Speaking of * [10 - 19]

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 shutting down.

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.

DeSantis, and other Republicans: The Florida governor has done little to justify being singled out, but Steve M [09-17] assures us: 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 his case.

  • 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. Relevant here:

    • Paul Krugman: [09-14] America betrays its children again: "child poverty more than doubled between 2021 and 2022." That's almost exclusively because "Republicans and a handful of conservative Democrats blocked the extension of federal programs that had drastically reduced child poverty over the previous two years." "Handful" seems a generous counting of two Senators.

  • 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 it.

  • 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 Beetlejuice fracas."]

  • Tessa Stuart: [09-16] The GOP is coming after your birth control (even if they won't admit it).

  • 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. Steve M 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).

    Levitz properly 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.

  • Ian Millhiser:

  • 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?" Also:

    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 decision, explained."

  • 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 of government."

Climate and environment:

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 their 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. Middle East 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:

Other stories:

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 is.

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 (Nov. 2023)
  • 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 World (2020)

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. Also:

  • 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 gimmick.

  • 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 on Terror.

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.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Speaking of Which

I started to work on a books post this week, which caused some confusion when I ran across reviews of books I had recently written something about. I'm guessing I have about half of my usual batch, so a post is possible later this week, but not guaranteed. I'm still reading Eric Hobsbawm's brilliant The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848, which is absolutely jam-packed with insights -- probably why I drone on at such length below on liberalism and its discontents. I got deep enough into it to order three books:

  • Franklin Foer: The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden's White House and the Struggle for America's Future (2023, Penguin Press)
  • Cory Doctorow: The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation (2023, Verso)
  • Astra Taylor: The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart (paperback, 2023, House of Anansi Press)

I didn't bother with any reviews of Foer this week (there are several), although I mentioned the book last week. I figured I'd wait until I at least get a chance to poke around a bit. I have a lot of questions about how Biden's White House actually works. I'm not big on these insider books, but usually the outside view suffices -- especially on someone as transparent as Trump. Two I read on Obama that were useful were:

  • Ron Suskind: Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (2011, Harper).
  • Reed Hundt: A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama's Defining Decisions (2019, Rosetta Books).

Suskind was a reporter who had written an important book on the GW Bush administration (The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11). Hundt was a participant, but not an important nor a particularly successful one, so he took his time before weighing in.

Top story threads:


  • Holly Bailey: [09-08] Georgia special grand jury recommended charging Lindsey Graham in Trump case. We now know that the Grand Jury actually recommended prosecution of 38 people, but the prosecutor streamlined the case to just 19 defendants. It's easy to imagine the case against Graham, who was especially aggressive in trying to bully Georgia officials into throwing the election to Trump. But it's also easy to see how prosecuting Graham, and for that matter Georgia Senators (at the time) Loeffler and Perdue, could distract from focusing on the ringleader.

  • Amy Gardner: [09-08] Judge denies Mark Meadows's effort to move Georgia case to federal court: This was the first, and probably the most credible, such appeal, so it doesn't look good for the other defendants.

  • Alex Guillén: [09-07] Trump's border wall caused 'significant' cultural, environmental damage, watchdog finds. Rep. Raúl Grijalva put it more bluntly: "This racist political stunt has been an ineffective waste of billions of American taxpayers' dollars."

  • Nicole Narea: [09-06] January 6 rioters are facing hundreds of years in prison combined. What does it mean for Trump? Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was sentenced to 22 years for seditious conspiracy, the longest individual sentence yet. Jeffrey St Clair notes (link below) that Tarrio was initially offered a plea deal of 9-11 years, in "a textbook case of how prosecutors use plea deals to coerce guilty pleas and punish those who insist on their constitutional right to a trial." He lists four more Proud Boys who received sentences approximately double of what they were offered to plea out.

  • Tori Otten: [09-07] Guilty! Trumpiest Peter Navarro convicted of contempt of Congress.

  • Charles P Pierce: [09-08] Get a load of the letter Fulton County DA Fani Willis sent Jim Jordan: "I didn't think there were this many ways to tell somebody to fck off."

  • Jack Shafer: [09-08] Donald Trump destroyed horse race journalism: "At least for now." I guess it's hard to enjoy a good horse race when something more than your own bet depends on it. Like whether there'll ever be another race. Especially when you have to spend so much time scanning the grounds for snipers and ambulances, which are the only things about this race you haven't seen before.

  • Li Zhou: [09-07] Trump faces another big legal loss in the E. Jean Carroll case.

  • No More Mister Nice Blog: [09-08] So why wasn't Trump impeached for emoluments?:

    It's a shame, because much of America struggled to understand the point of the first impeachment, whereas an emoluments impeachment would have been extremely easy for ordinary citizens to grasp: If you use your status as president to cash in, that's illegal. Simple. Relatable. It's like stealing from the cash register. And he was allowed to get away with it.

    The question is probably rhetorical, but the obvious answer is that there was a faction of Democrats who thought that national security was the only unassailable moral high ground that exists, therefore everyone would get behind it. In the end, it persuaded no one who wasn't going to vote to impeach Trump for any of dozens of things anyway. Ironically, the key witnesses against Trump at the time have become the Washington's biggest Ukraine hawks, with the same "security Democrats" cheering them the loudest. And still Republicans are trying to get Hunter Biden prosecuted, so you didn't even win the battle, much less the war.

DeSantis, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Peter Baker/Katie Rogers: [09-10] Biden forges deeper ties with Vietnam as China's ambition mounts: Further proof that the only thing that can get American foreign policy past a grudge is to spite another supposed foe.

  • Jonathan Chait: [09-09] Biden or Bust: Why isn't a mainstream Democrat challenging the president? The simple answer is that no one wants to risk losing, not so much to Biden as to a Republican who should be unelectable but still scares pretty much everyone shitless. The greater left of the party isn't that unhappy with Biden, at least as long as they don't have to think much about foreign policy (which, frankly, is pretty awful, but so were Obama and Clinton). The neolibs aren't that unhappy either, and they're the ones most likely to sandbag anyone to Biden's left. Second answer is money. Nobody's got any (unless Bloomberg wants to run again, and that would really be stupid). But if Biden did drop out, ten names would pop up within a month.

  • Lisa Friedman: [09-06] Biden administration to bar drilling on millions of acres in Alaska: This reverses leases granted in the late days of the Trump administration, but only after [04-23] Many young voters bitter over Biden's support of Willow oil drilling, also on Alaska's north slope.

  • Molly Jong-Fast: [09-05] Can Joe Biden ride "boring" to reelection? "His administration is getting a lot done for the American people, yet its accomplishments don't get the same media attention as Trumpian chaos."

  • Andrew Prokop: [09-08] Should we trust the polls showing Trump and Biden nearly tied? You have much more serious things to worry about than polls, but what I take from this is that Democrats haven't really figured out how to talk about their political differences, and the mainstream media isn't very adept at talking about politics at all. There are obvious, and in some ways intractable, reasons for this. The idea of merely reporting the news gives equal credence to both sides regardless of truth, value, or intent. Republicans are masters at blaming everything bad on Democrats, while crediting them nothing. Democrats are reluctant to reciprocate, especially as we've been conditioned to dismiss their infrequent counterattacks as shrill and snotty. The double standards are maddening, but somehow we have to figure out ways to get past that. The differences between Trump and Biden, or between any generic Republican and Democrat you might fancy, are huge and important. At some level you have to believe that it's possible to explain that clearly. But until then, you get stupid poll results.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols: [09-08] Diplomacy Watch: Inquiry finds 'no evidence' South Africa armed Russia. No meaningful diplomacy to report. The website has a new design, which I don't like, mostly because it makes it much harder to find new pieces on the front page.

  • Ben Armbruster: [09-05] Why blind optimism leads us astray on Ukraine: "The pre-counteroffensive debate in the US was dominated by claims of 'victory' and 'success' despite available evidence predicting it wouldn't meet key goals." This is similar to the Confidence Fairy, where Obama and his people seemed to think that the key to recovery from the 2008 meltdown was projecting confidence that the economy was really just fine. The effect of such thinking on war strategy is even worse: any doubt that war aims will succeed is scorned as giving comfort to the enemy, so everyone parrots the official line. The final withdrawal from Afghanistan was hampered by just this kind of thinking. The article includes a wide sampling of such yes men cheering each other on into thinking it would all work out. I've tried to take a different position, which is that it doesn't matter whether the counteroffensive gains ground or not. In either case, the war only ends when Russia and the US -- with Ukraine's agreement, to be sure, but let's not kid ourselves about who Putin's real opponent is -- decide to negotiate something that allows both sides to back down. And the key to that isn't who controls how many acres, but when negotiators find common ground. Until then, the only point to the war is to disillusion hawks on both sides.

  • Ben Freeman: [06-01] Defense contractor funded think tanks dominate Ukraine debate: A lengthy report, finding that "media outlets have cited think tanks with financial backing from the defense industry 85 percent of the time."

  • Jen Kirby: [09-07] Are the US and Ukraine at odds over the counteroffensive?

  • Daniel Larison: [09-07] Hawks want Biden to take the fight with Russia global: "Walter Russell Mead thinks the West can wear down Russia by attacking it everywhere." The first question I have is: isn't it global already, or is he really arguing for escalating with military action? (Syria and Mali are mentioned.) The bigger question is why do you want to fight Russia in the first place? I can see defending Ukraine, but the hawks seem to be starting from the assumption the US should wage war against Russia, and Ukraine is just an excuse and tool for that purpose.

  • Anatol Lieven: [09-06] Afghanistan delusions blind US on Russia-Ukraine: "If Washington forgets the war's lessons, its mistakes are likely to be repeated."

  • Robert Wright: [09-08] Logic behind Ukraine peace talks grows: This is a pretty good summary of an argument that I think has been obvious if not from day one, at least since Russia retreated from its initial thrust at Kyiv: that neither side can win, nor can either side afford to lose.

  • Common Dreams: [09-02] US to begin sending controversial depleted uranium shells to Ukraine: The shells are effective at piercing tank armor, but they ultimately disintegrate, leaving toxic and radioactive uranium in the air, water, and soil. They were used extensively in Iraq, and the results have been tragic; e.g., Sydney Young: [2021-09-22] Depleted Uranium, Devastated Health: Military Operations and Environmental Injustice in the Middle East; and Dahr Jamail: [2013-03-15] Iraq: War's legacy of cancer.


Around the world:

Other stories:

Dan Balz: [09-09] What divides political parties? More than ever, it's race and ethnicity. That's what a report from the American Political Science Association (APSA) says. My first reaction was: that's a shame. My second was the suspicion that they got that result because that's all they could think of to measure. It's always possible to think of other questions that could scatter the results in various directions. And my third is that this is mostly an indictment of the news media, which seems completely incapable of explaining issues in ways that people can relate to.

Zack Beauchamp:

  • [09-06] Elon Musk's strange new feud with a Jewish anti-hate group, explained: So Musk is suing the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) . . . for defamation? He blames them for a 60% loss of advertising revenue, which couldn't possibly have been caused by anything he did?

  • [09-10] Chris Rufo's dangerous fictions: "The right's leading culture warrior has invented a leftist takeover of America to justify his very real power grabs." Rufo's book is America's Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything. Rufo is the guy whose rant on Critical Race Theory launched recent efforts by DeSantis and others to ban its teaching, even though it never had been taught, and thereby censoring the very real history of racial discrimination in America, lest white people be made to feel bad about what their ancestors did. CRT was developed by legal scholars to show that some laws which were framed to appear race-neutral had racist intent. This refers to the Critical Theory developed by mid-20th century Marxists like Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, which was very useful in detecting how capitalism and authoritarianism permeated and refracted in popular culture.

    I spent a lot of time studying Critical Theory when I was young. (I recently cracked open my copy of Dialectic of Enlightenment and was surprised to find about 80% of it was underlined.) It really opens your eyes to, and goes a long way toward explaining, a lot of the features of the modern world. But having learned much, I lost interest, at least in repeating the same analyses ad nauseum. (To take a classic example, I was blown away when I read How to Read Donald Duck, but then it occurred to me that one could write the same brilliant essay about Huckleberry Hound, Woody Woodpecker, and literally every other cartoon or fictional character you ran into.) But while Critical Theory appealed to people who wanted to change the world, it was never a plan of action, much less the plot to take over the world that Rufo claims to have uncovered.

    Beauchamp does a nice job of showing up Rufo's paranoia:

    Rufo cites, as evidence of the influence of "critical theory" across America, diversity trainings at Lockheed Martin and Raytheon that used the term "white privilege" and similar concepts in their documents. This, he argues, is proof that "even federal defense contractors have submitted to the new ideology."

    But the notion that American arms manufacturers have been taken over by radicals is ridiculous. Lockheed Martin builds weapons to maintain the American war machine. It is not owned or controlled in any way by sincere believers in the Third Worldist anti-imperialism of the 1960s radicals; it is using the now-popular terms those radicals once embraced to burnish its own image.

    Rufo is getting the direction of influence backward. Radicals are not taking over Lockheed Martin; Lockheed Martin is co-opting radicalism.

    So Rufo is not wrong that some radical ideas are penetrating into the institutions of power, including corporations. Where he is bonkers is in thinking that the ideas are power, plotted by some malign adversary bent on total control, trying to force us to think (gasp!) nice thoughts. What's scary is the mentality that views any hint of civility or accommodation as a mortal threat. Beauchamp continues, in terms that will probably drive Rufo even crazier:

    Historically, liberalism has proven quite capable of assimilating leftist critiques into its own politics. In the 19th and 20th centuries, liberal governments faced significant challenges from socialists who argued that capitalism and private property led to inequality and mass suffering. In response, liberals embraced the welfare state and social democracy: progressive income taxation, redistribution, antitrust regulations, and social services.

    Reformist liberals worked to address the concerns raised by socialists within the system. Their goal was to offer the immiserated proletariat alternative hope for a better life within the confines of the liberal democratic capitalist order -- simultaneously improving their lives and staving off revolution.

    Meanwhile, conservatives like Rufo resisted every such reform, often histrionically, even ones they eventually came to accept as necessary.

Jonathan Chait: [09-07] Samuel Moyn can't stop blaming Trumpism on liberals. I only mention this because I recently spent a lot of time writing up a book blurb on Moyn's Liberalism Against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times. I'll save the details, but note that Chait is upset because his heroes and his muddle-of-the-road philosophy were critiqued -- he says, incoherently. What happened was that after 1945, the New Deal coalition was deliberately split as most traditional liberals (like Chait, but he came much later) turned against the left, both abroad and at home, as part of a bipartisan Cold War consensus. They were pretty successful for a while, and with Lyndon Johnson even did some worthwhile things (civil rights and Medicare were big ones), but they neglected the working class base of the party, while throwing America into nasty (and in the case of Vietnam, hopeless) wars. So instead of building on the significant progress of the New Deal, the Democratic Party fell apart, losing not just to Republicans but to its own neoliberal aspirants. How that brought us to Trump is a longer and messier story, but it certainly got us Reagan, and the rot that followed.

PS: I wrote this paragraph before the one above on Beauchamp, so there's a bit of disconnect. Beauchamp talks about "reformist liberals," which diverge somewhat from Moyn's "cold war liberals." Chait thinks of himself as one of the former, but shares the latter's aversion to the left. Classical liberalism contained the seeds for both: first by individualizing society, breaking down the traditional hierarchy, then by declaring that every individual should have the right to "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness." It turns out that in order for any substantial number of people to enjoy liberty, they need to have support of government. Some liberals understood, and others (including Hayek and Friedman) simply didn't care. Cold War liberals wound up on both sides, but even those who still supported reforms undercut them by fighting the left as much or more than the right.

Rachel M Cohen: [09-05] Is public school as we know it ending? Interview with Cara Fitzpatrick, who thinks so, as in her book title: The Death of Public School: How Conservatives Won the War Over Education in America.

Richard Drake: [09-08] Gabriel Kolko on the foreign policy consequences of conservatism's triumph: I occasionally still crack open Kolko's brilliant books on US foreign policy (both subtitled The World and United States Foreign Policy, The Politics of War: 1943-1945, and The Limits of Power: 1945-1954), but it's been some time since I thought of his earlier The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916 (1963). The point there is that while the progressive movement sought to limit the manifest evils of capitalism, the actual reforms left big business and finance in pretty good shape -- as was evident in the post-WWI period, all the way to the crash in 1929.

Drake goes into the later books, but this piece doesn't do much to clarify how the "triumph of conservatism" in 1916 led to the "politics of war" in 1943. In this, I must admit I'm a little rusty on my William Appleman Williams, but "democracy" in Wilson's "making the world safe" slogan could just as easily been replaced with "capitalism." That was exactly what happened in the later 1943-54 period, when Roosevelt did so much to revive Wilson's reputation, while forever banishing opponents, including remnants of the anti-imperialist movement from 1898, to obscurity as "isolationists."

Kolko's formulation also does a neat job of solving the debate about whether Wilson was a progressive or a conservative: he was the former to the ends of the latter. Nowadays we dwell more on Wilson's racism, which we associate with the right, but in his day the two weren't strangers, even if what we still admire about the progressive idea suggests they should have known better.

Zeke Faux: [09-06] That's what I call ponzinomics: "With Sam Brinkman-Fried, Gisele, and a credulous Michael Lewis at the zenith of crypto hype." On first glance, I thought this might be a review of Lewis's forthcoming book on Bankman-Fried (coming Oct. 3: Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon), but it's actually an excerpt from Faux's new book, Number Go Up: Inside Crypto's Wild Rise and Staggering Fall, about a conference in 2022 where Lewis was talking about Bankman-Fried "as if he were presenting a prize to his star pupil."

Constance Grady: [09-08] The sincerity and rage of Olivia Rodrigo: One class of story I invariably skip past is "most anticipated," especially with albums, because interesting albums rarely get the advanced hype to make such lists. (TV and movies fare a bit better, because there are many fewer of them, at least that you'll ever hear about.) But I gave this one a spin as soon as the banner popped up on Spotify, and then I gave it a second. If you don't know, she's a 20-year-old singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, whose 2021 debut Sour won me and practically everyone else over immediately (RIAA has certified it 4x Platinum). Her new one, Guts is her second, and I'll review it (sort of) next Music Week. For now I just want to note that she's getting newsworthy press:

Adam Hochschild: [09-05] The Senator who took on the CIA: Frank Church. Review of James Risen/Thomas Risen: The Last Honest Man: The CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, and the Kennedys -- and One Senator's Fight to Save Democracy.

Whizy Kim: [09-08] The era of easy flying is over: "Lessons from a summer of hellish flights." As far as I'm concerned, it's been over for at least 20 years, about the time when it became obvious that deregulation and predatory profit seeking were going to devour the last shreds of decency in customer service.

Karen Landman: [09-07] Covid is on the rise again, but it's different now: "Covid transmission continues to ebb and flow -- but at least the latest Pirola variant isn't too menacing."

Prabir Purkayastha: [09-08] Is intellectual property turning into a knowledge monopoly? The question almost answers itself, given that the current laws defining intellectual property include grants of monopoly (with minor exceptions, like mechanical royalties for broadcast use of songs). The question of "knowledge" is a bit fuzzier, but there is real desire to claim things like "know how" as property (read the fine print on employee contracts). A patent can keep others making the same discovery independently from their own work, and the tendency to chain patents can keep competition away almost indefinitely. Copyrights, as the word makes clear, are more limited, but once you start talking derivative works, the line gets harder to draw. Moreover, the smaller granularity of fair use gets, the more likely accidental reuse becomes. How serious this is depends a lot on how litigious "owners" are, but in America, where so much seems to depend on wealth, we are very litigious indeed. This piece is excerpted from the author's book: Knowledge as Commons: Towards Inclusive Science and Technology (LeftWord, 2023).

Ingríd Robeyns: [08-28] Limitarianism: academic essays: Author has edited a book, Having Too Much: Philosophical Essays on Limitarianism, with various academic papers on the problem of having too much stuff. Fortunately, they read their own book and decided to make it available through Open Book Publishers, so it doesn't add to your surplus of stuff.

Dylan Scott: [08-07] The NFL season opener is also the kickoff for the biggest gambling season ever: "How America became a nation of gamblers -- and what might happen next." Few things make me more pessimistic for the future of the nation.

Norman Solomon: [09-07] Venture militarism on autopilot, or "How 9/11 bred a 'War on Terror' from Hell: America's response to 9/11 in the lens of history." Seems like every week brings enough new stories about America's bloated, wasteful, stupid, ineffective, but still really dangerous war culture, even beyond the ones that fit securely under "Ukraine" and "World." This gets to the big picture, being adapted from the introduction to Solomon's new book, War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine. The focus here is less on what war is and does than on how it is talked about, to make it seem more valorous and/or less cruel than it is, or just as often, how it's not talked about at all, allowing most of us to go about our daily lives with no sense of what the US government is actually doing, let alone why.

  • Melissa Garriga/Tim Biondo: [09-08] The Pentagon is the elephant in the climate activist room: "The US military is the world's largest institutional oil consumer. It causes more greenhouse gas emissions than 140 nations combined and accounts for about one-third of America's total fossil fuel consumption."

  • Maha Hilal: [09-05] 22 years of drone warfare and no end in sight: "Biden's rules on drone warfare mask continued violent islamophobia." Author wrote the book Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror, and the Muslim Experience Since 9/11, so that's her focus, but one could write much more about the seductiveness of drone warfare for the gamers who increasingly run the military, with their huge budgets to waste while risking none of their own lives.

Jeffrey St Clair: [09-08] Roaming Charges: The pitch of frenzy. Lots here, as usual, including some links I've cited elsewhere. One I'll mention here is a tweet by anti-woke pundit Richard Hanania: "Jimmy Buffett taught Americans to hate their jobs and live for nights and weekends so they could stuff themselves with food and alcohol." Actually, he picked that trope up from country music, where he sold most of his records before being reclassified as Adult Contemporary. The classic formula was to transpose Saturday night and Sunday morning, but many singers never got to the latter (or only did so in niche albums).

PS: I mentioned Biden's stop in Vietnam above, but hadn't seen this article: Katie Rogers: [09-11] 'It is evening, isn't it?' An 80-year-old president's whirlwind trip. Which focuses more on his age and foibles than on the diplomatic mission, showing once again that the mainstream press would rather focus on appearance than substance. Why does "the rigors of globe-trotting statesmanship" even matter? I'd rather prefer to have fewer photo-ops and more actual communication. But the reason I bring this piece up isn't to rag on the sorely atrophied art of journalism yet again. I found this tweet by Heather Cox Richardson, which pointed me to the article, even more disturbing:

Here's what I don't get: this administration's reworking of global relationships is the biggest story in at least a generation in foreign affairs -- probably more. Why on earth would you downplay that major story to focus on Biden's well-earned weariness after an epic all-nighter?

