Speaking of* [0 - 9]

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Speaking of Which

I spent some time today crafting a Q&A on "two fundamental flaws in your thinking" about Hamas, Palestine, and Israel. It draws on my comment to the De Luca/Cavazuti piece on Hamas, below. There is, of course, zero chance that Biden's going to tell Netanyahu: hey, maybe Hamas has a point after all, so let's talk about it a bit, before we get too carried away with this war thing.

Like I said, zero chance. Which leads me to ask an even deeper question: what's the use of having all this wealth and power if it just locks you into doing senseless things that are stupid and cruel? I can see where Hamas might use their power to do something so self-destructive, because they don't have enough power to get noticed otherwise. But Israel and the United States have so much wealth and power, they could actually put it to some good, and people would love it. Instead, they just blow things up and kill and starve people. And maybe they wonder a bit why so many people despise them, but not so much really, because no one else has the power (or the death wish) to stop them.

Top story threads:

Israel: The "pause" for exchanging prisoners (aka hostages) ended on Friday, with Israel immediately resuming its bombardment of Gaza. The number of Palestinians confirmed killed and the number of displaced passed the total levels of the 1948-50 war (aka Nakba) -- although the displaced are still locked in besieged Gaza, instead of scattered in the exile Israel is working so hard to promote. The euphemism "ethnic cleansing" has become a common term for the forced expulsion of people from their homes (in Gaza, many of which were already refugee encampments, set up as temporary during the 1948-50 war). But the more formal legal term is "genocide," which is still the most accurate description of the war Israel is waging, and of the professed intentions behind this war. The whole world should find this alarming, especially those in the democracies that have long given Israel their support, even in its project to turn a haven for oppressed Jews into a fortress of ethnic supremacy.

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:

Henry Kissinger: He died, a nice round 100 years old, elites sucking up to him to the very end. Which raises the question: who is the new worst person in the world? (Here's a reddit thread, which still needs some work -- although I'd keep Murdoch and Netanyahu for the short list, maybe Putin too. More fun is who Kissinger succeeded? If not his partner-in-crime, Nixon, I'd nominate Winston Churchill, who exceeded Kissinger not only in the amount of damage he caused, but also in the amount of praise -- if not necessarily money -- he collected along the way. One difference was that people kept forgetting Churchill's disasters, allowing him more chances, whereas Kissinger's crimes were studiously documented (as will be evident below), even though people in power never seemed to care.

Other stories:

Tim Alberta: [12-01] The bogus historians who teach evangelicals they live in a theocracy: "A new book on the Christian right reveals how a series of unscrupulous leaders turned politics in to a powerful and lucrative gospel." That would be Alberta's own book: The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism.

Jeremy Barr: [11-30] MSNBC draws backlash for canceling Mehdi Hasan show. Also:

Ryan Cooper:

Chas Danner/Nia Prater: [12-01] George Santos has been expelled from Congress: Live updates. The House vote was 311-114: Democrats voted 206-2 (2 present) to expel; Republicans 112-105 to not expel. The measure required a two-thirds supermajority (282 votes). Five Republicans (including Kevin McCarthy) and three Democrats (including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) did not vote.

Silvia Foster-Frau/N Kirkpatrick/Arelia R Hernández: [11-16] Terror on Repeat: "A rare look at the devastation caused by AR-15 shootings."

Penelope Green: [11-30] Larry Fink, whose photographs were 'political, not polemical,' dies at 82. I noted Larry's death last week, and complained that the New York Times didn't have an obituary up. (When his sister, Elizabeth Fink, died a few years back, her obituary appeared, at least briefly, above that of Yogi Berra.) Here it is, complete with a nice selection of his photographs ("the chilly anomie of Manhattan's haute monde, the strangeness of Hollywood royalty and the lively warmth of rural America").

Jeet Heer: [11-26] Garry Wills and the real Kennedy curse: Unfortunately, this is a 1:43:30 podcast with no transcript, so I can't imagine myself slogging through it, but I want to at least note that my interest was piqued by "our shared love for Garry Wills's The Kennedy Imprisonment, a revelatory book about not just the Kennedy family but also the nature of 'great man politics.'" I've read a number of Wills's books, starting (long ago) with Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man, which at the time I saw as a brilliant dissection.

Anita Jain: [12-01] How Franklin Roosevelt tamed Wall Street: Review of Diana B Henriques: Taming the Street: The Old Guard, the New Deal, and FDR's Fight to Regulate American Capitalism. Over the course of American history, there have been few cases where presidential leadership actually meant something, but the most brilliant of all was Roosevelt's handling of the banking panic in the first weeks of his administration. He ordered a "banking holiday" to stop the withdrawals, and addressed the nation via radio, where he explained in authoritative detail how banking worked, why it was vulnerable to panics, and how they can be avoided with a little patience. When he reopened the banks, the panic had subsided, but he still moved quickly to pass a new law to make sure such panics wouldn't happen again (as they had regularly throughout American history). This law was the Carter-Glass Act, which worked brilliantly -- especially federal deposit insurance -- for 65 years, until Citibank got the Republican Congress and Clinton to repeal it, a mere ten years before the biggest banking crisis since 1933. This was the cornerstone of Roosevelt's famous "100 days," which remains the "gold standard" for what Democratic government can do with a large majority in Congress and business back on their heels. (And yes, one of the most important things they did was get rid of the gold standard, which had become a dead weight on the world economy.)

A good book to read on this is Adam Cohen: Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America. As someone who was born in 1950, I grew up with little sense of what Roosevelt accomplished, even though it was all around me. Democrats were way too modest. This contrasts starkly with the Republicans' systematic efforts to memorialize Lincoln and Reagan.

Sarah Jones: [11-29] The infidel turned Christian: "When Ayaan Hirsi Ali renounced Islam for atheism, her conversion made her a global star." Now, she's reinventing herself.

Ezra Klein: [12-03] The books that explain where we are in 2023. A noble undertaking, but a hard one for anyone to read enough to undertake. None here that I've read, but half or so I've reported on. Still, isn't it a bit strange that when he looks for a book on Israel, all he comes up with is Ari Shavit's 10-year-old My Promised Land? I did read a substantial extract from that book, where he describes in considerable detail the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from Lydda and Ramle -- we'd call that "ethnic cleansing" these days -- and rationalizes it as essential to the founding and glory of his beloved Israel.

I could complain that much more has been written on Israel/Palestine since then, but the book I still most recommend came out in 2004: Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions. The most enduring of those questions is why Israel keeps pushing the parameters of a peace settlement beyond what Palestinians are willing to accept. But he also has some insights as to why Palestinian leaders have proven so inept at negotiating with Israel.

More book lists/reviews:

Keren Landman: [11-29] US life expectancy no longer catastrophic, now merely bad.

Clay Risen: [11-30] Pablo Guzmán, Puerto Rican activist turned TV newsman, dies at 73: A name I recognize from back in the 1970s, involved with a group called the Young Lords.

Nathan J Robinson: [11-28] Why you should primarily focus on your own country's crimes: "Why don't U.S. activists focus on the crimes of the Chinese government? Because we're responsible for what is done in our name, and what we can most affect." Well, also because echoing a moral critique by Americans in power is taken to ratify and promote hostile foreign policies that often only make the problems worse, and in any case are beyond what the US should be doing abroad. And also because, regardless of how pure your intentions are, you're not likely to be heard beyond the din of American saber-rattling. As for other countries that are allied with America (like Israel and Saudi Arabia), you have no business interfering with them, but you can certainly question why the US helps them oppress their own people.

Aja Romano: [11-17] The Crown increasingly becomes a fantastical apologetic for the royal family.

Jeffrey St Clair: [12-01] Roaming Charges: The Dr. Caligari of American Empire: Title refers to Kissinger, the opening subject here, with much more to follow.

Washington Monthly: [11-28] Remembering Charlie Peters: A useful compendium of articles and other tributes occasioned by the death of Washington Monthly's founder and long-time editor. I cited James Fallows: Why Charlile Peters matters last week. No need to list them all here, since that's what this article is for, but let me point out:

Clinton Williamson: [11-23] You have "the right to be lazy": "Paul Lafargue's anti-work manifesto is newly relevant in a time when the very idea of labor is changing." Lafargue (1842-1911) published his book in 1883.

Scattered tweets:

Ryan Grim:

The irony of conflating anti-zionism with antisemitism is that in the beginning, zionism's most essential backers, the British government, supported zionism because they were actively antisemitic and wanted to make sure Jewish refugees from Russian pogroms didn't come to Britain

Richard Yeselson:

Eye for an eye is now twenty eyes for one eye. And ever trending up. Gotta stop. Hamas' taking of the first eye was horrific. How much more horror will Israel and the US now inflict in response? Gaza is being vaporized. For what?

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Speaking of Which

I started collecting this on Tuesday, mostly because I didn't want to let the Stevenson piece go without comment. The Mishra, which could still use some work, was also found in the Wichita Eagle that day. I had much more to write about the Ryu Spaeth piece, only some of which got tacked onto the footer section. Two points would have fit only awkwardly, but let me take a brief stab at them here:

  1. Most leftists are informed and defined by a core philosophical principle -- that all people are fundamentally equal, and justice demands that they be respected as such -- but the left isn't some sort of religion or cult; it is a political tendency, effectively a party, aiming to incrementally improving justice by recognizing our fundamental equality. People who embrace this core principle will join the left, but you don't have to adopt the right thinking to align with the left. All you need is to find that your interests would be better served by the advance of the left. That happens a lot, especially with oppressed minorities. A bunch of things follow from this (which I'd rather not have to spell out at the moment -- one of which is that Jews in America, where there is risk of oppression, gravitate left, whereas in Israel, where they have attained the power to oppress others, they trend to the right).

  2. Most leftists in America have come to embrace nonviolence, partly because we have come to realize that violence corrodes the spirit and compounds the difficulties of furthering justice, but also because it's more promising in our political system, which in principle allows for popular reform -- even though the system is heavily stacked against it. It is therefore tempting to raise nonviolence as a moral absolute, to condemn all exceptions, and to purge the left political movement of those who fall short of our ideals. I am pretty close to being an absolute pacifist, but even I have to admit that this would be self-defeating.

    Several reasons: violence, especially in self-defense, is a universal human instinct, one we may disapprove of and often regret, but cannot totally deny, because in some circumstances it seems like the only option for saving our humanity; throughout most history, at least since the left became a distinct political force, the only way change toward greater equality and justice could be achieved was through violence (e.g., the great revolutions from 1776 to 1917); even where reforms have been achieved, they were often conceded to hold back the threat of revolutionary violence. Of course, we now more fully realize that our violence has a dark side. But aren't there still situations where nonviolent change is so completely closed off that only through violence can people assert their humanity?

I don't think that we, in neurotic but still fundamentally liberal America, can with certainty assert that people barely surviving in Gaza have any real, viable options. Sure, one may still hope that nonviolent means, like BDS, might persuade Israel to lessen its stifling grip over its Palestinian subjects, but it may be that all the nonviolent protest has achieved -- and it has been tried at least as often as violence -- has been to reaffirm the faith of right-wing Israelis that overwhelming force will always prevail. Even before the rise of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, but accelerating at an alarming rate after they joined the Netanyahu government, West Bank settlers had moved beyond their initial goal of staking claim to land to terrorizing Palestinians, hoping to drive them into exile. Israel's support for Azerbaijan's "ethnic cleansing" of Nagorno-Karabakh sure looked like a dress rehearsal for Israel driving Palestinians out of the West Bank.

While I personally believed that the revolt of Oct. 7 was ill-considered, politically reckless, and morally hazardous, their political and moral struggle was not mine to dictate or to judge. So I saw no point in condemning what appeared to be an act of desperation. Certainly not to make myself feel more righteous in comparison. Even less so as it would lend comfort to those who would take this act of violence and use as excuse to strike back even harder. And that part took no imagination on my part, as by the time I had heard the news, many Israelis were already clamoring for massive revenge -- as could have been expected, given that Israel's whole system of governing is based on their capacity for inflicting overwhelming violence.

Similarly, I can hardly condemn Israelis for defending themselves once the revolt broke out of Gaza. I would only point out that the defense was complete, and should have ended, once the attackers were rebuffed, and the border secured -- which happened within 24 hours of the initial attacks. The war since then, including some 40,000 tons of bombs Israel has dropped on Gaza, cannot be considered self-defense. This bombardment is no less than an act of systematic destruction and slaughter, an act that can only be summed up in the word "genocide."

Israelis have disputed that word, but with independence in 1948 they established a formal caste system with distinct legal status for Jews and Arabs, driving some 700,000 of the latter into exile, expropriating their property, and forbidding their return. They've also, building on the British model, regularly practiced collective punishment, including indiscriminate killing. Those are two of the three essential constituents of genocide. The third is the loss of inhibition against killing, which has been happening continuously since the 2000 Intifada and the 2006 loss of Gaza to Hamas, such that the Oct. 7 revolt merely tipped the impulse into action, with public statements to match. It is still possible that Israel's leaders will come to second thoughts and rein their killing in, but until they do, shying away from the term only encourages them to proceed.

Much more I could write on this, but time to post on schedule is running out.

Top story threads:

Israel: If you are at all unclear on how we got to the revolt on Oct. 7 and the subsequent intensification of the Israeli war against Gaza, start with this timeline: Countdown to genocide: the year before October 7.

Trump, and other Republicans:

  • Thomas B Edsall: [11-22] The roots of Trump's rage.

  • Margaret Hartmann:

  • Eric Levitz: [11-24] Trump as a plan for massively increasing inflation. Clever to note that while Republicans hammer away at Biden for inflation -- when he wasn't threatening to beat up Teamsters, Markwayne Mullin was lying about diesel prices (see [11-22] GOP Senator swiftly fact-checked after whining about gas prices for his massive truck) -- aren't solutions, and in many ways only make the problem worse. Still I'm not convinced that Trump's 10% across-the-board tariff idea is such a bad one: true it will raise consumer prices, and it may not stimulate much new domestic production, but it should reduce the trade deficit (which I've long taken to be a bad thing, although economists tend to argue otherwise). I also doubt that another round of Trump tax cuts will have much effect on consumer price inflation -- although it will undoubtedly lead to inflated asset values (something economists refuse to count as inflation). On the other hand, no mention here of antitrust (which Trump will presumably cripple, unless he can use it vindictively to attack his political enemies), which if enforced should push prices down, and if neglected will allow companies to become more predatory. Or of more deregulation, which helps unscrupulous companies increas profits both through higher prices and by passing costs on to the public (pollution, which includes the effects of global warming, is the most famous of these externalities). Still, Republicans do have one effective tool to quell inflation: recession. That's cure much worse than the disease it claims to treat. It's also the end-state of the last three Republican presidencies. Whereas this and the last two Democratic presidents (but not Carter) ended up with sustained economic growth, and (more modest) wage growth. Maybe a little inflation isn't such a bad thing.

  • Zachary Petrizzo: [11-16] Trumpworld is already at war over staffing a new Trump White House.

  • Roger Sollenberger:

  • Peter Wade: [11-26] Christie blames Trump for increasing antisemitism and Islamophobia: To quote him: "Intolerance toward anyone encourages intolerance toward everyone."

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Branko Marcetic: [11-22] Voters are leaving Joe Biden in droves over his support for Israel.

  • Harold Meyerson: [11-20] Can Biden and the Democrats survive their divisions on Israel-Palestine? He offers some suggestions, mostly referring back to the 1968 rift over the Vietnam war, which isn't terribly relevant. Johnson's big liability in 1968 was that he and his administration had repeatedly lied about the war, falling way short of their promises, inspiring no confidence in their future, in a war that had enormous personal impact on millions of Americans. Consequently, Johnson/Humphrey were opposed by prominent Democrats. On the other hand, no major Democrat is going to stand up against Biden, especially not for showing excessive fealty to Israel. Maybe there's an enthusiasm slump as the gap between the Democratic Party leadership and base expands, but party regulars are almost certain to rally against Trump. The volatile center, on the other hand, may not be able to articulate the problem with Biden's wars in Ukraine, Gaza, and (heaven forbid) Taiwan, but the bad vibes could sink him.

  • Steven Shepard: [11-25] The polls keep getting worse for Biden.

Tweet from Daniel Denvir on points above:

If Democrats are suddenly worried that Biden will lose to Trump -- as they should be -- the rational thing to do would be to 1) make another, more popular Dem the nominee and 2) move the party away from its pro-genocide position. Blaming the left for saying genocide is bad won't work

Also from Nathan J Robinson:

I'm interested in the theory of how Biden is supposed to turn his numbers around, given that:
(1) The main issue is his age and he gets older every day, and
(2) Humanitarian crisis in Gaza will worsen as disease and starvation set in, and it is causing young Dems to hate him

Legal matters and other crimes:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:

Other stories:

Ryan Cooper:

Eileen Crist/Judith Lipton/David Barash: [11-24] End the insanity: For nuclear disarmament and global demilitarization.

Tom Engelhardt: [11-26] A slow-motion Gaza: But isn't it a little soon to turn "Gaza" into a metaphor for the "hell on Earth" that global warming is inching towards?

James Fallows: [11-23] Why Charlie Peters matters: The founder and editor-in-chief of Washington Monthly for 30 years (1969-2000) has died, at 96. I subscribed to the journal for several years early on, possibly from its inception, and found it to be seriously informative and generally sensible about policy workings in Washington. I was rather dismayed later on to find that Peters had coined the "neoliberal" term, though there may be an argument that what Peters had in mind differed significantly from the disparaging use of the term lately -- see Paul Glastris: [01-08] Need a new economic vision? Gotcha covered. Last thing I recall reading by Peters was a sad lament about his home state of West Virginia flipping Republican.

Eric Levitz: [11-22] OpenAI was never going to save us from the robot apocalypse.

Robert Lipsyte: [11-21] Farewell to the New York Times sports department: "Or should it be good riddance?"

Pankaj Mishra: [11-18] The west never had a chance at winning over the world: Talks about the phrase "the global south," and how it's come to the fore since Russia's invasion of Ukraine tightened the bond between the US and Europe, while estranging both from the rest of the world (now known as, the Global South). It surely can't be a surprise that the renewed and militant union of Europe and the US (aka, the West) would be viewed suspiciously by the Global South? Mishra notes that "the Biden administration failed to enlist any major country of the Global South in its cause," i.e., economic war against Russia, ostensibly to defend Ukraine. He adds: "Even worse, the conflict in Gaza may now have mortally damaged Western power and credibility in the Global South."

Olivia Nuzzi: [11-22] The mind-bending politics of RFK Jr.'s spoiler campaign. He's having a moment as a free agent presidential candidate, partly because he might appeal to scattered, disaffected groups that otherwise are stuck in the two-party straitjacket; possibly also on the 60th anniversary of the assassination that turned his family into a cult memory project. Most of his appeal will probably blow over, because the one group he has no appeal for is moderate-tempered centrists. That leaves extremists who hate both parties, and who don't care who wins. How many of them are there really?

However, note that a recent a recent Harvard/Harris Poll, which shows Trump over Biden by 6% in a two-way matchup, gives Kennedy 21% of the vote in a three-way, increasing Biden's deficit to 8%. In a five-way with West (3%) and Stein (2%), Trump loses 1%, Biden loses 2%, Kennedy 3%. St Clair (link above) comments: "If your Lesser Evil countenances the bombing of hospitals and the slaughter of nearly 6000 children in a few weeks, don't you know that you can count me out."

Andrew O'Hehir: [11-26] My mother, the debutante Communist: An American family story of love, loss and J. Edgar Hoover.

Nathan J Robinson: [11-21] Can the left reclaim "security"? A review of Astra Taylor's new book, The Age of Insecurity.

Douglas Rushkoff: [11-25] 'We will coup whoever we want!': The unbearable hubris of Musk and the billionaire tech bros. Reviews some books, starting with Walter Isaacson's Musk.

Anya Schiffrin: [10-13] Fixing disinformation online: "What will it take to regulate the abuses of Big Tech without undermining free speech?"

Katharine Q Seelye: [11-19] Rosalyn Carter, first lady and a political partner, dies at 96: I don't really have anything to say about her, good or bad, but thought I should note her passing in the plainest way possible. While trawling through the NY Times obituaries, I also noticed:

I was surprised not to find an obituary there for the late photographer Larry Fink (82, Mar. 11, 1941-Nov. 25). For some images, start here.

Ryu Spaeth: [11-20] Israel, Gaza, and the fracturing of the intellectual left. Title makes this seem like a big deal, but it's really just comes down to a couple pieces in Dissent between Joshua Leifer and Gabriel Winant, with side glances to a couple more journals (n+1, Jewish Currents). This sort of thing happens every now and then, usually when someone who has long identified with the left freaks out and turns on his former comrades. Back in 1967, I used to read a journal called The Minority of One, which was very strongly opposed to the American war in Vietnam . . . until June 1967, when the editor flipped to support Israel in its Six-Day War, and forgot about everything else. Something similar happened with Paul Berman after 9/11. There have been other cases of leftists turning hard right, but these two (presumably Leifer, too) insisted that they were being consistent, and others in the left had gone haywire. They created some noise, but had little if any impact on the left, which always recovered with a principled examination of the facts.

This article quotes Arielle Angel (Jewish Currents): "What we are watching is a full reactionary moment among many Jews, even some left-wing Jews, because they feel there was no space on the left for their grief." That doesn't seem like too much to ask. The left is fueled by indignity over injustice, and injustice is often first experienced as grief. But few on the left would grant anyone, even Jews (whose suffering has left an indelible mark on most Euroamerican leftists), an exclusive right to grieve, let alone a license to channel that grief into a force that strikes out at and inflicts grief on others.

Most of us realized immediately that's exactly what Israel's leaders had in mind. They saw the Oct. 7 revolt not as a tragic human loss but as an affront to their power, and they immediately moved to reassert their power, with scarcely any regard for more human losses (even on their own side). Over six weeks later, as threats of genocide were turned into practice, we need hardly debate that point.

Glenn Thrush/Serge F Kovaleski: [11-25] Stabbing of Derek Chauvin raises questions about inmate safety. Weren't there already questions? If not, why do police interrogators brag about how treacherous life in prison will be?

Jen Wieczner: [11-22] Behold the utter destruction of crypto's biggest names.

Here are a series of tweets from Corey Robin (I'm copying them down because the original format is so annoying; the chart matches the Leatherby piece above, so that is probably the uncited source here):

1/ "Israel's assault is different. Experts say that even a conservative reading of the casualty figures reported from Gaza show that the pace of death during Israel's campaign has few precedents in this century.

2/ "Conflict-casualty experts have been taken aback at just how many people have been reported killed in Gaza -- most of them women and children -- and how rapidly. It is not just the unrelenting scale of the strikes . . . It is also the nature of the weaponry itself.

3/"'It's beyond anything that I've seen in my career,' said Marc Garlasco, a former senior intelligence analyst at the Pentagon. To find a historical comparison for so many large bombs in such a small area, he said, we may 'have to go back to Vietnam, or the Second World War.'

4/ "Modern international laws of war were developed largely in response to the atrocities of World War II."

The comments range from stupid to facetious ("It is morally appalling that Hamas decided to start a war with a country that can mount such a powerful air assault, . . . All those tunnels & not one bomb shelter").

Corey also offered a tweet on the Ryu Spaeth article I wrote too much (but not enough) about above:

Everyone's pissed about this piece but I think it has two virtues. 1) It gives a fair, full hearing to the anti-Zionist side. 2) It reveals, inadvertently, the extent to which Zionist progressives depend on debates from 100 years ago. I'll take the win.

One more point I might as well make here, as I didn't consider it appropriate above, is that this article is only of interest to those on the left who are in close proximity to people with a deep psychic identity connection to the very old Zionist left (the romance of the kibbutzim) and/or the trauma of the Holocaust. The Oct. 7 attack hit these people so hard that they suspended their critical facilities, losing track of the context, and therefore unable to foresee the consequences.

Most of us immediately recognized the context that led to the revolt, and understood that the response of Israel's leaders would be genocidal. Hence, no matter how much we may or may not have grieved for the immediate victims of the revolt, we understood that their deaths would soon be dwarfed by Israel's vindictive reassertion of their overwhelming power.

It's worth noting that while such reactions are unusual on the American left, they are very common in Israel. The best example is the long-running Peace Now bloc, which formed after the 1982 war on Lebanon went sour. Ever since then, they have never failed to support initial Israeli military outbursts (e.g., 2006 in Gaza and Lebanon, and the many subsequent Operations in Gaza), although they've almost always come to regret those wars. Israelis, even ones with liberal and/or socialist temperaments, are conditioned to rally under crisis to support the state's warriors, and the national security state pulls their triggers whenever they want to strike out. It's practically an involuntary reflex, even among people who must know better.

It's great credit to Jewish Voice for Peace that they didn't fall for this triggering.

Regarding Larry Fink, I posted the following comment on Facebook:

I met Larry several times. Longest talk we had was mostly about jazz, in the car on the way to a memorial "meeting" for his mother. He took a lot of notable photographs of jazz musicians. Liz had one framed, of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald sitting together in a table in a club somewhere. On 9/11, he called Liz, and told her he was thinking about rounding up some fowl for a "chickens come home to roost" photo, echoing the famous Malcolm X quote. He was living on a farm in PA at the time, but I don't recall whether he had his own chickens, or whether he ever took that photo. But of the myriad reactions to 9/11, his was one of the smartest. (Or maybe I thought so because I was already thinking about the same quote.)

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Speaking of Which

I'm mostly working on the Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll this week, and probably every week until the first of January, so this weekly exercise is being demoted to a part-time, background project, making it even more cryptic and scattered than usual.

Still, let me say a few words up top -- or reiterate, as I've said pretty much the same thing in recent weeks. The main story is, again, Israel's war, which is no longer just against Gaza, but has extended to the West Bank and the border with Lebanon. Israel's leaders have always understood themselves to be at war with the Palestinian people and the broader Arab neighborhood, the purpose of which is to utterly dominate the region, reducing Palestinians to an "utterly defeated people," out of sight and out of mind, effectively dead. You can date their war back to 1948, or earlier. You can find seeds in Herzl's 1896 The Jewish State, which started growing in 1920 when Britain set up its "Jewish homeland," playing its typical divide-and-conquer game. But the idea is older still: at least since 1492, Europeans have moved to new lands and immediately started plotting to subjugate, or better still eliminate, the people they found there. So this first point, that the war did not start on October 7, should be too obvious to have to dwell on. Still, we may treat it as a new phase or level, as the shock of the Oct. 7 revolt gave Israel an excuse to implement the genocide that Zionism always implied.

The second point is that the Oct. 7 revolt, and the subsequent retaliation and escalation by Israel, was not necessary, and could easily have been prevented, at least by Israel's current and recent leaders. (Most obviously Netanyahu, but it's hard to discern any fundamental differences going back to, well, Ben-Gurion, with only Sharett and Rabin offering vague and conflicted gestures that might have pointed toward some form of peaceful co-existence.)

Israel -- by which I mean its political leaders, a group that could have fit within a meeting room and/or a conference call, and not the whole nation -- could simply have decided to contain the damage of Oct. 7, and not to compound the damage by retaliating. They didn't do so because they've locked themselves into a logic that tries to solve all problems by asserting their power. They may argue that their policies have worked well enough so far, so will work well enough in the future, but they are wrong: they've only appeared to have worked because they've never seriously assayed the costs.

The revolt itself could have been prevented in either of two ways. The specific people who organized and led the revolt -- for lack of more precise names, we might as well follow everyone else and call them Hamas, but we're talking about a small and isolated subset of people affiliated with Hamas, and quite probably others not in any way part of Hamas -- presumably had enough free will (but do we really know this?) to have decided not to act. That they did revolt suggests not malice so much as desperation, and mere luck in the outcome.

The other way to prevent revolt is to create conditions where Palestinians would have no compelling reason to revolt. There are lots of things that can be done in this regard (and Israel has even, on rare occasions, tried some, which worked as well as they could, as long as they were in place). Almost all internal conflicts end, or simply fade into oblivion, with some kind of accommodation. Israel is peculiarly, but not inevitably, resistant to the idea, but it's the only real path out of their quandry.

Given these percepts, I've laid out a fairly simple way to end the war in Gaza, which gives Israel a free hand to implement when they are ready, which is favorable enough to Israeli interests they should be happy to accept, and which accords Palestinians in Gaza a fair hope for respect and recovery. It does not attempt to solve any issues beyond the Gaza front, so does not require Israel to address its abuses of Palestinians within Israel and its other occupied territories, or its border issues with other countries. Very briefly, the steps are:

  1. Israel withdraws its forces from Gaza, and ceases fire on Gaza, except for reserving the right to retaliate within a limited period of time (say, 12 hours) for any subsequent attack launched from Gaza. The sooner the better, but no one can/will force Israel to withdraw, so they can destroy as much as they can stomach, until they tire and/or become too embarrassed to continue.

  2. Israel cedes its claim to Gaza, its air space, and adjacent sea, to the United Nations. The UN accepts, and sets up a temporary governing authority. (Israel may continue to conduct air and sea recognizance and interception until other arrangements are in place.) The UN authority will control the dispensation of aid, which will be allowed in only if all hostages are released and no resistance is offered.

  3. There will be blanket amnesty for all Gazans, for all Israelis engaged with Gaza, and for the government of Israel, for all acts up to the cease fire date. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and any other armed groups within Gaza, will cease to exist as organizations, and be banned from reforming. Individual members of those groups will be covered by the blanket amnesty. It is not necessary to disarm people, but a buy back program for arms and munitions would be a good idea.

