Sunday, August 27, 2023
Speaking of Which
The Republican Party has been skidding into dysfunction and madness
for decades now -- take your pick when you want to start the plot --
but last week hit a new all-time low. Trump and eighteen others --
some conspiracists and others mere suckers -- had to trek to the
Fulton County Jail to be booked on racketeering charges, something
they turned into the mother of all photo-ops. Meanwhile, eight more
Republicans presidential candidates showed up in Milwaukee for a
Fox-sponsored debate forum, where they were torn between the need
to prove themselves as alpha leaders and the terror of saying
anything that could be construed as out of line with the dogma
propagated by the oracles of the right, ranging from QAnon to
Fox to Trump himself, whose 40+ poll leads exempted him from
having to associate with such meager strivers.
Weeks like this make me think I should dust off my political
book outline and finally get cranking -- although there seems to
be little chance of that happening. Basically, the idea is:
Introduction: The stakes of the 2024 election go way beyond
the usual patronage interests of political parties. This is not
just because Republicans and Democrats are rivals for popularity
and power. The Republicans have become so obsessed with seizing
and exploiting power, and so locked into a rich donor class and
a dwindling, emotionally fraught base, that in their desperation
they've turned against democracy, civil rights, reason, justice,
and civility, leaving them with a political agenda incapable of
addressing growing problems (like climate and war). The signs
are obvious. For example, when Trump lost in 2020, dozens of
Republican-controlled state legislatures passed new laws to
restrict or interfere with voting rights. They've gotten away
with this because they've been organized and ruthless, but also
because Democrats have been ineffective at countering them. The
first parts of the book will explore in more depth how and why
Republicans have gone so wrong. The latter parts will suggest
some ways Democrats can respond more effectively, and when they
do win, govern better.
- History and structure: Here I want to look at the evolution
of the two-party system -- with an aside on why third parties
don't work -- and how it has evolved into a right-left divide.
Part of this is the period scheme I've sketched out before:
Jefferson-to-Buchanan, Lincoln-to-Hoover, Roosevelt-to-Carter,
Reagan-to-Trump. (The first could be divided at Adams/Jackson.
The second might have split with the Populist revolt of Bryan,
but that break was suppressed. Teddy Roosevelt represented a
brief progressive revival within the Lincoln-to-Hoover period,
as Johnson did in Roosevelt-to-Carter. Washington-to-Adams has
a similar pattern, but wasn't long enough for an era.) While
the first three eras each marked a distinct shift to the left,
Reagan is exceptional in moving to the right, so we need to
explore that anomaly: particularly how Reagan's success moved
Democratic leaders to the right, while driving the Democratic
base to the left.
- The Modern Republicans: The core concept that Republicans
are the only true Americans was forged in the Civil War, even
as the Party was split from the start between progressive and
conservative factions. However, with Goldwater conservatives
became ascendant, but it was Nixon to taught them not just how
to win but that winning was the only thing that matters. Nixon's
dirty tricks eventually did him in, but his legacy was to take
every advantage, to undermine opponents at every opportunity.
Reagan and the Bushes did this, while seeming to be nice guys.
Gingrich and Cheney weren't nice at all, and the base liked
them even more -- especially as the Fox cheerleaders kicked in.
After Obama won, Fox got ever nastier, and the Republican sweep
in 2010 went to their heads. Trump was nothing but menace. When
he managed to win without even getting the votes, Republicans
knew they had found their messiah. Even after losing Congress
in 2018, he held firm. And when he lost in 2020, he simply cried
foul, and most Republicans were so invested in him, they played
along. Karl Rove had contrasted self-actualizing Republicans to
"the reality-based community." Trump went him one better, making
his followers believe that reality was just a conspiracy against
- Republicans Against Reality: The problem with Republicans
isn't just that they have no ethics, that they are inextricably
wedded to graft, that the fear and hatred they exploit for votes
rebounds against them, and the contempt they show for everyone
else motivates opposition. They also have really bad ideas, based
on a really poor understanding of how the world works. The theme
for this section is to examine 4-6 problem areas and show how
Republican solutions only make them worse. Some possibilities,
in no particular order:
- Government and the public interest: Reagan's joke and
Norquist's bathtub. Attacks on civil service, including public
sector unions, and expanding political control. Revolving door
and regulatory capture. Privatization. Erosion of the very idea
of public interest.
- Macroeconomic policy, business cycle, wage suppression,
inflation, bailouts for certain businesses.
- Tax policy, increasing inequality, and consequences.
- Mass incarceration, the erosion of civil rights, and the
imposition of repressive thought control (e.g., in education).
- Health care (opposition to anything that might help improve
services and/or contain costs).
- Climate change and disaster management.
- Defense policy, opposition to international treaties/cooperation
(except trade with the requisite graft), the wasteful deployment of
armed forces in the War on Terror, and the reckless provocation of
Russia and China.
Obviously, each of these could be a chapter or even a book on its
own, but they cover a broad swath of major issues, and are typical
of Republican approaches.
