Sunday, July 23, 2023
Speaking of Which
I saw a headline in the Wichita Eagle on Friday -- the article was
unsigned but attributed to Las Vegas Review-Journal -- that puzzled
me: "Bidenomics is just tired liberalism on steroids." So what is it
they're trying to say? It's rejuvenated liberalism? Maybe they want
it banned for doping? The phrase "on steroids" has largely lost its
literal meaning, in favor of "much larger, stronger, or more extreme
than is normal or expected." So at the very least it should cancel
out "tired," leaving us with "Bidenomics is just liberalism." That
may be the author's complaint, but why is that such a bad thing?
Trump waxes nostalgically about "make America great again," but
the closest America ever came to something resembling conventional
notions of greatness was the period during and after WWII, when
liberalism was most pervasive and hegemonic. In many ways, the
original MAGA movement was Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, but
unlike Trump, Johnson had no desire for nostalgia. His signature
program meant to extend New Deal progressivism to all Americans.
Johnson isn't remembered especially well today because he blew
so much political capital on the Vietnam War. One lesson we should
draw is that it's always a mistake to assume military might is some
kind of measure of greatness. Liberals made that mistake in WWII,
partly because the enemies were so abhorrent, and partly because
the war effort was led by one of their own (brilliantly, I might
add). Vietnam started to divide liberals, but I'm old enough to
remember when most were staunchly on board, and I've never really
forgiven them for that war -- or for allowing themselves to be
duped into thinking that communism was such a threat to freedom
that they should kill or punish anyone tempted to think otherwise,
or for becoming the unwitting victims of their own witch hunts.
Since the 1970s "liberal" has become little more than an epithet,
thanks mostly to the relentless slanders of the right -- "tired"
is just one of the milder ones, leaving us with this puzzle: if
liberalism is so tired, how can it be such a threat?
Top story threads:
Trump, DeSantis, and other Republicans:
Zak Cheney-Rice: [07-21]
What the most diverse GOP primary ever says about the GOP.
Nothing, really, except that the media's preoccupation with looks
is silly and stupid. (As, I might add, was Seth Meyers' endless
riffs on Robert Mueller's look.) Not that I never wondered whether
the more fervent racists in the Republican Party would find it hard
to vote for a black Republican, but I got my answer when Jesse Helms
voted for Clarence Thomas. Republicans will continue to vote for
whoever they're told to, regardless of personal prejudices. And
sure, Democrats can be every bit as dazzled by this skin game. Bill
Clinton famously wanted a cabinet that "looked like America," and
he got his point as far as looks go. But beneath that surface, damn
near everyone in his cabinet had Ivy League degrees, which put them
in a very small and exclusive minority, just like Clinton.
Diana Falzone/Asawin Suebsaeng/Adam Rawnsley: [07-11]
Murdochs start to sour on DeSantis: 'They can smell a loser'.
Shane Goldmacher/Maggie Haberman: [07-23]
A 'leaner-meaner' DeSantis campaign faces a reboot and a reckoning:
So after a review of the candidate's "challenging learning curve" this
is what his consultants advised: get meaner? Adam Serwer predicted as
much when he titled his anti-Trump book The Cruelty Is the Point.
For another view of this, see Nicole Narea: [07-20]
Ron DeSantis is really bad at running for president.
Margaret Hartmann: [07-14]
Trump Super-PAC paid Melania $155,000 to choose tableware:
May seem like something anyone could do, but economics teaches us
that in a free market, marginal value is everything. But sure, if
you aren't smart enough to understand that the market is perfect,
this could just look like graft.
Jeet Heer: [07-23]
Young Americans for Freedom hates freedom: Interview with Lauren
Lassabe Shepherd. Note that YAF also hate most Americans. Jeer also
Why Trump 2.0 would be much worse: You already knew that, didn't
you? He's made it clear that this time he's out for revenge, and he
won't accept staff that will get in his way, as many did in his first
term. But also, what would a Trump win say about the electorate? In
2016, it was naive and foolish to view him as an outsider who would
"drain the swamp," but at least he presented himself that way. This
time he's a known quantity, and there's no excuse for thinking he'll
ever be anything else (except worse).
