Sunday, June 18, 2023

Speaking of Which

Calling time on this, 10 PM Sunday evening. The most obviously missing story is something on the heat waves in Asia and Texas. Also, note that while the non-Trump Republican section is short, it's pretty ominous, and even worse things are lurking down in the miscellaneous section.

Top story threads:

Trump: He was arrested on Tuesday, pled innocent, and was allowed to leave. Republicans are so sure he's guilty they're already talking about pardoning him. Some "law and order" party they are!

DeSantis, and other Republican scum:

Climate and environment, disastrous and new-normal:

Courts and the law:

Ukraine War: The "counteroffensive" has officially started, but there's little reporting on it -- the best the cheerleaders of the New York Times can muster is: [06-18] Ukraine appears to make a small gain in the south as counteroffensive continues.

  • Blaise Malley: [06-16] Diplomacy Watch: Roiling disagreements over Ukraine path at NATO: There hasn't been much diplomacy to watch for at least six months, as Ukraine has been arming for its counteroffensive, in the expectation that gains on the ground will offer leverage when they finally start negotiating. Meanwhile, pressing for NATO membership just confirms Putin's gravest fears and shores up Russia's resolve.

  • Masha Gessen: [06-15] Putin's war hits close to home: "Russia has faced a series of recent attacks, but, in the absence of public space, military losses are personal tragedies, not collective experiences." More pointedly, attacks in Russian territory are more likely to rally support for Putin than to cause people to doubt his leadership. Includes some quotes from Jade McGlynn, author of the new book Russia's War.

  • James Glanz, et al: [06-16] An inside job: "The evidence suggests Russia blew it up from within." I was inclined to keep an open mind on the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam, but this presents a reasonably convincing case that Russia blew up the dam, causing extensive flooding along the lower Dnipro, and denying Ukraine a large hydroelectric power plant. In doing so, Russia sacrificed the power plant, the major water source for Crimea, and its occupied territory along the east bank of the river. The destruction is fairly described as an ecological disaster, and as a war crime -- one more in a war full of them. [PS: Robert Wright, who's followed this war more carefully than most, tweeted: "I'm calling bullshit on this Times piece. It makes no sense for Russia to have blown that dam."]

  • Lev Golinkin: [06-13] The western media is whitewashing the Azov battalion: "Before Russia invaded Ukraine, these fighters were neo-Nazis. They still are." Not clear to me what "whitewashing" Nazis means, but this is an old story, one that got picked up by Putin as part of his rationale for invading, which is no more excuse for invasion than any of his others. It's much more accurate to say they're Ukrainian ultra-nationalists, which have practically everything in common with the Russian ultra-nationalists who fervently support Putin's war, except that they hate each other, going back to WWII, where the Russians fought the Nazis, and a faction of Ukrainians, Lithuanians, etc., saw Germany as their liberator from Russian rule. As long as Russia is fighting in Ukraine, I don't see any problem with them fighting for Ukraine. After the war, of course, they could be a problem, like the German Freikorps. Even in the run up to the war, Ukrainian nationalists made it harder to reach any sort of accommodation with the ethnic Russian minority, and thus helped trigger the invasion. After the war, they're likely to be a malign political force -- as ultra-nationalists are everywhere, but Ukraine is likely to emerge with a very powerful warrior caste.

  • Greg Lane: [06-16] The real reason why Putin put Russian nukes in Belarus: I'm afraid that the "real reason" isn't very clear here. Has Belarus offered itself up as a Russian hostage? Is Putin hinting at nuclear aggression without blowing anything up? Is he setting Belarus up to demonstrate use of a tactical weapon while preserving a slim thread of deniability?

  • Anatol Lieven: [06-14] Ukraine's paradoxical lessons for the future of warfare: Hard for me to comment on the technical military aspects Lieven focuses on, particularly "a kind of belated vindication of the 'Revolution in Military Affairs' (RMA) of the 1980s." (Fred Kaplan wrote about RMA in Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power, published in 2008.) I think it's too early -- Ukraine's gains to date can just as easily be seen as strategic retreats by Russia -- to enthuse about the superiority of American weapons and methods. I have no doubt that Ukrainian soldiers are more motivated than Russian soldiers, but wonder whether that advantage will hold up when/if Ukraine enters ethnic Russian strongholds in Donbas and Crimea. Meanwhile, the territory between the front lines and the strongholds could easily change hands, as it's of little value to Russia (but also few Ukrainians remain there to welcome liberation). Lieven doesn't bother with what I think of as the bigger lessons: the strategy of deterrence has completely failed; the threat of sanctions has had little effect on Russia; and while European unity against Russia has never been stronger, few beyond the US and Europe share that instinct (suggesting that the US and Europe aren't widely trusted as sympathetic powers).