- What Democrats Can Do: To counter the Republicans, Democrats
need to do two things: they need to win elections, and they need to
implement policies that deal constructively with problems. Republicans
only do the former, and they do it mostly by convincing people that
they should fear and loathe Democrats. It shouldn't be hard to turn
the tables, given the critique of the previous chapters. Fear and
loathing of Republicans isn't enough to clinch Democratic wins, but
it is pretty widespread by now, at least among people with any idea
of the Republican track record. But the other thing Democrats need
to do is to build trust, and prove themselves trustworthy. Democrats
are most vulnerable when Republicans can turn the tables and paint
them as corrupt and/or out of touch (cf. the check-kiting scandal
of 1994, Obama's aloof and tone-deaf confidence cult in 2010, and
Hillary Clinton's courting of special interests in 2016).
This could be divided into two sections, with one showing how
the Democrats have compromised themselves, especially during the
Reagan-to-Obama era. (It took Trump to finally repulse Democrats
enough to stop tacking toward the center, although Bloomberg and
others rose to do just that in 2020, anything to deny Sanders the
nomination.) It's possible that many of these points may have been
made in earlier sections. The second part would be a recommended
behavior guide for Democratic candidates. I don't see much value
in providing a catalog of possible problem solutions -- a subject
for another book (or several). Rather, the goal is to show ways
Democrats can respond to Republicans in ways that elicit trust
from voters. Democrats need to listen and engage. They need to
keep an open mind, and be flexible enough to change tack when
better (or easier) solutions emerge. They need to balance off
multiple interest groups, and they need to minimize losses when
tradeoffs are necessary. They need to be decent and empathetic.
They need to offer orderly transitions where change is required.
They need to be very reluctant to force changes. They need to
develop the skills to reason down people on all sides who get
hung up on details. They need to respect differences of belief,
and to avoid blanket condemnation. They need to recognize that
there are limits to power, and shy away from overstepping. And
they need to recognize that some things can't be fixed before
they break, so that much of the work ahead will be recovery,
and won't be helped by recriminations.
Afterword: Is there anything left that needs to be said?
At some point, I should explain that the target audience for this
book consists of Democrats who are active in electoral politics, and
are trying to navigate the two requirements noted above: win elections,
and govern to make conditions better. It is also for leftists who are
willing to work within the Democratic Party to advance their ideas,
which often involves coalition-building with people who don't share
many of those ideas. Hopefully, it will help both understand each
other, and join forces, at least for practical purposes. I also
think that Democrats should accept that there are leftists who
don't want to work with them, and not get all bent out of shape
over that. Some Democrats seem to get way more agitated that some
folks voted for a Jill Stein or Ralph Nader than that many more
voted for Trump or Bush (or against Clinton or Gore). I won't go
so far as to say that there are "no enemies on the left," but I
have found that principled refuseniks are more likely to show up
at a demonstration when you really need them than are your local
Democratic Party workers.
The main way the book helps is in providing a historical
framework to how politics has been practiced in America, and a
general sense of how hopelessly divided we are on a number of
important issues. I think this framework will make it easier
to approach issues as they come up in campaigns. The etiquette
guide may also help, but most people inclined to run for office
already know most of it. There I'm more concerned with leftist
readers, who may need to moderate their tactics, if not their
The book is not intended to convince Republicans (even Never
Trumpers) or Mugwumps. That's different task, and may very well
require a different writer. I do think that most people who vote
Republican are very poorly served by their elected representatives.
Maybe a few of them will open the book and discover why, but I'm
not counting on that, and don't regard it as a priority. That does
not mean I see no value in approaching such people politically.
I think literally everyone will ultimately benefit from honest,
flexible, responsible politics -- even billionaires who could take
a big financial hit. But people are different, and need to be
Such a book would ideally be published by early summer 2024,
in order to have any impact on those critical elections. Of course,
it's still likely to be generally useful after the election, and
well into the foreseeable future. My fantasy is that someone will
read it and decide to run. It can't have that impact in 2024, but
there will be many more critical elections to come.
Still, nine months seems like a long time compared to the five
hours I invested knocking the above out off the top of my head.
Too bad I don't have the confidence to commit to that.
Top story threads:
Trump: His week was dominated by the order that he surrender
to the Fulton County Jail, which produced a rather peculiar mug shot,
and the usual senseless blather on Trump's part, and reams of reports
and commentary elsewhere. Pieces on this (and other Trumpiana) are
alphabetized below, with Zhou as an intro, his Wednesday-night debate
diversion at the end.
Li Zhou: [08-24]
Why Trump's surrender is such a big deal: "Everything you need to
know about Trump's arrest, mugshot, and coming arraignment."
Li Zhou/Nicole Narea: [08-25]
A visual guide to the 19 defendants in the Trump Georgia case:
"The mugshots and the charges they face, briefly explained." I have
to wonder about the mugshot process. For one thing, the Sheriff
medallions are different sizes, with Trump's especially small, all
but illegible. Also, Trump's picture is uniquely flattering, his
face sharply etched in shadows while the glare present in most of
the shots is limited to his shiny hair (which, as Warren Zevon once
put it, "is perfect").
