Monday, March 18, 2024

Speaking of Which

Well, another week, with a few minor variations, but mostly the same old stories:

  • Israel is continuing its genocidal war on Gaza, with well over 30,000 direct kills, the destruction of most housing and infrastructure, and the imposition of mass starvation. This war is likely to escalate significantly next week, as Netanyahu has vowed to invade Rafah, which has until now been a relatively safe haven for over one million refugees from northern parts of the Gaza strip. Israel is also orchestrating increased violence in the occupied West Bank and along the Lebanon border, which risks drawing the US into the conflict (as has already happened in the Red Sea).

  • The United States remains supportive of and complicit in Israeli genocide, although we're beginning to see signs that the Biden administration is uncomfortable with such extremism. Public opinion favor an immediate cease-fire, which Israel and its fan club have been working frantically to dispel and deny.

  • Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine continues to be stalemated, with increasingly desperate and dangerous drone attacks. Putin is up for reelection this weekend, and is expected to win easily, against token opposition that also supports Russia's war, so any hopes for regime change there are very slim. On the other hand, the war is becoming increasingly unpopular in the US, where thus far Biden has been unable to pass his latest arms aid request. The only way out of this destructive and debilitating war is to open negotiations, where the obvious solution is some formalization of the status quo, but thus far Biden and Zelensky have refused to consider the need.

  • Biden's has secured the Democratic nomination for a second term, but he remains deeply unpopular, due to gross Republican slanders, his own peculiar personal weaknesses, and legitimate worry over wars he has shown little concern and/or competency at ending.

  • Meanwhile, Trump has secured the Republican nomination, but is mostly distracted by the numerous civil and criminal cases he has blundered into. He's lost two civil cases, bringing fines of over $500 million, but he has thus far managed to postpone trial in the four criminal cases, and he had several minor victories on that front last week. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is remaking itself in his image, defending crime and corruption, spreading hate, and aspiring to dictatorship. (At some point, I should go into more depth on how, while the Democrats remain pretty inept at defending democracy, the Republicans have gone way out of their way to impress on us what the destruction of democracy has in store for us.)

Due to various factors I don't want to go into, I got a late start on this, and lost essentially all of Saturday, so I expect the final Sunday wrap-up to be even more haphazard than usual.

Sorry I didn't mention this earlier, but we were saddened to hear of the recent death of Jim Lynch. He was one of the Wichita area's most steadfast peace supporters, and he will be missed.

Except, of course, that I didn't manage to wrap up on Sunday, so this picks up an extra day -- not thoroughly researched, but I am including some Monday pieces.

Initial count: 183 links, 9,145 words.

Top story threads:


Israel vs. Biden: Israelis like to talk about the "multi-front war" they're besieged with, but for all the talk of Iranian proxies, they rarely point out that their main struggle since Oct. 7 has been with world opinion, especially as it became obvious that they had both the intent and means to commit genocide. For a long time, Biden and virtually the entire American political establishment were completely subservient to Israeli dictates, but that seems to be shifting slightly -- maybe those taunts of "Genocide Joe" are registering? -- so much so that Israel can add the US to its array of threats. Not a done deal, but increasingly a subject of discussion.

  • Daniel Boguslaw: FBI warns Gaza War will stoke domestic radicalization "for years to come".

  • Connor Echols: [03-13] Bombs, guns, treasure: What Israel wants, the US gives.

  • Liz Goodwin: [03-14] Schumer calls for 'new election' in Israel in scathing speech on Netanyahu: I'd be among the first to point out that's none of his business, just as it's none of Netanyahu's business to weigh in on American elections -- as he's done both personally and through donors like the Abelsons and lobbying groups like AIPAC. On the other hand, if Schumer wanted to cut off military aid and diplomatic support for genocide, that would clearly be his right. More on Schumer:

    • Jonathan Chait: [03-16] Why Chuck Schumer's Israel speech marks a turning point: "He tried to escape the cycle of violence and hate between one-staters of the left and right." That's a very peculiar turn of phrase -- one designed to depict "two-staters" as innocent peace-seekers who have been pushed aside by extremists, each intent on dominating the other. But the very idea of "two states" was a British colonial construct, designed initially to divide-and-rule (as the British did everywhere they gained power), and when they inevitably failed, to foment civil wars in their wake. (Ireland and India/Pakistan are the other prime examples, although there are many others.) The "two-state solution" isn't some long deferred dream. It is the generator and actual state of the conflict. Sure, it doesn't look like the "two states" of American propaganda -- a fantasy Israelis sometimes give lip-service to but more often subvert -- due to the extreme asymmetry of power between the highly efficient and brutal Israeli state and the emaciated chaos of Palestinian leadership (to which the PA is mere window dressing, as was much earlier the British-appointed "Mufti of Jerusalem"). The only left solution is a state built on equal rights of all who live there.

