Sunday, May 28, 2023

Speaking of Which

I started collecting this on Thursday, and was pretty much done on Saturday before the "debt ceiling deal" broke. Most of the links there are to now-forgettable, soon-forgotten thinking, which I sympathized at the time, but the thing I like best about the deal is that it kills the issue until well after the 2024 election, whereas the unorthodox fixes would be litigated that long, even if they're ultimately found valid. In the meantime, the Republican House is going to cut more spending and encumber it with more stupid rules than Biden agreed to this round. The only response to that is to kick their asses in 2024, and any cause they give you should be used back against them.

Top story threads:

Ron DeSantis: The Florida governor announced he's running for president, which got enough ughs and moans to temporarily bump Trump off the top spot here.

Trump and other Republicans:

The debt ceiling: Latest reports are that Biden and McCarthy came to some sort of deal, which still needs to be passed before the latest June 5 disaster date projection (see: Li Zhou/Dylan Matthews: [05-28] Biden and McCarthy's budget deal to lift the debt ceiling, explained). Nihilist Republicans will still try to trash the deal (e.g., see: Furious Freedom Caucus vows to scuttle debt deal), so it will need Democratic votes to pass Congress. Left Democrats will also be unhappy that Biden went back on his initial position and caved in negotiations with terrorists. But most Democrats are solidly pro-business, and will line up behind any deal to save capitalism -- even one that hurts many of their voters. Most of the links below are pre-deal (check dates).

Ukraine War: There is a report that first steps in counteroffensive have begun. Ukraine has been advertising its "spring offensive" all winter, while pleading for more and more weapons, and waiting their arrival.

  • Connor Echols: [05-26] Diplomacy watch: Denmark offers to hold Ukraine peace talks in July: That sounds kinda squishy, but expectations are high that Ukraine will launch a "spring offensive" soon, and they're unlikely to consider any form of talks until they first give war a chance -- after all, that is the point and the promise of all those tanks and planes they've been lobbying so hard for. Echols also wrote: [05-22] The West must prepare for Putin to use nukes in Ukraine. Interview with Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan, whose prediction that Russia will use nukes seems intended on pushing them along. But how exactly does one prepare for such an attack? It's not like fallout shelters are a practical project at this time. The only real defense is negotiating a winding down of the war. Anything else is just fucking insane. Robert Wright: also writes about Ryan: [05-26] Why the chances of nuclear war grew this week.

  • Julian E Barnes: [05-26] Russian public appears to be souring on war casualties, analysis shows: I'd be inclined to file this under propaganda, not least because no one's reporting solid casualty figures. But sure, you can't totally hide these costs, so it makes sense that ordinary Russians would start to question the mission -- as happened with the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Just how that public perception can turn into policy is hard to imagine. Gorbachev gave his generals enough rope to hang themselves, then pulled the plug. Putin, on the other hand, is much more invested this time.

  • Isaac Chotiner: [05-24] Why Masha Gessen resigned from the PEN America board: An interview.

  • Eli Clifton: [05-24] Dedollarization is here, like it or not: The effective shift may have more to do with the US-China conflict, but Ukraine sanctions are convincing more and more nations not to trust the US. Few people talk about this, but the debt ceiling nonsense is further undermining world trust in the dollar. Clifton also wrote: [05-26] Jamie Raskin and Rachel Maddow, brought to you by Peter Thiel and Lockheed Martin.

  • David Cortright/Alexander Finiarel: [05-25] Russians' support for the war may be softer than you think. I've always suspected there was little public support for war, which is why Putin moved so decisively to quash dissent. Still, there is no evidence that Putin's grasp on power is precarious.

  • Daniel L Davis: [05-21] F-16s won't fundamentally alter the course of Ukraine War.

  • Gregory Foster: [05-26] How war is destroying Ukraine's environment.

  • Ellen Ioanes: [05-21] How Ukraine is trying to woo the Global South -- and why it's so hard: Ukraine has massive support from the US and Europe, but the rest of the world is a much tougher sell.

  • Fred Kaplan: [05-16] How the Russia-Ukraine war has changed Europe: Mostly on Germany, where Kaplan spent a month recently. Russia burned a lot of bridges when they invaded Ukraine, and this has pushed Europe back into a closer alliance with America. The link title suggested a broader topic: "The ripple effects from the Ukraine War are becoming clear now." That could have been a more interesting story. Kaplan also wrote: [05-20] The alarming reality of a coming nuclear arms race.

