Sunday, August 20, 2023

Speaking of Which

Didn't really start until Friday, but by now this pretty much writes itself. I do notice that I'm dropping more bits of memoir into the mix. Also that I needn't comment on everything. But do read the Astra Taylor piece. Not sure when the new book is coming out, but you probably have time to Democracy May Not Exist: But We'll Miss It When It's Gone first.

I clicked on a bunch of articles, and ran into the paywall at The New Republic. Evidently my wife's subscription had expired. It's probably worth straightening out ($15/year is pretty decent as these things go), but meanwhile the articles that looked promising but I wasn't able to read:

Top story threads:

Trump: He got indicted again, and the resulting tsunami of press earned him his own section, separate from the Republican mill.

  • Alexander Bolton: [08-14] GOP sees turnout disaster without Trump. This suggests that a sizable bloc of Trump supporters will only turn out for him, so that if Republicans run some other candidate with the same effective program, a lot of voters are likely to pass. And since Republicans have alienated most people, they can only continue to win by thin margins (even trying to rig them, as they do). It is certainly true that a lot of Trump supporters really hate many other Republicans -- Mitch McConnell is a good example -- although they hate Democrats so much more that the GOP benefits when they show up. It's also true that Trump's fans are spectacularly misinformed about nearly everything, which is a trait Republican strategists bank on.

  • Jonathan Chait: [08-15] Lindsey Graham: Don't indict Trump, or impeach Trump, or vote against him: Two thoughts here: one is the extended portrait of Graham in Mark Leibovich's Thank You for Your Servitude, which paints Graham as an innate lap dog, who once took John McCain as his leader, a role that, to the surprise of pretty much everyone, Trump has since assumed (the insecurity to have made that transition is staggering); the other is the old maxim, "all's fair in love and war." We won't talk about Graham's love life, but no one in Congress in eons has exhibited a more kneejerk affection for war. Graham has always seen politics as war, so as long as Trump can be seen as an effective warrior (and Graham can hardly see him otherwise), anything can be excused (and most of it can be celebrated).

  • Kyle Cheney: [08-15] Special counsel obtained Trump DMs despite 'momentous' bid by Twitter to delay, unsealed filings show.

  • Isaac Chotiner: [08-16] The benefits and drawbacks to charging Trump like a mobster: "Racketeering statutes allow prosecutors to arrange many characters and a broad set of allegations into a single narrative." Interview with Caren Myers Morrison. Many people have observed that the Trump indictments are designed to tell stories. Morrison contrasts Georgia and Smith: "The other one's Raymond Carver, and this is Dickens."

  • Matthew Cooper: [08-17] Willis's indictment is "an overwhelming show of force . . . shock and awe": Interview with Jennifer Taub.

  • Norman Eisen/Amy Lee Copeland: [08-15] This indictment of Trump does something ingenious.

  • Adam Gopnik: [08-16] There is nothing élitist about the indictments against Trump: "The judicial system is doing its work, and the former President has never been a man of the people."

  • Danny Hakim/Richard Fausset: [08-14] Two months in Georgia: How Trump tried to overturn the vote.

  • Margaret Hartmann:

    • [08-18] Trump cancels press conference, will lie in legal filings instead: On Monday, he promised to unveil on Friday an "Irrefutable REPORT" about "the 2020 presidential election fraud that took place in Georgia." Then, big surprise, he bailed.

    • [08-18] Melania really doesn't care about Trump's indictment, do u? I had this theory back in 1988 that one of the reasons Bush won (besides Willie Horton, you know) was that voters took pity and decided to spare Kitty Dukakis the ordeal of being First Lady. She was clearly unstable and easily freaked out during the campaign, whereas, well, you might not like Barbara Bush, but you knew she could take it. It's hard for me to gin up any sympathy for Melania, but maybe someone should take pity on her. Maybe not as much as I dread a second Trump term, but putting her through a second term as First Lady seems like a lot of unnecessary cruelty.

    • w/Chas Danner: [08-19] Giuliani begged, but Trump refused to cover his crushing legal bills.

  • Richard L Hasen: [08-15] The biggest difference between the Georgia indictment and the Jan. 6 indictment: Race, which enters from several angles, but especially from Trump, who wasted no time in calling the prosecutor racist.