      Borders may be abitrary, and one could designate one, two, or N states in the region, with various ethnic mixes, but for the left, and for peace and justice, each must offer equal rights to its inhabitants. It is true that some on the left were willing to entertain the two-state prospect, but that was only because we realized that Israel is dead set against equal rights, and saw their security requiring that most Palestinians be excluded. We expected that a Palestinian majority, left to its own devices, would organize a state of equal rights democratically. Meanwhile, an Israel more secure in its Jewish majority might moderate, as indeed Israel had done before the 1967 war, the revival of military rule, the settler movement, the debasement and destruction of the Labor Party, and the extreme right-wing drive of the Netanyahu regimes.

      That the actually-existing Zionist state has become an embarrassment to someone as devoted to Israel as Schumer may indeed be a turning point. But heaping scorn on "left one-staters" while trying to revive the "two-state solution," with its implied "separate but equal" air on top of vast differences in power, is less a step forward than a desperate attempt to salvage the past.

    • EJ Dionne Jr: [03-16] Schumer said out loud what many of Israel's friends are thinking.

    • Murtaza Hussain: Outrage at Chuck Schumer's speech: The pro-Israel right wants to eat its cake too.

    • Fred Kaplan: [03-14] Why Chuck Schumer's break with Netanyahu seems like a turning point in the US relationship with Israel.

    • Halie Soifer: [03-15] Schumer spoke for the majority of American Jews: "Only 31% of American Jewish voters have a favorable view of the Israeli prime minister."

  • Caitlin Johnstone: [03-15] If Israel wants to be an 'independent nation,' let it be: "Israel knows it's fully dependent on the US and cannot sustain its nonstop violence without the backing of the US war machine."

  • Fred Kaplan: [03-15] There's a cease-fire deal on the table. Hamas is the one rejecting it. Israel doesn't need to negotiate with Hamas for a cease-fire. They can do that by themselves. You say that wouldn't get the hostages back? Someone else -- say whoever wants to run food and supplies into Gaza? -- can deal with that. The hostages are relatively useless just to swap for other hostages. Their real value to Hamas is to the extent they inhibit Israel from the final, absolute destruction of Gaza and everyone stuck there. Admittedly, that hasn't worked out so well, but trading them for time only helps if the international community uses that time to get Israel to give up on their Final Solution. Meanwhile, what Israel likes about negotiating with Hamas is they never have to agree to anything, because the one thing Hamas wants is off the table. And because Israel is very skilled at shifting blame to Hamas. They even have Kaplan fooled. I mean, consider this:

    Netanyahu has rejected these conditions as "delusional." On this point, he is right. A complete withdrawal of troops and a committed end to the war would leave Israel without the means to enforce the release of hostages. It would also allow Hamas to rebuild its military and resume attacking Israel, whether with rocket fire or another attempted incursion.

    But isn't the point of negotiation to get both sides to do what they committed. Why does Israel need a residual force to "enforce the release of hostages"? If Hamas failed to honor its side of the deal, Israel could always attack again. Can't we admit that would be a sufficiently credible Plan B? And how the hell is Hamas going "to rebuild its military and resume attacking Israel"? They never had a real military, and Gaza never had the resources and tech to build serious arms, and what little they did have has been almost completely demolished. I could see Hamas worrying that Israel could use truce time to bulk up so they could hit Gaza even harder, but the opposite isn't even projection; it's just plain ridiculous.

  • Joshua Keating: [03-14] How Biden could dial up the pressure on Israel -- if he really wanted to.

  • Mitchell Plitnick: [03-15] It isn't Netanyahu who is acting against the will of his people, it's Biden.

  • Richard Silverstein:

  • Adam Taylor/Shira Rubin: [03-14] Biden administration imposes first sanctions on West Bank settler outposts.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos:

  • Philip Weiss: [03-17] Weekly Briefing: Now everyone hates Israel: "The unbelievable onslaught on a captive people in Gaza has at last cracked the conscience of the American Jewish community and sent American Zionists into complete crisis." Picture of Schumer, followed by Jonathan Glazer at the Oscars.