No doubt Biden has been very busy on that front, but it's hard to tell what it all means, which makes it hard to agree that it's big, harder still that it's good. GW Bush did at least as much "reworking," but his assertion of imperial prerogatives wound up undermining any possibility of international cooperation, and more often than not backfired. Obama tried to unwind some of Bush's overreach, and negotiated openings with Iran and Cuba, but left the basic unilateral posture in place. Trump did more in less time, but was too erratic, greedy, and confused to set a clear direction.

Biden, on the other hand, is mostly intent on patching up the mess Trump made, without addressing any of the underlying problems. And because he's left the imperial hubris unchecked, he's actually worsened relations with many countries, of which Russia and China are the most dangerous. On the other hand, even though Ukraine has brought us near a precipice, he hasn't actually plunged into disaster yet, as Bush did. It's still possible that, having reëngaged, he could move toward a more cooperative relationship with an increasingly multipolar world. But you can't call this a "story" without some sense of how it ends, and that's far from clear at the moment.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Speaking of Which

I've been reading my old paperback copy of Eric Hobsbawm's The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848 (1962, my paperback is a New American Library pocket edition I've had for 50+ years -- retail $1.25, so it's bound as densely as it was written. I've always been reluctant to read old books, but this one may get me to change my mind, or at least continue to his sequels. The first chapter, in particular, describes the European world so compactly yet completely that you approach the French Revolution thinking you know all the background you need. The next three chapters -- one on the industrial revolution in Britain, the next on France, and a third on the Napoleonic wars -- are every bit as compact and comprehensive.

Much of the book is quotable, but I was especially struck by the line at the bottom of this paragraph, from Part II, where he goes back and surveys how ownership and use of land changed during those revolutions (p. 191, several previous lines added for context):

For the poor peasant it seemed a distinctly hard bargain. Church property might have been inefficient, but this very fact recommended it to the peasants, for on it their custom tended to become prescriptive right. The division and enclosure of common field, pasture, and forest merely withdrew from the poor peasant or cottager resources and reserves to which he felt he (or he as a part of the community) had a right. The free land market meant that he probably had to sell his land; the creation of a rural class of entrepreneurs, that the most hard-hearted and hard-headed exploited him, instead or, of in addition to, the old lords. Altogether the introduction of liberalism on the land was like some sort of silent bombardment which shattered the social structures he had always inhabited and left nothing in its place but the rich: a solitude called freedom.

The significance and relevance here has to do with the phenomenon where former peasants leaned to the right politically, taking more comfort in the memory of feudal bonds to lord and church. Liberalism here means proto-capitalism, or what CB MacPherson more descriptively called "possessive individualism." The later Luddite revolt grew from a similar impulse, as does Trumpism today. In all these cases, the satisfaction of joining the right is purely emotional, as the right is every bit as controlled by people who saw in capitalism a path to ever greater exploitation.

The difference between conservatism and liberalism today is that one offers a better afterlife for their deference, and the other offers a rarely achieved hope for better in this life. The difference between liberals and the left is that one idealizes individuals each responsible only to themselves, and the other emphasizes solidarity, arguing that our fates are shared, and therefore our responsibility is to each other. Liberals like to call Trumpists, and their antecedents back to the Dark Ages, populists, because they look down on common people as ignorant and prejudiced (or as one put it memorably, "deplorable"). Leftists hate that designation, because they feel kinship with all people, not just because that's how solidarity works, but because they see many of those people being critical of capitalism, even when they aren't very articulate about why.

Top story threads:


DeSantis, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • EJ Antoni: [08-31] Bidenomics robs from the poor, gives to donor class: This piece of hackwork showed up in my local paper, along with Ryan Young: [09-01] Don't let politicians take credit for economic recovery. Together they give you a sense of how flailing and incoherent right-wing attacks on Bidenomics have become: on the one hand, don't credit Biden for any recovery, because that's just good old capitalism at work (an article that none of them wrote when Trump or Reagan were president, but became a staple during the much stronger recoveries under Clinton and Obama); on the other blame everything bad on Biden, and imply that corruption is the root of everything Democrats do (talk about projection). Antoni is particularly ripe for his concern over "the radical disconnect between Washington's ruling elites and working-class folks." It may be true that much of the extra spending Biden accomplished -- the first recovery act, the barely-bipartisan infrastructure bill, and the big Inflation Recovery Act -- has passed through the hands of companies that donated to Democrats (and usually Republicans, who get even more of their money from rich donors), but most of that money has trickled down, creating jobs that wouldn't have existed otherwise, and raising wages in the process.

    Both parties do most of their public spending through companies, but Biden has done a much better job than previous Democrats at seeing that spending benefit workers -- and indeed in improving the leverage of workers throughout the labor market. Maybe you can criticize him for not doing enough, but he clearly would have done more if he had more Democrats in Congress (and better ones than Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema). As for "robbing the poor," the only evidence he has is inflation, which is simply the result of companies actively taking advantage of supply shortages and growing demand -- lots of reasons for both, and I suppose you could blame Biden for adding to the demand side, by giving jobs and raising wages. These are, after all, complex issues, with many factors, but to the extent you can isolate Biden's contribution, it clearly has helped large segments of the economy.

    [PS: Both links include author pics. I hate it when people make assumptions about character based on looks, but I must admit I was taken aback by this pair -- perhaps by how young they appear, and how smiley when their messages are so disingenuous.]

  • Jessica Corbett: [08-30] Biden admin proposes 'much-needed' overtime protections for 3.6 million workers.

  • Lee Harris: [08-07] Biden Admin to restore labor rule gutted in 1980s.

  • Ben Jacobs: [09-01] Sidelined and self-sabotaged: What The Last Politician says about Kamala Harris. Franklin Foer's book, subtitled Inside Joe Biden's White House and the Struggle for America's Future, is coming out this week (Sept. 5). I've never been much of a Harris fan, but I've also thought they should be using her more, and trying to build her up, to make the 2024 campaign more of a team effort, reassuring voters of continuity, should Biden's age get the better of him. Republicans are going after her anyway, so why not lean into it and feature her more?. For a bit more on the book, see this Playbook column. There is also an excerpt on Afghanistan in The Atlantic.

  • Harold Meyerson: [08-07] Buybacks are down, production is up: "Bidenomics has begun to de-financialize the economy."

  • Toluse Olorunnipa: [09-02] Biden surveys Hurricane Idalia's damage in Florida, without DeSantis: There is a photo of DeSantis (looking annoyed) with Biden after Hurricane Ian a couple years ago. Such photo ops are normal, but Republicans often take flak for mingling with the enemy, much as Trump did for posing with Kim Jong Un. I wonder how much of this is because the White House Press has nothing useful to do, but maybe if they were given fewer useless ops they might think of something?

    [PS: I see a tweet with a New York Times: "Biden Won't Meet DeSantis in Florida During Tour of Hurricane Damage"; but wasn't it DeSantis refusing to meet Biden, not the other way? On the other hand, Rick Scott wasn't afraid of having his picture taken with Biden. DeSantis is such a wuss!]

  • Dylan Scott: [08-30] Medicare's first-ever drug price negotiations, briefly explained: Seems like a very modest first step, but looking at the list prices, you can see how "serious money" adds up. (For you youngsters, back in the 1970s, Sen. Everett Dirksen quipped: "a billion here, a billion there, before long you're talking serious money"). After this ten, another batch of fifteen are to follow. There is much more that should be done. Such high prices are purely the result of government-granted patent monopolies. The law could change the terms of patent use from monopolies to some form of arbitration. Or (my preference) we could end patents all together. And yes, I filed this under Biden/Democrats because there is zero change of getting even this much relief when Republicans are in power. Also see:

Legal matters: Ok, sometimes I mean illegal matters. Obviously, Trump's crimes are filed elsewhere.

Climate and Environment: Hard to find anything about it in the US press, but they're having a rip-roaring typhoon season in East Asia this year; e.g.: Typhoon Saola makes landfall in China's coast after slamming Hong Kong; and As Typhoon Haikui barrels into Taiwan, thousands are evacuated. These are big storms hitting heavily populated areas. Back in early August, there was this: [08-02] Heaviest rainfall in 140 years drenches Beijing while Typhoon Khanun hits Japan's Okinawa. You may recall that in 2022 they held the Winter Olympics in Beijing, so it's not exactly a place you expect to be ravaged by tropical storms.

Ukraine War: The New York Times insists Ukraine's offensive makes progress. Elsewhere, we are warned: Ukraine tells counteroffensive critics to 'shut up'. Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Blumenthal says US is getting its 'money's worth' in Ukraine because Americans aren't dying, which suggests ulterior motives and double standards. More stories follow, but plus ça change, etc. Even if the counteroffensive breaks the Russian line, doing things in the next month or two (before winter) they haven't even hinted at in the last three months, Ukraine will remain far short of their goal of expelling Russia from their pre-2014 borders, and will have no real leverage to force Russia to capitulate to their terms. And even if they could expel Russia, they'd still be locked in a state of war until a truce was negotiated. The only way out is to find a combination of tradeoffs that is agreeable both to Russia and to Ukraine, and (not that they have any business dictating terms to Ukraine) to Biden, who is engaged in his own shadow war with Putin, and has possibly decisive chips to play (sanctions, trade, security assurances).

  • Blaise Malley:

    • [09-01] Diplomacy Watch: The search for an endgame in Ukraine.

    • [08-29] Can sanctions help win peace? According to this report, not likely: "Not only does economic warfare not work because it ends up hurting the people it claims to help, but it can stand in the way of diplomacy." I don't think that is quite right. Sanctions can, and should, be considered a chit for negotiation, but that only works if one is willing to relinquish them as part of an agreement. The problem is when sanctions are seen as permanent, foreclosing negotiation. For instance, sanctions against Saddam Hussein's Iraq demanded regime change, not something Hussein could reasonably negotiate. Under such conditions, sanctions are acts of kabuki warfare, symbolic yet reflecting hostility and a desire to harm -- a meaning that targets cannot fail to detect, but which, due to the arbitrariness and overreaching hubris of American foreign policy, especially the belief that enemies can only respond to a show of force, makes it nearly impossible to defuse. US sanctions against Russia started way before Putin's invasion of Ukraine, and have only escalated with each offense, paving the way to the present war, and possibly to much worse.

      The report is from International Crisis Group: [08-28] Sanctions, Peacemaking and Reform: Recommendations for US Policymakers. One key quote there is: "Sanctions can only help bring parties to the table for peace talks, and provide leverage when they get there, if negotiators can credibly promise meaningful and enduring sanctions relief." Moreover:

      The U.S. does not always make clear what parties can do that will lead to sanctions relief. In some cases, Washington has not laid out any such steps or it has outlined steps that are unrealistic. In others, the U.S. was never willing to lift sanctions in the first place. Elsewhere, Washington's communication on sanctions has been vague, leaving targets in the dark about what might lead to reversal. Targets can be unsure why they were sanctioned, as members of Venezuela's electoral authority reported in 2020, or have learned about the designations second- or thirdhand (a former Congolese official found out about his listing from the newspaper and some FARC members learned from listening to the radio). Some never see the full evidence underpinning the designations -- even if they lobby the Treasury Department. Without clarity on why they were sanctioned and what they can do to be delisted, targets have little incentive to make concessions in exchange for relief.

      A big part of the problem is that the neocon view that talking is a sign of weakness, and liberal-interventionist conviction that America's unique moral legitimacy makes it a fair and necessary judge of everyone else, has driven diplomacy from Washington, leaving American foreign policy as little more than "irritable mental gestures."

  • David Bromwich: [08-29] Living on a war planet (and managing not to notice): Raises the question (at least to me): if the war in Ukraine hadn't come along, would America have invented it? ,Leaving aside the second question (did it?), the withdrawal from Afghanistan left some kind of void in the minds of that class of people whose sole concern is America's military position in the world? Wars give them meaning in life, and after twenty years of frustration in Afghanistan and Iraq, Ukraine is some kind of dream: industry is stoked delivering arms and explosives, while it's someone else doing the fighting and bleeding, someone else having their lives upended. The plotters in America haven't had so much fun since Afghanistan in the 1980s -- another time when every dead Russian was counted as a blow for freedom. But mostly it just helped perpetuate the conflict, with no domestic political cost. So of course they refuse to negotiate. Why spoil such a good thing?

    After citing Roger Cohen's recent propaganda piece (Putin's Forever War), he notes that "Mikhail Gorbachev finally emerges as the hero of this story," then adds:

    Nowhere quoted, however, is the Gorbachev who, between 2004 and 2018, contributed eight op-eds to the New York Times, the sixth of which focused on climate change and the eighth on the perilous renewal of a nuclear arms race. Gorbachev was deeply troubled by George W. Bush's decision to withdraw from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty (which Putin called a "mistake") and Donald Trump's similar decision to pull out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Does anyone doubt that Gorbachev would have been equally disturbed by the Biden administration's virtual severance of diplomatic relations with Russia?

  • Daniel Brumberg: [08-30] The Russia-Ukraine Jeddah meeting reflects a changing global order.

  • Stephen F Eisenman: [09-01] Some people will hate me for writing this: End the war! Sounds like some people already do. Every war starts with efforts to suppress doubters and dissenters in one's own ranks, which no one doubts happened in Russia this time, but has been relentless here as well (albeit stopping short of arrests, unlike the World Wars and, in some cases, Vietnam). Lately we've been warned that casting doubt on the counteroffensive's prospects is catering to Russia, and that even suggesting talks should begin before Ukraine is ready implies we're eager to sell them out. My counter is that the war will never end until negotiators on all sides decide to end it, and that you'll never know whether that is even possible until you've set up a forum for negotiation.

  • Ellen Francis: [09-02] Nobel Prize foundation scraps plan to invite Russia, Belarus after criticism: Ukraine may be having trouble with their counteroffensive, but they're winning regularly at shaming international bodies into petty slighting of Russia.

  • Keith Gessen: [08-29] The case for negotiating with Russia: Draws on RAND analyst Samuel Charap, co-author of the 2016 book, Everyone Loses: The Ukraine Crisis and the Ruinous Contest for Post-Soviet Russia. Since then, everyone has continued to lose, the pace accelerating with the February, 2023 invasion. I'd argue that all wars are, as he puts it, "negative-sum games," but the case here is especially easy.

    But among "defense intellectuals," that's a minority view -- in my formulation, it would probably disqualify you permanently from employment. Gessen quotes Eliot A. Cohen as saying:

    Ukraine must not only achieve battlefield success in its upcoming counteroffensives; it must secure more than orderly Russian withdrawals following cease-fire negotiations. To be brutal about it, we need to see masses of Russians fleeing, deserting, shooting their officers, taken captive, or dead. The Russian defeat must be an unmistakably big, bloody shambles.

    The implicit assumption is that it's possible to inflict such a defeat on Russia without further escalation or recourse: that Putin (or some other Russian who might ascend to power) will take such a catastrophic defeat gracefully, as opposed to, say, blowing the world up. Note that if Putin is really as irreconcilable as people like Cohen make him out to be, that's exactly what he would do in that circumstance.

  • Joe Lauria: [08-29] US victim of own propaganda in Ukraine War.

  • Anatol Lieven:

    • [08-30] Few Russians wanted the war in Ukraine -- but they won't accept a Russian defeat either. As bad as Putin has been -- for America, for Europe, even (especially?) for Russia -- replacing him could get a lot worse. The kind of embarrassing, punishing defeat that Cohen (above) demands has been tried before, especially at Versailles after WWI, and tends to backfire spectacularly.

    • [08-31] Sarkozy vilified for speaking uncomfortable truths about Ukraine: The quorted sections from Sarkozy's book seem pretty reasonable to me. I've said all along that we should allow for internationally-supervised referenda in the disputed territories. If Crimea, say, wants to be part of Russia, it should be. Granted, it's harder to do now than it was before the invasion, but it should be possible. I think that a similar procedure should also be used to resolve disputes in Georgia, Serbia, and elsewhere. If Scotland wishes to avail itself of a referendum, we should allow it. It's easy enough to propose solutions on other issues as well. But at some point Russia has to see NATO as a purely defensive pact -- which NATO could help make more plausible with less war-gaming, something that should be but doesn't have to be reciprocal -- and the EU as simply an economic club, which Russia could conceivably join. On the other hand, the US and allies need to see a path to dropping the sanctions against Russia, and reintegrating Russia into the world economy. Granted, there are problems with the way Russia runs itself, but that's really their own business. One thing that would help would be an international treaty providing a right to exile, so real or potential political prisoners in any country could appeal to go to some other country. It's hard to get a country like Russia to agree to peaceful coexistence, but a necessary first step would be to tone down the criticism, the meddling, the menace, and the isolation. In the long run, none of us can afford this level of hostility.

  • Alice Speri: [] Prigozhin's legacy is the global rise of private armies for hire.


  • Al Jazeera: [09-03] Israel's Netanyahu calls for deportation of Etitrean refugee 'rioters'.

  • Jonathan Coulter: [09-03] A seditious project: "Asa Winstanley's book shows how the Israel lobby facilitated the influence of a foreign government's interests in dictating who gets to lead the Labour Party, causing the downfall of Jeremy Corbyn." The book is Weaponizing Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn. Of course, the Lobby is also active trying to purge any whiff of criticism from the Democratic Party, but Corbyn was their biggest victim, all the more critical as the Labour Party replaced him with the second coming of Tony Blair ("Bush's poodle").

  • Nada Elia: [08-30] Golda: A failed attempt to boost Israel's propaganda: There is a new movie about the Israeli Prime Minister (1969-74), with Helen Mirren in the title role. Looking at the film's plot on Wikipedia, I see that it focuses on the 1973 war, when initial setbacks led Meir to prepare to use nuclear weapons, and the immediate aftermath, which led to recriminations over allowing those setbacks. But it also notes: "Anwar Sadat, who like Golda Meir publicly speaks English, agrees to establish diplomatic relations to Israel in exchange for the return of the Sinai Peninsula." Sadat offered that shortly after the war, but Meir didn't agree to any such deal. That was Menachim Begin in 1979, under heavy pressure from Jimmy Carter. By the way, one of the few stories I like about Meir is how she casually referred to Begin, when he joined the war cabinet in 1967, as "the fascist." (Begin doesn't appear in the film's cast, although there are a bunch of generals, and Liev Schreiber playing Henry Kissinger.)

    Although the 1973 war occurred at the pinnacle of Meir's political career, I doubt her leadership was any more decisive than Levi Eshkol's was in 1967. In both wars, the key character was Moshe Dayan, and the difference was that he was the aggressor in 1967, but in 1973 he had to play defense, which wasn't as much fun, especially as it punctured the air of invincibility he had built up through 1967. The key lesson of 1973 is that if you refuse to negotiate with your enemies, as Meir had done, they may eventually decide that their only option is war, and at that point all sorts of bad things can happen. But to make sense out of 1973, you need a lot more context than they're likely to provide, especially given the usual propaganda mission.

    I imagine that a more interesting film could be made about Meir when she was younger, about how she became the only woman in the Histadrut and Mapai inner circles, where she probably overcome the default sexism by becoming the toughest character in the room -- not unlike Mirren's character in Prime Suspect. That would have been a tougher movie to sell, especially without Mirren, and it would be hard to present those times accurately, and easy to wallow in post-facto mythmaking.

    Having gone on at this length about Meir, I should close with a quote of hers, which in my mind is possibly the most obnoxiously self-flattering thing any political figure ever said:

    When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons. Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.

    But peace hasn't happened, and this attitude goes a long way to explaining why. More on Golda:

    • Sonja Anderson: [] The real history behind the 'Golda' movie: A fairly detailed biographic sketch of Meir's life, but very little to explain the conflict leading to the 1973 war.

    • David Klion: [09-01] The strange feminism of Golda. Regarding director Nattiv's motives: "The answer seems to be that he is more interested in rescuing the dignity of Israel's founding generation in the context of its current political crisis." Still, that generation was at the root and heart of Israel's later militarism and apartheid. To hold them up as models barely rebukes Netanyahu and Ben Gvir for bad manners.

  • Joseph Massad: [08-31] Ben Gvir's racist comments are no different from those if Israel's founders. Quotes from Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, even the usually circumspect Abba Eban.

  • Peter Shambrook: [08-25] Policy of Deceit: Britain and Palestine, 1914-1939: An extract from a new book of that title. One of the first books I read on the subject was Tom Segev: One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, which I recommend, although there is certainly more detail that can be added.

  • Richard Silverstein: [08-29] Why the US must not add Israel to its visa waiver programme.

Around the world:

Other stories:

Rachel DuRose: [08-30] The US has new Covid-19 variants on the rise. Meet Eris and Fornax.

Bill Friskics-Warren: [09-02] Jimmy Buffett, roguish bard of island escapism, is dead at 76: I wasn't going to mention this here, but No More Mister Nice Blog picked out a selection of rabid hate comments from Breitbart on how awful his politics were (see Jimmy Buffett, Stalinist Nazi). Warms my heart more than his music ever did (and let's face it, I'd never turn down a "Cheeseburger in Paradise," although I must admit I've never gone to one of his restaurants for one). Few things drive right-wingers crazier than finding out a rich guy identifies with Democrats. By the way, this blog is almost always worth reading, but his piece Public Options is especially striking, as one that gets personal -- unusual for an author whose last name is M.

Sean Illing: [08-30] Is the populist right's future . . . democratic socialism? Interview with Sohrab Ahmari, explaining "why precarity is breaking our politics." You see some of this happening in multiparty systems in Europe, where it's possible to combine safety net support with conservative social concerns, resulting in a party that could ally with either right or left, but at least this two-party system has little choice to offer: you can get a better break on economics with the Democrats, but you have to accept living in a diverse and predominantly urban country; on the other hand, if you insist on the old "family values," you can get some lip-service from Republicans, but in the end their embrace of oligarchy will hurt you. I think such people should be more approachable by Democrats, but I'm even more certain that as long as they back Republicans, they will be screwed.

Eric Levitz: [08-31] Was American slavery uniquely evil? Not sure why this came up, other than that some right-wingers are irate about the tendency to view all (or at least many) things American as evil. As Levitz points out, all slave systems shared many of the same evils. One could argue that America was more exploitative because American slaveholders were more deeply enmeshed in capitalism, but it's hard to say that the French in Haiti and the British elsewhere in the Caribbean were less greedy. You can argue that America was more benign, because after the import of slaves ended, the numbers increased substantially, while elsewhere, like in Brazil, imports barely kept up with deaths. Plus there were many more slave revolts in Brazil and the Caribbean than in the US -- but still enough in the US to keep the masters nervous. As for reparations, which comes up tangentially here, I don't see how you can fix the past. But it would be possible to end poverty in the near future, and to make sure everyone has the rights they need going forward. History neither precludes nor promises that. It just gives you lots of examples of what not to do again.