  • Quinta Jurecic: [08-15] Trump discovers that some things are actually illegal: "The cases against the former president aren't criminalizing politics. They're criminalizing, well, crimes."

  • Ed Kilgore: [08-17] A pardon won't save Trump if he's convicted in Georgia: They've rigged the system to make pardons virtually impossible.

  • Ian Millhiser: [08-15] Will anyone trust these hyper-politicized courts to try Donald Trump? "The federal judiciary is a cesspool of partisanship, and now it's being asked to oversee some of the most politically fraught criminal trials in American history."

  • Lisa Needham: [08-15] Trump's Fulton County indictment, unpacked.

  • Andrew Prokop: [08-15] The five conspiracies at the heart of the Georgia Trump indictment:

    1. Trump's effort to get Georgia officials and legislators to change the outcome
    2. Trump's fake electors
    3. Jeff Clark's effort to have the US Justice Department case doubt on Georgia results
    4. Trump allies' effort to influence poll worker Ruby Freeman's testimony
    5. Trump allies' breach of voting data in Coffee County, Georgia
  • Matt Stieb: [08-18] Threats from Trump supporters are piling up against the authorities: This seems like one of those articles that's going to grow to book length by the end of the year. The right-wing ecosystem is a cesspool of hate and malice, so violence is inevitable, and not necessarily preceded by easily traceable threats (such as the late Craig Robertson).

  • Jennifer Rubin: [08-20] Why Trump's Georgia case likely can't be removed to federal court.

  • Charles P Pierce: [08-18] I'm starting to think Donald Trump is untrustworthy: "He canceled a Monday presser that was sure to be the mother of all conditions of release violations."

  • Tatyana Tandanpolie: [08-16] Economic analyst stunned at sources of Jared Kushner's funds: "Just 1% of investments in Kushner's fund came from sources in the United States." No doubt Trump has done a lot of disreputable and dishonest things to get money, but he's never come remotely close to the heist his son-in-law pulled off, leveraging his multiple White House portfolios. The 1% figure looks bad, but the really outrageous number is $3 billion.

  • Hunter Walker: [08-15] The full story behind the bizarre episode that led to charges in Trump's latest indictment: "How Kanye West's publicist, an "MMA fighter," and a Lutehran pastor teamed up to pressure a Georgia election worker."

  • Amy B Wang/Josh Dawsey: [08-19] Trump to release taped interview with Tucker Carlson, skipping GOP debate.

  • Odette Yousef: [08-18] Threats, slurs and menace: Far-right websites target Fulton County grand jurors. Follow-up: Holly Bailey/Hannah Allam: [08-18] FBI joins investigation of threats to grand jurors in Trump Georgia case.

  • Li Zhou/Andrew Prokop: [08-16] Trump's 4 indictments, ranked by the stakes: About what you'd expect, but the Georgia election case could add up to more time than the federal election case, and couldn't be pardoned by a Republican president. (As I understand it, the Georgia governor doesn't have pardon power like the US president has. To secure a pardon in Georgia, you have to go before the state parole board.) The New York charges would also be more difficult to pardon, but aren't very likely to result in jail time. Ranked third is the federal documents case. The charges there are pretty air tight, and the maximum sentences are very long, plus such cases are usually judged harshly.

  • James D Zirin: [08-15] Will the prosecution of Trump have terrible consequences? "Maybe, but they're likely to be far less terrible than if he wasn't prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." I'm not sure I understand either argument. If Trump had quietly faded into oblivion, as Nixon did, I could see letting these charges slip by -- although pleading them out would have been better. But Trump couldn't let it go, so now he really should face a reckoning with his crimes (at least those he's been charged with -- no doubt there were many more). Will this have a chilling effect on the behavior of future presidents? Let's hope so.

    This is an aside, but I hadn't realized that Gerald Ford was given a John F Kennedy Profile in Courage award for pardoning Nixon. There was nothing conventionally recognizable as courage in that pardon. It was pure cover-up, meant to short-circuit further investigations, taking the story out of the press cycle, and saving Republicans from the continued association. Still, in one sense the award was completely predictable. In his 1956 book, Kennedy devoted a chapter to Edmund G. Ross for voting against impeachment of Andrew Johnson, who had become president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and who used his office to sabotage Reconstruction, speeding the return of white racist power in the South. Another of Kennedy's profiles was Robert A Taft, who was praised for his criticism of the Nurembert Trials of Nazi war criminals.