Israel vs. world opinion:

  • Michael Arria: [03-14] The Shift: Jonathan Glazer smeared by pro-Israel voices over Oscar speech: The director of the film The Zone of Interest said this during his acceptance speech after winning the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film:

    All our choices we made to reflect and confront us in the present. Not to say 'look what they did then' -- rather, 'look what we do now.' Our film shows where dehumanization leads at its worst. It shaped all of our past and present.

    Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people. Whether the victims of October 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza -- all the victims of this dehumanization, how do we resist?


  • Khalil Barhoum: [03-09] The real reason 'from the river to the sea' has garnered so much condemnation: "The false labeling of Palestinian liberation slogans like 'from the river to the sea' as calls for the elimination of Jews reveals an Israeli anxiety over its dispossession of the Palestinians from their land."

  • Daniel Beaumont: [03-15] Smoke and mirrors: How Israeli agitprop lies become fact.

  • Jonathan Cook:

  • Feminist Solidarity Network for Palestine: [03-11] Here's what Pramila Patten's UN report on Oct 7 sexual violence actually said: "The UN report on sexual violence on October 7 has found no evidence of systematic rape by Hamas or any other Palestinian group, despite widespread media reporting to the contrary. But there are deeper problems with the report's credibility."

  • Luke Goldstein: [03-14] AIPAC talking points revealed: "Documents show that the powerful lobby is spreading its influence on Capitol Hill by calling for unconditional military aid to Israel and hyping up threats from Iran."

  • David Hearst: [03-14] All signs point to a strategic defeat for Israel.

  • Kathy Kelly: [03-15] When starvation is a weapon, the harvest is shame.

  • Tariq Kenney-Shawa: [03-14] Israel Partisans' use of disinformation.

  • Jonathan Ofir: [03-12] Human rights groups sue Denmark for weapons export to Israel.

  • Roy Peled: [03-08] Judith Butler is intentionally giving Hamas' terror legitimacy: "In recent comments, the American Jewish gender theorist labeled the Oct. 7 attack as 'armed resistance.'" This is where I entered a cluster of related articles:

    There's an element of talking past each other here, and especially of assuming X implies Y when it quite possibly doesn't. "Armed resistance" is not in inaccurate description of what Hamas is doing in Gaza. Especially when they're firing back at invading IDF soldiers, one could even say that they're engaged in "self defense" (to borrow a term that Israelis claim as exclusively theirs). The left has some history of celebrating "armed resistance," but that's mostly from times and places where no better option presented itself. But the struggle for equal rights (which is the very definition of what the left is about) has a natural preference for democracy, nudged on by occasional nonviolent civil resistance -- a realization that has been encouraged by occasional success, but also by the insight that some acts of violence are self-damaging and self-defeating.

    Oct. 7 is certainly an example of this. I think it's safe to say that most people who supported equal rights for Palestinians have condemned the Oct. 7 attackers, most often as immoral but also as bad political strategy. Why Hamas chose to launch that particular attack can be explained in various ways -- and please don't jump to the conclusion, which seems to be ordained in the Hasbara Handbook, that explaining = justifying = supporting = celebrating. The most likely is that Hamas felt that no other option was open, perhaps by long observation of other Palestinians pleading and protesting non-violently, only to find Israelis more recalcitrant than ever. Or one might argue that Hamas aren't a left group at all, but like the Zionists are dominating and reducing their enemies, and as such are enamored with violence, like the right-wing fascists of yore. Or you could imagine a conspiracy, where Hamas and Netanyahu have some kind of bizarre symbiotic relationship, where each uses the other as a wedge against their near enemies. (Even without an actual conspiracy, that does describe much of the dynamic.)

    Still, there is another way of looking at "armed resistance," which is that it is the inevitable result of armed occupation, oppression, and repression -- something which Israel is uniquely responsible for. And because it's inevitable, it doesn't matter who is doing it, nor does it do any good to chastise them. The only way to end resistance is to end the occupation that causes it. So while we shouldn't celebrate armed resistance, we also shouldn't flinch from recognizing it as such, because we have to in order to clearly see the force it is resisting.