Shayna Jacobs: [07-19]
DeSantis, others sued over alleged 'election police' voter
Hugo Lowell: [07-21]
Fulton county prosecutors prepare racketeering charges in Trump
Charles P Pierce:
Nikki McCann Ramirez:
Jennifer Rubin: [07-23]
Trump's made-for-MAGA arguments keep losing in court.
Ashlie D Stevens: [07-18]
Michigan attorney general charges 16 in 2020 Trump fake elector scheme.
Tessa Stuart: [07-20]
Nebraska teen sent ot jail over illegal abortion: "Celeste Burgess
was arrested after Facebook turned over her private messages to
Kevin Sullivan/Lori Rozsa: [07-22]
DeSantis doubles down on claim that some Blacks benefited from
Jonathan Swan/Charlie Savage/Maggie Haberman: [07-17]
Trump and allies forge plans to increase presidential power in 2025:
Much of this deals with the likelihood that the Republican-packed
Supreme Court will allow a Republican president such license -- "the
unitary executive theory" is basically a fancy term for dictatorship.
Still, most ominous are the direct quotes from Trump, like his promise
to "find and remove the radicals who have infiltrated the federal
Department of Education," where "radicals" are pretty much anyone
who believed in what used to be called "liberal education." (In
typing that, I flashed on "liberal indoctrination," which is not
what the phrase means, but testimony to the way conservatives see
education as a process of indoctrination.)
Even more striking is this Trump quote:
We will demolish the deep state. We will expel the warmongers
from our government. We will drive out the globalists. We will
cast out the communists, Marxists and fascists. And we will
throw off the sick political class who hates our country.
Aside from the red baiting, which just goes to show that Trump
is always most at home with jingoism, the rest of that doesn't
sound so bad. There certainly are warmongers, both deeply embedded
in the state and in the revolving door businesses, foundations,
and lobby shops that feed and further them. Same for globalists,
although that's a fuzzier term: almost no one believes in "one
world government," but lots of business interests promote global
trade and finance, and they are well-represented in government,
and among the donor class. As for "the sick political class that
hates our country," that sounds like most Republicans. Still, I
don't trust Trump to get rid of anyone who should be expelled.
Rather, he seems to want a return to the spoils system, where
everyone in the government works for the political interests of
Michael Tomasky: [07-21]
McCarthy's vow to erase Trump's impeachment sums up the GOP's
sickness. "It's a cult of one man -- not a political party
anymore in any remote sense of the word. Trump says jump, and
they ask how high. In fact, these days Trump rarely even has to
say jump. A certain situation arises, and congressional Republicans
anticipate that he's about to say jump, so they start jumping,
trying to guess the height that will please him most." That's
just the first of three reasons Tomasky gives why the Republican
Party has become: "an extremist cult that has no incentive to
Mary Tuma: [07-21]
Testifying against Texas, women denied abortions relive the pregnancies
that almost killed them. No reason to file this elsewhere. It's not
just policies that Republicans want to implement to make our lives more
miserable. It's also about things they've already done.
Biden and/or the Democrats:
The Supreme Court:
Ian Millhiser: [07-17]
How the Supreme Court put itself in charge of the executive branch:
"The major questions doctrine, explained."
Walter Shapiro: [07-19]
Sonia Sotamayor's book scandal is banal and troubling: "The
Supreme Court justice's buckraking hardly compares to that of her
conservative coleagues. But it still says a lot about how much
Washington has changed." Well, it says two things: one is that
no one in America thinks they're making enough money, even with
a cushy lifetime job and pension; the other is that when other
Justices are mired in scandals showing them to be truly corrupt,
any innocuous bit of buckraking looks suspect.
