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 "perpetual 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 its enemies.

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 preferable.

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 in every 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.

A week 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 the world.

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).

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' crosshairs.

  • 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 net.

Legal matters:

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."

  • 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.

Ukraine War:

  • 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 wrote: [08-07] 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 wrote: [08-04] 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:

Israel, again:

Around the world:

Other stories:

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 avoidance scheme.

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 join them?

Colin Bradley: [] Liberalism against capitalism: "The work of John Rawls shows that liberal values of equality and freedom are fundamentally incompatible with capitalism."

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 Internet 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.

Eric Levitz:

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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