  4. The UN will issue passports for Gaza, which will allow residents to leave and return at any later date.

  5. The UN will organize several levels of advisory councils, and operate subject to their agreement. The easiest way to organize these councils would be to select members at random, allowing anyone thus selected to select another person in their place. This will lead to elections in a year or two. In the meantime the UN will organize competent administration, police, and courts, primarily employing locals.

  6. After a couple years, Gaza will be recognized as an independent country, with normal full sovereignty, and will be able to renegotiate its relations with the UN, and with any other countries. It should be understood that its borders are permanently defined, and that it cannot call itself Palestine (as that might imply extraterritorial ambitions).

Note that nothing here requires Israel to dismantle its apartheid regime elsewhere, nor does it protect Israel from war crime and human rights charges (except for Gaza up to the hand off). Nothing here keeps world from showing its reservations over Israel, especially through BDS programs. Israel will remain, for the time anyway, racist and militarist. It just won't have Gaza to kick around any more. Given how much kicking they've done, especially since 2006, that in itself should reduce the conflict, and make other aspects of it easier to deal with, but that ultimately depends on Israelis growing up and becoming responsible citizens of the world, as opposed to their current preference as tyrants over one small patch of it.

I'm pretty certain that, given the chance, a democratic Gaza will not tolerate any attacks on Israel. Some Gazans may still decide to join ISIS or other extremist groups, but they will have to go into exile to do so, and will no longer be Gaza's responsibility. Plus, there will be far fewer of them once Israel stops "mowing the grass."

Other topics could be added to this, but why complicate things? I believe that there should be a right to exile, which would allow Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to leave the country. That would be a better solution than simply trading hostages/prisoners.

My guiding rule for negotiations is to try to get to the right answer, one that works for all sides, with a minimum of impacts, and measure to increase trust and transparency. That may not always be possible, in which case you should look for other ways to compensate for perceived losses. (Gaza, in particular, is going to need a lot of aid.)

Let's put this part in bold:

Once you get to peace and justice, lots of things become possible. But it all starts with an Israeli cease-fire. That's all it takes to stop the killing, to halt the destruction. And that will at least slow down Israel's presently inexorable moral decay of into genocide -- and that of America, seeing as our leaders are currently in lockstep with Israel. So demand it! For once, it's obvious what's best for everyone!

Top story threads:


Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War and American Geopolitics: While the Ukraine quagmire only deepens, other stories pop up that fit into the broader domain of America's arms racket and imperial ambitions.

Around the world:

Other stories:

Liza Featherstone: [11-17] Rich people in the US have been allowed to get way too rich.

Paul Rosenberg: [11-19] When a liberal president goes to war: Lessons of the LBJ era are relevant today.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-17] Roaming Charges: Politics of the lesser exterminators.

Legacy: [11-19] Gerald "Jerry" Paske: Obituary. I'm saddened to note the death of my first philosophy professor, at 90. He taught the 101 intro course at Wichita State University, a big lecture class, and immediately turned us to reading Charles Sanders Peirce, the most interesting of the American pragmatists, and a perhaps unknowing gateway into the Marburg Neokantians. He always seemed like a decent, sensible guy, but the event that most impressed me was when, immediately after the Attica massacre, he put aside his prepared text and talked extemporaneously about the contempt for humanity that stoked the slaughter. After we returned to Wichita, he had retired, but every now and then he would write letters to the Eagle, always insightful, reliably decent. I found out then that he had written a short book, Why the Fundamentalist Right Is So Fundamentally Wrong. I tried to get in touch with him after my nephew Mike Hull finished his movie, Betrayal at Attica, but I never heard back.

[PS: In looking Paske up, I also found out that another of my WSU philosophy professors, Anthony Genova, died in 2010. I took his course on logic, which was mostly symbolic, but the opening section on informal fallacies was eye-opening. There are dozens of examples in the pieces I cite every week.]

I also see that Jonathan David Mott, the author of the blog Zandar Versus the Stupid, has passed away, at 48. I can't say as I've ever read him, but got the tip from No More Mister Nice Blog, who wrote: "He was always one of the most perceptive bloggers out there, and I will miss hearing from him as the world goes to hell."

I'm reminded that Norman G. Finkelstein published a book in 2018 called Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom, which seems a bit premature at the moment, but no more so than it would have been to write a book on how alarming you found Nazi anti-semitism after Kristallnacht in 1938 (or after the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, when the die was cast, but still cloaked under the guise of law). Still, the book goes into great detail on Operation Cast Lead, the Goldstone Report, the Mavi Marmara, and Operation Protective Edge. The preface opens:

This book is not about Gaza. It is about what has been done to Gaza. It is fashionable nowadays to speak of a victim's agency. But one must be realistic about the constraints imposed on such agency by objective circumstance. Frederick Douglass could reclaim his manhood by striking back at a slave master who viciously abused him. Nelson Mandela could retain his dignity in jail despite conditions calibrated to humiliate and degrade him. Still, these were exceptional individuals and exceptional circumstances, and anyhow, even if he acquits himself with honor, the elemental decisions affecting the daily life of a man held in bondage and the power to effect these decisions remain outside his control. Gaza, as former British prime minister David Cameron observed, is an "open-air prison." The Israeli warden is in charge.

It's unfortunate that we keep resorting to Nazi Germany, Apartheid South Africa, the Slave Power in the United States, to provide some historical context for what Israel has done to Gaza, but those are by far the most relevant examples we are mostly aware of. But that's pretty much Israel's peer group. And I suppose those examples do offer one small bit of hope: they offer a range of possible endings to the still unfinished story of Israel and Gaza. In South Africa, reason and decency dismantled Apartheid. The other two regimes were destroyed in war, but not before the Nazis killed 6 million Jews, and lost 12 million of their own. The slave states lost their war as badly, but recovered to create a new system of oppression, which took another 100 years to dismantle (and could still use some work).

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Sunday, November 12, 2023

Speaking of Which

I started this mid-week, way too early for what I rarely intend as anything more than casual note-taking, but with elections on Tuesday and the "kiddie-table debate" on Wednesday (credit the quote to SNL's Trump personifier), the stories piled up fast. Most of the early ones just got links, but some inevitably provoked one-liners, and soon enough longer disquisitions ensued. But some of the most important pieces are barely noted, like the Savage and Shafer pieces on Trump's second-term ambitions. (Sure, they're not exactly new news, but the new articles are more detailed and comprehensive.)

Still, mostly Israel this week, mostly rehashing points that were obvious from the start of October 7. The story there is, as it's always been, about power and resistance. As noted last week, Gabriel Winant described Israel as "a machine for the conversion of grief into power." That grief brings with it a great deal of anger and righteousness, which goes a long ways to explaining why Israeli power has been remarkably successful for so long. But the problem is that power never quite works the way you want it to. Every effort to exercise power, to impose your will on other people, meets the resistance of what we might as well call the human spirit. And that resistance takes a toll, both physical and psychic, as despite the hubris of the powerful, they too have human spirits.

So while the "Israel-Hamas War" since October 7, starting with one spectacular day of rebellion followed by a month-and-counting of relentless, methodical slaughter, has been an object lesson in the massive superiority of Israeli military power, it doesn't feel like a victory, least of all to the Israelis. For one thing, the revolt punctured Israel's long-held belief that power makes them invulnerable. For another, they're slowly coming to realize that they can't kill and destroy enough to stamp out resistance, which will return and flourish in their ruins. And finally, they're beginning to suspect that any victory they can claim will prove hollow. In this understanding, the world is moving way ahead of its leaders, perhaps because the human spirit is concentrated among the powerless, among those whose minds aren't corrupted by their pursuit and cultivation of power.

Given this, calling for an immediate cease-fire should be the easiest political decision ever. Even if your sympathies and/or identity is fully with Israel, an immediate halt is the only way to stop adding to the cumulative damage, not just to Palestinian lives but to Israel's tarnished humanity. Because, and we should be absolutely clear on this, what Israel has been doing for more than a month now isn't self-defense, isn't deterrence, isn't even retaliation: it is genocide. That is the intent, and that is the effect of their tools and tactics. Genocide is a practice that the whole world should, and eventually will, condemn. And while the roots of the impulse run deep in Israel's political history, down to the very core tenets of Zionism, we should understand that the actions were conscious decisions of specific political leaders, aided by key people who followed their orders, abetted by political parties that bought into their mindset. While it is very unlikely that even those leaders will ever be adequately punished -- as if such a thing is even possible -- unwinding their support will start to make amends.

It feels like I should keep going with this argument, but I'm dead tired, and rather sick of the whole thing, so will leave it at that.

I tossed this tweet out on Thursday:

Re Biden's polls, this "wag the dog" effect doesn't seem to be working. Rather than rallying behind the leader, it seems like he's getting blamed for all wars, even when few object to his policy. Have folks begun to realize all wars are preventable? So each reveals failure!

Top story threads:

Israel: The ground war, ostensibly against Hamas, as well as the air war, really against all of Gaza, continues as it has since the Oct. 7 prison break. This section quickly gets filled up with opinion pieces, largely due to our vantage point far from the action, partly due to our intimate involvement with the long-running conflict, and the dire need to insist on a cease fire to put a stop to the mounting destruction, and allow for some measure of recovery to begin. So the actual day-to-day details tend to escape my interest. To obtain some sense of that, I thought I'd just list the headlines in the New York Times "updates" file(s):

November 12:

  • More patients die at major Gaza hospital amid fuel delivery dispute
  • Crisis heightens at Gaza's main hospital amid dispute over desperately needed fuel.
  • The U.S. carried out another round of airstrikes in Syria on Iran-linked targets.
  • Netanyahu says he sees no role for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, for now.
  • Al-Quds Hospital halts operation as it runs out of fuel and power, the Red Crescent says.
  • The U.S. warns Israel to avoid fighting in hospitals.
  • Over 100,000 march in France against antisemitism.
  • A U.N. residential compound in southern Gaza came under fire, officials say.
  • Demands grow for a pause in fighting as the humanitarian situation worsens.
  • Chris Christie is the first Republican presidential candidate to visit Israel since Oct. 7.
  • Calls grow for Israel to pause fighting
  • Demands grow for a pause in fighting as the humanitarian situation worsens.

November 11:

  • Gaza's main hospital struggles to keep patients alive
  • Gaza's main hospital is without power and at a breaking point as fighting closes in.
  • Thousands of protesters in Tel Aviv called on Israel to prioritize rescuing the hostages.
  • Hezbollah's leader says his fighters will keep up pressure on Israel.
  • Across Europe, thousands call for cease-fire in Gaza. [Photos of demonstrations in Edinburgh, Barcelona, London, and Brussels.]
  • Surrounded by Israeli troops, Palestinians evacuate a cluster of hospitals in northern Gaza.
  • Iran and Saudi Arabia, regional rivals, call for Gaza cease-fire at summit.
  • Here's a map of the Gaza City hospitals Israel has been closing in on.
  • Life in Gaza City: Privation, rationing and desperate fear.
  • The W.H.O. chief says more than 250 attacks on Gaza and West Bank health care facilities have been verified.

November 10:

  • Israel lowers Oct. 7 death toll estimate to 1,200
  • Israel has struggled to distinguish the remains of Oct. 7 victims from those of attackers.
  • 'These babies, these ladies, these old people': Macron mourns civilian deaths and urges an Israeli cease-fire.
  • Concerns grow for hospital patients and sheltering civilians.
  • The W.H.O. chief says more than 250 attacks on Gaza and West Bank health care facilities have been verified.
  • Al-Shifa Hospital is increasingly a flashpoint in the war.
  • Israel steps up airstrikes inside Lebanon following Hezbollah drone and missile attacks.
  • Israel is on high alert as regional threats from Iran-backed militants grow.
  • Israel's public defenders refuse to represent Oct. 7 attackers.
  • America's top diplomat says 'far too many Palestinians have been killed.'
  • Israel is considering a deal for Hamas to release all civilian hostages in Gaza, officials say.
  • Antisemitic hate crimes soared in New York City last month. [E.g., "police are searching . . . vandals who scrawled 'Hamas' and antisemitic graffiti on several Upper East Side apartment buildings last month."]
  • The war has led to the deadliest month for journalists in at least three decades.
  • U.N. human rights chief says Israel should end bombardment with heavy munitions.
  • Intense protests again shut down Midtown Manhattan streets.
  • The Israeli police detained Arab Israeli politicians preparing a vigil against Gaza srikes, civic groups say.

November 9:

  • Israel expands daily combat pauses to let civilians flee, White House says
  • Israel has agreed to put in place regular daily four-hour pauses for civilians to flee, the White House said.
  • A day of fierce combat and diplomatic talks ends with a deal to try to help Gazans reach safety.
  • Islamic Jihad releases a video of two Israeli hostages in Gaza.
  • The war has taken a staggering toll on the Palestinian economy.
  • Israeli police detained five Arab Israeli politicians who planned a vigil against Gaza strikes, civic groups say.
  • The C.I.A. director and the Israeli intelligence chief met with Qatari officials to discuss a possible Hamas hostage deal.
  • Intense protests again shut down Midtown Manhattan streets.
  • Video offer glimpses of battle in Gaza.
  • Casualties in Gaza may be 'even higher' than previously thought, a U.S. official told Congress.
  • Palestinian officials say 18 are killed in the West Bank as violence spikes.
  • Chickenpox, scabies and other diseases surge in Gaza, the W.H.O. says.
  • Macron convenes an aid conference on worsening conditions in Gaza.
  • Archaeologists look for traces of the missing in the ashes of Hamas's attack.

Also see Maps: Tracking the Attacks in Israel and Gaza: Sections there:

  • [11-09] Strikes hit hospitals, schools and other shelters for displaced people in the Gaza Strip
  • [11-07] A third of buildings in northern Gaza are damaged or destroyed, analysis estimates
  • [11-05] Frequent fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border continues as tensions mount
  • [11-03] Where Israel's invasion has cut Gaza in two
  • [11-02] Where Israeli forces are advancing toward Gaza City
  • [10-31] At least a quarter of buildings in northern Gaza are damaged, analysis estimates
  • [10-30] Where Israeli troops are encircling Gaza City
  • [10-29] A more detailed look at Israel's advance into northern Gaza
  • [10-28] Where Israeli military videos show ground forces entering Gaza
  • [10-26] A new look at where Israel has hit Gaza
  • [10-23] Deadliest period for Palestinians in the West Bank in 15 years

The file goes on, including several entries on the Oct. 18 blast at Ahli Arab Hospital, declaring the cause and death toll to be unclear. In addition to maps, there is a lot of aerial photography of destruction.

Some more news articles, mostly from the New York Times:

If you want something that reads less like Israeli Pravda, Mondoweiss has a daily summary:

Here are this week's batch of articles:

Tuesday's elections: Democrats came away with some bragging rights, but none of these results were resounding wins:

  • Kentucky governor: Andy Beshear (D) 52.5%, Daniel Cameron 47.5%
  • Mississippi governor: Tate Reeves (R) 51.5%, Brandon Presley (D) 47.1%
  • Virginia State Senate: 21 Democrats, 19 Republicans; State House: 51 Democrats, 48 Republicans, 1 undecided (R leading +228 votes)
  • Ohio: reproductive rights amendment: 56.6% yes, 43.4% no; legalize recreational marijuana: 57.0% yes, 43.0% no.

We had two signs up in front of our house. Our mayoral favorite lost to the Koch money machine, but our school board pick won.

  • Andrew Prokop: [11-08] 3 winners and 1 loser from Election Day 2023: "Democrats had a good night. So did abortion rights. Glenn Youngkin, not so much."

  • Jamelle Bouie: [11-10] The GOP's culture war shtick is wearing thin with voters.

  • Sarah Jones: [11-08] The anti-trans backlash failed last night.

  • Ed Kilgore: [11-09] Are Democrats the party of low-turnout elections now? Too many wrong takes here to work through, but the idea that low voter turnout favored Republicans was largely established in 2010, when marginal Democrats who had landslided for Obama in 2008 stayed home, giving Republicans what seemed like an amazing rebound. Few people noticed that the 2010 turnout was almost exactly the same as 2006, which had been a huge Democratic wave, as Bush tanked post-Katrina, even pre-recession. Since 2010, Democrats have tried hard to increase voter turnout, and Republicans have worked even harder to suppress it. The West Coast, with high voter turnout mostly due to mail order, seemed to support the Democrats.

    In general, people who don't feel they have much stake in the system are the ones who don't vote, or don't vote regularly. Most of these people should align better economically with Democrats, but they often can't see that, and Democrats haven't worked very hard at winning them back -- at least since the 1980s, the focus has mainly been on raising money. Trump threw a monkey wrench into this: a lot of low-info, low-concern people like him for what we'll call aesthetic reasons, and that's boosted his vote totals, to where in 2016 and 2020 he ran about three points better than the "likely voter" polls, which got him way closer than he should have been, and helped Republicans overperform elsewhere. But I believe the underlying dynamic is a gradual shift from R-to-D, at least among regular voters (and young voters who are increasingly seeing voting as worth their time). This is being masked because Democrats still aren't very good at getting people to vote economic interests (although under Biden they've started to pay off), and Republicans are still very effective at lying to people and scheming behind their backs, and the media is way too generous to Republicans. On the other hand, Republican voter suppression often backfires. Philosophically, Democrats believe in high turnout, because they believe in democracy, where Republicans only believe in winning. So in most ways, the issue is probably a wash.

  • Dion Lefler: [11-08] The $630,000 mayor: Can Lily Wu keep her boldest promises? While Democrats were enjoying wins elsewhere, here in Kansas we lost our mayor to a Koch-financed Republican dressed up as a Libertarian, checking off a lot of diversity boxes no one has come forward to brag about (female, non-white, immigrant from Guatemala, but also non-hispanic). Although the elections were technically non-partisan, Republicans claimed three seats -- with Wu, a majority -- on the Wichita City Council. Curiously enough, the School Board seats shifted to Democrats, including one at-large seat won by Melody McCrae-Miller.

  • Charles P Pierce: [11-08] Ohio Republicans are already beefing with the will of the voters on abortion and weed: One thing you'll never hear a Republican say after a loss: "the people have spoken, and we have to heed their decision."

  • Bill Scher: [11-08] Glenn Youngkin's big fat 15-week abortion ban belly flop.

  • Li Zhou: [11-07] Andy Beshear offers Democrats some lessons for how to win in Trump country: "Here's how a Democrat won reelection in Kentucky."

The "third Republican presidential debate": We might as well split this out from the general morass of Republicanism, even though it did little more than exemplify it. I didn't watch, but my wife did, so I overheard a segment on foreign policy that was several orders of magnitude beyond bonkers.

  • Andrew Prokop: [11-08] 0 winners and 5 losers from the third Republican presidential debate: "All the candidates failed, but they failed in different ways."

  • Zack Beauchamp: [11-08] The Republican debate is fake.

  • Jim Geraghty: [11-09] A sober GOP debate for serious times. Just as well Trump wasn't there. By far the silliest take on the debate.

  • Ed Kilgore: [11-09] Republican debaters want to go to war with everyone (except Trump):

    Egged on by moderator Hugh Hewitt, a Navy-obsessed conservative pundit, all five candidates called for a lot more defense spending even as they railed against debts and deficits. To the extent they disagreed on foreign policy, it was mostly about whether defending or defunding Ukraine was the best tack for combating China. (Haley and Christie took the former position, while DeSantis and Ramaswamy took the latter.)

    Getting closer to home, there was total unanimity among the debaters on the need to ignore climate change and frantically resume uninhibited exploitation of fossil fuels. Haley called DeSantis a "liberal on the environment," forcing him to defend his determination to frack and drill until the icecaps fully melt.

    Ramaswamy played his anti-neocon card by dubbing Haley as "Dick Cheney in three-inch heels," then adding "we have two of them on stage," lest DeSantis feel left out, but Ramaswamy was an eager for war against China as any of them.

  • Natalie Allison: [11-12] Tim Scott suspends his presidential campaign.

I generally hate it when people try to make a case by pointing out how a person looks, but I've been having a lot of trouble in following clips of Ramaswamy, not just because he's so nonsensical but because he doesn't seem to have a face behind the mouth that spouts such nonsense. Perhaps this is just something that happens with age, but it's not a problem I see with the other candidates (DeSantis has a face, although it's turned into a self-caricature, a different problem), or most other people. I'm looking at Salon as I write this, and even Ivanka (7 pictures) has some kind of face-in-progress. Her father (8 pictures) has a face, even if it's mostly buried in bronzer. Even Brian Kilmeade, staring as blankly as his brain, has a face. But Ramaswamy doesn't.

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:

Other stories:

Charles Hirschkind: [11-08] Exterminate the brutes: "Beneath the veneer of a celebrated concern for human rights, the racism that defined 19th century colonialism continues to provide the dominant lens through which the West exercises the subordination of non-Western populations." Another piece about Israel, but I thought I should give it a little distance.

Matthew Hoh: [11-10] Armistice Day and the empire: A name change and the catastrophe that followed. It's now Veterans Day, November 11, signifying not the arrival of peace (after WWI) but the endless waste of war.

Yarden Katz: [11-09] Are Israelis Jews? Returning to Jewish minority life: Argues that "Israel has erased the Jewish people and destroyed the possibilities for Jews to live in Palestine as non-colonizers. 'Israeli' is a colonial identity we should renounce, because it harms both Palestinians and Jews." Interesting attempt to drive a wedge between identities Jewish and Israeli, then flip them over. Nothing is quite that simple.

Jeremy Kuzmarov: [11-10] How Bill Clinton set the groundwork for today's foreign policy disasters. Co-author, with John Marciano, of a book I should have noted when it appeared in 2018: The Russians Are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce; also Obama's Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (2019); and forthcoming: Warmonger: How Clinton's Malign Foreign Policy Launched the US Trajectory From Bush II to Biden.

Keren Landman: [11-09] It's getting increasingly dangerous to be a newborn in the US. A big part of this seems to be: Alice Miranda Ollstein: [11-07] Congenital syphilis jumped tenfold over the last decade.[

Michaelangelo Matos: [11-05] Documentary review: 'The War on Disco': I accidentally saw a bit of this show, but didn't stick around long enough to evaluate Matos on the subject (although I know him to be one of the best dance-oriented critics around). I always thought the anti-disco rants in the 1970s were more stupid than racist (although what finally shut them up were disco hits by Blondie and New Order, so go figure).

Nathan J Robinson: [09-19] Is Thomas Sowell a legendary "maverick" intellectual or a pseudo-scholarly propagandist? Asking the question practically answers itself. One more in a long series of profiles in right-wing mind-rot.

Aja Romano: [11-10] What the Hasan Minhaj controversy says about the trouble with storytelling.

Robert Sherrill: [1988-06-11] William F. Buckley lived off evil as mold lives off garbage: An archive piece, by one of my favorite journalists fifty years ago, a review of John B Judis: William F Buckley, Jr: Patron Saint of the Conservatives. Sherrill's title bears structural resemblance to his book, Military Justice Is to Justice as Military Music Is to Music.

Alissa Wilkinson: [11-09] The long, long Hollywood strikes have ended.

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Monday, November 6, 2023

Speaking of Which

Again, I swore off working on this during the week, which turned out to pose more than a few problems. Finally opened the file up on Saturday evening. I figured I'd just collect links, and not bother with any serious writing. The supply of inputs seemed endless, and it got late Sunday before I considered tidying up and posting. But I couldn't, due to a computer problem which took several hours to diagnose and about a minute to fix once I recognized it (DHCP tripped me up). By then it was too late, so my posts are shifted back a day once more.

Starting up today, I didn't go back to website I had previously visited, but I did have a few more to look up. I also remembered the Gabriel Winant piece at the bottom, so I dug it up, and wasted a couple hours thinking about those quotes, before I scrapped what little I had written.

Top story threads:

Israel: With more patience, these could have been grouped into a half-dozen (maybe 8-10) subcategories, of which genocide (both actual and imagined) looms large, with significant growth in cease-fire advocacy and repression of anyone favoring cease-fire. The short category is actual military news: Israel has conducted ground operations in northern Gaza for a week, but what they've achieved (or for that matter attempted) isn't at all clear, while Palestinian casualties are continuing to increase, but I haven't made much sense out of the numbers.

It does appear that I underestimated the ability of Hamas to continue fighting after their initial suicidal attack was beaten back. Not by a lot, mind you, but they've continued to shoot occasional rockets (nothing you could describe as a "flood," and Israel regularly boasts of shooting 80-90% of them down, so the effect is likely near-zero), and they're offering some degree of ground resistance. Still, a unilateral Israeli cease-fire would almost certainly halt the war, the killing, the destruction. Given that continued punishment just generates future violence, Israel's unwillingness to call a halt to this genocide -- and that's still the operative term, even if Netanyahu hasn't convened his Wannsee Conference yet -- signals only the intent to fight to some kind of Endlösung ("final solution"). I might be tempted to ditch the Nazi references, but they are ones that Israelis understand clearly -- and, one hopes, uncomfortably.

Some of the more purely partisan digs wound up in the sections on Republicans and Democrats. Given that the entire American political establishment is totally in thrall to Israel and their right-wing donor cabal, there's little (if any) substance in these pieces, just a lot of chattering nonsense.

  • Yuval Abraham: [10-30] Expel all Palestinians from Gaza, recommends Israeli gov't ministry.

  • Ray Acheson: [10-17] We must end violence to end violence.

  • Paula Andres: [11-04] Israel bombs ambulance convoy near Gaza's largest hospital.

  • Jeremy Appel: [11-03] Israel rabbi describes settler rampages across West Bank.

  • Michael Arria: [11-05] The largest Palestine protest in US history shut down the streets of DC: "An estimated 300,000 demonstrators in the largest Palestine protest in United States history, calling for a ceasefire and an end to the genocide in Gaza." Also note:

  • James Bamford: [11-02] Why Israel slept: I don't care much for the metaphor here. There will be recriminations for Israel's security lapses on Oct. 7, because it's easy to pick on exposed flaws, but Israel's containment of Gaza has been vigilant and remarkably effective for many years, and their response to the breach was swift and decisive, and the damage, while far above what they were accustomed to, was really fairly minor. They could just as well be congratulating themselves, but would rather channel the outrage into a far greater assault. But this article is actually about something else: "Netanyahu's war inside the United States." More specifically, "Netanyahu's move to counter the protesters with lots of money to buy political power in Washington to create laws making it a crime to boycott Israel." It may seem paradoxical that as Israel has been steadily losing public support in America and Europe, they've been able to lock political elites into even more subservient roles. Bamford takes the obvious tack here: follow the money.

  • Ramzy Baroud: [11-03] 'Turning Gaza into ashes': Israeli hasbara vs the world.

  • Nicolas Camut: [11-05] Israel minister suspended after calling nuking Gaza an option: "Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu's statements 'are not based in reality,' Prime Minister Netanyahu says."

  • Christian Caryl/Damir Marusic: [11-02] Should Israel agree to a ceasefire? Commentators weigh in. Starts with Yossi Beilin, who was the only successful negotiator in the Oslo Peace Process, disappoints with "a humanitarian pause, but no more." He never negotiated with Hamas, and never will, which may be why the deals he came "so close to" never materialized. If you refuse to negotiate with your fiercest enemies, you'll never settle anything.

    James Jeffrey says no, insisting that Israel is fighting an "existential war" with Hamas, placing it "within a larger struggle involving its enemy Iran instigating conflicts in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen as well as Gaza -- a world war scenario he sees as like Pearl Harbor.

    Yaakov Katz insists "a cease-fire would be a victory for Hamas." That's hard to see, even if the ceasefire took place immediately after Israel repelled the attacks and resealed the breach: Hamas depleted most of their missile supply, and lost 1,000 or more of their best fighters (about 2.5% of the highest estimate I've seen of their force), in a surprise attack that will be many times harder to repeat in the future. And that was before Israel killed another 10,000 Palestinians in fit of collective punishment, suggesting their real intent is genocide.

    Lawrence Freedman and Matt Duss have more doubts about what Israel can do, and more worries for Israel's reputation, and a better grasp of the larger picture. Palestinians Ahmed Alnaouq and Laila El-Haddad are the only ones who actually sense the human dimensions of the slaughter.

  • Isaac Chotiner: [11-01] The Gaza-ification of the West Bank: Interview with Hagai El-Ad, of B'Tselem.

  • Fabiola Cineas: [10-31] "History repeating itself": How the Israel-Hamas war is fueling hate against Muslims and Jews: "There's a surge in reports of assaults, vandalism, harassment, and intimidation." Two points that should be stressed more: one is that Zionism has always been predicated on, and fed by, antisemitism, and as such, Israel has often worked to incite antisemitism to motivate Jews to immigrate (the pre-Israel Zionist International negotiated with antisemites, especially in England, to sponsor "a Jewish homeland," and with Nazi Germany to relieve them of their Jews; after independence, Mossad ran various operations in Arab countries to panic Jews into emigrating); in constantly blaming any and all criticism of Israel on antisemitism, Israel is taunting its critics into false generalizations. Author has a section called "Antisemitism was already on the rise." This combines two different things: the classic European prejudice (whether Christian or racist), which became more public with Trump's election; and naive reaction against Israel's inhumanity to Arabs (Jewish and/or leftist critics of Israel are usually careful not to generalize Israelis or Zionists with non-Israeli Jews). Neither is excusable. But it's much easier to educate the naifs than to deprogram the Nazis. Also note that most classic antisemites are enthusiastic supporters of Israel.

