Sunday, September 17, 2023
Speaking of Which
Started this on Friday, not with much enthusiasm, so many of the
early links I collected are just that. The comment on Levitz under
"Legal matters" is probably where I got started, after which I found
the Current Affairs interview.
I've tried of late to articulate moderate positions that one
might build a viable political consensus around, but lately I'm
despairing, not so much of the popular political potential as
of the probability that nothing possible will come close to what
is actually needed.
Back when I was a teenage schizophrenic, I was able to pursue
the two paths -- on the one hand I poured over political stats
as nerdishly as Kevin Phillips, on the other I immersed myself
in utopian fantasy writing -- without ever trying to reconcile
them. As an old man, I find once boundless time closing in, and
Just a few years ago, I was thinking that the
worst failures in American politics were opportunity costs:
wasting time and resources that could be used on big problems
while doing stupid things instead (like $800B/year on useless
"defense" spending). But it's looking more and more like the
problem is one of cognitive dysfunction, where there is little
to no hope of convincing enough of a majority that problems
are problems, and that their fantasies aren't.
Top story threads:
Trump: He was having a slow week, until NBC offered
him a free infomercial (see Berman, below). He is now virtually
assured of the Republican nomination, but also of a margin of
free publicity even exceeding his bounty in 2016 and 2020.
Ari Berman: [09-17]
The mainstream media still hasn't learned anything about covering
Donald Trump: Trump appeared on NBC's Meet the Press
in what was billed as "his first broadcast network interview since
leaving office," with Kristen Welker, nd, well, you can guess the
rest. NBC did a "fact check" after the fact, without attempting to
challenge the myriad lies it went ahead and broadcast.
Frank Bruni: [09-11]
Trump is really old, too. I don't follow Bruni's columns, but
fyi, I found links to these more/less recent ones:
Kelly McClure: [09-15]
Prosecutors seek limited gag order after Trump's election case
statements lead to harassment.
Benjamin Wallace-Wells: [09-16]
The futility of the Never Trump billionaires. Paul Woodward
titled his excerpt
People are drastically underestimating the prospect of a second
Trump presidency, which sounds like something very different.
The Never Trump billionaires, like Charles Koch, are trying to
deny Trump the Republican nomination, which is going to be tough,
partly because their libertarian economics has near-zero support
even in the Republican Party, and partly because Trump is really
good at appealing to the base's prejudices and vanities. But the
chances of Trump getting elected is distinctly less than his odds
of getting the nomination of a Party that works 24/7 to make most
Americans fear and despise them. For Trump to win, there has to
be a fairly major meltdown on the Democratic ticket, which with
Biden and Harris already slotted is something hard to rule out.
As for the Never Trumpers, don't expect them to help defeat
Trump if/when he's nominated. Koch will continue to bankroll
Republicans down ballot, and every Republican on the ballot
will dutifully support the ticket. Division with in the Party
is a chimera, because what binds the Party together, especially
the cruelty, the graft, and the contempt for democracy, is far
stronger than the quibbles of a few elites over Trump.
DeSantis, and other Republicans: The Florida governor
has done little to justify being singled out, but Steve M [09-17]
Ron DeSantis is still first runner-up, based on a recent
straw poll. He also argues, "I'd like DeSantis to be the
nominee, because he appears to be a much weaker general election
candidate than Trump," and has some charts that seem to support
Olivia Alafriz: [09-16]
Texas Senate acquits AG Ken Paxton on all corruption charges:
His impeachment moved me to ask the question, "when was the last
time an office holder was deemed too corrupt for the Texas lege?"
Since I never got an answer, I don't know whether they lowered
the bar, or never had one in the first place. But this was the
only opportunity since Nixon for Republicans to discipline one
of their own, and they've failed spectacularly.
Jonathan Chait: [09-13]
Mitt Romney and the doomed nobility of Republican moderation:
"The party's last antiauthoritarian walks away." It's silly to
get all bleary-eyed here. He isn't that moderate, noble, and/or
antiauthoritarian. Chait quotes Geoffrey Kabaservice, totally
ignoring the face that Romney ran hard right from day one of his
2012 (or for that matter his 2008) campaign, going so far as to
pick Koch favorite Paul Ryan as his VP. And he's old enough to
make his age concerns credible. And he's rich enough he doesn't
need the usual post-Senate sinecure on K Street. That he also
took the opportunity to chide Biden and Trump is also typical
of his considerable self-esteem. But it also saves him the
trouble of having to run not on his name but on his record --
much as he did after one term as governor of Massachusetts.