Aaron Blake: [08-26]
Trump's Georgia case could get real -- quickly: With 19 defendants,
each relatively free to pursue their own options, including the early
trial date that Trump dreads. It's not unusual for defendants to plead
out during RICO trials, which usually means testifying against their
co-defendants -- of which one stands out as "more equal" than the
Philip Bump: [08-25]
Parsing Trump's post-surrender comments in Georgia.
Will Bunch: [08-27]
Journalism fails miserably at explaining what is really happening to
America: "Momentous week of GOP debate, Trump's arrest gets 'horse
race' coverage when the story's not about an election but authoritarianism."
Margaret Hartmann: [08-22]
Does Trump want me to think he's a flight risk? Well, he
does like to be seen as unpredictable, even though he rarely is. He
does tease a flight to Russia, but surely there must be preferable
retreats for an itinerant billionaire on the lam?
Vinson Cunningham: [08-25]
Trump's mug shot is his true presidential portrait: "He might be
angry in the mug shot; he might even be scared. But he damn sure doesn't
look surprised. Nobody is."
Ankush Khardori: [08-25]
Lock him up? A new poll has some bad news for Trump: Most
Americans believe Trump should stand trial before the 2024
election: 61% to 19% (independents 63% to 14%, Republicans 33%
to 45%). About half of the country believes Trump is guilty in
the pending prosecutions: 51% to 26% (independents 53% to 20%,
Republicans 14% to 64%). Half of the country believes Trump
should go to prison nif convicted in DOJ's Jan. 6 case: 50%
for imprisonment, 16% for probation, 12% financial penalty only,
18% no penalty (independents 51% prison to 14% for no penalty;
Republicans 11% to 43%). They also argue that "a conviction in
DOJ's 2020 election case would hurt Trump in the general
election," and "there is considerable room for the numbers
to get worse for Trump."
Akela Lacy: [08-24]
Georgia GOP gears up to remove Atlanta prosecutor who indicted Donald
Trump: "Lawmakers invoked a new law that's supposed to target
reform DAs. The real targets are Black Democrats." This is evidently
similar to the law that DeSantis has been using to purge Florida of
Democratic District Attorneys. But the grounds stated in the law are
using discretionary powers to not prosecute state laws, so it will
be a stretch to remove Willis for actually prosecuting a case. Not
that Republicans think they need an excuse to trash local democracy.
Amanda Marcotte: [08-21]
Let's pour one out for Mike Lindell: MyPillow Guy wasn't important
enough to get his own indictment. Speaking of unindicted
co-conspirators, Marcotte also wrote about: [08-23]
Roger Stone's hubris exposes Trump's plan: New video shows lawyers
faked distance from Capitol riots.
Patrick Marley: [07-18]
Michigan charges 16 Trump electors who falsely claimed he won the
state: This story is more than a month old, so "the charges are
the first against Trump electors" is still true, but now they're
not also the last. There is also a story by Kathryn Watson: [08-17]
Arizona AG investigating 2020 alleged fake electors tied to Trump.
Looks like there are also investigations in
Kelly McClure: [08-27]
Trump gripes on Truth Social that indictments are keeping him from PGA
championships in Scotland.
Nicole Narea: [08-25]
Why Trump seems to grow more popular the worse his legal troubles
become: "Trump isn't Hitler. But when it comes to the courts,
he's successfully borrowing the Nazi's playbook." But, like, is
any of that actually true? Sure, Trump has a hard core following,
but is it really growing with each indictment? He's good not just
at playing the victim, but in acting defiant, but that's easy given
how much deference his prosecutors have shown him. And is running
40 points above DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Pence, Scott, Haley, Christie,
et al. such an accomplishment? All it suggests that Republicans are
more into circuses than bread
As for Hitler, the best analogy is the one Marx coined comparing
the two Napoleons: the latter was as full of delusion and himself
as the former, but had none of the skills, and few of the grievances,
that made the original such an ill-fated menace. But Trump was never
a failed painter, nor a battered soldier. He wasn't hardened by jail,
and never tried to articulate a vision, even one as perverse as
Mein Kampf. His agenda to "make America great again" was
miraculously achieved on inauguration day, as him being president
was all greatness required. Conversely, as soon as he lost the
presidency, America fell back into the toilet. Hitler, on the
other hand, just started when he ascended to power,
and used it even more ruthlessly than Napoleon, until it consumed
him, destroyed his nation, and wrecked much of the world.
Given that there is little daylight between Trump and Hitler
regarding emotions and morals, we are lucky that Trump is pure
farce: he is stupid, he is lazy, and he understands politics
purely as entertainment (which is the only thing he has any
real aptitude at, although lots of us have trouble seeing even
that). But not being Hitler doesn't make him harmless. He's
created -- not from whole cloth but by building on decades of
resentment and vindictiveness, from Reagan to Gingrich and
especially through the talking heads at Fox and points farther
right -- what may be summed up as the Era of Bad Feelings: a
revival of right-wing shibboleths and fever-dreams that had
mostly been in remission. And then there are the opportunity
costs: things we will pay for in the future because we were
too cheap, or dumb, or distracted to deal with when they were
still manageable (climate, obviously, but also infrastructure,
health care, and perhaps most importantly, peace).