Stephen Siegel: [07-21]
Clarence Thomas's cherry-picked originalism on affirmative action:
"Originalism" originally meant whatever Antonin Scalia wanted it to
mean, because only he claimed unique, divine, infallable insight into
the minds of the crafters of the Constitution. Since his
death, other conservatives have stepped up as originalism's
no less dishonestly than Scalia.
Climate and Environment:
Kate Aronoff: [07-20]
America's deadly heat isn't (officially) a major disaster: "Why
doesn't the federal government recognize that this extreme weather
is a catastrophe?" Probably because catastrophes are supposed to be
rare events, and this summer's heat wave seems inevitable, something
that we can expect to recur every summer for the rest of our lives.
But also note that the purpose of such declarations isn't simply to
acknowledge reality, but to allow the government to act to help the
victims of disasters, and Republicans really don't like that (except
when hurricanes hit Florida, for some reason). See Julia Rock:
New GOP bill would curb Biden's power to fight climate change.
Because, well, heaven forbid that he should do things that would
Umair Irfan: [07-21]
It's even hot underwater.
Rebecca Leber: [07-21]
The invisible consequences of heat on the body and mind: "Heat
has bigger effects on us than we may realize."
Matt Stieb: [07-20]
7 eye-popping numbers from tghe worldwide heat wave.
Dan Stillman: [07-19]
With record heat expected, these 5 maps show what's to come across the
Molly Taft: [07-14]
The media has no idea how to cover extreme heat.
Tish Harrison Warren: [07-23]
Rising heat deaths are not just about the temperature: "While it
is important to highlight heat deaths as another example of the devastating
toll of climate change, it is also important to say that, often, when
people die of heat, they are actually dying of poverty."
Ukraine War: The great "counteroffensive" has been going for
more than a month now, but the New York Times hasn't changed its
maps page since July 9.
Around the world:
Syrus Jin: [07-21]
US-Korea policy is 'trapped in a pattern of cyclical amnesia': "After
70 years, Washington needs to escape this Sisyphean tragedy of tough
talk without any results." Also:
Ehud Barak: There's a phrase for what Bibi wants -- "de facto
dictatorship". Barak also added: "Never in our history as a
state has Israel suffered such a destruction of value in such a
short time." Still worth remembering how Barak walked away from
deals with Syria and Arafat, paving the way for the long-term
rise of the Israeli right.
Eric Alterman: [03-22]
The New York Times and Israel: What is (and isn't) fit to
print: "Netanyahu accuses the paper of record of anti-Israel
bias. But for decades now, the opposite has been true."
Richard Silverstein: [06-26]
Israel's creeping genocide: "Pogroms in 20 Palestinian villages
targeted by masses of settler-thugs protected by the IDF."
Li Zhou: [07-21]
Vox, the far-right party making gains in Spain, explained:
I've seen a number of pieces predicting a Vox breakthrough, but
they wound up in third, with 12.39% and 33 seats (down 19 from
before, so not enough to form a coalition with the conservative PP
(33.05%, 136 seats, vs. 31.70%, 122 seats for PSOE).
David Byler: [07-17]
5 myths about politics, busted by data: Or proven, depending on how
you read the data:
- Democrats aren't young. Both parties are old. Their breakdown
has 30% of Democrats 65+, 28% 50-64, 29% 30-49, and 14% 18-29. But the
older cohorts lean Republican (+7 and +5), and the younger ones favor
Democrats (+8 and +5). They don't give you the median, but the median
Democrat is 5-8 years younger than the median Republican.
- Republicans aren't rural. Democrats aren't urban. Both are
mostly suburban (57-53, edge Democrats), but as they note, "Democrats
fare best in neighborhoods that are close to the city center, while
Republicans thrive in exurbs and small metros." As for the rest, the
urban split is 27-11 Democrats, the rural 36-16 Republicans.
- Religious Democrats and secular Republicans are both common.
The secular ("unaffiliated," a somewhat broader category) split is 39-14
Democrats, with Republicans leading 59-33 among Protestants and 21-17
with Catholics ("other" splits 10-6 Democrats). But they also note that
the number of Republicans who seldom or never attend church has shot up
from 30-42% (time frame unclear), so while Republicans are more likely
to identify as Christian, they may be less than committed.
