where's the justice in executing anyone else? It really just reduces to a power dynamic: states kill the people too powerless to stop them, and let the rest go free. I remember thinking about death, and concluding that as long as Nixon goes first, I'm willing to deal with it. Yet basically what happened was that after Nixon resigned, and after Ford pardoned him, he became harmless. He didn't become a hermit. He wrote his self-serving books, and enjoyed the rest of his life in relative comfort, but he never really bothered us after that. So, sure, it wasn't justice that Nixon never had to pay for his crimes. But it was effective, just to keep him away from the levers of power that made his crimes so calamitous.

    Now maybe the same thing could have happened with Trump, but here he is, running for president again, threatening revenge on everyone who slighted him over the years, inspiring and exhorting his coterie of followers to build new crimes on top of his. Never mind remorse, he is utterly without shame or conscience. He still describes himself as "the most innocent man in American history." It is quite possible that had he meekly retired into his mansion, none of the charges -- and now that the ice is broken, I have little doubt that there will be more -- would have been brought. You can object that makes them political, but Trump is the one who made them political: he is the one who made them urgent and necessary. Had he simply retired, he would have been as harmless as Nixon. But by fighting on, several prosecutors decided they had to make clear to the public what kind of man (what kind of criminal) he really is.

    Hedges' other implication: that one shouldn't be prosecuted for a lesser crime once one has committed a greater one, is too ridiculous to address. I rather doubt that's even the rule in divinity school, where Hedges studied, but I'm dead certain that no lawyer in America would try to use that as a defense.

  • Ben Jacobs: [03-31] Trump's indictment has united the Republican Party in apocalyptic rage. Well, they see every rage as apocalyptic.

  • Samaa Khullar: [03-31] Manhattan DA accuses GOP of "unlawful political interference" in Trump case: If you want to talk about "unprecedented," tell me the last time a committee of Congress tried to insert itself into a state or local prosecution, demanding to expose and interrogate a case before it has been tried? I like the British term for this sort of thing: "attempting to pervert the course of justice." Khullar also wrote: [03-31] Fox News stokes fears of political "violence" over Trump indictment.

  • Tori Otten: [03-31] Republicans' Only Defense Against the Trump Indictment: George Soros: Mostly in the context of the "Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney." I shouldn't have to explain the anti-semitic tropes of singling Soros out everywhere. And it's not like left-leaning pundits are going around deriding Republicans as "Koch-backed" or "Adelson-backed" (even though both of those guys, at least before the latter died, held conventions attended by dozens of Republicans hoping to kiss the ring). [OK, full disclosure, back when he was a Congressman, I did refer to "Mike Pompeo (R-Koch)," but that connection was much more direct than Soros ever gets to anyone, and I was contrasting Pompeo to "Todd Tiahrt (R-Boeing)."]

  • Andre Pagliarini: [04-01] What the Right-Wing Freakout Over Trump's "Banana Republic" Indictment Is Really About. Meanwhile, Jair Bolsonaro return to Brazil, and his own possible prosecution for a wide range of crimes.

  • Ramesh Ponnoru: [04-02] Trump's indictment will warp our politics for years to come: I only mention this piece only because it strikes me that Trump's indictment may well be viewed as belonging to the "warp for years to come" that started with Republican attempts to use civil and criminal suits against Clinton in the 1990s. If this seems to be harsher on Trump, it's because he's left so much more evidence to prosecute him with -- and possibly because his "lock her up" campaign slogan amounted to taunting.

  • Andrew Prokop: [03-30] Donald Trump has been indicted. The hush money case against him, explained. The story, updated many times, from a staple post. But until people see the actual indictment, it's hard to speculate on how strong the case is. Prokop also wrote: [04-01] How to tell when an investigation is politicized. His criteria seem to be: how similar is this to the Kenneth Starr prosecution of Clinton? He doesn't really know, but that isn't stopping him from spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). Of course, anything involving Trump is bound to be politicized, as Trump will blame political motives, and likely realizes that his offenses are seen as part of his political persona. This leads to a second question which Prokop doesn't ask: should people with political motives be exempt from prosecution? As someone long identified as a leftist, I can't think of any such precedent. I'm especially annoyed by the line: "if they can go after Trump, they can go after anybody." Where have these people been? They've been going after anybody for well over a century. It's only people like Trump who felt themselves above the law, immune from prosecution.

