Sunday, August 13, 2023
Speaking of Which
Midweek I thought I had an idea for a real essay on an important
issue. I then flailed for a couple days, ultimately writing nothing.
That's not unusual these days, making me despair of ever writing
anything worth being taken seriously. Then on Friday I pulled up
my template for this weekly compendium, and started scanning the
usual sources, and words came pouring out. I'm at 6600 mid-Sunday
afternoon, and still writing.
The piece I had in mind was a reaction to Roger Cohen: [08-06]
Putin's Forever War. I cited this piece last week, and wrote:
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.
I don't doubt that there is substance in this piece, but note also
that it fits in with a propaganda narrative that posits Putin as an
irreconcilable enemy of democracy, someone who will seize every
opportunity to undermine the West and to expand Russia.
I'd have to research prior uses, but "forever war" seems to have
appeared as a critical response to America's War on Terror, given
its vague rationale and arguably unattainable goals, but the terms
"endless war" and
war" go back farther, and have been applied to the US for cases
like Vietnam and Central America (which goes back to the "gunboat
diplomacy" of Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson, which returned
in different guise with Reagan, Bush, and Clinton). But the Cold
War as a whole fits the term, as it was directed more against
working class and anti-colonial revolts everywhere, and not just
the Soviet Union that was imagined directing them. The Cold War
lost a bit of steam when the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991, but
continues to this day, most conspicuously against North Korea and
Cuba, but also more obliquely (I'm tempted to say aspirationally)
China and Russia.
Despite these examples, "forever war" isn't a popular idea in
America. At least through my generation, we grew up expecting quick,
decisive wars: big wars like WWII took less than four years, WWI
about half that, even the Civil War a few months more; Korea was
largely decided in the first year, but stretched out to three as
Truman refused to sign off; smaller wars were usually over quickly,
as were Bush's in Panama and Kuwait. Vietnam was viewed as "endless"
mostly by the Vietnamese, as they had struggled for independence
against China, France, and Japan before the Americans -- Gen. Tran
Van Don wrote a 1978 book to that effect. In America the preferred
word was "quagmire," reflecting a decision to get into something
that war couldn't fix, rather than evoking a struggle that would
go on for generations.
Throughout history, most protracted wars occurred on the margins
of empires. If you recognize America as an empire -- a word that
Jefferson was fond of, although lately it's fallen out of favor,
even as the evidence of 800+ bases around the world, and fingers
in the affairs of virtually every country, prove the point --
"forever wars" are all but inevitable. Especially since the US
built its permanent war machine, linked to an industrial complex
whose profits depend on projecting potential enemies, which will
supposedly be deterred by the terror the US could unleash upon
But deterrence is a frail, fragile concept, one that works only
as long as the country being deterred doesn't feel threatened. The
Soviet Union jealously guarded what Stalin regarded as his sphere
of influence, but had no real ambitions beyond that. Revolutions
would have to come on their own, as happened in China, Vietnam,
and Cuba. Most countries don't admit to feeling threatened, as it's
easy enough to humor the Americans, and possibly advantageous to
local elites. On the other hand, when Al Qaeda took a couple pot
shots at American power, the doctrine of deterrence, built on the
concept of America as the world's sole hyperpower, dictated war,
even if the US had to invent proxy countries to invade. This show
of absolute power only revealed its vulnerability.
But Islamic jihadists turned out to be only minor nuisances,
leading to endless skirmishes in places like Somalia and Niger,
while the arms merchants looked back longingly on the good old
days of the Cold War, when weapons systems were expensive and
didn't really have to work (e.g., the F-35), so they've fomented
a propaganda offensive against Russia and China -- the latter still
passes as communist, and the former is still Russian, so it's been
easy to revive old tropes. Finally, they hit pay dirt in Ukraine,
where they've been remarkably successful at avoiding any thought
of compromise, leaving endless war as the only thinkable option.
Of course, they're not selling it as an endless war. They hold
out a promise of Ukraine recapturing all of the Russian-occupied
territory, even regions that had rejected Kyiv's pivot to the West
in 2014. All winter we were regaled with stories about how Ukraine's
"spring offensive" would drive back Russia (provided we delivered
sufficient weapons). The optimism hasn't abated since the delayed
"counteroffensive" started in June, but they've made virtually no
net progress. In the long run, Russia has three big advantages:
a much larger economy, much more depth in soldiers, and they are
fighting exclusively on Ukrainian territory (although the native
population of Crimea and Donbas have always favored Russia, so
even if Ukraine regains ground, they may lose the defensive edge
way before they meet their goals).
The other hope is that Russia's will to fight might flag, given
how extensive sanctions have isolated the Russian economy. Again,
there is scant evidence of this, and sanctions may just as well
have hardened Russian resolve. There is also no reason to believe
that Putin's hold on Russia's political structure is slipping or
fragmenting. Sensible people would recognize this as a stalemate,
and attempt to find some negotiated compromise, but hawks on both
sides are working hard to keep that from happening.
