Monday, May 22, 2023

Speaking of Which

Let this be done. I'd rather go watch the basketball game -- well, practically anything -- than keep digging up more articles I have to comment on. Especially ones that suggest that Biden's is not going to do the right thing and tell the Republicans where to stuff their extortion demands.

Top story threads:

Trump: He didn't do much new this week, but he's still the cutting edge of Republican dystopia, so might as well hang onto the top slot here.

  • Ed Burmila: [05-21] How Trump left Washington even swampier: "The battle for power and influence in the nation's capital is more shameless, desperate, and embarrassing than ever."

  • Michael Tomasky: [05-18] Donald Trump against America: "He loves an America of his twisted imagination. He hates -- and fears -- the America that actually exists. And if he gets back to the White House . . . look out." I would have skipped over the diatribe on Trump's call for "peace without delay" in Ukraine, and I wouldn't have interpreted "reevaluating NATO's purpose" as "giving Putin a free hand in what the Russian dictator calls the 'near abroad.'" Trump had similar sentiments when he became president in 2017, but failed to do anything constructive about them, and would likely find the State/Defense/CIA blob equally inpenetrable in 2025. His real threat is elsewhere, as Tomasky goes on to demonstrate: in 2016 he sold a vision that he could "make America great again," and declared America "great" as soon as he got elected -- not that many people noticed much change. But like a bad movie sequel, this time he's out for redemption and revenge. There are people who will relish just that, but a majority? Even outside of the America he's written off, the one he's sworn to destroy, that's going to be a tall order.

  • Michael Tomasky: [05-19] Did Donald Trump seriously sell pardons? The question is being raised in a complaint against Rudy Giuliani, along with much more. For that, see Prem Thakker: [05-16] Rudy Giuliani is a raging alcoholic and sexual predator, says new lawsuit.


Economy and Debt:

  • Jen Kirby: [05-19] What a debt default could mean for America's superpower status: Interview with Marcus Noland, mostly about the demand for US Treasuries and dollars abroad. One side effect could be that it becomes harder to enforce US sanctions against target nations. Given that sanctions rarely work, that doesn't strike me as much of a problem, but there are people with a lot of money at stake, and long-term this gives other nations incentive to cut the US out of their banking systems.

  • Paul Krugman:

    • [05-19] Death, Napoleon and debt: Just the fundamentals. Anyone who claims that governments should pay off their debts like individual have to is profoundly stupid, or (more likely) trying to snow you. Individuals age and die, so their creditors need to get repaid before they lose out. But governments go on and on, usually with growing economy and taxes, so all they have to do is service the debt, which is easy (especially if it is denominated in currency you control).

    • [05-18] Will the US economy pull off a 'soft landing'? His definition is unemployment under 4% and inflation under 3%. Over the last few months inflation has come down a lot while unemployment has increased little, so this convergence seems plausible. However, if the Fed holds to its 2% inflation target, and insists on achieving it through high interest rates and induced recession, this would get bumpier.

    • [05-16] How Biden blew it on the debt ceiling. This was written a few days ago, when Biden and McCarthy were meeting, and signals appeared that some sort of deal was imminent. As of the moment [05-21] that prospect appears to have been quashed by the Republicans, who are greedy and/or malicious.

  • Jason Linkins: [05-20] The Beltway media is spreading debt limit misinformation: "The political press bears a share of the blame for the fact we are once again on the precipice of default."

  • Branko Marcetic: [05-19] The debt ceiling crisis is laying bare the lies both parties tell their voters.

  • Jeff Stein: [05-14] 7 doomsday scenarios if the US crashes through the debt ceiling: stocks crash; a sudden recession; federal workers in limbo; Social Security and Medicare miss payments; US borrowing costs soar; economic problems spread worldwide; the dollar drops, along with US prestige. As one commenter puts it: "These outcomes read like a GOP Wish List. If they can make things bad enough people would welcome a strongman dictator, particularly a fascist like 45 who will blame it all on minorities, immigrants, gays, Democrats, nasty Women, etc., etc." Still, this is one problem that Trump actually could solve in a day, inasmuch as all it would take is for Republicans in Congress to pass a bill that raises the debt limit (as they did repeatedly for Trump). Stein's piece was recycled from an earlier one. He's been covering this issue with little insight into either the politics or economics. A recent piece is [05-20] GOP rejects White House compromise to limit spending as talks stall, partly because debt-conscious Republicans want even higher defense spending.

  • Dean Baker: [05-21] Quick note on the debt burden and the burden of patent and copyright monopolies.


Ukraine War: Russia claims to have taken Bakhmut after a nine-month siege. Ukraine denies this, but are pushing forces to encircle city. Meanwhile, Ukraine hasn't quite gotten around to its much-ballyhooed spring offensive, but has started to test Russian lines on southern front.


Other stories:

Nina Burleigh: [05-16] Who is Leonard Leo's mysterious dark money king? "America needs to know who Barre Seid is, what kind of country he wants, and just how massive an impact his $1.6 billion gift can have on our political discourse."