  • Branko Marcetic: [06-13] Is the US military more intent on ending Ukraine war than US diplomats? I think it probably is true that top military brass is more acutely aware of the limits of military power than the jingoistic neocons Biden has chosen to stock his State Department with.

  • Alfred McCoy: [06-15] Is China the only way for peace to come to Ukraine? "It's beginning to look as though Beijing has the means, motivation, and ultimate self-interest to end the war." [Originally on TomDispatch.]

  • David Sacks: [06-16] Will upcoming NATO summit launch forever war in Europe? "Pressure is mounting to make some sort of formal declaration over Ukraine's membership at meetings in Vilnius next month."

Around the world:

Other stories:

Dean Baker:

  • [06-07] Owning up to mistakes and pandemic deaths: As noted, the embargo of Cuba since 1962 has been an all-around failure. That it continues to hamper worldwide distribution of Cuba's affordable Covid-19 vaccines is one more problem, one that contrasts starkly with the massive subsidies the US has lavished on Moderna's pricey patents.

  • [06-15] Biden's restrictions on oil drilling have pushed prices back up to where they were in the Bush administration: Irony alert (what "restrictions"?), but look at the chart: oil prices reached their absolute peak late in the Bush administration, before the economy cratered and took the oil market with it. I've long maintained that the dip had more to do with the financial collapse killing futures speculation than with unemployment reducing demand. Same thing happened with the pandemic in 2020, and since the Fed started increasing interest rates in 2022.

  • [06-16] Will Biden's industrial policy create a lot more Moderna billionaires? It will unless it also addresses the gross inequality in power between companies and workers (unions would help; so would codetermination, which gives workers board representation; my favorite is worker-owned companies, which doesn't just tip the scales but blows them up).

Niccolo Barca/Tommaso Grossi: [06-15] The damage Silvio Berlusconi (1936-2023) leaves behind: "The notorious tycoon and former Italian prime minister is gone, but his toxic legacy remains." Before Trump, there was another billionaire who sought office to flamboyantly flount his ego. With his death (and his neo-fascist successor), I'm surprised not to see more on their analogies, including a stretch out of office before coming back, and various skirmishes with the law.

Ok, found one:

Zack Beauchamp: [06-15] What a new conservative call for "regime change" in America reveals about the culture war: Review of Patrick J Deneen's new book, Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future. Deneen, a political science professor at Notre Dame, previously wrote Why Liberalism Failed in 2018. I grew up reading fairly radical critiques of liberalism, and only softened my view as liberals lost power and prestige and stopped being the ones chiefly responsible for American imperialism and instead became fair-weather defenders of people with little power that conservatives like to pick on. So I can imagine writing books with titles like these, but not this crap, which boils down to a program of seizing power for self-appointed right people and using that power to marginalize or suppress everyone else, resulting in a well-ordered utopia of well-behaved automatons. One problem with liberals is they cut fascists too much slack.

Frederick Clarkson: [06-17] "Unfriending" America: The Christian right is coming for the enemies of God -- like you and me. Inside the "New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a movement at the cutting edge of Pentecostal and Charismatic evangelicism, which is now the second largest Christian faction in the world after the Roman Catholic Church and the largest growth sector in American and global Christianity."

Fabiola Cineas: [06-17] The "anti-intellectual attack" on higher ed will take years to undo: Interview with Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), noting more than 50 bills in 23 states aimed at "chilling academic freedom." Could have filed this under DeSantis.

David Cohen: [06-16] Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the truth behind the Vietnam War, dies at 92. "Some called Ellsberg a hero and others branded him a traitor." Count me in the hero camp. As far as I know, there has never been any "top secret" document more in need of exposure than the deep history of mistruths and bad faith exposed in The Pentagon Papers. More on Ellsberg:

Michael Hiltzik: [06-13] A farewell to James G Watt, environmental vandal and proto-Trumpian: Reagan's infamous Interior Secretary (1981-83) has died, at 85. His most Trumpian attribute was a loose tongue that repeatedly offended everyone but mining company executives, although it's worth noting that eventually he was (per Wikipedia) "indicted on 18 counts of felony perjury and obstruction of justice and accused of making false statements before a federal grand jury investigating influence peddling at the Department of Housing and Urban Development," which was settled when he "pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of withholding documents." More:

Sarah Jones: [06-15] What the censors want. Same question raised by Jane Smiley: [05-30] What are the book banners afraid of? It's not just that they want to hermetically seal young people in a cocoon that celebrates the conservative order. "They are afraid of readers -- especially young readers -- learning the truth about humans, about American history, about, perhaps, their own lives." They talked less about banning books in my day, because it was effectively done before any schools could get their hands on contraband. My reaction was to seek out anything else I could find, and, well, look how I turned out.

