Speaking of * [0 - 9]

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Speaking of Which

Spent most of last week working on Jazz Critics Poll, enough so that I would have skipped this week had it not been for several fairly huge stories: the WWIII scare in Poland, the House falling into a Republican cesspit, Trump's announcement that he'll be glad to take your money in exchange for pretending to make yet another run for President (by the way, it's his 5th run, not his 3rd), and the death of Staughton Lynd. Other things popped up almost randomly, but I skipped over much more than I flagged. While I continue to be interested in Democratic strategy, I did skip over the House leadership turnover. In particular, I don't care whether Nancy Pelosi was a political mastermind (the word "consequential" is getting a lot of play) or a neoliberal hack who repeatedly screwed us over.

Hopefully next week will be boring, with its holidays and such, and I'll be able to skip it.

Margaret Carlson: [11-17] Hey, Democrats. Don't Give Up On Ohio. I'd stress that Democrats shouldn't give up on anywhere, but losing in Ohio especially hurts, because the state used to be competitive, and I don't understand why Democrats haven't done better, especially since it was the swing state in the 2004 presidential election (and they put those funny voting machines in). Sure, the steel-and-rubber belt has been in decline (for which Democrats deserve some but far from all of the blame), and southeast Ohio closely resembles West Virginia (where Democrats have been hit hardest, for reasons not entirely clear to me). On the other hand, Columbus and Cincinnati have become much more Democratic. Whether Tim Ryan was a good or bad candidate is open for argument -- my wife dislikes him intensely, but even with his retrograde politics (like his opposition to student loan forgiveness), he missed a golden opportunity in running against JD Vance, an effete phony with his Ivy League airs, his hedge fund business, and a billionaire pulling his strings. Beyond Ohio (and West Virginia), Iowa is another state the Republicans have gamed so successfully I'm inclined to suspect that something crooked is going on.

Howard Dean, who coined the phrase "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party," became chair of the DNC in 2006, and immediately looked beyond his own wing to support Democrats running in all 50 states. The 2006 and 2008 elections, with Dean at the helm, were the most successful for the Party since the 1970s. After Obama won, Dean was sent packing, and Democrats had a disastrous election in 2010, much like they did in 1994 when Clinton turned the Partly leadership into his own private vassal state. Both Clinton and Obama managed to get reëlected, but the second time without any appreciable coattails, so they could pursue their pro-business strategies without concern for their traditional party bases. That was a fine strategy for their own fundraising, but left the base with bitter resentments -- some peeled off to try their luck with Trump (bad luck, of course), and many more found a way back through Bernie Sanders.

Rachel M Cohen: [11-17] Anti-abortion groups don't think they lost the midterms: Well, by delivering the House to the Republicans, they'll stave off any attempt by Democrats to add abortion rights to federal law. That will in turn allow Republican states and their court allies to continue running amuck, sowing chaos and terror. I'm not sure that's much of a long-term strategy, but they did dodge a serious loss, which is about the best they could hope for given how unpopular their stand is.

Conor Echols: [11-18] Diplomacy Watch: Grain deal extended as Putin signals interest in peace talks. In a week when hawks got excited by an opportunity to start WWIII, some news that suggests sanity may still be possible. Especially read the following article by Echols:

  • Connor Echols: [11-16] How a lightly-source AP story almost set off World War III: "A deadly explosion in Poland kicked off hours of near-gleeful speculation about whether NATO would join the fight against Russia." Probably more accurate to say that NATO has already joined the fight -- they are, after all, providing massive amounts of arms and other support to Ukrainians directly fighting Russian invaders -- so the question was less whether a couple errant missiles was a cassus belli (a cause that is never real unless one is already itching for war -- otherwise the US would have declared war against Israel after the 1967 Liberty sinking, a much more flagrant attack than the ones cited by US warmongers in 1898, 1917, and 1964, although still less than 1941) than a time for reflection about how far NATO wants to escalate the existing war, and what the risks of continuing it may be.

  • Connor Echols: [11-15] Biden wants $37B more for Ukraine, setting up lame-duck fight. I seriously doubt Republicans will balk on more war subsidies, but note Dave DeCamp: [11-17] House Republicans Introduce Resolution to Audit Ukraine Aid. The Republicans listed are from the Trumpian fringe, but when this kind of money's available, it's almost inevitable that some will get lost or stolen, and that could be weaponized against Biden.

  • Patrick Cockburn: [11-18] Why a Diplomatic Solution to the Ukraine War is Getting More and More Elusive.

  • Jen Kirby: [11-18] Can Ukraine's infrastructure survive the winter?

  • Branko Marcetic: [11-18] NATO expansion and the origins of Russia's invasion of Ukraine: This is essential background history, an important part of the context necessary to make any sense out of Putin's invasion. (Although I still prefer my 23 Theses, which goes deeper and broader.)

    As far as I'm concerned, the best way to understand NATO is as follows: European nations could surrender military autonomy to the US in exchange for a guarantee they probably didn't need (the UK and France were allowed to rebuild to keep their colonies, but that didn't work out very well); the US accepted effective control over Europe's armed forces to keep them from doing anything stupid (although that didn't always work out, e.g., between Greece and Turkey, and didn't keep the US from doing stupid things).

    During the Cold War era, several countries opted for neutrality and fared as well or better than NATO members (e.g., Austria, Finland). After the Cold War, the more effective guarantor of peace was the expansion of the EU, but NATO persisted as a captive market for US arms manufacturers, who lobbied to expand it.

    Part of the NATO sales pitch was an effort to build up Russia as an enemy threat, which in turn made NATO a threat to Russian economic interests, as well as to Russian notions of sovereignty -- Russia was never going to turn its military over to US command -- and prestige. This was exacerbated by the US and its allies imposing sanctions on Russia, and by efforts to flip traditional Russian allies (like Ukraine and Georgia).

    In all this, both sides can be faulted for arrogance, ignorance, and reckless disregard for people caught in the middle. Still, explaining how this war came about doesn't excuse it. Rather, it helps deliver a severe indictment of each side, not that either's mistakes in any way justify the other's.

  • Rajan Menon/Dan DePetris: [11-17] Deep breaths: Article 5 will never be a flip switch for war: "After yesterday's NATO crisis that wasn't, it's clear we need to get a grip on what the alliance's obligations are -- and what they aren't."

  • Ted Snider: [11-15] Is Ukraine dropping talk of an accelerated NATO bid? "Zelensky just issue a '10 point plan for peace' with the Russians at the G20. But one thing was missing from the conversation." Some time before the invasion, I posed the question as: will Ukraine be more secure as a member of NATO (given that NATO is by definition anti-Russia) or as a non-member? The point was moot at the time, because NATO would never agree to accept a member which would immediately engage the alliance in a pre-existing war. And it's probably moot now, because Ukraine has the advantages of NATO membership -- massive arms and political support and more -- without having to give up autonomy. As Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov put it: "We are trying to be like Israel -- more independent during the next years."

Dexter Filkins: [11-14] A dangerous game over Taiwan. Better for background than for strategic thinking, but then I doubt there is any good strategic thinking on the subject. E.g.: "Taiwan's defeat would dramatically weaken America's position in the Pacific, where US naval ships guard some of the world's busiest sea lanes." Guard them from what, pray tell? Most of the shipping in the area is to and from China. What I think should be obvious is that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be much more difficult to pull off than Russia's invasion of Ukraine, even if the US military remains disengaged, and more prone to catastrophic escalation. But China has never risked that kind of confrontation, and Taiwan is unlikely to try to provoke it. I'm not so sure about the China-haters in the US.

Also on China:

Samuel Gardner-Bird: [11-15] The unipolar moment is over. When will the US get it? "These former Global South leaders don't mince words when it comes to America's diminishing leadership and the 'rules base order.'" Unfortunate, this was just a Quincy Institute colloquium, but we've heard grumblings like this in more formal forums, like last week's COP27, and the Doha round of world trade talks.

Anand Giridharadas: [11-19] This Week, Billionaires Made a Strong Case for Abolishing Themselves. Starts with the obvious low-hanging fruit: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, the already-abolished crypto king Sam Bankman-Fried, and Donald Trump (who also isn't much of a billionaire). It shouldn't be hard to find similar stories among the less storied. Much harder to find exceptions (and no, I wouldn't give George Soros an automatic bye). Giridharadas has a new book, The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy. For a review, see:

Margaret Hartmann: [11-16] 7 Ways Trump's 2024 Announcement Was Totally Sad! "There was no way Trump's 2024 campaign announcement on Tuesday night was going to beat 2015's iconic, racist spectacle, but the event failed to meet even significantly lowered expectations." First thing I noticed was that there was no escalator in Mar-A-Lago. Trump's entrance was shrouded by a crowd, so you could barely see him until he stepped up on the stage. Then he went into his bored teleprompted voice, with his laundry list of absurd claims about how America was perfect back when he was President. Not quite how I remember it. I tuned out after a few minutes of that, but here's Hartman's list:

  1. Multiple Trump family members skipped the event. [Most strategically Ivanka, who issued a press release saying she wouldn't be part of the 2024 campaign.]
  2. Cable news networks didn't carry the whole speech. [Even Fox cut away.]
  3. The pump-up music was from Les Mis. [As opposed to "Rockin' in the Free World" in 2016.]
  4. He made a lot of confusing flubs.
  5. Security wouldn't let people leave.
  6. Former Trump officials bashed him on-air. [The most carefully crafted line was "I think he's the only Republican who could lose."]
  7. The New York Post's coverage was savage.

More on Trump:

  • Jonathan Chait: [11-19] Trump Says He's 'Not Going to Partake' in Being Charged by Special Counsel: But "that is not how our legal system works."

  • George T Conway III: [11-15] Trump is out for vengeance -- and to protect himself from prosecution.

  • Shirin Ghaffary: [11-19] Elon Musk just let Trump back on Twitter. Sounds like a desperate ploy to gin up some traffic, but if Trump takes the bait, it will also be an easy way to kill Trump's competing network. Ghaffary also wrote: A comprehensive guide to how Elon Musk is changing Twitter.

  • Briahna Joy Gray: [11-18] Don't Write Him Off Yet. I think he's probably toast, but that's mostly because he's stuck in a rut moaning about how everyone is picking on him, while pretending everything he did as president was perfect -- when most of what he did was rote Republicanism, liberally seasoned with his trademark vanities and vulgarities (which his people love and others hate). Still, it's not inconceivable he could turn it around, but only if he's willing to step outside the system, admit some failures (while blaming them on other Republicans), and make the case that if you give him the chance again, he'll finally deliver on what he intended to do in his first campaign (before Pence, Christie, McConnell, Ryan, etc., buggered it all up). Sure, I don't think he's smart enough to do that, and he still has a massive credibility problem, and he's no longer someone people are willing to take a chance on just because they hate his opponent even more. But when he starts debating primary Republicans, they're going to give him a lot of ammunition to use, and he at least used to have an instinct for that. And by the way, no need to waste energy rooting for or against him, because every other Republican is as bad.

  • Eric Lipton/Maggie Haberman: [10-20] Trump Family's Newest Partners: Middle Eastern Governments: "The government of Oman is a partner in a real estate deal signed last week by the former president, intensifying questions about a potential conflict as he seeks the White House again."

  • Ruth Marcus: [11-19] Garland's appointment of a special counsel was cautious. But also bold.

  • Andrew Prokop: [11-18] Why special counsel Jack Smith might be different from Robert Mueller: I don't have any particular insight here, but it seems to me that the criminal investigations into Trump should be handled by someone with a degree of political independence. Interesting that Smith has experience at the Hague prosecuting war crimes, but that doesn't seem to be in his remit here.

  • Dana Milbank: [11-18] As Republicans take the House, the crazies take the wheel. For a bunch of pundits, Marjorie Taylor Greene has already become the face of the Republican House. I doubt that's realistic, but she certainly isn't shying away from the spotlight. For Milbank's predictable pan of the Trump announcement, see: [11-15] At Trump's angry announcement, the magic is gone. He even winds up quoting Marx about history repeating itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce."

William Hartung: [11-17] Corporate Weapons Heaven Is a Hell on Earth. I've often thought that the federal government should take over the arms industries, less for efficiency than to factor out the profit motive. Back in WWII, it made sense to use existing companies to ramp up production, and with cost-plus-10% contracts, everyone wanted to get in on the act. The result was the famous "arsenal of democracy," which brought the wars to a successful conclusion in remarkable time.

After the war, most companies converted back to consumer products, but a few hoped to keep on the gravy train, and they started lobbying efforts to spread fear and promote massive spending on "defense" -- so much so that by 1960, Eisenhower warned that the "military-industrial complex" was becoming an autonomous force in American politics. Since then, the US has repeatedly been thrown into wars, each one adding to bottom line of the arms merchants. But as importantly, the arms merchants have taken over US foreign policy, creating a worldwide market for US arms, fueling other wars, including ones where it's impossible to discern real American interests.

It seems crass to suggest that the only reason for the expansion of NATO was to expand the US arms market to Eastern Europe, but it's hard to explain otherwise. It even seems doubtful that the current war in Ukraine would have erupted had it not been for the insult and injury caused by NATO expansion: insult because expansion depended on playing up the threat posed by Russia, and injury because NATO took business away from Russia, especially their own lucrative arms industry.

Also at the invaluable TomDispatch:

  • Tom Engelhardt: [11-20] Future Heat Wave? "When Will Climate Change Become the Crucial Issue in American Elections?" The glib answer is "too late to make any difference." Americans used to pride themselves for pragmatism, including a willingness to put pre-conceived ideas aside and settle on whatever works (Franklin Roosevelt is the best political example, although George Washington and Abraham Lincoln also fit). But as hard as it is to discard dysfunctional ideas, it's even harder to overcome politically influential interest groups. The result is that Americans regularly get blindsided by reality, and forced to learn things the hard way. Climate is likely to be worse than most, partly because it's a derivative as opposed to an immediate fact, but also because it's going to get worse elsewhere before it gets that bad here. (Micronesian islanders have been terrified for years now, and South Asians are getting there fast.) What's perhaps hardest to anticipate is how Americans will react as the world blames them for their hardships. (We got a hint of this at COP27.)

  • Andrew Bacevich: [11-15] The Unasked Questions of 2022: Scattered ruminations on the UK and US political systems, finding both misguided, but at least credits the Brits with their swift dispatch of Elizabeth Truss: "when faced with a crisis of their politics, their politicians dealt with it expeditiously, even ruthlessly." By contrast, the American system couldn't rid itself of the far more clueless and malign Donald Trump until his fixed four-year term expired. But the American malaise runs far deeper than Trump's Ubu Roi act. Bacevich, who prides himself on his conservatism, offers a useful (but far from complete) bullet list:

    • the pervasive dysfunction that grips Congress;
    • the seemingly terminal irresponsibility to which the Republican Party has succumbed;
    • the corrupting influence of money on politics, national and local;
    • a waning public confidence in the impartiality of the courts;
    • a "way of life" centered on rampant consumption with lip service paid to the rapid environmental deterioration of our world;
    • freedom defined as radical autonomy, shorn of any collective obligation;
    • grotesque economic inequality of a sort not seen since the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century;
    • increasing levels of violence stoked by resentments related to race and class;
    • the invasively corrosive, ever-expanding impact of social media;
    • deep-seated disputes centering on the role of religion in American life;
    • a mindless penchant for military activism sustained by willful amnesia about war's actual costs and consequences;
    • a refusal to acknowledge that the era of American global primacy is ending;
    • and last (but by no means least), a loss of faith in the Constitution as the essential cornerstone of our political order.
  • Bacevich has a new book of old (2016-21) essays, On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century. No doubt I've read most of them when they came out. It is far easier to show how America's worldview is myopic and dysfunctional than it is to actually convince people to open their eyes and see the world as it really is. Democrats and Republicans all have deep but different delusions about American power -- I'd say at least two sets per party -- and they have to be addressed each in turn. For Bacevich, it often suffices to show that the policies rooted in those myths do not work, and often cause even more harm, so the sane (conservative) response is to back away, to learn to exercise more restraint. However, there's another approach that may help Democrats break their kneejerk embrace of omnipotent intervention, and that's to not just do less harm but to do some good.

  • Rajan Menon: [11-13] Fighting a War on the Wrong Planet: "What climate change should have taught us." Includes a section on the Ukraine War, which strikes me as far from complete, but underscores that the climate, therefore the rest of the world, has a stake in ending the war. Another section asks "What International Community?" As long as Great Power politics dominates, there can be no community.

Sabrina Malhi: [11-20] RSV, covid and flu push hospitals to the brink -- and it may get worse.

Branko Marcetic: [11-18] The Left Has a Lot to Celebrate After the Surprising Midterm Results: Unfortunately, it doesn't take a lot to justify an article like this.

Matt McManus: [11-19] Why Conservative Intellectuals Are Anti-Intellectual: "The heart of the problem for conservatives is this: they fear too much intellectualism will lead people to question authority and hierarchy." Probably shouldn't waste too much time on this subject, but I hadn't noted before one quote, where J.S. Mill called conservatives the "stupid party."

Ian Millhiser: [11-19] The Federalist Society controls the federal judiciary, so why can't they stop whining?

Nicole Narea: [11-17] The GOP captures the House -- and is ready for revenge. Current numbers (Friday evening) are 218 R to 212 D, with 5 seats undecided (AK, 3 in CA, and 1 in CO, with R's currently leading in 3). But of course they're out for revenge. The only thing that motivates Republicans is quest for power, and the thing they like best about being in power is flouting it, especially to punish their enemies. So yeah, expect a non-stop shit-show from House Republicans. That should provide Democrats with plenty of talking points about how Republicans can't be trusted with any power in government. For more on Republicans, especially in the House:

David Price: [11-18] The Great COIN Con: Anthropologists' Lessons Learned After Two Decades of America's Failed Counterinsurgency Operations in Afghanistan.

Clay Risen: [11-18] Staughton Lynd, Historian and Activist Turned Labor Lawyer, Dies at 92. Born 1929, his parents were famous sociologists, and he took their politics further left. He wrote a short book in 1968 called Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism, which I read and loved enough I wrote a letter objecting to Eugene Genovese's savage pan of the book. Genovese replied and suggested I read some of his work. I did, which steered me toward Marxism. Eventually, I conceded Genovese's points, but always remained sympathetic to Lynd -- which he rewarded with a long lifetime of political activism, eventually leaving academia for a second career as a labor organizer and lawyer.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-18] Roaming Charges: The Upside-Down World. As usual, lots of stuff here. One thing I learned about was "Natrium nuclear reactors." I had never heard of "natrium" before, but it turns out it's just a registered brand name for a particular company products, more generically known as sodium-cooled fast reactors (which I had heard of -- they go some way toward solving the worst risks of conventional reactors, but I'm not sure they go far enough). One item here worth quoting at length: a list of things that have already happened in the Ukraine War that weren't anticipated by either side:

We've seen several of these unanticipated turning points already in Ukraine: the thwarted run on Kyiv, the butchery at Bucca, the annexation of the four oblasts, the sabotage of the Crimean bridge and Nordstream pipelines, Putin's nuclear threats, Zelensky's belligerence, the resistance to Putin's draft orders, the retreats from Kharkiv and Kherson, the attacks on Ukrainian civilian power plants, which have left upwards of 10 million people without electricity as winter sets in. This week we narrowly avoided another, when a grain facility in eastern Poland was struck by an errant Ukrainian missile, killing two people and threatening to detonate a chain of events that would have dangerously escalated the war, putting NATO on a direct nuclear collision course with Russia.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Speaking of Which

PS: I started to write a plug for this post in Monday's Music Week post, and it got a bit out of hand. As it makes more sense here, I'm adding it to the end of this post, as well as burying it at the end of the Music Week post. I'm not updating the notebook to reflect these changes.

The following section was started on Wednesday, mostly finished by Thursday, although I've added occasional bits. This intro was written Sunday afternoon. The Arizona and Nevada Senate races were finally called for the Democrats, giving them 50 seats, plus a chance to pick up one more in the Georgia runoff, As I understand it, the extra seat will save them from some procedural hassles, so would be a big plus. Plus one seat still means that Manchin and Sinema can veto legislation, and perhaps most importantly any change to the filibuster rule, but it will take both of them instead of either/or. Still may not matter much if the House goes to the Republicans, as seems likely.

Democrats have bravely claimed their showing as some kind of win, at least a victory over expectations, which seem to have been set by a combination of Republican arrogance and Democratic self-doubt. I haven't dug into the results nearly as much as in previous years, so have very little to say about specific races. Some of the articles below are helpful (especially the interviews), but none are anywhere near definitive.

Still, I'm not very happy with this election. I've felt all along that Democrats should be able to do better. I'm particularly saddened at not picking up the Senate seat in Wisconsin -- I seriously doubt anyone has ever won three Senate terms by slimmer margins than Ron Johnson (although Russ Feingold was close on track with his first two wins, before Johnson beat him). Also in Ohio, which is a state I've always felt Democrats should be winning, and Iowa and Missouri, which should be more competitive. (North Carolina was actually a bit closer, but always seems to fall short, as do the big hopes centrist Democrats hold for Florida and Texas.)

In Kansas, Democratic governor Laura Kelly won a very close race against one of the most loathsome Republicans I've encountered in a long time, but didn't have enough coattails to carry an Attorney General race where Republicans nominated the wretched Kris Kobach, let alone her former Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers, who ran for Treasurer. The State Supreme Court justices Republicans were keen to purge for ruling that abortion is a constitutional right were easily retained, and the House gerrymander failed to get rid of Kansas' one Democratic Representative. I also think it's significant that Sen. Jerry Moran, who is a reliable Republican foot-soldier but far from the worst, only barely managed 60% of the vote, despite outspending Democrat Mark Holland by 6.6-to-1 (felt more like 30-to-1, which was about what happened six years ago, when Moran again was capped at 60%). Despite its bloody-red reputation, Kansas reliably has a close to 40% Democratic base no matter now little they campaign. Shouldn't we be able to build on that?

Americans voted for a new Congress, many Governors, and lots of lower offices. I ventured last week and the week before that the relentless drumroll of media stories touting Republican polling gains, even in publications like Vox that supposedly lean left, amounted to gaslighting. As the actual votes got counted, the New York Times (as usual, one of the worst offenders) immediately spun by asking their pundits: How did Democrats escape a rout?. A better question is why did a party that had nothing to offer America except more corruption, a diminished economy, less equality, more injustice, more guns and violence, fewer rights and an increasingly tattered security, with such contempt for the people that they spent the last two years scheming ways to steal elections and sabotage popular efforts when they lost anyway: why did this Republican Party still managed to get anywhere close to half of the votes? I suspect that the real effect of the gaslighting was less, as I mentioned last week, to set up another round of election-stealing charges, than to simply legitimize a Party that deserves nothing less than total dismissal.

I opened this file Wednesday afternoon because I wanted to start with this tweet from Rick Perlstein:

Let's be real. When the opposition is organized around doing nothing to help human beings, runs lunatics, and abandons the basic pretense of commitment to democracy, and the result is a tie, this is a demonstration of the weakness of the Democratic Party, not its health.

I only half approve of this tweet. The slam on the Republicans is succinct but fundamentally right. What's missing is not just extra charges, of which there are many, but appreciation of how effective Republicans are at campaigning with such obvious faults. Without considering how Republicans tap into deep-seated psychic traits, it's impossible to tell whether a tie is a sign of Democratic weakness or heroism. One can argue either case, but let's start by nothing that unlike the midterm fiascos of 1994 and 2010, Democrats held their own this year. This was certainly not because Republicans got lazy and/or missed tricks. Their relentless demonization of Biden drove approval polls toward 40% over a year ago, and their media manipulation far exceeded anything in my memory. They had tons of money, which helped them select emotional hot buttons, forcing Democrats to back-peddle and depend on reason.

Yet still, voters resisted. Biden's argument that democracy was at stake may have seemed too abstract, but it became much more palpable when the Republican-packed Supreme Court stripped Americans of their constitutional right to reproductive choice. Granted, Democrats should have done a better job of illuminating the much broader threat that Republicans poised to our freedoms, to our well-being, to society as a whole. Or alternatively, they could have tried harder to get people to fear and loathe Republicans, as Republicans have done to liberals and ultimately all Democrats over the last 40-50 years. But that's an uphill battle, and isn't necessarily in their nature (or necessarily a good thing). The Democratic Party is diverse and divided, intent on representing and servicing everyone -- which puts it at a severe disadvantage when facing such a single-minded adversary.