Nonetheless, Narrea has opted to go down this rabbit hole, by
interviewing Thomas Weber, who's written about the comparison in
a forthcoming book,
Fascism in America: Past and Present (along with others
writing on various right-wing movements). I've done considerable
reading into the history of fascism, and as a person on the left,
I've developed a sensitivity to both its politics and aesthetics,
so these questions engage me in ways that most other people will
find pedantic and probably boring. I won't go into all that here,
but will note that even I find this particular discussion rather
David Remnick: [08-22]
The mobster cosplay of Donald Trump.
Jeff Stein: [08-22]
Trump vows massive new tariffs if elected, risking global economic
war: "Former president floats 10 percent on all foreign imports
and calls for 'ring around the collar' of U.S. economy." Unlikely
he's thought this through, but a reason for doing something like
this would be to help balance a trade deficit the US has run since
1970 and never done anything serious about, because the dollar drain
is either held as capital abroad or returned for financial services
and assets in America -- both of which are massive transfers to the
rich both here and elsewhere. But it's unlikely to happen, because
it will upset a lot of apple carts, and those aggrieved interests
will have no problem reframing it as a massive tax on American
consumers, which it would be. For more, see:
Dean Baker: [08-23]
Donald Trump's $3.6 Trillion Dollar Tax Hike: This might look bad
for Republicans to be raising taxes, but the only taxes Republicans
care about are ones that take money from the rich and distribute it
downwards -- those they hate, and do anything in their power to kill.
Tariffs, on the other hand, are taxes on consumption -- the only one
of those Republicans get upset over is the gasoline tax (or worse,
any form of carbon tax). Moreover, tariffs allow domestic businesses
to raise prices and pocket the profits, so they're cool with that,
Paul Krugman: [08-24]
Trump, lord of the ring (around the collar): Krugman hates the
idea for the usual reasons, plus some extras. At least he admits
that the economic inefficiencies are pretty minor. Given that any
taxes raised will be quickly respent, his complaint about the
regressive nature of the tax isn't such a big deal, either. His
bigger point has to do with international relations, although he
could explain it better. Trade makes nations more interdependent,
and less hostile. Unbalanced trade, like the US has been running,
also returns some good will. East Asia (China included) largely
grew their economies on trade surpluses with the US, and that
helps keep most of them aligned militarily aligned with the US
(not China, but it certainly makes China less hostile than it
would be otherwise). Trade wars, on the other hand, undermine
relationships, promote autarky and isolation, or drive other
countries into alliances that bypass the US (e.g., BRICS). The
few countries the US refuses to trade with fester economically
and become more desperately hostile (North Korea, Cuba, Iran,
Venezuela, and now Russia). They are usually so small that it
doesn't cost the US much, but Russia is stressing that, and a
trade war with China would stress everyone.
Caitlin Yilek/Jacob Rosen: [08-27]
Trump campaign says it's raised $7 million since mug shot release.
I had already snagged the Darko cartoon up top before linking to this.
After all, he always does this.
Matt Stieb: [08-23]
The craziest moments from Trump's Tucker Carlson interview.
For more crazy:
Jeanne Whalen: [08-22]
Trump promised this Wisconsin town a manufacturing boom. It never
arrived. Also on this:
DeSantis, and other Republicans: Starts with the Fox dog
and pony show in Milwaukee.
Eric Levitz: [08-24]
Who won (and lost) the first Republican debate: Scorecard format
counts DeSantis and Pence as winners; Ramaswamy, Scott, Haley, and
"your grandchildren" as losers. The knock on Scott was that he tried
to be sensible and was revealed as boring, while Haley tried to be
serious and turned preachy (she "came across as the most informed,
capable, and honest candidate on the stage. In other words, she's
cooked." Levitz didn't mention this, but she was also psychotic on
foreign policy, but sure, in Washington that counts as a synonym
for serious). Ramaswamy, on the other hand, tried to be "the biggest
sociopath at the prep-school debate" only to find out that he "just
isn't [MAGA Americans] kind of conman." That left the candidates
self-respecting Republicans can see themselves in, which is to say
ridiculous ones. As for the rest of us, we don't count to this
crowd. Levitz was much too kind in summing up their agenda for us
as a loss to "your grandchildren." The threat of these politicians
is much more urgent than that.
For more on the debate (let's try to contain this, although it
leaks out, especially in the attention suddenly being paid to Vivek
Intelligencer Staff: [08-23]
34 things you missed at the Republican debate: The live blog, so
LIFO. Levitz skipped over Christie, but he wound up with the third
largest talking share (after Pence and DeSantis). Chait noted how
Christie got booed, and: "Christie picked the most moderate possible
ground to object to Trump's attempt to secure an unelected second
term. That stance was beyond the pale." As for DeSantis as winner:
Hartmann noted "Ron DeSantis almost appears human," while Rupar
conceded that "DeSantis is getting better at making normal human
facial expressions." With Republicans, it seems that journalists
have to take what they can get.
