Sunday, August 6, 2023

Speaking of Which

Trump's third indictment led off the week, so naturally he hogged the news. He complains about being singled out, as if he's the only president ever to get caught running a byzantine scam to reverse election results. If anything, he's the one getting special favors. Anyone else trying to incite violence against witnesses would at least get a gag order, or more likely be remanded to jail for the duration.

Top story threads:

Trump: He gets his own section again this week, because he got indicted again, and this time it's the big one, the case we've been waiting for. Well, not all of it, but stripped down to the most basic and unassailable points.

DeSantis, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Paul Krugman: [07-31] Goldilocks and the Bidenomics bears: "It's hard to overstate how good the U.S. economic news has been lately. It was so good that it didn't just raise hopes for the future; it led to widespread rethinking of the past." After noting Larry Summers' plea for "many years of very high unemployment," Krugman goes on to say: "And as I said, we've had an astonishing recovery in jobs and G.D.P., which puts the sluggish recovery of the 2010s to shame; indeed, it suggests that the failure to achieve quick recovery from the financial crisis was a huge economic tragedy." Then he wrote another column expanding on that: [08-01] Frying pans and fiscal policy. Looking at the first two charts there, the slow recovery from the 2008-09 recession up through 2016 can largely be explained by the Republican gospel of austerity, which they dropped as soon as Trump took office. But especially in 2009-10, when Democrats had Congressional majorities, Obama's "confidence men" deserve much of the blame (especially Summers, who like Geithner and Furman didn't get invites to return from Biden; the term was the title of Ron Suskind's 2011 book on Obama's economic team, due to their belief that the key to recovery was Obama projecting confidence about the recovery; at the time, Krugman ridiculed them for their belief in "the confidence fairy").

  • Eric Levitz: [08-04] America's economic outlook keeps getting better: "Productivity and real wages are rising."

  • Bill Scher: [08-04] Don't expect Biden to get credit for the economy anytime soon. Cites Clinton and Obama as Democratic presidents who saw sustained economic growth during their terms, but got so little credit for it that the voters replaced them with Republicans, leading to massive redistribution toward the rich, and major recessions. I have some theories about why things work out this way. One is that Democrats can be counted on to support measures to stimulate the economy -- as they did with legislation to help Bush in 2008 and Trump in 2020 -- while Republicans insist on austerity when Democrats are in charge, figuring that the president will be blamed for their own acts. Key here is that Republicans are much more adept at blaming Democrats for anything and everything, whereas Democrats prefer to frame their policies positively, and are eager to compromise them to receive the thin veneer of bipartisan support.

  • Emily Stewart: [08-01] Can Joe Biden convince Americans the economy is actually good? "Bidenomics, or the real story of a sort of made-up thing."

Law, order, and the courts:

Climate and Environment:

  • Kate Aronoff: [07-31] What Florida's corals look like after catastrophic bleaching: "What's alarming about this year's bleaching event is just how quickly the corals died."

  • Tom Engelhardt: [08-03] Extremely extreme: After a paragraph summarizing the shocking climate news from this summer, he segues into the self-appointed leader of the "Me-First" movement: Donald Trump. Sure, he did a lot of bad things as president, only a small fraction of which he's since been indicted for, but his sins of omission will be judged by history even more harshly, including four years of doing nothing (beyond his active obstruction) on climate change.

  • Georgina Rannard/Mark Poynting/Jana Tauschinski/Becky Dale: [08-04] Ocean heat record broken, with grim implications for the planet.

Ukraine War: Regarding the counteroffensive, Robert Wright writes in [08-04] Biden's Ukraine quagmire:

This week a widely followed Twitter account called War Mapper quantified the amount of terrain Ukrainian forces have retaken since the beginning of their counter-offensive two months ago. The net gain is a bit over 100 square miles. So the fraction of Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia has dropped from 17.54 percent to 17.49 percent.

This gain has come at massive cost: untold thousands of dead Ukrainians, untold thousands of maimed Ukrainians, and lots of destroyed weapons and armored vehicles.

At this rate of battlefield progress, it will be six decades before Ukraine has expelled Russian troops from all its territory -- the point before which, President Zelensky has said, peace talks are unthinkable. And at this rate of human loss, Ukraine will run out of soldiers long before then -- and long before Russia does.