Also on Romney:
Sarah Jones: [09-13]
The enemies of America's children. This could be more partisan,
not that Joe Manchin doesn't deserve to be called out, but he's
only effective as a right-wing jerk because he's backed up by a
solid block of 49-50 Republicans.
Nikki McCann Ramirez: [09-14]
DeSantis lived large on undisclosed private flights and lavish
trips: What is it about Republican politicians that makes
them think that just because they cater to every whim of their
billionaire masters, they're entitled to live like them?
Bill Scher: [09-14]
A shutdown will be the GOP's fault, and everyone in Washington knows
Matt Stieb: [09-15]
New, gentler Lauren Boebert booted from Beetlejuice
musical: Another reminder that the most clueless thing a
politician can say to a cop is: "do you know who I am?"
[PS: Later updated: "New, gentler Lauren Boebert apologizes for
Tessa Stuart: [09-16]
The GOP is coming after your birth control (even if they won't
Li Zhou: [09-13]
Republicans' unfounded impeachment inquiry of Biden, explained:
"House Speaker Kevin McCarthy backed an inquiry despite no evidence
of Biden's wrongdoing." More on impeachment:
Jonathan Chait: [09-13]
Republicans already told us impeachment is revenge for Trump:
"They did it to us!"
Peter Baker: [09-14]
White House strategy on impeachment: Fight politics with politics.
comments: "Are House Republicans really trying to impeach President
Biden, or do they just want him under a cloud of suspicion?" The only
way impeachment succeeds is if the other party break ranks. For a brief
moment, Clinton seemed to consider the possibility of resigning, then
decided to rally his supporters, and came out ahead. (In American
Crime Story, Hillary was the one who straightened out his spine.)
That was never a possibility with Trump, but at least the Democrats
had pretty compelling stories to tell -- whether that did them any
good is an open question. Now, not only is there no chance that Biden
and the Democrats will break, the only story Republicans have is one
their sucker base is already convinced of. So "cloud of suspicion"
seems to be about all they can hope for.
Biden and/or the Democrats: Big week for Democratic Party
back-biting. I find this focus at the top of the ticket silly and
distracting. True, Trump decided that "America is Great Again" the
moment he took office, but Democrats surely know that inaugurating
Biden was just the first step, and that lots of big problems were
left over, things that couldn't be solved quickly, especially as
Republicans still held significant levers of power and press, and
were doing everything possible to cripple Democratic initiatives.
So why do Democrats have to run on defending their economy, their
immigration, their crime, their climate, etc.? They can point to
good things they've done, better things they've wanted to do, and
above all to the disastrous right shift in politics since 1980.
Is that so hard to understand?
Liza Featherstone: [09-15]
We need bigger feelings about Biden's biggest policies: "Anyone
who doesn't want Trump to serve another term must learn to love the
Inflation Reduction Act, and despise those who seek its destruction."
This sentiment runs against every instinct I have, as I've spent all
my life learning to deconstruct policies to find their intrinsic
flaws and their secret (or more often not-so-secret) beneficiaries.
IRA has a lot of tax credits and business subsidies for doing things
that are only marginally better than what would happen without them.
Even if I'm willing to acknowledge that's the way you have to operate
in Washington to get anything done, I hate being told I need to be
happy about it. But as a practical matter, none of these things --
and same is true of the two other big bills and dozens or hundreds
of smaller things, many executive orders -- would have been done
under any Republican administration, Trump or no Trump. And while
what Biden and the Democrats have accomplished is still far short
of what's needed, sure, they deserve some credit.
Eric Levitz: [09-13]
The case for Biden to drop Kamala Harris: "The 80-year-old
president probably shouldn't have an exceptionally unpopular
heir apparent." What's unclear here is why she's so unpopular.
The whole identity token thing may have helped her get picked,
works against her being taken seriously, but probably makes her
even harder than usual to dump. But before becoming Biden's VP
pick, she was a pretty skilled politician, so why not put her
out in public more, get her doing the "bully pulpit" thing
Biden's not much good at anyway, give her a chance?
Andrew Prokop: [09-12]
Why Biden isn't getting a credible primary challenger: "Many
Democrats fear a challenge would pave the way to Trump's victory."