Scanning further down in the Perlstein thread, I see he writes more [other comments in brackets; mine are TH]:

  • Writing a whole book about it. [TH: Good. Been thinking about my own. What's wrong with R's is easy part, although few have noted the toxic power lust going back to Nixon. Hard part is what D's can do, given the asymmetries in identity and approach. Also, per W Rogers, Ds are not "an organized political party."]
  • What have Dems done to create a more robust sense of party identity ("tribalism"), build their own media ecosystem, and degrade the strategic capacity of the oppositions? Every excuse is an indictment.
  • Learned helplessness. If we don't win, the planet and the society collapse.
  • [jeff scheiner: Don't overlook money and media though.] Thanks for the reminder. Democrats collect and spend absurdly large amounts of money with no coordinated strategic vision, and have created no media platforms to define the terms of battle.
  • [desertbunny: We need a mechanism to be able to sue for political malpractice.] That mechanism is called "grassroots participation in Democratic Party politics." Volunteer in your ward/county organization, etc. The only out is through.
  • [VHistory: I'm not so sure I'm as much of a pessimist. Remember, many voters inexplicably don't see the GOP that way. Fundamentally we're just a broken electorate. Plus, I think if Dems become more activist it'll help them. They survived because of the things they did for people.] This is optimism, not pessimism. It's a faith that it's possible to build a vision in which the Democrats won operational control of the country for generations, like under FDR, and the GOP functions as an oppositional rump.
  • [David Silva: But let's not overlook the raw emotional appeal of the GOP. The attractive power of a lynch mob.] Dems one had a raw emotional power, of helping you stick it to the boss. One of the wages of Clintonism was making that go away.
  • [john maccallum: Of course the Democratic Party is weak. No labor unions or big city political machines to offset GOP $$$, a need to placate monied interests to raise $$$, dispirited core groups by a reactionary corporate media run by the rich.] And . . . Democrats couldn't have done more to rebuild union power? Every excuse is an indictment.

A couple more comments from the thread:

  • John Sheehan: One party has a 24-hour a day propaganda arm pushing its lies our 365 days a year. The other party, the Democrats, don't have that advantage. You're acting like it's a level playing field. [TH: No, you need strategies that work better given the unevenness of the playing field. Some tilts, like the Senate, are impossible to change. Gerrymandering, money, media access, etc., are also uphill climbs.]
  • Vax-o-licius: The theory underlying this tweet is that with better messaging and strategy Dems could romp to overwhelming victory. There is no evidence this is the case. What the last 7 years have taught us is that there is a pretty large constituency in this country for GOP lunacy. You can ALWAYS criticize the Democrats' messaging and strategy -- and you should -- but it's important to keep in ind that through all the scandals, incompetence and corruption, through Jan 6 and the fine job Dems did exposing it, the % of people who approve of Trump has gone UP.
  • ZaxxonGalaxian: Should be a landslide every election against this GOP, but we have to contend with a signif part of the older white electorate brainwashed by Fox News, fundamentalist churches, and Facebook conspiracy theories. The youth + educated + minority vote doesn't way outnumber them yet.
  • LeftOfTheDial: We can't just blame the GOP. The Dems are constrained in what policies/messages they can offer as a compelling, progressive alternative to the GOP by a combination of neoliberal ideology and subservience to donors. The result: tepid incrementalsm and ties.
  • AXEL LYCAN: The Dems waste so much money and energy on the same old add-makers and media advisors that have lost them thousands of races since Obama even came into office.
  • Cute Username: I feel like there is a substantial amount of evidence that the American people are a bunch of jerks who don't care about that kind of thing. For instance, your own books.
  • Kenny Log-ins: The fact that you can't see, or refuse to recognize, that the issue is WHITE PEOPLE ENTRENCHING INTO WHITE SUPREMACY is . . . unsurprising. Nah must be the Dems fault. [TH: This accompanied by a chart showing white men breaking 63-35 R, white women 53-45 R. I don't doubt that racism is part of what's driving the R's, especially when it can be coded as crime or wokism, but is White Supremacy really a useful term for mostly inchoate prejudice? And how does condemning whites for racism help you win elections?]
  • Real Benisons: Rightist Rs promised the psychic income of cruelty/owning libs/racism to plenty of humans. Is democracy as such anywhere near as salient to voters as freedoms? Ds could seize high ground against Rs who've become hostile to freedom in many ways.

I don't think we can stress too much the role of the mainstream media in conditioning (and legitimating) expectations for the election. One piece you should read is from Steve M.'s invaluable No More Mister Nice Blog: [11-09] Democrats hold off the red wave -- and The New York Times. The bulk of the piece is a day-by-day roll call of articles predicting doom for the Democrats. Nore was the Times alone in drinking Republican Kool-Aid: he includes similar pieces from The New Yorker, CNN, Bloomberg, Politico, Axios, and Washington Post. Millions of Americans depend on these outlets for relief from the non-stop propaganda spewed out by Fox and kin, so when the "reality-based" world gets snowed, it's hard for most people not to think they might have some kind of point. In this case they were wrong.

M. also wrote an earlier [11-05] piece on one specific New Yorker writer: Benjamin Wallace-Wells is a well-worked ref:

This is how the media works: Right-wing outlets offer pure GOP cheerleading and relentless demonization of Democrats, while Republican spin doctors live rent-free in every "liberal" media journalist's head, and stories routinely bash Democrats as a result.

PS: Dean Baker has another example of how the New York Times spread misinformation in the runup to the election: [11/03] It's Five Days Before the Election and the NYT Has Another Bad News About the Economy Story that Contradicts Government Data.

Another tweet on party mentality, from Josh Marshall:

Dems went into the senate battle Tuesday tense/worried. Most GOPs put on paper that they were absolutely going to run the fucking table, get 55 seats. Both were looking at the same roughly tied polls. This remains an enduring feature of the collective mentality of both parties.

Not a propos of the election, but another tweet caught my eye:

Whether it's Democrats defriending their Facebook contacts for being Republicans or Republicans shooting and killing their neighbors for being Democrats, both sides have an intolerance problem.

True enough, but it's not the same intolerance problem.

Here are a few post-election links/comments that caught my eye:

Isaac Chotiner: [11-11] Nate Cohn explains why this year's midterms broke the mold: Interview with "The [New York] Times' polling guru." Chotiner also wrote: [11-10] The accurate election polls that no one believed.

Matthew Cooper: [11-11] Why Did Democrats Do So Well in the Midterms? I'd probably be more tempted to write a "Why did Democrats do so poorly" piece, since my default position is that Republicans are so bad, and that Democrats are objectively so much better, that if everyone gave the question serious thought the results would have been much more favorable. Still, this makes the case that some Democratic arguments -- especially on abortion and democracy -- resonated with enough voters to stay close even given the Republican snow job.

James Fallows: [11-09] The Political Press Needs a Time Out: "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future. How about if we waste less time trying." More examples of misleading analysis, especially from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Judd Legum has more: [11-10] Political media is broken.

Benjamin Hart: [11-12] Donald Trump's Gift to Democrats. Interview with Amy Walter, of Cook Political Report. Trump has been in the news literally every day since he left office, which has made him much harder to forgive than, say, GW Bush, who became a hermit after 2008, and was totally forgotten by 2010 (even though his administration could be blamed for virtually everything had gone wrong in Obama's first two years). No doubt Trump motivated more Democrats to vote than would have without his constant irritation, but he also motivated his followers, and gave them renewed confidence even if based on lies. Hart's title isn't meant that way, but Republican elites who have no problem with Trump as long as he's winning will point to this disappointment as proof that he's not worth the drama, and should be dumped ASAP. Godspeed, sure, but Trump is still able to do one thing no other Republican can: suck all the oxygen out of a room, so it becomes impossible to rationally debate issues. Given the irrationality of Republican stances on virtually all issues, his removal may not work out as well as they think.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske/Paul Kane: [11-12] Democrats surged to flip state legislatures, defying past GOP gains.

Ellen Ioanes: [11-13] Democrats kept the Senate. But Georgia is still important.

Robert Kuttner: [11-11] Did We Just Save Democracy? Maybe, sort of, aside from the fact that democracy wasn't in very good shape in the first place. Kuttner refers to a review of his book Going Big: FDR's Legacy, Biden's New Deal, and the Struggle to Save Democracy: [11-07] Steps in the Left Direction.

Eric Levitz: [11-10] David Shor's (Premature) Autopsy of the 2020 Midterm Elections. Midterms basically turn on which party comes out to vote, and which stays home. So the interesting point Shor makes here is: Republicans were up by about 2% relative to Democrats. Still, Democrats did better in battleground states, and seem to have gotten lazy in states they thought they had locked up (e.g., New York, California).

Maurice Mitchell: [11-11] How the Democrats Won and Lost and 2022 Midterms. "Tuesday's results are a reprieve, but we still have mountains to move."

Will Norris: [11-10] The Beginning of the End of the Subminimum Wage: "D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to force restaurants to pay employees the full minimum wage. The rest of the nation is likely to follow."

Charles P Pierce: [11-10] No One Can Pretend that Wisconsin Is a Republic: Wisconsin has the most grotesque partisan gerrymandering of any state. It's so bad that when Democrats got 51 percent of the vote statewide, they only won 30 percent of the seats in the state legislature.

Nathan J Robinson: [11-09] The Majority of Americans Do Not Support Right-Wing Extremism.

Bill Scher: [11-09] America Does Care About Democracy and Abortion Rights. Some curious poll numbers here: 52 percent say the Republican Party is "too extreme," but 51% say the same about the Democratic Party (huh?); 56 percent believe Republicans want to pass a national abortion ban, but 53% believe Democrats want to put police funding (as recently as 2021, Democrats actually voted to increase police funding). Part of this can be blamed on Democrats having poor messaging skills, but there's some deep psychology here that Republicans have learned to exploit but which leaves Democrats awkwardly clueless.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-11] Roaming Charges: The Searh for Intelligent Life in American Politics: He's proudly outside of the two-party system ("I don't think a candidate I've actively supported has ever won elective office"), but that gives him some perspective: "The fact that Democrats are relieved at the narrowness of their loss and Republicans outraged by the thinness of their win speaks to the different psychologies of the two parties. One lives in fear, unsure (with reason) about its own beliefs. The other perpetually angry that not everyone bends to their will." This is followed by the illustration for "a blue surge is coming for Florida, sooner rather than later." On the other hand, he quotes Ted Cruz on why Democrats did better than expected: "Because for two years they have governed as liberals. They've governed as whacked out lefty nut jobs. You know what that did? That excited their base. That excited a bunch of young voters." Maybe they should do more of that? Many other subjects, as usual. E.g.: "I don't understand fleeing Twitter when you can watch one of the most grotesque people on the planet be shredded day after day in his very own safe space, in front of the people whose admiration he craves."

Paul Street: [11-11] Twelve Takes on the Mid-Terms: I had doubts about linking here (he uses the "F-word" much more than necessary, as in "Republi-fascists," and nicknames Joe Biden "Burn Pit"), but couldn't deny you the dig at David ("statistically illiterate moron") Brooks.

Tessa Stuart: [11-09] It Was a Huge Night for Abortion Rights -- Even in Kentucky.

And here are few more items (mostly) beyond the election:

Dean Baker: [11-11] The Crushing Health Care Cost Burden that Never Came: Dredges up the ominous 1990s warnings of billionaire Scrooge Peter Peterson to make a couple points. One is that the cost growth projected back then wasn't really in Social Security and Medicare but in a profit-hungry health care system, that Medicare was actually doing a better job of controlling than private heath insurance was. Another is that cost growth basically went flat after the Affordable Care Act kicked in around 2015 (aside from a blip up with the pandemic in 2020, and a slide down as the pandemic abated). None of this suggests that Medicare-for-All wouldn't fare even better than Obamacare, but it does show that we'd be in much worse shape had Democrats not passed the ACA. And had Trump managed to repeal ACA, today's gas prices would just be a rounding error (even if most of the extra costs were paid for in service quality).

Jonathan Chait: [11-01] Progressive America Needs a Glasnost: "Stop being afraid to speak out against the madness." What he seems to mean is that Progressives should purge their ranks of hysterics and fringe eccentrics, but he starts with the example of the unnamed staff at the New York Times who persuaded the editorial board to not give air to an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton calling for martial law to crush Black Lives Matter protesters. The rejection didn't prevent Cotton from airing his noxious views, and may have given him a publicity boost. There's no really good solution to issues like this. Chait has a few more examples, which are mostly things the right rails against as "cancel culture" and "political correctness." I certainly see a need to handle those cases better, but they rarely bother me, at least where the people being chastised have little power of their own. And I still have a bad taste from 1992, when Bill Clinton went out of his way to attack a minor rapper dba Sister Souljah.

Kate Conger/Mike Isaac/Ryan Mac/Tiffany Hsu: [11-11] Two Weeks of Chaos: Inside Elon Musk's Takeover of Twitter. I'm not sure why you should care, but if you're curious this is the basic story. Also:

Kelly Denton-Borhaug: [11-10] What an American Addiction to War Means to Veterans. Author has a book: And Then Your Soul Is Gone: Moral Injury and US War-Culture. Last week was Veterans Day, the only American holiday date (aside from Christmas, New Year's Day, and the 4th of July) considered so sacrosanct that it hasn't been gerrymandered into a long weekend. The date was originally fixed at the end of what was then called the Great War, making it a celebration of peace, but as the "war to end all war" in fact spawned more wars (David Fromkin wound up writing a book on the postwar settlement called The Peace to End All Peace), the holiday got taken over as a tribute to the martyrs, and eventually a celebration of American militarism. Every year, it's a holiday that makes me sick to my stomach.

I remember back when I was drafted in 1969, the greatest fear I felt wasn't what the "enemy" might do to me -- my life wasn't worth much as the time, which is part of the reason they looked on me as ideal draft bait -- but what the Army would certainly do to me to try to turn me into a killer. (Not that I didn't know well enough what was going on in Vietnam. My next door neighbor was sent there and came back in small bits.) So when the author talks about "moral injury," I recognize something deeper than the better known PTSD that affects so many veterans. "War damages all who wage it" is fairly profound, but even there the net isn't cast wide enough. War damages the politicians who vote for it, the writers who cheer it on, and many bystanders, who matter how innocent they think they are. If I've learned one thing important in my 72 years, it's that.

Connor Echols: [11-11] Diplomacy Watch: Could US-Russia nuke negotiations help set the stage for talks? Not a lot to report, but there is a report that Biden and Putin will be talking about extending the START treaty that limits some nuclear weapons. As Churchill once said, "jaw jaw is better than war war." Echols also wrote: [11-07] New White House reports suggest diplomacy isn't a four-letter word after all.

Also on Ukraine:

John Hudson: [11-12] US intelligence report says key gulf ally meddled in American politics: "The United Arab Emirates steered US foreign policy in its favor through a series of legal and illegal exploits." Given that what happens in US politics has profound impacts on the rest of the world, I'm not surprised when foreign countries try to affect US elections -- especially given that the US has a long record of trying to influence foreign elections. So most of what this proves is that it's not just Russia (and Israel, which is much more aggressive, given their proxies -- speaking of which, see Michael Arria: [11-09] AIPAC spent over $4 million trying to stop Summer Lee but she's headed to Congress).

Paul Krugman: [11-08] Is Divided Government Good? Don't Take Elon's Word for It. Refers to a Musk tweet, endorsing Republicans for Congress to lean against the Democrat in the White House. But the US has had divided government -- a President from one party and control of one or both Congressional bodies by the other -- with startling regularity (from memory so I may be off a bit: 2/8 years Truman, 6/8 Eisenhower, 0/8 Kennedy/Johnson, 8/8 Nixon/Ford, 0/4 Carter, 6/8 Reagan, 4/4 Bush I, 6/8 Clinton, 2/8 Bush II, 6/8 Obama, 2/4 Trump). In some cases that can lead to constructive compromises (although offhand, the examples that come to mind involve R Presidents working with D Congresses, and most of them are dated (like under Eisenhower and Nixon). But mostly it leads to obstruction and sabotage, which was most explicit after 2010, and would probably be even worse now (as of this writing, the Senate has 50 Democrats + a chance for one more in Georgia, but the House is leaning Republican, and that would be enough to torpedo any legislative efforts, and to hold even essential spending hostage). That might be OK if, like most contemporary Republicans, you believe problems (like pandemic and climate change) to be scams, and government to be intrinsically incompetent if not downright evil. On the other hand, if you think that we are facing real problems (even ones Republicans campaigned hard on, like inflation and crime) you should want a functioning political system, which these days means Democrats in charge. The only plus I see to divided government over the next two years is that it will make it easier to blame Republicans for inaction and obstruction in 2024. Still, it means two more years wasted so arrogant twits like Musk can get off easy. One last thing to note here is that the argument works best in the mid-terms, when the presidency is already fixed. You never find people arguing for divided government during a presidential election, because they always want to win both. So why credit it as an idea at all?

Jill Lepore: [11-07] The case against the Twitter apology: "Our twenty-first century culture of performed remorse has become a sorry spectacle."

Anatol Lieven: [11-09] Grim outlook on global warming emerges from UN conference: "Necessary carbon reduction targets will not be met; the US and China will have to work together to prevent further damage." Not much news (as least that I noticed) from the UN's COP27 climate conference in Egypt.

Ian Millhiser: [11-11] The legal fight that could kill Biden's student debt relief plan, explained: "The program is almost certainly legal, but that fact is unlikely to persuade a judiciary dominated by his partisan foes." One of whom, a Trump judge in Texas, has already ruled against the program.

Timothy Noah: [11-10] Inflation Is Dwindling (Just Like I Said It Was). He further suggests "there's even a growing possibility we can avoid a recession." But won't that require the Fed to stop its interest rate hikes when prices stabilize, instead of waiting until they get the unemployment rate they seem to be looking for?

Jonathan Ofir: [11-11] Meet the new kingmakers of Israeli politics: "The racist, homophobic, ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism list was the big winner in Israel's most recent election. It is also a perfect reflection of where Israel is heading." This trajectory is hardly surprising, given that Israel has maintained domestic repression (an apartheid state) and militarism ever since 1948, with no interest in mitigating injustice or reconciling with worldwide norms. One can imagine the US, following 9/11, sinking ever deeper into the same mental rut -- indeed, that appears to have been the aspirations of the neocons who ran Bush's war machine and their apocalyptic allies in the fundamentalist churches -- but most Americans turned out to not have the stomach for perpetual war. Also:

Barnett R Rubin: [11-05] 14 months later: Five conclusions on Afghanistan withdrawal. During the Bush years, Rubin was one of the few experts on Afghanistan who could be counted on to offer sober analysis of the war there. Then, he went to work for Obama, and disappeared from pubic view. So good to hear from him again. The main conclusion is that US sanctions only serve to make a bad situation worse. The most interesting point is that China, Russia, and Iran haven't shown any desire to join with the Taliban in thumbimg noses at the US. I read this as suggesting an opportunity for a joint engagement, which could mitigate some of the Taliban's worst characteristics, and also reduce friction between the the US and its supposed nemeses.

Alex Shephard: [11-11] The Attempt to Annoint Ron DeSantis as Trump's Heir Will Fail. I'm not so sure. Trump's command over the GOP Establishment was almost completely based on his reputation as a winner, established in the 2016 election and reinforced by virtually nothing since -- not that he hasn't tried to keep up appearances, rather remarkably keeping much of his base in line after wrongfooting such supposedly savvy Washington insiders as McConnell, Graham, and McCarthy.

More on Trump:

Washington Post Editorial Board: [11-12] Here's how Congress can make the lame-duck session a mighty one: In recent years, when Democrats won governorships in North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republicans in those states (including the lame duck governors) moved quickly to pass laws to undermine established powers of their governors. That's seemed like bad taste, but but there are things that the old Democratic majorities can still do that would make the next two years more bearable. Most important is to get rid of the unnecessary law that requires Congress to vote on raising the federal debt limit -- something that Republicans have often used to try to extort concessions from Democratic administrations. They raise a few more issues. (I'm skeptical about "fight Russian aggression," especially given that money for arms for Ukraine has had overwhelming bipartisan support so far.) I doubt that much can (or should) be done, especially on measures that have floundered for two years (mostly due to the filibuster, which is especially unlikely to be changed in a lame duck session), but I'd be open to ideas. Related:

    Alex Thomas: [11-10] Democrats Have Two Months to Trump-Proof the Presidency: "With the party likely to cede the House -- if not the Senate -- to the GOP, meaningful steps to limit some of the executive branch's power must be taken during the lame-duck session." One problem here is that in a divided government, the only way to get many things done is through executive orders -- which you may not want to deny Biden just on the chance that Trump (or some equally malevolent Republican) might win in 2024.

David Yaffe-Bellany: [11-11] Embattled Crypto Exchange FTX Files for Bankruptcy: "The speed of FTX's downfall has left crypto insiders stunned." At one point, FTX was "valued" at $32 billion. Also:

Bonus tweet from Zachary D Carter:

There is no "good" version of crypto. It has been a fraudulent project from the jump, and anyone who failed to see that over the past decade should not be in the business of thinking and writing about American political economy.

We must do the best we can with an imperfect world, but we must also be able to distinguish between genuinely difficult moral trade-offs and simply lighting things on fire for money.

PS: I wrote the following on Monday, November 14. It started as a reference to this Speaking of Which post, but kept growing until I got complaints about hijacking my Music Week post for politics. So I thought it might be more at home here:

I wrote some on the 2022 election last week in yesterday's Speaking of Which. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time studying elections. I could name you every Senator since 1900, and most of the then-current members of the House. I poured through almanacs and colored in county maps to plot the spatial division of party splits, going back in many cases to Reconstruction after the Civil War. I went to the library a couple times each week, and regularly noted votes as tracked by Congressional Weekly. I did a lot of the same things Kevin Phillips did while writing The Emerging Republican Majority: effectively the Bible of Nixon's Southern Strategy and cult of the Silent Majority. In that book I glimpsed the future: the rise of reaction, and the end of the liberal America I had grown up in (and found deficient, although one can be nostalgic comparing it to the changes wrought by Nixon, Reagan, and their descendants down through Trump and beyond).

I gave up on electoral politics after McGovern's tragic loss in 1972, only to return in 1996 when presented with an opportunity to vote against the villainous Bob Dole (who had eked out a win in 1972 against Bill Roy in the dirtiest, most despicable campaign of my experience). But whenever I did pay attention to an election, I found my peculiar experience gave me considerable insight. You can find analyses of various elections as far back as 2000 in my notebooks. This year's seems rather paltry by comparison, as if I'm struggling not just with the data but with my motivation. One question I need to answer in the next month or two[*] is whether make a serious attempt at writing the political book I've been turning over in my head since the mid-1990s. The latest iteration of the outline envisions three sections:

  1. The evolution of the Republican Party from Nixon to the present, seen mostly as the pursuit of power regardless of the costs, including to their basic competency.
  2. A survey of several prominent problems that Republicans have proved themselves incompetent to address, much less to ameliorate.
  3. A prescription for the Democrats to forge a political stance that is capable of both winning elections and addressing problems.

As I noted in a tweet I quoted in the post, the first part is the easy one: books like David Corn's recent American Psychosis and Dana Milbank's The Destructionists, or older ones like Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew (2008), offer a surfeit of examples that go to the heart of the GOP (and not just the MAGA fringe). One can also draw on a rich literature on problems and solutions, most formulated on the left because that's where critical thinking survives. The tough problem is figuring out how to package both the critique of Republicanism and a practical range of solutions in a way that wins over a viable political majority. I have some ideas there, or at least some personal reactions, but putting them together won't be easy, and may be resisted as much by the left as by the center and the right.

The idea here is to provide a framework to help Democrats better understand what needs to be done, and what they're up against. It won't try to argue with Republicans or unaligned refuseniks -- not that I won't offer some suggestions for Democrats to win them over. It won't offer a left critique of mainstream Democrats, liberalism, and/or capitalism (although I suppose that's where I'm coming from, so it's liable to seep through, but only where I think it might be helpful for winning elections and setting policy). It won't engage in the sort of utopian thinking I've long been partial to. It won't be based on polling, or for that matter on the sort of political science Thomas Edsall and Ezra Klein base their analyses on. I'm not going to tell Democrats they should tell people what they want to hear.

I recognize that Republicans have a long-term credibility problem because nothing they say about problems and nothing they try to do about them actually works. Everything they've touched in the last 40-50 years has turned to crap, and it's getting increasingly hard to ignore that fundamental flaw in their thinking (though they try, by shouting louder and more desperately). Democrats have sometimes won elections by appropriating Republican rhetoric, but that's only saddled them with their own long-term credibility problem. The only way to reverse this is to promise and deliver on things that actually work. That's a tough sell, because we're so used to stupid posturing, and because the media practically polices pubic discourse to make sure nothing sensible survives. (That's a big part of why they love and/or hate Trump so much.)