- Both parties rely on White college graduates -- not just Democrats.
Democrats have an edge among "white, college educated" of 37-31%, which
is surely higher than it was even 10-20 years ago, maybe a reversal, as
Republicans have had a big advantage there.
- The Hispanic vote is not the GOP's only route to victory.
I don't really get this point: "Republicans could very well win in
2024 by building on recent gains with the White working-class and
Asian American voters, regaining recently lost college-educated
suburbanites or finally making inroads with Black voters." Really?
Based on what policy mix?
I see lessons here for Democrats, in that they need to hold onto and
expand their substantial share of mainstream voters, especially ones
free enough of Republican prejudice as to still have options. Of course,
it's also important to keep the groups Republicans offer no joy to,
which means offering tangible benefits, and not just taking them for
granted. (Failure there may not translate to Republican votes, but
to non-voting.) But I also don't put much stock in multisectoral
statistical breakdowns and their attendant identity politics
As for Republicans, they're already performing way above where they
should be if voters were rational and voted their best interests. How
they improve on that is hard to imagine. They're certainly not going
to change course, at least as long as the current one seems to give
them a chance to squeeze through on some technicality. Their only
real hope is that Democrats discredit themselves -- a card they've
been playing, with diminishing returns, since the check kiting
scandal of 1993.
Robert Crawford: [07-20]
How media makes impact of U S forever wars invisible: Review of
War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of its
Military Machine. An excerpt from this book is here:
The convenient myth of "humane" wars. There's also an interview
with Solomon: [06-23]
How America's wars become 'invisible'.
Tyler Austin Harper: [07-19]
'Barbie' and 'Oppenheimer' tell the same terrifying story: Author
ties them both to the search for the Anthropocene boundary stratigraphy.
Nuclear fallout is one obvious marker, as it was non-existent before
the Trinity test in 1945 and the subsequent annihilation of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, only to be followed by hundreds of further atmospheric
tests (528, according to
Arms Control Association, with 215 by US and 219 by USSR, 50
by France, 23 China, and 21 UK). But another marker would be to
look for buried plastics, which are if anything more ubiquitous.
The coincident release of two movies exploring such geologically
important shifts is unlikely enough that some people have turned
it into a thing. And many are writing on one, the other, or both.
I should note that I haven't seen either movie, and I'm not likely
to soon -- we just don't do that anymore, but I also gather that
the formerly pretty good Warren Theatres we once had here have
turned into rat traps under soon-to-be-bankrupt Regal.
Siddhant Adlakha: [07-21]
Who's who in Oppenheimer: A guide to 36 scientists, soldiers,
and reds. One error here is under Edward Teller, where fission
and fusion are reversed. Also, although Teller was the main proponent
of a fusion bomb, I doubt that he would have insisted on doing it
first, given that such bombs were more difficult, and depended on
fission reactions to generate the heat to trigger thermonuclear
explosion. Teller's "Super" wasn't tested until 1952, or weaponized
Haydn Belfield: [07-22]
"Cry baby scientist": What Oppenheimer the film gets wrong about
Oppenheimer the man.
Jorge Cotte: [07-21]
The many enigmas of Oppenheimer.
Connor Echols: [07-21]
What 'Oppenheimer' leaves out: Argues that the first victims of
the nuclear age were New Mexicans exposed to nuclear fallout from
the Trinity Test. There's a case to be made for that, and also for
counting thousands (perhaps millions) of other exposed to explosions
up to the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (many developing
symptoms only later). Other victims of cancers eventually included
virtually every Manhattan Project scientist of note. (I can't think
of any exceptions.) I'm unclear on how much thought was put into
the dangers of radiation before the bombs were developed and dropped
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The dangers of radiation poisoning were
recognized by then, if far from perfectly understood.
Whizy Kim: [07-21]
This summer's biggest hit? The Barbie marketing team.