Dan Balz: [08-26]
'Democracy' was on the wall at the GOP debate. It was never in the
conversation. Clearly, they view democracy as the enemy, but
they can't exactly say that in so many words.
Emily Guskin, et al: [08-24]
Our Republican debate poll finds Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy
won: Poll limited to "likely Republican voters," with 29% to 26%.
Nikki Haley came in third with 15%, Pence had 7%, Scott and Christie
4%, Burgum and Hutchinson 1%, 13% had no idea. Comparing pre- and
post-debate polls, Haley got the largest bump (29-to-46%), followed
by Burgum (5-to-12%).
Ed Kilgore: [08-24]
The debate did nothing to diminish Trump's control of the GOP.
Rebecca Leber: [08-24]
The first GOP debate reveals a disturbing level of climate change
denial. The more impossible it becomes to ignore or waive away
the evidence, the more dogmatic they become in rejecting the very
notion, and the more they retreat from any possible compromise. Nor
is this the only example. On virtually every issue, Republicans have
hardened their positions into rigid principles that they will defend
even if it involves wrecking the government. This is in stark contrast
to the Democrats, who have long been willing to compromise anything.
The result makes Republicans look strong (albeit crazy) and Democrats
weak (while getting little sympathy for being sane).
Chris Lehmann: [08-24]
The Donald Trump look-alike contest.
Amanda Marcotte: [08-24]
Why do Republicans even bother with this whole farce? "trump wasn't
there, but we saw why he's leading: GOP voters don't care about substance,
just unjustified grievances." Still, a large swath of mainstram media
took this "debate" as serious news, lending support to the idea that
we should care about what various Republicans think, and that it makes
any difference who they ultimately nominate.
Osita Nwanevu: [08-24]
The first Republican debate was one long stare into a Trump-shaped
Christian Paz: [08-24]
2 winners and 3 losers from the first Republican debate: Winner:
Donald Trump; Loser: Any alternative to Trump; Loser: Ron DeSantis;
Winner: A pre-Trump Republican Party; Loser: Bret Baier and Martha
MacCallum. I don't understand the point of the second "winner," but
the audience reliably booed any least criticism of Trump, of which
there were very few.
Nia Prater: [08-25]
Oliver Anthony didn't love his song being played at the GOP debate:
This should be a teachable moment. As I noted last week, the song's
first two lines could have kicked off a leftist diatribe. That he
then veered into stupid right-wing talking points was unfortunate,
but anyone who believes that working men are getting screwed should
have the presence of mind to see that the billionaires and stooges
on the Milwaukee stage were the problem, not the solution. Also see:
Dylan Scott: [08-25]
What the GOP debate revealed about Republican health care hypocrisy:
"The GOP loves Big Government in health care -- if it's blocking
abortion or trans care."
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [08-24]
GOP debate bloodbath over Ukraine leaves room for agreement -- on
China: "All agreed Beijing is the greatest threat to the US,
particularly at the American border." Huh? Evidently, they believe
that China is behind the fentanyl being smuggled in from Mexico,
and that the best defense would be a strong offense . . . against
Tony Karon: [10-24]
[Twitter]: "Whether it's Republicans or Democrats, US presidential
elections are conducted as TV game shows. America has entertained
itself to death, as Neil Postman warned it would . . ."
Philip Bump: [08-23]
One in 8 Republicans think winning is more important than election
rules: "Another 3 in 8 apparently think Donald Trump adheres
to those rules." I would have guessed it was more like 7 in 8, at
least if you limit the question to party activists (politicians,
donors, people who work campaigns, think tanks, and their media
flaks), and phrased it in terms that didn't inhibit from expressing
their beliefs. Their core belief is that anything that helps them
win is good, as is anything that can be used to hurt the Democrats.
I could, at this point, list a dozen, a score, maybe even a hundred
examples. This isn't just competitiveness -- Democrats can exhibit
that, too, although they're rarely as ruthless, in part because they
believe in representative democracy, where everyone has a say, and
that say is proportional to popular support. On the other hand,
Republicans believe that power is to be seized, and once you have
it, you should flout it as maximally as you can get away with. At
root, that's because most Republicans (at least most activists)
don't believe in democracy: they don't believe that lots of people
deserve any power or respect at all.
Thomas B Edsall: [08-23]
Trump voters can see right through DeSantis. Interesting. So why
can't they see through Trump?
James Fallows: [08-23]
"What's the matter with Florida?" "The GOP's doomed war against higher
Van Jackson: [08-23]
Vivek Ramaswamy's edgelord foreign policy: What do you get when
you flail senselessly at the "secular gods" of "Wokeism, transgenderism,
climatism, Covidism, globalism"? I had to look "edgelord" up, but here
it is: "a person who affects a provocative or extreme persona," e.g.,
"edgelords act like contrarians in the hope that everyone will admire
them as rebels." But wasn't Nixon's "madman theory" simply meant to
confuse and intimidate others, not to woo voters?