By the way, Levitz cites a piece he wrote in 2021 about Israel and Palestinian rights: Why is this geopolitical fight different from all other fights? He offers three reasons, and admits one more ("Israel's role in the Christian right's eschatology is also surely a factor"). He omits one or two that have become even more salient since then: Israel is an intensely militarist nation, which makes it a role model for Americans (and some Europeans) who want an even larger and more aggressive military front. Israel is also the most racially and religiously stratified nation, with discriminatory laws, intense domestic surveillance, and strong public support for establishment religion, and some Americans would like to see some or all of that here, as well. I only quibble on the count because the prejudices seem to go hand-in-hand. On the other hand, many of the moderate and left people who have begun to doubt the blind support given Israel by nearly all politicians started with alarm at what Israel's biggest right-wing boosters want to also do to America.

Amanda Moore: [08-22] Undercover with the new alt-right: "For 11 months, I pretended to be a far-right extremist. I discovered a radical youth movement trying to infiltrate the Republican Party." But they're pretty obvious about that.

Jason Resnikoff: [08-31] How Bill Clinton became a neoliberal: Review of a book by Nelson Lichtenstein and the late Judith Stein (who started work on the book that Lichtenstein picked up): A Fabulous Failure: The Clinton Presidency and the Transformation of American Capitalism. First I have to question whether the notion that Clinton wasn't any kind of neoliberal before he became president. The premise of the New Democrat movement was the promise to be better for business than the Republicans were, and Clinton's long tenure as governor of Arkansas, as WalMart and Tyson grew from regional to national businesses, suggests that he was good at it. Clinton certainly wasted no time throwing labor under the bus to pass NAFTA.

Sam Roberts: [09-02] Bill Richardson, champion of Americans held overseas, dies at 75: Former governor of New Mexico, served 14 years in Congress, was Secretary of Energy, held various diplomatic posts, including US Ambassador to the United Nations, ran for president in 2008, and engaged in more freelance diplomacy than anyone but Jimmy Carter. Curiously, there is only one line here about North Korea ("he went to North Korea to recover the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War," as if he had nothing more to talk to them about).

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [08-31] "Conservatism" conserves nothing: "Whatever 'conservatism' is, it does not involve the conservation of a stable climate, or the polar ice caps, or the coral reefs, or the global food supply." The rejoinder is that the nation and the world are too far gone to be satisfied with just preserving the status quo, which is why others are more likely to call them reactionaries: they see change they don't like, and react fitfully, contemptuously, often violently. But not all change bothers them: what they hate above all is any challenge to the privileges of wealth, or any limit to their ability to accumulate more. Given that one of the easiest ways to get rich is to suck wealth from the earth, conservation is not only not in their portfolio, it's something they dread -- etymology be damned.

  • [08-29] As cruel as it's possible to be: This week's example is Fox host Jesse Waters, who wants to make homeless people feel more ashamed for their misfortune, and argues that "the deaths of homeless people are a form of cosmic justice."

Kenny Torrella: [08-31] The myths we tell ourselves about American farming. One I should write more about, one of these days.

Bryan Walsh: [09-01] What America can learn from baseball (yes, baseball): "Baseball fixed itself by changing its rules. The country should pay attention." I used to know a lot about baseball. I could recall back to the 1957 all-star game lineups. (You know, the one where the Reds stuffed the ballot box so Gus Bell and Wally Post got more votes than Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.) And I looked up the rest. I was part of a club a friend started called Baseball Maniacs, out of which Don Malcolm started publishing his Big Bad Baseball annuals. (Malcolm was my co-founder on Terminal Zone, and he published my Hall of Fame study, I think in the 1998 Annual.) Then with the 1994 lockout, I lost all interest, and never returned, although I'm slightly more aware this year than I have been since 1994.

The difference is getting the "electronic edition" of the local paper, which is padded out with a ridiculously large sports section. While I speed click through everything else, that got me to following basketball more closely, so I wondered if I might pick up a bit of baseball while waiting for the season to change. A little bit is about right: I land on the standings page, so I know who's leading and who's beat, and sometimes look at the stats, but that's about all. I do know a bit about the rules changes, because I've read a couple pieces on them.

Walsh's point is that when people get too good at cornering the rules, it helps to change them up a bit. In baseball, that mostly means shorter games (not that they've gotten much shorter: Walsh says they've been dialed back to the 1980s, but I remember games that barely exceeded two hours). Walsh has plenty of other examples of "operating under a rule book that is out of date," many involving the gridlock in Congress. But baseball at least has incentive to change (although it took an insanely long time for the NL to accept the DH, even though watching pitchers try to hit was embarrassing even back in the 1950s).

Li Zhou: [08-31] Marijuana could be classified as a lower-risk drug. Here's what that means. Well, for starters it would reduce the quantity of complete nonsense the government swears on, which might make them more credible about drugs that pose real dangers beyond mere bad habits.

There's a meme titled "When the actual dictionary completely nails it." The text offers a dictionary definition:

trumpery, n.; pl. trumperies, [Fr. tromperie, from tromper, to deceive, cheat.]

  1. deceit, fraud. [Obs.]
  2. anything calculated to deceive by false show; anything externally splendid but intrinsically of little value; worthless finery.
  3. things worn out and of no value; useless matter; trifles; rubbish; nonsense.
    This idolatrous trumpery and superstition.

Trump's German family name used to be Drumpf. After a brief search, I'm unclear as to exactly when, where, and why the name change occurred, but it does seem like a deliberate choice, if not necessarily a fully knowing one.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

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.)

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Speaking of Which

Didn't really start until Friday, but by now this pretty much writes itself. I do notice that I'm dropping more bits of memoir into the mix. Also that I needn't comment on everything. But do read the Astra Taylor piece. Not sure when the new book is coming out, but you probably have time to Democracy May Not Exist: But We'll Miss It When It's Gone first.

I clicked on a bunch of articles, and ran into the paywall at The New Republic. Evidently my wife's subscription had expired. It's probably worth straightening out ($15/year is pretty decent as these things go), but meanwhile the articles that looked promising but I wasn't able to read:

Top story threads:

Trump: He got indicted again, and the resulting tsunami of press earned him his own section, separate from the Republican mill.

  • Alexander Bolton: [08-14] GOP sees turnout disaster without Trump. This suggests that a sizable bloc of Trump supporters will only turn out for him, so that if Republicans run some other candidate with the same effective program, a lot of voters are likely to pass. And since Republicans have alienated most people, they can only continue to win by thin margins (even trying to rig them, as they do). It is certainly true that a lot of Trump supporters really hate many other Republicans -- Mitch McConnell is a good example -- although they hate Democrats so much more that the GOP benefits when they show up. It's also true that Trump's fans are spectacularly misinformed about nearly everything, which is a trait Republican strategists bank on.

  • Jonathan Chait: [08-15] Lindsey Graham: Don't indict Trump, or impeach Trump, or vote against him: Two thoughts here: one is the extended portrait of Graham in Mark Leibovich's Thank You for Your Servitude, which paints Graham as an innate lap dog, who once took John McCain as his leader, a role that, to the surprise of pretty much everyone, Trump has since assumed (the insecurity to have made that transition is staggering); the other is the old maxim, "all's fair in love and war." We won't talk about Graham's love life, but no one in Congress in eons has exhibited a more kneejerk affection for war. Graham has always seen politics as war, so as long as Trump can be seen as an effective warrior (and Graham can hardly see him otherwise), anything can be excused (and most of it can be celebrated).

  • Kyle Cheney: [08-15] Special counsel obtained Trump DMs despite 'momentous' bid by Twitter to delay, unsealed filings show.

  • Isaac Chotiner: [08-16] The benefits and drawbacks to charging Trump like a mobster: "Racketeering statutes allow prosecutors to arrange many characters and a broad set of allegations into a single narrative." Interview with Caren Myers Morrison. Many people have observed that the Trump indictments are designed to tell stories. Morrison contrasts Georgia and Smith: "The other one's Raymond Carver, and this is Dickens."

  • Matthew Cooper: [08-17] Willis's indictment is "an overwhelming show of force . . . shock and awe": Interview with Jennifer Taub.

  • Norman Eisen/Amy Lee Copeland: [08-15] This indictment of Trump does something ingenious.

  • Adam Gopnik: [08-16] There is nothing élitist about the indictments against Trump: "The judicial system is doing its work, and the former President has never been a man of the people."

  • Danny Hakim/Richard Fausset: [08-14] Two months in Georgia: How Trump tried to overturn the vote.

  • Margaret Hartmann:

    • [08-18] Trump cancels press conference, will lie in legal filings instead: On Monday, he promised to unveil on Friday an "Irrefutable REPORT" about "the 2020 presidential election fraud that took place in Georgia." Then, big surprise, he bailed.

    • [08-18] Melania really doesn't care about Trump's indictment, do u? I had this theory back in 1988 that one of the reasons Bush won (besides Willie Horton, you know) was that voters took pity and decided to spare Kitty Dukakis the ordeal of being First Lady. She was clearly unstable and easily freaked out during the campaign, whereas, well, you might not like Barbara Bush, but you knew she could take it. It's hard for me to gin up any sympathy for Melania, but maybe someone should take pity on her. Maybe not as much as I dread a second Trump term, but putting her through a second term as First Lady seems like a lot of unnecessary cruelty.

    • w/Chas Danner: [08-19] Giuliani begged, but Trump refused to cover his crushing legal bills.

  • Richard L Hasen: [08-15] The biggest difference between the Georgia indictment and the Jan. 6 indictment: Race, which enters from several angles, but especially from Trump, who wasted no time in calling the prosecutor racist.

  • Quinta Jurecic: [08-15] Trump discovers that some things are actually illegal: "The cases against the former president aren't criminalizing politics. They're criminalizing, well, crimes."

  • Ed Kilgore: [08-17] A pardon won't save Trump if he's convicted in Georgia: They've rigged the system to make pardons virtually impossible.

  • Ian Millhiser: [08-15] Will anyone trust these hyper-politicized courts to try Donald Trump? "The federal judiciary is a cesspool of partisanship, and now it's being asked to oversee some of the most politically fraught criminal trials in American history."

  • Lisa Needham: [08-15] Trump's Fulton County indictment, unpacked.

  • Andrew Prokop: [08-15] The five conspiracies at the heart of the Georgia Trump indictment:

    1. Trump's effort to get Georgia officials and legislators to change the outcome
    2. Trump's fake electors
    3. Jeff Clark's effort to have the US Justice Department case doubt on Georgia results
    4. Trump allies' effort to influence poll worker Ruby Freeman's testimony
    5. Trump allies' breach of voting data in Coffee County, Georgia
  • Matt Stieb: [08-18] Threats from Trump supporters are piling up against the authorities: This seems like one of those articles that's going to grow to book length by the end of the year. The right-wing ecosystem is a cesspool of hate and malice, so violence is inevitable, and not necessarily preceded by easily traceable threats (such as the late Craig Robertson).

  • Jennifer Rubin: [08-20] Why Trump's Georgia case likely can't be removed to federal court.

  • Charles P Pierce: [08-18] I'm starting to think Donald Trump is untrustworthy: "He canceled a Monday presser that was sure to be the mother of all conditions of release violations."

  • Tatyana Tandanpolie: [08-16] Economic analyst stunned at sources of Jared Kushner's funds: "Just 1% of investments in Kushner's fund came from sources in the United States." No doubt Trump has done a lot of disreputable and dishonest things to get money, but he's never come remotely close to the heist his son-in-law pulled off, leveraging his multiple White House portfolios. The 1% figure looks bad, but the really outrageous number is $3 billion.

  • Hunter Walker: [08-15] The full story behind the bizarre episode that led to charges in Trump's latest indictment: "How Kanye West's publicist, an "MMA fighter," and a Lutehran pastor teamed up to pressure a Georgia election worker."

  • Amy B Wang/Josh Dawsey: [08-19] Trump to release taped interview with Tucker Carlson, skipping GOP debate.

  • Odette Yousef: [08-18] Threats, slurs and menace: Far-right websites target Fulton County grand jurors. Follow-up: Holly Bailey/Hannah Allam: [08-18] FBI joins investigation of threats to grand jurors in Trump Georgia case.

  • Li Zhou/Andrew Prokop: [08-16] Trump's 4 indictments, ranked by the stakes: About what you'd expect, but the Georgia election case could add up to more time than the federal election case, and couldn't be pardoned by a Republican president. (As I understand it, the Georgia governor doesn't have pardon power like the US president has. To secure a pardon in Georgia, you have to go before the state parole board.) The New York charges would also be more difficult to pardon, but aren't very likely to result in jail time. Ranked third is the federal documents case. The charges there are pretty air tight, and the maximum sentences are very long, plus such cases are usually judged harshly.

  • James D Zirin: [08-15] Will the prosecution of Trump have terrible consequences? "Maybe, but they're likely to be far less terrible than if he wasn't prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." I'm not sure I understand either argument. If Trump had quietly faded into oblivion, as Nixon did, I could see letting these charges slip by -- although pleading them out would have been better. But Trump couldn't let it go, so now he really should face a reckoning with his crimes (at least those he's been charged with -- no doubt there were many more). Will this have a chilling effect on the behavior of future presidents? Let's hope so.

    This is an aside, but I hadn't realized that Gerald Ford was given a John F Kennedy Profile in Courage award for pardoning Nixon. There was nothing conventionally recognizable as courage in that pardon. It was pure cover-up, meant to short-circuit further investigations, taking the story out of the press cycle, and saving Republicans from the continued association. Still, in one sense the award was completely predictable. In his 1956 book, Kennedy devoted a chapter to Edmund G. Ross for voting against impeachment of Andrew Johnson, who had become president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and who used his office to sabotage Reconstruction, speeding the return of white racist power in the South. Another of Kennedy's profiles was Robert A Taft, who was praised for his criticism of the Nurembert Trials of Nazi war criminals.

  • Zack Beauchamp: [08-17] The Trump indictments reveal a paradox at the heart of American democracy: "The Trump cases help us understand how America's democracy can be both strong and weak at the same time." Last section sketches out what he calls "the ominous Israeli parallel," which is interesting in that few people are willing to take it seriously, but is not quite the one I would make.

    The simplest way to make sense of politics among Israeli Jews is to divide it on two axes: conservative vs. liberal/socialist, religious vs. secular. The Palestinian "citizens of Israel" are off on the side, with their own conservative (religious) vs. socialist (liberal/secular) spread, but they are rigidly excluded from consideration by Jewish Israelis. The secular/liberal sector was dominant up to 1978, and still an important factor up to 2000, but have since been largely wiped out, as the right has taken the lead in fighting the Palestinians, while neoliberal economic policies have undermined traditional support for Labor. The religious parties early on were content to seek special favors from joining Labor coalitions, but with the rise of the right, they gravitated that way, and recently have become even more anti-Palestinian.

    That same matrix model works reasonably well for the US, at least if you buy the superficially ridiculous idea that Trump is the manifestation of the religious right. The key thing is that the more violence against others, the more people rally to the cult of violence, which is most clearly represented by the party of Armageddon.

    The big question in Israel is whether the threat to democracy from the religious right, which thus far Likud has indulged, will push enough moderate voters into opposition to curb the threat from the far right -- which threatens not just democracy but genocide. One could imagine a similar dynamic in America, but the far-right is mostly out of power here, unable to manufacture crises (although Abbott and DeSantis are trying), and are faced with a more deeply democratic/liberal political culture. Still, that Trump can be seriously considered as a political force, and that Republicans have had so much luck leveraging their power bases, means that the threat here is real. To get a better idea of how real that could be, look no farther than Israel.

DeSantis, and other Republicans:

  • Jonathan Chait: [08-18] 'Lock them up' is now the Republican Party's highest goal: "It's no longer about policy or even culture war but prosecutorial revenge." Nobody seems to remember this, but it was GW Bush who started started the purge of politically unreliable US attorneys back in 2006 (see Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy). I don't recall anything remotely like that under Obama, and Biden hasn't lifted a finger to curtail the Trump-appointed US attorney prosecuting Hunter Biden. You'd think that if Republicans genuinely objected to the partisan nature of being prosecuted by Democrats, they'd deny that if given the chance they'd do the same thing, but the opposite appears to be true: they're chomping at the bit. One pretty good bit here, about Trump:

    Trump's legal jeopardy is easily explained: His private sector record was a long history of shady associations with gangsters and running scams. His presidency was a continuous procession of his own advisers pleading with him not to do illegal things while he complained that his attorneys weren't as unethical as Roy Cohn, the mob lawyer he once employed.

    I wouldn't have bothered with the last clause, as anyone familiar with Cohn knows that representing the mob was nowhere near the most unethical thing Cohn did. Also that Cohn was more of a mentor to Trump than an employee.

    PS: Steve M. comments on Chait's piece: [08-18] Republicans think Democrats stole their act (and are doing it better), starting with a tweet from Ben Shapiro (if you don't know who he is, Nathan J Robinson has written reams on him):

  • Whatever you think of the Trump indictments, one thing is for certain: the glass has now been broken over and over again. Political opponents can be targeted by legal enemies. Running for office now carries the legal risk of going to jail -- on all sides.

    In some sense, that risk has always been there. John Adams passed laws to criminalize the speech of his political opponents, but he never got around to prosecuting his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, who did wind up prosecuting his, Aaron Burr. But for the most part, politicians behaved themselves, or at least managed to keep above the fray when their subordinates misbehaved (Grant, Harding, and Reagan are classic examples; Nixon only escaped with a pardon). But the idea of using criminal prosecutions for political leverage was mostly developed against Clinton, a period when "no one is above the law" was etched on every Republican's lips. Nothing comparable happened on during the Bush and Obama presidencies, although several people wrote books urging the impeachment of Bush (Elizabeth de la Vega was one, in 2006, although the Democratic Congress elected that year didn't touch it), and (as Chait noted) Shapiro himself wrote The People Vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against the Obama Administration, structuring his complaints as a RICO case.

    Trump, on the other hand, was hellbent on prosecuting his opponents from early in the campaign, when "lock her up" became a rally chant. He toned back a bit after taking office, probably realizing that he didn't really have the power to order prosecutions (though Nixon probably did just that with the Chicago 8 and Daniel Ellsberg), but where he did have power he exercised it politically (e.g., to fire James Comey, and to pardon a number of his allies). And in general, he behaved as someone convinced he was above the law, as someone who could never be held to account for trampling on the law, as someone who had no sense of justice other than seizing advantage. And he was above the law, until he wasn't. Prosecution for his crimes may be precedent-setting, but the crimes are very carefully defined, and the evidence overwhelming. As a precedent, it's also a pretty high bar. If a Democrat did anything comparable, most of us would have no problems with prosecution.

  • Ryan Cooper:

  • Beth Harpaz/Jacob Kornbluh: [08-14] Former Trump adviser Michael Flynn blamed Jews for boarding trains to Asuchwitz: And "more offensive comments he's made about Jews." But not a single one involved Israel, so he must be OK.

  • Ed Kilgore: [08-18] DeSantis targeting Ramaswamy in a debate a sure sign he's losing: It's hard to see how calling him an "inauthentic conservative" will pay off, but bashing Ramaswamy as a Hindu should help DeSantis with his bigotry bona fides.

  • Eric Levitz: [08-19] The rise of the young, liberal, nonwhite Republican

  • Nia Prater: [08-17] Trump supporter arrested for threatening to kill Trump's trial judge.

  • Matt Stieb: [08-18] James O'Keefe is now under criminal investigation: Conservative provocateur, recently ousted as CEO of Project Veritas, appears to be one of those guys whose "favorite charity" is himself.

  • Ben Terris: [08-17] Awkward Americans see themselves in Ron DeSantis: I'm not sure which one this reflects more embarrassingly on: the candidate or the journalist (who at least asks one further question: "but do they like what they see?").

  • Chris Walker: [08-16] Arkansas rejects credit for AP Black History -- but Europe history is fine.

  • Benjamin Wallace-Wells: [08-17] In Vivek Ramaswamy, the Republicans have something new: This left me hoping we never have to take him seriously, but fearing that he's proving much more effective at shoveling bullshit than his milquetoast competitors.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters:

  • Aaron Gregg/Jacob Bogage: [08-14] After conservatives' Target boycott, Stephen Miller group sues over losses. Miller's group is called America First Legal, "which bills itself as the conservative movement's 'long-awaited answer to the ACLU.'" It's unclear whether their mission is simply to degrade and ultimately destroy Americans' civil liberties, or they just mean to file lawsuits, like this one, to harass their imagined enemies.

  • Ian Millhiser:

    • [08-16] The fight over whether courts can ban mifepristone is headed back to the Supreme Court: "The far-right court just tried to ban an abortion drug. Here's why you can ignore that."

    • [08-20] The case for optimism about the Supreme Court: "There are some terrible things that even this Supreme Court isn't willing to do." With power comes some measure of responsibility, I guess -- something Thomas and Alito never learned, possibly because when they joined the Court, right-wing agitators were still a minority. Or they may simply bear in mind the threat that Congress can still restructure the Court, a chance that goes up the more they embarrass themselves as political hacks. Roosevelt's "pack the court" scheme wasn't very popular, but ultimately failed because a majority of the Court read the tea leaves and decided that Congress could legislate on issues like child labor after all ("the switch in time that saved nine").

  • Andrew Perez/Julia Rock: [08-18] The antiabortion judge with a financial ethics problem: James Ho, who cast the decisive vote in the mifepristone case Millhiser wrote about above. His wife, Allyson Ho, has "participated in events with the Alliance Defending Freedom and accepted honoraria, or speaking fees, every year between 2018 and 2021."

Climate and Environment: Record-setting high temperatures here in Wichita, yesterday and today and probably tomorrow. Next week we'll probably have news about Atlantic hurricanes, as no less than five suspects have been identified late this week. And while the rubble of Maui and the evacuation of Yellowknife are the big fire stories below, there are also big ones in Washington and British Columbia.

Ukraine War:

  • Blaise Malley: [08-18] Diplomacy Watch: Will Russia follow through on Black Sea threats? "Tensions are gripping the region as Ukraine begins to allow free passage from its ports past the grain blockade." The end of the Black Sea Grain initiative, and the subsequent Russian bombing of Ukrainian ports, not only hurts world food supplies, it also means suggests that Russia has decided that agreeing to such limits on its warmaking won't lead to further negotiation. This is at least partly the result of Ukraine crossing various red lines (mostly through drone attacks, ranging from Black Sea ships to the Kerch Strait Bridge to spots in Moscow), and partly due to ever-tightening sanctions hurting Russia's efforts to export its own agricultural products. Ukraine, meanwhile, is daring Russia to attack ships in its newly-christened "humanitarian corridor." Nothing else in this report suggests any diplomatic progress.

  • Paul Dixon: [08-15] Five lessons from Northern Ireland for ending the Ukraine war. These points are fairly reasonable -- especially the second that "everyone must win" -- but it seems to me that a partition plan, decided by popular vote that hands Russia a slice of Ukraine somewhere between the pre-2022 secession borders and the current battle lines, would be cleaner and simpler than trying to come up with a power-sharing agreement under a neutral Ukraine. That would allow Ukraine to join the EU and (effectively if not quite completely) NATO, while allowing ethnic Russians the option of moving east), so the pre-2014 divisions would effectively vanish. (One wrinkle I would like to see is the option of a revote in 5 years. That would provide both powers with incentives to rebuild and to rule responsibly.)