  • Michael Klare: [05-18] The G-3 and the post-Ukraine world: The Ukraine War dominated the latest G-7 confab, with all seven powers -- effectively the US and its six dwarfs -- firmly in the pro-Ukraine/anti-Russia camp. But it's impossible for such a group to mediate regional conflicts when they're busy fighting them. Back in the day, the US and USSR could quickly agree to impose a ceasefire on their clients (as they did in the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars), yet no one today can do that -- even Klare's hypothetical G-2 of the US and China, or G-3 adding India (the world's most populous country; as Klare notes, the three of them would represent 40% of all people on the planet). Getting those three nations to work together for world peace will be much harder than lining up the G-7 to ratify Washington's wishes, but might actually work. This complements a piece by Juan Cole: [05-16] China and the Axis of the Sanctioned, occasioned by China taking the lead in reconciling Saudi Arabia and Iran.

  • Eric Levitz: [05-24] Will the Ukraine War become a 'frozen conflict'? By "frozen conflict" he seems to mean something like Korea, where fighting has halted but neither side admits defeat or can reconcile with the other. Apparently, this is an idea being circulated in Washington (see Nahal Toosi: [05-18] Ukraine could join ranks of 'frozen' conflicts, US official say). But that's no solution. The main thing that's allowed the Korean War "freeze" to persist is how isolated North Korea is from the rest of the world. Russia is a much larger country, with a much more complex set of trading partners and relationships, including a large portion of the world not currently on board with America's sanctions regime.

  • Anatol Lieven: [05-25] Ukraine attacks in Russia should be an alarm bell for Washington: Supposedly the US disapproves of such attacks, but that doesn't seem to be limiting the supply of weapons that could be used to attack beyond the Russian border. This is doubly dangerous as long as the US seems to be leaning against peace talks.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [05-23] What does the fall of Bakhmut in Ukraine really mean? Interview with Anatol Lieven and George Beebe.

Around the world:

Other stories:

Dean Baker: [05-22] Should Jamie Dimon get a government salary? Points out that Dimon got $34.5 million last year as CEO of JP Morgan, and stands to get much more in coming years, despite much evidence of mismanagement. On the other hand, the head of FDIC makes $181 thousand, and the head of the Fed makes $190 thousand. I'm not really sure how the suggestion that bank heads should be put on civil service salaries would work, but it seems unlikely it would undermine the competency of management, and it might make the banks a bit less predatory. Then there's inequality: "We have let the right rig the market to generate the extremes of inequality we see. While government tax and transfer policy to reduce inequality is desirable, it is best not to structure the market to create so much inequality in the first place."

Zachary D Carter: [03-16] On Silicon Valley Bank, and finance as a public good: This is old as news goes, but worth the effort. One current thought is to wonder how many similar banks would have failed had the feds defaulted on the debt. I also like this line: "Nobody ever just came out and said it, but the basic attitude from the bill's Democratic supporters seemed to be that it was unfair to harp on Democrats doing something corrupt and stupid when Republicans were corrupt and stupid as a matter of principle."

Coral Davenport: [05-28] You've never heard of him, but he's remaking the pollution fight: "Richard Revesz is changing the way the government calculates the cost and benefits of regulation, with far-reaching implications for climate change."

David Dayen: [05-25] A liberalism that builds power: "The goals of domestic supply chains, good jobs, carbon reduction, and public input are inseparable." Related:

David French: [05-28] The right is all wrong about masculinity: Occasioned by Josh Hawley's silly new book, but no need to dwell there when the inanity is everywhere: "But conservative catastrophism is only one part of the equation. The other is meanspirited pettiness. Traditional masculinity says that people should meet a challenge with a level head and firm convictions. Right-wing culture says that everything is an emergency, and is to be combated with relentless trolling and hyperbolic insults."

Luke Goldstein: [05-24] How Washington bargained away rural America: How farm bills get made, usually a bipartisan grand bargain ensuring food (SNAP) for the poor and profits for agribusiness.