[*] Let's make this specific: to make decision by the end of the year, either to write the book or to never think about it again. The alternative would be to work on the memoir, which could spin other things off eventually. In the meantime, I have the Jazz Critics Poll to run (and/or to ruin).

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Speaking of Which

I started this relatively early in the week, with the extended comment on the Brad Luen piece, followed by the Timothy Noah piece on economicism, which I had set aside. I wrote the intro Saturday afternoon. I decided some weeks ago that not just lust for power but the assumption that one deserves power and the other side must be denied power is central to the Republican understanding of the world. That makes Nixon (and not Reagan or Goldwater) the godfather of the modern Republican Party. I could add more detail on how and why, but the key elements are here. After the election, I need to decide whether to write this analysis up as a short book. A recent spate of books on the fundamental rot at the heart of the Party (see Heilbrun below) should cover that part adequately, but they tend to focus on the fringe and neglect the center.

The rest of the book would be harder to get straight. Democrats face two problems: how to get more votes than Republicans, and how to deal with an increasing array of serious problems (many directly caused by Republicans), and others also caused by deep assumptions that both parties share. I have some ideas there, but they're rough and far from ready.

Not a lot below on major foreign elections in Brazil and Israel (see St Clair for both, but I didn't comment much). I suppose I should point out that the rise of the racist and possibly genocidal Kahanist party in Israel is a problem for Democrats in the US, who have hitherto automatically supported whatever Israel does but will find a huge disconnect between their pro-democracy, pro-equality posture here and in Israel, while Republicans will have no trouble accepting the new government -- not least because many Republicans admire Israeli repression and militarism, and would like to implement the same here.

Two days before the 2022 US elections, the so-called "mid-terms": a term I hate, because it suggests that only presidential elections really matter, and this is just a referendum on the last, a chance for disgruntled people to express their "buyer's remorse" without much consequence. But of course, there are consequences, the obvious one the chance to divide government to undermine any possibility of the party holding the presidency to get things done. Of course, that can be a good thing (as in 2006 or 2018) or a bad thing (1994 and 2010 were the worst), depending on which party is sabotaged. (Note though that 1994 and 2010 set up successful second term campaigns for Clinton and Obama, perhaps a source of hope if Republicans win in 2022, although the second terms of Clinton and Obama were mixed blessings, leading to defeats four years later.)

I continue to believe that reports of a "Republican surge" -- the title of a David Brooks column I haven't read and won't link to -- are pure gaslighting, with the added ominous overtone of convincing the right that their losses are stolen, which will help justify whatever post-election schemes they've spent the last two years putting into place. When actual votes start getting counted Tuesday evening, we will start to be able to see through the media fog, and possibly get some measure of how effective (or not) the last two years of election denialism and vote rigging have been. Still, I don't expect the mainstream media to be quick to learn from its errors -- especially its inability to recognize phony campaign issues, or to properly spotlight the corruption of money in politics least of all its own advertising windfall).

I'm not wild about Biden's characterization of this election as a test and defense of democracy. It's not that I dispute the point, but democracy in America has been crippled since well before Leonard Cohen wrote his hopeful song about it. The test of a democracy is not merely whether people get a chance to vote and have their ballots counted, but whether doing so produces a government that responds to and takes action on behalf of most people. Back in the 19th century, it's easy to find and quote elites bemoaning the prospect that extending suffrage would let the "mob" take over government and using it for popular causes (like those promised in the Preamble to the US Constitution). But as suffrage became more universal, elites had to fall back on treachery to convince the masses not to claim their rights. Money is a tool, both to buy propaganda and to train candidates, who inevitably spend more time chasing it than they devote to their constituents' needs and hopes. And the media, with its elite ownership, advertising funding, and crass competition for the passing attention of viewers, is the ecosystem in which this deception takes place.

It's often remarked that Republicans are better at playing the game of politics than Democrats. One theory is that Republicans simply care more about their policy goals than Democrats do -- if, indeed, Democrats, being hopelessly torn between their donors and their voters, actually have any (rather, their favorite trick is to try to work out compromises, like Obamacare, that ultimately satisfy neither camp). But Republicans are pretty careless about policy too: they mostly like wedge issues they can campaign on but don't have to do anything about once they're in power. A very good example is how much Reagan bashed Carter in 1980 over the plan to give the Panama Canal to Panama. After the election, he didn't lift a finger to rescind the transfer plan. Even when Bush I invaded Panama, no one suggested recovery of the Canal should be a war aim. Thomas Frank, in What's the Matter With Kansas?, went too far in chiding Republicans for never delivering on their promises to the religious right, but mostly because he riled up the suckers in the rank and file.

The single most important thing to understand about Republicans is that they are addicted to power, and will do anything, at least within their identity as the party of True Americans, to seize and protect it. That identity goes all the way back to the Civil War, when they rose to save their vision of a Free West and wound up having to destroy the Slave Power. That left them with a very WASP power base, against which the Democrats were derided as the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion." While "rebellion" originally referred to secessionists, the list of the others Republicans hated grew to include populists, progressives, labor unions, socialists, and communists, all the way up to the post-WWII Red Scare. Coming out of the McCarthy hysteria, Nixon made a few tweaks to Republican Party identity: following Kevin Phillips's The Emerging Republican Majority, Nixon welcomed white southerners and white suburban ethnics into the G.O.P., making them True Americans, giving up on the dwindling support of Blacks for the one-time Party of Lincoln.

Nixon is sometimes disparaged by conservative ideologues, who feel he never believed much in their principles (other than his own casual bigotry, which was almost universal among conservatives back then; even the rabid anti-communism he built his career on was something he was willing to compromise on). But he did obsessively believe in one thing: power, which was so important he was willing to do virtually anything to get and keep it. Republican contempt for democracy was all but inevitable given that they sought power by merging empowering the rich, boosting the military, and rallying (mostly religious) cultural reactionaries. Reagan was more successful at applying Nixon's strategy, partly because he avoided Nixon's deceitful smarminess, and partly because after McGovern, Carter gave up on unions as the backbone of the Democratic Party in favor of triangulating business interests -- a balancing act that proved difficult to pull off, although Clinton and Obama got some mileage out of it.

But as demographics and repeated doses of dysfunctional policy started to erode their credibility, Republicans have been stuck in a pattern of doubling down, a bluff that has kept their vote share close enough to win (sometimes without even a plurality). Trump's innovation here is that even when he has an indefensible record, he's always on the attack, and that's kept kept together a party that should have been banished for gross incompetence as well as indecency. Rational people, like myself, wonder how long they can keep this farce up. We'll get some idea after Tuesday.

Connor Echols: [11-04] Diplomacy Watch: Putin blinks, returns to Black Sea grain deal after just 4 days. I haven't put much effort into this regular section this week. The New York Times Updates headlines should give you a flavor:

  • Pentagon unveils new U.S. comand and more Ukraine aid
  • The Defense Department says it will support Ukraine for 'as long as it takes.'
  • Moscow is pouring new conscripts to the front line to try to halt Ukrainian advances.
  • Putin says 318,000 new soldiers have joined Russia's forces in his mobilization push.
  • G7 diplomats end their meeting in Germany with a plan to coordinate on rebuilding Ukraine's infrastructure.
  • China warns against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and Germany urges Beijing to do more to end the war. [Olaf Scholz visited Beijing.]
  • A top Biden aide assures Kyiv that the outcome of the U.S. midterm election won't impede military aid. [Jake Sullivan]
  • Amid a forest of Ukrainian flags, soldiers honor a fallen comrade with vodka.
  • With 4.5 million Ukrainians cut off from power, officials reiterate calls for energy conservation.
  • Southeast Asia is a case study in Russia's declining prospects as an arms exporter.
  • Here are 5 ways that sanctions are hitting Russia. [Finance, Trade, Technology, Energy, Elites]

The New York Times map page hasn't been updated since October 11, following Ukrainian ground gains in the two weeks before October 4, and widespread Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. The links I picked up are mostly on the lack of diplomacy:

Thomas Edsall: [11-02] 'Elites Are Making Choices That Are Not Good News': I was steered to this piece by Dean Baker, who agrees that "the basic point in the column is completely true," he adds that Edsall "hugely understates the extent to which the screwing of noncollege educated workers was the result of deliberate government policies." Sure, but why are we still litigating Clinton's stupid idea that the US can afford to lose blue collar jobs because cheaper trade will open up all those lucrative "symbolic manipulator" jobs his Labor Secretary Robert Reich touted? One can understand why workers who got shafted in that deal bear grudges against the Clintons, but who in their right mind thinks voting Republican is going to in any way fix their problem?

Shirin Ghaffary: [11-04] How Elon Musk is changing Twitter: Before the sale, Twitter was a middling company with a massive network of users, which gave it a huge market valuation, as investors figured capturing that many eyes could eventually be exploited to make a lot of money. But the business model didn't demand much from users, so few people felt burdened by signing up and joining in. Musk's purchase may or may not have political and/or cultural implications, which may or may not be ominous, but immediately what it means is that henceforward Twitter has to make enough money to pay off its new owner and the debt he has saddled the company with. So Musk is starting to do the same things that private equity firms do when they swallow up companies: asset stripping and cost reductions. The net effect will make Twitter a much nastier place to work, and very likely a much less satisfactory place for users -- who, we should remember, contribute virtually all of the content that attracts viewers in the first place.

The proposal for "making people pay for blue check marks" sounds like a tax at first, which is bad enough, but the fine print is considerably more alarming. The idea is that a premium program would "include other benefits like fewer ads and more visibility for your Twitter replies to other people's threads." The first part is relatively benign -- damn near everyone seems to be moving to a model of paying-to-avoid-ads -- but the latter is the first step toward a pay-to-play scheme. Eventually premium user's tweets will all be ads, because the model that pays the most -- although "ads" suggests that they're selling things; very often it will just be well-heeled people hiring megaphones to hector you. I expect they will eventually drive most users away, turning into a death spiral. Musk and his credits will lose a lot of money, and make an ugly mess in the process.

More on Twitter:

Jonathan Guyer: [11-02] Netanyahu and the far right have triumphed. Here's what it means for Israel. Interview with Daniel Levy. I've followed Israel's slide to the far-right for 25+ years, but even still I'm shocked by how viciously racist Netanyahu's coalition partners are -- way beyond bigots in any other part of the world. More on Israel:

Benjamin Hart: [11-01] Of Course Trump Is All In on Paul Pelosi Conspiracy Theories. This sort of kneejerk deflection is one way to avoid a self-examination that might reveal that you're some kind of monster, or at least a major asshole.

Jacob Heilbrunn: [10-30] How the Republican Fringe Became the Mainstream. Review of Robert Draper's new book, Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind, although it could easily be expanded to include Dana Milbank's The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party and David Corn's American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy, or possibly others: now that the end-point is obvious, the debate is more about when the craziness started. I've been reading Corn, who looks back all the way back to McCarthy and the John Birch Society. One can even go further: Kim Phillips-Fein's Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan goes back to the DuPonts in the 1930s, and Heather Cox Richardson's To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party does a pretty good job of making Benjamin Harrison sound like a Bircher. But crazy is a dimension beyond promoting oligarchy with racism and demagoguery, something that runs deep in the Republican Party. The crazy really takes off with Obama's election in 2008, after which the chastised party pros fell behind the Fox-fanned Tea Party mania. John Amato and David Neiwert got it right in their short 2010 book: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane. After the party pros nominated Mitt Romney and lost again to Obama, the rank-and-file was ready for someone as crude and vicious as Trump. And after Trump eeked out a win against Hillary Clinton, well, you don't need a book to explain how crazed the Republicans became.

It's gratifying that so many people have figured that much out. But the problem with focusing on how irrational Trump and his fans have become is that doing so often misses how bad Republican policy has become, and how little reporting gets done on how those policies harm the vast majority of Americans, and much of the world. Reagan and the Bushes were frontmen who were sent out to sugar-coat their administration's graft, while Romney and Ryan were forthright enough to come off as supervillains. With Trump, policy and performance are separated: he is a master at sucking up media attention, so no one bothers noticing what the goons in his administration actually do. With him, the transformation of the presidency to show business is complete, and that's mostly a bad thing, but hardly the worst. Similarly, his association with unsavory characters is bad, but nowhere near all of it.

By the way:

  • Robert Draper: [10-17] The Problem of Marjorie Taylor Greene. Long profile piece. I find her boring, but the press and the late night comics love her (or love to hate her, which for practical purposes is the same thing).

Ellen Ioanes: [11-05] An atmosphere of violence: Stochastic terror in American politics: Interview with Kurt Braddock, "about how rhetorical strategies can lead to violence."

Umair Irfan: [11-03] Your free pandemic health perks are on the way out: "The privatization of the Covid-19 response is well underway as federal funding runs out." I got a third Covid-19 booster shot last week. I had to go to Walgreens, and wait about 20 minutes until they squared away my insurance (which was Medicare + supplementals, good enough I almost never run into problems). I haven't been following this, but we're missing a big opportunity, not only to continue Covid-19 coverage but to start to build a universal foundation that can be incrementally extended toward universal health care. Most senior citizens are confused when people talk about Medicare-for-All, because they know that Medicare for them doesn't cover everything, and they have to get supplemental insurance to make up the gaps. So they think they still have private insurance, but have trouble understanding that it's so affordable because Medicare itself does all the heavy lifting. (Of course, like all private insurance, it gets ratcheted up every year, and unlike most they get to factor your age into the price, so "affordable" is a pretty relative term.) On the other hand, let's imagine a system where some things get covered automatically for everyone. That list could have started with the Covid-19 precautions and treatments, and be expanded going forward. Everything moved from individual/group policies to universal helps lower the cost of the policies, and can help manage overall costs, while getting us closer to the universal coverage we want and deserve.

Paul Krugman:

  • [10-31] The Truth About America's Economic Recovery. "Inflation is high, but a lot has gone right." I'm always wary of "truth" in titles, which implies not just that the author knows best but that you don't. Still a fairly balanced presentation of inflation, jobs, spending, etc.

  • [11-03] The G.O.P. Plot Against Medicare and Social Security: "let's note that the push to slash major benefit programs may be the ultimate exaple of an elite priority at odds with what ordinary Americans want." Such plots are as old as the bills they set to wreck, and they've never gotten any traction, so why worry now? I'd offer two reasons: the first is that such proposals reveal a moral bankruptcy that should warn you off everything else they want to do; second, they reveal profound ignorance about how the world works.

Brad Luen: [10-23] The Semipop Review of Catastrophic and Existential Risks: Starts by defining catastrophic risks ("things that could kill off a decent percentage of the world") and existential risks ("things that could result in the collapse of civilization"), then reviews a handful of books, opening with Will MacAskill's What We Owe the Future, then focusing on four such risks: AI (Martin Ford: Rule of the Robots, Nick Bostrom: Superintelligence), Climate Change (David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth), Bio-Risks (Michael T Osterholm/Mark Olshaker: Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs), and War (Bear F Braumoeller: Only the Dead, Bruce G Blair: The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, Fiona Hill/Clifford G Gaddy: Mr Putin: Operative in the Kremlin), before concluding with "The Intersection" -- the domino metaphor strikes me as more apt here, as various risks increase the likelihood of war, which in turn accelerates other risks. Luen is a professor of statistics and describes himself as "an unprincipled philosophical centrist."

The only one of these books I've read is the Wallace-Wells, which among the half-dozen similar tomes I've read (going back to McKibben's The End of Nature, which I read in the mid-1990s during a July trip to a very steamy Florida, which illustrated his points better than his prose did) is as good a place to start as any. I've read very little about AI: I had a serious interest in it back in the 1980s, about the time neural nets and fuzzy math were invented, but lost track after that, and these days most "practical applications" I see are better described as Artificial Stupidity. I wouldn't say that AI is "value-neutral," but like most things its usefulness or not is fundamentally a political question. But the rest of the risk, as well as items Luen didn't include (most obviously various resource limits, including water and air as well as minerals and productive land). Were I do redo this exercise, I would start with politics, and try to show that bad politics both increases risk and degrades one's ability to cope with disaster. (Bad politicians like to hide increasing risk by shifting it to individuals: see The Great Risk Shift, by Jacob S Hacker. Also by pretending it isn't real: see The Fifth Risk, by Michael Lewis.)

The thing I find most disturbing about the pandemic wasn't how vulnerable we were -- beyond the legitimate fear of a new disease, the economy collapsed as much from supply chain fragility as from politically-ordered lockdowns -- but how a sizable political bloc has grown determined to prevent governments from responding to any future pandemic (which we should now understand to be a certainty). It's easy enough to think of technical solutions to most problems -- not that it's technically easy to switch from a carbon-fueled train to a solar-driven train without slowing the former down (the two great bugbears of the climate change debate are the ideas that the crisis is in the future, and that the only acceptable solution is one that imposes no costs or changes to our way of life). But we lack the political will to make changes based on rational analysis, and even when the lessons are hard-earned, lots of people refuse to learn them. My touchstone here was Jane Jacobs' 2004 Dark Age Ahead, which foresaw increasing cognitive inability to deal with the problems inevitably produced by technological complexity. (Richard Florida reviews Jacobs' book from the perspective of 2016, late enough to claim she prophesied Trump, here: Even Late in Her Career, Jane Jacobs Made Predictions That Are Coming True Today.) I've read more books along these lines, and none of them make me very optimistic for this century -- not that I don't doubt that humanity and some measure of civilization will survive into the next century.

I should probably read the Braumoeller book, although at the moment I suspect some methodological problems. It's certainly one possible critique of Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, but as I understand it -- I recall buying a copy but never got around to reading it -- the argument isn't just about the frequency of wars but also about the reasoning behind them. Up through WWII, most wars aimed at plunder, but that's become a much less popular rationale since, especially as the cost/benefit calculation has flipped, and the threat of nuclear annihilation looms. But I wouldn't be surprised if the frequency of war remains fairly steady: after all, I write about wars (and "lesser" but still violent conflicts) virtually every week.

By the way, I just bought a copy of Brian T Watson: Headed Into the Abyss: The Story of Our Time and the Future We'll Face, which greatly expands on the subject of Luen's review. It's notable that the first chapter is "Capitalism," which even more than politics is the rarely-examined (except by Marxists, who obsess over it) prime mover driving us into the future. I should also note that my latest Book Roundup has a long list of recent books on post-capitalism (aka "degrowth" or "post growth") thinking. Scant chance that any signifiant number of American politicians are going to even start talking about this -- Democrats have long seen growth as the magic elixir that allows them to be pro-business as well as helping everyone else; on the other hand, Republican economic scams often seem to be anti-growth, without giving us any degrowth benefits. Much more on war and the diminishing competency of politics there.

Ian Millhiser: [11-03] The nightmarish Supreme Court case that could gut Medicaid, explained: "Health and Hospital Corporation v. Talevski is the single greatest threat to America's social safety net since Paul Ryan."

Steven Lee Myers: [11-06] Russia Reactivates Its Trolls and Bots Ahead of Tuesday's Midterms: "Researchers have identified a series of Russian information operations to influence American elections and, perhaps, erode support for Ukraine." I wouldn't read much into this, but of course, that's what they do. I doubt it will have any effect, unless Democrats use it as some kind of excuse for losing (as Clinton's coterie did after 2016). More interesting is whether they can nudge Republicans into an anti-Ukraine stand, which is something they're tempted by. Also, note: [11-04] Twitter layoffs gutted election information teams days before midterms.

Timothy Noah: [10-25] May God Save Us From Economists: Economics "can be a useful tool for policymaking, but it's become the only tool. It's time for economics to back the hell off." As Noah points out: economists overvalue modeling; economists undervalue data; economists don't get societies; economists don't get irrationality; economists don't get people who aren't economists. Noah then looks at three domains: criminal justice; health care; and climate change. Central to this is the notion that every problem can be decided by a cost/benefit analysis (provided you can assume a value for human lives, which is kind of a problem; as with many math problems, the devil's not so much in the details as in the assumptions). Elizabeth Popp Berman's Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in US Public Policy is one of the books cited.

Jeffrey St Clair: [11-04] Roaming Charges: History Ain't Changed: Starts with elections in Brazil and Israel.

Elections: No horse races, and no post-mortems, but a few quick links on the election:

Mike Davis: More pieces on the late leftist scholar Mike Davis:

A couple closing tweets. The first is from Bill Kristol, who 20 years ago I would have put near the top of a list of top-ten public enemies:

Hey, don't want to interrupt my Democratic friends when they're engaged in their favorite sports of The Gnashing of Teeth and The Tearing of Garments, but it looks as if the Democratic Party will have the best midterm performance by a party in the White House in two decades.

So I don't regard his opinion as anything more than a random blip, but there it is. The second one is from someone named Benedict Evans:

Suggesting Mastodon as an alternative to Twitter is like suggesting Linux as an alternative to Windows.

I started using Linux around 1998, and I never regretted it, so this makes me more (not less) inclined to switch. Still, while the two comparisons aren't analogous. It doesn't make much difference to me whether you are also running Linux, or are saddled with Windows or MacOS (or whatever they call it these days). On the other hand, with Twitter-like software it does matter whether the people I want to follow are on the same service I'm on. For social media, network effects are the basis of effective monopolies, which is what Twitter, Facebook, etc., are. Mastodon doesn't come remotely close, and for various technical reasons -- it's designed to prevent monopolization -- it likely never will be. On the other hand, I could see setting up a server and migrating a fairly close-knit group (like, say, the Expert Witness group currently at Facebook) -- which would probably work better than it does on Facebook. But I haven't looked into it enough to make any decisions.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Speaking of Which

I feel like this week's edition is a mess, and I have neither the time nor the will to try to clean it up. Arguments could certainly be structured better, but all I can offer at the moment are hot reactions. I'm really chagrined by the media's embrace of the idea that Republicans are increasingly likely to win Congress -- FiveThirtyEight has shifted its estimate significantly, giving Republicans a 49 in 100 chance of taking the Senate, and an 81 in 100 chance of wrecking the House -- not least because there is no rational basis for such a shift. If it happens, it wouldn't be the first time I've been disappointed by the American people. (After Nixon beat McGovern in 1972, I was so disgusted that I didn't bother voting again until 1996, when the opportunity again arose to vote against Bob Dole. And today I was reminded of 2004 as I just read that part in David Corn's American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy; my campaign letter is here; my immediate analysis of the Kerry loss is here, as are some later thoughts. One line I want to pull out here: "At this point it's impossible to project how bad [four more years of Bush] will be, but it is certain that this election has cost us four years of opportunity to work on problems that are bad and getting worse." Rereading this 18 years later, I'm surprised at how much more is still relevant.)

If Republicans do win, the reasons are purely emotional, the sort of anger that drives a guy to punch a wall. The only possible outcomes are a hole in the wall and a broken hand (quite possibly both). But whatever emotional satisfaction punching the wall gives you will be temporary: the anger will return, because Republicans are counting on it, and because that's all Republicans can do. Sure, they can exhort you to be God-fearing Christians, and they can punish you for what they perceive as your failures, but neither the heavenly carrot nor the earthly stick actually works, at least at a macro level, so you're only going to get angrier, and that seems to be all they need to get away with their grift.

One consolation I can offer is that if Republicans win Congress, it will be easier for Democrats to run on anger in 2024 (as Harry Truman did in 1948). If Democrats win, they will be judged harshly both for doing things and for not doing enough. As the US system makes presidential elections more important than congressional ones, a loss now for a win later may seem like a prudent strategy. But after so many wasted opportunities, it's just possible that time is running out.

The runoff election in Brazil is today. Very little on it below, as almost everything written this week is pure speculation. But if Lula wins, the world will be a slightly better place. And if Bolsonaro wins, the decline will continue -- especially given the latter's war on the Amazon, which once was the world's most valuable carbon sink. The difference in degree isn't just that Lula isn't as far to the left as Bolsonaro is to the right. It's also because it's a lot easier to break things than to build.

[PS: Election in Brazil has been called for Lula, but it looks closer than 2020 was for Biden over Trump.]

I gather that some nations impose a press blackout a few days before an election. The idea is to prevent some last minute sensational charge, especially a false one, from swaying an election. It's impossible to expect that, and given the degree of early voting, it may not have any effect anyway, but it would be nice to sit back and take a deep breath, and consider one's choices rationally. I've been trying to do something like that, although quite frankly my votes were locked in the day the Kansas primary winners were announced. The only thing that's changed since then is that my level of disgust over KS Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt has increased by roughly an order of magnitude, eclipsing even the well-established obnoxiousness of his running mate for Attorney General, Kris Kobach.