  • Andrew Perez/Nikki McCann Ramirez: [03-14] Israel lobby pushes lie that people are not starving in Gaza.

  • Reuters: [03-17] UE's Von Der Leyen says Gaza facing famine, ceasefire needed rapidly.

America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire:

Election notes:

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

War in Ukraine, an election in Russia:

Around the world:


TikTok: A bill to force, under threat of being banned, the Chinese owners of TikTok to sell the company has passed the House, with substantial bipartisan support. Despite the many links here, I have no personal interest in the issue, although I do worry about gratuitous China-bashing, and I'm not a big fan of any social media companies or their business models.

Other stories:

Andrea Long Chu: [03-11] Freedom of sex: The moral case for letting trans kids change their bodies. I'm in no mood to wade into this issue, but note the article, which makes an honest and serious point, and backs it up with considerable evidence and thought. Also note the response:

  • Jonathan Chait: [03-16] Freedom of sex: A liberal response. Oh great, another epithet: TARL (trans-agnostic reactionary liberal), which Chait seizes on, probably because he's the very model of a "reactionary liberal" -- a term he's encountered in many other contexts, and not undeservedly (need we mention Iraq again?).

TJ Coles: [03-08] The new atheism at 20: How an intellectual movement exploited rationalism to promote war: The Sam Harris book, The End of Faith, came out in 2004, soon to be grouped with Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), and Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great). While critical of all religions, they held a particular animus for Islam, at a time when doing so was most useful for promoting the American and Israeli wars on terror. Coles has a whole book on them: The New Atheism Hoax: Exposing the Politics of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens. Coles is a British psychologist with a lot of recent books attacking media domination by special interests; e.g.:

  • President Trump, Inc.: How Big Business and Neoliberalism Empower Populism and the Far-Right (2017)
  • Real Fake News: Techniques of Propaganda and Deception-Based Mind Control, From Ancient Babylon to Internet Algorithms (2018)
  • Manufacturing Terrorism: When Governments Use Fear to Justify Foreign Wars and Control Society (2019)
  • Privatized Planet: Free Trade as a Weapon Against Democracy, Healthcare and the Environment (2019)
  • The War on You (2020)
  • We'll Tell You What to Think: Wikipedia, Propaganda and the Making of Liberal Consensus (2021)
  • Biofascism: The Tech-Pharma Complex and the End of Democracy (2022)
  • Militarizing Cancel Culture: How Censorship and Deplatforming Became a Weapon of the US Empire (2023)

Matt Kennard: [03-16] Last days of Julilan Assange in the United States: "The WikiLeaks publisher may soon be on the way to the US to face trial for revealing war crimes. What he would face there is terrifying beyond words."

Rick Perlstein: [03-13] Social distortion: "On the fourth anniversary of the pandemic, a look at how America pulled apart as the rest of the world pulled together." Reviews Eric Klinenberg: 2020: One City, Seven People, and the Year That Changed Everything.

Scott Remer: [03-15] Pessimism of the intellect, pessimism of the will: Title is an obvious play on Gramsci, who even facing death in prison preferred "optimism of the will." But no mention of Gramsci here. The subject is self-proclaimed progressivism, keyed to this quote from Robert LaFollette: "the Progressive Movement is the only political medium in our country today which can provide government in the interests of all classes of the people. We are unalterably opposed to any class government, whether it be the existing dictatorship of the plutocracy or the dictatorship of the proletariat." (Presumably that was from 1924, when the Soviet Union was newly established.) That leads to this:

All this should sound familiar. It describes bien-pensant liberals of the Obama-Clinton-Biden persuasion to a tee: their aestheticization of politics, their fetishization of entrepreneurialism and expertise; their studied avoidance of polarization, partisanship, and partiality; their distaste for class conflict; their elevation of technocracy and science as beacons of reason; their belief in the pretense that politics can be reduced to interest-group bargaining and consensus seeking; their desire to keep the labor movement at a distance; their continued fealty to American exceptionalism even when looking to European models would be exceptionally edifying; and their general attitude of deference towards big business. Neoliberals' demography -- disproportionately white, upper middle class, professional, and college-educated -- also parallels the original Progressives.

I like bien-pensant here, as it's open to translations ranging from "right-thinking" to "lackadaisically blissful," each a facet of the general mental construct. The easiest way to understand politics in America is to recognize that there are two classes: donors and voters. Voters decide who wins, but only after donors decide who can run -- which they can do because it takes lots of money to run, and they're the ones with that kind of money. Republicans have a big advantage in this system: they offer businesses pretty much everything they want, and ask little of them beyond acceding to their singular fetishes (mostly guns and religion).