Steve Early/Suzanne Gordon: [05-20] Corporate politicians are privatizing the VA, the crown jewel of socialized medicine: Phillip Longman wrote a book back in 2007 touting Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours. The basic reason was that not just insurance but actual care was fully socialized (directly run by the government). There were still a couple obvious problems: one is that while veterans were numerous and evenly distributed following WWII, the number of people eligible for VA care has steadily declined; the other is that care is concentrated in large centers, so for many veterans isn't easily accessible. Horror stories about access has led to various efforts for the VA to pay for profit-seeking care, which in turn jacks up costs while reducing quality. And needless to say, the privatization lobbies are all over this, and up to no good.

Connor Echols: [05-16] The War on Terror led to over 4.5 million deaths: That works out to a bit more than 1,000 revenge deaths for every American killed on 9/11. If you factor in American soldiers lost in those wars, the kill ratio drops to a bit more than 400-to-1. Occupying powers from the Romans to the Nazis made a point of threatening kill ratios of 10- or even 100-to-1 to deter rebellion -- a range that Israel has pretty consistently maintained. Of course, you can reduce the ratio further by including contractor deaths (8,000), suicides by veterans (30,000), and deaths of various allies (both local and foreign), but that hardly offers any comfort. (Some of these numbers come from Brown University's Costs of War page.)

Lee Harris: [05-17] Rahm Emmanuel's gas pipeline: "The Biden administration is promoting a new liquefied natural gas complex on the Pacific Coast, with expanded subsidies from the bipartisan infrastructure bill and Inflation Reduction Act." "West Coast" means Alaska. We counted ourselves lucky that Biden didn't give Emmanuel a post, but the only real difference is that now he's explicitly working for the oil and gas industry. Article quotes Lukas Ross: "Rahm Emmanuel did more than any single individual to sabotage Barack Obama's climate agenda at a time when there were congressional majorities."

Patrick Iber: [05-15] When Milton Friedman met Pinochet: "Chicago economists had free rein in Chile. The country is still recovering." Review of Sebastian Edwards: The Chile Project: The Story of the Chicago Boys and the Downfall of Neoliberalism.

Umair Irfan: [05-17] It's not just climate disasters. "Normal" weather is getting weirder, too.

Whizy Kim: [05-19] The billionaire's guide to self-help: "It's a phenomenon of our age that entrepreneurs are celebrities at all."

Eric Levitz: [05-19] The return of the emerging Democratic majority? The 2002 book of that name, by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, fell flat, but new research suggests that young voters (Gen Z/Millennials) have continued to break for Democrats, and are becoming more dependable voters.

Ian Millhiser:

Mark Paul: [05-16] Economists hate rent control. Here's why they're wrong. In my own experience, I've always felt landlords enjoyed a huge power advantage every time a lease was up, as well as all the rest of the time. So I've long felt that some sort of countervaling power was needed. Rent control would help, but as this article admits, that's only goes so far.

Joshua Raff: [05-20] John Durham's vacuous report: A fitting end to Bill Barr's ugly legacy: Barr appointed Durham as an independent counsel to dig into the origins of the 2016 FBI investigation of allegations that the Trump campaign was in cahoots with the Russians. After four years, Durham submitted a report, which Attorney General Merrick Garland released "unexpurgated, unredacted and without comment or commentary." As someone who never put any stock into that thing called Russiagate, and who is whatever the polar opposite of shocked is at the suggestion that the FBI might have been swayed by politics, I have no interest in the fine points here (if, indeed, there are any). But I'll add a couple more links (without elevating it to a section):

Becca Rothfeld: [05-18] How to be a man? Josh Hawley has the (incoherent) answers. Well, he has a book called Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, which the reviewer notes is "the latest in a long line of guides," citing others by Jack Donovan, Jordan Peterson, Robert Bly, and Harvey Mansfeld. Insights? "Men do not 'blame someone or something else,' such as 'society,' or 'the system,' but men do, apparently, blame 'Epicurean liberalism' for almost everything that ails them." And: "A man is a rugged individualist who figures things out for himself, but he also relies on how-to guides to teach him how to exist."

Dylan Scott: [05-19] Hundreds of thousands of Americans are losing Medicaid every month: "Medicaid's 'Great Unwinding' is even worse than experts expected."

Avi Selk/Herb Scribner: [05-16] Musk says George Soros 'hates humanity,' compares him to Jewish supervillain. I know nothing about Magneto, but the admission that the villain "drew inspiration from Zionist leaders Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Meir Kahane" is troubling on multiple levels. But what is clear is that Musk views his political antipathy to Soros as clearly tied to Soros's identity as a Jew. Why Musk thinks that Soros "hates humanity" and "wants to erode the very fabric of civilization" isn't specified.

Also on Musk:

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-19] Roaming Charges: Living With the Unacceptable: Starts with a classic Dwight MacDonald quote: "The Ford Foundation is a large body of money completely surrounded by people who want some." Sure, it's part of a fund appeal, but it doesn't hit you over the head.

Li Zhou: [05-17] How Democrats pulled off a big upset in Florida: Jacksonville ("the most populous Republican-led city in the country") elected Donna Deegan mayor.

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