Cohen's article is important for showing how Putin is organizing
support for extending the war indefinitely by portraying it as a
defense of Russian civilization against the West. In such a war,
the stakes are so high that the only option is to fight until the
threat gives up. We should find this prospect very disconcerting,
and should take pains to assure Russia that we're still looking
forward to a peace where we can coexist, work together, and prosper.
But America has its own coterie of civilizational warriors, who
have been stoking this war most of their lives. They insist that
Putin has been plotting revenge against the West since 1991, with
the immediate goal of restoring the Soviet Union borders, moving
on to restore the Russian Empire, and beyond that who knows? Most
of these people are Russophobes dating back to the Cold War, and
they may well have good reason for their prejudices, but turning
them into ideological principles makes them useless in a world
where war is so destructive that almost any kind of peace is
There must be people in the Biden administration to understand
that such demonization of Russia (and China) risks developing into
a war of unimaginable dimensions. There must be people who realize
that cooperation is essential to keep economies functioning, to
transition away from fossil fuels, to save human life as we know
it. Yet they are cornered by arms merchants and strategists and
ideologues who are willing to risk all that just for some patch
of ground that ultimately means nothing.
I've insisted all along that there are ways to negotiate not just
an end to this war but a lasting peace based on mutual respect and
interests. The unwillingness on all sides in doing this is rooted
in misinformation and disrespect. Cohen's article shows one set of
myths taking root in Russia. Perhaps by examining those, we can also
start examining our own.
I suppose that's one way to end a piece. Obviously, much more can
be said. I refer you back to my original
23 Theses piece, and to the weekly sections on Ukraine
Speaking of Which
since Putin's invasion in late February, especially the Feb. 26, 2022
Speaking of Ukraine, where I heaped plenty of blame on Putin,
but also wrote:
The real question is whether the US can come out of this with a
generous, constructive approach to world order -- something far
removed from the arrogance that developed after the Cold War, that
drove us into the manifest failures of the Global War on Terror.
Looking around Washington it's hard to identify anyone with the
good sense to change direction.
earlier, I was already writing about the war drums beating, starting
with "possibly the most dishonest and provocative [tweet] I've ever
seen," and including links to titles like: Army of Ukraine lobbyists
behind unprecedented Washington blitz; America's real adversaries
are its European and other allies; Why every president is terrible
at foreign policy now; and (just to show you I wasn't only thinking
about Ukraine/Russia) Some Trump records taken to Mar-a-Lago clearly
marked as classified, including documents at 'top secret' level.
I also ended with an 11-paragraph PS that worked up to this:
I don't know of anyone with a soft spot for Putin. I do know people
who consider him less of a threat to world peace than the leaders of
the country that spends more than 50% of the world's total military
expenditures, the country that has troops and 800+ bases scattered
around the world, the country that has (or works for people who have)
business interests everywhere, a country that does a piss poor job of
taking care of its own people and has no conception of the welfare of
others, a leadership that so stuck in its own head that it can't tell
real threats from imaginary ones, that projects its own most rabid
fears onto others and insists on its sole right to dictate terms to
I also wrote a fairly long piece on Ukraine and Russia back on
January 27, 2022:
NATO pushes its logic (and luck?). Not much more before that,
at least relative to everything else, but it's interesting to
scroll back, finding lots of stories that still reverberate,
and comments that are mostly still appropriate.
Top story threads:
Trump: The indicted one continues to draw enough comment
to merit his own section, mostly on his legal predicaments, as he
as nothing else substantive to offer -- other than an exceptionally
robust selection of "irritable mental gestures" (Lionel Trilling's
description of "conservative thought," which has only grown more
apt over seventy-plus years).
Holly Bailey: [08-12]
Georgia prosecutor to begin presenting 2020 election case next week
to grand jury: Promises, promises.
Zack Beauchamp: [08-11]
The constitutional case that Donald Trump is already banned from being
president: "Two conservative lawyers make a strong 14th Amendment
argument. But the politics of their theory are very, very dicey." I
don't really buy the "strong" arguments that Trump should be banned,
let alone the idea that doing so would help preserve democracy.
Jonathan Chait: [08-09]
Prosecuting Trump will only make Republicans crazier, warns law prof:
Bush henchman Jack Goldsmith
wrote the op-ed Chait's reacting to: [08-08]
The prosecution of Trump may have terrible consequences. I can
think of reasons why the prosecution may come to naught, but Trump's
acts were so egregious that I can't blame the the system for trying
to defend its conception of law and order. Goldsmith offers impeachment
as a preferable remedy but, you know, been there, done that, found it
didn't really work. Chait asks the obvious rhetorical question: "How
much crazier can they get, though?" It's beginning to seem limitless.
Matthew Cooper: [08-04]
"The jury is not going to believe" Trump's defense in the January 6
trial: Interview with Jennifer Taub: "The problem here is Merrick
Garland. In March 2021, when Garland was sworn in, he should have
appointed a special counsel. There's almost nothing in this indictment
that they would not have had earlier if they had had the special
counsel. We could have had an indictment a year ago. This would
have been resolved."
Ankush Khardori: [08-10]
Is it possible Trump will strike a plea deal to avoid prison?
That's what a sensible person would do, especially one with the
intrinsic advantages of Trump. But it would be political suicide.