  • Benjamin Hart: [08-14] How Ukraine's counteroffensive might end: Interview with John Nagl, now a "professor of warfighting studies at U.S. Army War College," once regarded as one of the Army's counterinsurgency gurus. He's pretty gung ho on Ukraine, but he also admits that Ukraine can't fight the war the way Americans would, and that's the way he most believes in. He cites a piece by Steve Biddle: [08-10] Back in the Trenches ("why new technology hasn't revolutionized warfare in Ukraine") that gets technical about weapons systems and trench warfare, while ignoring the only fact that matters: that this war cannot be resolved on the battle field.

  • John Hudson/Alex Horton: [08-17] US intelligence says Ukraine will fail to meet offensive's key goal: "Thwarted by minefields, Ukrainian forces won't reach the southeastern city of Melitopol, a vital Russian transit hub, according to a US intelligence assessment."

  • Michael Karadjis: [08-17] The Global South's views on Ukraine are more complex than you may think: "The claim that developing countries are neutral about the war or even pro-Russian oversimplifies and distorts a more nuanced reality."

  • Paul Krugman: [08-15] Science, technology and war beyond the bomb: Tries to make a case that superior technology and "under the surface" tactical adjustments may still give Ukraine a counteroffensive breakthrough, analogous to the WWII Battle of the Atlantic. In support of this, he cites a piece by Phillips P O'Brien: [07-23] Weekend Update #38, arguing "Please give this time."

  • Branko Marcetic: [08-14] Can Washington pivot from its maximalist aims in Ukraine? Actually, many American presidents have talked themselves into a blind alley. Truman couldn't accept a Korean armistice that Eisenhower signed right after he took office. Johnson never got a chance to negotiate a deal in Vietnam. Perhaps most egregiously, GWH Bush's insistence that Saddam Hussein was Hitler redux made it impossible to explain why he stopped the rout at the border of Kuwait, leading to the grudge match in 2013. Anyone portraying Ukraine as a life-or-death struggle for democracy is either full of shit or incapable of thinking two or three moves ahead. Hard to tell about Biden, but some of his people definitely are both.

  • Peter Rutland: [08-14] Why the Black Sea is becoming ground zero in the Ukraine War: "Kyiv's counteroffensive efforts have focused on cutting Russia off from Crimea, while the grain export deal continues to falter."

  • Ted Snider: [08-16] Why peace talks, but no peace? When I saw this piece, I guessed it was about the recent conclave in Saudi Arabia which Russia wasn't invited to -- really more of Ukraine rehearsing its talking points (see Kyiv says Jeddah participants back Ukraine territorial integrity in any peace deal) -- but this goes back to actual talks, both before and after invasion, which the US and UK helped subvert.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [08-17] Bill Kristol leads charge to make Republicans think 'right' on Ukraine: The neocon founder is juicing over another war, and has some lobbying money to work with, though probably not enough to stand up to Trump.

  • Marcus Walker: [08-20] Why Russia's war in Ukraine could run for years: "The reason isn't just that the front-line combat is a slow-moving slog, but also that none of the main actors have political goals that are both clear and attainable."

  • Lauren Wolfe: [08-14] In occupied regions, Ukrainians are being forced to accept Russian passports: While the annexation is not sanction by international law, the idea that this amounts to genocide mocks the concept.

  • Joshua Yaffa: [07-31] Inside the Wagner Group's armed uprising.

Around the world:

Other stories:

Dean Baker: [08-15] Getting beyond copyright: There are better ways to support creative work.

Paul Cantor: [08-18] The other 9/11: Next month will mark the 50th anniversary of the US-supported coup in Chile, where democratically elected president Salvador Allende was killed, as were many more (the final figure cited here is 3000), and replaced by Augusto Pinochet's dictartorship. Henry Kissinger was chief among the conspirators, and this figures prominent in his long list of crimes against humanity. Pinochet remained in power until 1990, and turned Chile into a laboratory for Milton Friedman's neoliberal economic theories, which needless to say were disastrous.

  • Robert Sherrill: [1988-06-11] William F Buckley lived off evil as mold lives off garbage: An old piece, basically a review of John B Judis: William F Buckley, Jr: Patron Saint of the Conservatives, which includes a section on Buckley's junkets to Chile to help Pinochet. Sherrill was 89 when he died in 2014. I remember reading his eye-opening 1968 book, Gothic Politics in the Deep South, which helped clarify some memories I had of visiting Arkansas when Orval Faubus was still governor. I also read, and occasionally drop the title of, Military Justice Is to Justice as Military Music Is to Music (1970).

Lisa M Corrigan: [08-16] The evisceration of a public university: "West Virginia University is being gutted, and it's a preview for what's in store for higher education."

Carter Dougherty: [05-22] A new vision for a just financial system: A laundry list of mostly good ideas, but the one that always strikes me as key is "provide public banking," which leads me to ask, what do we need all these other crooks and predators for? I don't anticipate outlawing them, and I can see likely value for innovation around the margins, but most banking transactions can be done simply and cheaply by a common non-profit, and that can easily extend into large classes of routine loans (credit cards, mortgages, small business loans, etc.).

Rachel DuRose: [08-12] What's going on with your lightbulbs? Perhaps they're right that "incandescent lightbulbs aren't banned," but they're getting harder to find, not that I've looked in 10-20 years, at least since LED manufacturers stopped trying to charge you for the 5-10 incandescent bulbs you might have bought during the expected lifetime of the LED bulb. I've moved to LEDs wherever possible: the main exception are places where only halogens seem to work; my happiest switch was finding I could replace fluourescent tubes with LEDs without having to rewire around the ballast, and they are many times better.

Jordan Gale: [08-18] An intimate look at Portland's housing crisis: "The ongoing housing crisis in Portland, Ore., has desensitized us to the real people who have been affected." A photo essay.

Peter E Gordon: [08-08] President of the Moon Committee: "Walter Benjamin's radio years." German literary critic, associated with Frankfurt School but legendary in his own right, 1892-1940 (committed suicide when jailed while trying to flee the Nazis). This collects what survives of radio transcripts from 1927-33, a wide-ranging commentary meant to be more readily accessible than his usual writings.

Constance Grady: [08-17] How does Elon Musk get away with it all? "The billionaire's heroic image is built on media praise, breathless fans, and . . . romance novel tropes." But hasn't he also become the object of intense ridicule, based on not just that he's a rich asshole but that he flaunts that image endlessly. Or am I missing something? And what's unusual about rich assholes getting away with things? Sure, Donald Trump is turning into an exception, but think of all the things he got away with before his luck turned. And as a rich asshole, he still has such enormous advantages, he may still get away with it.

Lauren Michele Jackson: [08-17] The "-ification" of everything: "it's an interesting combination of trying to do something original that is, in fact, already quite derivative. That's how culture works."

Chalmers Johnson: [08-13] Coming to terms with China: This is a piece written back in 2005 by the former CIA analyst (1931-2010), who wrote a series of books I recommend highly: Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000; rev. 2004); The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2006); Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2007); and Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (2010). In one of those books, he published a thought experiment as to how China could disable America's entire satellite network (all it would take would be to "launch a dumptruck full of gravel" into earth orbit), and how crippling that would be. This is a sober analysis of trends already clear in 2005 as China was emerging as a fully independent world power. He ends with the question: "Why should China's emergence as a rich, successful country be to the disadvantage of either Japan or the United States?" In particular, he warns that: "History teaches us that the least intelligent response to this development would be to try to stop it through military force." Yet we clearly do have strategists in Washington whose intelligence is that low.

Mike Joy: [08-15] Critics of 'degrowth' economics say it's unworkable -- but from an ecologist's perspective, it's inevitable. Looks like it was David Attenborough who said, "someone who believes in infinite growth is either a madman or an economist." Even some economists realized that infinite growth can't possibly happen (although I failed to find the quote; I vaguely remember Kenneth Arrow). One of the big differences between eco-activists and Democrats is that the latter see growth as the solution to all problems, whereas we (putting on that hat, which isn't my only one) see it as one of the most intractable of political problems. But at some point, I think it does have to come into play, as I don't see any viable alternative.

Stephen Kearse: [08-17] The return of Nonane: "In her new album, Sundial, the rapper melds her activism and artistry seamlessly." Before I heard this album, I ran into complaints of anti-semitism, a kneejerk reaction to guest Jay Electronica namedropping "Farrakhan sent me." So this review is first of all interesting to me because the reviewer didn't even notice the offense, casually grouping Jay Electronica with Billy Woods among "the fellow rap mavericks," with an oblique reference to a different line. Expect my review in the next Music Week. I wish I was as sure of her political acumen as Kearse is, but I also doubt that it really matters.

Chris Lehman:

  • [08-16] The patronizing moralism of David Brooks: "In a series of recent essays, the New York Times columnist has pronounced all social ills the result of deficient moral fiber among individuals." Reminds me of a Bertolt Brecht line, but the English translations leave much to be desired. ("Grub first, then ethics"? More like "morality is a self-satisfying luxury for those who have eaten." Not that Brecht couldn't be pithy, as in: "What keeps mankind alive? Bestial acts.") Still, isn't it possible to accept Brooks' analysis and simply ask "so what"? If problems are caused by "deficient moral fiber," why should that prevent us from solving the problems? Does it sound like too much work? Or is it possibly the sense of righteousness that accrues to people who can afford to look down their noses at others? It's even possible that people who "lack morals" now might develop some once their baser needs are met. On the other hand, I rather doubt that the conservative approach, which is to let people rot in their squalor, or just lock them away or worse, gives "morals" a very good reputation, or sets a positive example.

    Interesting note toward the end here about Christopher Lasch. I read much of his early work, but never got to The Culture of Narcissism, which as Lehman notes is widely cited by social scourges like Brooks. Lehman defends Lasch as much misunderstood, which certainly sounds credible to me. After all, the amount of stuff Brooks misunderstands seems boundless.

  • [08-18] The new bard of the right: More than you need to know about a country song by Oliver Anthony, "Rich Men North of Richmond," which earns its conservative bona fides by bitching about how taxes are spent on poor people (without, of course, noting the vastly larger sums spent making rich people richer).

    PS: Listened to the song and double-checked the lyrics. First verse could just as easily have turned left ("I've been sellin' my soul, workin' all day/ Overtime hours for bullshit pay"), but then he makes a couple fairly major blunders. You know about the punching down on welfare, which has been a right-wing trope for more than fifty years, but the other one still surprises me: "These rich men north of Richmond/ Lord knows they all just wanna have total control." This notion that "liberal elites" (which is what his phrase means, after stripping away the gratuitous Confederate angst) want "total control" is ridiculous on many levels, yet it is the common thread of right-wing paranoia (e.g., Bill Gates' nanobots disseminated through Covid vaccines). Such control, despite the diligent efforts of regimes like China and Israel, is impossible, and even if it were possible, no liberals would want it: central tenets of liberalism include that all people should think for themselves, and respect for (or at least tolerance of) different thinking by others.

    Conservatives, on the other hand, are opposed to those tenets, which makes their aversion that liberals want "total control" look like some kind of projection. On a practical level, this leads them to prevent students from being exposed to facts and ideas that may undermine their preferred beliefs, and where possible to ban those ideas from the public, while using the power of the state for harsh repression of any sign of dissidence.

    A couple more comments on this song:

Gregory P Magarian: [08-20] The revealing case of a Kansas judge and a search warrant: The Marion, KS police raided the offices of a small-town newspaper that had upset a local business owner.

Orlando Mayorquin: [08-20] Store owner is fatally shot by man who confronted her about Pride Flag. Her murderer was later tracked down and killed by police, further proof that while guns are good for committing crimes, they're not much good for self-defense.

Christian Paz: [08-14] How two pop culture Twitter accounts turned into the internet's wire service: "Are Pop Crave and Pop Base the future of political journalism?" Noted out of curiosity, which so far isn't sufficient to render an answer. I am, however, skeptical, and not just about these particular portals but about "political journalism" in general.

Andrew Prokop: [08-17] The mystery of Hunter Biden's failed plea deal: "Incompetence, malfeasance, or politics?" My best guess is mixed motives, undone by politics. The plea deal was a way for the prosecution to score a win, while Biden gets to put the case behind him without too much pain. But neither motive was strong enough to overcome the politics, where Republicans have been harping on "the Biden crime family" way before Biden ran in 2020. Without this drumbeat of harassment, I doubt the case would ever have been prosecuted, regardless of the defendant's name. In any case, credit Republicans with extraordinary chutzpah for juggling their political campaign against Biden while while still decrying political motives in re Trump.

Sigal Samuel: [08-18] What normal Americans -- not AI companies -- want for AI: "Public opinion about AI can be summed up in two words: Slow. Down." One significant polling result is: "82 percent of American voters don't trust AI companies to self-regulate." One proposal is that: "At each phase of the AI system lifecycle, the burder should be on companies to prove their systems are not harmful." Even this seems like a two-edged sword, as "harmful" can mean different things to different people. I'm inclined to limit ways companies can profit from AI, such as requiring the software to be open source, so we can get lots of eyes evaluating it and flagging possible problems. That would slow things down, but also help assure us that what does get released will be used constructively. If AI seems like a sudden emergence in the last couple years, it's because companies have hit the point where they have products to sell to exploit various angles. Given that most new business development is predatory, that's something one should be wary of.

Jeffrey St Clair: [08-18] The night the cops tried to break Thelonious Monk. No "Roaming Charges" this week, but this is worth perusing. It recounts the story of how Monk took a rap for the more fragile Bud Powell in 1951, and how Monk got blackballed by NYC, so he couldn't perform live during the period when he cut some of the most groundbreaking albums in jazz history. I first encountered these stories in Geoff Dyer's fictionalized But Beautiful, which I've always loved (although I know at least one prominent Monk fan who flat out hates the book).

Astra Taylor: [08-18] Why does everyone feel so insecure all the time? One of the smartest political writers working today, offers an introduction to her forthcoming book, The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart, where among much more she picks up on Barbara Ehrenreich's "fear of falling" theme (title of her "1989 study of the psychology of the middle class"). The more recent term is precarity. Much of this is quotable, as I'm reminded by tweets quoting her:

The relatively privileged have "rigged a game that can't be won, one that keeps them stressed and scrambling, and breathing the same smoke-tinged air as the rest of us."

"Insecurity affects people on every rung of the economic ladder, even if its harshest edge is predictably reserved for those at the bottom."

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: [05-29] The long afterlife of libertarianism: "As a movement, it has imploded. As a credo, it's here to stay." Review of The Individualists: Radicals, Reactionaries, and the Struggle for the Soul of Libertarianism, by Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi, while roping in several other books. This reminds me that one of my jobs, back in the mid-1970s, was typesetting reprints of several Murray Rothbard books -- for the Kochs, as it turned out -- so I got deep into the weeds of his arguments for privatized police and fire departments, among everything else. Thus I was able to make sense out of Michael Lind's quip: that libertarianism had been tried and had failed; it was just called feudalism at the time. (Can't find the exact quote.) It's easy to imagine the Kochs as feudal lords, because that's how they run their company (and would like to run the country), which not coincidentally leaves precious little liberty but anyone but the lords. Still, when governments do become overbearing, which is sadly much of the time, it's tempting to fall back on the libertarians for sharp critiques. It's just impossible to build anything that works from negative platitudes. As I think back, the new left was much smarter to focus not on government, which was a tool and rarely monolithic, but on power itself. I don't recall when I first ran across the maxim "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," but it was well before I turned left, yet it remains as one of the great truths of our times.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Speaking of Which

Midweek I thought I had an idea for a real essay on an important issue. I then flailed for a couple days, ultimately writing nothing. That's not unusual these days, making me despair of ever writing anything worth being taken seriously. Then on Friday I pulled up my template for this weekly compendium, and started scanning the usual sources, and words came pouring out. I'm at 6600 mid-Sunday afternoon, and still writing.

The piece I had in mind was a reaction to Roger Cohen: [08-06] Putin's Forever War. I cited this piece last week, and wrote:

An extended portrait of a Russia isolated by sanctions and agitated and militated by a war footing that seems likely to extend without ends, if not plausibly forever. I suspect there is a fair amount of projection here. The US actually has been engaged in forever wars, boundless affairs first against communism then against terrorism (or whatever you call it). Russia has struggled with internal order, but had little interest in "a civilizational conflict" until the Americans pushed NATO up to its borders. On the other hand, once you define such a conflict, it's hard to resolve it. The US has failed twice, and seems to be even more clueless in its high stakes grappling with Russia and China.

I don't doubt that there is substance in this piece, but note also that it fits in with a propaganda narrative that posits Putin as an irreconcilable enemy of democracy, someone who will seize every opportunity to undermine the West and to expand Russia.

I'd have to research prior uses, but "forever war" seems to have appeared as a critical response to America's War on Terror, given its vague rationale and arguably unattainable goals, but the terms "endless war" and "perpetual war" go back farther, and have been applied to the US for cases like Vietnam and Central America (which goes back to the "gunboat diplomacy" of Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson, which returned in different guise with Reagan, Bush, and Clinton). But the Cold War as a whole fits the term, as it was directed more against working class and anti-colonial revolts everywhere, and not just the Soviet Union that was imagined directing them. The Cold War lost a bit of steam when the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991, but continues to this day, most conspicuously against North Korea and Cuba, but also more obliquely (I'm tempted to say aspirationally) China and Russia.

Despite these examples, "forever war" isn't a popular idea in America. At least through my generation, we grew up expecting quick, decisive wars: big wars like WWII took less than four years, WWI about half that, even the Civil War a few months more; Korea was largely decided in the first year, but stretched out to three as Truman refused to sign off; smaller wars were usually over quickly, as were Bush's in Panama and Kuwait. Vietnam was viewed as "endless" mostly by the Vietnamese, as they had struggled for independence against China, France, and Japan before the Americans -- Gen. Tran Van Don wrote a 1978 book to that effect. In America the preferred word was "quagmire," reflecting a decision to get into something that war couldn't fix, rather than evoking a struggle that would go on for generations.

Throughout history, most protracted wars occurred on the margins of empires. If you recognize America as an empire -- a word that Jefferson was fond of, although lately it's fallen out of favor, even as the evidence of 800+ bases around the world, and fingers in the affairs of virtually every country, prove the point -- "forever wars" are all but inevitable. Especially since the US built its permanent war machine, linked to an industrial complex whose profits depend on projecting potential enemies, which will supposedly be deterred by the terror the US could unleash upon its enemies.

But deterrence is a frail, fragile concept, one that works only as long as the country being deterred doesn't feel threatened. The Soviet Union jealously guarded what Stalin regarded as his sphere of influence, but had no real ambitions beyond that. Revolutions would have to come on their own, as happened in China, Vietnam, and Cuba. Most countries don't admit to feeling threatened, as it's easy enough to humor the Americans, and possibly advantageous to local elites. On the other hand, when Al Qaeda took a couple pot shots at American power, the doctrine of deterrence, built on the concept of America as the world's sole hyperpower, dictated war, even if the US had to invent proxy countries to invade. This show of absolute power only revealed its vulnerability.

But Islamic jihadists turned out to be only minor nuisances, leading to endless skirmishes in places like Somalia and Niger, while the arms merchants looked back longingly on the good old days of the Cold War, when weapons systems were expensive and didn't really have to work (e.g., the F-35), so they've fomented a propaganda offensive against Russia and China -- the latter still passes as communist, and the former is still Russian, so it's been easy to revive old tropes. Finally, they hit pay dirt in Ukraine, where they've been remarkably successful at avoiding any thought of compromise, leaving endless war as the only thinkable option.

Of course, they're not selling it as an endless war. They hold out a promise of Ukraine recapturing all of the Russian-occupied territory, even regions that had rejected Kyiv's pivot to the West in 2014. All winter we were regaled with stories about how Ukraine's "spring offensive" would drive back Russia (provided we delivered sufficient weapons). The optimism hasn't abated since the delayed "counteroffensive" started in June, but they've made virtually no net progress. In the long run, Russia has three big advantages: a much larger economy, much more depth in soldiers, and they are fighting exclusively on Ukrainian territory (although the native population of Crimea and Donbas have always favored Russia, so even if Ukraine regains ground, they may lose the defensive edge way before they meet their goals).

The other hope is that Russia's will to fight might flag, given how extensive sanctions have isolated the Russian economy. Again, there is scant evidence of this, and sanctions may just as well have hardened Russian resolve. There is also no reason to believe that Putin's hold on Russia's political structure is slipping or fragmenting. Sensible people would recognize this as a stalemate, and attempt to find some negotiated compromise, but hawks on both sides are working hard to keep that from happening.

Cohen's article is important for showing how Putin is organizing support for extending the war indefinitely by portraying it as a defense of Russian civilization against the West. In such a war, the stakes are so high that the only option is to fight until the threat gives up. We should find this prospect very disconcerting, and should take pains to assure Russia that we're still looking forward to a peace where we can coexist, work together, and prosper.

But America has its own coterie of civilizational warriors, who have been stoking this war most of their lives. They insist that Putin has been plotting revenge against the West since 1991, with the immediate goal of restoring the Soviet Union borders, moving on to restore the Russian Empire, and beyond that who knows? Most of these people are Russophobes dating back to the Cold War, and they may well have good reason for their prejudices, but turning them into ideological principles makes them useless in a world where war is so destructive that almost any kind of peace is preferable.

There must be people in the Biden administration to understand that such demonization of Russia (and China) risks developing into a war of unimaginable dimensions. There must be people who realize that cooperation is essential to keep economies functioning, to transition away from fossil fuels, to save human life as we know it. Yet they are cornered by arms merchants and strategists and ideologues who are willing to risk all that just for some patch of ground that ultimately means nothing.

I've insisted all along that there are ways to negotiate not just an end to this war but a lasting peace based on mutual respect and interests. The unwillingness on all sides in doing this is rooted in misinformation and disrespect. Cohen's article shows one set of myths taking root in Russia. Perhaps by examining those, we can also start examining our own.

I suppose that's one way to end a piece. Obviously, much more can be said. I refer you back to my original 23 Theses piece, and to the weekly sections on Ukraine in every Speaking of Which since Putin's invasion in late February, especially the Feb. 26, 2022 Speaking of Ukraine, where I heaped plenty of blame on Putin, but also wrote:

The real question is whether the US can come out of this with a generous, constructive approach to world order -- something far removed from the arrogance that developed after the Cold War, that drove us into the manifest failures of the Global War on Terror. Looking around Washington it's hard to identify anyone with the good sense to change direction.