David Klion: [07-21]
Oppenheimer is an uncomfortably timely tale of destruction.
Tori Otten: [07-21]
Barbie breaks box office records as conservatives keep whining
Alexandra Petri: [07-22]
The Barbie movie, according to conservative criticism. The article
is satire, I think, but starts with links to people you're unlikely to
Grace Segers: [07-20]
Can Barbie have it all.
Idrees Kahloon: [06-05]
Economists love immigration. Why do so many Americans hate it?
Well, economists think growth can be infinite. More practical souls
ask: where are you going to put it all?
Dylan Matthews: [07-17]
The $1 billion gamble to ensure AI doesn't destroy humanity: "The
founders of Anthropic quit Open AI to make a safe AI company. It's
easier said than done."
Matt McManus/Nathan J Robinson: [07-21]
Are we in the grip of an 'American cultural revolution'? Christopher
Rufo thinks it's already happened, but he's belatedly fighting back in
his book: America's Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left
Conquered Everything. Sounds like good news, at least until I
read the fine print:
The "revolution," in Rufo's telling, is comprised of -- wait for it --
diversity programs at colleges, Black Studies departments, protests
against police brutality, and corporations that tweeted pro-BLM
platitudes in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing. His evidence
for dangerous revolutionary changes in our society consists of things
like the appearance of the term "institutionalized racism" in the
Since "the radical left conquered everything," you might wonder if
Rufo is smuggling his missives from jail or some cave, but he's actually
been appointed by Ron DeSantis to the board of trustees of New College.
I know Robinson's made it his life's worth to debunk the so-called
thinkers of the right, but why bother with one this hallucinatory?
Jeffrey St Clair: [07-21]
Roaming Charges: Political crying games. He starts with the
Congressional smackdown of Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) for identifying
Israel as "a racist state" -- a reaction so shrill Jayapal wound up
voting for a Resolution proclaiming that Israel is "not racist or
an apartheid state" and that "the United States will always be a
staunch partner and supporter of Israel." No doubt such eternal
fealty will be tried repeatedly as Israel's state lurches farther
and farther to the right.
St Clair offers two quotes, one from Prime Minister Netanyahu
("Israel is not a state of all its citizens but rather, the nation
state of the Jewish people and only them") and former PM Ehud Barak
("who says that the current government is 'determined to degrade
Israel into a corrupt and racist dictatorship that will crumble
society'"). When it does, bank on Congress to pass another
near-unanimous Resolution reassuring Israel of America's eternal
submission. Israel is no longer an ally. America has become its
The only argument I can imagine against Israel being a racist
state is to question whether Jews are a race. While that has been
a common claim in the past, it makes no sense to regard Jews as
a race in America or Europe. However, in Europe, government-issued
identity cards specify who is a Jew, and who is not, with the latter
group subject to further distinctions. And those cards determine the
rights you have, and how you are treated by the state, and probably
how you are treated by many other organizations. Maybe there's a
fancier word for that system, like ethnocracy, but if you're an
American, that system sure sounds like racism. And if you know
anything about South Africa, you'll probably see affinities to
their since-abandoned system of Apartheid.
St Clair also mentions on RFK Jr's attack on Biden for
"threatening Israel with ending of the special relationship between
our two nations," and his pledge, "As President, my support of Israel
will be unconditional." And he quotes Nikki Haley: "The U.S.-Israel
alliance is unbreakable because Israel's values are American values."
I've long felt that American neocons were jealous of Israel's freedom
to bomb their neighbors (and their own people; I'd say "citizens" but
they aren't recognized as such) with no fear of repercussions, but
I'm not sure most Americans actually share those values. Which ones
they do share are hard to pin down, especially given that the most
vehemently pro-Israeli Americans are hoping for a rapture which will,
or so they believe, consign all Jews to hell. But if you're pro-Israel
enough, you never have to worry about being tagged as anti-semitic.
(Just consider RFK Jr.)
St Clair also includes more than you want to know about Jason Aldean's
"Try That in a Small Town," including a contrast to the late
Tony Bennett, whose experiences in small town America included the
1965 Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march.