  • Zack Beauchamp: [08-17] The Trump indictments reveal a paradox at the heart of American democracy: "The Trump cases help us understand how America's democracy can be both strong and weak at the same time." Last section sketches out what he calls "the ominous Israeli parallel," which is interesting in that few people are willing to take it seriously, but is not quite the one I would make.

    The simplest way to make sense of politics among Israeli Jews is to divide it on two axes: conservative vs. liberal/socialist, religious vs. secular. The Palestinian "citizens of Israel" are off on the side, with their own conservative (religious) vs. socialist (liberal/secular) spread, but they are rigidly excluded from consideration by Jewish Israelis. The secular/liberal sector was dominant up to 1978, and still an important factor up to 2000, but have since been largely wiped out, as the right has taken the lead in fighting the Palestinians, while neoliberal economic policies have undermined traditional support for Labor. The religious parties early on were content to seek special favors from joining Labor coalitions, but with the rise of the right, they gravitated that way, and recently have become even more anti-Palestinian.

    That same matrix model works reasonably well for the US, at least if you buy the superficially ridiculous idea that Trump is the manifestation of the religious right. The key thing is that the more violence against others, the more people rally to the cult of violence, which is most clearly represented by the party of Armageddon.

    The big question in Israel is whether the threat to democracy from the religious right, which thus far Likud has indulged, will push enough moderate voters into opposition to curb the threat from the far right -- which threatens not just democracy but genocide. One could imagine a similar dynamic in America, but the far-right is mostly out of power here, unable to manufacture crises (although Abbott and DeSantis are trying), and are faced with a more deeply democratic/liberal political culture. Still, that Trump can be seriously considered as a political force, and that Republicans have had so much luck leveraging their power bases, means that the threat here is real. To get a better idea of how real that could be, look no farther than Israel.

DeSantis, and other Republicans:

  • Jonathan Chait: [08-18] 'Lock them up' is now the Republican Party's highest goal: "It's no longer about policy or even culture war but prosecutorial revenge." Nobody seems to remember this, but it was GW Bush who started started the purge of politically unreliable US attorneys back in 2006 (see Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy). I don't recall anything remotely like that under Obama, and Biden hasn't lifted a finger to curtail the Trump-appointed US attorney prosecuting Hunter Biden. You'd think that if Republicans genuinely objected to the partisan nature of being prosecuted by Democrats, they'd deny that if given the chance they'd do the same thing, but the opposite appears to be true: they're chomping at the bit. One pretty good bit here, about Trump:

    Trump's legal jeopardy is easily explained: His private sector record was a long history of shady associations with gangsters and running scams. His presidency was a continuous procession of his own advisers pleading with him not to do illegal things while he complained that his attorneys weren't as unethical as Roy Cohn, the mob lawyer he once employed.

    I wouldn't have bothered with the last clause, as anyone familiar with Cohn knows that representing the mob was nowhere near the most unethical thing Cohn did. Also that Cohn was more of a mentor to Trump than an employee.

    PS: Steve M. comments on Chait's piece: [08-18] Republicans think Democrats stole their act (and are doing it better), starting with a tweet from Ben Shapiro (if you don't know who he is, Nathan J Robinson has written reams on him):

  • Whatever you think of the Trump indictments, one thing is for certain: the glass has now been broken over and over again. Political opponents can be targeted by legal enemies. Running for office now carries the legal risk of going to jail -- on all sides.

    In some sense, that risk has always been there. John Adams passed laws to criminalize the speech of his political opponents, but he never got around to prosecuting his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, who did wind up prosecuting his, Aaron Burr. But for the most part, politicians behaved themselves, or at least managed to keep above the fray when their subordinates misbehaved (Grant, Harding, and Reagan are classic examples; Nixon only escaped with a pardon). But the idea of using criminal prosecutions for political leverage was mostly developed against Clinton, a period when "no one is above the law" was etched on every Republican's lips. Nothing comparable happened on during the Bush and Obama presidencies, although several people wrote books urging the impeachment of Bush (Elizabeth de la Vega was one, in 2006, although the Democratic Congress elected that year didn't touch it), and (as Chait noted) Shapiro himself wrote The People Vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against the Obama Administration, structuring his complaints as a RICO case.