A week earlier, I was already writing about the war drums beating, starting with "possibly the most dishonest and provocative [tweet] I've ever seen," and including links to titles like: Army of Ukraine lobbyists behind unprecedented Washington blitz; America's real adversaries are its European and other allies; Why every president is terrible at foreign policy now; and (just to show you I wasn't only thinking about Ukraine/Russia) Some Trump records taken to Mar-a-Lago clearly marked as classified, including documents at 'top secret' level.

I also ended with an 11-paragraph PS that worked up to this:

I don't know of anyone with a soft spot for Putin. I do know people who consider him less of a threat to world peace than the leaders of the country that spends more than 50% of the world's total military expenditures, the country that has troops and 800+ bases scattered around the world, the country that has (or works for people who have) business interests everywhere, a country that does a piss poor job of taking care of its own people and has no conception of the welfare of others, a leadership that so stuck in its own head that it can't tell real threats from imaginary ones, that projects its own most rabid fears onto others and insists on its sole right to dictate terms to the world.

I also wrote a fairly long piece on Ukraine and Russia back on January 27, 2022: NATO pushes its logic (and luck?). Not much more before that, at least relative to everything else, but it's interesting to scroll back, finding lots of stories that still reverberate, and comments that are mostly still appropriate.

Top story threads:

Trump: The indicted one continues to draw enough comment to merit his own section, mostly on his legal predicaments, as he as nothing else substantive to offer -- other than an exceptionally robust selection of "irritable mental gestures" (Lionel Trilling's description of "conservative thought," which has only grown more apt over seventy-plus years).

DeSantis, and other Republicans:

  • Fabiola Cineas: [08-10] DeSantis is still standing by Florida's revisionist Black history.

  • Nate Cohn: [08-10] It's not Reagan's party anymore: "Our latest poll leaves little doubt that Donald J. Trump has put an end to that era." This piece could be an exhibit in How to Lie With Statistics. The very concept of "Reagan's party" is pretty nebulous. He represented one faction in a more diverse party, but was at least tolerant of the other factions. Since the Hastert Rule, Republicans have become so homogenized that they only move in lockstep. Hence the transition from Paul Ryan to Trump has been like a school of fish all turning in unison. Especially spurious is the definition of "Reagan's three-legged stool": all three are vaguely but perversely defined, with Reagan himself clearly opposed to the leg defined as "prefer reducing debt to protecting entitlements" (debt exploded under Reagan's tax cuts and defense build up, while he raised taxes to shore up Social Security); "think America should be active abroad" is way too vague (what about "think Iran-Contra was a good idea"?); and "oppose same-sex marriage" wasn't even an issue for Reagan, whose contempt for gays was summed up in his hopes for the AIDS plague (thankfully, the government didn't actually follow his lead on that one). No doubt the GOP as evolved since Reagan, but it's usually been to universalize his most perverse impulses. In that, we should be wary of excusing him just because later generations of Republicans became even nastier and more brutish. Reagan, like Nixon before him, set the tone, which hasn't changed all that much with Trump. It's just become more shameless.

  • Ed Kilgore: [08-09] Ohio blows up the Republican plan to block abortion rights: Going back to the progressive era, Ohio allows citizens to petition for a vote on a possible state constitutional amendment, which can pass with a simple majority of votes. One is scheduled for November to consider an amendment that will ensure abortion rights as a matter of state constitutional right. After Kansas voted down 59-41% a state amendment to remove a constitutional right to abortion, Republicans in Ohio panicked, and pushed an amendment vote up to Tuesday, to change the state constitution to require a supermajority of 60% to pass future amendments. That's what got voted down this week, 57-43%, allowing the November amendment to be decided by a majority vote. Further evidence that no gimmick is so obscure or undemocratic for Republicans to try if they see some advantage. Also that people are wising up to their tricks.

  • Dan Lamothe/Hannah Dormido: [08-12] See where Sen. Tommy Tuberville is blocking 301 military promotions: I couldn't care less about the promotions, which are mostly general officers, but it is notable how Senate rules allow one moron to cause so much obstruction.

  • Rebecca Leber: [08-11] An insidious form of climate denial is festering in the Republican Party. They've basically reverted to shouting their denials louder, as if that makes them more convincing. Not that Republicans are unwilling to do something about "climate" if their incentives are aligned: they're pushing a "Trillion Trees Act," which is basically Bush's "Healthy Forests Initiative" warmed over (i.e., clearcut forests and replace them with tree farms). They also want to, quoting Kevin McCarthy, "replace Russian natural gas with American natural gas, and let's not only have a cleaner world, but a safer world." That's wrong in every possible direction.

  • Jose Pagliery/Josh Fiallo: [08-09] 'Weak dictator' Ron DeSantis ousts another prosecutor he dislikes: Orlando-area prosecutor Monique Worrell, a Democrat who won her district with 67% of the votes. DeSantis previously suspended Tampa prosecutor Andrew Warren. For more, see Eileen Grench: [03-04] Florida prosecutor reveals real reasons she landed in DeSantis' crosshairs.

  • Nikki McCann Ramirez: [08-10] DeSantis says drone strikes against Mexican cartels are on the table: I'd like to see this table, the one people are constantly piling stupid ideas on, just to show they're so tough and brainless.

  • Michael Tomasky: [08-09] Please, House Republicans, be crazy enough to impeach Joe Biden: "If Kevin McCarthy does what his unhinged caucus wants him to do, he may as well hand over his speakership to the Democrats." It's generally believed that impeaching Clinton hurt the Republicans (Democrats in 1998 picked up 5 seats in the House, and held even in the Senate, defying the usual shift to the party out of the White House). They had a better case then, and a slight hope they might panic Clinton into resigning. Conversely, it's hard to say that the first Trump impeachment helped the Democrats (who lost seats in 2020, but took the White House; after the second, they lost the House in 2022). A Biden impeachment would be even more obviously a flagrant partisan ploy, and is even more certain of failure. All it would do is expose how unhinged Republican rhetoric has become. So I'm not worried that they might bring it on.

  • Scott Waldman: [08-07] DeSantis's Florida approves climate-denial videos in schools.

  • Noah Weiland: [08-13] After end of pandemic coverage guarantee, Texas is epicenter of Medicaid losses: "Texas has dropped over half a million people from the program, more than any other state." In the early days of the pandemic, Trump and the Republicans panicked -- most likely because the stock market crashed -- and begged Democrats to pass a relief bill. What Schumer and Pelosi came up with was remarkable, and saved the day, while Republicans became increasingly upset that they had done anything at all. The emergency reforms all had sunset dates, but should have been the basis for extended reforms. Voters failed to reward Democrats for what they did -- the tendency is to assume that a disaster averted would never have happened -- and now the American people (especially in "red states") are paying the price.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Lee Harris: [08-07] Biden admin to restore labor rule gutted in 1980s.

  • Robert Kuttner: [08-08] Biden's New Hampshire blunder. Biden, or the DNC that he controls, decided to promote South Carolina (which Biden won in 2020) ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire (which Biden lost, both, badly, although as the incumbent he'd be very unlikely to lose them in 2024). Folks in New Hampshire put a lot of stock in being first in the nation. Aside from ego, it draws a lot of tourist dollars in the middle of winter. I've always thought this was a really terrible idea, and could write reams on why, but right now it's simply a boat that doesn't need rocking, fueled by rationales that don't need airing (e.g., NH is too white; on the other hand, SC is too Republican; NH gets a lot of press, but up third, SC has actually had more impact lately).

  • Jason Linkins: [08-12] This week's Republican faceplant has a 2024 lesson for Democrats: No matter how great Bidenomics is, the really persuasive reason to vote for Democrats is to save us from Republicans. There are many examples one can point to, but the stripping of abortion rights is one of the clearest and most impactful.

  • Chris Megerian/Terry Tang: [08-08] Biden creates new national monument near Grand Canyon, citing tribal heritage, climate concerns.

  • Jeff Stein: [08-12] 5 key pillars of President Biden's economic revolution: run the economy hot; make unions stronger; revive domestic manufacturing through green energy; rein in corporate power; expand the safety net.

Legal matters:

Climate and Environment:

  • Umair Irfan: [08-10] This strange hurricane season may take a turn for the worse: "Oceans are at record high temperatures, but El Niño is keeping a lid on tropical storms in the Atlantic." According to Wikipedia, there were three named storms in June (before the season officially started), but only one in July, and none so far in August. You might also check out the trackers for Pacific hurricanes (Dora, which crossed open seas, impacted Hawaii's fires with strong winds); Pacific typhoons (Mawar, which passed by Japan, was severe; Doksuri, which hit Fujian and dumped record rainfall as far inland as Beijing, and Khanun, which landed in Korea, were "very strong," as is Lan, currently approaching Japan); and Indian Ocean cyclones (Mocha, which hit Bangladesh, and Biparjoy, which hit Gujarat, were especially severe).

  • Benji Jones: [08-11] How Maui's wildfires became so apocalyptic: "A large hurricane, drought, and perhaps even invasive grasses have fueled the devastating fires in Hawaii."

  • Dan Stillman: [08-11] Unrelenting Hurricane Dora makes history by becoming a typhoon: The difference between a hurricane and a typhoon is the international date line: in the east Pacific, they're hurricanes; in the west, they're typhoons. Dora started up as a tropical wave that crossed over Central America into the Pacific, intensifying to Category 4 south of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on August 2-3, and has headed pretty much due west ever since, passing south of Hawaii but close enough to whip up the winds that fanned fires in Maui, and it's still headed west, varying between Categories 2 and 4. It seems to finally be degrading now, and the forecast shows it curving north.

  • Molly Taft: [08-11] Should climate protesters be less annoying? Sure. And I don't see how some of these examples help. But it's so hard to get heard that acts of desperation are all but inevitable, and are increasingly likely as more and more cautiously reasoned projections turn into hard facts (like the Maui fires this week). And if, for instance, Kim Stanley Robinson's Ministry for the Future is prophetic, there's going to be a lot more of what we like to call "eco-terrorism" in the near future, before serious people finally get serious about solving the problem. Even when the protesters turn offensive, turning away from the real problem to condemn them is a waste. They'll go away when you fix the problem, and until then should only be a reminder that you haven't.

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols: [08-11] Diplomacy Watch: China looms large at Ukraine 'peace summit' -- which wasn't in any practical sense about peace, but was intended to rally support for Ukraine's non-negotiable points. Echols also wrote: [08-07] America's top 5 weapons contractors made $196B in 2022.

  • George Beebe: [08-10] The myth of a strong postwar Ukraine. It's easy to spin glib prognoses about a postwar Ukraine, but there are many more questions than answers. For starters, recall that Ukraine from 1991-2014 fared even worse under capitalism than Russia. For all its vaunted democracy, politics in Ukraine were dominated by oligarchs, whose dealings may have oriented them East or West, without benefit to the masses. While the West has been happy to provide arms that have devastated much of the country, they have poor track records when it comes to rebuilding. Postwar Ukraine is certain to be much poorer than prewar Ukraine. Nor is the task of resettling millions of refugees likely to go easy. And a significant slice of a generation is likely to be marred by war, both physically and psychically. Compared to the existential crises of war, the question of whether various patches of land wind up on one side of the border or not is almost trivial -- no matter what the war architects think at the moment. Everyone loses at war, and everyone begrudges their losses. Beebe would like to reassure us that "ending the conflict sooner" still offers "better prospects," but there's no calculating how much has been lost, and how much more there still is to lose.

    PS: In reading Philipp Ther: How the West Lost the Peace, I'm reminded of the mass migrations after the fall of the communist states in East Europe, especially from East to West Germany. Basically, the most skilled and mobile workers left, leaving their old countries impoverished. Something similar happened to Russia and Ukraine with the departure of many Jews to Israel (and some to the US). Millions of Ukrainians have already left to escape the war. I wouldn't be surprised if most of those who can hack it in the West stay there, rather than return to their bleak and broken homeland. A second point is that the aid promised to the former communist states rarely amounted to much, and usually came saddled with debt and neoliberal nostrums that made a corrupt few rich but left most people much poorer. Maybe postwar aid will be more enlightened this time, but there is much reason to remain skeptical. EU membership will bring some redistribution, but with strings, and will make it easier for Ukrainians to stay in the West (or if they haven't already, to move there). And America has an especially poor track record of rebuilding the nations it has ravaged. Sure, the Marshall Plan helped, but that was 70 years ago, and really just an indirect subsidy of American business, with strings.

  • Ted Snider: [08-09] The Poland-Belarus border is becoming a tinderbox: Wagner Group forces are training new the NATO border. And now Poland plans to move around 10,000 troops to border with Belarus. Neither side appears to be asking "what can go wrong"? The Poles argue that the move will deter Belarus from misbehavior, but isn't that what NATO is supposed to guarantee? And given the NATO umbrella, doesn't Poland's move look like a threat?

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [08-10] Biden asks Congress for $25 billion in new Ukraine aid: The lion's share of a $40 billion emergency spending request, bundled with disaster aid requests Congress will be hard-pressed to reject. Vlahos previously wrote: [08-04] Most Americans don't want Congress to approve more aid for Ukraine war, with Republicans more reticent than Democrats. Still, Biden hasn't had any trouble getting Republican votes for Ukraine (or for anything that goes "boom"). Also:

Israel, again:

Around the world:

Other stories:

William Astore: [08-08] An exceptional military for the exceptional nation: "Recall that, in his four years in office, Donald Trump increased military spending by 20%. Biden is now poised to achieve a similar 20% increase in just three years in office. And that increase doesn't even include the cost of supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia -- so far, somewhere between $120 billion and $200 billion and still rising." Also:

The greatest trick the U.S. military ever pulled was essentially convincing us that its wars never existed. As Norman Solomon notes in his revealing book, War Made Invisible, the military-industrial-congressional complex has excelled at camouflaging the atrocious realities of war, rendering them almost entirely invisible to the American people. Call it the new American isolationism, only this time we're isolated from the harrowing and horrific costs of war itself.

America is a nation perpetually at war, yet most of us live our lives with little or no perception of this. There is no longer a military draft. There are no war bond drives. You aren't asked to make direct and personal sacrifices. You aren't even asked to pay attention, let alone pay (except for those nearly trillion-dollar-a-year budgets and interest payments on a ballooning national debt, of course). You certainly aren't asked for your permission for this country to fight its wars, as the Constitution demands. As President George W. Bush suggested after the 9/11 attacks, go visit Disneyworld! Enjoy life! Let America's "best and brightest" handle the brutality, the degradation, and the ugliness of war, bright minds like former Vice President Dick ("So?") Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald ("I don't do quagmires") Rumsfeld.

Astore cites the Costs of War Project, that "roughly 937,000 people have died since 9/11/2001" thanks to the Global War on Terror, which has thus far run up a bill of $8 trillion. Of course, GWOT gets little press these days: George Will has dismissed it recently as the "era of Great Distraction" -- insisting we return to focus on the more lucrative Cold War rivalry with Russia and China.

Dean Baker: [08-07] Taxing share buybacks: The cheapest tax EVER! Baker is right on here. Share buybacks would be easy to tax, and hard to evade. They would only take money that's already on the table, and if that tips the decision as to whether to buy, that's not something anyone else needs to worry about. Besides, share buybacks are basically a tax avoidance scheme.

Ross Barkan: [08-03] Has the socialist moment already come and gone? "Bernie and AOC helped build a formidable movement. Since Biden took office, we've seen its reach -- and its limits." Well, what do you want? Sanders was uniquely able to expand his ideological base of support because he's one of the few politicians in Washington whose integrity and commitment are unimpeachable. But also because he's actually willing to work hard for very modest improvements. He's inspired followers, but thus far no significant leaders. But does that matter? The possibility of a resurgent independent left is restrained, as it's always been in America and Western Europe, by two overwhelming forces: one is fear of fascism on the far right (Republicans); the other is the possibility of ameliorative reform from the center (Democrats). Why risk the former and sacrifice the latter just for the sake of a word ("socialism," or whatever)? On the other hand, as long as Democrats -- even such unpromising ones as Biden -- are willing to entertain constructive proposals from the left, why not join them?

Colin Bradley: [] Liberalism against capitalism: "The work of John Rawls shows that liberal values of equality and freedom are fundamentally incompatible with capitalism."

Robert Kuttner: [08-07] Eminent domain for overpriced drugs: "Exhibit A is the case of the EpiPen. It should cost a few dollars rather than the $600 or more charged by monopolist Viatris."

Althea Legaspi: [08-12] Record labels file $412 million copyright infringement lawsuit against Internet Archive: First of all, the Internet Archive is one of the great treasures of modern civilization. A lawsuit against them is nothing less than an assault on culture and our rights to it. Second, there are mechanisms under current law for dealing with copyright disputes short of lawsuits. They aren't necessarily fair or just, but they exist. It's possible that the labels have exhausted these, but that seems unlikely, given the ridiculous claims they are making about lost revenue from free dissemination of 50-to-100-year-old recordings that are already in the public domain in much of the world (just not the US, due mostly to Disney lobbyists). Rather, this appears to be malicious and vindictive, which is about par for the rentier firms that are pursuing it. Of course, it would be nice to write better laws that would if not tear down the paywalls that throttle free speech will at least allow them to expire in a timely fashion.

Eric Levitz:

Miles Marshall Lewis: [08-09] In 50 years, rap transformed the English language bringing the Black vernacular's vibrancy to the world: Part of a series of pieces on the 50th anniversary of rap music, which I'm sure will provide ample target practice for anyone who finds "the paper of record" more than a bit pretentious and supercilious. This one focuses on five words (dope, woke, cake, wildin', ghost), which represent less than 1% of what one could talk about. Links toward the bottom to more articles, including Wesley Morris: [08-10] How hip-hop conquered the world. I'm going to try to not get too bent out of shape.

Julian Mark: [08-12] 'Unluckiest generation' falters in boomer-dominated market for homes: "The median age of a first-time homebuyer climbs to 36, as high interest rates and asking prices further erode spending power." First I heard of the term (see Andrew Van Dam: The unluckiest generation in U.S. history), the more common one being "millennials" (born 1981-96). Van Dam's chart lists ten generations, each spanning stretches that average twenty years (min. 17, max. 30, start dates in order from 1792, 1822, 1843, 1860, 1883, 1901, 1925, 1946, 1965, 1981, ending in 1996; no data for 1997 and beyond). I've never put much stock in these labels, but have given a bit of thought to which years were the luckiest, and concluded that men born between 1935 and 1943 hit the sweet spot: the depression was waning, they were too young for WWII and (mostly) Korea, too old for Vietnam; they started work in the boom years of the 1950s, and many were well positioned to benefit from inflation in the 1970s; they moved off farms and into cities; many were the first in their families to go to college. They drove big, gas-guzzling cars, and quite a few retired to putter around the country in RVs. I have a half-dozen cousins who fit that profile to a tee. On the other hand, I never liked the Boomer designation, as it seemed to actually have three subsets: the leading edge got ahead of the expansion of education in the 1960s, which by the time I got there was already cooling; the middle got diverted to Vietnam; and the tail end had to fend off Reagan. Still, it's hard to feel when you get into your seventies, even if that's some kind of proof.

Of course, no generational experience is universal. Women were better off born after 1950, as career options opened up in the 1970s, and abortion became legal. What is pretty clear is that prospects have dimmed for anyone born after 1980. It also seems pretty likely that unless there are big changes, those born after 1997 will be even more unlucky. But it's more possible than ever for young people to understand what made some lucky and what doesn't, and to act accordingly.

Still, this particular article is more about housing prices than generations. The median US home sold in 2023 for $416,100, up 26% from 2020, which is pushing the age of first-time buyers up and up, to 36 from 29 in 1981. I'm beginning to think we made a big mistake long ago in treating houses not just as necessities but as stores of wealth and vehicles for investment.

Steven Lee Myers/Benjamin Mullin: [08-13] Raids of small Kansas newspaper raises free press concerns: "The search of the Marion County Record led to the seizure of computers, servers and cellphones of reporters and editors."

James Robins: [08-08] The 1848 revolutions did not fail: "The year that Europe went to the barricades changed the world. But it has not left the same impression on the public imagination as 1789 or 1917." Review of Christopher Clark: Revolutionary Spring: Europe Aflame and the Fight for a New World, 1848-1849. This is a piece of history I've neglected, although I have a theory -- partly informed by Arno Mayer's The Persistence of the Old Regime, perhaps by Hobsbawm's The Age of Revolution, and more generally by Marx -- that 1848 marked the end of bourgeois revolutions, as the rising of workers convinced the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy that they had more in common. Clark has an earlier book, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, so perhaps he's looking backwards as well. China Miéville has another book on 1848, from a different perspective: A Spectre, Haunting: On the Communist Manifesto.

Nathan J Robinson: [08-11] You either see everyone else as a human being or you don't: "It's obviously morally abominable to booby-trap the borders with razors. But some people think desperate migrants deserve whatever cruelties we inflict on."

Aja Romano: [08-11] The Montgomery boat brawl and what it really means to "try that in a small town": The viral fight valorized Black resistance -- and punctured Jason Aldean's racist 'small town' narrative."

Jeffrey St Clair: [08-11] Roaming Charges: Mad at the world. Seems like every week brings another story like this one:

An Arkansas woman called 911. When the cops arrived, an officer was frightened by her Pomeranian, shot at the dog and missed, hitting the woman in the leg. The cop then tries to tell her the bullet hole in her leg is probably just a scratch from the dog.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Speaking of Which

Trump's third indictment led off the week, so naturally he hogged the news. He complains about being singled out, as if he's the only president ever to get caught running a byzantine scam to reverse election results. If anything, he's the one getting special favors. Anyone else trying to incite violence against witnesses would at least get a gag order, or more likely be remanded to jail for the duration.

Top story threads:

Trump: He gets his own section again this week, because he got indicted again, and this time it's the big one, the case we've been waiting for. Well, not all of it, but stripped down to the most basic and unassailable points.

DeSantis, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Paul Krugman: [07-31] Goldilocks and the Bidenomics bears: "It's hard to overstate how good the U.S. economic news has been lately. It was so good that it didn't just raise hopes for the future; it led to widespread rethinking of the past." After noting Larry Summers' plea for "many years of very high unemployment," Krugman goes on to say: "And as I said, we've had an astonishing recovery in jobs and G.D.P., which puts the sluggish recovery of the 2010s to shame; indeed, it suggests that the failure to achieve quick recovery from the financial crisis was a huge economic tragedy." Then he wrote another column expanding on that: [08-01] Frying pans and fiscal policy. Looking at the first two charts there, the slow recovery from the 2008-09 recession up through 2016 can largely be explained by the Republican gospel of austerity, which they dropped as soon as Trump took office. But especially in 2009-10, when Democrats had Congressional majorities, Obama's "confidence men" deserve much of the blame (especially Summers, who like Geithner and Furman didn't get invites to return from Biden; the term was the title of Ron Suskind's 2011 book on Obama's economic team, due to their belief that the key to recovery was Obama projecting confidence about the recovery; at the time, Krugman ridiculed them for their belief in "the confidence fairy").