In past years, I would have followed competitive Senate races, and a few others, closely, but I've tried my best to blank them out of my mind. Still, enough poll-driven pseudo-news has leaked through that it's clear that Republicans are engaging in a massive gaslighting operation intended to convince people that a massive Red Wave is coming on November 8, which will no doubt be foundation for charges that any actual votes that Democrats might win will be viewed as fraudulent. (Of course, Republicans never complained when large Democratic polling leads in 2016 and 2020 evaporated. Trump claimed he actually won bigger margins.)

There's a lot of obvious bullshit in this gaslighting, but the substantial piece is the assertion that Americans are most concerned with Republican talking point issues -- inflation (most conveniently reduced to gas prices), "crime" (which, since Republicans won't take responsibility for guns as a contributing factor, is reduced in meaning to what Republicans have defined it as since the 1970s: racism), and "open borders" (which, come to think of it, also reduces to racism). Supposedly Americans concerned with these issues trust Republicans more, although it's hard to think of a single reason why. Maybe there is some polling favoring Republicans on inflation-fighting, but more general economic concerns usually favor Democrats, and for good reason: the last three Republican presidencies ended in recessions, and the fourth (Reagan's) started in one that got worse for two years before the Fed belatedly reduced interest rates and kicked off a recovery that, thanks to Reagan, was much more unequal than most.

The one thing from the Republican playbook you don't hear much these days is how the Democrats are weak on defense. This is a bit surprising given how Biden's approval polls plummeted with withdrawal and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, but Biden has managed to present as both firm and sane in Ukraine, and Republicans don't seem to have a viable sound bite response. Granted, Tom Cotton still wants to start a war with China, but even Lindsey Graham seems rudderless since McCain died, while a faction of Republicans seem to prefer their former campaign aide and fellow fascist, Vladimir Putin -- a strange wind that has kept any Democratic anti-war camp from forming.

State and local races, especially governor, will have a huge impact locally -- if Derek Schmidt wins, Kansas will jump right back into contention for the worst right-wing horror show in the nation, like was the case when Sam Brownback was governor -- but Congress is strictly a numbers game, with the Democrats needing a bit beyond a simple majority to legislate effectively. Without a working majority, the next two years will be painful but basically stuck in status quo: much-needed reforms will be impossible, major problems will be allowed to slide, simple things like budgets will be held hostage. Biden will attempt to compensate with executive orders, and the Republican-packed courts will do their best to swat them down. And the incessant squeals from the right-wing propaganda machine will drone on and on. But lots of even worse things will be stopped until Republicans get another chance to steal another presidential election. Indeed, the big story of 2022 may be how effective their election stealing efforts will be.

But, like so much else, we won't know that until the votes are counted (assuming that's still permitted).

One of the first things I wrote was a long comment under Ukraine, specifically under the Eric Levitz piece about the Progressive Caucus letter to Biden urging the administration to take seriously the need for negotiations. As the comment was pretty general, I thought it better to pull the comment up here (although I'll add some more specific words down there).

It seems to me like it should be easier for the Democratic left to define a position on the Ukraine War that offers practical steps toward peace with justice. I've been trying to do that since the beginning. And along the way I've been willing to put my pacifist principles aside to allow that Putin's escalation of a conflict that should have been resolved peacefully long ago was so egregious that Russia's forces deserved a good ass-kicking, which Ukraine has to some extent been able to inflict with massive arms and financial support from the US and Europe. And I can see continuing this counterattack until Putin is willing to negotiate rationally, but I don't see how that can happen unless the US and Ukraine makes it clear that they are ready to negotiate as well. And the US really has to be part of this, not to pressure Ukraine into making concessions for peace, but because the US holds most of the real trading chips (sanctions, deployment of NATO forces, etc.).

However, that also implies that a useful arbiter has to be someone else, and the USA's habitual either-you're-with-us-or-against-us mindset takes any independent stand to be treason. (China's great crime isn't that they want to take over the world, but that they refuse to knuckle under to an American hyperpower world order.) But that's easy for me to say, as I started out with a long critique of American power and hubris. The Democratic left has several disadvantages: while they understand the core issues of equality, freedom, and justice at home, they've never had to reckon with the effects of American power abroad (minor exception for some people my age, who started with Vietnam). Making this worse is that the Democratic Party has been flooded with people from the armed services: even if most ex-soldiers are right-wing jerks, a significant minority saw their tours as public service, and they've found an esteemed home in the only American political party that actually values service to the public. And finally, there's the Republicans, with their extraordinary ability to trigger Democrats, especially Progressives. That's a real shame, because foreign war rots the very fabric of society -- a lesson Democrats in particular should have learned from Vietnam, and should have stuck with them through the neverending War on Terror.

There's a real chance that Republicans will flip the script on Ukraine, attacking the war not because they want peace and prosperity but because they can blame its expense and effects (like high gas prices) on Biden and the Democrats, with their ideals of American-led world order, and their disdain for Putin (a real but much-maligned conservative hero).

I want to add one thing: There is a need for a peace movement during but mostly after the Ukraine War. The goal is not to dictate or advocate for a specific resolution of the war, but to define a political agenda to prevent a recurrence and/or similar wars in the future. As such, we start with a deep critique of war making, especially the belief that war is justified by national and/or imperial ambitions. This has relevance to Russia, to the US, to their allies, and to various factions within Ukraine. But it is Russia alone that inserted its forces in Ukraine, and despite my own pacifist instincts, I have no problem with Ukraine fighting back, or with other nations (including the US, despite a poor record in other countries) helping them resist and roll back Russia's aggression. I do, however, believe that such support can come with conditions, especially agreement from Ukraine to seek a ceasefire and negotiated withdrawal of alien forces, and to allow people who live in contested territories to determine, by fair vote, whether they should stay in Ukraine or join Russia. The principle is that there is no justification for annexing territory except by the express approval of the people who live there. During and after the war, we should work to establish a process for resolving this and similar conflicts in the future.

Negotiations should be resolved on the basis of what's right, not on who has the power to extort concessions from the other. What's right may not always be clear, but one measure is whether a measure can be voluntarily agreed to, or can only be forced. For instance, no nation would voluntarily sacrifice its sovereignty, so it is wrong to demand that it do so. Some examples that wouldn't be right: demanding reparations, war crimes trials, changes to laws regarding minorities (although it's fair to note human rights abuses), preventing trade or association with other countries (although each country has the right to refuse to trade with other countries; i.e., to implement sanctions). So while US aid to Ukraine should be conditioned on Ukraine negotiating on the basis of doing what's right, it shouldn't pressure Ukraine to surrender things that are within its rights. I would say, for instance, that the provision of water to peninsular Crimea is not something that should be expected of Ukraine, although it could be something that Ukraine chooses to offer for other considerations.

At present, whatever negotiations may be going on are in secret, with little opportunity for the public to assess their intentions or progress. Therefore, it's impossible for anyone else to assess, or to make anything more than the most general suggestions. On the other hand, after the current hot conflict is resolved, there will be much for a peace movement to do. We need to make the world understand that the US and Russia both did much to provoke this war, and that even if nothing the US did justified Russia's invasion, it is critical to eliminate such provocations in the future. It is further imperative to understand that much of the "defense doctrine" both powers have espoused is severely faulty: it simply doesn't work, or worse (the logic that supposedly prevents war in fact provokes war).

Vincent Bevins: [10-30] In Today's Election, the Survival of Brazil's Democracy Is at Stake.

Patrick Cockburn: [10-28] Rishi Sunak and Britain's Post-Brexit Fairy Tales. By the way, in case you're wondering what an Indian Hindu is doing leading the Conservative Party in England, see (hint: he's a near-billionaire):

Connor Echols: [10-28] Diplomacy Watch: The West doesn't know how to talk about Ukraine: That's largely because any time someone speaks the plain truth -- that the only way out of the quagmire is through negotiation, which will involve some give and take on both sides -- they get shot down. Echols starts with the example of Romanian Defense Minister Visile Dincu, who was forced to resign after acknowledging reality. Then there was a letter to Biden sent by the House Progressive Caucus, who were pressured to retract it within 24 hours.

Ezra Klein: [10-30] Do the Democrats Deserve Re-election? He should know better, but can't even bring himself to answer his own question. Instead, he offers a long list of complaints about tactics, without accounting for the numerous obstacles (beyond Joe Manchin) that Democrats have had to struggle with over the last two years, including his own intractably suspect publication. The obvious rejoinder to the title is "compared to what?" -- not a hypothetical question, given that the answers are clearly Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Kevin McCarthy. Klein is smart enough to know that they did no good when they were in power, and that they wouldn't have gotten any better with another chance. Indeed, one of Klein's complaints about Biden is: "Politics has not moved on from Trump." That's not going to happen by punishing Democrats for not delivering an arbitrary list of programs that the Republicans wouldn't even have considered. But instead of answering his own easy question, here's Klein promising: "Next week, I'll take a closer look at what Republicans are promising to do if they are given the power to do it." You know, I wrote about just that -- Rick Scott's Senate campaign manifesto -- back in March.

Eric Levitz:

  • [10-26] The Media Did Not Trick Voters Into Disliking Inflation: Seems like a strange point. Inflation is an economic dislocation that has both winners and losers, but you never hear about the winners: those who have the power to raise prices or wages (whichever they benefit from) have a good chance of coming out ahead, while everyone else loses. Arguably, more people are properly concerned about inflation because more people come out on the losing end, but the media does have much to do with that perception. It seems strange to ignore that.

  • [10-24] Return of the Hostage Takers: "Surveys consistently find that rising prices are far and away the public's top concern and that Republicans are widely seen as more credible inflation fighters than Democrats." Really? Why the fuck is that? As noted above, inflation has winners as well as losers. Republicans favor the rich, and Democrats, well, also favor the rich, but also care a bit about the poor. So, assuming that both profess opposition to inflation, and have their favored remedies, you'd expect each to help its preferred voters, at the expense of the others. Republican remedies fight inflation by cutting employment and services, and those have widespread effects -- even within the business sector, most businesses are hurt to protect banks. Give Republicans more power, and they will flaunt it, to try to force their way on budgetary issues, even at the risk of defaulting. That's what Levitz means by "hostage taking." Democrats would have been well advised to pass a law getting rid of the debt ceiling crises, but couldn't manage to squeeze that through in time.

More on inflation:

  • Paul Krugman: [10-27] Republicans Have No Inflation Plan: Even if they did, they wouldn't implement it, because as long as Biden (or any Democrat) is president, their sole goal is tanking the economy to make Democrats look bad. Contrast this to 2020, when Democrats enthusiastically supported a bold rescue plan, because Democrats care more about helping people than about making their opponents (even Trump) look bad. But if a Republican was president, Republicans still wouldn't have a plan for fighting inflation, because the two or three things they think they know about the economy are wrong. But also because short of implementing wage-and-price controls -- which Nixon did, badly, but no one of either party would consider now -- there isn't much a party can do about inflation: that job has been turned over to the Fed (along with the task they take more seriously, which is keeping the banks profitable). You might counter that Democrats don't have an inflation plan either, but they do have plans for reducing the pain caused by inflation. And you'll find that they are invariably opposed by Republicans.

Ian Millhiser:

Nicole Narea: [10-28] What we know about the violent attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband. More than I knew about threats to other members of Congress. Also a reminder that Pelosi's home had been vandalized in December 2020. But strangely: nothing on the rabid vilification of Pelosi in Republican campaign ads (see below). While it's possible to imagine political figures of all stripes as targets of violence, only one side prides itself on its guns and eagerness to use them. It's a big step from "voting to kill" to actually doing so, but we're seeing it more and more. [PS: Narea later wrote: [10-29] The attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband is the culmination of longtime GOP hate-mongering.]

Siona Peterous: [10-28] The backlash against Ron DeSantis's puzzling voter fraud arrests. What's so puzzling? The arrests were a PR stunt, and that's what DeSantis does. And they were meant not just to harass 20 voters in a state with 10+ million registered voters, but to send a message intimidating more voters (still a tiny percentage, but Bush's margin of victory in 2000 was officially 537 after the recount was stopped). Interview between Sean Ramaeswaram and Lawrence Mower.

Kelsey Piper: [10-27] The shrinking ozone hole shows that the world can actually solve an environmental crisis: True enough, but the big difference is that industry was willing to find substitutes for CFCs, because they could profit either way. But replacing fossil fuels is not just harder: it takes business from established companies and moves it to new ones (no matter how much oil companies diversify into renewables). As long as political systems are stacked in favor of profits, it will be all but impossible to transition from fossil fuels to non-carbon energy.

Jeffrey St Clair: [10-28] Roaming Charges: Tales From the Democratic Crypt: After the funding appeal, starts with the aborted Progressive Caucus letter on Ukraine, which "like a v-2 rocket . . . had exploded in the Democrats' faces before most people had even heard the sound of its flight." More on that above. Further down, he quotes a tweet from National Review: "Remember Rumsfeld's rule: 'Sometimes you have to kill a chicken to frighten the monkeys." For context, the article linked to was titled "To Contain Xi, Defeat Putin in Ukraine." Every word screams insane, from the disgraced authority to the racist innuendo of the metaphors, all the way down to any possible meaning, let alone agenda. I would start by questioning why the US needs to "contain China" when it has few options for expanding, but would no doubt regard such intentions as threatening, then ask why defeating Russia in Ukraine should make much of an impression on China, then ask whether defeating Russia in Ukraine is even possible (and how calling Putin a chicken advances any such ambitions?). And never forget that Rumsfeld's first big mismanagement job was when Nixon tabbed him to wreck the Office of Economic Opportunity. He went on to spend his whole life failing up, probably due to his knack for sharing racist jokes with superiors -- at least until Bush scapegoated him in 2006. Much more here, including a picture of a book subtitled "The inside story of Liz Truss and her astonishing rise to power," marked down for clearance.

Michael D Swaine: [10-28] Biden's boilerplate defense strategy: it's all about China: "The NDS continues a long tradition of painting China as an aggressive nation working to weaken the US." Publication of the latest National Security Document kicked off a number of alarms. In particular, the obsession with China as a strategic rival and possible enemy, while no doubt good for the defense business, is liable to turn fantasies into reality. More pieces:

Karen Tumulty: [10-29] I'm sorry I said nice things about Glenn Youngkin: The worst journalist in America -- she won her title in Alex Pareene's Hack 30 (why isn't this still online?), but continued to "fail up," landing as deputy editorial page editor and columnist at the Washington Post -- admits that she fucked up again. Speaking of Youngkin, see Steve M. on Katherine Miller (Considering the Post-Trump Era in a Tucson Sports Bar): Slow Lerner.

Alissa Walker: [10-26] Mike Davis Was Right: A truck driver who developed as "an activist historian with an unapologetically Marxist bent," Davis wrote a couple dozen books, especially on his home town of Los Angeles (City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles; Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster; Setting the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties). The one I was most impressed by was Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World, which pretty thoroughly upturned everything I thought I knew about 19th century colonialism. A couple more examples illustrate his eye for odd but profound detail: Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb (2007), and The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (2005, one he lived long enough to update as The Monster Enters: COVID-19, Avian Flu and the Plagues of Capitalism).

Marcy Wheeler: [10-27] John Durham's Investigation Has Disclcosed Corruption: His Own: "The Barr-appointed special counsel was supposed to reveal 'the crime of the century.' All he revealed was his incompetence -- and worse."

Here's a tweet triptych from Steve M.:

  • The goal of right-wing news and opinion is not to inform. The goal is to create and reinforce the right set of allegiances and hatreds, and to ensure that the audience never questions those allegiances and hatreds.
  • The multiple right-wing propaganda messages about the Paul Pelosi attack are designed to ensure that no one in the audience wavers in their hatred for Nancy Pelosi and love for fellow righties. He wasn't a righty - he was a psycho-lefty! It was a gay tryst gone wrong!
  • Right-wing media's one job is to guarantee that the audience never questions the right's main premise: that right-wingers are good 100% of the time and liberals/lefties/RINOs are evil 100% of the time.

M. writes more about this: [10-30] If you don't like these deflections, the GOP has others:

When real-world events threaten to expose the GOP as a threat to American civilization, the party uses kettle logic -- multiple arguments, many of them incompatible with one another -- to rally both rabid and moderate party supporters, and to reassure fence-sitters that all evil lies elsewhere. Look at January 6: To the rabid base, the party's propagandists argued that the violence was justified, or was the work of Antifa or the FBI (or both), or that it was encouraged by Nancy Pelosi, who (they falsely claim) was personally and solely in charge of the Capitol Police. To voters in the middle, the response has been whataboutism: Remember when Antifa and Black Lives Matter burned down entire American cities? (Which didn't happen.) Why isn't there a select committee about that?

While a lot of people still fall for this "kettle logic," and another bunch of them use but don't need it -- the ones who are unfazed by the violent events like the assault on Pelosi, and therefore need no reassurance -- an increasing number of people recognize this spin as the bullshit it is, and tune it out almost automatically. One of the things this election will measure is how gullible people remain after 20-40 years of Republicans lying to them continuously.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Speaking of Which

In this month's Q&A column, Robert Christgau was asked a dumb political question ("Were you always a pablum-puking liberal or did you have to be brainwashed?"), and took the occasion to comment on the November election:

I was raised in a born-again Christian family in Queens, Republicans though never true conservatives who like most Americans came to think the Vietnam War was a mistake. I started moving away from Christianity in my early teens, explicitly espousing atheism at 17. Influenced by several women I cared for, prominently including the two referred to in the Canada question below, I became a leftist in the '60s and would now label myself a "left Democrat" because I believe the word "progressive" has lost most of its mojo. I thank you for giving me an excuse to remind And It Don't Stop readers that there are crucial elections taking place November 8, perhaps as crucial as any we've known, and to urge them to vote as soon as possible as well as donate to favored candidates, as I have to over a dozen since March or so. Never since World War II has democracy been in so much peril.

Substitute Wichita for Queens, and note that I'm eight years younger -- which still adds up to 72 this week -- and the first two (or with minor edits three) sentences also describe me fairly well. I endorse the rest of the paragraph as well, although as always I have minor quibbles. I've been a careful observers of party politics since the 1960s, but never been an activist, or even a donor. (My wife has made the occasional contribution, and continues to pay for it with volumes of spam.) This year, we have yard signs for Laura Kelly, Chris Mann, and Lacey Cruse, but that's it.

While it's true that "never since World War II has democracy been in so much peril," the word "peril" implies that the real damage has yet to happen. The biggest threat to democracy in America is the influence of money, and that battle is so far gone Democrats hardly ever even talk about it any more. (Democrats dropped the ball when they found that Obama and the Clintons could raise even more money than the Republicans, but their riches didn't trickle down to the rank and file candidates, and came at the cost of policies that made the rich even richer while screwing everyone else.) And campaign donations, which candidates are obliged to spend most of their time pursuing, is just the tip of the money iceberg: the real advantage money has is in lobbying (the number of registered lobbyists is over 11,000, roughly 20 for each member of Congress). Then there is major media, which is divided between propaganda organs like Fox and "balanced" sources, which are also owned by the very rich. Again, the game has been so far lost that hardly anyone talks about it.

The only "threats" that do raise eyebrows are the Republican scams to gerrymander districts and suppress voting, but those, too, are mostly locked into place, and protected by a court system that has been overwhelmingly captured by Republican Party operatives. As for the courts, each week I cite articles by Ian Millhiser. The lifetime appointment of judges was one of several severe limits on democracy enshrined in the Constitution -- another is the hugely malapportioned Senate -- which have long been open to abuse, and lately targeted by Republicans. Still, Republicans are so rigid in their contempt for democracy, and relentless in their assault on it, that it's hard to keep up with them. The only real solution is to revolt in such numbers that all their tricks prove insufficient.

It's gotten to be a cliché to say that this election is the most important in our lives. A better word for it might be desperate, as what we are struggling against isn't just what Republicans might do in the next 2 years, but the cumulative weight of what they've taken away from us over the last 40+. The 6-3 Republican domination of the Supreme Court goes back to GHW Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas, who until GW Bush's nomination of Roberts and Alito was limited to an ominous and often bizarre minority of 2 (with Scalia, nominated by Reagan). Legislation that hurt unions and helped the rich goes back even further. That cumulative weight is ever harder to stop let alone reverse. And it also chews up time.

If Republicans win the House and/or the Senate this year, the immediate effect will be to derail any possibility of Democrats passing laws to protect and aid Americans. The resulting rancor will be unpleasant, and the inaction will hurt the most vulnerable -- which thanks to the Supreme Court and Republican mastery of most state legislatures now includes many more women, who are being denied access to reproductive care (one problem that a democratic majority in Congress could easily repair). But aside from its immediate effects, giving Republicans any measure of power to disrupt Congress will cost us opportunity, for a minimum of two years, to deal with problems that are festering while we do nothing. The most obvious is climate change, which would have been much easier to deal with 20-30 years ago, when the threat was clear to anyone willing to look at the evidence. But there is much more that we need to do sooner rather than later. Education, in particular, is always time sensitive.

I wish I could be more optimistic about Biden finding a path out of war, as the current path is potentially even worse than climate change. Every week I try to remind you all that the only way out of the Ukraine war is through negotiation, and that negotiation there shouldn't stop with the disputed territories but extend to a fundamental reëvaluation of how powerful countries behave beyond their own borders.

I spent all last week working on yesterday's Book Roundup, which touches on at least some of these issues. So I didn't get a start here until this morning. There is certainly a lot more I could have written about, but this will have to do for now.

AP: [10-20] Military suicides drop as leaders push new programs: No mention of exiting the war in Afghanistan. Strange no one thought of that as having any bearing, what with the "personal issues, including finances and marital stress."

David Atkins: [10-21] Republicans Cannot and Will Not Reduce Gasoline Prices: Gas prices is one of their big talking points, along with inflation more generally, and that old standby "crime." It really amazes me that Republicans think people are so gullible they'll think that Republicans can solve any of these "problems," but then there's little in their spiel that does not regard a massive suspension of disbelief. But at least it's possible to believe that most Republicans do want to see less crime (not that that's what they mean by the term, and not at the expense of their gun fetishism). Same for inflation, as long as you define the term the way they do: as escalating wages, not commodity prices. But Republicans are joined at the hip to the oil industry, and the only thing they want to see is more profits, and the only easy way to get them is through higher prices.

I don't want to get caught in the weeds of individual races, but here are some more general election pieces:

Jonathan Chait: [10-21] How Vaccine Skeptics Took Over the Republican Party: "A case study in the party's dysfunction." Always carping about something, in the early days of the pandemic, as the severity of Covid-19 was so great that hospitals were being overwhelmed, the knee-jerk response was to insist that businesses should decide for themselves what precautions (with the market in its usual role as judge and jury), but most held out hope that future vaccines would render the question moot. Then they started shifting to promoting quack treatments. And when the vaccines finally did become available, they trumpeted individual choice and allowed for "religious" exemptions. I can see a case for allowing people to decide whether or not to get vaccinated, but I've never understood why anti-vaxxers would campaign for others not to get vaccinated. Certainly self-interest argues otherwise. So what it seems to come down to is that certain people (Republicans, mostly) just like to spout off and make sure everyone hear them. And in doing so, they've tapped into the conspiratorial mindset that runs through the Republican Party, enough so to intimidate more sensible members of their cohort. Of course, to the rest of us, that just makes them look stupid, vain, arrogant, and malign -- traits they'd happily wear as a badge of honor. This is the same dynamic that has worked for the "stop the steal" campaign. Hard to say which proposition is more ridiculous, but both are thriving in the mental sewers of the Republican Party.

Conor Echols: [10-21] Diplomacy Watch: Could Lula be a force for peace in Ukraine? Probably not unless/until he gets elected, but Brazil is a big country, and someone needs to cajole both the US/Europe and Russia into negotiation. From what I gather, the general feeling in the Global South is that the Ukraine war is an internecine squabble within the Global North that has become a major headache for the rest of the world -- driving up prices of food and fuel, forcing nations to take sides, etc. -- and so perhaps Brazil and Mexico (where AMLO has made his own proposals) could combine with other more/less neutral countries (South Africa, India, perhaps China) to form an effective lobby for peace. They could, for instance, threaten to sanction all belligerents. That would raise some eyebrows.

Jonathan Guyer: [10-21] The secret history of America's tactical nukes. A lot of thought has gone into the idea that if you could scale nuclear bombs down enough, it would blur the difference between escalating to nuclear weapons, weakening inhibitions against their use. Some of those "thinkers" were Russian, but most were American.