    Trump, on the other hand, was hellbent on prosecuting his opponents from early in the campaign, when "lock her up" became a rally chant. He toned back a bit after taking office, probably realizing that he didn't really have the power to order prosecutions (though Nixon probably did just that with the Chicago 8 and Daniel Ellsberg), but where he did have power he exercised it politically (e.g., to fire James Comey, and to pardon a number of his allies). And in general, he behaved as someone convinced he was above the law, as someone who could never be held to account for trampling on the law, as someone who had no sense of justice other than seizing advantage. And he was above the law, until he wasn't. Prosecution for his crimes may be precedent-setting, but the crimes are very carefully defined, and the evidence overwhelming. As a precedent, it's also a pretty high bar. If a Democrat did anything comparable, most of us would have no problems with prosecution.

  • Ryan Cooper:

  • Beth Harpaz/Jacob Kornbluh: [08-14] Former Trump adviser Michael Flynn blamed Jews for boarding trains to Asuchwitz: And "more offensive comments he's made about Jews." But not a single one involved Israel, so he must be OK.

  • Ed Kilgore: [08-18] DeSantis targeting Ramaswamy in a debate a sure sign he's losing: It's hard to see how calling him an "inauthentic conservative" will pay off, but bashing Ramaswamy as a Hindu should help DeSantis with his bigotry bona fides.

  • Eric Levitz: [08-19] The rise of the young, liberal, nonwhite Republican

  • Nia Prater: [08-17] Trump supporter arrested for threatening to kill Trump's trial judge.

  • Matt Stieb: [08-18] James O'Keefe is now under criminal investigation: Conservative provocateur, recently ousted as CEO of Project Veritas, appears to be one of those guys whose "favorite charity" is himself.

  • Ben Terris: [08-17] Awkward Americans see themselves in Ron DeSantis: I'm not sure which one this reflects more embarrassingly on: the candidate or the journalist (who at least asks one further question: "but do they like what they see?").

  • Chris Walker: [08-16] Arkansas rejects credit for AP Black History -- but Europe history is fine.

  • Benjamin Wallace-Wells: [08-17] In Vivek Ramaswamy, the Republicans have something new: This left me hoping we never have to take him seriously, but fearing that he's proving much more effective at shoveling bullshit than his milquetoast competitors.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters:

  • Aaron Gregg/Jacob Bogage: [08-14] After conservatives' Target boycott, Stephen Miller group sues over losses. Miller's group is called America First Legal, "which bills itself as the conservative movement's 'long-awaited answer to the ACLU.'" It's unclear whether their mission is simply to degrade and ultimately destroy Americans' civil liberties, or they just mean to file lawsuits, like this one, to harass their imagined enemies.

  • Ian Millhiser:

    • [08-16] The fight over whether courts can ban mifepristone is headed back to the Supreme Court: "The far-right court just tried to ban an abortion drug. Here's why you can ignore that."

    • [08-20] The case for optimism about the Supreme Court: "There are some terrible things that even this Supreme Court isn't willing to do." With power comes some measure of responsibility, I guess -- something Thomas and Alito never learned, possibly because when they joined the Court, right-wing agitators were still a minority. Or they may simply bear in mind the threat that Congress can still restructure the Court, a chance that goes up the more they embarrass themselves as political hacks. Roosevelt's "pack the court" scheme wasn't very popular, but ultimately failed because a majority of the Court read the tea leaves and decided that Congress could legislate on issues like child labor after all ("the switch in time that saved nine").

  • Andrew Perez/Julia Rock: [08-18] The antiabortion judge with a financial ethics problem: James Ho, who cast the decisive vote in the mifepristone case Millhiser wrote about above. His wife, Allyson Ho, has "participated in events with the Alliance Defending Freedom and accepted honoraria, or speaking fees, every year between 2018 and 2021."

Climate and Environment: Record-setting high temperatures here in Wichita, yesterday and today and probably tomorrow. Next week we'll probably have news about Atlantic hurricanes, as no less than five suspects have been identified late this week. And while the rubble of Maui and the evacuation of Yellowknife are the big fire stories below, there are also big ones in Washington and British Columbia.