  • Eric Levitz: [08-04] America's economic outlook keeps getting better: "Productivity and real wages are rising."

  • Bill Scher: [08-04] Don't expect Biden to get credit for the economy anytime soon. Cites Clinton and Obama as Democratic presidents who saw sustained economic growth during their terms, but got so little credit for it that the voters replaced them with Republicans, leading to massive redistribution toward the rich, and major recessions. I have some theories about why things work out this way. One is that Democrats can be counted on to support measures to stimulate the economy -- as they did with legislation to help Bush in 2008 and Trump in 2020 -- while Republicans insist on austerity when Democrats are in charge, figuring that the president will be blamed for their own acts. Key here is that Republicans are much more adept at blaming Democrats for anything and everything, whereas Democrats prefer to frame their policies positively, and are eager to compromise them to receive the thin veneer of bipartisan support.

  • Emily Stewart: [08-01] Can Joe Biden convince Americans the economy is actually good? "Bidenomics, or the real story of a sort of made-up thing."

Law, order, and the courts:

Climate and Environment:

  • Kate Aronoff: [07-31] What Florida's corals look like after catastrophic bleaching: "What's alarming about this year's bleaching event is just how quickly the corals died."

  • Tom Engelhardt: [08-03] Extremely extreme: After a paragraph summarizing the shocking climate news from this summer, he segues into the self-appointed leader of the "Me-First" movement: Donald Trump. Sure, he did a lot of bad things as president, only a small fraction of which he's since been indicted for, but his sins of omission will be judged by history even more harshly, including four years of doing nothing (beyond his active obstruction) on climate change.

  • Georgina Rannard/Mark Poynting/Jana Tauschinski/Becky Dale: [08-04] Ocean heat record broken, with grim implications for the planet.

Ukraine War: Regarding the counteroffensive, Robert Wright writes in [08-04] Biden's Ukraine quagmire:

This week a widely followed Twitter account called War Mapper quantified the amount of terrain Ukrainian forces have retaken since the beginning of their counter-offensive two months ago. The net gain is a bit over 100 square miles. So the fraction of Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia has dropped from 17.54 percent to 17.49 percent.

This gain has come at massive cost: untold thousands of dead Ukrainians, untold thousands of maimed Ukrainians, and lots of destroyed weapons and armored vehicles.

At this rate of battlefield progress, it will be six decades before Ukraine has expelled Russian troops from all its territory -- the point before which, President Zelensky has said, peace talks are unthinkable. And at this rate of human loss, Ukraine will run out of soldiers long before then -- and long before Russia does.

In short: Recent trend lines point to a day when Ukraine is vulnerable to complete conquest by Russia. For that matter, the counter-offensive has already made Ukraine more vulnerable to a Russian breakthrough in the north, where Ukrainian defensive lines were thinned out for the sake of the offensive in the south. . . .

The resolve is admirable. But have things really come to this? We're throwing Ukrainian men into a meat grinder week after week in hopes that maybe Putin's regime will collapse, and maybe this will be good for Ukraine?

Emphasis in original. This last line is followed by reasons such a collapse may not be good for anyone. Another source points out that Russia has actually gained ground in the north, while the counteroffensive has been grinding away in the south. He also cites a series of tweets by a Tatarigami_UA. Of course, much of this argument depends not just on the amount of land gained but on the resources spent and other damages, and on how much depth both sides have for reinforcements. While the US and its allies can provide Ukraine with enough war matériel to fight indefinitely, Russia has a big long-term advantage in manpower it can commit to the fight. Russia also has two more big advantages: it can hit virtually all of Ukraine, where Ukraine can barely nick territory within prewar Russia (e.g., through recent drone attacks on Moscow, or most recently [08-04] Ukraine strikes Russian commercial port with drones for first time). And Russia has nuclear weapons, which aren't terribly useful in the war but should give one pause when hoping for any kind of militarily dictated victory.

Also, I haven't seen anyone really put this info together, but it looks to me like Ukraine is becoming much more cavalier at hitting Russian targets behind various "red lines": in Crimea, the Black Sea, and in Russia itself. Russia is responding with more purely punitive attacks (i.e., nowhere near the front, such as on Black Sea ports). Until recently, US aid was conditioned on Ukraine restraint, but that seems to be going by the wayside.

  • Blaise Malley: [08-04] Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine War 'peace talks' this weekend, but Russia not invited.

  • Roger Cohen: [08-06] Putin's Forever War: An extended portrait of a Russia isolated by sanctions and agitated and militated by a war footing that seems likely to extend without ends, if not plausibly forever. I suspect there is a fair amount of projection here. The US actually has been engaged in forever wars, boundless affairs first against communism then against terrorism (or whatever you call it). Russia has struggled with internal order, but had little interest in "a civilizational conflict" until the Americans pushed NATO up to its borders. On the other hand, once you define such a conflict, it's hard to resolve it. The US has failed twice, and seems to be even more clueless in its high stakes grappling with Russia and China.

  • Geoffrey Roberts: [08-02] The trouble with telling history as it happens: More a reaction to than a review of Serhii Polkhy's new book, The Russo-Ukrainian War: The Return of History, which no matter how expert or up-to-date ("early 2023") is quickly passed by events, and inevitably swayed by unproven propaganda. I've read Plokhy's The Gates of Europe: A history of Ukraine and found it useful, although I already had a pretty decent grounding when I wrote my 23 Theses.

Israel, again:

  • Izzeddin Araj: [08-01] Israel's judicial crisis is not surprising: "Israel's settler-colonial ideological mission not only impacts Palestinians but prevents the country from being a democracy for Jews as well."

  • Jonathan Guyer: [08-03] Biden wants to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia together. But why? "And who will actually get the most out of it? (Hint: Not Americans or Palestinians.)" I haven't thought much about this, but can note that both Fred Kaplan and Richard Silverstein are very critical. I see three obvious problems: one is that, especially in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has a history of armed aggression, not the sort of country you want to tie yourself to; I'm a bit less worried than Kaplan about Saudi Arabia tarnishing America's brand as a supporter of democracy, but autocratic states are by their very nature brittle, so while you may like the current leadership (God knows why), that could change any moment (cf. Iran); and as long as Israel dictates American foreign policy, we're stuck holding the bag for whatever commitments Israel makes (usually war tech, although I've also read that the Saudis want nuclear tech). The tricky part with all of these Abraham Accord deals is that they depend on Israel moderating its treatment of Palestinians to not embarrass their new partners, but Israel's domestic political dynamics are only becoming more violent and abusive, effectively sabotaging the deals.

  • Jonathan Kuttab: [08-03] Why the Israeli judicial protest movement is bound to fail: "The time has come for Israeli Jews and their supporters to answer whether they believe in human equality or will continue to insist on Jewish supremacy."

  • Jonathan Ofir:

    • [07-31] Israel expanded an apartheid law last week: "Israel broadened a racist law that allows communities to exclude non-Jews based on 'social and cultural cohesion.'" This is one of 65 laws in Adalah's Discriminatory Laws Database.

    • [08-05] Jewish supremacy won't end from within. BDS is still the only hope. It's increasingly hard to argue that sanctions can persuade countries to change their core policies -- more likely the isolation they enforce only makes the rulers more recalcitrant, and sometimes more belligerent -- but they are something one can do to register disapproval short of war, and they can be adopted by individuals and groups even short of persuading states to act. Can it work? I doubt it. Up to 2000, Israeli politicians at least made gestures -- often, we now know, in bad faith -- to maintain good will from the US and Europe. Thereafter, the US capitulated, giving Israel's right-wing a green light to do whatever they want, certain of blind, uncritical American support. A reversal of that policy, where the US joins the rest of the world in deploring Israeli human rights abuses, while working to ensure Israel's security by negotiating normal relations with Israel's supposed enemies (especially Iran and Syria), wouldn't necessarily have any impact on Israeli politics, but it's the only thing that might. Meanwhile, civilian efforts to support BDS is the only game in town.

  • Philip Weiss: [08-02] Israel advocates finally condemn skunkwater -- now that it's being used on Jews.

  • Jeff Wright: [07-30] Another North American church names Israeli apartheid: "The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has declared that 'many of the laws, policies and practices of the State of Israel meet the definition of apartheid as defined in international law.'" Although I'm about as lapsed as a person can be, I grew up in that church, and took it seriously enough that they awarded me a Boy Scout God & Country medal. They are evangelicals, but not Old Testament fundamentalists. On the other hand, their focus on the New Testament has led many members (like my grandfather) to focus on "Revelations," which is the gateway to "Christian Zionism." But they have always been fundamentally decent people, and in the end that seems to have won out.

Around the world:

Other stories:

Clay Risen: [08-05] Charles J. Ogletree Jr, 70, dies; at Harvard Law, a voice for equal justice.

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [08-04] Does Hunter Biden matter? "Republicans believe the president's son is at the center of the corruption scandal of the century. Democrats think Hunter is a non-issue and the worst allegations are mere conspiracy theory." This is pretty thorough, and cuts the Bidens less slack than I would, but I can't quarrel much with his conclusion: "I certainly think we have ample evidence that Hunter Biden is scummy and Joe Biden is dishonest." It still doesn't answer the question raised up top: "Should voters care, and how much?" If Democrats offered a clear alternative to the graft that Republicans seem to revel in, they should be able to overcome a few embarrassing slips. But while Obama campaigned against money in politics back in 2008, he made no effort once he got elected to change a system that happened to give him (if few Democrats) a big advantage. Biden also seems comfortable with moneyed interests, even though they're always accompanied by the smell of corruption. Still, corruption isn't the only issue voters have to weigh. There are many other issues, some much more important. Even if you believe the worst about the Bidens, you should think back on the 1991 Louisiana governor race, where voters were advised: Vote for the crook: It's important.

  • [08-02] Is the critique of consumerism dead? "Today's left seems less inclined to critique advertising, consumerism, and pop culture." Another piece tied into Barbie, which since I haven't seen yet I should reserve judgment on, but it's clearly not tied into Mattel's PR machine. Still, my first reaction is "boring," perhaps because that's all stuff I examined so critically in the 1970s I feel like I'm unlikely to come up with anything new. I will note that although related, those are three different things.

    Advertising is an industry which presents a view of products (and the world) that is distorted to further the ends of its sponsors -- mostly to make more money, although political advertising has darker goals). And by the way, advertising is not free speech. It is very expensive speech, sponsored by special interests but ultimately paid for by the people it targets. It is almost always intrusive and unwelcome.

    Consumerism is a political reaction to corporate malfeasance. It attempts to give consumers rights and recourse against advertising, and beyond that against malign products, whether by design or defect. As we are all consumers, this movement is potentially universal, but it tends to wax and wane as business practices become normalized. It's possible that Robinson is thinking of something slightly different, which doesn't have a good name. This is the idea that consuming is an essential occupation of everyday life, a panacea for all our needs and desires. That is, of course, an idea advertising is meant to stoke, and one we may be better off learning to live with at a level well short of an addiction or compulsion, but it's impossible to blot it out.

    Pop art is simply art that reflects and reacts to popular consumable objects. Growing up when and where I did, it always struck me as perfectly normal: even if eventually it seemed a bit shallow, that shallowness was as real as the world it represented. Robinson spends a lot of time on what a leftist should make of this, and ultimately doesn't reach much of a conclusion. Maybe because it's not a problem we need to solve.

  • [08-01] Climate denial may escalate into a total rupture with reality: If I were his editor, I'd be tempted to strike "may" from that title, although I can see that it leaves open reason for contemplation, even though the evidence is pretty conclusive. At this point, the really dogmatic denialists aren't even the fossil industry shills who have an obvious economic stake but others whose objections aren't based on any understanding of science or economics, and their evidence, well, isn't evidence at all.

  • [08-03] Nomi Prins explains the difference between the market and the economy: Interview with the former Goldman Sachs trader, turned journalist, whose intro omits her 2009 book It Takes a Pillage, which as I recall was the first to expose/explain how far the banking bailouts went beyond the $700 billion slush fund Congress appropriated. She talks about her new book: Permanent Distortion: How Financial Markets Abandoned the Real Economy Forever.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [08-01] Americans' trust in military hits 'malaise era' territory. This sounds like good news to me, although the numbers still have quite a ways to fall. So does the recruitment crisis. Now if only some politicians could see the wisdom of cutting back on war spending. The pressure for more remains intense:

Alissa Wilkinson: [08-04] Lessons from a Barbenheimer summer: The fad of releasing serious, thought-provoking movies appears to be over. (This week's most-hyped releases are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, and The Meg 2: The Trench. Beware the colons.) The two movies are still generating commentary, especially Oppenheimer.

  • William Hartung: [08-02] Oppenheimer and the birth of the nuclear-industrial complex.

  • Jeffrey St Clair: [08-04] Little Boy and Fat Man earrings: a nuclear parable: An excerpt from St Clair's book, Grand Theft Pentagon, following by a Roaming Charges, much of which (including digs at Pence, RFK Jr, and "slit their throats" DeSantis I'm tempted to quote. Here's a taste:

    • DeSantis reminds me of Phil Gramm, the TX politician who amassed millions from banks and oil companies and seemed to be the prohibitive favorite in '96 GOP primaries, but was soon exposed as just a mean SOB with no real political skills at all other than shaking down corps for PAC $$$.
    • When DeSantis' campaign ran low on money and he began firing staffers, he hired them to fill government-funded positions in Florida instead.
    • More than half ($5 million, in fact) of the funds in RFK, Jr's SuperPAC came from Timothy Mellon, scion of the Mellon banking fortune, who has denounced social spending as "slavery redux," donated $53 million to state of Texas border wall construction fund, and gifted $1.5 million toward the legal defense of Arizona's vicious anti-immigration law.

I can't call it a tweet, and certainly won't call it a truth, but after Trump deemed "really quite vicious" Nancy Pelosi's quip about him in court ("I saw a scared puppy"), he wasn't satisfied with just being the victim. He added: "She is a Wicked Witch whose husbands journey from hell starts and finishes with her. She is a sick & demented psycho who will someday live in HELL!" True gentleman he is. Salon, which never misses a tweet, covers this story here and here.

Another tweet, from Younis Tirawi, in Jenin: "Israeli occupation forces fired 300 bullets on a car with 3 Palestinian fighters inside. After they all were killed, they kept their bodies inside the car, pulled it and paraded with their bodies home to the occupation military camp near Dotan."

Also from Noga Tarnopolsky: "Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, convicted eight (8!) times of terrorism & hate crimes, says a medal of valor ought to be awarded to his Jewish Power activist Elisha Yered, a suspect in the murder of 19-year-old Palestinian Qosai Mi'tan."

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Speaking of Which

Started early enough, but once again this is chewing up Sunday evening. While I'm having a lot of trouble getting my own projects organized, it's almost therapeutic to stumble across a piece and write a few off-the-cuff comments.

Here's a Patriotic Millionaires meme, picturing Ronald Reagan, saying: "In 1984 I lowered the top income tax rate from 70% to 28%. Then I imposed the first ever income tax on social security benefits to make up for it."

Top story threads:

Trump, DeSantis, and other Republicans: I've generally ignored the horserace articles, even the snippy ones about DeSantis's faltering (or rebooting, take your pick) campaign. Trump got back into the news cycle, provoked with additional indictments, which elicited the usual vicious incoherence. Elsewhere, Republicans have been very busy in their endless quest to hurt people and screw up the future.

  • Zack Beauchamp: [07-28] Republicans are threatening to sabotage George W Bush's greatest accomplishment: It's a program I admit I hadn't heard of, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which "has saved as many as 25 million lives," and "is currently supporting treatment for over 20 million people who depend on the program for continued access to medication." So, just the sort of thing today's Republicans want to kill, all the more so since it gives them an opportunity to repoliticize AIDS and trash Anthony Fauci as one of the great monsters of our time. And if Bush's legacy gets trampled along the way, well, it turns out that he was just RINO scum all along.

  • Jonathan Chait:

    • [07-26] Ron DeSantis's Nazi outreach is a strategy, not an accident.

    • [07-26] Conservatives have a new master theory of American politics: I'm always intrigued by theories, as they imply thinking, even when they derive from the right, where such skills have atrophied if ever they existed. This one's based on what Chait's calling Longmarchism, which argues that the Left has, over decades, implemented a "long march through existing institutions," infiltrating and capturing them to such an extent that only a political revolt by right-thinking Americans can restore the nation as God intended. Chait points to Christopher Rufo's America's Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything (reviewed here) and Up From Conservatism: Revitalizing the Right After a Generation of Decay, an essay collection edited by Arthur Milikh. Chait does a decent job of debunking this nonsense, but a few points could be clearer:

      1. There is no control structure on the left -- nothing remotely resembling the cells Communists and Birchers tried to set up long ago, nor even anything similar to the economic ties Koch, Thiel, etc., have set up to direct the right. (Koch was a Bircher, so that kind of thinking comes naturally to him. The right would like you to think of Soros in those terms, but he's just an old philanthropist, throwing money at worthwhile causes, and not just political ones.)

      2. The ideas that the right so objects to are less the result of conscious political propaganda than common reactions to situations that most people face. People become anti-racist because they don't like the effects of racism. As America has become more diverse, tolerance and respect have become more necessary, if just to get by and to get along. Even businesses understand that. (If the left really had infiltrated corporate America, wouldn't we have also changed their views on profits, on unions, on pollution, etc.?)

  • Tim Dickinson: [07-29] These Christian nationalists want to stone adulterers to death: "Aspiring theocrats want to install Old Testament justice in America." Interesting that the first person I thought of after seeing the headline was Newt Gingrich. Dickinson also wrote: [07-28] Vivek Ramaswamy is on the rise. So are Christian nationalist attacks on his religion: He's Hindu, but this is the first I've heard of anyone giving him grief for it. He seemed to get along swimmingly at a recent Christian confab in Iowa. I can remember when Protestants could get really worked up over points of theology -- my Grandmother, for instance, told me that the Lutherans she grew up with were "worse than the Catholics" -- but nowadays the only thing good Christians need to agree on is the others they all hate in common.

  • Robert Downen/Carla Astudillo: [07-25] Ken Paxton's far-right billionaire backers are fighting hard to save him: Otherwise it's sunk cost: buying an Attorney General only to see him impeached.

  • Kate Kelly/David Perlmutt: [07-30] Inside the party switch that blew up North Carolina politics: Tricia Cotham, who ran as a pro-abortion Democrat, then switched to the Republicans to override an anti-abortion bill veto. You've long known that there is little Republicans wouldn't do to steal elections, but Trojan horse candidates are a new low.

  • Ed Kilgore: [07-24] First Republican debate: Who's in, who's banned, who's boycotting: The Fox News debate is on August 23. It shouldn't be hard to find something better to do on that day (though probably not outside).

  • Kelly McClure: [07-29] Judge throws out Trump's lawsuit against CNN. Trump sued CNN for $475 million for defamation. For more details, see Andrew Zhang: [07-29] Judge dismisses Trump's 'Big Lie' lawsuit against CNN. Evidently "big lie" isn't recognized as a Nazi trademark, so can be used by others to refer to other big lies. Trump also objected to being called "Hitler-like," which either means he's a little touchy or he's holding out for something stronger. The lawsuit was dismissed "with prejudice," which is technical jargon judges use for "you're wasting my time." No mention in these articles for CNN's countersuit against Trump for calling them "fake news." Maybe they didn't feel like wasting the judge's time suing?

  • Ian Millhiser: [07-27] What's new in the new indictment against Donald Trump? "Trump allegedly tried to destroy evidence in the federal case involving classified documents."

  • Nicole Narea/Li Zhou: [07-27] Your 5 biggest questions about Trump's latest indictment, answered. Not really. My first one is whether the revised indictment would push his court date out, and that wasn't broached. I'd expect his lawyers to make such a motion. The whole thing about whether Trump might go to jail isn't very clear. My impression is that, unlike the New York hush money case, everyone who's been convicted of the crimes Trump is charged with here has gotten a jail term. (For a "legal scholar" view, see Tom Boggioni: [07-29] Trump 'may die in prison' if he doesn't strike a deal after 'shocking' new charges.) The authors ask whether it's even possible to jail Trump, given his Secret Service protection. But why does he even need extra protection if he's in jail? (Sure, laugh, but aren't jails supposed to be the safest places in America?) If not, maybe you can find a higher security facility, like Guantanamo? Or maybe cut a deal with the British and exile him to Saint Helena, like Napoleon? He might even like that idea, at least until he got there. (Maybe he could build a luxury golf resort there, and it would be a pilgrimage destination.)

  • Tori Otten: [07-28] Madman Trump promises to run for President from prison if he's convicted. It's been done before (Eugene Debs in 1920), but "it is unclear how things would work if Trump won." Author also wrote: [07-28] Elise Stefanik wins the prize for stupidest Trump indictment reaction.

  • Catherine Rampell: [07-27] A year after Dobbs, House GOP proposes taking food from hungry babies: The concerns of the "pro life" begin at conception, and pretty much end with delivery.

  • Adam Rawnsley/Asawin Suebsaeng: [07-26] Trump struggles to find enough lawyers to handle his many indictments: Reminds me that when Duke Ellington was asked how he kept such a great orchestra together for so many decades, he confided a secret: "I pay them." Maybe Trump should try that. Maybe he should also try to be a better client. I heard somewhere that MAGA really stands for "make attorneys get attorneys."

  • Zachary Siegel: [06-27] Their kids died of fentanyl overdoses. Republicans can't wait to exploit it. "Grieving parents are at risk of becoming mere props in the latest chapter of America's twisted war on drugs."

  • Molly Taft: [07-21] The GOP darling who claims fossil fuels are good for humanity: Alex Epstein, who's written the books The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (2014) and Fossil Future, and insists that oil is "a wonderful, live-sustaining product," while deriding "wasteful, unreliable solar and wind schemes." Koch loves him.

  • Michael Tomasky: [07-28] Trump is an extremely dumb fascist: "The latest criminal indictment highlights his idiocy -- but also the threat he still poses to American democracy." He points out that "fascism is a sensibility far more than it is a political program." Trump certainly has that sensibility, no matter how much one might quibble over his political alignment with historic fascists. And dumb? Very. The one thing he has is instincts, which are disturbingly popular, but not very original, given how easy they were to pick up from Fox and the like.

  • John Wagner/Amy B Wang: [07-26] Giuliani not contesting making false statements about Georgia election workers.

  • Scott Waldman: [07-26] Conservatives have already written a climate plan for Trump's second term. They call this "Project 2025," and describe it as not a white paper but a "battle plan," to implement as soon as a Republican is sworn in as president in 2025. "It would block the expansion of the electrical grid for wind and solar energy; slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency's environmental justice office; shutter the Energy Department's renewable energy offices; prevent states from adopting California's car pollution standards; and delegate more regulation of polluting industries to Republican state officials."