Ellen Ioanes: [10-20] Why Liz Truss was UK prime minister for only six weeks: This makes me jealous for a political system that doesn't restrict change to fixed terms, although the UK system is still deeply flawed: allowing even a completely hapless Parliament five years before having to call new elections has created a peculiar dynamic: the dominant party (in this case the Tories) has incentives for infighting and self-destruction with no immediate risks. Meanwhile, new Prime Ministers are selected in a very limited partisan process which the overwhelming majority of UK citizens have no say in. If the US had such a system, it would be easy to imagine Trump (and maybe even GW Bush and/or Bill Clinton) getting purged mid-term, especially if their replacements weren't limited to even less popular VPs (Pence maybe, Cheney for sure). On the other hand, in the American system, embattled Presidents can fight back and actually strengthen their control (as both Trump and Clinton did after impeachment). By the way, after much speculation, Boris Johnson Drops Bid to Return as UK Prime Minister.

Jay Caspian Kang: [10-21] What would a nation of sports gamblers look like? I don't like gambling of any sort, but the more sports gambling becomes legit -- our Democratic governor's big "bipartisan" deal this year was to legalize it -- the more irritated I get. It's not so much that I worry about the integrity of professional sports (which have been ruined by money already), but that on a personal level, I've never been able to see why people would throw money away to prove that they aren't really that smart. (As compared to pure games of luck, sports betting lures in people who think themselves experts, but the odds are balanced so they still lose more often than not.) By the way, what really bothered me about the Kansas legalization wasn't that it allowed people to legally lose money that many were illegally losing before, but that the revenues are being earmarked to lure the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals west of State Line Blvd., in yet another massive giveaway to whichever billionaires own them now (last I knew the Chiefs belonged to HL Hunt, and the Royals to one of the Wal-Mart heirs.)

More gambling:

  • Kathryn Schulz: [10-17] What we've lost playing the lottery: "The games are a bonanza for the companies that states hire to adminster them. But what about the rest of us?" The rationale, which I accept, is that gambling should be legal, and should be run by the state, because the state can run a cleaner, more honest game than the Mafia, and with much less onerous side-effects. And the state can pick up some profits along the way, which it can then use for other worthwhile things, but preferably not so much that officials feel the need to market (promote) the practice (beyond the bare minimum necessary to prevent a black market). That shouldn't be too hard to grasp, but in practice gambling has become legal because operators with few better scruples than the Mafia have lobbied to pass laws, giving them various levels of monopolies and incentives to rake in as much profit as possible. I know a guy who signs his email with "lottery: n., a tax on stupidity." He's not wrong, even if you replace "lottery" with more skilled games, each seeking its own level of stupidity. In this light, the operators in this article are basically just tax farmers.

Ian Millhiser:

  • [10-20] America's Trumpiest court just declared an entire federal agency unconstitutional: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was established by the banking reform bill that followed the 2008 meltdown, which followed massive fraud, especially in home mortgages (but extending way beyond there, such as to derivatives that were designed to lose investor money). The fine print doesn't go so far as to say that federal law cannot prosecute fraud, but by underming the agency that fights fraud, that seems to be what they're aiming for.

  • [10-23] What the Constitution actually says about race, explained: "There's a glaring flaw in the Supreme court lawsuits attacking affirmative action."

More pieces on legal issues:

Indigo Olivier: [10-20] "Cannibal Capitalism" Is Eroding Society's Basic Structures: Interview with Nancy Fraser, author of Cannibal Capitalism: How Our System Is Devouring Democracy, Care, and the Planet -- and What We Can Do About It. The best example I can think of capitalist cannibalism is private equity; see Jason Linkins: [10-15] The Industry Devouring the American Dream.

Areeba Shah: [10-19] Legal experts mock failed Durham probe: No other prosecutor "has ever posted such a dismal record": "One legal analyst noted Durham got 'two acquittals at trial in a system where the feds win 95% of their cases." Also: Ankush Khardori: [10-18] John Durham Almost Makes Ken Starr Look Good.

Alex Shephard: [10-20] The Spectacular Failure of Right-Wing Social Media Platforms: It's really just network effects: whoever gets in first with a service that appeals to virtually everyone gets a lock on the business, and can exploit that by collecting and selling data. There are a lot of right-wing jerks in America, but not enough to build their own niche ecosystem -- especially given that the insular echo chamber they crave is already available on mainstream platforms.

Jeffrey St Clair: [10-21] Roaming Charges: Vincent, Duck! Soup!

Emily Stewart: [10-20] How airlines squeeze you for every penny. Deregulation promised cheaper tickets, and that worked for a while. But in a grossly unequal society, with limited supply and far-from-perfect information, they created a game for predatory companies.

Bob Woodward: [10-23] The Trump Tapes: 20 interviews that show why he is in unparalleled danger. "I have decided to take the unusual step of releasing [tapes of my 20 interviews with Trump]. I was struck by how Trump pounded in my ears in a way the printed page cannot capture." The interviews cover many topics, but Woodward concludes: "I believe the tapes show that Trump's greatest failure was his handling of the coronavirus." Early interviews reveal how incapable he was of comprehending the problem, and how he resisted attempt to nudge him into a responsible position. Less clear is how he got worse over time. After he recovered from his case, he intuited how to play the pandemic politically, while the nation as a whole suffered its darkest days. Even today, most Republicans are following his lead, and working to dismantle any possibility of public health officials responding to future crises.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Speaking of Which

Should be a short week for me. I didn't get started on this until Sunday around noon. Just figured I'd do the usual on Ukraine, and probably had to mention the January 6 committee hearing (which for once I actually saw some of, plus getting the late-night recaps).

Still avoiding election/campaign pieces. You shouldn't need my reporting to know that if you want to preserve any semblance of fairness, decency, progress, and prosperity in America you have to keep Republicans from power, which means you have to vote Democrats in. I restrained myself from including "peace" in that list, because this hasn't been a good week for extolling Democratic yearnings for peace. But I have much more hope for peace under Democrats than I do with Republicans, not just because the worst warmongers (a list that starts with Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton) are Republicans, but because contempt for justice and making a fetish of wealth and power are strategies that beg for violent resistance.

I will note that I'm getting annoyed at the late-night bashing of Herschel Walker, which has become so severe it risks raising a sympathy backlash. The subtext may well be that Republicans have no personal standards for candidates, given that all Republicans are expected to follow the same set of marching orders, a bill that any Republican can fill. But Walker is hardly the only example they can find to pick on, and it's starting to look bad. Meanwhile, Rafael Warnock is a world-class candidate, and nobody notices him. Kind of like the 2016 presidential race. (Not that I'm a Hillary Clinton fan, but jeez, look at what she was running against, and how little it mattered to 98% of Republicans.)

Connor Echols: [10-14] Diplomacy Watch: Gulf states join Turkey in push for Ukraine peace talks: Again, this is the only Ukraine War story that really matters: the war can only end in some sort of agreement, and its indefinite continuation spells disaster for all sides and interested parties, and hardships for everyone else.

More on Ukraine and Russia:

  • Kyle Anzalone: [10-14] NATO Set to Kick Off Nuclear War Games on Monday: This seems really stupid, as evidenced by Jens Stoltenberg's belief that "NATO's firm, predictable behavior, our military strength, is the best way to prevent escalation." Isn't the US nuclear threat credible enough already? Why risk it in what is clearly a moment of crisis?

  • Ben Armbruster: [10-10] Former Joint Chiefs chair calls for talks to end Ukraine war.

  • Benjamin H Friedman: [10-14] The dangers of letting blustery rhetoric dictate US policy in Ukraine: "If the Biden team really views the war as a protracted stalemate, as has been reported, why isn't is pushing for a settlement?"

  • Anatol Lieven: [10-11] Is Putin on the way out? No, and it's not helpful to bank on such speculation. I don't doubt that Putin's long-term prospects have dimmed, but it's unusual for warring powers to change leaders, and when they do they're more likely to pick someone more hawkish (like Churchill after Chamberlain, or Nixon after Johnson; I guess Lenin is the exception here). What might help would be to put forth a reasonable compromise deal: in that case, Putin may still refuse, but it might motivate someone else to sideline him (an example here is Eisenhower accepting a Korean War armistice that Truman hadn't). With no election imminent, Putin can only be removed by his Kremlin cronies and/or the military (which after 20+ years is pretty safely in the Putin camp). Even if a replacement emerges from those camps, that's unlikely to change the course of the war. Moreover, demanding Putin's head as a condition for ending the war will force Russia to dig in deeper.

  • Sarang Shidore: [10-13] Global South again shows ambivalence on the Ukraine war: "The UN General Assembly voted to condemn Russia's annexation of four Ukrainian territories on Wednesday. The vote was 143 in favor, five opposed, 35 abstentions and ten absent."

  • Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [10-10] Russia unleashes fury; Zelensky implores West for more help. Last week, I described Russia's missile barrage following the bomb attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge as "pot shots," which I still think is more apt than the quotes here about "a major escalation in the war" or Macron's "profound change." They're simply reminders that Russia has the power to make every inch of Ukraine unsafe, not unlike Israel's periodic shelling of Gaza whenever Palestinians do something that riles them up. And sure, it's a war crime, but what isn't? There's a risk in over-thinking this, as Daniel Drezner does here: [10-15] How Vladimir Putin is thinking about the war. The obvious reply is that Drezner doesn't know.

Kate Aronoff: [10-12] Florida and the Insurance Industry Weren't Built to Withstand a Flooded World.

Michael Bluhm: [10-14] Why OPEC's cuts shouldn't have been a surprise -- and may not hurt as much as you think: Interview with Samantha Gross, from Brookings Institution.

Heather Brandon-Smith: [10-14] The Iraq war authorization turns 20. Given how much Congress likes to tack "sunset clauses" onto bills to force them to be periodically renewed, the absence of an expiration on this blank check for reckless warmaking is scandalous. Still, some hope that Congress might repeal it (20+ years too late). Also see: 20 years after Iraq War vote, Barbara Lee is fighting to end the War on Terror.

Lee Harris: [09-28] Industrial Policy Without Industrial Unions: "Democrats' new industrial manufacturing plan leaves unions behind, fumbling a moment of relative leverage for organized labor." If the point of having an industrial policy is to keep key industries in the country, why not give the workers in those industries the power to defend them? I'd go a step further and give those workers an ownership stake -- and not just in "key" industries (aren't they all worth protecting?).

Drew Harwell: [10-15] Co-founder of Trump's media company details Truth Social's bitter infighting.

Ben Jacobs: [10-14] What the January 6 hearings accomplished: "Further implanting the attack on the Capitol in the public memory might be the committee's most vital function."

Related pieces:

  • Harold Meyerson: [10-13] The Fish Stinks From the Head. We're used to thinking of presidents as creatures endlessly compromised by the limits of their staffs (which were largely picked by other staff, with little more than a nod from the guy in charge), and that's mostly true in the early days, when the job seems so overwhelming. But over time, presidents find they can get the upper hand, and once they realize that, their true natures come out. I don't think Trump was ever fully in charge until he recovered from Covid, which gave him a tremendous ego boost (and probably led to his last-minute spike in an election he should have lost by twice as much). The now-widely-reported stretch from election day through January 6 is the truest of Trump periods -- the one he will start from if given a second term in 2024.

  • Andrew Prokop: [10-13] The January 6 committee's Trump subpoena might not succeed -- but here's what might: Looks to me like the title outran the article, as I don't see any "what might" in the fine print. When I first heard that the Committee would vote at the end of the hearing, I thought they might approve a message to the DOJ that they should indict Trump. So the subpoena vote struck me as anticlimax. Sure, his testimony would be a source of public embarrassment, regardless of whether he takes the 5th amendment, but even if he's caught in numerous lies, that would still make for a difficult prosecution. On the other hand, one thing the Committee has accomplished has been the orderly presentation of evidence. It wouldn't be hard for Trump to turn it into a circus.

  • Jessica Corbett: [10-16] Trump's Truth Social rant called "sharply self-incriminating": Now it's up to DoJ. Well, the first "fruit" of the subpoena is a 14-page screed that starts by reiterating the "big lie," and descends from there.

  • David Badash: [10-14] 'Drivel and pure nonsense': Legal expert mocks Trump's 14-page response to House committee's subpoena.

Andrew Jeong: [10-15] Alaska cancels snow crab season for first time after population collapses.

Stephen Kinzer: [10-12] The most important lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis: "which is that opponents in a game of nuclear chicken should talk and deal, not bluster and threaten." Kinzer makes a point here about the importance of the negotiations being kept secret, which is true to some extent: it kept other parties (like Castro) from mucking up the works, but it was also largely predicated on making Kennedy appear to be the tough guy, while Krushchev looked like the patsy (and paid for it with his career several years later). A secret deal between Biden and Putin would certainly be welcome here (even if it slighted Zelensky), but a public deal that could be viewed as fair to all sides would be better still.

Paul Krugman:

  • [10-11] A Nobel Prize for the Economics of Panic: The winners were Ben Bernanke (who you know as the Fed Chairman during the 2008 panic, but Krugman knew as a colleague at Princeton), Douglas Diamond, and Philip Dybvig. When the prizes were announced, political journos like Matt Taibbi seized on Bernanke as a strangely political pick: not many economists win prizes after global disasters (Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan certainly didn't; I pointed out that the Peace Prize had been won by several with even worse credentials: Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, Barack Obama). Still, I was surprised to find that their pioneering "research on banks and financial crises" largely focused on federal deposit insurance, which was implemented in 1933 (20 years before any of them were born) and instantly found to be smashing success. (Maybe they invented models to explain why?) Granted, deposit insurance was controversial at the time, as some worried that it created a moral hazard which might lead banks to lend carelessly -- as indeed happened with savings & loans in the 1980s, but didn't happen in the better-regulated banking sector, at least until 2008, when Bernanke's alternative plan (bailing out banks) came to the fore.

    Krugman explains much of this, and continues to give Bernanke high praise for his expert handling of the 2008 crisis. I've been less generous, partly because he seemed to have little feel for the human costs of such a recession, even as he moved hell and high water to shelter the banking industry. I thought Obama made a big mistake in nominating him for a second term, instead of picking a Democrat with a greater concern for employment (and for Obama's political fortunes; however, the only Democrat Obama seems to have considered was Larry Summers, so he wouldn't have gained much). Similarly, I think Biden made the same mistake in giving Powell a second term. Nor do I seem to be alone:

    • Robert Kuttner: [10-12] Bernanke's Odd Nobel Prize. "New insights? By 1983, this was standard economic history. So I went back and read the paper, 'Non-Monetary Effects of the Financial Crisis in the Propagation of the Great Depression.' What is striking about the paper is how conventional it is."

    • David Dayen: [10-12] The Selling of Jerome Powell: "Those who favored Powell's renomination to the Federal Reserve insisted that he would never do precisely what he's doing now."

  • [10-11] When Trade Becomes a Weapon. The Biden administration has started to restrict high-tech trade with China, for a mix of good and bad reasons I can't really get into now -- the "bad" has to do with the escalating power-projection rivalry between the world's two largest economic powers, which threatens to backfire spectacularly.

  • [10-14] What's Really Happening to Inflation? I don't know, and after kicking a lot of charts, neither does he: "Basically, simple rules for assessing where inflation is right now are broken." Dean Baker has more on this: [10-15] Inflation: There's Good News Today! (despite admitting up front that "the September CPI was bad news").

Ian Millhiser:

Izzie Ramirez: [10-10] The real source of Puerto Rico's woes: "A broken governance structure, climate disasters, and the legacy of a colonialist past have combined for a perfect storm."

Nikki McCann Ramirez: [10-16] Trump Berates American Jews for Not Having Enough Gratitude Towards Him.

Marcus Stanley: [10-12] Biden's 'schizophrenic' National Security Strategy: "The White House says we need international cooperation, but still wants to decide who's in or out of the global club." The Biden administration just released its "long-awaited" National Security Strategy document, "the first such document since 2017." It represents the desire to reset American foreign policy after the weirdness Trump introduced (talk about "schizophrenic"), but shows that the supposedly more sensible thinkers in power now are still mired in Cold War oppositions between us-and-them and in the hubris of post-Cold War "sole world hyperpower" moment, despite the inestimable decay of American economic and military power, and moral influence, that the last 20+ years has brought. "The NSS at least reflects some awareness of the dangers of global divisions and the need for cooperation. But the challenge of moving from this awareness to a real shift in direction remains."

More reflections on the NSS, and more generally US foreign policy (aside from Ukraine above):

  • Doug Bandow: [10-11] Washington huffs and puffs -- but its adversaries aren't shaking: "North Korea is responding to US demonstrations of strength with their own, and it could get dangerous." There is no clearer demonstration of the futility of provocative "shows of strength" than US-North Korea. US sanctions have succeeded in reducing North Korea's standard of living to about 10% of South Korea's, yet have only strengthened Kim Jong-un's regime. Still, we should know by now that when North Korea tests missiles and nuclear weapons, the thing they're really looking for is recognition and respect, leading to agreements that will end the "state of war" that has persisted since 1953 and allow North Korea to participate in the global economy. On occasion, the US has opened talks, and North Korea has responded by toning down their provocations, but the US had never delivered even what little it has promised. It's stupid to play with nuclear fire when peace costs so little.

  • Connor Echols: [10-12] 'The stakes could not be higher': Top Biden aide says world is at an 'inflection point': "But critics say the White House's new policy document is just a retread of failed liberal internationalism." Quote from Jake Sullivan.

Margaret Sullivan: [10-12] If Trump Runs Again, Do Not Cover Him the Same Way: A Journalist's Manifesto.

I saw this quote from William Shatner (originally in Variety?), and cribbed from a screen grab:

I had thought that going into space would be the ultimate catharsis of that connection I had been looking for between all living things -- that being up there would be the next beautiful step to understanding the harmony of the universe. In the film "Contact," when Jodie Foster's character goes to space and looks out into the heavens, she lets out an astonished whisper, "They should have sent a poet." I had a different experience, because I discovered that the beauty isn't out there, it's down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound.

It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna . . . things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread. My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Speaking of Which

I thought the war in Ukraine took a nasty turn a week ago, but it got even nastier this week, and seems only likely to get worse next week. (The latest is that Russia has resumed taking pot-shots at Kyiv, even though it's nowhere near the front lines.)

Connor Echols: [10-07] Diplomacy Watch: Calls for negotiations grow as Russia threatens nuclear use. Still very little constructive response from Russia, Ukraine, or the latter's sponsors.

Julian E Barnes/Adam Goldman/Adam Entous/Michael Schwirtz: [10-05] US Believes Ukrainians Were Behind an Assassination in Russia: This was the car bomb that killed Daria Dugina in a Moscow suburb, an attack believed to have targeted her father, Aleksandr Dugin, a pro-Putin ideologue who sees Russia as increasingly embattled by a decadent West, and is very hawkish on the war in Ukraine. The US has denied any advance knowledge of the attack, and the disclosure suggests that the US wants some distance from its client's "special operations." If Ukraine is organizing terrorism within Russia, this suggests they may also be responsible for other unconventional attacks, like the sabotage of the Nordstream gas lines and the Crimea bridge. Robert Wright commented: [10-07] Moscow murder mystery solved.

George Beebe: [10-04] Why Elon Musk is right: I wouldn't go that far, but Musk's tweet starts with a point we should all be able to accept:

  • Redo elections of annexed regions under UN supervision. Russia leaves if that is the will of the people.
  • Crimea formally part of Russia, as it has been since 1783 (until Krushchev's mistake).
  • Water supply to Crimea assured.
  • Ukraine remains neutral.

Musk's tweet has been dismissed as a total surrender to Russia, but the first point isn't that at all. It is the only solution that would allow either side to back down with what passes for dignity. It won't be easy to get both sides to agree on fair -- especially as that's something neither side particularly wants -- but no matter how the war grinds on, it will be necessary. There's no need to treat Crimea as a separate issue, since the only difference in its annexation was the timing. I'd expect Russia to win in Crimea, and we should accept that, but a new vote would make that easier. The other two issues may have been listed to sweeten the deal for Russia, but water can be dealt with later (if would be a moot point if Zaporizhzhia votes to joint Russia, and wouldn't be a proper obligation if it doesn't). The real question the fourth point tries to address is how do we keep this war from restarting? If neutrality means that Russia is never going again going to attack or extort Ukraine, fine, but it didn't stop Russia from subversion in 2014, arming separatists since then, and invasion this year. Arguably, NATO membership would have inhibited Russia from such imperious aggression, sparing us from this war. In any case, postwar Ukraine (minus any parts ceded to Russia) is pretty clearly intent on aligning with the EU and NATO, even if it is not technically a member of NATO. After the war, the US and Russia need to come to some kind of agreement that reduces the hostility and risks of war. Before the war, I imagined that a general disarmament could have led to the dismantling of NATO, but Putin has made it hard to trust Russia's peaceful intentions. Of course, Musk has no standing to tell us what to do. But when he's right, give him credit. The only way out of this nightmare is to do what's right.

Fred Kaplan has a comment on the Musk tweet: [10-04] Elon Musk Stole My Old Plan for Peace in Ukraine. Too Bad It Doesn't Make Sense Anymore. I've often cited Kaplan in the past, and generally respect his erudition on all defense matters -- even when he is much more in league with them than I am (which, needless to say, is not at all). But he's basically saying that it's too late for a deal that concedes anything to Putin, or leaves him in a tenable position to remain president of Russia. I don't begin to understand such thinking. Even if Ukraine can claw back every inch of territory Russia occupies, there is still a need for some kind of agreement that normalizes the border and other relations. And however much one might wish Putin to get sacked by his Kremlin comrades, there is no known mechanism for doing so, and his successors will be people with a similar view of Russia's interests -- the only plus is that they may not have the stain of Putin's folly on them personally. And in the broader picture, there needs to be some sort of rapprochement between the US, Europe, and Russia (and probably China, India, and others) that assures all that Russia will not repeat its invasion of Ukraine, yet allows Russia to function otherwise as a normal nation. All these things say there has to be negotiation, reaching some sort of compromise, one that is not to onerous to any party. I don't see why that should not be possible, unless you start from the assumption that it's not. Granted, the actual terms Musk proposed are a bit dated, but the need for something along those lines remains.

Kaplan, who has written a whole book on the subject (The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War) has also written a highly speculative essay war-gaming a possible US response to Russian use of a tactical nuclear weapon: [10-07] Why the US Might Not Use a Nuke, Even if Russia Does. Even if it is technically possible -- and the US military has a long history of overestimating their capabilities -- it isn't very convincing, as it leaves Russia with only two further options: surrender or annihilate America. If the former was so unpalatable as to allow for the use of a "tactical" nuclear weapon, what's to stop Putin from taking the next logical step? A sudden recovery of sanity?

Jonathan Chait: [10-06] Illiberal Chic Deserves to Die on the Battlefield of Putin's Failed War: "Authoritarianism doesn't make your country smart or strong." Kind of a strange take because we live in a sea so full of anti-Putin propaganda that it's hard to identify people who think he's smart let alone cool.

Julia Davis: [10-09] Team Putin Wakes Up: We Never Should've Laughed at Ukraine: I'm not inclined to credit this article much as a significant sample, but this does suggest the range of thoughts that must be going through the heads of people close to the Kremlin. The fears of defeat are especially vivid (and ridiculous), meant to rally the troops, but to me they just underscore the need to negotiate on the basis of respect for what's right.

Masha Gessen: [10-05] Putin's draft order has inspired a Russian exodus. Stories like this make for good propaganda, and therefore are suspect, but the draft order itself smells of desperation, and the verifiable exodus is just one measure of the problem. Putin may be able to suppress overt dissent, but getting people willing to kill and die for his cause is much harder. Sure, Russians fought valiantly and steadfastly in WWII, but their record in Afghanistan and Chechnya hasn't been very impressive. The US gave up on the draft not due to resistance -- though there was quite a bit of that -- but because drafted soldiers lacked the skills and discipline the army needed, and sometimes turned on their officers. Putin should be wary.

Jonathan Guyer: [10-07] Just how worried should you be about nuclear war? Biden says very. As the article notes, "Diplomacy is the only way out."

Mary Ilyushina/Natalia Abbakumova: [10-08] Kremlin, shifting blame for war failures, axes military commanders: Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, much touted for his successes in Chechnya and Syria, was ousted as "overall operational commander" after seven weeks. Several other generals are being rotated out.