Ukraine War:

  • Blaise Malley: [08-18] Diplomacy Watch: Will Russia follow through on Black Sea threats? "Tensions are gripping the region as Ukraine begins to allow free passage from its ports past the grain blockade." The end of the Black Sea Grain initiative, and the subsequent Russian bombing of Ukrainian ports, not only hurts world food supplies, it also means suggests that Russia has decided that agreeing to such limits on its warmaking won't lead to further negotiation. This is at least partly the result of Ukraine crossing various red lines (mostly through drone attacks, ranging from Black Sea ships to the Kerch Strait Bridge to spots in Moscow), and partly due to ever-tightening sanctions hurting Russia's efforts to export its own agricultural products. Ukraine, meanwhile, is daring Russia to attack ships in its newly-christened "humanitarian corridor." Nothing else in this report suggests any diplomatic progress.

  • Paul Dixon: [08-15] Five lessons from Northern Ireland for ending the Ukraine war. These points are fairly reasonable -- especially the second that "everyone must win" -- but it seems to me that a partition plan, decided by popular vote that hands Russia a slice of Ukraine somewhere between the pre-2022 secession borders and the current battle lines, would be cleaner and simpler than trying to come up with a power-sharing agreement under a neutral Ukraine. That would allow Ukraine to join the EU and (effectively if not quite completely) NATO, while allowing ethnic Russians the option of moving east), so the pre-2014 divisions would effectively vanish. (One wrinkle I would like to see is the option of a revote in 5 years. That would provide both powers with incentives to rebuild and to rule responsibly.)

  • Benjamin Hart: [08-14] How Ukraine's counteroffensive might end: Interview with John Nagl, now a "professor of warfighting studies at U.S. Army War College," once regarded as one of the Army's counterinsurgency gurus. He's pretty gung ho on Ukraine, but he also admits that Ukraine can't fight the war the way Americans would, and that's the way he most believes in. He cites a piece by Steve Biddle: [08-10] Back in the Trenches ("why new technology hasn't revolutionized warfare in Ukraine") that gets technical about weapons systems and trench warfare, while ignoring the only fact that matters: that this war cannot be resolved on the battle field.

  • John Hudson/Alex Horton: [08-17] US intelligence says Ukraine will fail to meet offensive's key goal: "Thwarted by minefields, Ukrainian forces won't reach the southeastern city of Melitopol, a vital Russian transit hub, according to a US intelligence assessment."

  • Michael Karadjis: [08-17] The Global South's views on Ukraine are more complex than you may think: "The claim that developing countries are neutral about the war or even pro-Russian oversimplifies and distorts a more nuanced reality."

  • Paul Krugman: [08-15] Science, technology and war beyond the bomb: Tries to make a case that superior technology and "under the surface" tactical adjustments may still give Ukraine a counteroffensive breakthrough, analogous to the WWII Battle of the Atlantic. In support of this, he cites a piece by Phillips P O'Brien: [07-23] Weekend Update #38, arguing "Please give this time."

  • Branko Marcetic: [08-14] Can Washington pivot from its maximalist aims in Ukraine? Actually, many American presidents have talked themselves into a blind alley. Truman couldn't accept a Korean armistice that Eisenhower signed right after he took office. Johnson never got a chance to negotiate a deal in Vietnam. Perhaps most egregiously, GWH Bush's insistence that Saddam Hussein was Hitler redux made it impossible to explain why he stopped the rout at the border of Kuwait, leading to the grudge match in 2013. Anyone portraying Ukraine as a life-or-death struggle for democracy is either full of shit or incapable of thinking two or three moves ahead. Hard to tell about Biden, but some of his people definitely are both.

  • Peter Rutland: [08-14] Why the Black Sea is becoming ground zero in the Ukraine War: "Kyiv's counteroffensive efforts have focused on cutting Russia off from Crimea, while the grain export deal continues to falter."

  • Ted Snider: [08-16] Why peace talks, but no peace? When I saw this piece, I guessed it was about the recent conclave in Saudi Arabia which Russia wasn't invited to -- really more of Ukraine rehearsing its talking points (see Kyiv says Jeddah participants back Ukraine territorial integrity in any peace deal) -- but this goes back to actual talks, both before and after invasion, which the US and UK helped subvert.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [08-17] Bill Kristol leads charge to make Republicans think 'right' on Ukraine: The neocon founder is juicing over another war, and has some lobbying money to work with, though probably not enough to stand up to Trump.