Jay Caspian Kang: [06-13] What was Nate Silver's data revolution? I've sometimes wondered whether I should read Silver's book (The Signal and the Noise, 2014). I avoided statistics when I was a sociology major (much to my regret), but I've picked up a general understanding since then; even if I still lack technical skill, I have an interest in and feel for data. But scanning through the book sample on Amazon doesn't reveal much I don't already know. Nor is this piece especially enlightening, least of all about Silver's recent defenestration from FiveThirtyEight. On the other hand, it does highlight a new stats/gambling competitor, Split Ticket. Their Initial 2024 Presidential Ratings are almost exactly what you'd expect.

Ed Kilgore: [06-16] Why do so many Americans think Biden is doing a bad job? That's a good question. I'm afraid it boils down to Republicans never missed a beat in trashing Biden, Democrats rarely fighting back, and the media's predilection for bad news and/or controversy, and their lack of interest in context or complexity. It also hurts that Biden's not much good at speaking for himself. Context matters, because most of our current problems have been developing for decades, making change hard, especially given entrenched Republican power centers. Climate change is probably the clearest example, but workers have been losing ground since the 1980s, inequality has been increasing, the military has been growing (to no good effect), diversity has been increasing (along with a more virulent backlash). The net effect is a sense of decline, which Republicans rail against, blame and exacerbate, while Democrats craft weak reforms and try to exude confidence (without much conviction).

The easiest response here is to list the many ways Democrats are not as bad as Republicans, while glossing over the cases where there isn't much difference (foreign policy, especially the Ukraine War; support for the military; policing immigration; bailing out banks). Even there, it's possible to hope that Democrats will improve. But even where Biden has fallen short, the solution isn't to throw him out -- the only hope is to elect more Democrats. Related:

Ezra Klein: [06-18] 'What the hell happened to the California of the '50s and '60s?': Talks with California Gov. Gavin Newsom about permitting problems, especially environmental impact studies that are slowing down and often killing decarbonization projects needed to save the environment. While consideration of environmental impacts is important, it shouldn't be crippling, as is often the case. Republicans have made "permitting reform" a hot-button issue, with a view to pipelines and mines that are being held up, but it's also obstructing "green energy." Reading this, two thoughts came to mind: one is that California wouldn't exist as we know it had the water projects of the early 1900s had to pass environmental impact studies (one can argue whether that would be good or bad, but it's certainly big). The other is that the first principle of the New Deal was "do something." One looks back at the 1930s and marvels at how much they did, how fast and cheap it was. And sure, much of what they did was build dams, but they changed people's lives, mostly for the better. A progressive movement that can't do that is going to have a hard time surviving, much less flourishing.

Naomi Klein: [06-14] Beware: we ignore Robert F Kennedy Jr's candidacy at our peril: Useful if you're considering giving him a second thought. I read his 2005 book Crimes Against Nature: How George W Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy, which seemed solid enough, but in retrospect was an easy target. He dedicated that book to his then-wife ("the real environmentalist in the family"). He filed for divorce in 2012, and four days later she killed herself. He moved to Los Angeles, married an actress, and within months was railing against vaccines. As Klein documents, he went crackers after that, including his hate book (The Real Anthony Fauci, published by right-wing Skyhorse Publishing). One more point I'd like to add is that I really hate the idea of dynastic politics (and more generally the whole nepotism dynamic, and for that matter inherited wealth -- which better describes Trump than entrepreneur, not that new money can't be obnoxious either). Also on Kennedy:

Eric Levitz: [06-14] Larry Summers was wrong about inflation. He argued that "we need two years of 7.5 percent unemployment or five years of 6 percent unemployment or one year of 10 percent unemployment" to contain inflation. Of course, he'd argue that it's still not contained, even if levels have dropped significantly. But the problem isn't just that Summers is often wrong. It's the ways in which he's wrong, and his obliviousness to the human toll that he argues for.

Jaclyn Peiser: [06-17] How Instant Pot went from coveted appliance to bankruptcy: Regardless of "post-pandemic trends," the real culprit is private equity, which robbed the company (Instant Brands) blind while saddling it with excessive debt.

Thomas Piketty: [06-15] The wealth of (some) nations: French economist, author of major works Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013) and Capital and Ideology (2020) as well as more pointedly political collections of essays, interviewed by Felicia Wong and Michael Tomasky.

Kelsey Piper: [06-14] Four different ways of understanding AI -- and its risks: I'm surprised this isn't illustrated with a simple four quadrant chart, where one axis is how important AI will be (really big to fairly minor) and the other is how useful or troubling it will be. The piece does mention four quadrants, but only focuses on the "big and good" corner.