Anatol Lieven: [10-03] No blob, we are not 'already fighting' World War III: "These Washington foreign policy elites are recklessly suggesting that Russia is a universal threat that requires absolute victory over evil." We need to radically dial down our fears about what Putin is trying to do in Ukraine, and elsewhere around the periphery of Russia. Not only do those fears cause us to misunderstand Putin, they suggest to other countries (above all, to China) that we do not respect their own interests and integrity.

Casey Michel: [10-04] Alexei Navalny Has a Crimea Problem: Turns out the much-hyped liberal critic of Putinism doesn't favor returning Crimea to Ukraine. Which makes it pretty hard to imagine a regime change scenario in Russia that will satisfy the maximalists in Kyiv and Washington.

Nicole Narea: [10-08] The Crimea-Kerch bridge explosion is a devastating blow to Putin and Russian morale. The article is pretty cagey about what caused the explosion, but comes with a pretty graphic picture. One suggestion is that it was caused by a truck bomb driven from the Russian side. The bridge established a very tangible link between Russia and Crimea, so has been an obvious target since the war started. For another picture, see: Chas Danner: [10-08] Ukraine Bombs Russia's Bridge to Crimea.

William Saletan: [10-05] Fox News: Putin Propaganda Primetime: "Here are the top 20 anti-Ukraine, pro-Russia claims and arguments that Fox views are hearing." The most telling one is "19. Ukraine is an arm of the Democratic party." There may be aspects to Putin that right-wingers at Fox admire, but what really gets them ginned up is hatred for Biden and the Democrats. And while they're quite happy to promote Republican wars ("12. Ukraine is just like Iraq" is understood as justifying both invasions, not as equating their futility), the real danger of their arguments isn't that they'll give aide and comfort to the Russian enemy but that they will lead Americans to decide that the Democrats are the pro-war party. If you look at this piece in a mirror, it certainly suggests that Saletan is all in on Ukrainian propaganda in favor of Zelensky's maximum aims, regardless of the considerable risks. Meanwhile, Democrats hear Fox and Trump spouting their Putinisms and figure that validates a war that costs and risks much, to validate a global posture that ultimately hurts us as much as it does the world.

J Peter Scoblic: [10-05] The Russian nuclear threat, explained: Author has written a book on nuclear strategy (U.S. vs. Them: Conservatism in the Age of Nuclear Terror), but still doesn't offer much that makes sense. Sure, both the U.S. and Russia can obliterate the other, a threat that should make each eschew any existential threat to the other, which effectively makes them useless. Still, a lot of thought has gone into possible ways of using nukes as "tactical" weapons, but it's hard to see how that might work: the targets are too small and too scattered, and the fallout is self-defeating. Not mentioned here is Richard Nixon's "madman theory," but that's always been predicated on the other side being sane enough to back down. If Putin (or Biden) is sane enough to back off, why isn't some less destructive (and less humiliating) solution possible?

Jim Sleeper: [10-08] Putin really could fall -- but will that help the West as much as we think? This is a good question, which the article doesn't do much to answer. But we should prepare ourselves for the near certainty that if Putin is replaced as president of Russia, he'll be replaced with someone with the same basic interests and attitudes.

A few brief items on other subjects:

Matthew Cappucci/Samantha Schmidt: [10-09] Julia strikes Nicaragua as hurricane with 'life-threatening' flooding.

Zachary D Carter: [] A Dose of Rational Optimism: A review of J Bradford DeLong's book, Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century. I'm flagging this piece because: (a) I've been reading the book for a couple weeks now (it's pretty long, 624 pp); and (b) I've read and greatly admired Carter's comparable but somewhat more narrowly scoped The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes. I've only barely gotten into the part of the book that Carter likes least (the "neoliberal" era that ended the 30-year post-WWII boom, a school DeLong initially identified with until it proved untenable). In the early part, DeLong's scheme to reduce economic progress to simple numbers is ingenious, as is his framework of explaining economic thinking as a yin-yang contest of Hayek and Polanyi (although this tends to slight Keynes, who had a clearer idea both of utopia and of the dismal science).

Chas Danner: [10-09] Has Another Iranian Revolution Begun? "An unprecedented uprising is underway, with no end in sight." The demonstrations after the murder of Mahsa Amini by Iran's "morality police" struck me as analogous to the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted after George Floyd was killed by police in 2020. As with BLM, the subtext go back further, at least as far as the 1979 revolution, which few people aimed at establishing a theocracy: opposition to the Shah was nearly universal, but in the end was commandeered by Ayatollah Khomeini and turned into a different kind of prison. On the other hand, through its numerous bad faith acts from 1953 to the present, the US has lost any credibility to help the people of Iran deal with their just grievances against their government. As soon as Biden and other started celebrating the demonstrations, the government was able to blame them on the US, and ratcheted up repression in the name of self-defense. Lots of Americans would like to think they could offer helpful advice, but they cannot. The only advice I have is to restore JCPOA, end the sanctions, and work to lessen border tensions and complaints about "Iran-supported proxy groups" elsewhere. The less embattled Iran feels, and the less threatened by the US, the more open they are likely to be to internal reforms.

More on Iran:

Connor Echols: [10-05] 'We impose these things and then that's it': McGovern tears into US sanctions policy: Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) complains that Congress never reviews "whether U.S. sanctions are really having their intended effect." If they did, I have no doubt that the answer would be they do not. I didn't particularly object to the post-invasion sanctions against Russia, because they were a relatively safe way to react to an extreme provocation, but I didn't expect they'd have much effect, and there is little evidence that they have. On the other hand, sanctions against Russia before the invasion only served to provoke further hostility, and the same can be said about US sanctions pretty much everywhere. The policy is a dead end, not just because it fails to elicit the desired behavior, but because it arrogates to Americans the claim to be the judge and jury of the rest of the world.

Matt Ford: [10-06] Trump's Defamation Lawsuit Against CNN May Be Ridiculous, but It's Not Doomed. When Trump ran in 2016 he wanted to change the laws to allow thin-skinned rich blowhards like himself to sue anyone who criticized them. He failed to change the law, but did something else, potentially worse: he changed the judges.

Jeff Goodell: [10-06] Hurricane Ian Is Florida's 'Oh Shit' Climate Moment.

Penelope Green: [10-06] Meredith Tax, Feminist Author, Historian and Activist, Dies at 80.

Jonathan Guyer: [10-07] OPEC was always going to mess with oil prices. Was Biden's team naive? Several points here. First is that if Republicans weren't making hay complaining about gas prices, Biden wouldn't have any reason to work the issue. In general, higher gas prices help persuade people to switch to alternative or at least more efficient energy sources, which would be better for the climate, and ultimately for all of us. Republicans have no alternatives that would lower prices: their own wars and political vendettas (e.g., against Iran and Venezuela) have pushed up prices (and profits), while their offers to "drill, baby, drill" aren't even wanted by the industry. Second is that Saudi Arabia is an embarrassing ally, if indeed you can call them an ally at all. (They buy American arms, and used them in wars which bring the US into disrepute. Israel, by the way, is no better. Both have severe human rights problems, and are poor representatives of the democracy he claims to champion -- both in their countries and in their obvious preference for Republicans in Washington.) So yeah, Biden's trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia does appear to have been a mistake, especially as he seems to have let them veto an important American interest in distancing Iran from Russia.

Adam Hochschild: [10-06] The Crushing of American Socialism: Excerpt from his new book, American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy's Forgotten Crisis.

Ed Kilgore: [10-04] The Supreme Court Is Back and Ready to Do More Damage. For more specifics:

Eric Levitz: [10-06] The Fed Might Just Break the Global Economy: Interview with Adam Tooze. One thing Tooze notes is that the belief that inflation should be fought by high interest rates isn't based on much more than the 1979-82 Volcker model, and that many of the dynamics at play there aren't in play now. (The Volcker recession combined with Reagan to crush a labor movement that in the 1970s still had enough clout to keep up with inflation. While the unions are starting to regain some traction now, they have nowhere near enough strength to keep up with, much less drive, an inflationary spiral.)

There is, by the way, more interesting stuff on the economy than I can do justice to. For example:

  • Dean Baker: [10-07] The Good News About the Economy You Are Not Hearing: Subheds: people quitting crappy jobs; rising real wages at the bottom; the benefits of increased work from home; mortgage refinancing; telemedicine; the score on living standards.

    [PS]: Baker tweeted a reply to the question: "what is the most obvious lie you have ever been told?" His answer: "Technology caused the rise in inequality of the last four decades." In another tweet, Baker noted: "Globalization, as we structured it, was about redistributing income upward. It was enormously successful, but no major news outlet will allow anyone to make this point." To me, the most obvious proof of this is that the US has run trade deficits every year since 1970. The money is largely used to buy consumer goods, but accrues as profits to foreign companies, and (much of it) eventually gets recycled back to financiers, who use it to bid up assets, taking over companies for rape and pillage. Every step of the way, the rich get richer, and everyone else pays for it. Yet I have never seen anyone else explain it this way.

  • Paul Krugman: [10-07] A Jobs Survey Full of Good News. This follows the less upbeat [10-06] Tracking the Coming Economic Storm.

  • Adam Tooze: [10-04] The First Global Deflation Has Begun, and It's Unclear Just How Painful It Will Be: It's not just the Fed raising interest rates; it's going on all over the world. One thing I wonder is whether the Fed will back away from further rate hikes if they see evidence of lessening inflation, or wait until they hit some hypothetically ideal unemployment rate (as Larry Summers seems to want).

  • Dylan Gyauch-Lewis: [10-07] Larry Summers and Jason Furman Aren't Really Democrats: Not something one would dare say before 2020, but a welcome change. (Found this after I had written the comment above, so it had to be filed here. And yes, I thought about Furman above, but decided one bad apple was enough.)

Sophia A McClennen: [10-08] Stop obsessing over election polls -- the less attention voters and the media give them, the better. Good advice. I think at one point people took pains to get polls as accurate as possible, and worried when they missed the mark, but lately everyone's got a polling theory, and they're all over the place. They make for lazy news, and feed a neverending supply of stories meant to terrify one side or the other. The only risk I see is that they may make you think it doesn't matter if you vote, but if you're going to vote anyway, why make your life miserable by paying them any attention? You don't need billions of dollars of advertising to understand what this election is about. If you want public servants in Washington to try to understand problems and make constructive efforts to help most Americans, vote Democratic. If all you want to do is vent your spleen about how crooked the world is but don't care if it gets even worse, the Republicans are the party for you. Even if you don't think the Democrats will deliver for you, you should consider voting for them as a way to shut the Republicans up. It may not have worked on Trump, but Floridians can save us a lot of agita by putting Marco Rubio and Ron DeSantis out to pasture. Sure, some Democrats are better than others, and some Republicans are worse than the rest, but those distinctions have been rendered marginal. Stick to the basics and you should be OK.

PS: I didn't want to say anything about any candidates, least of all Herschel Walker, but Republican loyalty to him despite everything is so strong it makes my party loyalty point: see Alex Shephard: [10-05] Of Course Republicans Are Sticking With Herschel Walker. And, OK, I should probably mention:

Nancy McLean: [10-05] The War for Democracy in America Will Be Lost -- or Won -- in the States: Review of Jacob M Grumbach: Laboritories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics.

Timothy Noah: [10-06] You Won't Believe How Crazy CEO Pay Has Gotten Now. Since 1978, CEO pay "has outperformed by stock market by 37 percent."

Olivia Nuzzi: [10-06] Maggie Haberman on How She Covers Trump Without Losing Her Mind: Interview with the New York Times reporter, whose big new book, Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America, goes back further than her own reporting (which goes back further than most, although St Clair chides her below for not giving Wayne Barrett enough credit). I've long gotten the impression that she was pretty superficial, but from interviews recently, the task of putting her observations into book form seems to have led to the realization that Trump really is nothing but a shallow, venal jerk. (Or perhaps in writing a book she's finally out from under the thumb of the New York Times's both-sides-balancers?)

More on Haberman's book:

Toluse Olorunnipa/Yasmeen Abutaleb: [10-06] Biden to pardon all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession: There he goes, doing something popular again. When will the American people learn that they can't actually have things that they think they want? As with student loan debt, Biden only reached for the low fruit -- see CT Jones: [10-07] President Biden's Weed Pardons Leave Thousands of People Behind -- but in picking a fight with the Republicans, it makes sense to stick with the simplest and most defensible reforms.

Andrew Prokop: [10-07] Why Hunter Biden's legal troubles are back in the news: Once again, the FBI helps the Republicans with a timely leak.

Nathan J Robinson:

Michelle R Smith/Richard Lardner: [10-07] Michael Flynn's ReAwaken roadshow recruits 'Army of God': Long article, shows how Flynn has capitalized on Trump's rallies to create his own revival circus, including photos of Eric Trump and Roger Stone at his rallies. If Trump doesn't run for president in 2024, Flynn will, as the truest of all true believers.

Amy Davidson Sorkin: [10-03] Has the C.I.A. done more harm than good? "In the agency's seventh-five years of existence, a lack of accountability has sustained dysfunction, ineptitude, and lawlessness." Of course, this barely scratches the surface, but the further you look, the worse the picture gets. Back in 2007, I read Tim Weiner's 702-page history of the CIA, which amply justified his title: Legacy of Ashes. No reason to think they've gotten any better since.

Jeffrey St Clair: [10-07] Roaming Charges: Up in Smoke, Down in Mirrors.

Alexander Stille: [10-04] Why Fascism Isn't Italy's Biggest Problem: "The American press has overhyped Giorgia Meloni's fascist ties -- and underhyped what a wreck the country has become under a series of populist 'saviors.'" Stille wrote an important book on Berlusconi (The Sack of Rome), so is familiar with the right-wing coalitions long dominated by Berlusconi (who has become a minor partner to Meloni). He argues that Meloni's rise is due to her move toward the center, but that her right-wing partners only promise more of the same failing policies.

James D Zirin: [10-06] Great Britain's Conservatives Are Screwing Up the Economy: "Prime Minister Liz Truss and her chancellor of the exchequer are to blame. It could be a preview of what happens if Republicans take over in the U.S."

Just found this piece from 2015, so not fair to include above, but worth keeping a record of: Rick Perlstein: [2015-09-30] Donald Trump and the "F-Word": "An unsettling symbiosis between man and mob." Of course, the question is only interesting if you already know a fair amount about fascism. If you don't know anything, or only know that "fascist" is something bad, it's more useful to ask whether Trump is something else that does mean something to you, like liar or bigot or asshole or, if your vocabulary goes a bit farther, narcissist. But if you do know about the dynamics of how Mussolini and Hitler came to power, and not just what they did with that power, it's an interesting question. Actually, it's two questions: whether a politician like Trump (or Francisco Franco, or Huey Long, or Juan Peron, or Silvio Berlusconi, or Vladimir Putin) is a fascist leader type (an Il Duce or Der Führer), and (more interesting) whether a mass group of people are inclined to follow a fascist leader (like any so identified). Actual fascism depends on the confluence of a leader, a mass of followers, and historical and economic factors. The puzzle comes in figuring out how those factors interact. And it matters because actual fascism is a very destructive process, even unto itself. Just look at what happened to and because of the models (Hitler, Mussolini).

Of course, the valuable thing about this point isn't the verdict. It's that understanding fascism provides a lens for analyzing much of the everyday noise Trump emits.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Speaking of Which

The top story this week is the War in Ukraine. Russia held its long-threatened referendum on whether the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine wanted to be annexed by Russia, and lo and behold, they did, by implausibly large margins. The next step will be for Russia to accept the votes and annex the territories. (They already did this with Crimea in 2014, so the new territories are Luhansk, plus parts of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson.) This matters because it presumably makes a Russian retreat from any of those territories harder for Russia to accept, and also because it means that Russia will characterize attacks on its troops in Ukraine as acts of war against Russia's homeland.

Thus far, Ukraine has refrained from launching attacks over the recognized Russian border (although they have attacked some spots in Crimea), and the US has been reluctant to give Ukraine weapons that would make it easier to launch such attacks. Ukraine and its allies will not accept the referenda or annexation, nor are they likely to change their battle plans. On the other hand, Russia has explicitly threatened significant (but unspecified) escalation if its territory is attacked, and it's easy to imagine scenarios escalating to nuclear weapons.

So the upshot is that it's become more urgent than ever to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the war. At the same time, hawks on both sides see recent events as vindicating their positions, making them even less willing to negotiate. (Hawks always see talk as a sign of weakness, and insist that the other side will crumple when allowed no other option, even though there's no evidence of the world working that way.) Western moderates may also be inclined to dig in their heels against Russia -- even if, as many do, they see Russia's aggressiveness as a sign of weakness, they remain in thrall to their desire to punish Putin for his transgression.

I understand and sympathize with the sentiment, but caution that justice is always hard to achieve, especially given that superior power is impossible between nations. I believe that Putin's war is rooted in the rot of his nationalist, chauvinist, oligarchic, and authoritarian political beliefs, and I pray that Russia will free itself from his grip. But I recognize that as something that no one outside Russia can affect, or has any business trying. It is sheer arrogance -- madness, really -- to think otherwise. As such, we need to prepare ourselves for some way to live and do business with a postwar Putin-led Russia. That means we have to advance a settlement that can be seen as fair and just.

I remain convinced that the key to this is allowing people in the disputed regions to vote to decide their own future. The referenda last week were illegitimate because Russia did not seek agreement with Ukraine to accept the results. I don't have time (let alone any responsibility) to sketch out how I think such elections should work, but they obviously start with a ceasefire. One wrinkle I would like to see is a second round, 5-10 years later, which would give residents of the territories a chance to rethink their vote (and would motivate the initial winners to rebuild and prosper).

I wrote most of what I have to say in my 23 Theses. Both sides have hardened their positions since then, but the solutions are unchanged -- just more desperately needed than ever.

Other pieces on Ukraine:

Connor Echols:

Anatol Lieven: [09-30] Putin annexations mean US-Russian talks more critical than ever.

Isaac Arnsdorf: [10-01] CPAC backpedals on pro-Russia tweet as some US conservatives back Putin: This isn't much of a story, because there's little chance that the "irritable mental gestures" of the right will come together into any sort of coherent challenge to Biden's foreign policy, with its reassertion of world hegemony. But the more Republicans seem to be aligned with Putin, the more even left-of-center Democrats rally behind Biden, compromising their own peace credentials.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [10-01] China and India remain neutral, even on Russia annexation.

Luke Harding/Isobel Koshiw: [09-30] Ukraine applies for Nato membership after Russia annexes territory. Another gesture only meant to provoke Russia and make negotiation less likely.

Susan B Glasser: [09-29] What if we're already fighting the third world war with Russia? This is a good example of rationalizing why "now's not the right time" to negotiate with Putin, empathizing how he "is not one to walk away from a fight or back down while losing -- escalation is his game, and by now he's very, very practiced at it." After acknowledging that we're engaged in nuclear brinksmanship, she reaches for a favorite warmonger's cliché: "Will Washington stay the course?"

Leonie Kijewski: [10-01] Russia retreats from Lyman a day after Putin's annexation. A victory for the Ukrainian counteroffensive, but I wasn't aware of the "key strategic city" ("important railway junction") until now: it is in the far north of Donetsk Oblast, had a prewar population of 20,469 (13.8% Russian), was captured by Russia on May 27.

Jen Kirby:

  • [09-28] The Nord Stream pipeline sabotage, explained. Agreed, the evidence points to sabotage. But the argument that Russia blew up their own pipeline doesn't make any sense: Russia already has the ability to shut the pipeline down, just by closing a valve. The effect isn't to disrupt the flow of gas, since Russia has already done that. What the sabotage does is prevent Russia from turning the flow back on after a peace deal, so if you're looking for "who benefits" you might start with the people who are lobbying Germany to send tanks to Ukraine.

  • [09-30] Putin's desperate attempt to annex parts of Ukraine.

Matt Stieb: [09-30] Putin Decries US 'Satanism' in Bizarre Speech Annexing Parts of Ukraine.

Robert Wright: [09-30] Putin beyond the brink. "Yet many American elites -- politicians, journalists, even "think" tankers -- have been reacting to this war as if it were a football game or some other purely zero-sum contest. They've celebrated Ukrainian gains on the battlefield with no ambivalence, blissfully unaware that dramatic Ukrainian military success was always bound to encourage Kremlin risk taking, raising the chances of regional or even nuclear war."

Other pieces worth noting:

Muizz Akhtar: [09-29] Climate change has come for the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter: "China's catastrophic summer shows its climate adaptation plans still have a long way to go." Also its climate change diplomacy, as most of China's problems are caused by emissions elsewhere -- much as most of America's, most of Europe's, and most of the rest of the world's.

Jonathan Chait: [09-29] Republican House Majority Will Try to Melt Down Global Economy: "Democrats need to sabotageproof the government while they still can." I imagine one could write a broader article on Republican plots and schemes, but this one only deal with one: the debt ceiling. It used to be an automatic extension, but since the 1990s Republicans have used it repeatedly to sabotage government and try to extort concessions. And while it's difficult to do things now that couldn't be undone by a Republican House, ending the debt ceiling renewal requirement is one thing that should have been done long ago.

Nate Cohn: [09-30] Gerrymandering Isn't Giving Republicans the Advantage You Might Expect.

Margaret Hartmann: [09-30] Bonkers Revelations From Maggie Haberman's Trump Book, Ranked. She lists 18 of them, from the mundane to the ridiculous to things that aren't even remotely news, none of which will make even the most ill-tempered critic's Very Short Introduction to the Trump presidency.

Sean Illing: [09-25] Do we ask too much of parents? Interview with Nate Hilger, author of The Parent Trap: How to Stop Overloading Parents and Fix Our Inequality Crisis. Well, we ask too much of children, then blame the parents for failing, even when schools are far short of adequate. While the demands have grown as the world has become more complex and more difficult to understand, much of the anxiety comes from the vastly unequal economy, and the conservative politics that insists on failure being a personal fault. (Of course, we now also have to deal with an even more reactionary politics, that seeks to capture schools and turn them into right-wing indoctrination centers, even if that means not teaching the skills necessary to function in our synthetic world.)

Ellen Ioanes: [09-26] The rise of Giorgia Meloni, Italy's new far-right prime minister, explained. More on Meloni:

Sarah Jaffe: [09-23] The Country That Could Not Mourn: "The Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how hard it is for Americans to grieve." Review of a book edited by Rhae Lynn Barnes, Keri Leigh Merritt, and Yohuru Williams: After Life: A Collective History of Loss and Redemption in Pandemic America.

Ed Kilgore: [09-29] Do Republicans Really Want to Punish Women for Having Abortions? Well, they have no qualms about punishing women who even think about having an abortion. When Trump read the room and suggested that women seeking abortions should be jailed, that was the only faux pas of the 2016 campaign he actually had to walk back, because he hadn't understood the public posture, but he certainly tapped into the vein of hatred underlying it. Trump was never one to miss a chance to be cruel. (As Kilgore explains: "But sometimes referring to abortion as 'murder' while calling the person who chooses to have an abortion blameless strikes hammerheaded men like Mastriano and Trump as nonsensical.")

Branko Marcetic: [10-01] Journalist Katie Halper Has Been Fired for Calling Israel an Apartheid State. She was fired from The Hill's political morning program. Calling Israel an "apartheid state" is an approximation, but not far from the mark. One difference is that South Africa still depended on cheap, underclass workers, where Israel has largely freed themselves on dependency (and therefore concern for) Palestinian workers. By the way, every time you read "illegal annexation" think back to Israel's annexations of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which were every bit as illegal. Another example is Iraq's annexation of Kuwait, but that was reversed by foreign power.

Ruth Marcus: [09-30] You thought the Supreme Court's last term was bad? Brace yourself.

Julian Mark: [09-28] Teen sought in Amber Alert dies in shootout after running toward deputies: Further proof, as if we needed it, that police aren't very sharp or dependable when it comes to split-second thinking with guns in their hands. Needless to say, zero chance that anyone will be charged, damn little that anyone will be disciplined.

Nicole Narea: [09-30] Ken Paxton keeps running. Will his legal issues ever catch up? He's the worst state Attorney General in the country, at least until/unless Kris Kobach wins in Kansas. Also:

Andre Pagliarini: [09-29] Capitalism Triumphed in the Cold War, but Not by Making People Better Off: A review of Fritz Bartel's book, The Triumph of Broken Promises: The End of the Cold War and the Rise of Neoliberalism. Looks to me more like the old switcheroo: Just as the Soviet Bloc was warming to the idea of getting in on the broad-based growth that Europe and America enjoyed from postwar to the 1970s, the West fell sway to the "greed is good" prophets and financiers cannibalized the productive economy, while imposing austerity on those who couldn't afford it. By the time the Soviet Union fell, oligarchs were all the rage, and those with the inside track seized it, to the detriment of nearly all of their people.