  • Marcus Walker: [08-20] Why Russia's war in Ukraine could run for years: "The reason isn't just that the front-line combat is a slow-moving slog, but also that none of the main actors have political goals that are both clear and attainable."

  • Lauren Wolfe: [08-14] In occupied regions, Ukrainians are being forced to accept Russian passports: While the annexation is not sanction by international law, the idea that this amounts to genocide mocks the concept.

  • Joshua Yaffa: [07-31] Inside the Wagner Group's armed uprising.

Around the world:

Other stories:

Dean Baker: [08-15] Getting beyond copyright: There are better ways to support creative work.

Paul Cantor: [08-18] The other 9/11: Next month will mark the 50th anniversary of the US-supported coup in Chile, where democratically elected president Salvador Allende was killed, as were many more (the final figure cited here is 3000), and replaced by Augusto Pinochet's dictartorship. Henry Kissinger was chief among the conspirators, and this figures prominent in his long list of crimes against humanity. Pinochet remained in power until 1990, and turned Chile into a laboratory for Milton Friedman's neoliberal economic theories, which needless to say were disastrous.

  • Robert Sherrill: [1988-06-11] William F Buckley lived off evil as mold lives off garbage: An old piece, basically a review of John B Judis: William F Buckley, Jr: Patron Saint of the Conservatives, which includes a section on Buckley's junkets to Chile to help Pinochet. Sherrill was 89 when he died in 2014. I remember reading his eye-opening 1968 book, Gothic Politics in the Deep South, which helped clarify some memories I had of visiting Arkansas when Orval Faubus was still governor. I also read, and occasionally drop the title of, Military Justice Is to Justice as Military Music Is to Music (1970).

Lisa M Corrigan: [08-16] The evisceration of a public university: "West Virginia University is being gutted, and it's a preview for what's in store for higher education."

Carter Dougherty: [05-22] A new vision for a just financial system: A laundry list of mostly good ideas, but the one that always strikes me as key is "provide public banking," which leads me to ask, what do we need all these other crooks and predators for? I don't anticipate outlawing them, and I can see likely value for innovation around the margins, but most banking transactions can be done simply and cheaply by a common non-profit, and that can easily extend into large classes of routine loans (credit cards, mortgages, small business loans, etc.).

Rachel DuRose: [08-12] What's going on with your lightbulbs? Perhaps they're right that "incandescent lightbulbs aren't banned," but they're getting harder to find, not that I've looked in 10-20 years, at least since LED manufacturers stopped trying to charge you for the 5-10 incandescent bulbs you might have bought during the expected lifetime of the LED bulb. I've moved to LEDs wherever possible: the main exception are places where only halogens seem to work; my happiest switch was finding I could replace fluourescent tubes with LEDs without having to rewire around the ballast, and they are many times better.

Jordan Gale: [08-18] An intimate look at Portland's housing crisis: "The ongoing housing crisis in Portland, Ore., has desensitized us to the real people who have been affected." A photo essay.

Peter E Gordon: [08-08] President of the Moon Committee: "Walter Benjamin's radio years." German literary critic, associated with Frankfurt School but legendary in his own right, 1892-1940 (committed suicide when jailed while trying to flee the Nazis). This collects what survives of radio transcripts from 1927-33, a wide-ranging commentary meant to be more readily accessible than his usual writings.

Constance Grady: [08-17] How does Elon Musk get away with it all? "The billionaire's heroic image is built on media praise, breathless fans, and . . . romance novel tropes." But hasn't he also become the object of intense ridicule, based on not just that he's a rich asshole but that he flaunts that image endlessly. Or am I missing something? And what's unusual about rich assholes getting away with things? Sure, Donald Trump is turning into an exception, but think of all the things he got away with before his luck turned. And as a rich asshole, he still has such enormous advantages, he may still get away with it.

Lauren Michele Jackson: [08-17] The "-ification" of everything: "it's an interesting combination of trying to do something original that is, in fact, already quite derivative. That's how culture works."

Chalmers Johnson: [08-13] Coming to terms with China: This is a piece written back in 2005 by the former CIA analyst (1931-2010), who wrote a series of books I recommend highly: Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000; rev. 2004); The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2006); Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2007); and Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (2010). In one of those books, he published a thought experiment as to how China could disable America's entire satellite network (all it would take would be to "launch a dumptruck full of gravel" into earth orbit), and how crippling that would be. This is a sober analysis of trends already clear in 2005 as China was emerging as a fully independent world power. He ends with the question: "Why should China's emergence as a rich, successful country be to the disadvantage of either Japan or the United States?" In particular, he warns that: "History teaches us that the least intelligent response to this development would be to try to stop it through military force." Yet we clearly do have strategists in Washington whose intelligence is that low.