Democrats have a much tougher problem: voters would flock to them because Republicans cause them harm, but the only Democrats who can run are those backed by donors, who severely limit what Democrats can do for their voters. The Clinton-Obama types tried to square this circle by appealing to more liberal-minded business segments, especially high-growth sectors like tech, finance and entertainment. They were fairly successful at raising money, and they won several elections, but ultimately failed to make much headway with the problems they campaigned on fixing.

At present, both parties have backed themselves into corners where they are bound to fail. With ever-increasing inequality, the donor class is ever more estranged from the voting public. Normally, you would expect that when the pendulum swings too far left or right, it would swing back toward the middle, but the nature of capitalism is such that donors can never be satisfied, so will always push for more and more. But the policies they want only exacerbate the problems that most people feel, sooner or later leading to disastrous breakdowns (for Republicans) or severe dissolution (for Democrats, who while incapable of fixing things are at least more adept at delaying and/or mitigating their disasters).

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [03-12] Overwhelmed by feelings of complicity and paralysis: "In a world filled with horrors, where our actions feel useless, it can be hard to muster the energy to press on." This paragraph hit close to home:

    As Americans see tens of thousands of Palestinians die, we know that our own government is responsible, through providing the weapons and blocking UN action to stop the war. But how can we actually affect government policy? Later this year, there will be an election, but the choices in that election will be between the intolerable status quo (Joe Biden) and a likely even more rabidly pro-Israel president (Donald Trump). I don't know how it felt to oppose the Vietnam war in 1967-68, but I suspect it must have felt similarly frustrating, with the Democratic incumbent responsible for the war and any Republican likely to escalate it further.

    I do remember 1967-68, which spans the period from when my next door neighbor came home from Vietnam in a box to the government's first efforts to send me to the same fate. I knew people who went quite literally crazy back then. (Fortunately, I was already crazy then, and the Army decided they'd be better off without me.) So one thing I learned was to be fairly tolerant of people I don't agree with. Nearly everything is out of our control, so the only real task most of us face is just coping with it.

    Also the section on critiquing political books ("I have never felt more ineffectual than at this moment"). Here's a bit:

    Today, our public discourse seems to have gone off the rails entirely, and this sometimes makes me question what my approach should be as a political writer. Look, for example, though the top-selling political commentary books. No.1 at the moment is a book by Abigail Shrier, whose terrible polemic about trans kids I reviewed a while back. This one is about how we're ruining children by coddling them and is a broadside against mainstream psychology. I suspect its claims are just as dubious as those in the last book. Should I bother to go through and refute them? Will anybody care if I do?

    What else do we have in the political commentary section? More stuff about how the left is crazy, from Jesse Watters, Christopher Rufo, Douglas Murray, Coleman Hughes, Alex Jones, Candace Owens, Ted Cruz, etc. Books about how there's a war on Christian America, a war on the West, and a battle to "cancel" the American mind. Most of the bestsellers are right-wing, and the ones that are liberal are mostly just attacks on Trump.

    That list is generated by sales, so it's likely changed a bit since Robinson linked to it. One new add is Alan Dershowitz: War Against the Jews: How to End Hamas Barbarism. Aside from Jonathan Karl's Tired of Winning, the top-rated Trump book is also by Dershowitz, but defending him. The only remotely liberal (never mind left) book is Heather Cox Richardson's Democracy Awakening, where she is astonishingly naïve and blasé about the real effects of Biden's foreign policy.

  • [03-08] Why we need "degrowth": Interview with Kohei Saito, author of Slow Down: The Degrowth Manifesto.

  • [03-01] Why factory farming is a moral atrocity: Interview with Lewis Bollard, of Open Philanthrophy's farm animal program.

  • [02-26] It's time to break up with capitalism: Interview with Malaika Jabali, author of It's Not You, It's Capitalism: Why It's Time to Break Up and How to Move On, "reviewed here by Matt McManus."

  • [02-02] Astra Taylor on what 'security' really means: I'm pretty sure I've linked to this before, but I've nearly finished reading the book -- which, not for the first time, is very good, especially the section on education and curiosity -- so could use a review.

Aja Romano:

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