Sunday, February 18, 2024

Speaking of Which

Another week, dallying on work I should be doing, eventually finding a diversion in the world's calamities, reported below.

Note, however, that I didn't manage to finish my usual rounds by end-of-Sunday, so posted prematurely, and will try to follow up on Monday, the new pieces flagged like this one.

Initial counts: 151 links, 7,009 words. Updated: 171 links, 7,780 words.

Top story threads:


Israel vs. world opinion:

America's expansion of Israel's world war:

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Gabriel Debenedetti: [02-17] Too old? Biden World thinks pundits just don't get Joe: "The president's friends and aides play media critic amid a political mess." They're probably right, but it's hard for outsiders to see, because Biden has never been a very good communicator, and that's never sunk in deep enough to save his latest gaffes from being attributed to obvious age. David Ogilvy advised: "develop your eccentricities while you are young. That way, when you get old, people won't think you're going gaga." But if they hadn't paid attention, that's what they'll think anyway, since that's the easiest answer. But people who have paid attention often come to a different appreciation of Biden. I was surprised when, as Biden was just sewing up the 2020 nomination, to see the "Pod Save America" guys appear on Colbert and profess not just support for Biden -- as any practical Democrat would -- but love. I take that to be the point of Franklin Foer's The Last Politician (on my nightstand but still unread as, well, I'm pretty upset with him since he sloppily endorsed Israeli genocide).

  • Elie Honig: [02-16] The real Biden documents scandal (it's not the old-man stuff).

  • Paul Krugman: [02-13] Why Biden should talk up economic success: I'm pretty skeptical here. Two big problems: one is that people experience the economy differently, so it's hard for most people to see how the big stats affect them personally, and the latter requires more personalized messaging; the other is that lots of people think the economy does wonderfully on its own, and that politicians can only muck it up. They're wrong, but telling people they're stupid or naive is a rather tough sell. What Biden should be doing is talk about case examples. He should identify problems, like high prices (drugs is a good one; gasoline is less good, but still affects people), low wages (minimums, unions, etc.), rent, debt, pollution, corruption, fraud, etc. -- the list is practically endless -- and talk about what he has done, and what he is still trying to do, to help with these problems. And also point out what businesses, often through corrupt Republicans, are doing to make these problems even worse. Every one of these stories should have a point, which is that the Democrats are trying hard but need more support to help Americans help themselves, and to keep Republicans from hurting us further. But just throwing a bunch of numbers up in the air doesn't make that point, at least in ways most people can understand, even if you're inclinled to believe Biden, which most people don't. And isn't that the rub? There are lots of good stories to be told, but Biden is such an inept communicator that he's never going to convince people.

  • Miles Mogulescu: [02-10] Biden's unqualified aid to Israel could hand Trump the presidency: I think this is true, even though anyone who knows anything knows that it was Trump who gave Israelis the idea that Washington would blindly support any crazy thing right-wing Israelis could dream up, and that was what increasingly pushed Hamas into the corner they tried to break out of on Oct. 7. However, Biden didn't so much as hint at any scruples over Israel, even after raging vengeance turned into full genocide. At this point, the war in Ukraine is slightly less of an embarrassment, but also shows the Biden administration's inability to think their way out of war. As I said last week, if Biden can't get his wars under control, he's toast.

  • John Nichols: [02-16] Michigan just became the first state in 6 decades to scrap an infamous anti-union law.

  • Ari Paul: [02-16] The media is cheering Dems' rightward turn on immigration.

  • Christian Paz: [02-12] Yes, Democrats, it's Biden or bust: "Even if voters or the establishment wanted to, there really isn't a viable process to replace Biden as the nominee." More "replacement theory":

  • Paul Rosenberg: This also led me to a couple of older articles also on tactics.

  • Dylan Saba: [02-15] Democrats are helping make the US border look more and more like Gaza.

  • Robert J Shapiro: [02-12] Based on incomes, Americans are a lot better off under Biden than under Trump.

  • Norman Solomon: [02-16] Dodging Biden's moral collapse is no way to defeat Trump.

  • Paul Starr: [02-15] It's the working class, stupid: Review of John Judis/Ruy Teixeira: Where Have All the Democrats Gone? The Story of the Party in the Age of Extremes. I've been thinking about the same problem, so picked up a copy of the book, but haven't rushed to get into it. After all, these guys aren't exactly known as geniuses. Their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, tried to flip Kevin Phillips' 1969 book on how demographic trends favored Republicans, and didn't fare so well -- it's easier to be optimistic than to be self-critical. Starr lets them off easy, noting that he wrote a similar essay five years earlier (An Emerging Democratic Majority), so it's nice to have that reference.