  • Brett Wilkins: [07-26] DOJ sues Greg Abbott over "barbaric" Rio Grande buoy barrier: I'd be more inclined to charge him with attempted murder, then add further charges with each additional victim. That may not fly, given that those specific charges are usually filed by states, but the feds must have something along those lines. Or they could just extradite him to The Hague, to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. Of course, he'd probably use that for a campaign ad. For more, see Nicole Narea: [07-25] Biden is taking Texas to court over its floating border barrier.

Biden and/or the Democrats: Note separate pieces on Hunter Biden and Robert F Kennedy Jr much farther down. There are also pieces under various topics, including Ukraine, Israel, and the military. Democrats have enough excess baggage without having to pile it all on here.

  • EJ Dionne Jr: [07-30] The GOP pays a price for its extremism. But Biden does, too. He means, Biden pays a price for the GOP's extremism; not that there's anything extremist about Biden. He blames this on the media's habit of repeating whatever Republicans say, even if only to debunk it afterwards. "A two-minute report on a congressional hearing will inevitably air whatever charges some right-wing committee chair makes. They lodge in people's memories no matter what might be said during those 120 seconds to debunk them." Dean Baker suggests a better approach: "Actually, competent reporters would simply report that Republicans on a House committee repeated long-debunked lies about President Biden and son: full stop."

  • Rebecca Leber: [07-26] Biden's $250 billion lure to clean up the dirty legacy of fossil fuels. One section here is subtitled: "Balancing ambition, exhaustiveness, and speed will make all the difference." Sounds difficult, and given the pervasive influence of moneyed interests in all facets of American politics, it will be a tough trick for Democrats to pull off, but at least they try to balance off a broad range of interests. Handing this over to the Republicans is a sure recipe for disaster.

  • Eric Levitz: [07-28] The 'AOC Left' has achieved plenty. Rejoinder to Freddie deBoer: [07-25] AOC is just a regular old Democrat now, a piece that I found too cloying to cite on its own.

  • Josh Marshall: [07-28] Age, the blue sky and that enduring question of 'is Joe Biden too old?' Of course he is. But it's not like with athletes, where losing a step off the dribble or a couple feet off the fastball can wipe you out. He needs to pace himself, surround himself with good people, get help when he needs it, and prepare to bow out if/when it gets to be too much. And if needed, there is a clear succession plan in place (which unfortunately involves a couple old-timers from Congress, but odds of getting to them are rather slim). Assuming Kamala Harris is his running mate again, it would be reassuring for her to step up, and for him to let her. But the underlying situation is that Democrats have decided not to risk another open primary in 2024. If they did, there would be a fight between left and corporate wings of the party, and Biden uniquely disarms that gap. The left has a lot of popular issues to run on, but the system (and not just the DNC) is rigged against them -- e.g., Bloomberg spent $500 million on a suicide mission just to keep Sanders from getting the nomination in 2020; this year No Labels is a ready-built stalking horse for the Bloomberg class -- and the risk of letting any Republican (much less Trump) back in so grave that few progressives are willing to risk backing anyone better than Biden. The age issue will fade in the general election, where Teams R & D will rally to their side. And if, perchance, Republicans wind up nominating someone younger than Trump, Biden can always roll out Reagan's disarming quip, that he "won't hold his opponent's inexperience against him."

The Supreme Court:

Climate and Environment:

  • Matthew Cappucci: [07-25] Violent storms tear through Europe with 'gargantuan' hail in Italy.

  • Judith Deutsch: [07-27] What is the 'cost' of climate change? My eyes quickly glaze over when I read pieces like this, where the point seems to be: incalculable but certainly much more than we can afford. But it raises many more questions, like what is the distribution of costs? And how much of those costs are actually charged to those responsible for them? The answer to the latter is certainly very little. While one can imagine schemes to bring the two closer in line, I'm doubtful that they can ever get even moderately close.

  • Laura López González: [07-25] What you need to know about killer humidity. Quotes Jeff Goodell, whose latest book is The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet: "A wet bulb temperature of 95 degrees -- which basically means both outdoor air temperature and humidity levels are high -- is the upper end of human adaptability to humid heat. Beyond that, our generates heat faster than it can dissipate it." You may be familiar with that wet bulb temperature (35°C) from Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, where it finally motivates a long list of reforms.

  • Umair Irfan: [07-26] What "record-breaking heat" actually means.

  • Pablo Manriquez: [07-27] 100 degree days, wildfires . . . to Congressional Republicans, nothing to see here.

  • Bill McKibben:

    • [07-11] Is it hot enough yet for politicians to take real action? Not really, but that's mostly because politicians can't take real action on something as big and independent as the climate or the economy. They can, at best, nudge it a bit. The question is whether they can recognize the need, and find something they can do that might lead to that nudge. As far as I can tell, there is one party that sees the problem, and for them, virtually every bit of news reinforces that view. And there's one party that doesn't see the problem at all, or if they admit to, don't see any possible solution. (See Manriquez above.) The next question is, when new people start to see the problem, will they also be willing to select the one party that takes the issue seriously?

    • [07-26] Heat waves and the sweep of history.

  • Alissa J Rubin: [07-29] A climate warning from the cradle of civilization: "Every schoolchild learns the name: Mesopotamia -- the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of civilization. Today, much of that land is turning to dust."

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols:

  • Dave DeCamp: [07-27] Ukraine's Parliament votes to extend martial law, pushing back elections: So Ukrainians, and by extension their supporters in the West, are fighting for democracy, but they can't have it until their present leaders have met their war aims?

  • Fred Kaplan: [07-27] Ukraine's new stategy against Russia: "Why Ukraine had to reboot its summer offensive." So it hasn't worked, but they're making adjustments, and both sides continue to inflict damage. Kaplan's conclusion: "the war remains, in some ways, what it has been almost from the beginning: a competition to see which side gives up first." Unfortunately, that conception only gives both sides reason to keep fighting.

  • Daniel Larison: [07-26] Did the US know the Ukraine offensive might fail, and if so, when? Some prominent Americans are still in denial: e.g., Democratic Senators Mark Kelly and Tammy Duckworth: [07-24] We've been on the front lines. We know what Ukraine needs. More and fancier weapons, of course. That piece in turn led me to David Axe: [02-20] Some of the best weapons in the world are now in Ukraine. They may change the war. They haven't, at least yet. Even if Ukraine, at considerable cost, manages to gain some ground back this summer, it's hard to see a military path to the "victory" they desire. And what about those "best weapons in the world"? They're not looking so hot -- more like what you should expect when the arms industry is in corrupt embrace with a military that has only tested their wares in places like Afghanistan and Somalia. "Refusing to negotiate with an adversary, whether out of pride or ideological hostility to diplomacy, is usually self-defeating."

  • Eve Sampson/Samuel Granados: [07-22] Ukraine is now the most mined country. It will take decades to make safe. Maybe the US should have signed that international treaty outlawing the use of mines, which would have put some pressure on Russia and Ukraine to conform. Same for cluster bombs. The "ordnance contamination" map reminds us that the problem isn't just mines. All kinds of shells and bombs can fail to explode, lying in wait for a future disturbance. "The sheer quantity of ordnance in Ukraine is just unprecedented in the last 30 years. There's nothing like it."

  • Katrina vanden Heuvel/James Carden: [07-28] When facts cut through the fog of war: "As the Ukraine counteroffensive grinds on, conditions on the ground are now too obvious to ignore. Is it time for talking, yet?" Of course. It's never not been time to talk. Just as it's always been obvious that no definition of victory could justify the costs war has exacted on both sides.


Around the world:

Other stories:

Dean Baker:

  • [07-25] Why we do this crap: Review of The Ends of Freedom, by Mark Paul. Not a new idea -- Baker cites Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King as predecessors -- but the argument here is that a bunch of basic economic needs should be provided as rights (work, housing, education, health care, basic income and banking, a healthy environment), wrapping up with a final chapter ("How Do We Pay for It?").

  • [07-21] The Chinese need to stay poor because the United States has done so much to destroy the planet: John Kerry went to China last week to scold them for not doing enough to limit greenhouse gases (see: China's Xi rebuffs Kerry's call for faster climate action), even though one may legitimately wonder what sort of example the US set during its period (now distantly remembered) of comparable economic growth. Although the Chinese economy has grown very fast in recent years, its per capita income is still way below the US, so it shouldn't surprise us that its political leaders feel the need to make up the difference. And in any case, China seems much more committed to reducing emissions than the US is -- what with the still-powerful Republicans actively sabotaging any effort the Biden administration makes. As Baker notes, "China is by far the world leader in wind energy, solar energy, and electric cars." He adds: "If we did want an opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, the United States could adopt a policy of making all the technology that is develops fully open-source, so that everyone in the world could take advantage of it, without concerns about patent monopolies or other protections."

Ben Burgis: [07-28] The Pentagon budget is obscene, even without the right-wing culture-war amendments. It's also untouchable politically, especially as Democrats have, for various reasons, become its biggest supporters.

  • Connor Echols: [06-26] Proposed military slush fund would risk new boondoggles.

  • Binoy Kampmark: [07-28] Dotty domains: The Pentagon's Mali typo leak affair.

  • Branko Marcetic: [07-29] NATO's expansion into Asia is the mother of bad ideas: Not a fine turn of phrase, but yes, a very bad idea. I could easily list five, maybe ten, instances where NATO would only make the situation worse. Taiwan is the big one, as it would shatter the "one China" fictions that seem to be so important to the Beijing regime. I'd also worry about the bad smell of Europe's former imperialists joining together to "protect" their favored "allies" in Asia and elsewhere.

  • George Will: [07-26] It's time to end the 'era of Great Distraction': I'm not suggesting you read him, but wanted to note that this is what they're calling the Global War on Terror these days: a Great Distraction that caused us to lose focus on the big threats we need to spend trillions preparing for war with: Russia and China. Ends with an ominous warning, so you'll know that he's serious: "Time will tell -- soon -- whether we have refocused too late."

John Ehrenreich: [07-30] The making of Robert F Kennedy Jr: A long, critical, but not totally unsympathetic review of the fringe presidential candidate's public life. (I went with the subtitle above; the actual published title suggests that someone at Slate is eager to throw both author and subject under the bus.)

Jonathan Guyer: [07-24] The dark -- and often misunderstood -- nuclear history behind Oppenheimer, explained by an expert: Christopher Nolan's new Oppenheimer movie, serendipitously paired with Barbie, produced a bunch of links last week. This interview with Alex Wellerstein, author of Restricted Data: The History of Nuclear Secrecy in the United States, adds substantially to the discussion. Turning to the present, he says: "If you disengage, then the only people who are really making decisions on this issue are going to be the people who have a lot to gain from it. And that's how you end up in a situation with arms races, when the military, Congress, and contractors are making a lot of the decisions."

  • Kai Bird: [07-17] The tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer: By the co-author of the book the movie is based on.

  • Aja Romano: [07-24] Barbieheimer: Destroyer of worlds, savior of cinema. Reminds me of an old Minutemen album, Project: Mersh, where the cover image is a bunch of marketing types sitting with coffee and charts, and one of them exclaims, "I got it! We'll have them write hit songs." After several years of doldrums, with big budgets going almost exclusively to superhero fantasies, it's like someone decided to roll the dice on making good films on topics people could take seriously. Sure, there have been some decent films the last few years, but I can't remember when two films like these were the industry's major product rollouts at the same time. Also see David Dayen: [07-28] Barbenheimer reveals the drastic choices of Hollywood executives: "The big opening weekend contrasts with everything the studios have been doing for the last couple of decades."

  • Ryu Spaeth: [07-25] Who are the Japanese in Oppenheimer? I was intrigued by the title, as I was surprised that there were any. After reading the article, my surmise was right, unless they dug up some documentary reels of devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But if the question is about the decision to kill so many people with such a "cruel" (Hirohito's word) weapon, we should entertain the question of just who we thought they were. It's hard for Americans now to appreciate how racist Americans then were regarding all Asians (though perhaps a bit less hard than it was in the years BT [Before Trump]). John Dower wrote about this in War Without Mercy.

  • Jonathan Stevenson: [07-28] Why 'Oppenheimer' matters: "The father of the atomic bomb still speaks to the danger of complacency."

  • Alissa Wilkinson: [07-27] The nuclear bomb's enduring, evolving place in pop culture.

Sarah Jones: [07-27] Walking out of the Dream Factory: Writers and actors are still on strike, as are many others.

Elias Khoury: [07-28] Anti-imperialism is both morally correct and absolutely necessary for the left.

Eric Levitz: [07-25] Why elite colleges do affirmative action for the rich. He means why elite colleges perpetuate the elite class system by favoring the rich -- especially through legacy admissions -- but the affirmative action programs that were just outlawed also existed to benefit the rich, because that's what elite colleges are all about. Related:

  • Fabiola Cineas: [07-25] Affirmative action for white college applicants is still here: I rather wish he wouldn't call it "affirmative action," which can be read as an attempt to score points by reassigning a deprecating term, like "corporate welfare" or "socialism for the rich." Most likely he just means it as irony, as Ira Katznelson did with his book title, When Affirmative Action Was White, which showed how many New Deal programs, including Social Security, were written to avoid benefiting blacks.

Carlos Lozada: [07-18] A look back at our future war with China: Lozada was book review editor at the Washington Post, since graduated to opinion writer at the New York Times, but he's still just digesting books. There are a lot of books on developing conflicts between the US and China, many assuming that superpower conflicts are inevitable and likely to blow up in war. The books he touches on here have titles like Destined for War, Danger Zone, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, and The Avoidable War. Also Party of One, whose loose cannon author argues that "Xi's China is brash but brittle, intrepid but insecure, . . . a would-be superpower in a hurry, eager to take on the world while wary of what may come."

Dylan Matthews: [07-28] How "windfall profits" from AI companies could fund a universal basic income: "Companies like OpenAI and Google could make unthinkable profits from successful AI. Will they share the wealth?" Silly question. Given his hypothetical, he probably means: "will we tax it from them?" Although the question too obvious to ask is: "why should we give it to them in the first place?" Such profits depend on monopoly pricing, and that is a grant the government gives to companies, for reasons that are increasingly difficult to explain let alone justify. The other point hardly anyone is making is that nearly all of the misuses we can envision for AI are tied to its commercial exploitation. There are lots of good reasons for slowing AI down, which is why lots of people are talking about regulations. But regulating AI monopolies is going to be incredibly difficult, both technically and politically. It would be much simpler to limit the money flow, which would allow us to make more judicious decisions on how we use it.

Note that I'm not arguing against the author's "global UBI" proposals. They have some merits, but aren't dependent on this particular tax stream.

  • Alexander C Karp: [07-25] Our Oppenheimer moment: The creation of AI weapons. CEO of defense contractor Palantir Technologies, so he's selling, but mostly he's worried that engineers might grow a conscience, as Oppenheimer did (belatedly, maybe). "The preoccupations and political instincts of coastal elites may be essential to maintaining their sense of self and cultural superiority but do little to advance the interests of our republic." On the other hand, putting nukes on autopilot . . .

  • Sara Morrison: [07-27] The tricky truth about how generative AI uses your data.

Rani Molla: [07-25] A UPS strike would have been worse than you think. I'm pleased to see this strike not happening. Of course, my sympathies would have been with the union members had they struck, as I am with all unions, almost all of the time. But I'm a bit worried that a rash of strikes could provoke a backlash, as happened in 1946, leading to a Republican Congress passing Taft-Hartley (with enough racist Democratic support to override Truman's veto; unfortunately, Truman spent a lot of his time leading up to 1946 badmouthing strikers, who had spent WWII under wage controls while defense contractors were guaranteed cost-plus-10% profits).

Sara Morrison: [07-24] Welcome to X, the wannabe "super app" formerly known as Twitter. It's not only hard to imagine Musk's "super app" taking off, it's hard to comprehend what kind of ego could think it has a chance. One of the core problems of capitalism is that people don't have enough money to satisfy all the people who want to take it away. Back when Microsoft was top dog, they spoke of a "vig," which is a piece of all the commerce on the internet, much like what you'd pay your local mafiosi for protection. That didn't go over well, then other companies came along, each with its own angle to take a cut.

Musk faces two big problems. One is "first mover advantage," which is the tendency of first entrants to dominate the markets they open up. This is especially true where network effects are critically important: Google, Facebook, Twitter, and many others became unstoppable once they gained enough users that their networks became their strongest selling points. (And mostly they did this by offering services for free, a point Musk doesn't seem to understand.) The other is coming up with a new angle that's so incredibly attractive that people will sell their souls and worldly possessions to get in on it. After 25 years of fevered competition, how many great, and exploitable, ideas are left? Facebook thought they had one in VR, but how's that worked out? And everybody's hot for AI, but that's many different things to various people -- many of them mere productivity enhancements, to be bundled into other products and services.


Nicole Narea: [07-26] What the new Fed interest rate hike might mean for the economy: For starters, it shows that Powell's still willing to give recession a chance? Related:

Claire Potter: [06-28] The right's campus culture war machine: "How conservatives built a formidable network for ginning up scandal in higher education." Review of Amy J Binder/Jeffrey L Kidder: The Channels of Student Activism: How the Left and Right Are Winning (and Losing) in Campus Politics Today, and Bradford Vivian: Campus Misinformation: The Real Threat to Free Speech in American Higher Education. One difference is that left student politics is spontaneous and local, whereas right organizes students for broader political purposes. As the pull quote puts it: "Conservatives are playing a long game that treats youth as junior partners in a larger political enterprise. They pay students more and invest heavily." A couple more quotes:

But what both books show is that the right is better positioned to take advantage of the scandals -- some provoked and others resulting from poor decisions -- that do erupt. National student organizations are better at channeling students with conservative leanings into professional activism aimed at creating bad press for higher education. Right-wing media is so effective at seizing on and amplifying controversies, making sure that the distortions that proliferate on social media become the focus of higher education coverage, that mainstream news organizations are often just covering the coverage rather than investigating events. The networks that sustain the campus culture wars are not only powerful and well-financed; they operate far beyond campus. . . .

As it turns out, however, conservatives are much better than liberals at recruiting and training students. Conservatives have "managed to build an elaborate, well-funded organizational space," Binder and Kidder write, "that galvanizes young supporters and grooms future leaders by pulling them outside the confines of campus" and into paid work that sets them up for postgraduation careers as movement conservatives.

Nia Prater: [07-24] Can last-ditch lawsuits kill congestion pricing in New York? I really hope so. I don't feel up to the full rant now, but I really hate the whole idea. (And to the extent that it is championed by liberals I fear it will be a political disaster, not unlike the 55 mph speed limit. On the other hand, I wouldn't be terribly opposed to the idea that Paul Goodman proposed in 1949: banning all cars from Manhattan.) For what it's worth:

  • Paul Krugman defends the congestion pricing plan here: [07-24] An act of vehicular NIMBYism. I'm not convinced. For the case he's talking about, you could simply raise the existing toll, without having to do whatever they're planning on doing to collect and police the tax. If you carry this logic to extremes, everybody's car will have to be tracked everywhere, and everyone will eventually get billed for the congestion they cause. The effect is to turn every road into a toll road. There's a simpler way to tax people for road use, which is to tax gasoline, as we've done forever (but evidently it's more agreeable to levy phantom tolls than to raise the gas tax; there's also another whole scheme to tax miles instead of gas, arguing that only taxing gas would give electric cars a free ride -- why don't we just consider that a feature?).

It's no accident that the vogue for solving policy problems with economic cost-benefit solutions began when inequality started kicking off. Any time you make something depend on the ability to pay, you drive inequality upward. There may be cases where that's easier than other solutions, but as a general rule, it not only favors the rich, it drives people to become rich, by penalizing people who aren't. It also undermines the idea that government should provide free services. And if services for some reason have to be rationed for some reason, it makes their distribution unfair.

Andrew Prokop: {07-26] The drama over Hunter Biden's plea deal, explained. The judge threw Republicans in Congress a lifeline to continue their harping on the president's troubled son. Jonathan Chait [07-28] argues that The Democrats can't wave away their Hunter Biden problem, but why not? It's just noise coming from Republicans who have nothing better to rant about. It's not part of the value proposition to be decided in the 2024 elections. Hunter Biden is hardly the only presidential scion to trade on his family name while getting into drugs and other sleaziness. Consider George W Bush, who is arguably worse because he got into politics after he supposedly cleaned up. (You might say his past related to his character, and there's something to that, but it was really Dick Cheney's character that should have bothered us.) What's unique about Hunter Biden is that he's being prosecuted for infractions that would barely have warranted a wrist slap for anyone else (ok, at least for any wealthy, competently-lawyered white male). Of course, by all means, feel free to tackle such sleaze in general (which includes certain Supreme Court justices).

Jeffrey St Clair: [07-28] Roaming Charges: Fighting our real enemies. Starts with stories about the late Sinéad O'Connor. I don't have any, and barely remember her music, but they make for better reading than her obituary (or this one). He also reprinted her 2013 piece: It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.

PS: I took a break from the above to read Phillip Maciak: [07-28] Behind the rage of Raylan Givens, on the TV series Justified: City Primeval (we've watched three episodes so far). The essay touches on race privilege, the sketchy relationship between policing and justice, and the deep anger of machismo, but it's also fiction, and entertainment (a lot of both).

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Speaking of Which

I saw a headline in the Wichita Eagle on Friday -- the article was unsigned but attributed to Las Vegas Review-Journal -- that puzzled me: "Bidenomics is just tired liberalism on steroids." So what is it they're trying to say? It's rejuvenated liberalism? Maybe they want it banned for doping? The phrase "on steroids" has largely lost its literal meaning, in favor of "much larger, stronger, or more extreme than is normal or expected." So at the very least it should cancel out "tired," leaving us with "Bidenomics is just liberalism." That may be the author's complaint, but why is that such a bad thing?

Trump waxes nostalgically about "make America great again," but the closest America ever came to something resembling conventional notions of greatness was the period during and after WWII, when liberalism was most pervasive and hegemonic. In many ways, the original MAGA movement was Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, but unlike Trump, Johnson had no desire for nostalgia. His signature program meant to extend New Deal progressivism to all Americans.

Johnson isn't remembered especially well today because he blew so much political capital on the Vietnam War. One lesson we should draw is that it's always a mistake to assume military might is some kind of measure of greatness. Liberals made that mistake in WWII, partly because the enemies were so abhorrent, and partly because the war effort was led by one of their own (brilliantly, I might add). Vietnam started to divide liberals, but I'm old enough to remember when most were staunchly on board, and I've never really forgiven them for that war -- or for allowing themselves to be duped into thinking that communism was such a threat to freedom that they should kill or punish anyone tempted to think otherwise, or for becoming the unwitting victims of their own witch hunts.

Since the 1970s "liberal" has become little more than an epithet, thanks mostly to the relentless slanders of the right -- "tired" is just one of the milder ones, leaving us with this puzzle: if liberalism is so tired, how can it be such a threat?