  • Steve Coll: [10-30] The plight of the hostages and the rapidly escalating crisis in Gaza: "Never before has Israel sought to rescue so many hostages from a territory where it is also waging an unbridled aerial war." Hostage negotiations are always fraught with overtones, but a big factor here is that Israel's leaders are much more into the air (and now ground) war, which they control, than the hostages, which require some measure of empathy, tact and compromise (characteristics they pride themselves in not showing, especially when geared up for war). A hostage family member asks: "Why this offensive? There is no rush. Hamas wasn't going anywhere." But any pause to the war risks derailing it, letting the fever cool, and the madness be reflected upon. They can't quite admit it, but Israel's leaders would be happier if Hamas just killed all the hostages. That they could spin into more war.

  • Jonathan Cook: [11-03] Mounting evidence suggests Israel may be ready to 'cleanse' Gaza. The "Greater Gaza" plan has been kicking around for a while, at least since 2014, and the "Jordan is Palestine" idea goes way back.

  • Ryan Cooper: [11-03] A one-state solution could work in Israel: "But the end of South African apartheid demonstrates it would take an Israeli commitment to peace that is nowhere in evidence." Could work, sure, but any chance is long off, and receding as the right-wing has become more obviously genocidal. One problem is numbers: shedding Gaza would help there, a single-state for the rest is probably where you'd wind up, but it is a long ways toward equal rights. The bigger problem is that Israel is not just a garden-variety white (racist) settler state. It has a lot of trauma-and-hubris-induced psychological baggage that will take ages to overcome.

  • Alex De Waal: [11-03] How the Israel-Hamas war is destabilizing the Horn of Africa.

  • Rajaa Elidrissi: [11-01] The Gaza Strip blockade, explained.

  • Richard Falk: [11-03] Israel-Palestine war: Israel's endgame is much more sinister than restoring 'security'.

  • Lynn Feinerman: [11-03] The left as Israel's sacrificial lamb: "One of the tragic ironies of this is the vast majority of the casualties were kibbutzim and the people at this outdoor concert. And people who live in kibbutzim and people who go to raves tend to be the more left-wing, secular Israelis who oppose Netanyahu." But the dead are now martyrs for the far right, which isn't just ironic. Socialism built Israel into a strong, cohesive community, but the doctrine of "Hebrew Labor" was the rotten kernel at their heart, which grew the apartheid war-state of today.

  • Gabriella Ferrigine: [11-01] Graham declares "no limit" of Palestinian deaths would make him question Israel.

  • Laura Flanders: [10-30] "Why I resigned from the State Department": Interview with Josh Paul, who had worked in the section that oversees transfers of military equipment and support. [I cited another interview with Paul last week, from Politico. The title bears repeating: 'There are options for Israel that do not involve killing thousands of civilians'.

  • Robert Givens: [11-02] Block to block in Gaza: What will an Israeli invasion look like?

  • Michelle Goldberg: [11-04] When it comes to Israel, who decides what you can and can't say?

  • Jonathan Guyer: [11-04] Will an Israel-Hamas ceasefire happen? The reasons and roadblocks, explained.

  • Benjamin Hart: [11-04] Egypt's puzzling role in the Israel-Hamas war: "The country that used to control the Gaza Strip is helping Palestinians -- but only up to a point." Interview with Steven Cook, a Foreign Policy columnist.

  • Amira Hass: [11-01] Amid the mourning, Israel's settlement enterprise celebrates a great victory: "The soldiers are accompanying the settlers on their raids -- or even finishing the job for them."

  • Michael Horton: [10-30] Houthi missile launches at Israel risk reigniting war in Yemen.

  • Scott Horton/Connor Freeman: [10-31] Netanyahu's support for Hamas has backfired: Nah! He's got Hamas right where he wants them. If your goal is to destroy every last vestige of Palestine, the first thing you have to do is to make Palestinians unsympathetic. Israel never feared Palestinian violence, because that they could meet in kind, plus an order of magnitude. Israel's great fear was (and is) Palestinian civility.

  • Ellen Ioanes: [11-04] Iran could determine how far the Israel-Hamas war spreads. I rather doubt this. Since the revolution in 1979, Iran has attempted to increase its political influence among Shiite factions in Arab countries, with some success in Lebanon and Yemen, but not in Saudi Arabia or the Persian Gulf states, nor in Iraq until the US busted the country in 2003. But at least up to 1990, Iran maintained a cozy relationship with Israel, having never shown any particular interest in Palestinian groups (which were either too secular, or in Hamas, too Sunni). It was Israel that pivoted to being anti-Iran, most likely playing on American prejudices going back to the hostage crisis. Since then, Iran has been a convenient whipping boy for Israel, but despite all the nuclear talk, they never have been a serious threat to each other. As for Hezbollah, Iran does support them, but there's no reason to think Iran calls the shots. Even if they did, attacking Israel makes little sense. The upshot of the 2006 war was that Israel can do serious air damage to Lebanon, well beyond Hezbollah's stronghold in the south, but Hezbollah can still fend off a ground invasion. And Israel has better things to do than that. Of course, if such a war was a serious consideration, the simplest solution would be for the US to normalize relations with Iran. But who in Washington can get Israel's permission to do that? Also on Hezbollah:

    • Nicole Narea: [11-03] Hezbollah's role in the Israel-Hamas war, explained. Key point is that while Hezbollah was formed to fight Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon (1982-2000), it has since become a mainstream political party, with a stake in the government of Lebanon. While part of their credibility is their ability to defend against Israel, it would be silly to risk that by having to fight again. The option of moving into mainstream politics has made Hezbollah less of a terror threat. Hamas was denied that option: when they ran for office, and won, they were denied recognition, so in Gaza they fought back and took control, only to be blockaded. The result is that the only way Hamas could act was by force, hence the military wing took charge. And Israel did that deliberately, because they don't fear Hamas militarily, but they do fear Hamas politically. They want Palestinian "leaders" who will do their bidding, who will keep their charges in line, and line their own pockets, and let Israel do whatever Israelis want to do.

    • Ali Rizk: [10-31] Why Hezbollah doesn't want a full-scale war. Yet.

    • Ellen Ioanes: [11-05] Israel hits civilian infrastructure as ceasefire calls grow.

  • Arnold Isaacs: [11-02] War in a post-fact world. Or: "War, crimes, truth, and denial: unthinkable thoughts and false memories."

  • David D Kirkpatrick/Adam Rasgon: [10-30] The Hamas propaganda war: "Across the Arab world, the group is successfully selling its narrative of resistance." Hard for me to gauge, as Hamas has no respect or legitimacy here -- even though a narrative of devout patriots fighting back against overwhelmingly powerful alien oppressors would strike chords many Americans would sympathize with. (One might think of Red Dawn, or maybe just Star Wars.) But elsewhere, the story is bound to resonate, especially among people (and not just Arabs or Muslims) who have directly felt the heavy hand of imperialism. Even if Israel is amazingly successful in their campaign to obliterate Gaza, the most likely future scenario is a return to 1970s-style terrorist disruption (the desperation of a not-quite "utterly defeated people" and a few others who romanticize their struggle).

  • Keren Landman: [11-01] The death toll from Gaza, explained: Not very well, I'm afraid. The link to Btselem's database says "Data updated until October 5." The number of Palestinians killed is similar to the number killed since Oct. 7. The number of Israelis killed is rather less than the 1,400 on or shortly after Oct. 7. I still haven't been able to find a day-by-day accounting -- Wikipedia offers some totals to whenever the file was updated, and some detail, especially on foreign nationals on the Israeli side. Given that fighting outside Gaza ended by the second day -- Israel claimed to have killed all of the Palestinian attackers (counting over 1,000), and the breach was resealed -- virtually all subsequent deaths have been due to Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

  • Chris Lehman: [11-02] American evangelicals await the final battle in Gaza.

  • Louisa Loveluck/Susannah George/Michael Birnbaum: [11-05] As Gaza death toll soars, secrecy shrouds Israel's targeting process.

  • Branko Marcetic: [11-03] A tidal wave of state and private repression is targeting pro-Palestinian voices. Probably enough on this for a whole section, but a cluster of pieces landed here together:

  • Aaron Maté: [11-02] In Gaza, Biden is an equal partner in Israel's mass murder.

  • Harold Meyerson: [11-02] The co-dependency of Bibi and Hamas: Some false equivalency here, followed by a plea for ye olde two-state solution that is certain to fall on deaf ears. Sure, Netanyahu and Hamas are ideal enemies for each other, especially relative to other factions in their constituencies. But there is a big difference: Israel is winning, at least within the narrow confines of war, while Hamas is losing -- and Israel hopes, bad enough to sink all Palestinians.

  • Fintan O'Toole: [10-31] No endgame in Gaza: "After weeks of bombardment and thousands of deaths, what are Netanyahu's political and ethical limits?" I'll be surprised if Netanyahu has any.

  • Paul R Pillar: [11-01] With world's focus on Gaza, West Bank conflict brews: "Settlers there appear freer than ever to commit violence against Palestinians, risking a new intifada -- which was already a possibility before Hamas's Oct. 7 attack."

  • Nathan J Robinson: [11-03] What every American should know about Gaza: "We are complicit in the bombing of Palestinian civilians and have an obligation to pressure our government to push for a cease-fire."

  • Natasha Roth-Rowland: [10-28] When 'never again' becomes a war cry: "In an Israeli war that has been retrofitted onto a Holocaust template, it is obscene that a plea to stop further killing is now read as moral failure."

  • Sigal Samuel: [11-01] Israel's crackdown on dissent will only hurt it: "Silencing criticism makes it harder for Israel's leaders to think clearly." Note that most of the examples of repression are in America. "America would have benefited from listening to dissenters after 9/11; instead, it silenced them."

  • Dahlia Scheindlin: [11-03] Here's the least bad option for Gaza after the war ends: "Reoccupation by Israel? Putting the Palestinian Authority in charge? A Kosovo-style international intervention would be less bad than both of those." This is similar to the scheme I wrote up last week, except mine offered a cleaner break from Israel -- which would, I think, be better both for Gaza and for Israel, whereas Kosovo is still saddled with Serbia's claim on the territory. (The same problem of competing claims affects other de facto breakaway territories, especially in the former Soviet Union.) The UN has (well, most plausibly) the legitimacy and the skills to organize an interim government in Gaza, assuming no significant party opposes them. Israel would initially have to agree to this, and honor that (although I allowed them to retaliate for any post-truce strikes, since they think they're entitled to do that anyway; my guess is that if Israel is out of the picture, that scenario ends). Then the "militants" in Gaza would have to agree to let the UN come in and take over. I expect they would do that because: (a) doing so would allow aid to flow in; (b) they couldn't be prosecuted for anything they did before the truce; and (c) the intent would be for the UN-established government to hold and honor democratic elections in short order. There are more possible angles to this, but one advantage Gaza has over Kosovo is that there is no internal ethnic or religious conflict to settle. So, once Israel is willing to relinquish its claims and interests -- and let's face it, Israel has no good ideas of its own here -- this sort of thing might not be so hard to do.

  • Tali Shapiro/Jonathan Ofir: [11-05] Israeli doctors urge the bombing of Gaza hostpirals.

  • Richard Silverstein:

  • Oliver Stuenkel: [] The West can't defend international law while also supporting genocide: I wasn't aware that the US took any interest in international law any more.

  • Liz Theoharis: [11-05] A cycle of escalating violence.

  • Nahal Toosi: [11-04] The U N is in disarray over the Israel-Hamas war.

  • Zeynep Tufecki: [10-31] Past lies about war in the Middle East are getting in the way of the truth today. Colin Powell is the poster boy here. Old news but worth repeating:

    But if the U.S. response after Sept. 11 is a model, it is as a model of what not to do.

    After the attacks, the United States received deep global sympathy. Many Muslims around the world were furious about this blemish upon Islam, even if they opposed U.S. policies: Citizens held vigils, politicians condemned the attacks and clerics repudiated them in mosque sermons. (The idea that Muslims widely celebrated the attacks has been repeatedly shown to be false or traces back to a few instances of dubious clarity.)

    But, instead of mobilizing that widespread global sympathy to try to isolate the extremists, the United States chose to wage a reckless and destructive war in Iraq, driven by an impulsive desire for vengeance and justified by falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction.

  • Edward Wong/Patrick Kingsley: [11-05] U.S. officials fear American guns ordered by Israel could fuel West Bank violence.

  • Oren Ziv: [10-31] Risking arrest and assault, Israelis begin protesting Gaza war.

  • Mairav Zonszwin: [11-01] Israel and Palestine's existential war: Given that "genocide" is so actively bandied about, the existential risks for Palestinians are obvious. For Israel, the threat is harder to gauge. Israel could have done essentially nothing after the first day's repairs, and would still be as secure as ever behind their "iron walls." What Hamas hurt was their ego, their sense of power. But since they can kill and destroy with impunity, that's reason enough for them. Nothing existential to it, unless you think maybe they have a soul to lose?

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Ukraine War:

Other stories:

Dean Baker:

David Dayen: [10-18] The NIH's 'how to become a billionaire' program: "An obscure company affiliated with a former NIH employee is offered an exclusive license for a government-funded cancer drug."

Ethan Iverson: [10-30] Louis Armstrong's last word.

Paul Krugman: [10-31] The military-industrial-complex: He has a chart arguing that as a share of GDP, military spending is down since Eisenhower's speech, a long-term trend with bumps for Vietnam, Reagan, and Iraq, as well as blips when spending held steady while the economy crashed (2008, 2020). For a counterpoint, see William Hartung: [11-03] What Paul Krugman gets wrong about the military industrial complex. It seems to me that Eisenhower's concern wasn't the money per se, but the evolution of arms industries from mere suppliers to a political force that would make wars more (not less) likely.

Damon Linker: [11-04] Get to know the influential conservative intellectuals who help explain GOP extremism: Well, you don't really want to know them, but let's drop a few names you can try to avoid: Costin Alamariu ("Bronze Age Pervert"), Michael Anton (The Flight 93 Election; The Stakes), Patrick Deneen (Why Liberalism Failed; Regime Change), Rod Dreher (Crunchy Cons; Live Not by Lies), John Eastman (indicted Trump lawyer), Stephen Wolfe (The Case for Christian Nationalism), Curtis Yarvin ("Dark Enlightenment"). Also mentioned in passing: Tyler Cowen, Richard Hanania, Sean Hannity, Thomas Klingenstein (Claremont funder), Matthew Peterson, Christopher Rufo, Tucker Carlson.

Patrick Ruffini: [11-04] The emerging working-class Republican majority: "The coalition that elected Donald Trump in 2016 was no one-off." No point filing this in the top section on Republicans because no real Republicans were involved in the spinning of this fantasy -- adapted from the author's new book, Party of the People: Inside the Multiracial Populist Coalition Remaking the GOP. Interesting that he takes Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? as a pivot, arguing that twenty years later "the villain of the story has switched sides." But his evidence is thin, and doesn't remotely approach policy: what's changed since Kansas is that the gullible GOP base are demanding more blood in their red meat -- the diet of bigotry and fear-mongering the Party tempts them with -- but on a practical level, Republicans are still every bit as dedicated to serving oligarchy by rendering government incompetent and corrupt. It's worth noting that in his later books, Frank turned on Democratic supplicants to the rich -- especially in 2016's Listen, Liberal!, which was harsh on the Clintons (but also Obama, Cuomo, Deval Patrick, etc.) -- but many (most?) Democrats shifted their policy priorities to actually help and expand the middle class. Sure, Trump railed against the corrosive jobs effect of trade deals, but Biden came up with policies to build jobs, and to give workers the leverage to get better pay. Trump talked infrastructure, but Biden is building it. There is still much more to be done, not least because Republicans -- no matter how populist they claim to be -- are obstacles wherever they have any leverage. The Republicans' only response is to ramp up the demagoguery and bullshit.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-03] Roaming Charges: Shrinkwrapped, how sham psychology fueled the Texas death machine.

Hadas Thier: [11-04] Sam Bankman-Fried was guilty, and not even Michael Lewis could save him. As someone who regards all of crypto as criminal conspiracy, I was a bit surprised at how quickly and definitively this trial turned, but here it is. Also:

Sean Wilentz: [10-23] The revolution within the American Revolution: "Supported and largely led by slaveholders, the American Revolution was also, paradoxically, a profound antislavery event."

Gabriel Winant: [10-13] On mourning and statehood: A response to Joshua Leifer: "How to grieve, what meaning to give those tears, is cruelly a political question whether we like it or not." Leifer's original piece was Toward a humane left, and he later wrote A reply to Gabriel Winant. I'm not here to argue with Leifer (nor with Eric Levitz, whose similar position elicited much more of my thinking in recent weeks), other than to note again that morality is a luxury most enjoyed from a distance, and can easily be used as a cudgel against people who circumstance has deprived of such options. But sure, no complaints here about making the left even more humane (and not just the left, needless to say). But I do want to quote some things Winant said, because I've had similar thoughts but haven't quite found the words:

One way of understanding Israel that I think should not be controversial is to say that it is a machine for the conversion of grief into power. The Zionist dream, born initially from the flames of pogroms and the romantic nationalist aspirations so common to the nineteenth century, became real in the ashes of the Shoah, under the sign "never again." Commemoration of horrific violence done to Jews, as we all know, is central to what Israel means and the legitimacy that the state holds -- the sword and shield in the hands of the Jewish people against reoccurrence. Anyone who has spent time in synagogues anywhere in the world, much less been in Israel for Yom HaShoah or visited Yad Vashem, can recognize this tight linkage between mourning and statehood.

This, on reflection, is a hideous fact. For what it means is that it is not possible to publicly grieve an Israeli Jewish life lost to violence without tithing ideologically to the IDF -- whether you like it or not. . . . The state will do -- already is doing -- what it does with Jewish grief: transmute it into violence. For the perpetrator, the immediate psychic satisfactions of this maneuver are easy enough to understand, although the long-term costs prove somewhat more complex.

It is this context -- the already-political grief at the core of the Zionist adventure -- that makes so many on the left so reticent to perform a public shedding of tears over Hamas's victims. They are, we might darkly say, "pre-grieved": that is, an apparatus is already in place to take their deaths and give them not just any meaning, but specifically the meaning that they find in the bombs falling on Gaza. . . . Its power, in turn, is such that the most ringing dissents calling instead for peace and humane mourning for all -- like Eric Levitz's and Joshua Leifer's -- nevertheless resonate only as whimpers of sentiment. Whatever the noble and admirable content of such humane efforts, their form is already molded. They are participating, presumably without intent, in a new Red Scare being prepared not against stray callous advocates of Hamas, but against all who defend the right of Palestinians to live, and to live as equals.


The Israeli government doesn't care if you, a principled person, perform your equal grief for all victims: it will gobble up your grief for Jews and use it to make more victims of Palestinians, while your balancing grief for Palestinians will be washed away in the resulting din of violence and repression. The impulse, repeatedly called "humane" over the past week, to find peace by acknowledging equally the losses on all sides rests on a fantasy that mourning can be depoliticized. If only it were so -- but this would be the end of Zionism, after all. More tragically, the sentiment of those who want peace and justice for all and express this by chastising those in the West whom they see to be reacting with insufficient grief and excessive politics have only given amplification to the propaganda machine that is now openly calling for the blood of the innocent and the silence of doubters.

No time for me to start unpacking this, let alone building on it, but much more could be said.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Speaking of Which

Postscript Introduction

Note: It got too late Sunday night before I completed my rounds, much less checked spelling and formatting and did the other bits of housekeeping I need to do before posting, so let this sit overnight. I changed the date to Monday, but didn't make another round. I did add the bits from Twitter, and one more link on the UAW strike, since that not only really matters but wraps up the trifecta. Music Week will be delayed until Tuesday. The extra day has so far been good for two more A- records (surprises at that).

By the way, if anyone wants to try reformulating the introduction plan into an op-ed or a more serious proposal, please go ahead and do so (no citation required, but if you want to talk about it, feel free to reach out). I have no standing in mainstream media (or for that matter in solidly left-wing and/or antiwar media), and I have no appetite for throwing myself at their feet.

And yes, I understand why the plan as sketched out will be hard for lots of well-meaning folks to swallow. I'm sorry that in politics people hardly ever pay for their crimes. I was 18 when Richard Nixon was elected president, and no one in my lifetime ever deserved to pay more. (Well, maybe Winston Churchill, but he died when I was 14, or Joseph Stalin, who died when I was 2.) But that almost never happens, and even when some measure of justice is meted out, it's never enough. Nixon was granted a pardon, and retired not even to obscurity, but at least out of harm's way.

The proposed scheme simply splits off one part of the conflict and arranges it so the sides stop hurting each other. It's urgent to do so because it's turned into a self-destruction pact, as sore to Israel as it is fatal to Gaza. It leaves the rest of the conflict in place, in hopes that Israel will, in good time, recognize that they cannot forever deny Palestinians their dignity. I'm not very optimistic that they will come to their senses, but the odds are better than now, in the fevered heat of war.

The key points here are these: you cannot force Israel to do anything they're unwilling to do; you have to give Israel an option that they can choose that doesn't require that they change their fundamental political beliefs; you cannot appeal to the conscience of Israel's leaders, because they don't have a functioning one; you don't have to solve any problem but the immediate one in Gaza; you don't have to deal with Palestine's leaders, because none of them are legitimate; you do have to provide a path where the people of Gaza can live normal lives, in peace and dignity, where they have no practical need to lash out at Israel or anyone else. It is in the interest of the whole world to end this conflict, so it is worthwhile to put some effort into making it work. But for now the only piece you have to solve is Gaza, because that's the one that's spun out of control.

First Introduction

From early grade school, my favorite subject was "social studies," with geography and history key dimensions. But I also had aptitude for science, at least until an especially boorish teacher turned me off completely. I dropped out of high school, but not finding myself with any other competency, I tested my way into college, where my main studies were in sociology and philosophy. I turned my back on academic studies, but never stopped adding to my store of knowledge -- if anything, I redoubled my efforts after 2000.

When microcomputers started appearing around 1979, I bought one, and taught myself to program. Then I discovered that my real skill was engineering -- the practical application of my mindset.

Politics turned out to be mostly rhetoric: people were measure by how good they sounded, not by anything they actually did. Sure, social scientists measured things, but mostly their own prejudiced assumptions. But engineers didn't waste their time railing about the injustices of gravity and entropy. Engineers fixed things. And better than that, engineers designed and built things to not break -- or, at least, to serve a useful life before they wore out.

So, when I encounter a political problem, I tend to think about it as an engineer would (or should), in terms of function and the forces working against it. I can't be value-neutral in this, nor can anyone, though I'm better at most at recognizing my own prejudices, and at suspending judgment on those of others. A big part of my kit is what Robert Wright calls "cognitive empathy": the ability to imagine someone else's view. This is a skill that is sorely needed, and way too often lacking, in diplomats. (You're most likely to find it in sales, where one is measured on deals made, rather than on political rhetoric that precludes agreement.)

So when I encounter a political problem, my instinct is to come up with a solution: an approach that will reduce the conflict in a way that will lead to prolonged stability. It's always tempting to come up with a universal solution based on first principles, but history offers few examples of conflicted sides finding such common ground. That means for most acute conflicts we have to come up with short-range, partial fixes.

Over the last twenty years, I've come up with a lot of partial and a few comprehensive solutions to the Israel/Palestine conflict. They've never been taken seriously, by either side, or even by potentially influential third parties. The basic reason is that politically powerful Israelis are unwilling to grant concessions to Palestinians, even a small territory they have no settlement interest in (Gaza), basic human rights, and/or any real measure of economic freedom. There are various reasons and/or excuses for this, but the most important one is that no outside nation nor any possible internal force (nonviolent or not) has anything close to enough power to persuade Israel to change course. So the first rule is you have to give Israel something they would prefer to the course they have charted, which is to lay waste to Gaza, making it uninhabitable to the people who manage to survive their assault.

The first lesson Israeli leaders should draw from their war is that while it's easy to kill enough Palestinians to make you look monstrous, it's really hard to kill enough to make any real demographic difference. As long as Palestinians survive and hang onto what's left of their land, they remain to challenge and defy Israeli colonialism, sacrificing their bodies and appealing to international conscience. And while people of good will, many sympathetic to the Palestinian plight, were quick to condemn the violent outbreak, its main effect was to shock Israel into showing their true colors: that domination is based on overwhelming power, and the willingness to use it savagely when provoked.

Hence, Israel's response to the uprising -- the deadliest single day in Israel's history -- was first to threaten the total demolition of Gaza and the deaths of everyone who lived there (offering a mass exodus through Egypt as the only path to safety), then a systematic military campaign, starting with massive bombardment and leading to a ground invasion. With over two million people in Gaza, that could amount to the largest genocide since WWII. Israel's one-sided war on Gaza has slogged on for three weeks, with some of the heaviest bombing in recent history, destroying infrastructure, driving more than a million people from their homes, and theatening starvation. The longer this continues, the more world opinion will shift against Israel's brutality, until what little good will remains dissipates in disgust.

At some point, Israeli leaders are bound to realize three things: that continuing the killing hurts them more than it helps; that large numbers of Palestinians will stay in Gaza no matter what; and that as long as there are Palestinians in Gaza, the land is of no practical use to Israel. The only viable solution to this is for Israel to cut Gaza loose. The simplest way to do this is to return the mandate to the UN. This doesn't require any negotiations with Palestinians, so it doesn't resolve any issues with Palestinians within Israel, the occupied territories, or refugees elsewhere. Israel simply sets its conditions for the transfer. If the UN accepts, Israel withdraws its troops, and ceases all engagement with Gaza. Given the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding, the UN will have little choice, but everyone would be best served with some minimal understandings. I think the following would be reasonable:

  1. Israel removes any ground forces it has in Gaza, and seals the border. Israel unilaterally ceases fire, except in retaliation for attacks (e.g., rockets) from Gaza. Israel reserves the right to retaliate for each attack, one munition (shell, bomb, rocket, etc., but probably larger) for each munition used against Israel, but only within 24 hours of the incident.

  2. Israel is responsible for its land border with Gaza. Israel retains the right to continue patrolling the airspace and sea front until other arrangements are negotiated with the UN and/or future Gaza government. If Israel abuses these rights, there should be some court or referee to nonviolently resolve these disputes (but it's pretty unlikely Israel will agree to that).

  3. The UN will organize a provisional, representative government in Gaza, and will eventually organize elections (e.g., within one year of handover). The UN may dictate a constitution and a basic legal framework, which may be democratically amended or rewritten after a fixed period of time (e.g., 5 years). The UN will organize donors to provide aid in reconstruction, and may attach conditions to its aid (e.g., a court to police against corruption). The UN will issue passports to residents/citizens of Gaza, allowing them to leave if they wish, and to return at any future point they may desire.

  4. Israel and Gaza will be granted amnesty against possible charges under international law up to the date of ceasefire and transfer, and not limited to interactions between Israel and Gaza. All individuals within Gaza will also receive amnesty for their role in the revolt or other incidents that occurred up to the date of transfer. All political organizations in Gaza will be banned, and their property will be expropriated. New organizations may be formed from scratch, but none may reused the names of banned parties. Past membership in a banned political party will not be penalized.

  5. UNHCR-registered refugees in Gaza will enjoy full rights as citizens of Gaza, and will no longer be considered refugees from Israel. This doesn't affect the rights of refugees resident elsewhere. As a condition of its independence, Gaza may not call itself Palestine, and may not make any claims to land and/or people not presently contained in Gaza.

Other items not specified are subject to negotiation, which I imagine will be easier once the break is made, peace is established, and some degree of normalcy returns. Two things I haven't stressed are the desire to disarm Gaza, and the question of inspecting imports to keep weapons from entering Gaza. These things should be implemented voluntarily by Gaza itself. More weapons invites retaliation, which is inevitably collective punishment. As long as Israel retains that right, weapons shouldn't matter to them.

Another thing I didn't bother with is the hostage situation. I assume that the hostages will be released, even without negotiation, before amnesty kicks in. Of course, if Hamas is as bloodthirsty as Israel wants you to believe, they could also be executed before amnesty, in which case maybe some negotiation and exchange should take place first. I didn't want to make it more complicated than it had to be. As for the hostages Israel has taken prisoner, that call is up to Israel. Some sort of mass release, especially of prisoners who could be repatriated to Gaza, would be a welcome gesture, but need not be immediate: I hardly think Gaza really needs an influx of radicalized militants, which is the main produce of Israeli jails.

Israel gets several major wins here: they gain viable long-term security from threats emanating from Gaza; they give up responsibility for the welfare of Gaza, which they've shown no serious interest in or aptitude for; they get an internationally-recognized clean slate, immediately after committing an especially egregious crime against humanity (they're still liable for future acts against Palestinians, but they get a chance to reset that relationship); they break the link between Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and they tilt the demographic balance in the area Israel controls back to a strong Jewish majority; they get a partial solution to the refugee; and they will have already shown the world how hard they strike back, without having to go complete "final solution."

But the biggest concession to Israel is that they get to control the timing, simply because no one can let alone will move to stop them. They can bomb until they run out, which isn't very likely given that the US is already resupplying them. They can kill, maim, destroy, until they run out of targets or simply wear themselves out. Or until they develop a conscience and/or a sense of shame over how world opinion and history will view them. Or until their friends take pity and urge restraint. Or until they start losing more soldiers than they're willing to risk -- the least likely of all, given that nobody is rushing to resupply Gaza with the arms they desperately need to defend themselves (as the US and Europe did for Ukraine).