I think the more important questions are whether access to AI will be restricted to enhance corporate profits, and whether the AI itself will be engineered to further corporate interests. Of course, the same thing can be said about software in general, and the line between crude deterministic software and AI is already rather blurry (e.g., in shopping for an electric toothbrush I found models that advertise AI, which almost certainly is far short of I). There are also questions of whether AI is subordinate to human decision making or autonomous, and whether it is able to command mechanical power (self-driving cars are a case in point), and therefore how fast it can act, or how hard it is to halt. The author's "four quadrants" depend a lot on these questions. Related:

Alex Shephard: [06-12] The rise of independent voters is a myth: Well, it feels better to think of yourself as an independent, as opposed to someone who blindly follows party choices you have little or no control over. Also, both parties share one major negative: both spend much of their time chasing donors, offering to do their bidding. And both parties are bound to the military and the residues of imperialism, even though we have nothing but sorrow to show for their last twenty (or, hell, seventy-five) years of belligerence. Democrats have the extra burden of having repeatedly ignored and undercut the interests of most of their voters. Republicans have the extra burden of nearly everything they try backfiring. So it's easy to see why many people prefer to distance themselves from such a dysfunctional system. But the self-proclaimed centrists rarely offer any sort of alternative. Rather, they embrace the worst of both parties, a muddle of clichés.

Alex Skopic: [06-13] How the lottery became a substitute for hope: I knew a guy who signed all his email with a definition of lottery: "a tax on stupidity." My quick take was that it's a tax on hopelessness. It offers people an extremely small chance of becoming rich, which could be seen as a good deal if your actual real life chances were even slimmer. But it also depends on people believing that becoming rich is the answer to their problems.

Jeffrey St Clair: [06-16] Roaming Charges: All the girls around him say he had it coming. Starts with a quote from the late Cormac McCarthy: "Life is brief and to have to spend every day of it doing what somebody else wants you to do is not the way to live it." Then he mentions Trump, but just to point out he's no whistleblower (his counterexample is Julian Assange, who Trump's DOJ prosecuted, and Biden's is still after). Then: "When I think about the many victims of the Espionage Act, my thoughts immediately go to Ethel Rosenberg," who was convicted and executed not for treason but for "being engaged in a conspiracy to 'commit espionage.'" A crucial figure in that execution was Trump's old mentor, Roy Cohn, who personally lobbied the judge to sign the death warrant.

Trump fancies himself as the victim of a "witch hunt," but while he's earned a desire among many for vengeance, he doesn't grasp the most basic principle of actual witch hunts, which is less to punish the initial target than to smoke out more witches. Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible to point out how much McCarthyism had in common with the Salem witch trials -- two episodes in American paranoid thought that are now widely regretted (if not fully: one can imagine DeSantis setting up tribunals to interrogate witnesses -- "are you now or have you ever been woke?" -- and demand that they name names; and while none of the recent laws criminalizing aid and advice on getting an abortion specifically mention witches, the history there runs pretty deep; by the way, later down there's a Pat Robertson quote about the "feminist agenda" which lists "practice witchcraft" among other evils, like "leave their husbands" and "destroy capitalism").

St Clair shows a meme, where Trump says "In reality, they're not after me . . They're after you. I'm just in the way." But where was Trump when "the feds came for crack users, welfare mothers, immigrant families, striking workers, jaywalkers, whistleblowers, and medical pot users"? He was mostly cheering them on. "There are 2 million people currently incarcerated in US prisons and jails. There are 5 million formerly incarcerated people in the US. 20 million people have been convicted of felonies. 80 million have some kind of criminal record. They've already come for and gotten almost all the rest of us."

Then there's a quote from DeSantis vowing "We will fight the woke in education, we will fight the woke in corporations, we will fight the woke in the halls of congress." St Clair:

Who knew the war on corporations would finally be launched because they sold t-shirts and beer to gay and trans people and not because they gouged prices, poisoned your drinking water, evicted you from your home, killed the Gulf of Mexico, made life-saving drugs too expensive to buy and turned the atmosphere into an air fryer?

Colin Woodard: [06-16] The geography of gun violence: Most likely interesting for the map, which was the subject of Woodard's 2011 book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. But the differences in gun deaths are striking (3.5 and 3.8 at the bottom, 12.2 in the Far West and 15.6 in the Deep South, and a few outliers even higher).

Notable tweet, from Dean Baker (linked to a Washington Post editorial you can chase down yourself):

Trump was completely right. He can shoot someone on 5th Avenue and the Washington Post would say that indicting him for murder endangered democracy.

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