Sunday, July 16, 2023
Speaking of Which
Too late for an introduction.
Top story threads:
Trump, DeSantis, and other Republicans: Seems like a relatively
tame week for evil, but there are always examples.
Aaron Blake: [07-15]
Indictment paints tale of Chinese interests and 2016 Trump campaign:
This doesn't strike me as anything Trump was culpable for, but does
offer a lot of juicy details on how influence peddling works in and
around political campaigns. That "Individual-1" is James Woolsey
just confirms that he's a sleazebag, which you must have already
Philip Bump: [07-14]
The staggering scale of Donald Trump's speaking fees.
The GOP's Tommy Tuberville problem: "The Alabama senator's blockade
of military promotions reveals the party's real position on abortion."
David Dayen: [07-14]
Jim Jordan misfires in attacks on Lina Khan. Or, per Bradley
Corporate America really doesn't like FTC chair Lina Khan challenging . . .
Ed Kilgore: [07-15]
Tucker Carlson hijacks Christian right confab in Iowa.
Joan McCarter: [07-16]
Greene owns McCarthy, and he doesn't even realize it: And the
picture of them cuddling is much cuter than one I cited a couple
Li Zhou: [07-14]
How Republicans turned a must-pass defense bill into an "extremist
manifesto". Republicans have this bizarre idea that the US military
should be a captive training ground for their future militia soldiers.
There certainly are examples of right-wing fanatics with military
backgrounds, in part because access to guns is a recruiting tool.
But the military is also the most thoroughly integrated organization
in America, and the importance of, for lack of a better term, wokeness
hasn't been lost on their officers. But also, military service is one
of the few occupations where public service is respected and admired,
which is one reason many ex-military people are running for office as
Democrats. Even the Supreme Court carved out an exception for the
military from its recent ruling against affirmative action, citing
For more on this:
Alex Skopic: [07-13]
The Espionage Act is bad for America -- even when it's used on
Trump: Sure, I agree. I also think drug possession laws are bad
for America, and should be repealed. If somehow the Espionage Act
got repealed, I'd be happy to pardon anyone convicted under it, as
I would anyone convicted under drug possession laws, including
Trump and the Rosenbergs (not that we can bring the latter back
to life). Until then, I don't much care. After all, Trump had
plenty of opportunity to pardon people convicted under this act
(or charged, like Julian Assange), and never did. He was too busy
pardoning his cronies and fellow creeps.
Biden and/or the Democrats: Necessarily a grab bag, but
we're probably stuck with it.
Eric Levitz: He's one of the better writers at New York
Magazine, but I find a lot to quibble with this week:
Biden's unpopularity is more mysterious than it looks. Returns to
the subject of his previous piece: [07-06]
It makes sense that Bidenomics is unpopular (so far), admitting
that "the unpopularity of both Biden and his economy are stranger than
I'd previously allowed." I find both arguments unconvincing, but I'm
not sure I got them right. One problem is that lots of things are only
explicable with statistics, but they don't carry the same weight as
experience. And even experience is subject to interpretation. By all
objective measures, the 1980s were a great decade for me, but I didn't
credit Reagan with any of that, and in fact I blamed him for a lot of
problems that hadn't really materialized yet, but which seemed all but
inevitable given his policies. If you expect the economy to go to hell
when a Democrat or Republican takes over, it isn't hard to find evidence
that you're right -- especially given that both have primarily given us
The 'greedflation' debate is deeply confused: Sure, he scores easy
points against straw men or hacks -- Robert Reich is an example -- not
least by pointing out cases where profits all but automatically rise
when external events impact supply. (If you're as old as I am, you may
remember the "windfall profits tax" passed in 1973, when OPEC forced
oil prices way up, inadvertently making American oil men suddenly much
richer.) On the other hand, I don't buy the argument that monopoly
couldn't be raising prices now because if it existed, it would have
raised prices previously. There are lots of reasons for monopolists
not to fully exploit their power the moment they get it, but to do
so when others give them cover for rising prices (as well as the
incentive kick of raising costs). But also, "greedflation" provides
an alternative to the cruel notion that inflation should be fought
by taking away people's jobs.
The case for Cornel West 2024 is extremely weak. But the case would
be stronger if Levitz hadn't made a wrong turn in his first sentence:
Cornel West recently decided that the best way for him to advance
economic and social justice in the United States . . . thereby
marginally increasing the odds of a second Trump presidency." I'm
not interested in debating the last part, which as Levitz admits
is a very marginal concern. The mistake is in thinking that West's
campaign is only about "economic and social justice," and only in
the US. If that's all that's at dispute, I'd happily concede that
Biden is already making progress in that direction, and that West,
no matter how much more he wants to achieve, isn't likely to do
much better. If that's all he wants, he, like Bernie Sanders, would
be better off working with Biden. But West has another major plank
in his campaign, one that is diametrically opposed to both Republican
and Democratic leaders, and that is foreign policy, and the almost
certainty that current policies will lead to more wars that will
eventually prove disastrous both for America and for the world.
this interview; also another interview by
Not many people understand that, but that's all the more reason
for West to stand up and argue the case. My biggest worry for 2024
is that some Biden miscalculation will throw us into a war, that
will trigger a rebound for Trump, who is already arguing that only
he can save us from world war. The rest of the article
consists of minor arguments with a pro-West piece by
Lily Sánchez, which pale in importance to this issue.