The point -- probably but not certainly short of extermination -- is that eventually Israel will tire of the killing, but still need to dispose of the rubble and the corpses. That's when this framework comes into play. Sooner would be better for everyone, but later is the dominant mindset in Israel today, and one that is unfortunately reinforced by America.

What Israel gives up is an endless series of wars and other depredations which make them look like arrogant warmongers, and make them seem malign to most of the people in most of the countries in the world. (Even in the US, even with virtually every politician of both parties in their pockets, their reputation is currently in free fall.)

Few Palestinian politicians will welcome this proposal, especially as it isn't even up to them. It's hard to argue that they've served their people well over the years, even if one recognizes that they've been dealt an especially weak hand in face of Israeli ruthlessness. But for the people of Gaza, this offers survival, freedom, and a measure of dignity. And for the world, and especially for the UN, this offers a chance to actually fix something that got broke on the UN's watch 75 years ago and has been an open sore ever since.

But sure, this leaves many more problems to be worked on. There are border issues with Lebanon and Syria. There is apartheid, loss of rights, harassment, even pogroms within Israel -- all of which offer reasons to continue BDS campaigns. At some point, Israel could decide to cut off more land to reduce its Palestinian population, but they could also reduce tensions by moving toward equal rights, secure in the expectation of a strong Jewish majority. That might spell the end of the extreme right-wing parties, at least the leverage they've recently held over Netanyahu, and for that matter the end of Netanyahu, who's done nothing but drive Israel over the brink.

Meanwhile, all we can really do is to campaign for an immediate ceasefire, both to arrest the genocidal destruction of Gaza and to salvage Israelis from the ultimate shame of their political revenge. The time for both-sidesing this is past. There is little point in even mentioning Hamas any more. This isn't a war. This is a cold, calculate massacre. History will not be kind to the people who laid the foundations of this conflict, and will judge even more harshly those who are carrying it to its ultimate ends.

I'll end this intro with something I wrote back on October 9, a mere two days into this "war" (which I initially described as a "prison break and crime spree," before moving on to a comparison to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1944 -- it's not exactly ironic how often Palestinian suffering echoes calamities in Jewish history):

Anyone who condemns Hamas for the violence without also condemning Israel for its violence, and indeed for the violence and injustice it has inflicted on Palestinians for many decades now, is not only an enemy of peace and social justice, but under the circumstances is promoting genocide.

Bold in the original, and still valid here. And three weeks later, you know who you are.

Top story threads:

Israel: See introduction above. Just scattered links below, one that caught my interest and/or pissed me off. For more newsy stuff, see the "live updates" from Vox; Guardian; Washington Post. There are also "daily reports" at Mondoweiss.

  • Ellen Ioanes/Jonathan Guyer/Zack Beauchamp: [10-28] Israeli troops are in Gaza: 7 big questions about the war, answered. This is a fairly generic intro. I don't put much stock into arguments that the reason Hamas attacked when they did had much to do with topical or even strategic concerns like the Saudi Arabia alliance or the latest Al-Aqsa Mosque outrages. Rather, as Israel keeps lurching to the right, and as America becomes more servile to the Israeli right, the sense of desperation has increased. In such times, violence at least seems like the one free thing one can do, a way to spread the pain and get the world's attention. I've often pointed out that the attraction of rockets is that the walls can't stop them. They're the one way people in Gaza have of making their presence felt to their tormentors, of reminding the world of their suffering. Of course, every time they do that, Israel strikes back, massively, reminding the world that their hold over Gaza is based on murderous force -- that that's the kind of people Palestinians are struggling to free themselves from. It doesn't work, in America at least, because we're so conditioned to love Israel and hate its enemies.

  • Rania Abouzeid: [10-21] The simmering Lebanese front in Israel's war.

  • Paula Aceves: [10-27] The corporate and cultural fallout from the Israel-Hamas war. I don't have time to sift through this long list just to feel outraged, but will remind you that the first casualties of every war are anyone who doubts the necessity of the war and the virtues of the warriors (the ones who presume to represent you; the others, of course, are evil inhuman ogres, and anyone who can't see that is a naïve simp or far worse). I'll also note that one of the fired was pursed for sharing a link to an Onion title, "Dying Gazans Criticized For Not Using Last Words To Condemn Hamas." I missed that piece, but did take note of two other Onion headlines: U.S. warns a Gaza ceasefire would only benefit humanity; and Biden Expresses Doubts That Enough Palestinians Have Died.

  • Michael Arria: [10-28] We are witnessing the largest U.S. anti-war protests in 20 years. Not just the US: See Philip Weiss: [10-29] The world is seeing, and rising.

  • Ronen Bergman/Mark Mazzetti/Maria Abi-Habib: [10-29] How years of Israeli failures on Hamas led to a devastating attack: "Israeli officials completely underestimated the magnitude of the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas, shattering the country's once invincible sense of security."

  • Paola Caridi: [10-26] Does the US really know the Arab world at all? You would think that for all those years of risking American lives, they would have developed some expertise, but both the political and military career paths mostly favored the advancement of facilitators of established prejudice, and certainly not critics, or even people with cognitive empathy. Author has a recent book: Hamas: From Resistance to Regime. I have zero confidence that anyone else I've read in recent months has any real insight into Hamas.

  • Isaac Chotiner: [10-25] Is this the end of the Netanyahu era? Interview with Netanyahu biographer Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist at Haaretz.

  • Jessica Corbet: [10-29] 30 Israeli groups urge global community to help stop surging West Bank settler violence: "Unfortunately, the Israeli government is supportive of these attacks and does nothing to stop the violence."

  • Connor Echols:

  • Richard Falk: [10-24] The West's refusal to call for a ceasefire is a green light to Israel's ethnic cleansing.

  • Thomas Friedman: [10-29] The Israeli officials I speak with tell me they know two things for sure. Friedman's such a reliable mouthpiece for those "Israeli officials" that he's rarely worth reading, but his counsel today, that sometimes it's better to do nothing when provoked, is sound, and compared to the hysteria of most of his cohort, refreshing. An earlier version of this op-ed took the last line as a title: "Please, Israel, don't get lost in those tunnels." That sums up his concern: he couldn't care less what happens to Palestinians, but he realizes that what Netanyahu's gang is doing is ultimately very bad for the Israeli people he so treasures.

  • Neta Golan: [10-28] Israeli attacks on Gaza's healthcare sector are a form of genocide.

  • Melvin Goodman: Israeli state terrorism over the years.

  • Ryan Grim: The lights are off. Here's what we know about life and death inside Gaza: Interview with Maram Al-Dada. Also: Inside a Gaza village: "All of us will die, but we don't know when".

  • Jonathan Guyer: [10-27] The Biden administration needs to update its old thinking on Israel-Palestine: "A viral essay by Biden's foreign policy adviser shows why Israel is more of a liability to the US than anyone's ready to admit." The official is national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and the piece is classic self-delusion, something shockingly common among Washington think-tankers, with their blind faith in throwing their power around, with little care for whoever gets hurt in the process. Guyer contrasts Sullivan's piece(s) with a recent one by Obama advisor:

  • Ben Rhodes: [10-18] Gaza: The cost of escalation. Behind a paywall, so let's at least quote a bit:

    The immediate comparisons to the September 11 attacks felt apt to me not only because of the shock of violence on such a scale but also because of the emotional response that followed. . . .

    But imagine if you were told on September 12, 2001, about the unintended consequences of our fearful and vengeful reaction. That we would launch an illogical war in Iraq that would kill hundreds of thousands of people, fuel sectarian hatred in the Middle East, empower Iran, and discredit American leadership and democracy itself. That we would find ourselves facing an ever-shifting threat from new iterations of al-Qaeda and from groups, like ISIS, that on September 11 did not yet exist. That we would squander our moment of global predominance fighting a war on terror rather than focusing on the climate's tipping point, a revanchist Russia under Vladimir Putin, or the destabilizing effects of rampant inequality and unregulated technologies. That our commitment to global norms and international law would be cast aside in ways that would be expropriated by all manner of autocrats who claimed that they, too, were fighting terror. That a war in Afghanistan, which seemed so justified at the outset, would end in the chaotic evacuation of desperate Afghans, including women and girls who believed the story we told them about securing their future.

    This accounting does not begin to encompass the effects of America's renewed militarized nationalism, jingoism, and xenophobia on our own society after September 11, which ultimately turned inward. While it is far from the only factor, the US response to September 11 bears a large share of the blame for the dismal and divisive state of our politics, and the collapse of Americans' confidence in our own institutions and one another. If someone painted that picture for you on September 12, wouldn't you have thought twice about what we were about to do?

    I can't look up exactly what I was thinking on 9/11/2001 because I was in Brooklyn, away from the computer where I had started keeping my pre-blog online notebook, but my memory is pretty clear. I knew in an instant that the crashed planes were blowback from past imperial misadventures, that the political caste in Washington would take them not as tragic crimes but as an insult to American hyperpowerdom, that their arrogance would strike back arrogantly, that the consequences would be impossible to predict, but would certainly create more enemies than they could possibly vanquish. I probably could have figured out that the war madness would poison our domestic politics, much as the Cold War played such a large role in crippling our labor unions. Even before 9/11, Netanyahu and Barak and Sharon had conspired to wreck the Oslo Accords and trigger an Intifada they would use to permanently disable the Palestinian Authority, figuring they'd rather fight with Hamas than negotiate with Arafat.

  • Benjamin Hart: [10-26] Why Ehud Barak thinks Israel must invade Gaza: He's a big part of the problem in Israel over the last 30 years, even as he's tried to position himself as the smarter/tougher alternative to Netanyahu. I mean, he is, but not much, especially not much of an alternative, but he is much clearer and much less of a liar, so you can learn things listening to him.

  • David Hearst: [10-23] Israel-Palestine war: Starmer's Gaza betrayal shows he is failing as a leader: UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, who saved the party for neoliberalism by ousting actual leftist Jeremy Corbyn, and who is likely to become Prime Minister next time voters get a chance to choose one. "This is the first time Britain has been complicit in a direct Israeli military action since the Suez Crisis in 1956."

  • Ellen Ioanes: [10-24] Israelis feel abandoned by Netanyahu after October 7.

  • Jake Johnson: [10-26] Eight progressives vote against House Israel Resolution that ignores Palestinian suffering. This was the first act of the House after electing Mike Johnson speaker. The vote was 412-10, with one Republican and one non-CPC Democrat dissenting, six Democrats registering as "present." The Senate passed a similar resolution unanimously -- despite More than 300 former Sanders staffers urge him to lead cease-fire resolution in Senate.

  • Jimmy Johnson: [10-28] Genocide has been catching up to Israelis ever since Zionism's inception. "Israelis now perpetrate small-scale pogroms like the one Issacharoff reported on such a regular basis that they are barely considered newsworthy."

  • Fred Kaplan: [10-24] How George W. Bush helped Hamas come to power. The history is basically accurate, but I have a different take on it. Israel never wanted a "partner for peace," so they never wanted a Palestinian leadership that enjoyed strong popular support. In Arafat, and later in Abbas, they thought they had a pawn they could manipulate, but they never wanted either to be popular, so they never really offered them much, ultimately sabotaging their authority and sending the Palestinians searching for an alternative who would stand up for them. That could have been Hamas, but Israel sabotaged them too -- with America's support, as it was easy to convince Bush that Hamas were hopeless terrorists. So the title rings true, but what really happened was that in denying Fatah any chance to serve Palestinians, they created a vacuum that Hamas tried to fill, then kept them from any effective power, driving them back to terrorism.

  • Isabel Kershner: [10-29] Netanyahu finds himself at war in Gaza and at home: "Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, apologized for accusing military and security officials of lapses that led to the Hamas massacre but declined to accept responsibility himself."

  • Whizzy Kim: [10-28] The boycott movement against Israel, explained: It's often said that nobody gives up power without a fight, but it's hard to fight injustice without complicating it. Hence the search for nonviolent resistance and pressure, which have had modest successes, especially in countries where public opinion holds some sway, both locally and among higher powers. BDS played a large role in convincing South Africa to abolish apartheid, so it seemed like an ideal strategy for pressuring Israel into ending its own system of apartheid. We're still in the stage where Israel is pulling out all the stops to keep people in America and Europe from even discussing the prospect. Gag laws, of course, have been tried before, most notoriously in the US to prevent abolitionists from petitioning Congress about slavery. We should understand that had BDS been more successful, Israel may not have blundered its way into the present war.

  • Menachem Klein: [10-26] Israel's war cabinet has learned nothing from its failures: "The leaders who oversaw Israel's Gaza policy for 15 years are incapable of abandoning the erroneous ideas that collapsed on Oct. 7."

  • Will Leitch: [10-27] Banning Palestinian flags is just the beginning.

  • Eric Levitz: [10-27] The suppression of Israel's critics bolsters the case for free speech: Someone get this guy a thesaurus. Bolster: "support or strengthen; prop up." I think I get what he's saying, but I can't figure out a way to rephrase his title. The weak link is "the case," as no way suppression of anything "bolsters free speech." "The case" turns a real argument about who's allowed to say what into an abstract right, where liberals have to defend the rights of assholes to spew hate and lies in order to justify their own right to say something sensible and helpful.

  • Richard Luscombe: [10-27] Ron DeSantis's claim he sent military equipment to Israel unravels. Well, it's the thought that counts. On the other hand, Edward Helmore: [10-29] Ron DeSantis defends call to ban pro-Palestinian groups from Florida colleges is totally on-brand.

  • Ian S Lustick: [10-13] Vengeance is not a policy: "Emotionally driven reactions from Washington won't prevent future violence. Dismantling the Gaza prison could."

  • Eldar Mamedov: [10-25] EU's vaunted unity is disintegrating over Gaza crisis.

  • Neil MacFarquhar: [10-23] Developing world sees double standard in West's actions in Gaza and Ukraine.

  • Ruth Margalit: [10-19] The devastation of Be'eri: "In one day, Hamas militants massacred, tortured, and abducted residents of a kibbutz, leaving their homes charred and their community in ruins." This doesn't excuse that, or is excused by any of the chain of outrages that came before, as far back as Deir Yassin (1948) or Qibya (1953) or, in Gaza itself, in Khan Yunis and Rafah (1956). But one shouldn't look away, because, regardless of the perpetrators and victims, this is what it looks like.

  • Stephen Mihm: [10-26] Many evangelicals see Israel-Hamas war as part of a prophecy: If you weren't brought up on "Revelations," this seems like lunacy, but if you were, you have damn little incentive to try to allay the threat of war in the region.

  • Mahmoud Mushtaha: [10-24] If we survive the bombs, what will remain of our lives?

  • Nicole Narea: [10-28] Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group, explained: "Why would Hezbollah enter the fight against Israel?" People forget that in 2006 Israel was attacking Gaza before Hezbollah started firing rockets into North Israel, triggering the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War. They succeeded in relieving Gaza, but Israel did an enormous amount of bombing damage to Lebanon, then attempted a ground incursion to rout out Hezbollah, and got beat back pretty bad. Since then, they've had occasional skirmishes, especially over the disputed Bekaa Farms, but neither side has wanted to reopen a full-scale war. Israel has, however, bombed Hezbollah and/or Iranian troops in Syria quite a few times, without reprisals from Lebanon or Iran, so there's an itch they'd like to scratch.

  • AW Ohlheiser: [10-29] Why some Palestinians believe social media companies are suppressing their posts. I don't know much about this, but I do know that my wife was threatened with a Facebook ban and responded by "algospeak" (not her term). Hard for me to tell, as I rarely post anything but links to my pieces, and occasional pictures of food, but I've seen little evidence that my pieces are even read, much less by people who hate them and try to ban me. But algorithms? That's possible.

  • Wendy Pearlman: [10-30] Collective punishment in Gaza will not bring Israel security: "Scholarship suggests the overwhelming violence unleashed on the strip is not just a violation of international law -- it is militarily ineffective."

  • Vijay Prashad: [10-26] The everyday violence of life in occupied Palestine. Prashad also wrote, with Zoe Alexandra: [10-27] When the journalists are gone, the stories will disappear.

  • Adam Rasgon/David D Kirkpatrick: [10-20] Another hospital in Gaza is bleeding: Speaking with Dr Omar Al-Najjar: "Gaza is the place we were born and raised. However much they try to frighten and scare us, I agree with my family that I can't ever leave Gaza."

  • David Remnick: [10-28] In the cities of killing: Long report on the ground, with history, but Not as much "what comes after" as advertised.

  • Richard E Rubenstein: [10-27] Conflict resultion and the war in Gaza: Beyond the "bad actor" perspective.

  • Sigal Samuel: [10-27] Palestinians fear they're being displaced permanently. Here's why that's logical. He doesn't mention the Peel Commission (1937), but they recommended partition of Palestine with forced transfer, a policy which David Ben-Gurion applauded -- publicly for the first time, although his adoption of the "Hebrew labor" doctrine made it clear that an emerging Israel would do everything it could to drive Palestinians away. That's what they did on a massive scale in 1948-50, but after that it got more difficult. Ben-Gurion advised against war in 1967 because he recognized that Palestinians wouldn't flee any more: they would stay in place, and Israel would be stuck with them, sinking the Jewish majority he had engineered by 1950. But the dream and desire to expel was always there, with the settler movement on the front lines, becoming ever more aggressive as they increased political leverage.

  • Benzion Sanders: [10-28] I fought for the I.D.F. in Gaza. It made me fight for peace. "When my Israeli infantry unit arrived at the first village in Gaza, in July 2014, we cleared houses by sending grenades through windows, blowing doors open and firing bullets into rooms to avoid ambush and booby traps." And: "All our casualties and the suffering brought on Palestinians in Gaza accomplished nothing since our leaders refused to work on creating a political reality in which more violence would not be inevitable." Also see: Ariel Bernstein: [09-29] I fought house to house in Gaza . . . I know force alone won't bring peace.

  • Jon Schwarz: Hamas attack provides "rare opportunity" to cleanse Gaza, Israeli think tank says.

  • Adam Shatz: [11-02] Vengeful pathologies. This well-crafted essay stops short of considering the pros and cons of genocide, which would push the conflict into uncharted territory, but draws on the long history of colonial conflict as well as recent Israel/Palestine, where "its political class lacks the imagination and creativity -- not to mention the sense of justice, of other people's dignity -- required to pursue a lasting agreement." A couple quotes:

    One is reminded of Frantz Fanon's observation that 'the colonised person is a persecuted person who constantly dreams of becoming the persecutor.' On 7 October, this dream was realised for those who crossed over into southern Israel: finally, the Israelis would feel the helplessness and terror they had known all their lives. The spectacle of Palestinian jubilation -- and the later denials that the killing of civilians had occurred -- was troubling but hardly surprising. In colonial wars, Fanon writes, 'good is quite simply what hurts them most.'

    What hurt the Israelis nearly as much as the attack itself was the fact that no one had seen it coming.

    Shatz notes that "many analogies have been proposed for Al-Aqsa Flood," then argues for the 1955 Philippeville uprising where:

    Peasants armed with grenades, knives, clubs, axes and pitchforks killed -- and in many cases disembowelled -- 123 people, mostly Europeans but also a number of Muslims. To the French, the violence seemed unprovoked, but the perpetrators believed they were avenging the killing of tens of thousands of Muslims by the French army, assisted by settler militias, after the independence riots of 1945. In response to Philippeville, France's liberal governor-general, Jacques Soustelle, whom the European community considered an untrustworthy 'Arab lover', carried out a campaign of repression in which more than ten thousand Algerians were killed. By over-reacting, Soustelle fell into the FLN's trap: the army's brutality drove Algerians into the arms of the rebels, just as Israel's ferocious response is likely to strengthen Hamas at least temporarily, even among Palestinians in Gaza who resent its authoritarian rule.

    Already, the 10/7 attacks, unprecedented in scale as they were, have been dwarfed by Israel's overreaction. And while demographics and modern war technology won't allow a repeat of Algeria, Israel still has a lot to lose in its quest for vengeance.

  • Raja Shehadeh: [10-26] The uprooting of life in Gaza and the West Bank: A friendly reminder that "Palestinians are determined not to be displace."

  • Kevin Sieff/Noga Tarnopolsky/Miriam Berger/William Booth/David Ovalle: [10-24] In Israel, Macron proposes using anti-ISIS coalition against Hamas. It's really mind-boggling that the leader of a country which made such a complete and utter disaster of its colonialist adventure in Algeria could want to come back for more. But even if this isn't just some deep-seated muscle memory from the golden age of European imperialism, even if it's just sheer opportunism on Macron's part, how smart is it to want to be remembered for aiding and abetting genocide? Lots of western politicians have embarrassed themselves fawning over Israel lately, but this takes the cake.

  • Richard Silverstein:

  • Norman Solomon: [10-30] Biden is a genocide denier and the 'enabler in chief' for Israel's ongoing war crimes. It kind of looks like that, doesn't it?

  • Ishaan Tharoor:

    • [10-29] Israel's Gaza offensive stirs a wave of global protest: This is the only really heartening thing to come out of this month. For many years, Palestinians have been divided between factions (like Hamas) set on fighting for their rights, and others appealing to nonviolent change: to decent public opinion, international law, and the subtle pressure of BDS. Israel has done everything possible to fight both, especially by turning them against each other, and they've done a pretty good job of locking up political elites in the US and Europe with their campaign against "terrorism." But large numbers of people, even in media markets saturated with Israeli talking points, still see through that. And once their eyes open up, further genocide will only further estrange Israel from what we'd like to think of as the civilized world.

    • [10-25] Israel says Hamas 'is ISIS.' But it's not.

    • [10-27] The brutal logic of tying colorful pieces of string around children's wrists in Gaza.

  • Nick Turse: [10-24] Secret U.S. war in Lebanon is tinder for escalation of Israel-Gaza conflict: "Billions in security aid to Lebanon, along with off-the-books commandos, could embroil the U.S. in a regional conflagration."

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [10-27] 'Tit-for-tat' after US retaliates against Iranian targets: "F-16s struck what Pentagon said were IRGC-backed militias on Friday."

  • Bret Wilkins: [10-25] 40 faith leaders lead Gaza pray-in at House Minority Leader Jeffries' DC office. I'd nominate this for Seth Meyers' "The Kind of Stories We Need Now" segment. Wilkins also wrote:

  • Li Zhou: [10-25] What unites the global protests for Palestinian rights: Given the near unanimity of the US political caste in its fealty to Israel (e.g., the Senate voted 97-0 to denounce a ceasefire), you may be surprised by how many people all around the world demonstrating for Palestinian rights, the most basic of which is not to be slaughtered by Israeli bombers and left to starve in the rubble. The messages and emphases vary, but the most basic one in the US, where Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now have been especially active, is to call for an immediate ceasefire.

Also on X (Twitter):

  • Peter Beinart: [Response to Yair Wallach: Last night, settlers invaded the village of Susya (South Hebron hills) and ordered its residents to leave within 24 hours -- otherwise they would all be killed.] All year we've been screaming that this would happen. No establishment American Jewish leader said a word. As far as I know, they still haven't. [Link to Beinart's article: [04-13] Could Israel carry out another Nakba? "Expulsionist sentiment is common in Israeli society and politics. To ignore the warning sign is to abdicate responsibility."]

  • Ryan Grim: Holy shit -- it looks like the Western media mistranslated a doctor's guess that there were more than 500 killed or wounded by the hospital bombing, and just went with killed.

    Then the press found that fewer than 500 were killed and the president of the United States told the world the numbers from the health ministry can't be trusted.

    Astounding combination of arrogance and ignorance all in the service of unchecked slaughter.

    [Continuing in comment] The error flowed, I think, from the Western media's lack of interest in Palestinians as people. If one dies, we put them in a spreadsheet, because we know on some level it's bad when civilians are killed.

    But if one is only wounded -- a leg blown off, a concussion, what have you -- that's not interesting to us, and you very rarely see stats for killed and wounded in the Western press -- only killed. Or "died," usually.

    But people in Gaza, such as this doctor in question, do care about the wounded as well as the killed. So he mentioned both, and we simply didn't hear him, because it doesn't matter to us if a Palestinian civilian is only hurt but not killed in a bombing.

  • Katie Halper: Jews pretending to be "afraid" of "antisemitic" protests: They're protests against Israeli genocide. It's you genocidal fascists who put us Jews in danger by conflating Jewishness & zionism & perpetuating the antisemitic myth that all Jews support Israel. You don't speak for us.

  • Tony Karon: Some mealy-mouthed efforts by the Biden Administration to distance itself from Israel's war crimes in Gaza do nothing to alter its culpability. The only credible way to prevent further mass slaughter of civilians is to force a cease-fire. [Link to: US says Israel must distinguish between Hamas targets and civilians. Israel will just say Hamas is using "human shields," as if that's all the excuse they need. They don't distinguish between targets and civilians because they don't make the distinction.]

  • Tony Karon: Contra to @JoeBiden's ham-handed efforts to equate Hamas with Russia, it is Israel that is following Putin's playbook. In the second Chechnya war, he supervised Russian forces flattening Grozny, and killing 18,000 people in the first weeks of his assault.

  • Tony Karon: Colonialism is deeply embedded in the BBC's DNA, which is why every report on horrors being inflicted by Israel's 'pacification' violence must be qualified by the colonizer's own spin. Clearly, @BBC bosses believe the Israeli version. They would, though, wouldn't they? [Robert Wright commented: Or it could be that, like many people, whoever wrote this doesn't know the difference between "refute" and "rebut".] Karon continued: Not really, because it's a pattern -- literally every report on the horrors unfolding in Gaza on their web site is accompanied by a disclaimer worthy of Walter Isaacson's 2001 instruction to his CNN staff to downplay and spin civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

  • Arsen Ostrovsky: [Over aerial video of a massive protest in London] This isn't a pro-Palestinian rally in London now, it's a pro-Hamas rally.

    Churchill is probably rolling in his grave.

    Jon "Pumpkinhead" Schwarz commented: Churchill probably would be upset about these demonstrations, given that he referred to Palestinians as animals ("the dog in the manger") who had no right to be upset by being replaced by "a higher grade race"

  • Nathan J Robinson: This is an important point. If the British had responded to IRA attacks on civilians by launching relentless air strikes on Irish civilian neighborhoods, it would have appeared obviously psychopathic and deranged. Yet in Gaza this is considered a reasonable response to terror.

  • David Sheen: Israeli TV running a counter of fatalities in Gaza -- most of whom are civilians and many of whom are children --under the heading "terrorists we eliminated". And for those too lazy to drive to Sderot to watch the genocide, they've got you covered with a livestream of the bombing.

    Tikun Olam commented: Language betrays the immorality and genocide. Here are a few other statistics: 8,000 Gaza dead -- 3,000 children. 45% of homes destroyed. 1.5-million refugees. 10 of 35 hospitals shut down due to lack of supplies & power.

  • Rabbi Alissa Wise: This is Netanyahu telling the world he plans genocide. So even if 8000 dead and cutting off connection to the rest of the world and access to food & water didnt convince you, now you know. ACT NOW! [Refers to Netanyahu quote, video included: "You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible"]

    Elsewhere, Barnett R. Rubin explains Netanyahu's bible quote: For those unfamiliar with the reference, here it is: I Samuel 15: 3-4: Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

    Tony Karon adds: Here, @POTUS, is your deranged partner in war crime pledging to commit Biblically-inspired genocide. That Palestinian death toll you don't want to hear about? Is that because you know you could have prevented it?

Trump, and other Republicans: Big news this week, aside from Trumps trials and fulminations, was the election of Mike Johnson (R-LA) as Speaker of the House. So he's getting some press, raising the question of why anyone who thought Jim Jordan was too toxic could imagine that he'd be any more tolerable.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:

  • Lautaro Grinspan: [10-23] How young Argentines might put a far-right libertarian into power: Javier Milei, who if elected would probably become the very worst national president in the world today. He was the surprise leader in the primary round, but fell to second place in last Sunday's first-round election. (It's kind of a screwy system.)

Other stories:

Kelly Denton-Borhaug: [10-29] The dehumanization of war (please don't kill the children): Always two titles at this site, so I figured use both, for this "meditation for Veterans Day," which I could have filed under Israel or Ukraine or possibly elsewhere, but thought I'd let it stand alone. Starts in Hiroshima, 1945 with what Stalin would have called a "statistic," then focuses in on a 10-year-old girl, whose mother was reduced to "an unrecognizable block of ash," with only a single gold tooth to identify her. The author has a book about American soldiers but the theme is universal: And Then Your Soul Is Gone: Moral Injury and U.S. War-Culture.

Lloyd Green: [10-29] Romney: A Reckoning review: must-read on Mitt and the rise of Trump: "McKay Coppins and his subject do not hold back in a biography with much to say about the collapse of Republican values." Also on the Romney book:

John Herrman: [10-27] What happens when ads generate themselves? I wish this was the most important article of the week. This is a subject I could really drill down hard on, not least because I think advertising is one of the most intrinsically evil artifacts of our world. And because "artificial intelligence" is a pretty sick oxymoron.

Bruce E Levine: [10-27] Why failed psychiatry lives on: Seems like someone I would have gained much from reading fifty years ago (although R.D. Laing, Thomas Szasz, Paul Goodman, and Neil Postman worked for me).

Sophie Lloyd: [10-28] Disney's 8 biggest mistakes in company's history: I wouldn't normally bother with a piece like this, but as mistakes go, these are pretty gross. I mean, after their treatment of slavery and Indians, and their mistreatment of lemmings, number eight was an omnibus "A long history of sexism."