Top story threads:

Trump, DeSantis, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

The Supreme Court:

  • Ian Millhiser: [07-17] How the Supreme Court put itself in charge of the executive branch: "The major questions doctrine, explained."

  • Walter Shapiro: [07-19] Sonia Sotamayor's book scandal is banal and troubling: "The Supreme Court justice's buckraking hardly compares to that of her conservative coleagues. But it still says a lot about how much Washington has changed." Well, it says two things: one is that no one in America thinks they're making enough money, even with a cushy lifetime job and pension; the other is that when other Justices are mired in scandals showing them to be truly corrupt, any innocuous bit of buckraking looks suspect.

  • Stephen Siegel: [07-21] Clarence Thomas's cherry-picked originalism on affirmative action: "Originalism" originally meant whatever Antonin Scalia wanted it to mean, because only he claimed unique, divine, infallable insight into the minds of the crafters of the Constitution. Since his death, other conservatives have stepped up as originalism's self-appointed oracles, no less dishonestly than Scalia.

Climate and Environment:

Ukraine War: The great "counteroffensive" has been going for more than a month now, but the New York Times hasn't changed its maps page since July 9.

Around the world:

Other stories:

David Byler: [07-17] 5 myths about politics, busted by data: Or proven, depending on how you read the data:

  1. Democrats aren't young. Both parties are old. Their breakdown has 30% of Democrats 65+, 28% 50-64, 29% 30-49, and 14% 18-29. But the older cohorts lean Republican (+7 and +5), and the younger ones favor Democrats (+8 and +5). They don't give you the median, but the median Democrat is 5-8 years younger than the median Republican.
  2. Republicans aren't rural. Democrats aren't urban. Both are mostly suburban (57-53, edge Democrats), but as they note, "Democrats fare best in neighborhoods that are close to the city center, while Republicans thrive in exurbs and small metros." As for the rest, the urban split is 27-11 Democrats, the rural 36-16 Republicans.
  3. Religious Democrats and secular Republicans are both common. The secular ("unaffiliated," a somewhat broader category) split is 39-14 Democrats, with Republicans leading 59-33 among Protestants and 21-17 with Catholics ("other" splits 10-6 Democrats). But they also note that the number of Republicans who seldom or never attend church has shot up from 30-42% (time frame unclear), so while Republicans are more likely to identify as Christian, they may be less than committed.
  4. Both parties rely on White college graduates -- not just Democrats. Democrats have an edge among "white, college educated" of 37-31%, which is surely higher than it was even 10-20 years ago, maybe a reversal, as Republicans have had a big advantage there.
  5. The Hispanic vote is not the GOP's only route to victory. I don't really get this point: "Republicans could very well win in 2024 by building on recent gains with the White working-class and Asian American voters, regaining recently lost college-educated suburbanites or finally making inroads with Black voters." Really? Based on what policy mix?

I see lessons here for Democrats, in that they need to hold onto and expand their substantial share of mainstream voters, especially ones free enough of Republican prejudice as to still have options. Of course, it's also important to keep the groups Republicans offer no joy to, which means offering tangible benefits, and not just taking them for granted. (Failure there may not translate to Republican votes, but to non-voting.) But I also don't put much stock in multisectoral statistical breakdowns and their attendant identity politics

As for Republicans, they're already performing way above where they should be if voters were rational and voted their best interests. How they improve on that is hard to imagine. They're certainly not going to change course, at least as long as the current one seems to give them a chance to squeeze through on some technicality. Their only real hope is that Democrats discredit themselves -- a card they've been playing, with diminishing returns, since the check kiting scandal of 1993.

Robert Crawford: [07-20] How media makes impact of U S forever wars invisible: Review of Norman Solomon: War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of its Military Machine. An excerpt from this book is here: The convenient myth of "humane" wars. There's also an interview with Solomon: [06-23] How America's wars become 'invisible'.

Tyler Austin Harper: [07-19] 'Barbie' and 'Oppenheimer' tell the same terrifying story: Author ties them both to the search for the Anthropocene boundary stratigraphy. Nuclear fallout is one obvious marker, as it was non-existent before the Trinity test in 1945 and the subsequent annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, only to be followed by hundreds of further atmospheric tests (528, according to Arms Control Association, with 215 by US and 219 by USSR, 50 by France, 23 China, and 21 UK). But another marker would be to look for buried plastics, which are if anything more ubiquitous. The coincident release of two movies exploring such geologically important shifts is unlikely enough that some people have turned it into a thing. And many are writing on one, the other, or both. I should note that I haven't seen either movie, and I'm not likely to soon -- we just don't do that anymore, but I also gather that the formerly pretty good Warren Theatres we once had here have turned into rat traps under soon-to-be-bankrupt Regal.

Idrees Kahloon: [06-05] Economists love immigration. Why do so many Americans hate it? Well, economists think growth can be infinite. More practical souls ask: where are you going to put it all?

Dylan Matthews: [07-17] The $1 billion gamble to ensure AI doesn't destroy humanity: "The founders of Anthropic quit Open AI to make a safe AI company. It's easier said than done."

Matt McManus/Nathan J Robinson: [07-21] Are we in the grip of an 'American cultural revolution'? Christopher Rufo thinks it's already happened, but he's belatedly fighting back in his book: America's Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything. Sounds like good news, at least until I read the fine print:

The "revolution," in Rufo's telling, is comprised of -- wait for it -- diversity programs at colleges, Black Studies departments, protests against police brutality, and corporations that tweeted pro-BLM platitudes in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing. His evidence for dangerous revolutionary changes in our society consists of things like the appearance of the term "institutionalized racism" in the newspaper.

Since "the radical left conquered everything," you might wonder if Rufo is smuggling his missives from jail or some cave, but he's actually been appointed by Ron DeSantis to the board of trustees of New College. I know Robinson's made it his life's worth to debunk the so-called thinkers of the right, but why bother with one this hallucinatory?

Jeffrey St Clair: [07-21] Roaming Charges: Political crying games. He starts with the Congressional smackdown of Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) for identifying Israel as "a racist state" -- a reaction so shrill Jayapal wound up voting for a Resolution proclaiming that Israel is "not racist or an apartheid state" and that "the United States will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel." No doubt such eternal fealty will be tried repeatedly as Israel's state lurches farther and farther to the right.

St Clair offers two quotes, one from Prime Minister Netanyahu ("Israel is not a state of all its citizens but rather, the nation state of the Jewish people and only them") and former PM Ehud Barak ("who says that the current government is 'determined to degrade Israel into a corrupt and racist dictatorship that will crumble society'"). When it does, bank on Congress to pass another near-unanimous Resolution reassuring Israel of America's eternal submission. Israel is no longer an ally. America has become its vassal.

The only argument I can imagine against Israel being a racist state is to question whether Jews are a race. While that has been a common claim in the past, it makes no sense to regard Jews as a race in America or Europe. However, in Europe, government-issued identity cards specify who is a Jew, and who is not, with the latter group subject to further distinctions. And those cards determine the rights you have, and how you are treated by the state, and probably how you are treated by many other organizations. Maybe there's a fancier word for that system, like ethnocracy, but if you're an American, that system sure sounds like racism. And if you know anything about South Africa, you'll probably see affinities to their since-abandoned system of Apartheid.

St Clair also mentions on RFK Jr's attack on Biden for "threatening Israel with ending of the special relationship between our two nations," and his pledge, "As President, my support of Israel will be unconditional." And he quotes Nikki Haley: "The U.S.-Israel alliance is unbreakable because Israel's values are American values." I've long felt that American neocons were jealous of Israel's freedom to bomb their neighbors (and their own people; I'd say "citizens" but they aren't recognized as such) with no fear of repercussions, but I'm not sure most Americans actually share those values. Which ones they do share are hard to pin down, especially given that the most vehemently pro-Israeli Americans are hoping for a rapture which will, or so they believe, consign all Jews to hell. But if you're pro-Israel enough, you never have to worry about being tagged as anti-semitic. (Just consider RFK Jr.)

St Clair also includes more than you want to know about Jason Aldean's "Try That in a Small Town," including a contrast to the late Tony Bennett, whose experiences in small town America included the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march.

More links related to the above:

PS: While American politicians are tripping all over themselves to swear allegiance to Israel, note that American elites are starting to have second thoughts:

Tweet from No Lie with Brian Tyler Cohen:

Marjorie Taylor Greene warns Joe Biden is trying to "finish what FDR started" by trying to address problems related to "rural poverty," "education," and "medical care." She warns it's similar to when LBJ passed "Medicare and Medicaid."

The White House responded:

Caught us. President Biden is working to make life easier for hardworking families.

This may prove to be the silver lining in the right-wing bubble: that they can no longer hear themselves when they say things that are incredibly unpopular.

Biden also responded by using Greene as narrator for a 30-second political ad.

I've been reading Peter Turchin's End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration, which is a comparative history of several millenia of revolution and civil wars, attempting to glean some quasi-scientific insight into the evident disintegration all around us. Thumbnail histories going back as far as Nero's Rome are always interesting, but his conceptual framework is rather oddly framed if not plainly wrong. He sees two forces that drive societies to the brink of disintegration. Mass immiseration is widely recognized as one. But his main one is what he calls "elite-overproduction," by which he a fractious rivalry between multiple aspirants ("elites," if you must, but limiting that term to the political arena). Whether this is caused by too many elites or simply by weak governing structures is less clear. If sheer numbers of princes were the problem, you'd expect Saudi Arabia to be the most fractious country in the world today, which it plainly isn't.

Given the key concern of immiseration, and his identification of a "wealth pump" driving it, much of Turchin's current political analysis is quite reasonable. But then I ran across this (pp. 219-220):

The Democratic Party has controlled its populist wing and is now the party of the 10 percent and of the 1 percent. But the 1 percent is losing its traditional political vehicle, the Republican Party, which is being taken over by the populist wing. Tucker Carlson, rather than Donald Trump, may be a seed crystal around which a new radical party forms. Or another figure could suddenly arise -- chaotic times favor the rise (and often rapid demise) of new leaders. Earlier I argued that a revolution cannot succeed without large-scale organization. The right-wing populists intend to use the GOP as an already existing organization to group power. An added advantage is that control of one of the main parties offers them a non-violent legal route to power.

Two fairly staggering problems here: if the Democrats are the party of the 1%, how come most known one-percenters are big Republican donors? And how come Republicans campaign for them -- especially with tax cuts, deregulation, and anti-labor measures -- so shamelessly? Given this, it's especially bizarre to paint the Republicans as opposed to plutocracy. Sure, they pander to prejudices and exploit the fears of some people who have not fared well under plutocracy, but where are their programs to shut down the "wealth pump" and offer help to reduce immiseration?

It is true that some of the very rich hobnob with Democrats, that many Democrats are very solicitous of their support, and that Democrats like Clinton and Obama have rewarded such benefactors handsomely -- including doing very little to slow down the wealth pump. Some rich Democrats may see the need for sensible reforms -- Franklin Roosevelt was called "a traitor to his class," but his New Deal did much more than just rescue the poor from the Great Depression: it also saved the banking system, rebuilt industry, and built a large amount of infrastructure, which led to the post-WWII boom. Some may simply be thinking about how much damage dysfunctional Republican ideas could do. And some may simply regard the Democrats as offering better service for their interests.

Turchin's fascination with Tucker Carlson may be excused as he wrote this book before Fox fired him. Still, I have to think that part of Turchin's confusion lies in his overly broad notion of elites, which at various times he divides into economic and credentialed classes. The Democrats have made gains among the latter, mostly because the Republicans have turned savagely against education and expertise, especially science. Still, characterizing this latter-day know-nothingism as "counterelite" conflict ignores who's really in charge, functioning mainly to deflect blame where it is due.

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Sunday, July 16, 2023

Speaking of Which

Too late for an introduction.

Top story threads:

Trump, DeSantis, and other Republicans: Seems like a relatively tame week for evil, but there are always examples.

Biden and/or the Democrats: Necessarily a grab bag, but we're probably stuck with it.

  • Eric Levitz: He's one of the better writers at New York Magazine, but I find a lot to quibble with this week:

    • [07-11] Biden's unpopularity is more mysterious than it looks. Returns to the subject of his previous piece: [07-06] It makes sense that Bidenomics is unpopular (so far), admitting that "the unpopularity of both Biden and his economy are stranger than I'd previously allowed." I find both arguments unconvincing, but I'm not sure I got them right. One problem is that lots of things are only explicable with statistics, but they don't carry the same weight as experience. And even experience is subject to interpretation. By all objective measures, the 1980s were a great decade for me, but I didn't credit Reagan with any of that, and in fact I blamed him for a lot of problems that hadn't really materialized yet, but which seemed all but inevitable given his policies. If you expect the economy to go to hell when a Democrat or Republican takes over, it isn't hard to find evidence that you're right -- especially given that both have primarily given us more inequality.

    • [07-08] The 'greedflation' debate is deeply confused: Sure, he scores easy points against straw men or hacks -- Robert Reich is an example -- not least by pointing out cases where profits all but automatically rise when external events impact supply. (If you're as old as I am, you may remember the "windfall profits tax" passed in 1973, when OPEC forced oil prices way up, inadvertently making American oil men suddenly much richer.) On the other hand, I don't buy the argument that monopoly couldn't be raising prices now because if it existed, it would have raised prices previously. There are lots of reasons for monopolists not to fully exploit their power the moment they get it, but to do so when others give them cover for rising prices (as well as the incentive kick of raising costs). But also, "greedflation" provides an alternative to the cruel notion that inflation should be fought by taking away people's jobs.

    • [07-12] The case for Cornel West 2024 is extremely weak. But the case would be stronger if Levitz hadn't made a wrong turn in his first sentence: Cornel West recently decided that the best way for him to advance economic and social justice in the United States . . . thereby marginally increasing the odds of a second Trump presidency." I'm not interested in debating the last part, which as Levitz admits is a very marginal concern. The mistake is in thinking that West's campaign is only about "economic and social justice," and only in the US. If that's all that's at dispute, I'd happily concede that Biden is already making progress in that direction, and that West, no matter how much more he wants to achieve, isn't likely to do much better. If that's all he wants, he, like Bernie Sanders, would be better off working with Biden. But West has another major plank in his campaign, one that is diametrically opposed to both Republican and Democratic leaders, and that is foreign policy, and the almost certainty that current policies will lead to more wars that will eventually prove disastrous both for America and for the world. [E.g., see this interview; also another interview by Chris Hedges.] Not many people understand that, but that's all the more reason for West to stand up and argue the case. My biggest worry for 2024 is that some Biden miscalculation will throw us into a war, that will trigger a rebound for Trump, who is already arguing that only he can save us from world war. The rest of the article consists of minor arguments with a pro-West piece by Lily Sánchez, which pale in importance to this issue.

    • [07-13] A new order blocking Manchin's pipeline could hurt the climate: "Restricting Congress's authority to exempt energy projects from judicial review would undermine the green transition."

    • [07-15] Can extremely reflective white paint save the planet? If anyone does come up with a plausible geoengineering scheme for cooling the atmosphere, Democrats (in particular) will happily throw a lot of money at it. This is an example of a small hack that's unlikely to scale significantly, but at least it involves spending more to avoid simply cutting back on energy use -- one solution that no one serious considers plausible.

  • Nicole Narea: [07-14] Biden's new plan to forgive $39 billion in student loans, explained: "More than 800,000 borrowers are now eligible for student loan forgiveness." Something else for Republicans to try to ruin.

  • John Nichols: [07-14] Jesse Jackson's politics of peace: "His 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns called for ending military interventions, supported disarmament, and sought deep cuts in Pentagon spending." Not even Bernie Sanders has done that since, which is more evidence of how deeply rutted our thinking is on the military. I've long thought that Jackson would have won the Democratic Party nomination had he run in 1992, but he didn't, to avoid blame for losing a second term to GWH Bush. I also thought that Clinton owed him big time for not making the run, and I expected some kind of payoff for the favor, but never noticed one.

  • Timothy Noah: [07-12] You'll be very surprised who's benefiting most from Bidenomics: Not really. "Red states, not blue ones, are seeing the biggest income gains." Isn't it always like that? Poor states vote Republican, and better off states bail them out.

Climate and Environment:

Ukraine War: Conspicuous by absence is any news on how well Ukraine's "counteroffensive" is going, which suggests it isn't. On the other hand, NATO met, and continues to rack up milestones, which as usual mostly involve arms sales. Wake me when we see some diplomacy, because once again nothing else matters. The Gessen piece is historical, stuff you should know. It doesn't mean that Putin's invasion was in any way justifiable, or that sending arms to help Ukraine fend off that invasion is bad policy, but understanding America's deep culpability for the conflict would go a long way toward negotiating a way out of it. Conversely, not recognizing how this all went wrong prevents us from understanding the chief lessons of this war: that deterrence and sanctions are more likely to provoke war than to prevent it; and that not just the combatants but the world cannot afford for wars like this to go on and on.

Around the world: But mostly Israel, again.

Other stories:

Kai Bird: [07-07] Oppenheimer, nullified and vindicated: Co-author of the biography, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Bird explains the campaign to get the federal government to admit that they erred in 1954 in revoking Oppenheimer's security clearance, thus excluding the director of the Manhattan Project from any further role in atomic weapons planning. The vindication didn't come until December 18, 2022, and serves as another example of something Biden's administration has done that Obama's was too chickenshit to venture. I will quibble with the assertion that Oppenheimer was "the chief celebrity victim of the national trauma known as McCarthyism." Sure, he was the bigger celebrity, but the execution of the Rosenbergs was a graver miscarriage of justice. But Oppenheimer is a clearer example of how McCarthyism worked: it meant that anyone with a vaguely leftist past could be crucified as a traitor, and hardly anyone would dare come to their defense -- especially liberals who could themselves be tarred as "fellow travelers."

Jonathan Chait: [07-11] In defense of independent opinion journalism: "The 'hack gap' between right and left has been closing." I'm not convinced. I won't deny that there are hacks on the left, but they differ significantly from hacks on the right. For one thing, they're not all aligned against their partisan enemies. Take Chait, for instance, who only seems truly happy when he's attacking people to his left -- a considerable number, given his support for the Iraq war, his pimping for charter schools, and his "Why Liberals Should Support a Trump Republican Nomination." But even when leftists slip into hackdom, they still start with commitments to truth and justice that are utterly alien to the right. Then, by the way, there is the deeper problem of objectivity, which is impossible, making it a claim one should always be suspicious of.

Bob Harris/Jon Schwarz: [07-04] Carl Reiner's life should remind us: If you like laughing, thank FDR and the New Deal: "Their comedy descends directly from the Works Progress Administration." The WPA did a world of good for America, but much of what they did, especially in the arts, would be considered too frivolous, and in many cases too controversial, for "taxpayer" funding these days. Until that attitude changes, we're stuck with a government distinguished mostly by misery: how miserable its workers feel, and how miserable they make the rest of us.

Noasm Hassenfeld: [07-16] Even the scientists who build AI can't tell you how it works: Interview with Sam Bowman.

Oshan Jarow: [07-14] Poverty is a major public health crisis. Let's treat it like one. You'd think that such an argument would make people more inclined to support anti-poverty measures, but Republicans have aligned themselves pretty firmly against public health (or at least doing anything about it).

Jess Lander: [07-13] What led to Anchor Brewing's downfall? Sapporo, some workers say. America's oldest craft brewer is going out of business, supposedly a victim of Covid or maybe bad marketing, but I'm suspicious of two ownership changes: in 2010, owner Fritz Maytag, who had rescued the brewery after prohibition, sold to Griffin Group ("a local beverage consulting company," which smells a lot like private equity even if they're not a big name), and in 2017 Griffin pawned the carcass on to giant Japanese brewer Sapporo. It's easy enough to say that the latter didn't understand American craft brewers, and to illustrate this with various marketing blunders, but the deeper truth is that they simply didn't care, especially after the workforce unionized in 2019. After all, it's not unusual for big companies to buy up small ones only to shutter them, leaving the larger company with one fewer competitor (even if, as in this case, one that barely mattered).

Back when I worked for a high-tech startup, where most employees owned a small sliver of stock, I concluded that the world would be much better if employees owned a controlling share of stock, thus resolving conflict with management. (Unions, valuable as they are as a balance against management power, usually increase conflict, especially when they lack legal rights, as is often the case in the US; on the other hand, in Germany, where "co-determination" gives workers a stake in management, unions align more closely with management.) I'd like to see many policies that help facilitate employee ownership. One of the most obvious ones would be to allow employees to claim defunct businesses, wiping out the company's previous debt obligations, and providing funding for a fresh start. I have no doubt that a company like Anchor could be revived, if handed over to workers who care about the product and the customers, and about their own jobs.

Shira Ovide: [07-14] We must end the tyranny of printers in American life: "Printers cannot be reformed. They must be destroyed, once and for all." I had to include this because my latest printer purchase, a HP OfficeJet Pro 9010, is the biggest purchasing mistake I've ever made. They insisted that I use a wireless connection, and while it is recognized by my Linux computers, I'm not able to send any jobs from them to be printed. (At one point, this worked, but even then scans couldn't be uploaded, at least not using sane.) One main reason for the wireless connection is the need to reorder ink as part of a subscription program that was originally offered for $2.99/month, then immediately raised to $4.99/month. Of course, they haven't sent me any ink, because I haven't been able to print. I've owned several HP printers going back to their LaserJet II in the 1980s, but they've never pulled anything like this before. At last, as Ovide will be happy to hear, I'm learning to live without printing. Now I need to figure out how to stop paying for nothing.

Kelsey Piper: [07-12] Stop looking to Mother Nature for answers to resource questions: "The silly way we think about resource scarcity." Followed, sad to say, by an equally silly answer. While it's true that we haven't discovered every earthly resource we might eventually manage to exploit, that's mostly because people keep assuming that only very short terms matter: a "50 year" phosphorus find may be a big deal for 50 years, but 50 years is a pretty short time frame.

Sigal Samuel: [07-11] Scientists unveil the key site that shows we're in a new climate epoch: Title has it backwards: some scientists decided we are in a new climate epoch, then looked for a geologic site that could be used as a marker between the old Holocene epoch and the new Anthropocene. They found one, but it's not based on climate change. Rather, what it marks is the appearance of fallout from nuclear bombs testing, which increased significantly around 1950. On the other hand, human impact on the geostratigraphic record goes back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, eventually becoming dramatic enough to justify the term Anthropocene (much like the Cambrian is sometimes called the age of trilobites).

Jeffrey St Clair: [07-14] Roaming Charges: Clusterfuck in Vilnius. He's in a bad mood, starting with cluster bombs for Ukraine.

Two subjects I didn't want to say anything about are No Labels and RFK Jr. -- among other things, do I file them under Republicans, who they effectively work for, or Democrats? -- but if you want some well-reasoned analysis, turn to No More Mister Nice Blog:

An old piece I ran across, still worth mentioning:

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