His strength is that he always fights back, even when faced with
overwhelming odds. Take that away, and what does he have left?
Chris Lehman: [08-11]
A federal judge warned Trump not to make "inflammatory statements":
Or more precisely, "statements that might amount to witness intimidation
or jury tampering," which reads much more narrowly, given that Trump
makes nothing but inflammatory statements. Now the question is whether
the judge's warning will be enforced (e.g., by finding Trump in contempt
of court and/or revoking his bail). I seriously doubt the judge will do
either, although judge Chutkan has issued a novel threat: see Kyle
Judge warns Trump: 'Inflammatory' statements about election case could
Timothy Noah: [08-08]
The commentariat lets Donald Trump off the hook: The thing is
that while there's no reason for sensible people to take anything
that Trump says seriously, there really are seriously deranged
individuals looking to him for inspiration and direction as to
who to hit in his name. So while Trump himself isn't competent
enough to organize a mugging or a hit, it's not inconceivable
that one of his fans might get the hint and try to please him.
A responsible person would recognize that anyone who has that
sort of influence needs to speak cautiously. Trump simply isn't
that kind of person.
Jose Pagliery: [08-11]
Inside one 'egregious' mistake from Trump's Florida Judge Aileen
Nia Prater: [08-10]
Trump is going after Fani Willis before he even gets indicted:
Have you noticed how Trump attacks every Black person who crosses him as
"RACIST"? Can't he conceive of any other reason someone might not
Christopher Robertson/Russell M Gold: [08-10]
Legal scholars reject Trump complaints: Prosecutors treating him
"a lot better" than most defendants: "We wish that our clients
received the advantages that prosecutors are giving Trump." It
would be more accurate to admit that most defendants are treated
harshly and imperiously, because prosecutors have the power to
do that. Trump is the exception, not just because he's white and
rich and massively lawyered up, but because he brings intense
public scrutiny to the case, forcing everyone to be on their best
behavior -- something almost unheard of in the American system of
Areeba Shah: [08-10]
Trump's Twitter account may be key "part of the puzzle" for Jack
Smith to "prove intent": This explains the rationale for the
subpoena. You can speculate over Elon Musk's obstruction, for
which see Tatyana Tandanipolie: [08-09]
Twitter fined $350K for not complying with Jack Smith subpoena
because they wanted to tip off Trump.
Alex Shephard: [08-10]
Trump as a big weakness, but his rivals don't want to exploit it:
"The former president has been an electoral liability three cycles
in a row. Why not mention it?" But they do at least allude to it,
and it surely gets an airing behind closed doors, especially in
the establishment campaign committees, but there's not much they
can do about it as long as Trump holds sway over a majority of
the base. And it's not as if mainstream Republicans are all that
popular. They depend a lot on gerrymanders, and they're masters
of nasty campaigning, but they're lucky if they break even, and
when they do win, their support quickly collapses. Besides, while
Trump lost some possible votes, he won a lot of crossover votes
in 2016, and even in 2020. And he wins on attitude and conviction,
which is what juices the base. Take that away and what do you
still have left? "Good government" conservatism? Ha!
Jonathan Swan/Ruth Igielnik/Shane Goldmacher/Maggie
How Trump benefits from an indictment effect: "In polling,
fund-raising and conservative media, the former president has
turned criminal charges into political assets."
Betsy Woodruff Swan/Kyle Cheney: [08-08]
Special counsel still scrutinizing finances of Trump's PAC.
Joan Walsh: [08-11]
Please, please stop blaming "progressives" for Donald Trump's
fascism: My first reaction was: yeah, that's Walsh's job (cf.
her rants about Jill Stein, Cornel West, even
Bernie Sanders). Then I read the article, and found out that
this time she's dumping on Michael Schaeffer: [08-11]
Please, please stop with the progressive hero worship of Jack Smith
and Tanya Chutkan. (Not in the title, but in the illustration,
note Robert Mueller, making the point succinctly enough that the
rest of the article is redundant.) I'm not even sure who the
"progressives" are here, but they're obviously not much to the
left of Walsh. It's worth recalling that all of these people were
selected because they would be viewed as impartial by people in
the middle of the political spectrum, and that they will bend over
backwards to prove their impartiality before they're done. Sure,
it's reassuring that they're willing to level the most inarguable
charges against someone as flagrantly evil as Trump, but they're
not heroes; they're just doing their job, within the limits of
their power and understanding thereof.
DeSantis, and other Republicans:
Fabiola Cineas: [08-10]
DeSantis is still standing by Florida's revisionist Black history.