Responds to a question raised by
Jonathan Chait with my default answer, and pointing to four
cases where incumbent presidents were challenged (Johnson in 1968,
Ford in 1976, Carter in 1980, and Bush in 1992) that resulted in
the other party winning. Chait, by the way, replies here: [09-15]
Challenging Biden is risky. So is nominating him. Steve M
comments here: [09-15]
Do we really want to endure the 2028 Democratic primary campaign
in 2024? Evidently, there's also a David Ignatius piece, but
wrong about pretty much everything, so I haven't bothered.
Katie Rogers: [09-11]
'It is evening, isn't it?' An 80-year-old President's whirlwind
trip: Raises the question, will the New York Times ever again
publish an article on Biden that doesn't mention his age? I don't
know whether his trip to India and Vietnam was worthwhile, either
for diplomatic or political reasons. I am not a fan of his efforts
to reinvigorate American leadership after the chaotic nonsense of
the Trump years: somehow, I rather doubt that "America's back" is
the message the world has been clamoring for.
I was taken aback by Heather Cox Richardson's
tweet on this article (my comment
here), but her write up on
September 11, 2023 is exceptionally clear and straightforward,
much better reporting than the NY Times seems capable of.
Legal matters and other crimes:
Josh Gerstein/Rebecca Kern: [09-14]
Alito pauses order banning Biden officials from contacting tech
platforms. The case has to do with whether the government
can complain to social media companies about their dissemination
of false information about the pandemic. One cherry-picked judge
thinks doing so violated the free speech rights of the liars
whose posts were challenged, so he issued a sweeping ban against
the government. (That's what Alito paused, probably because the
case is so shoddy he knows it won't stand.)
For a laugh, see Jason Willick: [09-15]
Worried about Trump? You should welcome these rulings against
Biden. This is bullshit for two reasons. One is that rulings
like this are deeply partisan, so there's no reason to expect
that a restriction on a Democratically-run government would also
be applied to a Republican-run one. And secondly, Republicans
(especially Trump) would be promoting falsehoods, not trying to
correct them. We already saw a perfect example of this in Trump's
efforts to gag government officials to keep them from so much as
mentioning climate change.
Eric Levitz: [09-12]
Prisons and policing need to be radically reformed, not abolished.
This is not a subject I want to dive into, especially as I pretty
much agree with all nine of the issues he talks about (6 where
abolitionists are right, 3 where they are wrong). One more point
I want to emphasize: we use an adversarial system of prosecutors
and defenders, each side strongly motivated to win, regardless
of the truth. More often than not, what is decisive is the
relative power of the adversaries (which is to say, the state
beats individuals, but also the rich beat the poor, which gives
rich defendants better chances than poor defendants). Some of
this is so deeply embedded it's hard to imagine changing it,
but we need a system that seeks the truth, and to understand
it in its complexity (or simple messiness).
questions the desire for retribution driving long sentences,
but I also have to question the belief that long sentences
and harsh punishments (which is part of the reason why jails
are so cruel) deter others from committing crimes. Sure, they
do, except when they don't (e.g., mass murder as a recipe for
suicide by cop), but the higher the stakes, the less motive
people have to admit the truth. Also, as in foreign policy,
an emphasis on deterrence tends to make one too arrogant to
seek mutually-beneficial alternatives. A lot of crimes are
driven by conditions that can be avoided or treated.
Finally, we need to recognize that excessive punishment is
(or should be) itself criminal, that it turns us into the people
we initially abhor, a point rarely lost on the punished. And one
which only makes the punishers more callous. The big problem
with capital punishment isn't that it's cruel or that it's so
hard to apply it uniformly or that some people don't deserve
it. The problem is that such deliberate killing is murder, and
as done by the state is even colder and more deliberate than
the murders being avenged.
Andrew Prokop: [09-14]
The indictment of Hunter Biden isn't really about gun charges:
"Prosecutors are moving aggressively because the plea deal fell
apart. But why did it fall apart?"
By the way, no one's answered what seems to me the obvious
question: has anyone else ever been prosecuted for these "crimes"
before (standalone, as opposed to being extra charges tacked onto
something else)? Also, doesn't the Fifth Amendment provide some
degree of protection even if you don't explicitly invoke it?