Mike Joy: [08-15] Critics of 'degrowth' economics say it's unworkable -- but from an ecologist's perspective, it's inevitable. Looks like it was David Attenborough who said, "someone who believes in infinite growth is either a madman or an economist." Even some economists realized that infinite growth can't possibly happen (although I failed to find the quote; I vaguely remember Kenneth Arrow). One of the big differences between eco-activists and Democrats is that the latter see growth as the solution to all problems, whereas we (putting on that hat, which isn't my only one) see it as one of the most intractable of political problems. But at some point, I think it does have to come into play, as I don't see any viable alternative.

Stephen Kearse: [08-17] The return of Nonane: "In her new album, Sundial, the rapper melds her activism and artistry seamlessly." Before I heard this album, I ran into complaints of anti-semitism, a kneejerk reaction to guest Jay Electronica namedropping "Farrakhan sent me." So this review is first of all interesting to me because the reviewer didn't even notice the offense, casually grouping Jay Electronica with Billy Woods among "the fellow rap mavericks," with an oblique reference to a different line. Expect my review in the next Music Week. I wish I was as sure of her political acumen as Kearse is, but I also doubt that it really matters.

Chris Lehman:

  • [08-16] The patronizing moralism of David Brooks: "In a series of recent essays, the New York Times columnist has pronounced all social ills the result of deficient moral fiber among individuals." Reminds me of a Bertolt Brecht line, but the English translations leave much to be desired. ("Grub first, then ethics"? More like "morality is a self-satisfying luxury for those who have eaten." Not that Brecht couldn't be pithy, as in: "What keeps mankind alive? Bestial acts.") Still, isn't it possible to accept Brooks' analysis and simply ask "so what"? If problems are caused by "deficient moral fiber," why should that prevent us from solving the problems? Does it sound like too much work? Or is it possibly the sense of righteousness that accrues to people who can afford to look down their noses at others? It's even possible that people who "lack morals" now might develop some once their baser needs are met. On the other hand, I rather doubt that the conservative approach, which is to let people rot in their squalor, or just lock them away or worse, gives "morals" a very good reputation, or sets a positive example.

    Interesting note toward the end here about Christopher Lasch. I read much of his early work, but never got to The Culture of Narcissism, which as Lehman notes is widely cited by social scourges like Brooks. Lehman defends Lasch as much misunderstood, which certainly sounds credible to me. After all, the amount of stuff Brooks misunderstands seems boundless.

  • [08-18] The new bard of the right: More than you need to know about a country song by Oliver Anthony, "Rich Men North of Richmond," which earns its conservative bona fides by bitching about how taxes are spent on poor people (without, of course, noting the vastly larger sums spent making rich people richer).

    PS: Listened to the song and double-checked the lyrics. First verse could just as easily have turned left ("I've been sellin' my soul, workin' all day/ Overtime hours for bullshit pay"), but then he makes a couple fairly major blunders. You know about the punching down on welfare, which has been a right-wing trope for more than fifty years, but the other one still surprises me: "These rich men north of Richmond/ Lord knows they all just wanna have total control." This notion that "liberal elites" (which is what his phrase means, after stripping away the gratuitous Confederate angst) want "total control" is ridiculous on many levels, yet it is the common thread of right-wing paranoia (e.g., Bill Gates' nanobots disseminated through Covid vaccines). Such control, despite the diligent efforts of regimes like China and Israel, is impossible, and even if it were possible, no liberals would want it: central tenets of liberalism include that all people should think for themselves, and respect for (or at least tolerance of) different thinking by others.

    Conservatives, on the other hand, are opposed to those tenets, which makes their aversion that liberals want "total control" look like some kind of projection. On a practical level, this leads them to prevent students from being exposed to facts and ideas that may undermine their preferred beliefs, and where possible to ban those ideas from the public, while using the power of the state for harsh repression of any sign of dissidence.