Nate Cohn: [08-10]
It's not Reagan's party anymore: "Our latest poll leaves little
doubt that Donald J. Trump has put an end to that era." This piece
could be an exhibit in How to Lie With Statistics. The very
concept of "Reagan's party" is pretty nebulous. He represented one
faction in a more diverse party, but was at least tolerant of the
other factions. Since the Hastert Rule, Republicans have become so
homogenized that they only move in lockstep. Hence the transition
from Paul Ryan to Trump has been like a school of fish all turning
in unison. Especially spurious is the definition of "Reagan's
three-legged stool": all three are vaguely but perversely defined,
with Reagan himself clearly opposed to the leg defined as "prefer
reducing debt to protecting entitlements" (debt exploded under
Reagan's tax cuts and defense build up, while he raised taxes to
shore up Social Security); "think America should be active abroad"
is way too vague (what about "think Iran-Contra was a good idea"?);
and "oppose same-sex marriage" wasn't even an issue for Reagan,
whose contempt for gays was summed up in his hopes for the AIDS
plague (thankfully, the government didn't actually follow his
lead on that one). No doubt the GOP as evolved since Reagan, but
it's usually been to universalize his most perverse impulses.
In that, we should be wary of excusing him just because later
generations of Republicans became even nastier and more brutish.
Reagan, like Nixon before him, set the tone, which hasn't changed
all that much with Trump. It's just become more shameless.
Ed Kilgore: [08-09]
Ohio blows up the Republican plan to block abortion rights:
Going back to the progressive era, Ohio allows citizens to petition
for a vote on a possible state constitutional amendment, which can
pass with a simple majority of votes. One is scheduled for November
to consider an amendment that will ensure abortion rights as a matter
of state constitutional right. After Kansas voted down 59-41% a state
amendment to remove a constitutional right to abortion, Republicans
in Ohio panicked, and pushed an amendment vote up to Tuesday, to
change the state constitution to require a supermajority of 60% to
pass future amendments. That's what got voted down this week, 57-43%,
allowing the November amendment to be decided by a majority vote.
Further evidence that no gimmick is so obscure or undemocratic for
Republicans to try if they see some advantage. Also that people are
wising up to their tricks.
Dan Lamothe/Hannah Dormido: [08-12]
See where Sen. Tommy Tuberville is blocking 301 military promotions:
I couldn't care less about the promotions, which are mostly general
officers, but it is notable how Senate rules allow one moron to cause
so much obstruction.
Rebecca Leber: [08-11]
An insidious form of climate denial is festering in the Republican
Party. They've basically reverted to shouting their denials
louder, as if that makes them more convincing. Not that Republicans
are unwilling to do something about "climate" if their incentives
are aligned: they're pushing a "Trillion Trees Act," which is
basically Bush's "Healthy Forests Initiative" warmed over (i.e.,
clearcut forests and replace them with tree farms). They also
want to, quoting Kevin McCarthy, "replace Russian natural gas with
American natural gas, and let's not only have a cleaner world, but
a safer world." That's wrong in every possible direction.
Jose Pagliery/Josh Fiallo: [08-09]
'Weak dictator' Ron DeSantis ousts another prosecutor he dislikes:
Orlando-area prosecutor Monique Worrell, a Democrat who won her district
with 67% of the votes. DeSantis previously suspended Tampa prosecutor
Andrew Warren. For more, see Eileen Grench: [03-04]
Florida prosecutor reveals real reasons she landed in DeSantis'
Nikki McCann Ramirez: [08-10]
DeSantis says drone strikes against Mexican cartels are on the table:
I'd like to see this table, the one people are constantly piling stupid
ideas on, just to show they're so tough and brainless.
Michael Tomasky: [08-09]
Please, House Republicans, be crazy enough to impeach Joe Biden:
"If Kevin McCarthy does what his unhinged caucus wants him to do, he
may as well hand over his speakership to the Democrats." It's generally
believed that impeaching Clinton hurt the Republicans (Democrats in
1998 picked up 5 seats in the House, and held even in the Senate,
defying the usual shift to the party out of the White House). They
had a better case then, and a slight hope they might panic Clinton
into resigning. Conversely, it's hard to say that the first Trump
impeachment helped the Democrats (who lost seats in 2020, but took
the White House; after the second, they lost the House in 2022).
A Biden impeachment would be even more obviously a flagrant partisan
ploy, and is even more certain of failure. All it would do is expose
how unhinged Republican rhetoric has become. So I'm not worried that
they might bring it on.
Scott Waldman: [08-07]
DeSantis's Florida approves climate-denial videos in schools.
Noah Weiland: [08-13]
After end of pandemic coverage guarantee, Texas is epicenter of Medicaid
losses: "Texas has dropped over half a million people from the
program, more than any other state." In the early days of the pandemic,
Trump and the Republicans panicked -- most likely because the stock
market crashed -- and begged Democrats to pass a relief bill. What
Schumer and Pelosi came up with was remarkable, and saved the day,
while Republicans became increasingly upset that they had done
anything at all. The emergency reforms all had sunset dates, but
should have been the basis for extended reforms. Voters failed to
reward Democrats for what they did -- the tendency is to assume
that a disaster averted would never have happened -- and now the
American people (especially in "red states") are paying the price.
Biden and/or the Democrats:
Lee Harris: [08-07]
Biden admin to restore labor rule gutted in 1980s.
Robert Kuttner: [08-08]
Biden's New Hampshire blunder. Biden, or the DNC that he controls,
decided to promote South Carolina (which Biden won in 2020) ahead of
Iowa and New Hampshire (which Biden lost, both, badly, although as
the incumbent he'd be very unlikely to lose them in 2024). Folks in
New Hampshire put a lot of stock in being first in the nation. Aside
from ego, it draws a lot of tourist dollars in the middle of winter.