  • Alex Shephard: [03-30] Did Trump Do Worse Things? Sure. But This Indictment Is a Great Start. Shephard also wrote: [03-31] A Field Guide to the Right's Hysterical and Desperate Response to Trump's Indictment. I always get a kick out of the line (attributed here to Vivek Ramaswamy, but I've probably heard it 20 times so far): "If they can do it to Trump, they can do it to you." Of course, if you committed the same crimes Trump is charged with, they always could have "done it to you" -- and wouldn't have given it a second thought. What's new is that they're even, finally doing it to Trump.

  • Perry Stein/Shayna Jacobs: [03-31] Trump lashes out against New York judge who will hear his criminal case.

  • Asawin Suebsaeng/Adam Rawnsley: [03-29] Trump Asks Advisers for 'Battle Plans' to 'Attack Mexico' if Reelected.

  • Michael Tomasky: [03-31] What Trump and Republicans Don't Understand About the Law.

  • Brett Wilkins: [03-31] 'This P*ssy Grabbed Back': Stormy Daniels Speaks Out After Trump Indictment.

  • Li Zhou: [03-31] The indictment adds to a long list of times Republicans have backed Trump. List is admittedly "non-exhaustive."

  • Inspirational tweet (sure, we're all criminals, which makes it so unfair when any of us get charged):

    Lauren Boebert: If they charge President Trump for his crimes, they could charge any of us for our crimes. The rule of law means nothing to these people.

  • PS: I was later surprised that I didn't come up with anything on Trump's post-indictment fundraising. A quick search revealed:

Other Republicans: DeSantis, McCarthy, and the rest simply couldn't keep up last week.

Israel: If we were keeping something like the "doomsday clock" on the question of when does Israel turn genocidal, I wouldn't put it a few minutes before midnight (like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists does), but this week it definitely moved past noon.

Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc: A couple late items on the 20th anniversary of the Bush invasion of Iraq, but also a sudden rash of articles about the region (mostly about blowing it up).

Ukraine War: Both sides continue to publicly build up their cases that they cannot be defeated, and that they can continue to fight indefinitely. We're supposed to be impressed by that?

  • Blaise Malley: [03-31] Diplomacy Watch: Privately, experts ask White House 'what's the longer-term gameplan?'

  • David Atkins: [03-29] Trump, DeSantis Say They Just Want Peace in Ukraine. Don't Fall for It. I started to write something about this piece, then tore it up, because it's too easy to get sucked into a rathole about the insincerity of "fascists for peace." But I came back to it, because I hate the idea of attacking anyone for "just wanting peace," even characters as execrable as the headline. I also hate the practice of dredging up the reluctance of many Americans to get involved in WWII, even if Charles Lindbergh and "the original 'America First' crowd" were Nazi symps (except to point out that Trump's father attended a notorious 1939 pro-Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden). Having read a lot of history on the subject, I'm probably more attuned to incipient fascism than most, but Nazi/Fascist charges only obscure the causes and stakes of the Ukraine war (as, for that matter, do high-minded paeans to democracy), and act mostly as pro-war recruiting signals. (For example, this page provides links to two 2014 pieces by Ed Kilgore: Russia as the New Fascist Threat, and Ukraine and the Sudeten Analogy. Kilgore, of course, is one of those liberals whose neverending "search for monsters to destroy" led him to support the Bush War in Iraq.)