Li Zhou: [09-15]
The fate of hundreds of thousands of immigrants is caught in an
endless court fight: "The high stakes of the latest DACA
Current Affairs: [09-15]
Exposing the many layers of injustice in the US criminal punishment
system: Interview with Stephen B Bright and James Kwak, authors of
The Fear of Too Much Justice: Race, Poverty, and the Persistence of
Inequality in the Criminal Courts. Particularly check out the
section on privatized probation companies, which have come about due
to the belief that "the private sector can do things better than the
government," and that "there is a lot of legal corruption at all levels
Climate and environment:
Scott Dance: [09-15]
Odds that 2023 will be Earth's hottest year have doubled, NOAA
Nadeen Ebrahim/Laura Paddison: [09-15]
Aging dams and missed warnings: A lethal mix of factors caused Africa's
deadliest flood disaster: The weather is known as
Storm Daniel, "the deadliest and costliest Mediterranean tropical-like
cyclone ever recorded, which affected Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey as
well as Libya, where heavy rains (more than 16 inches in Al-Bayda)
caused two dams to fail, resulting in flooding that killed over 11,000
people in Derna.
Also on Libya:
Rebecca Leber: [09-13]
Climate disasters will happen everywhere, anytime. I must
say, I wasn't expecting fires in Maui and Louisiana, or storm
flooding in Death Valley and Libya, just to pick several of
the more outlandish examples.
Kylie Mohr: [09-12]
Wildfires are coming . . . for New Jersey?
Paul Street: [09-15]
Too bourgeois: Jeff Goodell's The Heat Will Kill You First:
Book review, compliments Goodell's research and storytelling skills,
then unloads on him for not putting the blame squarely on capitalism,
and concluding with a list of books that make his very point.
A Camden Walker/Justine McDaniel/Matthew Cappucci:
Lee makes landfall in Nova Scotia with sustained winds of 70 mph.
Down from Category 5, but still an extremely rare hurricane to hit
Canada, after doing damage to the coasts from Rhode Island to Maine.
The trajectory calls for it to pass over the Gulf of St. Lawrence
and northern Newfoundland.
The UAW strike:
Ukraine War: I find it curious that despite all the
"notable progress" the New York Times has claimed for Ukraine's
counteroffensive (most recently,
retaking the village of Andriivka), they haven't updated
maps page since June 9. Zelensky is coming to America next
next week, to speak at the UN and to meet Biden in Washington.
Israel: This is 30 years after the Oslo Accords, which
promised to implement a separate Palestinian state in (most of) the
Occupied Territories, after an interval of "confidence building"
which Israel repeatedly sabotaged, especially by continuing to
cater to the settler movement. The agreements put the Intifada
behind, while seeding the ground for the more violent second
Intifada in 2000, brutally suppressed by a Sharon government
which greatly expanded settlement activity. The PLO was partly
legitimized by Oslo, then reduced to acting as Israeli agents,
and finally discredited, but was kept in nominal power after
being voted out by Hamas, ending democracy in Palestine.
Eye has a whole series of articles on this anniversary,
including Joseph Massad:
From Oslo to the end of Israeli settler-colonialism.
Iran: One step forward (prisoner swap), one step back (more
sanctions as the US tries to claim Iranian protests against police
brutality and repression of women -- issues the US is not exactly
a paragon of virtue on).
Around the world:
Ana Marie Cox: [09-14]
We are not just polarized. We are traumatized.
Constance Grady: [09-13]
The big Elon Musk biography asks all the wrong questions: "In
Walter Isaacson's buzzy new biography, Elon Musk emerges as a callous,
chaos-loving man without empathy." Proof positive that no one should
be as rich and powerful as he is, and not just because he is who he
Sean Illing: [09-12]
Democracy is the antidote to capitalism: Interview with Astra
Taylor, who has a new book: The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together
as Things Fall Apart.
Noel King: [09-15]
5 new books (and one very old one) to read in order to understand
capitalism: A podcast discussion. The old one is The Wealth
of Nations, by Adam Smith, which is somewhat more nuanced and
sophisticated than is commonly remembered. (For one thing, the
"invisible hand" is basically a joke.) The new ones:
- Jennifer Burns: Milton Friedman: The Last Conservative
- David Gelles: The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch
Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America --
and How to Undo His Legacy (2022)
- Martin Wolf: The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (2023)
- Jason Hickel: Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the
I'm not sure what I'd recommend instead, but here are a
couple ideas: George P Brockway's
The End of Economic Man: Principles of Any Future Economics
is my bible on economics, so I'd gladly swap
it for Smith. Zachary D Carter's The Price of Peace: Money,
Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes is all you
need on Friedman, plus a lot more. There are lots of books on
recent economic plunder. I'm not sure which one(s) to recommend,
but Jeff Madrick's Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and
the Decline of America, 1970s to the Present is good on the
bankers, and the Jacob Hacker/Paul Pierson books, from The
Great Risk Shift to Let Them Eat Tweets, are good on
the politics (also Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew).