In short: Recent trend lines point to a day when Ukraine is vulnerable to complete conquest by Russia. For that matter, the counter-offensive has already made Ukraine more vulnerable to a Russian breakthrough in the north, where Ukrainian defensive lines were thinned out for the sake of the offensive in the south. . . .

The resolve is admirable. But have things really come to this? We're throwing Ukrainian men into a meat grinder week after week in hopes that maybe Putin's regime will collapse, and maybe this will be good for Ukraine?

Emphasis in original. This last line is followed by reasons such a collapse may not be good for anyone. Another source points out that Russia has actually gained ground in the north, while the counteroffensive has been grinding away in the south. He also cites a series of tweets by a Tatarigami_UA. Of course, much of this argument depends not just on the amount of land gained but on the resources spent and other damages, and on how much depth both sides have for reinforcements. While the US and its allies can provide Ukraine with enough war matériel to fight indefinitely, Russia has a big long-term advantage in manpower it can commit to the fight. Russia also has two more big advantages: it can hit virtually all of Ukraine, where Ukraine can barely nick territory within prewar Russia (e.g., through recent drone attacks on Moscow, or most recently [08-04] Ukraine strikes Russian commercial port with drones for first time). And Russia has nuclear weapons, which aren't terribly useful in the war but should give one pause when hoping for any kind of militarily dictated victory.

Also, I haven't seen anyone really put this info together, but it looks to me like Ukraine is becoming much more cavalier at hitting Russian targets behind various "red lines": in Crimea, the Black Sea, and in Russia itself. Russia is responding with more purely punitive attacks (i.e., nowhere near the front, such as on Black Sea ports). Until recently, US aid was conditioned on Ukraine restraint, but that seems to be going by the wayside.

  • Blaise Malley: [08-04] Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine War 'peace talks' this weekend, but Russia not invited.

  • Roger Cohen: [08-06] Putin's Forever War: An extended portrait of a Russia isolated by sanctions and agitated and militated by a war footing that seems likely to extend without ends, if not plausibly forever. I suspect there is a fair amount of projection here. The US actually has been engaged in forever wars, boundless affairs first against communism then against terrorism (or whatever you call it). Russia has struggled with internal order, but had little interest in "a civilizational conflict" until the Americans pushed NATO up to its borders. On the other hand, once you define such a conflict, it's hard to resolve it. The US has failed twice, and seems to be even more clueless in its high stakes grappling with Russia and China.

  • Geoffrey Roberts: [08-02] The trouble with telling history as it happens: More a reaction to than a review of Serhii Polkhy's new book, The Russo-Ukrainian War: The Return of History, which no matter how expert or up-to-date ("early 2023") is quickly passed by events, and inevitably swayed by unproven propaganda. I've read Plokhy's The Gates of Europe: A history of Ukraine and found it useful, although I already had a pretty decent grounding when I wrote my 23 Theses.

Israel, again:

  • Izzeddin Araj: [08-01] Israel's judicial crisis is not surprising: "Israel's settler-colonial ideological mission not only impacts Palestinians but prevents the country from being a democracy for Jews as well."

  • Jonathan Guyer: [08-03] Biden wants to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia together. But why? "And who will actually get the most out of it? (Hint: Not Americans or Palestinians.)" I haven't thought much about this, but can note that both Fred Kaplan and Richard Silverstein are very critical. I see three obvious problems: one is that, especially in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has a history of armed aggression, not the sort of country you want to tie yourself to; I'm a bit less worried than Kaplan about Saudi Arabia tarnishing America's brand as a supporter of democracy, but autocratic states are by their very nature brittle, so while you may like the current leadership (God knows why), that could change any moment (cf. Iran); and as long as Israel dictates American foreign policy, we're stuck holding the bag for whatever commitments Israel makes (usually war tech, although I've also read that the Saudis want nuclear tech). The tricky part with all of these Abraham Accord deals is that they depend on Israel moderating its treatment of Palestinians to not embarrass their new partners, but Israel's domestic political dynamics are only becoming more violent and abusive, effectively sabotaging the deals.