Glenn Kessler: [08-25]
Vivek Ramaswamy says 'hoax' agenda kills more people than climate
change. The Washington Post's Fact Checker says: "Four
Ed Kilgore: [08-25]
Palin's civil war threat is a sign of very bad things to come.
Mostly that Republicans think they'll prevail, if not at the ballot
box (that one's pretty much sailed) then because they own more guns
than Democrats. This assumes that the institutions of justice and
violence, which they've been courting so assiduously all these years,
will bend to the ir demands. That didn't happen on Jan. 6, and it
still seems pretty unlikely, although it happens all the time in the
"shithole countries" Republicans are trying to turn this one into.
Martin Pengelly: [08-25]
Ramaswamy's deep ties to rightwing kingpins revealed: Leonard
Leo and Peter Thiel, for starters.
Charles P Pierce: [08-23]
Gregg Abbott has outdone himself again: "Exactly what are the
upper limits of inhumanity he has to reach before the federal
government does something about this mad stage play?" This time
he sent a busload of refugees from Texas into a hurricane in Los
Angeles, instead of doing the decent thing, which was to lock them
up and wait for a hurriance to hit Texas.
Andrew Prokop: [08-23]
Vivek Ramaswamy's rise to semi-prominence, explained. The first
interesting question is how he got so rich. He started as a hedge
fund analyst investing in biotech, then bought a piece of a company,
which bought rights to an Alzheimer's drug that had repeatedly failed
trials. He hyped the drug into a lucrative IPO, before the drug again
flopped. Meanwhile, he sold off several other "promising" drugs, and
cleaned out, going back into the hedge fund racket, and his intro to
politics via books like Woke, Inc.
Ryu Spaeth: [08-25]
What if Vivek Ramaswamy is the future of politics? Could be, as
long as the media is more concerned with the performance of politics
than with its substance. The most persuasive paragraph here is the
one that shows how Ramaswamy draws on Obama: nothing substantive, of
course, but much performative. So it's fair to say he's not just
aimed at out-Trumping Trump.
[PS: See Tatyana Tandanpolie: [08-24]
Vivek Ramaswamy accused of plagiarizing Obama line at GOP debate.
I wouldn't call that plagiarism. It sounds more like an homage.]
Brynn Tannehill: 
Republicans' border policy proposals are sadistic and would lead to
Prem Thakker: 
Republicans pushed almost 400 "education intimidation" bills in past
Li Zhou: [08-23]
A shooting over a Pride flag underscores the threat of Republican
From my Twitter feed, Peter Baker: "In 1994, 21% of Republicans and
17% of Democrats viewed the other party very unfavorably. Today, 62%
of Republicans and 54% of Democrats do." Mark Jacob
responded: "Call it 'tribalism' ifyou want. But another explanation
is that one political party turned full-on fascist, and the rest of us
found that unacceptable." Baker cites a WSJ piece by Aaron Zitner,
"Why tribalism took over our politics," which offered "an uncomfortable
explanation: Our brains were made for conflict." I haven't read the
piece (paywall), nor do I particularly want to, as it seems highly
unlikely that our brains manifested themselves on such a level only
in the last thirty years.
Matt Ford: [08-25]
The one thing the Supreme Court got right: Blowing up college sports:
"The NCAA's hold on its lucrative status quo looks more vulnerable than
ever, two years after the high court ruled against it." On the other
hand, it would have been better still to blow up the entire business
of college sports, which are a massive drain (financial as well as
mental) on higher education.
Stephanie Kirchgaessner/Dominic Rushe: [08-25]
Billionaire-linked US thinktank behind Supreme Court wealth tax case
Christiano Lima: ]08-24]
Judge tosses RNC lawsuit accusing Google's spam filters of bias.
Ian Millhiser: [08-26]
The edgelord of the federal judiciary: "Imagine a Breitbart
comments forum come to life and given immense power over innocent
people. That's Judge James Ho." Second time I've run across the
word "edgelord" this week: I think it was more accurately applied
to Vivek Ramaswamy (see Van Jackson, above), but the author was
evidently hard-pressed to find words to express his disgust with
Judge Ho. At one point he seems to give up: "There are so many
errors in Ho's legal reasoning that it would be tedious to list
all of them here." But then he comes up with five more paragraphs,
before warning us that "Ho could be the future of the federal
Climate and Environment:
Connor Echols: [08-25]
Diplomacy Watch: Washington's 'wishful thinking' on Ukraine:
Sub is "Russia hawks have no shortage of unrealistic assumptions
underlying their views of the conflict," but one can say the same
thing about American hawks, indeed about all hawks.
Dave DeCamp: [08-20]
US 'fears' Ukraine is too 'casualty averse': This was the
first of a number of recent articles where America's armchair
generals are unhappy, blaming Ukraine's slow counteroffensive on
reluctance to sacrifice their troops. This shows that those who
suggested that America is willing to fight Russia "to the last
dead Ukrainian" were onto something. On the other hand, it also
suggests that Ukraine should reconsider its war goals in terms
of what is actually possible. Some examples include:
Thomas Graham: [08-22]
Was the collapse of US-Russia relations inevitable?.