    I also object to the assumption that the real (or only) reason Trump, DeSantis, and other Republicans have for opposing US support for Ukraine -- if that's what they're doing; describing Ukraine as "a regional conflict" doesn't reflect the official line but isn't all that inaccurate -- is that they are Putin fans/fools. There is a long and honorable tradition in American politics, going back to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and articulated most famously by John Quincy Adams, of military entanglements around the world. This tradition was unfairly lampooned as "isolationism" during the intoxication of WWII and the rise of the Cold Warriors afterwards, but we now have 75 years of evidence suggesting that restraint and peaceful diplomacy and commerce would have been a wiser course. Granted, Trump's actual presidency gives us no reason to believe that he understands what it takes to avoid the wars he claims not to believe in. Indeed, history will record that he made a complete botch of Ukraine during his four years as president.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [03-29] What US weapons tell us about the Russia-Ukraine war: As the chart makes clear, arming Ukraine is overwhelmingly an American project. What isn't clear is how much arms like tanks are meant to advance a negotiating position or just an offensive hoping to reclaim Russian-occupied territory, because neither Ukraine nor the US seems to have a coherent negotiating position.

  • Fred Kaplan: [03-27] What Putin's Latest Nuke Announcement Really means: "It's all just for show -- but it could backfire."

  • Ivan Nechepurenko/Anatoly Kurmanev: [04-02] Influential Russian Military Blogger Is Killed in St Petersburg Bombing.

  • Jake Werner: [03-31] What Biden means when he says we're fighting 'global battle for democracy': So, you see, he's hosting this Summit for Democracy, which among other oddities included a panel featuring Narenda Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu, leaders in legislating ethnocracies, which deny fundamental rights to minorities, while still pretending to practice democracy.

  • Joshua Yaffa: [03-31] The unimaginable horror of a friend's arrest in Moscow: Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested and charged with espionage. Even if true, it's hard to imagine that reporting on Russia is more damaging than descending into hostage-taking. For more, see Connor Echols: [03-30] Ex-CIA official: No way detained WSJ reporter is a US spy. Also Jonathan Guyer: [03-30] The first US journalist was just arrested in Russia since the Cold War.

Other stories:

Dean Baker: [04-01] The Social Security Scare Story Industry: One of those scare stories showed up in my local paper. I'm not surprised at how few people actually understand how Social Security works, but you'd think the ones who write on it for major news chains would show some initiative. The real future problem with Social Security and Medicare is whether we elect politicians who understand the need to take care of the elderly and infirm, or we elect a bunch of jerks (i.e., Republicans) who don't care and can't be bothered. Baker also wrote: [03-29] The Silicon Valley Bank Bailout: The Purpose of Government Is to Make the Rich Richers #63,486. I don't think he's actually counting, but feels like the right ballpark.

Shirin Ghaffary: [03-31] Elon Musk wants to fill your Twitter feed with paid accounts: As of April 15, "Twitter will only recommend content from paid accounts in the For You tab, the first screen users see when they open the app." That sounds like it will be 100% advertising. The alternative to "For you" is "Following," which actually gives me something more like what I expected: tweets from people I follow, plus ones those people forward. I've been looking at my own view stats, and I'm pretty disgusted with what I'm seeing: my tweets announcing "Speaking of Which" posts are ultimately viewed by a bit less than 15% of my followers. "Music Week" announcements get more views, but still only about 50% of my followers (or that's what the total works out to: they usually get a retweet or two, so that helps the spread). Consequently, I'm questioning the whole utility of the platform. And I suspect that that in a few weeks a blue checkmark will be recognized as a stigma instead of as proof of authenticity. They're really just pissing on their brand.

  • Drew Harwell: [04-02] Twitter strikes New York Times' verified badge on Elon Musk's orders: "The Times and other news organizations say they won't pay for the icon, which [was originally] designed to protect against impersonation." Evidently, they haven't removed all the blue checks yet, probably to obscure the question of how many suckers have paid up, but after the Times publicly refused to pay up, Musk decided to make an example of them.

  • Prem Thakker: [03-31] Sorry Elon, No One Cares About Losing Their Blue Checkmark on Twitter. There's a list here of famous publishers opting out. This flows into a another piece: "Twitter Admits It's Been Forcing Elon Musk on Your Timeline." I recently clicked on "Following" instead of the default "For you," and the Musk tweets have (so far) vanished.