Nathan J Robinson: [09-26] Biden Declared the Pandemic Over. I Immediately Got COVID. The numbers have gotten slightly better since a recent peak on July 17 (130,035 new cases, on Oct. 1 down to 46,783), but deaths are still at 405 (that's 147,825 per year; I'm having trouble finding comparative data for other infectious diseases, but that's still close to 3 times the highest numbers I've seen for flu + pneumonia, which is probably the runner up). The ratio of deaths to hospitalized in ICU is 11.8%, and deaths to hospitalized is 1.4%. That's probably a long-term downward trend, but the ratio of hospitalized to cases still looks pretty high (60.2%), so it's likely that there are many more unreported cases. (Test positivity is 9.1%, which is another sign of unreported cases.) That still looks like a pandemic to me, even if it's nowhere near dire enough to force the sort of lockdowns we had in early 2020. Unfortunately, many survivors have decided that they were never at risk, and Republicans have been moving to make sure that public health officials can never interfere with business again.

Dylan Scott: [09-30] Republican states keep refusing to expand Medicaid -- until you ask their voters: "Medicaid expansion is 6-for-6 with voters on ballot initiatives. South Dakota could make it seven in a row." I have zero doubt that Kansas voters would approve expansion if given a choice. Even with a Republican supermajority in Topeka, they've only been able to stop expansion through parliamentary tricks. The political decision to spite Obamacare is especially hard on rural doctors and hospitals.

Jeffrey St Clair: [09-30] Roaming Charges: Shelter From the Surge. If you want to read about Hurricane Ian, start with the intro here, then continue to the notes on fossil fuels and climate change and insurance premiums, and a note you're unlikely to read elsewhere on how "Nigeria was hit with its worst flooding in decades with more than 300 deaths and more than half a million people displaced."

Lauren Sue: [10-02] Marjorie Taylor Greene accuses Democrats of violence and wanting to make Republicans 'disappear': When people are this gullible, it's tempting to mess with them. But realistically, all Democrats want to do to Republicans is give them free health care and education, jobs that pay decently and come with union rights, infrastructure that works, and a full panoply of human rights. Many Republicans, on the other hand, actually do . . . well, psychologists call this kind of thinking "projection."

Jay Swanson: [09-29] The Left Needs to Take Back the Constitution: Review's the new book by Joseph Fishkin and William E Forbath: The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution: Reconstructing the Economic Foundations of American Democracy, which argues "the Constitution is best understood as a document calling for the unashamed struggle for equality." I've read a number of books along these lines, starting with Staughton Lynd's Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism (1968) and Gordon S Wood's The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992), and more recently Ganesh Sitaraman's The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution (2017) and Erwin Chemerinsy's We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution in the Twenty-First Century (2018). You can slice that loaf many ways, but there's much to chew on if you're so inclined -- and these interpretations are at least as sensible, and much more useful, than what's passed off as "originalism" these days.

Jake Whitney: [09-26] Shattering the 'Myth of War': Review of Chris Hedges' new book, The Greatest Evil Is War. Evidently, he wrote this after Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, which he condemns, as he does Bush's invasion of Iraq, and much more. There is also an excerpt, in which Hedges writes: "The true costs of war are hidden from the public because the reality is too horrific to accept."

That's enough for now. I had maybe 5-8 links from early in the week, and wrote the first half of the intro on Saturday, so that committed me to doing something to post on Sunday -- instead of a bunch of other things I'd rather be doing. Obviously, there's much more going on. Hurricane Ian is still a big story: death toll is at 58 (or 76 or 88), "second-largest catastrophe loss event on record" in the US, Hurricane Ian may leave behind a trail of environmental hazards, and I've seen very little on whatever it did in the Carolinas. This is the first week in many where I haven't bothered with the Trump legal stuff (a mere 5 mentions otherwise). Nothing yet on the election in Brazil. And I'm continuing my blackout on the November elections. More time for all that later.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Speaking of Which

I'm pleased with nearly everything Joe Biden has done as President, but the last couple weeks suggest that his understanding of foreign policy is fundamentally flawed, and that his grip on the tiller is slippery and gaffe-prone. Biden's comment about how US soldiers would fight on Taiwan to beat back a Chinese invasion is easily the worst gaffe: not only could it not possibly happen, the mere threat could precipitate the invasion the comment was meant to deter. Such blunders are possible because Biden, like every US president since (let's say) Eisenhower, vastly overrates the efficacy of the US military. But also because he doesn't understand, and doesn't respect, China (or, let's get real, Taiwan).

There are stories of similar cluelessness everywhere the US sticks its toe in. One minor example concerns Venezuela: Trump (who knows a thing or two about stealing elections) decided to back a pretender to head the government, then tried to force his choice through sanctions and seizure of Venezuelan assets, which had no effect other than to break relations, boost oil prices, and cause thousands of Venezuelans to become refugees (including the ones DeSantis kidnapped and sent to Martha's Vineyard). This made the news last week when an American fled bail, was arrested in Venezuela, but cannot be extradited due to this stupid political spat (see 'Fat Leonard' caught in Venezuela after fleeing Navy bribery sentencing). I don't much care whether he gets away or not, but America has been known to invade countries just to arrest people. I doubt Biden will do anything that stupid, but this is one more cost to his failure to reverse Trump's (or was it really just Marco Rubio's?) policy.

Another example is Iran, where Biden is reported to actually want to reverse Trump's withdrawal from the Obama-negotiated JCPOA, where Iran agreed to close monitoring of its nuclear energy program, in exchange for lifting of sanctions that have hampered the welfare of the Iranian people. Supposedly there is a new agreement ready to go, but it keeps getting kicked down the road, mostly because Biden isn't willing to stand up to pressure from Israel and Saudi Arabia, who whipped up hysteria about Iran's "nuclear threat" in the first place. (Back in the 1990s, Israel predicted Iran would have bombs as soon as a couple years. Agreed-to monitoring is the only way to make sure that doesn't happen, so Israel's continued opposition to any sort of agreement suggests their original alarms were really part of some other scam.) Then last week, when Iran erupted in protests that were very similar to the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, Biden's administration took its eye off the JCPOA objective to throw its full-throated support behind the protesters, who neither needed nor wanted friends like the US.

But by far the most perilous arena for Biden is the growing abyss in Ukraine. I go into this at some length below, but it's worth stressing here that the proximate trigger for Putin's "escalation" last week -- calling up reserves and drafting soldiers (including, evidently, some Ukrainians), accelerating referenda in occupied territories requesting annexation by Russia, and some awkward nuclear sabre rattling -- was Russia's loss of territory east of Kharkhiv, and the renewed vows of Zelensky and his supporters to keep fighting until they take back all of Ukraine. This is Putin's way of saying that he will do everything in his power to prevent defeat on the battlefield, including destroying it all. Still, no one seems to have grasped the obvious next sentence: so now is the time to finally negotiate a settlement, before this gets much, much uglier.

Obviously, one reason this lesson hasn't sunk in is Biden's (or more often his administration's) abiding faith in the efficacy of military power. Ukraine's limited successes to date have intoxicated long-time believers in American military power, while the costs of fighting never seem to register. Accurate information is hard to come by, but here's a six-month assessment: [08-24] Thousands of Civilian Deaths and 6.6 Million Refugees: Calculating the Costs of War. While the material costs are immense, the most striking number is the 6.6 million refugees who have left the country, another 7 million internally displaced, and perhaps 13 million "stranded or unable to escape contested ground." Also missing here are the more distant economic impacts -- I don't think anyone really has a handle on this, but this six-month review outlines the issues [08-21] Russia's war at 6 months: A global economy in growing danger. Of course, even these costs can be reduced to footnote status should the conflict escalate to nuclear arms. However right one thinks one side is, and however wrong the other, the overriding concern has to be how to end the war as soon as possible. That means negotiating, and that means recognizing and respecting differences. And that means the US needs to fundamentally rethink its attitudes toward the world: both its high-minded moralizing and its indifference to human suffering.

Naema Ahmed/John Muyskens/Anna Phillips: [09-23] Summer in Sedgwick County, Kan. was 2.2°F warmer this year than the average of the last 50 years. I had to pick a county to get into this page, so I picked mine. By some research I did a while back, this year was the 4th hottest in the last 23 since we moved back here in 1999. This summer was also dryer than usual. The average across America was 1.8°F hotter than usual. Very few spots were cooler than usual (northern Alaska, some counties near the upper Great Lakes).

Ryan Bort: [09-20] Fentanyl Halloween Candy Will Kill Your Kids, RNC Chair Says After Being Accused of Fear Mongering.

Nate Cohn: [09-24] Lost Hope of Lasting Democratic Majority: Revisits the 2002 book The Emerging Democratic Majority, by Ruy Teixeira and John Judis, which hasn't proved to be particularly prescient -- unlike Kevin Phillips' The Emerging Republican Majority (1969). I read the Phillips book when it came out, with a mixture of love and hate: love because his research methods dovetailed closely with mine, and hate because his conclusions predicted a much worse America than the one I grew up in. I never looked at the Teixeira/Judis book, but have wondered about it recently -- turns out it is out of print, and nearly forgotten. I don't have time to expand on my thoughts here, but flagging the article will make it easier to find.

Connor Echols: [09-23] Diplomacy Watch: Is AMLO's peace plan really that ridiculous? No. It doesn't come with a lot of detail, but starts with a cease fire, which stays Ukraine's offensive and Putin's latest escalation threats. What is ridiculous is thinking on either side that military victory is possible. Indeed, Russia's threats (more on those below) sound to me more like a plea for negotiation, which makes Ukrainian (and implicitly US) insistence on driving Russia completely out of pre-2014 Ukraine the real ridiculous. Even if this were possible -- something I seriously doubt -- I have to question the desirability of leaving Putin and Russia so humiliated. (Sure, there have been a rash of pieces recently suggesting Putin's perch atop the Kremlin has become less secure, but even if he's pushed out, that would be for tactical failures, not because he misrepresents the goals and intents of Russia's ruling class. On the other hand, odds are not good that Putin will be removed, and he only becomes more dangerous as his existence is undermined.) Americans don't want to admit it, but the world needs a stable Russia going forward, not one seething with the recriminations of defeat.

Note the item where Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister "disclosed that Russian officials have attempted to reach out for talks but said Ukraine is not ready to negotiate." Also note the item where China called for a ceasefire. It's possible they did that without Russian approval, but if Putin wants to negotiate, China offers one way to communicate that. Earlier in the week, Echols wrote [09-21] Putin mobilizes 300,000 reservists in significant escalation. More pieces on Ukraine:

  • Anatol Lieven: [09-22] Tick-tock: Putin escalation begins countdown of diplomacy clock. One shouldn't forget that this was also a week when Biden and Zelensky hardened their stands, perhaps feeling that Ukraine's offensive is gaining ground and pushing Putin into a corner. Putin's "escalation" is basically a warning to beware what you wish for. The part that bothers me most is the rushed scheduling of annexation referendums in Russian-occupied territories. Such referendums, under fair and honest international direction, are the preferable way to settle the disposition of disputed territories, but are effectively reduced to a sham under one-sided Russian control. I think it was very likely that a fair referendum in 2014 would have transferred Crimea to Russia, but Ukrainians boycotted the Russian-run one, and nobody but Russia recognized the results. (Similar referenda in Donetsk and Luhansk might have also favored Russia, but by lesser margins. Other disputed oblasts, like Odesa and Kherson, would probably have voted to stay in Ukraine.) The situation is much messier now, what with military occupation and millions of displaced refugees, but Russia unilaterally staging its own referenda just poisons the well. The idea that once annexed the territories would be protected by Russia's nuclear deterrent is even more troubling, not least because it's hard to know how seriously to take that threat (but the risks of not taking it seriously are painful to contemplate).

    Lievien notes: "If these areas are annexed by Russia, this will make any peace settlement in Ukraine much more difficult for a long time to come. The very best we could then hope for would be a situation like that of Kashmir over the past 75 years: unstable ceasefires punctuated by ared clashes, terrorist attacks, and occasional full-scale war."

  • James Carden: [09-21] Stop the escalatory ladder in Ukraine, we want to get off: "Ukraine is asking for new 'security guarantees' from the West, which will only ratched up the spending and risk a nuclear spiral."

  • Ted Galen Carpenter: [09-24] Biden's UN speech misreads global unity: "Attempts to isolate Russia over Ukraine with sanctions that are ultimately hurting the global economy aren't having the desired impact."

  • Daniel Drezner: [09-20] Russians believe they can win the war. Here are 3 reasons why. Subheds: "The West is weak and worthless"; "China will be Russia's lifeline"; "The technology sanctions will not be too painful for Russia." The first is something Dugin has been telling Putin all along, but the US was willing to drag losing war in Afghanistan out for 20 years, and while it wasn't popular, politicians risked very little stretching it out. In 2020, the US spent 12 times as much on its military as Russia did. The US GDP is 12 times as much as Russia. Since the debacle in Vietnam, the US has worked hard to insulate the people from costs and impacts of military adventures abroad. The US is also very isolated from loss of Russian business. All this gives the US a lot of leeway to continue a proxy war -- especially one that costs relatively trivial amounts of money and risks no American soldiers. Europe may be a weaker link, especially as right-wing parties gain ground over anti-immigrant issues and often look to Russia as a nationalist model, but I doubt they'll break ranks with the US. India and China have no appetite for quarreling with Russia, but don't relish conflict with the US either (hence, the second point is unlikely to be true, unless the US way overplays its anti-China impulses). But we should also be clear that rejecting Russia's reasoning on these points doesn't mean that Russia is going to cave in. Russia is strong enough it can persist for a very long time, without much help from China, and despite some degree of pain from sanctions. The problem with this kind of thinking, and this applies to both sides, is that it encourages continuing war to avoid admitting defeat, when in fact both sides are losing a lot, and will continue to lose the longer they fight.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [09-21] The West is testing out a lot of shiny new military tech in Ukraine.

  • Seth Harp: [09-19] Putting Ukrainian battle successes in cold, hard perspective.

  • David Ignatius: [09-22] To confront Putin, Biden should study the Cuban missile crisis. And what exactly should he learn from the Cuban missile crisis? That the country closest to the conflict cares the most about resolving it on their own terms? That the country most willing to risk nuclear war has the upper hand? That the leader of the country that backs down will get sacked? I got this link from Rick Perlstein, who says "a good argument can e made that it was a major cause of the Vietnam War." I don't quite get why, but unintended consequences are inevitable.

  • Ellen Ioanes: [09-18] Here's what we know about the state of Russia's military.

  • Fred Kaplan: [09-22] What the West Should Do About Putin's Increasingly Dangerous Desperation. I think he's reading the signs correctly, but doesn't have a lot of useful advice. He also wrote: [09-13] When Will Russians Realize the Disaster in Ukraine Is Putin's Fault? The protests and evasion efforts following mobilization suggest that more Russians are beginning to feel impacted by Putin's decisions, which is the first step toward blaming him. But also remember that his main defense is to deflect blame to the US. Now may not be the time to cut back on arms to Ukraine, but it is a good time to take a public stand for ceasefire and negotiations, allowing Russia an exit that's not totally humiliating.

  • Jen Kirby: [09-22] What Putin's latest threats mean for the risk of nuclear war: Interview with Andrey Baklitskiy, an expert at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research.

  • Paul Sonne/John Hudson: [09-22] US has sent private warnings to Russia against using a nuclear weapon. I'm sorry, but I find this article much scarier than Putin's veiled threats. Putin was basically saying that if you go too far, we'll do something crazier. The response is more like: if you think that's crazy, you ain't seen nothing yet. The "madman theory" was calculated on the assumption that the other side was sane. If not, the bluff fails, and backfires spectacularly.

  • Matt Stieb: [09-23] Prominent Russians Keep Dying Under Mysterious Circumstances: This is kind of weird. Maybe being an oligarch isn't all it's cracked up to be.

  • TOI Staff: [09-23] Zelensky 'shocked' by lack of Israel defense support: 'They gave us nothing': US politicians go on and on about how Israel's is our closest, bestest ally, but Israel gives the US nothing either. As Moshe Dayan put it, "America gives us arms, money, and advice. We take the arms and money, ignore the advice."

Robin Givhan: [09-20] King Charles III: The epitome of inherited everything.

Jonathan Guyer: [09-19] Biden's promise to defend Taiwan says a lot about America's view of China. I don't have time (or at present enough of a sense of urgency) to pick this apart, but we're seeing the convergence of a lot of unexamined myths Americans hold about their role in the world and the power of military force projection to enforce order, along with vastly changed economic factors, along with utter disregard for Chinese views of how the world of power has shifted. It doesn't help that the "strategic ambiguity" doctrine never made much sense: at the time it was a way to "agree to disagree" and thereby put that issue aside, hopefully to be forgotten about -- as it was for a long time, but it's recently been revived, as China regards any change as hostile, while the US arms lobby -- that that's who has really driven US foreign policy since the 1990s -- sees Taiwan as a lucrative customer. But also: Biden got a little sloppy here. He should always preface his remarks with the admission that it's totally up to the people of Taiwan, through their democratically-elected government, to decide whether they want to unite with China. The US is not going to pressure Taiwan to join China, or to stay independent. If the latter, the US may honor Taiwan's requests for arms and/or economic support, which may include the imposition of severe sanctions on China if the latter attempts to coerce union -- much like the US has done for Ukraine to fend off Russia's invasion. But the notion that US troops will fight alongside Taiwanese troops to fend off such an invasion is sheer folly, not a notion Biden or anyone else should entertain.

  • Michael D Swaine: [09-23] Biden trashes what remained of US One China policy, strategic ambiguity.

  • David P Goldman: [09-20] Five Myths About China: This piece from a right-wing think tank (Claremont Institute) was recommended by a reader, and the bottom line is awful (he wants to spend trillions of dollars to push America ahead in the high-tech arms race), but the five points he identifies as myths are basically right (quotes in italics):

    1. America is making China rich, and can weaken it by reducing imports, investment, and so forth.
    2. China depends on stolen American technology.
    3. China faces demographic collapse.
    4. China wants to take over Taiwan because it is led by an expansionist Marxist-Leninist party that hates and fears democracy.
    5. We can deter China by shifting military forces to Asia and adding to conventional capabilities.

    I needn't cover these point-by-point. China is a big country now. It has lots of world-class scientists and engineers, and is at the cutting edge of technology. (Sure, they "steal" some ideas. Everyone smart "steals" good ideas.) It doesn't need to, or particularly want to, emulate the US. (Best line here: "We imagine that China wants to spend trillions to project military power around the world, because we think China is as stupid as we are.") China can, and does, plan. China invests in itself. China cultivates relationships abroad, and is relatively easy to deal with, because they don't judge, and they don't get too greedy. America cannot plan, and does not invest in itself. Americans trust the market to work its magic, even though it mostly works for other people. China is patient. Sure, they got a bug up their ass about Taiwan, but unless we panic them, they're more likely to bide their time. And frankly, it doesn't matter. Our wealth doesn't depend on their poverty. If anything, the opposite. So maybe we should stop going out of our way to piss them off, and start trying to learn how to work with them, for mutual benefit. The alternative is, well, not likely to be good, for anyone.

Derek Hawkins: [09-20] U.S. can't ban gun sales to people indicted on felony charges, judge says.

Alex Henderson: [09-23] Privatizing Social Security is 'a loser' for Republicans -- but they keep proposing it anyway: The thing that gets me about their campaign isn't how unpopular it is, or how cruel, but how the very suggestion shows they don't understand the first fucking thing about how Social Security works. You can starve it, kill it even, but you can't save it by replacing it with a less efficient system, especially one that is endemically corrupt. But it's been a Republican talking point since 1936, so some people are dumb enough to assume it makes sense.

Arelis R Hernández: [09-20] They were still rebuilding 5 years after Hurricane Maria. Then Fiona hit. In more hurricane news:

Sean Illing: [09-20] The profound pessimism of Clarence Thomas: Interview with Corey Robin, who wrote the 2019 book The Enigma of Clarence Thomas. Interesting sidelight here is Robin citing Albert Hirschman's The Rhetoric of Reaction, with its typology of reactionary arguments: perversity ("if you try to make things better, you're gonna make them the opposite"), jeopardy ("you try to do one thing, you may achieve it, but you're gonna jeopardize something else"), and futility ("in the end, you can't do a damn thing . . . because politics is really not a sphere that can either transform or ameliorate the human condition").

Ed Kilgore: [09-23] House Republicans Release Their Vague 'Agenda' for 2023: Talking points for the apocalypse, which makes them less alarming (and less forthcoming) than Rick Scott's Senate Campaign Manifesto.

Jen Kirby: [09-24] The far right is having a moment in Europe. Actually, everywhere. Interview with Pietro Castelli Gattinara. I don't know how to quantify the effect of the Ukraine War on this, but my guess is that it is substantial. Some examples:

Daniel Larison: [09-23] Grover Cleveland: One of the great anti-imperialist presidents: More accurate to say "one of the last," but why fudge with "one of": unless you want to try to argue that NATO, the World Wars, or Gunboat Diplomacy weren't imperialist. You could also argue that he was the first -- unless for some reason you want to exempt Indian wars, "from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli," Manifest Destiny, Seward's Folly, much more. As for "great," that rests on a rather slim foundation: he rejected annexation of Hawaii after American planters overthrew the Queen. He was possibly the most conservative president the US has ever had, at least in the sense of not wanting to change anything. Nor is he all that forgotten. I've run across him several times in my recent reading, mostly for his role in using the army to break the Pullman strike. Brad DeLong describes him rather generously as "always triangulating." And you'll hear a lot more about Cleveland if Trump's nominated in 2024, giving him a shot at matching Cleveland's two non-consecutive terms. (By the way, Larison commits another sad hedge in describing Cleveland as "one of a few men to win the popular vote three times" -- the only other one is Franklin Roosevelt, who won four times, and no one else even tried; on the other hand, Trump could join William Jennings Bryan as the only major party candidate to lose the popular vote three times.)

Louis Menand: [09-19] Was Rudy Giuliani Always So Awful: Reviews Andrew Kirtzman's new book Giuliani: The Rise and Tragic Fall of America's Mayor. Tragic? I knew the name, and knew that most of my friends in New York City couldn't stand him, but I didn't have any direct experience with him until 9/11. I was in Brooklyn at the time, staying in our friend Liz Fink's apartment. Liz and my wife had the TV on constantly, so we saw a lot of Giuliani's daily press conferences. At one point, I was moved to point out that he was actually doing a pretty good job: he managed to project the right combination of concern and competency, something very few politicians did at the time (certainly not GW Bush, nor NY's new junior senator, Hillary Clinton, both mostly concerned with appearing tough and eager to fight). I chalked it up mostly to having real work to do. Giuliani was a lame duck at the time -- the primary to pick his successor was held on 9/11, and had to be redone a month later. By that time, Giuliani got a chance to look at his polls, and decided he was such a hero he should have been accorded another term -- but by then he was too late, and he was well on his way to becoming insufferable again. But at least he made a lot of money out of the good will his momentary character lapse elicited. The book figures he made $8 million in speaking fees in 2002 alone. He became the early favorite in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, but he couldn't find any he could actually compete in. (He skipped Iowa and New Hampshire, settled on Florida, and dropped out after finishing 3rd, with 14.68% of the vote and no delegates.) It probably didn't help his campaign to find his crony Bernie Kerik going to jail. But scandal followed Giuliani everywhere he went, especially once he hitched his wagon to his fellow New York bigot, Donald Trump. But tragic? You'd have to find something noble to him first.

Jack Meserve: [09-24] The Mississippi welfare fraud involving Bret Favre, explained.

Ian Millhiser: [09-19] Two Republican judges just let Texas seize control of Twitter and Facebook.

Trita Parsi: [09-22] Iranian regime's allergy to reform breeds violence for change: Iran is again faced with mass demonstrations, this time protesting the death of a woman (Mahsa Amini) who was arrested and detained by the regime's "morality police" -- a unit set out to enforce submission to the Ayatollah's religious dictates.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [09-24] Why Iranian women are risking everything by burning their hijabs.

  • Al Jazeera: [09-23] US relaxes internet sanctions on Iran in support of protesters: Not sure where to start with this. The US shouldn't be seen as supporting civil unrest in any other country, but especially in a country where the US is universally discredited for its long history of hostility -- not least because any support now will be seen as underhanded. Second, if relaxing sanctions "aims to support the free flow of information," why was the US trying to interfere with "free flow of information" in the first place? Or did the US not understand the effect of these sanctions until Iran itself moved to choke off access? At which point it became just another way to spite Iran?

  • Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani: [09-22] Democrats Are Dropping the Ball on Iran: "Why is Tom Cotton the loudest member of Congress speaking about human rights abuses in Iran right now?" Because he's one of those "real men go to Tehran" hawks, who wants to start a war (or at least a blockade) to kill the people he supposedly is defending, if for no other reason than to gain some brownie points with Israel. But the point of the article isn't to puff up Cotton. It's to smear Democrats for not being interventionist enough to join Cotton's war. John Le Carré's quip about the Cold War applies equally to Iran's Revolution: "the right people lost, but the wrong people won." That leaves unfinished business for the Iranian people, and God bless them. But Uncle Sam has fucked up everything he's touched over there, so there's zero reason to think he can help now. (Less than zero if you let Tom Cotton lead the fight.)

  • Robin Wright: [09-25] Iran's ferocious return to the belligerent policies of the revolution's early days. Isn't doubling down a classic reaction when things aren't going your way? Iran has gone back and forth between reformers who were never quite able to get America off their neck and hard-liners who figured you might as well fight back. Raisi is one of the latter, and here he's being slagged for failing to revive the JCPOA deal that Trump pulled out of just to spite Iran.

Jennifer Rubin: [09-19] Trump's frightening rally in Ohio shows the media still doesn't get it.

Alex Shephard: [09-19] Donald Trump Is More Deranged Than Ever. So much shit on Trump every week that I always have to hang a list off a lead article, which can be hard to single out (especially early). But while Trump is in more legal trouble this week than last, or for that matter ever, it might be better to start out not with what the world is doing to Trump but with what Trump is doing to himself: a profile of character under stress, if you like. Interesting tidbit here is "J.D. Vance didn't invite Donald Trump to Ohio, where the president gave a lengthy, rant-filled speech at a rally on Saturday -- and it's easy to see why." So one thing unprecedented about these "midterms" is how a former president is imposing himself on the narrative. He's making a big bet that if Republicans win in November, he can take the credit and slingshot himself into front runner status in 2024. On the other hand, if Republicans get creamed -- especially after all those articles early in the year about how the election was a lock -- he'll make a convenient scapegoat for failure. In a sane world, that should send him into hiding (as GW Bush did in 2009). Unfortunately, Trump is incapable of realizing when he's lost, as are most of his fan base.

Amy B Wang: [09-20] Migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard file class-action lawsuit against DeSantis.

Edward Wong: [09-06] Biden Puts Defense of Democracy at Center of Agenda, at Home and Abroad. Robert Wright drew my attention to this piece: see [09-20] Biden's grand and dangerous vision. This was his Philadelphia "soul of a nation" speech, where he depicted "MAGA Republicans" as a threat to American democracy. He is, of course, right to note their threat, which manifests across a broad spectrum of areas, from unlimited campaign donations to gerrymandering to voter suppression to efforts to deny election losses and to use whatever power levers they can find (the Supreme Court is the big one) to unilaterally impose their reactionary policies and worldview on people. His stand for democracy at home is both necessary and laudable. However, that doesn't mean that defense or promotion of democracy should be the mission of US foreign policy. That mission should be getting along with the rest of the world. And that's something the US has done very poorly ever since Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Program fell into disrepair (or more accurately, was gutted by the Cold War).

Sure, Americans have a long history of talking up democracy -- even before Woodrow Wilson promised World War would "make the world safe for democracy." During the Cold War, America like to tout the moral virtue of democracy, but was quick to settle for friendly dictators, and often worked to subvert elections where it feared the left might win. This tendency to regard democracy as a team sport tied not to popular support but to US interests persisted after the fall of the Soviet Union. Nowadays, we are quick to condemn regimes we don't like as undemocratic, even if their leaders won office in elections at least as free as our own (Iran, Russia, and Venezuela are favorite examples, with Turkey coming and going -- at least in those countries the winner was the one who got the most votes, unlike our GW Bush and Trump).

But before Biden, this was just self-serving hypocrisy. With Biden, the enemy seems to have become more unified and nefarious. The roots of this go back to Russian interference in the 2016 election, which left many Democrats with a mental link between Putin and Trump -- one the latter never did much to dispel. Democrats have also noticed how Steve Bannon has been working to turn a cast of international rogues (including Putin, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Modi, Orban, and Trump) into a mutual admiration society. The problem here isn't that we shouldn't sympathize with victims of fascism everywhere, but that US foreign policy should not interfere in the internal affairs of other regimes, no matter how abhorrent we find them. We're not that perfect ourselves, and we're also not very good at it.

Biden made a comment about the pandemic being over, so I thought I'd take a look at Latest Map and Case Count. New cases are down from about 125,000 per day around July 24 to 54,239, with 432 deaths, which is still 156,680 per year. When I first heard the quote, I thought maybe the toll had dropped to the ignorable level of gun deaths, car deaths, and opioid overdoses, but it's still more than all three combined.

Late-breaking tweet:

Alan Dershowitz tells Tucker Carlson why he's decided to represent Mike Lindell:

"Whoever the government oppresses and violates their constitutional rights, I'll defend them."

I wish I could ask the late Liz Fink about how much help Dershowitz was on the many constitutional rights cases she worked so tirelessly on.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Speaking of Which

A week I was planning on skipping this exercise, then wrote the long Bacevich comment, then had a peek around the usual sources. Rather haphazard approach, but quite a bit got stuck in my net.

Tariq Ali: [09-14] King Charles III May Keep His Head -- His Kingdom is Another Story: "The monarchy needs death and weddings for its cyclical renewal." I like this opening: "Charles is a name that most English monarchs have avoided since the 17th century. Let's therefore start where we really should."

Andrew Bacevich: [09-13] Will the U.S. Learn Anything from Putin's Disastrous Invasion? Alternate title: "Russia's Underperforming Military (and Ours)." Not really. Even though the U.S. military studies its own failures, the conclusions rarely waft up to policy levels, unless they argue that the failures can simply be solved by spending more money -- that's something the top brass and their congressional enablers can always get behind. This suggests that the real obstacles to change are high up in the security state, with their broad misconceptions about the competency, efficacy, and desirability of military power. To the extent that they can explain Russia's failures in terms where the U.S. is plausibly more proficient (like logistics), they shield themselves from self-doubt. But as should have been clear from Iraq, a virtuoso performance in capturing Baghdad wasn't anywhere near sufficient to achieve the desired political goals (roughly speaking, leaving Iraq as a stable and peaceful democracy integrated into the western capitalist economy). That's basically because it's very hard to occupy a foreign country, and very easy for natives to disrupt it, and once that starts, military domination does as much or more harm than anything else.

It may be clear now that Russia lacks the ability to conquer alien territory like the U.S. did in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it remains to be seen whether Russia will be able to defend its occupation of predominantly Russian areas like Crimea and Donbas -- where they know the language, and have cultural affinities unlike the U.S. in the Middle East.

One lesson the U.S. should draw from this war is that Russia isn't much of a threat beyond its borders, except for the nuclear threat. If the U.S. was seriously interested in world peace, it would make nuclear disarmament a major diplomatic priority, offering to sacrifice its own arsenal in the process. Secondly, it would negotiate pullbacks around Russia's borders. Thirdly, it would try to come up with a process for adjudicating border disputes in the region (and elsewhere: Kosovo and Bosnia are still unsettled; also, more ominously, Korea and Taiwan). But none of this is going to happen as long as U.S. politicians (and their security mandarins) think wars can be won, and that the projection of military power matters.

Bacevich has a book coming out in November on this theme: On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century. One thing I've long been struck by is how poorly the British people have been served by their deep feelings of their imperial past -- now mostly nostalgic but never far removed from the racist prerogatives the British claimed. When you look at the history of imperialism, it's easy to sympathize with the oppressed, but the experience has also warped the humanity of their oppressors, and that too takes a toll.

In looking up Bacevich's book, I noticed that Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad have a new book, with a striking subtitle: The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power. One lesson few have learned from the last few years is how fragile many things we depend on are, like supply lines. As systems get more complicated, as fewer people understand how they work, as resources get stretched, as responsibility is blurred or shirked, the world becomes more fragile, and things break, often catastrophically. (Which, by the way, is a mathematical term, meaning suddenly. There is a branch of mathematics called catastrophe theory, which studies discontinuous functions.) We live in a world which is increasingly fragile, governed by economic and political systems which assume it isn't, and are regularly blindsided when things break.

Jamelle Bouie: [09-13] It Is a Well-Known Truth That Opponents of Democracy Don't Want You to Have Nice Things: Looks at "the old idea that political democracy requires a certain amount of economic equality." Finds many examples, especially before 1870, when the Gilded Age took off -- like the 1920s and 1980s, a brief period when greed grew into "irrational exuberance" before the bubbles burst. "Wherever you look in U.S. history, you see Americans grappling with the connections among equality, inequality and democracy. Crucially, many of those Americans have struggled to make democracy itself a tool for the more equitable distribution of wealth and status." Which is, of course, why conservatives, as the self-recruited (or otherwise employed) defenders of the rich, have always distrusted and often plotted against democracy.

Rachel M Cohen: [09-14] What Republicans would do if they win back Congress. I could elaborate, but short answer is that it would be very bad and real ugly. Given how clear Republicans have been about their plans, I'm left with the nagging question: why would any significant number of American voters want to hurt themselves like that?

Artin DerSimonian: [09-15] New attacks on Armenia call for immediate Western diplomatic engagement. This is the latest flare up of another post-Soviet territorial conflict, with ramifications for Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, and the US -- which is to say lots of countries with ulterior motives and chips on their shoulders. U.S. involvement is particularly disturbing: see Eldar Mamedov: [09-16] Caucasus conflict highlights US hawks' reckless support for Azerbaijan.

Connor Echols: [09-16] Diplomacy Watch: Putin reportedly spiked a peace deal in early days of war. A roundup of news in this week of no serious diplomacy. Robert Wright [09-16] writes more about the "spiked deal" report: You can't prevent a war after it starts.

On the battlefield, Ukraine has regained significant territory to the east of Kharkiv, including the strategic town of Izium, but has not yet crossed the border into Luhansk. Ukrainian gains in the southwest near Kherson have been less impressive. Russia responded to its losses with attacks on infrastructure in Kharkiv.

More on Ukraine:

  • Ross Douthat: [09-17] The Quality That Sustained Queen Elizabeth Is Hobbling Putin: Get ready for this: Putin "has been hobbled in his fight because his regime lacks the mystical quality we call legitimacy." For the record, Putin's been in power for 16 of the last 22 years (and arguably for the other 6), and unlike Queen Elizabeth II he was actually elected (four times). There are lots of problems with Putin, but this one is purely in Douthat's noggin. He's never worth reading, but sometimes he's so bad you can't miss him as an example of how little talent and insight it takes to write for the New York Times.

  • Connor Echols: [09-14] Zelensky takes weapons push to Congress -- and the defense industry: Seems at first like a rude reach, but you can hardly blame him for thinking that the arms merchants, pulling their strings in Congress, are the real powers behind American support for war in Ukraine.

  • Fred Kaplan: [09-13] When Will Russians Realize the Disaster in Ukraine Is Putin's Fault? Russia's political system and media are so closed off it will be hard to measure. On the other hand, any whiff of dissent is likely to be blown up as propaganda. Kaplan cites some examples, but cautions: "the fog of this war is particularly thick; there is so much that independent analysts and journalists can't yet see."

  • Paul Krugman: [09-16] What Ukraine Needs From Us: Gets off on the wrong foot by accusing "realists" as having "spent the whole war urging Ukraine to surrender and have been disappointed in their predictions of military defeat, are now predicting inevitable economic collapse." That's not a fair description of any "realist" I'm familiar with. I don't identify as such, but I've often found the realists to be more grounded than the fantasists and ideologues who dominate US foreign policy. But after reiterating his credentials as a liberal hawk, Krugman does have some interesting things to say about the macroeconomic effects of the war on Ukraine. Still, he runs out of space before getting to the question raised in the title. It's an open question whether the U.S. and E.U. will offer anywhere near as much support in rebuilding Ukraine as they did in tearing it apart. Past history doesn't offer many positive examples, but the West's welcome of Ukrainian refugees is categorically different from refugees from other war-torn nations. But we should be clear on two things: one is that no significant rebuilding will be possible before a negotiated peace; the second is that a lot of money will be required, and on more favorable terms than the West (especially the private sector) is used to. Probably a couple more things are worth mentioning: prewar Ukraine had quite a reputation for corruption and cronyism, which won't be easy to recover from; also Ukraine's recovery will to some extent be tied to Russia's own economic recovery, which is something U.S. planners will be especially reluctant to support.

Susan B Glasser: [09-15] A Second Trump Term Would Be a Scary Rerun of the First: "Scary" may be too mild of a word, given how the subhed cites velociraptors in Jurassic Park. The most obvious point is that the one thing Trump has clearly learned from his first term is to hire flunkies who are above all personally loyal to Trump and Trump alone. Don't expect any adults-in-the-room types. Maybe some diehard conservative agenda types will get on board, but only if they grovel a lot. (Mike Pompeo is the model here.) But it's not inconceivable that he felt sabotaged by the conservative apparatchiki Pence stocked his administration with, so he could lean more to popular/demagogic policies, most effectively in foreign policy (where the liberal/interventionist worldview has led to disaster after disaster). But it's not likely, because he doesn't seem to be capable of coherent thought, and his focus on hiring only the most servile flunkies all but guarantees incompetence. Still, it's hard to imagine how ugly it can get.

Julia Gledhill/William D Hartung: [09-11] How the Arms Industry Scams the Taxpayer. Arms spending is so popular on Capitol Hill that the House added $37 billion to the Defense Department's already astronomical ask, and the Senate topped with with $45 billion.

Briahna Joy Gray: [09-15] Debt is a Form of Social Control: "To be indebted means to lack freedom. That's why elites melt down in response to Biden's new plan to forgive $10k of student debt. They don't want you to be free." There's more to this the author goes into, and more beyond that. Much as debt maintains the class order here in America, the IMF has proven to be a more effective tool at preserving the domain of elite capitalism than imperial armies ever were. That's because most of the time debt is easier tolerated than challenged, but not always. Which makes one wonder: why do we keep paying tribute to the rich, when they don't have anything better to do with their wealth than loan it out?

Caroline Houck: [09-13] The questions over the queen's role in Britain's violent empire, explained by a historian: Interview with Caroline Elkins, who is the right historian to ask this question to -- see her recent book, Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire. The British Empire had started to unravel before Elizabeth was coronated, but the most brutal periods of repression in Malaya and Kenya occurred on her watch, and she was often called to represent the fading empire (she was in Kenya when her predecessor died).

Sarah Jones: [09-16] What Happens When a Party Rejects Humanity? No need to ask "what party?" And while Ron DeSantis got the photo op, Greg Abbott and Doug Ducey joined him in the second paragraph: all three governors thought it would be funny to bus immigrants to liberal enclaves up north. For more on this:

Sarah Jones: [09-14] Lindsey Graham Caught the Garbage Truck: He probably thinks he's some kind of great compromiser with his federal abortion ban after 15 weeks, but he's just another jerk who thinks he's funny. But his stunt is not only view as proof of malevolence by the left; isn't not very well received on the right:

Sarah Leonard: [09-08] Free the Internet: "A handful of companies control the web. It doesn't have to be that way." A review of Ben Tarnoff's book, Internet for the People: The Fight for Our Digital Future. The Internet wasn't always a business. Since it became one, it may have become slightly more entertaining, but also misinforming and exploitative in ways that are hard to even grasp and reckon with. Page also links to a 2019 article: Jason Linkins: [2019-12-31] The Death of the Good Internet Was an Inside Job. That was part of a Decade From Hell retrospective of the 2010s.

David Leonhardt: [09-17] 'A Crisis Coming': The Twin Threats to American Democracy. Big article, covers the partisan divide in considerable depth, as well as structural issues (quotes Steven Livitsky with this oxymoron: "We are far and away the most countermajoritarian democracy in the world"), but I find curious the lack of data on money in politics. This is part of a broader Democracy Challenged thread, but again there I don't see anything specifically on money, or the fact that most major media organizations (including the New York Times) are owned by very rich special interests.

Milo Milfort/Anatoly Kurmanaev/Andre Paultre: [09-16] Fuel Hike Plunges Haiti Into Near Anarchy: "Discontent over economic misery spilled into the largest national protests in years, prompting international calls for action."

Ian Millhiser: [09-15] 3 takeaways from that Trump judge's latest order in the Mar-a-Lago case: "Judge Aileen Cannon's latest order shows a disregard for established law." Millhiser also wrote: [09-15] The Supreme Court hands the religious right an unexpected loss. Don't expect it to last. "The Supreme Court disposes of the Yeshiva University case with an implicit threat." Update: Hurubie Meko: [09-16] Yeshiva University Halts All Student Clubs to Block L.G.B.T.Q. Group.

More on Trump and associates:

Timothy Noah:

  • [09-12] Why Isn't Everybody Rich Yet?: "The twentieth century promised prosperity and leisure for all. What went wrong?" Reviews new books by J Bradford DeLong (Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century) and Thomas Piketty (A Brief History of Equality): the former on how since 1870 previously unimaginable wealth has been created, the latter on how the rich prevented it from being widely disseminated, but also on how the more egalitarian period between WWII and the Reagan-Thatcher reaction produced the peak growth of DeLong's "long century," creating the broad "middle class" we're in danger of losing now. I have a number of nits to pick with Noah here -- like his Timothy Snyder-credited assertion that Stalin and Mao were greater monsters than Hitler -- but would rather note that his 2013 book, The Great Divergence: America's Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It, is still, as I put it in one of my Book Roundups, "probably the first book to start with if you want to understand how incomes and wealth have diverged since 1973, with the rich and the superrich pulling ever further ahead while everyone else stagnates or worse."

  • [09-16] Strike Settled. Now Let's Nationalize the Railroads. Settling the strike is a good example of something Biden could take an interest in and make work, while Trump or any other Republican would either ignore the problem or come down solidly on the side of the owners (see Reagan, Coolidge, and Benjamin Harrison for particularly gross examples). As for nationalizing the railroads, that wasn't something I've given much thought to. But the profit figures Noah cites are suggestive. Railroads are natural monopolies, which is why they've been heavily regulated in the past. The profit figures suggest not heavily enough. The thinking for wanting to nationalize companies has changed since the early days of socialism, but that doesn't mean that there aren't good reasons to nationalize some companies/industries today. Amtrak is already an example, where there is a public need that the private sector is not able to provide. That could be true for rail freight, or at least its infrastructure, as well.

Kaila Philo: [09-14] Election Deniers Are Running to Control Voting in More Than Half of U.S. States: 18 of 36 gubernatorial races, 10 of 30 races for attorney general, 13 of 27 races for secretary of state; no need noting which party ticket they are all running on.

Charles P Pierce:

Andrew Prokop: [09-14] The case for Democratic optimism -- and pessimism -- in the midterms. I'm not in a position where I have to, or want to, worry about November elections. For me there is very little to think about, and very little I can do about it. Still, it seems odd to me that 538 gives Republicans a 71% chance of taking the House, and Democrats a 71% chance of keeping the Senate. I know the former is gerrymandered to help Republicans, but have no clear idea how much. I also have no notion of how much effect the Republican voter-suppression bills will actually have, and even less idea whether the provisions that allow officials to reject results will kick in. (Georgia seems to be the main test case.) I do know that voter turnout will be down this year from 2020, because it always is in non-presidential elections. (I hate to say "midterm," which implies that electing a new Congress and a majority of state governors and legislators is not just less important but a mere reflection of the exalted presidency.) That killed the Democrats in 2010, but same thing happened in 2006 and 2018 and those are counted as "blue waves." I'm not sure that having more uninformed voters in presidential election years is really such a good thing. The other thing I do know is that it would be tragic to elect Republicans almost anywhere, let alone in quantities sufficient to do real damage. And I get the sense that more and more people see that. The question is whether enough do.

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [07-11] We Can Build Paradises for the Public: "We need to recover the concepts of great public goods, public services, and public works. The New Deal's WPA provides a vision of what is possible." Cites Joseph Maresca's book, WPA Buildings: Architecture and the Art of the New Deal. It shouldn't be hard to think of nice things even the WPA didn't envision, but catching up is a start.

  • [09-14] Can We Drop the Silly Idea That America Is "Heading for a Civil War"? Reviews the recent literature, which I and others have debunked several times before, then points out: "The idea distracts us from the class war we're actually in, and is a deeply misleading framework for understanding the real risks we face." Democratic politicians don't like to talk about class, probably because they spend most of their time and energy begging money from rich donors, who'd rather talk about abstract threats to democracy than tangible benefits at their expense. Even the phrase "real risks" detracts from the "class war" point, offering an alliance on issues that do threaten the rich, like climate change. On the other hand, a coat of "populist" culture war paint can scarcely hide the fact that Republicans are first and foremost servants of oligarchy. By the way, the term when people rise up against oligarchies isn't civil war. It's revolution.

  • [09-15] How Media Copaganda Hides the Truth about the US Punishment Bureaucracy: Interview with Alec Karakatsanis, author of Unusual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Justice System, and publisher of the Copaganda (I take this coinage to mean: propaganda for cops). Also see his [2020-08-10] piece: Why "Crime" Isn't the Question and Police Aren't the Answer. "The U.S. is currently caging human beings at a rate that is unprecedented in its own history and in the recorded history of the modern world. We're caging people at five times the rate that we did when Nixon was president. We're caging people at a rate of five or 10 times what other comparably wealthy countries do right now."

Sigal Samuel: [09-14] China is committing genocide. The world has no plan to stop it. This is about the Uyghur minority in the northwest province of Xinjiang, where they represent about 45% of a population of 26 million (vs. 42% Han, a number that has been rising and no doubt will eventually constitute a clear majority). Like many minorities around the world, they are subject to unfair treatment, prone to rebellion, and subject to harsh repression. The word "genocide" gets bandied about liberally in such cases, especially because it implies an obligation of other countries to step in and stop the perpetrators -- not that this has ever actually happened, even in the case of Rwanda, a much less fearsome power than China. (Ok, it has occasionally been used as a pretext for invasion, as when Russia invaded Ukraine ostensibly to protect ethnic Russians from Nazi genocide, but who really believes that?) While it seems likely that China trods on basic human rights in Xinjiang and elsewhere, you have to wonder why such hysteria over China -- especially given that there is absolutely no way the UN or any other world power can rectify the situation. There is no global world order. We live in a system where nations are not accountable to law or other nations, and that can only improve when all nations agree to establish some common standards -- something that is impossible to achieve with nations at each others' throats.

Alex Skopic: [09-13] The Commodities Markets are Absurd, Unstable, and Dangerous. Cites the recent book by Rupert Russel: Price Wars: How the Commodities Markets Made Our Chaotic World.

Emily Stewart: [09-08] What if we're fighting inflation all wrong?. Points out that the Fed is a blunt instrument for fighting inflation, rather limited and indirect in its efficacy, and indiscriminate in its side effects. Meanwhile, what we're calling inflation is often just an aggregation of discrete market failures, each better dealt with through direct policy changes. If your house has a roach infestation, the Fed can probably fix it by burning the house down, but less destructive solutions are possible -- just not from the Fed.

Derrick Bryson Taylor: [09-17] Western Alaska Lashed by Strongest Storm in Years: "Remnants of Typhoon Merbok" hit Alaska with "winds of around 90 miles per hour and heavy rain, causing significant coastal flooding. Also [09-17]: Storm Surge in Alaska Pulls Homes From Their Foundations. "Sea surface temperatures recorded along Alaska's western coast were at or near record highs."

Speaking of climate:

It looks like Tropical Storm Fiona will turn north into the Atlantic after hitting Puerto Rico. (PS: [09-18] Hurricane Fiona knocks out power to all of Puerto Rico, with "catastrophic flooding.") Typhoon Nanadol is heading north to Japan, and expected to follow the entire length of Honshu, with 39 million people facing hurricane-force winds in the south, and many more heavy rain. Meanwhile "dangerous heat" returns here to Kansas, with record-setting 100°F days in the forecast.

Michael Wines: [09-07] In Voter Fraud, Penalties Often Depend on Who's Voting: Author "searched through newspapers, online databases and other sources to compile a list of roughly 400 voter fraud prosecutions over the last five years." That may seem like a number, but it's "infinitesimal in a country where more than 159.7 million votes were case in the 2020 general election alone."

Ask a question, or send a comment.

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