Branko Marcetic: [08-23]
Are US officials signaling a new 'forever war' in Ukraine? "Now
that Kyiv's counteroffensive is floundering, goal posts in the timing
for talks and a ceasefire are quietly being moved."
Fred Kaplan: [08-21]
No, Biden hasn't messed up an opportunity to end the war in Ukraine:
But he hasn't presented one, either. Rather, as long as Ukraine is willing
to continue fighting, he's happy to keep supplying Ukraine with weapons,
and to duck the question of whether the US has ulterior motives in backing
Anatol Lieven/George Beebe: [08-25]
What Putin would get out of eliminating Prigozhin. The Wagner
Group CEO was presumably among the passengers in a plane that crashed
Thursday. Most commentators jumped to the conclusion that Putin was
behind the crash, because, well, it just seems like something he would
do. This piece doesn't offer any evidence. (Early speculation that the
plane was shot down seems to have fallen out, with a bomb now viewed
as the most likely. Another theory is that Prigozhin faked his death,
with or without Putin's collaboration, but I haven't seen any evidence
of that.) Lieven is usually pretty smart about reading Russian tea
leaves, but he doesn't have much to go on here.
Robyn Dixon/Mary Ilushina: [08-27]
Russia confirms Wagner chief Prigozhin's death after DNA tests.
Fred Kaplan: [08-23]
Why it's easy to see Yevgeny Prigozhin's plane crash as Putin's
Joshua Yaffa: [08-24]
Putin's deadly revenge on Prigozhin.
Paul Sonne/Valeriya Safronova/Cassandra Vinograd: [08-25]
Putin denies killing Prigozhin, calling the idea anti-Putin propaganda:
There's no way short of a confession, of which there is none, to know
if Putin ordered the killing, but he is right that the insinunation is
"anti-Putin propaganda" -- one more instance in a long list of charges
going back to the
1999 Russian apartment bombings, which Putin used as cassus belli
to launch the Second Chechen War, followed by virtually every mishap
that befell any of his political opponents ever since. The idea is to
present him as a ruthless monster who cannot be trusted and negotiated
with, who can only be checked by force, and who must ultimately be
beaten into submission. For all I know, he may indeed be guilty of
many of the charges, but he is still the leader of a large nation
we need to find some way to respect and coexist with, to engage and
work with on problems of global import. The purpose of anti-Putin
propaganda is to prevent that from happening. The results include
the present war in Ukraine, which, as Crocodile Chuck never tires
of reminding me, is what happens when you start believing you own
Around the world:
Back to school:
Jonathan Guyer: [08-23]
BRICS, the economic group of America's rivals and friends alike,
explained: Starting off as an economic forum for five prominent
countries outside the G7 (and more generally, outside US-dominated
networks; all five BRICS founders also meet with G7 members in the
G20), they could expand into a new edition of the Non-Aligned
Movement of 1955, where "as many as
40 countries want to join BRICS." More on BRICS:
Sarang Shidore: [08-24]
BRICS just announced an expansion. This is a big deal. Six new
states will join BRICS: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia,
and UAE. In addition to its confabs, BRICS has its New Development Bank,
which is a potential rival to, or end run around, the US-controlled
World Bank. Of these, Iran is the most explicit challenge to the US, as
Trita Parsi explains.
Celina Della Croce: [08-25]
How US sanctions are a tool of war: The case of Venezuela.
Nick Turse: [08-23]
15 US-backed officers had hand in 12 West African coups. Turse also
At least five members of Niger junta were trained in US;
Niger junta appoints US-trained military officers to key jobs; and
When is a coup not a coup? When the US says so.
More on the US in Africa:
Richard Silverstein: [08-25]
Ben Gvir: Give every Jew a gun.
Adam Bernstein/Robin Webb: [08-26]
Bob Barker, unflappable 'Price is Right' emcee, dies at 99: The
show debuted in 1956. I watched it pretty regularly into the early
1960s, and learned one indelible lesson: how list prices were inflated
to create the sense that sales offer bargains. Before we bought a set
of World Book in 1961, the book I most diligently studied was
the Sears & Roebuck catalog, so my knowledge of real prices was
close to encyclopedic, and the list prices on the show often came as
a shock. Barker didn't join the show until 1972, so I probably never
watched him except in passing. But the persistence of the show is a
tribute to the mass consumer society my generation -- the first to
watch TV from infancy -- was programmed to worship.
Rachel DuRose: [08-25]
AI-discovered drugs will be for sale sooner than you think:
"It takes forever to get drugs on the market. AI could help speed
up the process."
Ronan Farrow: [08-21]
Elon Musk's shadow rule: "How the US government came to rely on
the tech billionaire -- and is now struggling to rein him in." A
long and not unsympathetic profile, which starts from the fact that
Ukraine depended on Musk's Starlink satellite communications network,
which allowed him to shake the US down for profits. But what may have
started as a human interest story is rapidly becoming a morbid one,
the critical flaw not the person necessarily but the power he has
Adam Gopnik: [08-21]
How the authors of the Bible spun triumph from defeat. Reflects
on Jacob L Wright's new book, Why the Bible Began: An Alternative
History of Scriptures and Its Origins (out Oct. 19), which argues
that the secret of the Bible's long-term success was that it provided
a story of underdogs surviving against all odds:
The Jews were the great sufferers of the ancient world -- persecuted,
exiled, catastrophically defeated -- and yet the tale of their special
selection, and of the demiurge who, from an unbeliever's point of view,
reneged on every promise and failed them at every turn, is the most
admired, influential, and permanent of all written texts.