I've always thought this was a really terrible idea, and could write
reams on why, but right now it's simply a boat that doesn't need
rocking, fueled by rationales that don't need airing (e.g., NH is
too white; on the other hand, SC is too Republican; NH gets a lot
of press, but up third, SC has actually had more impact lately).
Jason Linkins: [08-12]
This week's Republican faceplant has a 2024 lesson for Democrats:
No matter how great Bidenomics is, the really persuasive reason to
vote for Democrats is to save us from Republicans. There are many
examples one can point to, but the stripping of abortion rights is
one of the clearest and most impactful.
Chris Megerian/Terry Tang: [08-08]
Biden creates new national monument near Grand Canyon, citing tribal
heritage, climate concerns.
Jeff Stein: [08-12]
5 key pillars of President Biden's economic revolution: run the
economy hot; make unions stronger; revive domestic manufacturing
through green energy; rein in corporate power; expand the safety
Climate and Environment:
Umair Irfan: [08-10]
This strange hurricane season may take a turn for the worse:
"Oceans are at record high temperatures, but El Niño is keeping a
lid on tropical storms in the Atlantic." According to
Wikipedia, there were three named storms in June (before the
season officially started), but only one in July, and none so far
in August. You might also check out the trackers for
Pacific hurricanes (Dora, which crossed open seas, impacted Hawaii's
fires with strong winds);
Pacific typhoons (Mawar, which passed by Japan, was severe;
Doksuri, which hit Fujian and dumped record rainfall as far inland
as Beijing, and Khanun, which landed in Korea, were "very strong,"
as is Lan, currently approaching Japan); and
Indian Ocean cyclones (Mocha, which hit Bangladesh, and Biparjoy,
which hit Gujarat, were especially severe).
Benji Jones: [08-11]
How Maui's wildfires became so apocalyptic: "A large hurricane,
drought, and perhaps even invasive grasses have fueled the devastating
fires in Hawaii."
Kate Aronoff: [08-11]
WHO head on Hawaii: This is the "new normal." Actually, "normal" no
Kellen Browning/Mitch Smith: [08-13]
'We need some help here': West Maui residents say government aid is
scant: Haven't they heard Reagan's quip about "the seven scariest
words in the English language"? Seriously, it was a joke, and when
disaster hits, it isn't even that.
David Gelles, et al: [08-13]
The clean energy future is arriving faster than you think: Sure,
not fast enough, but after decades of talk with little to show for
it, this is starting to look real. Part of a series, including:
Matt Stieb: [08-11]
There will be more Mauis: "The dangers of high winds and dry
grassland make for a dangerous wildfire formula, and not just in
Hawaii." Interview with Nick Bond.
Dan Stillman: [08-11]
Unrelenting Hurricane Dora makes history by becoming a typhoon:
The difference between a hurricane and a typhoon is the international
date line: in the east Pacific, they're hurricanes; in the west, they're
typhoons. Dora started up as a tropical wave that crossed over Central
America into the Pacific, intensifying to Category 4 south of Cabo San
Lucas, Mexico, on August 2-3, and has headed pretty much due west ever
since, passing south of Hawaii but close enough to whip up the winds
that fanned fires in Maui, and it's still headed west, varying between
Categories 2 and 4. It seems to finally be degrading now, and the
forecast shows it curving north.
Molly Taft: [08-11]
Should climate protesters be less annoying? Sure. And I don't
see how some of these examples help. But it's so hard to get heard
that acts of desperation are all but inevitable, and are increasingly
likely as more and more cautiously reasoned projections turn into
hard facts (like the Maui fires this week). And if, for instance,
Kim Stanley Robinson's Ministry for the Future is prophetic,
there's going to be a lot more of what we like to call "eco-terrorism"
in the near future, before serious people finally get serious about
solving the problem. Even when the protesters turn offensive, turning
away from the real problem to condemn them is a waste. They'll go
away when you fix the problem, and until then should only be a
reminder that you haven't.
Connor Echols: [08-11]
Diplomacy Watch: China looms large at Ukraine 'peace summit' --
which wasn't in any practical sense about peace, but was intended
to rally support for Ukraine's non-negotiable points. Echols also
America's top 5 weapons contractors made $196B in 2022.
George Beebe: [08-10]
The myth of a strong postwar Ukraine. It's easy to spin glib
prognoses about a postwar Ukraine, but there are many more questions
than answers. For starters, recall that Ukraine from 1991-2014 fared
even worse under capitalism than Russia. For all its vaunted democracy,
politics in Ukraine were dominated by oligarchs, whose dealings may
have oriented them East or West, without benefit to the masses. While
the West has been happy to provide arms that have devastated much of
the country, they have poor track records when it comes to rebuilding.