James C Nelson: [10-27] Just another day in NRA paradise: I suppose I have to note that another crazy person with an assault rifle killed 18 and injured 13 more in Lewiston, Maine, last week. This article is as good a marker as any. You know the drill. If you want an update: Kelly McClure: [10-27] Suspect in Maine mass shootings found dead.

Will Oremus/Elizabeth Dwoskin/Sarah Ellison/Jeremy B Merrill: [10-27] A year later, Musk's X is tilting right. And sinking.

Nathan J Robinson: I could have split these up all over today's post, but want to point out the common source of so much insight:

  • [10-27] They're all "extremists": "The Republican Party has long been pushing us toward an apocalyptic dystopian future. The differences between individual Republicans are far less important than their similarities." My only question is why the quotes? "Extremists" is plainly descriptive, and hardly controversial.

  • [10-26] How the occupation of Palestine shapes everyday life -- and what happens now: Interview with Nathan Thrall, former director of the Arab-Israeli Project at the International Crisis Group, and author of The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine, and most recently A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy. Thrall lives in Jerusalem, but has recently been trying to promote his book in the UK, noting:

    I have never seen this degree of intolerance for any sort of nuance in the discussion of Israel-Palestine, for any discussion of root causes, even just expression of sympathy for Palestinians living under occupation. We've seen events canceled in the UK and the US, hotels refusing to host long planned Palestinian conferences. A concert in London was shut down, and my own book event was shut down in London by the UK police. And of course, what made headlines was the prize in Germany that was going to be given to a Palestinian author. And you saw that the UK Home Secretary had said -- the police, of course, are not going to follow through on this -- but she recommended to the police to arrest anyone, or to consider arresting anyone, with a Palestinian flag. We saw in France that they were banning Palestinian protests. It's really a very difficult moment to speak with any kind of intelligence or nuance about this issue.

    I've occasionally noted instances of repression emanating from political and cultural elites in the US and Europe, clearly aimed at shutting down any discussion, much less protest, against all the violence in and around Gaza, but I haven't seriously tracked it, because this assault on free speech and democracy seems like the less urgent tragedy. But it's happening. And it reminds me of 9/11: not the shocking initial event, but the chilling efforts to keep anyone but the warmongers from speaking, allowing them the illusion of cheering applause as they went ahead with their ill-considered and ultimately self-destructive program.

  • [10-25] "Libs of Tiktok" is Orwell's "two minutes hate": "The right-wing social media account is viciopus and dehumanizing. Its revolting toxicity shows us why empathy and solidarity are so important."

  • [10-23] The wisdom of Edward Said has never been more relevant. Article includes extensive quotes.

Jeffrey St Clair: [10-27] Roaming Charges: That oceanic feeling. Lead section on climate change (remember that?) and environment. I didn't realize that small planes still burn leaded gasoline. Then the dirt on Mike Johnson. Then a much longer list of criminal injustices. Plus other things, like a Nikki Haley quote ("I'm tired of talking about a Department of Defense. I want a Department of Offense.")

Evaggelos Vallianatos: [10-27] Slauighter of the American buffalo: Article occasioned by the Ken Burns documentary, which may be an eye-opener if you don't know the story, and adds details if you do. It is a classic case of how insatiable world markets suck the life out of nature, and how the infinite appetites of financiers, who've reduced everything to the question of how much more money their money can make.

Richard D Wolff: [10-27] Why capitalism cannot finally repress socialism. This assumes that some measure of sanity must prevail. And yes, I know that's a tautology, as socialism is the sanity that keeps capitalism from tearing itself apart and dissolving into chaos.

Nothing from The New Republic this week, as they decided I'm "out of free articles," even though I'm pretty sure we have a valid subscription. Not much there that isn't elsewhere, although I clicked on close to ten articles that looked interesting, before giving up, including one called Kyrsten Sinema's Delusional Exit Interview. AlterNet has a similar article: Carl Gibson: [10-30] 'I don't care': Kyrsten Sinema plans to cash in on Senate infamy if she loses reelection in 2024.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Speaking of Which

After a grueling Speaking of Which last week (9497 words, 125 links), I resolved this week not start my article search until Sunday: partly because many of the week's stories are quickly evolving, but mostly because I said pretty much what I wanted to say last week (and much of it the week before). But the way this column comes together is a lot like surfing: you look around, notice an interesting wave, and try to ride it. The process is very reactive, each little bit giving you a glimpse of some still unparsed whole, further obscured by a sort which obliterates order.

What I want to do this week is to start by making a few points that I think need to be highlighted, as plainly and clearly as possible.

On October 7, Palestinians in Gaza launched a surprise attack on parts of Israel adjacent to the walls surrounding Gaza. The attackers fired about 5,000 rockets over the walls, and about 2,500 fighters infiltrated Israel, attacking military bases, villages, and kibbutzim. On the first day, they killed some 1,200 Israelis, and took some 200 back to Gaza as hostages. Within the next day or two, Israel killed or repelled the infiltrators, and took control back of the checkpoints and wall breaches. From that point, the Palestinian offensive was over.

If you can overlook 75 years since Israel started pushing Palestinian refugees into Gaza, the slaughter on the way to Suez in 1956, the reprisal raids up to 1967, the military rule from 1967 up until the deputization of the PLO under the Oslo Accords, and the blockade and periodic "mowing the grass" since 2006; if you can put all of that out of mind, as well as the recent rash of settler pogroms in the West Bank, and the encroachment on the Al-Aqsa mosque, and the disinterest of other Arab leaders as they negotiate alliances with Israel and the US, then sure, the attack was unprovoked, savage, and shocking. But given how systematically Gaza has been isolated, impoverished, and tortured, and given that the evident trend was only getting worse, is it really a surprise that people treated so badly might choose to fight back, even to risk death (which given the how much more power Israel wields was pretty certain)?

The rest of the war -- two weeks so far -- is purely Israel's choice, whether for revenge or for spite, or perhaps, as numerous Israelis have urged, a step toward a "final solution." Israel blames the attacks on Hamas, and has vowed to kill them all (supposedly 40,000, out of a population of 2.1 million), but doesn't discriminate very well. They've already killed four times as many Palestinians as they've lost. And they seem intent on striking the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria as well. They've vowed to enter Gaza with massive force, to root out and end all resistance. They certainly have the firepower to kill tens and hundreds of thousands. The only question is whether conscience or shame will stop them. It certainly doesn't seem like the United States will dare second guess them.

It's been clear from day one how this will play out. The people who run Israel, from David Ben-Gurion down to the present day, are very smart and very capable. They could have settled this conflict at any step -- certainly any point since 1980, and possibly quite earlier -- but they didn't, because they kept getting away with it, while cultivating the hope for ever greater spoils. But the more they kill, the more they destroy, the more miserable they make the lives of those subject to their whim, the more humanity they lose. America prides itself on being Israel's dearest friend, but what kind of person lets a friend embarrass himself like this? This may once again be a case where no nation stands up against genocide, but it is not one that will easily be forgotten.

"What kind of friend" may be rhetorical, but it's time to take a much harder look at what the US does for and to its allies. The US habitually drags its friends into wars: as with the "coalitions of the willing" in Afghanistan and Iraq, the various lesser "war on terror" projects, and the hopeless war in Ukraine. The US collects tribute in the form of arms purchases. And the US choices of allies (like Israel and Saudi Arabia) and enemies (like Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea, or more seriously Russia and China) taint every ally, as the US has become the world's most recalcitrant rogue state.

It's tempting to blame America's foolhardy foreign policy on the vast power of the military-industrial complex, but what's locked it into place isn't just revolving door corruption, but also the persistence of several really bad ideas, like the notion of "peace through strength," the cult of deterrence, and the great sanctions game. We need a fundamental rethink on security and foreign policy. We need in particular to realize that Israel is not a model we want to follow, but a dead end disaster we need to pull back from. And hopefully convince them to pull back too.

The next section is my "thesis-oriented" original introduction. (I only got down to 13 before scratching it as the lead and writing the newer one above, but will try to knock out the rest before I post on Monday.) Finally, there is another note on foreign policy at the end of the post, which I jotted down back on Saturday. This week's links came out of a very quick scan of sources.

Actually, when I started writing an introduction on Sunday, I intended a numbered list, with about a dozen items on it. What follows is as far as I got, before turning to the shorter statement above.

  1. The most basic political division is between Left and Right. The Right believes that human beings sort into hierarchies, where order is ultimately maintained through the threat of force. The Left believes that people are fundamentally equal, and can enter into a political compact for the mutual benefit of all. The Right looks back on a long history of tribal warfare and plunder, which they hold to be the natural order, but really just comes down to their privileges. On the other hand, the Left appeals to those denied respect and privilege, looking forward to our most generous hopes and aspirations.

  2. As human society and technology become more complex, as population grows and interacts faster, as people become more conscious of how the world works, traditional hierarchies falter and frustrate. This leads to conflict. Ruling elites never give up power without pressure. Their first instinct when challenged is repression. Even if successful at first, the pressure builds up, and can eventually explode in revolution. The alternative is reform: diluting elite power to better serve more people, channeling conflict into cooperation. Conflict destroys, but consent builds.

  3. The modern world is the result of forces of change (mostly driven by science, technology, commerce, and culture), as modulated by bouts of revolution and reform. It is reasonable to view change as an inevitable force. Rigid regimes fight back with repression, risking violent revolution. More flexible regimes accommodate change through reform. Europe was regularly rocked by revolutions from 1789 through 1920, but reform gained ground from the 1830s (in England) on, and has become the rule, especially after 1945. One might also note that counterrevolutions occasionally occurred, but tended to blow up disastrously (most notoriously in Germany, 1933-45).

  4. Violence has been a common human trait as far back as anyone can remember. It's been used to dominate, to control, to loot and plunder, both by and against elites. Many of these uses have come to be disparaged, yet in one form or another they persist: I've seen a tally of some 250 wars since the "big one" ended in 1945. Even today, most of us accept the concept that one is entitled to fight back when attacked. The Left was defined in the French Revolution, and most Leftists at least sympathized with the Russians in 1917, and even the Vietnamese in the 1950-70s, but lately the Left in America have become so reform-minded that they are quick to condemn any violence, even in circumstances that have totally closed any hope for peaceful reform. In my opinion, true pacifists are not wrong, but they are out of touch with the human condition (e.g., as in Gaza).

  5. As Bertolt Brecht put it, "food first, morals later." Brecht understood that thinking about morality is a luxury that can only be indulged after more basic needs. (Another famous line: "what keeps mankind alive? bestial acts.") Yet when people broke out of their cage in Gaza and immediately killed and maimed people on the other side of the walls, we were immediately lectured by well-meaning Leftists that in order to "talk morally" about the event, we first had to condemn the killers, lest any later explanation of why they killed should sound like an excuse, and thereby expose the morality of the Left to shaming.

  6. Morality is a personal belief system that guides one's behavior in normal circumstances. That's probably true for all people, but it particularly matters to Leftists, because our politics is largely dictated by our moral concerns, and that's something we're rather proud of. But it shouldn't be an excuse for arrogance. Morality isn't a license which allows you to condemn people you don't understand, especially when the big thing you don't understand is what other options that person has. Morality may seem absolute, but it's application is always contingent on what options are actually available, and what their consequences may be. On the other hand, where you can reasonably discern other, more moral, options, you might be able to criticize: while, say, Hamas or IDF soldiers may have very limited options, a Prime Minister has options enough to deserve more scrutiny.

  7. While morality may guide your political choices, available options are often limited, unclear, compromised, highly contingent -- hence the cliché of always having to vote for "the lesser evil." Many political decisions are made on what amounts to blind trust.

  8. The key point to understand about Israel is that it is the result of a settler colonial project, where a foreign imperialist power sponsored and installed an alien population, effectively stripping a native population of most of its rights. There are several dozen similar examples, mostly in the Americas, installed by European empires from 1500 into the mid-1900s. The primary determinant of success was demographic. Settler states remained in charge where immigrants were a clear majority (e.g., Canada, Australia, US), but not where they never came close to majority status (South Africa and Algeria were the most hotly contested. Israel is unusual in several respects: although Zionists began moving to Palestine in the 1880s, the big influx only happened after Britain took over in 1920, reaching about 30% in 1948. Between the partition (expanded during the 1948-50 war), the forced removal of 700,000 Palestinians, and immigration from Europe and Arab lands, Israel's settler population grew to 70% before the 1967 war, when Israel seized more lands with much more Palestinians. Since then, the demographic split is about 50-50, although most Palestinians have no political rights or representation. Israel has managed to retain control through a really extraordinary "matrix of control" (Jeff Halper's term), that is unique in history.

  9. Israel shares many characteristics with other settler colonies (especially formerly British ones). First is a strong degree of segregation of the settlers from the natives, and the economic marginalization of the latter. Israel preserved the British colonial legal system, with military control, for Palestinians, while evolving its own system for registered Jews. Laws regarding the sale of land and the permitting of buildings were skewed to siphon off resources. (The US had similar laws, but by 1900 the Native American population had dwindled to the point there was little left to steal, and the reservations, while impoverished, were left as retreats.)

  10. There are many unusual things about Israel, but the most important one is that Israel synthesized a new culture, with its own language and an extensive mythology, based on its status as a settlement (before Israel, it was simply the Yishuv). Before aliyah, Jews spoke local languages (like Arabic and German), or creoles (like Ladino and Yiddish). In Israel, they spoke Hebrew. They embellished the long history of Jewish suffering into their own cosmic mantra. They farmed. They fought. They refashioned orthodox Judaism into one that celebrated Israel. And they trained new generations to maintain the settler ethic. The result is a psyche that cannot ease up and do what every other successful settler nation has done: let its native population adjust to a normal life.

  11. European settler colonialism reached a sort of peak shortly after 1900, but the two world wars it inspired broke the bank. Britain cut India and Palestine loose in 1947-48, having come up with half-assed partition plans that led to multiple wars. Most of Africa was independent by 1960. France lost Vietnam in 1954, and Algeria in 1962. Nearly every colony had an independence movement. Palestine was, if anything, ahead of the curve, with a major revolt in 1936-39. Today, one is tempted to fault the Palestinians for not seeking some sort of accommodation with the Israelis, but they had reasons to expect more -- probably up to the 1973 war, after which Egypt abandoned them. It is hard for us today to imagine what it felt like to be under a colonialist thumb, but Palestinians knew that all too well.

  12. Israelis have a word, "hasbara," which translates to "explaining," but is really more like spin. Zionists have been working their spin on Americans since well before 1947, and they are very good at it. Any time Israel comes up, you can count on constant monitoring of news and opinion sources, with vigorous lobbying to get us to say what they want, in the terms they want us to be using. They've turned the word "terrorist" into a conditioned reflex to kill. The Palestinians they kill are all, if not "terrorists," at least "miltants." We all know that Israel is the "only democracy in the Middle East," even though half the people aren't allowed to vote. The propaganda machine got cranked up to max the moment the Gaza breakout attacks started, and within minutes everyone in America -- at least in upper punditland -- were singing the same hymns. They've created a linguistic cage that is making it difficult to think at all clearly. Long experience makes one wonder: is it really Hamas that attacked Israel, or is Hamas just the target we've been trained to hate? Why is it the "Israel-Hamas War" when Israel is the only one with an army and air force? And when the real target that Israel is pounding isn't Hamas, which is basically invisible, but all of Gaza? After key Israelis threatened to kill literally everyone in Gaza, why aren't we talking about genocide, instead of just some "humanitarian crisis"?

  13. Everyone in Israel has an ID card. That ID card specifies your rights, whether you can vote, which courts will try cases you are involved in, where you can go, much more. In America, we have a word for this kind of systematic discrimination based on birth: racism. It's no longer embedded in law, but it is deeply embedded in culture, and it pops up pretty often if you're at all sensitive to it. Racism may not be the right word for what's not just practiced in Israel but enshrined in law, but it's a term that Americans recognize the implications and consequences of.

  14. Nationalism was a 19th century European invention, which sought a conservative sense of popular cohesion, at a time when capitalism was going global, intellectuals turned cosmopolitan, and ordinary people were promised a stake in public life. It worked by turning people against other groups, who could be imperial overlords or local minorities (like Jews). Zionism was an attempt to posit a Jewish nationalism, but given the diaspora first had to settle on a land. The Zionists went hat-in-hand to various imperial capitols. The British saw an opportunity, took Palestine from the Ottomans, and the rest is history -- including the rise of a Palestinian nationalism to struggle against the British and the Israelis. Nationalism, even more than the Holocaust, is what binds Israel to Nazi Germany, and what threatens Israel's future. In particular, it's estranging Israel from the cosmopolitan Jewish diaspora.

  15. Israel is the most deeply and intensively militaristic nation in the world, possibly in world history. Nearly everyone gets drafted and trained (except Palestinians and ultra-orthodox Jews, although more of the latter are joining). Reserves extend well into middle age, and there are numerous other police and spy agencies. Military leaders move on to dominate the political and business castes. The arms industry is huge, and subsidized not just by the state but by billions of dollars of US aid each year. Treaties with neighbors like Egypt and Jordan have never produced peace dividends. Rather, Israel has always moved on to taunting other "enemies" (Lebanon, Iraq, Iran), plus they've always had the Palestinians to keep down. It's a lot of work keeping enemies riled up at you, but they've developed a taste for it, and can't imagine giving it up.

  16. Virtually everyone in the American defense sector is in bed with Israel, but none more so than the neoconservatives, who so admire Israel's unilateral projection of power, their refusal to negotiate, and their willingness to violate norms against assassinations and such that they advocate America adopting the same policies on a global scale. These are the people whose 1990s Project for a New American Century started the campaign to invade Iraq, but they also conspired to bring Likud to power to demolish the Oslo Accords and fire up the 2000 Intifada. The GW Bush administration was run by those same people. While their policies were disastrous, they still exercise enormous influence in Washington. Israel's bad ideas are at least limited by its small size and parochial interests. But American neoconservatives have bigger game in mind, like Russia and China.

  17. Americans have always been sympathetic to Israel, though the reasoning involved varies: Christian fundamentalists see a fulfillment of biblical prophecies; many Americans see a kindred settler spirit; neo-imperialists see an ally against Arab ills (nationalism, socialism, Islamism); liberals see an outpost of Western democratic (and capitalist) values (although earlier on leftists were enamored of Israeli socialism); anti-semites see a distant place to put unwanted Jews, and Jews see a thriving refuge for their co-religionists; and military-industrialists see a booming market and a stimulator of other markets. But the political calculations have changed since the 1990s: the Republicans aligned not just with Israel but with the Israeli right; and while many Democrats have become wary of the racism, repression, and belligerence of Israel, very few politicians have been willing to risk punishment by the Israel lobby and their donors. The result is that the US no longer attempts to sanitize or rationalize Israeli positions. Trump and Biden simply jump when commanded, as if America has no interests other than to serve at Israel's feet. This, in turn, has only emboldened the Israeli right to turn ever more viciously on Palestinians.

  18. Approximately half of the people subject to Israeli law and enforcement cannot vote in Israel. About 20% of the remainder are nominally Israeli citizens, but are subject to many forms of discrimination. The remainder are Jews from various backgrounds, some intensely religious, some not at all, but almost all unite on their shared fear and loathing of Palestinians. The old divide between right and left has largely disappeared as the welfare state has been trimmed back to a tolerable minimum, leaving as the only real issue the contest of which party appears to be the most barbaric toward the Palestinians. This has allowed the ascendancy of a series of far-right demagogues, which Netanyahu has been agreeable to work with, and has even tried to outflank.

  19. Aside from the rump group in the Knesset, which has always remained utterly powerless, there has never been a viable forum for Palestinians to air out their political differences. The PLO was a coalition of groups in exile that never had roots in the Occupied Territories. The Oslo Accords ratified their election as the Palestinian Authority, but when Hamas attempted to enter the political process and challenged Fatah, their wins were thrown out, and no further elections were allowed. (Israel, and America, couldn't abide democratic elections where the wrong people won. Remember the elections promised for 1956 in Vietnam? Eisenhower canceled them for fear of losing to the Communists, leaving them no choice but to fight.) Hamas wound up seizing power in Gaza, which Israel responded to with blockade and bombs. Israel branded Hamas as terrorists, giving them carte blanche to kill whenever it suited them. Fatah, circumscribed in ever tighter circles in the West Bank, remains ineffective, with a stench of corruption. This suits Israelis, who love complaining about having no partner for peace.

  20. Israel's far-right turn is built on ethnocentrism, racism, and a strong belief that might makes right. This has largely been led by the settler movement, which kicked off immediately after the 1967 war, and was dedicated to establishing "facts on the ground" that would make it politically impossible for future Israeli leaders to negotiate any "land for peace" deal (like the one with Egypt, which did result in the evacuation of two Israeli settlements; the 2006 removal of Israeli settlements from Gaza was deliberately not negotiated to avoid such appearance). The pace of settlement building in the West Bank accelerated significantly after Oslo, and did much to sabotage peace prospects. Although all Israeli governments from 1967 on have supported the settler movement, the latest government has raised its support to a new level, encouraging settlers to attack Palestinians and drive them from the fields they have been working. This seemed to be a calibrated first step toward forcing Palestinians into exile, although it was still small and tentative -- unlike the post-attack demands that all Gazans move south and flee Gaza into Egypt, or face death as Israel invades. That is exactly the form that genocide would take.

The October 6 attacks were immediately met with a deafening roar of condemnation, at least in America and probably in Europe, even by people who have long been very critical of Israel's brutal occupation and long history of duplicity and propaganda. That's fine on a personal level, but what Israeli leaders were looking for, and what they heard, was assent to respond with violence in even greater orders of magnitude. When one said "terrorism," they heard "kill them all." When one said "this is Israel's 9/11," they heard "it's time for all-out war." And when Israelis threatened genocidal revenge, and got little or no pushback from their old allies, the die was cast. They would bomb and kill until even they couldn't stand it anymore. And it would happen not because of what Hamas did, but because they had started down this road a century ago. (There's a book called Jerusalem 1913 which offers one credible landmark date.) Because no one ever took the threat seriously enough to stop them. Because they pulled the occasional punch and laughed it off. Because we fellow settler colonists secretly admired them.

It's tempting to think that world opinion, not least the rich Americans who bestow so much generosity on Israel, could talk Israel down from this precipice of genocide. In that light, Biden's public embrace and endorsement seems not just foolish but cowardly. I won't argue that it's not. But I'm reminded of something that David Ben-Gurion liked to say: "it only matters what the Jews do." And here, unencumbered by public opinion and other people's morality, they will surely do what they've always wanted to do, and reveal themselves as they truly are. Or at least some of them will: the ones naively given so much deadly power.

[PS: Ben-Gurion said a lot of ridiculous bullshit, so scouring Google for an exact quote is hard and painful. Closest I came to this one was "it does not matter what the goyim say, but what the Jews do." But my memory is more to my point.]

Two more personal items for possible future reference:

  • Laura is unhappy with Bernie, as "he can't even call on Israel to stop the bombing!" I think this has something to do with Senate unanimously adopts resolution stating support for Israel. Not only did Sanders vote for the resolution, he didn't call for a ceasefire in a statement he issued calling for food to be allowed in.

  • I dug up the link to Laura's "one and only" 2010 poem, which she wrote for a local "poetry slam" event, but continues to be relevant, urgent even.

Calling for a ceasefire should be one of the easiest and sanest things any politician can do. That politicians are reluctant to do so suggests that someone is snapping the whip hard behind them. For instance, I just saw this tweet:

A senior adviser to [UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer was asked how many Gazans have to die before Labour will call for a ceasefire. The reply came: "As many as it takes . . ."

Top story threads:


Trump, and other Republicans:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Ukraine War:

Other stories:

Brian Merchant: [10-20] On social media, the 'fog of war' is a feature, not a bug. "Even if that haze has occasionally been punctured for the greater good, as when it's been used for citizen journalism and dissident organizing against oppressive regimes, social media's incentive structure chiefly benefits the powerful and the unscrupulous; it rewards propagandists and opportunists, hucksters and clout-chasers."

David Pogue: [10-19] My quest to downsize without throwing anything away: "A big old house full of belongings -- could I find them all a new life?"

Vincent Schiraldi: [10-16] Probation and parole do not make us safer. It's time to rethink them. Some troubling examples and statistics. Author also has a new book: Mass Supervision: Probation, Parole, and the Illusion of Safety and Freedom.

Jeffrey St Clair: [10-20] Born under punches: Counterpunch 30th anniversary.

We went to the Global Learning Center's annual banquet on Saturday, where we were lectured by Bob Flax, past executive director of Citizens for Global Solutions, on the need for effective world government. I was pretty much aligned with their thinking 25 years ago, when I started thinking about some kind of major political book. I circulated a draft of about 50 pages to some friends, and every time I mentioned anything in that direction, I got savage comments from one reader. The gist of her comments was: no fucking way anything like that's going to fly. I had to admit she was right, which killed that book idea -- though after 2001 events suggested more urgent political book tasks.

Clearly, the idea of a benign global authority which can lawfully arbitrate disputes between nations has considerable appeal. Flax started his presentation by pointing out how the superior government of the US Constitution resolved disputes and standardized practices, at least compared to the previous Articles of Confederation. On the other, every government presents an opportunity for hostile takeover by special interests -- or for that matter, for its own bureaucratic interests. There are, of course, reasonable designs that could limit such downsides, but they will be resisted, and it doesn't take much to kill a process that requires consensus.

Consequently, I've found my thinking heading toward opposite lines. Instead of dreaming of an unattainable world order, why not embrace the fact that nations exist in a state of anarchy? It's been quite some time since I looked into the literature, but I recall that a fair amount of thought has been put into functioning of anarchist communities. The key point is that since no individual can exercise any real power over anyone else, the only way things get done -- at least beyond what one can do individually -- is through cooperative consensus-building.

The smartest political book to appear in the last 20-30 years is Jonathan Schell's The Unconquerable World -- maybe smarter than Schell realized, as he doesn't spend nearly enough time on the insight of his title. Yet, at least since 2000, efforts to conquer and occupy other parts of the world have nearly all been doomed to failure: the US in Afghanistan and Iraq (and Somalia and Libya and Syria); Saudi Arabia in Yemen; Russia in Ukraine; Israel in Gaza. None of these were what you'd call underdogs, yet they ultimately couldn't overcome the resistance of the people they meant to subdue. (China may prove an exception in Sinkiang, where they have huge advantages, but probably not in Taiwan, where they don't.)

Unable to conquer, the only recourse is to deal with the other nation as an equal, to show respect and to search out areas that may be mutually beneficial. American reliance on power projection and deterrence seems to be habitually baked in, which is strange, given that it has almost never worked. On the other hand, what has worked -- at least for US business elites (benefits for American workers are less plentiful) -- has been generous bilateral and multilateral engagement with "allies."

Of course, I didn't bring this up in the long Q&A period that followed. A who guy spends all his life working on a nice dream shouldn't have it trampled on just because I'm a skeptic, but also I doubt I could have expressed such a profound difference of opinion in a forum that was predisposed to the speaker. But had I spoken up, most likely I would have held myself to a smaller, tangential question: is anyone in his circles seriously talking about a right to exile? Sure, they are big on the ICC, which they see as necessary to enforce international laws against war crimes and human rights abuses. The ICC rarely works, as it depends on being able to get their hands on suspects. (I think it would work better as a reference court, where it could validate facts and charges, in absentia if necessary, but not punish individuals.)

A "right to exile" offers people convicted in one country the chance to go into exile elsewhere, if some other country decides the charges are political in nature or simply unjust. This is both a benefit to the individual freed and to the country, which no longer has to deal with a troublesome person. This is also likely to reduce the level of international hostility that is tied to the perception of people being treated unfairly. And it should reduce the incentive that countries have for prosecuting their own citizens. It could also reduce the need to determine whether immigrants need to be protected as refugees.

I've never seen anyone argue for such a right, but it seems to me that it would make the world a slightly better place. (When I looked up "right to exile," most references concern whether a state has a right to exile (or banish) its citizens -- something that is widely frowned upon. I could see combining both meanings, provided there is a willing recipient country, and the person is agreeable to the transfer.

I have a few dozen off-the-cuff ideas worth pitching, some simple and practical, others more utopian (for now, anyway). Paul Goodman wrote a book called Utopian Essays & Practical Proposals. That strikes me as a super subtitle, to say the least. His 1949 proposal for a car-free Manhattan still strikes me as a pretty good one.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Speaking of Which

Note: I ran out of time Sunday evening, so I posted what I had, hoping to fill it out with my usual sources and clean it up and repost Monday. I've added a few things (none new articles -- the Kaplan and Silverstein sections are largest, and a couple links to MEE), but my eyes are glazing over, and I need to take a break and move on to other things. So I've done very little rewriting, and no reorganizing. Sorry about that. Consider this final for the week. I believe that there are enough ideas and words here for a coherent essay, but despair of getting them structured right.

I started writing an introduction on Friday night, and spent all of Saturday laboring over it, only to find it impossible to say everything I wanted to say in the limited time I had. What I wrote wasn't worthless, so when I hacked it out, I moved it to the end of this post. It is, however, incomplete, and not as convincingly fleshed out as I would like. I did manage to write up a fantasy sketch on how what they're calling the "Israel-Hamas War" might come to a soft landing, given a considerable (and unexpected) change of heart in Jerusalem and Washington (and probably Cairo).

