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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 them.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 views.

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 approached differently.

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 rest.

  • 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 other states.

  • 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 useless.

  • 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, too.

    • 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 Ramaswamy):

    • 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 void.

    • 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 Mexico.

    • 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 ed."

  • 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 Pinocchios."

  • 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 chaos.

  • Prem Thakker: [] Republicans pushed almost 400 "education intimidation" bills in past two years.

  • Li Zhou: [08-23] A shooting over a Pride flag underscores the threat of Republican anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.

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.

Legal matters:

  • 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 lobbying.

  • 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 judiciary."

Climate and Environment:

Ukraine War:

  • 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 Ukraine.

  • 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. More Prigozhin/Putin:

    • 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 murderous revenge.

    • 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 propaganda.

Around the world:

Back to school:

Other stories:

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 accumulated.

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' speech. Also:

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [08-24] 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.

  • [08-22] 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.

  • [08-21] 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, right?

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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