Postwar Ukraine is certain to be much poorer than prewar Ukraine. Nor
is the task of resettling millions of refugees likely to go easy. And
a significant slice of a generation is likely to be marred by war,
both physically and psychically. Compared to the existential crises
of war, the question of whether various patches of land wind up on
one side of the border or not is almost trivial -- no matter what
the war architects think at the moment. Everyone loses at war, and
everyone begrudges their losses. Beebe would like to reassure us
that "ending the conflict sooner" still offers "better prospects,"
but there's no calculating how much has been lost, and how much more
there still is to lose.
PS: In reading Philipp Ther: How the West Lost the Peace,
I'm reminded of the mass migrations after the fall of the communist
states in East Europe, especially from East to West Germany. Basically,
the most skilled and mobile workers left, leaving their old countries
impoverished. Something similar happened to Russia and Ukraine with the
departure of many Jews to Israel (and some to the US). Millions of
Ukrainians have already left to escape the war. I wouldn't be surprised
if most of those who can hack it in the West stay there, rather than
return to their bleak and broken homeland. A second point is that the
aid promised to the former communist states rarely amounted to much,
and usually came saddled with debt and neoliberal nostrums that made
a corrupt few rich but left most people much poorer. Maybe postwar
aid will be more enlightened this time, but there is much reason to
remain skeptical. EU membership will bring some redistribution, but
with strings, and will make it easier for Ukrainians to stay in the
West (or if they haven't already, to move there). And America has an
especially poor track record of rebuilding the nations it has ravaged.
Sure, the Marshall Plan helped, but that was 70 years ago, and really
just an indirect subsidy of American business, with strings.
Ted Snider: [08-09]
The Poland-Belarus border is becoming a tinderbox: Wagner Group
forces are training new the NATO border. And now
Poland plans to move around 10,000 troops to border with Belarus.
Neither side appears to be asking "what can go wrong"? The Poles
argue that the move will deter Belarus from misbehavior, but isn't
that what NATO is supposed to guarantee? And given the NATO umbrella,
doesn't Poland's move look like a threat?
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [08-10]
Biden asks Congress for $25 billion in new Ukraine aid: The lion's
share of a $40 billion emergency spending request, bundled with disaster
aid requests Congress will be hard-pressed to reject. Vlahos previously
Most Americans don't want Congress to approve more aid for Ukraine
war, with Republicans more reticent than Democrats. Still, Biden
hasn't had any trouble getting Republican votes for Ukraine (or for
anything that goes "boom"). Also:
Michael Arria: [08-10]
AIPAC eyes another round of Democratic races, brings Jeffries group to
Juan Cole: [10-10]
Israel's crisis is not about democracy but occupation.
Middle East Eye:
Israeli finance minister freezes funds for Palestinian citizens of
Israel: "Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also holds
up educational grants for Palestinians." Looking at this site's
Occupation links, this one struck me as exceptional. Israel was
founded on a compromise whereby Palestinians who had stayed in
Israel throughout the 1948-51 war would be considered citizens of
Israel, but those who had left the country would not, and had their
property confiscated. Palestinian citizens of Israel could vote,
but even so were subject to military law up to 1967, and subject
to other discriminatory laws. This citizenship could have been a
step toward normalizing relations, but a few months after military
law was ended within the Green Line (Israel's pre-1967 borders),
Israel went to war to occupy parts of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.
The people in those occupied territories were subjected to military
rule, without even basic rights of citizenship. As Israelis set up
settlements in the occupied territories, there emerged a two-tier
system of justice. Under recent right-wing governments, there has
been a movement not just to extend settlements in the West Bank
but to strip Israeli-Palestinian citizens of rights dating from
the 1952 compromise, so that this two-tier system is being imposed
in all of Israel. Smotrich's decisions seem deliberately intended
to fan protest within Israel, which can be used as pretext for ever
more violent repression. A glance at the other headlines shows where
this is heading:
Israeli forces kill Palestinian in raid on Tulkarm refugee camp;
Israeli forces kill Palestinian man in West Bank raid;
'Systemic abuse' by Israeli settlers displaces yet another Palestinian
'Watershed moment': Over 700 academics equate Israeli occupation with
apartheid. The letter is here, called
The elephant in the room (the signature list is now up to 1400).
One of the more famous names on the list is Benny Morris, a historian
who did important work in documenting the Nakba expulsions, before
swinging hard to the political right around 2000. His Righteous
Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999 was
a pivotal book for me.
Richard Silverstein: [08-11]
Israel: Chronicle of a genocide foretold.
Around the world:
Ben Armbruster: [08-11]
How US media builds public support for confrontation with China:
"A recent NBC Nightly News threat hyping segment exemplifies the fourth
estate's complicity in a march to a new cold war with Beijing."
Kate Aronoff: [08-10]
Britain's hot new import from America: The climate culture wars.