That's followed by one paragraph on why that's unlikely, which I might have followed up with three or four more on the genocidal psychology Israelis have cultivated for over a century. (It predates the Holocaust, which itself was the ultimate example of nationalist, colonial, and imperialist plots against whole peoples. I could give you a long list, probably starting with the extermination of the Arawak in Hispaniola, but one vivid example from American memory if the Trail of Tears. By the way, the deeply cultivated memory of the Holocaust in Israel probably acts more to inhibit its repeat than to inspire it, which is one reason why it's so difficult to write up analogies between Nazis and Israelis -- not because they boggle the imagination but because they're often so easy: you won't find a closer historical antecedent to the eruption from Gaza that started this episode than the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.)

My wife also recommended this piece, dated [2018-08-14], so old as news goes, but had the movement it covers been more successful, we might be having less news this week: Nathan Thrall: BDS: How a controversial non-violent movement has transformed the Israeli-Palestinian debate. I've said a lot of negative things lately about sanctions, especially as a much-overused tool of American foreign policy, but in all things you need to consider the circumstances and the alternatives. One key case where a BDS campaign was successful in affecting much-needed change was South Africa. As with Israel, the established Apartheid regime was so entrenched and so powerful it was hard to imagine them getting overthrown, and impossible to think that a foreign power might persuade them. Yet economic pressure, along with an appeal to conscience, finally did the trick.

Perhaps the single best book I've read on Israel is Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions (2004). He starts with an old Jewish parable which I'd have to look up to get right, but it basically says never give in to pressure now when you can put it off until later. Israeli leaders (even Netanyahu) have always been smart and flexible. They've repeatedly conceded points, but almost never have they followed up on those concessions. They begged for the UN partition resolution in 1947, then ignored its borders. They agreed to cease fires, only to reload and resume the attack. They signed armistices in 1949-50, promising to turn them into peace treaties, but never did. When Eisenhower insisted they halt the 1956 war, they did, but dragged their feet for six months on the necessary withdrawal. They agreed to UN resolutions after the 1967 and 1973 wars, then made a mockery of them, annexing Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. They invaded Lebanon in 1978, and when Carter insisted that they withdraw, they did . . . until they invaded again in 1982, which Reagan let them get away with. The signed the Oslo Accords, then dragged their feet, taking advantage of a loophole allowing "natural growth" of settlements. Even Netanyahu signed the Wye River Accord, then did nothing to implement it. The list goes on and on and on, but they got away with it, because in the end no one (well, other than Eisenhower) held them to their word. Give them an inch, they'll take a couple feet, then pretend you didn't understand, and talk about what great allies we are. That all fits the parable in the book.

The other point of the book is that Jewish Israel is actually divided into several distinct camps that basically don't like each other. But the conflict, having a common enemy, holds them together, so much so that they fear dissolution and despair if they should ever lose that common bond. And that conflict, not just the local one with Palestinians but the global, existential one between Jew and Gentile, is baked into every nook and cranny of their culture, their very being, the space they inhabit. The Holocaust Museum has halls full of nightmares, but you exit onto a hilltop overlooking Jerusalem, and that's Israel's deliverance, or at least that's the lesson. Cramer's book is 20 years old now, so he's not totally up to date. He hadn't yet seen how tightly wound that psyche would become, how viciously it would explode. Max Blumenthal's 2013 book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, was one of the first to really expose that, though books on the settler movement offered glimpse of that earlier (e.g., Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, from 2007).

Back around 2005, someone wrote to me and asked whether I thought Israel would commit genocide. I don't have the letter any more, but my answer was basically no. While there were forces, from deep within the racist, colonialist soul of Zionism, that could drive them in that direction, there were also other forces that would inhibit them, and save them from going off the deep end. I'm still not sure they will go through with it, but they're talking the talk, and walking the walk. And the time has come to talk them off the ledge.

Top story threads:

Israel/Gaza: I just grabbed a lot of articles below. I'm less interested in detailing the atrocities than I am with the broader thinking about the war and its future consequences. There's way too much here to fully digest, but I think the outlines and imperatives are clear. The outline: that despite the initial shock, the only story now is Israel's (and the world's) response. The imperative: to talk Israel down from committing genocide. As usual, there is a lot of good reporting at Middle East Eye, MondoWeiss, +972 Magazine, Tikkun Olam.

[PS: As I was trying to wrap this up, there is this report: Egypt-Gaza crossing set to open for aid, says Blinken; 24 hours' more fuel at Gaza hospitals, says UN.}

  • Vox: [10-13] 7 big questions about the Israel-Hamas war, answered: I could quibble on various points, but this is a reasonable starting point, especially if you don't have a lot of specialist knowledge. The questions:

    1. Where does the conflict currently stand?
    2. What do I need to understand about Gaza and Israel's relationship to understand today?
    3. But why did Hamas launch such a huge attack now?
    4. How did this become an outright war, worse than we've seen in decades?
    5. What will declared war mean?
    6. How is the US responding?
    7. What does this mean for the region -- and the world?
  • Yuval Abraham: [10-13] Settlers take advantage of Gaza war to launch West Bank pogroms.

  • Jonathan Alter: [10-11] Will Netanyahu survive the fallout? He didn't deserve to survive the last twenty years, or for that matter his brief term as Prime Minister back in the 1990s, so clearly his brand of oily but intransigent malevolence appeals to many Israelis. Whether they can also stomach the incompetence is an open question. I'm not surprised that Scher has no real insight into this. His turf is as a centrist Democrat, which leads to one of the stupidest lines I've read this week: "The war gives [Biden] a chance to address the nation about the need to protect both Ukraine and Israel from aggression -- to lump Vladimir Putin in with Hamas by explaining that both of them hate freedom and kill children." The wars are similar only in the sense that the US is backing the side that wants the land but not the people, who don't want our side (dare I say it, that want to be free of our side?). But Ukraine, at least, is fighting a well-armed foreign adversary, and they genuinely need our help. Israel doesn't need our help, except to restrain them from doing unimaginably horrible things. Sending them more arms won't do that.

  • Bernard Avishai: [10-15] l Can White House diplomacy prevent escalation in Gaza and beyond? They're not off to a good start. It's hard to impart wisdom when you got your head stuck up Netanyahu's ass . . . especially if you didn't have any wisdom in the first place. But at some point, Israel is going to become an embarrassment, even for someone as shameless as Biden.

  • Ramzy Baroud:

  • Zack Beauchamp: [10-11] How to think morally about the Israel-Hamas war: I hate to say this, but this feels like a guide to becoming pompous and irrelevant. Sure, it's easy to sit far removed from the fracas and condemn this or that, and there may be some intellectual satisfaction in that exercise. But that's a luxury, not just because you're safe, but because you get to judge a hypothetical rendition of events, filtered through the language and cognitive constructs you are comfortable with. Consider this:

    We can and should extend sympathy to Israeli victims, but we should not let that shade into justification for retaliatory atrocities. We should condemn Hamas terrorism, but we should also condemn Israeli abuses against Gazans.

    Why the qualifier "Israeli victims" but no qualifier for "retaliatory atrocities"? It's unclear whether he means "victims who are Israeli" or "victims of Israelis." And why distinguish "retaliatory" from any other kind of atrocities? Then note the word choices in the last line: why is it "Hamas terrorism" but "Israeli abuses"? "Abuse" is far from the most precise description of dropping bombs from F-15s. But "terrorism" -- which Beauchamp uses repeatedly -- bothers me more, as it's been used for decades now as code for evil souls who can only be stopped with killing. The only thing Israelis (and Americans) hear after "Hamas terrorism" is "we support you in killing them." So if that's not our intent, we should find better ways of talking about this.

  • Peter Beinart: [10-14] There is a Jewish hope for Palestinian liberation. It must survive.

  • Marin Cogan: [10-13] There's no Jewish American consensus about the conflict in Israel and Gaza: "Attitudes toward Israel were already changing. The unfolding violence is making it even more complicated."

  • Roy Cohen: [10-15] Families of Israelis abducted to Gaza decry government's 'abandonment'.

  • Jonathan Cook: [10-08] The West's hypocrisy towards Gaza breakout is stomach-turning: Written early, but revised three days ago.

  • Ryan Costello: [10-12] 'Freezing' Iran's humanitarian fund is self defeating: Not sure whether Biden did this due to Israeli orders or simple panic over Republican talking points, but neither is a good look -- especially as all it proves is that America is an unreliable diplomatic negotiator, likely to double cross you at the first opportunity.

  • Jamil Dakwar: [10-13] Neither Palestinians nor Israelis will be safe unless all are safe.

  • Badia Dwaik: [10-15] Israel is besieging the West Bank as it decimates Gaza: "While the world's eyes are on Israel's genocidal war in Gaza, Israel has also put the entire West Bank on lockdown. We are living under siege."

  • Elizabeth Dwoskin: [10-14] A flood of misinformation shapes views of Israel-Gaza conflict: "The barrage of false images, memes, videos and posts -- mostly generated from within the region itself -- is making it difficult to assess what is real."

  • Stefanie Fox: [10-13] Jewish grief must not be used as a weapon of war: "we cannot sit back while Israel uses our trauma as a reason to destroy Gaza."

  • Masha Gessen: [10-13] The tangled grief of Israel's anti-occupation activists. As one put it: "We've warned for a long time. But, when it actually happens, it's the most devastating thing." In my experience, we actually pull our punches, out of an overabundance of caution, or simply the dread that if our worst imagined scenarios came true, our thinking of them may have contributed, or more likely simply be blamed. I'm reminded of Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke: while the pacifists were brushed aside (or in many cases incarcerated) once the US entered WWII, during the 1930s they were often the only ones who anticipated the horrors to come, and who tried to raise the alert.

  • Omar Ghraieb: [10-12] As darkness descends on Gaza, I yearn for the world to see us, too.

  • Rebecca Maria Goldschmidt: [10-13] This is genocide: All out to end the war on Gaza.

  • Neve Gordon: [10-13] Can Netanyahu survive Hamas's attack on Israel? Unlike Jonathan Alter (above), someone who actually knows something about Israeli politics.

  • Nicholas Grossman: [10-11] Trump's overrated peace plan helped enable the horrors in Israel and Gaza: Well, it was Kushner's plan, and the real goal was to get billions of Arab dollars for his investment fund, among other grafts. But Trump's concessions to Israel certainly added to their hubris.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [10-14] How the Arab world sees the Israel-Palestine conflict: "Demonstrations of solidarity with Palestinians have broken out across the Arab world this week." This will only increase as the extreme cruelty of Israel's siege continues, and the failure of America and Europe to restrain Israel becomes more obvious. Guyer refers back to his article: [02-06] The US's empty commitment to a two-state solution.

  • Tareq S Hajjaj: [10-15] This could be my last report from Gaza: "Keep my stories alive, so that you keep me alive."

  • Benjamin Hart: [10-13] What Israel didn't understand about Hamas: Interview with Michael Milshtein, a former Israeli intelligence officer, an associate of Benny Gantz. I don't have any real insight into Hamas, but I don't buy this take, let alone the blanket demonization that goes with the drive to exterminate everyone associated with them. Early on Hamas was basically a charitable community organization, and later they transformed into a political party to challenge Fatah. Like Fatah, they spun off an armed wing, a rival to Islamic Jihad, and possibly others, but they seemed to have always had a function in civil society. Israel has always done much to control the public perception of Palestinian groups. Early on Israel seemed to boost Hamas as a lever against the PLO. During the second intifada, there was a period when every time Hamas would attack, Israel retaliated by shelling Arafat's headquarters -- hard to paint that as deterrence against Hamas. While I don't doubt that Hamas-affiliated groups led this attack, the idea of calling this the Israel-Hamas War seems to involve some sleight of hand. Especially as Israel has no ability and probably no incentive to distinguish between Hamas and any other Palestinians. The real war here is between Israel and the people of Gaza, and by "war" I mean massacre. Hamas is mostly just a brand that Israel uses for people they want to kill.

  • Hanine Hassan: [10-12] Israel-Palestine war: Mass slaughter in Gaza lays bare the depth of western racism.

  • Maha Hilal: [10-15] Israel's war isn't against Hamas -- it's on the Palestinian people.

  • Ellen Ioanes:

      [10-15] Gaza's spiraling humanitarian crisis, explained: "Israel's evacuation order is creating chaos in Gaza. A ground invasion will be worse." Consider this: "Though Israeli military policy is to use disproportionate force in Gaza as a deterrent strategy, that has so far failed to enact durable security, limit Hamas's ability to strike Israel, or allow space in Israeli politics for any sort of political negotiation that could lead to a more peaceful future."

    • [10-14] How does Iran fit into the war between Israel and Hamas?

  • Donald Johnson: [10-15] How would the 'NY Times' know if Israel valued human life? They say it over and over again, "but a reexamination of Times coverage of Israel's 2018 massacre of peaceful protesters in Gaza shows that the Times itself does not uphold such values."

  • Fred Kaplan:

    • [10-10] The U.S. and Israel are walking a tightrope, and the stakes are high.

    • [10-11] Netanyahu is sharing power with one of his most popular political opponents. It could keep a broader war at bay.

    • [10-16] What is Israel's strategy now? I can't really navigate my brain through these labrythine articles, but the way I read the situation is that in public Netanyahu wants to come off as maximally hard (which is to say genocidal) and Biden wants to come off as totally loyal (which is, well, stupid). On the other hand, they both have underlings (at least now that Benny Glantz is in Israel's coalition) who share their basic worldviews but understand that implementing them isn't so simple, and carries some serious risks. That opens up a lot of hypothetical angles that are really just speculation until they aren't. For instance, "If Qatar can get Hamas to release all the hostages today, it is possible that Israel would agree to call off the invasion." Really? That would be sensible, but would be a major shift in strategy, for all concerned. There are lots of details here if you're into that sort of thing. But no answers.

  • Rashid Khalidi: [10-15] The U.S. should think twice about Israel's plans for Gaza.

  • Eric Levitz:

    • [10-11] A left that refuses to condemn mass murder is doomed: This came early enough in the cycle that he's focusing on anyone on the left who failed to immediately join the pro-Israeli chorus in condemning the first (and really only) wave of Hamas attacks, lecturing us that "it is therefore imperative for progressives to disavow all apologia for Hamas's atrocities and for the broader public to understand that the left's analysis of the conflict's origins, and its prescriptions for its resolution, are wholly extricable from the blood lust of a loud minority of pseudo-radicals." This is one of several articles noted here (like Beauchamp above, and Wright below) to harp on proper etiquette in responding to outbreaks of violence. He offers several examples that fell short of his standards, then inflates them to "it is not hyperbole to say that many left-wing supporters of Palestine celebrated Hamas's atrocities." Many? How sure are you that "supporters of Palestine" are left-wingers? Personally, I'm enough of a pacifist that I don't have a problem with condemning all acts of violence, but most people have more complex feelings about violence. For instance, we routinely applaud when somebody smites down the bad guy in a movie. (As Todd Snider put it, "in America we like our bad guys dead!") And what difference does me or you condemning someone make anyway? Sure, when people like Netanyahu, Biden, or whoever runs whatever faction of Hamas can make their condemnations felt, as can the soldiers who follow them, but you and me? We're mostly just expressing our moral sense, a luxury we enjoy because we aren't connected to the people we presume to judge. And, let's face it, we're doing it hastily on the basis of very little, and probably very faulty, information. I mean, I get where Levitz is coming from, because as a leftist, my politics reflects, and is an expression of, my moral sense, and I want them to be consistent and universal. But I also find it hard to condemn someone for trying to break out of jail and stand up to a power that had for all his life punished him and everyone he grew up with, even if that person wound up harming someone else. Sure, that's not something I would do, but I'm not in Gaza, and I've never had to live that life. I truly don't know what I'd do in his shoes. But what I am certain of is that in standing up to Israel, he was bound to die, and that, regardless of whether he killed or not, his defiance would be taken by Israelis as justification to punish more people in Gaza, more severely than ever before. As a leftist, I could go on and condemn Israel for their retaliation, as I had condemned them for their past transgressions (not that it did or will do any good). However, I can see one argument for not condemning the Palestinian kid who breaks out of jail and goes on a rampage: I'm not adding my voice to the clamor urging Israel to multiply his violence many times over.

      I could have phrased this many different ways. I could have brought up examples, like a slave revolt, or a kidnapping, where one would have been less likely to instinctively blame a person for fighting back. I don't, for instance, blame Ukrainians for fighting back against Russian invasion. It's human nature to resist attack and oppression. (And if you think this case is one where Hamas is invading Israel, you need to reconsider your facts.) But sure, if you want reassurance that I'm not in favor of Hamas any or all Israelis, I will give you that, but I'll try to phrase it in a way that doesn't support Israel's many crimes.

      One last point here: this article basically does the leg work, complete with quotes usable out of context, for someone else's anti-left tirade. Levitz may not be wrong in what he says, but he's giving us a lecture most of us don't need, and he's giving ammunition to our enemies, in many cases the same people who are clamoring for genocide against Gaza.

    • [10-13] The US is giving Israel permission for war crimes.

    • [10-13] No, America's declining power didn't cause Hamas's attacks. Evidently, some pundits who think America should throw its weight around more (huh?) have come up with this line -- names dropped her include David Leonhardt, Noah Smith, and Ross Douthat.

  • Gideon Levy:

  • Nicole Narea: [10-13] How the US became Israel's closest ally: Whole books have been written on this, dating back to Kathleen Christison's Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on US Middle East Policy (1999), with John B Judis: Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict (2014) focusing on Israel's creation. But while American sympathies with Israel grew mostly through Democratic presidents from Truman through Clinton, they shifted when GW Bush's neocons explicitly aligned with the Israeli right to destroy the Oslo framework and use Israel as a free agent in striking out at supposed enemies like Iran. Obama struggled to return to a Clinton-level of fawning embrace, but by then the "facts on the ground" and the hardening of Israel's right had made that impossible, so he ultimately gave up. (Josh Ruebner's Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace covers this, as does Trita Parsi's A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy With Iran.) Trump, on the other hand, sided whole hog with Israel, and Biden has made no effort to reverse Trump's surrender (unlike in Europe and the Far East, where his reassertion of American leadership has already produced one war and made another more likely). While the bond has been real and deep, this has never struck me as a true alliance. Israel does what they want, and America helps clean up the mess. As Moshe Dayan put it: "America gives us arms, money, and advice. We accept the arms. We accept the money. We ignore the advice."

  • John Nichols: [10-14] Israelis are rejecting Netanyahu. So why is Biden giving him a blank check?

  • AW Ohlheiser: [10-12] Don't believe everything you see and hear about Israel and Palestine: "Misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war is easy to find online. Here's how to avoid spreading it." Fairly generic reminder about how social media is regularly used to spread propaganda and other mischief. The problem it doesn't go into is how readily mainstream media falls for carefully tailored propaganda lines.

  • Kenn Orphan: [10-13] Israel and the Gaza prison break.

  • Eve Ottenberg: [10-13] Euphemisms for war are deadly: "How we talk about war matters." Refers to David Vine's Words About War guide. Actually, I think these could use some more work. No doubt we should avoid "terrorists" -- it's not just a loaded word, by now it's become a conditioned reflex to kill -- but I'm not sure "militants" is a better alternative. That word is almost exclusively used these days as a synonym for "dead Palestinian male." I also want to note that while "ethnic cleansing" has come to the process of driving a group out of a land (as, for instance, is now happening in Nagorno-Karabakh, or happened in the 1830s with the Trail of Tears), the phrase was originally just a euphemism for mass killing (specifically, what the Serbs did at Srebrenica in 1995), a cutesy way of saying genocide.

  • George Packer: Israel must not react stupidly: I didn't read this, due to the paywall, but I did manage a laugh. I counsel people against saying "never forget," but I guess I haven't. I then took a look at some of Atlantic's other links, reminding myself why I don't pay them money (besides that I'm cheap, I mean), and found: Conor Friedersdorf: "Students for Pogroms in Israel"; Helen Lewis: "The Progressives Who Flunked the Hamas Test"; and Bruce Hoffman: "Understanding Hamas's Genocidal ideology." They're all on board, though one article could go either way: Hussein Ibish: Israel is walking into a trap: "Storming into Gaza will fulfill Hamas's wish." The author is a resident scholar at an Arab think tank in Washington, and every reference to Hamas in what I can see links them to "their Iranian backers." The trap I see is that Israel will lose what little's left of their souls. He probably seems martyrdom of Hamas as feeding into Iran's bid for leadership of the Muslim world. I doubt that's even a fantasy in Tehran -- although the Saudis are still reeling from a nod in that direction back in 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini was in the first throes of revolution, so it could well be on Ibish's agenda.

  • Trita Parsi: [10-15] Biden refuses to talk 'ceasefire' though it could prevent a regional war: "It's strategic malpractice for the White House to give Israel carte blanche when he knows it could drag the US into a wider conflict." This isn't my big worry right now. Although Israel has shelled Lebanon and bombed Syria in recent days, their demonization of Iran has always been more about manipulating Washington than confronting a serious enemy. The real risk, short-term, is genocide in Gaza, and as that is unveiled -- and there's little chance that this one won't be televised -- the bad feelings that will be generated could come back to attack Israel and its allies (and the US is much more exposed than Israel is) in all sorts of unpredictable ways. And as long as the US and Israel remain committed to policies of massive reprisals, the real damage kicked off by provocations will mostly be self-inflicted. Why haven't they learned this much by now?

  • Matthew Petti: [10-13] Why does Egypt fear evacuating Gaza?: As noted here, Azerbaijan recently solved its Armenian enclave problem by setting up a "humanitarian corridor," driving residents of Nagorno-Karabakh to escape to safety in Armenia. Israelis -- and it sounds like the US is going along with this -- have called for something like that to depopulate Gaza through Egypt, which doesn't like the idea, and has so far Moved to prevent exodus of Palestinians from besieged Gaza. An influx of two million Palestinians would cause significant stress to Egypt's fragile not-really-democracy, especially given that many would align with the banned Islamic Brotherhood, and many understand that Egypt's cozy collaboration with Israel and the US has kept Gaza isolated and precarious. As Israel's plan seems to be to kill everyone in Gaza who can't get out, exile doesn't sound like the worst possible outcome. On the other hand, if Israel gets away with the depopulation of Gaza, they're sure to try the same thing in the West Bank. One can even argue that with the government supporting settler pogroms, they've already started. The Nazis had a term for this: Judenrein. I wouldn't be surprised if there is an analogous Hebrew term, translating to "Arab-free."

  • Mitchell Plitnick: [10-08] Hamas offensive the result of Washington's hostility to Palestinian rights.

  • Vijay Prashad: [10-13] The savagery of the war against the Palestinian people.

  • Meron Rapoport: [10-11] The end of the Netanyahu doctrine: "Did his plan to preserve Hamas in Gaza as a tool for keeping the strip separate from the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority weak finally backfire?"

  • Nathan J Robinson: [10-14] You can't selectively pay attention to certain atrocities and ignore all others: "How is it possible to be outraged by Hamas killings of Israeli children, but ignore or rationalize the killing of Gazan children?"

  • Kenneth Roth: [10-11] The attack on Israel has been called a '9/11 moment'. Therein lies a cautionary tale.

  • David Rothkopf: [10-15] The war's just started, but Benjamin Netanyahu has already lost: "No matter what happens following Israel's siege of Gaza, the Israeli prime minister's political ambitions are likely damaged beyond repair."

  • Richard Silverstein:

  • David Sirota:

    • [10-12] The fog of war in Israel and Palestine: "As the long-running quagmire erupts into more bloodshed and destruction, we need to stop dehumanizing the conflict and acknowledge both sides' pain and suffering." Benny Morris captured this sentiment in his title, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999. However, beyond suffering, we also need to check who has the power and agency to actively reduce the pain and harm.

    • [10-14] The war on Gaza is the result of decades of extreme Israeli policy: Interview with Matt Duss and Daniel Bessner.

  • Norman Solomon: [10-11] 'Israel's 9/11' is a slogan to rationalize open-ended killing of Palestinian civilians. It's also a phrase meant to appeal to Americans, and solicit their support for indiscriminate slaughter.

  • Jeffrey St Clair: [10-13] Roaming Charges: Gaza without mercy: "You won't have to interrogate them afterward. They are explicit about the war crimes they're planning to commit." Sample quotes (read it all):

    When you declare total war against Gaza, which has been under perpetual siege since 1967 after being seized by Israel during the Six Day War, what is it you're going to war against? There are no airbases, no army bases, no tank battalions, no air defense systems, no naval ports, no oil refineries, no rail system, no troop barracks, no armored personnel carriers, no howitzers, no satellite systems, no attack helicopters, no fighter jets, no anti-tank batteries, no submarines, no command-and-control centers. Just people, most of them women and kids. It's why the entire population must be dehumanized, turned into "human animals" whose lives don't matter.

    The reaction in the US to Hamas's attacks was more hysterical, the calls for ultra-violence more grotesque, and the lack of dissent more uniform, than in Israel itself (which is saying something because Netanyahu blustered this week that "Every member of Hamas is a dead man").

    Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is considered one of the most reasonable of the current crop of Republicans. "Finish them." Genocide is now her campaign theme.

    Lindsey Graham has reverted back to John "Bomb-Bomb-Bomb Iran" mode: "We are in a religious war, and I am with Israel . . . Level the place."

    The obvious parallel to Gaza is the Tet Offensive, which was a defeat for the Vietnamese, but it was the defeat that won the war, exposing the vincibility of the US military machine. It also triggered something deep in the psyche of the American occupiers, who responded with attacks of pointless savagery. The massacres and gang rapes at My Lai were a direct response to Tet. Netanyahu has vowed that Israel's response will be equally sadistic, which is, of course, a sign of its own weakness -- moral and military -- and a harbinger of its ruin.

    The column eventually moves on to his usual wide range of issues, plus some books and music at the end.

  • Bret Stephens: [10-15] Hamas bears the blame for every death in this war: I've mostly picked sensible, judicious opinion pieces, because they're the ones that deserve reading and distribution. But this one, obviously, is included just to show you how horrifically wrong an American pundit can be. The clear implication is that Israel's political leaders have no free will, no brains, no morals, no capacity for managing their own behavior. Sure, to some extent, that does seem to be the case, but to what extent won't be determined until Israel stops running up Hamas's tab. And here I was, foolishly thinking that not just people but nations should be responsible for whatever they do. [PS: Well, I also gotta admit some of this is pretty funny. E.g., the paragraph that begins with "But Hamas spends fortunes building a war machine whose only purpose is to strike Israel." Or: "Hamas launched an attack with a wantonness like what the Nazis showed at Babyn Yar." Nazi Germany attacked Russia with 134 divisions, about three million men, but at least Hamas matched their "wantonness"?]

  • Matt Stieb: [10-13] The violence is spreading outside Gaza: The West Bank, obviously, where Ben-Gvir is distributing another 10,000 rifles to settlers, and the border with Lebanon, as Israeli rhetoric threatens to morph into open season on Palestinians, some of whom could be inspired to fight back. Not included here is another piece of spillover violence: Hannah Allam: [10-16] U.S.-born Palestinian boy stabbed to death in hate crime: six-year-old Wadea Alfayoumi, in Illinois.

  • Noga Tarnopolsky:

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [10-10] In blistering remarks, Biden commits aid, intel, and military assets to Israel.

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos/Blaise Malley: [10-12] Presidential hopefuls outdo each other on Hamas, Israel war: "Candidates across the spectrum urge overwhelming force and blast Biden's weakness." Republican candidates, that is, although Biden's own statement came off as the strongest, because he didn't detract from his message by talking nonsense about anyone else, even Iran. The article credits Vivek Ramaswamy with "restraint," because he stopped short of committing the US to war against Iran. Marianne Williamson waffled a bit, while assuring us she hated Hamas. Cornel West had a more coherent critique of US/Israel, but he too took pains to condemn Hamas, giving you an idea of how deep the party line has sunk in. RFK Jr strayed from his fellow Republicans in applauding Biden's statement, but more verbosely. I don't mind if he describes the Hamas attack as "ignominious" and "barbaric," but "unprovoked"?

  • Gidi Weitz: Netanyahu bolstered Hamas in order to thwart the creation of a Palestinian state.

  • Robert Wright: [10-13] Israel, Hamas, and Biden's failed foreign policy: After linking to this piece, I started to write the original intro (now at the end of the post), so I lost the thread here. I will say that the idea that Hamas attacked to keep Saudi Arabia from joining the Abraham cartel is a lot like saying an estranged friend killed himself to spoil your birthday party. Sure, he spoiled your day, but how could you think that's really the point? The real reasons are probably as simple as: Hamas has been trying to figure how to make enough of an explosion to remind the world that Palestinians are suffering but can still hit back and make Israelis feel some of the pain they've long subjected to; and the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War attack would heighten the element of surprise. The 1973 war was rebuffed easily enough, but the shock caused Israelis to doubt their security forces, and ultimately to negotiate peace with Egypt. But I doubt Hamas was so optimistic: they know better than anyone how determined Israel is to grind Palestine into oblivion. Second point, I really object to Wright's "assume that Hamas isn't motivated by actual concern for the Palestinian people." People who deliberately start doomed revolts may be misguided or foolish, but the idea of laying down your life to free your people goes way back, including every revolutionary we still honor, even as martyrs. I don't doubt that many Palestinians don't appreciate Hamas's efforts -- indeed, that they actively curse them -- but you need to understand their sacrifice, else you understand nothing.

  • Here are a couple statements from concerned groups:

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

  • Blaise Malley: [10-13] Diplomacy Watch: Surprise, Putin and Zelensky don't agree on Gaza war. Zelensky is absolutely supporting Israel, but his analogies between Hamas and Russia are pretty tortuous, and before long he's going to fret about Israel jumping ahead of him in the arms pipeline. Putin, on the other hand, has resorted to saying things like: "I think that many people will agree with me that this is a vivid example of the failure of United States policy in the Middle East." Ok, nobody's going to agree with him, but the rest of the line is hard to argue against.