  • Matt Stieb: [02-15] Biden picks up key Putin endorsement: Eliciting suspicion by Democrats that he's playing some kind of devious reverse psychology game, although his explanation ("[Biden] is a more experienced, predictable person") sounds eminently reasonable. Of course, it would have been more sensible to just dodge the questions, maybe even to admit that covert support for Trump in 2016 was a blunder. In their rush to demonize him -- which Navalny's death once again sends into overdrive -- people forget that he is the kind of guy, secure in his own power, that one can do business with, at least if you approach him with a measure of respect. Unfortunately, that seems to be a lost art in Washington, supplanted by a cult of power projection with no concern for doing right.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Valerie Hopkins/Andrew E Kramer: [02-16] Aleksei Navalny, Russian opposition leader, dies in prison at 47. I don't have any real opinions on Navalny, other than that his arrest and death reflects badly on Russia's political and justice systems, and therefore on their leader, Vladimir Putin. Like most people with any degree of knowledge about Russia, I don't have much respect let alone admiration for Putin. I could easily imagine that, if I were Russian, I would support whatever opposition seems most promising against Putin, and that may very well mean Navalny, but not being Russian, I also realize that it's none of my business, and I take a certain amount of alarm at how other Americans have come to fawn over him. I don't think that any nation should interfere in the internal political affairs of another, and I find it especially troubling when Americans in official positions do so -- not least because they tend to be repeat offenders, using America's eminence as a platform for running the world.

On the other hand, I don't believe that nations should have the right to torture their own people over political differences. There should be an international treaty providing a "right to exile" as an escape valve for individuals who can no longer live freely under their own government. Whether Navalny would have taken advantage of such a right isn't obvious: he did return to Russia after being treated for poisoning in Germany, and he was arrested immediately on return, so perhaps he expected to be martyred. That doesn't excuse Russia. If anything, that the story had such a predictable outcome furthers the indictment.

More on Navalny:

Speaking of prominent political prisoners, there's been a flurry of articles recently on Julian Assange:

Around the world:

Other stories:

Keith Bradsher: [02-12] How China built BYD, its Tesla killer.

Tim Fernholz: [02-15] How the US is preparing to fight -- and win -- a war in space: "Meet the startup trying to maintain American military dominance in space." Author previously wrote Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race (2018). Few ideas are more misguided than the notion that anyone can militarily dominate space. Chalmers Johnson illustrated that much 20 years ago by imagining the result of some hostile actor launching "a dumptruck full of gravel" into orbit: it would indiscriminately destroy everyone's satellites, and everything dependent on them (including a big chunk of our communications infrastructure, and such common uses as GPS, as well as the ability to target missiles and drones).

Lydialyle Gibson: [02-12] We have treatments for opioid addiction that work. So why is the problem getting worse?

Umair Irfan: [02-14] Carmakers pumped the brakes on hybrid cars too soon.

Ben Jacobs: [02-13] The race to replace George Santos, explained: Written before Tuesday's vote, which gave the seat to Democrat Tom Suozzi, who was favored in polls by 3-4 points, and won by 8 (54-46).

Sarah Jones: [02-14] The anti-feminist backlash at the heart of the election.

Eric Levitz: [02-18] How NIMBYs are helping to turn the public against immigrants: "(In this house, we believe that high rents fuel nativist backlashes."

Charisma Madarang: [02-13] Jon Stewart skewers Biden and Trump in scathing 'Daily Show' return: I watched the opening monologue segment, and must say I didn't laugh once. It was about how much older Stewart is now than when he retired from the show 20 years ago, which was when Biden was the same age Stewart is now. And, yes, Trump's pretty old too. The most annoying bit was when Stewart, repeatedly, referred to being president as "the hardest job in the world." That it most certainly is not. As far as I can tell, it looks like a pretty cushy job, with lots (probably too many) people constantly at your beck and call, keeping track of everything and everyone, and preparing for every eventuality. It may be overscheduled, but Trump showed that doesn't have to be the case, and Biden doesn't seem to spend a lot of time in public, either. It may be dauntingly hard to fully comprehend, and the responsibility that comes with the power may be overwhelming, but Trump, and for that matter Biden, don't seem to be all that bothered. Maybe we should have presidents who know and care more, but history doesn't suggest that it makes much difference. Once they get their staffs in place, the bus pretty much drives itself. (Or, in Trump's case, wrecks itself, repeatedly.)

Later on, Stewart brought in his "team of reporters," tending to all-decisive diners in Michigan -- the sort of comedians who developed careers out of the old Daily Show, like Samantha Bee and John Oliver -- and sure, they were pretty funny, albeit in stereotypical ways (naïve/inept Democrats; vile/evil Republicans). More on Jon Stewart:

  • Jeet Heer: [02-16] Jon Stewart is not the enemy: "You don't defeat Trump by rejecting comedy." I agree with the subhed, but I'm still waiting for the comedy. For what it's worth, I think Messrs. Colbert, Myers, and Kimmel have done great public service over the last eight years in reminding us how vile, pompous, and utterly ridiculous Trump has always been, and I thank their audiences for robustly cheering them on. (It's nice to know you're not alone in thinking that.) Myers even does a pretty good job of reminding us that all Republicans are basically interchangeable with Trump, which is a message more people need to realize.

Ciara Moloney: [01-29] What peace in Northern Ireland teaches us about 'endless' conflicts: "If the international community can underwrite war, it can also underwrite peace and justice." Nathan J Robinson linked to this in a tweet, pace a quote from Isaac Herzog: "You cannot accept a peace process with neighbors who engage in terrorism."