DD Guttenplan/John Nichols: [05-26] Biden must remake his candidacy: I doubt I'll bother with many of the articles I'm sure we'll be seeing as various Democrats debate strategy going into 2024. But the point these left-Democrats make about Biden's lousy polling numbers is valid. It means that he can't run a campaign based on his personal charisma while ignoring the needs of his party, as Clinton did in 1996, and as Obama did in 2012. To win, he needs a Democratic Party sweep, giving him sufficient margins in Congress to actually get things done. You'd think Republicans are making such a campaign easy, but the media landscape remain treacherous, and Democrats have little practice settling on a winning message.

Benji Jones: [05-23] Why the new Colorado River agreement is a big deal -- even if you don't live out West.

Peter Kafka: [05-23] Do Americans really want "unbiased" news? "CNN and the Messenger both say they're chasing the middle." Well, bias is inevitable, and just because its 'centrist" variation is often incoherent doesn't except it from the rule. You can, of course, muddy up the situation by providing countervailing points of view, but as a practical matter that rarely works. In theory, you could clarify the situation by taking an unflinchingly critical view of everything, but in today's political arena, that would get you tagged as "left-biased" because the right is almost always not just wrong but lying their asses off.

Ian Millhiser:

Timothy Noah: [05-26] Why workers will be treated better in the future. Researchers have noticed that in many cases higher wages pay for themselves, but it usually takes pressure to get companies to move in that direction. So much of what Noah predicts is based on the notion that political power will shift toward workers. It's clear enough what needs to happen, but harder to see how it happens. But the great suppression of wages can clearly be dated to the rise of Reagan Republicans in the 1980s.

McKenna Oxenden: [05-27] An 11-year-old boy called 911. Police then shot him.

Aja Romano: [05-24] Puritanism took over online fandom -- and then came for the rest of the internet: "Puriteens, anti-fans, and the culture war's most bonkers battleground." After reading Kurt Andersen's Fantasyland, I should have been prepared for this piece, but my basic reaction is to imagine that no one, even the author, could have anticipated how much more blurred the line between fantasy and reality could become in a mere six years. Less clear is how ominous all this fantasy is.

The temptation to inhabit imaginary worlds probably goes back to the oral folklore preserved as myths, and certainly encompasses the whole history of literature (usually explicitly labeled fiction). In recent years, three inventions have intensified this: television has immersed us in fiction, making it both easier to consume and more much vivid; gaming has added an interactive dimension; and the internet (social media) has made it trivially easy for people to react and expound upon the stories. As long as people recognize the line between fact and fiction, and as long as they maintain respect and decorum in their posts, it's hard to see much harm. But there have always been gray areas, especially where fantasy is presented as fact, even more so when it's driven by malign politics. Still, the problem here is less the art than the politics. As long as you can keep them straight, I don't see much problem. (For instance, we watch a lot of shows where cops are extraordinarily insightful and smart, have integrity and character, are profoundly committed to justice, and rarely if ever make gross mistakes -- traits uncommon among real cops.)

One thing that made this article difficult is the terminology. In particular, I had to go to Fanlore to find a definition of shipping: it is contracted from relationship, and used for promoting or derogating hypothetical relationships between fictional characters. This all seems to be tied to an increase in anti-sex attitudes -- no doubt this is amplified by the internet, but really? -- including an obsession with pedophilia and trafficking. Supposedly this has been made worse by the FOSTA-SESTA act, which originally sounded unobjectionable but its loudest advocates can turn it into cruel repression.

Jim Rutenberg/Michael S Schmidt/Jeremy W Peters: [05-27] Missteps and miscalculations: Inside Fox's legal and business debacle: "Fox's handling of the defamation suit brought by Dominion Voting Systems, which settled for $787.5 million, left many unanswered questions."

Lily Sánchez/Nathan J Robinson: [05-18] Robert F Kennedy Jr is a lying crank posing as a progressive alternative to Biden. Also:

Richard Sandomir: [05-27] Stanley Engerman, revisionist scholar of slavery, dies at 87: Engerman co-wrote, with Robert W Fogel, the 1974 book Time on the Cross: The Economics of Negro Slavery, which significantly changed our understanding of how slavery function within American capitalism. Fogel & Engerman were among the first prominent historians to base their work on extensive data analysis, as opposed to the standard practice of collecting stories from primary and secondary sources.

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-26] The Clintons and the rich women: No "roaming charges" this week, sad to say, so St Clair dusted off an oldie from his book, An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (a compilation of short essays published in 2022). This one explores the lobbying effort (and the money behind it) that secured Marc Rich a pardon in 2000. One surprise name that pops up here is Jack Quinn.