A new order blocking Manchin's pipeline could hurt the climate:
"Restricting Congress's authority to exempt energy projects from
judicial review would undermine the green transition."
Can extremely reflective white paint save the planet? If anyone
does come up with a plausible geoengineering scheme for cooling the
atmosphere, Democrats (in particular) will happily throw a lot of
money at it. This is an example of a small hack that's unlikely to
scale significantly, but at least it involves spending more to avoid
simply cutting back on energy use -- one solution that no one serious
Nicole Narea: [07-14]
Biden's new plan to forgive $39 billion in student loans, explained:
"More than 800,000 borrowers are now eligible for student loan
forgiveness." Something else for Republicans to try to ruin.
John Nichols: [07-14]
Jesse Jackson's politics of peace: "His 1984 and 1988 presidential
campaigns called for ending military interventions, supported disarmament,
and sought deep cuts in Pentagon spending." Not even Bernie Sanders has
done that since, which is more evidence of how deeply rutted our thinking
is on the military. I've long thought that Jackson would have won the
Democratic Party nomination had he run in 1992, but he didn't, to avoid
blame for losing a second term to GWH Bush. I also thought that Clinton
owed him big time for not making the run, and I expected some kind of
payoff for the favor, but never noticed one.
Timothy Noah: [07-12]
You'll be very surprised who's benefiting most from Bidenomics:
Not really. "Red states, not blue ones, are seeing the biggest income
gains." Isn't it always like that? Poor states vote Republican, and
better off states bail them out.
Climate and Environment:
Matthew Cappucci/Tamia Fowlkes/Shera Avi-Yonah: [07-16]
Relentless heat wave reaching maximum strength. Phoenix hit 118°F;
Sardinia 117°F, Sanbao (China) 126°F. Miami has "seen
a record 36 days in a row with heat index value above 100 degrees."
Julia Conley: [07-14]
Death Valley expected to record highest temp ever on earth as climate
Rachel DuRose: [07-13]
There's no such thing as a disaster-resistant place anymore.
Photograph is from flooded Montpelier, VT, but other examples abound
Benji Jones/Umair Irfan: [07-12]
3 reasons why this summer is so damn hot: How many ways can you
say "climate change"?
Umair Irfan: [07-13]
It's even hot in Antarctica, where it's winter. Map shows "record-low
early winter sea ice around Antarctica."
Viviane Callier: [2020-04-08]
The Story of More: Five Questions for the Lab Girl, Hope
Jahren: I recently read the paleobotanist's memoir Lab Girl,
so when I saw she had a book subtitled How We Got to Climate Change
and Where to Go From Here, I dug up this interview, and eventually
ordered the book.
Nathan J Robinson: [07-14]
The world needs many new climate activists right now: Interview
with philosopher Henry Shue, author of
The Pivotal Generation: Why We Have a Moral Responsibility to Slow
Climate Change Right Now, who likens the task to "the World
War II generation's duty to stop fascism."
Ukraine War: Conspicuous by absence is any news on how well
Ukraine's "counteroffensive" is going, which suggests it isn't. On
the other hand, NATO met, and continues to rack up milestones, which
as usual mostly involve arms sales. Wake me when we see some diplomacy,
because once again nothing else matters. The Gessen piece is historical,
stuff you should know. It doesn't mean that Putin's invasion was in any
way justifiable, or that sending arms to help Ukraine fend off that
invasion is bad policy, but understanding America's deep culpability
for the conflict would go a long way toward negotiating a way out of
it. Conversely, not recognizing how this all went wrong prevents us
from understanding the chief lessons of this war: that deterrence and
sanctions are more likely to provoke war than to prevent it; and that
not just the combatants but the world cannot afford for wars like this
to go on and on.
Connor Echols: [07-14]
Diplomacy Watch: Sweden gets NATO, Turkey gets F-16s? Hard to see
how anything accomplished at the Vilnius NATO summit last week brings
us an inch closer to peace in Ukraine, while the continued posturing
gives Russia all the more reason to hold out.
George Beebe: [07-14]
America's strategy for the NATO alliance is failing.