  • Jonathan Kuttab: [08-03] Why the Israeli judicial protest movement is bound to fail: "The time has come for Israeli Jews and their supporters to answer whether they believe in human equality or will continue to insist on Jewish supremacy."

  • Jonathan Ofir:

    • [07-31] Israel expanded an apartheid law last week: "Israel broadened a racist law that allows communities to exclude non-Jews based on 'social and cultural cohesion.'" This is one of 65 laws in Adalah's Discriminatory Laws Database.

    • [08-05] Jewish supremacy won't end from within. BDS is still the only hope. It's increasingly hard to argue that sanctions can persuade countries to change their core policies -- more likely the isolation they enforce only makes the rulers more recalcitrant, and sometimes more belligerent -- but they are something one can do to register disapproval short of war, and they can be adopted by individuals and groups even short of persuading states to act. Can it work? I doubt it. Up to 2000, Israeli politicians at least made gestures -- often, we now know, in bad faith -- to maintain good will from the US and Europe. Thereafter, the US capitulated, giving Israel's right-wing a green light to do whatever they want, certain of blind, uncritical American support. A reversal of that policy, where the US joins the rest of the world in deploring Israeli human rights abuses, while working to ensure Israel's security by negotiating normal relations with Israel's supposed enemies (especially Iran and Syria), wouldn't necessarily have any impact on Israeli politics, but it's the only thing that might. Meanwhile, civilian efforts to support BDS is the only game in town.

  • Philip Weiss: [08-02] Israel advocates finally condemn skunkwater -- now that it's being used on Jews.

  • Jeff Wright: [07-30] Another North American church names Israeli apartheid: "The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has declared that 'many of the laws, policies and practices of the State of Israel meet the definition of apartheid as defined in international law.'" Although I'm about as lapsed as a person can be, I grew up in that church, and took it seriously enough that they awarded me a Boy Scout God & Country medal. They are evangelicals, but not Old Testament fundamentalists. On the other hand, their focus on the New Testament has led many members (like my grandfather) to focus on "Revelations," which is the gateway to "Christian Zionism." But they have always been fundamentally decent people, and in the end that seems to have won out.

Around the world:

Other stories:

Clay Risen: [08-05] Charles J. Ogletree Jr, 70, dies; at Harvard Law, a voice for equal justice.

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [08-04] Does Hunter Biden matter? "Republicans believe the president's son is at the center of the corruption scandal of the century. Democrats think Hunter is a non-issue and the worst allegations are mere conspiracy theory." This is pretty thorough, and cuts the Bidens less slack than I would, but I can't quarrel much with his conclusion: "I certainly think we have ample evidence that Hunter Biden is scummy and Joe Biden is dishonest." It still doesn't answer the question raised up top: "Should voters care, and how much?" If Democrats offered a clear alternative to the graft that Republicans seem to revel in, they should be able to overcome a few embarrassing slips. But while Obama campaigned against money in politics back in 2008, he made no effort once he got elected to change a system that happened to give him (if few Democrats) a big advantage. Biden also seems comfortable with moneyed interests, even though they're always accompanied by the smell of corruption. Still, corruption isn't the only issue voters have to weigh. There are many other issues, some much more important. Even if you believe the worst about the Bidens, you should think back on the 1991 Louisiana governor race, where voters were advised: Vote for the crook: It's important.

  • [08-02] Is the critique of consumerism dead? "Today's left seems less inclined to critique advertising, consumerism, and pop culture." Another piece tied into Barbie, which since I haven't seen yet I should reserve judgment on, but it's clearly not tied into Mattel's PR machine. Still, my first reaction is "boring," perhaps because that's all stuff I examined so critically in the 1970s I feel like I'm unlikely to come up with anything new. I will note that although related, those are three different things.

    Advertising is an industry which presents a view of products (and the world) that is distorted to further the ends of its sponsors -- mostly to make more money, although political advertising has darker goals). And by the way, advertising is not free speech. It is very expensive speech, sponsored by special interests but ultimately paid for by the people it targets. It is almost always intrusive and unwelcome.