I've read several of Karen Armstrong's books, where she argues
that the major religions invented in the first millennium BCE were
attempts to limit the increasing horror of war -- one things of
the waves of Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks across the Middle
East, but India and China were similarly affected. It's hard to
say they worked: even Christianity, which was untainted by military
power until Constantine, proved to be amenable to state power.
I still find it puzzling that more than two-thousand years later,
the arts of war having advanced to an apocalyptic level, that no
comparable progress has been made in religion, leaving us stuck
grappling with these failed myths. As Gopnik notes, "Wright, like
so many scholars these days, cannot resist projecting pluralist,
post-Enlightenment values onto societies that made no pretense
of possessing them." But what else can he do, other than disposing
of the emotions that cling to belief in religion?
Sarah Jones: [08-25]
What is a university without liberal arts? More on West Virginia
Univeristy -- I noted Lisa M Corrigan:
The evisceration of a public university last week.
Andrea Mazzarino: [08-22]
The violent American century: "The ways our twenty-first century
wars have polarized Americans." I give you an example at the bottom
of this post. It's hard to imagine so many Americans stocking up on
guns as a solution to their concerns for safety and order without
the example of America's near-constant war -- at least since 1941,
but especially since 2001, when the "enemy" became as nebulous and
intimate as an idea.
Jonathan O'Connell/Paul Farhi/Sofia Andrade: [08-26]
How a small-town feud in Kansas sent a shock through American
journalism: The Marion County Record.
Emily Olson: [08-26]
Thousands march to mark the 60th anniversary of MLK's 'I Have a Dream'
Nathan J Robinson:
This is only going to get worse until we make it stop: "Republicans
want to maximize the catastrophic heating of the globe. Democrats want
to pretend to be doing something without taking on the fossil fuel
industry." He starts by declaring that "I turned 34 yesterday." That
means he should have 38 more years left than I have. That calls for
a different perspective -- one I can't quite imagine, leaving me more
in tune with the cad he calls Martha's Vineyard Man.
There should not be "religious exemptions to laws: Or, if there
should be a religious exemption, most likely the law is wrong -- he
gives examples like forced cutting of Rastafarian dreadlocks, or the
allowance for certain Indians to take peyote.
How Rupert Murdoch destroyed the news.
Jeffrey St Clair: [08-25]
Roaming Charges: Through a sky darkly: Usual grabbag opens with
smoke close to his Oregon home, but goes far enough to note that
Europe has had over 1,100 fires this summer (up from a 2006-22
average of 724), offers a
map of Greece, notes the
Devastating floods in Slovenia, and the parade of hurricanes
currently crossing the Atlantic. Much more, of course.
Steve M (No More Mr Nice Blog) wrote a piece [08-23]
Vivek Ramaswamy wants to deport two members of congress (and doesn't
know one was born in America). I'm breaking this out because I
want to quote a big chunk, after he quotes Ramaswamy bitching: "We
need to weed out ingrates like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib who come
to this country and complain about it."
Hey, smart guy -- you know that Rashida Tlaib was born in Detroit,
Omar, of course, is a naturalized citizen (though as Essence
once noted, Omar has been a citizen longer than Melania Trump). It's
true that Omar has said some critical things about America. But do you
know who else "complains about" the U.S.? Every Republican.
Republicans hate the president. They hate most of the laws passed
during liberal administrations, and most of the laws passed in liberal
cities and states. Republicans hate millions of their fellow
citizens. They hate most of the nation's cities. And they have an
inalienable right as Americans to feel all this hate and complain that
America isn't exactly the way they want it to be. But Ramaswamy
doesn't want extend this right -- a right Republicans exercise every
single day -- to Omar and Tlaib.
I'm old enough to remember when "love it or leave it" was on the
lips of every Cold Warrior, but what they really meant by "love it"
was support America's imperialist war in Vietnam. A few years later,
few Americans doubted that Vietnam was one of the worst mistakes the
nation had ever made, but few conceded that antiwar protesters had
been right all along, let alone that they cared more for the country
than the people who led them into such an evil war.
Back then, as well as today, there was/is a certain type of
American who feels the country is theirs exclusively, and that no
one who disagrees with them counts, or should even be allowed to
stay in the country they grew up in. And, as someone with only one
set of immigrant ancestors in the last 200 years (my father's mother's
parents, in the 1870s from Sweden), it especially galls me to be
slandered by relatively arriviste "super-patriots" named Ramaswamy
and Drumpf. (I'm not saying that newcomers can't be real Americans,
but I have noticed a tendency to overcompensate -- as, indeed, my
grandmother did, in totally discarding her Swedish heritage.)
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