    A couple more comments on this song:

Gregory P Magarian: [08-20] The revealing case of a Kansas judge and a search warrant: The Marion, KS police raided the offices of a small-town newspaper that had upset a local business owner.

Orlando Mayorquin: [08-20] Store owner is fatally shot by man who confronted her about Pride Flag. Her murderer was later tracked down and killed by police, further proof that while guns are good for committing crimes, they're not much good for self-defense.

Christian Paz: [08-14] How two pop culture Twitter accounts turned into the internet's wire service: "Are Pop Crave and Pop Base the future of political journalism?" Noted out of curiosity, which so far isn't sufficient to render an answer. I am, however, skeptical, and not just about these particular portals but about "political journalism" in general.

Andrew Prokop: [08-17] The mystery of Hunter Biden's failed plea deal: "Incompetence, malfeasance, or politics?" My best guess is mixed motives, undone by politics. The plea deal was a way for the prosecution to score a win, while Biden gets to put the case behind him without too much pain. But neither motive was strong enough to overcome the politics, where Republicans have been harping on "the Biden crime family" way before Biden ran in 2020. Without this drumbeat of harassment, I doubt the case would ever have been prosecuted, regardless of the defendant's name. In any case, credit Republicans with extraordinary chutzpah for juggling their political campaign against Biden while while still decrying political motives in re Trump.

Sigal Samuel: [08-18] What normal Americans -- not AI companies -- want for AI: "Public opinion about AI can be summed up in two words: Slow. Down." One significant polling result is: "82 percent of American voters don't trust AI companies to self-regulate." One proposal is that: "At each phase of the AI system lifecycle, the burder should be on companies to prove their systems are not harmful." Even this seems like a two-edged sword, as "harmful" can mean different things to different people. I'm inclined to limit ways companies can profit from AI, such as requiring the software to be open source, so we can get lots of eyes evaluating it and flagging possible problems. That would slow things down, but also help assure us that what does get released will be used constructively. If AI seems like a sudden emergence in the last couple years, it's because companies have hit the point where they have products to sell to exploit various angles. Given that most new business development is predatory, that's something one should be wary of.

Jeffrey St Clair: [08-18] The night the cops tried to break Thelonious Monk. No "Roaming Charges" this week, but this is worth perusing. It recounts the story of how Monk took a rap for the more fragile Bud Powell in 1951, and how Monk got blackballed by NYC, so he couldn't perform live during the period when he cut some of the most groundbreaking albums in jazz history. I first encountered these stories in Geoff Dyer's fictionalized But Beautiful, which I've always loved (although I know at least one prominent Monk fan who flat out hates the book).

Astra Taylor: [08-18] Why does everyone feel so insecure all the time? One of the smartest political writers working today, offers an introduction to her forthcoming book, The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart, where among much more she picks up on Barbara Ehrenreich's "fear of falling" theme (title of her "1989 study of the psychology of the middle class"). The more recent term is precarity. Much of this is quotable, as I'm reminded by tweets quoting her:

The relatively privileged have "rigged a game that can't be won, one that keeps them stressed and scrambling, and breathing the same smoke-tinged air as the rest of us."

"Insecurity affects people on every rung of the economic ladder, even if its harshest edge is predictably reserved for those at the bottom."

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: [05-29] The long afterlife of libertarianism: "As a movement, it has imploded. As a credo, it's here to stay." Review of The Individualists: Radicals, Reactionaries, and the Struggle for the Soul of Libertarianism, by Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi, while roping in several other books. This reminds me that one of my jobs, back in the mid-1970s, was typesetting reprints of several Murray Rothbard books -- for the Kochs, as it turned out -- so I got deep into the weeds of his arguments for privatized police and fire departments, among everything else. Thus I was able to make sense out of Michael Lind's quip: that libertarianism had been tried and had failed; it was just called feudalism at the time. (Can't find the exact quote.) It's easy to imagine the Kochs as feudal lords, because that's how they run their company (and would like to run the country), which not coincidentally leaves precious little liberty but anyone but the lords. Still, when governments do become overbearing, which is sadly much of the time, it's tempting to fall back on the libertarians for sharp critiques. It's just impossible to build anything that works from negative platitudes. As I think back, the new left was much smarter to focus not on government, which was a tool and rarely monolithic, but on power itself. I don't recall when I first ran across the maxim "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," but it was well before I turned left, yet it remains as one of the great truths of our times.

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