Keith Gessen: [06-12]
How Russia went from ally to adversary: A valuable bit of history,
referencing on several recent books:
Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union;
Mary Elise Sarotte:
Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War
How the West Lost the Peace: The Great Transformation Since the
and William Hill:
No Place for Russia: European Security Institutions Since 1989,
where the argument is that Russia was too big to integrate into Europe,
so had to be pushed outside.
These books cover ground I know well enough to have jumped ahead and
wrote the following based on one anecdote, but the piece both confirms
what I already knew and adds more telling detail.
This starts with what we might view as the original
disconnect: Gorbachev decided that the Cold War was a stupid and
dangerous waste, so he offered not detente but cooperation; Bush
saw Gorbachev's offer as a surrender, and demanded spoils, starting
with East Germany. Americans saw the Cold War as not only justified
but as victorious. When the Soviet Union dissolved, Americans saw
more opportunities to press their advantage. Well into the Putin
years, Russia tried to accommodate American hubris, but eventually
they realized that American ambition was insatiable, and that it
was increasingly directed at painting Russia as their enemy. That,
after all, was key to NATO's eastward expansion. The pro-West coup
in Ukraine in 2014 was the event that snapped Putin's tolerance,
and the pro-Russian revolts in Crimea and Donbas allowed Russia to
push back. This led to a significant rethink of how Russia could
reassert its dignity, the invasion in 2022, and the current war
quagmire. Of course, in the minds of Americans and their European
allies and clients, this only confirms their fears and their
commitment to deterrence as the only way to contain Russia. As
this history makes clear, it didn't have to wind up like this.
But the whole history of the Cold War was based on equally
spurious assumptions and misreadings, lessons which given the
vogue of triumphalism Americans have still refused to learn.
Jen Kirby: [07-12]
What Ukraine did -- and didn't -- get from the NATO summit.
Anatol Lieven: [07-11]
The case for Ukraine's NATO membership is the zombie that won't die:
Written pre-Vilnius. Also Ivan Eland: [07-11]
Ukraine should never be admitted to NATO.
Suzanne Loftus: [07-13]
Rise in German far-right reflects growing sentiment against Ukraine
war: This should be accounted as a risk of continuing the war,
of not moving as quickly as possible toward a negotiated agreement.
Even if the far right only favors Russia as a fellow fascist, it is
a bad look for the left to be seen as warmongers.
Bryan Metzger: [07-13]
Here are the 70 House Republicans who voted to cut off all US military
aid to Ukraine. Lest you think that Republicans are turning to
pacifism and/or isolationism, consider Kwan Wei Kevin Tan: [07-13]
Matt Gaetz is back on the anti-Ukraine hamster wheel and floating the
suggestion that Russia, not Ukraine, should be part of NATO so the
organization can become an anti-China alliance.
Nathan J Robinson: [07-11]
Biden's provision of cluster bombs to Ukraine is illegal and immoral.
So is the use of those same weapons, and for that matter mines, by Russia
and Ukraine. That none of the three have signed international treaties
banning their use is no excuse. But the US sending such weapons into a
war zone does make it hard for the US to condemn Russia's use of
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos:
Around the world: But mostly Israel, again.
Kai Bird: [07-07]
Oppenheimer, nullified and vindicated: Co-author of the biography,
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer,
Bird explains the campaign to get the federal government to admit that
they erred in 1954 in revoking Oppenheimer's security clearance, thus
excluding the director of the Manhattan Project from any further role
in atomic weapons planning. The vindication didn't come until December
18, 2022, and serves as another example of something Biden's administration
has done that Obama's was too chickenshit to venture. I will quibble with
the assertion that Oppenheimer was "the chief celebrity victim of the
national trauma known as McCarthyism." Sure, he was the bigger celebrity,
but the execution of the Rosenbergs was a graver miscarriage of justice.
But Oppenheimer is a clearer example of how McCarthyism worked: it meant
that anyone with a vaguely leftist past could be crucified as a traitor,
and hardly anyone would dare come to their defense -- especially liberals
who could themselves be tarred as "fellow travelers."
Jonathan Chait: [07-11]
In defense of independent opinion journalism: "The 'hack gap' between
right and left has been closing." I'm not convinced. I won't deny that
there are hacks on the left, but they differ significantly from hacks
on the right. For one thing, they're not all aligned against their
partisan enemies. Take Chait, for instance, who only seems truly happy
when he's attacking people to his left -- a considerable number, given
his support for the Iraq war, his pimping for charter schools, and his
"Why Liberals Should Support a Trump Republican Nomination." But even
when leftists slip into hackdom, they still start with commitments to
truth and justice that are utterly alien to the right. Then, by the
way, there is the deeper problem of objectivity, which is impossible,
making it a claim one should always be suspicious of.