More links related to the above:
PS: While American politicians are tripping all over themselves to
swear allegiance to Israel, note that American elites are starting to
have second thoughts:
No Lie with Brian Tyler Cohen:
Marjorie Taylor Greene warns Joe Biden is trying to "finish what FDR
started" by trying to address problems related to "rural poverty,"
"education," and "medical care." She warns it's similar to when LBJ
passed "Medicare and Medicaid."
The White House responded:
Caught us. President Biden is working to make life easier for hardworking
This may prove to be the silver lining in the right-wing bubble:
that they can no longer hear themselves when they say things that
are incredibly unpopular.
Biden also responded by using Greene as narrator for
a 30-second political ad.
I've been reading Peter Turchin's End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites,
and the Path of Political Disintegration, which is a comparative
history of several millenia of revolution and civil wars, attempting
to glean some quasi-scientific insight into the evident disintegration
all around us. Thumbnail histories going back as far as Nero's Rome
are always interesting, but his conceptual framework is rather oddly
framed if not plainly wrong. He sees two forces that drive societies
to the brink of disintegration. Mass immiseration is widely recognized
as one. But his main one is what he calls "elite-overproduction," by
which he a fractious rivalry between multiple aspirants ("elites," if
you must, but limiting that term to the political arena). Whether this
is caused by too many elites or simply by weak governing structures
is less clear. If sheer numbers of princes were the problem, you'd
expect Saudi Arabia to be the most fractious country in the world
today, which it plainly isn't.
Given the key concern of immiseration, and his identification of
a "wealth pump" driving it, much of Turchin's current political analysis
is quite reasonable. But then I ran across this (pp. 219-220):
The Democratic Party has controlled its populist wing and is now the
party of the 10 percent and of the 1 percent. But the 1 percent is
losing its traditional political vehicle, the Republican Party, which
is being taken over by the populist wing. Tucker Carlson, rather than
Donald Trump, may be a seed crystal around which a new radical party
forms. Or another figure could suddenly arise -- chaotic times favor
the rise (and often rapid demise) of new leaders. Earlier I argued
that a revolution cannot succeed without large-scale organization. The
right-wing populists intend to use the GOP as an already existing
organization to group power. An added advantage is that control of one
of the main parties offers them a non-violent legal route to power.
Two fairly staggering problems here: if the Democrats are the party
of the 1%, how come most known one-percenters are big Republican donors?
And how come Republicans campaign for them -- especially with tax cuts,
deregulation, and anti-labor measures -- so shamelessly? Given this, it's
especially bizarre to paint the Republicans as opposed to plutocracy.
Sure, they pander to prejudices and exploit the fears of some people
who have not fared well under plutocracy, but where are their programs
to shut down the "wealth pump" and offer help to reduce immiseration?
It is true that some of the very rich hobnob with Democrats, that many
Democrats are very solicitous of their support, and that Democrats like
Clinton and Obama have rewarded such benefactors handsomely -- including
doing very little to slow down the wealth pump. Some rich Democrats may
see the need for sensible reforms -- Franklin Roosevelt was called "a
traitor to his class," but his New Deal did much more than just rescue
the poor from the Great Depression: it also saved the banking system,
rebuilt industry, and built a large amount of infrastructure, which led
to the post-WWII boom. Some may simply be thinking about how much damage
dysfunctional Republican ideas could do. And some may simply regard the
Democrats as offering better service for their interests.
Turchin's fascination with Tucker Carlson may be excused as he wrote
this book before Fox fired him. Still, I have to think that part of
Turchin's confusion lies in his overly broad notion of elites, which
at various times he divides into economic and credentialed classes.
The Democrats have made gains among the latter, mostly because the
Republicans have turned savagely against education and expertise,
especially science. Still, characterizing this latter-day know-nothingism
as "counterelite" conflict ignores who's really in charge, functioning
mainly to deflect blame where it is due.
Ask a question, or send a comment.