Hope Jahren's The Story of More is an elegant if somewhat
less political alternative to Hickel.
Dylan Matthews: [09-14]
Lead poisoning could be killing more people than HIV, malaria, and
car accidents combined.
Kim Messick: [09-09]
The American crack-up: Why liberalism drives some people crazy.
Andrew O'Hehir: [09-14]
Naomi Klein on her "Doppelganger" -- the "other Naomi" -- and
navigating the far-right mirror universe. Klein's new book
is Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World, which
starts by noting the tendency people have of confusing her with
Naomi Wolf, then goes beyond that to show how much propaganda
from the right picks up memes from the left and twists them for
the opposite effect.
Jacob Bacharach: [09-06]
Is Naomi Klein's Doppelganger weird enough? Criticism
that promises more than it delivers, perhaps tipped off by the
by far most unflattering pics of the Naomis I've seen.
Laura Wagner: [09-11]
In Naomi Klein's Doppelganger, Naomi Wolf is more than a
Adrienne Westenfeld: [09-12]
Naomi Klein's double trouble: An interview with the author.
Democracy Now: [09-14]
Naomi Klein on her new book Doppelganger & how conspiracy
culture benefits ruling elite: I watched this, which is a
good but not great interview, but the reason I looked it up was
a turn of phrase that struck me as peculiar. Klein notes that:
When I would confess to people I knew that I was working on this
book, sometimes I would get this strange reaction like, "Why would
you give her attention?" There was this sense that because she was
no longer visible in the pages of The New York Times or on
MSNBC or wherever, and because she had been deplatformed on social
media -- or on the social media that we're on -- that she just
didn't exist. And there was this assumption that "we," whoever we
are, are in control of the attention, and so if this bigot gets
turned off then there's no more attention.
Of course, the New York Times reference is the one that
sticks in my craw, because I've never viewed them as "we," or even
bothered to read the thing on my own dime (or whatever it costs
these days, which is surely lots more). Klein's point is that
there is a lucrative right-wing media universe that welcomes and
supports people who lose their perch among the moderate elites.
My complaint is that the Times excludes more viewpoints
from the left than it does from the right, and those from the
left are essential to understanding our world (whereas those
from the right are mostly promoting misunderstanding).
Jeffrey St Clair: [09-15]
Roaming Charges: Just write a check. First fourth of the column
is devoted to outrageous police behavior: example after example,
impossible to summarize more briefly. Then he moves on to the War
Scott Wilson: [09-15]
Outflanked by liberals, Oregon conservatives aim to become part of
Idaho. There are several such secessionist movements, including
rural parts of Washington and California, where the population is
so sparse their reactionary leanings have little effect at the state
level. I only mention this because Greg Magarian did, adding: "Huh --
living in a state where your political opponents get to impose their
values on you. I wonder what the &@%$# that's like." Magarian lives
in St. Louis, so he very well knows what that's like. One could
imagine St. Louisans opting to join Illinois. If that happened,
and especially if Kansas City also defected to Kansas (which is
closer to tipping Democratic than Missouri would be without its
two big cities, and would also save Kansas from trying to poach
their teams), the rest of Missouri might as well be part of Arkansas.
In states where Republicans hold power, they're constantly passing
state laws to disempower local governments that may elect Democrats.
Florida and Texas have gotten the most press on that front lately,
but they've done that all over the map, a bunch of times even here
in Kansas. I'm not aware of Democrats behaving like that.
I finished reading EJ Hobsbawm's brilliant and encyclopedic
The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848. Only disappointment
was that I expected more details on the 1848 revolutions, but
Hobsbawm just tiptoes up to the brink, satisfied as he is with
the "two revolutions" of his period (French and Industrial, or
British). I still have Christopher Clark's Revolutionary
Spring: Europe Aflame and the Fight for a New World, 1848-1849
on the proverbial bedstand, but I also have several more books
I'd like to get to. I need to make a decision tonight.
Books post is still in progress, with 23 (of a typical 40)
books in the draft main section, and 62 partials and 229 noted
books. Looking back at the
April 28, 2023 Book Roundup, I see that I was thinking
of cutting the chunk size down, perhaps to 20, to get shorter
and more posts, but also because the length of 40 has grown
significantly with supplemental lists. I need to think about
that. I certainly have much more research I can (and should)
do. The current
draft file runs 15,531
words, of which about 1/3 is in the finished section.
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