Kevin Munger: [02-16] Nobody likes the present situation very much. Unclear where this is going, but it's something to think about:

I think that the pace of technological change is intolerable, that it denies humans the dignity of continuity, states the competence to govern, and social scientists a society about which to accumulate knowledge.

Dennis Overbye: [02-12] The Doomsday clock keeps ticking: The threat of nuclear weapons is real, but the metaphor is bullshit. The clock isn't ticking. It's just a visual prop, meant to worry people, to convey a sense of panic, but panic attenuates over time. So if 7 minutes haven't elapsed since the clock was set 77 years ago, why should we worry now? We clearly need a different system for risk assessment than the one behind the doomsday clock. We also need some much better method for communicating that risk, which is especially difficult, because there are actually dozens of different risks that have to be represented, each with their own distinct strategies for risk reduction. I'm not willing to enter that rabbit hole here, other than to offer a very rough swag that the odds of any kind of nuclear incident in the next 12 months are in the 1-2% range (which, by the way, I regard as alarmingly high, given the stakes, but far from likely; my greatest uncertainty has to do with Ukraine, where there are several serious possible scenarios, but the avoidance of them in 2023 and the likelihood of continued stalemate suggests they can continue to be avoided; by the way, I would count Chernobyl as an above-threshold incident, as it caused more damage, and more fallout, than a single isolated bomb; it should be understood that there is a lot more danger in nuclear power than just the doomsday scenario).

Jared Marcel Pollen: [02-14] Why billionaires are obsessed with the apocalypse: Review of Douglas Rushkoff's book, Surival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires.

Aja Romano: [02-15] Those evangelical Christian Super Bowl ads -- and the backlash to them -- explained. Also:

Brian Rosenwald: [02-14] The key to understanding the modern GOP? Its hatred of taxes. Review of Michael J Graetz: The Power to Destroy: How the Antitax Movement Hijacked America. The reviewer, by the way, had his own equally plausible idea, in his book: Talk Radio's America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States.

Becca Rothfeld: [02-15] The Alternative is just the book economists should read -- and won't: "Journalist Nick Romeo lays out eight examples of what we gain when we think about morality alongside money." The book's subtitle: How to Build a Just Economy.

Matt Stieb: [02-13] The millionaire LimeWire founder behind RFK Jr.: "Mark Gorton has done his own research on JFK, LBJ, vaccines, and the 2024 election."

Li Zhou:

The New Yorker: [02-17] Our favorite bookstores in New York City: From the days after I turned 16, got a driver's license, and dropped out of high school, up until perhaps as late as 2011 (i.e., when Borders show down), I spent large parts of my life carousing around bookstores -- at least two, often more like four times a week. (Since then, I mostly just do this.) I fell out of the habit here in Wichita (which still has Watermark Books, and a Barnes & Noble), but what really got me was find most of the bookstores I regularly sought out when visiting New York City had been turned into banks (Colisseum Books was especially saddening). So I'm pleased to see this article, and also to note that the only store listed I've actually been in was the Barnes & Noble. Not that I'm actually likely to get back there any time soon -- most of the people I knew there have departed, and I haven't traveled since the pandemic hit -- but at least one can again entertain the thought.

Also, some notes found on ex-Twitter (many forwarded by @tillkan, so please do yourself a favor and follow her; my comments in brackets):

  • John Cassidy: When 2 headlines are worth 10,000 word[s]. [Image of Wall Street Journal page. Headlines: "Biden Presses Netanyahu to Accept Plan"; "U.S. Is Preparing to Send Bombs, Other Arms to Israel"]

  • Tony Karon: Judge Biden by what he does, not by what he says. Israel can't sustain its genocidal war without the US munitions Biden keeps sending, while offering the equivalent of "thoughts and prayers" for the Palestinian civilians they'll kill [link to: US to send weapons to Israel amid invasion threat in Gaza's Rafah]

  • Nathan J Robinson: The worst serial killer in history killed nearly 200 children. A true monster. Unfathomable evil.

    So far Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu have killed over 10,000 children. Their evil reaches a whole other level of depravity.

    [Commenters belittle the comparison by pointing to the usual list of political monsters -- Hitler, Stalin, Mao -- without realizing that they're only adding to the list (which should, by the way, also include Churchill, Nixon, and GW Bush). Where Netanyahu ranks on that list is open to debate, but that he is morally equivalent isn't. As for Biden, he's certainly complicit, a facilitator, but things he's directly responsible for are relatively minor even if undeniably real (e.g., strikes against Yemen, Iraq, Syria; general poisoning of relations with Iran and Russia). I'm less certain that Stalin and Mao belong, at least the mass starvation their policies caused: that result was probably not intended, although both did little to correct their errors once they became obvious. Churchill's relationship to starvation is more mixed: the Bengal famine was mostly incompetence and lack of care, much like Stalin and Mao, but his efforts to starve Germans were coldly considered and rigorous.]

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