William Hartung: [03-26] The Pentagon's Budget from Hell: Congress Has Been Captured by the Arms Industry: "The ultimate driver of that enormous spending spree is a seldom-commented-upon strategy of global military overreach, including 75 U.S. military bases scattered on every continent except Antarctica, 170,000 troops stationed overseas, and counterterror operations in at least 85 -- not, that is not a typo -- countries (a count offered by Brown University's Cost of War Project."

Sean Illing: [03-30] The media wants the audience's trust. But is it being earned? Interview with Brian Stelter, who wrote Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth. Illing has a point: "So it's not that Fox doesn't have a right-wing bias; it's that it primarily exists to flatter the delusions of its audience, and they do it even when they know it's bullshit." That's an insight that could apply to other media companies, which are all defined by their ability to corral and exploit a predictable audience. But Fox's audience is more deluded than most, and it's easy to push their buttons. Moreover, they've captured a political party, which means they can make much of the news they report, and give their audience a rooting interest.

Robert Kuttner: [03-28] What Comes After Neoliberalism? "We are winning the battle of ideas. We have a long way to go before we win the politics." I hear an echo here of one of my pet ideas: I believe that the New Left won the "battle of ideas" in the 1970s, resulting in sweeping changes to how we think about war, race, sex, the environment, and consumer rights, but part of that constellation of ideas was a profound mistrust of power, as well as a sharp critique of the previous generation of liberals (especially those who brought us the Cold War and the hot war in Vietnam), so very little effort got made to secure liberation with political power. (The New Left was also divided on labor unions, which after Taft-Hartley had largely abandoned the struggle to organize poor workers, and which mostly exercised their power within the Democratic Party to support the warmongers.) The result is that we've seen much erosion on these fronts, even though there's little popular support for the reaction.

A big part of this erosion can be ascribed to elements in the Democratic Party who tried to craft a "kindler, gentler" version of neoliberalism -- with scant success, given that any time they tried to make something decent out of market solutions, Republicans were there to wreck their efforts. (Clinton claimed he had crafted a good welfare reform bill, only to find it passed by a Republican Congress wrapped up in "a sack of shit." Obamacare didn't fare much better.) It's true that there are new ideas gaining purchase among Democrats (some even embraced by Biden, who the neoliberal faction settled on as their "anybody but Bernie" candidate), but it's premature to claim that they've gained the upper hand over neoliberalism.

What is clear, though, is that neoliberalism has failed, both as an economic doctrine and as a political movement. As for the terminology problem, I'm inclined to go with democracy: we need a political order that puts people ahead of profit, that puts industry and commerce to work for the betterment of everyone. The key to doing that is to give everyone more rights, so they can take back the state and redirect it for the general welfare. The Republicans ran on exactly that platform in 1860: "Vote yourself a farm; vote yourself a tariff!"

Jack McCordick: [03-29] How Big Business Hijacked Freedom: Interview with Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway, authors of The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market. Telling that the issue that originally set the NAM (National Association of Manufacturers) off was their opposition to child labor laws.

Ian Millhiser: [03-30] The lawsuit that threatens everything from cancer screenings to birth control, explained: "A notoriously partisan judge has launched a new attack on one of Obamacare's key provisions." More on the courts:

  • Matt Ford: [03-30] It's 2023, and Conservatives Are Still Trying to Sue Obamacare Out of Existence. Judge Reed O'Connor "struck down a major part of the Affordable Care Act on Thursday. . . . O'Connor was the favored destination of such suits for years: He has found the ACA to be unconstitutional, either in whole or in part, at least four times now, leaving the appellate courts to clean up his many messes."

Charles P Pierce: He cranks out several posts every day, most worth reading (many I could have filed in various spots above):

Paul Rosenberg: [04-02] What crisis of democracy? Scholar Larry Bartels says the real crisis is corrupt leaders: Shorter title: "Maybe we just elect bad people." Interview with Bartels, who wrote Democracy Erodes From the Top: Leaders, Citizens, and the Challenge of Populism in Europe. Focus is on European leaders like Viktor Orban and Giorgia Meloni, but key point applies to American political leaders as well, especially Donald Trump, who didn't exactly run as an authoritarian but exercised his power as arbitrarily and capriciously as he could get away with, resulting in a quite striking erosion of democratic norms and expectations.