Ryan Grim/Murtaza Hussain: 
Secret Pakistan documents US pressure to remove Imran Khan. This
was supposedly part of a shakedown when Khan balked at supporting US
on Ukraine. Yet it's hard to think of any other cases where the US
cracked the whip this effectively, so there must be more to this
More on Pakistan:
Jonathan Guyer: [08-11]
Biden's risky Persian Gulf bet: Quotes Emma Ashford: "We're
talking about putting Marines in harm's way to try to deter Iran
from attacking ships, because we're not willing to look at any of
the other political options." The one thing we should have learned
from the Ukraine war is that sanctions and deterrence are more
likely to provoke war than to prevent it. Also:
Trita Parsi: [08-04]
With Marines on Persian Gulf vessels, is Biden risking war with
Iran? Parsi comments that "it is impressive how MBS has played
Biden," but with Saudi Arabia and Iran normalizing relations under
a Chinese-brokered agreement, a more likely explanation is that
this is just further proof that Israel is running American foreign
Taiwo Hassan: [08-08]
Niger coup brings West Africa to brink of war: ECOWAS threatens
to intervene to restore the previous ("democratically elected")
Ellen Ioanes: [08-12]
What could still go wrong with the US-Iran prisoner swap.
Middle East Eye: [08-11]
Iran nuclear deal opponents conspired to oust US special envoy Robert
Malley. The former not only include the usual suspects in Israel,
Saudi Arabia, and Washington, but "certain hardline and influential
elements within Tehran and out of government, without President Ebrahim
Raisi's consent and awareness." There have been rumors, which I never
bothered citing here, of an imminent revival of the anti-nuke deal
with Iran. Hamstringing Malley, who is one of the few Americans to
have actually worked out deals in the Middle East, is one way to keep
any deal from happening.
Li Zhou: [08-10]
A shocking assassination highlights escalating violence in Ecuador.
Li Zhou/Jen Kirby: [08-09]
A deadly shipwreck illustrates the tragedy behind Europe's migration
William Astore: [08-08]
An exceptional military for the exceptional nation: "Recall that,
in his four years in office, Donald Trump increased military spending
by 20%. Biden is now poised to achieve a similar 20% increase in just
three years in office. And that increase doesn't even include the cost
of supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia -- so far, somewhere
between $120 billion and $200 billion and still rising." Also:
The greatest trick the U.S. military ever pulled was essentially
convincing us that its wars never existed. As Norman Solomon notes
in his revealing book, War Made Invisible, the
military-industrial-congressional complex has excelled at camouflaging
the atrocious realities of war, rendering them almost entirely invisible
to the American people. Call it the new American isolationism, only this
time we're isolated from the harrowing and horrific costs of war itself.
America is a nation perpetually at war, yet most of us live our lives
with little or no perception of this. There is no longer a military draft.
There are no war bond drives. You aren't asked to make direct and personal
sacrifices. You aren't even asked to pay attention, let alone pay (except
for those nearly trillion-dollar-a-year budgets and interest payments on
a ballooning national debt, of course). You certainly aren't asked for
your permission for this country to fight its wars, as the Constitution
demands. As President George W. Bush suggested after the 9/11 attacks,
go visit Disneyworld! Enjoy life! Let America's "best and brightest"
handle the brutality, the degradation, and the ugliness of war, bright
minds like former Vice President Dick ("So?") Cheney and former Secretary
of Defense Donald ("I don't do quagmires") Rumsfeld.
Astore cites the
Costs of War Project,
that "roughly 937,000 people have died since 9/11/2001" thanks to the
Global War on Terror, which has thus far run up a bill of $8 trillion.
Of course, GWOT gets little press these days: George Will has dismissed
it recently as the
"era of Great Distraction" -- insisting we return to focus on the
more lucrative Cold War rivalry with Russia and China.
Dean Baker: [08-07]
Taxing share buybacks: The cheapest tax EVER! Baker is right on
here. Share buybacks would be easy to tax, and hard to evade. They
would only take money that's already on the table, and if that tips
the decision as to whether to buy, that's not something anyone else
needs to worry about. Besides, share buybacks are basically a tax
Ross Barkan: [08-03]
Has the socialist moment already come and gone? "Bernie and AOC
helped build a formidable movement. Since Biden took office, we've
seen its reach -- and its limits." Well, what do you want? Sanders
was uniquely able to expand his ideological base of support because
he's one of the few politicians in Washington whose integrity and
commitment are unimpeachable. But also because he's actually willing
to work hard for very modest improvements. He's inspired followers,
but thus far no significant leaders. But does that matter? The
possibility of a resurgent independent left is restrained, as it's
always been in America and Western Europe, by two overwhelming
forces: one is fear of fascism on the far right (Republicans); the
other is the possibility of ameliorative reform from the center
(Democrats). Why risk the former and sacrifice the latter just for
the sake of a word ("socialism," or whatever)? On the other hand,
as long as Democrats -- even such unpromising ones as Biden -- are
willing to entertain constructive proposals from the left, why not
Colin Bradley: 
Liberalism against capitalism: "The work of John Rawls shows that
liberal values of equality and freedom are fundamentally incompatible
Robert Kuttner: [08-07]
Eminent domain for overpriced drugs: "Exhibit A is the case of
the EpiPen. It should cost a few dollars rather than the $600 or
more charged by monopolist Viatris."
Althea Legaspi: [08-12]
Record labels file $412 million copyright infringement lawsuit against
Internet Archive: First of all, the
Archive is one of the great treasures of modern civilization.