Bob Harris/Jon Schwarz: [07-04]
Carl Reiner's life should remind us: If you like laughing, thank FDR and
the New Deal: "Their comedy descends directly from the Works Progress
Administration." The WPA did a world of good for America, but much of
what they did, especially in the arts, would be considered too frivolous,
and in many cases too controversial, for "taxpayer" funding these days.
Until that attitude changes, we're stuck with a government distinguished
mostly by misery: how miserable its workers feel, and how miserable they
make the rest of us.
Noasm Hassenfeld: [07-16]
Even the scientists who build AI can't tell you how it works:
Interview with Sam Bowman.
Oshan Jarow: [07-14]
Poverty is a major public health crisis. Let's treat it like one.
You'd think that such an argument would make people more inclined
to support anti-poverty measures, but Republicans have aligned
themselves pretty firmly against public health (or at least doing
anything about it).
Jess Lander: [07-13]
What led to Anchor Brewing's downfall? Sapporo, some workers say.
America's oldest craft brewer is going out of business, supposedly a
victim of Covid or maybe bad marketing, but I'm suspicious of two
ownership changes: in 2010, owner Fritz Maytag, who had rescued the
brewery after prohibition, sold to Griffin Group ("a local beverage
consulting company," which smells a lot like private equity even if
they're not a big name), and in 2017 Griffin pawned the carcass on
to giant Japanese brewer Sapporo. It's easy enough to say that the
latter didn't understand American craft brewers, and to illustrate
this with various marketing blunders, but the deeper truth is that
they simply didn't care, especially after the workforce unionized
in 2019. After all, it's not unusual for big companies to buy up
small ones only to shutter them, leaving the larger company with
one fewer competitor (even if, as in this case, one that barely
Back when I worked for a high-tech startup, where most employees
owned a small sliver of stock, I concluded that the world would be
much better if employees owned a controlling share of stock, thus
resolving conflict with management. (Unions, valuable as they are
as a balance against management power, usually increase conflict,
especially when they lack legal rights, as is often the case in the
US; on the other hand, in Germany, where "co-determination" gives
workers a stake in management, unions align more closely with
management.) I'd like to see many policies that help facilitate
employee ownership. One of the most obvious ones would be to
allow employees to claim defunct businesses, wiping out the
company's previous debt obligations, and providing funding for
a fresh start. I have no doubt that a company like Anchor could
be revived, if handed over to workers who care about the product
and the customers, and about their own jobs.
Shira Ovide: [07-14]
We must end the tyranny of printers in American life: "Printers
cannot be reformed. They must be destroyed, once and for all." I had
to include this because my latest printer purchase, a HP OfficeJet
Pro 9010, is the biggest purchasing mistake I've ever made. They
insisted that I use a wireless connection, and while it is recognized
by my Linux computers, I'm not able to send any jobs from them to be
printed. (At one point, this worked, but even then scans couldn't be
uploaded, at least not using sane.) One main reason for the wireless
connection is the need to reorder ink as part of a subscription program
that was originally offered for $2.99/month, then immediately raised
to $4.99/month. Of course, they haven't sent me any ink, because I
haven't been able to print. I've owned several HP printers going back
to their LaserJet II in the 1980s, but they've never pulled anything
like this before. At last, as Ovide will be happy to hear, I'm learning
to live without printing. Now I need to figure out how to stop paying
Kelsey Piper: [07-12]
Stop looking to Mother Nature for answers to resource questions:
"The silly way we think about resource scarcity." Followed, sad to
say, by an equally silly answer. While it's true that we haven't
discovered every earthly resource we might eventually manage to
exploit, that's mostly because people keep assuming that only very
short terms matter: a "50 year" phosphorus find may be a big deal
for 50 years, but 50 years is a pretty short time frame.
Sigal Samuel: [07-11]
Scientists unveil the key site that shows we're in a new climate
epoch: Title has it backwards: some scientists decided we are
in a new climate epoch, then looked for a geologic site that could
be used as a marker between the old Holocene epoch and the new
Anthropocene. They found one, but it's not based on climate change.
Rather, what it marks is the appearance of fallout from nuclear
bombs testing, which increased significantly around 1950. On the
other hand, human impact on the geostratigraphic record goes back
hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, eventually becoming dramatic
enough to justify the term Anthropocene (much like the Cambrian is
sometimes called the age of trilobites).
Jeffrey St Clair: [07-14]
Roaming Charges: Clusterfuck in Vilnius. He's in a bad mood,
starting with cluster bombs for Ukraine.
Two subjects I didn't want to say anything about are No Labels and
RFK Jr. -- among other things, do I file them under Republicans, who
they effectively work for, or Democrats? -- but if you want some
well-reasoned analysis, turn to
No More Mister Nice
An old piece I ran across, still worth mentioning:
Ask a question, or send a comment.