  • Connor Echols: [10-10] GOP hawks slam Biden, say he has 'no strategy' for Ukraine: In particular, they want to make sure that no one in the administration is talking to Russia.

Other stories:

Kyle Chayka: [10-09] Why the internet isn't fun anymore: "The social-media Web as we knew it, a place where we consumed the posts of our fellow-humans and posted in return, appears to be over." News to me, not that I'm unaware of the decline of fun.

Jim Geraghty: [10-12] Why RFK Jr.'s independent bid makes sense, even if he doesn't: Having gotten no traction running in the Democratic primary, with most of his support coming from Republicans just looking to muddy the waters, this move keeps him in the game, but it also changes the game. The real curse of the third-party candidate is that you have to spend so much time defending against charges of being some kind of spoiler you never get to talk about your platform, or why the two parties accorded a chance are wrong.

Oshan Jarow: [10-13] Basic income is less radical than you think.

Sara Morrison: [10-11] We're in a new Gilded Age. What did we learn from the last one? Interview with Tom Wheeler, whose forthcoming book is Techlash: Who Makes the Rules in the Digital Gilded Age?

David Owen: [08-14] What happens to all the stuff we return?

Greg Sargent: [10-12] The GOP's 'southern strategy' mastermind just died. Here's his legacy. Kevin Phillips, dead at 82, wrote a book in 1969 called The Emerging Republican Majority, landing him a job in the Nixon White House. His painstaking research on voting trends not only validated the "southern strategy" -- Barry Goldwater and Strom Thurmond worked that hard in 1964 -- but showed Democrats losing their commanding position among Catholics and other ethnic groups (e.g., Spiro Agnew) in the north, especially as they moved to the suburbs or the "sun belt." In the late 1960s, I did roughly the same work, plotting election results from World Almanacs on county maps, so when I read Phillips book, I recognized many of the same patterns -- the main difference being that I had near-zero sense of ethnic identity, but also I was less pleased with his conclusions, and therefore more resistant. Sargent collected comments from several figures, none striking me as quite correct.

For example, Michael Barone points out that Eisenhower has already won 49-50 percent of the popular vote in the South, then claims that southern whites "turned away from national Democrats not so much because of civil rights but because of [McGovern's] dovishness." But Eisenhower's southern support was all in the peripheral states, where Republicans at least had a party structure. The deep south (South Carolina-to-Louisiana) flipped for Goldwater because the local Democrats did, as they did for Wallace in 1968). But by 1972, when Nixon swept the region, he was ducking his association with war, but dog-whistling race like crazy.

The Nixon strategy was more sophisticated than just playing up civil rights backlash. It was deeply rooted in his psyche as an all-American petit bourgeois everyman -- Gary Wills' Nixon Agonistes is probably still the most exacting psychological profile -- but he was smart, cunning, and ruthless. Phillips' job was to feed him data, but it's use was pure Nixon. (Pat Buchanan, who worked closely with Phillips, helped convert that data into the sort of bile Nixon could spew.) Nixon's use of Phillips is a big part of the reason Republicans are so artful at gerrymandering and other dark arts.

Not mentioned here are Phillips' other books. He started moving away from the Republican monster he had helped create, perhaps as early as 1982's Post-Conservative America, certainly by 1993's Boiling Point: Democrats, Republicans, and the Decline of Middle Class Prosperity. I didn't start paying much attention until his scathing 2004 book on the Bush family: American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. He followed that up with American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, which argued that financialization begot disaster in three world-empires (Netherlands, Britain, and most assuredly America next). That was 2006, so he was well prepared for 2008's Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism.

In a piece I cite below, Robert Wright starts by noting, in italics for emphasis:

This piece rests on my belief that the following two ideas are logically compatible: (1) Hamas is morally and legally responsible for the atrocities it committed against Israeli civilians; and (2) The US is responsible for policy mistakes that, over the years, have made violent attacks by Palestinian groups, including this attack, more likely. I've noticed, in the context of the Ukraine War, that some people find this approach to allocating responsibility not just wrong but outrageous and offensive. So I'm adding this preface as a kind of trigger warning.

The first point is the sort of boilerplate lawyers write, in this case to anticipate the moral judgments insisted on in Zack Beauchamp's essay (also cited below), so the author can move on to something more interesting than virtue signaling. I went ahead and quoted the rest of the note because he points out that critics of twenty-some years of American foreign policy toward Russia had to first condemn Putin's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine before we -- I did this, as did Wright, and even Noam Chomsky -- before we could get around to the background that one must understand in order to make any sense out of what Putin did (and again, we all had to reiterate that Putin was still in the wrong). Still, every time we did that, we helped validate the people who provoked as well as fought back against Russian aggression, freely ignoring any concerns or fears we had, or doubts about their motives.

I could go on about Ukraine -- I have in the past, and no doubt will again in the future -- but the point I want to make is: I'm not sure that we need to repeat this exercise here. Sure, if you could isolate select events in the initial Hamas attack, like the mass shooting at the concert, or the abduction of hostages, they were things we were shocked and appalled by. But the Hamas attack came up far short of a war. When Russia launched a war into Ukraine, they came with thousands of heavily armed troops, tanks, artillery, missiles, aircraft, a navy, backed by massive industry safely beyond reach of retaliation, one that could sustain operations for years with little fear of crippling losses.

What Hamas did was more like a jail break followed by a brief crime spree. They shot their wad all at once: a few thousand of their primitive rockets; 2,500 or so fighters infiltrated a few miles of Israeli territory, killing over 1,000 Israelis and taking 200+ captive. But that's basically it, and all it could ever be. Israel regrouped, killed or drove back all the fighters, patched the breaches in its defense. Hamas appears to have had no external coordination or support, and has no capability to inflict further significant damage on Israel. The attack was very dramatic, but never had a chance of being anything but a suicide mission. The only thing the attack could accomplish was to embarrass Israeli politicians, who had assured Israelis that their "iron wall" defense and the threat of massive, indiscriminate retaliation would keep them safe and render the Palestinians powerless. Unless, of course, Israelis responded in a way that exposed themselves as cruel and murderous. Which it was almost certain to do.

Even now, it isn't hard to think of a plausible path forward. Israel reseals its border, but ceases fire, contingent on no further fire from Gaza. (Similar cease fires have been negotiated many times before.) Israel allows humanitarian relief supplies to enter Gaza, under its inspection, and eventually via Egypt, as well as neutral observers and facilitators. They negotiate the release of hostages, with both sides committed to no more hostilities. Some number of refugees will be allowed out, to countries that agree to take them, with assurance that they will be allowed back in when requested. A non-partisan civil administration is constituted, in liaison with the UN, with a world-funded reconstruction budget. An indemnity fund will be set up and at least partly funded by Israel. Reparations will be drawn from this fund for any later cross-border damage by any source. Gun control will be implemented, and the region effectively disarmed. Egypt, with UN supervision, will assume internal security responsibility. Israel will renounce its claims to Gaza, which may remain independent or join Egypt. Other issues may be negotiated (e.g., water, air control).

Of course, this won't happen. Israel will insist on taking its revenge, and will kill a truly scandalous number of Gazans, further turning the area into a wasteland. Israel will probably get the hostages killed, and insist on taking further revenge for that. In short order, more people will die of starvation and disease than they can kill directly. Basically, they will kill and destroy until they tire and/or think better of it, then look to stampede whoever's left out the gate to Egypt, or let the American Navy organize a flotilla elsewhere -- like the service the British provided in 1948 moving Jaffa to Beirut. People will think up new euphemisms for this, but the root term is genocide.

I also wrote this fragment, which got moved around and is now stranded:

Before we move on to Israel's response to the attack, we should ask ourselves why frequent critics of Israel, like Beauchamp and Wright, feel a need to condemn Hamas before they can point out that Israel has done some bad things too. For most on the left, that seems fair and consistent: we oppose inequity but also violence, and imagine a possible a path toward much greater equality that doesn't involve violence. That may make sense in a stable society with laws and a responsible system of justice, which is our default understanding of America (even though reality often disappoints).

But what if no paths are available? Does it even make sense to make moral judgments over people who have no viable options to achieve morally-justified ends? If you are at all familiar with the history and politics of Israel/Palestine, I shouldn't have to run through the many reasons why people in Gaza, especially Hamas, are denied such options. Nor why hopes for change have been utterly dashed by the trajectory of increasingly right-wing governments and international indifference, especially how the US has given up any pretense of being anything but an Israeli tool. Palestinians have tried nonviolence (appealing to international law) and have tried violence. Neither worked. As each fails, the other advances.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Speaking of Which

I wrote the introduction below before Israel blew up. On Saturday, I moved my irregular section on Israel up to the top of the "top story threads" section, ahead of the breakout on the House Speaker -- lots of links there, but the story is pretty pat. The Israel introduction was written Saturday afternoon. I resolved to post this early Sunday, as I have other things I need to do in the evening, so my coverage of the rapidly unfolding Israel story is limited. Still, I think the lessons are obvious, even if no one is writing about them. When I see lines like "this is Israel's 9/11" I process that differently: for America, 9/11 was a sad, sobering day, one that should have led us to a profound reassessment of our national fetish of power; instead, America's leaders took it as an unpardonable insult, and plotted revenge in a foolish effort to make any further defiance unthinkably costly. It didn't work, and in short order America had done more damage to itself than Al Qaeda ever imagined.

The only nation in the world even more hung up on its ability to project power and impose terror is Israel -- so much so that America's neocons are frankly jealous that Israel feels so little inhibition about flaunting its power. Today's formal declaration of war was another kneejerk move. But until Israelis are willing to consider that they may be substantially at fault for their misfortunes, such kneejerk moves will continue, hurting Israel as much as its supposed enemies.

Good chance Music Week won't appear until Tuesday, if then.

I ran across this paragraph on conservatism in Christopher Clark's Revolutionary Spring (pp. 251-252), and thought that, despite its unfortunate source, it has something to say to us:

In a sympathetic reflection on Metternich's political thought, Henry Kissinger, an admirer, exposed what he called 'the conservative dilemma'. Conservatism is the fruit of instability, Kissinger observed, because in a society that was still cohesive 'it would occur to no one to be a conservative'. It thus falls to the conservative to defend, in times of change, what had once been taken for granted. And -- here is the rub -- 'the act of defense introduces rigidity'. The deeper the fissure becomes between the defenders of order and the partisans of change, the greater becomes the 'temptation to dogmatism' until, at some point, no further communication is possible between the contenders, because they no longer speak the same language. 'Stability and reform, liberty and authority, come to appear as antithetical, and political contests turn doctrinal instead of empirical.

I draw several conclusions from this:

  1. Reactionaries always emerge too late to halt, let alone reverse, the change they object to. Change is rarely the result of deliberate policy, which makes it hard to anticipate and understand. And change creates winners as well as losers, and those winners have stakes to defend against reactionary attack.

  2. What finally motivates reactionaries is rarely the change itself, but their delayed perception that the change poses a threat to their own power, and this concern dominates their focus to the exclusion of anything else. They become rigid, dogmatic, eventually turning their ire on the very idea of flexibility, of reform.

  3. Having started from a position of power, their instinct is to use force, especially to repress anyone who threatens to undermine their power, including those pleading for reasonable reforms. Reason itself becomes their enemy.

  4. While they may win political victories, their inability to understand the sources and benefits of change, their unwillingness to entertain reforms that benefit others, drives their agenda into the realm of fantasy. They fail, they throw tantrums, they fail even worse. Eventually, they're so discredited they disappear, at least until the next generation of endangered elites repeats the cycle.

Consider several major sources of change since 1750 or so:

  • Most profound has been the spread of ideas and reason, which has only accelerated and intensified over time. One was the discovery that we are all individuals, capable of reason and deliberate action, and deserving of respect. Another is that we belong to communities.

  • Most relentlessly powerful has been the pursuit of profit: the basic instinct that preceded but grew into capitalism.

  • The incremental development of science and technology, which has been accelerated (and sometimes perverted) by capitalism.

  • The growth of mass culture (through print, radio, television, internet), and its subsequent fragmentation.

  • The vast increase in human population, made possible by longer lives and by the near-total domination of land (and significant appropriation of water and air) on Earth, driven by the above.

Nobody anticipated these changes. Though reactionaries emerged at every stage, they failed, and were forgotten, as generations came to accept the changes behind them, often railing against changes to come. It tells you something that conservatives claim to revere history, but history just dismisses them as selfish, ignorant cranks.

Of course, there is no guarantee that today's reactionaries won't win their political struggles. There may be historical examples where conservatives won out, like the Dark Ages following the Roman Empire, or the closing of China in the 15th Century. But human existence is so precariously balanced on limits of available resources that the threat they pose is huge indeed. Maybe not existential, but not the past they imagine, nor the one they pray for.

Top story threads:

Israel: Last week I folded this section into "World." Friday night I thought about doing that again, which a single link reviewing the Nathan Thrall book wouldn't preclude. Then, as they say, "all hell broke loose." When I got up around Noon Saturday, the Washington Post headline was: Netanyahu: 'We are at war' after Hamas attack. What he probably meant is "thank God we can now kill them all with impunity, all the while blaming our acts on them." The memory of occupiers is much shorter and shallower than the memory of the occupied. The first tweet I saw after this news was from a derecka, who does remember:

Palestinians can't march, can't pray, can't call for boycotts, can't leave, can't stay, can't publish reports, what's should people do? land acknowledgments?

Here's another tweet, from Tony Karon:

Is Netanyahu threatening genocide? "We will turn Gaza into a deserted island. To the citizens of Gaza, I say. You must leave now." Everyone knows the 2m Gazans can't leave because Israel has locked them in for decades. So how will he make it a "deserted island"

Netanyahu is Prime Minister, comanding one of the world's largest and most sophisticated war machines, so I don't think you can dismiss such threats as idle huffing. Looking backward, Doug Henwood tweeted:

Some perspective -- since September 2000:

Palestinians killed by Israeli forces: 10,500
Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians: 881

That's a 12/1 ratio.

I've written hundreds of thousands of words on Israel since 2001. (You can find most of them in my notebooks and also in the "Last Days" series of book drafts.) I've read a lot. I've tried to be reasonable. I've never described myself as "pro-Palestinian" (or pro- any nation or ethnic group, not even American). I suppose you could say I'm "anti-Israeli" in the sense that I object to many policies Israel practices, also "anti-Zionist" in the sense that I believe Zionism is a fundamentally flawed creed and ideology. Still, I always felt that Jews had a right to settle in what became Israel. I just objected to the terms they imposed on the people who lived there before them, and continue to live there.

One piece I can point to is one I wrote on November 17, 2012, which is as good a place as any to start. In 2000, Ariel Sharon took over as Prime Minister, demolished the Oslo Accords that promised some sort of "two-state" division of Israel and Palestine, and provoked the second Intifada (Palestinians called this the Al-Aqsa Intifada, although I've always thought of it as the Shaul Mofaz Intifada, for the Defense Minister whose heavy-handed repression of Palestinian demonstrations kicked the whole thing off). By 2005, the Intifada was defeated in what isn't but could be called the second Nakba (or third, if you want to count the end of the 1937-39 revolt). Sharon then pulled Israel's settlers from their hard-to-defend enclaves in Gaza, sealed the territory off, and terrorized the inhabitants with sonic boom overflights (which had to be stopped, as they also bothered Israelis living near Gaza).

Hamas shifted gears, and ran in elections for the Palestinian Authority. When they won, the old PA leadership, backed by Israel and the US, rejected the results, and tried to seize power -- successfully in the West Bank, but they lost local control of Gaza to Hamas. Ever since then, Israel has tried to managed Gaza as an open-air jail, walled in, blockaded, and periodically strafed and bombed. One such episode was the subject of my 2012 piece. There have been others, every year or two -- so routine, Israelis refer to them as "mowing the grass."

Once Sharon, Netanyahu, and the settlers made it impossible to partition the West Bank -- something, quite frankly, Israel's Labor leaders as far back as 1967 had never had any intention of allowing -- the most obvious solution in the world was for Israel to cut Gaza free, allow it to be a normal, self-governing state, its security guaranteed by Egypt and the West (not Israel), with its economy generously subsidized by Arab states and the West. This didn't happen because neither side wanted it: Palestinians still clung to the dream of living free in their homeland (perhaps in emulation of the Jews), so didn't want to admit defeat; and Israelis hated the idea of allowing any kind of Palestinian state, and thought they could continue to impose control indefinitely. Both sides were being short-sighted and stupid, but one should place most of the blame on Israel, as Israel had much more freedom to act sensibly. But by all means, save some blame for the US, which from 2000 on has increasingly surrendered its foreign policy to blindly support Israel, no matter how racist and belligerent its politicians became.

I'll add a few more links, but don't expect much. It looks like this will take weeks to play out, and while the lessons should be obvious to any thinking being, Israel and America have dark blinders to any suggestion that the world doesn't automatically bend to their will.

Updates, by Sunday afternoon: Israel formally declares war against Hamas as hundreds killed on both sides; U.S. to provide arms, shift naval group toward Mideast; death toll in Israel, Gaza passes 1,100.

The shutdown and the speaker: A week ago, after acting like a complete ass for months, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reversed course and offered a fairly clean continuing spending bill, which instantly passed, cleared the Senate, and was signed by Biden. A small number of Republicans (eight), led by Matt Gaetz (R-FL), felt so betrayed by not shutting down the government that they forced a vote to fire McCarthy, which succeeded.


DeSantis, and other Republicans:

  • Perry Bacon Jr: [10-04] Republicans are in disarray. But they are still winning a lot on policy. Way, way too much, considering that their policy choices are almost all deadass wrong.

  • Paul Krugman: [10-05] Will voters send in the clowns? A lot of things that show up in polls make little sense, but few show this much cognitive dissonance: "Yet Americans, by a wide margin, tell pollsters that Republicans would be better than Democrats at running the economy." Krugman spends a lot of time arguing that the economy isn't so bad, but regardless of the current state, how can anyone see Republicans as better?

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Kate Aronoff: [10-05] Biden scraps environmental laws to build Trump's border wall. Also:

  • Nicole Narea: [10-02] Who is Laphonza Butler, California's new senator? I did a double take on this line about the Democrats already campaigning for the Feinstein seat: "All three have sizable war chests for the campaign, with Schiff, Porter, and Lee having $29.8 million, $10.3 million, and $1.4 million on hand." Sure, they're all "sizable," but sizes are vastly different. They are currently polling at 20% (0.71 points per million dollars), 17% (1.65 ppmd), and 7% (5.0 ppmd).

  • Stephen Prager: [10-03] Voters have the right to be dissatisfied with 'Bidenomics': "The president's defenders think voters are ungrateful for a good economy. But people's economics experiences vary widely, and much of the country has little to appreciate Biden for." Well, compared to what? Not if you're comparing to Republicans. I'll grant that it can be hard to gauge, including shifts from Obama that I believe are very significant. But blaming Biden for canceling the Child Tax Credit misses the key point that Democrats didn't have enough votes to extend it. Same for the rest of the cutbacks from the Build Back Better bill that Bernie Sanders presented -- some of which (the parts that Joe Manchin accepted) was eventually passed. This piece cites another by Stephen Semler: [08-15] Bidenomics isn't working for working people. One thing that jumps out here is the chart "The U.S. is Shrinking Its Social Safety Net," where everything listed (and since phased out) was part of the remarkable pandemic lockdown relief act, which Trump got panicked into signing, but which was almost all written and passed by Pelosi and Schumer. To get it passed and signed, they had to sunset the provisions. Democrats need to campaign on bringing them back, and building on them.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols: [10-06] Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine's arduous path to EU accession: "A hopeful summit obscured the difficulties facing Kyiv as it pushes to join the bloc."

  • George Beebe: [10-04] Will Ukraine's effort go bankrupt gradually . . . then suddenly?

  • Dave DeCamp: [10-08] Biden considering huge $100 billion Ukraine spending package: If at first you don't succeed, go crazy! Good chance he'll be adding military aid for Israel before this passes. After all, look how successful the last 50 years of aid was.

  • David Ignatius: [10-05] A hard choice lies ahead in Ukraine, but only Ukrainians can make it: First I've heard of a McCain Institute, but if someone wanted a pro-war counter to the Quincy Institute, that's a pretty obvious name. As for the opinion piece, it is half-obvious, and half-ridiculous. The obvious part is that Ukraine, as well as Russia, will have to freely agree to any armistice. The ridiculous part is the idea that the US shouldn't exert any effort to achieve peace. The "defer to Ukraine" mantra is a blank check policy, promoted by people who want to see the war go on indefinitely.

  • Jen Kirby: [10-03] The West's united pro-Ukraine front is showing cracks. The leading vote-getter in Slovakia has promised to end military aid to Ukraine. Still, he's a long ways from being able to form a government. Biden's latest request for Ukraine got dropped from the bill the House finally passed to avoid (or forestall) a government shutdown. On a straight vote, it would probably have passed, but straight votes are hard to come by.

  • Jim Lobe: [10-06] Iraq War boosters rally GOP hawks behind more Ukraine aid: "Elliott Abrams' 'Vandenberg Coalition' also assails the Biden administration for being soft on Russia." Wasn't Abrams the guy who back in 2005 was whispering in Sharon's ear about how a unilateral dismantling of Israeli settlements in Gaza with no PA handover could be spun as a peace move but would actually allow Israel to attack Gaza with impunity, any time they might choose to? (Like in the lead up to elections, or in the interim between Obama's election and when he took office, so he's have to pledge allegiance to Israel before he could do anything about it.)

  • Siobhán O'Grady/Anastacia Galouchka: [10-06] Russian missile attack at Ukraine funeral overwhelmingly killed civilians: Link caption was more to the point: "Overwhelming grief in Ukrainian village hit by strike: 'There is no point in living.'" But already you can see the effort to spin tragedy into a propaganda coup.

  • Robert Wright: [10-06] The real lesson of Ukraine for Taiwan: Attempting to control a conflict through increased deterrence can easily backfire, precipitating the event one supposedly meant to deter. When Russia started threatening to invade Ukraine, Biden didn't take a step back and say, whoa!, can't we talk about this? No, his administration cranked up their sanctions threats, and expedited their increasing armament of Ukraine. Putin looked at the lay of the land and the timelines, and convinced himself that his odds were better sooner than later. Nor is this the only case where sanctions have backfired: the context for Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor was America's embargo of steel and oil. World War I started largely because Germany decided that war with Russia was inevitable, and their chances of winning were better in 1914 than they would be later. All these examples are bonkers, but that's what happens when states put their faith in military power. China has long claimed Taiwan (going back to the day when Taiwan still claimed all of China), but Peking has been willing to play a long game, for 75 years now. But the more America wants to close the door on possible reunification, the more likely China is to panic and strike first.

Around the world:

Other stories:

Kate Cohen: [10-03] America doesn't need more God. It needs more atheists. Essay adapted from the author's book: We of LIttle Faith: Why I Stopped Pretending to Believe (and Maybe You Should Too).

Kevin T Dugan: [10-03] The 3 most important things to know about Michael Lewis's SBF book: The book is Going Infinite, which started out as one of the writer's profiles of unorthodox finance guys, and has wound up as some kind of "letter to the jury" on the occasion of crypto conman Sam Bankman-Fried's fraud trial. Also on Lewis:

Karen J Greenberg: [10-05] The last prisoners? With its prisoner population reduced to 30, why can't America close Guantanamo?

Eric Levitz: [10-06] Don't celebrate when people you disagree with get murdered. "In view of many extremely online, spritually unswell conservatives, [Ryan] Carson's brutal death was a form of karmic justice. . . . Days earlier, the nihilist right greeted the murder of progressive Philadelphia journalist Josh Kruger with the same grotesque glee."

Blaise Malley: [10-05] The plan to avert a new Cold War: Review of Michael Doyle's book, Cold Peace: Avoiding the New Cold War. "If all sides continue to perceive actions by the other as hostile, then they will constantly be at the precipice of a military confrontation."

Charles P Pierce: [10-05] Guns are now the leading cause of accidental death among American kids.

JJ Porter: [10-05] Conservative postliberalism is a complete dead end: A review of Patrick Deneen's Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future, as if you needed (or wanted) one.

Emily Raboteau: [10-03] The good life: "What can we learn from the history of utopianism?" Review of Kristen R Ghodsee: Everyday Utopia: What 2,000 Years of Wild Experiments Can Teach Us About the Good Life. Also see the Current Affairs interview with Ghodsee: [10-04] Why we need utopias.

Corey Robin: [10-04] How do we survive the Constitution? Review of the new book, Tyranny of the Minority by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the comparative political scientists who previously wrote up many examples of How Democracies Die. The authors are critical of various quirks in the US Constitution that have skewed recent elections toward Republicans, thus thwarting popular will and endangering democracy in America. I haven't spent much time with these books, or similar ones where the authors (like Yascha Mounk) seem to cherish democracy more for aesthetic than practical reasons. My own view is that the Constitution, even with its imperfections, is flexible enough to work for most people, if we could just get them to vote for popular interests. The main enemy of democracy is money, abetted by the media that chases it. The solution is to make people conscious, much less of how the Founding Fathers sold us short than of the graft and confusion that sells us oligarchy.

By the way, Robin mentions a 2022 book: Joseph Fishkin/William E Forbath: The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution: Reconstructing the Economic Foundations of American Democracy. I haven't read this particular book, but I have read several others along the same lines (focused more on the authors and/or the text, whereas Fishkin & Forbath follow how later progressives referred back to the Constitution): Ganesh Sitaraman: The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic (2017); Erwin Chemerinsky: We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century (2018); Danielle Allen: Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (2015). I should also mention Eric Foner: The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution (2019).

Nathan J Robinson: [10-06] How to spot corporate bullshit: "A new book shows that the same talking points have been recycled for centuries, to oppose every form of progressive change." Review of Corporate Bullsh*t, by Nick Hanauer, Joan Walsh, and Donald Cohen, with plenty of examples.

Missy Ryan: [10-04] Over 80 percent of four-star retirees are employed in defense industry: "Twenty-six of 32 four-star admirals and generals who retired from June 2018 to July 2023." Based on the following report:

Washington Post Staff: [10-03] The Post spent the past year examining US life expectancy. Here's what we found:

  1. Chronic diseases are killing us
  2. Gaps between poor and wealthy communities are growing
  3. US life expectancy is falling behind global peers
  4. The seeds of this crisis are planted in childhood
  5. American politics are proving toxic

    Related articles:

    Ask a question, or send a comment.

    Sunday, October 1, 2023

    Speaking of Which

    Front page, top headline in Wichita Eagle on Saturday: McCarthy's last-ditch plan to keep government open collapses. The headline came from an AP article, dropping the final "making a shutdown almost certain" clause. This headline, says more about the media mindset in America than it does about the politics it does such a poor job of reporting on. McCarthy is not trying to avert a shutdown (at least with this bill). Even if he somehow managed to pass it, there was no chance of it passing the Senate without major revisions, which his caucus would then reject. His core problem is that he insists on passing an extreme partisan bill, but no bill is extreme enough for the faction of Republicans dead set on shutting down the government, and nothing he can do will appease them.

    If he was at all serious about avoiding shutdown, he'd offer a bill that would attract enough Democrat votes to make up for his inevitable losses on the extreme right. That's what McConnell did in the Senate, with a bill that passed 77-19. But House Republicans follow what they call the Hastert Rule, which states that leaders can only present bills approved by a majority of the caucus -- in effect, that means the right-wing can hold bills hostage, even mandatory spending bills, and looking for bipartisan support is pointless. McCarthy had to compromise even further to gain enough votes to be elected Speaker.

    If the mainstream media refuses to provide even the barest of meaningful context, this kabuki propaganda will just continue, to the detriment of all.

    [PS: On Saturday afternoon, after I wrote the above, McCarthy did just that, passing a bill 335-91, with 90 Republicans and 1 Democrat opposed. The bill continues spending for 45 days, adds disaster relief funds, extends federal flood insurance, and reauthorizes FAA, but does not include the new Ukraine aid Biden wanted.]

    Top story threads:

    The shutdown: [PS: Congress finally passed a continuing spending resolution on Saturday, after McCarthy's "last-ditch" bill failed to pass the House. The intro below -- original title was "Drowning government in the bathtub" -- was written before this bill passed, as were the articles dated earlier. On the other hand, we're only 45 days away from the next big shutdown scare, which the same bunch of clowns and creeps are almost certain again to push to the brink.]

    The Grover Nordquist quote (from 2001) is: "I just want to shrink [government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Later he managed to get every Republican in Congress to sign onto his "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," which would seem to commit them to the ultimate destruction of the federal government. None of this slowed, let alone reversed the growth of government -- it just ensured that the growth would be funded mostly by deficits, which conveniently give Republicans something else to whine about, even though they're mostly just tax giveaways to the very rich. So whenever an opportunity arises for Republicans to vent their hatred of the government and their disgust over the people that government serves, they rise up and break things. One of those opportunities is this week, when the previous year's spending bills expire, without the House having passed new ones for next year. Without new authorization, large parts of government are supposed to shut down, giving Republicans a brief opportunity to impress Grover Nordquist. Then, after a few days or a couple weeks, they'll quietly pass a resolution to allow their incompetence to escape notice for another year. You see, most of what government actually does supports the very same rich people who donate to Republican politicians. I could file all of these stories under Republicans, since they are solely responsible for this nonsense, but on this occasion, let's break them out.