Jason Samenow: [03-26] How Mississippi's tornadoes unfolded Friday night and why they were so deadly: I read this piece with considerable interest, having grown up in what used to be called "tornado alley": roughly an oval from a bit south of Oklahoma City to a bit north of Wichita, spreading out maybe a hundred miles east and west. After a large tornado wiped out the small town of Udall, about 20 miles southeast of Wichita, when I was 5 or 6, Kansas got its act together and built a pretty robust tornado warning system. The frequency of tornados declined over the last decade or two, shifting east and south, but until then the grim statistic was that despite getting many fewer tornados than Kansas, the state with by far the most tornado deaths was Mississippi. That's what happens when your state hates you. I haven't looked at those stats recently, but with the climate shift on top of America's most decrepit state government, the situation can only have grown worse (despite the fact that at the national level, weather forecasting has gotten markedly better). More tornado reports this week:

Kelefa Sanneh: [03-27] How Christian is Christian nationalism? This is a question that I, as someone who doesn't believe in, and for that matter distrusts, both Christianity and nationalism, am indifferent to, yet perversely curious about. The latter is probably because I once had what I felt to be a pretty sound grounding in at least one strain of Christianity, and I suspect that most self-professed Christian nationalists have a very different understanding. This piece reviews a couple books: Paul D Miller's The Religion of American Greatness: What's Wrong With Christian Nationalism; and Stephen Wolfe's The Case for Christian Nationalism.

Dylan Scott: [03-31] The number of uninsured Americans is about to jump dramatically for the first time in years: "Starting April 1, states will begin removing millions of people off Medicaid's rolls as a pandemic-era program that kept them enrolled expires."

Jeffrey St Clair: [03-31] Roaming Charges: Spare the AR-15, Spoil the Child. Beyond the Nashville shooting story (noted in introduction), see the excruciating long list of failures in America's so-called justice system, as well as a few obvious comments about the ICC, and numerous other stories that should make you stop and think. Much more, including a link to hear Pharoah Sanders in 2011.

I don't feel like elevating this to the "major story" section, but if I catch more links on guns, hang them here:

  • Hannah Allam: [03-27] The radicals' rifle: "Armed groups on the right and left exploit the AR-15 as both tool and symbol." Left? Well, they found some, and they've bought guns to defend against "real threats," by which they mean the gun nuts on the right.

  • Ben Beckett: [03-31] The Right Is Flat-Out Admitting It Doesn't Care About Gun Violence. The right don't care whether you, or your children, live or die. The right don't care if you're miserable. The right thinks the world can go to hell, and they'll carry on as oblivious as ever.

  • Emily Guskin/Aadit Tambe/Jon Gerberg: [03-27] Why do Americans own AR-15s: Polling as to why misses the obvious category (although some of the given categories are subsets): "because I'm an asshole." Other factors are largely as expected. Note that only 8% of US adults overall have served in military, but 28% of AR-15 owners have, as have 18% of other gun owners. Hunting is not a reason for 52% of AR-15 owners. The other 48% are lying and/or assholes (the two are not exclusive).

  • Alex Horton/Monique Woo/Tucker Harris: [03-27] Varmints, soldiers and looming threats: See the ads used to sell the AR-15. One ad reads: "Consider your man card reissued."

  • N Kirkpatrick/Atthar Mirza/Manuel Canales: [03-27] The Blast Effect: "This is how bullets from an AR-15 blow the body apart.

Jonathan Swan/Kate Kelly/Maggie Haberman/Mark Mazzetti: [03-30] Kushner Firm Got Hundreds of Millions From 2 Persian Gulf Nations: Now, this is how you do graft. Moreover, it's unlikely that he'll ever get prosecuted for the "stupid shit" that keeps tripping Trump up.

Li Zhou: [03-30] Why train derailments involving hazardous chemicals keep happening: "another train has derailed and caught fire in Minnesota." Also:

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