    Consumerism is a political reaction to corporate malfeasance. It attempts to give consumers rights and recourse against advertising, and beyond that against malign products, whether by design or defect. As we are all consumers, this movement is potentially universal, but it tends to wax and wane as business practices become normalized. It's possible that Robinson is thinking of something slightly different, which doesn't have a good name. This is the idea that consuming is an essential occupation of everyday life, a panacea for all our needs and desires. That is, of course, an idea advertising is meant to stoke, and one we may be better off learning to live with at a level well short of an addiction or compulsion, but it's impossible to blot it out.

    Pop art is simply art that reflects and reacts to popular consumable objects. Growing up when and where I did, it always struck me as perfectly normal: even if eventually it seemed a bit shallow, that shallowness was as real as the world it represented. Robinson spends a lot of time on what a leftist should make of this, and ultimately doesn't reach much of a conclusion. Maybe because it's not a problem we need to solve.

  • [08-01] Climate denial may escalate into a total rupture with reality: If I were his editor, I'd be tempted to strike "may" from that title, although I can see that it leaves open reason for contemplation, even though the evidence is pretty conclusive. At this point, the really dogmatic denialists aren't even the fossil industry shills who have an obvious economic stake but others whose objections aren't based on any understanding of science or economics, and their evidence, well, isn't evidence at all.

  • [08-03] Nomi Prins explains the difference between the market and the economy: Interview with the former Goldman Sachs trader, turned journalist, whose intro omits her 2009 book It Takes a Pillage, which as I recall was the first to expose/explain how far the banking bailouts went beyond the $700 billion slush fund Congress appropriated. She talks about her new book: Permanent Distortion: How Financial Markets Abandoned the Real Economy Forever.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [08-01] Americans' trust in military hits 'malaise era' territory. This sounds like good news to me, although the numbers still have quite a ways to fall. So does the recruitment crisis. Now if only some politicians could see the wisdom of cutting back on war spending. The pressure for more remains intense:

Alissa Wilkinson: [08-04] Lessons from a Barbenheimer summer: The fad of releasing serious, thought-provoking movies appears to be over. (This week's most-hyped releases are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, and The Meg 2: The Trench. Beware the colons.) The two movies are still generating commentary, especially Oppenheimer.

  • William Hartung: [08-02] Oppenheimer and the birth of the nuclear-industrial complex.

  • Jeffrey St Clair: [08-04] Little Boy and Fat Man earrings: a nuclear parable: An excerpt from St Clair's book, Grand Theft Pentagon, following by a Roaming Charges, much of which (including digs at Pence, RFK Jr, and "slit their throats" DeSantis I'm tempted to quote. Here's a taste:

    • DeSantis reminds me of Phil Gramm, the TX politician who amassed millions from banks and oil companies and seemed to be the prohibitive favorite in '96 GOP primaries, but was soon exposed as just a mean SOB with no real political skills at all other than shaking down corps for PAC $$$.
    • When DeSantis' campaign ran low on money and he began firing staffers, he hired them to fill government-funded positions in Florida instead.
    • More than half ($5 million, in fact) of the funds in RFK, Jr's SuperPAC came from Timothy Mellon, scion of the Mellon banking fortune, who has denounced social spending as "slavery redux," donated $53 million to state of Texas border wall construction fund, and gifted $1.5 million toward the legal defense of Arizona's vicious anti-immigration law.

I can't call it a tweet, and certainly won't call it a truth, but after Trump deemed "really quite vicious" Nancy Pelosi's quip about him in court ("I saw a scared puppy"), he wasn't satisfied with just being the victim. He added: "She is a Wicked Witch whose husbands journey from hell starts and finishes with her. She is a sick & demented psycho who will someday live in HELL!" True gentleman he is. Salon, which never misses a tweet, covers this story here and here.

Another tweet, from Younis Tirawi, in Jenin: "Israeli occupation forces fired 300 bullets on a car with 3 Palestinian fighters inside. After they all were killed, they kept their bodies inside the car, pulled it and paraded with their bodies home to the occupation military camp near Dotan."

Also from Noga Tarnopolsky: "Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, convicted eight (8!) times of terrorism & hate crimes, says a medal of valor ought to be awarded to his Jewish Power activist Elisha Yered, a suspect in the murder of 19-year-old Palestinian Qosai Mi'tan."

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