    • Corbin Bolies: [10-01] Rep. Matt Gaetz: I will force vote to can McCarthy 'this week'.

    • Sam Brodey: [10-01] It's bad news that so many in the GOP are pissed about averting a shutdown: On the other hand, every tantrum here should be recorded and thrown back in their faces in 2024. It's bad news because these idiots still have considerable power to wreak havoc. Vote them down to a small minority and it will merely be sad and pathetic, which is what they deserve.

    • David Rothkopf: [09-30] All that drama and the House GOP's only win was for the Kremlin: I'm sorry to have to say this, but Russiagate -- not the "collusion" but the jingoistic Cold War revival -- isn't over yet. One thing that the Republican right understands is that Russia's "expansionism" is fundamentally limited by their sense of nationhood, and as such is no real threat to their own "America First" nationalism. Democrats don't understand this. They view Russia through two lenses: one is as a rival to the US in a zero-sum game for world domination -- which was a myth in the Cold War era, and pure projection now; the other is that Putin has embraced a social conservatism and anti-democratic repression to a degree that Republicans plainly aspire to, so they are strongly disposed to treat both threats as linked. (Which, by the way, is not total whimsy: Steve Bannon seems to have taken as his life's work the formation of an International Brotherhood of Fascists.) The problem with this is that it turns Democrats into supporters of empire and war abroad, and those things not only breed enemies, they undermine true democracy at home. Still, I'm not unamused by Rothkopf taking a cheap shot in this particular moment. I just worry about the mentality that makes one think that's a real point.

    • Michael Scherer: [09-30] Shutdown deal avoids political pain for Republican moderates: For starters, this helps with definition: A "moderate" is a Republican who worries more about losing to a Democrat than one who worries more about being challenged by an even crazier Republican. Shutting down the government is a play that appeals to the crazies, but has little enthusiasm for most people, even ones who generally vote Republican.

    The Republican also-rans second debate: Six of the first debate's eight made their way to the Reagan Library in California, again hosted by Fox. Bear in mind that any judgments about winners and losers are relative.

    • Intelligencer Staff: [09-27] Republican Debate: At least 33 things you missed. If you're up for the gory details, here are the live updates. Notable quotes: "It's kind of sexist, but mostly it's just gross, and it drives home one essential fact about the people on tonight's stage. They are unrelatable freaks. There is something deeply off-putting about each person on stage." Also: "Ramaswamy: Thank you for speaking while I'm interrupting."

    • Mariana Alfaro: [09-27] Republican presidential candidates blame UAW strike on Biden: What? For giving workers hope they might gain back some ground after forty years of Republican-backed union busting?

    • Zack Beauchamp: [09-27] The Republican debate is fake: "With Trump dominating the GOP primary, the debate is a cosplay of a competitive election -- and a distraction from an ugly truth."

    • Aaron Blake: [09-27] The winners and losers of the second Republican debate:

      • Winner: Nikki Haley: The press hope for a rational Republican is getting real desperate here. Aside from dunking on Ramaswamy, the other claims for her are really spurious. How can anyone argue that the UAW strike was the result of "the impact of inflation on the workers"?
      • Winner: Donald Trump: "Okay, maybe this one's unoriginal."
      • Winner: Obamacare: Because Pence repeatedly avoided the question?
      • Loser: GOP debates: QED, right?
      • Loser: Ron DeSantis: "there was nothing that seemed likely to arrest his backsliding."
      • Loser: GOP moderation on immigration.
    • Jim Geraghty/Megan McArdle/Ramesh Ponnuru: [09-28] 'It sucks:' Conservatives discuss the GOP primary after the latest debate. I didn't listen to the audio -- I'm listening to music almost all the time; I can read at the same time, but I don't have free time for podcasts -- so I'm not sure where Geraghty is going with this, but the gist is that Trump sucks all the oxygen out of the party, and nobody else has the guts to say that he's suffocating the party just to stroke his own ego, because even if he somehow manages to win, he doesn't know how to actually do anything, other than keep sucking. (Pun? Sure.)

    • Eric Levitz: [09-28] Who won (and lost) the second Republican debate:

      • Winner: Vivek Ramaswamy: "came across as a slicks sociopath."
      • Winner: Chris Christie: "we're gonna call you Donald DUCK."
      • Losers: All of them: "In seriousness, there were no winners in Simi Valley." He then runs the rest down one by one.
    • Harold Meyerson: [09-28] Debate number two: Phonies and cacophonies.

    • Alexandra Petri: [09-28] Here's what happened at the second Republican primary debate. Really. Really? My favorite line here is one attributed to DeSantis: "If you measure popularity in number of tears that a candidate has collected from crocodiles and others, I am by far the most popular candidate."

    • Andrew Prokop: [09-27] 1 winner and 3 losers from Fox's dud of a second GOP debate:

      • Loser: Vivek Ramaswamy: "At tonight's debate, Ramaswamy's schtick sounded stale."
      • Loser: The moderators: "Dana Perino, Stuart Varney, and Illa Calderón seemed puzzlingly reluctant to have the candidates actually, well, debate each other."
      • Loser: Fox News: "Fox had to reduce its ad time slot prices by hundreds of thousands of dollars for this debate, compared to the first one, because interest was expected to be low."
      • Winner: You know who: "Sorry, Chris Christie, calling him 'Donald Duck' is cheesy and ineffective."

    Let me conclude this section with a quote from Jeffrey St Clair (see his "Roaming Charges" below for link) summing up the debate:

    The Republican "debate" at the Reagan Library seemed like an exercise in collective madness. And 24 hours and half a bottle of Jameson's later, I still don't know what's crazier, Nikki Haley saying that she'd solve the health care crisis by letting patients negotiate the price of treatment with hospitals and doctors, Tim Scott's assertion that LBJ's Great Society program was harder for black people to survive than slavery or Ron DeSantis' pledge to use the Civil Rights Act to target "left-wing" prosecutors: "I will use the Justice Department to bring civil rights cases against all of those left-wing Soros-funded prosecutors. We're not going to let them get away with it anymore. We want to reverse this country's decline. We need to choose law and order over rioting and disorder."

    Trump: While it was unprecedented for a former president to be indicted (for even one felony, much less 91), I think we now have to admit that's merely a historical curiosity, like Dianne Feinstein having been the first woman elected mayor of San Francisco. What is truly unprecedented is that this guy, facing so many indictments under four separate judges (plus more judges in prominent civil cases), is still being allowed to campaign for president, to fly free around the country, to give speeches where he threatens the lives of people he thinks have crossed him, to appear on television shows where he can influence potential jurors, and do this with complete impunity. While everyone knows that defendants are to be considered innocent until a jury finds them guilty, has anyone else under indictment ever been given such lax treatment? Many of them spend long pre-trial periods stuck in jail. (According to this report, there are 427,000 people in local jails who haven't been convicted.) Those who, like Trump, could manage bail, are subject to other numerous other restrictions. Maybe one reason Trump seems to regard himself as above the law is that the courts have allowed him such privileges.

    DeSantis, and other Republicans:

    • Jonathan Chait: [09-27] DeSantis forced to say why he enjoys denying health insurance to poor Floridians: Chait paraphrases: "Those people should work harder. Indeed, to give them subsidized access to medical care will sap their incentive. Poor people need motivation to work hard, and denying them the ability to see a doctor and get medicine is part of that necessary motivation." Conservatives believe that getting rich is a reward for virtue, but they also seem to believe that if there are no consequences for not getting rich, no one would bother putting the work in. (Even though most of the people who actually are rich got that way not from having worked hard, but from enjoying privileged access to capital.)

    • Ed Kilgore: [09-29] Scott, Haley, and the Radicalization of the 'moderate' Republican: It's ridiculous to call these people "moderate": they are the residue left from the evolution of the South Carolina Republican Party from Strom Thurmond through Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint. Their only saving grace, which each of their predecessors had to some degree, is that they aren't shamelessly stupid panderers. They have some sense of how they look to others, and try to sound respectable. But politically, there as far right as their predecessors (and Haley is about as psychotically hawkish as Graham). Perhaps you could give them some credit for moving beyond Thurmond on race, but perhaps they were just cast to look like it?

    • Jasmine Liu: [09-26] Everything you need to know about the right-wing war on books: "Here's your guide to the heroes and villains -- plus a list of the 50 most banned books." Censorship chiefs: Ron DeSantis, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Greg Abbott, Moms for Liberty. Those have definitely gotten more press than the Reading Rebels: Suzette Baker, Debbie Chavez, Summer Boismier, and "Anonymous Utah parent." The books are mostly off my radar, aside from two titles each for Toni Morrison and Ibram X. Kendi.

    • Greg Sargent: [09-28] New data on ultra-rich tax cheats wrecks the 'working-class GOP' ruse.

    Biden and/or the Democrats:

    Legal and criminal matters:

    Climate and environment:

    Economic matters:

    Ukraine War:

    Around the world:

    Dianne Feinstein: The Senator (D-CA) died Thursday, at 90, after more than 30 years in the Senate. She had a mixed legacy, which had soured lately as her absences kept Democrats from confirming many Biden appointees.

    Robert Menendez: Senator (D-NJ), was prosecuted for corruption several years ago, beat the charges, managed to get himself reëlected, and caught again.

    • Aaron Blake: [09-26] The GOP's defenses of Bob Menendez, and what they ignore. They may not have gotten to where they automatically sympathize with all criminals, but corrupt politicians are definitely their soft spot. (Also tax cheats. Except for Hunter Biden, of course.)

    • Bob Hennelly: [09-28] Bob Menendez and the gold bars: A short history of New Jersey corruption.

    • Robert Kuttner: [09-27] How to oust Menendez: The Agnew precedent: Good idea, but I don't see this happening, mostly because nobody is that desperate to get rid of Menendez: Garland probably likes the idea of being as tough on a Democrat as on Trump, and Republicans would cry foul if Menendez got off on a "sweetheart deal" while Trump still has to face trial. (Cf. their reaction to the Hunter Biden plea deal, which was a much smaller case than the ones against Menendez and Trump.)

    • Branko Marcetic: [09-27] Bob Menendez isn't merely corrupt. He carried water for a brutal dictator. Shouldn't that be plural? Menendez got caught taking money from Egypt, but he's been a dependable supporter of other nominal allies with troubled connections (Israel and Saudi Arabia get mentions here, but not Latin America, where his antipathy to anything leftist knows no bounds).

    • Timothy Noah: [09-29] Why is the GOP suddenly defending Bob Menendez? "From Trump on down, they're speaking out on behalf of a Democratic senator buffeted by accusations of corruption --he's just one more Biden deep state victim."

    • Henry Olsen: [09-27] Bob Menendez is right not to step down: One of the conservative hack pundits to rally behind Menendez, pleading "let the justice system play out as it's supposed to," urging him to hang in there even past conviction until all his appeals are exhausted, and assuring him that "there's little proof that a senator's indictment affects voters' decisions in other races." He offers the example of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who resisted pressure to resign after embarrassing photos from a yearbook came to light, but Northam wasn't indicted, and was barely distracted from doing his job. The charges against Menendez are very serious, and derive directly from his abuse of the power given him by his job. While the indictments may cramp his ability to collect further bribes, his job is one where even the appearance of corruption diminishes the office. It is this very sense of taint that has led many Democrats to call for his resignation. To see Republicans rally behind Menendez testifies to how they've evolved to celebrate his kind of corruption.

    Other stories:

    David Atkins: [09-27] America needs a true liberal media: "Our crisis of democracy is exacerbated by conservative misinformation. Time for a balanced media diet." Of course, he has a lot to complain about, but couldn't he put it better? I shouldn't have to parse the difference between "liberal" as an adjective and "liberal" (or "liberalism") as a noun, and explain why a "liberal media" isn't just a propaganda outlet for liberalism (as conservative media is for conservatism). If we had an honest media dedicated to rooting out misinformation from any source, it would easily find ten times as much emanating from right-wing interest groups (which it would clearly label as such). Atkins cites several examples of polls where scary large numbers of Americans believe things that are plainly false. That such numbers persist goes a long way toward indicting the media for failing to keep us informed.

    On the other hand, another sense of "liberal" is that it provides equal credence to all views, regardless of truth, merit or ulterior motives. This was, for instance, the view Marcuse et al. put forth in A Critique of Pure Tolerance (1965). In light of this, one can be as critical as Atkins is of the present facts and draw the opposite conclusion, that the problem we have today is that the media, with its relentless balancing and its credulous repetition of blatant falsehoods, is simply too liberal.

    Zack Beauchamp: [09-24] Is America uniquely vulnerable to tyranny? Review of a new book, Tyranny of the Minority: Why American Democracy Reached the Breaking Point, by Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, whose previous book, the comparative study How Democracies Die, was taken as a landmark among liberals who worry more about the formal political institutions than about government reflecting the interests of most people.

    Nina Burleigh: [09-26] Are we in the last days of Fox News? "Michael Wolff's new book on the Murdochs is full of juicy details, but its predictions may be off." The book is called The Fall: The End of Fox News.

    Joshua Green: [08-27] How social justice activists lost the plot: A review of Fredrik DeBoer's new book, How Elites Ate the Social Justice Movement, "an entreaty to white, college-educated progressives: Stop obsessing over identity and language and start fighting for working people." I took a brief look at this book when assembling my latest Book Roundup and couldn't decide what to make of it: he's reputed to be a leftist, but he spends most of his time attacking others on the left side of "social justice" issues, possibly for not being leftist enough (on economic issues? for leftists of some vintage what else is there?). I'm not engaged enough to recognize much less care about many of the complaints lodged against today's younger generation on the left, but back in my day (c. 1970) I ran into similar problems, where comfortably well-off young people got worked up over other people's problems without having the grounding of knowing their own problems. (I was a rare working class kid, and pathological introvert, in an elite university, so I never had that luxury.) I have no idea how well, or how badly, DeBoer navigates problems with his fellow leftists. Green, however, ends with one piece of reasonable advice: "If they'd focus on electing Democrats, they'd finally be in a position to deliver for those groups, rather than just bicker over whose turn it is to talk next." I would add that while I don't think leftists should adopt bad positions just to get around, the only policy improvements that are achievable are ones that pass through the Democratic Party, so that's where you need to do your practical work.

    • Anthony L Fisher: [09-30] Why the 2020 social justice revolutions failed: Interview with DeBoer on his book, steering the discussion toward the 2020 BLM protests and the coincident looting ("riots"). Maybe DeBoer has something specific to say about all that, but that wasn't obvious to me from what I previously read. I wouldn't say that the protests failed -- they moved several meters significantly, especially in that the cop who killed George Floyd and the cops who aided and abetted the murder have been convicted of serious crimes, which is never expected when police kill civilians -- and I also wouldn't say that where they failed, they did so due to the liberal elite syndrome I take DeBoer to be critical of. What was possible from those protests was limited by Trump, other right-wing political figures, including police and vigilantes, responded so negatively, often deliberately attempting to provoke riots (which, based on much experience, they assumed would be blamed on the protesters).

    • Becca Rothfeld: [09-01] Should progressives want the support of the ruling classes? A critical review of DeBoer's book, mentioned in the Fisher interview above, the author dismissed by DeBoer as "exactly the kind of person that is being indicted in the book." [PS: On closer examination, this strikes me as a pretty good review of the book.]

    • Freddie deBoer: [0-25] AOC is just a regular old Democrat now. I saw this at the time, and didn't think it was worth reporting on, but since we're talking about the author now, it shines as much light on him as on her. The theme is not something I'd lose any sleep over.

    Tyler Austin Harper: [09-28] Ibram X. Kendi's fall is a cautionary tale -- so was his rise: Flagged for possible future reference, as I'm not close enough to this story to have an opinion. I will say that I fifty-plus years ago I read two important historical works on racism in the early 1970s: Winthrop Jordan's White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (1968), and David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1966), which if memory serves argued that racism wasn't Stamped From the Beginning (the title of Kendi's big book) but was developed over time, primarily to justify chattel slavery in the Americas, and the profits derived therefrom. I read quite a bit more back then, covering later history as well as contemporary books like Soul on Ice and The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

    But it had been quite a while when Kendi's book came out, so I thought it might be useful to get a more contemporary reading of Jordan's domain. But when I looked at the book, I decided I didn't need or particularly want it. I had, by then, read lots about Thomas Jefferson's racism (and for that matter, Lincoln's), but didn't see much point in dwelling on it. But the big turn off was the section on major aboltionist William Lloyd Garrison. Looking at the Amazon preview now, my reaction may have been hasty: surely the later chapters on W.E.B. DuBois and Angela Davis weren't meant to be simple exposés of racist ideas like chapters on Cotton Mather and Jefferson? But then, what were they? Kendi followed up with an explicitly political book, and evidently built a mini-empire on his reputation. That could have been good, bad, irrelevant, or some combination thereof.

    Sean Illing: [09-26] Naomi Klein on her doppelganger (and yours): Another interview, promoting her new book, Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World.

    Sarah Jones: [09-24] The dark side of courtship: "Shannon Harris's relationship was held up as a model for millions of Evangelicals. Now she's reclaiming her story."

    David Masciotra: [09-26] What the Clinton haters on the left get wrong: "A new book epitomizes the risible belief that the 42nd president betrayed liberals and the 1990s were a right-wing hellscape." The book is A Fabulous Failure: The Clinton Presidency and the Transformation of American Capitalism, by Nelson Lichtenstein and Judith Stein. I note this in passing, and also that the first publication to take such offense against such a blight on Clinton's good name is the one where the term "neoliberalism" was first coined. Somehow I doubt a book where the authors juxtaposed "fabulous" and "failure" is simply "untruths they've written [to] bolster the cynicism that undermines the trust vital to the survival of the American experiment."

    The first point anyone needs to understand is that Clinton pioneered a new political path by trying not to fight Reagan but to outflank him: to show leaders that Democrats in power would be even better for business than Republicans. That Clinton won gave his argument an air of gospel after a brutal decade, which only deepened the more hysterically Republicans attacked him. However, his two presidential wins were largely wiped out by losing Congress, and with it the ability to legislate anything beyond his pro-business and anti-crime initiatives.

    On the other hand, his failures -- mistakes and, especially, missed opportunities -- only grew. Listing them would take a book (probably even longer than this one). Compounding Reagan's turn toward increasing inequality is probably the top of the list. Or failing to trim back America's imperial overreach to secure a truly international peace -- today's conflicts with Russia and China, as well as the long war against the Middle East, are easily traced back to his failures. Or maybe we should wonder why Al Gore wasn't allowed to work on climate change when it wasn't yet too late, but was tasked instead with "reinventing government," which mostly meant making it more profitable for lobbyists. Or maybe we should ask why he stripped the Democratic Party down to a personal cult-of-personality, allowing Republicans to repeatedly rebound from disaster every time they came close to the lever of power?

    Dylan Matthews: [09-26] 40 years ago today, one man saved us from world-ending nuclear war: A Russian, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, who was monitoring Russia's ICBM detection system, which had determined "with high probability" that the US had launched five Minutemen missiles at the Soviet Union. It hadn't, but two years of constant saber-rattling under Reagan, on top of worsening US-Soviet relations under Jimmy Carter (or should I say Zbigniew Brzezinski?), along with internal turmoil that might suggest weakness, left top Soviet circles more in fear of an American attack than ever before. David Hoffman wrote a book about this: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race & Its Dangerous Legacy (2009).

    Sara Morrison:

    Jonah Raskin: [09-29] "I am not now, nor have I ever been": Musings on communism and anti-communism. I've known a few American communists, or at least a few of their "red diaper baby" children. All good people, as far as I can tell.

    Heather Cox Richardson: [09-26] The fight for our America: Excerpt, or maybe a précis, from her forthcoming book Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America. The setup: "There have always been two Americas. One based in religious zeal, mythology, and inequality; and one grounded in the rule of the people and the pursuit of equality. This next election may determine which one prevails." My first cavil here was over the word "prevails": recent elections (at least since 2000, and arguably since 1968 -- the landslides of 1972 and 1984 now look like flukes, as does the lesser margin of 2008) have turned out to be pretty indecisive. There is little reason to think that 2024 will turn out differently: a Trump-Biden rematch is unlikely to turn out much differently than in 2020, but Republicans have structural advantages in the Senate, the House, and the Electoral College that could flip the popular vote -- further reinforcing the current partisan divide over democracy itself.

    Still, in searching for a better term than "prevails," I find myself considering the more extreme "survives." While electoral results have remained ambiguous, the stakes for (and fears of) losing have only grown more urgent. Republicans have already used their narrow margins to establish a Supreme Court supermajority, which has already resulted in the loss of fundamental rights and will continue to frustrate efforts of elected Democrats to address important policy issues. Give them more power, and they'll continue their efforts to fortify their power bases and impose their will on a disempowered people.

    Democrats are right to fear such authoritarianism, and are right that the antidote is a renewed faith in democracy, but their defense of democracy has been frustratingly difficult, because Democrats rarely think of power in the broad sense that Republicans understand: the power of business and money, of media, of social institutions like churches, of culture (one area they have been least effective at controlling, and therefore one they're most paranoid about, hence their recent, seemingly desperate, stress on the "war against woke"). More often than not, Democrats have appealed to moneyed interests, even to the point of sacrificing traditional allies like unions, and this has tattered their reputation as champions of the people.

    Richardson's "two Americas" may serve as generic shorthand for the two highly polarized parties, but while identities align with parties, the underlying philosophies are more or less present and at tension in most people. By far the most important is the split on equality: the right views the world as necessarily (or rightly) inequal and hierarchical, where each person has a station, and order is maintained by popular acceptance (and, often, by force); the left views all people as fundamentally equal, at least in rights, and ideally in opportunities. The left naturally leans toward democracy, where government is constituted to act in the popular interest. The right leans toward dictatorship (originally of monarchs, although any strongman able to impose order to save their hierarchy will do), and distrusts democracy, suspecting that if given the chance, the majority would end the privileges of those atop the hierarchy.

    By the way, liberals are focused on the rights and ambitions of individuals. Whether they lean right or left depends mostly on the conservative hierarchy is in admitting talented upstarts -- for many would like to live like princes, but if they are locked out, they're happy to tear the hierarchy down, and willing to appeal to the masses for help in doing so. Liberals are disrupters, which is why conservatives loathe them, but as long as they are sufficiently corruptible, they can be co-opted. But until they get bought off, they are likely to inspire more widespread ambitions -- which is why we still admire Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt (and wanted to admire Obama).

    It is important to remember that nearly everything we cherish about our past was the work of liberals aspiring to the greater (more universal) good. (Which is to say, of moves toward the left, though often of people not strongly committed to the left.) Also that every advance has been met with conservative reaction, which was generally flexible enough to admit a select few in order to cut short the hopes of the many. Richardson groups religious zeal and mythology with the side of inequality. They are actually tools of a hierarchy which, given America's founding as a liberal/mass revolt against aristocracy, cannot be defended on its own terms. Rather, the right, in order to maintain any plausibility at all, has to spin a mythic past rooted in old fashioned religion and pioneering entrepreneurial spirit -- the new hierarchy that rose to replace the aristocracy dispatched by the Revolution.

    Jeffrey St Clair: [09-29] Roaming Charges: Our man in Jersey: Starts with Robert Menendez as a Le Carré character, "New Jersey's own apex con man, whose personal embellishments and political fictions have become so labryinthine that now that he's been caught with gold bars in his closet, he can't even get his own life story straight."

    In other items, he notes that the US drug overdose rate, in the fifty years since the War on Drugs was launched in 1973, has ("what a smashing success it has been!") increased from 3.0 per 100,000 to 32.4.

    Marcela Valdes: [10-01] Why can't we stop unauthorized immigration? Because it works. "Our broken immigration system is still the best option for many migrants -- and U.S. employers."

    Jason Wilson: [10-01] 'Red Caesarism' is rightwing code -- and some Republicans are listening: This piece introduced me to a recent book by Kevin Slack: War on the American Republic: How Liberalism Became Despotism, which argues that America has been destroyed by three waves of liberals: "Teddy Roosevelt's Anglo-Protestant progressive social gospelers, who battled trusts and curbed immigration; Franklin Roosevelt's and Lyndon Johnson's secular liberals, who forged a government-business partnership and promoted a civil rights agenda; and the 1960s radicals, who protested corporate influence in the Great Society, liberal hypocrisy on race and gender, and the war in Vietnam," and who finally cemented their power with "the 'great awokening' that began under Barack Obama." The result: "an incompetent kleptocracy is draining the wealthiest and most powerful people in history, thus eroding the foundations of its own empire."

    I don't know how I missed this tome in my list of paranoid rants tacked onto the end of my Book Roundup entry on Christopher Rufo, as it's basically Rufo's thesis backed up with more historical special pleading. I do wonder, though, how you could get from Grover Cleveland's America to world-topping empire and wealth except through the progressive machinations of the Roosevelts and their followers.

    The Amazon page for Slack's book doesn't mention "Red Caesarism," which seems to be the idea that Trump should seize power next chance he gets, and dispense with all the other trappings of democracy. At this point, the article shifts to Michael Anton's The Stakes, about which I previously wrote:

    Michael Anton: The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return (2020, Regnery): Publisher is all the signal you need, but here's some background: Anton wrote a famous essay calling 2016 "The Flight 93 Election," because he figured it was better to storm the cockpit and crash the plane than to let Hillary Clinton win. He explains "the stakes" here: "The Democratic Party has become the party of 'identity politics' -- and every one of those identities is defined against a unifying national heritage of patriotism, pride in America's past, and hope for a shared future. . . . Against them is a divided Republican Party. Gravely misunderstanding the opposition, old-style Republicans still seek bipartisanship and accommodation, wrongly assuming that Democrats care about playing by the tiresome old rules laid down in the Constitution and other fundamental charters of American liberty."

    While I'm skeptical both of Trump's chances of winning in 2024, and even more so of his ability to seize total personal control of the government (as, sorry but there is no clearer example, Hitler did upon being appointed chancellor in 1933). Still, it is pretty clear that he would like to, and that he will go out of his way to hire people who have ideas about how to go about it (some of whom he'll have to spring from jail), but these will largely be the same sorts that talked him into thinking Jan. 6 was a bully idea.

    Zack Beauchamp announced: "I'm really excited to announce that I have written my first book!" The title is: The Reactionary Spirit: How America's Most Insidious Political Tradition Swept the World. I'd be real tempted to order a copy, but right now I'm bummed that there sems to be another year until publication date (next year, maybe fall). I've always imagined that if I could get my book written in the next 3-4 months, say, it could still appear several months before the 2024 election.

    Beauchamp has been writing more/less philosophical pieces in Vox for several years now. I've followed these with interest, as they dovetail nicely with my own thinking. He described his book in multiple tweets, collected and numbered here:

    1. Democracy as a system is based the idea that all people are political equals. As such, it empowers people to challenge existing social hierarchies through the political system -- which we saw, to a globally unprecedented degree, in the second half of the 20th century.
    2. This forces defenders of existing hierarchy to make a choice: fight social change through the system, or turn against democracy itself. The impulse to make the latter choice is what I call "the reactionary spirit," and it is at the heart of today's global democratic crisis.
    3. The reactionary spirit has threatened democracy since its earliest modern stirrings. But today's reactionary politics is different in a crucial respect: it pretends to be democratic.
    4. In The Reactionary Spirit, I argue that this reflects democracy's ideological triumphs. While reactionaries in the past openly rallied for alternative systems, like monarchy or fascism, today's reactionaries understand that democracy remains ideologically dominant.
    5. This is a very longstanding pattern in one place -- the United States, a country whose home-grown authoritarian tradition has always claimed to be democratic. The 20th and 21st centuries, I argue, have seen an Americanization of global reactionary politics in this key respect.
    6. The Reactionary Spirit engages deeply with reactionary political movements and thinkers, like John C. Calhoun and Carl Schmitt. It focuses on four case studies to illustrate the nature of our global crisis: the US, Hungary, Israel, and India.
    7. There's much more in the book, of course. I'll keep talking about it till publication date -- looking to be late summer or early fall 2024. The Reactionary Spirit synthesizes a decade of thinking and reporting about democratic crisis. I am so excited to share it with you.

    I also see that a book is coming out in January, 2024, by Hunter Walker and Luppe B. Luppen, titled The Truce: Progressives, Centrists, and the Future of the Democratic Party (from WW Norton). The key here isn't that the leftists became reasonable -- we've long been eager to work on real even if piecemeal solutions -- but that the centrists finally started to realize that their approaches, which most often tried to incorporate right-wing talking points while slightly toning them down, weren't working, either for winning elections or for making tangible improvements (which are always hard when you're not winning elections).

    As I was trying to wrap this up, I ran across this Nate Silver tweet:

    I am a statistician. I'm also a statistician with a good bullshit detector.

    There is little variation in age by state. And to the extent there is, it doesn't argue in your favor. The four oldest states are West Virginia (very red), Florida (pretty red), Maine (pretty blue) and Vermont (very blue).

    What are their COVID death rates (per 1M population) since Feb. 1, 2021 (i.e. post-vaccine?):

    • West Virginia: 3454
    • Florida: 2992
    • Maine: 1881
    • Vermont: 1210

    These states all have the ~same elderly population, and yet there are huge variations in COVID death rates that line up 1:1 with partisan differences in vaccine uptake.

    In another tweet, Silver noted:

    Republicans have the same death rates as Democrats until the introduction of vaccines, then they start dying at much higher rates. That's a very useful first approximation.

    Ask a question, or send a comment.

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