A lawsuit against them is nothing less than an assault on culture and
our rights to it. Second, there are mechanisms under current law
for dealing with copyright disputes short of lawsuits. They aren't
necessarily fair or just, but they exist. It's possible that the
labels have exhausted these, but that seems unlikely, given the
ridiculous claims they are making about lost revenue from free
dissemination of 50-to-100-year-old recordings that are already
in the public domain in much of the world (just not the US, due
mostly to Disney lobbyists). Rather, this appears to be malicious
and vindictive, which is about par for the rentier firms that are
pursuing it. Of course, it would be nice to write better laws
that would if not tear down the paywalls that throttle free speech
will at least allow them to expire in a timely fashion.
Miles Marshall Lewis: [08-09]
In 50 years, rap transformed the English language bringing the Black
vernacular's vibrancy to the world: Part of a series of pieces on
the 50th anniversary of rap music, which I'm sure will provide ample
target practice for anyone who finds "the paper of record" more than
a bit pretentious and supercilious. This one focuses on five words
(dope, woke, cake, wildin', ghost), which represent less than 1% of
what one could talk about. Links toward the bottom to more articles,
including Wesley Morris: [08-10]
How hip-hop conquered the world. I'm going to try to not get too
bent out of shape.
Julian Mark: [08-12]
'Unluckiest generation' falters in boomer-dominated market for homes:
"The median age of a first-time homebuyer climbs to 36, as high interest
rates and asking prices further erode spending power." First I heard of
the term (see Andrew Van Dam:
The unluckiest generation in U.S. history), the more common one
being "millennials" (born 1981-96). Van Dam's chart lists ten
generations, each spanning stretches that average twenty years
(min. 17, max. 30, start dates in order from 1792, 1822, 1843,
1860, 1883, 1901, 1925, 1946, 1965, 1981, ending in 1996; no data
for 1997 and beyond). I've never put much stock in these labels,
but have given a bit of thought to which years were the luckiest,
and concluded that men born between 1935 and 1943 hit the sweet
spot: the depression was waning, they were too young for WWII
and (mostly) Korea, too old for Vietnam; they started work in
the boom years of the 1950s, and many were well positioned to
benefit from inflation in the 1970s; they moved off farms and
into cities; many were the first in their families to go to
college. They drove big, gas-guzzling cars, and quite a few
retired to putter around the country in RVs. I have a half-dozen
cousins who fit that profile to a tee. On the other hand, I never
liked the Boomer designation, as it seemed to actually have three
subsets: the leading edge got ahead of the expansion of education
in the 1960s, which by the time I got there was already cooling;
the middle got diverted to Vietnam; and the tail end had to fend
off Reagan. Still, it's hard to feel when you get into your
seventies, even if that's some kind of proof.
Of course, no generational experience is universal.
Women were better off born after 1950, as career options opened
up in the 1970s, and abortion became legal. What is pretty clear
is that prospects have dimmed for anyone born after 1980. It also
seems pretty likely that unless there are big changes, those born
after 1997 will be even more unlucky. But it's more possible than
ever for young people to understand what made some lucky and what
doesn't, and to act accordingly.
Still, this particular article is more about housing prices than
generations. The median US home sold in 2023 for $416,100, up 26%
from 2020, which is pushing the age of first-time buyers up and up,
to 36 from 29 in 1981. I'm beginning to think we made a big mistake
long ago in treating houses not just as necessities but as stores
of wealth and vehicles for investment.
Steven Lee Myers/Benjamin Mullin: [08-13]
Raids of small Kansas newspaper raises free press concerns: "The
search of the Marion County Record led to the seizure of computers,
servers and cellphones of reporters and editors."
James Robins: [08-08]
The 1848 revolutions did not fail: "The year that Europe went to
the barricades changed the world. But it has not left the same impression
on the public imagination as 1789 or 1917." Review of Christopher Clark:
Revolutionary Spring: Europe Aflame and the Fight for a New World,
1848-1849. This is a piece of history I've neglected, although I
have a theory -- partly informed by Arno Mayer's The Persistence of
the Old Regime, perhaps by Hobsbawm's The Age of Revolution,
and more generally by Marx -- that 1848 marked the end of bourgeois
revolutions, as the rising of workers convinced the bourgeoisie and
the aristocracy that they had more in common. Clark has an earlier
book, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, so
perhaps he's looking backwards as well. China Miéville has another
book on 1848, from a different perspective: A Spectre, Haunting:
On the Communist Manifesto.
Nathan J Robinson: [08-11]
You either see everyone else as a human being or you don't:
"It's obviously morally abominable to booby-trap the borders with
razors. But some people think desperate migrants deserve whatever
cruelties we inflict on."
Aja Romano: [08-11]
The Montgomery boat brawl and what it really means to "try that in a
small town": The viral fight valorized Black resistance -- and
punctured Jason Aldean's racist 'small town' narrative."
Jeffrey St Clair: [08-11]
Roaming Charges: Mad at the world. Seems like every week brings
another story like this one:
An Arkansas woman called 911. When the cops arrived, an officer was
frightened by her Pomeranian, shot at the dog and missed, hitting the
woman in the leg. The cop then tries to tell her the bullet hole in
her leg is probably just a
scratch from the dog.
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