Maureen Tkacik: [05-23] Quackonomics: "Medical Properties Trust spent billions buying community hospitals in bewildering deals that made private equity rich and working-class towns reel."

Nick Turse: [05-23] Blood on his hands: "Survivors of Kissinger's secret war in Cambodia reveal unreported mass killings." More occasioned by his 100th birthday:

  • Ben Burgis: [05-27] Henry Kissinger is a disgusting war criminal. And the rot goes deeper than him.

  • Greg Grandin: [05-15] Henry Kissinger, war criminal -- still at large at 100: "We now know a great about the crimes he committed while in office, . . . But we know little about his four decades with Kissinger Associates." Grandin has a 2015 book on Kissinger: Kissinger's Shadow: The Long Reach of America's Most Controversial Statesman. In that book, I found this quote, based on Seymour Hersh's 1983 Kissinger book, The Price of Power:

    Hersh gave us the defining portrait of Kissinger as a preening paranoid, tacking between ruthlessness and sycophancy to advance his career, cursing his fate and letting fly the B-52s. Small in his vanities and shabby in his motives, Kissinger, in Hersh's hands, is nonetheless Shakespearean because the pettiness gets played out on a world stage with epic consequences.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [05-27] Henry Kissinger is 100, but his legacy is still shaping how US foreign policy works. I've never tried to figure out how much US foreign policy in the pivotal 1969-75 period was Kissinger as opposed to Nixon. My guess was that Kissinger added intellectual filigree to Nixon's baser impulses, but Kissinger was callous enough to suit Nixon's needs. As for his later freelance efforts, I knew few specifics, so I'm most likely to chalk them up as ordinary graft. With all the criminality -- in some ways, Kissinger's most damaging legacy isn't what he did but that he made such things seem normal, expected even, for those who followed -- it's easy to overlook one of Nixon's most important moves, which was to end the Bretton-Woods system, during which the US was responsible for maintaining a stable capitalist world market. After, it was each nation for itself, which ultimately turned into the US (and the few "allies" it intimidated) against the world.

  • Fred Kaplan: [05-27] Henry Kissinger's bloody legacy: "The dark side of Kissinger's tradecraft left a deep stain on vast quarters of the globe -- and on America's own reputation."

  • Jerelle Kraus: [05-27] Henry Kissinger: A war criminal who has not once faced the bar of justice.

  • Bhaskar Sunkara/Jonah Walters: [05-27] Henry Kissinger turns 100 this week. He should be ashamed to be seen in public: The picture, from 2011, shows him with a rather giddy-looking Hillary Clinton.

You can also watch a piece from the Mehdi Hasan Show on Kissinger. You might also take a look at this chart of life expectancy in Cambodia, which falls off a cliff during the years Kissinger was in power (1969-77). Some commenters want to make a distinction between bombing deaths (150-500K) and the genocide unleashed by the Khmer Rouge (1.5-3M), but the the former destabilized the studiously neutral Sihanouk regime, allowing the Khmer Rouge to seize power.

Kayla M Williams: [05-28] Who should we honor on Memorial Day? The article argues that many veterans are unfairly not counted among the war dead heroes because they were felled by longer, slower maladies that only started in war, such as exposure to toxic chemicals (Agent Orange in Vietnam, burn pits in Iraq) or PTSD (the suicide rate among veterans if if anything even higher than the battlefield death rate). I have no quarrel with that argument, but my initial gut reaction to the title is that we shouldn't limit honor to war dead or even to veterans.

When I was young, the focus of Memorial Day was Fluty Cemetery down in Arkansas: either we went there, or my mother arranged for flowers to be placed there by relatives. Some served, but none of the people I knew of under the headstones were killed in war. But they worked the hardscrabble Ozark soil, and built homes and families, eventually leading to me (and, well, many others). As far as I know, they were all honorable people, and deserved remembrance. Of course, those who did die in war deserve remembrance as well, but less for their lives (however valiant) than for their waste, which we should be reminded of lest we blunder into even more wasteful wars.

Li Zhou: [05-23] Montana's TikTok ban -- and the legal challenge of it -- explained. My preferred solution is to ban all companies from collecting personal data, much less passing it on to others. If that impacts their business models, maybe that's a good thing.

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